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.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Best Dressed Girl in the Psych Ward

Fashion is important in a psychiatric hospital,  if not to other's at least it was to me. Because I went voluntarily, I was under the illusion that I would need ten to fifteen outfits for my stay.
The website made the hospital look almost idyllic, as if I would be going outside and attending group and therapy sessions by the lake.
        I was under the misguided impression that I was going somewhere pleasant and therapeutic, somewhere where I might need outfits. After my third day, I glanced in my suitcase, with a male mental health worker looming over me, and noticed the sunglasses that I had packed for my time in nature. I wanted to be prepared, hiking might be involved.  At that point in my stay, I found the sight of my sunglasses hilarious and sadly gratuitous.
            Patients commented that I always looked nice. I wore cute shirts and dresses and had a multitude of colorful, fun socks. My dresses were actually nightgowns. I added leggings and a sweater and found that I could create an interesting if not tasteful outfit.
Hair products were contraband in the hospital. My short bleached blonde hair, sans product, with my dark eyebrows made me look even kookier than I felt. 
I decided while I was packing for the hospital that there was no point in packing make-up. Although I did pack some very nice foundation that I never wore, because it felt pointless and I wasn’t even sure that I was allowed to have it. There were so many things that we couldn’t have I assumed make-up was included in the list.
It’s hard to maintain your pride when you’re locked up because you went crazy. There isn’t a lot in the hospital that contributes to feeling any sense of pride. I felt as though the goal was to strip us of all pride and wear us down. Wearing clothes that I had picked out was important to me. My clothes were something that I felt that I had a bit of control over. 
When I was released from the hospital, I decided that I would never again wear the clothes I had worn there. I couldn't face the nightgowns that a few days prior had substituted for fun dresses.

The second day home, I was planning to go for a walk and I needed comfortable shoes. The shoes that I wore every day in the hospital were the most comfortable that I own. So, I chose a new tactic: I chose to immerse myself in my fear and face my clothes. I put on my comfy shoes, my feet feeling nurtured, and I went for a walk.

I Love Yoga

I'm having a good week, although a good week doesn't necessarily mean that it's stress free. Good things are happening with the blog, I'm making lovely connection with people, and I have some potential yoga teaching opportunities.

I stopped teaching yoga this past August, which was when I started getting really sick. I've taught four yoga classes since that time. I've found that I'm more grounded and a better yoga teacher than I was before the manic and depressive episodes happened. People have mentioned to me the difference that they see in me. I just seem to be more...me, and I think that's a good thing. I kind of like who I am. There are plenty of days where I beat myself because I think I've done something horribly wrong, but beneath the ungrounded thinking is a grounded, assertive, and self-confident woman. Yoga gives me the opportunity to express that side of myself.

Before I started practicing yoga, I was almost never present in my body. My reality was highly distorted as if I were real, but everything around me took on a dreamlike quality. It was an unsettling way to live. That state of being is called derealization which is a form of dissociating. In the state of derealization nothing feels real, except for you. Dissociation usually arises out of some kind of trauma. Although I'm not sure what my trauma was, I just know that I became an expert at cutting myself off from my experience of life at a very young age.

Yoga helps put my awareness in my body; it helps me to be here now. I needed to know that I was going to the same place every day, the yoga studio, and feeling the hardwood floors beneath my feet. A few months after I started yoga, I quit dissociating. Yoga helped clear me of a lifelong habit. It gave and still gives me a feeling of the world being real and safe.

I've made many wonderful and hopefully life long friendships through practicing yoga. My yoga mat has become my life preserver, and my dearest friend.

Several places give free community yoga classes and, if you can't do that, you can find some excellent yoga videos online.

If you have bipolar disorder be aware of any contraindications with yoga. There are certain breathing techniques that we can't do. They tend to be techniques that stoke a lot of energy in the body and can make us manic. My teacher knows about my condition so she watches out for me. If I'm taking from a teacher who doesn't know I'm bipolar and she cues that kind of breath work, I simply shake my head no, and whisper that I can't.

