Kiss5Tigers

The 5 Tigers represent the big things in life. This blog is about facing them.


Leave a comment

Is Mental Illness Real?

I was browsing a Facebook group where I’m a member and one of the other members stated that there is no such thing as mental illness.

Huh.

In a forum of people who have psychological distress, you have stated that mental illness isn’t real.

Not sure where I stand on that.

Well, no, I’m pretty sure where I stand on that: It’s a bit dismissive. It’s more than a bit dismissive. It’s downright belittling.

But also, I get it. I mean, we talk about mental illness as opposed to “being normal” only normal isn’t real. It’s a statistical construct based on the average way people act. It isn’t even based on feelings most of the time because we don’t know what people feel, we can observe how they act.

I suppose that’s why Abraham Low, who might be the first CBT practitioner back in the 40’s and 50’s, talked so much about seeking to be average. I feel like, it’s not about what you really experience, it’s about your ability to pass for typical.

The person’s perspective on the forum, if I understand correctly, is that extreme mental states are part of being human. They are normal and natural, and shouldn’t be pathologized.

Also, there is remarkably little data about brains with mental illness. Or the functionality of brains without mental illness, for that matter. We have some really good ideas about how the brain works, but when it comes to mental illness, it’s a black box. We don’t really know what goes wrong when people lose touch. We think it has to do with chemicals and neurons, and theories have led to some effective medications.

But medication is not 100%. Things like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are reported to be as effective in shifting mood as many drugs. Does that mean drugs aren’t effective?

Not all drugs work for the same condition in different people. I mean, you can pretty sure that if you and I both have an infection, the same antibiotic will help. But with my bipolar? I take one cocktail of medications and my friend with the same diagnosis takes a different one. Does that mean we have different disorders?

And there is no biological test for mental illness. We can test for high blood pressure or diabetes. We can see a physical injury like a cut or a broken bone. We can detect appendicitis or cancer. But mental illness is invisible in this sense, there is no way to detect it in the body. It only appears in behavior and reported feelings.

So here I am, dealing with bipolar. And I know the big thing is not that there is something wrong with me, but that my moods and feelings stray outside the realm of average and interfere with my ability to manage life.

Does that make me sick? Or maladapted? Or sensitive to mood?

I take drugs that help me with my mood. Mood under control means life is manageable, which is good. Manageable means I pay bills on time, take a shower, sleep daily, have a job. Manageable means I pass for normal, even though my moods are often outside the bell curve. Manageable means you don’t point and stare at me. I can pass.

Who do I take the drugs for? Me or you? Because some days, most days, I feel pretty average and that was true before my diagnosis. Am I making my life more manageable for my own benefit, or because you (whoever you is) are uncomfortable with my difference?

I have been called eccentric for most of my adult life. Eccentric is okay, not as creepy as being weird, not as out of control as crazy. I’m a little odd. You think I’m normal until you find out I’m not. I make you slightly uncomfortable from time to time, but you can pass it off.

For example, I seem to observe people closely, maybe a little too closely. It makes my friend feel scrutinized. I am not aware of doing it. I watch motion. If you happen to be moving, I’m watching you. It’s a habit. I’m not consciously doing it. In fact, my attention may be turned inward and I’m not paying enough attention to actually see you at all. But I’m tracking what you’re doing. I try to be conscious of this because it makes folks uncomfortable and gets me labelled weird. It’s rude. Is it a sign of illness? Or a poorly managed evolutionary adaptation? After all, in the wild, there are advantages to being visually attentive.

But I digress.

Suppose I am not ill. Suppose I am just at one end of the bell curve of emotional sensitivity. Why do I medicate? Wouldn’t it make much more sense to change my behavior? I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being 6’5″ tall or 4’9″. They are just opposite ends of the bell curve. Maybe I am just more sensitive and somewhere there is someone who is less sensitive. Maybe I don’t need medication but understanding.

Yet medication works, so isn’t that an indication that I’m sick? Medicine changes things for me in a way that is an improvement. Doesn’t that mean I’m unwell in some way?

