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

 

Coming Out

In my art bagJournaling in coffee shops is a big part of my MO.  It’s how I push the worst of the internal pain and distortion to my margins.  It’s how I remember who I am.  Journaling is vital for me.  It’s medicine.

Now that I’ve embraced art journaling, I needed to figure out how to make it mobile, how to make it as easy as my old $1 spiral notebooks used to be.  Some folks I met at ArtFest do their page set-ups at home and only journal out in public.  Some take a few art supplies.  Tracy likes to have people stop and talk about his journaling.  He even invites them to add to it.  Teesha wants to be left alone.

I put together a bag of supplies and launched.  It helped that our local coffee shop closed for a couple of days and reopened under new management—Georgina, a sassy, gregarious New Zealander who is bent on upgrading the food quality and increasing the friendly factor.  It seemed an auspicious start—new art form and new digs.

Lion Spread

Since I’ve journaled in public for years, I’m used to the odd personal inquiry.  I don’t get bothered much, but if folks see me as a regular with pen and notebook, eventually they ask what I’m writing.  I’m happy to share.  It’s also a chance to advocate as a person with mental illness.  Almost to a person, they are or know of someone with mental illness.  Conversation ensues.  Stigma weakens.  This is my superpower.

I’m finding that art journaling is a more open invitation.  First it was the coffee shop staff—mostly college and very young adults—who seemed drawn to my booth like fluttery moths to a flame.  They were fascinated, almost giddy, and inordinately proud that I did this weird thing in their coffee shop.  I’ve become a kind of celebrity with my little bottle of matte medium and magazine gleans.  They introduce me to their families.  They give me muffins fresh from the ovens.  It’s so sweet, and totally baffling.

Failed Michael

It’s much more visual, this art journaling thing.  My crap is spread out on the table and hard to miss.  Other caffeinators wander by and stop to find out what it’s all about.  And I’m happy to share.

These last few weeks have been rough, mental health-wise.  The Bad Thoughts never stop, and reality is a little hard to recognize.  When it starts to drag me under, I take a deep breath and go glue something or spread paint.  It helps.

girl on fireIn one of my buying frenzies, I ordered some old art ‘zines from Teesha Moore, the wonderful art journalist who organized ArtFest.  I figured there’d be lots of stuff to glean and pretty pictures to soothe my Brain-On-Fire (which would be my Hunger Games name).

In one of the zines from 2007, Teesha wrote an article about how she created an art journal page.  The more I read, the angrier I got.  She had lots of Do’s and Don’ts, particularly Don’t ever, under any circumstance, just cut a picture out and glue it to the page without altering it.  And then there was an endless list of art supplies—types of paints and pens, markers and pastels—all with their own Do’s and Don’ts.

I thought, no wonder I could never do this.  Complete intimidation.  In my righteous indignation, I created a FuckYou,ThankYou,Teesha spread in my journal.  Part defiance, part homage, I used some of Teesha’s techniques and a lot of swear words.  And it is glorious.

FYTeesha

Anger can light a fire under creativity.  It can conquer Defeat.  It can pound a fence post in the ground and say, This is as far as you get to push me.

A Brain-on-Fire can be terrifying and it can be an open door.  With May being Mental Health Awareness month, I’m happy to share.

 

Maniacal Ribbons

Twinkle Magic* * *

As someone with an artist’s studio in my 475 square foot apartment, I’ve learned the art of using space creatively.  I need to be able to see my stuff, or I forget that I have it—so lots of glass jars, open cubbies, and stuff on the walls.  I also try to keep my art stuff on or near my work table, so while the creative juices bubble, I can look up, look around, and see the perfect next step.

I love the challenge of it, just like I love the challenge of turning every inch of my apartment into beautiful, useable space.  It makes me feel creative in a different way, smart with a tape measure and calculator—capable.

BacksideWhen Tammy sent me her pile of discontinued silk cord, I knew I needed them out and visible instead of tucked into little plastic bags.  Then, I thought of the huge jar of trim and ribbons that sits on the backside of my table.  I forget about that stuff back there.  Wouldn’t it be great to have ALL OF IT out?  All the reds in one place?  All the greens there for me to sort through  and find the perfect choice?

