Thursday, March 23, 2017

Poison is no joke.

On Tuesday a scary thing happened: My brain was feeding me poison, and I thought it was food.

My brain feeds me poison all the time.  Depression and anxiety are pathological liars that whisper in your ear, pss pss pss, telling you that your deepest fears and worries are true.  But I have done two decades of work to learn to recognize those voices for the poison that they are.  In clinical terms it's called distortion.  And while I can't help but be emotionally affected by it I can almost always keep my rational brain in charge.  Almost.

Not on Tuesday though.  On Tuesday every one of those whispers felt absolutely real.  They told me I was worthless; they told me that I shouldn't even have my job; they told me I was pointless; they told me that to keep trying didn't even make sense.  I panicked and burst into tears at work, and then I ran for cover.  It was all I could do.  I hid in my house, had an emergency session with my therapist, and waited for the world to come crashing down around my ears.

On Wednesday I was prepared to face the music.  They're going to be mad.  You're going to get a talking to.  You might get fired.  Distortion, distortion, distortion, all unrecognized.  So imagine my surprise when no one was mad.  When in fact they understood and were supportive, and reminded me that yes, they want me to do good work, but they want me to do it as a whole and happy person.

I got a wonderful reminder yesterday, then, that I am lucky enough to work in a rarefied space full of people who actually care about and support me.  I need to hold on to that truth when my brain tries to feed me the poison that tells me they hate me, that they'd be better off without me.  One of my strongest self-care tools is my vault of positive experiences - when my brain wants to listen to lies, I can dive into the vault and show it truth.  This allows me to see the distortion for what it is.

Do you struggle with distorted thoughts?  What tools do you have to keep them at bay?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Something's gotta give.

I can't say much today other than things are not good.  I don't know what to do but reassert my efforts in what I'm already doing.  Wish me luck friends, because where I'm at is not sustainable.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

In The Spirit.

One completely unexpected effect of my regular yoga practice is that I am developing a spiritual life.  I am deeply uncomfortable with this.  But it's happening and there's no use denying it.

See, I'm a recovering Catholic.  I had religion thrust upon me when I was 13, when my parents remembered they'd been raised in the Church and freaked out that they weren't doing the same with my sister and I.  So for a couple of years we went to church every Sunday and I did a very belated first communion and a right on time confirmation.  Somewhere in the process I pulled my mother aside and told her that it wasn't jiving with me; that they were making me stand in front of a room full of people and say things I didn't believe.  She basically told me "suck it up, you're doing it anyway."

After confirmation we stopped going to church and never returned.

This left me with a muddled and unpleasant feel for what religion is all about.  And for really my whole adult life I have lumped together everyone who has any kind of religious or spiritual belief into one big category of "people who believe stuff that I'll never believe."  I'm a skeptic with science in my heart.  There's us and them and never the twain shall meet.  Right?

Well, here I am on the cusp of 40 (yeah I'm oldish, you didn't know?), and so much of what I've always known to be true about myself is just not true anymore.  And an important part of my self care is allowing myself to let go of those old beliefs so that I can grow past them.  Call it a midlife crisis if you want, but I am finding myself not just drawn to but actively seeking out the spiritual aspects of yoga. 

What does it mean?  Where will it go?  I don't know.  We'll have to wait and see.  I know that chanting mantras with my mala beads each morning is helping me feel focused and steady (no I am not becoming Buddhist).  I know that I am powerfully moved by the story of Lakshmi (no I am not becoming Hindu).  I know that religion and spirituality are not at all the same thing.  I know that telling y'all this is making me squirm in my seat.  And I know that I don't want to let my discomfort with a foreign concept stop me from exploring an untapped aspect of myself.

How do you deal with the discomfort of new and unexpected changes in yourself?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Seven Years.

Today is my seventh wedding anniversary.  Seventh.

It's been a hell of a process getting to where we are now.  We each had to work through personal flaws and baggage, and we spent a not small amount of time in couple's therapy working out some communication issues.  I wasn't always sure it was worth it.  But I'm sure now - as sure as it's possible to be about anything.

What's it like to be in such a long-term relationship?  That's a difficult question to answer.  It's different than I was always told it would be, different than I thought it would be.  Our culture is so obsessed with the early romantic stages of love that that's all we see depicted; we depend on our parents to show us what more developed companionate love looks like, and many of our parents didn't make it that far as couples.  Or they did, but they're dysfunctional.  So often we fly blind.

What no one tells you about partnership is that it is always work.  And in my experience the work is this: being kind to each other and considerate of each other no matter what.  It sounds easy, but it's not.  Will he and I keep making it?  It's impossible to say.  What we've shown is that we'll keep trying and working. As long as that continues to be the case, I think we've got great chances.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Spring Cleaning.

