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I recently stopped taking one of my drugs that my shrink has actually been trying to get me off of for some time now.  I’m not now entirely sure why I was so resistant, in hindsight.  When I first started taking it, I think it was doing me some good.  But after a while, it had the effect of laying a thick layer of cobweb over everything in my life, inside and out.  I didn’t notice it at the time because there were other forces in my life that were essentially doing the same thing.  So it was kind of a double whammy, mentally.

I don’t remember exactly when I started taking this particular drug, but I’m willing to guess it was around four years ago, because that’s when all of my online activity that amounted to anything more than a Facebook post came to a screeching halt.  I just didn’t have anything to say anymore.  I was mute.  I thought it was just a result of the bipolar disorder or the OCD or PTSD or anything else that is wrong with my brain.  And I do think those things have a muting effect on me.  But not to this extent.  What had been an annoyance had turned into a serious problem.

I couldn’t meditate anymore because I couldn’t focus or concentrate, both of which you actually need to “empty your mind”.  I didn’t write anymore or go anywhere because I didn’t have anything to say.  All I could do was parrot back whatever was on my Facebook feed, I’m sure to the annoyance of my friends.  I know I got unfollowed by at least a few people because all I was doing was echoing the background noise of the social network without really adding anything to it.  I didn’t do art anymore because I had absolutely zero desire or passion to create anything (still working on that one: I’m hopeful it will come back).

So I spent four years reading Facebook, reading the news, reading Wikipedia, or watching a tv show or movie.  After about a year, I stopped getting dressed.  I just stayed in my robe all day.  I didn’t see the point of getting dressed if I wasn’t going anywhere.  If I was going to be numb, I was going to be comfortably so.  I grew to accept my fate, that I would just live out my days on social media and watching tv and movies until I either keeled over at home or had to be wheeled into a nursing home.

Then I ran out of that drug, and I didn’t feel particularly bothered to refill it for a couple of weeks.  Around that same time, I began to realize I didn’t feel DEAD inside.  I was enjoying my shows more, actually engaging with them rather than just using them as a way to fill the time until I could go to sleep again.  I was also less likely to doze off while watching said shows and movies.  I got it refilled, but I decided not to take it unless I was having what I call a “hamster wheel” day, which is when thoughts get trapped and just go around and around like hamsters on a wheel.  It doesn’t happen very often and it’s not like anything bad happens when it does, but it’s an unpleasant state of mind, the brakes upon which can be applied with judicious use of the right drugs.

I guess about a week ago, I became more interested in Facebook again.  I hadn’t really been on in quite some time: I had been watching tv shows and movies almost non-stop from the time I woke up until I fell asleep for months on end.  It was just suddenly much more interesting to me than it had been in a long time.  I started posting again.  Not just reposting stuff from other people and groups, but making longer posts of my own about my own life, not someone else’s.  I felt like interacting again, though not quite enough to get out for parties and social gatherings.  I’ll get there, though.  I am still a hermit at heart, after all.

I really don’t know what happened.  It’s like a switch flipped in my head.  I feel like writing again, which means I actually have something to say, which means my brain is working again after having been in standby mode for the last four years, or longer: I’ve been taking this class of drug since 2011.  I restarted my blog and renamed it and made a Twitter account to go with it and a Facebook group.  Buddhism is interesting to me again.  I had some “a-ha!” moments while reading, of all things, the blog of a Christian pastor over the New Year holiday.  A bunch of things clicked and I suddenly no longer felt the need to be seething in anger at the election of DT (I will not call him “President”, nor will I say his full name: he’s just “DT”).  Not that anger is inherently bad or anything.  It’s an excellent motivator.  So I’m going to stay at least offended by the presence of this narcissistic child in the house recently occupied by someone who is everything DT is not.  But I refuse to allow myself to be filled with hate.  It’s unproductive.  In fact, it’s counterproductive.  But that’s another post.

I’m glad my bipolar disorder and other issues aren’t so severe anymore, such that I don’t need such intense medication anymore.  Now that I have this stuff out of my system, I can get back to a mindfulness and meditative practice, both of which were two of many things that just came to a screeching halt in the last few years, which was a pity because of all of the lifestyle changes I had been trying to make, those were the most likely to help me.  I’m not condemning these medications.  They’re life-saving for a lot of people.  And when I was first given them, I was led to believe I needed them, and maybe I did.  But I don’t anymore, and unless something drastic changes with my mental health, I will never take them again.  I still have other meds I have to take, so it’s not like I’m ignorant of my mental health.  I’m just a lot more questioning of what is asked of me by my healthcare professionals.  They may be general experts in their fields, but I am the ONLY expert on this particular body and mind.  I know a lot more about them now and I’ll be sure to take that knowledge with me whenever I have to deal with healthcare workers in the future.


I learned a valuable lesson about suffering from, of all things, a neighborhood cat.  She lives down the block from us and is an outdoor kitty because she beats up the indoor kitties.  Otherwise she is well taken care of: food, shots, water, etc.  However, she didn’t have a shelter, and a huge cold snap was coming.  I asked my son if she had a warm place to stay and he said no.

So I sent my husband to the store for a plastic bin and some reflective insulation.  The kids grabbed some scissors and packing tape and set about making a nice little house for Dobby, the cat.  An hour later, she had a nice little shelter.  My son and nephew took it to Dobby’s house and she hopped right in.  I felt relief knowing that the sweet, friendly cat would have a place out of the wind and snow to spend the night.

I’ve thought about that simple act of kindness a lot for the last few days.  Sure, it was my idea, but it was my husband and the kids that really did all of the work.  I know I should give myself at least a small pat on the back for noticing the suffering of another living creature and doing something about it, but part of me feels like having any actual pride defeats the intent.  Why should I feel pride about doing something that I felt HAD to be done?  Not out of fear, as so much charity is done, but out of love for this small, furry creature.  Her suffering became my suffering.  Neither I nor my kids could stand the thought of her being in distress.

