27 Feb 2014 21 Comments
At our Thursday TOPS meetings we draw a Pledge for the coming week. It’s usually something healthy and weight-related we’re called to do every day—a reminder to keep proper nutrition and management at the front of our minds. The penalty for not fulfilling the Pledge is a dime. Not a huge deterrent, just a nudge.
This current bout of depression started its dive two weeks ago. On my way down I jettisoned any semblance of control as the darkness took over my eating. I bought what was cheap and could numb the pain. I included fruit and vegetables, but that was like throwing a life-preserver to someone bitten in half by a shark.
The illness and the distorted thinking twisted me in knots of self-loathing. I felt hideous inside and out. It was intolerable.
So, when I weighed in today I knew what the scale would say. I tried to remember that it was just a number, not an indictment.
In the meeting we talked about our goals and vision, why we continued to attend the meetings, and what we wanted. I felt defeated and helpless against the constant cycle of compulsive eating, shame, and celery. I hated myself.
Then, one of the women drew out our Pledge for the coming week. “Every day, tell yourself you are worth the struggle.”
There were so many ways my twisted brain wanted to argue with that statement. But I just took a deep breath, came home, ate too much, then sat down at my work table.
The only positive voice in my head—when there is one—is baritone and British. I thought I might just listen to that affirmation if I could imagine it in the Voice. So I made a piece to stick on my bathroom mirror where I would be sure to see it every day. Many times every day.
When I read these words, I know they’re not just about obesity and compulsion. They’re about poverty, madness, and loneliness. They’re about getting up after falling on the ice for the umpteenth time. They’re about laughing when it would be much easier to cry. They’re about taking a deep breath and looking up at the stars instead of keeping my head down in the cold. They’re about Remembering who I am.
And if I need to hear these words in a British accent to believe them, then so be it. We do whatever works.
24 Feb 2014 12 Comments
Last week I got stuck in the snow and ice. I spent about a half hour rocking my truck back and forth, almost tipping over the edge to freedom only to fall back into the rut. Eventually, a boy with a truck and a tow line happened by and hauled me out. First he wanted to try his hand at rocking out of the rut (Ah, the optimism of youth!). While he played in my truck, I stepped off the snow-hidden curb and fell with my foot caught. Things got twisted and made funny noises. I may have uttered a few disparaging words about winter.
Unfortunately, my brain seems to be stuck and making its own funny noises. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been mired in depression, able at times to rock back and forth, but always ending up in the rut. When I’m in this gutter it’s too easy to focus on all the failures and pain—my application for rent reimbursement was denied since my HUD apartment building doesn’t pay property tax; after doing a week’s worth of records-gathering and making copies for my rent review, my 2014 rent only went down by a dollar; I can’t stop binge eating. Saturday I got up, determined to knock some of the whingeing out of my head. I got dressed for the Y and stopped by the library to get a new pile of DVDs. By the time I checked out, I was exhausted. I went back home, pulled on my jammies, and crawled, defeated, back into bed.
When the rut gets deep and my mental tires smoke from spinning, I try to remember the good stuff. And there is good stuff. There’s always good stuff if a person looks long enough. I’ve made it through a whole month without using my credit card and sticking to my White-Knuckle budget. The UU Fellowship I attend asked me to be their go-to presenter and will pay me a stipend of about $50 to provide two programs a month. I was approved for Medicaid, so I’ll at least be on the waiting list for the Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation program. And because I have Medicaid now, I can continue to see my therapist every week instead of scaling back to save money.
Then, there are my friends and their gifts. There’s Rob and Carol. There’s David and his gift of The Measure of My Days—a beautiful, inspirational book. And Michelle’s gift of two fabulous CDs of music (The Polar Vortex 1 & 2). And emails. Lots and lots of emails filled with support and love and inspiration. Those are just my bloggy friends. Here at home, I’ve been given bags of fabulous junk to make art—sequins from India from Sheila, Czech magazines and bric-a-brac from Robyn. Dee invited me over to look through her collection of vintage photographs and to pick out ones I could use. Penny and Karen take me to lunch. Cat takes me to breakfast and keeps my phone working. All these tow lines keep the tension steady so that when this current rut flattens out a bit, I can drive on.
Still, today, the despair and pain are thick. I’ll go to the laundromat in a minute—a cozy place that’s warm and smells like home. I’ll get my Peppermint Mocha, and sit with my journal, and do all the things I need to do to keep rocking. Back and forth. Back and forth. And I’ll remember the tow lines attached to me that keep me tethered to the world outside this rut.
31 Jan 2014 10 Comments
Honesty. That’s what I pledged.
