Waiting for Paint to Dry

Bedroom Paint1Today is Paint The Bedroom Day.  The first coat is on the walls and ceiling, so I’m freshly laundered and off to The Brew House to eat, rest and journal.

ETA for the second coat—1:30.

Henry7:16Henry is showing his age today.  He only banged on the door to get in a few times.  In his youth, this Alpha Tom would have hammered the door as long as it took for me to remove said barrier.   But, like most old guys, he’s more interested in going back to his post-breakfast, mid-morning nap.

Nesting

Henry's Pillow 2

It’s autumn.  Time for apple cider and the annual ugly chest cold.  Time to put away shorts and see if the crotch in any of my old jeans will embarrass me in public.  Time to start work on my Solstice cards and pull out my Happy Light.

I love autumn, even if the waning light makes me think St. John of the Cross was probably bipolar and talking about winter when he coined the term dark night of the soul.  I love the smell of corn dust and how it hangs in the air.  I love the slant of the sun as it hits a golden point on its arc, how it burns through a single, curry-colored leaf stuck in the weeds.

I’m profoundly aware of how much I’m enjoying autumn this year.  Even with bronchitis and a pantheon of prescription inhalers on my counter, I watch the squirrels in their pre-winter frenzy and feel joy rise up.  Like a breath.  Like a sigh.  Clear lungs are not required.

I’ve had moments of bipolarness over the past five months.  Moments—not days or weeks or months.  Moments where the illness broke through to remind me to stay sharp.  I can’t go back to sleep.  And I also don’t fight or fret when the illness presents itself.  This is me, too.  All of this is me.

New BookcaseMy energy amazed me, and the way my mind opened to possibility and change.  Over the summer, I catalogued my apartment—the rotting furniture, the squeeze and mess of a tiny space, all the ways I made do when the idea of doing more overwhelmed me.  Getting a new bathtub and replacing the damaged linoleum floor suddenly made anything possible.

On my trips to Minneapolis to see friends, I also visited IKEA.  I gave away or trashed furniture that was too big, too ruined or too inefficient and replaced it with four beautiful pieces put together with my own two hands plus one great recliner from the Club Furniture.  Now our living room fits us.  There’s room for the cats to chase each other, new places to nap, and a more inviting entry (rather than sliding in sideways and banging a hip on some ouchy corner).

Cabinet Before

Before

Cabinet After

After

Desk Before

Before

Desk After

After

I’m also working on more efficient storage.  I installed roll-out, metal baskets under my kitchen sink and bathroom vanity.  I cleaned out a skinny cupboard in the kitchen, found tubs that fit the narrow space, and got seldom-used art supplies out of the way.

Before

Before

After

After

valje-wall-cabinet-red__0290149_PE424853_S4IKEA carries a wall cabinet—basically, an open box with mounting hardware.  I tossed the hardware and stacked two of those on my coat closet shelf to wrangle the magazines I glean for greeting card captions (My closets have lots of height, so I’m always looking for stackables).  There was plenty of room left over to store other crafty stuff.  No more cascades of musty magazines when I get out the broom.

Autumn is the season for nesting.  We make ourselves snug and warm, surround ourselves with treasures and love, settle in for the long winter.  Nesting makes a place a home.  We should find comfort and relief there.  And joy.

Sitting here at my desk, with Henry curled on his pillow, I listen to James Vincent McMorrow and feel my home breathing with me.

A moment of joy.

Intensive Care

Collage art, greeting card artSince July, I’ve been in a program called Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation.  It’s Medicaid-funded and designed to help those of us with “serious and persistent mental illness to achieve goals that improve success and satisfaction in living, learning, working and socializing.”

It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced in any kind of health care service—thorough, gentle, involved, deep.  For these first six months, I’ve met with my IPR Facilitator (Aly) two to three times a week just gauging my motivation and willingness to go through the process—doing lots of assessments, looking at self-awareness and life satisfaction, and meeting in a small group to hear how others are doing the same.

