At The Dig Site

I knew this wouldn’t be easy.

Lose Weight.  Such a simple sentence.  And it’s everywhere—magazines, TV, grocery stores, billboards, New Year’s Resolutions, the breath passing through many lips.  The sentence is simple, but the act is damn near impossible.  As my mental health team says, “If it was easy, anyone could do it.”

For me, it also means exhuming emotional skeletons, using tweezers and a soft brush to parse a knob of truth from harsh and debilitating bedrock.  I’ve worked this archeological site before.  Assembling all the artifacts never made much difference, just ripped a lot of fingernails and crushed me with failure.

But dig sites are layered and scattered.  Archeologists work a three-dimensional grid, moving out and down.  They know they have to dig deep.  They know they have to range far from the first find.  Their work is meticulous, choreographed, measured.  Patience, attention and delicacy are required.

I’m still not sure I can go through this again.  I don’t know if I can hold myself in compassion as the remnants of former lives resurface.  But I know I’m more equipped to do that now than I was even two years ago.

I believe life is a spiral, bringing us around again and again to the Work that needs to be done.  With each rotation, we come to the task with different tools.  That alone makes the experience different.

I thought I’d read every book on compulsive eating, but wondered if there wasn’t one I missed.  So I put it in my Plan—Check the Library.  There I found Better Is Not So Far Away: Decide to Recover From Bingeing, Starving, or Cutting by Melissa Groman.  Notice the title doesn’t promise recovery.  It only asks that you decide to recover.

The target audience is much younger than me—teens and young adult women—but the truths are so profound, they knock me flat.

In the pit of loneliness, you most likely feel the totally human ache to be understood, to be connected, to be soothed and loved.  But when you are in the pit, you do not believe these longings are normal, and getting them satisfied seems like a very remote possibility.

She [a client] is afraid of not having, not doing, not being, and just as afraid of having, doing and being.

This book helps, and it’s a trigger.  Anything that leads me further in triggers the compulsive eating.  It’s instinct now.

So, I’m uncomfortable, confused, angry and hateful.  I’m also resilient, patient, accepting and fine.

I always wanted to be an archeologist when I grew up.

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Challenging the Truth

My therapist and I finished the program specific to PTSD in Seeking Safety by Lisa M. Najavits.  Some of it was good, some lame, but one particular exercise moved my whole life in a different direction.

We all have beliefs—things we know to be true.  But beliefs can keep us stuck if we don’t risk challenging them.  In “Discovery,” we take beliefs and create a plan to find out if they are really true.  In my first round of Discovery, I looked at how I believed I was helpless to stop getting lung infections every year.  I did two things to test that truth—I hired someone to come clean my apartment once a month to see if getting rid of dust on a regular basis would help, and I arranged to see a pulmonologist.

The effect of better housekeeping won’t show up for a while, but the pulmonologist I saw a week ago gave me some straight dope.  It’s doubtful I even have asthma (though I went through more testing earlier this week to be sure), and aside from anemia there was only one other cause for all my physical symptoms.  Obesity.

When I read that in the doctor’s report, I phased out for a bit.  Dissociated is the clinical term.  The brain protects itself by going bye-bye (My experience of dissociation feels like I’m about to faint—my hands and feet go numb, I can’t hear, and I lose time).

There’s something about food, dieting, fat and binge eating that feels too horrible to face.  If I thought I felt helpless about my lungs, the belief is multiplied a thousand fold around controlling my intake.  I can’t control it.  I never have been able to control it.  I firmly believe I never will.

But, I also knew the doctor was right.  I used to be a nurse.  I still remember a little physiology.  Increased risk of infection, higher blood pressure, skin breakdown, joint pain and damage can all be hitched to the Obesity Train.

So, I went back to Discovery, because I’m very stuck in these beliefs around food.  I talked to both Megan, my therapist and Sarah, the nurse practitioner, who are my mental health team.  We drew up a plan to test my truth, and I decided early on to say, “yes” to whatever they proposed.

Sarah suggested I try switching to a low carb/high fat diet (one diet I’d never tried).  It seems counter-intuitive, and feels really weird, but I’ve been doing it for four days now.  After eating vegan for a couple of years, it seems wrong to buy sirloin and pork cutlets.  But, I’m doing it.  I still feel like I have the flu—urpy, roiling gut, drop-dead exhaustion—but I was warned about this “adjustment period” as my metabolism switches from burning carbs to burning fat.

The compulsion to binge eat is still there, but there’s not much to binge on.  It seems easier (at least in this initial phase) to go do something else.  But, I hate the way food feels in my mind.  It’s like a rubber band that’s stretched too tight.  I don’t know that I’ve ever noticed that before—the discomfort, the pressure, the tension.  I’m seeing how I seek to be numb where food is concerned—something to explore in therapy.

