Gordon Lightfoot’s song was playing while I shuffled around my kitchen trying to simplify my thoughts and push down the anxiety. God Damed Anxiety is back. It puts this tight clamp on my spine where the cortisol moves in and stirs up feelings of hopelessness, lack of confidence, uselessness. All those wonderful wonderful feelings to carry like a monkey through the days.
In 1999, in postpartum after the birth of my one child, I was flung into a psychosis which turned into a straight-jacket and a rubber room experience. Haldol and all. (Locked up in D.C.). I was then, at the age of 33, diagnosed Bipolar. I had never had any symptoms prior to that. But you see, I am Military Martha. My whole family of six siblings call me that. I am the sensible one. The rule-follower. List maker (thank’s Annie). The one who solves problems. I am definitely NOT the one who ends up in a Johnny coat running for my life out the hospital doors at -20 Celsius with my undies on show. (Crazy Train 2011)
But this is mental illness folks. It takes all that you know and turns it upside down. It makes that positive side of me disappear. It makes it nearly impossible to reach out to friends and family (unless it turns into mania and then it is impossible to NOT reach out to friends and family and just about anyone else, and even at 3 in the morning).
Even the simplest of tasks cause me to turn in circles and not know where to begin. I need adult supervision. Thanks Uncle Buck. My husband of 27 years becomes the one person who knows me so well. He takes my hand and leads me along through the cloud. He will encourage me with a simple tasks to focus on and accomplish, telling me all the other stuff can wait. It’s not going to be a problem if it all just waits, he says.
Yesterday I was trying to explain the anxiety to my sister on the phone, three provinces away. It is like I know cerebrally that the task is not important but even knowing that, I feel like I am swimming in goop and am finding it hard to keep my head above it. Couple that with the feeling of a huge alligator clamp on my lower spine and that everything I look at is somehow wrong: not good enough, out of order, messy, needs fixing…AHHH! It becomes just overwhelming.
I was explaining how some things seem to help. Letting things go until a better time, cancel, reschedule, forego, cross it off the list. Listening to up and happy music. Walking in nature. Holding hands with my husband and quietly talking and walking. Simple tasks: peeling potatoes, hanging laundry, watering the garden, weeding, sweeping the floor, scraping the paint on the house with a warm sun on my back…all seem to help, if I can get out of my own way to do them.
Sheree Fitch recited her poem, above, on the CBC Special televised vigil on Friday April 24, 2020. I found myself weeping at these words which were so completely apt and heartfelt. Thank you Sheree. Rest in Peace to the fallen.
Staying sane during the COVID-19 lockdown? So, what I have been doing is in the title. Just keepin on keepin on, but, also thinking of how I can help with our bottom line. In so doing, I have found peace in the little tiny things around my house and yard. I have learned to be alone. Dance in my undies. Breathe deeply and easily and BE HAPPY for each deep easy breath.
Last week, for the first time in my 54 years of life, I successfully baked sourdough (bread made from natural, live yeast – active dry yeast from the grocery store being hard to come by due to hoarders) bread. My good friend shared her culture with me (she left it in my garage for me), I ‘fed’ it and using her shared recipe, actually made a delicious loaf on my second attempt. The first wasn’t bad. The second was amazing. Little ole me.
I am also sprouting seeds – many, many seeds. And vegetable ends and stuff. So very cool how much we can grow right on the windowsill, from the veggie ends…
Yesterday, the sun shone so hubby and I were out in the yard (we have a large in-town lot with a park behind us (this is my video about growing a meadow instead of a lawn: https://youtu.be/KjqEJHNQSRs). He pruned the big trees to allow more sun in. (I pointed to the branches to be pruned and avoided the sweat pouring off of his brow). We then made another vegetable bed by stacking materials lasagna style: drenched paper/box board, newspaper, compost from our old pile, leaves from under the hedge, more compost, more leaves and lots of water. This will sit for a few weeks now until it is warm enough plant the seedlings. Sitting will help it all to decompose slightly more and will bring the worms. (Worms are good says Mark Valencia of Self Sufficient Me: https://selfsufficientme.com/)
It was a gloriously warm (plus 9 folks – celsius – so, balmy! lol) and the sun was so pretty so, I hung all of our bedding out on the clothesline and it baked in that week but pretty light.
Lots of simple but lovely activities that help me to feel productive, proactive, helpful and, ultimately, happy.
This is a concept I just heard on CBC radio. The Reverse Bucket List is a list of times in your life that you would love to return to or that you are happy about or proud of or that taught a great lesson that you carry forward through your life. So, looking back on your life for the best, most profound or impactful moments instead of always projecting that those moments need to happen in your future. It is a method of making yourself happy for the accomplishments of your life thus far. I realized, while writing my list below, that that is mostly what I am doing by writing this blog. I’m writing my reverse bucket list!
