Westward Ho! Day 9

Roseburg, OR (9:30 AM) to Mill Valley, CA (7:00 PM). 462 miles
Notables: Fink’s Time and Distance.

I felt the depression move in like a thunderstorm this morning.  It took forever to sort through my clean clothes, get everything repacked and rearranged.  My body ached and the barometric pressure of my brain thickened like glue.

The night before, Doris and I talked a long time about chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and cannabis.  In Oregon, she’s able to grow and process pot for her own use, which is a complicated affair.  She makes “pot-butter,” an ingredient in therapeutic cookies.  And just like any drug, it took trial and error to determine the right dosage.

I thought about my friend, Duane, who suffers constant, chronic pain as a side effect of his AIDS medications.  He and his husband, Jim, supported the law to make medical marijuana legal in Minnesota.  It’s legal there now, but the process of qualifying, registering, and then paying $300-$500 per month makes it unobtainable.  I thought about Jim cooking up some “pot-butter” in their kitchen and how delicious his cookies would be.

I’ve never thought about trying marijuana for my own pain.  There have been nights on this trip when I could hardly hobble across a room.  I wasn’t thinking about pot before, but I’m thinking about it now.

As I hauled all my crap out to the car this morning, I asked Doris if I could buy some cookies from her.  I didn’t know it was illegal for her to sell it.  When Doris told me that, I felt like so un-street.  And weirdly like an undercover cop.

IMG_0458She pulled a Baggie out of the freezer.  “I’ll give you one, though.”

Then, she went through instructions like my pharmacist.  Only eat half of the cookie.  Don’t eat cookies while driving.  It could take two hours for the cookie to take effect.  Plus a list of possible outcomes.  And another list of cautions.

So, I had my half-cookie about two hours ago.  Feels like I might sleep better tonight.

Oh, yeah.  I also saw Mount Shasta today.




handmade greeting card, collage artI spoke too soon the other day.  Not up from the deep just yet.  A common mistake.  This rapid cycling is tricksy, let’s a person break the surface for a bit, enough to gulp air, then the waters close over the top before a soul can recognize the drag back into the black.  An odd feeling this time of being altered, alien, apart.  Of moving in a different time zone than the people around me.  Of speaking a different dialect.  Again, that sly bipolar brain working its funky alchemy.

Another day of doing what I can, when I can.  Moving through the water with goggles and the sound of my breath bubbling underneath—yes.  Packing up chai and journal to sit next to the big library windows—probably.  Acting like a normal consumer by checking Staples and Wal-Mart off my list—maybe.  It all depends on the Sturm und Drang playing in the background—the bipolar soundtrack can hurt the ears sometimes.  And a body pillaged by fractured sleep and rusty nails in the joints.

But the bed is made, the litter boxes clean, the dishes washed.  It could be a start.  It could be enough.

Going Deeper into Bad-Assery

handmade greeting cards, collage artBy definition, a spiritual practice is never finished.  There’s no timeline, no stopping point, no date on the calendar that can be X’ed out.  The practice itself is the point—to keep returning to whatever activity was chosen to exercise mindfulness.  To keep using what is set before us in order to go deeper.

So, as a spiritual practice, bipolar disorder rocks.

For a couple of years now, I’ve seriously engaged my mental illness as practice.  I’ve tried to map the funky mental landscape.  I’ve gathered information from research and from my own experience to make changes in my routine and perceptions.  I’ve envisioned myself a warrior, doing battle with the vagaries of the illness.  A Bipolar Bad-Ass.

And now there’s a call to go deeper.

There’s no more data to gather, no more analysis to be done.  All that information is part of me now.  What’s called from me now is a deeper acceptance of the illness and my life as it is.  Always in the back of my mind, I held the belief that if I worked hard enough, stayed awake, fought my compulsions, slashed the delusions when they attacked, I would find peace.  Someday, I would get well.

In holding out for Someday, I skipped Today—which was deliberate, because Today is horrifying.  But, I’m called to embrace it.  All of it.  The poverty, the obesity, the solitude and the madness as well as my creativity and skills, the small pleasures and joys.  There’s a shift in the Bad-Ass from screaming in battle to something quieter.  I don’t know who she is yet, but I can feel her emerging.

