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.

Brain Ferrets

Noise in My Head

I’ve learned it’s never a good idea to listen to my brain, especially when the noise is negative. And adamant.  So, I’ve stuck my fingers in my ears a lot over the summer.  Lalalala.  I can’t hear you.

But brains are insidious, crafty, gray matter ferrets. Mine can sniff out a weak spot and gnaw until there’s room for a nest.  Pretty soon, baby brain-ferrets slink through the cracks of my reality.  They shred everything, those little stinkers, until fact, delusion, awareness, perception, fear, and anything else they find turn into one, pulpy mess.

I wouldn’t mind this so much if they’d just shut up about it. Unfortunately, I speak fluent Brain Ferret.

chewingWhy even go to church?  You can’t make any commitments. You can’t even sign up for fun stuff like the Murder Mystery dinner or the music concerts without cancelling most of the time.

Shut it, Boba Ferret.

And nobody noticed that you didn’t attend all summer.

Yes, they did. Scott and Karen said they missed me.  And what about those emails from Linda and Sally?

Months ago.  That’s not the Community you hoped for.

Shut up, Ferret Bueller.  They’re not mind-readers.  They can’t know I’m brain-sick unless I tell them. Contrary to your opinion, I’m not the center of everyone’s universe.

You wanted to participate, teach meditation, work on Social Justice teams.  Face it.  You can’t do that stuff anymore.  You’ve lost the capacity to be around people.

Well … Maybe …

ferretsYou lasted 30 minutes at your cousin’s funeral this weekend before you had to bolt and find a quiet place outside.

I know …

And those are people you’ve known all your life.

Stop.  Just stop a minute.

You’re losing your social skills.  Your tolerance for distress is shrinking.  You’re getting worse.  Maybe your brain is starting to rot.

Sometimes it does feel that way.

And that stupid art journal.  What is that crap?

Listen here, Family von Ferret, I see the mess you’ve made here.  I can’t sort it out right now, so I’m just shutting this door…

WE’LL CHEW THROUGH IT!

And I’m calling the Exterminators.

ferret2• • •

Uh huh.  That’s right.  Slink back to your nest and stay there!

We’ll be back.

Yeah, I know, Arnold Schwartzenferret.

I know.

Soothing The Troubles

Haven2I’m finishing up a Haven marathon.  If you’re not familiar with this SyFy Channel show that got cancelled last year, think Stephen King (it’s based on one of his stories) when he’s not at his best.  Hokey, repetitive and, at times, incomprehensible, but with enough great characters and moments of genius dialog to keep my attention.  Gloria, the smart-ass coroner, is worth it all by herself.  And Dwight, the Chief of Police, isn’t hard to look at either (This GIF is from an episode where they switched bodies—one of my faves).

Dwight & Gloria

The folks in Haven, Maine have Troubles—like attracting bullets, or talking to the dead, or blowing up anything they touch.  I always liked that understated description for the load of misery the townsfolk suffer.  Troubles.  I’ve unofficially adopted it this summer.  As in “my Trouble is flaring up.”

Which it did today.  I got a naggy, creepy-crawly feeling that something bad was about to happen, sort of a Stephen King version of anxiety.  Everyone looked suspicious and a little dangerous.  And I was worried about screwing up my art projects.

However, I finished a couple of things without unfixable mishaps.  I put together my first art journal in over a decade.  Even though the memory of making those first ones got lost in the ECT void, I kept the written instructions and assembled all the ingredients over the past couple of weeks.  I watched the Dark Fret try to stop me from finishing today, but pushed on.  Somehow, it helped to have this new journal done.  I did it.  While Troubled.

IMG_0771

Front Cover

IMG_0774

Back Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also finished a new piece for my front door.  The text comes from Stephen Dunn’s poem, Reversal, which I loved so much I posted it a few days back.

