Choosing to be Vulnerable…or Not


“We waste so much energy trying to cover up who we are
when beneath every attitude is the want to be loved
and beneath every anger is a wound to be healed
and beneath every sadness is the fear that there will not be enough time…
Our challenge each day is not to get dressed to face the world
but to unglove ourselves so that the door knob feels cold
and the car handle feels wet
and the kiss goodbye feels like the lips of another being
soft and unrepeatable.”

 

~ Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

Over the past several weeks, the concept of vulnerability and its importance to intimacy has followed me like a stalker.  At the same time, I heard from a friend about how sad and hurt she is over my silence and disconnect; I swore at my sister (via text) for the first time in my life; and I annoyed another close friend with my narcissism (my words, not hers).

I believe without a doubt that I’ve lost the ability to listen deeply to others.  Compassion and caring used to be important to me.  They were qualities I purposefully cultivated and practiced.  I believed in the power of kindness to change the world around me.  I have also felt that belief dribbling out of me over the past decade.  I’m easily annoyed and impatient with other people’s problems. I avoid social settings and leave when I feel my tolerance unraveling. Mental illness has made me guarded, judgmental and mean.

There’s a reason therapists caution against isolation—not just because human connection is vital to all forms of health, but because the mentally ill are already vulnerable, and making real connections with others requires us to risk being more vulnerable.  It’s too hard, too painful.  So much easier to barricade behind thicker and thicker walls, then complain about being lonely.

I can see the path I’m on leading to life as a hermitic sociopath.  Maybe I’ve binge-watched too much Dexter, but I can identify with his lack of empathy and complete self-absorption.

Then, Tara Brach, or my therapist, or an article in a magazine suggests an alternative path—to “unglove” as Mark Nepo puts it.  It’s painful and terrifying.  It seems like too much work that requires more courage, more bad-assery, more, more, more.  To be fair, Tara suggests gentleness and tiny acts of willingness.  I’m not being asked to tear down the walls, just look at them.  Or sit with my back against them and feel their warmth and strength.  Still, I don’t know that it’s worth it.

And I don’t know if I have a choice.

 

 

 

 

 

Lonely

After seeing Avengers: Endgame on Friday, I’ve been profoundly moved.  I know it’s fan-girly, maybe bipolar, definitely grief.  I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying that.  We all knew there was a Phase One in the Marvel-verse that was coming to an end with this movie.  It is superbly executed.

Something’s come to an end with me, too—some fracture in the way fantasy has soothed me in the past.  Pretend Boyfriends don’t call to me the way they used to.  Barely a whisper anymore.  And so rare.

It’s left me feeling lonely and hollow.

This song came up on my iPod yesterday as I worked in my art journal, trying to feel some connection to the other people at the coffee shop.  I played it on a loop until I could cry, until I could let myself feel all I was feeling.  I think Cap would understand.

Ω

It’s not your eyes
It’s not what you say
It’s not your laughter that gives you away
You’re just lonely
You’ve been lonely, too long
All your actin’
Your thin disguise
All your perfectly delivered lies
They don’t fool me
You’ve been lonely, too long
Let me in the wall, you’ve built around
And we can light a match and burn it down
Let me hold your hand and dance ’round and ’round the flame
In front of us
Dust to
You’ve held your head up
You’ve fought the fight
You bear the scars
You’ve done your time
Listen to me
You’ve been lonely, too long
Let me in the wall, you’ve built around
And we can light a match and burn them down
And let me hold your hand and dance ’round and ’round the flames
In front of us
Dust to dust
Ω

 

A Slow Leak

Over the past couple of months, I’ve noticed an ongoing shift in my mental weather.  It’s subtle, quiet, not alarming or uncomfortable.  I can only describe it as a slow leak of caring.  I’m not interested in much beyond making my bits of art and maintaining creature comforts.  This I attributed to lung crud overlapping Henry-grief.  It seemed pretty normal to me, and not worth fussing about.

And it’s not completely new.  I go through cycles of pulling back, detaching, giving the Hermit full reign.  In the past, those cycles included some kind of mental anguish or agitation.  Not so now.  I’m curiously uninterested in friends or family, untroubled by minor annoyances.

So, I confessed to my therapist yesterday in the spirit of full disclosure.  And, I think, to make sure nothing else might be going on.  She agreed that sickness and grief were probably in play, and that I was correct in taking it in stride.  Although, she did ask for my promise to call her if thoughts of suicide became a daily occurrence.  That seemed a bit drastic, but Sonya doesn’t know me that well yet, so her caution and concern are actually quite endearing.  I promised.

Today will be another spent on my bed with art supplies, Emmett, and the fifth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation keeping me company (This was the season Michelle Forbes joined the cast as Ensign Ro Laren—Michelle Forbes who stars with Richard Armitage in Epix’s Berlin Station and who seems to be his current amour.  Seven Degrees of Star Trek.).

I will be content, unaffected by other people or the world.  It seems a little weird, but I’m not complaining.i

Ocean’s 8

Thank you!

Countdown to Muskogee. . . 13

My last appointment with Sarah Beattie, my nurse practitioner.

Really.

This is it.

