Call Me Crazy, But…

smoking-gunNot again.

Another movie theater.  Another slaughter.  Another deranged man with a gun.  Another gun that never should have found its way into that man’s hands.

At the same time, Iowa’s governor is trying to close down the last two mental health hospitals in the state.  Plus, Iowa’s psychiatrists receive the 4th lowest Medicare reimbursement rate in the nation.  In 2011, we ranked 47th in the nation for the number of psychiatrists per capita, and the exodus is ongoing (who could blame them?).

No psych docs.  No hospitals.

And no gun control.

So, why aren’t mass murders happening in my cineplex?

Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, said in a 2014 interview that a history of violent or assaultive behavior is a better indicator of future violence than any mental illness diagnosis.  Substance abuse is also a strong indicator of violent behavior.  Mental illness is a risk factor for suicide, he said, not for homicide.

People with severe mental illness are more likely to be victims, rather than perpetrators, of violent crime.

Do we know yet if drugs or alcohol were involved in the Louisiana case?  No mention one way or the other, but we know he had a history of violence.  And we sure do know he was bipolar.  The media latched onto that buzzword immediately.

It seems clear to me—people who are drunk, high, or beat their wives should never be allowed to buy a gun.  People who have a history of hurting other people or themselves should never be allowed to buy a gun.  Period.  I would be included in that group because I tried to kill myself once.  Call me crazy, but I don’t think I should have a gun either, because I’d hurt myself before I’d open fire at the next Marvel movie.

Still, the debate about rights and mental illness keeps us from actually doing something about the guns.  Diversion tactics.  When will we stop talking around the problem?  When?

De-Lamination

Unexplored CreviceThe word is out—sitting all the time will kill you.  Well, everything eventually kills you, but sitting is the new smoking in terms of health. It all makes sense to me.  I was a nurse once.  I know about circulation and oxygen flow.  But it was lamination that really sold me.

Lamination is what happens to the fat, fascia and muscles of your butt under the heat and pressure of sitting (think glued together and steam pressed).  I wish I could find the You Tube piece that explained it so well, but all I could find was this joker talking about Gibbon-Butt.  He makes a point, though.  Our backsides are not meant to be weight-baring.

I started researching standing desks.  With a desktop computer and a teeny apartment, I needed one adjustable desk, and those suckers cost big bucks.  Units that sit on the desk are cheaper, but I have a teeny desk, so all that scaffolding leaves no work space.  I was stumped. So Get Adjustable Desk became part of my IPR wish list for making my living space better and healthier.

This spring when I visited my nurse practitioner, I noticed her work space.  She had a big, simple adjustable desk with a chair on one end and a treadmill on the other.  She didn’t just stand at her desk, she walked or jogged, which seemed a bit excessive, but good on her, right?  I was more interested in the desk anyway.

Clean lines, simple, moderately priced and from IKEA (I’m partial to Swedish furniture—I used to be married to a Swede.  Some things stick, though are not necessarily laminated in place).  Minneapolis has a big IKEA store.  I often go to Minneapolis to visit friends.  I felt a plan forming.

Desk LowLast week I traveled to said Minneapolis to visit said friends.  I also brought home a desk in three boxes.  Yesterday I put it together (ridiculously simple) and started rearranging the jigsaw puzzle that is my apartment.  I’m shocked that I only have to get rid of two pieces of furniture:  my desk—a sweet little thing that was my first craft work table, and a night stand from an old bedroom set—repainted and pretty, but not very functional.  Everything else got redistributed and refiled (or will be).

I have to be careful with this kind of project.  I tend to purge while manic, and I’m hovering at hypomanic right now.  It would be so easy to get rid of all my crappy, second-hand furniture and just start over.  But, that’s crazy talk, so I will sit (or stand) with this one, new purchase until the fever passes.

Desk HighAlso, my cats are traumatized.  Henry won’t leave my side, and Emmett stays hidden under the bed.  First came the bathroom remodel, then I was gone for five days, and when I came home I brought in Big Things that Made Noise.  We all need a nice run of quiet days to let our nerves settle.

I’m standing at my desk now.  Henry’s taking in the afternoon sun.  Emmett’s still under the bed.  We’ll get de-laminated eventually.

