Is This Grief?

Damned TiredUp at 2:30 this morning, awake but toting sludge for brains.  Is this grief?

Yesterday I felt proud that I could stand with my family and greet everyone that came to Mom’s visitation.  Two and a half years ago, when my dad died, I had to sit in a quiet room apart from the others.  Like a bipolar queen, I held audience for my closest friends and family so that I wouldn’t explode from the over-stimulation.  I felt then like I do this morning—dumb with exhaustion.

I don’t know what I need.  I don’t know what could help.  The idea of going to the pool makes me want to cry and crawl back into bed.  But, I know that’s not the answer.  So I’ll go to the pool and bleed some of this weirdness into the water.  I’ll feel better afterward.  I always do.

Then, I’ll go with my brother and sister to Mom’s lawyer and try to stay present in all the talk about insurance and trusts.  I’ll try to watch my anxiety and keep breathing.  I’ll try to keep stepping back instead of stepping up.  I’ll try to remember that everything will settle without me pushing it.

So, it’s a little easier to carry, this grief/exhaustion/bipolarness, now that I’ve named it and slopped it out in words.  I breathe and let my Pandora station hold me. All that pretty music.  Like the water in the pool, it supports me.

Pillows and cushions are everywhere.  Like this lovely song by Mat Kearney.  I can lie down anytime I need.


The Beagle and the Teacup

handmade greeting card, collage artI’m breaking one of my Golden Rules by not telling you how crazy I am at the moment.

Honesty.  That’s what I pledged.

So, okay.

I went to a presentation today about some of the new programs rolling out with ObamaCare and the Mental Health Redesign in Iowa.  A program called Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (IPRS) focuses on reducing a client’s stressors.  Because (this is radical, now) reducing stress will reduce symptoms, which will ultimately allow someone with a mental illness to function more independently.

Thank you, People in Suits, for finally getting it.

Last week, I wrote that I had $11 in my billfold, and that I was determined to still hold that $11 when my Disability check came.  Well, I didn’t make it.  If I was only going to do laundry every other week ($15 at the laundromat), I needed more socks.  So I bought socks.  And a 89¢ notebook to keep track of grocery prices and specials.

Preferred Pest Control, bed bug, beagleThen, the landlord tacked up a sign that said Radar, the bedbug-sniffing beagle, was coming for his quarterly inspection the next day.  That meant packing up the cats (which they hate), their litter boxes, food, and anything Radar might get into and hauling everyone out to my Mom’s for the day.  She’s only marginally tolerant of animals in the house, so the boys had to stay in the basement, where Emmett promptly found a hidey-hole that he refused to leave.  Cut to seven hours later, and he sashayed past me with thirty-year-old dust bunnies stuck to his fur.  Finally, we got home, but I’d lost my only winter hat and my phone.

This is the danger of stress—breakage, forgetfulness, locking myself out of the apartment or truck, falling on the ice, losing stuff.  One flat tire turns into a fifty-car pile up.  And with each incident, my capacity for navigating and problem-solving shrinks.  I liken it to a teacup.  Stress shrinks the cup.  Too much stress flattens the cup into a saucer.  Then, the slightest bump sloshes out the tea.  And if the saucer empties out completely—hello, Psych Ward.

So, I talked to the caseworker at the presentation today and will be getting a referral for IPRS.  Mom found my hat in her driveway.  My phone was under some sacks in my back seat.  And I don’t have bedbugs.

Today was a pretty good day.

Cracks in the Sidewalk

????????????????????It’s always a shock when reality stubs your toe—especially when you thought the path was clear.  Oops, where was I when the sidewalk heaved?

I was managing this Week of Ultimate Change like a boss.  Before the Y closed for its annual week of maintenance, I called around to find another pool.  But with the rise in parasitic infections in public pools and school starting soon, all the pools I called were closed or closing.  So, instead, I parked my truck and walked everywhere.  I thought putting new inserts in my old sneakers would be a good idea, but ended up getting blisters.  Oh, well.  That’s what Band-aids are for.  The weather was mild this week, and I loved tramping all over town with my iPod.

True to my word, I followed up on the referral my group counselor gave me for Peer Support information.  What I got back were more referrals, so I fired off more queries.  I have a feeling I’m knocking on doors still under construction, but I’ll keep at it.  At the same time, I made sure my mental health records transferred to my new clinic and got an intake appointment scheduled for September.  All the ducks started lining up.

I checked on my mom, coordinated schedules with my sister to share duties, paid attention so as to not over-extend myself.