Suddenly the things that I have learned about Buddhism and suffering made sense.  The Four Noble Truths tell us that life is “suffering”, for lack of a better translation.  “Dissatisfaction” might be a better word.  Our suffering is caused by attachment to other things, other people, to our desires (though I’m not sure if that really applies to a cat: I’ve noticed many of Mother Nature’s creatures are not susceptible to attachment the same way that we are).  In this case, my suffering was caused by my empathy and compassion for another living thing, and I could only alleviate my own suffering by alleviating hers.  Of course, I’m still “attached” to the cat, who wouldn’t be?  Our attachments sometimes prevent us from being blind to their needs.

Then I thought about the broader implications of suffering, and the state of the world we are in now.  Since DT was elected “President” in January of 2017, and even before then, since the election in 2016, I’ve been seething in anger and shock and disbelief.  “This is not my country,” I thought to myself.  We have been in a collective state of suffering ever since Barack Obama left office.  But I was blinded to it by my anger towards DT and people like him.  “How dare they piss on the Constitution and subjugate those they deem inferior, usually in the name of God!”  My Facebook feed was, alternately, either silent for months or filled with post after post preaching to the choir about what a horrible person DT and his friends are and how they are the end of all that is good and just in America.  I think more than a few people unfollowed me, not because they necessarily disagreed with me, but because it’s no fun having the equivalent of a shouting bullhorn on your news feed, even if you agree with what they’re saying.

And I had every right to be angry, and still do.  “Can’t you see the suffering you’re causing the rest of us?”, I ask myself repeatedly.  “Why don’t you get it?”

Then Dobby came along, and I realized, they’re suffering too.  People don’t act that way unless they’re suffering.  Everything we are observing in the world right now is the direct result of suffering.  Yes, some are suffering more than others, but we’re all in the same suffering boat.  DT, he’s suffering, and is in denial of it, and the rest of us are paying the price.  Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and the rest of their Republican cronies: they’re suffering, too.  If you grew up with the hateful, vengeful, killer “God” that their brand of Christianity has brainwashed them into believing too, you’d also be suffering.  As a pagan/Wiccan, I’ve seen many a brother and sister struggle out from underneath the cloak of shame and guilt that the Western “God” has laid over them, a cloak that was laid on them by people who themselves were suffering in some form.

Most Westerners don’t know how to “be” with their suffering.  We do everything we can to avoid it and cover it up because it doesn’t feel good.  We may even deny that we’re suffering in order to keep up the facade that everything is a-ok.  But suffering begets suffering, and our unresolved suffering leads to suffering in those around us.  Pretty soon we’re all miserable and blaming each other for why we’re miserable.

I’ve been filled with hatred towards DT and everyone like him in the government and everyone who voted for him.  Yet I see now that it’s not helping.  I am not only contributing to my own suffering, but to those I oppose as well.  And it’s only by acknowledging the suffering of those we oppose will we ever hope to understand them well enough to begin to assuage it.

So here I am, saying, “I see your suffering.”
I see your pain.  I see that it makes you do bad things out of fear and anger and hatred, because that’s what you’ve been taught.  I understand, and I forgive you, at last.  I thought that might never come, because I don’t think you quite realize yet what a horrible thing you’ve done.  I pray we can prevent too much damage from occurring and that which is damaged is easily fixed.

But in this case, your suffering makes you dangerous and toxic because you are either unaware of it or have grown so used to it, like an old leather coat, that you no longer notice it or even find it comfortable.  It is all you know.  Siddartha Gautama, the man who would become the Buddha, was a member of his society’s warrior class.  And in the same way, those of us who live the dharma are also warriors.  And we are here to defend that which we hold dear while at the same time guiding those who live in darkness back into the light.  We may be suffering, but we are strong, and there are more of us than there are of you.

But we are here for you when you’re tired of your suffering.

A Quiet Year


2014 was largely uneventful for me.  Which is good.  I like quiet and uneventful.  Which isn’t to say it wasn’t a good year: it was.  My husband’s job got reorganized and in the process he got a raise and the ability to work from home.  Which was a good thing, because I quit my job at the end of March.  And thank heavens.  I didn’t realize how much I was disliking my job until I quit and didn’t have to do it anymore.  My position had evolved from that of a very simple clerk to a part-time office manager, amongst other things.  I was the only employee and as such had to wear a lot of hats.  It got to be too much stress for me after a while.  The position just became too complicated over time.  So it was time for me to move on.  Unfortunately I didn’t do so in time to not have stressful feelings about the dojo, which means I haven’t been to class since I quit.  It was a mistake to have my boss be my karate instructor.  Now I can’t separate out my feelings about her two roles in my life.  She was difficult to work for, but because of our relationship, neither of us felt comfortable addressing any troubles.  It led to tears and bad feelings after a while.  Which is unfortunate.  One of the reasons I wanted to quit was so that my training wouldn’t be affected.  It seems I was too late on that front.

And that was the big event of my year.  Which on the one hand sounds a little sad, but on the other hand, like I said, I like quiet.  Quiet is good.  It’s given me the chance to get my mental health in order, for the most part.  I had some episodes over the summer, but I recovered from them quickly.  Overall I feel better than I have in quite some time.  I seem to have a good med regimen going.  I sometimes don’t want to get out of bed, but it’s not because I’m depressed.  I’m mostly bored.  An unfortunate side effect of my meds and of being down for so long is that my creativity has been sapped.  I have a lot of free time on my hands that I could be using to do any number of creative pursuits, but I’m not.  I find being creative incredibly difficult.  This is a common problem for bipolar people.  The meds that even us out deaden us in other ways.  They make us “flat”.  I’m not as flat as I’ve been in the past, thank heavens, but my personality is mostly gently rolling hills rather than valleys and mountains.  Which is good.  Too much up and down is bad, but it makes the scenery kind of boring.

Consequently I read a lot and watch a lot of tv and movies.  Which are things I really enjoy, and doing enjoyable things is important when you’re mentally ill.  I’m just not very active, which isn’t good.  I’m old enough now (43) that my body’s activity will only continue to decline, and I’ll have to work damn hard, harder than I would have had to ten years ago, to regain strength that I’ve lost.  That will be my big goal for 2015: to become more active, and to lose some of the extra weight I’ve put on.  I’m all for body and fat acceptance, but I’m unhealthy.  If I want to have a nice long life, I need to lose weight, and that’s that.  It’s not as hard as one thinks, really.  I just have to stop bingeing at night and cut down my carbs.  That combined with a walk every day would get me to where I want to be, though it would take a long time.  I know how to eat to be more healthy.  I just need to do it.

