Micro-Learning

It’s still hard for me to learn new things when I start out sucking spectacularly at them. I think we all get discouraged if we don’t show any kind of talent at the beginning…part of it’s embarrassment; part is more pure ego (If I can’t be the best, why bother?).

One area I’m weak in is technology. I’m not the worst for my age, but I need to get better, and right now my nemesis is video editing. I am learning how to use iMovie, and to say I am finding it bewildering would be an understatement. But with perseverance, and a bunch of humility, I am improving.

My secret is micro-learning. With the invaluable aid of YouTube, I learn one or two itsy-bitsy things per session. I’ll search something very detailed…how do I rename a project? how do I import an audio file? Not trying to tie it all together yet. Then I take notes for myself on the thing I just learned, because my messy brain is almost certain to forget it the next time I sit down with a project.

It’s an accomplishment for me, because it goes against a very old pattern. I got into a good college on the strength of some natural talent and a lot of natural test taking ability. When I found myself dealing with much harder material there, I had no idea what to do when I was bad at something. I didn’t know how to learn…and I definitely didn’t know how to ask for help.

It’s taken decades, but now I know how. And as long as I can learn, whole worlds are open to me.

Waiting for the Other Shoe

Uh-oh…I feel good today. The side effects of my meds change have died down, and the new med is looking promising. I’m a bit less hypomanic, I’m sleeping a teeny bit better, and my morale is up. Thinking about my writing projects and publishing issues, while still chaotic, doesn’t feel quite as overwhelming.

So, I’m waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. I’m waiting for a relative’s health to take an abrupt turn for the worse, or for the dog to start throwing up, or for the nearby oil refinery to have a toxic leak. Because people with brains and/or backgrounds like mine are wired to expect disaster.

That’s one reason I carry a deep conviction that feeling happy is always the precursor to trouble. The other reason has to do with the deep shame I still battle–not the shame over things I’ve done, but the unexplainable shame I seem to have been born with. It tells me that there will always be a price for any happiness I experience; that in taking anything for myself I am stealing it from the world.

All this makes it harder to appreciate days like this, but I try. It’s a gorgeous fall day here in Northern California. We won’t be on fire again for several months, and the air is crisp and fresh. I got five glorious hours of sleep last night. My favorite jeans are clean. So is my hair. And there’s nothing I have to do for the rest of the day. Life is good.

New Name

Just a quick note to any repeat visitors…you’re not imagining things; I did just change the name of this site. I decided that, in the coming years, having it and its address just be my name will make the website easier for people to find. It also reflects the fact that the site has become a bit more eclectic. The things I’m sharing have always been diverse, but most were focused on mental health, addiction, or, more recently, the psychology of writing. But now I’ll also be sharing news about what happens to the varied stuff I write–and, someday, links to my work itself. And how awesome is it that I’m thinking years ahead; that I fully expect to keep writing different things? Even when I’m scattered and frustrated with myself for being unable to focus in on one sometimes, I am aware that every dream is a gift.

Don’t worry, though, there will still be plenty of words about other aspects of what it’s like to be a bipolar recovering addict with an eating disorder! The conditions I live with sit with me, write with me, and dream my dreams with me. They will always be part of how I present myself to the world, because it’s a way of reducing stigma and perhaps making a reader here and there feel less alone.

Yay! I Suck!

ENOUGH got its first rejection letter! And I’m trying to celebrate, because this is a milestone I’ve been waiting for. You see, to get a rejection letter you have to have sent a query, which means you have to have finished something to the point of being ready to send a query. You have to have done a proposal. You have to have come up with a query letter. And then, you have to have navigated the requirements of the particular agent you’re querying and done the annoying chore of altering your materials as needed.

I did all that. It feels like the final rite of passage from the realm of “I’d like to write a book” through “I am working on a book” to “I have written a book.” Even though I’ve had a full manuscript and been revising it for more than a year, sending it out for the first time makes it feel like a Book.

All through this process, I’ve been managing my expectations. I’ve planned to query for a certain amount of time and then, if nothing happens, look at hybrid or self publishing. My hypomanic brain jumps ahead and tries to plan for that stuff now, even though it’s not time yet. It doesn’t help that I do need to learn more about these realms for my other projects.

But right now, celebration. I’m told that everybody’s really backlogged between now and the new year, so I’ll probably wait until January before sending out the next batch. In the meantime, I want to focus on other projects and not worry about publishing…because the question of how to publish these is irrelevant until they actually get done.

You hear that, brain? Would you kindly turn off the hypomania and let me focus on one thing? Consider it a holiday gift.

Mystery Potion

I never, never want to change my psych meds. The overwhelming urge is to leave them alone, because I’ve found a regimen that has a minimum of side effects. Problem is…they’re not doing the job right now. I’ve had a consistent pattern of frequent hypomania for months, and the symptoms are starting to impact my life more. My rapid and disjointed speech is sometimes noticeable to others. Sleep is worse than my already-bad levels. I am hypercreative, but unable to settle to one project or get anything on paper. The urge to self-medicate with overeating is strong, and I’m not always able to resist it. So, it’s time for me to open my mind to a change. The last change I did was just a slight increase in the med I was already taking, but this one is adding something new.

Imagine you’ve been handed a magic potion in an opaque flask. You know you need to drink it, but you have no idea what it’s going to do to you…caught between the misery of the moment and your fear of the unknown, you raise it to your lips and swallow. And then you wait.

The next day, you feel sick. And the day after that. Or you’re semiconscious, or your mouth is so dry you can barely speak, or you can’t have sex anymore, or you’re heart-poundingly anxious, or you have sudden self-destructive thoughts, or you’re dizzy…but you continue to drink the potion, because you’ve been told all this is normal and will pass soon. But when will I feel better? you plead with the wizard. In six to eight weeks we’ll see, is the common reply.

Yes, though there are a few “big guns” of psych meds that have immediate effect, such as tranquilizers and antipsychotics, most others manifest side effects long before any therapeutic effect is felt. Which is why the popular misconception of popping an antidepressant to lift one’s mood is a pile of crap.

After an eternal couple of months, it’s time to assess whether the new med seems to be helping–and if not, it’s time to start over again with the next candidate, beginning the cycle of side effects all over again. Anyone who thinks psych meds are a crutch used by people who want to avoid the pain of life is invited to ride this merry-go-round a few times, until they understand it’s not the easy way out. It sucks, and we wouldn’t do it if we weren’t convinced it was our best bet for being more present and useful to the world and the people we love.

