A Bad-Ass Review

A page has turned.

Or, maybe, a season is done.

Whatever the metaphor, I’ve put closure to a few major events in my life—healing from surgery, Callinda, and celebrating Callinda.  Now it’s time to regroup, refocus and point myself in the next direction.

To do that, I turn to my Bipolar Bad-Ass Training, which seems odd since I’m not coming out of a bipolar episode.  But, the last six weeks threw my normal routine out the window, and Bad-Assery is all about putting routine back in place and setting focus.

Clean Eating

I was thrilled that I got all the party left-overs out of my apartment before I indulged in more than one binge.  Saturday night, I was exhausted after cleaning and schlepping.  All I wanted to do was self-medicate with food and go numb in front of the TV, which I did.  But, the next morning I gave away the rest of the left-overs or threw them in the dumpster.  Better in there than in me.

Getting too tired, too emotional, or too rigid are guaranteed triggers of my compulsive eating.  I’m pleased that I minimized the damage and am back to Paying Attention in this area.

Stamina and Strength

I’ve returned to my 6:00 AM water aerobics class.  I can still feel some soreness, and I’m not as fast or strong as when I left six weeks ago, but I’m back.  I know that a huge part of my quick recovery is due to my level of fitness going into surgery.  That feels wonderful.  Me?  Fit?  Who woulda thunk it?

The next physical issue to address will be my shoulder, reinjured when I swam laps in December.  My chiropractor suggested I get an MRI to check for structural damage, so I have an appointment to see my medical doc in a few weeks.

Set Priorities

My basic priorities remain the same—Write, Make Art and Make a Life.  Today I started working on what I’m calling my Bad-Assery manuscript—my experience as a bipolar warrior.  Lots of work to be done, lots of research to explore, but today I started.

For the next month or so, I’ll be devoting my art time to drawing.  I can feel a big boulder of resistance in my gut over this, but just like I pushed through my fear of writing, I can push through my fear of drawing.  Each time I pick up my pencil, I will feel the resistance and push back, just a little bit.  Holding this tension will strengthen my Will and give me more energy to push back the next time.  Growing my Will is important.  It will help me to push back against my compulsive impulses when they rise.  Anyway I can do that deserves time and attention.

For me, making a life means finding ways to be in the community.  Tutoring kids was too stressful and helping at the Animal Rescue League was too sad.  So, I stopped at the library today to see if they could use a volunteer.  I’ll talk to the person in charge about details tomorrow.  There’s also my involvement in TOPS and the Unitarian Universalist group.  A Life is definitely being made.

Lay in Supplies

There are chores and maintenance items to attend to, things I let go because I either wasn’t strong enough after surgery, didn’t have the time while planning for the party, or didn’t have the money.  It’s time to take care of those things.

Refocus.  Regroup.  Take stock.  And take the next step.

I’m ready.

Reaching for the Sun

Another day stretching past the limits of surgery.

I walked in the warm water pool at the Y for a half an hour yesterday morning, which felt like Heaven while doing it and a little ouchy afterward.  Advil handled the ouch.  Then I toodled onto the highway and took myself to Panera for another marathon writing session.

I started the final chapter of Callinda, and I think I’ll be crying through the whole thing.  Not because of a depressed, bipolar rockslide, but because of the intensity of what the characters have left to go through.  And by the enormity of this accomplishment.  To finish this novel, finally, after working so hard and overcoming so much is more than huge.  It opens the windows of my psyche and lets in the breeze of possibility.

So, to celebrate I stopped back at the Y on my way home and walked the track.  Because I could.  Because I can.

Back in the Driver’s Seat

I can’t be alone!  Because—as you must have noticed—I’m—not very well…  Blanch DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire

♦ ♦ ♦

I got in my truck this morning and drove.  Ear buds firmly in place and rocking to John Mellencamp.  Sun warm and golden on my face.  Belly pain mitigated by Advil.  Oh, sweet freedom after giving up driving to surgery.

