Accidental Fudge

Updates Thursdays

Tag: mental health

Anxious Days

I’m having an anxious week, and I don’t really know why.

It might be the regular stress of the upcoming holidays.

It might be the minor (but still stressful) drama and health issues happening with my team at work.

It might also just be my brain.

In any case, my body decided yesterday that it was a great time to develop an eye twitch. And not just one eye, but both, sporadically, all day. Obviously I’m a huge fan of this development.

There have been bright spots this week, mostly revolving around music – a songwriting classmate’s concert, meeting new musician friends, having the new song I’d talked myself out of liking go over okay in class on Tuesday. Unfortunately, all of it has been underpinned by this frantic activity in my brain.

It’s not even that I’m anxious about some specific, concrete thing. (I guess that’s why they call it Generalized Anxiety Disorder.) I just can’t get my brain to shut off.

I’m also really, really tired. These two things are probably related.

I feel like I’ve been drinking excessive amounts of coffee – I’m jittery, my eyes are twitching, I feel wired and like I’m crashing simultaneously. Only, I drink decaf coffee these days. This appears to be entirely fabricated within the confines of my brain.

Making Mental Space

First, a quick mental health update: I am still wading my way through this latest depressive swing in my Bipolar cycle, but I feel like I’m starting to move out of it. I haven’t been feeling great physically this week, so it’s been a little hard to tell, but I seem to be reaching the point where I have more energy. Whether that’s due solely to the cyclical nature of my moods, or due in part to some other work I’ve been doing, I don’t know, but I’m feeling better overall than I was last week.

I mentioned last week that I’ve been trying to establish some new, healthier routines for myself. Over the past several months I’ve noticed I tend to go to bed pretty early and I still have trouble getting up in the morning. I’ve felt like I’m tired all the time, regardless of how much sleep I get. I’ve had to accept the fact that I am no longer really a night owl. As I’ve been examining this pattern, I’ve realized I actually want to become a morning person. This is the first time in my life that that’s been true. So I’ve been getting up at what I would formerly have referred to as an ungodly hour in the morning  (or “stupid o’clock”), writing my morning pages (I’m on week two of The Artist’s Way), and giving myself time to start the day off more slowly, rather than rolling out of bed twenty minutes before I need to leave and dragging myself out the door.

It’s been going…surprisingly well. I think it makes a difference knowing that the first thing I have to do when I get up is write, rather than get ready for work. Intentionally planning non-work things into my morning means that I don’t fight to stay in bed as long. I’ve actually gotten up at my first alarm every morning for the past ten days – prior to that, I was setting five, six, seven alarms at intervals in the morning, because I knew I’d turn off one or two in my sleep, and while I always had the thought of “well, maybe I’ll get up earlier,” when I knew I had an alarm letting me know that I could no longer stay in bed if I wanted to make it to work on time, I let myself off the hook too easily. The fact that I’ve managed to be awake and doing something within five minutes of my first (and only) alarm for over a week feels like a huge accomplishment. Granted, I write my morning pages sitting up in bed, so I’m not up and moving about, really, but I’m still awake!

My partner and I are continuing to do a weekly meal plan (which is getting easier by the week, because now we know how much time and effort we save plotting it all out at the beginning of the week rather than getting to each evening and playing the “I don’t know, what do you want to eat?” game), and we’re also getting better at keeping up on routine housework. I feel like our space has never looked as consistently nice as it has for the past couple of months. I’m really proud of us.

In the end, what I’m trying to do is give myself more mental space. My mind is busy all the time. I lay down to go to sleep, and my brain goes racing down rabbit holes, trying to make sense of something that happened today, or last week, or ten years ago. I wake up, and it’s doing the same thing. I get songs stuck in my head. I’m easily distracted. I am almost never not thinking. But if my physical space is clean/less visually cluttered, and I don’t have to worry about what’s for lunch or dinner, and I’ve taken time in the morning to dump some of my brain out onto paper…hopefully, in the end, I’ll find that my mind settles down more often. Ideally, I’d like to be at a point where racing thoughts are just ideas, not anxiety – where the routines I’ve established allow me to let go of some of the worry so I can focus on more interesting (and maybe even productive) things.

