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.

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Doilies and Flickers in the Dark

Our Social Justice Minister, Erin Gingrich, asked me to participate in her service a couple of weeks ago.  Her topic was “Hope Rekindled,” and she’d heard enough of my story to think some version of it might add something “powerful.”

I loved crafting a speech to fit the theme and metaphors we chose—visions of high school speech competitions made me smile as I worked.  Even better was the opportunity to pull out parts of my story that could be told in an uplifting way.  I wasn’t nervous that Sunday, just honored.

The third member of our service team that day, Martha Shen, crocheted a huge doily for Erin some time ago.  She included a poem with her gift that became our service’s central theme.

a single strand

masterfully intertwined

whose beauty is defined

as much by the empty spaces

as by the strand itself.

 

Here’s my Reflection.  If you’d like to hear Erin’s homily, you can click here.

Hedgehog

There comes a point, after being physically and mentally sick for several months, that I can feel choice starting to return.  It doesn’t happen all at once, and it’s not always real.  I get nudged by shame, or a little belch of hypomania propels me, or an invitation seems less daunting.  I feel like a hedgehog, unrolling from a hibernation ball all spiny and prickly, testing the temperature and taste of the air.  The urge to stay rolled up, safe and warm, takes a long time to fade.

I’ve gone through this process so many times now, learned to be kinder and gentler with myself, practiced my coping skills until they are second nature.  Still, reengaging takes enormous effort—starting over at the pool, making a coffee date with a friend, accepting my minister’s offer to tell my story at church.  As soon as I start to move out, I retreat—back to the warm den of my bedroom where I cut paper and listen to the extended extras on The Hobbit DVDs.  They keep me company enough, the voices of actors and production crew.  Sitting on my bed doesn’t make my arthritic knee ache or start a fit of coughing.  I’m content enough.

And I know reengagement is required.  I know my body needs to move more.  I know I must go out in the real sunshine.  I know there’s a different kind of healing in looking into real people’s eyes and listening to voices who wait for my response.

I know.  I’m just not there yet.

Out-Out Patient

Triggered by a traumatic event a few weeks ago, bipolar depression brought its bags and settled in for a long visit.  This past week I started going to my therapists’ clinic every morning to break up depression’s momentum and build my own form of Out-Patient Care.  I arranged the little alcove they set aside for me—a folding screen and white noise machine to make the patients in neighboring offices feel safe in their privacy plus the high table and chairs.  I brought in my art supplies and a large cushion to sit on the floor, and went about filling the tall, gray walls with words and colors that I needed.  But that wasn’t enough.

Yesterday, my therapist and I discussed how to create a real program that would help me tolerate this depression without resorting to hospital out-patient care.  I find the hospital programs themselves to be helpful, but interacting in the large group model difficult to the point of undoing any good done there.  So here’s what we’re trying first:

My daily schedule will be from 8:30-1:30, five days a week.  Daily, I will work on DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) worksheets dealing with tolerating distress, read one of Megan’s many children’s books and journal about it, and make art—either for the space or in my journal.

I feel a lot of dread and the usual suicidal litany gallops through my mind.  I’m uncomfortable and scattered.  My calendar empties out as I can’t tolerate most people or the pressure of going somewhere at a designated time.  But I did ask a friend to lunch yesterday, even though I phased out after twenty minutes.  Concentration doesn’t last long.

At home, I’ve put my TV in the bedroom, so the cats and I camp out on the bed as I try to work on my Solstice cards while half-listening to my go-to depression binge, Fringe (I just started Season Three).

I’ve also returned to Pinterest, where I can look at pretty pictures and hoard new photos of my Pretend Boyfriends.

Later today, I hope to go see the new Murder on the Orient Express and do my laundry.  That feels like a lot in my current condition, but I’ll try.  It’s really all I can ever do, keep trying, keep looking for new ways to get through the worst of the illness while waiting for the shift to come.

Some days it doesn’t seem like much of a life.  The distorted thinking makes that view darker and more hopeless.  Even then, I can see my courage at work, even when the list of obstacles grows like a Bugs Bunny nightmare.

This is my life.  Mine.  For better or worse.

Making A Home

This summer I spent some time considering a move to Des Moines, but after talking to a realtor (what was I thinking?) and finding out how impenetrable the subsidized housing process is there, I changed my mind.  Instead I opted to work at making Marshalltown my Home.

