Category Archives: Coping Skills

Why Are Manic Episodes So Chaotic?

(CC BY-SA 3.0) Phunk Studio

(CC BY-SA 3.0) Phunk Studio

If you’ve lived anywhere other than under a rock, you’ve likely heard horror stories of folks with Bipolar Disorder. Thankfully, they aren’t all true for everyone, and many are exaggerated. Each person with Bipolar Disorder has their own subset of symptoms and can’t be compared with each other. The most inconvenient manic trait I deal with is starting projects that I don’t complete. My to-do list ends up being extraordinarily long, as I begin project after project. But why? It’s simple enough. I feel compelled to become happy.

It always starts with the need to do something enjoyable. Crafts, video games, puzzles, and music are the high points. Crafts is the hardest, though. I will start a new project, perhaps a bracelet, blanket, or even a pillow. My manic mind is full of great ideas. They really are great, too. It’s not a matter of delusions. Rather, it’s a matter of enthusiastic optimism.

The problem comes in the finishing of the project. See, the manic mind feels compelled to seek further happiness. I could be listening to music, making a beautiful piece of art, totally happy. But it’s not enough. The longer the project takes me, the more likely that I’ll have another great idea, and start another project.

And that’s where the chaos comes from. My manic mind makes excuses for minor messes, even as they pile on. I have no qualms shelving a project, because I know I will come back to it. At least, that’s what my brain says. My desk becomes covered in projects I’m working on, and my pile of unfinished crafts grows.

Are there ways to make things less chaotic? Absolutely. The hardest, but most effective method is to limit myself to one project at a time. I make smaller things, so I can move on when it’s time. I also hold myself to a standard of minimum clutter. If things get too messy, I’m not allowed to start the next project until I’ve tidied and cleaned.

I also talk to Jenny about what I’m doing, and my plans for my project(s). Even taking five minutes to explain can save a lot of trouble. Jenny’s really good at poking holes in a plan, which means I’m much more prepared for trouble if/when it comes. Planning the project thoroughly means that I run into fewer complications that might make the project less fun. Also, it helps me realize when my plan is a little unrealistic.

Each person has to figure out what works for them, of course. Lists, companions, conversation, self-discipline, even meditation: These things all make my life less chaotic. Think about what helps you, and feel free to comment. Maybe you’ve got a nugget or two for me, too?

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George’s Tree

Photo: Jenny Bristol

Photo: Jenny Bristol

Today I got to see some of George’s family. His sister and her family were here visiting George’s mom. Jenny and I swung over to say hi before they left town again, and to see the new addition. George’s mom and step-dad had a beautiful Sycamore planted in his honor on their terrace. (Pictured above)

This culminated in us all standing around a beautiful (if late-seasoned) sycamore tree, with tears in more than one set of eyes. In the end, grandkids and crew were being swept up the path to the house, and I found myself saying, “excuse me, but I’m going to be silly for a moment.”

I then tried to hug a sapling. It didn’t go so well, at first, because the trunk is about 2 inches across. I ended up with my arms stuck through branches, and my head poked in through the most convenient gap. I felt very silly indeed as I felt some not-quite tears fill up my eyes. It felt good, though. Really good.

I came home and celebrated life with a friend (whose birthday is Thanksgiving Day), and played D&D until the kids called it off for the night. It was nice. In the growing quiet, I found myself sitting alone in the living room, half-heartedly playing Spider Solitaire, quietly crying.

I miss my friend. I miss seeing him every week, and I miss talking to him. And partly, I miss having another person I could trust completely. Life can be hard when you carry too much alone. Thankfully, I have a wonderful wife. I don’t carry anything alone, not really, not anymore. But it was nice to be there for George, and for him to be there for me. His friendship made life feel a little bit bigger, somehow.

Now, it’s smaller, but that’s okay. I met a beautiful shade tree today, and I remembered that life goes on.

Sometimes You Have to Tell Your Therapist No!

No!

I love therapy. I love it to bits. My therapist is kind and funny, and brings me out of my shell. Sometimes, though, she puts me on the defensive. I’m going to talk to her about it today, but I wanted to share with you guys while it’s on my mind.

Sometimes, at the end of the session, she tells me how I feel, or how I will feel later. Things like, “This was a hard session, so you’ll be depressed tonight, and that’s okay.” If her wording was just a little different, it would be great! I want her to go from telling me how I feel to telling me how I might feel.

