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.

When There is Nothing to Be Done

Discomfort.

My mind is itchy, scabby, oozing where it’s scratched itself raw.

My body aches and pinches, the hollow parts filled with vinegar and steel wool.

Gravity increases.

Distraction telescopes out of reach, leaving only the rote movements.

My hands do them anyway, a prayer, a coax, a thing to do

when there is nothing to be done.

The Moment is Enough

Emmett has his own way of getting the day started.  He scuttles up to my pillow and whacks me in the face with his tail.  He’s not subtle, this second-fiddle cat who got promoted to Concert Master last December.  I consider myself trained.

From bedroom to kitchen in the gray, half-light, stiff joints find their rhythm.  The ritual of cat food alchemy and kitchen clean-up come from muscle memory, not any sort of gray matter function.  That, in itself, is a miracle.

It’s been a week since my new Medicare drug insurance ended the two month gap where I had no coverage.  I rationed three weeks of meds over those two months and learned, decisively, that Vyvanse helps the depressive part of my bipolar existence.  Without it, I made piles of my possessions in my mind with Sticky Notes of who should get them.  I slept a good part of the day and stayed in bed the rest.  All the hobgoblins nattered ugliness in my ear. I lived in a different sort of gray world.

With Vyvanse, windows of color open.  Joy slides in with the brush of Emmett’s tail and putting paint to paper.  A different ritual starts to reform—swimming, cafés, doing the next thing.  Gratitude resurfaces—for my weekly yoga class, for my steadfast sister, for the Salty Dog Ruccicino at the Erly Rush coffee drive-through.

A cardinal just flew across the parking lot—a blaze of color in the sunlight.  Limpy, the feral calico, prowls around the cars, waiting for opportunity.  Birds chirp.  Trains rumble.  The thought of getting a massage later in the morning creates a warm spot of anticipation.

In this moment, all is peaceful.  The moment is enough.

Wax On, Wax Off

Our little Art Journaling Round Robin group is still arting strong. The theme for the journal I’m working in this month is Tales from the Kitchen.  I figured this might be a stretch since I forsook (verily!) cooking many moons ago. (In fact, I should clear out all those thirty-year-old spices in my cupboard and make more paint storage. But I digress.)

How-some-ever, during that magical time between sleep and waking one morning, a path back to the kitchen presented itself through my family’s rinderwurst. This is a meat sludge made from the left-overs of butchering, a recipe known only to my Gram and never written down.

It sounds gross, but we considered it a special treat, layered on hot pancakes. As food is wont to do, this gray delicacy carries my family’s DNA in the muscle memory of helping turn the meat grinder, listening for the canning lids to pop, and digging in together around the big kitchen table.

So, I created A Genealogy of Rinderwurst, tracing the Sorta Sausage back to my German immigrant ancestors. I used bits from Gram’s journals (yes, she broke the Journaling trail for me) and indulged in a decades-old desire to try my hand at encaustics. The golden glow of liquified beeswax gave the spread even more vintage deliciousness and puddled nicely in the paper’s dips and hollows.

I loved hooking a disgusting bit of farm history to my cache of family pictures and being brave with a new medium. I love the outcome. And I am, once again, revitalized and grateful for my Round Robin group—Tanya, Lori, Carina & Cindy—the Art Angels on my shoulder.

Choosing to be Vulnerable…or Not


“We waste so much energy trying to cover up who we are
when beneath every attitude is the want to be loved
and beneath every anger is a wound to be healed
and beneath every sadness is the fear that there will not be enough time…
Our challenge each day is not to get dressed to face the world
but to unglove ourselves so that the door knob feels cold
and the car handle feels wet
and the kiss goodbye feels like the lips of another being
soft and unrepeatable.”

 

~ Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

Over the past several weeks, the concept of vulnerability and its importance to intimacy has followed me like a stalker.  At the same time, I heard from a friend about how sad and hurt she is over my silence and disconnect; I swore at my sister (via text) for the first time in my life; and I annoyed another close friend with my narcissism (my words, not hers).

I believe without a doubt that I’ve lost the ability to listen deeply to others.  Compassion and caring used to be important to me.  They were qualities I purposefully cultivated and practiced.  I believed in the power of kindness to change the world around me.  I have also felt that belief dribbling out of me over the past decade.  I’m easily annoyed and impatient with other people’s problems. I avoid social settings and leave when I feel my tolerance unraveling. Mental illness has made me guarded, judgmental and mean.

There’s a reason therapists caution against isolation—not just because human connection is vital to all forms of health, but because the mentally ill are already vulnerable, and making real connections with others requires us to risk being more vulnerable.  It’s too hard, too painful.  So much easier to barricade behind thicker and thicker walls, then complain about being lonely.

I can see the path I’m on leading to life as a hermitic sociopath.  Maybe I’ve binge-watched too much Dexter, but I can identify with his lack of empathy and complete self-absorption.

Then, Tara Brach, or my therapist, or an article in a magazine suggests an alternative path—to “unglove” as Mark Nepo puts it.  It’s painful and terrifying.  It seems like too much work that requires more courage, more bad-assery, more, more, more.  To be fair, Tara suggests gentleness and tiny acts of willingness.  I’m not being asked to tear down the walls, just look at them.  Or sit with my back against them and feel their warmth and strength.  Still, I don’t know that it’s worth it.

And I don’t know if I have a choice.

 

 

 

 

 

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