Gratitude Snapshot

Sitting at my desk, mellow and comfortably in the middle of my bipolar spectrum, Emmett’s tail touches my leg in a whisper.  Rhythmic, gentle, it asks for attention.  But his little bowl holds fresh food, so I wait, knowing my non-answer will send him to investigate.

Our communication is easier without Henry.  While I still miss my Companion, I give thanks for this time with Emmett—to offer him more and to open to his lessons.

There is only Today, this Moment—the quiet of a Sunday morning, the rumble of a train, a clock ticking, the faintest whiff of vinegar from my cleaning lady’s efforts.

The air conditioner kicks on.  Time to settle into a project for the day.

Choosing to be Vulnerable…or Not


“We waste so much energy trying to cover up who we are
when beneath every attitude is the want to be loved
and beneath every anger is a wound to be healed
and beneath every sadness is the fear that there will not be enough time…
Our challenge each day is not to get dressed to face the world
but to unglove ourselves so that the door knob feels cold
and the car handle feels wet
and the kiss goodbye feels like the lips of another being
soft and unrepeatable.”

 

~ Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

Over the past several weeks, the concept of vulnerability and its importance to intimacy has followed me like a stalker.  At the same time, I heard from a friend about how sad and hurt she is over my silence and disconnect; I swore at my sister (via text) for the first time in my life; and I annoyed another close friend with my narcissism (my words, not hers).

I believe without a doubt that I’ve lost the ability to listen deeply to others.  Compassion and caring used to be important to me.  They were qualities I purposefully cultivated and practiced.  I believed in the power of kindness to change the world around me.  I have also felt that belief dribbling out of me over the past decade.  I’m easily annoyed and impatient with other people’s problems. I avoid social settings and leave when I feel my tolerance unraveling. Mental illness has made me guarded, judgmental and mean.

There’s a reason therapists caution against isolation—not just because human connection is vital to all forms of health, but because the mentally ill are already vulnerable, and making real connections with others requires us to risk being more vulnerable.  It’s too hard, too painful.  So much easier to barricade behind thicker and thicker walls, then complain about being lonely.

I can see the path I’m on leading to life as a hermitic sociopath.  Maybe I’ve binge-watched too much Dexter, but I can identify with his lack of empathy and complete self-absorption.

Then, Tara Brach, or my therapist, or an article in a magazine suggests an alternative path—to “unglove” as Mark Nepo puts it.  It’s painful and terrifying.  It seems like too much work that requires more courage, more bad-assery, more, more, more.  To be fair, Tara suggests gentleness and tiny acts of willingness.  I’m not being asked to tear down the walls, just look at them.  Or sit with my back against them and feel their warmth and strength.  Still, I don’t know that it’s worth it.

And I don’t know if I have a choice.

 

 

 

 

 

A Year in Oklahoma

I try to follow a couple of rules with this blog—tell the truth and wait for the gift before posting.  When those are in conflict (the “truth” can be darn ugly when my bipolarness is in the Black), I tend to keep quiet.  As Dr. Phil’s dad told him once, “Never miss a chance to keep your mouth shut.”  A dear friend reminded me that I’ve been quiet a long time, so I’m here today with my truth and my gifts, such as they are.

It’s a perfect day in Oklahoma—sunny, 72 degrees bound for 81, a gentle breeze.  I will have been here a year this week— my willingness to accept and adapt, my participation in the world around me, and the focus of my life have gone through as many rollercoaster rides as my moods.  Today I am content and grateful for the gentle weather, the Work, and the projects that put art in the center of my life.  Here’s what I’m working on now.

I bought a $2 book at my favorite antique mall for the quotes, then tore the rest of the pages out to make background papers for cards and whatever else might need funky paper.  This is my kitchen counter this morning.

Right now, my studio table is putting together three new Libra cards.  I’ve loved the beading work on this one.  And I can look out the window at my “Rock Garden” and the first doo-dad planted there—a peace pole that says “Be a Steward of the Earth” (a reminder for me to get out and pick up trash).

 

In my bedroom, I’m thrilled with the utility cart I got from Dick Blick.  Everything within reach when I camp out on the bed with Emmett and the latest Netflix binge.  Rolling the cart around still freaks Emmett out, but he freaks easily (A moth got inside recently, which sent him into a frenzy).

Right now I’m working on my spread in our Art Journal Round Robin.  Our group decided to do another round, and the theme for the journal I have now is “Make Me a Garden.”  I had a bunch of tiny portraits, so I’m happily crafting flower hats for them—lilies, Japanese poppies (it tickles me to have Japanese TV characters for these), roses, a bunch of pansies (all men with glasses, though that was not a conscious connection.  It’s weird how my brain works sometimes), a clutch of hydrangea girls and a few oddballs.  I can’t wait to place them in a garden.

I’m also in the process of making my new series of Month cards.  They are more involved and layered with tons of collage elements.  Starting next week, the Civic Center will be hosting an arts/crafts event every first Saturday of the month through October.  I’ll be part of the Muskogee Art Guild’s booth, and I wanted something new mixed in with the other cards I make.  It will be fun to keep a month ahead, adding these cards to my inventory.

