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.

Tribal Magic

It’s raining in Muskogee this morning.  I needed to mail an Etsy order, so I stopped for donuts (donuts are big here.  As are hot dogs) and got in line at my coffee drive-through.  A little pick-me-up for a drizzly day.

Then I noticed the old blue truck in front of me.  It had a “Bernie” bumper sticker.

I jumped out of the car and scurried up to the truck’s window.  I thanked the Sweet Young Thing driving for her courage.  She was too surprised to say anything but a soft, “Ohhhhhhh,” her gentle face tearing up as she reached out to shake my hand.  She had the warmest hands.

Full to the brim myself, I paid for my coffee and for the person behind me in line (a Random Act of Kindness I learned from my friend, Cheryl).

These moments of connectedness come more often now.  Maybe I’m just hypomanic after getting over the flu and the subsequent depression, but it really doesn’t matter.  Moments like this help me stay open to more moments, to watch for them, to set an intention to find them.  I record them in my Good Life jar so I won’t forget.

Moment by moment, scrap by scrap, I’m creating the kind of life I’ve always wanted.

It’s a Good Day to be on an Adventure.

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.

What Would Mr. Rogers Do?

After an excellent massage this morning, I went into the waiting room a little loopy, smiled at the woman who was sitting there, and finished up my business at the front desk.

The waiting woman was called back, but as I sat updating the calendar on my phone, she returned and walked up to me.  She said she had been called to pray for me, and would that be okay.

This has happened before, people wanting to pray for me (though this is my first Oklahoma Encounter, which is odd, considering this is the Bible Belt.  Hmmm…).  I know the request is not about me, but about what that person needs in the moment, so I don’t take offense.  I told her to do what she felt was best, expecting her to put me on her prayer list or whatever.  But, she stood in front of me, planted her hands on my shoulders, and went on at length about the healing power of Jesus.

Then, she stepped back and asked for a hug.

I started to get a tad uncomfortable—probably because The X-Files has been my background noise for the last couple of weeks.  But, then I remembered my new mantra, one I decided on after seeing A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood last week.

What Would Mr. Roger’s Do?

So, I hugged her.  And when she said, “These are God’s arms hugging you,” I imagined everything she believed she was giving me being returned to her.  And I told her to have a wonderful massage.

Fred Rogers was all about paying attention and offering kindness.  As the movie points out, he had to work at this.

So do I.

Today I paid attention to what this woman seemed to need.  Raising my atheist flag was not it.  Being kind as she gave me something that mattered to her was.

Thanks, Fred, for hugging me today.

 

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.

Pickles

This is a bit out of a story I wrote a long while back.  My stories are all the same—Bipolar Girl Finds Acceptance/Love.  It’s a need I work through on paper when I can’t manufacture it in real life.  Recent events have shown me that I am both characters in this scene.  That is a great comfort

So, I’m in the guest room, sleeping through tea and dinner.  Amanda has told the children to leave me alone, but by bedtime, Grace can’t stand it.  She comes in and gets on the bed with me.  I’m awake, groggy, slow.

“What’s wrong, Auntie,” Grace asked.  She snuggled close and laid her head on my belly.

I bunched a pillow under my head and watched her pick at the pink lace on her shortie pajamas.

“Well… “

It was hard to think, to even scrape together words that might make sense.  How could I answer her question?  I wanted to do it right.  You’re supposed to answer kids’ questions simply, not give them more than they ask for.  That’s right, isn’t it?  Isn’t that how you’re supposed to explain sex?  Jesus.

“I get sad sometimes, Gracie.”

“Why?”

“Well… my brain doesn’t work quite like yours does.”

“Is your brain broken, Auntie?”

Oh, it was too hard.  I didn’t want to scare her, but I also didn’t want to just brush her off.  She looked at me with her huge, round eyes.  Her little elfin face a perfect combination of her parents’.  I brushed the white-blond fluff away from her eyes.  I loved this little girl—the daughter of my best friends on earth—a tiny, precious creature with a scientist’s curiosity.

“What grade are you in now, honey?”

“I’m in Seconds,” she said proudly, the squeaky little voice with the perfect British accent.  It went straight to my heart every time.  But my heart was already too full.  I felt tears leaking out the sides of my eyes.

“Okay.”  I fingered the pink lace next to her hand, trying to pull myself together.  “You like pickles, yes?”

“Oh, yes.  I LOVE pickles.”

“And pickles live in their jars with juice all around them.”

Brine, Auntie.”  She was very smug.

