I’m a Puffer Fish

… or at least a part of me has taken up acting like a puffer fish. They are those poisonous little fish that can go from little to big in a matter of seconds, by taking in water and sometimes air. It’s amazing how different they look!

Some puffer fish have smooth skin, while others have spikes, like this one:


When a “porcupine” puffer feels threatened, she inflates to look as large as possible and to push out her spikes. There might be times when  something unfamiliar approaches and she puffs just to be cautious. Or if she sees something that is the same shape as a predator, out come those spikes. It may not actually be a predator –and that is the crux of the problem.

My “predators” — I call them triggers — make me puff too. They can be anything that causes me shame. I cooked the chicken too long and it dried out. I wasted too much time doing puzzles. I binged on Goldfish crackers. I did something in the past that destroyed relationships with other people (I’m a certified bridge-burner). I forgot to do something. Anything

All of these  cause me shame, but I pretend I don’t feel it until it gets brought to my attention by someone around me. Immediately I inflate and jab the person with my spikes — irritability, sarcasm, rage, and other unpleasantries.

I don’t enjoy being this way. Puffing my spikes takes a lot of emotional energy, and oh yeah, it can ruin relationships, too. My next task is to find a way to short-circuit the puffer fish part of me and use that energy to actually solve the problem.


Create a mini-crisis kit


Using Altoids tins to make a variety of items has become very popular. I have seen everything from emergency preparedness and first aid kits to electronics such as a flashlight or a solar powered iPhone charger to pocket chess and kids’ toys. So it was inevitable that I would decide to make a mini-crisis kit out of a tin. It’s handy when I don’t want to take a purse or other bag, because it fits in my pocket. Here’s what I put in:

~ small pictures of my family  (sight)
~ a 1-decade rosary (touch, also spiritual) Continue reading Create a mini-crisis kit

Survival Kit for Difficult Times


I first heard about survival or crisis kits while in the hospital trauma unit, and I made my first one 7 or 8 years ago. The only problem with that one was that I never used it. I fell so quickly and thoroughly into feelings of rage or despair or terror that I completely forgot about the kit. If I had remembered, perhaps I would have been able to rise out of the overwhelming emotions much faster.

What goes in a survival kit? Like a kit designed for survival in a hurricane or a snowstorm, an emotional survival kit provides for emergencies. Basically, it contains items that appeal to the 5 senses and create a sense of well-being. Sensory input is a great way to self-soothe. By looking at a pleasant picture, using fragrant lotion, or tasting something I love, I am distracted from the overwhelming feelings so that their power over me is broken. A survival kit should include at least one thing for each of the 5 senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. It is also good to include something that will distract the mind itself.

Here’s the contents of the kit I made recently:
~ pictures of my children and their cats (sight)
~ a rosary (touch, also spiritual)
~ lip gloss (smell, taste, touch)
~ sugar-free candy (taste)
~ a book that makes me laugh (Non Campus Mentis)
~ mp3 player (hearing)

This list is not particularly different from the kit I made  years ago, but this time I’m actually using it! When I feel myself growing distraught, irritable, or nervous, I use one or more of the things in my kit to help me return to equilibrium. To be honest, I am surprised at how effective it is!

The single most useful item is the lip gloss, probably because it is multi-sensory. It smells like strawberries, absolutely delicious! Putting it on immediately calms me; one requirement, however, is that I must use the lip gloss only when I need it for self-soothing — the rest of the time I use regular lip balm.

From now on, I have no excuse for not making use of a survival or crisis kit. I know that it works. It’s a resource I can use on a daily basis to self-soothe and modulate my emotions.

Next post: How to make a mini-crisis kit from an Altoids tin

Watch “Criminalizing Mental Health • This Is Crazy • Part 1 of 3 • BRAVE NEW FILMS” on YouTube

Please watch and read this to learn about the horrifying ways police treat people with mental illness. Thank you!

Bipolar For Life

I am so glad to see this! 

This is a documentary about what happens when mental illness and police intersect.  This is the “weapon” we need, to fight ignorance by means of information and education. 