I’m also getting my last deck of playing cards ready to become bases for new Penny Positives.  It’s grunt work—covering them with gesso, adding paint, maybe a little design, and a sort of “trademark” to the back.  But, I like how they turn out, so it’s all worth it.

As I mentioned, arting is the center of my life now.  It keeps me from thinking.  I never would have believed that thinking might be something to avoid.  My intelligence was valued and praised as I was growing up, so I strived to be smart.  I discovered this year that thinking can lead me down a dark path where I focus and ruminate on feelings until they turn into truth.  This is the year I learned to get out of my head whenever I could and let my hands do my thinking for me.  I’ve learned that makes for a much more peaceful existence.

I’m 61 and still discovering on this Adventure.  Thank goodness.

 

 

Walk-About

Last Sunday, I took my first neighborhood walk.  I’ve wanted to get out there ever since summer went away, but the excuses… oh the excuses.  Somehow, last Sunday, the bright sun and mild temperatures snuck past all the barriers.  I laced up my purple tennies, stuffed a collection bag in my pocket and went.

My creaky knee complained, but it always complains, so I kept a slow pace.  I sorta had to—my exercise regimen since moving to Muskogee boils down to Old Lady Yoga once a week and maybe a few pool laps once or twice a month.  My old rhythm is gone and a new one hasn’t presented itself, so I’m pushing when I can.  I want to enjoy this place, and getting outside this winter will move my pendulum in that direction.

Leaving Edmond Street, I took Kimberlea Drive.  Traveling east from my duplex toward the country club, the neighborhood perked up—larger homes, sturdier fences, dogs with holiday attire.  I wondered if I’d find enough refuse and biologicals to revive my Walk-About Journal. Is street trash in moderately upscale Muskogee different from a park in Des Moines or the woods near Toledo? This was my mission.

The neighborhood felt familiar—with a few exceptions.  I get this a lot—a sort of Twilight Zone slippage of the space-time continuum—Braums instead of Dairy Queen, Sooners instead of Hawkeyes.  I wonder what cultural cues I’m missing.  My cousin in Tulsa kindly informed me of the real meaning of “bless your heart” (which conveys nothing beatific).  The part of my brain that wrestled with Russian and Vietnamese keeps lighting up.  No wonder I’m so tired.

Once I made it to the golf course, I hobbled to a bench, stretched my grumbling back, and turned my face to the sun.  A whiff of breeze on the waterway, a rustle of fallen leaves. Oh, yeah.  This was the Reason for the Season—to be in a quiet place smelling of sky.  This would be worth the body moans to come.

On my way back, I reminded myself to be present, to notice more detail—the wheat color of the grass, the young couple walking toward me in shorts and tee-shirts, the beauty of a lost Christmas ornament.

And then home again, to be greeted by my Gateway Guardians—Fu Dog, who came with me from Minnesota, and Guillermo the Goat, a recent hire.  I love the entrance to my home, tucked in the back corner of the complex.  My Guardians and a glass bowl full of crystals and stones I’ve managed to keep over the years welcome me with color and meaning.

Inside, I unloaded my foraging finds into soapy water and dug out the appropriate journals.  Some of the biologicals would make nice additions to my little Zen of Mental Illness journal.  The other refuse waited until after Christmas.

As always, Christmas triggered my bipolarness.  It is one thing about this unpredictable condition that I can count on.

I cared for myself the best I could, then tried not to take the whole weepy/distorted thinking/exhaustion personally.  Distraction is key, so before I visited my therapist on Wednesday, I camped at my favorite coffee shop and made trash art gleaned from my walk.  It tickled me, and that’s always the first step back.  One foot after the other, continuing on The Adventure.

My Anti-Hate Campaign…

…Or Training Myself to Grow Where I’m Planted.

In the wilting swamp of summer, with depression and agitation kicking up a Pig Pen Black Cloud, I found myself hating Oklahoma.  What I gained by moving seemed minuscule compared to what I’d lost.

Thankfully, I’ve done this work long enough to know I was not seeing the whole picture. I needed clarity.  I needed objectivity.  I needed to turn the Bipolar Bus around.

So, I started my Anti-Hate Campaign.

I pulled out a blank journal and started making A Plan—to be specific, to separate my “hates” into piles, and to brainstorm ideas on how to make changes.  I approached this journal like any other, painting and collaging the pages with care, using colors I love, letting the art of the process lead me.  Loving the journal itself encouraged me to pick it up and tackle the next phase.

I found that most of the “hates” I labeled unmanageable carried some seed of change, either in my perception or in a sideways action.  The state’s poverty and poor education system overwhelmed me, so I noodled about becoming more informed about specific problems.  I subscribed to the Tulsa World and looked for speaker forums to attend.  As other ideas come, into the journal they go.

The cooler weather brought all kinds of physical and mental relief.  I came back to ideas I’d had in April about making my duplex into a place of sanctuary and inspiration.  I rearranged my sitting room, painted and hung a screen door to be used as an Idea/Celebration Board, and found the perfect, Feng Shui-enhancing poster of Wonder Woman.

