Kiss5Tigers

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


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Working the WRAP

WRAP is Wellness Recovery Action Plan, and I’ve talked about it in some detail in other posts so I won’t bore you.

I am struggling with spending.

I am spending money I don’t really have to spare.

I can’t seem to halt the behavior.

So it’s time to get out my WRAP notebook.

What can I do when this takes over?

Oh, turn over the bank card to someone else! That really scares me so it’s probably the one I’d better do. Tank up the car, get a couple dollars in cash so I can get a coke or a coffee, and take the bank card out of my purse.

Scary.

Really scary.

What else can I do?

Use up the art supplies I already have. Make art. Making art makes me happy, and most of my spending is on art supplies which want to be used. Make art seems like a good plan.

I have 2 online courses I’m taking, I could listen to one of them.

I need a shower before I see my family tomorrow.

I am owning my faults and blogging about them *right now* as I am typing this. I’m not sure if that’s helpful except that it’s always helpful to be honest and start from truth.

I can sleep. I just finished dinner and I have full-belly sleepiness. Nap is possible.

I think . . . I think I will listen to one of my courses, and maybe do some journaling or write some letters. I have a letter to Fishspit to finish. Then the shower before bed.

And I will not get on Amazon or Etsy, even though I want to.

Because the medicine keeps the feelings under control and this is just behavior. I can change behavior. I can do this.

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My Body

My body rather disgusts me. I really don’t like my body.

I am middle aged and fat (yes, over 250, I qualify as fat) and things don’t work the way they used to.

I have a rotator cuff injury to my right shoulder so I have somewhat limited range of motion.

I am going gray. Now it’s the gray you want to have, it’s a pretty gray, but I’d rather be a natural purple. Yes I know nobody is a natural purple, but since it’s not gonna happen, I can pick whatever color I like. I have tried coloring it, but really too much of a hassle.

I have too much tummy and no waist.

I have small boobs. Well, not so small, but only B cups so they don’t balance out the gut. Plus I have many years with no bra due to renaissance faires so they are saggy. They don’t like each other so I don’t have nice cleavage. Remember the old bra commercial, “It lifts and separates”? My bosoms would live in separate counties if they could manage it. Good bras make a difference, but I feel like I’m lying about how much I’ve been blessed with. If I ever have a boyfriend again, I’ll have to keep my bra on during sex.

That whole female bleeding thing. I’ve been dealing with it for over 40 years now, can it please stop? Please?

Speaking of goo, now that I’m older I have issues with incontinence. Sometimes I pee what I laugh or cough or sneeze. The cough has been an issue with the current round of allergy crap. And as a fat person, they don’t make pee panties in my size. Hey, Depends, I’m looking at you. Not to mention I don’t want to wear a pad all month long. Bad enough during shark week.

Now I have poop issues. I get the feeling I have to go, and damn I’d better go! There is no holding it. I have had to clean myself up in public rest rooms on more than one occasion. It’s embarrassing. Walking into the grocery store, asking where the ladies room is, with a load in my pants because I couldn’t control it. Can’t stand it. Horrifying.

And there is the facial hair. I don’t mean a little fuzz on the lip. I have PCOS which means my body fights me in annoying ways, and it has given me a full beard. I shave every day, just like my dad. I wanted to be like my dad when I was a kid, but not in this way. I would like to be able to go camping and not come out of the woods looking like Grizzly Adams. One day I will have the money for laser treatments, but until then, I’m stuck with the razor.

I am outliving my teeth. Now I didn’t expect to make it to 55. My parents died at 47 to cancer and heart trouble. I figured I’d die young also. But no, at the rate I’m going, I’ll see 90. My teeth however probably won’t. They simply break. I am dreadfully afraid of the dentist, and I can’t afford one that I’m not. I have a tender mouth and all the work is painful to me. I can’t pay for full anesthetic dentistry or I would.

And my eyes. I am near sighted to the point of almost legally blind. I am presbyopic which means I should have bifocals only they make me dizzy. And I am developing a cataract in my left eye. It will need surgery at some point, but until then I am seeing through a gray haze on that side.

Now I am really struggling here. My dislike of my body means I tend not to take care of it, though clearly taking care of it would make it less disgusting to me. Eating is an issue. Working out is an issue. Money for dentistry or laser hair removal is an issue.

In the meantime, I live in a physical world. I like to feel the cat’s soft fur. Chocolate tastes good. Color, the existence of color, is an exquisite gift. I knit and crochet, I love the fibers, the texture, the colors. Hugs are amazing. The smell of lilacs. All these things need a body to appreciate them.

Here is this tool that makes it possible to interact with the world, and it gives me the heebie-jeebies.

I escape into my mind, the world of ideas. I read. I think. I get online. It’s all intellectual because that doesn’t need a body. I can escape for a minute.

I am trying to learn to be good to my body. I’m trying to eat better. I go to the doctor a little more often. I want to work out, but it seems like a huge hassle. And yet I don’t want to be a little old lady in a wheelchair because I didn’t take care of myself at 50. I already suffer from not taking care of myself at 30.

So I will learn to accept this body, because it is the one I have. Because it isn’t healthy to hate oneself. Because there are enjoyable things about the physical world.

One day, we will make peace, my body and I.


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Virtual Friends

An online friend of mine passed away today.

It was sudden but not completely unexpected, since she had a chronic health condition that was getting worse.

Still, she was young and apparently not a strong as it seemed.

Thing is, we were friends of a sort. Not close friends, not phone call friends, but we knew each other online.

And now there is this feeling of loss.

There is no real closure for this. I won’t be going to the funeral. It’s nowhere near where I live. No wake. And she will continue to exist in the virtual world.

Her posts still exist. Her jokes. Her stories. Her encouragement.

It’s a sort of ghost existence. The electronic residue of a whole and complete person.

So for a few days I will feel strangely off-kilter. Then I will only be reminded on days when Facebook brings her up again.

I have other friends like that: Scott, Faye, Taln. I get birthday notices. I get periodic messages from friends left on the memorial page. Whispers of a life not lived. Echoes from an alternate reality, where these friends are still alive.

I can’t quite call these people dead. In some ways, they were never fully alive for me, just a voice in the void. A creation of the ether and my imagination.

But I know, or at least I believe, there were human beings on the other side of the screen. Real people who laughed and loved and fought and fucked. And we connected, in the mind and in the heart if not in the flesh.

So my friend is gone now, on to whatever happens after this life. I hope she is happy and healthy. I hope she is still funny and kind and supportive and enthusiastic. I hope she is reunited with the people she loved and lost.

I hope I can embody some of the good things that she left behind in her posts and feed.

Gone but not forgotten. The internet never forgets.


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The Bed Bug Saga

About 2 years ago, a friend and I took a road trip. A couple of months later, we both ended up with bedbugs. We assume we both picked them up at a hotel while we were on the road.

My friend noticed the bugs right away and took steps and hasn’t had a problem since. Good for her!

Me, now, the bugs don’t bite me, or I don’t welt up when they do, so it took me a lot longer to notice there was a problem. (Mosquitoes don’t bite me either, I assume it’s blood type or psych meds or something I eat that renders me unappealing.)

Plus when I first noticed them, they were under the cats. I thought they were some kind of flea. I kept treating the cats to no avail.

Soon enough the bugs migrated throughout the house and became a problem for my roommates. We spent a long time working on getting it under control. I bought a LOT of bug death, since it was my fault that they got into the house.

For many months we have been bug free. But they are back.

Both of my roommates have complained of being bitten. I have no welts and haven’t felt itchy. However, the roommates’ response to this is, I must clean my room.

Because I am now the epicenter of bugs.

Today I spent several hours working on my room. I took the bed apart and sprayed (no bugs in the mattress corners, which my roommates were convinced I had). All the bedding is in the wash.

Spray the hallway, says my roommate, because they migrate.

You know what else they do? Lay eggs in the beds and soft furnishings of the house. Eggs that hatch in that location. Bugs that think of the sofa as home, not migrants from my room.