Radar Day

Every three months the apartments in our complex get inspected for bedbugs.  We had an infestation a few years ago (remember when the varmints were everywhere?)  Since then regular inspections became mandatory.  While I haven’t had any creepy crawlies since the first outbreak, I know if an apartment next to mine becomes infested, I’m at risk.  So, I’m glad to get the notice.  Not because I’m worried about parasites.  Oh, no.  I’m thrilled because I know Radar is coming.

boxelder bug

Eau de Stink Bug

Pest control companies train beagles to sniff out bedbugs.  They have a distinct odor.  Think back to your wayward youth.  If you ever smashed a boxelder bug, you’ll remember the stink.  I’ve been told bedbugs have a more refined bouquet, but similar.  It takes a nose of distinction and refinement to tell the difference.

These canine prima donnas require man-servants and Garbo-esque privacy in order to perform.  Soaps, chemicals and food must be sequestered.  Pets and their lowly accoutrements (food, litter boxes, doggie chews) must vacate the premises at least an hour before the Star’s arrival.  The only human allowed in the apartment with the Super Sniffer is his agent.  Tenants may wait outside at a discrete distance, behind queue barricades and ropes.

The cats and I camp out in my car—close enough to get a good look, but far enough away to avoid the heavy-handed security squad.  Since we never know when Radar will make his appearance (how can a hound of such stature be held to a timetable?) we have missed him on occasion.  Especially in the winter when we’re forced to keep the car warm by driving around the block.  And since Henry gets car sick, the Winter Radar Watch requires paper towels and baby wipes as well as the litter box.  Small price to pay for a gander at the infamous pup.

Radar Day 3Today provided perfect Radar-Watching weather.  We nabbed front-row seats across from our front door.  As you can see, Henry is in the throes of fan-girling at the thought of catching a glimpse.  This is Henry at his most excited.

Emmett, on the other hand, preferred to guard our luggage.  He understood how dangerous hoards of fans could be—and he already had Radar’s paw print.  *sniff*   Plus, the treats were in one of those bags, and if Henry wasn’t going to puke on this outing, there was a good chance the human would fall for some sad eyes and piteous mewling.  Emmett knows how to work a room.

Radar Day 6

 

Tension mounted as we waited.  First a leaf flew in from the moon roof.  Then, a snicker doodle, or hershey’s terrier, or one of those yappy fluff balls set to howling at the grass in his yard.  Henry, however, remained vigilant and undeterred. Radar Day 5

Our nerves at the point of snapping, we spotted the cavalcade of white and red Preferred Pest Control vans turning onto our street.  Our street!

Within moments, the entourage exited their vehicles, fingers pressed to their wireless headsets, in communication with Radar’s helicopter film crew.

And then… there he was!  Super Schnoz!  The Scourge of Cimex lectularius! Security hustled Radar into the building while we gawped.  Only luck and muscle spasms caused my camera to fire in time.

Radar Day 9

And just like that—it was all over.  How does one recover from a brush with greatness?  From the image of celebrity burned onto one’s retinas?

I guess, the way most fans do—with a sigh and a hearty deposit in the litter box.

If Wishes Were Bathtubs…

… Then Dreamers Would Soak.

⊂ ⊃

bathtub Chris

 ⊂ ⊃

Today was my last day in IPR (Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation).  For the past year, I’ve been working towards the goal of living successfully in my current home and making changes that will help sustain me and my mental health.  Through IPR, I dreamed, made lists, researched, planned, strategized, and started putting my Master Plan into action.

Henry in Old TubOne thing about my apartment I wanted to change was the bath tub.  Since I live in a government-subsidized apartment, I never for a moment thought that was possible.  I considered myself lucky to have running water.  But, since IPR is all about dreaming, I put it on my list.  How nice it would be to have a tub I actually fit into instead of a freakishly narrow trough with sliding doors that rolled open on their own while I showered.  When the poltergeist doors stayed shut, my XL body sported bruises from snagging on sharp edges.

Hot baths with scented oils or salts used to be a staple in my mental health tool box.  A long soak with relaxing music, a glass of wine, a candle—the ritual calmed my brain and soothed my soul.  To compensate, I learned to meditate in the hot tub at the Y after swimming.  Close, but no cigar.

Emboldened by IPR, I asked the apartment manager last winter if it was possible to get a bigger tub if my family helped me pay the cost.  She didn’t immediately say no.  “No one’s ever asked for anything like that,” she said.  “I’ll check with management.”

New TubWithin a few days, she called me to say she and the property’s maintenance man would get bids from contractors.  What?  I smelled lavender in my future!

Several months passed, but eventually we found a reputable plumber who gave a reasonable offer.  Last week, he and his carpenter buddy took a sawzall to the old tub and replaced it with a heavenly soaking tub.  The cats and I holed up in the bedroom for two days while they worked, the cats hiding under the bed while I made a shopping list for Bed, Bath and Beyond.

