Treasuring the Rope

Rope 1In a bipolar life, there are days, weeks, sometimes months, where the illness never lets up.  Most of the time, I can ride those long spells.  They’re a fact of my life.  I understand that.  But, I suppose like anyone with a chronic illness, the relentlessness of it sometimes swamps me.  The despair of dealing with the illness combines with the despair it creates.  The extra weight guarantees sinking to the bottom and makes it that much harder to fight my way back to the surface.

I’ve been going through one of those spells—a long season of black.  It’s been a different kind of hard this time without my two water wings of compulsive eating and compulsive spending.  Oh, the compulsions are still there.  I still pace my kitchen like a caged bobcat, opening all the cupboards, the fridge, the pantry, hoping I slipped and brought home something, anything, that will dull the wild scrabbling in my brain.  And even when I’ve budgeted a trip to Des Moines, have cash to pay for a movie and gas, the urge to keep spending is a fish hook under my sternum.  Pulling, pulling always pulling.

This past week my Start With One Serving mantra saved me from getting lost in food, but I still gained a couple of pounds.  Compared to other similar seasons, though, that’s nothing.  And while I’m on the edge of nothing in my checking account, I have enough in my piggy bank at home to get through the month.  Since I paid all my bills, put money in my car fund, and made my planned Visa payment, this, too, is far from the disaster such seasons usually bring.

I’m sure the tension of fighting these old behaviors contributes to the illness itself, but the fight is required if I’m ever to find any freedom.  I know how lucky I am to even have the option of fighting.  I’ve met others like me who don’t, who don’t have an inkling of insight, who are utterly lost in the illness itself.  I understand them.  I am them.  But, I’m also this.

There was one day last week where I thought about surrendering to being lost.  What if I quit fighting and just turned into the crazy cat lady on the corner?  Would that be so bad?  There’s a siren song to mental illness that can be so seductive.  Go to sleep, it says.  I’ll take care of everything.

Emmet AlertBut, after all this time, I recognize that purring song.   It’s part of me, but not all of me.  So, I start looking for joy.  Tiny moments.  Gentle kindnesses.  Things that make me close my eyes in appreciation.  The light on Emmet as he watches the birds.  The silky slide of the water as I swim.  A song on my Pandora station.  A kind note from an almost-friend.  The perfect taste of a vanilla latte with one squirt of raspberry.  The ballet-like fight scenes in Captain America’s new movie.  The wonder of creating an exquisite background paper for a card.  The smell of rain.  A deep breath.  An old feeling of lightness that comes while driving through town in the orange light of dusk.  A chance to listen so someone else in pain.

My friend, Lily, once told me something that has soothed me for years.  Sometimes, all you can do is hang on.  This is true.  Hang on until the season turns.  Hang on because this—whatever it is—won’t last.  Grip the rope and wait.  Most of my life I’ve focused on the tension of waiting, the feeling of not being able to hang on much longer, the sense of fingernails ripping away.  What I’m finding is that it’s even more important to notice how beautiful the rope is and to treasure it.

from my Pandora station

Shaman

Terra FrontWe sit cross-legged on the desert hard-pack

our knees pointing in fleshy arrows

East

and West.

Your headdress ripples in the air’s hot breath

lichen

feathers

bone and blood.

 

“Child,” you say, one finger stirring the red dust between us.

I tremble

and the wooden husk around me cracks.

A three-year-old’s laughter bubbles up from

forgotten safe-keeping

and wets the parched earth.

 

“Mother,” you say, your finger carving circles in the soft mud.

I rise from the stiff petals to gather in the laughter

and take, instead, a child.

Like cottonwood seed her hair drifts across the breeze

to kiss my cheek.

She fits snugly on my hip.

 

Terra Back“Woman,” you say, your eyes bright in our thin shadow.

The ground shudders

and I feel the pulse through my feet

up my thighs.

The pull of Earth and Moon echoes deep within, joining me

to the ancient Seas

to the Goddess.

I step out of the broken hull, stoop, and touch the heaving ground.

Corn springs from the mud at my fingers

shooting across the moist land unto the horizon.

The child laughs

and chews a tender leaf.

 

“Heroine,” you say, cornsilk now added to your headdress.

The child’s arms circle my neck as we turn

and walk into the welcoming corn.

