Taking Up The Sword Again

After trying a couple of mood stabilizers (ie. anti-psychotics) in November and December, and going boo-boo faced and dipsey-doodle in several different directions, I told my shrink I’d take a break from drug trials through January.

The experience gave me what I hoped for—a chemical slap upside my brain that shook it loose from the depressive tar. Since Christmas, my mood has been noticeably better. I’m back to making art and moving ahead with my therapist.

Our current Adventure—one I vowed I’d never try again—is working with my compulsive eating disorder. But I’ve learned my lesson about saying never.

The first phase was to keep track of what I ate by Food Groups (protein, dairy etc.). Doing it this way seemed to drain out a lot of the shame and resistance. Even when I binged, I could still make my little tick marks.

My pattern is to try something new like this for a week or so, binge/gain weight/lose hope, and quit. I wanted to quit several times, but I’m still at it after three weeks.

This week we added a new task. After a lot of discussion and tears (on my part), my therapist gave me a tiny lava lamp that was actually a two-minute timer. Before I eat anything, I’m to watch those groovy bubbles for two minutes with the mantra “I am becoming aware.” After the two minutes I can eat whatever I want.

This does a couple of things. It interrupts the compulsion and creates a tiny gap for a bit of mindfulness to creep in.

I was terrified.

I also watched the bubbles. And DAMN if it isn’t doing exactly what Sonya said it would do.

I’m finding that the exercise calms my mind. The Observer moves in front of the compulsion and watches without judgment. Most of the time, I make healthier choices about what to eat after watching bubbles. I’m not as scared about my Drug of Choice being taken away from me. I’m not as resistant to reaching for bubbles before Cheetos.

I don’t know if I can break pattern and keep this up, but today I feel a little like Graham McTavish’s Dougal from Outlander (above). Sword in hand, the Bipolar Bad-Ass is back. With bubbles.

Tolerating the Discomfort

Years ago, a counselor at Mercy Hospital’s outpatient program in Des Moines suggested that we learn to stretch our ability to tolerate the discomfort of our mental illnesses. Such a benign term—discomfort. It hardly does justice to what really goes on inside a crazy person’s mind. But, it does keep us from catastrophizing the experience. Suffering, agony, or hysteria would be torture to tolerate. Discomfort seems more reasonable.

When I woke up at 2am again this morning, I knew I needed to follow this wise counselor’s advise. My mental and physical discomfort had been overwhelming me, and I needed to find a way to help myself.

So as soon as Starbucks opened at 6:00, I took this small journal and a few pens with the intention of just writing about the discomfort. My Round Robin art journal friends had used this size journal in our last project to send pages to each other. It contained their art, but I didn’t have to make anything. This felt important.

I had started this journal as a book of lists to send around to friends, hoping they would jot down their thoughts. That never happened, but the headings were still there. Some could be useful, Some not so much. I decided to use what might be helpful and leave the rest.

After I ranted a brain-dump on one of the blank pages, I felt a little calmer. I also thought a list of possible ways to stretch my tolerance for this discomfort might be the next step. I brainstormed (Ha! Such an apt term!) for a while and felt a little better still.

I had taken a clonazepam before I went to Starbucks, hoping to beat back the itchy, prickly panic. That little darling started to kick in, and I thought it best to go home and have a lie down. But before doing that, I tried a few things on my list: a nice hot soak with lavender bath salts, a fragrant candle, and a pair of comfy chenille footies. I turned on my new Audibles book (read by Pretend Boyfriend, Richard Armitage), and promptly fell asleep.

When I woke up, I took my little journal outside to sit in the sun and see what else might help me get through the day. As things came to me, I added them to my list, then checked them off as I practiced—like singing the Sia song “I’m Alive” loud enough to make all the neighbor dogs howl. I get so tired of their constant yapping that it felt powerfully naughty to sing so loud that they all shut up.

I took a little stroll around the garden in my bare feet (though my comfy footies waited on the patio for me). This helped my wobbly knee and gave me a sense of grounding. As my sissy bedecks the halls with her tubs of decorations, I needed a sense of myself (the non-Christmas atheist), my feet firmly on the ground, in the midst of the discomfort of my mind fighting its war with psych meds.

I have a new tool. A little journal to write about my discomfort and list ways to tolerate it a bit better. I need to add “Write a blog post” to the list, because this helped as well. It always does.

Getting Real

I just got back from getting my Real ID. It’s a perfect morning in eastern Oklahoma—bright, clear, cool—so the short drive over the Arkansas River with the pretty foothills in the southeast pulled my shoulders down from my ears. I’ve been fighting a sinus infection for the last week. Getting out and breathing in the beauty of today was better medicine than anything on my nightstand.

