30 Day Forecast

Start BoldlyWednesday was my last day in partial hospitalization.  It was a surprise.  I went to the scheduled appointment with my counselor to talk about my progress and the work I’d been doing on my discharge plan.  When I asked him when he thought I might be ready to leave the program, he said, “I’m thinking today.”  I took a deep breath, swallowed hard, and said, “Okay.”

Because I know recovery isn’t about feeling perfect or feeling done.  It’s about practicing new behaviors in spite of how I feel.  It’s about The Work.

Every morning in the group, we filled out a plan for the day.  It included things like errands and chores, what we planned for exercise and relaxation.  We kept track of our sleep patterns, listed things we were grateful for that day, and our successes.  But at the top of the page, we rated how we were functioning.  On a scale of 1-10, we noted how well we were able to perform our daily tasks, not how we felt.  That distinction was important.  Emotions, moods, and thoughts changing like the weather can make a person feel dysfunctional.  Noting objectively that we got out of bed, ate breakfast and washed the dishes, drove to group, and made plans to see a friend afterward proves that we can still operate in the world even if we don’t feel like it in the moment.  What we do matters.

And while I feel much more stable emotionally, it’s a high pressure system that comes and goes.  The practices I put into place and actually perform every day will help me weather what comes next.  And next.  And next.

And there’s a lot of Work to do.  It’s mostly planning and monitoring, but it’s also reinventing myself as a social creature.  I’ve written here about my tendency toward isolation, my resistance and anxieties where other people are concerned.  So, I’m trying something different.  I’m attempting to let go of my old notions of Support Systems, Intimacy, and Soul-Matedness, and simply ask people to Play with me.  I plan something I want to do (like see the new X-Men movie or go for a walk) and just invite others to join me.  No huge expectation.  No smoldering resentment or disappointment.  Just play.  And it’s amazing to me how easy this is.  Simple.  For a mind that complicates and twists on a regular basis, simple is good.  Real good.

As part of my discharge planning, I have a list of goals for the next 30 days.  These will determine the nature of my practice for now.  And they will also help me make these changes into habits that, hopefully, will carry into whatever weather the future holds.

It’s up to me.

It always is.

I’m on an Adventure.

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Thoughtless

handmade greeting cards, collage artAs part of the “vacation from my life,” I’ve put a moratorium on thinking.  No ponderings, no plannings, no endless rehashing of what my moods mean.  I refuse to follow my thoughts into the future or back into the past.  And when I catch myself drifting along with my brain, I gently bring myself—empty-headed—back to right now.

It’s what we do in meditation, and what I teach as the beginning point of self-monitoring.  But as long as this respite lasts, I’m not shaking loose of my thoughts to monitor anything.  I’m just clearing space.

And what a lovely day I had today.  Without a routine or a plan, I got up this morning wondering what I needed.  Gentle exercise and warmth (I’ve been feeling the cold lately).  So I went to the later water aerobics classes in the heated, shallow pool.  After that, I drove to the city for a movie (Broken City.  Excellent.), then went to Half Price Books to look for poetry.  I spent a good hour leafing through anthologies and slim books of poems, something I never do.  I took my time, reading and browsing.  I picked House of Light by Mary Oliver, then found a cheap copy of Bird by Bird, my favorite book on writing by Anne Lamott.  Those thin volumes made me happy.

Across the street is one of my new favorite places in the world—Whole Foods.  What’s that smell when you walk in?  The flowers?  The produce?  Something super-saturates the air with life.  I love wandering the store with those tiny carts, touching the pretty greens and finding everything a vegan could ever want.  Fellow vegan blogger Jeff, linked to a recipe for Roasted Apple, Butternut Squash, and Carmalized Onion Pizza this morning.  On impulse, I decided to get the few ingredients I needed to make it this weekend.

Then, I went next door to Best Buy and found a Magic Bullet at a very reasonable price.  I’ve wanted a food processor for a while now, but since I wasn’t cooking much I didn’t think it was worth the cost.  But, today, when I saw the Big Yellow Box, I went in.  Compulsive?  Maybe.  I don’t care.  I’m not thinking about it.

What I sensed today was my brain relaxing.  Little bursts of inspiration, like when I first woke up and I had the solution to a problem in my manuscript.  I didn’t ponder it or agonize over it.  It just came.  A gift.  I also felt more kindly toward people—touched by the cashier who found a coupon for my pizza crust, touched by the young dad who carried his tiny daughter on his shoulders.  I felt my aversion to the human race softening.  I engaged the people I encountered today, something I’ve not wanted to do in a while.

Whatever this relaxing brain brings me is fine.  I’m not going to stew about it, second-guess it or write pages on it.  In fact, I left my book bag (with my ever-present journal) home today.  No thinking allowed.  Just experiencing my life as it is.

