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.

 

Waiting

Out-Out Patient Care at my mental health clinic came with pluses and minuses, like everything in life.  Was it better than going through a hospital program?  I think so.  Maybe.  It gave structure to my day, a safe place to be, no red tape or ridiculous bureaucracy, no crazy-making group therapy.  It also left me too much alone, no program except what I brought with me—my art supplies, a book about mindful depression that I never read, worksheets from my therapist on dialectic behavioral skills that irritated me in their simplicity.  Mostly, it was a different way to wait out the storm, which is really the most important skill in dealing with bipolar disorder.

I’m not right.  Not yet.  I still feel disconnected, separated from the rest of the world by a transparent, sound-muffling barrier.  People seem alien and unappealing.  The nightmares still come.  Agitation keeps me fidgeting between making my Solstice cards, playing Farm Heroes Saga or Cookie Jam on my phone, and jumping in my car to stalk the perfect binge food.  I’m not done with bronchitis, either, which adds another layer of weariness and self-pity.

So, more waiting.  And accepting each day as it comes.  Today I will do laundry, sort letters cut out of magazines, give my cats treats, watch Fringe on my bed with a cup of squash soup, sew beads.
 
And I will wait.

Stolen

Distortion, history, fear and self-hatred

steal our clarity, our compassion, our strength, and our presence.

The task is not to go to war with ourselves,

but to allow the stolen seeds to take root in their chaotic prison.

They are where they need to be.

Reset

It’s Week 2 of the latest Bronchitis Bout.  Like bipolar disorder, there’s really nothing new about getting month-long lung crud.  It happens.

Sorta amazing, really, this blasé acceptance of whatever the day brings.  I’m not always this cool, but it’s such a gift when I can be.  Seems to me I was raging right up to the point of chills and fever.

A physical shock often resets my bipolar rheostats.  Two weeks ago, I was text-wailing at my friend Lily, taking offense wherever I could find it, and wrestling paranoid thoughts to the mat.  Today, I did laundry and cleaned up cat barf with nary an emotion in sight.

Except a little glee.  I started a goofy spread in my art journal based on something I cut out of an old magazine years ago: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”  I worked on this one little piece while my laundry tumbled, and it just made me happy.

Sorta amazing, really.

Catching Up

the-captive

After almost three weeks of Clear, Calm Mind, weeks when I made art with quiet joy and dug into the second draft of my book about being bipolar, weeks when decisions made themselves; after weeks when the Dark Times of last autumn faded, the inevitable shift came.

northern-exposureFirst, just a melancholia set in as I  watched the last season of Northern Exposure (like getting weepy over Hallmark commercials).  Mopping up with Kleenex, I would have called myself hormonal if I still had any Girl Parts.  But after the final episode, I felt bereft.  I’d binge-watched all six seasons of the show, and now it was over.  I have a bad feeling about this, my Inner Han Solo muttered.

Later that day, I shut down during therapy.  We hit something big, and it blew all the circuits.  My therapist talked and all I could hear was the teacher from the Peanuts cartoons (Wah-wah-wah).

lala2Yesterday I met my friend at the theater to see LaLa Land and cried through the whole thing.  Not that I was paying attention to what was on the screen.

It takes me a bit to catch up with the shift.  I have to find a little spot of compassion and mindfulness where I can change gears.  What do I need?  What do I have to take care of and what can wait?  I will stay home today and do art at my table instead of going to church and the Writing as a Spiritual Practice group that I love.  I can make this decision without guilt or self-loathing.  It’s what needs to be today.

Tomorrow I will focus on preparing my apartment for the new bed-bug prevention regiment.  There’s a lot to do—vacuum, get everything off the floor, pull the furniture away from the walls.  I don’t quite understand what will be done, some kind of silicon mist, so I need to get as much stuff under cover as I can.  Then, on Tuesday, the cats and I will camp out at friends all day while this procedure takes place.  I’m not sure what kind of clean-up will be required once we get back.  All I know is that I can’t vacuum for three days.

no-need-to-hurryStuff like this is stressful on my best day.  I had found a rhythm with the quarterly bug-sniffing dog’s visits, but I guess Radar wasn’t as accurate as advertised.  Now management has decided on this annual preventative hoo-haw instead.  It’s so disruptive and worrisome.

So, I breathe and try to turn my thinking.  I don’t have bedbugs, but if my neighbors do, I’m at risk.  So this is a good thing.  Proactive.  And only once a year.  I can do this.

