Petting the Black Dog

Searching for shows I haven’t watched (it’s getting harder, isn’t it?), I found Flowers—a very odd, very dark British comedy about family dysfunction, depression and madness.  It’s a total HOOT!  Plus, I love Olivia Coleman in whatever she does.

Anyhoo… this is the second or third time I’ve heard depression called The Black Dog as in “when the Black Dog is on him…”  It’s a delicious descriptor.  Littermate to the Hound of the Baskervilles.

So, I’m petting the Black Dog a lot lately.  He just seems pretty content to snooze on the rug indefinitely.  Gratefully, the amphetamine I take gives me a few hours of oomph before he crawls into my lap.  Here’s one of the things I’m doing with that time…

A while ago (who can keep track of time now), I made some little art journals with all the cup sleeves saved from my coffee excursions.  I sent them off to arty friends, but kept one for myself.

I’m turning it into a love letter to the coffee shop.

The drive-through is one of the few places I can talk to a live person without wearing a mask.  They are kind and funny, and they give me delicious succor.  I know I’d be lost without that little bit of contact and a way to pamper myself.  Making a journal seemed like a fun and different way to thank them.

I colored the pages by adding a few drops of ink to wet coffee grounds.  I made little pockets out of arted-up coffee filters to hide little treasures like this repurposed gum box.

Mostly, I’m making little collages, incorporating pictures I’ve taken of the shops (drive through and sit down) and the staff.

I’m working in miniature, which I love.  Laying down this poem with itty bitty letters saved from magazines took a whole day.  But the result was so worth it.

Expressing thanks helps shove the Black Dog off my lap for a while.  And working in miniature keeps my mind distracted from his whining.  Any relief, no matter how brief, from his weight and stinky dog-breath is a blessing—a chance to breathe and maybe take a sip of something yummy.

I’ll be making more of these little blank journals in the not-so-distant future, so if you’d like one, let me know.

Making What Sings to Me

I’m ready to send my little journal off to Art Journaling Magazine.  It doesn’t matter if they accept it or not, because I love it. I love having all my little bits of bipolar wisdom in one place.  I love the bones, and feathers, and tattered leaves mixed in with chiffon, and paint, and tissue paper.

I felt like I was using all my best parts—the Hunter/Gatherer keeping an eye out for treasures in the weeds, the Granddaughter channeling Gram’s magical needle and thread, the Aesthetic savoring texture and color, the Mad Scientist mixing media until it bubbled and wondering, “What if…?”

It was a Grand Experiment that shocked me over and over.

When it travels back home to me, I’ll keep it where I can see it every day.

It will remind me to be brave.

It will remind me to make what sings to me.

Floating a Little



 

• Post Title and Inspiration:

Mary Oliver — Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled–To cast aside the weight of facts–And maybe even to float a little above this difficult world.

Floating a Little


(Click on the photo to get a closer look)

 

• Post Title and Inspiration:

Mary Oliver — Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled–To cast aside the weight of facts–And maybe even to float a little above this difficult world.

Ideas About Thriving

I read a bit of Mary Oliver’s book of essays, Upstream, on a friend’s FaceBook page, and this grabbed me:

And this is what I learned: that the world’s otherness is an antidote to confusion, that standing within this otherness—the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books—can redignify the worst-stung heart.

Reading, difficult for me since electroshock, takes determination and much effort, but Mary’s book is on my Kindle now, and I dip into to it every day. As my cycle shifts out of depression, her words help me open to ideas about thriving.  Here’s what I’m trying so far:

•Commune with the Trees

I have an open invitation from my friend, Martha, to show up in her garden—to wander or make art or write, to breathe in the green and listen, to put my arms around the trees and mend my torn connection to them.

I’m also determined to find green places to walk.  Arthritis and despair have held me back, but today I tried out Cody Creek Trail.  The pain was worth the trees and their bits of discarded, lichen-covered bark that they left for me.

•Finish

For whatever reason—fear, despair, boredom—lots of projects languish, tucked away so their half-heartedness can’t hurt me.  These pieces deserve my respect and my care.  I deserve their beauty and the sense of stewardship their completion brings.

Today I hung the art quilt I started years ago when a friend in Marshalltown gave me her shop’s old upholstery sample books.  I took those pieces and centered them with a scarf my grandma used to wear wrapped around her head (the reddish cross in the middle).  I love the subtle colors and the way some of the fabric falls apart like melting butter.  It hangs in my sitting room, waiting for other pieces to join it.

I’m working again on a small art journal that I started when I moved to Muskogee.  It’s called The Zen of Bipolar Disorder.  Each spread is a “lesson” I’ve learned and try to practice.  I’ve used lots of natural elements—feathers, leaves, bones, sticks, raw wool—sewn to chiffon or cheesecloth or other semi-transparent media.  It’s wild, and startling, and unlike anything else I’ve ever done.  When finished, this little book (made from an antique Swedish almanac) will be my next submission to Art Journaling Magazine.

Today, I’m going to start the finishing of my Wall of Flowing Yellow.  Not long after I moved here, I found a wholesale fabric warehouse and bought yards of various yellow chiffons and silks (and a shimmery orange prom dress at Goodwill).  The idea was to drape this huge (14 feet by 8 feet) blank wall in the center of the duplex with the Feng Shui-accurate color of Health.  Some panels are beaded, some beribboned.  All that’s left is to sew nine panels together and hem the whole piece.  A few days work.

