Next?

TMy computer is in the hospital, gasping its last, I fear. So I’ll try to create a post with my phone. Technology–heh, heh–ain’t it sumthin’?

I finished the outpatient program and am trying to figure out what’s next. How do I re-engage with the human race? Aside from that being psychologically required, why would I want to?

No more Vyvanse, for one thing. It may have curbed some of my binge eating disorder, but gave me headaches and aggravated an old TMJ  injury. Aggravated seems the operative word here. The general consensus is that it also upped my “All People Stink” core belief, which may have contributed to a crankier-assed attitude this past year.

Mad Maxine

All I know is that it took weeks in group therapy before I could sit through the whole session. It was either bolt or punch some sap in the mouth. Not violent by nature, this impulse scared me a little. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say it also felt good. Which was scary in a whole other way.

Everyone in the group had issues with irritability (a common symptom of just about every mental illness), so we worked with it. A lot. So now I have a folder of “anger management” handouts in my Bipolar Badass arsenal.

Speaking of which, I designed myself a business card for my art show in December. Quite happy with the results.

Business Card 2016

Another “what next” was asking two of my friends who also suffer from depression and anxiety to form a Sanity Support group. We met last week, and the prognosis looks good for more get-togethers. This one stone could kill so many Crazy Birds for me that it’s hard to keep my WANTING in check. Patience, Grasshopper.

And since my computer is likely on its way to the Tech Morgue, I treated myself the day I discharged from the hospital with a 32 inch TV and a DVD player. No more incantations, Reiki treatments and uncomfortable yoga positions to get a disk to play in my wheezy computer. Now, all I need do is push a button. Pure Heaven.

New TV

The final “next” for now is working through the book Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manual for PTSD and Substance Abuse with my therapist. I’m sure the next “next” will rise from that.

Goals for the Next 30 Days: Continue to Function at 9-10

Epic Journeys

When it comes to functioning on a scale of 1-10, I’ve generally rated high.  But, there are days.

Function measures how a person gets daily tasks accomplished like getting out of bed, taking a shower, tackling chores.  General consensus of the treatment staff is that if a person is a 4 or under, they probably need to be admitted to the hospital.  Here’s what I’m doing to keep my Function score high.

  1. Attend the After-Care support group for one month.
  2. Schedule weekly appointments with my therapist
  3. Continue Daily Planning
  4. Monitor for symptoms of Lapse and put Step-up Plan in place

The After-Care group is an extension of what we did every day at the hospital.  It’s a combination of checking in and being held accountable.  There’s also a deep and unique understanding between peers.  We know the pain and the faulty thinking.  We know when to challenge someone and when to soothe.  There’s nothing like being with folks who “get it.”  But since this group is an hour away, I only committed to attending for four weeks.  Gas money only stretches so far, and I won’t dig myself into debt that way again.  I’m hoping for other options by the time July rolls around.

Weekly sessions with Megan, my therapist, is a no-brainer.  She goes on maternity leave soon, but carefully matched her cases to other therapists in the clinic to minimize our trauma.  I’m constantly amazed by her level of professionalism and the great respect she affords us.  I’ll miss her, but that won’t stop me from utilizing her sub.

Daily PlanIn treatment, we made planning an art form.  Self-monitoring, setting small goals, and marking successes kept us moving forward.  It’s easy to lose track of what’s important.  I took the sheet we filled out every day, customized it for my needs, then took it to my copy shop where they made a tear-off pad that I can carry in my writing bag.  In the morning, I rip off a page, quickly fill it out, and tape it in my journal.  This way I can see my progress and where I need to concentrate my efforts.  By keeping my daily plan, I was able to recognize the depression sooner when it came back this week and watch to see if it would turn into a lapse.  With that criteria on my daily plan, I didn’t need to guess or stew about it.  And if I lapsed, I had my Step-up plan taped to my Mind Palace, ready to be put in place.  This time the mood shifted and I didn’t need the extra measures.  It was good practice, because I will need them sometimes.Step-up Plan

Even for a planner like me, this new level of self-monitoring feels gnat’s ass-obsessive sometimes.  But, I can see how much it helps.  I can feel it.  And that’s all that matters.

A Dream Deferred

collage art

You know those times when you wrestle with a decision?  When you want one thing, but the numbers don’t quite add up?  And then something—a person, an event, a seemingly random set of circumstances—brings it all into focus?  I’m in the middle of one of those epiphanies.

I really wanted to be a Peer (as in Peer Support Specialist).  I wanted to help other folks with mental illness and earn a little money doing it.  I got training last fall.  I was offered a volunteer position at the hospital in Des Moines where I was a patient.  I thought I was on my way.

The trouble is, it costs me at least $50 for gas each week.  That’s money I don’t have, so it goes on my credit card.  There’s still a big balance there from my Peer training, too.  Friends and my UU fellowship chipped in to pay about half (thank you very much), and I applied for scholarships from service clubs, but it doesn’t look like those will pan out.  Every month my balance creeps higher.  Every month I look the other way.

Then, yesterday I got the oil changed in my truck.  I looked at the $70 bill, which I put on my credit card, and knew I had to pay attention.

I can’t drive to Des Moines every week.  In fact, if I ever want to whittle my Visa balance down, I’ll have to park my truck and walk as much as I can.

It seems so simple now.

