To Boldly Go

Split infinitive.

You’d think Gene Roddenberry would have known better.

Still, Bill Shatner could Shakespearize anything, even bad grammar.

But I digress.

Boldly going, I’m moving to Oklahoma.

My sister and I started talking about it when I visited her there over Christmas.  We let it sit a while to see if it was just holiday cheer and wishful thinking, then decided the plan had legs.  What really put shoes on those legs, though, was my brother’s offer to support me enough to live somewhere other than subsidized housing.

It’s been a shock, really, to be given this unconditional support, to know that my siblings are with me, to come to understand that I am not alone.  We didn’t grow up this way, you see.  Grand generosity was never our family’s forté.  Small gifts, yes.  Limited support with strings, yes. Pull up your big girl panties and stand on your own two feet lectures, yes.  This level of largess requires a complete brain dump and reboot.  What I thought I knew as truth isn’t.

I’m also struggling with the urge to hide in my apartment until it’s time to move.  I can feel myself disengaging from my life here, from both difficult and delightful relationships, from the activities that fill this life.  All the reasons I want and need to leave this place rear up like trained elephants, trumpeting and rolling wild eyes at me.

But I have a trip to Taos at the end of February, to make art with friends and breathe in the mountains of the West.  I want to enjoy that trip.  And I know I will need time afterward for my brain to do what it does with change and stress.  It will be well into spring before I leave this little apartment that I’ve worked so hard to make into a Nest.  I need to stay present and grounded in now, take care of my friendships, do the work in front of me each day.

In the meantime, my sister is in High Research Mode, talking to her realtor friends and sussing out neighborhoods.  In a month or so, she’ll start looking at places for me to rent.  She has my Must Have list (I have several lists going—that’s one way to keep the Greener Pastures Gremlins from taking over).

Transition is always a challenge, as is stress.  Even good stress.  So, while I do the work in front of me, I must also Do My Work.  Be kind, gentle and generous with myself.  Allow the terrified elephants a chance to walk on four feet and sing themselves to sleep.

Because (all together now), I’m on an Adventure.

Color Kissed

Fuckin' Juice

I love finding great supplies for art-making.  I’ve stopped being a complete raven, bringing home all the shiny bits and bobs that make me squeal (or caw, if we keep the metaphor).  Now I look specifically for flatter objects and materials—all kinds of paper, fabric, seed beads, flat charms and too-dads.

What I love most are fibers and ribbons.  I order a lot of specialty ribbon and fibers from Flights of Fancy, but my all-time favorite source for ribbon and silk cord is the Etsy shop, Color Kissed Silk.  Tammy always helps me find exactly what I need—or makes makes special arrangements for me.  Because all the ribbons are hand-dyed, nothing in stock stays in stock.  It just morphs into an even more delicious combination of colors.

Solstice 2014A couple of weeks ago, the design for my 2015 holiday card came to me (I love when that happens).  I started ordering my supplies—card stock from Stampin’Up (because their paper is rich, heavier weight, and worth the money), metallic paint spray from Lindy’s (for my required level of grunge and mess), and ribbons from Tammy.

It’s a simple card (not like last year’s major production), but I expect to make about 100 cards this year.  The list of people I love and admire keeps growing, which is only as it should be.  Making my Solstice cards is Christmas for me—sending out all that attention, beauty and love into the world.  Ahh.

Anyway, I told Tammy I needed yardage this year.  And like always, she had everything I needed.  I also planned on making a lot of cards between now and ArtFest in March (I hope to be part of the Artists’ Fair and show off a little), so I ordered a gob of new ribbon and silk cord.  When my order arrived on Saturday, I went into beauty overload.  For two days, I played with my ribbons, laying them out, sorting, figuring out a new way to store them so I can see and feel them all as I pull a card together.  Aren’t they gorgeous?

CIMG3356

 

Old FavoritesAs I sorted my old stuff in with the new, I found snippets of silk cord that Tammy doesn’t make anymore.  I kept them to remind me to ask if she had any of these old colors stuffed in a drawer somewhere, but always forgot.  So I contacted her yesterday to find out.  Here’s what she said:

I have a bag of scraps. I don’t know what is what … I don’t have any of the originals to compare so I can’t identify any of them… I will send it to you and you may find some use for this mess…  keep in mind this is just end pieces thrown in a bucket so they are not at all organized, labeled , or pressed…..I am not even sure what length they are… Put it to use if you can… they will go out tomorrow.

