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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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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Life Moving Forward

I got an invitation to speak at a DBSA meeting in December. I accepted, pending deployment. At this rate, I assume I will not be.

It’s a panel discussion, sort of “meet the facilitators” type of thing. I don’t really have much to say. I feel like I’m something of a unicorn. I haven’t been hospitalized, I haven’t tried suicide, I gave up self medicating without a struggle, the doctor got the medication right the first time. I mean, I’m proof it can happen but I don’t feel like I’m typical. I am a little embarrassed by how easy it’s been for me.

The WRAP class is coming together. The facilitator has picked dates and times, I am just looking for a location. If we get enough people, we can have a room at UT Southwestern, but that location alone will cut down on the people who can get there. Ah, the balancing act. If they want it badly enough, they will come. But if you make it impossible for them to get there, you are not serving the population.

I have a dreadful cough. It’s making my ribs hurt but is rarely productive. Clearly an itch, post nasal drip. Probably an allergy. This is Texas after all.

Took my daughter to Planned Parenthood the other day. She has a boyfriend and doesn’t want babies, so she needs birth control. I like Planned Parenthood. They were affordable and professional, and she felt comfortable. Clean. Kind.

We tried a new poke place, Royal I.T. Cafe. It was adorable. We both got the Seafood Bowl. It was huge. The rice was hot which was a nice contrast to the chilled fish. There were 6 shrimps, an ice cream scoop of spicy tuna with mayo and a huge serving of salmon. Plus red onions, avocado and furikake. Neither one of us could finish it, but it was SO GOOD.

I went to art therapy today at Dallas Art Therapy, sponsored by Foundation45. It was interesting. I am too much in my head, though. I did better the first one than the second, but I did learn something. I wrote “the pain is not symmetrical” by which I meant physical pain, but it applies to my emotional pain as well. Most of my pain is due to loss. I feel it. The other person, the dead person, doesn’t miss me. Which is okay. I would hate for my mother to spend her afterlife missing me. Grief is rather one-sided, I’m afraid, but that is the nature of it.

I have signed up for a course from Leonie Dawson called “40 Days to Create + Sell Your ECourse“. I figure, I can be inspirational. I can use a stream of income that flows even when I’m busy. And Leonie, well, I remember when she was figuring it out. She’s got it sussed. I should definitely follow her path.

Maybe instead of writing a book, I should release a series of e-courses. Each chapter could be another course. There’s a thought . . .

I am also working on a book about human pollinators. They do the job that bees used to do, but by hand. I am trying to work out the action in the plot. I have some ideas, but no real outline yet. Still, everything starts somewhere.

I think that covers it for now. Like most of my posts, not really anything earth-shattering, but then life is full of average moments. I’m thinking of a nap now, actually bed based on the time, though it’s a bit early. Rest is so important.


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My Cat Is a Jerk But She Loves Me

I got very sick yesterday evening. Ended up in hospital, where they decided it was either food poisoning or a virus so they sent me home.

I had been visiting my friend Kelli, so I said my goodbyes and went to QT for some apple juice and Gatorade. I drank the apple juice and took a nap in the parking lot. I was just worn out from being sick.

I fell asleep about midnight and woke up about 3 am. I’m surprised nobody bothered me, like the police. But okay, nap was good. I got home about 45 minutes later.

Of course by then I needed to throw up the apple juice, so I projectile vomited all over the living room. I didn’t even remember until my roommate asked me about the stain on the carpet. How embarrassing. I mean, I just left a huge mess and climbed onto the sofa to pass out. I feel like I ruined the living room.

But she was nice about it. I think she wanted to be mad, but I am a little puny still, so she just got out the disinfectant. I didn’t even think of it having a viral load. I feel like crap about it. Or I would, if I was feeling better.

All I’ve done today is sleep. I’d swear I was on the Disney channel, I’ve seen movies like Alice Through the Looking Glass, and Beauty and the Beast. Well I haven’t really seen them, I’ve slept through them.

So this is me whining. I want a little more sympathy for being sick than I’ve gotten, but there it is.

Now my cat, Charli, hasn’t left me alone since I came home. She doesn’t sleep with me, but she sat on the arm of the sofa and guarded me. She also knocked everything but the computer off the table, and I think the only reason she left she computer alone is she likes to lay on it. It must be warm. I’m just glad I had the lid on the Gatorade.

You know you need Gatorade when it tastes like water. Usually it tastes like sweat.

Charli has patted me on the face and asked for attention this afternoon. She seemed really concerned about me, as much as a cat can seem concerned about anything. Momo kitty has just appeared and it laying on the table now.

Reminder, this is a folding tray table that I set up to use my computer. The cats like to lay on it; I don’t know why. So they push everything off. I had thought it was an accident. You know, they lay down and spread out and happen to push things off.

But no.

Today I saw Charli target certain items, like the mouse, and just push them over the edge. This is the most cat-like thing I’ve ever seen her do. So I am annoyed yet charmed, the usual opinion of cat lovers, I’m sure.