I will lose weight, I always do.  It’s just that I’ve never kept it off and usually gain back more.  This feels like my last chance to figure it out.  I would love to have a toolbox for Food as comprehensive as my toolbox for Bipolar Disorder.  Pretending the problems don’t exist isn’t much of a tool.  Neither are the industry standards in nutrition.  As Sarah said, “We have to do more than think outside the box.  We have to create a whole new box.”

They’re both doing this low carb diet with me, and when I go for my appointments, we’ll do them walking around the block.  I feel like there’s a chance we could actually create something new.

Life is never what one dreams.  It is seldom what one desires, but, for the vital spirit and the eager mind, the future will always hold the search for buried treasure and the possibility of high adventure. — Ellen Glasgow

What Fresh Madness Is This?

I wanted to post something today, a little bit of art that might reflect the bipolarness of my now.  Not words.  Words feel acidic and tiresome in my head.

But I couldn’t find anything that I haven’t posted before—heads popping open with weirdness, lonely figures wandering in the Disconnect, wild jumbles of frantic images.  So I had to make it.

It’s almost 4:00 now.  I’ve been working on this card since 10:30 this morning.  Bathroom breaks.  Cat-watering breaks.  Little else.  I can feel that I’m hungry.  I know I need to take a shower (it’s been a couple of days).  But I look into this young girl’s face and fall into it.  The original didn’t have sleep-deprived eyes.  Those are mine.

I look at this young girl and feel her looking back.  We know.  We know the green monsters, and bitey teeth, and staring eyes, and nightmares that stick to our backs like tar.  We hold ourselves very still, because the madness feels new even though we know it is not.  We hold ourselves very still, because part of us believes a shift will come, a swing.  We will travel to a different place on our spectrum that will also feel new, but is not.

She knows there really is no Fresh Madness, just forgetting the feel of the Old Madness.  There are so many kinds, so many permutations.  Our brains, so clever in their Cooking Arts, never use the same recipe twice.  Or do they?  We forget.

Words start to dissolve and puddle, the brain-acid bubbling.

Shower.

Food.

Now.

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.

Mirrors

There’s nothing like being brainsick over a holiday weekend to remind me of my demographic status.  I’ve struggled for several days with vicious, distorted thoughts, but holidays add more stress with regular support services closed, carefully constructed routines disrupted, and human support unavailable as they enjoy time with family and friends.  Long weekends are difficult, and I’m not the only one who feels it.

So far this weekend, emergency vehicles have visited my ten-unit complex five times.  That means half of the residents have been in such a state of crisis that their only option seemed to be 911.  And the day’s only half over.

To try to calm my own agitation, I went to our common room this morning to do laundry, sit in the quiet, and maybe journal. I found one of the window latches broken.  In the bathroom, the toilet seat was broken in half with feces on the floor.  I cleaned that last bit as best as I could, weeping at the level of distress that person must have felt.  Afterward, I emailed the apartment manager with the details, knowing she wouldn’t read it until tomorrow because it’s a holiday.

I’m fully aware of how lucky I am to be “high functioning,” to have friends I can text most anytime, to have a sister who would come to my aid if I needed it.  I don’t interact much with my neighbors, because some of them can’t follow a conversation.  Others are quite shy and introverted or belligerent and aggressive.  I keep to myself.

But I understand all of it.  I am all of it—at times introverted or belligerent, unable to translate my thoughts into words, unable to concentrate on what someone might be saying to me.  I understand being in crisis and feeling like there are no options.

I live in an apartment complex of mirrors.  It makes me more human to look into them from time to time.

Stolen

Distortion, history, fear and self-hatred

steal our clarity, our compassion, our strength, and our presence.

The task is not to go to war with ourselves,

but to allow the stolen seeds to take root in their chaotic prison.

They are where they need to be.

Chicory Days

Earlier this week, mixed-state depression settled in like chicory coffee—black, thick, bitter—and I panicked a little over the mental discomfort.  Seems like I’ve lost all my stamina—physical and mental—and must remember to be gentle while I rebuild both.

Thrashing around last night, trying to find something to ease the cramped thoughts and emotional acid reflux, I remembered my Pinterest boards—particularly, the board I created for just this situation.  Braying Like a Donkey.  There are memes and videos that still make me guffaw, plus photos of celebrities and common folk laughing hard—lost urine and milk-squirting-out-the-nose hard.  While not everyone shares my sense of humor, I invite you to go look—just in case you need a pick-me-up.

Then, today at my regular Friday therapy session, I asked the staff to make marks in my art journal.  I knew they would, even though some consider themselves artistically challenged and prone to perfectionism (it felt sorta good to challenge them for a change).  I will take their marks (and the mangled flower one of them used as a paintbrush) and create something that that is ours.

