Bipolar 2 From Inside and Out

Posts tagged ‘acting “normal”’

Parts of My Life I Miss the Most

Last month I wrote about how bipolar disorder had cost me – well, not the ability – but the capacity to read (http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-qp). I am intensely thankful that the concentration, focus, and motivation to read have returned as my healing has progressed.

But there are some other things that are missing from my life that I wish desperately that I could get back. Or wish I had never lost in the first place. (Depression is very much with me right now, so forgive me if I dwell in the past with my failures a bit.)

First are friends. I’ve written about this before too (http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-2W), but the subject was brought home to me recently when I received a fuck-off letter from a former friend I was trying to reach out to, in hopes of reestablishing the relationship. One of her main reasons for cutting me off was that every time we went out, she felt it was “her and me and my misery.”

She did acknowledge that at times our friendship had been burdened by her misery too, but evidently that either didn’t count as much, or else mine lasted too long. (If it was too long for her, it was even longer for me.) I am very disappointed that, now that my “black dog” is smaller and on a leash, she found other reasons not to associate with me. To make it more ironic, she has been a therapist and now teaches psychology.

I also miss having a steady paycheck. My last 9-5 office job was over ten years ago, and since then my mental state has not allowed me to get and keep another such position. The security of knowing how much money I would have every month allowed me to plan.

And to travel. I really miss traveling. Admittedly, part of my inability to travel now is determined by my physical health. But my anxiety would make it just that much more difficult. Now I can barely get away for a weekend, and even then I must carefully monitor my moods, limit my activities, track my eating and sleeping, and avoid crowds.

One of my deepest regrets is that when I was undiagnosed and untreated, I couldn’t fulfill my potential. I attended an Ivy League university, but I can’t say I got out of it what I could or should have. I feel now that I skated by, impeded by many depressive spells, lack of focus and concentration, and confusion. I even took a year off to get my head together, but since that didn’t include getting help for my bipolar disorder, its value was questionable.

Lest this seem like nothing but whining (which my depression is telling is what it is), there are also some things that bipolar disorder has taken from me that I don’t miss at all.

Oddly, one of them is a 9-5 office job. While I do miss the steady paycheck, I absolutely don’t miss the things that came with it. Now, doing freelance work, I can fit my work around the things I need to do (like seeing my therapist) and the things I have to do (like slowing down when depression hits). I don’t have to get up at the same time every day and dress appropriately (if at all) and try to fit in and socialize with my co-workers. That was never easy for me and became nearly impossible after my big meltdown.

And, as much as I miss travel, I don’t miss business travel. Again, being “on” all the time, for days at a time, with no time or place to decompress, would be impossible now. Since we usually had to share hotel rooms, there wasn’t even a chance for any alone time, which I need a fair amount of. I could never get the hang of “team eating” either.

Finally, I don’t miss the boyfriend who took an already broken me and broke me worse. (I wrote about him in my post about gaslighting http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-pm.) My self-esteem was not great before the relationship, but afterward it went into negative numbers. Self-harm, self-medication, self-doubt, and negative self-talk were what I had instead. But Rex didn’t do it alone. He had my bipolar disorder there to reinforce his words and actions. And to not let me see what was happening.

Bipolar disorder is a balancing act, in more ways than one. It takes away good things from our lives. But my therapist reminds me that it also gives an opportunity – as I rebuild my life, I can choose which pieces I want to reclaim and which I want to discard. And the parts I can rebuild are what I should concentrate on.

And I will, once this spell of depression releases me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuffing Your Feelings in a Box

We all know it’s a bad idea to stuff your feelings, especially if you then pile food or alcohol on top of them.

The thing is, sometimes you need to suppress a feeling, for just a little while, in order to get through a difficult situation. When that happens, I put my feelings in a box.Cardboard box with the zipper isolated on white background

Here’s an example. My father was dying, and had only days to live. We all knew it. My mother, who didn’t drive, asked me to take her shopping for something to wear at his funeral. “Do you mind if I don’t wear black?” she asked. “If you don’t mind that I do,” I replied.

It was my first encounter with a close family death, and I had to get through this awful, wrenching shopping trip. I had to keep my composure so that my mother could keep her composure. I had to steer her away from a flowered dress, which would have been fine for church, to a navy suit and a lighter blue top, which would be suitable for a funeral but not so somber that she couldn’t wear it for anything else. All while my father lay in the hospital, dying painfully of bone cancer.

