Westward Ho! Day 12

Golden Valley, AZ (9:00 AM Pacific) to Durango, CO (6:30 PM Mountain).  469 miles.
Notables: (for singing loud) Wailin’ Jennys Live

IMG_0264 (1)So much for good intentions.

Melanie, my host in Golden Valley, lassoed me as I was loading the car, and we ended up gabbing for an hour in a sort of open-air living room;  old couch, recliner, and side table under a trellis in the front yard.  Magnificent view and another magical connection.

I cut loose before she could give me a tour of the property, though.  Like Mr. Frost, I had promises to keep.  And miles to go before I sleep.  Miles to go before I sleep.

So off I went across Arizona, through Hopi, Navajo and Ute land. There, buttes and mesas dominate; brick-red sedimentary formations.  Sometimes ponies pastured on top of them, which made for an unbelievably cinematic silhouette against the cloudy sky.

MV_dramatic_sky_jan_2011I spent most of the day on a two-lane highway with no rest stops and long patches of nothing between gas stations.  We women of a certain age don’t do well without regular “rest” stops.  Luckily, I grew up on a farm and knew how to duck into a cow path off the road.  Some skills never die.

I had texted my friend, Robert, and my Durango hosts about being late.  Robert said not to worry.  I never heard back from my hosts.  So, when I got to their drive, and the gate was chained and locked, I fretted.  Soon, Ginger drove down the lane toward me.  They thought I was coming the next night.  What worried me even more was that Robert said the same thing; he thought I was coming the next day and couldn’t have dinner with me tonight.

Did I get my dates mixed up?  It would have been so easy to do with all these B&Bs to keep straight.  I had a text exchange with my sister earlier in the day, and she noted that I didn’t give myself much down-time or slack in my schedule.  True.  And no place for fuck-ups.

All this really threw me.  Even though Robert and I made plans to meet for coffee tomorrow morning, even though Ginger apologized and said they’d looked at their AirBNB calendar wrong, I had to sit in my car for a while and bawl.

I know I’m tired, which makes me more reactive.  It also makes me more rigid (Go With The Flow went).  I felt choked by disappointment and embarrassed by weeping in front of strangers.  And really bipolar.

A teensy part of me watched all of it happen.  That part cooked Ramen noodles.  That part talked to Ginger and Phil about their old dog, Zeke.  That part took a deep breath and held the exhaustion tenderly.  That part of me is okay.

It’s getting bigger by the minute, that teensy part.  Pretty soon, all of me will be okay.


And still.


Promise of SpringThere’s melt in the streets.  And a strange sound over my head—water drizzling down from the eaves into the downspouts.  Winter is letting up—at least it’s affording us a breather.  A collective sigh rises up from the whole town.  Folks hunched over their coffee cups at the café sit up a little straighter.  Smiles come a little easier to winter-tired faces.

My own internal winter is letting up as well.

Wednesday I hit a wall of despair.  Swimming my laps in the pool, I knew I couldn’t go back to my apartment for one more day of fighting myself and losing.  I gave my self permission to go to Des Moines.  After six weeks of frugal living, I allowed a therapeutic splurge.

The movie was awful, but the actual movie is never the point.  It’s the going.  It’s the ritual of driving through Starbucks, going into Panera for my bagel, sitting in the huge, empty food court and writing in my journal with earbuds firmly in place.  It’s the familiar rite of ticket, popcorn, and finding the perfect seat.  It’s making a nest and soaking in the previews—all those good movies coming.  The rhythm of ritual is comfort and safety.  It’s my rosary with a different kind of bead.

Afterward I went to Barnes and Noble to read magazines and fell asleep in the big easy chair.  So tired.  Worn through by this long depression.  Then, meditation with my friends, who were so glad to see me after six weeks away.  And in our quiet conversation, I felt the melt begin.  A subtle shift of temperature.  A warming of my mental air.  I thought the day and my friends might have just cheered me a little—I’ve been fooled by false springs before.  But, the thaw seems to be holding.