I grew up here and have been back for ten years, but I never really thought of it as home.  Growing up on a farm, “town” was a place to get groceries, a place the school bus dropped me off and picked me up.  After going through electroshock, losing my job, my home, and my husband coming back to Marshalltown mentally ill was a personal failure and a punishment.

I left Minneapolis with its liberal politics, diversity of culture and a townhouse I loved for a conservative rural backwater where I lived in my friends’ spare room with a curtain for a door.  I didn’t want to be here.

My life became richer over the last ten years.  I learned how to manage my illness better.  I moved into an apartment I loved.  Our eco-conscious public library and busy YMCA became part of my daily routine.  I embraced our Aquatic Center by water walking in the silky summer evenings.

But I still despised the town.  I hated the trains blasting at 5:00 AM along with the barking dogs and screeching kids next door.  I hated the yahoos who barreled along my street with their woofers blowing out my eardrums and their muffler-less pickups rattling my windows.  I hated the decrepit meth-lab houses and the soul-sucking poverty evident on most every street.  I still didn’t want to be here.

The work of Making a Home, I’ve discovered, is much like the work of Gratitude.  Instead of focusing on what I’m grateful for, I purposely seek out what I love about Marshalltown.  I quiz others about where they like to eat and hang-out, what they like to do here.  I’ve started reading the newspaper to look for events to attend and to get a better sense of the community.  I plan to take a class at the art center or with the continuing education program at our junior college.

Another part of making a home is practicing forgiveness, not just accepting people, places and circumstances for what they are.  The first target of forgiveness must be myself—for all the ways I let myself down, abandoned my dreams or my safety, and let the negative voices of my illness tell me how horrible I was.  Acceptance of my whole self took decades, but I feel like forgiveness can’t be that far away.  Whenever old resentments or regrets surface, I open to the possibility of forgiveness.  Whenever I turn my attention to the negative aspects of Marshalltown, I open to forgiveness and pull up my list of “Marshalltown Love” on my phone.  It’s startling how many times a day this happens.  It’s equally startling how long it’s taken me to be willing to forgive myself and others.

Forgiveness, like gratitude, requires a change of perspective, a change of heart. Sometimes those changes are a long time coming, so I’ve adopted an “act as if” attitude until it makes a home in my bones.  But, I’m determined to forgive.  I’m determined to find all the hidden spots of beauty and compassion in Marshalltown.  I’m determined to be my authentic self and thrive here.

Because, I’m still on an Adventure.

Breathing

I had a whole other blog post half-written, but when I came back to it, none of the bipolar drama mattered any more.

There was a theme of WANTING this summer, but we all know wanting comes from believing there is a hole in our soul that needs filling.  The cure for wanting isn’t changing our bodies or our location, it isn’t filling that hole with stuff or people.  The cure for wanting is to sit with it, cup it gently in our own two hands, breathe it in and out.  Then, we remember we are whole where and when we are.

I’ve been thinking about turning 60 in a couple of months.  I don’t usually pay attention to birthdays, but this is kind of a milestone for me.  See, I never expected to live to see 60.  In the back of my mind, far from consciousness, I think I was marking time until I made a decision to exit this world.  Turning 60 means I’ve made a different kind of decision.

At first I didn’t think I’d created much of a life—it certainly didn’t look like the life I imagined for myself when I was a girl.  But when one of my mental health gurus said, “I’ve always thought you were good at living,” I reconsidered.

My sister’s husband died three weeks ago after a long illness.  She had been preparing for that eventuality—buying a home in Oklahoma where her son and his family live, clearing out sheds and closets—but the last six months of constant caregiving along with Hospice drained her life energy.

I supported her the best I could.  When the time came, I stood beside her as her husband died and when some of his family members got ugly.  I stood at the graveside with one arm around my tall, cowboy nephew, and the other around his little son, and I felt alive with love for my family. Last week, my sis and I packed our vehicles with the last of her things and caravanned to her new permanent home.

Yesterday I returned to my home of geriatric (and complaining) cats, art projects in progress, the last week of water walking at the Aquatic Center before it closes for the season, watching the addictive drama of Big Brother with my friends, coffee and movies and lunches with other friends, meeting the interim minister at church and volunteering to lead a SoulMatters group.

I think it’s time to give up my hair shirt.  It’s time to embrace the good life I’ve created and allow forgiveness to become part of it.  Today, all I want is to be content, to be grateful.

Breathing in, I choose the Adventure.

♥ ♥ ♥

P.S. Happy Birthday, Richard.