My Halloween Costume is a Human

How many times have I sat in a group of people and wondered how long it would be before it became clear that I didn’t belong there? Whether someone would call me out at group level, or take me aside politely and say, “No offense, but this space is for humans only?”

I saw my psychiatrist on Friday, and as often happens, the process of digging into my symptoms makes me more aware of them. I get used to the way things are for me, but when I’m sitting with the psychiatrist, when he nods sagely at a description and suggests increasing or adding a med, well…I get reminded how far from normal-normal my normal is.

I know normality isn’t a real thing, nor should it be a goal. But when I feel so far from it that I see myself as an alien cosplaying as a human, that’s a problem. It’s a problem when the sounds around me fade out and an invisible spotlight appears above my head, marking me as the intruder.

As a result of Friday’s meeting, I am facing another meds change. This means, at a minimum, days of disorientation. Other side effects could happen, maybe for weeks. Historically, I tend to have a pattern of “it gets worse before it gets better.” So…I might be feeling even more like the alien in the human suit soon.

Trick or treat.

Gratitude. Ugh.

Sometimes I worry that a person in pain will take gratitude-related advice as “suck it up, whiner!” I feel that inappropriately-timed reminders of gratitude’s importance can be condescending, minimize the importance of someone’s pain, and make them feel it’s not safe to express said pain.

That being said…yeah, cultivating gratitude is vital. Ugh. It’s as necessary as air for me, because self-pity was the biggest saboteur of my early attempts at drug abuse recovery and at managing my mental health. I felt sorry for myself when it become clear that recovery wasn’t going to make my brain normal, or let me sleep, or get me to a level of functioning suitable for the kind of work I wanted to do.

Today, it’s helpful for me to at least attempt a gratitude-centered perspective when things are tough. And my past gives me lots of useful fuel. Annoyed that my back hurts after doing dishes? Remember the many times dishes weren’t even an option. Feeling frustrated that I can’t be of more help in my daughter’s health struggles? Remember how close I came to not being there for her at all. Tired or scattered about my writing projects? Remember I could have died without writing anything.

My place is a mess? Got a place to live. Hate cooking? Got food to cook. Getting old? Beats the alternative. I can go on and on–if I’m willing to go there. But does it really do anything? It doesn’t fix everything, that’s for sure. And it won’t help if I try to force it because of a sense of duty or shame…”why am I sad? I should be grateful…”

But if I can let gratitude in, let it coexist with my other perfectly valid emotions, it will help balance my tendency to dwell on the negative. And I can use the help.

Off Switch

How do I get my brain to STOP? When I know it’s tired enough not to be productive, or I know I’m not well enough to be productive anyway, what button do I push that will convince it that it’s OK to relax and not learn or create anything right now?

Well, what button BESIDES drugs, compulsive eating, and other destructive things? For over a decade, I used ever-increasing numbers of sleeping pills because my brain wouldn’t yield to anything less than a chemical hammer. Opioids during the day also soothed my hyperactive brain. A box of donuts is usually good for shutting it up, but eating large amounts of junk comes with a high physical and mental cost.

I know, I know…I should exercise and meditate. Well, my Tai Chi classes finally reopened, so that’s a step in the right direction. But except when I am actually doing it, it doesn’t seem to change much.

Right now, for example, I just stopped in the middle of typing this to grab a piece of paper and write down an idea about how to fix a problem with the video editing I’m trying to learn. I had to remind myself that I’m in the middle of something.

What I really want to do is unplug for the day. It’s Friday afternoon, there’s nowhere I need to go, and I only slept 2 hours last night. I want to zone out and play Minecraft, or put an old, comforting movie on. And my head hurts from the video editing stuff. And I don’t want to think about the different projects I am working on, or how messy the house is, or my latest NEW writing idea. I don’t want to think at all. But the mild hypomania that has been in play more often than usual for the last few months means I spin, and spin, and spin.

Pain We Obey

“To goodness and wisdom we only make promises; pain we obey.”

-Marcel Proust

I was 32 when chronic pain changed my life. I know many people who experience worse suffering than the pain that comes with my cracked vertebra…but when it’s your pain, and you have it all the time, it feels consuming. I know what it’s like not to be present in the moment because I’m counting the minutes until I can lie down and take painkillers. I know what it’s like to plan my days around pain, to quit activities I used to enjoy, and to struggle with the simplest daily tasks.

When it became clear I was an addict with a capital A and needed to go the abstinence route, I felt so sorry for myself. My black-and-white thinking painted the future as an infinite desert of unrelieved pain and bleak depression. It felt unfair. I had to change my attitude a lot to have a chance at staying clean.

When I went to rehab for the last time (well, let’s hope it was the last time) doctors told me that overuse of meds had screwed up my pain processing system to the point that my body was creating and amplifying some of the pain. They said for every year I had used narcotic painkillers, it would take about a month clean to figure out what my true pain level was. I’d used them for eleven years. So the first year of recovery was going to suck pretty badly.

Today, I can say with gratitude that the doctors were right. Though chronic pain is still part of my life, my average pain level is far lower than before I got clean. It gets bad occasionally, but “bad” now is what was normal back then. That’s only my story, of course. I got lucky.

Living with chronic pain, like living with mental illness or being in recovery, opens us to trying things that might not have been on our agenda if life had stayed “normal.” Spiritual exploration. Meditation. Trying to find and do small things that give pleasure. Examining our ideas about what we are if we’re not our jobs or our productivity. All of you who let pain steer you into a quest for growth inspire me: how amazing that we perform, however imperfectly, this mysterious alchemy that turns pain and despair into something beautiful.

Soup du Jour

What’ll it be today? What am I going to eat? When am I going to eat? How am I going to eat?

To live with me is to, periodically, listen to my announcement of which nutritional and/or behavioral hack I have decided to use in my ongoing task of coping with my eating disorder and broken metabolism. To live with me is to notice, at some point, that I’m no longer doing the thing I announced to you a day or week or month ago. To live with me is to listen patiently as, when I get tired enough of things not going well with my eating, I announce my new plan.

I hate it. I despise the fact that I can’t settle on one nice, sensible way of eating and stick to it. Even if it has to be a weird way, I wish I could just pick one and stick with it. There are common threads–for example, being low on carbs is a thing during all but the most fuck-it phases because of my blood sugar issues–but a lot of other things vary.

