Stress

My stress level is dangerously high. I know this not because I feel it—I generally have no sense of how anxious or stressed I am until I find myself hyperventilating behind a mannequin in a shopping mall. This time I know I am stressed because I have broken out into a rash.

My first explanation for the rash was the Lamictal—my doctor is easing me into a therapeutic dose slowly so as not to cause the rare but fatal rash that some folks get from the medication. So, of course I thought that was the cause. But I prefer Lamictal to lithium so much that I searched for and found another potential cause: that new soap I used for the first time that morning. Or maybe it’s the weather—like living in an armpit. Or lack of sleep—my partner has been away again, which always throws me back into mama sleep (up every hour or so to check on things which seem completely unimportant the next day). Or perhaps dehydration.

But only later, much much later, I remembered that time before my first solo art exhibition. Everyone had remarked on how serene I seemed, and I felt serene too. But the day of my exhibition, I woke up with a nasty full-body rash. And then I knew that I was not at all serene, but falling apart from the inside-out. Very much like I am doing now.

I was surprised to discover that the extended family dramas I have been living in for weeks and months, one of which is now coming to a head, could have turned me upside-down. I felt in control. I had things under control. Didn’t I?

I think I have talked about and worked on little else than these two big family problems for the last two weeks. It’s like an emotional seesaw: one day, the problem of alcoholism and abuse preoccupies my thoughts and engages my actions, and the next day the problem of child abuse and neglect and a teen pregnancy (coming to term today) requires my deepest consideration.

I have been making lists of ways to help out with the first crisis and working through the list one item at a time, and mediating between warring factions of my family for the second (I will be traveling with my sleeves rolled up in less than a week to get to work physically on this last one). Not to mention the psycho-spiritual crisis I have been having about how to love unconditionally folks who behave in detestable, life destroying ways. It’s so much easier to push these people out. It’s so much easier to hate. I am immersed in the most challenging of human emotions on a daily basis.

I have not been feeling triggered, particularly, but I think I have established how little my apparent feelings reflect what my mind is experiencing. So, when all is said and done with my extended family crises, no doubt the hauntings will begin afresh.

The only way I can think of to manage my stress in the meantime is through meditation. So, today I set out on a path of intensive daily meditation. When I can’t sit for 30 minutes, I do active meditation for as long as I can when I am alone. (I’m sure there’s a fancy name for it, but I don’t know it. Basically, I go about my business, but slowed down so I can mentally acknowledge every action–turning on the tap; taking the soap; washing hands; rinsing; etc.) It’s been a few hours of that now, and my mind is quieter. Also, it has taken the place of my talking to myself, which is an unexpected but welcome side effect. I shudder to think of how many hours a day I waste in one-sided conversation.

I’ve written before about the intimate relationship between stress and mental health. I am glossing over how my stress level recently has impacted my mental health. But it undoubtedly has. That too was unknown to me until my children started looking at me differently. Children are a great barometer, more sensitive to subtle changes in a carer’s mood than most adults. Anyway, now that I know, I can protect against the potential for a bipolar/borderline episode. I can be more aware of where I allow my thoughts to go and how they impact my behavior towards my nuclear family.

This mess would have been a whole lot messier (at least from my side) had I not had Buddhist teachings to fall on. A long-standing atheist, I could not have known how immensely grateful I would be to have this spiritual structure to lean on, to guide me through these difficult interactions. But the work is still mine to do. And I will do my best to achieve Right Speech and Right Action in the process, rash or no rash.

Electric miscellany

My mind is a quiet electrical storm today. I’ve been frantically jotting down notes because all things seem so important right now.

It is possible that I’m in a borderline tailspin, since my partner left this morning for a two-week work trip (for folks with borderline personality disorder, absence most certainly does not make the heart grow fonder). It’s just as likely his leaving was simply a psychological call to action, stimulating brain activity to enable me to fulfill functions I don’t normally perform. Such as being a carer, cook, schedule manager, and sensible authority.

I won’t go into too much detail on how his leaving impacts me; perhaps I’ll write a bit about it in a borderline personality disorder post at a later time. Borderline is a bit more difficult for me to come to terms with—the symptoms less sympathetic and arguably less interesting than bipolar symptoms. If I’m honest, I also just don’t understand borderline as well as bipolar. Borderline is like that sassy, booger-eating kid in class that you knew you should be nice to but were really just disgusted by. It also doesn’t help that borderline is the one thing I have in common with Adolf Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer.

That’s always a smack in the face. Really can’t go there now.

Instead, I thought I’d review my notes, all taken before 8am this morning, to see if there are any real gems there…anything I can expand on in future musings. Organizing my thoughts…

  • Connection between hormones and cognitive deficiencies associated with bipolar: I am a member of the small subset of folks with bipolar who suffer continual cognitive decline, independent of bipolar episodes. The connection between hormone levels and bipolar symptoms has always been obvious to me, but now I am seeing there might be a link between hormone levels and cognitive dysfunction. Interestingly, I seem to be most clear headed when I am ovulating.
  • On beauty: Have I finally reached a point in which I see beauty only when it is truly represented, and if so, what the hell does that mean—beauty exists independent of the observer? This arose as a result of my animal instinct driving me to confirm that my children were the most beautiful children of all (as determined by looking at their class photos). The twist was, I could not confirm it. I saw that they were all absolutely gorgeous beings of light and star dust. And my heart rejoiced that my baser need for validation was utterly foiled.
  • A mother’s prayer: For the first time, I understand the meaning and value of that powerful meditation. I saw my children walking away from me this morning and I sent my supplication into the infinite universe, and in the process of finding the exact words for my incantation, I realized I protect them every day by loving them. This is a mother’s prayer, since knowing that you are deeply and unconditionally loved is the strongest of protections against harm.
  • A spin-off from the previous: The worst aspect of borderline personality disorder is never feeling truly loved.
  • Self awareness is both a curse and a gift: You see clearly your own failings and are ultimately immune to your own illusions. Which is precisely why self awareness is the vehicle for true healing.
  • Social performance: I am the harshest judge of my social performances. I am probably never as odd or abrasive as I think I am.

And then I meditated and took my medication and the storm died out. End of transmission.