Breathing Through Stagnation

New York 2011 041

I haven’t been blogging lately because I have felt stuck in a motivational malaise. I think part of it is due to financial stagnation. Since I am an adjunct instructor, I don’t teach for most of August and the payments for the fall contract don’t kick in until late September. This year, Irma also cost me hours at my part-time writing consultant job. Although I also run my own academic editing and coaching business, the beginning of the academic year is always slow.

I always plan for this economic downturn, but I hate to see monthly expenses eat away at my savings, even if it was saved for that purpose. The financial stagnation chips away at my motivation. When I have a goal, I like to see forward momentum, no matter how small. Right now, my goal is to save the down payment for my own condo.

I left a job in academic administration and moved out of my apartment during a bad bipolar episode seven years ago. I have rented a couple rooms since then, allowing myself the financial freedom to restructure my life in a way that would be more beneficial to my health and the well being of my daughter. Now we are ready for a two-bedroom condo of our own. We should be ready to buy this spring. It’s hard to be so close, and yet be in a position where you must simply wait. I have never been good at waiting. I like to doing.

For now, I take deep breaths and try to focus on other things. I finished my academic article, did my research for a conference presentation, and now I am reviewing and revising my business plan for the upcoming year.

Sometimes stillness can be as unsettling as chaos, but I know things will soon change. They always do.

Breathing Through Irma 3


I wake to the sound of thunder, and search for my phone. As I open the NOAA radar app, I see Irma has moved further west.

The house was still quiet when I woke this morning. I was relieved to see that the eye of Irma was no longer targeting Miami. Although I felt relief, it’s impossible to feel happy. The shift simply means that the threat is bearing down on someone else. As I write this post, Irma is hugging the coast of Cuba and predicted to swing up towards Tampa. At the moment, Irma has been downgraded to a Cat 3. I feel like I just dodged a bullet.

This week has been an emotional roller coaster ride. Last weekend, my daughter and I were dreaming about owning our own condo and how we would decorate it; days later we were worried about what would be left after “the monster storm.” I have distracted myself with Netflix, and occasionally wrapped myself in heavy blankets to counter the stress. I’ll be glad when this storm has passed and we can focus on clean up and recovery. I can’t wait until I can enjoy my simple dreams of home ownership again.

Breathing Through Irma


OK, so here is the real test of my new found composure. Hurricane Irma. I, and millions of other Floridians, are directly in its path. As a resident of Miami, I briefly considered driving out of the state on Wednesday, but many service stations were already running out of gas, and those that remained had lines for blocks. Getting stuck without gas somewhere around Orlando was a real possibility. Instead, we have made all possible preparations, and we are simply waiting it out.

By we, I mean myself and my roommates. Because my roommate owns a home that survived Andrew, some of her adult children will be staying here as well. The house is boarded up. We have food, water, and gas in our vehicles for when the storm is over. We’ve taken pictures of the property, inside and out, incase any insurance claims need to be made. I have even disseminated my “please contact” numbers, should the need to contact them on my behalf occur. Thanks to my usual low doses of medication, I am able to due all of this without being overwhelmed by anxiety or becoming paralyzed by panic attacks.

I am also attempting to take the advice I gave my own students: “Focus on what you can control instead of worry about what you can’t control.” Today, I have done some basic cleaning. Tomorrow, I will go through my neglected file cabinet and purge outdated information. Finally, if I can force myself to concentrate, I have a presentation synopsis to write and an academic article to revise. It might sound like an ambitious list of tasks during a state of emergency, but it’s only Thursday and Irma is not projected to make landfall until Sunday. That’s a lot of time to overthink if I don’t stay preoccupied.

Of course, there are also movies (while I have electricity), and books (which can be read by my Coleman battery powered lantern, if necessary). Then there’s blogging. As long as I have power, I will try to post. Right now, I don’t have much to report except for the calm before the storm. This morning a beautiful full moon hung in the early, pastel colored sky. As the morning grew into day, the harsh sun beat down on exhausted locals. I hope everyone is able to get a good night’s sleep before tropical winds start to kick in. We all deserve it.

