Minimizing the Damage

I woke up this morning deep in depression.  This is one of the mysteries of my bipolar disorder—sometimes sleep acts as a transition.  I can go to bed feeling fine and wake up either manic or depressed, or go to sleep in the throes of an episode and wake up stable.  Something gets reset, some sticky switch gets thrown, some chemical process does or doesn’t happen.  If it wasn’t so deadly, it would be fascinating.

My whole focus today became doing the least amount of damage.  I was supposed to volunteer at the Animal Rescue League again this afternoon.  Instead of bolting completely, I rescheduled for Wednesday.  Canceling altogether felt too much like failure, which was the depression twisting my thoughts, but I needed to give myself a chance to succeed later, if I could.  Writing this helps me see how contorted my thinking is.  Boy, I’m deep in it alright.

I recently added a bunch of books to sell on my account.  Three orders came through over the weekend, and I needed to get them shipped.  This task felt enormous and impossible.  Driving to Staples filled me with anxiety, especially when they didn’t have the right size box.  All I wanted to do was load up on my favorite junk food and hide in my apartment.  But I went to the UPS store instead.  I let the nice folks there find the right box, the right mailers, then I stood at the counter and packed everything up.  Carefully.  It’s very easy to make mistakes—wad up tape, mis-print the address, mix up the orders.  I double checked, then checked the double-check.

I still planned on buying binge food when I dropped the packages off at Hy-Vee.  I knew there was no denying the compulsion, so the best I could do was read the nutrition labels and try to make better choices in junk—a smaller sized frozen pizza, Haagen Das instead of Ben and Jerry’s, baked Cheetos instead of regular.  At the Redbox, I got three movies instead of my usual depression fare of five or six.  I couldn’t stop the compulsions, but I could temper them a little.  Today, that felt like a huge victory.

After sleeping most of the afternoon, I feel like I can sit at my table and make a few cards.  The Eagles are crooning on my stereo.  Emmett is tucked into my big chair, sleeping his kitty dreams.  The traffic keeps the beat of evening coming on.  I’ve survived another day in Bipolar Paradise with a minimum of scars.

Did You Hear the One About. . .

God is a prankster.

My bipolar disorder has been sleeping now for a couple of weeks, but do I get to enjoy my good luck?  Can I use this time to catch up on projects or spend quality time with my peeps?

Well, heeheehee, no.

I get to hiss and spit every time I move my arm.  I get to explore new flavors of pain and the colorful new swear words it squeezes out of me.  I get to sleep through most of the day in narcotic fog and mumble incoherently when spoken to.  Remember, way back when I first got cut open, I said this surgery was a snap?  Hohoho!  Harharhar!

Yeah, that  Supreme Being sure does tickle the funny bone.  Such a great grasp of irony!  He ought to write a book.

When the surgeon’s receptionist called to remind me of my appointment tomorrow, I giggled at her.  I couldn’t help it.  Such a knee-slapper.  Tomorrow the staples come out.  I can’t wait for the belly laughs that little procedure will bring forth.  Hoowee!  My eyes are watering already.

You got me, God.  A real humdinger.  Oh, stop!  Really!  You’re killin’ me!


Drumsound rises on the air,
its throb, my heart.
A voice inside the beat says,
“I know you’re tired,
but come.  This is the way.”

∞ ∞ ∞

How to follow that quiet, wise voice inside.  Because it’s still there, much as my ears rush with this other sound.  There seems no other how but to do, to follow the dim suggestion to plant one foot in front of the other.

The old routine tastes off, contaminated by this unsavoriness.  The water still feels like comfort as my body stretches and churns, flexing out depression’s burrs.  But, Haven, my writing sanctuary, my one indulgence, irritates and offends.  Christian music blares from outside speakers, Easy Listening inside, and I hear both at my regular table.  No one will fix the cacophony for me, and I leave.  I’m done there, I think.

I look for a new shirt at Wal-Mart, but nothing is right.  I push my cart around and around the racks of clothes as if I can conjure what I want with the proper spiral.  I go to the grocery store, determined to buy healthy food, no junk.  Each selection requires long scrutiny, painful contemplation.  There are moments of standing blank in the aisle, staring into the sea of lunch meats and cheeses, holding two jars of spaghetti sauce.

I come home to waiting cats, mildly curious about my bags.  I put groceries away, heat up soup, make a sandwich, start to watch a movie I’m not interested in, lay down on my bed with Henry tucked close.

