Tag Archives: Psychology

Not Time For Hunting

images

I don’t generally do trigger warnings, but here is one for you: this essay goes into detail about thoughts of suicide. Not intentions, not plans, just thoughts.

“I am going hunting,” an old man might say, during a long winter in a year when food was scarce. His family would not try to stop him, if the situation were dire enough. They would hold back tears and wish him luck, he and they both knowing he would not come back.

Sometimes I think that if I were braver and less selfish I would “go hunting” too. The harsh equations I solve in my head tell me that I can’t contribute enough to make up for the resources I use. In the last couple of months, as I watch those around me react to the election and gear up for battle, the part of me that wants me dead uses this argument at an ever-increasing volume.

Here’s the thing, though: I know it’s not time for me to go. I know it, no matter how awful I may feel about myself. There are very specific things I’m doing that are important to people I love, and they need me to keep doing them. I am providing services, though it is hard to remember that when I get overwhelmed. Perhaps there will come a time when I must consider going hunting. Things are bad, and they are going to get worse before they get better (if they do.) However, for now my decision is clear, even without considering that illogical and transcendent part of me that believes we are all worth something.

Acting on that decision means taking care of myself physically and generally treating myself with respect. It will come as no surprise to my readers that I haven’t had much success with that lately.

What if the old man, although not leaving for his final hunting trip, constantly hung out in the doorway of his hut? Stayed on the fringes of his family, never sitting before the fire? Ate his food but did not allow himself to take any pleasure in it?

I spend a lot of my life hanging out in that metaphorical doorway. Maybe you do too. What would I say to the old man? Surely I would say: Grandfather, come away from the door. Eat, get warm, play with the baby. If you’re staying, stay. Enjoy being here while you are here.

At the Core

unknown

I said I was going to work on unpacking some of my core beliefs about weight and body image, and I’ve been doing this. I have not been enjoying the process.

“Core beliefs” is a term I picked up from cognitive-behavioral therapy. It refers to deep, underlying convictions that we’ve picked up from somewhere. Usually we don’t realize the extent of the role they play in our lives and thoughts.

So, enough intellectualizing on my part. What do I believe about my weight and its meaning, and can I look at it honestly and see how messed up some of it is?

Core belief #1: I am not really “me” unless I am below a certain weight. 

This is one of the deepest, and I know I am not alone in it. Many who are overweight see their bodies and selves as a work in progress, aided by a culture that encourages us to see our lives as something that will be completed by a better body–or a house, or a job, or a partner, or any other kind of “carrot.”

The weight at which I am “myself” has become more reasonable than it used to be. It’s thirty or forty pounds less than where I am, as opposed to eighty. The problem is that the line exists at all; that a high weight has consequences not only for my health but my very sense of self.

Core belief #2: There is no point in exercising, or doing other things that are good for my body, unless I am currently losing weight or maintaining a very low weight.

This inner tape has done me an incredible amount of damage. It’s often caused me to miss out on not only the health benefits of exercise, but the elevation of mood and self-esteem moving my body brings. If I have a period of healthful eating and some exercise, breaking the streak of the first behavior requires me to give up the second one as well. Never mind that moving my body would help my mood and make me able to return to better eating sooner–nope, it’s all or nothing.

Core belief #3: Being fat and/or eating more than a certain amount is not spiritual. My spiritual self is thin, abstinent, and free from all compulsions. Contact with the Divine as I know it is something I have to earn by not eating.

This belief started to form in my twenties, when I was first exploring my spirituality in the context of a recovery program for compulsive eating. If I was eating in a way that wasn’t on my (very restrictive at the time) plan, I was resisting God’s will. Being on the diet equalled being surrendered to my God’s will. When suffering a relapse into my self-destructive bingeing, and wanting to pray for help, I felt that I had no right to pray until I cleaned up my act. It was a vicious circle.

This belief gets reinforced today by some aspects of my bipolar disorder. Starting a diet tends to make me hypomanic, and hypomania can bring heightened mystical feelings as well as heightened creativity. Similarly, overeating or eating too many starches and sweets has a sedating and depressing effect, making me feel less in touch with the mystical aspects of myself.