Holy Jackpot, Batman!  I asked what she wanted in the way of payment.

Nothing, they are just scraps… that I should have thrown away long ago, not sure why I ever kept them…

Oh, I know why.  It’s called Synchronisity.  And Abundance.  And the fact that the Universe abhors a void, so while its taken away my compulsive eating, my Beauty Glutton still gets to binge on a Bucket of Ribbons!

Somedays, it’s really good to be on An Adventure.

Our Town

One People

Today I watched a police officer escort a homeless family out of HyVee’s café.    They had been in the booth behind me, so quiet I never even knew they were there—a mother, a father, a little boy about six and a baby in a stroller.  I didn’t see them bother anyone or cause a disturbance.  They were just resting, watching the big screen TV.

The young officer wasn’t mean, but he wasn’t kind either.  He asked what they were doing.  He asked if they were staying at The House of Compassion (our homeless shelter), then he got them up and out the door.

I don’t blame him—he was doing his job, I guess.  But I’m furious at whoever made the call to the police in the first place.  The family looked poor, but clean.  They didn’t smell drunk or seem high on street drugs.  The breakfast rush was over, so taking up space for paying customers couldn’t have been the issue.  Maybe the sight of the sleeping mother was offensive.  Maybe the whole idea of homeless people in plain sight was offensive.

I’m sure it never occurred to the complainant to ask if the family needed help or breakfast.  Or to call their pastor instead of the police (because anyone who needed to call the police must own a strong sense of morality and, thus, have a pastor).  And I’m positive they didn’t understand that a homeless shelter is far from restful, especially for adults who must protect their children.  Leaving a shelter exhausted in the morning is the norm.  Poverty is exhausting.

When I left HyVee, I spotted them far down the road—the dad pushing the stroller, the mom lagging behind with the little boy.  Even at 9:30, the morning was hot and humid.  I wondered where they would find a welcoming place to rest.  I wondered if that was possible in this town.

Kind, Gentle and Generous

Give Him the Moon

Earlier this year I set a goal to stay out of the hospital or a hospital program this spring.  Three out of the last five years, I’ve ended up there.  It’s a good thing, really, to know when to make that call.  Lots of folks with mental illness aren’t able to do that for themselves, so I feel lucky and proud of the work I do to hang onto a little insight during the worst of times.

However, the program I’ve used in the past was eliminated, like many of the behavioral health programs across the state, because psychiatrists fled Iowa like rats on a sinking ship (some problem with Medicare reimbursement).  If I needed serious help now, I’d have to drive across the state and admit myself into one of the few psych wards left.  I’d rather not, really.

I needed to change things up—not just my perspective, but what I do to manage this transition from winter to summer.  I found some new resources this year to help—Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation (IPR) and Integrated Health Services (IHS).  Both are new state programs trying to fill the gaps left by the psych docs.  Also, with my mom’s passing last summer, I now live frugally instead of crushed by poverty.  It’s a huge difference.

So, with this new net under me, I started to address the critical and disapproving voice in my head.  I started to wonder if my drive to do more and be more was actually another facet of that mean voice.  I watched how I withheld comfort, left no room for rest or rejuvenation, and squeaked by on the least.

I wondered how it might feel to do the opposite—to be kind and gentle in my self-appraisal, to be generous with my time and money.  I wondered how that voice might sound.  I wondered, for instance, what my grandma might say to me when rapid cycling ruined all my plans for the day.  Or what my friend, Lily, might say about me going to Ireland next year.

Whenever I started to hate on myself, or rail against the unfairness of living with bipolar disorder, or scold myself for going to Des Moines twice in one week, I tried to stop and conjure the people who love me.  Their kind and gentle voices filled my mind.  Their immediate generosity helped me breathe.