Part of her Call is to be present to the Discomfort (once I pull away the drama and suffering, this is the word that fits best).  Discomfort drives the compulsions, attaches to the distorted thinking, flails and panics.  Discomfort underlies poor choices.  It warps reality.

But, it’s just Discomfort.  Greater or lesser degrees of it will travel with me the rest of my life.  My Constant Companion.  So, the next phase of Bad-Assery seems to include becoming comfortable with the Discomfort.  This feels like a koan, a riddle with no solution.  But, that’s also part of practice—holding a question for the sake of holding it.

Maybe this is part of my Bad-Ass’ journey—to set down the sword.  I can’t imagine it yet.

So, I’ll try to just sit with that discomfort.

I’m on an Adventure.

In and Out

hand made cards, collage art

♦ ♦ ♦

Awake at 4:00.  Panic and sinking despair.  Read email and blogs to calm, calm, calm. But the discomfort like gravel under the skin, ants in the brain.  Go! Go! Go!  Dash water on our face and find clean underwear.  Enough grooming.  Go!  Will jump in the truck and Drive.  To the Forbidden City.  Starbucks.  A movie later.

Another voice.  So quiet.  *wait.

Check billfold.  $45 to last two more weeks.  Not enough.  Check movies and times.  Ah, one we haven’t seen.  Print out the free soda coupon.  Check bank account.  Balance on the Visa is HighHighHigh.  Nothing left in checking.

*don’t do this today.

We lay on the floor to listen better to the quiet voice.  Want to bolt.  Need to bolt.  But can’t squeeze past the facts.  Have to.  Have to.  Can’t stay in town.  No proper coffee in town anymore.  No proper writing place.  Can’t come back to the apartment-prison.  Can’tCan’tCan’t.  Go now.

*wait.  can you hold the tension?

No.  Too much.  Drowning.

*think of it like an experiment.  try, and see what happens.  try one thing.

On the floor with Henry watching from the chair.  We can go to the Y.  Ride the recumbent bike.  Walk.

*yes, then what?

Then, we’ll see.


We walk to the Y.  Ride the bike.  Moving through syrup.  Pain.  Exhausted before starting.  Stumbling tired after.

*what now?

Experimenting and holding the tension of flight or fight.

*can you stay?  *can you keep from spending money today?

We will stay in town.  We have a gift card for the movies here.  Maybe go later.  Forget going to the inadequate cafe.  Make our own chai.  Need almond milk.  Forget going to the grocery store.  Too tired.  Too much pain.  Make a meal from what we have.  Healthy, but too much.  Staying, but eating.  Can only hold so much tension.  Drop into eating and watching a movie.  Then, drop into full sleep.  For hours.

Wake up like a drunk.  Out on the sidewalk with the iPod and an apple.  Walk.  Eat a proper snack.  Feel the breeze—sun-warm on the top, October-cool on the bottom.  Shuffle through drifts of leaves.  Plodding, plodding.  Still, the gravel under the skin.  Still, the ants in the brain.  Feet are platters, swollen and sore.  Body feels huge, bloated.  FeelFeelFeel.  But, the urgent voice is quiet.  Only the Other voice is here.

*breathe.  turn your face to the sun.  yes…

We miss our street concentrating on putting one platter in front of the other.  Funny.  At home, we pound a nail and hang a picture.  We need a companion for this picture.  TensionTensionTension.  Online we find one.  Not too expensive.  And we need double-sided tape.  And…and…and…  Tension stretches and snaps.  Running free.  Almost.  Remove items from the shopping cart.  DeleteDeleteDelete. $35 spent.  Not too bad.

*come back to holding the tension. be curious.  can you keep coming back?

Daylight fades.  Henry sits at the window watching the street go dark.  Time to shroud the TV.  Time to write.  Time to breathe.  In and out.  Like the tension.  Like the experiment.  In and out.

In and out.

The Plan

collage art, greeting cardsOur YWCA is closed this week for its annual scrub and tune-up.  This year they’re refinishing all the pools, so we won’t be back in the water until August 20.  Since I get a little squirrelly on weekends when I don’t have my water aerobics class, a whole week without water or my other exercise options carries the potential for what my shrink calls “destabilization.”  After stumbling though this for a few years, I finally figured out that I need to put an alternate exercise plan in place in order to come out the other side without going completely yampy.  Like the Russians in Hunt for Red October, I always need a plan.

