Recommit

Sometimes my energy gets really low. It isn’t a great feeling. I don’t want to be up all the time, but I certainly don’t want to sink into the doldrums either.

I have let my flame get really low the past two weekends. I have noticed it and recommitted myself. I find it is important to commit to a practice of mindfulness, of intention, of purpose. When I stray from that practice I don’t notice it right away. I notice a week or two later when everything starts to not work correctly.

Perhaps some of this comes from being bipolar. Perhaps it is normal for humans to have mood swings that can leave them feeling so worthless they don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t know. I know I’m bipolar and I know that this is what I experience.

Sometimes getting out from under this funk feels like pushing a rock up a big hill. It feels like I never get anywhere. It feels like it is all work all the time and it never gets easier.

But I’ve been here before. I remember. It is slow going and requires patience and discipline, but it gets better. The problem comes when it gets going really well and I stop doing all the things I know I should do and I start to slide back down that hill again.

I was off last Friday, as usual. I didn’t have any solid plans. This is always a bad start. There were some things I could do, but nothing I had to do. I was tempted to skip yoga, but I knew that would mean I would stay at home and the funk would get worse. I pulled myself out of bed and went. My heart wasn’t in it but I knew that I was doing something good for myself. Just doing that gave me a little more energy.

A Hasidic Rabbi pointed out once that you can’t burn down a tree with a match, but if you chop the tree up into little pieces, you can. This is a useful thought. In part it means that it is OK to break up tasks into little pieces. Sometimes we think that if we can’t do it all, we shouldn’t even do a little bit of it. It also means that just doing a little bit of something can give you enough energy to do a little bit more of it.

When my flame is low and I’m recommitting myself, I have to be very intentional about what I do.

I avoid all fried food.
I eat no meat.
I skip spicy food.
I go back to my exercise routine – walking, yoga, water aerobics.
I craft in some way – bead, draw, paint.
I write.
I avoid processed sugar.
I avoid “retail therapy”.

I already have given up smoking and caffeine. These two are really bad for mental health.

Sometimes something as simple as washing the dishes or doing the laundry can be healing. It is something that when I notice later I’ve done it, I feel better. Vacuuming doesn’t seem to have this affect – it doesn’t produce a visible result. Sometimes just noticing that there is less clutter helps my head.

What is it about doing these things that makes me feel better? Is it eating vegetarian that makes me feel better, or the fact that I have chosen to do something that I feel is good for me? Half of this is getting past what the Buddhists call “the monkey mind.” That is the part of your mind that is all “gimme gimme gimme”. It doesn’t care about what is healthy or right or good. It is your inner toddler.

It is hard to fight the monkey mind. It makes you think it is you.

I try not to go overboard on this. I have learned to have patience with myself. It is a slow process of re-entry. It isn’t wise to swing the pendulum too far one way or another. When you are sick, you don’t want to run a marathon. It is good to do things carefully.

It is just like driving. If you notice you are getting out of the lane, you don’t want to yank the steering wheel too sharply. You are better off gently steering back into the correct lane. If you yank the wheel, you might veer off in the wrong direction.

If you are in a yoga pose and you notice you are getting wobbly, you don’t want to over correct. You are better off making micro adjustments. If you overcorrect you’ll likely fall.

This is exactly the same thing. The only problem is that when your mind gets out of the lane or wobbly you don’t have a lot of feedback. You don’t have a way of noticing it. You notice when you crash into the guardrail. You notice when you fall on the floor. Good mental health requires you notice before that happens.

Friday wasn’t a 10. It was more like a 5. But I know if I’d not paid attention and started to steer things in a better direction, it would have been a 2. I’m ok with a 5. And I know that tomorrow I’ll try again.

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