Stronger and More Frayed

Vistas of BewildermentMiraculously, I’ve finished another week of work.  My life is both easier and harder.  Holding this paradox seems to be the Work set before me.

Easier:  Mom left me her 2011 Honda CRV, a car with features and comforts I never thought I’d have again.  I can hardly believe it’s mine.  After scraping a few dollars off the top of my disability check each month to save for a Smart Car, this thing of luxury dropped into my lap (or parking lot).  The first time I filled the gas tank, I cried.  It cost about half of what it took to fill my dad’s truck.

When Mom bought the car after Dad died, she said to me, “You know you’ll probably get this soon.”  It was just one of hundreds of references she made to her own death (It’s that thing old people do—”I won’t be around much longer, so you better…”).  I didn’t pay much attention.  I was glad she had a zippy little car that she loved.  Driving made her feel safe and in control.  I absolutely understand that.

Harder:  My schedule at work is all over the place—mornings, afternoons, mid-day.  I’ve told my supervisor that I need consistency.  I need time for my own self-care, and I need to be able to depend on it.  I’ve tried to hold my fifteen hours a week to afternoons, but this week was the worst so far.  And it’s all to make sure I attend an endless parade of mind-numbing meetings.  Some of them have been important—orientation to the organization, introductions to other agencies working with us, procedure—but most are irrelevant to my position.  Our boss wants us all to be cross-trained.  Part of that, I think, comes from not knowing what our jobs really are yet.  But the more of these meeting I go to, the more I can see what’s mine and what’s not mine to own.

Easier:   My boss relented on the meetings.  She created a buddy system, so my buddy will let me know if I miss anything important.  That allowed me to take charge of my own schedule.  I’m working 1:30-4:30 every day starting next week.  Good for me, but also good for the team.  Now they know when I’ll be available for client interviews and care conferences (what I should be doing).

Harder:  I had built up a reservoir of stability with my routine and daily monitoring.  That’s used up.  Everyday is a fight to turn my fear and negativity around.  Everyday I feel myself sliding toward lethargy and old habits.  I’m hypersensitive and my concentration is fragmenting.  I can still see it happening.  I can still pause, breathe, and choose not to react, but I’m getting so tired.

Yesterday I had to leave a meeting.  The woman leading it was one of those people who starts a sentence, restarts it, jumps to another topic, restarts that sentence and never gets to the point.  I know a couple of people like this.  They drive me ape-shit.  It’s a neurological thing—my nerves want to grab them by the throat.

Luckily, it was the end of my day, and I ran to the Chinese restaurant to eat lunch, listen to my iPod and journal.  It helped, but I’m not getting back to my set point like I used to.  I’m not able to repair the damage each day all this stress creates.  It’s only a matter of time before I really blow.

Easier:  Our parents left us some money.  It’s not enough to live on the rest of my life, but it will give me some breathing room.  I can do my laundry every week.  I can get some work clothes.  I can even plan a trip to the Southwest this winter to see if more sun and open space will keep me from needing hospital-level care come spring.  Poverty has been the biggest stressor in my life.  Mom and Dad knew that.  They planned their last act of love carefully to ease that for me.  I’m so grateful.

No matter what happens, no matter how the easy and the hard continue to play against each other, I am a success.  I have gone to work every day for three weeks.  That’s a miracle.  Walking through the office door is a miracle.  Waking up and doing it again is a miracle.  Even if it all stops today, I’ve triumphed.  No one can take that away from me.  It’s all mine.

Man, I freakin’ rock.

Zero Sum Bad-Assery

hand made card, collage artI happen to be a Libra.  And bipolar.   The irony of this tickles me no end.  While the Libra part of me strives for balance and harmony, the bipolar part makes sure that doesn’t happen.  It’s a conundrum, really, this constant, internal tug-of-war.  I feel like a mother with two teenage girls who share a bedroom.  Please just give it a rest, kids.

