Mirrors

There’s nothing like being brainsick over a holiday weekend to remind me of my demographic status.  I’ve struggled for several days with vicious, distorted thoughts, but holidays add more stress with regular support services closed, carefully constructed routines disrupted, and human support unavailable as they enjoy time with family and friends.  Long weekends are difficult, and I’m not the only one who feels it.

So far this weekend, emergency vehicles have visited my ten-unit complex five times.  That means half of the residents have been in such a state of crisis that their only option seemed to be 911.  And the day’s only half over.

To try to calm my own agitation, I went to our common room this morning to do laundry, sit in the quiet, and maybe journal. I found one of the window latches broken.  In the bathroom, the toilet seat was broken in half with feces on the floor.  I cleaned that last bit as best as I could, weeping at the level of distress that person must have felt.  Afterward, I emailed the apartment manager with the details, knowing she wouldn’t read it until tomorrow because it’s a holiday.

I’m fully aware of how lucky I am to be “high functioning,” to have friends I can text most anytime, to have a sister who would come to my aid if I needed it.  I don’t interact much with my neighbors, because some of them can’t follow a conversation.  Others are quite shy and introverted or belligerent and aggressive.  I keep to myself.

But I understand all of it.  I am all of it—at times introverted or belligerent, unable to translate my thoughts into words, unable to concentrate on what someone might be saying to me.  I understand being in crisis and feeling like there are no options.

I live in an apartment complex of mirrors.  It makes me more human to look into them from time to time.

Chicory Days

Earlier this week, mixed-state depression settled in like chicory coffee—black, thick, bitter—and I panicked a little over the mental discomfort.  Seems like I’ve lost all my stamina—physical and mental—and must remember to be gentle while I rebuild both.

Thrashing around last night, trying to find something to ease the cramped thoughts and emotional acid reflux, I remembered my Pinterest boards—particularly, the board I created for just this situation.  Braying Like a Donkey.  There are memes and videos that still make me guffaw, plus photos of celebrities and common folk laughing hard—lost urine and milk-squirting-out-the-nose hard.  While not everyone shares my sense of humor, I invite you to go look—just in case you need a pick-me-up.

Then, today at my regular Friday therapy session, I asked the staff to make marks in my art journal.  I knew they would, even though some consider themselves artistically challenged and prone to perfectionism (it felt sorta good to challenge them for a change).  I will take their marks (and the mangled flower one of them used as a paintbrush) and create something that that is ours.

I needed that.  I needed to engage with people who unreservedly adore me, who remember who I am when I forget, who ask nothing of me other than to be authentic.

This is stamina-building, finding new ways to beat back the darkness.

I did good today.

Catching Up

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After almost three weeks of Clear, Calm Mind, weeks when I made art with quiet joy and dug into the second draft of my book about being bipolar, weeks when decisions made themselves; after weeks when the Dark Times of last autumn faded, the inevitable shift came.

northern-exposureFirst, just a melancholia set in as I  watched the last season of Northern Exposure (like getting weepy over Hallmark commercials).  Mopping up with Kleenex, I would have called myself hormonal if I still had any Girl Parts.  But after the final episode, I felt bereft.  I’d binge-watched all six seasons of the show, and now it was over.  I have a bad feeling about this, my Inner Han Solo muttered.

Later that day, I shut down during therapy.  We hit something big, and it blew all the circuits.  My therapist talked and all I could hear was the teacher from the Peanuts cartoons (Wah-wah-wah).

lala2Yesterday I met my friend at the theater to see LaLa Land and cried through the whole thing.  Not that I was paying attention to what was on the screen.

It takes me a bit to catch up with the shift.  I have to find a little spot of compassion and mindfulness where I can change gears.  What do I need?  What do I have to take care of and what can wait?  I will stay home today and do art at my table instead of going to church and the Writing as a Spiritual Practice group that I love.  I can make this decision without guilt or self-loathing.  It’s what needs to be today.

Tomorrow I will focus on preparing my apartment for the new bed-bug prevention regiment.  There’s a lot to do—vacuum, get everything off the floor, pull the furniture away from the walls.  I don’t quite understand what will be done, some kind of silicon mist, so I need to get as much stuff under cover as I can.  Then, on Tuesday, the cats and I will camp out at friends all day while this procedure takes place.  I’m not sure what kind of clean-up will be required once we get back.  All I know is that I can’t vacuum for three days.

no-need-to-hurryStuff like this is stressful on my best day.  I had found a rhythm with the quarterly bug-sniffing dog’s visits, but I guess Radar wasn’t as accurate as advertised.  Now management has decided on this annual preventative hoo-haw instead.  It’s so disruptive and worrisome.

