Waiting

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

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

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

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

A page in my little journal made by my friend Tanya

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

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

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

Balance. Balance. Balance.

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

And THAT’S how a person waits.

Team Thanos

I was always Team Thanos when the Avengers movies came out. Honestly, the guy was misunderstood. Cut the population in half with no suffering. Cut across all political, social, and income levels. Bring the Earth (and every planet) back into balance. Covid is trying, but it’s not nearly as fair.

Tighter restrictions are back in place since the rise of active cases. I know a lot of people who refuse to get vaccinated, and others who think being vaccinated is the only precaution they need to take. Here in beef country, ranchers are dosing themselves with cattle dewormer instead of getting a shot. I think we deserve a visit from Thanos.

Today, I’d be happy to provide one of his vacancies. After a spell of soul-crushing depression, I got up this morning determined to Do The Work of managing my illness. I packed up my traveling art studio and headed to Starbucks… which is closed again. And it’s not like arting is a comfort anymore, though if I work really hard at it, I can find some distraction from the ugly in my head.

And from the growing sclerosis that continues to crystalize around my heart. It’s easier to feel nothing, to shut all doors, to cancel anything that brings me in contact with people.

Easier, but it also makes me feel less human.

Yeah, okay, I’m contradictory and contrary. Bite me.

Still determined, I stopped on my way home to get a healthy smoothie, pulling out the little bit of Bipolar Badass that hides in my hindbrain. I will art on my bed with Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD running in the background, and I will try to distract myself by making cards for the people I still have feelings for, even if I have to root around a while to find a soft spot in my heart.

If I can find it, I can nurture it with art. I know I can.

But if Thanos shows up for supper, I’m splitting a pizza with him.

Walkabout

I don’t often pull out my Walkabout Journal. It’s used for creating art out of whatever I find on my walks. Usually, the amount of trash I see depresses me more than inspires me, so I sorta gave up on that concept.

How-some-ever, last week I visited Civitan Park for the first time. The park is close to home, and offers trails plus some scraggly woods. When I found a funky snack bag, I knew I needed to look a little closer at the trash there.

Civitan Park

I found a few more interesting things (though I left the used condom where it lay in the parking lot), and talked to a beautiful tree that was dying and losing all its bark. Then, I came home and worked on this for a couple of days.

I went to the park originally to sit in my car and journal. That has taken the place of camping out in a coffee shop like I used to do pre-Covid. It’s nowhere near as satisfying, but it gets me out of the house and making art in a different, albeit cramped and chilly, environment.

This winter has made me a little claustrophobic with Covid’s lack of options. I do so miss the thick smell of coffee in a shop, the patrons with their laptops, and the baristas’ banter.

My Sissy has a lovely Keurig coffee maker, and I subscribe to Hugh Jackman’s Laughing Man coffee cups, but it’s just not the same (though this add is one of my favorite things in life).

I like the idea of making Car-Journaling into a full event—arting, walking, and scavenging for Walkabout fodder. I’ll be on the lookout for other parks to visit now, instead of just waiting for warmer weather and the lure of my coffee shops’ outdoor seating. Winters are mild here compared to what I’m used to. I don’t want to waste them.

Petting the Black Dog

Searching for shows I haven’t watched (it’s getting harder, isn’t it?), I found Flowers—a very odd, very dark British comedy about family dysfunction, depression and madness.  It’s a total HOOT!  Plus, I love Olivia Coleman in whatever she does.

Anyhoo… this is the second or third time I’ve heard depression called The Black Dog as in “when the Black Dog is on him…”  It’s a delicious descriptor.  Littermate to the Hound of the Baskervilles.

So, I’m petting the Black Dog a lot lately.  He just seems pretty content to snooze on the rug indefinitely.  Gratefully, the amphetamine I take gives me a few hours of oomph before he crawls into my lap.  Here’s one of the things I’m doing with that time…

A while ago (who can keep track of time now), I made some little art journals with all the cup sleeves saved from my coffee excursions.  I sent them off to arty friends, but kept one for myself.

I’m turning it into a love letter to the coffee shop.

