It’s Time

Last month this blog celebrated its 11th birthday.

That’s a lot of words.

If I’ve learned one thing in all that time, it’s that the people who read these words are gracious, kind, supportive and funny. I am grateful for everyone who came here, whether they commented or not. Thank you.

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that my illness moves in circles. I cycle through the highs and lows, despair and hope. I give up, then start a new search for anything that can temper the suffering or open my heart. The spiral around and around continues, and I find that I’m repeating myself here more often.

Eleven years ago, I had a lot to say. Words spewed out of me. I told my story. I promised to tell the truth, and I have to the best of my knowledge. The truth today is that I don’t have many words left. At least no new words.

This blog gave me a platform to share my journey as someone with a mental illness. It gave me a place to “publish” the fan fiction I loved to write and the art that helped me stay sane (enough). It gave me a community and a support system I could never imagine. It has been a gift and a joy.

And its time is done.

The domain name has been renewed for another year, so aminddivided will stay open to visitors for another year. After that, I think it fades into the internet afterlife.

Come visit me on Facebook. Or my Etsy shop (see the sidebar). I’ll still be around, doing what I’ve always done, continuing on that never-ending spiral.

In Gratitude,

Sandy

Taking Up The Sword Again

After trying a couple of mood stabilizers (ie. anti-psychotics) in November and December, and going boo-boo faced and dipsey-doodle in several different directions, I told my shrink I’d take a break from drug trials through January.

The experience gave me what I hoped for—a chemical slap upside my brain that shook it loose from the depressive tar. Since Christmas, my mood has been noticeably better. I’m back to making art and moving ahead with my therapist.

Our current Adventure—one I vowed I’d never try again—is working with my compulsive eating disorder. But I’ve learned my lesson about saying never.

The first phase was to keep track of what I ate by Food Groups (protein, dairy etc.). Doing it this way seemed to drain out a lot of the shame and resistance. Even when I binged, I could still make my little tick marks.

My pattern is to try something new like this for a week or so, binge/gain weight/lose hope, and quit. I wanted to quit several times, but I’m still at it after three weeks.

This week we added a new task. After a lot of discussion and tears (on my part), my therapist gave me a tiny lava lamp that was actually a two-minute timer. Before I eat anything, I’m to watch those groovy bubbles for two minutes with the mantra “I am becoming aware.” After the two minutes I can eat whatever I want.

This does a couple of things. It interrupts the compulsion and creates a tiny gap for a bit of mindfulness to creep in.

I was terrified.

I also watched the bubbles. And DAMN if it isn’t doing exactly what Sonya said it would do.

I’m finding that the exercise calms my mind. The Observer moves in front of the compulsion and watches without judgment. Most of the time, I make healthier choices about what to eat after watching bubbles. I’m not as scared about my Drug of Choice being taken away from me. I’m not as resistant to reaching for bubbles before Cheetos.

I don’t know if I can break pattern and keep this up, but today I feel a little like Graham McTavish’s Dougal from Outlander (above). Sword in hand, the Bipolar Bad-Ass is back. With bubbles.

Waiting

Waiting is a practice. Not one I’m good at. Especially when it feels like something with claws is trying to get out of my chest.

I came to Starbucks a little after 6am, clutching my little journal, hoping against my demon-judgment hope for a revelation. Even after checking off so many things on my self-care list yesterday, the hot itch remained. There must be a brain ointment out there somewhere!

As I wrote, I figured 3 more weeks until I see my shrink again and we do the next thing on his list. The despair swamped me.

Maybe if I could get a normal night’s sleep. I’ve been waking up at 1:00-2:00am, then have nothing I can do and no place to go for hours (I’m trying to be quiet for my sister’s sake). And then I crash at 5:00 or 6:00 in the afternoon. It just doesn’t help the whole frantic, desperate gestalt.

A page in my little journal made by my friend Tanya

I have to think positively. Tomorrow is yoga class, which will be good for my body and soul. I will hug my friend Martha.