How low-carb are we talking here? Strict, or more lenient? Am I practicing intermittent fasting? If I am, how extreme? How am I addressing the fact that my body’s satiety signals are pretty much broken, and I therefore need some kind of attention to portion control? Am I using behavioral rules or techniques, such as don’t-read-at-the-table, to help with emotional or mindless eating?

It varies. It varies because I vary. Sometimes I’m capable of certain things, and sometimes I’m not. Sometimes, when things get bad in other ways, being sloppy with food ends up being the least destructive way for me to act out. And, on one level, I’m ok with that. I’m even ok with the fact that all my back-and-forth efforts usually do no more than maintain my weight, because I know that if I weren’t doing my best, I’d be back up at my top weight of nearly 100 pounds above where I am now.

But I hate the inconsistency. I hate the judgment from people who don’t see why I can’t stop the merry-go-round and just eat like a normal person. And, of course, I hate that I can’t just eat like a normal person. Even other people in recovery from eating disorders sometimes judge me for my chaotic relationship with food–surely, if I were doing the emotional work, I wouldn’t flit back and forth like this. I see their point…but it’s the best I can do.

It’s almost as if I have bipolar disorder or something. Oh, wait, I do.

Goldilocks

I have come to the conclusion that Goldilocks is not an addict.

It’s not that she is without issues, most notably a lack of respect for others’ personal boundaries. But her behavior is clearly abnormal when considered from an addict’s perspective.

Come on–she samples two bowls of porridge and finds the third one to be “just right.” She eats it. Satisfied, she goes and finds a nice place to take a nap.

What’s wrong with her? Why isn’t she rummaging through the bears’ kitchen, trying to find more of that perfect stuff? Or trying to mix the hot and cold porridge to capture that “just right” again? Or just gulping down the too-hot and too-cold porridge, because it’s better than nothing? How is it possible that she is moving on?

After decades of living with an eating disorder, I know how to eat in a way that my body and brain like. I’ve learned, the hard way, that starving myself sets me up for an inevitable compensating binge. I’ve learned, through much trial and error, which foods trigger cravings and are best avoided. I’ve learned not to deprive my body of fats and other things I used to be trained to withhold. When I eat the right way for me, I feel stronger, calmer, and in less pain. I don’t obsess about food between meals. My body and mind send me messages amounting to “About time, dumbass!”

There’s just one problem–I’m nothing like Goldilocks. The concept of moderation, of just right, of enough...my addict brain squirms in discomfort. No quick gratification from weight loss? No resolutions to starve virtuously after the latest episode of binge eating? No “tomorrow will be different?” Weird.

Embracing the reality of my eating disorder, and the need to deal with it even while other conditions might seem more urgent, is a balancing act I will never master. This process will never end, only ebb and flow. And I have to love myself anyway. Weird.

La La La La I’m Not Listening…

“Don’t believe everything you think,” goes the saying. There’s a constant negative monologue in my head, competing with and trying to drown out anything positive I generate, and when I’m in a depressive dip it gets fucking LOUD. I want to stick my fingers in my ears and hope it gets tired and shuts up. But that doesn’t work. Trying to artificially pump up positive thoughts doesn’t work either. Trying to debate or fight the dark feelings just fuels them because now they’re getting more attention. I have to coexist with the voices, not fight them, not try too hard to distract myself from them…but, somehow, not believe them.

When I was studying counseling, one of my favorite professors told a story about a schizophrenic client who believed he lived on the moon. The professor, then a young therapist, tried the techniques he had been taught to challenge and question the client’s delusion. But all this did was reinforce the client’s resistance. One day, tired and discouraged, the therapist went a different direction. He decided, just for the day, that he would not try to convince the client of anything. Instead, he asked, “What’s it like to live on the moon?”

And for many sessions to come, he listened to the client’s stories about living on the moon. As the client came to trust him more, the therapist was able to tie some of the stories to what was happening in the real world and engage on that level some of the time. But he had let go of the idea that it was his job to convince the man to give up his reality for a more approved one.

I have to be like that therapist. I have to sit in a room with the dark version of reality my mind generates and allow it to be itself…but maintain a certain detachment from it. It isn’t me. There’s an entire universe outside of that metaphorical room, full of light and dark, too complex for words.

Diagnose Me

There’s someone in my life who is starting to dig deeper into their neurodivergence. Whatever diagnosis might fit–adult ADHD, bipolar II, something else–they want it. They want it so they can try associated treatments that haven’t been available to them before. They want new items to add to the list of things that might help them, a list that is all they have to cling to on some hard days. They want to get at what might be standing in the way of doing what they need to do to improve their other conditions.

When I was taking psychopharmacology in grad school, many of my fellow students had a lot of negative feelings about diagnosis in mental health. They didn’t like the idea of putting people into boxes. They felt certain diagnoses were given too freely and caused more harm than good. And both of these things are valid concerns.

But here’s my own experience–the right diagnosis was life-changing for me. Until I was diagnosed with bipolar II, I spent more than a decade being treated with medicines that were ineffective at best and dangerous at worst (for example, many antidepressants have unfortunate effects on a bipolar person). After being diagnosed, I started to be treated with medicines that, while they didn’t fix everything, were far more on target. Having the diagnosis also gave me a language for the things I had been experiencing and made them a little less scary. It validated what I’d been going through and gave more opportunities to seek new methods of treatment. It empowered me.

I hope this new seeker finds a way to get the screenings and evaluation they need (no easy task, these days, if you aren’t rich). I celebrate the insight they’ve reached about themselves and their desire to address it. And I pray that diagnosis will be a useful tool for them; one that opens doors.

The Parable of the Cursed Axe

So there I was, playing my old-fashioned dungeon crawler computer game when I should have been doing paperwork between counseling sessions. My character had survived and prospered long enough to have excellent armor, strength and health, but I was still wielding a lowly dagger. So I was pleased to find an axe, and picked it up, even though I knew some weapons were cursed.

On the next floor of the dungeon, I found myself surrounded by orcs. They aren’t too strong in this game, which is why they travel in large packs. So I was surprised when my attacks on the first orc seemed ineffective. Maybe I’d better switch back to my dagger…but when I tried to drop it, I saw the dreaded message: You can’t. It appears to be cursed. I was stuck with my axe. Checking my inventory, I realized it was minus-2 power. Ugh. This orc pack was going to take a while.

