Second Helpings of Joy

Joy DietI’ve been reading Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet, a self-help/Life Coachy recipe for uncovering and going after your Heart’s Desire.  If you haven’t been in therapy for decades, and feel like there’s something missing or off in your life, this would be a decent place to start.

I started therapy when Ronald Reagan was President, so none of the material is new to me.  Still, I like hearing things presented in a new way, especially when the author has heart and a sense of humor.

Take her chapter on Treats.  These are the things/experiences we’re to reward ourselves for taking a risk toward that Heart’s Desire.  Very Pavlovian.  But Beck also wants her readers to give themselves at least two other Treats a day, just because folks generally don’t do that enough.  I liked that.

And Beck’s definition of “Treat?”  Anything that makes you feel like smiling.  Since most of us are programmed to grimace automatically in public, she gives homework to help the chronically repressed find what actually warms their cockles.  I like how she takes her readers by the hand, breaks each step to Nirvana into tiny, measurable actions instead of leaving them stranded in nebulous Woo-Woo Land.  And I like how she compares us to pigs.

So some of these ideas percolated in my hind-brain as I played with my art journal this weekend.  I worked on a cross-over spread, taking characters from a short story I’m writing and doing cool things with letters they’re writing to each other.  I adapted a Dixie Chicks song that I love and made it my character’s.  I treated pages from an antique, hand-written journal to use as their stationary.  It thrilled me to come at these characters and their story from a different angle, and to make something so gorgeous.

Claire&Richard BeforeBut, when I tried to write my new lyrics on this scrumptious paper, no marker or pen I owned made a consistent mark.  I worked for hours, going over the blotchy, ragged letters again and again.  It still ended up looking like a serial killer’s tease for the FBI.

I stopped when my hand cramped too much to hold a pen, and I was willing to let it go.  Some experiments don’t work.  That’s why they’re called experiments.

But as Henry walked across my shins in bed this morning, I got one of those lightbulb ideas.  The problem wasn’t with my pens, it was the paper.  I’d made it too slick.  How could I give it a little bite?

Clarie&Richard RedoI jumped out of bed and went to work, mixing matte medium with a few drops of gesso, adding paint, then taking fresh pages out of the hand-written journal and applying this concoction with a roller and paper towels.  I tested one corner with a gel pen before spraying the pages with fixative.  It took the pen beautifully.

The whole process filled me with joy.  Setting a problem aside, receiving the answer as I passed through the Creative Gold Mine between sleep and wakefulness, using media I didn’t own two months ago, and actually creating a thing the way I imagined it in my head.

Claire & Richard

When I finished the spread, I couldn’t stop grinning.  Here was everything I loved—my writing, my art, my music, Richard Armitage. . .  Layers of meaning overlapped like the layers of paper (I love a metaphor you can actually touch), and color fed some hungry animal inside me.

Probably a pig.

Daft Trek

Social Services, the Final Frontier.  These are the voyages of one unclassifiable nut-job.  Her ongoing mission: to explore convoluted government gobbledy-gook; to seek out new services that might actually help; to boldly leap over the cracks in the system where no one has leapt before.

ξ

After I finished the Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation program in late June, the search was on to find some kind of support that might fill the gap.  IPR wasn’t therapy, but working with Aly for two hours twice a week turned out to be the best therapy I’d ever had.  How can you not go deep and actually problem-solve with that much one-on-one time?  Most participants in IPR spend half their time in groups, but we had trouble finding peers for me (I’ve got so much insight, you know), so Aly and I just met by ourselves.

We both knew no social service could provide what Aly gave me, so we looked at the kinds of support I might find.  She and my therapist thought Lutheran Services of Iowa might be a fit.  I went through two-hour assessments with both my caseworker and LSI, was approved, and started seeing a caregiver in July.

I have a caregiver.  To say I have mixed feelings about that is like saying Emmett is a little nervous (though, here’s a barely-related photo of both guys sitting next to me as I write this with Em combed and smiling).

