When God is your Travel Agent, Don’t Argue the Itinerary

I dreamed last night that I was back in Safe Haven, the psych-facility where I recently spent ten days, and the dream felt comforting. The place is well named.

landline phone cord "remember these?"

a phone with a cord… and withOUT Google!

My cell phone was one of the things I missed most in there—not for calls, but for Google (I hadn’t realized how many things-a-day I look up!) and the camera, and for texting. This post gets doodles instead of photos, because I didn’t have my camera!

We were allowed, between group-sessions and scheduled activities, to take turns using the phone at the nurse’s station. My first day (when I was still miserably trying to claw my way out of there) I was calling my husband nearly every other hour. That’s a lot of calling for someone as phone-phobic as I am, but I was looking for the comfort of his voice.

Technically, I could have announced my intention to walk out at any time—I was on a voluntary hold—but I was looking for someone to tell me it was okay to go. Let me be more honest: I was  trying to manipulate the psych-doc into telling me it was okay to go. But by the fourth day, I told her I was maybe doing TOO well. She mistook my announcement for another attempt to get myself released, but I corrected her interpretation. “I’m actually afraid to go home right now. I think I’m feeling TOO good.”

For the first time, I was recognizing that “feeling-really-good” can be a symptom of the manic end of a scary bipolar swing; it’s the prelude to that other shoe dropping. It’s the warning sign that I’m probably about to hit an equally extreme low.  I wasn’t ready to be back out in the real world when that happened—I hadn’t yet figured myself out enough, and I wasn’t sure enough of the new meds.

All in all, I had made an attitude U-turn as I got comfortable with the place, and with my “neighbor-patients.” We were bonding and joking, and I was finding value in the group sessions at which I’d wanted to scoff a few days before.

imageAnd in contrast to the emotional all-time-low that had landed me there, I was finding joy in really small things. The arrival of coffee in the morning. The good food at mealtimes. The smoke breaks. An unexpected laugh. A newspaper brought in from Outside. My husband’s cheery “Hello, Baby-Doll” when I called him from the nurse’s station (not with the obsessive frequency of my first day). Being given a coloring-page or a crossword. Making fun (with my new friends) of the bendy-and-bossy yoga instructor in the video we used during “recreational therapy.”

I was getting medical and psychiatric care, and my real world outside was essentially “on pause.”  (As a matter of [shocking] record, that outside world even seemed to be still spinning without my management!) For ten days I got to be nothing-but-Kana, no expectations of “filling any roles”… In there, I wasn’t anybody’s employee or daughter or mother or wife or sponsee or Sunday school teacher…  Just Kana.

my name(s) by my door

my name(s) by my door

The nursing staff kindly put “Kana” (which is actually part of my middle name) on the whiteboard by the door to my room, along with the first name which shows up on my medical chart, but which I don’t use now. My girlfriend Teresa commented last week that my multiple names—especially if you add in the various nicknames to which I answer—might be symbolic of the diverse variations of me…  Though (unlike my late husband, who used different names for his drinking-self and his sober-self) I don’t see my moods as separate versions; “Kana” inclusively covers all the things I am now, while those other names are more like past versions of me. Still Me, but not me-now. In Safe Haven, I was only expected to be Kana, whoever she is.

notebook sketchTherein lies my problem, though–I found myself in the strange situation of beginning to figure out WHO that is, exactly. I started keeping a “lab-notebook” about myself, scribbling madly in the (way-too-girly) notebook a nurse had given me at three in the morning when I first arrived.

I tracked moods against events to notice that they don’t seem to correlate; I could be at a manic high even when my mind was bummed that a friend had just checked out and left. I realized how much I “cover” my lower moods with an appearance of cheerfulness, that “default-setting smile.” I watched my manic-self chattering away, thinking “oh my gosh, this girl can’t shut up!

(When I shared that one with my mom, she busted up laughing. This is not news to people who have had front-row seats to “the Kana Show” for years…)

My “neighbor-patients” helped me with the project at my request, pitching in with observations more easily made from their viewpoints than from mine. Isaiah good-naturedly invited me to “listen to the sound of Kana NOT talking,” other people shared that I talk super-rapidly when I’m wound up, and that my volume is louder than necessary. And armed with those observations, I can be more self-aware; the rapid-fire mouth can actually alert me to the manic nature of my mood.

a couple friends made a joke of labeling labeled our water-cups one morning...

a couple friends made a joke of labeling our water-cups one morning… People-connections and humor are therapeutic too!

Over the course of the week, the new medications helped my moods even out—the highs weren’t so high and the lows not so low—and the group sessions, the interactions with psych staff and my neighbors continued to help me, and I began (without pushing for it) to look forward to being home.

I looked forward to Google. And mirrors. (Though maybe it was just as well I’d been without, given that I’d been sporting scrubs and pigtails—probably lopsided—for over a week.) I missed real pens and toothbrush (you get miniature, floppy ones on a psych ward, so you can’t hurt yourself). Shoelaces, confiscated for the same reason. (And I saw more buttcracks during that week than I care to say—no one is allowed a drawstring or belt.)

the current "lab notebook"... two weeks' worth of writing, and nearly full

the current “lab notebook”… two weeks’ worth of writing, and nearly full

And although Jon had brought my teddy bear (who, like me, got strip-searched before they allowed him in), I looked forward more than anything to snuggling into my own bed with my own husband!

