Daft Trek

Social Services, the Final Frontier.  These are the voyages of one unclassifiable nut-job.  Her ongoing mission: to explore convoluted government gobbledy-gook; to seek out new services that might actually help; to boldly leap over the cracks in the system where no one has leapt before.

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After I finished the Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation program in late June, the search was on to find some kind of support that might fill the gap.  IPR wasn’t therapy, but working with Aly for two hours twice a week turned out to be the best therapy I’d ever had.  How can you not go deep and actually problem-solve with that much one-on-one time?  Most participants in IPR spend half their time in groups, but we had trouble finding peers for me (I’ve got so much insight, you know), so Aly and I just met by ourselves.

We both knew no social service could provide what Aly gave me, so we looked at the kinds of support I might find.  She and my therapist thought Lutheran Services of Iowa might be a fit.  I went through two-hour assessments with both my caseworker and LSI, was approved, and started seeing a caregiver in July.

I have a caregiver.  To say I have mixed feelings about that is like saying Emmett is a little nervous (though, here’s a barely-related photo of both guys sitting next to me as I write this with Em combed and smiling).

Together

Anyhoo, it’s taken me all summer to get used to the idea of being a person who could benefit from a caregiver.  When I look at it in terms of what I need to stay out of the hospital, I get it.  But, like everything else concerning my mental health, I don’t fit in the usual categories, so we had to get creative.

Leanne, my caregiver, and I met for coffee once a week all summer at the new coffee house (Yaay! Marshalltown finally has a coffee house!)

Brew House

This was all part of my care plan—to get basic support.  It’s not therapy, but more than friends and family can provide.  For that hour, I get to talk without worrying about my social skills or being reciprocal in any way.  Most human interaction is two-sided.  Conversation is give and take.  And, while Leanne and I do converse, the point is we don’t have to.  For that hour, she’s there for me, and if I need all that time to process, I don’t have to feel guilty, or selfish, or worry about ruining our relationship.  Over the summer, we honed that process to where we’re both comfortable with it.  And it is a true and valuable tool.  Like my new soaking tub, I can relax with Leanne now and just let go.

The other part of my care plan is for Leanne to help me keep my apartment clean this winter.  Since I’m allergic to dust mites, I need a clean living space in order to avoid the asthma flares that lead to bad colds and, often, pneumonia.  And, since winter historically brings more severe depressive symptoms, cleaning (like anything requiring effort) flies out the window.

Halli, the LSI director, told me that their caregivers aren’t housekeepers.  They help clients set goals and work alongside them.  I’m expected to do the real work.  I like that concept.  I asked my sister to do that once, to come over and just help me figure out how to get my place cleaned.  I remembered what a huge help that was.  If I could get used to a stranger coming into my home, I thought that kind of support might help me avoid getting sick so much.

So, last Wednesday, Leanne came over and helped me replace the filters in my air vents.  It’s a big job, I even got the consultation from specialists of air duct cleaning in Kansas City, MO.  All the vents are in the ceiling.  I put filters in the ones I could reach by standing on a chair, but that was five years ago.  Last week, with a real step-stool, we replaced the black filters (ugh!) and got all the vents covered in the hour Leanne helped me.  I spent the rest of the day cleaning the grill on the intake vent (gross!) and laying filter material across that, too.

Intake Vent

Awesome!  Except I didn’t think to wear a mask.  Oops.  Now I’m fighting the very thing I tried to avoid—a bad head cold that will probably go south soon.  I should have known better.  I wore a red shirt that day, and we all know what happens to those guys.

Getting My Breath Back

handmade greeting cards, collage art

The transition from hacking bed-lump to fully engaged routine-aphile is a long, slow process.  There comes a point about two weeks into a typical bout of bronchitis where I lose all good humor and go limp with despair.  The “I’ll never get well—I’m cursed with putrid lungs—Kill me now” kind of despair.  All my clothes are sweat through, all my dishes dirty in the sink, and all I want from the grocery store is junk that makes me even more comatose.  I’m convinced everyone I know has forgotten I even exist.  Even the cats slink away from me and hide in the closet.  It’s not a pretty picture.  The pity-pot is glued to my ass.

But I knew that phase was coming and watched for it.  I knew the chances were good that being sick would trigger bipolar symptoms, which just compounds the fun.  I’ve noticed fluttery spasms of anxiety and waves of depression that drift like clouds across the sun.  They catch me up short, a completely different experience than the sick-too-long slump.  But, so far, I’ve been able to just breathe through all these mental discomforts.  As soon as I could, I drove out to the little lake south of town and walked in the warm October sun.  Everything looks better with that jewel-blue sky above and the golden slant of light blazing against the wildflowers.

