There isn’t one me, and that’s OK.

A post at Hearthrose’s blog got me thinking about something recently.

Although I take pride in being pretty independent and happy to be alone, like all people I try and craft myself a story which minimizes conflict, which allows me to appear more congruent, to fit into the group.

But the thing is, although I am functional, stable and happy, I am not a sane, balanced, “one story” sort of a person. I’ve done a lot of stuff, a lot of stuff has happened to me, and my refusal to adhere to one group means my outlook on life isn’t from the same vantage point as any given person I am talking to. I have been on welfare and among the elite at the Oxford and Cambridge club. I have spent time in churches and posing nude for painting and photography groups. I have been paid to write liberal essays, but I have also intentionally associated with Marxists and feminists. I have lived across countries, incomes, social boundaries… And between that and the randomly flicking light switch which is my hormonal balance, I am not sane or balanced, there is no “one story”.

I find that with the way my head works, it’s hard to reconcile many different aspects of myself. I learned from a young age that people as disjointed and random as me aren’t “real” people, that I needed to simplify myself in order to be “genuine”. Although no one person has mattered to me beyond Jon, I’ve still tried to minimize conflict by wedging myself into one story and hiding anything which didn’t quite fit.

Pregnancy has given me some time to think about this though, especially about disorders like bipolar and disorders of shallow affect. I know they’re highly heritable. But I don’t want my son to end up like my father: a bipolar alcoholic unable to reconcile all the facets of his identity into something pleasant and superficially genuine, which people might find easier to swallow. I want my son to be able to be weird and disjointed, to not commit to something unless he needs to or wants to or believes it makes sense, to not force himself into an indentity or a group without reason. I don’t want to make him think he has to find a community he can perfectly blend into and fade into the background. Because that is what happened to my father and it doesn’t work.

I don’t care any more if I’m a bit too sweary or immodest at times for the traditional spheres. Or if I’m not racy or flaunty enough for social media. Or if I’m not religious enough for small communities. Or if I’m not abrasive enough for my age group. I don’t care that I read anything from the KJ Bible to Deadman Wonderland, that I’m an anime nerd, that I can’t hate the sex industry, that I prefer to be alone most of the time, that I’m self-absorbed, that I like to do traditional tasks, that I hoard money instead of using it.

I’d rather get on with being me, doing what I must do in order to succeed at what I want, accepting the different sides of myself and not hiding them in order to fit in better or appease someone. If something needs fixing, I’ll fix it, not pretend it isn’t there to give a better impression. And if I lose a few people along the way, then they’re not part of my story, are they?

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It isn’t wicked to be an enabler, just misdirected.

It is often too easy to see the flaws in a behaviour and not the healthy points at the root of it. Enabling is one of those behaviours where the healthy components are often overlooked.

When we call someone an enabler, we usually mean “a person who encourages or enables negative or self-destructive behaviour in another”. However the primary definition in the dictionary is not that. That part comes second. The primary definition is “a person or thing that makes something possible”. And that’s something important to bear in mind.

An enabler, at their core, is someone who wants to give someone else what they want. The enabler may enable an alcoholic by buying said alcoholic more drinks when the alcoholic’s state is too bad to get out the house. The enabler will do this because they believe it is good, as it makes the alcoholic happy. They do not want the alcoholic to suffer or do badly; if they did they would be a saboteur: “a person who engages in sabotage”, to “deliberately destroy, damage, or obstruct (something)”.

The problem therefore is in what they are enabling. They are enabling a negative habit, which in the end will cause more harm than good.

And therein lies the problem. An enabler is not a wicked person. They simply need to learn that what they are enabling is a wicked thing, that temporary happiness and praise is not a sign all is well, and often they will adjust and make efforts to enable more positive traits.

Enabling, once redirected, is a marvellous and powerful thing. Housewives and the home guard enabled healthy men to go to war when it was required. Kelly Ann Conway enabled Trump to portray himself well to the media. General Curtis LeMay enabled the Berlin Airlift. Objectively, in all cases everyone involved benefitted from their enabling.