Together

Anyhoo, it’s taken me all summer to get used to the idea of being a person who could benefit from a caregiver.  When I look at it in terms of what I need to stay out of the hospital, I get it.  But, like everything else concerning my mental health, I don’t fit in the usual categories, so we had to get creative.

Leanne, my caregiver, and I met for coffee once a week all summer at the new coffee house (Yaay! Marshalltown finally has a coffee house!)

Brew House

This was all part of my care plan—to get basic support.  It’s not therapy, but more than friends and family can provide.  For that hour, I get to talk without worrying about my social skills or being reciprocal in any way.  Most human interaction is two-sided.  Conversation is give and take.  And, while Leanne and I do converse, the point is we don’t have to.  For that hour, she’s there for me, and if I need all that time to process, I don’t have to feel guilty, or selfish, or worry about ruining our relationship.  Over the summer, we honed that process to where we’re both comfortable with it.  And it is a true and valuable tool.  Like my new soaking tub, I can relax with Leanne now and just let go.

The other part of my care plan is for Leanne to help me keep my apartment clean this winter.  Since I’m allergic to dust mites, I need a clean living space in order to avoid the asthma flares that lead to bad colds and, often, pneumonia.  And, since winter historically brings more severe depressive symptoms, cleaning (like anything requiring effort) flies out the window.

Halli, the LSI director, told me that their caregivers aren’t housekeepers.  They help clients set goals and work alongside them.  I’m expected to do the real work.  I like that concept.  I asked my sister to do that once, to come over and just help me figure out how to get my place cleaned.  I remembered what a huge help that was.  If I could get used to a stranger coming into my home, I thought that kind of support might help me avoid getting sick so much.

So, last Wednesday, Leanne came over and helped me replace the filters in my air vents.  It’s a big job.  All the vents are in the ceiling.  I put filters in the ones I could reach by standing on a chair, but that was five years ago.  Last week, with a real step-stool, we replaced the black filters (ugh!) and got all the vents covered in the hour Leanne helped me.  I spent the rest of the day cleaning the grill on the intake vent (gross!) and laying filter material across that, too.

Intake Vent

Awesome!  Except I didn’t think to wear a mask.  Oops.  Now I’m fighting the very thing I tried to avoid—a bad head cold that will probably go south soon.  I should have known better.  I wore a red shirt that day, and we all know what happens to those guys.

I Think We Need a Bigger Boat

boatI found out today that my therapist and the nurse practitioner who provides my medication supervision are leaving to start a private practice of their own near Des Moines.

If you’re in the mental health delivery system, you’ve probably experienced this kind of trauma.  It takes years of searching to find a therapist who gets you, to find a psychiatrist or NP who works with you, only to have them leave, or the clinic closes, or whatever kind of insurance you have doesn’t work anymore.  The most essential piece of your recovery drops out of existence.  So you flounder, and in that vulnerable state, have to start searching all over again.

I’m lucky in that they will only be an hour away.  After talking with my therapist today, my plan is to stick with them if they can get Medicaid-certified.  Lots of “ifs.”  So, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal.  Except it is.

I hate how stuff like this confounds and unmoors me.  Even with a solution in sight, I feel hysteria crawling up my throat.  Just when my support system seemed to be jelling, just when it seemed safe to go back in the water…

I have to watch my catastrophizing—I see sharks when it might just be tuna.  I have to keep breathing.  I have to remember I’ll be fine no matter what happens.  I’ve been here before—back when my boat didn’t even have a motor.  So, I’m okay.  I just wish there wasn’t so much chum in the water around me.

bigger boat

March Madness

TumbleweedPhew!  February is behind us.  Enough, now, of the darkness and bitter cold and on to mud below and sun above.  Historically, March is the time I rouse from my mental hibernation and blink at the mess I’ve made while thrashing around in the dark.  I spend too much money when I’m brain-sick.  I eat compulsively.  Fat and broke, I usually overreact.  Last year and the year before, I put myself on strict money and food diets… and I ended up in partial hospitalization.  Hmmm.  Maybe this is a pattern I need to address in IPR.

