Kind, Gentle and Generous

Give Him the Moon

Earlier this year I set a goal to stay out of the hospital or a hospital program this spring.  Three out of the last five years, I’ve ended up there.  It’s a good thing, really, to know when to make that call.  Lots of folks with mental illness aren’t able to do that for themselves, so I feel lucky and proud of the work I do to hang onto a little insight during the worst of times.

However, the program I’ve used in the past was eliminated, like many of the behavioral health programs across the state, because psychiatrists fled Iowa like rats on a sinking ship (some problem with Medicare reimbursement).  If I needed serious help now, I’d have to drive across the state and admit myself into one of the few psych wards left.  I’d rather not, really.

I needed to change things up—not just my perspective, but what I do to manage this transition from winter to summer.  I found some new resources this year to help—Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation (IPR) and Integrated Health Services (IHS).  Both are new state programs trying to fill the gaps left by the psych docs.  Also, with my mom’s passing last summer, I now live frugally instead of crushed by poverty.  It’s a huge difference.

So, with this new net under me, I started to address the critical and disapproving voice in my head.  I started to wonder if my drive to do more and be more was actually another facet of that mean voice.  I watched how I withheld comfort, left no room for rest or rejuvenation, and squeaked by on the least.

I wondered how it might feel to do the opposite—to be kind and gentle in my self-appraisal, to be generous with my time and money.  I wondered how that voice might sound.  I wondered, for instance, what my grandma might say to me when rapid cycling ruined all my plans for the day.  Or what my friend, Lily, might say about me going to Ireland next year.

Whenever I started to hate on myself, or rail against the unfairness of living with bipolar disorder, or scold myself for going to Des Moines twice in one week, I tried to stop and conjure the people who love me.  Their kind and gentle voices filled my mind.  Their immediate generosity helped me breathe.

Over the course of the spring, I’ve tried to make those voices strong in my mind.  This is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done.  I’m steeped in self-violence.  Recognizing the lie in that voice when it slithers into my thoughts takes time.  Then, countering it with petal-soft, open-armed sweetness is like speaking a foreign language.  But, I’ve learned a few words.  And my vocabulary is growing.

Being kind, gentle and generous to myself doesn’t alter the course of my bipolarity.  Rapid cycling fogs my brain and leaves me exhausted.  Emotions flip and tumble like Olympians.  Chores overwhelm me.  But, today, I have hope that I can navigate the hard road through Spring.  In my mind, I’m holding a warm, gentle hand.  It fits perfectly in mine.  Because it is mine.

The Healing Time

Finally on my way to yesStrange & Terrible Sights

I bump into

all the places

where I said no

to my life

all the untended wounds

the red and purple scars

those hieroglyphs of pain

carved into my skin,

my bones,

those coded messages

that send me down

the wrong street

again and again

where I find them

the old wounds

the old misdirections

and I lift them

one by one

close to my heart

and I say    holy

             holy.

© Pesha Joyce Gertler

Trust the Next Breath

Trust the Next Breath

May all your endings turn into beginnings.

Really

Saw the Legs

ψ

Don’t mess with me today.  Really.

Sometimes

Reteach Loveliness

My grandpa and his horse with a glass eye.

F*ck Bipolar

(Warning: F Bomb Minefield Ahead)

I woke up furious this morning.  It happens sometimes.  When I start to shift out of a long siege of depression, there’s no telling what form the sudden influx of energy will take.  Anger is a safe bet.

I could see what a wet washrag of a life I’ve had the last two months, and that lit me up.  So much hard work just to stand in place.  I railed against the shittiness of dragging around a mental illness.  I slammed into my car, grabbed coffee and journaled to bleed out the fury.

Fuckit!  Fuck being a GOOD GIRL because THAT really works for me.  Fuck being the poster girl for crazy.  [A friend] asked me yesterday if I had a goal.  The only one I could think of was “Stay Out of the Hospital.”  What kind of FUCKING goal is that?!  Is that the best this putrid hump of a life can give me?  Staying out of the hospital, being miserable, and telling myself that’s OKAY?

I’m so sick of myself and my fucking compulsions and Mom’s voice in my head and constantly PUSHINGPUSHINGPUSHING to Do the Right Thing.  Take Care of Myself.  Fuck this shadow life.  FUCK BIPOLAR!

It went on for a few more pages before I started to wind down.  You get the picture.  When I left Panera to see my therapist, I was still furious, but had a plan about how to use all that hot energy.  I decided to make some Fuck Bipolar cards (see below).

I want to give these away, so if you have bipolar disorder or love someone who rages against it, let me know.  Put your name and address in a comment (I won’t publicize it), and if you have a preference for either the boy or the girl.  I’ll send you one, because I’m making lots.

Because Fuck Bipolar.

 

F Bipolar Girl

F

F Bipolar Boy

March Madness

TumbleweedPhew!  February is behind us.  Enough, now, of the darkness and bitter cold and on to mud below and sun above.  Historically, March is the time I rouse from my mental hibernation and blink at the mess I’ve made while thrashing around in the dark.  I spend too much money when I’m brain-sick.  I eat compulsively.  Fat and broke, I usually overreact.  Last year and the year before, I put myself on strict money and food diets… and I ended up in partial hospitalization.  Hmmm.  Maybe this is a pattern I need to address in IPR.

