Where The Hell Am I?

Just when I think my brain is running its last lap in this summer’s Looney Marathon, another starter gun fires, and we’re off on a downhill luge sled. Is this the Circles of Hell Olympics?

Oh, yeah. Right. It’s bipolar disorder.

I’m just not managing it very well this round.

Part of it is the swampy atmosphere — rain six out of the last eight days with 100% humidity in between.  The weather has turned me into a sweaty, gummed-up, ice bag-sitting Howler Monkey who can’t bear to leave my A/C and ceiling fans.

Another part is the new ear worm that comes with The Black listing all the vital coping tools (read: people) I lost in the move.  Distorted thinking is the true gem of mental illness. It’s exactly as clever, well-reasoned, and creative as the host brain, so everything it spins sounds completely true.  It takes tweezing through the rationale to find the flaws, and I’m too sweaty to hold the tweezers steady.

know I need to move my body. There’s a perfectly fine pool available six days a week and a yoga class that caters to the inflexible, but I can’t talk myself into leaving my cool, dry hidey-hole.

know I need to find a different therapist.  Alice is a lovely person, but she’s not equipped to help me. Just the thought of starting over again, searching for a therapist who accepts Medicare an hour away in Tulsa… Scarlett O’Hara sashays out of The Black and tells me to think about it tomorrow.

Yet, as I write this, I realize my sister will help me. She asked yesterday what she could do. Yesterday I had no idea. I was speeding downhill too fast in that stupid luge to see anything clearly. But maybe she can help me get my bearings. Maybe I can figure out where I am.

Marco…

It feels like I haven’t blogged in a long time, but I see that’s just not true (Hello, distorted thinking!).  Maybe the disconnect comes from playing Marco Polo with some of my friends back in Iowa and Minnesota.  If you’re not familiar, MP is a messaging app that creates little videos.  It was my friend, Cheryl’s, genius idea to use it, so that we could see and hear each other while giving updates.

I’ve taken my buddies to the Flea Market and introduced them to the baristas at my new coffee shop-home.  They’ve toured my duplex and The Peach Barn (Fried Pies!).  Most importantly, I’ve shared the ups and downs of my illness as my rheostats rebooted after the electrical surge of moving.  That’s something I’ve only done here in my blog, where words can be safely crafted and kept separate from a voice and face that feel too vulnerable to share.

In real-time, I try not to unload when my moods deep-cycle.  I might mention it in passing, or say “I’m having a hard day.”  Right or wrong, I believe too much truth will break the people I love.  And I can’t bear the uncomfortable silence or awkward attempts at sympathy that usually follow.

But, I needed support.  I needed to be real.  So, there were blubbery posts, and manic posts, and little videos where I looked and sounded like a zombie.  No one ran screaming into the night.  No one shamed me.  In fact, the love and support that flowed back to me helped more than I can say.  I thank my friends for that.  Thank you, guys.

It’s still weird, living here on the Moon, where huge fireworks displays light up every front yard on the Fourth of July, and fried bologna sandwiches are a restaurant menu item.  But, when I wake in the morning, and the first thought that floats up out of the dark is I’ve made a huge mistake, I can gather more and more evidence to the contrary and send that distorted thought packing.  It still has to shuffle off into 100 degree and 90-something percent humidity, but shuffle off it does.  All I need do is shut the door and whisper, …Polo.

Setting the Poop on Fire

I realized this morning that I’d started to give up.

This long season of depression has granted me an occasional hour or two of relief before rolling back in.  I distract my conscious thoughts with Netflix and sewing, but have lost interest in exploring my surroundings or reaching out to others.  I know I’m in trouble, so this morning I sat down to journal and let all the ugly thoughts out of their cages.

I was about to see my new therapist for the second time, which just made me miss my previous therapist more.  I knew if I didn’t start processing all the “forbidden” thoughts in my head, I’d never stop crying in her little closet of an office.  So, I scribbled away, which is the only way I know to capture the distorted thinking and actually see it.

I lasted ten minutes with the therapist.  Long story short, I felt disrespected and dismissed.  I will not be going back.