This week I returned to my water aerobics class.  The water welcomed me back, as did the folks in class, and even though I’m slow and still hacking, I’m not nearly as weak as I thought I’d be.  Then, I sat at the HyVee cafe with my Starbucks skinny latte and wrote.  The brain is rusty, and I’m exhausted when I go home, but pulling part of my routine back on feels right, necessary, and as cozy as pulling on my winter fleece.

We all carry unfortunate baggage.  I happen to have asthma, allergies and bipolar disorder.  They cause disruption.  I can guard against infection and monitor my thoughts, but they will still show up.  The only real defense I have is in how I respond to their effects.  Health lies in how I push against my old reactions and chose something else.  Something positive.  Something loving.  Recovery depends on unloading as much weight from those bags as possible.

So, tomorrow (my birthday!), I’ll greet my friends in the water.  I’ll climb into my truck, plug in my earbuds, and head for Des Moines where good coffee, a good movie, and time with my meditation buddies will fill my creative well.  The baggage is still there, but I’m carrying it a little easier these days.

Curses, Foiled Again

Another respiratory infection?  Really?  Seems like I just got over pneumonia or the flu.  Oh, yeah, I did.

Dudley Do-RightThe allergens must be particularly virulent this season.  Or my immune system is shredded.  Or my body is trying to tell me something.  Whatever the confluence of inner and outer weather, my head is full of snot and my voice is once again in the Louis Armstrong register.  But, hey!  After a week of fighting back with antihistamines, zinc and green tea, my lungs are still clear.  Score!  Anytime I can keep a head cold in the head is a victory.  Ask anyone with asthma and allergies—lungs are like pale, Victorian flowers of femininity, they faint at the first blush of a virus.  Sort of like Nell in the old Dudley Do-Right Cartoons.

My Achilles heel, my Bad-Ass’ pansy side, this proclivity for sucking up the current bug dates back to my earliest memory—Vicks Vapo-Rub on my chest covered by a warm, dry washcloth pinned to my jammies.  Barking coughs are my second native language.  Too bad I didn’t buy stock in Robitussin when I had money…

Dudley Do-RightFlu shots are generally as effective as cheap tissues (you know, the ones that shred at first honk), as is the rest of pharmacology.  My body laughs, Snidley Whiplash-like, at such puny weapons.  The dastardly villain is strong in the Dark Side (oops, mixed media metaphors).

Not that my body is evil.  It’s just developed a huge resistance to drugs.  They don’t work.  Period.  So, I’m left to other measures like rest, and lots of fluids, and fresh fruits and vegetables, and fresh air.  All those old-timey measures that support the body as it heals.

Dudley Do-RightThere’s no Canadian Mountie riding in at the last minute to untie me from the railroad tracks, no definitive thrashing of the Bad Guy.  Nothing as neat and melodramatic as all that  (My sister did bring me vegetable fried rice and strawberries when I was at my worst.  I don’t think her van is named “Horse,” though.).  Recovery takes weeks, sometimes months.  Very inconvenient, but oh well.  It’s just another dance.  Like a bipolar episode, respiratory infections swing me out of my fixed box step, the routine that I feverishly cling to.  I have to loosen up and let my dance partner lead, something I’ve never been good at.  But after all these trips to the train track, I’m learning.

Summer Cold

collage art, hand-made greeting cardsI’ve beat them back successfully all year, but finally succumbed to the dreaded chest cold.  Grateful that going to an allergist last November gave me ammo against this scourge and kept me safe for so long.  This one’s a whopper, though, with bronchitis setting in and the threat of pneumonia dangling betwixt his chalky fingers.  Bah!  My mom stocked me with juice and vegetable broth.  My sis with the first season of “Game of Thrones.”  So, I’m settled in my bunker, ready for the siege.  I’ll see you all in a few days, if I’m lucky, or in Phlegm Hell if I’m not.

Valentine-less

For someone prone to loneliness and conditioned to want a White Knight, Valentine’s Day without a valentine stinks.  It doesn’t help that the depression is back just enough to crank up the anxiety and agitation or that my medical bills from surgery and allergy testing are pecking at me like harpies.

I am uncomfortable today in several ways, and feel myself thrashing around trying to ease the pain.  I will not be skillful at this today, nor heroic, nor a Bad-Ass of any kind.  But, I will get through it.  This unfortunate day will pass, and another will come, and another.  I will be the thread that ties them all together.

So, to comfort myself today, and maybe anyone else who is valentine-less, I offer this beautiful song.

Count the Blessings

I’ve been down with an intestinal flu the last couple of days.  Nothing to do but watch movies, drink ginger ale and ponder the year that’s about to end.  But pondering can be a dangerous exercise, especially when I’m sick and in the middle of an episode.  I’ve learned it’s never a good idea to give too much attention to the thoughts that swirl up then.  Too much darkness, too much regret, too much grief.  So instead, I’ll focus on a few of the blessings 2011 brought me.

