Lonely

After seeing Avengers: Endgame on Friday, I’ve been profoundly moved.  I know it’s fan-girly, maybe bipolar, definitely grief.  I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying that.  We all knew there was a Phase One in the Marvel-verse that was coming to an end with this movie.  It is superbly executed.

Something’s come to an end with me, too—some fracture in the way fantasy has soothed me in the past.  Pretend Boyfriends don’t call to me the way they used to.  Barely a whisper anymore.  And so rare.

It’s left me feeling lonely and hollow.

This song came up on my iPod yesterday as I worked in my art journal, trying to feel some connection to the other people at the coffee shop.  I played it on a loop until I could cry, until I could let myself feel all I was feeling.  I think Cap would understand.

Ω

It’s not your eyes
It’s not what you say
It’s not your laughter that gives you away
You’re just lonely
You’ve been lonely, too long
All your actin’
Your thin disguise
All your perfectly delivered lies
They don’t fool me
You’ve been lonely, too long
Let me in the wall, you’ve built around
And we can light a match and burn it down
Let me hold your hand and dance ’round and ’round the flame
In front of us
Dust to
You’ve held your head up
You’ve fought the fight
You bear the scars
You’ve done your time
Listen to me
You’ve been lonely, too long
Let me in the wall, you’ve built around
And we can light a match and burn them down
And let me hold your hand and dance ’round and ’round the flames
In front of us
Dust to dust
Ω

 

A Slow Leak

Over the past couple of months, I’ve noticed an ongoing shift in my mental weather.  It’s subtle, quiet, not alarming or uncomfortable.  I can only describe it as a slow leak of caring.  I’m not interested in much beyond making my bits of art and maintaining creature comforts.  This I attributed to lung crud overlapping Henry-grief.  It seemed pretty normal to me, and not worth fussing about.

And it’s not completely new.  I go through cycles of pulling back, detaching, giving the Hermit full reign.  In the past, those cycles included some kind of mental anguish or agitation.  Not so now.  I’m curiously uninterested in friends or family, untroubled by minor annoyances.

So, I confessed to my therapist yesterday in the spirit of full disclosure.  And, I think, to make sure nothing else might be going on.  She agreed that sickness and grief were probably in play, and that I was correct in taking it in stride.  Although, she did ask for my promise to call her if thoughts of suicide became a daily occurrence.  That seemed a bit drastic, but Sonya doesn’t know me that well yet, so her caution and concern are actually quite endearing.  I promised.

Today will be another spent on my bed with art supplies, Emmett, and the fifth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation keeping me company (This was the season Michelle Forbes joined the cast as Ensign Ro Laren—Michelle Forbes who stars with Richard Armitage in Epix’s Berlin Station and who seems to be his current amour.  Seven Degrees of Star Trek.).

I will be content, unaffected by other people or the world.  It seems a little weird, but I’m not complaining.i

Once Again, Thankful

I love my blog.  I never came here to do anything except tell my story—whatever that might mean.  I never expected to find deep connections.  I never expected to touch so many lives.  Or to be touched by so many.  The only conditions I placed on my posts were to tell the truth and to wait long enough to know what the truth might be in a given situation.

Keeping this space for almost eight years means it has also become my memory.  Electroshock not only eliminated 2006 and 2007, but continues to burn holes in the process that changes short-term into long-term memory.  I stopped fussing about that long ago.  Being forced to live in the Now is a pretty decent way to live.

As I think about making some sort of journal/tribute for Henry, though, I mourn all the stories I’ve forgotten, all the little details, the ways he, Emmett and I became a family.  So, when I sit down to write about him, I start with what I notice now.  This morning I wrote about how quiet the house is without him.  That thought led to another and another, stitching together fragments of memories into a surprising string of delight and appreciation.

And I come to my blog, where Henry’s stories remain clear and available.  I took more pictures of the cats so I could illustrate those stories.  How grateful I am to have this reliquary!  Who knew how smart I was in 2011 to fiddle around with WordPress?

As Emmett and I rearrange ourselves around and within the space that was Henry, I’ll keep coming here to share our truths.  Today, Emmett is soaking up the morning sun in the Alpha chair.  When I came home from yoga (noticing the silence instead of Henry’s irritated greeting), and saw Emmett basking, I took pictures.  This is an important moment for him, for us, for our life now.

The sun and the silence.  And the Adventure Continues.

(This song by the Wailin Jennys has always felt like Henry to me—his energy, his personality—so I share him with you in a slightly different way.)

The Top Sheet Rumble

I changed the sheets on my bed yesterday.  A mundane chore, but surreal without Henry.  He was the sheet-changing supervisor (he was the Everything Supervisor), laying on the yet-to-be stretched lumps, attacking the Bed Boogies that lurked beneath.  But his specialty was doing The Top Sheet Rumble.

As soon as the top sheet fell over him, his hind feet flew up, anticipating an attack.  A hand-like creature swooped in, targeting the exposed belly.  Claws and teeth ripped at the invader.  It retreated.  Henry scrambled under the sheet, waiting.  Fingers teased the hind-quarters, which were seized and shredded.  Another retreat (to suck on puncture wounds), then a deep drive to the belly that left the invader wide open to attack.

