Intentional Intensity

There are places in life that we have to exert control. And yes, I am speaking in both tangible and intangible ways.

Control over one’s right foot when driving, for example – that the accelerator might keep the vehicle within the posted speed limit. Even when all around you think of it more as a guideline than a law.

** Rant alert… **

Really, people? 50+ mph just heading up Leonard Street, where the posted speed is 35, sometimes 30, and only 45 when you finally get to the bridge over the highway? Give me a break… Remember, non-patient personages, you’ll be on 96 soon enough, and can get your speedy ya-ya’s out to your hearts content. In the meantime, BACK OFF!

(And, since I’m over-generalizing here, I’ll be imagining that once you actually get ON the highway, you’ll realize that 70 mph is certainly fast enough for anyone to get where they need to go in a reasonable amount of time, so certainly the speed limit will be observed by you and all others.

Ha ha ha hee hee hee ho ho ho *snort* Woo……

I crack me up sometimes.)

Yup, I’m the guy you don’t want to be behind, the person you dread when gunning it down a city street, the bane to your existence on any two lane road…

I’m the driver who goes right about the speed limit. (Or even slightly below…) All the time. Even on the highway – I actually drive about 65 there. *gasp* *shudder* I’m the driver that you seem to feel the need to jump on the back bumper of.

And, just to clear a few things up…

NO, getting so close that I can see what kind of gum you’re chewing will not inspire me to go faster.

NO, flashing your lights makes no difference either.

As for your horn? Stuff it. Even a lame driver like me knows that gas pedals aren’t controlled by Siri – no matter how much noise you make, my car won’t respond to your subtle sonic cues and go faster.

And, for the record, if I AM in the left lane going *gasp* the actual speed limit, it’s not to tick off the populace in general and you in particular – there’s (usually) a reason.

For example, perhaps I’m getting ready to turn left and I’m not a fan of the “turn left from the right lane” technique I see so aptly demonstrated many times a day;

Or maybe I know that the road will shortly go down to one lane, and I’d rather plan ahead and be in the correct lane, than to try and fling in front of someone at the last minute, as again I see demonstrated many, many times a day;

Perhaps since I drive this street, I don’t know, a whole honkin’ LOT of times in a week, I have intimate knowledge of that upcoming construction project that is woefully undersigned but will shortly bring us all to a crawl, and again don’t really want to be one of those drivers momma warned you about that zips up the lane right to the place where it closes and THEN turns on their signal, becoming indignant when a few folks ignore their plight, letting them sit there for a moment. (And only for a moment, since these folks are usually not the patient type and simply ram their nose in front of you – the “No hole? MAKE a hole!” technique that earns them such praise, respect, and commendations from all their peers…

Said nobody, ever.)

So, you’re slightly inconvenienced from your pursuit of going like a bat out of Sheol by my pursuit of actually obeying the law? Get over it. Loosen the bone, Wilma. Chillax, dude.


** Rant alert ended. Thanks for your patience. **

So yes, getting back to my original premise, there are times in life to exert control.


“To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under Heaven.”

Solomon – what a wise guy.

Nyuk nyuk nuyk.

In my ongoing examination of how bipolar disorder impacts my day-to-day life, I’m learning to use the intensity knob – there are times where I have to mindfully realize what is going on, and apply control.

But that’s true for just about anyone, isn’t it? So I’m not really spouting stuff you didn’t know already, right? 

Or, perhaps like me, you’re still learning. Or need a refresher course. Then let’s saddle up and ride on…

The place I’m learning to use the intensity knob is when dealing with mania – the “upswing” side of bipolar. When I’ve been intensely creative – spending a day making something or writing, maybe performing music or telling stories, even buried in a book for a day or watching a movie that drew me in hook, line, and sinker – when that’s done, whatever it is, I’ll be at the crest of an “up” cycle. And before I realize it, I could be so excited, so focused on creative energy, so wrapped up in a story or visual stimulation, that I’m in the thrall of mania and don’t know it.

And that’s bad because?

