All is Well, All is Well, All is Well: How to Settle the Up-Down Roller-Coaster of BPD and Bipolar Disorder

And all is well, because, even when things aren’t really all that well, they really might be anytime in the next few seconds or days or weeks or months.  A year, maybe, at worst, but things tend to get back to a sort of homeostasis with me and stay that way for at least a week, sometimes longer, not usually shorter than a few days.

At the ripe old age of 36, I’ve discovered that the almighty “how are you doing” question is quite highly overrated and can really only measure a very finite period of time, and is really only a relevant question if you want to know how I am doing right at that moment.

Maybe it isn’t this way for everyone, but I have very little ability to look back over the past lengthy period of time and give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down, mostly because, at least for me, life is, in general, quite up and down on a given week.

I don’t even like filling out that paper at the therapist’s office that asks you to rate your week “on average,” because in a given week I can have suicidal thoughts while during the same week feel intense feelings of contentment and happiness.

No, it’s not like that every week, but it is like that a lot of weeks.  I highly suspect most people are similar.  That borderline diagnosis that they like to slap on me from time to time, that I don’t resist that much anymore, sums up the generally extreme reactivity I have to my environment and the emotional “third degree burns” that do seem to continually pop up no matter how much therapeutic salve I slather on them.

I am getting to the point (GASP!) that I am just beginning to accept all of this.  So I am emotionally reactive, so things seem terrible and horrible and beautiful and wonderful all at the same time.  Well, that is just a day in the life of Rosa, and probably a lot of other people, most who wouldn’t dare admit to such crazytalking.

I think so many of us, and even more of us who deal with mental illness of some sort, believe that the up and down and up and down of the bipolar/BPD/borderline/whatever-you-wanna-call-it roller coaster is just one big fat symptom.  I think maybe, just maybe, it’s life, and even more, it’s what you make of it.

I don’t want to spend my whole life (as I have spent much of this blog), bemoaning the lowest of lows and glorifying the highest of highs (not to say that I will not continue to do so, because writing about it is therapeutic in itself).  Instead, there needs to be more living in the moment, more striving to make each day better with the choices that I am able to make about what activities I participate in and who I surround myself with and what I feed my brain and my body.

I have felt this sense of wellness before, about my general feelings that I am likely and very quite possibly a little crazier than at least some, and the feeling of wellness has always occurred when I started taking care of my business.

I am building structure, I am exercising daily, I am eating right, I am taking care of my relationships, I am taking care of what I feed my brain, I am sitting in front of my sunlamp and I am engaging other people (outside of the Internet) through social activities (such as at the pool in exercise class or at the mental health center in groups), I am attending multiple modalities of therapy, I am creating something new everyday, I am crafting jewelry and papercrafts and hugging my dog and being nice to my boyfriend and getting plenty of fresh air and all of those things I know I need to do.

How did I learn to do all of that?  Well, it’s all pretty simple DBT skills, actually put to use.  That’s the key there:  put to use.  

As an aside, I took a test (for fun) while I was collaging at art therapy today (because my AT is an absolute nut and quirky and everything an art therapist should be), and it determined that I demonstrated a moderate internal locus of control.

Meaning that, I believe that if something is going to happen, I have to make it happen.  I don’t believe in luck, I believe in actively doing.  It struck me that this is what I am doing now.  While for the longest time I was waiting for some external force to come and sweep me out of depression, it turns out that all I really needed to do was make some choices, force myself to start building structure, using DBT skills, and those skills build one upon each other.

Right now, and for the past little while, things have been good, really pretty good, rising up from being pretty roller-coaster-ish…and I attribute that to DBT, to making things happen, and to getting off my butt and DOING.

The act of not doing is so much easier, but the act of DOING, doing ANYTHING at all, is what is keeping me going.

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The Borderline’s Dilemma: Don’t Fight the Calm Waters in Life

I am generally one to exaggerate any given idea, event, moment, description, but it is truer than true that my life is really pretty darn okay right now, and has been for a little while.

Yes, there are bumps in the road, but I am using skills more frequently (and without overthinking) to get through the bumps, and the bumps pass much faster than they ever used to.

For once in my life, I can say that my stress level is relatively low, and while that is super and great and amazing, the mental health issues I deal with can make me take calm and serenity and throw it out the window, to replace it with something a lot more familiar, like drama.