The mission of IPR (Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation) is to help those of us with mental illness succeed at a goal we choose.  My goal is to keep living in my apartment, not taking sabbaticals in the hospital, so my caseworker, Aly, and I look at any skills needed to do that.

Partial hospitalization gives me structured support, a place to do the hard work of managing my illness when it’s overwhelming, and accountability to professionals who understand me.  One of my new skills is to seek out more structured support outside the hospital setting.

Seeing my therapist and participating in IPR every week are two kinds of structured support.  Recently, I added a weekly meeting with my Peer at Integrated Health Services (where I worked for a time last summer).  Allison and I sit for an hour and talk about doing the hard work of recovery.  The more I can get this kind of help, the less likely another hospitalization.  And since the Partial Hospitalization Program closed its doors last year, my only option now is full admission to a psych ward.  To me, that’s not an option.

So, it’s also important to look at this pattern of deprivation in the early spring.  As Aly and I talked through this, it seemed so simple.  Now is not the time to white-knuckle anything—not my budget, not my diet, not an out-dated version of myself as responsible and in control.  If there was ever a time for my Kinder, Gentler practice to kick in, it’s in March.  Now is the time to acknowledge how ill I’ve been and how well I’ve coped.  Now is the time to gently come back to cooking at home when the depression lifts enough to allow it.  Now is the time to remember that this is what my savings is for—to pay the bills my illness created over the winter and to give me space to breathe.  I’ll be able to live within my means again, but not right now.

This whole idea is radical—not clamping down to pay off my Visa bill or repaying the money I took from savings.  The idea that I can do those things later, should do them later, boggles my mind.  So simple.  So very Kind and Gentle.  It’s lovely to be my own best friend.

Huh. Okay.

Musical SawA few weeks ago, as I papered this space with handiwork from my little studio, I got an odd request from a self-proclaimed fan named Heba at PlusGuidance.com.  She liked my collaged cards, and my blog, and asked me to write a piece for them about using art as therapy.  Not sure about what I was being asked to do, I explored PlusGuidance a little bit.

It’s a hip sort of site with lots of moving parts and graphics.  But the most interesting part is that folks can get online counseling or guidance.  There’s a section for articles and news about mental health issues.  Another section is more of a clubhouse for members to hang out and chat.

I thought, “Cool!” and sent them a piece called The Art of Distraction.

Thanks, Heba, and all the cool, hip folks at PlusGuidance for asking me to be a part of the club.

Intensive Care

Collage art, greeting card artSince July, I’ve been in a program called Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation.  It’s Medicaid-funded and designed to help those of us with “serious and persistent mental illness to achieve goals that improve success and satisfaction in living, learning, working and socializing.”

It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced in any kind of health care service—thorough, gentle, involved, deep.  For these first six months, I’ve met with my IPR Facilitator (Aly) two to three times a week just gauging my motivation and willingness to go through the process—doing lots of assessments, looking at self-awareness and life satisfaction, and meeting in a small group to hear how others are doing the same.

I believe my participation in IPR is a big reason for my greater stability during the last half of 2014, but maybe not because of the actual work I do in the program.  I get to spend four to six hours a week with a caring professional, talking about my life and my illness, who gives me useful feedback.  Considering that I see my therapist weekly, that gives me up to seven hours a week of therapeutic support.

I can’t begin to explain how lovely that is, to have somewhere to go every several days a week where I feel safe, heard, challenged, and successful all at the same time.  I have felt parts of me relaxing that have been clenched for years.  The notion that I could be kinder and gentler to myself grew naturally from this place of safety and care.  The outrageous idea that everything about my life—the wild and warp-speed mood swings, the practical struggles with money and relationships, my weight, my compulsions, my delusions, my mistakes and mis-steps—could be accepted and given a place at my internal table became my new mantra.  “Yes, that, too.”

