Saturday, April 22, 2017

I experience a moment of mental health

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Tom came in from the march for science (it's Earth Day) a happy man.  He met Cassie and Otto and saw a lot of Unitarians there. That's grandson Otto standing and daughter Cassie peering out from behind Tom's head, and a sign she made.
     Tom got together with a couple of the men afterward and they went to Fox in the Snow.  He even brought home a pastry for me.  (Well, he wouldn’t mind sharing it, as it turned out.)
He talked about what he went through before a policeman allowed him to keep his sign on a stick, which was taped to his wheelchair - sticks are now banned at marches as possible weapons. Talked about the clever signs and who he saw there, a number of people including Laurie Brown, who gave me one of her kidneys via clever medical science. Most of all, he enjoyed doing it with Cassie and Otto.
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I’ve been home today, canceled my sitting group because I'm recovering from a reaction to a medication.  A friend and I were going to go to North Star for a free hamburger this afternoon -they do that for earth day - but both woke up grouchy and didn’t much improve.  I let go of that.  I can buy a hamburger there anytime.
        I've been having a problem lately with depression, but it wasn’t interfering while Tom talked.  I just felt empathetically happy.  There are many other ways you can react to someone’s joy.  You can think about how you didn’t get to go because you’re out of shape because you’re depressed and don’t do anything.  And your allergies are awful this year.  You can be sorry for yourself with a sense that life isn’t fair.  You can be pissed at someone for not asking And how are you feeling?when he walks in the door. That would be being mad at him for being who he is and was raised to be.  It all sounds a little teenaged to me today.  It's all about competitiveness, about wanting some attention for that demanding ego I call Mimi Me.

I wasn't doing that. I was just listening with a pleasant feeling, being happy for Tom’s happiness. I guess this is just unusual enough that I notice it.  I'm afraid that people I know are seldom happy. If they were, I was trained to be competitive, not to empathize with someone else's happiness.  This foreign notion is called sympathetic joy in the Buddhist tradition and goes way back into older traditions. It is one of the four heavenly abodes, places to rest the mind, the others being loving kindness, compassion, and equanimity.
     Buddhist teacher and psychologist Jack Kornfield calls them "the four radiant abodes" and says such an interesting thing about them:  they represent optimal mental health.  An interesting statement to anyone with a mental illness. We often try to correct our moods or thinking with medication, which often doesn't work.  My bipolar disorder is a visible change in my brain caused by genetic susceptibility and a sad childhood.  I do often remind myself to notice my moods with equanimity.  They happen to me, like a wind coming on.  But here was another thing to think about, how empathizing with Tom's happiness warmed and softened my heart.



Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The year in review

Like so many bloggers, I stopped blogging this year. This had something to do with getting serious about your writing, something to do with having Facebook to express yourself on/distract yourself with, something to do with having now shared all the wisdom you've got. In the autumn of 2014 I took an online course from the University of Iowa, which has one of the best creative writing programs in the country. It gave me new ways to understand writing fiction, and I got going and wrote half a dozen short stories. I entered one in several contests. Didn't win. Life is unfair.

Why didn't I keep sending out these stories? My vitals page and my calendar tell the answer. Doctors, doctors, one UTI infection after another. The infections are not like the UTIs many women get while young, maybe from enthusiastic sex. They evidence themselves in the depression they trigger in my authentically bipolar brain. So, no writing then.

In late June I was hospitalized with extreme shortness of breath which turned out to be due to no other cause than a UTI. While I was there I told them I'd recently fallen, so they did a scan that showed a subdural hematoma - brain bleed. And I hadn't even hit my head this time. But when you're old - I turned 74 this year - the brain shrinks a little. If you land hard, your brain bangs around in your skull.

The second scan showed the bleed wasn't getting worse, so they released me. The third scan months later showed it was gone, so nothing to worry about. Except . . . my short-term memory is much worse ever since. Much. And my processing is much slower. The new neurologist felt sure it wasn't dementia and would resolve. That was six months ago, and it hasn't. Next time I see my primary care doctor I'm going to ask him to suggest an evaluation for dementia.

I am now very afraid of falling. Because I fell for no reason. I was deadheading the peonies, walking backward in tiny steps on a concrete sidewalk, and just lost my balance. Then time moved very slowly, there was nothing to grab hold of, and I landed hard on my bottom. Because of the concussion, I couldn't figure out how to get up until Tom came out and helped me.