Is mental illness real? I certainly have real troubles and real mood extremes and real cognitive distortions. What I don’t have is a physical diagnostic that shows where bipolar exists in my brain. I can’t have my bipolar removed or point to the area where my bipolar is. I can’t even say for sure what happens when I have an episode. Why am I sometimes depressed and other times manic? It seems like there must be 2 different things going on here, to get two such different mental states.

Personal experience says mental illness is real. Just like chronic fatigue syndrome is real. That’s something that was believed to be made up until enough people reported it. Pain is real. Psychological pain is real.

For me, I just keep on doing what works. Medication helps. Support groups help. Making art helps. Seeking wellness helps. Working helps. Learning about my disorder helps. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if I need medication to cope or if I can learn resiliency skills. What matters is that I figure out what I need to thrive.


1 Comment

Busy Weekend

I am busy this weekend, and it’s good.

It’s easy for me to get stuck when I don’t have a support group, and just spend days at a stretch in my jammies.

Now there’s nothing wrong with restful days. I need them. I need days when I stay home and do, well, nothing important.

But this is a 3-day weekend. I just can’t spend all 3 days at home doing nothing. So I am lucky to have made plans for all 3 days.

Tomorrow I am going out with some friends. We plan to hit Dallas Grilled Cheese Company for lunch and head on over to the Perot Museum. Then for dinner I am meeting some other friends for tacos at Taqueria Taxco.

Sunday I have a ceramics class at Dallas MakerSpace followed by a visit with a friend.

Monday I am going to get my hair cut then out to dinner with the roommates at Red Lobster.

Yes it will be a few dollars, but that’s what money is for. It’s a tool for doing the things we need to and want to. I will get some bills paid and I’ve ordered some art supplies to keep me busy. It’s all good. Busy is good for me.

I just need to buy a newspaper so I have something to protect the table top while I paint or do other art activities. I don’t want to get gunk all over the carpet. I suppose I should work outside, and I just might if the weather is suitable. I have a kit with alcohol inks that I’d love to play with somewhere that I can’t damage the furniture. The front porch is probably a good option.

Tonight is shower night, then set the alarm so I get on the road at an appropriate time tomorrow. I’m looking forward to this weekend.


Leave a comment

Short Time

There is just a short time until I leave. I’m ready to get ready, but until the unemployment money hits, I’m at an impasse. I need the money for things like flip flops and deodorant. I just need a few things before the trip.

I spoke to my travelling buddy yesterday. She is also excited. She’s looking forward to the food, she says, because cruises always have great food. I’m just looking forward to real, fresh seafood. Which there should be plenty of on an Alaska cruise.

I also need to mail 3 purchases on my Etsy site, and pick up some postcard stamps. My friend wants to read, but I want to send postcards. I’ll do some reading too. I bought The Four Agreements to read during my down times. If I have a chance, I’ll get a couple magazines too.

I need a new backpack, my current one is coming apart at the seams. I really like it, but I’m afraid it won’t last. I don’t know what to bring out of it. My little Alaska notebook for sure, but what about my journal? It’s big and heavy, so maybe not, maybe just a little notebook, like a composition book. But what else? Do I bring a tape runner, a glue stick, watercolors, water color pencils? Probably none of those things, just keep my keepsakes and get to relive the trip putting it together afterwards.

I need to get my sweater out of the car to wash it. I need to think about what shoes to pack. I need a pair of dress shoes for dinners, but I don’t have any. Something else I suppose I could buy if I have time. Or I could buy a pair in Vancouver or Alaska. That would be an interesting souvenir.

I am hoping I can fit everything in my suitcase and still use it as a carry on. So much to bring. So much to do. And I sit here watching Lucifer since it’s only 1000 degrees today and I am overheated. Waiting for the sun to go down and the house to cool off a little.

Dinner in a minute. Then get the sweater then do another load of laundry.

Busy busy.


Leave a comment

Travel Excitement

It’s less than a week until I leave for Alaska, and I’m starting to get excited. I have so much to do before I leave.

Tomorrow, Sunday, I am having poke bowls with my daughter in honor of her birthday. It’s Hawaiian comfort food, sort of like deconstructed sushi. I know she’ll like it. I also have to request my next unemployment payment.