Core belief #4: I cease to be a sexual or romantic being when my weight exceeds a certain amount.

It’s natural for me to wrestle with my sexuality as I age; most of us do in this culture. Even when I was younger, though, this pattern was there. I was always thinner in my fantasies: good sex was only for people with good bodies. Times spent in the lower parts of my weight range were the times I took sexual and romantic risks. Somewhere, within a relative narrow weight range, I change from a sensual and sexually awakened woman to one who sees herself as sexually invisible and dormant. I don’t ask for sex, physical intimacy or romantic attention.

Core belief #5: Someday I will conquer my eating disorder for good and never again suffer a relapse. I will achieve “normality” in this realm and maintain it for the rest of my life. This, more than anything else, will mark me as a success in life. 

I don’t need to go into how unrealistic this is. It’s as ridiculous as the idea that I’ll make myself not be an addict any more. I’ve got this issue, and I’m going to have it for the rest of this lifetime even if my health improves. I have to ask myself how much of my life I want to devote to this one area of struggle.

I’m sure there are more of these core beliefs, as well as the many surface thoughts that come up when I deal with doctors and other people. I have no intention of giving up on my health–but what would happen if I stopped defining myself by my weight?

We Interrupt This Depression…

images

My dark phases, hellish as they might be, are not uninterrupted darkness. The grim or lackluster parts are almost always interrupted by moments of grace. Much grace comes from my family, for I am blessed not to live in isolation.

Beyond these everyday blessings, sometimes I get moments. The kind I’ll remember years later. They pierce through the fog and join their neighbors in the innermost vaults of my consciousness, there to be defended to the death.

About ten days ago, I drove about an hour and a half north to go to a poetry reading in Napa County. The reading was held at the town’s library, which like many buildings in the town basically backed up to a vineyard. Lines of comfortable chairs were arranged facing the windows of the main room, and the reading poet was silhouetted against one side of the bright span of windows. While listening, we gazed at the green vines under the slanting sun of a late summer afternoon.

The beauty was so surreal that I began to feel as if I were on another world. I found myself thinking of recent tragedies in the news, and about how much privilege is involved with this tranquil setting, but even the familiar sadness and guilt faded into just being present.

The Moment with a capital M wasn’t only this beauty, though. It wasn’t just the careful packing away and stowing of a lovely memory. No, the magic part came next, in equal parts spirituality and science fiction.

I was struck, suddenly, with a feeling of being apart from the time stream. The concept of parallel timelines exists in many sci-fi universes, and I have been exposed to it long enough for it to be a part of my thinking at times. Right there and then, at that moment, I felt my current timeline brushing against another one. The other timeline was one, probably one of many, in which I was not in that beautiful room because I was not alive.

In that timeline I didn’t live to write any poetry, or read any, or drive to Napa to share some. I died sometime between 2009 and 2011, you see, from a drug overdose or some other self-destructive act. My chair was empty.

It sounds a bit trite as I attempt to describe it: I had a moment of being grateful to be alive, blah blah…but there was something about that empty chair, almost superimposed against the one I was occupying, that made my worries and shames lose power for a moment. The words, the window, the sun were my reality, mine, there as opposed to not there.

There I was, in the middle of this period of depression and poor health, feeling so powerfully alive that all else faded. And when it came my turn to read something of my own, what need was there to fear? The words were mine, my reality, coalesced in this fortunate timeline from ghosts of might-have-beens.

A Familiar Conversation

Those who share some of my issues will be relieved to know that I am taking steps to obtain a supply of my bipolar meds again. Having dropped the ball during the previous months and the stresses I’ve been having, I have been without them for nearly a month now…and it’s not good.

At last, I became resigned to using precious funds on a visit to my old psychiatrist, because my plans to find a new one hadn’t panned out and there was no longer any time to lose. However, when I called the number, I found out the practice had just closed. Turns out he is still in practice, but with a new group clinic. So I called the number, and was told I need to go through the standard intake process before I can be given an appointment with him or anyone else. On the bright side, they might be able to match me with someone who will take my insurance for part of the cost.

