Friday, April 24, 2015

The Dark of Brightest Day






"Blind"


Some pretty awesome things have been happening for me as a writer recently. Little victories, small successes that add up to the dream I always had of what it would feel like to be a published author.

Still, I fight.

I’m deep in reconstruction on my life, and with a recovery well under way (hopefully… first post-op appointment is next week) I should be feeling better than I am.

I shouldn’t be fighting not to sleep all day.

I shouldn’t be feeling like I want to cry when I have no tears to do it.

I shouldn’t wonder, again, if it’s time to switch up meds because I’m not writing, I’m not painting, I’m not creating.

I’m adrift in this sea of emotions that can be full panic one moment and the deepest desire only to sleep the next.

This is the struggle of a Bipolar Mixed State, at least for me.

I’ve blogged about it before, but I want to discuss how it’s different from other kinds of depression.

It’s said that depression lies: if that is true than Bipolar Mixed States are the champion liars of all.

They tell you nothing will ever be good enough while at the same time drive you to try to do more, and more, and more, beyond the point of physical exhaustion. All while nothing you do or see makes sense.

They jumble and mix the creative impulses that you (read, I) can channel into creating things on canvas or on the page when in a hypo-manic state (my favorite way to exist, really, because it rides that ever so fine line between depression and the agitated manias I endure.)

I want to hide.

I want to run.

I want to get on a plane. Right now, today and be anywhere but here. I’ve done it before.

The only thing keeping me from doing it now is that doctor’s clearance that all is healing well inside my poor body before I try to drag it along on another “adventure”.

I should be waiting patiently for a trip scheduled in the fall: better for my body, and better for the budget to be sure. But my mind repeats one word in a state like this, and that word is only, “run.”

Trouble is, I have nowhere to run to.

So I stare out the windows willing the view to be different than it is. I retreat even further into my head to try to stop the pain.

I force myself to engage on social media (confession: I am often most visible on social media when I am struggling hardest) to try to keep other humans in my periphery; to be reminded by them of the joys and sorrows that are a part of everyone’s life.

I’m not special in my pain. Having Bipolar Disorder does not make me the winner of any sort of award for ‘most long-suffering individual’, neither does being blind without my special glasses, needing to use a crutch to walk (and a wheelchair to go long distances like at museums and on trips).

Nothing makes me any different from any other who has ever battled this monster.

I’m just weary of the fight. It happens. There are days like this and days that are better, I just have to get through the days like this to get to the better ones.

That is the trick, isn’t it?

To fight through the blinding light of day and the darkest night; guided by sun or light of stars.

It’s the darkness in the brightest days that scares me the most, because when you get to the point that you can’t see anything but the glare anymore, it makes you question your reasons fighting at all.

I was a part of the #StoryDam chat last night and one of the questions asked was how we dealt with taboos in our writing. My answer was I deal with them more in nonfiction writing like blogging here and such than in my fiction, but I see them in my fiction too, if I really look for them.

I write about Bipolar not because no one else is doing it: there are a lot more people these days willing to share their struggles. Most however speak of high, high manias in which they feel invincible; and I deal with something quite different. Mixed states are very dangerous because anger, aggression and agitation turn inward on you, and you become your own worst enemy.

I write because of the battle; to let others know they’re not alone. That treatment isn’t perfect but it is worth seeking, worth trying. That they are worth saving, because we lose too many.

I feel lost, but I’m counting down the minutes in heartbeats until I will feel better; hoping that I will feel well again and the words will come back and the paintings will appear before me as my hand crosses the canvas, brush in hand.

Until then I can only draw as I drew a very different portrait of myself this week: one I call “Blind”, because in so many more ways than one I am… just stumbling, sightless, on through the brightest light of the darkest of my days.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Renovation Phase 2: Reframing My Structure (Body Image)



A new self-portrait, this time, with a face...

Last week I wrote about the ‘demolition phase’ of renovating my life, and this week I find myself thinking, even after painful news mid-week knocked me off track and sent me straight to bed to hide from the world, and life, for a while, about the next step.

I thought that this step would come later, and would fall under the ‘decorating and finishing touches’ phase, but I was wrong.

It comes down to more than accessories and window dressings; it is so much more important than that.