 

October 26, 1990

 

 

Breathe

Breathe

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Fighting For My Life

I felt fierce and proud and forever free.I’m in a mood.

I’ll just put that out there as a disclaimer so you know what follows is tainted.

This is a mood that seems to keep coming back.  Well.  That’s bipolar disorder in a nutshell.  So to speak.

I know this mood and I have history if only from how big Bipolar Bad-Assery is in my little Cloud of Topics at right.  I recognize the ferocity and physical stamina.  A terrible intolerance develops.  And then there’s the ice-cold anger.  It started a few days ago with a niggle in the back of my mind.  At odd moments it would pop into full consciousness like Schwarzenegger bursting through a door.

I’m fighting for my life.

It surfaced at TOPS yesterday, and again in the water this morning as I swam my mile.  So I took myself for a drive today to give this moody thought some room.  What I found is that this isn’t the whole thought, just the opener.  In toto, it goes like this.

I’m fighting for my life, so step up or get out of the way.

And suddenly the anger and intolerance make more sense.  Even the extra strength and endurance.  I’m gearing up to go solo again.

This mood, this attitude, runs counter to all the discussions I’ve had with my therapist about relationships.  She’s counseled me about how relationships change, how people come and go out of a life.  She reminds me to take people for what they are and to be accepting of what they can offer.  This is realistic advice.  But, sometimes, I can’t see how it helps me much.

I don’t need coffee dates or tactfully casual conversations as much as I need allies who will get bloody up to the eyebrows with me.  But, finding a loyal berserker isn’t easy.  Or realistic.  Real people have messes of their own to worry about—sick parents, and mortgages, and unemployment.  All that feels like do or die for them, too, so they’re hardly going to save their ammo for me.  Or if they do happen to save a clip, they end up shooting in the wrong direction or even at me.  Friendly fire, of course, but still lethal.

River

Which leads to another conversation with my therapist—my need to make people understand me.  I don’t like being misunderstood.  I don’t like others deciding what’s best for me or making assumptions about me.  But, really, all that is none of my business.  I can’t help what other people think or do.  I can’t stick my hand inside their gray matter and plant the seeds I want growing there.  But, sometimes, they act out of the stories they’ve told themselves about me.  And then they make it my business.  Which I don’t handle with great diplomacy.  I don’t mind so much if you can’t fight alongside me, but get in my way and I might blow your head off.  Nice.  You can see why I might have trouble holding onto friends.

I see what’s happening here.  I’m turning into that Hero person who Stands Alone.  Maybe I’ve always been that person.  It might be one of the reasons I was drawn to comic books as a kid.  As soon as I was able to read, I stole from my brother’s Marvel collection.  Those guys understood.  They fought for their lives every month.  They were me.

winter soldierWhen I went to the new Captain America movie last week and watched Steve Rogers risk everything, the niggle in my head practically shouted.  That’s me!  And then [SPOILER ALERT] when he quit fighting and let Bucky beat him to smithereens, the niggle still shouted.  That’s me, too!  Cap had allies.  He even had a handful of people he trusted.  But, basically, he was alone.  I get that.  And sometimes the hero just gives up.  I get that, too.

That’s as far as this train of thought is going, because to follow it any further would just indulge the mood.  It will shift in a few days and all this Hulk energy will drain.  But, there might be some new questions for my therapist on Monday.  Life and death questions.  Because in the end, I’m still fighting for my life.

 

The Lance

handmade greeting card, collage art

In the past when sorrows, or problems, or ideas were too much for me, I learned to deal with them in a way of my own.  At night when I got to bed I lay on my back and gave to their solution what I knew would be many sleepless hours.  I would let the problem enter me like a lance piercing my solar plexus.  I must be open, utterly open, and as I could stand it the lance went deeper and deeper.

As I accepted each implication, opened to my hurt, my protest, resentment and bewilderment the lance went further in.  Then the same for others involved—that they did, said, felt, thus and so, then why, face why and endure the lance.

As my understanding deepened I could finally accept the truths that lay behind the first truths that had seemed unendurable.  At last, the pain of the lance was not there and I was free.  No, free is not the right word.  My barriers had been lowered and I knew what I had not known before.

from The Measure of My Days by Florida Scott-Maxwell

Can I Just Say…

Chris Evans in Captain America—The Winter Soldier

Woof.

