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.

Drumsound

  
Drumsound rises on the air,
its throb, my heart.
 
A voice inside the beat says,
“I know you’re tired,
but come.  This is the way.”
—Rumi

∞ ∞ ∞

How to follow that quiet, wise voice inside.  Because it’s still there, much as my ears rush with this other sound.  There seems no other how but to do, to follow the dim suggestion to plant one foot in front of the other.

The old routine tastes off, contaminated by this unsavoriness.  The water still feels like comfort as my body stretches and churns, flexing out depression’s burrs.  But, Haven, my writing sanctuary, my one indulgence, irritates and offends.  Christian music blares from outside speakers, Easy Listening inside, and I hear both at my regular table.  No one will fix the cacophony for me, and I leave.  I’m done there, I think.

I look for a new shirt at Wal-Mart, but nothing is right.  I push my cart around and around the racks of clothes as if I can conjure what I want with the proper spiral.  I go to the grocery store, determined to buy healthy food, no junk.  Each selection requires long scrutiny, painful contemplation.  There are moments of standing blank in the aisle, staring into the sea of lunch meats and cheeses, holding two jars of spaghetti sauce.

I come home to waiting cats, mildly curious about my bags.  I put groceries away, heat up soup, make a sandwich, start to watch a movie I’m not interested in, lay down on my bed with Henry tucked close.

I hear the faint voice encouraging me, and I do the next thing.  Then the next.

“I know you’re tired,
but come.  This is the way.”

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.

Tease

The depression eased up for about four hours yesterday.  I sat here working on Callinda and thought, “Yipee! It’s over!”  But, alas.  It was just my brain teasing me, dangling Clear Mind in front of me like a bobbing apple.  Soon enough, the Transylvanian Fog rolled back in, and I spent the rest of the day watching endless episodes of Gilmore Girls.

Still, it was a breather, a reminder that my thoughts will eventually stop gravitating toward the Dark Side.  I feel myself getting battle weary from warding off the latest volley of despair and worthlessness.  Ugh.  To counter that today, I worked on a collage for my new grand-nephew, Zane, who was born October 25.

Mom, my sister and her husband will be leaving Friday to go visit the new baby (and his big brother, Wyatt).  I want to get the piece finished so they can take it with them.  It seems to be coming along fine, but it takes so much effort.  I can measure how severe this episode is by how little interest I have in my art or my writing.  A little scary, but that’s just attaching meaning to feelings that are really meaningless.

The lack of interest, the digestive grumblings, the achy joints and muscles, the distorted thoughts, the hinky sleep, the social anxiety—they’re all just the illness throwing out its normal chemical spew.  If I can keep watching as they vomit forth, I can keep from grabbing them up as if they are worth something.  Deep breath, drink some water, and queue up some more diversion.

The Dance

Still plugging away here in Bipolarville.  I’m fine as long as I don’t have to talk to anybody or think.  This is why routine is so important.  I don’t have to think about going to the Y, I just go.  I don’t have to think about working on my novel or making cards, I just do it.  Because I’ve carved out those little grooves in my gray matter, and the marbles just follow gravity.

Interacting with people is another thing.  Friday I had dinner at a friend’s house.  It was just the two of us and his sweet little dog, so I knew I’d be okay on the social anxiety front.  I also knew I could be myself.  Even though Jeff had never experienced the full beauty of my bipolarness, I knew he’d be accepting of whatever showed up.

We had a lovely evening, but it was still work.  Simple things that come naturally between episodes required thought, effort, execution.  Things like manners and following a conversation.  When something struck me funny, I felt my laughter launching into that maniacal, uncontrollable realm.

At one point, Jeff mentioned he could tell I wasn’t my usual self.  His term for it was that I wasn’t as “smiley.”  And that surprised me, because I thought I was ever-so jolly.  It just reminded me that how I perceive myself from the inside, no matter how much effort I put into it, is very different from what leaks into the outside world.

I did a lot on Friday.  My friend, Nancy, gave me a much-needed massage.  I went to a movie.  I looked through my favorite art magazines at Barnes & Noble.  I found a state park tucked away in the suburbs of Des Moines and journaled at a picnic table in the westering sun.  And I had dinner with Jeff.  So, I wasn’t surprised at my exhaustion the next day.  I could feel how brittle my tolerance had become, as if my sanity had been rubbed thin by so much exposure to the world.

It’s a weird dance, staying upright during an episode.  I think I’m executing a graceful turn, when really I’m tripping over my own feet.  I’m only guessing at the steps.  But there is a deep knowing under it all.  If I can get still, I can feel the rhythm and recognize the music.  If I can breathe into that knowing, my feet will find their way.

A Mental Hidey-Hole

The sense of this episode is one of being overwhelmed.  It’s like my brain has lost all elasticity and resilience.  I’m unable to problem-solve even small hiccups in the day much less figure out how to deal with unusual tasks.  My cognitive ability seems mired in glue, and at the same time my body perceives each decision to be made as a threat.

For example, the apartment management notified us that the bedbug-sniffing dog would be coming around to all the apartments today.  They do this every 3-4 months, since we have a history of infestation.  Still, it’s an ordeal, since I have to pack up the cats and all their paraphernalia two hours before the dog arrives.  Usually I take them to a friends’ house, but they’re having work done on their basement, so I had to devise another plan.