Over the course of the spring, I’ve tried to make those voices strong in my mind.  This is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done.  I’m steeped in self-violence.  Recognizing the lie in that voice when it slithers into my thoughts takes time.  Then, countering it with petal-soft, open-armed sweetness is like speaking a foreign language.  But, I’ve learned a few words.  And my vocabulary is growing.

Being kind, gentle and generous to myself doesn’t alter the course of my bipolarity.  Rapid cycling fogs my brain and leaves me exhausted.  Emotions flip and tumble like Olympians.  Chores overwhelm me.  But, today, I have hope that I can navigate the hard road through Spring.  In my mind, I’m holding a warm, gentle hand.  It fits perfectly in mine.  Because it is mine.

Basic Care

Keep CleanYesterday a crack opened in the bipolar depression that’s been at me for weeks.  Enough to let me remember to return to basics.  Because I’ve looked in the mirror every morning and said to that shocked face, “We’re not going to the hospital this year.  We’re not.”

First a call to the group I worked for this past summer—Integrated Health Services.  Their whole mission is to keep mental health clients out of the hospitals and emergency rooms.  I know I need more support now—I’ve been hearing from my providers all year that I don’t have enough in the best of times.  I’m not sure what IHS can do, but I made an appointment for Monday with Rosario, my care coordinator, and with Allison, my peer, to sit and figure that out.  They are both kind, heart-centered women.  I feel safe going to them.  The fact that I was just able to make the appointment helped.  Doing something, anything, sometimes helps.

Daily PlanToday I will start using my Daily Plan sheet, the one I created after my partial hospitalization last spring.  It will help me focus on small goals and remember to do every day tasks that get waterlogged by the swampy emotions.

I looked at how much money I’ve spent this month and cut back to the essentials.  Today I’ll figure a budget to get me through to May (February is just the beginning.  March and April can sometimes be even worse).  I’ll try to make it something I can live with, not something that will punish me for being sick.

HenryI cleaned out my refrigerator of all the liquefying vegetables and bought a few simple groceries.  I swam at the Y.  I sat with my fading bedspread for a while and sewed a blanket stitch around the frayed edges with gentle music playing and the cats behind my head on the chair.  Henry’s belly makes a gurgling, crackling sound when he’s digesting, and I pressed my ear against his fur to listen while he slept.

My apartment is a sickroom now.  No sudden moves.  No grand expectations.  Everything deliberate and gentle.  I must tend to my sleep, get to the Y every day, maintain my journal, plan quiet visits with friends, try to eat fresh food.  I will try to keep the structure sound while the storm carries on inside.  I will treat myself as someone worthy of care and respect, as someone that I love.

Der Rapid Cycle

BrunnhildeI’m at that phase of The Chest Cold/Bronchitis Opera where initial mania (Ooo, goodie!  I get to sleep all day and eat Raman Noodles!) gives way to the longer aria of depression.  I’ve been singing this part for several years now, and sometimes the Dark Solo can go on for months.  As can the bronchitis itself.  It’s a nasty, double whammy.  Sorta like Brünhilde losing her immortality AND getting thrown on a pyre.  Heh, Heh.  That Wagner.  What a cut up.

This season, though, I’m finding the depression to be different.  Not easier—that strum und drang never gets easier—but simpler.  This time, I have the gifts my mom left me to help me through the whole Ring cycle—her almost-new Honda and a small monthly income from investments.

sisyphusI’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—the stress of poverty kills.  The hopelessness and desperation it creates turns a person into a sack of mindless meat.  It yanks away the will to live and leaves said person on bloody knees.  It’s a weight that can’t be shucked off or reasoned with—like Sisyphus’ stone (Oops.  Wrong Mythos).

I thank my mom every day for taking away my need to choose between medicine for chest blight and gas for her wonderful car.  I thank her for taking away the stress of being squashed-flat by poverty.  Eliminating that stressor has already made a huge difference in how I deal with my bipolar disorder.  Now I have a real chance to manage it.

But I still have to manage it.  Last week, someone asked me if, since I had a little more money and didn’t have the stress of my Peer Support job, I’d ‘get over the whole bipolar thing now.’  I wasn’t sure how to answer.  It’s not like a cold sore that flares up when you get nervous and then fades away.  It’s not a case of hives.  It’s a mental illness.  I still have to strap on my breast plates and take the stage.  Every single day.  And belt out that damned song.