ω ω ω

This year my friend, Penny, generously offered me the use of her condo’s pool.  I’m also hitting Tom and Cheryl’s stationary bike in the evenings, setting up “walking dates” with other friends, and doing solo walks as long as my feet hold out.  I’m much more comfortable in the water than on land—my feet and joints get too sore pounding the pavement, and I have a congenital twist in one leg that generates monster blisters no matter what kind of shoes I wear.  But, as long as I can give myself a few days between walks, I’m good.

So much in my life has shifted since last summer’s break from the Y.  This year I’m deeply committed to getting the exercise my brain and body have grown used to and need along with continuing my exploration of the vegan way of life.  Another year of living medication-free and developing strategies for managing my bipolar disorder roots me in my Bipolar Bad-Ass way of life.  As a reminder this week, I added another mantra to my Inspiration Door.  The illness rises and falls, but my determination to live well remains constant.

Hunt for Red October, Sean ConneryI think even Sean Connery would approve.

A Cautious Step

Collage art, greeting card artA cautious optimism seems to be creeping up on me.  The last couple of days moved through with less frenetic, spastic energy; less explosive mood changes; more moments of quiet joy; more tolerance.  It’s too early to tell if this is a shift out of the mixed state rapid cycling I’ve been experiencing, or just another variation of it.  When all the bipolar symptoms get thrown in a bag and shaken up, moments of relief are bound to stick together once in a while, too.  So, the practice is not to name it, not to grasp it, but simply Observe.  And then take appropriate action.

“Appropriate” is a moving target, just like my symptoms.  What I’m capable of doing changes with each shift.  So, just when I sit down to make cards, I’m suddenly unable to tolerate being in my apartment.  Or when the urge to eat bends me over the bakery goods at Panera, I feel the compulsion vanish in an instant.  I guess it’s not surprising that I’m experiencing a lot of vertigo.  These jumps from one state to another to something combined make me a little loopy.  Lots of starting and stopping.  Lots of whipping around and muttering, “What?”

Even in this weird, stuttering place a few constants remain.  I can always exercise.  The pain that comes with the depressive symptoms may make weight-baring exercise more difficult, but there’s always water and my new friend, the recumbent bike.  And there’s always writing.  No matter how crazy I get, I can always write. It may be crap, but I’ve learned that crappy writing is a gift.  It starts the trek to the real story.  A crappy first draft or hideous turn of phrase marks where the story isn’t.  It’s a pushpin in a map.  With enough pushpins, I can see just where the path leads.  Even if I’m crazy, I can still read a map.

Exercise and writing give me a little foundation.  Whatever else I try to do with my day starts and ends there.  So, today I’ll stand on my foundation and cautiously pick up my Bad-Ass Training, knowing I may have to drop it if this moment of relief ends.  I’ll check to see where I’m leaking energy or money.  I’ll reach out to my support network.  I’ll take care of chores that have been abandoned.  I’ll shroud my TV.  I’ll do what I can in each moment to get ready for that moment to shift.

And while I’m getting ready, I’ll listen to my music.  Because that makes everything easier—like Eurythmics’ Miracle of Love.

Back in Tune

As the depression gradually lifted yesterday, different parts of me started to come back online.  I made some cards for my sister that only the day before seemed like an impossible task.  I walked the seven blocks to the post office, mailed some bills, walked to my coffee shop, journaled and walked home.  Moving again felt like heaven after avoiding the Y on Friday and skipping TOPS on Thursday.  Moving with pain, still, but moving nonetheless.

I tidied up the apartment, did laundry at my mom’s house, and considered how I would manage this last week in May with little in my cupboards and $20 in my billfold.  After two long depressive episodes this month, the financial well is pretty dry after bolting in my truck when I didn’t really have money for gas and all the take-out I brought in because I couldn’t force myself to cook.  Then, there were all the movies I went to in order to distract my twisted brain from thoughts of self-harm.  Even with help from my family for medical bills and an overhaul on the truck, I’m at less-than-zero.