This increase in professional support prodded me to start searching in different ways for more natural support.  I found a wonderful, active community at the Des Moines Unitarian Church, signed-up for a class there in SoulCollage®, met some interesting people and sang.  I started reaching out to my old friends in Minnesota.  I joined Facebook, fer cripes sake.

World She InhabitsOver the last few weeks, my work in IPR has taken me on a new journey of discovery.  My focus in the program is on my Living Environment, to assess and eventually set a goal about where I live.  This could also include a “Staying” goal if my current home turns out to be best for me.  We looked at all the places I’ve ever lived, which ones I liked most and least and why.  Aly asked me to imagine my perfect space, perfect neighborhood, perfect part of the country—to dream big and with extravagance.  We’ve spent time tweezing out my values and preferences and laying them over my ideas about home.

One of the many assessment parameters Aly used was to imagine what the significant people in my life would say about my current living environment, about the idea of moving elsewhere, and what their concerns might be.  I try hard not to presume what others think about me, so I wasn’t sure.  But I thought in general they considered me successful  (This is an IPR term.  It means that you generally stay out of jail and the hospital, that you can perform self-care, do basic housekeeping, and partake in enjoyable activities in your home.  Luckily, I rock at being successful).

This exercise made me curious to know what my friends and family really thought, so I started asking them.  It’s always a little scary to ask people what they think of me.  They all carry memories that I’ve lost, things I’ve said in the past, events and experiences fried out of existence by ECT.  Plus, an outsider’s view of my often-times incomprehensible behavior can carry an emotional charge for them.  I’ve done a lot of weird and hurtful things in my bipolarness, and turning over those rocks can be deadly.  But, getting that outside perspective is valuable for someone with mental illness.  We get trapped in our own faulty musings.  Someone else’s reality can be shocking, but life-saving.

As it turned out, they do think I’m successful, but another theme started appearing.  As I’ve reached out to my friends in Minnesota, they all to a person have said, “We don’t know why you moved in the first place.  It never made sense to us.  This is your home.”  And even my sister, who orchestrated my exodus from Minneapolis, said, “You’ve worked hard, made friends and have a routine in Marshalltown, but Minnesota is home…”

My compulsive side would do something with this information.  I’m choosing to just add it to my IPR file along with all the other assessments and data.  It will be a while yet before I actually choose a goal in my Living Environment.  In the meantime, I want to keep practicing this kinder, gentler attitude.  I want to keep attending UU services on Sunday.  I want to schedule my next visit to Minneapolis and spend time with those people who still love me and remember me.  I want to spend time with the people here in Iowa who love and support me, too.  I want to keep an open mind, explore, evaluate.  I want to keep being successful.

Because, you know, I’m on an Adventure.

Patch Girl

Every once in a while I have homework to do for my Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation program (IPR).  Last week I gave a little presentation about someone famous who suffers from my brand of mental illness (Stephen Fry, of course), and showed part of his documentary “The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive.”  Stephen is one of my heroes, so it was fun to share him with others.

Now, I’m tasked with writing my Life History.  Groan.  If I had not done this a million times before in a million different ways for a plethora of mental health professionals, I might not mind mucking around in all that sour, spilt milk.  So, I tried a different approach—inspired, no doubt, by watching three seasons of Once Upon a Time in four days.  I offer you the results.

♦ ◊ ♦

Patch Girl

a Life History Fairy Tale

The Voice

Once upon a time, in a land of Patchwork People, a baby girl was born.

“Oh, no!” Mother cried, pushing the baby away.  “She is missing a patch—a huge patch!”  She narrowed her eyes at Father.  “This is your fault.  Go at once to the doctor and make sure we have no more of these disappointments.”

“Yes, dear,” Father said, because his only wish in life was to make Mother happy.

“Get that thing out of my sight,” Mother said to Sister.

“Gladly!” Sister cried.  “She will be my dolly.  I will dress her so no one sees the missing patch.”

“Good,” said Mother.

“Humph,” muttered Brother behind his book.