Because unlike someone who doesn’t deal with bipolar (honestly, we all move from emotion to emotion, so we all “deal” with it to some extent), I don’t come down gently and gradually from such a place. I don’t go all in, experience the joy and emotional high from those things, and then calmly settle back to normal. Instead, without realizing it, I’ll be chasing the mania, rolling the snowball downhill as it gains size and momentum, becoming an out-of-control monster…

Until it crashes.

Without control, without awareness, the shift doesn’t come gradually. I’ll go from full-tilt exuberance to absolute frustration and despair when the wave crashes down.

Maybe I’m crocheting, working along, things are looking wonderful, I’m almost done and am really happy with how the project is shaping up. But I don’t realize that I’m getting tired – my mind has focused so intensely and totally that it’s now reached the “Check, please” stage and is done playing nice with others. It’s ready to go outside for recess, and it’s going to leave with or without my consent.


Immediately, what was going so well, looking so nice (in my eyes, that is – it might look like a yarn train wreck to someone else, and probably does…), what was coming right along and nearing completion hits a brick wall and crashes. Maybe I drop a stitch, or make a mistake – whatever happened, the switch has been thrown and what was giving me such delight is now frustrating, is bug-ugly, and proves that I should never, NEVER have either crochet hook or yarn in hand ever again.

From there, it’ll just head down to thoughts of how I can never actually produce anything decent, wondering why I keep trying even though I never make anything to be proud of or that is useful for anyone else, and, if left unchecked, will result in either such frustration that I’ll rip the whole thing apart, trashing it, (or throwing it to BekaV as a new snack) or such a black mood that I’ll withdraw into a dark hole and lose myself for a while.

Now, this is what bipolar feels like to me from the inside out. Your mileage may vary, and I certainly hope it does. A lot.

Is this the point where we turn the corner into happy happy joy land, away from the land where Cal eternally sucks us down a deep pit?

Sort of. Maybe. Kind of.

This is where I am learning to use the intensity knob – to mindfully apply the kind of control that comes naturally to most people but (because of a chemical imbalance in my brain) doesn’t to me. 

The biggest factor is recognizing an extreme – if I don’t at least try to remain aware of my emotional balance, then I will get hit by a freight train without even knowing I was on the tracks. So I’m learning to be aware of the behaviors and triggers that warn of an upswing…

For example, if I’m listening to a song, and keep hitting ‘repeat,’ so that I’m listening to it over and over again, something might be tilting a bit. Time to open my eyes and keep watch – that’s a red flag that something might be lurking over the horizon.

(I think my personal best is listening to a Secret Garden song 15 or 20 times in a row – I’m not proud of that, for the record…)

If I keep rubbing my head back and forth, that’s a red flag… and will prompt a remark from Herself that my hair’s getting thin enough without me helping it along.

Ha ha ha. Very funny.

Triggers can be things like getting deeply into a project at the wrong time of day – I know that I might hyperfocus on this and get so caught up in it that I can’t easily come out, so planning in advance my “exit strategy” is key. Things that I have to intensely focus on can be triggers that move me toward mania. Things that I deeply love can do it too.

Movies and I don’t get along so well these days – I tend to either be very neutral about them, kind of seeing the story wash around me like a river flowing around a rock but not really having an effect on it; or I get so focused and “into” the story that when the movie ends, I don’t want to come back – my imagination stays in that world, spinning new tales and ideas, trying to keep the upswing going. Trigger. Totally.

Knowing my mental and physical rhythm helps too… I know that my worst time is after 7pm – that’s when my mental processing plant starts shutting down, as the little minions head off to quaff a few cold ones before beddie-bye. 

And by “cold ones,” I, of course, mean root beer.

The later it gets, the less control I’ll be able to exert.

If I need to be doing something into the “Danger Zone,” (I heard you running the song through your noggin – don’t deny it…) I have to keep awareness right in front of me, and recognize the signs that mean my saddle is starting to slip.

Time to crank the intensity knob down… way, w-a-a-y down.

So for example, at rehearsal on Thursday nights, I might seem distant or withdrawn as we get near the end of practice. That’s not the case, really – I’m just pulling inward, using whatever resources remain to keep focus and maintain balance. To do more – to be gregarious and engaging, to be chatty and smiling, could start a snowball that I can’t stop.

