Another Train


So, nobody said I was particularly wise.

In my desperation to tame the Binge Eating Disorder beast, I regularly cycle around to doing stupid things—things I know in my adipose-caked heart won’t work.  Like diets.  But when an authority figure (aka my new doc) blamed all my physical woes on obesity, and my trusted nurse practitioner suggested a ketogenic diet, I jumped like water in a skillet of hot bacon grease.

I learned two things:

  1. A ketogenic diet made my gut unhappy in violent ways.
  2. I will binge on anything, so changing the type of food doesn’t change the behavior one iota.

So, now I’m back to mindfulness and paying attention to my triggers.

All this food-stress didn’t help my bipolarness.  I’ve been roiling, inside and out.  My thinking is still in desperation mode, so I need to be careful not to jump on every thought-train that pulls into my station.  Another train will come.  And another.  Sooner or later, this anxiety and agitation will shift.  The urge to hop a train out of town will ease.  Eventually, I’ll be able to leave the station and go home.

But, I’ve got this ticket in my hand…

What Fresh Madness Is This?

I wanted to post something today, a little bit of art that might reflect the bipolarness of my now.  Not words.  Words feel acidic and tiresome in my head.

But I couldn’t find anything that I haven’t posted before—heads popping open with weirdness, lonely figures wandering in the Disconnect, wild jumbles of frantic images.  So I had to make it.

It’s almost 4:00 now.  I’ve been working on this card since 10:30 this morning.  Bathroom breaks.  Cat-watering breaks.  Little else.  I can feel that I’m hungry.  I know I need to take a shower (it’s been a couple of days).  But I look into this young girl’s face and fall into it.  The original didn’t have sleep-deprived eyes.  Those are mine.

I look at this young girl and feel her looking back.  We know.  We know the green monsters, and bitey teeth, and staring eyes, and nightmares that stick to our backs like tar.  We hold ourselves very still, because the madness feels new even though we know it is not.  We hold ourselves very still, because part of us believes a shift will come, a swing.  We will travel to a different place on our spectrum that will also feel new, but is not.

She knows there really is no Fresh Madness, just forgetting the feel of the Old Madness.  There are so many kinds, so many permutations.  Our brains, so clever in their Cooking Arts, never use the same recipe twice.  Or do they?  We forget.

Words start to dissolve and puddle, the brain-acid bubbling.

Shower.

Food.

Now.

Saying Good-Bye Well

Yesterday, I said my last good-bye to Mark Stringer, the minister at First Unitarian Church of Des Moines.  He told us six months ago that he was leaving the ministry, and I’ve been grieving ever since.

It’s weird—we never had a private conversation, just exchanged a few words as I shook his hand on Sunday on my way out the door.  But in the three years that I’ve been going to First Unitarian, I’ve been able to share enough of my story with him to make a connection.

No, that’s not quite right.  I felt connected to him.

From the first service I attended, I knew this guy got it.  His sermons seemed like extensions of my therapy sessions, filled with the importance of mindfulness, compassion, acceptance, and awareness of our own realities.  He made me laugh and cry—usually at the same time.  Finally, after searching for years, I’d found a spiritual home and someone who spoke to the things that mattered to me.

PTSD makes me vulnerable to abandonment-thinking.  Bipolar disorder distorts any thinking into darker twists of hopelessness.  I knew I needed to work this through or I’d probably never go back to the church once he was gone.

So, I attended every Sunday service (once I recovered enough from my last bronchial bomb).  I cried (okay, sobbed) through each one of them, Kleenex box clutched tight.  I made myself look him in the eye after our hug at the door and thank him for the opportunity to do this work.  Some mornings I was too verklempt to say the words, but Mark would hold my watery gaze and say, “I understand.”

While I grieved, I also noted every friend at church who sought me out, every acquaintance who grinned when our eyes met.  I forced myself to see that FU (you gotta love a church with those initials) offered me real community and relationships beyond Mark.  I made a point of wandering around after services to find people I knew and admired in order to weave another thread into our connection.

Yesterday we held his celebratory Farewell Tour at the performing arts theater of one of the city’s high-end high schools (very lovely).  We needed room enough for the whole congregation to honor Mark’s sixteen years of service.  He came to us straight from theological school and is moving on to be the Executive Director of the Iowa ACLU.

