Waiting

Waiting is a practice. Not one I’m good at. Especially when it feels like something with claws is trying to get out of my chest.

I came to Starbucks a little after 6am, clutching my little journal, hoping against my demon-judgment hope for a revelation. Even after checking off so many things on my self-care list yesterday, the hot itch remained. There must be a brain ointment out there somewhere!

As I wrote, I figured 3 more weeks until I see my shrink again and we do the next thing on his list. The despair swamped me.

Maybe if I could get a normal night’s sleep. I’ve been waking up at 1:00-2:00am, then have nothing I can do and no place to go for hours (I’m trying to be quiet for my sister’s sake). And then I crash at 5:00 or 6:00 in the afternoon. It just doesn’t help the whole frantic, desperate gestalt.

A page in my little journal made by my friend Tanya

I have to think positively. Tomorrow is yoga class, which will be good for my body and soul. I will hug my friend Martha.

Tuesday is massage day with one of the sweetest women I know. Misty has great technique AND she loves to laugh. She also likes me as a person and an artist, which is a different kind of soul-balm.

Wednesday is therapy day with Sonya. I know she will be distressed for me, AND that she’ll help me figure out ways to wait and more ways to cope.

Balance. Balance. Balance.

I must balance the red claws of distress and discomfort with images of Graham McTavish.

And THAT’S how a person waits.

Tolerating the Discomfort

Years ago, a counselor at Mercy Hospital’s outpatient program in Des Moines suggested that we learn to stretch our ability to tolerate the discomfort of our mental illnesses. Such a benign term—discomfort. It hardly does justice to what really goes on inside a crazy person’s mind. But, it does keep us from catastrophizing the experience. Suffering, agony, or hysteria would be torture to tolerate. Discomfort seems more reasonable.

When I woke up at 2am again this morning, I knew I needed to follow this wise counselor’s advise. My mental and physical discomfort had been overwhelming me, and I needed to find a way to help myself.

So as soon as Starbucks opened at 6:00, I took this small journal and a few pens with the intention of just writing about the discomfort. My Round Robin art journal friends had used this size journal in our last project to send pages to each other. It contained their art, but I didn’t have to make anything. This felt important.

I had started this journal as a book of lists to send around to friends, hoping they would jot down their thoughts. That never happened, but the headings were still there. Some could be useful, Some not so much. I decided to use what might be helpful and leave the rest.

After I ranted a brain-dump on one of the blank pages, I felt a little calmer. I also thought a list of possible ways to stretch my tolerance for this discomfort might be the next step. I brainstormed (Ha! Such an apt term!) for a while and felt a little better still.

I had taken a clonazepam before I went to Starbucks, hoping to beat back the itchy, prickly panic. That little darling started to kick in, and I thought it best to go home and have a lie down. But before doing that, I tried a few things on my list: a nice hot soak with lavender bath salts, a fragrant candle, and a pair of comfy chenille footies. I turned on my new Audibles book (read by Pretend Boyfriend, Richard Armitage), and promptly fell asleep.

When I woke up, I took my little journal outside to sit in the sun and see what else might help me get through the day. As things came to me, I added them to my list, then checked them off as I practiced—like singing the Sia song “I’m Alive” loud enough to make all the neighbor dogs howl. I get so tired of their constant yapping that it felt powerfully naughty to sing so loud that they all shut up.

I took a little stroll around the garden in my bare feet (though my comfy footies waited on the patio for me). This helped my wobbly knee and gave me a sense of grounding. As my sissy bedecks the halls with her tubs of decorations, I needed a sense of myself (the non-Christmas atheist), my feet firmly on the ground, in the midst of the discomfort of my mind fighting its war with psych meds.

I have a new tool. A little journal to write about my discomfort and list ways to tolerate it a bit better. I need to add “Write a blog post” to the list, because this helped as well. It always does.

Pass the Xanax

Direct correlation:  The more real moving to Oklahoma becomes, the higher my anxiety and general state of mania.

This is no big surprise, just annoying.

I found out the movers will pack everything (I don’t even have to empty out my drawers), get it on a truck and be on the road in just a few hours.  Shane, the boss, kept saying, “You don’t have much.  Shouldn’t take more than an hour to pack.”  The benefits of minimal living.

With that weight off my sizzling brain, I gave my sister the green light to start our apartment search in earnest.  My nephew had already alerted her to a townhouse (I’m so verklempt that he’s involved), that turned out to be everything I want and more for a very reasonable rent price.  Still three bedrooms and two baths seems HUGE, so sissy and her realtor friend will look at a few more places next week for due diligence, but I’m guessing it will be townhouse living for me.