If you have questions feel free to email me at: davidagoldberg69@gmail.com

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Hospital Prelude

Once again I am staring at the blank page and I don't know what to write, and yet there is nothing that I long for more than writing, creating, sharing myself with you. I'm not ready to write about my eight night stay in lock down at the psych ward. Whenever I start to write about it, I find a heaviness coming over me and words are inaccessible. Maybe I haven't fully processed everything that happened to me during that horrific eight days, and maybe I'm a bit traumatized from the whole ordeal.

I was sick for almost six months. I was either manic or depressed, or rapidly switching back and forth between the two. I had been tracking my moods every day, using an app on my phone called a Wellness Tracker, but I stopped using it the past four days because it reminds me of being horribly depressed. There are many wounds from that first and only manic episode living inside me on a subconscious level. When I sit to write the blog or check in with the mood tracker I become aware of the scars.

I had to go to the hospital. I wasn't sent against my will, although that was going to happen if I didn't go voluntarily. All that I can write at the moment is that although the hospital was a living nightmare, it was a necessity for me to be there.

The hospital's website gave the impression that I was going to a paradise on earth. I actually packed 10-15 outfits for my stay and thought I might want to go back several times each year. But a website is one thing and reality another. I don't want to dissuade anyone from going to the hospital if it's needed, because it saved my life. But I do encourage people to research hospitals and read the reviews. Sometimes you can read a review and tell that the person who wrote it is a negative person; take their advice with a grain of salt. Seeing a pattern of several bad reviews is another thing altogether. When you're not in crisis take your time and do your research; have a friend or family member help you if it feels too overwhelming.

The DBSA website is a wonderful resource: dbsaalliance.org

The hospital wasn't completely hellish, it was also hilarious, some of the best humor I've ever experienced. In time I will tell you my stories, but not yet, not yet.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Terri Cheney: From Entertainment Attorney to Bipolar Advocate

I love to read and I'm extremely picky about who and what I read. Four years ago, I read my first bipolar memoir, Terri Cheney's Manic. I've read it twice since then, the last time was after my first and only hospitalization, which was this past summer.

The first time I read Manic, I hadn't been diagnosed bipolar. I was bipolar, but didn't know it yet.
Although I didn't think that I was bipolar, I found a great deal of comfort while reading the book. I wasn't alone anymore, there was someone to walk with me on my journey, to keep me company in my darkest hours.

After reading Manic, I told my husband that I wished I were bipolar so that I could write and be creative like Terri Cheney. Most people don't wish that they were bipolar so that they can tap into their creativity, they just want to be creative without the mental illness piece. Considering I'm bipolar, I suppose it makes sense that I sometimes go to extremes and wish insane things for myself.

There are numerous books that have been written about bipolar disorder; I've read quite a few of them and what speaks to me most deeply is memoir. I've had people warn me that I shouldn't read memoirs, that they will pull me further down, but that's never happened. I'm always engrossed and ultimately uplifted by the story. Terri's story touches me deeply and I invite you to read this beautiful, riveting memoir.

Find Terri on the web at: http://www.terricheney.com/
Terri's Psychology Today blog: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-bipolar-lens



Surrendering to the Sadness

Yesterday I felt the sadness shifting. It wasn't that it was gone, it was there in full force, but I allowed myself to feel it pulling me deep down into my stomach/gut. All along I've been feeling this sadness and it has overwhelmed me, it's not as though I've blocked it out. So what was different about yesterday?

I volunteered at the front desk at the studio where I practice yoga, then I took my daughter to work and drove back home where I was left to face myself, which is something that I have not been able to emotionally and mentally handle. I choose not to zone out by taking naps, because they leave me even more depressed when I wake up.

When I got home from taking my daughter to work, I put on my headphones and listened to a chakra balancing binaural beats download. Recently I've found that I'm far too antsy to close my eyes and sit through meditation, but I can write my blog post while I listen to the chakra download. So I did, I wrote my blog. When I finished writing, the sadness wasn't as intense as usual. It was just waiting a few minutes to blast me with it's force.