At TOPS, I neither gained nor lost, which seemed miraculous with all the change swirling around me.  But, I chalked it up to lucky brain chemistry and tried not to eat to celebrate.

And writing came easy this week—bits and pieces of my current story in Shitty First-Draft form (that is a technical term).  I can feel the words pulling me now, which is the pay-off for putting butt to chair and pen to paper every day.  I spent several hours everyday on my memoir as well, sorting through 800 pages of rough copy.

I knew I was enjoying one of my respite phases, a break in the bipolar Push Me-Pull You, but I started to take credit for it.  All this work I was doing, being all responsible and productive, must be good for me.  I know better than to take ownership of my brain’s haphazard chemical stew, but ego is a determined little bugger.  And its voice is so lovely.  Look how easy this is, it said.  Look how you’ve cleared the path…

So, of course,  there came a day when I tripped.  I completely forgot about my meditation group.  Only after my friends called to make sure I was all right did I really stop and Look.  I felt the agitation, the ramping up of ‘productivity” into spinning, the push to quiet it with food, the antsy itch to bolt.

Sly, sly Mania!  It knows I’ll ignore it as long as I can, because it feels so good.  But it gives itself away eventually, whether by grandiosity or giddiness or obsession.  The energy of it won’t let things stay tidy and organized.  Cracks break open in the sidewalk.  As Yeats said, “the centre will not hold.”

Being manic doesn’t discount the work I’ve done this week.  It’s just a reminder to not get cocky and to watch where I’m going.


handmade greeting card, collage art, grandmother, vintageThis morning marks 20 days for me without bolting.  20 days without that awful itch to climb out of my skin and run.  20 days of staying close to home instead of escaping in my truck to the distractions and comfort of the city.

And I woke up crying.

The scales tip, straighten, tip again.  Night follows Day follows Night.  Spring comes back around.  We each move along our own spirals.  If we’re willing and patient, we may feel the spiral lifting with each turn, bringing our Work with us, using what we’ve learned.  If we choose, we can see the patterns in the way we move through our lives.  If we stay awake, we see everything come round again.  Our path along the spiral is inevitable.  How we dance with it is up to us.

And Now For Something Completely Different

Monty Python, foot, illustrationThe mental weather finally cleared.  Time once again to take stock and adjust accordingly.  This time the task seems even bigger, but here goes.

The pattern of my life over the past several years has been one of survival, doing whatever I needed to get from one crisis to the next.  When disaster struck, I slapped on a band-aid and crossed my fingers.  I worked with my compulsions, hoping I could loosen their grip, but only managed spotty success.  Compulsive eating and spending still sabotaged any effort to make lasting changes in my life.

But, I have to keep trying.

Living in crisis mode and learning to live in the Now blocks thoughts of the future.  Most of the time, this is a good thing.  To survive, one needs to focus on the immediate threat, not on planning the post-battle celebration feast.  Living in the Now keeps fear at bay and allows for gratitude in what’s happening in the moment.  Moving with the flow of life and recognizing synchronisity are spiritual tools I need in order to dance with the wild swings of my bipolar disorder.  But, I think I need to do more than dance in a circle.

My friend, Rob, who visits here sometimes, said something a while back that stuck with me.  He and a friend were talking, and his friend said, “It’s kinda foolish to set goals but makes sense to head off in a direction and see where it goes.”  I love this gentle approach.  And I think it’s time for me to point myself in a direction.

I drive my dad’s 15-year-old Ford truck—a huge, sturdy, gas-inhaler.  It won’t be long now before it’s old innards start needing more resuscitation than I (or my family) can afford.  It’s still spry and agile, but the last time I got the oil changed, my mechanic mentioned gaskets and seals in an off-hand, “not-to-worry” way.  I immediately shoved the information aside.  I’d slap a band-aid on that when the time came.

But, what I’d really like to do is get a new car—a small, inexpensive, fuel-efficient one.  I’d like a car that didn’t cost me $70 every time I visited the gas station or was ready for the four-wheel nursing home.  Specifically, I want a Smart Car.

Smart CarFor someone who lives from Disability check to Disability check and relies on regular hand-outs from family and friends, this seems like a true fantasy.  I tried living without a vehicle for one summer, and I did all right while I was stable.  But as soon as I started to cycle and the walls closed in around me, I needed a way to escape.  Running down the street didn’t seem to work.  I know I need a vehicle of some kind to keep the heebies from jeebying off the charts.

