This post has been percolating for a while. Why?
Because I’ve gone through yet another mental low and I’m so very tired of them. I’m also somehow feeling like I’m not measuring up because I haven’t yet figured out this pattern that seems to be on repeat throughout my life.
I fell into this low on Sunday November 8th. I remember the time frame like it was yesterday because I’d just come off a high the day before from organizing a virtual 12 step program day with a stellar lineup of speakers. I’m not sure what thought I had that precipitated the descent but I remember spending most of the next day in bed reading, full of sadness and anxiety. I told myself it was the low after coming off the high but the cloud persisted. It’s like the curtains went down and everything dimmed.
These lows tend to last for about six weeks and sure enough, I felt myself coming out of the fog by mid December.
I can only describe these periods as hell. I feel sad, depressed and full of fear and anxiety. This pattern feeds on itself and becomes a shame spiral. The old family of origin tapes start playing about how I’m not measuring up and I’m a failure. I go into this container and only let a few people in. It takes everything I have just to show up to work and get through the basics of life needed to survive.
It’s like Dr Jekyll and Dr Hyde. There are two different personas. One who shows up full of life and the other who is full of fear.
I’ve come to understand after many conversations that this is most likely the family disease of alcoholism playing out.
It’s no wonder I’ve been misdiagnosed as being bipolar in the past.
I spoke to my doctor about my mental health given my family history. My doctor has known me for 22 years and my mother was a former patient. Her advice was to go to those closest to me and find out whether I’d made enough changes in the past few years in my life with recovery. I had more questions than answers after those three conversations. I chose my go to person in program, my sponsor, and my former counselor whom I hadn’t seen in a year.
How much is enough change? Change is hard to quantify. Is this a biological occurrence or the result of years of distorted thinking? Impossible questions.
My doctor suggested a medication to treat bipolar disorder which her patients have had success with. However, medication takes dosing and time to figure out the right level that is most effective. What was most disturbing was that if I came off the medication too quickly, I could die. Great, so you’re going to give me a weapon when I’m already having thoughts of wanting to die?
Instead I focused on increasing my dose of vitamin D, started light therapy and leaned even more into my program.
By the grace of a power greater than myself, I was called by the organization I go to for counseling. I had been on a waiting list for months and a spot with a new counselor opened up. Truly divine timing.
My counselor and I started our way down the healing path together. We align in that we believe that thoughts elicit feelings. She got me to start focusing only on thoughts that lead to good feelings. I began an appreciation journal about what I like about myself and any memory or situation that elicits positivity.
Eight weeks later I am becoming more and more aware of where my brain goes. I am able to catch myself ruminating in the past, in negative thoughts or ending up in the unsafe neighborhood that my mind can be. I am learning to bring myself back to the present moment and stopping thoughts that don’t serve me well. I take a deep breath in those moments and tell myself out loud to stop and instead focus on what is in front of me.
It’s fair to say I live in my head a lot. Embodied practice through yoga brings me back into my body by focusing on breath and movement. Another tool I often use is to instead focus on what I’m grateful for.
One of the 12 gifts of my 12 step program outlined in our reading materials is that I shall come to know the vastness of my emotions but I will not be a slave to them. I’m obviously a work in progress because I still feel like a slave to my emotions.
My sponsor reminds me that feelings are not facts and that I can take what I like and leave the rest.
I spent years being told not to feel, so now I do my best to honor my feelings as they pass through my body but not linger in them. I try not to create a story around them and follow a thread that leads to some rationalization in my big brain.
All of this is so much easier said than done.
It takes continued effort, repetition, time and patience to undo patterns of thinking that have been operating for years.
All I can do is take it one step at a time and hope for more and more light.