The Victor emerged quickly (he seemed to know when to stop by the wailing on the other side of the sheet), licked his lips and bounded off the bed to find other prey (usually Emmett).

I never minded the puncture wounds.  Hen lived by his wits in the wild until The Humane Society found him.  Stuck inside, he needed the exercise and the Hunt.  Poor Emmett was his usual target, but Em learned early on how to lay low and hide.  Henry loved to Rumble, and I learned how to keep my battle wounds to a minimum.

Changing the sheets will always bring Henry back to me.  It won’t ever be a chore.

Good-Bye, Henry

After suffering a stroke in the wee hours of Monday morning, Henry gave me the clear sign I’d asked for fourteen years ago when we first came home together. I promised him then that I’d pay attention and be brave when he gave that sign.

We spent our last night together on the bed so I could help him move and tell him stories about our life.

Now I’m sitting in the vet’s parking lot, our contract completed.

Thank you, Hen, for being my Person when I didn’t have a person.  Thank you (and Emmett) for giving me a reason to live when I didn’t want one. I am so grateful.

Saying Good-Bye Well

Yesterday, I said my last good-bye to Mark Stringer, the minister at First Unitarian Church of Des Moines.  He told us six months ago that he was leaving the ministry, and I’ve been grieving ever since.

It’s weird—we never had a private conversation, just exchanged a few words as I shook his hand on Sunday on my way out the door.  But in the three years that I’ve been going to First Unitarian, I’ve been able to share enough of my story with him to make a connection.

No, that’s not quite right.  I felt connected to him.

From the first service I attended, I knew this guy got it.  His sermons seemed like extensions of my therapy sessions, filled with the importance of mindfulness, compassion, acceptance, and awareness of our own realities.  He made me laugh and cry—usually at the same time.  Finally, after searching for years, I’d found a spiritual home and someone who spoke to the things that mattered to me.

PTSD makes me vulnerable to abandonment-thinking.  Bipolar disorder distorts any thinking into darker twists of hopelessness.  I knew I needed to work this through or I’d probably never go back to the church once he was gone.

So, I attended every Sunday service (once I recovered enough from my last bronchial bomb).  I cried (okay, sobbed) through each one of them, Kleenex box clutched tight.  I made myself look him in the eye after our hug at the door and thank him for the opportunity to do this work.  Some mornings I was too verklempt to say the words, but Mark would hold my watery gaze and say, “I understand.”

While I grieved, I also noted every friend at church who sought me out, every acquaintance who grinned when our eyes met.  I forced myself to see that FU (you gotta love a church with those initials) offered me real community and relationships beyond Mark.  I made a point of wandering around after services to find people I knew and admired in order to weave another thread into our connection.

Yesterday we held his celebratory Farewell Tour at the performing arts theater of one of the city’s high-end high schools (very lovely).  We needed room enough for the whole congregation to honor Mark’s sixteen years of service.  He came to us straight from theological school and is moving on to be the Executive Director of the Iowa ACLU.

I wept like everyone else, touched by his words and deeds (he performed the first same-sex marriage in Iowa), amazed at all he and the church had accomplished (doubled the membership and increased FU’s legislative presence on issues of justice).  But, my tears were of joy and gratitude, not grief.  I spent yesterday talking to my friends, making sure I told the speakers and the choir now much they moved me, and asking questions about the ministerial search process.  I did what I set out to do—I said good-bye well.

It might be good for me to get involved in the Search process, since who “ministers” to me is so very important.  But, I’m tucking that thought away until I learn more.  Will the various committees be able to use a bipolar member who lives an hour away and who may not be able to follow through?  Can I allow myself to be that vulnerable?  Can I get involved and accept my limitations?

It wouldn’t be an Adventure without some mystery and a little risk.

Here’s the first sermon I heard Mark deliver.  Seventeen minutes is an eternity in blogland, but it might be worth your while.

Planting Flags

Duck DodgersI lived in or near Minneapolis and St. Paul for 24 years.  It was home.  It’s also where my life imploded under bipolar crisis.  So while some of my closest friends are there, and the energy and sensibilities of The Twin Cities resonate in me like music, the sorrow and loss of a life destroyed seep up out of the cracks.  I’m saturated in Minnesota, and my groundwater rises.

This past year, I decided to fight the sludge.  The idea started in IPR when we took a close look at my natural support system (friends, family, associations, etc.).  It was a relief when Aly, my case worker, declared my natural supports woefully inadequate.  Instead of fighting against feeling “needy” or berating myself for not being more sociable, I could finally acknowledge that I didn’t have the kind of support that would benefit me.  I no longer belonged to a Tribe.

Aly and I brainstormed.  From those sessions, I chose a dual approach—get involved in the Unitarian church in Des Moines and spend more time in the Twin Cities with my friends.

