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.

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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.

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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

Integration

IntegrationTwo weeks since I returned from my cross-country sojourn, and I still can’t find the words.  But, that’s never stopped me.  Words come.  They tumble down the nerve bundles from brain to fingertip and hit the keyboard all by their lonesome.  My mistake is in thinking I have to go looking for them.

A small part of taking this trip was curiosity.  ArtFest, my destination of record, was a gathering of art journalers.  I’ve tried art journaling in the past, even made my own journals, but it never stuck.  I journal—a fast, Artists Way kind of brain dump that vomits everything onto the page as fast as possible—and I make collage art—a multi-step process that can take days or months.

Could I find a way to combine the two forms?  I went to Port Townsend without a need to make it happen, just a willingness to keep an open mind and play with fun toys.

The question followed me from that creative crucible, down through the Redwoods, and into a conversation with my friend, Robert.  That’s the thing about people of a Buddhist persuasion—if there’s a question lurking in the back of your psyche, they’ll winkle it out of you, one way or the other.

So, in the course of our conversation, I blurted out that my real Work was to Be Me—to be in the world as mindfully as I could, to use all my parts (nefarious, broken or skilled), to accept them all, and just show up.

I almost looked around the coffee shop to see who was talking.  Words tumbled out of my mouth, prompted by nerve bundles attached to a question tucked in my gray matter.  Words I obviously had no control over.  Words that made absolute sense.

Travel Journal CoverI was talking about integration.  And I could feel it happening, like a broken bone knitting together or a spider spinning a fragile web across space.  And as I left Durango, the sensation continued.  I talked to it, held it gently, never pushing or setting expectations.  I wanted to see what it would do, not me.

So, I continued to work in the journal we made at ArtFest, pulling everything about my trip into it, creating something new, something more.  At the same time, I dug out the journals I’d made years ago and wondered what might happen in them.  And I pulled out my SoulCollage© materials, because they were another piece of this emerging creative process.

In a few days, the severe depression that usually peaks this time of year arrived—another part of me accepted and welcomed.  Not that the despair and hopelessness are any easier to ride.  I felt them drain my energy and confidence.  I heard all the old fears and horrors settle into their usual corners.  And as I sobbed with my therapist on Thursday, I also knew the pain and darkness as a valuable part of me.  This, too, Tara Brach might say.

Robin & Albert

I’m comfortable being the brave, battling, Bipolar Bad-Ass.  Proud, even.  But it’s much harder to let others see my seriously brain-sick self.  I feel too vulnerable, too liable to hurt myself or others with my pain, too out of control.  It’s part of the illness to want to hide, to keep the truth of it on a leash, to just wait until the cycle shifts and I can present as more-normal.  Instead, I joined my spiritual study group on Thursday—exhausted, incoherent, weeping—and felt the truth of integration even then.

My showing up touched each of them in different ways.  Etta called it a gift.  Martha said, “We want you with us, no matter what state you’re in.”  Chuck, whose daughter also struggles with BP, wishes what I have for her.

This is the path, then.  To use it all—in the world and in my creative efforts.  No need to look for words or have a plan.  I’ve got everything I need.

Westward Ho! Day 6

IMG_0405I smartened up yesterday, dumped out one suitcase, and loaded it with all the art supplies I need to schlep to classes.  I’d seen other people doing this, so it’s not my brilliant idea.  Just took me a day.

Yesterday’s classes were with painters.  I’ve longed to learn how to use paint since high school (when I flunked art class).  It’s always intimidated me, so I ran through a gammet of expected emotions throughout the day.  It was a challenge to stay present, to breathe, to remember who I was and that I was okay no matter what.  Both teachers were kind, funny, helpful, nonjudgmental.  All that made a challenging day successful.

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Again, these pages are just beginnings; a way to learn techniques and start applying them.  We all wanted weeks to keep working on them.

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In Michael’s class, we started with a wash of paint, then slowly pulled images out of it with repeated layers of wash and white highlights.  This is one technique I want to try again.  It has a spooky, otherworldly quality that I dig in a big way, but couldn’t quite grok in three hours.

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Then it was time for the vendor show.  Half a table turned out to be a lot smaller than I expected, so I ditched my idea of showing my bigger collages and set up my cards as best I could.  My table-mate, Lynn, and her girlfriend, started laughing at my stuff almost immediately, so that helped me settle down and enjoy myself.

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And all I can really say is, “Holy Shit!”  People crowded around my end of the table until Teesha flicked the lights to call quits on the show.  Even then, a couple of new friends hung around, digging through my boxes and exclaiming over details like WW1-era papers and gilding paints.  Compliments bombarded me like little Nerf balls.  I loved telling the stories of cards people chose; This is my grandma… This is my mom and dad…This image came from a 1915 holistic health magazine…  This group of folks loved it.  I was in my perfect venue.

