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.

The Work Starts Today

This is my work today: To start finding ways to love living in Oklahoma instead of hating it.  I know there’s a way to do it.  Or ways.  I might need help, so if anyone has ideas—trite, condescending, stupid-sounding—I want to hear them.  They will make me mad.  I won’t want to listen.  I will clutch my perceived Truths until my fingers bleed.  And I need to let go if I’m going to survive.

I don’t just want to survive.  I want to thrive.  How do I do that when I’m filled with loathing?  Well, I can’t.  I need to find the drain plug on all the disappointment, judgment, rage and hopelessness.  Fast.  I need a brand new perspective, one that hasn’t occurred to me yet.  One the Bipolar Badass never imagined.

This is what I will do today:

•Make a list of what I hate most and decide if those things are manageable or not.  If they are, I can brainstorm another list on how to change them.  If they aren’t, I must find a way to manage me.

•At the same time, focus on what I love and am grateful for.  A new art journal spread is calling.

•Start re-reading Radical Acceptance as this book opened me to accepting myself.  I know there are other treasures there.

•Manage my illness.  There are things other than art that make my bipolarness easier.  I need to identify them and gently reincorporate them until they become routine again.

This is a lot.  Maybe too much to begin with.  But, today I will start.

I’ve always said that Life is an Adventure.  I want to come back to that perspective, and to find the next outgrowth of that perspective.  What is the next thing?  I will search and listen, be active and be quiet, breathe and wait.  I’ll find it.

I know I will.

Setting the Poop on Fire

I realized this morning that I’d started to give up.

This long season of depression has granted me an occasional hour or two of relief before rolling back in.  I distract my conscious thoughts with Netflix and sewing, but have lost interest in exploring my surroundings or reaching out to others.  I know I’m in trouble, so this morning I sat down to journal and let all the ugly thoughts out of their cages.

I was about to see my new therapist for the second time, which just made me miss my previous therapist more.  I knew if I didn’t start processing all the “forbidden” thoughts in my head, I’d never stop crying in her little closet of an office.  So, I scribbled away, which is the only way I know to capture the distorted thinking and actually see it.

I lasted ten minutes with the therapist.  Long story short, I felt disrespected and dismissed.  I will not be going back.

Part of me is very aware that my depression could be warping my perception.  Another part of me is mad as hell, and that’s the part that rises up every time my boundaries get trampled.  It’s the spark that lights up my personal Bat Signal.  Or BadAss Signal.

I have work to do.

I texted my sister and will be meeting her and her grandsons for lunch tomorrow.  We also had a very supportive exchange about feeling out of place and longing for things that we’ve likely romanticized.

I called the other therapist in my shrink’s office and just now made an appointment with her for Monday.  I know this woman is at least kind, because my sister sees her and talks about her.  Kind is a good place to start.  Kind is enough.

If my 17-year-old cat can still unload a huge poop, then gallop through the house reestablishing his supreme authority, so can I.

Consider this my psychological dump.

The BadAss is Back.

Doilies and Flickers in the Dark

Our Social Justice Minister, Erin Gingrich, asked me to participate in her service a couple of weeks ago.  Her topic was “Hope Rekindled,” and she’d heard enough of my story to think some version of it might add something “powerful.”

I loved crafting a speech to fit the theme and metaphors we chose—visions of high school speech competitions made me smile as I worked.  Even better was the opportunity to pull out parts of my story that could be told in an uplifting way.  I wasn’t nervous that Sunday, just honored.

The third member of our service team that day, Martha Shen, crocheted a huge doily for Erin some time ago.  She included a poem with her gift that became our service’s central theme.

a single strand

masterfully intertwined

whose beauty is defined

as much by the empty spaces

as by the strand itself.

 

Here’s my Reflection.  If you’d like to hear Erin’s homily, you can click here.