I wept like everyone else, touched by his words and deeds (he performed the first same-sex marriage in Iowa), amazed at all he and the church had accomplished (doubled the membership and increased FU’s legislative presence on issues of justice).  But, my tears were of joy and gratitude, not grief.  I spent yesterday talking to my friends, making sure I told the speakers and the choir now much they moved me, and asking questions about the ministerial search process.  I did what I set out to do—I said good-bye well.

It might be good for me to get involved in the Search process, since who “ministers” to me is so very important.  But, I’m tucking that thought away until I learn more.  Will the various committees be able to use a bipolar member who lives an hour away and who may not be able to follow through?  Can I allow myself to be that vulnerable?  Can I get involved and accept my limitations?

It wouldn’t be an Adventure without some mystery and a little risk.

Here’s the first sermon I heard Mark deliver.  Seventeen minutes is an eternity in blogland, but it might be worth your while.

Mirrors

There’s nothing like being brainsick over a holiday weekend to remind me of my demographic status.  I’ve struggled for several days with vicious, distorted thoughts, but holidays add more stress with regular support services closed, carefully constructed routines disrupted, and human support unavailable as they enjoy time with family and friends.  Long weekends are difficult, and I’m not the only one who feels it.

So far this weekend, emergency vehicles have visited my ten-unit complex five times.  That means half of the residents have been in such a state of crisis that their only option seemed to be 911.  And the day’s only half over.

To try to calm my own agitation, I went to our common room this morning to do laundry, sit in the quiet, and maybe journal. I found one of the window latches broken.  In the bathroom, the toilet seat was broken in half with feces on the floor.  I cleaned that last bit as best as I could, weeping at the level of distress that person must have felt.  Afterward, I emailed the apartment manager with the details, knowing she wouldn’t read it until tomorrow because it’s a holiday.

I’m fully aware of how lucky I am to be “high functioning,” to have friends I can text most anytime, to have a sister who would come to my aid if I needed it.  I don’t interact much with my neighbors, because some of them can’t follow a conversation.  Others are quite shy and introverted or belligerent and aggressive.  I keep to myself.

But I understand all of it.  I am all of it—at times introverted or belligerent, unable to translate my thoughts into words, unable to concentrate on what someone might be saying to me.  I understand being in crisis and feeling like there are no options.

I live in an apartment complex of mirrors.  It makes me more human to look into them from time to time.

I Must Be Getting Better…

…because I have no more fucks to give.

Oddly, my bipolar and binge eating symptoms hibernated while I was sick with bronchitis, sinus and ear infections (Can my body not multi-task?  Is my brain too small to hold it all?), so the return of mixed-state depression/rage must mean the other stuff is on the way out.  Yaay (?)

While being physically sick is no fun, the vacation from mental shit-storms and out of control compulsion is heavenly.  It’s like being normal, only full of snot and really, really tired.

I’m still tired and semi-full of snot, but yesterday I rode sad anger back to bed and built a nest of portable projects around me to keep the yammering in my head at bay.

Henry and Emmett attended, but even they knew not to poke the bipolar bear who had no fucks left to give.

One of the hard things about coming back to my normal state of mental abnormality is that I’ve done so much cool art stuff these past two months.  When I could barely breathe, I read a bit in Susan Wooldridge’s Poemcrazy about collecting words, then made Word Cookies out of old art magazines.

I carry them in this little bag that fits nicely in my purse, and offer them like Fortune Cookies to whomever I’m with (which has mostly been people at the drug store, my therapist’s staff, and a few civilians willing to chance my germs).

I’ve been brave about drawing in my journal.

And I created a spread that fell together like a story.  Poor Tom Hiddleston, dumped by the harlot Taylor Swift, gave a heart-wrenching interview in February’s GQ that reminded me of Sting’s song Why Should I Cry For You?  A little research gave me details I’d missed just listening to the song, like “under the Dog Star sail,” which refers to Sirius, and “north, northwest, the Stones of Faroe,” which led me to the tiny cluster of Faroe Islands off the coast of Iceland.  I loved the metaphor of a broken-hearted sailor on the bleak, Arctic seas.  And I loved pulling together all the elements for the collage.

The wall quilt I started before I got sick is turning into a fabric collage—a place to try new skills like painting and stenciling on fabric.  Tearing apart my old art magazines for the Word Cookies, I found wonderful tips and examples.  When I gave a fuck, the possibilities thrilled me.