I’ll get to my metaphor soon. Honest.

Then, a rust monster appeared. With every hit, this feared being damages your weapons and armor. My minus-two axe became minus-three, seven…minus-twenty by the time I managed to kill the thing. I was now fighting the swarm of orcs with what amounted to a shapeless hunk of iron too heavy to lift. But I couldn’t put it down.

Wielding a cursed weapon sucks. But we’ve all done it, haven’t we? Haven’t we had a response, or a coping mechanism, that has become ineffective at best and destructive at worst, but we just can’t put it down? We swing it helplessly at the problems around us, unable to pick up a healthier method even if we know of one. We have trouble accepting that our old weapon isn’t working, hasn’t been working for a while, and is never going to work again.

Addiction is one example, of course. We wield our drug or behavior of choice to the point of self-destruction. But there are so many other cursed weapons out there, and some of these became part of our arsenal when we were very young. If we learned to shut down, avoidance becomes our default response and is difficult to change. If we learned angry confrontation as the go-to reaction, that’s our cursed weapon. If we learned to please and placate others, we hack our way to a lifetime of inauthenticity.

What are your weapons? Are they working? If they’re not, can you put them down? Or are they cursed, cursed in a way you can’t uncurse without magic?

Brick and Acid

There’s a huge brick sitting on my chest. My stomach feels as if it’s trying to eat itself. I jump at the slightest sound. The cause: my dog has been sick. Nothing too catastrophic, it seems, since she is better than yesterday. We just came back from the vet where they drew some blood for tests.

Anyone would be anxious when their beloved pet is ill–but my spouse, unlike me, has been sleeping at night. He seems to be able to draw a deep breath. I’m obsessively listening for every tiny sound the dog makes, at every hour of the day and most hours of the night. I did catch two hours of sleep last night, and I am grateful for that much.

My limbic system, the part of the nervous system responsible for sensing and reacting to threats, is hypersensitive. It always has been, and it got worse when the bipolar disorder came along. Abusing drugs that relaxed me, and thus neglecting to exercise the parts of my psyche that manage anxiety, probably didn’t help either.

The crisis is over for the time being. She’s feeling better and eating again. But tell my limbic system that…I know that tonight, and probably several nights after that, will have me straining my ears for the tiniest clue, the tiniest sound that might mean she’s throwing up or having trouble breathing or being abducted by aliens. And my sleep debt, already large this last week, will grow and grow.

I hear my poet and writer friends talk about serious stresses going on in their lives, and I wonder how they manage to write through it…how do they focus on anything else when the brick is pressing so hard and the acid is so sharp?

MacBeth Shall Sleep No More

Shakespeare characters suck at sleeping, just like me. Hamlet wanders around the castle and sees ghosts. Henry V soliloquizes about how lucky peasants are to labor all day because they can sleep soundly at night. MacBeth, when talking about his murder-induced guilt, focuses on the fact that he’ll never again know peaceful sleep.

They all know the loneliness of being awake while the world sleeps around you. The worry of knowing you’ll be too tired to function in the morning and knowing you must. The pain and fatigue and vague nausea all the next day. Trying not to wake up those nearby while wishing they would wake up and keep you company; telling them to go back to sleep and resenting that they can.

For thirteen years now, I’ve had a pretty intractable case of insomnia. During my years of drug abuse, I used ever-increasing amounts of sedatives and hypnotics to cudgel my brain into sleep, only to have them stop working as I developed tolerance. The longest I’ve ever gone without any sleep at all is six days, a bipolar episode that ended in the hospital. Normally, I would drop off sometime between 3 a.m. and dawn, often to the soothing first chirping of the birds, only to be awakened by my alarm one to three hours later. It made my other issues worse; not surprising, considering the effects of sleep deprivation on everything from mood to pain threshold to executive function.

It was awful, all right…but what a bonanza of self-pity for an addict! I always had a plausible excuse for retreating to my room and skipping something I didn’t want to do. “Sorry, the sleep deprivation’s crossed a line and my survival requires a nap.” It was useful to the side of me that wanted no part of responsibilities that would get in the way of taking painkillers.

Fast forward to recovery, and needing to abstain from all the meds I used to abuse: I had to work at changing my attitude about sleep; I had to become willing to stay clean even if it meant I’d never sleep through the night again. I had to accept that I’m not in charge of how much sleep I get, and that I’ll get just enough when I need it badly enough. It meant practicing acceptance when lack of sleep interferes with my energy or mood. It meant letting go of any question of fairness about it all.

Of course, I fail at these enlightened principles. Often. I want to snarl at people who give advice on how to sleep…yeah, thanks, I haven’t tried your sleep hygiene tip any time during the last decade and a half of suffering. I have to guard my mind against the human, understandable, but very dangerous thought: “I really need one night of sleep. Just one night. I’d feel so much better. I haven’t taken sleeping pills in years now, so one would probably work really well. No one would have to know…”

But I don’t need “one night of sleep.” Not at the price I’d end up paying.

Lighthouse

There are many reasons I wish I didn’t have bipolar disorder and other neurodivergence. There are many reasons I wish I weren’t an addict. But none of them compare to the gut-wrenching regret about how these conditions affect my legacy to my daughter.

No matter how hard I tried to minimize the effects back when I was using painkillers, no matter how hard I tried to keep my mental issues from overcoming the good things in our relationship, it all had to have an impact. Today, there have been many improvements and I’m able to do a lot that I couldn’t do before. But some things don’t change. This young woman still got issued a breathtakingly imperfect mother. She sees me struggle with large problems and trivial ones. She sees me be inconsistent with self-care and the tasks of daily life.

But there are good messages I pass along to her as well. She sees me fail–but she always sees me try again. She sees me struggle with the impulses of my addictions–but she always sees me rededicate myself to recovery. She sees me be down-hearted–but she always, in an hour or day or week, witnesses me hauling myself up with the power of imagination and metaphor. She sees me be self-critical–but she always sees me come back to a place of love and self-acceptance.

I’m teaching her that we fail, and the world doesn’t come to an end. I’m teaching her that there’s a way back from the dark places. I’m modeling humility, and perseverance, and hope. I know this–but like any parent, I want to be better. As a mother, as an addict in recovery, as a person with mental health issues, I want to be a message of hope strong enough to accompany her through everything. I want her to see me fucking win.

I want to be an ever-present, brilliant beacon. But I’m not. I am a lighthouse–shining, going dark, then shining again.

