Learn to Love Yourself in the Alone Time

I have spent the last several months going to work and going home. Not much socializing. Sometimes once a month I would go out if invited to something. I was trying to save money. And I was trying to work on myself. I went to counseling and did other activities to pull myself out of depression. I don’t have insurance so that was the best I could do. I remember feeling alone often. I looked for ways to stay busy and distract myself from how I felt. I wished I could afford to go out and spend time with even one person.

As I was getting to a better place with my finances, the pandemic happened. Everything shut down. I lost a lot of work. Other than concerns for my income, my daily routine didn’t change much. I couldn’t read a book at a coffee shop, but I could live without that. I had grown more comfortable with myself and didn’t mind the alone time. I still feel alone but it doesn’t bother me as much. I’ve grown to a place where I enjoy cooking again. I read more. I write fiction more. My creative ideas are never ending.

During the pandemic, there were videos of celebrities feeling upset during social distancing. This reminded me of how I felt. I realized there wasn’t anything wrong with me or how I felt. We were all reacting in a normal way to isolation. I hope people are discovering new things about themselves. If you’re bored during isolation, you need new hobbies. If you’re alone and uncomfortable, you need to love yourself and enjoy your own company. We all should set time aside to be alone. It’s important to our wellbeing. Find your happiness in the alone time.

James Pack is a self-published author of poetry and fiction.  Information about his publishing credits can be found on his personal blog TheJamesPack.com.  He resides in Tucson, AZ.

My No-Medication Journey to Emotional Health and Well-Being

Going on about 40 years ago, I was diagnosed as bipolar.  Today, I don’t know whether that diagnosis was correct or not because I’ve chosen to live my life the way I’m going to live it regardless.

So in this post, I’m going to talk a little about my choices for medicating and not medicating.  I need to state up front that everybody’s situation with medication may be different.  Some people can’t live off of medication; it’s a life or death matter, the difference between being able to have a life or not, or have a life that’s undamaged or one that’s damaged.  So this post is not a comment on other people’s choices in any way, shape, or form nor is it a suggestion as to how other people should live or the choices they should make in any way, shape, or form.  I just want to say that clearly.  This is my journey, though there may be something in it that speaks to you.

I was diagnosed as bipolar, which is funny because years later I received – when I was in therapy, again – a book entitled Mood Swings.  The therapist told me to go home and read it.  I asked her, “Do you think this is what’s going on with me?”  She said, “No, I think it’s what’s going on with your mother.”  I’m not going to say anything more about that except to say that I have doubted my diagnosis of bipolar pretty much the entire time since I received it.  What I did believe myself to be was extremely depressed.  Yes, I get very, very active sometimes – it’s actually the way I live almost ALL of my life.  Energy is what I am; people comment on it all the time.  I used to have periods where I would stay up until the wee hours of the morning; I would be busy, I couldn’t sleep but I’ve never felt I was in a manic state.  I just thought I was avoiding laying down.  I didn’t sleep well.  In addition, my dreams and I are very attached; anything that’s bothering me comes out in my dreams and a LOT was bothering me, for YEARS.  (Over time, I have come to see my sleep avoidance as a bad habit and have dealt with it as such – the same way I dealt with the bad habit of smoking and too much wine; the result is that now it’s not a part of my life (well, I still like my wine!).  Staying up super late happens rarely now and when it does I’m quite annoyed by it and I knock it off quickly.)

I was never medicated as a result of the bipolar diagnosis but a few years later I found myself hospitalized for depression.  Sometime prior to that, I had been given two medications (I won’t say what they were), one for depression and one for anxiety. Those two medications drove me insane.  That’s the only way I can put it.  I went from being depressed to being suicidal.  I just couldn’t … I just couldn’t.  That’s all I can say.  I was also having other disturbing side effects from these medications.  I was told the side effects would pass as my body got used to them.  In addition I was going through something horrible.  I was very angry at medications and I developed the attitude, “Why should I be medicated because of what other people have done to me?!”  One day I decided, “You know what?  Instead of taking just one of these a day, I’ll just take them all today.”  I made the (life-saving) mistake of saying that to my therapist at the time and that’s when I learned an important truth about being committed:  commit yourself, leave when you think you’re well; get committed by a professional, leave when they think you’re well.  My situation was the latter.