So pet love trumps bending over to pick things up. I’m thinking of another nap and Momo wants attention. I hope to feel better in a couple of hours.


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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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Small Victories

It’s been a couple of rainy days and I’ve been in the house since I got home Friday. It’s now Sunday.

I don’t have any money so I can’t exactly go places. I did request my first unemployment payment today, but they have me down for receiving checks and that means it can take time for the money to arrive. Then I have to cash the check, and send some of it to the bank.

Yes, Citibank does not have any branch offices in Texas, so I have to mail them my opening deposit. Very frustrating as well as causing delays, but once I get that initial deposit in, I can use direct deposit. As long as I can get it resolved before the second payment. The second request is right before my trip and I’d like to get paid for vacation.

I have had another sale in my Etsy shop, so that’s cool.

I finally managed to take a shower this evening. I should have done it while my roommates were out of the house but I couldn’t pull myself together. This is a small victory, but the bipolar didn’t win today. My hair is washed, my jammies are clean, my legs have been shaved. Not well, but shaved none the less. I am all girly again and I don’t smell.

You know, personal hygiene is such a struggle for me. It’s like, it’s just a pain in the ass and it feels overwhelming. I don’t understand this because once I’m actually in the shower, I am happy to be there. It just seems like getting over the threshold into the tub is nearly impossible. I don’t know why that is.

I had a shower. I took my meds. I ate. I didn’t exercise though, I am bad at doing that. And I’ll go to bed soon, which is a reasonable time for me. I don’t have any obligations until tomorrow afternoon.

Life is full of small victories. I made my own breakfast. I journaled. I made some plans. I taught that vision board class last month, I just need to find something else to teach now. I might see if I can get certified to teach WRAP.

I am hoping to hear that I’ve been accepted for coach / evaluator at work. I know it’s only been a week since I applied for it so it may easily take some time to be approved. But I am an optimist about time.

Of course I am a pessimist about the background check. I’ve been doing the job for a year now, 2 years if you count my time as a local hire. I would hate to lose it at this point because of my credit report. And I’m afraid I will.

Still, I am clean and ready for bed, and that’s a good thing. Sometimes little things are all there is.


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Vision Board Presentation

I did my first vision board workshop today. It went very well.

So, vision boards. In simple terms, it’s a sort of affirmation meets arts and crafts proposition, but it actually works.

When you think a thought often, you strengthen that pathway through your brain. It becomes easier to think that thought again. So if you are thinking something negative, it becomes easier to keep thinking it. That’s why we get caught in thought loops about being, say, ugly or worthless or stupid.

But the reverse is true too: If we get into the habit of thinking positive thoughts, those also become easier to think. That’s why affirmations work. You spend more time thinking a positive thought, it becomes easier to think it, and eventually it becomes second nature. I am a good person replaces I’m worthless.

Now the left side of the brain contains the language centers. Working with words like affirmations activates the left side of the brain. But there is another side of the brain, one that does not think in words but in pictures. You are familiar with its way of thinking, you call it intuition. It’s the things you know that you don’t have the words to express, because you don’t know it in words. In order to make changes, you want to activate the whole brain. So how do we activate the non-verbal righthand side?

Turns out, art and imagery are a good way to engage the right side. So if we want to fully activate the entire brain, working with words and images together is one good way. So if we combine the words of an affirmation with pictures, we get vision boards.

There are several benefits to creating one yourself. First of all it causes you to think about the topic. In my presentation, the topic was “live your best life” so people had to think about what their best life would be like. Then they had to find words and images that spoke to those ideas. Now some magazines have content that fits exactly, but lots of time it’s just a case of symbolism. You might, for example, find the word “relaxation” or you might find a picture of a hammock. They speak to different parts of the brain.

People find that once they go through these exercises, the ideas really do stick. And because they stick, we act on them. Maybe not consciously, but we open ourselves to possibilities and take actions in line with the new way of thinking. Both halves of the brain work together to bring about a change.

So my little group of people, they are going to find themselves experiencing some changes in the future. They have developed an idea of what their best life looks like and feels like, and they have worked it into both sides of their brains. The non-verbal side will influence their behaviors even if the verbal side still provides negative messages.

People had fun with the activity. One of the ladies found an image that clearly depicted the kind of confidence she wanted to have. One of the men found wonderful words that spoke to his self-described zen self. Several people asked for another piece of paper to do another one at home.

The only complaint was that there weren’t enough male images. Now that’s no surprise. I get mostly women’s magazines, and for some reason I didn’t have any Wired or Fast Company in my stack. I did have some National Geographics. But it’s a valid concern, so I will have to hit up Half Price Books and see if I can find some Sports Illustrated or GQ. Maybe Men’s Health.

So I would say this was very successful, and I’m excited to be doing it another several times. After this, I start to monetize it. Because I need something I can do when I’m not working for the government.