Saying Good-Bye Well

Yesterday, I said my last good-bye to Mark Stringer, the minister at First Unitarian Church of Des Moines.  He told us six months ago that he was leaving the ministry, and I’ve been grieving ever since.

It’s weird—we never had a private conversation, just exchanged a few words as I shook his hand on Sunday on my way out the door.  But in the three years that I’ve been going to First Unitarian, I’ve been able to share enough of my story with him to make a connection.

No, that’s not quite right.  I felt connected to him.

From the first service I attended, I knew this guy got it.  His sermons seemed like extensions of my therapy sessions, filled with the importance of mindfulness, compassion, acceptance, and awareness of our own realities.  He made me laugh and cry—usually at the same time.  Finally, after searching for years, I’d found a spiritual home and someone who spoke to the things that mattered to me.

PTSD makes me vulnerable to abandonment-thinking.  Bipolar disorder distorts any thinking into darker twists of hopelessness.  I knew I needed to work this through or I’d probably never go back to the church once he was gone.

So, I attended every Sunday service (once I recovered enough from my last bronchial bomb).  I cried (okay, sobbed) through each one of them, Kleenex box clutched tight.  I made myself look him in the eye after our hug at the door and thank him for the opportunity to do this work.  Some mornings I was too verklempt to say the words, but Mark would hold my watery gaze and say, “I understand.”

While I grieved, I also noted every friend at church who sought me out, every acquaintance who grinned when our eyes met.  I forced myself to see that FU (you gotta love a church with those initials) offered me real community and relationships beyond Mark.  I made a point of wandering around after services to find people I knew and admired in order to weave another thread into our connection.

Yesterday we held his celebratory Farewell Tour at the performing arts theater of one of the city’s high-end high schools (very lovely).  We needed room enough for the whole congregation to honor Mark’s sixteen years of service.  He came to us straight from theological school and is moving on to be the Executive Director of the Iowa ACLU.

I wept like everyone else, touched by his words and deeds (he performed the first same-sex marriage in Iowa), amazed at all he and the church had accomplished (doubled the membership and increased FU’s legislative presence on issues of justice).  But, my tears were of joy and gratitude, not grief.  I spent yesterday talking to my friends, making sure I told the speakers and the choir now much they moved me, and asking questions about the ministerial search process.  I did what I set out to do—I said good-bye well.

It might be good for me to get involved in the Search process, since who “ministers” to me is so very important.  But, I’m tucking that thought away until I learn more.  Will the various committees be able to use a bipolar member who lives an hour away and who may not be able to follow through?  Can I allow myself to be that vulnerable?  Can I get involved and accept my limitations?

It wouldn’t be an Adventure without some mystery and a little risk.

Here’s the first sermon I heard Mark deliver.  Seventeen minutes is an eternity in blogland, but it might be worth your while.

Chicory Days

Earlier this week, mixed-state depression settled in like chicory coffee—black, thick, bitter—and I panicked a little over the mental discomfort.  Seems like I’ve lost all my stamina—physical and mental—and must remember to be gentle while I rebuild both.

Thrashing around last night, trying to find something to ease the cramped thoughts and emotional acid reflux, I remembered my Pinterest boards—particularly, the board I created for just this situation.  Braying Like a Donkey.  There are memes and videos that still make me guffaw, plus photos of celebrities and common folk laughing hard—lost urine and milk-squirting-out-the-nose hard.  While not everyone shares my sense of humor, I invite you to go look—just in case you need a pick-me-up.

Then, today at my regular Friday therapy session, I asked the staff to make marks in my art journal.  I knew they would, even though some consider themselves artistically challenged and prone to perfectionism (it felt sorta good to challenge them for a change).  I will take their marks (and the mangled flower one of them used as a paintbrush) and create something that that is ours.

I needed that.  I needed to engage with people who unreservedly adore me, who remember who I am when I forget, who ask nothing of me other than to be authentic.

This is stamina-building, finding new ways to beat back the darkness.

I did good today.

Muttering

mousy-ladiesI’ve stalled out in a mixed-state depression.  It’s nothing new, not even very noteworthy, but I’m always surprised by how it changes everything.  My perception becomes bleak and twisted, my body slow and creaky.  I miscommunicate and send mixed messages, because every part of my brain is mixed.  I’m confused and confusing.

Depression with rage is so uncomfortable, and so isolating.  I hate everyone.  Or am scared of them.  Ancient resentments and regrets rise up like specters out of unholy ground.  This is the part of my bipolarly existence that sees a life as a hermit as the only option.

