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.

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.

Hallmark Doesn’t Make a Card for This

hand made card, collage artBirthdays kinda suck.

It’s not the part about getting older.  That’s actually a triumph for me—making it through another year.  No, it’s all those demands to be happy, and to celebrate, and to have a great day.  I can’t take the pressure, man.  The revolving mixed state I’ve been in the last couple of days brought lots of presents.  Happy wasn’t one of them.  Nor was the capacity to celebrate more than climbing into bed.  And telling me to smile only makes me want to punch something.

Perhaps I’m a bit sensitive about that last point.  Ever since I was a wee bipolar lass, people have told me to “snap out of it,” or “put on a happy face,” or my favorite “what have you got to be sad about?”  So now that I’m a heavyweight in the Bipolar Bad-Ass division, I don’t tolerate folks telling me how to feel.  I may not actually whack them, but I do get deathly quiet.  Ooo!  Snap!

Back to this birthday business.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate the lovely cards and presents.  I am relieved that people remember who I am and that I was born.  It’s just that, birthday or not, I still have to figure out how to get through the day without

  • Eating the other pie I bought at Perkins last night
  • Driving hard and fast until the gas runs out in my dad’s truck
  • Putting my nightie back on and spending the day watching the ceiling fan turn

I have a couple of ideas.  I could try to get my hair cut.  I cancelled my last appointment when I was sick, and twice this week someone asked me if I qualified for their Senior Discount.  Hmm.  I know I’m 55 now, and could technically be someone’s grandma, but if that’s the case, then I’d like to look like a hip grandma.

I could try to get an appointment with Michele.  Nothing says celebrate like a session with your therapist!

What I’ll probably do is drive to Starbucks thirty miles away, get a Soy Chai, and spew all the obscenities and self-pity spared you here into my journal.  My Scottish friend, Evelyn, taught me a new epithet I’m dying to use—FEK OFF!

In fact, here’s what I want for my birthday—Everyone send me your best swear, your rudest, over-the-top expletive.  If I have to be riding this roller coaster today, I can at least have good stuff to shout at passersby.  And all those people who keep telling me to smile.

Now that’s a gift that keeps on giving.

The Second Elephant on my Chest

This pneumonia business is taking its sweet time clearing out.  I’m still having trouble taking a deep breath.  It’s like the proverbial elephant sitting on my chest.  But this morning I realized there’s another pachyderm squatting on me as well.

Last night I had an opportunity to go shopping with my girlfriends.  But I only had $40 to last me until my next Disability check comes on October 3.  That $40 had to cover groceries, gas for the truck, and any other purchases.  So, I did a rare and scary thing.  I asked my sister to let me take $200 out of my emergency fund (which she controls).  My sister is a gentle guardian.  She always sends me the money I ask for—no interrogations, no judgments.  When the check came in the mail, I put $100 in my checking account and kept $100 in cash.

Even though I’ve been too depressed to think clearly, I was giddy last night.  I actually bought myself Halloween twinkle lights ($5) and two new spiral notebooks ($2 each)—one with The Dark Knight on the cover and the other with The Avengers.  I felt deliciously decadent and rich beyond measure.  While my friends shopped for clothes, I wandered through the racks.  Such gorgeous fabrics!  Such flattering designs!  It was a visual feast.  When I checked the price tags, I just couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing.  One top cost as much as a week’s worth of groceries.  Clearly, I’d taken a misstep somewhere.  I felt dizzy and couldn’t catch my breath.

Poverty is the second elephant pinning me down.  Last night I let loose and stocked up on spaghetti and soup at Costco, but normally I fret over every dime.  When my bipolar compulsions push me to “throw money away,” it’s usually to buy a pizza or get take out from the local Chinese restaurant.  We’re talking $15 at the most, but that’s enough to make me park the truck for the rest of the month and walk everywhere I need to go.

There is no margin in poverty.  There’s only shuffling around the few dollars I have.  Do I pay the doctor bill this month or try to whittle down my VISA bill (which I use to pay for gas)?  Can I afford coffee today, or do I need to stick to ice water?  Can I make myself cook a meal when I’m so depressed I’m afraid to turn on the stove?

I don’t write this for sympathy or as a plug for donations.  Most of the time, I manage just fine.  I’ve learned to live very simply and to mediate my bipolar splurges.  It’s just when the elephant eases up a little, like she did last night, I see how heavy she really is.  Money, or the lack of it, colors every interaction with my family and friends, it determines my activities, my diet, my grooming—every choice there is to make.  I’ve become a person who relies on the generosity of my circle—someone who has gotten comfortable accepting gifts.  Pride is a thing of the past—well—I still worry about looking like a homeless person.  Maybe that’s because I’m so close to being one.