Overdramatic? Milking the situation for all the sympathy I can? Becoming one of those people you really don’t like talking to, because they give you a catalogue of all their struggles every time you even say “Hi?”

No, I don’t think so. Frankly, going through the laundry list of all the crapola it takes to keep me moving through the world isn’t all that much fun, so trotting it out there and hoping others will pat me on the shoulder and tell me it’s alright isn’t really worth the effort.

Check out this little window into my world…

We were hanging out with some friends a while back… Ok, I was hanging out. Herself was digging into our friend’s computer, helping to figure some stuff out and doing things that I’m pretty well convinced are allied with dark powers…

I love my wife, but I really don’t understand what she does for a living. But hey – as long as the checks keep coming in, ignorance is a whole honkin’ huge truckload of bliss. That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.

Anyway, we hung out, Herself muttered incantations over technology, we enjoyed supper together, Herself summoned strange and unpronounceable characters onto the screen, we had an impromptu crochet lesson, Herself was buried up to her lovely neck in files, names, extensions, and other poopy that I shudder to consider…

So the two wifely personages were making technology succumb to their collective will, and I was teaching my buddy how to crochet. Good times.

Oh, I also read the kiddos a bedtime story –  “Charlie The Ranch Dog” by Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman). Want me to read it to you? It’s on my iPad – just ask…

And a lovely afternoon / evening moved on. Before we realized it, we’d crossed the 7pm line and were running on borrowed time.

We started getting on toward 9pm, and I knew it was just a matter of minutes before I shifted into waka-waka mode, but between this and that, we delayed…

And mania hit. Freight train.

I was trying to be aware, I knew it was coming, but I didn’t reach for the intensity knob early enough.

The mania showed up in my conversation… I started babbling. Ok, it wasn’t like incoherent mumbling or speaking in tongues or anything that should result in me being strapped into a special chair and hoisted off to a padded room…

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, just for the record.

No, I just got “chatty.” Kind of bubbling on, chatting about this and that in the euphoria of having spent time with good friends, without “this” or “that” necessarily being related to each other OR anything we were actually talking about.

Then I was trying and trying to find a really funny picture on my iPad that I just HAD to show them before we left. I mean, trying really hard. Looking through my “iPad Humor” file again and again, pausing to show them another funny picture, then back on the search. On and on.

Then, for my encore, I felt the need to lovingly mention that, boy, that dish we had for dinner was REALLY spicy, (which it wasn’t…) and didn’t work with my system at all, but it was still really tasty…


After we finally left, and my Beloved was driving home, I realized just how far my control had slipped, how much of an idiot I had acted like, and how embarrassed I was at having even mentioned the lovely and very slightly spicy dinner…

I swung straight down to the opposite extreme. Crash, bang, boom.

Now add to that deep sadness and embarrassment this little tidbit: When I stop focusing on something, anything, at that time of night, I’m going to “crash” very quickly – my head is going to shut down, I’m not going to be able to concentrate on much at all, and there’s not a great deal I can do to stop it from happening.

Oh yeah – that’ll help curb the darkness and depression. Yup.

So my Beloved had the joyous task of getting me home, riding herd on me like a rebellious toddler as she tried to keep me moving forward, keeping me focused on getting ready for bed while assuring me that things were alright and helping me use what little control I had remaining to step away from the darkness so I could have a chance of sleeping.

Thus endeth the little window into my world. Please close the drapes – quickly. No need to yank the cord off, tho…

(Our friends are aware of what we deal with, are very understanding, and for some odd reason love us. They’d never seen it in action, tho… Now they have.

My beloved apologized on my behalf the next day at church – I was so embarrassed, I couldn’t even talk to them. Thanks, guys – we love you.)

That little scene from my world is, in a nutshell, why using the intensity knob is so very important. If I’m on an upswing, I’ve got to work hard to come down softly – before my head leaves the party with or without me.

Turn down the intensity gradually, step down instead of jumping, use whatever technique I can to exert control.

But that’s true for just about anyone, isn’t it? So I’m not really spouting stuff you didn’t know already, right?

Or, perhaps like me, you’re still learning. 

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