What about you, friends? What do you do to create mental space for yourself?

Down Days

It has, objectively, been a pretty good week I got to spend some quality time with friends, enjoy a comedy show, a theatre show, and a concert, and I’ve had some quality alone time, too. 

But because my Bipolar brain doesn’t always or only react to outside circumstances, the objective positivity of the week hasn’t translated to an equal level of emotional positivity. 

I’m in a bit of a depressed downswing, is what it comes down to. 

Now, this is nowhere near the worst I’ve felt, and I know that eventually I’ll be fine. But it’s still a struggle. 

At the same time that this downswing has been happening, I’ve been working really hard to establish more routine in my life. My partner and I have started meal planning over the weekend for the whole upcoming week. I’m getting back into the habit of using my planner and writing down my to do lists instead of trying to keep it all in my head. And I started working through The Artist’s Way this week, so I’m getting up early to do morning pages (three pages written longhand as a brain dump first thing in the morning) every day.

Establishing new routines is a challenge at the best of times, but it’s especially hard when depression hits and leaves you with no motivation. 

Still, I’m managing okay. I’ve done a better job than I was expecting myself to do. And I think it’s helping. Having a routine and a schedule to stick to saves energy, because I’m not wasting time figuring out what I need to be doing in the moment. 

So life doesn’t feel especially easy right now, but I think I can say that I’m doing okay. 

Taking Care

The people who know me best know that my brain never really stops racing.

This is still true, despite the fact that as of yesterday I’ve spent ten minutes a day meditating (using Headspace) for 27 days straight.

It remains true despite the fact that I am spending large swaths of my life feeling exhausted.

Last week, I mentioned that I was getting back into embroidery for the first time in about a decade. Last week, I embroidered the corners of nine handkerchiefs in six days:

I embroidered all of these between Monday and Sunday.

I embroidered all of these between Monday and Sunday.

It feels a little silly, and I have some complex feelings about indulging in a craft that doesn’t have a lot of practical application. When I knit, 99% of the time it’s something I am going to use, or give to someone else in the hopes that they use it. I knit beautiful things, but I knit beautiful things with a purpose – things that I will wear, or that my nephew will play with, or things to snuggle under. Embroidery doesn’t really make anything, it just makes existing things prettier. Which is, I recognize, a perfectly valid reason to do a thing, and my internal resistance to the idea of doing something that a part of me finds “frivolous” is likely largely rooted in misogyny and the devaluation of things deemed “women’s work” by society. So that’s my own bullshit to work through. And it’s (clearly) not stopping me from doing it.

A large part of the reason why I keep making one tiny stitch after the other is the fact that embroidery requires focus. Not so much that it feels strenuous, but enough that it occupies a significant portion of my mind. I noticed pretty early on in the week that when I was carefully stitching away, following the lines of the patterns, that my brain slowed down. I didn’t stop worrying altogether. The anxiety was still there. But the cacophony of thoughts quieted down to a more manageable volume. It gave me a little space to process some of the ideas pinging around in my skull.

Of course, there’s the rest of my life that still needs living, and I can’t continue to let the time I take out to embroider consume the time I need to get things done around the house, get knitting projects with deadlines done, and otherwise take care of myself.

So this weekend, I have a massage scheduled for the first time since October (I haven’t been in since just before I had surgery!), and I have an appointment with my new therapist. Because embroidery is a great coping technique in its right (and is certainly a less expensive coping mechanism than some that I’ve used over the years), but it can’t be the only tool I have tucked into my belt. I want very badly to get involved in whatever forms of resistance I can, but I also need to be realistic about the fact that I’ve been finding it difficult to do much above and beyond my regularly scheduled activities. I can’t take care of the rest of the world if I’m not taking care of myself first.

