Monday, December 10, 2012

What to Do With the Mean Reds

I wrote the post below last Thursday.  Then Friday my mood was low.  Back up on Saturday, a pleasant mood that let me spend a very nice day with Cassie et al., celebrating both her birthday and my grandson's; he was born Christmas Day, so we try to give him a birthday party some other day of the year.  Otherwise, it just isn't fair.

Recently these visits have been so nice and stress-free that I've realized this is what childhood must feel like in a family of origin that is not hysterically alcoholic and abusive, a home you can feel safe in.  I am grateful I got to experience this at last.  Even today, in a bad mood, I'm grateful, and it's not just for a peaceable friendly meal, but also for the confidence I have that Cassie and Chris are responsible, kind people.  I'm glad I don't have to worry about them.  I don't think it's a good thing when people worry about their grown kids. Sometimes you do, but it shouldn't be a habit.

I used to feel a momentary blip of anger when my mother would excuse my father's rudeness, his black silent moods interrupted by an occasional sniff that conveyed his contempt for me.  She would adopt a voice she may have thought of as kind and compassionate:  "He's worried about you."  Well, that's a co-alcoholic doing her job well, saving her compassion for the alcoholic.  Covering the reality of the children's pain, excusing the poor sod who "doesn't mean anything."  This was a feature of his abuse of me, intended to diminish me in every possible way all my life.  His will dealt me a last huge blow after he died, the coward.  "Worrying" about me was not helpful. It was a form of criticism.  And these are the kind of thoughts that pop up when I'm in the mean reds.

I had to explain the term to Tom a little bit ago.  Here is what I had posted on my regular Facebook (though not on my Page, which I try to make more uniformly pleasant than my Self):
There are blue Mondays and then there are mean red Mondays. You are experiencing the latter when you are tempted to write to a spammer, "If I ever get anything from you in my inbox again, I will hunt you down and kill you."
And no kidding, I had just restrained myself from posting exactly that.

This is my brain on bipolar.  Holly Golightly, in Breakfast at Tiffany's, got the mood once in a while, as anyone might occasionally, but for reasons.  (Here is a link to the quote.)  The bipolar brain floats and dives on its own schedule and under its own power.  I've compared it before to living in a hurricane zone.  Hurricanes just happen, and you can't stop them; about the best you can do is hunker down.  What I was  maddest about today is that I had gone back into a rhythm of good day, bad day.  You can work with that.  You can get things done on a good day.  But today's the second bad day.  

I had a plan for today.  I'd been waiting to continue reading an old fiction I pulled out last Thursday, and read with pleasure and some admiration of the youthful energy that produced it.  I'd had to stop reading in the middle and go into my bedtime routine, or find myself awake half the night.  Now that I think about it, I don't like that, either.  I'm glad I realize that I have to control myself, though.  Mania feeds on itself.  The worst thing is to start  writing the Great American Novel all through the night, and the next day, and the next.  

On Friday I knew better than to go back to the story, because when I'm depressed I think everything I ever wrote is just not worth it.  There's the internalized Nasty Father, still criticizing harshly. Best not to give it the chance.  That's reality.

I could claim that years of practice have given me insights into karma like that, as well as the discipline to turn off the screen at night when I don't want to.  But that's about it.  It has not led me to constant joy or a reliable contentment.  The blues are bad.  The mean reds are worse - agitated depression, quick to anger at, for example, a photo posted by a friend at the end of a retreat, everyone in their black Zen robes with big happy smiles.  I can't do retreats anymore for multiple reasons of aging and chronic illness extending beyond the bipolar depressions into fibromyalgia and lymphedema torn rotator cuffs and sleep disorder. I wish I could, but I can't.

I can't think of any reason people shouldn't share their joy at a retreat of advanced students meditating their ass off and filling the air with good energy.  I remember how good it felt.  All I can do about my current reaction is refrain from commenting and go do something else.  Sounds like right speech again.  And again.

As for the mood, sometimes even a Danish and window-shopping at Tiffany's doesn't do the trick.  I just have to live with it.  Accept it.  That sounds like Zen to me.


  1. Sounds like wonderful insight and understanding to me ...

    1. Thank you - I feel better already. Actually, in coming to that ending I sort of got it.

  2. Having a similar childhood, there are times when I am furious at being a blank slate for which my father could toy with based on his own problems, and a mother who said, "It will be all OK, with a bloody nose." It is very difficult to uncondition yourself when it is was firmly established after years of emotional abuse....things come up of weakness, lack of comfort and happiness. Oh, I had to be the man for my brother and sisters at a young age, thus almost ending any normalcy, and thus spending my 20's trying to recreate a childhood of sorts. Some sparks come back with things now, I should just normally brush off if my childhood conditions were supportive. But there it is, and there is no turning back, and I am going on my next 10-day vipassana to "wear out my thinker" and find that peace that lies within. But there are worse childhoods than mine, like my partner who was abandoned at birth, by both parents...and tossed to some village elders who were unrelated to be raised who had no money, meaning no food and clothes.

    1. I feel so empathetic to your reply that I haven't thought of a way to respond, just to listen. Thank you for being here, reading what I write.

  3. Dear Dalai Grandma,

    Glad your feeling better, missed you, thought of you, and can't express my gratitude enough for your practice, right where you are; my teachers are showing me how to wear those black robes, but you are showing me something unique- how to live with this intense pain.

    Suzuki Roshi said things that are dying teach best. What about things that are in severe pain? I think he meant that, because as he turned yellow with cancer, he lay on his back in the zendo, and died on the first day of rohatsu, dying and pain were probably not too separate.

    Really, really cherish you,


    1. I find myself thinking of people who can address their pain with alcohol, partying, work, and manage to rise away from it, to numb themselves to it. It is really very fortunate to hurt so damn much you break out and cry out.
      I recall a story that Suzuki was asked what he would say on his deathbed, and replied, "Ouch!" Pain is. I've had many times when I understood that dying could be a relief.