Merry Sidekick

As part of my quest for living a better life with bipolar disorder, I spent this past weekend in Minneapolis/St. Paul, reweaving connections with old and dear friends, and sending out a few new runners.  These are the kind of friends who will make me stand in their kitchen until they understand the difference between rapid cycling and mixed state; the kind of friends who find a restaurant for lunch on the other side of town because it will accommodate both their Paleo diet and my vegan preferences; the kind of friends who make me laugh until I have to hop to the bathroom to avoid leakage.

And when I have a melt-down (as I did on Saturday), these are the kind of friends who let me bolt back to my hotel without offense, who will hold my insecurities and shame like a porcelain bowl until I can shake the ashes into the trash.  We can say to each other after a morning of coffee and gab, “Are we done?  I’m done.”

These are people who allow me to be myself, who are honest and clear, who look at me with compassion and see all.  They are the keepers of my history since I can’t remember it.  They fit forgotten pieces into place.  They restore me.

This is a difficult time of year for those of us with Seasonal Affective elements included in the bipolar disorder.  Spring brings chaos, fluctuations in mood, and, for me, warp speed cycling.  This is the time of year I am most likely to be hospitalized.  I need the support of people who love me, but my tolerance for stimulation and novelty is severely limited.  It’s a quandary.  But my friends are willing to walk this weird tightrope with me.  And when I can rise up from the ashes, I am grateful.

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 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.

She Dreamed of 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.

The House

House is Full of Life


In a room without a window, there burnt a fire, guarded by a high and strong fender, and a lamp suspended from the ceiling by a chain… In the deep shade, at the further end of the room, a figure ran backwards and forwards. What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight tell… — Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

When There’s Nothing For It

Ah, Genetics


There are days like today when there is nothing for it.  The darkness is real and thick.  The thoughts are alien and weird.  Nothing helps.  Nothing hurts.  It is a day for soft music and sleep.


Kitty-Filled Life

It’s a little after 3:00AM now.  I’ve been up since 1:30 after four hours of sleep—despite my never-fail sleep cocktail of Xanax and Benadryl.  It’s February.

The one good thing about nights like this, when rapid cycling and mixed states turn my days and nights inside out, is that I don’t have to worry about getting up to go to work.  I remember, years ago, trying to talk myself back to sleep. Before any diagnosis told me this might be part of my “normal,” before doctors, and my work ethic, and the State agreed that I was no longer employable, I fretted over my sleeplessness and dreaded the morning.  I know most of us have had nights where we finally drop off at 5:00 in the morning only to have the alarm go off at 6:00.  It’s a horrible, rock-in-the-gut feeling.

Now I just get up.  Open the windows to let the cold, fresh air wash the stale taste of insomnia out of the apartment, stick my favorite mug in the microwave and sip chai while I putter on the computer.  In a few minutes, I’ll close the windows and pull out my plush throw, rearrange the cats on my chair, and read for a while.  When I get sleepy, I’ll go back to bed.  It doesn’t matter anymore when that happens.

That freedom is exquisite.  The absence of that particular stress is like a Christmas present, an emotional gift card that keeps on giving.  It makes the discomfort of this spell easier to bear.

I’m trying to be more conscious of how winter torques my bipolar disorder.  Fellow blogger-friend, Kitt O’Malley (and what a foin Irish name, that is) just posted a clinical piece about the relationship between BP and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  It was the first thing I read when I sat down with my chai.  (Synchronicity is alive and well in my spinny corner of the world.)  It’s always nice to know I’m not alone in my otherness, that there are folks who go through the same kinds of extra grief this time of year, that a committee somewhere labeled it.

It’s the little things that help me keep going when I really don’t want to, little comforts, little efforts.  I give my light box one more try and sit down to make a card—like the one at the top of this post.  I haul my ass to the laundromat, normally a place I love, but now just one more chore I can’t quite accomplish.  But I do it, and the gentle rhythm of the dryers, the warm scent of clean, comforts me.  I let Richard Armitage read to me in the car, his facile voice assuming dozens of characters in a novelization of Hamlet, and it comforts me.

Now the chai and the soothing motion of fingers on a keyboard, the wandering off to read a bit of Rumi, the quiet trust of my sleeping cats all conspire with the space I’ve made for acceptance.  I feel sleep sliding up behind me.  It’s 5AM, and I don’t own an alarm clock anymore.

There is always something to be grateful for.

Act Now to Protect SSDI

Sandy Sue:

Please take a few moments to contact your Congressmen. It’s super-easy.

Originally posted on Kitt O'Malley:

ACT NOW: Last night, I received this email from NAMI to ACT NOW to protect SSDI benefits:


Tell your Senators to protect Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits! The Social Security Administration (SSA) has projected that without a reallocation of funds, the SSDI trust fund will not be able to pay full benefits within 2 years. Unless the Senate acts now, monthly cash SSDI benefits could be cut by as much as 19%.

Reallocation would mean a temporary shift of Social Security revenues to the SSDI fund reserves. This move will extend the SSDI fund for almost two decades, without cutting Social Security coverage, eligibility, or benefits – and without increasing taxpayer contributions.

Last month the House of Representatives passed a change in the rules that would create a budget “point of order” to prevent reallocating funds between Social Security trust funds. NAMI joined a…

View original 80 more words

The Other February

FebruaryAll of these valentines I keep posting and adding to my Etsy shop, the snappy comments and sass, they’re just spackle over the cracks that open up in February.  It’s the hardest month.  It always has been.  I forget that.  Every year.  If not for my piles of journals, I never would have made the connection.  I’m in danger in February.

I forget how the cold and the dark take up residence, even while North America is turning back toward the sun and the snow melts.  Inside me, the cold and dark stay. Even this year with a light box.  There’s no escape from February.

I forget how my skin grows burrs on the inside that snag and startle.  I’m so uncomfortable in my own skin.  Even murmuring words of kindness and acceptance to counter the sudden self-hatred, I can’t get out from under the briars.  I feel bloody and raw from the inside out.

I forget how strong the wrong-thinking gales blow through me, knock me down, rip off my flimsy protection.  I drown in panic and confusion as that storm snatches away each breath.  There’s no shelter, no leeward side to center and regroup, just the unrelenting force of despair screaming through and around me.

I forget how lonely February feels, locked in this dungeon, a barred window between me and all the people passing by on the street above.  I see them, can almost touch them, but I can’t get out.  And they can’t get in.  Some speak gentle words.  Some take parts of me for safekeeping until I can remember that I’m human.  I don’t make sense to them, and they sound silly to me.  Or infuriating.  I’m safer not talking at all, which makes me more alone.

I forget that even with my huge collection of tools and skills February drains them of any meaning.  Days become a string of distractions, tiny moments of relief swallowed up by February’s vast pain.  It’s instinct that drives me—a wrong-headed survival mode that grabs and clutches at whatever floats by in the roaring floodwater.

It’s probably not a coincidence that I started blogging four years ago at the beginning of February—screaming from the heart of the maelstrom, “I’m here!”

I’m here.

I’m here.

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