Focus on Gratitude: Day 2

To pass the time between naps, I’ve been working on my Solstice cards.  This is my one holiday indulgence—making my own cards and sending them out to about 70 people.  Old friends, new friends, people I admire, people I love—the list changes every year, which makes it so much fun.

Over the years of doing mixed-media artwork, I’ve found some incredible supplies.  As I worked on my cards yesterday, I was struck grateful by two of them.  Be Creative® Tape is acid-free, double-sided, heat-resistant and the strongest thing I’ve ever seen.  Quietfire Design stocks several widths, but I’m particularly grateful for the 3mm (shown in the photo).  This is the perfect size to adhere a single line of type.  Since I love cutting captions out of magazines and using them in offensive and inappropriate ways, finding this size tape made being naughty so much easier.

This 3mm size is also perfect for adhering ColorKissedSingles‘ hand-dyed silk cords.  I’ve shown Old Pennies, Tutti-Frutti and Lost Island in the photo, but I must have at least three-dozen different cords.  They are luscious, blended colors, some bright, some muted, perfect for layering with other fibers and ribbons.  I love layers.  And I love teeny things.  So these dainty strings of color make my mouth water and spur my creativity.

I found ColorKissedSingles on Etsy while setting up my own shop.  Their stock changes all the time (as hand-made items are wont to do), so I’ve learned not to get too attached to a particular item.  Woe was me when I couldn’t get the cord or silk ribbon I wanted for my cards!  But I found substitutes easy enough.  And Canadian-based Quietfire Designs is a full-range, mixed-media arts supply shop, so if I need something funkier than Archivers or Hobby Lobby, they’re my go-to supplier.  So, while I’m oh-so grateful for the tape and cords, I’m even more thankful for Suzanne at Quietfire and Tammy and Dan at ColorKissedSingles—lovely people passionate about helping the rest of us do gorgeous work.

If I just stop to think about it, I have so very much to be grateful for.

Memory and the Bipolar Showcase

Drew Carey, Price is RightAfter a week of fast and furious rapid cycling, I’ve made a new discovery.  Finding these little jackpots at the end of the game makes playing almost worthwhile.  At least I don’t have to leave the studio audience completely empty-handed.

My consolation prize this time was seeing how the illness affects memory and, in turn, how that affects suffering.

The first layer of this memory game is realizing that I forget what it’s like to be manic or depressed when I’m not in those states.  Maybe it’s like when women forget how painful labor is—the mind wants to gloss it over so they don’t live in fear of the next time.  But I think something else is happening, too.  I believe the extremes of depression and mania are altered states of consciousness.  The brain is altered chemically.  Thought processes and perception are altered.  When a person learns new material in an altered state, that material can’t be retrieved until the person is back in the altered state.  This is called state-dependent learning.

So any ah-ha moments I have while I’m cycling, any new tools I put in place, any comforting words of wisdom I hear from my therapist or friends get locked away behind Door Number Two until the next time.  Also, I forget what the symptoms are, how they manifest and what course the episodes take until I’m back there again.

The flip side of state-dependent learning is that when I cycle I forget what I’ve learned in a stable state.  I’m blank when I try to think of what I wanted to do differently this time.  I don’t call my friends for help because I’ve forgotten that’s what I’m supposed to do.  I forget that I just bought groceries (in a stable state) and go get more.

But aside from state-dependent learning, the stress of cycling wipes out my short-term memory.  I forget appointments.  Even if I write them down, I forget to look at my datebook.  Last week I needed to drive my mom to a doctor’s appointment.  I had Post-it notes on my computer, my bathroom mirror, and in my car so I wouldn’t forget.  As we got out of the pool one day, my friend offered me some of her fresh tomatoes.  By the time I reached the locker room, I’d forgotten what she said.

Stress focuses the attention on the immediate.  Only the details necessary for survival get any brain time.  If actions and thoughts aren’t part of a deeply-grooved routine, they get jettisoned.  Even some of those go if it takes too much effort.  I have to think that’s what happened when I forgot about my meditation group last week.  I’ve been co-facilitating the group for nine months now, but I was in such a high state of crisis, my brain dumped it.

I know lots of people my age start experiencing memory slips—names, dates, a particular word.  It’s part of getting older.  But when I’m stable, these memory storms don’t happen.  I know the difference.  At least I do now.  I probably won’t when I start cycling again.

What seems clear is that journaling and posting visual reminders are key to reducing the stress and panic all this forgetting causes.  I go back to my journals all the time to see what happened, how I felt, what I did.  Now I need to add a Memory Board.  I have a blank bedroom door that will serve.  I’ll tack up phone numbers of the friends I should call, reminders from my therapist, new things to try.  I’ll be able to send messages from one state to another—Dear Manic Girl, Remember to slow down or you’ll crack your hip on the desk again.  Dear Depressed Girl, Remember that eating a whole bag of Veggie Straws will give you a gut ache.

The biggest benefit of a Memory Board will be the reminder that I Forget.  When the cycling starts, I forget that I forget.  As Winston Churchill said, “…it is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”  But maybe this riddle has an entryway.  Maybe I can find one if I keep working at it.

Wayne, I’ll take Door Number Three…


A Head-Scratcher

handmade greeting card, collage art

♦ ♦ ♦

I don’t have the words.

This is not a problem that often comes up for me.  Lucid, delusional, manic or morbid, I can generally put words to the experience.  Not this time.

I’m not in exactly the same state as before I went to the hospital, but I’m not far from it.  The stressors that sent me scrambling for help are still in place and still unresolvable.  Tried and true tools for getting back on the Bipolar Bad-Ass track don’t work any more (or at least aren’t working now).  Instead, older, unhealthy coping mechanisms are in play, and I drift through the day in exhausted apathy.  Or my frequent blasts of anger turn me into someone I don’t recognize—defensive, bitter, paranoid, hateful.

I’m stumped.  I don’t have a map for this place.  I feel like I’m not asking the right questions or turning my face in the wrong direction.

By the time I got into the Partial Hospital Program (PHP), I’d decided solitude was the best option for me.  My people skills had deteriorated to utter confusion.  I was lonely, but the dangers and disappointments in connecting with others were too high a price.  I knew this wasn’t the healthiest choice, but I couldn’t see a way around it.

In PHP, we talked about relationships, boundaries and community.  My resolution to keep people at a distance had to be reconsidered.  The counselors said the five people you spend the most time with are who you end up becoming.  They asked us to look at who we hang out with, if they were our role models, and if not to think about who we would like to become.

I took that to heart when I came home and reached out to people I admire.  Every day I spend time with those lovely friends, or talk to them, or arrange dates for another time.  It’s incredibly hard work.

But the PHP staff was right.  My heroes lift me up.  They mirror my best back at me.  Their light and laughter part the clouds in a truly biblical way.  Still, there’s trauma in shaking loose of the folks I don’t want to become—the glass-half-empty folks.  I’m just trying to spend more time with my heroes, not reject the others.

I don’t know how to do this, either.  I’m fumbling around in the dark, banging my shin on the furniture and stepping on the cats.  Worst yet, I don’t have the words to frame this weird, new place.  I’m called to be patient, to keep moving through alien terrain until I learn the language, until I can decipher the code.  I’m uncomfortable, and frightened and angry.  But I must try to wait.  Just wait.

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