But I still need shoes!

“I was sad/upset/complained that I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet” 

photo by Ishtar

A fairly common bit of “wisdom” (pseudo-wisdom?)

It’s supposed to be a reminder to be grateful for the things you have by realizing that maybe what you have isn’t so bad.

A brief aside:

In May, I mentioned a site where another person with Bipolar had a list of the “worst things to say” to people with mental health issues.

Number 2 on the list was

“There are a lot of people worse off than you.” 

Number 3 is

“You have so many things to be thankful for, how can you be depressed?”

To me, these are intimately connected, partly because of the “no feet” bit of common wisdom.

I “shared” a meme on my personal FB page today that said,

“Saying someone can’t be sad because someone else may have it worse is just like saying someone can’t be happy because someone else might have it better.”

A friend responded by saying it’s about perspective, and her life is pretty good even if she doesn’t have everything she wants.

And I get that. It’s great that she feels that way.

There are always things to be grateful for, and it can help to think about those things when you’re down. I’ve talked about working on Gratitude this year; I know it’s good psychologically and spiritually.

BUT. . . .

What if. . . .

Using the shoes/feet metaphor, my feet are bleeding because I’ve been barefoot so long.

So, yes, if I see the guy with no feet, I’m grateful I have feet, BUT, my feet are in still in pain. My feet are in danger of getting infected. I’m in danger of losing my feet.

And if you keep pointing the guy with no feet out to me, it doesn’t help me heal.

I still need shoes!

Continuing to show me pictures of people with no feet and telling me to be happy about my shredded, bleeding, cold, painful feet doesn’t help me, because I still need the goddamn shoes.

Am I taking the metaphor too far?

How about some Real Life examples?

I’m am extremely grateful that when I could no longer pay rent, my friend was able to let me sleep on her floor for 4 months, so I/we didn’t end up on the street. It was amazing that she did that for us, even though it put her lease in danger and strained our friendship at times.

But I was still in a position of being evicted from our home, having no money and no job and unable to see a way out at that time. I was still in a position of having no home for my daughter and trying to keep her in her school for some sense of stability. I am still responsible for giving my child that as a childhood experience/memory.

And then there was a great conversation with my therapist.

At the time, I was taking some hard classes and hanging out and studying with this one woman. She was smart, funny, and very hard-working.

And she was in a wheelchair.

I never asked what was wrong with her; I thought it was something neuromuscular, because she had some fine motor problems as well.

I was comparing myself to her.

I was trying to think, “At least things aren’t that bad for me.”

It didn’t make me feel better.

In fact, I felt guilty about trying to feel better about someone else’s misfortune.

I was talking to my therapist, and she told me to stop, just STOP comparing my situation with other people’s.

Yes, this woman had physical disabilities, but she also had a great support system that helped her with a lot of what she needed help with. At that time, my support system wasn’t all that strong.

Our situations were totally different.

And even though her life had challenges, so did mine!

By trying to compare myself to her, I was trying to minimize my challenges, minimize or erase my problems.

I was belittling myself for not being grateful enough for not being in that chair.

I was not honoring my own life, my own problems, my own path, my own feelings.

I was suppressing my emotions.

None of that is good or helpful for me.

Going back to the original statement that spurred this post:

“Saying someone can’t be sad because someone else may have it worse is just like saying someone can’t be happy because someone else might have it better.”

The point, I think, if I’ve got one, is

Stop comparing yourself to others!

That’s it.

Just stop.

Everyone has struggles, problems, bad things in their life.

You probably don’t know what they are.

Don’t be thankful that you’re not in as bad a position as someone else is.

Try not to be envious if you think someone else’s life is better (that one is so fucking hard, I know! Still working on it. . .)

Don’t tell someone else that they have nothing to worry about because so-and-so has it worse.

There is no better/worse.

There is only different.

Don’t tell me to be thankful that I’m not. . ..whatever. . . like so-and-so over there.

Don’t point out the guy with no feet.

Remind me of the good things I have, to help me think about those.