There’s no despair in that.  I know I’ll be fine.  It’s just the way this illness works in me.  It doesn’t matter how intelligent I am, or how many coping skills I accumulate.  I train and prepare the best I can, tuning my instrument for the Dark Concert to come.  But, when it hits, I can only play for so long before going flat.  Strings break.  The lip gets tired.  Notes run together.  Then, I just hang on and wait for the coda.

As always, it’s in the silence once the music stops where I can effect change.  I adjust.  I fire up any other parts of me that have shut down and put them back in service.  I start practicing for the next Performance.

Therese Sizer, Sandy Wyatt, Perkins

Last night I got to practice with a friend I haven’t seen in over 30 years.  When Therese walked through the door at Perkins, I felt like me, not the slow, despairing creature I had been for the last week.  I felt my heart expand from a brittle nub of contraction.  I felt music moving through my veins.

Lenihan, Julie Greiner, Therese Sizer, Sherm Botts

Band Divas—Sandy, friend Julie, Therese and Therese’s dad, who was our band director in 1973

Therese and I met at swimming lessons the summer before we started junior high.  She was a part of every happy thing I did in school—band, speech club, foreign language club, and all those slumber parties.  We were part of the same gang—smart, talented, teen-aged girls trying to figure out who we were.  She’s still smart and talented, an accomplished woman moving confidently through the world—just like we hoped we’d be back in junior high.

Catching up on each other’s lives, talking politics, laughing, we both remarked on how much we were the same as those young girls.  The essence doesn’t change.  The song of our soul seeps to the surface, no matter what tries to silence it.

I’m grateful for the chance to practice with Therese last night.  Like a tuning fork, she helped me find my pitch.  It’s always there, but gets lost sometimes in the cacophony of my depression.  Thank you, my friend.

There’s Gotta Be a Pony in Here Somewhere . . .

What a week.

I’m workin’ it, though—trying to ferret out a few gifts and bright bobbles of gratitude in the crap-storm that has yet to let up.  Seems important to mark these to keep some sort of perspective.

  1. I’m grateful that the worst of the pain from physical therapy let up on Wednesday.
  2. I’m grateful that my mind sent me on a little fantasy vacation with Captain America, in a New York city loft that needed its windows reglazed, with Linda Ronstadt’s rendition of “Someone to Watch Over Me” playing in the background.
  3. I’m grateful for my Mom handing me $40 for no reason.
  4. I’m grateful for my friends at TOPS who understood why I just couldn’t step on the scale yesterday.
  5. I’m grateful for the way the Y’s pool buoys me up and makes me feel strong and graceful regardless of the storm.
  6. I’m grateful for the moments when my mind lets go of the internal horrors, for the psycho-spiritual muscle I’ve grown that enables me to wrench my brain away from the monsters for a time.  I need those breathers.
  7. I’m grateful for my sister.  Even though she has her own crap-storm to deal with right now, she’s always there for me.
  8. I’m grateful to have a vehicle.  When the urge to bolt takes over, I can.
  9.  I’m grateful for another day.  Sometimes I’m not, so being able to find the gift in today is gift enough.
  10. I’m grateful for this platform, for readers who feel like intimate friends and the kindness they practice on me.  Meaty, sustaining kindness.

I am grateful.

Yes, I am grateful.

Later That Same Day. . .

After an hour of hot packs, ultrasound, traction, ice packs and electrical stimulation, I was able to stop crying.  I put on my pajamas, rented Captain America, and ate a carton of Mango Sorbet.  After a long nap, I’m feeling almost human again.

Evelyn in England said, “Poor you, Sandy Sue,” and that made me laugh.  What a whiner I sound like to myself!  But, hey, if we can’t whine here, where else are we gonna do it.

Thank you, everyone, for all your condolences and patience.

Over the Top

Monday, I started physical therapy for what my doc thinks is a torn rotator cuff in my left shoulder.  Can we say “Hot, Burning Lava Pain”?  Pain, plus no sleep because of the pain, plus a full-blown depressive episode is just about more than I can take.  Cue sobs and escapist behavior.  I called the therapist and begged for intervention—amputation was on my list of possibilities.  I’m going in a few minutes for “pain relief measures,” which I’m hoping includes a spinal block from the neck down and a nice latte.  We’ll see.

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