Yes, I am saying it:  My life is good right now and it is a daily, sometimes moment-to-moment struggle to not sabotage the hell out of it.  I have my slips mostly with LarBear, and he is very forgiving and never holds those little fits against me.  He knows what is going on, just as I do.  Things are good, and it is hard sometimes when things are good, because that is just so unfamiliar.

 

I laughed when I saw this post on Facebook, but there is such a grain of truth to it.  How many days in the last five years did I basically not get out of bed, or get up and get showered or dressed?  A lot, y’all, too many to count.  I spent months at a time not even leaving my house.

Now that I have regular activities like church and social whatnots and am exercising at the local pool every day, I am finding that I actually LIKE being out and about.  I don’t like to be out all the time, but I like it more than I ever thought I would.  Because things were the opposite for so long, sometimes I start to fall into a pattern where I ignore my social obligations, my appointments, the pool, these new people I have met, but I find myself turning the mind quickly back to this semi-stability that I have gathered (through a ton of hard work).

 

After years of angst, I finally have the people in my life that I need and deserve, and I have enough self-respect to cut ties when things are toxic or harmful in some way.  I still give people far too many chances, but I rarely let another person really harm me without slamming the door in his/her face.  I truly believe that the church family that has come into my life recently was meant to be, that the people in my exercise classes and at the YMCA were meant to be in my life right now for specific reasons.  I especially see now how my relationships with family members have changed for the positive, and how it could not have happened before.  And of course, some may tire of hearing it, but LarBear was certainly paired with me by something more purposeful than chance.

I really think that the key to my happiness now, and the methods that I employ to stay that way and to avoid fighting the peace within and without, is that I am doing things in my life every day that I love, with people that I love, with intention and purpose.  I have an amazing amount of love in my heart that is poured in by others, and my heart is full enough to pour into others, as well, which makes my heart even fuller.  Being positive and doing what is effective, is what works.  Keeping a close eye on your mood and your thoughts and your feelings, is very important.  I think so much of it just boils down to paying attention and to living a life you love.  That may sound oversimplified, but that is my sound bite.

What I Know Here, Today, in the Now

My friend, Marilyn, often tells me I am doing better than what I think I am, struggling about the same as most people (sometimes a little less, even), and I often have a hard time wrapping my head around that little nugget of wisdom, although it is often very true.

I have “survived” a great deal in life, and here I am, still kicking almost 36 years into this great life that I have created.

I know what makes me happy, what makes me sad, what works and what doesn’t, and when I can keep these things at the front of my mind, I can exist in a state of fairly ok-ishness.  Of course, there are ups and downs in life, but everyone has ups and downs.  I think I just tend to experience mine a little more fully than some in the world.

There is very little in my life right now that is inherently “bad” or “negative.”  It has taken many years of therapy, but given enough time and the right support, I can usually get even the negative situations worked out fairly well.  When I am not in a full-on manic state or a full-on depressive state, I can say that I actually live a pretty full and happy life.  Of course, I have my moments, but I am beginning to learn and accept that everyone on this planet has their moments.

We all have certain things we struggle with more than others, whether our issue is bipolar disorder, some other mental illness, a physical issue, or just tough circumstances.  The point is to keep going, and to keep trying to make one’s life increasingly more peaceful, more happy, with more love.

I am currently dealing with some issues related to medications and a disruption in my routine.  It has thrown me for a loop, but I am dealing with it, how I know to deal with it.  In a week or so, I am going to be able to hit the exercise routine again, and in the meantime, I am getting the nutrition part of things under control.

I am crafting daily, have had some good sales at the gallery, and am working on some really beautiful new pieces for the gallery.  That makes me very happy; it is something I derive a great deal of pleasure from.

I have been getting back into my reading and am thinking about trying my hand about doing some shorter, yet still glowing,  book reviews….some that I had promised to do long ago, and some that no one has asked me to do, but that I feel the book is worthy of praise and is important for others to read.

So I am still that DBT girl, standing in front of my life, asking myself to keep trying, but to try a little harder, even though I am doing the best I can.  I will probably always be that girl, and that is fine by me.  It is progress, not perfection, that I am after.

 

Avoiding Self-Sabotaging Behaviors in the Mindfield of Current Happiness

Things are good, y’all.  I mean, really, really good.  LarBear and I are all moved into a really nice new (to us) home, things are organized, tons of junk and clutter has been purged, it looks good, hell, it even smells good.  There is nothing I don’t absolutely love about this new house.