Part of me is very aware that my depression could be warping my perception.  Another part of me is mad as hell, and that’s the part that rises up every time my boundaries get trampled.  It’s the spark that lights up my personal Bat Signal.  Or BadAss Signal.

I have work to do.

I texted my sister and will be meeting her and her grandsons for lunch tomorrow.  We also had a very supportive exchange about feeling out of place and longing for things that we’ve likely romanticized.

I called the other therapist in my shrink’s office and just now made an appointment with her for Monday.  I know this woman is at least kind, because my sister sees her and talks about her.  Kind is a good place to start.  Kind is enough.

If my 17-year-old cat can still unload a huge poop, then gallop through the house reestablishing his supreme authority, so can I.

Consider this my psychological dump.

The BadAss is Back.

Saying Good-Bye Well: Part 2

Today was my last appointment with my therapist, Megan.  Last week I had my last visit with my nurse practitioner, Sarah.  There’s been a lot of blubbing (as the BBC might say), and not all on my side of the couch.

I thought I would be a mess.  These two women saved my life many times over.  They taught me how to be bipolar and still function in the world.  When they set up their clinic almost three years ago, they created a sanctuary for me where I was always welcome to hang out with my art supplies.  They are the most professional care providers I’ve ever had.  And I know, without a doubt, that they love me.

I know, too, that their consistency is the reason I can leave them.  I take everything they’ve taught me, their humor, and their open-heartedness with me.  I will be fine, whoever I find in Muskogee to be my therapist.  It will be a new relationship enriched by the healthy, positive ones I had with Megan and Sarah.

Today, the three of us ate lunch in Sarah’s office, laughing and leaking tears in equal measure.  I know this sounds horrid, but their distress lifted me up.   I’ve been struggling with all the uncertainty of this move—not knowing when it will happen, making lists I can’t act on.  Today’s loving closure gave me a much-needed sense of a job well done.  I drove home feeling lighter than I had in weeks.

In her card to me, Megan wrote in part:

I am a better person and a better provider because of the things I have learned in our work together.  You are super fucking awesome, and I will miss you tremendously.

Sarah wrote:

“In a world of ordinary mortals, you are a wonder woman.” —Queen Hippolyta (Wonder Woman’s mom).  I will miss you dearly.

I am so grateful to have had them on My Adventure.

The Birchwood Team. Megan—back row, second from left. Sarah—front row, in the chair

Traveling

sorrows-mother

I haven’t posted much lately because it’s been scary inside my head.  There’s a fine line between sharing my practice of bipolar disorder and giving voice to the blackest symptoms.  When self-loathing and unrelenting despair become the landscape of my mind, there’s no scenic overlook.  While I strive to be honest here, I also know the scenery will change as my brain rolls on down the road, and that perspective provides a much better photo op.

While I attended Lutheran Hospital’s out-patient program, I stopped taking medication for Binge Eating Disorder (BED).  We needed to see if it was causing my headaches and contributing to the irritability and rage.  Subsequently, all the BED symptoms poured back in—food mania and uncontrollable bingeing.  I gained 15 pounds and hurt all over.

BED creates a downward (outward?) spiral—more weight causes less activity which gives all that food more permission to stick around.  I was already morbidly obese, but was at peace with my body.  Without the Vyvanse, negativity and self-hatred stuffed my head like a Christmas turkey.  The spiral became a hopeless vortex.

Nothing in my bag of tricks helped.  Death fantasies dogged me, but I knew two things would always stop me from actually taking my life—my cats (who are getting old) and the book I haven’t written.  In a weird perversion of logic, I decided that I’d better get cracking on that book if I wanted it to be a party favor at my funeral.  At least I’d have a project to work on.

So, this past weekend, I stayed with my friend, Lily, in Minneapolis and met with another friend, Jinjer, to talk about her experience of self-publishing.

coming-back-to-myselfAnd a very bipolar-ly thing happened.  Being with these friends, who love me unconditionally, traveling out of the struggle of my everyday life and into a few days of watching Netflix in jammies and spicy tea in handcrafted mugs, jolted the positive neuropathways awake.  The hateful Muzak in my head stopped.  My friends’ tender care helped me remember myself.  All the bits and pieces that BED and depression tore off me, fluttered back like Monarchs to their winter home.  Art happened.

