The Finger and The Moon

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Coming back today after a swift dip into the Dark Side.  This time I was triggered by an encounter.  I knew I was being triggered, felt the color bleed out and a numbness spread into my limbs.  Under the fear and vulnerability, a part of my brain murmured, “Huh. This is different.”  There is almost never a direct cause and effect to my flavor of bipolar disorder.  Watching something specific set me off was a new experience (I think.  My memory is Swiss cheese, after all).

At the time, I was horrified that I’d gotten myself in a position to be triggered, hated that I got sucked into opening up to someone I wanted to trust.  But, I also sent out an SOS to my Posse, and started Doing the Work, as my friend, Lily, says.

Part of The Work was to separate the event from the subsequent bipolar episode.  It’s like remembering that the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.  If you stare at the finger, that’s all you see.  Moonlight glints off the nail bed. It can be hypnotizing.  I dealt with the finger and was required to turn and face the moon.  The moon is familiar.  I know how to look at it—I have tools to deal with lunacy.  And I know that patience and acceptance is the only way to get through the night.

Another part of the Work was to hold in my mind that I was successful in turning away from the finger.  My sad and flagellating brain berated me for looking at it in the first place, but I had plenty of other voices telling me otherwise.  My posse told me I was brave to take a chance and compassionate as I gazed at it.  I needed lots of help to keep turning away and remembering that the moon was the proper focus of my attention.

I went through some white-knuckle days, but kept reaching out to the people who love me.  That act alone can be so hard when your brain tells you it’s weak, wrong, bothersome.  Oh, the crap our brains can tell us!

Today, I am so grateful for my friends and family.  And I’m even grateful for the luminous moon.

If you’re familiar with the Buddhist teaching about the finger and the moon, forgive me for bastardizing it.  I needed a way to separate the event from the symptoms that followed.  This worked for me.

The Weekly Penny Positive

It was my birthday on Wednesday. Just a regular day, but it was a good day.  Brain-wise, that is.  I’ve gotten a lot of response from the boxed set of Teenies.  I never thought about this being the beginning of the Christmas shopping season—it’s been a while since I worked retail—so I was overwhelmed by folks wanting up to four sets for Christmas presents and willing to be on a waiting list for them.

I had to step back, breathe, and kindly (I hope) say no.  I figured it took me about 5 weeks to put together that first little boxful.  And making those Teenies is a source of joy.  Part of the joy is opening to the piece, bringing in the right scrap, the right color, and delighting in the outcome.  I need to take my time.  I also need to set them aside and make other things that call me.  I was grateful and humbled by the response.  As I am grateful for my Skunk Totem for reminding me to maintain my boundaries.

That was my birthday present to me.

A Spot of Coppery Sunshine in a Gray Sky

It was a hard morning—one where the amphetamine doesn’t work and suicidal thoughts fill my empty cup.  I tried arting at the Starbucks in Tulsa, but couldn’t summon any interest, so started home sooner than expected.

As I drove I remembered that I’d dreamt about Barack and Michelle Obama two nights in a row.  In the dreams, I was happy,  hopeful, and part of a positive flow.  I thought, “Okay, this is where I need to take my brain today.”

As the negative images resurfaced, I summoned President Obama’s cheerful face, talking to me like a friend.  I felt the lightness of my dream-heart and the sense of rightness.

This spot of brightness in my gray morning reminded me of a project I’m working on—making sets of tiny Penny Positives like the ones I make each year for my friend Sarah.  I found tiny plastic sleeves to keep them protected and little paper mâché boxes that a set of 50 will fit into.  I planned to label the boxes “Penny Positives: A Spot of Coppery Sunshine for a Gray Sky.”

I also remembered that I’d sent both President Obama and President Carter Gratitude Postcards last week, telling them how much hope they add to my life.  I’m thinking I will spend time this afternoon making a new Gratitude List.  Maybe more people on that list will seep into my dreams, which might give my brain additional hopeful rest stops.

