A friend with bipolar reminded me last night that work is work. I’m not talking about “work” work – the kind that pays your mortgage. I’m talking about the work of staying mentally healthy. It ain’t easy.
For me, it’s a 24/7 job. Literally. It starts as soon as I get up. I check my mood. If it’s bad, I ask myself “Why?” Usually, there is no reason. Like this morning. There is nothing really wrong in my life right now. The checks aren’t bouncing. The air conditioning works and I’ve been having some pretty good hair days. So, the feeling I have this morning is not a fact. It feels real and I respect it, but it isn’t real. It’s my brain playing tricks on me.
Breakfast. It only took me 50 years to figure out that caffeine jacks my mania. The last thing I need when I’m manic is a stimulant. D’uh. So, I quit caffeine. I suppose for some people it’s okay to have a cup of coffee or a Diet Coke. But I am also a recovered alcoholic and there is no such thing as A cup of coffee or A Diet Coke just like I could never drink A Long Island Ice Tea.
As for food, I went gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free and Twizzler-free after my last depression. It took a few years to cut that stuff out of my diet, especially the Twizzlers. I did some research and realized that these things probably weren’t helping my depression.
Today, I won’t eat food that is delivered through a car window or free-falls in a vending machine. Most of my prior digestion issues – bloating, gas constipation – have subsided. I don’t think I have to tell you how rotten you feel – physically and mentally – when your digestion is a mess.
As for meds, I take them when I am told to take them. It’s probably the only thing in my life that I don’t argue or whine about. I take them. Period.
This leads me to my next revelation and the next hour of my day: They gym. When I feel bad physically, I feel bad mentally. I can’t separate the two. Which is why I go to the gym after breakfast. Physical health = Mental health. It’s that simple. The endorphin rush is nice, too. And if I accomplish nothing else that day, at least I did a few sit-ups.
Next, I get ready for work. If I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see, I change it. It might be the outfit I am wearing, or my hair or make-up or shoes or earrings or lipstick. I’m not some freaky prima donna but when I like what I see in the mirror, I feel good.
And now, a word about “work” work: “Work” IS work. It pays the mortgage, dog chow and my daughter’s college bills. However, I realized that without some joy in my work, it is drudgery and stress. I have done several things to help with this: When I am torqued about what some editor has done to a story, I picture myself as a sub-contractor. I do my work to the best of my ability. Finishing a story is like hanging the last piece of drywall. I look at my work. I know it is good. I am proud of it and they can paint it whatever God-awful color they want to paint it.
Stress is a different creature. It must be tamed. I have studied how my body responds to stress so I know when it is controlling my life. It can be an annoying twitch in my eyelid. A knot of muscles beside my left scapula. A weird, icky feeling in my chest. Time out! Time out! Time out! I morph into some crazed college football coach on the sidelines, jumping on the sidelines of my life, jabbing the fingertips of my right hand into the outstretched palm of his left hand.
Here’s another thing about work. I once had a job that was a 45 minute drive from my home. That’s 90 minutes-a-day in a moving metal box – five days a week. That’s 7-1/2 hours a week (almost a full work day) in a moving metal box. You see where I’m going here? I now live less than one mile from work.
And what about those precious few evening hours? Well, I got myself out of evening commitments. With the exception of a Thursday night 12-Step meeting, I have freed up my evenings for me, my dog, “Dog,” and Stephen Colbert. I need a good laugh every night.
Finally, a word about sleep. I take sleep as seriously as my taxes. Not paying taxes WILL catch up with me. Not getting enough sleep WILL catch up with me. Hell hath no fury like the IRS or a middle-aged, menopausal, manic She-Beast. I hung black-out curtains in my bedroom and sleep in total darkness. I devote one morning a week to sleeping until my body wakes itself up. I take naps. My dog, “Dog” is my sleep coach. Damn, he’s good at it.
Well, there you have it. My life as an enlightened, slightly obsessed woman who never, ever wants to fall into another black hole. That place scares the hell out of me. I am willing to be willing to do whatever it takes.