Basic Care

Keep CleanYesterday a crack opened in the bipolar depression that’s been at me for weeks.  Enough to let me remember to return to basics.  Because I’ve looked in the mirror every morning and said to that shocked face, “We’re not going to the hospital this year.  We’re not.”

First a call to the group I worked for this past summer—Integrated Health Services.  Their whole mission is to keep mental health clients out of the hospitals and emergency rooms.  I know I need more support now—I’ve been hearing from my providers all year that I don’t have enough in the best of times.  I’m not sure what IHS can do, but I made an appointment for Monday with Rosario, my care coordinator, and with Allison, my peer, to sit and figure that out.  They are both kind, heart-centered women.  I feel safe going to them.  The fact that I was just able to make the appointment helped.  Doing something, anything, sometimes helps.

Daily PlanToday I will start using my Daily Plan sheet, the one I created after my partial hospitalization last spring.  It will help me focus on small goals and remember to do every day tasks that get waterlogged by the swampy emotions.

I looked at how much money I’ve spent this month and cut back to the essentials.  Today I’ll figure a budget to get me through to May (February is just the beginning.  March and April can sometimes be even worse).  I’ll try to make it something I can live with, not something that will punish me for being sick.

HenryI cleaned out my refrigerator of all the liquefying vegetables and bought a few simple groceries.  I swam at the Y.  I sat with my fading bedspread for a while and sewed a blanket stitch around the frayed edges with gentle music playing and the cats behind my head on the chair.  Henry’s belly makes a gurgling, crackling sound when he’s digesting, and I pressed my ear against his fur to listen while he slept.

My apartment is a sickroom now.  No sudden moves.  No grand expectations.  Everything deliberate and gentle.  I must tend to my sleep, get to the Y every day, maintain my journal, plan quiet visits with friends, try to eat fresh food.  I will try to keep the structure sound while the storm carries on inside.  I will treat myself as someone worthy of care and respect, as someone that I love.

Clearly

Supersexy

You know how you can go along for weeks at night with just scrambly dream fragments, or nightmare clippets, or just nothing at all?  Or you get those weird anxiety dreams where you’re pooping in public, or being chased by clowns, or try to run away and seem to be on a treadmill?  I hate that.  I want a dream I can sink my teeth into (so to speak).  I want some Action.

Luckily, I’ve been getting some the last few nights.  Thank you, Morpheus.  Keep up the fine work, my new Deity of Choice.  Your conjurings have been stunning.

Zzzzz…

handmade greeting card, collage artMmmfrph.  This is my first morning after my first night on a sleeping pill in over three years.  Erg.  Still didn’t sleep through the night, but part of my brain seems to be unaware of this fact.

Speaking of drugs, my conversation with the hospital shrink was quite satisfactory.  She was the one three years ago who told me pharmacology had nothing more to offer me, which set me on my Bipolar Bad-Ass course.  I thanked her for that, which caused some wide-eyed blinking and mention of new meds I might try.  Thanks, but no.  But after two more nights of only three hours of sleep and no opportunity for a nap during the day, I agreed that a sleeping aid was in order.

Changes is one’s sleep pattern is an early warning sign of mental distress, but I wasn’t paying attention.  It’s too easy for me to just take a nap during the day if I’m tired.  I’d been doing this for so long, I forgot it wasn’t healthy.  So now I have to retrain my body and brain to the required eight consecutive hours.  It will take a little time and tolerance for the morning hangover.

Fatigue makes me irritable and intolerant.  Concentration splinters and I lose my sense of humor.  Sitting in group all day with other people jangles all those weary nerves.  I try to watch as my irritability bubbles up, take a deep breath, and wait for the froth to settle before speaking.  So far, so good.

It helps to be working with interesting material.  Tuesday we spent the day on self-esteem.  Yesterday we started on boundaries and anger management.  More on those topics today.

Here’s part of a video we watched from Jack Canfield, the author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. I managed to stay awake for this one.

Scuttled

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.

Sinking into the Day

handmade greeting cards, collage art, RumiLost Days.  Bad Days.  I used to have all kinds of names for days like today.  Symptomatic.  Hard.  Dead.

It’s a day when all plans and lists get set aside, all hopes for how the day might be spent suspended.  It’s a day when the rapid cycling pulls me under into the darker waters.  Drowning can occur.

But not today.

Today, as I schlumped home from the Y, brain fog closed off any line of sight to the shoreline.  I was left adrift with the nattering and fussing it grinds out on days like today.  The fibromyalgia that comes with depression deposited rusty spurs in every joint.  I could hear my muscles creaking.

Okay, my brighter mind conceded, let’s just sink into the day.