Getting a Real ID—the one that gives a person more access than a regular driver’s license—takes some preparation. This kind of red tape is stressful for me. Ghosts of Doing It Wrong rise up and cluck. But when I dug out my passport, it surprised me by still being valid. It also rolled out wonderful memories of my whirlwind trip to England in 2014 and stirred my current fantasy of visiting Scotland some far-off day.

Whirlwind Souvenirs

I was Real when I traveled to England, but realized I’d lost that sense of myself. Too much stress. Too many changes. Too many dreams abandoned—Trump, Covid, Oklahoma and adapting to life with my sister. My bipolar disorder wrapped me up like a quilt and bundled me into a safe, padded room.

Today, my illness feels lighter. Today, my art is coming back, like red-tailed hawks came back to Iowa after DDT left the ecosystem. The birds migrated to a place where their eggs could be viable, but eventually came home again when it was safe.

My art seems to be laying eggs again, too. I’m getting new ideas, using new elements, trying scarier and out-of-my-comfort-zone things. Like making little watercolor and marker sketches of my own to illustrate my cards.

A walk through my sister’s lovely backyard garden gave me lots of deadfall and other treasures to make some different kinds of cards. Sewing something so fragile feels like a meditation, and I haven’t been able to meditate in a long while.

My therapist and I are also working with a new (for me) kind of therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Lots of familiar behavioral and mindfulness elements presented in a new way. One of my first tasks was to sort through What Is Important To Me. Honestly, I wasn’t sure anymore, so that took time. And now I’m journaling about how I move toward those things or values. You can see how much progress I’ve made so far.

With this unmoored sense of self, I will have to dig to find ways I am actively seeking the things I say I value—if I’m doing that at all. And it’s scary to think how much they might have changed or if I just abandoned what I loved and valued. But that’s what therapy is for, right? To set a new course. To Get Real.

And maybe, when I’m a Real Girl again, and the Covid pigs fly, and the Border Unicorns prance open, I’ll take my passport to Scotland and breathe in the beauty there.

Oh, today I am blessed with Adventure.

Team Thanos

I was always Team Thanos when the Avengers movies came out. Honestly, the guy was misunderstood. Cut the population in half with no suffering. Cut across all political, social, and income levels. Bring the Earth (and every planet) back into balance. Covid is trying, but it’s not nearly as fair.

Tighter restrictions are back in place since the rise of active cases. I know a lot of people who refuse to get vaccinated, and others who think being vaccinated is the only precaution they need to take. Here in beef country, ranchers are dosing themselves with cattle dewormer instead of getting a shot. I think we deserve a visit from Thanos.

Today, I’d be happy to provide one of his vacancies. After a spell of soul-crushing depression, I got up this morning determined to Do The Work of managing my illness. I packed up my traveling art studio and headed to Starbucks… which is closed again. And it’s not like arting is a comfort anymore, though if I work really hard at it, I can find some distraction from the ugly in my head.

And from the growing sclerosis that continues to crystalize around my heart. It’s easier to feel nothing, to shut all doors, to cancel anything that brings me in contact with people.

Easier, but it also makes me feel less human.

Yeah, okay, I’m contradictory and contrary. Bite me.

Still determined, I stopped on my way home to get a healthy smoothie, pulling out the little bit of Bipolar Badass that hides in my hindbrain. I will art on my bed with Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD running in the background, and I will try to distract myself by making cards for the people I still have feelings for, even if I have to root around a while to find a soft spot in my heart.

If I can find it, I can nurture it with art. I know I can.

But if Thanos shows up for supper, I’m splitting a pizza with him.

Ten Years Blogging

Gosh, it seems I’ve been indulging myself on this blog longer than ten years. Maybe life with bipolar disorder is like dog-years. Or maybe the rift in the Space/Time continuum is actually in my head. Must talk to The Doctor about that.

I seriously thought about closing out A Mind Divided. I’ve told my story, shared my process, tried to wait until the Lesson was Learned before posting. It felt like there was nothing new to report, just recycling the same ups and downs. And I was in a long mixed-state episode, which makes me want to quit everything.

But then, I met a new bipolar friend, and I was reminded that our journey is all we really have to share. My posts may be numbingly repetitious to me, but to him (and maybe others) it’s new. Maybe helpful.

Going through a three-week episode and coming out the other side is part of the Long Journey. I know from experience that today is all I have, so I must make the best of it. I have a few moments to make amends and repairs (I’m sorry I yelled and threw pillows at you, Sissy), to pick up pieces that got left behind (reschedule the dentist appointment I forgot), to allow the art that wants to be made.

Mostly, today is for remembering who I am. I am not my illness. I am not alone. I am not the distorted, negative thoughts my illness conjures up. I am alive, and grateful, and surrounded by kindness and support. I am remarkable.

