"Oh my God, you lost a ton!" That's exactly what my daughter's preschool teacher said to me when I dropped her off at school one morning. She was so happy for me and could barely contain herself as she waited for me to respond. As though I was about to tell her that I found the magical recipe for quick weight loss. This type of response went on for weeks with a variety of people who made the huge assumption that because I was suddenly thin I was exuberantly happy.
I had not found the magical recipe for quick weight loss and no I was not exuberantly happy. I was dying. At least that is how I felt. I had lost over 20 pounds in a matter of weeks. I had not eaten and I had not slept. Breathing in and out was about all I could handle at the time. I spent hours sitting in a small space in my room staring into the mirror on the wall. That morning just happen to be one of the days I was able to put aside the fact that my marriage was over and I was left to raise two young children on my own. For several days before that my children had knocked my bedroom door and asked the question, " Mom, are you coming out today?" Too often the answer was "No". But that day I got up off the floor I had been sitting on for days, took a shower, got dressed, and brought my daughter to school. There were a lot of things I wanted to say to her teacher that morning but I simply replied with, "yea, I've lost some weight".
You see, I was not one of those people who pulled herself up by the boot straps and got lost in her work when the pain of codependency came into my life. No. Crawling into bed didn't even feel safe enough. I wanted to crawl under the bed, better yet, find a corner in the closet and curl up in a ball. The weight fell off because of the tremendous anxiety I was feeling every minute of every day. Even today, when I am in emotional pain, I lose weight and I still have people tell me how great I look! Those closest to me know that if they see me losing weight and have not seen me in a gym or walking at the lake, I'm in trouble! When I have a little extra meat on me... I'm exuberantly happy!
What is it about this society that even now when our eyes have been open to the infinite paths of living we are still so focused on appearance? Imagine what would happen if we greeted each other by asking, " How is your soul today?"
~Susan Shelly, LPC
As I drive through town I am struck by the beautiful colors of all of the flowers blooming. It is such a welcome sight after the long dreary winter we just experienced. I am interested in one bloom in particular that seems to be intertwined with the flowers. I believe it's called the white flag bloom; otherwise known as the invisible fence. It is that imaginary line on the property that the dog is absolutely forbidden to cross. If he attempts to cross it he is met with a shock that resonates throughout his body. It is hoped that this experience will be so unpleasant that after he has tried a few times to break the barrier he will finally surrender to the shocking experience and never attempt to cross it again. The experience will be so traumatizing that even when the flags disappear he will not dare to get close to the imaginary line.
So, it got me thinking. What’s my invisible fence? What’s my imaginary line that I have been so afraid to cross because of an earlier trauma? What 'shocking' experience is controlling my boundaries? It didn't take long to figure it out. I know exactly when I hit the invisible fence. I know because my body goes into a complete state of panic. It's the panic I first felt as a child and then again when my marriage ended, and then again when I realized I had created what I swore to defend against in my adulthood. It lives in my gut and in my chest. It's a feeling that brings me to my knees every time! That's my invisible fence. Here's the thing though, the flags are gone and the power has been turned off. I am free to cross the line any time I want. All I need is a little courage.
Funny the things you can learn on a beautiful spring day while driving through town. So, what's your invisible fence? Do you have the courage to cross it?
THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH HER. I SWEAR SHE’S BIPOLAR”
I cannot tell you how often I have heard this, how often people use the words bipolar and manic as though they were describing the weather. It has become a quick easy way to belittle someone; a means of standing in judgment of another and feeling superior. It usually gets more than just a few laughs.
A woman stressed out from trying too hard to manage marriage, work, and home comes into the office irritated and is short tempered with those around her. The next day after a good night sleep and some self-care she handles work as though she doesn’t have a care in the world. Such a change in attitude…she must be bipolar.
If only it was that simple. If being bipolar meant that on some days you were extremely happy and engaging and on other days you were a little irritated. If only……but it’s not.
Bipolar depression sets in like a heavy fog that robs your vision. All you are left with is what you can see within yourself; the vision of pain and sadness. It is not rational. It does not care who you are, where you live, or what you do for a living. Its only purpose is to trap you in a mind space of defeat leaving you powerless to move through the fog and into the sunlight. It is unlike ordinary sadness, it does not want to help you express loss, fear, or disappointment so that you can move into a new space of acceptance. It never wants to release you.
Bipolar mania picks you up like a tornado and throws you into the wind. It pretends to be your friend cajoling you to come along for the ride. It has no boundaries, no pause, and no reason. It keeps you moving so you don’t notice what a destructive force it is. Like the tornado, when it’s done with you it leaves you to repair the wreckage of your heart and soul. Mania is not the occasional exuberance you may feel on a beautiful day when everything is going great. It is the lie that tells you that you can do anything.
If people truly knew the pain of bipolar depression and bipolar mania maybe they would not be so inclined to use those terms to describe a person’s natural emotions and expression of self.