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Hacked

If any of you got an eyeful of (poorly-written) Hunger Games fanfic/smut in your emails or via this site, my sincerest apologies. I was not responsible for writing or posting it, and I don’t know who is. I was either hacked or pranked (I misplaced my Kindle Fire this week). Either way, I got a “new post” notification like you all probably did, and was quite surprised, as I was at my therapists office at the time. I have taken the proper security precautions, but wanted to preemptively apologize in case anybody actually thought the post was my creation. Totally mortified because that’s not my thing.

Obviously still living the crazy life,
Eileen

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Wonderful

I feel writerly today, which is a good thing because NAMI VA’s Director of Programs has asked me two whip up a couple of paragraphs about my first-time experience Peer Mentoring a Peer-to-Peer course. I guess they’re doing a “stories from the field” project and she thought of me. That’s a nice kind of validation. My work with NAMI and at my job mean the world to me, so any kind of recognition is an added benefit.

As I’m slowly easing my way out of my seasonal slumber, I’m finding my motivation and drive to contribute return as well. Our NAMI affiliate raised more that $8,000 from the NAMIWalks fundraiser, opening the door to a Spring (in addition to the usual Fall) P2P session, something for which I vocally advocated. If all goes as planned, I’ll be heading up the course alongside my friend and recent Peer Mentor trainee, A. We’ve yet to iron out all the details and a great deal is contingent on enrolling enough people, but I’m hopeful and excited to reach more peers.

I’ve also picked up doing our affiliate’s quarterly newsletter and I’m looking forward to that, too. I guess it’s probably no big secret that I love to write and I really savor the idea of getting to do so in service of an organization that means so much to me and many others. Plus, I have a fair amount of experience writing newsletters and as a fledgling journalist in the late nineties and I’ve been chomping at the bit to put those skills to use again for years and years now.

The biggest challenge, of course, is not loading more on my plate than I can handle. I’m still facilitating NAMI Connections meetings and doing In Our Own Voice presentations once or twice a month. Plus, I’m being prepared to take over from the current affiliate Coordinator of Programs, a process that has been slowed somewhat by schedule and holiday conflicts. I expect to be in place in the next month or two. It’s not a particularly time-consuming position, but will require me to maintain records for the various programs and report back to the Board about the goings on in each area, which won’t be too difficult since I have my finger in just about every program’s pie (save the family side of things).

I like the feeling of growing ever increasingly involved with NAMI. In fact, I rather thrive on it — at least in theory. Putting it all into practice without overloading myself will be the trick. But I believe I can do and enjoy it, and that doing so will further the feelings of meaningful purpose and competence I’ve fostered through my job and involvement in other NAMI activities. Before this time last year, when I initially trained to be a Connections facilitator, there was so much I believed I couldn’t do. I had this long-held idea of myself as a perpetual failure, an inevitable fuck-up who couldn’t get out of her own way long enough to be any use to anyone. But I followed my hunches this year and discovered I’m far more than the sum of my mistakes.

I’m an effective facilitator — one longtime Connections participant frequently tells me she always likes it when I lead meetings. I’m a suprisingly decent public speaker, something I definitely never thought possible, but I consistently get positive and touching feedback when I do an IOOV presentation. I love my job and, for the most part, the people I work with and serve. I’m a hard worker, striving to do my best no matter what I’m doing, and my superiors always have positive things to say about my efforts. Most importantly, I make time to develop meaningful relationships with our consumers and some let me know that means something to them.

Perhaps I’ve found my niche, as some have commented, and that makes fitting in and doing what I do well easier for me. Maybe all the previous jobs and environments, where I felt so completely erroneous and marginalized, weren’t the right fit. I don’t know. What I do know is, right now, I like where I am. I feel skilled and capable and accepted, and that helps me have a sense of myself that is strong and positive in ways it’s never been before. It makes me eager to take on new challenges because I believe I can not only succeed, but continue to grow and become stronger. And, amazingly, the good feelings don’t have a selfish, isolated edge because I’m blessed to get to help others and know that my efforts are as much in the service of reaching out to peers as to my own stability. Instead of feeling victim to my mental illness, I get to use it for good — my good, society’s good. It’s like a neverending cycle of goodness. I still have bad days — sometimes I have strings of them, but they don’t make me question that I belong where I am, they don’t wreck my sense of a stong self. I never lose sight of the gratitude that I’ve gone through all I’ve gone through and it’s led me to this place. Because this place, aside from the inevitable ups and downs of life, is a wonderful place.

And I only want to be wonderful for it.

