Ramblings

First off, in case you missed it: I posted the audio of the show I played last week here.

And with that out of the way…I’m not totally sure what to write about this week. I’m still feeling fairly scattered. I’m still on the lower end of my bipolar cycle, which has been especially weird because things are going really well, generally speaking, and I have a lot of happy moments…but then I come down from the happy moments, skid past baseline, and find myself back in the land of sad for no real reason. It leaves me a bit befuddled every time, because how on earth can I be sad when there’s so much to be happy about? But it is what it is.

I think part of why I’m so scattered lately is that I would really love to just be doing creative things all the time, and that’s just not an option. I’m filling much of my free time with creativity, though, and that does help.

On the subject of things to be happy about – I’m really, really enjoying my new songwriting class. More than that, I’m really, really enjoying the songs that I’m writing! This is uncharted territory for me, but it’s fun so far. I actually had a moment this past week where I realized I could hear a harmony line to the song I’d written for class; that was a totally new experience, too.

I’m just wrapping up some creative work for 20% Theatre Company Twin Cities, putting together the book format for the script of their new show (The Naked I: Self-Defined, which opens in Minneapolis on February 12, and if you’re in town, you should absolutely buy tickets right now, because it’s going to be excellent). I’ve done the layout for the last two Naked I show scripts, and it’s always such an honor and a joy to be involved.

I have been knitting in fits and starts, much less frequently than I ordinarily would be at this time of year. I blame the weather – it’s been fluctuating quite a bit, and all my joints (including the ones in my hands) have been cranky because of it. As much as I’m thankful that it hasn’t been consistently miserably cold, I kind of wish Chicago would just pick a weather pattern and stick to it.

On that note, stay warm and well, folks; hopefully I’ll have something more interesting to write about next week!

Five (Somewhat Scattered) Thoughts

  1. The show on Monday went really, really well; I’m pleased to say I’m proud of the performance I gave. I recorded the audio of my songs, but I’m still trying to decide if/when/how I want to put it up online. [Edit: I’ve put it up divided into tracks here.]
  2. It’s fascinating to me that I’ve reached a point where I can actually enjoy listening to recordings of myself singing. i hated my voice for so long…it made me so uncomfortable. Now, it sounds…well, it sounds more like me. Last week, I pulled up some old recordings of myself from the year before we moved to Chicago, and it was more than a little surreal hearing this voice that apparently used to come out of my throat but that sounded like a completely different person.
  3. I need to rotate which instruments I play more frequently. After almost a year of mostly playing my guitar, switching back to the tenor guitar or mandolin is more of a challenge than I’d like to admit.
  4. I’ve been super distracted lately. While I’ve been riding a bit of a high since Monday night, I’m still definitely in a place of lower energy overall. My brain feels pretty scattered, and I’m casting about for a bit of direction.
  5. In light of the general scatteredness, I’m really grateful for the structure I have in my schedule these days. I’m also wishing I had a bit more. How do you find the line between structure and overscheduling? I don’t seem to be very good at it.

Sweaters and Self-Care

Last month, I probably mentioned once or twice that I was working on a sweater, one that I hoped to have finished by the time I went on my camping trip.

Well, I finished it…but when I blocked it, it grew at least six inches in length, and didn’t gain the couple of inches in circumference that I needed, and long story short, it doesn’t fit at all.

I was so disappointed…I’d put so much effort into the sweater, and the finishing work (reinforcing the button band and sewing on the buttons) was spot-on. A lot of friends tried to give me suggestions of ways I could try fixing it, but…well, I’d have to remove the buttons and reinforcing ribbon from the button band to try any of them, and I really don’t think anything is going to make it fit the way I want it to.

I finished the sweater on a Wednesday. Thursday is knit night at our favorite local yarn store, and I decided that, rather than be totally demoralized (or, you know, work on any of the other three sweaters I have in progress…), I was going to buy yarn that I had used before (and therefore could predict how it would block out), and start a swatch for a new sweater.

I didn’t get started on the actual sweater itself until this past weekend, but I’ve already got one sleeve done, and have started on the second one. It’s a very basic pattern (the only particularly interesting feature is a couple of cables on the front panel, which I’m saving for last), so it’s been some very soothing knitting that I’ve been able to work on while reading and thinking (and, sometimes, just staring off into space).

Sometimes, self-care looks like mindless sweater knitting.

