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

 •

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.”

Where The Hell Am I?

Just when I think my brain is running its last lap in this summer’s Looney Marathon, another starter gun fires, and we’re off on a downhill luge sled. Is this the Circles of Hell Olympics?

Oh, yeah. Right. It’s bipolar disorder.

I’m just not managing it very well this round.

Part of it is the swampy atmosphere — rain six out of the last eight days with 100% humidity in between.  The weather has turned me into a sweaty, gummed-up, ice bag-sitting Howler Monkey who can’t bear to leave my A/C and ceiling fans.

Another part is the new ear worm that comes with The Black listing all the vital coping tools (read: people) I lost in the move.  Distorted thinking is the true gem of mental illness. It’s exactly as clever, well-reasoned, and creative as the host brain, so everything it spins sounds completely true.  It takes tweezing through the rationale to find the flaws, and I’m too sweaty to hold the tweezers steady.

know I need to move my body. There’s a perfectly fine pool available six days a week and a yoga class that caters to the inflexible, but I can’t talk myself into leaving my cool, dry hidey-hole.

know I need to find a different therapist.  Alice is a lovely person, but she’s not equipped to help me. Just the thought of starting over again, searching for a therapist who accepts Medicare an hour away in Tulsa… Scarlett O’Hara sashays out of The Black and tells me to think about it tomorrow.

Yet, as I write this, I realize my sister will help me. She asked yesterday what she could do. Yesterday I had no idea. I was speeding downhill too fast in that stupid luge to see anything clearly. But maybe she can help me get my bearings. Maybe I can figure out where I am.

Marco…

It feels like I haven’t blogged in a long time, but I see that’s just not true (Hello, distorted thinking!).  Maybe the disconnect comes from playing Marco Polo with some of my friends back in Iowa and Minnesota.  If you’re not familiar, MP is a messaging app that creates little videos.  It was my friend, Cheryl’s, genius idea to use it, so that we could see and hear each other while giving updates.

I’ve taken my buddies to the Flea Market and introduced them to the baristas at my new coffee shop-home.  They’ve toured my duplex and The Peach Barn (Fried Pies!).  Most importantly, I’ve shared the ups and downs of my illness as my rheostats rebooted after the electrical surge of moving.  That’s something I’ve only done here in my blog, where words can be safely crafted and kept separate from a voice and face that feel too vulnerable to share.

In real-time, I try not to unload when my moods deep-cycle.  I might mention it in passing, or say “I’m having a hard day.”  Right or wrong, I believe too much truth will break the people I love.  And I can’t bear the uncomfortable silence or awkward attempts at sympathy that usually follow.

But, I needed support.  I needed to be real.  So, there were blubbery posts, and manic posts, and little videos where I looked and sounded like a zombie.  No one ran screaming into the night.  No one shamed me.  In fact, the love and support that flowed back to me helped more than I can say.  I thank my friends for that.  Thank you, guys.

It’s still weird, living here on the Moon, where huge fireworks displays light up every front yard on the Fourth of July, and fried bologna sandwiches are a restaurant menu item.  But, when I wake in the morning, and the first thought that floats up out of the dark is I’ve made a huge mistake, I can gather more and more evidence to the contrary and send that distorted thought packing.  It still has to shuffle off into 100 degree and 90-something percent humidity, but shuffle off it does.  All I need do is shut the door and whisper, …Polo.

Setting the Poop on Fire

I realized this morning that I’d started to give up.

This long season of depression has granted me an occasional hour or two of relief before rolling back in.  I distract my conscious thoughts with Netflix and sewing, but have lost interest in exploring my surroundings or reaching out to others.  I know I’m in trouble, so this morning I sat down to journal and let all the ugly thoughts out of their cages.

I was about to see my new therapist for the second time, which just made me miss my previous therapist more.  I knew if I didn’t start processing all the “forbidden” thoughts in my head, I’d never stop crying in her little closet of an office.  So, I scribbled away, which is the only way I know to capture the distorted thinking and actually see it.

I lasted ten minutes with the therapist.  Long story short, I felt disrespected and dismissed.  I will not be going back.

Part of me is very aware that my depression could be warping my perception.  Another part of me is mad as hell, and that’s the part that rises up every time my boundaries get trampled.  It’s the spark that lights up my personal Bat Signal.  Or BadAss Signal.

