Putting the Libra to Sleep

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I’ve completed six days in the Lutheran Hospital outpatient program, and I can’t tell yet if it’s making me better or worse.

There are two designations—IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) 1 and 2.  None of the literature explains the difference between the groups, but, basically IOP1 is for more functional, more acutely symptomatic folk.  IOP2 is for more severely ill folk who maybe require other services (home care, rehab, medical, etc.).

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The first two days I attended IOP1.  The group was HUGE, 14-18 people with the usual one or two who dominated every conversation and folks talking over each other.  I thought I would lose what little mind I had left.

I watched my intolerance and irritation skyrocket.  My Libra penchant for fairness blew up into a neurotic need to silence the blabbermouths so that the silent suffers might get a second to squeak out a comment.  But I also realized this was all my shit.  If the facilitators felt no need to shut down the usurpers or redirect the tangential wanderers, then it wasn’t my place to step in.  Instead I clutched my purse to my chest and took deep breaths.

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After the second day (and no sleep that night), I knew I needed to talk to my designated handler.  I told her through bitey, frantic, tear-and-snot laden spew that I couldn’t take another day of it.  She listened with a beatific smile and commented in a gentle don’t-spook-the-Tasmanian Devil voice.  Perhaps I should move to the other group.  And feel free to find a quiet place to breathe whenever the desire to punch a talky-talker in the face arose.

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My first day at “the other end of the hall” felt restful in comparison.  There were only five of us in group, and I learned things about PTSD—one of my diagnoses, though something my therapist and I have never really explored.  We usually have other immediate shinola to deal with, so we’ve only ever just touched on it.  THIS was what I was hoping for—some new information, some new tools, a direction.

But, the next day the group expanded to 13, and the whole issue of blatherers and time-sucks reappeared on a crazier level.  I tried to be compassionate, but that well seems to be dry at the moment.  I know folks talk out of nervousness, insecurity, etc., so I tried to reason with myself.  I still ended up out in the hall with my earbuds firmly in place, listening to Billy Joel sing “Innocent Man.”

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I blame the insurance industry and our butt-head Governor, Terry Branstad.  Most insurance coverage only allows three days a week in outpatient care, so Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays end up with twice the group size as Tuesdays and Thursdays.  It’s stressful to go from a small, intimate group where folks feel safe enough to open up, to a mob where everyone talks at the same time.

And because our Governor closed most of the mental health hospitals, took away funding for behavioral services, and basically told folks with mental illness to “get over it,” the programs that are left are bursting at the seams.

I watch the kind and knowledgable staff at Lutheran run around like headless chickens, trying to accommodate everyone’s needs, shore up folks enough to leave so that those who have been waiting a month for an opening in the program can take their place.  The nurse practitioner who talked to me about medication laughed long and loud when I called it “a three-ring shit show.”  This seems to be my new favorite phrase.

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I came home every day more exhausted and people-avoidant than ever.  I feel like an Introvert In Extremis, only able to function after hours of silent cat time, a couple episodes of Fringe and a frozen pizza from Costco (they have the best thin crust sausage pizzas…).  Even then, “functional” may mean taking a four-hour nap or washing the dishes.

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Yesterday I did my laundry at 3:00 in the morning, because I couldn’t stand the thought of going to the laundromat on the weekend when everyone else goes there.  So, because I was already awake at 3:00, I did laundry for the first time in my apartment complex’s washer/dryer.  Granted, one is not supposed to use the machines until 8:00 out of respect for the tenants who live next to the Common Room.  But since I hate people right now, I didn’t care.  And I tried to be quiet.  No one came after me with a knife, and no one slashed my tires later, so I think I got away with it.

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In between tippy-toeing, I sat at the nice dining table and worked on my journal.  Along with my wheeled laundry hamper, I brought my traveling studio (everything should be on wheels) and a big mug of hot chai.  I sat at my own little coffee shop with my earbuds in and the smell of clean wafting around me, and even through the itchy buzz of being up at 3:00 doing something illicit, I could feel my mind smooth out.

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The same nurse practitioner who laughed so hard with me suggested a new strategy for next week.  Bring my wheely cart and when group bugs me too much, take it to this out-of-the-way lounge I found and do art until I feel like coming back.  I tried that on Friday, and I left the hospital less drained.  I met my two meditation buddies for lunch and lasted about 30 minutes before I completely faded.  My well is dry.  That’s all there is to it.

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I think the trick is to not panic.  I feel myself considering the new drugs this kindly nurse practitioner suggests, even though I sat with my own NP before I started IOP and recounted my long list of Drugs Tried and why they didn’t work.  She reminded me that there really is nothing new in psychotropics, just tweaks to the same old formulas.  If they didn’t work then, they won’t now.

I’m grateful that the Lutheran staff is so willing to work with me.  It’s ironic that the adaptability and flexibility I need from them is part of what makes me so irritable there.  It’s a very loose, laissez-faire set-up for people who have different special needs.  I must try to give my Libran craving for fairness, order and rules a rest.  Maybe I can give her a Xanax.

