Tag Archives: relationships

Revenge

Over the weekend I went to see The Revenant, and though I am not typically interested in dramas or anything relatively violent I am interested in stories about mountain men and stories about revenge.

I’ve been thinking a lot about revenge and why it is so interesting and even consuming, at times, to me. True that in a heightened state of emotion revenge can seem that much more gratifying, but most of these stories about revenge (or my experiences with revenge) well… they never quite end well.

The thing that interests me the most about revenge is how my own mental health has been able to completely warp this concept in different situations. For example, I started having my first full-on panic attacks in elementary school in P.E. when our teacher had us running around the track. He told us that we were not allowed to stop for any reason, not even to get a drink of water. When I asked him if I could stop to tie my shoe (which had become untied) he said no. I was supposed to keep running.

Now, this might seem totally mundane in terms of “personal threats”, but I have always been a somewhat awkward being who is able to trip on a line in the road. Having my shoe untied was a serious invitation to biff it on the track, and I was both pissed off and terrified. However, my fear quickly turned into something else as I found myself desperately wanting to trip on that shoelace, fall, and get hurt enough for some kind of punishment to befall my P.E. teacher.

It didn’t happen, but there have been many situations where my apparent inability to do anything about a perceived injustice has left me believing that the best form of revenge would be to take that revenge out on myself and subsequently whoever I meant to get revenge on would be forced to watch me withering away… potentially causing them inexplicable amounts of pain. At times I have thought that my younger self may have wandered into believing herself some kind of witch-doctor, capable of performing voo-doo. Of course, that almost never, ever worked out the way I expected it to, and while I admit the idea of hurting oneself to exact revenge on someone else seems totally ludacris there have been times where the act of revenge seems to completely outweigh the act of living. Watching any number of “revenge” themed movies will typically suggest the same.

I fought this notion a lot via the church. The act of forgiveness being the total opposite of revenge, I figured that might help me shy away from a lot of the odd, convoluted notions I had about punishing others or using myself to do so. Unfortunately, I found myself living in the opposite extreme, constantly in a state where the people around me were taking advantage of me and I would be ushering out forgiveness in a never ending revolving door of pain.

As it turns out, forgiveness without any sort of boundaries can be just as detrimental as revenge.

The road since then has been awash with many different theories and attempts to live a healthy life. I would say I have made significant progress on that front, but as a profoundly emotional individual it still swells up, from time to time, and revenge becomes something shiny and wisp-like begging me to chase after it. Even if I can withstand chasing it, it isn’t hard for my imagination to take the bait and for days, weeks, or even months I become trapped, seeking this thing out -if even only in my mind.

I am hoping that one day I will have replaced that inexplicable pull with something as simple, but as important, as acceptance. While it is something that seems distant to me now, I hope that little by little, inch by inch, it will become a more central part of my life and my future.

One day I will be able to sit with my life as it is as opposed to being haunted by the notion of what it should be.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

With the new year fast approaching I am excited to say that I will be starting 2016 with a new therapist and a new psychiatrist. I will also be continuing the DBT group I have been participating in for a couple months now which is great because so far I would say it has been helping me make a difference in my reactivity and emotional rumination.

Of course, it helps that Emotional Regulation was the first thing we covered because that is one of the more challenging things I have been facing. The funny thing is that now that I’ve got a few skills to help me see the big picture (instead of a pure emotional reaction) in situations it has been made clear that my other biggest challenge is communication and Interpersonal Relationships. That module of the group definitely can’t come soon enough!

That doesn’t mean I am miraculously cured, or that I am not continuing to lose my shit on a semi-regular basis. But… I may lose it for a shorter period of time, or only two or three times (instead of 12-16). Frankly I am willing to consider any and all progress progress.

Ultimately the way my perspective has been shifting around because of this class highlights an issue that I’ve known for a while but may not have given enough credit to. Stress makes a huge difference, in terms of the timing and magnitude of a lot of my emotional episodes. Stress is like… my death star. I might think it is a friendly moon at first but really it is a fully operational space station of mass destruction.

