30 Days of Sandy Sue Altered: 30

Like, Totally Cosmic, Man

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Hitched to Everything

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Mysic Hero

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The Real Thing

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Two Lovers

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Zora Neale Hurston

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Blessed Force

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Sagittarius Creature

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Thus ends my self-aggrandizing blog challenge.  Thanks for helping me dust off some older creations in computer-file limbo and giving them a little stage-time.

On with the Adventure…

An Experiment in Justice

IsisMost of the time, attending the First Unitarian Church in Des Moines is a joyful experience for me.  I’m fed by the music, the ethics of the community, the wisdom and passion of the ministers.  I feel at home there.

But, because it is an Unitarian community, social justice is a big part of the zeitgeist.  We are called to wake up and “stay woke” to the inequity of our justice and prison systems, to the destruction of black bodies.  Sermons, like Erin Gingrich’s message a few weeks ago, Black Lives Matter, gnaw at my comfort.  Adult education classes include discussion groups about books like Jennifer Harvey’s Dear White Christians and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.  Affirmed Justice small groups meet to plan how to incorporate Restorative Justice into our schools and courts.

I’m proud to be part of this vibrant, caring community.  I just can’t figure out where I fit.

comptonYesterday, after a particularly fiery sermon, I left with a plan.  I would go see Straight Outta Compton, the movie about the first gangsta rap group, NWA. Rap music scares me.  The language, the violence, the rage—they all scare me.  But, I know all of it is someone’s real, lived, experience.  I thought, I can do this.  I can watch this movie with curious compassion and be mindful of my fear.  I can do this.

I had read in the church bulletin that next Sunday would be the Blending of the Waters ritual.  Congregants bring water from a significant source, talk about what it symbolizes, and pour it into a common bowl.  It’s a way to acknowledge the gifts we all bring to the community.

So, when I got my popcorn and diet Coke for the movie, I filled the cup to the top with ice.  This would be my offering to the bowl next Sunday, this ice that would hold my fear and my courage.

I came out of the movie shell-shocked, over-run by the full range of my bipolarness.  I drove home crying, raging, and ultimately locked-down.  I sedated myself and went to bed, hoping for clarity in the morning.

And, by gum, that’s what I found.

My feelings of ineptness and desperation around social justice mirror my old feelings about work and being a productive member of society.  I had to keep trying to go back to work until I learned that my mental illness took that ability.  The stress of working is now a trigger.

Now I know that the stress of being an activist, of even considering being an activist, is also a trigger.  I can’t keep the pain, injustice and rage outside of me.  My boundaries aren’t that strong.

Knowing one’s triggers is important information for anyone with mental illness.  Self-knowledge and insight are vital tools.  Going to this movie set me free in many ways.  It gave me a new sense of clarity and purpose.  I will never be on the front lines with those in my church fighting for social justice, but I will be right behind them armed with my own kind of courage.

That’s what I intend to say next Sunday when I pour my melted-ice water into the community bowl.

The Hot Itch

Say Hi to the PopeLast week I met my new primary care provider.  I’ve been searching for a doc for a couple of years since the Best Doctor in the Whole World retired.  I try not to hold everyone to his standard.  I got spoiled.

So, everyone who’s anyone has recommended this OB/GYN nurse practitioner.  Great, I thought.  I was a nurse.  We can relate.

And, indeed, she was vivacious, and friendly, and practical (gotta love that).  Then, we took a sharp turn into The Twilight Zone.

I would characterize this NP as an evangelical Christian, which would normally be a non-issue for me.  As a self-proclaimed mystical atheist, I’m always interested in what other people believe.  I told her that.  She laughed and said she wouldn’t try to convert me.  I laughed and said it wasn’t possible.

So, with that bit of self-disclosure out of the way, she asked if I ever had thoughts of harming myself.  I gave my standard Psych History answer—”I tried to kill myself once.  I still have suicidal thoughts, but I recognize them as symptoms and a signal to get help.”

