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.

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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.

I See You

Sometimes it takes a shock to wake up.

Yesterday I was slapped into a deeper appreciation for all the kind, generous and courageous people in my life.  I see you, and I’m so very grateful for you.

Thank you for doing the hard work with me of untangling our misperceptions so that we can see each other more clearly.

Thank you for sticking with me when I’ve scared you.

Thank you for teaching me what kindness looks like.

Thank you for understanding when I disappoint or fall short of your vision of me.

Thank you for being a role model of Not Taking Things Personally.

Thank you for your humor and making me laugh out loud when I need that most.

Thank you for coming to me when I’ve hurt you so that I can make amends.

Thank you for hugs, and Kleenex, and open invitations.

Thank you for all your cumulative years of wisdom that guide and level me.

Thank you for accepting me as I am, sane or crazy, smooth or rocky, gentle or snarky, and loving me anyway.

Thank you for a depth of kindness that touches me so deeply I can’t help but weep.

Thank you for reminding me of all the beauty around and within us.

Thank you for giving of yourself to save me from myself, and reminding me that It’s All Good.

I am truly blessed by an abundance of Love and Light that shines out from those who love me.

Thank you.

Emma and the Leaky Gut

While this may sound like a new Judy Blume novel, it’s really just my latest batch of experiments.

In August, when I met with my Case Manager, I was a bit weepy about the verdict of my pulmonologist (Obesity is the root cause of everything), trying and getting sick on a ketogenic diet, and the increasing pain in my knee.  Depression had trundled out the “Hopeless” cart, and I had climbed in.

My Case Manager is a lovely, up-beat, supportive darling, so when she suggested I see a hospital dietitian I felt instant betrayal.  Visions of scales and tape measures goose-stepped through my brain.  But, she asked me to think of this dietitian as someone I might add to my small support system—someone I could talk to and have on my side.  Framed that way, I agreed to meet with her.

In the meantime, I had been visiting my chiropractor for my knee and recurring TMJ.  Over the summer, she heard all about Dr. Obesity, my binge eating disorder, and all my other mental and physical woes.  For good measure, I came down with bronchitis a few weeks ago.  Along with prescribing additional protein powder to my morning shake while I’m sick, she also wondered if I might not have a Leaky Gut.

Basically, this syndrome is caused by a loosey-goosey gut allowing too much junk to pass into the blood stream, setting off an immune response that never shuts down.  Chronic inflammation of the gut follows.  Treatment involves getting rid of foods that irritate the gut and adding foods that soothe and heal it.  Dr. Ash has a quick take on Leaky Gut here.

Being sick with bronchitis turned out to be the perfect time to implement these changes.  Since I’m already lactose intolerant and get a gut ache eating bread, going dairy and gluten free was a no-brainer.  I can add bone broth to my gluten-free chicken noodle soup, eat a little kefir as a snack, and alternate my Breathe Easy tea with a variety of kombucha teas.  And my gut has stopped aching all the time.

I started to wonder:  What if obesity isn’t just a cause, but also a symptom?  What if Binge Eating Disorder isn’t just a mental illness, but also has a physical component?

These are the questions I took with me to the dietitian.

Emma is a sweet, young, cheerful professional, but had no answers.  She had heard of Leaky Gut, but knew nothing about it.  She knew about Binge Eating Disorder, but knew nothing about that either.  However, she was absolutely willing to learn.  She took all the information I brought with me and made copies for herself.  Our weekly sessions focus on what I want and my goals, not weight loss.  She is, as my Case Manager predicted, a wonderful addition to my support team.

My bad knee and intermittent TMJ turned out to be arthritis, no big surprise since my dad was a Bionic Man of joint replacements and—you know—that obesity thing making everything worse.  Whenever I think of arthritis, Mammie from Gone With The Wind pops into my head.

Arthritis waits in its web, swooping in after an injury.  An opportunistic little shithead.

Oh, well I’ll think about that tomorrow.  I have sauerkraut and wild salmon to eat now.  And tomorrow is another day.

Saying Good-Bye Well

Yesterday, I said my last good-bye to Mark Stringer, the minister at First Unitarian Church of Des Moines.  He told us six months ago that he was leaving the ministry, and I’ve been grieving ever since.

It’s weird—we never had a private conversation, just exchanged a few words as I shook his hand on Sunday on my way out the door.  But in the three years that I’ve been going to First Unitarian, I’ve been able to share enough of my story with him to make a connection.

No, that’s not quite right.  I felt connected to him.

From the first service I attended, I knew this guy got it.  His sermons seemed like extensions of my therapy sessions, filled with the importance of mindfulness, compassion, acceptance, and awareness of our own realities.  He made me laugh and cry—usually at the same time.  Finally, after searching for years, I’d found a spiritual home and someone who spoke to the things that mattered to me.

PTSD makes me vulnerable to abandonment-thinking.  Bipolar disorder distorts any thinking into darker twists of hopelessness.  I knew I needed to work this through or I’d probably never go back to the church once he was gone.

So, I attended every Sunday service (once I recovered enough from my last bronchial bomb).  I cried (okay, sobbed) through each one of them, Kleenex box clutched tight.  I made myself look him in the eye after our hug at the door and thank him for the opportunity to do this work.  Some mornings I was too verklempt to say the words, but Mark would hold my watery gaze and say, “I understand.”

While I grieved, I also noted every friend at church who sought me out, every acquaintance who grinned when our eyes met.  I forced myself to see that FU (you gotta love a church with those initials) offered me real community and relationships beyond Mark.  I made a point of wandering around after services to find people I knew and admired in order to weave another thread into our connection.

Yesterday we held his celebratory Farewell Tour at the performing arts theater of one of the city’s high-end high schools (very lovely).  We needed room enough for the whole congregation to honor Mark’s sixteen years of service.  He came to us straight from theological school and is moving on to be the Executive Director of the Iowa ACLU.

I wept like everyone else, touched by his words and deeds (he performed the first same-sex marriage in Iowa), amazed at all he and the church had accomplished (doubled the membership and increased FU’s legislative presence on issues of justice).  But, my tears were of joy and gratitude, not grief.  I spent yesterday talking to my friends, making sure I told the speakers and the choir now much they moved me, and asking questions about the ministerial search process.  I did what I set out to do—I said good-bye well.

It might be good for me to get involved in the Search process, since who “ministers” to me is so very important.  But, I’m tucking that thought away until I learn more.  Will the various committees be able to use a bipolar member who lives an hour away and who may not be able to follow through?  Can I allow myself to be that vulnerable?  Can I get involved and accept my limitations?

It wouldn’t be an Adventure without some mystery and a little risk.

Here’s the first sermon I heard Mark deliver.  Seventeen minutes is an eternity in blogland, but it might be worth your while.

Warp Speed

This week my rapid cycling revved into full swings of deep depression and giddy mania.  Each day the arc would take me to the opposite end of the spectrum, which is a new experience for me.  I don’t remember having alternate days of depression and full mania before, but my memory is unreliable.

I wrote to a friend that it felt like I was traveling, and I like that descriptor better than “cycling.”

“I’m traveling this week.”

Across the Space/Time Continuum, apparently.

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