An October Conversation with Bipolar Disorder…

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Bipolar Disorder: Trick Or Treat!

Iris: Halloween isn’t until the end of the month. You’re a few weeks early.

Bipolar Disorder: But I want candy!

Iris: It’s not time for handing out candy yet. And, you’re a mood disorder; not a costumed child.

Bipolar Disorder: GIVE me some candy!

Iris: I don’t think we’re really understanding each other very well.

Bipolar Disorder: You think I’m misunderstanding you?

Iris: It does appear that way. Since you keep asking for candy.

Bipolar Disorder: Yeah, well I’m bored!

Iris: And you want this to be my problem, why?

Bipolar Disorder: I’m bored with all the self-care you do. I’m bored with your stability. Mood stability is BORING!!

Iris: I rather like my mood being stable.

Bipolar Disorder: Yeah, and you’re boring. I want to liven things up a little this month!

Iris: Yes, I know you have been trying to do that, haven’t you?

Bipolar Disorder: Wasn’t it fun the other week? Getting only a little bit of sleep that one night, and then waking up with that new short story ready to write?

Iris: Well, yes. That was fairly pleasant.

Bipolar Disorder: And you did a great job catching the whole thing before it faded from your dream.

Iris: Er, thanks.

Bipolar Disorder: You don’t seem very convinced you should be thanking me.

Iris: I don’t believe you have my best interest at heart. No offense.

Bipolar Disorder: Sure I do! Expansive thoughts! Flights of ideas! I can give you all that! If you just give me some more candy!

Iris: More candy? I don’t eat candy.

Bipolar Disorder: That coconut drink you had yesterday was just the stuff. I want more of that!

Iris: I didn’t sleep well last night after drinking that sugary thing.

Bipolar Disorder: Yeah, isn’t it great?!

Iris: No. I would like to return to my usual good sleep hygiene, thank you very much.

Bipolar Disorder: You’re not very cooperative.

Iris: I don’t see that it would benefit me much to be very cooperative with you.

Bipolar Disorder: But what about that short story? Don’t I deserve some thanks for that?

Iris: You can’t take all the credit for my short story.

Bipolar Disorder: But, you don’t dream like that when you’re properly medicated. You said that yourself.

Iris: That’s right. I don’t.

Bipolar Disorder: Don’t you feel more creative and more productive when you’re a little bit Hypomanic? Or even a little bit depressed? I’m great at giving you ideas for gloomy poetry, aren’t I?

Iris: I do feel more creative and productive at those times, yes. But, what you’re offering isn’t all good. You know that.

Bipolar Disorder: Well, yeah. Of course it’s not. Why else would they  call it *trick* or treat? I gave you a treat. I gave you that short story. Now it’s time for my trick.

Iris: I’m not interested in your trick.

Bipolar Disorder: Ugh! Do you know how boring it is? Being in your brain when you take such good care of yourself that I hardly ever get to have any fun?

Iris: That sounds like your problem, not mine. I’m much happier when I’m not having to manage your symptoms very often.

Bipolar Disorder: I want candy! I want candy this month! This month is Halloween!

Iris: You’re behaving like a spoiled toddler. Your temper tantrum isn’t going to change my mind.

Bipolar Disorder: This is the month for candy! If I don’t get some candy, some fun, in your brain this month I’ll… Well, I’ll…. I’ll pout! That’s what I’ll do.

Iris: See? What did I say? Just like a spoiled toddler.

Bipolar Disorder: So, you’re going to deny me any more sugar? And you’re going to deny me more nights of broken sleep too?

Iris: Yes. You get to come along with me this month. I don’t have any choice in that. But you are not in charge of me. I am the one making decisions here. Not you. Understood?

Bipolar Disorder: Fine. Have it your way. Be boring!

Iris: Good. But, I’m not bored, by the way.

Bipolar Disorder: What do you mean?

Iris: I’ve been transcribing out conversation.  Every word. I’m saving it, and I’m sure it will become very useful for me as a reminder.

Bipolar Disorder: What reminder? For what?

Iris: For when you try this again next month. Though I’m sure you’ll be demanding Thanksgiving candy next time. Thanks for your input!

Bipolar Disorder: What?! No way! You tricked ME!

