Treasuring the Rope

Rope 1In a bipolar life, there are days, weeks, sometimes months, where the illness never lets up.  Most of the time, I can ride those long spells.  They’re a fact of my life.  I understand that.  But, I suppose like anyone with a chronic illness, the relentlessness of it sometimes swamps me.  The despair of dealing with the illness combines with the despair it creates.  The extra weight guarantees sinking to the bottom and makes it that much harder to fight my way back to the surface.

I’ve been going through one of those spells—a long season of black.  It’s been a different kind of hard this time without my two water wings of compulsive eating and compulsive spending.  Oh, the compulsions are still there.  I still pace my kitchen like a caged bobcat, opening all the cupboards, the fridge, the pantry, hoping I slipped and brought home something, anything, that will dull the wild scrabbling in my brain.  And even when I’ve budgeted a trip to Des Moines, have cash to pay for a movie and gas, the urge to keep spending is a fish hook under my sternum.  Pulling, pulling always pulling.

This past week my Start With One Serving mantra saved me from getting lost in food, but I still gained a couple of pounds.  Compared to other similar seasons, though, that’s nothing.  And while I’m on the edge of nothing in my checking account, I have enough in my piggy bank at home to get through the month.  Since I paid all my bills, put money in my car fund, and made my planned Visa payment, this, too, is far from the disaster such seasons usually bring.

I’m sure the tension of fighting these old behaviors contributes to the illness itself, but the fight is required if I’m ever to find any freedom.  I know how lucky I am to even have the option of fighting.  I’ve met others like me who don’t, who don’t have an inkling of insight, who are utterly lost in the illness itself.  I understand them.  I am them.  But, I’m also this.

There was one day last week where I thought about surrendering to being lost.  What if I quit fighting and just turned into the crazy cat lady on the corner?  Would that be so bad?  There’s a siren song to mental illness that can be so seductive.  Go to sleep, it says.  I’ll take care of everything.

Emmet AlertBut, after all this time, I recognize that purring song.   It’s part of me, but not all of me.  So, I start looking for joy.  Tiny moments.  Gentle kindnesses.  Things that make me close my eyes in appreciation.  The light on Emmet as he watches the birds.  The silky slide of the water as I swim.  A song on my Pandora station.  A kind note from an almost-friend.  The perfect taste of a vanilla latte with one squirt of raspberry.  The ballet-like fight scenes in Captain America’s new movie.  The wonder of creating an exquisite background paper for a card.  The smell of rain.  A deep breath.  An old feeling of lightness that comes while driving through town in the orange light of dusk.  A chance to listen so someone else in pain.

My friend, Lily, once told me something that has soothed me for years.  Sometimes, all you can do is hang on.  This is true.  Hang on until the season turns.  Hang on because this—whatever it is—won’t last.  Grip the rope and wait.  Most of my life I’ve focused on the tension of waiting, the feeling of not being able to hang on much longer, the sense of fingernails ripping away.  What I’m finding is that it’s even more important to notice how beautiful the rope is and to treasure it.

from my Pandora station

Ninja Ballet

BBC Sherlock, Scandal in Belgravia, Benedict Cumberbatch

It’s been a good week.  Holy Harmonic Convergence, Batman!  How long has it been since I’ve been able to say that?

These lovely in-between places are where I used to pull out my Bad-Assery and get into training for the next bipolar campaign.  But my mindset has shifted a little.  I don’t need to train to be a Bad-Ass any more—I am one.  The training has become more and more internal—acceptance, awareness and experimentation becoming as important as routine and discipline.

Part of that is due to my therapist.  I have a partner now, someone with experience in going deep, someone with an even bigger arsenal.  It feels very different fighting this battle with someone at my side, someone whispering a plan of attack I never considered, someone with Ninja skills.

These slow, subtle movements are hard.  I’m teaching my mental body to move in different ways, ways that feel foreign and beautiful at the same time.  I keep thinking of a ballet dancer with blistered, bloodied feet.  It takes practice.  And hardening.  And more practice.

Yesterday I drove to the city for a mandatory meeting at the psych hospital for all the support group facilitators.  Dan, the social worker who recruited me, told me about the meeting a couple of days ago.  He didn’t know what the meeting was for, couldn’t be there himself, and apologized for yet more chaos as the Center tries to reorganize and align with health care reform.  So I showed up at the appointed time and place—to find I was at the wrong place at the wrong time.  But the Psych Tech who was helping with the meeting said she’d go over the material with me then and there.  I signed a confidentiality agreement (which I’d already done with Dan) and answered a ten-question True/False quiz on the role of facilitator.  The whole encounter took fifteen minutes.

I had issues when I left.  Since thought generates emotion which drives behavior, it could have been the start of a very bad day.  Or week.  But my Ballet Ninja skills surfaced.  I was able to acknowledge that I’m out of practice dealing with workplace miscommunication.  This stuff happens all the time.  It’s not personal.  And there’s no need to get trapped in it.  All I have to do is show up on Wednesday nights, sit with whoever else shows up for group, and see what happens.  Management stuff will work itself out.

Then, I was able to watch the emotion drive my behavior.  I had already planned to find a frame for the beautiful print my friend Rob send me, so I watched as my internal agitation pushed me to add more things to the list.  And then to snatch up stuff as I wandered through the antique mall.  There was a graceful slowing down as I watched, a deceleration, and a returning to center point.  I bought the frame.  Nothing else.

And on the drive home, I felt the residual effects of emotion spinning out possible lunch scenarios—where to eat, what to eat, how much I to eat.  I felt the familiar spin and shove of using food to calm down, using food to feel normal, using food to make the rest of the internal discomfort stop.  I watched and allowed all that mess.  And then I went home and made lunch.

ninja balletMy brain feels bloodied and blistered from pausing.  It’s so much easier to let the thoughts and emotions run, to just get out of their way and tag along.  But each time I practice, I build a little more stamina, a little more mental body memory.  These foreign maneuvers of acceptance and interruption may always be difficult to perform, but that’s part of what makes it art.  It’s part of what makes an audience gasp.

So, today I’ll try again to stalk myself, to be stealthy and nimble.  A Bipolar Bad-Ass Ninja in toe-shoes.

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