After the contractors left, it was my turn to go to work.  With raw drywall around the new surround, I needed to prime and paint.  And if I had to paint, I wanted make it count.

bagua-map-rectangleFirst I consulted my Feng Shui book, Wind and Water by Carole Hyder.  I love Feng Shui.  I don’t know if it works, but it’s one way to organize a home, a way to bring intention to areas of one’s life that need a boost.  It helps me remember important things like the Helpful People in my life and to foster gratitude.  Feng Shui feels clean and uncluttered.  It pays tribute to the natural world and our place in it.  I like to do what I can to align with the flow of chi in my little space.

Most of my bathroom sits in the Wisdom, Self-Knowledge and Rest section, which seems right and proper.  But parts of it overlap into the Career, Health and Family areas.  What I wanted most in my bathroom was harmony and peace, so it felt right to acknowledge those other areas in my color scheme.

       blueGraygreen

New Tub2At our local paint store, I chose Fantasy Blue for the Wisdom area, Pale Smoke to acknowledge the black element in the Career area, and Nob Hill Sage for the long wall that overlapped the Family area.  Since my little pantry closet sits in the Health area, I’ll find a nice buttery yellow for that later (One project at time).  Armed with chi-enhancing colors, my step-ladder and some masking tape, I set to work over the Fourth of July weekend.

GreenBlue WallsFor those of you who are homeowners, this stuff is old hat—drywall, paint, hand tools.  I remember.  I used to be one of you.  But, for those of us who rent or have little control over the aesthetics of our environment, this kind of freedom is rare and sweet.  With every stroke of the brush, I thought, “I chose this color.”  And I couldn’t quite believe it.

As I hauled myself up and down the ladder or on and off the floor, I felt the room becoming mine.  I felt it welcoming me and the cats.  I felt the peace and harmony I so longed for settle into place.  After three days of work, I was exhausted and hobbling, but I knew I’d done what I set out to do.  We had our sanctuary.

Cat Station HighAfter we revel in this success for a while, I’ll move on to the next project on my IPR list.  Because if wishes were horses, I’d be riding high.  For now, this dreamer plans to soak.

The Road Less Traveled

This was originally posted in June of 2011, four months before my dad died.  Not surprisingly, the prayer I offered for him at the end of this piece was never answered.

I see a lot of myself in Dad.  He’s always been a Glass Half Empty kind of guy, his thoughts and opinions naturally traveling down the darkest highway.  A card-carrying pessimist, his words of wisdom to us kids punctured any hope we might have had.  If we complained about doing our chores, he would say, “There are a lot of things in this world you have to do whether you want to or not” or “Get used to it, life is hard.”

Since the time I was in high school, I’ve listened to him bemoan every change in his aging body, never at peace with the natural adjustments any adult male has to make, never able to reconcile himself to the thirty-five year old he thinks he still should be.

I understand this fantasy thinking.  I understand the draw of the past and refusing to live in the present.  I’ve traveled his dark highway and know all the shortcuts.  I’ve watched my dad sit at the Table of Life and accept only scraps, convinced that’s all that’s being served.  He prides himself on being fun-loving, but his jokes and teasing carry a sharp edge that has more to do with defense than humor.  My dad was never a teacher, never had the patience to explain, but I learned his road map well.

When I’m with my dad, I try to poke holes in his perception, counter the negativity with perspective, try to do for him what I must do for myself.  But after a lifetime of indulging his world-view without question, his defenses are solid.  At times I see him struggle to consider the possibility of an alternate route.  If I hammer hard enough, he pauses in his argument to say, “Is that so?”  But, it’s exhausting work, and I can’t keep it up.  And I can’t make him willing.

The desire to turn off the dark highway  comes from within.  It comes from noticing flickers of light on the side of the road, glimpses of intriguing pathways and crossroads.  It comes from taking a risk and swerving off the black pavement for once.  Then, doing it again.  And it takes willingness to ask for directions from people who keep different kinds of maps in their glove compartments.

Father’s Day is tomorrow.  My gift for Dad is a simple prayer—to get the chance to take a side road.  I pray he finds the strength to stand on a bright lane with grass waving green and high on either side, a glass half full in his hand.

Melancholia

Aches to FeelOriginally one of the Four Humours in ancient medical practice, the word melancholia comes from the Greek for “black bile.”  Someone with a melancholic temperament presented as despondent, quiet, analytical and serious.