I have a couple of mantras during these times:

Keep Your Mouth Shut

It Will Shift Soon

Just Wait

pretty-magazinesSo, I’m muttering mantras.  And looking at pretty magazines.

temp-poldark-poster2And watching Poldark.

 

 

 

And making art.

making-art

 

Lots of art.

What to Remember When Waking

sculpture1In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

orlys-class

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.

circle

 

 

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.

moms-passport1

 

You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?

—David Whyte

Traveling

sorrows-mother

I haven’t posted much lately because it’s been scary inside my head.  There’s a fine line between sharing my practice of bipolar disorder and giving voice to the blackest symptoms.  When self-loathing and unrelenting despair become the landscape of my mind, there’s no scenic overlook.  While I strive to be honest here, I also know the scenery will change as my brain rolls on down the road, and that perspective provides a much better photo op.

While I attended Lutheran Hospital’s out-patient program, I stopped taking medication for Binge Eating Disorder (BED).  We needed to see if it was causing my headaches and contributing to the irritability and rage.  Subsequently, all the BED symptoms poured back in—food mania and uncontrollable bingeing.  I gained 15 pounds and hurt all over.

BED creates a downward (outward?) spiral—more weight causes less activity which gives all that food more permission to stick around.  I was already morbidly obese, but was at peace with my body.  Without the Vyvanse, negativity and self-hatred stuffed my head like a Christmas turkey.  The spiral became a hopeless vortex.

Nothing in my bag of tricks helped.  Death fantasies dogged me, but I knew two things would always stop me from actually taking my life—my cats (who are getting old) and the book I haven’t written.  In a weird perversion of logic, I decided that I’d better get cracking on that book if I wanted it to be a party favor at my funeral.  At least I’d have a project to work on.

So, this past weekend, I stayed with my friend, Lily, in Minneapolis and met with another friend, Jinjer, to talk about her experience of self-publishing.

coming-back-to-myselfAnd a very bipolar-ly thing happened.  Being with these friends, who love me unconditionally, traveling out of the struggle of my everyday life and into a few days of watching Netflix in jammies and spicy tea in handcrafted mugs, jolted the positive neuropathways awake.  The hateful Muzak in my head stopped.  My friends’ tender care helped me remember myself.  All the bits and pieces that BED and depression tore off me, fluttered back like Monarchs to their winter home.  Art happened.

And a book will happen.

While I knew Jinjer self-published at least two books, I had no idea one of her many talents was designing books.  So instead of beginning a steep learning curve, I gawked at a path as smooth and clear as asphalt.  She will take my manuscript (when finished) with the accompanying artwork and midwife it through the process.  I started working on the second draft as soon as I got home (and also started back on Vyvanse).

This book is my legacy, not a parting gift.  It’s proof that I lived and survived bipolar disorder, BED, PTSD and whatever acronyms stick to me next.  Like this blog, it speaks to the speed of landscapes passing through a traveling mind.

I’m still on an Adventure.  And I’m making my own Atlas.

sorrows-mothercoming-back

 

Meet the Artist

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firstushow20

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firstushow9

firstushow12

 

 

 

 

 

 

firstushow13

 

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My first “show” launched at First Unitarian on December 4.  My thanks to Ann Mowery and Jean Tauber for helping me set up, to Sue Crawford for playing photographer, to my First U friends who showed up at the last minute, and to folks I’d never met before who wanted my cards now or exclaimed prettily over art journal pages.  It was an ebullient forty-five minutes.

Next?

TMy computer is in the hospital, gasping its last, I fear. So I’ll try to create a post with my phone. Technology–heh, heh–ain’t it sumthin’?

I finished the outpatient program and am trying to figure out what’s next. How do I re-engage with the human race? Aside from that being psychologically required, why would I want to?

No more Vyvanse, for one thing. It may have curbed some of my binge eating disorder, but gave me headaches and aggravated an old TMJ  injury. Aggravated seems the operative word here. The general consensus is that it also upped my “All People Stink” core belief, which may have contributed to a crankier-assed attitude this past year.

Mad Maxine

All I know is that it took weeks in group therapy before I could sit through the whole session. It was either bolt or punch some sap in the mouth. Not violent by nature, this impulse scared me a little. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say it also felt good. Which was scary in a whole other way.