Once More, With Feeling

This is what happens when you awaken the creativity of a middle-aged person with a mild form of bipolar disorder and decades of expression squished down inside them.

I’ve been neglecting this blog because there’s so much going on that I thought I would need to start a new one about my memoir project. Then I thought I’d need two new ones, because of my other book project. Then the experience of having finished a book fired me up with the knowledge that if I wrote one book, I could write others…and I thought I’d need a blog for those.

Argh! Enough! I’ve made peace with the fact that, like me, any blog I do is going to be multifaceted. So this’ll be the hub for it all…you’ll hear about different book projects. You’ll hear about living a creative life with bipolar disorder. You’ll hear about my successes and failures in self-care, my ongoing journey in recovery from opioid addiction, and whatever is helping me get by on a particular day.

Sometimes I’ll post old essays that never made it onto here. Sometimes I’ll write new ones. But mostly, I’ll try to write with honesty about my breathtakingly imperfect day-to-day life. The life of someone who used to live on the edge of suicide, but now lives on the messy, jagged edge of possibility.

Murdering My Darlings

An English author, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, coined the phrase “murder your darlings” to describe a good editing process. I’ve had to murder a lot of darlings while shaping my first draft, and I can only imagine how many darlings will meet destruction as the thing gets polished.

It’s hard! Especially when the darling in question is really–well, darling. Well-written. Poetic. Touching. A sentence, or paragraph, or even a chapter, that is wonderful writing but doesn’t belong where it is.

The chapters I wrote, one at a time, over the last two or three years contain a lot of writing that has to stay out of the book. Not because it isn’t good. It is. But the book has to have a story arc, and the content has to serve the arc. Not to mention issues around word count.

This week I cut the first chapter of the book. Just cut it, outright. I slipped a little exposition into what was Chapter Two, but all the writing from the previous Chapter One is gone. The book now begins in a completely different way.

Oh, darling. I’m so sorry.

Eating Disorders Have Weird Rules

Yes, lest those who read my stuff ever forget: I’ve lived with an eating disorder since I was thirteen or so. It coexists with my mental health issues and with my life as an addict in recovery. It’s there to a greater or lesser extent every day of my life.

I’ve been blessed in recent years with being able to take better care of my body in some ways. Many days are relatively free of compulsions, many other days are moderate, but a few still take me back to the worst days.

A couple of days ago, I felt myself teetering close to a binge and didn’t want to go there, so I tried to do some “harm reduction.” At the grocery store, I bought a couple boxes of artificially-sweetened treats (yuck) to bribe myself out of buying other things.

So there I am, yesterday, with a terrible stomachache from the treats my body is not liking. I decide, disgusted, that I don’t want them around any more. I don’t want them around tomorrow, because if they are around tomorrow, I will eat them and have another stomachache and feel like crap all day.

This where the awful rules kick in. You see, I am not allowed to throw the treats away. No. I bought them, I made that choice, and now I have to pay for it. If I don’t want them around tomorrow, there is only one allowable way to get rid of them. I have to eat them. All of them. Tonight.

I hate the rules.

Interrupted

I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by how far my two book projects have progressed…well, the universe found a cure for that! For two weeks, I’ve been flattened by a flare-up of my old back issues. On bad days I shuffle, stagger or crawl from bed to bathroom to recliner. My creativity is blotted out by pain and worse insomnia than usual. It’s frustrating as hell not to be able to do the dishes, take out the garbage, or even pick up things I drop.

In my counseling training, I met many folks who were in the field of “somatic psychology;” that is, the study of how the mind’s issues can affect the body. It’s a growing field, full of promise. But, like people in any field, students of this one can go to extremes. It made me crazy when anything from a sneeze to a sprained ankle caused classmates to start diagnosing some kind of emotional source.

That being said, mind/body connections are real…so am I somehow the author of this flare-up? Is there more going on than “shit happens?” Did my body arrange for me to be forced to take a break, to put everything on hold, to step away from all the “what now” questions about my manuscripts? All I can do is try to engage my thoughts with honesty as I heal from this.

Whether they are related or not, my mind and body both need to know that they don’t have to break down to get a break. Fallow periods are normal for any creative person. I’m allowed to have them without a physical or mental crisis existing as a reason.

Scary Progress

Here’s the thing…I wrote a book.

I have to say it that way now, because the rough draft exists. I’ve even let a few people read it and give me some basic feedback.

I have written a story about a young girl with an eating disorder who grew up to be a scientist, a mother, a person with bipolar disorder, a counselor, a drug addict, and at last a person who tries to balance all of these things.

It’s still got some editing ahead of it before I begin trying to take the next steps, but the fact that it exists is scary.

My second project, a full-length poetry compilation about the opioid epidemic, is also making frightening progress. I’d say it’s 60% done, including the hard part of deciding how to structure it.

What the actual fuck. How did this happen? If anyone had told me ten years ago…

I is for Inconsistency

Case in point: how many days/letters I just skipped. This is a fact of life. Anything I start has a good chance of not getting completed the way I or others envision it. I have to either abandon a project or be willing to come back to it humbly, again and again if necessary, owning my past neglect and trying not to make excuses for it.

We all have to do it. We tackle our horrific bathroom, chiding ourselves for letting it get this bad. We try to save a dying plant, knowing it wouldn’t be dying if we’d been more diligent about its care in the past. We start exercising again, bemoaning the body that would be so much stronger if we hadn’t stopped.

Yes, we all do it. But when I’m coming out of a depressive dip–or a series of them with some good old procrastination in between–it’s a big barrier to get over. It’s bad enough when it’s a chore, or paperwork, or my health, but it’s worse when it’s relationships I neglected.

This is a topic I’ve written about before and will probably write about for the rest of my life: finding the balance between appropriate remorse and destructive shame. Not being someone who saunters around saying, “Well, this is just how I am!” but also not hiding away from the world and refusing to give what I can.

F Is For “Fuck It”

The ultimate metamorph, the “fuck it” feeling can be good or bad, destructive or liberating. It can be the moment of casting aside recovery efforts and popping a pill, or the moment of turning away from a useless argument to direct your efforts to more important things.

Recklessness. Apathy. Liberation. Anger. Dismissal. Rejection. Exasperation. Spontaneity. It can mean any of them. And any of its meanings could be playing out in a healthful or unhealthful way.

“Fuck it” is not appropriate when faced with politics…but it’s appropriate when looking at the hundredth headline about the same thing when what you really need is sleep.