So, I breathe and try to turn my thinking.  I don’t have bedbugs, but if my neighbors do, I’m at risk.  So this is a good thing.  Proactive.  And only once a year.  I can do this.

And if it’s all I do this week, it will be enough.

Disquietude

get-back-up-artistMy computer came home today, perkier, but still not firing on all cylinders.  The tech-docs did their best and will continue to monitor vitals.  At least I don’t have to create posts on my phone anymore.

Perhaps now my vague disquietude will ease up.  I feel like I’m constantly patting my mental pockets to make sure I have my keys.  What am I forgetting?  I start out the day with my gym bag and art tote, then forget my purse.  Once back in the car, I realize I’ve forgotten the letter I need to mail.  Then, my coffee.  Or like yesterday, I left my coat somewhere and still haven’t found it.

I’m discombobulated, constantly ticking important stuff off on my fingers.  Cats alive?  Gas in the car?  Shoes on?  I check my calendar, then look at it again because I can’t remember what was there.  I’m guessing my anxiety is a little spiky.

I’ve been getting about two hours of sleep at night for several months —even taking Xanax, which is usually all I need.  So, my med provider switched me to Clonazepam—same pharm family (anti-anxiety), but with a longer duration.  I still wake up three or four times a night, but go back to sleep, which I wasn’t able to do on Xanax.  And I’m not waking up furious.  That alone is a huge relief.  Any morning I can get out of bed not pissed off or in PTSD flashback-mode is already a success—no matter what else follows.

hen-in-charge1116Before Anthony, the tech-surgeon, made his house call this afternoon, I vacuumed and dusted a little—something I haven’t done since summer.  I told a friend, “You know it’s time to vacuum when the carpet is crunchy.”

Like my computer, I’m still not firing on all cylinders, but we’re both making progress.  Two addled brains are better than one, I guess.  It’s a good thing the cats are in charge.

Next?

TMy computer is in the hospital, gasping its last, I fear. So I’ll try to create a post with my phone. Technology–heh, heh–ain’t it sumthin’?

I finished the outpatient program and am trying to figure out what’s next. How do I re-engage with the human race? Aside from that being psychologically required, why would I want to?

No more Vyvanse, for one thing. It may have curbed some of my binge eating disorder, but gave me headaches and aggravated an old TMJ  injury. Aggravated seems the operative word here. The general consensus is that it also upped my “All People Stink” core belief, which may have contributed to a crankier-assed attitude this past year.

Mad Maxine

All I know is that it took weeks in group therapy before I could sit through the whole session. It was either bolt or punch some sap in the mouth. Not violent by nature, this impulse scared me a little. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say it also felt good. Which was scary in a whole other way.

Everyone in the group had issues with irritability (a common symptom of just about every mental illness), so we worked with it. A lot. So now I have a folder of “anger management” handouts in my Bipolar Badass arsenal.

Speaking of which, I designed myself a business card for my art show in December. Quite happy with the results.

Business Card 2016

Another “what next” was asking two of my friends who also suffer from depression and anxiety to form a Sanity Support group. We met last week, and the prognosis looks good for more get-togethers. This one stone could kill so many Crazy Birds for me that it’s hard to keep my WANTING in check. Patience, Grasshopper.

And since my computer is likely on its way to the Tech Morgue, I treated myself the day I discharged from the hospital with a 32 inch TV and a DVD player. No more incantations, Reiki treatments and uncomfortable yoga positions to get a disk to play in my wheezy computer. Now, all I need do is push a button. Pure Heaven.

New TV

The final “next” for now is working through the book Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manual for PTSD and Substance Abuse with my therapist. I’m sure the next “next” will rise from that.

Putting the Libra to Sleep

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I’ve completed six days in the Lutheran Hospital outpatient program, and I can’t tell yet if it’s making me better or worse.

There are two designations—IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) 1 and 2.  None of the literature explains the difference between the groups, but, basically IOP1 is for more functional, more acutely symptomatic folk.  IOP2 is for more severely ill folk who maybe require other services (home care, rehab, medical, etc.).