I believe my participation in IPR is a big reason for my greater stability during the last half of 2014, but maybe not because of the actual work I do in the program.  I get to spend four to six hours a week with a caring professional, talking about my life and my illness, who gives me useful feedback.  Considering that I see my therapist weekly, that gives me up to seven hours a week of therapeutic support.

I can’t begin to explain how lovely that is, to have somewhere to go every several days a week where I feel safe, heard, challenged, and successful all at the same time.  I have felt parts of me relaxing that have been clenched for years.  The notion that I could be kinder and gentler to myself grew naturally from this place of safety and care.  The outrageous idea that everything about my life—the wild and warp-speed mood swings, the practical struggles with money and relationships, my weight, my compulsions, my delusions, my mistakes and mis-steps—could be accepted and given a place at my internal table became my new mantra.  “Yes, that, too.”

This increase in professional support prodded me to start searching in different ways for more natural support.  I found a wonderful, active community at the Des Moines Unitarian Church, signed-up for a class there in SoulCollage®, met some interesting people and sang.  I started reaching out to my old friends in Minnesota.  I joined Facebook, fer cripes sake.

World She InhabitsOver the last few weeks, my work in IPR has taken me on a new journey of discovery.  My focus in the program is on my Living Environment, to assess and eventually set a goal about where I live.  This could also include a “Staying” goal if my current home turns out to be best for me.  We looked at all the places I’ve ever lived, which ones I liked most and least and why.  Aly asked me to imagine my perfect space, perfect neighborhood, perfect part of the country—to dream big and with extravagance.  We’ve spent time tweezing out my values and preferences and laying them over my ideas about home.

One of the many assessment parameters Aly used was to imagine what the significant people in my life would say about my current living environment, about the idea of moving elsewhere, and what their concerns might be.  I try hard not to presume what others think about me, so I wasn’t sure.  But I thought in general they considered me successful  (This is an IPR term.  It means that you generally stay out of jail and the hospital, that you can perform self-care, do basic housekeeping, and partake in enjoyable activities in your home.  Luckily, I rock at being successful).

This exercise made me curious to know what my friends and family really thought, so I started asking them.  It’s always a little scary to ask people what they think of me.  They all carry memories that I’ve lost, things I’ve said in the past, events and experiences fried out of existence by ECT.  Plus, an outsider’s view of my often-times incomprehensible behavior can carry an emotional charge for them.  I’ve done a lot of weird and hurtful things in my bipolarness, and turning over those rocks can be deadly.  But, getting that outside perspective is valuable for someone with mental illness.  We get trapped in our own faulty musings.  Someone else’s reality can be shocking, but life-saving.

As it turned out, they do think I’m successful, but another theme started appearing.  As I’ve reached out to my friends in Minnesota, they all to a person have said, “We don’t know why you moved in the first place.  It never made sense to us.  This is your home.”  And even my sister, who orchestrated my exodus from Minneapolis, said, “You’ve worked hard, made friends and have a routine in Marshalltown, but Minnesota is home…”

My compulsive side would do something with this information.  I’m choosing to just add it to my IPR file along with all the other assessments and data.  It will be a while yet before I actually choose a goal in my Living Environment.  In the meantime, I want to keep practicing this kinder, gentler attitude.  I want to keep attending UU services on Sunday.  I want to schedule my next visit to Minneapolis and spend time with those people who still love me and remember me.  I want to spend time with the people here in Iowa who love and support me, too.  I want to keep an open mind, explore, evaluate.  I want to keep being successful.

Because, you know, I’m on an Adventure.

Was Salvador Dali a Shut-In?

The life of a shut-in takes on a strange flavor.  I feel a little like William Hurt in the old movie Altered States, floating in my sensory deprivation tank.  Everything seems perfectly normal until I rub up against the outside world.

Wednesday my friends brought me to their house for supper and to watch Criminal Minds.  At first, everything seemed homey and familiar—Gracie, their Border Collie whimpered with delight when I came in, spaghetti sauce smelled like spaghetti sauce, furniture rested on the floor the way gravity intended.  But there was this odd thing we did at the dinner table.  Conversation.  What?  And a different channel was showing on the TV.  And Tom started playing his guitar while Scott Pelley relayed the news.  The world started to cant sideways like an old Twilight Zone episode.