I ended up seeing a movie (Friends with Kids.  Highly recommended), then camping out at Panera the rest of the day working on Callinda.  I put in a good four hours of writing, which felt fabulous after a week and a half of narcotics-induced brain fuzz.

The weather today was pure spring.  I had the windows down on the way home and could smell the trees budding.  Heaven.

Today gave me courage to think outside the post-surgical box.  Monday, I’ll start back to the Y, now that I can drive without issue, to walk on the track and in the water.  Take it easy, see how it goes.  The next four weeks of restrictions are starting to seem possible instead of incarcerary.

And as for Callinda, I’m down to the last three chapters of the book, which I plan to post all at once.  There’s too much weaving back and forth now at the end to try to do otherwise.  And there is an end.  I’ve seen it and it sees me.

Was Salvador Dali a Shut-In?

The life of a shut-in takes on a strange flavor.  I feel a little like William Hurt in the old movie Altered States, floating in my sensory deprivation tank.  Everything seems perfectly normal until I rub up against the outside world.

Wednesday my friends brought me to their house for supper and to watch Criminal Minds.  At first, everything seemed homey and familiar—Gracie, their Border Collie whimpered with delight when I came in, spaghetti sauce smelled like spaghetti sauce, furniture rested on the floor the way gravity intended.  But there was this odd thing we did at the dinner table.  Conversation.  What?  And a different channel was showing on the TV.  And Tom started playing his guitar while Scott Pelley relayed the news.  The world started to cant sideways like an old Twilight Zone episode.

Back in the womb of my apartment, the weirdness faded.  Hehehe.  I’m not really a blob of morphing jelly-flesh in a Salvador Dali painting.  Just a little stimulus-deprived.  Yeah, that’s it.

Yesterday, one of the gals from TOPS gave me a ride to the meeting.  What a treat to have all those women fuss over me.  Such a lovely group of friends I’m building there.  But, part-way through the meeting the sound of all those voices talking in a cavernous auditorium crossed a threshold.  Is that what the Plague of Locusts sounded like?  The hot metallic buzzing of billions of tiny, hairy legs rubbing together?  I got a little dizzy.

A person can get used to living alone, can even come to prefer it.  But, too long alone and cocooned by the same music, the same visual stimulus, the same, the same, the same… Well, it messes with the mind.  And my mind doesn’t need any more messiness.  I’m taking back my driving privileges this weekend and getting the hell out of Dodge.

This experience also makes me much more sympathetic to long-term shut-ins.  If you know anyone who can’t get out of the home on their own, think about taking them for a ride.  They might resist.  That deprivation tank expands to encompass the whole world, so stepping outside it is jarring.  But, friends don’t let friends turn into flesh-jelly.

Double Whammy

I didn’t really think this whole surgery thing through.

I planned on the discomfort, and the limitations, and the loopy effects of the pain medication.  I stocked my cupboards and laid in supplies of crossword puzzles and movies.  I lined up folks to help me with chores.  But, I really didn’t consider the possibility of having a bipolar episode during this recovery period.  Oops.

This morning I woke up with depression. It exaggerated all the ickiness—my belly hurt more, the narcotics spun me in tighter circles.  But, worse than that, it blew apart my Zen space.

Even though I’d been nervous about the surgery, I purposefully cultivated peace going into it.  As a result, a solid level of acceptance and compassion came home with me, a restfulness in the Now of each moment, gentleness in acknowledging my limits.  Pain was simple and easily tended to.

The depression turned all that calm into suffering.  It twisted my thinking just enough to introduce feelings of abandonment and isolation.  It made me doubt my family and my friends.  It did what depression always does—focused on the negative and took me prisoner as it dove into the dark.