I may get to know me yet.

By Any Other Name

Language is the House of Being —Martin Heidegger

handmade cards, collage art

I spent the day paying attention to how I name things.  Specifically, my illness.  I’ve decided cycling doesn’t really fit my flavor of bipolar disorder, at least not at present.  And describing my day as good or bad isn’t helpful.  I need a new vocabulary.

So, I’m going to try some new terms, ones that will carry less judgement and limitation, ones that can hold the huge array of symptoms without lining them up on a spectrum, ones that allow for quick movement and change.

Maybe it’s a matter of thickness or mass.  Sometimes the illness feels heavy, like layers of wet wool pressing down on me.  Sometimes it feels lighter, more like cotton candy pulling apart in a sticky goo.

Maybe, as Stephen Fry suggests, weather vocabulary would be useful.  Barometric pressure plummets.  There’s freaky, baseball-sized hail and squalls.  Layers of clouds slide over each other with the sun just out of sight.

What happens if I say I’m thick at the moment?  Or that my brain is storming?  It may not help others understand my experience any better, but it gives me a different perspective.  Instead of looking to the horizon for that mythical stable period, I’m living in the moment, dealing with all the ways my mood and mind shift, then shift again.  A new vocabulary shines more light on this movement and the moments of sanity they contain.

This is play, but serious in a way.  How we label things, how we speak of them, creates reality.  To tell someone I’m having a bad day hammers a nail through that definition and fixes it to my consciousness.   I only see my day as bad now, not how it changes.  It’s never that simple.

Blog-Tag: The Non-Award Game

Cruising through my favorite sites this morning, catching up on posts I’d missed while surgically-challenged, I came across a fun post on Kana’s Chronicles.  It’s Blog-Tag.  It’s a little like those blogging awards that one passes on, but without the award.  And anyone can play, blogger or not.  Here are the rules:

  1. Post the rules.
  2. Answer the 11 questions the tagger set for you in their post.
  3. Create 11 new questions to ask the people you’ve tagged.
  4. Tag eleven people and let them know.

One of the many things I love about Kana is her total disregard for silly rules.  She immediately decided to throw out Rule #4 and invite anyone who was interested to pick up the tag and run with it.  I love that idea (which is why I’m IT now and chasing you all).  So, if it tickles your fancy, get tagged and play along.  If you’re not a blogger, you can leave your answers as a comment to this post.

Here are the 11 questions Kana posed:

1. What’s your favorite bumper sticker?

I’m partial to the fish symbol with feet—anything that shakes up the Moral Majority.

2. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?

In Viet Nam I was honored at a party by being served fertilized duck eggs.  A delicacy (which is always code for deeply disturbing), fertilized meant crunchy—as in tiny bones and feathers.  I managed to choke down one in order not to insult my host, but politely declined a second.

3. What’s the kindest thing that a stranger has ever done for you?

As a young Waldenbooks store manager, I was asked to participate in a panel on how to better the science fiction department at our home office in Stamford, CT.  On the flight out, I sat next to a friendly business man who was also going to Stamford.  We chatted the entire flight, and he offered to drive me to my hotel.  Why warning bells didn’t go off, I’ll never know. Afterward, my naivety seemed incredibly dangerous.  But, all he wanted to do was keep a young woman safe in a sometimes unseemly city, which is exactly what he did.  I think he even surprised himself.

4. What’s something you’re great at?

I’m a good public speaker.  I learned in high school how to pull information out of my ass (called extemporaneous speaking) and tie it together with anecdotes and illustrations.  Since then, I’ve been able to talk to any group, anywhere, at a moment’s notice with no preparation except what I can pull together on the way to the podium.  I can offer something more substantial if I have time to craft a speech, but the improvised ones can be just as fun.

5. What’s something you’re terrible at?

I have no idea what to do with little kids.  My babysitting career consisted of watching TV and telling my wards to “go play.”  I thank the Universe every day that I never had kids of my own.

6. Who’s your favorite superhero (and why)?

It depends on who plays him in the movie or TV series.  Seriously, if the actor is cute enough, I’ll pledge my fealty.  All superheroes have some Fatal Flaw, the thing that keeps him (or her) from lasting relationships and always an outsider looking in.  In that regard, Batman is the ultimate Outsider.  His dark side is deliciously twisted.  And Christian Bale is so darn cute.

7. What was the last thing that made you laugh out loud?

The pictures of cats with captions on I Can Haz Cheeseburger always make me guffaw.  I’m purposely avoiding that site right now since laughing, coughing and blowing my nose is quite painful.  Surgery does that.

8. What’s your least favorite Rule to follow?

Speed Limits.  Yeah.

