Ghosts in the Fence-Line

She's a FighterA friend once introduced me by saying, “This is Sandy—she has shitty boundaries.”

At the time, he was absolutely right.

I was coerced into a sexual relationship by a doctor who was treating me.  One of my therapists was a sexual predator.  I didn’t see either of them coming.

Since then, I’ve worked hard at keeping control of my own power.  It still takes time to realize I’m being stepped on or pushed, but when the lightbulb goes off, I push back now.  It’s difficult and painful, since the old traumas tend to rise from their graves when I stand up for myself.  I’m told this is a form of PTSD.  Great.  One more acronym for my file.

Like everything else, if it takes too much effort to push back, or the discomfort of it is too much, I bolt.  Run from the danger, run from the past, run-run-run.  But, I’m working hard at that, too—working to stretch my tolerance for distress, which includes the distress of planting my fence posts in the ground and defending them.

I had to do that at work this past week.  I have a set schedule that I can count on now—1:30-4:30, Monday-Friday.  I can plan around it.  I can plan on it.  But some of my co-workers keep trying to undermine it.  “Can you meet with a client at 10:00?”  No.  “Can you come with me at 1:00?”  No.  “If you could flex a bit,” they say.  Or the last straw for me on Monday—”We can wait until you’re ready.”  Ready for what?  To be valid?  To be Normal?

I watched my brain do it’s thing—thrash around with the Ghosts of Boundaries Lost and make preparations to quit the job.  But, then a miracle happened.  I’ve been watching this s-l-o-w shift for a while now.  It’s like my mind puffs out, a little more air in the pink balloon up there, and other options present themselves.  Suddenly, I remembered that my boss is on my side, that she wants me on the team.  So, I sent her a careful email.  “Help.  Do you have any ideas?”

Her response was immediate.  “I didn’t know this was happening.  I’m sorry.  It will never happen again—I’ll make sure of it.”

So, when I met with Luke Skywalker yesterday (my interim therapist), the Ghosts were swirling.  Just walking into his office brings them up anyway—he’s my care-provider, he’s a guy.  The Crypt yawns wide.  He gave me some options—stick them back in the vault for the time being and play a game of Uno with him instead or take them on.  I’m not one for pussy-footing, so I said, “Come on, let’s go.”

Most of that work yesterday was simply staying with the feelings as they rose and fell—terror, shame, guilt, self-hatred, self-recrimination.  There were moments I couldn’t catch my breath, moments I cried so hard it scared me worse than the emotion.  As I write about it now, a sudden swell of despair passes through me.  It’s so strong it washes in the idea that death would stop the pain.  The return of that old impulse, however fleeting, shocks me.  And pisses me off.  How dare those old perverts still have any control over me!

It’s always a restless night when the Ghosts swarm, so I’m heading off to the pool a little bleary-eyed and emotionally hung-over.   But, I’m heading off to the pool.  And then to my new therapy group, and then to work.  Because I’m getting good at mending my fences.  And I’ve got the barbed wire scars to prove it.

“Muddle, Muddle, Soil and Scrubble”

shocked will

“By the ticking of my gums! Yon convicted speaks in tongues!”

This reads like Shakespeare to me.  Just an example of how my brain is functioning these days.

It’s a comprehensive mixed bag, this version of my life.  Enormous gifts and luxury garbled with great loss strangled by stress and cracked open by success.  I don’t have a map for this place.  I don’t know the language.  I’ve given up looking too closely at it because it just makes me pukey.

What I’ve decided to do is just stand still.  If I’m giddy in the morning and too depressed to move by lunchtime, I try to just be that.  If I touch a client in some way or receive a compliment, I try to just feel it.  If I get into my mom’s car and weep when I find one of her nail files (she had millions), I sit with myself through the wave of grief.  If I try to eat a whole pizza for supper and end up getting sick, I listen for the fear that wants to be buried under food.  If I feel a glut of old trauma pushing at me when I work with Ben (because he’s a boy, and I’ve had trouble with boys who “help”), I let it come.

It’s too hard otherwise.  Too violent.  Too disrespectful.

I’m worthy of kindness and attention.  I deserve to be considered.  I don’t have to be anything other than me in this moment.

This lesson is not easy to learn.

Which is why I keep getting the chance to try.

Maybe when I get on the other side of this uncharted, alien landscape I’ll have a better idea of what it was.

Or not.

It really doesn’t matter.

This is what matters.

I’m what matters.

The Good Fight

RobinI have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.