So, yesterday when the sadness arose I did something different: I felt it and I surrendered to it. I feel it with me every day, but I can't say that surrender has happened, until yesterday. Surrender lead me to a grounded feeling deep in my gut. I don't know if this same tactic will work today, I don't know if I will feel sad when I'm alone, although there's nothing to indicate that I won't. However, I'm excited to use this new awareness: surrender. All I can do is hope and pray that if my sadness revisits me today that I can find the ability to surrender and re-experience the same intensely grounding sensation that I did yesterday.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Sadness and Depression

It's not always easy for me to write, sometimes it's quite difficult, like now. The perfectionist in me feels terrified, as I sit here typing, that I will make a mistake or write something no one wants to read. However, I think that my inner perfectionist could be wreaking havoc on my life right now. I've mentioned that I feel a strong need to be with people at all times because when I'm alone I go to a dark, depressed, and deeply sad place. The  sadness lives in my gut and feels as though it could pull me straight down through the floor. My sadness is heavy, it makes my eyes fill with tears, and I've been labeling it depression. But is it depression or is it sadness? They are two different states of being. Depression isn't a primary emotion, however, sadness is. 
 
Last night as I walked up stairs to my bedroom, I felt the heaviness threatening to bring me to my knees with despair. Then I had, if not an epiphany, a new awareness wash over me. My psychiatrist tells me that these sad feelings are chemically based. Bipolar is a chemical, genetic disorder, which in some twisted way is comforting to me, but the new awareness said that perhaps this isn't a completely chemical depression, in many instances the sadness is situational. Being alone makes me feel awful, suicidal sadness. Being out and around people feels energizing and good. 

Realizing I was sad was a profound moment. I'm not just depressed, but I'm sad. Not tired, not sleeping too little or too much, my appetite unaffected. I know the signs of depression, and believe me I do have many of them. However, I've discovered that I am sad  and it's a very old feeling; my sadness loaded with unfinished business. The awareness that I'm dealing with sadness which I've been holding onto since childhood, brought me comfort last night. I can feel my sadness and that's cathartic.For years, I stuffed away my emotions, dissociating from my feelings and the world around me. Now I can feel, and although I feel like crap, this pain is a healing part of my journey. It's scary to come face to face with my despair, but now I know that it's come up for me to deal with now, because I am ready.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Introvert or Extrovert

Can a person change from an introvert to an extrovert? I've known the difference since learning about introversion and extroversion when I was in graduate school, and yet now that my personality is changing I'm lost as to the differences.

I've always been a person that needs a large dose of alone time. My grandmother even said that I was a loner when I was a teenager. I'm not a party goer and I don't enjoy being around a lot of people. I would prefer to sit quietly in a corner and be ignored, or so it used to be. Since the summer, since my first manic episode I've found that I literally cannot tolerate being alone with myself. I want to be with people or out doing something every moment of the day. Even if I had a daily lunch scheduled with friends, it wouldn't be enough. When I come back home I fall back into a deep depression, a depression that could be quickly solved simply by leaving the house again. Is this extroversion, or am I trying to fill an emptiness that resides in my gut?

Last night I took a Psychology Today test to find out where I fall out on the introversion/extroversion scale, and I came out in the middle. In the past, when I've taken these kinds of tests, I've always shown up as a complete introvert.

Since my illness this past summer and fall, I've found that I'm more grounded than ever and that my true self seems to be showing up more and more. Was the shyness and introversion not an expression of my authentic self? Is this woman who craves human contact and connection the real Jamie? It's a difficult question to answer and it will be interesting to watch as the answer unfolds.

As painful as it is for me not to feel connected at times, I kind of like this new me and want to continue exploring her. I guess you and I will see what happens as we travel this journey together.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Balancing Act

Balance has always been hard for me, whether it's balancing in a yoga pose or balancing everyday demands. Frequently, I wake up feeling good and within a matter of minutes I've fallen down a hole into a dark space. For most of my life, I have preferred to be alone rather than being in the company of other people, but in the past few months that has shifted. Now I feel the need to be out in the world with other people for almost the entire day.

There must be something in between complete introversion and extroversion. I've always seen myself as an introvert. Maybe I'm more of an extrovert than I thought, or maybe I am trying to fill a deep hole, an emptiness that resides in the pit of my stomach,with constant human contact. Either way I go, I'm off kilter.