This small change can make all the difference. Preparing me for negative emotions is a great tool, and one I value regularly. But predicting my emotions puts me on the defensive. If she says I will be depressed, my brain instantly says, “la-la-la-la-can’t-hear-you. You-don’t-know-me-ho!” All the hard work we put into the session has now been blown because my brain had to re-embrace my defensiveness and anxiety. #NotCool

So today, I talk to her about it. Finding a good therapist is a pain in the ass. I like her, and I want it to work. #FingersCrossed

She’s Done Chasing Happiness

Today, I have a treat for you. A darling girl (who I took to prom once, full disclosure) reached out to me, and asked if she could share something on Terminally Intelligent. I hope you enjoy Brittni’s stirring words as much as I did.

I am Still Fighting

I live my life in a fluid discontentment between anxious and depressed. My anxiety stays around a 7-8 on a 10-point scale (with very few spikes and valleys) until my body and my mind can’t handle it anymore. When this happens, everything shuts down, and I get really depressed.

I think when my anxiety is an 8, my depression is a 4. Even when I crash, my anxiety is still a 3, and my depression becomes a 9. The worst part is that I know it’s coming. It always happens this way. This means that in my brief moments of happiness, I still feel the looming of depression about to set in.

I’ve chased happiness for as long as I can remember. I played softball. I thought winning would make me happy. I tried to impress my parents, thinking that would bring me happiness. I was the first in my family to go to (and graduate from) college. That brought some happiness to my parents, but not a lot to me. I found a man I love. At this point, I have to distinguish that while I am happy with him, I am not truly happy. We moved across the country, and while he did this for work, I thought this would be just the transition I needed to finally find ‘it’. Guess what. In New England, the days are short, the winter is long, and this southern girl hates the cold.

I have a hard time making friends. Exercise isn’t something I enjoy. I don’t feel at home here. There is so much that I’m missing out on from so far away. These are the thoughts that come to me every single time I start to enjoy a fleeting moment. I forget that I am loved. I forget that I am brilliant. I forget that I have never set a goal that I did not reach.

An outsider looking in says, “You seem so determined, ambitious, and kind. I really thought that you were such a joy to be around. How could you be so sad?” My burden is so much to have to bear, I would hate to impose it on anyone else. I don’t ever want to bring anyone down. So, I “fake it till you make it.” That’s all I know. I open up to very few.

My first real “bout” of depression began when I was a senior in high school. I heard a preacher say, “You choose to be happy.” I went home and read Ephesians, and decided it was true. To this day, I have no idea how that book brought me so much peace. I’ve re-read it again and again, but the peace is gone.

There are things I’ve done to try to gain some sort of contentment. I lost a hundred pounds, then gained 30 back. I have a list of my “favorite things” (which includes The Sound of Music) that I reflect on when I stop seeing the positive side of things. I try to move, and go outside, even when I don’t feel like it. I make an effort to eat real, whole foods, because being Paleo Primal “will save your life.” I talk to my mom. I talk to my shrink. I write notes to myself to pick me up when I’m down. I am telling you right now, if you could choose to be happy, none of us would ever be sad.

I still have hope, and hopefully it’s enough. I’m trying this new thing out. I’m going to try to teach myself to be happy. Let me break that down into a more doable task. I am going to make an effort to combat every negative thought with a positive one. I may start off reusing the same positive thought over and over. I may need to start out small. Maybe one positive for every two negatives. The important thing is that I’m still trying. I may need to take breaks, and when I do, I know there are people there to help me through. I want to find happiness, but I’m not chasing it anymore. This time, it can meet me here. Right where I’m at.

I’m still fighting.

Summer Sadness, or Autumn Apathy?

Rory Bristol

Rory Bristol

Ah, Fall. Bright colors all over the world. Except here. I live in the desert. No pretty leaves for me. Also, shorter days, colder nights, and the dread ascension of the Christmas season. To say it shortly: Autumn beats me into submission for Winter. I find myself disconnecting slightly. I don’t want to be sad, so I disengage. I’ve been doing this for years. It gets dark before I eat dinner, so I feel like I wasted my day, despite many hours left in the evening. I feel my heart shrink up in its little parka, my emotions gladly packing up their bags to sun themselves in the warm world of denial.

Not this year. Not today, not tomorrow, not next week. Not this year. Continue reading

Try Loving Yourself First

can't help

Folks, if you want to be there for anyone, at any point, anywhere, ever, listen up. It’s your first job to take care of yourself. On flights, the flight attendant tells you to put your own mask on, then help the people next to you. You know why? Because you can’t help someone if you’re passed out in their lap. Clear enough?

Before you can commit to being there for another person, you’ve got to be ready for that. You have to be at your own center, or at least stable. You can’t be someone’s knight-in-shining-armor if your horse is dead, and your armor is rusted off. If you get to that point, you’re doing little more than being followed by a man named Patsy clapping coconuts behind you as you run.

There is no “trick” to knowing whether you’re taking care of yourself, but there are some things you can watch for.

Follow the rabbit down the hole!