Where The Hell Am I?

Just when I think my brain is running its last lap in this summer’s Looney Marathon, another starter gun fires, and we’re off on a downhill luge sled. Is this the Circles of Hell Olympics?

Oh, yeah. Right. It’s bipolar disorder.

I’m just not managing it very well this round.

Part of it is the swampy atmosphere — rain six out of the last eight days with 100% humidity in between.  The weather has turned me into a sweaty, gummed-up, ice bag-sitting Howler Monkey who can’t bear to leave my A/C and ceiling fans.

Another part is the new ear worm that comes with The Black listing all the vital coping tools (read: people) I lost in the move.  Distorted thinking is the true gem of mental illness. It’s exactly as clever, well-reasoned, and creative as the host brain, so everything it spins sounds completely true.  It takes tweezing through the rationale to find the flaws, and I’m too sweaty to hold the tweezers steady.

know I need to move my body. There’s a perfectly fine pool available six days a week and a yoga class that caters to the inflexible, but I can’t talk myself into leaving my cool, dry hidey-hole.

know I need to find a different therapist.  Alice is a lovely person, but she’s not equipped to help me. Just the thought of starting over again, searching for a therapist who accepts Medicare an hour away in Tulsa… Scarlett O’Hara sashays out of The Black and tells me to think about it tomorrow.

Yet, as I write this, I realize my sister will help me. She asked yesterday what she could do. Yesterday I had no idea. I was speeding downhill too fast in that stupid luge to see anything clearly. But maybe she can help me get my bearings. Maybe I can figure out where I am.

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Countdown to Muskogee. . . 11

Tomorrow is the last day of my membership at the Y.  This has been another place of deep learning and deeper acceptance.  Here, I began to move for the sake of my brain and to worry less about the shape of my body.  Here, I watched my tolerance for noise, people, inconvenience and routine rise and fall with my symptoms.  Here, I experienced joy again after a long siege of unhappiness as the water buoyed me up.  

I grew stronger.

I am stronger.

 

Pass the Xanax

Direct correlation:  The more real moving to Oklahoma becomes, the higher my anxiety and general state of mania.

This is no big surprise, just annoying.

I found out the movers will pack everything (I don’t even have to empty out my drawers), get it on a truck and be on the road in just a few hours.  Shane, the boss, kept saying, “You don’t have much.  Shouldn’t take more than an hour to pack.”  The benefits of minimal living.

With that weight off my sizzling brain, I gave my sister the green light to start our apartment search in earnest.  My nephew had already alerted her to a townhouse (I’m so verklempt that he’s involved), that turned out to be everything I want and more for a very reasonable rent price.  Still three bedrooms and two baths seems HUGE, so sissy and her realtor friend will look at a few more places next week for due diligence, but I’m guessing it will be townhouse living for me.

Now, all I have to do is manage my heebie jeebies and prepare for my trip to Taos where I’ll spend a week with my favorite spiritual artist, Orly Avirneri, and a conclave of painty-fingered friends.  Part of doing both tasks has been making a journal for the workshop.  I found these disemboweled book covers at an antique mall a while back, intending them for just this purpose, so it felt good to put a couple to use (and focus my scattered attention).  I’m out of waxed thread, though, so have to wait for that order to come before I can bind the signatures in place.

I can’t sit still long enough to enjoy my magazines, which is my GoTo for mind balm.  So, I’m just doodling in my new journal, which seems to be doing the trick—at least for now.  I’ll have to take my gimpy knee and hit the pool this weekend to burn off some of this excess adrenaline.

In the meantime, pass the Xanax, please.

Hedgehog

There comes a point, after being physically and mentally sick for several months, that I can feel choice starting to return.  It doesn’t happen all at once, and it’s not always real.  I get nudged by shame, or a little belch of hypomania propels me, or an invitation seems less daunting.  I feel like a hedgehog, unrolling from a hibernation ball all spiny and prickly, testing the temperature and taste of the air.  The urge to stay rolled up, safe and warm, takes a long time to fade.