And sometimes, self-care is finally contacting the therapist whose business card you’ve been carrying around for two weeks, and making an appointment.

As of this past Monday, I am officially back in therapy. I’ve got some shit to work through, some major emotional processing that I’ve been avoiding for months. It’s a little overwhelming and scary, but I know in the end it’s exactly what needs to happen, both for my own sake and the sake of everyone I interact with.

Faulty Coping Mechanisms

Sometimes (and this should come as a surprise to no one)…I make mistakes.

I knew, all through last week and most of the week before, that I was starting to run low on my medications. I put off sending in the refill request, because my new insurance card hadn’t come in the mail yet. Last Thursday morning, I took the last pills I had. My insurance card still hadn’t come, but I didn’t really have a choice; I put in the refill request.

Unfortunately, my insurance card continued to not show up, and the pharmacy didn’t get going on the refill right away, and I was feeling very overwhelmed and low on spoons and doing a terrible job of expressing to my partner what was happening, and, long story short, I had no meds over the weekend.

I’ve been on the same duo of medications for six years. There have been times when I’ve run out of one or the other (never both at once), or missed a day, but neither of those things have happened often, and neither have happened at all in probably two years. I had no idea what to expect. I assumed that I had a day or two, at least, before it really started working its way out of my system, but beyond that? Not a clue.

I felt increasingly off as the weekend progressed. I finally told my partner what was happening on Sunday. Monday morning I overslept  (in part because it was stormy and so dark outside that I think my brain decided it couldn’t possibly be day, and I turned off all but my last alarm in my sleep), which meant that I was already not in the best place when I got to work. A few hours into my day, I realized I was feeling pretty shaky. I started sweating profusely. My head hurt. It gradually dawned on me that the withdrawal had finally hit.

I logged into my pharmacy’s online portal and saw that the one medication that was most likely causing the worst of the withdrawals had been filled, and my old insurance had covered it (I’d forgotten that I submitted a refill request when I got a reminder email from the pharmacy a month prior, then realized that, because I only take half a pill per day, I didn’t actually need it yet, and had never picked it up). I decided I’d head to the pharmacy after work and at least pick that one up.

I ended up leaving work around lunchtime, because I realized that the withdrawal symptoms were only going to get worse, and headed straight to the pharmacy, feeling increasingly desperate.

As it turned out, even though I didn’t have my new insurance information, I was able to use a clinic discount to get my other medication at a reasonable price as well. I tried not to beat myself up too much as I headed home with the medications I probably could have picked up over the weekend, before things got out of hand.

Thankfully, in the midst of getting my brain back on track, I’ve had plenty of folks around to help me keep moving. A friend invited me to join a weekly roleplaying game, which meant I got to spend a good chunk of Monday and Tuesday coming up with character ideas. Tuesday evening was the game, and there’s nothing quite like several hours of collaborative storytelling to get you out of your own head. Work has been especially busy, which has been challenging, but has also provided a really good gauge of how quickly my mental state is improving – I felt so much more capable of focusing and getting work done yesterday than I did on Monday, which was encouraging.

I’m still waiting for my insurance card to show up, but now HR is aware that there’s a problem and is working on rectifying it. I’m making myself a list of appointments I need to schedule when it finally gets here (and I’m hoping it comes before the appointment I have scheduled for this weekend). Finding a therapist to help me work through some of the underlying emotional things that are siphoning off my supply of spoons is at the top of the list. I am not letting myself get back into the position I was in at the beginning of the week every again, if I can help it.

Here’s to finding new and more reliably effective coping mechanisms.

Balance

Having an internet presence is a constant balancing act.

I love having this blog. I love that it makes me slow down long enough to write every week, often about things I might not otherwise take the time to think about.

But it’s always a balancing act. How much do I put out into the vast expanse of the internet? How much of my life am I willing to share with friends and strangers? When can I let myself vent about specific people or situations, and to what extent, and when do I need to just keep quiet?

I’ve been dealing with some pretty major emotional stuff lately, and I haven’t known how much to share here. But I think I need to say something, because I have a feeling it’ll come up on its own sooner rather than later, and I want to give some context before it does.

I haven’t spoken to my family of origin since March.

I just wrote 1000 words of explanation, but I am not going to post them, because this is part of the balancing act: I do not want to contribute to further drama. Suffice it to say that right when things seemed to be getting a little better, they turned around and got a whole lot worse, and I had to cut ties in order to maintain my sanity.