But, I think it’s the Libra part of me that keeps the bipolar part from overthrowing the entire Sandy government.  Take my current Zero Money Initiative.  In my quest to save money for a new car on a Disability income, and to practice some deep Work with my compulsive spending, I’ve tallied 31 days of success.  I’ve put money in the bank and not used my credit card once in that time.  Huge success.  Huge.  The only problem is I’m eating everything in sight.

I get the psychology of this—concentrate on one compulsive behavior and the others will flare—and I’ve tried to be gentle with myself about it.  Take away too many coping mechanisms and the stress could trigger a total meltdown (I can hear Scotty now—”Cap’n, she’s gunna blow!”).  I figured I was doing well to be cooking all my meals at home when, for so long, cooking created enormous anxiety for me.  No take-out, no restaurants—I was saving big money.  I also continued my vegan diet—quadruple portions, but vegan portions.

bowling ballThe sorry fact is that I’ve gained back 17 pounds.  That’s the weight of an average bowling ball.  Pick up a bowling ball sometime and carry it around all day.  Granted, I’m still carrying the whole tournament, but one less ball makes a big difference.  On the joints, on self-esteem, on buttons and zippers.

I really don’t want to continue this slow creep back to 300 pounds.  I’ve worked too hard to whittle that down, and still dream of the day when I can claim to be simply “obese” instead of “morbidly obese.”

So, it’s time pull out the old tools that have worked in the past.  I dusted off my Food Journal yesterday.  And my calorie guide.  And my food scale.  Even if I continue to compulsively eat, at least I’ll document accurate information about what I’m consuming.  I can’t change something I can’t see.

I’ll go back to eating my meals at the table instead of in front of the TV.  I may have cancelled my cable, but I can still watch movies on the DVD player.  And once I start eating in front of the TV, the grazing can go on for hours.

As always, it’s a matter of attention.  I’ve focused so much on Ninja Tightwaddery that I didn’t think I had any left for Sane Eating.  But, I have to try.  It’s the Libra in me that won’t let the chaos go on forever.  It’s the Libra that wants to pull both compulsions onto her scale and find what will balance them.  The bipolar part will play merry hell with Her, but that’s to be expected.  Let them scream at each other—I’ve got Work to do.

Where Everything is Music

handmade greeting card, collage artI hardly recognize myself.  Twelve days of clear skies and mental calm seas.  Fourteen days since the last time my illness made me jump in the truck and escape to the movies.  I get up, go to the Y and come home to my own table with my own chai.  A few weeks ago, the thought of living without a coffee shop would have made me weep with grief.  Now, it’s nothing.  Nothing.

I come home and journal with my own chai, work on my manuscript as easily as I type this.  No angst, no sharp hooks of remembered pain when I enter the old journals.  Just typing.

I prepare a hearty lunch of sautéed vegetables and pasta.  I cook every day.  Cook with pleasure.  A few weeks ago the idea of cooking filled me with terror.  Now, it’s nothing.  Nothing.

There’s a bone-deep satisfaction in all I’m doing, how I can choose to stay home, prepare my meals, walk to the Y.  I’m saving money.  Me.  When only a few weeks ago I didn’t know how I would survive to the end of the month.  The strangle-hold of poverty let go.  In this place of gentle weather, I have enough, and I can make this choice to set money aside for my car fund.  A choice.  I have a choice.

In the afternoons, I go back to the Y and walk with my iPod.  The music pulls the day together—the work, the pleasure, the satisfaction all flow into my feet and my swinging arms.  Here I am.

I go home to make a card, blend a fruit smoothie, and sit with Jane Austen.  The cats gather.  Night grows deeper.  We listen to the music singing us, so quiet and calm.  And it’s nothing.  Nothing.

• • •

Dont’ worry about saving these song!

And if one of our instruments breaks,

it doesn’t matter.


We have fallen into the place

where everything is music.


The strumming and the flute notes

rise into the atmosphere,

and even if the whole world’s harp

should burn up, there will still be

hidden instruments playing.


So the candle flickers and goes out.

We have a piece of flint, and a spark.