Back in the womb of my apartment, the weirdness faded.  Hehehe.  I’m not really a blob of morphing jelly-flesh in a Salvador Dali painting.  Just a little stimulus-deprived.  Yeah, that’s it.

Yesterday, one of the gals from TOPS gave me a ride to the meeting.  What a treat to have all those women fuss over me.  Such a lovely group of friends I’m building there.  But, part-way through the meeting the sound of all those voices talking in a cavernous auditorium crossed a threshold.  Is that what the Plague of Locusts sounded like?  The hot metallic buzzing of billions of tiny, hairy legs rubbing together?  I got a little dizzy.

A person can get used to living alone, can even come to prefer it.  But, too long alone and cocooned by the same music, the same visual stimulus, the same, the same, the same… Well, it messes with the mind.  And my mind doesn’t need any more messiness.  I’m taking back my driving privileges this weekend and getting the hell out of Dodge.

This experience also makes me much more sympathetic to long-term shut-ins.  If you know anyone who can’t get out of the home on their own, think about taking them for a ride.  They might resist.  That deprivation tank expands to encompass the whole world, so stepping outside it is jarring.  But, friends don’t let friends turn into flesh-jelly.

Shuffling Through Marshalltown

I just got back from my afternoon walk—a slow-motion shuffle around three square blocks.  All the better to see the lilac bushes greening and crocus heads swelling.  Iris blades like emerald knives slice through the winter brown.  A warm, moist breeze calls Spring to come forward.

This is my fourth walk since coming home from the hospital yesterday.  Each time I go a little farther, see something a little different.  At 1:30 in the morning, stars talk out loud and warm, velvet air slides over skin.  At 8:30 the Saturday traffic takes over, rushing to compete with the trains wailing in the yard.

Sometimes I’m the only human being on the street.  Sometimes I’m one of many.  The homeless shelter and emergency food bank are just up the street, so people in need pass by often—families, singles, elderly.  People who roll their entire lives with them in wheeled garbage bins.  People with nothing.  People who fight and swear at each other.  People who scold and natter at themselves.

Teenagers wander by in groups leaving their detritus of gum wrappers and Red Bull cans.  The library is next door, and the Kwik Star down the street, so I imagine they gravitate between the two.  But, what do I know about teenagers?

And the dogs are always out.  A plethora of Chihuahuas in all shapes and sizes.  They’re like a box of left-over Valentine’s Day chocolates—nuggets, and cherry centers, and dark mousse—all excited, all yipping in their tiny rodent voices.  There’s a black and white Bull Terrier who sits on the corner all day long, staring at the flower shop.  And a Pit Bull with pink eyes who seems bored out of her mind.  A trio of Corgis race up and down their fenced yard like jousters challenging the entire neighborhood to a duel.  Behind the dog noise, feral cats slink along the alleys, quietly going about their feline business.  They’re happy to let the dogs grab all the attention—anonymity is more their game.

If I could bend over, I’d start picking up the refuse winter leaves behind, but I have to leave that for now.  It’s enough to be outside, in the unseasonably warm, feeling the stretch of my stride in my sore belly, walking my way back to whole.

Entropy

I just finished reading Stephen King’s newest doorstop, 11/22/63.  It’s a story about time travel and the Kennedy assassination, and one of the themes is that the past fights hard to stay the same.  Yesterday, I couldn’t help thinking that the present (particularly my present) will roll over anyone (insert “me”) to stay the same.

I visited the Animal Shelter yesterday to discuss volunteering.  The gal at the desk asked me what I’d like to do.  I said anything that needed doing.  She signed me up to work next Monday afternoon.  I walked back out to my truck in a daze.  I’d been in the building a good seven minutes.

On the drive back to town I kept telling myself, “You can do this.  It’s one afternoon.  It’s doggies and kitties.”  But, the anxiety started low in my gut and crept up to my throat.  Where was all that positive, life-affirming determination that shot me out of Minneapolis and back to Marshalltown with a vision of My New Life?  Stuck under the depression that’s since arrived, I imagine.  It was as if a part of me fought hard to stay the same.  Because the same is known, safe.

