Stronger and More Frayed

Vistas of BewildermentMiraculously, I’ve finished another week of work.  My life is both easier and harder.  Holding this paradox seems to be the Work set before me.

Easier:  Mom left me her 2011 Honda CRV, a car with features and comforts I never thought I’d have again.  I can hardly believe it’s mine.  After scraping a few dollars off the top of my disability check each month to save for a Smart Car, this thing of luxury dropped into my lap (or parking lot).  The first time I filled the gas tank, I cried.  It cost about half of what it took to fill my dad’s truck.

When Mom bought the car after Dad died, she said to me, “You know you’ll probably get this soon.”  It was just one of hundreds of references she made to her own death (It’s that thing old people do—”I won’t be around much longer, so you better…”).  I didn’t pay much attention.  I was glad she had a zippy little car that she loved.  Driving made her feel safe and in control.  I absolutely understand that.

Harder:  My schedule at work is all over the place—mornings, afternoons, mid-day.  I’ve told my supervisor that I need consistency.  I need time for my own self-care, and I need to be able to depend on it.  I’ve tried to hold my fifteen hours a week to afternoons, but this week was the worst so far.  And it’s all to make sure I attend an endless parade of mind-numbing meetings.  Some of them have been important—orientation to the organization, introductions to other agencies working with us, procedure—but most are irrelevant to my position.  Our boss wants us all to be cross-trained.  Part of that, I think, comes from not knowing what our jobs really are yet.  But the more of these meeting I go to, the more I can see what’s mine and what’s not mine to own.

Easier:   My boss relented on the meetings.  She created a buddy system, so my buddy will let me know if I miss anything important.  That allowed me to take charge of my own schedule.  I’m working 1:30-4:30 every day starting next week.  Good for me, but also good for the team.  Now they know when I’ll be available for client interviews and care conferences (what I should be doing).

Harder:  I had built up a reservoir of stability with my routine and daily monitoring.  That’s used up.  Everyday is a fight to turn my fear and negativity around.  Everyday I feel myself sliding toward lethargy and old habits.  I’m hypersensitive and my concentration is fragmenting.  I can still see it happening.  I can still pause, breathe, and choose not to react, but I’m getting so tired.

Yesterday I had to leave a meeting.  The woman leading it was one of those people who starts a sentence, restarts it, jumps to another topic, restarts that sentence and never gets to the point.  I know a couple of people like this.  They drive me ape-shit.  It’s a neurological thing—my nerves want to grab them by the throat.

Luckily, it was the end of my day, and I ran to the Chinese restaurant to eat lunch, listen to my iPod and journal.  It helped, but I’m not getting back to my set point like I used to.  I’m not able to repair the damage each day all this stress creates.  It’s only a matter of time before I really blow.

Easier:  Our parents left us some money.  It’s not enough to live on the rest of my life, but it will give me some breathing room.  I can do my laundry every week.  I can get some work clothes.  I can even plan a trip to the Southwest this winter to see if more sun and open space will keep me from needing hospital-level care come spring.  Poverty has been the biggest stressor in my life.  Mom and Dad knew that.  They planned their last act of love carefully to ease that for me.  I’m so grateful.

No matter what happens, no matter how the easy and the hard continue to play against each other, I am a success.  I have gone to work every day for three weeks.  That’s a miracle.  Walking through the office door is a miracle.  Waking up and doing it again is a miracle.  Even if it all stops today, I’ve triumphed.  No one can take that away from me.  It’s all mine.

Man, I freakin’ rock.

Tempest in a Teacup

Don't Know BeansHere I am, finishing up my second week of work.

The stress is enormous, not just for me, but for everyone trying to learn this new program and making up the next steps as they are needed.  The real challenge for me is to moderate the anxiety and pressure.  Under stress, I’m easily overwhelmed.  I’m like a teacup that flattens, slopping out my ability to concentrate and my emotional flexibility.  I lose capacity.

I also become reactive, and my first instinct is to bolt.  I run from the stressor, fling it off and dive into a hide-hole.  So, the words “I can’t do this” fly in and out of my head regularly.

But part of my personal journey is to work on increasing my tolerance to distress.  If I’m ever to make any lasting changes in my behavior and my life, I need to work this work situation like a puzzle.  What do I need to do to stretch my envelope of tolerance?  As always, I created a plan.

The first piece is to breathe.  It’s my starting point.  When the acronyms start flying and I can feel my body vibrating like a tuning fork, I stop and breathe deep into my belly.  It tells me to come back to myself.  It starts the process of flinging off the assumptions and negativity.  Breathing deep, I can remember why I’m doing this.  I can remember I don’t need to understand.  I can remember that I’m not alone.

I also realized that creating more structure would help soothe the anxiety, so I put an After Work plan in place.  I go straight home, change, and go to the Y to ride the recumbent bike for an hour.  That helps burn off some of the adrenaline and agitation.  Then, I journal with a cup of something soothing.  Then, I meditate.  After that, I’m rational enough to eat a sensible supper.  This helps.  Instead of bingeing all night with a movie, I’m taking positive action to stretch my tolerance.

