Category Archives: bipolar
A Thing I’m Slowly Figuring Out
I tend to try maintain an aura of ebullient optimism.
I’m aware that I lead a relatively charmed life, in which I’m permitted by circumstance to pursue a fairly impractical set of goals, and to mention that I still struggle seems a bit like spitting right into the face of good fortune.
But I do still struggle, and I’m beginning to understand something, which is this: living a life in which I’m not forced to do work that grinds my soul to powder, in which the work I do is work that I enjoy, doesn’t alter the fact that my mental health is a little fragile and that history and genetics have conspired to place me on a narrow bridge that spans a yawning chasm.
Rather, the life I’m living acts as a kind of safety harness, so that when–not if–I go plummeting off my bridge, I can eventually climb back up, or at any rate be hauled back up by people who love me.
I am capable of periods of immense creative productivity, but they’re interspersed with periods in which merely surviving is still all I can do. Those periods of mere survival are made easier to bear by the knowledge that I won’t have to return, as soon as I’m barely able, to work that will inevitably accelerate the arrival of the next plunge off the bridge.
Because D carries the vast majority of the weight of the financial responsibility of keeping us afloat, I’m able to get up and walk along my bridge for long periods, when in the past I rarely made it beyond the clinging-and-crawling-along-the-edges phase before I slipped again.
I don’t make much money doing what I do, but I usually have enough energy left over to keep our house comfortable to live in and to cook good food.
Sunday Class: Grand! Allegro
I woke far earlier than I intended and in an increasingly terrible mood. Headed to class once again figuring I’d just do barre.
I wound up staying for the whole thing, including a nice grand allegro. I got to whipout my Pas de Chat Italien for the first time in months. W00t!
In fact, as a whole, class was pretty good—even petit allegro, during which I managed to do acceptable petit assemblés. We also did the glissade-jeté x8, glissade-jeté x4, glissade-jeté, glissade-jeté, changement, changement, reverse, repeat combination that I enjoy because, frankly, it’s the only piece of petit allegro I reliably do well 😜
The fact that I can do it at all is fantastic: my foot held up through everything.
Anyway, I’m home now and much more relaxed, if still operating on a short fuse. Basically, I have no frustration tolerance today.
On the way home it occurred to me that I might get along with myself better if I accepted that my brain chemistry does this sometimes, and that rather than trying to change that, I can do things to keep myself from making life horrible for other people when it happens.
Maybe down the road I’ll mellow out or learn to down-regulate these moods. For now, though, just getting out of the way makes sense .
A Map We Can Never Lose, Or, The Dangerous Times Are The Ones When Everything Seems Fine
Content and language warnings on this one. Sorry, guys.
I’m in a weird place right now.
On one hand, I’m doing better than I have at this time of year in a while.
Fall and winter … okay, and spring … are hard for me. The whole range is loaded with difficult memories, and winter does all kinds of crazy stuff to brain chemistry. Crushing depressions studded with dizzying manias are more or less the norm.
While late summer is potentially the most dangerous season—that period when any Summer Mania shifts into agitated depression—but the winter is full of a trifecta of suck: crappy health, crappy brain chemistry, and really effing bad memories.
This year, I’m having less general trouble with the brain chemistry than usual. I’m not going to say that I’m not depressed; I am probably at least a bit depressed in the neurochemical sense. On the other hand, dancing and cirque-ing and having an actual supportive network of friends in meatspace helps, as does getting the house back in order and baking a bunch of delicious stuff all the time. Seriously, you guys, when something I cook makes D happy, the effect is weirdly magical.
Because of cirque, Winter Ballet Break doesn’t mean an abrupt halt to all the physical activity that helps keep the volume of the peaks and troughs in my brain chemistry a little lower.
I’m putting the rest of this behind a cut, y’all, partly so you have a choice about it, but also partly because it makes me feel less weird about writing about it.
In Which Driving Is Surprisingly Exhausting
I took a day off today — perhaps imprudently, perhaps not. I am an intensely driven person whose drive occasionally gives way to sheer, unrepentant laziness.
Fortunately, that rarely lasts more than one day. Also, I suspect it may simply be the fatigue that visits itself upon me from time to time attempting to masquerade under a different name: if I call it laziness, I can pretend it’s a choice up until it really cripples me. Maybe taking the rest before it reaches that point is a better plan?
After all, sacrificing one day in order to save four or five makes sense to me. It’s a more efficient way to reach what I’m driving at.
