Sunday, December 20, 2015

What is a Successful Day?

I attended five yoga classes this past week, which is a big deal for me as I've been having trouble making it out of the house to do the things I'd like to do. Also, I went to a meditation on Wednesday night. For people living with a mental illness it can be difficult just to get out of bed in the morning. This past Tuesday, I had to get up before 7:00 am to make it to a yoga class that started four hours later. I knew that I would need those four hours just to make it from the bed to the shower.

My meds have been adjusted and I'm feeling better, I want to take advantage of this time and go to as many classes as I can and to live more fully. I haven't been living at all for a couple of months. For many years, I thought that this was how everyone felt. I thought that people were terrified to go to work and that they were so tired from depression that it was hard for them to accomplish anything. Sometimes I would be amazed by what other people had achieved, I couldn't understand how a person could be productive when they lacked motivation and a will to live. One day I asked my husband if he was frightened to go to work and he told me he wasn't. He might not want to go to work always, but it wasn't because he was scared. I asked him other questions about things I had assumed every one felt and learned that all people don't have trouble with daily functioning . It was a happy revelation for me. Life doesn't always drain people, just certain people.

If you can get out of bed in the morning and get yourself dressed and do the things that you need to do, I hope that you will rejoice in your good fortune because it is a fortunate state to be in. I know that we all struggle, but some of us are struggling just to function throughout the day.

For those of you who struggle with bipolar, depression,etc I hope that you are able to get out of bed today, brush your teeth, shower, and feed yourself. And if you can only do one of those things I think that you have succeeded in living a better life today.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Bit of My Fantasy World

I read books that take me into enchanted worlds. I love the whisper of magic. At some point I stopped using my imagination because I was ashamed of how much time I spent lost in imaginary worlds; that was about fifteen years ago, and now I want it back. I want to live in reality with everyone else, however, I also want to escape into beautiful worlds and visions of myself that fit my dreams.

Up until I was 19 years-old, I had an imaginary boyfriend, his name was David Michael or Michael David depending on my mood that day. I was watching Live Wire on Nickelodeon and I saw I guy in the crowd that I decided should be my pretend boyfriend. I realize that most 17 year-olds have real boyfriends, but I didn't, so my beautiful imagination created one. David was half Jewish, half Italian and we lived together in a Brooklyn brownstone. We had posters of Barbra Streisand on the wall, a turn table and lots of albums. David never spoke, I had no need for him to. I just wanted to know that I had a handsome ethnically mixed boy on my arm.

Now I have a real husband and child, a family, and I no longer live in my fantasy world. But I wish I could still create worlds inside my mind. I'm 46 and I create worry, which is nerve racking but not terribly interesting. What if I could imagine that I am going to play practice later today or that I am going to Washington Square with my Mac Book to start my tenth novel.I would wear black tights and an A-line skirt, perhaps even a beret. Maybe I should bring paper and pen instead, my mind is brimming with brilliant ideas, almost too many for me to fit in my little notebook. I have page after gorgeous page of notes about characters, settings, plots, and delicious dialogue.

Now I'm going to a yoga class, I'm really going and it isn't in New York and I'm glad it isn't. I haven't completely given up dreaming, but for now I'm almost happy where I am.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Facing My Fears

Lately, I have been having a hard time getting out of the house to do new things. Today I went to a yoga class that I've been wanting to go to for months. I've been too scared to go on my own, so it feels like I made some real progress. And I feel like I've found a new home to practice yoga. I've missed going to the same studio every day and feeling my feet touch the studio floor. When you battle depression or any mental illness, stability is incredibly important, and feeling hard wood floors under your feet can be grounding and stabilizing.

When I was manic last year, I wasn't scared to meet people, I'm not sure what I was scared of other than being locked up and having my freedom taken away. On my release papers, from the hospital, it states that I was "hyper-verbal". During that period it was like I never met a stranger. I talked to people, strangers, wherever I would go. What a wild and wonderful feeling that was. Even after I came home from the hospital, I was still manic and I continued going out and making conversation with whoever crossed my path.

My husband is at work this evening and I am at home alone. I know that there was a time when I loved being alone, I just can't remember when that was. I don't want to move backwards, but I would like to be able to enjoy spending time by myself instead of wanting to constantly be around people. I'm not scared to be around my friends, it's just been new people that I have been nervous about meeting.

I think that I will try to relax into my body, breathe deeper and enjoy the company of my little maltipoo, Django, and live with the comfort and excitement of knowing that tomorrow I will, once again, place my feet on precious hard wood floors and know that I am safe and at home.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Lessons

I'm realizing that although some situations didn't turn out as I'd planned, or wanted them to, maybe there is still a lesson for me even in the midst of my disappointment. I keep asking the same question over and over, not sure of the final answer. But maybe there is a bigger picture than the one that I see. And although I might not have gotten what I wanted, it doesn't mean that some mysterious force isn't at work in the chaos.

I lost three yoga classes that I had been teaching for the past four months, and I've been struggling with the situation every day. Today, for the first time, I realized that the classes were never really mine to begin with. Although I didn't enter the situation planning to be a substitute teacher, that is what the universe had planned for me. It helps me, somehow, to realize that the classes were, merely, on loan to me and their original teacher was always supposed to come back to them.

With the loss of income I worry about many things, one is being able to afford the advanced yoga training that I signed up for that starts in February. I want to become a better yoga teacher. I want to expand on what I know. I want to further myself as a teacher, period. Some how, some way, I think I may be able to do that. I'm starting to feel a sense of peace.

I pray for the doors to be open for me to grow and deepen. Time really does help wounds to heal, if you're open to healing, and some times when you don't realize that you need to be healed or to look at something through a different lens. Staying open and listening for the answer to my questions. Things aren't always as they appear and that, my friends, is what I have learned on this sunny day. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Beauty of Words

Early mornings seem to be a time when I touch that delicious feeling of hypo-mania. I send out silly texts and I have energy, which isn't destructive, running through my body. But within a couple of hours the sillies have gone away and I am left with soul-crushing depression. I don't know how to manage it, I'm right in the midst of it. Amazingly, I am still able to spend time with friends, those are the times when I feel safe, but anything other than going out for coffee is too scary and difficult for me.

If you saw me teaching yoga, you would probably never guess that I am terrified to go out and put myself in new situations. I teach with confidence and for the most part it's the real me that comes out when I teach. Then I come home and I am paralyzed. I stay in bed for most of the day, the bedroom door and curtains closed. I am embarrassed and ashamed that this is my life right now. And I wonder how sharing this with you beneficial to anyone other than myself.

I don't want to fight. I don't want to do battle every day. I just want to live a normal life which isn't plagued by darkness at every turn. Although my words are sad, I still experience beauty when  I go back and read them. That beauty is my light in the darkness. My words are my sword and shield. I am grateful for my fingers fluttering over the keys, this I can still do, I can write and share. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Snoopy and Psych Ward Coloring Creations

I went to a yoga class yesterday, the first one I've been to in months. My body isn't as strong as it was when I practiced every day, but yesterday, in class, I got a glimpse of what my body could be again. It felt good to experience my physical strength and flexibility, which, may be, a reflection of the possibilities that lie within my mental and emotional worlds. Strength and flexibility.

My husband gave me a Snoopy coloring book on the first night of Chanukah. I don't enjoy coloring because I don't do it well. I color like an impulsive and impatient 7 year-old. A dear friend of mine bought me a box of crayons and a Snoopy coffee mug. She told me to let my inner child express herself and not be too judgmental with my coloring.

I've never enjoyed anything that I couldn't do well, which means that I have missed out on a lot. There are plenty of things that I am less than mediocre at doing. I never colored when I was in the hospital, although many of the other patients seemed to enjoy it; I see its therapeutic value for focusing the mind. Our hall in lock down was adorned with pictures colored by the adult patients: pictures of children crossing the street to get to school, squirrels with acorns, and other childlike creations. I have joked that I saw some of the finest coloring I've ever seen while in the hospital from my fellow patients.

I've colored Snoopy's doghouse and it did quiet and focus my mind. I'll see if I can find it within myself today to color the lights on his house. I'm a 46 year-old woman with a Snoopy coloring book, and I feel proud of that. If my childlike nature weren't so evident, I probably wouldn't have been given those items as gifts. Although I'm hard on my inner child, I love her and her playful and mischievous ways. Yes, I'm proud to be a grown woman, not in lock down in a psych ward, that owns children's toys.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Accomplishment: I Took a Shower!

I'm a yoga teacher who teaches almost every day, yet hasn't taken a class at a studio in three months. But that's all changing today. I found a dear friend to go with me to a class and after that I may have the confidence to make it to a second class today.