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The first two days I attended IOP1.  The group was HUGE, 14-18 people with the usual one or two who dominated every conversation and folks talking over each other.  I thought I would lose what little mind I had left.

I watched my intolerance and irritation skyrocket.  My Libra penchant for fairness blew up into a neurotic need to silence the blabbermouths so that the silent suffers might get a second to squeak out a comment.  But I also realized this was all my shit.  If the facilitators felt no need to shut down the usurpers or redirect the tangential wanderers, then it wasn’t my place to step in.  Instead I clutched my purse to my chest and took deep breaths.

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After the second day (and no sleep that night), I knew I needed to talk to my designated handler.  I told her through bitey, frantic, tear-and-snot laden spew that I couldn’t take another day of it.  She listened with a beatific smile and commented in a gentle don’t-spook-the-Tasmanian Devil voice.  Perhaps I should move to the other group.  And feel free to find a quiet place to breathe whenever the desire to punch a talky-talker in the face arose.

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My first day at “the other end of the hall” felt restful in comparison.  There were only five of us in group, and I learned things about PTSD—one of my diagnoses, though something my therapist and I have never really explored.  We usually have other immediate shinola to deal with, so we’ve only ever just touched on it.  THIS was what I was hoping for—some new information, some new tools, a direction.

But, the next day the group expanded to 13, and the whole issue of blatherers and time-sucks reappeared on a crazier level.  I tried to be compassionate, but that well seems to be dry at the moment.  I know folks talk out of nervousness, insecurity, etc., so I tried to reason with myself.  I still ended up out in the hall with my earbuds firmly in place, listening to Billy Joel sing “Innocent Man.”

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I blame the insurance industry and our butt-head Governor, Terry Branstad.  Most insurance coverage only allows three days a week in outpatient care, so Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays end up with twice the group size as Tuesdays and Thursdays.  It’s stressful to go from a small, intimate group where folks feel safe enough to open up, to a mob where everyone talks at the same time.

And because our Governor closed most of the mental health hospitals, took away funding for behavioral services, and basically told folks with mental illness to “get over it,” the programs that are left are bursting at the seams.

I watch the kind and knowledgable staff at Lutheran run around like headless chickens, trying to accommodate everyone’s needs, shore up folks enough to leave so that those who have been waiting a month for an opening in the program can take their place.  The nurse practitioner who talked to me about medication laughed long and loud when I called it “a three-ring shit show.”  This seems to be my new favorite phrase.

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I came home every day more exhausted and people-avoidant than ever.  I feel like an Introvert In Extremis, only able to function after hours of silent cat time, a couple episodes of Fringe and a frozen pizza from Costco (they have the best thin crust sausage pizzas…).  Even then, “functional” may mean taking a four-hour nap or washing the dishes.

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Yesterday I did my laundry at 3:00 in the morning, because I couldn’t stand the thought of going to the laundromat on the weekend when everyone else goes there.  So, because I was already awake at 3:00, I did laundry for the first time in my apartment complex’s washer/dryer.  Granted, one is not supposed to use the machines until 8:00 out of respect for the tenants who live next to the Common Room.  But since I hate people right now, I didn’t care.  And I tried to be quiet.  No one came after me with a knife, and no one slashed my tires later, so I think I got away with it.

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In between tippy-toeing, I sat at the nice dining table and worked on my journal.  Along with my wheeled laundry hamper, I brought my traveling studio (everything should be on wheels) and a big mug of hot chai.  I sat at my own little coffee shop with my earbuds in and the smell of clean wafting around me, and even through the itchy buzz of being up at 3:00 doing something illicit, I could feel my mind smooth out.

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The same nurse practitioner who laughed so hard with me suggested a new strategy for next week.  Bring my wheely cart and when group bugs me too much, take it to this out-of-the-way lounge I found and do art until I feel like coming back.  I tried that on Friday, and I left the hospital less drained.  I met my two meditation buddies for lunch and lasted about 30 minutes before I completely faded.  My well is dry.  That’s all there is to it.

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I think the trick is to not panic.  I feel myself considering the new drugs this kindly nurse practitioner suggests, even though I sat with my own NP before I started IOP and recounted my long list of Drugs Tried and why they didn’t work.  She reminded me that there really is nothing new in psychotropics, just tweaks to the same old formulas.  If they didn’t work then, they won’t now.

