Penny Positive #1

From An Optimist’s Calendar

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An Optimist’s Calendar

When I’m sick with lung crud, I like to have a project to keep me busy.  This time I worked on a birthday present for my nurse practitioner, Sarah.  She is a sunny, terminally optimistic, giggle factory, so I thought what better than to make her An Optimist’s Calendar.

Honestly, I don’t know how these ideas come to fruition.  I read an article about using teabags in art a while back and remember thinking, What about the wrappers?  And, I think, calendar made me think of Advent calendars with their little treats hidden inside each day.

Each of my daily pockets holds at least two tiny, positive, bits of art.  Some have three.  I just made as many as I could with all the scraps of stuff I have lying around.  A lot of the art came from magazines like Art Journaling; Somerset Studio; Cloth, Paper, Scissors, Teesha Moore’s collage sheets, and all the stamps I’ve collected.  Itty bitty stuff kept safe in my ziplock sandwich bag filing system.

I’ll be posting those Penny Positives in the months to come.

It was a work of love, and I’m excited to give it to her on Friday when we have our monthly session (her birthday is on Halloween).  Megan, my therapist, claims Sarah will cry when she sees it, but I don’t think so.  Since she loves her chickens so much, I think she’s more inclined to cluck.

Emma and the Leaky Gut

While this may sound like a new Judy Blume novel, it’s really just my latest batch of experiments.

In August, when I met with my Case Manager, I was a bit weepy about the verdict of my pulmonologist (Obesity is the root cause of everything), trying and getting sick on a ketogenic diet, and the increasing pain in my knee.  Depression had trundled out the “Hopeless” cart, and I had climbed in.

My Case Manager is a lovely, up-beat, supportive darling, so when she suggested I see a hospital dietitian I felt instant betrayal.  Visions of scales and tape measures goose-stepped through my brain.  But, she asked me to think of this dietitian as someone I might add to my small support system—someone I could talk to and have on my side.  Framed that way, I agreed to meet with her.

In the meantime, I had been visiting my chiropractor for my knee and recurring TMJ.  Over the summer, she heard all about Dr. Obesity, my binge eating disorder, and all my other mental and physical woes.  For good measure, I came down with bronchitis a few weeks ago.  Along with prescribing additional protein powder to my morning shake while I’m sick, she also wondered if I might not have a Leaky Gut.

Basically, this syndrome is caused by a loosey-goosey gut allowing too much junk to pass into the blood stream, setting off an immune response that never shuts down.  Chronic inflammation of the gut follows.  Treatment involves getting rid of foods that irritate the gut and adding foods that soothe and heal it.  Dr. Ash has a quick take on Leaky Gut here.

Being sick with bronchitis turned out to be the perfect time to implement these changes.  Since I’m already lactose intolerant and get a gut ache eating bread, going dairy and gluten free was a no-brainer.  I can add bone broth to my gluten-free chicken noodle soup, eat a little kefir as a snack, and alternate my Breathe Easy tea with a variety of kombucha teas.  And my gut has stopped aching all the time.

I started to wonder:  What if obesity isn’t just a cause, but also a symptom?  What if Binge Eating Disorder isn’t just a mental illness, but also has a physical component?

These are the questions I took with me to the dietitian.

Emma is a sweet, young, cheerful professional, but had no answers.  She had heard of Leaky Gut, but knew nothing about it.  She knew about Binge Eating Disorder, but knew nothing about that either.  However, she was absolutely willing to learn.  She took all the information I brought with me and made copies for herself.  Our weekly sessions focus on what I want and my goals, not weight loss.  She is, as my Case Manager predicted, a wonderful addition to my support team.

My bad knee and intermittent TMJ turned out to be arthritis, no big surprise since my dad was a Bionic Man of joint replacements and—you know—that obesity thing making everything worse.  Whenever I think of arthritis, Mammie from Gone With The Wind pops into my head.

Arthritis waits in its web, swooping in after an injury.  An opportunistic little shithead.

Oh, well I’ll think about that tomorrow.  I have sauerkraut and wild salmon to eat now.  And tomorrow is another day.

Making A Home

This summer I spent some time considering a move to Des Moines, but after talking to a realtor (what was I thinking?) and finding out how impenetrable the subsidized housing process is there, I changed my mind.  Instead I opted to work at making Marshalltown my Home.