It has been a weird year, being a visitor in what feels like my hometown.  My zeal in the beginning caused me to over-extend myself, then watch shame and guilt rise about being symptomatic when I was among the people who understood and accepted me unconditionally.  How could I forget that these were the people who watched me self-destruct and didn’t run?  My anxiety or social phobia melted off them like October snow.

Dying of NostalgiaSorrow snuck up on me at odd times—journaling in a Starbucks, intermission at the Guthrie theater, watching a jogger with his golden lab lope along the crosswalk in Minnehaha Park.  Sorrow dragged memories up from the depths—regrets, bridges burned, the parts of my life that sloughed off and lay half-decomposed along the roadsides.

When I discussed this discomfort with my therapist, she said I’d have to dredge all that up and deal with it before the sorrow could lift.  “You have to know why you’re grieving before you can move past it.”  But I already knew why I was grieving.  I’d done that work.  Ad nauseum.  I wanted the “moving past it” part.

I decided to just Watch.  That always seems to be the answer to everything, so why not this?  I saw that sorrow came when I attended events alone, so I started asking my friends to go with me.  Lily and I went to the opera a few weeks ago (free tickets provided by Jim and Duane).  The show itself was dreadful (a German comedy, which has to be the definition of oxymoron), but Lily and I had a wonderful time swearing at the traffic jam caused by hockey fans.

I saw that sorrow rose when I felt separate from my friends’ real lives–a visitor instead of a fixture.  So I planned trips around going to Duane’s presentation to high school students and their parents about AIDS and safe sex, and Jinjer’s workshop on Beginning Astrology, and in December, Carol’s choir concert.

SPilgrimage Cafeorrow seemed to hide in my old haunts, places I loved in my Old Life, so I look for new places to plant my flag now.  A few weeks ago, Jinjer and Carol introduced me to Pilgrimage Café, a neighborhood restaurant with a quirky, delicious menu.  This past weekend I went back there by myself, and felt the café embrace me like a lover.  I sat at a repurposed church pew, my journal on the slab of wooden table, sipping pumpkin ale and breathing in the smell of welcome.

Slowly, I am reclaiming my old hometown for the Nation of Now.  I chose the unfamiliar and travel streets I don’t know.  I cherish my Tribe and go deeper with them while I forge new friendships and expand out like ice crystals knitting across the lakes.  There’s no room for sorrow in all that Light.

“Muddle, Muddle, Soil and Scrubble”

shocked will

“By the ticking of my gums! Yon convicted speaks in tongues!”

This reads like Shakespeare to me.  Just an example of how my brain is functioning these days.

It’s a comprehensive mixed bag, this version of my life.  Enormous gifts and luxury garbled with great loss strangled by stress and cracked open by success.  I don’t have a map for this place.  I don’t know the language.  I’ve given up looking too closely at it because it just makes me pukey.

What I’ve decided to do is just stand still.  If I’m giddy in the morning and too depressed to move by lunchtime, I try to just be that.  If I touch a client in some way or receive a compliment, I try to just feel it.  If I get into my mom’s car and weep when I find one of her nail files (she had millions), I sit with myself through the wave of grief.  If I try to eat a whole pizza for supper and end up getting sick, I listen for the fear that wants to be buried under food.  If I feel a glut of old trauma pushing at me when I work with Ben (because he’s a boy, and I’ve had trouble with boys who “help”), I let it come.

It’s too hard otherwise.  Too violent.  Too disrespectful.

I’m worthy of kindness and attention.  I deserve to be considered.  I don’t have to be anything other than me in this moment.

This lesson is not easy to learn.

Which is why I keep getting the chance to try.

Maybe when I get on the other side of this uncharted, alien landscape I’ll have a better idea of what it was.

Or not.

It really doesn’t matter.

This is what matters.

I’m what matters.

For the Newtown Families

handmade cards, collage art

Image

The Next Orbit

ο ο ο

I live my life in growing orbits

which move out over the things of the world.

Perhaps I can never achieve the last,

but that will be my attempt.

I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,

and I have been circling for a thousand years,

and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm,

or a great song.

—Rainer Maria Rilke

ο ο ο

I feel like I’ve expanded into the next of Rilke’s orbits.  I knew finishing Callinda would be a momentous occasion, but I wasn’t prepared for the way it rocked my world.

I have carried this thing around with me, every day, for over a year.  Not just in my head, but in a special carry bag that I toted to and from the designated coffee shop of the day.  Over time, the process became ritual—read the previous day’s work and edit, write 3-5 pages of new material, make the revision changes on the computer, print out the new material for tomorrow’s review.  Suds, rinse, repeat.

This is the way I spent my mornings—every morning.  Here at the end, I was writing all day long, the story spewing out like ejecta from a storytelling volcano.  And now.  Boom.  It’s done.

There’s a part of me that mourns the hole that Callinda filled.  I’ll miss hanging out with the characters and dreaming up new ways to torture them.  But, another part of me is ready to move to the next orbit.  There are several planets in my trajectory, and I’m not sure which one to aim at just yet.

But, I’m circling.  And I think I am a falcon and a storm and a great song.

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