Robin Williams was one of us.  Mood disorder, addiction, recovery, relapse—he fought the good fight with his mental illness and demons.  Like all of us he won and lost, won and lost.  How any of us find the strength to get up again is a miracle.  And Robin performed miracles all his life—in his art, in how he used his celebrity to support worthy causes, in his love for a family he couldn’t quite hold together, in the way he kept surprising and delighting us.  But, mostly in his struggle to rise after each defeat.

I understand how hard that is.  I understand how the strength stayed just out of reach this time.  I understand how much he must have wanted the pain to stop and simply to rest.

He feels like a brother to me in so many ways.  He touched me deeply , and I’ll miss him.

Rest well, Robin.

Amber Run & London Contemporary Voices

Thanks to David Kanigan for first posting this piece of heaven.

David is my music guru.

Amber Run – I Found

I’ll use you as a warning sign
That if you talk enough sense then you’ll lose your mind
I’ll use you as focal point
So I don’t lose sight of what I want
I’ve moved further than I thought I could
But I miss you more than I thought I would
I’ll use you as a warning sign
That if you talk enough sense then you’ll lose your mind

I found love where it wasn’t supposed to be
Right in front of me
Talk some sense to me

I’ll use you as a makeshift gauge
Of how much to give and how much to take
I’ll use you as a warning sign
That if you talk enough sense then you’ll lose your mind

I found love where it wasn’t supposed to be
Right in front of me
Talk some sense to me

I found love where it wasn’t supposed to be
Right in front of me
Talk some sense to me

The Other Shoe

It was inevitable.  Stress + Bipolar Disorder = Bipolar Disorder.

Also a Dark SideI flopped around all yesterday morning, hoping this dive might even out before it was time to go in to work, but, alas, no.  So, I Instant Messaged my boss and a couple of my co-workers, and tried not to feel like a dip-shit on top of the bipolar mess.

It’s still really hard for me to believe that a workplace—any workplace—will put up with my limitations as an employee.  On top of what we’ve already negotiated, I have these days—these unpredictable absences.  They’re why I’ve lost or quit every other job I’ve ever had.  But, so far, everyone seems very cool about it.  More than that, all the responses have been incredibly kind and supportive.

Don’t worry.  Take care of yourself.  Sending Light and Healing.

I honestly don’t know what to do with that.  It’s a completely new experience for me.  And I’m afraid to trust it.

I’m also in a deep dive, so whatever my brain is churning out is unreliable.  My best course is to ignore all thought happening up there and concentrate on clearing an easy path through the weekend.

ITS FamilyPart of that will be to indulge in a little Richard Armitage.  His new movie “Into the Storm” is out this weekend.  It’s basically a horror movie with a killer tornado as the monster.  It’s special effects-driven—bad news for an actual story or interesting characters.  Oh, well.  It’s Richard.  And when I meet him in London (because I will wait at the stage door with the rest of the Armitage Army), I can tell him his Midwestern accent was spot-on.

I’m also going to Anytime Fitness since the Y is closed for cleaning.  Losing my pool for a whole week always throws me, so I knew I needed a real option this year.  They’ve got a nice recumbent bike, and I’ve got my iPod.  It will work.

I also started working on new cards with the old photos I found at my parents’ house.  I haven’t felt like doing art for a long time, but I know how it can help keep keep my brain busy on something positive.  I will make myself sit at my art table.  Something will come of it.

So, there’s A Plan.  And there’s Acceptance.  And there’s Waiting.

And that’s the best a bipolar girl can do when it’s raining shoes.

A Reluctant Rock-Star

Miss RockstarThese past four weeks have taught me a few things about work and me in a post-electroshock, ongoing-recovery age.

First, I need a steady schedule.  Routine is my best friend.  Without it I become crazy batter waiting for a nice oven to turn me into cupcakes.

Second, I need a place to use my skills.  I do have some and like to trot them out on occasion, if only to remind myself what they are.

Third, I’m pretty good at handling a crisis, but it takes a toll on me.  There’s a reason I never worked in an emergency room or intensive care.  Some people thrive on that adrenaline rush.  Me, it just makes hysterical.

So as I tallied up the week’s events at work, I noticed a disturbing trend.  My schedule resumed its rubber ball act, trying to land on all the meetings we’re forced to attend.  I spent most of my time making cold-calls to crazy people who really didn’t want what I was selling.  And everyday brought some kind of client crisis.

I knew it was a risk to campaign for a job that no one could describe.  I had no idea what I was getting into, but I was willing to wait and see what happened.  After sticking it out for a month, I decided it was time to pull the plug.  I typed up a resignation letter and gave it to my boss today.

I felt good about it.  Four weeks working in chaos and on a learning curve like the Himalayas felt like success to me.  I hadn’t blown up in a bipolar blitz.  I even contributed.  I could leave gracefully, without torching any bridges.  I looked forward to recovering from the stress and getting back to TechCon.  I’d left Carrie and Robert alone for too long.