This singing art is sea foam.

The graceful movements come from a pearl

somewhere on the ocean floor.


Poems reach up like spindrift and the edge

of driftwood along the beach, wanting!


They derive

from a slow and powerful root

that we can’t see.


Stop the words now.

Open the window in the center of your chest,

and let the spirits fly in and out.


Car Crusaders

handmade greeting card, collage artMethodical deliberation is not one of my strong points.  The bipolar temperament tends towards the impulsive and, later, lots of head-slapping.  But, I’m determined to do this car-buying thing differently, if at all possible.

Yesterday, I took my dad’s truck in for an oil change and general look-see by my trusted mechanics.  The folks at Alley Auto have been very good to me—they’re like family.  (Wait.  My cousin’s husband owns the shop, so they really are family.)  They always figure out the cheapest way to fix a car-related problem, make sympathetic noises when I have my car-stress-induced crying jags, and even bought my old Ford Escape when it got too expensive to fix anymore.  They rank high on my list of Real Heroes.

I knew I could count on them to give me the real skinny on compact cars, and I wasn’t disappointed, even thought would not mind getting 2016 Toyota Land Cruiser, too.  We nattered in the office for a half hour—Rose, the tough office manager with a Lauren Bacall voice; Todd, the tender-hearted wise guy; and Bob, the all-round nice, decent, human being my cousin married.  Boy, howdy, did I get an ear-full.

The Smart Car, it seems, is not the car of choice – as well as cars of the Ferrari 250 GTO type.  Foreign-made, with no dealer in Iowa, any repairs would be expensive and done long distance. This is why most would choose to shop at a Chevy dealerships or dodge dealership with more comfort and familiarity.  And even though it is teeny-tiny, its gas mileage is only average.  There are other compacts and sub-compacts of similar price that offer more car and better mileage.

The Dodge Dart was a favorite.

And they threw out the Ford Focus.

Also the Honda Fit.

Honda Fit

And maybe the Ford Fiesta.

We have dealers in town for all these cars, so my car posse suggested I go drive them all (when the snow stops and the roads are shoveled).  Bob said once I find a couple I really like, then the team will do some research on reliability and repair stats to see how they hold up over time.  They’ll also give me pointers on what questions to ask the dealer and other car-Ninja techniques.  In the meantime, they’ll keep my old truck running on the cheap.

I was weak with gratitude as I hopped on Google to research these other cars.  What a giant relief to have a whole team on my side, ready to help me make a calculated, well-informed decision.  Even when I eventually leave this oasis of stability, I can hold onto these Car Crusaders for support.  Maybe I can really do this thing.  And, maybe this time, I won’t have to deal with so much post-manic, decision-making face palm.

captain picard, face palm

Workin’ It

As with most things I do when I’m stable, I’m totally rocking my Smart Car Quest—walking to the Y, saving all my errands for one trip, eating at home, keeping a list of things I want in order to delay gratification.  And just as I hoped, the Universe is conspiring to assist.  Yesterday, a friend offered to let me use a spare phone she just happens to have on her service plan.  She may also have a little job for me keeping a website up to date.  And as I promised, I’m staying open and accepting of the gifts coming my way.  With gratitude.

It feels so good to take back some control over my life.  Even if this is as fleeting as my mood, a few days of determining my own destiny helps me remember that being bipolar doesn’t have to equal being helpless.  Or alone.

Here’s a shot of my front door, where I stick all things inspirational.  Bruce is still coming to me in my dreams.  And I’ve added my own version of the typical work safety sign.  I’m aiming to put that puppy into the double digits. Because…

I’m on an Adventure.

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.

From the Corner

Each morning I wake up and think, “I need to find something to blog about today.”  But, there’s nothing helpful in the way I’m shambling through this depression—nothing inspirational and certainly nothing skillful.

I’m ashamed of the way it’s beaten me back into a very old corner.  I spend all my money on junk food that makes me physically sick and mentally dead, then I sleep to escape the shame and self-loathing.  I wake up and vow to stop, to change, to take back control, to make one positive gesture.  Then, the depression sweeps me off my feet and back into the corner.

