Monthly Archives: January 2016

Fruit Inspection

Recently, I reached out to a few people from my past…college friends and other people who haven’t seen me in years. In several cases, I noted diffidently that if they wanted to know more about what I had been doing they could check out the things I have written here.

What I did not always say was that reading these things might help them make a decision about whether, or to what degree, they wanted any renewed contact with me.

Offering Not This Song as a source of information makes me feel…well, vulnerable is a mild word for what it makes me feel. At the same time, though, I’m proud of having something–anything–to offer.

It has been bringing an old quotation to mind, one from Christian writings:
“By their fruits ye shall know them.
Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”

It’s been pointed out that many would-be creators spend a lot of time talking about what our fruit will look like, instead of creating it and letting it speak for itself. Sometimes it feels safer to explain a creation than to make it, especially if we really want people to get it. It feels safer to keep it unmade until we can make the perfect version of it.

At any rate, I am having the experience of inviting people to judge me by my fruit. It’s not a new experience for published writers, but it’s a new one for me. It’s one thing to share some of my writing with friends when I think they will find it interesting for reasons of their own, but it’s another to say: If you want to understand where I’m coming from, go read that stuff. The fruit is over there. Watch out for wasps.

How arrogant it might seem, even though I feel the opposite way.

But how effective!

Really, can you imagine? If someone is going to be turned off by some of my quirks, the collection of essays on this site should accomplish it nicely. By the same token, if an old friend or acquaintance sees something in me they identify with or want more of, they are certain to find it represented somewhere in these stories.

But…What if they think it’s all stupid?
What if they write me off as a recovery nut and nothing else?
What if they think I’m too crazy to trust with any place in their life?
What if it makes no impression on them at all, positive or negative?

Then that’s what it is. It’s no different from what we all face every time we interact with another person. With every word and action, we place our head upon the metaphorical block and risk the falling of the ax.

Don’t Take This From Me

All right, bipolar disorder. You try to take a lot of things from me. Sometimes you succeed, and sink your claws into your prize until I wrench it back. Fine. Keep trying to take my sleep. Or my energy, or my sex drive, or my consistency, or any optimism about the future…go on, I’ll keep fighting the good fight against you.

But not my ability to think. Not my intelligence. Hands off.

I want to believe that this creative slump I’ve been in is just that: writer’s block, or a dry spell. Perhaps the natural result of some life stresses, or mental fatigue from some recovery work. A normal, natural ebb tide in the rhythms of my mind.

I don’t want to see that a lack of creativity can also be the result of impaired ability to think…and I’m terrified of seeing that kind of impairment in myself. I know it’s a fact of life when living with bipolar disorder: depression can make it hard to concentrate, hypomania can make it hard to focus, and meds can have side effects that blunt our sharp mental edges. Intrusive thoughts, feelings of unreality and any number of mental hijinks mean our processing speed can go way down when responding to input.

“But what if it’s not just that?” a terrified voice whispers in my head. “What if in the last decade you’ve actually lost something? Forever?”

Am I getting dumber?

It doesn’t help to know that there are multiple ways to answer such a question. It doesn’t help to know that for everything I may have lost, there has certainly been growth in other parts of my psyche. It doesn’t even help to remind myself that all humans face mental as well as physical declines that come with age.

The terror I feel is illogical; it’s the terror that comes from a threat to my sense of self.

It’s the terror of the question: “If I’m not smart, what am I?”

My brain is the only thing I ever learned how to trust: not my body, and certainly not other people. My brain was what let me escape into books. It was the only thing that let me build some self-esteem with test scores and teachers’ approval; it helped me win a chance for more education and a different life. It let me build an internal world strong enough to keep me alive, a world ready to integrate the spirit when I finally began to discover it.

My brain runs the metaphor factory of my psyche. What would I do if its edge got too blunted? How could I live? It’s not a question of self-esteem, although it is a good idea for me to keep examining the idea that I have no worth if I lose a few IQ points.

It’s a question of survival.

Is my fear realistic? I feel anxious even asking. Okay, let’s look at some facts. Line up my current self and my…oh, let’s say 30 year old self. Before the painkillers, before childbirth, before any psych meds but the occasional antidepressant. Give both selves a battery of cognitive tests; throw in an SAT and GRE just for fun.

Results? Yes, there are some real phenomena here. I fall short of the 30 year old in data retrieval speed, working memory, manual dexterity, ability to multitask…ugh. I would imagine the gap is at least slightly wider than a gap created by only the passage of time, too.