I don’t regret the decision to establish some distance. (Boundaries are a thing I’ve always struggled with, and it’s become very clear that I came by that honestly.) But it hasn’t been easy.

I’ve also recently realized that I’ve been avoiding dealing with how I relate to my body. Dysphoria, for me, has mostly manifested in me being very detached from my body…of course, once I realized this, remaining detached got harder, and now I’m painfully aware of my discomfort with my body.

Starting next month, I’ll be on an insurance plan that will make it a lot easier for me to see a therapist, so that’s my plan at this point, because I have a lot of feelings about family and about my body that I need to process, and my partner shouldn’t have to be the only person in the world to listen to me blather as I try to work through those things.

So that’s where I’m at: seeking balance. Whether I achieve it is still hit or miss, but I think I’m getting there. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

 

Going to Ground

I’m not sure whether it’s a factor of turning another year older, or Mercury in retrograde, or wonky weather messing with the barometer, or just my brain, but it’s been a challenging week so far. I’m on my way up into another manic phase, and thanks to one, some, or all of the aforementioned factors, the mania is manifesting itself as some pretty intense and occasionally paralyzing anxiety. This is particularly frustrating in light of the fact that my ManicBrain wants to DO ALL THE THINGS, but AnxietyBrain is too overwhelmed.

Tuesday morning during my meditative time I was thinking a lot about the need to ground myself amidst the mental chaos. A friend suggested I go through one or more of my tarot decks and pull out a card or two that helped me to feel grounded that I could carry with myself during the day. The cards I have tattooed on my arm actually do a pretty good job of that, but I wanted something else. Which was about the time that I saw, in front of a pile of things my partner had set out to sort, a bag full of rocks I picked up at some point on a trip to Lake Superior…and I thought, if it’s grounding I need, why not carry a literal piece of ground with me?

I am a person of Earth. My roots wind deep into my little daily rituals and my most closely held convictions. I grow in seasons, my greatest sense of purpose comes from providing shelter and shade from life’s storms, and I contain vast capacities for both strength and vulnerability. Much as I love the convenience of living in the city, my soul sings at the sight of trees and wild spaces. Earth is an integral part of who I am.

But sometimes I need an extra little bit of Earth. And that’s when I turn inward, and go to ground, and look for tangible little reminders to stop and breathe and dig in deeply when I feel my brain trying to fly off in a hundred different directions at once – tarot card on my arm, a little river rock in my pocket.

Before you think I’ve gone totally “woo” on you, never fear – there are plenty of other things I do to manage my anxiety, from my regular medications to deep breathing to cutting back on sodium and caffeine so my heart has fewer excuses to race. I try to stick to a schedule, to get enough sleep, and to avoid situations where I know I will feel overstimulated. These are the logical steps to anxiety management.

The trouble is that anxiety so rarely has any sort of connection to logic. It’s visceral. It comes out of the most primal part of the brain.

And when all of my logical options have been exhausted and I still feel like screaming and crying and curling into a ball under my desk, it’s comforting to look down at my arm and be reminded that my body is the home that I have built for myself, or to reach into my pocket and touch that solid little bit of stone.

So when I look at the forecast and see storms predicted every. single. day, instead of caving to the impulse to break down, I’m going to stop, and breathe, and dig my roots into the Earth of my life, and know that somehow, I am going to weather the week.

Introspection

The past couple of months have felt pretty chaotic – I’ve had places to be four out of five weeknights for the past eight weeks, we’ve already started plotting out our summer (which seems unreal, as it’s approximately 37°F outside as I write this), we’re in the midst of a major purge of the things that have piled up in our apartment, and last weekend we had a friend staying with us.

This is my last week of the four-weeknights-out madness (at least for a while), and as that winds down, it feels like a good time to take a step back and look inward. When life is busy and noisy and full of things to do, I sometimes forget that it’s important to let myself just be sometimes, too.

