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Brain Muscle Memory. Wednesday April 22, 2015




Yeah, yeah. If you're reading this then those feelings are instantly recognisable for you and fit today to a T. Or, if today is good, then it fitted yesterday, or the day before, or three months ago.

I delivered a talk tonight. One more village hall. One more collection of middle-aged and older women. One more evening of laughter.

Because I do make them laugh. And educate them. And inspire them. They think I'm warm and witty and wonderful.

And then I drive away into the dark nothingness. Back to a loving home where I cannot feel that love. To caring friends online whose good wishes only fall into a vast emptiness. To vodka, sometimes; because it makes things bearable for a while.

And I think "But this is not me! Because I am happy, upbeat, optimistic and positive. That is the me who I recognise. That is the Mary my friends and colleagues know!

"Who is this nihilist? This is not me!"

But, yes. Let's be brutally honest. Because of some chemical fluctuations in my brain, over which I have no control and which repeat in a boringly repetitive cycle, this is exactly who I am.

My lovely adopted son Tom says (you remember Tom from a previous post?), when I wail at him on Facebook, "Mum – you can't let your feelings define who you are!"

And he's right.

Because, while I might be feeling bleak and dark, I can choose to separate the way I feel to the way I believe life is. I can choose to say "I am a happy, joyful optimistic person who just happens to be feeling down at the moment." I can choose to say "Life is good. Even though I can't feel it right now."

Choosing to be this way is only possible because, when "well" I make a practice of positivity, of compassion and love and tolerance. It creates a strong "brain muscle memory" so that in the bad times the negative thoughts have no tracks to follow.

Any negative thoughts that find their way into my brain are then on enemy soil. It's hard for them to find traction and they find themselves surrendering to the forces of positivity.

And yes, the longer the depression goes on, the stronger the dark thoughts get. Which is why I'm not ashamed to take the drugs. Hey - I'll take whatever works.

So yes, this "down" is unexpectedly deeper, harder and longer than I had expected. Damn. But I'm so grateful for all the work I do when "up" that help me get through the "downs".

If you're well and "up" at the moment, don't waste it. Get your brain to the "gym" to build up muscle. I hope you won't need it. But if you do need it, I hope it's there for you.

A Moodscope member.

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Les Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 7:36am


Leah Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 7:39am

Thanks for your insightful blog.
I have a question. I have noticed that you talk about your 'downs" but not about your highs. Is this because you have the highs under control? For me when I was depressed I knew if I waited long enough I would feel that magical high. When I was high I couldn't ever imagine being so low ever again. I know every one experiences the mood swings differently that is why it is so fascinating to learn about others experiences.
I am glad that your work when 'up' has helped you now.
Take Care

Anonymous Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 7:47am

This is excellent and what I have luckily done over the last few years, I lost my cousin and father in law last year and then my own dad a few weeks ago and if I hadn't already been working on making myself as strong as I could mentally and physically over the last few years I think this would have been a lot tougher. thanks for this it reminds me of how fortunate I am even in grief . Eve
ratg I left a note for you on yesterday's blog

Anonymous Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 7:50am

Thé "gym" is exactly where I am getting my brain to at the moment, Mary. For as long as this up lasts. Throughout the summer, I hope. I sincerely sympathise with the way you are feeling right now, and know that for me, the down was longer this year, despite the taking of pills, which took the edge off the intensity of the down. I even had to explain to newish friends why I wasn't the bubbly person they thought they knew, and had met back in October, because since then, things have been on a downward spiral of nothingness, of just going through the motions but without the enjoyment, the desire to communicate,frustrated by the inability to express anything of interest or creative- all lost to the insididuous creeping paralysis of this plague which surges up unwarranted, and which I am unable to stop. I can pretend, oh yes, I do plenty of that, to get by, but I know what's going on inside me, and it isn't the content, confident, happy, creative, organised me. It's a husk, and I want to shout "GO AWAY. LEAVE ME ALONE! But all I can do is wait for the light to ping on once again and then I KNOW, I KNOW WITHOUT A SHADOW OF A DOUBT that things will be alright again....for a while. But as they say I "make hay while the sun shines" and produce my best work. While I can.
Good luck, Mary, I do hope the light comes on again for you, and SOON! I do soooooo sympathise.