My feelings were complicated and I absolutely could not afford to feel them at that time. I had to stuff them in a box and close the lid on them until my mother’s needs had been met. Then I could let them out, in a time and place where it was safe to, in the presence of a person I could trust with those feelings.

When such circumstances arise – and they will, in one form or another – I recommend using a box, one in which the feelings will be out of sight for a while. A box is small; only a few feelings will fit in it. If you think the feelings are going to leak out, you can sit on the lid. Then, when it has served its purpose, you can rip the box open (or gently lift the lid) and feel the feelings. Cry. Rage. Grieve. That’s the important part.

You have to experience the grief or fear or even the crushing weight of guilt in order to come through it and heal.

But why put feelings in a box instead of something stronger? Who wants to feel those negative emotions anyway? Aren’t we better off without them? Shouldn’t you just build a wall around them to keep them from breaking out?

We’ve all tried it. It works for a while. But a couple of consequences go with the practice. First, all of your feelings get trapped behind that wall – the good as well as the bad. When you find yourself disconnected from all your feelings, life is a gray blur. In your depression or anxiety or fear or rage, you may not have had many good feelings. But when you build that wall, you cut off even the possibility of having them.

Second, you’re only postponing the pain. The wall will leak sometimes; your unpleasant feelings will come out some way – in your dreams, around your eyes, in sudden spurts, or trickling back into your everyday life. Worse, the wall may shatter – fail altogether, releasing all those feelings in an unstoppable torrent, only stronger and more concentrated from having been confined. They overwhelm both you and anyone in the vicinity. It’s not pretty. And it’s destructive – to you, your mental health, your healing, your employment, your relationships – to every aspect of your life.

If feelings are behind a wall, you may be able to tell yourself they don’t exist. But if you stuff them in a handy box, you can choose the time and place to open it – and yourself – back up.

 

Work Hacks

Yay me! I just finished a big project (or at least the first phase of it) for which I will be paid actual money!

I am very fortunate/grateful that I am able to do freelance work at home, on my own schedule (mostly), using my education and skills, in my pajamas. Telecommuting is so way cool!

I can’t work an eight-hour day in an office any more (and likely won’t again). I can only concentrate for a max of three hours at a time, and some days not even that. Occasionally, if there’s a tight deadline, I can manage two sessions, or one and a half.Just Get Through It message on a dry erase board encouraging you to stick with your project or challenge during a stressful time in your work or life

Of course motivation is a factor. Deadlines and money are two really good ones. But sometimes I have to force myself – or trick myself – into doing actual work. This was true even when I did work in an office.

Anyway, here are some of my techniques – work hacks, as I guess they’re now called.

Taking breaks. Now of course, I can take breaks whenever I want, from a quick game of Candy Crush to an actual nap. My brain and body let me know when it’s time. They just crap out.

When I worked at the office, I tried taking crossword puzzle breaks at my desk. But apparently smoking was the only permissible break activity. Hiding in the bathroom didn’t work. People were known to track me down and ask questions anyway. (“Do you mind if I wipe and flush first?” Sarcasm seemed called for.)

When I got twitchy, I walked around the third floor or even more than one floor until I calmed down. The trick is to carry a clipboard or a few manila folders and walk sort of briskly so it looks like you’re going somewhere and doing something. It works best if the office has more than one room.

Pretending to work. I developed this technique at the office, but it can also be used at home. I would say to myself, “I don’t know how to get started. I’ll just write one sentence, so if someone walks by my cube, it looks like I’m working.” It was surprising to find that once the first sentence was on the screen, I knew what the second one should be – or that the first one was horrible and I could revise it, which also looked like work. Once I built some momentum this way, I was rolling. I don’t have anyone looking over my shoulder now, but the idea is the same – one sentence is the minimum, then see what happens.

Bribery and rewards. These are actually more or less the same. If I do X amount of work, I can check my email or eat a cookie or call a friend. I get to feel virtuous for working and satisfied by the little treat.

Forcing myself. If I’ve got a really tight deadline, I have to apply some internal pressure, especially if it’s one of those I-don’t-think-I-can-get-out-of-bed-days. Everyone in this house likes to eat. (The cats insist on it.) My pay will cover the mortgage, so we won’t be living under the Third St. bridge next month. This is dangerous, because I am a great catastrophizer, but sometimes it’s the only thing that works.