At home, I ate breakfast, watched an episode of Fringe, took Advil, then went to bed.  If I’m exhausted and aching, this part of my mind reasoned, then rest.  I slept for hours—deep sleep punctuated by cats.    Up in the early afternoon, I set about making soup with whatever I had left in my pantry and fridge—a little of Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grains and Beans Soup Mix, a can of corn, two little sweet potatoes, garlic, and half a bag of spinach.  I didn’t have any vegetable broth left, so surrendered my vegan status for the day and threw in a couple of chicken bouillon cubes.  Parsley, Garam Marsala, salt and pepper rounded it out.

While  my soup simmered, I spent the afternoon on Pinterest, looking at dreamy and beautiful images.  I went to the pinners I follow who gather their boards together with style and grace, then wandered off to experience some of their favorites.   Sinking into the beauty, sinking into the art, I let the images and words hold me like a raft on the dark waters.  I brought a bowl of soup back to my computer and sank deeper into the rhythm of the gentle pictures and soft colors, spooning a bite of sweet potato, a mingling of spice and savory.

Now, the day is almost done.  Henry is buzzing his little cat-snores behind me in the big chair.  The sun comes through the western windows, throwing squares of light on the floor for Emmet’s bath.  It’s quiet here.  No drowning.  Just sinking into what the day brought and resting there.

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.

Waking from the Dream

I woke up this morning after a dream about my high school boyfriend.  It’s a version of how I start the day full of regret in different parts of my bipolar cycle.

I used to dream about him regularly.  He and my ex-husband were interchangeable in my dreams—the men I loved and hurt deeply.  They were casualties of my illness and fear.  I wanted so to make amends to them both, and to believe that they could forgive me, but neither would respond to my letters.  And they had no reason to.  I knew the best thing to do, for myself and for them, was leave them alone.

Last year, my high school sweetheart’s mother died.  She was someone who cared about me and made me feel safe as a teenager.  I took a chance and offered my condolences.  He responded, and we started a hesitant correspondence.  I offered my apology and regrets and, while he never responded directly to them, I felt I had been heard.  My dreams about him stopped.

The dream this morning might have started another flood of regret, but that old wound is healed now.  I know these dreams are a well-worn path my mind travels down when I’m slipping into depression, not necessarily a photograph of old sins.  I can observe the reactions that rise because of the dream and disengage.  I can watch how my thoughts want to twist into self-recrimination and loathing without riding with them into the dark.

I can wake up from the dream, send blessings into the ether to my two exes, and start my day.  Today, at this moment, I am awake.

What Gifts, Mania?

What gifts, Mania?  What roads flowing liquid through the dreamscape?  What treasures piled like tart grapes?  What moons shining?

For awhile, mania is a lovely thing.  This time, I am driven to write.  In the past few days, I’ve finished my novel, crafted two short stories, outlined the first few chapters of the next novel, and gathered notes to write at least three more short stories.  I wake up in the morning with scenes and dialog fully formed and spewing from my head.

I come to a resting place, a place where I would usually put the story away and let it percolate in my subconscious for a day or days.  But now, the rest lasts the length of an episode of Mad Men, and I’m back at the computer with the perfect solution, the perfect turn, the perfect word.

I know I’m manic.  I feel the obsessive itch.  To counter it, I push away from the stories and play with my art.  But, there, too, I am flooded with potential.  The cards I make can take me over an hour to assemble.  I made a dozen cards this weekend, all different, all elaborate, all beautiful.

This is the place we of the bipolar persuasion yearn for—this place of making, this effortless disgorging of ideas and images that takes form as something real and whole.   This is the Promised Land and Enlightenment and good Rock ‘N’ Roll all bundled together.  We’ll do anything to stay here.

But, it doesn’t last—not the clear, cool mind, not the ease, not the glee.  Mania shifts into agitation and deepening impulsivity.  It tears away sleep and clouds the mind with grand delusions.

I started buying DVDs on eBay to keep me entertained next week after my surgery.  The mania shoves me to keep buying.  I posted my new stories here.  The mania sends me back ten-fifteen-twenty times a day to look for comments, to look at the photos, to tweak one more word.  Small irritations detonate into rage.

The gifts of mania are the gifts I carry with me always.  My talent for making came with my blue eyes and my German bones.  No shift in brain chemistry opens a door or closes it.  No mood determines my potential.  My inborn gifts come through because I use them.  When I’m manic, I just use them more.

So, I shift, and shift again.  The thoughts will slow from their frenzied pace.  The body will tamp down the fires.  And I will still be a Maker.

Return of the Petty Tyrant

It didn’t take long for me to realize yesterday was a Lost Day.  I woke up agitated and anxious, and the depression underneath only worsened as the morning progressed.  So, I just let go of my plans and went home to hibernate and wait it out.