But my boss had other ideas.  She simply refused to accept my resignation.  I can’t remember all the incredible things she said about me, but it was clear she would do anything to make me stay.  I needed a set schedule?  Done.  Never mind that the government says some meetings are mandatory.  “I will take care of it,” she said, “because this is what you need.”

I don’t like making the enrollment calls?  Forget about them.  I’m uncomfortable dealing with clients in crisis?  Let the Care Coordinators do that.  So, what the heck would I be doing?

I’m to be a consultant for the rest of the team and maybe, if I feel like it, work with a few clients each week.

Are you shittin‘ me?

What do you do when someone values you so much they take away every obstacle?

Jeez, I guess you stay.

Safety Girl

LukeSo, I saw Ben this week—my substitute therapist who looks like Luke Skywalker in Episode IV.  I like him a lot.  I just keep expecting him to mutter, “Stay on target.  Stay on target.”

Those introductory sessions can be awkward and, honestly, boring.  I’m so sick of telling my story.  Ancient history.  So, instead we talked about us—how Ben works, how I work, what I need from him.  We laughed, I cried, we made another appointment.

He said he digs superhero movies, which endeared me to him immediately.  He also said he was big on themes in therapy, which made absolute sense.  People have patterns and some kind of energy generates those patterns.  Identifying the common threads that run through our lives and calling them themes has a nice, literary ring to it.  And nothing simplifies complex internal themes like a superhero, so this all fit nicely together in my fan-girl brain.

A theme he noticed in our discussion that day was safety.  Ahh, the Force is strong in this one.

Feeling safe—physically, financially, emotionally— drives me and is easily threatened.  And since Safety is pretty low on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (just one step above Breathing), it’s hard for me to advance to meeting higher needs.  Survival seems to be where I spend most of my time.

ElectraI like to think of myself as a Bad-Ass and courageous in my battle with bipolar disorder, but in most parts of my life I’m terrified.  I’m aware of this.  I watch my anxiety rise.  I watch my body respond to the flood of adrenaline.  I feel the fear tip my bipolar scales.

There’s no light saber that can slice through this old pattern.  All I can do is practice awareness, see when the theme is running me, and face it.

I guess that’s the real definition of courage—being scared shitless and facing the Dark Side anyway.  But, it’s always easier to do that with help.  Either a therapist or protocol robot will do.

Stronger and More Frayed

Vistas of BewildermentMiraculously, I’ve finished another week of work.  My life is both easier and harder.  Holding this paradox seems to be the Work set before me.

Easier:  Mom left me her 2011 Honda CRV, a car with features and comforts I never thought I’d have again.  I can hardly believe it’s mine.  After scraping a few dollars off the top of my disability check each month to save for a Smart Car, this thing of luxury dropped into my lap (or parking lot).  The first time I filled the gas tank, I cried.  It cost about half of what it took to fill my dad’s truck.

When Mom bought the car after Dad died, she said to me, “You know you’ll probably get this soon.”  It was just one of hundreds of references she made to her own death (It’s that thing old people do—”I won’t be around much longer, so you better…”).  I didn’t pay much attention.  I was glad she had a zippy little car that she loved.  Driving made her feel safe and in control.  I absolutely understand that.

Harder:  My schedule at work is all over the place—mornings, afternoons, mid-day.  I’ve told my supervisor that I need consistency.  I need time for my own self-care, and I need to be able to depend on it.  I’ve tried to hold my fifteen hours a week to afternoons, but this week was the worst so far.  And it’s all to make sure I attend an endless parade of mind-numbing meetings.  Some of them have been important—orientation to the organization, introductions to other agencies working with us, procedure—but most are irrelevant to my position.  Our boss wants us all to be cross-trained.  Part of that, I think, comes from not knowing what our jobs really are yet.  But the more of these meeting I go to, the more I can see what’s mine and what’s not mine to own.

Easier:   My boss relented on the meetings.  She created a buddy system, so my buddy will let me know if I miss anything important.  That allowed me to take charge of my own schedule.  I’m working 1:30-4:30 every day starting next week.  Good for me, but also good for the team.  Now they know when I’ll be available for client interviews and care conferences (what I should be doing).

Harder:  I had built up a reservoir of stability with my routine and daily monitoring.  That’s used up.  Everyday is a fight to turn my fear and negativity around.  Everyday I feel myself sliding toward lethargy and old habits.  I’m hypersensitive and my concentration is fragmenting.  I can still see it happening.  I can still pause, breathe, and choose not to react, but I’m getting so tired.

