Fighting For My Life

I felt fierce and proud and forever free.I’m in a mood.

I’ll just put that out there as a disclaimer so you know what follows is tainted.

This is a mood that seems to keep coming back.  Well.  That’s bipolar disorder in a nutshell.  So to speak.

I know this mood and I have history if only from how big Bipolar Bad-Assery is in my little Cloud of Topics at right.  I recognize the ferocity and physical stamina.  A terrible intolerance develops.  And then there’s the ice-cold anger.  It started a few days ago with a niggle in the back of my mind.  At odd moments it would pop into full consciousness like Schwarzenegger bursting through a door.

I’m fighting for my life.

It surfaced at TOPS yesterday, and again in the water this morning as I swam my mile.  So I took myself for a drive today to give this moody thought some room.  What I found is that this isn’t the whole thought, just the opener.  In toto, it goes like this.

I’m fighting for my life, so step up or get out of the way.

And suddenly the anger and intolerance make more sense.  Even the extra strength and endurance.  I’m gearing up to go solo again.

This mood, this attitude, runs counter to all the discussions I’ve had with my therapist about relationships.  She’s counseled me about how relationships change, how people come and go out of a life.  She reminds me to take people for what they are and to be accepting of what they can offer.  This is realistic advice.  But, sometimes, I can’t see how it helps me much.

I don’t need coffee dates or tactfully casual conversations as much as I need allies who will get bloody up to the eyebrows with me.  But, finding a loyal berserker isn’t easy.  Or realistic.  Real people have messes of their own to worry about—sick parents, and mortgages, and unemployment.  All that feels like do or die for them, too, so they’re hardly going to save their ammo for me.  Or if they do happen to save a clip, they end up shooting in the wrong direction or even at me.  Friendly fire, of course, but still lethal.


Which leads to another conversation with my therapist—my need to make people understand me.  I don’t like being misunderstood.  I don’t like others deciding what’s best for me or making assumptions about me.  But, really, all that is none of my business.  I can’t help what other people think or do.  I can’t stick my hand inside their gray matter and plant the seeds I want growing there.  But, sometimes, they act out of the stories they’ve told themselves about me.  And then they make it my business.  Which I don’t handle with great diplomacy.  I don’t mind so much if you can’t fight alongside me, but get in my way and I might blow your head off.  Nice.  You can see why I might have trouble holding onto friends.

I see what’s happening here.  I’m turning into that Hero person who Stands Alone.  Maybe I’ve always been that person.  It might be one of the reasons I was drawn to comic books as a kid.  As soon as I was able to read, I stole from my brother’s Marvel collection.  Those guys understood.  They fought for their lives every month.  They were me.

winter soldierWhen I went to the new Captain America movie last week and watched Steve Rogers risk everything, the niggle in my head practically shouted.  That’s me!  And then [SPOILER ALERT] when he quit fighting and let Bucky beat him to smithereens, the niggle still shouted.  That’s me, too!  Cap had allies.  He even had a handful of people he trusted.  But, basically, he was alone.  I get that.  And sometimes the hero just gives up.  I get that, too.

That’s as far as this train of thought is going, because to follow it any further would just indulge the mood.  It will shift in a few days and all this Hulk energy will drain.  But, there might be some new questions for my therapist on Monday.  Life and death questions.  Because in the end, I’m still fighting for my life.


Wait! What?

Refined Bad Ass, Patrick Stewart, handmade greeting card, collage artI just realized that what I do every day is not spend money and not eat.  All my attention is focused on these anti-compulsions.  Awesome!  I’m so completely Bad-Ass now I can hardly stand myself!

Ninja Ballet

BBC Sherlock, Scandal in Belgravia, Benedict Cumberbatch

It’s been a good week.  Holy Harmonic Convergence, Batman!  How long has it been since I’ve been able to say that?

These lovely in-between places are where I used to pull out my Bad-Assery and get into training for the next bipolar campaign.  But my mindset has shifted a little.  I don’t need to train to be a Bad-Ass any more—I am one.  The training has become more and more internal—acceptance, awareness and experimentation becoming as important as routine and discipline.

