Just Don’t Scare the Cats

I don’t know why I’m always surprised by how awful this illness can feel.  There are episodes that seem like the first time (though I don’t think this is what Bryan Adams had in mind).

Little annoyances pile up and become life-jettisoning disasters.  This morning, after fighting with my shower curtain and flooding the bathroom floor, I collapsed on the bed and bawled full-volume.  I didn’t try to stop, hoping the release would activate some mysterious brain juice.  But all it did was scare the cats.

While Emmett huddled in the corner, Henry leapt to the rescue, yowling and circling my body.  He’d pause to sniff my face, then circle again. Or pause and grumble at the window to make sure no predators attacked while I was in this weakened state.

My boys.  My old, grandpa cats.  Saving me from myself.  Again.

Eventually, I wound down and started pulling together a plan for how to get through the day.  And the boys went back to their naps.

Walk Me Through This One

 •

My mind is a swamp.  A swamp littered with broken glass.  I know how important it is to put on my big rubber boots.

I have to navigate Medicare’s blockade.  Again.  Still.  I need to work with a doctor who doesn’t believe me and seems outraged when I ask him to address my needs.  And this might all be my swamp, bubbling up and belching gas.  A hallucination?  Reality?  Somewhere in between?

It makes my gut ache, all this wading around and watching for gators.  The glass shards glitter in the foggy light, slicing across thin rubber.

I realize I take high offense at being disbelieved, as if I know nothing of my own body or the patterns of my Everglade mind.  It is a kind of erasure, wiping away my years of struggle and learning, all the experimentation, all the adventure.  It denies my intelligence.

So, I take a big lungful of the swamp gas and blow it out.  Offense is a state of mind.  An unhelpful state of mind.  My task today is to adjust my perspective.  I cannot be erased by another.  I know who I am.  I know what I know.  And I will play the Game.

Synchonistically, I started an online course today called Creative Mindfulness.  And I will meet with a new therapist who is versed in Cognitive and Dialectic Behavior therapies as well as Mindfulness.

“Calling All Angels.  Walk Me Through This One.”

Circling

My Art Journal Round Robin friends are about to make their third ring around the creative rosy.

The journal that came to me this past month held some pages folded over so that Cindy’s work was partially hidden.  Mysterious, compelling, it called me to continue the story.

I loved the challenge of blending with Cindy’s colors, approximating her type face, and figuring out what the half-exposed text might hint at for my work.

I’m pleased with the result.

Oh, okay, that’s WAY too blasé.

I love how scared I was to draw and did it anyway. I love the word stoccato. I love how the two spreads look together. I love the head-scratchiness of it.

I can’t wait for the next journal to arrive.

Cindy’s spread is shown first, then mine.

 

I Awaken

I awaken in sips

as I breach the cold dark,

undulating through the mind’s long slumber.

Above the surface, sound pierces

colors blind

details sharpen.

One sip

to orient

before sinking

into a darkness that must not remain home.

I angle again toward the light.

 

Inspired Upon Waking

It was a small venue—an old church, maybe.  Judi Dench sat on an old piano bench against the right wall, looking worried and undecided.  We all sat quietly, but the people around me held thin plastic squares high in the air—no bigger than a matchbook with rounded corners, so I knew it was an Apple product.  Tiny recorders.

“Yes,” Dame Dench finally said in her raspy voice, “I will sing, but absolutely no recording.  Please.”

No one put down their tiny squares, and I felt anger tumble over my need.

“Put them down,” I said, trying for loud and reasonable, but ending up with shaky.  “It’s Judi’s voice, not yours.  It belongs to her.”

More hands lifted in the semi-darkness.

They’re spoiling it, I thought, desperate.  She’ll leave.

Her eyes found mine in the crowd.  “Oh, all right, then.”

She turned to the piano, away from her audience, but did not play it.  She started to sing a Loreena McKennett song acapella, her Shakespearian-raw voice scratching the notes.  She was not a singer, yet she sang.  At 83, she sang.  Recorders be damned.