Spring is tentatively making its return to my part of the universe and so, thankfully, is my tired psyche. I am immensely grateful for any amount of sunshine I can soak up. I seek it like a starving man seeks food. Its warmth and color fills me with a sense of hope and energy that has lain dorment since at least December. I am ready to be finished with this latest winter downshift.

As my lack of activity here on my blog attests, I have mostly withdrawn from life over the last couple of months. Besides work and NAMI, my involvements with which I was determined would not be upturned or ruined by my mental struggles, I have dropped out of life, perhaps as a means of conserving energy, or perhaps because, after all my other obligations were fulfilled, I simply lacked the energy to do anything but surrender to the pull of depression and fatigue. I’ve been overwhelmed and stressed. And many negative stories blared loudly and mostly unchecked in my head: I am a lousy friend, a lousy person, I suck at life, I have nothing worthwhile to share with anyone. And then I got sick — twice in the span of a month — with the pseudo-flu that seemed to plague everyone this winter. But we were short-staffed at work and I didn’t have a fever, nor was I in such dire condition that I couldn’t drag myself out of bed, so I resolved I wouldn’t miss any work because of it, and I didn’t. While I’m proud of this feat of willpower (or maybe simply stubbornness), which has not been second-nature to me in my more unreliable past, it also wore me down more than I already was and probably burned me out a bit.

All these factors combined to draw me further inside myself and away from the world. My Facebook page has been silent for at least a month and I’ve only been able to bring myself to check out my news feed and maybe “like” a post here and there on a very sparce basis. Texts from friends were returned late, sometimes days at a time, because I spent much of my spare time sleeping and, well, I already felt like a worthless friend. And, obviously, I all but quit blogging. No energy. Nothing positive to say. I mustered up all my motivation and energy for those activities I HAD to do, and basically stopped functioning when those activities were through.

To be honest, I still have one foot in that state, but I can feel things beginning to shift and reawaken inside of me. This has been helped, in no small measure, by the gradual lengthening of days, the occasional burst of warmer weather and the glorious feeling of the sun in my face. It doesn’t hurt, either, that my favorite of spiritual gurus, Tara Brach, has a new book out called True Refuge. I’m barely a third of the way in, but her common sense wisdom and practical instructions for self-compassion and touching peace, fill me with hope and a reaffirmed commitment to adopt these meditative and present-centered practices into my own life.  She has a way of making me believe I can develop an intimate and loving connection with myself that will naturally extend outward to all of life. That hope alone is enough to waken my tired and (mostly self-) battered soul from its world-averse slumber.

Now I must humbly begin tending to the areas of my life that grew threadbare and tattered while I withdrew into my winter revery of shame and exhastion. It will surely take time and be an uneven progression, but more and more, it feels like the time has arrived. I must remember to be kind to myself and push myself no farther than I’m ready to go. Every year, it seems thus: that I die a little in the winter, but am similarly reborn in the spring, hopefully a tiny bit stronger for having survived the frost. Rebirth is slow, but worth the wait. Maybe one of these days the entire cycle will be a bit less severe. Until then, I’ll do the best I can and keep looking for the sun. Hopefully, that’s enough.

Mad and S.A.D.

I’m doing a piss-poor job of finding or making peace for myself lately and I feel discouraged about it. I am acutely aware that there’s a tiredness inside of me that nothing seems to budge and I know that I am very likely suffering the same plight that beset me for months right around this time last year, (many, many more years before that).

Still, I can’t quite wrap my mind around it or let myself off the hook for feeling so generally miserable when I have no particular reason for it beside some nebulous excuse like “it’s the season.” But Eileen, I think, you live in southeastern Virginia, where winters are pretty mild; how is it you’re so markedly and negatively affected? It might just be your fault. I don’t understand it, though evidence would suggest seasonal connection. But, as you can see, my lack of understanding leads me to pin the blame squarely, if subconsciously, on me and my inability to effectively cope with life, despite the tools I’ve acquired over time. What’s wrong with me that I consistently undergo this system overload and seem powerless to lessen its effects? What’s wrong with me that I can’t see it coming and steel myself against it? What’s wrong with me that I can’t simply switch the station in my head to something soothing and pleasing? What’s wrong with me that I can’t just focus on the positive and decide to be in a good mood.

I’m making a lot of faulty assumptions there, assumptions I would never hoist on someone else in the same situation. But I feel guilty when I’m not always in a good mood, when, in fact, my moods feel out of control. I’m embarrassed and self-castigating. I don’t want people to know this furious, sometimes spiteful beast exists inside me. In fact, I don’t want to know it exists because it’s anathema of this “nice person” belief I have about myself. And I am, at root and often in practice, “a nice person,” but sometimes I’m not. Sometimes, I feel like a shrill, disapproving, unweildy bitch and it shows.