I’ve gone through this process so many times now, learned to be kinder and gentler with myself, practiced my coping skills until they are second nature.  Still, reengaging takes enormous effort—starting over at the pool, making a coffee date with a friend, accepting my minister’s offer to tell my story at church.  As soon as I start to move out, I retreat—back to the warm den of my bedroom where I cut paper and listen to the extended extras on The Hobbit DVDs.  They keep me company enough, the voices of actors and production crew.  Sitting on my bed doesn’t make my arthritic knee ache or start a fit of coughing.  I’m content enough.

And I know reengagement is required.  I know my body needs to move more.  I know I must go out in the real sunshine.  I know there’s a different kind of healing in looking into real people’s eyes and listening to voices who wait for my response.

I know.  I’m just not there yet.

Convergence

Events Conspire

Paths Converge

We may Choose to Ignore Them

But, What’s the Fun in That?

It all started with butt boils.

Take a part of the human body rich in adipose tissue, add pressure and heat (as in sitting for long periods of time), and that body part will revolt—or become revolting.  Enough on that matter.

diggingNext came a therapy session where we connected the dots between trauma and food as my drug of choice.  Since my diagnosis of Binge Eating Disorder, I’d set down my shame and guilt about being a Woman of Substance.  I’d become kinder, more accepting of my body.  But there we were, dredging up all that business, and I found myself disappearing.  My hands and feet went numb; a rushing sound filled my head; I seemed to leave my body and drift somewhere behind and above it.

Later, I learned what I’d always called this “shutting down” was technically dissociation—an altered state of consciousness that can include depersonalization, sensory and psychological numbing, disengagement, and amnesia.  Most people experience mild forms of detachment, like daydreaming while driving and losing a bit of time.  The more pathological end of the spectrum ends up Sybil-like with fragmentation of the personality.  It’s a coping mechanism—a way to keep the psyche safe when under attack, whether that attack is real or imagined.

Clearly, I had more work to do with this.  Or, as Megan reminded me, not.  I always have choices, and she is not the variety of therapist who requires excavation of Hurtful Things.

bed-rageSoon after, as I sorted my old blog posts into potential book categories, I marveled at how I once worked so very hard at controlling my eating, how I celebrated small victories and believed I made tiny changes in my behavior.  And then I always gave up, as my endgame of losing weight could never be reached.  I started to wonder if I could ever push gently against the binge eating, if I could find a way to work with it like I’d found ways to work with bipolar disorder—gently, with acceptance and kindness, while still holding the worst symptoms accountable.  I had no idea how that might look, but I opened to the possibility instead of shutting myself away from it.

On my way to Orly Avineri’s workshop in Taos, I started reading Foolsgold by Susan Wooldridge.  In her introduction she says:

I began writing these pages when I decided to make a small collage box each day for a year with what I found on my walks—often the most ordinary, seemingly worthless bits of nothing.  That’s when fool’s gold became foolsgold for me, a field around us, or state of being, where everything can be transformed by our seeing and creativity.  Merged into one word, “foolsgold” describes a paradox, the value in what may seem to be worthless.  Foolsgold reminds us to look beyond appearances, even in ourselves.  What seems to loom in us most darkly may finally be what brings the most light. Everything can be transmuted by attention, play, love.

walkabout-coverI used to walk a lot, then stopped as it wasn’t getting me to the destination I wanted.  If I had some different motivation to walk, like looking for art fodder along the way, I might be able to do it.  I let that idea sit in my hindbrain as I got my self to Taos.

One afternoon, Orly showed us a small art journal her nephew made.  An environmental crusader, all his art is made up of junk with space for sketches and ruminations.  Orly’s nephew had no concern for style, or balance, or making things look pretty.  His art was raw and powerful.  And very simple.

I can do that, I thought.  And as that realization settled in, my body demanded it.

It took a few weeks once I got home to jumpstart idea to action.  But now I have my WalkAbout journal, and every few days I set out with my big zip lock bag and find my material for the day.

hospice-walkChange, even good change, can be stressful.  My rapid cycling has been spinning like a hamster wheel.  Some days the amount of trash among the trees and berms disgusts and weakens me.  I tell myself I can’t go out among all that thoughtlessness again.  But the hamster wheel keeps spinning, and I tie on my purple trainers.  After a couple of weeks of this, I’m learning to wait for fodder to signal me—light on shiny foil, strange lumps, a flash of color in the dunny weeds.  It gets easier and easier.  As does the art that comes after.

tama-wingMy butt likes that I’m moving more.  I make my WalkAbout pages in the evening when my binge eating is most bothersome.