A place to sell my art cards.  My last visit at The Perfect Setting was disappointing compared to all the other times I’ve sold my cards there.  Pam, the owner, placed another employee in charge of the greeting cards.  This person pulled a couple of mine as “inappropriate”.  It seems she and I don’t share the same sense of humor.  So, Pam bought only half of the bunch I brought in this time instead of all of them.

Even though I know better, I took it very personally.  I know every shop has to make careful selection and cater to the clientele, but it surprised me since Pam always seemed to love everything I brought in.  Every artist has to tailor their work to fit the market—I know and understand this.  It just caught me on a very bad day, and I haven’t been able to sit at my studio table since.

This isn’t sounding much like gratitude.  But I am extremely grateful to Pam for taking a chance with my work.  She hung my weird collages even though no one in Marshalltown will ever buy them.  She bought all my cards, even when her other employees raised eyebrows.  She let me be the square peg in the town’s round hole—no one else here has ever done that for me.  Yes, I’m grateful.  And eventually, I’ll start making more of the cards that the town will accept—along with a few naughty ones.

Healing.  This year I learned how to manage without psychotropic medication.  I developed my Bipolar Bad-Ass Training guidelines.  I graduated from the Silver Sneakers water exercise class to the deep water, high-powered, water aerobics class.  I pushed the envelope of my reading disability and actually finished eleven whole books this year.  I’m learning how to be a woman alone without being lonely all the time.  I’ve moved past my fear of cooking and can now fix supper for myself every night.  I’ve started again on the weight loss journey, losing 12 pounds since my visit with the allergist at the beginning of December.

It’s an important practice to remember all the healing this year brought, all the hard work and dedication I put into it.  The illness always grabs center stage.  The loss of Will, the scrambled routine, the swamping thoughts tear down self-worth and confidence.  It’s so easy to see only failure.  So, remembering the success and joy play a vital part in bringing reality back to true.

Saying Good-bye to my dad on my terms.  I am deeply grateful that I was able to spend so much time with my dad in his final days and participate in his funeral in a meaningful way.  It was a gift.  Just as easily, my illness might have flared like it did this past Christmas, incapacitating me and keeping me from any human interaction.  Frankly, I expected to be a nut case during my dad’s rituals, and the stress did eventually cause an episode.  But I was fully there when I most wanted to be.  A miracle.  A prayer answered.

These are just a few of the gifts the Heart of the Universe placed in my lap this year.  What treasures did you receive?

Feeding the Elephant

I woke up this morning feeling like Grade A Horse Pootie, but the day was saved by my consult with an allergist.

First of all, the guy bursts into the room like a smarter, savvier Kramer from the old Jerry Seinfeld show, carrying on three conversations with himself while reading my chart.  I could feel my hair blown back by the gale winds.  His interviewing technique had me choking with laughter.  But when he actually addressed my obesity, I knew I’d found the right doc.

There’s just something about the elephant in the room when said elephant is me.  My GP walks around it.  My shrink pokes it once then pretends she didn’t.  But, Dr. Brown talked to me—about my diet, my exercise routine, my compulsive eating, gastric bypass, new studies about the benefits of near-starvation (I nodded politely), how obesity affects respiratory disorders and all the rest.  Granted, he talked so fast and unloaded so much information I didn’t have much of a chance to respond.  But, I appreciated the guy’s guts.  Telling someone they’re obese is not a popular move.

So, I happily went through the breathing tests, and allergy pricks, and chest X-ray.  I had a feeling this doctor could actually help me.

And, lo, I find I have asthma, and I’m allergic to dust mites.

I was surprised by the asthma diagnosis.  But, Doc said that when every head cold goes to the chest, that’s a sure sign.  And that would be me.

The dust mites are a fairly easy fix.  I have to buy special Baggies to put around my box springs, mattress and pillows; wash my bedding in hot water more often; vacuum and dust more often.  I can do all that.

The asthma will be a process, though. Doc gave me a bunch of drug samples to try.  When we find one that works, his office will help me get on that drug company’s patient assistance program (like I did with my psychotropic meds), since, of course, this won’t be cheap.

I have to say I’m not thrilled about taking medication, but this time I understand the science behind them.  Asthma lowers the lung’s tolerance for irritation.  Pile on too many irritants and the lungs go nuclear.  So, to be healthier, keep the lungs happy.  I get that.  And I’m willing to take medication to make that happen.

I’m also willing to work with this wild-man medic.  I know when I see him in a month, he’ll throw more case studies and statistics at me about obesity while making sure I get the care I need—feeding the elephant instead of ignoring it.  I like his style.

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