Oh, but they could be hiding between the dresser and the wall, say the roommates. Spray your whole room. Maybe you should spray up near where the walls and the ceiling meet.

So I have done these things. I figure, there are 2 possibilities: Either there are no bedbugs in which case I’ve done no harm. Or there are bugs I’m not seeing, in which case I’ve addressed the issue. And in either case, the roommates feel heard.

When they go out of town in a couple weeks, and I can sleep on the sofa, I will bug bomb the room. Which I do quarterly anyway. Just because.

So this is a cautionary tale of sorts. Don’t get bedbugs. They are nearly impossible to get rid of, and the reputation is even harder to shed.


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The Power of Realistic Thinking

One of the issues I often face as a bipolar person is the question of whether I am living in reality or in my own world.

Nothing wrong with having a world of your own. Any innovator or inventor has a strong internal world that they want to bring to light. Nicola Tesla, Buckminster Fuller, Steven Jobs – to name a few – all had a particular vision of the world that wasn’t real until they created it. But they also were rooted in scientific thinking.

Sometimes my internal world, well, it can get very different from reality. It’s easy to see it when I am depressed or manic, but harder to discern when I am hypomanic or dysthymic. That is, if I am suicidal it relatively easy to detect that my thinking is dysregulated. I tend to use absolutes like “I’m going to feel this way forever, it will never change.” Or if I believe that the weatherman on TV is sending me coded messages about my daughter’s welfare. I might be fully convinced of the truth of these things, but they aren’t true. They aren’t real. They are lies my bipolar tells me.

There is a tendency to see the opposite of depressed thinking as positive thinking, but that can also be a lie for me. “You can spend this money, there is plenty of money available,” is positive thinking but it will get me into trouble at the end of the month when bills are due. I want to believe in abundance but I am not a temporarily embarrassed millionaire, as John Steinbeck says most Americans think of themselves. I am a middle aged working class white woman. I have some privileges but unlimited money is not one of them and it does me no good to act as if it is.

If the power of positive thinking isn’t the answer, what is?

A friend of mine calls it non-negative thinking. I call it realistic thinking. It’s the power of having your internal world align with consensual reality. If I fact check myself with 2 other people, there is probably a high degree of agreement. It’ll never be 100% but it can be pretty darn close.

What is consensual reality? It is the world that we all agree exists. This is the planet Earth. Water is wet. Two solid objects can’t occupy the same place at the same time. Humans don’t fly by flapping their arms. We give our consent that these things are true and real. You know that if someone is moving his arms up and down intensely and taking little leaps into the air, he has probably left the realm of consensual reality. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, think of a small child playing at being a bird. But if an adult is doing it who really believes he’s just having a day when aerodynamics are working against him, he’s probably a little out of touch.

If I am depressed and telling myself that the misery will never end, most people can see I’m out of touch with reality and they’ll either understand or try to fix me. But if I am dysthymic, I might say, “I won’t go to hell when I die, I’m already there” which other people would find cynical, but not necessarily out of consensus. What I need is a way to break out of the negative cycle of thinking.

One piece of this is universal acceptance. There are 3 main kinds of acceptance: universal self acceptance, universal other acceptance, and universal life acceptance. The goal of any of them is to accept things as they are. For example, universal self acceptance would mean comparing yourself to an ideal self, to your own self in the past, or to other people. You accept yourself as you are. I accept my depressed self as she is, which can be hard.

Another piece is the fact checking I mentioned. I can go to a friend or a trusted advisor and verify that I am in fact not in hell even though I might feel like it. I can see that there are no little devils with pitchforks and I don’t smell brimstone. Or if you are less literal, my friend could remind me that I am not experiencing eternal misery. Oh sure I’m miserable right now, but at other times I have been happy.

That’s a truth for me about being bipolar, that feelings and situations come and go. I am never fully balanced, I am always in the act of balancing. My friend can remind me that I have been through this before, I will make it through this time, and it will probably circle around again. Nowadays I look for those cycles, so that I know what to expect. Maybe two days of not sleeping is followed by sleeping for a week. Maybe feeling like I can do anything leads to using so much energy that I can’t get out of bed. Maybe euphoria precedes anger. If I know the anger is coming, I can make plans. Avoid people for a few days, stay out of stressful situations, warn people that I’m a little touchy at the moment.