Everyone in the group had issues with irritability (a common symptom of just about every mental illness), so we worked with it. A lot. So now I have a folder of “anger management” handouts in my Bipolar Badass arsenal.

Speaking of which, I designed myself a business card for my art show in December. Quite happy with the results.

Business Card 2016

Another “what next” was asking two of my friends who also suffer from depression and anxiety to form a Sanity Support group. We met last week, and the prognosis looks good for more get-togethers. This one stone could kill so many Crazy Birds for me that it’s hard to keep my WANTING in check. Patience, Grasshopper.

And since my computer is likely on its way to the Tech Morgue, I treated myself the day I discharged from the hospital with a 32 inch TV and a DVD player. No more incantations, Reiki treatments and uncomfortable yoga positions to get a disk to play in my wheezy computer. Now, all I need do is push a button. Pure Heaven.

New TV

The final “next” for now is working through the book Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manual for PTSD and Substance Abuse with my therapist. I’m sure the next “next” will rise from that.

Ours

Pale Simulacra

As the Veil thins

And the Wheel Turns,

May we open to the wisdom of those who came before.

Ancestors, known and unknown,

Who shaped our blood and bone,

Point us in a Direction

That we can follow

Or cast aside.

Still, their pull is undeniable

and, ultimately,

Ours.

Mean and Scary

mousy-ladiesSince my last post, words of love and encouragement, texts, phone calls, offers, cards and funny videos poured over and through me.

Part of it is Facebook. This was the first “I’m thinking about suicide” post that I put on Facebook, so some of this kindness comes from people I’ve not seen in decades—junior high school friends, relatives, etc.  They don’t know that, while serious, this is a side of the illness that comes around every few years.

Part of it is the word.  Suicide.  It brings out the panic in people.  It ignites folks like other incendiary words—God, Abortion, Trump.  And fire requires action.

Part of it is that kind people need to do something to help.  And they’re used to sicknesses that get better.  A little chicken soup, a little gift, and the icky stuff goes away.  They don’t understand that I’m always sick—more or less—no matter how sane I sound or look.  It’s a matter of degree.  A little chicken soup-kindness everyday would be lovely.

It’s been difficult—teaching about mental illness, resetting my boundaries, and reaffirming what I really need—at a time when I want to punch most people in the face.  This is not how one thanks everyone for kindness and thoughtfulness.

I isolate when I’m “unwell,” but this is something more.  I can’t seem to navigate the niceties of social interaction.  I can’t pretend to listen to other folks’ three-ring shit shows (and I normally do a grand job at that).  I can’t tolerate the nattering of voices or the pressure (albeit internal) of protecting others from my illness. I’m scary at present.  And mean.

The last thing I want to do is hurt kindhearted folk.  It’s one of my nightmares—shoving away everyone who loves me with this illness.  It’s such a huge disconnect—hanging on every kind word and pushing away the people who speak them.

All I can say is Thank You and I’m Sorry.  Don’t stop asking questions—not about what you can do for me, but about the illness.  I am a font of knowledge on mental illness and if you need to understand, I’m your gal.  That’s one interaction that won’t get you punched in the face.

Ask Already

Bipolar Mind

ψ

I forget that neuro-normals don’t always know how to bring crazy into a conversation.  I also know other folks with mental illness aren’t always as open as I am (i.e. in-your-face TMI) and have real reasons to keep their condition private.  So I grok that asking me how I am might be intimidating.  Old taboos, stigma, Midwestern Nice—for whatever reason, some folks are more comfortable asking other people how I am.

My sister told me about one mutual friend who said, “I know I’m not supposed to ask, but…”

Whaaaaa?

I guess it’s possible, during one of my Swampy Brain days, that I might have sprayed venom like a velociraptor if a human being invaded my space (which varies depending on the amount of Swamp).  Or muttered an F-word-laced answer to a direct question.  Or maybe just burst into tears.  It’s possible.

Gosh, I hope not.  I want people to ask after me—especially on those Everglades days.  When my hold on Reality is shakiest, I need to know people haven’t written me off or (horrors!) forgotten about me.  Kindness makes me cry, but I hope that isn’t a deterrent.

Come to think of it, inquiring directly about my state of mind could get pretty messy what with all the spittle, and weepage, and colorful expletives.  It might take someone with a HAZMAT suit and no sense of propriety.

I can live with second-hand concern.  I’m still touched by it.  And I apologize if a squirting, prehistoric potty-mouth responded to anyone’s approach.  I hope they try again.  I’ll use my words next time.

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