So, yesterday, I found myself participating in an intake conversation. This feels weird on a couple of levels: first, it always feels overwhelming for me to try to summarize my present and/or past condition (can I just give them the address of this website, please?)  Second, the questions on the intake are familiar to me from both ends: before my diagnosis, I worked at a counseling center and did phone intakes regularly.

I know why they have to ask certain questions, and I know what answers they are looking for. I know what red flags they are trying to spot. I know the clinical descriptions of the things they describe. And although I know these things, I need to answer the questions like a patient and not a co-clinician.

Something else about this, for my readers who share my issues with addiction: the intake person asked me about any history of substance abuse. If it hadn’t been on the form, I would have brought it up myself. Whoever I end up seeing will, like my old psychiatrist, be fully informed about my history of addiction and recovery. I can’t overstate how important this is: one of the drugs I used to abuse came from a psychiatrist years ago. It wasn’t their fault, but as a person in recovery it’s my responsibility to make sure doctors of any kind know that certain drugs are not appropriate for me.

At the end of the questions, I was told they need to consult my insurance before they can schedule me an appointment. They will call me back, the intake person said. I promised myself I’d wait at least until tomorrow before calling again, but I feel anxious because some medical “we’ll call you back” things have not gone well lately.

So that’s what’s going on. Nothing very fun or inspirational right now, but I know many of my readers have been there. Part of living with our conditions is sometimes doing that footwork, one step at a time, and dealing with the frustration of not doing it very well.

The Cycle of Apologies

15766657-blue-arrows-circle-Stock-Vector-circle-arrow-cycle

I am so tired of apologizing, but I don’t see how I can stop doing it. I’m not even sure I want to stop doing it.

I don’t want to live my life as a walking apology, but I also don’t want to become the kind of person who sees no need for regrets about how my condition and/or my shortcomings affect others.

Recently, I was having an interaction with someone that involved me sending an email every day for a certain purpose. I was consistent for a couple of weeks, then skipped days. When my dip ended, I began again, apologizing for my lapse and saying it was okay if they didn’t want to continue. They gave me another chance…and, after some days, it happened again.

It’s only the latest iteration of the type of cycle that defines my life:

Stage 1: I’m back! So sorry I haven’t done the thing for (insert length of time here.) I’m going to try really hard to do the thing again, because the thing is very important to me. 

Stage 2: Look, I did the thing. See? I did it some more. I can do the thing. I can do the thing every day. So grateful to be doing the thing.

Stage 3: I am sort of doing the thing, but not well. I’m sorry. Can we talk about this later?

Stage 4: *silence*

Stage 5: Hi. I haven’t been doing the thing. I want to start again and I can’t and what does it matter anyway because I know even if I do it won’t last and I’m sorry, so sorry; I know you must think the thing isn’t important to me but it is, I swear it is, and so are you…

Was it unrealistic of me to even try something that relied upon consistent, daily performance of a task? What if I had said, look, I really want to do this, but I have a mental health issue and a history of interruptions in my functioning? Would that have been being realistic and sensible, or would it be seen as making excuses?

What if I say to my doctor, look, I’d like to nod and smile and tell you I’ll exercise every day, but the only exercise I have been getting during the really bad times is digging through cupboards for band-aids?

Where is the line; where does a realistic assessment of my condition end and making excuses begin?

Could I be allowed to stop making promises, or even implied promises, that set me up for the inevitable apologies?

There’s no way for anyone else to assess, or even for me to assess reliably, the subjective amount of effort I’m making. So how can I, when unable to perform consistently, express that the thing, principle or person is still important?

Can I ever be good enough, do enough, love enough to have it mean something?

These are not new thoughts, and the search for balance will never end. I’ve made progress on some aspects of it. I’m better about not making commitments during my “up” phase that are completely unrealistic, and I’m more forgiving of myself than I used to be. But shame still saps way too much of my energy, and delays the return of good self-care after a dip.

I want to conquer shame and let my apologies be simply an expression of regret–always remembering that an apology means little in the absence of a sincere effort to do better.

Not My Story

images

I have so much I could be writing about lately, but I haven’t been writing about any of it. I haven’t been writing about any of it because it feels as if it’s not my story to tell. It feels disrespectful to be making personal essays out of events that, while they affected me, affect others so much more.