I can feel my brain recalibrating and leavening as the mental ice floes break apart.  It’s a little easier to do what I want instead of being driven by compulsion.  There’s a suggestion of joy, like the tremor of seeds under the frozen earth.  And it’s enough.  Just knowing winter doesn’t last forever.  It’s enough.

Before and After

Sweet Relief.

I hit bottom yesterday, actually felt the jolt as my body slapped the Pit and bounced.  That little bit of momentum, the ricochet off Hell’s linoleum floor, felt like a heavenly watershed.

Before: I shambled, zombie-like, unable to rub two thoughts together without pain, unable to follow a conversation, unable to even hold my head up from the table at my TOPS meeting (The last time I remember laying my head on a table was in Miss Camp’s fourth grade class when we were required to “rest” after lunch).  I drowsy-drove to Mom’s with my laundry, but couldn’t figure out how to use the washer.  I rested in the basement until my brain could decipher the word “detergent.”  Then I slept on Mom’s bed until my sister came out and spoke in a foreign language I almost understood.

After: I actually opened a can of Manwich and microwaved it as spaghetti sauce.  I operated my mom’s DVD player and plugged in “Australia.”  I answered her in complete sentences when she asked me questions.  And as I drove home with my clean and folded clothes, I was awake.  Maybe not alert yet, but definitely headed in that direction.

After a weird night of what I call Transition Sleep, I feel almost myself.  The momentum is continuing.  I missed my normal Y class by oversleeping, but I’ll hit another one in a minute here.  I’ve got a plan and a direction for today, which is more than I’ve had in weeks (including the frantic scramble to set up my Etsy site and donation button).  Things are looking up, which is the only view from the bottom.

Satin Breeze

It’s been a hard couple of days—one of those deep depressions that makes the body too weary to move.  Sunday, after struggling through my workout, having my pre-workout supplement routine set up and being sociable with my family, I grabbed a big bag of Cheetos at the Kwik Star and watched a horrible movie on TV.  I didn’t care.  All I wanted was oblivion.  Damn new ways of behaving.  Damn it all.

I made myself nauseous and slept for three hours.  When I woke up with Henry and Emmett both guarding me on the bed, I rolled over and thought, Okay, that doesn’t work anymore.

Today I took a different tack.  I went to my regular water aerobics class, then stayed for two more.  I figured, the longer I moved in the water, the less likely I was to do something stupid (like eat or go back to bed).  Then, I drove to Des Moines to my favorite theater and camped out for two good movies, Moonrise Kingdom and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.  Quirky (the former) and Poignant (the latter).  High quality diversion at a discount (I had a coupon) with limited access to unseemly snacks (I don’t seem to have a problem limiting myself to plain popcorn at the movies.  This is a gift, thank you, Universe).

The weather today in central Iowa was perfect, so after the movie marathon, I walked to PF Chang’s down the road and sat out on the veranda for a supper of Dim Sum and Wrinkled Green Beans.  Still depressed, I could nonetheless gaze out at the big pond with its ducks and geese, feel the satin air slide over my skin, and appreciate the pedestrians wandering along the walkway  Toddlers bobbed on splayed legs, an elderly couple shared a piece of cheesecake, middle-school boys tried to look like a tough gang.  I breathed it all in, feeling my sadness, relishing the sweet garlic of the green beans, wondering about the little girl in pink sunglasses riding her daddy’s shoulders.

I took a turn around the pond myself, talked to the ducks going tail-up in the water to feed on the bottom, remembered other lakes and rivers I’d strolled around, remembered to ignore the regrets and dark twists my thoughts wanted to take.  I rolled down all my windows on the drive home, letting that luscious air blow through my hair, and sang as loud as I could with my iPod.

I wanted to think of Sunday as a failure, but that’s not right.  Diving back into pattern is expected in this process of change.  Each time I make different choices, like I did today, those old ways lose a little more power.  One binge in three weeks is actually quite miraculous for me.  That’s what I need to focus on, not the dire and dismal that my depression shoves in my face.

So, tonight, as Henry and Emmet settle nearby, I’ll turn my face toward the open window and take another hit of that satin, summer breeze.