Later I went to Wal-Mart.  To start beautifying my little apartment and make it more my home, I asked my mom to help me purchase a storage cabinet for my bathroom.  Always happy to have something concrete to buy for me, Mom agreed.  I found a reasonably priced one online and had it shipped to our local store.

“Some assembly required” meant a box full of boards (Not boards, pressboard—the next step up from cardboard) and a big bag of hardware.  I’m pretty handy.  I mean, I’ve got my own drill, for heaven’s sake.  So, I wasn’t too concerned about putting an over-the-toilet cupboard together.  The instruction manual neglected to mention fronts or backs of any of the pieces, so I “assembled” the thing three times.  By then the anchors were tearing out of the pressboard, and even Gorilla Glue wouldn’t keep it standing up.  After five hours of wrestling with the thing, I gave up and took it back.  At least I got my money back.

The present took one last jab this morning.  As I was cleaning the pieces of my CPAP machine, I poked a hole in the hose that connects the machine to my face mask.  I stood at the bathroom sink, holding up both ends of the hose, watching water squirt out the hole, and I thought.  “Okay.  I give up.”  I can’t afford any more accidents (I fell on the ice out side Wal-Mart and also getting into my truck) or medical issues (an old shoulder injury is painfully back in town and there’s some gynecological shenanigans going on in my nether-regions).  I get the message.

But, there’s a part of me outside the current depression that’s getting steely-eyed.  I can feel her reaching for the Uzi.  Entropy may be a powerful force, but so is the Bad-Ass.  I’ll regroup and rethink while the depression grips me.  But, after that.  Yippy-Ki-Yay, Motherf*****.

Why I Love Marshalltown

We’ve had our first real snow accumulation over the past week.  Here’s what the neighbor kitty-corner from me did with it.

This is the corner of a pretty busy street, so it’s even more fun to watch people stop and hold up traffic to take a gander.  Folks park and get out to talk to him while he’s working.  A very humble, shy guy who’s not quite comfortable with all the attention.

Ahh!  Now the day care gaggle from the Lutheran church up the street is gathered around King Kong taking pictures.  This is just too cute!

What I love even more than the art or the public’s reaction is that the artist is Hispanic—a much-maligned minority in our White Bread town.  HeeHeeHee.

Friendship Forward

I left a lot of good friends behind in the Twin Cities when I moved to Iowa.  I only stayed in contact with a rare few, mostly because it was too painful.  They belonged to a life abandoned and forever lost to me—I thought.  A big part of my healing as been reconnecting with these cherished treasures.

This trip I went to see two women who set up residence in my heart years ago.  I met Jinjer and Carol at Lake Harriet Spiritual Community.  We were all seekers, trying to find a meaningful way to the Divine.  Bright, soulful, creative, talented and committed to the Earth, these two women became part of my everyday life.

With Jinjer I learned to be a better writer, how to craft rituals that would honor the Divine in nature, and how to take myself and others to that still place of communion with the Universal Source.  With Carol I learned how to use sound and music to reach a new level of joy and spiritual experience, and a way of moving and being in the world with compassion and grace.  Together we laughed and cried, played, shared every holiday, and every important event.

For years, I spent time in their home every week, so to walk back through their front door after more than five years made me light-headed with the sense of homecoming.  The spicy, fresh-baked-bread smell; the familiar paintings and books; even their beautifully remodeled kitchen and bath felt right and familiar.  It was as if I’d never been away.

Our friendship seemed like an independent entity—a swift, tumbling river that swept below us and carried us on its waves.  I knew them, and they knew me, and we settled into that knowing immediately.  Our conversation tasted the same as always—complex, dark-chocolate-rich, and so satisfying.

And, as usual, spending time with these two beautiful women left me clearer, lighter and more grateful for my life.  Insights and healing always happened when we were together, and happen still.  We are good juju together.

With this trip, I reclaimed Jinjer and Carol as my friends.  Present tense.  I won’t let go of them so easily again.

A Wished-For Song

You’re song,

a wished-for song.