And, so, A Mind Divided continues.

A Report from the New Normal

A friend reminded me that I hadn’t posted here in a while.  Fact is, I have nothing useful to offer.

Severe depression seems to be my new COVID-era normal.  Art can’t touch it.  Drugs rarely provide enough energy to do a load of laundry or make a run to the grocery store.  Not often enough to consider myself “functional.”

In another time and place, I would be hospitalized.  As it is, I try to keep my head down as I slog through the Suicidal Ideation mire.  One foot in front of the other.

With no other options, I am shamelessly asking for help on FaceBook—from the friends and family who know me there.  Help comes.  Groceries and prepared meals from real live people near me; in cold boxes and online deliveries from those far away.  I’ve asked that folks clean out their desks and attics for collage fodder—old pictures, papers, receipts, music sheets, letters—anything flat and weird that might kindle a spark of creative oomph.  I’ve asked them to remind me who I am to them, if I mean anything at all, since I’ve lost perspective about all that.

I can’t wait for the cycle to shift anymore.  I may get a boost now and then, but my little marble rolls back to this trough with no real mood change.  Like everyone else in the world, I have to do things differently.  I have to ask for help, not once, but repeatedly.  I have to get over the shame of that, get over my upbringing, get over myself.

Just one more fucking Adventure.

Switching the Message

I am changing as the world changes.  My world kaleidoscopes inward, spiraling smaller and smaller.  Some days, it scares me.  Some days, I’m content.

Lately, I find little desire to create.  The art I made before holds little meaning or the kind of depth this changing requires.  Some days that scares me.  Some days, I’m content.

What soothed and distracted me before has lost its power.  I am left alone with my brain—the labyrinths and dark pits.  Some days they scare me.  Some days, I’m content.

I need a new banner, a new battle cry, because this—all this—feels like a battle.  But more like the battle a chick wages to emerge from her egg shell.  Something new is being birthed—in me, in the country, in the world.

I can’t choose between these two:

Never give Up. Never Surrender. —”Galaxy Quest”

Oh, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, that has such people in ‘t! —William Shakespeare

So, I choose both—the common sourced from silliness and the erudite sourced from genius.  Something new will shake out from their pairing, something with flavors of fear and acceptance, I’ll wager.

And I am willing.  Still on the Adventure.

Floating a Little

 

 

• Post Title and Inspiration:

Mary Oliver — Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled–To cast aside the weight of facts–And maybe even to float a little above this difficult world.

Petting the Black Dog

Searching for shows I haven’t watched (it’s getting harder, isn’t it?), I found Flowers—a very odd, very dark British comedy about family dysfunction, depression and madness.  It’s a total HOOT!  Plus, I love Olivia Coleman in whatever she does.

Anyhoo… this is the second or third time I’ve heard depression called The Black Dog as in “when the Black Dog is on him…”  It’s a delicious descriptor.  Littermate to the Hound of the Baskervilles.

So, I’m petting the Black Dog a lot lately.  He just seems pretty content to snooze on the rug indefinitely.  Gratefully, the amphetamine I take gives me a few hours of oomph before he crawls into my lap.  Here’s one of the things I’m doing with that time…

A while ago (who can keep track of time now), I made some little art journals with all the cup sleeves saved from my coffee excursions.  I sent them off to arty friends, but kept one for myself.

I’m turning it into a love letter to the coffee shop.

The drive-through is one of the few places I can talk to a live person without wearing a mask.  They are kind and funny, and they give me delicious succor.  I know I’d be lost without that little bit of contact and a way to pamper myself.  Making a journal seemed like a fun and different way to thank them.

I colored the pages by adding a few drops of ink to wet coffee grounds.  I made little pockets out of arted-up coffee filters to hide little treasures like this repurposed gum box.

Mostly, I’m making little collages, incorporating pictures I’ve taken of the shops (drive through and sit down) and the staff.

I’m working in miniature, which I love.  Laying down this poem with itty bitty letters saved from magazines took a whole day.  But the result was so worth it.

Expressing thanks helps shove the Black Dog off my lap for a while.  And working in miniature keeps my mind distracted from his whining.  Any relief, no matter how brief, from his weight and stinky dog-breath is a blessing—a chance to breathe and maybe take a sip of something yummy.

I’ll be making more of these little blank journals in the not-so-distant future, so if you’d like one, let me know.

Floating a Little

Working ahead in the Glue Card a Day Challenge.  So grateful for a medication that lets me float a little today.

 


• Post Title and Inspiration:

Mary Oliver — Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled–To cast aside the weight of facts–And maybe even to float a little above this difficult world.

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