Don’t be fooled.  The fat lady sings because she has to, not because the show is over.  This is one show that never ends.

Stronger and More Frayed

Vistas of BewildermentMiraculously, I’ve finished another week of work.  My life is both easier and harder.  Holding this paradox seems to be the Work set before me.

Easier:  Mom left me her 2011 Honda CRV, a car with features and comforts I never thought I’d have again.  I can hardly believe it’s mine.  After scraping a few dollars off the top of my disability check each month to save for a Smart Car, this thing of luxury dropped into my lap (or parking lot).  The first time I filled the gas tank, I cried.  It cost about half of what it took to fill my dad’s truck.

When Mom bought the car after Dad died, she said to me, “You know you’ll probably get this soon.”  It was just one of hundreds of references she made to her own death (It’s that thing old people do—”I won’t be around much longer, so you better…”).  I didn’t pay much attention.  I was glad she had a zippy little car that she loved.  Driving made her feel safe and in control.  I absolutely understand that.

Harder:  My schedule at work is all over the place—mornings, afternoons, mid-day.  I’ve told my supervisor that I need consistency.  I need time for my own self-care, and I need to be able to depend on it.  I’ve tried to hold my fifteen hours a week to afternoons, but this week was the worst so far.  And it’s all to make sure I attend an endless parade of mind-numbing meetings.  Some of them have been important—orientation to the organization, introductions to other agencies working with us, procedure—but most are irrelevant to my position.  Our boss wants us all to be cross-trained.  Part of that, I think, comes from not knowing what our jobs really are yet.  But the more of these meeting I go to, the more I can see what’s mine and what’s not mine to own.

Easier:   My boss relented on the meetings.  She created a buddy system, so my buddy will let me know if I miss anything important.  That allowed me to take charge of my own schedule.  I’m working 1:30-4:30 every day starting next week.  Good for me, but also good for the team.  Now they know when I’ll be available for client interviews and care conferences (what I should be doing).

Harder:  I had built up a reservoir of stability with my routine and daily monitoring.  That’s used up.  Everyday is a fight to turn my fear and negativity around.  Everyday I feel myself sliding toward lethargy and old habits.  I’m hypersensitive and my concentration is fragmenting.  I can still see it happening.  I can still pause, breathe, and choose not to react, but I’m getting so tired.

Yesterday I had to leave a meeting.  The woman leading it was one of those people who starts a sentence, restarts it, jumps to another topic, restarts that sentence and never gets to the point.  I know a couple of people like this.  They drive me ape-shit.  It’s a neurological thing—my nerves want to grab them by the throat.

Luckily, it was the end of my day, and I ran to the Chinese restaurant to eat lunch, listen to my iPod and journal.  It helped, but I’m not getting back to my set point like I used to.  I’m not able to repair the damage each day all this stress creates.  It’s only a matter of time before I really blow.

Easier:  Our parents left us some money.  It’s not enough to live on the rest of my life, but it will give me some breathing room.  I can do my laundry every week.  I can get some work clothes.  I can even plan a trip to the Southwest this winter to see if more sun and open space will keep me from needing hospital-level care come spring.  Poverty has been the biggest stressor in my life.  Mom and Dad knew that.  They planned their last act of love carefully to ease that for me.  I’m so grateful.

No matter what happens, no matter how the easy and the hard continue to play against each other, I am a success.  I have gone to work every day for three weeks.  That’s a miracle.  Walking through the office door is a miracle.  Waking up and doing it again is a miracle.  Even if it all stops today, I’ve triumphed.  No one can take that away from me.  It’s all mine.

Man, I freakin’ rock.

Goals for the Next 30 Days: Work on My Bucket List

Bucket List

One of the exercises Dan, my counselor in partial hospitalization, gave me was to write my Bucket List.  It was supposed to be 100 items long, but mine was only 8.  I promised him I’d keep adding to it, but these were the things that meant the most to me.

