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

 

Spontaneous Combustion

This past weekend I experienced rapid cycling (alternating depressive and manic episodes over a short period of time) for the first time since I weaned off all my meds 18 months ago.  And while very uncomfortable, I managed fine.  It did make me wonder about my stress level, though.

Losing weight is stressful for anyone.  Making major behavioral changes is very stressful for anyone.  On top of those, I’ve also eliminated two of my life-long, sure-fire methods of dealing with my bipolar disorder—TV and compulsive eating.  So not only am I under a great deal of stress, but I’ve lost the two most powerful ways of coping with it.  What’s left in my old bag of tricks is compulsive spending and sexual fantasy, which are both shouting for constant attention.

“Hmm,” I pondered, “perhaps I need a bit more support as I tear my life apart.”

So, today I went to my therapist.  Michelle said all the things I knew she’d say, but it was so comforting to hear them out loud:

All these changes are positive and incredibly stressful.

Don’t worry too much about Captain America and The Huntsman hanging out over your shoulder—have fun with them.

Keep journaling and tracking your feelings.

Try not to be rigid—if the agitation gets too big, allow yourself some TV.

Okay, then.  I’m not hallucinating when I hear Chris Hemsworth mumbling behind me.  And I’m not failing when eating my supper sans distraction makes me cry with loneliness.  No.  It’s just me ripping my life apart and feeling the effects.  Feeling, without numbing those feelings, is frightening and painful.  Many days I feel like an open wound.  But, I’m okay.  And the hunks standing behind me are okay.  However, I’m going to keep seeing Michelle for a while.  She knows how to hose me down if I burst into flames.  Everyone needs a buddy with flame retardant.

Valentine-less

For someone prone to loneliness and conditioned to want a White Knight, Valentine’s Day without a valentine stinks.  It doesn’t help that the depression is back just enough to crank up the anxiety and agitation or that my medical bills from surgery and allergy testing are pecking at me like harpies.

I am uncomfortable today in several ways, and feel myself thrashing around trying to ease the pain.  I will not be skillful at this today, nor heroic, nor a Bad-Ass of any kind.  But, I will get through it.  This unfortunate day will pass, and another will come, and another.  I will be the thread that ties them all together.

So, to comfort myself today, and maybe anyone else who is valentine-less, I offer this beautiful song.

Count the Blessings

I’ve been down with an intestinal flu the last couple of days.  Nothing to do but watch movies, drink ginger ale and ponder the year that’s about to end.  But pondering can be a dangerous exercise, especially when I’m sick and in the middle of an episode.  I’ve learned it’s never a good idea to give too much attention to the thoughts that swirl up then.  Too much darkness, too much regret, too much grief.  So instead, I’ll focus on a few of the blessings 2011 brought me.

A place to sell my art cards.  My last visit at The Perfect Setting was disappointing compared to all the other times I’ve sold my cards there.  Pam, the owner, placed another employee in charge of the greeting cards.  This person pulled a couple of mine as “inappropriate”.  It seems she and I don’t share the same sense of humor.  So, Pam bought only half of the bunch I brought in this time instead of all of them.

Even though I know better, I took it very personally.  I know every shop has to make careful selection and cater to the clientele, but it surprised me since Pam always seemed to love everything I brought in.  Every artist has to tailor their work to fit the market—I know and understand this.  It just caught me on a very bad day, and I haven’t been able to sit at my studio table since.

This isn’t sounding much like gratitude.  But I am extremely grateful to Pam for taking a chance with my work.  She hung my weird collages even though no one in Marshalltown will ever buy them.  She bought all my cards, even when her other employees raised eyebrows.  She let me be the square peg in the town’s round hole—no one else here has ever done that for me.  Yes, I’m grateful.  And eventually, I’ll start making more of the cards that the town will accept—along with a few naughty ones.

Healing.  This year I learned how to manage without psychotropic medication.  I developed my Bipolar Bad-Ass Training guidelines.  I graduated from the Silver Sneakers water exercise class to the deep water, high-powered, water aerobics class.  I pushed the envelope of my reading disability and actually finished eleven whole books this year.  I’m learning how to be a woman alone without being lonely all the time.  I’ve moved past my fear of cooking and can now fix supper for myself every night.  I’ve started again on the weight loss journey, losing 12 pounds since my visit with the allergist at the beginning of December.

It’s an important practice to remember all the healing this year brought, all the hard work and dedication I put into it.  The illness always grabs center stage.  The loss of Will, the scrambled routine, the swamping thoughts tear down self-worth and confidence.  It’s so easy to see only failure.  So, remembering the success and joy play a vital part in bringing reality back to true.