I hear the faint voice encouraging me, and I do the next thing.  Then the next.

“I know you’re tired,
but come.  This is the way.”

From the Corner

Each morning I wake up and think, “I need to find something to blog about today.”  But, there’s nothing helpful in the way I’m shambling through this depression—nothing inspirational and certainly nothing skillful.

I’m ashamed of the way it’s beaten me back into a very old corner.  I spend all my money on junk food that makes me physically sick and mentally dead, then I sleep to escape the shame and self-loathing.  I wake up and vow to stop, to change, to take back control, to make one positive gesture.  Then, the depression sweeps me off my feet and back into the corner.

I’m so angry.  Just when I think my hard work is starting to take effect, when there looks like a possibility of improving my quality of life, the illness blows in harder and faster than ever.  It scatters my fragile scaffolding like Tinker Toys, and I have to start all over.

Forget about volunteering at the Animal Rescue League—I can’t even rescue myself.  Forget about saving money for a new car—I spend every cent I have on Cheetos.  Forget about building a life with dignity and meaning.  Just forget all about that.

There comes a point in every episode where I can get up from the corner and start over.  I pick up all the Tinker Toys and start rebuilding.  I start my Bipolar Bad Ass Training.  But, I’m not there yet.  I’m not even close.  The thought of starting over—again—seems pointless and exhausting from this corner.  I’m not effecting any change. I’m not who I want to be.  This isn’t life, it’s limbo.

This isn’t fit blogging material.  There’s no uplifting moral to the story, no shaft of light, no plucky heroine.  It’s just me, bare-faced, in this horrible corner.  But, I promised myself at the beginning of this venture that I’d be honest here.  And while this post comes from a mind that’s twisted and distorted now from illness, it’s all I’ve got.  That and the corner.


The depression eased up for about four hours yesterday.  I sat here working on Callinda and thought, “Yipee! It’s over!”  But, alas.  It was just my brain teasing me, dangling Clear Mind in front of me like a bobbing apple.  Soon enough, the Transylvanian Fog rolled back in, and I spent the rest of the day watching endless episodes of Gilmore Girls.

Still, it was a breather, a reminder that my thoughts will eventually stop gravitating toward the Dark Side.  I feel myself getting battle weary from warding off the latest volley of despair and worthlessness.  Ugh.  To counter that today, I worked on a collage for my new grand-nephew, Zane, who was born October 25.

Mom, my sister and her husband will be leaving Friday to go visit the new baby (and his big brother, Wyatt).  I want to get the piece finished so they can take it with them.  It seems to be coming along fine, but it takes so much effort.  I can measure how severe this episode is by how little interest I have in my art or my writing.  A little scary, but that’s just attaching meaning to feelings that are really meaningless.

The lack of interest, the digestive grumblings, the achy joints and muscles, the distorted thoughts, the hinky sleep, the social anxiety—they’re all just the illness throwing out its normal chemical spew.  If I can keep watching as they vomit forth, I can keep from grabbing them up as if they are worth something.  Deep breath, drink some water, and queue up some more diversion.


This is a bad episode, but remarkably impersonal.  What I’m experiencing most are the physical symptoms—body aches and pain, exhaustion, moving in slow-motion.  My mind is sticky and murky—hard to bring a thought to the front and clean it up enough to make sense.  This morning after being at the Y, I went to Aldi (the cheap grocery store), but it was a half hour before opening.  I sat in my truck a full 10 minutes trying to figure out if I should stay or go to the Hy-Vee (bigger, more expensive store).  I just couldn’t figure it out.  Finally, I went to Hy-Vee, just because I felt like I had to so something.  Once I got the few groceries I needed, I went home, put my nightie back on, and watched TV until I fell asleep.

I know my brain is not working right.  Neither is my body.  It’s okay, though.  It will pass.  I can shuffle from room to room for awhile.  And when my thoughts start on that dark, twisty roller coaster ride, I can just close my eyes and feel the wind in my hair.

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.

The Coward’s Hour

Three o’clock in the morning.  That’s when it hits.  All my ideals about Will and duty and perspective wither.  They’re nothing more than whistling in the dark.

I want to be a good daughter, a brave woman, a decent human being.  But thinking about going back to the nursing home to see my dad—with bed sores now, and a bladder infection, and the petulant confusion that the inmates there always develop—makes my stomach ache.  I’ve worked in nursing homes, this very same one, in fact.  They are the stuff of nightmares, at least my nightmares.  The indignity and suffering seep under the skin like the smell—faint, almost covered, but still there.