What does that mean, exactly? I am not sure, but I know I need to be addressing stress more aggressively (eh, not me being aggressive but more seriously) and not fail to recognize it or deal with it before all the firing sequences have been completed and it becomes a giant laser heading straight for me.

I can’t control the stress, but I am hoping that if I can recognize it early enough there will be time for me to react before the laser hits the fan.

Anyway, even with the intense illness and surgeries of 2015, spending summer in bed, and most of my plans being totally pulled out from under me this was somehow a better year than 2014. While 2014 was almost a year of being comical because of how many things could go wrong, 2015 was great because “at least it isn’t 2014.”

I don’t know if it was because I spent 2014 operating on a totally empty tank but this year it was like I could feel parts of my brain beginning to operate that hadn’t been used in ages. I can’t make a final word as to if I should be chalking that up to hypomania or simply 2014 acting as a hard-reset of my brain but it leaves me hopeful that in 2016 I might be able to dust off a few more parts and put them to good use again. We’ll see.

Ultimately, this year I learned that there is still a lot of improvement to be had in terms of the treatment of people with mental illness and mental health crisis. It bewildered me that so many people were willing to reach out and to respect my space when I was having surgery (for a physical problem), but the treatment I have received both just having a mental health problem or during a mental health crisis is wildly different. I am hoping that going forward I can learn and discern new or better ways to communicate this problem and what we can all do to help solve it.

In the mean time, however, I will wish you all a happy new year! Thanks for reading!

And an Epiphany in a Tree

I can say with some certainty that November and December have become my least favorite times of the year. For a long time I thought the stagnant months of February and March were worse (as they hold the record for the majority of my psychiatric hospitalizations) but it seems that every big blow-out started with a seed of intense stress in November and December.

Last week was really rough. Our dog Luna has been having seizures that our local vet has been having a hard time getting under control, and combined with the stresses and pressures of the holidays I started to crack very quickly. It started with really intense insomnia, and waking up psychotic around 4 or 5 am each morning for three days in a row. By the third day I had put on boots and a coat and walked to the grocery store outside in the dark in an attempt to outrun the vibrating energy in my body as I was filled with unprompted rage, and then the walk back tipped the scales in the other direction. Uncontrollable crying.

The swings were intense, on the brink of hospitalization-worthy. After having the ten-minutes-of-rage, ten-minutes-of-despair, ten-minutes of clarity, (wash, rinse, repeat) for a couple hours Corey and I decided it would be best to start the day with my emergency antipsychotic (Risperidone). 15 hours of sleep later I was a little more evened out, but it was a very serious sign to relax and take things more slowly. The last thing I wanted was to spend the holidays (and the new Star Wars premier) in the hospital.

One of the biggest difficulties I have at this time of year is that all of the progress my various family members have made regarding understanding my illness seems to evaporate (I am chalking it up to holiday stress, I don’t think they mean to do it) and things seem to reset to a time where I had little to no control over what I was doing or where I was spending my time.

It is often very hard for me to communicate my needs when it comes to managing bipolar disorder, but the problem always seems to grow exponentially around the holidays. It can feel really frustrating (to say the least) when my actions attempting to keep myself safe and sane start being ignored or demeaned when my needs start being categorized as selfish wants or irrelevant to the success of a holiday gathering.

I come from a long line of people who are much more quick to accommodate others than accommodate ourselves, and I think my Grandma said it best to me when she told me recently, “I always put my family’s needs before my own.” While this is something I have admired about us (lending itself to being giving and compassionate) one of the most difficult aspects of my life up to this point has been watching the people I love not taking care of themselves and feeling helpless to do anything about it.