Tuesday is massage day with one of the sweetest women I know. Misty has great technique AND she loves to laugh. She also likes me as a person and an artist, which is a different kind of soul-balm.

Wednesday is therapy day with Sonya. I know she will be distressed for me, AND that she’ll help me figure out ways to wait and more ways to cope.

Balance. Balance. Balance.

I must balance the red claws of distress and discomfort with images of Graham McTavish.

And THAT’S how a person waits.

Tolerating the Discomfort

Years ago, a counselor at Mercy Hospital’s outpatient program in Des Moines suggested that we learn to stretch our ability to tolerate the discomfort of our mental illnesses. Such a benign term—discomfort. It hardly does justice to what really goes on inside a crazy person’s mind. But, it does keep us from catastrophizing the experience. Suffering, agony, or hysteria would be torture to tolerate. Discomfort seems more reasonable.

When I woke up at 2am again this morning, I knew I needed to follow this wise counselor’s advise. My mental and physical discomfort had been overwhelming me, and I needed to find a way to help myself.

So as soon as Starbucks opened at 6:00, I took this small journal and a few pens with the intention of just writing about the discomfort. My Round Robin art journal friends had used this size journal in our last project to send pages to each other. It contained their art, but I didn’t have to make anything. This felt important.

I had started this journal as a book of lists to send around to friends, hoping they would jot down their thoughts. That never happened, but the headings were still there. Some could be useful, Some not so much. I decided to use what might be helpful and leave the rest.

After I ranted a brain-dump on one of the blank pages, I felt a little calmer. I also thought a list of possible ways to stretch my tolerance for this discomfort might be the next step. I brainstormed (Ha! Such an apt term!) for a while and felt a little better still.

I had taken a clonazepam before I went to Starbucks, hoping to beat back the itchy, prickly panic. That little darling started to kick in, and I thought it best to go home and have a lie down. But before doing that, I tried a few things on my list: a nice hot soak with lavender bath salts, a fragrant candle, and a pair of comfy chenille footies. I turned on my new Audibles book (read by Pretend Boyfriend, Richard Armitage), and promptly fell asleep.

When I woke up, I took my little journal outside to sit in the sun and see what else might help me get through the day. As things came to me, I added them to my list, then checked them off as I practiced—like singing the Sia song “I’m Alive” loud enough to make all the neighbor dogs howl. I get so tired of their constant yapping that it felt powerfully naughty to sing so loud that they all shut up.

I took a little stroll around the garden in my bare feet (though my comfy footies waited on the patio for me). This helped my wobbly knee and gave me a sense of grounding. As my sissy bedecks the halls with her tubs of decorations, I needed a sense of myself (the non-Christmas atheist), my feet firmly on the ground, in the midst of the discomfort of my mind fighting its war with psych meds.

I have a new tool. A little journal to write about my discomfort and list ways to tolerate it a bit better. I need to add “Write a blog post” to the list, because this helped as well. It always does.

Letting Go

I weaned off all psych drugs in 2012 after reading Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic, which told the statistical downside of treating mental illness with medication. Ever since, I’ve been a LOUD advocate for finding other ways of managing or, for those who need those drugs, additional ways of coping and self-care.

Like a lot of people on a crusade, I was entrenched, rigid in my thinking, self-righteous in my correct view of the world. We’ve seen how that usually ends up.

About a year after I moved to Oklahoma in 2018, the depressive side of my bipolar disorder moved in and never left. She would take a day-trip once in a while, but as time went on, she became more and more the clueless, stinky houseguest.

I know the drill when Depression comes to visit—remember that she lies constantly, get busy finding an artful distraction, get regular reality checks with a therapist, and try not to eat everything in sight. Over time, I stopped being able to do any of those activities. I knew I was in real trouble, and I had no other options left.

I had to try medication.

Two weeks ago, I went to my psychiatrist (whom I fired last winter) and told him I would take whatever he recommended. He was shocked into kindness after fighting with me over this for three years. He spent extra time explaining his choice and our plan of action. I cried through the whole appointment.