All last week I sorted, counted, drew and cut patterns, tried and discarded ideas, hit walls of frustration, and went colorblind.  I knew I was leaning into mania with all the ideas flying and the urgency behind finding the perfect solution.  I wasted a lot of card stock, bought gadgets at Menard’s that didn’t work, but I wasn’t so far into the Red Zone that I couldn’t see the spin.  I could still stop and take a deep breath.  I could still put it all away for a while and go do something else.  I could ask for help.

So, I asked my friend, Cheryl, to help me brainstorm.  Cheryl is a Stampin’Up demonstrator and a fellow Crow in her hoarding and love of bright, shiny objects.  So we noodled for a while, looked up stuff online—like how to make your own ribbon spools.  Then, we went down to her treasure trove to dig around.

3 SpoolsShe had saved all the little plastic cores out of her ribbon spools, and uttered the crafters’ creed.  “I knew I’d use them someday.”  She also handed over her stash of thin cardboard, an old glue gun, and a couple of paper punches.  Mission Control, we have lift-off.

Over the weekend, I made 42 new ribbon spools.  I hung two more spindles from the coatrack I use on the back of my bathroom door for my ribbon storage.  Soon, I had all the ribbon of any quantity from my big, backside jar on spools and sorted by color families.  Cool!

After trying several designs for ways to hang my silks, I settled on this smaller card with a combination of slits and holes.

Ribbon Card

It ended up with a greater capacity than I imagined.  I love it when things work better than expected.

Card Capacity

And it took up very little space when hung on the coatrack.

Capacity Hanging

Last night I finished.  When I hung the last card, I still had an empty hook on my coatrack.  Point. Set. Match.

Whole Rack

I still have remnants of trim and ribbon that are too short or too delicate to put on spools.  They’re back in the jar waiting for the next brainstorm.

Now, if I can just find that receipt from Menard’s…

My Life on Speed—An Update

updates

Almost four months ago, I started treatment for Binge Eating Disorder.  Basically, that consisted of taking an amphetamine, journaling about the changes in my compulsive thoughts and eating, visiting my med provider (Sarah) more often, and fighting with insurance.

I’ll start with the ugly and work toward the beautiful.

Gorey1. Dealing with insurance is a nightmare of Edward Gorey proportions—decoding the telephone directory-sized formulary, shuffling piles of contradictory paperwork, making my pharmacy do what the insurance company tells me to tell them to do, stopping Sarah from following the pharmacy’s incorrect instructions, filing forms for an exception to the formulary, filing an exception to the prescribed dosage, discussing the exceptions with non-English-speaking Call Center schlubs who have no authority, resubmitting forms, getting Sarah to resubmit forms…

It took all four months to get it straightened out with me double-checking everyone else’s work.  This process would make a sane person stark raving (and has.  I’ve discussed this with lots of neuro-normal people who ended up screaming on the phone or curled up in a puddle at their pharmacies), so I had to tackle it one little piece at a time.

I’m well aware that insurance companies try to get customers to give up.  They don’t want to pay for anything.  But, I survived filing for disability.  I know this game.  And while it was stressful, and I used a lot of colorful language, I got the exact drug I needed and gained even more respect for Sarah.  She and my (new) pharmacy—these worthies—stood with me on the battle field.  Their loyalty and integrity will earn them a place in Valhalla.

Yield2. There’s a reason amphetamines are contra-indicated for people with bipolar disorder.  Luckily, Sarah and I both did our homework about how they might cause mania and insomnia.

When the zip I got from my pills crossed over into agitation, I stopped taking them.  Since I’ve never been very clear about that line (it feels so good to feel good), the symptoms got scary sometimes before I recognized them—like forgetting appointments, or tearing my apartment apart to find a photo I wanted to use, or getting completely overwhelmed by a movie, or driving too fast while texting.

Whenever I woke up to being scattered or dangerous, I stopped.  I made myself safe or quiet.  I notified Sarah.  And I waited.  The mania always receded.  This is one of the benefits of rapid cycling.  I can always count on my mood changing.  I just had to take my brain-skillet off the fire of the amphetamines to let it happen.

Double AhThose are the ugly parts of My Life on Speed.  The rest is pretty darn lovely.

3. I’ve experienced very little depression since May.  Historically, I suffer less depression and more hypomania in the summer, but not to this extent.  I checked my old journals to make sure.  I expected the Vyvanse to flick me into mania at times, but did not expect the overall shift up in mood.  Sarah and I are cautiously hopeful that this trend might continue into winter.

