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

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9 Tools for Health

I was watching a documentary called Heal on Netflix.

One of the experts said she looked at what people with chronic or fatal illnesses did to promote health, and came up with a list of 15 items. Now not everyone did all of them, but they all did 9 of them. She didn’t provide the entire list, but she did provide the 9:

  1. Radically changing your diet
  2. Taking control of your health
  3. Following your intuition
  4. Using herbs and supplements
  5. Releasing suppressed emotion
  6. Increasing positive emotions
  7. Embracing social support
  8. Deepening your spiritual connection
  9. Have a strong reason for living

So here I am, just an average person, not having a life-threatening illness. I believe I can benefit from following the same guidelines. So this is my assessment of my general health from these traits.

I am working on changing my diet. My roommate has gone keto and I have shifted to low carb in solidarity. I admit that I eat sandwiches and burgers away from home, which involve bread. But I don’t bring carbs into the house and I eat most meals here. I’ve lost about 10 lbs since starting this, which is not a lot but it’s better than gaining which has been my default for the past several years.

I can take control of my health. I can be proactive about making healthier choices, like more exercise. And I can be more outspoken with my doctor in terms of advocating for myself.

I can definitely learn to follow my intuition more. We all have that little voice that tells us when things aren’t quite right. It can also tell you when to move forward, even if you don’t think you’re ready yet. For me, intuition is that moment when the universe opens up and gives you a hint about what’s coming and what to do. I can pay more attention to that and act accordingly.

Using herbs and supplements. I’m not so good at that. I do have a multivitamin that I try to remember to take in the morning. I don’t succeed that often. I should just add it to the box with my other meds. I have used to take potassium; calcium; fish oil; vitamins B, C and E; liver powder; and cinnamon. I don’t know if I felt much different on any of them. Except the fish oil, because I have no gall bladder so it’s difficult for me to digest that kind of fat. I guess I can look into different herbal supplements and see if anything else makes a difference.

I don’t know about releasing emotion. Part of it is, I’m bipolar and letting big emotion express itself is likely to increase my symptoms. That said, I can work on letting go of negative stuck emotions even if I can’t release them to the desired degree. I don’t have to hold onto toxic emotions.

I’m pretty sure I already work to increase positive emotions. I’m equally sure that everybody on the planet does that. People don’t usually choose to stay in the negative place. People usually choose to keep doing what makes them happy. I think this is part of human nature.

Ah, social support. So necessary and so hard to find. That’s part of why I go to group so often, pure and simple support. It’s difficult to ask for support. It’s almost like dating, people are afraid of being rejected. If you ask for help, you have to be open to the possibility that the answer is no. No doesn’t feel good. It takes courage to ask for support.

I don’t really have any plans to deepen my spirituality. I’m not a religious person. I do believe in a higher power of some kind. Mostly I believe in science to explain what is going on, and the idea that everything is made of energy which we get from quantum mechanics. Matter seems to be made of waves of energy. If it’s all energy, and I am energy, then the fields can interact and I can make actual changes to myself. That sounds very airy-fairy new age, and yet . . .

I do have a strong reason for living. I am bipolar, my ex husband was bipolar, and our daughter is bipolar. About 3 years ago, my ex completed a suicide. I need my daughter to know that having this diagnosis is not a death sentence. Having this diagnosis is just a way to explain my experience of life. It does not limit me or define me, and it does not mean that I can’t handle living in this world.

So I think I’m doing pretty good on my way to health, and I still have a lot to do. What are you doing?

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Thinking About Spade and Bourdain

Handbag maven Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain have both died from suicide this week.  Very sad.  Any death by suicide is sad and touches my heart.

The usual “if you’re depressed, please get help” noises have been made.  Someone I follow online  has angrily and rightfully reminded us that sometimes the help people need, well, it’s me.  They need an ear or a babysitter so they can get a break for a while or a place to take a shower or someone to bring dinner over.  There is real concrete help that we can give each other, that might just be the break someone needs, or the reminder that their life is valuable.

