Waiting for Paint to Dry

Bedroom Paint1Today is Paint The Bedroom Day.  The first coat is on the walls and ceiling (although am seriously still thinking about the spanlux.be stretch one to install), – so I’m freshly laundered and off to The Brew House to eat, rest and journal.

ETA for the second coat—1:30.

Henry7:16Henry is showing his age today.  He only banged on the door to get in a few times.  In his youth, this Alpha Tom would have hammered the door as long as it took for me to remove said barrier.   But, like most old guys, he’s more interested in going back to his post-breakfast, mid-morning nap.

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If Wishes Were Bathtubs…

… Then Dreamers Would Soak.

⊂ ⊃

bathtub Chris

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Today was my last day in IPR (Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation).  For the past year, I’ve been working towards the goal of living successfully in my current home and making changes that will help sustain me and my mental health.  Through IPR, I dreamed, made lists, researched, planned, strategized, and started putting my Master Plan into action.

Henry in Old TubOne thing about my apartment I wanted to change was the bath tub.  Since I live in a government-subsidized apartment, I never for a moment thought that was possible.  I considered myself lucky to have running water.  But, since IPR is all about dreaming, I put it on my list.  How nice it would be to have a tub I actually fit into instead of a freakishly narrow trough with sliding doors that rolled open on their own while I showered.  When the poltergeist doors stayed shut, my XL body sported bruises from snagging on sharp edges.

Hot baths with scented oils or salts used to be a staple in my mental health tool box.  A long soak with relaxing music, a glass of wine, a candle—the ritual calmed my brain and soothed my soul.  To compensate, I learned to meditate in the hot tub at the Y after swimming.  Close, but no cigar.

Emboldened by IPR, I asked the apartment manager last winter if it was possible to get a bigger tub if my family helped me pay the cost.  She didn’t immediately say no.  “No one’s ever asked for anything like that,” she said.  “I’ll check with management.”

New TubWithin a few days, she called me to say she and the property’s maintenance man would get bids from contractors.  What?  I smelled lavender in my future!

Several months passed, but eventually we found a reputable plumber who gave a reasonable offer.  Last week, he and his carpenter buddy took a sawzall to the old tub and replaced it with a heavenly soaking tub.  The cats and I holed up in the bedroom for two days while they worked, the cats hiding under the bed while I made a shopping list for Bed, Bath and Beyond.

After the contractors left, it was my turn to go to work.  With raw drywall around the new surround, I needed to prime and paint.  And if I had to paint, I wanted make it count.

bagua-map-rectangleFirst I consulted my Feng Shui book, Wind and Water by Carole Hyder.  I love Feng Shui.  I don’t know if it works, but it’s one way to organize a home, a way to bring intention to areas of one’s life that need a boost.  It helps me remember important things like the Helpful People in my life and to foster gratitude.  Feng Shui feels clean and uncluttered.  It pays tribute to the natural world and our place in it.  I like to do what I can to align with the flow of chi in my little space.

Most of my bathroom sits in the Wisdom, Self-Knowledge and Rest section, which seems right and proper.  But parts of it overlap into the Career, Health and Family areas.  What I wanted most in my bathroom was harmony and peace, so it felt right to acknowledge those other areas in my color scheme.

       blueGraygreen

New Tub2At our local paint store, I chose Fantasy Blue for the Wisdom area, Pale Smoke to acknowledge the black element in the Career area, and Nob Hill Sage for the long wall that overlapped the Family area.  Since my little pantry closet sits in the Health area, I’ll find a nice buttery yellow for that later (One project at time).  Armed with chi-enhancing colors, my step-ladder and some masking tape, I set to work over the Fourth of July weekend.

GreenBlue WallsFor those of you who are homeowners, this stuff is old hat—drywall, paint, hand tools.  I remember.  I used to be one of you.  But, for those of us who rent or have little control over the aesthetics of our environment, this kind of freedom is rare and sweet.  With every stroke of the brush, I thought, “I chose this color.”  And I couldn’t quite believe it.

As I hauled myself up and down the ladder or on and off the floor, I felt the room becoming mine.  I felt it welcoming me and the cats.  I felt the peace and harmony I so longed for settle into place.  After three days of work, I was exhausted and hobbling, but I knew I’d done what I set out to do.  We had our sanctuary.