Go through the ear to the center

where sky is, where wind,

where silent knowing.

Put seeds and cover them.

Blades will sprout

where you do your work.

—Rumi

≈ ≈ ≈

Back from my trip to Minneapolis/St. Paul, and I hardly know how to talk about its profound effect on my life moving forward.  I expected my ten days there to be meaningful and challenging as I reconnected with friends I haven’t seen in five years—when I left defeated and broken after losing everything to the bipolar disorder.

What I didn’t realize is that I literally left my life there.  I never expected to survive moving back to Iowa, let alone start a new life.  Most of these past five years are a blur of mental pain, drug-fog and a near-sighted view of putting one foot in front of the other.  That’s not a life.  My life was in Minnesota.

But, I could never go back, so I shut that door and bolted it.  When I did visit one or two friends there, I kept my head down and my eyes shut because the grief and loss were too much to bear.

This week, out of the blue, while I ate supper with my friends Kirk and LaRae, they suddenly invited me to move in with them.  I dismissed it immediately (the door stayed firmly bolted), but other friends suggested I consider it.  So, for the first time, I cracked the door and imagined what my life might look like if I went “home.”

The three of us talked more about the possibility, and it became clear that it wouldn’t work.  But the process of considering, of listing what I want in my life, of writing down what I value and what I need, started a whole avalanche of inner change.

The crippling grief lifted.  The overwhelming sense of loss and desperate longing for my old life vanished.  I started to envision how I could create a life worth living in Marshalltown—a life that celebrates the glorious parts of me that survived and the Bad-Ass parts born here.

I started planting seeds today, and will continue to do the Work required to help them grow.  Now, I feel like I can go back to Minneapolis anytime, reconnect with more of my old crew, take those friendships forward instead of spinning in the past.  And then, I can come home, to Marshalltown, where my life is growing.  Where my life is.

Where, Oh Where Has My Coffee Shop Gone?


I’m a girl who needs a dive, a hang-out, a haunt, a place.  As long as I’ve been writing, I’ve done my best work tucked away in a funky cafe, scribbling longhand on tables that wobble, with Alternative music floating out of the corners.   Menus change, the number of piercings and tattoos on the wait-staff change, the music definitely changes, but there’s always a hidey-hole I can call my own somewhere nearby.

So to be without a home away from home is unthinkable, yet, here I am—dive-less.  I admit I’m picky about my spots.  They can’t be too expensive or too busy:  I need to be able to enjoy the faire without sacrificing heat, shoes or one of the cats, and I must be allowed to linger without the staff snorting steam about turning my table for the next customer.  The chairs have to be comfortable if I’m to plant my butt there for hours, so booths or padded seats are a must.  Conversation, traffic, innocuous music, and espresso machinery actually add to my experience, but loud and opinionated Bible study groups, toddlers in tantrum mode, football games on TV, and fights in the kitchen don’t (though the kitchen fights can be entertaining).  The food and drink need to be edible, if simple—no tepid coffee kept for hours in an airpot, no breakfast burritos with mayonnaise guacamole and frozen centers.

One by one, I’ve eliminated all the writing holes my hometown has to offer.  Bad food, too expensive, uncomfortable seats, too busy, weird hours, too loud, too prejudiced, bad service.  For awhile I tried to rotate through them, putting up with their deficiencies by preparing for them.  I brought my own pillows, found the most isolated tables, dug out my old pocket CD player and earphones, brought my own food or ate before I arrived, altered my schedule—anything to make the experience pleasant enough to get some writing done.  But all this just gave me cramps from bending so far over backwards.

A new coffee shop has been under construction for over a year a few blocks from my apartment.  Each day I drive by and watch it inch toward completion.  Could this be The One?  Might my Goldilocks snuggle into this dive and find it just right?  Maybe, but I can’t stop searching.  Right now, I’m driving a half hour to sit in a near-perfect Panera’s.  I worry about spending too much money on gas, but my writing is going so well that I’m determined to make it work.  After all, it’s the writing that’s important here, not the quality of the lattes or the freshness of the scones.  Well… as long as they have blueberry.

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