At times it seems like my desire to take better care of myself is seen as an insult to my family when it has nothing to do with any of them. That is why I have had a whole series of Christmases where I made plans, and then always disrupted them at the last minute to do whatever whichever family member wants. These are people that really matter to me, and the shame and guilt I end of up feeling about not letting them control me is usually enough for me to give in. I don’t want to disappoint them, and I find myself traveling back to being a teenager or a kid who would rather just forgo helping myself and hide that I ever needed anything at all to keep from feeling vulnerable and like a disappointment.

Obviously that is a big part of what got me into this mess in the first place. Not taking care of myself when I really needed it has made my bipolar symptoms much bigger and stronger over time, and now that I am finally at that point where I am (making a good attempt at) managing my symptoms with a lot of help from my friends, things seem to be improving -albeit slowly.

Yesterday after a significant struggle through some knee deep inner turmoil I had a lightbulb go off. After the episode of this last week and all of the family conversations I had it was clear that taking care of myself has finally outweighed pleasing my family.

Like I said, I love them and I want them to be happy, but this doesn’t have to do with me being selfish, or my own happiness, or trying to punish them for not accommodating me, or just not wanting to be around them. This is about my health. My sanity.  My brain is a pretty integral part of my daily living, so it’d be better if I gave it a hand here, you know?

Putting my family first doesn’t keep me from having bipolar episodes. It doesn’t help me cope with stress. It doesn’t let me live the life that I want to live because I am not living through them, I am living through me. It took me many years to learn that I could not take care of them when they were failing to take care of themselves, but taking care of me is the one thing I can do.

My needs are important and they can’t be ignored any longer. I am thirty years old now, and it is crystal clear that nobody is going to take care of me but me. That means I need to step up and do it all the way, not just a little bit here and there.

This doesn’t mean I am becoming a hermit, it simply means that what I want is going to have to agree with what is appropriate for my health before I do it, and the execution will involve a firm “no” (gasp!!) from time to time.

I’ve spent ten years trying to execute this plan and failed every time before now, but I am finally able to see that the old way… well it isn’t working. While I recognize that this is always easier said than done I can feel that guilt and shame window closing. I am tired of being ruled by my emotions, because emotions can be manipulated. I want my life to be about the things that are important to me, and while my family is important I am finally recognizing just how important my health is to me too.

Biting Off More Than I Can Chew

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten regarding my mental health is to only take on as much as I feel capable of taking on.

Sometimes when I am depressed that might mean considering something as simple as taking a shower to be a triumph, which can be hard for me because my productivity can feel equal to my worth – which isn’t true.

Lately I have been practicing not biting off more than I can chew, but it has been a really difficult idea to master. It seems like I can frequently plan on taking a small bite and somehow wind up mowing down the whole damn chocolate bar.

More Than I Can Chew

There are a lot of elements that can add to this phenomenon, things like stress and external pressure from obligations can make it hard to scale back the things I am taking on. Experiencing episodes in the manic end of the bipolar mood spectrum often make me feel invincible and like taking on 25 extra tasks is not only worthwhile but easy (which isn’t always true).

I know I can also make the process hard for myself because I am someone who generally feels more comfortable processing and planning what I need to do before I do it (without the impulsivity of mania, anyway!). Unexpected changes in the plan I’ve set for myself can cause me to shut down just to try to process them.

Much like eating a slice of pizza may only take a few minutes (less if you’re really hungry), suddenly finding yourself tackling an entire pizza by yourself will not only take a different strategy, but also significantly more time.

A Slice is Nice!

It isn’t uncommon for people to say that I am not always great at adjusting quickly in situations where my plans have been derailed, and part of that is because many times my plans have budgeted for what I currently feel capable and able to accomplish. Entering into a situation, no matter how simple, after working myself into a position of calm and confidence…

SO on Top of It

…only to find myself having to eat through an entire pizza instead of a single slice generally means facing some big emotional upheaval and panic beyond the simple act of trying to rapidly digest more new information that I feel I can handle.

ERM...

Though I am working on learning ways to absorb and adapt to new information more quickly, there are times where I am so focused on trying to get that whole pizza down that I lose track of the conversation we’re having, or where I am going, or I forget to have fun. This can create an awkward environment for everyone involved, and what’s worse is I can tell when I am doing it so I also feel very self-conscious.