Cat Station HighAfter we revel in this success for a while, I’ll move on to the next project on my IPR list.  Because if wishes were horses, I’d be riding high.  For now, this dreamer plans to soak.

Pulling the Plug

I am What I amAfter my session with Luke Skywalker yesterday morning, I decided it was time to call it quits on my stint as a Peer Support Specialist.  I’m quite proud of myself for hanging in as long as I did, and for staying relatively stable through the stress and uncertainty.  I learned a lot about what I need and what I will tolerate.  But, I have bronchitis now, and that means being sick for at least a month.  I was waiting for something to tip the balance on whether to stay or go, and this is it.

The part of me that thinks in black and white wants to consider this a failure, but I’m not having any of that.  I may be returning to a less stressful life, but I’m not the same person I was when this whole job journey started.  I’m more flexible and resilient than I was.  I bring all that back with me.  And, who knows?  There still might be a job out there for me.  But, first, there’s bed and Kleenex.

The Magic of Showing Up

Collage art, Greeting cardsI figured flying to England and back would give me a cold.  And I thought the spotty sleep over there mixed with the inevitable drop in adrenaline might bring on depression.  Check and Check.  What I really hoped for, though, was magic.  Alas, no.

I hoped a break from this weird job I started in July might help me see a clear path.  Stay or Go?  Jump in with both feet and start setting up mental wellness support groups?  Or resign and look for a position with less chaos, less pressure, less ambiguity?  You’d think leaving the freaking country might shift one’s perspective, throw a little light into the shadows, turn the fire up under the subconscious, but no.  I’m still sitting just as squarely on the fence, the pros and cons equally balanced.  I’m still in this Neither/Nor space—not able to fully commit, but not able to back away.

Sick and depressed, the impulse is to quit, crawl back into my safe, old life and nurse myself back to health.  But, I don’t know if going back is the answer.  I’ve spent the last two months pushing my Distress Tolerance envelope, and now I have this new space around me.  When the impulse says, “Run!” I can actually take a step back from it and answer, “Wait.”  And when I do that, the emotion and the thoughts settle down, and I simply show up for whatever is in front of me.  Sure, I could take this skill back to my old life, but I’ve had a taste of more.  I can have more if I just wait and stay present.

Yesterday, I felt too funky, physically and mentally, to meet my friend, but I also knew it would be good for me to get out of the apartment and into the sunshine.  So, I went.  Allison and I get together to write, which is always good, and to connect, which is even better.  We sat in our booth, doing our thing, aware of the noise in the booth behind us—two very young mothers with their combined litter of small children eating lunch—when it suddenly got very quiet.  We had heard the bonk of a little head hitting something hard and anticipated the bawl that would follow.  We both turned and saw that the baby was choking.

Allison asked the mother if she needed help, and she rushed the toddler to our booth.  I picked him up without thinking, and started doing the Heimlich.  One.  Two.  Three.  Four.  Out flew a wad of chewed food.  And he started crying.

The mother grabbed him and the whole crew went back to their booth.

I looked at the baby crying in his mother’s arms.  I looked at Allison.  She looked at me.

“I’m glad I showed up today,” I told her.

I believe in synchronisity and looking for lessons in the moment.  But, this was a little much.  My legs felt like jelly as I walked to my car.

Just Show Up.

Well, I asked for magic, didn’t I?

 

“Muddle, Muddle, Soil and Scrubble”

shocked will

“By the ticking of my gums! Yon convicted speaks in tongues!”

This reads like Shakespeare to me.  Just an example of how my brain is functioning these days.

It’s a comprehensive mixed bag, this version of my life.  Enormous gifts and luxury garbled with great loss strangled by stress and cracked open by success.  I don’t have a map for this place.  I don’t know the language.  I’ve given up looking too closely at it because it just makes me pukey.

What I’ve decided to do is just stand still.  If I’m giddy in the morning and too depressed to move by lunchtime, I try to just be that.  If I touch a client in some way or receive a compliment, I try to just feel it.  If I get into my mom’s car and weep when I find one of her nail files (she had millions), I sit with myself through the wave of grief.  If I try to eat a whole pizza for supper and end up getting sick, I listen for the fear that wants to be buried under food.  If I feel a glut of old trauma pushing at me when I work with Ben (because he’s a boy, and I’ve had trouble with boys who “help”), I let it come.