I don’t know what to do to make this situation any better.  I’ve tried going back to work—several times—to disastrous results.  I’ve applied for all social assistance programs.  I try to keep my expenses to the bare minimum.  The only thing I could think of today was to research Etsy and try to sell my greeting cards online.  So I worked on that for hours.  In a few days, I’ll have a “shop” up and running, but I can’t think much money will come pouring in.

All I can do is put the Word out to the Universe—I need more abundance in my life.  Since this is the cusp of the Autumn Equinox, it seems fitting to be setting an intention for balance and plenty.  I’m well aware that the Universe answers in unexpected and startling ways.  I’m ready for whatever answer comes.

Spontaneous Combustion

This past weekend I experienced rapid cycling (alternating depressive and manic episodes over a short period of time) for the first time since I weaned off all my meds 18 months ago.  And while very uncomfortable, I managed fine.  It did make me wonder about my stress level, though.

Losing weight is stressful for anyone.  Making major behavioral changes is very stressful for anyone.  On top of those, I’ve also eliminated two of my life-long, sure-fire methods of dealing with my bipolar disorder—TV and compulsive eating.  So not only am I under a great deal of stress, but I’ve lost the two most powerful ways of coping with it.  What’s left in my old bag of tricks is compulsive spending and sexual fantasy, which are both shouting for constant attention.

“Hmm,” I pondered, “perhaps I need a bit more support as I tear my life apart.”

So, today I went to my therapist.  Michelle said all the things I knew she’d say, but it was so comforting to hear them out loud:

All these changes are positive and incredibly stressful.

Don’t worry too much about Captain America and The Huntsman hanging out over your shoulder—have fun with them.

Keep journaling and tracking your feelings.

Try not to be rigid—if the agitation gets too big, allow yourself some TV.

Okay, then.  I’m not hallucinating when I hear Chris Hemsworth mumbling behind me.  And I’m not failing when eating my supper sans distraction makes me cry with loneliness.  No.  It’s just me ripping my life apart and feeling the effects.  Feeling, without numbing those feelings, is frightening and painful.  Many days I feel like an open wound.  But, I’m okay.  And the hunks standing behind me are okay.  However, I’m going to keep seeing Michelle for a while.  She knows how to hose me down if I burst into flames.  Everyone needs a buddy with flame retardant.

A Bold, Bad-Ass Move

Turn off the TVWell, for me it is, anyway.  I’ve decided to unplug my TV this week.

As I read through my old journals, pulling out tidbits that might be useful in my next writing project, I see over and over again how I lament over my inability to stop eating while I watch TV.  For decades, I’ve been moaning about this.  For awhile I even lived without a TV (but soon after that I was diagnosed as bipolar, so the jury is still out on whether that additional stress was a good idea or not).

This morning, I berated myself once again for bingeing while channel surfing.  Watching TV is the perfect set up for compulsive eating.  It lulls me, distracts me, siphons away any awareness or consciousness I might have scraped together.  It’s a great tool when my illness is loud and dangerous.  TV is the shiny object that distracts the toddler from sticking her finger in the electrical outlet.

But compulsions rise out of mindlessness.  They operate best in the dark when no one is looking.

I believe the only way I will ever push against my compulsions is to See them.  I have to be alert enough to notice when they show up, feel them in my body, and stay with them long enough to keep from acting blindly.  I may still fall prey to them, but at least I’ll have a fighting chance.

Losing weight is only a small part of why I need to do this.  My compulsions are my Edge right now, the Next Thing in my quest to live a sane life.  Compulsive eating, spending, and sexual fantasy control me.  They are the mindless monsters that take over and use my body and mind.  When the depression and mania come, there’s no stopping them.

Xena Warrior Princess Bad-AssIt’s only now, in the between time, that I have any chance to practice pushing against them.  This is part of my Bad-Ass Training, and like any warrior, I need to be willing to step up to the challenge.  After only one day with the TV silent, I can feel the itch.  I’m uncomfortable and want to be soothed.  Like any habit, this will be hard to kick.  And like everything else in my life, I will succeed and fail.  But, each time I Look, each time I hold the tension between Falling Asleep and Waking Up, I’ll strengthen my sword arm.

I’m on an Adventure.

Beltane

Mixed-Media collage art

Back when I was a Ministerial Guide at Lake Harriet Spiritual Community, I was blessed to be able to celebrate all the holidays of the pagan calendar in community.  I partnered with amazing, talented people to create rituals which drew on ancient tradition and current events.  We used play, dance, music, sacred space, meditation, activities of creation and inner work to mark the holidays as meaningful moments in time.

