Cranky Fibro Girl Harnessing the healing power of snark Thu, 23 Feb 2017 18:26:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Seduction Of Mania, Or, Why Bipolar Mind Is A Big Fat Liar Thu, 23 Feb 2017 18:25:02 +0000 Thanks to all the external triggers, like all the things happening in our country right now, and all the internal triggers, like moving to a new state/phase of life after 22 years in the old one, my bipolar and rapid cycling have been pretty amped up. So I thought I’d republish a couple of pieces I wrote a few years ago that describe, for me at least, what it’s like to live with this condition.

Originally published 2/19/2013

Yesterday I was talking to my Partner-In-Crime, Lynne, and we had what seemed like the millionth session of working on my Bipolar, rapid mood-cycling stuff. If you’ve never experienced this yourself,  I’ll just give you a quick description of  what it feels like for me.

If you remember those spring and bar scales you had to stand on at the doctors’ office, then imagine that they represent our emotional range. Now, on those scales you can only move the bar so far in either direction before you hit the edges; this is how I picture a healthy emotional range. It goes from unpleasant emotions up to good-feeling emotions, but it has some governors on either end.

But on my emotional scale there aren’t any edges; there’s nothing to stop me from tipping over into emotional extremes, and then just falling off the scale altogether. Over, and over, and over, and over, and OVER. I might be able to pull myself back up onto some kind of middle ground, but when this stuff is really triggered I just slip right back down the other side into what feels like a bed of emotional nails.

I’m grateful that I don’t have the most severe form of Bipolar, but oh my gosh, what I have is so SO hard to manage, and I am one of the fortunate ones. I have good meds and incredible support, so I’m not alone; but then again, I am alone, because when it all comes down it is just me and my mind.

Generally speaking, I love my mind. I love to think. I love information. I love to take classes and learn something new. But when my Bipolar stuff is activated it’s as if my mind is betraying me, because the tricky thing about this illness  is that Bipolar Mind lies. And if Bipolar Mind is the bully, then All-Or-Nothing Thinking, Grandiose Thinking, and You Are “Special” Thinking are its enforcer thugs.

When this whole process begins, I generally fall to the manic side first. At first I just feel happy, and excited about all the projects I’ve got going on. But if my mania has been triggered-as a response to some intense stressor, perhaps, like a family member in the middle of a crisis, or as a bad reaction to some medicine, or by eating too much sugar-gradually what was the feeling of happiness starts intensifying, and revving up, and gathering steam until it feels as though there is a buzz saw shearing through the middle of me, and it’s stuck in the “on” position.

It took me a long, l-o-n-g time to recognize that even though my mind was labeling that whole emotional experience as “happiness”, it was telling me something that wasn’t true. What is true is that there comes a point when the relaxed, aligned happy feelings end, and the grasping, driving, insatiable energy of mania takes over. But now I’m pretty good at noticing the difference,  because now I know that happiness doesn’t hurt.

I also know that if I can take even one, tiny breath when I’m deluged by these feelings, I can get a bit of separation from the experience and start noticing and naming what is happening. I’ve learned that my mind is lying to me when it tells me that  these overwhelming, all-consuming feelings are true. Instead I’ve learned to say to myself, “Oh, there’s that buzz saw again. Oh, yeah, I’m feeling insatiable, and my breathing is really shallow. Oh, and over there I’m feeling tempted to binge.” (And it’s not just bingeing with food; it can be eating, buying books, thinking, housecleaning, whatever. It’s anything I feel compelled to do, that I think might soothe all the chaos I’m feeling inside but actually doesn’t-for more than a second or two, anyway.)


Also, as I mentioned before, there are signs that I’m starting to get manic in the thought patterns that start to show up for me. The most obvious of these is that I go into obsessive syllable counting, and am physically and mentally unable to stop rearranging words into patterns of eights (they don’t call this obsessive and compulsive for nothing).

But that’s not the only thought pattern that comes out to play when I get manic. For example, if I ever do manage to break free from my compulsive counting for a second or two, then I immediately start to “All-or-Nothing” everything. So  if one day I’m stuck in my writing, then my mind starts to yell “I will NEVER be able to write another blog post, EVER AGAIN!”, no matter how much evidence I have to the contrary, such as almost eleven years of blog archives. (Again with all the lying.)

I also see a lot of Grandiose Thinking at times like this, which Lynne defined for me as, “thinking I can do something that is greater than the possibility of my life.” This can be especially tricky, because Bingeing  can sneak in the back door here and, for example,  hook me into buying a bunch of  info products because I’m convinced that I can just tweak a few things,  super-monetize my blog and then Become An Internet Billionaire In Only 30 Days!