I’m still on an Adventure.

Westward Ho! Day 10

IMG_0503This was my day.  I could do whatever I wanted.  So, of course I woke up at 3:00.

My host, Mary, had suggested I get to Muir Woods early before the crowds (on a Tuesday morning in April?), but I took my time and lounged.  Still I got there a few minutes before the park opened, and the ranger let me in free of charge.  Score!

I don’t know if it was the super-oxygenated air, or the urpy switchback road down to the forest floor, or the incredibly ancient energy, or just kickback from my “special cookie,” but had a little difficulty navigating.  I finally took off my tri-focals, which helped tons.  Watching an uneven path through reading-strength lenses would make anyone trip over the wildlife.IMG_0490

It was cool and dark.  Shafts of morning sun sliced through the canopy, but few reached the forest floor.  A shallow stream burbled along one side of the path.  Birds layered their voices unseen high above.

IMG_0499Whenever a tree was close to the trail, I reached out for it.  Redwood bark is dry and rough–papery.  It reinforced how old they were, these sentinels with their fragile skin.

IMG_0485I stopped at the same bench on the way out and back to sit with a Guardian at my back and meditate.  The cool, scented air. The quiet footsteps of others on the boardwalk trail. The massive presence behind me.  I was there completely.  Grounded.  Alive.

I hiked for about three hours.  After sitting for a week, it felt glorious to move (even if I was a little dipsey-doodle).  I felt the muscles of my legs and back sigh.

Soon enough, more hikers and lookie-loos wandered in.  I heard German and Japanese, Swedish (maybe, Norwegian), Spanish and Russian.  I smiled as one young dad admonished his little boys to “keep your eyes open now.”  What good advice in this place.IMG_0487

I ate lunch in the café; all organic and locally grown delights, shopped in the gift shop, then made my way back to Mill Valley without John’s help.  I found a teeny, tiny Whole Foods, bought fruit and a salad, then camped out on my little deck to play with my journal and talk to the crow fussing in the trees.

A perfect day.

Basic Care

Keep CleanYesterday a crack opened in the bipolar depression that’s been at me for weeks.  Enough to let me remember to return to basics.  Because I’ve looked in the mirror every morning and said to that shocked face, “We’re not going to the hospital this year.  We’re not.”

First a call to the group I worked for this past summer—Integrated Health Services.  Their whole mission is to keep mental health clients out of the hospitals and emergency rooms.  I know I need more support now—I’ve been hearing from my providers all year that I don’t have enough in the best of times.  I’m not sure what IHS can do, but I made an appointment for Monday with Rosario, my care coordinator, and with Allison, my peer, to sit and figure that out.  They are both kind, heart-centered women.  I feel safe going to them.  The fact that I was just able to make the appointment helped.  Doing something, anything, sometimes helps.

Daily PlanToday I will start using my Daily Plan sheet, the one I created after my partial hospitalization last spring.  It will help me focus on small goals and remember to do every day tasks that get waterlogged by the swampy emotions.

I looked at how much money I’ve spent this month and cut back to the essentials.  Today I’ll figure a budget to get me through to May (February is just the beginning.  March and April can sometimes be even worse).  I’ll try to make it something I can live with, not something that will punish me for being sick.

HenryI cleaned out my refrigerator of all the liquefying vegetables and bought a few simple groceries.  I swam at the Y.  I sat with my fading bedspread for a while and sewed a blanket stitch around the frayed edges with gentle music playing and the cats behind my head on the chair.  Henry’s belly makes a gurgling, crackling sound when he’s digesting, and I pressed my ear against his fur to listen while he slept.

My apartment is a sickroom now.  No sudden moves.  No grand expectations.  Everything deliberate and gentle.  I must tend to my sleep, get to the Y every day, maintain my journal, plan quiet visits with friends, try to eat fresh food.  I will try to keep the structure sound while the storm carries on inside.  I will treat myself as someone worthy of care and respect, as someone that I love.