Part of that is due to my therapist.  I have a partner now, someone with experience in going deep, someone with an even bigger arsenal.  It feels very different fighting this battle with someone at my side, someone whispering a plan of attack I never considered, someone with Ninja skills.

These slow, subtle movements are hard.  I’m teaching my mental body to move in different ways, ways that feel foreign and beautiful at the same time.  I keep thinking of a ballet dancer with blistered, bloodied feet.  It takes practice.  And hardening.  And more practice.

Yesterday I drove to the city for a mandatory meeting at the psych hospital for all the support group facilitators.  Dan, the social worker who recruited me, told me about the meeting a couple of days ago.  He didn’t know what the meeting was for, couldn’t be there himself, and apologized for yet more chaos as the Center tries to reorganize and align with health care reform.  So I showed up at the appointed time and place—to find I was at the wrong place at the wrong time.  But the Psych Tech who was helping with the meeting said she’d go over the material with me then and there.  I signed a confidentiality agreement (which I’d already done with Dan) and answered a ten-question True/False quiz on the role of facilitator.  The whole encounter took fifteen minutes.

I had issues when I left.  Since thought generates emotion which drives behavior, it could have been the start of a very bad day.  Or week.  But my Ballet Ninja skills surfaced.  I was able to acknowledge that I’m out of practice dealing with workplace miscommunication.  This stuff happens all the time.  It’s not personal.  And there’s no need to get trapped in it.  All I have to do is show up on Wednesday nights, sit with whoever else shows up for group, and see what happens.  Management stuff will work itself out.

Then, I was able to watch the emotion drive my behavior.  I had already planned to find a frame for the beautiful print my friend Rob send me, so I watched as my internal agitation pushed me to add more things to the list.  And then to snatch up stuff as I wandered through the antique mall.  There was a graceful slowing down as I watched, a deceleration, and a returning to center point.  I bought the frame.  Nothing else.

And on the drive home, I felt the residual effects of emotion spinning out possible lunch scenarios—where to eat, what to eat, how much I to eat.  I felt the familiar spin and shove of using food to calm down, using food to feel normal, using food to make the rest of the internal discomfort stop.  I watched and allowed all that mess.  And then I went home and made lunch.

ninja balletMy brain feels bloodied and blistered from pausing.  It’s so much easier to let the thoughts and emotions run, to just get out of their way and tag along.  But each time I practice, I build a little more stamina, a little more mental body memory.  These foreign maneuvers of acceptance and interruption may always be difficult to perform, but that’s part of what makes it art.  It’s part of what makes an audience gasp.

So, today I’ll try again to stalk myself, to be stealthy and nimble.  A Bipolar Bad-Ass Ninja in toe-shoes.

Dramaturg on Hiatus

handmade greeting cards, collage artThere seems to be a lot less drama in my life these days—or maybe I’m learning not to give it much attention.  Or maybe this diet of green leafies is shifting something fundamental.  Ah, but that’s a Story.  Drama.  Never mind.

Still there’s plenty of Life happening.  I’ve been accepted into the Peer Support Specialist training program, which will start in a couple of weeks.  Four days this month and four more days later (the date to be set) in Council Bluffs (by Omaha).  I’m excited about it, but the thrill is tempered by the cost and also by the understanding that this is just a step.  To deal with the cost I’ve petitioned my ‘church’ and other service organizations for financial assistance.  No takers yet, but it’s early.  My sister asked if there would be a job waiting for me once I was certified, and I had to laugh.  Of course not.  And there’s also no guarantee that I’d be able to hold a job anyway.  Like I said, this is a step.  What lies beyond it is a mystery.

Simon And GarfunkelMy mom went back into the hospital on Saturday with a flare-up of congestive heart failure.  Since my sis is on a much-needed vacation, I’m on point doing hospital duty and taking care of the details.  All well and good as long as I take care of myself.  I missed my water class this morning by oversleeping—both warning signals—so I must be careful.  And I know that no matter how diligent I am, I might start cycling anyway.  Hello, Stress, my old friend (Isn’t that a Simon and Garfunkel song?).