This is the time, when most of the world sleeps, when traffic on my street thins and only the train whistles break the silence.  There’s too much space for my fear.  It stretches like taffy, folds back on itself with revulsion, then sorrow, then determination, then resignation.  The urge to run and keep running pushes against that other force.  What is it?  Also faint and almost covered, it’s nearly unrecognizable, and not nearly strong enough.  My love for my dad.

Three o’clock in the morning.  That’s when I know.  I’m such a coward.


A few days after bronchitis set in, my computer died—we both shut down for repairs, so to speak.  But, today I can roll back the stone and bringing us both out of the crypt.

It’s been a very interesting couple of weeks.  Since I had bronchitis twice last winter, I wanted to see if I could do it differently this time—at least as far as mental health is concerned.  I found that I was much less agitated about the whole situation.  I didn’t feel any of that panic to get better fast or push myself to get back to normal functioning.  How many of us have gone back to work too soon or tried to workout when we should be in bed?  I tried to really pay attention to what my body needed.  Since I don’t have a job or a family to tend to, I could give my body all the time it needed to heal itself without the high-powered, expensive antibiotics my doctor would surely have given me.  I did crossword puzzles, slept, watched TV, slept, drank lots of juice, slept, took over-the-counter aids, ate lots of fruit and vegetables, and slept.

In two weeks, I’ve only had one day where I’d say my bipolar symptoms boiled up.  It was one of those days when I woke up full of regrets, my life scrolling by as a series of mistakes and failures.  Distorted thinking quickly recognized and set aside for more crossword puzzles and reruns of Gilmore Girls.  This in itself is noteworthy because I had been in a long bipolar episode when the bronchitis came on.  As I’ve experienced on several occasions, a physical shock interrupted the cycle.  Sometimes getting sick will trigger an episode, but this time it reset my mood to “center.”  It’s all so mysterious.

While all this expectorant naval-gazing was going on, our family had other matters to deal with.  My dad came to stay at the hospice facility while we made arrangements for him to enter a nursing home.  I say “we”, but it was really my sister and her husband who helped Mom with this huge decision.  I helped as I was able, but these things happen quickly and can’t wait.  It was the one time I did want to get better fast.

We will move Dad to the nursing home tomorrow.  Such a huge shift in our family.  I’m blinded a bit, stunned, like bright light stabbing into the darkness after the stone rolls away.  I may have to stand at the threshold awhile, hanging on until I get my legs under me again.

Caught in the Whirlpool

Watching the energy of agitation during this bipolar storm is like noticing the color of the whirlpool as it pulls me under.  It’s not exactly top priority.  I’m dealing with two interpersonal conflicts right now, and what I’ve observed is that the agitation feeds my emotional reactivity.  I feel more offended, more wounded, more, more, more.  The urge to take action, to say something, pushes at me.  There’s an ugly kind of righteousness that bubbles up, and my mind creates bitch-slapping scenarios that spin and loop.

I’ve learned the hard way that when I get swept up in this kind of distorted thinking the best thing to do is nothing.  I cannot trust what my mind tells me.  And when I act on these urges, I end up destroying relationships.  Yesterday, the drive was so strong, the effort to wait so painful, I called my therapist for an emergency session.  I needed her to tell me what was crazy and what was real.

While we talked, I could see how the agitation shuts down my ability to love, to think about others and meet them with compassion.  This energy moves so fast and feels so much like drowning, self-preservation in the only consideration.

We put together a very simple, very gentle, plan of action for the immediate conflict.  For the older conflict, we spent time holding it, acknowledging that compassion was the only answer.

I was exhausted, and spent the rest of the day watching DVDs, sleeping, and working a bit on my “Bad Clowns” collage (oh, my, but it’s creepy).  Friends invited me out for pizza.  It was good to get out of the apartment, but hard to be social.  That crying-all-day hangover doesn’t jump-start a conversation.  There’s also a fragility to distraction sometimes.  Jiggle it too much with another form (conversation), and the nasty thoughts and feelings leak through.  (It’s like walking around with your butt constantly puckered.)  I felt like I could tumble into the deep waters again at any moment.

Still do.  It will be another day of DVDs—at least this morning.  The agitation is in full force, but with an ebb and flow today that promises more relief.  I’ll do my best to watch it, feel it in my body, and relax into the swirl.

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