Artificial goals and lying to myself. If I can just do five more pages I can quit for the day. I know I can make it to the end of this section (that would be the lying part).

Stupid work. There are a lot of fairly pointless tasks that must be done anyway, but can be done by rote – adding headers and footers and page numbers, alphabetizing, running spell-check (or typing-check, as I prefer to think of it), that sort of thing. To me, that counts as actual work, and some days it’s all I can manage.

Unfortunately, none of these are effective for housework. No one pays me for that.

 

I’m Not Brave – I’m Stubborn

Don’t forget! March 30 is World Bipolar Day!

Kopf durch die Wand

One of my friends, who is overweight, recently told me that when she was at the gym on the treadmill, a stranger came over to her and told her she was “an inspiration.”

My friend felt insulted. She was working out for herself and for her health, not to inspire anyone else or to be taken as a symbol of I-don’t-know-what – perseverance? attitude? effort? hope?

I feel sort of the same way when people say that because I am open and public with my bipolar disorder that I am “brave.”

I’m not doing this because I’m brave. I’m doing it because I’m stubborn.

I am who and what I am, and I’m willing to reveal a lot of it because, frankly, I can’t hide it and don’t want to. I’m not average or typical. Not normal, mentally or emotionally.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the concept of “normal.” Desperately wanting to appear normal, but knowing viscerally that I am not. Wondering what it’s like, but knowing that I’ll never know. Wondering what it even means, or what it means that I’m not. I haven’t found answers yet, and at this point I don’t think I’m going to. It’s probably a waste of my time to try.

So, if I’m outside the “norm,” which I am, I may as well admit it. And since writing is what I do, I write about it. I’m not doing this because I’m “brave,” I’m doing this because on some level I have to. I’m stubborn.

I’m stubborn enough these days to have made a sort of peace with the concept of “normal,” even though I still don’t understand it.

I’m stubborn enough to acknowledge my difference and give it its proper name – bipolar disorder.

I’m stubborn enough not to care when I say that and some people flinch or back away.

I’m stubborn enough to reveal things that embarrass me because they are part of me and part of what I’ve lived and lived through.

I’m stubborn enough to get tattoos proclaiming my status as “mentally ill” and using them to open conversations and educate others.

I have not come to embrace my stubbornness easily. I’ve tried to fake “normal” and hide my differences. I’ve gone to my shrink and just referred to “doctor appointments.” I’ve made Prozac jokes even though I was taking it at the time. (For this I am truly sorry, as I later learned that one of those jokes made another person afraid to admit that she took Prozac too.)

I’m not trying to be an “inspiration.” I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone else. I’m doing what I have to do for me. If someone else finds some good in it, that’s fine. But that’s not why I do it.

I am bipolar.

I am a writer.

I am stubborn.

Taken together, you get this blog.

Bipolar Me.

Is Bipolar Disorder an “Invisible Illness”?

Empty Chairs Laid Out For Meeting

Yes and no.

First, a little on the concept of invisible illnesses. These are the sorts of afflictions that are not apparent on first looking at a person – conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, celiac and Crohn’s diseases, diabetes, epilepsy, lupus, Lyme disease, and many others.

Disabled-world.com says, “Many people living with a hidden physical disability or mental challenge are still able to be active in their hobbies, work and be active in sports. On the other hand, some struggle just to get through their day at work and some cannot work at all.”

Most mental disorders are invisible illnesses by that definition. There isn’t a sign around our necks that proclaims “Bipolar,” “Social Anxiety Disorder,” “PTSD,” “Depression,” or even “Schizophrenia.”  The word “Crazy” isn’t tattooed on our foreheads. Our mere appearance doesn’t give away our “secret.”

We have a lot of the same problems that people with other invisible illnesses have. Spoon theory, for example. For bipolar people, simply taking a shower requires so many spoons that we seldom go out. (I count myself among that number.) People who don’t know or understand Spoon Theory often don’t understand why we don’t accept their invitations or cancel at the last minute, or simply don’t show up. You lose a fair number of friends that way.