My personal psychiatrist spends most of his time in prison.  He is a prison psychiatrist.  He tells me that roughly 50% of the prison population have a pre-existing psychiatric diagnosis–and he gives me a sardonic smile as he says, “And the rest are undiagnosed.”

Whether or not you agree with that, I’m sure you will agree that beating, shooting, tasering, and incarcerating people who may simply be disoriented, delusional, hallucinating, or displaying side effects of anti-psychotic medicines such as stiff gait and slurred speech, is not only inappropriate and inhumane, but criminal.

If you agree with the message of this film, I urge you to go to the authors’ website and see how you can…

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Re-post from February 2012…

relaxing kitty

I have a lot of trouble relaxing sometimes. It’s much easier to say “relax” than to actually do it! I’ve practiced a variety of techniques since I was a teenager, because beginning in childhood I had extreme anxiety and trouble falling asleep. I’m not sure how I learned about ways to relax, but I think I read it in a self-help book.

Some of the relaxation techniques that I have used focus directly on the muscles that are tense. I prefer to lie on my back but you could sit in a comfortable chair. I start with my feet. I tense the muscles of my feet as tightly as I can and hold for 3-5 seconds, then relax, imagining all the tension flowing out. I repeat this for my feet, then move to my ankles and calves. I try to feel the heaviness of each area as I move up. For example, when I finish my legs, I tell myself that my legs are as heavy as concrete. I continue with my arms, torso, neck and head. When I’m finished, I search through my body for any remaining tension, and if I find any I repeat the tense-release procedure.This is also called progressive relaxation.

Sometimes I imagine all my muscles becoming as heavy as lead and being pulled downward by gravity. Other times I use conscious breathing, one of the simplest methods. I often do it lying down before I fall asleep because it helps me clear my mind of worry and racing thoughts. I have practiced it enough that, except in the most worrisome times, all I need to do is to slow down and even out my breathing rhythm. I pay attention to my breath and in a few seconds my muscles begin to relax. I drop my jaw a bit (I carry a lot of anxiety in my jaw) to release the tension there and take some breaths through my mouth. Sometimes I have to call my attention back to my breath several times, but if I persist (and don’t get frustrated with myself!) I usually achieve my goal.

When I first learned controlled breathing, it was a bit scary because I had a fear of suffocating and I didn’t like to think about my breathing at all (this was a long, long time ago). However, I persisted because I had bad insomnia, and over time I got better at it. I also had trouble, as most people do, with intrusive thoughts. I tried to actively push them away but that didn’t work because it still took my concentration away from my breath. I had to learn to let them go as if they were leaving anyway. I also find it helpful to use a mantra when I have severely intrusive thoughts, because when I think the mantra I’m automatically thinking other things less. A mantra can be a word or a phrase or a longer prayer.

Here’s how to get started with conscious breathing: First, make sure you are in a position (lying or sitting) where you can comfortably allow your chest and abdomen to expand as you breathe. Begin by noticing your breathing – not controlling it, just noticing. Awareness by itself may slow it down. Other thoughts will come to mind; let them float away. Gently draw your attention back to your breath. The goal is to maintain passive concentration. Next, try to breathe in through your nose for a count of 5, then out through your mouth for a count of 5. Don’t force it, just let it happen. Feel the air flowing into your nostrils then past your tongue. Let the breath travel to every part of your body, gathering negativity and stress, which you can then breathe out to be rid of it. The next inhalation will bring in peace and relaxation. Continue this practice for 20-30 minutes, or as long as you comfortably can. Don’t be discouraged if you are bombarded with unwanted thoughts! With practice, you will be able to let them automatically slide out as soon as they enter. At the end of the meditation you will feel calmer, relaxed, and refreshed (and possibly asleep!).

Returning to the Bipolar Dance

I’ve been away for quite awhile, and when I did post it usually had nothing to do with bipolar or other mental health issues. Now I am ready to get back into the groove. This will require an overhaul of the site, both content and appearance. Over the next few weeks I will remove some of the more personal and off-topic posts. My goal is to create a blog for people with bipolar and other mental health issues that is crammed with basic information, hacks, and research reports.