Here’s another thing.  When successful people commit suicide, the response tends to be, “They had everything to live for, they must have had problems we don’t know about.”  Odds are, the problem they had was depression.  When life is good, when things are going well, when there is no obvious cause (grief, for example, or stress) and you still feel like life is not worth living, well that’s depression.  That’s pretty much the definition of depression.

Sure there are things you can do to combat depression.  You can take medicine if you’re so inclined (I take it myself).  You can try prayer or meditation or biofeedback.  Physical activity is good.  Being sure you are properly fed and hydrated is good.  Do some things that you enjoy, for me that would be making art or spending time with my cats.  Be kind to yourself.  Socialize if that helps, spend time alone if that’s better for you.  Be sure that you are doing what’s better not simply what’s easier; easier could reflect your energy level which is likely low when you’re depressed.  Sometimes you have to make the effort.  Not always, but you know for yourself when you’re just too overwhelmed and when you really could do it.  Balance, balance, balance.  Not pushing yourself too hard to socialize but not isolating either.

Depression is when getting out of bed seems like too much.  Have you ever had a flu so bad that you are just physically worn out and it feels like your brain isn’t working?  You don’t need any stimulation, just breathing is enough?  Depression feels like that.  You just don’t want to do anything.  Only it’s worse, because the illness lies to you.  With nothing to distract you, you find yourself thinking what a failure you are, how socially awkward you are, that you are all alone and will be alone forever.  Why am I here?  I am useless.  I am a drain on people.  I can’t even take a shower.  I wish this was over.

And often “I wish this was over” feels like “I wish I was dead”.  The idea of being dead feels like a relief.

I’m thinking of my ex husband, who also completed a suicide, about 2 years ago.  His life looked good.  He was married to a woman who loved him, he had a nice house full of children, he was driving a Porsche, he had a job he enjoyed.  What’s not to be happy about?  Except he wasn’t.  His relationship with his daughter was strained, he was searching for his place in an industry that was changing around him, he’d had to file bankruptcy with his second wife, he felt his financial responsibilities keenly.  And he was bipolar.  So the stresses that make life difficult met his depression and he couldn’t see his way out of it.  I believe he could have handled the stresses if he hadn’t become depressed, though I also believe the stress exacerbated the depression.  For him it was a deadly cocktail of emotion, one that felt like there was only one way out.  But really I am speculating.  I can only guess, I will never know what was actually going on for him and I choose to believe the thing that gives me sympathy for him.

Why guess at all?  Because suicide is such a drastic solution and to a person who is not depressed, it seems like life is not that bad.  Maybe it’s not good but it’s still worth living.  And with these two famous people dying so close together, we are looking for answers.  We want to know why.  We can’t know why, because each suicide has a different root cause.  So we are shocked and saddened.  We think, if that fabulous life was not worth living, what about my average life?  I have it worse than they did.  Maybe, but your inner self is probably resilient in a way theirs wasn’t.

Because the opposite of suicide is resilience, the ability to bounce back.  Bad things happen to people, to all people, but many of us manage to get along anyway.  I have a friend who says I am an inspiration because of all the times life has kicked me in the teeth and still I keep going.  I don’t feel inspirational.  Sometimes I feel like quitting.  But what I am is resilient.  I am an optimist at heart.  For all the times I’ve battled depression, I know it will pass and I don’t get suicidal.  I’m lucky.  And I work at maintaining that luck.

How do I do that?  Well, that goes back to my list above.  I try to eat and drink enough, to get the right amount of sleep, to exercise.  Yeah, I suck at the exercise part of it, but I still try.  I pet the cat and write letters, make art and visit friends.  The things that make me happy.  For me the meds are the biggest part, but not for everybody.

So that’s what I’m thinking.  So long, Kate and Anthony.  I believe we’ll see you again.  I hope you found what you were seeking.

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12 Every Day

I saw a statistic the other day that 12 men commit suicide every day.

I know one of the 12.

That is, I knew him. Past tense. Past tense in a couple of ways.

He was my ex-husband and the father of my daughter. I was his first wife of 3. We weren’t close, but since his choices affect our daughter, I kept tabs on him, at least a little.

