A Report from the New Normal

A friend reminded me that I hadn’t posted here in a while.  Fact is, I have nothing useful to offer.

Severe depression seems to be my new COVID-era normal.  Art can’t touch it.  Drugs rarely provide enough energy to do a load of laundry or make a run to the grocery store.  Not often enough to consider myself “functional.”

In another time and place, I would be hospitalized.  As it is, I try to keep my head down as I slog through the Suicidal Ideation mire.  One foot in front of the other.

With no other options, I am shamelessly asking for help on FaceBook—from the friends and family who know me there.  Help comes.  Groceries and prepared meals from real live people near me; in cold boxes and online deliveries from those far away.  I’ve asked that folks clean out their desks and attics for collage fodder—old pictures, papers, receipts, music sheets, letters—anything flat and weird that might kindle a spark of creative oomph.  I’ve asked them to remind me who I am to them, if I mean anything at all, since I’ve lost perspective about all that.

I can’t wait for the cycle to shift anymore.  I may get a boost now and then, but my little marble rolls back to this trough with no real mood change.  Like everyone else in the world, I have to do things differently.  I have to ask for help, not once, but repeatedly.  I have to get over the shame of that, get over my upbringing, get over myself.

Just one more fucking Adventure.

The Wind

From my journal yesterday.

Sitting in Martha and Jon’s garden with the rush of the wind in the trees.  I’d forgotten that sound, like the ocean roaring, fading, roaring.  It will rain soon, but for now the sun breaks the clouds in the east, and this roaring is full of life, and energy, and danger.

If I am to stay, I must find a way to thrive instead of just existing.  It will have to be something new since the old ways aren’t working.  Everything changes.  My illness buffets me like this wind.

I need a way to flow with it… (Ah. The rain is coming.  Good.  That feels right, too) … I need a way that makes my illness an organic part of the solution, the way the wind blows pollen, strengthens roots, culls the dead branches, mixes things together and apart.

I can feel the wind and the blow behind my words clearing space.  The sky darkens.  Thunder grumbles in the distance.  The rooster next door crows.  Something is coming.

Hints abound if I can stay awake and open, if I keep looking, keep trying, keep experimenting.  There are seasons in me cycling faster than Nature.  I feel the rain on my back, the cold on my skin.  I feel my rain and cold turning again.

I can continue to turn.  I can continue to seek.  I can get wet and cold with winds roaring inside and out.  And it will all keep turning if I learn new ways to turn with it.  I’ve done it before.

The patter of drops on leaves sounds like applause.

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

A Spot of Coppery Sunshine in a Gray Sky

It was a hard morning—one where the amphetamine doesn’t work and suicidal thoughts fill my empty cup.  I tried arting at the Starbucks in Tulsa, but couldn’t summon any interest, so started home sooner than expected.

As I drove I remembered that I’d dreamt about Barack and Michelle Obama two nights in a row.  In the dreams, I was happy,  hopeful, and part of a positive flow.  I thought, “Okay, this is where I need to take my brain today.”

As the negative images resurfaced, I summoned President Obama’s cheerful face, talking to me like a friend.  I felt the lightness of my dream-heart and the sense of rightness.

This spot of brightness in my gray morning reminded me of a project I’m working on—making sets of tiny Penny Positives like the ones I make each year for my friend Sarah.  I found tiny plastic sleeves to keep them protected and little paper mâché boxes that a set of 50 will fit into.  I planned to label the boxes “Penny Positives: A Spot of Coppery Sunshine for a Gray Sky.”

I also remembered that I’d sent both President Obama and President Carter Gratitude Postcards last week, telling them how much hope they add to my life.  I’m thinking I will spend time this afternoon making a new Gratitude List.  Maybe more people on that list will seep into my dreams, which might give my brain additional hopeful rest stops.

I’m better now—tired and slow-witted, but that part of depression isn’t nearly as frightening or dangerous as the Black Thoughts.  There’s a sense of being more skilled than my Black Thoughts let me believe, and there’s gratitude for that.

This Bipolar Highway is never-ending and ever-changing.  It seems like I’m being called to build more Comfort Stations now.  And the more I can build, the longer the Adventure continues.

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

 

Trick or Treat

werewolf-girlOne of the earwigs of my flavor of bipolar disorder is passive suicidal ideation.  I’ve learned that thoughts of death, the desire to be dead, and fantasies about my funeral are all just symptoms of my illness, not some conclusion or solution I arrive at on my own.  I’ve come to understand them as just one Tootsie Roll in the party favor basket of worsening depression.  I can root around in my stash to see if the other treats are there—insomnia, social isolation, hypersensitivity, lack of interest in things I usually enjoy, persistent hopelessness and despair.  This is not the Halloween candy I want, but it’s the loot I’ve been given.

One of the ways I counter these distorted hobgoblins is by remembering I have the ultra-rapid cycling form of bipolar disorder.  I can count on the witch’s brew of my brain chemistry to shift in hours or days.  All I have to do is distract myself until that happens.  I’ve gotten pretty good at that.

The other thing I can count on is the complete unpredictability of my illness.  My care providers and I have tried to track patterns and triggers.  We’ve charted seasonal changes (sometimes), stress (sometimes), length and depth of mood shifts (no pattern there).  This year has been like no other, but that’s like saying snowflakes are different.  So what?

graph-down-300x2252All I can really say is that last year around this time I got pneumonia.  Since then, I’ve been depressed except for the tempering effect of my cross-country trip out West and back.  I’ve had burps of hypomania, and a few good days, but each dip downward has been lower than the last.  And the good days are rare.

That’s a long time to keep distracted.  It’s a long time to push against the negativity and the whispers of a Final Relief.

Earlier this week I found myself shifting from passive to active suicidal ideation.  That’s a clinical and un-scary way of saying I starting planning how to get the job done.  If it weren’t for the promise I made to my cats, that I wouldn’t abandon them, I might have followed through.  I like to think not, but it was deep and dark in my head.

Instead I called Lutheran Hospital’s out-patient psych department and got on their waiting list for an intake interview.  Since my therapist had called them two weeks ago to get information, they bumped me up the list, and I’ll get that interview next week.

togetherIt sounds so easy when I write it out like that, but it took all the skill, energy, and courage I had in the moment to make that call.  It meant stopping the forward momentum that had been pushing me for months and turning in a different direction.

Once I made the call, the relief was immediate.  I’m still severely depressed, but the suicidal Junior Mints melted—which makes a nice treat for my cats since I’m out of catnip.  They deserve a treat.  Even if it’s only a mental construct, they saved me.  My heroes.

And now, in the spirit of changeability, for something completely different.

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.

Give Me a Reason

It’s been a bad day.

It’s one of those days when thoughts of death and fantasies of how seep through the cracks.  It’s one of those days that demand a reason—any reason—to keep on going.

Like the push of a kitty’s paws against my side as he settles me for a nap.

Or a job that needs to be finished.

So, I left Emmett to sleep under the covers and finished a project—cards for the people retiring this year from our school district.

Retirement1

This is the third year I’ve been hired to make these cards.  When I think about it, even though I ended up in partial hospitalization the last two years, I still got the cards made.  They nudge me toward life, these pieces of gratitude.  My hands remember beauty even if I can’t at the moment.  As I work the sun swings around to my westward-facing window, giving Henry his chance to bask.

Another day nearly done.  And I made it to the other side.

Blog Stats

  • 171,364 hits
%d bloggers like this: