14 January 2009

The Best Thoughts Come While Bathing

Thank goodness for hot baths. Nietzsche said that the best thoughts come while walking and he certainly has a good point but when it's 29F outside and you're feeling a little fragile and anxious, I have found that the best thoughts are more likely to come in the bath.

While I was basking there, my toes finally warm, it occurred to me that all my histrionic "I'm going to die homeless on the street having alienated everyone I know on account of the foul unreasonable moods of bipolar disorder and, for the same reason, on account of never having been able to hold down a job and thus becoming an indigent, hallucinating old lady" rants have their origin in something relatively small that just has a tendency to snowball.

It's not the worry over going back to school, it's not the worry over what seems at this moment to be likely to be a rather bleak future: I'm really worried about the stress itself. The other things are things I can only deal with on a day to day basis. There isn't anything I can do about my future indigency at this vary moment. I know this but once my mind leaps its merry way down this track the very fact that there isn't some concrete action I can take today to guarantee that this won't happen is very distressing and helpless making. What I was missing was a consideration the mechanics behind my illness.

There are several things that will set me off. Sleeping badly, travel, letting others down, not finishing homework and so on. The sleep is a different matter but the common root of nearly everything else that sets me off is stress itself.

Following from that, it easy to think 'oh, well, I just need to avoid stress,' which is true in its own way. However, it is highly unlikely that I will ever be able to eliminate stress from my life entirely. (!) What I really need to do is focus on how best to handle it.

For years I have had overwhelming anxiety, the kind where putting on shoes is too stressful, let alone fixing something to eat. All that accumulated anxiety seems to have burnt out (metaphorically speaking) the circuits in my brain than process anxiety. Now I seem to have three experiences of anxiety: none, extreme anxiety and stark raving mad.

I haven't had the stark raving mad kind for quite a while, thank God; not since I was in the hospital and given some very helpful drugs to deal with it. Taking them, clonazepam mostly, for about four months put me back in the realm of normal. I still have them as a PRN. (That's medication-ese for 'when I think I need them')

It's quite possible that going back to school will send me far enough up or down that I will have to drop out again. But it's a very helpful thing to realize that it's not having to show up at a certain place at a certain time each day or the homework or being around lots of people that's going to throw me. It's the stress of having to do all these things with my lovely broken mind that goes from zero to 260 in less than half a second.

I can't change the way school is run but I can do several things about how I approach the stress of it all. I can go back to the clonazepam on a daily basis for a week or so, I can make sure I take a bath every night, I can go to weekday mass, which is something I should do more often anyway, I can have hot chocolate every night. Knowing that the difficulty lies in the stress itself rather than school itslef (which I cannot change) makes all the difference.

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