That’s not what I’m talking about when I say that driving is exhausting, by the way — I mean sitting in the car for a day and a half, most of it at the wheel.
They(1) say that the brain uses about 25% of the energy one takes in just doing its job. Given the relentless focus required to drive more than a thousand miles amongst apparently homi-and suicidal weekend travelers, I don’t doubt it. Seven hours behind the wheel makes me about seven times as tired as seven hours in the studio.
Anyway, today I woke up at 8:45 AM (All by myself! No alarm clock needed!), briefly considered hitting up Modern class, then essentially said, “Ah, frack it all,” and settled down to read.
This concerns me slightly, as if today’s scheduled class was ballet, I would have gone. As such, I’m questioning whether I shouldn’t just re-devote Mondays to ballet, which in turn makes me feel partly like a quitter and partly like perhaps re-narrowing my focus won’t kill me. At the end of the day, Modern is great, but Ballet is the thing that sets my hair on fire. Right now, budgetary constraints force me to choose between them. It’s not an easy choice.
I opted not to invade the Monday morning ballet class for similar reasons — I guess it smacked of opting for the thing that you really want instead of the things you want less (Modern, rest) but which are good for you. Apparently my Inner Virtue Ethicist mistook ballet class for the Easy Way, and since said IVE values doing what is hard, perhaps it’s confused. I should remind it that ballet is quite hard enough, thank you very much.
In fact, now that I’m analyzing it to death, my inner conflict about this morning’s class, and the resulting decision, seems rather dumb. When ballet is the Thing You Do, how can it ever be wrong to go to class? But perhaps a rest day was, in fact, in order. The cat certainly approved.
I plan to try Friday class instead, at the beastly hour of 9 AM, since this week I’ll have today and tomorrow as rest days.
Tonight we’re taking the truck up to Elizabethtown, so evening class isn’t an option.
In the long run, there’s a part of me that feels like it’s foolish to give up a ballet class once a week to take modern once a week. It’s difficult to make much progress on such a constricted schedule; meanwhile, I’m going like gangbusters in terms of ballet progress.
I feel like there’s a decision pending that I don’t want to make because it shouldn’t have to be an either/or thing, but will remain so until we get our finances really hammered out. I suppose I’ll talk to BB about about it on Wednesday.
In other news, I just learned that a piece I submitted to a scholarly(2) anthology of autobiographical essays by queer athletes has been accepted! So that, at any rate, is quite exciting.
- Whoever “they” are (weasel words!). Can’t recall who exactly and can’t be bothered to look it up right now; laziness pervades.
- I kid you not, Autocorrupt suggested “sparkly” in place of “scholarly.” Though, to be fair, I for one am at least as sparkly as I am scholarly.
Nothing To Report
And I am about as happy about that as it’s possible to be.
Spent a relaxing day looking over (and then frantically revising, because I can’t leave well enough) a couple of things I wrote for Dr. Dancebelt, sent them along, reviewed things and updated old reviews on Amazon, kibitzed on the Tweeters, chatted about some camp inventory stuff with one of my fellow camp leads from Burning Man (who is also one of my favorite people, full-stop), and spent a bunch of time doing laundry, folding laundry, doing laundry, folding laundry. Ate some food, probably going to drink some decaf chai now. Waiting for the last load of laundry to finish drying, then I’m off to bed.
There is much to be said for a quiet day spent reading, writing, and folding things (I like folding things; it’s one of those jobs that has a clear start and end point, and when you’re done things are better than they were when you started).
More or less decided what to wear to tomorrow’s performance, which (as it will be for most of us) is less rehearsed and will be seen by more people than anything else I’ve done in the vein of performing arts (probably including all previous dance performances) simply by virtue of being part of a free outdoor festival. It may involve quite a bit of improv, but IDK, not worried about it.
I’m in that place, mentally, in which things appear to be improving, but I’m taking my optimism with a stiff dose of caution. Tomorrow might be a trial — not because of the performance itself, but because I should probably be cautious about how much I actually wind up interacting with humans.
Getting back into the regular rhythm of ballet, on the other hand, helps immensely. Looking forward to class tomorrow. I hope by then my trapezii and lats will be done being sore, though.