So, how do I do this?  How do I save money when my illness can push me to spend every cent I have?

Yesterday, I sat down to map out a plan, knowing full well that in a day or two or three, said plan might as well be written on toilet paper.  Bad-Ass Training gave me a little hope, though.  I’ll do the best I can wherever I am on my mental spectrum, try to put some structure in place that can carry over to the crazy times, and take a few definitive steps now.

The first thing I did was cancel my cable and telephone land line service.  This will give me $70 to put in my car fund each month (once I pay off the termination fee).  I’ll go back to walking as much as possible (spring is bound to come soon, right?) to save on gas.  But, most importantly, I’ll focus my awareness on my compulsive spending and the impulse to bolt.  Not that I haven’t tried this before.  But, in order to save money, I have to try not to spend it.  And where I spend most of my money is on those rabbitty bolts out of town.  I’m hoping that having a goal to focus on will help.  And maybe coming up with some other options.  I will see my therapist on Wednesday, and we’ll brainstorm.

I have no idea if this will work.  But, I have to try.  Like Rob’s friend said, I’ll head off in this direction and see where it goes.  Maybe I’ll find some synchronisity and flow along the way.  I’ll let you know, because really…

I’m on an Adventure.

Getting Better

handmade greeting card, collage art

I stood at my kitchen window yesterday, watching the morning come.  Prickly, my brain hot and sore, vague urges and angers surfaced in bubbles to pop, causing an instant of relief and splatter like a crime scene.  I felt the craziness in me like a wild animal, pluck-pluck-plucking at my soft tissue with one, long claw.

I watched a car go by on the street.  My mind mused:

I thought I’d be better by now.

And a Pandora’s Box opened.  Beliefs buried underground rose.  I expected my symptoms to lessen once I got off medications.  I expected my compulsions to ease as I worked on mindfulness.  I believed in a life where I’d be better.  I planned for it.  But, my symptoms are the same.  My compulsions are the same.  Mindfulness and being medication-free only help me See.  I’m never getting better.

I’m never getting better.

After a moment of self-pity, I looked back out the window.  Gray now.  The tree, the sidewalk, the patches of snow.  Another car went by.

Ah, the next thought settled on me.  That’s what all this has been about.

Revelations come in waves, for me.  They wash up over me, I get wet, then they recede.  I dry off and forget about them.  Except they leave sand in my shoes.  The next wave comes.  This one is stronger, knocks me off my feet.  But, it too, recedes, and I dry off again.  Each wave pushes me a little further up the surf line until, finally, I’ve altered my path enough to stay out of the water’s way.

The waves are coming fast now.

More and more, I’m being called to live Here and Now, to inhabit the person I am Now.  Not planning a life for someone who doesn’t exist.  It means respecting the fact that people exhaust and trigger me, accepting that food comforts and fantasy delights me.  It means embracing the changeable spectrum of my capacity, knowing that one day I can create a ritual full of symbolism and spirit for a group of 25 and the next day can only take a shower before going back to bed.  It means contemplating solitude and finding peace there.  It means respecting myself Now—the limits, the talents, the inconsistencies.  It means being willing to listen to who I am Now—what I need, what I want, what fills me up.

I don’t really know who I am Now.  I know who I was.  I know who I should be.  I know who other people expect me to be.  But, I’m willing to stand at my kitchen window until I find out.  Or until another wave nudges me in the right direction.

People Person

people personHa Ha.  Very clever, right?  But, there’s so much truth in this, it’s painful.  The rest of the truth is that my bipolar disorder ruined me first.

I had two serious situations this week where I was misunderstood.  The old me, the Sandy Sue before electroshock and buckets of drugs, before losing one life and starting over, before everything I am now, would have squared off and demanded to be heard.  Shoot them all and let God sort them out is, I think, the way that particular saying goes.  That was my modus operandi.  Because I’m so damn smart and enlightened.

Thank the Universe, I’ve learned those self-righteous leanings are mostly delusion and bent ego.  And thank the Universe, I’ve slowly learned to keep my mouth shut.  Mostly.  I still can’t clamp it shut fast enough to keep some spew from squirting out, but I’m getting better at it.  Unfortunately, the only way to practice this skill is through experience.  Ugh.  But, I’m finding a new truth in confrontation—nothing I have to say will make it better.  Especially if there’s some kind of emotion behind it.  I don’t need to be understood.  No one is required to see my point of view.  None of that is important.