Mirrors

There’s nothing like being brainsick over a holiday weekend to remind me of my demographic status.  I’ve struggled for several days with vicious, distorted thoughts, but holidays add more stress with regular support services closed, carefully constructed routines disrupted, and human support unavailable as they enjoy time with family and friends.  Long weekends are difficult, and I’m not the only one who feels it.

So far this weekend, emergency vehicles have visited my ten-unit complex five times.  That means half of the residents have been in such a state of crisis that their only option seemed to be 911.  And the day’s only half over.

To try to calm my own agitation, I went to our common room this morning to do laundry, sit in the quiet, and maybe journal. I found one of the window latches broken.  In the bathroom, the toilet seat was broken in half with feces on the floor.  I cleaned that last bit as best as I could, weeping at the level of distress that person must have felt.  Afterward, I emailed the apartment manager with the details, knowing she wouldn’t read it until tomorrow because it’s a holiday.

I’m fully aware of how lucky I am to be “high functioning,” to have friends I can text most anytime, to have a sister who would come to my aid if I needed it.  I don’t interact much with my neighbors, because some of them can’t follow a conversation.  Others are quite shy and introverted or belligerent and aggressive.  I keep to myself.

But I understand all of it.  I am all of it—at times introverted or belligerent, unable to translate my thoughts into words, unable to concentrate on what someone might be saying to me.  I understand being in crisis and feeling like there are no options.

I live in an apartment complex of mirrors.  It makes me more human to look into them from time to time.

The Justice League—Bipolar Style

Merely AgogI’ve been in trouble for a while now, mental health-wise.  The amnesia that comes with severe symptoms keeps me from remembering that this is normal.  My brain yammers that I’m getting worse, that my social skills are devolving, that all my tools are useless, and that, maybe, by brain is starting to liquify.  But, the reality is I’ve been here before.

One of the many vital roles my therapist assumes is that of Archivist.  She starts a sentence by saying, “When you’ve been like this before…” and suddenly I can breathe again.  I spend so much energy and attention on navigating the whip-quick changes of the rapid cycling aspect of my illness, it’s very hard to pull focus and take in the larger picture.  Shifts happen in the slow time of seasons.  My Richter Scale rarely registers a catastrophic event, but like earthquakes, the tension builds over time to an inevitable break.

Recovering this broader perspective helps.  I’ve survived 8.9 quakes before, so how do I do that again?  Before, I would check into Mercy Hospital’s Out-Patient program (day-care for the neuro-diverse), but like so many other mental health care programs and hospitals in Iowa, it no longer exists.  The programs that are left focus on folks who need functional help.  I don’t need help doing my laundry (usually).

My Integrated Health Caseworker said something like this yesterday, “You’re so high-functioning, you fall through the cracks.”

It’s a Catch-22, being a Bipolar Bad-Ass.

img_0977Friday, I went early to my therapy appointment.  I brought my wheely cart of art supplies and camped out at their little corner table in the waiting room.  They thought that was a brilliant idea, and invited me back whenever I felt the need.  So, I went again yesterday and stayed all day.

There’s no therapy, no expectation of interaction beyond a quick hello, but it’s a safe place that’s quiet and welcoming.  Sorta like going to a coffee shop, except the baristas love and understand me.  I call it “Out-Out-Patient Care.”

My therapist and I are also exploring alternatives.  What about a Mindfulness class that would provide structure and an emphasis on Doing The Work?  What about some sort of spiritplantjourneys.org retreat?  These things cost money, so we pulled in my caseworker to help hunt for grants.

I am grateful everyday that I function as well as I do.  AND it’s hard work to find services that fit me.  AND it’s hard to think outside the box when thinking is most difficult. But, I have an actual team helping me now—my own little Mental Health Justice League.  I’m not feeling much like Wonder Woman at the moment, but with a little help, I might be able to find that lasso.

there-is-10-wonder-woman-border-free-cliparts-all-used-for-free-1ilm0d-clipart

30 Days of Sandy Sue Altered: 16

Living Life

Inner GPS

Sing at Unnatural Hours

Remember How Beautiful

Purging

Haven

In the continuing effort to make my apartment a spiritual and creative Haven, I’m concentrating on my bedroom this summer.  I fixed up and painted an old dresser when I first moved in.  Now that I have my Dad’s nice chest of drawers, that pretty piece of crap got carted to Goodwill.  I also pruned a ton of esoteric reading from my Past Life, so another falling-apart bookcase will soon go as well.  And the old magazine rack/end tables I used as night stands are also on their way out.