Tomorrow is the first day of Spring, and as such I've decided that it's a great weekend for some spring cleaning.  Yesterday I refreshed my yoga room pretty substantially.  Today I will dig in to the bunny area (yes, I have bunnies - have we not talked about this?), wipe down the surfaces around the house that collect dust and grit, and tend to all my normal weekly cleaning.  Oh joy.

Cleaning is complicated.  It is so helpful to self care - most people find it easier to relax and feel well in a space that is clean and organized.  But it also requires a number of privileges to accomplish: enough time and health to do it, or saving those the money to pay someone else to do it for you.  There have been many times in my life where I was too ill to really clean my space, and living in filth just made me feel worse.  It's a terrible cycle.

The collection of advice that I've seen on this problem for people who are chronically ill all have some value, though none are complete answers.  There's the "own less stuff so there's less to clean" tactic.  Well that's great if what you're most concerned about is dusting knick nacks.  But it does nothing for the omnipresent dishes, laundry, and dust that will accumulate no matter what you own.  There's the "don't sweat the small stuff" school of thought that says "it's OK if your knick nacks are dusty!"  Friends, we totes already knew that.

What I've found most helpful is cleaning a little bit every day, just as much as you can comfortably do, so that cleaning jobs don't grow into major projects.  It kind of sucks to, for instance, do dishes every night.  But it sucks less than always having an ugly smelly sink full of dishes and having to spend two hours washing them when they reach critical mass.  There are of course times when the most you can do is nothing, which is when this plan falls apart.  When that happens, the best self care I know how to engage in is to not be hard on myself that things aren't clean.

How do you keep things clean enough in the midst of limited time and physical limitations?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

I never thought I would be this person.

It's impossible for me to do yoga - it hurts to breathe.  Spirituality is nonsense.  I'll never be someone who gets up before sunrise.  Cutting carbs is stupid: bread is life!  Calories in, calories out.
I have had many lessons in impermanence during my life, many of them extremely painful.  It didn't occur to me until recently that impermanence can also be a good thing.  I've said all of the things above, repeatedly.  And when I said them I believed them wholeheartedly.  I've said most of them within the last year, and some of them within the last few months.

And yet here I am doing yoga every day.  Here I am developing a spiritual life (trust me, I am more surprised than anyone).  Here I am sitting at my computer, morning shake and coffee already consumed, listening to the trillion birds chittering away in my oleander tree, and the sun still isn't up.  Here I am doing my damnedest to eat fewer "carbs."  And don't even get me started on the utter falsehood that is "calories in calories out."

Sometimes we resist change due to our beliefs.  We may know that everything is impermanent, but we don't want to accept it - even when it benefits us.  We want to know what we know, and it makes us uncomfortable to lose that stability.  How much sooner could I have come back to yoga if I wasn't just so completely sure that it wasn't possible for me?  It's impossible to say, and really it doesn't matter since that has happened.

What does matter is this: what other beliefs do I still hold, about myself and about the world, that are holding me back?  My yoga teachers frequently talk about letting go of what is no longer serving us.  What is it that is no longer serving me?  This self exploration is vital to continued growth.

What beliefs do you hold about yourself or the world that might be holding you back?

Friday, March 17, 2017

Brains: They're Freaking Complicated.

Well friends, I've had a rough week.  But I think I am coming out of the tailspin and beginning to stabilize.  I won't really know where I'm at for another few days.  In the meantime, I want to clarify some things, because I have zero interest in perpetuating misunderstandings about mental health disorders.

I just had a depressive spell that only lasted a day.  This is possible because I don't have Major Depressive Disorder - I have Bipolar II Disorder.  My depression is just as real, but it cycles very differently than someone with clinical depression.  I am in fact what's known as an ultra-rapid cycler.  I can go through a whole gamut of extreme emotions in the course of a day or even just a few hours.  It's quite a roller coaster, and it is *exhausting.*  That said, I feel kind of lucky that when a bad spell comes on there's a chance that it won't be around for long.

Sometimes my episodes do last for weeks or even months, as what happened for much of last year.  The fact that usually my spells are short made that event much harder for me to cope with.  So it's actually a relief that I'm back to my old normal of short spells.

Brains are complicated, but worth figuring out as well as we can.  Understanding what is happening when I go through a bad time is invaluable in my mental health self care tool kit.  I am beyond grateful that I have had the resources to gain at least some understanding of the things my brain puts me through.  When I was young and did not have any understanding of what was happening, quite frankly my life was hell.