Last night I went to bed around 7:00 pm, I know that's ridiculously early. I was depressed and down about not doing the things that I want to do. Frequently with depression, people lose interest in what at one time brought them pleasure. With this round of depression, I've still had the desire to do the things I love, which is a good sign, however, I haven't been able to get myself moving. Some times with depression, you want to do things, but feel almost paralyzed to act.

I woke up a little after six this morning, I knew it would take me at least four hours to get in the shower and get moving. When I got in the shower, I felt that I had made a huge accomplishment. I'm showered, dressed, and now waiting to leave for class. I'm proud of what I've done this morning. Taking a shower and getting dressed may not seem like a big deal to many people, but to people struggling through a depressive episode, it's huge.

Once I step foot in the studio my day will be a success. And I believe that doing this one small thing, attending a yoga class, can help turn my life around. Maybe tonight I will manage to stay up until eight or nine.

For the past couple of months my heart has been longing to go to group meditations at the center that I started going to when I was a teenager. There's always some reason why I won't let myself go. Not this week. I'm going tomorrow night and then I will celebrate my second victory of the week.

It's Chanukah, one of my favorite times of the year, a time to celebrate victory. What a perfect time for me to conquer (manage) some of my fears and self-imposed obstacles and arise anew with a heart filled with joy and compassion. I wish for us all to embrace our darkness and find the light within, particularly to those people who are courageous enough to stay alive and live side by side with this illness yet another day. We are victorious. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Few of My Wishes

I can't get myself moving. There are so many things that I really want to do, but I don't or won't.
Here's my short list:
1) Start practicing yoga at a local Iyengar studio
2) Attend a New Year's meditation program at the Siddha Yoga Meditation Center
3) Take the yoga teacher training in Ashville, NC, that I put a deposit down for a few months ago.

Each item on my small list means a great deal to me and with each one I am scared of not having enough money to pursue my desire. Last week I lost a chunk of income that affects everything that I want to do and the things that I need to do.

Last week was a bad week, I felt metaphorically knocked off my feet and flat on my back by some things that happened in my relationships and work. I start this week not so much on my back, but on my side and I still cannot get up. I am grieving losing students that were dear to me and broken commitments. I'm particularly sensitive, so I feel quite deeply especially losses.

I really need a partner to come with me every day or at least once to get me practicing yoga again. I need to know that when the time comes I will have $100 for the meditation program. And I need to know that I didn't throw away a deposit for a teacher training that I won't be able to attend.

Mainly I need to know that I am safe and loved in the world and that my life is built on stability, groundedness, gratitude and abundant grace.

Maybe my list doesn't look that important, but it is important to me. Last year at this time, I was experiencing debilitating depression, I was sick for six months and wasn't sure if I would ever teach yoga again. I got better and life changed. I worked again, I laughed again.

I am immensely grateful for everything that I have right now. It is all as it should be.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Darkness

Today I feel as though anxiety will never loosen its grip on me. My breathing is shallow, my mind and body are constantly on alert and I have an overall feeling of dread. I hate this. Relationships and circumstances get turned on their heads and I turn within. But I don't go into a soothing world within myself, I go straight to a place devoid of light, hope and security. I hang on tightly to my little boat. Afraid of the water, knowing that I cannot swim. I choke and drown on my own fear when in reality I am safe. I wish I weren't alone right now, I wish I knew how to self-soothe. At the moment, whatever advice I give to my students is lost on me. The shore is close enough to touch and yet I am blind, deaf, and numb. I must find the light in the darkness.


Monday, November 30, 2015

A Beautiful Life

I have a thirst for beautiful experiences. Words, essential oils, clothes, meditation, the bare limbs on my trees are just a few things that fill my heart with beauty. Beauty feels rich, abundant. The more I think about all of the things and qualities that I find beautiful the more I touch a sense of fullness within myself. Last night I kept reminding myself that if I keep thinking of beauty than I will never feel depleted, empty, or not enough. 

When I lust after beauty, I'm desiring something much deeper than a new haircut or makeup. I want to read words that were written as if with a paintbrush, vibrant pictures on a canvas. Beautiful prose...ecstasy. Looking at my new deck of cards, each card with a different magical picture, inspires me to walk in the woods among the dead leaves and the sounds of water fall.

The sky is darkening. As I look out my window at nature I don't see death, I see deep, dark, hidden beauty. I never get sad because of cloudy and rainy days. I may feel sad on those days because I have a tendency towards depression, but it's nothing to do with the clouds blocking the sun's rays. On those days I travel in my mind to England or some other enchanting world that I've only imagined.

Imagination is key for me. Even if I can't access those things that I find beautiful and rich, I can always imagine them. Some days are easier than others, those are the days in which my mind willingly travels and dwells on loftier ideas, thoughts that outweigh pettiness and my depression.

My wish for us all is to dwell in beauty and dive to its depths, whatever that may mean to each of us. At this moment my life is simply beautiful.


Friday, November 27, 2015

Love, Gratitude, and Precious Friendships

It's a beautiful day, the day after Thanks Giving, the weather in the 60's, the sun shining brightly. I'm sitting on the chaise, working crossword puzzles, still wearing pajamas at 10:30 am, my head stuffed up and my body exhausted. I used to pray to feel physically sick because it was the only time that I would be kind to myself and allow my body and mind to rest without feeling guilty. I'm not enjoying my sinus infection, because I still don't allow myself to relax without guilt. I don't want to relax today, I want to have fun. I want to be in a room with all of the wonderful people that I have met over the past few years. I want us to have fun wearing our pj's, playing games, reading monologues to each other, or even reading in silence while still together. Reveling in the wonderful company.

I have always considered myself an introvert, and for the most part I still am. But I've started to enjoy people and some times I can't get enough of being with them. There are coffee dates that I never want to end. It feels so good to be in the company of other women. Wouldn't it be such fun to spend a weekend in a cabin in the woods with my dearest friends? Yes, I believe it would.

So now this introvert would love to have a house full of people, not just any people, but the women who have come into my life, brightening my world, and illuminating my soul. Nowhere to go, no need to travel. Sitting still, yet not stagnate. Inspired and filled to the brim with love and gratitude for precious friendships.

I gather your images and hold them close to my heart. I imagine teaching you to read music, writing books together, watching independent movies together, and always, always sitting in coffee shops drinking cup after cup of coffee and talking about utter nonsense or the deepest truths.

Sending you all my love on this beautiful and grace-filled day.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving

This time last year, I was as fragile as a wounded bird. I was two months out of the hospital and rapidly swinging back and forth between gratitude and soul-sucking despair. I don't remember Thanksgiving lunch at my sister's house, so I assume it was emotionally rather stable; however, that evening shortly after arriving at my sister-in-law's house I started to crumble. My husband took me into rooms where he and I could be alone together, he knew that I was overly stimulated and still quite sick. The experience was surreal. I was scared of everyone and everything, so I dissociated, my awareness hovering above my body. During dinner, my hands, inexplicably, turned completely blue. Everyone's attention turned to me, I was showered with attention and care, making the whole evening less awful for me. The blue hands remain a mystery.

This year I'm in a different place emotionally and physically. I'm relatively healthy, or as healthy as I am going to be, considering I have bipolar disorder. Accept for daily bouts of loneliness and depression, my life is good, probably, better than ever. I love my family, home, and work. There are days, like this past Friday, when I lose it, cry hysterically, and feel as though my being alive is a burden to those around me. Those are the shitty days. But I have so much to be thankful for this year. There is love and goodness in my life. I have a loving husband and wonderful and,deeply, satisfying friendships.

I can only pray that this time next year my relationships will have deepened and abundance will continue to flow through my family's life. 

It's not easy battling daily depression and I would guess that most of the people in my life don't realize it's an issue for me, but it is. I value every beautiful relationship that I have. All of you keep me going.

I wish all of us a Happy Thanksgiving, one filled with real gratitude and an abundance of all that is good and sweet in life.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Living in Safety

I'm grateful for all the good in my life. Grateful to look out our picture windows to see the sun streaming through the trees bare branches. I see so many little blessings in my life, I almost never feel that I am a victim of my bipolar disorder. However, the past several years I have lived with a terrible worry that one day I would live on the streets. This thought has plagued my every day for too long now, robbing me of fully experiencing the gratitude that comes with living one's life in the present condition of relative freedom.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mind did a reading for me and I was able to ask my nagging question, "Will I one day be without a home." It's been several years since I've had a card reading. In the past I wanted to know if I was loved by someone or if a relationship would blossom. Once I was married, presumably secure in a relationship, those questions fell away, and I no longer craved the knowledge of what the future may hold. But, I did have a burning question: Would I receive a writing fellowship that I had applied for. I desperately wanted the fellowship and when I want something I want it now. I wanted to know that I was getting the fellowship. What I didn't expect was that the reading would lead to answers pertaining to my distant or possibly not so distant future, that were far weightier than a writing fellowship.

