Saturday Morning

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.

Worth a Much Higher Price

Acapella Love

Second Helpings of Joy

Joy DietI’ve been reading Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet, a self-help/Life Coachy recipe for uncovering and going after your Heart’s Desire.  If you haven’t been in therapy for decades, and feel like there’s something missing or off in your life, this would be a decent place to start.

I started therapy when Ronald Reagan was President, so none of the material is new to me.  Still, I like hearing things presented in a new way, especially when the author has heart and a sense of humor.

Take her chapter on Treats.  These are the things/experiences we’re to reward ourselves for taking a risk toward that Heart’s Desire.  Very Pavlovian.  But Beck also wants her readers to give themselves at least two other Treats a day, just because folks generally don’t do that enough.  I liked that.

And Beck’s definition of “Treat?”  Anything that makes you feel like smiling.  Since most of us are programmed to grimace automatically in public, she gives homework to help the chronically repressed find what actually warms their cockles.  I like how she takes her readers by the hand, breaks each step to Nirvana into tiny, measurable actions instead of leaving them stranded in nebulous Woo-Woo Land.  And I like how she compares us to pigs.

So some of these ideas percolated in my hind-brain as I played with my art journal this weekend.  I worked on a cross-over spread, taking characters from a short story I’m writing and doing cool things with letters they’re writing to each other.  I adapted a Dixie Chicks song that I love and made it my character’s.  I treated pages from an antique, hand-written journal to use as their stationary.  It thrilled me to come at these characters and their story from a different angle, and to make something so gorgeous.

Claire&Richard BeforeBut, when I tried to write my new lyrics on this scrumptious paper, no marker or pen I owned made a consistent mark.  I worked for hours, going over the blotchy, ragged letters again and again.  It still ended up looking like a serial killer’s tease for the FBI.

I stopped when my hand cramped too much to hold a pen, and I was willing to let it go.  Some experiments don’t work.  That’s why they’re called experiments.

But as Henry walked across my shins in bed this morning, I got one of those lightbulb ideas.  The problem wasn’t with my pens, it was the paper.  I’d made it too slick.  How could I give it a little bite?

Clarie&Richard RedoI jumped out of bed and went to work, mixing matte medium with a few drops of gesso, adding paint, then taking fresh pages out of the hand-written journal and applying this concoction with a roller and paper towels.  I tested one corner with a gel pen before spraying the pages with fixative.  It took the pen beautifully.

The whole process filled me with joy.  Setting a problem aside, receiving the answer as I passed through the Creative Gold Mine between sleep and wakefulness, using media I didn’t own two months ago, and actually creating a thing the way I imagined it in my head.

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When I finished the spread, I couldn’t stop grinning.  Here was everything I loved—my writing, my art, my music, Richard Armitage. . .  Layers of meaning overlapped like the layers of paper (I love a metaphor you can actually touch), and color fed some hungry animal inside me.

Probably a pig.

Plato Says

Music is a moral law.  It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything.  It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, and just, and beautiful. — Plato

Just obeying the Law and creating a modicum of order today with these two.

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 11

Mill Valley, CA (9:30AM) to Golden Valley, AZ (9:10 PM).  623 miles.
Tunes: The California Mix (Eagles, Linda Ronstadt & Jackson Browne)
Audiobook: The Number One Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

I forgot that today was going to be my longest day on the road, so I really kicked myself for getting a late start.  I texted my host in Golden Valley along the way to update her on my ETA.  Unlike other AirBNB hosts, she was totally cool with a late arrival.  So, then, I just relaxed into the day.

John navigated us smoothly through the Bay area snarl (maybe it was a good thing to have missed rush hour) and got us headed in the direction of Stockton.  This excited me to no end as visions of Jared, Nick, Heath and Audra danced like sugar plum fairies in my memory. The Big Valley (or The Pig Valley, as I called it, starring Miss Barbara Stan-pig) played a seminal role in developing my fan-girl.  What is it about middle-school girls and horses?

However, we turned south towards L.A. before getting to Stockton.  Sigh.  I tipped my proverbial hat in the Barkleys’ direction.

Freeway signs warned that the ticket for texting while driving was $161.  As I am now a reformed seatbelt-wearer, I kept my phone in my purse and hoped fiddling with my GPS didn’t count.

Mojave_0551The highlight of yesterdays trek down most of California was entering the Mojave desert at dusk.  The mountains there were a completely different kind of animal as compared to their cousins up north; bare, tumbled rock stacked like the spines of prehistoric lizards.  At first the landscape seemed stark, but it owned every color of brown (slate, white sand, bloody rust).  Sage, scrub and Joshua trees dotted the sear plains.  I rolled down my window in the 93° heat to get a whiff of the parched, pure air.  And as darkness crept out from the rocky shadows, the thrill of it–me in the desert with nothing but stars and a few trucks trundling beside me–snapped me awake with joy.

IMG_0526To get to Melanie and Mel’s place, I had to take a twisty, two-lane highway through a tip of Nevada (instant Casino-land) and into Arizona.  We didn’t get lost once.  Melanie ran out of the house with her arms wide in greeting.  How lovely to have this funny, caring stranger waiting for me!I got a big basement room, complete with kitchenette and composting toilet, with a walk-out onto a fabulous garden.  Very cool art on the walls, too.

IMG_0527I’m sorry I can’t stay and enjoy the desert ambiance.  It’s 7:14 and I’ve got to shower and get going.  Today I go to Durango and meet another bloggy friend, Robert.

And I shant be late.

Westward Ho! Day 9

Roseburg, OR (9:30 AM) to Mill Valley, CA (7:00 PM). 462 miles
Notables: Fink’s Time and Distance.

I felt the depression move in like a thunderstorm this morning.  It took forever to sort through my clean clothes, get everything repacked and rearranged.  My body ached and the barometric pressure of my brain thickened like glue.

The night before, Doris and I talked a long time about chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and cannabis.  In Oregon, she’s able to grow and process pot for her own use, which is a complicated affair.  She makes “pot-butter,” an ingredient in therapeutic cookies.  And just like any drug, it took trial and error to determine the right dosage.

I thought about my friend, Duane, who suffers constant, chronic pain as a side effect of his AIDS medications.  He and his husband, Jim, supported the law to make medical marijuana legal in Minnesota.  It’s legal there now, but the process of qualifying, registering, and then paying $300-$500 per month makes it unobtainable.  I thought about Jim cooking up some “pot-butter” in their kitchen and how delicious his cookies would be.

I’ve never thought about trying marijuana for my own pain.  There have been nights on this trip when I could hardly hobble across a room.  I wasn’t thinking about pot before, but I’m thinking about it now.

As I hauled all my crap out to the car this morning, I asked Doris if I could buy some cookies from her.  I didn’t know it was illegal for her to sell it.  When Doris told me that, I felt like so un-street.  And weirdly like an undercover cop.

IMG_0458She pulled a Baggie out of the freezer.  “I’ll give you one, though.”

Then, she went through instructions like my pharmacist.  Only eat half of the cookie.  Don’t eat cookies while driving.  It could take two hours for the cookie to take effect.  Plus a list of possible outcomes.  And another list of cautions.

So, I had my half-cookie about two hours ago.  Feels like I might sleep better tonight.

Oh, yeah.  I also saw Mount Shasta today.

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