The materials to make three new art journals came out of my cupboard.  I finished two.  The third now languishes on my table, waiting for the fucks to come back.

The Buckaroo Banzai journal

My favorite quote from the movie by evil Emilio Lazardo.

Art by Andrea Matus DeMeng

I took a class with Andrea at ArtFest.

One week in therapy, Megan and I looked at commitment, not just making commitments to others, but also keeping promises to myself.  I realized that my longterm goal of writing a book to be published carried no joy for me anymore.  In fact, working on it was often painful.  Why was I doing this again?  So people at my funeral could get a party favor?  Morbid, bipolar-based reasoning.

I don’t have to prove myself a writer anymore, or leave something “of substance” behind.  I can spend my life pleasuring myself with weird art that practically falls out of me, instead of grunting over tortured prose.  So, I let that ancient goal go.  There are, my friend Sue tells me, only so many fucks a person can give.

Yesterday, in my Nest of Apathy and Rage, I emailed Megan, just to whine.  I knew, eventually, that the anger and depression would shift, but it was big and ugly yesterday.  Even if I had none, I wanted someone to give a fuck.

Have I mentioned that my therapist is awesome?  And funny?  She wrote back later:

I hope a fuck ton that you feel better soon. 

The Adventure Continues.

Reset

It’s Week 2 of the latest Bronchitis Bout.  Like bipolar disorder, there’s really nothing new about getting month-long lung crud.  It happens.

Sorta amazing, really, this blasé acceptance of whatever the day brings.  I’m not always this cool, but it’s such a gift when I can be.  Seems to me I was raging right up to the point of chills and fever.

A physical shock often resets my bipolar rheostats.  Two weeks ago, I was text-wailing at my friend Lily, taking offense wherever I could find it, and wrestling paranoid thoughts to the mat.  Today, I did laundry and cleaned up cat barf with nary an emotion in sight.

Except a little glee.  I started a goofy spread in my art journal based on something I cut out of an old magazine years ago: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”  I worked on this one little piece while my laundry tumbled, and it just made me happy.

Sorta amazing, really.

Muttering

mousy-ladiesI’ve stalled out in a mixed-state depression.  It’s nothing new, not even very noteworthy, but I’m always surprised by how it changes everything.  My perception becomes bleak and twisted, my body slow and creaky.  I miscommunicate and send mixed messages, because every part of my brain is mixed.  I’m confused and confusing.

Depression with rage is so uncomfortable, and so isolating.  I hate everyone.  Or am scared of them.  Ancient resentments and regrets rise up like specters out of unholy ground.  This is the part of my bipolarly existence that sees a life as a hermit as the only option.

I have a couple of mantras during these times:

Keep Your Mouth Shut

It Will Shift Soon

Just Wait

pretty-magazinesSo, I’m muttering mantras.  And looking at pretty magazines.

temp-poldark-poster2And watching Poldark.

 

 

 

And making art.

making-art

 

Lots of art.

Catching Up

the-captive

After almost three weeks of Clear, Calm Mind, weeks when I made art with quiet joy and dug into the second draft of my book about being bipolar, weeks when decisions made themselves; after weeks when the Dark Times of last autumn faded, the inevitable shift came.

northern-exposureFirst, just a melancholia set in as I  watched the last season of Northern Exposure (like getting weepy over Hallmark commercials).  Mopping up with Kleenex, I would have called myself hormonal if I still had any Girl Parts.  But after the final episode, I felt bereft.  I’d binge-watched all six seasons of the show, and now it was over.  I have a bad feeling about this, my Inner Han Solo muttered.

Later that day, I shut down during therapy.  We hit something big, and it blew all the circuits.  My therapist talked and all I could hear was the teacher from the Peanuts cartoons (Wah-wah-wah).

lala2Yesterday I met my friend at the theater to see LaLa Land and cried through the whole thing.  Not that I was paying attention to what was on the screen.

It takes me a bit to catch up with the shift.  I have to find a little spot of compassion and mindfulness where I can change gears.  What do I need?  What do I have to take care of and what can wait?  I will stay home today and do art at my table instead of going to church and the Writing as a Spiritual Practice group that I love.  I can make this decision without guilt or self-loathing.  It’s what needs to be today.