Countdown to Muskogee. . . 15

Last week I went to my old sanctuary—the Cinemark 20 in Jordan Creek Mall in Des Moines.  It was the first place I felt really safe when I moved from Minneapolis to Marshalltown.  Those years when I was so sick and ill equipped to deal with it, the hour-drive would start to ease my mind.  But it was the theater itself that gave me a place to rest.  Dark, contained, I could distract my conscious mind with the stories onscreen, the music, the beauty, the art.  Often I spent the day going from one movie to the next with no interference from the staff.  I stayed as long as I needed for my mind to settle or shift.

Jordan Creek started my bipolar education—to know for a fact that my moods would shift and to wait for it with less fear, to appreciate the need and use of distraction, to contemplate acceptance of this terrifying part of myself.

I sat in the newly remodeled lounger seats filled with gratitude for a place that held me when nothing else could.  Memories of movies experienced rolled between my fingers like prayer beads.  I said good-bye with love.

 

To Boldly Go

Split infinitive.

You’d think Gene Roddenberry would have known better.

Still, Bill Shatner could Shakespearize anything, even bad grammar.

But I digress.

Boldly going, I’m moving to Oklahoma.

My sister and I started talking about it when I visited her there over Christmas.  We let it sit a while to see if it was just holiday cheer and wishful thinking, then decided the plan had legs.  What really put shoes on those legs, though, was my brother’s offer to support me enough to live somewhere other than subsidized housing.

It’s been a shock, really, to be given this unconditional support, to know that my siblings are with me, to come to understand that I am not alone.  We didn’t grow up this way, you see.  Grand generosity was never our family’s forté.  Small gifts, yes.  Limited support with strings, yes. Pull up your big girl panties and stand on your own two feet lectures, yes.  This level of largess requires a complete brain dump and reboot.  What I thought I knew as truth isn’t.

I’m also struggling with the urge to hide in my apartment until it’s time to move.  I can feel myself disengaging from my life here, from both difficult and delightful relationships, from the activities that fill this life.  All the reasons I want and need to leave this place rear up like trained elephants, trumpeting and rolling wild eyes at me.

But I have a trip to Taos at the end of February, to make art with friends and breathe in the mountains of the West.  I want to enjoy that trip.  And I know I will need time afterward for my brain to do what it does with change and stress.  It will be well into spring before I leave this little apartment that I’ve worked so hard to make into a Nest.  I need to stay present and grounded in now, take care of my friendships, do the work in front of me each day.

In the meantime, my sister is in High Research Mode, talking to her realtor friends and sussing out neighborhoods.  In a month or so, she’ll start looking at places for me to rent.  She has my Must Have list (I have several lists going—that’s one way to keep the Greener Pastures Gremlins from taking over).

Transition is always a challenge, as is stress.  Even good stress.  So, while I do the work in front of me, I must also Do My Work.  Be kind, gentle and generous with myself.  Allow the terrified elephants a chance to walk on four feet and sing themselves to sleep.

Because (all together now), I’m on an Adventure.

Out-Out Patient

Triggered by a traumatic event a few weeks ago, bipolar depression brought its bags and settled in for a long visit.  This past week I started going to my therapists’ clinic every morning to break up depression’s momentum and build my own form of Out-Patient Care.  I arranged the little alcove they set aside for me—a folding screen and white noise machine to make the patients in neighboring offices feel safe in their privacy plus the high table and chairs.  I brought in my art supplies and a large cushion to sit on the floor, and went about filling the tall, gray walls with words and colors that I needed.  But that wasn’t enough.

Yesterday, my therapist and I discussed how to create a real program that would help me tolerate this depression without resorting to hospital out-patient care.  I find the hospital programs themselves to be helpful, but interacting in the large group model difficult to the point of undoing any good done there.  So here’s what we’re trying first:

My daily schedule will be from 8:30-1:30, five days a week.  Daily, I will work on DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) worksheets dealing with tolerating distress, read one of Megan’s many children’s books and journal about it, and make art—either for the space or in my journal.

I feel a lot of dread and the usual suicidal litany gallops through my mind.  I’m uncomfortable and scattered.  My calendar empties out as I can’t tolerate most people or the pressure of going somewhere at a designated time.  But I did ask a friend to lunch yesterday, even though I phased out after twenty minutes.  Concentration doesn’t last long.

At home, I’ve put my TV in the bedroom, so the cats and I camp out on the bed as I try to work on my Solstice cards while half-listening to my go-to depression binge, Fringe (I just started Season Three).

I’ve also returned to Pinterest, where I can look at pretty pictures and hoard new photos of my Pretend Boyfriends.

Later today, I hope to go see the new Murder on the Orient Express and do my laundry.  That feels like a lot in my current condition, but I’ll try.  It’s really all I can ever do, keep trying, keep looking for new ways to get through the worst of the illness while waiting for the shift to come.

Some days it doesn’t seem like much of a life.  The distorted thinking makes that view darker and more hopeless.  Even then, I can see my courage at work, even when the list of obstacles grows like a Bugs Bunny nightmare.

This is my life.  Mine.  For better or worse.

Sia

I’d not heard of this artist until I saw Wonder Woman yesterday.  A little Florence and the Machine, a little Halsey—I like it.

Remembering

I felt like when I left home that I was on a journey, and I still am.—Heath Ledger

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