Oh!  I don’t want to pin any real hope on this, but what if the Vyvanse could keep my mood from sinking into that suicidal basement come February?  Since I’ll also have a caregiver for the first time in my life (from Lutheran Services of Iowa) to help motivate me to keep my apartment clean, this winter could be very different.

4. When I take the Vyvanse, all the compulsive thinking about food goes away.  Small amounts of food give me a sense of satiety.  I don’t need more.  I don’t want more.  There have even been times this summer when I forgot to eat.  I can’t express how weird that is.  I know there are people in the world who lose their appetites when stressed—I thought they came from Pluto.  I have wanted to eat while I was puking from the flu.

Brain That Wouldn't DieI’m seeing now how much space food occupied in my head.  The absence was unnerving at first—like walking into an abandoned house with just a few sticks of furniture left behind by the previous owners.  But, I’ve come to love all this room.  And I’m taking my time redecorating.

Whenever I stop the Vyvanse to let manic symptoms settle, the compulsive thoughts return.  I feel them crowd in—pushy, rude, overbearing.  But I can remember what their absence feels like, and somehow that helps keep me from bingeing as much as I used to.  And even then, I don’t punish myself anymore—for being weak, or gluttonous, or just wrong.  I have evidence now.  Binge Eating Disorder is real, not a character flaw.

5. The final sweet treat is that I’ve lost 30 pounds.

I’ll just leave it at that, because… you know…

I’m on an Adventure.

Unboxed

In a Box.

The Darkest Hour is Just before the Box Pops Open. —Ancient Feline Proverb

Last Thursday was the third day in a row of fighting suicidal thoughts.  Fantasies of death consumed me.  My therapist scheduled extra sessions.  I sent lots of SOS texts to friends.  It was the worst of the worst.

I took a nap that afternoon and woke up different.  I couldn’t understand what was happening.  Was that sunshine coming in the bedroom window?  When did the grass get green?  What was this weird feeling in my body?  Energy?

I washed my face and put on my shoes.  Could I actually, like, go do something?  I ran errands.  In my car, driving to the auto parts store to get a windshield wiper I’ve needed for months, delivering the cards I made for the school district, I felt the sun, smelled the flowering trees, took deep breaths.  No intrusive thoughts.  No darkness.

Over the next few days, that sense of being normal continued.  Story ideas started coming back.  I made dates with friends and kept them.  I vacuumed.  I ate a bowl of vegan chili and felt something weird.  Full.  I could actually feel that I’d eaten enough and stopped—which started a conversation with my support staff about the correlation between the brain chemistry of bipolar disorder and binge eating.

Such an odd feeling of transition, to have the box of depression spring open after months of darkness and containment.  Like most cats, I don’t immediately hop out.  The eyes must adjust.  Safety must be evaluated, trajectory calculated.  And I must remember that this rush of freedom will not last, at least in this brilliant form.  I will be hopping in and out of the box all through the summer.  But I know that the lid is off.  The Mean Season seems to be over.

Something New For My CV

Louis CK

º

The DSM (psychiatry’s Bible) came out with a revised and updated version in 2013 with oodles of controversy.  Along with weird restructuring, the Powers that Be (think Nicene Council with prescription privileges) dropped some diagnoses and added others.  One that gained full blessing of the Holy Order was Binge Eating Disorder (BED).  It came with criteria and suggested treatment.  No one paid too much attention.

But in the two years since, more and more providers are taking BED seriously.  Drugs used to treat ADD and ADHD have been somewhat successful in treating the compulsive/impulsive aspects of BED.  Cross-training has always been the drug companies’ bread and butter.

In a casual conversation last week with my nurse practitioner, I mentioned how I gave up trying to lose weight this year.  She asked a few questions, then said I met every single criteria in the BED diagnosis:

  1. Recurrent and persistent episodes of binge eating
  2. Binge eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:
    • Eating much more rapidly than normal
    • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
    • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
    • Eating alone because of being embarrassed by how much one is eating
    • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty after overeating
  3. Marked distress regarding binge eating
  4. Absence of regular compensatory behaviors (such as purging).

She knows I’ve managed bipolar disorder without medication for five years, but she wondered if I might want to try Vyvanse, the current darling drug for BED.

