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.

A Year in Oklahoma

I try to follow a couple of rules with this blog—tell the truth and wait for the gift before posting.  When those are in conflict (the “truth” can be darn ugly when my bipolarness is in the Black), I tend to keep quiet.  As Dr. Phil’s dad told him once, “Never miss a chance to keep your mouth shut.”  A dear friend reminded me that I’ve been quiet a long time, so I’m here today with my truth and my gifts, such as they are.

It’s a perfect day in Oklahoma—sunny, 72 degrees bound for 81, a gentle breeze.  I will have been here a year this week— my willingness to accept and adapt, my participation in the world around me, and the focus of my life have gone through as many rollercoaster rides as my moods.  Today I am content and grateful for the gentle weather, the Work, and the projects that put art in the center of my life.  Here’s what I’m working on now.

I bought a $2 book at my favorite antique mall for the quotes, then tore the rest of the pages out to make background papers for cards and whatever else might need funky paper.  This is my kitchen counter this morning.

Right now, my studio table is putting together three new Libra cards.  I’ve loved the beading work on this one.  And I can look out the window at my “Rock Garden” and the first doo-dad planted there—a peace pole that says “Be a Steward of the Earth” (a reminder for me to get out and pick up trash).

 

In my bedroom, I’m thrilled with the utility cart I got from Dick Blick.  Everything within reach when I camp out on the bed with Emmett and the latest Netflix binge.  Rolling the cart around still freaks Emmett out, but he freaks easily (A moth got inside recently, which sent him into a frenzy).

Right now I’m working on my spread in our Art Journal Round Robin.  Our group decided to do another round, and the theme for the journal I have now is “Make Me a Garden.”  I had a bunch of tiny portraits, so I’m happily crafting flower hats for them—lilies, Japanese poppies (it tickles me to have Japanese TV characters for these), roses, a bunch of pansies (all men with glasses, though that was not a conscious connection.  It’s weird how my brain works sometimes), a clutch of hydrangea girls and a few oddballs.  I can’t wait to place them in a garden.

I’m also in the process of making my new series of Month cards.  They are more involved and layered with tons of collage elements.  Starting next week, the Civic Center will be hosting an arts/crafts event every first Saturday of the month through October.  I’ll be part of the Muskogee Art Guild’s booth, and I wanted something new mixed in with the other cards I make.  It will be fun to keep a month ahead, adding these cards to my inventory.

I’m also getting my last deck of playing cards ready to become bases for new Penny Positives.  It’s grunt work—covering them with gesso, adding paint, maybe a little design, and a sort of “trademark” to the back.  But, I like how they turn out, so it’s all worth it.

As I mentioned, arting is the center of my life now.  It keeps me from thinking.  I never would have believed that thinking might be something to avoid.  My intelligence was valued and praised as I was growing up, so I strived to be smart.  I discovered this year that thinking can lead me down a dark path where I focus and ruminate on feelings until they turn into truth.  This is the year I learned to get out of my head whenever I could and let my hands do my thinking for me.  I’ve learned that makes for a much more peaceful existence.

I’m 61 and still discovering on this Adventure.  Thank goodness.

 

 

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.

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.

A Marker

I think I know something.  I think I feel something happening.  But, I can’t trust what I think or feel.  So I write it here to plant a marker.  Later, I can come back to this marker to learn the truth of it.  Maybe.

Maybe there is no truth, just the shifting sands of perception.  Maybe it’s best to let go of the idea of truth and simply breathe.

Yet, my mind wants to take note.  To point its finger.  To take a picture for its scrapbook.

So, I comply.

I think it takes more effort to leave my home.  Going outside, in the world, does not appeal to me.  I make plans—to join my sister’s family for Thanksgiving, to swim, to see a movie—and when the moment comes, I stay.  Being out in the world has always been hard work, a constant push against my neurodiversity.  Some days are easier than others.  Some days the barrier between in and out seems thin.  I can tell myself that I’ll be glad when I’m there, which has been accurate most of the time.  It is accurate less and less now.