As any student of human nature will attest, changing a person’s opinion or point of view is nigh unto impossible. Facts don’t make a difference. Persuasive arguments blow past without leaving a mark. Even one’s experience of events serves only to reinforce what is already believed (selective perception). Faith, Belief, Opinion operate out of deep need, not reality. And there are so many different realities anyway.

I cried in my psychiatrists office because I was letting go of a deeply held belief. Who was I if I did this thing I said I’d never do? I felt betrayed and ashamed. I felt like a fake and a liar. I also felt cautiously hopeful and curious.

What other ideas, opinions, “facts,” could I let go of if I let go of this? What do I believe that might be holding me back?

This attitude of quiet curiosity is an old practice, but I’ve not been able to practice much of anything in years. I’m more amazed and grateful for this way of holding my experience than I am for the relief I’m receiving from my medication. And I suspect that the two go hand in hand.

Ain’t that just the way of things. More Adventure Ahead.

Getting Real

I just got back from getting my Real ID. It’s a perfect morning in eastern Oklahoma—bright, clear, cool—so the short drive over the Arkansas River with the pretty foothills in the southeast pulled my shoulders down from my ears. I’ve been fighting a sinus infection for the last week. Getting out and breathing in the beauty of today was better medicine than anything on my nightstand.

Getting a Real ID—the one that gives a person more access than a regular driver’s license—takes some preparation. This kind of red tape is stressful for me. Ghosts of Doing It Wrong rise up and cluck. But when I dug out my passport, it surprised me by still being valid. It also rolled out wonderful memories of my whirlwind trip to England in 2014 and stirred my current fantasy of visiting Scotland some far-off day.

Whirlwind Souvenirs

I was Real when I traveled to England, but realized I’d lost that sense of myself. Too much stress. Too many changes. Too many dreams abandoned—Trump, Covid, Oklahoma and adapting to life with my sister. My bipolar disorder wrapped me up like a quilt and bundled me into a safe, padded room.

Today, my illness feels lighter. Today, my art is coming back, like red-tailed hawks came back to Iowa after DDT left the ecosystem. The birds migrated to a place where their eggs could be viable, but eventually came home again when it was safe.

My art seems to be laying eggs again, too. I’m getting new ideas, using new elements, trying scarier and out-of-my-comfort-zone things. Like making little watercolor and marker sketches of my own to illustrate my cards.

A walk through my sister’s lovely backyard garden gave me lots of deadfall and other treasures to make some different kinds of cards. Sewing something so fragile feels like a meditation, and I haven’t been able to meditate in a long while.

My therapist and I are also working with a new (for me) kind of therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Lots of familiar behavioral and mindfulness elements presented in a new way. One of my first tasks was to sort through What Is Important To Me. Honestly, I wasn’t sure anymore, so that took time. And now I’m journaling about how I move toward those things or values. You can see how much progress I’ve made so far.

With this unmoored sense of self, I will have to dig to find ways I am actively seeking the things I say I value—if I’m doing that at all. And it’s scary to think how much they might have changed or if I just abandoned what I loved and valued. But that’s what therapy is for, right? To set a new course. To Get Real.

And maybe, when I’m a Real Girl again, and the Covid pigs fly, and the Border Unicorns prance open, I’ll take my passport to Scotland and breathe in the beauty there.

Oh, today I am blessed with Adventure.

Team Thanos

I was always Team Thanos when the Avengers movies came out. Honestly, the guy was misunderstood. Cut the population in half with no suffering. Cut across all political, social, and income levels. Bring the Earth (and every planet) back into balance. Covid is trying, but it’s not nearly as fair.

Tighter restrictions are back in place since the rise of active cases. I know a lot of people who refuse to get vaccinated, and others who think being vaccinated is the only precaution they need to take. Here in beef country, ranchers are dosing themselves with cattle dewormer instead of getting a shot. I think we deserve a visit from Thanos.