That was the end of medication for me.

A few years later, perhaps five or so years after I was married I ended up hospitalized again.  This time I drove myself to the hospital because I was just having the worst day and I felt I couldn’t function and I went to an emergency room and tearfully told them, “I’m not safe.  I’m not okay.”  I took myself away from my husband and my children and I was in there for probably about a week.

When I came out of the hospital that time, I said, “Enough is enough.”  Now I’m not suggesting that I no longer dealt with depression anymore because I did.  I continued to have periods some might have called manic.  I don’t know.  I just wanted to stay up to avoid laying down and dealing with my dreams and thoughts and I can deal with it better when I’m up.  But I decided, “I just can’t do this anymore.”  I really paid attention to the materials I was given on my way out of the hospital, which discussed how to manage my life.

Around that time I had been seeing a commercial for a program called Attacking Anxiety and Depression.  Honestly, that program was somewhat expensive at the time; we didn’t have a lot of money early in our marriage.  I invested in it anyway and I actually did that program, the whole thing.  It was very involved.  It involved practically every moment of my every day for weeks and weeks.  I did the entire thing.  I wanted to get well.   I was desperate.  I don’t want to say it cured me because “cured” is such a subjective word; who the hell knows whether they’re cured.  The circumstances at the heart of my illness were still the same and therefore I still had to cope with the same things.  So I don’t know whether I was cured.  Like an alcoholic, I’m still a depressive – I’ll say in remission.  But what that program, and my dogged (almost crazed) devotion to it, did do was teach me to manage my life.  To this day, I fiercely – and I do mean fiercely – manage my life.

I talk to myself in certain ways.  I hear when I’m bad to myself and then I remember that I’m also pretty damn great.  After all, look at me surviving.

I fiercely defend my privacy, my time as my own and not being owed to anyone.  This has alienated many people in my extended family because I’m from a family (two, actually) that feels like we should get together often but my family is also very critical of each other and being with them is not healthy.  Well, I have a family – I have a husband and sons and a granddaughter.  This is where I put my time.  I also fiercely defend my need to spend my time in places and situations that don’t stress me.  My extended family stresses the hell out of me and brings back all of the bad memories and they like to talk about these things and they’re a little bit bullying.  And so I very, very rarely spend time with them because I always end up having to defend myself around them.  Who the hell wants to be in that?  And so I don’t.  I am comfortable with my family and I devote my life and my time to them.  My home is peaceful.  Many people have commented on it upon entering and again upon leaving.  It’s a great compliment that fuels my dedication to sticking with it.

I have chosen work and hobbies that nurture me and that allow me to nurture others, activities that bring out and display the best in me.

I have no interest in anyone else’s “shoulds” about life.  I have examined my life thoroughly.  I know what it needs and that’s what I give it.  If things fall by the wayside, they fall by the wayside for a reason.  If I say no to things I say no for a reason.

Another big change that occurred – perhaps the biggest – is I learned to defend myself as if I were defending my best friend.  You know how we all jump up and just don’t allow anyone to say anything horrible about our best friend?  Well, I’ve learned that I have to treat myself like that.  I will not allow myself to be made a doormat.  I will not allow myself to be bullied.  Even if it’s coming from me. This has made me assertive – not aggressive.  It’s made me stand up for myself.  If someone tries to embarrass me, even in public, I will call it out tactfully, “I understood what you said.  I don’t know why you would say that in front of of all these people but let’s talk about it,” which invariably makes the person stop and leave me alone.  (I did this just recently with a family member.)  I’m not perfect and I get those times when I’m bad to myself because, hey, I will probably always have low self-esteem; it’s part of my fiber, it was built into me.  So sometimes, when I can’t talk myself out of it, I have had to learn to

Listen to my husband while he talks me out of it.  (And he defends me like a mama bear!) I’ve had to learn to listen to those people whom I know love me and admit that sometimes maybe they are right and I’m not horrible.  Then I can get myself back on track.