On the other hand, a mental disorder is not always invisible. People can see us burst into tears for no apparent reason, or go into the bathroom at a party and never come out. They can see our shaking hands, confused looks, and depressed expressions. They can hear our awkward attempts to socialize “appropriately.” They may not know what is wrong, but they can often tell something is.

When we realize this is happening, there are various strategies we try. We can leave the situation – entirely or partially (my go-to is to leave the room on the pretext of needing to make a cup of tea). We can try to brush it off or laugh it off (“Sorry. My nerves are bad today” or “I don’t know why I said that. Must be a brain-fart”). We can try the half-truth/half-joke (“Oops. Guess my meds just haven’t kicked in yet”). We can ignore whatever is happening and hope everyone else does too.

Or we can own it. “I have social anxiety disorder and need to be in a less crowded space than the mall.” “I won’t be able to go to the carnival with you because my PTSD is triggered by loud noises.” “I may come to your party if my bipolar disorder will let me.”

We can also address the subject when there isn’t a situation looming. During a phone conversation or an IM chat, we can let the other person know that we have a mental disorder – an invisible illness. It doesn’t have to be dramatic and dire. Casually may be the best way to handle it. “I know you’re wondering why I didn’t go to the movies with you last week.” “When I saw my doctor yesterday we talked about my physical health and my mental health too.” “You know that character on that show that has PTSD? I have that too, but it’s not exactly like on the show.”

If that sounds risky, you’re right. It can be. There will be people who still don’t get it. People who “don’t believe in” mental illness. People who try to brush it off. People who offer the latest vitamins or super foods or Eastern philosophy as the cure-all.

But you’ll also find people who say, “Oh, my brother-in-law has that too” or “Okay. But I’m still your friend” or “What can I do to help?”

So those are the choices, basically.

Take a chance. Or stay invisible.

Neither choice is right or wrong for everyone. Mental illness is very personal.

You decide.

 

 

Support and Non-Support Groups

My family has never been big on support groups. When my father had multiple myeloma (which killed him after 15 years), he turned down any opportunities he was given to join cancer support groups with names like Make Today Count. He preferred to go it alone. He was stubborn.

So am I.

I have actually been to support groups for mental illness once or twice, but they were never a success or, I guess, just never right for me.

The first one was when I was in college. That one was a bust because I wasn’t really ready to address my problems and because I had the ability to appear “normal” for an hour at a time while sitting cross-legged on the floor. I couldn’t do that now. (The floor-sitting part.)

The second time was after I saw a brochure for a group called High Flyers and Low Landers, which met in the church I was going to at the time. (I don’t think the organization still exists. The church is still there.)

It was a very odd experience. Everyone had a book, many with needlepoint covers. It was their bible, though not the Bible, which I know many people needlepoint covers for, or at least did back then.

The meetings consisted of a little ritual. One person read a passage from the book. Then each person in the circle had to tell an event that happened to them in the past week. The recital had to be in a specific format: what happened, what symptoms the person experienced (dry mouth, racing thoughts – there was a list), how the person would have handled it before reading the book, and how the person did handle it. There was much quoting of the book and certain specific phrases that everyone had to use.

Some of the quotations were helpful, or at least true. (People do things that annoy us, not to annoy us.) But as I recall, those were the only sorts of comments the people in the circle were allowed to make. Not “How did that work out?” or “What did your mother do next?” or “I hate when people get passive-aggressive.”

It was just too weird and formulaic for me, so I never went back. (As I was leaving, I offered someone a mint. Everyone laughed and said, “Dry mouth!”)

Since I don’t seem to do so well in actual support groups, I recently thought I would check out some virtual ones. I’m not going to name the groups I joined or where I found them, because all of them stressed privacy and confidentiality.

What I found was both support and non-support.

Some of the groups were associated with national organizations or publications, and they pretty much stuck to sharing articles about scientific research or political news about mental illness, along with lists of resources, hotlines, and the like.

So far, so good.

Other groups were more like traditional support groups, with members asking questions or relating accounts of what had happened or how they felt. There were administrators who tried to keep the members to more or less stick to the topic and rules of the group (give trigger warnings, no suicide threats, or whatever).

Some of the groups were peaceful. People asked standard questions (Who’s on this med? Should I take something else too?) and received fairly standard answers (Worked for me. Didn’t work for me. Ask your doctor.) People related similar events and how they handled them, or asked for more specifics so they could understand the situation better. People posted assorted uplifting memes and affirmations.

