Thursday, October 18, 2012

Living With a Chemical Imbalance

When I woke up this morning, I knew this was a good day.  Actually, that's the schedule lately, good day, bad day, like clockwork.  Very strange, but then the bipolar mind is different than boring old sanity. As I was being glad I felt good, the koan came in, the one I've been carrying around for about thirty years.  I've written about it before.
If you do not say good
and you do not say not-good
then what is the nature of reality?
That got me thinking how I could describe these days without the evaluative terms good and bad. 

one type of day is -
high-energy in all chakras - it's remarkable
interested in ideas
tend to talk and write a lot
very creative
motivated to do things,
enjoy art and beauty,
filled with loving impulses -
and I like that kind of day.  Who wouldn't?

the other type is -
low-energy all around
struggle to just do essential things
vaguely dissatisfied with everything, little feeling
tendency to sad, morbid thoughts - 
A mood too many people are familiar with, and no one I know likes it.

Like/don't like is about preference.  You may say everybody would prefer that high-energy day, and that wouldn't surprise me.  Still, the day is not intrinsically good or bad.  Those words are assessments.

If you just describe these moods, they are primarily different energy states.  There are roughly three approaches to any mood or condition:
.  just experience it
.  try to change it
.  try to escape it
I almost left out approach #4
.  grouse and whine.

Changing the state - You learn to do that when you feel too high. Sit down, shut up, breathe. Meditation is obviously good practice for this. And a bipolar needs to do it or come across like a Labrador Retriever puppy.  Changing the low state is harder, and often I just try to escape/endure.  Now that I think of it, there are ways to work with your own energy.  I studied kundalini with an excellent teacher once (Hi, Kit), and I know there are yoga poses that build energy.  I've also done some chi gung. There's a course in that at our local rec center, and I'm planning to sign up for that.

But what about the "just experiencing" part?  That sounds very Zen. Yet - who wouldn't want to pull the thorn out of your paw?  Enduring a mood is easy to do when it's high-energy full of dopamine and serotonin; I lose myself in whatever I'm doing.  Experiencing the low-energy state - not. I'm really fond of escaping it when I can find fiction to read or a movie.  This kind of chemically-based condition doesn't seem to benefit from self-examination and self-talk the way situational depression can.  And that's all I know.  Your thoughts are welcome.


  1. Thanks for sharing this. I relate to all of it, and particularly, "coming across like a Labrador Retriever puppy". I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder twenty years ago. And it's only been the last few years that I have even given consideration to "experiencing" it. Escape! has always been my mantra. Who wants to feel that way? And while I haven't had any epiphanies,I finding the idea of "being with it", makes more sense to me. I need lots of encouragement, like Pema Chodron's writing, or Tara Brach's. Some days, escape is absolutely what I need. I appreciate reading your posts on bipolar. Always good to know we are not alone.

    1. I once wrote to a Zen Teacher who is a psychiatrist, Barry Magid, asking for his suggestions on living with bipolar. He was kind enough to write back with a few words that in part indicated that it is something you have to learn to live with. He used this phrase - "abandon your fantasies of escape and control." As you see, that has really stuck with me. That getting over it is a fantasy. Hope springs eternal. But I see people doing the same with physical disorders, especially those that involve pain, trying to figure out a way to prevent it.....Thank you, it's good to hear from another bipolar.

  2. I second that quote as a way ANYone can deal with life, "Abandon your fantasies of escape and control."
    I was trying to figure out how best to deal with my disability, and since no one can relate...I found that trying to go in depth and outline it futile, others will have problems within their life span that will not mirror mine, but are as you, for instance. This is not to be-little what you have, but it really is a gift(as I think about mine), the slow and easy way to experience life traumas as one ages....instead one big fall swoop( that leaves one stupefied or dead).
    I heard from a Ted Talk: The absence of disease is not health. Now put that in your cud and chew it.

    1. Isn't it a great quote?
      I also feel grateful that I've had a long aging with some major hits of illness instead of just being struck down in middle age. Or just having nothing but good luck. Ultimately, if we can relate to our own pain, we can relate to others'.