And last week was my intake visit at the new-for-me mental health clinic.  This one is bigger, more bureaucratic, longer waiting times.  But I enjoyed my visit with the nurse practitioner, even if I was a little nervous.  Telling my whole story again felt weird.  A lot of those details are lost to my swiss cheese memory, but, also, they don’t seem to have anything to do with who I am now.  And it was a shock to be asked what kind of therapist I wanted.  Really?  There are choices?  So we discussed options, and I asked if anyone was using Dialectic Behavior Therapy, since that model follows the closest to what I try to do with my Bipolar Bad-Assery.  Gasp of gasps, two therapist offered that.  So I have an appointment at the end of the month (right after I get back from my training session in Council Bluffs).

Martin Freeman, John Watson, Sherlock, BBCSo there’s plenty of Life happening, but not so much drama.  Maybe I’m delusional (it has been known to happen).  Maybe I’m slipping too much into my Sherlock fantasies with the cute-as-a-hedgehog Dr. Watson (Hero Diversion—also known to happen).  Or maybe I’m just okay.

Huh.  That’s a new one.

A Bad-Ass Opportunity

the-world_s-top-10-best-images-of-animals-with-a-mouthful-51Another week of violent rapid cycling, but as Napoleon Hill said, ” In every crisis lies the seed of opportunity.”  A couple of those seeds sprouted this week.

First, was a presentation at my UU Fellowship by a local teacher on diet and support of locally grown produce.  Part of her talk included this amazing TED Talk by Dr. Terry Wahls.  As a doctor and medical researcher, she found that healthy cellular mitochondria determines brain function to a large extent.  If you don’t have time to watch this 18 minute video, come back to it later.  You won’t be sorry.

I’ve read about supporting my brain with diet from a number of sources (Dr. Daniel Amen for one) but I’ve been half-assed in incorporating what I’ve learned.  The half that eats well and buys organic is sabotaged by the compulsive-eating half uncaged by my illness.  But Dr. Wahls offered some definitive data.  If I want a healthy brain, I need to eat for a healthy brain.  Being a Mostly-Vegan wasn’t going to cut it.

The second seed of opportunity came in an email from our TOPS group.  The club is in a slump, gaining more than loosing for several weeks in a row.  Leanna, our group cheerleader, said we needed to have more fun, get excited, find our motivation and get back to supporting each other on our weight loss journeys.

Eowyn, Lord of the RingsThere are always moments in the upheavals and dives of my life when I recover my Bipolar Bad-Ass—a ferocity and strength that drives me to do what needs to be done.  This warrior stance isn’t one I can maintain.  It’s the positive end of a mixed episode where superhuman courage and creativity mix with a low level of anger.  The Bad-Ass demands change.  She draws her sword and dares anyone to stop her.

I’ve started projects and made changes in this state that fall by the wayside once my moods shifts again.  But the changes I have made in my life—exercising every day, turning off the TV, meditation—also came from The Bad-Ass.  She’s still my best chance of doing things differently.  So when she came back this week, after these two seeds of opportunity presented themselves, I told her to suit up.  That’s it, I told her.  We’re done fucking around.

I went to Whole Foods and bought greens—kale, collard greens, beets with their foliage, spinach, arugula.  I got kelp and balsamic vinegar.  I loaded up on bell peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, and onions.  Every night I make myself a fabulous salad with all this stuff, add a few sunflower seeds or walnuts, maybe chop up a couple of Mejool dates or toss in some berries.  I dug out my Moosewood Cookbook and found this wonderful entry on assembling a salad.

Use a large enough bowl, so you’ll have plenty of room to toss the salad thoroughly.  Make it your special salad bowl—it will acquire more depth and soul with each use, and this will enhance something nameless (I don’t know what) about this experience.

