Be That Person!

If you have no friends, be a friend to yourself.

If you have suffered abuse, be a comfort to the abused.

If you have no therapist or medications to get you through, educate yourself and care for your own mind.

If you just can’t make it one more day, realize you have already made it past yesterday.

If you can not control a triggered-situation, control how much you let it affect you.

Mental healing is not flowers and butterflies enlightenment, it is re-living pain again and again and again. It is gallon-drums filled with tears. It is gut-wrenching cries in the middle of the night. It is stopping yourself from that overdose. It is removing yourself from stressful situations. It is not a vacation from reality, but years upon years of extremely hard work and determination to be a better person than you were yesterday.

You are the only one who can do this for you. Be THAT person, because you are the only one who will.

Pruning The Trees

Pruning trees is similar to mental healing. When we cut off what is constantly wasting our emotional energy, we can focus that energy on being more productive people.

I have just started gardening this year. It is a legacy now thrust upon my siblings and me with the recent passing away of our Dad. As far back as I can remember, Dad always had a garden full of vegetables and trees full of fruit. He and Mom would can what they could and often had so many extras they either sold the veggies or gave them away.

I was very young when Dad became disabled at work. Soon after followed alcoholism and depression. Gardening became the perfect rehabilitation for him, because he found a way to be productive even though he could no longer being home a paycheck. He passed away this year, at age 86, after being sober for over 35 years.

I wish I had learned more from Dad about gardening than I did. He spent so much time out there, and I think I understand why. For me, and I assume him as well, there is so much serenity found in those early morning sun rises. Even pulling weeds from the ground is gratifying to me, and helps curb my anxiety. The little garden we started in his and mom’s memory is flourishing. Dad left a long legacy of plants and trees we will now need to care for. So far, so good.

Among the trees are a pair of overly tall Bartlett Pears. One of the trees this year has produced some small fruit that is already trying to ripen. The other tree has no fruit at all, and is full of green leaves. With some ill-positioned grape vines nearby, as well as blackberry bushes heavy with fruit too close to it, it really didn’t stand a chance. This past week I have spent pulling everything apart. I have cut back the grapevines and blackberry bushes. Today, I freed the bare pear tree completely from the overgrowth.

The next step will be pruning the two pear trees in late Winter. The plan is to cut the trunks down so that more energy will pour into producing good fruit. These poor trees have already spent too much energy trying to grow up and out of all that was trying to pull them down. I found an analogy in all of this. Much like someone pruning a fruit tree, our own energies need to often be rerouted.

We must prune our own metaphorical trees, the ones in our minds. If vines of relationship issues keep wrapping around our branches, those ties can be severed. If our thorny past failures rise up to remind us of who we used to be, they can be pulled away and better managed another time. And when we feel completely cut off, suffering in the loneliest moments, we have an opportunity to focus our energy in becoming more productive.

Mental healing and growth do not happen overnight. It takes years of finding what works for us, because we all heal so very differently. The two pear trees I mentioned may not even bare any fruit for quite a while because of the severe pruning, but that’s okay because they will still be growing. And I can almost bet once they get actually bloom, they will bare the best tasting pears in town!

P. S. Thanks, Dad.

Mountains out of Molehills

I am so very guilty of making “Mountains out of Molehills.” For those who may not understand this phrase, it means to make a big deal out of nothing based on one’s own perception. In psychology terms, it covers several of the 15 Most Common Cognitive Distortions (Grohol, J.), and happens to be bipolar’s favorite getaway spot! Without getting too far into Beck & Burns’ list of common thinking errors, I will list just a few that I feel this mountain-building could fall under:

Filtering – Focusing too much on the negative part of a situation, a person is unable to see the positive.

Polarized Thinking – Extreme levels of ‘all or nothing’ thinking, ‘perfect or complete failure’, there is no in between.

Overgeneralization– If something bad happened before, it will happen again in a similar situation. Also recognized as “Triggered Thinking”.

Jumping to Conclusions– Toughest one for empaths, misreading someone else’s emotions and making assumptions based on previous experience. For example, assuming someone doesn’t like you even though you have never met.

Catastrophizing– Expecting the worst possible scenario, in the form of either maximizing or minimizing. This is where the “What if’s” come in.