Part of the Beltane celebration is about bringing together the Masculine and Feminine energies in the act of creation.  Beltane taught me the most about holding the creative energies higher, not letting them sink down into my personality and manifest as sexuality.  I could do it back then.  I could hold a container for others with that energy, and keep it sacred.  I could help folks who were confused about their longings and passions.

But as my illness ramped up, my own sexual compulsions pushed me into dangerous situations and drove my risky behavior.  I might have been able to hold a container for others, but I couldn’t do it for myself.

Beltane reminds me of that past.  But, it also offers me comfort.  Just like my compulsive eating and spending, this symptom of my illness can be tamed if I work at it.  I can step outside the desire and longing, unhook from the fantasies, turn around and simply look at them.  I am more than those things.

There is a part of me that lives in abundance, a part of me that eats only when hungry, and a part of me that welcomes passion as a path to creativity.  This is the community I gather around me today.

I am the Priestess and the Horned God. I am the Sacred Wood where they unite.  I am the Cycle unending.

Echoes of Another Life

I went shopping for my party today.  I don’t remember the last time I stepped into a liquor store or a fancy gift shop.  But, I did remember the feeling—picking up and sniffing pretty candles, recognizing wine labels, touching lush fabric.  It was as if ghost images of my old life bled through today’s snapshot.  But, they were someone else’s memories—a very different me.

And while I enjoyed myself—found pretty napkins and nice Champaign for the punch—I don’t miss that life anymore.  Living 200% below the poverty line has made me much more careful and practical about money.  Even with my propensity for compulsive spending during bipolar episodes, I can usually live within my means now.  I’ve learned there’s very little I must have.

I thought celebrating the finish of Callinda in style meant spending enough money on a party to feel normal (i.e. not poor and not crazy).  I’m grateful to my mom for gifting me with the funds to make that party a reality.  But, I discovered today that part of that drive, that need, was an echo from a life that no longer exists.  I really could have been happy with M&Ms and cheap punch, because that’s who I am now.  I am poor.  And I am crazy.  I don’t need to prove that I’m anything else.  And the party would have been just as joyful.

Somehow, this understanding makes me feel sweeter and expansive about the party coming up on Saturday.  My gratitude seems to spread out like melting ice—a slow seep dampening everything around me.  In this moment, I am perfectly content with my life.  With the poverty, with the challenges and gifts my illness gives me, with the support and love of my family and friends, with my sore fingers from crafting presents for those who want to celebrate with me.  In this moment, I’m most grateful for the fading influence that those ghost images hold over me.  Slowly, slowly, I’m setting myself free.

Too Much of a Good Thing

There’s no doubt about it.  I am in a manic phase.  The flood of ideas and potential projects keep washing over me, each one more brilliant than the last.  What I’m trying to do is stay aware and stay focused.  I’m journaling to capture the ideas and get them out of my head.  When the mania lets go of me, I’ll be able to look at them objectively.  Often I find the ideas are still good ones, but not practical or timely or worth pursuing.

For example, yesterday I envisioned a new soft art piece—a Winter Solstice banner using a cloth-charring technique and quilting with used dryer sheets; revisited an idea for a novel about a bipolar woman living with her gay best friend in a conservative small town; and party favors for my Callinda party using cloth, beads, stamps and quotes from the story.  Swirled among those ideas are the details of the day today.  Get to the Y. Remember to take my food journal to TOPS.  Remember to take items for the silent auction at TOPS.  Strip the bed to do laundry.  All thoughts, all details, carry equal weight and flash in and out of my mind.  So writing them down and making lists helps to drain some of the wildness out of them.

I’m also trying to watch what the giddy energy brings up in me.  So far, I’m not feeling the compulsions.  Yesterday, I went shopping with my friend, Cheryl, and only indulged in a magazine (The Writer, for research purposes, of course) and craft adhesive (which I needed).

I have less of a desire to eat than usual, which may be part of the mania and the energetic spin.  Since I don’t have mania nearly as often as depression, I’m not familiar with this symptom.  Or I don’t remember it.  I’ve always been so identified with being a compulsive overeater, that the idea of not being hungry or even caring about food seems freakishly alien.  So I will watch this and mark it.

But, there is definitely an urge to GO, and I catch myself spinning around starting to do one thing, stopping, starting another, stopping.  I feel the nervy, acidic churn in my stomach.  Last night at our weekly Criminal Minds get-together, I noticed that Tom turned up the volume on the TV several times, so that told me how much more I was nattering.