My friend shared that I would reach success by following the path of teaching yoga. The question of the fellowship hung somewhat unanswered. A week later my friend and I met again for coffee, she shared a bit more with me and gave me another reading. At that point, I no longer cared if I was awarded the writing fellowship, I made the decision that whether or not it was offered, I would, instead, pursue the path of furthering my yoga training. During the second reading I was able to share my deep-seated fear that one day I would be out on the streets, unable to support myself and without my husband, who is ten years older than I.

That second reading soothed my burning mind. It was the first time that someone had told me that they didn't see homelessness as ever having been an option for me. She saw abundance and success, not a life of poverty and lack. I will be forever grateful for being led to this special soul who gave me the reading and for her soothing words; words that came not from a need to comfort me, but as simple truths. I am loved, I am strong, and one day, if need be, I will be able to support myself. Thank you, Erika, thank you.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Taste of Mania

When I left the hospital last year, I thought that I was no longer manic, everything was good. With hindsight I can see that I was still manic, but not so much that I needed hospitalization. My thoughts had slowed down considerably, my body no longer in pain from the feeling that there was a race track in my mind causing my whole body to feel perpetually on the go. But I was still manic.

The second night that I was home from the hospital, I turned the television to Youtube and scanned for Brian Wilson performing the Pet Sounds album live in London. My first experience with a full out hypomanic episode, I had checked out the Pet Sounds CD from the library and listened to it repeatedly, each time weeping from the depths of myself because I could feel Brian Wilson's soul coming through the music and enveloping me.

After that episode, which was in 2006, I would play the Pet Sounds Live album, but could not reproduce the feeling that I had during my euphoric four month hypomanic episode. (At the time I didn't know that I was experiencing hypomania, I thought I was experiencing the greatest time of mental and emotional health that I had ever experienced.)

I sat on the couch, cranked up Pet Sounds, and this time got to actually see Brian Wilson performing the album rather than just listening on CD. Seeing and hearing Brian perform this brilliant album that is his soul come to life through music, brought me to my knees sobbing from the depths of my being. The feeling was back, I felt the same way as I had eight years before. I was touching Brian Wilson's soul and he was touching mine. I was turned inside out, the sobbing making my chest feel that it was caving in, the tears running down my breasts, my nose running mucous down my chin, shaking all over. My soul was merging with his.

As it turns out, when I'm manic, music has the ability to make me even more so, music has the power to shoot me out of my body and through the roof with a maniacal kind of joy. In many ways, I wish that I could still feel that intensity, it's beautiful and a good bit of Truth is contained within it; however, it's not my normal state and it's akin to walking through the world with body, mind and spirit wide open touching and being touched by all experience, which is a lovely and incredibly vulnerable place to live.

There is truth in my mania. I believe that my soul did connect to that of Brian Wilson. However, this world is not made for people who feel so deeply and profoundly. This world doesn't know what to do with us, it doesn't know how to handle our expansiveness. Ultimately, we have to be medicated to function here.

I miss the beauty of merging with another through music, etc, however, right now I will gladly take my "normal" frame of mind because I do love this world and I want to live here and function here with all of these other beautiful souls. So I keep taking my medicine and I remain sane and stable, and I have gratitude for all of the great artists that produce work that has the ability to touch me so deeply in my most fragile moments. Thank you Brian Wilson, thank you.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Rosh Hashanah

 On the Jewish calendar a new year is upon us, Rosh Hashanah. A time of new beginnings, starting over, but, hopefully, not leaving the past and the lessons we've learned behind. It's a bitter sweet time for me. For years I could feel it in my bones when the holiday was approaching, and I was filled with a delicious yet painful longing to be in the synagogue attending services. I don't feel that way now. Last year I was away from my family, in lock down in a psychiatric hospital during the holiday. I'm home now and healthy and that is good and fills me with gratitude. However, all the preparations that go with the holiday, the cleaning and cooking, which were always difficult for me, are even more so. My mind is overloaded when I think about making a meal. The thought of each ingredient brings me closer to a melt down. I have a tightening in the pit of my stomach when I think about cooking dinner tonight. It feels like it comes down to me, the woman, to ultimately make the holiday shine at home, and yet I am not a typical woman or person for that matter. Even seemingly small things can be extremely difficult for me. I feel a pressure to perform, to create beauty for my family, and quite frankly the stress of it is eating away at my mental health. How to explain this to anyone who does not struggle with mental health problems?

I'm not the woman that my husband married, it's true. I wasn't diagnosed bipolar and I had never had a breakdown. Now I am and I have. In subtle ways my mind feels as though its borders have expanded since my breakdown, in other ways my mind feels like it has a very weak link now. I've stretched and expanded and yet I need a certain tightness and support to hold my mind and emotions in.

I am my biggest critic. I frequently struggle with feeling guilty because I believe that I am a failure and have let everyone down. I pray that this new year I can become kinder to myself while finding ways to provide my family with the spiritual richness that they need me to contribute. I pray for tolerance, I pray for my mental health, I pray for serenity and yet I have doubts. Yes, I have doubts.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Freedom to Make a Mess

I'm on vacation, free to leave underwear, bathing suits and towels on the floor. No one to care about my mess; I am the only one to see it and for the time being I like that. When I'm at home, I make the bed every day, wash the dishes, fold the laundry, constantly worrying that I'm not doing enough and that I need everything to be in it's right place so that every one in the house will be pleased with me. But my nature isn't to make the bed, or to change the sheets every week; before I got married, I would wait two months before washing and changing them. At this point in my life I can't imagine going that long before taking care of things. My relationship with order and cleanliness is love, hate.

At this point in my life I don't want to sleep on sheets that haven't been changed in 60 days, nor do I want to look at an unmade bed. But on vacation...

I've been holding tightly for so long, and now I want to let go. I love seeing the trail of dirty clothes on my bedroom floor at the beach house and my make up and toiletries strewn all over the bathroom sink.

I have lived so small, taking up as little space as possible. Suffocating, gasping for air. And now I am coming up, breathing, spreading out, being seen. Being alive.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Guilt and Acceptance

It's Tuesday morning, I have nothing to do other than relax before I teach tonight and yet something within me won't allow it to fully happen. I have been plagued by debilitating bouts of guilt for a good part of my life. Always worrying if it looks as though I'm putting my needs before the needs of someone else, to the point that most of the time I'm not aware of what I need, my focus so consistently aimed outside myself.

I'm trying hard to seem normal, actually not having wants and needs isn't normal. I'm hardwired to be hypervigilant, trying my best to do the right thing lest someone accuse me of being selfish, ungrateful, etc. In the end it is I who lose. I lose myself and I lose my integrity as a human being. Ultimately, I have to take care of myself; I have to know my needs, there is no one else that can do this for me.

I'm a sensitive and delicate soul that struggles to make her way through this world. I wound deeply; I feel deeply; I care deeply. Always looking over my shoulder, quick to make sure I'm doing the right thing because I cannot bear to hear that I've gotten it wrong. Trying to be perfect, or fit into societies' version of what a "good" and "worthy" person should be, when in truth being my true self doesn't resemble what society expects of me. As my therapist says, I'm an outlier on the bell curve of normalcy. I wish society's definition of normal would change, but I could be waiting and wishing for the rest of my life. At some point I'm going to have to forge my own way, accepting all of my qualities, both the acceptable and the unusual. I've got seven more hours by myself. So what'll it be, guilt or opening up and wrapping my arms around the wonder that is me?


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Self-Care

I'm starting to learn to make some changes in my life that involve taking better care of myself. I have been experiencing exhaustion for a few weeks now, teaching a rigorous schedule that was simply too much for my body to handle. My mental and emotional states are fine, but my body hasn't been. I've been teaching so much that I have stopped my own personal yoga practice. I can feel myself growing less flexible and my muscles tired. I have given up workshops at places that I dearly love and I stopped teaching four of my classes.

So I am becoming choosy about where I spend my energy. I've narrowed it down to one studio and that feels absolutely right for me. I've been spreading myself thin trying to please other people, and in the end I am the one who suffers and has to break commitments, and then I beat myself up for saying no or letting go of something because I can't do it anymore.

When you have an illness like bipolar, it's important to be able to set proper boundaries for yourself, which is something I'm learning the hard way. I have to learn not to make commitments that are illogical, such as driving two hours round trip to teach a one hour class, even if I do love the people and the studio. I'm just now learning that exhaustion can play a big role in my illness and in the end it's better to do all I can to preserve my health than to be the go to girl that always says yes and gets things done.