Then there was the other sort. People did not know how to use trigger warnings or simply didn’t bother. Others shared people’s posts without removing identifying information. Some posted truly vulgar jokes that had nothing whatsoever to do with bipolar disorder. Negativity overflowed. Arguments raged. (Some of the topics were “Bipolar is not an excuse for bad behavior” and “Don’t buy into the drug companies’ propaganda by taking meds.”) There was the online equivalent of name-calling and shouting. People reported other people to the admins. People accused people of reporting people to the admins.

The administrators did try to keep a handle on these groups, but couldn’t always, most likely because they were busy with their own lives and issues and difficulties.

It got so bad that I took to lurking instead of participating. Every week or so I would go back to take a peek and check on the drama llamas. Mostly they were still running around spitting. I think I had helpful things to add to the discussions and times when I needed help with feelings, but I just couldn’t trust enough to jump back in. I know other people left these groups for similar reasons, and some were blocked or banned or given warnings about their behavior.

In general, I have this to say about online support groups. You’d do well to sit back and watch their interactions before you try participating on anything but a “Congratulations! You got a job!” level. If the group seems truly helpful – supportive – then dive in. You may be able to give and receive help.

But non-support is exhausting. And I’m too stubborn to put up with it.

I May Have Miscounted My Spoons

This week I actually got out of the house, going for lunch and a little shopping with an old friend. (Another friend of mine calls these “pants days” because they obviously require putting on pants, for going out farther than the mailbox.)

After less than three hours I went home, did some work, and promptly collapsed. All told, I think I was either active, sociable, or some combination thereof for at most five hours – most likely more like four. That for me is an exceptional day of fortitude, stamina, spoons, and hypomania.

However, I have gotten myself into a situation that will require much more than that. I am going to a writer’s conference – three days of thrill-packed seminars, lunches and dinners, and other business and social-type events. I’ve done half-day business meetings lately, but nothing so extended, crowded, or spoon-depleting. It will hit a lot of my anxiety triggers – crowds, noise, small talk, social events, and more. I know that by the time we gather for dinner in the evening, I’ll already be extra crispy.

The three days of the conference will not allow for much of any downtime – although I have fantasized about asking someone who’s staying in the hotel if I can borrow a room for an afternoon nap. (The conference is local so I don’t have a room of my own or it wouldn’t be a problem. Less of one, anyway. All I’d have to do would be pick which seminars to skip. But the idea of asking a relative stranger for the use of a room or the idea of a relative stranger letting me use a room is pretty ludicrous.) Fortunately, I have to get the car home by 10:00 so my husband can go to work. That means I can’t stay for the after-hours socializing, even though that’s said to be one of the highlights. But it does mean I get a few more hours in pjs instead of pants.

Back before I had my most recent major meltdown, I was able to attend business conventions and do at least most of the requisite functions. I could and did give little talks at power breakfasts or afternoon cocktail parties – even opened with a joke. I could meet and greet the public at our booth – “howdy and shake,” as my father would have called it. I could have lunch with potential writers. I could almost interact with our sales force.

Those days are long past. So now I ask myself, how can I build up my stamina for the writers conference? Maybe it’s time for me to try to reclaim some of those parts of myself.

It feels like I’m going to be training for a marathon – or maybe the Normandy invasion. I know that in order to get through it, I will have to prepare in advance: writing my Sunday blog posts before the conference starts, assembling my wardrobe, checking out the parking situation, stocking up on business cards, and all the other little details that make me so frantic at the last minute.

Perhaps during the next two months I can keep track of how many pants days I’m able to have and gradually increase them. Perhaps I can arrange more lunches and shoppings. Perhaps I can improve my usual record of doing only one major thing per day. Perhaps I can try to work up to three pants days in a row.

The conference itself is certainly a massive and major incentive. Plus I’ve already paid for it – yet another reason to get myself in shape to take advantage of it.

Right now the conference looks like rather an ordeal, but I hope that by the time it rolls around I’ll be in good enough shape to both enjoy it and benefit from it. At least it’ll be a group of writers, and humor writers at that. They’re known for being at least a little odd. Maybe I’ll fit right in. I’ll be the one napping on a couch in the hotel lobby in fuzzy slippers. And pants.

A Response to the Dalai Lama

This Friday, my Facebook newsfeed included a quotation from the Dalai Lama.