Here’s my list (with links to the stories that correspond). No particular order except the first two are the top for a reason.
In mid 2016 I started on Lithium Bicarbonate (again!) for my mental illness: Bipolar 1. If you have read my previous posts on body image and on mental illness, you will know by now that I was struggling against succumbing to meds due to the strong suspicion that taking them would cause a large weight gain.
Well, it has done just that. My body now is the stuff of my previous life’s nightmares. So, why is this post entitled Feelin’ Fine? Confused yet?
It started when I hit rock bottom in May 2016. I had extreme anxiety for days and a panic attack that rocked my world and I was sure I was about to die. I could barely let go of my husband Dean’s hand. All I could do to feel better was walk, and poor Dean, suffering with a broken toe, walked with me, holding my hand. (Ya, I know. I have the best husband in the world.) If you had seen me then you would not recognize me. I was barely able to look up. I was debilitated. The cortisol buildup in my low back was like a knife jabbing me. Every thought spun out a new list of worries that multiplied. I clutched Dean’s hand and he guided me gently along through the days. I did simple tasks like pealing potatoes and hanging laundry. That’s about all I could do without making copious, confusing lists and notes.
This was the point that I finally succumbed to medication.
Since then, I decided that it is far better to have a clear mind and psyche than it is to be small and trim.
This has not been an instantaneous transformation. It has taken hours and hours of concerted effort and two years of time going by to change my thinking. I am doing this by reading books, blogs, articles, scientific studies and by listening to podcasts on this very topic…non-diet, body-neutral, non-fat phobic, Health at Every Size, Intuitive Eating by podcasters like Christy Harrison on Food Psych; Meret Boxler on Life Unrestricted; Chris Sandel on Real Health Radio; Summer Innanen on Fearless Rebelle Radio. These people have helped me immeasurably. As has my husband of twenty-six years. He is truly my best, most supportive friend.
It hasn’t been exactly easy to transform my thinking one hundred and eighty degrees. From a very disordered existence of constant striving to maintain a small, lean body where in almost every waking moment over the last 35 years, I was aware, concerned, worried about eating less and moving more (it was a full-time job to maintain the energy deficit that then felt normal). I mean, I was eating low-fat while trekking in the Himalayas while simultaneously battling a bowel parasite for jeezus sakes.
I have become more peaceful by NOT doing anything to try to stay small. I eat when hungry, whatever I want. I drink when thirsty. I move when it strikes my fancy to do so. No schedule. No goals. No competitive work-out sessions. No marathon-type activity in the off-ing to compulsively train for. No $60 ++ per week of yoga classes, plus thousands of dollars for months of yoga teacher training at an ashram in the Bahamas (which in retrospect I now realize that I had done not to achieve Zen but mostly to achieve small-ness. It was like going to a Fat Farm for me. Okay, a Zen Fat Farm, if you will).
I look back on my previous life and shake my head. But it is all part of my path.
And, who cares if I am not small in size. I am still ME.
That person is still here and that person is doing okay. She’s just in a bigger, softer body and she is doing much, much better on the inside, and, thankfully, not doing those annoying hand-stands every five minutes.
One last one for the memory bank. My son took this in Prospect, Nova Scotia, Canada. The next time I asked him to take a picture of me doing a hand-stand was on the Keji Seaside beach, he goes, ‘Mom, that ship has sailed, don’t you think?’
Right on Buddy. Gotta love kids.
I would love your comments…
(The sunflower pic is from Google Images, all the rest are mine, Martha Valiquette, except the amazing Dragonfly which is by my eldest sister.)
*Excerpt from Already Gone (Eagles) Songwriters: Jack Tempchin / Robert Arnold Strandlund
Update: Fall 2020
I have now dropped several kilos of weight and it happened by accident. I learned a valuable lesson. Alcohol and lithium do not mix. I was holding a lot of water and extra weight due to consuming a daily drink of wine or beer and sometimes a bit of a liqueur in the evenings. I decided to give up alcohol because I was waking up for hours a night and feeling quite toxic – not quite right – in my skin. It was odd. I am quite in tune with how I am feeling and it wasn’t right. I just said, enough of this. I’m gonna cut some substances out. So, out went alcohol. I then peed out about 10 pounds of water seemingly overnight. I also slept much better for the first time in years. It was an epiphany. I think I am particularly sensitive to substances. I have also moved my devices to charge outside of my bedroom, have blinds on windows, don’t read or watch exciting / heart-quickening movies or books before bed. Walk more. Finally, I eat more protein and fewer carbs which seems to make my belly settle down. I also drink much more water stopping two hours before bedtime. All these measures have helped and I feel much calmer and not so bloated.