Fat Girls Rock

I swam 30 laps in the Y pool yesterday.  Fat girls rock.

SoulCollage card "The First Way"

SoulCollage card “The First Way”

This Mixed State

Old MagicThe Brain-Gerbil runrunruns in his cage, his fur sweat-slick, his claws clickety-tick in the Wheel.  Can you hear it spinning?  Whurrrrrrrt… Whurrrrrrrt… Whurrrrrrrt…   Can you see his eyes?  All instinct, all dead-panic, they stare unseeing.  He doesn’t even know he’s running.

And at the same time, mist rolls in on the Moors, grey-green smoke, thick and wet, chill enough to raise gooseflesh.  She stands on the cliff’s edge, a dark shape, the One Who Waits.  Her longing unfurls like fevered ribbons into the fog, unfocused, cast out like a line into spawning waters.

Focus.  Stop at the dentist, the eye doctor, the pharmacy.  Ask for year-end accounts for the rent recertification report.  Important.  Be thorough.  Be careful.  Remember to make copies of everything.  Rent is bound to go up this year.  How much?  Don’t think about that now.  Focus.  Focus.

More underwear comes in the mail.  It’s the middle of the story of finding the perfect fit, of finding comfort.  Out tumble little plastic packages, the sound like beetles hissing.  Loud.  They stare, shiny, from the bed.  Stare and stare.  Reach for one, but the plastic is too sharp.  Cover the pile with a towel.  Later.

Kodaline in the car.  It’s the Gerbil singing, the Ingenue, all of them.  Sing loud.  Sing with the moon-roof open.  Let all the air and sound go.

One day it’s here and then it’s gone
How are you still holding on?
How are you still holding on?

You’ve felt this way for far too long
Waiting for a change to come
You know you’re not the only one

Intensive Care

Collage art, greeting card artSince July, I’ve been in a program called Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation.  It’s Medicaid-funded and designed to help those of us with “serious and persistent mental illness to achieve goals that improve success and satisfaction in living, learning, working and socializing.”

It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced in any kind of health care service—thorough, gentle, involved, deep.  For these first six months, I’ve met with my IPR Facilitator (Aly) two to three times a week just gauging my motivation and willingness to go through the process—doing lots of assessments, looking at self-awareness and life satisfaction, and meeting in a small group to hear how others are doing the same.

I believe my participation in IPR is a big reason for my greater stability during the last half of 2014, but maybe not because of the actual work I do in the program.  I get to spend four to six hours a week with a caring professional, talking about my life and my illness, who gives me useful feedback.  Considering that I see my therapist weekly, that gives me up to seven hours a week of therapeutic support.

I can’t begin to explain how lovely that is, to have somewhere to go every several days a week where I feel safe, heard, challenged, and successful all at the same time.  I have felt parts of me relaxing that have been clenched for years.  The notion that I could be kinder and gentler to myself grew naturally from this place of safety and care.  The outrageous idea that everything about my life—the wild and warp-speed mood swings, the practical struggles with money and relationships, my weight, my compulsions, my delusions, my mistakes and mis-steps—could be accepted and given a place at my internal table became my new mantra.  “Yes, that, too.”

This increase in professional support prodded me to start searching in different ways for more natural support.  I found a wonderful, active community at the Des Moines Unitarian Church, signed-up for a class there in SoulCollage®, met some interesting people and sang.  I started reaching out to my old friends in Minnesota.  I joined Facebook, fer cripes sake.

World She InhabitsOver the last few weeks, my work in IPR has taken me on a new journey of discovery.  My focus in the program is on my Living Environment, to assess and eventually set a goal about where I live.  This could also include a “Staying” goal if my current home turns out to be best for me.  We looked at all the places I’ve ever lived, which ones I liked most and least and why.  Aly asked me to imagine my perfect space, perfect neighborhood, perfect part of the country—to dream big and with extravagance.  We’ve spent time tweezing out my values and preferences and laying them over my ideas about home.