“Fuck it” is not appropriate when faced with a difficult relationship…but it is when the same specific argument has happened a hundred times and you have to start looking for a solution that doesn’t involve convincing the other person you’re right.

“Fuck it” isn’t useful when it comes to your health…but it is when you hear the same outdated lecture from your doctor for the hundredth time after they’ve forgotten your logical response to it for the hundredth time.

“Fuck it” isn’t good as a general approach to parenting…but it makes a lot of sense when your kid’s finally dressed for preschool, except they insist on wearing their rain boots on a sunny day, and it was time to leave five minutes ago, and it’s just not worth it.

We need the “fuck it” feeling or it would be hard to let go of anything. Oh, there are more serene ways to let go–but they require a level of confidence and self-acceptance that few of us can sustain all the time. Whatever emotion comes with of “fuck it” helps shut up that voice telling us we can’t stop until it’s solved; until we win.

E Is For Elephant in the Room

You know the one. Someone brings up the topic of addiction, or mental illness, or meds…and suddenly the elephant is there, pointing its trunk right at you, and there’s an awkward pause in the conversation. Or maybe you’re watching a movie with friends, and the plot introduces something to do with the condition(s) you have, and you feel tension in the room as others wonder how you’re reacting and you wonder whether the fictional character is changing the way they see you. Or you’re at a support group meeting and someone’s sharing about the horrible things Person with Condition X has done to them and people who know you flick their eyes towards you and away and you’re there thinking, “Well, Person with X sounds to me like a total asshole who just happens to have Condition X.”

I’m only one of many who experience this kind of thing. An even more pervasive version is experienced by a Black woman I know who finds it incredibly frustrating to be the only person of color at a gathering because people see her as a “representative” and expect her to react to and weigh in on any remotely race-related topic. She can’t just be in the group as herself.

Sometimes the elephant is present when people know just a little about me and what I have. They’re curious to know more, but they’re uncomfortable about asking. Every decision point makes them unsure whether they will offend. Meanwhile, every misconception they’ve absorbed in their earlier life is coloring how they see me and their judgment of whether I’m a safe person to invite closer.

So when my book is polished a bit more, can I just carry it around and force every new acquaintance to read it? Unfortunately, I don’t think it works that way.

D Is For Despair

Sometimes despair looks like roses.

It did for me, one day in 2011, when I looked at the roses in my yard for what I thought would be the last time as I prepared to leave and carry out my plan for suicide. (Spoiler alert, I didn’t go through with it.)

Despair looks different on everyone. It can look like slumping on a couch, surrounded by paraphernalia of one’s substances of choice, staring into the distance. It can look like careening through one destructive relationship or hookup after another. It can look like sitting at a computer all night, whether working or gaming, not wanting to see the external world or another person’s face. It can look like a perfectly normal life and come through in nothing but occasional body language cues and microexpressions.

One person’s hallmarks of despair might not indicate despair on another person. They might just be in a fallow period, or a mentally hyperactive period, or be acting out a bit following a breakup.

How is despair different from depression, or grief? I think it’s different because it’s more than a set of phenomena like symptoms, emotions, or behaviors. Despair is any or all of those things grown into a worldview; a set of beliefs. Beliefs about what life is, what possibilities do and don’t exist, and the worth of one’s own self and experiences.

If emotions are weather, despair is geographical change. Sometimes it sets in abruptly, like an earthquake, but more often its effects are slow and insidious. And sometimes it lifts or alters abruptly, with a change in circumstances, but it can also recede as subtly as it came.

That’s what it was like for me. The return of hope was so quiet, so gradual, that it was a shock when I realized it was there.

C Is For Cannabis

Okay, first, for the record, cannabis is awesome. I am so glad it’s getting legalized more and more. I agree with those who argue that, as a recreational drug, it’s less harmful than alcohol. I’m glad dispensaries carry such a variety in so many forms. I have many friends who benefit from its medical use, whether it be smoking it for nausea or applying CBD oil to aching joints. My own daughter may start using it for her migraines. Cannabis needs to stay legal, get cheaper, and be the subject of research to plumb its possibilities.

But please stop pressuring me to use it. Tell me how well it’s worked for you, once or twice–sure. But let it go after that.

I know many strains won’t produce euphoria. I know all that, I swear. But this one woman keeps telling me I should smoke it for my anxiety, which implies a strain that does something…and for me, an anti-anxiety effect would create a constant temptation to overuse, because I’m an addict and I react in certain ways to things that produce short-term changes. I stay away from certain psych meds for the same reasons. I just can’t use an “off” switch in a responsible way.

It’s true that I belong to a recovery community that views cannabis with a lot of suspicion, so peer influence plays a role in my caution. If I should develop a condition where cannabis really is the only thing that will help, I’ll have to navigate complicated choices. But I am not there yet. Recovery is a lifelong task of risk/benefit analysis.

B Is For Brain

Does changing my brain mean changing who I am?

I believe in some type of consciousness that surpasses matter. But in everyday life my emotions, thinking ability, and creativity are profoundly influenced by the physical qualities of the lump of soggy goo that lives inside my skull. It requires fuel. It responds to its chemical environment. When I get sick, it loses function. When I took drugs, it responded to that. And when that lump of soggy goo developed bipolar disorder, it changed my life on so many levels I can’t imagine a hypothetical self without it now.

There’s a novel in which the protagonist, an old man, gets his brain transplanted into the body of a young, beautiful woman. He had his original brain and all its memories, but that brain was now bathed in a different chemical soup. The author chose to have the character, a heterosexual man in his old body, become bisexual with a strong preference towards men. The explanation given was twofold: a bond with the previous owner of the body, and the influence of female hormones.

Do I think that explanation is realistic? No, and I think some of the author’s attitudes about gender are quite dated, but it is food for thought. How much of our sexuality, for example, lies in the body, how much in the brain, and how much in a mysterious entity that is neither? Extrapolating, how much of my very identity lies in each?

I don’t mean to define myself by a diagnosis in a self-defeating manner, nor do I mean to discount the role of attitude and insight in my quality of life. I’m simply saying that understanding that I’m coping with a certain kind of brain can help me structure and create a life that suits it as well as possible. I know there’s a huge amount I can do to influence it–but I’m still starting with my individual lump of soggy goo.

