Living Better with Depression, Bipolar Disorder and/or Anxiety: strategies, tactics & tools for the short, medium & long-term. Based on my long journeys back from the Dark Side & and falls from high places, past, present & continuing....


THE TOOLBOX - (and a lil somethin' to put in it)


 Data Collection & "The iCREATRIX Scale of Stability"


 We have previously acknowledged that honest, non-emotional self-reflection is fundamental to building and maintaining the framework of a healthy life. 

Well, that's great and everything, but what the heck does it mean when I'm standing at the precipice of the heaving Volcano that is my mental landscape?  Fine, I committed to holding up to myself the unfiltered mirror, but WHAT DO I ACTUALLY DO ABOUT IT while I'm hotfooting left-to-right on aforesaid oven-y precipice?

Well, what you don't do is lose your balance jumping around like a cricket on a bbq.  That damn lava is HOT, & if you flip yourself over the edge in your panic we will need very special (and imaginary) flameproof rope to haul your over-anxious arse outta that incendiary hellpot.  

What you do do, is reach for your Toolbox.  Now a toolbox has only the potential of the tools it carries, and this post is about gaining a useful new tool to start (or add to) your collection. Why do you need a collection? From my most humble of perspectives, having only one or two methods to de-victimise/heal/deal with yourself is not enough. It might work like magic when you first discover it, but it often eventually becomes clear that it's uses are limited and non-lasting.  It is the nature of both humans and BpDA to evolve and adapt and normalise; I have discovered that Living Well is a dynamic, ongoing negotiation benefiting greatly from  application of the widest range of tools at hand.

So, I have a shiny new tool in my hand, but first I'd like you to imaginate a bit about your Toolbox. Because we need something in which to start collecting your collection, right? For example; mine is based on my RealLife (rl) toolbox. It is a strong, lockable workshop-style red box, covered in skate/moto/snow/music stickers.  It has a swing-up lid with three drawers in the body, big comfy handles on the side and mentally has a battered, reassuring heaviness to remind me I have many tools at my disposal. When I run my imaginary hands over it I can feel dings and flecks of paint, stickers peeling at the edges, and it has a cool trick of being able to appear and disappear in my mind at will (most of the time).

See how realistic my Toolbox is? Regardless of its imaginary status, it is as Real as anything else in the sense that I can use it.  Visualise (or draw, or describe) your own as often and as completely as you can.  Then every time you find a useful new tool, imagine packing it up in the way you would any valuable thing, then putting it away in your Toolbox. (I have a similar rave about different mental Hats for different tasks, but more about that another time). 

You can pack your Toolbox in any manner you chooseWe all learn and reinforce new information differently - you might want to put nice labels on your tools before you put them away; your toolbox might be neat & organised, or messy; you might prefer to mime unpacking/packing away the tools you're using, or sing a little ditty. Discovering which methods work best for you hooks directly into (y)our greater comittment to KNOW THYSELF. Can you see how you're reinforcing a foundational aspect of Living Well whilst learning a new aspect?  In all my experience teaching, this is one of the core principles that has enabled me to give & get the deepest learning on all levels; in a gradually refining progression, every new element builds upon and reinforces all preceding elements.
All things have cycles, or rhythms.  I have noticed that this is very true in the case of BpDA.  Anxiety may be triggered by a particular event, but a larger look at attacks over time may reveal that there are certain recurring periods where susceptibility to anxiety responses do follow some kind of tidal-like ebb and flow.  And now...

The iCREATRIX Scale of Stability
Sorry for the delay, here's the actual Tool..
One long-term exercise has come to prove itself invaluable to me. As well as keeping a journal (musings, ventings, ideas, art, events etc), I also keep a day-to-a-page diary. Sure, I put in the odd important upcoming event, so I don't double book myself, but its main purpose is daily data collection about my state of mind. Unlike the usual practice of using one's diary to plan ahead, it's used to record what i did; the money I spent, on what, phone calls made, any list-ticked stuff etc.  But my most important data set is my DAILY RATING and my WORD OF THE DAY.  This is where I record my state of mind in two quick, simple ways. And I mean quick, and I mean simple.

