Artful, Conscious Living with Bipolar Disorder
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22 Apr 2012 17 Comments
Outside, the day was a little gloomy with patchy rain. Inside, love burned bright.
My cousin, Janet, was the first to arrive as she was on her way to work. We grew up together, her family’s farm a mile away from mine. Life happened, and we lost touch. But, here she is—the same loving, hilarious, take-no-prisoners force of nature she was when we were kids. Janet is the perfect example of what I’m trying to do with my life now—pull together past and present to open a door for the future, leave nothing behind but hold it all lightly.
The gals in my meditation group encouraged me to do a reading from Callinda at the party. They were a little surprised I hadn’t planned on it, seeing as how the whole shindig was about finishing the thing and getting it “published” on this blog. So, I dug out my glasses and tried to find the most hair-raising section—just to tantalize those who hadn’t read it yet. Look how attentive they were—even the kids listened! If I hadn’t already felt surrounded by love, I surely did then.
All the party details fell into place like a jigsaw puzzle. Kris Davison prepared wonderful, tasty food, my sister took over as dish washer/photographer/hostess so I could mingle and visit with all 35 guests, we almost had enough chairs most of the time, and I’d made enough Quote Plaques for everyone.
For me, this party was a way to thank everyone who supported me while I worked on Callinda—and, at the same time, struggled to manage my bipolar disorder. These folks gave me perspective, laughter, money, coffee, hugs, meals, shelter and cheerleading. They took care of my Dad, exercised with me, meditated with me, accepted me as I was, invited me into their homes, paid my way, gave me work, introduced me as their friend, took me on dates, cheered when I lost weight, and stayed when others left.
I wanted to thank them, and yet they brought flowers and gifts along with their support and love.
Whenever I would wander into a conversation or plop down next to someone taking a break from grazing the food table, they would say, “What a neat bunch of people.”
Yes, they are.
20 Feb 2012 10 Comments
Agitation and anxiety slipped back in this past weekend, and I cast a wide net to snare the reason. Lots of possibilities, lots of targets I could blame. But, the truth is, it’s just the illness sounding and shooting air out its blow-hole.
Gosh, I do scramble to blame my discomfort on something else. Money is tight, and I’m feeling that pinch, so I rail against it. I see the worst in people’s motives and jump to take offense. I’m out of anything good to eat, so, more railing. The agitation takes all these little fish and makes a meal for thousands out of them. (Wait. Was Jesus bipolar? Nah…)
This morning I woke up. For a moment. I observed the railing and the casting of blame. I took a breath and felt the agitation in my body. I looked at my mind spinning and leaping. Hello, old friend, I thought, much the way Ahab must have greeted the Great White Whale. Nemesis and constant companion. An adversary by which to measure one’s life. Then, the seas closed over and clarity sank.
Today, I must stay focused on the true prize, not the little fish. Those little ones are easy to catch—negativity and meanness, want and lack. They’re like remora riding the back of the Great White Bipolar Whale. What I’m fishing for runs deep and silent. It must be courted and invited to dance on the surface. There’s no net for this creature, though it does turn in the direction of love. Curiosity, gentleness and attention can coax it.
It’s a fine day for fishing.
19 Jan 2012 10 Comments
The impetus for my recent trip to Minneapolis/St. Paul was two-fold. A good friend was about to undergo a simple but scary surgery all by herself, and I wanted to be there to support her. Another friend and I had talked about me “coming up” in January sometime to spend the weekend. It worked out that I could do both in the same trip.
I’ve been fond of saying lately that I’ve lost my people skills. I used to be pretty gregarious and easy-going, but since my bipolar blow-up five years ago and the subsequent struggle toward sanity, I seem to be much less tolerant of humankind in general. Staying in other people’s homes for ten days made me realize that what I’m really uncomfortable with is the view in the mirror.
Those of us who have gone through therapy, or done any spiritual work, or seen Dr. Phil know that when other people irritate us, we’re really just reacting to the same or similar qualities or fears in ourselves. People act as a mirror to show us what we dislike about ourselves, and where we need to focus our love in order to heal. Other people don’t piss me off. I piss me off.
So, I received gift after gift of insight while staying with my friends. I discovered that my best friends are my cats, and that I really don’t want to bother with anyone else. I realized that I expect to be catered to, my needs anticipated and planned for through some miraculous act of clairvoyance (so much easier than all that pesky communication crap). If I don’t have a person’s rapt and undivided attention, I am unloved, unworthy and unimportant. I’ve gotten so fixed on order and routine that untidiness of any kind feels like a threat to my sanity. And, perhaps hardest of all, men make me nervous, but I want one.
Holy Hand Mirror, Batman! No wonder I hole up in my apartment with the covers over my head and a cat in my armpit. I do not want to see these things about myself, but there they are—hiding in plain sight along with other niggles I’ve yet to translate. But, this is the nature of the Work. Look. See. Be curious about funny reactions to things and people. Go deeper. Look again.
I love and adore my girlfriends who opened their homes to me. I bless them for tolerating my fussiness as I gazed into their beautiful mirrors. And I thank them for the gifts, which give me my next bits of Homework. On the other side of that work will be someone who breathes deeper and is more comfortable in her own skin. And maybe even a better friend.
24 Nov 2011 10 Comments
in art, awareness, bipolar disorder, death, developing consciousness, distorted thinking, family, gratitude, health, mixed-media art, quality of life, spiritual practice, symptoms Tags: abundance, compassion, good days, grace, love, pain, surgery, Thanksgiving, transition
Cultivating a thankful attitude can be a challenge with bipolar disorder. The illness tends to shun the finer energies of love, compassion, gratitude, forgiveness and acceptance for the heaviest emotions. It twists truth into lies and reality into gruesome Grimm fairy tales. It takes vigilance to recognize The Dark Voice inside one’s mind, courage to reject the falsehoods it whispers, and superhero strength to open the mind to Light and Life instead. It takes hard work to foster gratitude.
This Thanksgiving, however, I’m finding it easy to be grateful. I may be uncomfortable and limited from my recent surgery, but the tumor the surgeon removed was benign, and I can look forward to healing completely. This holiday season comes so soon after my dad’s death that the rest of the family still orbits the gravity well he occupied. I’m so thankful that we can talk about him without awkwardness, that we can experiment with new rituals to see what might hold meaning for us now, and that we love and support each other as we hold Dad’s absence gently.
These are big blessings in gratitude. But, I find I’m even more thankful for the moments of grace that dot my bipolar existence. The sudden release of depression’s grip, an easing of anxiety, the way my thoughts untwist like a coiled rope let loose, a deep breath that tilts my head up to see the stars. Like the illness itself, these gentle turns come without warning and in spite of anything I might do. I don’t earn these moments. They are Grace’s gift, a Mystery. I can only lift my face to the sun and say, Thank You.