Saying Good-bye to my dad on my terms.  I am deeply grateful that I was able to spend so much time with my dad in his final days and participate in his funeral in a meaningful way.  It was a gift.  Just as easily, my illness might have flared like it did this past Christmas, incapacitating me and keeping me from any human interaction.  Frankly, I expected to be a nut case during my dad’s rituals, and the stress did eventually cause an episode.  But I was fully there when I most wanted to be.  A miracle.  A prayer answered.

These are just a few of the gifts the Heart of the Universe placed in my lap this year.  What treasures did you receive?

Ding Dong Ditch

Earlier this week, I visited with my therapist about my ongoing quest to approach relationships differently.  I’d done a lot of pondering and journaling about this issue, especially after an incident with an alcoholic friend.

One thing I realized is that part of my tendency to ditch uncomfortable people is something I learned growing up.  I’d never connected the dots before, but once I started revisiting my family’s conflict resolution skills, I got the Big AhHa.  We never fought with people, we just never talked to them again.  Anyone who was perceived as different, difficult, needy, or pesky in any way was avoided.  Transgressions were “forgiven, but never forgotten.”  When I considered this learned behavior and added my bipolar bonus points of isolation, distorted thinking and emotional friability, I was grateful that I still had anyone to talk to.

I’ve said it before, and I suppose I’ll keep on saying it—people are hard.  At least they are for me.  They are scary, hairy creatures, and if they turn around too fast, I run for the hills.  At the same time I yearn to connect, to hear the words “I feel exactly the same way.”

Michelle, my therapist, couldn’t give me any tips or pointers (damn it).  As is her usual M.O., she acted as cheerleader, waving her pompoms in the direction of my successes.  She made a point of reminding me that setting boundaries is not the same as dumping someone, and that the act of setting boundaries can be done in a loving and respectful way.  Good distinction.  Maintaining boundaries is as hard for me as staying, but I see the difference.

What this all boils down to is yet another spiritual practice.  I can’t change my behavior if I’m not aware of how it works on me, so I must bring consciousness into play.  I get to watch how people make me squirm and then follow the squirmy bread crumbs back to whatever twisted thinking is at fault.  I get to watch my desire to bolt.  I get to unwind Old Truths that don’t make sense anymore (if they ever did).  Every disagreement isn’t a threat, nor is every misunderstanding a negation of my worth.  These are deeply ingrained.  With time, compassion and curiosity, I may yet work them loose.

Many of you weighed in on how to approach my friend and his abusive behavior when drunk—thank you.  I want to especially thank Kana at Kana’s Chronicles for her words of wisdom.  I ended up following her suggestions and was able to set boundaries with my friend without abandoning him.  I feel like I was respectful to both of us, and he seemed to hear what I said without taking offense.  Time will tell, of course.

The Lessons just keep on comin’.  I’m on an Adventure.

Lies

I had hoped this episode was waning.  I focused on the moments of clarity, the laughter that bubbled up, the checks I made on my “Things to Do” list.  But there’s no ignoring it this morning.  The darkness yawns, and I feel myself falling.

There are rotten spots in my mind that draw my thoughts and contort them—the same old pits of longing and lack, inadequacy and brokenness.  The paths to these lies seem to be permanently carved into my psyche.  So easy to get to, so easy to believe.

There’s the lie of alienation, of living on the margins of other people’s lives.  Invisible, I only make myself known by bumping into their furniture or shattering a jar of pickles in their kitchens.  A noisome ghost.

There’s the dangerous lie of hopelessness, the one that finds no point in the struggle, no reward in the work.  This lie stretches out the rest of my life in days of marking time, filling up the hours with minutia.  The lie says relief is fiction, and wellness fantasy.

I see the lies.  I recognize the distortion as they slide through my mind.  I know them for what they are.  But, I can still hear them in the background like a radio turned low—a radio playing music I can’t stand.  It’s hard enough to be in the Dark without having to listen to AC/DC or Ozzie Osborne.  It’s hard enough.

Coyote Magic

Transitions are tricksy.  They make me squirm, like a too-tight bra.  With bipolar disorder, one is always in transition—an episode is either coming or going.  There may be a little time to catch my breath and get in some Bad-Ass Training, but I’ve always got my eye on the horizon.