I have three days off and more than likely a large chunk of that time will be spent in bed; I'm learning that's okay, it's part of what I have to deal with. Ultimately what I am learning is to say no and to have compassion for myself and my tired body. It's okay to say no and it is it okay for me to be tired and need to rest, it's normal.

I don't have to be normal compared to everyone else, but I am normal regarding the condition that I deal with every day, and that makes me smile with relief.

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Day to Myself

I have the whole day to myself which sounds pretty good, but I'm at a loss, I don't know how to be alone right now. It would be great to have a good book to get lost in, I don't have one. It would be great if I could write a book, but I don't have a story inside me.

I've been cutting back on my teaching schedule, so I will have even more free time until I find jobs that don't exhaust and wear me down. I  constantly question myself while I'm teaching and that in itself can be pretty tiring. I've been so tired that many times I've had to crawl up the stairs at home. I have to think about myself and my needs before I say yes to things. I have been teaching at a beautiful studio that is an hour away from my house. I love the studio and the students, but the drive is wearing me down. I used to be the girl that said no to everything and now I say yes. But my yes's need to be tempered with common sense.

If only I could find that story within myself, I would love nothing more than to share it with you and to get lost in its beauty. I would write to you about the make believe boyfriend that I had for three years. At eighteen I finally gave him up, I got a real boyfriend, and I started to realize that it was a little out there to have an imaginary life at my age.

I'm pretty empty and writing always has a way of filling my emptiness. I wish I could bring you with me into my inner world. We would drink tea and eat fattening pastries before going to the movies, where we would spend hours.

Tomorrow I go back to work and all will be normal again, but for now I'll enter fantasy and hang out there for the day, hoping that you will meet me there.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Grateful

I am exhausted yet grateful for my work. I'm teaching at two beautiful studios and my students are dear to me. It seems odd to write "my students." I don't know if I will ever feel like I am a teacher; I'm a student that is fortunate enough to get to act as a teacher also. I am gripped with anxiety before every class that I teach, and sometimes it seems completely absurd that the students are actually following me and doing what I say. At times I find it downright hilarious. They think I'm an adult and I am an adult, yet when it comes time to sit and lead a class I feel like a scared kid. I ask myself, "who am I to teach them?" With all the worry and angst I experience, the students don't have a clue how insecure I'm feeling, because fortunately I am able to pull off being an experienced and competent yoga teacher.

One of the good things about my heightened insecurity is that I am brought closer to my Source. I pray before every class that some force greater than I am will take over and speak and act through me. The more I've surrendered "control" the more powerful the experience of leading the class. We begin each class with a meditation, which used to make me uncomfortable because I'm undisciplined at meditating, so I felt like a fraud. Now when I start class with meditation I feel that I want to stay in that powerfully rooted and grounded space forever. Words start flowing out of my mouth, inspired words, words that come from a place deep inside that I rarely get to touch. And then I realize that my fear is a good thing, because praying and asking to be lead is a gift.

Replacing the pain, hurt, and sense of betrayal of losing jobs that were dear to me last summer, has come an immense gratitude that now I am exactly where I want to be. I couldn't ask for more and I am forever grateful for the Love that is guiding me through my life on this painful and beautiful journey.

This is for all of my students and teachers, particularly for Irina for her unwavering kindness and support.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Lonely and Busy

I'm lonely and tired. It seems that whenever I have a day free from teaching I end up at odds with myself and life, I don't know what to do and miss being around people. Sometimes I feel that I have burned so many bridges that soon I will have no one left in my life. And oftentimes I'm not even sure that I really burned a bridge, I just make an assumption that I am disliked and will end up left behind. If I don't do what is wanted or expected of me then I assume you will leave. I'm engaging in mind reading: assuming that I know what people are thinking about me when I really don't. When I remember how empathic I am, I convince myself that because I am so sensitive to people and my environment, then my assumptions must be right: I'm simply not liked and I've been dropped.

Right now I'm trying my best to take care of my physical, mental and emotional needs, which sometimes means I have to let go of certain commitments. All I know to do is ask for understanding and to beg you please not to leave me just because I have to take care of myself right now. It feels good to open up and write these words, to write my insecurities, and it's incredibly embarrassing because maybe no one knows what I'm talking about and I'm really not scorned or loathed by people I love. I'm exhausted and pushing myself hard, so please don't be offended if I haven't returned a call or email. Please be patient, I'm still here. Incredibly busy and achingly lonely.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Here I am

This past January I wrote an article called Creativity and Comfort Food, I concluded the piece by sharing that in an enlightening moment of self-acceptance I had been cured of writer’s block that I had struggled with for a couple of years. Not long after the article was published, I started writing a blog focused on my recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I made a promise, on the blog, to maintain the blog by writing a new post every day.
At some point, without my realizing when it happened, writer’s block returned, or more aptly, my daily writing had fallen away. My promises broken. It didn’t bother me so much that I had broken a promise to myself, but there was the embarrassment I had done it in a public forum.
I hadn’t given the blog or, for that matter, writing any real thought in months, until a few days ago when I realized that something was missing from my life and I wanted it back. It wasn’t too difficult for me to identify that I missed writing and why I had stopped, and writer’s block was not the problem. What happened was just as insidious as writer’s block, although I wasn’t blocked. I had made myself vulnerable, laying myself bare to anyone willing to read about my struggle with a late life diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I had opened up about my mental and emotional health for friends and strangers to enter, and I did so without using any discernment as to who I let in. Wide open, exposed.
When I was writing the blog I jumped off a cliff and for awhile I soared, and then I disappeared carried away into oblivion.
At some point I had stopped feeling bipolar, and with that I lost all interest in the disorder. With my subconscious denial of my illness, I lost the thread of identity that I had started to gain.
During my eight night hospital stay this past August, I had my first real experience of knowing who I was, and it didn’t have anything to do with my illness. Without my usual outside daily influences to mold me I had a crystal clear sense of identity, and the experience of identity began with experiencing an energy in my body which was so grand in scale that it was both awe inspiring and somewhat scary. That energy was linked to the mania that I was in the throes of, but I also believe that it was firmly rooted in the true essence of me; I was someone and I like her quite a lot.
Surrounded by the depressed and the delusional, I found myself. I knew my likes and dislikes, my favorite things. I knew that I loved and valued my everyday life, and that I never wanted to leave it again. To other people I may have always been a real person, but not to me. With my freedoms taken away from me in the hospital, I took shape behind the locked doors of the third floor of Lakeview Psychiatric Hospital.
When I ignore myself, shutting myself off from writing about my experiences, I stop writing. And when there’s nobody home there’s nothing to say.
Fear and shame quieted my voice. I lost the self-assured manic woman I was in the hospital and the old me returned, reticent and frightened. Fearful about the new people in my life finding out about my illness, at odds with my writings from a few months ago in which I exposed it all to whoever was willing to read.
I’m working again teaching yoga. My students don’t know my secrets and I’ve liked it that way, but now even stronger is my longing to have a relationship with myself which comes directly through my writing. I come to life on paper and I miss being comforted by the thread of my own thoughts and words.
Writing is risky if it’s done the way I like it, transparently. It’s up to me to grant myself the permission to write again from a compassionate and accepting place within myself.

 Read my words as the words of a woman who loves the beautiful way they roll out of her mind and through her fingers onto the page. Don’t just read me as a woman afflicted by a mental illness, because I am so much more. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bringing in the New

My husband was looking at my calendar last night and noticed that it comes to a halt in August of 2014. That's when life as I knew it ended. Things like keeping track of a calendar were pointless. I had nothing to schedule, other than doctor's appointments; I was becoming sick. At one time it was filled with yoga teaching dates and lots of subbing. And then it all ended. When that chapter ended, I walked into, or was dragged into a new life that I hadn't asked for. I had no other choice than to let everything that was important to me go.

My life has changed again, and now gladly, joyfully I can say that it's time for a new calendar. My days are becoming busier. I'm subbing again at yoga studios and teaching workshops and soon will be adding my own yoga class at a studio.

The new healing centers/yoga studios that are showing up in my life are beyond beautiful and tranquil. Yesterday at an interview, I sat and marveled at how without my being aware of it, I had drawn so much beauty and love into my life. My surroundings were gorgeous.

I'm a new me. I was broken and now I've rebuilt myself and my life. I'm more grounded than ever, and I have more love, friendship, and support than I have ever had in my life. Such goodness exists for me, if only I can remember that on the bad days.