One of the many assessment parameters Aly used was to imagine what the significant people in my life would say about my current living environment, about the idea of moving elsewhere, and what their concerns might be.  I try hard not to presume what others think about me, so I wasn’t sure.  But I thought in general they considered me successful  (This is an IPR term.  It means that you generally stay out of jail and the hospital, that you can perform self-care, do basic housekeeping, and partake in enjoyable activities in your home.  Luckily, I rock at being successful).

This exercise made me curious to know what my friends and family really thought, so I started asking them.  It’s always a little scary to ask people what they think of me.  They all carry memories that I’ve lost, things I’ve said in the past, events and experiences fried out of existence by ECT.  Plus, an outsider’s view of my often-times incomprehensible behavior can carry an emotional charge for them.  I’ve done a lot of weird and hurtful things in my bipolarness, and turning over those rocks can be deadly.  But, getting that outside perspective is valuable for someone with mental illness.  We get trapped in our own faulty musings.  Someone else’s reality can be shocking, but life-saving.

As it turned out, they do think I’m successful, but another theme started appearing.  As I’ve reached out to my friends in Minnesota, they all to a person have said, “We don’t know why you moved in the first place.  It never made sense to us.  This is your home.”  And even my sister, who orchestrated my exodus from Minneapolis, said, “You’ve worked hard, made friends and have a routine in Marshalltown, but Minnesota is home…”

My compulsive side would do something with this information.  I’m choosing to just add it to my IPR file along with all the other assessments and data.  It will be a while yet before I actually choose a goal in my Living Environment.  In the meantime, I want to keep practicing this kinder, gentler attitude.  I want to keep attending UU services on Sunday.  I want to schedule my next visit to Minneapolis and spend time with those people who still love me and remember me.  I want to spend time with the people here in Iowa who love and support me, too.  I want to keep an open mind, explore, evaluate.  I want to keep being successful.

Because, you know, I’m on an Adventure.

A Good Clean-Out

pythonTV and movies started infiltrating my personal lexicon ages ago.  You know how that goes—little phrases and lines start popping out of your mouth as if you made them up.  Monty Python downloaded quite a few (“I fart in your general direction” and “It’s just a flesh wound”).  So did Star Trek (“You’re disrupting the space/time continuum” and Worf’s “I am NOT a merry man”).  Then, the odder bits, like Gena Davis in The Fly (“Be afraid.  Be very afraid.”) and the weird dinner scene in Brazil (“Salt?”).

judiAnd because I’m such an anglophile, I love vacuuming up odd bits of British lingo from the BBC shows.  One of my favorites comes from As Time Goes By, the show with Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer that ran from 1992-2002.  Whenever Judi’s character, Jean, got worried or fussy, she always decided it was time to “have a good clean-out.”  This usually involved pulling everything out of the cupboard under the stairs and putting it all back again.  She never got rid of anything, but burned up all that nervous energy (and irritated Lionel to no end).

Every year during the holidays, I wrack my brain to find a better, easier way to get through the weird mix of nostalgia, brain chemistry stew, bell-ringers, too much sugar and YMCA closings.  The holidays are a big trigger for my bipolar disorder, but I had a few things in my favor this year.  happy lightAs cold as this sounds, with both parents dead and my siblings celebrating in Oklahoma, there were no expectations, no guilt, no pressure.  Also, I’d just come back from visiting my dear friend, Lily, who gets me.  And I had my new Happy Light to beam full spectrum cheer at me (judiciously, as too much can speed up the rapid cycling).  But what I really needed was a project to occupy my brain and keep me busy.

I decided on my own clean-out.

I’ve been snipping bits of magazine text for about five years now.  I look for things that might make a fun caption to one of my cards and store them in little zip-lock baggies, alphabetized and bound together with ring binders—sort of like a caption Rolodex.  I keep a master list on my computer and print it out every so often when I have a bunch of new stuff I’ve added.  My list had become 60 pages long with two columns of 7-point type.  What was all this stuff?

Clean Out

So, I started dumping out the little baggies and really looking at the bits I’d collected.  Most of the time, I do this gleaning when I can’t do anything else, when my illness is at its worst and the only thing I can do is sit with scissors and snip.  While I’m always cognizant that the gleans are for my art, I found that most of them reflected my state of mind at the time, or made me feel better.  I found a lot of gleans about suicide and mental illness, but also lots of snippets about mindfulness, hope and courage.  It was like reading a different kind of diary.

