“I Got a Bad Feeling About This”

This week is all about getting ready to be stuck in my apartment and in pain for the next four to six weeks.

First, there’s all the doctorly stuff to do—pre-op inspections; donations of blood, urine and other quantifiable substances; a Come To Jesus meeting with the bean counters.  Today, my mom and I go see the surgeon for his laundry list of what to expect and what to do.  Since Mom will be paying my bills, I figured she has every right to get the details and ask questions.  My mom always has a phalanx of questions and takes no prisoners.

Then, there’s all the stocking up to do (minimal-effort groceries, clean laundry, cat supplies, enough DVDs to last the siege), chores to attend to (haircut, dentist visit, returning borrowed books), soliciting of post-op assistance (chauffeurs, litter box attendants, char women), and a farewell tour of friends and family.  I had supper with my friend, Jeff, in Des Moines last night and felt like I was waving at him from the bow of the Titanic.

To say I’m apprehensive about this surgery is like saying our Congress has a little trouble finding consensus.  Doesn’t matter how many hyster-less women tell me the surgery “isn’t that bad” or how much I tell myself I’ll be fine.  I just keep hearing Han Solo’s voice in my head.

So, I’ll keep busy, futzing with my Things to Do list and trying not to trip over the phrase I won’t be able to do that for awhile to the exclusion of all else. Breathing is good, too.  And looking at the full moon.  And breathing.

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.

Psychic Acne

I woke up this morning from a high school reunion dream.  This is not a good way to start the day.  But, it feels more like a subconscious zit coming to a head after churning through current events.  So, I’m hoping I can just give it a good scrub and move along.

I tried my hand at another old skill yesterday—public speaking.  My mom asked me to talk to her social club about bipolar disorder.  So, I put together a presentation and, after the huge potluck, gave my spiel.  I think it went well.  No one nodded off after all the cheesy potatoes and macaroni salads.  And several people had questions or wanted to talk about grandchildren or friends who had BP.  I always figure that’s a good sign when a speaker can get folks to talk.  Others came to me privately afterward to discuss the material in more depth.  That felt right, too.

Discussing mental illness is frightening to some, fascinating to others.  The freak-show aspect of it can be a big draw.  If I can be articulate and funny while also candid about how the illness manifests for me, I like to think I humanize a condition that’s usually kept secret.  That’s my hope anyway, and I think I was pretty successful yesterday.

But, I was exhausted afterward.  And wired.  Telling my story always effects me that way.  Even though I’m completely comfortable being “out” as a person with bipolar disorder, there’s still an element of risk in telling my tale.  I share intimate details with strangers, then give them permission to make comments about my life.  It’s a vulnerable situation.

On my way home, I stopped to check out a new chiropractor.  I injured my shoulder years ago, and the laps I swam to recover my range of motion after surgery woke up that old injury.  The pain in my neck and shoulder was only getting worse, so I knew I needed to take care of it.  My former chiropractor stopped accepting Medicare, so he wasn’t an option.  I had to find someone new.  Dr. Beane and his wife led the Unitarian Universalist service on Sunday.  When I learned he was a chiropractor, I grooved on the synchronistiy and found his office.

So, once more I had to tell my story—different focus, but life events are life events.  He listened thoughtfully, then went about his business.  The scar tissue and inflammation around my shoulder had progressed so far they had pulled the bone out of the socket.  Dr. Beane said I had a significant “droop shoulder” and worked to snap it back into place.

I’m encouraged and in less pain this morning, though it will take several sessions to reap the full effects.  Money will be an issue.  His office requires full payment up front, then Medicare will reimburse me for whatever percentage they cover.  Money—the constant worry.  But it seems important to take care of his injury before heading in for another surgery.  I feel like I need as many parts of me strong and in working order as possible to compensate for the upcoming restrictions and pain.

So, I’m not surprised that my brain churned out a fussy, uncomfortable dream about feeling vulnerable and judged. Today—observe and get some Clearasil.

