Nesting

Henry's Pillow 2

It’s autumn.  Time for apple cider and the annual ugly chest cold.  Time to put away shorts and see if the crotch in any of my old jeans will embarrass me in public.  Time to start work on my Solstice cards and pull out my Happy Light.

I love autumn, even if the waning light makes me think St. John of the Cross was probably bipolar and talking about winter when he coined the term dark night of the soul.  I love the smell of corn dust and how it hangs in the air.  I love the slant of the sun as it hits a golden point on its arc, how it burns through a single, curry-colored leaf stuck in the weeds.

I’m profoundly aware of how much I’m enjoying autumn this year.  Even with bronchitis and a pantheon of prescription inhalers on my counter, I watch the squirrels in their pre-winter frenzy and feel joy rise up.  Like a breath.  Like a sigh.  Clear lungs are not required.

I’ve had moments of bipolarness over the past five months.  Moments—not days or weeks or months.  Moments where the illness broke through to remind me to stay sharp.  I can’t go back to sleep.  And I also don’t fight or fret when the illness presents itself.  This is me, too.  All of this is me.

New BookcaseMy energy amazed me, and the way my mind opened to possibility and change.  Over the summer, I catalogued my apartment—the rotting furniture, the squeeze and mess of a tiny space, all the ways I made do when the idea of doing more overwhelmed me.  Getting a new bathtub and replacing the damaged linoleum floor suddenly made anything possible.

On my trips to Minneapolis to see friends, I also visited IKEA.  I gave away or trashed furniture that was too big, too ruined or too inefficient and replaced it with four beautiful pieces put together with my own two hands plus one great recliner from the Club Furniture.  Now our living room fits us.  There’s room for the cats to chase each other, new places to nap, and a more inviting entry (rather than sliding in sideways and banging a hip on some ouchy corner).

Cabinet Before

Before

Cabinet After

After

Desk Before

Before

Desk After

After

I’m also working on more efficient storage.  I installed roll-out, metal baskets under my kitchen sink and bathroom vanity.  I cleaned out a skinny cupboard in the kitchen, found tubs that fit the narrow space, and got seldom-used art supplies out of the way.

Before

Before

After

After

valje-wall-cabinet-red__0290149_PE424853_S4IKEA carries a wall cabinet—basically, an open box with mounting hardware.  I tossed the hardware and stacked two of those on my coat closet shelf to wrangle the magazines I glean for greeting card captions (My closets have lots of height, so I’m always looking for stackables).  There was plenty of room left over to store other crafty stuff.  No more cascades of musty magazines when I get out the broom.

Autumn is the season for nesting.  We make ourselves snug and warm, surround ourselves with treasures and love, settle in for the long winter.  Nesting makes a place a home.  We should find comfort and relief there.  And joy.

Sitting here at my desk, with Henry curled on his pillow, I listen to James Vincent McMorrow and feel my home breathing with me.

A moment of joy.

Mildred’s Grog

Mildred's Grog

Oh, for a cup of grog.  Or a hot toddy.  Just when I thought I was shaking off the annual lung crud, I’m back to being feverish and sore-throatish.  Methinks a secondary infection is taking naughty advantage of me.  I’m afraid this means a trip to the quack on Monday if this new development doesn’t skedaddle by then.  Poo.  Ah, well.  At least the first round of depression has come and gone.  That’s lovely.  So much easier to deal with one bully at a time.

Der Rapid Cycle

BrunnhildeI’m at that phase of The Chest Cold/Bronchitis Opera where initial mania (Ooo, goodie!  I get to sleep all day and eat Raman Noodles!) gives way to the longer aria of depression.  I’ve been singing this part for several years now, and sometimes the Dark Solo can go on for months.  As can the bronchitis itself.  It’s a nasty, double whammy.  Sorta like Brünhilde losing her immortality AND getting thrown on a pyre.  Heh, Heh.  That Wagner.  What a cut up.

This season, though, I’m finding the depression to be different.  Not easier—that strum und drang never gets easier—but simpler.  This time, I have the gifts my mom left me to help me through the whole Ring cycle—her almost-new Honda and a small monthly income from investments.

sisyphusI’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—the stress of poverty kills.  The hopelessness and desperation it creates turns a person into a sack of mindless meat.  It yanks away the will to live and leaves said person on bloody knees.  It’s a weight that can’t be shucked off or reasoned with—like Sisyphus’ stone (Oops.  Wrong Mythos).

I thank my mom every day for taking away my need to choose between medicine for chest blight and gas for her wonderful car.  I thank her for taking away the stress of being squashed-flat by poverty.  Eliminating that stressor has already made a huge difference in how I deal with my bipolar disorder.  Now I have a real chance to manage it.

But I still have to manage it.  Last week, someone asked me if, since I had a little more money and didn’t have the stress of my Peer Support job, I’d ‘get over the whole bipolar thing now.’  I wasn’t sure how to answer.  It’s not like a cold sore that flares up when you get nervous and then fades away.  It’s not a case of hives.  It’s a mental illness.  I still have to strap on my breast plates and take the stage.  Every single day.  And belt out that damned song.

Don’t be fooled.  The fat lady sings because she has to, not because the show is over.  This is one show that never ends.

