Quickie: A Hundred Pounds of Rocks in the Tour (Not So Literally); Ballet Dreams (Literally)

I’m taking a more conservative approach than I have in the past to managing my bipolar disorder.

This means that I haven’t returned to a three-classes-per-week schedule yet, or even a two-classes-per-week schedule. I wanted to go to class last night and did not feel ready, end of story. I need to learn to listen to that voice or reason, even though sometimes it feels like it’s standing between me and my dreams and goals.

I try to tell myself, instead, that it’s like not pushing yourself too hard on the bike when you’re recovering from a serious physical illness (like the last time I had pneumonia, or the time I broke my leg). You have to build back into it with a modicum of caution. Sometimes that means it takes longer to reach your goals than you had hoped.

Dottie (my therapist) and I talked about a similar thing yesterday. I found myself telling her about how frustrating and sometimes disheartening it is when this whole bipolar thing throws me off the rails, and how I sometimes really resent my difficulties instead of really appreciating what I can do; what I am doing. We also talked about how I tend to forget that I am living with a serious mental illness; one that can be really debilitating.

We wound up with this crazy Tour de France analogy: living with this is like riding the Tour de France with a hundred pounds of rocks in your chamois. The Tour isn’t easy for anyone, but it’s really freaking hard when you’re carrying a hundred pounds of rocks (or maybe when you’re the domestique and you have to carry … all … the water bottles?!)…

Terrible drawing of domestique hauling all the bottles.

Here is a high-quality graphical rendering, replete with cheering fan, to help you visualize this concept. (An oldie, but a goodie! You might remember this from last TourMonth July, in fact.)

Riding the Tour with a hundred pounds of rocks doesn’t mean you don’t get there. It does mean maybe you don’t ride all of every stage, or maybe sometimes you don’t ride a given stage at all. It certainly means that you’re probably going to finish each stage long after the crowds have gone home.

It means that, if you’re smart, you might be willing to accept some help — maybe a motor to get you up Mount Ventoux, maybe a partner to carry some of your rocks when you’re really struggling. Maybe an extra book of matches or two.

Maybe, sometimes, you even stop halfway through a stage and climb into the team car.

Maybe you try medication. That’s why they make medication.

In short, carrying a hundred pounds of rocks on the Tour takes a hard job and makes it harder. It makes you reassess your goals. When you’re carrying that load, there’s no way on Earth you’re going to win — not even if you ride the best eBike in the world and hop yourself up on so much EPO and caffeine that your veins stick out like the Alps on a topographical map. Instead, making it to the finish becomes a goal worth achieving — in fact, sometimes, just making it to the end of the day is a victory.

Anyway. I didn’t mean to wax on about that for quite so long. I meant to write about literal ballet dreams.

Lately I dream about ballet all the time — that is, about dancing. Literally, it’s like I’m practicing in my dreams on the days I don’t do class (and, in fact, these dreams often take place on the nights following would-be class days; I should say will-be class days, because I will work back into it). Last night I had a long, long dream entirely devoted to perfecting the very simple combination (demi-petite allegro? ;)) from Margie’s class on Saturday — tombé – pas de bourrée – glissade – assemblé.

It was kind of a dream about mastery, I guess, and about confidence. And also about the fact that my arms are a heck of a lot less awkward than they used to be.

It was, in fact, a pretty cool dream. I love dancing, and my dreams are extremely vivid, so it was like having the opportunity to dance for a long, long time on a day that I didn’t get to dance in my waking life.

It will be interesting to see if the dream in question has, in fact, acted as practice. There’s good evidence supporting the hypothesis that athletes (including, presumably, dancers) are not just exercising their egos (a nebulous concept at best) when they use concentrated visualization, but actually firing the neural circuits they would fire when performing the athletic task in question*.

Anyway, today I’m feeling fairly okay, I think. The challenge is not to tip myself back over into mania. People who do not suffer from bipolar disorder often imagine mania to be a pleasant state, and it can be — but for me, mania is often “black,” characterized by immense irritability, agitation, expolosive rage, near-psychotic paranoia (though I suppose I don’t really talk about this: because it’s only near-psychotic, I know it’s irrational, so I simply try not to give in to it), and a restlessness that prevents the completion of even the simplest tasks.

I know I’m not “better” yet, not quite back on an even keel, because I’m not feeling much need to sleep and I keep forgetting to eat (among other things). But I’m at least close enough to earth orbit to be getting stuff done, and the agitation and anger have passed for the moment. I’m into the kind of hypomania that can be very pleasant (Lots of energy! Reasonably positive mood! The ability to talk about things! Fast but not totally out-of-control streams of thought! Accomplishing lots of tasks! Wild productivity! Not so much total inability to feel the presence of G-d!) as long as I don’t let it get out of hand.

Okay, well. This is now much, much longer than I intended for it to be — but I guess it’s illustrative, nonetheless.

So far, I’m feeling kind of okay about being more open in this blog. Recently I had a long and awesome conversation with another person with bipolar disorder who seems to experience her disorder in much the same ways that I experience mine, and that was very heartening in a totally unexpected kind of way.

If even one other reader stumbles across my ramblings and goes, “Hey, this sounds really familiar. Maybe it’s not just me,” and it helps … well, that would be really awesome, and make it all very worthwhile.

*Non-athletes do this as well, as far as I know. I believe there have been some studies of this process in musicians. I’ll have to see if I can dig them up.

About asher

Me in a nutshell: Standard uptight ballet boy. Trapeze junkie. Half-baked choreographer. Budding researcher. Transit cyclist. Terrible homemaker. Neuro-atypical. Fabulous. Married to a very patient man. Bachelor of Science in Psychology (2015). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

Posted on 2014/07/10, in balllet, bipolar, life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Without getting too personal, I’ll just say it’s not just you… About the dancing dreams, the mania, etc. Also, for every person that comments I’ll bet plenty are reading and nodding their heads.

    • Thanks. It really means a lot to hear that. It’s funny how you can feel really alone with something, and sort of hold on to it for so long, and then you mention it and discover that, surprisingly, you’re not so alone after all!

      It makes a much greater difference than I would have expected just knowing people “get” it.

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