Wednesday, July 12, 2017

I'd Rather Be Fishing

I’m not the fishing type. Sure, the idea of standing in running water in the mountains casting flies sounds wonderful.  But I live in the city and like it.  And I don’t like fish.

However, for the last week I’ve been obsessed with fly-fishing.  My wife, daughter, and I spent a weekend in the Berkshires, and we’ve all been caught up in the idea of leaving the city and retiring to a rural area.  At least I have.  My wife is more partial to beaches.  My daughter is three.  She wants to be wherever she is.  I’ve always been drawn to the imagined solitude of rural life:  Farms, pastures, groves of trees, rivers, lakes, and fly-fishing.  Yes, I’m hypomanic right now.

When I get this way I pick something up and pursue it to ridiculous ends.  In the last week I’ve been watching the Fishing Network nonstop.  I started stalking the Orvis website, and then discovered Simms – the best fly-fishing gear you can get.  My dalliances with entire life changes usually end up with me buying books, magazines, equipment, and, especially, clothes.  I put on the uniform of my new self and parade around a changed man.  Then I throw out or give away all the stuff I collected from my previous obsession, un-enroll from whatever Coursera course I’m taking that further fueled that passion, and drop it all – unable to imagine why I was stupid enough to buy so much stuff I’d never need or use.

I’ve been this way since I was a kid.  At times diving into things with so much energy has led me to accomplish much.  But most often the abrupt changes have derailed me and left me floundering with little success and little to show.

This time I caught myself and surrendered the credit cards in time.  Otherwise, rods and waders would have piled up in the corner with the books on mysticism, World Cup gear, and the telescope still lying around from previous episodes.  I was also able to introduce some reasonable perspective.  I’ve written how meditation has helped me notice budding hypomania.  This time it worked, and I caught myself in time.  I didn’t buy a thing, I didn’t book a trip or miss work to stand on a stream and dream.  But as I write this I’m still hypomanic.

I’m agitated and full of energy.  I’m rushing through things and making mistakes at work.  I’m talking very fast about things that aren’t relevant to the conversation I’m having.  I’m itching to pick a fight with my wife, which is very unusual as I most often calmly keep everything bottled up inside.  I can’t sit still.  But this morning I forced myself to sit and meditate, and some focused calm reappeared.  I’m aware of what’s happening.  I’m not running off doing something stupid, and I’m able to write this.

I know meditation isn’t always about being calm, and during an episode like this it can be very uncomfortable.  But it helps.  It helps if only to introduce some perspective and to offer an opportunity to notice changes and impulses.  And to catch myself before screwing up.

So again I advocate and embody meditation as an adjunct therapy for mental illness.  Meditating right now is less likely to make this episode go away than it is to help me notice what’s happening, and to successfully, and without causing damage, navigate through this episode.  When a level mood and more responsible behavior return I’ll have less to apologize for.  Less to pick up and put back together.  And during this episode I’ll be less likely to break things and relationships.  Just noticing can keep me anchored, productive, and creative through some of my most challenging impulses and emotions.  I know nothing better at fostering this noticing than meditation.


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