Mundane is a Good Thing

I Was BoredNo big bucket of brain cheese to dish out, no blast of “Ah Ha!” light to blind the unsuspecting, no tortuous hobgoblins to exorcise.  Nope.  It’s just me, moving through my days.  There’s still mood swings, and anxiety, and bipolar weirdness, but that’s my normal.  I swim, chat up the Starbucks gals, and crawl a bit further on Technical Consultant.  I eat one serving at a time (consecutively), talk to my cats, and do a little art.  Sometimes I share a meal with a friend.  Sometimes I walk to the library.  Today, I washed out the litter boxes.

Very boring.

It’s heaven.

Thaw

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.

Delicates

handmade greeting card, collage artI was talking with a friend yesterday when suddenly I realized I was back.  Back in my right mind.

It’s such an odd feeling, sort of like taking off panty hose.  There can be lots of false starts to getting that waistband unrolled, but eventually the freedom and relief become real. And looking at that stretched-out puddle of spandex on the floor, it seems completely alien and counter to anything a person might actually wear.

I looked at my rants with my therapist and the thoughts that tortured me over the past couple of weeks as a weird jumble of hosiery that couldn’t possibly fit me.  But, there was no denying my butt-print there.   So I found a certain amount of tenderness in washing them out in the sink.

I’ll have to play dress-up again, become someone squeezed out of right mind.  And whether I want to or not, the sausage casing will find its way back on me.  Better to take care of the over-extended fabric.  Better to treat all those delusions and frantic scramblings for relief with a little Woolite and warm water.  And forgiveness.

There’s a reason they’re called delicates.

Reprieve

handmade greeting cards, collage artI’m enjoying a few days of normal.  This is so rare, I haven’t wanted to stop long enough to document it.  I’m too busy cleaning my Mom’s house; attending my post-hospital support group; sighing in the dark while I watch Man of Steel, walking in the soft summer breeze; not eating; and listening to new music finds like The Head and the Heart and Freelance Whales.  I’ve also made a few new cards.  So, I’ll leave you with those until I come back.

The Head and the Heart on Letterman

Early Morning Bad-Assery

handmade greeting card, collage artPre-dawn, and the robins are chirp-elling.  Emmet hops up on the towel I keep for him by the computer and contorts his pudgy body for optimal ear-scritching.  I’m back from a week of scary depression.  Everybody here is feeling Life.

This morning I can pull my feet under me and stand up.  After the rapid cycling that landed me in partial hospitalization, after my mom’s ordeal, after the stress of all that knocking me back into Crazy Land, I’ve strung together a couple of days of uprightness.  It always feels tentative, rising up out of the carnage.  Is it just a bubble of calm?  A friendly town I pass through on my way to the next extreme?  Or do I get to stop and take in the sights for a while?

Yesterday, we moved Mom to a nursing home near my sister.  Mom will either get stronger and go home or not.  Either way, she’s in a safe place.  And my sister can check on her without driving an hour every day.  And I don’t have to.  I came home from that and slept for hours.

Now Henry is making his rounds, announcing his supremacy, eyeballing the birds in the one spindly tree outside the bedroom window.  He lived on his own a long time before someone took him to a shelter.  He’s got the battle scars to prove it—and the predator’s passion.  He’s my hero.

So, today I’ll tour my own perimeter.  I’ll revision, reset and restock.  I’ll eyeball the juicy bits of my life and point my energy in that direction.

The birds are quieting now.  The whoosh of traffic crescendos.  Henry and Emmet settle into napping puddles.  Sun’s up.  Time to march.

Where Everything is Music

handmade greeting card, collage artI hardly recognize myself.  Twelve days of clear skies and mental calm seas.  Fourteen days since the last time my illness made me jump in the truck and escape to the movies.  I get up, go to the Y and come home to my own table with my own chai.  A few weeks ago, the thought of living without a coffee shop would have made me weep with grief.  Now, it’s nothing.  Nothing.

I come home and journal with my own chai, work on my manuscript as easily as I type this.  No angst, no sharp hooks of remembered pain when I enter the old journals.  Just typing.

I prepare a hearty lunch of sautéed vegetables and pasta.  I cook every day.  Cook with pleasure.  A few weeks ago the idea of cooking filled me with terror.  Now, it’s nothing.  Nothing.

There’s a bone-deep satisfaction in all I’m doing, how I can choose to stay home, prepare my meals, walk to the Y.  I’m saving money.  Me.  When only a few weeks ago I didn’t know how I would survive to the end of the month.  The strangle-hold of poverty let go.  In this place of gentle weather, I have enough, and I can make this choice to set money aside for my car fund.  A choice.  I have a choice.

In the afternoons, I go back to the Y and walk with my iPod.  The music pulls the day together—the work, the pleasure, the satisfaction all flow into my feet and my swinging arms.  Here I am.

I go home to make a card, blend a fruit smoothie, and sit with Jane Austen.  The cats gather.  Night grows deeper.  We listen to the music singing us, so quiet and calm.  And it’s nothing.  Nothing.

• • •

Dont’ worry about saving these song!

And if one of our instruments breaks,

it doesn’t matter.

·

We have fallen into the place

where everything is music.

·

The strumming and the flute notes

rise into the atmosphere,

and even if the whole world’s harp

should burn up, there will still be

hidden instruments playing.

·

So the candle flickers and goes out.

We have a piece of flint, and a spark.

·

This singing art is sea foam.

The graceful movements come from a pearl

somewhere on the ocean floor.

·

Poems reach up like spindrift and the edge

of driftwood along the beach, wanting!

·

They derive

from a slow and powerful root

that we can’t see.

·

Stop the words now.

Open the window in the center of your chest,

and let the spirits fly in and out.

