Safe in Jane Austen’s Arms

Thanks to everyone who offered an opinion about whether A Mind Divided stays or goes.  Honestly, I wasn’t fishing for compliments, but holy crow!  They just kept jumping out of the water!  If I thought my ego was gassy before… well…all I can say is somebody better light a candle.

I’m still pondering.  But I also want to keep showing up in a significant way.

As my therapist and I started working through Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manuel for PTSD and Substance Abuse, she suggested I use my art journal to create a sense of safety.  So, this:

ptsd-safety

While I don’t have the dual diagnosis this book targets, we substitute food for drugs and alcohol sometimes.  I’ve been told Binge Eating Disorder is a completely different mechanism than addiction (that wacky, clever brain!), but sometimes it’s useful to look at how I eat to numb and distract.  Bipolar disorder, Binge eating disorder, trauma, anxiety—they all twirl together in a Regency Allemande.

This actually feels very much like my brain—chaotic, lively, jumbled—with the brooding Mr. Darcy circling the perimeter.  There are worse things than being a Jane Austen novel.

Is It Soup Yet?

whisper-of-vomit

Sometimes I wonder if it’s time to take this blog off the stove.

I don’t really have much more to say about my experience of bipolar disorder.  I’ve spewed.  I’ve wallowed.  I’ve raged.  I’ve picked up shiny objects along the path and given them a look-see.  I’ve made lots and lots of Plans.  I’ve fought hard and surrendered.  I’ve changed my tune as often as my mood.

i-am-largeThere’s no end-point, no resolution, no Ah-Ha Moment or Happily Ever After.  For me, now, there’s just the daily practice of being me and trying to accept whatever shows up out of the bipolar soup.  There’s still pain and confusion, but also moments of soft contentment.  I struggle every day with relationships, but so does everyone else on the planet.  Periods of suicidal thinking will rise and fall as will my ability to function in the outer world.  So be it.

Still.

New stuff keeps surfacing out of this tepid bouillabaisse.  Since my therapist and I started working with my PTSD symptoms, my internal weather seems different.  The barometric pressure of trauma feels different from that of rapid cycling.  Free-floating fear now follows a pattern.  Opening the windows to let in fresh air turned out to be much less horrific than I’d imagined.  And I have new tools.  Gotta love new tools.

vocabulary-ninjaAside from writing about my practice of mental illness, I’ve posted enough fan-fiction to satisfy my ego.  Yes, I am a writer.  Yes, I can craft a decent story.  I don’t need to prove anything anymore.  Like Popeye, I yam what I yam.

Still.

I will take these six years of blog posts and rewrite them into a book of essays that I’ll self-publish sometime this year. Writing is still important to me—not just communicating, but crafting a sentence, weaving a metaphor, developing a thought.  Is the challenge to go deeper?  Is there a story in acceptance as well as agony?  If I stopped blogging, would I search as hard for balance?  Do I need this blog to keep me on the Path?

woohooAnd then there’s the art.  Illustrating posts with my cards and collages still lights up my ego.  I can feel it light up—all bloat and gas—and wait for the comments to roll in.

Still.

Sometimes, a piece holds more therapy than ego.  It carries a different flavor, adds savory and smoke.  It blends with the words to create a richer meaning for me.  I’m not sure ego ever disappears, but when words and art blend in this way, my ego gets quieter.  And when the ego shuts up, all kinds of doors can open.  This magic happens in my art journal.  I’m not sure it translates here.

Almost every blogger I’ve read comes to this crossroad—continue or stop, take a break or refocus.  I need to hold these questions gently and keep showing up while they simmer.  Because no matter what…

I’m on an Adventure.

Traveling

sorrows-mother

I haven’t posted much lately because it’s been scary inside my head.  There’s a fine line between sharing my practice of bipolar disorder and giving voice to the blackest symptoms.  When self-loathing and unrelenting despair become the landscape of my mind, there’s no scenic overlook.  While I strive to be honest here, I also know the scenery will change as my brain rolls on down the road, and that perspective provides a much better photo op.

While I attended Lutheran Hospital’s out-patient program, I stopped taking medication for Binge Eating Disorder (BED).  We needed to see if it was causing my headaches and contributing to the irritability and rage.  Subsequently, all the BED symptoms poured back in—food mania and uncontrollable bingeing.  I gained 15 pounds and hurt all over.

BED creates a downward (outward?) spiral—more weight causes less activity which gives all that food more permission to stick around.  I was already morbidly obese, but was at peace with my body.  Without the Vyvanse, negativity and self-hatred stuffed my head like a Christmas turkey.  The spiral became a hopeless vortex.