Now, all I have to do is manage my heebie jeebies and prepare for my trip to Taos where I’ll spend a week with my favorite spiritual artist, Orly Avirneri, and a conclave of painty-fingered friends.  Part of doing both tasks has been making a journal for the workshop.  I found these disemboweled book covers at an antique mall a while back, intending them for just this purpose, so it felt good to put a couple to use (and focus my scattered attention).  I’m out of waxed thread, though, so have to wait for that order to come before I can bind the signatures in place.

I can’t sit still long enough to enjoy my magazines, which is my GoTo for mind balm.  So, I’m just doodling in my new journal, which seems to be doing the trick—at least for now.  I’ll have to take my gimpy knee and hit the pool this weekend to burn off some of this excess adrenaline.

In the meantime, pass the Xanax, please.

Hypomania: The Eye of the Hurricane

After several weeks of mild to turbulent depression, my brain offered up one day of halcyon hypomania.  No slippage into rabbity anxiety or irritation, just a blue sky-mind with energy and focus.

Where the garbage used to be

New Spot for Garbage

I ran errands put off all summer, caught up on chores, oiled the squeaky lock in my door that’s bugged me for seven years, found the new space-saving solutions that had befuddled my depressed brain.

When this perfect combination of mood and drive pops into my life, I know to use it—partly to clean up any mess or stockpiling from the depression that came before, and partly to lay in supplies and prepare for the next storm.  There are the tasks that need to be completed—like grocery shopping, scrubbing the toilet, and scheduling health care appointments—and tasks that can be started so my depression has something to do with itself.

Spruced-up Studio Space

This time I started collaging new storage boxes and painting parts of my studio.  I put together a facilitator’s kit for my SoulMatters group (which meets for the first time this Sunday), and gathered all the materials for a piece of birthday art I’m making for my nurse practitioner.

It was a lovely day.  And as expected, I moved out of that calm center into more stormy weather.

It’s my nature, and I accept it.  Debris and water damage with a smattering of blue sky.

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.

De-Lamination

Unexplored CreviceThe word is out—sitting all the time will kill you.  Well, everything eventually kills you, but sitting is the new smoking in terms of health. It all makes sense to me.  I was a nurse once.  I know about circulation and oxygen flow.  But it was lamination that really sold me.

Lamination is what happens to the fat, fascia and muscles of your butt under the heat and pressure of sitting (think glued together and steam pressed).  I wish I could find the You Tube piece that explained it so well, but all I could find was this joker talking about Gibbon-Butt.  He makes a point, though.  Our backsides are not meant to be weight-baring.

I started researching standing desks.  With a desktop computer and a teeny apartment, I needed one adjustable desk, and those suckers cost big bucks.  Units that sit on the desk are cheaper, but I have a teeny desk, so all that scaffolding leaves no work space.  I was stumped. So Get Adjustable Desk became part of my IPR wish list for making my living space better and healthier.

This spring when I visited my nurse practitioner, I noticed her work space.  She had a big, simple adjustable desk with a chair on one end and a treadmill on the other.  She didn’t just stand at her desk, she walked or jogged, which seemed a bit excessive, but good on her, right?  I was more interested in the desk anyway.

Clean lines, simple, moderately priced and from IKEA (I’m partial to Swedish furniture—I used to be married to a Swede.  Some things stick, though are not necessarily laminated in place).  Minneapolis has a big IKEA store.  I often go to Minneapolis to visit friends.  I felt a plan forming.

Desk LowLast week I traveled to said Minneapolis to visit said friends.  I also brought home a desk in three boxes.  Yesterday I put it together (ridiculously simple) and started rearranging the jigsaw puzzle that is my apartment.  I’m shocked that I only have to get rid of two pieces of furniture:  my desk—a sweet little thing that was my first craft work table, and a night stand from an old bedroom set—repainted and pretty, but not very functional.  Everything else got redistributed and refiled (or will be).

I have to be careful with this kind of project.  I tend to purge while manic, and I’m hovering at hypomanic right now.  It would be so easy to get rid of all my crappy, second-hand furniture and just start over.  But, that’s crazy talk, so I will sit (or stand) with this one, new purchase until the fever passes.

Desk HighAlso, my cats are traumatized.  Henry won’t leave my side, and Emmett stays hidden under the bed.  First came the bathroom remodel, then I was gone for five days, and when I came home I brought in Big Things that Made Noise.  We all need a nice run of quiet days to let our nerves settle.

I’m standing at my desk now.  Henry’s taking in the afternoon sun.  Emmett’s still under the bed.  We’ll get de-laminated eventually.

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

Six Flags over Cuckoo

Come with me as we tour the Bipolar amusement park.  Stick with me long enough and you’ll see it all!

Dante's Inferno

Danté’s Pit may be behind us, but now we get to ride the Boomerang roller coaster of rapid cycling.