I’ve been uncomfortable about doing this support group ever since we started talking about it.  I attributed that discomfort to a lot of reasons—I’m too unstable to do the job, the hospital is in chaos, it’s too much stress.  But, those are all just niggles, all things I can work through.  The real reason is that I can’t afford it.

So, I’ll go tonight and tell everyone—the social worker who recruited me, the young man who would have partnered with me in creating the new group, the folks about to “graduate” from After Care who looked forward to on-going support.  I know the After-After Care group probably won’t fly now.  Dan could only convince the two of us to volunteer, and the job is too much for one person.  I am sorry for that.  But not sorry enough to rack up more debt in the hope that someday Mercy will offer me a job.  I can’t sacrifice myself out of fear.

It’s a relief to be done wrestling, a relief to see what needs to be done and be calm about it.  My dream will find a new shape in its own time.  When it does, it will probably seem quite random and serendipitous.  If I hold it lightly.

Open Your Hands

handmade greeting card, collage art

Open your hands,

if you want to be held

—Rumi

º º º

My final Support Group meeting last week turned out to be quiet and modest, which is fitting.  It’s been three months since I admitted myself to the partial hospitalization program, and during that transitional time the emphasis has been on doing what it takes every day to manage our varied illnesses.  We marked quiet, diligent effort and tiny steps toward a stronger sense of self all leading to a “graduation day” when we would continue on our own with outside support and services in place.

Most of the people in group last week were brand new, freshly discharged from the Program and hesitant about joining a group in progress.  But that’s the nature of this type of group—people come, people go, and there are lessons to be learned whichever way the door swings.  There were a few there who had been with me for a while in group, and when it came time to pass around the graduation token, they held it and spoke kindly about me and my participation.  The counselor, in particular, spoke about my skills as a peer.  He was quite adamant about me pursuing work as a Peer Support Specialist.  With the nature of mental health services shifting toward peer advocacy, he told me I was needed and gave me a contact at the local National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) office.

So, today I sent an introductory email and asked for information.  I know nothing about Peer Advocacy, but I’m willing to find out.  This feels like a huge step after trying and failing at jobs and volunteer work for several years.  I gave up the hope of ever returning to work for my peace of mind.  I felt I needed to accept my limitations and move on from that basic understanding.

But I also know that I have a lot to offer as a peer.  I know how to listen and how to ask questions.  I know how hard it is to do the work every day.  If I can find a place to use those skills, I think I must.

So, I sent the query today, along with my willingness and gratitude, into the ethers.  We’ll see what the Universe sends back.

Season of Change

Spock, Leonard Nimoy, Star TrekThis is sort of a big week.  Wednesday will be my last Support Group session.  Thursday, my mom returns home from the nursing home.  Big changes.  And change is always a little dangerous for anyone with bipolar disorder.  The trick, I’ve learned, is to acknowledge the potential and Watch.

I feel like I’ve prepared well for the end of Group.  My mental health clinic has been in trouble for some time, first losing money, then losing our psychiatrist, and finally, when a larger clinic took over, losing most of the counseling staff.  It seemed like the right time to transfer my records to the clinic in my own town.  I’ll miss my therapist—she’s been my biggest cheerleader—but I’ll be able to join a support group offered here.

I never thought I’d benefit so much from a support group, but I’ve learned that my preference for solitude puts me at risk.  For the rest of my life, I will need to push against that tendency, and continuing with a group will help me do that.  I still have to go through all the intake interviews and paperwork, find a new therapist, and explain how I manage without medication.  But, that’s part of the process.  A little stressful, a little anxiety-producing, but eventually I’ll settle into a new routine here.

On Wednesday, I’ll get to say a few words of parting, then the group will pass around a token (like the ones folks get in Recovery programs).  Each person will get to hold the token and say a few words about me.  After three months in this group, I’ve participated in several parting rituals, and they’re always moving.  I imagine this one will be, too.  I’m bringing Kleenex.

But, it’s time to move on.  This group was always meant to be a transition between hospitalization and New Life—that’s why clients can only participate for three months.  I’m ready.  And still, it’s a big change.

The next day my sister and I will help my mom return home after three months recovering from a botched angiogram.  A lot has changed for her.  Still weak and somewhat unsteady on her feet, she’ll go home with a walker and a cast on her arm, a home health aide to assist with bathing and housekeeping, and  a whole new way of perceiving her life.  “I have to think of myself as handicapped now,” she told me yesterday.

I don’t know yet how Mom’s homecoming will affect me.  My sister always took the lead as far was Mom is concerned, but I live closer.  It’s an uncomfortable triad—I can generally hold my own one-on-one, but put us all together and I either fade into the wallpaper or try to do too much.  Old patterns and a history of nonexistent boundaries make my family the biggest trigger for my bipolar episodes.  So, I’m Watching.

What I’m Seeing are old coping behaviors popping up like Whack-A-Moles—binge eating, long daytime naps, lots of movies—with the expected dips into depression.  So, I keep Watching and, when I can, I go do something else.  Like take a walk or write a blog post.

Change happens.  We adapt.  Those of us with bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses may need more time and resources to get to the other side, but we do.  My wish this time is to leave the least amount of carnage behind—not gain back the weight I’ve lost, not spend all my money, not hide in my apartment.  I hope to get to the other side of this season of change secure in myself and open to the benefits these changes bring.

Here comes the storm.  I’ll wet my finger with a little thankfulness and love, then turn to face it.

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