Of Tribes and Farty Pants

Gathering at Barb's

This weekend I got to spend time with some of my Tribe.  These are folks who have travelled The Seeker’s path with me, going to workshops and intensives to learn how to be more conscious and mindful.  The four of us who get together in Des Moines for meditation are part of this larger community, called Foundation, as are people all over the country.

It was hard for me at first.  It always is when we come together.  I’m so used to being solitary, that more than two or three people can be overwhelming.  But I can say that to this group, and they hear me.  I’m safe with them.

I have history with these particular people, who knew me before electroshock.  Some of them hold parts of me I’ve forgotten.  Their memories of me are such a gift—like filling in holes with beautiful light.  Their prompts help me remember the person I was and, in many ways, still am.

Part of our tradition is to share meals together.  Food flows non-stop.  Many of us are trying special diets—vegetarian, vegan, Paleo, gluten-free, diets for blood type or a particular illness—so we’re not easy to please.  But we always have glorious, delicious meals.  It always works.

When we get together, we meditate and we talk.  Everyone is engaged, whether we study quantum physics, yoga or sacred dance; whether our lives are settled or are in chaos; whether we lead with our intellect or our heart.  Friction happens, which creates the best opportunities for mindfulness.  We get to watch how we react to each other and follow those reactions to the source—expectation, judgment, pattern.  Then, we discuss all that, too, if we want.

Often, our work together allows personal issues to surface—fears, anxieties, grief.  In the safety of the group, we can be vulnerable.  We can feel what we feel and be held by the group with compassion and genuine love.

And genuine laughter.  I never laugh so hard or as long as when I’m with these folks. Especially when Sandra whips out the Fart App on her phone.

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Sandra and her Farty Pants app (I’m the one keeling over).

We gain so much from each other—not just the book lists we tend to generate, or the theories we throw around, or the practices we share.  We connect and are enriched by the connection.  We know each other on a deep level even if we don’t know each other well personally.  We really are We.

I drove back and forth from my home in Marshalltown to Des Moines each day, which takes about an hour.  While all my friends in Des Moines offered to keep me overnight, I wanted to drive.  I knew I’d need time alone to rest after being with a big group, and I wanted to be as functional as possible.  Driving home from Barb’s for the last time on Sunday, I felt in my bones that while I may be an introvert and solitary, I’m never alone.

Fewer Doritos, More Gene Kelly

handmade greeting cards, collage artNow that the whole Valentine’s Day business is over, I can get back to the posts that REALLY matter.  Me.  Me Me Me.  Me.

Sometimes I’m dumbfounded by my self-absorption, my complete lack of empathy or interest in anyone else.  I always heard this is what happens when a person lives alone for too long—there’s no one around to poke holes in the ego, no one to interrupt the flow of internal dialogue.  And I suppose those of us with mental illness have a predisposition to belly-button gazing.  We’re taught to monitor our internal world carefully.  We build complicated sieves to sift through every emotional burp and gurgle.

So, when I have to spend time with others, it takes me a few minutes to adjust my worldview.  It’s a refocusing of the camera from micro to macroscopic.  And there’s always a little vertigo involved if the shift happens too fast.  But, I seem to still do okay, interacting with others.  I can still pull out my ability to be with someone and listen to them without making everything they say about me.  I can still sit in a group and join the discussion without spiraling off on a tangent like my brother, a bachelor all his life and firmly ensconced in a World of Me.

But, I’m finding my tolerance for the macroview shrinking.  I don’t seem to understand people the way I used to.  Motives, and machinations, and offenses seem incomprehensible.  Other people take note of subtle nuances, remember details of previous conversations, maneuver chit chat with charm and ease.

As Time Goes By, Judi Dench, Geoffrey Palmer

All that stuff happens somewhere over my left shoulder, out of sight, beyond my reckoning.  And trying to fix on those things exhausts me.  It’s like trying to learn a new language by emersion—everyone is speaking gibberish.

So, I end up running back to my little apartment, pulling on my pajama pants, eating a sack of Doritos, and watching three seasons of As Time Goes By just to blow off the agitation.

Great Expectations, 2011, Helena Bonham Carter, Miss HavishamPeople are hard work.  There are days I want to give them up, like a bad habit.  Instead of quitting Doritos, I’ll quit people.  But I know that’s a slippery slope mental health-wise.  Affiliation.  Belonging.  Support.  Socialization.  These are bedrock words in the How to Be Less Looney Handbook.  And I have a feeling that the road to Crazy Cat Lady would be very short indeed if I went cold turkey on people.  Something along the lines of Miss Havisham with calicos.

Gene Kelly, Singing in the RainIt’s an edge I must continue to explore—how to be a social animal without depleting my energy or overstimulating my nerves.  It’s a dance, sometimes stumbling over my own feet, sometimes gliding gracefully.  Like everything else in my life, the dance changes—new  music, new partners, new steps—and I’ll keep trying.  But, I’ll also keep practicing my solo, because coming home to myself needs to be a place of joy as well as rest.

Fewer Doritos, more Gene Kelly.

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