Remind me that my daughter is turning into a great human being.

Remind me that I *did* finally finish my degree.

Remind me of the times that I took risks and they panned out.

But don’t tell me to feel better because someone else has it worse.

Don’t point out the guy with no feet to try to help me feel better.

Because I still need the shoes!

Stuck-ness

I’ve started a million blog posts (well, half a dozen, anyway).

But I get them to about a hundred, two hundred words and I think, “This sounds so totally stupid, and what am I trying to accomplish with it?”

And I don’t know.

I wanted to write more posts for Mental Health Awareness Month. And I started a couple. Didn’t finish.

I did finally finish and submit TPA 3. Waiting to see if I passed. I should feel good about that but I don’t because I have one more to go and the amount of work to do on it is daunting. Makes me want to go take a nap.

I’m feeling a bit lost for a direction on this business.

The readings was a way to get started, start bringing in a little income while I worked on a couple of offerings. But every time I start to do something it feels stupid or like something someone else has already done/said.

I know that I do work in fits and starts, but lately the fits are less and less prominent.

This week, at least two days, I took “naps” in excess of 2 hours. Today, it was 4 hours. I mean, really, why does an unemployed person need a 4 hour nap?

I have a “to do” list a mile long.  And here I sit, going through my little ritual of checking certain websites over and over and over again.

Yesterday, I had a bad day, similar to today, and I did some free readings trying to turn my energy around. It worked, yesterday, but I can’t do unlimited free readings every day, and I didn’t carry the good energy over to today.

I feel like I’m drowning, even though I have some good things happening.

Turning in TPA 3 .. . . I’ve been putting that off for almost a year and a half. I should feel something about it. Relief? Accomplishment? Something. I don’t feel anything, except fear over the next hurdle.

I’ve been super nervous about not having enough money for the second installment of the pet deposit, but I talked to my doctor, and I’m entitled to an emotional support animal for my disability. Once I get the letter from my doctor, I should be able to submit that, and maybe even get the installment I’ve paid back and stop the pet rent.

That’s a good thing. And I’m not happy, I’m just nervous about not getting the letter in time.

This seems like I’m whining, and I’m not meaning to, I do have some stuff going on and I’m doing ok, I’m making progress, I’m just feeling like I’m starting to sink again.

I have pulled out the Ganesh chant and a mini altar to help push through this time.

On Depression, Bipolar and Medication

I want to talk about some trouble I’ve been having with my medications lately, but first, my friend Diana wrote this fantastic post about her battle with depression.

In it, she says:

The one thing you do NOT see on this list is taking anti-depressants.  This is not because I particularly have anything against anti-depressants, but it has more to do with my philosophy that most pills address symptoms rather than root cause, and I prefer to try non-pharmaceutical methods that seem to address root cause. If I ever run into a situation where I don’t improve using other means, then if my therapist and doctor recommend it, I will go with it.

Now, I love D, and it’s great that she is able to get herself out of these problems without meds. She has situational depression, not major depressive or bipolar disorder and that is a reason why she can handle it without meds. And I respect her decision.

There was even a time when I felt similar to the way she does, so I understand it, especially since I’ve always been interested in self-help and spiritual growth. I thought I ought to be able to get myself out of it, that I could think/force myself to be better. I don’t need no stinkin’ medications. I’m so enlightened, I should be able to meditate and exercise myself better!

Um, no.

When I was first diagnosed with bipolar (after having at least three previous bouts of depression that sent me to doctors), they would not even begin therapy until I was stabilized on medications (and that took months).

At the time, I had a friend who sometimes acted like she thought she knew everything about everything. She was angry on my behalf, because she thought they weren’t doing enough for me because they were not giving me therapy. And I admit, at the time, I felt the same way.

But here’s the thing. . . In my deepest places, walking in darkness, being so out of it that crawling out of bed takes all the energy I can muster for the day, falling into the hole that feels deeper and harder to crawl out of each time. . . I simply could not do the work necessary to be successful in therapy.

