The Other February

FebruaryAll of these valentines I keep posting and adding to my Etsy shop, the snappy comments and sass, they’re just spackle over the cracks that open up in February.  It’s the hardest month.  It always has been.  I forget that.  Every year.  If not for my piles of journals, I never would have made the connection.  I’m in danger in February.

I forget how the cold and the dark take up residence, even while North America is turning back toward the sun and the snow melts.  Inside me, the cold and dark stay. Even this year with a light box.  There’s no escape from February.

I forget how my skin grows burrs on the inside that snag and startle.  I’m so uncomfortable in my own skin.  Even murmuring words of kindness and acceptance to counter the sudden self-hatred, I can’t get out from under the briars.  I feel bloody and raw from the inside out.

I forget how strong the wrong-thinking gales blow through me, knock me down, rip off my flimsy protection.  I drown in panic and confusion as that storm snatches away each breath.  There’s no shelter, no leeward side to center and regroup, just the unrelenting force of despair screaming through and around me.

I forget how lonely February feels, locked in this dungeon, a barred window between me and all the people passing by on the street above.  I see them, can almost touch them, but I can’t get out.  And they can’t get in.  Some speak gentle words.  Some take parts of me for safekeeping until I can remember that I’m human.  I don’t make sense to them, and they sound silly to me.  Or infuriating.  I’m safer not talking at all, which makes me more alone.

I forget that even with my huge collection of tools and skills February drains them of any meaning.  Days become a string of distractions, tiny moments of relief swallowed up by February’s vast pain.  It’s instinct that drives me—a wrong-headed survival mode that grabs and clutches at whatever floats by in the roaring floodwater.

It’s probably not a coincidence that I started blogging four years ago at the beginning of February—screaming from the heart of the maelstrom, “I’m here!”

I’m here.

I’m here.

Season of Change

Spock, Leonard Nimoy, Star TrekThis is sort of a big week.  Wednesday will be my last Support Group session.  Thursday, my mom returns home from the nursing home.  Big changes.  And change is always a little dangerous for anyone with bipolar disorder.  The trick, I’ve learned, is to acknowledge the potential and Watch.

I feel like I’ve prepared well for the end of Group.  My mental health clinic has been in trouble for some time, first losing money, then losing our psychiatrist, and finally, when a larger clinic took over, losing most of the counseling staff.  It seemed like the right time to transfer my records to the clinic in my own town.  I’ll miss my therapist—she’s been my biggest cheerleader—but I’ll be able to join a support group offered here.

I never thought I’d benefit so much from a support group, but I’ve learned that my preference for solitude puts me at risk.  For the rest of my life, I will need to push against that tendency, and continuing with a group will help me do that.  I still have to go through all the intake interviews and paperwork, find a new therapist, and explain how I manage without medication.  But, that’s part of the process.  A little stressful, a little anxiety-producing, but eventually I’ll settle into a new routine here.

On Wednesday, I’ll get to say a few words of parting, then the group will pass around a token (like the ones folks get in Recovery programs).  Each person will get to hold the token and say a few words about me.  After three months in this group, I’ve participated in several parting rituals, and they’re always moving.  I imagine this one will be, too.  I’m bringing Kleenex.

But, it’s time to move on.  This group was always meant to be a transition between hospitalization and New Life—that’s why clients can only participate for three months.  I’m ready.  And still, it’s a big change.

The next day my sister and I will help my mom return home after three months recovering from a botched angiogram.  A lot has changed for her.  Still weak and somewhat unsteady on her feet, she’ll go home with a walker and a cast on her arm, a home health aide to assist with bathing and housekeeping, and  a whole new way of perceiving her life.  “I have to think of myself as handicapped now,” she told me yesterday.

I don’t know yet how Mom’s homecoming will affect me.  My sister always took the lead as far was Mom is concerned, but I live closer.  It’s an uncomfortable triad—I can generally hold my own one-on-one, but put us all together and I either fade into the wallpaper or try to do too much.  Old patterns and a history of nonexistent boundaries make my family the biggest trigger for my bipolar episodes.  So, I’m Watching.

What I’m Seeing are old coping behaviors popping up like Whack-A-Moles—binge eating, long daytime naps, lots of movies—with the expected dips into depression.  So, I keep Watching and, when I can, I go do something else.  Like take a walk or write a blog post.

Change happens.  We adapt.  Those of us with bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses may need more time and resources to get to the other side, but we do.  My wish this time is to leave the least amount of carnage behind—not gain back the weight I’ve lost, not spend all my money, not hide in my apartment.  I hope to get to the other side of this season of change secure in myself and open to the benefits these changes bring.

Here comes the storm.  I’ll wet my finger with a little thankfulness and love, then turn to face it.

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