Still, it doesn’t feel good to be accused or punished for perceived or future crimes.  And that sharp discomfort is hard for my illness to tolerate.  The stress sings my anxiety and agitation into action, urging me to cut and run, to find comfort, to gather the troupes and set up a perimeter against any further incursions.  The illness turns me away from them and toward me.  What do I need to do to feel safe?  What stories am I making up about what happened?  How do I reorient to this new situation?  How do I keep breathing until the anxiety settles and the New Place is mapped?  What resources do I have?

I have some work to do today, and in the days to come.  Being misunderstood is part of being bipolar.  And part of all human interaction.  I just have to find my way in it.  Without getting ruined.

Not Quite Bad-Ass

I know what I need to do.Marian Ravenwood, Karen Allen, Indiana Jones, Raiders

After a long spell of rapid cycling, mixed states, stressful situations and physical illness, my protocol is to summon the Bad-Ass and pull my life back together.  It’s a time to train, reassert discipline, and prepare for the next engagement with my bipolar disorder.  But, this time, I can’t seem to find her.

Maybe I’m still cycling.  I’m exhausted, but can’t sleep; fretful with no clear concern; compulsive in my eating and spending.  I feel my routine and structure dissolving, which jumpstarts my panic.  The drive to claw out some order from the chaos squeezes me from the inside.

So, okay, I’m still cycling.  Once I set the emotion aside, I can observe the behavior and the feelings with a little more clarity.  There’s no room for the Bad-Ass yet.  And even though the compulsive eating terrifies me, another part of me knows this is part of the illness.  Eventually, this will pass, and I’ll come to a place where I can do the work I long to do now.

What can I do now?

Exercise—I can walk today.  If I’m mindful, I can walk this morning and again later this afternoon.  Tomorrow I can go to my water class in the morning and walk or ride the recumbent bike in the afternoon.  Exercise is the most important tool I have to keep my brain flexible and the blood flowing.

Meditation and Tasks—Luckily, today is our UU small group, so I have an hour of meditation already built into my day.  I’m also leading the Fellowship gathering where we’ll discuss the physiological effects of gratitude.  I wasn’t sure I’d be able to follow through on this commitment—I felt too foggy, too scattered, too panicked.  But this morning seems a little better, and I’m ready with my presentation.

There are some things I can do even in the worst of an episode.  Writing in my journal, making cards, even driving remind me that I can still function, that my brain can still create and make connections.  I’ve long given up my need for perfection in any of these things.  I just do them, and that’s enough to give me a sense of myself when it seems like the illness is everything.

Emma Peel, Diana Rigg, The AvengersEvery once in a while, I’m able to call on some old skills like public speaking and creating ritual, skills that I was proficient in once and can still use if the social phobia, agitation and moods aren’t too crippling.  Using these skills help me feel more human, but they also generate stress.  I’ll lead the small group and do the Fellowship presentation, but I may have to pay for it later in exhaustion and an exacerbation of my symptoms.  Maybe not.  It’s always a crap shoot.

That’s my plan.  Not a Bad-Ass plan, just a rope to pull me through the day.  But I know my Bad-Ass is on the other end of the rope, holding tight, waiting for her turn.

It will come.

The Dreadful, Horrible Day

After yesterday, when I was puttering along and actually living, today’s sudden plunge into abject terror and compulsive frenzy came as a shock—and I’m fairly used to the roller coaster ride.  I found myself pacing all over my little apartment, trying to figure out how I could get food when I had no money, seizing on that no money echo and scaring myself about surviving the rest of the month.  Schemes dashed in and out too fast to pin down, all rejected, all dug out of the trash to revisit.

Nicholas Cage, Bridget FondaFor distraction, I started to watch a sweet movie from the ’90’s, It Could Happen to You—Nicholas Cage and Bridget Fonda as a cop and waitress who share Lotto winnings.  Every few minutes I had to turn it off to pace from kitchen sink, to bathroom, to living room chair—I had to have FOOD.  What was the plan?  Grocery store? Convenience station?  Then, the compulsion would let go enough to watch the movie a little more until the next attack.  I tried to concentrate on the love story, the kindness and generosity of the characters, but they only seemed to rev me up even more.  A two hour movie took five hours to watch.

When the movie ended I went to bed—hoping sleep might trigger a shift in mood.  Hoping to blunt the fear with oblivion.  Frantic sleep—little burps of drifting off only to jerk awake with nightmares.  And those jerks sent the cats flying off the bed to mutter in the corners.