Whole eras could be melancholic (The Dark Ages).  Movements in music, literature and philosophy grew around it—Germany’s Strum und Drang, William Blake’s art and poetry, Edgar Allen Poe in general.

Later, melancholia became synonymous with major clinical depression, but went out of fashion as a medical term.

My personal experience of melancholia contains a wistful element—a hole that can’t be filled, an undefined longing.  There’s a nostalgic flavor to it, an almost remembering.  It’s that feeling of waking out of a dream right before an answer is given, before arriving at the destination, before the consummating kiss.  Something very important slips through my fingers, only I can’t remember what it was.  I miss someone terribly, but I don’t know who.

Across the wide spectrum of my bipolar mood swings, this is the place I can tolerate the best.  I’m not surprised that poets, painters, musicians and philosophers created from this saturnine state.  I experience it as deeply romantic and full of movement—Catherine in Wuthering Heights, crying out for Heathcliff on the moors.  For me, this mood easily attaches itself to story, character, fictional angst and all things heart-wrenching.  I can use this form of depression.  I can’t say that about most of my other states.

It still requires mindfulness.  Melancholia’s longing draws in sorrow and angst from outside of me, be it real or fictional.  I dare not watch The Road or Atonement.  And after I finish that intense reunion scene with my short story characters, I’d better go watch funny kitten videos on You Tube.

Having a hole that can’t be filled creates incredible vulnerability.  The longing to fill an aching, raw void leads to desperate acts.  So, while this humour visits me, I will feed it art and words of love and belonging.  If I’m very lucky, I might even start to remember that nothing is missing at all.

 

Full Voice

I took voice lessons from Barbara when I lived in Minneapolis.  One of the best things I ever did for myself.  If you have any interest in communicating better, spend 19 minutes here.

Thanks, Linda, for posting this on Facebook!

Our Town

One People

Today I watched a police officer escort a homeless family out of HyVee’s café.    They had been in the booth behind me, so quiet I never even knew they were there—a mother, a father, a little boy about six and a baby in a stroller.  I didn’t see them bother anyone or cause a disturbance.  They were just resting, watching the big screen TV.

The young officer wasn’t mean, but he wasn’t kind either.  He asked what they were doing.  He asked if they were staying at The House of Compassion (our homeless shelter), then he got them up and out the door.

I don’t blame him—he was doing his job, I guess.  But I’m furious at whoever made the call to the police in the first place.  The family looked poor, but clean.  They didn’t smell drunk or seem high on street drugs.  The breakfast rush was over, so taking up space for paying customers couldn’t have been the issue.  Maybe the sight of the sleeping mother was offensive.  Maybe the whole idea of homeless people in plain sight was offensive.

I’m sure it never occurred to the complainant to ask if the family needed help or breakfast.  Or to call their pastor instead of the police (because anyone who needed to call the police must own a strong sense of morality and, thus, have a pastor).  And I’m positive they didn’t understand that a homeless shelter is far from restful, especially for adults who must protect their children.  Leaving a shelter exhausted in the morning is the norm.  Poverty is exhausting.

When I left HyVee, I spotted them far down the road—the dad pushing the stroller, the mom lagging behind with the little boy.  Even at 9:30, the morning was hot and humid.  I wondered where they would find a welcoming place to rest.  I wondered if that was possible in this town.

Life on Speed

CrackheadSay No to Drugs.  That’s been my mantra for the past five years.  After trying every psychotropic pharmacology had to offer, which either had no effect or made my bipolar symptoms worse, I chose to manage my illness drug-free.  I take a sleep-aide when insomnia pops up, because that can mess me up fast and hard, but that’s it.  I had to get over my dream of a Magic Pill.

A year or so ago, I also gave up the dream of losing weight.  I’d used every kind of diet and non-diet, mindfulness training and behavior modification, but compulsive eating always won in the end.  I felt it was time to shake hands with that old nemesis and accept it in the pantheon of players.  Better to accept all of me, I thought, than keep bullying the parts that didn’t behave well.

I’d never talked about my compulsive eating with the nurse practitioner at my psych clinic, but this spring I did.  It was part of my bi-annual check-in, a commentary on my relationship with myself.  But she had a different take on it.  Sarah said I was a poster child for Binge Eating Disorder, and that there was a drug that might help.