Pacing Tiger: Dealing with Anxiety


It feels like being trapped in a cage with a hungry tiger. The cage is small and you can’t turn your back on the pacing animal that wants to maul you. Any sign of fear or aggression will trigger an attack, so despite the fear and tension, I must remain calm and avoid any indication of my inner reality.

That’s what anxiety feels like to me. I have come to realize that my anxiety can sometimes be triggered by “neediness.” When a lot of people need my help at the same time, or one individual becomes excessively reliant on my help, I become overwhelmed and frustrated. As a teacher and graduate writing consultant, this is not a helpful trigger to have.

I can’t exactly cancel all my appointments and take a mental health day every time anxiety hits. It’s a regular part of my emotional cycle. The only thing I can do is manage it. I take a lot of deep breaths to center myself and release the tension. I take a 10 to 15-minute break every hour, so I can consciously refocus my mind. I remind myself that each request for help is an opportunity to connect. Most importantly, I must remember that I am not anyone’s solution. I am just here to facilitate an individual’s discovery of his or her own solution.

Helping others understand that I am not the solution to their problem is sometimes a careful dance. It is natural for individuals to try to impress the urgency of their situation on those around them.

Before being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I often pushed my anxiety on to others. At times when it felt like my life was spiraling out of control, and I was on the verge of panic attacks, I would snap at others for their insensitivity. I would resent their lack of accommodation. I would blame them for the way I felt due to their “inappropriate behavior” or “lack of attention.” My diagnosis helped me see how relative everything is.

Now that I have space between my emotions, thoughts, and action, I can make room for multiple perspectives during tense situations. It is not always easy, and I am not always successful in the attempt. Yet, more often than not, I can recognize how important someone’s problem is to them without accepting responsibility for it myself. (Unless, of course, I truly instigated it.)

Today, I move through one moment at a time. I try to find the points where I can make small positive contributions, and acknowledge the things I cannot do anything about. I have no magic spell that will make the tiger vanish, or unlock the cage, but I can look the fickle creature in the eyes and step softly in our familiar, cautious dance.

When You Don’t Feel Like Adulting


The digital clock on my tablet reads 8:58 am, and it is time to head inside to work. I snap the keyboard cover over the touch screen and put it in my backpack. Standing up from the quaint bistro table, I toss the backpack over my shoulder and head to the automatic doors. Like a magic portal, the doors transport me from a sunny, subtropical paradise into the artificial chill of the Green Library. I find myself slightly annoyed, not because I dislike my job. I love my job. I just don’t feel like upholding my adult responsibilities today. I want to write, read, doodle in my art journal, and enjoy the sun. Basically, I want to relax and play.

I find my resistance a bit humorous since I only have to work five hours today. I have plenty of time to do my own thing; although, the idea of going to the gym at 5:00 pm makes me feel petulant. I have a feeling I am going to be a bit sassy with my trainer today.  I have learned that if I acknowledge and accept these feelings with the same patience I would extended a strong-willed toddler, my day goes a lot smoother.

Would I be happier if I were home today? Probably not. I would probably lament the wasted time and opportunities lost. In fact, when I leave work today, I know I will change into my gym attire then go to the coffee shop right next to the gym to work on my scholarly article for a couple hours. I am just having one those generally dissatisfied days.

Being bipolar, I have learned how to separate feelings and thoughts. Thoughts create feelings and feelings create thoughts, but if you can stop the transaction for just a moment you can see how illusionary it can be. There is no reason why I shouldn’t have a good day at work today, unless I decide my irritation is a valid emotion. So, I recognize it for what it is, restlessness. There are so many things I want to do today, and there’s no possible way of doing them simultaneously, so my brain has thrown its metaphorical hands into the air and said “Whatever!”

