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.

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.

What Would Mr. Rogers Do?

After an excellent massage this morning, I went into the waiting room a little loopy, smiled at the woman who was sitting there, and finished up my business at the front desk.

The waiting woman was called back, but as I sat updating the calendar on my phone, she returned and walked up to me.  She said she had been called to pray for me, and would that be okay.

This has happened before, people wanting to pray for me (though this is my first Oklahoma Encounter, which is odd, considering this is the Bible Belt.  Hmmm…).  I know the request is not about me, but about what that person needs in the moment, so I don’t take offense.  I told her to do what she felt was best, expecting her to put me on her prayer list or whatever.  But, she stood in front of me, planted her hands on my shoulders, and went on at length about the healing power of Jesus.

Then, she stepped back and asked for a hug.

I started to get a tad uncomfortable—probably because The X-Files has been my background noise for the last couple of weeks.  But, then I remembered my new mantra, one I decided on after seeing A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood last week.

What Would Mr. Roger’s Do?

So, I hugged her.  And when she said, “These are God’s arms hugging you,” I imagined everything she believed she was giving me being returned to her.  And I told her to have a wonderful massage.

Fred Rogers was all about paying attention and offering kindness.  As the movie points out, he had to work at this.

So do I.

Today I paid attention to what this woman seemed to need.  Raising my atheist flag was not it.  Being kind as she gave me something that mattered to her was.

Thanks, Fred, for hugging me today.

 

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.

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