9. What’s the ring-tone on your phone?

Whatever my Tracfone came with, that’s what I’ve got.  I only use my very cheap cell for emergencies and for calling long distance.  It’s a poverty thing.

10. What quirky habit are you willing to confess to?

I pick my nose.  Disgusting, yes, but infinitely satisfying.

11. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? (Any resemblance to your life now?)

In Sixth grade I wanted to be a brain surgeon.  Funny how my fascination in the brain has served me as a person with mental illness and as an artist.  The brain really is the Final Frontier.

If you choose to be It, here are my questions for you:

1.  What’s your current Edge—the new things you’re learning, your place of growth and exploration?

2.  What gets your goat?  Cheeses you off?  Gets your panties in a bundle?

3.  What are your Silver Linings—the potentially awful things in your life that turned out to have an up-side?

4.  If you had to leave your current life behind and start over, what would you pack in the one little carry on bag allowed?

5.  Who was the biggest influence in your life and why?

6.  You’ve become a guru, people from all around the world come to you for your wisdom.  Why?  And what do you tell them?

7.  Where is your favorite place in the world?  Why?

8.  What’s one thing you wish you could do better?

9. Who would you love to meet (living our dead) and what would you talk about?

10. What happens to us after we die?

11.  What’s your favorite forbidden food?

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.

Affirmations and Visions

I recently visited a new-to-me blog site and, once again, was astounded by the many things I have in common with the blogger.  Lara is bipolar, a student of Buddhism and in the middle of a huge weight loss.  Her inspiring site is full of information.  I’m giddy over my find.

One of her recent posts on creating vision boards reminded me that visual affirmations carry powerful juju.  No matter how committed we are to change and growth, we can’t escape the tapes that natter in our heads.  They become so ingrained that they play like background Muzak at Wal-Mart.  We don’t even know the music is playing until we find ourselves walking to the beat.

Unfortunately, these old tapes are mostly negative and self-defeating.  The only way to shut them up is to replace them with new messages.  Our personalities don’t like this.  Our personalities want us to go back to sleep and quit causing trouble.  Changing channels requires effort and awareness to recognize the crappy messages from the past and substitute something more truthful.  Affirmations and vision boards help reinforce our preference for Alternative Music.

My friend, Lily, used to stick affirmations all over her house to remind her of the power of love, the power of grace, and her own personal power.  I used to love reading all the Post-its around her lavatory mirror.  It made going to the bathroom a religious experience.

Last year I made a vision board, what I call a dream collage, around my goal of losing weight.  I stuck it on my bedroom door and mostly forgot about it.  But, Lara’s post reminded me of the power there.  The images and words I chose are significant now as they were then.

I recently dreamed about Bruce Willis (not one of my regular heroes, but he’ll do in a pinch).  In the dream, he looked down at me with his usual smug expression and said, “You can do it.”  In the dream, it felt like one Bad-Ass bolstering another.  When I woke up, I found a picture of Bruce on the Net, printed it out, taped him to my front door with his words nearby.  You can do it.

Now as I walk out the door every day, I’m reminded of my Bad-Ass power.

If you want to make a change and are finding it difficult, I invite you to visit Lara’s post on vision boards.  She offers directions and guidance that are superb.  Stick those ear-buds in and start singing a different tune.

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.

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 29

Miles and miles of art and craft supplies.

Sigh!

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 25

If I could only have one tool to make my art, that would be Mod Podge.  Like the label says, “It’s a sealer!  It’s a glue!  It’s a finish!”  Gloppy or thin, matte finish or glossy, it’s great for adhering delicate vintage papers or clunky metal fixings.

I know there’s probably better products out there, but Mod Podge is affordable for me, and I can get it at Wal-Mart here in town.  But if I happen to have extra gas money, I can also take a pilgrimage to Hobby Lobby a half hour away and worship at the art supply Mecca there.  Mod Podge is everywhere, as is right and proper.

Since I’m starting my next big project today, tentatively titled Evil Clowns, I can’t wait to unscrew the lid, peel off that dried ring around the lip, and dig in.

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 24

I’m always on the look-out for goofy or oddball vintage photos when I hit the antique stores and garage sales.  Many times they’re the centerpiece of my greeting cards and collages.  So, I need a reliable, knowledgeable and reasonably priced copy shop.  Luckily, I have MinuteMan.  Just a few blocks from my apartment, the gals at MinuteMan have come to know me and my desires.  They keep quality cardstock on hand and can size my color photos perfectly.  They’re also great fun.  If other customers come in, we always get them to yuck it up with us.  It’s a happy-making place.

Here’s a little scientific research on the benefit of cultivating gratitude care of Dr. Daniel Amen.

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