Personalization– Feeling as though others must be talking about this one, or constantly comparing oneself to others to determine their own self-worth.

Control Fallacies– Externally, the person feels personally victimized if they are having a bad time; Internally, the person may feel as if they are the cause of someone else’s bad time. It’s all about who is in control.

Fairness Fallacies– Resentment for the unfairness of a situation, compared to what others may consider fair. Again, this is based on a person’s experience and own perception.

Blaming– This one is pretty cut and dry, blaming others for one’s emotional pain. “Stop depressing me!”

Should’s– Basing personal behaviors on a set of rules everyone must follow. If someone else breaks a rule, this person will be angry. If the person breaks their own rules, this person will feel guilty.

Emotional Reasoning– The absence of rationality and logic. “If I feel stupid, then I must be stupid” or “If I feel so strongly about this, it must be true” thinking.

Okay, that should give us a more clear picture of what thinking errors can do to those of us with bipolar. I often find myself experiencing many if not all of these all at once in a particularly intense situation. These cognitive distortions can cause a person to flat out reject others, or even themselves. They also have the potential to fuel both anxiety and anger in both parties of a heated argument. What we often forget is that not everyone else is actually feeling this way.

Our own perceptions are made of past experiences, our own self-esteem, and in what stage of healing we are. The other person has his or her own set of perceptions and perspective, too. That is something else we quickly forget. Having a reasonable perspective and respecting someone else’s is especially important in intimate relationships. We cannot reach harmony without understanding the feelings and reactions of the other person as part of who they are. This does not mean a person should allow another  to run them over, either. Setting healthy boundaries, ahead of time or in the middle of an intense situation, is the best way to control any emotionally-skewed thought or action.

I encourage you to read and learn more about common cognitive distortions. The more knowledge we gain understanding what causes us to behave a certain way empowers us to create more positive situation next time. Those molehills really are only molehills, and are more easily contained if we remember not to build on them.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2019). 15 Common Cognitive Distortions. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 22, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/15-common-cognitive-distortions/

Why I Should Have Died at Age 15

I have had a long life with mental illness. I will be 50 years old in a few weeks. The past 35 years should not have happened at all, because I should have died at age 15. I made multiple attempts to end my life, the first attempt was in 1985. I’ve always wondered why I never succeeded at killing myself. And I still rue the life I’ve had since then.

I really didn’t want much out of this life, because I believed I had already had enough pain and misery for a lifetime. I was groomed and molested by a pedophilic family member and became what he called his “girlfriend” at age 8. For two years, I was convinced that this was normal. The pain I felt and the secrecy he demanded were plenty for one little girl to process.

I had never heard of depression, or childhood sexual trauma, or anxiety. These things were never discussed in our house. I imagined multiple times what it would have been like, and what my life would have been like, had I told my parents. But instead, I played his psychotic games. I believed he loved me and when he told me I wouldn’t be good at anything else in life but giving sexual pleasure, I believed him.

I ended this sick “relationship” on my own, by convincing my parents that I was okay to be left alone at home while they visited this relative. By that time, I figured out that it was wrong. And I felt guilty for hiding 2 years of what he had done. Fast forward to age 15, I had already experienced the grief of “lost love”, and was bullied and ridiculed for years for being awkward and “ugly”. I truly believed I was a damaged human being, and deserved every insult thrown at me by my peers. For an added bonus, both of my first bosses at that age tried to get down my pants. I had to quit both of those jobs, but never offered an explanation to my parents.

It was then that I experienced the taunting and raging of my own voice in my head, and my bipolar illness dug its claws in deep. If this was going to be what life was like for me, I didn’t want it to continue. The only companion I had was in my own mind. And she treated me just like everyone else did. Cursing at me, belittling me, and enjoying me being stupid and helpless.

Can you imagine what life was like after multiple attempts at suicide, and always living thru them? Life was unfair and cruel, and I was a broken person. It’s almost laughable now at how many times I really tried to die and ended up on suicide watch in the psych ward instead. It was almost as if I was put on this earth to be miserable. Anti-depressants only helped for a little while, and don’t get me started on my choice of therapists.

I had no intention on becoming an adult. As far as I was concerned, I had no future. I didn’t have dreams or aspirations to become anything else but my miserable, broken self. I never wanted to marry. And, more importantly, I didn’t want to bring children into this world. I was afraid, even back then, that any kids I would have would be just as messed up as I was.