So don’t fear being an enabler. Just ask yourself if you’re doing it for the feels or for the results.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

What things have you enabled in the past? In what ways have you been enabled, for better or for worse?

 

For help starting out homemaking, check out The ESSENTIAL Beginner Homemaker’s Guide. For help budgeting all your everday and not-so-everyday essentials, from food to transport to clothes, check out On A Budget: The good homemaker’s guide to economizing.

FitFriday, Fat Friday XVIII. It just keeps growing.

Baby.

Which is a good thing, considering how small it was until recently. I seem to be catching up with where I should be and, other than a bit of fluid retention, it’s all gone to the belly, so I know it’s more baby and other relevant substances. A bit of relief, to be fair. Still not grown into my old stretch marks yet, though. I’m wondering exactly how fat I used to be, because I’m willing to bet both my memory and the scarce pictures are failing to convey the sheer volume to me.

Finally got myself to pack the hospital bags with baby things. Survivability is so high at this stage that I don’t need to worry about the sad bits and can stash a few clothes and tiny nappies in the bag. It still feels kind of surreal, but my body’s a lot faster to remind me of the soon-to-be new arrival lately.

Weights.

Despite the physical challenges, I’m reintegrating high rep workouts for a simple reason: the combined hormone imbalances of pregnancy and cyclothymia are leaving me so neurologically challenged that I’m managing to break almost everything I touch. Squeeze things that should be held gently, drop things that shatter, and generally walk into things and “miss” when I reach to pick something up. I need my eyes to be focused a bit more often and my hands to do what I want them to at least half the time. And the only thing I’m not doing to try and get in order is weights.

It’s weird not being able to physically do some lifts, but it feels great to build a bit of work back in despite awkwardly moving around the bump for some exercises. And the regulatory powers of exercise are sheer magic.

Diet.

Still restricting high GI foods, though I found out milk chocolates are apparently low GI, which is kind of cool. Calories are where they are, but I checked yesterday and they haven’t changed much from when I was controlling them more closely. Snacking on veg seems a lot more appetizing lately and salt is really not wanted any more. I think I may just keep playing it by instinct unless the volume of food gets really out of hand.

How did your week in fitness go?

FitFriday, FatFriday XVI. Smallish bump, happy baby?

Baby.

Hoping so, anyways. Getting to that point where everyone who hears I’m at almost 30 weeks does a double take. I’m not exactly teeny. Seen smaller bumps in my age group just paranoia-browsing a little. But reactions are starting to mess with me. Jon keeps reassuring me that the bump will grow and/or the next scan on Tuesday will show the baby is strong and healthy. Well, he sure kicks like he is, anyway!

pic pic2

Doesn’t help much that the midwife said I was measuring a few weeks small last time, though…

Diet.

I found out that it isn’t only diabetes that shrinks a baby’s hippocampus in the third trimester, but pretty much all junk food habits. So after taking it easy in an effort to “correct” the bump, it looks like I’ll be ramping up the strictness for a bit. Perhaps if I control my blood sugar enough I can reduce or eliminate the risk of my son inheriting some form of bipolar. Which would be awesome. The less rubbish he has to deal with the better.

So it’s root veggies, greens, plenty of protein, getting shot of the last remnants of dairy, healthy fats and the odd bit of home-made bread. Essentially back to clean eating 101 for the next ten weeks or so.

Workout.

Still been busy in the garden and the likes, but Jon thinks I’ve calmed down enough to get back to weights. Which is just as well, because they were starting to drop. Pretty angry at myself about that, but on the other hand I am pregnant, so perhaps it’s expected I won’t be throwing the better part of my body weight around every day.

Hopefully I can either build back up now, slam the weights once I’m recovered from childbirth, or do a bit of both and get back on track ASAP. Not that I’m looking any less muscled, but any drop in physical power concerns me.

pic3

Proofs. Guns (and triceps, deltoids, quads and calves] still there, just no ammo apparently.

Then again, perhaps the muscle is the main reason for the small bump. Compression or something? If that’s the case I’m unsure whether to take it easier or to keep working out. The scan will give me some idea.

