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Bipolar Snowballs

bipolar self-talk maniabipolar self-talk depressionPeople with bipolar disorder often hide the disease, afraid of being misunderstood. I want to share a story that might help me, and others, to reveal this part of who we are. Let’s see what you think.

Mexican earthenware figures 600-900 AD
The Walters Art Museum · Works of Art

Self-Talk Power: my best friend and worst enemy

I noticed that the snow plow had been through to push back the tops of the high snowbanks. When it passed our house, it pushed an icy snowball that was 4 or 5 feet in diameter off of the top of the snowbank — right to the middle of the entrance to our driveway.

I couldn’t move it, partly because my head had been like a pinball machine all morning: if I moved too quickly or the wrong way, I would trigger the tilt switch, which would make a migraine leap into action.

I considered the possible times to call my husband at work, so he would be ready to clear the driveway when he came home: immediately, before I forgot? But then he might dread it all afternoon. What if I took a chance on remembering to call him as he’s ready to leave for home? But then I might forget, and he’d arrive home ready to relax.

Self-talk Snowball

I walked over to see how bad the situation was.The snowball was so round, I wondered if I could roll it. As I lifted one edge of it, pieces fell off, but I was able to push most of it out of the way. I was surprised by how little it weighed. I thought it must have been full of air pockets, like Styrofoam.

Bipolar Self-talk

See the remainder of the snowball after I had moved it

The snow plow had also pushed several inches of dense snow into the entrance to the driveway. The sun was shining brightly for a little while, but the temperature was too close to zero Fahrenheit for the snow to melt away. The snow would be much easier to move at that moment, compared with waiting for my husband to move it when he got home after a tiring day at work, with the temperature falling, and darkness settling in.

As I got a shovel, I wondered if I could move any snow. I wondered what happened to the migraine, and my tiredness and weakness. As I moved some snow, I was amazed that the full shovel loads were easy to lift and toss over the tops of the tall snow banks. Where did my strength come from? How could I do this after spending the past few months in bed in a depression?

I cleared the entire end of the driveway, one minute at a time, taking a break after each minute: stand still, eyes closed, breathe, tune in, and decide whether to continue. This is what I heard myself saying:

I can do anything, if I just do it. All of these months, I wasted a lot of time lying around, focusing on what I couldn’t do, when I could have just gotten up and done what I could do. What a relief! I finally beat this bipolar thing! I am such a strong person. Anyone else’s body would have atrophied by now. My body is built like a bull. I know how to use body mechanics to do hard work. This feels so good. I used to know that I could do absolutely anything, and here I am, doing it again. I am glad to be the familiar Me again. I love being out in the sun, breathing the fresh air, working my muscles, doing something nice for someone else. I forgot how much control I have over what I can do. I just need to remember to focus on what I can do, and just do it. I have no idea why I ever think I can’t do a certain something. There’s nothing I can’t do. I’ve proven that over and over…

Redirecting the Self-Talk

Finally, I remembered my therapist advising me, many times, to do just a little at a time when energy floods my blood, rather than riding the entire wave of opportunity, and then entirely exhausting myself. Finally, I remembered my psychiatrist looking at me with astonishment as I mentioned being in bed all day for weeks and then very suddenly running up and down flights of stairs and being happily very busy doing many things all at once and keeping track of them all, and he asked me how someone like me, who is intelligent and sensible, could be so unreasonable about overdoing it when I became energized, aka hypomanic.

Finally, I realized that being out of bed for a couple of hours was strenuous enough for me for one day for right now. I saw many things I wanted to do, but forced myself to bed. I wanted to stay up and be busy. Instead, I called my husband to check my judgment. He reminded me that I accomplished a lot that day, and that I needed to rest so I wouldn’t feel like I got hit by a Mack truck. Oh. Yeah. I had forgotten about that Mack truck that shows up and runs me down after a surge of energy in the middle of a depression. After hypomania sweeps me away, I feel as if a brick wall fell on me. So, this time, I set myself to staying in bed, and then a wave of exhaustion overwhelmed me, and I was ready to settle down for the rest of the day.

How might someone as intelligent and sensible as I remember to take it easy when a wave of energy comes along? How does a wave make me so muscular? Sometimes, when I get one of those waves, I remember to ride it carefully, slowly and deliberately, but often I become extremely busy and irritable as I cling to the face of the wave until it crashes on the beach, and leaves me there depleted, as limp as a rag doll, and miserable.

Bipolar Snowballs

So, I need to rest a lot right now. When I find myself calmly up and around doing things without thinking about it, or when I am continuously aware of my limitations, maybe that’s a taste of “normal”. When I see my ability to do everything that I think of, maybe that should smell fishy. I’m getting better at recognizing the difference.