And whether or not those feelings and their expressions may be warranted and appropriate, I can never be certain because, mostly, I’m terribly ashamed of them and wish they didn’t exist. Even when it’s a case of being assertive and expressing my wants, needs, and preferences, it feels a little too dangerous and I start feeling like I let the bitch-cat out of the bag too much. Maybe that’s because I know the anger that lies coiled behind it all.

I usually think anger is a non-issue for me, but for the last couple of months I feel as if my anger could swallow me whole. Much of it is aimed at my co-worker, who has pretty much passed the point of no return in my good graces. She’s lazy, self-serving, self-important, and unreliable — at least by my estimation, though I’ve been told by multiple upper-level sources that they see it too. And it’s not just at work — this co-worker is also a NAMI facilitator and has been to, I think, one meeting in the last three months. She routinely cancels on her duties, leaving the three of us who are consistently there to carry her load.

And I’m angry about all of it — not just healthy angry, but spiteful angry to the point that, at times, I struggle to even be civil with her or look at her. I get spitting mad. I come home some days with so much pent up rage that all I can do is smoke cigarettes, drink wine, and shove food in my face. All constructive coping techniques, no? In fact, I’m acutely aware that I’m more angry than is necessary or healthy for me. It’s excessive. I expend far too much thought and energy on someone who is neither family nor friend. And, again, I’m ashamed that I not only feel all this anger, but that it occasionally overflows into my daily and working life in ways that might make me look worse, or more childish, than her.

But I feel like all that concurrent shame and regret only makes it harder to overcome the excess negativity inside me. And nothing seems to placate me, not even the fact that, when it comes right down to it, I really love my job and I have a sense of mastery in that I feel I do my job well and even that I’ve been told repeatedly by my supervisor and the councelors that they see the good work I do and support me fully (and that they see what my co-worker doesn’t do). I try quite hard to focus on the positive — because there’s a lot of it — but it doesn’t seem to keep me from sinking into the negatives, from getting spitting mad, from feeling just tired and used up. Because that’s what’s underneath the anger and shame — a bone-deep tiredness with the living of life in general.

My mom frequently reminds me I felt this way last year and it passed. And she’s right. I know something extremely real but temporary has overtaken me and left me working on what I call “safe mode.” I know I need to ride this out to the best of my ability and have faith that the color and joy will return in spring. But it’s mighty hard when you’re caught in the grips of something larger than you that saps you of your ability to see and soak up the sunshine, literally and figuratively. It takes away so many of the qualities and self-control I like best about myself and does so for so long that it does start to feel like a permanent condition. I forget that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t an oncoming train, but actual sunlight.

For now, I’m chewing on some heady issues and trying my damnedest to still be the best me I can be. But I hope you’ll all forgive me if I make some missteps or even fall. And most of all, I hope I can find the compassion to forgive me once the worst has passed.

Struggling

I love Christmas and winter so much. The temps are finally tolerable. I love any excuse to pull out the sweaters and my coat. I hold out for the possibility of snow, no matter how little. (This is often a futile pursuit.) But every year, it seems my enthusiam is curbed by forces beyond my control. I know from years of experience that I’m affected by the shortened days and waning daylight hours. But, often, I seem to make the transition with misleading ease. I think, “Now, see? This isn’t so bad. I’m hardly feeling a change. Maybe I’ll be able to skate by relatively unscathed this year.” Maybe often seems to downshift into a dispiriting “no” within a month or so.

I suspect I’m experiencing that now. I had Peer-to-Peer Mentor training in Richmond a couple of weekends ago. As soon as I returned home, I became a one-woman sleeping machine. I’m perpetually exhausted, physically and mentally. Furthermore, I don’t feel as sharp and focused when I need to be. It sometimes feels like I have cotton stuffed between my ears. I come home from work, eat, and am usually dead to the world sometime between 5 and 7 pm. I sleep throughout the night, often clocking 10-12 hours before I’m finally conscious and aware, but still tired. On the weekends, I can manage a full night’s sleep and awake for a couple hours, before falling back into bed and sleeping the day away.