Nothing in my bag of tricks helped.  Death fantasies dogged me, but I knew two things would always stop me from actually taking my life—my cats (who are getting old) and the book I haven’t written.  In a weird perversion of logic, I decided that I’d better get cracking on that book if I wanted it to be a party favor at my funeral.  At least I’d have a project to work on.

So, this past weekend, I stayed with my friend, Lily, in Minneapolis and met with another friend, Jinjer, to talk about her experience of self-publishing.

coming-back-to-myselfAnd a very bipolar-ly thing happened.  Being with these friends, who love me unconditionally, traveling out of the struggle of my everyday life and into a few days of watching Netflix in jammies and spicy tea in handcrafted mugs, jolted the positive neuropathways awake.  The hateful Muzak in my head stopped.  My friends’ tender care helped me remember myself.  All the bits and pieces that BED and depression tore off me, fluttered back like Monarchs to their winter home.  Art happened.

And a book will happen.

While I knew Jinjer self-published at least two books, I had no idea one of her many talents was designing books.  So instead of beginning a steep learning curve, I gawked at a path as smooth and clear as asphalt.  She will take my manuscript (when finished) with the accompanying artwork and midwife it through the process.  I started working on the second draft as soon as I got home (and also started back on Vyvanse).

This book is my legacy, not a parting gift.  It’s proof that I lived and survived bipolar disorder, BED, PTSD and whatever acronyms stick to me next.  Like this blog, it speaks to the speed of landscapes passing through a traveling mind.

I’m still on an Adventure.  And I’m making my own Atlas.

sorrows-mothercoming-back

 

Disquietude

get-back-up-artistMy computer came home today, perkier, but still not firing on all cylinders.  The tech-docs did their best and will continue to monitor vitals.  At least I don’t have to create posts on my phone anymore.

Perhaps now my vague disquietude will ease up.  I feel like I’m constantly patting my mental pockets to make sure I have my keys.  What am I forgetting?  I start out the day with my gym bag and art tote, then forget my purse.  Once back in the car, I realize I’ve forgotten the letter I need to mail.  Then, my coffee.  Or like yesterday, I left my coat somewhere and still haven’t found it.

I’m discombobulated, constantly ticking important stuff off on my fingers.  Cats alive?  Gas in the car?  Shoes on?  I check my calendar, then look at it again because I can’t remember what was there.  I’m guessing my anxiety is a little spiky.

I’ve been getting about two hours of sleep at night for several months —even taking Xanax, which is usually all I need.  So, my med provider switched me to Clonazepam—same pharm family (anti-anxiety), but with a longer duration.  I still wake up three or four times a night, but go back to sleep, which I wasn’t able to do on Xanax.  And I’m not waking up furious.  That alone is a huge relief.  Any morning I can get out of bed not pissed off or in PTSD flashback-mode is already a success—no matter what else follows.

hen-in-charge1116Before Anthony, the tech-surgeon, made his house call this afternoon, I vacuumed and dusted a little—something I haven’t done since summer.  I told a friend, “You know it’s time to vacuum when the carpet is crunchy.”

Like my computer, I’m still not firing on all cylinders, but we’re both making progress.  Two addled brains are better than one, I guess.  It’s a good thing the cats are in charge.

My Brain Hurts!

“What ‘real artists’ have is courage.  Not enormous gobs of it.  Just enough for today.  Creativity, like breathing, always comes down to the question, “Are you doing it now?”  The awful truth is that there is always one small creative act for which we can find the courage.  As with housework, there is always something, and all the little somethings add up, over time, to a flow.  Courage, after all is a matter of heart, and hearts do their work one beat at a time.” — Julia Cameron in The Vein of Gold: A Journey to Your Creative Heart

Blogging is so incestuous.  I read David Kanigan’s post from Monday, and knew I had something to say about courage, comfort zones and whacking the scales off our sclerotic dendrites.  At least I thought I did.  Or I wanted to think about those things.  Or my ego wanted to jump up and down screaming about them.  In public.

Monster

I feel pretty brave.  Except when I don’t.  Driving out to Artfest in Washington this spring didn’t feel particularly brave.  Except when I got home and spent the next two months rapid cycling and ducking from my brain’s suicidal dodge balls.  Latching onto art journaling to keep from getting hammered by red rubber didn’t seem brave, just a case of self defense.  It never occurred to me that drawing and painting when I used to be too scared to do either might be stripping some of the plaque off my craft.

What really felt brave was buying The Hollow Crown and sitting down to over eight hours of Shakespeare.  It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so dumb.  I listened to the pretty words, knew they were an old form of English, but couldn’t translate them.  I could feel my brain straining, flabby gray-matter-muscles forced to climb a junior high fitness test rope.