And it seems to be working.  I may be an emotional puddle by the time I leave the office, but by the next morning my teacup is upright and able to hold water.

This is new behavior for me.  It’s also more stress than I’ve endured in years.  I’m proud of all that.  I’m also aware that I could blow at any time.  That’s the unknowable, uncontrollable piece to bipolar disorder.  All I can do is stay as mindful as I can from moment to moment and see what happens.

I’m on an Adventure.

tiny cups

In The Trenches

More Traditionally GallantThe last time I had this much change, pressure, and emotional hoo-haw in my life I ended up getting electroshock.  That was then, as they say.  This is now.

Yesterday I started my job as a Peer Support Specialist.  The Integrated Health Services team (of which I am a part)  is squeezed into one tiny office and a converted utility closet (the sink is still there).  Ten people with lap tops, all talking on the phone, or to each other, or elbowing into their TV-tray-sized work spaces.  The plan is to move the team off-site to a real office space.  But for now, we are literally on top of each other.

barnabasA year ago—heck, three months ago—I would have bolted from that chaos after a half hour.  But, I didn’t.  And the fact that I didn’t makes me proud.  I could feel dread and panic creeping into my head like Dark Shadows mist, turning my thoughts sour and rigid with resistance.  But then I went on my first client visit, and the doubt and hysteria melted.

Talking to clients, listening to them, asking questions, empathizing and marveling at their courage and resilience—it all fell into place.  What I used to do as a nurse, what I do now with this blog, even what I’ve become as a person all come into play when I’m with the clients.  I was made for this job.  I can do this.

So, last night I drank a beer, popped a Xanax, and slept long and hard.  This morning I was ready to jump back into the fray.  Until I got my own TV tray, I set my laptop on top of a waste basket to do my work.  That was fine.  I’m relearning Windows after eight years alone with my iMac.  That was fine, too.

Everyone on the team is supportive, enthusiastic and only a little less confused than I am.  This roll-out of Integrated Health Services across the state is enormous, complicated, sometimes incomprehensible.  It makes us comrades.  They sent a lovely card and a plant when my mom died, and I’d only met them twice.

Sad SmileWe’ve been digging through lots of old stuff at my mom’s house.  We found a box with my grandfather’s WWI kit and a trunk of my dad’s with his WWII navy uniform and a photo album.  In those pictures, I can see how tight the bonds are between Dad and his friends.  I understand that a little.  I’m not saying we’re experiencing anything like what Dad and Grandpa went through, but adversity and a common goal does something to a group.  Those of you in business know more about this than I do.  There’s probably even a name for it.

I know these people have my back.  I know they won’t let me fail.  I know they will understand if I ever do have to bolt from the room.  And I’m not afraid to do it if I have to.  Because I know how to take care of myself now—without plugging into the power grid.

Five Hundred Lengths

Swimmer≈ ≈ ≈

We enter the meditative state induced by counting laps, and observe the subtle play of light as the sun moves across the lanes. We sing songs, or make to-do lists, or fantasize about what we’re going to eat for breakfast. Submersion creates the space to be free, to stretch, without having to contend with constant external chatter. It creates internal quiet, too. Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of them all, was found to have A.D.H.D. when he was a child; he has called the pool his “safe haven,” in part because “being in the pool slowed down my mind.”

We are left alone with our thoughts, wherever they may take us. A lot of creative thinking happens when we’re not actively aware of it. A recent Carnegie Mellon study shows that to make good decisions, our brains need every bit of that room to meander. Other research has found that problem-solving tends to come most easily when our minds are unfocused, and while we’re exercising. The neurologist Oliver Sacks has written books in his head while swimming. “Theories and stories would construct themselves in my mind as I swam to and fro, or round and round Lake Jeff,” he writes in the essay “Water Babies.”

Five hundred lengths in a pool were never boring or monotonous; instead, Dr. Sacks writes, “swimming gave me a sort of joy, a sense of well-being so extreme that it became at times a sort of ecstasy.” The body is engaged in full physical movement, but the mind itself floats, untethered.

~ Bonnie Tsui, The Self Reflecting Pool

reblogged (sort of) from David Kanigan’s Live & Learn

Sugar Pie

New Month.  New Day.  New Breath.Sugar Pie

Feeling so grateful for my Sister in Charge, who is performing her Trustee duties with grace and diligence.  As the stress starts to weigh heavier, and I paddle faster to stay afloat, I can rest in this thankfulness where there is more space to breathe.

Grateful, too, for all my friends and family who have agreed to “babysit” me at suppertime.  Eating that evening meal alone is too much to face at present, so when I called in the cavalry, they galloped to my aid.

I will get through this time of trial.  I will.

