Thaw

Promise of SpringThere’s melt in the streets.  And a strange sound over my head—water drizzling down from the eaves into the downspouts.  Winter is letting up—at least it’s affording us a breather.  A collective sigh rises up from the whole town.  Folks hunched over their coffee cups at the café sit up a little straighter.  Smiles come a little easier to winter-tired faces.

My own internal winter is letting up as well.

Wednesday I hit a wall of despair.  Swimming my laps in the pool, I knew I couldn’t go back to my apartment for one more day of fighting myself and losing.  I gave my self permission to go to Des Moines.  After six weeks of frugal living, I allowed a therapeutic splurge.

The movie was awful, but the actual movie is never the point.  It’s the going.  It’s the ritual of driving through Starbucks, going into Panera for my bagel, sitting in the huge, empty food court and writing in my journal with earbuds firmly in place.  It’s the familiar rite of ticket, popcorn, and finding the perfect seat.  It’s making a nest and soaking in the previews—all those good movies coming.  The rhythm of ritual is comfort and safety.  It’s my rosary with a different kind of bead.

Afterward I went to Barnes and Noble to read magazines and fell asleep in the big easy chair.  So tired.  Worn through by this long depression.  Then, meditation with my friends, who were so glad to see me after six weeks away.  And in our quiet conversation, I felt the melt begin.  A subtle shift of temperature.  A warming of my mental air.  I thought the day and my friends might have just cheered me a little—I’ve been fooled by false springs before.  But, the thaw seems to be holding.

I can feel my brain recalibrating and leavening as the mental ice floes break apart.  It’s a little easier to do what I want instead of being driven by compulsion.  There’s a suggestion of joy, like the tremor of seeds under the frozen earth.  And it’s enough.  Just knowing winter doesn’t last forever.  It’s enough.

Open the Window

Open the Window

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This Is Now

handmade greeting card, collage art, Rumi, poetry

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We Are The Mirror

handmade greeting cards, collage art, Rumi

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Every Moment

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.

Every Moment, Benedict Cumberbatch

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.

Stuck

stuckLast 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.

Tow Lines

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.

Giving Thanks for Bloggy Friends

I’ve recently been gifted with two amazing pieces of art, both from friends I’ve met through this blog.  As someone who struggles with relationships and the weird complexity of human interaction, making connections like this is something out of Harry Potter.  Magic.  With lots of sparkles.

I sent them both a picture of their gifts mounted on my Wall of Romance.  I can lay on my bed and be comforted by my Pre-Raphaelite prints and the blossoms Robert and Carol gave me.

Pre-Raphaelite art, nature photography

Here’s a better shot of Rob’s work.  And of Carol’s.  Beautiful, aren’t they?

This day is starting off quite hard for me, so I’m trying to focus on my gratitude, my bounty, and my friends.  The rest will take care of itself.

Fewer Doritos, More Gene Kelly

handmade greeting cards, collage artNow that the whole Valentine’s Day business is over, I can get back to the posts that REALLY matter.  Me.  Me Me Me.  Me.

Sometimes I’m dumbfounded by my self-absorption, my complete lack of empathy or interest in anyone else.  I always heard this is what happens when a person lives alone for too long—there’s no one around to poke holes in the ego, no one to interrupt the flow of internal dialogue.  And I suppose those of us with mental illness have a predisposition to belly-button gazing.  We’re taught to monitor our internal world carefully.  We build complicated sieves to sift through every emotional burp and gurgle.

So, when I have to spend time with others, it takes me a few minutes to adjust my worldview.  It’s a refocusing of the camera from micro to macroscopic.  And there’s always a little vertigo involved if the shift happens too fast.  But, I seem to still do okay, interacting with others.  I can still pull out my ability to be with someone and listen to them without making everything they say about me.  I can still sit in a group and join the discussion without spiraling off on a tangent like my brother, a bachelor all his life and firmly ensconced in a World of Me.

But, I’m finding my tolerance for the macroview shrinking.  I don’t seem to understand people the way I used to.  Motives, and machinations, and offenses seem incomprehensible.  Other people take note of subtle nuances, remember details of previous conversations, maneuver chit chat with charm and ease.

As Time Goes By, Judi Dench, Geoffrey Palmer

All that stuff happens somewhere over my left shoulder, out of sight, beyond my reckoning.  And trying to fix on those things exhausts me.  It’s like trying to learn a new language by emersion—everyone is speaking gibberish.

