A Bad-Ass Review

A page has turned.

Or, maybe, a season is done.

Whatever the metaphor, I’ve put closure to a few major events in my life—healing from surgery, Callinda, and celebrating Callinda.  Now it’s time to regroup, refocus and point myself in the next direction.

To do that, I turn to my Bipolar Bad-Ass Training, which seems odd since I’m not coming out of a bipolar episode.  But, the last six weeks threw my normal routine out the window, and Bad-Assery is all about putting routine back in place and setting focus.

Clean Eating

I was thrilled that I got all the party left-overs out of my apartment before I indulged in more than one binge.  Saturday night, I was exhausted after cleaning and schlepping.  All I wanted to do was self-medicate with food and go numb in front of the TV, which I did.  But, the next morning I gave away the rest of the left-overs or threw them in the dumpster.  Better in there than in me.

Getting too tired, too emotional, or too rigid are guaranteed triggers of my compulsive eating.  I’m pleased that I minimized the damage and am back to Paying Attention in this area.

Stamina and Strength

I’ve returned to my 6:00 AM water aerobics class.  I can still feel some soreness, and I’m not as fast or strong as when I left six weeks ago, but I’m back.  I know that a huge part of my quick recovery is due to my level of fitness going into surgery.  That feels wonderful.  Me?  Fit?  Who woulda thunk it?

The next physical issue to address will be my shoulder, reinjured when I swam laps in December.  My chiropractor suggested I get an MRI to check for structural damage, so I have an appointment to see my medical doc in a few weeks.

Set Priorities

My basic priorities remain the same—Write, Make Art and Make a Life.  Today I started working on what I’m calling my Bad-Assery manuscript—my experience as a bipolar warrior.  Lots of work to be done, lots of research to explore, but today I started.

For the next month or so, I’ll be devoting my art time to drawing.  I can feel a big boulder of resistance in my gut over this, but just like I pushed through my fear of writing, I can push through my fear of drawing.  Each time I pick up my pencil, I will feel the resistance and push back, just a little bit.  Holding this tension will strengthen my Will and give me more energy to push back the next time.  Growing my Will is important.  It will help me to push back against my compulsive impulses when they rise.  Anyway I can do that deserves time and attention.

For me, making a life means finding ways to be in the community.  Tutoring kids was too stressful and helping at the Animal Rescue League was too sad.  So, I stopped at the library today to see if they could use a volunteer.  I’ll talk to the person in charge about details tomorrow.  There’s also my involvement in TOPS and the Unitarian Universalist group.  A Life is definitely being made.

Lay in Supplies

There are chores and maintenance items to attend to, things I let go because I either wasn’t strong enough after surgery, didn’t have the time while planning for the party, or didn’t have the money.  It’s time to take care of those things.

Refocus.  Regroup.  Take stock.  And take the next step.

I’m ready.

Minimizing the Damage

I woke up this morning deep in depression.  This is one of the mysteries of my bipolar disorder—sometimes sleep acts as a transition.  I can go to bed feeling fine and wake up either manic or depressed, or go to sleep in the throes of an episode and wake up stable.  Something gets reset, some sticky switch gets thrown, some chemical process does or doesn’t happen.  If it wasn’t so deadly, it would be fascinating.

My whole focus today became doing the least amount of damage.  I was supposed to volunteer at the Animal Rescue League again this afternoon.  Instead of bolting completely, I rescheduled for Wednesday.  Canceling altogether felt too much like failure, which was the depression twisting my thoughts, but I needed to give myself a chance to succeed later, if I could.  Writing this helps me see how contorted my thinking is.  Boy, I’m deep in it alright.

I recently added a bunch of books to sell on my Half.com account.  Three orders came through over the weekend, and I needed to get them shipped.  This task felt enormous and impossible.  Driving to Staples filled me with anxiety, especially when they didn’t have the right size box.  All I wanted to do was load up on my favorite junk food and hide in my apartment.  But I went to the UPS store instead.  I let the nice folks there find the right box, the right mailers, then I stood at the counter and packed everything up.  Carefully.  It’s very easy to make mistakes—wad up tape, mis-print the address, mix up the orders.  I double checked, then checked the double-check.