Iris: Happy Halloween!

 

Mindful Playwriting

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I began my playwriting journey before it was so common for people to have their own personal computers. So, the first plays I constructed were written by hand on paper with a pen or pencil. Years into my playwriting journey, for a time I did switch to writing my plays directly into the computer, using a script formatting software package called Final Draft. You can learn more about Final Draft by going here. At the time, I didn’t think I was losing anything by quickly dashing out my latest plays directly into the computer. I was doing my editing and rewriting on the computer then too. That all seemed great.

What I discovered later on though, was that the plays I wrote exclusively on the computer were lacking something important that the plays I wrote primarily by hand with a pen or pencil all did have. For decades now I have been a daily journal writer. I write a few pages, longhand, into a blank book almost daily. I aim for daily, but sometimes life interferes.   When I write in my blank book with a pen I always feel a good strong connection to my emotions and my thoughts. I haven’t always felt that same connection when typing into a computer. In fact, most of the plays I wrote directly into the computer weren’t nearly as good as the other plays that I wrote longhand.

In the past few years I returned to writing plays longhand and typing them into the computer only so others can read them, and or produce them. I also returned to doing all my editing and rewriting with a pen on the printed pages after getting play drafts input into the computer.  These more recent plays have been far stronger than the stuff I wrote exclusively on the computer.

A few weeks ago I thought I would try something new for my playwriting. I have ghastly handwriting. My handwriting is so awful that sometimes even I myself can’t quite read what I’ve written later on. So, since I own a working manual typewriter, I thought I’d try out typing my playwriting work onto paper with the typewriter. After all, if I wrote my plays on a typewriter I would be certain to be able to read what I’ve written after the fact.  I was also curious to learn if I would have the same good strong connection to my emotions and thoughts that I always have when I write with a pen on paper. I do!

Writing longhand doesn’t slow me down much as I take dictation while watching plays unfolding on the stage in my mind. But, when I typed a few scenes of my latest play in progress onto paper in the typewriter I found that I had to slow down. To get even ink distribution on the page with a manual typewriter you have to hit each of the typewriter keys with the same force. When I first tried out the typewriter, not all of my fingers were strong enough to hit all the keys with the same force, since I was not in the habit of typing on a manual typewriter. Slowing down my writing, both to get that even ink distribution, and to ensure that I didn’t jam the typewriter made a positive difference in my playwriting. Additionally, the play in my head didn’t seem as rushed as it sometimes does when I write longhand.

Having to slow down to make sure to evenly distribute ink and to avoid causing a jam of the typewriter keys meant that I had to take more time in the writing I was doing. Taking that extra time meant I had more time to pay attention to the words my characters were saying, and the actions they were doing on the stage in my mind. I do have that same connection to my emotions and thoughts on the typewriter that I have always felt when writing on paper with a pen or pencil.

However, there are very practical reasons that manual typewriters aren’t used by everyone any more. Manual typewriters do require far more maintenance than our computers do. And, if I were to switch to composing all my new plays with the typewriter I would still end up having to type everything I wrote that way again to get it into the computer. So, I thought to myself, surely there must be a bridge between the typewriter and the computer which would enable me to not have to type everything twice, and that would preserve my connection with my emotions and thoughts which is so vital to creating authentic and compelling works for live theater. Enter the typewriter inspired computer keyboard!

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My typewriter computer keyboard is very Steampunk! It has backlighting, and it has keys that both resemble the very early typewriter keys in appearance, and more importantly they also nicely mirror that tactile sense of an old manual typewriter. If I type too quickly on the typewriter keyboard for my computer, the computer and keyboard combination remind me to slow down by deleting everything I’ve written. I have only noticed this happen once or twice, but since those two times it happened I have made it a point to type more deliberately, and more slowly, as I do on the actual typewriter.

Many people these days go on about Mindfulness, and how good it is for us. I agree. I maintain a daily practice of mindful breathing. It is good for me. Turns out, when creating my new works for live theater I am also finding it beneficial to do my playwriting mindfully.  I will still write on the typewriter too. There is something very satisfying about that process. But, I am happy to have found that I can get the same effect by using my typewriter keyboard for the computer. So, this is my happy endorsement of Mindful Playwriting!