Yesterday I had to leave a meeting.  The woman leading it was one of those people who starts a sentence, restarts it, jumps to another topic, restarts that sentence and never gets to the point.  I know a couple of people like this.  They drive me ape-shit.  It’s a neurological thing—my nerves want to grab them by the throat.

Luckily, it was the end of my day, and I ran to the Chinese restaurant to eat lunch, listen to my iPod and journal.  It helped, but I’m not getting back to my set point like I used to.  I’m not able to repair the damage each day all this stress creates.  It’s only a matter of time before I really blow.

Easier:  Our parents left us some money.  It’s not enough to live on the rest of my life, but it will give me some breathing room.  I can do my laundry every week.  I can get some work clothes.  I can even plan a trip to the Southwest this winter to see if more sun and open space will keep me from needing hospital-level care come spring.  Poverty has been the biggest stressor in my life.  Mom and Dad knew that.  They planned their last act of love carefully to ease that for me.  I’m so grateful.

No matter what happens, no matter how the easy and the hard continue to play against each other, I am a success.  I have gone to work every day for three weeks.  That’s a miracle.  Walking through the office door is a miracle.  Waking up and doing it again is a miracle.  Even if it all stops today, I’ve triumphed.  No one can take that away from me.  It’s all mine.

Man, I freakin’ rock.

Tempest in a Teacup

Don't Know BeansHere I am, finishing up my second week of work.

The stress is enormous, not just for me, but for everyone trying to learn this new program and making up the next steps as they are needed.  The real challenge for me is to moderate the anxiety and pressure.  Under stress, I’m easily overwhelmed.  I’m like a teacup that flattens, slopping out my ability to concentrate and my emotional flexibility.  I lose capacity.

I also become reactive, and my first instinct is to bolt.  I run from the stressor, fling it off and dive into a hide-hole.  So, the words “I can’t do this” fly in and out of my head regularly.

But part of my personal journey is to work on increasing my tolerance to distress.  If I’m ever to make any lasting changes in my behavior and my life, I need to work this work situation like a puzzle.  What do I need to do to stretch my envelope of tolerance?  As always, I created a plan.

The first piece is to breathe.  It’s my starting point.  When the acronyms start flying and I can feel my body vibrating like a tuning fork, I stop and breathe deep into my belly.  It tells me to come back to myself.  It starts the process of flinging off the assumptions and negativity.  Breathing deep, I can remember why I’m doing this.  I can remember I don’t need to understand.  I can remember that I’m not alone.

I also realized that creating more structure would help soothe the anxiety, so I put an After Work plan in place.  I go straight home, change, and go to the Y to ride the recumbent bike for an hour.  That helps burn off some of the adrenaline and agitation.  Then, I journal with a cup of something soothing.  Then, I meditate.  After that, I’m rational enough to eat a sensible supper.  This helps.  Instead of bingeing all night with a movie, I’m taking positive action to stretch my tolerance.

And it seems to be working.  I may be an emotional puddle by the time I leave the office, but by the next morning my teacup is upright and able to hold water.

This is new behavior for me.  It’s also more stress than I’ve endured in years.  I’m proud of all that.  I’m also aware that I could blow at any time.  That’s the unknowable, uncontrollable piece to bipolar disorder.  All I can do is stay as mindful as I can from moment to moment and see what happens.

I’m on an Adventure.

tiny cups

Five Hundred Lengths

Swimmer≈ ≈ ≈

We enter the meditative state induced by counting laps, and observe the subtle play of light as the sun moves across the lanes. We sing songs, or make to-do lists, or fantasize about what we’re going to eat for breakfast. Submersion creates the space to be free, to stretch, without having to contend with constant external chatter. It creates internal quiet, too. Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of them all, was found to have A.D.H.D. when he was a child; he has called the pool his “safe haven,” in part because “being in the pool slowed down my mind.”

We are left alone with our thoughts, wherever they may take us. A lot of creative thinking happens when we’re not actively aware of it. A recent Carnegie Mellon study shows that to make good decisions, our brains need every bit of that room to meander. Other research has found that problem-solving tends to come most easily when our minds are unfocused, and while we’re exercising. The neurologist Oliver Sacks has written books in his head while swimming. “Theories and stories would construct themselves in my mind as I swam to and fro, or round and round Lake Jeff,” he writes in the essay “Water Babies.”

Five hundred lengths in a pool were never boring or monotonous; instead, Dr. Sacks writes, “swimming gave me a sort of joy, a sense of well-being so extreme that it became at times a sort of ecstasy.” The body is engaged in full physical movement, but the mind itself floats, untethered.

~ Bonnie Tsui, The Self Reflecting Pool

reblogged (sort of) from David Kanigan’s Live & Learn

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