Flames Over the Atlantic

In a few hours, I’ll be winging my way across The Pond for my first British Adventure.

I can’t wait to meet my darling blog-friend, Evelyn, who has so graciously offered her hospitality and companionship.  Her eclectic knowledge and far-flung interests never cease to astound.  One look at her blog will tell you that.  We speak a wonderful language that I’m sure no one else can understand.  Part poetry, part trans-continental colloquialisms, part bipolar-brain, we delight in each other’s weirdness.  She was the first person to buy a card from my Etsy sight.  I feel like I’ve known Evelyn all my life.  Here she is with Fred (who seems to speak the same Irritated Cat language as my Henry).

Evelyn & Fred

Then, there’s that other piece of business I’ll be tending to while in London.  A bit of theater.  In the front row.  Agog.

For Hobbit fans, this soliloquy might ring a few bells.  Alas, poor Richard seems to be destined for the torch.  Is it any wonder I’m smoldering?

Evelyn has instructions to box up my ashes and ship me home.  I’ll send up a smoke signal when I get back.

In The Trenches

More Traditionally GallantThe last time I had this much change, pressure, and emotional hoo-haw in my life I ended up getting electroshock.  That was then, as they say.  This is now.

Yesterday I started my job as a Peer Support Specialist.  The Integrated Health Services team (of which I am a part)  is squeezed into one tiny office and a converted utility closet (the sink is still there).  Ten people with lap tops, all talking on the phone, or to each other, or elbowing into their TV-tray-sized work spaces.  The plan is to move the team off-site to a real office space.  But for now, we are literally on top of each other.

barnabasA year ago—heck, three months ago—I would have bolted from that chaos after a half hour.  But, I didn’t.  And the fact that I didn’t makes me proud.  I could feel dread and panic creeping into my head like Dark Shadows mist, turning my thoughts sour and rigid with resistance.  But then I went on my first client visit, and the doubt and hysteria melted.

Talking to clients, listening to them, asking questions, empathizing and marveling at their courage and resilience—it all fell into place.  What I used to do as a nurse, what I do now with this blog, even what I’ve become as a person all come into play when I’m with the clients.  I was made for this job.  I can do this.

So, last night I drank a beer, popped a Xanax, and slept long and hard.  This morning I was ready to jump back into the fray.  Until I got my own TV tray, I set my laptop on top of a waste basket to do my work.  That was fine.  I’m relearning Windows after eight years alone with my iMac.  That was fine, too.

Everyone on the team is supportive, enthusiastic and only a little less confused than I am.  This roll-out of Integrated Health Services across the state is enormous, complicated, sometimes incomprehensible.  It makes us comrades.  They sent a lovely card and a plant when my mom died, and I’d only met them twice.

Sad SmileWe’ve been digging through lots of old stuff at my mom’s house.  We found a box with my grandfather’s WWI kit and a trunk of my dad’s with his WWII navy uniform and a photo album.  In those pictures, I can see how tight the bonds are between Dad and his friends.  I understand that a little.  I’m not saying we’re experiencing anything like what Dad and Grandpa went through, but adversity and a common goal does something to a group.  Those of you in business know more about this than I do.  There’s probably even a name for it.

I know these people have my back.  I know they won’t let me fail.  I know they will understand if I ever do have to bolt from the room.  And I’m not afraid to do it if I have to.  Because I know how to take care of myself now—without plugging into the power grid.

Sugar Pie

New Month.  New Day.  New Breath.Sugar Pie

Feeling so grateful for my Sister in Charge, who is performing her Trustee duties with grace and diligence.  As the stress starts to weigh heavier, and I paddle faster to stay afloat, I can rest in this thankfulness where there is more space to breathe.

Grateful, too, for all my friends and family who have agreed to “babysit” me at suppertime.  Eating that evening meal alone is too much to face at present, so when I called in the cavalry, they galloped to my aid.

I will get through this time of trial.  I will.

“The Storm is Up, And All is on the Hazard”

tempestThere’s a kind of frenzy that happens after a death in the family.  There’s a sea-change during the rush of funeral arrangements.  Details drag at the ankles, family and well-wishers swarm, then dart off.  It’s like dropping to the bottom of the Mariana Trench and popping back up without a decompression chamber.  Something in the blood bubbles.

Then there’s the Bank Dash, a treasure hunt for the right piece of paper, guarded by people who speak a foreign language.  Just when a few words start to make sense, the Lawyer pulls out a different map and the hunt gallops off in another direction.  Everyone has a different opinion about how to read the legend, how to get from Here to There.  It’s the Tower of Babel flattened to an Iowa cornfield.

I don’t do well with frenzy, so there have been some outbursts.  Most notably, the sprint out of the lawyer’s office to cry in the street.  But, for the most part, I’ve managed with great aplomb, even if I do say so myself.  I’ve learned a lot since my dad died a couple of years ago.  I understand how stress affects me.  I know what to do to lessen the impact.  I’m a lot stronger than I ever believed.