The friend who stayed with us last weekend is someone we love dearly, but by the end of the weekend, my partner and I were exhausted. It was when I took a step back after they left and realized that they are one of our few extroverted friends that we finally understood why we were so tired when they seemed like they could have kept going forever. It got me thinking about how I have always been an introvert, but how that has manifested differently at different times – and how those different manifestations are often major indicators of the rest of my mental health. I am a different sort of introvert than my partner is, at least some of the time – I need my quiet time at home, away from people in general, but I crave total solitude less frequently than he does. When I am tending toward total isolation, it is often an indication that I am not at my best – that I am trying very hard to hold it together, and it is easier for me to do that if I don’t have to fake it in front of anyone but myself. There is a point at the lower levels of mania where I am much more likely to be intentional about being social, because I actually have the energy to spare for it, but if I’m not careful and my ManicBrain hits a fever pitch, I shut myself away to avoid melting down from the overstimulation of public spaces (and to avoid spending everything in my bank account and beyond).

Because I have been recovering the energy I spent this weekend, and particularly since the weather turned a bit colder this week, I have been trying to be gentle with myself, to let myself be more of a hermit than I might otherwise be. I’m finding that I am drawn more than usual to meditation and quiet, and that has been refreshing. I’ve found myself doodling absently (or resisting the urge to do so in meetings), which is a creative outlet I haven’t explored much lately. I think, much like the rest of the world, I am in a tender place here at the changing of the seasons, and I am trying to learn as much as I can from this place of openness and vulnerability.

March Mayhem

I am, at the core, a homebody. Given the choice, I could spend days on end in my house, curled up with books, movies, and knitting (although if I’m forced to stay in my house due to illness, injury, or inclement weather, I do go a little stir crazy). There are a number of other personality traits at play here – I am an introvert, and have a tendency toward laziness. But mostly, I just really love being in my own space.

This aspect of who I am is often at war with another part of me – the one that wants to do ALL THE THINGS. This month, this latter part appears to be winning.

As of this week, aside from my usual 37.5 hours of work, I will have, on a weekly basis:

  • Guitar classes Monday evenings, and an approximate 10:45pm return home,
  • Songwriting classes Tuesday evenings, arriving home around 11pm,
  • My volunteer gig at the Old Town School of Folk Music‘s Resource Center Wednesday evenings, arriving home around 10:30pm, and
  • Knit Night at Windy Knitty Thursday evenings, arriving home anywhere between 9:15 and 10pm.

On top of all of this, I decided this week to start getting up at 5:30am each morning and attempt to do some sort of home workout – Pilates, weights, stretches, that sort of thing. I fully believe that “health” is a pretty nebulous concept, and it’s absolutely not my goal to hit some arbitrary numeric value that a doctor will deem “healthy”. However, I am increasingly frustrated with how quickly I tire out, how hard it is for me to keep up with people, and how frequently my back goes out due to a lack of core strength. I also know from past experience that being more physically active is better for my mental health. So, I’m easing into increased activity.

I also need to work practicing guitar and writing a song into each week. Plus the things that need to get done around the house.

I will be honest: last week I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, in light of the battle I was having with DepressedBrain. I ended up needing to leave the office early on Friday to avoid having a total meltdown at work. Thankfully, Friday evening brought with it the arrival of a new binder, which helped to mitigate some of the dysphoria that was making a significant contribution to DepressedBrain. (The binder, by the way, was ordered from these guys and is amazing – equivalent binding power to an Underworks 997, but replacing the fear of permanent ribcage damage (which was the reason I had to switch to the much less effective 982 a while back) with something so comfortable I almost forget I’m wearing it – and may warrant an extra blog post for a review at some point in the near future.)

I was feeling rather better Monday morning, but I have to admit, I still didn’t really believe I was going to be able to handle this schedule until shortly before I started writing this post yesterday afternoon. I was absolutely exhausted by the time I got home Monday and Tuesday, and yesterday I had a hell of a time getting myself out of bed. As the day wore on, I was pretty sleepy, but I think I hit the point where I started to remember how to work through the fatigue. I am convinced that, eventually, being more active will mean that I will have more energy. I just need to stick with it long enough.

Part of me continues to wonder what on earth I’ve gotten myself into. But mostly, I’m feeling optimistic. And that’s a nice change from the past few weeks.

Never Saw It Coming

I’ve known that I was Bipolar for close to six years now. In those six years, my cycles have typically followed a fairly predictable pattern. I’ve rarely jumped with no warning from one end of emotion to the other: usually, there’s a ramping up or a sliding down that happens and warns me of what’s coming.