I grew up here and have been back for ten years, but I never really thought of it as home.  Growing up on a farm, “town” was a place to get groceries, a place the school bus dropped me off and picked me up.  After going through electroshock, losing my job, my home, and my husband coming back to Marshalltown mentally ill was a personal failure and a punishment.

I left Minneapolis with its liberal politics, diversity of culture and a townhouse I loved for a conservative rural backwater where I lived in my friends’ spare room with a curtain for a door.  I didn’t want to be here.

My life became richer over the last ten years.  I learned how to manage my illness better.  I moved into an apartment I loved.  Our eco-conscious public library and busy YMCA became part of my daily routine.  I embraced our Aquatic Center by water walking in the silky summer evenings.

But I still despised the town.  I hated the trains blasting at 5:00 AM along with the barking dogs and screeching kids next door.  I hated the yahoos who barreled along my street with their woofers blowing out my eardrums and their muffler-less pickups rattling my windows.  I hated the decrepit meth-lab houses and the soul-sucking poverty evident on most every street.  I still didn’t want to be here.

The work of Making a Home, I’ve discovered, is much like the work of Gratitude.  Instead of focusing on what I’m grateful for, I purposely seek out what I love about Marshalltown.  I quiz others about where they like to eat and hang-out, what they like to do here.  I’ve started reading the newspaper to look for events to attend and to get a better sense of the community.  I plan to take a class at the art center or with the continuing education program at our junior college.

Another part of making a home is practicing forgiveness, not just accepting people, places and circumstances for what they are.  The first target of forgiveness must be myself—for all the ways I let myself down, abandoned my dreams or my safety, and let the negative voices of my illness tell me how horrible I was.  Acceptance of my whole self took decades, but I feel like forgiveness can’t be that far away.  Whenever old resentments or regrets surface, I open to the possibility of forgiveness.  Whenever I turn my attention to the negative aspects of Marshalltown, I open to forgiveness and pull up my list of “Marshalltown Love” on my phone.  It’s startling how many times a day this happens.  It’s equally startling how long it’s taken me to be willing to forgive myself and others.

Forgiveness, like gratitude, requires a change of perspective, a change of heart. Sometimes those changes are a long time coming, so I’ve adopted an “act as if” attitude until it makes a home in my bones.  But, I’m determined to forgive.  I’m determined to find all the hidden spots of beauty and compassion in Marshalltown.  I’m determined to be my authentic self and thrive here.

Because, I’m still on an Adventure.

Hypomania: The Eye of the Hurricane

After several weeks of mild to turbulent depression, my brain offered up one day of halcyon hypomania.  No slippage into rabbity anxiety or irritation, just a blue sky-mind with energy and focus.

Where the garbage used to be

New Spot for Garbage

I ran errands put off all summer, caught up on chores, oiled the squeaky lock in my door that’s bugged me for seven years, found the new space-saving solutions that had befuddled my depressed brain.

When this perfect combination of mood and drive pops into my life, I know to use it—partly to clean up any mess or stockpiling from the depression that came before, and partly to lay in supplies and prepare for the next storm.  There are the tasks that need to be completed—like grocery shopping, scrubbing the toilet, and scheduling health care appointments—and tasks that can be started so my depression has something to do with itself.

Spruced-up Studio Space

This time I started collaging new storage boxes and painting parts of my studio.  I put together a facilitator’s kit for my SoulMatters group (which meets for the first time this Sunday), and gathered all the materials for a piece of birthday art I’m making for my nurse practitioner.

It was a lovely day.  And as expected, I moved out of that calm center into more stormy weather.

It’s my nature, and I accept it.  Debris and water damage with a smattering of blue sky.

Learning

Learning how to write with watercolors

 

Learning how to use my Wanting

 

Learning how to stay when all I want to do is go.

 

The Unclenched Brain

Marking that moment of release in my art journal.

Breathing

I had a whole other blog post half-written, but when I came back to it, none of the bipolar drama mattered any more.

There was a theme of WANTING this summer, but we all know wanting comes from believing there is a hole in our soul that needs filling.  The cure for wanting isn’t changing our bodies or our location, it isn’t filling that hole with stuff or people.  The cure for wanting is to sit with it, cup it gently in our own two hands, breathe it in and out.  Then, we remember we are whole where and when we are.

I’ve been thinking about turning 60 in a couple of months.  I don’t usually pay attention to birthdays, but this is kind of a milestone for me.  See, I never expected to live to see 60.  In the back of my mind, far from consciousness, I think I was marking time until I made a decision to exit this world.  Turning 60 means I’ve made a different kind of decision.