Motivation is something else I want to work on this year along with creativity.  They kind of go hand in hand.  If I want to be motivated to get up every day, I need to have something to look forward to.  I just need to find the kinds of creativity that will mesh with my mental capacity.  I like building and fixing things.  I also like putting things together, like beads and tiles.  I’ve always wanted to get into fixing and refinishing furniture.  Maybe that’s something I should afford myself the opportunity to do.  Whatever I do, it has to battle the anhedonia that has slowly settled into my life over the last few years.  It’s no longer an artifact of my mental illness: it’s just something I’ve grown used to.

I do have something that will give me a lot of motivation to get up in the morning, though it will be a few months before I can do it.  I’m going back to school, after 14 years.  I only need about 30 more credit hours in order to get my bachelor’s degree, so I’m going to finally finish it.  It will take me a couple of years because I can only afford to take 2 classes at a time, but I’ll get there!  And once I have a degree, my earning potential will really go up and I’ll be able to find real jobs.  Now I just have to figure out what to major in.  Once I pick it, I can’t change it again, because all I have left to take are major concentration classes.  I also think the University has rules about how close to graduation you can change your major.  I’d really like to major in microbiology, which was my absolute favorite subject when I was in school before.  Whether or not that college will let me transfer in is in question.  That’s the question for all of the potential colleges I may want to transfer into.  I may just be stuck finishing a Religious Studies degree.  Which I suppose wouldn’t be horrible.  It’s what I call a “ditch digging” degree, though, because that’s about all it’s good for.

So I have that to look forward to.  We also have some other potential big plans in the works, but we’ll have to talk about those later.  🙂  Let’s just say I think there are some big changes coming in the next few years.  All for the good.  For the first time in a long  time, I’m really looking forward to seeing what the future holds.

The Darkness Inside


A number of thoughts and emotions went through my head in the minutes and hours following the announcement that Robin Williams had killed himself.  My first thought was that the world was now a lesser place without his wit and depth of personality.  My second thought was to feel sorry for him, as he was obviously in a lot of pain to do something so rash.  My third thought was for his family, because I know all too well what comes in the aftermath of a family member’s suicide.  In the wake of that notion, I began to reflect not only upon the effect that the suicides of my parents have had on me, but also upon my own struggle with depression and the fleeting but frightening feeling that I sometimes get when I realize part of me doesn’t want to be here anymore.  It doesn’t happen often, that feeling, but when it does I try to pay attention, because it’s trying to tell me something.  Whether it’s that my meds need adjusting, or I need more sleep, or my diet needs to be better, or that there’s something in my life that’s stressing me out unduly, it’s a message that something needs changing.

I’m lucky in that I’ve never actually tried to kill myself.  The closest to a truly suicidal impulse that I ever get is a deep-seated feeling that I just don’t want to be around anymore.  It’s typically accompanied by the very quiet but unignorable sensation that others might be better off without me, because I’m often engaging in destructive behaviors when I’m feeling that low.  The thought that I might be hurting the people around me makes things even worse.  All I can do is retreat and try to cut off as much stimulation and sensory input as I can until the storm inside passes.

It’s difficult for me to talk when I’m feeling like this, which is the strange curse of a depressed or suicidal person.  I find it embarrassing to feel that way, for a variety of personal reasons, and just really don’t care to discuss it most of the time.  There’s a Chinese saying – “talking doesn’t cook the rice”.  Unfortunately that’s very much true for me when things are bad.  It’s not that I haven’t tried it: I have.  It’s just not effective and causes me even more pain.  Which leads me to a truth about being depressed: sometimes it’s enough just to be around someone who’s in pain.  You don’t have to say anything.  We don’t really want to be alone, but we also can’t really tolerate any stimulation.  There’s an internal process that will eventually work its way through the dark place, but it takes time.  Too much time for some people, it seems.

There’s also the societal stigma against any kind of mental illness, however mild it may be.  We’re almost more afraid of mental illness than we are of diseases like AIDS.  It’s considered one of the worst fates, to lose your mental faculties.  It’s seen as a sign of weakness at best, and a sign of danger at its worst.  The news only picks up the most sensational of mental illness stories: the schizophrenic who goes nuts and shoots his family, or a bipolar person who went on a manic rampage.  When someone kills themselves, some will say that they were being selfish by not thinking about the people around them, not understanding that the mental processes of a depressed person don’t work like a happy person’s.  All personal connections fade away into dimness, like having your ears stuffed with cotton and dark glasses on your eyes.

I feel bad for Mr. Williams’ children and wife.  Almost everyone who is left behind by a suicide wonders if there wasn’t something that they could have done to prevent their death, and this is doubly so for the family, the people that spent the most time with the person.  They may be left with a persistent guilt, however unfounded, about having not been able to do anything for them.  I myself deal with this regarding the death of my mother.  We were nearly estranged at the time of her death, and I sometimes wonder if she might not have decided to hang on if our relationship hadn’t been better.  She was a very difficult person to get along with, though, and suffered from severe mental illness for most of her life.  Before she died she told me not to ask her to come live here rather than with her abusive husband.  There may be some insight in a suicide letter that was given to me by a friend of hers recently, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it.

What I can do is take the best care of myself that I can, which first and foremost means taking my medication (though I’m not suggesting Mr. Williams necessarily needed it – for all we know, he was taking some).  That’s not always enough, though, so it’s important to eat and sleep well and exercise when I can.  It’s very difficult sometimes, though, because my illness sometimes makes it hard to do anything, let alone go out and exercise, or cook a healthy meal.  Then all I can do is hunker down and wait, and if necessary let my shrink know how I’m doing in case I need a med tweak.  I may not be entirely forthcoming with those around me about my true feelings all the time, but I know when I’m a bad place and need to ask for help, or at least maintain my connections with people so I don’t get isolated.

I pray that a ray of light, however tiny, continues to shine on my existence so that I am not ever completely in the dark.  I pray that my other friends who struggle with depression never succumb to that dark impulse.  But most of all, I pray I never feel as bad as Robin Williams did when he decided to end his own life, someone who brought so much laughter and joy to so many, but in the end could not feel it himself.