I’m better now—tired and slow-witted, but that part of depression isn’t nearly as frightening or dangerous as the Black Thoughts.  There’s a sense of being more skilled than my Black Thoughts let me believe, and there’s gratitude for that.

This Bipolar Highway is never-ending and ever-changing.  It seems like I’m being called to build more Comfort Stations now.  And the more I can build, the longer the Adventure continues.

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.

The Moment is Enough

Emmett has his own way of getting the day started.  He scuttles up to my pillow and whacks me in the face with his tail.  He’s not subtle, this second-fiddle cat who got promoted to Concert Master last December.  I consider myself trained.

From bedroom to kitchen in the gray, half-light, stiff joints find their rhythm.  The ritual of cat food alchemy and kitchen clean-up come from muscle memory, not any sort of gray matter function.  That, in itself, is a miracle.

It’s been a week since my new Medicare drug insurance ended the two month gap where I had no coverage.  I rationed three weeks of meds over those two months and learned, decisively, that Vyvanse helps the depressive part of my bipolar existence.  Without it, I made piles of my possessions in my mind with Sticky Notes of who should get them.  I slept a good part of the day and stayed in bed the rest.  All the hobgoblins nattered ugliness in my ear. I lived in a different sort of gray world.

With Vyvanse, windows of color open.  Joy slides in with the brush of Emmett’s tail and putting paint to paper.  A different ritual starts to reform—swimming, cafés, doing the next thing.  Gratitude resurfaces—for my weekly yoga class, for my steadfast sister, for the Salty Dog Ruccicino at the Erly Rush coffee drive-through.

A cardinal just flew across the parking lot—a blaze of color in the sunlight.  Limpy, the feral calico, prowls around the cars, waiting for opportunity.  Birds chirp.  Trains rumble.  The thought of getting a massage later in the morning creates a warm spot of anticipation.

In this moment, all is peaceful.  The moment is enough.

Being Fashionable

There are moments, days even, when the inside and the outside come together like haute couture.  The cool, dry sunshiny weather matches my mental shoes.  The new drug insurance company that gives me everything I need comes in chartreuse and lilac, Clear Mind’s signature colors.  Birdsong is slimming.  My kitten-soft cashmere mood finds sparkly bangles at coffee shops and radiant jewels in the little rolling mountains on my drives.

It is a gift, this feeling of being harmonious and put together well.  I can feel my brain swishing her kicky little skirt as I take my chai out to the patio where morning sun shines on emerald grass.  I am part of an expensive twin-set, and for now, I will enjoy being fashionable.

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.

 

 

Temba, His Arms Wide*

After a few days of sneaky depression, the kind of depression that makes it sensible to lie to my therapist about why I cancelled my appointment, I shoved myself out the door with my art supplies.

There’s always a point in The Black when It starts to thin, when a crack seems possible.  If I push too soon, The Black swallows me with doubt, failure, hopelessness.  I’ve learned to wait, to leave the insanity of my thoughts alone.  In The Black, waiting feels like giving up.  It’s not.  It’s just waiting.

At the coffee shop, I felt the crack.  Like a door ajar in the night, a thin line of light cut across my dark floor.  With that crack of light came a flood of gifts.  Real ones.

My friend, Sue, sent me one of her Care Packages full of Entertainment Weeklys, refrigerator magnets, a CD of her favorite show tunes and the most thoughtful piece of jewelry I’ve ever owned.  She had a necklace made from a picture of Henry.  It looks just like him.

Another friend texted to say that since I’ve always supported his music, he’s sending me an early (and secret, shhhh) CD of the songs he’s recorded so far in the studio.  I know he could be bigger than Billy Joel.

My landlord texted to say she sent my worries about the strong mold smell in my sitting room to Management.  They asked her and her husband/maintenance man to come check it out today.  I’m so relieved.  Visions of black mold have been dancing in my dreams.

