Monday, July 18, 2016

The Story Of (My) Life

Paints and brushes remain untouched.

The books and magazines pile up, waiting to be seen, waiting to be read.

The cursor blinks at me from the blank page of a Word document and I wonder how to move it across the screen to write fiction.

How did I used to do it? Back then it was as though someone dropped the words into my head from the sky above and my fingers just translated them onto the page into a story that meant something to me.

Story means nothing to me right now; at least, not new ones. The ones already written will always mean so much, and each book holds a million little bits of memory as to what my life was like when I was writing it, how I clung to the Story to find my way through the reality of the world outside of Story.

The Story that matters the most to me right now is the one of my daily life.

It doesn’t make for the most interesting reading, at least not to anyone but me, but right now writing the story of my life is the main focus of my attention because fiction just feels empty; like a movie set of an old abandoned Western town with a single tumbleweed blowing down the dirt road.

It’s been a long time since the story of my life mattered to me. Depression does that to you, it beats the desire (and often the ability) to feel anything out of you. Bipolar depression is an entirely different animal altogether, as it often combines a mix of dangerous emotions like anger (at yourself, mostly, and for every imaginable reason and some you can’t imagine) frustration and fear.

I’ve written before that I’ve been sleeping through my life for a long while. I’m almost a week into my latest med change and while I am still exhausted and oversleeping some I feel like maybe, just maybe, I am beginning to wake up, a little.

But as soon as I put pressure on myself to create something, to make something, say something about the sad state of affairs on our planet that will make it make sense somehow, I shut back down and back to bed I go.

I don’t want to sleep through my life anymore. I'm still not sure how to fully wake up.

I’m trying to be gentle with myself, which is not something I am used to doing. Usually I’m hardest on myself of anyone on the planet, but if I’m going to learn to take care of myself and get as good as I can at battling this cursed brain disorder I have to start being kinder to myself. I have to be kind to everyone, of course, but charity, as they say, begins at home.

So as I’m sitting here typing and listening to Rob Thomas sing a song called These Hard Times. I think about the suffering in the world and I am hyper aware that everything can change in a second. I think of how my personal world was thrown into chaos with my husband’s recent hospital stay and recovery and it scares me how dependent I’ve become due to my multiple disabilities.

I used to be, years ago, the one people called when they were in a jam. Now I’m the one who gets confused and disoriented in the grocery store, who can't manage lifting the laundry (or anything else that must be lifted) and can barely clean up after just the cat for a few days when necessity demands it.

I miss being the person others could call on in a crisis. Now, often I am the crisis and I hate that.

But I have to stop beating myself up over it. I burned through my strength in those years helping other people, I burnt the candle not just at both ends… I hit it with a flamethrower. I burned bright and hot and eventually my star—my soul— began to die out.

Still, it has light left to shine in it, I believe this. Somehow beneath all the layers of darkness and despair I still believe there must be light.

Maybe that’s a place to start; by believing there is still light in there, somewhere. A reason to stay awake through the days; with slow, measured steps back toward creative thoughts as I pen the most important Story of all; life.

Maybe if I don’t pressure myself so much the path will become clearer; maybe I’ll finally see my way clear of the trees and find the tranquil forest I so desperately seek.




Thursday, July 7, 2016

Shut Down

"Anguish" by February Grace, 2014

In July, five years ago, my entire life came crashing down around me in the sharp, shattered, dangerous mess that only the culmination of a long-lasting manic episode can bring about. Only at the time, I didn’t know it.

I didn’t know I was literally losing my mind. I just knew that nothing made sense any more. The things that had previously been my anchor in life were things I felt desperate to be free of; the things that made me feel safe before scared me into wanting to run.

And I did run. I ran far, far from where I started, only to end up running back in a story best left to others to tell, perhaps, one day long after I am dead and gone.

I remember feeling manic as a child and thinking everyone felt that way. Only now can I put words to the panic, anxiety, and Bipolar disorder that I believe have plagued me since I was as small as I can remember. They called me ‘too sensitive’. A ‘worrier’. But back then, we didn’t know what we know now. We didn’t have the understanding, or the words, to describe what I really was. Even if we had, my parents would never have believed it.