Hopeful One Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 7:51am

Hi mary- a fantastic post giving me an insight about the bipolar highs and lows. which it appears are neurochemically driven and as such not really under your control.Your coping strategies have a chance if success because every time you reinforce the positives in your brain memory some neurons get to fire together.I neurobiology they say 'neurons that fire together wire together' and in this way you may be bringing about a permanent change in the memory circuits which eventually should put a floor on the lows and a ceiling on the highs.

Julia Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 8:19am

It does make sense what you and Hopeful One say, Mary but for me the down days are far more frequent than the high days so it would appear for me the reverse theory would work. My brain would rewire with strong negative ions or whatever they are! Today I feel OK so I should be taking my brain to the gym and laying down a strong path for the next 100 days (exaggeration I hope) when I will be down. I woke up this morning and immediately told myself Julia, one swallow doesn't make a summer.So although I may have a comparatively productive day today and a happier one, I cannot possibly create enough muscle for the next God knows how many days.I admire you Mary for being able to talk to a group of people when you are feeling so bad. How do you do it? And clearly you can write well too. My creativity flies out of the window when I'm down and I have flashes of brilliance (although I say it myself!) on the few days a month when I feel high or after a good night's sleep (both are directly related). Your ideas are good ones but I think help those who have extended periods of ups and downs.

Rupert Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 8:28am

Brilliant Mary as ever and so familiar too. You touch on the "drugs" as if they are something to be ashamed of but they are not - if you had any other illness you would be prescribed something but I know it is not as simple as that! You are an inspiration to us all. Rupert

Elizabeth Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 8:49am

Hi Julia,
dont't panic :) I think the same principle holds in a slightly different form even to us, who have much more often depression then hights. I don't know about yours, but my depression at times seems to be very steady, but luckily not as deep a down a Mary get's; everything getting extremelly difficult and greyish with fear present to every thought about the future. We should gently excercise even then... you know, like if you have a stiff muscle, you don't go running, you just do gentle massage and stretching ... kindly accept the place we are in and make a habbit of looking up to the less-grey state of mind and not down into the shadows. I think it is important not to concentrate on longing for the light, but creating it, even if just a tiny little one. Like a smile, a memory, getting relaxed if you can. Or games for me, if I am able to play :)

Julia Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 9:05am

Hi Elizabeth. Yes what you say really makes sense to me. My depression, you are right, is maybe not as deep as many; that's an important thing to keep in mind. I understand what you are saying. Thank you, a big one!

Di Murphey Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 10:17am

Dearest Mary ~
Thank you, from my heart. Your words are stunning & inspiring.

Anonymous Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 11:00am

Mary, see what an array of articulate, heartfelt outpourings your words have inspired this morning! It is always wonderful to read your blogs. Thanks again to you, and to all the individuals who have shared. There's nothing i can add. susan xx

Anonymous Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 11:10am

Hi Julie, i love what Elizabeth said about creating little bits of light. I know it helps me. When things are really yucky and dark upon awakening, i am sometimes able (depending on how bad it is...) to convince my mind that something truly wonderful is going to happen that day. It is an unnamed 'something'. If you can make the nervous system feel that sense of wonder and joy even for a second, it helps to regulate it. It's like a little workout at Mary's gym. susan xx

Anonymous Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 11:11am

oh sorry Julia! i called you 'julie' in error....i did know better! susan xx

Anonymous Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 11:39am

Mary, you obviously don't follow text book and common descriptions of depression as its unheard of to me to be able to talk in public and make people laugh, perhaps you could use the energy you expend on these people better on yourself, learning your prodromes and committing time to daily meditation. As a type 1 bipolar these tools plus CBT have helped no end. Good luck. Julie.

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 12:27pm

Hello Leah, yes, I do get highs (but fortunately not the full blown mania requiring drugs to stop me running off to Australia on a one way ticket because the voices told me to), and yes, while in a high, just as you say, I feel I will never be low again and everything is wonderful! But - just as the times I'm well help when down, I use the same techniques to manage the highs. I try not to ride them hard because then the resulting crash is harder. I'll happily bog about the highs if any of you feel it will help.