Now it's time to buy a new calendar and get my life organized on paper. A change is coming, it already has.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Hi, I'm Jamie

I was imagining a conversation between two people who haven't seen each other in years and how they might introduce themselves, and for some reason I had them re-introducing themselves based on the religion that each is practicing now. That imaginary conversation took me to a feeling of restriction inside myself. For most of my life I wanted to introduce myself as a Jew, Catholic, Buddhist, etc. I needed to feel part of a people or an organized religion to inform me as to who I am. I still feel a bit of envy over one of my dear friend's religious faith, it is so beautiful, pure, and confident.

How would I introduce myself to someone I hadn't seen in twenty years or someone I'm meeting for the first time? "Hi, I'm Jamie." That's it I'm Jamie. I do yoga; I have wonderful friends; I write; I have bipolar disorder. Basically I think it all comes back to "I'm Jamie." Being Jamie feels expansive. I'm no longer part of any group, and somehow that's all okay, because I still exist as I am without labels. I suppose you could strip away the Jamie and we would come to something even deeper, richer. But for now I think I'm going to stick with the beautiful essence of being an ordinary human being, having a not so ordinary experience of life in this world. For the first time in my life I don't feel the need to call myself or be anyone other than I am, Jamie. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Test of Time

Needless to say, I fell off with the "I'm going to write a new post every day" commitment. I'm learning that some things that may feel like good ideas at the time don't serve me, like writing a new post every day. It put too much pressure on me, I simply got caught up in the good feelings of writing posts and wanted to maintain that joy.

In the past, if I had a good feeling about something, I assumed that it was God inspired and that it was the right thing to do. I'm learning more each day that that kind of thinking isn't solid, because sometimes I feel a lot of energy and good feelings behind certain thoughts and later find that they weren't inspired by something Higher, they were merely impulsive. I'm learning that a good way to test decisions that come from the gut and those that arise out of impulse is to check in with the idea several hours later and see if I still have the same gut feeling that it's the right thing to do. When its an impulsive decision I will notice that the energy has been sucked out of it with time. When the thought or decision is right on the money, it stands the test of time.

The test of time may not be true for you, but I know that it is for me. I love that feeling of energy and excitement that comes from new ideas and I know the disinterest that comes from ideas that soon fizzle out. I can keep my thoughts better in check now and not run off with the thrill of so called "great ideas." Like I said, what's great now may be boring or utterly ridiculous a few hours later.

Coming up with fresh ideas to write about daily was unrealistic and yet I'm finding that I can be more gentle with myself about letting it go. It didn't happen, I already botched it the first day that I didn't write. It's okay, I'm writing now and I understand myself better than I did even a month and a half ago when I started the blog, and that is amazing and solid.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Emerging from Depression

For the past several months I have been experiencing a deep depression, probably one of the worst I've ever had. Last week, at last, I felt the despair lifting due to a combination of medication readjustment and doTERRA medicinal oils. Finally, I feel like myself again. I'm not scared to be home alone and my every minute isn't filled with a despair that fills like it is pulling me through the ground beneath my feet. I don't know if I will ever feel that kind of depression and hopelessness again, I can only pray and take my meds, use the oils, continue practicing yoga, and do the things that I know I must to stay healthy.

At this point, the feeling better time, some people with mental illness decide to stop taking their medication, but not me. I truly want to feel better and I know that I need the meds to help me to stay stable. Taking pills every day is a small price to pay for emotional and mental stability.

I don't miss the hell that was mania, which left me so mentally, emotionally, and physically ill that there was no choice other than hospitalization. And I certainly don't miss clinical depression.

Although I've been depressed, I never lost sight of all of the good in my life. I have a wonderfully nurturing and supportive family and friends who I adore. I recently became a life coach, I've got a new article coming out soon through Author magazine, and I've started back to teaching yoga; I'm giving a workshop on yoga and journaling, and I'm completing an e-booklet about my experiences with bipolar disorder. Those are all good and positive movements forward in life. Although I was aware of all of this goodness in my life, it didn't take away the agonizing despair. I believe that bipolar disorder is truly a chemical problem more than a psychological one.

The sun is shining, the temperature warm, and at last I'm ready to embrace my life again.  

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Commitments Part 2

When I started writing this blog I committed to posting something new every day. That didn't happen. That was a commitment that I made to myself, not to someone else. I knew I couldn't maintain what I had committed myself to. There are days when I feel uninspired and depressed and on those days it's next to impossible for me to find anything to write about.

The birds are chirping outside my window and a soft breeze blows in. I feel good and calm. I have compassion for myself and I'm sorry that I set myself up for "failure" with this commitment. But I didn't really fail, one of the main themes of the blog is embracing ourselves flaws and all. So, there's no failure with not being able to come up with something new on a daily basis.

There are times when we need to let go of commitments that don't serve us or others, and sometimes so that we don't let other people down, we keep commitments that may seem good for the other person but ultimately aren't good for us. This is where discernment is important. My yoga teacher asks the question, "does it uplift," and I think that's a pretty great place to start self-inquiry. Is this commitment going to uplift me or bring me down. Maintaining the blog every day would uplift the part of me that wants to keep in touch with people, but the part of me that needs to know I'm okay even if I can't perform that day suffers because I'm working under the illusion of perfectionism.

I don't have to be perfect, you don't have to be perfect. We have to show up and do our best and have the wisdom to know when to stop and when to rest. The past few days I've rested from the blog, and that my friends is self-kindness.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Honoring Commitments

The other day I became stressed out by the thought of everything that I have to do this week and the thought of every appointment that I had to reschedule to make my week work. I was on overload. Old familiar thoughts and feelings began moving through me. I didn't want to show up or I wanted to call and cancel everything on my calendar, which I used to do quite frequently. But that's not who I am anymore, it's not who I've chosen to be, and I feel good about that. I stick to commitments and have been doing so for the past few years. It didn't happen naturally, it was a conscious change.

I decided that I didn't want to get myself into anymore situations that I would, ultimately, run away from. And I don't make huge leaps, like converting to religions which is something I did in the past. I keep what I always come back to, I keep the activities that are solid, that I have proven I will stick to.

Yoga and writing are both means of self-expression for me. I can't run away from them they are intrinsically linked to who I am. Life coaching is something that I have wanted to do for several years, so that's another solid for me.

I will not be a quitter like I was in the past. That's not the identity I choose for myself. Even if I'm scared and I don't want to show up for my commitments, I do it anyway because I choose to handle my commitments with integrity.

I canceled therapy this week, but there was no way around that cancellation; I know that I will be there next week. I'm not going anywhere although I've traveled far.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Grandiosity?

I just found this piece that I wrote when I was two weeks out of the hospital. It's interesting to me that

I thought I wasn't manic anymore, but what I've written sounds slightly grandiose.


What do you think? Here it is:

I read books for the newly diagnosed, watch Stephen Fry’s documentary The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, do whatever I can to educate myself about this illness, and eventually find a nearby support group.
As I park my car in the First Presbyterian parking lot, I realize that this meeting is where I am supposed to be, where I belong. It’s not as though I’m about to attend my first AA group, a group which isn’t applicable to me. I’ve gotten out of the psych hospital two weeks prior; my diagnosis is Bi-polar I severe, recurrent with psychosis. My mania was undeniable, no getting around the fact that the diagnosis fits me. I can walk into this group knowing that I’m in the right place, which is oddly comforting  that I have a name for what is ailing me, yet disconcerting that I am truly mentally ill.
As I walk into the room, before group has officially begun, I hear talk about Halloween, Six Flags and insane asylums. I know instantly that I have found the correct meeting room. These are my people. Quirky, smart, creative, morbid, and at times crazy as hell.
Before I’ve even taken my seat, I feel that I should, or at least want to, run the group. However, the group facilitator seems quite knowledgeable, wonderful and qualified  to run the group, whereas I have absolutely zero qualifications. But my master’s degree in counseling and the few talks and articles that I’ve given and written confirm, in my mind at least, that I should be running the group. I love the attention and, as I mentioned repeatedly during my hospital stay, I’ve got the master’s degree in counseling, so obviously I should be in charge. The fact that I’m newly diagnosed and am in the process of educating myself about my illness has no bearing on me.