  1. I want a new, preferably hybrid, Smart Car.
  2. I want to move to the Southwest.
  3. I want to spend at least 3 months in the United Kingdom.
  4. I want to work as a Peer and get paid what I’m worth.
  5. I want to travel to meet my blog friends in person.
  6. I want to have sex with a decent man once more before I die.
  7. I want to finish Technical Consultant and get it published.
  8. I want to lose 100 pounds.

When I gave Dan my list, he asked why I hadn’t done these things yet.  We talked about obstacles.  We talked about breaking each item into tiny steps.  We talked about opening up to the possibility of getting what I want.

It’s a powerful exercise.  Mental illness can make a person collapse in on oneself.  We fall down Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and cringe in the basement.  It takes some work and a little courage to rise up and open out.

The Crucible PosterOne day after being discharged, I was trolling my Pinterest feed and saw a notice that made me moan.  Richard Armitage  (he of The Hobbit fame and inspiration for my novel) would be playing John Proctor in a new stage production of The Crucible at the Old Vic Theater in London.  My initial thought was, “Oh, man!  I’m on the wrong continent.”  Then, I heard Dan’s voice in the back of my head.  Is it possible?

I actually started to consider it.  My Visa debt was almost paid off.  I learned how to do that.  I could do it again.

So, I dug in my closet for my old passport.  I sat there staring at it a long time, then I emailed my blog friend, Evelyn, who lives an hour west of London in Newbury.

What do you think?  I asked her.  Am I crazy?

Her answer was an itinerary of all the things we’d do if I came to see her.

Earl's Court StationIt’s been a little over a week since that email exchange.  I’ve sent in my passport renewal.  I’ve booked my flights and hotel (a sweet-looking B&B in Kensington around the corner from Earl’s Court Tube station).  I’ve purchased my Crucible ticket (The Old Vic is in the round, and I’m front row left.  I figured if I’m flying to London to see Richard on stage, I’m damn well going to see the blues of his eyes).  And my prepaid Oyster card came Fed Ex today, otherwise should call them via number-finder.co.uk myself.

It will be a short trip—arriving in London on September 2 and leaving on September 4—but I’m thinking of this as my first trip to the UK.  I want to see Richard and Evelyn.  I want to learn how to use the Tube system and how to take the overland train out of London to find my friend in another city.  I want to be able to pay for something with British coins and not fumble around.  That will be enough this time.  Oh, that will be just fine.

Everyone I’ve talked to has been joyfully supportive—from my therapist, who wanted me to stay longer, to my mom, who giggled when I told her.  Evelyn sends me regular brainstorms.

And as I pour over Google maps, I send Gratitude to Dan for posing the question.

Is it possible?

Needless to say, I’m on an Adventure.

Chop Sticks

Uncover in the Mess

I am playing the violin, that’s all I know, nothing else, no education, no nothing.  You just practice every day.—Itzhak Perlman

Changing behavior.  That’s the Work in front of me these days.  How do I pull the power plug from my life-long companion, Compulsive Eating and her little sister Compulsive Spending?  How do I change personally destructive behaviors that have actually served me by easing the emotional turbulence of bipolar disorder?

The short answer is slowly.  With lots of help from my therapist.

It’s a painful process, waking up.  And that’s basically what’s called for in changing behavior.  The whole point of compulsive eating and spending is to go to sleep, to numb the pain and shut down the barbed, twisted thinking.  Nothing hurts when you’re unconscious.  But, nothing changes, either.

I’ve always believed the path to change and to a healthier life was through mindfulness.  I’ve tried my best to raise my consciousness and to pay attention.  But these two compulsive behaviors have been stronger than me for a long time.  I knew I needed help, and more than what I found in meditation and self-help books.  Once my therapist and I decided to focus our attention here, I felt real hope for the first time.

Scales and FingeringWe work in baby steps, and in a spirit of Practice.  It’s a lot like when I learned to play the piano.  I do my drills every day.  I play my simple pieces, missing notes and flubbing the rhythm.  I get frustrated and have little tantrums.  I rebel and skip practice, then have to spend extra time at the keyboard the next day.