 The holidays are a difficult time to try to keep things simple, with plans constantly changing it can be really rough trying to be prepared emotionally and conscientious about how much I am taking on at any given time. Being in a situation where I find myself choosing between pleasing the people I love and taking care of my [mental and/or physical] health usually feels unfair, but is an unfortunate reality that I am faced with on a regular basis.

Luckily the process seems much less daunting when my friends and family remember maintaining our relationships work best when they involve:

  • Being patient
  • Not taking my absence in any situation personally
  • Allowing me to prepare for stressful events or situations in advance, when possible
  • Discussion so we can be on the same page
  • Respecting my boundaries and personal space
  • Being open and discussing your needs too!

Ultimately creating and maintaining relationships without retaining an unnecessary sense of guilt or shame when I am having a difficult time has been a learning process, but surrounding myself with people who are capable of being  understanding when the most I might be able to handle is a single bite (as opposed to the whole meal) has made a huge difference!

When In Doubt, Give Thanks

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays, despite landing around (and sometimes on) my birthday. It isn’t the football that gets my gears going or the food (though I love turkey), but what the day often causes so many people to stop and do that they don’t do every day.

Consider the things we are thankful for.

In the circles I roll in I’ve heard a lot of backlash about Valentines day, simply because many of my friends believe that we should be telling the people we love that we love them whenever we have the chance… not just once a year.

However, I rarely hear this sentiment about Thanksgiving. Taking time out of a holiday to consider the things we are thankful for has always been one of those warm, fuzzy moments for me because it forces people to look at the world in an appreciative way… something I think we could all benefit a little more from every day.

When dealing with depression or difficult family/relationship situations or even just the general stress of the oncoming holiday season it can be genuinely difficult to shift gears into considering the things that we cherish as opposed to focusing on the things that are seriously stressing us out… but to me that is the magic of Thanksgiving. People across the country are practicing shifting their perspectives, often taking a brief moment to improve their moods and the moods of those around them without potentially even realizing what they’ve done.

And if people can do this once a year, who knows? Feeling thankful might be something that starts to spread amongst us once the rain has settled in Seattle for two months solid, or when the sun peaks out again, or when we’re having too much fun in the Summer to even remember the long winters.

For those reasons, this year one of the things I am most thankful for is Thanksgiving for reminding me,

when in doubt, give thanks.

Finding Psychosis in Unlikely Places

Lately things have been up, up, up! A rather profound and relatively welcome change from my typical morose malaise dragging down even the most cheerful of moments. Things seemed to be going perfectly well when I hit a bit of a speed bump last week and started noticing my slightly-elevated hypomania (and general stability) being peppered with hysteria riddled buckshot.

Right now in the DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) group I am in we are learning about a skill called check the facts which involves taking time out to look at the big picture and discern if my reaction to events (or if my interpretation) might be colored by unwise reasoning (like jumping to conclusions).

I felt like I had a pretty good grasp on the skill and practiced it multiple times before that speed bump I was talking about last week. In these periods of agitation and intense depression-laced moments (lasting a couple hours at a time) I could no longer find “the facts”. It seemed like my ability to step back was totally negated, adding fear and panic to my already disoriented state.

I have always had a hard time identifying psychosis when it is happening, or at least identifying it before it has altered my psyche in a profound way. Typically the only way I have been able to pinpoint it in the past was after the fact, faced with a trail of breadcrumbs leading in several opposing directions at once.

Granted, I have experienced a few situations where the psychosis I was experiencing was something that seemed pretty easy to point out at the time. The overwhelming need I had to live with gypsies and time I thought I had become a werewolf are definitely two examples, but both occurred many years ago. Since then things have changed, and the psychosis I experience now is almost exclusively tied to fear, not euphoria or grandeur.