Jim memorial

I spoke to him about a week before it happened. Our daughter was worried about him so I checked in. He said he didn’t want to talk, then he talked for a few minutes. Not much, but clearly he was struggling with his life. He wasn’t doing well at work; wife 4#2 was hitting him up for over $2000 a month in child support, alimony and other incidentals; he had just totaled his car in a drunk driving situation that was likely to result in having his license suspended; he’d been checked into mental health facilities at least twice and released with Xanax even though he’d had a recent suicide attempt; he wasn’t going to make bankruptcy payments for the second month in a row; and wife #3 had just told him she was filing for divorce and moved out. It’s a lot. It’s a lot for anyone to deal with when they are doing well and frankly, he wasn’t strong. He didn’t seem to possess much fortitude. Then he said again that he didn’t want to talk about it and hung up.

My daughter called me the next Sunday to let me know he’d been found dead in a hotel room.

It wasn’t exactly a surprise. He was bipolar. He’d tried to kill himself in the past. He was overwhelmed. Although he’d obviously had relationship problems before, usually there had been financial security and success at work to balance out the difficulties. The totaled car was a Porsche. He wouldn’t sign custody of our daughter over to me unless I signed a document that I wouldn’t seek child support, but somehow he had $800 a month for a car. But that had been important to him, having an impressive car, and now he didn’t have that either. He must have felt like he was failing and he’d lost everything, but I’ll never know.

Our daughter told me later that she would climb into bed with him because he was crying and so lonely. No child, even an adult child, should have to watch a parent go through that. But she was glad to be there for him, and I know he appreciated it even though he probably never told her so. He would have been too limited by his own emotional state to think of it.

I talked to wife #3 a few times. Once she told me how he was generous and happy and how she loved that about him. I was happy for him that he’d found someone who saw the good in him even though he had struggles. Then I figured out that she didn’t really understand his situation. Another time she told me that they were in therapy because he had become a husk of the man that he was and all she wanted was her husband back.

Only, it’s all him. When you marry someone who’s bipolar, you get the depressed part as well as the manic part. Happy and generous husband is the same person as crying and doesn’t-get-out-of-bed husband. It isn’t simply a tough time, it is the cycle he continues to experience. It’s hard. It wore me out until I couldn’t do it any more, and he divorced me because he thought I was dragging him down. I needed a more stable situation, but I eventually lacked the ability to create that for myself or think about how to leave. I was what he made me, then he didn’t want it. Funny, ironic funny.

The day he took his life, he’d gone to weekly therapy with wife #3. About noon time they parted ways. She didn’t think anything was wrong, or at least, no more wrong than it had been lately. He didn’t go home. She tried to call him several times with no answer. I also tried to call him, but it didn’t surprise me that he didn’t pick up. I mean, who wants to talk to their ex when they feel crappy? She eventually called the police and had them make a welfare check. They’d been out to the house so many times in the last month that they knew where the key to the back door was. The house was empty. Nobody knew where he was.

The next morning, he still hadn’t shown up. Wife #3 called his mother, who had also called the police. Then she suggested to the police that he might have gone to a casino about an hour away. The bank account had been emptied and she thought he might be going to blow some money and try to feel better. The police widened their search and eventually found him.

Apparently when he left therapy, he headed in the direction of the casino but he didn’t get that far. He checked into a hotel room about 1:30 in the afternoon. He left his phone in the car. I know because I went with my daughter to pick up the car and we found the phone. That wasn’t like him. He was usually attached to his technology. There was an empty Xanax bottle in the hotel room. It had originally been filled for 90 tablets within the past week. A half-drunk bottle of everclear was also there. He’d finally found the combination that did the job.

I don’t know what he was thinking. I’m mad at him for doing this to our daughter and to his son with wife #2. And yet, I have an unexpected tenderness for him about this. He was difficult. He made my life difficult. I often wished he would just fall off the face of the earth, but mostly I just avoided contact with him because he didn’t seem to understand how his choices hurt our daughter.

Maybe he was tired of it all. Maybe it seemed like the only way out with so much going wrong. Maybe he thought he was doing everyone a favor. We’ll never really know, he took that answer with him when he went.

I wish the depression hadn’t won this time. I hope he finally found peace, wherever he is.