So, in many ways, this transition between having a dad and not having a dad should be familiar territory—there’s what was before, the upheaval of the change, and what comes after.  What comes after has always involved some form of regrouping—determining the effects of the change and planning how to proceed.  I’m finding it’s still too soon to see the effects of my dad’s death, so it’s hard to make a plan.  I’m still wanting to be with my mom, even if I only sit and play her digital Solitaire game while my sister cleans.  I feel lonely and restless in my apartment, even with my two kitty comforters.  Since I dance with loneliness anyway, I’m assuming this is just part of the grieving process—magnification of a fairly common go-to emotion.  I’m not sleeping well, and wake up as tired as when I went to bed.  That ebbs and flows.  Like this whole process, there are difficult spells, then easier.  It’s all a dance to be approached lightly and gently.

This not-having-a-plan business, though, is bothersome.  I know it will come.  I know I’ll figure out how to gather up all the pretty ponies of my life and  get back in the saddle.  There’s a novel to finish, cards to make, books to read, friends to meet, and my curiosity about volunteering at the Animal Rescue League to follow up on.  I anticipate spending more time with my mom, but don’t know what that will look like yet.

I have to be content to let all that percolate without resolution right now.  This moment, I’m still in the upheaval stage of this transition.  The world seems odd and strangely skewed while still familiar in its October beauty.  I perform my daily tasks, even work on my Halloween cards, but there’s a befuddled undercurrent.  I put my clothes on backwards and go to the kitchen when I mean to go to the bathroom.

In some Native American tribes, this would be seen as the work of Coyote, the Trickster.  I like that.  I can imagine Coyote as the King of Transitions, sitting on a hilltop of scrub, his tongue lolling, his eyes gleeful.  He reminds me to relax into the chaos and let it all unfold at its own pace.  I’ll get a plan eventually.  All in good time.

Bipolar Bad-Ass Training, Revised—Part 2

The area I revised most in my Bipolar Bad-Ass Training after reading Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, was in Securing Down Time.  Rubin’s book showed me there’s lots more I might be doing to Fill My Well between battles.

I always loved the idea of Artists’ Dates, a practice Julia Cameron promotes as part of The Artists’ Way.  It’s a date with yourself, taken alone, to indulge your artistic and playful side.  It might be a trip to the zoo, if you love animals, or a stroll through a beautiful garden, or wandering through a toy store to find a box of 64 crayons just like the one you had when you were eight years old.

I’d gotten out of the habit of taking an Artist Date, and my playtime had gotten noticeably grim.  I go to movies, but only if I can smuggle in a can of pop from home to save money.  I go to Barnes and Noble, but only to read the art and crafting magazines, never to buy one.  My life has become governed by my checking account balance.

So, I’m determined to find new ways to tickle my fancy and get the creative juices flowing.  One thing I want to do is read more poetry.  I love poetry, but have never sought it out.  This weekend I checked out a collection by Mary Oliver.  It’s breathtaking and sumptuous.  Why didn’t I think of this before?

Another quest is to read more children’s literature.  Since reading is difficult for me, Kidlit ought to be a bit easier and, therefore, more enjoyable.  I’ve started a list to take with me to the library—The Golden Compass and books by Elizabeth Enright and E.L. Konisberg.  I’m actually looking forward to reading these books instead of dreading a task that’s “good for me.”

As a person of bipolar persuasion, cheerfulness can be suspect.  Glee is just downright symptomatic.  So, I’ve grown accustom to tamping down any giddiness just as I’ve learned to throw a net under feelings of melancholy and pensiveness.  The result is that I don’t foster cheerfulness, which is just not a way I want to live.  I want to laugh more, even if its only between episodes.  So, I need to hit websites like I Can Has Cheeseburgers and hang out more with my friends Matt and Jeff—sure-fire ways to laugh until I choke.  I need to celebrate my good days between episodes, share them, revel in them, create some kind of goofy tradition to mark those too-few moments.  I’m still noodling on that one.

Another thing that Fills My Well is being outdoors, but I hardly spend any time there at all.  I used to take walks in the old town cemetery and drive out to the corn and bean fields around town, but haven’t in a long time.  This past Labor Day I went to a big park and ate lunch in the sunshine.  I knew it was good for me, but I was depressed at the time and only felt lonely, which soured me on trying again.  I need to find new places outside to claim as my own, maybe places where I can sketch, or take walks—something.

What Fills Your Well will be different from what fills mine.  I hope you take a moment today to consider what would trip your trigger.  What kinds of things did you like when you were a kid?  What did you love to do?  Could you try those things on again?  Are there things you’d like to try if only…?  What’s stopping you?  And if the answer to that is being bipolar or in other ways challenged with mental illness, think again.  It might not be the barrier you think it is.  It might be something you can hop over on your way to glee.