In my heart I want to take over the group because the grandiose side of me needs to be seen; needs to be the best; needs respect and admiration lest I disappear and am forgotten about forever which is my deepest fear. My heart and mind screaming out please don’t leave me. Please see how wonderful I am and celebrate me as I believe I should be celebrated. If I’m not seen I don’t exist.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Changing My Identity

I’ve changed identities, names and hair colors many times. Sometimes I just want to look in the mirror and see someone other than me looking back.
       It’s a Saturday night, my husband and I are watching a Swedish film. Not sure what prompted it, but I take an inventory of my appearance. Skin tight grey pants, form fitting white v-neck sweater, black three inch wedge boots, and short bleached blonde hair. My outfit accentuates every curve, and yet it is tasteful. I feel good in these clothes for the most part, except for the other part of my personality which lives at the opposite end.
          Four years ago, I covered my hair with a wig, my shirts covered my collar-bones and elbows, skirts several inches past my knees. I was a different person. I had become an Orthodox Jewish woman, having converted to Orthodox Judaism. The uniform that I agreed to wear as part of becoming a Jewish woman never felt right, although I willingly morphed into Davida Shira, the name I had taken at the time of my conversion.
       I felt like I was wearing somebody else’s clothes. At times I would walk by a mirror and catch a glimpse of myself wearing pantyhose and sandals, baggy clothes, and a synthetic wig, and wondering what the hell I was doing, because the image looking back at me in the mirror definitely was not the real me.
     I have converted four times to three different religions; I converted twice to Judaism. The first conversion wasn’t valid in the eyes of the Orthodox community. In my late teens to mid-twenties I was a devotee of a guru. The same guru that Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about in Eat, Pray, Love. My spiritual name was Madri, meaning: happiness, joy, a good wife.
   I was adamant when I took on a new name, I never wanted to hear the name Jamie ever again, I wanted to erase myself.
   I have been a runner, running from one identity to the next. Always sincere in my intentions, but ultimately unable to continue what ends up being a charade. The real me, Jamie, the one I’m running away from always breaks through again.
          There is the pious woman Davida Shira, the devotee Madri, the Catholic convert Veronica, the woman who took refuge in the Buddha Tenzin Dalma, and when I wasn’t completely Orthodox my chosen name was Hadassah. I picked the name Hadassah because of the movie Yentl and, yes, I realize that was a ridiculous reason to pick that name. I just really thought it was beautiful.
Get a new name, subscribe to a new religion or philosophy and become a different person. 

         And then there is Jamie, the real me, the person that I always end up coming back to. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Riding the Waves

Today has been a mixture of up and down, but that's how every day is for me. Right now it's about 3:00 pm and I'm in the down swing.

Last night I found myself getting wrapped up with thoughts of starting yoga classes for people who are depressed or bipolar. Ideas started flowing with positive energy fueling them. I became caught up questioning why more or any yoga studios don't offer yoga classes targeted specifically for people living with mental illness. I was feeling self-righteous and pissed off, not exactly what yoga is about.

Today, as my energy is waning and self-doubt kicking my behind, I have been berating myself for thinking and acting outside the box. "Why can't I just think and act like everyone else? Why can't I follow the rules and stop trying to make waves? Why am I so paranoid? Are you crazy?! Who would want a bunch of people with bipolar disorder to come into their place of business?" And the list went on. At first it was a quiet but persistent voice, then as I became more attuned to my thoughts, I realized that I am asking myself to be someone other than me, and anyway I've never been that interested in people who choose to play life safely. In some instances it's important to stay within the parameters of polite society and at other times it's just being a mindless rule follower. I'm both a follower and a leader. I play it safe plenty of times, and other times I leap off the ledge and see if I really can fly.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I have everything I need to complete my e-book, except I've become mentally and emotionally blocked and can't move ahead. So many times this week I've felt like a phony. If I feel like a phony, how can I write anything? I'll tell you what is different about my being stuck now than before in my life: I am going to finish the e-book, no matter how shitty I feel right now, I'm going to complete it.

Although I feel like crap at the moment, I will still put together a proposal for yoga classes for a special population. Here's where the in the box part of me comes in handy. How about calling it "Yoga to Reduce Stress and Beat the Blues." That doesn't sound threatening, and it's important for everyone involved to feel a sense of safety: studio owners and clients.

I am so grateful that I have this blog and the people who read it. Thank you for walking this journey with me and riding the waves together.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Stigma?

Yesterday I began to wonder what I was thinking by coming out as having bipolar disorder. Had I made an irreparable mistake? Had I invited stigma my way, which I can never get rid of?

What caused this sudden questioning of my openness and desire to fight mental illness stigma? I didn't get a teaching job that I desperately wanted. I started wondering and worrying if that was the reason that I had gotten my jobs back that I had before I became sick in the summer. I lost all faith in myself and what I've been trying to do with my life, which is to be transparent and educate people the best that I can from the perspective of my experience. Up until yesterday's "rejection," I have felt great about living without shame and not wearing masks.

Fortunately, I had a brief realization, and the realization was that if ever I don't get hired because of my illness, although it may feel personal, it's ultimately not about me, I'm still myself. It's about the other person and the judgments that they may or may not make about me. In essence it's their problem not mine, even though it affects me greatly.

I was probably overly sensitive yesterday, thinking the worst, that I had been rejected because of bipolar disorder. I had a brief moment of feeling stigma followed by feeling washed clean. The cleansing that followed, was worth all of the insecurity and pain that I felt about not getting the job I wanted.

So, I'm going to continue to write even when I get paranoid that I am bringing potential harm my way. As long as I am comfortable with myself and don't hide out of a sense of shame, I will be okay, in fact, I already am. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Blessing to be Me

Yesterday, as I was sitting on my couch a couple of hours before teaching a yoga class, I felt anxiety rising from my mind spilling over into my body. I placed one hand on my heart and the other on my stomach to try to sooth myself. Immediately I felt sadness, it was an old, familiar feeling telling me that there is something wrong with me, I'm not good enough. Because I had my hand on my heart it felt safer to allow myself to feel the discomfort of the sadness. I sat with it, allowing it to drop into my heart and soften, and then the sadness made its way down into my belly where my other hand laid. The feeling soften in the heart and grounded me as it dropped down in my body. It was such a simple, yet profound moment.

When I arrived at the yoga studio, I started feeling nervous again. Out of practicality, I began to shed the layers of clothes that I was wearing. The top layer would get in my way when I was teaching. Then I decided I needed to take off my necklace because that would be yet another distraction. Before leaving home, I had made sure that I had on make-up and that I looked at least somewhat pretty and put together. I felt as though I had been given a special opportunity to teach the class last night, so I wanted to look good.

I sat at the front desk of the studio, waiting for students to arrive, while still immersed in my anxiety. I was wearing a pair of elegant and dangling earrings, which I decided must be taken off. When I realized that I wanted to take off the earrings, the thought came to me that I didn't want to have anything on my body that wasn't "me." I wanted to be stripped down to myself, exposed, wide open, and vulnerable. I'm not sure that I've ever felt the desire to be myself with out facade in such a palpable way.

 As it was happening it was hard for me to believe that being stripped down and vulnerable was safer than wearing a mask. But it was. Being truly seen felt safe. And that's a feeling that I hope can be stored away for the next time that I am feeling anxious about "performing" or being in the presence of other people. Such a blessing to be me.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Writing an E-Book

I'm trying to write an e-book about what I've learned since being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I don't really know what I'm doing. It's a similar feeling as when I try to write fiction. I feel frustrated and completely lacking confidence. Writing a booklet about bipolar is important to  me, which increases the pressure and the sense of self-doubt.

Yesterday I figured that I would sit down and flesh out all of my points for the booklet. I was determined to do them all. I wanted more than an outline, I wanted to put this thing to bed. Why am I so eager to get it done? I need the sense of accomplishment; I need to believe that I can do something new and I want to get away from the uneasy feeling of being out of my comfort zone. I've pigeonholed myself into writing articles that reflect my life experiences. The e-book is about my experiences, only I have them numbered. In the past when I've reached this point, I've given up and scrapped the project I was working on. It's not that this is more important to me than the things I've let go of, but now I want to work through my fears and learn how to do something different. More importantly, I want it to be okay for me to be in foreign waters and to learn to swim. I don't have to give up the project, I just need to learn how to tackle and complete the project.

Writing is not the only thing that I beat myself up about and give up on. I give up on myself and my ability to learn new things. I'm not a patient person. Once I start something, if I don't quit I want it done immediately. So, I'm going to learn to hang in there and stop looking for instant results, and maybe find that through the process I have dived deeper into myself, and that makes the pain of the process worth it.

I'll keep you all abreast of what happens with the e-book. Hopefully, it won't take long, but if it does that's okay,too.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Pick Something That Makes You Happy

What makes you happy? Pick three things and do at least one a day.

My three things are: having coffee/tea with a friend, going to a yoga class, and going to the movies. I can make at least one of these things happen every day, usually that thing is yoga. Although at the times when I need it the most I may find myself rationalizing why I should skip it and then I don't go. I'm fortunate that every day there is a yoga class taking place somewhere close to me. And if I don't give into the voice of negativity and decide to follow what's best for me, yoga is perfect to boost my mood. It gets me out of the house, with people and into my body, providing a grounding effect.