Monday is passport day. I need to go through my room and find the remaining passport photo, or I need to find an extra $20 and get them done again. In the afternoon is group if I can make it. I’ll already be in Dallas. I have to get up early early early Monday morning. So early I might not sleep Sunday night. I’m supposed to go as a walk-in so I want to be there when they open. Oh, and I need to print my airline schedule so I can prove I need the passport. Probably better print the cruise schedule too.

Tuesday needs to be laundry and shopping day. Shopping of course assumes I will be paid by then by unemployment. I want a book and I need some things like underwear and bug spray. And a new back pack.

Wednesday. Wednesday! I need to pack, I might need to go shopping if I didn’t do it Tuesday, and of all things, the unemployment office wants me to come in and do orientation! At 9:00 in the morning! So far that is 3 days in a row of getting up early, and I am not made for that.

But Thursday is the big day. Thursday I get on the plane and head to Vancouver to get on that cruise ship. I can’t wait. I mean, obviously I can wait because I have to, but boy is it hard! I’m so excited!

Better get started on the things I can do because there are a lot of things to do between then and now. Wish me luck!


Leave a comment

Mothers Day

Mothers Day was yesterday.

Is it Mothers Day, as in the day we celebrate mothers, or Mother’s Day, as in the day we celebrate Mom? I don’t know. I don’t suppose it matters.

This is a holiday that I am truly ambivalent about.

In 1984, my mother died of cancer. Part of the issue was that she wouldn’t go to the doctor so the disease was pretty advanced by the time anyone picked up on it. Part of the problem was, well, it was 35 years ago, cancer treatment just wasn’t as advanced as it is today. She was given the option of treatment that would extend life but make her sick, or no treatment with a life expectancy of about 8 months. She chose to forego medical treatment.

Now let’s be clear. She turned down radiation and chemo. She said, “If medical science is done with me, then I am done with them.” But she did pursue holistic alternatives. Only, again, it was 1984. No internet. No community of people to help with advice. And “holistic” was a concept without a name.

I remember her insisting on organic produce, and soaking it in the sink to remove toxins. One time, after she had moved back to my grandparents’ house, she accused of us trying to poison her by not soaking the vegetables. They came from Grandpa’s garden, which was de facto organic because that was the way he learned to farm when he was a kid.

So I am without a mother, and by this age, I am without grandmothers. Nobody for me to spoil on this day. For many years, Mothers Day was simply a reminder of what I don’t have. I chose to ignore the holiday.

Only, I am a mother myself.

I have been terrible with holidays because I missed my family of origin, but that means my daughter has never really experienced a good holiday. I was perhaps too caught in my own grief and did not provide the right environment for her in terms of celebrating special days.

This year, I spent most of Mothers Day afternoon with my daughter. I went to her place. We drank rumchata (horchata with rum in it) and made art. I made an abstract of her friend, she tried out a texture technique that she didn’t like and painted over. Several of her friends visited. I laughed, and said it’s because I’m the cool mom, but really I know it’s because my kid is cool. People want to be around her.

So I am learning to make days special in non-traditional ways. What’s important is to spend time together, not to go to brunch or get flowers. I feel good about making art with a friend, and my daughter is becoming a friend. I miss my mom, but I will see her again soon enough. And I want her to see how far I’ve come, when we finally get to catch up.


Leave a comment

Zero’d Out the Bank Account

I just took the last of my money out of the bank. I want control over what gets paid and what doesn’t, so I just pulled it out and paid my rent for May. I am now broke.

My daughter wants to donate plasma tomorrow and I’m gonna go with her. I can use the money and we can keep each other company. Then I’m taking her to the psychiatrist. We’ll have to figure out paying him.

What am I doing to find money? Well, I have applied to some temp agencies, waiting to hear from them. I have written an article that I hope to post on Nook. I have submitted it, but it still shows as pending, not actually for sale yet. I am signed up with Rev.com to do online transcription. I have applied to Amazon and will try Costco, since apparently they are hiring. I hate to burn bridges by leaving with no notice — and I get 24 to 48 hours notice before being deployed — but I need money now so I just might have to bite the bullet. I have also watched a dog and would consider house sitting.

In the meantime, my GoFundMe is doing well. Got another donation today, so that makes me happy. I’m over $200 now.

I’m working on hats. I have posted 13 of them in Etsy. I’ve had some looks, so hopefully there will be some buys soon.