It’s too hard otherwise.  Too violent.  Too disrespectful.

I’m worthy of kindness and attention.  I deserve to be considered.  I don’t have to be anything other than me in this moment.

This lesson is not easy to learn.

Which is why I keep getting the chance to try.

Maybe when I get on the other side of this uncharted, alien landscape I’ll have a better idea of what it was.

Or not.

It really doesn’t matter.

This is what matters.

I’m what matters.

The Other Shoe

It was inevitable.  Stress + Bipolar Disorder = Bipolar Disorder.

Also a Dark SideI flopped around all yesterday morning, hoping this dive might even out before it was time to go in to work, but, alas, no.  So, I Instant Messaged my boss and a couple of my co-workers, and tried not to feel like a dip-shit on top of the bipolar mess.

It’s still really hard for me to believe that a workplace—any workplace—will put up with my limitations as an employee.  On top of what we’ve already negotiated, I have these days—these unpredictable absences.  They’re why I’ve lost or quit every other job I’ve ever had.  But, so far, everyone seems very cool about it.  More than that, all the responses have been incredibly kind and supportive.

Don’t worry.  Take care of yourself.  Sending Light and Healing.

I honestly don’t know what to do with that.  It’s a completely new experience for me.  And I’m afraid to trust it.

I’m also in a deep dive, so whatever my brain is churning out is unreliable.  My best course is to ignore all thought happening up there and concentrate on clearing an easy path through the weekend.

ITS FamilyPart of that will be to indulge in a little Richard Armitage.  His new movie “Into the Storm” is out this weekend.  It’s basically a horror movie with a killer tornado as the monster.  It’s special effects-driven—bad news for an actual story or interesting characters.  Oh, well.  It’s Richard.  And when I meet him in London (because I will wait at the stage door with the rest of the Armitage Army), I can tell him his Midwestern accent was spot-on.

I’m also going to Anytime Fitness since the Y is closed for cleaning.  Losing my pool for a whole week always throws me, so I knew I needed a real option this year.  They’ve got a nice recumbent bike, and I’ve got my iPod.  It will work.

I also started working on new cards with the old photos I found at my parents’ house.  I haven’t felt like doing art for a long time, but I know how it can help keep keep my brain busy on something positive.  I will make myself sit at my art table.  Something will come of it.

So, there’s A Plan.  And there’s Acceptance.  And there’s Waiting.

And that’s the best a bipolar girl can do when it’s raining shoes.

A Reluctant Rock-Star

Miss RockstarThese past four weeks have taught me a few things about work and me in a post-electroshock, ongoing-recovery age.

First, I need a steady schedule.  Routine is my best friend.  Without it I become crazy batter waiting for a nice oven to turn me into cupcakes.

Second, I need a place to use my skills.  I do have some and like to trot them out on occasion, if only to remind myself what they are.

Third, I’m pretty good at handling a crisis, but it takes a toll on me.  There’s a reason I never worked in an emergency room or intensive care.  Some people thrive on that adrenaline rush.  Me, it just makes hysterical.

So as I tallied up the week’s events at work, I noticed a disturbing trend.  My schedule resumed its rubber ball act, trying to land on all the meetings we’re forced to attend.  I spent most of my time making cold-calls to crazy people who really didn’t want what I was selling.  And everyday brought some kind of client crisis.

I knew it was a risk to campaign for a job that no one could describe.  I had no idea what I was getting into, but I was willing to wait and see what happened.  After sticking it out for a month, I decided it was time to pull the plug.  I typed up a resignation letter and gave it to my boss today.

I felt good about it.  Four weeks working in chaos and on a learning curve like the Himalayas felt like success to me.  I hadn’t blown up in a bipolar blitz.  I even contributed.  I could leave gracefully, without torching any bridges.  I looked forward to recovering from the stress and getting back to TechCon.  I’d left Carrie and Robert alone for too long.