Back when Prozac and other SSRIs were still new on the market, I started to hear the phrase “I don’t need a crutch” or “medications are just a crutch.”

Here’s the thing. . . . If your leg is broken, you NEED a fucking crutch, and a cast, and maybe pins to hold the damn thing together until it can heal.

While part of me knew that I was bipolar by my early-20s, another part of me insisted that my depressions were situational.

– 91/92 – I was in Italy, and I was depressed. I was socially isolated because the American military community there was pretty small. I didn’t have access to a spiritual teacher/group. I made relationship and career mistakes. I spent too much money. There’s this one particular road that I drove where there’s a sharp turn near a cliff overlooking Naples Bay and every.single.day I wanted to drive over this cliff. I’d think, “I just won’t turn this time. . .” I had at least two other plans, as well. But, I knew that as soon as I wasn’t in that situation any more, as soon as I paid back the money, as soon as I could go back to where I had non-military friends, as soon as my life changed, I’d be fine. Right?

– 94-96 – My second marriage fell apart spectacularly quickly (just like my first – but the first marriage was my fault, and in the second, I felt like the wronged party). I was pregnant by a guy I wasn’t in love with. I was living with another guy I wasn’t in love with, who wasn’t really capable of pulling his own weight (although he did get his shit together shortly after I kicked him out, go figure). It was becoming increasingly obvious I was not going to be able to remain in the military and be the parent I wanted to be, so I was losing a career I thought I’d have for another 11 years. Add into that the post-pregnancy hormones – of course I’m depressed! But I knew that as soon as I got out and could concentrate on being a mom, as soon as I finished my degree (not gonna take more than a couple years, right?) I’d be fine.

– 99 – In the beginning of the year, I was dating a great guy, had a job that worked with me so I could take classes, was teaching a spiritual group, on the surface, things looked fine. I moved back to a city I loved, with people I knew and cared about nearby, with the great guy, and we were talking about getting married. 5 months after we started living together, he was moving out, moving to another state with another woman, and I was so depressed, I was crying on the drive to work every morning, not to mention during work. But that made sense, too, right? I mean, my relationship was ending (again) and everyone gets depressed when that happens, right?

By the end of that year, I finally had the bipolar diagnosis, in part because of the apparent cyclical nature of my depressions.

When I look back now, I can see that I was in those situations because I was sick, not the other way around. But at the time, I couldn’t see that. When you’re in the middle of it, you can’t.

While part of me was relieved, because deep down, I always knew, part of me was also defiant. I guess I always will be.

All this to say: I have a love/hate relationship with my medications.

I know they help me. They help me seen things more clearly. They help me have the energy to do things I have to do when I just don’t want to. They help me sleep longer and deeper than I had in many years.

I hate taking them. I hate being tethered to them, making sure I have enough, making sure I bring them with me, etc. I hate the idea that I probably have to take them for the rest of my life. I hate some of the side effects (although my current regimen is much more gentle than my first one – at least my hands no longer shake, most of the time). I hate my alarm going off several times a day to remind me to take them.

I really, really hate when people tell me I shouldn’t be taking them, because they don’t know, they don’t understand. Sometimes people think that because I’m intelligent and articulate, that I can’t be mentally ill. But I am.

On a daily basis, I take an antidepressant and a medication that acts as a mood stabilizer along with some supplements.

I also have an anti-anxiety medication to take on an “as needed” basis.

And this is where my most recent “hate” sequence comes in.

I’m getting scared about a couple of things, lately, causing anxiety.

Last week, I was having trouble sleeping because the anxiety was getting pretty high.

I do have the “as needed” medication, so I took a very small dose with my regular night time meds for 3-4 days.

And for the whole week, I spent all day sleepy, groggy, hung over feeling. I didn’t get anything done last week:  nothing towards business, nothing towards school, nothing towards my business and not any housework.

So, I’m stuck here.

Either I don’t take that medication and I feel too anxious to think clearly with my belly feeling like its full of snakes OR I spend my days nearly comatose.