I learned, in group today, that I basically like myself. I knew I didn’t hate myself, in spite of my periodic disgust with my body, but I didn’t really think about liking myself. I would be friends with me. That’s actually pretty cool. Not that I’m a perfect person, because there’s always room for improvement, but I’m good with who I am. And that makes me happy.


Leave a comment

Trying Things

Trying bulletproof coffee for the first time. I like my coffee black so this is without sweetener. Mostly tastes greasy. I might prefer regular coffee. But I am trying to be low carb at least, trying for keto at home but it’s hard. I can think of all kinds of things to eat, but they involve crackers, so . . .

Yesterday I had my first poke bowl at a place called Below 40. It had salmon and crab and was so good. I was full most of the day. I was of course hungry again by 6 but that’s pretty normal. Going to try another one of their signature bowls next time. My friend K who I went with had a custom bowl made. Hers had greens instead of rice. I might try that the next time.

Slept on K’s new sofa this weekend. So comfy. What a process it was getting that sofa! First problem was getting the old sofa out. We got it to the truck no problem. Getting it into the truck was a different story. While we were trying to wrangle the thing over the tailgate, a fire truck pulled up to check a nearby hydrant. The firemen came over and put the sofa in the truck for us! Very helpful. Unloading it was pretty straightforward. The staff at the store loaded the new one for us and we got it off the truck just fine. Then came getting it through the door.

We turned it one way, didn’t fit. Turned it the other way, didn’t fit. The feet were in the way, the curve of the back was in the way, the whole thing didn’t fit by only an inch or two. A neighbor named Gary came by. He helped us turn the thing a few different ways but his girlfriend showed up and they had to get to a concert. Then Alan and Ty, some neighbors from upstairs showed up. Alan actually took the sliding glass doors off the tracks to get the sofa in. It took him over an hour, things were so stuck by paint and dirt. Who knew the track to a sliding door could get so dirty? Who even thinks of cleaning such a thing? Then the guys lifted the sofa over the porch railing and into the living room, and they put the doors back. Ty said he’d take a bottle of Crown for his efforts, but Alan doesn’t drink so K will get some money for him.

We went to an estate sale yesterday afternoon. I bought a copy of a book called “The Birds’ Xmas Carol” by Kate Douglas Wiggin. I bought it for nostalgia reasons, but it’s got an inscription dated 1913. The copyright says 1886 but I think that’s just the copyright date, not the publication date of this issue. I mentioned it to K, and a man near us kept going on about how much the book was probably worth. I don’t care about the value. It reminds me of my grandmother.

I also saw a pretty pink glass rabbit dish that reminded me of her. It made me think of the chicken bowl she had that always had hard candy in it. It was a milky blue color. The bottom was a wicker basket and the lid was a nesting chicken. You lifted the chicken off to get to the treats. Speaking of candy, I remember her buying ribbon candy at Christmas and Peeps and Easter. Grandma would eat a whole Peep, just popping the whole thing in her mouth. I never liked them myself, not a fan of marshmallow.

Well, I am off to my Artists Way group. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


Leave a comment

Working It Out

I am signed up with a group called Succulent Wild World, which is the brainchild of an author called SARK. She teaches about the Inner Wise Self, which many people think of as their Higher Power but for me it is Intuition. One of the activities for this month is to write a letter from your Inner Wise Self and share it. So here I am, sharing.

One piece of backstory so this maybe makes more sense: my parents died when I was 19. My mom had cancer, my dad had a heart attack a month later, and they had been divorced for 7 years at that point. I used to say, “The first thing they do together in years, and I can’t do it with them.”

Here is the letter:

Dear Alive Allison,

You are here and alive. You did not die with the others, stop acting like you did. You deserve to have a life and to live it fully. You are needed just as you are.

Free yourself from fear of failure and survivor’s guilt. You did not kill your parents. Their deaths were the logical conclusions of their lives. It was about them, not you. It wasn’t done to hurt you. It’s normal to outlive your parents.

So take off the shroud and take up your superhero cape. Fly away into love and adventure. Life is available to you, make it a good one.

Now I’m old, it’s been 35 years since they passed. I have done a LOT of grieving and I don’t really need to be overly gentle with myself at this point. I am no longer sad in a daily way that I lost them. It’s still sad, but there is distance from the pain, it’s not visceral any more.