How did your week in fitness go?

How To… be rational, not rationalize.

In our home we often say humans are not rational creatures, we are rationalizing creatures. That is to say, we spend more time thinking about why we do what we do, explaining and justifying our actions, as well as those of others, than we do thinking through what we are about to do and planning ahead. There is a lot of research into why this is, but it boils down to:

  • most behaviour is driven by instincts and thus most processes begin before we start thinking
  • we are often stressed, which lets instincts run wild
  • we don’t actually think of our future selves as “us”
  • we want to feel good about things we have already done
  • we want to feel good about the people “in our tribe”

This is why your average person will see chocolate cake, feel hungry, eat it distractedly, feel briefly bad about it, then excuse it and seek validation from others for the excuses, even though it is not in their long-term interests to eat the cake. Quite simply, instincts and now won out over reason and the future. It is also why depressive cycles can be so strong, why we enjoy disassociative drugs, or why people with personality disorders often feel the best about themselves.

But there are ways to improve our ability to be rational, that is, to think about our actions in general, our future, and what we do… before we do it.

1. List your instincts and their intensity.

We all have three base instincts that give rise to other instinctive behaviours. Think of which apply to you, as you might find one or two do not, and think about how easy you find it to resist them.

1: Survive.

  • eat
  • hydrate
  • sleep
  • hide from danger

2: Reproduce.

  • partner
  • have sex
  • create safety
  • locate resources

3: Find worth.

  • relax
  • work at something you enjoy
  • feel pride
  • feel belonging

So, for example, I would say my drive to eat is very strong, whereas I can resist the need to drink or sleep for a while. I would also say my drive for sex is strong, but still far weaker than my drive to partner, and that my drive to partner comes before my drive to avoid danger or feel group belonging. This means I am very centered around what I eat and around Jon, and not easily swayed by groups or fear.

2. Consider the biological reasons for your instincts.

There is a biological reason for every instinct. Those you feel intensely are probably there for two reasons:

  1. They are hardwired in almost every human.
  2. They were reinforced during your childhood.

For instance, a childhood lacking much parental security, group solidarity and physical resources has made me very prone to disordered eating and eager to attach to one person very intensely. Both are at their core instinctive, but they were reinforced later on.

Likewise, your instincts will have a purpose.

3. List your life goals and how instinct may interfere with them.

But not all instinct is good nowadays. We have an instinctive urge to get fat, because at times of scarcity, we never got too fat, just about fat enough to keep us through a famine. But today there are no famines and the instinct doesn’t work. Likewise for every instinct. Fear becomes paranoia, sexual need becomes single motherhood or multiple child benefit claims, desire for pride becomes arrogance, desire to belong becomes dependence. They can all become dysfunctional when let run wild.

4. Whenever you feel an urge, ask if it is instinct.

Now you know what they are, when you feel a pull towards something, ask yourself what instinct it could be based on. The urge to buy the latest smartphone may be a need to belong, or a need for a partner, or a need for sex. The urge to eat the chocolate cake may be a need for food, or for drink, or for safety. The urge to slap someone may be a need for belonging, or a sense of fear, or a spike of pride. Every self-destructive knee-jerk is your instincts screaming in confusion at the modern world.

5. Whenever you identify an instinctive drive, think long term.

You won’t catch every instinct, but you need to think long term as soon as you spot one. Think about your bank, or future purchases, or the group you belong to before buying the smartphone. Think about your weight, your health, or bad habit cycles before eating the cake. Think about social and legal repercussions, loss of friendship or the risk of physical harm before slapping someone. Ask yourself where your actions will take you, and whether you really want to be there.

In summary:

1: Know yourself.

2: Know your body.

3: Know your priorities.

4: Identify your problems.

5: Plan ahead.

Because it may be easier to rationalize, but it does nothing to help you better yourself.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

 

For help starting out homemaking, check out The ESSENTIAL Beginner Homemaker’s Guide. For help budgeting all your everday and not-so-everyday essentials, from food to transport to clothes, check out On A Budget: The good homemaker’s guide to economizing.