A Is For Acceptance

I used to think acceptance was the coward’s way out. It would be wrong for me to accept my conditions or their limitations, because that would mean I was giving up instead of fighting, fighting all the time, fighting to create a “normal” life like all the inspirational stories out there tell us a disabled person is supposed to do.

The culture I live in glorifies fighting. When a person develops cancer, their process is framed as a battle. Their perceived job is to fight–and if the cancer proves to be terminal, the battle is lost. Death is framed as a failure. For millions like me, life with compromises is seen as a failure. Accepting that I cannot work full-time, or spend too long in certain environments, means stepping away from the meritocracy and accepting a role of someone who’s not in the race.

Settling into a regimen of care that doesn’t fix everything but has been sustainable for years is seen as a failure. I’m supposed to be trying things, constantly seeking alternative treatments, and spending my life in an endless search for a cure instead of living it.

Of course, there’s a balance needed between accepting and fighting. There are many battles to fight every day. If a heavy depression has kept me from washing my hair for days, accepting my greasy locks and itchy scalp isn’t the best choice. Better to fight the inertia, if I can, and drag myself to the shower. Ditto for hundreds of other arenas where I take on my demons to win the prize of some meaningful action.

But accepting myself, in general–accepting that I have the life I do–is key, no matter what it costs.

No Help To Be Had

This morning I made calls to ten more therapists whose names were given to me by the network my health care plan referred me to because they have no more capacity. I have now contacted about fifty therapists and found no openings in a process that has lasted six months. Even before that, my visits had been dropped to one every six weeks.

The pandemic has ripped the band-aid from several wounds in our society, and I hope this is one of them. There is something fundamentally wrong about mental health care for the non-wealthy; it has been wrong for a while, but this is a tipping point. The ERs are going to be flooded more than they already are–mental health ER visits have increased markedly in many areas.

California’s process for licensure as an MFT or social worker is one of the longest and hardest in the nation, and structured in a way that makes it nearly impossible to achieve working part time because if you don’t finish in six years they make you start over. Counselor trainees, and anyone not working in out-of-pocket private practice, are overworked to the point of breakdowns. Usually, their one goal is to get into private practice and escape their hell.

What is the answer? Peer counseling? A lower-level licensure to work with clients who mostly need coaching and someone to listen? What the hell do we do about this? I want to help, but licensure has been off the table for a while because I can only work part-time. I know I could do useful counseling, if there was a framework to do so. But there isn’t.

Grief Time Warp

My sister died a month ago. It seems like a very long time, but it also feels as if it happened yesterday.

Grief makes time do strange things. So does depression. So does mania, for that matter. All of these things make our already subjective sense of time much more subjective. But there’s another way grief changes time–you get caught in memories.

I’ve always been resistant to talking about my childhood. Even when I tell my story to a group of fellow addicts or some other group, I act as if I sprang into being as a teenager. “My childhood was better than some, and worse than others,” is the most I will say before moving on.

But I did have a childhood, and my sister was part of it, as were her conflicts with other family members. When she left home to join the military, it affected us all. When her addiction developed and she began to go in and out of destructive behavior, that affected everyone too. When I developed an eating disorder, I looked to her as an example when she was doing the recovery thing. When I myself became a drug addict decades later, I felt even closer to her no matter how little we were talking.

This month has been hard. Not just because I’m sad, but because her death has ripped off the band-aids on all sorts of toxic family stuff. But I am called to strength now. I need to bring passion to my recovery work, because the addiction that slowly destroyed her body still wants mine. After nine years clean, it still waits, and watches, ready to catch me if I fall into self-pity or run too far away from my feelings.

Stop Writing Right Now!

That’s what my brain has been telling me for a few days. Whether it’s the result of my latest biochemical dip, or the stage of my projects, or environmental factors, is unimportant. And there’s no writer who doesn’t live with frequent self-doubt. Still, I hate it when the “stop writing” thoughts take over for days at a time.

They lay out, in excruciating detail, an array of reasons why my two big writing projects a) suck and b) are meaningless.

Sometimes they focus on the book and tell me it’s boring, self-absorbed, and won’t actually help anyone. Sometimes they focus on the poetry compilation and tell me it’s trite and not topical any more; that the pandemic means nobody cares about addiction even though overdose rates continue to rise.

I’ve done some reading about the nature of thoughts, especially the usefulness of being aware that what I think of as a thought is, in fact, nothing more than a set of words. It has no power. Whether a true story or a false one, it is a story.

I don’t beat myself up for buying into thoughts more when I’m in a depressive dip. It makes sense that my defenses get exhausted then. But it helps to know that I’m doing it; to see the process happening and know it is a process.

The Conversation’s Getting Harder

Ever since the pandemic began, I’ve felt an unusual amount of pressure to keep it together. Not surprising…health care workers of all kinds are overloaded, so it makes sense that as a concerned person I’d want to avoid making them work harder.

Non-emergency mental health appointments are very difficult to get. My health care system dropped my video visits to once every six weeks, then none. I either cope on my own or, if I feel as if I’m going to harm myself, I am supposed to go to the packed, overwhelmed ER. There’s nothing in between.

I am all right, relatively speaking, so far. But I continue to be worried about others who need more care to manage their conditions—and when my symptoms rise, I’m afraid for myself too.

The conversation about needing help is harder to have these days, especially when extreme political turmoil is added to pandemic stress:

Person With Mental Health Issues: I’m not sleeping.

World: Duh. Nobody’s sleeping right now.

PWMHI: I’m…feeling really depressed.

World: Duh…

PWMHI: I’m anxious all the time. I can’t sit still. I really have the urge to use drugs.

World: Join the crowd.

PWMHI: …. (Struggles to find words to convey that their symptoms are more than just feelings, that they’re in danger from them. Gropes for words that might get them some understanding without making them look like a selfish person who just wants attention.)

World: Are we done here?

Splat

It happens so quickly. One moment, I’m me. I’m dealing with symptoms, but have a decent sense of self at the center of it all. Then a question comes up. Someone wants to know if I’m up to doing an optional, often recreational, thing. It might be as simple as watching a certain movie. But I freeze.

Am I up to it? Is my brain able to cope with whatever the thing is at the moment? I stare at my questioner like a deer in headlights as my brain whirls. What’s worse, to turn the person down or to try the thing and have it not work out? I think about all the reasons I should say yes; all the times I’ve had to say no in the past…and as I struggle to find words, I’m plastered against a wall of shame like a bug on a windshield.