As I settled in with my lunch, someone knocked on my door.  It was my apartment manager with the bedbug-sniffing dog and his handler from Preferred Pest Control come to inspect my apartment.  We’re supposed to receive 24 hours notice of inspection. After I refused to let them in, I sat down and wrote a letter to the corporate office of Keyway Management, the apartment management firm.

Here’s what I said:

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to complain about the process of giving notice in regards to apartment inspection by Preferred Pest Control and the canine inspection for bed bugs.

In November of 2011, the apartment maintenance man arrived with the canine and his handler.  I had not received notice of the inspection.  Since I have pets, I knew the inspection might prove a false positive, so I did not allow the inspection to take place.  I asked specifically that I receive notice of the next inspection.  Later, I discovered that the rest of the tenants had received written notice in their mailboxes.

Today, the apartment manager came to my door with the canine and handler.  Again, I had not received notice of the inspection.  Ms. Mancina said notice was posted in the complex’s laundry room.  When I told her I did not use the laundry room, she said that was the only notice she was required to give.  Again, I said I would not allow the inspection.

Information from Preferred Pest Control and other sources states animals should be removed or secured at least one hour prior to inspection.  I allowed an inspection in 2011 while my pets were in the apartment and received a positive reading from the canine.  I believe this was a false positive.  Since then I follow all the recommendations about preparing for the visit, including removing my pets.  But, I can’t do that if I don’t have 24 hours notice.

Management has used several methods of notifying tenants of inspections (notes taped to the apartment door or left in each tenant’s mailbox, phone calls).  I was never informed, nor is it written in any of the HUD or rental contracts, that the laundry room is the site for official notice to tenants.

The HUD handbook on Resident Rights and Responsibilities states tenants have “the right to be given reasonable notice, in writing, of any non-emergency inspection or other entry into your apartment.”  I don’t think my request for consistent, written notice 24 hours prior to the inspection is unreasonable.

I want to comply and make sure the previous bed bug manifestation at our complex never happens again.  I also want enough time to prepare my apartment correctly for the canine.  As each tenant has received written notice in their mailboxes before, I ask that this be the method of notification.  I should not be penalized because I do my laundry elsewhere.

Thank you for your attention in this matter

I was so angry I could barely speak.  It was clear Linda thought I was lying about not getting a notice last time.  I wasn’t very coherent while I was arguing with her or when I shut the door in her face and locked it.  Her incompetence and ass-covering always makes me stupid with shock.  The treatment for bedbugs is incredibly expensive.  So, why wouldn’t she do everything possible to make sure the inspections are performed correctly?  The only answer is that she’s too lazy or, if I’m more gracious, too disorganized to do that.

When I first moved in, she hinted that she was doing me a favor by letting me have two cats.  The policy on pets is vague (like most stipulations in the contract), so I asked that she put something in writing that grants me permission to have both my cats.  She refused.  Even after my sister also asked, she still refused.

This makes me very nervous.  It’s like a threat of eviction out there in the dark, so I try to stay far off her radar.  I’m afraid this letter will put me back in her sites.  But, I’m equally afraid that my refusals to let the inspectors and the dog in are also setting me up for eviction.  I feel like I have to cover my butt the best I can.

I hate how this woman can rip all sense out of my head, how my anger consumes me, and how long it lasts.  I’ve been meditating, self-talking, distracting and trying to sleep for 15 hours now, and I’m no closer to calm.  It will take time and continued effort.  More breathing, more distraction, more clearing of illusion and focusing on the present.

At this moment, my boys and I are not in danger.  At this moment, I have done all I can to protect myself.  At this moment, all is well.

Distracting the Toddler

I made it through Valentine’s Day and, I think, the worst of this current depression.  I had to navigate death-thoughts for a while, which is my signal to engage in some serious distraction.  So, I dug money out of my emergency stash, drove to Des Moines, and camped out at the cinema multiplex.  Once I paid my $6.50, I roamed from theater to theater and ended up seeing two lame movies—The Woman in Black and The Journey 2.  Meh.

When the depression is overwhelming, like it was yesterday, quality doesn’t matter as much as quantity.  I need something to keep my forebrain occupied for an extended period of time.  It’s like feeding a toddler by flying the spoon around like an airplane.  The depression can’t look at the pretty pictures and make me miserable at the same time. Driving home in the dark, I felt exhausted, but calmer.

This morning I woke up after three hours of sleep—insomnia being another one of depression’s gifts.  But the agitation I experienced yesterday is milder.  Today will be easier to manage.  Unless, of course, it isn’t.  Toddlers can be so unpredictable.  I may have to use hand puppets.

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