So, I end up running back to my little apartment, pulling on my pajama pants, eating a sack of Doritos, and watching three seasons of As Time Goes By just to blow off the agitation.

Great Expectations, 2011, Helena Bonham Carter, Miss HavishamPeople are hard work.  There are days I want to give them up, like a bad habit.  Instead of quitting Doritos, I’ll quit people.  But I know that’s a slippery slope mental health-wise.  Affiliation.  Belonging.  Support.  Socialization.  These are bedrock words in the How to Be Less Looney Handbook.  And I have a feeling that the road to Crazy Cat Lady would be very short indeed if I went cold turkey on people.  Something along the lines of Miss Havisham with calicos.

Gene Kelly, Singing in the RainIt’s an edge I must continue to explore—how to be a social animal without depleting my energy or overstimulating my nerves.  It’s a dance, sometimes stumbling over my own feet, sometimes gliding gracefully.  Like everything else in my life, the dance changes—new  music, new partners, new steps—and I’ll keep trying.  But, I’ll also keep practicing my solo, because coming home to myself needs to be a place of joy as well as rest.

Fewer Doritos, more Gene Kelly.

Watch Me Pull a Rabbit Outta the Hat

Rocky and BullwinkleI really don’t think anyone else is interested in my financial prestidigitations.  I’m just opting for transparency.  Since compulsive behavior is part of my bipolar kit, I need to open it up for inspection.  And since living on Social Security Disability is a fact of life for lots of folks with mental illness, maybe we can trade magic tricks on how to make those dollars stretch.

Even though I started tightening my belt a week before, the real test came with my February check.  It seemed silly to be nervous about walking into the bank with my little list—a month’s worth of quarters for laundry, a $50 bill for the car fund, and cash for the week’s groceries and gas.  Nervous, I guess, because I don’t do this very well—sticking to what feels like severe restriction.  So, I tried to reframe my thoughts.  Not restriction, stewardship and different choices.  I’m making different choices about how I spend my money.  I’m doing this.  It’s not being done to me.

I know a big part of budgeting is planning.  I’m an expert list-maker and always have A Plan.  I’m just not as hot at actually implementing The Plan.  The bipolar part of the equation gets in my way.  Knowing that about myself makes any plan tentative—possible, but not probable.  Planning seems to set me up for failure, so I’ve learned to make plans loose and friendly to give them a fighting chance.

I made a loose meal plan, a handful of ideas for meals that I could mix and match—stir fries, chili,  roasted vegetables, hummus wraps—then made a grocery list from that.  This week I had plenty in my food budget for the initial shopping trip, plus a little left over.  That little bit extra felt expansive to me—I could get cornbread mix to go with my chili or a frozen pizza later in the week if I wanted to.  Since cooking still makes me anxious sometimes (especially when I’m under stress), it helped to have this bit of breathing space.

Fridley Theaters gift cardI didn’t bother trying to walk in this cold, and managed fine on my budget of $15 a week for gas.  I’m surprised that staying home hasn’t felt restrictive, especially since I’ve experienced several days of depression and anxiety.  Usually that makes me want to bolt.  I went to the movies a couple of times here in town on the gift cards I received for Christmas.  My friends and my sister treated me to meals out.  I’m also still seeing my therapist every week.  So even though I’ve been cycling fast and hard, I seem to have enough distraction and support to keep the symptoms manageable.

The new mental health program I learned about last week is Medicaid-funded, so I probably don’t qualify.  I make too much money.  But a friend does pay me a little bit each month for odd jobs, and that might be enough to qualify me as working disabled.  This makes no sense to me, but that’s a whole other post.  It does look like I will be reimbursed for about half of the rent I paid in 2013 (who knew?).  That would pay off all my medical debt.  Sweet!

This is hard.  But, I’m hoping the longer I stick with this budget and continue to see results, the more comfortable I’ll get with it.  The most important factor is to reduce my stress, make this as easy as possible, so that my symptoms don’t overwhelm me.  That’s the rabbit I keep fishing for inside the hat.

The Beagle and the Teacup

handmade greeting card, collage artI’m breaking one of my Golden Rules by not telling you how crazy I am at the moment.

Honesty.  That’s what I pledged.

So, okay.

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.

Preferred Pest Control, bed bug, beagleThen, 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.

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