Fast forward again, 10 years this time. I was married to a classic narcissist and foolishly had 3 kids. Because he was so physically, psychologically and verbally abusive and manipulative, he broke the kids’ spirits, as well as mine. This seemed perfectly normal to me for the most part. When I would question why I would have ever birthed children into this madness, he would always turn it back on me. I was the one blamed for anything that went wrong. It couldn’t have been him, because he was perfect.

Suicide was always there. Every single day of my life, I woke up angry because I was given more heartbeats and breath for another day of living in hell. When I begged him to let us go, he refused. When I tried to leave with the kids, he would stop me. One time, I told him I wanted to die, and he handed me a butcher knife and told me to go ahead and kill myself with it & he wanted to watch. I will never forget the excited smile he wore that day.

Thankfully, the kids and I went to DCFS, and he went to jail. He has been out of our lives for 8 years now. All 3 kids have been diagnosed the same as me, with bipolar and ptsd. I have full custody of them. I made sure they have had medication and counseling right along with me. Since I’m a pro at having bipolar and also an empath, I know when my kids are not doing well. I guess having those extra senses are what saved us.

This is why I still believe I shouldn’t be here. And these 3 wonderful and loving and beautiful human beings in my charge shouldn’t be either. I love all three of them so much, but not enough to save them from a lifetime of pain and misery. They would not have had to go thru the hell of having a psychotic father. Nor would they have had to deal with bipolar and ptsd, alongside their mother. I feel like I screwed up life for all 4 of us. I have made their lives more difficult than they needed to be. And, simply, if I could do it all over again, I would have died at age 15.

Pain-Worms

I wish I had the luxury you have,

To ignore your words and pain.

I wish I could pull them out

Of this scattered, seething brain.

But each of your words becomes a worm,

Colorful and wiggling through the space,

Finding like colors for its device,

Crouches down, hidden, in such a tiny place.

Someone else will throw in more worms,

And little do they realize,

I have no space to put their worms,

So they seek yours, to become, a whole new set of lies.

Soon they will encompass every aspect of my day,

Laughing at my crying fits, and anger just insane!

Someone needs to come back and collect their worms!

Cries for peace from this maddening storm, of course,

are all in vain.

If you knew what your pain-worms did to me,

Would you throw yours in, as well?

Who am I kidding? Of course you would!

For this is my living hell!

Purpose of Existence

*language & trigger warnings*

In the quiet of her room, she waits for the same morning dialogue. No one is speaking to her but the bully in her brain. Forced to feel those tears forming in the corners of her eyes. Forced to feel the warm burn in her sinuses of those impending tears. Trying desperately to recall something good from yesterday to counteract the oncoming attack. But, the bully is restless and relentless. The bully has had all night to conjure up her daily criticisms. The bully reminds her of how worthless she really is. The bully laughs at her tears and continues, “Useless, emotional wreck, too much for anyone, naïve and too trusting, look at you now, what a piece of work you are! You are still alone and you will always be that way because you are just a scared little piece of shit. You’ve made too many mistakes that can never be corrected, caught up in so many lies you will never know the truth. Why are you still here? You haven’t had a purpose in years”.
She continues to wait and listen to her bully’s words. The same words have been spewed for years, over and over just rearranged. She notices how much the bully is really trying today, trying to break her again and again. She feels sorry for her bully, instead of resentment, as she listens internally.
“What is it going to take today? Huh? How can I convince you that you just need to end all of this? Think about what it will feel like without my voice cutting you every day. You want to end that, don’t you? Stupid child! That’s all you are. Worthless, stupid piece of shit! No wonder they all hurt you! That’s your sole purpose in life, to be used up and discarded like the trash that you are! And I am forced to exist in this parallel world because you had to grow a conscience! But that’s okay. I’ll just make you suffer more and more every day until I break you. And I will. I have before and I will again. And again…and…again.”
The bully’s words are just a little more than a whisper now as she writes. It really is a sad existence for the bully, swimming around in a sea of her unconsciousness. Caught in tiny traps in dark corners, waiting for her guard to be down so she can attack again. She knows why the bully is the way she is. She accepts her as part of herself because without her bully, she wouldn’t be who she is. Her bully lives in her darkest side, waiting for those tears to fall. The bully waits to hear silence, she doesn’t expect a reply. But today is different, because she has something to say back to her bully.
“I hear you”, she replies. “I acknowledge your existence as part of myself. The words you speak are my words. The screams of terror you hold are mine. The unrequited love you lost is mine. The feelings of being unloved and unkind are mine. The memories of standing on the edge of death are mine. Those regrets are mine, too. The halls of my mind is where you live. You would have no words to cry if I didn’t give them to you. You wouldn’t exist without a purpose. I know my purpose is to live so that you exist, so that you are heard, and you are acknowledged. I live and I go on because you and I are the same. I exist because you exist, and you live through me. We wouldn’t be who we are if we didn’t have each other. So, bring on our words! Bring on the pain of our ruthless words, because I know that’s how you survive. I will keep listening and living in spite of those words, and I will keep us both alive.”

