How much do you want it?

I have played around with lots of theories about why I have not been writing on my blog, but they all really boil down to one factor: I haven’t wanted it enough.  Sure, it’s true that I’ve been depressed, but there have been other times that I have been depressed and still kept writing. It’s true that I’m tired at the end of the day, but that doesn’t explain it – if I wanted it enough I would power through the tiredness.  It’s true that when I’m manic I get all kind of scrambled: I generate too many ideas and can’t pull them all together into an intelligible post.

I’ve got to want writing more.  I’ve got to see it as super-important.  I’ve got to get how central it is to my identity, my life purpose.  I’ve got to really make the connection between not writing and depression.  When I don’t write, I’m more depressed.  It’s very circular: I don’t write because I’m depressed and then I’m more depressed. I’ve got to break the cycle.

It’s very parallel to what goes on for me with Tae Kwon Do.  I use some of those same arguments for why I don’t go to Tae Kwon Do, but then I get more depressed.  And Tae Kwon Do itself can be developing the qualities I need to push past my limitations and write.  When I had been practicing for just a couple of weeks, I had a little internal crisis about this practice.  “Why am I practicing such a hard, yang art? I need to be doing something soft and flowing like Tai Chi.”  But the answer came back loud and clear.  “There’s some shit in your life that needs kicking – so learn how to kick some shit.”  Depression rolls over me – completely takes me over.  I’ve got to learn better skills for fighting back. And these skills for fighting back can help me harness my wanting to write, can help me to push past the resistance – the depression, the tiredness, the manic scrambledness.  So Tae Kwon Do can very directly lead not just to the regular benefits of Tae Kwon Do, which are many, but can lead very directly to more writing – I need to remember that.

The rub comes when I get home at the end of my day with stuff to write.  I’m tired.  I may be depressed – or maybe I’m manic and scattered.  I can do some Tae Kwon Do to ground and energize myself.  So many things do one or the other – this can do both.  I don’t have to do much to get out of my head and into my body.  Today I resolved to learn my new form one movement at a time.  Five minutes.  Less.

At this moment, I’m very clear how much I want it.  At this moment, I’m tired from work and from a long day: up very early, then work until 7:30.  I may be manic – after about 11 days clearly depressed, today I seem more manic than depressed.  But so far I sure am not very manic.  My ideas seem to be coming out pretty clear.  Well, you be the judge.

“I need a supervisor!!”

Sophie (not her real name – I can’t remember her real name, but would not use it here anyway) is a piece of work – demanding, impatient, self-focused, disrespectful.  Sheri Lynn had come over from her quiet register to help me bag (and to hang out with me – we do like to do that, her and I). She jumped in to help Sophie when she said “This mayonnaise has canola oil” (or something like that) – “I want one without canola oil.”  Sheri went off in search.

When Sheri Lynn had been gone for a while and a line was accumulating in my lane, I said to Sophie, “I’m going to suspend your transaction and wait on some of these people – then I’ll put you first in line when Sheri gets back.”  “No you will not.  I’m in line – I’m the next in line.  I’ve been waiting – I’m not going to wait any more.”  I caved.  I gave sympathetic looks to the people in my line and waited for Sheri Lynn.

Not!  I bet this smiling, happy cashier guy would have been singing a different tune if he had to deal with Sophie.

Not! I bet this smiling, happy cashier guy would have been singing a different tune if he had to deal with Sophie.

Then I heard Sheri on the overhead speaker paging for a grocery team member.  I decided that was it – getting this help could still take her a while.

I looked at Sophie and said, “Sheri Lynn has paged for a grocery team member – I’m suspending your transaction” and I did that, as she was loudly protesting that I had better not.  By this time I was totally seeing red – and I did the very best thing I could have done, which rescued the situation, and which followed a playbook that I had learned on the job here: I hollered for help.  I said to Sophie – “I’m calling a supervisor to help with this.” I turned to face the office and with a volume that I have shaped to be just loud enough to be heard in the office, but not too startling to customers in between me and the office – though I can’t guarantee that this time it wasn’t a little extra-loud – said “I need a supervisor!!”  My blood pressure started to drop as soon as the words were out of my mouth.