I pulled down one of the few survivors of my many manic purges—an artisan pottery bowl I bought years ago at an art fair.  It’s beautiful, and now it’s my salad bowl.  Today I filled it with slaw that I made up without a recipe—purple cabbage, raw shredded beets, collard greens, onion, carrots, minced garlic with a dressing of vegan mayo, honey, apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper.  It’s sitting in my fridge steeping, letting all those flavors percolate.  But, already it’s delicious.  Tomorrow I’ll share it at Fellowship.

It’s up to me to take care of my brain. There’s a twisted irony behind the idea that a particular diet could help me do that.  And another twist in that a Healthy Brain diet might be the best way to drop weight.  But, that’s okay.  Most Bad-Asses spout irony and sass without even blinking.

Yipee-Kai-Aye.  I’ll be back.

But, those catch phrases don’t quite work.  I can imagine my Bad-Ass, sword in one hand, a fist full of kale in the other.  Her lip curls as she whispers, I dare ya.  Eat your medicine.

A Break in the Weather

handmade greeting card, Rumi

Cooler temps, clear skies, wafting breezes with the scent of milkweed blossoms—this seems to be my internal weather as well.  And like those breaks in the heat and humidity, they seem to come out of nowhere.

Earlier in the week I had a Come to Jesus meeting with myself.  When the depression bottoms out, all my demons swell up like roadkill on a hot day—gassy and explosive.  Out trotted All the Reasons My Life is Shit.  I won’t bore you with details, just to say there it is an unholy pantheon of gremlins.  And when said pantheon gets gassy and explosive, the splatter perimeter is vast.

So I sat down with my iced tea and toast and journaled until I spewed every vile thought onto the page.  All the self-contempt and whingeing, all the tar pits and road blocks, all the fist-shaking at the Universe lay exposed to the air and the light.  Then, I took a breath and said, “Now, let’s start ripping out the lies.”  So I spend another hour untwisting warped logic, adding gray to a black and white perspective, and challenging every assumption.  A few of the carcasses burst and disappeared.  Most lost volume and deflated into desiccated mats of fur—still there, still yucky, but changed.

The next hour I looked at what I could DO to start turning this rotting meat into compost.  What one small act could I implement to make one aspect of my life better?  What could I do that day?  That week?

By the time I left the cafe, the stink bomb had been disarmed.  I felt triumphant in being able to do that in and of itself.  But I also carried with me a plan to move my health, finances, and purpose in life in a positive direction.  I shared my success with my support group the next day and got nods all around the circle.

I’m not a dilettante at this process.  I know I have a narrow window to do some of these tasks and maintain a different outlook.  But the point is that I can do these things now. And I will do them as long as I can.

This is what we do.  We learn what has to be done every day to manage the illness, then we do it.  It’s the hardest work I know, and it never let’s up.  There are no vacation days and no time off for jobs well done.  There’s just the Work.  It’s not fair.  It’s not easy.  But too bad.  This is ours to do.

And then, after getting off our butts or out of our beds and doing the one thing we don’t want to do, a break in the weather comes.  We look up from whatever sweaty task we’ve been muscling into place, and all of a sudden we catch the breeze and feel it ruffle our hair.  We take a deep breath, one that loosens the belly from the clench we’ve kept it in all this time.  And we see the Great Work we’ve been doing, and it looks fine.

And we know that we’ll forget how this feels, this lightness, but if we keep coming back to the Work, keep doing all that we need to do, it will find us again.

It always does.


handmade greeting cards, collage artIf there’s an up side to rapid cycling, it’s that nothing last for long.  I get a few days now to reengage and refocus.

What I learned in the hospital this time around, is that being a social animal is required.  Solitude may feel safer, but it’s really just another compulsion that I must push against.  So, when these easier days come, I can look at how to do that.

I’m big on making plans.  My journals are full of lists, Things To Do, strategies, and abandoned schemes.  Over time, they’ve become less grandiose, more tempered, a little more grounded in my reality.  But still they trail behind me like toilet paper on my shoe—a reminder to wake up a little more before taking that first step.