Vyvanse is, basically, Speed, so we both knew mania and insomnia could be side effects.  Great.  But, since I’m sensitive to medication, I’d probably know right away if the spin was more that I could handle.  We also talked briefly about self-monitoring and keeping charts (I’m boss at keeping charts).

So, what the NP and I decided was to wait until I was out of my Mean Season and more stable, then start Vyvanse mid-May.

All my life I’ve dreamed of a magic pill.  I doubt this is it.  But, what have I got to lose besides a few nights sleep and some mad spring cleaning?  At least I get official credit for something I’ve known all my life—I have little to no control over what I put in my mouth.  No diet, motivational bestseller, or cognitive therapy ever touches that wild and mindless drive.

Not that I’m looking for more craziness to add to my resume, but there’s comfort in being recognized.  I’m not lazy or lacking in willpower.  I’m not weak.  My brain just works differently than most people’s.  Funny how that keeps coming up.

I’m on an Adventure.

Therapeutic Fan-Girling

scorpion

scorpio

Have I ever mentioned that I’m a Fan-Girl?  Yeah, maybe once or twice.  The thing is… when my bipolarness sinks its bitey teeth in and whips my brain around like a dead gopher, fan-girling is about the only thing that straps me in until the neck-snapping is over.  The little bit of my brain that isn’t devoured latches onto a story or a character and lives there, sometimes long after the bipolar hound is done with me.  It’s a strategy I learned early in life—to escape from the pain by joining the story.  There, I could let my creativity out to play.  Survival and fun—what more could an eleven-year-old ask for?

SimonI used to be ashamed of my obsessions—hiding my Leonard Nimoy Association of Fans newsletters in my underwear drawer, keeping my big file of Christopher Reeve pictures and articles hidden between my nursing textbooks.  But, I’m not alone in my fannishness.  Conventions all over the world celebrate the joys of fandom.  And celebrities I adore have admitted their own geek-leanings.

Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection.  It means never having to play it cool about how much yon like something.  It’s basically a license to proudly emote on a somewhat childish level rather than behave like a supposed adult.  Being a geek is extremely liberating. — Simon Pegg

Nathan ComicConI’m a dork, I collected comics.  I still love cartoons.  I’d rather be at home on a Friday night than out at some club.  My sense of humor is that of a geek.  My likes and dislikes are that of a geek.  I’ve memorized every crappy sci-fi movie there is, but still haven’t seen Schindler’s List. —Nathan Fillion

I love what I love, and when I’m under bipolar duress, I love it even more.  So, excuse me while I soak in all the episodes of Scorpion on You Tube, Google the actors, then let the dendrites still sparking concoct a few story scenarios.  Let me relish the fact that the creators of this show also gave me Xena–Warrior Princess, AliasFringe and the new Star Trek movie franchise.  So I know these guys.  They’d my buds.

It’s safe and warm here in Fan-Girl World.  Come on in.  The squeeing never ends.

Tumble Damp

Chevron

I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.  — Alice

After a very long spell of hypomania—a delicious month of productivity, creativity and blissful good-humor—I seem to have fallen into an industrial-sized clothes dryer set on tumble.  Rapid cycling wakes me up with hyper-vigilance and terror, then flops into stultifying depression, with a finishing spin of insomnia and obsession.  Tumble, tumble.

In times like these, it’s best not to take anything seriously—not the spiky little thoughts in my head, or any plan I had for the day, or misconstrued texts, or the dog barking across the street.  Better to put on comfy clothes and make popcorn.  Better to turn on all the twinkle lights in the apartment and light incense.  Better to read something like The Hunger Games that won’t tax my dendrites in the least.

And when the silly megrims come calling, better to smile at their oddness and offer raison toast.

Everything is funny, if you can laugh at it.  —  Lewis Carroll

You Know It’s Bad When…

CrazyThis bipolar business has gotten to the point where the only thing my therapist can say is, “I’m sorry.”

I stretched out in the hot tub longer than usual yesterday, targeting all the sore places—the fibromyalgia that comes with the really deep depression—and a thought rose.  It’s been surfacing more frequently lately.  If there was a new drug for this, I’d take it.  That’s when I know it’s really bad.  Because I’ve tried all the drugs already.  Help isn’t coming from pharmacology.  But, I still dream of a Magic Pill.