I don’t like the manic phases of my bipolar disorder very much, for the most part. The early on-ramp can be pretty nice sometimes — who wouldn’t want to feel amazingly capable and confident? — but it passes quickly into what I can only describe as overconfidence of psychotic (in the literal sense — that is, out of touch with reality) proportions and leaves me with a serious distrust of any moment of confidence I experience. And that doesn’t even begin to address the fact that, most often, I experience dysphoric or mixed manias, which are agitated, angry, and uncomfortable.
That said, I think dislike my depressions even more. Or maybe I don’t; maybe I just think that I do, in the moment. The worst thing you’re experiencing right now is always the worst thing you’re experiencing right now.
Anyway, this is a depression like so many others I’ve experienced. I wake up every morning (or, today, afternoon — thanks, sleep meds) and lie in bed until I either have to haul my ass to class or, if I don’t have class, until I feel like I can no longer put off getting up.
Then I get up and start pushing the boulder uphill.
Often my depressions are agitated ones: I feel restless and like I need to keep moving; I feel vaguely angry almost all the time. Days during those depressions still begin the same way, though; it’s the end that’s different. I end those days dreading the moment that I have to get back into bed.
This depression is different. It’s the end of each day, really, that makes it different. Instead of dreading the moment that I have to lie down again, I look forward to it as a kind of reprieve. After I do the things that need to be done, or at least least the portion of them that I can manage, I can return to my bed, which is still safe and quiet. I find myself counting the minutes until I can justify returning to bed, even though sleeping is hard.
Normally I take some solace in pushing the boulder. It doesn’t matter that it’s just going to roll back down (and possibly over me) when I stop; it’s still evidence that there is something left of my strength and resilience; that I am still capable of getting up and living.
Here, too, this depression is different. With the exception of going to class, which I continue to do because I know that failing to do it would ultimately be worse for me, there is no sense of satisfaction in pushing the boulder.
If anything, there’s a kind of wariness. I start my climb and I burn too many matches; I dip into the next day’s supply.
After a while, I come to a day like this one, when I haven’t received a fresh supply and don’t know when one will come and I’m looking at a box with two measly matches in and knowing that today’s responsibilities will require more than just those two.
And all I want to do is stay here in bed and go back to sleep.
What will probably actually happen is that I’ll steal kindling from the cooking fire: I’ll build a kind of torch out of my remaining resources so any time I need a match, I’ll already have fire. In literal reality, this means running on an ocean of caffeine, knowing that tomorrow I’ll have even less energy than I do today.
The problem is that, at at the end of the day, this will leave me with even less with which to recharge myself, and then tomorrow I will have no matches and perhaps no cooking fire (in fact, I will definitely have no cooking fire if I don’t remember to save a match).
If this goes on long enough without some down time time to gather kindling and wood and without a resupply of matches, eventually a day will come on which I can’t push the boulder; a day on which the boulder and I stay in bed, camped at the base of the hill.
I write this in an attempt to understand what I’m doing to myself. In an attempt to grant myself a little grace for days like this one. In an attempt to consider whether or not it might be better to take the direct path of simply sitting with my boulder until more matches come.
Sometimes depression turns happy promises into bitter ones. In a good moment, on a good day, you promise your friends and yourself that you will come to this event or or that gathering. Then the appointed hour arrives and you find that your choices are to go and accept that the cost will be excruciatingly high … or to break the promises. Both these choices are bitter: both will leave you worse off than you were.
Today is one of those days for bitter choices.
That’s it for now.
On Being Simultaneously Okay and Not Okay
I have, once again, rather fallen into the habit of perkily reporting on my ballet is adventures whilst staunchly neglecting one of the other legs of this ostensibly-tripedal blog: the bipolar part.
That said, I suspect that I often do this when I’m struggling. Keeping a stiff upper lip (which, no joke, autocorrupt wanted to parse as “soft, upset lip”) was a central tenet of my upbringing. I am a Yankee of the old school by birth and breeding; we’re supposed to be stoic and taciturn and to solve our problems by regarding them severely from beneath or beetling brows, or what have you.
I think part of me still believes that As Long As I Don’t Say It’s Happening, It’s NOT Happening.
…Which is almost hilariously untrue.
I’ve noticed that I do this to Denis: often he doesn’t hear that I’ve hit a rough patch until either A) I’m on the third or fourth consecutive night with less than six hours of sleep, B) I’m curled up in a ball.on the kitchen floor literally trying to hold myself together when he arrives home from work, C) I’m curled up as in B whilst freaking out about A, or D) I melt down completely, hit full-on fight/flight mode, and proceed to get in a fight with with the oven or the cupboard door or some other highly-threatening inanimate object.