The weekend won’t be without its own anxieties (I have a gig scheduled for Monday night, and I’m planning to play the songs I’ve written in the 8-week class that just ended yesterday, so I have a lot of polishing and practicing to do), but I am determined to do what I can to get my brain in a better place, both in the short-term and into the future, uncertain though it certainly is.

Barometric Blues

I’m writing this on Wednesday, which has been a weird one for weather.

It felt like it was still 5:30 am dark until at least 9:30 am. Between the darkness and the rain, it was a pretty depressing start to the day. Add the fact that the wind turned my trusty umbrella inside out for the first time in the eight years that I’ve owned it, mangling one of the bows and rendering it pretty useless, and the fact that I woke up with a sore throat that isn’t going away on its own, and I was quite grouchy before I even got to work.

The rest of the day has been alternating sun and clouds and the tension of potential storms, an endless and excruciatingly dull conference call, and too much time spent wondering what to include on the “development plan” my boss has asked me to pull together in advance of my yearly review, and it’s all combining to give me a headache and make me wish I’d stayed home today.

Sometimes when I say I’m feeling “under the weather,” I’m being less metaphorical than people think. Barometric pressure changes do weird things to this Bipolar brain of mine.

It’s not just headaches. Several of my coworkers were complaining in the morning about the headaches they woke up with when the weather changed. I get those, sometimes, too, but that’s not all of it.

Something about storms and rapidly changing weather patterns makes me feel like my grasp on reality is a little…tenuous, I guess. Like I’m walking the edge of the abyss of psychosis and one wrong step could sent me tumbling away.

There’s not really any empirical evidence in my life that this is the case. I’ve never really had a psychotic episode. I’ve never actually lost my grip on reality. Barometric shifts have never done more than make me profoundly uncomfortable.

I’ve had panic attacks on days like these, though, when the air makes me feel claustrophobic. I panic when I feel like reality is going to get away from me, even though I’ve never actually experienced the realization of that fear.

I have known people who would tell me this is altogether untrue, that in fact I spend much of my life disconnected from reality, that my very identity is proof of this. On a less severe level, there are people who would say that surely, someone who loves fantasy and plays D&D has to have made some sort of break with reality. I have heard these arguments from several family members over the years.

But the thing is…yes, I enjoy my escapist indulgences from time to time. I like getting lost in a book for a while, or inside the head of a character I’m playing (although at least half the time I find role playing as someone else is in fact some of the best therapy). But I am always, always, always aware of the reality I’m escaping from. I’ve known people who can’t keep truth straight from fiction. I am not one of those people. I’ve never lost sight of what’s real and true around me.

There’s something about the tension in the space before a storm, though, that makes me feel like I’m not completely in control of myself, and that’s really terrifying.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this. All that to say, I guess, that brains are complicated and react to things that may or may not make immediate apparent sense. So, you know…be gentle with each other.

Brains Can Be Sneaky

Being Bipolar is an adventure.

Sometimes, I can feel the shifts in the cycle coming, like the ache in my joints when the weather changes, only the ache is in my brain and it feels less like an ache and more like an electrical current under my skull.

Other times, it jumps out from behind a corner, beats me up, takes my lunch money, and leaves me wondering what in the world happened to get me here.

This week has been an example of the latter. I have so many things to be excited about, and so much to work on to get there, and yet DepressedBrain has decided to come to visit. I’m so tired all the time, and I’m spending way more time than seems necessary feeling paralyzed by the sadness.

With DepressedBrain has come what feels like a particularly paranoid iteration of AnxietyBrain. My internal monologue seems to get stuck on an endless stream of worst-case scenarios if I let my mind wander. Which, as you might imagine, is a super fun time while waiting to find out if my insurance is going to cover this otherwise extraordinarily expensive surgery that’s now less than a month away.