So now I use a cane outside the house. I have two canes, one leopard-skin print, one giraffe print, that's one for each vehicle. We won't have both vehicles forever. My 2000 Civic is low to the ground, and it's gotten hard for me to get out of. Tom's van is much better for me.

This calendar year I had 12 UTIs, yes, one right after another. I had to go to a urologist - I dread those tests - to rule out specific bladder problems. Now I'm on a maintenance antibiotic. It has been working for several weeks now.

I forgot things till I looked at my calender. I had a procedure to fix the artery in my left leg, which went great; the foot doesn't get numb walking now. I was hospitalized again in November with a skin infection called cellulitis from a tiny cut on my lymphedemic right arm. These are a common threat for people who have had lymph glands removed. Old age and being immune-suppressed are risk factors.

Me me me. I meant to look at what I did this year, but it seemed like I had to point out first that I barely had a year. I don't know how I would have taken all this if I hadn't had a good grounding in the dharma. I thought often about karma, about how our lives are not just in our own hands. My health problems started with the kidney transplant six years ago, and the immune-suppressing drugs we have to take. The kidney failure started with taking lithium for 20 years. The bipolar disorder was the result of a combination of childhood trauma and the genes for it. The childhood trauma . . . 

I miss you folks.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Growing up in the Fifties

What's wrong with this picture?

I enjoyed Bridge of Spies. It was absorbing and interesting, especially because I was alive at this time but not very conscious in things like the last section of the Berlin Wall falling in place - I was a single mother devastated by a divorce. After I saw the film I cruised around the internet reading the critics. In comments on one site I came across a very angry woman named Mary. She wrote something like this:
This movie made me so mad. It's flat and untrue to its time, some male Hollywoodish view of what life was in the 1950s, husband-wife caricature, family as set decoration, I was ready to throw bricks at the screen by the time it was over.
It struck me that I once was Mary, but hadn't been angry at all watching the film.Why was that? It wasn't untrue to my experience. It showed the world I grew up in.Women existed in support roles in the home and the world of work. We wore slim skirts and sweaters. Men wore overcoats and made important decisions and played important roles in matters of state.
I felt like a real living being then, and all my problems seemed personal, though it turned out they weren't. And I wasn't very adjusted to it all, I just didn't know that. Until I went to college I did not know I lived in a system and people elsewhere lived in different systems. Until the revolutions of the sixties, I did not know I could dislike it. Until feminism I did not know how suppressed we women were as a class, what we could not even desire, which might be to take part in important negotiations in a bad overcoat.
If there are stages of awakening to your position in the culture, the first one is anger at what it's done to you. But anger is a waste of time unless you can calm down and channel it into action. Acceptance of reality may be the last stage of awakening, but it should not keep us from seeing how wrong these social constructs are.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Donald Trump Has It All Wrong


This is a sort of spoof by Jimmy Kimmel that represents Trump's philosophy. Trump seems to like it.

How things work together: this morning my email held a comment on my Christmas day post and this video from a beloved relative. The comment encouraged me.  The video had me thinking, The world isn't divided into winners and losers.

I see that win-win training is still taught, and seen as a set of negotiation skills. It seemed like more when I first heard about it. It seemed revolutionary. It posited that things go best when everyone's needs are met, that aggression is worse than useless. I agree.

The opposite of winning and losing is feeling that you have enough, and being satisfied. If you are reading this, you have access to a computer and leisure time to fool around on it, and probably have adequate shelter and food as well. That's just about enough, really.

There is a basic unsatisfactoriness built-in to human life, and that is that things change and we know they will. We will grow old, sick, and die, and we know that, or at least fear it. To be satisfied we have to realize that cause and effect are complicated and a lot of things are not in our hands, and relax with that. Winning at anything won't change it. And the fact that you're not striving to win doesn't mean you're a loser.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Let go of the battle



You don't have to whip yourself into joy.
You don't have to take a nice bath surrounded by scented candles,
or enjoy a walk in the snow (no snow here)
or dance till you smile
or watch White Christmas.
You don't have to try to feel any other way.
Just be yourself today.
Be with whatever you experience.
It's okay.