“Yes, that’s right.  Brine.  The brine is always green.  Whether the pickles are sour, or sweet, or spicy—always green brine.  Well, let’s say you and I are pickles.”

Grace giggled.

“What kind of pickle do you want to be?”

“Gerkin!” she shouted.

“Good choice.  I’ll be Bread and Butter.”

She giggled again.

“You have beautiful, clear brine.  The most delicious brine in the world.  But my brine is brown and smelly.  My lovely Bread and Butters live in that nasty brine.  Sometimes they don’t taste very good.”

Grace blinked at me.  “Then, we must rinse your jar, Auntie.”

“What a good idea, my darling.  But it’s hard to do that to a real brain.”

Grace sat up, her little face puckered in thought.  She looked just like her father right before he let loose a string of profanity.  “You can have some of my brine, then.”

I took hold of her hand.  “What a generous gift, sweetheart, but I’m afraid you need your brine to grow up to be Prime Minister.”

“Pew.”  She wrinkled her nose.  I’m going to be a Maori princess in New Zealand.”

Of course, she was.

“I shall live with the kangas and the wallabies and be their queen.”

“May I visit Your Highness in your realm down-under?”

“You may,” she said magnanimously, “but only if you hop.”

“Your wish is my command.”

Inside, I breathed a sigh of relief.  That wasn’t so bad.  And she didn’t seem to be scarred for life.  But I was exhausted, and looking at that vulnerable sweetness filled me with a melancholy that would spew soon.

“Off to bed now, Grace,” I said, turning on my side.

She slid off and stood at the edge of the bed considering me.

“‘Night, ‘night, Princess,” I said, tears wetting the pillow.  I wanted her gone before I started sobbing.

Grace reached out and put her hands on my head.  A royal blessing, I thought.

“Poor pickles,” she whispered.

Placeholder

I was just saying to Emmett the other day, “This has been a nice, long stretch of Good Brain.  Don’t let me hang on to it too tight, okay?”  In his Emmett-ness, he zoomed past me to leap onto his cat-tree, his Safe Place.  I should have listened a little closer to his cat wisdom.

Good Brain disappeared yesterday.  An immediate sharp dive into the Black.  The definition of Rapid in rapid cycling.

Such a sudden a turn discombobulated me.  I floundered.  Nothing seemed like the right choice, right action, right counterstrike.  I wandered around my home looking for something—not exactly the fine mood that had vacated, but something to soothe the broken-glass that replaced it.

At the drug store/post office this morning, I bought this mug, then a Salty Dog latte to put in it.  Warm and textured, my fingers and hands read it like toasty braille. It murmured that the Dark Place my brain decided to go to won’t hold it forever.  It set another possibility in front of my face even when it felt impossible in my body.  I can’t stop looking at it, rubbing my thumbs over the rough, skinny letters. Joy.

Emmett is curled on the blue blanket at the base of his tree now—hidden, safe, sleeping as the rain whispers outside.  I will follow his lead today, carrying my placeholder, believing in safety and whispers of wisdom.

The Weekly Penny Positive

It was my birthday on Wednesday. Just a regular day, but it was a good day.  Brain-wise, that is.  I’ve gotten a lot of response from the boxed set of Teenies.  I never thought about this being the beginning of the Christmas shopping season—it’s been a while since I worked retail—so I was overwhelmed by folks wanting up to four sets for Christmas presents and willing to be on a waiting list for them.

I had to step back, breathe, and kindly (I hope) say no.  I figured it took me about 5 weeks to put together that first little boxful.  And making those Teenies is a source of joy.  Part of the joy is opening to the piece, bringing in the right scrap, the right color, and delighting in the outcome.  I need to take my time.  I also need to set them aside and make other things that call me.  I was grateful and humbled by the response.  As I am grateful for my Skunk Totem for reminding me to maintain my boundaries.

That was my birthday present to me.

Something New

After some fussing and fuming, the first Teeny Penny Positive Boxed Set sits in my Etsy shop.

I don’t know why this makes me nervous.  Maybe because I love these itty bitty things (1 ½ inches by 2 inches) and have spent lots of time on them.   But that doesn’t make sense.  I spend lots of time on all my work.  Maybe it’s more like sending your kid off to kindergarten.

Maybe it’s because my sister commented that my art has gotten smaller and more complicated over the years, which, she is sure, indicates a kind of pinched pathology. An interesting theory. Still, I love doing tiny things well, so that’s what I’ll keep doing.  Whatever makes the soul sing, right?

I have three more sets in various stages of completion.  That ought to keep the music flowing for a while.

(PS. This sold almost as soon as I hit “Post.”  So Holy Crap, folks!)

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