Depression seems to be related to fear, anger and frustration. When you’re in a bad mood, even if you meet with your friends, you don’t take pleasure in their company. But when you’re in a good mood, even if things go wrong, you can cope with them without difficulty. This is why putting yourself in a good mood, making a point of developing a sense of loving kindness gives you greater inner strength.

While I respect and admire the Dalai Lama, on this subject he is wrong.

I wrote a blog post to tell him and his followers so. I posted it on Blogher.com. (Blogher is a site for women bloggers that sometimes syndicates content. It is more general than what I usually post here, so I wrote something special for them.)

As I researched, trying to find when and where the Dalai Lama said this (I couldn’t), I discovered several articles about research into depression and Buddhist principles and techniques.

One was an article by Kathy Gilsinan at The Atlantic
(http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/07/dalai-lama-neuroscience-compassion/397706/). It talked about “high-amplitude gamma-oscillations in the brain, which are indicative of plasticity.” What that is or has to do with depression, I don’t know. It sounds like “handwavium” to me.

One that made more sense was this, from Jeanie Lerche Davis at
WebMD: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/07/dalai-lama-neuroscience-compassion. (The feature was reviewed by Louise Chang, MD.)

While meditation can help many who are depressed, it’s not a sure-fire cure, [Charles W.] Raison [psychiatry professor and co-director of Emory’s Collaborative for Contemplative Studies] tells WebMD. “In fact, many people with mood disorders find they can’t do meditation when they’re depressed.” Their thoughts are too overwhelming. They are anxious, nervous, and can’t sit – and likely they need antidepressants, he says.

That’s more like it.

In my response to the Dalai Lama, I said,

Real, clinical depression is not about being in a “bad mood.” It’s true that a truly depressed person does not find pleasure even in ordinarily pleasurable things, such as meeting with friends. But we cannot simply put ourselves in a good mood.

That’s the hell of depression. We want to enjoy the good times. We want to put ourselves into a place of inner strength. But we can’t. Not without help.

In fact, your advice is hurtful to depressed people. Too many times we have been told, “Cheer up.” “Smile! You’ll feel better.” “Think about someone else for a change.” “What do you have to feel bad about?”

Don’t you think we would if we could?

Remarks like these remind us that we have an illness and we cannot cure ourselves by willpower alone – no more than a person with hepatitis or tuberculosis or even schizophrenia can. We need help, and most of us need medication.

You do a disservice to people with depression when you tell them to put themselves in a good mood. You, an enlightened spiritual leader, may be able to do it, but we can’t.

Certainly we can benefit from practicing loving kindness and developing inner strength.

But without treatment for depression, how many of us can do that?

It angers me when people say that depression – or any mental disorder – is something people can or should be able to cure with an attitude adjustment. I’ve heard it too many times from people in my life, and I’m sure you have too.

What’s really disappointing is that someone like the Dalai Lama, with his legion of followers and enormous credibility, is perpetuating this old way of thinking.

This lie.

In Defense of the Armadillo

Let’s consider the armadillo. Better yet, let’s consider this brief video. Take note of the armadillo’s defense mechanisms, if you will.

I have always identified with the armadillo, for a variety of reasons. It is the symbol of Texas music, which I love. I have a purse shaped like an armadillo. I also have toy armadillos, crocheted armadillos, wooden, stone, cement, armadillo jewelry, you name it. My uncle and I have a catch-phrase: El armadillo amarillo de mi tía es sobre la mesa.

What does all this have to do with bipolar disorder? I’m glad you asked.

Most of all, I admire the armadillo for its defense mechanisms, which resemble some of mine. For those of you who skipped the video, here’s a recap.

The armadillo has armor (obviously). I have tried to construct a similar impervious shell. When I have been even partially successful, it has proved counterproductive. When you wall off feelings, you wall off the good ones too.

The armadillo rolls up in a tight ball. I isolate. This has also proved counterproductive. If sorrow shared is halved and joy shared is doubled, then isolation – well, you do the math.

The armadillo leaps vertically when threatened. My anxiety makes me jump and release fight-or-flight hormones. This defense is also counterproductive, both for the armadillo and for me. One of the armadillo’s main predators is the automobile; the armadillo jumps straight up to bumper height. I waste energy on panicky behaviors even when I’m not threatened.