But as the Patch Girl grew, she tired of the clothes Sister made her wear.  They were too tight, too scratchy, and much, much too heavy.  One day she stripped them off and stood in her natural patchy-ness.

“Stop!” Sister yelled.  “You are my dolly, and I will dress you however I like!”

“I am not a dolly.  I am Patch Girl,” the young one said.

“Humph!” Sister sniffed, pointing.  “A Patch Girl with a big, ugly hole where a patch should be!”

Patch Girl looked down and, sure enough, there was big, ugly hole where a patch was meant to be.  “Give me my patch!” she yelled at Sister.

“Ha!  I don’t have it, stupid child!  Go away and find it.  You’re not my dolly any more.”

Patch Girl ran from the farmhouse with glee.  If I find my patch, Mother will love me, she reasoned.  If I find my patch, Father will protect me.

She climbed over fences and danced around trees.  If I find my patch, Sister will play games with me, and Brother will come out from behind his book!  If I find my patch, we will live happily ever after!  

She ran first to the barn to look for her missing patch.  Esmerelda the Cow swayed in her stanchion, chewing her cud.  The mouse family scurried across the cement floor to their homey-hole.  Hay dust drifted in the sunlight like golden snow, and the air smelled green.

“Oh,” Patch Girl whispered.  “What a magical place.  Surely my missing patch is here.”

She touched Esmerelda’s wet nose and felt the breath huff out her nostrils.  “Do you have my patch?”

The cow blinked her soft brown eyes and swallowed.  “Ask the Cat,” she lowed.

Patch Girl tip-toed further into the barn to a warm, dark nest behind the bales of hay.  Mother Cat lay on her side with three kittens suckling.  Patch Girl saw their tiny paws kneading Mother Cat’s white fur, their perfect little claws flexing in and out.

“Oh,” Patch Girl sighed, feeling full and whole.  She touched one finger to the calico kitten’s head.  “This must be my patch.”

“No, dear,” Mother Cat said.  “You already have that patch.  See?”

Patch Girl looked down and saw one of the patches next to her hole glowing with golden light.

“But, I must find my patch,” she told Mother Cat, unhooking the calico kitten’s claws from her patchy body.

“Go see Grandmother,” Mother Cat suggested.  “She may have your missing patch.”

Patch Girl hurried from the sweet-smelling barn and followed a grassy path through the apple orchard.  At the end of the path, through a flowery trellis, she found a white cottage ringed by violets and dandelions.  Patch Girl rounded the cottage and spotted an old woman digging in her flowerbed.

“Hello,” said Patch Girl.  “Are you Grandmother?”

“Oh, I’m much more than that,” the old woman smiled.  “What is that flower there?”

Patch Girl bent to where Grandmother pointed.  A delicate face looked up at her—fuchsia veined with purple.  Patch Girl sniffed the flower, and the petals were so delicate they went up her nose and tickled.

“It’s a petunia!” she laughed.

“Exactly!” Grandmother laughed with her.  “And that is what I shall call you—My Little Petunia.”

“Is this my missing patch,” the young one asked hopefully, the flower’s tangy scent still in her nose.

“No, dear.  You already have that patch.  See?”

Patch Girl looked down and another patch around her hole glowed like a fire opal.  “Do you have my missing patch, Grandmother?” she asked, tears wetting her cheeks for she already guessed the answer.

Grandmother brushed the dirt from her fingers.  “Come with me, Little Petunia.  We have work to do.”

“Work?” Patch Girl jumped up, forgetting for a moment about her missing patch.  “What kind of work, Grandmother?”

“Why, we have lace to tat and embroidery to stitch.”

She stepped into the cottage and rummaged through a wooden chest full of baubles and trinkets.

“Oh,” Patch Girl breathed, picking up a tiny porcelain tea cup, then a brass Chinese dog with smoke drifting from its mouth.

“Or…” Grandmother’s muffled voice came from the bottom of the chest where she was digging.  “…should we start with the watercolors?  Wait! I know!”