The fears are almost always something that could happen. Typically not things that are likely, but possible in the realm of actual life events. My boss trying to undermine me at work was a pretty infamous episode I had, but this time it was a little closer to home and my fear revolved around my boyfriend and an impending doom of our relationship.

In my mind, my boyfriend was trying to push me away to the point where I would become fed up with him and break up. Though this is not even remotely based in reality I was certain it was happening (but only for 1-2 hours 3-4 times a day) and I became terrified to speak to him. Unfortunately not speaking to him only fed into the awkward feeling I was having, making the whole thing seem more real.

For me, psychosis is typically like a real asshole lawyer. It builds a case based on tiny clues that are generally considered meaningless in our everyday lives, and when there are big pieces missing to corroborate the story, it makes them up. I’ll often find myself with memories of saying or hearing things that never actually happened, despite feeling very much like they have.

Trying to reason with someone who isn’t playing by the rules (psychosis) became relatively meaningless in my experience this last week. I felt overwhelmed by mass confusion because trying to check the facts led to so many contradictory facts that I didn’t know who or what to believe.

And that’s when my boyfriend found me.

I tried to explain why I was upset (without knowing at that point that I was even experiencing psychosis). It didn’t seem like him to be vindictive or evil, after all our relationship had always been like a slow, lazy river as opposed to the Niagara Falls of my last relationship. I blamed him for a long list of things that apparently never happened, and when trying to express my confusion I suddenly started laughing. Yep. That’s when I figured it out, the contradictory breadcrumbs were coming from many different directions and were made of several individually delicious but totally different and clashing baked goods.

[insert emergency antipsychotic here]

Things have been fine since, and while these sorts of episodes always lead me to feeling rather embarrassed and apologetic I was very lucky that I had some help in pinpointing this situation early. Being able to celebrate my birthday over the weekend without any added psychosis was huge.

Corey reminded me that this sort of thing tends to crop up for me when I am starting to get stressed. It was a good reminder to pay attention this holiday season and do my best to remain relaxed. I never want to come off as being a “Scrooge” but finding a way to celebrate the holidays without totally losing control of myself can be a big challenge. High-five to my man for being smart and compassionate!

On a final note, I am in the market for a new psychiatrist. This last one has made some comments that were more harmful than helpful, so this week I hope to switch to the next doctor on deck. Stay tuned!

My Intro to DBT, Breaking the Bucking Bronco

For just about as long as I can remember, my emotions have been akin to a bucking bronco that I was plopped on top of at an early age.

For several years the best I could do was hold on, but in the last ten I have gotten to know the bronco a little bit. Every once in a while I can feed him an apple to win his favor, and I can do a better job of riding all of the ups and downs (instead of just holding on for dear life).

It always unnerved me when people would tell me to get the bronco under control, and that the task should be relatively simple. That I could harness it and use it to ride faster and further than other people. In response to most of those people I simply sat back and, though willing, rather spitefully responded by asking, “how? If you can tell me how, I can do it.”

That is when whatever adult/therapist/boss would get flustered and I would sigh unapologetically. I didn’t need someone to teach me how to ride a bucking bronco, I already knew how to do that. I needed someone to teach me to tame it enough that I could dismount and spend some time on solid ground.

Needless to say I was pretty pleasantly surprised when my first meeting with the DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) group at my local clinic (finally!) did just that. Within two hours there was discussion on how to change from a harmful emotion to a positive one, and all I could think was, where was this group ten years ago?!?

Frankly, I am really excited to have the opportunity to try strategies for managing my bipolar and anxiety symptoms as well as work on my abilities to communicate with others because those are the biggest barriers in my life. DBT might just be the horse whisperer I have been looking for… heck, it practically came with a saddle and a bit!

I am not expecting a miracle, but being desperate for ideas and answers for quite some time I am the sort of person who will not scrimp on doing legwork to get to where I am trying to go. Ultimately I think this group will help me do some great things, and I am excited to absorb as much information as I can to implement some much needed positive changes.