But my boss had other ideas.  She simply refused to accept my resignation.  I can’t remember all the incredible things she said about me, but it was clear she would do anything to make me stay.  I needed a set schedule?  Done.  Never mind that the government says some meetings are mandatory.  “I will take care of it,” she said, “because this is what you need.”

I don’t like making the enrollment calls?  Forget about them.  I’m uncomfortable dealing with clients in crisis?  Let the Care Coordinators do that.  So, what the heck would I be doing?

I’m to be a consultant for the rest of the team and maybe, if I feel like it, work with a few clients each week.

Are you shittin‘ me?

What do you do when someone values you so much they take away every obstacle?

Jeez, I guess you stay.

Stronger and More Frayed

Vistas of BewildermentMiraculously, I’ve finished another week of work.  My life is both easier and harder.  Holding this paradox seems to be the Work set before me.

Easier:  Mom left me her 2011 Honda CRV, a car with features and comforts I never thought I’d have again.  I can hardly believe it’s mine.  After scraping a few dollars off the top of my disability check each month to save for a Smart Car, this thing of luxury dropped into my lap (or parking lot).  The first time I filled the gas tank, I cried.  It cost about half of what it took to fill my dad’s truck.

When Mom bought the car after Dad died, she said to me, “You know you’ll probably get this soon.”  It was just one of hundreds of references she made to her own death (It’s that thing old people do—”I won’t be around much longer, so you better…”).  I didn’t pay much attention.  I was glad she had a zippy little car that she loved.  Driving made her feel safe and in control.  I absolutely understand that.

Harder:  My schedule at work is all over the place—mornings, afternoons, mid-day.  I’ve told my supervisor that I need consistency.  I need time for my own self-care, and I need to be able to depend on it.  I’ve tried to hold my fifteen hours a week to afternoons, but this week was the worst so far.  And it’s all to make sure I attend an endless parade of mind-numbing meetings.  Some of them have been important—orientation to the organization, introductions to other agencies working with us, procedure—but most are irrelevant to my position.  Our boss wants us all to be cross-trained.  Part of that, I think, comes from not knowing what our jobs really are yet.  But the more of these meeting I go to, the more I can see what’s mine and what’s not mine to own.

Easier:   My boss relented on the meetings.  She created a buddy system, so my buddy will let me know if I miss anything important.  That allowed me to take charge of my own schedule.  I’m working 1:30-4:30 every day starting next week.  Good for me, but also good for the team.  Now they know when I’ll be available for client interviews and care conferences (what I should be doing).

Harder:  I had built up a reservoir of stability with my routine and daily monitoring.  That’s used up.  Everyday is a fight to turn my fear and negativity around.  Everyday I feel myself sliding toward lethargy and old habits.  I’m hypersensitive and my concentration is fragmenting.  I can still see it happening.  I can still pause, breathe, and choose not to react, but I’m getting so tired.

Yesterday I had to leave a meeting.  The woman leading it was one of those people who starts a sentence, restarts it, jumps to another topic, restarts that sentence and never gets to the point.  I know a couple of people like this.  They drive me ape-shit.  It’s a neurological thing—my nerves want to grab them by the throat.

Luckily, it was the end of my day, and I ran to the Chinese restaurant to eat lunch, listen to my iPod and journal.  It helped, but I’m not getting back to my set point like I used to.  I’m not able to repair the damage each day all this stress creates.  It’s only a matter of time before I really blow.

Easier:  Our parents left us some money.  It’s not enough to live on the rest of my life, but it will give me some breathing room.  I can do my laundry every week.  I can get some work clothes.  I can even plan a trip to the Southwest this winter to see if more sun and open space will keep me from needing hospital-level care come spring.  Poverty has been the biggest stressor in my life.  Mom and Dad knew that.  They planned their last act of love carefully to ease that for me.  I’m so grateful.

No matter what happens, no matter how the easy and the hard continue to play against each other, I am a success.  I have gone to work every day for three weeks.  That’s a miracle.  Walking through the office door is a miracle.  Waking up and doing it again is a miracle.  Even if it all stops today, I’ve triumphed.  No one can take that away from me.  It’s all mine.

Man, I freakin’ rock.

Tempest in a Teacup

Don't Know BeansHere I am, finishing up my second week of work.