But the trickiest part of this whole thing for me is when Grandiose Thinking  morphs into what I call “Special” Thinking. This is the thought pattern that seduces me the most. Because “Special” Thinking whispers to me that I am different, that I’m something more than just a mere mortal, unlike everyone else. And I confess-that’s a lie that I sometimes wish were true. If we’re talking the Seven Deadly Sins, then mine is and always has been Pride.

But “Special” Thinking doesn’t just tell me that I am somehow more than I actually am; it tricks me into believing that the same is true of my life. Because  colors are more vivid, smells are headier, my thoughts are faster, connections pop into place, and creative ideas spark every which way I turn, until I eventually find myself thinking things like, “I can’t slow down for anything as pedestrian as eating; I have too much Important Work to do.” Right.

This, this is the addictive part of mania, this rush, this high. This is what makes people stop taking their meds. This is what you remember once you’ve crashed and burned, the lie that tells you that it was all worth it, no matter how trashed you feel when you plummet back down to earth. These are the feelings you crave.  This is the memory against which you compare the non-manic periods of your life, the reason you listen to that hypnotic voice that whispers, “Nothing else will ever feel as good as this did.” This is what tempts you to return, even if you have to amp yourself up on your own, anything, just to get another hit of that intellectual or emotional high.

But of course, that place is completely unsustainable. What goes up most definitely falls back down, and the higher the high, the greater the cost to your mind, emotions, nervous system, and body.

To be continued…

]]> 0
The Cat Lady And The Copperheads, Or, Six Words That Should Never Go Together Tue, 07 Feb 2017 21:43:02 +0000 So we’ve been here in our new home, in our new city, for about four months now, and we’ve begun the process of putting together our new support network of grocery stores, pharmacies, doctors, and other service providers.

Today I met our new cat sitter; she in turn met Pip, our tiny grey cat who loves everyone, and was hidden from by Emma who, as far as we can tell, spends her nights alone in my office in the dark, writing angsty  teenage poetry and trying on various shades of black lipstick. (We think she’s “going through a phase”, which so far has lasted for…let’s see…5 times 6…carry the 2…um, yeah, the entire 379 days she has lived with us so far.)

I had to fill out some paperwork, including instructions for what to do if one of the cats needs to go to the vet when we’re on a trip. Since last week was the one-year anniversary of having to send our sweet Tigger boy to heaven, and the whole saga of his illness began with our having to rush home from a vacation after an emergency phone call from our previous cat sitter, that part was a little hard. But the cat sitter assured me that she’d never personally had to do that.

Then she contradicted herself. “Oh, well, I guess I did have that one time when a cat was bitten by a snake.”

Snakes. Of course. Only the thing I fear most in the whole entire world. Well, that, and somehow ending up a disembodied consciousness trapped in endless time.

Just keep breathing, I told myself.

“So,” I asked, bracing for the answer, “what happened?”

“Oh, the cat was fine,” she said.  Although the snake was a copperhead…”

“Um, what?”

“…and apparently they’re really…”

“POISONOUS?!” I confess, I was actually shrieking by this point.

“…common around here,” she finished,”so all the vets are prepared for this kind of thing.”

Dammit. I really like it here, and now we’re gonna have to move again. Or get one of those snake hunters, those mongooses. Mongooses? Mongeese? OK, FOCUS PLEASE.

She continued. “Our cats are indoor/outdoor, and for a long time they kept bringing me baby copperheads.”

Whimpering softly I asked, “So what did you do?”

“Well they were mostly dead by that time.” I honestly don’t know if that’s better, or worse. “But that all stopped once we got the chickens.”

I perked up at this news. “Chickens can kill a snake?” This sounded promising, especially since we live in the country now. Chickens would be much easier for us to acquire than a mongoose.

“Oh yeah. If anything comes into their territory they just peck and claw it to a pulp.”

Alrighty then. While I do try very hard not to actively wish harm onto another being, I confess that this tidbit did make me breathe a bit easier. Because while for now I’m sticking with my tried-and-true Snake Avoidance Plan of never leaving the house, it’s good to know I have a backup plan, should I ever need one.


]]> 0
Good Words Sun, 01 Jan 2017 14:00:34 +0000 New Year Poem
by May Sarton

Let us step outside for a moment
As the sun breaks through clouds
And shines on wet new fallen snow,
And breathe the new air.
So much has died that had to die this year.

We are dying away from things.
It is a necessity—we have to do it
Or we shall be buried under the magazines,
The too many clothes, the too much food.
We have dragged it all around
Like dung beetles
Who drag piles of dung
Behind them on which to feed,
In which to lay their eggs.

