Once Upon a Time

Over the flu and in the Grey, which often happens after I’m physically ill.  It’s a melancholy, weepy place where regret and self-pity slink from shadow to shadow.  I have to be vigilant here, which pisses me off, so there’s a lot of bouncing around in the mist.

The thoughts generated by my gray matter here are particularly sneaky.  The Almost True and Slightly Off entice me into following them down paths that grow darker bit by bit.  Like a Grimms’ Fairy Tale, I end up lost in the woods.

So I pull out my Bag of Tricks and rummage through until I find a compass.  Or a sandwich.

The first Bad Day, nothing in my bag helped.  Nothing pointed me in the right direction or comforted me.  I panicked a little bit.

Then, like a Fairy Godmother, a memory slipped through the fog.  I remembered making a set of cards a few years back that helped me through a similar Forest, so I pulled Larry and Bernice out of my bag and we started leaving bread crumbs.

I’ve only traveled with Bernice so far, but I’ll get Larry to join in today.

I also stumbled across an Emotional Health Assistant Ap called Youper.  It’s a sort of daily check-in with an AI therapist to capture mood and thoughts with very nice guided meditations and exercises on gratitude.  Of course, it’s not really an artificial intelligence, just an algorithm that responds generically, but if I squint just right, I can pretend it has a beard and pointy hat.

Companions make a dangerous journey more tolerable—and it is dangerous here in the Grey. While the light is dim, it’s enough to keep going. And I’ve got plenty of sandwiches for all of us.

 

The Weekly Penny Positive

(It was fun stuffing the fluff in their ears)

A friend posted an idea on Facebook that I’m absolutely doing.  Scribble a little note about something GOOD that happened once a week and stick it in a jar.  At the end of the year (or anytime needed), you can fish out positive proof of a better life than your brain paints (well, at least my brain).  I love this idea for so many reasons—to fill in the holes of my Swiss cheese memory, to counter the bipolar negativity, to help me start LOOKING for the good stuff (it happens more than once a week), and for the oodles of art journal pages that might be inspired.

I started immediately, cutting up all the old papers that I don’t use anymore, and dropping in recent miracles I don’t want to forget.

The Finger and The Moon

Ο

Coming back today after a swift dip into the Dark Side.  This time I was triggered by an encounter.  I knew I was being triggered, felt the color bleed out and a numbness spread into my limbs.  Under the fear and vulnerability, a part of my brain murmured, “Huh. This is different.”  There is almost never a direct cause and effect to my flavor of bipolar disorder.  Watching something specific set me off was a new experience (I think.  My memory is Swiss cheese, after all).

At the time, I was horrified that I’d gotten myself in a position to be triggered, hated that I got sucked into opening up to someone I wanted to trust.  But, I also sent out an SOS to my Posse, and started Doing the Work, as my friend, Lily, says.

Part of The Work was to separate the event from the subsequent bipolar episode.  It’s like remembering that the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.  If you stare at the finger, that’s all you see.  Moonlight glints off the nail bed. It can be hypnotizing.  I dealt with the finger and was required to turn and face the moon.  The moon is familiar.  I know how to look at it—I have tools to deal with lunacy.  And I know that patience and acceptance is the only way to get through the night.

Another part of the Work was to hold in my mind that I was successful in turning away from the finger.  My sad and flagellating brain berated me for looking at it in the first place, but I had plenty of other voices telling me otherwise.  My posse told me I was brave to take a chance and compassionate as I gazed at it.  I needed lots of help to keep turning away and remembering that the moon was the proper focus of my attention.

I went through some white-knuckle days, but kept reaching out to the people who love me.  That act alone can be so hard when your brain tells you it’s weak, wrong, bothersome.  Oh, the crap our brains can tell us!

Today, I am so grateful for my friends and family.  And I’m even grateful for the luminous moon.

If you’re familiar with the Buddhist teaching about the finger and the moon, forgive me for bastardizing it.  I needed a way to separate the event from the symptoms that followed.  This worked for me.

Another Conversation

“There’s so much space here,” she said.

His eyes smiled. You’re not afraid anymore.

“Is that weird? It happened so fast.”

It’s happened before.

“I thought there was something really wrong.”

You thought there was something missing.

“I always think there’s something missing.”

Always? No.

“I feel calm here… content.”

There’s nothing to do, nothing to want, nothing to change…

“I don’t want to leave. Not yet. If I leave now, it makes what brought me here not real—not serious.”

It was real then. Doesn’t have to be real now.  His head tilted like a crow. Does it feel time to leave?

“Maybe. I don’t want to rush. I don’t want to rush anything.”

Like the art.

“Yes.  I’m letting it in—the pieces that call me. Not the stuff that feels like work. Some of it smells bad.”

He smiled. Anxiety-stink.

“Yes. Exactly.”

If you go, you can always come back. You could come sit with us. Anytime.

“That feels right. I’d like that.”

Stay or leave or do both. We’ll be here.

A Conversation in the Void

“Where have you been?” she asked him.

You left me, remember? Said it was easier.

His eyes were still kind, his voice still quiet.  But she couldn’t read him anymore. And she couldn’t believe she was trying to.  “Why are you back?”

His face shrugged. You called.

“I did not.”

Okay. You called out. So we came.

Startled, she peered into the dim behind him. Figures stood there, waiting. Figures she recognized.  “All of them?” she whispered.

He half-turned.  Most of us.

“It’s a mistake.”

One side of his mouth quirked up. Is it?

“I can’t do this again. It’s too hard.”

You’ve said that before.

“I do other things now. I don’t need you.”

How’s that working out?

“It’s the same story over and over.”

So, change the story.

“I’ve tried. It stays the same.”

Some parts. Not all of it.

“I don’t want to.”

Ah. He took a breath. You’ve said that before, too.

She pressed her hands against the sides of her head. “I don’t know what to do.”

Good. He smiled. That’s good. Maybe we can help. If you let us.

He raised his hands in surrender. Only if you want us to. No pressure. We’ll wait back here.

“I won’t be able to leave you alone if you stay.”

His kind eyes found hers. I know.

The Weekly Penny Positive

Even though I’m not arting right now (and sitting very uncomfortably in that Void), I’ve made almost 120 larger Penny Positives.  Since this is #67, I can keep posting them for a while.

This blank space is very weird.  My mind scrambles to pick something up.  Anxiety burns my gut and my sleep.  Breathing helps.  Listening to my old collection of “sound healing” music helps (Steven Halpern, Jonathan Goldman, Carlos Nakai), paying attention to the discomfort helps.  I have to believe this is an incubation period.  I have to trust that this is a process.  Otherwise, I’m just left with delusion and distorted thinking.  What is truth and what is insanity?  I never know.

So, I wait.

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.

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