What matters, I think, is making the effort.  Nothing changes unless we can envision it and then move in that direction.  It takes muscle.  This week I’m doing what a social animal does—making calls, meeting friends, dropping by on my way to somewhere else.  I’m choosing to engage.

And as I build up a little momentum, other actions become easier—working on my new collage at night instead of eating my way through a DVD, cleaning my apartment, going back to the Y late in the day for a second workout.  And after holding the question for a few days now, I’ve decided to go back to TOPS.  It’s a social group, which is what I’m to be working on, and if it helps me lose weight, so much the better.

I wrestled long and hard on my compulsive eating last year, then gave up when my bipolar symptoms went into overdrive.  It feels good to come back to this, to reengage this particular tension, to put my strong shoulder against the thing and push.  I hope to do it a little differently, with less black and white thinking, with more gentleness, but with definite action.  It will take more mindfulness than I’ve practiced lately.  It will take willingness to keep returning whenever the compulsion takes over.  Just like I’m doing now.  Returning.  As gentle as that.

These in-between days are always full of revelations, inspiration and fresh starts.  Most of them fall by the bipolar wayside, but a few survive for a while.  It all depends on me, where I put my intent and what actions I take.  Talk is cheap.  Ideas are easy.  The proof is in the doing.

Princess Bridezilla

Funny that The Princess Bride keeps rattling around inside my head when I’m in the midst of rapid cycling. Well, funny might not be the right word.  Inconceivable, maybe.

Princess Bride, Fire Swamp

It’s a dire warning when I’m more depressed getting out of the water than when I get in.  My deep water aerobics class is the highlight of my day, nearly guaranteed to jump-start a little feel-good chemistry.  It may not last long, but even a couple of hours of relief when the depression is mighty feels like heaven.  Lately, it’s been more like the Fire Swamp with lightening sand and Rodents of Unusual Size sucking my energy.

There are days when nothing helps, not even my most radical back-up plan.  Driving through the beautifully cool morning?  Nope.  Starbucks and my journal?  Just pisses me off more.  A double feature?  Blowing a credit card wad on British DVDs?  A healthy, vegan dinner at Hu Hot?  Distracting and numbing, but once finished I’m back in The Pit of Despair.


There are times when my skin is just too thin.  Everything seeps in.  I checked out the Masterpiece Mystery! series Wallander from the library last week and devoured it.  The BBC adapted Swedish writer Henning Mankell’s murder mysteries with lush photography; tight, complicated plots; and a jaw-dropping performance by Kenneth Branagh as Wallander.  The music is haunting and images of the forlorn Swedish countryside painfully beautiful.  Wallander himself is just as haunted.  There is no doubt that this deeply depressed detective will never gain a shred of insight or be able to change his self-destructive ways.

I feel the guy’s pain.  Literally.

Wallander, Kenneth Branagh

I walked into my mom’s nursing home on Sunday to a dining room full of drooling, slumped souls waiting to be fed, or cleaned up, or wheeled elsewhere.  My compassion turned tail and yike!yike!yiked! it out of there.  The only thing left was my wide open nerve ending and a smattering of guilt.  I ducked my head to keep from making any eye contact, but I still needed to wade through the moist miasma of smells to the other side of the room.  It was as horrific to me as anything Stephen King ever put his name to.  It crawled under my skin and festered.  And in the back of my mind, The Dread Pirate Roberts smirked, “Life is pain, Highness.  Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

The refrigerator is too loud, my tee shirt too green, the bushes outside my apartment too bushy.  Nothing on my iPod sounds right.  And if Henry gives me one more of those looks I’ll burst out crying.

Yesterday I researched a little for my story Technical Consultant.  Carrie Severide will have to go to London, and I needed to find out what that might look like.  Getting a passport, managing a long and lousy flight, jet lag, bad food—it all started to make me sweat.  I got anxious for her, this creation in my head, and had to stop.

My internal stimulus can be just as overwhelming as the external.  I’m water-boarded with wordswordswords.  Images tumble over each other like a litter of snarly opossums.  The brain red-lights into overload all on its own.

