Welcome Home, Old Friend

Rage

Rage seems to be intrinsic to my flavor of bipolar disorder.  In a mixed state, where symptoms of both depression and mania manifest, my “manic” is some form of agitation—anxiety, compulsive behavior, or rage.

I made the journal spread above in the midst of anger so black and sharp I could barely breathe.  I painted over the picture on the right—mini-me with my dog, Rebel—then slashed at it with a steak knife.  The violence stunned me, violence aimed at myself, at the innocent and vulnerable part of me.  I painted in the gouges, then echoed the savagery on the opposite page.

I left it that way for several days, coming back to take in the images and process the layers of Truth I’d uncovered.

I used to believe there must be a reason I got so mad.  I used to sort through all the old betrayals, snubs, and layers of unfairness in my cheesecloth memory.  But, there’s no reason for my rage other than funky brain chemistry.  Trying to justify it only throws napalm on the fire.

Rage is just another part of me, like the creeping hopelessness that sits on the other end of the spectrum, like my blue eyes, like the way I put words or colors together.  And like everything else, the only thing to do with it is welcome it home.  That’s when I pulled Thich Nhat Hahn’s Anger off my bookshelf and found the words my Rage needed.

Today, this moment, contains no rage.  This morning I wrote in my journal next to The Dalai Lama:

Dalai Lama

“When the symptoms are big, there’s always this base undercurrent of failure, a deep Mariana Trench of wrongness, that awful and vague sense that I should be doing something else/more, that I should be something else/more.  It negates all that I do and all that I am.  It robs me of any satisfaction or sufficiency.  Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to these journals now.  They are so immediate.  The rush of rightness washes over me without any censor.  Pictures together tell an immediate story.  Color bypasses thought.  The soft texture of the Pan Pastels signals instant comfort, and I feel masterful… I feel incredibly lucky and grateful for this tool.”

Yes, I do.

The Adventure Continues.

Primatives

So Very Odd

100 Blessings

It just feels odd to be so creative and crazy at the same time. And yet… And yet, this is exactly who I am.  Somehow, I’ve come home to myself through the backdoor.  And it’s all okay.  More than okay, I’m at peace with the pain.  I can breathe through the hopelessness.  I find comfort during the hysteria.  I am living in a place of sufficiency even while the brain demons scream that I’m not.  And sorta loving that all this contradiction and friction seems to be making art.

My Blue Eyes

The Journey Continues

Breathing with my Fingers

As my current bipolar season continues, I’m ever so grateful for this new tool of Art Journaling.  Since there are several stages to creating a spread, I can always find some piece that will fit my state of mind.  Whether it’s pulling images out of my stash for the collage bits:

Civil War Spread

 

Or finding new ways to use text:

Air Spread

 

Or slipping into a Zen state while making boarders and lines:

Into the Storm Spread

 

Or trying out a new tool, like this very fine tipped Pilot marker:

Eyeballs

 

I can camp out at my coffee shop with my journal and let my illness be.

Megan, my therapist, said I’m not fighting it anymore, and that feels true.  It seems to be getting easier to accept whatever my illness brings—the quicksilver changes in mood, the sudden shifts in functionality.  Those things aren’t good or bad anymore.  They’re just me.

I still try to stuff myself into a “normal” sausage casing sometimes, expecting to move around in the world the way other people do.  But, as I sit with my journal, with all the space it creates in my head, I’ve started to unhook from those expectations and get curious about how I might move differently in the world.

Today, for example, I looked at how I keep trying to make commitments (like being on a committee or taking a class) when my illness makes that nearly impossible.  At some point, when my symptoms become severe, I’m forced to drop everything.  So, instead of continuing to bash myself over the head for being “unreliable,” perhaps there’s another way.  Maybe it’s a matter of showing up when I’m able.  I know the world doesn’t work this way, but I do, and I would like to honor that more.

