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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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.

 

Resurfacing After a Period of Extreme Selfishness

I have barely looked at another blog, have stopped interacting with nearly everyone I follow on FaceBook, have ceased communications with the small handful of people that I had usually communicated with on a semi-regular basis, and I went underground.  My friend Marilyn had talked to me previously about hunkering down and waiting for the storms to pass, and I guess maybe I took that to extremes a bit.

The positive news about my (relatively) short hiatus from all others in my world is that:

  1.  I have been smoke-free since January 3rd.  Parts of it were hard, parts of it were nearly impossible, but I have made it this far and I don’t plan on turning back.  As a bonus to this accomplishment, I did this without totally wearing out my (now) miniaturized support system.  (as in, no dogs or boyfriends or close family members were harmed in the obtaining of over three months smoke free…yay!)
  2. I have lost 67ish pounds since December, thanks to a healthy eating plan (that is sustainable in the long-run) and almost-daily aerobic exercise.  It turns out that “those people” were actually right about exercise being good for your mood, body, and overall well-being.
  3. I have become “more social.”  That doesn’t mean I am hitting up the grocery store or going to parties or any such nonsense.  It means that, at the YMCA where I exercise every day, it is kind of similar to how it was on the long-ago “Cheers” sitcom, where everyone really DOES know my name.  I must say, it does make exercising easier, to have all of those supportive people around.
  4. I have more “stuff” figured out in my life.  Although therapy  has been helpful, I have mostly grown in life because I am learning what makes me happy and I am learning to say “no” when something doesn’t feel good and I am (constantly) trying something new every day to grow myself.

I have missed blogging pretty terribly, and have missed some of my blog friends even more, but my hopes is that I can reconnect with people easier now that I am a bit more stable.  I would love to start writing in this thing again.  I don’t know if anyone really cares about that, save for me, but I do miss writing things out.  I have been keeping an altered art journal, and writing pretty regularly in that by hand, and I plan to keep that up, but again, am hoping to maybe throw a few words up in this space every now and again.

If there is a thought in your head that I have forgotten about you, chances are pretty much 99% that this is not the case, that I just needed to disappear for awhile.  I am not going to do a bunch of shout-outs right here and now, just know I have missed you and I hope we can catch up soon.  I am bringing a happier, calmer, and healthier Rosa to the table, and I hope you stop by and say hi soon!

Hunkering Down: Wise Advice From an Even Wiser Friend

A rough few days had left me feeling emotionally raw, reactive, completely in emotion mind.  Without a shred of reason to be found within  my decidedly ailing body, mind, spirit, I phoned a friend.  Kind of like you can do on that show, “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire,” although I’m not sure that show is still on or if it’s still played that way.  Either way, the premise is the same — unsure of yourself, phone a friend and get some insight.

I didn’t directly ask for advice, but she knows me pretty well and she told me something she has told me time and time again — not everything is because of mental illness, a lot of it is just life.  Life sucking, maybe, but just life, not a symptom.  Not something to have a med change over or make any sort of drastic change over.  Her advice to me:  hunker down, a lot of it will pass.

And she’s right, a lot of this will pass.  A lot of the bad feelings are from having several major changes and being uber-busy, and now the settling comes.  We are moved, settling in, the house is set up, settle down a little more, make new routines, practice better habits, interact more or less or not at all with certain people.  Change, a lot of it, over the past few months, and change, even more than that, over the past couple of years.

It’s time to settle down, let the dust clear, see what shakes out.  Feeling bad doesn’t necessarily mean I need to have a med increase or a routine change or for anything AT ALL to happen.  My friend’s wise words, “hunker down,” made so much sense when she said them.  They made even more sense when I sat on my front porch in the fresh air, with the sun shining warmth on my face, contrasting with the cool breeze through my hair.

It was funny when Dad said almost the same thing not even an hour later, except he said, “I’m glad you were able to defend in place today and keep from going to the hospital.”  He said that, because this morning I was feeling terrible enough that I was thinking of going to the hospital, and I cancelled on seeing him or my nephew.

So, defend in place, hunker down, that’s what is going to be happening for me.  Can’t hurt, might help.

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100% Success Rate For Over 35 Years

That’s right, I have kept myself alive 100% of the time for over 35 years now.  Maybe that’s a funny way of looking at things, but when you live a life that very often involves suicidal ideation or, on the flip side, very dangerous and risky behavior, you have to figure that 100% is a pretty good number at the end of a 35 year stretch.