She pulled herself out of the trunk, a little flushed from being head-side down.  She held up a paper tablet in triumph.  The bright red cover displayed the noble profile of an Indian Warrior.

“Stories!”  Grandmother said, placing the tablet in Patch Girl’s outstretched hands.  From her silver curls, she plucked a sturdy pencil with a fine eraser.  “Write me a story, Little Petunia.”

Patch Girl smelled the wood of the pencil, the dusty magic of the paper.  Once Upon A Time she wrote on the first line of the first page.

“Oh, Grandmother,” she sighed, feeling full and whole, “surely this is my missing patch.”

“No, dear,” Grandmother said.  “You already have all these patches.  See?”

Patch Girl looked down and, sure enough, a patch next to her hole glowed amber like the lights in the library.  Another glimmered azure blue like the little square in the watercolor palette.  And still another gleamed like a tapestry with rosy stitching.

Patch Girl burst into tears, for while her patches were wondrous and beautiful, the hole of her missing patch had grown deeper and more painful.

“If I find my missing patch,” she sobbed, “Mother will love me, Father will protect me, Sister will play with me, and Brother will come out from behind his book.  I must find my patch, Grandmother.  Then, we will live happy every after.”

“Oh, dear,” Grandmother worried.  “I don’t have your missing patch, my Little Petunia.  Perhaps The Mage has it.”

She pulled out her sewing box and sorted through the scraps.  “It is a long journey, and you need something to hide that hole.”

“Sister stuffed me in doll clothes,” Patch Girl sniffed.  “I didn’t like that.”

“Ah, try this.”  Grandmother’s blue eyes twinkled.  She fastened a scrap over Patch Girl’s hole by safety-pinning it to the surrounding patches.  “You are a clever, clever girl.  Your cleverness will keep those pins strong and in place.  No one need ever know about your hole.”

“But, I can still feel it, Grandmother.  And it hurts.”

Grandmother smoothed the make-shift patch with her big hands, then dug in the pocket of her apron.  “Have a cookie, dear.  It will help.”

She led Patch Girl out of the cottage where a sliver moon smiled in the night sky.

“Listen to the stars, My Little Petunia, they will guide you,” Grandmother said, waving her onto the road.   “Good-bye.”

“Good-Bye, Grandmother,” Patch Girl replied, nibbling the cookie (it did help dull the pain of her missing patch).

She travelled long and far.  Night became Day.  Days became Years.  Sometimes Patch Girl forgot why she was on the road, and then the hole of her missing patch ached, and she remembered to look for The Mage.

She searched in churches and universities, for surely Wise Men labored there.  She took jobs and quit them again when no Mage appeared.  She befriended other travelers who adored her for her wondrous patches, but Patch Girl never let them too close for fear they might discover her safety pins and the secret behind them.

Once, she met a Scribe who looked up from his book long enough to smile.  He reminded her of someone, but she couldn’t remember who.

“Marry me,” she told the Scribe.  “Protect me.”

“Humph,” he answered, returning to his book.  “If you like.”

But the Scribe could neither protect her nor come out from behind his book for long.  So, Patch Girl continued her search.

One day, a Black Imp danced out from behind a tree.

“Halloo, Patch Girl.  I understand you seek a Mage.”

“Yes,” she answered.  “Do you know him?”

“Know him?”  The Imp cavorted around her and made her laugh.  “I am him!”

“You?”  Patch Girl eyed him skeptically, but she was weary from traveling.  She had lost many of the safety pins Grandmother had given her, and just wanted the search to be over.

“I see your hole, Patch Girl.”  The Imp leered at her.  “I have just the thing to fill it.  Let me fill it and you need never search again.”

The Imp’s promises were so appealing, Patch Girl didn’t even cry.  She knew at once that he wasn’t The Mage, but she no longer cared.

Mother will never love me now.  Father will never protect me.  Sister will never play with me again.  And Brother will never come out from behind his books.  This is what I deserve.