We watch and pay attention to what happens.  My moods flop around and my thinking strangles itself in convoluted knots.  Then, that all evens out for a day or two before starting in again.  It’s hard to choose to stay awake through all of it.  It’s painful.  It’s humiliating.  It’s ugly.  Megan reminds me that this is practice.  Every small success is just that.  And every fall back into old behavior is just that.  Perfection and failure are not words we use.

What seems to help is to stay busy with projects, especially creative work.  I’ve long understood the connection between watching TV and overeating, so anything that can keep me away from that is helpful.  Playing with my junk and pretties fosters joy and a sense of mastery.  I can use a little of that right now.

To point me in a positive direction, I decided to make something out of gratitude.  And what do I have the hardest time being grateful for?  People.  What better target for this project than the people who brighten my days with small gifts of kindness—the baristas at my Starbucks, the grill cook at the cafe who makes my toast, the group at my UU fellowship who sponsored my Peer Support training, the friends who consistently schedule time to be with me, the virtual friends who lift me with their words and images, the actors and actresses who sit in the dark with me when I’m at my worst.

Blessing CardI sat at my table, creating little Blessing cards, holding each face in my mind, generating positive juju.  I decided to purposely use up a lot of my favorite materials—an antique German prayer book, purple card stock and ribbon that are no longer available,  fibers from a company that went out of business.  I used my favorite things to prove to myself that I have all I need.  Plenty and more.

I ended up making more cards than I needed.  I could have sent them to a lot more people—the folks on the fringes of my life—but I decided to trust my first take on the purpose of this project.  To keep it simple and immediate.  So, I put the rest of the cards in my Etsy shop.  Maybe someone else can use them.

And while I worked on this project, I kept my budget and lost 7 pounds.

Okay.  That’s lovely.  Now.  Back to the keyboard.

 

Making It Real

handmade greeting card, collage artBack in October when I took the first week of Peer Support training, I applied to my sister’s P.E.O. chapter for financial assistance.  The ladies who interviewed me were lovely—kind, supportive, sure that the Iowa board of directors of their group would approve my request.  One of them had even read this blog.

It was a nice way to spend a morning, but I didn’t set my hopes too high as I still was in need to get money today.  I’d been negotiating philanthropy and human services long enough to know my chances of being disqualified for one reason or another were more likely than not.  The ladies said it would be after the first of the year before a decision would be made.  Okay.

After my wake-up call in January about my growing debt, it was hard not to hope for reprieve.  My sister called to say something had gone wrong with the application and had to be done over.  Okay.  A few weeks ago, she called again to ask questions that I’d addressed in my initial letter.  Okay.

I thought I was staying relatively detached.  There might be a slim chance out there in the ethers, but I needed to concentrate on the Work in front of me—finding the strength to stick to my budget without the stress triggering one more hospitalization.

And that’s really the bottom line for me.  How much can I push against the illness without blowing up?  How long can I keep with this budget and work on my compulsive eating?  I’ve never thought in terms of time.  There’s no benefit to that, is there?  There’s just today, doing the best I can, practicing my Start with One Serving mantra and doing everything on the cheap.  I know the intensity of this time is temporary, but I can’t focus on an end date when I don’t know where it is.

This week I received a letter from the P.E.O. board.  They will be sending me about half the money I asked for.  Don’t get me wrong—I’m grateful for it, grateful for anything, and glad the waiting is over.  But no immediate reprieve is coming.  Instead I can now plot out an end date to the extreme financial squeeze.  July.

That doesn’t seem like much.  Four months.  But when I look at the two months I’ve already spent doing this hard work, experiencing the worst of my bipolar symptoms with just my therapist standing fast beside me, I can’t comprehend four months.  I feel myself contract even more, hardening to anything but The Work.

This isn’t good.  Becoming rigid like this invites a kind of shattering that takes a long time to heal.  I need to let in some softness, find a way to play and laugh, figure out a way to be with people that doesn’t end in rage and resentment.  (Ah. I think we’ve hit on the agenda for my next therapy session.)

Because this shit is real now.  I’m not spot-training anymore, I’m going the distance to an actual finish line.  Can I pace myself and push my limits at the same time?  Am I ready to be a bipolar Olympian?

laurel leaf crownReady the laurel leaves, boys.  I’ll see you in four months.

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