Stigma


I’ve watched the phenomenon of the Ice Bucket Challenge with some interest.  At first I didn’t understand it.  I wasn’t clear as to how dumping  buckets of ice water over people’s heads was raising money for ALS.  A friendly discussion enlightened me as to how the awareness had raised millions of dollars, as well as giving people a brief glimpse into how an ALS patient feels.  Both goals of the Ice Bucket Challenge intrigued me, being a sufferer of another sometimes deadly and underfunded disease, bipolar disorder.  I also have friends who suffer from clinical depression.  Was there a way to mimic the effects of that disease, or at least depression?  Mental illness research is underfunded in large part because people don’t understand it, and people always fear what they don’t understand.  If there could be a way to make a neurotypical person understand what it’s like to be depressed, or autistic, or schizophrenic, people might be more sympathetic.

Even if there are ways to simulate the effects of various mental disorders, there still remains the stubborn refusal of a large portion of society to accept that mental illnesses are diseases just like illnesses that cause physical symptoms.  Mental illnesses also have their origins in physical processes: their symptoms just manifest in the mind instead of the body.  And some people do have physical effects because of their mental illness: body aches and pains, fatigue, and clumsiness are just a few.  Yet there are still those who insist that taking medication is a weakling’s solution to a problem that can be fixed with diet and behavior modification.  This attitude typically manifests as, “If you only did more of activity X, you wouldn’t be depressed.”  Part of this problem is perpetuated by the fallacious assumption that most people get depressed.  No, most people get the blues.  Having the blues is an entirely different animal than having clinical depression or other mental illnesses.  Its effects may be somewhat mitigated by diet and lifestyle changes, but you cannot cure mental illness with those things.  Nor is it appropriate to compare the effects of the blues and those of depression.  One is a temporary state of lowering of mood that can generally be affected by making some basic changes in one’s life, while the other is a debilitating state of existence that can generally only be helped with therapy and/or medication, and sometimes even then it is nigh on impossible to get to a place of stability because psych meds work differently on everyone.

It’s bad enough to deal with a public perception of being weak or just lazy, but it’s quite another to deal with unfounded fears fed by mass media.  Tell someone you’re bipolar, and they’re likely to take a step or two back from you, because there’s a societal presumption that bipolar people are inherently unstable and therefore dangerous.  This myth is propogated by media that focuses on the most isolated, sensational stories they can find about mental illness.  Fear of other people’s judgment causes a great number of bipolar people (and those with other mental illnesses) to not say anything to anyone about their illness.  This causes isolation, which is not healthy for people with mental illness, moreso than with neurotypical people.  We need support networks if we’re going to stay healthy and balanced, and we don’t get that if we have to hide.

The only way to combat the stigma of mental illness is to talk about it, which makes most people very uncomfortable.  People don’t like the notion that something could go wrong in their brains that would cause them to behave in abnormal ways.  However irrational, there is still a public perception that mental illness can “catch”.  Which in one way can be true: it can be maddening to deal with the mentally ill.  They display behaviors that neurotypical people classify as things that can be changed with behavior modification and lifestyle changes.  And for most people, that’s true.  An attitude adjustment, a shift in diet, some exercise, and maybe some counseling will set most people back on the path of happiness.  Unfortunately that’s just not true with the mentally ill, some of whom do display behaviors that can frighten others.  People’s fears and assumptions combine in a way that essentially shuns the mentally ill from greater society.

This societal attitude manifests partially as a lack of funding for mental illness research.  Despite being one of the most costly and prevalent causes of missed work and disability, mental illness gets very little attention unless a pharmaceutical company is marketing another antidepressant or antipsychotic.  True research into the causes of mental illness falls far below that of other chronic illnesses.  Until this situation is rectified, mental illness will continue to be one of America’s biggest and least talked about problems.

Prevailing social attitudes are slowly shifting as more people are diagnosed with mental illness and public education increases, but there still remains the stubborn perception of many that the mentally ill are just making excuses for wanting to be lazy, that we could be doing more to “cure” what they don’t see as a legitimate disease, just a fault in the human spirit.  We are asked stupid, rude questions like, “Have you tried not being depressed?”  As if we want to be this way.  Even loved ones of the mentally ill will make erroneous assumptions about someone’s behavior and attribute ALL of a person’s actions to their mental illness, constantly asking them if they’re on their meds.

Public perception of mental illness is unlikely to change until the mass media stops latching onto every isolated incidence of violence that MAY be due to mental illness (and not all are: some people are just mean).  There need to be more stories sympathetic to the plight of the mentally ill, that shed light on the various conditions instead of pushing them back into the shadows.  More research needs to be done on the brain to determine the causes of mental illnesses so that they can be treated more effectively.

I do my part by writing these blog entries (that very few people probably read) and not letting my shame and embarrassment about being mentally ill impede my ability to write and talk about how my illness affects me.  I have a zero tolerance policy with people that treat me with kid gloves or avoid me because I’m bipolar.  Fortunately, I have friends with mental illness, and my friends who don’t are very supportive, educated, and understanding.  Not all people are so lucky, though.  It’s those people who need our help the most.

If you know someone with mental illness, in particular one of the more misunderstood ones like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, don’t be afraid of them.  If they’re doing things that frighten or upset you, tell them: they may have no idea that they’re misbehaving.  Talk to them about their disease and ask them how it affects them.  It will help ease your own fears and make the other person feel understood and not so alone.  If they’re unable to talk to you about their disease, do your own research.  Be a good advocate for their health, and if they’re a danger to themselves or someone else, don’t be afraid to call the police if they’re unresponsive to communication.  Most of them will thank you for your concern afterwards.  The ones who don’t are in some ways the people that deserve our sympathy and understanding the most, for they are living in hell.  That is probably the most important thing for neurotypicals to understand about the mentally ill: we do live in hell and would probably cut off limbs to be right in the head again.  We don’t want to be this way, and most of us are doing all we can to mitigate the effects of our illness.

I leave you with this handy graphic that will hopefully illustrate how silly it is the way we treat people with mental illness.

Transformation


I have to change a lot of things about my life, and I don’t know how to do it.

Maybe I should back up.  Last year I went to the hospital for chest pains, which were diagnosed as acid reflux (which is crap: I know what that feels like and that wasn’t acid reflux).  About the only thing useful I left the hospital with was my cholesterol level and a clean cardiac stress test.  After I went home I was determined to be healthier so I could lower my slightly elevated cholesterol level and lose the extra pounds I was carrying.  And for a while I did pretty well.  I stopped eating as many carbs, lost a few pounds, and was exercising almost every day, even if it was just a walk.

Then the same thing that always happens to me when I’m trying to keep habits going happened: something disrupted the flow of my activities and I never re-established them.  In this particular case, it was the loss of one of our vehicles, so I could no longer go to karate class or yoga class at night.  Did I do the right thing and just keep walking, lifting dumbbells, and going to the gym when the car was available?  No, of course not.  My progress was disrupted and I couldn’t get it going again.  Then the holidays happened, beginning with Halloween.  Gain five pounds.  Thanksgiving.  Gain five more pounds.  Christmas.  Five more pounds.

By that point, my eating habits were also disrupted and I had developed a nasty sugar addition.  Unfortunately, I also suffer from bipolar disorder (and some other things), which means I’m anywhere from severely depressed to mildly melancholy just about all of the time.  This makes it really hard to get the motivation to do things like exercise and eat healthy.  Plus, I’m miserable when I feel like that so I want to make myself feel better, and one of the ways I do that is with food.

And so it has gone for nearly a year now.  Before Halloween last year I weighed 203 pounds: today I weigh 239. My cholesterol is 207, slightly elevated.  I also have borderline high blood sugar.  I’m also in the grips of a profound apathy generated by my diseases and the drugs I take to deal with them.  Really, I’m not sure what other obstacles I could possibly have to getting healthy, other than physical disabilities.  It’s hard to think positively and come up with a plan for change when I’m halfway to miserable most of the time.

Unfortunately, all of the things that will make me feel better are the very things that my disease and drugs make it extremely difficult to do.  Above anything else I could do for my health, I should exercise, preferably an hour a day, hard exercise (according to my shrink).  If I want the effect of a good mood after a workout, I have to work my ASS off.  My brain just doesn’t come by  those happy chemicals easily like they do for everyone else.  So it’s not just enough to get any old exercise: it has to be HARD, and I have to do it for a while.  Which makes it even more difficult for me to want to get up and go do it.  It’s difficult just to go on a walk.

The other thing I can do for my health that would have the greatest impact is changing my diet.  Eating less and eating differently would make me lose weight and shave points off my cholesterol level, plus help regulate my blood sugar.  It also helps regulate my mental health to be on a healthy diet free of unhealthy fats and sugars.  If it was just me, this would be relatively easy.  Unfortunately, it’s not just me: I have to take my family into consideration.  I have a child who hates beans and only likes a very few vegetables, which means my primary non-animal source of protein isn’t available to me (I won’t cook two different meals, one for me and one for them, that’s insanity).  I could just go ahead and cook what I’m going to cook and tell her she just has to deal with it, but then I have the mental stress of a food battle at every single meal.  She’s 11: she doesn’t care that this is healthy and will make her live longer.  Kids think they’ll live forever already: what the hell is a new diet going to do for them?  She’ll just see it as a form of punishment, and every meal will be tinged with sadness and anger.  Why the hell would I want that?

So on the one hand, I have to fight with myself, and on the other hand, I have to fight with my family.  No matter where I turn, there’s a battle.  I feel like I’m going to war with no army and everyone against me.  I feel doomed to failure before I’ve even begun.

So here I am, stuck.  Even if I didn’t have to fight with my family about food, I have no idea how to cook without basing every meal on meat. It’s just how I grew up: meat, starch, vegetable.  I’ve had meals that were nothing but vegetables.  They were tasty (sometimes) but I was hungry again an hour later.  I honestly don’t know how people live like that. I also don’t know how people live eating the same meals every week, or sometimes every day.  I have to have a LOT of recipes in my repertoire or else I get sick of eating things and wind up going out.  There’s a plethora of food websites of every imaginable cuisine available on the internet, but you never really know if something’s going to be good until you try it.  Which means I also have to have a known backup dinner available when we try new things, or else we just go out.  It’s all a fuckload of work that makes me hate food and cooking, things I used to enjoy.

I know there must be a way out of this situation, but I feel blocked at every turn.  And I’m very low on spoons.  It makes all of the changes I need to make overwhelming: diet, exercise, sleep, vitamins, water, yoga, etc.  The things I need to do to get better are the very things that being ill makes it hard to do.  It’s a nasty negative feedback loop.  But if I take things slow and small, and start with what’s easiest, maybe I can start to dig myself out of this rut.  I didn’t lose all of my habits at once: I won’t be able to re-establish them all at once either.  Now I just have to pick what to start with. What will give me spoons, and not take them away?

My Daughter is a Geek


I’m a geek.  So is my husband.  He gets to wear the supergeek badge because he’s a programmer.  I’m just a garden variety geek who’s into science.  Meteorology, microbiology, and geology are my pet subjects.  We both love a good map: we once spent $75 on a world atlas, and we’re often not sure what’s more fun, going on a trip or plotting it out.  We’re staunch supporters of critical thinking skills, and encourage our daughter to question everything.

We also like more entertaining geek things, like the holy trinity of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who.  We like cheesy sci-fi disaster movies, even if they’re completely ludicrous, like The Day After Tomorrow or The Core.  So it was with great pleasure that we gradually introduced these things to our daughter.  She cut her geeky teeth on Star Wars at first, then we moved her on to Star Trek when we thought she could keep up with it.  Gradually she discovered her own geeky things, Minecraft in particular.  She is an absolute master at  that game.

One day I stumbled across a Doctor Who episode (“42”) on PBS, and was hooked like a migrating salmon.  We all fell in love with The Doctor instantly and began fantasizing about the TARDIS dropping out of the sky onto our lawn (you bet your sweet ass I’d go with him!).  I got a sonic screwdriver for my 40th birthday, and we began collecting other bits of Doctor Who merchandise.  Our daughter demanded to dress like the 11th Doctor for Halloween, and later Comic Con.