Journals Purged

Five Years of Journals

I tossed my spiral notebook journals yesterday.  I had thought I would use some of the pages as art background, but I realized there was too much pain, misery and confusion captured there.  Why would I use something so disheartening in an activity that brings me such joy?

Journaling is a process for me, a way to See the lies my brain tells me and to release the emotional steam in my physical pressure cooker.  I don’t need to keep the details of my day—I won’t remember them.  Electroshock created a tidy black hole where my memory used to be.  Eventually, everything slides over the Event Horizon.  I was given the gift of living in the moment.

So when I read about my past, I can’t connect to the words.  At best, a fuzzy snippet, a dream-like shadow, might dislodge from the Void.  It’s enough to remind me of what I’ve lost.  And, again, why would I do that to myself?

So, into the dumpster they went.

I’m pulling everything off my bedroom walls, cleaning and patching holes.  Soon, I’ll paint, then shampoo the carpet.  I found a sweet cabinet and a set of night stands at Ikea that will boost the feminine, dreamy quality I’m creating.

Crucible posterOf course, my Romance Wall will be reconfigured as will all my Pretend Boyfriends.

I knew I needed a peaceful, calming image across from the bed, and found the perfect piece when my friend, Robert, posted some of his new photographs.  A large print of Blue Astor is forthcoming.

http://pin.it/2xJbINW

I’m looking forward to making my bedroom as clean, efficient and lovely as the rest of my apartment.  In the meantime, I have all these books to get rid of.  Below is the list.  If you’re interested in any of them, leave your address in a comment (it won’t go public), and I’ll send the books you want.

Oops! Too Late!  Taken to the Library on 7/21.  But you can still see what you missed.

  1. A Treasury of the World’s Best Loved Poems (no editor listed. Avenel Books, a division of Crown)
  2. Almaas, A.H., Diamond Heart, Book One
  3. Armstrong, Karen, A History of God
  4. Bennett, J.G., Deeper Man
  5. Broch, Janice & Veronica MacLer, Seasonal Dance: How to Celebrate the Pagan Year
  6. Cameron, Julia, The Vein of Gold: A Journey to Your Creative Heart
  7. Walking in This World: The Practical Art of Creativity
  8. Cooper, J.C., The Aquarian Dictionary of Festivals
  9. Dacyczyn, Amy, The Tightwad Gazette: Promoting Thrift as a Viable Alternative Lifestyle
  10. Dahlke, Rudiger, Mandalas of the World: A Meditating and Painting Guide
  11. Damasio, Antonio, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness
  12. Dickinson, Emily, Final Harvest
  13. Estes, Clarissa Pinkola, Women Who Run With the Wolves
  14. Farrar, Janet and Stewart, A Witches Bible Complete
  15. Ferguson, Diana, The Magickal Year: A Pagan Perspective on the Natural World
  16. Ganim, Barbara, Art and Healing: Using Expressive Art to Heal your Body, Mind, and Spirit
  17. Gearhart, Sally and Susan Rennie, A Feminist Tarot
  18. George, David L., Ed., The Family Book of Best Loved Poems
  19. Knight, Gareth, The Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend
  20. Kramer, Gregory, Insight Dialogue
  21. Linden, Eugene, The Parrot’s Lament: And Other True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence and Ingenuity
  22. Moore, Thomas, Soul Mates: Honoring the Mysteries of Love and Relationship
  23. Murdock, Maureen, The Heroine’s Journey
  24. Pearsall, Paul, The Heart’s Code
  25. Pearson, Carol, Awakening the Heroes Within
  26. Phelps, Kimberly Lilith, McMillian, Teresa and With, Barbara Lee, Diaries of a Psychic Sorority: Talking with the Angels
  27. Rilke, Rainer Maria, Selected Poems
  28. Rinpoche, Sogyal, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
  29. Robbins, Rossell Hope, Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demons
  30. Ruiz, Don Miguel, The Mastery of Love
  31. —The Voice of Knowledge
  32. Silverstein, Shel, The Giving Tree
  33. Stewart, R.J., Celtic Myths, Celtic Legends
  34. Tart, Charles, Waking Up
  35. —Living the Mindful Life
  36. Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love
  37. —Present Moment Wonderful Moment
  38. —Peace is Every Step
  39. Vaughn, Frances, The Inward Arc

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