—Rumi

Nine Days out of Hell

handmade greeting cards, collage art

In an unusual stroke of magnanimity, the Bipolar Gods (Bill and Ted, I think) have granted me a little respite.  Nine days since my last urge to bolt.  Nine days of saving money instead of spending it.  Nine days of reacquainting myself with my inks and papers.  Nine days of reading quietly in the evenings with Missy Higgins on the stereo and Emmett providing a nice head rest on the back of my chair.

It’s not until the cycling stops that I can see I’ve just passed through Hell.  As I’m going through it, I always feel I’m managing pretty well, keeping my head down, stepping carefully through the lava and acid.  I take short sips of breath to keep from burning my lungs.  I brace myself for the demons that jump out of the dark with their pointy teeth and pokey tridents.  I squeeze into the tiniest target possible.

But when I pass through the Gates, the relief is so shocking—fresh air on scalded skin, the ability to uncurl and stand upright.  This time I realized I hadn’t taken a deep breath in six months.

And once the shock wears off there’s so much to do—salvage, and reconstruction, and reinforcement of the structures that will carry me through the next Descent.  But, there’s joy in the ability to do instead of survive.  And moments of pause to feel the delicious weightlessness of No Mood.  Always knowing this, too, will pass, but appreciating every hour Bill and Ted grant me.

My friend, David, at Live & Learn introduces me to amazing music every week.  I found Missy Higgins through him and want to share this lovely music video of hers.  It might help with whatever is burning you today.

Holding Tension

handmade greeting cards, collage art, Leonard NimoyI hardly know how to function in this quiet place.

For the last couple of weeks, there’s been no drama, no hysterics, no uncontrollable urges.  I get up and go about my day, paying attention to what I eat, making sure I work out morning and evening, working on my manuscript.  I volunteered to be on the program committee for our UU fellowship, so I’m thinking about what our group wants in the way of spiritual substance.  I show up at the meditation groups I host and listen to what teachings might be called forward.  I touch base with my friends.

Anxiety still rises at times.  My Bad-Ass Training kicks in and, for now, it’s enough to keep me from spiraling.  Yesterday, I sat at the Hy Vee cafe in the light of the big windows with my iPod crooning in my ears.  The urge to bolt came on strong—Get Out! Go to Des Moines!  I wrote about it in my journal, then went out into the grocery store for Veggie Sticks (think healthy Cheetos) and a couple of movies from the Redbox.  I spent $10 instead of $60 and stayed home.  I felt like a warrior.

I tell the folks in meditation that developing consciousness is about holding tension—doing something that’s a little uncomfortable because it’s the right thing to do, then doing it again and again.  Soon our capacity for doing what’s difficult grows.  When my illness is quiet, I can practice what I preach.

Well, that’s not exactly true.  I hold tension most of the time, but when I’m ill, my capacity is very small.   And if there’s too much tension, my illness snaps like a rubber band in reaction.  That’s a learning, too, to be aware of that point of no return.  So, in this quieter place, it’s a little scary to challenge those urges to give up, eat, run, spend, relax or whatever my ego might prefer.  After months of being very gentle with myself, I’m not used to pushing hard.

So, today, again, I get up and go about my day—watching, testing and holding a little more tension.

Because I can.

Because I’m on an Adventure.

A Higher Pressure System

handmade cards, collage artI’m enjoying a stretch of pleasant mental weather—two weeks’ worth so far, which is the best Christmas present the Universe could have given me.  After almost four months of depression and rapid cycling, it took me a few days to recognize what was happening.  I started enjoying my coffee.  And then I laughed at something my cats did.

“Oh, that’s right,” I thought.  “I have fun sometimes.”

Bit by bit, parts of me that had fallen off during the Storm Season drifted back.  My boundaries firmed up.  My thinking untwisted.  I could concentrate for more than 15 minutes at a time.

I felt like a beachcomber, collecting driftwood and sea glass the surf dragged up on the sand.  I found ideas for a short story that had been stuck.  I started cooking simple meals again.  And when the snow storm hit on Wednesday night (a real storm, not a mental one), I relaxed in my apartment without the itchy need to bolt.

This time when the bipolar weather cleared, fantasy loosened its grip.  I’m much more content to interact with my real friends instead of the ones in my head.  I have the energy to give them my attention and can actually enjoy our time together.  This is very different from a few weeks ago when I forced myself to “be social.”  Intellectually, I knew how important it was to seek companionship, but I felt little more than annoyance, exhaustion and loneliness.  I think the ability to enjoy the real people in my life is the biggest barometer of my weather.  People are hard.  In sunny weather, they’re easier.

Today, as I walked the track at the Y, a thought stuck me.  This is my life.  And that is my life, too.  Whether I’m stable, depressed, manic or all of those at the same time, I need to live my life.  Not wait for some event or some person to get things started.  Not wish or want my time away.  Not start each sentence with “When…”

I want to live each moment—sun or storm, stripped-down or fully accessorized.  I’ll forget, but will remember.  I’ll fall, but pull myself back up.  In the moment.  Right now.  If I can do that, maybe I can carry a bit of sunshine back into the hurricane when it hits again.  Who knows?

I’m on an Adventure.

Grace Note

home made cards, collage artThe last couple of days have been blessedly even—no internal pushing or pulling, no mood to speak of at all.  These are gifts, these nothing days.  No thoughts clamor for attention.  No aspect of personality balloons out of proportion.  The day unfolds without me shoving at it or worrying it like a bone.

It’s a pause in Bipolar’s Symphony—a rest, a chance to take a breath and scan the score for the next entrance, a time to listen to the music all around and feel a part of it.  I’ll be called again soon to grip my mouthpiece and jump back in.  But, for now I can relax and Listen.

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