I’m almost six weeks out from my major surgery. I have another week or so to go before my post-op check-up and I had intended to wait to do this until after that, but then I realized that the sales were on, the spring/summer clothing was going fast from my favorite store, and I should do the thing I’d been saving up some money for, for a good while, sooner rather than later.

It was time to go buy some new clothes.

I was smart about it. I called ahead so I wouldn’t overdo it trying to pick things out, or risk having to lift or bend. I talked to a sales associate and explained I was looking for dresses, skirts and tops mostly, and a few particular items I’d seen online. She volunteered to pull a collection of items for me to choose from when I got there, all I’d have to do was try them on.

The thing was, I had to convince myself I was worthy to try them on.

You see, like most women, I have always struggled with body image. I used to think I was overweight as a teen when I was actually painfully underweight; I learned to use starvation as a means of controlling my weight from my mother, who was diagnosed as anorexic when I was in my teens. I used to try to trick her into eating from my plate, and often it worked, but that is another story, for another time.

The fact that I have actually gained a significant amount of weight has been very, very hard on my self-image the past few years. Not only am I ‘crazy’ (Bipolar, OCD, PTSD) but I have to be crazy and fat, too? Is there no end to the indignities the chronically ill must suffer? That thought alone made me so angry when I first started taking the meds I so clearly and desperately need to keep me from doing something permanent to end my struggle against Bipolar, that I almost stopped taking them.

Then, I thought about the people closest to me.

I thought about how selfish it would be to stop taking medication for the fear/reality of carrying extra weight; or for the fear of losing my creativity as an artist/writer or my sense of self as I had been. Because the truth is, at the end of my ‘old life’ right before I started taking medication, who I was, was someone in a severe manic mixed state, and an outright hazard to myself. (Never others, only myself.) How incredibly dangerous and selfish it would have been, or would be, for me to give up the medication that helps control if not cure the conditions I battle daily just for the sake of appearances, vanity, and what other people might think of me.

Of course I worried about losing my artistic edge, and at times I have struggled against the medications to be able to continue writing. But you know what? I am still alive to struggle to keep writing, and I have written four novels since I started taking treatment for my disorders. But even if I could never write another word, I figure the last thing this world needs (let alone my loved ones) is one more dead writer. (I figure, better a live human than a dead artist. But again, that is another post for another day.)

So, I’ve had to change the way that I think about myself and how I present myself to the world.

For a long time, I didn’t feel like I deserved to wear pretty clothing. I felt, well, I can only describe it as ‘shlumpy’. Is that a word? I don’t know. If not, it is now.

It’s so strange, I can save up and then spend money on other things with no issue; dollhouse miniatures, other things I like to collect; books, music, the occasional Florida vacation. But clothing? Always hated spending money on it and as a stay at home mom, I fell into the sweats trap. I call it a trap because they are as close to wearing pajamas all the time as you can get without actually wearing pajamas all the time (and I have seen people, especially women, embracing a trend of wearing pajamas in public, but I digress.) and you can wear them to bed, go through your day, then wear them to bed again without having to consciously make any decision to try to do better.

I am trying to do better for myself than that, now that I don’t have a little child tugging at my clothing any more.

Spending money on dresses and skirts and blouses seemed so frivolous because after all, where have I to go? I’m housebound most of the time. Who sees me?

Then, finally the answer hit me: I see me.

My husband sees me too.

Why should we have to see someone every day who looks and feels like a chronically ill patient all the time? Even if that is what I am, should I have to look the part all the time, too?

So I chose my new clothing carefully. Comfortable, forgiving dresses, skirts and tops. Interchangeable, and even ended up with one new special occasion skirt I hope to wear later in the year someplace fabulous.

Now, comes the real challenge: actually letting myself wear the clothes.

A bag full of treasures: so heavy my husband had to carry it for me.

It sounds stupid, but the struggle is real. The voice in my head that says “You should be saving this for a special occasion,” or “It’s too pretty to risk getting anything on, you know what a klutz you are.”

I bought these clothes to wear them. Not to look at them hanging in my closet. I will keep adding a piece now and then as my budget allows, building for the first time in my life (or at least, since my teens) a wardrobe not for work or school that actually reflects my personality and moods instead of just shlumping along in sweats all the time.