The stress is enormous, not just for me, but for everyone trying to learn this new program and making up the next steps as they are needed.  The real challenge for me is to moderate the anxiety and pressure.  Under stress, I’m easily overwhelmed.  I’m like a teacup that flattens, slopping out my ability to concentrate and my emotional flexibility.  I lose capacity.

I also become reactive, and my first instinct is to bolt.  I run from the stressor, fling it off and dive into a hide-hole.  So, the words “I can’t do this” fly in and out of my head regularly.

But part of my personal journey is to work on increasing my tolerance to distress.  If I’m ever to make any lasting changes in my behavior and my life, I need to work this work situation like a puzzle.  What do I need to do to stretch my envelope of tolerance?  As always, I created a plan.

The first piece is to breathe.  It’s my starting point.  When the acronyms start flying and I can feel my body vibrating like a tuning fork, I stop and breathe deep into my belly.  It tells me to come back to myself.  It starts the process of flinging off the assumptions and negativity.  Breathing deep, I can remember why I’m doing this.  I can remember I don’t need to understand.  I can remember that I’m not alone.

I also realized that creating more structure would help soothe the anxiety, so I put an After Work plan in place.  I go straight home, change, and go to the Y to ride the recumbent bike for an hour.  That helps burn off some of the adrenaline and agitation.  Then, I journal with a cup of something soothing.  Then, I meditate.  After that, I’m rational enough to eat a sensible supper.  This helps.  Instead of bingeing all night with a movie, I’m taking positive action to stretch my tolerance.

And it seems to be working.  I may be an emotional puddle by the time I leave the office, but by the next morning my teacup is upright and able to hold water.

This is new behavior for me.  It’s also more stress than I’ve endured in years.  I’m proud of all that.  I’m also aware that I could blow at any time.  That’s the unknowable, uncontrollable piece to bipolar disorder.  All I can do is stay as mindful as I can from moment to moment and see what happens.

I’m on an Adventure.

tiny cups

In The Trenches

More Traditionally GallantThe last time I had this much change, pressure, and emotional hoo-haw in my life I ended up getting electroshock.  That was then, as they say.  This is now.

Yesterday I started my job as a Peer Support Specialist.  The Integrated Health Services team (of which I am a part)  is squeezed into one tiny office and a converted utility closet (the sink is still there).  Ten people with lap tops, all talking on the phone, or to each other, or elbowing into their TV-tray-sized work spaces.  The plan is to move the team off-site to a real office space.  But for now, we are literally on top of each other.

barnabasA year ago—heck, three months ago—I would have bolted from that chaos after a half hour.  But, I didn’t.  And the fact that I didn’t makes me proud.  I could feel dread and panic creeping into my head like Dark Shadows mist, turning my thoughts sour and rigid with resistance.  But then I went on my first client visit, and the doubt and hysteria melted.

Talking to clients, listening to them, asking questions, empathizing and marveling at their courage and resilience—it all fell into place.  What I used to do as a nurse, what I do now with this blog, even what I’ve become as a person all come into play when I’m with the clients.  I was made for this job.  I can do this.

So, last night I drank a beer, popped a Xanax, and slept long and hard.  This morning I was ready to jump back into the fray.  Until I got my own TV tray, I set my laptop on top of a waste basket to do my work.  That was fine.  I’m relearning Windows after eight years alone with my iMac.  That was fine, too.

Everyone on the team is supportive, enthusiastic and only a little less confused than I am.  This roll-out of Integrated Health Services across the state is enormous, complicated, sometimes incomprehensible.  It makes us comrades.  They sent a lovely card and a plant when my mom died, and I’d only met them twice.

Sad SmileWe’ve been digging through lots of old stuff at my mom’s house.  We found a box with my grandfather’s WWI kit and a trunk of my dad’s with his WWII navy uniform and a photo album.  In those pictures, I can see how tight the bonds are between Dad and his friends.  I understand that a little.  I’m not saying we’re experiencing anything like what Dad and Grandpa went through, but adversity and a common goal does something to a group.  Those of you in business know more about this than I do.  There’s probably even a name for it.

I know these people have my back.  I know they won’t let me fail.  I know they will understand if I ever do have to bolt from the room.  And I’m not afraid to do it if I have to.  Because I know how to take care of myself now—without plugging into the power grid.

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