Tea with a friend is something that I can't always make happen. Most of my friends have children and husbands and other things to do with their days than hanging out at a coffee shop for hours. The human contact and interchange of ideas and emotions that come with getting out of the house and hanging out with friends is crucial to my mental health.

I love movies, although lately I'm having a hard time sitting still and focusing on anything. I find that I can't stay focused on watching anything when I am at home. However, going out to a movie is different. Going out, leaving the house, not stewing in my despair, those things are imperative to my mental and emotional health. Even if I'm unable to sit through a movie at home, I find that I can do it if I'm out at a movie. I love getting my kids' pack with popcorn, coke, and gummy fruit, although all of those things contain sugar, which is something I should only have in moderation because it affects my mood. The movies and snacks are an occasional treat. I love sitting in a dark room and being transported to a different world, into someone else's life and problems. Affected by the story, but not devastated as I might be if those moments were happening to me in my real life.

So, pick three things and find the one thing that you know you can do today. And see if it doesn't make your day just a little brighter and more hopeful.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

If You Get Hungry Enough You'll Eat

"If you get hungry enough you'll eat," I heard in the hospital, but firmly disagreed. I was hungry, but I was not going to eat most of the disgusting looking and tasting food served in the hospital cafeteria. Everything looked brown or beige to me, and even the fruit didn't look normal. My first day there I ate a banana, one of the strangest looking bananas I've ever seen, and wondered how they could manage to make fruit taste and look bizarre.

I have some OCD tendencies, particularly towards food. I would go down to the cafeteria, sit down at a table with whichever patients seemed to have the best hygiene and I would try to eat. I couldn't force myself to eat because when I did I could feel that I was going to throw up. The food had been exposed to germs, or so I believed, and reality was it was probably true. Everything is exposed to germs. Once I sat across from young guy who continued to sneeze in my direction, making the prospect of eating my food even more of an impossibility.

The only food I trusted was food that came sealed, like cereal or cookies. So I lived on carbs, primarily Oreos, or some other kind of snack, and cereal, with grilled cheese being an exception. A friend from my floor, and I on occasion would manage to get whoever was cooking that day to make us a grilled cheese. Those sandwiches were the only real sustenance I was getting, that is, if you consider grilled cheese sustenance, compared to the rest of my diet, it was.

My last night in the hospital, I couldn't stop crying and shaking. My clothes had begun to hang off my body, and I had started to grow weak from not eating (I was getting maybe 300 calories per day). One day they served us spoiled milk which gave several of us diarrhea for days, zapping my energy even more. I had hit a wall and was so hungry that I was willing to eat anything. That evening, when dinner was delivered to our floor, I had grown so weak and sickly that I was eating everything in sight. All the food that I wouldn't dream of touching, even earlier that day, I devoured. I didn't taste anything. I just needed the awful feeling of deep hunger to go away, and it took a lot of food to make that happen.

It was at that point that I understood the words that I had hated hearing, "If you get hungry enough you'll eat." I was and I did. And I hope that I am never in that position again.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Finding A New Way

I used to look forward to getting out of bed every morning, eating breakfast, and working the Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times crosswords. I haven't felt any interest in working my beloved puzzles in several weeks. They helped me start my day and now I don't care about them.

Today I tried a new tactic. I thought about something that does interest me right now, and brought that into my morning routine. I still feel interest and am entertained by some things on Youtube, and while it's not the most productive or spiritual way to start my mornings, I found that watching something worked to boost my mood and get me out the door to a yoga class (the only class I've attended this week). 

What was it that boosted my spirits? Queen Live at Wembley Stadium. I was excited to discover that Freddie Mercury and music still bring me joy. Ultimately, it doesn't matter how trivial or frivolous the act, it's that I took action this morning, and it worked, even if that action was sitting on my couch, staring at my laptop, and listening to a concert. My morning sadness took a day off, leaving me feeling happy and clear.

My mind is like a complex puzzle. I have to explore and tweak till I find what works and then be flexible enough to scrap the plan when it stops working, and try something new, which sounds a lot like what I learned in my life coaching course.

Light and beauty to start my day.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Beauty of Tomorrow

I want to create. So I'm creating another blog post today. I must do something to chase the blues away, nipping at my heels. Come to my house; come to my house my heart beckons. See me as I am and accept my ways, don't judge me as I judge myself.

Here on the coffee table is my mug, reading glasses, remotes and my phone. I didn't put them away today. I didn't hide the evidence that I reside here. Normally, I would scoop them up before you arrive, trying to give a good appearance. I've got it together. I haven't been doing nothing all day. But not today, today I stand without mask. I stand as I am.

Today I am sad, but tomorrow I could dazzle with my wit and smile. Be patient with me, give me a chance. Never mind the bowl on the floor from this morning. It's just a bowl.

Dial my number and we'll meet at a cafe at a table under the sun. And we will talk about the good times; and we will talk about tomorrow, the beauty of tomorrow.


Party at My House

It's 8:30 am, I'm lonely, I need to be with people, but it's 11 degrees outside. I don't do well in the cold, at least I have a hard time getting motivated to leave the house when it's cold. Then the battle begins: should I stay home or should I brave the below freezing temperature? What is it worth to me to have human contact?

This blog is a way for me to have contact, although it's a different kind of contact. It's not face to face and there is more of an obsessive nature about it. I crave other people. I wish I could pull you all through my computer screen and we could have a large yoga class then a party. Yes, a party with you all would be lovely, at least that's what I'm imagining.

Why not get lost in my imagination on this cold winter's day? We are all together: artists, writers, moms and dads, regular people. I'll make you guacamole and serve you chips. Maybe I can talk my husband into making some of his delicious truffles for us all. Everyone can bring their favorite dish and dress up in a costume that befits their true personalities. We'll have a jazz combo in the corner and a lady with a bird cage on her head stands nearby singing softly.

We'll read our favorite monologues and then decide if the person auditioning should get a call back to come read for us again. This won't be a normal party, we'll be as creative as our minds will allow. What the hell, we may even paint my whole house.

Take your shoes off and stay awhile. Keep me company and I'll do my best to keep you company and we can heal each others' loneliness, at least in my mind.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Up All Night

It's 5:55 am and I have been awake since before midnight, definitely not a good thing for someone with bipolar disorder. I'm not in the least bit sleepy and that scares me. My body and mind should be tired. Why am I not? I decided to stop taking one of my medications last night because I felt that I was over medicated and it was contributing to my depression. It turns out that I need that med, but I can't take it again until bedtime tonight.

Last night was particularly hard for me. Nothing happened to make it a difficult night, it's just my brain chemistry. Purely a chemical depression, not situational. What I needed more than anything was a good night's sleep and the sweet release that comes through sleep, but I got the opposite.

I'm worried that I won't have the energy to face the day. Will my sleepless night catch up with me, or will I be energized all day. Lack of sleep in people with bipolar disorder can be a precursor to a manic episode. I'm fortunate, the pill that I stopped taking last night is the same medication that saved me when I was in the hospital. It pulled me down from my mania. So I'm not manic now, and that's good news. I will go back to taking the meds like I'm supposed to and hopefully I will sleep tonight.

Last night I was sitting on the floor of Barnes and Noble, staring off into space, on the verge of tears from depression, nothing interesting me. So I thought it was being on a high dose of medicine that caused it. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. And maybe, just maybe today will be better.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Best Breasts on the Psych Ward

Life is insane in a psychiatric ward, naturally, and if you can open yourself to it, it can be hilariously funny. I don't think that I've ever laughed as much in my life as I did when I was in the hospital. I would laugh so hard, I would beat the cafeteria table with my fist, practically spewing my grape juice out of my mouth onto the person across from me.

One day at lunch, a fellow patient told us that she had breast implants and liposuction. Then she invited the women at our table to feel her breasts, to see how real they felt. There was a small line of women with groping hands waiting to feel our beautiful and diminutive fellow patient's large fake breasts. I have to admit that I had been wondering about them since my arrival. She seemed awfully petite to have such large perky breasts.

There were cameras throughout the building, except in the bathrooms and our personal rooms. So, when it was my turn to feel her up, I felt more than a little worried. Also, there were two mental health workers in the room with us. At that point in my stay I had already stirred up enough trouble, and I had worked hard to be a good girl who was helpful to staff and fellow patients. I didn't want to be caught or filmed feeling someone up. Instead I tentatively poked one of them with the index finger of my right hand. I've never felt any breasts other than my own, so I can't say I learned a lot from the experience, only that hers are firmer than mine; not big news.