Fury Road

I woke up this morning feeling like—as my friend, Lily, so delicately puts it—dog shit on the bottom of God’s shoe.  Also, furious.  But I pulled on my swimsuit, intending to take it out in the water.  Except I was 90 minutes early.

Fury boiled.

I raced to the nearest salon.  “Can someone cut my hair right now?”

“Yes!” the hapless pixie piped.  “And today all haircuts are $10!”

“Great.  Shave it all off.  I can’t stand it another second.  I’m tired of trying to look like something.”

She did.

And I left feeling like my outside finally matched my inside.  Furious.  And the closest I’ll ever come to looking like Charlize Theron.

Furious helps.  Furious brings the Bad-Ass, which is now in full display.

I roared off to misbehave and brought home two bags full of art supplies. Now we’ll see what fury can really do.

ψ

The Justice League—Bipolar Style

Merely AgogI’ve been in trouble for a while now, mental health-wise.  The amnesia that comes with severe symptoms keeps me from remembering that this is normal.  My brain yammers that I’m getting worse, that my social skills are devolving, that all my tools are useless, and that, maybe, by brain is starting to liquify.  But, the reality is I’ve been here before.

One of the many vital roles my therapist assumes is that of Archivist.  She starts a sentence by saying, “When you’ve been like this before…” and suddenly I can breathe again.  I spend so much energy and attention on navigating the whip-quick changes of the rapid cycling aspect of my illness, it’s very hard to pull focus and take in the larger picture.  Shifts happen in the slow time of seasons.  My Richter Scale rarely registers a catastrophic event, but like earthquakes, the tension builds over time to an inevitable break.

Recovering this broader perspective helps.  I’ve survived 8.9 quakes before, so how do I do that again?  Before, I would check into Mercy Hospital’s Out-Patient program (day-care for the neuro-diverse), but like so many other mental health care programs and hospitals in Iowa, it no longer exists.  The programs that are left focus on folks who need functional help.  I don’t need help doing my laundry (usually).

My Integrated Health Caseworker said something like this yesterday, “You’re so high-functioning, you fall through the cracks.”

It’s a Catch-22, being a Bipolar Bad-Ass.

img_0977Friday, I went early to my therapy appointment.  I brought my wheely cart of art supplies and camped out at their little corner table in the waiting room.  They thought that was a brilliant idea, and invited me back whenever I felt the need.  So, I went again yesterday and stayed all day.

There’s no therapy, no expectation of interaction beyond a quick hello, but it’s a safe place that’s quiet and welcoming.  Sorta like going to a coffee shop, except the baristas love and understand me.  I call it “Out-Out-Patient Care.”

My therapist and I are also exploring alternatives.  What about a Mindfulness class that would provide structure and an emphasis on Doing The Work?  What about some sort of spiritplantjourneys.org retreat?  These things cost money, so we pulled in my caseworker to help hunt for grants.

I am grateful everyday that I function as well as I do.  AND it’s hard work to find services that fit me.  AND it’s hard to think outside the box when thinking is most difficult. But, I have an actual team helping me now—my own little Mental Health Justice League.  I’m not feeling much like Wonder Woman at the moment, but with a little help, I might be able to find that lasso.

there-is-10-wonder-woman-border-free-cliparts-all-used-for-free-1ilm0d-clipart

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.

Drama, Magic and Miracles

In Their DNA

It seems almost sacrilegious to not have any drama in my life.  I’ve even lost count of how many weeks I’ve been symptom-free—six or more I’m thinking.  And to not worry about what I eat, or even think very much about food.  It’s that darn Vyvanse!  Not only does it curb my binge eating, but has kept my mood at this nice, even place with a clear mind and plenty of energy.  What the Hell?

Winter is still the real test for this magic pill.  But even if my mood is a little better than usual this season, it will still be magic.

So, if I’m not constantly managing my illness, if I’m not on alert for distorted thinking and the Big Fat Liar in my head, if I’m not The Bipolar Bad-Ass Warrior, who the heck am I?