And if it’s all I do this week, it will be enough.

Is It Soup Yet?

whisper-of-vomit

Sometimes I wonder if it’s time to take this blog off the stove.

I don’t really have much more to say about my experience of bipolar disorder.  I’ve spewed.  I’ve wallowed.  I’ve raged.  I’ve picked up shiny objects along the path and given them a look-see.  I’ve made lots and lots of Plans.  I’ve fought hard and surrendered.  I’ve changed my tune as often as my mood.

i-am-largeThere’s no end-point, no resolution, no Ah-Ha Moment or Happily Ever After.  For me, now, there’s just the daily practice of being me and trying to accept whatever shows up out of the bipolar soup.  There’s still pain and confusion, but also moments of soft contentment.  I struggle every day with relationships, but so does everyone else on the planet.  Periods of suicidal thinking will rise and fall as will my ability to function in the outer world.  So be it.

Still.

New stuff keeps surfacing out of this tepid bouillabaisse.  Since my therapist and I started working with my PTSD symptoms, my internal weather seems different.  The barometric pressure of trauma feels different from that of rapid cycling.  Free-floating fear now follows a pattern.  Opening the windows to let in fresh air turned out to be much less horrific than I’d imagined.  And I have new tools.  Gotta love new tools.

vocabulary-ninjaAside from writing about my practice of mental illness, I’ve posted enough fan-fiction to satisfy my ego.  Yes, I am a writer.  Yes, I can craft a decent story.  I don’t need to prove anything anymore.  Like Popeye, I yam what I yam.

Still.

I will take these six years of blog posts and rewrite them (with maybe the help of essay rewrite service) into a book of essays that I’ll self-publish sometime this year. Writing is still important to me—not just communicating, but crafting a sentence, weaving a metaphor, developing a thought.  Is the challenge to go deeper?  Is there a story in acceptance as well as agony?  If I stopped blogging, would I search as hard for balance?  Do I need this blog to keep me on the Path?

woohooAnd then there’s the art.  Illustrating posts with my cards and collages still lights up my ego.  I can feel it light up—all bloat and gas—and wait for the comments to roll in.

Still.

Sometimes, a piece holds more therapy than ego.  It carries a different flavor, adds savory and smoke.  It blends with the words to create a richer meaning for me.  I’m not sure ego ever disappears, but when words and art blend in this way, my ego gets quieter.  And when the ego shuts up, all kinds of doors can open.  This magic happens in my art journal.  I’m not sure it translates here.

Almost every blogger I’ve read comes to this crossroad—continue or stop, take a break or refocus.  I need to hold these questions gently and keep showing up while they simmer.  Because no matter what…

I’m on an Adventure.

Brain-Sick

I'm Not OkayThere’s nothing new to say about rapid cycling mixed states.  I’ve railed against them and given in, pulled out every tool in my toolbox and given up, called for help and stayed silent, pushed against the maggoty words they whisper in my ear and believed every word.  My response to the turmoil in my head has been as varied as my illness.

But if anything is new, it must be the time it takes me to accept, breathe, and allow whatever my head and body chemistry need to do.  And I’ve gathered a larger support network around me, so that when I call for help (usually a few texts back and forth) I don’t have to burden the same few friends over and over.  Spread the Horror, that’s my emergency motto.

Thank you, all my Go-To People, who get those scary/sad/frantic texts and respond with such kindness and love.  You make all the difference.

Thank you for riding shot-gun on my Adventure.

 

Breathing with my Fingers

As my current bipolar season continues, I’m ever so grateful for this new tool of Art Journaling.  Since there are several stages to creating a spread, I can always find some piece that will fit my state of mind.  Whether it’s pulling images out of my stash for the collage bits:

Civil War Spread

 

Or finding new ways to use text:

Air Spread

 

Or slipping into a Zen state while making boarders and lines:

Into the Storm Spread

 

Or trying out a new tool, like this very fine tipped Pilot marker:

Eyeballs

 

I can camp out at my coffee shop with my journal and let my illness be.

Megan, my therapist, said I’m not fighting it anymore, and that feels true.  It seems to be getting easier to accept whatever my illness brings—the quicksilver changes in mood, the sudden shifts in functionality.  Those things aren’t good or bad anymore.  They’re just me.

I still try to stuff myself into a “normal” sausage casing sometimes, expecting to move around in the world the way other people do.  But, as I sit with my journal, with all the space it creates in my head, I’ve started to unhook from those expectations and get curious about how I might move differently in the world.

