Void

Slowly, over the past several months, the desire to make dribbled out of me until yesterday I couldn’t stand to snip one more little piece of paper.  After an SOS to my art friends, they reassured me that this happens to them, too.  They suggested changing mediums, lying fallow for a time, or taking up something radically different.

I started a drawing class at our local art guild, hoping for social contact and a reconnect of some kind with an old skill that I used to love.  Neither wish has been granted so far, despite sweaty effort to clear a path through my mental minefields.

I’m frightened.  Arting is my last, best safety net, the place I can always go when the bipolar demons scream the loudest.  It’s gone for now, and I can’t imagine what to do with this void or how I’ll manage.

I’m bone and brain tired, so I know enough not to make more of this than it is.  Something will present itself.  There’s plenty of room for it to wander in.  Until then, I guess I wait with empty hands.

A Spot of Coppery Sunshine in a Gray Sky

It was a hard morning—one where the amphetamine doesn’t work and suicidal thoughts fill my empty cup.  I tried arting at the Starbucks in Tulsa, but couldn’t summon any interest, so started home sooner than expected.

As I drove I remembered that I’d dreamt about Barack and Michelle Obama two nights in a row.  In the dreams, I was happy,  hopeful, and part of a positive flow.  I thought, “Okay, this is where I need to take my brain today.”

As the negative images resurfaced, I summoned President Obama’s cheerful face, talking to me like a friend.  I felt the lightness of my dream-heart and the sense of rightness.

This spot of brightness in my gray morning reminded me of a project I’m working on—making sets of tiny Penny Positives like the ones I make each year for my friend Sarah.  I found tiny plastic sleeves to keep them protected and little paper mâché boxes that a set of 50 will fit into.  I planned to label the boxes “Penny Positives: A Spot of Coppery Sunshine for a Gray Sky.”

I also remembered that I’d sent both President Obama and President Carter Gratitude Postcards last week, telling them how much hope they add to my life.  I’m thinking I will spend time this afternoon making a new Gratitude List.  Maybe more people on that list will seep into my dreams, which might give my brain additional hopeful rest stops.

I’m better now—tired and slow-witted, but that part of depression isn’t nearly as frightening or dangerous as the Black Thoughts.  There’s a sense of being more skilled than my Black Thoughts let me believe, and there’s gratitude for that.

This Bipolar Highway is never-ending and ever-changing.  It seems like I’m being called to build more Comfort Stations now.  And the more I can build, the longer the Adventure continues.

Storm Chasing

Well, that was a Big One, a Black Brain-Storm that hurricaned up my coast.  When I say “Big,” I mean lengthy.  I manage all right with depressive episodes that last a couple of weeks, but when they stretch out longer than that, I… well… there’s no other way to put it.  I lose my shit.

I also lose time.  How long did it take to sweep through my mental landscape?  A month? Two?  I lose the shape of individual storm cells, delineated by these little bursts of clear sky.  They start to moosh together until it seems as if Black is all there is. I know that’s not true, but I can’t remember the sunny skies unless I look back in my journal or ask someone else.

The Big Fat Lying Brain starts to sound really savvy.  Some of those awful thoughts might be true.  After all, they’re just an Edward Gorey version of what usually rummages around my gray matter.  Paranoia trickles in like lizard sweat.  It’s really not a pleasant place, my brain.

How-some-ever, the inside-skies cleared yesterday, so I’ve got time to get ready for the next blow.  I will be taking a drawing class for the next three weeks during the time I would normally see my therapist (it’s one of those Good News/Bad News situations), but she’s available by phone, so I shan’t worry.

I’m also trying to take teeny-tiny steps in a positive direction: drink a glass of water when I get up in the morning, commit to swimming on Thursday mornings, and choose Subway instead of other take-out.

I’m still searching for the Muskogee Routine and hope this will be a start.  Small additions.  Tiny sandbags in the dike wall.