I needed that.  I needed to engage with people who unreservedly adore me, who remember who I am when I forget, who ask nothing of me other than to be authentic.

This is stamina-building, finding new ways to beat back the darkness.

I did good today.

I Must Be Getting Better…

…because I have no more fucks to give.

Oddly, my bipolar and binge eating symptoms hibernated while I was sick with bronchitis, sinus and ear infections (Can my body not multi-task?  Is my brain too small to hold it all?), so the return of mixed-state depression/rage must mean the other stuff is on the way out.  Yaay (?)

While being physically sick is no fun, the vacation from mental shit-storms and out of control compulsion is heavenly.  It’s like being normal, only full of snot and really, really tired.

I’m still tired and semi-full of snot, but yesterday I rode sad anger back to bed and built a nest of portable projects around me to keep the yammering in my head at bay.

Henry and Emmett attended, but even they knew not to poke the bipolar bear who had no fucks left to give.

One of the hard things about coming back to my normal state of mental abnormality is that I’ve done so much cool art stuff these past two months.  When I could barely breathe, I read a bit in Susan Wooldridge’s Poemcrazy about collecting words, then made Word Cookies out of old art magazines.

I carry them in this little bag that fits nicely in my purse, and offer them like Fortune Cookies to whomever I’m with (which has mostly been people at the drug store, my therapist’s staff, and a few civilians willing to chance my germs).

I’ve been brave about drawing in my journal.

And I created a spread that fell together like a story.  Poor Tom Hiddleston, dumped by the harlot Taylor Swift, gave a heart-wrenching interview in February’s GQ that reminded me of Sting’s song Why Should I Cry For You?  A little research gave me details I’d missed just listening to the song, like “under the Dog Star sail,” which refers to Sirius, and “north, northwest, the Stones of Faroe,” which led me to the tiny cluster of Faroe Islands off the coast of Iceland.  I loved the metaphor of a broken-hearted sailor on the bleak, Arctic seas.  And I loved pulling together all the elements for the collage.

The wall quilt I started before I got sick is turning into a fabric collage—a place to try new skills like painting and stenciling on fabric.  Tearing apart my old art magazines for the Word Cookies, I found wonderful tips and examples.  When I gave a fuck, the possibilities thrilled me.

The materials to make three new art journals came out of my cupboard.  I finished two.  The third now languishes on my table, waiting for the fucks to come back.

The Buckaroo Banzai journal

My favorite quote from the movie by evil Emilio Lazardo.

Art by Andrea Matus DeMeng

I took a class with Andrea at ArtFest.

One week in therapy, Megan and I looked at commitment, not just making commitments to others, but also keeping promises to myself.  I realized that my longterm goal of writing a book to be published carried no joy for me anymore.  In fact, working on it was often painful.  Why was I doing this again?  So people at my funeral could get a party favor?  Morbid, bipolar-based reasoning.

I don’t have to prove myself a writer anymore, or leave something “of substance” behind.  I can spend my life pleasuring myself with weird art that practically falls out of me, instead of grunting over tortured prose.  So, I let that ancient goal go.  There are, my friend Sue tells me, only so many fucks a person can give.

Yesterday, in my Nest of Apathy and Rage, I emailed Megan, just to whine.  I knew, eventually, that the anger and depression would shift, but it was big and ugly yesterday.  Even if I had none, I wanted someone to give a fuck.

Have I mentioned that my therapist is awesome?  And funny?  She wrote back later:

I hope a fuck ton that you feel better soon. 

The Adventure Continues.

Holding Teesha

Last week I learned that Teesha Moore, the art journalist who organized ArtFest last spring, suffered a stroke while undergoing emergency surgery.

It was a thrill for me to meet her last year after using her rubber stamps and collage sheets for years, and to get life-changing advice from her artist-husband, Tracy, about how to embrace art journaling—Keep it Simple.

I knew I needed to spend time holding Teesha in my heart, sending positive and healing juju just like the thousands of other artists who love and respect her and Tracy.  To do that I needed a focus, so I pulled out every scrap of “Teesha Stuff” I had—stamps, collage sheets, ‘zines, postcards, sticky notes, pictures from Artfest—and started a spread in my journal.

Her work is so fanciful, full of life and color—image layered on image, altered figures, funky lettering. But Teesha is also a Seeker, her artistic path cuts through a spiritual landscape.  She inspires many beginning and veteran artists with words of encouragement and a directive to go deep.

It was a joyous five days of altering her altered images, recombining them in my own way, paying homage while holding her gently in love and gratitude.

I knew I would send a copy of the pages to Teesha once I was done.  I wanted her to see her own creations speaking back to her, encouraging her, reminding her of the deep, creative core that disaster and disability could never touch.

She is a remarkable woman.  I have no doubt that with the support and love of her husband and girls, she will rise and recreate her life.

Wonder Teesha.

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