I still planned on buying binge food when I dropped the packages off at Hy-Vee.  I knew there was no denying the compulsion, so the best I could do was read the nutrition labels and try to make better choices in junk—a smaller sized frozen pizza, Haagen Das instead of Ben and Jerry’s, baked Cheetos instead of regular.  At the Redbox, I got three movies instead of my usual depression fare of five or six.  I couldn’t stop the compulsions, but I could temper them a little.  Today, that felt like a huge victory.

After sleeping most of the afternoon, I feel like I can sit at my table and make a few cards.  The Eagles are crooning on my stereo.  Emmett is tucked into my big chair, sleeping his kitty dreams.  The traffic keeps the beat of evening coming on.  I’ve survived another day in Bipolar Paradise with a minimum of scars.

Gummy Eyes

Do you ever wake up with gummy eyes?  You rub and blink, but your vision stays blurry?  This morning I feel like my Life Eyeball is gummy.  After spending five days eating sugar-free jello and toast, watching the Hell on Wheels marathon on AMC plus every mediocre movie my cable channels offer, expelling unspeakable noxious odors, and laying with a heating pad on my belly, I can’t quite bring the world into focus.  Wha….?

Later this week, I’m heading for Minneapolis to sit with a friend through a simple, but scary surgery.  I’ll be there long enough to see a bunch of people I haven’t laid eyes on in years, people from my life before the bipolar disorder blew it all up.  This will be my 2012 Excursion, and I’m looking forward to it.  But, there’s stuff to do before I go, and I can’t seem to get clear on what that is.

I’m sticky with bits of Christmas, flu, depression, Diet Brain (too much toast!), and Money Fret (pay day is on Tuesday).  Tasks pop up to the surface (Get the Oil Changed in the Truck!) and sink again before I can get a good hold on them.

I’m thinking this is a transition from flu and depression to something better.  So, I will try to help it along today.  Back to the Y.  They’ll just have to put up with the gas bubbles rising up out of the water.  And then coffee with a notebook to make a list.  Or two.  Whatever it takes to clear the sand out of my eyes.

Count the Blessings

I’ve been down with an intestinal flu the last couple of days.  Nothing to do but watch movies, drink ginger ale and ponder the year that’s about to end.  But pondering can be a dangerous exercise, especially when I’m sick and in the middle of an episode.  I’ve learned it’s never a good idea to give too much attention to the thoughts that swirl up then.  Too much darkness, too much regret, too much grief.  So instead, I’ll focus on a few of the blessings 2011 brought me.

A place to sell my art cards.  My last visit at The Perfect Setting was disappointing compared to all the other times I’ve sold my cards there.  Pam, the owner, placed another employee in charge of the greeting cards.  This person pulled a couple of mine as “inappropriate”.  It seems she and I don’t share the same sense of humor.  So, Pam bought only half of the bunch I brought in this time instead of all of them.

Even though I know better, I took it very personally.  I know every shop has to make careful selection and cater to the clientele, but it surprised me since Pam always seemed to love everything I brought in.  Every artist has to tailor their work to fit the market—I know and understand this.  It just caught me on a very bad day, and I haven’t been able to sit at my studio table since.

This isn’t sounding much like gratitude.  But I am extremely grateful to Pam for taking a chance with my work.  She hung my weird collages even though no one in Marshalltown will ever buy them.  She bought all my cards, even when her other employees raised eyebrows.  She let me be the square peg in the town’s round hole—no one else here has ever done that for me.  Yes, I’m grateful.  And eventually, I’ll start making more of the cards that the town will accept—along with a few naughty ones.

Healing.  This year I learned how to manage without psychotropic medication.  I developed my Bipolar Bad-Ass Training guidelines.  I graduated from the Silver Sneakers water exercise class to the deep water, high-powered, water aerobics class.  I pushed the envelope of my reading disability and actually finished eleven whole books this year.  I’m learning how to be a woman alone without being lonely all the time.  I’ve moved past my fear of cooking and can now fix supper for myself every night.  I’ve started again on the weight loss journey, losing 12 pounds since my visit with the allergist at the beginning of December.

It’s an important practice to remember all the healing this year brought, all the hard work and dedication I put into it.  The illness always grabs center stage.  The loss of Will, the scrambled routine, the swamping thoughts tear down self-worth and confidence.  It’s so easy to see only failure.  So, remembering the success and joy play a vital part in bringing reality back to true.