On Becoming Invisible

This weekend my sister and her husband invited me to see a movie with them.  The offer thrilled me so much, I realized how dependent I am on others for social and cultural stimulus, and how rare those opportunities are.  The culprit, of course, is lack of money.  Living on a tiny Disability income makes things like going to the movies or a dinner out something I have to plan, save and rearrange my budget to manage.  Going to the city to sit meditation on a weekly basis is almost beyond my means, so things like concerts and museums are out.

But lack of funds is only part of this pickle.  I seem to have become invisible.

I would love to be invited along out of town for a shopping spree, even if I can’t buy anything.  Just getting together and spending time with others would be lovely.  Or to be included in a party invitation.  Or remembered for a potluck.  And it’s not like I haven’t tried to connect.  I’ve asked people to have coffee with me and watched their eyes glaze over.  Or when I strike up a promising conversation, the person will wander off with their spouse/friend/child in the middle of a sentence.  And then when I do meet folks for lunch or for coffee, they talk to each other, but not to me.  If I try to join in, the conversation rolls over me as if I’d never spoken.

I agonized over this for some time, thinking I must be a horrible human being, frightening because of my bipolar disorder, embarrassing because of my poverty, rude or snobbish or in some other way completely offensive.  But, I think invisibility is the key.

I’m not sure when I started to fade away.  Sometime during my long mental crisis, I suppose.  Did my corporeal substance bleed out with my sanity?   Did people get used to my befuddled state and stop trying to engage?  Or is it that poverty is just so unsightly that the eyes skip off the image?  I know when I was working and I’d come to an intersection manned by a homeless person, I’d pretend he wasn’t there.  Maybe I’d chance a quick peek at his cardboard sign, but never look into his eyes, never acknowledge that a real person was there.  If I didn’t see him, I didn’t have to do anything about his situation.  Just a flicker in my periphery vision.

It’s nearly impossible to consider someone who’s only a shade.  Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes.

So, what’s the answer?  Do I raid Goodwill for loud Hawaiian shirts and pink pedal-pushers?  Will that get anyone’s attention?  Maybe a T-shirt that shouts “Poor and Proud!”  Do I need to watch Ghost Hunters International for tips on how to make myself heard?  Can you buy ectoplasm at Wal-Mart?

It’s a real head-scratcher.  Or it would be, if I had a solid head.

The D Word

For a while yesterday, I wanted to die.

The depression, the poverty, the constant, never-ending struggle to simply exist was too much.  All I could see was want, loneliness, misunderstanding and pain that my fantasizing would never change.  Jumping around in the water, scribbling little stories, pasting pieces of paper together, starting book after book only to set them back down just marked time while my life tick-tocked by.  Death would be such a relief.

For someone who is bipolar, this thought is a marker.  It’s not the same as wanting to commit suicide.  And it’s still distant to developing a plan to commit suicide.  Nevertheless, thoughts of death signal a serious turn in the depression.

I stayed with those thoughts long enough to write them all out in my journal.  As soon as I actually wrote the “D” word, actually admitted to feeling that lost and desperate, I surrendered to my training.

This is what training is for.  It kicks in without conscious thought.  It’s habit, so deeply ingrained that it runs automatically.

I mopped up my tears, finished my coffee and went home.  I gathered together some old pictures and took them to Minute Man to get copied.  I bought refills for my ink pens and furniture polish.  I picked up my new glasses.  I stood outside and lifted my face to the warm sun, let myself feel the mild breeze.  I glued borders around Nancy’s collages.  I made two cards.  For the rest of the day, I distracted my brain from the hopelessness.

And in the evening I told my Bipolar Buddy that I had thought about dying.  My friend Cheryl is my Bipolar Buddy.  Three years ago, after I tried to kill myself, I promised Cheryl that I would always tell her if thoughts of death ever came back.  I’m accountable to her.  I’m honest about my thoughts, and she witnesses—that’s our agreement.

In the past, I would have called my mental health clinic.  My therapist would have called my psychiatrist, who would have sent me to a hospital where medications would have been adjusted or changed, thus starting a four to eight week period of confusion and fog-brain while my brain and body adapted to the new drugs.

It was never the drugs that made me better, it was the slap of being hospitalized, the challenge to my distorted thinking that pulled me from the edge.  So, I learned to challenge my own thinking.  Once I realized the medications actually made my symptoms worse and I was able to wean off them, I became even more able to see the distortions.  I’ve not had thoughts of death for a long time, but it’s part of the illness.  They had to come back around sooner or later.

I’m better this morning—not great, but better.  Thoughts about my life being pointless still crowd me from behind, but I’m not entertaining them.  What I will do today is trust my training.

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