I finished my clean-out last night and printed the revised list (20 pages instead of 60) of captions that will become cards.  But I came away with a deeper respect for my gleaning process.  Without knowing it, I comforted myself when I needed comfort the most.  I let the words I needed draw me to them.  And, once in a while, I found something to put on a card.

“That’ll do, pig.  That’ll do.”

Books I Read in 2014

  1. gracelingCashore, Kristin.  Graceling.  After doing well with The Hunger Games series (see below), I asked my friend, Joa, the kids’ librarian at our public library, for more of the same.  She recommended this fun story—a yummy mix of tyrannical lords, secret societies, and gracelings—odd-balls born with special gifts.  Gracelings might be clairvoyant, or master chefs, or good at math, but the heroine, Katsa, is a killing machine and started her life as an assassin at age 8.  Written well with interesting characters and a rolling plot, this was a good choice.  Thanks, Joa.
  2. Collins, Suzanne.  The Hunger Games.  After watching the third movie, Mockingjay, Part One, I came out of the theater bewildered.  Obviously, I’d missed something.  Maybe the books told more of the story.  So, I started in on the series.  I understand why teens love these books.  jennifer-lawrenceDystopias are great for sticking it to the authority figures (grown ups), and Katniss is a great surly teen.  I liked her and Peeta.  I thought her obsession with food was understandable, since most of the time she and her family are starving, but the same attention to fashion seemed dopey.  Fun for teens?  Anyway, it was an easy read, which was reason enough for me to finish the books.
  3. Collins, Suzanne.  The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  Ditto.  I really liked the way Collins develops Katniss’ ambivalence about Peeta and Gale.  She loves them both.  How will that play out?  Now I want to know.  Whether or not the Capitol gets overthrown is secondary to me.  Of course it will, and people will die, but who will Katniss finally pick?  That’s the question on all teen-girls’ minds, I’m sure.
  4. Collins, Suzanne.  The Hunger Games: Mockingjay.  Now I’m ready for the final movie without so much head-scratching.  I love Jennifer Lawrence, so I’d go no matter what.
    kings
  5. Irving, John.  The Cider House Rules.  It’s weird that I’ve never read John Irving.  As a bookstore manager all through the ’80s, I midwifed three of his bestsellers during Christmas rushes and bagged his backlist regularly.  I always meant to read him.  So, when I watched the movie version of Cider House for the umpteenth time, crying over Michael Caine’s performance and loving Toby Maguire as Homer Wells, I became resolved to try.  I’m still daunted by “good” books because of my ECT-induced reading disability.  But, I think my brain is healing.  Cider House is the best story I’ve read in years, fried brain or no fried brain.  I ached for every character—they were all so clear and real—and fell completely under Wilber Larch’s spell.  I will be checking out more John Irving from the library this year.
  6. Kaàberbol, Lene.  The Shamer’s Daughter.  Dina’s mother is a Shamer—someone who can look a person in the eye and see all their shame.  It’s a cool trait for solving disputes and bringing the guilty to justice, but makes for a lonely life.  When the Shamer is called to convict a murderer, and she knows he’s innocent, things go bad for her and her daughter.  It’s a good, solid story with a spunky heroine.  I would have loved this Young Adult book when I was ten, and I liked it just fine as someone a bit older than that.
