Waiting

Waiting is a practice. Not one I’m good at. Especially when it feels like something with claws is trying to get out of my chest.

I came to Starbucks a little after 6am, clutching my little journal, hoping against my demon-judgment hope for a revelation. Even after checking off so many things on my self-care list yesterday, the hot itch remained. There must be a brain ointment out there somewhere!

As I wrote, I figured 3 more weeks until I see my shrink again and we do the next thing on his list. The despair swamped me.

Maybe if I could get a normal night’s sleep. I’ve been waking up at 1:00-2:00am, then have nothing I can do and no place to go for hours (I’m trying to be quiet for my sister’s sake). And then I crash at 5:00 or 6:00 in the afternoon. It just doesn’t help the whole frantic, desperate gestalt.

A page in my little journal made by my friend Tanya

I have to think positively. Tomorrow is yoga class, which will be good for my body and soul. I will hug my friend Martha.

Tuesday is massage day with one of the sweetest women I know. Misty has great technique AND she loves to laugh. She also likes me as a person and an artist, which is a different kind of soul-balm.

Wednesday is therapy day with Sonya. I know she will be distressed for me, AND that she’ll help me figure out ways to wait and more ways to cope.

Balance. Balance. Balance.

I must balance the red claws of distress and discomfort with images of Graham McTavish.

And THAT’S how a person waits.

Tolerating the Discomfort

Years ago, a counselor at Mercy Hospital’s outpatient program in Des Moines suggested that we learn to stretch our ability to tolerate the discomfort of our mental illnesses. Such a benign term—discomfort. It hardly does justice to what really goes on inside a crazy person’s mind. But, it does keep us from catastrophizing the experience. Suffering, agony, or hysteria would be torture to tolerate. Discomfort seems more reasonable.

When I woke up at 2am again this morning, I knew I needed to follow this wise counselor’s advise. My mental and physical discomfort had been overwhelming me, and I needed to find a way to help myself.

So as soon as Starbucks opened at 6:00, I took this small journal and a few pens with the intention of just writing about the discomfort. My Round Robin art journal friends had used this size journal in our last project to send pages to each other. It contained their art, but I didn’t have to make anything. This felt important.

I had started this journal as a book of lists to send around to friends, hoping they would jot down their thoughts. That never happened, but the headings were still there. Some could be useful, Some not so much. I decided to use what might be helpful and leave the rest.

After I ranted a brain-dump on one of the blank pages, I felt a little calmer. I also thought a list of possible ways to stretch my tolerance for this discomfort might be the next step. I brainstormed (Ha! Such an apt term!) for a while and felt a little better still.

I had taken a clonazepam before I went to Starbucks, hoping to beat back the itchy, prickly panic. That little darling started to kick in, and I thought it best to go home and have a lie down. But before doing that, I tried a few things on my list: a nice hot soak with lavender bath salts, a fragrant candle, and a pair of comfy chenille footies. I turned on my new Audibles book (read by Pretend Boyfriend, Richard Armitage), and promptly fell asleep.

When I woke up, I took my little journal outside to sit in the sun and see what else might help me get through the day. As things came to me, I added them to my list, then checked them off as I practiced—like singing the Sia song “I’m Alive” loud enough to make all the neighbor dogs howl. I get so tired of their constant yapping that it felt powerfully naughty to sing so loud that they all shut up.

I took a little stroll around the garden in my bare feet (though my comfy footies waited on the patio for me). This helped my wobbly knee and gave me a sense of grounding. As my sissy bedecks the halls with her tubs of decorations, I needed a sense of myself (the non-Christmas atheist), my feet firmly on the ground, in the midst of the discomfort of my mind fighting its war with psych meds.

I have a new tool. A little journal to write about my discomfort and list ways to tolerate it a bit better. I need to add “Write a blog post” to the list, because this helped as well. It always does.

Without

I’m trying hard not to be scared.

My desire and passion for making is gone. It’s been waning for a long time, but I attributed it to depression—the part where a person loses interest in everything. I thought medication would break that open. I hoped my normal flow of ideas would unjam, and I’d WANT to art again. I didn’t think that was unreasonable.

I can’t even go through the motions. Even when my passion for making fizzled, I could still create some great stuff. Right now, the sight of my rainbow rack of ribbons distresses me further. I’ve put all my supplies out of sight (again for now, because I still believe this fundamental part of me will return).

Yesterday I tried to rattle things loose by doing something completely different. I tried using fabrics, beads, ribbons and old buttons to force my hands to wake up.

It engrossed me for a bit, but when I stopped and held it up for a long view, any desire to keep at it dropped like an elevator with cut cables.

“What the hell kind of mess is this?” I despaired. “FuckFuckFucketyFuck!”