In particular, I want to rebuild my reader base by giving something useful with every post. I would like readers to be involved with the blog by commenting and writing guest posts.

To begin, I will introduce myself. My name is Anita Simpson and I live in Texas. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1997, borderline personality disorder in 2006, and dissociative identity disorder in 2007. Before that, I had episodes of major depression beginning when I was 13 years old. I also had anxiety issues — although they were not diagnosed as such — beginning in my childhood.

I’m now in my early 50s. At 30, I began to be aware of traumatic events that occurred when I was very young. Those memories started me on a path of gradual disintegration until I was unable to work anymore and my daily functioning was poor. I spent a great deal of time in mental hospitals until finally the path began to turn up again. For several years now, I’ve been improving, thanks to therapy, medication, hospitals, and most important, the people who love me. My spiritual life has been the underpinning of all those, and I wouldn’t be here if not for my faith.

I’ve learned a few lessons along the way, and I hope to share what I’ve learned through this blog.

Learning to forget through your prayerful imagination

Susan has some truly excellent, God-inspired insights on her website. Whether you are Catholic or not, I strongly recommend her writings and music.

Be as One

My monthly column on The Catholic Free Press and Catholicmom.com

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Learn to forget? Seems to me I have to first learn how to remember! Those of us past a certain age know that feeling well. So do young mothers, workaholics and anyone else who is overly busy. We all know that sinking feeling when we’ve forgotten an appointment. How many of us search for a word in the middle of a sentence, only to have it pop into our heads hours later?

Then again, there are things I would like to forget. That scary movie I saw just before bedtime. The dirty house that I have no energy to clean. The accident I had last summer that now makes taking any left turn into traffic an ordeal.

View original post 639 more words

Five-Minute Friday: Quiet

It’s 3 a.m. and all is still. Even the traffic noises are muffled as I step outside and carefully, noiselessly close and lock the back door.

The air smells of burnt wood, watered grass and decaying leaves — the usual scents of autumn prevail.

Where am I going in this quiet time? Perhaps I don’t need a destination. It is enough just to be there, accepting the flow of the night breeze, not seeking but only being.

Quiet is an important part of my life. I am a loner who becomes agitated if I am around large groups of people for a very long time. The stillness allows my heart to beat without constraint, my mind to imagine without limits. I treasure my quiet moments with just myself and God.

for more Five-Minute Friday posts, click here.

Five-Minute Friday — Grasp

Friday is the day that Lisa-Jo inspires us to write creatively and unedited for 5 minutes. Every week there is a prompt which everyone uses to stimulate those little grey cells, and it’s amazing to me the variety of writing which results!

To participate or read other ‘grasp’ posts, click the image:

Now for my 5 minutes worth…


“A woman’s reach should exceed her grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” I know that’s a misquotation, but it gives me an idea of how to approach this topic. My grasp is what I have now, what I hold onto, what is comfortable for me. If I stick with what I can grasp right now, then my life will be stagnant, and even worse, it will begin to diminish and grow steadily smaller. Continue reading Five-Minute Friday — Grasp

5-Minute Friday: My Own Path

I have usually tried to follow my own path, even though sometimes it was not in my best interest. My hobbies, my music, my clothing, even my thoughts and feelings, were often chosen with the distinct purpose of being different.

I felt that the only way I would ever be noticed was to be eccentric.

Otherwise, I thought, I would just fade into the background.

Sometimes I wanted to fade away, and at those times I went along with the crowd, concealing what was truly inside me. But I always felt like a stranger, a part of the world but separated from it by an invisible membrane. Even when I tried, there was something in between me and everyone else. Whether I fought against it or lived with it, it was always there.

Now I have a son who, I think, has grown up with a membrane around him too. He makes choices with an eye to getting attention, even if it is negative attention. In fact, he prefers the negative because he doesn’t feel worthy of anything else.

I look at him and wonder, how will I ever reach him? How can I help him see that he doesn’t have to be separate, or a stranger, or a person that just doesn’t fit in? How can I invite him to become a part of our world?

Perhaps I will have to push through my membrane in order to get through his. I’m scared, but for his sake, I will face my fears.