Julia Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 12:29pm

Hi Susan. Yes I can turn negative thoughts into positive ones and it helps so much but it's not long lasting and doesn't rewire my brain permanently. However I have taken your and Elizabeth's advice and must start to think positively when I'm down (even in the morning!) It's nice to have your understanding Susan. You say things which I identify with which helps me enormously. Love from Julie or Julia I don't mind. I AM Julia though!

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 12:29pm

Bless you! And, if you're not already one of our bloggers, why the blazes not??? Your reply here is a post in its own right. All the best with your gym training this summer, may your mental and emotional muscles "pop" (I think that's the technical term male fitness models use)

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 12:30pm

Thank you so much for that helpful and hopeful (of course) response.

Julia Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 12:34pm

I am the same Julie, totally unable to make people laugh or talk in public when I'm down. It is beyond my capabilities. I am full of admiration for those who are depressed and yet they can function normally in public and the same as if they are high. What I mean is that they come across the same. There are many on Moodscope who appear to have this ability and I say bravo to them. I wish I wish. I try (sorry Les) and yet I cannot get through the thing that is stopping me from making others laugh etc etc.

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 12:34pm

Thank you so much for your reply Rupert. It's always good to see you here, and the responses I get from my posts always give so much comfort. I write for Moodscope on the basis of "when life hands you lemons" and these responses are like people telling me how good the lemonade tastes (probably stretching that analogy a bit far there) so I do get a warm glow from them. I am very grateful.

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 12:38pm

Julia, I am so pleased that Susan and you have been able to have this helpful discussion. I stay creative whatever; what disappears for me is memory and practical abilities and physical strength. So I can't do anything physical or add up a column of figures or remember that I have a client coming at 2pm even if I've seen it in the diary at 11am. Our brains are peculiar things, aren't they?

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 12:39pm

So good to hear from you Di

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 12:45pm

Hello Julie, thank you for your suggestion. Hmm, when down I do have to limit my commitments because I have so little energy and yes, I hide away as much as possible until "click" whichever gland it is in my brain starts producing whatever chemical it is again and I feel better. I can "perform" on a stage (and think of all the classic bi-polars who did/do exactly that) but not on-goingly with friends and colleagues. I agree that daily meditation/prayer is a great help (easier when well) and I also use EFT and TAT. I am pleased that you have found similar things helpful.

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 12:47pm

Oh, and the other chemical that allows the "performance"? Adrenaline. My drug of choice. But it doesn't half send in a heavy bill afterwards, though.

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 12:51pm

I am so sorry for your losses Eve, but happy that you have done exactly these practices. They do help.

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 12:51pm

Thank you Susan.

Lexi Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 1:02pm

You have articulated exactly how I have been in my lows Mary. Thank you so much. Excellent. I wish I had read you/read this blog at my worst. I felt like I was going crazy, was crazy. I resisted drugs for so long, thinking that I could somehow will myself to get better. But family and friends pleaded with me to get help - why suffer? they always told me. So I did, and I am so fortunate to have found an amazing doctor and therapist and the right combo of drugs to keep me from falling so, so far. It has saved my life and this blog is a constant reminder that I am not crazy, and not alone. Thank you! And as always, this too shall pass!

Anonymous Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 2:11pm

Dear Mary, thank you for this great contribution...your love is amazing

Di Murphey Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 3:32pm

PS: Might there be a youtube presentation of one of your talks? Would really like to hear you. Di

Anonymous Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 4:28pm

Brilliant Mary, simply brilliant - thank-you so much for sharing.

Hopeful One Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 5:39pm

Hi Anon 11.39 am- please explain Type 1 bipolar to this one who doesn't know. Thanks

Eliz Piercey Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 8:41pm

Thank you Mary!

Anonymous Wed, Apr 22nd 2015 @ 11:42pm

Really agree with everything you say. Brilliant Mary. As always. x

Mary Blackhurst Hill Thu, Apr 23rd 2015 @ 10:40am

Something I'm working on, Di!

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