Perhaps my voice did have an extra edge of urgency, because Tiffany came out of the office almost immediately.  As she approached my register, I met her part way (so as to be out of Sophie’s earshot) and said, “You’re going to have to take this over – I’m losing it with this woman.”

I grew up on the Lone Ranger.  He never lost his cool - and he always showed up just as the trouble was starting - fabulous! I've spent a lifetime trying to be the Lone Ranger.  Now my learning is to let others be that for me.

I grew up on the Lone Ranger. He never lost his cool – and he always showed up just as the trouble was starting – fabulous! I’ve spent a lifetime trying to be the Lone Ranger. Now my learning is to let others be that for me.

I gave her the suspend slip and she, with a voice that was equal parts reassuring and take-charge, told Sophie that she would take her over to the customer service desk and they would get everything straightened out.  I was still hyper-charged from the stress of being so angry with nowhere to put it, but I felt good about the way it had been resolved and my stress continued to reduce with the next few typically-nice customers.

I came away from this experience with two big insights.  The first one fell into place almost immediately.  It’s good to ask for help.  A lot of my conditioning would not lean this way – would say you’ve got be strong and self-reliant, handle your own problems, etc. – but I have learned better over the years.  Asking for help is good – and expecting that you will get that help is wonderful, and even better is believing that it will be competent help (even in the body of a 23 year old) and come without a price to pay for asking.

There’s another insight that didn’t come together for me until about 8:30 this evening, two hours after leaving work and right after Tae Kwon Do class had gotten me de-stressed, in my body and out of whatever useless strains of thinking had been still operating before the class.  I had been thinking that the worst outcome from my encounter with Sophie in the morning would have been for me to say or do something that got me fired.  And maybe I still think that would have been the worst outcome, but there’s another that’s at least a close second.

Perhaps the worst outcome would have been for Sophie to get further injured.  Nobody treats others as badly as Sophie does (and Sheri Lynn and Tiffany each shared with me their histories of run-ins with her) unless they are in pain.  A Course in Miracles says that people are always either offering love or asking for it.  Sophie is asking for it.  “Please love me even while I’m being mean to you.”  I didn’t have the presence of mind to love her in the middle of our negative encounter, but I did have the presence of mind to not say anything disrespectful or incendiary.  Holding the line with her – suspending the transaction, not making others wait unnecessarily – this was good.  Hurting her by mean language, loud tones or any kind of disrespect would not have been good.

Through the rest of the day, when staff (not customers) asked me about my day, I referred back to this encounter.  In its own funky, complex way, it definitely was a highlight of my day.

Dancing back to life

Sometimes dance saves my aliveness.

Sometimes when my spirit seems dead, dance brings it back to life.

Sometimes when my spirit seems dead, dance brings it back to life.

Including today, I have worked eight-hour shifts the last three days – eight hours of standing in front of a cash register.  By the time I left the store today (2/13), my body was frozen and my feet were burning.

Yes I'm smiling - but my feet are killing me.

Yes I’m smiling – but my feet are killing me.

(Tae Kwon Do last night helped a lot to loosen me up, but the frozenness set back in today.)  I was badly in need of my regular Friday night dance, but I was in the kind of depressed state where it tends not to work for me.  I am too frozen to move, too self-critical to engage people, too judgmental to improvise.

The dance I do is free-form improvisational dancing inspired by the 5 Rhythms dance work created by Gabrielle Roth.  On a good (high) day I have a total blast on the dance floor: I am free, energized, spontaneous – and especially groove on jamming with other people.  We may dance all around each other, in and out of each other’s space, maybe (or maybe not) sometimes touching each other – or we may do “contact improv”, improvisational dance with more extensive touch.  On a good day, I’m really good at this kind of engaged dance – I know how to connect with people in my life and I know how to connect with people on the dance floor.