At work, where I’ve encountered some highly stressful situations with coworkers, I find myself dragging, though I push through it as much as I can. I feel edgier, often feeling a sort of claustrophobia about all these people surrounding me and often demanding my attention. Previously, all of that was just the noise of the day and I embraced it as part of the environment. Now I feel vaguely misathropic and crowded. I try not to let any of that show, but it seeps out in drips and drabs despite my efforts. I’m still friendly and ready to help, but I’m also more curt and blunt with people who try my patience, including some of the clients. When I feel overwhelmed or irritated, which, of late, seems to be happening with a frequency that seems to me abnormal and a bit out of proportion, I seem to lose control of all the social niceties that usually direct my behavior. I rarely do it without cause, but even in trying or off-putting situations, I’d like to feel I have a better grasp of my responses. While the outward expression of all of this may not be as extreme and “bad” as it feels to me — others may have noticed I’m edgier and more direct — the view from inside perturbs me. I feel as if everything about my inner life — my thoughts, my emotions, my energies — is a barely-contained hurricane. Out of control. Like my nerves are totally exposed and reactive. And it only seems to be getting worse.

This is a huge shift from my functioning just a couple weeks ago, when it felt like I was happily going with the flow, managing my moods well, and basically feeling a lot of zen gratitude for all I have in my life.

So what changed?

I take my meds religiously and there’ve been no variations in type or dosage in months, save for the two Remeron I allowed myself for better sleep in the hotel while I was at training a couple of weeks ago. I take my Synthroid every morning, so it’s unlikely my thyroid levels have plummeted to the point of causing this level of dysfunction. Surely, I’m eating worse because of the holidays, so there may be some disturbance there, but enough to make me feel this bad? It doesn’t seem likely.

The only conclusion I can come to is that I’m reacting to the weather — shorter days, less sunshine, more gloom and darkness. I’ve been known to struggle through the winter months, but even that answer doesn’t leave me fully satisfied. Something in me seems to have changed and I can’t confidently say why.

I don’t see my therapist again until next week. I’ve been thinking about reintroducing a smaller dosage of the Remeron to see if the added anti-depressant qualities help take the edge off. I’m already eating a lot lately as it is, so what harm could it do? I’m not at the point of fearing a complete meltdown, but the fears are at least knocking at my door. I’ve come too far to lose it all in some seasonal stupor, so I won’t go down without a fight.

But as it stands right now, I have to admit it: I’m struggling.

Oh, Catherine Zeta-Jones. I’ve never much cared for you, in an instinctual way, and now you’ve given me a concrete reason.

I’ll preface this by saying that I read a lot of junk celebrity gossip because it’s entertaining and diverting. I rarely take any of it seriously but with the proverbial grain of salt. And I realize outlets like US Magazine are not at the pinnacle of journalistic integrity, but when I read this online tidbit, I looked around and found the same information on several other sites (like this and this), none of which I can confidently attribute unshakable journalistic integrity. So I’m gonna assume that where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and that all these sites couldn’t possibly make up words and put them directly into the mouth of Ms. Zeta-Jones without facing some major legal problems. And I’m gonna get worked up about it, because Ms. Zeta-Jones has the fame and platform from which to speak out about and help dispel the stigma around bipolar, but she “never wanted to be the poster child for this [bipolar].”

Way to reinforce stigma and shame, Catherine. Indeed, you should be ashamed, but not because you have bipolar.

Sure, nobody wants to be defined by mental illness, but you can still raise awareness for yourself and others without being overcome by victimhood, as Ms. Zeta-Jones seems to suggest. I would LOVE to be anybody’s face of bipolar because, despite my struggles, it’s my humanity that defines me, my unique Eileen-ness. I am functional, productive, and colored by so many other traits besides bipolarity: humor, kindness (I hope), curiosity, Beatles fanaticism, passion, writerly aspirations, and…well, to me, the list could go ever and on. I am not defined by bipolar, but if it informs the things I do, it’s because of that aforementioned passion, as well as a sense of social justice, that as someone either blessed or cursed with mental illness, it’s my duty to speak out about my experiences, help raise awareness of the very human face of bipolar and other mental health conditions, and help others who are walking their path of mental illness. But I’m your common, work-a-day, pushing-middle age gal with bipolar II. I don’t attract a ton of attention and no one’s clamoring to splash my story across magazine covers and news shows. I get that Ms. Zeta-Jones is an Actress with a certain Personality to protect, but that’s exactly why lending her voice to our (and her) cause would make a difference. She is the very face of celebrity normality. She’s beautiful. She well-known. She’s (mostly) respected in her field. She married into Hollywood royalty. She’s walking proof that you can live with bipolar and also live a commercially and socially envied life. Her very status makes evident that viability and mental illness can live in one body. And it gives her the sort of worldwide platform to get that message out: yes, there are inherent struggles, but recovery is always possible. Yet, she’s seemingly ashamed. She’d rather not have her brand associated with mental flaws. She is wasting her very precious opportunity to help.