The Titanic Had a Plan, Too

Planning is part of my DNA.  Knowing a plan is just the tip of an iceberg was something I had to learn.

As I waited this past winter to move from Iowa to Oklahoma, I tried to imagine what difficulties might be in store.  I knew leaving my therapist and managing without one for a while (I finally meet her this week) meant working as many Tools as I could, including complete acceptance of where ever I landed on the bipolar scale each day.  I expected leaving my friends and UU church community might stir up some ancient loneliness and tendencies to isolate.  I imagined the culture of the Plains might take some getting used to, or that the food might be a little different.  I wondered if living closer to family would challenge my communication skills, my boundaries or shake up what I’ve come to consider my limitations.

What never even crossed my mind was the weather.

I knew it got hot here in the summer, but I was not ready for 95 degrees and 96% humidity the first week of May.

It stupefied me.  The humidity seeped into the crevices of my skull and expanded like Gorilla Glue.

My nephew, the rancher, gave me lots of good advice:  Get any running around done in the morning, then high-tail it home to air conditioning for the rest of the day.  I told him I must be losing weight with all the puddles of sweat in my shoes and no appetite.  He said he thought the same thing when he moved here back in his college days, but it never did work that way.

Well, shoot.

Now, Iowa can be hot and humid.  In fact, my friends tell me it is right now.  But, I don’t ever remember opening my front door at 7:00 in the morning and walking into a swampy cement wall.  It takes a moment or two to find the air and pull it into my lungs.  I feel like Ed Harris in The Abyss.

I can’t tell if my depression is worse because of the weather, or if it’s the normal run of my rapid cycling doing its thing.  I know I’m bored with my own whingeing and try to keep my mouth shut.  I must say it does help to hear locals complain and that the weather service issued a heat advisory yesterday.  It’s not just me, then, being a weenie.

Knowing my A/C will be on until October makes me worry about my expanding carbon footprint.  To that end, I’m determined to recycle and to look at other ways I can assuage my environmental guilt.

I know.  I’ll make a plan.  That will solve everything.

I Wasn’t Cut Out to Be a Cheerleader

After tumbling around for a couple of months in the worst my bipolarity can offer, I resolved to set aside all thought, expectation, plans and hope of moving.  It would happen in its own time (in months, maybe, or even a year), but until then I needed to reengage with my life instead of living with one foot out the door.  The stretch of that cheerleader’s pose had strained my brain into a constant trembling.  Mental-muscle exhaustion.

I could feel the eminence of a raging relapse on the horizon.  I had to do more than Wait.  So, I made appointments with my therapist, reinstated my Y membership, asked my cleaning lady to postpone her scheduled attack on my Moving Out Cleaning List.  I asked my friends on dates, opening doors that I’d almost closed.

Armed with a new Plan, I slid my foot back inside the door of my life as it is, not what it might become.  I slept a little better.  My capacity seemed a little deeper.

And, of course, yesterday my sister called to say the Move is On.  The tenant I’m replacing is being evicted, and the townhouse could be ready for me as soon as mid-April.

handmade cards, collage artHowever, my new-found footing kept me from spinning at this news.  I’m sorry for whatever reason this woman must be expelled from her home.  I send my heart out to her, hoping she can find a better home, hoping she has support and help to transplant her to a place that is loving and absent of fear.  I also refuse to take note of that “mid-April” business.  It’s just an invitation to more brain-splits, and I’m not having it.

Worried, my sister wanted to know how I was taking this news.  I said I’d just do the next thing (scan and email her all the documentation required), then eat supper.  And if it falls through, that’s fine, because I’m on terra firma.

As I was scanning and emailing last night, I checked my In Box to find a new message from Art Journaling Magazine.  My journal passed muster, and I’ve been invited to write a 700-800 word article about it.  As one of the artists featured in that (as yet unknown) issue, I’ll be part of a forum where we’re asked questions like: How did you get started in art journaling?  What’s your favorite way to fill empty spaces on a journal page? How would you describe your style?