If you are going through that hell, I hope you can find the help you need to start understanding and getting things under control.  Please let me know if there's any way I can help.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Notes from the Belly of the Beast.

Yesterday depression snuck back up on me, and while I wasn't watching it swallowed me whole.

I should have seen it coming.  I'm what's called "depressive reactive" - I react to being overstimulated in any way by getting depressed.  So getting really high on life with all the excellence of last week, followed by panic attacks on Friday and Monday, was sure to be followed by a depressive episode.  But I still live in denial that this is my reality, so it totally didn't occur to me that I was in for it bigtime.

Maybe it was just the one day down in the hole and now I get to stabilize.  Wouldn't that be nice?  It's too early to tell what's happening today; at least I didn't wake up at the depths of despair (which happens sometimes and is *awful*).  Today could go either way.

Today could go either way (she repeated for emphasis), so I'm going to exercise what little control I have over the situation and do my best to set myself up for feeling better.  It's a long busy day like last Thursday was, but I will not rush through it or feel panicked.  I will think about the next thing I have to do and no further than that.  I will calmly quiet the loud but inaccurate thoughts in my head telling me that everything is terrible.  I will be excessively gentle with myself.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Too Much Yoga?

Beware the Ides of March, they say.  And indeed, betrayal has come at me this morning.  Or at least, it feels like betrayal, but it's actually the opposite: It is love, caring, loyalty.  It's just telling me things I don't want to hear.

Some people who are much more experienced than me in these things are telling me that I am taking too much yoga.  Too much yoga?!  That's like saying "too many kittens" or "too much happiness".  Except that it isn't.  They're worried that I will stress, strain, or even actually injure myself by trying to do too much too fast.  And there's a very good chance that they're right.

Why am I pushing so hard to start with?  A couple of reasons.  The biggest one probably is that it feels so damn good to have this much agency over my body.  After a lifetime of feeling like a prisoner within a malfunctioning, painful cage, I now feel embodied and empowered in a way that I haven't since childhood.  I also tend toward extremes - happy mediums are very difficult for me to find.

But I must. 

So what to do?  Right now my yoga plan includes 8 classes a week, but honestly that's getting broken up a good bit because of springtime events.  So this week it's 8, next week it's 6, the following two weeks it's 7, and so on.  It's never more than 8, and by the end of April I'll be settled into a comfortable schedule of 7 per week that I'm sure will get interrupted and cut down every few weeks by life.

Sigh.  I don't *want* to do less yoga.  I want to take two classes a day forever.  But strength and stamina build slowly, and I'm still in early days.  I'll console myself by signing up for workshops that are not asana-based - after all, there's still meditation, breathing, mantra, and so many other aspects of yoga that want exploring.

I'm sad, but I know they're right.

What do you do when your friends tell you unwelcome news because they care for you?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Yesterday was a whole lotta nope.

The blind panic about basically nothing started at noon.  Yes, a thing actually happened, but it's a thing I normally would have been able to take in stride.  Not yesterday though.  Yesterday my brain chemistry said, "WE'RE GOING TO DIE RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!!!"  And I did.  For the next seven hours.  Delightful.

There are several potential reasons that I had a crushing panic attack yesterday.  I ate way more carbs over the weekend than I have been lately for one.  Also I'm having an off-schedule period of unknown origin, so obviously my hormones are out of whack somehow.  My rational brain wanted to latch onto these reasons and tell my emotional brain, "See?  It's temporary.  It will pass."  My emotional brain though had already decided that the worst had happened, my anxiety was back full fledged, and I was going to feel like this for the rest of my life.  Logic!  Is not what the emotional brain does.  But it really thinks it's logical.  Oy.

OK, so after work I thought, I'll go to the gym and work all this out on the elliptical!  Great.  But nope.  The gym is very, very crowded just after the 5pm crowd empties from its CBD offices.  After waiting a good ten minutes to just get to my locker, I burst into tears and ran from the place.  Awesome.

So then I went home and took a little Ativan - great.  That's what it's there for after all.  I made myself a nutritious dinner - great.  I put on some ponies - great.  Aaaaand I drank a whole bottle of wine.  Really not great.

After that I tried to do some restorative yoga, but being as I was drunk as a skunk that quickly became me asleep on the floor.  Around 9:30 my husband, patient soul that he is, guided me into bed.

And now it's this morning.  I am surprisingly not hung over.  I am no longer panicking, though I'm apprehensive to see what happens when I get to work.  I think I'll do some mantra work this morning around staying calm and balanced in the face of challenge...  Oh brains.  The excitement just never ends.

What tools do you have for unexpected episodes of panic?