I always feel better with a plan, whether I can carry it out or not.  Incremental turns toward wellness feels gentle.

And I’m all for a Gentle Adventure.

The Moment is Enough

Emmett has his own way of getting the day started.  He scuttles up to my pillow and whacks me in the face with his tail.  He’s not subtle, this second-fiddle cat who got promoted to Concert Master last December.  I consider myself trained.

From bedroom to kitchen in the gray, half-light, stiff joints find their rhythm.  The ritual of cat food alchemy and kitchen clean-up come from muscle memory, not any sort of gray matter function.  That, in itself, is a miracle.

It’s been a week since my new Medicare drug insurance ended the two month gap where I had no coverage.  I rationed three weeks of meds over those two months and learned, decisively, that Vyvanse helps the depressive part of my bipolar existence.  Without it, I made piles of my possessions in my mind with Sticky Notes of who should get them.  I slept a good part of the day and stayed in bed the rest.  All the hobgoblins nattered ugliness in my ear. I lived in a different sort of gray world.

With Vyvanse, windows of color open.  Joy slides in with the brush of Emmett’s tail and putting paint to paper.  A different ritual starts to reform—swimming, cafés, doing the next thing.  Gratitude resurfaces—for my weekly yoga class, for my steadfast sister, for the Salty Dog Ruccicino at the Erly Rush coffee drive-through.

A cardinal just flew across the parking lot—a blaze of color in the sunlight.  Limpy, the feral calico, prowls around the cars, waiting for opportunity.  Birds chirp.  Trains rumble.  The thought of getting a massage later in the morning creates a warm spot of anticipation.

In this moment, all is peaceful.  The moment is enough.

Suspense

Waiting to see if flood waters will take out the water treatment plant, all my old plastic file boxes, garbage cans and pots sit filled. Waiting for another tornado warning to blare from my phone, Emmett stays in hiding most of the day. Waiting for my new Medicare D coverage to start in July, my rationed medication can’t take the edge off the agitation or depression.

So, today I’ll choose suspense I can enjoy.

I Deserve to be Loved

My secrets come out in my art—songs I long to have sung to me.

I’m dying for the lack of it.

In the Gray

I’ve shared this journal spread a couple other places, so I’m sorry if its old news.  But this is where I am—in the Gray of disconnect and apathy.  Gray doesn’t carry the anguish or hopelessness of The Black.  It’s colorless and adrift, lonely while being intolerant of companionship, and capable of being distracted without too much effort.

I Don’t Care is the name of a restaurant here in Muskogee (as in “Where do you want to eat?”  Answer: “I don’t care.”). I think it’s a horrible name for a place of business, but it suits me as an anthem right now.  Maybe I do care a lot, and it’s easier to say I don’t.  I’d have to expend too much energy to dig out the truth of it.  Just doesn’t seem worth the effort.

So, I will pass time.  Mark time.  Exist.  Hard to tell in the mist.

Taking Scarlett’s Advice

Not my best day.  Putting on my Scarlett drapery gown.

Temba, His Arms Wide*

After a few days of sneaky depression, the kind of depression that makes it sensible to lie to my therapist about why I cancelled my appointment, I shoved myself out the door with my art supplies.

There’s always a point in The Black when It starts to thin, when a crack seems possible.  If I push too soon, The Black swallows me with doubt, failure, hopelessness.  I’ve learned to wait, to leave the insanity of my thoughts alone.  In The Black, waiting feels like giving up.  It’s not.  It’s just waiting.

At the coffee shop, I felt the crack.  Like a door ajar in the night, a thin line of light cut across my dark floor.  With that crack of light came a flood of gifts.  Real ones.

My friend, Sue, sent me one of her Care Packages full of Entertainment Weeklys, refrigerator magnets, a CD of her favorite show tunes and the most thoughtful piece of jewelry I’ve ever owned.  She had a necklace made from a picture of Henry.  It looks just like him.