A third tool that works for me is journaling. I try (and don’t really succeed) to write every day. Some days I remember to journal, other days I write letters or blog. Letters obviously get mailed off, but journaling and blogging leave me a record of my mood or my thinking. I get to observe the patterns. And I get to read my own wisdom. Like most people, I know a lot about coping that I forget when I’m in the moment. I am so busy feeling stressed that I forget sitting down for a minute to play with the cat will soothe me until I read it in my journal. And that’s the beauty of the WRAP program, that I can go to the section about being stressed and see that I have chosen tools like “pet the cat”, “take a hot shower” or “remember to eat something” which I might not be able to bring to mind at the moment.

Speaking of WRAP, I am raising some money to offer the teaching to low income people. Here is the link to my fundraiser: https://www.facebook.com/donate/936838623356099/10157826357211004/ If you can’t donate, could you at least share the link?

In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy my current even keel. I am neither manic nor depressive at the moment and it’s a great relief to feel average. Functioning within designated parameters, so to speak. Except that I’m awake at 2 am and not tired. I’d better go look at my WRAP and see what I can do to put myself to sleep.


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Zines!

*Cough cough hack hack* That’s sound effects. I have developed a cough that I just cannot tolerate any longer. I have an appointment with the doctor tomorrow.

In order to help me feel better, I ordered some zines. Some from Broken Pencil, which I’m so glad to see is still in print! I miss Factsheet5, which used to be for sale as a business. Only I didn’t have $10,000 to give them to own the name. I don’t imagine it’s still available.

I am taking a course from Leonie Dawson about making e-courses. The thing is, I need to pick a topic I know something about. I don’t have to know everything about the topic, but I can’t know nothing. I don’t feel like I know much about anything! And yet I must know things about things, I mean, I’ve lived this long and been pretty successful at it. Not amazingly successful, but I’ve made it this far, and I can keep going.

I am thinking about dinner. I don’t know what I want. Probably chicken and pasta, since I know we have that. Though I could go with a salad from Subway. But that would involve going out and spending money, and I just spent $70 on zines and books. I spend too much on printed material and I have no place to store it.

Speaking of my bedroom, I need to tear it apart one of these days. F and L will be out of the house for a long while on Friday so I am going to see how much I can get done with them gone. I need to move stuff out of the bedroom and re-pack it, but I don’t have anywhere to put stuff except the living room and that’s hard to do while people are using it.

F is having issues with bed bugs in his recliner, and he assumes they are migrating from my room. Now I will own it: I brought the little buggers home from a trip with a friend. She also got an infestation so I believe we picked them up at a hotel. So originally, they DID migrate out of my bedroom to the rest of the house. However. They have already colonized his recliner. I am not having issues in my room so I don’t believe they are migrating, I believe they have been reborn in situ.

F doesn’t agree. I don’t know if he thinks I’m lying or so oblivious that I wouldn’t notice bug bites or what. So I will tear the room apart and spray everything. It’s a pain in the ass but what else can I do? Either I have bed bugs that I’m not aware of, in which case I need to spray. Or I don’t have bed bugs but F doesn’t believe me, in which case I need to spray. To appease him. *shrug*

So Friday, while everyone is out of the house, I will remove some of the big pieces out of my room and spray. Then later while they are gone for a few days, I will bug bomb the room. I can sleep on the sofa while they’re gone overnight and give the poison time to work. It will actually be good to clean my room, I just hate doing it.

Actually, I hate cleaning when I feel like I’m being observed. That’s why I don’t vacuum with people in the house (well, besides the fact that I don’t vacuum, but I’ve already told you about that). I don’t enjoy cleaning to start with and I don’t like feeling watched. Watching me do something that I resent doing makes me very unhappy.

Well, time to find food. My tummy is telling me it’s empty so I’m off to raid the fridge.


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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.