I used to compare it to losing a tooth. Do you remember losing your teeth as a child? At first there is a hole and it is tender and you keep poking it with your tongue even though it feels weird. Then the skin toughens up and you can poke it without getting that tingle. Eventually another tooth takes up the space, and it’s different but it becomes normal. Now obviously with a death you don’t just replace the person you lost, but life has a way of filling in the gap until it isn’t noticeable on a regular basis. If you think of it, you notice it; but you are no longer thinking of it constantly.

So this is the theme for me this week: move past my parents’ deaths. It happened. It’s sad that it happened when I was so young. And yet, I seem to have let it prevent me from doing some things. I wonder if it had anything to do with me breaking up with so many serious boyfriends, though I also wonder if that is a result of being bipolar. I wonder how much of my settling for jobs rather than pursuing a career is out of fear of taking the risks that lead to success.

Fear of taking risks. I heard of a friend’s brother who won $8000 at a casino and lost it all. I though, I’d never lose that much money because when I got to that amount, I’d walk away. Truthfully, I’d never get to that amount, because I wouldn’t bet the amount of money it takes to get there, and I’d probably walk away happily with $100. I wouldn’t take the risk. You don’t win big without betting big, and I need to learn to bet bigger.

Now obviously this is a calculated risk. I can’t afford to lose $8000 so that kind of risk is not for me. However, I can tolerate a little rejection, so taking the risk of, say, showing my art might be reasonable. I can live with not everybody liking my work, and I can even live with the idea that some of my art is just plain bad. I am still learning.

All of which is to say, I need to stop letting fear stop me from doing things I want to do. I may not have a safety net any longer — really, who does at 54? — but I can’t spend the rest of my life standing on the ledge. Sometime I have to grab the trapeze and fly.


Leave a comment

Holistic Fair

I went to a holistic fair at the local Unitarian Universalist church today.

First thing we did was walk the labyrinth they have there. It really is a meditative practice. You go around and back and forth and you finally reach the center. This particular labyrinth had a cluster of huge rose quartz rocks in the middle. Truly I mean rocks, they must have weighed a solid pound each, maybe more. They were rough hewn. I felt like they were lonely, like people don’t get out to visit them often enough.

The idea is, you walk from the outer world to the inner world, then you circle back out. This one was laid out with rocks so to be completely honest, we just stepped over the “walls” to get out, we didn’t circle back out. Then we saw some paths through the woods that we decided to check out. Trees had grown over the path so it was pretty covered. It’s winter in Texas so even though it’s not terribly cold out, the trees were bare and the ground was covered with their leaves. The branches met over our heads and created a sort of tunnel through the woods.

We went inside to check out the vendors. They seemed a little pricey to me. Or as the Brits say, proud of their goods. We looked at hemp infused coffee and keto creamer. They wanted $70 for about a pound of coffee, just a little high. I mean that to sound understated.

There was a young man who had made some wands. I asked him about them, he said he made them from wooden beads and adhesive. I feel like the actual stick part, not the handle, was made out of resin so it must have been the adhesive, which I suspect is glue sticks. He wasn’t exactly outgoing.

There was a woman in African or Carribbean dress who made statement necklaces. She had a huge piece of different stones as the focal. The beads on the necklace were quite large, maybe an inch in diameter. These were solid pieces but a little too big for me.

Another woman had body creams and candles. I would have bought some of the Ms Coco body cream but I couldn’t find it except in the tester. She also had quite large tea light candles, the size of the palm of my hand. Some were just scented, others had plant material, crystals, or other inclusions. I felt like she was the most reasonably priced of everyone.

There was another jewelry vendor there. She had lovely crystal point necklaces. The points were probably an inch in diameter and a good 2 or 3 inches long, very clear. I would have believed they were glass but they were quartz. Or amethyst. She also made pyramids and pendulums that were designed to clear an area from electro magnetic pollution. It was interesting. But again, a little high priced.

