22 Nov 2015 18 Comments
Distraction gets a bad rap. Motivational-type folk would have us paint it neon yellow and stick it in a cage. It’s anathema to focus and achievement. It leads us astray, eats our time, keeps us from becoming superheroes. Distraction is the slithery serpent holding us back from paradise.
One of the many lessons my bipolar disorder taught me was that distraction is vital. When one’s focus locks onto the pain and confusion of a tumbling mind, a trapdoor to another room can keep pain from turning into suffering. I’ve spent years moving slowly from self-destructive and unhealthy distractions to ones that, at least, cause no harm. My list of What To Do When I Get Wonky hangs on my Mind Palace door in case I need reminders (I like to think my Mind Palace is like Sherlock Holmes’—a tidy place where everything that needs remembering can be accessed immediately. But, it’s really more of a Mind Dumpster).
I’m finding it’s just as important to use distraction in the midst of physical illness. I need something to keep me from cataloging every pulmonary gurgle and wheeze, to take my mind off how everything except Ramen noodles tastes like school glue. So, I made my Winter Solstice cards and played lots of Cookie Jam on my iPhone. I’ve tried to watch movies, but generally nod off half way through. Same with reading. I keep apologizing to Henry for dropping my book on his head. He is not amused.
Now, between naps, I’m working on the “swaps” I’ll take with me to ArtFest in March. I’ve never done anything like this, but I’ve heard about it. When artists get together, they trade little pieces of their work, or bring goodie bags with samples of their favorite supplies and materials, or chocolate. It’s a cool way to get to know people and appreciate the kind of work they do.
Since Teesha Moore is known for her art journals, I thought I’d journal for a few days with white gel pen on card stock as an hommage, then use that as the beginning of my Artist Trading Cards (ATCs). I like working in miniature, so these tiny cards (3 ½ X 2 ½ inches) are fun for me (fun being a relative term when muffled by antibiotics and inhalers). The finished ATC isn’t exactly what I had in mind, but my stuff generally runs wild, and I’ve learned to get out of the way. I like it. This piece will represent me well.
So, anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah. Distraction. Don’t let the Anthony Robbins’ of the world make you feel bad about it. Focus can’t untwist distorted thinking or clear fluid out of lungs. Setting goals can’t change a diagnosis. But distraction can make all that a little easier to bear. Paint that in yellow neon and put it in your Mind Palace, Tony.
19 Nov 2015 19 Comments
When my nurse practitioner told me on Monday that she was treating me for pneumonia, I felt an inordinate amount of satisfaction. Smug, even. And at the same time, I was angry and resentful that my friends and family weren’t rallying around me. When I stopped to look at all that head-ichor, it felt contradictory and very, very old.
We’ve been exploring ancestry in our UU study groups—how ancestors may differ from relatives, how we receive transmissions and transfer them on to the next generation, how we are given gifts and responsibilities. With that in the back of my mind, I began to see my reactions to illness and support as a transmission. They are as much traditions in my family as oyster stew on Christmas Eve.
The only time we could count on our mom giving us positive attention was when we were sick. She touched us with care. She looked at us. It was acceptable to wake her up in the middle of the night to say, “Mom, I don’t feel good.” It was not acceptable to be scared of the Wicked Witch on The Wizard of Oz. I learned that at the age of three, sitting on Mom’s lap. “If you’re going to be that way,” I remember her saying, “I’m turning off the TV.” I got it: Emotions=Bad. Illness=Good.
It was also a long-standing tradition to value illness that could be named, especially by a doctor, or was freakishly out of the ordinary. So, my brother scored lots of points for the fast growth spurt he experienced as a teen when he woke up one morning unable to move. The story of my dad carrying him in a fetal position to the car is legend in my family. Same with the story of my brother accidentally dropping a pitchfork on my sister’s face and how the tine curved around her eye instead of puncturing it. These are the fairy tales I heard as a child.
Getting a cold wasn’t legendary, but having warts that disappeared before the doctor could inspect them smacked of magic and mystery—and worthiness. I knew when I fell off my bike I’d better have gravel for Mom to pull out with tweezers or I wasn’t worthy of her time. I learned how to wash a wound, dab on merthiolate and blow the sting away, wrangle a Band-aid without it sticking to itself. I learned not to bother Mom with minor injuries.
But worthiness carried over into other areas of our life. Recently, I talked to my brother about this. It was no secret that he won the Most Worthy Award in our mom’s estimation. He wrote to our parents every week from the time he left for college until Mom died last year. He came home for Christmas every year, a nine hour drive from Bemidji, often through bad weather. He kept the same job with the state of Minnesota his entire work-life and still works part-time, though he is officially retired. He’s a little eccentric, which somehow made him more dear rather than worrisome.
I asked him why he did it. Why did he write faithfully every week for all those years?
“Mom told me to,” he said.