And a book will happen.

While I knew Jinjer self-published at least two books, I had no idea one of her many talents was designing books.  So instead of beginning a steep learning curve, I gawked at a path as smooth and clear as asphalt.  She will take my manuscript (when finished) with the accompanying artwork and midwife it through the process.  I started working on the second draft as soon as I got home (and also started back on Vyvanse).

This book is my legacy, not a parting gift.  It’s proof that I lived and survived bipolar disorder, BED, PTSD and whatever acronyms stick to me next.  Like this blog, it speaks to the speed of landscapes passing through a traveling mind.

I’m still on an Adventure.  And I’m making my own Atlas.

sorrows-mothercoming-back

 

Mean and Scary

mousy-ladiesSince my last post, words of love and encouragement, texts, phone calls, offers, cards and funny videos poured over and through me.

Part of it is Facebook. This was the first “I’m thinking about suicide” post that I put on Facebook, so some of this kindness comes from people I’ve not seen in decades—junior high school friends, relatives, etc.  They don’t know that, while serious, this is a side of the illness that comes around every few years.

Part of it is the word.  Suicide.  It brings out the panic in people.  It ignites folks like other incendiary words—God, Abortion, Trump.  And fire requires action.

Part of it is that kind people need to do something to help.  And they’re used to sicknesses that get better.  A little chicken soup, a little gift, and the icky stuff goes away.  They don’t understand that I’m always sick—more or less—no matter how sane I sound or look.  It’s a matter of degree.  A little chicken soup-kindness everyday would be lovely.

It’s been difficult—teaching about mental illness, resetting my boundaries, and reaffirming what I really need—at a time when I want to punch most people in the face.  This is not how one thanks everyone for kindness and thoughtfulness.

I isolate when I’m “unwell,” but this is something more.  I can’t seem to navigate the niceties of social interaction.  I can’t pretend to listen to other folks’ three-ring shit shows (and I normally do a grand job at that).  I can’t tolerate the nattering of voices or the pressure (albeit internal) of protecting others from my illness. I’m scary at present.  And mean.

The last thing I want to do is hurt kindhearted folk.  It’s one of my nightmares—shoving away everyone who loves me with this illness.  It’s such a huge disconnect—hanging on every kind word and pushing away the people who speak them.

All I can say is Thank You and I’m Sorry.  Don’t stop asking questions—not about what you can do for me, but about the illness.  I am a font of knowledge on mental illness and if you need to understand, I’m your gal.  That’s one interaction that won’t get you punched in the face.

Ask Already

Bipolar Mind

ψ

I forget that neuro-normals don’t always know how to bring crazy into a conversation.  I also know other folks with mental illness aren’t always as open as I am (i.e. in-your-face TMI) and have real reasons to keep their condition private.  So I grok that asking me how I am might be intimidating.  Old taboos, stigma, Midwestern Nice—for whatever reason, some folks are more comfortable asking other people how I am.

My sister told me about one mutual friend who said, “I know I’m not supposed to ask, but…”

Whaaaaa?

I guess it’s possible, during one of my Swampy Brain days, that I might have sprayed venom like a velociraptor if a human being invaded my space (which varies depending on the amount of Swamp).  Or muttered an F-word-laced answer to a direct question.  Or maybe just burst into tears.  It’s possible.

Gosh, I hope not.  I want people to ask after me—especially on those Everglades days.  When my hold on Reality is shakiest, I need to know people haven’t written me off or (horrors!) forgotten about me.  Kindness makes me cry, but I hope that isn’t a deterrent.

Come to think of it, inquiring directly about my state of mind could get pretty messy what with all the spittle, and weepage, and colorful expletives.  It might take someone with a HAZMAT suit and no sense of propriety.

I can live with second-hand concern.  I’m still touched by it.  And I apologize if a squirting, prehistoric potty-mouth responded to anyone’s approach.  I hope they try again.  I’ll use my words next time.