  7. King, Stephen.  Doctor Sleep.  The story catches us up with Danny Torrence, the little boy from The Shining.  A definite PTSD survivor and son of an alcoholic, the kid’s got a lot stacked against him.  Steve would know, being a recovered drug addict and alcoholic himself.  He’s told how he wrote most of The Shining stoned, and now writes of Dan’s struggles and many demons with authenticity.  In truth, Dan’s internal demons are much more interesting that the actual bad guys of the novel, but, as always, Steve provides a great yarn.Stephen-King-Dr-Sleep
  8. King, Stephen,  Joyland.  I found this paperback by accident.  I thought I needed a book to take on the plane to England with me, looked in the grocery store, and found my best friend waiting for me.  Clean liven’, baby!  Joyland is part of Titan Publishing’s Hard Case Crime series, which immediately tickled my fancy.  I thought this one might harken back to Steve’s Richard Bachman stories.  That and more.  Think Green Mile, think Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.  Poignant, nostalgic, scary in a real way.  A Thousand Stars.
  9. flight behaviorKingsolver, Barbara.  Flight Behavior.  Once upon a time, Kingsolver was one of my favorite authors.  But after electroshock, it was her book Lacuna that made me realize something was very wrong.  So I wondered whether the hex was still on her works for me, if it was the syntax, or subject matter, or even the font size that made my brain foam at the mouth.  But, the brain is more resilient that medical science first believed.  I fell in love all over again with Kingsolver’s turn of phrase, her humor, her complicated and contradictory characters.  And there’s fascinating ecological information, too, about why the monarch butterflies that winter in Mexico chose to roost in Delarobia Turnbow’s Appalachian pine forest.  Score on so many levels.
  10. Lamb, Wally.  She’s Come Undone.  My friend Michelle at The Green Study and TGS Zen Garden recommended this one.  It’s a wonderful/horrible story about a girl’s life growing up traumatized and obese with a wicked tongue and killer sense of humor.  I loved the characters, cheered the protagonist, and had no idea where the story would take me.  I love being surprised by a new (to me) author.  I’ll go back for more of Wally Lamb.
  11. wallyLamb, Wally.  We Are Water.  My second dip into Wally-World, and the water’s fine.  He’s still exploring trauma and the way it warps and lingers in family dynamics, in communities, in history.  This story is told through the voices of the characters, principly Annie Oh, the angry assemblage artist; Orion, her psychologist husband;  and their grown children.  But there are others on the fringe that connect the Ohs to an outsider artist who died on their property.  Other voices fill in the gaps that the main characters can’t or won’t.  This is a real gift of a story.
  12. Lamb, Wally.  I Know This Much Is True.  The third book I’ve read from this author.  They just keep getting better and better.  This story takes identical twin brothers—one schizophrenic and one coping with the real world—and twines in generations of anger, abuse, lies, secrets and redemption.  An amazing blend of culture, history, psychology and pain.  Cripes, I love this guy.
  13. Pratchett, Terry.  Snuff.  I love Pratchett’s Disk World series—British humor with lots of poking fun at British stereotypes and tropes.  This is one of the Night Watch stories with Commander Sam Vimes, a crusty soldier married to a Lady and at a loss in refined society.  All he needs is a good murder or some thievery to make him feel at home.  Completely satisfying.
  14. florida quoteScott-Maxwell, Florida.  The Measure of My Days.  A gift from blog-buddy David Kanigan, this lovely, little book explores the author’s thoughts on life and death from an 80-something perspective.  It’s a call to mindfulness for anyone with any perceived loss of function or status in life.  It’s one of those books you have to look up from once in a while to ponder what you just read.  Beautiful.