I’m so angry.  Just when I think my hard work is starting to take effect, when there looks like a possibility of improving my quality of life, the illness blows in harder and faster than ever.  It scatters my fragile scaffolding like Tinker Toys, and I have to start all over.

Forget about volunteering at the Animal Rescue League—I can’t even rescue myself.  Forget about saving money for a new car—I spend every cent I have on Cheetos.  Forget about building a life with dignity and meaning.  Just forget all about that.

There comes a point in every episode where I can get up from the corner and start over.  I pick up all the Tinker Toys and start rebuilding.  I start my Bipolar Bad Ass Training.  But, I’m not there yet.  I’m not even close.  The thought of starting over—again—seems pointless and exhausting from this corner.  I’m not effecting any change. I’m not who I want to be.  This isn’t life, it’s limbo.

This isn’t fit blogging material.  There’s no uplifting moral to the story, no shaft of light, no plucky heroine.  It’s just me, bare-faced, in this horrible corner.  But, I promised myself at the beginning of this venture that I’d be honest here.  And while this post comes from a mind that’s twisted and distorted now from illness, it’s all I’ve got.  That and the corner.

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 28

When my car sputtered its last breath in February, my parents generously offered me the use of their truck—a 1999 Ford F-150 with an extended cab and topper.  I’m not used to driving such a behemoth, and regularly jump curbs, but it’s a reliable vehicle, we got thanks to the used car dealership.  The only thing it needed since last winter was an oil change, which seems amazing for a twelve-year-old truck, and a true gift considering the endless repairs my old car required.  It’s a gas-guzzler, as my dad warned me, and to fill it up would have cost me over $75 this summer.  But a full tank of gas can last me a couple of weeks.

I’m grateful to my parents for the long-term loaner, and grateful to still have the independence a vehicle gives me.  I’m saving my pennies, and some day (I figure when I’m around 60), I’ll buy a new Toyota Rav4—my Once and Future car.  In the meantime, I’ll be taking real good care of the Ford.

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 18

I’m back from my trip to Pittsburgh and a week of intense spiritual work with 20 of my favorite people.

My first shout-out of gratitude about the trip has to go to the two friends I traveled with.  Richard and Rob made two days stuck in a car out and back delightful beyond words.  All our decisions about where to eat, where to stay the night, where to stop for gas and potty breaks rose organically with no tension or fussing.  The Garmond and the atlas kept us on track with the guys tweaking the route (as is a guy’s purogative).

Maybe we were all just indoctrinated in “Minnesota Nice”  (the fellas live in Minneapolis), but I can’t imagine getting along so easily with even my best friends.  Changes in our schedule, in rendezvous points, detours, me forgetting my billfold at the motel outside Peoria or needing a potty in the middle of Pittsburgh rush hour traffic—nothing flapped these unflappable gents.  Beaucoup thanks to you, guys.

Finding the Gift

For the last few days I’ve been stuck in an uncomfortable place.  I haven’t posted much because I can’t find the “gift.”  If I sit with my discomfort, if I do the spiritual and mental work, there’s always insight—eventually.  I just haven’t gotten there yet.

Frankly, I’m frightened.  None of my ideas or plans for managing this illness seem to work for long.  I can follow through when I’m stable, but lately that state only lasts about a week before the depression or the mania return.  I believed going off medication would make a bigger difference than it has.  I’m clearer, my memory is better, and I no longer experience rapid cycling, but I had hoped for more.  I guess I was looking for a miracle.

I have to sit back for a minute, take a deep breath, and concentrate on the gifts I already have—a nice apartment, a vehicle that runs, my friends and family, clean clothes, two sweet cats, a place where I can swim and dance, food in the cupboard, a network of cyber-friends who understand me.  I can see the list going on and on.  If I hold onto these gifts, maybe I can wait out the fear and resignation, not get too mired in them.  This all will turn.  It always does.

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