The drive-through is one of the few places I can talk to a live person without wearing a mask.  They are kind and funny, and they give me delicious succor.  I know I’d be lost without that little bit of contact and a way to pamper myself.  Making a journal seemed like a fun and different way to thank them.

I colored the pages by adding a few drops of ink to wet coffee grounds.  I made little pockets out of arted-up coffee filters to hide little treasures like this repurposed gum box.

Mostly, I’m making little collages, incorporating pictures I’ve taken of the shops (drive through and sit down) and the staff.

I’m working in miniature, which I love.  Laying down this poem with itty bitty letters saved from magazines took a whole day.  But the result was so worth it.

Expressing thanks helps shove the Black Dog off my lap for a while.  And working in miniature keeps my mind distracted from his whining.  Any relief, no matter how brief, from his weight and stinky dog-breath is a blessing—a chance to breathe and maybe take a sip of something yummy.

I’ll be making more of these little blank journals in the not-so-distant future, so if you’d like one, let me know.

Coming Out

In my art bagJournaling in coffee shops is a big part of my MO.  It’s how I push the worst of the internal pain and distortion to my margins.  It’s how I remember who I am.  Journaling is vital for me.  It’s medicine.

Now that I’ve embraced art journaling, I needed to figure out how to make it mobile, how to make it as easy as my old $1 spiral notebooks used to be.  Some folks I met at ArtFest do their page set-ups at home and only journal out in public.  Some take a few art supplies.  Tracy likes to have people stop and talk about his journaling.  He even invites them to add to it.  Teesha wants to be left alone.

I put together a bag of supplies and launched.  It helped that our local coffee shop closed for a couple of days and reopened under new management—Georgina, a sassy, gregarious New Zealander who is bent on upgrading the food quality and increasing the friendly factor.  It seemed an auspicious start—new art form and new digs.

Lion Spread

Since I’ve journaled in public for years, I’m used to the odd personal inquiry.  I don’t get bothered much, but if folks see me as a regular with pen and notebook, eventually they ask what I’m writing.  I’m happy to share.  It’s also a chance to advocate as a person with mental illness.  Almost to a person, they are or know of someone with mental illness.  Conversation ensues.  Stigma weakens.  This is my superpower.

I’m finding that art journaling is a more open invitation.  First it was the coffee shop staff—mostly college and very young adults—who seemed drawn to my booth like fluttery moths to a flame.  They were fascinated, almost giddy, and inordinately proud that I did this weird thing in their coffee shop.  I’ve become a kind of celebrity with my little bottle of matte medium and magazine gleans.  They introduce me to their families.  They give me muffins fresh from the ovens.  It’s so sweet, and totally baffling.

Failed Michael

It’s much more visual, this art journaling thing.  My crap is spread out on the table and hard to miss.  Other caffeinators wander by and stop to find out what it’s all about.  And I’m happy to share.

These last few weeks have been rough, mental health-wise.  The Bad Thoughts never stop, and reality is a little hard to recognize.  When it starts to drag me under, I take a deep breath and go glue something or spread paint.  It helps.

girl on fireIn one of my buying frenzies, I ordered some old art ‘zines from Teesha Moore, the wonderful art journalist who organized ArtFest.  I figured there’d be lots of stuff to glean and pretty pictures to soothe my Brain-On-Fire (which would be my Hunger Games name).

In one of the zines from 2007, Teesha wrote an article about how she created an art journal page.  The more I read, the angrier I got.  She had lots of Do’s and Don’ts, particularly Don’t ever, under any circumstance, just cut a picture out and glue it to the page without altering it.  And then there was an endless list of art supplies—types of paints and pens, markers and pastels—all with their own Do’s and Don’ts.

I thought, no wonder I could never do this.  Complete intimidation.  In my righteous indignation, I created a FuckYou,ThankYou,Teesha spread in my journal.  Part defiance, part homage, I used some of Teesha’s techniques and a lot of swear words.  And it is glorious.

FYTeesha

Anger can light a fire under creativity.  It can conquer Defeat.  It can pound a fence post in the ground and say, This is as far as you get to push me.

A Brain-on-Fire can be terrifying and it can be an open door.  With May being Mental Health Awareness month, I’m happy to share.