Initially I found the thought of another daily comittment more than a little offputting. I am not much chop when it comes to daily activities of any kind, but I talk myself into this each night by sternly pointing out that it's 30 seconds or less out of my day, that I know how shirty I get at myself later when the data is not there, and if i do it I cannot go to bed thinking I haven't 'achieved' anything that day. (pfft, achievement. I'll attempt to deal with that little conundrum another time, too).  If that doesn't work, I have a grace period of up to three days in which to get things current. (Frankly, any longer than that and I wouldn't be able to remember anyway.)  I remind you of the small investment=big return rave from the post http://dragonbitesdog.blogspot.com.au/2015/10/thyself-know-heal-accept.html

For blog purposes, I have laughingly called this "the iCREATRIX Scale of Stability" and I want you to understand that it took a while to come up with a personal scoring method that I could use in 'most any mental state without thinking too much, that would garner relevant information. Feel free to use it if my way of scoring is relevant to you, but I encourage you to work out your own.  Mine evolved a bit as I used it, so I think the key is developing a system that is pertinent to each individual, as determined by themselves. 

 Focusing on the reason I wanted the data made a big difference.  I specifically wanted to see what my up-cycles, down-cycles and transitions looked like when graphed out over time.  I figured I might be able to observe cycles, discern whether I have more/longer periods in any one state, how long my transitions were and if there are any patterns there.  You see what I'm getting at? As I thought more about it, I realised I could learn about myself with a simple scoring method, collected over time.

My scale has only 7 possible scores, mainly for simplicity's sake. Zero (0) is stable, no mania or depression (don't get many of those); up to +3, out-of-control mania; down to -3, out-of-control depression. And for the visual learners, I made you a chart:

The iCREATRIX Scale of Stability
I have learned that my baseline (0) does move over time, depending on general long-term states of being. For example, I am a lot more functional these days than I was 18 months ago, and my zero then was a lot different to my zero now, as my expectations and abilities have evolved.There's also a lot of room within each category, so that I don't get all hung up on specifics (that triggers anxiety for me, go figure). Levels of specificity are again, developed by the individual (yeah, that's you!)

I also include a WORD OF THE DAY, which often morphs into "Phrase OTD" or "Words OTD" etc. Whatever blows your hair back; the point is to dig deep for a moment and come up with a summative, overall caption for your predominant state of mind that day. 

Do it at the end of the day, and don't judge (you've got plenty of time to pointlessly play it over and over in your head later, when you should be sleeping).  Just score and describe.  If it takes a while to get it right for you that's OK. Psychs weren't built in a day. It's about being honest and truly desiring some big-picture understanding of yourself on a linear framework. Give it Respect, be real and reap the long-term benefits.

  So, you keep your diary, and then every so often you transcribe the daily info onto a graph. This is the "collation stage", if you like, where we get to see our past days in front of us as if from overhead.  If you like spreadsheets, do it on your computer. If you prefer paper make a graph.  This is another bit where you design your format/presentation based on your own preferences, and perhaps accidentally learn a bit more about yourself (there's that 'know yourself' theme again). Correlate this graphed data with the other info from your diary (events, spending blowouts, periods of inactivity etc) to see events (a bad experience, menstruation, social complications etc) that either precede or coincide with particular curves/points on your graph. 
The moment you see your state of mind graphed out in such a linear fashion, you'll start to come to a greater understanding of your personal cycles.  Spend as much time as you like examining your graph.  This part is about getting to know the information, seeing any possible connections and patterns (our brains like that). It's not yet time to form any conclusions, although hypotheses may start arising the more you delve. If you get the urge to represent anything you discover visually (I dunno, like in a pie graph maybe?), then go for it.  I make note of anything that piques my interest, or pose questions for later reflection.

Which brings me neatly to the final aspect of using this tool, reflection. I do know this is getting long, but I promise it's winding up now. It's important to emphasise that reflection does not (should not) lead to wigouts.  If you have to remind yourself of this beforehand, do it.  I do, and it helps.  I only reflect when in a state of mind that can deal with it, because it is critically critical that you do so from either a detached a-emotional state, or from a state of love and forgiveness.  At least somewhere on this spectrum. We are not here to wind ourselves out, we are approaching ourselves from quite the opposite direction.  Forgive me for getting all stern and headmistress-y, but the truth is we need equal measures of gentleness and discipline if we want to Live Well longterm.

I have won hard the understanding that the better you know yourself, the better you're able to recognise and respond to the cycles and transitional states that characterise BpDA.  Accomplishing any effective precipitative action (having any kind of "win") deepens faith in one's strategy, gives one a little more confidence to continue collecting and using tools that work. Know that your Toolbox is always there when you want it. Know that you can fill it with many fine, quality tools and that you can learn to tune up, patch up or repair any aspect of yourself you have the courage and self-respect to tackle. Remember....WE ARE THE MIND MECHANICS - we may not have the Manual but dayum,  we gots good Tools.