Haunted Houses

It’s here.  The next episode.

The elevator doors opened, and I rode it down into that familiar darkness.  Time to see how the training, and planning, and digging in play out when all the rules change, and I turn from Jekyll to Hyde.

I felt the change start on Friday while I did my laundry.  I’d identified my mom’s house as an eating trigger already, so I had a plan.  While my clothes sudsed, I’d get my bike out of the garage and ride around town.  I even brought a little tire pump in case the tires were flat.  They were.  And the pump didn’t work.  I put the bike away, went back into the house, and saw the Fiddle Faddle.  The rest was a blur of food.

I broke the surface occasionally during my feeding frenzy.  I told myself, “You don’t have to do this” as I reached for the container of cookies in the freezer.  But, that voice was wee and far.  In retrospect, I had choices.  I could have taken a walk or gotten in my car—anything to get away from the house.  But, those weren’t choices then.  They would have been inconceivable.

I drove from Mom’s straight to another trigger house where I lived with my friends for two and a half years while I was at my worst.  Whenever I visit, I feel the shades of those years gather around me.  I feel that other me wanting to rise up.  When my friends go out of town, I take care of Gracie, their dog.  Again, I had a plan on how to dodge the ghosts.  Instead of “keeping Gracie company” I’d let her outside, take her for a walk, check her food and water, then get out.  No hanging around with the big screen TV and the pantry full of trigger food.  Uh uh.  Get in, take care of business, get out.

All plans flew out of my head when I walked in the back door.  All the old behaviors reared up and took over.  Yesterday, I even brought over my own food to try to keep the ghosts at bay.  They just turned out to be appetizers.

Even while I berated myself for being possessed, I could still watch with curiosity.  I watched how the exhaustion inherent in depression seemed to grease the compulsion’s skids.  I watched how all the self-talk that worked while I was stable made not a dent in the compulsion now.  I watched as the compulsion suddenly stopped, the frenzy ended, and I quit eating.  The good news was that in my own apartment, I didn’t feel the compulsion to eat.  At least for the time being, “that house is clean.”

Curiosity and information will lead to different strategies.  It seems clear I need to stay away from these haunted houses for the time being.  Perhaps I need to do my laundry at the laundromat this summer.  Maybe I can’t take care of Gracie for a while.  The eating rituals that have developed in these houses need to be broken and the ghosts exorcised.  That will be my homework.

In the meantime, I have one more day with Gracie.  Once again, I’ll try to stick to business and get out of the house before the specters find me, before depression and compulsion conjure phantoms too strong to escape.

I’m on an Adventure.

Still in the Middle of It

Still waiting for this episode to move on.  Still falling asleep in my chair while watching Star Trek reruns.  Still eating everything in sight.  Still pushing to do one, small task everyday to keep from sticking in the mire.  Still getting to the Y every day for water aerobics. Still shoving back at the dismal thoughts trying to take over my brain.  Still waiting.  Still.

The Play is the Thing

As I’m more and less skillful in adapting to the changes in my life, I also get to ride the slippery slope of my bipolar disorder.  Mania shifted to agitation, which dropped into a mixed state of depression and anxiety.  Now the depression has smoothed out into a deep darkness that I know well.

It’s uncomfortable here, but at least the burning itch to DO and GO has passed.  I want to eat everything in sight, but I’m too tired to act on my compulsion.  Mostly.  The sexual fantasies that crowded my thinking released their shameful grip.  My thoughts twist with self-loathing now, but I can distance myself from them better than the hot longing those fantasy men pull from me.  They still lurk in the background, but their siren songs are muted by the dark.

I remind myself to believe nothing my mind throws out.  What feels reasonable isn’t.  What seems like a course of action rises from compulsion, or aversion to pain, or grasping for comfort.  Paranoia pops out of social interaction.  Isolation feels so good it has to be questioned.

I can believe in the tools that have worked for me in the past—distraction through art and TV, exercise, reaching out for support.  I can remind myself to Watch, to feel the discomfort in my body, to be aware of the impulses my distorted thinking shoots out like lightening.