IMG_0780

I worked on this for weeks, waiting after each coat of paint or bit of grunge to see what would arise.  Working with matte medium and fabric for the first time, I panicked over the result, then took sand paper to it and loved the effect. Yesterday I tore apart an old alarm clock for the gears.  Today, I finished it with gloss medium and hated it.  My Trouble screamed, “Ruination!”

The negativity and fear my Trouble conjures up slips into my body like an old, familiar song.  But, practice helps me turn down the volume and remember there are no mistakes—just unexpected detours.  Art work, fiction, life may not turn out the way I envision them, but they turn out.  Most of the time, those detours are the best part of my day.  Troubled or not.

Welcome Home, Old Friend

Rage

Rage seems to be intrinsic to my flavor of bipolar disorder.  In a mixed state, where symptoms of both depression and mania manifest, my “manic” is some form of agitation—anxiety, compulsive behavior, or rage.

I made the journal spread above in the midst of anger so black and sharp I could barely breathe.  I painted over the picture on the right—mini-me with my dog, Rebel—then slashed at it with a steak knife.  The violence stunned me, violence aimed at myself, at the innocent and vulnerable part of me.  I painted in the gouges, then echoed the savagery on the opposite page.

I left it that way for several days, coming back to take in the images and process the layers of Truth I’d uncovered.

I used to believe there must be a reason I got so mad.  I used to sort through all the old betrayals, snubs, and layers of unfairness in my cheesecloth memory.  But, there’s no reason for my rage other than funky brain chemistry.  Trying to justify it only throws napalm on the fire.

Rage is just another part of me, like the creeping hopelessness that sits on the other end of the spectrum, like my blue eyes, like the way I put words or colors together.  And like everything else, the only thing to do with it is welcome it home.  That’s when I pulled Thich Nhat Hahn’s Anger off my bookshelf and found the words my Rage needed.

Today, this moment, contains no rage.  This morning I wrote in my journal next to The Dalai Lama:

Dalai Lama

“When the symptoms are big, there’s always this base undercurrent of failure, a deep Mariana Trench of wrongness, that awful and vague sense that I should be doing something else/more, that I should be something else/more.  It negates all that I do and all that I am.  It robs me of any satisfaction or sufficiency.  Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to these journals now.  They are so immediate.  The rush of rightness washes over me without any censor.  Pictures together tell an immediate story.  Color bypasses thought.  The soft texture of the Pan Pastels signals instant comfort, and I feel masterful… I feel incredibly lucky and grateful for this tool.”

Yes, I do.

The Adventure Continues.

Primatives

Breathing with my Fingers

As my current bipolar season continues, I’m ever so grateful for this new tool of Art Journaling.  Since there are several stages to creating a spread, I can always find some piece that will fit my state of mind.  Whether it’s pulling images out of my stash for the collage bits:

Civil War Spread

 

Or finding new ways to use text:

Air Spread

 

Or slipping into a Zen state while making boarders and lines:

Into the Storm Spread

 

Or trying out a new tool, like this very fine tipped Pilot marker:

Eyeballs

 

I can camp out at my coffee shop with my journal and let my illness be.

Megan, my therapist, said I’m not fighting it anymore, and that feels true.  It seems to be getting easier to accept whatever my illness brings—the quicksilver changes in mood, the sudden shifts in functionality.  Those things aren’t good or bad anymore.  They’re just me.

I still try to stuff myself into a “normal” sausage casing sometimes, expecting to move around in the world the way other people do.  But, as I sit with my journal, with all the space it creates in my head, I’ve started to unhook from those expectations and get curious about how I might move differently in the world.

Today, for example, I looked at how I keep trying to make commitments (like being on a committee or taking a class) when my illness makes that nearly impossible.  At some point, when my symptoms become severe, I’m forced to drop everything.  So, instead of continuing to bash myself over the head for being “unreliable,” perhaps there’s another way.  Maybe it’s a matter of showing up when I’m able.  I know the world doesn’t work this way, but I do, and I would like to honor that more.

More acceptance.  More integration.  That seems to be a by-product of all this artsy-fartsy stuff.  I’m breathing more with my fingers, slipping into meditation with color and line.  It’s a new kind of Practice.