I’m grateful that the Lutheran staff is so willing to work with me.  It’s ironic that the adaptability and flexibility I need from them is part of what makes me so irritable there.  It’s a very loose, laissez-faire set-up for people who have different special needs.  I must try to give my Libran craving for fairness, order and rules a rest.  Maybe I can give her a Xanax.

Soothing The Troubles

Haven2I’m finishing up a Haven marathon.  If you’re not familiar with this SyFy Channel show that got cancelled last year, think Stephen King (it’s based on one of his stories) when he’s not at his best.  Hokey, repetitive and, at times, incomprehensible, but with enough great characters and moments of genius dialog to keep my attention.  Gloria, the smart-ass coroner, is worth it all by herself.  And Dwight, the Chief of Police, isn’t hard to look at either (This GIF is from an episode where they switched bodies—one of my faves).

Dwight & Gloria

The folks in Haven, Maine have Troubles—like attracting bullets, or talking to the dead, or blowing up anything they touch.  I always liked that understated description for the load of misery the townsfolk suffer.  Troubles.  I’ve unofficially adopted it this summer.  As in “my Trouble is flaring up.”

Which it did today.  I got a naggy, creepy-crawly feeling that something bad was about to happen, sort of a Stephen King version of anxiety.  Everyone looked suspicious and a little dangerous.  And I was worried about screwing up my art projects.

However, I finished a couple of things without unfixable mishaps.  I put together my first art journal in over a decade.  Even though the memory of making those first ones got lost in the ECT void, I kept the written instructions and assembled all the ingredients over the past couple of weeks.  I watched the Dark Fret try to stop me from finishing today, but pushed on.  Somehow, it helped to have this new journal done.  I did it.  While Troubled.

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Front Cover

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Back Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also finished a new piece for my front door.  The text comes from Stephen Dunn’s poem, Reversal, which I loved so much I posted it a few days back.

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I worked on this for weeks, waiting after each coat of paint or bit of grunge to see what would arise.  Working with matte medium and fabric for the first time, I panicked over the result, then took sand paper to it and loved the effect. Yesterday I tore apart an old alarm clock for the gears.  Today, I finished it with gloss medium and hated it.  My Trouble screamed, “Ruination!”

The negativity and fear my Trouble conjures up slips into my body like an old, familiar song.  But, practice helps me turn down the volume and remember there are no mistakes—just unexpected detours.  Art work, fiction, life may not turn out the way I envision them, but they turn out.  Most of the time, those detours are the best part of my day.  Troubled or not.

Westward Ho! Day 13

Durango, CO (10:00 AM) to Lamar, CO (4:45PM). 351 miles.Spike
Notables:  Van Morrison’s Keep it Simple (thank you, Robert)
Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novel Small Favor (read by James Marsters, for all you Buffy fans)

CoffeeMeeting my bloggy friend, Robert, was like coming home.  None of the emotional crap I wrestled last night took that away.  He was the thoughtful, mindful, funny, articulate man I knew from his blog and mine.  His voice sounded exactly as I imagined, his clear gaze looked and saw.

We sat at Durango Coffee Company for about an hour, shedding the distance of friends who only know each other through letters. We asked big questions and dove deep for the answers.  And we laughed.

Robert wanted me to have some Van Morrison for the rest of my trip (I love how music-people know when you need a piece of music).  We strolled down to the music store, still talking, but we were too early.  And I needed to be on my way.  So, we took a detour to his truck where he pulled out Keep it Simple from his CD player and handed it over.

IMG_0552I was so enthralled, I forgot to have a barista take our picture.  Crap.  Next time.  Because there will be a next time.

The rest of the day took me through the Colorado Rockies, through lots of little burgs, and into a scape that looked almost like home.  Rock still juts out of Eastern Colorado’s skin, but the grass and trees are turning Prairie.  Soon all that tectonic majesty will be behind me and the sea of fields will take over.

IMG_0562Tonight, I get to cook my Ramen noodles in a sweet, shabby-chic B&B.  Lace curtains, antique furniture, quilt on the bed, and a retro bathroom all just for me.  There’s a house cat on the porch.  What Traveling Girl could ask for more?

Westward Ho! Day 12

Golden Valley, AZ (9:00 AM Pacific) to Durango, CO (6:30 PM Mountain).  469 miles.
Notables: (for singing loud) Wailin’ Jennys Live

IMG_0264 (1)So much for good intentions.