I Knew What Was Coming

I bought my ticket in advance.  I put on lipstick.  But I knew what was coming.

Thorin BoFAThe Hobbit has been one of my favorite books since I was in junior high.  I wrote my Senior Thesis on Tolkien.  I’m in love with Richard Armitage.  But I knew what was coming.

Everyday for the last few weeks, I’ve whipped from depression to hysteria.  I wondered, since I knew what was coming, if going to the movie now was wise.

But, I went to the premiere last night and sat in a full house of other Tolkien geeks who cheered and wailed along with me. Because we knew what was coming.  And it was glorious.

And as an additional kick to the emotional gonads, Billy Boyd (Pippin from The Lord of the Rings) sings the theme song.  In this YouTube piece, his song overlays all six of the movies Peter Jackson crafted from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings along with behind the scenes moments.  Those are mostly of the cast and crew saying their own farewells.  Excuse me while I go get another box of Kleenex.

Channeling Scarlett

scarlettI wish I had something new to say about rapid cycling and mixed states.  I wish I had a pithy “Ah-Ha” moment to relate, something inspiring and brave that illustrates the worthiness of the fight.  Maybe I’m just not there yet.  I’m still in the middle of it, so my perspective is limited.  I can only see the bark on one tree, not the forest.

For what it’s worth, here’s what I believe to be true:  Almost everything in my head right now is a lie.  It’s the almost that’s tricky, especially since my discernment is faulty, too.  This is when I try not to think, try not to problem-solve or make decisions.  This is when I discard the first, second, and third reaction to what people say to me, or their silences.  This is when I don’t trust myself to look in a mirror, or feed the lies by buying clothes or watching the news.  This is when I pare everything down to its simplest form and stick to a schedule:  Get up, Swim, Get Coffee, Journal, etc.  This is when I spend my time pulling pictures out of magazines and organizing my vintage photos.  This is when I text my friends and say, “Tell me you love me,” then try to accept their immediate responses.

There’s something about rapid cycling and mixed states that filters out the loving and positive while reinforcing the hateful and negative.  It’s part of the illness.  It’s not who I am, though for decades, I believed it was.  All the hurtful, doubting thoughts sound true, feel true.  Sometimes I can see the falseness, sometimes I can’t.  Sometimes the best I can do is channel Scarlett O’Hara.  I won’t think about that now.  I’ll think about it tomorrow.  That way I don’t have to decide if the thought stream gurgling through my head is true or not.  That, in itself, is restful.

Because I know, with bipolar disorder, with rapid cycling and mixed states Tomorrow is Another Day.

A Little Something

When rapid cycling hits like this, I always feel like a hot mess.  The reality is never as bad as it feels inside, but sometimes that Truth is hard to find.  It helps to have a little something to show for my time.

I finished my Solstice Cards and got them sent out—a project that took two months exactly.  After a big project, I always feel at loose ends anyway.  With the bipolar stuff added on this time, I’m pretty goofy.  So, I tried to make a few cards for my Etsy site this weekend.  I haven’t done that in a while, and it helped.

My “Star Trek Line” isn’t hugely popular, but they make me happy.  That’s all that matters right now.  I’ll get these added to the inventory a little later today, but wanted to share—to prove that I’m still me inside the hot mess.

Double Ah

Iconic

Daddy Issues

Tumble Damp

Chevron

I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.  — Alice

After a very long spell of hypomania—a delicious month of productivity, creativity and blissful good-humor—I seem to have fallen into an industrial-sized clothes dryer set on tumble.  Rapid cycling wakes me up with hyper-vigilance and terror, then flops into stultifying depression, with a finishing spin of insomnia and obsession.  Tumble, tumble.

In times like these, it’s best not to take anything seriously—not the spiky little thoughts in my head, or any plan I had for the day, or misconstrued texts, or the dog barking across the street.  Better to put on comfy clothes and make popcorn.  Better to turn on all the twinkle lights in the apartment and light incense.  Better to read something like The Hunger Games that won’t tax my dendrites in the least.

And when the silly megrims come calling, better to smile at their oddness and offer raison toast.

Everything is funny, if you can laugh at it.  —  Lewis Carroll

Solstice Card v.2014

J.K. SimmonsCreating my Winter Solstice cards is something I look forward to every year.  It’s work and joy bundled together, my way of connecting to the people I love and admire.  It’s also my version of a holiday gift.  I stopped trying to give gifts when I went on Disability, but I can still send a little bit of art.

I also send one to a someone involved in making movies, someone whose work particularly touched me that year.  It feels important to tell folks how they help me manage during the worst of my bipolarness.  I don’t imagine they get that kind of feedback very often.  I sent one to Peter Jackson after the first Hobbit movie saved me from a winter of despair.  This year, I chose a long-time favorite, J.K. Simmons (if you haven’t seen Whiplash yet, run to your theater this second).

Original Artwork of Collage Assemblage Artist Andrea Matus deMengWhen I got back from England in September and immediately got sick with bronchitis, I took myself to the Barnes and Noble to comfort myself by looking through art magazines.  I knew I had to start thinking about my Solstice cards as they often take months to complete (I usually make about 60 of them), but had absolutely no ideas in my snotty head.

Then, I opened the September/October issue of Somerset Studio and found the feature on Andrea Matus de Meng.  Her work stunned me.  Could I do something like this for my Solstice card?  Wait.  Instead of using vintage photographs this time, could I draw something provocative?  The thought of doing my own sketching lit a fire and I went to work.