I stick to my regimens.  My regimens are my regimens.  I get up the way I get up everyday and do the things that are important to me everyday.  I end my day with time to myself everyday.  Whether I use it to think or to read or to write or to make something or to watch a show or to play a game, whatever the case may be, I end my day privately.  My husband respects that and appreciates it.  When he realizes that he is staying long and I’m staying up because he’s staying with me, he kindly acknowledges and says, “I’ll see you when you come up.”  I really appreciate his understanding that there are certain things I have to do to be okay; time with myself is one of them.

During these years of transition, I was having a horrible, horrible, horrible time with my mom.  If anything has been close to killing me, it has been my relationship with my mother.  I decided I was tired of being sick.  I had done all this work and yet still I was sick.  And so I went on over to an online platform called LiveJournal and I said, “I’m going to write this journal every, single day for 365 days and I’m going to find my way out of this.”  And I did.  Over 365 days I missed writing on only a handful of days.  At the end of 365 days I was very proud of myself because when I looked into my word cloud, I saw that I had developed gratitude and I was beginning to see great things about myself and my life.  (A sad side note:  my relationship with my mother did not survive this.  We became emotionally estranged, although we did see each other from time to time and were civil.)

I really started to be healthy after that and will even go so far as to say happy.  This is my current state and has been so for several years.  Again, I still deal with things; I still get sad; negative emotions still come in, I still have to deal with them.  But a real, substantive change happened after that.  I said, “Wow, my life is great!”  My life is great.

During all these years, I also developed a very strong, close relationship with God.  I know there are people who will ridicule that.  There’s nothing I can say to you.  If God is present in your life, you will know.  I worked hard but I did not do this alone.  It required a strength that I just don’t have.  I don’t care what people call it. It’s not blind faith because I have seen, for certain, His hand in my life.

I’m sorry I can’t put all these things together on a better timeline.  I just can’t because all of these things were happening over years at different times by themselves and they all became part of one closely-meshed fabric of health and well-being.  But all of these things became my method for living that protects me.

I’m not antisocial.  I’m very extroverted; however, that has shifted also.  I’m extroverted when I’m around people but I really prefer not to be around people.  I’m an introvert who is just really good with people when I get out there.  (Sometimes.  Other times I feel like I totally make an ass and a fool of myself but I know that a lot of people feel like that at times.)  When I want to be with people, I’m with people; when I don’t, I’m not.  It’s important to note that my work is a mashup of teaching and entertainment so I am always doing both and people are my livelihood.  So when I say “I don’t feel like it,” I’m talking about my non-work time.

It all comes down to making choices that benefit my health, my well-being.  I just turned 60.  At some point in your life, you have to say, “This is my life.  I have to live it my way with my priorities.”  At that point, you have to start really taking a good and honest look at the things around you that work contrary to you living your life and living it in a healthy way.

Are you trying to live someone else’s life?  Are you living according to someone else’s priorities?  Are you living in a way that benefits your own well-being or someone else’s?

This is not selfishness, especially if you are a significant other or a parent.  Because if you can’t be healthy, how can your relationships be healthy?  Sometimes we say, “Yeah, but he/she just loves me and has my best interests at heart.”  Nobody knows what’s best for you but you – and I would hazard to say God.  Come to know yourself.  Come to know God.  (I’m not going to go any deeper into that because I don’t want to get into religion.  I can’t stand religion.)  I’ll just say learn to pray.  Get out of yourself, take an honest chance and pray.  Pray for guidance.  If you don’t believe, fine.  Prove that you’re right.  Just give a few, deep, heartfelt prayers, deep from your soul.  Pray for guidance to know yourself.  I could have done nothing without this.  It’s where I got the strength to continue because it was hard.  I didn’t mean to go off on that but it’s impossible for me to separate out.

So again, a list of where my journey to emotional and mental health has brought me:

  • Fierce protection and defense of myself as I would my best friend, husband and children
  • Fierce protection and defense of my time, priorities, and need for quiet solitude
  • Listening to people who truly love me when they stand up for me, not fighting against them
  • Remembering to ask God for help and especially to thank God for all the riches I do have, to be grateful

These are the little pills I take to protect my health and well-being.  I hope there’s something in there that will help you.