I started this blog two days ago, and I have obsessively checked my statistics, hits to the site, and who likes it on FB. Sure that's embarrassing to admit, but it's the truth and it might help other people who engage in the same sort of desperate and obsessive behavior. I realized that my other choice, the thing that I normally do, is sit around the house doing nothing other than diving deeper into a dark, ugly, debilitating depression. So this is what it is, I can be OCD about this blog, keeping myself busy with something all day long, or I can ignore the stats and live in a meaningless depressive state. You know what? If, for now, the choice is between the two, I will pick OCD Jamie. The part of me that can't shut the laptop off or put away my phone when away from my good friend laptop.

Yesterday I had some meaningful contact with one of my favorite writers, Terri Cheney. If you like memoir and want to read about one woman's experience of living with bipolar disorder, I would strongly recommend going on Amazon and ordering her book, Manic. She's beautiful, dynamic, and the real deal.
On Facebook, I made a commitment to maintain this blog every day, perhaps that was yet another example of lacking balance. For now I'll, simply, do the best I can.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Gambling

I've taken a gamble, made myself vulnerable and come out of the "mental illness" closet. Gambling isn't a first for me. I've frequently put myself in the position of being exposed, whether as an artist's model in my early twenties, to opening myself to the judgment that sometimes comes with admitting that I've converted to four major religions in my life. When I'm not depressed, I make things happen, usually quite quickly. Perhaps there is a manic drive behind the ambition or, possibly, that's my personality.

Being bipolar has a confusing effect on me and I think it may confuse the people in my life. At times I can be exuberant, silly, and full of personality. Is everyone wondering if I'm manic again? Even I, at times, wonder and begin to question my sanity. Or, is my natural personality exuberant, silly, and expansive, but frequently hidden due to intense depressive episodes?

It's quite strange to sit at a table with lovely people, people who I adore and cherish, watching them joyfully down shots of tequila, growing tipsier with shots, while I sit sober and feeling like I have been branded as the crazy one. In that moment I may have been transparent, but completely sane.

I'm not always crazy and I'm not always depressed, I have moments of sanity. Subsequent to receiving the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, hospitalization, and numerous med changes, there is a part of me at my core that is more grounded and stable than I've ever been. People notice this. I've noticed this.

The illness does not define me, however, it would be foolish for me to say that it's not part of who I am, because it is. It's part of my identity and yet I am so much more, and I am so much more because of my illness.

Bipolar is confusing, frustrating, and at times awe inspiring as I watch the amazing things that my mind is capable of doing. I am finishing this post at the same time that I am listening to an online meditation. My mind and body too antsy to sit still and meditate without doing something else at the same time. This is my bipolar life.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

My bipolar life

Some people might say that I am taking a huge risk by creating a website that announces in the title that I have bipolar disorder. And they would be right. I am taking a risk and yet it's a risk that I am willing to take in order to share myself in a more authentic and freeing way. I was diagnosed this past summer a couple of weeks shy of my 45th birthday. The diagnosis came as a shock that I haven't completely gotten over. Every night when I take my handful of meds, I'm amazed that this has become my life.

I'm not proud of having bipolar disorder, but neither am I ashamed of it. I've received such tremendous support as my life and identity take new form. Fortunately, I was hilarious when I was manic, at least that's what I was told, although I can't remember the full episode. Mania has a way of wiping clean parts of memory. I do know that it wasn't all hilarity, it became a terrible illness requiring hospitalization. Many friends know that I was in a psychiatric hospital for eight nights, many others don't know that about my life. I am willing to share now. The system needs to be changed and the stigma removed. 

In future posts I will share more deeply about my experiences in the hospital, how my life has changed since receiving the diagnosis, and what it was like having a full-blown manic episode. I look forward to sharing myself on this blog. My writing tends to be transparent and raw, which is the only type of writing that I consider worth reading. I'm very picky about what I read, and if I'm going to read someone's work it is because they have taken chances and committed to writing from a place of true sharing and authenticity. 

I invite you to share this journey of my bipolar life.