Melanie, my host in Golden Valley, lassoed me as I was loading the car, and we ended up gabbing for an hour in a sort of open-air living room;  old couch, recliner, and side table under a trellis in the front yard.  Magnificent view and another magical connection.

I cut loose before she could give me a tour of the property, though.  Like Mr. Frost, I had promises to keep.  And miles to go before I sleep.  Miles to go before I sleep.

So off I went across Arizona, through Hopi, Navajo and Ute land. There, buttes and mesas dominate; brick-red sedimentary formations.  Sometimes ponies pastured on top of them, which made for an unbelievably cinematic silhouette against the cloudy sky.

MV_dramatic_sky_jan_2011I spent most of the day on a two-lane highway with no rest stops and long patches of nothing between gas stations.  We women of a certain age don’t do well without regular “rest” stops.  Luckily, I grew up on a farm and knew how to duck into a cow path off the road.  Some skills never die.

I had texted my friend, Robert, and my Durango hosts about being late.  Robert said not to worry.  I never heard back from my hosts.  So, when I got to their drive, and the gate was chained and locked, I fretted.  Soon, Ginger drove down the lane toward me.  They thought I was coming the next night.  What worried me even more was that Robert said the same thing; he thought I was coming the next day and couldn’t have dinner with me tonight.

Did I get my dates mixed up?  It would have been so easy to do with all these B&Bs to keep straight.  I had a text exchange with my sister earlier in the day, and she noted that I didn’t give myself much down-time or slack in my schedule.  True.  And no place for fuck-ups.

All this really threw me.  Even though Robert and I made plans to meet for coffee tomorrow morning, even though Ginger apologized and said they’d looked at their AirBNB calendar wrong, I had to sit in my car for a while and bawl.

I know I’m tired, which makes me more reactive.  It also makes me more rigid (Go With The Flow went).  I felt choked by disappointment and embarrassed by weeping in front of strangers.  And really bipolar.

A teensy part of me watched all of it happen.  That part cooked Ramen noodles.  That part talked to Ginger and Phil about their old dog, Zeke.  That part took a deep breath and held the exhaustion tenderly.  That part of me is okay.

It’s getting bigger by the minute, that teensy part.  Pretty soon, all of me will be okay.

Again.

And still.

Westward Ho! Day 7

Our last day of classes.

I skipped breakfast this morning to write about yesterday and ease into the day.  The Fort has a little coffee shop, so I stopped there for a latte and scone before heading to Jesse’s class; a quiet walk through the morning mist to the other side of campus with only my bag’s wheels grumbling on the asphalt and the gulls calling overhead.  Lots of crows here, too.  And owls.  The Flying Ones offer lots of singing practice.

I think Jess’s class was my favorite.  We worked in black and white acrylic paint using a fan brush and our hands.  Primitive mark-making.  And like Michael deMeng’s class, we started looking for areas of interest and larger images.  I loved the energy and immediacy of it.  Black and white felt so much easier than color.  And Jesse was a hoot.  He told stories in different accents, so of course I loved him.

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Details from the pages; lots of little Mr. Bills getting out of the thorny, pregnant monster’s way.

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After lunch, it was finally time for Tracy Moore’s class.  This was the watershed moment. Could he teach/inspire/goad me into art journaling?  Was there a way to incorporate art into my daily journal practice?  Or were these two modes of expression forever separate for me?

Tracy’s very low-key, but passionate about art journaling.  He just wanted us to keep our hand moving over the page, doodling, trying different simple shapes while he told stories about his own process.  He talked about how journaling for him is a social experience, hanging out in coffee shops and bars with his journal and pens, inviting people he meets to draw something in them.  Some of his pages have lots of text, some don’t.  He admits that he gets bored easily and switches things up.

He also gave us a list of his favorite stuff; pens, techno doo-dads, stamp-making tools, online stores.  I made a list.

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Later I talked to him about being a writer who also does art and whether I could combine the two.  “Keep it simple,” he suggested.  “Try it and see what happens.”

So at the Last Night Party,  I sat with everyone else and wrote in my newly minted art journal and pondered this question.  The Seattle band, Surrealized, provided mood music and the door between my words and my art cracked open.  Is the separation illusion?  If both are allowed to play together, what else might join them?  What else might have been sacrificed to my bipolar scramble for survival?  What else waits for room?

I’m willing to push the door open a little wider and invite everyone to come play.

 

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