For all of the moments of “give up” I have had in the past, the fleeting “give ups” that I have at present, and the “give ups” that I know are going to be thoughts in my future as a person who deals with mental illness, I can say that, at this very moment in time, I have no “give ups” in me, at this current time.

Of course, that could change within the next hour or week or month or whatever period of time you can conceive of.  And, it probably will.  But when things are semi-ok, when I have a day, even just a single day where I feel like I have passed through like a semi-successful human being, I need to write it down, to commemorate it, to throw it a freaking ticker-tape parade.  Sometimes I can go really long stretches without a day like today, and every great once in awhile, I will have a string of “give up” free days.  I don’t have a string of them at the moment, but I have today.

Today was a pretty good day.  I had only very fleeting thoughts of going up, and for the most part my mind just kept pushing me to go on farther, harder, faster, better, more efficient, more brave.  I went into a craft store today, and I did not totally freak out while inside, and spent the better part of 30 minutes in there.  That is no small feat, because as a general rule for the past months, I go absolutely nowhere, not even usually to appointments.

But I had a gift card, and the wise mind part of me knows that, if I have materials that inspire me, I will be more likely to do crafting-type-stuff, which, generally, makes me feel a little better.  I pushed myself to go to the craft store, and I had my lucky, ever-consistent LarBear with me, and I did ok.  I didn’t do amazing or great, but I did ok, and I ended up with some new beads that I am pretty excited about.

Even bigger than that adventure, was the fact that I went into a Kwik Shop gas station and picked out my own bottle of water and used the restroom and stayed inside the whole time, even waiting in line with LarBear to pay, and didn’t flee to the safety of the car.  This is an even bigger deal because I have never ever been inside this gas station or into any place of business in this section of town.  I pushed myself because I knew I had to.  I pushed myself because I want to get better and be able to go more places.  And maybe, just maybe, I pushed so hard because I really, really needed to pee.  Whatever the motivation, I’ll take it.

I know I do better when I use skills like build mastery and build structure, which is basically exactly what it sounds like.  Building mastery can range from doing everyday things like cooking a meal to learning a new skill.  It is basically (in my eyes), anything that you can do that you can look at and say, “that is me being productive.”  Building structure is also just like it sounds, keeping a day full and not having too much down time.

Building structure and building mastery are the two skills that are going to give me real success, in the long run, if I can keep them up.  I am looking at what I have done today and I am pleased.  I have made a plan for what I am doing tomorrow, and I have detailed it out on paper.  If I can stick with it, I will have possibly another day of success.

A more stable length of time is started with stringing one day together after another, and so I have my evening yesterday when I made a new recipe and cleaned up the house a bit, and I have today, with the shopping and getting out in public and cooking a healthy dinner.  Hopefully I am able to follow through on tomorrow’s plans, or at least some variation.

Right now, at this moment, I have no “give up” in me, and there is really nothing else I can ask for, more than that.

Taking Care of Me Helps Me Find My Best “Me”

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Sometimes I feel like I am a child, stumbling along in the dark, and often directly into the path of a bright window, where love radiates and I learn a lesson.  I feel as if I have learned many lessons lately, and the most important one I have learned is this:

I need to figure out what it takes to be the best “me,” and then do THAT.

Throw myself into whatever it is that takes me furthest, whatever makes me happiest, whatever helps those I love the most, whatever serves the greater good but also grows me.

I am a seedling, growing under the care of love and the sun and I am constantly changing and growing and breaking through barriers, yet moving slowly and purposefully as so not to bruise my tender leaves.  I have to be patient with myself and I have to ask others to be patient with me, in turn.

At 35, one might think I should be all grown up and have it figured out.  Let me tell you something:

Anyone that tells you they have it all figured out at 35, they are lying to you with fingers crossed behind their back.

We ALL want to give off the impression that we have it together.  We don’t.  I don’t, you don’t, not completely.  Some parts of our lives are stronger and more figured out than others, but life is a lesson that you keep learning new things about until you are dead.  And if you stop learning, stop growing, become stagnant, your leaves fall off and you die.  You die and you walk around as a husk of a person because you had it in your head that you had to have it all figured out RIGHT NOW.

My goal this week is to be kinder and gentler with myself.  I have been criticizing myself harshly because, as of the last few weeks, I haven’t been as productive (at least traditionally so), as I may have hoped.  I’m going to cut myself some slack though, because I am needing time to heal.