Oh, but, the music of the language!  That was the liniment for my bruised brain.  Plus, Great Performances emptied out The Royal Shakespearian Theater to cast these four plays, so all the British actors I adore speak this unintelligible music.

Whose Superpower is Britishness

I take comfort that I’ve never read Richard II, Henry IV (either Part One or Part Two) or Henry V.  I have no bits of them embedded in my hind brain next to the passages of Romeo and Juliet Mrs. Christensen made us memorize in ninth grade.

And, yet, it feels brave to be dumb, to be a Monty Python Gumby shouting, “My brain hurts!”

Sometimes, being brave means finding the right anesthesia.  Sometimes it’s embracing my full-out Gumby-ness.  Either way, my art benefits.

And now for something completely different.

Soon

I have a real post coming.  Really.  Almost ready.

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 3

Billings, MT (6:30 AM Mountain) to Spokane, WA (4:00 PM Pacific). 542 miles.
Pertinent Tunes:  Throat Culture’s Easter Island.
Audiobook: Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife

This was going to be another full day on the road, and I wanted to get to Spokane early enough to meet my bloggy friend, Linda, before I faded, so I set out before dawn.  Again.

I love that the day worked out just like that.  I love that I’ve been dancing with my bipolar disorder long enough to know what my limits might be and how to bring them into the dance.  I can’t tell you how much I love that.

So, John led me out of Billings under the cover of dark and flurries of snow.  He’s gotten me to every destination with only two hiccups.  Both times he told me to turn around and head back home.  I think I must have accidentally touched the screen, but still, mistakes such as these required proper admonishment and Python-worthy name calling.

runaway-truck-rampSo, properly chastised, he sent me up through the Continental Divide.  No more puny foothills, we were in the Big League today.  We traveled the kinds of roads that required special Runaway Truck Ramps for semis with fried brakes.  And wide places to pull off so one can attach their tire chains.  There we were, switchbacking and trundling along those straining Peterbilts, with snow and low-slung clouds obscuring the peaks.  Ooo, it was an exciting day!

And beautiful.  Majestic.  A complete Jeremiah Johnson experience.  There are no words.  Robert Redford’s “Agh” comes close.

Linda in SpokaneAnd then, it was Spokane, and bright warm sun, and Linda singing to me as she drove up the drive.  We’ve known each other through my blog (and my cards, and Facebook) for years, and finally got to hug and squee like proper girlfriends.  She took me to a little park for a nice walk and the beginning of our non-stop babbling. Three hours later, after a scrumptious Thai dinner and a tour of her home, she dropped me off, still singing.

Such an exciting day.

All Systems Go

Sunday, before dawn, I’ll be on my way to ArtFest and points West.  Just one final checklist to run through.

“Flight Controllers? Give me a Go/No Go for Launch.  Booster…”

We had our glitch yesterday.  Testing a new GPS device on the trip to Des Moines, I left the unit turned off, but plugged in when I went in to my meeting.  Two hours later—dead car.  Controlled hysteria ensued.  But, just like Mark Watney, I got to work.


2011-honda-cr-v-ex-lThe folks at my meeting found jumper cables, and I cancelled two other appointments to hurry home to my mechanic (since I could only hope it was a dead battery).  Even though they were booked solid, Rich, Rose and Jeff at Alley Auto hooked Corvus up to telemetry and determined the battery sound.  Just unplug anything from the USB when the engine isn’t running.  Good to know.

“FIDO…”

TomTom took almost two weeks to determine the problem with a celebrity voice I tried to download to my GPS unit, but now John Cleese is officially telling me where to go.

“Guidance…”

I love how easy it was to book overnight stays at Bed and Breakfasts through Airbnb.  It’s giving the hotels in California such a run for their money, that there’s a new tax on B&Bs there (the bastards).  All the B&Bs along my flight path confirmed and anticipate my arrival with utmost glee.  Or at least they promise not to greet me with a shotgun.

Guesthouse on the Green, Billings, Montana

“Surgeon…”

The sinus infection is nearly done, just a few sniffles and a mostly-baritone voice.  I’m taking my whole medicine chest with me just in case as well as good trainers for those fifteen minute breaks every two hours to walk off any fomenting blood clots or nasty butt boils.  Too graphic?  Just wait.

water“EECOM…”

I’m packing a cooler with lunch supplies, a crate of chips, enough Ramen noodles for two weeks, a bale of bottled water, and everything I need to make my daily Shakeology smoothie.  So, basically my whole kitchen  (Oh, and the seasonal jelly bean or two).