Our daughter gets her photo taken inside the TARDIS

Our daughter gets her photo taken inside the TARDIS

Her passions didn’t come without a price, though.  See, it’s not much hipper to be a geek or a nerd today than it was when we were growing up, despite what popular media wants you to believe (just loving something a lot doesn’t make you a geek or a nerd).  And if you’re a girl geek, then Heaven help you.  Geekdom is a land still mostly inhabited by males, who staunchly believe that girls are too stupid or weak or whatever to be true geeks.  She’s not only excluded by greater society because she’s a geek, but also from within geek society, because she’s a girl.  She has a hard time making good friends with classmates because she’s interested in things that they are not, and vice versa.  She’s 11 now, and could give a furry crack of a rat’s ass about any of the things other girls her age are interested in, mostly clothes and makeup.  She sees a girl fretting about her appearance and thinks, “What’s wrong with you? You look just fine.”  I’m probably responsible for this attitude, as a woman who shuns makeup and typically wears shorts and a fandom t-shirt of some variety on a daily basis.

She has found some acceptance on the internet, but other times she’s bullied on the Minecraft servers because she’s a girl.  She’s refused to give in to the pressure as other girls have done, and keeps a username and a skin on her character that clearly identify her as a girl, or perhaps as gay (I’ve seen it, it’s very rainbow-y, as she also likes My Little Pony).  This gets her no end of shit on some of the servers, where she will often be called out on her appearance straightaway.  Other characters go out of their way to attack hers in order to get what she’s carrying, since everything you own drops to the ground when you die.  She gets jabs of, “You can’t play here, you’re a girl! Only “real gamers” can play here!”  I’ve seen her in tears more than once because she’s been bullied on a particularly mean server and had her character killed repeatedly.  When she complains to the sysop about unfair treatment, she gets excuses that are creepily reminiscent of the kind of victim-blaming women get when they’re raped, basically “you were asking for it”.  These things are run by people, and reflect the attitudes of their sysops.  Maybe that’s just how everyone gets treated on some of these servers, but she seems to get an awful lot of flak because of her sex.

All I can do when these things happen is to remind her of how awesome she is, to tell her to just avoid places where she knows she’ll get bullied (which makes her sad: some of these servers are very interesting places to play), explain why jerks are jerks (typically boiling down to the need to put others down to make themselves feel better because their own lives suck, and as such it’s sometimes best to pity people like that from afar), and do something else fun with her (like watch Doctor Who).  I encourage her to keep loving the things that make her happy, and show her things like this video:

and this one:

I feel bad about encouraging her to avoid places she likes in order to avoid being bullied, but when someone’s engaging in cyber-murder to keep you from playing, and there’s really nothing that can be done about it (no parents or school officials to go to), it seems fruitless to keep going there.  I’ve told her to stand her ground but to pick her battles, though not in those words.  She doesn’t really need to be told that, though: she does it naturally.  Thanks to Daddy, she now has her own Minecraft server, where she can make the rules.  We’ve given her the “with great power comes great responsibility” speech (Spiderman) in the wake of a cyber-squabble on the server that ended a friendship because she had to ban a couple of people (the culprit: a bullying boy).  I’m going to encourage her to promote her server where she can as a safe place for other girl Minecraft players can come to play without fear of being bullied.  I’ve been really proud of her unwillingness to cave to humiliation and prejudice unless it gets so bad that she just can’t play.

We’re going to keep introducing her to geeky things.  She loves robots, even once keeping a blog about the life of a robot.  I look forward to when she’s older and I can introduce her to more adult geeky things, like Ghost in the Shell and other anime, movies, and games.  And I’ll keep telling her to explore new people, places, and things, even though she might get picked on, because sometimes she won’t be, and those will be the strong connections that will carry her through life.  In the meantime, we’ll keep on playing the games we love (Skyrim, Minecraft, D&D), watching the movies we love (The Matrix, X-Men, Lord of the Rings), and cultivating friendships with like-minded people.  Just because she’s in the minority doesn’t mean she has to be lonely.  She and the other girl geeks of the world will prevail, and we will all be better off from it.


Hello Gentle Readers.  I haven’t posted since July of last year.  I don’t think I’ve had much to say, really.  Even my private journal over at LiveJournal hasn’t seen much action for the last few months.  Life was kind of boring.  I took the kid to school, went to work Tuesdays through Thursdays and on Saturdays, tried to go to karate when I wasn’t sick of being at the dojo (more on that later), and basically wasted the rest of the time on the computer or playing Skyrim.  Domestic concerns were pretty far down on my list of priorities.  I felt like a total slacker, and sometimes a loser, but I still have a thin veil of depression that lays on everything, so it’s hard for me to get motivated.  That could probably be largely remedied by my remembering to  take my damn antidepressants in the morning.  *sigh*

Overall, though, I feel better mentally than I have in a while.  I still have my down periods and angry spells, but I don’t think it’s happening as often.  And if I am perceiving a difference, then I know everyone else probably is.  Because I don’t notice change in myself unless it’s fairly significant, as evidenced by how often my family has to tell me not to be so hard on myself because I’m too busy focusing on how well I’m not doing and ignoring how well I am doing.  I’ve apparently not been very successful at removing the Self Ass-Kicking Machine I seem to have permanently strapped to my back.  Or at taking off the Shit-Colored Glasses I also find myself wearing more often than not.  I wear those less and less often, though.  When I put them on, though, hoo boy.

So what have I been doing since last July?  Well let’s see here.