I went to a presentation today about some of the new programs rolling out with ObamaCare and the Mental Health Redesign in Iowa. A program called Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (IPRS) focuses on reducing a client’s stressors. Because (this is radical, now) reducing stress will reduce symptoms, which will ultimately allow someone with a mental illness to function more independently.
Thank you, People in Suits, for finally getting it.
Last week, I wrote that I had $11 in my billfold, and that I was determined to still hold that $11 when my Disability check came. Well, I didn’t make it. If I was only going to do laundry every other week ($15 at the laundromat), I needed more socks. So I bought socks. And a 89¢ notebook to keep track of grocery prices and specials.
Then, the landlord tacked up a sign that said Radar, the bedbug-sniffing beagle, was coming for his quarterly inspection the next day. That meant packing up the cats (which they hate), their litter boxes, food, and anything Radar might get into and hauling everyone out to my Mom’s for the day. She’s only marginally tolerant of animals in the house, so the boys had to stay in the basement, where Emmett promptly found a hidey-hole that he refused to leave. Cut to seven hours later, and he sashayed past me with thirty-year-old dust bunnies stuck to his fur. Finally, we got home, but I’d lost my only winter hat and my phone.
This is the danger of stress—breakage, forgetfulness, locking myself out of the apartment or truck, falling on the ice, losing stuff. One flat tire turns into a fifty-car pile up. And with each incident, my capacity for navigating and problem-solving shrinks. I liken it to a teacup. Stress shrinks the cup. Too much stress flattens the cup into a saucer. Then, the slightest bump sloshes out the tea. And if the saucer empties out completely—hello, Psych Ward.
So, I talked to the caseworker at the presentation today and will be getting a referral for IPRS. Mom found my hat in her driveway. My phone was under some sacks in my back seat. And I don’t have bedbugs.
Today was a pretty good day.
25 Jan 2014 16 Comments
in bipolar disorder, mental health, mixed-media art, money, vegetarianism Tags: anxiety, budget, compulsive spending, cooking, obsessive/compulsive behavior, patterns, personal finance, recipe, saving, vegan chili
Live in Denial. Wake up. Overcompensate. Go Crazy. Repeat.
Basically, this is my Pattern for living. It’s definitely my financial strategy. This past year I thought I was getting comfortable with my poverty—coming to terms with it—my smug self said. But what really happened was that I just pretended it didn’t exist.
I know lots of people do this with money. Statistics from The Federal Reserve say that the average U.S. household credit card debt is $15,270. That doesn’t include medical or mortgage debt, so imagine what the real number might be! People all over the country plug their ears with their fingers and sing, “La la la la. I can’t hear you.” Knowing this makes me feel a little less crazy, my compulsive spending a little less shameful. It makes my combined debt of $3000 seem paltry. But I still have to deal with it.
My hope is that every time I go through this cycle I learn a little something. Maybe I can adjust the pattern a wee bit this time. Maybe that’s denial talking, but it seems like I’m required to try. Right now I’m between Waking up and Overcompensating. Maybe I can keep from swinging too far into a way of living that’s unsustainable. I did that when I decided to save money for a new car, cinching the financial belt so tight I passed out from stress and threw myself into a month of rapid cycling. Neuro-normals go through this, too, I’ve learned. There’s even a term for it—Frugal Fatigue. They don’t land themselves in a mental hospital, though. Well, I’m guessing they don’t.
There are some things I do right. I keep a spreadsheet of every penny I spend. I pay my bills through the Bill Pay option with my bank, so things like rent and internet service get paid the same time every month.
There are things I’ve gotten better at doing. When I was recovering from electroshock and very brain-sick, cooking threw me into scary anxiety attacks, so I ate a lot of take-in. I mostly enjoy cooking now, especially when I create something fabulous from digging through my pantry (see my Kitchen Sink Chili recipe below). But, there are still times when I’m so brain-sick I can’t face cooking. I try to have easy, microwaveable stuff on hand for those times. And if I can’t even do that much, then try to limit the splurging to one meal, one item, one treat. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Making wise money choices while cycling through mixed states is sort of a contradiction in terms. The urge to bolt in my truck requires gas. The day-long camp-outs at the theater require tickets. Then, of course, we have the standard binge-eating and internet shopping wallows. I’m trying to work on those things with my therapist, but squeezing them too tightly also causes backlash. So, I need to plan for them while I work at minimizing their effects. Tightrope walking at its finest.
So, here’s the first draft of my plan:
- Stop using my credit card. That means buying gas for my truck with cash, which means a lot less driving. That translates to only going to Des Moines in cases of mental emergency. It also means walking as much as I can, which may have to wait until it gets warmer. The windchill today is -8, so I think I’ll be driving to the Y later.