•Choose to Thrive

This last idea is an experiment in alchemy.  How do I combat the Place Hatred that takes over when my symptoms cycle into the Black?  Hating where I live stops any chance of growth.  It poisons the air and turns people into monsters.

One small shift—repurposing a journal—is the only idea I have right now.  I used this journal to analyze my Place Hatred, to be specific, to sort out what I could change and what I couldn’t.  I used about half of the journal to that end.

Now I will use it to explore Thriving.  What makes me feel alive and well?  How do I stay open to the possibility?  This will be a place to tuck notes and ideas, to jot down little joys and brainstorms.  As I experiment, I’ll practice proper scientific technique, keeping track of results, near-misses, and magic.

Oh, it’s a relief to know that I’m still on an Adventure.

The Wind

From my journal yesterday.

Sitting in Martha and Jon’s garden with the rush of the wind in the trees.  I’d forgotten that sound, like the ocean roaring, fading, roaring.  It will rain soon, but for now the sun breaks the clouds in the east, and this roaring is full of life, and energy, and danger.

If I am to stay, I must find a way to thrive instead of just existing.  It will have to be something new since the old ways aren’t working.  Everything changes.  My illness buffets me like this wind.

I need a way to flow with it… (Ah. The rain is coming.  Good.  That feels right, too) … I need a way that makes my illness an organic part of the solution, the way the wind blows pollen, strengthens roots, culls the dead branches, mixes things together and apart.

I can feel the wind and the blow behind my words clearing space.  The sky darkens.  Thunder grumbles in the distance.  The rooster next door crows.  Something is coming.

Hints abound if I can stay awake and open, if I keep looking, keep trying, keep experimenting.  There are seasons in me cycling faster than Nature.  I feel the rain on my back, the cold on my skin.  I feel my rain and cold turning again.

I can continue to turn.  I can continue to seek.  I can get wet and cold with winds roaring inside and out.  And it will all keep turning if I learn new ways to turn with it.  I’ve done it before.

The patter of drops on leaves sounds like applause.

Isolation and Mental Wellness…

…are incompatible. At least that’s what every Professional has told me since I was a wee Bipolarling . Self-isolation is one of the diagnostic tick boxes for clinical depression in the DSM–5. It can act as a harbinger of worsening symptoms and suicide.

But what happens when isolation, or Social Distancing, isn’t something we choose? If the studies about what solitary confinement does to a prisoner’s brain apply—even to a small degree— a different kind of crisis might be around the bend for those of us Around the Bend.  And perhaps for the Neuro-Normal as well.

Or not.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve had it drilled into me that being alone too much is BAD. Over the past two years, I’ve gotten used to not interacting with another soul for days. I’m finding that the less I interact with people, the less I’m able to interact, like the prisoners who suffered solitary confinement.  I can see and feel that socializing is a muscle that needs regular use to keep from being atrophied.  But my current therapist isn’t alarmed. I’m older now—geriatric—and she says solitude in that age bracket is normal.

Huh.

I’m not sure what to think about that. Do I actually have permission to stop trying so hard to make connections? It would be like ditching the bra when you get home—such a relief! Or is there something more subtle going on. Depression in the elderly is more common than most people think. So, could solitude and depression still be in play? Is some level of depression considered (by Professionals) normal for older folk?

My therapist thinks not.  She says elder folk suffer more situational depression from death of loved ones, loss of income, physical debilitation and the like.  In my mind, that’s a lot of depression— situational or not.

I don’t want to atrophy.  I don’t want the World Brain to atrophy.  But I know it takes a lot of work to push past the barriers of isolation—work that’s gotten harder and harder to justify in my own cramped mind.  Will the World be willing to work that hard when the pandemic fades?

 

Floating a Little

 

• Post Title and Inspiration:

Mary Oliver — Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled–To cast aside the weight of facts–And maybe even to float a little above this difficult world.

Floating a Little

A spread from my Alphabet of Gratitude journal that I worked through a few years ago.  Focusing on what I’m grateful for—from the tiny and simple to the massive and impossible—rewires my brain.

Here’s a link to more info about gratitude and brain chemistry.

 

• Post Title and Inspiration:

Mary Oliver — Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled–To cast aside the weight of facts–And maybe even to float a little above this difficult world.

A Conversation in the Void

“Where have you been?” she asked him.

You left me, remember? Said it was easier.

His eyes were still kind, his voice still quiet.  But she couldn’t read him anymore. And she couldn’t believe she was trying to.  “Why are you back?”

His face shrugged. You called.

“I did not.”

Okay. You called out. So we came.

Startled, she peered into the dim behind him. Figures stood there, waiting. Figures she recognized.  “All of them?” she whispered.

He half-turned.  Most of us.

“It’s a mistake.”

One side of his mouth quirked up. Is it?

“I can’t do this again. It’s too hard.”

You’ve said that before.

“I do other things now. I don’t need you.”

How’s that working out?

“It’s the same story over and over.”

So, change the story.

“I’ve tried. It stays the same.”

Some parts. Not all of it.

“I don’t want to.”

Ah. He took a breath. You’ve said that before, too.

She pressed her hands against the sides of her head. “I don’t know what to do.”

Good. He smiled. That’s good. Maybe we can help. If you let us.

He raised his hands in surrender. Only if you want us to. No pressure. We’ll wait back here.

“I won’t be able to leave you alone if you stay.”

His kind eyes found hers. I know.

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