I was misdiagnosed with major depressive disorder in my early twenties, and so I was given the wrong treatment for years afterward. Still somehow I managed to channel my manic energy into writing, into working, into raising my child. That was before my physical health got so much worse, before the monster turned to its darkest self, though there was always this voice in the back of my head that tried to convince me everyone would just be better off if I was gone from the planet.

That voice can/could/was/ only silenced by different medications, finally prescribed after my eventual Bipolar 1 diagnosis back in August of 2011. I fought the label at first, though deep down I knew it had to be true.

I was completely broken. I wasn’t myself anymore, and I hoped that medication would bring me back to being someone who recognized their own reflection in the mirror when they saw it. I even blogged about my early days of treatment here on this blog, back then, wondering what life on Lithium would be like (sad that I couldn’t tolerate it physically, it really did help with the disorder) wondering if I’d still be able to write, to paint.

Five years later I know the answer is that these medications exact a huge toll from me for the good that they do in keeping me around. They’ve gagged and bound my muse; for months (a year, maybe longer?) I haven’t been able to write more than a few lines of fiction or poetry. I’m never satisfied by my artwork and painting has become a frustration. I feel I've lost the sense of humor that kept me going for such a long time.

Life stress piled upon life stress until the point where my current med cocktail just isn’t working anymore. My doctor knows this, I know this, my therapist knows this. It’s at least partly because I can’t afford the brand name version of the med that anchors the rest, and the generics just do not work the same for me. That money is a factor in getting effective treatment is sickening in and of itself.

So I’ve retreated into myself in the past several months, withdrawing from everything and everyone until all I do is sleep.

Where have I been? Why haven’t I been active on social media as I used to be, why haven’t I been liking and commenting and posting?

Simple answer: I’ve been asleep. Or fighting to stay awake when I had to, just until I could crash and retreat into sleep again.

My body has shut down in the face of multiple life stresses (including my husband’s recent illness.) I’ve been sleeping 18 hours a day or more. No matter what I try I can’t seem to wake up. I can’t drink coffee any more (for other health reasons) and soda is so bad for me that I try to save it and its caffeinating effects for when I really have to go somewhere, do something, make sense. Though I am easily confused, my memory is suffering, and I feel like my brain is in hibernation and I just can’t wake it up.

I’m counting down the days until my next doctor’s appointment (next week) though I don’t know what she’s going to do for me. We’ve tried almost everything there is to try and I’ve either been allergic to it, or had other serious side effects that couldn’t be tolerated or some such thing that caused discontinuation of more meds than I can recall or even count at this point.

It’s hard when you can’t function... when you can't do the things that you felt made you who you are anymore. I didn’t miss writing for a long time, and in fact still wouldn’t say I 'miss it' but rather I’d say it’s something I need to do to be better; yet my brain won’t cooperate. It’s empty of the character voices that led me in the direction of each story, and without them I can’t write. My physical health is suffering as well, and I’m at a point where I am literally sleeping my life away and wondering how I will ever understand or justify the time I’ve lost to myself should I improve somehow later.

So that’s where I’ve been. And that’s all I can say for now. I’m incredibly tired, feel like I haven’t slept for weeks… I need to rest, just a little while longer, then maybe I’ll finally feel better.

Who am I kidding? Unless they figure out how to fix my meds, I don’t know when things will ever get better.

I miss the person I was once, what feels like so long ago.

I wonder if she can be saved, yet.


Friday, June 17, 2016

To Breathe Deep The Scent of Life's Limited Time Span

I have a decidedly black thumb.

I have no outdoor garden space, and the only indoor plants I ever tried to grow were adorable, small pink roses that were given to me as a get well gift. Sadly after a short time of thriving and blooming, they fell victim to the Great Aphid Invasion of 2003 and had to go.

It was many years after that, toward the end of a particularly frustrating, long winter that I first decided that imitation spring was better than no spring at all.

So I headed to the local craft store, where they have every type of fabric flower and plastic plant you can imagine (more than I could ever name) and I came home with a bag full of sale-bin treasures.