At first I didn’t think I’d created much of a life—it certainly didn’t look like the life I imagined for myself when I was a girl.  But when one of my mental health gurus said, “I’ve always thought you were good at living,” I reconsidered.

My sister’s husband died three weeks ago after a long illness.  She had been preparing for that eventuality—buying a home in Oklahoma where her son and his family live, clearing out sheds and closets—but the last six months of constant caregiving along with Hospice drained her life energy.

I supported her the best I could.  When the time came, I stood beside her as her husband died and when some of his family members got ugly.  I stood at the graveside with one arm around my tall, cowboy nephew, and the other around his little son, and I felt alive with love for my family. Last week, my sis and I packed our vehicles with the last of her things and caravanned to her new permanent home.

Yesterday I returned to my home of geriatric (and complaining) cats, art projects in progress, the last week of water walking at the Aquatic Center before it closes for the season, watching the addictive drama of Big Brother with my friends, coffee and movies and lunches with other friends, meeting the interim minister at church and volunteering to lead a SoulMatters group.

I think it’s time to give up my hair shirt.  It’s time to embrace the good life I’ve created and allow forgiveness to become part of it.  Today, all I want is to be content, to be grateful.

Breathing in, I choose the Adventure.

♥ ♥ ♥

P.S. Happy Birthday, Richard.

Another Train


So, nobody said I was particularly wise.

In my desperation to tame the Binge Eating Disorder beast, I regularly cycle around to doing stupid things—things I know in my adipose-caked heart won’t work.  Like diets.  But when an authority figure (aka my new doc) blamed all my physical woes on obesity, and my trusted nurse practitioner suggested a ketogenic diet, I jumped like water in a skillet of hot bacon grease.

I learned two things:

  1. A ketogenic diet made my gut unhappy in violent ways.
  2. I will binge on anything, so changing the type of food doesn’t change the behavior one iota.

So, now I’m back to mindfulness and paying attention to my triggers.

All this food-stress didn’t help my bipolarness.  I’ve been roiling, inside and out.  My thinking is still in desperation mode, so I need to be careful not to jump on every thought-train that pulls into my station.  Another train will come.  And another.  Sooner or later, this anxiety and agitation will shift.  The urge to hop a train out of town will ease.  Eventually, I’ll be able to leave the station and go home.

But, I’ve got this ticket in my hand…

At The Dig Site

I knew this wouldn’t be easy.

Lose Weight.  Such a simple sentence.  And it’s everywhere—magazines, TV, grocery stores, billboards, New Year’s Resolutions, the breath passing through many lips.  The sentence is simple, but the act is damn near impossible.  As my mental health team says, “If it was easy, anyone could do it.”

For me, it also means exhuming emotional skeletons, using tweezers and a soft brush to parse a knob of truth from harsh and debilitating bedrock.  I’ve worked this archeological site before.  Assembling all the artifacts never made much difference, just ripped a lot of fingernails and crushed me with failure.

But dig sites are layered and scattered.  Archeologists work a three-dimensional grid, moving out and down.  They know they have to dig deep.  They know they have to range far from the first find.  Their work is meticulous, choreographed, measured.  Patience, attention and delicacy are required.

I’m still not sure I can go through this again.  I don’t know if I can hold myself in compassion as the remnants of former lives resurface.  But I know I’m more equipped to do that now than I was even two years ago.

I believe life is a spiral, bringing us around again and again to the Work that needs to be done.  With each rotation, we come to the task with different tools.  That alone makes the experience different.

I thought I’d read every book on compulsive eating, but wondered if there wasn’t one I missed.  So I put it in my Plan—Check the Library.  There I found Better Is Not So Far Away: Decide to Recover From Bingeing, Starving, or Cutting by Melissa Groman.  Notice the title doesn’t promise recovery.  It only asks that you decide to recover.

The target audience is much younger than me—teens and young adult women—but the truths are so profound, they knock me flat.

In the pit of loneliness, you most likely feel the totally human ache to be understood, to be connected, to be soothed and loved.  But when you are in the pit, you do not believe these longings are normal, and getting them satisfied seems like a very remote possibility.

She [a client] is afraid of not having, not doing, not being, and just as afraid of having, doing and being.

This book helps, and it’s a trigger.  Anything that leads me further in triggers the compulsive eating.  It’s instinct now.

So, I’m uncomfortable, confused, angry and hateful.  I’m also resilient, patient, accepting and fine.

I always wanted to be an archeologist when I grew up.

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