 

Loving Kaleidoscope Reminder

This afternoon I colored this lovely kaleidoscope style heart mandala. I created this piece of art as a visual reminder to myself to always love myself. Especially on those days when I think I don’t deserve it.

For a while now, I’ve been keeping a running tally of the number of days I have consecutively given myself good treatment, love and respect. While I have that running tally of nearly two hundred consecutive days going, I know that at some point I’m likely to eventually slip up and be less kind to myself than I strive to be. I’ve learned over the years that times like that are when I need to love myself the most. So, this mandala is here to remind myself of this.

I hope everyone who reads this post will accept this mandala as a reminder to also give yourself good treatment, love and respect, as you give to everyone else in your life who you love. ❤️

Fighting Depression with Magnetic Poetry

I have known for some time that I could be soon heading into a state of depression. These past couple of weeks I have not been as vigilant as I usual am about doing my daily exercise workouts, and I have allowed myself to slack off in some other self-care areas as well. Most of this afternoon was fairly painful, both from two sets of unpleasant physical illness symptoms, along with telltale symptoms of depression.

I mindfully experienced those various types of discomfort for a few hours. This was helpful to me in that I validated my experience for myself. However, I know better than to think I have not choice but to endlessly wallow in discomfort when it happens to arise, for physical or emotional reasons. Since I have a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, any particularly severe emotional distress stemming from that disorder is also really a physical health concern. I took a moment at one point today to remind myself of this since it is a medical fact that Bipolar Disorder is an illness which comes about from having chemistry not quite properly working in the brain. So, emotional distress caused by Bipolar Disorder is also a physical health issue.

While I was mindfully feeling these various symptoms, I received a friendly text message from a friend of mine who was thinking of me. I knew I had a choice to make when I received her message. I could ignore the message and continue wallowing. Or, I could read and respond. I took the chance, and I was completely honest in replying to my friend.

The resulting lovely and empathetic conversation we shared briefly via text messages ended up serving as another helpful reminder for me. This second reminder was that a state of melancholy mood has, on more than a few occasions previously, inspired me to compose poetry. So, I thanked my friend for reaching out to me, and I told her I was going to do my best to drag myself, if need be, to my magnetic poetry activity bin and fight these depression symptoms with poetry.

Here is the poem I created using words from two different magnetic poetry kits. My day could have been a day primarily composed of wallowing in pain and unpleasantness. I now feel quite proud of myself for choosing another ending for the story of this day.

Better with Art!

Like many others, I am prescribed medication by a psychopharmacologist to help keep my brain chemistry working at it’s best possible level. I have been told that some people discontinue taking their medication when they find that they are feeling better. I’ve never been one of those people. I have noticed, over the years that I have been under this sort of medical treatment, that my medication seems to be far more effective under certain circumstances.

I go through phases when I tell myself that all the creative activities I enjoy doing aren’t serving any real purpose. The visual art pieces I create tend to not be displayed in art galleries. More of the stage plays I have written have not been produced by theaters than the ones that have been experienced by theater audiences. Poetry and stories I write have generally not been read by large audiences. So, sometimes I wonder what the point is of my doing these creative activities at all.

Except when I get to thinking that way I am discounting a priceless and essential purpose that creating art in any form serves for those who create. Life is more pleasant with art. Using my creative skills makes my life infinitely more enjoyable, meaningful, and fulfilling than it would be if I were to stop doing those activities altogether.

I keep lots of records to manage my moods. I keep track, spreadsheet-style, of many daily activities I perform, along with meals eaten, and medication doses taken. When I make my entries on my spreadsheet I always find that my mood has been more stable, and my levels of contentment and happiness are higher, when I am regularly engaging in creative pursuits. According to the data I collect on myself my psychiatric medication is actually more effective when I am following a regular routine of creative expression in a variety of artistic mediums than it is when I refrain from such activities by telling myself that my lack of professional success in any of those areas makes them pointless to continue.

I was pleasantly surprised when I first noticed this to be the case. I didn’t expect that indulging in creative expression would actually help my mental health, but it really does. My life is more enjoyable and my mental health is far better with art. So, I encourage everyone reading this to go ahead and do something creative that you enjoy. In time, you may discover, as I have, that your world is a much better place than it was before you began regularly enjoying your creativity.