  • fretting over my mothering skills when Zoe was much younger: I had bad post-partum depression for 3 years after she was born, and I spent a great deal of time being sad and angry.  I also hadn’t been diagnosed as bipolar yet, and it was raging out of control in retrospect.  My life would have been considerably easier, and my family’s more pleasant, if I had stopped breastfeeding to stop the hormone flood I was subjecting myself to (I’m a freak: oxytocin doesn’t make me feel good like everyone else on the planet, it just upsets my hormone balance and makes me completely unbalanced) and sought treatment for what was a serious problem.  Actually, I did, but I was seeing a GP who was wholly unprepared to be treating someone with serious mental illness, so the treatment I did get wasn’t effective and essentially stole my memory for over a year.  I was in no shape to take proper care of myself, let alone anyone else.  So of course my parenting suffered.  I’m struggling to make peace with all of that and  the fact that those times are gone and I can never get back the time that I should have been enjoying mothering my infant and toddler daughter.
  • increasingly not enjoying my job: I have to preface that by saying how much I’ve enjoyed working at my dojo and helping to get it organized and somewhat modernized.  Still, it was an office job, one that I ultimately had for 4 years, and I was tired of clerical work.  So in January, I put in my notice.  I stayed through the end of March so that I could help organize a big training weekend that had been planned to celebrate the dojo’s 25th anniversary.  That was about 3 weeks ago.  I’ve applied for one job that I didn’t get, unfortunately (it was at a local meditation center), but haven’t done any other looking yet.  I’m enjoying the time off and not getting up in the morning with that yucky feeling you have when you have to do something you don’t want to.  Now I get to weigh all of my options, including going back to school potentially.  I’d certainly make much better money with a degree, which I only need about 30 more credit hours to finish.  It’s just paying for the tuition that’s problematic.  I already have a significant student loan debt, so I’m not anxious to add to it.  I don’t know if we would qualify for financial aid anyway.  So that’s where I’m at career-wise.
  • switching therapists: I’m on my fifth therapist since December of 2012.  I go to a sliding scale clinic whose staff rotates out frequently since they’re graduate students also looking for permanent jobs.  My first two therapists got new jobs within a month of starting with them.  The third therapist was a really nice guy, but he had some whacked out theories and opinions about mental illness (he believes there’s no such thing as mental “illness” except for maybe schizophrenia: uh, yeah dude, whatever), and he was a guy, which meant he set off all my baggage about men leftover from childhood.  His therapeutic technique annoyed me and I didn’t feel safe enough to open up to him.  So I switched again.  The new lady made me feel really uncomfortable for some reason.  So I switched again.  The new lady is okay.  I still feel really guarded, though, and I don’t know if that’s something about her or something about me.  I do know that I’m really freaking tired of being in therapy.  The whole “how does that make you feel” thing really grates on  my nerves.  I also have an attitude of  “talking doesn’t cook the rice” (a Chinese proverb) that probably doesn’t serve me very well considering talking is what you’re supposed to do in therapy.  Half the time I just want to stop going: I could use that money for other things (as it is, I spend $300-400 a month on my mental health).  And if I don’t feel like talking, maybe I should stop.  Something to think about.
  • got our daughter into a really great charter school: she was so bored at her old school, so it was with great delight that I took a phone call from the charter school in July saying there was a spot open for her.  She loved it for several months.  Then she went back to hating school, despite her grades being significantly improved by the new learning environment.  Her social concerns are very important to her, though: if there are no friends around, she’s going to be unhappy and her grades are going to suffer, and her best friend there will actually be going to the middle school that’s walking distance from our house.  So we’ll be switching schools again for the next school year.  I hope it works out, because failing that, we’ll have to resort to private schools, and that’s freaking expensive.
  • repeated family drama with my brother: I’ll spare you the details, but he pulled a stunt in August that almost necessitated my going to Seattle to be with him.  I didn’t go, fortunately for my budget, but it highlighted what a negative presence he is in my life.  I really don’t need that kind of crap anymore.  I’ve done my time tending to the insane.  I have my own life to worry about.
  • something of a spiritual crisis regarding my Buddhist leanings: Buddhism is not a comforting religion.  It’s all about acceptance and compassion, and not having expectations, because that’s clinging, and clinging leads to suffering.  But as I said in my LJ, “I’m just having a really hard time wrapping my head around how cessation of desire doesn’t equate to futility.”  I’m trapped in a philosophical loop of sorts.  I know that “all beings desire happiness”, one of the basic tenets of Buddhism.  I also know that leading a life filled with expectations typically leads to disappointment, so how does that mesh with desiring happiness?  Should I stop desiring to be happy and just be surprised when it happens?  That seems like a terrible way to live.  Buddhism is also maddeningly simplistic and minimalist, as well.  Regarding worry, Buddhism says it’s ridiculous, because you can’t do anything about the future or the past, just right now.  So fix what you can right now and forget about the rest.  How am I supposed to plan for the future with that kind of attitude?  I don’t have anyone to talk to about these things, so I feel really stuck and frustrated with my spiritual life right now.
  • start and stop exercise habit: I had a good thing going for a few months there, and then I lost the momentum.  I did get myself to karate class quite a bit more frequently starting in August because I was trying to get enough classes to get a promotion.  Good thing I did, too, because in November we had to stop driving the car because it needed a critical repair so it became really difficult to get to class since my husband didn’t get home until 6 or 6:30.  But the daily momentum to exercise?  Gone.  There are deep depressions in the carpet where my hand weights have been sitting for the last several months.  Now that I’m not working, I have awesome opportunities all day long to go to yoga class or to one of the classes at my gym, mostly weightlifting.  Not to mention the things I can do at home: dumbbells, bodyweight exercises, and walking.  I also have a bicycle.   There’s really no excuse other than laziness and apathy for me not to be exercising.  Which I still really need to do in order to get my slightly elevated cholesterol level down.  So that’s a major goal right now.  I did discover that if I use an asthma inhaler before I exercise, it’s a LOT easier, so that’s helped some.  Need to see a doctor about that.  Speaking of doctors…
  • getting health insurance because of the ACA: my daughter and I have been without insurance since 2006.  I’ve lived in fear of what would happen if she got really sick or injured.  It would be devastating financially.  I don’t have to worry about that anymore: we are all insured now thanks to the Affordable Care Act.  Before that, it was simply too expensive to insure everyone.  It would have cost more to add the two of us to my husband’s policy than it is to get insurance for all three of us.  So that’s made me really happy.  I have several things I want to see doctors for: my breathing problem (probably asthma), my heart issues (never had a proper followup to my hospital visit last year), my hormones (the bane of my existence), my skin (I have a few moles I’d like to be looked at), and getting basic wellness taken care of.  A trip to the chiropractor would be nice.  I’m looking forward to getting all of my health issues taken care of.
  • expensive things: like major car repairs, and spending $1500 at the vet to get surgery for my dumbass cat who ate 2′ of ribbon one day.  At least they let me spread out the cost over a few paychecks.  Otherwise I shudder to think of what might have happened.  That’s my daughter’s cat: she would be devastated if something happened to him.  Now we make sure nothing ribbony or stringy is left out so he won’t eat it, because he’s clearly too stupid not to.  Not long after the incident with the cat, a couple of my teeth started acting up.  I had to have them pulled, which would have been a serious financial problem if I hadn’t been approved for a line of credit at a local dental chain.  So I spent a couple of weeks in pain after having first one tooth out and then another, since it couldn’t be repaired.  Which made me miss work, which pissed off my boss.  Our financial situation just sucked for a few months, and in the midst of it I had to worry about…
  • a corporate takeover at my husband’s job: we just didn’t know what was going to happen for weeks, and it was so incredibly stressful.  To make a long story short, eventually everything got ironed out after a few negotiations (the hiring terms of the new company were very undesirable, so he managed to get a contract instead of being a permanent employee, thereby avoiding quite a bit of unpleasantness), and now he’s making more money and gets to work at home.  A winning situation all around.
  • got my green belt promotion: more than two years after my last promotion, I finally promoted again to green belt.  I’m technically a senior student now.  I haven’t been to class much since then because working at the dojo meant I really didn’t want to spend more time there (plus it was weird being both an employee and a student: I was never sure which hat to wear), but now that I’ve quit, I need to get back to class.  Especially since I have to pay tuition again!