Brain-Sick

I'm Not OkayThere’s nothing new to say about rapid cycling mixed states.  I’ve railed against them and given in, pulled out every tool in my toolbox and given up, called for help and stayed silent, pushed against the maggoty words they whisper in my ear and believed every word.  My response to the turmoil in my head has been as varied as my illness.

But if anything is new, it must be the time it takes me to accept, breathe, and allow whatever my head and body chemistry need to do.  And I’ve gathered a larger support network around me, so that when I call for help (usually a few texts back and forth) I don’t have to burden the same few friends over and over.  Spread the Horror, that’s my emergency motto.

Thank you, all my Go-To People, who get those scary/sad/frantic texts and respond with such kindness and love.  You make all the difference.

Thank you for riding shot-gun on my Adventure.

 

Planting Flags

Duck DodgersI lived in or near Minneapolis and St. Paul for 24 years.  It was home.  It’s also where my life imploded under bipolar crisis.  So while some of my closest friends are there, and the energy and sensibilities of The Twin Cities resonate in me like music, the sorrow and loss of a life destroyed seep up out of the cracks.  I’m saturated in Minnesota, and my groundwater rises.

This past year, I decided to fight the sludge.  The idea started in IPR when we took a close look at my natural support system (friends, family, associations, etc.).  It was a relief when Aly, my case worker, declared my natural supports woefully inadequate.  Instead of fighting against feeling “needy” or berating myself for not being more sociable, I could finally acknowledge that I didn’t have the kind of support that would benefit me.  I no longer belonged to a Tribe.

Aly and I brainstormed.  From those sessions, I chose a dual approach—get involved in the Unitarian church in Des Moines and spend more time in the Twin Cities with my friends.

It has been a weird year, being a visitor in what feels like my hometown.  My zeal in the beginning caused me to over-extend myself, then watch shame and guilt rise about being symptomatic when I was among the people who understood and accepted me unconditionally.  How could I forget that these were the people who watched me self-destruct and didn’t run?  My anxiety or social phobia melted off them like October snow.

Dying of NostalgiaSorrow snuck up on me at odd times—journaling in a Starbucks, intermission at the Guthrie theater, watching a jogger with his golden lab lope along the crosswalk in Minnehaha Park.  Sorrow dragged memories up from the depths—regrets, bridges burned, the parts of my life that sloughed off and lay half-decomposed along the roadsides.

When I discussed this discomfort with my therapist, she said I’d have to dredge all that up and deal with it before the sorrow could lift.  “You have to know why you’re grieving before you can move past it.”  But I already knew why I was grieving.  I’d done that work.  Ad nauseum.  I wanted the “moving past it” part.

I decided to just Watch.  That always seems to be the answer to everything, so why not this?  I saw that sorrow came when I attended events alone, so I started asking my friends to go with me.  Lily and I went to the opera a few weeks ago (free tickets provided by Jim and Duane).  The show itself was dreadful (a German comedy, which has to be the definition of oxymoron), but Lily and I had a wonderful time swearing at the traffic jam caused by hockey fans.

I saw that sorrow rose when I felt separate from my friends’ real lives–a visitor instead of a fixture.  So I planned trips around going to Duane’s presentation to high school students and their parents about AIDS and safe sex, and Jinjer’s workshop on Beginning Astrology, and in December, Carol’s choir concert.

SPilgrimage Cafeorrow seemed to hide in my old haunts, places I loved in my Old Life, so I look for new places to plant my flag now.  A few weeks ago, Jinjer and Carol introduced me to Pilgrimage Café, a neighborhood restaurant with a quirky, delicious menu.  This past weekend I went back there by myself, and felt the café embrace me like a lover.  I sat at a repurposed church pew, my journal on the slab of wooden table, sipping pumpkin ale and breathing in the smell of welcome.

Slowly, I am reclaiming my old hometown for the Nation of Now.  I chose the unfamiliar and travel streets I don’t know.  I cherish my Tribe and go deeper with them while I forge new friendships and expand out like ice crystals knitting across the lakes.  There’s no room for sorrow in all that Light.

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.

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