Max Finds His Passion

Max was a large teddy bear. He always felt a bit self-conscious about his great size. Many of the other teddy bears who lived in the giant backyard dollhouse called “Much Ado About Nothing” were far smaller than Max. But, Max soon learned that due to his size there were things he could do that the smaller teddy bears could not.

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Max could sit at the computer desk and use the computer! The smaller teddy bears certainly couldn’t do that. They couldn’t reach the keyboard. Max’s large arms put him at just the right distance from the computer keys. While Max enjoyed being able to use the computer, he still often felt that something was missing from his life.

One afternoon, Max consulted with two of the smaller teddy bears about how he was feeling about his computer time, and what might be missing from his life. The two smaller teddy bears Max sat on the couch with that day were music bears. Mozart Bear and Strauss Bear both listened politely to Max as he talked about his time at the computer desk, and how he wished to do something more.

“Have you ever considered music?” Mozart Bear asked Max.

“I listen to music on the computer.” Max told him.

“No, no,” Strauss Bear scolded gently. “He means making music!”

“Yes! Have you ever considered making music?” Asked Mozart Bear.

Max felt confused. What were they talking about? “You think I should make music on the computer?” Max asked, doubtfully.

“Not on the computer, on the piano!” Mozart Bear said, grandly.

“Come with us.” Strauss Bear instructed to Max, so he followed the two smaller bears.

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Mozart Bear and Strauss Bear climbed up onto the back of the piano, settling themselves in comfortably next to the busts of the great composers, Mozart and Beethoven. Max sat at the piano keyboard, feeling very unsure of himself.

“Now, play.” Mozart Bear commanded. Max stared up at him.

“I don’t know how to play the piano.”

“Are you sure?” Asked Strauss Bear.

“Humans have to take lessons to learn to play piano.” Max told them.

“And, are you a human being?” Mozart asked Max.

“Well, no. I’m a teddy bear.” Max said with a sigh.

“Exactly!” Strauss Bear said. “Just play the keys as if you are typing a letter at the computer. I think you’ll find the results surprisingly pleasant.”

Max stared at Strauss Bear. Could it be that simple? Could teddy bears really play piano without needing lessons?

Max followed the instructions given to him by the two smaller music bears. To his surprise and delight, Max began making music! Max enjoyed playing the piano. He played and played, while Mozart Bear and Strauss Bear looked on, appreciatively listening to the music he made.

After that day Max did not resume his post at the computer keyboard. He stayed at the piano, playing his heart out. Max figured it was alright to not go back to the computer. Max had found what he enjoyed best.

Mozart Bear told Max one day later that perhaps another giant teddy bear would come along eventually who would best love spending time on the computer. So, Max didn’t worry about that any more. He just carried on enjoying making music at the piano. Max had found his passion at last!

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One of My Favorite Skills

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A few years ago, when I was enrolled in classes intensively studying Dialectical Behavior Therapy, I learned a skill that became one of my very favorites. I put together an iTunes playlist soon after I enrolled in those DBT classes and this one skill seemed to be the easiest skill to find represented in the songs I had in my iTunes library at the time. Later, I found the coloring page above and used colored pencils to add vibrant colors to the page so I could have a bright reminder for using this skill. The DBT skill essentially taught me to do what the picture above is recommending.

Stand tall when you feel small. Or another way of saying it is, fake it until you make it. The specific instructions in Dialectical Behavior Therapy involved doing something that elicits the opposite emotion to what emotion you’re currently feeling. So, if you feel like going back to bed and hiding under the covers all day, instead get up and do something productive! I use this skill regularly. I love that if I’m starting to feel irritated and I don’t feel like doing something that’s good for me, I can use this skill to drastically change my mood.

You don’t have to have studied Dialectical Behavior Therapy to benefit from doing this to help you get yourself out of a mood rut. I have found that it’s helpful when interacting with my small daughter to recommend to her when she’s feeling gloomy that she do something different that she enjoys and she’ll feel less gloomy. It works!

I feel so grateful to have skills to help me manage my moods. I don’t often have mood fluctuations these days, and it’s so nice to have skills like this in my self-care repertoire. Try it. Stand tall when you’re feeling small!