Saying Good-bye to my dad on my terms.  I am deeply grateful that I was able to spend so much time with my dad in his final days and participate in his funeral in a meaningful way.  It was a gift.  Just as easily, my illness might have flared like it did this past Christmas, incapacitating me and keeping me from any human interaction.  Frankly, I expected to be a nut case during my dad’s rituals, and the stress did eventually cause an episode.  But I was fully there when I most wanted to be.  A miracle.  A prayer answered.

These are just a few of the gifts the Heart of the Universe placed in my lap this year.  What treasures did you receive?

The Morning After

This has catastrophe written all over it.—Sydney Ellen Wade in The American President

I started feeling depressed again about a week ago.  It was more like a low-grade fever—the voices of despair and hopelessness in the background with the Christmas Muzak.  Just enough to slow me down, to make the holes in my day yawn like hungry mouths. Counter measures could still beat it back at times—long workouts in the water, three full hours writing—but the Sunset Syndrome was back.  Anxiety and agitation moved in as the sun went down, so the evenings proved particularly uncomfortable.  And the urge to eat drowned me then.

But, I hung on—counted my calories, kept to my routine.  I balanced on that edge for days.  Then, Christmas came and I tumbled over.

I think I can now safely say that Christmas is a trigger for me.  After last year, I wondered if I should ease out of the family events.  But, then, Dad died, and it felt important to all be together this year, to try to find a way to do our normal activities without him.  But the stress was too much.

Once my brother arrived, he never stopped talking, so there were usually two or three conversations going on at the same time with no-one really listening.  Mom interrogated and fired off new information the minute I walked in the door—I tried to call, where were you? Tyler called and said… What’s in this bag?  We watched The Man Who Would Be King last night…  My body interpreted all this stimuli as an attack, and the only responses were fight back or escape.  So Christmas became an exercise in keeping my anger in check and not running out the door.  I failed.

The more I failed, the more my illness seized my thoughts, and the worse I failed.  Opening presents was a nightmarish ordeal.  I announced months ago that I couldn’t afford to give presents this year, but at the last minute I couldn’t stand the poverty-mindedness of it and bundled up packages of cards I’d made to give out.  Some gave me gifts anyway, some didn’t.  I  felt ridiculous, poor and just plain wrong.  This isn’t how our family does Christmas.  We always have loads of gifts and great fun opening them.  I didn’t belong anymore.

Then, there were the looks and the whispering.  Oh, they had every right to whisper about me, I was in rare bipolar form, but it always hurts to catch them at it.  It makes me feel so very crazy.

I dreaded this weekend.  I knew it would be bad.  And I started to wonder if my family dreads being with me as much as I dread being with them.  I could see my sister’s concern, her desire to pull together all the elements that would make Christmas feel normal without Dad.  And Mom brushed off my apologies as if my outbursts were the most normal things in the world.  They deserve time together without wondering if I’m going to implode.  I love them.  I want to be with them.  But, it seems like I can’t.  And that makes me incredibly sad.

The thin layer of sanity I wear so proudly got ripped off and the raving lunatic gamboled in the streets. I’m humiliated and defeated.  And another part of me knows this will pass.  I’ll be forgiven, this episode will run its course, and the cycle will start again.  I must be careful now to watch my thoughts, come back to my routine, do all the things I know to do that will keep me healthy and sane.  I must use this Christmas as a learning, a marker, and make adjustments.  When I feel stronger, I’ll talk to my family about what happened.  It’s all part of the Work.

In the Spaces

No drama.  No opinions.  No strong thoughts of any kind.  Moods shift, but not too low or too high.  Events transpire, even uncomfortable events, but Body and Mind return to center.  Swim.  Write.  Drink coffee and eat oatmeal.  Write down calories and watch the scale.

Henry purrs.  Emmett hides.  Music plays.

The sun comes up, lasts all day, then sets at night.  The moon and stars come out.  Breath frosts the air.  Life happens between breaths.

Life happens in the spaces.