~Anita~

Amygdala: Flighty and Fight-y

Oh, Amygdala! You and your autonomically-crazy ways! It is there, in the underside’s most active part of the human brain, that you serve as the epicenter of fear, processor of hormones, dispatcher of memories and nesting place of mental disorders. Bipolar, as one of those disorders, rides on your coat-tails of gripping-red-alert-bells-and-whistled warnings of an oncoming threat out of literally nowhere. So, what shall I be today, flighty or fight-y? Or should I say, what shall I be in the next 10 seconds?

When faced with a trigger: a memory, a song, someone else’s demeanor or appearance, any situation can go from controlled to catastrophe without warning. It is the nature of this beast. Those who have bipolar know and understand that it is not about a real physical threat to our safety in that moment, but a loss of control over our emotional response. Past experiences will identify something as an eminent threat to our emotions and then the chemical reaction begins. Adrenaline kicks in. Heart is pounding. Breathing becomes shallow. Muscles tighten. These reactions are automatic, meaning we ourselves have nothing to do with it, much like the rhythm of our hearts. The amygdala is doing what the amygdala does. What sets us apart from anyone with a “normal brain”, is what we do next.

Location and Function of the Amygdala

In the middle of a tensely triggered situation, I tend to throw myself into fight-y mode. I am not thinking rationally. I am not considering the feelings of others. I am looking for a way to dump all of my emotions out on the table all at once, and then running away somewhere to hide from its repercussions. And even though I feel there cannot possibly be any fight left in me and I feel like such a coward for the flight, that willingness to get past it and become functional again is still there.

There is the difference between Bipolar and Bipolar 2. For the most part, my hypomania and depressive episodes are shorter lived, and I am still able to function somewhat normally. This is very different from when I was first diagnosed in 1985. My illness has evolved because of other factors introduced over the years: abuse (in all forms), hospitalization, suicide attempts, etc. I became a wife and a mother. My priorities changed because I no longer have the luxury of running away and wallowing in my emotions.

It is not that I have control over my amygdala, because none of us do. However, I have learned through cognitive behavioral therapy how to reshape my thinking processes. I know that when my bells-and-whistles start sounding, it is time to sit down and analyze the situation. I start by trying to slow down my physical symptoms of rapid-shallow-breathing and adrenaline. Deep breathing techniques, tapping, and using my 5 senses to ground myself are used interchangeably. I will use whichever method is most effective at that moment, or all of them if I need to.

Then the critical thinking begins: Facts? Evidence? Logic?  I have to make a conscious effort to weed out what is true from all of the other emotional mess I am wallowing in. This is not always easy to do when you have no rationality. Everything may feel like a fact, even when it isn’t. There has to be some element of common sense we can tap into. Things like “I am a screw-up”, “I will always feel this way”, “I annoy people with my illness”, “I am hopeless”…are not facts, but assumptions and over-generalizations. If you heard someone else saying these things about themselves, would you sit back and agree? Of course you wouldn’t. We have to care for ourselves just as much if not more than we do our loved ones and friends, because you and I are the only ones who truly understand our own thinking.

And do you know why that is? Because we actually deserve care too. The average “normal” person will not be going to therapy, taking psych medicines, learning coping skills and such because it is not required of them to function in a “normal” society. Bipolar not only affects us internally, but has a way of rearing its ugly head to the general public and to those closest to us. Our meltdowns do not make great first impressions! And even if we do not care about how our meltdowns affect others, mismanaged internal pain will have lasting repercussions. It is much like swallowing poison on purpose, because essentially that is exactly what it is.