More acceptance.  More integration.  That seems to be a by-product of all this artsy-fartsy stuff.  I’m breathing more with my fingers, slipping into meditation with color and line.  It’s a new kind of Practice.

I’ve come to a place with my art that I found a while ago with my writing—loving the mistakes and crap as much as anything that “turns out.”  The Shitty First Drafts and the Muddled Attempts are my best teachers.  They point me to the next piece of Practice.  They’re the ones who taught me to accept it all—my writing, my art and, of course, my bipolar disorder.

Funny how that all comes together.

I’m on a Funny Adventure.

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.

Coming Out

In my art bagJournaling in coffee shops is a big part of my MO.  It’s how I push the worst of the internal pain and distortion to my margins.  It’s how I remember who I am.  Journaling is vital for me.  It’s medicine.

Now that I’ve embraced art journaling, I needed to figure out how to make it mobile, how to make it as easy as my old $1 spiral notebooks used to be.  Some folks I met at ArtFest do their page set-ups at home and only journal out in public.  Some take a few art supplies.  Tracy likes to have people stop and talk about his journaling.  He even invites them to add to it.  Teesha wants to be left alone.

I put together a bag of supplies and launched.  It helped that our local coffee shop closed for a couple of days and reopened under new management—Georgina, a sassy, gregarious New Zealander who is bent on upgrading the food quality and increasing the friendly factor.  It seemed an auspicious start—new art form and new digs.

Lion Spread

Since I’ve journaled in public for years, I’m used to the odd personal inquiry.  I don’t get bothered much, but if folks see me as a regular with pen and notebook, eventually they ask what I’m writing.  I’m happy to share.  It’s also a chance to advocate as a person with mental illness.  Almost to a person, they are or know of someone with mental illness.  Conversation ensues.  Stigma weakens.  This is my superpower.

I’m finding that art journaling is a more open invitation.  First it was the coffee shop staff—mostly college and very young adults—who seemed drawn to my booth like fluttery moths to a flame.  They were fascinated, almost giddy, and inordinately proud that I did this weird thing in their coffee shop.  I’ve become a kind of celebrity with my little bottle of matte medium and magazine gleans.  They introduce me to their families.  They give me muffins fresh from the ovens.  It’s so sweet, and totally baffling.

Failed Michael

It’s much more visual, this art journaling thing.  My crap is spread out on the table and hard to miss.  Other caffeinators wander by and stop to find out what it’s all about.  And I’m happy to share.

These last few weeks have been rough, mental health-wise.  The Bad Thoughts never stop, and reality is a little hard to recognize.  When it starts to drag me under, I take a deep breath and go glue something or spread paint.  It helps.

girl on fireIn one of my buying frenzies, I ordered some old art ‘zines from Teesha Moore, the wonderful art journalist who organized ArtFest.  I figured there’d be lots of stuff to glean and pretty pictures to soothe my Brain-On-Fire (which would be my Hunger Games name).

In one of the zines from 2007, Teesha wrote an article about how she created an art journal page.  The more I read, the angrier I got.  She had lots of Do’s and Don’ts, particularly Don’t ever, under any circumstance, just cut a picture out and glue it to the page without altering it.  And then there was an endless list of art supplies—types of paints and pens, markers and pastels—all with their own Do’s and Don’ts.

I thought, no wonder I could never do this.  Complete intimidation.  In my righteous indignation, I created a FuckYou,ThankYou,Teesha spread in my journal.  Part defiance, part homage, I used some of Teesha’s techniques and a lot of swear words.  And it is glorious.

FYTeesha

Anger can light a fire under creativity.  It can conquer Defeat.  It can pound a fence post in the ground and say, This is as far as you get to push me.

A Brain-on-Fire can be terrifying and it can be an open door.  With May being Mental Health Awareness month, I’m happy to share.