Valentine-less

For someone prone to loneliness and conditioned to want a White Knight, Valentine’s Day without a valentine stinks.  It doesn’t help that the depression is back just enough to crank up the anxiety and agitation or that my medical bills from surgery and allergy testing are pecking at me like harpies.

I am uncomfortable today in several ways, and feel myself thrashing around trying to ease the pain.  I will not be skillful at this today, nor heroic, nor a Bad-Ass of any kind.  But, I will get through it.  This unfortunate day will pass, and another will come, and another.  I will be the thread that ties them all together.

So, to comfort myself today, and maybe anyone else who is valentine-less, I offer this beautiful song.

Girl Parts

There are times when a mental or physical shock can snap me out of a bipolar episode.  My theory is that the sudden demand of crisis problem-solving cooks the brain in a particular way and changes the chemistry there.  It’s a theory.  Anyway, I got a good shock yesterday, and I seem to be back to set point this morning.

I found out I need a hysterectomy.

After several trips to the gynecologist, ultrasound and labs all the results came in.  I have orange-sized fibroid tumors and a pre-cancerous uterine lining.   So, out she goes.

I’m having a strange sort of deja vu experience, since twenty years ago another gynecologist campaigned strongly for a hysterectomy.  At the time I believed doctors knew only enough to be dangerous, and that our organs have many more functions than are recognized.  I wanted to heal my body naturally and keep it intact.  I worked with a naturopath and actually got pregnant (which is a whole other story).

In any case, I made peace with my girl parts after years of pain, vomiting, hemorrhaging and countless gynecological interventions.  Now, they really have to leave.

I wonder what my life might have been if I’d followed my doctor’s recommendation twenty years ago.  A good friend had a hysterectomy in her twenties, and her mood disorder changed dramatically for the better.  How much a part do hormones play in mood disorders?  From the research I’ve read, no one knows.  The most the braniacs can say is there might be a link in some women sometimes.  Obviously, this is not a research priority.

I’m not falling for the “what if” trap.  I made my decision then and stand by it.  I feel like I advocated for my body and loved it even when it was difficult.  But this is a hyster of a different color.  When cancer starts entering the conversation, it’s time to let go.  Which I will be doing on March 14.

And as far as the shock therapy goes, I’ll see if this one sticks today.  Hell of a way to reset your brain.

Through the Ice Darkly

Tomorrow I leave for an excursion into the arctic north.  I’m spending the next ten days in Minneapolis, first to sit with a friend as she undergoes a simple, but scary surgery.  Then, to visit other friends—some I’ve not seen since my exodus to Iowa five years ago after I had ECT.

It’s a weird juxtaposition of memory holes and my different lives laid on top of each other like layers of ice on a frozen lake.  Some are Jasper-green and opaque with soft spots and groaning cracks, others sludge-gray with craters.  Others still carry bits of fish scale, algae, and ash from shoreline campfires of summer.  They stand rock solid even in the spring thaw.

Seeing these beloved friends again, touching them, will be like taking nourishment and starving.  Love and loss.  A life remembered through “the glass darkly.”  I hope to maintain my curiosity as broken memories crack the surface of consciousness, as my friends remind me of what we were together and what I was then.  I hope to hold them and myself with compassion, respecting our feelings and our words, watching the rise and fall of emotions without grasping, allowing myself to simply love them in the moment of being together.  I hope to remember my life now, who I’ve become, traveling like Frankenstein’s monster on a frozen floe with growing awareness and a spark of dignity.

It will be an interesting time away.

I will greet you all again on or around January 16.

Return of the Bad-Ass

This morning I got up on the good side of the bed.  And I didn’t even know I had one.

Life in general is taking a turn.  Our family is slowly finding a new rhythm without Dad.  My incision hurts less all the time and water aerobics is morphing back into something enjoyable instead of torture.  I have a plan for combating the respiratory infections that have plagued me the last couple of years.  My bipolar disorder is quiet for the time being.  And my new doc planted some motivational seeds to take up the weight loss banner.  Again.

