Bipolar, Mindfulness and Body Awareness for Change of Mood
The other day I was seriously displeased on seeing how seriously displeased my face looked as I peered into the mirror. Right smack in the middle of my eyebrows was the scowl of someone looking seriously displeased at looking seriously displeased. As I eased the intensity of my gaze, I was amazed to see the depth of the scowl line only slightly abated. What have I done to look so dated?
What I’m trying to say is that this scowl ages me 3000 days. The rest of my face is about 25, but this scowl gives away my age. I momentarily imagined myself getting botox and then I remembered back 2 years ago to the last time I was in the psych ward, when I had a scowl line that could hold onto a pencil crayon. Then my brain made an important connection. Usually I don’t take antipsychotics
unless I’m in the psych ward, and for some reason, they tend to give me a frown line from continuous scowling. Two seemingly disconnected facts united to create an epiphany of bipolar proportions. I then realized I’ve been taking antipsychotics for the last 3 months, the longest period of time in this entire 7 year bipolar journey.
Three weeks ago, I managed to switch from Lithium Carbonate to Lithium Orotate and so far so good. I haven’t been able to taper off of Quetiapine since I had a full blown psychosis and crisis on October 17th, 2017 in which I managed to avoid the hospital. I’ve been taking 50mg of Quetiapine at bedtime for the last month, though initially I had to take more, and some during the day as needed. I could try and taper off of it and I did try to taper just over a month ago, but I think it initiated another dip into psychosis. It was hard to tell though because I was working in a warehouse on night shift. I was walking around, crying discreetly to myself, feeling suicidal, doing my job. It was a strange experience. I’ve never been at work while in psychosis. It was cool to see I could be productive while totally out of it, though I’m not sure I want to do that again.
So right now I feel “stable” on 50mg of Quetiapine at night, which seems to keep the bipolar psychosis at bay. More on that later. What I meant to go into was the connection with that dreaded scowl line. When I was in the psych ward last, I was on Seroquel XR (not good for me at all – and Quetiapine is the same as Seroquel, but fast release) and it made me have a super deep scowl. I sent a picture to a friend and he said it looked like I was having trouble taking a poop. In having the epiphany that I’ve recently been on Seroquel/Quetiapine for an extended period of time, I realized that it’s likely contributing to my scowl mark! These meds make me scowl unconsciously.
Since I’m not sure when I’m going to stop taking Quetiapine as the benefits of not being psychotic outweigh the fact of having a scowl line, I wondered what I could do to prevent a bigger butthole from forming on my face. Then I noticed that I was holding a lot of tension in my “third eye” area. I didn’t notice this tension before and it didn’t feel like I was scrunching my face until I really put some awareness in that area. Turns out, I was scrunching my friggin’ face. Then, I realized that I could apply mindfulness to the situation. Friggin’ eh! So then, every time I could, I would bring awareness to my third eye and realized I was indeed contracting. Isn’t indeed a great word? So under-utilized. Then, I would use my presence to relax that area. Sometimes I’d progressively relax it up to 10 times each time I brought awareness there, each time relaxing it a little bit more. It’s just like trying to improve posture by sitting up straight every time you notice you are slouching. After about 2 days of bringing attention to my forehead, it was relaxed. Now when I bring attention to my brow and try to relax it, it’s already relaxed. This hasn’t gotten rid of the line, but the depth of the scowl is dissipating. I can only assume this will get better over time, and that daily life can be as an iron over cotton pants left in the dryer.
Who knew that “Practicing the Power of Now” could prevent the need for Botox? I used to do the whole Power of Now thing a lot. The present moment is the sh*t.
And I’m not sharing this for cosmetic reasons only, though it started that way. I realized that having a relaxed face by doing this mini progressive muscle relaxation on my face butthole whenever I thought to translates to feeling more relaxed in my daily life. Since doing this, I’ve felt slightly better, and have gone from being more than a little guarded while out and about doing errands, to being light, kind and playful. I even made an appointment to donate blood. I don’t think having less of a butthole on my face is the only reason why since I have been feeling slowly better as the days go on anyway, but I experiment with many wellness tools to try to feel better and increase my quality of life, and I can say this simple exercise has had a noticeable difference on my bipolar biorhythm. I’m more pleased about the effect relaxing my third eye has had on my affect and daily interactions than on my seemingly rejuvenated face (I love the word seemingly). This makes sense as subconsciously people will respond more pleasantly to someone that isn’t scowling. And I feel more pleasant inside when not scowling. So this is a great positive feedback loop. Who knew?