Today, for example, I looked at how I keep trying to make commitments (like being on a committee or taking a class) when my illness makes that nearly impossible.  At some point, when my symptoms become severe, I’m forced to drop everything.  So, instead of continuing to bash myself over the head for being “unreliable,” perhaps there’s another way.  Maybe it’s a matter of showing up when I’m able.  I know the world doesn’t work this way, but I do, and I would like to honor that more.

More acceptance.  More integration.  That seems to be a by-product of all this artsy-fartsy stuff.  I’m breathing more with my fingers, slipping into meditation with color and line.  It’s a new kind of Practice.

I’ve come to a place with my art that I found a while ago with my writing—loving the mistakes and crap as much as anything that “turns out.”  The Shitty First Drafts and the Muddled Attempts are my best teachers.  They point me to the next piece of Practice.  They’re the ones who taught me to accept it all—my writing, my art and, of course, my bipolar disorder.

Funny how that all comes together.

I’m on a Funny Adventure.

Unknowing

Listen, she saidThe only thing I know for sure about my flavor of bipolar disorder is that I know nothing for sure.  On days like today, when my mind feels cool and friendly, I can marvel at the potential this unknowing offers.  Living without answers keeps me in the questions.  It makes me curious, willing to experiment, and to move on if the experiment fizzles.

Unknowing can be a great relief.  When mixed with mindfulness, there’s an untethering that happens.  My attachment to being functional, to plans, even to my concept of Self loosens.  Unknowing helps me accept whatever is in the moment.  Unknowing allows me to accept all of me as my mood, energy and cognition rise and fall.

kingsmountainThese rapid cycling, mixed states plant barriers that force me to cut a new path.  The first step is to sit with the beauty of the barrier.  I imagine touching the rough, unyielding surface and see an Irish megalith—part of my DNA and a complete mystery.  It requires respect and acknowledgment.  If I don’t see the barrier, I can’t dream a different trajectory.

This weekend I came down with a bad cold.  Over the course of a day, I lost my voice and terror drowned out all other sound.  “I just got over pneumonia.  In a couple of weeks, I’ll be driving across the country.  I can’t get sick now.

And the monolith rises up, demanding attention.

Card DisplayI am sick, so I need to tend that.  I leave for ArtFest in three weeks, and I’m ready.  As I sit with this old stone, I can see that I’ve been pushing too hard.  Because I was accepted as a vendor, I’ve been cranking out my most artful, most outrageous cards.  I refurbished a display unit my friend loaned me.  I wanted ArtFest to see a particular side of me—professional, laid-back, confident.

And the craggy rock cannot be moved.

I am all those things, but my illness makes me much more.  My moods, my energy, my capacity will swing on my trip.  I could keep my fingers in my ears and pretend it won’t happen, but then I’ll crack my head on this immovable menhir.

I need to be quiet now and listen to the silence of my DNA.  As I breathe in the mystery, I can feel my grip loosen.  Expectation.  Ego.  Fear.  Judgment.

I’m fine.  And now it’s time for a cup of tea.

Phoenix

Merry Sidekick

As part of my quest for living a better life with bipolar disorder, I spent this past weekend in Minneapolis/St. Paul, reweaving connections with old and dear friends, and sending out a few new runners.  These are the kind of friends who will make me stand in their kitchen until they understand the difference between rapid cycling and mixed state; the kind of friends who find a restaurant for lunch on the other side of town because it will accommodate both their Paleo diet and my vegan preferences; the kind of friends who make me laugh until I have to hop to the bathroom to avoid leakage.

And when I have a melt-down (as I did on Saturday), these are the kind of friends who let me bolt back to my hotel without offense, who will hold my insecurities and shame like a porcelain bowl until I can shake the ashes into the trash.  We can say to each other after a morning of coffee and gab, “Are we done?  I’m done.”

These are people who allow me to be myself, who are honest and clear, who look at me with compassion and see all.  They are the keepers of my history since I can’t remember it.  They fit forgotten pieces into place.  They restore me.

This is a difficult time of year for those of us with Seasonal Affective elements included in the bipolar disorder.  Spring brings chaos, fluctuations in mood, and, for me, warp speed cycling.  This is the time of year I am most likely to be hospitalized.  I need the support of people who love me, but my tolerance for stimulation and novelty is severely limited.  It’s a quandary.  But my friends are willing to walk this weird tightrope with me.  And when I can rise up from the ashes, I am grateful.

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