And other things are good, too.  I started a mini dose of an antidepressant two weeks ago, and have had no manic symptoms.  I am slowly weaning off another medication that my psychiatrist believes is leading to my mysterious weight gain.

Things are going great with LarBear, have actually never been better.  I am in the most stable and healthy romantic relationship of my life.  We are a team and we lean on each other and we care for each other and we just make each others’ lives so incredibly much better than they ever have been.

I haven’t heard word one from my ex-step-father or any of his side of the family, and I am superbly grateful for that, and believe that has also gone a long way in minimizing my anxiety and stress level.  Getting rid of all that toxic negativity, it just did me such good.

So really, the problem is that there ARE no problems.  I went to therapy this week, and the first thing my therapist asked me, was what was I going to do to not sabotage the happiness I am finding?  Because that is what I do, it is what I have always done.  Happiness or contentment or joy have always been so fleeting for me, and it is always me chasing them off my own porch with a broom.

The answer to that question lies in many things.  First of all, how am I going to KNOW that I am sabotaging my happiness?  Well, I can spout out a short little list of things from just today that I have done to sabotage my happiness that range from picking a really silly fight (very short lived) with the LarBear to deciding to experiment with my Klonopin (as in not taking it even though I know that I really, really need it) to not taking a shower and getting dressed this morning (daily hygiene fail) to letting myself get too worked up about other people’s problems.

How do I let myself feel, or how do I reassure myself that it really IS okay to be happy, to feel joy, contentment?  I’m still working on that.  What my head always tell me is the inevitable — that it won’t last, it never has before, and its not going to start now.  My head goes on to remind me that Fall is upon us, meaning Winter soon, and that always spells horrors for my stability.

Does it have to, though?  Is it possible that I could make it through Fall and Winter relatively unscathed?  That I could keep up with my daily tasks and my hygiene and meds and relationship-building and therapy and all of the other daily skills, and maybe slide just fine through to Spring?

Well sure, I suppose it’s possible.  I just have to avoid all of these tiny self-sabotaging behaviors that I engage in, and focus on the more positive, skill building behaviors that I have been concentrating on lately.

Gee, Rosa, is that all you ask from yourself?  You are such a loser.

You see, that voice is there, so loud and strong, criticizing my every move.  It will take massive determination on my part to ignore it, to turn the mind, to practice opposite to emotion.  But I think I can.  I’m pretty sure I can, anyway.  Or at least I’m going to try.

What self-sabotage pitfalls do you find yourself getting tripped up by?  How do you keep yourself on a more positive path?  Do share your secret cures for all that ails…

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The Very Real Possibility of Happiness, Contentment, (almost) Joy, and Semi-Stability

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I often wonder where the term “finding happiness” comes from.  I suppose, were I to do enough Googling, I would find my answer.  As for my life, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to “find” happiness, convinced it was behind this corner or within that person or perhaps covered up by old memories.

What I have found, quite recently, is that happiness is not mine (or anyone’s) to find.  Happiness is a thing that must be made, produced, created.  Happiness is a thing that you might have spent a lot of time looking for, but which was there all along, a byproduct of the doings of your life.

finding happiness quotes

Through making a WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) with the assistance of my peer mentor, I uncovered and wrote down long lists of things and circumstances and people and ideas that cause me joy.  By hanging onto those things, and working from the list every day (as in, actually completing and working on activities and subjects within the WRAP), I have managed to increase not only my feelings of happiness and contentment, but also have greatly improved my distress tolerance skills.  A few examples of items on my WRAP include making jewelry, a conversation with a special friend, to more concrete matters, such as getting at least eight hours of sleep and avoiding any sort of caffeine after 11:00 a.m.  Through the WRAP, I uncovered the circumstances that cause me to be most happy, most joyful.  They weren’t activities or people or things that I had to search for, but rather are more like daily practices that tend to give me positive stability.

hopeful mindset

I know there are people who might think I am premature in determining that I am having any sort of STABILITY in my life, but I must disagree.  The contents of life, at this moment, are quite topsy turvy, and I am handling them with relatively little drama, tears, complaints, or tantrums.