Follow Your Wild Self

Follow Your Wild Self

Just a pretty while I work my way through this year’s case of bronchitis.  It’s not so bad.  I’m eating what I want (lots of Häagenn Dazs bars) and shuffling from bed to chair either watching episodes of Call the Midwife, or cruising Pinterest, or sleeping.  The weather is fine, so the windows are open and the boys enjoy the sniffs as well as burrowing under the covers with me.  Maybe it won’t take until October to de-crap my lungs this time.  Wild hope.

Pulling the Plug

I am What I amAfter my session with Luke Skywalker yesterday morning, I decided it was time to call it quits on my stint as a Peer Support Specialist.  I’m quite proud of myself for hanging in as long as I did, and for staying relatively stable through the stress and uncertainty.  I learned a lot about what I need and what I will tolerate.  But, I have bronchitis now, and that means being sick for at least a month.  I was waiting for something to tip the balance on whether to stay or go, and this is it.

The part of me that thinks in black and white wants to consider this a failure, but I’m not having any of that.  I may be returning to a less stressful life, but I’m not the same person I was when this whole job journey started.  I’m more flexible and resilient than I was.  I bring all that back with me.  And, who knows?  There still might be a job out there for me.  But, first, there’s bed and Kleenex.

Focus on Gratitude: Day 1

mug 2Dealing with my second bout of bronchitis this autumn, I didn’t have much else to talk to my therapist about yesterday.  I was in basic survival mode—fluids, rest, Robitussin—and not thinking much about how physical illness usually leads to an eventual bipolar swing.  I’d deal with that when the time came.

But Megan asked me what I was doing to take care of my mental health as well as my physical wellbeing.  I held that question as I went home to bed.  And it rose with me when I got up in the middle of the night to de-snot.  I filled my pretty, new mug with chai and sat down to check email.  Gosh, I love this mug.

And I realized, that’s it!  All these small treasures that take on so much more meaning when I’m sick, all these morsels of gratitude—that’s what I should focus on.  So, that’s where I’ll point my thinking and my posts until the wheezing stops and the fever breaks.  And if this trail of grateful bread crumbs leads me through the next mood swing, all the better.

So let me tell you about this mug…

I found it on sale last week at Pier One.  I hadn’t been inside a Pier One in at least seven years.  With no money to fritter away on pretties, I don’t shop for the sake of shopping.  Nor do I give gifts at Christmas anymore. But last week I could feel the cold coming on, and I was hungry for beauty.   Gift shops can be dangerous to those of us with compulsive spending tendencies, but I thought I could take a chance this once to feed my soul.

I let myself spend $3 on this cheerful, nubby mug, which has turned into my constant companion.  It holds my chai and my soup.  It follows me from desk to chair to bed with warm comfort and a happy face.  It feels good in my hands.  It’s a little placeholder for abundance and luxury when I feel so depleted.

Such a small thing, but what a lift it gives me.  It makes me wonder—what little things in your life give you that boost?  Things your eye slides over or things you reach for without thinking?  I would invite you to pause a second today and notice.  And if you’ve a mind to, let me know what happens.

Good Things Happen

abandoned hotel

On Monday, I head back to Council Bluffs for my week of Advanced Peer Training.  Since I’m finally well enough to get through the day without a nap, that works out just fine.

To keep from checking into another Walking Dead Hotel, I turned to William Shatner and Priceline to find a nice place that wouldn’t cost me a lung.  I’ve got a Comfort Inns and Suites room waiting for me—a $112/day room for the low, low price of $49/day!  I feel like a total Shat-boss, ready to kick old ladies and children out of my way at the complimentary breakfast line.Priceline, William Shatner

My friend, Bea, will act as cat concierge again, making house calls on the boys while I’m away.  I’ll leave them with plenty of food and water, but a week without human fawning would be intolerable.  Bea will offer the proper level of deference and admiration.Henry, cat in a box

I plan to stop at Whole Foods on my way West to load my cooler with kale and collard greens.  Being sick has made me sloppy, doing what’s easy instead of what’s best.  Getting out of town and doing something besides watching old movies and sleeping will help me point my energies in a healthier direction.  I can expend a little more effort in eating my greens, in using the stationary bike at the hotel’s Fitness Center (another win for the Shat!), and in taking walks after class around the funky downtown area.  I’ll be a good girl and keep my food journal, not just to keep from paying the fine at TOPS next week (50 cents!), but because I need the information.  My ponies haven’t galloped too far down range, but there are several I haven’t ridden in a while.  Time to hop on all those horses and ride.

peer supportAnd when I get home, I’ll have something special waiting for me.  Yesterday, I talked with Dan, the social worker who pointed me toward Peer Training when I was in partial hospitalization last spring.  The hospital program I went through offers an after-care support group, but it’s designed to be short-term.  Folks are only allowed to attend for three months.  Part of recovery is finding other means of emotional support through family, friends and other groups.  Many people have asked for an after-after-care group, one that would let them continue with the friends they’ve made in group.  Dan said the hospital finally approved a peer-led after-care group, and he wants me to be part of the peer team.  The week after I get home from training, I’ll meet with Dan to start orientation and training.

The position is unpaid, which bummed me at first glance.  But I quickly realized it’s the perfect way for me to ease into this work and a possible work-life.  I’ll be with people I know, working in a program I believe in at Mercy Franklin (the only place I ever saw myself working).  It’s a baby step, and that’s the only way to proceed here.

It’s so easy to focus on the crappy stuff—being sick, being crazy.  Good Things happen, too.  Especially when I point my energy and thoughts in that direction.  I am infinitely grateful for that reminder today.

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.

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