Still, it does feel like things are falling into place, and I am tentatively hopeful that everything is going to work out.

Anxiety Management

Some of you may have noticed that there was no Accidental Fudge post last week. I did not intend to take a hiatus – truth be told, I spent most of last Wednesday and Thursday more than half convinced it was Friday, and it was Thursday night before I realized I hadn’t posted anything, at which point I felt like I really didn’t have much to say. So I apologize for that.

July is a packed month for us this year – visits from family and friends, plus a music festival, all on different weekends. It’s a little overwhelming to look at it all at once, so I’m trying to stay focused on a week or so at a time.

I’ve been feeling pretty overwhelmed and distracted the past few weeks. ManicBrain has come and settled itself in with no indication of when it might vacate the premises. Which isn’t so bad, as long as I can remember that it’s the reason I’m overwhelmed and distracted. It’s when I get so distracted that I forget…that’s when problems happen. Thankfully, I’ve been managing to stay pretty on top of things.

One of the biggest things I’m working on right now is managing my anxiety. I deal with differing levels and types of anxiety depending on where I’m at in my Bipolar cycle, but it’s pretty omnipresent lately, and that’s no fun. For anyone who’s interested and/or looking for ways to do this themselves, here’s what I’ve done so far:

  • I quit drinking regular coffee. Cold turkey.
    • I will still indulge in some decaf cold brew from our favorite coffee shops (or that we make at home), but mostly, I’m just getting really into tea.
    • Caffeine in small amounts is okay…in coffee-sized amounts, it does seem to amplify my anxiety.
    • I’ve been drinking coffee since age 12, so this was a big step, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. Mostly, I was just really sleepy for a couple of weeks.
  • I cut waaaaaaaaay back on my access to social media on my phone. I didn’t go as far as the author of this article, but I used some of the ideas there.
    • I deleted a lot of apps, including all the retail apps I sometimes get into the bad habit of searching late at night (Amazon, eBay, and Etsy were the big ones).
    • I removed the shortcut to Facebook in my phone’s browser, and turned off the “frequently visited sites” feature. And I committed to logging out of Facebook whenever I’ve finished checking it.
    • I also disabled my phone’s ability to use the web browser over anything but WiFi, which further limits the time I spend compulsively checking my phone.
    • Maybe it just means I’m lazy, but the fact that I’m not a couple of taps away from my news feed means that I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve checked Facebook in the past ten days.
    • I left Instagram on my phone, because that’s my happy social media, which is way more carefully curated than my Facebook feed. Facebook has its uses, but it mostly just makes me sad/angry/stressed out.
  • I started developing a morning routine for myself.
    • I’m a creature of habit. As much as I sometimes like to be spontaneous and try new things, I am most comfortable in familiar places and patterns.
    • I was already kind of in a morning routine, but it mostly consisted of getupbrushteethgetdressedrunoutthedoor.
    • I’ve been pushing myself to get up earlier, so that I have time to do more calming things in my morning routine.
    • Now the routine regularly includes a quick tarot spread, a few minutes spent jotting down thoughts about the cards, and at least ten minutes of meditation. Which brings us to the last point…
  • I joined Headspace and started mediating in the morning.
    • This was unplanned. At the end of my company’s employee appreciation week last week, we were given a link and a code to get a free year of full access to the site. It sounded interesting, and since it wasn’t costing me anything, I figured I’d give it a try.
    • The little ten minute meditative sessions in the morning have been great, and I tend to feel a lot less stressed before work when I do them.
    • I do get distracted a lot, but the whole system is very low-pressure, which is really helpful for my scattered brain these days.

This is not a foolproof plan, and I’m still dealing with anxiety. But I feel like I’m building up a good selection of resources and healthier coping mechanisms for dealing with it.

How about you, friends? How are you managing anxiety these days?

