I See You

Sometimes it takes a shock to wake up.

Yesterday I was slapped into a deeper appreciation for all the kind, generous and courageous people in my life.  I see you, and I’m so very grateful for you.

Thank you for doing the hard work with me of untangling our misperceptions so that we can see each other more clearly.

Thank you for sticking with me when I’ve scared you.

Thank you for teaching me what kindness looks like.

Thank you for understanding when I disappoint or fall short of your vision of me.

Thank you for being a role model of Not Taking Things Personally.

Thank you for your humor and making me laugh out loud when I need that most.

Thank you for coming to me when I’ve hurt you so that I can make amends.

Thank you for hugs, and Kleenex, and open invitations.

Thank you for all your cumulative years of wisdom that guide and level me.

Thank you for accepting me as I am, sane or crazy, smooth or rocky, gentle or snarky, and loving me anyway.

Thank you for a depth of kindness that touches me so deeply I can’t help but weep.

Thank you for reminding me of all the beauty around and within us.

Thank you for giving of yourself to save me from myself, and reminding me that It’s All Good.

I am truly blessed by an abundance of Love and Light that shines out from those who love me.

Thank you.

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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.

Learning

Learning how to write with watercolors

 

Learning how to use my Wanting

 

Learning how to stay when all I want to do is go.

 

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.

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.

Dangerous Beads and Other Distractions

Bronchitis: Start of Week 4

Sometimes I wonder if the total of my existence is a practice in patience.  The Art of Waiting.  The Zen of Dealing in the Now.  I get so many opportunities.

Anyhoo, this is what I’m up to while I wait for my lungs to clear and my voice to come back.

I found a British detective series at the library starring the 5th Doctor Who (Peter Davison). “Dangerous” Davies is literally the Last Detective his boss would send on a case.  He’s a milquetoast, a butt of all jokes, a kind and gentle copper in a department full of cynical creeps.  I loved it.

I always need something to do at my craft table when I’m sick.  Luckily, the birthday present I made for my therapist took a wrong turn, and I had to rethink it. I’ve been sewing beads for six days now, which is a perfect, mindless activity for a head full of snot.  And I like where the piece is heading.

Before I got croupy, I’d cut squares for a quilted wall hanging.  A friend, who works at a paint/flooring shop, gave me all their upholstery sample books last summer, and I pulled out bits I thought might look nice in my bedroom.  I used a very old scarf of my grandma’s as a focus and built the progression of squares around that.  In my infirmary, I’ve sewn the top together, layered it with batting and a back, and am now ready to start quilting.  I think it will look lovely on my wall.

I’m not journaling much, but I did try something new.  I’ve shifted from paint to organic stuff that stains.  Organics like tea and spices are subtle and leave the paper soft.  Coffee is my favorite.  I make a pot, then take the filter full of wet grounds and scrub it over the paper.  The thin filter eventually ruptures and I leave the scattered grounds on the paper all day.  Sometimes I add a few drops of ink to the grounds for subtle color.

This time I sprinkled sea salt on top and spritzed the pages with water just to see what would happen.  I’m sorta loving the result.

Taking a shower may still zap all my energy, and trying to talk gives me a headache, but I’m doing stuff, which makes me feel less like a zombie.  And it makes waiting so much easier.

Reset

It’s Week 2 of the latest Bronchitis Bout.  Like bipolar disorder, there’s really nothing new about getting month-long lung crud.  It happens.

Sorta amazing, really, this blasé acceptance of whatever the day brings.  I’m not always this cool, but it’s such a gift when I can be.  Seems to me I was raging right up to the point of chills and fever.

A physical shock often resets my bipolar rheostats.  Two weeks ago, I was text-wailing at my friend Lily, taking offense wherever I could find it, and wrestling paranoid thoughts to the mat.  Today, I did laundry and cleaned up cat barf with nary an emotion in sight.

Except a little glee.  I started a goofy spread in my art journal based on something I cut out of an old magazine years ago: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”  I worked on this one little piece while my laundry tumbled, and it just made me happy.

Sorta amazing, really.

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

Is It Soup Yet?

whisper-of-vomit

Sometimes I wonder if it’s time to take this blog off the stove.

I don’t really have much more to say about my experience of bipolar disorder.  I’ve spewed.  I’ve wallowed.  I’ve raged.  I’ve picked up shiny objects along the path and given them a look-see.  I’ve made lots and lots of Plans.  I’ve fought hard and surrendered.  I’ve changed my tune as often as my mood.

i-am-largeThere’s no end-point, no resolution, no Ah-Ha Moment or Happily Ever After.  For me, now, there’s just the daily practice of being me and trying to accept whatever shows up out of the bipolar soup.  There’s still pain and confusion, but also moments of soft contentment.  I struggle every day with relationships, but so does everyone else on the planet.  Periods of suicidal thinking will rise and fall as will my ability to function in the outer world.  So be it.

Still.

New stuff keeps surfacing out of this tepid bouillabaisse.  Since my therapist and I started working with my PTSD symptoms, my internal weather seems different.  The barometric pressure of trauma feels different from that of rapid cycling.  Free-floating fear now follows a pattern.  Opening the windows to let in fresh air turned out to be much less horrific than I’d imagined.  And I have new tools.  Gotta love new tools.

vocabulary-ninjaAside from writing about my practice of mental illness, I’ve posted enough fan-fiction to satisfy my ego.  Yes, I am a writer.  Yes, I can craft a decent story.  I don’t need to prove anything anymore.  Like Popeye, I yam what I yam.

Still.

I will take these six years of blog posts and rewrite them (with maybe a help of essay rewrite service) into a book of essays that I’ll self-publish sometime this year. Writing is still important to me—not just communicating, but crafting a sentence, weaving a metaphor, developing a thought.  Is the challenge to go deeper?  Is there a story in acceptance as well as agony?  If I stopped blogging, would I search as hard for balance?  Do I need this blog to keep me on the Path?

woohooAnd then there’s the art.  Illustrating posts with my cards and collages still lights up my ego.  I can feel it light up—all bloat and gas—and wait for the comments to roll in.

Still.

Sometimes, a piece holds more therapy than ego.  It carries a different flavor, adds savory and smoke.  It blends with the words to create a richer meaning for me.  I’m not sure ego ever disappears, but when words and art blend in this way, my ego gets quieter.  And when the ego shuts up, all kinds of doors can open.  This magic happens in my art journal.  I’m not sure it translates here.

Almost every blogger I’ve read comes to this crossroad—continue or stop, take a break or refocus.  I need to hold these questions gently and keep showing up while they simmer.  Because no matter what…

I’m on an Adventure.

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