I don’t know if it’s because there were sad things that happened while I was manic, which made things weird, or if it really was just very sudden, but that wasn’t how this most recent turn to DepressedBrain went. There was no easing my way down into darkness. I didn’t see it coming. It hid just out of sight and jumped out at me from behind a corner and suddenly, out of what felt like nowhere, I’ve found myself at one of the lowest points I’ve hit in the past year or more.

I wrote last week about the fact that I’ve recently started battling with body-related dysphoria for the first time. I’ve spent the past week trying to deconstruct what that means for me, what it feels like, why it’s so hard for me to figure out how to work around it. I don’t have any easy answers, but these are the best words I’ve found for it so far: after I started on testosterone and my body started changing, I experienced a period of time where I felt more comfortable than I ever had before in my skin – like I fit in my body for the first time that I could remember. There was this sense of wholeness, and rightness, to it. But now dysphoria has swooped in, and I’m back to feeling fractured: it’s not so much that I hate my body, but that it doesn’t feel like it belongs to me. It doesn’t fit me anymore. And that’s maddening and heart-wrenching, particularly after having experienced something better for a while. I don’t really know what to do with it.

I wonder if, maybe, the best thing I can do is take my focus off myself and onto other people. My sister was in town last weekend. (We don’t share any genetic material, but many years of shared experiences. Her family of origin treats her in ways no person should ever be treated, and I’ve had my own frustrations with my family of origin, so we’ve pieced together families of our own, and they include each other.) Neither she nor I nor my partner felt particularly up to venturing out of the apartment and into the cold (or for a host of other reasons), so the weekend consisted of a lot of me cooking a lot of good food and all of us sitting in the same space reading books and reminiscing. I was reminded how fulfilling it is for me when I am able to create a safe space for someone I love. Being a host stresses me out to some extent, because I always worry that I’m not being entertaining enough. But knowing that I am creating a space where we can all be ourselves mitigates that stress to some extent, particularly when I’m taking care of someone who I know has too few safe spaces in their life elsewhere.

I may not know how to take good care of myself in this moment, but at least I can still take care of other people. It’s not a long-term solution (or, really, even a solution at all), but it feels like it’s helping.

My Brain is Unpredictable

My brain is unpredictable. This is nothing new. I am Bipolar, and have been aware of that fact for almost six years. I have navigating my way through unexpected brainspace down to a fine science.

In the past week, though, my brain threw me for a loop: this week, I was unexpectedly visited by the dysphoria monster.

I should have known it was coming. I mean, I’m a trans guy. It had to happen eventually.

It’s not the first time I’ve dealt with dysphoria. Not entirely. But my whole previous experience with dysphoria was centered around my voice, and how uncomfortable that made me, and with the introduction of testosterone into my system, that faded into the background.

No, this is a new experience. I knew I was incredibly lucky, up to this point, to not have experienced a great deal of body-related dysphoria. I’ve seen many people near and dear to me go through it, and was grateful to have dodged that bullet. It seems, though, that my relationship with my body is changing.

On the one hand, I’ve reached a point where, for the first time in my life, I actually like myself. I’ve gone from loathing to tolerating to feeling benevolently indifferent to actually liking who I am as a person the majority of the time.

On the other hand, I’m finding myself increasingly anxious about how I’m perceived by the rest of the world, particularly because of certain realities about my anatomy.

I bind my chest pretty much every day (unless I’m not leaving the house, and even then, I might). But I can’t wear binders that are especially tight, because I have an enormous ribcage, and the tighter the binder, the more my ribs hurt, and the more I’m at risk for causing myself some serious medical problems. Lately, I’ve felt like the binder I have that I was satisfied with a couple of months ago just isn’t cutting it anymore: every day I’m more conscious of the fact that I often look like a butch lesbian with sideburns. (Which is not to say anything against butch lesbians – I think they’re delightful – I’m just not one of them. I’m not a lesbian at all. I’m a [very] queer man.)

Before I started pursuing HRT, I went over the course of about a month from being reasonably okay with the fact that the world was insisting on seeing me as a woman to having daily panic attacks because I was terrified that no one would ever see me as anything else. I haven’t gotten back to the point of panic attacks, but I’m worried that it could be lurking right around the corner.

My brain hasn’t been too bad a place to live in for a while now. I don’t love that I’m going to have to relearn some coping mechanisms that I’ve let slide since the last time I had to wrestle regularly with myself. But I guess that’s all part of life in transition.