I have work to do.

I texted my sister and will be meeting her and her grandsons for lunch tomorrow.  We also had a very supportive exchange about feeling out of place and longing for things that we’ve likely romanticized.

I called the other therapist in my shrink’s office and just now made an appointment with her for Monday.  I know this woman is at least kind, because my sister sees her and talks about her.  Kind is a good place to start.  Kind is enough.

If my 17-year-old cat can still unload a huge poop, then gallop through the house reestablishing his supreme authority, so can I.

Consider this my psychological dump.

The BadAss is Back.

There is Beauty in the Fractures

I’m feeling fractured and heart-broken.  It’s just a feeling.  It will pass.  And using Tom Hiddleston as an archetype of broken-heartedness somehow helps.  And the red.  The red is right.

Blessed Assurance

These are the things that keep me going:

1.  An Etsy customer sent me this photo.

She said, “As you can see, I’ve discovered a way to set up your artwork in my apartment; I couldn’t have your cards just sitting in a shoebox in the closet. When I’ve sent out cards to friends and family, I simply replace them with something else fabulous from your shop. It’s a wonderful system; It helps me foster relationships through writing. And you should know, they always love them.”

Another customer said, “You are a warrior woman who is in Amazon training. I join you in your training and I fight the good fight as a secondary teacher who has seen enough of school shootings and is ready for both kids and teachers to feel and to be safe again at schools. Love your positive cards that pack a pint-sized punch. Going to keep some and share some with those in need of a pick me up.”

2.  Choosing to be Grateful

3. Subsonic Purrs. 

4. The moments, however fleeting, when a crack opens in my anger, or paranoia, or hopelessness, or wanting and something wise creeps in—something gentle, something breathable—that reminds me of who I am.

5.  Daily Confirmation of the Power of Art to Heal.  I trust the process completely now.  I sit with no ideas and in a few hours something remarkable creates itself.  No mistakes, no judgment, no hesitation, no Time.  It is Magic.  It is Grace.

I Wasn’t Cut Out to Be a Cheerleader

After tumbling around for a couple of months in the worst my bipolarity can offer, I resolved to set aside all thought, expectation, plans and hope of moving.  It would happen in its own time (in months, maybe, or even a year), but until then I needed to reengage with my life instead of living with one foot out the door.  The stretch of that cheerleader’s pose had strained my brain into a constant trembling.  Mental-muscle exhaustion.

I could feel the eminence of a raging relapse on the horizon.  I had to do more than Wait.  So, I made appointments with my therapist, reinstated my Y membership, asked my cleaning lady to postpone her scheduled attack on my Moving Out Cleaning List.  I asked my friends on dates, opening doors that I’d almost closed.

Armed with a new Plan, I slid my foot back inside the door of my life as it is, not what it might become.  I slept a little better.  My capacity seemed a little deeper.

And, of course, yesterday my sister called to say the Move is On.  The tenant I’m replacing is being evicted, and the townhouse could be ready for me as soon as mid-April.

handmade cards, collage artHowever, my new-found footing kept me from spinning at this news.  I’m sorry for whatever reason this woman must be expelled from her home.  I send my heart out to her, hoping she can find a better home, hoping she has support and help to transplant her to a place that is loving and absent of fear.  I also refuse to take note of that “mid-April” business.  It’s just an invitation to more brain-splits, and I’m not having it.

Worried, my sister wanted to know how I was taking this news.  I said I’d just do the next thing (scan and email her all the documentation required), then eat supper.  And if it falls through, that’s fine, because I’m on terra firma.

As I was scanning and emailing last night, I checked my In Box to find a new message from Art Journaling Magazine.  My journal passed muster, and I’ve been invited to write a 700-800 word article about it.  As one of the artists featured in that (as yet unknown) issue, I’ll be part of a forum where we’re asked questions like: How did you get started in art journaling?  What’s your favorite way to fill empty spaces on a journal page? How would you describe your style?

I had to laugh.  If there’s anything I believe in, it’s synchronisity.  In finding my balance and feeling my agitation and anxiety abate, I became ready for The Next Thing.  And after all my years of struggling to be a published writer, it comes to me now on the wings of an art form I love more dearly than writing.

The Universe is a perverse and whimsical partner.  But, I’m much better at dancing with It than I am at cheerleading.

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