The Black Imp dragged Patch Girl to his hut where he cast a powerful spell upon her and threw her into a cage.  He filled her hole with all manner of vile things, but none of them was her patch.  The Imp shared her with his minions, who promised to protect her and help her find her patch, but they never did.

One night, as Patch Girl cried herself to sleep in her cage, Grandmother appeared to her in a dream.

“Where is My Little Petunia?” Grandmother wondered.  “Where is my clever, clever girl?”

“Here I am,” Patch Girl cried.  “Right in front of you!”

“So you are,” Grandmother said.  “Leave this horrible place at once!”

“How, Grandmother?  I’m locked in.”

“You’re a clever girl,” Grandmother winked.  “You’ll find a way.”

Patch Girl woke with a start.  She could hear the Black Imp and his minions snoring nearby.  Creeping to the door of her cage, she felt for the lock.  Then, she took her last safety pin, straightened it out, fit it to the lock, and pushed the door open.  As she ran from the hut, the covering Grandmother had placed over her hole so long ago fluttered into the mud—lost forever.

Patch Girl ran as far and as fast as her weak legs could go.  The hole from her missing patch gaped wide.  The surrounding patches, once so strong and beautiful, sagged pale and limp.  Those who met her on the road cried out in terror and in pity.

“Try this elixir, “ they said.

“Take this potion.”

“Stand out in the rain and let the lightening strike.”

Patch Girl tried everything every Wise Woman and Fool suggested, but nothing patched her correctly.  She stood under the night sky and wept.  She no longer wanted to search for her missing patch.  She no longer wanted to live at all.  It was too hard, too painful, and much much too heavy.  So Patch Girl left the road and laid in the soft grass to wait for Death.

While she waited, and it did seem to be taking Death a long time to find her, Patch Girl gazed up at the stars.  She heard their quiet song as they trembled like jewels in their velvet setting.  She smiled, remembering Grandmother’s instructions, and rested in the stars’ serenade.  She reached into her now-silver curls and found a pencil with a sturdy eraser.  She smelled petunias nearby.  In her pocket, she fingered the brass Chinese dog and many cookie crumbs.

Near the road, something rustled in the tall grass, but Patch Girl wasn’t afraid.  As she watched, Mother Cat stepped into the starlight with her three kittens trailing behind her.

“Hello, Patch Girl,” Mother Cat said.  “Did you ever find your missing patch?”

“There never was a patch,” Patch Girl answered.  “I was born as the night sky was born—full of wondrous lights that can only be seen because of the dark that surrounds them.”

“And what of your happy ever after?” Mother Cat asked, climbing up on the jeweled light that radiated from Patch Girl’s wondrous patches.

“Oh, Mother Cat,” Patch Girl chuckled.  “That’s just a fairy tale.”

“Ah,” Mother Cat purred, arranging her kittens.  “You finally did find The Mage.”

“Yes.”  Patch Girl smiled up at the singing stars, her fingers tickling the kittens.  “Yes, I surely did.”

The End

Ghosts in the Fence-Line

She's a FighterA friend once introduced me by saying, “This is Sandy—she has shitty boundaries.”

At the time, he was absolutely right.

I was coerced into a sexual relationship by a doctor who was treating me.  One of my therapists was a sexual predator.  I didn’t see either of them coming.

Since then, I’ve worked hard at keeping control of my own power.  It still takes time to realize I’m being stepped on or pushed, but when the lightbulb goes off, I push back now.  It’s difficult and painful, since the old traumas tend to rise from their graves when I stand up for myself.  I’m told this is a form of PTSD.  Great.  One more acronym for my file.

Like everything else, if it takes too much effort to push back, or the discomfort of it is too much, I bolt.  Run from the danger, run from the past, run-run-run.  But, I’m working hard at that, too—working to stretch my tolerance for distress, which includes the distress of planting my fence posts in the ground and defending them.