It’s the return of the Bipolar Bad-Ass.  Thank the stars!  It’s been a couple of months since I felt this strong and clear with some sense of direction and the energy to follow through.  I quit whining about not having the perfect coffee shop to do my word smithing and planted myself at Muddy Waters.  This is where I first started writing again after my bipolar collapse.  The folks there know me, welcome me and treat me well.

I checked out two juvenile books at the library, on the recommendation of my friend, Joa, the Children’s Librarian, and put my name on the waiting list for Stephen King’s new book.  My ECT-fried brain is a lot like my stiff arm after surgery.  The muscles and skin ache and resist stretching, but they have to be worked in order to function.  I haven’t read anything in awhile, and I need to.  It’s part of my Training.

I pulled out my calorie counter, Clean Eating magazines, food journal and started paying attention to my intake again. Hearing Dr. Brown say “I know it’s hard, but you have to do it anyway” felt good.  I needed to hear that the obstacles in my way don’t really matter—the obsessive compulsive behavior, the fears, the wanting.  They are serious, and they are real, but I have to find a way to set them aside.  At this moment, I’m determined to lose 20 pounds (Yikes!  Did I say that out loud?).  I don’t know how long that will take, but there it is—my starting goal.  In black and white.

Of course, my mood will shift.  The depression will waft back in and blow my resolve.  But, I’m going to try to keep focus during the next episode.  And if I can’t manage that, I’ll try to get back to Bad-Ass Training sooner rather than later.  But, today is what I have, and today I’m in Training.  Today, the Bitch is Back.

Do Not Fold, Bend or Staple

There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.

— Alfred Hitchcock

‡ ‡ ‡

Girding my loins for what was surely to be excruciating pain, I followed the nurse into Dr. McCune’s treatment room.  My voice quavered when I told her I’d probably need a pan to puke in, that pain did that to me.

But five minutes later, the staples were out and my taciturn surgeon on his way to the hospital.

Wha???

I sat on the table and sobbed, not from pain but relief.

Oh, the knots we tie ourselves into!  I’d been dreading this day, sure the folks in the waiting room would call the police when they heard me screaming, afraid I’d have to punch my doctor in the nose.  And it was nothing.  As Christopher Robin says to Pooh, “Silly old bear!”

Actually, Dr. McCune cracks me up.  He reminds me of the actor, Sam Elliott—classic cowboy silence and steely-eyed calm.  I babbled while he worked, asking him how big the tumor was, did he weigh it, why the incision was so long, blah, blah, blah.  The only answer he gave to all that was he didn’t want the scar to be “dog-eared” and that pathology “didn’t find anything.”  Then, he helped me sit up, patted me on the knee and left.  If he had a cowboy hat, he would have touched a finger to it and muttered, “Ma’am.”

I’ll just pack up my little Drama Kit and slink over to Des Moines for a cuppa.  I’ll work on Callinda in a calm and refined manner, then sit meditation with my friends.

Move along, now.  The show’s over.

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!

Illustration Friday: Round

My submission for this week’s art challenge at Illustration Friday with the prompt “Round.”  See more full-figured art at the IF site.

‡ ‡ ‡

On another note, I’m 10 days post-op and really ready for the pain to go away.  I knew there would be pain.  I prepared for the pain.  But, Good Lord and Sonny Jesus, I never thought it would be this unrelenting.  Thus, the surgeon’s gift of Hydrocodone, which knocks me out for hours and leaves me pukey (I’m already prone to pukiness, so I really don’t need any more help bending over the toilet).

I’m focusing on getting to next Friday when the sutures come out.  It’s not a cheery goal—the idea of getting 40 staples snipped by the medical version of a hedge clipper and tugged out of a part of me that already hurts like hell just adds a little umph to my yarky stomach.  But, I’m hoping once the hardware is out I’ll be able to move a little easier.  At least I’ll quit snagging on my clothes.

Well, it’s my little fantasy, and I’m going to live here as long as I can.

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