I’ve come to a place with my art that I found a while ago with my writing—loving the mistakes and crap as much as anything that “turns out.”  The Shitty First Drafts and the Muddled Attempts are my best teachers.  They point me to the next piece of Practice.  They’re the ones who taught me to accept it all—my writing, my art and, of course, my bipolar disorder.

Funny how that all comes together.

I’m on a Funny Adventure.

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.

 

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 12

Golden Valley, AZ (9:00 AM Pacific) to Durango, CO (6:30 PM Mountain).  469 miles.
Notables: (for singing loud) Wailin’ Jennys Live

IMG_0264 (1)So much for good intentions.

Melanie, my host in Golden Valley, lassoed me as I was loading the car, and we ended up gabbing for an hour in a sort of open-air living room;  old couch, recliner, and side table under a trellis in the front yard.  Magnificent view and another magical connection.

I cut loose before she could give me a tour of the property, though.  Like Mr. Frost, I had promises to keep.  And miles to go before I sleep.  Miles to go before I sleep.

So off I went across Arizona, through Hopi, Navajo and Ute land. There, buttes and mesas dominate; brick-red sedimentary formations.  Sometimes ponies pastured on top of them, which made for an unbelievably cinematic silhouette against the cloudy sky.

MV_dramatic_sky_jan_2011I spent most of the day on a two-lane highway with no rest stops and long patches of nothing between gas stations.  We women of a certain age don’t do well without regular “rest” stops.  Luckily, I grew up on a farm and knew how to duck into a cow path off the road.  Some skills never die.

I had texted my friend, Robert, and my Durango hosts about being late.  Robert said not to worry.  I never heard back from my hosts.  So, when I got to their drive, and the gate was chained and locked, I fretted.  Soon, Ginger drove down the lane toward me.  They thought I was coming the next night.  What worried me even more was that Robert said the same thing; he thought I was coming the next day and couldn’t have dinner with me tonight.

Did I get my dates mixed up?  It would have been so easy to do with all these B&Bs to keep straight.  I had a text exchange with my sister earlier in the day, and she noted that I didn’t give myself much down-time or slack in my schedule.  True.  And no place for fuck-ups.

All this really threw me.  Even though Robert and I made plans to meet for coffee tomorrow morning, even though Ginger apologized and said they’d looked at their AirBNB calendar wrong, I had to sit in my car for a while and bawl.

I know I’m tired, which makes me more reactive.  It also makes me more rigid (Go With The Flow went).  I felt choked by disappointment and embarrassed by weeping in front of strangers.  And really bipolar.

A teensy part of me watched all of it happen.  That part cooked Ramen noodles.  That part talked to Ginger and Phil about their old dog, Zeke.  That part took a deep breath and held the exhaustion tenderly.  That part of me is okay.

It’s getting bigger by the minute, that teensy part.  Pretty soon, all of me will be okay.

Again.

And still.

Westward Ho! Day 11

Mill Valley, CA (9:30AM) to Golden Valley, AZ (9:10 PM).  623 miles.
Tunes: The California Mix (Eagles, Linda Ronstadt & Jackson Browne)
Audiobook: The Number One Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

I forgot that today was going to be my longest day on the road, so I really kicked myself for getting a late start.  I texted my host in Golden Valley along the way to update her on my ETA.  Unlike other AirBNB hosts, she was totally cool with a late arrival.  So, then, I just relaxed into the day.

John navigated us smoothly through the Bay area snarl (maybe it was a good thing to have missed rush hour) and got us headed in the direction of Stockton.  This excited me to no end as visions of Jared, Nick, Heath and Audra danced like sugar plum fairies in my memory. The Big Valley (or The Pig Valley, as I called it, starring Miss Barbara Stan-pig) played a seminal role in developing my fan-girl.  What is it about middle-school girls and horses?

However, we turned south towards L.A. before getting to Stockton.  Sigh.  I tipped my proverbial hat in the Barkleys’ direction.