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I started out with four boxes of cards and ended up with two and a half.  I haven’t tallied the take, but let me tell you, it’s much more than I ever expected.  I was in shock when I packed up.

IMG_0403And stinky, sticky with adrenalin.

And my back ached like a son-of-a-bitch.

And What A Day!

 

Westward, Ho! Day 1

Marshalltown, IA (7 AM Central) to Interior, SD (5:30 Mountain).  575 miles.
Notable tunes: Don Henley’s Cass County.  Audiobook: Terry Pratchett’s Nation.

It was a dark and gloomy night… er… morning.

Packed UpI could barely believe that THE DAY had come.  No more lists.  No more sleepless nights (There’s a Country song in there some place), just my nosey neighbor hurrying out to snoop as I finished packing the car, her barky wiener dog in tow.  In no time, I’d shaken the Marshalltown dust off my wheels and set out in the lowering gloom.

mink1First rest stop was Sac City, where I got a whiff of Skunk as I gassed up the car.  Auspicious!  Skunk became my Animal Guide in a sweat lodge ceremony eons ago.  Her scent still makes me feel protected and in the flow.  Then, when I walked along the North Racoon River, I spotted a mink at the water’s edge.  My aunt used to raise mink, so I knew it wasn’t just a weasel.  The gifts seemed to be tumbling out of the trees!

North RacoonIt felt wonderful to squish in mud along the water’s edge, to see geese and hear the bird chatter.  I was glad to have my hat, as the wind at 34 degrees still held a bit of winter.

And who knew Sac City was the home of Barn Quilts?  The things one learns On the Road.

Barn QuiltThe next stop was Tea, South Dakota.  I mean, really, how could I not stop for a spot of Tea after being bossed around by John Cleese all day (His best bit so far has been:  “In 500 yards, bear right; beaver left.”) and listening to a fabulous Terry Pratchett audiobook, read by a lovely British baritone (yes, there are actually a few of those I don’t know or claim as Pretend Boyfriends)?Tea, anyone?

A few hours further west, the skies cleared, the snow melted and temperatures warmed into the 50s.  No more adventures, just clear sailing in the bright sunshine and on into the Badlands.  I knew those naughty bits were close by, but didn’t expect to drive through the State park.  What a feast to wind through all that topographical drama!Badlands

The sun sloped from the west as I drove through The Circle View Ranch’s gate.  A family played ring-toss in the yard.  A scrappy herder-dog watched them from the porch of the main house.  Chickens meandered and pecked along the drive.Circle View Ranch

Badland Chickens

My room is lovely with a private bathroom.  I think my cowboy nephew would like it here.

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Time to wash my Ramen bowl and call it a day.

 

Hello, Darkness, My Old Friend

As winter progresses, I watch this long spell of nearly-normal fade in the rear view mirror.  It’s a horrible feeling, watching that image of the real me shrink and shrink as the bipolar hitchhiker takes over the wheel.  I can feel the Vyvanse losing its grip and rolling under the tires.  I worry that I’ve forgotten how to do this—how to manage a life instead of living it.

Hello DarknessAnd, of course, all that is a story.  I’ve promised to guard against telling stories.

So, let’s just say it’s an adjustment.

There is more depression and distorted thinking, more fibromyalgia pain and insomnia, more compulsive eating and anxiety.  But, the truth is we all expected this, even while we hoped Vyvanse could beat back winter (we being my therapist, nurse practitioner/med provider, and me).

Miracle enough that an amphetamine meant to curb my eating disorder also managed to smooth out my moods for six months.  I don’t want to get greedy.  Six months of feeling joy and gratitude for my life, of sitting in the driver’s seat, can’t be minimized.  Ever.

And all is not lost yet.

Vyvanse acted like a screen door, keeping the bipolarness on the front porch.  But as soon as the drug flushed out of my system each day, the rapid cycling and mixed states poked their heads in and wanted coffee.  They’re just pushier now.  And obviously, they’ve been lifting weights this summer.

I couldn’t tell if V was helping at all the past few weeks.  I just knew I was miserable the moment I woke up and couldn’t discern any difference throughout the day.  So, I started taking V as soon as I got out of bed.  Now, by the time I finish at the Y, I can feel a lift.  The depression is still there, but quiet and more polite.  Again, this seems huge.

I’m trying to use these moderate shifts of mood to prepare for the hairier, meaner moods that will crash through the door.  I got groceries this morning and made two quiches (one to freeze).  If this pattern holds, I’ll bake a chicken/wild rice dish tomorrow and stick it in the freezer, too.  I can’t cook when I’m brain sick, so doing this feels smart and kind.  I am nurturing and being nurtured—like being my own grandma.

This is all new territory.  Mental illness tries to keep me from seeing that.  It tells me all is lost and will forever be lost.  But, that’s just a story.

The truth is—

—I’m on an Adventure.

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