I have been physically under the weather for almost three weeks now, and the mystery illness isn’t letting up.  I have a feeling that stress and strong self-criticism and not allowing myself to just rest and to just be, is what is continuing the sickness.  Not that the illness is in my head, because I think it is very real, just that I am exacerbating it by continuing to expect myself to be Wonder Woman and all things to all people and to check all sorts of things off my “to do” list every day.

So I am taking a break from the harshness of my own voice reprimanding myself.  I am going to try and take it easy.  I am going to try and figure out what makes me the best “me” that I can be, and I’m going to run with it.  Some of my very favorite people in the world are going through rough times right now, too, and I want to urge them, to urge you, to be kind to yourself this week.  To take it a little easier than normal on yourself.

It is positive to motivate yourself to do things, but when your voice turns cruel and you stop giving yourself credit and you decide you are a bad person, just stop.  It really is that simple — stop being so mean to yourself, and give yourself a break.  You will come out ahead, in the end.

 

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Willfulness in the Face of Necessary Medication

Anxiety and frequent panic attacks have been the menu du jour for weeks, now.  I have had my Klonopin prescribed as a scheduled medication, have had the med treater add Xanax as a PRN, and have been trying various and different DBT skills.  Very little works.  It probably works a lot less, because I am not very compliant with taking three to four Klonopin per day at scheduled times, nor allowing myself to take any of the Xanax that have been prescribed.  I have tried explaining it to my therapist, the not wanting to take more and more medication, the not wanting to become a “Klonopin whore,” the not wanting to start an addiction (because life is rough enough with *just* your regular, garden-variety mental illnesses to combat every day).

This has been a “problem” for me over the years — my distaste for (what I see as) excessive use of addictive pharmaceuticals, and, in general, not wanting to let myself just be numbed out day after day.  Is it better to suffer the multiple-times-daily breakdowns, than it is to just take a wee bit of Klonopin here and there?  My brain and heart are in a battle over it.  Those who know me best, who see me on a regular basis, they plead with me just to take a Klonopin.  Why am I being so willful, over some damn Klonopin?  Just take one!  It won’t hurt!

I have had years worth of numbing myself out with various psychiatric medications, a very brief (very, very brief) relationship with marijuana in college, and a couple very short-lived love affairs with alcohol over my 35 years.  I say “No, thank you,” to all of it.  It may seem strange, like, “what Rosa, you don’t want to get some peace?  Even your med provider thinks it is a good idea!” but it is a different scenario in my mind.  I will never go back to alcohol, to marijuana, to popping this pill and that in the hopes that I will get a bit of relief.  I never let it get to a point where it destroys my life, but I have seen so many other lives destroyed by chemical dependency, and so it is very easy for me to say, “no, not for me.”

Could I just take a little bit of Klonopin here, a tiny nibble of Xanax there, and be just fine?  Yes, probably so.  I have a hard time justifying my refusal to take medications that are prescribed to me, and I revealed to my therapist this week that, really, what is behind this refusal to take medications is the thought, the feeling, that maybe I don’t feel I should be taking ANY medications.  Maybe I don’t really have bipolar disorder, maybe I can be one of those people with bipolar disorder that does not NEED medication, but can manage things with a strict schedule and diet and exercise and meditation.  Maybe I am meant to be medication-free.

At the exact moment these words come to my mouth, I know they are untrue.  I quickly scan through the years that I tried just that, to treat my bipolar disorder without medication, and just how very dangerous it was for me.  How many terrible situations I landed myself in, how I barely made it through living in the big city alive, how I hardly escaped not one but multiple abusive relationships, how the thoughts of wanting to die and dancing on the edge of the Earth with death and Satan, himself, were a daily occurrence.

So, yes, I am prescribed quite the boatload of psychotropic medication.  I don’t want to take it, but I will keep doing so because I know in the wisest part of wise mind, that it is that medication that is making me “stable enough” to exist as I am.  I will think some more about the Klonopin and the Xanax, and eventually the daily breakdowns will become too exhausting to continue, and I might try taking some.  I won’t like it, and I will worry that I am doping myself into a corner, about becoming a Klonopin-whore  but it is quite possible that a little bit of Klonopin and Xanax thrown down my gullet on a semi-regular basis will decrease the multiple daily breakdowns, and that is something that needs to happen.

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