The armadillo has a low body temperature and is therefore useful for research on leprosy. This is not a defense mechanism, but it is a Fun Fact to Know and Tell. I have never had leprosy.

All things considered, the armadillo is not a good role model for a person (me) with bipolar disorder. But I like them anyway. They remind me that I need to check whether my defenses are doing me harm rather than good.

Plus, with my armadillo handbag I get lots of practice in the social skill of making light conversation strangers – and even children!

Erma

Erma

Happy Humbug

It’s a truism that holidays are difficult, not to say hazardous, for those of us with mental disorders. But there are a variety of reasons and a variety of reactions and – dare I say it – a variety of coping mechanisms.

First, let me say, that despite the fact that I was already depressed or bipolar as a child, the holidays were marvelous. Our granny, maiden aunt, and uncle lived a few hours away and we spent Every Holiday there. (My uncle drank, but not when we were kids.)

On Thanksgiving, we’d arrive, the adults would eat themselves into a coma, and then nap while we kids were sent of to the movies.

Christmas was similar, except that we’d get up, open presents from our parents (and “Santa” for the biggies), pile into the car, and head to granny’s. The adults would eat themselves into a coma, and then nap while we kids were sent of to the movies. (I specifically remember The Sting and The Andromeda Strain, during which I saw my first picture of a naked male butt.)

There was no tension involved – no grand dining table, no fancy dress, no distant relatives, no formal manners. We’d simply fill a plate with home cooking, perch on a sofa (which was called the davenport) or chair, and chow down.

My birthday falls between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but poised well enough between the two that it was never combined with either one. Back then, birthdays were simple – cake and frosting from box mixes, four to six neighbor kids, presents (no gift bags), and maybe a couple of party games. (It was at someone else’s birthday party that I was traumatized during a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey.)

How could anything in later life measure up to those?

Well, it couldn’t. My first Thanksgiving away from home was when I was at college, and we ate lasagna, not turkey. I believe it was the first time I had lasagna. Ever.

Since then all the holidays have gone downhill, or I have.

Any more, they’re a chore, a relentlass gray blob from November through January. (Halloween starts it off. I can’t get with that either.)

For years, I kept up some of the traditions for my parents’ sake. My mother in particular loved everything to do with Christmas – the Macy’s parade, the tree with my father’s favorite old smudge-faced angel on top, crocheted holiday sweaters and snowflakes and handmade ornaments from her foreign penpals and neighbors and church friends.

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My first Christmas in my own apartment, I had a small fake tree. When I got married my husband and I tried to get into the spirit with surprise gifts and selecting and decorating my mother’s tree and inviting a divorced friend to dinner with us.

But I was sinking rapidly. At various places I worked, all the ladies sported store-bought Christmas sweaters and sweatshirts (Halloween ones, too) that I thought were just awful. But one year, in a desperate attempt to fit in, I bought holiday sweaters on sale in January to wear the next year. Of course, by then I had lost the job.

Dan and I continued the tradition of dining with our friend John, but our venue changed to Chinese restaurants, where we were kept company by Jews, pagans, atheists, and, no doubt, other depressives and bipolars.

One year Dan was visiting his mother and I was on my own. I tried. I really did. I trotted out a festive holiday sweater and little wrapped-present earrings, and went out to a buffet that offered turkey and beef and ham. But I sat by myself and listened surreptitiously to my iPod. And not holiday music, either. By then about all I could stand was the Christmas jazz from the Charlie Brown TV show.

This year, we ate out on Thanksgiving – but not at the swanky hotel buffet we sometimes took my mother to, or any of the other mega-buffets. We went to a diner that John used to love. I had pork chops and lemon pie. On Christmas I’m likely to be by myself again and may just get festive with a Stouffer’s mac-n-cheese.

Comfort food seems appropriate, and the cats like to lick the dish. Then for dessert – Zoloft and Ativan and Lamictal and Abilify and Ambien. Yum. Visions of psychotropics dance in my head.

 

P.S. I wrote about a Thanksgiving with John on my other blog. If you’d like to see it, go to http://janetcobur.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/thanksgiving-ratatouille-and-a-near-death-experience/

And if you’d like to see my rant about the “War on Christmas,” go to http://janetcobur.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/lets-call-a-truce-on-christmas/

 

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