Suspense

Waiting to see if flood waters will take out the water treatment plant, all my old plastic file boxes, garbage cans and pots sit filled. Waiting for another tornado warning to blare from my phone, Emmett stays in hiding most of the day. Waiting for my new Medicare D coverage to start in July, my rationed medication can’t take the edge off the agitation or depression.

So, today I’ll choose suspense I can enjoy.

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.

…And To All A Good-Night

Wishing You and Yours Very Merry.

 

Just Don’t Scare the Cats

I don’t know why I’m always surprised by how awful this illness can feel.  There are episodes that seem like the first time (though I don’t think this is what Bryan Adams had in mind).

Little annoyances pile up and become life-jettisoning disasters.  This morning, after fighting with my shower curtain and flooding the bathroom floor, I collapsed on the bed and bawled full-volume.  I didn’t try to stop, hoping the release would activate some mysterious brain juice.  But all it did was scare the cats.

While Emmett huddled in the corner, Henry leapt to the rescue, yowling and circling my body.  He’d pause to sniff my face, then circle again. Or pause and grumble at the window to make sure no predators attacked while I was in this weakened state.

My boys.  My old, grandpa cats.  Saving me from myself.  Again.

Eventually, I wound down and started pulling together a plan for how to get through the day.  And the boys went back to their naps.

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.

Comfort Me, O, My Soul

After some semi-comatose recovery time from my Taos-Fail, I wheeled my art cart into Starbucks yesterday and camped out for the morning.  Surrounding my surrogate-self on the page with the warm, chuffing bulk of pachyderms coaxed my sore brain to a softer place.

I also started working with my Panda Planner, a tool my therapist highly recommends.  Along with the regular planner-type stuff, it fosters brain health with headings like What I’m Grateful For, Things I’m Looking Forward To, and a nightly review that includes Wins for the Day.

I feel like I’m starting to crawl out from under the stress of moving (or not knowing when I’ll move) and get back to things that need attention.  Slowly.  Carefully.  I don’t want to startle the elephants.

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…

At The Dig Site

I knew this wouldn’t be easy.

Lose Weight.  Such a simple sentence.  And it’s everywhere—magazines, TV, grocery stores, billboards, New Year’s Resolutions, the breath passing through many lips.  The sentence is simple, but the act is damn near impossible.  As my mental health team says, “If it was easy, anyone could do it.”

For me, it also means exhuming emotional skeletons, using tweezers and a soft brush to parse a knob of truth from harsh and debilitating bedrock.  I’ve worked this archeological site before.  Assembling all the artifacts never made much difference, just ripped a lot of fingernails and crushed me with failure.

But dig sites are layered and scattered.  Archeologists work a three-dimensional grid, moving out and down.  They know they have to dig deep.  They know they have to range far from the first find.  Their work is meticulous, choreographed, measured.  Patience, attention and delicacy are required.

I’m still not sure I can go through this again.  I don’t know if I can hold myself in compassion as the remnants of former lives resurface.  But I know I’m more equipped to do that now than I was even two years ago.

I believe life is a spiral, bringing us around again and again to the Work that needs to be done.  With each rotation, we come to the task with different tools.  That alone makes the experience different.

I thought I’d read every book on compulsive eating, but wondered if there wasn’t one I missed.  So I put it in my Plan—Check the Library.  There I found Better Is Not So Far Away: Decide to Recover From Bingeing, Starving, or Cutting by Melissa Groman.  Notice the title doesn’t promise recovery.  It only asks that you decide to recover.

The target audience is much younger than me—teens and young adult women—but the truths are so profound, they knock me flat.

In the pit of loneliness, you most likely feel the totally human ache to be understood, to be connected, to be soothed and loved.  But when you are in the pit, you do not believe these longings are normal, and getting them satisfied seems like a very remote possibility.

She [a client] is afraid of not having, not doing, not being, and just as afraid of having, doing and being.

This book helps, and it’s a trigger.  Anything that leads me further in triggers the compulsive eating.  It’s instinct now.

So, I’m uncomfortable, confused, angry and hateful.  I’m also resilient, patient, accepting and fine.

I always wanted to be an archeologist when I grew up.

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.

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