Contact improv can get pretty athletic, but not for this 68 year old dancer.  It can also be finger-to-finger.  i explore that end of the continuum and some of the mid-zone.

Contact improv can get pretty athletic, but not for this 68-year-old dancer. It can also be finger-to-finger. I explore that end of the continuum and some of the mid-zone.

When I’m down, I’m so terrible at moving and connecting that frequently it seems like the only viable option is to leave the dance.  And I do, often.  Or sometimes I just don’t go to the dance at all: when I’m in the kind of depressed state where I typically leave, it seems more kind to myself to save myself that kind of painful failure experience.  I’ve been telling myself that Tae Kwon Do can help me develop more discipline to go and stay regardless of how I feel.  So after work today (6:20), I decided to go to the 7 o’clock dance, then decided not to go, then got really sad at letting it go and decided again to go.  “Even though I’m in the kind of mood where dance doesn’t work for me, I want to go and try.”

I implemented a strategy that has evolved for me over the last many months, but I have never used so aggressively.  Before the dance, I caught several of my best dance friends and said one version or another of, “I’m in one of those moods which you know in me – moods where my body won’t move and I feel disconnected from everybody.  I’m at risk of leaving.  The thing that most keeps me here in this state is connecting with my people on the dance floor.  I may come by you and reach out to dance with you and  if it works for you right then that would be great.” (There is a very strong priority in this group to honor people’s space when they do not want to dance with you – and to learn to not take this personal.)  “And I may totally stall out and not be able to reach out to you.  If you see me in that state, it would be awesome if you were to reach out to me.”

And it worked, enough.  I initiated to my friends and that worked some of the time.  I had a couple of segments where I was on the ropes, feeling like I probably had to leave – and someone came by and danced with me.

I didn’t get high – and I miss that.  But I more and more believe that I’m better off not getting high.  I had a good time – interspersed with not good times.  Connection connected to separation.  Happy and not.  Human.

I’m glad I went.  I’m hoping that Tae Kwon Do increases my strength around going to and staying at dance.  I hope I will remember to ask for help when I need it.  I hope I will remember this evening when I asked for help and got it.

Writing, finally

There are lots of possible reasons why I am writing tonight, after six very depressed days when I have not.  (My previous longest stint without writing, since starting this blog three months ago, was three days – and my target is to not miss more than one day in a row.)  I’m writing even though it’s 10:30 and lots of me is crying to be in bed.  Here are some of the plausible reasons:

  • I was off of work for four days and there is often less stimulus towards writing when I’m not working. Yesterday I was so dead in the water at work that there was no appreciable stimulus, but today there was.  One customer talked about reading and liking the blog – and talked about stuff she had read.  My coworker Amanda told me how much she liked reading the blog and what a good writer I am.  Another customer, being told about the blog, got enthused and said “Keep writing.”  My co-worker Rex, having come over to my line to bag (we do this for each other when our line isn’t busy), said, “Aren’t you going to promote your blog?  I like the way you do that – no guilt or shame, you just put it out there.”  I had not promoted my blog at all yesterday, nor today up to that point.  I did a couple of times after.  In my last strong spurt I probably averaged 10 business cards a day handed out at work and one or two a day to random cashiers and customer service people where I’ve been the customer.

    Yesterday and today I'm back in the store after four days away. Today that started to show signs of stimulating the writer in me.

    Yesterday and today I’m back in the store after four days away. Today that started to show signs of stimulating the writer in me.

  • I went to Tae Kwon Do tonight.  The last two times I went, I got so in my head, so tied up in my knickers that I left more neurotic than when I went in.  Tonight was better.  I had practiced some last night following videos on the school website and there was one form tonight that felt good some of the time.  That’s more than on those two previous classes.  So I came home in a better mood.