I’m trying not to be scared. I just upped my dosage of this new medication last night as per my shrink’s original orders. And I might have to try several meds before anything works at all. I know the drill.

And I’ve never existed without arting in one form or other. I just want it back.

So, I’m trying not to be scared.

Letting Go

I weaned off all psych drugs in 2012 after reading Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic, which told the statistical downside of treating mental illness with medication. Ever since, I’ve been a LOUD advocate for finding other ways of managing or, for those who need those drugs, additional ways of coping and self-care.

Like a lot of people on a crusade, I was entrenched, rigid in my thinking, self-righteous in my correct view of the world. We’ve seen how that usually ends up.

About a year after I moved to Oklahoma in 2018, the depressive side of my bipolar disorder moved in and never left. She would take a day-trip once in a while, but as time went on, she became more and more the clueless, stinky houseguest.

I know the drill when Depression comes to visit—remember that she lies constantly, get busy finding an artful distraction, get regular reality checks with a therapist, and try not to eat everything in sight. Over time, I stopped being able to do any of those activities. I knew I was in real trouble, and I had no other options left.

I had to try medication.

Two weeks ago, I went to my psychiatrist (whom I fired last winter) and told him I would take whatever he recommended. He was shocked into kindness after fighting with me over this for three years. He spent extra time explaining his choice and our plan of action. I cried through the whole appointment.

As any student of human nature will attest, changing a person’s opinion or point of view is nigh unto impossible. Facts don’t make a difference. Persuasive arguments blow past without leaving a mark. Even one’s experience of events serves only to reinforce what is already believed (selective perception). Faith, Belief, Opinion operate out of deep need, not reality. And there are so many different realities anyway.

I cried in my psychiatrists office because I was letting go of a deeply held belief. Who was I if I did this thing I said I’d never do? I felt betrayed and ashamed. I felt like a fake and a liar. I also felt cautiously hopeful and curious.

What other ideas, opinions, “facts,” could I let go of if I let go of this? What do I believe that might be holding me back?

This attitude of quiet curiosity is an old practice, but I’ve not been able to practice much of anything in years. I’m more amazed and grateful for this way of holding my experience than I am for the relief I’m receiving from my medication. And I suspect that the two go hand in hand.

Ain’t that just the way of things. More Adventure Ahead.

Getting Real

I just got back from getting my Real ID. It’s a perfect morning in eastern Oklahoma—bright, clear, cool—so the short drive over the Arkansas River with the pretty foothills in the southeast pulled my shoulders down from my ears. I’ve been fighting a sinus infection for the last week. Getting out and breathing in the beauty of today was better medicine than anything on my nightstand.

Getting a Real ID—the one that gives a person more access than a regular driver’s license—takes some preparation. This kind of red tape is stressful for me. Ghosts of Doing It Wrong rise up and cluck. But when I dug out my passport, it surprised me by still being valid. It also rolled out wonderful memories of my whirlwind trip to England in 2014 and stirred my current fantasy of visiting Scotland some far-off day.

Whirlwind Souvenirs

I was Real when I traveled to England, but realized I’d lost that sense of myself. Too much stress. Too many changes. Too many dreams abandoned—Trump, Covid, Oklahoma and adapting to life with my sister. My bipolar disorder wrapped me up like a quilt and bundled me into a safe, padded room.

Today, my illness feels lighter. Today, my art is coming back, like red-tailed hawks came back to Iowa after DDT left the ecosystem. The birds migrated to a place where their eggs could be viable, but eventually came home again when it was safe.

My art seems to be laying eggs again, too. I’m getting new ideas, using new elements, trying scarier and out-of-my-comfort-zone things. Like making little watercolor and marker sketches of my own to illustrate my cards.

A walk through my sister’s lovely backyard garden gave me lots of deadfall and other treasures to make some different kinds of cards. Sewing something so fragile feels like a meditation, and I haven’t been able to meditate in a long while.

My therapist and I are also working with a new (for me) kind of therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Lots of familiar behavioral and mindfulness elements presented in a new way. One of my first tasks was to sort through What Is Important To Me. Honestly, I wasn’t sure anymore, so that took time. And now I’m journaling about how I move toward those things or values. You can see how much progress I’ve made so far.

With this unmoored sense of self, I will have to dig to find ways I am actively seeking the things I say I value—if I’m doing that at all. And it’s scary to think how much they might have changed or if I just abandoned what I loved and valued. But that’s what therapy is for, right? To set a new course. To Get Real.

And maybe, when I’m a Real Girl again, and the Covid pigs fly, and the Border Unicorns prance open, I’ll take my passport to Scotland and breathe in the beauty there.

Oh, today I am blessed with Adventure.