Tomorrow I will focus on preparing my apartment for the new bed-bug prevention regiment.  There’s a lot to do—vacuum, get everything off the floor, pull the furniture away from the walls.  I don’t quite understand what will be done, some kind of silicon mist, so I need to get as much stuff under cover as I can.  Then, on Tuesday, the cats and I will camp out at friends all day while this procedure takes place.  I’m not sure what kind of clean-up will be required once we get back.  All I know is that I can’t vacuum for three days.

no-need-to-hurryStuff like this is stressful on my best day.  I had found a rhythm with the quarterly bug-sniffing dog’s visits, but I guess Radar wasn’t as accurate as advertised.  Now management has decided on this annual preventative hoo-haw instead.  It’s so disruptive and worrisome.

So, I breathe and try to turn my thinking.  I don’t have bedbugs, but if my neighbors do, I’m at risk.  So this is a good thing.  Proactive.  And only once a year.  I can do this.

And if it’s all I do this week, it will be enough.

Traveling

sorrows-mother

I haven’t posted much lately because it’s been scary inside my head.  There’s a fine line between sharing my practice of bipolar disorder and giving voice to the blackest symptoms.  When self-loathing and unrelenting despair become the landscape of my mind, there’s no scenic overlook.  While I strive to be honest here, I also know the scenery will change as my brain rolls on down the road, and that perspective provides a much better photo op.

While I attended Lutheran Hospital’s out-patient program, I stopped taking medication for Binge Eating Disorder (BED).  We needed to see if it was causing my headaches and contributing to the irritability and rage.  Subsequently, all the BED symptoms poured back in—food mania and uncontrollable bingeing.  I gained 15 pounds and hurt all over.

BED creates a downward (outward?) spiral—more weight causes less activity which gives all that food more permission to stick around.  I was already morbidly obese, but was at peace with my body.  Without the Vyvanse, negativity and self-hatred stuffed my head like a Christmas turkey.  The spiral became a hopeless vortex.

Nothing in my bag of tricks helped.  Death fantasies dogged me, but I knew two things would always stop me from actually taking my life—my cats (who are getting old) and the book I haven’t written.  In a weird perversion of logic, I decided that I’d better get cracking on that book if I wanted it to be a party favor at my funeral.  At least I’d have a project to work on.

So, this past weekend, I stayed with my friend, Lily, in Minneapolis and met with another friend, Jinjer, to talk about her experience of self-publishing.

coming-back-to-myselfAnd a very bipolar-ly thing happened.  Being with these friends, who love me unconditionally, traveling out of the struggle of my everyday life and into a few days of watching Netflix in jammies and spicy tea in handcrafted mugs, jolted the positive neuropathways awake.  The hateful Muzak in my head stopped.  My friends’ tender care helped me remember myself.  All the bits and pieces that BED and depression tore off me, fluttered back like Monarchs to their winter home.  Art happened.

And a book will happen.

While I knew Jinjer self-published at least two books, I had no idea one of her many talents was designing books.  So instead of beginning a steep learning curve, I gawked at a path as smooth and clear as asphalt.  She will take my manuscript (when finished) with the accompanying artwork and midwife it through the process.  I started working on the second draft as soon as I got home (and also started back on Vyvanse).

This book is my legacy, not a parting gift.  It’s proof that I lived and survived bipolar disorder, BED, PTSD and whatever acronyms stick to me next.  Like this blog, it speaks to the speed of landscapes passing through a traveling mind.

I’m still on an Adventure.  And I’m making my own Atlas.

sorrows-mothercoming-back

 

The End of Gratitude

Gratitude U

At least in collage form. For a while. Frankly, it was exhausting to summon up so much gratitude when I was hospital-worthy.

Gratitude V

Negative thoughts yoke themselves to negative emotions. One can trigger the other, strengthening the connection, creating a wider, smoother highway for each subsequent episode.

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Forging new neural responses through mindfulness and self-compassion takes time and lots of practice.  It feels counter-intuitive at first.  For years, perhaps, we’ve berated ourselves for not being strong enough, disciplined enough, grateful enough.  These core beliefs feel so true, we don’t even question them.

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You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection–Buddha

Science now supports what that old bodhi tree-sitter knew–mental illness must be embraced with love and awareness from those who suffer from it.

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It feels impossible only because it’s a path waiting to be created.  But I’ve found over the years of making my own trail through this bramble that it gets easier to remember the way back to it.  And once I remember to treat myself gently and with exquisite care, I find I can breathe again.

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And then, I can be grateful for the air, and my lungs, and this day.

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