Was I leery?  Yes.  Skeptical? Of course.  One of the things I love about Sarah, though, is how conservative she is about medication.  She’s my loudest cheerleader, and our brief sessions usually consist of her grilling me on what new tools I’m using to manage drug-free.  I know to keep an open mind when Sarah makes a suggestion.  So, we talked about Vyvanse being a “clean” drug—it’s in your system or it’s not, no lingering effects, no weaning on or off it like the psychotropics.  Any side effects should present themselves right away.  We would start with the lowest dose and work our way up to find a level that would (ideally) curb the compulsion without throwing me into mania or insomnia.  I said, yes, let’s give it a try.

I tried not to have any expectations.  I turned down the volume on The Song of the Magic Pill.  I didn’t want to set myself up for another round of disappointment and failure.  Sarah encouraged me to focus on changes in the compulsive thinking and my feelings, not weight.  I created a chart for the back of my journal to keep track of those parameters.  I was ready.

Three weeks in and I’m cautiously, furtively whispering, It’s a miracle.

The first thing I noticed was the sensation of fullness.  I never felt full when I ate, not even after bingeing for hours at a time.  What allowed me to stop was a weird click in my head, like a timer that said I was done.  Feeling full was a totally alien concept, and I was astonished at the minuscule amount of food that produced the effect.

I also noticed when the Vyvanse wore off and the compulsion returned.  It was like fire ants scuttling over my brain, a swarm of nattering food-thought—What do I want? What do I need? Where? When? How much? What else?—that hadn’t been there a moment before.  It was fascinating.  And it helped me identify the compulsion more clearly.  I could see the difference between the frenzied drive and habit.

Habits are the things normal people deal with—popcorn at the movies, a snack with TV, a trip to Dairy Queen to celebrate.  I found that without the engine of compulsion pushing my habits, I could brush them aside.  I spent a couple of hours reading without eating.  I watched a movie without a snack.  Habit carries its own power, so I have to be intentional and mindful, but now mindfulness actually works.  I still overeat and make crappy choices otherwise.

With time and attention, habits can be changed.  This is my hope.  I went to Starbucks the other day and stopped before I ordered.  I thought my regular Venti latte might make my stomach uncomfortably full.  I was perfectly satisfied with the Grande I ordered instead.  I can’t adequately express how weird and wonderful that little triumph felt.  With nary a fire ant in sight.

I’m on an Adventure.

Of Tribes and Farty Pants

Gathering at Barb's

This weekend I got to spend time with some of my Tribe.  These are folks who have travelled The Seeker’s path with me, going to workshops and intensives to learn how to be more conscious and mindful.  The four of us who get together in Des Moines for meditation are part of this larger community, called Foundation, as are people all over the country.

It was hard for me at first.  It always is when we come together.  I’m so used to being solitary, that more than two or three people can be overwhelming.  But I can say that to this group, and they hear me.  I’m safe with them.

I have history with these particular people, who knew me before electroshock.  Some of them hold parts of me I’ve forgotten.  Their memories of me are such a gift—like filling in holes with beautiful light.  Their prompts help me remember the person I was and, in many ways, still am.

Part of our tradition is to share meals together.  Food flows non-stop.  Many of us are trying special diets—vegetarian, vegan, Paleo, gluten-free, diets for blood type or a particular illness—so we’re not easy to please.  But we always have glorious, delicious meals.  It always works.

When we get together, we meditate and we talk.  Everyone is engaged, whether we study quantum physics, yoga or sacred dance; whether our lives are settled or are in chaos; whether we lead with our intellect or our heart.  Friction happens, which creates the best opportunities for mindfulness.  We get to watch how we react to each other and follow those reactions to the source—expectation, judgment, pattern.  Then, we discuss all that, too, if we want.

Often, our work together allows personal issues to surface—fears, anxieties, grief.  In the safety of the group, we can be vulnerable.  We can feel what we feel and be held by the group with compassion and genuine love.

And genuine laughter.  I never laugh so hard or as long as when I’m with these folks. Especially when Sandra whips out the Fart App on her phone.

Sandra's Fart Ap

Sandra and her Farty Pants app (I’m the one keeling over).

We gain so much from each other—not just the book lists we tend to generate, or the theories we throw around, or the practices we share.  We connect and are enriched by the connection.  We know each other on a deep level even if we don’t know each other well personally.  We really are We.

I drove back and forth from my home in Marshalltown to Des Moines each day, which takes about an hour.  While all my friends in Des Moines offered to keep me overnight, I wanted to drive.  I knew I’d need time alone to rest after being with a big group, and I wanted to be as functional as possible.  Driving home from Barb’s for the last time on Sunday, I felt in my bones that while I may be an introvert and solitary, I’m never alone.

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