It takes a lot of deep breathing to pause and step back from all of it.  But, that’s the Work.  That’s always the Work.  To untangle and get the tiniest bit of perspective.  And it could be worse.  It could always be worse.  As Inigo Montoya says, “Let’s look on the bright side: we’re having an adventure, Fezzik, and most people live and die without being as lucky as we are.”

That’s it.  An Adventure.  Why didn’t I think of that?

Princess Bride, Inigo, Fezzik, Westley

Early Morning Bad-Assery

handmade greeting card, collage artPre-dawn, and the robins are chirp-elling.  Emmet hops up on the towel I keep for him by the computer and contorts his pudgy body for optimal ear-scritching.  I’m back from a week of scary depression.  Everybody here is feeling Life.

This morning I can pull my feet under me and stand up.  After the rapid cycling that landed me in partial hospitalization, after my mom’s ordeal, after the stress of all that knocking me back into Crazy Land, I’ve strung together a couple of days of uprightness.  It always feels tentative, rising up out of the carnage.  Is it just a bubble of calm?  A friendly town I pass through on my way to the next extreme?  Or do I get to stop and take in the sights for a while?

Yesterday, we moved Mom to a nursing home near my sister.  Mom will either get stronger and go home or not.  Either way, she’s in a safe place.  And my sister can check on her without driving an hour every day.  And I don’t have to.  I came home from that and slept for hours.

Now Henry is making his rounds, announcing his supremacy, eyeballing the birds in the one spindly tree outside the bedroom window.  He lived on his own a long time before someone took him to a shelter.  He’s got the battle scars to prove it—and the predator’s passion.  He’s my hero.

So, today I’ll tour my own perimeter.  I’ll revision, reset and restock.  I’ll eyeball the juicy bits of my life and point my energy in that direction.

The birds are quieting now.  The whoosh of traffic crescendos.  Henry and Emmet settle into napping puddles.  Sun’s up.  Time to march.

A Head-Scratcher

handmade greeting card, collage art

♦ ♦ ♦

I don’t have the words.

This is not a problem that often comes up for me.  Lucid, delusional, manic or morbid, I can generally put words to the experience.  Not this time.

I’m not in exactly the same state as before I went to the hospital, but I’m not far from it.  The stressors that sent me scrambling for help are still in place and still unresolvable.  Tried and true tools for getting back on the Bipolar Bad-Ass track don’t work any more (or at least aren’t working now).  Instead, older, unhealthy coping mechanisms are in play, and I drift through the day in exhausted apathy.  Or my frequent blasts of anger turn me into someone I don’t recognize—defensive, bitter, paranoid, hateful.

I’m stumped.  I don’t have a map for this place.  I feel like I’m not asking the right questions or turning my face in the wrong direction.

By the time I got into the Partial Hospital Program (PHP), I’d decided solitude was the best option for me.  My people skills had deteriorated to utter confusion.  I was lonely, but the dangers and disappointments in connecting with others were too high a price.  I knew this wasn’t the healthiest choice, but I couldn’t see a way around it.

In PHP, we talked about relationships, boundaries and community.  My resolution to keep people at a distance had to be reconsidered.  The counselors said the five people you spend the most time with are who you end up becoming.  They asked us to look at who we hang out with, if they were our role models, and if not to think about who we would like to become.

I took that to heart when I came home and reached out to people I admire.  Every day I spend time with those lovely friends, or talk to them, or arrange dates for another time.  It’s incredibly hard work.

But the PHP staff was right.  My heroes lift me up.  They mirror my best back at me.  Their light and laughter part the clouds in a truly biblical way.  Still, there’s trauma in shaking loose of the folks I don’t want to become—the glass-half-empty folks.  I’m just trying to spend more time with my heroes, not reject the others.

I don’t know how to do this, either.  I’m fumbling around in the dark, banging my shin on the furniture and stepping on the cats.  Worst yet, I don’t have the words to frame this weird, new place.  I’m called to be patient, to keep moving through alien terrain until I learn the language, until I can decipher the code.  I’m uncomfortable, and frightened and angry.  But I must try to wait.  Just wait.

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