I’m working with it this afternoon, using my mantra to get some distance between me and the faulty thinking (It’s the illness talking, not me.  It’s the illness thinking, not me…).  I’m making cards and cutting bits out of magazines to keep the forebrain distracted.  And each time the depression shoves me into the future or wallows in the past, I come back to This Moment.  Right now, I am comfortable enough and safe enough.  There’s nothing I need to do, no one I need to answer to.  I’ve got a hankering for cherry pie.  I’ll call a friend and see if they can take me to Perkins later.  One step, one need, one healing at a time.

Waiting for Godot

The next signpost on my road to recovery is evidence of my gut’s return to normal functioning.  The bowel is a shy creature—easy to put to sleep, hard to rouse.  Anesthesia sends the gut to a Neverland of silence and immobility.  It takes days to wake the beast back up.

Early signs look good—grumbling in the belly, petite flatulence—but the Main Event still seems far off.  I’ve been given stool softeners and told to walk, that these will coax peristalsis back into action.  Eating a normal diet and drinking lots of water will also move things along, they say.  But, so far, Mission Control is “no go” for launch, just the giant weather balloon of my belly on the horizon.

No worries.  More water, more walking, and this, too, shall pass.

Shuffling Through Marshalltown

I just got back from my afternoon walk—a slow-motion shuffle around three square blocks.  All the better to see the lilac bushes greening and crocus heads swelling.  Iris blades like emerald knives slice through the winter brown.  A warm, moist breeze calls Spring to come forward.

This is my fourth walk since coming home from the hospital yesterday.  Each time I go a little farther, see something a little different.  At 1:30 in the morning, stars talk out loud and warm, velvet air slides over skin.  At 8:30 the Saturday traffic takes over, rushing to compete with the trains wailing in the yard.

Sometimes I’m the only human being on the street.  Sometimes I’m one of many.  The homeless shelter and emergency food bank are just up the street, so people in need pass by often—families, singles, elderly.  People who roll their entire lives with them in wheeled garbage bins.  People with nothing.  People who fight and swear at each other.  People who scold and natter at themselves.

Teenagers wander by in groups leaving their detritus of gum wrappers and Red Bull cans.  The library is next door, and the Kwik Star down the street, so I imagine they gravitate between the two.  But, what do I know about teenagers?

And the dogs are always out.  A plethora of Chihuahuas in all shapes and sizes.  They’re like a box of left-over Valentine’s Day chocolates—nuggets, and cherry centers, and dark mousse—all excited, all yipping in their tiny rodent voices.  There’s a black and white Bull Terrier who sits on the corner all day long, staring at the flower shop.  And a Pit Bull with pink eyes who seems bored out of her mind.  A trio of Corgis race up and down their fenced yard like jousters challenging the entire neighborhood to a duel.  Behind the dog noise, feral cats slink along the alleys, quietly going about their feline business.  They’re happy to let the dogs grab all the attention—anonymity is more their game.

If I could bend over, I’d start picking up the refuse winter leaves behind, but I have to leave that for now.  It’s enough to be outside, in the unseasonably warm, feeling the stretch of my stride in my sore belly, walking my way back to whole.

Home from the Hospital

I just wanted to post a quick one before I sink into my nest for the day.  Surgery went well.  All the professionals have told me today will be the most painful, so I’m chugging my Percaset, hugging a heating pad, and gathering the cats around for a movie.

A huge thank you for everyone’s prayers and good wishes.

Back to my room from recovery.  Feeling no pain at the moment.

My sister and mom and the always-lovely post-op hairdo.

Cheryl & Tom came to watch Criminal Minds—our Wednesday ritual.

Walking the halls in my attractive ensemble to wake up the guts and move gas.

Here I Go…

I’ll catch you all on the flip side of my surgical adventure.  My deepest thanks for your cheerleading and prayers.  They help in profound and mysterious ways.