Outside, I asked permission to create a rock garden between the edge of my cement patio and the privacy wall.  I spent a satisfying day leveling ground and hauling rock, then sitting in my sister’s borrowed patio chair to enjoy the breeze and my handiwork.  Artful doo-dads and whirligigs will be added in due time.

Because of my journal and texts with my friend, Cheryl, I realized that hating where I live is just another bipolar symptom.  Anger, agitation and loathing rise up and attach themselves to whatever is handy.  An unfamiliar, uncomfortable place is a perfect target.  As I continue to do this Work of shifting perception and turning toward joy, I will learn to recognize that symptom sooner and take steps to be gentle with it.

And I will feel my roots growing deeper into Oklahoma’s red earth.

Countdown to Muskogee. . . 12

I waver over the line of leaving and arriving, trying to come back to today where they meet.  This David Whyte poem spoke to me before I even contemplated moving and became a part of the art journal that will be published in July.  I tore this spread apart three different times, trying to find my true connection to the poem and my authentic voice in it.  It was one of the first spreads I created in the journal and one of the last I finished.  It seems fitting—the struggle of leaving and arriving—to a place and to ourselves.

 

Countdown to Muskogee. . . 17

As a liberal Northerner, I have some preconceived beliefs about the South.  When I started looking at them, I realized I needed to bring all of the ugliness into the Light if I was to be happy there.  It was uncomfortable work.  I know enough about belief and selective perception that this work will be ongoing—to be mindful of looking for evidence that supports what I already believe and ignoring evidence to the contrary.  I want to be open to the beauty, the charm, the kindness and good manners of Oklahoma.  I want to love it there.

So, the Work begins.

I Wasn’t Cut Out to Be a Cheerleader

After tumbling around for a couple of months in the worst my bipolarity can offer, I resolved to set aside all thought, expectation, plans and hope of moving.  It would happen in its own time (in months, maybe, or even a year), but until then I needed to reengage with my life instead of living with one foot out the door.  The stretch of that cheerleader’s pose had strained my brain into a constant trembling.  Mental-muscle exhaustion.

I could feel the eminence of a raging relapse on the horizon.  I had to do more than Wait.  So, I made appointments with my therapist, reinstated my Y membership, asked my cleaning lady to postpone her scheduled attack on my Moving Out Cleaning List.  I asked my friends on dates, opening doors that I’d almost closed.

Armed with a new Plan, I slid my foot back inside the door of my life as it is, not what it might become.  I slept a little better.  My capacity seemed a little deeper.

And, of course, yesterday my sister called to say the Move is On.  The tenant I’m replacing is being evicted, and the townhouse could be ready for me as soon as mid-April.

handmade cards, collage artHowever, my new-found footing kept me from spinning at this news.  I’m sorry for whatever reason this woman must be expelled from her home.  I send my heart out to her, hoping she can find a better home, hoping she has support and help to transplant her to a place that is loving and absent of fear.  I also refuse to take note of that “mid-April” business.  It’s just an invitation to more brain-splits, and I’m not having it.

Worried, my sister wanted to know how I was taking this news.  I said I’d just do the next thing (scan and email her all the documentation required), then eat supper.  And if it falls through, that’s fine, because I’m on terra firma.

As I was scanning and emailing last night, I checked my In Box to find a new message from Art Journaling Magazine.  My journal passed muster, and I’ve been invited to write a 700-800 word article about it.  As one of the artists featured in that (as yet unknown) issue, I’ll be part of a forum where we’re asked questions like: How did you get started in art journaling?  What’s your favorite way to fill empty spaces on a journal page? How would you describe your style?

I had to laugh.  If there’s anything I believe in, it’s synchronisity.  In finding my balance and feeling my agitation and anxiety abate, I became ready for The Next Thing.  And after all my years of struggling to be a published writer, it comes to me now on the wings of an art form I love more dearly than writing.

The Universe is a perverse and whimsical partner.  But, I’m much better at dancing with It than I am at cheerleading.

7 Years and Counting

For A Mind Divided’s seventh birthday, I thought I’d look up my very first post.  Hmm…somehow this seems so familiar…

Insanity, Creativity and Living in the Now


When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I thought my life had ended.  And in a very real sense, it did.  Parts of my life fell off like flesh off a zombie–my home, my job, my friends, my ability to support myself, my ability to live independently.  In the months and years that followed, the lessons of living in the NOW and letting go of attachments kept repeating.  Living with bipolar disorder (BP) was like living in a constant fire.  It burned away everything I thought I knew about myself and how the world works.  But with fire comes new growth that could never happen otherwise.  I’m finding that to be true in my life as well.

While I always considered myself a writer, I also became an artist because of BP.  I needed a way to express the chaos I felt and the wild shifts from despair to joy and back again.  My study of the world’s religions deepened.  I explored the science and metaphysics of the brain.  I also fell in love with “Criminal Minds” and “Fringe.”

I invite you to journey with me into the overlapping realms of mental illness, creativity and spirituality.  There will be fire and ice, but also miracles.

Of that I’m certain.

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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