Chasing the Next One?

I tend to develop an interest in something, learn as much as possible about it, how to be good at it, doggedly pursue it for a month or two and then fizzle. Currently it’s makeup and beauty. Over the summer it was Tik Tok. Previous years have included container gardening, essential oils, and bullet journaling. Within these hobbies always cycle Minecraft, the Sims, and Stardew Valley. It’s as if I’m addicted to new hobbies.

I just rid myself of about 25 bottles of essential oils that I never used (but were ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY for me to purchase at the time). Now I do have a few that I keep and do use and I do attempt gardening every summer and have managed to continue a very minimalist style of bullet journaling but like why do I go all in with a new hobby? I often wonder if it’s a low hum of hypomania. I’m always a gamer – that never leaves – but I get on these new hobbies and they become the most incredible thing I’ve ever done.

It’s gotta be hypomania because it does meet the criteria of goal directed activities, does often come with a slight uptick in spending (albeit very thrifty – I’m a bargain gal), definitely involves flight of creativity and energy and confidence in my newfound skill (perhaps unfounded confidence?) but it doesn’t disrupt my functioning. Yep that is textbook hypomania.

The existentialist in me finds this fascinating as that means there are facets to me that are not always present or even accessible and I apparently have no choice in the matter. The anxious self worries every time a new hobby starts that it’ll end up just another collection in the corner. To both, the pragmatist will declare “at least you are continuing to learn new skills.”

Turn On All the Lights

It is as if the corners of my mouth are fatigued. My cheeks have atrophied. The dreary gray of October has drained the life out of my face, like Winifred drains the souls of the children.

I am not quite sad, but less interested. The contrast of colors are muted, blurring one into the next; their vividness passing through the doorway of dull.

Monotony.

Anxiety in the dismal is worse than the frenetic angst. It calls forth demons of the past without warning. Does the smell not exist when the sun is warm or does the sun provide hope and reassurance, its absence known in the bleak fall?

Turn on all the lights.

September is but one month

As I looked upon her in her final hours, something began nagging at me. This same, strong woman, this same month 11 years ago suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. The same week of that year my then 3 y/o daughter was hospitalized. And not for the first time, I began losing my mind.

Looking back, it’s really not surprising I developed post traumatic grief when my dad killed himself 3 months later. I was already well entrenched in complex post traumatic stress from years of various forms of abuse and his death – no how he left – zapped my rather tenuous remaining grip on reality.

I didn’t actually lose my mind though certain people in my life at the time would say otherwise in attempts to cover up their own antisocial behavior. It is but an act of God I was an assistant in my university’s counseling department at the time of his death. Days after that New Year’s Eve 2009 I made a call to see a counselor. The journey out of abuse and untreated Bipolar Disorder would commence.

As I sit at her bedside, I begin to realize why September has been a source of somatic cues insisting dissociation and depersonalization is required for survival. My body has been trying to protect me from feeling the magnitude of fall 2009. I hold the recognized traumaversary trifecta in the present. I am able for the first time to be fully embodied in the present year of September, no longer held hostage by the past. Over a decade of therapy later, my cognitive self and my physical being are in sync. I am safe. The monster is no longer under the bed.

That, my friends, is the power of psychotherapy within the confines of a well established, structured therapeutic relationship.

Honest Grief – Trigger warning

I lost my dad to suicide. Oh just jump right on in – that’s a hook. “It’s not a hook, be quiet.”

The thing is I understood. I never got angry with him for choosing to end his life. I have been angry with him while he was alive, but the very reasons I was angry during his life are the reasons I understood his suicide.

Oh you’re a saint – it was easy for you to move on then, huh? “To the contrary. I developed post traumatic grief. But I never questioned his motives.”

He was close to receiving a terminal diagnosis for his alcoholism. The death certificate cited Bipolar Disorder as secondary cause to the suicide. This was before I was a therapist (indeed it would be the catalyst to my becoming a therapist) and knew anything about the disorder. But I knew he was a troubled man. And I knew the relentless cycle of promises and failures that is addiction because I, too had been far too friendly with the bottle.

The most agonizing part of losing my father in that way is knowing he died alone, feeling unloved and hopeless.

I think I cried for three years straight. I couldn’t go to funerals, couldn’t hear the word suicide, couldn’t go to recovery meetings, couldn’t be around men with similar features, couldn’t smell alcohol of any kind, couldn’t hear certain songs, had flashbacks for 8 years (yes they just ended – I think).

Complicated by other trauma . “Yes, shh. That’s another blog.”

Dance proved to be my saving grace, and I was a fairly new dancer then (side note you don’t have to start dancing at age 3 to be a performer). Improvisation and composition helped me express what I couldn’t put language to. Because with grief, language doesn’t make sense. Grief is a deep, guttural emotion – it isn’t logical and can’t be healed using the prefrontal cortex. We must feel it.

So I went to therapy. I think losing him in that manner gave me some sort of permission to go and face my demons. Of course I had no idea I was opening Pandora’s baggage.

Good job, I see what you did there. “Now you’re complimenting me? Hush.”

I would then go on to learn my empathy for his pain came from a real place of understanding as I learned about Bipolar Disorder. If you’ve followed any of my blog you’ll know the apple didn’t fall far for me.

