Yesterday afternoon, I realized it had begun. That I hadn’t drawn a full breath in a while. That I was compulsively keeping my head buried in reading material; compulsively nibbling on snack after snack and trying to convince myself it was okay because they were healthful foods. That my feet were twitching rhythmically and I was rocking back and forth on the sofa.
Today, I really want to stay away from the nibbling part, since my need to maintain my weight makes it a coping mechanism that carries a high price. That means finding something else to do with my hands, so here we are. This is one of those times when I need to let go of my ego, and my desire to write things that reach people, and just tell the truth.
The truth is, at this moment, I’m not dealing well. At this moment, all the Steps and insight and archetypal tools in the world aren’t making me any more capable of calming this anxiety. Something pushed my limbic system over the edge and a switch clicked for me. The real circumstances contributing to it don’t matter right now, and at this moment they are as far away from my control as the moon.
I’ve done a lot of work about being more present and acting out less, and it’s hard for me to admit that I have absolutely no desire to be present with this feeling. Maybe if I were really enlightened, I’d be ready to sink into it and find some sort of useful experience, but I’m not there yet. When I start to sink into it, it’s just too much. When I start to sink into it, I’m seized with the desire to use something. NOW. Five minutes ago. Anything. A drug, a food binge, a blade.
I know when I am out of my depth. I know when it’s time to admit that I have entered the town of “Just Don’t Make It Worse.” It’s not my first visit, and it won’t be the last. And, like so many things in life, being here will be a lot less unpleasant if I can accept it instead of loading the experience with judgments and berating myself for needing to be here.
In this town, the rules are simple. It’s not about whether I will act out, because I will. It’s about how I am going to do it. It’s about picking the most harmless ways to do it. The most benign, least expensive, least disruptive ways to keep myself reasonably centered and occupied until this phase begins to pass. The nibbling I did last night, while it could have been worse, need not have happened if I had accepted where I am and given myself permission to be here.
Permission matters, because most of the harmless things that buy time are also things that are or seem of little practical value. It’s not easy, when there are so many more practical things that need to be done. Many are things that resemble “grounding” exercises or occupational therapy. Doing things with my hands helps a lot, as do different textures. Words are important, but I have to stay non-intellectual around them. Playing games with others helps, but I have to be humble enough to ask.
Shall I string tiny glass beads onto a thin wire, one by one, each bead giving form and control to that instant of time? I’ve got about ten feet of this from old attacks.
Shall I go and handwrite copies of my favorite poems onto linen paper, the smooth stroke of the pen drawing protective lines between my soul and the encroaching chaos?
Shall I read out loud? Shall I use someone else’s dramatic words and emotions to help me keep the panic at bay? I’ll never forget (nor, I am sure, will the staff) the time I wound up in the ER and had brought along my copy of Poe. For the love of God, Montresor!
Shall I go a less artsy route and challenge my daughter to some video games? And how do I silence the guilty voice telling me I should try to appear normal and not let her see me acting any other way?
How, also, do I reply to the voice trying to tell me that if I were connected enough to my higher power, I’d be able to shut off an episode like this without any interruption in functioning? That voice that sees any manifestation of my bipolar disorder as a failure? That voice that demands perfection and sneers at anything less?
Oh, wait. I know how to reply to that one. Perhaps some of the local townsfolk will join me!