Honestly, I have no idea.  Survival has been my entire existence for the past ten years.  It has changed me, honed me, made me fierce in ways I never expected.  I’m not the same person I was ten years ago.

I like this version of me.  I like it a lot.

That has to be the biggest miracle of all.

The Adventure Continues!

Safety Girl

LukeSo, I saw Ben this week—my substitute therapist who looks like Luke Skywalker in Episode IV.  I like him a lot.  I just keep expecting him to mutter, “Stay on target.  Stay on target.”

Those introductory sessions can be awkward and, honestly, boring.  I’m so sick of telling my story.  Ancient history.  So, instead we talked about us—how Ben works, how I work, what I need from him.  We laughed, I cried, we made another appointment.

He said he digs superhero movies, which endeared me to him immediately.  He also said he was big on themes in therapy, which made absolute sense.  People have patterns and some kind of energy generates those patterns.  Identifying the common threads that run through our lives and calling them themes has a nice, literary ring to it.  And nothing simplifies complex internal themes like a superhero, so this all fit nicely together in my fan-girl brain.

A theme he noticed in our discussion that day was safety.  Ahh, the Force is strong in this one.

Feeling safe—physically, financially, emotionally— drives me and is easily threatened.  And since Safety is pretty low on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (just one step above Breathing), it’s hard for me to advance to meeting higher needs.  Survival seems to be where I spend most of my time.

ElectraI like to think of myself as a Bad-Ass and courageous in my battle with bipolar disorder, but in most parts of my life I’m terrified.  I’m aware of this.  I watch my anxiety rise.  I watch my body respond to the flood of adrenaline.  I feel the fear tip my bipolar scales.

There’s no light saber that can slice through this old pattern.  All I can do is practice awareness, see when the theme is running me, and face it.

I guess that’s the real definition of courage—being scared shitless and facing the Dark Side anyway.  But, it’s always easier to do that with help.  Either a therapist or protocol robot will do.

Adding to to the Bad-Ass Arsenal

Xena 6Today is the end of the four-day week for those of us in treatment.  That means there’s a long, four-day weekend ahead of us with Memorial Day tagged on the end of it.  To get from this side of the holiday weekend to the other requires planning, setting goals for each day, getting out of the apartment, spending time with friends, tending to chores.  A structured mind is a tidy mind.

A couple of Ah-Ha moments this week.  My regular therapist, Megan, and I have been working on Mindfulness practices for several months, but one of the homework modules from treatment put that work in a different light.  It talked about developing a stronger tolerance to emotional distress.  We can’t stop the feelings and moods, but we can become more tolerant of them with practice.  Mindfulness is a way to do that.  The teaching material called it “doing the opposite” of what we habitually do in times of distress.  Most people try to escape the emotional pain, numb it, distract oneself from it.  The opposite of that knee-jerk reaction is to accept the current distress.  Sit with it.  Use meditation, journaling and other methods to pay attention to it and watch how it might shift.

The homework assignments my counselor in treatment have given me come from the Centre for Clinical Intervention, a wonderful Australian website where workbook-type modules on all areas of mental health are available for free.   What a wonderful service!  Those Aussies have the right idea.

The other Ah-Ha moment came with a suggestion in group.  I’ve always maintained a one-size-fits-all management plan for my illness, but it was put to me that I need a different plan when I’m suffering a lapse.  A lapse is when symptoms reappear, but haven’t dragged a person into a long bout that effects functioning in the world.  As someone with the rapid cycling form of bipolar disorder,  I considered myself symptomatic most of the time.  But, I can see now that there are symptoms and there are SYMPTOMS.  There are signs when my “normal” cycling shifts to a lapse—depression that lasts longer than three days, change in sleep quality, etc.  Like an early warning tornado siren, I can watch for the signs of a lapse and put my Emergency Step-Up Plan in place.  It gives me more power.  And I do love gathering sharp-edged tools for my Bad-Ass armory.  I added quite a bit to the arsenal this week.

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