I had to laugh.  If there’s anything I believe in, it’s synchronisity.  In finding my balance and feeling my agitation and anxiety abate, I became ready for The Next Thing.  And after all my years of struggling to be a published writer, it comes to me now on the wings of an art form I love more dearly than writing.

The Universe is a perverse and whimsical partner.  But, I’m much better at dancing with It than I am at cheerleading.

Comfort Me, O, My Soul

After some semi-comatose recovery time from my Taos-Fail, I wheeled my art cart into Starbucks yesterday and camped out for the morning.  Surrounding my surrogate-self on the page with the warm, chuffing bulk of pachyderms coaxed my sore brain to a softer place.

I also started working with my Panda Planner, a tool my therapist highly recommends.  Along with the regular planner-type stuff, it fosters brain health with headings like What I’m Grateful For, Things I’m Looking Forward To, and a nightly review that includes Wins for the Day.

I feel like I’m starting to crawl out from under the stress of moving (or not knowing when I’ll move) and get back to things that need attention.  Slowly.  Carefully.  I don’t want to startle the elephants.

To Boldly Go

Split infinitive.

You’d think Gene Roddenberry would have known better.

Still, Bill Shatner could Shakespearize anything, even bad grammar.

But I digress.

Boldly going, I’m moving to Oklahoma.

My sister and I started talking about it when I visited her there over Christmas.  We let it sit a while to see if it was just holiday cheer and wishful thinking, then decided the plan had legs.  What really put shoes on those legs, though, was my brother’s offer to support me enough to live somewhere other than subsidized housing.

It’s been a shock, really, to be given this unconditional support, to know that my siblings are with me, to come to understand that I am not alone.  We didn’t grow up this way, you see.  Grand generosity was never our family’s forté.  Small gifts, yes.  Limited support with strings, yes. Pull up your big girl panties and stand on your own two feet lectures, yes.  This level of largess requires a complete brain dump and reboot.  What I thought I knew as truth isn’t.

I’m also struggling with the urge to hide in my apartment until it’s time to move.  I can feel myself disengaging from my life here, from both difficult and delightful relationships, from the activities that fill this life.  All the reasons I want and need to leave this place rear up like trained elephants, trumpeting and rolling wild eyes at me.

But I have a trip to Taos at the end of February, to make art with friends and breathe in the mountains of the West.  I want to enjoy that trip.  And I know I will need time afterward for my brain to do what it does with change and stress.  It will be well into spring before I leave this little apartment that I’ve worked so hard to make into a Nest.  I need to stay present and grounded in now, take care of my friendships, do the work in front of me each day.

In the meantime, my sister is in High Research Mode, talking to her realtor friends and sussing out neighborhoods.  In a month or so, she’ll start looking at places for me to rent.  She has my Must Have list (I have several lists going—that’s one way to keep the Greener Pastures Gremlins from taking over).

Transition is always a challenge, as is stress.  Even good stress.  So, while I do the work in front of me, I must also Do My Work.  Be kind, gentle and generous with myself.  Allow the terrified elephants a chance to walk on four feet and sing themselves to sleep.

Because (all together now), I’m on an Adventure.

Doilies and Flickers in the Dark

Our Social Justice Minister, Erin Gingrich, asked me to participate in her service a couple of weeks ago.  Her topic was “Hope Rekindled,” and she’d heard enough of my story to think some version of it might add something “powerful.”

I loved crafting a speech to fit the theme and metaphors we chose—visions of high school speech competitions made me smile as I worked.  Even better was the opportunity to pull out parts of my story that could be told in an uplifting way.  I wasn’t nervous that Sunday, just honored.

The third member of our service team that day, Martha Shen, crocheted a huge doily for Erin some time ago.  She included a poem with her gift that became our service’s central theme.

a single strand

masterfully intertwined

whose beauty is defined

as much by the empty spaces

as by the strand itself.

 

Here’s my Reflection.  If you’d like to hear Erin’s homily, you can click here.

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