Breathing Through Stagnation

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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.

Pacing Tiger: Dealing with Anxiety

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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

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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

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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

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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.

The Day After: Hiding in Plain Sight

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I wrap my fluffy robe around me and pile on layers of heavy blankets. It’s the day after a stressful situation and I am feeling the day after effects.

The day after a stressful event, I usually feel a little tired from the adrenaline rise and fall. I also feel emotionally vulnerable. I want to go into my room, get in my bed, and pull the heavy pile of blankets over me. It’s not depression. I don’t feel a sense of sadness or hopelessness. I recognize that my life is good, and I still look forward to living it. I just need a little extra rest. A little extra support. A little time to recover.

I don’t always have that luxury, though. You can’t put your life on pause. Life keeps moving forward whether you choose to participate or not, so I got out of bed today and headed to work. I graded assignments, advised clients, read research and even laughed and joked with my peers. I wasn’t pretending per se, but I was performing. Sometimes, I wear my persona like a costume to keep my life running smoothly. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Who hasn’t gone to work sick, or tired, or worried? You never know what quiet burden someone may be carrying.

It helps to know I am not alone in my struggle. It helps to know others struggle, but carry on with hope and determination. It helps to know that tomorrow will be different.  For now I just need a little extra rest. A little extra support. A little time to recover.

Jury Duty Part 2: Anxiety Dance

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At 2 pm, 34 other jurors and myself entered the court room. It would take four hours to narrow us down from 35 to the 8 that would sit on the trial. Although we did nothing all day but wait, line up, wait, sit, answer questions, line up, wait, it was a long exhausting day.

I think I managed well considering the circumstances. My anxiety levels started to rise early in the selection process, when I discovered the trial in question would not be a simple DUI or shop lifting case. The charges indicated that the narratives and evidence presented might trigger some of my own past trauma, instigating even stronger anxiety. I know from experience that anxiety can cloud my judgement, so I try not to make important decisions when I feel emotional. I certainly didn’t want to decide someone else’s guilt or innocence while I was emotionally impaired. I was open and honest in front of the entire court room, and better jurors were selected for the case.

Now that I am home, I still feel a little of the tension, and the adrenaline drain has left me feeling exhausted. I feel a headache starting, and at 7:30 at night, I am ready for bed. I’m still proud of myself, though. Despite my apprehension, I showed up and went through the process just like everyone else. Once there, I also respected my boundaries.

That is the delicate dance of bipolar, gently pushing yourself to do a little more than you think you can do and knowing when to stop. Many people think bipolar is just being moody, but it’s not. The down side of bipolar is feeling unreasonably afraid, desperate, and even hopeless. For those of us who are high functioning, it often takes a combination of medication and coping techniques to keep those emotions isolated in the neither regions of our minds, a distant shadow that we barely notice. If we push too hard those emotions will surface, but if we don’t push at all our world can get increasingly smaller and smaller.

There was a time in my life when I gave in to the desire to isolate myself from the stress. I watched my life collapse in on itself, losing friends and jobs as panic attacks clawed through my chest every time I left the house.

I have also pushed myself through anxiety, bit by bit, as I built a new life, a new career, a new business. They say a little bit of anxiety is a good thing. I guess I am living proof of that. If you have no anxiety, you’re not challenging yourself. Sharing my experience with others helps me, and I have been reading blogs by others who do the same.

So, tell me what you think. Are you afraid of anxiety? Or, do you embrace it? Do you try to push through your limits alone? Or do you ask for help? I would love to hear your stories in the comments below.