There is a place for jeans and a cool t shirt too, to be sure, and I have those already. Again, just couldn’t bring myself to wear them most of the time.

It’s time to reframe my self-image, shore up the foundation and beams and joists holding up the roof on my existence by accepting, at long last, my body as it is in the moment. I can still try for changing it to being the best it can personally be now that I’m heading for 44 through my diet though my ability to exercise is severely limited by damage to my spine. (Alas, I will never be 21 again. Thank heaven, I will never be 21 again…) I have curvier curves now. I am learning to embrace them, to love them for all that they have to offer. My poor body has been through so much, I need to begin honoring it for what it still does for me.

I went blind, yet I was able, through a series of miraculous surgeries, get some of that sight back. I want to use it looking at as many pretty things as I can, including my own clothing.

My spine may be falling apart along with the rest of my joints, and I may have scars and flaws that are very visible now to the eyes of all who see me. I will still have Bipolar Disorder 1, and struggle with the comorbid anxiety disorders that come along with it.

But my body is the residence of my soul, and it deserves to be treated a hell of a lot better than I’ve been treating it. Because it is the only one I have, and there is no reason or justification for punishing it for things that it had no control over.

I used to think that I could never be the prettiest girl in a room, so at least I could be the thinnest.

I can’t think that way anymore, but it’s all right.

I may not be the prettiest or the thinnest woman in the room, but I may damn well be the one who has fought hardest, and through the most battles, to still be standing in it. That has to count for something.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Ghost (Mother of the Bride)



Dear Daughter,

This is an open letter to you, since I feel I must write this out somewhere and I know that if I try to email it to you or send it postal service, you’ll ignore or destroy it.

At least here, my words will be safe; recorded and out of my head, so I can let them go, but also where they will be if you ever decide one day to come looking for them.

Yesterday, news came to me second-hand that I had hoped all your life would come straight from your lips, with a hug and smiles and tears attached to them in all the best possible ways.

You told your step-father that you’ve set your wedding date for some time next year.

You won’t tell us when, I know, because you’ve told him you’re afraid I might just show up.

Uninvited.

Unwanted.

Unwelcome.

Answer me this, my darling girl, have I ever gone anywhere I wasn’t invited?

I don’t intend to start now, even though believe me, it is more tempting than any other event I have ever been denied the pleasure of attending.

You’re my only child. It’s your wedding. Of course I want to be there.

You’re a grown woman.

It’s YOUR wedding.

If you don’t want me there, I promise I won’t appear unannounced.

There will be no scenes, no drama unfolding to embarrass you in front of your friends and ‘family’ as you continue to ignore me; shunning me for only one reason, if your words are to be believed:

That only reason being I do not share your religious faith.

You’ve made your choices and moved on with your life, and believe me, I am trying to move on with mine. It’s just so much more difficult than you can imagine to be shut out by your only daughter the way that I am by you: it is something I hope that you never understand in your lifetime, because I wouldn’t wish this pain on anyone.

I’ve been stuck for a long time, dear one, because I can’t get past wondering how I could have done more, said something more, been something more that could have prevented you from taking such a narrow and extreme path.

‘Everyone’ tells me that I did the best, and all, that I could.

You’ve chosen this for yourself, it’s not anything that I did that I could go back and change if I wanted to in order to prevent it.

‘Everyone’ also tells me that you’ll come around. That you’ll grow out of this, that you’ll realize what you’ve thrown away and return to me one day.

I wish I had their optimism. But the fact is I know how the organization you’re involved with works; hell, they dictated every moment of my existence from the instant I was conceived until the moment I walked out for good at the age of 26, not just to save myself, but to try to give you, my then toddler child, a chance at a better life.

A chance at freedom.

In the past four years, you’ve taken that freedom and thrown it away, too.

There is so much of your true self you’re suppressing, and you wonder in letters to your step-father why life has to be so complicated.

My dearest, it is because you are choosing to make it so.

It could really be so simple.

As I struggle with the reality of knowing (and dreading in advance) that I won’t be there to see your wedding, I do know that no matter how hard you try to completely banish me from the event, in some capacity, I will be there; you will feel me there.

You may put another women in my seat in the Kingdom Hall, but no other woman will ever be the one who carried you, looked after and so dearly loved you, and cared for you as long as she possibly could.

