Kind, Gentle and Generous

Give Him the Moon

Earlier this year I set a goal to stay out of the hospital or a hospital program this spring.  Three out of the last five years, I’ve ended up there.  It’s a good thing, really, to know when to make that call.  Lots of folks with mental illness aren’t able to do that for themselves, so I feel lucky and proud of the work I do to hang onto a little insight during the worst of times.

However, the program I’ve used in the past was eliminated, like many of the behavioral health programs across the state, because psychiatrists fled Iowa like rats on a sinking ship (some problem with Medicare reimbursement).  If I needed serious help now, I’d have to drive across the state and admit myself into one of the few psych wards left.  I’d rather not, really.

I needed to change things up—not just my perspective, but what I do to manage this transition from winter to summer.  I found some new resources this year to help—Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation (IPR) and Integrated Health Services (IHS).  Both are new state programs trying to fill the gaps left by the psych docs.  Also, with my mom’s passing last summer, I now live frugally instead of crushed by poverty.  It’s a huge difference.

So, with this new net under me, I started to address the critical and disapproving voice in my head.  I started to wonder if my drive to do more and be more was actually another facet of that mean voice.  I watched how I withheld comfort, left no room for rest or rejuvenation, and squeaked by on the least.

I wondered how it might feel to do the opposite—to be kind and gentle in my self-appraisal, to be generous with my time and money.  I wondered how that voice might sound.  I wondered, for instance, what my grandma might say to me when rapid cycling ruined all my plans for the day.  Or what my friend, Lily, might say about me going to Ireland next year.

Whenever I started to hate on myself, or rail against the unfairness of living with bipolar disorder, or scold myself for going to Des Moines twice in one week, I tried to stop and conjure the people who love me.  Their kind and gentle voices filled my mind.  Their immediate generosity helped me breathe.

Over the course of the spring, I’ve tried to make those voices strong in my mind.  This is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done.  I’m steeped in self-violence.  Recognizing the lie in that voice when it slithers into my thoughts takes time.  Then, countering it with petal-soft, open-armed sweetness is like speaking a foreign language.  But, I’ve learned a few words.  And my vocabulary is growing.

Being kind, gentle and generous to myself doesn’t alter the course of my bipolarity.  Rapid cycling fogs my brain and leaves me exhausted.  Emotions flip and tumble like Olympians.  Chores overwhelm me.  But, today, I have hope that I can navigate the hard road through Spring.  In my mind, I’m holding a warm, gentle hand.  It fits perfectly in mine.  Because it is mine.

It Takes A Village

handmand greeting card, collage artMichelle’s post today in The Green Study got me thinking.  She focused on how easy it is to over-share in blogs and wondered if it’s all just naval-gazing from self-absorbed recluses.

Well, that would be me.

My gazing tends to point farther north to what’s in my skull, but I am self-absorbed and self-centered.  I justify this by reminding myself that most people with my flavor of bipolar disorder are living in group homes or institutionalized.  Self-absorption or self-preservation, I can’t tell the difference any more.

The recluse part of me is something I’ve started reframing as healthy instead of pathological.  For years I’ve heard how “telling” it was when I isolated, cut myself off from others, quite reaching out, and turned down social engagements.  My health posse at the time would panic, remove all sharp objects and count the pills in my bottles.  They had good reason.  I did try it once.

But, I’m discovering the joys of reclusiveness.  Well, not joy exactly.  Peace is better descriptor.

People wear me out.  Yesterday on my walk around the neighborhood, I saw a little girl (who didn’t know any better) tease a puppy that was tied to a stake.  She didn’t hurt the puppy, but I could hear the meanness in her preschool voice and the pitiful whine of the puppy.  It made me sick and scared, and I hated myself for not doing something about it.  Something gentle.  Something as easy as walking across the street to talk to her and lay a calm hand on the puppy’s head.  But, I didn’t do that.  I walked faster.

When got home, I was sad and tired, disappointed in myself, and could feel my mood slip/slide like ice over black water.  I made a pizza, plugged in an episode of Fringe, and put on my nightgown—done with the outside world and with people.  Then, my doorbell rang.

A casual friend from swim class and also from my meditation group ferreted out where I lived by Sherlockian means—knowing my truck, seeing where it was parked in the apartment lot, peeking at the collaged sign on my front door.  She was hesitant, cautious about showing up unannounced.  She said she had something for me.

It’s always disconcerting when someone rings my doorbell.  Firstly, it’s rare.  Secondly, it’s usually politicians or the landlord.  Thirdly, I’m usually in my nightie.  My little apartment is private space where Henry, Emmett and I weave a cocoon of safety.  Company jangles us.  I may not dash under the bed like Emmett, or growl like Henry when the doorbell rings, but I understand the sentiment.  Still, I try to shift gears and put on a welcoming face.

My friend came back from the parking lot with a big box.  She said her mother ran a food bank in a neighboring county.  “I told her about you,” my friend said, “that you live on Disability and don’t have a pot to piss in.  So, Mom packed a box for you.  I hope you’re not offended.”

What is a person to do with such startling kindness?  I took the box, thanked her, introduced her to Henry and Emmett (who didn’t dive under the bed), thanked her again, and watched her leave.  I stood in my kitchen, touching the box, feeling my friend’s true regard and care.

handmade greeting cards, collage artThere are people in my life who love me, but there are others who actually like me.  They value me (their word, not mine).  They want to support me and are generous and bold in their affection.  I don’t say this because I think I’m unloveable or valueless.  When folks first get to know me, they usually like me—I’m not without a certain amount of charm—but, generally, it doesn’t last.

If folks hang around long enough or get closer, the bipolarness sours their regard.  Rage, judgment, neediness, inconsistency, intolerance have chased away friends and family.  Shutters bang closed over their faces and conversation floats on the surface like dead fish.  I wanted to say to this new friend, “Thank you so much for your gift, but if you get any closer your sweet desire to be of service will shrivel up and die.”

But, I didn’t, because, sometimes, it doesn’t shrivel up and die. Sometimes, people get their bearings and decide the hassle of me is worth it (also their words, not mine).  Sometimes they’re willing to dance with me until we find our rhythm.  I have a precious few who reaffirm their commitment when I get in this mood, who will stick with me when society at large is too jarring.

People are hard.  I’m hard.  The effort it takes to balance naval-gazing with true personal interaction seems herculean at times.  But, we make these gestures of love at each other, little acts of kindness, drive-by thoughtfulness.  So, I guess I’ll keep blogging about both—the belly button lint and the food boxes.  And maybe on my next walk around the block, I’ll be able to squat down by the little girl and pet her puppy.

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