By the way, it’s not lost on me that Ms. Zeta-Jones was diagnosed with bipolar II (same diagnosis as me) a relatively short time ago and may still be struggling with her own feelings about that. And to do so in privacy is certainly her right. I know I may sound like some in the gay community who call for in-the-closet celebrities to publicly come out and further the LBGT cause, and brand those who don’t hypocrites. Funnily enough, I’ve always felt coming out was a very private and personal decision that shouldn’t be forced on anyone, so perhaps I am the hypocrite here. But Ms. Zeta-Jones has already come out (by her choice or not), so why not do something constructive (rather than destructive, which is what I consider her latest remarks) with it?

Thank goodness for the Carrie Fishers, the Patty Dukes, the Jane Pauleys, the Glenn Closes, and so on, who are unafraid of speaking out about mental illness on behalf of themselves and loved ones. Their brutal honesty and, yes, sense of humor about mental health conditions have helped removed the veil from what was once unspoken and misunderstood. That takes guts, bravery. The reality of mental illness is still largely unspoken and misunderstood. We still have a long road to hoe. The celebrities I mentioned above have certainly made our way easier, but it’s clear from Ms. Zeta-Jones’ statements that she will not be with us in this journey.

Maybe life will change her mind.

What do you think? Am I wrong? Overreacting? Is Catherine Zeta-Jones simply protecting her privacy, or is she playing into shameful ideas about mental illness? Does she have a responsibility to raise awareness about the illness? Do you think she’ll come to advocacy in her own time?

 

Sick of Myself

I promised myself I wouldn’t discuss my feelings about the work situation with S with any of my coworkers. Not only is it unprofessional, but it’s gossipy and bitchy and trust-eroding, and I don’t want to be or do any of those things. For weeks, I’ve risen above the occasional impulse to compare notes with certain coworkers, and I’ve felt really good about that. But today I caved to old bad habits and I feel almost sick about it.

It was the end of the day and coworkers F and J were discussing the new full-time guy. For some reason, I couldn’t swallow back the poison words, “Yeah, but I’m just relieved S didn’t get the position. I don’t think she could have handled it.” Though J seemed surprised to hear this, F readily agreed. And I think that’s exactly why I said something in the first place — I suspected F saw things much how I saw them in regards to S, and I was desperate to feel like someone else recognized and was disgruntled with the same things as me. We talked a bit about the day S tried to go home early and it was clear from F’s words and expressions that she also felt the entire affair was ridiculous.

But, almost immediately, I regretted my mouthiness. F’s comments did not provide me comfort or validation. Instead, I just felt deeply disappointed with myself. Something inside of me began to feel curdled and rank. I was unsettled by my relative lack of discretion and saddened by the sort of impression I’d surely set of myself. This person — the kind who will talk behind your back, who’ll badmouth others, who’s quietly waiting to bare her fangs while projecting a friendly countenance — is not the kind of person I want to be, especially not in a work enviroment where teamwork is key.

Perhaps my sin is not so grave. Perhaps I’m overreacting in the face of human nature and weakness. I’ve been known to be brutally hard on myself while giving the rest of the world a wide berth. But right now, I don’t like myself much, and I fear my carelessness has cast me in a certain jaundiced light from which I’ll be unable to extract myself. Yes, this too is part of who I am — given to idle gossip and venting that is sometimes inappropriate. My intentions are never hurtful, rather they come from a sense of woundedness and injustice, a desire for validation of my feelings. But the road to hell, they say, is paved with good intentions, and there are healthier, more constructive ways of dealing with and validating thorny emotions.

I like to think that this misguided part of me is the lesser portion of who I am, that I am, by and large, a kind, considerate, helpful individual who just wants to get along with everyone she can. But who will see and believe that aspect of me if I can’t control those lesser impulses? Learning to transcend, to rise above, is tough business. At the moment, I don’t feel I’m doing very well at it.

I know the mistake I made is a reletively meager one in the realm of misdeeds. I know I am probably scrutinizing my actions far more severely than the other two people involved are, if it all. And I know that holding fast to my sense of wrongness, beating myself senseless with it and grasping ahold of it as proof of my inherent badness, will only make matters worse for me. I realize I need to take note then let it go, give it up to the universe and show even my faults some compassion. Acceptance and self-kindness, I know, are the only ways to truly nuture change.

But right now the ramifications of my loose lips lay heavy like a brick lodged in my heart. No matter how slight the act, I’ve let myself and my beliefs down. Hopefully, I can relax enough to accept the disappointment and the foolishness, and take it all in as a learning lesson that makes me stronger, wiser, and kinder, to myself and others.