Petting the Black Dog

Searching for shows I haven’t watched (it’s getting harder, isn’t it?), I found Flowers—a very odd, very dark British comedy about family dysfunction, depression and madness.  It’s a total HOOT!  Plus, I love Olivia Coleman in whatever she does.

Anyhoo… this is the second or third time I’ve heard depression called The Black Dog as in “when the Black Dog is on him…”  It’s a delicious descriptor.  Littermate to the Hound of the Baskervilles.

So, I’m petting the Black Dog a lot lately.  He just seems pretty content to snooze on the rug indefinitely.  Gratefully, the amphetamine I take gives me a few hours of oomph before he crawls into my lap.  Here’s one of the things I’m doing with that time…

A while ago (who can keep track of time now), I made some little art journals with all the cup sleeves saved from my coffee excursions.  I sent them off to arty friends, but kept one for myself.

I’m turning it into a love letter to the coffee shop.

The drive-through is one of the few places I can talk to a live person without wearing a mask.  They are kind and funny, and they give me delicious succor.  I know I’d be lost without that little bit of contact and a way to pamper myself.  Making a journal seemed like a fun and different way to thank them.

I colored the pages by adding a few drops of ink to wet coffee grounds.  I made little pockets out of arted-up coffee filters to hide little treasures like this repurposed gum box.

Mostly, I’m making little collages, incorporating pictures I’ve taken of the shops (drive through and sit down) and the staff.

I’m working in miniature, which I love.  Laying down this poem with itty bitty letters saved from magazines took a whole day.  But the result was so worth it.

Expressing thanks helps shove the Black Dog off my lap for a while.  And working in miniature keeps my mind distracted from his whining.  Any relief, no matter how brief, from his weight and stinky dog-breath is a blessing—a chance to breathe and maybe take a sip of something yummy.

I’ll be making more of these little blank journals in the not-so-distant future, so if you’d like one, let me know.

Floating a Little


And to everyone who responded to yesterday’s blog post with such generosity, kindness and compassion.  It is still pretty bleak in my world, but at least I took a shower.  And I feel something today other than done.  Thank you for that.

 

• Post Title and Inspiration:

Mary Oliver — Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled–To cast aside the weight of facts–And maybe even to float a little above this difficult world.

Keeping Promises

When I started blogging in 2011, I splattered my illness onto the screen without much of a filter.  It was a relief to tell my story, to have a place to spew.  But, it didn’t take long to realize that approach wasn’t helpful to anyone who might be reading.  So, I made some rules:  I’d tell the truth (in as much as I knew it) and I’d wait until I got the Lesson until I posted about my latest wrestling match with bipolar disorder.

These rules served me well.  They kept me from reacting out of the capricious mood swings and distorted thinking that take my mind hostage.  The rules gave me some integrity.

I’m in such a bad place right now, I don’t know if I’m breaking my rules or not.  History tells me this suicidal-level of depression will shift, so I should wait before I write something that could make someone else feel bad.  But, there’s that other rule about telling the truth.  I started posting my Floating a Little series to be helpful, to be like Pluto, sending out a little Light or a chuckle, even if I can’t feel it.  The one I posted today felt like such a lie, even though I know that thought is the illness being in control.

I know the thing to do is to walk away from the blog until something fundamental in my brain chemistry shifts.  AND I need to reach out, to tell people who have said they care about me that I am not functioning well.  Am I breaking all my rules or taking care of myself?  I think the answer is YES.

One promise, one rule, I will never break is the one I made to Henry and Emmett after my suicide attempt in 2009.  I will never take my own life while one of them lives.  Emmett may be somewhere around 17 years old, but he’s healthy, and strong, and plans to bug me for a good long while.  He keeps me here when I want to check out.  He pulls me back from “the Raggedy Edge,” as Malcolm Reynolds would say.  I may not want to live anymore, but I do for him.

The longer I keep my promise to him, the more likely a shift will come.  I can feel a seed of truth there, and that’s shiny enough for now.

Sinking

Isolation and Mental Wellness…

…are incompatible. At least that’s what every Professional has told me since I was a wee Bipolarling . Self-isolation is one of the diagnostic tick boxes for clinical depression in the DSM–5. It can act as a harbinger of worsening symptoms and suicide.

But what happens when isolation, or Social Distancing, isn’t something we choose? If the studies about what solitary confinement does to a prisoner’s brain apply—even to a small degree— a different kind of crisis might be around the bend for those of us Around the Bend.  And perhaps for the Neuro-Normal as well.

Or not.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve had it drilled into me that being alone too much is BAD. Over the past two years, I’ve gotten used to not interacting with another soul for days. I’m finding that the less I interact with people, the less I’m able to interact, like the prisoners who suffered solitary confinement.  I can see and feel that socializing is a muscle that needs regular use to keep from being atrophied.  But my current therapist isn’t alarmed. I’m older now—geriatric—and she says solitude in that age bracket is normal.

Huh.

I’m not sure what to think about that. Do I actually have permission to stop trying so hard to make connections? It would be like ditching the bra when you get home—such a relief! Or is there something more subtle going on. Depression in the elderly is more common than most people think. So, could solitude and depression still be in play? Is some level of depression considered (by Professionals) normal for older folk?

My therapist thinks not.  She says elder folk suffer more situational depression from death of loved ones, loss of income, physical debilitation and the like.  In my mind, that’s a lot of depression— situational or not.

I don’t want to atrophy.  I don’t want the World Brain to atrophy.  But I know it takes a lot of work to push past the barriers of isolation—work that’s gotten harder and harder to justify in my own cramped mind.  Will the World be willing to work that hard when the pandemic fades?

 

The Pointy End

Most days, the amphetamine I take for Binge Eating Disorder lifts the depression end of my Bipolar stick.  It will feel like a Lost Day when I wake up in the morning, but then the Vyvanse kicks in and functionality returns.

Other days, like today, the drug doesn’t do a thing.

Weird that.  But drugs and their supposed effects are weird and ephemeral.  And there’s no accounting for the weirdness of brain chemistry.  Or the weather.  Or Mercury’s pull on the tides.

All I can do is shift my stick into low gear and jettison any plans I might have made.  Self-care becomes the priority.

The most important thing is to avoid beating myself with the Stick, and to keep the pointy end aimed elsewhere.  Let that be a warning.

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.

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 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.

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.

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