 

Integration

IntegrationTwo weeks since I returned from my cross-country sojourn, and I still can’t find the words.  But, that’s never stopped me.  Words come.  They tumble down the nerve bundles from brain to fingertip and hit the keyboard all by their lonesome.  My mistake is in thinking I have to go looking for them.

A small part of taking this trip was curiosity.  ArtFest, my destination of record, was a gathering of art journalers.  I’ve tried art journaling in the past, even made my own journals, but it never stuck.  I journal—a fast, Artists Way kind of brain dump that vomits everything onto the page as fast as possible—and I make collage art—a multi-step process that can take days or months.

Could I find a way to combine the two forms?  I went to Port Townsend without a need to make it happen, just a willingness to keep an open mind and play with fun toys.

The question followed me from that creative crucible, down through the Redwoods, and into a conversation with my friend, Robert.  That’s the thing about people of a Buddhist persuasion—if there’s a question lurking in the back of your psyche, they’ll winkle it out of you, one way or the other.

So, in the course of our conversation, I blurted out that my real Work was to Be Me—to be in the world as mindfully as I could, to use all my parts (nefarious, broken or skilled), to accept them all, and just show up.

I almost looked around the coffee shop to see who was talking.  Words tumbled out of my mouth, prompted by nerve bundles attached to a question tucked in my gray matter.  Words I obviously had no control over.  Words that made absolute sense.

Travel Journal CoverI was talking about integration.  And I could feel it happening, like a broken bone knitting together or a spider spinning a fragile web across space.  And as I left Durango, the sensation continued.  I talked to it, held it gently, never pushing or setting expectations.  I wanted to see what it would do, not me.

So, I continued to work in the journal we made at ArtFest, pulling everything about my trip into it, creating something new, something more.  At the same time, I dug out the journals I’d made years ago and wondered what might happen in them.  And I pulled out my SoulCollage© materials, because they were another piece of this emerging creative process.

In a few days, the severe depression that usually peaks this time of year arrived—another part of me accepted and welcomed.  Not that the despair and hopelessness are any easier to ride.  I felt them drain my energy and confidence.  I heard all the old fears and horrors settle into their usual corners.  And as I sobbed with my therapist on Thursday, I also knew the pain and darkness as a valuable part of me.  This, too, Tara Brach might say.

Robin & Albert

I’m comfortable being the brave, battling, Bipolar Bad-Ass.  Proud, even.  But it’s much harder to let others see my seriously brain-sick self.  I feel too vulnerable, too liable to hurt myself or others with my pain, too out of control.  It’s part of the illness to want to hide, to keep the truth of it on a leash, to just wait until the cycle shifts and I can present as more-normal.  Instead, I joined my spiritual study group on Thursday—exhausted, incoherent, weeping—and felt the truth of integration even then.

My showing up touched each of them in different ways.  Etta called it a gift.  Martha said, “We want you with us, no matter what state you’re in.”  Chuck, whose daughter also struggles with BP, wishes what I have for her.

This is the path, then.  To use it all—in the world and in my creative efforts.  No need to look for words or have a plan.  I’ve got everything I need.

Westward Ho! Day 15

Kansas City, KS (7:30 AM) to Marshalltown, IA (11:45 AM). 252 miles.
Notables: Total Miles Traveled: 5031.

A short day on the road.  Honestly, I should have planned more of those, but oh well.   Live and Learn.

adultorientalcockroachIt was a frantic start as prehistoric-sized cockroaches scuttled out of the way when I turned on the bathroom light. Okay, I thought, no shower today.

I saw another one—doberman-sized—in the “living room.”  And when I shook out my robe, his bigger brother fell out.

Now, I’m not an insect weenie, generally.  I either squish bugs or catch and release to the outside.  But, this was sort of the Last Straw on my Exhausted Camel’s back.  I packed up in record time (checking to make sure I had no hitchhikers) and got the hell out of Dodge.  Or Kansas City, as it were.

