Kiss5Tigers

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


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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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Some Days Are Not as Good as Others

I’m having kind of a crappy day.

I’ve been having kind of a crappy few days.

First of all, I went shopping. Shopping is bad. I spent $70 that I shouldn’t have spent on art supplies. They are still in my car in case I decide to return them, but I probably won’t.

Then this cough. I am still coughing. The doctor says allergy. Well, that’s fine, I’m not contagious. But it annoys the people around me. I can’t have a conversation. People back away. This is a nasty cough.

And the whole bed bug debacle. It’s not my fault this time, but I am still being blamed.

I was minding my own business, sitting on the sofa, when my roommate L comes up to me. “Did you poop when you went to the bathroom?” Well, no, I hadn’t, but I instantly felt accused of something. Turns out there was some kind of poo streak in the toilet and it mattered whether it was my fault.

Then L spent the day out of the house visiting family. When she came home, I was in the laundry room. I heard the dogs bark and came out. I had automatically locked the front door when I came through it, and I hadn’t turned on the outside light, so she was struggling to get into the house. I opened the door and got an earful. “I think of you at night and leave the light on and unlock the door,” she reminded me. I was more worried about exterminating bed bugs and my other roommate being sick. I didn’t think of the sun going down. And I certainly couldn’t have predicted that she’d come home when I was in the back of the house.

Today I came home and was met at the sofa by L. She was looking at me expectantly. I had no idea what the thing was. She pulled out a sheet that she uses for sitting on the sofa. “Is this your blood?” she demanded. I don’t know but I’m having my period so maybe. “I need you to check yourself,” she said, “this is just gross.” Well it wasn’t something I did on purpose, and it was so faint I didn’t even notice it until she pointed it out. I offered to wash the sheet, but she put it in her hamper.

F is on me about money. I know I owe the phone bill. Sometimes it takes me a couple of days to get to the bank. I don’t appreciate being told to go to the bank. And I don’t appreciate being asked what I”m doing today with an agenda. He is counting nickels and dimes lately. I am not the bank. I thought we were friends but lately I feel like I am just a source of funds.

Now I know this will pass. I will get over my period and be less sensitive. Things will go back to normal. Money will work out.

My general horror about having a body won’t go away, I’m afraid, but I’m used to that. I won’t enumerate the grossnesses at this time. I’ll just try to convince myself it’s worth it to be able to pet the cat.

And tomorrow will be a different day.


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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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Quiet House

The house is quiet. One roommate is asleep already. The other has gone to her room to wait for a phone call. I have laundry in the washer, I wonder if I should move it to the dryer. The noise would break the quiet of the house.

It’s not unusual for a house to be quiet at half past midnight, but it’s unusual for this house.

F is disabled and doesn’t work, he doesn’t have to get up in the morning. L is retired and doesn’t work, she doesn’t have to get up in the morning. I am demobilized at the moment, I don’t have work tomorrow. I don’t need to get up in the morning. So usually we are up until all hours. No fixed schedule.

I often go to bed about now. I like waking up in the morning before everyone else and getting a calm start to the day. Now that’s still 9 am, not like I’m an early bird of any kind!

There’s something about being awake when everyone else is asleep. It’s peaceful. I feel like I’m watching over them, keeping night guard.

Most of the laundry in this load was hang-dry, so no dryer tonight. The few items that weren’t can wait for the morning.

My mind is clear to think about things with no distractions, but what I think about is, I like my wardrobe for the most part. It isn’t extensive but it reflects me.

What a shallow thing to think about! I could be planning to save the world or learning something, watching a TED talk. Instead I am doing laundry and being pleased with the contents of my closet.

So bizarre.

So small.

And yet the world and daily life are made up of small things. Making meals, petting the cat, writing this blog. None of it earth-shattering and all of it part of a life.

The way we spend out minutes is the way we spend our lives. I feel like I “should” be doing more, bigger, important stuff.

But what I do is facilitate groups. Love people who need to be loved. Hold space for those who simply need to be heard. Try to make the world a little better than when I got here, in some small way.

Beauty is small sometimes. Maybe I can add beauty in some way.

The trains go by outside like thunder in the silence. The cat snores delicately. The keyboard clicks. I will sleep soon. I listen to the rhythmic breathing of my roommates in their respective beds. My bed calls me.

So much to do in this peace. One more glass of water. One more chapter to read, One more tour of the house being sure everything is shut up for the night.

Then the house will settle into full silence, all of us asleep in the quiet and dark of sacred night.


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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.


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Shopping

Shopping is bad for me.

And yet I love to do it.

I did some online shopping. I ordered stamps, which I need. I ordered art supplies, which maybe I don’t need, but they are with a purpose. I ordered some really cool yarn for specific projects. I love yarn so one of my rules for myself is that I must have a project in mind. And I went on Etsy and ordered some vintage ephemera for junk journaling.

I also spend money on tickets to the Perot Museum with friends on Saturday and some yogurt pretzels. Then Saturday night have dinner out with friends, Sunday I have a ceramics class, and Monday I have dinner out with my roommates.

I’m hemorrhaging cash.

I need to get this under control.

I also need to put gas in the car, help my daughter pay for a replacement ID and do a little grocery shopping.

Money vanishes so fast! I don’t feel like I”m doing much but I’m spending too much.

In other news, Hurricane Dorian is a thing. It’s due to strike Puerto Rico and Florida, two places that got slammed last hurricane season and aren’t dug out yet. Neither one is prepared for another disaster.

Roommate says I need to clean my room. How do I say, it’s hot so I don’t want to hang out in there? I have an air conditioner in the window, but it’s an older house and if I turn it on while the one in the living room is running, it blows the circuit. I can’t imagine my roommates want to turn off the main a/c in order for me to clean my room. So I will work on it somewhat at the beginning and the end of the day, when I am awake and the a/c is on but it doesn’t interfere with the roommates’ comfort.

And yes, it IS hot. This is Texas. For the past week, temperatures have been over 100 F with heat index around 110. We had a cold front come through which dropped temperatures by 15 degrees, but that’s still over 90. I am just hot and uncomfortable with no air. I should be used to it – there’s no air conditioning in my car either – but for doing a task I am loathe to do, heat is a deal breaker.

Waiting for the cooler weather, thinking of how to tidy my room, it’s all part of life.