I got a reading from a lady named Sherry. She called it a wisdom reading, not a sort of fortune telling. I’m fine with that. It’s a little blurry, everything that she did. Her technique is to attune herself with me and contact my higher consciousness. She put oil on my palms and had me inhale it and pull up an image. I got baby dolls, particularly the kind with painted on hair. Then she asked me to listen to my heart and tell me if there was something my inner self wanted to let go. I said “weight”. I felt a little self conscious about that, since I am a fat person and weight is always a politically correct answer for me. But I couldn’t change the word, I couldn’t turn it into anything else, so I had to go with it. She said weight is often related to emotional states, and that the body often uses weight as a form of protection. On the physical level, toxins and other things can be caught in fat as a way of keeping them out of the body systems. On an emotional level, stresses cause the body to hold onto fat. So there could be both health and mental health reasons for letting go of weight.

She put more different oils in my hand, had me breathe in and out, and asked me for a memory. I remembered the day the priest told me that my father died. It made my heart hurt. I felt great loneliness. As we worked, the loneliness morphed into sadness. I felt sad for the little girl who lost her parents. Sherry had me remember the scene in detail and I remembered how Judy had been so upset and even teary eyed on my behalf. The sadness literally caught in my throat and stole my voice. Eventually it dissipated and there was a sort of release.

Sherry then shared an image she had for me, one of those jewelry boxes with the little ballerina in it. I don’t know if they still make them. I had one as a child. She said, my higher self wanted me to dance with freedom, not stuck in one pose like the ballerina. She asked what was stopping me. I told her, fear. Fear that if I fail, there’s no safety net. I don’t have parents or siblings to help me out if I get stuck. I have to do it all myself so it feels like there’s no room for mistakes. She had me visualize something that means strength to me (tigers, of course) and absorb the strength of it into myself.

So what I take from this, is that my parents’ deaths have affected me in ways I am not fully aware of. After all this time, I still make choices and behave in ways that are underscored by that experience. And maybe it’s time to find a new way of being. Just maybe, I can find a safety net and take a risk to do or be something more than I currently am.


Leave a comment

Steak and Chai Tea

Wednesday (yesterday, today is Thursday) was a busy day for me.

I started the day with a COMI meeting. Basically it’s a forum where local mental health services meet up and share their information. I found out, for example, that Dallas has closed 3 mental health hospitals in the last 2 years, and no one has replaced the beds. So there are that many people who need to be hospitalized who can’t access services. That is a crying shame. There are so many of us who need respite and there is no facility for that.

I made a contact to a group called BattleBuddies, which works with veterans, and that led to a project called Stop One. What is important about this is that they offer Mental Health First Aid for free to the community. In my work in disaster relief with the government, I often see people who are distressed and a little training on how to help them would be a good thing.

Then I met up with my daughter for coffee. I like to see her regularly but she does live with her boyfriend. They only have one day off in common so I try not to take up that time. Coffee is a good thing. Daughter made coffee for me and we hung out for a while. She gave me some gears for my art, so that was very cool. And some buttons. We spent about an hour together then I took her to work.

My next stop was lunch with my insurance ladies. We all started at the company at the same time and were in the same training class. Usually there are 4 of us, but T was just back from a family trip so she didn’t make it. We went to Outback and I had steak which was wonderful. I don’t often get meat that’s rare to medium. Meat at our house tends to be fully cooked, which is not my preference, but I don’t have to cook so I’m not complaining. I also had cheesecake, something I don’t do very often. It was very good. We sat in the restaurant for almost 3 hours just catching up on life.

After leaving the ladies, I texted my friend K. I knew she was still at work but since I was in the area I thought I could stop by. I went to Barnes and Noble to kill some time. I took a few books off the walls and a couple of magazines, and I went to the cafe for a coffee. Well they were having a sale on chai, hot or cold, any size, for $2. You don’t have to tell me twice; I got a grande hot chai. So good. I didn’t buy a book, though, I don’t need anything more to read. I need more light in the house so I can read more.

I did go see K. She needed some help turning the mattress on her bed. I know it sounds like an odd activity, but us ladies need to help each other out when there’s nobody else around. There are many of us over a certain age who are single. Wonderful people, just not meeting the right other person. Or like me, divorced and wounded. Or, yanno, just not interested in having a relationship. Not everyone wants to be coupled up. We must band together and be there for each other.

I got home about 11:00, which was quite late for me. I slept well. It was a good day.