Still staring at the person who waits for a reply, I’m consumed with hatred for the cycle of apologies that shapes my days. I despise that the necessity for some apologies remains, no matter how well I take care of myself or how much I grow in self-acceptance. I go through a miniature version of the anger and shame I felt when I was first diagnosed, or when I first realized my condition wasn’t going to let me do certain jobs.

At last I answer the question. But whatever my answer is, my mini-crisis churns inside me and tries to taint my experience.

Why Am I Surprised?

I know how this works. I’m hypomanic for a while. I get all sorts of great ideas for projects. I even work on some of them. My mind whirls with possibilities…then comes the crash.

Then come the nights of less and less sleep as the exciting part of hypomania turns into a complete inability to focus on one thought for amy length of time. Then the disorientation. Then the onset of a depressive phase.

I know how this works. So why is a tiny part of me still taken aback when it happens? Why am I surprised that now my mind is sluggish, or that I react to questions with a “deer in headlights” expression? Why am I surprised that the happy projects of a few days ago seem as far away as the moon and just as unattainable?

Why can’t I accept that I, in effect, have lost a good part of my intelligence for a few days? That I’m going to be physically clumsy and have to take care not to fall and hurt myself?

No matter how much acceptance I achieve, there’s a part of me that fights. I don’t want to be like this. I don’t want to slog through the days ahead and wait for the spark to return. I don’t want to be spending way too long writing this post because of the constant typos my fumbling fingers are making.

I don’t want it, but that’s the way it is.

Leaving the Box

I have lived most of my life in boxes. Some were shaped like rehab. Some were shaped like psych wards. Many had no physical structure at all, only walls and flaps made of compulsive rituals.

I have lived most of my life obsessed with the next pound, the next pill, or the next scheme to fix myself and leave the realm of brokenness behind forever.

Wars happened while I dwelt in my boxes. Cultures changed, the planet suffered…for most of my adult life I have been on the sidelines, self-absorbed. I don’t say that to beat myself up, only as a simple truth.

There are a lot of limits to what I can do now, but I do believe I have left boxes behind. Even when I have episodes, even when I’m overwhelmed, I am still part of the general community.

I get to experience the fear and anger we all feel. I get to experience ordinary human joys and sorrows. I get to look at myself in the mirror and notice the mundane signs of aging.

I hope I never stop visiting my former boxes, because many friends known and unknown are still in them. But I don’t live there anymore.

Timelessness

Today is Monday. This has been a public service announcement.

I’m in shock that it is November. My impressions of the last months are separated not by date but by vague phases of no-fires, fires, no-fires, election, and dark, all silhouetted against the pandemic.

For those like me who don’t have structured employment, this timelessness can be a hazard. “Make a schedule,” advice articles say. Yes, I’ll get right on that as soon as I master basic self-care and achieve some sort of consistent energy level.

I am lucky I don’t live alone, or it would be worse. My spouse, who is working from home, gives a few clues—if I do not hear his voice on the constant remote meetings he endures, it must be the weekend.

I have other clues as well. If I’m logging in to my writing group, it must be Friday. If I’m logging in to a certain support group meeting, it’s Tuesday. But there’s still a feeling of timelessness.

Who Counsels the Counselors?

I’m not working in the counseling field right now. I may never be able to work in it again; I don’t know. But my experience from both sides of the relationship makes me acutely aware of both sides of the mental health crisis which is a secondary effect of the pandemic.

In the last six months, the therapist my health plan allows me to see (a sad once a month) has been replaced three times. There are no longer any therapists there qualified to run certain groups, the only type of help available more often. Counselors all over are quitting many jobs like rats leaving a ship because their client overload and working conditions become too much to handle.

The people who need ongoing therapy for their conditions need it more than ever. People who didn’t need help before now need some. And it’s getting worse as those who marshaled all their strength and white-knuckled it through the last six months feel their grip begin to slip.

Counselors have always faced a high risk of burnout. They must fight to protect their psyche against “vicarious trauma” that builds up when engaging with a client’s trauma. Well, I’ve heard it said that we are all experiencing low-level trauma right now. That means that the stress on the counselors now is not just a matter of time and energy. It’s a matter of extra injury to their minds and souls.

Five Minutes

I just sat down and wrote a list of five-minute activities. It felt pretty cheesy, but I need to find the willingness to pick one when I feel adrift instead of turning to eating or video games.

As I’ve written before, I’m fine with video games to a point. And I know where that point is; I’m not getting any fun or relaxation out of the game if I pass it. So unless I’m in near-crisis and just have to buy time, it is better to get up and do something else.

Why five minutes? It’s an attempt to break through the block that says something’s only worth doing if I’m going to go the whole nine yards. A walk has to be a long one, scrubbing a toilet has to involve cleaning the whole bathroom, etc. This perfectionism feeds into the “well, I’m not feeling up to all that, so I’ll wait for a time when I am.”

I’ve been ignoring my physical therapy exercises for a hip pain. The whole routine takes a half hour twice a day and feels as far from me as the moon. But wouldn’t it be better to do a few of the stretches than nothing?

Nonzero is always, always better than zero for me. Staring disgustedly at a poem draft for five minutes is light-years ahead of not bringing it before my eyes at all.

Passing for Normal

I felt normal today because I got to drink coffee from my favorite place, something I haven’t done since February. There were tables very far apart, so I sat drinking and feeling a breeze on the lower part of my face. Such a normal thing that I’ve missed a lot. It made me think of other times I’ve felt normal, or—more likely—just felt as if I looked normal.

I remember passing for thin. Around 2013, I was at the tail end of a very low-calorie diet that took my weight down close to “ideal.” I took a ballroom dance class but never lost the feeling of being an imposter. The body I had, even as it moved while held in someone’s arms, felt like an illusion tricking them.

I remember passing for normal as a mom, mostly when my daughter was little and I’d sit in the park exchanging innocuous facts with other mothers while laughing at toddler antics. Although I was far, far from okay on the inside, the outside looked wholesome.

I remember passing for a normal person at a ball game. The SF Giants were in the playoffs and I was in the stands with my spouse and daughter. I wore an old orange Giants T-shirt of his. I was in orange, just like everyone else. I felt happy to be part of the crowd.

And oh, God, I remember passing for normal at jobs, back when I could. Wearing an ID badge, nodding at meetings, writing up notes. Helping others. Looking competent and adult between my secret anxiety-attack bathroom breaks.