Here’s one snippet I found on the subject:

“Mood typically receives the bulk of our attention when it comes to descriptions and discussion of bipolar disorder; however, in my sessions with individuals living with the disorder, it’s common to hear concerns about their lessened cognitive capacities. To be more specific, I’m referring to the experience of decreased cognitive capacity relative to the period of time before any sustained bipolar mood symptoms arrived on the scene.

Examples of the kinds of deficits reported are difficulties with linguistic working memory (word retrieval), difficulties with planning, prioritizing and organizing of behavior (executive functioning), problems with retention of what’s been read or listened to, as well as the experience of mildly dulled or slowed thought processes. For some with bipolar disorder, it’s like they’ve experienced a gradual decline of brain power from their previous baseline level of function.” —Russ Federman, Ph.D. in Psychology Today

This resonates with me; I believe I have lost something. Since I started out with a lot, I’m still very sharp on my good days–but I’ll never be the gleaming tack my younger self was.

Ironically, thinking about this in clinical terms helps me with the fear. By replacing a vague description with specific terms, it reins in my tendency to expand into dark scenarios. It also gives me hope by letting me see that the aspects of my brain function that have taken the hardest hits are not threatening the core of the metaphor factory.

For now.

Goldilocks

I have come to the conclusion that Goldilocks is not an addict.

It’s not a difficult conclusion, really. It’s not that she is without issues, most notably a lack of personal boundaries or respect for those of others. But her behavior is clearly abnormal when observed from an addict’s perspective.

Come on–she samples two bowls of porridge and and finds the third one to be “just right.” She eats it. Satisfied, she goes and finds a nice place to take a nap.

What’s wrong with her? Why isn’t she rummaging through the bears’ kitchen, trying to find more of that perfect stuff? Or trying to mix the hot and cold porridge to capture that “just right” again? Or just gulping down the hot and cold porridge, because it’s better than nothing? How is it possible that she is moving on?

As I write this, I’m several weeks into a food plan I’ve been resisting with the mental equivalent of kicking and screaming for many months. You see, in the past year I’ve alternated my very low-calorie weight loss plan with episodes of uncontrolled binge eating…and, after a lot of suffering, I weigh almost exactly what I weighed last January.

I have longed for sanity…but I wanted it on my terms. I wanted to take off some of the weight I had gained in the previous year, and then eat sanely. In early December, I admitted it wasn’t working. No matter what I want, I have to hear what my body is saying to me: I demand to be accepted and dealt with exactly as I am, and every time you starve me I will torture you with cravings until they bring on a balancing binge.

So I gave in. I wrote down a plan every day, involving specific amounts of healthful food. Real food, not weight loss shakes and artificially sweetened protein bars. I ate what I wrote down, no more and definitely no less.

In a week, I was virtually free of cravings. I felt stronger, calmer, my body ached less, and I seldom thought about food in between my planned meals. I had found the circle of grace…and it has lasted for nearly a month now. My body and mind have continued to send me messages amounting to “About time, dumbass!”

Great news, right? There’s just one problem–I am nothing like Goldilocks. The concept of moderation, of just right, of enough…my addict brain squirms in discomfort.

No quick gratification from fast weight loss? No resolutions to starve virtuously after the latest episode of overeating? No “tomorrow will be different?”

Weird.

I’m not new to this idea. I’ve written often about how foreign consistency feels to any addict, let alone one with bipolar disorder thrown into the mix. Acting too normal for too long; struggling to keep my self-care away from any concept of virtue or vice…yeah, that’s my strong suit.

Embracing, again, the severity of my eating disorder and my need for structure and surrender without discounting or sabotaging my other recovery…yeah, I’m great at balancing acts. My brain doesn’t ever whisper that food would be less of an issue if I took painkillers again, or that I wouldn’t be hungry at night if I took sleeping pills.

Accepting that this process will never end, and loving myself anyway? Sure, I don’t have any critical voices shouting that I should have done this years ago and stuck with it.

Being willing to write honestly about this aspect of me, no matter how much I am sick of dealing with it and no matter how much I fear being boring or repetitive? Sure, I don’t have any egotistical qualities urging me to make my struggles look cool or edgy.

Who am I kidding? There’s no way I can do this alone.
Oh, wait, I remember now…I’m not alone.