Crazy as it sounds (this is the FunHouse after all), we ride the Mad Hatter’s Agitated Teacups while on the Boomerang!  Don’t let all the spinning make you puke!  Tickets cost more to complainers!Disneyland Mad Hatter Teacup Ride

Swing the sledge hammer and ring the bell, but be careful!  Popeye could sail that striker into the stratosphere, and you can, too! Popeye high striker

And with all that grandiosity, you can probably call on several superpowers to either fly after the striker or shoot it down with laser vision.X-Men, Cyclops

Clowns?  We got ’em!  Don’t look them in the eye or get too close, though.  They tend to sharpen their teeth with files of delusion and mean it when they bite.

scary clown

But, best of all is the carousel, because this ride goes on and on and on and on. . .

Mental Meltdown of the Pneumonia Mind

collage art, hand-made cards

People said I’d go stir-crazy.  Being sick and incapacitated for weeks will mess with your head, they said.

Oh, my.

I’ve officially rounded the bend.  I’ve spent all the money I have left for September, mostly on food and DVDs, which destroyed months of work at losing weight.  I charged up my credit card so that I could put storage shelves in my bathroom—a project on Saturday that left me exhausted and overrun by my own mania.  I feel humiliated, and desperate, and absolutely out of control.

I’ve tried several ways to slow the train down—walking around the track at the Y, walking outside, napping.  They help in the moment, but as soon as I stop moving or wake up, the frantic scrabbling in my brain starts up again.  Every day I start out vowing to “do it different,”  to shroud my TV and do something else.  And every day I end up too tired, too bored, too lonely, too sick.

What I’m hanging onto at this point is that my body is starting to recover.  The lungs are clearing.  The voice is coming back.  I will return to my water aerobics class this morning to splash around if nothing else.  And as my strength returns, I can shift back into my routine, which will give my bipolar claws something else to grab onto.

It’s not like this is new material.  The compulsions, the frantic behavior, the way this illness blows up my life are all reruns of my personal sitcom.  It’s just that adding physical illness squeezes all margins out of the script.  The stress, the disruption of routine, the discomfort run the lines off the page.  I’m not making much sense.

But, there’s a balm in being able to admit the insanity.  Confession always starts a healing.  Lack of insight and secretiveness are part of this illness, so naming names is a good sign.  I’ll hang onto that today.

Hold Your Horses

This woman did not fly to extremes; she lived there.

—Quentin Crisp

• • •

Enthusiasms are suspect in someone with bipolar disorder.  There’s a thin, fuzzy line between passion and obsession, drive and driven.  So it is with cautious optimism that I pursue my intention of becoming vegetarian.

As I sat in my coffee shop yesterday, journaling, I could feel the buzz of mania—my thoughts leaping and shoving each other out of the way, the Crusade taking me over with its conviction, dedication and magical thinking.  But, after the despair of this past weekend, the energy and purpose felt like a reward for slogging through the Pit.  A Reprieve.  And yet, I knew it would be a mistake to identify with the high I was feeling.  I was still there, behind the excitement and the speed, so the task was to watch and wait.vegetarianism

Starting new projects while manic can definitely get them off the ground with a bang.  The energy acts like a catapult—but the one pulling the trigger isn’t too concerned about aim.  I once ripped out the carpet in the whole basement of my house in an hour.  Did it need to be done?  Maybe.  My cat had been peeing on it for years.  Did it need to be done at 11:00 at night?  Probably not.  The trick with mania is not to do anything that can’t be undone later.

vegetarianism, Alicia SilverstoneHolding that maxim, I spent a couple of hours in the library reading about vegetarianism and retrieving information buried in my defunct memory.  I remembered that I flirted with this years ago, influenced by my friend, Dee, who is a devout vegetarian.  The basics all came back to me and seemed so easy.  Could it be that easy?  To a manic, sure.  We are invincible—gods in our own minds.  We scoff at the feeble attempts of mere mortals!

Yesterday, I was able to set my super powers aside and assume a gentler approach.  Instead of running to Trader Joe’s and dumping money I don’t have into miso and tempeh, I bought a bag of pinto beans and some produce.  I still have my Moosewood Cookbook—one of the few things that has survived my many manic purgings—and found my favorite (and simple) recipe for refried beans.  Last night I made a meal so beautiful, I had to take a picture—corn tortillas with my homemade refried beans, brown rice, green onion, yellow bell pepper, topped with salsa and mango.

The fact that I actually cooked a meal is not lost on me, either.  Cooking can be a major source of anxiety, but the process of soaking and cooking the beans felt very relaxing.  There was a sense memory in running my hands through them, hearing their clatter against the strainer.  Another question arose—could this process help me find the creative cook that vanished when I got sick?  This, too, I’ll hold gently as the adventure unfolds.

Because, I am on an Adventure!

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