When I am on my bed, with the cats sleeping between the piles of a project, with an episode of Friends or a Netflix movie running, I am content.  I laugh out loud and blink tears like any other human being.  I make beautiful and interesting things that create wonder in me.

When I am out, I am aware of how hard I am working.  I feel the effort of making conversation, the strain of blocking noise and triggers.  I’m not sure its worth the effort anymore.

Isolation is a symptom.  Every mental health caregiver in my life told me to fight against it.  What if I don’t?

What if I don’t?

My Anti-Hate Campaign…

…Or Training Myself to Grow Where I’m Planted.

In the wilting swamp of summer, with depression and agitation kicking up a Pig Pen Black Cloud, I found myself hating Oklahoma.  What I gained by moving seemed minuscule compared to what I’d lost.

Thankfully, I’ve done this work long enough to know I was not seeing the whole picture. I needed clarity.  I needed objectivity.  I needed to turn the Bipolar Bus around.

So, I started my Anti-Hate Campaign.

I pulled out a blank journal and started making A Plan—to be specific, to separate my “hates” into piles, and to brainstorm ideas on how to make changes.  I approached this journal like any other, painting and collaging the pages with care, using colors I love, letting the art of the process lead me.  Loving the journal itself encouraged me to pick it up and tackle the next phase.

I found that most of the “hates” I labeled unmanageable carried some seed of change, either in my perception or in a sideways action.  The state’s poverty and poor education system overwhelmed me, so I noodled about becoming more informed about specific problems.  I subscribed to the Tulsa World and looked for speaker forums to attend.  As other ideas come, into the journal they go.

The cooler weather brought all kinds of physical and mental relief.  I came back to ideas I’d had in April about making my duplex into a place of sanctuary and inspiration.  I rearranged my sitting room, painted and hung a screen door to be used as an Idea/Celebration Board, and found the perfect, Feng Shui-enhancing poster of Wonder Woman.

Outside, I asked permission to create a rock garden between the edge of my cement patio and the privacy wall.  I spent a satisfying day leveling ground and hauling rock, then sitting in my sister’s borrowed patio chair to enjoy the breeze and my handiwork.  Artful doo-dads and whirligigs will be added in due time.

Because of my journal and texts with my friend, Cheryl, I realized that hating where I live is just another bipolar symptom.  Anger, agitation and loathing rise up and attach themselves to whatever is handy.  An unfamiliar, uncomfortable place is a perfect target.  As I continue to do this Work of shifting perception and turning toward joy, I will learn to recognize that symptom sooner and take steps to be gentle with it.

And I will feel my roots growing deeper into Oklahoma’s red earth.

Walk Me Through This One

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My mind is a swamp.  A swamp littered with broken glass.  I know how important it is to put on my big rubber boots.

I have to navigate Medicare’s blockade.  Again.  Still.  I need to work with a doctor who doesn’t believe me and seems outraged when I ask him to address my needs.  And this might all be my swamp, bubbling up and belching gas.  A hallucination?  Reality?  Somewhere in between?

It makes my gut ache, all this wading around and watching for gators.  The glass shards glitter in the foggy light, slicing across thin rubber.

I realize I take high offense at being disbelieved, as if I know nothing of my own body or the patterns of my Everglade mind.  It is a kind of erasure, wiping away my years of struggle and learning, all the experimentation, all the adventure.  It denies my intelligence.

So, I take a big lungful of the swamp gas and blow it out.  Offense is a state of mind.  An unhelpful state of mind.  My task today is to adjust my perspective.  I cannot be erased by another.  I know who I am.  I know what I know.  And I will play the Game.

Synchonistically, I started an online course today called Creative Mindfulness.  And I will meet with a new therapist who is versed in Cognitive and Dialectic Behavior therapies as well as Mindfulness.

“Calling All Angels.  Walk Me Through This One.”

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