The mission of IPR (Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation) is to help those of us with mental illness succeed at a goal we choose.  My goal is to keep living in my apartment, not taking sabbaticals in the hospital, so my caseworker, Aly, and I look at any skills needed to do that.

Partial hospitalization gives me structured support, a place to do the hard work of managing my illness when it’s overwhelming, and accountability to professionals who understand me.  One of my new skills is to seek out more structured support outside the hospital setting.

Seeing my therapist and participating in IPR every week are two kinds of structured support.  Recently, I added a weekly meeting with my Peer at Integrated Health Services (where I worked for a time last summer).  Allison and I sit for an hour and talk about doing the hard work of recovery.  The more I can get this kind of help, the less likely another hospitalization.  And since the Partial Hospitalization Program closed its doors last year, my only option now is full admission to a psych ward.  To me, that’s not an option.

So, it’s also important to look at this pattern of deprivation in the early spring.  As Aly and I talked through this, it seemed so simple.  Now is not the time to white-knuckle anything—not my budget, not my diet, not an out-dated version of myself as responsible and in control.  If there was ever a time for my Kinder, Gentler practice to kick in, it’s in March.  Now is the time to acknowledge how ill I’ve been and how well I’ve coped.  Now is the time to gently come back to cooking at home when the depression lifts enough to allow it.  Now is the time to remember that this is what my savings is for—to pay the bills my illness created over the winter and to give me space to breathe.  I’ll be able to live within my means again, but not right now.

This whole idea is radical—not clamping down to pay off my Visa bill or repaying the money I took from savings.  The idea that I can do those things later, should do them later, boggles my mind.  So simple.  So very Kind and Gentle.  It’s lovely to be my own best friend.

Prototype Redux

I’ve never reposted an old post.  I figure I either have something new to say or I don’t.  And if I don’t, then this platform stays quiet until I do.  But Leonard Nimoy died yesterday, and I can’t find new words.  This man/actor/character has been a part of me since Star Trek aired on September 8, 1966.  I was nine years old—impressionable, starving for attention, a little fan-girl waiting to happen.

So, I offer, again, the collage piece I made about him in 2011.  Prototype.  All the images used in this collage are original, pictures I saved from entertainment magazines as old as Star Trek’s first TV Guide cover in 1966.

tiny salute

Protopype

I’m excited to present this finished piece.  It carries so many layers of meaning for me.

As all fathers do, mine created the template for all subsequent relationships with the men in my life.

As a tween, I transfered my longing for attention and protection from my dad to Spock, the ultimate unavailable man.  In my fantasies, I found the secret pathway to Spock’s heart.  Of course he would never demonstrate his affection, never claim me as his, but I knew he would protect me.  It seemed more than I could ever ask for.

My affection for Leonard Nimoy is deep and abiding.  He was, after all, my first.

She Dreamed of Citrine

Citrine

Sometimes, my courage amazes me.

Basic Care

Keep CleanYesterday a crack opened in the bipolar depression that’s been at me for weeks.  Enough to let me remember to return to basics.  Because I’ve looked in the mirror every morning and said to that shocked face, “We’re not going to the hospital this year.  We’re not.”

First a call to the group I worked for this past summer—Integrated Health Services.  Their whole mission is to keep mental health clients out of the hospitals and emergency rooms.  I know I need more support now—I’ve been hearing from my providers all year that I don’t have enough in the best of times.  I’m not sure what IHS can do, but I made an appointment for Monday with Rosario, my care coordinator, and with Allison, my peer, to sit and figure that out.  They are both kind, heart-centered women.  I feel safe going to them.  The fact that I was just able to make the appointment helped.  Doing something, anything, sometimes helps.

Daily PlanToday I will start using my Daily Plan sheet, the one I created after my partial hospitalization last spring.  It will help me focus on small goals and remember to do every day tasks that get waterlogged by the swampy emotions.

I looked at how much money I’ve spent this month and cut back to the essentials.  Today I’ll figure a budget to get me through to May (February is just the beginning.  March and April can sometimes be even worse).  I’ll try to make it something I can live with, not something that will punish me for being sick.

HenryI cleaned out my refrigerator of all the liquefying vegetables and bought a few simple groceries.  I swam at the Y.  I sat with my fading bedspread for a while and sewed a blanket stitch around the frayed edges with gentle music playing and the cats behind my head on the chair.  Henry’s belly makes a gurgling, crackling sound when he’s digesting, and I pressed my ear against his fur to listen while he slept.

My apartment is a sickroom now.  No sudden moves.  No grand expectations.  Everything deliberate and gentle.  I must tend to my sleep, get to the Y every day, maintain my journal, plan quiet visits with friends, try to eat fresh food.  I will try to keep the structure sound while the storm carries on inside.  I will treat myself as someone worthy of care and respect, as someone that I love.

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