I had to do that at work this past week.  I have a set schedule that I can count on now—1:30-4:30, Monday-Friday.  I can plan around it.  I can plan on it.  But some of my co-workers keep trying to undermine it.  “Can you meet with a client at 10:00?”  No.  “Can you come with me at 1:00?”  No.  “If you could flex a bit,” they say.  Or the last straw for me on Monday—”We can wait until you’re ready.”  Ready for what?  To be valid?  To be Normal?

I watched my brain do it’s thing—thrash around with the Ghosts of Boundaries Lost and make preparations to quit the job.  But, then a miracle happened.  I’ve been watching this s-l-o-w shift for a while now.  It’s like my mind puffs out, a little more air in the pink balloon up there, and other options present themselves.  Suddenly, I remembered that my boss is on my side, that she wants me on the team.  So, I sent her a careful email.  “Help.  Do you have any ideas?”

Her response was immediate.  “I didn’t know this was happening.  I’m sorry.  It will never happen again—I’ll make sure of it.”

So, when I met with Luke Skywalker yesterday (my interim therapist), the Ghosts were swirling.  Just walking into his office brings them up anyway—he’s my care-provider, he’s a guy.  The Crypt yawns wide.  He gave me some options—stick them back in the vault for the time being and play a game of Uno with him instead or take them on.  I’m not one for pussy-footing, so I said, “Come on, let’s go.”

Most of that work yesterday was simply staying with the feelings as they rose and fell—terror, shame, guilt, self-hatred, self-recrimination.  There were moments I couldn’t catch my breath, moments I cried so hard it scared me worse than the emotion.  As I write about it now, a sudden swell of despair passes through me.  It’s so strong it washes in the idea that death would stop the pain.  The return of that old impulse, however fleeting, shocks me.  And pisses me off.  How dare those old perverts still have any control over me!

It’s always a restless night when the Ghosts swarm, so I’m heading off to the pool a little bleary-eyed and emotionally hung-over.   But, I’m heading off to the pool.  And then to my new therapy group, and then to work.  Because I’m getting good at mending my fences.  And I’ve got the barbed wire scars to prove it.

Beg Pardon?

CAPTAIN AMERICA THE WINTER SOLDIER_FZ-00497_RA.JPG

Luke Skywalker… er… my therapist, Ben, asked me today,  “If you were a Marvel superhero, which one would you be?”

Immediately, I said Captain America.

I thought he asked me which one did I WANT.

Oops.

Safety Girl

LukeSo, I saw Ben this week—my substitute therapist who looks like Luke Skywalker in Episode IV.  I like him a lot.  I just keep expecting him to mutter, “Stay on target.  Stay on target.”

Those introductory sessions can be awkward and, honestly, boring.  I’m so sick of telling my story.  Ancient history.  So, instead we talked about us—how Ben works, how I work, what I need from him.  We laughed, I cried, we made another appointment.

He said he digs superhero movies, which endeared me to him immediately.  He also said he was big on themes in therapy, which made absolute sense.  People have patterns and some kind of energy generates those patterns.  Identifying the common threads that run through our lives and calling them themes has a nice, literary ring to it.  And nothing simplifies complex internal themes like a superhero, so this all fit nicely together in my fan-girl brain.

A theme he noticed in our discussion that day was safety.  Ahh, the Force is strong in this one.

Feeling safe—physically, financially, emotionally— drives me and is easily threatened.  And since Safety is pretty low on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (just one step above Breathing), it’s hard for me to advance to meeting higher needs.  Survival seems to be where I spend most of my time.

ElectraI like to think of myself as a Bad-Ass and courageous in my battle with bipolar disorder, but in most parts of my life I’m terrified.  I’m aware of this.  I watch my anxiety rise.  I watch my body respond to the flood of adrenaline.  I feel the fear tip my bipolar scales.

There’s no light saber that can slice through this old pattern.  All I can do is practice awareness, see when the theme is running me, and face it.

I guess that’s the real definition of courage—being scared shitless and facing the Dark Side anyway.  But, it’s always easier to do that with help.  Either a therapist or protocol robot will do.

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