Team Thanos

I was always Team Thanos when the Avengers movies came out. Honestly, the guy was misunderstood. Cut the population in half with no suffering. Cut across all political, social, and income levels. Bring the Earth (and every planet) back into balance. Covid is trying, but it’s not nearly as fair.

Tighter restrictions are back in place since the rise of active cases. I know a lot of people who refuse to get vaccinated, and others who think being vaccinated is the only precaution they need to take. Here in beef country, ranchers are dosing themselves with cattle dewormer instead of getting a shot. I think we deserve a visit from Thanos.

Today, I’d be happy to provide one of his vacancies. After a spell of soul-crushing depression, I got up this morning determined to Do The Work of managing my illness. I packed up my traveling art studio and headed to Starbucks… which is closed again. And it’s not like arting is a comfort anymore, though if I work really hard at it, I can find some distraction from the ugly in my head.

And from the growing sclerosis that continues to crystalize around my heart. It’s easier to feel nothing, to shut all doors, to cancel anything that brings me in contact with people.

Easier, but it also makes me feel less human.

Yeah, okay, I’m contradictory and contrary. Bite me.

Still determined, I stopped on my way home to get a healthy smoothie, pulling out the little bit of Bipolar Badass that hides in my hindbrain. I will art on my bed with Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD running in the background, and I will try to distract myself by making cards for the people I still have feelings for, even if I have to root around a while to find a soft spot in my heart.

If I can find it, I can nurture it with art. I know I can.

But if Thanos shows up for supper, I’m splitting a pizza with him.

Happy Long Weekend

Hope you and all your critters have plenty of hidey–holes when the fireworks start (and go on and on and on and…)

Amazing

Eli from Israel asked me to make an OMG! card for him. He told me he has two cats and dreams of being a father. He also likes Maya Angelou.

Eli, if you happen to see this before the card arrives in the mail, I’m sorry to spoil the surprise. Like all the special orders I am privileged to make, they come at the exact time I need to make them.

I’m moving through another long trough where my head is filled with possible suicide options. Normally, I wait until I’m on the other side of said trough (you know. To be POSITIVE and UPLIFTING), but it feels important to share where I am now.

Maybe to name it. Maybe to ask for support. Maybe to poke holes in the red rage that encapsulates it. Maybe just to be honest.

A song came up on my iPod a few days ago that grabbed me by the throat. It was from another life when I was a different person. My friend Frank Anthony, who is dead now, singing about Light and Truth, resurrected memories of great Love and Compassion. I remembered singing with him and my friend Carol. I remembered laughing HARD with Lily. I remembered using my hands and my voice to heal and comfort. I remembered being Present.

Now I’m an angry person, more likely to say “Fuck you” than “Thank you.” I opt for numb instead of present. Those memories felt like a story I might have written long ago.

“Divination” for my Round Robin Journaling group

And yet. And yet.

Beauty can still call me back.

A young woman just walked in front of the coffee shop window with a huge bouquet of cut flowers blazing color against the rainy-gray day.

A lithe, smoky-gray cat slipped between the tires of a parked pick-up and blinked up at me with water-clear eyes.

I’m still able to breathe “Thank you” when Beauty arrives.

To me, that’s amazing.

Today

Today the illness is quiet.

Color steals back into the iris outside my window; pale, pale lavender with throats of orange.

Chores and tasks long neglected get taken care of without thought or effort.

Ideas come. Art that has shied away from my ruthless brain offers small enticements.

I am coaxed back into living.

Ten Years Blogging

Gosh, it seems I’ve been indulging myself on this blog longer than ten years. Maybe life with bipolar disorder is like dog-years. Or maybe the rift in the Space/Time continuum is actually in my head. Must talk to The Doctor about that.

I seriously thought about closing out A Mind Divided. I’ve told my story, shared my process, tried to wait until the Lesson was Learned before posting. It felt like there was nothing new to report, just recycling the same ups and downs. And I was in a long mixed-state episode, which makes me want to quit everything.

But then, I met a new bipolar friend, and I was reminded that our journey is all we really have to share. My posts may be numbingly repetitious to me, but to him (and maybe others) it’s new. Maybe helpful.

Going through a three-week episode and coming out the other side is part of the Long Journey. I know from experience that today is all I have, so I must make the best of it. I have a few moments to make amends and repairs (I’m sorry I yelled and threw pillows at you, Sissy), to pick up pieces that got left behind (reschedule the dentist appointment I forgot), to allow the art that wants to be made.

Mostly, today is for remembering who I am. I am not my illness. I am not alone. I am not the distorted, negative thoughts my illness conjures up. I am alive, and grateful, and surrounded by kindness and support. I am remarkable.

And, so, A Mind Divided continues.

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