Also, I’m blessed to have a sister who is In Charge.  Now that the initial chaos has settled, she deals with the insurance companies, the banks, the appraisers and auctioneers.  She’s tossed out that old map and made one of her own.  Thank the Stars.

We have a house to clean.  That’s something I can do.  If I break it down into the tiniest tasks.  Like emptying one drawer in one dresser.  Like bagging up the clothes in one closet.  Tiny tasks.  A beginning and an end.  That stops frenzy cold.  That turns a task into a meditation.  There’s space for deep breathing.  The blood starts to de-bubble.

And I need to practice coming back to mindfulness, because the stress isn’t over.  I start my new job as a Peer Support Specialist in a week, and I still don’t know what I’ll be doing.  My clinic is part of the whole restructuring of Iowa’s mental health delivery system.  I’ll be part of the Integrated Health Services Team, and I’ve met those folks—a nurse, case managers and an administrative assistant.  I’ve attended a couple of “professional development” sessions that made no sense to me—except for the HIPAA presentation.  I get HIPAA and how crucial confidentiality and privacy will be in my work.  The rest is gobbledygook.  I figure if I need to know this stuff, someone will tell me eventually.

Because none of the other Peers know what’s going on either.  That makes me feel better.  And the rest of the team is flying by the seat of their pants.  Professionals making it up as they go along.  So, I’ll find out more when I start next Monday.  Or not.

I know I’m at risk.  Stress exacerbates symptoms in anyone with a mental illness.  It can lead to a lapse or full-blown relapse.  Things could get pretty hairy.  But, I’ll do what I know to stay present and keep breathing.  And I’ll dream about my trip to London in September.  Because that won’t be stressful at all.

I’m on an Adventure.

Is This Grief?

Damned TiredUp at 2:30 this morning, awake but toting sludge for brains.  Is this grief?

Yesterday I felt proud that I could stand with my family and greet everyone that came to Mom’s visitation.  Two and a half years ago, when my dad died, I had to sit in a quiet room apart from the others.  Like a bipolar queen, I held audience for my closest friends and family so that I wouldn’t explode from the over-stimulation.  I felt then like I do this morning—dumb with exhaustion.

I don’t know what I need.  I don’t know what could help.  The idea of going to the pool makes me want to cry and crawl back into bed.  But, I know that’s not the answer.  So I’ll go to the pool and bleed some of this weirdness into the water.  I’ll feel better afterward.  I always do.

Then, I’ll go with my brother and sister to Mom’s lawyer and try to stay present in all the talk about insurance and trusts.  I’ll try to watch my anxiety and keep breathing.  I’ll try to keep stepping back instead of stepping up.  I’ll try to remember that everything will settle without me pushing it.

So, it’s a little easier to carry, this grief/exhaustion/bipolarness, now that I’ve named it and slopped it out in words.  I breathe and let my Pandora station hold me. All that pretty music.  Like the water in the pool, it supports me.

Pillows and cushions are everywhere.  Like this lovely song by Mat Kearney.  I can lie down anytime I need.

 

I Am Breathing Me

This is a lot.Baby

Sitting with my mom as she died; supporting my sister as executor of Mom’s affairs; preparing to return to a professional form of work; preparing to go to England for the first time; stepping into a financial unknown; navigating the sudden rush of family, friends and strangers; gripping healthy practices while my routine shreds.

I feel the grit of my bipolarness scratching behind my eyes.  It shoves my stomach up into my throat.  I feel the veneer thinning.  I’m exposed.  Vulnerable.

This is the way of things.  Seasons of strength followed by opportunities to use it.  Seasons of building up and tearing down.  Seasons that rise and fall like breath.

I am breathing me.

Night of Stars

SupportI just got home from saying good-bye to my mom.  She died earlier tonight after falling and hitting her head.

It happens— just like that—sometimes.

And now the world is strange and quiet.  So many plans to make, so many people to touch.   But in the center is this night of stars.  And Mom rising toward them.

30 Day Forecast

Start BoldlyWednesday was my last day in partial hospitalization.  It was a surprise.  I went to the scheduled appointment with my counselor to talk about my progress and the work I’d been doing on my discharge plan.  When I asked him when he thought I might be ready to leave the program, he said, “I’m thinking today.”  I took a deep breath, swallowed hard, and said, “Okay.”

Because I know recovery isn’t about feeling perfect or feeling done.  It’s about practicing new behaviors in spite of how I feel.  It’s about The Work.

Every morning in the group, we filled out a plan for the day.  It included things like errands and chores, what we planned for exercise and relaxation.  We kept track of our sleep patterns, listed things we were grateful for that day, and our successes.  But at the top of the page, we rated how we were functioning.  On a scale of 1-10, we noted how well we were able to perform our daily tasks, not how we felt.  That distinction was important.  Emotions, moods, and thoughts changing like the weather can make a person feel dysfunctional.  Noting objectively that we got out of bed, ate breakfast and washed the dishes, drove to group, and made plans to see a friend afterward proves that we can still operate in the world even if we don’t feel like it in the moment.  What we do matters.