Once I was on the road, I texted my host, said it was too bad we didn’t actually meet (he’d brought someone home with him last night.  You know bachelors.  I didn’t think it was cool to stick my head up from the basement to say hi), and why I bugged out so fast.

In all fairness, he apologized sweetly and gave me a partial refund (Okay, I did sleep in the bed, but really?).

Me&CorvusIn no time, I found myself back in familiar territory.  I stopped at my gas station, took a small token of thanks to The Cat Whisperer, put my valiant Corvus through the car wash, and went home to my boys.

And, of course, there’s a notice on my door that Radar, the bedbug sniffing hound, will be here tomorrow.  Sigh.  There’s no rest for the bug-conscious.

Home HenryBack to Real Life tonight—Chinese take-out, a movie, and purring cats.

It’s good to be home.

Westward Ho! Day 14

Lamar, CO (8:30 AM Mountain) to Roeland Park (Kansas City), KS (6:30 PM Central).  474 miles.
Notables: Jim Butcher’s audiobook Small Favor (laugh-out-loud supernatural fun).

Mourning Dove, Cabin Lake Viewing Blinds, Deschutes National Forest, Near Fort Rock, Oregon

Eastern Colorado got hot yesterday; upper 80s and dry as shed rattlesnake skin.  So, it was pure d-lite to open the windows of my shabby-chic turret room and sleep with the night air washing everything cool and clean.  Mourning doves woke me this morning; a sound I grew up on and always says home to me.  I’m close now.

Jane, my host, made a real breakfast for me and the family staying downstairs; a wedge of watermelon with blackberries and strawberries sprinkled on top, French toast with a warm orange/lemon sauce; bacon; and really good coffee.

Sour-Cream-Chocolate-Bread-from-ChocolateChocolateandmore-34aJane started B&B-ing twelve years ago, and like the other pro-hosts I’ve met on this journey, her hospitality far exceeds expectations.  She carried my heavy bag upstairs for me, even though I tried to stop her.  She came back in a few minutes with a cut-crystal glass of ice water when she saw my little fridge was out of bottled water.  A slice of her chocolate bread waited for me on an antique breakfast-in-bed tray.

Like Doris in Roseburg, Oregon, Jane did all these wonderful extras matter-of-factly.  Just part of the job.  But their businesslike demeanors cover fonts of generosity and genuine kindness.  These are the kind of ladies you want for neighbors, who show up when disaster strikes and get to work doing what needs to be done.

th736MWWNCI met the family staying in the downstairs room briefly when I arrived; a dad with a tween daughter and younger son.  Breakfast was pleasant with kids who weren’t too shy or too bored to talk.  And the dad had lovely manners (Jane and I were both “ma’am”).

He mentioned in passing that he wrote crime novels.  My ears perked up, but I didn’t pry; he didn’t seem inclined to talk about it.  I looked him up, though.  The blurb for his latest novel, Cry Father, claims:cry-father-9781476734354_hr

In the tradition of Cormac McCarthy and Larry Brown comes a haunting story about men, their fathers, their sons, and the legacy of violence.

Cool!  I’m downloading that book tonight!

(He looks like a total bad-ass in that PR photo, but he was quite shy with a nervous giggle).

That was the fun part of the day.  The rest was… Kansas.  Like Iowa, there’s not much to see; a few cattle grazing, lots of wide spots on the highway that have names, gas stations and rest stops.  But my audiobook and the pull of home made me cheerful.  And a new witticism from my Navigator.

thDNKM0U8QA stretch of I70 is a tollway.  John announced, “Congested traffic ahead.  Cough it up.  That’s medical humour.”  And he gave a very Cleesian snort of disgust.  Just when I thought I’d heard all his funnies.

Tonight I occupy the basement of a young, professional bachelor.  He’s out to dinner at the moment, so I’ve let myself in (per his kind instructions) and set up shop.  Soon, my Ramen noodles will be burbling, and I’ll see about finding Ben’s book.

A good day.

Tomorrow… home.

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.

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