This is just another face of the illness, another long episode making a costume change between acts.  Sometimes I forget my lines in the middle of this play, but the Prompters are out there.  I’ve worked hard to place them around the stage, helpful voices in the dark to remind me where I am, who I am, and the artful response to Bipolar’s monologue.  I’ll get through this performance, and the next, and the next.  There’s always a curtain call, a chance to bow, smile and feel the lights come up.

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.

Psychic Acne

I woke up this morning from a high school reunion dream.  This is not a good way to start the day.  But, it feels more like a subconscious zit coming to a head after churning through current events.  So, I’m hoping I can just give it a good scrub and move along.

I tried my hand at another old skill yesterday—public speaking.  My mom asked me to talk to her social club about bipolar disorder.  So, I put together a presentation and, after the huge potluck, gave my spiel.  I think it went well.  No one nodded off after all the cheesy potatoes and macaroni salads.  And several people had questions or wanted to talk about grandchildren or friends who had BP.  I always figure that’s a good sign when a speaker can get folks to talk.  Others came to me privately afterward to discuss the material in more depth.  That felt right, too.

Discussing mental illness is frightening to some, fascinating to others.  The freak-show aspect of it can be a big draw.  If I can be articulate and funny while also candid about how the illness manifests for me, I like to think I humanize a condition that’s usually kept secret.  That’s my hope anyway, and I think I was pretty successful yesterday.

But, I was exhausted afterward.  And wired.  Telling my story always effects me that way.  Even though I’m completely comfortable being “out” as a person with bipolar disorder, there’s still an element of risk in telling my tale.  I share intimate details with strangers, then give them permission to make comments about my life.  It’s a vulnerable situation.

On my way home, I stopped to check out a new chiropractor.  I injured my shoulder years ago, and the laps I swam to recover my range of motion after surgery woke up that old injury.  The pain in my neck and shoulder was only getting worse, so I knew I needed to take care of it.  My former chiropractor stopped accepting Medicare, so he wasn’t an option.  I had to find someone new.  Dr. Beane and his wife led the Unitarian Universalist service on Sunday.  When I learned he was a chiropractor, I grooved on the synchronistiy and found his office.

So, once more I had to tell my story—different focus, but life events are life events.  He listened thoughtfully, then went about his business.  The scar tissue and inflammation around my shoulder had progressed so far they had pulled the bone out of the socket.  Dr. Beane said I had a significant “droop shoulder” and worked to snap it back into place.

I’m encouraged and in less pain this morning, though it will take several sessions to reap the full effects.  Money will be an issue.  His office requires full payment up front, then Medicare will reimburse me for whatever percentage they cover.  Money—the constant worry.  But it seems important to take care of his injury before heading in for another surgery.  I feel like I need as many parts of me strong and in working order as possible to compensate for the upcoming restrictions and pain.

So, I’m not surprised that my brain churned out a fussy, uncomfortable dream about feeling vulnerable and judged. Today—observe and get some Clearasil.

Distracting the Toddler

I made it through Valentine’s Day and, I think, the worst of this current depression.  I had to navigate death-thoughts for a while, which is my signal to engage in some serious distraction.  So, I dug money out of my emergency stash, drove to Des Moines, and camped out at the cinema multiplex.  Once I paid my $6.50, I roamed from theater to theater and ended up seeing two lame movies—The Woman in Black and The Journey 2.  Meh.

When the depression is overwhelming, like it was yesterday, quality doesn’t matter as much as quantity.  I need something to keep my forebrain occupied for an extended period of time.  It’s like feeding a toddler by flying the spoon around like an airplane.  The depression can’t look at the pretty pictures and make me miserable at the same time. Driving home in the dark, I felt exhausted, but calmer.

This morning I woke up after three hours of sleep—insomnia being another one of depression’s gifts.  But the agitation I experienced yesterday is milder.  Today will be easier to manage.  Unless, of course, it isn’t.  Toddlers can be so unpredictable.  I may have to use hand puppets.

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