“The Storm is Up, And All is on the Hazard”

tempestThere’s a kind of frenzy that happens after a death in the family.  There’s a sea-change during the rush of funeral arrangements.  Details drag at the ankles, family and well-wishers swarm, then dart off.  It’s like dropping to the bottom of the Mariana Trench and popping back up without a decompression chamber.  Something in the blood bubbles.

Then there’s the Bank Dash, a treasure hunt for the right piece of paper, guarded by people who speak a foreign language.  Just when a few words start to make sense, the Lawyer pulls out a different map and the hunt gallops off in another direction.  Everyone has a different opinion about how to read the legend, how to get from Here to There.  It’s the Tower of Babel flattened to an Iowa cornfield.

I don’t do well with frenzy, so there have been some outbursts.  Most notably, the sprint out of the lawyer’s office to cry in the street.  But, for the most part, I’ve managed with great aplomb, even if I do say so myself.  I’ve learned a lot since my dad died a couple of years ago.  I understand how stress affects me.  I know what to do to lessen the impact.  I’m a lot stronger than I ever believed.

Also, I’m blessed to have a sister who is In Charge.  Now that the initial chaos has settled, she deals with the insurance companies, the banks, the appraisers and auctioneers.  She’s tossed out that old map and made one of her own.  Thank the Stars.

We have a house to clean.  That’s something I can do.  If I break it down into the tiniest tasks.  Like emptying one drawer in one dresser.  Like bagging up the clothes in one closet.  Tiny tasks.  A beginning and an end.  That stops frenzy cold.  That turns a task into a meditation.  There’s space for deep breathing.  The blood starts to de-bubble.

And I need to practice coming back to mindfulness, because the stress isn’t over.  I start my new job as a Peer Support Specialist in a week, and I still don’t know what I’ll be doing.  My clinic is part of the whole restructuring of Iowa’s mental health delivery system.  I’ll be part of the Integrated Health Services Team, and I’ve met those folks—a nurse, case managers and an administrative assistant.  I’ve attended a couple of “professional development” sessions that made no sense to me—except for the HIPAA presentation.  I get HIPAA and how crucial confidentiality and privacy will be in my work.  The rest is gobbledygook.  I figure if I need to know this stuff, someone will tell me eventually.

Because none of the other Peers know what’s going on either.  That makes me feel better.  And the rest of the team is flying by the seat of their pants.  Professionals making it up as they go along.  So, I’ll find out more when I start next Monday.  Or not.

I know I’m at risk.  Stress exacerbates symptoms in anyone with a mental illness.  It can lead to a lapse or full-blown relapse.  Things could get pretty hairy.  But, I’ll do what I know to stay present and keep breathing.  And I’ll dream about my trip to London in September.  Because that won’t be stressful at all.

I’m on an Adventure.

Is This Grief?

Damned TiredUp at 2:30 this morning, awake but toting sludge for brains.  Is this grief?

Yesterday I felt proud that I could stand with my family and greet everyone that came to Mom’s visitation.  Two and a half years ago, when my dad died, I had to sit in a quiet room apart from the others.  Like a bipolar queen, I held audience for my closest friends and family so that I wouldn’t explode from the over-stimulation.  I felt then like I do this morning—dumb with exhaustion.

I don’t know what I need.  I don’t know what could help.  The idea of going to the pool makes me want to cry and crawl back into bed.  But, I know that’s not the answer.  So I’ll go to the pool and bleed some of this weirdness into the water.  I’ll feel better afterward.  I always do.

Then, I’ll go with my brother and sister to Mom’s lawyer and try to stay present in all the talk about insurance and trusts.  I’ll try to watch my anxiety and keep breathing.  I’ll try to keep stepping back instead of stepping up.  I’ll try to remember that everything will settle without me pushing it.

So, it’s a little easier to carry, this grief/exhaustion/bipolarness, now that I’ve named it and slopped it out in words.  I breathe and let my Pandora station hold me. All that pretty music.  Like the water in the pool, it supports me.

Pillows and cushions are everywhere.  Like this lovely song by Mat Kearney.  I can lie down anytime I need.

 

I Am Breathing Me

This is a lot.Baby

Sitting with my mom as she died; supporting my sister as executor of Mom’s affairs; preparing to return to a professional form of work; preparing to go to England for the first time; stepping into a financial unknown; navigating the sudden rush of family, friends and strangers; gripping healthy practices while my routine shreds.

I feel the grit of my bipolarness scratching behind my eyes.  It shoves my stomach up into my throat.  I feel the veneer thinning.  I’m exposed.  Vulnerable.

This is the way of things.  Seasons of strength followed by opportunities to use it.  Seasons of building up and tearing down.  Seasons that rise and fall like breath.

I am breathing me.

Night of Stars

SupportI just got home from saying good-bye to my mom.  She died earlier tonight after falling and hitting her head.

It happens— just like that—sometimes.

And now the world is strange and quiet.  So many plans to make, so many people to touch.   But in the center is this night of stars.  And Mom rising toward them.

That’s Right!

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