*whew*  That’s a lot.  And I thought my life was boring!  It just hasn’t been exciting in the way I’d like it to be.  Things are fairly settled at the moment, though.  I do need to find a new job because we do miss the income (though working for a non-profit meant my paycheck was never huge), but I want to find something I’ll enjoy.  Either that or I need to completely rework the budget so I can save enough to go back to school.  Which is what I’d really like to do.  I have several possibilities that I could major in, since the last 30 or so hours that I need are all major concentration classes as opposed to core classes.  I’m all done with those.  I’m kicking around the idea of either a psychology or a social work degree.  I think the latter might be more personally satisfying, though not as well-paying probably.  I could also get a science degree in either microbiology, an old love of mine, or atmospheric science, aka meteorology, an even older love.  That’s a lot of math, though, which is not my strong suit.  I just want something that will both make me happy and give me a relatively decent income.  If I don’t start working a real job that makes real money soon, I’ll never have anything in my Social Security account for when I’m older.  Getting old freaks me out.

So my current goals are re-establishing an exercise habit, getting the house and yard in order, which are in a woeful state right now, and either finding new satisfying work, or going back to school.  And that’s life in my world.

No Rest


**whine alert**

I was struck this morning with a peculiar weariness that took a moment to identify its source.  I’ve been doing a lot of work in recent months on managing my bipolar disorder.  The frontline defense against it is medication, but the main combat forces behind it that do the real work are a host of behavioral changes that take time and are a real bitch to implement if you’ve been stuck in unhealthy ruts to date.  I feel like I’ve been trying to drive a Jeep out of a muddy ditch.

If I really want to be healthy, I have to get enough sleep and on a regular schedule; exercise regularly and with vigor; eat well and regularly; take particular supplements known to be beneficial to brains like mine; meditate regularly; and a few other things.  Sure, those things are good for everyone, but if I don’t do them, I just sort of scrape through life and my meds aren’t very effective at all.  And that’s no bueno for anyone.  Least of all me.  Everyone around me can get away from me if they really want to, but I can never get away from myself.  Wherever I go, there I am.  If I’m all messed up upstairs, I get stuck in a nasty negative feedback loop that ends up in bad places.

So it’s in my best interest to maintain things as best I can.  Which is where the weariness comes in.  It’s a constant vigil, maintaining a chronic illness properly.  I can give myself a little leeway, but for the most part, I really can’t allow myself to fall out of my patterns.  That means getting up at the same time every day and  meditating after I make my tea.  Remembering to take my meds in the morning, which means heeding the alarm when it goes off or I’ll probably forget, since when bipolar meds are working properly, you feel fine, so you don’t think to take medicine.  Eating something, which is a constant problem because I’m rarely hungry in the morning.  Not ignoring that hunger when it pops up later in the day.  Getting some sort of exercise in the evening on most days (at least I seem to have finally settled on a time of day to get my exercise in).  Taking the evening meds.  Going to bed at a reasonable hour.

I’m still slack in areas, mostly nutrition, as noted.  I still tend to stay up too late, as I’ve been a perennial night owl most of my life.  On days off, I have to make myself go meditate instead of immediately sitting down at the computer.  I have a bad habit of not immediately heeding my med alarms and then forgetting to take them until a couple of hours later.  Which is better than not taking them at all (which I do sometimes), but it’s the sort of thing that’s the most effective if you take them at the same time every day.

And there are still things I should work on if I want to be healthier, like acceptance, which is a big part of Buddhism and a growing part of psychology.  There are things in my life and my world that make me anxious, but that I can’t change, either immediately or sometimes at all.  Worrying about them does me no good and in fact does me harm, since a buildup of anxiety typically leads to a mood imbalance eventually.  I have to learn to stop dwelling on these things if I want to be a happier person, and one that doesn’t wake up with constricted breathing in the middle of the night.

I also have to make sure I’m not inadvertently keeping sources of anxiety in my life that I don’t need, but have gotten used to.  Like things I feel I have to be responsible for, but really don’t anymore, if I ever did.  It’s an unfortunate side effect of being forced to take on responsibilities that you shouldn’t have to when you’re younger that you begin to take on responsibilities that you don’t have to when you’re older.  It took a long time for me to learn that I didn’t have to say “yes” to everything and everyone.

It all adds up to a lot of work that I sometimes (often) wish I didn’t have to do.  It’s a pain in the ass and requires a good deal of discipline that doesn’t come naturally to me and is damned difficult if not impossible to muster in the depths of depression or a fit of mania, which is exactly when it’s needed the most.  I wish I could just let things slide sometimes without everything going to hell.  Of course, when I do let it all slide, I have to give myself a measure of self-forgiveness for failing to meet the criteria I’ve set for myself, or that one of my support team has set for me.  Because perfection is impossible.

Still, no rest for the weary.  No slack for the brain matter.  Because that’s what’s necessary.

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