She said, “We all have bad thoughts, and most people go through some period of depression.”

(Okay, I thought.  She’s not a psychiatric nurse practitioner.  She may not know the difference between clinical and situational depression.  Just go with it.)

“Where do those bad thoughts come from?” she asked (rhetorically).  “If you believe in God, then you have to believe in the Devil…”

I must have gotten a LOOK on my face, because she stuttered to a stop and started talking about vaginal health.  Was I imagining things, or was this educated, medical professional about to tell me mental illness was caused by the Devil?  I was so shocked, I don’t remember what else she said, just that we wrapped it up pretty quick, and I was shuffling to my car in a daze.

The daze turned to anger before I left the parking lot.  Are we in the Middle Ages, I fumed.  What was next?  Burning at the stake?  Dousing?

Rage fueled a deep hopelessness.  I missed my old doctor.  Did I have to choose between the cold, condescending woman who took over his practice or this kind-hearted religioso?  Did I have to start the search all over again?

I met with my meditation group later in the day and felt righteous satisfaction in their outrage as I told the story.  It’s a hot itch, indignation.  It gets under the skin and festers.

AbsinthineSo, as we sat together in silence, I took a step back from what I was feeling.  I called up the part of me that observes my thrashing around with gentle curiosity.  What happened?

I saw that I’m not as tolerant as I like to believe.  I don’t like people pushing their religion at me.  I don’t like the blank stares when I say I’m an atheist.  As the pastor at the First Unitarian Church in Des Moines said on Sunday, I’m more than willing to share my faith with people who are genuinely interested, curious and open-minded.  But, that happens rarely.  It’s just easier to keep my mouth shut.

What does it matter anyway?  I tried to look a little deeper.

My ego hates to be misunderstood.  It hates to be dismissed or categorized.  And it really hates to be discredited.  I’m proud of how hard I’ve worked to regain some functioning in the world.  Proud.

Ah.

I looked at my choices again.  Cold, Condescending Beeyatch or Evangelist?  I tried CCB the last time I got bronchitis, so I knew what to expect.  I had a feeling the Evangelist would be kind and thorough.  I suspected she would take very good care of my body.  And that’s what I needed her to do.  I might have to set some boundaries.  If I could nudge my ego aside, there might even be A Teaching Moment.

Coming home from meditation with my friends, I turned up the music and sang down the highway.  The ego is a stubborn little cuss.  Mine can be paranoid and hysterical if the mood is right.  Anything can offend it, and it defends itself with teeth and claws.  But, like a mediocre poker player, it has a tell—that hot itch of indignation.  When I feel that under my skin, I know it’s time to back up and look again.

I’m glad for that signal, and I’m glad I know what to do with it.

Thanks, Ego-Girl.  Keep raging.

 

 

Signs

Seems to be a MysticThe UU service in Des Moines this morning sounded interesting—a teen talking about trans-gender issues.  I’d missed the last couple of Sundays, so my intent last night was to shake off the bipolar ennui enough to get there today.  I was a little late, so grabbed a frappuccino out of the cooler at the gas station instead of standing in line at Starbucks.  But it was snowing, and slushy, and the roads hadn’t been cleared well.  On the road, I debated whether to keep going or turn back and watch the rest of Season One of Hannibal instead (I’m preparing for next season when Richard Armitage joins the cast—yaay!).

As I pondered, I shook my frappuccino.  The lid flew off, and sugared coffee doused me, my windshield, and everything else with me (purse, dash, floor).  Dumbstruck, then laughing, I grabbed at Kleenex and mopped my face.

“Okay, okay, I’ll turn around!”

After scrubbing out the car (sticky, but what a yummy smell!), washing my coat, purse, book bag in the tub, and sticking my head under the faucet to get the coffee-sugar out of my hair, I watched the snow plows rumble by.  That’s okay.  Sometimes I do have to get hit over the head to get the message.  Or, at least, splashed in the face.

