Keeping Promises

When I started blogging in 2011, I splattered my illness onto the screen without much of a filter.  It was a relief to tell my story, to have a place to spew.  But, it didn’t take long to realize that approach wasn’t helpful to anyone who might be reading.  So, I made some rules:  I’d tell the truth (in as much as I knew it) and I’d wait until I got the Lesson until I posted about my latest wrestling match with bipolar disorder.

These rules served me well.  They kept me from reacting out of the capricious mood swings and distorted thinking that take my mind hostage.  The rules gave me some integrity.

I’m in such a bad place right now, I don’t know if I’m breaking my rules or not.  History tells me this suicidal-level of depression will shift, so I should wait before I write something that could make someone else feel bad.  But, there’s that other rule about telling the truth.  I started posting my Floating a Little series to be helpful, to be like Pluto, sending out a little Light or a chuckle, even if I can’t feel it.  The one I posted today felt like such a lie, even though I know that thought is the illness being in control.

I know the thing to do is to walk away from the blog until something fundamental in my brain chemistry shifts.  AND I need to reach out, to tell people who have said they care about me that I am not functioning well.  Am I breaking all my rules or taking care of myself?  I think the answer is YES.

One promise, one rule, I will never break is the one I made to Henry and Emmett after my suicide attempt in 2009.  I will never take my own life while one of them lives.  Emmett may be somewhere around 17 years old, but he’s healthy, and strong, and plans to bug me for a good long while.  He keeps me here when I want to check out.  He pulls me back from “the Raggedy Edge,” as Malcolm Reynolds would say.  I may not want to live anymore, but I do for him.

The longer I keep my promise to him, the more likely a shift will come.  I can feel a seed of truth there, and that’s shiny enough for now.

February is a Verb

My brain Februaried this morning.  It does that sometimes.  It woke up anxious and running from the nightmare that chased it into the morning.  Gray, frigid, murky, my perception Februaries only in black and white, good/bad, can/can’t.

I Februaried my therapy appointment today, siting weather (both internal and external) as my reason for cancelling.  Guilt, failure, rotten self-esteem February around me like Pig Pen’s dust cloud.

There are at last count eleven different art projects sitting around the house half dressed.  Flitting from one to another to find something that might unFebrury my mind makes me February even more.  It’s a Möbius strip.  I am Schrödinger’s Cat.

I vowed to find something else to natter at me on the TV, but I Februaried “Bones” again.  For the third time in a row.  I can’t summon the energy or interest to search for anything else, so I recite the dialogue along with the characters. I try to find something new to notice, but I February instead.

My youngest grand-nephew plays basketball on Saturdays.  He’s eight and fun to watch, but I’ve Februaried his games so far.  Everything (note the black or white thinking) is too hard.  I even February the effort it takes to turn a noun into a verb.  My mushy brain doesn’t want to work that hard.

And on top of it all, today is my blog’s ninth birthday.

Like most bloggers, I go through bouts of wondering if it’s time to call it quits.  But as long as I continue to February and unFebruary, A Mind Divided remains important to my sanity.  And for a bit of birthday fun, I Februaried some notable events from 2011:

  • Twilight: Breaking Dawn was the Number 3 Top Grossing movie of the year.
  • My dad died.
  • The Beaver, Mel Gibson’s first movie after his psycho-meltdown, was released.
  • We killed Osama Bin Laden.
  • Flowers of War was also released, a Christian Bale movie no one saw.
  • Heaven is for Real was the Number One bestseller in Non-Fiction.
  • The Big tsunami devastated Japan.

To try to UnFebruary this list, I should add:

  • Captain America: The First Avenger was released.
  • My grand-nephew, Zane, was born.
  • Melissa McCarthy won an Emmy for Mike and Molly.
  • C’Mon by the Minnesota group Low was voted the Best Indi album of the year.
  • The Congresswoman who got shot in the head, Gabrielle Giffords, walked back into Congress.
  • Rolling Stone voted Adele’s 21 as the Number One album of the year.
  • A 71-year-old woman foiled jewel thieves with her handbag in Northhampton, England.

Yeah, Gran definitely Februaried those idiots.

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.

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