 

Focus on Gratitude: Day 5

Starbucks’ Venti, Skinny, Peppermint Mocha with Almond Milk.  The Starbucks in Marshalltown is in HyVee, so they just grab almond milk off the shelf for those of us who keep bugging them for it.  That’s customer service.  Thank you.

Starbucks

Where Everything is Music

handmade greeting card, collage artI hardly recognize myself.  Twelve days of clear skies and mental calm seas.  Fourteen days since the last time my illness made me jump in the truck and escape to the movies.  I get up, go to the Y and come home to my own table with my own chai.  A few weeks ago, the thought of living without a coffee shop would have made me weep with grief.  Now, it’s nothing.  Nothing.

I come home and journal with my own chai, work on my manuscript as easily as I type this.  No angst, no sharp hooks of remembered pain when I enter the old journals.  Just typing.

I prepare a hearty lunch of sautéed vegetables and pasta.  I cook every day.  Cook with pleasure.  A few weeks ago the idea of cooking filled me with terror.  Now, it’s nothing.  Nothing.

There’s a bone-deep satisfaction in all I’m doing, how I can choose to stay home, prepare my meals, walk to the Y.  I’m saving money.  Me.  When only a few weeks ago I didn’t know how I would survive to the end of the month.  The strangle-hold of poverty let go.  In this place of gentle weather, I have enough, and I can make this choice to set money aside for my car fund.  A choice.  I have a choice.

In the afternoons, I go back to the Y and walk with my iPod.  The music pulls the day together—the work, the pleasure, the satisfaction all flow into my feet and my swinging arms.  Here I am.

I go home to make a card, blend a fruit smoothie, and sit with Jane Austen.  The cats gather.  Night grows deeper.  We listen to the music singing us, so quiet and calm.  And it’s nothing.  Nothing.

• • •

Dont’ worry about saving these song!

And if one of our instruments breaks,

it doesn’t matter.

·

We have fallen into the place

where everything is music.

·

The strumming and the flute notes

rise into the atmosphere,

and even if the whole world’s harp

should burn up, there will still be

hidden instruments playing.

·

So the candle flickers and goes out.

We have a piece of flint, and a spark.

·

This singing art is sea foam.

The graceful movements come from a pearl

somewhere on the ocean floor.

·

Poems reach up like spindrift and the edge

of driftwood along the beach, wanting!

·

They derive

from a slow and powerful root

that we can’t see.

·

Stop the words now.

Open the window in the center of your chest,

and let the spirits fly in and out.

—Rumi

Debt and Agitation

handmade cards, collage artI lost my mind for a little while this morning.

I’ve been struggling to hold my compulsive behaviors at bay, which is like telling the ocean to be still.  When the bipolar tide comes in, there’s no arguing with it.  Silly wall of water!  You just go back out to sea where you belong!  Sure, I could scold all day long.  Trouble is, I’d still drown.

When I’m severely agitated, I bolt.  I can’t make myself stay in my apartment or even in town.  I have to get in my truck and drive.  Usually to a friendly coffee shop in Ames or Des Moines where I can sip and write in my journal.  This soothes me.  This allows the anxiety and hysteria to ooze out until I can once again function like a human being.

I used to be able to moderate my rabbitty behavior by going to a coffee shop here in town.  But, Haven closed, and all the other cafés or bakeries or restaurants have too many strikes against them—too expensive, too loud, too dark, bad food, bad coffee, bad service, and the worst—uncomfortable chairs.  I have no middle ground anymore, no place where I can get away from my apartment without driving at least 45 minutes.

This is not an ideal situation for someone with no money.  I have to charge gasoline to my credit card, but can’t pay the balance.  So it grows.  And if I try to pay more on the balance each month, I have no cash and dip into the tiny cushion of my checking account.  So that’s shrinking, too.  As I sink deeper in debt, the stress of trying to physically rein in my symptoms and the squeeze of lack triggers more agitation, depression and manic flights of escape.  This morning I could not see a way out of this loop.  And the undertow of hopelessness pulled me under.