Are you ready, Dr. Lecter?

spilled coffee

SoulCollage®

SC-Bipolar

Bipolar Disorder: I am One who has an altered mind.

For about a month, I’ve driven to Des Moines on Sundays to attend the Unitarian Church there.  I love the facility—an eco-friendly building nestled in the woods with a wooden footbridge from the parking lot that crosses a burbling stream.  Every week, I’ve met interesting, like-minded people with amazing stories to tell.  The messages are uplifting, and I get to sing. I feel very welcome and comfortable there.

But, the biggest surprise was the load of activities and classes that the community offers.  This one caught my attention immediately:

SOULCOLLAGE®
Wednesdays, 7 – 8:30 pm
11/12, 11/19, 12/3 & 12/10

SoulCollage® is a creative process in which we make our own deck of collaged cards for the purpose of self exploration and self acceptance. Images are intuitively selected and cards are created in a manner that accesses your deeper self and facilitates a journey to wholeness. Created by Seena Frost, SoulCollage® allows you to create a deck that is the “Story of You.” This is a fun, intuitive process that requires no artistic experience but allows every one to becomes their own artist. The four-week class will include information about SoulCollage®, making of the cards, and working with the cards to understand their meaning. 

I couldn’t imagine a class more tailor-made for me!  I had to go.

I loved it from the moment I walked into the room.  Native American drum music in the background, chairs set in a circle, simple instructions.

Don’t think.  Pick three images that either attract or repulse you.

There were hundreds of images culled from magazines and who-knew-where-else laid out on tables.  We silently walked around, looking at them all, then took the ones that called to us.  I consciously kept my brain from rushing ahead to what it might mean, what I would collage with it, blahblahblah.  The point was to follow our intuition.

SC-Captive

The Captive: I am One who is blind to the assistance in front of me.

The way we introduced ourselves to the class was to pick one of the images and speak from it, starting with “I am One who…”  This image would be the base for our first card, a part of our selves that made its presence known.

Since I was a little manic at the time, I immersed myself in the process, sent away for the book and supplies (dang cheap, I may add), and started making cards at home.  I’ve been collecting images my whole life with no idea what to do with them except keep them safe.  A lot of the images I use in my collage and mixed-media art, but many are too weird or personal to be appropriate for pieces meant to appeal to others.  So, I pulled out my huge stash of images to see if any of them spoke to me the SoulCollage® way.  The clouds parted.  Angels sang.

This process is a little like making your own personal Tarot deck.  There are Suits as in Tarot, but these Suits are a bit different.  The Committee Suit are cards that depict parts of one’s personality, while the Community Suit picture actual people, places, pets, significant events in one’s life.  The Companion Suit is comprised of animal guides connected to the seven chakras, and the Council Suit collects the archetypal energies (much like the Major Arcana in Tarot).  This is Play that could last a lifetime.

Our class didn’t meet this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, but our facilitator invited us to a card-making gathering she was having at her office on Friday (Not surprisingly, Maureen is a psychotherapist specializing in PTSD).  I went, bringing some of my images and using some of hers.  I love the silence of doing the work, then the community aspect when we speak from the cards and process what they mean for us.  I fully intend to participate in any workshops Maureen holds, especially the one on The Companion Suit.  It seems like a little guidance and meditation might be in order to “find” these special animal guides.

The Observer: I am One who sees Reality without judgement.

I love turning off my brain and just letting the cards form.  I never know what’s going to happen or what images will demand to be put together.  It’s alchemy.  And deep Play.  And manic or not, I love it.  Because it’s an adventure, and I’m all about that.

Holding Tension

handmade greeting cards, collage art, Leonard NimoyI hardly know how to function in this quiet place.