My brother passed a test I failed long ago—obedience and demonstration of affection. It was our responsibility to prove to our mom that we loved her, to do what we were told. After my dad died, I think my sister understood unconsciously that a new test was in the wind. She called our mom every day. She helped her buy a new car and new furniture. Of course she wanted to support Mom in her grief and confusion, but there was a frantic quality to it, a blurring of boundaries that sapped my sister’s emotional energy. Eventually, my sister backed away enough to rebuild her boundaries. And, of course, Mom felt abandoned. And angry.
As I consider my family’s emotional legacy, I see all of it playing out in me. I made light of my chest cold as just another annual event and went about being stoic and “taking care of it myself,” because it was nothing special. At the same time, I silently tested my friends and family to see if they “cared enough” to call or offer help. When they didn’t, I got angry and marked them as unworthy.
My care-giver, Leanne, visited yesterday, and she slapped me awake like a Zen master. “How can they offer help if they don’t know you’re sick?”
Holy crap. I’d turned into my mom, expecting people to read my mind and anticipate my needs. I had carried forward a story that may have started generations ago. What happened in my mom’s young life to make her so insecure about being seen and loved? What happened to her mother to demand a boundary-less relationship with her youngest daughter? I felt compassion and sorrow, imagining my mother and my grandmother trying to scratch affection out of a barren landscape. Or, more accurately, what they perceived as barren through the lens of this family fairy tale.
So, I did a scary and fairy tale-contradictory thing yesterday. I announced on FaceBook that I had pneumonia and would appreciate kind words and help. The outpouring of love and people rushing to come to my aid knocked me senseless.
I’m well aware that being able to say pneumonia still carries a lot more brownie points in my mind than the less worthy chest cold. Editing this old story will take time and patience. But my hope is that the legacy stops here. Part of my work as a point on the continuum of time and ancestry will be to pass on a different story of who we might be. In that fairy tale, everyone is worthy.
11 Nov 2015 13 Comments
Oh, look what came to my door! White roses. My favorite! Thank you, Me!
10 Nov 2015 16 Comments
I love making my annual Winter Solstice cards—no matter what else happens to be going on.
09 Nov 2015 14 Comments
♥ ♥ ♥
Just because I’m tired of being sick, and need a laugh, and want to share that laugh with you. So when I start coughing instead of laughing, don’t be alarmed—it’s just my lungs trying to right themselves.
03 Nov 2015 15 Comments
It’s autumn. Time for apple cider and the annual ugly chest cold. Time to put away shorts and see if the crotch in any of my old jeans will embarrass me in public. Time to start work on my Solstice cards and pull out my Happy Light.
I love autumn, even if the waning light makes me think St. John of the Cross was probably bipolar and talking about winter when he coined the term dark night of the soul. I love the smell of corn dust and how it hangs in the air. I love the slant of the sun as it hits a golden point on its arc, how it burns through a single, curry-colored leaf stuck in the weeds.
I’m profoundly aware of how much I’m enjoying autumn this year. Even with bronchitis and a pantheon of prescription inhalers on my counter, I watch the squirrels in their pre-winter frenzy and feel joy rise up. Like a breath. Like a sigh. Clear lungs are not required.
I’ve had moments of bipolarness over the past five months. Moments—not days or weeks or months. Moments where the illness broke through to remind me to stay sharp. I can’t go back to sleep. And I also don’t fight or fret when the illness presents itself. This is me, too. All of this is me.
My energy amazed me, and the way my mind opened to possibility and change. Over the summer, I catalogued my apartment—the rotting furniture, the squeeze and mess of a tiny space, all the ways I made do when the idea of doing more overwhelmed me. Getting a new bathtub and replacing the damaged linoleum floor suddenly made anything possible.
On my trips to Minneapolis to see friends, I also visited IKEA. I gave away or trashed furniture that was too big, too ruined or too inefficient and replaced it with four beautiful pieces put together with my own two hands. Now our living room fits us. There’s room for the cats to chase each other, new places to nap, and a more inviting entry (rather than sliding in sideways and banging a hip on some ouchy corner).
I’m also working on more efficient storage. I installed roll-out, metal baskets under my kitchen sink and bathroom vanity. I cleaned out a skinny cupboard in the kitchen, found tubs that fit the narrow space, and got seldom-used art supplies out of the way.
IKEA carries a wall cabinet—basically, an open box with mounting hardware. I tossed the hardware and stacked two of those on my coat closet shelf to wrangle the magazines I glean for greeting card captions (My closets have lots of height, so I’m always looking for stackables). There was plenty of room left over to store other crafty stuff. No more cascades of musty magazines when I get out the broom.
Autumn is the season for nesting. We make ourselves snug and warm, surround ourselves with treasures and love, settle in for the long winter. Nesting makes a place a home. We should find comfort and relief there. And joy.