Sick Day Guilt

I spent most of last weekend feeling like I was fighting off a cold. Monday afternoon, while I was at work, I started feeling dizzy and feverish, so I left a little early. Tuesday, I woke up still feeling feverish, and decided that, even though I need to be saving as much of my sick and vacation time as I possibly can right now, I wasn’t going to get anything done if I went in to work (aside from spread my germs around). I called in.

I slept until almost noon. I spent most of the rest of the day on the couch, where I knit, dozed, and watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the eleventy-billionth time.

And it helped. I felt much better yesterday (even if I wasn’t back to 100%), and I went back to work.

But even though I know I made the right decision in staying home on Tuesday, there’s a part of me that keeps trying to feel guilty. Like, I probably could have sucked it up and gone in. I probably would’ve been miserable, but I could’ve toughed it out, right?

I wrestle with this guilt every time I call in sick to anything, be it work or a volunteer shift or even hanging out with friends. I think a lot of it comes back to having my authority on my feelings called into question as a kid/young adult. I worry that I’m overreacting, that I’m being too sensitive. Particularly when I take a day off for more mental health than physical health reasons, I feel like I’m just not being tough enough. I worry that it means I have a poor work ethic.

Which is all such bullshit, right? If I’m sick, I should stay home and not get my coworkers sick. I should rest so that I can come back to work on top of my game (or at least close to it), rather than getting less and less productive as I try through sheer will power to keep my immune system from failing me. I know all of this. I’ve told other people this I don’t know how many times.

The biggest reason I am trying to save all my sick and vacation time is that I’m planning to schedule chest masculinization surgery for this fall. I’ll need to take at least two full weeks off, and should probably plan for three or four. I’m hoping to be able to work things out so that my recovery falls in the month of All the Jewish Holidays (which is October, this year), where my office doesn’t have a single full week of work for an entire month. That will help with the being able to afford time off. And I should be able to work from home before I’m ready to come back to the office, which will also help.

But see? Even there, I’m thinking about working from home immediately after major surgery, rather than giving myself time to recover. I should know better. I pushed myself too hard after a minor surgical procedure last spring, and wound up missing more work than I would have if I’d just given myself a couple of extra days at the beginning of recovery.

I pride myself on the fact that I own my dysfunction and do my best to deal with it. I’m at a loss with this one, though. I can acknowledge that my fears that my worth is affected by how productive I am at work are irrational, but it’s hard to know how to reframe them into something more useful.

Guess I have something to talk about next time I see my therapist.

It’s Been a Long Week

It hasn’t been a bad week, exactly. I wrapped up one songwriting class and started two new classes – another songwriting class and a guitar class that is already kicking my ass. I’ve been a little bit sick, but mostly in the typical-for-the-season sniffly way that is more a mild annoyance than anything. My debit card number was stolen, but the bank caught it right away, so even that wasn’t as terrible as it could have been.

I’m just…exhausted. I’m having stress dreams about work, which is absolutely a reflection of how I’ve been feeling at work every day. I’m swinging into a manic phase, which usually means more energy, but this time around is mostly resulting in restless nights and anxious days and me feeling like I’m running on empty.

So I’m trying to do little things to cheer myself up. Yesterday, I got a (much-needed, way overdue) haircut after work, which improved my mood immensely. I’ve been trying to remember, when I feel overwhelmed, to stop and do the little meditative visualization that made up the practical part of the druidry lesson that I’m on this week, and that does help. I started rereading (from the beginning) a web comic I’ve been enjoying for years. I’ve been listening to Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel on my lunch breaks and some of my commute. I’ve had Ben Wallace’s new album on heavy rotation in my daily soundtrack, occasionally switched up with a Bach cello suite.

And all of these things are helping. I’m okay, really, just tired and sometimes more on edge than I’d like to be. I have plenty of resources at my disposal, plenty of healthy ways to make myself feel more settled. I just need to remember to use them.

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