“GNC…”

The wild rapid cycling seems to have slowed the last few days.  Anxiety and mania have mellowed to gentle anticipation. A lot of that has to do with preparation and gnat’s ass attention to detail.  When the car died yesterday, I told my sister I was so glad I tested the GPS unit before Sunday, and that I was thankful Mom taught us to be anal.  My sis texted back, “Yes, it does come in handy.”

audiobooks-200x200“INCO…”

My friend, Ellen, at the library gave me an extension on the dozen audiobooks I borrowed.  Between those, my iPod, and a few additional CDs, I ought to stay entertained.  Since I’ll be driving seven to nine hours a day, I won’t have much time to stop at wayside junk shops, but if one happens to jump in front of me…

Back to Normal 10:10:15

 “Network…”

Sue, The Cat Whisperer, will be tending my ground crew while I’m away.  The steely-eyed missile men took to her immediately, and seem to know that she’ll be The Keeper of the Treats.  I’m so lucky to have reconnected with this friend from high school who loves felines as much as I do (and is used to a swampy litter box).

Kuralt-typing-in-his-van“CAPCOM…”

My friend, Cat, loaned me a laptop so that I can pretend to be Charles Kuralt.  My plan is to settle into a comfy B&B each night, cook up a bowl of Ramen noodles, and write a blog post of the day’s excitement On The Road.  I feel very journalistic and savvy since it’s a Microsoft laptop instead of a Mac.

My Butt Itches“Payload…

“I figured the other day that I’d made 87 cards in 81 days.  Since a therapist once told me to eliminate productive from my vocabulary, I’ll just say I’m pleased and amazed at that number.  Some of those cards were special orders or sold on my Etsy shop, but most are going with me.  The vendor show at ArtFest only lasts an hour (Hmmm.  We’ll see about that…), but I’m excited to show my wares and present a funky table display.

“FAO…”

A lot of people helped make this Bucket List Trip a reality.  From Cheryl and Tom loaning me a second suitcase and card displays to my deceased mom leaving me her Honda, I have relied on the kindness and generosity of my clan.  Thank you, everyone.  I am forever grateful.

So let’s go through that checklist one last time.

Five Years Old

A Mind Divided is five today.

5th birthday chris

5 • 5 • 5

 

5th birthday nathanTo celebrate, I went through every post (946) to make sure the video links still worked and to find lost pictures.  You know WordPress—stuff gets lost.  And videos that were perfectly fine suddenly become “private” (As if you can stuff that genie back in the bottle).

5th birthday benedictNothing cheeses me off quite so much as faulty technology (or bad grammar, but that’s a different post).  When I come across a link that doesn’t work, or that little blue square ? instead of a picture, I’m sure I’m missing out on something fabulous and now–sadly—lost to me forever.  The mystery of it, the tease, makes my compulsive nature sing a sweary song.

Christian Bale at the Sundance Film Festival, 2000 *** NO TABLOIDS ***

So, in order to be a polite blog host, and to spare any unnecessary Sweary Songs, I tried to fill in any blanks left by You Tube and WordPress (Because everyone will be checking that 2/24/11 Star Trek fan-vid).

And this made me a little cranky, but also amazed at the 946 posts.  In the beginning, I posted a lot.  I think most new bloggers do.  The rush of words going public and the urgency behind telling one’s story dazzles us.  When I didn’t have something personal to share, I posted poetry, my art, anything that felt meaningful or part of me.  That first year I averaged 25.5 posts per month.  This past year, my average was 7.5.

5th birthday hiddlesSome folks burn out.  Some run out of words.  The blog runs its course or loses the meaning it once held.  Some folks just get busy or move on to something that provides more meaning.

I’ve found I don’t need to say anything until I have something to say.  Being a “specialty” blog gives me the freedom to not mess about with the statistics page.  I don’t worry about losing readers or what I need to do to tart up my site to attract more.  I’ve never been Freshly Pressed (it’s called something else now…) and never will be.

5th birthday avengersI get to do what I love here—take my bipolar disorder apart and find any silver linings that hide under the gore.  I get to share my art and my fan fiction.  I get to belong to a loving, funny community that continues to blow my socks off with their comments and kindness.  I get to gush about movies, and books, and pretend boyfriends.  I get to be vulnerable, and freaky, and completely me.

5th birthday RichardI love this blog.  I love its therapeutic power.  I love the friends I’ve made through it.  And I love writing it.  I love that new readers still find their way here and that, once in a while, they stick around.

Frosting on my bloggy birthday cake.

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