Sitting here at my desk, with Henry curled on his pillow, I listen to James Vincent McMorrow and feel my home breathing with me.
A moment of joy.
31 Oct 2015 Leave a comment
“Death doesn’t exist. It never did, it never will. But we’ve drawn so many pictures of it, so many years, trying to pin it down, comprehend it, we’ve got to thinking of it as an entity, strangely alive and greedy. All it is, however, is a stopped watch, a loss, an end, a darkness. Nothing.”
― Ray Bradbury,
27 Oct 2015 13 Comments
I lived in or near Minneapolis and St. Paul for 24 years. It was home. It’s also where my life imploded under bipolar crisis. So while some of my closest friends are there, and the energy and sensibilities of The Twin Cities resonate in me like music, the sorrow and loss of a life destroyed seep up out of the cracks. I’m saturated in Minnesota, and my groundwater rises.
This past year, I decided to fight the sludge. The idea started in IPR when we took a close look at my natural support system (friends, family, associations, etc.). It was a relief when Aly, my case worker, declared my natural supports woefully inadequate. Instead of fighting against feeling “needy” or berating myself for not being more sociable, I could finally acknowledge that I didn’t have the kind of support that would benefit me. I no longer belonged to a Tribe.
Aly and I brainstormed. From those sessions, I chose a dual approach—get involved in the Unitarian church in Des Moines and spend more time in the Twin Cities with my friends.
It has been a weird year, being a visitor in what feels like my hometown. My zeal in the beginning caused me to over-extend myself, then watch shame and guilt rise about being symptomatic when I was among the people who understood and accepted me unconditionally. How could I forget that these were the people who watched me self-destruct and didn’t run? My anxiety or social phobia melted off them like October snow.
Sorrow snuck up on me at odd times—journaling in a Starbucks, intermission at the Guthrie theater, watching a jogger with his golden lab lope along the crosswalk in Minnehaha Park. Sorrow dragged memories up from the depths—regrets, bridges burned, the parts of my life that sloughed off and lay half-decomposed along the roadsides.
When I discussed this discomfort with my therapist, she said I’d have to dredge all that up and deal with it before the sorrow could lift. “You have to know why you’re grieving before you can move past it.” But I already knew why I was grieving. I’d done that work. Ad nauseum. I wanted the “moving past it” part.
I decided to just Watch. That always seems to be the answer to everything, so why not this? I saw that sorrow came when I attended events alone, so I started asking my friends to go with me. Lily and I went to the opera a few weeks ago (free tickets provided by Jim and Duane). The show itself was dreadful (a German comedy, which has to be the definition of oxymoron), but Lily and I had a wonderful time swearing at the traffic jam caused by hockey fans.
I saw that sorrow rose when I felt separate from my friends’ real lives–a visitor instead of a fixture. So I planned trips around going to Duane’s presentation to high school students and their parents about AIDS and safe sex, and Jinjer’s workshop on Beginning Astrology, and in December Carol’s choir concert where they will sing her compositions.
Sorrow seemed to hide in my old haunts, places I loved in my Old Life, so I look for new places to plant my flag now. A few weeks ago, Jinjer and Carol introduced me to Pilgrimage Café, a neighborhood restaurant with a quirky, delicious menu. This past weekend I went back there by myself, and felt the café embrace me like a lover. I sat at a repurposed church pew, my journal on the slab of wooden table, sipping pumpkin ale and breathing in the smell of welcome.
Slowly, I am reclaiming my old hometown for the Nation of Now. I chose the unfamiliar and travel streets I don’t know. I cherish my Tribe and go deeper with them while I forge new friendships and expand out like ice crystals knitting across the lakes. There’s no room for sorrow in all that Light.
17 Oct 2015 24 Comments
in Bipolar Bad-Ass Training, bipolar disorder, distorted thinking, management, mental health, mental illness, mixed-media art, symptoms Tags: Binge Eating Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Vyvanse
It seems almost sacrilegious to not have any drama in my life. I’ve even lost count of how many weeks I’ve been symptom-free—six or more I’m thinking. And to not worry about what I eat, or even think very much about food. It’s that darn Vyvanse! Not only does it curb my binge eating, but has kept my mood at this nice, even place with a clear mind and plenty of energy. What the Hell?
Winter is still the real test for this magic pill. But even if my mood is a little better than usual this season, it will still be magic.
So, if I’m not constantly managing my illness, if I’m not on alert for distorted thinking and the Big Fat Liar in my head, if I’m not The Bipolar Bad-Ass Warrior, who the heck am I?
Honestly, I have no idea. Survival has been my entire existence for the past ten years. It has changed me, honed me, made me fierce in ways I never expected. I’m not the same person I was ten years ago.
I like this version of me. I like it a lot.
That has to be the biggest miracle of all.
The Adventure Continues!