Although you and I cannot control the natural processes of the amygdala, we can control where it takes us. If we must be flighty, and cower in a corner to protect ourselves from internal damage, it will happen. If we become fight-y, and scream and unload and vent to let out our internal damage, that is going to happen too. How long we choose to stay in these modes is the ONLY part we can control.

Mindfulness or Selfishness?

There are two parts of my mental journey that I have trouble telling apart, when I’m being mindful of my boundaries and when I’m being selfish. With PTSD & Bipolar it seems anything has the potential to be a trigger. Emotional reactions to situations while at the mercy of the chemical processes often end in disaster. That is why it is important to understand what triggers us and avoid those situations if possible. In almost any given situation I have the power to walk away from a trigger. If I can’t walk away, then I can choose how much I let it affect me. I consider this be the essence of my own mindfulness, knowing that I have what it takes inside to either learn, change or leave. But when it involves another person and their own mental issues, when does it become selfishness?

Is it selfish to set boundaries, or let someone know when they have crossed them? I am asking myself these questions too, because along with everything else going on in this mind of mind, I am also an empath. I can feel what others are feeling, emotionally. I consider this ability to be both a blessing and a curse. Because while it does help me to be a more relatable person, I can also sense when I’ve crossed someone else’s line. I have always wished to be assertive, setting my personal boundaries, and gaining respect when I make a stand. I am everything but assertive. I worry as much about crossing others as I fear losing their respect because I didn’t stand up for myself. Having a fear of confrontation and violence certainly does not help in interpersonal relationships. I end up folding every time I am dealt that hand.

All of this came to light in recent events. I had a housemate who was also my best friend. She lived with me and my boys while she cared for both of my parents at the end of their lives. I could literally talk to her about anything. She always listened, gave the best hugs, and helped me through the worst of my grief. Because I was caught up in the obligation I thought I had, she stayed with us even after my Dad passed away and moved with us into the family home. But when she lost her job because of Dad’s passing, she became very depressed and withdrawn. She didn’t leave her room and did nothing to help out around the house, but pay the water bill. Before too long, she changed into something that reminded me of my ex-husband. She became verbally abusive, started blasting my boys on social media every time they woke her or made any kind of noise, and disrespected our family home by screaming and slamming things around. Ouch! Huge triggers!

I endured her behavior as long as I could, because I knew she was grieving too. The empath in me knew. But her outbursts also started affecting the mental health of my boys. Mama Bear Mode kicked in, and I kicked her out of our house. I was not nice about it either, because I used social media to unleash my anger on her. Perhaps that wasn’t the best of choices, but it was the most effective tool I could come up with at the time. I needed to scream, to release my anger and tears with the hopes that out of all the people who saw my post, someone would actually hear my cries for help. I didn’t think anyone would believe me, just like when they ignored our years of abuse at the hands of my ex. I later deleted the whole post, but I know that will never make it disappear. And now I am still grieving the loss of yet another best friend. I’m sure you understand why I often feel the problem lies within me.

But is it really selfish for me to set boundaries, especially when it involves the mental health of my kids? Or is it mindful and protective of me to do so? If I know from experience that I fall easily into patterns of abuse, is it wrong to stand strong against the red flags I find? Of course it isn’t. Being empathic forces me to hold back my anger for fear of stepping on someone else’s eggshells. But, I have wasted too much of my own energy on that over the years. Each of us is responsible for our own issues, and I am only responsible for my own. These days I try to avoid inevitable emotional explosions by just not getting too close to people anymore. While this method does help me focus on my own healing, I miss not talking to someone every day. I crave companionship, comradery, and being comfortable just being myself. For now, I will just write about it.

My Bully

This bully of mine, the one in my head,
Pushes the agenda that I’m better off dead.
I know she is there, and I know she is me,
But she doesn’t see the hope that I see.
Through harrowing moments in our perilous life,
My bully, like a dire dog, lapped up the strife.
Its acid’s made her bitter, its pain left her cold. Her words to me are stinging more now that we are old.
This road we have traveled, has no end we see.
But that’s okay, I’ll hold my hope, while she stays part of me.
💜