And while I feel much more stable emotionally, it’s a high pressure system that comes and goes.  The practices I put into place and actually perform every day will help me weather what comes next.  And next.  And next.

And there’s a lot of Work to do.  It’s mostly planning and monitoring, but it’s also reinventing myself as a social creature.  I’ve written here about my tendency toward isolation, my resistance and anxieties where other people are concerned.  So, I’m trying something different.  I’m attempting to let go of my old notions of Support Systems, Intimacy, and Soul-Matedness, and simply ask people to Play with me.  I plan something I want to do (like see the new X-Men movie or go for a walk) and just invite others to join me.  No huge expectation.  No smoldering resentment or disappointment.  Just play.  And it’s amazing to me how easy this is.  Simple.  For a mind that complicates and twists on a regular basis, simple is good.  Real good.

As part of my discharge planning, I have a list of goals for the next 30 days.  These will determine the nature of my practice for now.  And they will also help me make these changes into habits that, hopefully, will carry into whatever weather the future holds.

It’s up to me.

It always is.

I’m on an Adventure.

To My Big Brother, With Gore

Scott's Birthday

 

I know my brother doesn’t read this blog, but I’m sending him birthday salutations anyway.  Nine years my senior, Scott twigged me onto the joys of comic books, science fiction, and Stephen King.  He’s the reason I watched the original Star Trek faithfully as a fifth grader (He’s also the reason I had to sleep with my light on for many years).  I wouldn’t be the geek I am today if it weren’t for my equally-geeky brother.

Live Long and May the Force be With You, Bro.

Fighting For My Life

I felt fierce and proud and forever free.I’m in a mood.

I’ll just put that out there as a disclaimer so you know what follows is tainted.

This is a mood that seems to keep coming back.  Well.  That’s bipolar disorder in a nutshell.  So to speak.

I know this mood and I have history if only from how big Bipolar Bad-Assery is in my little Cloud of Topics at right.  I recognize the ferocity and physical stamina.  A terrible intolerance develops.  And then there’s the ice-cold anger.  It started a few days ago with a niggle in the back of my mind.  At odd moments it would pop into full consciousness like Schwarzenegger bursting through a door.

I’m fighting for my life.

It surfaced at TOPS yesterday, and again in the water this morning as I swam my mile.  So I took myself for a drive today to give this moody thought some room.  What I found is that this isn’t the whole thought, just the opener.  In toto, it goes like this.

I’m fighting for my life, so step up or get out of the way.

And suddenly the anger and intolerance make more sense.  Even the extra strength and endurance.  I’m gearing up to go solo again.

This mood, this attitude, runs counter to all the discussions I’ve had with my therapist about relationships.  She’s counseled me about how relationships change, how people come and go out of a life.  She reminds me to take people for what they are and to be accepting of what they can offer.  This is realistic advice.  But, sometimes, I can’t see how it helps me much.

I don’t need coffee dates or tactfully casual conversations as much as I need allies who will get bloody up to the eyebrows with me.  But, finding a loyal berserker isn’t easy.  Or realistic.  Real people have messes of their own to worry about—sick parents, and mortgages, and unemployment.  All that feels like do or die for them, too, so they’re hardly going to save their ammo for me.  Or if they do happen to save a clip, they end up shooting in the wrong direction or even at me.  Friendly fire, of course, but still lethal.

River

Which leads to another conversation with my therapist—my need to make people understand me.  I don’t like being misunderstood.  I don’t like others deciding what’s best for me or making assumptions about me.  But, really, all that is none of my business.  I can’t help what other people think or do.  I can’t stick my hand inside their gray matter and plant the seeds I want growing there.  But, sometimes, they act out of the stories they’ve told themselves about me.  And then they make it my business.  Which I don’t handle with great diplomacy.  I don’t mind so much if you can’t fight alongside me, but get in my way and I might blow your head off.  Nice.  You can see why I might have trouble holding onto friends.

I see what’s happening here.  I’m turning into that Hero person who Stands Alone.  Maybe I’ve always been that person.  It might be one of the reasons I was drawn to comic books as a kid.  As soon as I was able to read, I stole from my brother’s Marvel collection.  Those guys understood.  They fought for their lives every month.  They were me.

winter soldierWhen I went to the new Captain America movie last week and watched Steve Rogers risk everything, the niggle in my head practically shouted.  That’s me!  And then [SPOILER ALERT] when he quit fighting and let Bucky beat him to smithereens, the niggle still shouted.  That’s me, too!  Cap had allies.  He even had a handful of people he trusted.  But, basically, he was alone.  I get that.  And sometimes the hero just gives up.  I get that, too.

That’s as far as this train of thought is going, because to follow it any further would just indulge the mood.  It will shift in a few days and all this Hulk energy will drain.  But, there might be some new questions for my therapist on Monday.  Life and death questions.  Because in the end, I’m still fighting for my life.

 

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