I was at a total loss as to what to do.  My mind spun.  I tried to approach the problem, but the vortex whipped me away.  Finally, after crying in the pool at the Y this morning, I suddenly thought of calling my mom and taking the cats out there.  Problem solved, but I was exhausted and frayed.  Mom asked me if I wanted to take home some tomatoes a neighbor had brought her, and I burst into tears.  Then, my neighbor in the apartment building called to say the inspection had been cancelled.  I sobbed so hard Henry came running to see what all the racket was about.

All of a sudden I have appointments and meetings written all over my calendar through the end of the year (a normal week will have one item, at most).  And even though I write them all down so I won’t forget, I keep forgetting.  I can’t hold them in my head.  And when a few do stick, they bump around in there like mad hornets.  These aren’t things I can blow off.  I had my annual physical, and there are specialists to be seen, lab work to be done, boobs to be squished.

Between episodes, I could manage all this just fine.  But right now it feels like non-stop attack.  I want to find a hidey-hole like my scaredy-cat, Emmett, and tuck myself into a ball so small no one can see me.

What this tells me is that I need to eliminate everything but the essential right now, keep social contact to no more than two people at a time (that seems to be my limit), put off making any serious decisions (like buying a new swim suit), and do what I can to soothe the exposed nerve endings.  I can’t avoid situations like today, but I can choose not to go to a party and a church supper this weekend like I’d planned.

It makes me sad to give up those social opportunities since I don’t get many of them.  But, it’s just bad timing.  Better to live in reality than suffer in denial.  At least that’s what Henry says.  When Emmett comes out of his hidey-hole, he’ll probably have a different opinion.

Ugh

This is a bad episode, but remarkably impersonal.  What I’m experiencing most are the physical symptoms—body aches and pain, exhaustion, moving in slow-motion.  My mind is sticky and murky—hard to bring a thought to the front and clean it up enough to make sense.  This morning after being at the Y, I went to Aldi (the cheap grocery store), but it was a half hour before opening.  I sat in my truck a full 10 minutes trying to figure out if I should stay or go to the Hy-Vee (bigger, more expensive store).  I just couldn’t figure it out.  Finally, I went to Hy-Vee, just because I felt like I had to so something.  Once I got the few groceries I needed, I went home, put my nightie back on, and watched TV until I fell asleep.

I know my brain is not working right.  Neither is my body.  It’s okay, though.  It will pass.  I can shuffle from room to room for awhile.  And when my thoughts start on that dark, twisty roller coaster ride, I can just close my eyes and feel the wind in my hair.

Finally

The nose-dive finally came yesterday.  It’s almost a relief.  I knew the stability of the last few weeks would eventually cave under dad’s death, the pressure of social obligations, blasted routine, and family dynamics.  Every day I could get up and do what needed to be done was a gift and a wonder, but I knew it couldn’t last.  There are times when my episodes come out of the ethers with no prompt or causation.  And there are times when the normal triggers don’t set me off.  But, with so many triggers piling up, I didn’t think I could escape a swing into the dark side.  Anticipating the fall only added to the stress.

Yesterday the whole system shut down, and this morning the depression is deep and wide.  The ability to even consider what needs to be done is gone, and my body feels like a semi-truck ran me over.  I’m trying to figure out a plan for the day, but its like raking my fingers through mist.  All I know for sure is that I’ll go to the Y in a few minutes.  One step at a time today, I guess.  At least I don’t have to keep wondering when the fall will come.

Coyote Magic

Transitions are tricksy.  They make me squirm, like a too-tight bra.  With bipolar disorder, one is always in transition—an episode is either coming or going.  There may be a little time to catch my breath and get in some Bad-Ass Training, but I’ve always got my eye on the horizon.

So, in many ways, this transition between having a dad and not having a dad should be familiar territory—there’s what was before, the upheaval of the change, and what comes after.  What comes after has always involved some form of regrouping—determining the effects of the change and planning how to proceed.  I’m finding it’s still too soon to see the effects of my dad’s death, so it’s hard to make a plan.  I’m still wanting to be with my mom, even if I only sit and play her digital Solitaire game while my sister cleans.  I feel lonely and restless in my apartment, even with my two kitty comforters.  Since I dance with loneliness anyway, I’m assuming this is just part of the grieving process—magnification of a fairly common go-to emotion.  I’m not sleeping well, and wake up as tired as when I went to bed.  That ebbs and flows.  Like this whole process, there are difficult spells, then easier.  It’s all a dance to be approached lightly and gently.

This not-having-a-plan business, though, is bothersome.  I know it will come.  I know I’ll figure out how to gather up all the pretty ponies of my life and  get back in the saddle.  There’s a novel to finish, cards to make, books to read, friends to meet, and my curiosity about volunteering at the Animal Rescue League to follow up on.  I anticipate spending more time with my mom, but don’t know what that will look like yet.

I have to be content to let all that percolate without resolution right now.  This moment, I’m still in the upheaval stage of this transition.  The world seems odd and strangely skewed while still familiar in its October beauty.  I perform my daily tasks, even work on my Halloween cards, but there’s a befuddled undercurrent.  I put my clothes on backwards and go to the kitchen when I mean to go to the bathroom.

In some Native American tribes, this would be seen as the work of Coyote, the Trickster.  I like that.  I can imagine Coyote as the King of Transitions, sitting on a hilltop of scrub, his tongue lolling, his eyes gleeful.  He reminds me to relax into the chaos and let it all unfold at its own pace.  I’ll get a plan eventually.  All in good time.

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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