Peace

Hope for the best and prepare for the worst

My research suggests John Jay wrote “To hope for the best and prepare for the worst, is a trite but a good maxim,” in 1813. So I will credit him to this quote knowing I didn’t make it up myself.

It’s always been one that I stand by as my anxious brain plays out the worst-case scenario of every situation that crosses my path. Today at my son’s soccer practice someone brought a puppy who wiggled out of his leash. My first thought was this dog was going to run into the road and get hit by a car. The road is on the other side of the school and up a hill so it would have had to run a good distance. I know this, yet it’s still where my mind goes.

I’m an over-packer when it comes to going anywhere I’m weighed down. Add three children to the mix and I basically pack my entire kitchen. I carry four bottles of water when we hike in addition to snacks, extra clothes if it’s chilly, sunscreen, bug spray, I won’t bore you with the list but it’s long and heavy.

At night my mind fills with worries and hopes for the next day. It can keep me up and I’m unable to turn off the repetition. It seems once I’ve gone through all the scenarios I can think of (both glorious and tragic) I start to repeat the circumstances. Thoughts bore into brain making a nest so knotted I can’t undo them.

A night out turns into several wardrobe changes. I put on three different pants and six different tops and then change everything again when I realize my shoes don’t go with anything I have on. I stare at the colorful articles hanging in front of me and think, “I have nothing to wear,” which is bullshit. At times I think about what to wear days before the event to spare myself this agony yet often I do it anyway.

The stove is broken and a maintenance person needs to enter our house while I’m alone. It will most likely be a man. He will most likely be stronger than me. I will need to make small talk and pretend I want a stranger in my house. Inside I tell myself he won’t murder me, he’s probably a normal guy with a wife and kids. It’s going to be fine. To this day, it’s always been fine but I still worry.

So many worries and hopes to prepare for, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be that person who just wings it all the time. Someone who goes with the flow. Steady Eddie. I have been able to let go of a few things through therapy and exercising restraint. It gets easier to turn off my overthinking brain when I remind myself almost nothing good comes from trying to pinpoint everything.

I think I’m going to try to keep preparing but not just for the worst. I’m going to refocus myself to preparing for the next step.

I can leave the kid’s stuff in the car, I look FINE and can wear whatever I try on first, the maintenance person just wants to get the job done and then leave, the thoughts keeping me up at night can wait until the morning. Maybe. Just maybe.

Photo by me on a beach day that was supposed to be sunny and warm yet we had 30 mph winds and rain. The sand was blasting our ankles and the lifeguards looked miserable in Avalon, NJ.

Melisa Peterson Lewis is a blogger at Fingers To Sky with over two-hundred personal essays, book reviews, gardening, and details on her writing process as she works through her first sci-fi novel. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

I am Inspired by You, Everyday

hello-i-m-nik-698722-unsplashI am inspired by the people that I meet here on WordPress through this blog– The Bipolar Writer blog. The kindness, the human connection, and the inspiring comments that I find here every day are just truly amazing.

Yesterday I got the most fantastic email from a fellow Bipolar sufferer. I have not yet responded to the email because I want to correctly show the appreciation that I got from my fellow blogger in the email he sent me.

It is always my goal to share my experience and hope that it will help others like me. I never thought that I could or would inspire people, but with this blog, it has become a safe place where I feel comfortable to talk and share my deepest thoughts. It is you, my fellow bloggers, and the shared journey we are on that make it worth it to wake up each day wanting to share my world.

Thank you for being a part of this journey and for inspiring me every day to share my piece of this life. I get to wake up and be a part of this great thing, and I love being a mental health advocate. I could not see myself doing anything else. Mental illness is a part of me, and I am learning each day.

Let us end the stigma surrounding mental health.

Always Keep Fighting

James

Photo Credit:

Hello I’m Nik

Invisible Illness

Mental illness has been shaped as being invisible. The needs of people with mental illness being met has been invisible too. Stop making me invisible. You wouldn’t want it for you.