The last few days have been pure delight.  No insurmountable agonies of any kind.  No hardships and no complaints.  My writing and art are both deliciously satisfying.  I can hold the relationships in my life lightly and feel no barbs or hooks.  I’m dedicated to my healthy eating changes and see results.  My arm and shoulder are getting stronger, my stamina returning to pre-surgery levels.  In this place and time, life is good.

I am grateful for this gift, this breather between episodes, this chance to erect new structures that might help me carry healthy habits through the darker times.  I’ve joined T.O.P.S., even though I dissed it after my first meeting.  I realized I need the support and accountability as I try to lose weight.  It’s a little goofy—more like a church sewing bee than a weight loss group—but I’m good with goofy.  It’s one anchor I can cling to when the dark waters roll back in.

A little while back, I read Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project.  While I agree with her that there are changes we all can make to become more content and joyful in our lives, I also know that bipolar disorder can negate all that hard work.  Happiness is sometimes just a gift from the Universe.  All we have to do is open our arms to it and say thank you.

Thank You.

Return of the Bad-Ass

This morning I got up on the good side of the bed.  And I didn’t even know I had one.

Life in general is taking a turn.  Our family is slowly finding a new rhythm without Dad.  My incision hurts less all the time and water aerobics is morphing back into something enjoyable instead of torture.  I have a plan for combating the respiratory infections that have plagued me the last couple of years.  My bipolar disorder is quiet for the time being.  And my new doc planted some motivational seeds to take up the weight loss banner.  Again.

It’s the return of the Bipolar Bad-Ass.  Thank the stars!  It’s been a couple of months since I felt this strong and clear with some sense of direction and the energy to follow through.  I quit whining about not having the perfect coffee shop to do my word smithing and planted myself at Muddy Waters.  This is where I first started writing again after my bipolar collapse.  The folks there know me, welcome me and treat me well.

I checked out two juvenile books at the library, on the recommendation of my friend, Joa, the Children’s Librarian, and put my name on the waiting list for Stephen King’s new book.  My ECT-fried brain is a lot like my stiff arm after surgery.  The muscles and skin ache and resist stretching, but they have to be worked in order to function.  I haven’t read anything in awhile, and I need to.  It’s part of my Training.

I pulled out my calorie counter, Clean Eating magazines, food journal and started paying attention to my intake again. Hearing Dr. Brown say “I know it’s hard, but you have to do it anyway” felt good.  I needed to hear that the obstacles in my way don’t really matter—the obsessive compulsive behavior, the fears, the wanting.  They are serious, and they are real, but I have to find a way to set them aside.  At this moment, I’m determined to lose 20 pounds (Yikes!  Did I say that out loud?).  I don’t know how long that will take, but there it is—my starting goal.  In black and white.

Of course, my mood will shift.  The depression will waft back in and blow my resolve.  But, I’m going to try to keep focus during the next episode.  And if I can’t manage that, I’ll try to get back to Bad-Ass Training sooner rather than later.  But, today is what I have, and today I’m in Training.  Today, the Bitch is Back.

Feeding the Elephant

I woke up this morning feeling like Grade A Horse Pootie, but the day was saved by my consult with an allergist.

First of all, the guy bursts into the room like a smarter, savvier Kramer from the old Jerry Seinfeld show, carrying on three conversations with himself while reading my chart.  I could feel my hair blown back by the gale winds.  His interviewing technique had me choking with laughter.  But when he actually addressed my obesity, I knew I’d found the right doc.

There’s just something about the elephant in the room when said elephant is me.  My GP walks around it.  My shrink pokes it once then pretends she didn’t.  But, Dr. Brown talked to me—about my diet, my exercise routine, my compulsive eating, gastric bypass, new studies about the benefits of near-starvation (I nodded politely), how obesity affects respiratory disorders and all the rest.  Granted, he talked so fast and unloaded so much information I didn’t have much of a chance to respond.  But, I appreciated the guy’s guts.  Telling someone they’re obese is not a popular move.

So, I happily went through the breathing tests, and allergy pricks, and chest X-ray.  I had a feeling this doctor could actually help me.

And, lo, I find I have asthma, and I’m allergic to dust mites.

I was surprised by the asthma diagnosis.  But, Doc said that when every head cold goes to the chest, that’s a sure sign.  And that would be me.

The dust mites are a fairly easy fix.  I have to buy special Baggies to put around my box springs, mattress and pillows; wash my bedding in hot water more often; vacuum and dust more often.  I can do all that.