Chop Sticks

Uncover in the Mess

I am playing the violin, that’s all I know, nothing else, no education, no nothing.  You just practice every day.—Itzhak Perlman

Changing behavior.  That’s the Work in front of me these days.  How do I pull the power plug from my life-long companion, Compulsive Eating and her little sister Compulsive Spending?  How do I change personally destructive behaviors that have actually served me by easing the emotional turbulence of bipolar disorder?

The short answer is slowly.  With lots of help from my therapist.

It’s a painful process, waking up.  And that’s basically what’s called for in changing behavior.  The whole point of compulsive eating and spending is to go to sleep, to numb the pain and shut down the barbed, twisted thinking.  Nothing hurts when you’re unconscious.  But, nothing changes, either.

I’ve always believed the path to change and to a healthier life was through mindfulness.  I’ve tried my best to raise my consciousness and to pay attention.  But these two compulsive behaviors have been stronger than me for a long time.  I knew I needed help, and more than what I found in meditation and self-help books.  Once my therapist and I decided to focus our attention here, I felt real hope for the first time.

Scales and FingeringWe work in baby steps, and in a spirit of Practice.  It’s a lot like when I learned to play the piano.  I do my drills every day.  I play my simple pieces, missing notes and flubbing the rhythm.  I get frustrated and have little tantrums.  I rebel and skip practice, then have to spend extra time at the keyboard the next day.

We watch and pay attention to what happens.  My moods flop around and my thinking strangles itself in convoluted knots.  Then, that all evens out for a day or two before starting in again.  It’s hard to choose to stay awake through all of it.  It’s painful.  It’s humiliating.  It’s ugly.  Megan reminds me that this is practice.  Every small success is just that.  And every fall back into old behavior is just that.  Perfection and failure are not words we use.

What seems to help is to stay busy with projects, especially creative work.  I’ve long understood the connection between watching TV and overeating, so anything that can keep me away from that is helpful.  Playing with my junk and pretties fosters joy and a sense of mastery.  I can use a little of that right now.

To point me in a positive direction, I decided to make something out of gratitude.  And what do I have the hardest time being grateful for?  People.  What better target for this project than the people who brighten my days with small gifts of kindness—the baristas at my Starbucks, the grill cook at the cafe who makes my toast, the group at my UU fellowship who sponsored my Peer Support training, the friends who consistently schedule time to be with me, the virtual friends who lift me with their words and images, the actors and actresses who sit in the dark with me when I’m at my worst.

Blessing CardI sat at my table, creating little Blessing cards, holding each face in my mind, generating positive juju.  I decided to purposely use up a lot of my favorite materials—an antique German prayer book, purple card stock and ribbon that are no longer available,  fibers from a company that went out of business.  I used my favorite things to prove to myself that I have all I need.  Plenty and more.

I ended up making more cards than I needed.  I could have sent them to a lot more people—the folks on the fringes of my life—but I decided to trust my first take on the purpose of this project.  To keep it simple and immediate.  So, I put the rest of the cards in my Etsy shop.  Maybe someone else can use them.

And while I worked on this project, I kept my budget and lost 7 pounds.

Okay.  That’s lovely.  Now.  Back to the keyboard.

 

Clearly

Supersexy

 

You know how you can go along for weeks at night with just scrambly dream fragments, or nightmare clippets, or just nothing at all?  Or you get those weird anxiety dreams where you’re pooping in public, or being chased by clowns, or try to run away and seem to be on a treadmill?  I hate that.  I want a dream I can sink my teeth into (so to speak).  I want some Action.

Luckily, I’ve been getting some the last few nights.  Thank you, Morpheus.  Keep up the fine work, my new Deity of Choice.  Your conjurings have been stunning.

Mundane is a Good Thing

I Was BoredNo big bucket of brain cheese to dish out, no blast of “Ah Ha!” light to blind the unsuspecting, no tortuous hobgoblins to exorcise.  Nope.  It’s just me, moving through my days.  There’s still mood swings, and anxiety, and bipolar weirdness, but that’s my normal.  I swim, chat up the Starbucks gals, and crawl a bit further on Technical Consultant.  I eat one serving at a time (consecutively), talk to my cats, and do a little art.  Sometimes I share a meal with a friend.  Sometimes I walk to the library.  Today, I washed out the litter boxes.

Very boring.

It’s heaven.

Just a Reminder

Psycho-babble

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