We were laughing hysterically the whole time. It was one of those priceless moments that you usually don't get in the "real" world. Oh sure, women with implants invite people to feel their breasts out there in the world. But this was the psych ward; we needed some relief from our misery and we got it.

I had my chance, but I still don't fully know what an implant feels like. What I do know, is that I had a hell of a lot of fun during those few minutes in the psych ward. And that is priceless.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Emerging from the Shadows

A couple of hours ago I posted on my FB page that I will be teaching classes for the depression and bipolar support group that I attend. It just occurred to me how amazing it is that I am able to go online and admit that I attend a bipolar support group. I feel like I'm emerging from the shadows.

In the past, like as little as two months ago, I wouldn't have gone online and announced that I go to a support group, much less have a blog called My Bipolar Life. I've come a long way. Although, I think I was somewhat transparent before, but still there was a fear of being found out. Mixed with that fear was the feeling that I was not going to hide out and be ashamed of my illness, nor would I label myself bipolar. I have bipolar disorder, it doesn't define me and yet it is a huge part of my life. I live with it and often feel that I am battling it every day. It's not a lot of fun.

I have received wonderful and supportive feedback about this blog. But there is a small part of me still lurking in the shadows, or maybe not now, that wonders about the people who I haven't heard from. What do they think of me? Do they admire me? Do they think I'm crazy? I don't know and honestly those questions don't occupy a great deal of my time.

I'm out and I thank all of the people who have stood by me and are still standing by as I go through this difficult journey with an illness that is a bitch to have. I'm not enjoying this one bit, but my friends, family and supportive people I have met on line, help alleviate some of the daily pain. A million thank you's for not leaving and not letting me fall.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Change

Every day I wake up not knowing what to expect. Will I feel good today or will I feel sad. One thing that I've figure out during the course of the past weeks, is that I feel much better mentally and emotionally when I know that I have somewhere to go in the evening. This is one of the ways that my personality has changed since my manic episode. In the past, I loved my alone time, and I always wanted to be home in the evenings.

When I was a teenager, I was pretty straight and narrow, I went to bed at 10:30 on the weekends. I didn't go to parties and I had one friend. Staying up late didn't and still doesn't feel good to me. Also, I've used sleep as a way of escape for most of my life.

I feel like crap at night, except when I'm out, and I'm more than a little amazed by this new phenomenon in my life. It's pretty amazing when a life long habit or way of being changes without your trying to make it change. I don't take naps anymore either. Sometimes I feel frustrated because I want to fall back on that old coping mechanism. Sleep, my lover and my enemy. I feel as though I lost many years to sleep, so I'm blown away, in a good way, that sleep no longer dominates my life.

Old patterns can change. We have to cultivate the awareness to see the change and be open to change. I can tell you that at 45 years-old changing something that's driven me wacky for the past 35 years is pretty damned amazing. Although sleep was a major coping mechanism for me, it made me feel even more depressed when I woke up from my early or mid afternoon naps.

Journaling can help us tune into the changes taking place, both good and bad. I find that it's helpful to go back and read what I've written, helping me become more aware of the changes or stagnation in my life. No victory is too small.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Woman with a Dream

Most people don't go to see a therapist when they feel great, typically, it's when they feel depressed or need help and motivation to get through some temporary problem. Bipolar can be tricky to diagnose. I wasn't diagnosed until I was 45 years-old. And I was only diagnosed because I shared with my therapist some embarrassingly bad decisions I made in 2006.

I had a mini break down, waking up at 5:00 am in tears because I was so scared to go to work. I had made a mess of my job by my goofing off, and a general lack of understanding about what my job entailed. I was a case manager at an agency that helped people living with Aids. Case management involves a lot of paper work and is a left brained sort of job, just the type of job where I flounder. I am more right brained and do better with creative work, like writing.

I abruptly quit my job, although I was a single mother and didn't have another source of income (not a good move). As soon as I quit I felt this tremendous peace and joy come over me that lasted for four months and didn't end until I was forced to get a job as a secretary. At that point I fell into a deep depression. I had gone to graduate school so that I would never have to work a desk job.

One day as I was listening to NPR's bi-annual pledge drive, I had the brilliant idea that I should hold my own pledge drive. I thought it was a brilliant idea. With a good amount of help from a dear friend and her uncle in Chicago, I created a website Woman with a Dream. I asked people to send me money to live on for one year so that I could take the time to learn everything I needed to know about making movies. I don't make movies.

I sent my link to all the major players in the movie the Secret, all the radio stations in Atlanta, and to Oprah Winfrey. One disc jockey thought it was a great idea, but apparently her boss didn't, so that lead went nowhere. Another woman agreed to interview me for her radio show, but that didn't work out either. Then I contacted gyms and bookstores asking if I could come speak. I don't know what I would have done had anyone taken me up on this "brilliant" idea.

During this time, a friend got a job interview for me with a social work agency. The job would have been perfect for me. I would work from home and drive to see my clients. When I was in my right mind, I had wanted that job, but I wasn't in my right mind, so I went to the interview and told them that I didn't want the job anymore, I wanted to work with companies to inspire people. I didn't have a concrete plan, I just felt that I was so extraordinary that people would benefit just from seeing me. I was grandiose.

My credit cards were all maxed out and my car was repossessed, since I no longer had a salary to pay my bills. My outer world was falling apart. I had made a mess of my life, gotten myself into an unsatisfying and ridiculous romantic relationship and yet I still felt exhilarated. Nothing brought me down, I was on top of the world. Eight years later and I'm still left to clean up the mess from that period of my life.

When I confessed this to my therapist she said it was a hypomanic episode and asked if I had ever shared it with my psychiatrist. I asked, "why would I?" It was the greatest four months of my life. I was bigger than life and people were drawn to me then. She suggested that I had Bipolar II.

This summer, eight years after A Woman with a Dream, I've graduated to Bipolar I. I had a full out manic episode. Wrong medications helped lead me there, but I was probably going there anyway, because regardless if anyone else or I thought I was bipolar, I was. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Broken System

I believe psychiatric hospitals are beneficial and I admit that I learned many precious and invaluable lessons during my stay in one. However, I also firmly believe that our mental health system is badly broken and there must be a better way to help the mentally ill other than “scaring us straight,” which is exactly how many of us felt.
            The morning check-in consisted of a mental health worker asking for a daily goal from each patient. The most popular response was, “stay positive and have a good day.” I never claimed that as my goal because it wasn’t true.
My goal was not to stay positive and have a good day; my goal was to have a laser sharp vision that focused only on the now. I could not look behind or ahead. I had to live in the moment, which was something that I found impossible to do in my life outside the hospital.
I chose to live without hope. Hope when applied in the wrong way can do you in when you’re in a psych hospital. If you get your hopes up that you might be going home today, only to find out that you’re not, devastation frequently follows. I didn’t want to feel that devastation; I knew it would crush me. A million times a day I felt crushed and had to continually rebuild my mental and emotional endurance to make it through. I couldn’t afford the crushing blow of hope.
            Patients in a psych ward say what they think staff wants to hear. Most of the patients that were in the hospital with me were there because of suicide attempts and were horribly, debilitatingly depressed. I knew that for many of them, their peppy answers about staying positive and having a good day were based on a terrible desperation to get the hell out of hell.
            I wanted out, too, and I found my own ways to be dishonest, trying to convince psychiatrist, staff, and myself that I was healthier than I actually was, and that I was no longer manic. I wanted to be released back into the real world, a world with sky and trees, and edible meals; a world with privacy and one in which I could take a shower or go to the bathroom without asking for a mental health worker’s permission. I needed permission to get my shampoo, toothbrush and toothpaste, when to take a shower, if I could have a tiny pencil to write with, if I could use the phone, and I always prayed that clean towels would be out and available, so that there would be one less thing that I had to ask permission for. I missed the world I left behind where I had some shred of dignity and a say into what and when I would do things.
            I missed living in a world that values the outdoors and the need for daily sunlight and fresh air. In the hospital only the smokers get to go outside the locked doors. At times I would ask a smoker how it felt outside, and never did I receive an answer that contained an ounce of appreciation for that small privilege that I would never receive because I didn’t smoke.

            I voluntarily checked into the hospital. I was stuck and there was no getting out until the hospital staff decided that I could be released. But I did get out, and I did get better. And as much as I hated the experience there was something at times that was magical about the whole thing. The magic was that we really did change. We came in crying, or in my case terrified and belligerent, and we transformed into people who could both laugh and cry in a difficult situation. We learned that it is possible to care deeply for people who are more or less complete strangers. Those strangers, the other patients and staff, become your family while you are there. Although the system is broken, it has saved many of us. Now let’s work together to improve it.