The asthma will be a process, though. Doc gave me a bunch of drug samples to try.  When we find one that works, his office will help me get on that drug company’s patient assistance program (like I did with my psychotropic meds), since, of course, this won’t be cheap.

I have to say I’m not thrilled about taking medication, but this time I understand the science behind them.  Asthma lowers the lung’s tolerance for irritation.  Pile on too many irritants and the lungs go nuclear.  So, to be healthier, keep the lungs happy.  I get that.  And I’m willing to take medication to make that happen.

I’m also willing to work with this wild-man medic.  I know when I see him in a month, he’ll throw more case studies and statistics at me about obesity while making sure I get the care I need—feeding the elephant instead of ignoring it.  I like his style.

Navigating Grief in the Bipolar Sea

If I thought life in general was hard to navigate with bipolar disorder, life in a state of grief and profound adjustment is like charting unknown waters.  I’ve been preparing and processing the eventuality of my dad’s death all summer, so these feelings that rise and fall are familiar and almost comforting.  I’ve also partnered with my sister and mom in his care, so I know how they respond to their own feelings.  I know what to expect from them, which is also a comfort.  Bipolar demands consistency or it flies off its fragile fulcrum, becoming symptomatic.  At least it does for me.

What I’m finding is that my deep weariness is tweaking the illness and making me even more sensitive to stimuli.  Too many details to take care of, too many  retellings of Dad’s final days, too many people needing to express their own grief to us, too much odd food.  My ability to flex and adapt is compromised.  I dread the upcoming public events—Visitation and the Funeral.  I don’t think I can stand so many people crowding close, talking, touching.

So, I have to figure out how to do this without losing my mind, how to be a part of this process and not get so overloaded that I’ll cease to function.

Two things are important to me—to be able to support my mom and to do the pieces of the funeral service that I’ve prepared.  Supporting Mom requires awareness—seeing when she needs to stay busy and in control, when she needs to talk about Dad and her feelings, and when she needs quiet and rest.  Supporting Mom means keeping other worries at a minimum (like whether or not I’ll fall apart) and supporting her decisions instead of throwing out my own quixotic ideas.  Awareness requires that I stay conscious of my own inner turmoil and thoughts.  Circumstance and emotion carry a strong undertow now, so keeping my head above the surface is wicked-hard.  I’m already bone-tired, so this added struggle feels like flailing.  I’m doing the best I can, but the waters are winning.

On Wednesday at the funeral, I will lead a guided meditation to send Dad off to his next adventure, then do a reading from Awakening Osiris.  In my old life as a ministerial guide at Lake Harriet Spiritual Community in Minneapolis, I performed weddings and funerals as part of my calling.  I led a weekly meditation service.  Spiritual transitions were what I did best and what I loved to facilitate.  Doing that for my own dad and for those of us grieving him is important to me.  I know I’m not the person I was when I used to perform ministerial functions.  I know it will be incredibly difficult to stand in front of a congregation again.  But I need to do this, and my family is willing to let me.

Part of my passion around this is to balance the service.  My Dad was a devout atheist.  When I asked him once where he thought we went when we died, he said, “We don’t go anywhere—we’re dead.”  If he had a whiff of spirituality, it involved the cycle of the seasons, the power of rain and sun and earth.  He said several times that he didn’t want “someone preaching over me.”

But, I know a funeral is for the living, it’s to give comfort to the survivors and offer hope when the uncertainty of death rises up.  And since the majority of people coming to Dad’s funeral will be Christians, a Christian service is necessary.  But, like my dad, I’m not a Christian.  Scripture and words about “going home” offer me no comfort.  The young pastor from my sister’s church is a lovely man and willing to adapt his service to fit Dad’s beliefs to a point.  But, if I want something to take away from this ritual, I have to provide it myself.

So these next few days will be a crucible for me.  Can I maintain some level of awareness even though my illness is active?  Can I find ways to limit the sensory stimulus so that I can remain a part of the events?  Can I support my mom without sacrificing myself?  Can I call up an old part of myself that’s been dormant for years and offer something of substance to those who grieve my dad’s passing, including myself?

I’ll do my best and, as always, that will be enough.

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