A few of my first faux flower purchases.

For a time, they were enough to satisfy my need to have flowers around me.

I felt that I finally understood, for a little while, at least, the reason behind the dusty old centerpieces my Grandmother kept in her house; one on the kitchen table, one on the table in the hall. Another in the living room, one on the dresser in the bedroom. (There was, too, of course the bowl of faux fruit. My sister actually ate one of the rubber grapes once and lived to tell the tale.) And on the walls of my grandparents' home that I so loved, still-life paintings of what else? Bowls of fruit and flower arrangements.

It’s only now, after some time (read, years) of living with these 'plants' and acknowledging the age they’ve taken on, I am beginning to realize that they’re not serving the purpose they were intended to any more. They’re not making me feel better; they’re making me feel worse. And they’re probably really bad for my asthma, too.

So, out the fake flowers must go.

I have already started the purge, but I find more of them hiding in the least expected places; in little bottles behind picture frames, and in containers I’ve had so long that I’ve become blind to them. 

Every time I turn around there’s another bunch of faded fabric roses (which would be a great title for a book, now that I think about it; maybe I should photograph them before I throw them away…) or a little sprig of plastic plant climbing like artificial ivy up from a pot on a bookshelf.

These are not the things I want to surround me any longer.
I want living things in my space, not repositories of dust that pale and grow dingy but never die.

Because we will all die, one day, and living flowers will remind me that life is poignant and fleeting and meant to be nurtured, even if clipped at the stems.

I want to breathe deep the scent of life's limited time span in all its sweet, heartbreaking glory.

I want real roses and carnations, even if I have to buy them myself.

I want to tend to them, trim the stems day to day so they can take in fresh water; prolong their limited existence for as long as I can.

I want to see them and be reminded of the fragility of life and how any one of us can be cut short at any time, and that is what makes now the most important time because as Captain Picard once said on Star Trek (and you can never go wrong quoting Picard) you should “Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.”

It’s been a long time since made now the most precious time, especially since for the past year or so especially now has always been pretty bad.

Losing my Dad the way I did was especially hard, something that once again is at the forefront of my mind as Father’s Day approaches. Yet I can’t just accept that this is the way that life is always meant to be, or that means giving up on it ever feeling better.

If I give up on it ever feeling better, there will be no reason to fight the continual desire I have just to close my eyes and go back to sleep until it’s time to face another day (and then repeat the process…)

I’ve lost myself in looking back, in getting stuck in the wheels of my anxiety disorder. I’ve lost my motivation to vicious Bipolar depression to the point where I have slept literally months of my life away at this point in 2016.

I don’t want to sleep my days away any more, and I don’t know where to begin to get better (so far medication adjustments have been a bust) but starting where I am seems like the only place I can begin.

So, the fake flowers are going. As will old artwork I no longer feel an attachment to and any object that I cannot justify a very good reason for keeping (I just bought some bestselling book on a Japanese method of tidying up your home, we’ll see if anything from it resonates and sticks.) Our apartment is small, and every inch of real estate is precious. I’ve let too much clutter creep back in since the great purge when we moved in four years ago, it’s time to go another round.

I’ll start with replacing the false flowers with real ones, the first chance I get. Our supermarket has gorgeous carnations and roses, always, for a very reasonable price so I think this is a small indulgence I hope to be able to allow myself for a while to come.

My mother always used to say that having cut flowers in the house made her sad, because they die.

But to me that fact always made them more precious. They, like us, have that limited lifetime, with every second a ticking clock down to the moment of their demise. Perhaps that is why they are so treasured, and so beautiful.

Maybe they’re the reminder I need right now that things don’t last forever, good or bad. That things change, and there is new life on carnation stems that will bloom even ten days after you buy them if you just spend a little time tending to and caring for them each day.

It’s time I tended to myself a little each day, too, and see if, after some nurturing, I can’t start to beat back the darkness that surrounds me now.

I know I’m under it, in here, somewhere.

I just have to find myself again, beneath the piles of old paintings, books whose messages no longer serve me, and those bunches and bunches of dusty old craft-store flowers.