I suppose, dear readers, that I do this to you as well. And that I have been.
As a whole Burning Man was great this year — but there was also a thing that happened which cut too close to old wounds and very much re-awakened the part of of me that is aggressively hypervigilant. This has made coping with the transition back to my normal routine immensely difficult.
Couple that with a couple of extremely-stressful situations at home, add a shot of hormonal chaos and the inevitable weirdness that crops up as the seasons change, and everything has gone right to Helena Handbasket (she’s a busy lady, that one).
So I haven’t really slept in several days, and now I’m debating whether I should try to go to 9:00 class or try to sleep. It probably says a great deal about the situation that I’m not so much worried about whether or not I can dance — in my current state, I’ve noticed, I always get a miraculous little hit of energy as I belly up to the barre — but whether or not I can drive.
Part of me considers it surprising that I can lie here and write about this lightly and humorously. It feels like hell. I’m getting through it a few minutes at a time, an hour at a time, by mindfulness: that is, by the practice of reeling my monkey mind in when it starts to go “OH G-D OH G-D I CAN’T LIVE LIKE THIS I JUST CAN’T I AM NEVER GOING TO BE ABLE TO SLEEP AGAIN ETC” with the knowledge that I don’t and can’t know the future, but I’m here now, and this is, in the famous words of Avenue Q, “…only for now.”
I remind myself that I might still feel feel like this in ten minutes or I might not, but that right here, right now, I can sit with this — with fury or despair or anger or terror or sorrow or wrath — and just experience it without either judging the experience or buying into the idea that it will never never end.
It will and it won’t.
The stream of arising phenomena is unending, and so it shall be until the universe cools or torches itself or we all reach Nirvana or Messiah comes (“… I apologize that I took so long…”)
In the calmer moments, like now, when I’m not actively frothing at the mouth, this is a comforting thing to think about. In the other moments, it’s at least something that lets me hang on until.
Meanwhile, I know that getting back to class on a regular basis will help, which right now feels like a Catch-22 (How can I get to class if I don’t start sleeping? How can I sleep of I don’t make all all my classes*?), but I remind myself: that’s only right now. It will come.
- *Physical exhaustion is still the only reliable way to manage my insomnia.
Anyway, I’m finally feeling feeling like I might actually be able to sleep a little. Maybe I’ll make class, maybe I won’t. That’s in the future ,and i can’t live there, but I can live here.
Anyway, there’s always noon class.
Bonne nuit, et bonne chance.
Live Broadcast from a Sinkhole?
Today I was going to write about choreography, but instead I’m going to write about depression again.
In fact, I have an entire post about choreography almost ready to go, but I don’t feel up to finishing it.
So here we are.
This morning I woke up, which is to say that I finally and begrudgingly relinquished my grasp on a 10-hour sleep marathon, in a bad way.
Not that I’ve exactly been in a great way, so to speak — though I keep sorta faking it on facebook and in other areas of my life where it doesn’t make sense to let the depression leak on too many things, as one does.
It’s just that the sheer calibre of this particular depression has shot from “fairly mild” to “crushing” overnight.
By way of analogy, it reminds me of a thing that happened a couple of years ago. One day I was riding my bike up to the Highlands for one reason or another and was flabbergasted to discover that, literally overnight, an enormous sinkhole had swallowed someone’s front yard, a mature full-sized tree, and about a quarter of a fairly large intersection. (Fortunately, no one was hurt.)
Needless to say, it was a shock. I had ridden past the same spot the day before, and everything was normal. This happens here, from time to time, thanks to a highly-porous limestone substrate and lots of underground water.
That’s kind of how this thing is going for me. Like the forces of whatever have been gnawing away at me from underneath, silent and unseen, and at last the surface has given way. So now I just wait it out, I guess.
The upside is that I wouldn’t say that it’s quite reached the “crippling” point. I am still capable of getting up and going to class and dancing. I thought I was supposed to teach today, but it turns out we didn’t have class because my co-teacher is in Massachusetts (should’ve known that; didn’t think to offer to teach class by myself — that’s probably okay).
I spent this morning at Open Fly making dances: one to Adele’s “Hello,” one to Jeff Buckley’s stellar cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” one of the few covers that I like better than the original artist’s version or, in this case, versions. The dance-making went well (if less modern and more ballet-influenced than I intended). I could move. I could balance. I could create. I could write stuff down, which I did a bit at the end. For a little while, I felt rather more … I don’t know, alive?