I remind myself that there is plenty of time to do everything, and everything will get done as long as I do one thing at a time. I remind myself that what I consider work and play are so closely aligned they are almost the same thing. I purposely designed my life to be that way. I remind myself that I like getting paid. Being free is not fun when you are broke. I remind myself that the sun is almost always out in Miami, and that after a couple hours, I would be so hot that I would want to come back in. I remind myself that I signed up for the gym because I wanted to be strong and active. It’s all about the story I tell myself, so I choose the story that makes me the happiest.

Bee in My Bonnet


I jab at the keyboard like the keys have offended me. It’s 7:30 pm, and I am sitting in the Miami heat having a cup of coffee as I try to override the mounting irritation. I need to complete a couple projects this weekend, but I am currently angry at a particularly rude individual. The individual was not rude to me per se, but rather rude adjacent, attacking a peer and disparaging others.

As the debate regarding the appropriateness of the individual’s behavior percolated, I found myself irritated that such a debate was even taking place. I try to stay calm because I know it is my personal bias rearing its ugly head. I am irritated because I know that if I had behaved that way, retribution would have been swift and from multiple sources. Although I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, such behavior would be deemed inexcusable. I would have been taught a lesson. I would have been put back in line, roughly if necessary. Yet, I am supposed to make accommodations for others who are unable or unwilling to take responsibility for their own actions. I struggle to take the higher road that would not be extended to me.

Perhaps tough love begets tough love. I was always taught that tough love was the best way to handle inappropriate behavior, and I experienced it first hand when I had a bad bipolar episode five years ago. But is tough love really the answer? Obviously, I still have some unresolved resentment to the method. My hatred for the participants bubbles just below the surface. There is a trust that has be broken, and perhaps, it will never be repaired.

It did, however, modify my behavior. I learned how to feel one way, but behave another, at least until I could process the emotions at a later time. Sometimes it feels dishonest, even if courteous. But, isn’t that maturity? So here I am, trying to focus on what I need to do, despite the irritating rage swirling inside me.

The key is recognizing that my perception of reality is just that, a perception. My anger was triggered not by the event, but by what the event represented to me. I take a few more deep breaths. My mind is still not convinced. I am still not ready to let it go, but at least I have some space between my emotions and my response. I know in a day or two I will be fine, the incident far behind me. The trigger, well that is a different story. Perhaps there is some damage that can’t be repaired. At least I can choose how to respond.

Slow Assassin


I am convinced someone is paying my personal trainer to kill me. Oh wait, I am paying my personal training to kill me . . . slowly . . . very slowly . . . one thirty-minute appointment at a time.

I was run over by a truck while biking on New Year’s Day 2013. The accident left me with a broken hip, fracture pelvis and fractured tail bone. I was in the hospital for 28 days, and it took me four months before I was able to walk without assistance. Even then, I needed to medicate for the pain and limit the length of my activity. It was a long slow healing process. It took years to gain full mobility without pain.

Those injuries, and the slow recovery, curtail my otherwise active lifestyle. I gained 50 pounds as I became more sedentary, and of course, I lost most of my muscle tone.

This year, my goal is to be more active and to get stronger. I try to eat healthy more often, but to be honest, losing weight has not been the primary goal. I simply want the freedom to be active without feeling pain or feeling exhausted. Each week, my trainer pushes me a little harder, and I get a little stronger.

Emotional recovery is like that, too. It is usually a slow process. At first you will need a lot of assistance, and when you first try to stand on your own, it will hurt each time you use your muscles in new ways. The effort will leave you exhausted. When you finally reach your comfort zone, you will have to start stretching yourself, pushing yourself through harder and harder exercises until you are confident you can handle anything. At times, the process will make you grumpy even hostile. You may swear someone is trying to kill you, but your tough. You can handle it . . . thirty minutes at a time.