Freeway signs warned that the ticket for texting while driving was $161.  As I am now a reformed seatbelt-wearer, I kept my phone in my purse and hoped fiddling with my GPS didn’t count.

Mojave_0551The highlight of yesterdays trek down most of California was entering the Mojave desert at dusk.  The mountains there were a completely different kind of animal as compared to their cousins up north; bare, tumbled rock stacked like the spines of prehistoric lizards.  At first the landscape seemed stark, but it owned every color of brown (slate, white sand, bloody rust).  Sage, scrub and Joshua trees dotted the sear plains.  I rolled down my window in the 93° heat to get a whiff of the parched, pure air.  And as darkness crept out from the rocky shadows, the thrill of it–me in the desert with nothing but stars and a few trucks trundling beside me–snapped me awake with joy.

IMG_0526To get to Melanie and Mel’s place, I had to take a twisty, two-lane highway through a tip of Nevada (instant Casino-land) and into Arizona.  We didn’t get lost once.  Melanie ran out of the house with her arms wide in greeting.  How lovely to have this funny, caring stranger waiting for me!I got a big basement room, complete with kitchenette and composting toilet, with a walk-out onto a fabulous garden, where you have another composter (I start checking the composter reviews myself, this thing is quite a nice one).  Very cool art on the walls, too.

IMG_0527I’m sorry I can’t stay and enjoy the desert ambiance.  It’s 7:14 and I’ve got to shower and get going.  Today I go to Durango and meet another bloggy friend, Robert.

And I shant be late.

Westward Ho! Day 9.5

Roseburg, OR (9:30 AM) to Mill Valley, CA (7:00 PM). 462 miles.
Other Notables: Sting’s Brand New Day.

As I said in my previous post, yesterday started out in bipolar sludge.  But, it didn’t stay there.

IMG_0471I asked my Cat Whisperer to send photos of The Boys, and she responded lickety-split.  It helps to see that, while they miss me (evidenced by nervous spew), they look and act like themselves.  Emmett hides.  Henry dominates.  Eating and drinking and litter-boxing continue.  Nothing there for my worrisome thoughts to stick to.IMG_0468

I abandoned my Great Idea of taking most of my food with me in a borrowed cooler.  What seemed like a frugal adventure in South Dakota got boring food-wise and too high maintenance for me (like finding room in someone’s freezer every night for my ice bag).  In rebellion and shear peevishness, I stopped at KFC for lunch.  Then, at a gas station near Williams, California, I trashed my week-old Clementines and dumped the ice.  Instant relief.

knobAround 6:00, about two hours north of San Francisco, I felt a subtle shift.  Like an old TV channel knob, I felt the click–just one– to a higher frequency.

I noticed how the light, slanting in from the west, lit up the hillsides like chartreuse fire.  Those terran White Whales, furred over by tender spring greenery, breached the flat olive groves with house-sized barnacles casting long emerald shadows.  The beauty of all that blazing green did something to my brain.  Or my brain changed channels enough for me to appreciate it.  Tomato.  Tomahto.

IMG_0447I got to my nest for the next two nights; a  real nest in the middle of the redwoods.  All the houses in this neighborhood hang from the cliffs like aeries.

IMG_0451Mary met me as I parked in her carport as directed.  Thin, with a soft-spoken Scottish burr (yes!), she took me down the stairs from street level to the studio room under the carport.

IMG_0454I get my own little patio to commune with the trees and a completely private space.  More beauty.  More hospitality.  More gratitude.  I cooked up my Ramen noodles (not all foodstuffs ended in a dumpster) and felt better.IMG_0456

I don’t even mind (much) that there’s coffee and a coffee maker, but no cream or sugar. And nothing even remotely resembling breakfast.  There is, however, a tiny bottle of olive oil and a toaster over.  The second “B” in B & B, I find, is open to much interpretation. IMG_0455

I don’t care.  It’s a brand new day.

 

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