Let us step outside for a moment
Among ocean, clouds, a white field,
Islands floating in the distance.
They have always been there.
But we have not been there.

We are going to drive slowly
And see the small poor farms,
The lovely shapes of leafless trees
Their shadows blue on the snow.
We are going to learn the sharp edge
Of perception after a day’s fast.

There is nothing to fear.
About this revolution…
Though it will change our minds.
Aggression, violence, machismo
Are fading from us
Like old photographs
Faintly ridiculous
(Did a man actually step like a goose
To instill fear?
Does a boy have to kill
To become a man?)

Already there are signs.
Young people plant gardens.
Fathers change their babies’ diapers
And are learning to cook.

Let us step outside for a moment.
It is all there
Only we have been slow to arrive
At a way of seeing it.
Unless the gentle inherit the earth
There will be no earth.

]]> 0
Product Review: Quell Sat, 31 Dec 2016 19:03:54 +0000 “I have been given this product as part of a product review through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company. “

Over the course of the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to test out a variety of different products aimed at helping us chronic pain patients find some pain relief. I’ve tried lotions and ointments that focus on easing the physical symptoms. I’ve tested products designed to soothe the emotional aspects of living with daily pain, like teas and aromatherapy diffusers. I’ve read books whose goal is to help patients be as educated and empowered as possible as they advocate for their own best healthcare. And I’m grateful for the ways that each product complements and amps up all the tools I currently have in my pain relief kit.

In addition to all of these pieces, for the past couple of months I’ve been testing something quite different: a wearable, drug-free, pain-management device called Quell. From the website:

“Quell is wearable technology that uses intensive nerve stimulation to provide widespread pain relief. It is designed to be worn on the calf, regardless of where you are experiencing pain, and stimulates your nerves in a way that is powerful enough to trigger the release of your body’s natural pain blockers. Pain is blocked at the spinal cord, which helps you feel widespread relief from your pain, not just relief in a specific part of your body.”

I’ve undergone a number of semi-invasive procedures like epidurals and nerve ablations (nerve burns) that work on pain at the level of the spinal cord. They work for a few months, but they are expensive, temporary, and pretty hard on your system. I’ve also been prescribed medications that attempt to interfere with your brain’s ability to sense pain. But their results vary, and they come with a number of unpleasant side effects. Quell is completely different.

Of course, as with everything I review here, I add the caveat that it is not a magic bullet, I still have pain even when I use it, and everyone’s results will vary. But my Quell unit has provided me with a level of pain relief I’ve not found anywhere else.

I received my unit back in September, when we were packing up 22 years of living in Georgia to move back to North Carolina, and I pretty much gave it an introductory baptism by fire. Because despite 4 years of not driving long distances on the highway, this time I had no choice; we had to get both cars to NC, so I had to drive one of them. This meant I couldn’t take any pain medicine until late in the day when we’d gotten to whatever hotel we were staying at that night. And of course my pain was fairly jacked up thanks to all the physical labor and emotional stress caused by the move.

So I put on my Quell that first morning and drove for about 4 hours. And when I got to the hotel I was so surprised; I still had pain, of course, but nowhere near the fiery, debilitating level of pain I was expecting given my current life circumstances. I was kind of stunned.

It would be nice if I could give you some hard and fast numbers, I know, a consistent, specific percentage of the decrease in my experience of  pain. But because my amount of pain is fluid from one moment to the next, and my perception of my pain is personal and subjective, I can’t do that. But I can tell you that I almost always have a noticeable decrease in pain when I wear it, unless I’m having one of those flare-ups where nothing helps.

But what I can do is tell you that if you have the opportunity to test a Quell device, you definitely should.

Visit their website for more detailed product information.

]]> 6
Also Overheard Wed, 21 Dec 2016 18:31:00 +0000 In an examination room waiting to meet my new doctor, and listening to him talk with the patient in the room next door:

Doctor: “…stabilizing the spine…”, “strengthening the core muscles…”, “…distributing weight evenly over both feet when you move…”

Me: Oh good, it sounds like he really knows what he’s talking about.

Doctor:”…don’t rush getting off of you pain meds unless you want to experience mood swings, cramps, uncontrollable shaking, (and a host of other awful symptoms of withdrawal)…”

Me: Huh, his voice really carries, doesn’t it? I need to remember that when he and I are talking.

Doctor: “…so orgasm is going to look totally different…”


Me: Extremely Important Mental Note: In order to avoid similar horrification in the future,  I will now be requiring all my physicians to communicate their diagnostic questions solely through the art of expressive dance.



