Another friend texted to say that since I’ve always supported his music, he’s sending me an early (and secret, shhhh) CD of the songs he’s recorded so far in the studio.  I know he could be bigger than Billy Joel.

My landlord texted to say she sent my worries about the strong mold smell in my sitting room to Management.  They asked her and her husband/maintenance man to come check it out today.  I’m so relieved.  Visions of black mold have been dancing in my dreams.

An artist/teacher I met at The Muskogee Art Guild emailed me to say the drawing class I so dearly wanted to take and couldn’t afford would be covered by a scholarship.  And my friend, Sally, confirmed the date of her birthday party back in Iowa, so I can take a trip back home and take the class.

There are other gifts, but these blinded me.  Light does that when a person has been sitting in the Dark

I’m mindful of standing open-armed instead of denying or shaking off these gifts, receiving and being warmed.

I am full of color today.

*Caution: Star Trek reference.  The following YouTube bit doesn’t relate at all to this post, but I love this guy’s take on said ST:TNG reference.

Walk-About

Last Sunday, I took my first neighborhood walk.  I’ve wanted to get out there ever since summer went away, but the excuses… oh the excuses.  Somehow, last Sunday, the bright sun and mild temperatures snuck past all the barriers.  I laced up my purple tennies, stuffed a collection bag in my pocket and went.

My creaky knee complained, but it always complains, so I kept a slow pace.  I sorta had to—my exercise regimen since moving to Muskogee boils down to Old Lady Yoga once a week and maybe a few pool laps once or twice a month.  My old rhythm is gone and a new one hasn’t presented itself, so I’m pushing when I can.  I want to enjoy this place, and getting outside this winter will move my pendulum in that direction.

Leaving Edmond Street, I took Kimberlea Drive.  Traveling east from my duplex toward the country club, the neighborhood perked up—larger homes, sturdier fences, dogs with holiday attire.  I wondered if I’d find enough refuse and biologicals to revive my Walk-About Journal. Is street trash in moderately upscale Muskogee different from a park in Des Moines or the woods near Toledo? This was my mission.

The neighborhood felt familiar—with a few exceptions.  I get this a lot—a sort of Twilight Zone slippage of the space-time continuum—Braums instead of Dairy Queen, Sooners instead of Hawkeyes.  I wonder what cultural cues I’m missing.  My cousin in Tulsa kindly informed me of the real meaning of “bless your heart” (which conveys nothing beatific).  The part of my brain that wrestled with Russian and Vietnamese keeps lighting up.  No wonder I’m so tired.

Once I made it to the golf course, I hobbled to a bench, stretched my grumbling back, and turned my face to the sun.  A whiff of breeze on the waterway, a rustle of fallen leaves. Oh, yeah.  This was the Reason for the Season—to be in a quiet place smelling of sky.  This would be worth the body moans to come.

On my way back, I reminded myself to be present, to notice more detail—the wheat color of the grass, the young couple walking toward me in shorts and tee-shirts, the beauty of a lost Christmas ornament.

And then home again, to be greeted by my Gateway Guardians—Fu Dog, who came with me from Minnesota, and Guillermo the Goat, a recent hire.  I love the entrance to my home, tucked in the back corner of the complex.  My Guardians and a glass bowl full of crystals and stones I’ve managed to keep over the years welcome me with color and meaning.

Inside, I unloaded my foraging finds into soapy water and dug out the appropriate journals.  Some of the biologicals would make nice additions to my little Zen of Mental Illness journal.  The other refuse waited until after Christmas.

As always, Christmas triggered my bipolarness.  It is one thing about this unpredictable condition that I can count on.

I cared for myself the best I could, then tried not to take the whole weepy/distorted thinking/exhaustion personally.  Distraction is key, so before I visited my therapist on Wednesday, I camped at my favorite coffee shop and made trash art gleaned from my walk.  It tickled me, and that’s always the first step back.  One foot after the other, continuing on The Adventure.

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