I talked to my mental health clinic about payee services in my area.  Could I find someone to help me manage my money?  But the thought of turning over my credit card or trying to “budget” my flights out of town made me sob out loud.  I thought about what else I could eliminate from my expenses.  I thought about asking my mom for money.  Everything seemed penny-pinching and ineffective.  The only real solution is to be mentally stable.  Silly old mental illness!  Just go back to whatever genetic pool you came from and let me get on with my life!

I’m too poor to be bipolar, that’s all there is to it.

Hysteria is never helpful.  I recognized this as I sobbed into my napkin and the other patrons at Panera tried not to stare.  Yes, my compulsive behaviors are active and overwhelming at present.  Yes, I am in debt.  But, I have people who love me and won’t let me end up sleeping in my truck.  This season will pass.

I don’t have a solution.  My view is too narrow and constricted right now.  But, that actually seems okay.  There are just some things that can’t be fixed.  Like bipolar disorder itself, maybe this is another partner I have to write onto my dance card.  I don’t know.  Not knowing is terrifying, but I can relieve myself of the burden to fix this situation for now.  That helps.

It’s like floating.  When the ocean seizes a person, they can fight and exhaust themselves, or they can float and save their strength.  For now, I’ll float and dream of life rafts.

What Scared Looks Like

I’m scared.

I’ve gone through bad episodes before.  Being a “brittle” bipolar, that’s just a fact of life.  Some I get through with more grace and humor than others.  This isn’t one of those episodes.

Yesterday I completely lost my moorings.  Except for going to the post office and then the grocery store to get binge food, I stayed in my apartment and tried to shut it all down.  Of course that’s not possible.  After nearly fifty years of dealing with bipolar disorder, one would think I’d have figured that out.  Well, I have, but I forget.  And the desperation makes me try one more time.

I woke up screaming in the night.  Nightmares of a big, shadowy man sneaking through my door.  That’s this illness.  A huge black presence that creeps in and does despicable harm.

I’m nearly hysterical thinking I might gain back the weight I’ve lost this year.  I don’t trust my conviction or my strength.  I don’t believe I can really change my life.  I only see the pattern that leads back to fat and crazy.

I don’t believe my new friends are real.  I don’t believe I’ll ever finish my book on my fight with this illness.  I’m terrified that I’m getting worse, remembering the studies I read that said bipolar disorder rots the brain and eventually leaves the patient stupid and demented.

I’m sure the flurry of activity on my new Etsy site was just opening day traffic from everyone I sent an email.  Now it will sink into oblivion, but I fuss and fret over it—making more cards and adding them to the shop, worrying about being fair, trying not to hope and doing it anyway.

Who is this panicky, desperate, tearful woman?  How can I be this petrified and isolated when just a few months ago I was riding the Bad-Ass train to a new and improved life with a cadre of companions?

I am not helpless.  I still have tools, even if they don’t work very well right now.  I’ll get myself to the Y, get in the water, and stay there until something shifts.  I’ll either break down in tears, get furious, or exhaust myself.  Any of those will be better than this jagged hopelessness.  I’ll call my therapist and pour out this jumble so she can help me sort through it.

I’ll go to a different cafe and journal.  I don’t think I can bear going to Haven anymore, even though they won’t close for another month.  The stink of failure and sadness is stronger than the coffee now.

I’ll get outside and walk with my iPod draped over my neck in the cozy I made out of a sock and a shoestring.  I’ll walk the cool, autumn streets and breathe.  I’ll let the music do its work and keep walking.  Walking back to a different place on the bipolar spectrum.  Walking through the fear.  Walking back to myself.

“Feed Your Hunger. Quench Your Thirst.”

I found out my coffee shop will be closing its doors for good on November 1.  Small businesses struggle all across the country, but our town eats them for snacks.  Haven limped along for almost three years, and even though it had faithful customers, it operated at a loss the entire time.  The end was inevitable.

Since my depression is treacherous at present, I can’t allow myself to consider the implications.  November first is a lifetime away.  No need now to mourn or worry about how I’ll spend my mornings.  Instead I comfort myself the way I have over the last three years—sitting in the sunshine at “my” table with a bit of breakfast, chatting with the other regulars, and writing.  Always writing.

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