It always interests me that when I’m in a negative bipolar state, people are “more mean” unprovoked and super nice for no reason when I’m in a positive state. And all this happens without saying anything. Let’s hear it for nonverbal communication!! So, I can actually participate in this process by making sure I’m holding little tension in my face, which will make me feel better, and others approach me better (I think I already said that in two different ways but meh). Of course, the extreme of this is in bipolar mania when it seems like everyone is rolling out the red carpet with a gleam of an eye and preparing for your 2nd coming (haha).
One strange thing is that at first after I relaxed my forehead, it felt like it was difficult to keep my eyes open all the way. I think the rest of my face had to join in the fun and remember how to open my eyes all the way without just my eyebrows.
To me, this speaks to the importance of the understanding of the mind-body connection, or that they are two aspects of the same thing (see Dr. David Bohm’s essay on “Soma-Significance” for a mind blowing explanation – but do so in at least a hypomanic state).
Back to talking about my last psych ward stay in April of 2016 when I was put on a medication that made me worse and I was trapped in a position of being stuck on it and stuck in there under the Mental Health Act. I knew there was nothing I could do to change the fact that I had to take that drug as 100 faceless rotating nurses were force feeding it to me daily. That’s when I experimented with a mind-body effect. The medication was making me feel worse and worse and I noticed that as I would pick at my hospital gruel, I would slouch in my chair like a disgruntled teenager watching Star Wars. This happened by default as a result of the medication. This is when I learned the technique I utilized on said scowl.
It took a lot of effort but every time I noticed I was slouching, I purposefully sat up straight. I sat up so straight I must have looked like a 1940’s women in finishing school. I also tried to walk straight with my head over my shoulders. I learned some of these techniques for sitting and walking in a way that support the alignment of the human skeleton from Carole Maureen Friessen of The Light Workers Institute (who knew we don’t know how to sit or walk or stand without progressively contorting our bodies due to the effects of gravity on a body not being held rightly leading to pain and clothing hanging funny). So, with intention, I was able to mitigate some of the effects the medications were having on me. I was resisting the gravity of how the medication would have me carry myself. This was one of the ways I could rebel against it. I could use my body to affect what the medication was doing to my mind, and my body. There is so much is psychosis that feels scary and out of control so noticing that I could still steer my posture gave me some control. It’s nice to have a little free will in times where things are out of control. Plus, I was able to use this technique that I taught myself again in a totally different context – fast forward to face butt hole. That’s why I love to learn these seemingly insignificant subtleties.
The other thing I did in the psych ward to mitigate med side effects was eat only half of my meals. This was to resist the side effect of Seroquel XR on weight gain. Of course the medication made me hungrier but I could consciously choose to eat less in this particular situation. It helped that the food wasn’t particularly edible to start with. When I first was put on Olanzapine 7 years ago, I gained 50 lbs in 2 months. I didn’t want that to happen again as I felt alien in a body that was a size I’d never experienced before. I felt sluggish and the weight gain erased any self confidence I might have had after 3 months in the psych ward and being labelled with a mental illness had I not gained weight. I usually eat healthy food and since in the psych ward there is no access to healthy food, eating less would help ensure I didn’t gain weight. I feel that taking antipsychotics often makes a person gain weight even if they don’t increase calories (though I did eat a lot that first time – I learned my lesson for being in the same situation again). Another factor is that, in my mind, this would also help my liver deal with the medication toxicity, by giving it less crap to have to process. Coming out of the psych ward without being fatter, fried and so close to death that the Grim Reaper ads you as a friend on facebook is an accomplishment worthy of some kind of award that hasn’t been invented yet.
Luckily in that 2016 scenario that was once my life, after a big debacle, I was able to taper off the offending anti psychotics by switching to a psychiatrist to listens to the certifiably crazy people who still know what is helpful and what is not even when certifiably crazy. We don’t need things done to us, but then if I guess if they listen, that will diminish their God-like authority. Can’t have that (darn I almost got through without being “sarcastiatristic” – I made up that word…seems appropriate and congruent). We need WRAP crisis plans listened to in crisis in the psych ward.
Oh ya, I then went back to eating a usual amount.
If there is a point, it is that from that hospitalization I learned that I can reverse some of the unwanted effects of the medications by how I hold my body. I remember watching a TED talk by Amy Cuddie on “The Power Poses”. It’s kind of like that. Bipolar people need power poses too. Especially when we are in the most powerless positions like being “sectioned” or certified under the mental health act. This can be extrapolated to many sorts of bipolar conundrums and quandaries, but not all of them. There are no ready made answers but we can make some of our own if we pay attention and experiment.