- Try something new. This time around I’m going to try the envelope system. I’ll take out my budgeted amounts for food, gas, laundry and entertainment each week and keep them in separate zip-lock bags. When the money’s gone, it’s gone. I have a friend who has used this system for decades, but I’ve always thought it seemed too restrictive. Well, restriction is what’s needed, so I’m game to try.
- Keep saving for the new car. That’s a priority for me, so I’ll keep tucking away a little each month.
- Adjust my medical payments. Paying $40 a month to my mental health clinic wasn’t taking care of my co-pay from Medicare. I asked them for a statement and found out I owe about $500. I’ve increased my monthly payment (through Bill Pay) to cover my weekly therapist visits and start whittling at the debt.
- Start chipping away at the credit card balance. I’ve routinely paid a lot more than the minimum required, but never enough to cover the monthly charges. If I’m not using my card, I can start reversing that trend.
Personal financial experts suggest test-driving a budget before making a huge commitment. That makes sense to me. I won’t be able to start until my Disability check comes in February, then I’ll take this puppy for a spin. Until then, I’m committed to zero spending. I have gas in the truck, food in the cupboard, a gift card to the theater here in town if I need a movie. I have $11 in my billfold, and I’m determined to still have it come February 3. I’m good. Really good.
Here’s what I created yesterday—a vegan chili recipe that is so delicious I couldn’t believe it. Score!
Kitchen Sink Vegan Chili
½ C dried beans (I used pinto beans, but any kind would work. And canned beans are just fine, too.)
¼ C Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Wild and Brown Rice (Again, this is what was in my pantry. Use whatever rice or pasta you have.)
1-16 oz. can diced tomatoes
1-16 oz. can corn
1-6 oz. can tomato paste
1-4 oz. can green chilies, chopped
1-2.25 oz. can sliced black olives
½ onion, diced
Seasonings: salt, turmeric, chili powder, sweetener (I used a packet of Truvia, so 2 tsp. of sugar would be the same)
Soak and cook the beans according to the directions. Same with the rice (or pasta). Beans need a couple of hours to cook. Wild rice needs an hour. Drain.
Add all the other stuff.
Add water to make the chili a consistency you like.
Add seasonings. I think seasoning is personal and requires tasting, so I don’t have any measurements for them. Turmeric was a creative choice this time and turned out to be fabulous. Use whatever you’ve got. The one exception to my chili seasoning rule is sweetener. It cuts the acid of the tomatoes and just makes any kind of chili better (in my humble opinion).
This made 4 big bowls of deliciousness—231 calories/bowl. I topped it with crumbled up corn bread (add another 150 calories).
22 Jan 2014 10 Comments
You know those times when you wrestle with a decision? When you want one thing, but the numbers don’t quite add up? And then something—a person, an event, a seemingly random set of circumstances—brings it all into focus? I’m in the middle of one of those epiphanies.
I really wanted to be a Peer (as in Peer Support Specialist). I wanted to help other folks with mental illness and earn a little money doing it. I got training last fall. I was offered a volunteer position at the hospital in Des Moines where I was a patient. I thought I was on my way.
The trouble is, it costs me at least $50 for gas each week. That’s money I don’t have, so it goes on my credit card. There’s still a big balance there from my Peer training, too. Friends and my UU fellowship chipped in to pay about half (thank you very much), and I applied for scholarships from service clubs, but it doesn’t look like those will pan out. Every month my balance creeps higher. Every month I look the other way.
Then, yesterday I got the oil changed in my truck. I looked at the $70 bill, which I put on my credit card, and knew I had to pay attention.
I can’t drive to Des Moines every week. In fact, if I ever want to whittle my Visa balance down, I’ll have to park my truck and walk as much as I can.
It seems so simple now.
I’ve been uncomfortable about doing this support group ever since we started talking about it. I attributed that discomfort to a lot of reasons—I’m too unstable to do the job, the hospital is in chaos, it’s too much stress. But, those are all just niggles, all things I can work through. The real reason is that I can’t afford it.
So, I’ll go tonight and tell everyone—the social worker who recruited me, the young man who would have partnered with me in creating the new group, the folks about to “graduate” from After Care who looked forward to on-going support. I know the After-After Care group probably won’t fly now. Dan could only convince the two of us to volunteer, and the job is too much for one person. I am sorry for that. But not sorry enough to rack up more debt in the hope that someday Mercy will offer me a job. I can’t sacrifice myself out of fear.
It’s a relief to be done wrestling, a relief to see what needs to be done and be calm about it. My dream will find a new shape in its own time. When it does, it will probably seem quite random and serendipitous. If I hold it lightly.