You need to wrap this up, kid. “I’m aware. My story doesn’t end there, so how does one…”

My journey begins there, really. 27 years to find a path out of self destruction. I miss my dad so much it still aches everyday but him dying may have saved my life. And pushed me toward helping others. I hope he is smiling down on me. I sure hope I’ve made him proud.

I love you Daddy. Always be your girl. I know you’re at peace.

Curious

Today I’m keenly aware of the conversations bringing awareness of mental health to social media. I see my fellow therapists on Tik Tok noting their ADHD, Depression, Anxiety, OCD, eating disorder recovery. Many of them doing an amazing job talking about management of said conditions.

I’ve only seen one other therapist talk about Bipolar Disorder. And none talking about addiction. Kay Redfield Jamison is a psychologist diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and she was so brave to write her book An Unquiet Mind about her journey. I have reread it many times – she inspires me.

I don’t know if it’s that I haven’t seen therapists with more chronic mental illness or if they’re just not talking about it. And if they’re not talking about it, is it because they have fear of transparency as well?

Full Disclosure

I intend to write a memoir one day. Blogging is a way of dipping my toes into public authenticity. One post at a time, the depths of my life will come to light for all the world to see. All the world connotes.. well, everyone. Can we stop a minute and appreciate how terrifying it is to put oneself out there? (Insert grimaced emoji here). I’ve put off writing my memoir in fear of revealing myself to the public as a professional. Yes I am aware simply putting it on the internet will not ensure every person will read it. Honestly, I’m cool with strangers reading it. It’s the people I’ve known or could know (potential clients) that is terrifying to me. Once it is published, it is out there forever. I ask myself every time I make a blog post or a Tik Tok am I comfortable with my clients knowing this about me?

The struggle that ultimately led to my becoming a therapist is precisely the reason I want to be public. To be an example of a person with significant mental health difficulties still successful as an adult and a professional. There’s a fear my credibility will be diminished. I’m keenly aware of my position as a professional, however, to combat stigma and instill hope in those who are still struggling. It is less a matter of “I want to be public” and more “I have to be public.”

We are all just trying to do the best we can with what we have.

Today I dye my hair purple

Yes indeed the last few days’ posts have been a reflection of my mental state. We call this a mixed state here in Bipolar land and it seems to have eased. It’s more than a little exhausting. I was reflecting yesterday how before therapy and medication this last week might have ended quite differently. This time, I dyed my hair purple. Big deal. Some years ago, however…

Any number of things might have punctuated the week. All unhealthy and destructive. Some perhaps devastating. I have wandered the wreckage before without knowledge or support, descending into the blackness of depression, the irritability and anxiousness of mixed states and the euphoria of hypomania. How in the world did I survive? I’ve mentioned previously it is likely due to intellect. (This is what my therapist says at any rate). Even locked in the savagery of my mind, I was able to grasp some semblance of insight. Not enough to look for therapy, mind you. But enough to have some healthy conversations in my head as well as a deep commitment to personal growth.

I did not know these things, I followed (some) of my instincts. I couldn’t have told you I was working on personal development, nothing so eloquent as that. Truthfully, it was more a result of assessing my surroundings and attempting to match the status quo (via harsh self criticism) than any conscious effort on my part to grow into a better person. This creative adjustment (as we call it in Gestalt therapy) began in childhood as a means to not break the rules (which were forever changing so you can see my childhood predicament – big job for a kiddo).

Enter adulthood and this survival technique became less useful in that I didn’t have a general whole sense of self (aside from striving toward perfection) and that brought its own difficulties. Cue hypomania when I sometimes believed I was awesome and made less than insightful decisions – ultimately leading me back to self hatred in the wake of embarrassment.

And thus the cycle continued. More on that another time. Today I dye my hair purple because I have attended to my self care in a very intentional way – an adaptive adjustment brought to you by the letter T. (For therapy – cheesy, I know).

Emerge

I am somehow bathed in light though my eyes cannot see it. I am not blind. I hear the raspy giggles around the corner, the frenetic chatter behind me.

My chest tightens further, threatening my oxygen. I find myself frustrated with the inability to discern forward from backward and up from down.

I am hampered by lack of direction; simultaneously I am imbued with divine knowledge that I will brush aside the tangled, pulsating shadows and emerge on my throne.

An incoherent sound erupts from my lips, a soft and feminine murmur. I feel a smile spread across my face as I stare in wonder at the polarity of the night.

Surely You Didn’t Forget

“Oh,” I say resignedly. “It’s you. Mmhmm come on in.”

Inwardly I roll my eyes at myself, surely you didn’t think she was actually gone did you? Tears cloud my vision.

“You know what the definition of insanity is?” She asks.

Like forgetting that at the end of every productive summer comes the insufferable pain of fall? “Yes,” I say quietly.

She smiles. “Well, come now help me set out my things.” She reaches into her absurdly Mary Poppins-like bag and pulls out the weighted vest, ankle shackles, an elephant, and… what was that?

I groan inwardly. “Oh you brought the funhouse mirror again. I was really doing so good at…” I trail off, close my eyes and allow the tears to begin their descent down my cheeks.

“Where are you going?” She asks as I turn to leave the room.

“I need to make a phone call. She’ll want to know you’re here. For planning purposes you know.”

She smiles knowingly. “Riiight.”