I gave up on that strategy and tried to work on my manuscript.  Instead of writing, I organized sections.  That helped.  Organizing.  Arranging.  Tidying.  All very calming distractions.

I’d decided earlier to hold out until 4:00, then I’d go to the movies.  I had just enough credit left on a gift card my sis gave me for one last movie.  And Tuesdays are “free popcorn matinees” at the local theater.  Food and distraction.  Perfect.

James Bond, Daniel Craig, SkyfallSo, I went to Skyfall, the new James Bond movie, got lost in the action and story, enjoyed the technical bits, and kept breathing.  Afterward, I was able to pick up a reasonable supper of vegetable fried rice instead of ransacking the candy aisle at the grocery store.  I could feel this mixed episode shifting.  There’s always a steely resolve that comes over me when I get to the other side of a particularly bad one.  It’s like once I survive that, I can survive anything.  As I pulled into my parking space at the apartment, I said to myself, “We made it.  Disaster averted.  Well done.”

Truth is, as hysterical and flat-out bug-shit as I was today, I could have done a world of damage.  The fact that I didn’t has more to do with Grace than any kind of management technique or skill.  And yet there was some of that, too.  None of this is clear.  None of it tidy.  It’s hard to analyze while holding on by your fingernails.  In the heat of crisis, that’s all we bipolar’s have—our bloody fingernails and the cliff’s edge.  Analysis is for later, when the smoke clears and the fires burn down, when we can be a little more objective about the extent of the real damage done.

I’m hoping I get to do that tomorrow.  I’m hoping this shift into a less crazy gear sticks for a bit.  But, it may not, and I need to be ready for that, too.  And since I got a little taste of the Bad-Ass—that determined, Double-O-like creature—I’ll be okay either way.  Dignity under fire, that’s the Bond way.

Debt and Agitation

handmade cards, collage artI lost my mind for a little while this morning.

I’ve been struggling to hold my compulsive behaviors at bay, which is like telling the ocean to be still.  When the bipolar tide comes in, there’s no arguing with it.  Silly wall of water!  You just go back out to sea where you belong!  Sure, I could scold all day long.  Trouble is, I’d still drown.

When I’m severely agitated, I bolt.  I can’t make myself stay in my apartment or even in town.  I have to get in my truck and drive.  Usually to a friendly coffee shop in Ames or Des Moines where I can sip and write in my journal.  This soothes me.  This allows the anxiety and hysteria to ooze out until I can once again function like a human being.

I used to be able to moderate my rabbitty behavior by going to a coffee shop here in town.  But, Haven closed, and all the other cafés or bakeries or restaurants have too many strikes against them—too expensive, too loud, too dark, bad food, bad coffee, bad service, and the worst—uncomfortable chairs.  I have no middle ground anymore, no place where I can get away from my apartment without driving at least 45 minutes.

This is not an ideal situation for someone with no money.  I have to charge gasoline to my credit card, but can’t pay the balance.  So it grows.  And if I try to pay more on the balance each month, I have no cash and dip into the tiny cushion of my checking account.  So that’s shrinking, too.  As I sink deeper in debt, the stress of trying to physically rein in my symptoms and the squeeze of lack triggers more agitation, depression and manic flights of escape.  This morning I could not see a way out of this loop.  And the undertow of hopelessness pulled me under.

I talked to my mental health clinic about payee services in my area.  Could I find someone to help me manage my money?  But the thought of turning over my credit card or trying to “budget” my flights out of town made me sob out loud.  I thought about what else I could eliminate from my expenses.  I thought about asking my mom for money.  Everything seemed penny-pinching and ineffective.  The only real solution is to be mentally stable.  Silly old mental illness!  Just go back to whatever genetic pool you came from and let me get on with my life!

I’m too poor to be bipolar, that’s all there is to it.

Hysteria is never helpful.  I recognized this as I sobbed into my napkin and the other patrons at Panera tried not to stare.  Yes, my compulsive behaviors are active and overwhelming at present.  Yes, I am in debt.  But, I have people who love me and won’t let me end up sleeping in my truck.  This season will pass.

I don’t have a solution.  My view is too narrow and constricted right now.  But, that actually seems okay.  There are just some things that can’t be fixed.  Like bipolar disorder itself, maybe this is another partner I have to write onto my dance card.  I don’t know.  Not knowing is terrifying, but I can relieve myself of the burden to fix this situation for now.  That helps.

It’s like floating.  When the ocean seizes a person, they can fight and exhaust themselves, or they can float and save their strength.  For now, I’ll float and dream of life rafts.

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