Yet another place where I can’t find a middle ground.

Clearing and releasing

A couple of weeks ago I talked about reorganizing my living room.

It only took a couple of days, and it opened up the space so much. I’m really pleased with it. It feels much more comfortable in here. It’s been years since I’ve felt this comfortable in my own home.

Now, I just have to get C to pick up after herself. She’s almost never here, but still manages to leave a mess. But that’s kids, right?

I got rid of a ton of stuff and took a few things to storage. I shredded a stack of papers. I packed away the heaviest winter clothes.

It feels like I’ve cleared out my brain, especially how open the living room is now.

And it’s still going. I cleared a few things out of storage, too. And I’ve moved some stuff we’ve never used since living here either to storage or completely out of the home.

It just feels so much more relaxed. I’m almost kicking myself for not tackling it sooner. The thing is, though, I knew all along that I would feel this way about it. I talked about it last summer, even.

But for some reason, I was unable to actually make a move on it until now.

There’s still some clutter, but it’s not nearly as bad as it was.

Several years ago, lots of people I know were really excited about Flylady. I wanted to follow it; I wanted to like it. Lots of things about the site and her process (small chunks daily) are fabulous and do-able.

But I couldn’t get past polishing the sink and getting dressed all the way to shoes.

I don’t like shoes. I don’t wear them as often as I can get away with it. When I have to wear shoes, I prefer to wear ones that kick off easily. When I had an office job, as soon as I got settled at my desk, the shoes came off.*

Now, I understand her reasoning.

It’s a cue to your brain that you’re fully dressed and engaged in Real Life for the day.

But I hate shoes, and there’s no way I’m wearing them in my own home.

I’ve realized in the last few months, though, that I do have a mental cue about being dressed and fully mentally engaged for the day. And anyone that knew me in my 20s and early 30s is really going to laugh at this**. . . . a bra. . . . if I’m wearing a bra, I’m ready to Get Shit Done. If I’m not, nothing important is getting accomplished.

But now, I’ve discovered Unfuck Your Habit. Maybe it’s the profanity that speaks to me. Or maybe it’s the starting with making your bed.

For at least a decade now, whenever I’ve tried to work on issues of self-discipline, this is where I started – making the bed.

When I’m really depressed, I’m napping all day and tossing and turning all night, so I never really make the bed. When I start trying to turn things around, making the bed as soon as I get up is the first thing I do. After a week or two of that, I start to add in other things.

Really, Unfuck Your Habit isn’t that much different than FlyLady. But for some reason, I like it more.***

What does this have to do with releasing?

I’m releasing fears.

I’m releasing attachments to the past.

I’m releasing the idea of being STUCK.

I’m releasing expectations (and that one is fucking HARD).

Changing things in your environment around in a major way can help change your perspective.

Have you made any major changes lately?

*When I was a student at the local university, one of my math teachers was famous for walking around without shoes, ALL THE TIME. Made me smile.

**I notoriously went without a bra (and sometimes without a top) as often as possible. So, this makes me giggle.

***Zen Habits has some suggestions on where to get started in clearing clutter here.

Patterns: Withdrawing

Whenever I start something, I have a pattern of going full throttle for a short period of  time and then dropping it.

Last week I was so excited about a lot of things. I had a lot of plans for what I was going to do. I wrote outlines and lists with time tables and due dates. I was excited about the upcoming stuff for Invincible Summer. I started several things.

And then, I stopped.

I didn’t blog, I only wrote a small bit in my journal. I stopped doing affirmations for a few days. I didn’t visit the Wild Sisterhood. I didn’t read ZenHabits. I put off working on everything.

I also stopped talking, responding to emails, getting out of the house. I started napping during the day, instead of writing and planning.

I caught myself withdrawing from almost everything (except, curiously, talking with M. Hmmm).

It’s ok to take a break from things at times.

But my personal pattern includes stretching that break out for days, weeks, months. . .

Luckily, I have a small mastermind group, and one of the ladies nudged me with, “When are we meeting again?”