Today, I’d be happy to provide one of his vacancies. After a spell of soul-crushing depression, I got up this morning determined to Do The Work of managing my illness. I packed up my traveling art studio and headed to Starbucks… which is closed again. And it’s not like arting is a comfort anymore, though if I work really hard at it, I can find some distraction from the ugly in my head.

And from the growing sclerosis that continues to crystalize around my heart. It’s easier to feel nothing, to shut all doors, to cancel anything that brings me in contact with people.

Easier, but it also makes me feel less human.

Yeah, okay, I’m contradictory and contrary. Bite me.

Still determined, I stopped on my way home to get a healthy smoothie, pulling out the little bit of Bipolar Badass that hides in my hindbrain. I will art on my bed with Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD running in the background, and I will try to distract myself by making cards for the people I still have feelings for, even if I have to root around a while to find a soft spot in my heart.

If I can find it, I can nurture it with art. I know I can.

But if Thanos shows up for supper, I’m splitting a pizza with him.

The Next Simple Thing

I’ve “gotten out the door” every day for almost two weeks. I feel good about that. Doesn’t matter if I went to the mailbox and back or if I explored the neighborhood. I’m moving my grumpy knee.

The Next Thing is to pay attention to my gut.

Who knows what all is going on there? Compulsive Eating Disorder, Leaky Gut Syndrome, allergies, food intolerances, addiction… I’ve tried all my adult life to control my eating. And by that standard, I’ve failed every time.

How-some-ever, I do know a few things.

1. I’ve been eating crap consistently since Covid started.

2. I’ve gained weight. Don’t know how much since I threw away my scale years ago, but my grumpy knee says it’s a significant amount.

3. My gut is disturbed and unhappy. Everyone knows what that feels like and the explosive ways it can manifest.

4. Some foods make it worse. Some foods make it better.

Today I pulled out my old notes on Leaky Gut (since eating the foods on that list makes my gut happier) and started a grocery list. I also downloaded a recipe book onto my Kindle. I realized that was probably a waste since I have a mental block about cooking, but who knows?

I’m just trying to pay attention, to hold it all lightly. I will have days of clarity and days of fog. I will resist and I will fly.

I feel like I’m launching buoys with these simple tasks. When the bipolar symptoms swamp me or the compulsive eating pulls me under, I have something to focus on when the waters recede. When the weirdness of Covid-life pushes me farther from shore, I can hear those little bells in the distance. Instead of treading water, I can float toward my buoys. And then, swim.

Yeah, it’s still an Adventure.

A Report from the New Normal

A friend reminded me that I hadn’t posted here in a while.  Fact is, I have nothing useful to offer.

Severe depression seems to be my new COVID-era normal.  Art can’t touch it.  Drugs rarely provide enough energy to do a load of laundry or make a run to the grocery store.  Not often enough to consider myself “functional.”

In another time and place, I would be hospitalized.  As it is, I try to keep my head down as I slog through the Suicidal Ideation mire.  One foot in front of the other.

With no other options, I am shamelessly asking for help on FaceBook—from the friends and family who know me there.  Help comes.  Groceries and prepared meals from real live people near me; in cold boxes and online deliveries from those far away.  I’ve asked that folks clean out their desks and attics for collage fodder—old pictures, papers, receipts, music sheets, letters—anything flat and weird that might kindle a spark of creative oomph.  I’ve asked them to remind me who I am to them, if I mean anything at all, since I’ve lost perspective about all that.

I can’t wait for the cycle to shift anymore.  I may get a boost now and then, but my little marble rolls back to this trough with no real mood change.  Like everyone else in the world, I have to do things differently.  I have to ask for help, not once, but repeatedly.  I have to get over the shame of that, get over my upbringing, get over myself.

Just one more fucking Adventure.

Floating a Little

 

 

• Post Title and Inspiration:

Mary Oliver — Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled–To cast aside the weight of facts–And maybe even to float a little above this difficult world.

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