For the last couple of weeks, there’s been no drama, no hysterics, no uncontrollable urges.  I get up and go about my day, paying attention to what I eat, making sure I work out morning and evening, working on my manuscript.  I volunteered to be on the program committee for our UU fellowship, so I’m thinking about what our group wants in the way of spiritual substance.  I show up at the meditation groups I host and listen to what teachings might be called forward.  I touch base with my friends.

Anxiety still rises at times.  My Bad-Ass Training kicks in and, for now, it’s enough to keep me from spiraling.  Yesterday, I sat at the Hy Vee cafe in the light of the big windows with my iPod crooning in my ears.  The urge to bolt came on strong—Get Out! Go to Des Moines!  I wrote about it in my journal, then went out into the grocery store for Veggie Sticks (think healthy Cheetos) and a couple of movies from the Redbox.  I spent $10 instead of $60 and stayed home.  I felt like a warrior.

I tell the folks in meditation that developing consciousness is about holding tension—doing something that’s a little uncomfortable because it’s the right thing to do, then doing it again and again.  Soon our capacity for doing what’s difficult grows.  When my illness is quiet, I can practice what I preach.

Well, that’s not exactly true.  I hold tension most of the time, but when I’m ill, my capacity is very small.   And if there’s too much tension, my illness snaps like a rubber band in reaction.  That’s a learning, too, to be aware of that point of no return.  So, in this quieter place, it’s a little scary to challenge those urges to give up, eat, run, spend, relax or whatever my ego might prefer.  After months of being very gentle with myself, I’m not used to pushing hard.

So, today, again, I get up and go about my day—watching, testing and holding a little more tension.

Because I can.

Because I’m on an Adventure.

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.

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.

Collecting Body Parts

Zombies are the current monster du jour (sorry, Twilight fans).  From what I can remember, their last heyday was in the ’70’s when George Romero put out Night of the Living Dead.  Oh, and then there was Thriller in the early ’80’s.  Now they’re all over the place again—on TV, in new movies, the subject of horror fiction.  I  never liked zombies—too messy and too dumb to be scintillating bad guys—but I’m developing a little empathy for the moldy creatures.

Lately, I feel like I’ve been collecting body parts that fell off when bipolar disorder radically changed my life.  Like a year-end clearance sale, everything had to go.  Skills, interests, possessions, and people all sloughed off to leave the bare-bones of survival.  Now as I try to piece together a new life out of the ruins, some of those bits may come in handy (so to speak).

But, I’m not a Mr. Potato Head.  The parts don’t snap back into place.  Like other reanimated creatures, I find there’s been a lot of damage (rot, gnawing—you know…).  There’s also the memory of what those parts felt like incorporated into the whole in contrast to how they function now.  It’s an unsettling juxtaposition.

Case in point.  Today I was to lead the meditation at the Unitarian Universalists meeting.  That information didn’t get to the folks who had volunteered to run the service.  They already had the mediation planned, which was fine with me.  No big deal, no attachment.  But then, they handed me the sign-up sheet for future programs, and without thinking too much about it, I volunteered to lead a full service in May.

It wasn’t until the meeting was underway that I remembered my illness had chopped off that particular body part.  Once I led a service two or three times a month.  Then, I lost the ability to be consistent and follow through.  Anxiety and social phobia got in the way.  And depression overwhelmed the rest.

But, I didn’t scratch my name off the list for May.  I don’t know if this piece is going to fit again, but it feels important to at least pick it up and look at it.  The UU services are simple, the people accepting and generous.  Meditation and teaching meditation is a part of me that survived my zombification, so that piece is whole and functional.  I figure my chances of pulling this off are better than 50/50.

And like all the other pieces of my “old life” I’ve been scavenging, if it doesn’t fit anymore (or yet), then I’ll set it back down without regret or drama.  I’m getting used to trying on these old body parts and giving them a whirl to see if the stitches hold.  They are heavy, and sometimes the weight of them is too much.  But, sometimes they reanimate in a whole new way.

George Romero would be proud.

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