Bipolar might be like the snow plow that left a large snowball at the end of our driveway. Sometimes, we don’t notice the snowball. Sometimes, we can roll the big obstacle out of the way, and then overcome more obstacles. Sometimes, we continue shoveling away with unlimited energy, until we inadvertently and inevitably step in front of a Mack truck, and it flattens us.

What does your self-talk sound like? How do you recognize its nonsense, and overpower it? When do you find it helpful?

Thanksgiving Days

When I was in college, each time that I drove on the interstate highway past a certain Indian reservation, I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t see it. I repeatedly looked at maps to verify that I was looking in the right place. I could not see teepees anywhere.

TeePee Watercolor painting by Karl Bodmer 1832-1834
This work is in the public domain

A few years later, I was lost. As I drove along, I saw signs on both sides of the road stating that I was in an Indian reservation. I became super-alert, expecting men to jump out at me from behind the trees, wearing war paint and loincloths, and threatening to attack me with tomahawks.

Indians with Tomahawks attack a womanThe Death of Jane McCrea Oil painting by John Vanderlyn 1804
This work is in the public domain

A few years after that, a friend mentioned that we were passing through an Indian reservation. All I saw was normal homes, and wondered why I couldn’t see where the Indians lived.

Indian homes?Photo by Cameron Slater, April 26, 2013
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

How the heck could a High Honors student who was relatively enlightened about world cultures learn to be so dumb? I expected to find teepees inhabited in an area where several feet of snow accumulate, and temperatures drop below zero Fahrenheit. I expected characters from an old wild wild west movie to emerge from the woods near where I had lived for several years. I was so sure that Indians lived in teepees, I didn’t think to ask anyone where the Indians really lived.

Thanksgiving Day in the United States

Today, I say Happy Thanksgiving to my neighbors here in the United States. Although this is a secular holiday, most houses of worship host celebrations of thanks to God this morning. Then, we celebrate our relationship with the Earth by feasting at each other’s homes. It is a time of abundant food and hospitality. We often celebrate with local foods, freshly prepared. We enjoy the colors and textures of a wide variety of foods. The aromas, flavors. Conversations with loved ones.

Thanksgiving DinnerPhoto Credit: Remi Levoff,  November 16, 2011
Creative Commons License

According to my review of trends on the internet this week, the most common foods for today are herb-roasted turkey, bread stuffing with celery and onions, gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, squash, Parker House rolls, and pumpkin and apple pies. We make these from ingredients that are typically harvested at the end of our growing season. This menu is consistent from year to year.

This year, our Thanksgiving coincides with Hanukkah, but I didn’t see much mention of that online.

Global Thanksgiving Days

Throughout the year, I say Happy Thanksgiving to my global neighbors. Many people around the world celebrate harvests, especially as they anticipate seasons of ice, heavy rain or drought. When some people celebrate Thanksgiving holidays, they celebrate fertility as they anticipate a productive growing season.

HarvestBy Scott Bauer, USDA ARS
[Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

I like that Thanksgiving continues to relate to agricultural calendars. With the strong global trend toward urbanization, I wonder how long this will continue. Perhaps it will become more of a day of general appreciation.

Thanksgiving Days For Reconciliation

Regardless of when and why we celebrate Thanksgiving, family and friends are an important element. Even those who are tough to get along with are often invited for dinner. Many people also include strangers in their observance of the day, as we share food so everyone can enjoy a feast.

This tradition of reaching out to strangers may be inspired by remembering the story of Indians welcoming Europeans and teaching them how to survive their first winters here. I have a vivid memory from my childhood of a painting showing Pilgrim men sitting at a table full of food while Indian men stood around and sat on the ground. I like to think that this image conveys the importance of replacing oppression with embracing people of diverse religions, races, sexual orientations, abilities and other differences.

First ThanksgivingThe First Thanksgiving at Plymouth Painted 1914
By Jennie A. Brownscombe
This image is in the public domain

Think of how surprised I was to find that the Wampanoag descendents of the people represented in the painting celebrate this day as National Day of Mourning. They and their supportive neighbors are recalling when they lost their lives, trust, dignity, culture, and land to the intruders.

National Day of MourningPhoto credit: nicole s
used by permission from Frank Macer of

The plaque:

National Day of Mourning

Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered at noon on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. Many Native Americans do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers. To them, Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture. Participants in National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience.

Erected by the Town of Plymouth on behalf of the United American Indians of New England.

National Day of Mourning bannerPhoto Credit: hate5six, November 22, 2012
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

As we recognize the impact of this tragedy, let’s join with the Onondaga Indian Nation during today’s Annual Thanksgiving Circle for Peace and Hope as we celebrate our appreciation for each other and the Earth, and our commitment to work together for healing and justice, for all people and our environment.

Thanksgiving Circle of Peace and HopePhotographer: JT Lee, November 22, 2012
used by permission from Syracuse Peace Council