    A couple of times I ended up feeling lousy after Tae Kwon Do, but tonight I came away kind of energized.  One girl who has progressed to a green belt comforted me by saying that she went home and cried a lot when she started because she felt so useless on the mat.

    A couple of times I ended up feeling lousy after Tae Kwon Do, but tonight I came away kind of energized. One girl who has progressed to a green belt comforted me by saying that she went home and cried a lot when she started because she felt so useless on the mat.

  • Maybe my depression is starting to lift.  It’s hard to tell: feeling good after a strong stimulus like my martial arts class doesn’t necessarily translate into feeling better the next day.  If I lifted up after just six days, that would be a real shift: my depressive cycles have been running 10-14 day, mostly around 14, for several months.  But all that is in play.  My manic cycles have been 7-13 days, but this last time I didn’t really have a manic cycle.  I had about six days of not being depressed, and looking like I was on the edge of cycling too high, but I just never did.  It was like the manic motor kept trying to fire up, but couldn’t catch.  That was kind of disappointing because I love that manic buzz. but I knew not to look this gift horse in the mouth.  That middle zone – or even more the zone that I call a complex healing state,  which has elements of both states – that’s the really juicy place, that’s where the healing happens.

Soon I’ll write a post about complex healing states and one about why I think I didn’t swing into a mania this last time around.  By then I’ll have more information like what happens tomorrow.

A new art for me…

I had my orientation session to my new Tae Kwon Do school on Friday afternoon, followed by my first class.  I am way excited about this new endeavor.

The instructor who provided my orientation asked what had drawn me to this practice – a pretty cool question and an indication right there of how this school focuses on your personal process.  I talked about having bipolar disorder and how I hope that this practice could

  • stir up my life energy when I am depressed – get me unstuck
  • ground me when I am manic
  • generally get me out of my head and into my body.

I said that I would like more exercise and that I think this could help me stay in shape, but this was almost an afterthought.  Writing this now (Friday evening) is the first I have thought that this practice might build self-confidence and help me feel better about myself (especially when I’m down, when this is a problem area).  Self-defense is not really on the screen for me – and the instructor told me that out of 500 people in the school there are probably about five who practice primarily for self-defense.

I had some concerns that these goals might sound kind of airy-fairy to this martial arts instructor, but to the contrary he described outcomes – including some in his own life – that were at least as broad as mine.  He said that the practice very centrally helps you get more presence – and what I would call mindfulness.  You are less likely to lose your keys, because you are more conscious when you set them down. He talked about ways the practice shifted the way he is in the world, how he relates to himself and others.

The Korean Tae Kwon Do team for the 2012 Olympics.  My legs don't stretch quite this far yet.  "Hey teach, is it OK if I just kick him in the knee?"

The Korean Tae Kwon Do team for the 2012 Olympics. My legs don’t stretch quite this far yet. “Hey teach, is it OK if I just kick him in the knee?”

He talked about one element of practice where you give feedback to each other about what you noticed in the way the other person performed the form – with all students participating in this, so that at a mixed rank class a white belt student could be giving feedback to a black belt.  He described how important it is at the school to break through any sense of hierarchy and that even if this system sometimes generates some not-useful feedback, it’s worth it for the benefits in creating an open atmosphere.

Before my orientation, I watched a kid’s class in which the instructor had students get in pairs and ask each other “What’s been a highlight of your day?”  This young woman comes through my line at the grocery store – I think she stole my line!  I hope she did.

My class was tough, even at beginner level.  But I had the sense that it was tough for a very good reason – because it was requiring me to get out of my head and into my body.  And the instructors and other students are very warm and welcoming and supportive.  I had told the instructor that I would need to leave a few minutes early.  When I bowed off of the mat, she said to the group “Majo had an awesome first class today – let’s give him a big hand.”  Which the forty or so people on the mat enthusiastically did.  I bet they do this for everybody after their first class.  I actually hope they do.  It’s a beautiful thing to do – and it felt great.