Waiting Like a Bad-Ass

Tick Tock.  Tick Tock.  Time seems to be creeping toward Wednesday—my day to ride the Anesthetic Express to Scalpel Town.  While I’ve gotten my surgery jimjams more under control, this endless waiting is a whole different kind of mental torture.  I needed a strategy, a plan.  Time to fall back on my Bad-Ass Training.

Clean Eating—I can already feel my focus unraveling around food.  Since I won’t be able to attend TOPS for a few weeks, that accountability is gone.  Plus, anxiety has pushed all my compulsive eating buttons.  And then there’s the horror of being stuck in my apartment without means of escape.  I’m forbidden to drive until I regain the core strength to handle surprises in traffic.  And since I have to use a step to get up into my truck, it will be awhile before I can gird my loins enough to manage that.

You may wonder how being immobile applies to food.  Right now, the anticipation of being trapped pushes me to RUN.  I’ve driven to Ames and Des Moines more this past week than I have in months—because I still can.  Part of the escape valve is eating out—fast food, slow food, coffee shops, movie popcorn.  Then, when I really am homebound with no way to bolt, that anxiety will drive the compulsive eating.

It’s time for me to do some serious meditating.  Time to breathe and bring my attention back to what’s going on in my body and in my head.  Breathe and Watch.  Not only to keep from packing on the pounds, but to stay sane.

Also, Mom and I are grocery shopping today to stock up my cupboards.  I will choose wisely with an emphasis on simple and nutritious.  I may fondle the Cheetos, but I won’t bring them home.

Strength and Stamina—I’ve been paying attention to the daily activities I may not be able to do once I’m home from the hospital and figuring out options.  I’m forbidden to lift anything over ten pounds, bent, or stretch.  So, I won’t be able to get my Brita water pitcher out of the fridge, or make my bed, or reach my coffee filters up in the cupboard.  No cooking in the oven, or lifting the big glass dish that holds all my collage jewelry bits, or bending over to tie my shoes.  As I come across these problematic items, I try to rearrange and accommodate (I mean, there’s no way I’m giving up coffee for six weeks).

I won’t see my water aerobics class again until May, so I have to focus on what I can do.  Both my doc and the OB/GYN nurse said walking is good.  Post-op it will wake up the bowel, help prevent blood clots and clear the lungs.  A few minutes up and down the hall several times a day while I’m in the hospital, then “as tolerated” when I get home.  Maybe only a slow creep to the corner and back the first few days.  The important part for me is to have a plan and some kind of structure.  My routine will be out the window, so I need to develop a new one.  Walking a little bit several times every day will be part of it.

Set Priorities—First priority post-op will be Pain Management.  I’ll take my narcotics like a good girl so I can get restful sleep.  Next comes Healing.  That requires good nutrition, lots of water, movement and time.  I know I’ll get impatient about my limitations, but healing from this big of a surgery will take months.  I have to keep that thought in my forebrain.

Next on my priority list is Distraction.  This will be a little different from the way I use distraction during bipolar episodes.  Post-op I need to find ways to fill the days while I heal.  With this rationale, my compulsive spending broke free, and I bought a ton of movies on eBay and Half.com.  It’s hard for me to feel too bad about this since I now own most of Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman’s films.  I’ll feel worse when it’s time to pay my Visa bill.

As soon as I’m able, I get back to writing my stories and working on my collage cards.  Writing and art will take a back seat to these new priorities, but they won’t go away.

Secure Back-Up—This is probably the most important aspect of Post-Op Bad-Assery.  I will need help doing basic chores and getting around.  I will need people to make me laugh when I’m sick of myself.  And I’ll need comfort and support from the folks who love me.  I’m blessed with all that.  My best friend plans to come to the hospital Wednesday night so we can watch Criminal Minds together.  I’m already getting cards from my TOPS friends cheering me into surgery.  Blessed.

It feels really good to have a plan in place.  Adjustments will have to be made, I know, but I’m not flopping around in a panic anymore.  I can do this.  All is well and will be well.

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