Accidental Fudge

Updates Thursdays

Tag: mental illness

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?

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.

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