The bronchitis is gone, but the fire isn’t.  I’ve been hard at work on my cards for about six weeks.  I open my Pandora station, microwave a mug of chai, pull on my ratty and paint smeared sweatshirt, sit at my table and let the magic happen.  Here’s what that’s like:

Gathering Materials

It takes some trial and error to figure out what materials to use.  First I pick the card stock for the card itself—this time, Poppy Parade from Stampin’Up®.  I love the quality of their card stock.  This color is discontinued (I can get the “retired” products cheaper), but I had a bunch on hand.

Step 1I knew I wanted to use paint instead of ink this year, so I sorted through my collection of Lumiere acrylics—luscious paint with a metallic sheen.  Then, I just started experimenting.  The photo above shows all the materials I ended up using for each card.  It’s even a little shocking to me when I see everything together in one pile.

As a base for the collage, I took sheets from my parents’ farm bookkeeping ledger, cut them to size, and painted them.  I wasn’t sure which color would look best, so I painted a few of each color.  They all worked, so I continued this first step using six different Lumiere colors.  I like leaving interesting details unpainted (like the row numbers on the ledger), but I knew they’d probably get covered over later.  That’s okay.  It’s my little secret.

Step 2Next, I collaged pages from a tiny, antique book.  I’m assuming it’s some sort of accounting or actuarial text, but it’s in German, and I really have no idea what these little tables are.  I don’t care.  The graphics and foreign language rock!  Once the Mod Podge dried, I painted them.

Step 3Next, I added music from a Temperance song book from the early 1900s.  I love this little book.  Some of the song titles include “Away! Away! The Sparkling Wine,” “The Teetotallers Are Coming,” and “Beautiful Water” (because they tried to promote water as a beverage instead of demon booze).  Music adds a nice graphic, and I love using it.

Step 4After the music dried and got its coat of pain, I added a fun layer of graphics.  This started as pieces ripped out of vintage dress patterns, but I didn’t have many of those.  What I did have was some seamstress’ tissue paper from the 1930s—deliciously yellowed and fragile.  So I drew some of my own simple graphics with a marker and used that.  Tissue is great for adding depth while letting the color and design underneath show through.  Along with this layer I collaged equations from an antique German geometry text.  Again, I couldn’t resist foreign language and numbers.  Yum!

Step 6After drying and painting came the last layer on this background collage—letters from a vintage children’s reading primer, a section from an old spelling handbook, and either bits from another German book on Hieroglyphics or one on Chemistry.  Once that all dried and got a touch of Bronze Lumiere, I was ready to put together my central image.

I drew my Winter Solstice shamans on a 1906 copy of The Youth’s Companion, a newspaper-like publication for young adults.  I thought the small, delicate type face would lend an interesting texture.  The faces also got a touch of white acrylic paint and a touch-up with black gel pen.

Shaman 1

Then, I went to work on the shaman’s headdress.  From my bucket of fabric scraps, I pulled a nice, gold brocade and sewed beads onto strips that would become a sort of drape (think ancient Egypt or Mayan).

Shaman 2

Next came the feathers.

Shaman 3

Then, the headband.  The gold braid and pearls came from a necklace my mom wore before I was born (so, yeah, it’s really vintage).   I added more pearls from my bead stash (I’ve got a little bit of everything).

Shaman 4

And, finally, microbeads to tie the headdress together.

Shaman 5

Step 7I also wanted to do something a little different for the greeting inside the card.  I have a “Solstice Greetings” stamp, but I thought the nature of the outside ought to be reflected on the inside.  So I opted to dash a couple of layers of Lumiere on The Youth’s Companion and hand-write my holiday greeting with white gel pen.  I layered that over a snippet of music from a 1932 The Etude magazine, then spritzed it with Gossamer Gold Moon Shadow Mist from Lindy’s Stamp Gang (great stuff).

I’m pleased with all aspects of this project—the stretch to my creative muscle, the meditative time with my bits and bobs, the chance to give something that delights me, both inside…

Step Final Greeting

And outside.

Solstice 2014

May your holiday season be as rewarding and juicy.

 

 

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