The last two weeks have seen the end of my relative’s journey on this plane; he died the morning of June 14. I was there during his last hours, and saw him only minutes after he died. Other family members and I sat with his body until the funeral home workers came to transport him, and we watched him be wrapped up and taken away.

I was there, and I had thoughts, and I had feelings…but it’s not really my story. It’s his story, and his wife’s, and his children’s. I know that the feelings I have are nothing compared with how they feel.

It’s not my story…yet, inevitably, it is. It may be the ultimate self-absorption, but my lens is the only one I have. I’m incapable of an omniscient perspective; anything I write about is really about my experience of the thing. Even if I write from the perspective of another character, it’s still my projection being fueled by my attitudes.

So I’m aware of my own self-absorption right now. I’m aware of the part of my brain responsible for interpreting everything happening in terms of “What does this mean to me? How does this change the structure of my inner world? How do these truths apply to my journey?”

I’m judging myself for this. I feel ashamed of spending any mental energy on philosophizing while people I love are in need of comfort. I’m ashamed of the fact that, even while I carry out actions that reflect my desire to comfort them, a part of my mind is off crafting metaphors.

This judgment, however justified it might be, is dangerous. Blocking my personal writing is dangerous. Turning my metaphor factory into a moral issue is dangerous. Yesterday, I found myself tearing pictures out of magazines with a very diagnostic type of focus…my symptoms are rising, and I cannot afford to reject the best and least harmful coping mechanisms I have.

I need to allow myself to feel, and write, and make existential gold out of straw. I need to let myself think about what witnessing a death has made me feel about life, and recovery, and meaning.

News Flash (Not)

Unknown

I have come to the conclusion that life is not fair.

You would think I already know that to my bones. I’ve written about the concept of fairness, and how expecting fairness can get us into trouble in recovery or any other parts of life. I know we are promised nothing.

But there are some courses in life we never really complete…there’s always a new layer or dimension to cover. A new way for the lesson to be presented, a new way we need to integrate it into ourselves. So I’m feeling it, learning it; trying to accept it in two new ways lately–one more self-centered than the other.

The self-centered one has to do with what I’ve already talked about…the problem I’m continuing to have with my metabolism. I sought a higher level of support around my sensible eating plan, and it’s been going really well for a couple of weeks now–until I step on the scale and have an experience I can best describe as baffled terror. The math just doesn’t work out right. Even the endocrinologist is puzzled; at our last appointment I presented her with a list of what I’d eaten for the last ten days and she agreed that I shouldn’t cut any more calories.

Abstaining from compulsive eating has always brought me some degree of physical recovery in the past, and it’s hard for me to accept that I must, for the indefinite future, abstain without getting any of those rewards. I know, intellectually, that I am getting rewards in the form of not making things even worse, but it’s hard to feel it when I am scared and ashamed and in pain.

The other way I’ve been exposed to the lesson recently is that my relative, who has been ill for a while, has transitioned into hospice care. I am watching this process, and the effects it has upon my loved ones.

I think death is simultaneously the most fair and the most unfair thing there is. It’s fair because it comes for everyone, but it’s unfair about when and why and how. It’s not merit-based. And when you get right down to it, down into the nuts and bolts of the process of dying a “natural” death, it’s hard not to think that there ought to be a better system for this kind of thing. It’s not fair. It’s not going to be fair.

We all, on some level, think that life should be fair. Hard work and good deeds should be rewarded, evil should have consequences, and our efforts in life should influence the outcome. Even when confronted with countless examples to the contrary, even when we watch others grieve or be persecuted, even when we ourselves suffer, a part of us wants to believe it’s going to be different.

I’m in no hurry to stop believing some parts of that, really. We have to, in order to keep going. I have to think my fight matters. I have to believe my efforts influence the outcome…what I have to let go of is the belief that I can control how they influence it and what the end result will be.

I could die tomorrow, or next year–countless poems unwritten and all of my recovery efforts spent for just a few more years. It wouldn’t be fair. It’s also not fair that I’m alive at all when many of my fellows didn’t survive their active drug addiction.