I’m not sure exactly how my ghost will be felt on that day, I am just certain it will.

You might feel my phantom kiss upon your cheek as a soft breeze brushing by.

You may hear my voice echoing in your head, a long ago lullaby as you consider whether you want to have children of your own, someday.

You may see me when you look in the mirror and adjust the tiara atop your head, seeing my eyes in yours even though the colors are different. And you might just even remember that I wore something similar to that tiara the day I married your stepfather, and how I had hoped to pass it along to you, someday.

My daughter and I the day of my second wedding: May 1999

You may remember me in a story we wrote together, the songs we sang, or a moment of silence when you don’t feel quite alone in a room.

I’m trying to let you go, but the ghost of the mother in me has a terrible battle to find a way to do it once and for all. 

How can I give up hope that way? 

Can you really expect me to?

Whatever happens, know that you are loved, even still, after all. After everything that happened. Always.

You can always change your mind.

You can just pick up the phone.

As long as I’m still alive, I promise you my response would be the same, and it would be this:“It is so good to hear your voice.”

I wish you and your fiance' every joy and happiness.

I know you’ll be the most beautiful bride the world has ever seen. 

I just wish I was going to get to see you, too.

All my love,

Mom

Monday, April 13, 2015

Phase One of a Life in Renovation: Demolition



A few years ago I drew this... a self portrait with no face. Slowly I am beginning, again, to fill in the features; as they are.

 
In the ongoing renewal of my life (which I have come to think of as a restoration and renovation project) I am currently neck-deep in the special Hell known as the demolition phase.

Walls must come down. Floors must be peeled back to reveal what lies beneath the old, dingy carpeting.

Someone has to go into the crawl spaces to be sure that nothing has gotten up in there and died.

That someone has to be me.

No one else can do the work for me, this I know, but the knowing doesn’t make it all any easier.

My body is also undergoing a pretty intense healing process right now; I had major surgery on March 11th and I have a ways to go in my recovery.

I find that it’s this new body I’m going to learn to live in after all these years (now minus a few parts) that has forced me to think about the mental renovation that MUST be done.

There is just no putting it off anymore.

Things I thought would make me happy, haven’t truly done so.

Dreams I thought fulfilling would make me feel alive, have fallen short in some ways, even though they surprised and thrilled in others and I am glad I’ve seen them through.

Life with people I love missing from it has become almost intolerable, though I have no control over it.

That is the ugliest part of the demolition: letting go of what once was, when it was all new and beautiful. Because time and dirt and sorrow wore it all away, and the only way to get past it is to say goodbye to the life I used to have.

You can’t force people to wake up from their deeply held (if misguided) belief systems and you can’t shake someone back to their senses. Most of all, you just can’t make someone love you if their actions clearly dictate that they don’t. Even if they’re your own child, and you put everything—absolutely everything of yourself into loving and raising them.

I did the best I could. I know that.

It’s time to honor the love I gave, and still have in my heart for my past life, and let it go.

So, in knocking down the walls and tearing out the plumbing I have the chance to start anew, and I wrote this as it came to me. It’s not neat, or pretty, or a lovely poem at all. What it is, is, raw, real emotion distilled into words.

Now Closed by February Grace

the womb that held you
lives no more
plucked from within as skillfully as
you pulled the heart from me
leaving me behind

donated to science
to see if they can learn
from flesh that drained my body
as you did my soul
barren

I wonder if you will ever learn to miss
our absence from each other's lives
hollow
but I do not feel empty now
I’m free

for the space beneath
the heart you broke
where you lived
where you grew
is gone,

and at long last
once again
the body
that remains
is mine.


~*~
Demolition.

It’s an ugly word and an ugly time to be living in, emotionally, but it is the only way to rid yourself of the dark, depressing, rotting wood and ancient fixtures that make up your life.

I’m beginning to see the smallest ray of light shining through at the end of the renewal.
If my body is supposed to be a temple to house my soul, man, has it got a long way, and a lot of reconstruction, to go; physically, and emotionally. I have faith, though, that it will get there. For the first time in a long time, I really believe I will get there.

The greatest gift I can give myself, right now, is time.
There are beautiful beams and hardwood floors left beneath the surface, I know it. Such a better life I can see in my head, as I imagine a future when the work has all been done.