I’ve been watching a lot of The West Wing.  Remember that show?  Martin Sheen as President?  In one episode some of the White House staff miss the motorcade and have to schlepp across Indiana on their own.  They meet a man in a bar who’s trying to make ends meet.  “Life is hard,” he tells them, not knowing who they are, “but it should be.  I don’t mind that.  I just need it to be a tiny bit easier.  Just a little bit.”

Boy, howdy, I get that.

I know living with mental illness is hard.  I don’t expect that to change.  But, if it was just the tiniest bit easier, I think I could…

I don’t know how to end that sentence.

…keep going.

There are days when I give up.  When the first whole thought that comes in the morning is “My life stinks.”  When I spend all my money on junk food and eat for hours at a time.  When the sound of a human voice hurts my skin.  When my thoughts are so ugly and poisonous that I just shut the door on thinking at all.  There are days when the only thing keeping me alive is my responsibility to my cats.  I’ve had a lot of these days lately.

I don’t want to post about this.  I don’t want to load the ether with ichor.  But it’s either that or nothing right now.

Right now.

That seems hopeful.

Chop Sticks

Uncover in the Mess

I am playing the violin, that’s all I know, nothing else, no education, no nothing.  You just practice every day.—Itzhak Perlman

Changing behavior.  That’s the Work in front of me these days.  How do I pull the power plug from my life-long companion, Compulsive Eating and her little sister Compulsive Spending?  How do I change personally destructive behaviors that have actually served me by easing the emotional turbulence of bipolar disorder?

The short answer is slowly.  With lots of help from my therapist.

It’s a painful process, waking up.  And that’s basically what’s called for in changing behavior.  The whole point of compulsive eating and spending is to go to sleep, to numb the pain and shut down the barbed, twisted thinking.  Nothing hurts when you’re unconscious.  But, nothing changes, either.

I’ve always believed the path to change and to a healthier life was through mindfulness.  I’ve tried my best to raise my consciousness and to pay attention.  But these two compulsive behaviors have been stronger than me for a long time.  I knew I needed help, and more than what I found in meditation and self-help books.  Once my therapist and I decided to focus our attention here, I felt real hope for the first time.

Scales and FingeringWe work in baby steps, and in a spirit of Practice.  It’s a lot like when I learned to play the piano.  I do my drills every day.  I play my simple pieces, missing notes and flubbing the rhythm.  I get frustrated and have little tantrums.  I rebel and skip practice, then have to spend extra time at the keyboard the next day.

We watch and pay attention to what happens.  My moods flop around and my thinking strangles itself in convoluted knots.  Then, that all evens out for a day or two before starting in again.  It’s hard to choose to stay awake through all of it.  It’s painful.  It’s humiliating.  It’s ugly.  Megan reminds me that this is practice.  Every small success is just that.  And every fall back into old behavior is just that.  Perfection and failure are not words we use.

What seems to help is to stay busy with projects, especially creative work.  I’ve long understood the connection between watching TV and overeating, so anything that can keep me away from that is helpful.  Playing with my junk and pretties fosters joy and a sense of mastery.  I can use a little of that right now.

To point me in a positive direction, I decided to make something out of gratitude.  And what do I have the hardest time being grateful for?  People.  What better target for this project than the people who brighten my days with small gifts of kindness—the baristas at my Starbucks, the grill cook at the cafe who makes my toast, the group at my UU fellowship who sponsored my Peer Support training, the friends who consistently schedule time to be with me, the virtual friends who lift me with their words and images, the actors and actresses who sit in the dark with me when I’m at my worst.

Blessing CardI sat at my table, creating little Blessing cards, holding each face in my mind, generating positive juju.  I decided to purposely use up a lot of my favorite materials—an antique German prayer book, purple card stock and ribbon that are no longer available,  fibers from a company that went out of business.  I used my favorite things to prove to myself that I have all I need.  Plenty and more.

I ended up making more cards than I needed.  I could have sent them to a lot more people—the folks on the fringes of my life—but I decided to trust my first take on the purpose of this project.  To keep it simple and immediate.  So, I put the rest of the cards in my Etsy shop.  Maybe someone else can use them.

And while I worked on this project, I kept my budget and lost 7 pounds.

Okay.  That’s lovely.  Now.  Back to the keyboard.

 

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