I heard / saw somewhere that mental illness is an invisible illness.   That people with mental illness are not afforded the proverbial “ramps” they require in order to cope and survive in the world.  And whilst I would suggest moving stairs as a must have for anyone with mental illness, particularly up hill, it’s actually this suggested invisibleness which amuses me so.  You see, if you’ve ever met me, or anyone who is really chronically ill, let’s just say that there’s a lot you’d rather wish you didn’t see, because this chick with severe Bipolar is a very proudly uninvisible me.  Also, if you didn’t know, I would be worried about YOU,

I know that I am inappropriate, that I say the wrong things at the wrong time.  That my brain mouth filter does not work, no matter how many times I try and lodge the closest item into my mouth, to avoid the lithium language that well, lingers after it’s come out.  Yes, I have been known to be THE singular fart in an otherwise perfume factory.  In fact, this endearing trait is perhaps my only consistent thing I’m able to do.  Basically, the opposite of everything that is socially acceptable and done by everyone else.  I’ve had these extraordinary abilities since I was little.  Even then I would feel and experience everything at least 1000 times more than anyone else.  I didn’t have a precise meter to measure this, other than the fact that my siblings didn’t vomit each day they had to go to school, on account of the nauseating anxiety of being late.  It appeared at least through this example,  that I was gut wrenchingly experiencing something else.  Well at least literally, my little psychiatrist self in the making believed.

I am also the same person that will make you three different kinds of biscuits if you come for tea, will write / draw (with no artistic ability) a little note with biscuits I send to take home, I will share my last piece of bread. I also have an even more extraordinary ability which not all people have:  the patience and understanding to help you cry. The kind of cry that’s tucked away, the pain in teardrops no-one wants to see.  No mental illness is not all sadness – but it is in my experience about hard earned boundless empathy.  When you’ve felt the spectrum of emotion I have in my long short life, there are very few emotions I have not encountered. And although I personally flip flopped through my own experience, I am now a well-versed pro in how to deal with anything uncomfortable, clumsy, drowsy, emotional anything.

But no matter how uncomfortable the world may be with my unbridled display of emotion – or stigmatised madness – I am not invisible.  My experiences are not invisible.  My daily fight to conquer my mental illness is real.  And if my eyes look slightly dazed, it isn’t because I’m mad.  It’s because I’m TIRED.  I am taking a nap, while standing, looking at you.  Yes, I have mastered this art too. Because when insomnia is real, you can sleep awake.  I’ve done and do this, cigarette in hand.   I can sing, and I can cry, even within the shortest space of time.  I feel inappropriate feelings at inappropriate times, and if it’s hard for anyone to see or be around, they are infinitely unaware of how it is overwhelmingly amplified in what I can see and feel in me.

People with mental illness are not invisible, we matter, and how we feel matters too.  The world has done the opposite I think/.  Pretended that mental illness doesn’t exist, or when it does, it should be housed in the strait jacket of psychiatric hospital and disability stuff. ’cause in the absence of ongoing stability (we are programmed to believe we can and will relapse) we do have this:  an abundance of feelings we do and don’t like.  All. The. Time. And if you don’t understand it, just think about this:  you would never want to be, at a minimum, invisible.  Please don’t do it to me.  Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t. I am 4M’s Bipolar Mom.

unsplash-logoGregory Pappas

I Left My Anxiety in the Dust—a Poem

My brain matter

does often scatter

throughout my brain

unable to drain

unnecessary clutter

that makes me shutter.

My body trembles from my head to my toes

filling me with painful unsettling woes.

This is anxiety at its finest and worst

causing me to feel like I will soon burst.

My combustible self becomes frozen within,

unable to move, immobilized and unable to begin.

Need to take smaller steps inside the winding staircase of my mind.

Look inside to see what I will find. Too much pain and sorrow to unwind.

Must be patient with myself and wait.

Tomorrow my brain will have a new fate.

Today, the morning dew

made my brain feel like new.

Left my painful anxiety in the dust.

Brain returned uncluttered and robust.

It’s been a wonderful anxiety free kind of day.

My brain, body and I rather like it this way.

~written by Susan Walz

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”  ~Lao Tzu

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