It’s weird how that works. The depression makes my body not want to move (which, btw, is the way you can tell when something is really, definitely, seriously wrong with me). Even speaking is hard right now. Dancing brings the body back to life for a while.
It’s like depression rolls a thick slab of glass across my experience of the world, and dancing pushes it back. As long as I dance, the glass stays gone. When I stop, it returns.
To be clear, though, dancing doesn’t eliminate the haze of pain that is forefront in my emotional experience. It’s just that I’ve learned that you can dance from the heart of pain the same way you can dance from the heart of joy.
And then, perhaps, sometimes you should dance from the heart of pain.
After, Denis collected me from the outdoor bench where I was slowly dissolving into inarticulate tears and took me out for brunch. While he was using the men’s room, I wrote myself a note:
When there’s joy, create from joy. When there’s pain, create from pain.
It’s not a profound thought, just kind of a reminder. Both joy and pain can be fuel.
I find all this comforting. Last night I was busy worrying if bipolar is going to derail my efforts to work in dance; if I am, in fact, a poor investment for any company, no matter how small.
But I think I can do this.
I can’t go work a desk job when I’m here (and definitely not if that desk job involves phone-based technical support … eee). But I can get up and make my body work; I can get up and be nice to the humans who dance with me and the humans who direct me as a dancer; I can get up and make art, somehow, with my body.
I can plumb the depths of my despair for dances the same way I sweep them from the heights of my joy.
And I can feel this without fighting it; without resisting.
In the car on the way to Open Fly, I think I apologized to Denis for falling apart or something like that.
He said it was okay; that maybe a huge part of the problem is that I work too hard to hold it all together. He said something similar the other night (last night? the night before?), when I couldn’t stop crying on the way home from a movie — that he loves my feelings, that he’s glad I have feelings.
I’m not always glad I have feelings, and I don’t entirely appreciate the fact that my feelings are all about the guerrilla warfare. On the other hand, maybe he’s right: maybe if I would just let go a little more often, there wouldn’t be so much of that.
For what it’s worth, dancing helps with the letting go. It’s hard to imbue your dancing with any kind of real emotional presence if you’ve got your emotions sealed up in some kind of sous-vide container and locked up in a freezer somewhere.
Hell, maybe they don’t call it “release technique” for nothin’, eh?
Anyway. So that’s what’s up, over here. Part of me feels like this is basically so much emotional exhibitionism (but, erm, if that’s so, then what the hell is basically all of modern dance?); another part of me feels like I’m still writing this at arm’s length because being entirely human in so public a context still basically freaks me the feck out.
So, yeah. Not sure if this makes even a modicum of sense. It’s just stuff. But, on the other hand, like Denis always points out: “If they were rational, we wouldn’t call them feelings.”
Soundtrack for My Depression:
Adele, “When We Were Young,” from 25
Adele, “Hello,” from 25
Jeff Buckley, “Hallelujah,” from Grace
Jeff Buckley, “Corpus Christi Carol,” from Grace
Leonard Cohen, “Bird on a Wire”
Leonard Cohen, “If It Be Your Will”
Leonard Coehn,”Who By Fire”
Hozier, “Take Me To Church”
Hozier, “Work Song”
The Beatles, “Julia”
…Oh, and basically the whole of Faure’s Requiem, but that’s a playlist unto itself.
…And also, if you haven’t heard Buckley’s version of “Corpus Christi Carol,” OMG, go listen to it. He sang most of it in an exquisite falsetto, clear and expressive and breathy only in exactly the right moments and sometimes tremulous; the rest in the upper part of his range, beautifully raw. Listen to his cover of “Hallelujah” while you’re at it, because holy. The man was a treasure.
And also, I so need to add “If It Be Your Will” to the contemporary ballet project I’m semi-secretly working on.
Edit: and “Who By Fire.”
On Bipolar, Ever-Evolving
I have, as is my habit, been fighting a depression that wins a little ground each day. My strategy, generally speaking, is to put a brave face on it in hopes that nobody will notice, and then, when I can no longer manage that, to beat a hasty retreat into the nearest isolated cave, emerging only to dance.
I’ve decided to pop the rest of this behind a cut, both because of strong language (“He said a-hole, Mom!*”) and because of subject matter that maybe could be a little on the triggery side for those of us currently wrestling mood disorders.