So, I set up a meeting. I had ideas, but had not fleshed anything out yet, still not entirely sure what direction I was going to go in.

By the end of the teleconference call, I not only had an idea, but several questions to put in the product. By the end of the day, I’d hand-written an introduction and sketched out an outline, listed questions I want to use.

I felt great again.

And the next day, I stopped again.

WTF?

This is like last year, when I only had a couple of small things to do to finish my teaching credential, and I kept putting it off, saying, “Oh, I can just do this tomorrow.”

And then I let it go too long and have to repeat something I should not have needed to repeat.

I’m starting to do this now with what I’m trying to do this here.

I have things working well for me.

I just have to keep showing up and not let this break I took last for months.

I suppose my path will never be a straight line.

And that’s ok.

So, today, I’m pulling out the notebooks, and the planner, and listen to today’s SSBR call at noon. And I’m writing. It’s not my best post ever, but I’m doing something, which is good.

Self-love: Who are you?

Silly question right?

I’m me, of course. But who am I really?

How can you love yourself, if you don’t know who you are?

When I look back at the years of depression, I discover that I’m not who I thought I was, or at least, I didn’t act like I was that person.

I thought I was a person who was open, loving, kind, contemplative, hippy-granola, vibrant, generous, a little bit wild. I thought I cared about people and animals and the environment. I thought I was politically active.

I thought I was going to raise my kid with a spiritual, social and ecological consciousness.

I thought I was someone with strong faith in things you cannot see, in the goodness of people.

But when push came to shove, when life got hard, I turned into someone I didn’t recognize.

I lost my faith, in anything spiritual and most of all in myself.

I lost my spark, my hope.

I began to hate people. I was full of anger. (And of course, there’s that whole “depression is anger turned inward” thing.)

I intellectually knew things I *should* be doing to make things better, but I was incapable of doing them, which fed the cycle more, leading to beating myself up.

I allowed my kid to grow up thinking McDonald’s was the best meal ever, instead of giving her mostly healthy homemade meals. In the beginning, it was because I was working and tired. Later, it was because I was depressed and would “forget” to cook something (really, I just couldn’t get out of my chair). I allowed her to grow up thinking sitting at a dining table was only for special occasions. I allowed her to grow up with a TV always on in the house. That is so not who I thought I was.

I was “into” yoga when yoga wasn’t cool. But for the last 15 years, I’ve barely had any yoga practice at all, much less a daily practice that I once had. Ditto for my spiritual practices.

So, now, here I am.

I’m not currently depressed, but I’m also not the person I used to think I was. And I don’t know if I can ever be that person.

So, who are you?

Are you who you think you are?

Look at the things you believe about yourself.

And then look at your actions.

Do your actions reflect your stated values?

If not, then you need to look at both those things, and you have two choices.

1. Start working on making your actions match your values.
2. Adjust your image of who you are.

I’m working on both.

For example, for the first time in my life, I’m making lists of things that need to get done, and I’m making a concerted effort to get them done.

There’s a couplefew of reasons for me doing this.

  1. It’s part of my journey to be more disciplined.
  2. In the past, I often sit in my home, thinking about the housework or paperwork or other stuff that needs to be done and get overwhelmed. Then nothing ever gets done, because I’ve spent all my energy THINKING about it, instead of doing it. Making lists is helping me capture the stuff that needs to be and frees up my head for other things. So far, I’m not always getting it all done, but I am getting more done than I have in a long time.
  3. This is also the first time I’ve made clearly defined goals, and if I just continue to sit on my ass not take any action, then I won’t make those goals.
In the past, this would have made me feel . . . restricted, confined. But right now, I’m seeing it as key to the changes I want to make.
So, do your actions match your values? Are you who you think you are? Can you become who you want to be?
You have to know who you are, before you can move forward, before you can love yourself. You have to accept yourself, warts and all.