How To… identify and manage depressive cycles.

Everyone gets down once in a while. Everyone can feel sad, emotionally unbalanced, tired or anxious. But if you find yourself repeatedly in these states, often for no discernible reason or for unbelievably petty reasons, then you may have a depressive cycle condition.

1: Is this you?

One day you’re on top of the world, or at least feeling fine. You break your shoe, but march into a store and get a new pair. It cost a bit, but they would have needed replacing some time or another and you really like your new shoes anyway. You get to your lunch date a bit late but after explaining and showing the offending shoe all is well. You enjoy the date knowing that they aren’t too upset by your lateness, part on friendly terms and agree to have a second date.

The next morning you wake up suddenly at four am feeling incredibly anxious. You’re not sure if your date was actually OK with your reasoning. Maybe they think you’re the sort of person who carries around broken shoes just so you can excuse your lateness? And now you’re not sure you like those shoes any more anyway. You preferred the old ones. You can’t get back to sleep and drink some coffee to calm a strange shakiness and ache that has appeared in your fingers, probably from the stress. Trying to make breakfast a few minutes later, you drop a whole egg in the pan and, frustrated, throw all of it away. Making a new omelet feels like an incredibly difficult task and you feel suddenly very tired, despite just having had a coffee. You sit down and try and put the TV on, but can’t focus on it. It feels pointless and dumb to be watching TV and nothing is interesting on it. You feel helpless and break down crying.

After crying you feel more steady. Your hands aren’t shaking and you have a little more energy. You still feel strangely empty and your joints have started hurting a bit again, but at least now you feel like making another omelet.

That is a fairly normal depressive episode following what may have been a normal mood or may have been very mild mania. Because you’ve lived with it most of your life, most people with this sort of cycle don’t really notice it as something that may be a problem.

2: Ups, downs or steady?

In terms of the type of cycle, there are three defining characteristics: what moods there are in the cycle, how long the cycle is and how intense the moods are.

Firstly we’ll look at the moods we have. There are three stages to a cycle. Most people will only experience two for any length of time and the other may not feature or may be very brief and mild.

-Depressive stage. The one we’re focusing on for this guide and the one that causes most people the biggest problem. You feel sad, angry or temperamental for no reason. You feel tired, lethargic, but also anxious and jumpy at once, you may have a very hard time sleeping despite feeling exhausted. You lose motivation and start having negative thought cycles.

-Manic stage. Can be a problem to some people but provides a welcome break for those with very mild mania. You feel on top of the world, excited and brimming with energy. Your outlook is optimistic and the silver linings seem very clear. You want to do everything at once and have a hard time stopping yourself from filling the calendar too much. You have a hard time focusing on any task at hand.

-Normal or flat stage. Not a problem in and of itself, but can make some people with depressive cycles feel worse about the depression.

If you have depressive and manic as your primary cycle, you could have: cyclothymia, bipolar I, borderline.

If you have depressive and flat as your primary cycle, you could have: dysthymia, bipolar II.

People with depressive and manic may find their lives are in more of a mess and others are more often hurt by their actions. People with depressive and flat may find themselves very alone and be at risk of self harm.

3: Serious or inconvenient?

The severity of the disorder depends on two things. Firstly, how intense the moods are. Depression can range from feeling a bit flat and sad to suicidal rage. Mania can range from feeling a bit lively and unfocused to impulsively buying an entire store and then burning it. The more destructive and hard to control the mood is, the more intense it is.

The second thing is how fast the cycle is. When the cycle is slow you can predict the buildup and get ready. When it’s fast your moods can flip uncomfortably.

In terms of severity, the mood disorders scale like this:

Borderline. Very sudden, unpredictable mood switches between full mania and clinical depression.

Bipolar I. Gradual, predictable mood switches between full mania and clinical depression.

Bipolar II. Gradual, predictable mood switches between hypomania and clinical depression.

Cyclothymia. Very sudden, predictable mood switches between hypomania and subclinical depression.