An artist/teacher I met at The Muskogee Art Guild emailed me to say the drawing class I so dearly wanted to take and couldn’t afford would be covered by a scholarship.  And my friend, Sally, confirmed the date of her birthday party back in Iowa, so I can take a trip back home and take the class.

There are other gifts, but these blinded me.  Light does that when a person has been sitting in the Dark

I’m mindful of standing open-armed instead of denying or shaking off these gifts, receiving and being warmed.

I am full of color today.

*Caution: Star Trek reference.  The following YouTube bit doesn’t relate at all to this post, but I love this guy’s take on said ST:TNG reference.

Moments of a Quiet Life

 

The Monotony and Solitude of a Quiet Life Stimulates the Creative Mind. — Albert Einstein

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It’s been quiet inside and outside for a bit.  That’s always a gift.

In the space, I’ve been making a lot of cards.  I was called to make a sympathy card for my cousin’s son whose family just lost their dog.  It touched me so that I made more for my Etsy shop.  The words came from all the support and kindness given to me when Henry passed—especially from my friend Sue, who lost her cat, Lucky, last year.  She showed me the path I would be taking with my grief, and I wanted others to benefit.  I love this photo anyway, so I doubly love this card.

I started getting a drippy nose on Friday and thought a head cold was imminent, so I dragged my supplies into bed with me.  Of all the stuff I’ve done in bed (art-wise!), I’ve never made cards.  I keep so much STUFF to choose from, I thought it would be impossible.  But, it was good for me to get up and choose ribbon while pouring more grapefruit juice, wheel my paper box into the bedroom while soup irradiated in the microwave.  I made a dozen cards yesterday while flipping through one bad Netflix show after another.  And after a little fever spike and loading up on zinc, my cold seems to be gone.

I think this is An Oklahoma Gift.  In one of the shows I watched yesterday, someone said you either love the place you live or you don’t.  People who grow to love a place have just learned to ignore the things they still hate.

Is that a bad thing?  Does appreciation for the place where you’re planted have to be pure to be real?

In this quiet space, I can feel my gratitude for nine months without lung crud and the mild winter weather.  In the quiet, I can be thankful for lost cousins and reconnection.  I can use my hands and my stuff in different ways to touch others’ lives.

I’m on a Quiet Adventure.

Once Again, Thankful

I love my blog.  I never came here to do anything except tell my story—whatever that might mean.  I never expected to find deep connections.  I never expected to touch so many lives.  Or to be touched by so many.  The only conditions I placed on my posts were to tell the truth and to wait long enough to know what the truth might be in a given situation.

Keeping this space for almost eight years means it has also become my memory.  Electroshock not only eliminated 2006 and 2007, but continues to burn holes in the process that changes short-term into long-term memory.  I stopped fussing about that long ago.  Being forced to live in the Now is a pretty decent way to live.

As I think about making some sort of journal/tribute for Henry, though, I mourn all the stories I’ve forgotten, all the little details, the ways he, Emmett and I became a family.  So, when I sit down to write about him, I start with what I notice now.  This morning I wrote about how quiet the house is without him.  That thought led to another and another, stitching together fragments of memories into a surprising string of delight and appreciation.

And I come to my blog, where Henry’s stories remain clear and available.  I took more pictures of the cats so I could illustrate those stories.  How grateful I am to have this reliquary!  Who knew how smart I was in 2011 to fiddle around with WordPress?

As Emmett and I rearrange ourselves around and within the space that was Henry, I’ll keep coming here to share our truths.  Today, Emmett is soaking up the morning sun in the Alpha chair.  When I came home from yoga (noticing the silence instead of Henry’s irritated greeting), and saw Emmett basking, I took pictures.  This is an important moment for him, for us, for our life now.

The sun and the silence.  And the Adventure Continues.

(This song by the Wailin Jennys has always felt like Henry to me—his energy, his personality—so I share him with you in a slightly different way.)

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