Mental Health: Bipolar Disorder

I realized that I occasionally throw out a comment about being bipolar or dealing with depression, but I haven’t really talked about how it has affected me or the diagnosis. I’ve lived with it so long and been fairly open about it, that I feel like everyone knows everything. There are now more people reading and I think I should explain some of where I’ve been.

I’m now 43, and I was diagnosed Bipolar II within a month or so of turning 30, even though I knew something was wrong by the time I was 21 or so.

from Unprofound.com

Bipolar II is characterized with long, deep depressions and brief times of hypomania (little mania). In 2004 Jane Pauley was diagnosed with this form of the disease.

It’s much harder to diagnose Bipolar II than Bipolar I, although both can be difficult. In general, people with all forms of bipolar tend to seek help when depressed, but don’t recognize the hypomanic or manic phases as a problem. Why should we? We feel GREAT during that time. 😛

In fact, I used to think of my hypomanic phases as my “normal” times. It isn’t until I look back at them that I can now see how destructive they could be.

I started to write this up, and it was becoming a long autobiography, which is not what I want. I do want to express some of the ways in which it has affected my life. Sometimes, I’ll say something about being mentally ill or “crazy” or something and people will say things like, “Don’t say that! You’re not crazy!”

It seems that because I’m intelligent and articulate, I’m not allowed to also be mentally ill.

But for me, saying those things are a kind of. . .  acceptance. It took me a long time to get there. It took several years to get somewhat stabilized on medications and accept that I needed them. So, I see saying things as an acknowledgment of where I am.

One of the primary areas it has affected is relationships. I would get into moods where I would need to be surrounded by people, feeding off of the energy of those around me, off of a party and music and everything. Considering how introverted I really am, this was new and different, strange even. But I was young, and at first just thought it was fantastic that I finally had an active social life.

The problem was that when I was in that mood, I would get into bed with almost anyone who paid attention to me. This led me to insist on a type of sexual openness in my relationships, because I did not want to lie or hide things about sex from my primary partner.

When I think about this now, the funny thing is that I also simultaneously believed in the mythical soulmate (although some people apparently think you can order up a soulmate like a cup of coffee).

I’m still not sure how I reconciled those things in my own head. I think it was that the “soulmate” was a complete relationship, body, mind and soul, whereas the others were just body, fun, not important.

The problem is, it’s hard to let the primary partner know that he is not being used in the same way the others are. [For those who live a polyamorous lifestyle, I admire you, because I know how difficult it can be. More power to you if you can make it work.]

I know now that it was hypersexuality caused by hypomanic swings.

But the disorder affects friendships, too.

When I’m depressed, I withdraw into myself and push people away. The thing is, I want them to be available when I’m ready to climb out of my inner space. But spending months or sometimes years pushing people away is not conducive to having people around when you want them to be. It also makes it difficult to be there when they need you. And then, in the hypomanic phase, there’s no . . . filter. It’s hard to think before I speak, so I may end up saying one of those things that people think but don’t usually say. That doesn’t help keep friends, either.

And then there’s money.

When I’m hypomanic, I can spend some money.

There was a point, in the early 90s when I got a chunk of back pay, around $4,000. At the time, it was the most money I had ever had at one tie. I went on a shopping spree.

I kept buying stuff and spending. To this day, I’ not entirely sure what I spent it all on. And I kept spending. I kept writing checks and did not balance the checkbook. Within a few weeks, I’d spent over $7,000. And now I had bounced checks, and fees and all kinds of craziness to deal with.

So, I get into this destructive pattern with money.

When manic, I impulse buy and don’t pay close attention to how much I spend, and sometimes end up with not enough to pay the bills. When depressed, I sometimes forget to pay things on time (I have a real problem with all sorts of paperwork and phone calls when depressed.) This causes increased fees and decreased credit scores.

The thing is, I know how to budget, save, and invest. I’ve researched the hell out of it. I’ve been an active contributor to a financial website/community for almost 14 years now.

But I still sometimes fall into these patterns.

These are probably the two biggest areas of my life that are affected, but there are others, too. This is getting pretty long, so I’m going to stop here for now. I may talk about other things at another time.