Dysthymia. Gradual, predictable mood switches between normal mood and subclinical depression.

Of course all of them vary a little from person to person, but in general that is the simplest way of explaining each of them.

And the main way of treating these episodes is to work out what exactly is going on. Not all depression is alike, so pinpointing the cause of an exact problem can help fix it.

4: Serotonin.

One cause of depression is when serotonin reuptake inhibitors stop working. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps relay messages around the brain. SRIs stop your body from absorbing too much serotonin. When they aren’t working we may end up with too little serotonin, which destabilizes our mood. On its own, this won’t always cause depression, but it leaves us vulnerable. Symptoms include:

-Difficulty sleeping.

-Irritability.

-Sudden urges to cry, laugh or crush things.

-Sensitivity to pain, normal touch feels uncomfortable.

Management includes:

-Meditation.

-Isolating yourself from others for a while.

-Engaging in calm and pleasurable activities, like watching TV, reading or listening to music.

-Asking your doctor about 5-HTP and SSRIs.

5: GABA.

GABA’s main role is helping us get into a nice deep sleep. When this sleep process is interrupted, for example by alcohol, REM sleep is worsened which can cause a downward spiral as though we weren’t sleeping at all. If you have poor GABA receptors you may suffer the same way someone suffers with a hangover. Symptoms include:

-Suddenly vivid and very memorable dreams.

-Anxious, edgy, twitchy.

-Panic and sickness at night.

-Turning to alcohol or drugs to get some sleep.

Management includes:

-Meditation before bed to unwind.

-A mild sleeping pill to promote REM sleep.

-Supplemental GABA.

6: Dopamine.

Dopamine is the reward driver. Whenever you do something that results in a pleasant sensation, like eating good food, relaxing, having sex or playing, dopamine fires out to tell you what a good job you’re doing and to remind you to do that more often. When your dopamine receptors aren’t working properly there is nothing in your body to tell you that you did well at being a human. Symptoms include:

-No lust for life.

-Nothing feels rewarding, everything feels like it’s draining you, even things you used to like seem pointless.

-Low or absent concern even for people you loved.

-Things genuinely start looking dull, grey and uninviting.

Management includes:

-Going somewhere new and exciting.

-Overwhelming the senses.

-Exercise.

-Supplementing l-phenylalanine.

7: Norepinephrine.

Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter that is produced in response to stress. It is also a stress hormone, like cortisol or adrenaline. It increases the oxygen going to our brain, speeds up our heartrate and shuts down basic processes like digestion until the stress is gone. It helps send us into fight or flight. When the receptors aren’t working anxiety can build up, but the body becomes overwhelmed and has no energy to fight the stress. Symptoms include:

-Low energy for no reason.

-Poor motivation, persistence and focus.

-A desire to sleep for a long time.

-Boredom regardless of what you’re doing.

-Sudden spikes of anxiety, a feeling your existence is threatened.

Management includes:

-Exercise.

-A mild herbal antianxiety pill like valerian root.

-Caffeine to raise your energy through the day.

-Ask your doctor about SSRIs.

8: Hippocampus.

Many people with depression actually have a smaller than average hippocampus and long periods of depression can shrink it further. The hippocampus processes all your new memories and might play a role in deciding which ones are important to keep and which ones are for the short term. It also works with your spacial memory, helping you map your location and even remember what size your body is and what it’s doing. If your hippocampus is too small, it may become overwhelmed, causing poor memory function and proprioception. Symptoms include:

-Forgetting your daily plans.

-Forgetting what day it was, or things that happened in the past few days.

-Accidentally dropping or crushing things because you lost track of your hands.

Management includes:

-Mindfulness meditation.

-Keeping lists when you notice it happening.

9: The start and end.

Finally, you want to learn to predict when depression is creeping up on you, what type of depression it is and what the cycle usually involves. Keep a diary to find out what starts and ends your depressive cycles, what triggers an episode and what helps calm them preemptively.

And that’s how I manage depressive cycles. I hope that helps, or was at least informative if you don’t have depression.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!