Management today will be a constant returning to my breath, reminders to stop and relax.  Thursday is a busy day for me, and that will help use the energy my mania generates.  So will more exercise.  Our TOPS group plans to walk around a lake after our meeting today, which is perfect.  As always, the Observer must be in the forefront, monitoring the impulses and flurry of thoughts, creating a space between them and me where I can find myself, creating a space to rest and slow down.

It’s all part of the Bipolar Dance.  One cha-cha at a time.

Waiting Like a Bad-Ass

Tick Tock.  Tick Tock.  Time seems to be creeping toward Wednesday—my day to ride the Anesthetic Express to Scalpel Town.  While I’ve gotten my surgery jimjams more under control, this endless waiting is a whole different kind of mental torture.  I needed a strategy, a plan.  Time to fall back on my Bad-Ass Training.

Clean Eating—I can already feel my focus unraveling around food.  Since I won’t be able to attend TOPS for a few weeks, that accountability is gone.  Plus, anxiety has pushed all my compulsive eating buttons.  And then there’s the horror of being stuck in my apartment without means of escape.  I’m forbidden to drive until I regain the core strength to handle surprises in traffic.  And since I have to use a step to get up into my truck, it will be awhile before I can gird my loins enough to manage that.

You may wonder how being immobile applies to food.  Right now, the anticipation of being trapped pushes me to RUN.  I’ve driven to Ames and Des Moines more this past week than I have in months—because I still can.  Part of the escape valve is eating out—fast food, slow food, coffee shops, movie popcorn.  Then, when I really am homebound with no way to bolt, that anxiety will drive the compulsive eating.

It’s time for me to do some serious meditating.  Time to breathe and bring my attention back to what’s going on in my body and in my head.  Breathe and Watch.  Not only to keep from packing on the pounds, but to stay sane.

Also, Mom and I are grocery shopping today to stock up my cupboards.  I will choose wisely with an emphasis on simple and nutritious.  I may fondle the Cheetos, but I won’t bring them home.

Strength and Stamina—I’ve been paying attention to the daily activities I may not be able to do once I’m home from the hospital and figuring out options.  I’m forbidden to lift anything over ten pounds, bent, or stretch.  So, I won’t be able to get my Brita water pitcher out of the fridge, or make my bed, or reach my coffee filters up in the cupboard.  No cooking in the oven, or lifting the big glass dish that holds all my collage jewelry bits, or bending over to tie my shoes.  As I come across these problematic items, I try to rearrange and accommodate (I mean, there’s no way I’m giving up coffee for six weeks).

I won’t see my water aerobics class again until May, so I have to focus on what I can do.  Both my doc and the OB/GYN nurse said walking is good.  Post-op it will wake up the bowel, help prevent blood clots and clear the lungs.  A few minutes up and down the hall several times a day while I’m in the hospital, then “as tolerated” when I get home.  Maybe only a slow creep to the corner and back the first few days.  The important part for me is to have a plan and some kind of structure.  My routine will be out the window, so I need to develop a new one.  Walking a little bit several times every day will be part of it.

Set Priorities—First priority post-op will be Pain Management.  I’ll take my narcotics like a good girl so I can get restful sleep.  Next comes Healing.  That requires good nutrition, lots of water, movement and time.  I know I’ll get impatient about my limitations, but healing from this big of a surgery will take months.  I have to keep that thought in my forebrain.

Next on my priority list is Distraction.  This will be a little different from the way I use distraction during bipolar episodes.  Post-op I need to find ways to fill the days while I heal.  With this rationale, my compulsive spending broke free, and I bought a ton of movies on eBay and Half.com.  It’s hard for me to feel too bad about this since I now own most of Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman’s films.  I’ll feel worse when it’s time to pay my Visa bill.

As soon as I’m able, I get back to writing my stories and working on my collage cards.  Writing and art will take a back seat to these new priorities, but they won’t go away.

Secure Back-Up—This is probably the most important aspect of Post-Op Bad-Assery.  I will need help doing basic chores and getting around.  I will need people to make me laugh when I’m sick of myself.  And I’ll need comfort and support from the folks who love me.  I’m blessed with all that.  My best friend plans to come to the hospital Wednesday night so we can watch Criminal Minds together.  I’m already getting cards from my TOPS friends cheering me into surgery.  Blessed.

It feels really good to have a plan in place.  Adjustments will have to be made, I know, but I’m not flopping around in a panic anymore.  I can do this.  All is well and will be well.

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