I am learning to take things as they come, and continue to work on sitting with uncomfortable emotions until another emotion can come through.  I have hope in my life, like I have never had before.  I know, for certain, that this can be attributed almost solely to learning how to turn my mind away from the negative and face forward toward people and situations and circumstances and activities that bring me joy.  The longer one can sit with a feeling of joy, the greater, and longer lasting, the feelings of contentment and happiness will be.

I have much to be grateful for, and have come a long way lately on being more appreciative and thankful in my day-to-day life.  I must say, (and really can’t say enough) happiness takes practice and work, just as it takes practice and work to STAY miserable.  Sure, it is easier to bring oneself down with negativity and maladaptive behaviors and resistance to change and willfulness, and obviously so much more difficult to turn away from the train-wrecks-in-life, but it can be done.

DBT helps me turn my attention and stay in the moment and surf my emotions, and I am thoroughly grateful I have it in my life.  Were I not practicing mindfulness and gratitude and using my skills and being effective, I would definitely be having a difficult time right now, with all of the drama swirling around my life.  Fortunately for me (and for LarBear and any other close friends and family), I have been able to really focus on DBT and really focus on doing what is most effective, or what works best to keep myself on both feet.

Letting things go, letting really anything go that is disturbing my peace…that is what DBT has taught, and teaches me over and over, every day.  It must be a conscious practice, to let things go, and it is incredibly difficult to describe to a suffering person HOW exactly to do it.  Maybe starting with the statement that it *is* quite possible, is a good first step.

held on

Wordless Wednesdays — Its the Little Things

Sometimes, the smallest things can bring inordinate amounts of joy.  I broke into song when this showed up on my door step yesterday!  Now I can actually write down addresses and phone numbers instead of asking people again and again for their contact information.  What a concept!

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Clearly Clicking Ahead

Three weeks ago, it was Entirely Too Soon to tell you all just how much better it seemed that life was getting.  Now that I have had three weeks of relative (gasp!) happiness, steadiness of mood, positive feelings, and lack of severe depression, I am here to confirm that I am quite giddily at a (fairly) solid, maybe slightly elevated baseline.  After over a year of soul crushing depression that never let up for longer than a day during that period, what I feel most is sweet relief.  Over the past year, I was fairly positive that I was never going to ever, ever, ever experience a “happy day” ever again.  Thankfully, I was wrong.

lifeislovely

I feel clear-minded, I feel optimistic, I feel like issues can be worked on, I feel like my toolbox is full, I feel as if I have great love in my life.  I feel so good that I worry my mood is getting too elevated.  This feels a lot like hypomania, building into mania, but I would really like to believe that it’s just good, solid, level, positive feelings.  Bipolar disorder is cruel in that it makes a person unable to trust their own feelings, their emotions, their behaviors.

So, I choose to believe this is happiness.  I choose to believe that a combination of a happy home with LarBear and satisfaction with learning new things and the addition of quite a bit of mental health groups and programs has resulted in a happy Rosa.  It doesn’t hurt that it is Spring, and the weather has been beautiful.  It doesn’t hurt that I have finally crossed the line from willfulness to willingness, and that I am really and truly being honest with myself about my feelings and thoughts.

I have been keeping very busy, between DBT and individual therapy (both talk and art) and art groups and the newest addition, a peer mentor.  My mental health maintenance and my art are now primarily my “job.”  And really, I am working on it all several hours each day, but not so much that I am getting burned out and not so little that I am just sitting around wasting time.

I find that, the more time I can spend being creative and creating things, the happier I am.  For the last several months, it has been jewelry, and more recently, I have moved into papercrafting.  I find that I love learning new techniques and skills, and I find that I am quite good at working with my hands, which surprises me to no end.

I feel that, to make the creativity complete, I need to get back to writing regularly, even if it’s just a 300-word essay on the blog.  I miss it, and I miss the connections I make with other bloggers.  So, I’ll try once again and write semi-regularly.  That’s all I can do, is try.

My main goal, or the goal overall, is to not wallow in my misery.  That is easy to say when not depressed, but super terribly hard when in the depths.  For as long as I can, though, I am going to face any issues head-on, I am going to be effective, and I am going to use every skill I have to keep my mood relatively stable.

This happiness thing, whether it be hypomania on the road to mania or just true happiness, is something worth working for, something worth putting all of the eggs into the basket for.  To have felt the lowest of lows for so long, and to now feel like life is worth living and that the world around is so amazing and beautiful, yeah, I want to hang onto that.

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