Fat Girls Rock

I swam 30 laps in the Y pool yesterday.  Fat girls rock.

SoulCollage card "The First Way"

SoulCollage card “The First Way”

The Other Shoe

It was inevitable.  Stress + Bipolar Disorder = Bipolar Disorder.

Also a Dark SideI flopped around all yesterday morning, hoping this dive might even out before it was time to go in to work, but, alas, no.  So, I Instant Messaged my boss and a couple of my co-workers, and tried not to feel like a dip-shit on top of the bipolar mess.

It’s still really hard for me to believe that a workplace—any workplace—will put up with my limitations as an employee.  On top of what we’ve already negotiated, I have these days—these unpredictable absences.  They’re why I’ve lost or quit every other job I’ve ever had.  But, so far, everyone seems very cool about it.  More than that, all the responses have been incredibly kind and supportive.

Don’t worry.  Take care of yourself.  Sending Light and Healing.

I honestly don’t know what to do with that.  It’s a completely new experience for me.  And I’m afraid to trust it.

I’m also in a deep dive, so whatever my brain is churning out is unreliable.  My best course is to ignore all thought happening up there and concentrate on clearing an easy path through the weekend.

ITS FamilyPart of that will be to indulge in a little Richard Armitage.  His new movie “Into the Storm” is out this weekend.  It’s basically a horror movie with a killer tornado as the monster.  It’s special effects-driven—bad news for an actual story or interesting characters.  Oh, well.  It’s Richard.  And when I meet him in London (because I will wait at the stage door with the rest of the Armitage Army), I can tell him his Midwestern accent was spot-on.

I’m also going to Anytime Fitness since the Y is closed for cleaning.  Losing my pool for a whole week always throws me, so I knew I needed a real option this year.  They’ve got a nice recumbent bike, and I’ve got my iPod.  It will work.

I also started working on new cards with the old photos I found at my parents’ house.  I haven’t felt like doing art for a long time, but I know how it can help keep keep my brain busy on something positive.  I will make myself sit at my art table.  Something will come of it.

So, there’s A Plan.  And there’s Acceptance.  And there’s Waiting.

And that’s the best a bipolar girl can do when it’s raining shoes.

Tempest in a Teacup

Don't Know BeansHere I am, finishing up my second week of work.

The stress is enormous, not just for me, but for everyone trying to learn this new program and making up the next steps as they are needed.  The real challenge for me is to moderate the anxiety and pressure.  Under stress, I’m easily overwhelmed.  I’m like a teacup that flattens, slopping out my ability to concentrate and my emotional flexibility.  I lose capacity.

I also become reactive, and my first instinct is to bolt.  I run from the stressor, fling it off and dive into a hide-hole.  So, the words “I can’t do this” fly in and out of my head regularly.

But part of my personal journey is to work on increasing my tolerance to distress.  If I’m ever to make any lasting changes in my behavior and my life, I need to work this work situation like a puzzle.  What do I need to do to stretch my envelope of tolerance?  As always, I created a plan.

The first piece is to breathe.  It’s my starting point.  When the acronyms start flying and I can feel my body vibrating like a tuning fork, I stop and breathe deep into my belly.  It tells me to come back to myself.  It starts the process of flinging off the assumptions and negativity.  Breathing deep, I can remember why I’m doing this.  I can remember I don’t need to understand.  I can remember that I’m not alone.

I also realized that creating more structure would help soothe the anxiety, so I put an After Work plan in place.  I go straight home, change, and go to the Y to ride the recumbent bike for an hour.  That helps burn off some of the adrenaline and agitation.  Then, I journal with a cup of something soothing.  Then, I meditate.  After that, I’m rational enough to eat a sensible supper.  This helps.  Instead of bingeing all night with a movie, I’m taking positive action to stretch my tolerance.

And it seems to be working.  I may be an emotional puddle by the time I leave the office, but by the next morning my teacup is upright and able to hold water.

This is new behavior for me.  It’s also more stress than I’ve endured in years.  I’m proud of all that.  I’m also aware that I could blow at any time.  That’s the unknowable, uncontrollable piece to bipolar disorder.  All I can do is stay as mindful as I can from moment to moment and see what happens.

I’m on an Adventure.

tiny cups

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