]]> 1
Good Words Tue, 20 Dec 2016 17:19:39 +0000

when Whitman wrote, “I sing the body electric”

I know what he
I know what he

to be completely alive every moment
in spite of the inevitable.

we can’t cheat death but we can make it
work so hard
that when it does take

it will have known a victory just as
perfect as

-Charles Bukowski

]]> 0
Overheard Tue, 06 Dec 2016 20:31:45 +0000 Thanksgiving evening, as my engineer husband and our 4-year old niece are building castles with her Lego blocks:

Our Niece: Are we building something AWESOME?

Uncle Mr. CFG: We’re building something symmetrical.

(Important Side Note: Honesty compels me to add that the resulting castle was, in fact, both.)


]]> 1
Product Review: Organic Aromas Essential Oil Diffuser Wed, 23 Nov 2016 14:08:44 +0000 “I have been given this product as part of a product review through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company. “

For the past few months I have had the opportunity to try out one of the Essential Oil Diffusers created by Organic Aromas. They offer a wide range of beautifully crafted products to choose from, and I am using the  “Raindrop” version of the diffuser.



The first thing I love about my diffuser is just the way it looks. It has a beautiful, handcrafted wooden base that is smooth, easy to handle, and feels really good in your hand, and a custom-blown glass reservoir that holds the essential oil.  And being the child of the ’70s, lava-lamp-fan that I am, I love the little LED light at the intersection of the base and the reservoir because it changes colors as the oil is drawn up and out into the atmosphere. So it’s pleasing to both your eyes and your sense of touch.

I also appreciate the fact that it is a self-contained system, and sturdily built. All the different pieces fit together snugly, and the shape and size of the wooden base make it very stable. I don’t have to keep an eye on it all the time when I’m using it, and I feel safe if I have to leave it unattended in my office for a minute or two and attend to something in another part of the house.

The main attraction of the diffuser is the way in which it functions, the process by which it emits the essential oils into the atmosphere around it. It does not use heat in its process, nor does it use water. It’s worlds away from the only other type of diffuser I’ve used, which is a candle diffuser. I was always afraid that the candle would fall out of the bottom, or that the glass tray would fall off of the base. Plus, I could never get the right ratio of water to essential oil, so I either ended up with no aroma at all, or way too much aroma.

Instead,the Organic Aromas Diffusers work according to the Bernoulli principle, which Mr. Cranky Fibro Girl explained to me in this way:

the movement of air through a small opening creates a difference in pressure.  This pressure difference causes a vacuum to pull a stream of the oil into the airflow and then out into the room.

I have to say that my favorite thing about my Raindrop diffuser is what they refer to as “the volume knob”. You can turn it almost 360 degrees, which means that, one, you have a large range of options for the amount of fragrance you want around you, and two, you can fine-tune your “scent preference” to a pretty high degree.  As Mr. CFG would say, the amount of oil diffused is proportional to the speed of the air, so turning up the airflow turns up the aroma.

So far, I’ve only experimented with the complimentary oil included with my diffuser, but I’m looking forward to trying out a lot more of my favorite scents.






]]> 0
Some Encouragement For Those Times When I Haven’t Written For A While And Therefore Am Convinced That I Have Lost Every Single One Of My Blog Readers Wed, 16 Nov 2016 17:42:07 +0000 (And also for these times when I’m trying to find The One Perfect Action that will magically heal the world, instead of rolling up my sleeves, starting where I am, and “making it about the work.”)

From Humans Of New York:

“But the thing that got me through that moment, and any other time that I’ve felt stuck, is to remind myself that it’s about the work. Because if you’re worrying about yourself—if you’re thinking: ‘Am I succeeding? Am I in the right position? Am I being appreciated?’ — then you’re going to end up feeling frustrated and stuck. But if you can keep it about the work, you’ll always have a path. There’s always something to be done.”

-President Barack Obama

]]> 2
Good Words Tue, 25 Oct 2016 16:28:20 +0000 Every Morning All Over Again

Only the world guides me.
Weather pushes, or when it entices
I follow. Some kind of magnetism
Turns me when I am walking
In the woods with no intentions.

There are leadings without any
Reason, but they attract;
If I find there is nothing to gain
From them, I still follow—their power
Is the power of the surrounding world.

But things that promise, or those
That will serve my purposes—
they interfere with the pure wind
From nowhere that sustains a kite,
Or a gull, or a free spirit.

So, afloat again every morning,
I find the current: all the best
Rivers have secret channels that
You have to find by whispering
Like this, and then hear them and follow.

— William Stafford

]]> 0