My “vacation” proved to be a hiatus from the stresses and challenges and expectations of daily life; as small as those might be, I hadn’t been handling them. It’s not the vacation I would have planned, but it was exactly the one I needed.  And hey, when God is your travel agent, you don’t argue with the itinerary! He put me right where I needed to be, with help from my husband (and my Probation Officer).

It was a much-needed course-correction… And the current project is to implement the new meds and new thinking in the context of my actual life. A work in progress!

bipolar tigger eyesore


A Dash of Tobasco

t-rex with tissue

“He says his name is Tobasco. Don’t forget Kleenex.”

Last week at the beginning of a session, my counselor handed me a plastic dinosaur. I tucked it under my arm as we talked, and waited for him to tell me what was up with the toy. Of course he didn’t start by telling me anything; instead, he asked me what I “noticed” about the T-Rex… And the obvious observation is that he’s full of holes.

Bullet holes, as it turns out.

He’d been used for target practice the previous weekend, 9 millimeter rounds. The next obvious observation is that a 9mm bullet hole looks WAY different in a plastic toy than it does in a human forehead. That’s precisely where he was steering me, and the ensuing hour was an intense “unpacking” of my late husband’s gunshot-to-the-head suicide in my presence.

I don’t think I’d dug through that event in such detail ever, certainly not out loud to another human being.

Or to a dinosaur, for that matter.

dinosaur coloring

“coloring therapy when I feel roar-y”

I turned that toy over and over in my hands as I talked and cried, laying him in my lap long enough to blow my nose (on paper towels—I gave them a hard time about not having a box of Kleenex, given the work they do) and then picking him up again. I got up to leave, still hanging on to him, and asked on a whim if I could borrow him for the week. Sure. Does he have a name? Nope.

On the way out of the building I stopped in the ladies’ room to blow my nose and clean up my face, and texted a photo from the bathroom, of the T-Rex holding toilet tissue: “He says his name is Tobasco, and don’t forget Kleenex.”

Over the next few days I made sort of a game of taking pictures of Tobasco (and no, I don’t have any idea where that name came from; it just popped into my head, and I’m trying to roll with “gut feelings” these days)… I brought him to work and took a shot of him at my computer. (“Not much of a typist–the arms are too short!”) I took his portrait in front of a Christmas tree, and with my teddy bear, and holding a colored pencil up to the coloring-book page I was working on.

dinosaur Christmas tree

“Working on Christmas etiquette… (Fail?)”

At the surface, I’m just enjoying the silliness of it. But some Significance has been creeping into my mind alongside the Silly. Here’s my thought: if I can accomplish with my Emotions what I’ve been doing with the toy that triggered them, I may be on my way to a more positive state of mental health.

Of course I don’t mean I’m going to teach my feelings to chomp on Christmas ornaments. I mean I might consider hanging out with them instead of trying to shove them away. Letting them become more comfortable companions, even though they’re rough to look at. I feel fondly toward this dinosaur now—and though I don’t expect to arrive at “affectionate” toward my more traumatic memories, maybe I can at least get more comfortable with their existence.


Addendum to a Eulogy

Yesterday my dad should have turned seventy. He passed away this year on my birthday, so this weekend we’ve been missing him on his.

canoe and canoeist

daddy-daughter canoe trip, Northern Idaho 1987

Ironically, I could still practice my favorite joke-ritual, which was not to call my dad (whose depth of phone-phobia was rivaled only by my sister’s and my own) on his birthday. I even found him a card one year that offered a “no-call” option as a birthday present. (Actually, I usually did call anyway—and this week I’m glad of that.)

One of the horrible ironies of memorial services is the fact that grieving people are expected (worse: expect themselves) to brilliantly and eruditely sum up LOVE, as it applies to a suddenly-missing person, at a point in time when their hearts are most broken and their brains are most fried. In such a case, the best you can hope for is that God will get some of the right words into your mouth (or out of your pen), and that the other people missing him will be able to fill in the rest through their love and memories.

The single story I most wanted to share about my dad didn’t seem appropriate for either the obituary I wrote nor the eulogy at his service. Somehow, alcoholism (in the speaker or the deceased) doesn’t seem like it would be a welcome subject in those venues… But this story says SO much about my dad, and here’s a place where I can tell it.


My Thanksgiving Daddy-story…

When I first started thinking about getting sober, I’d string together 30 days and fall on my face again. Repeatedly. Furious and frustrated by my own “weakness,” I wasn’t above some blame-shifting into the bargain…

Facing my first (post-divorce) Thanksgiving without my kids, I’d accepted a plane ticket from my parents to spend the holiday with them. My godparents were arriving from out of state, and my mother planned to entertain in her usual exuberant and extravagant style, great-grandma’s china and all. It would have been a solid coping strategy… except for my dad’s drinking. Having just (again) made it to 30 days, my Sobriety was raw and shaky and completely lacking confidence. I knew I would end up drinking at that house.

image

my mother & my husband planting a rose bush the day Dad died

Still, I couldn’t very well tell my mother I wasn’t coming for the big Thanksgiving! So I swept aside the concerns of my new A.A. friends, packed a bag, took a cab to the airport, went through the security screening and sat at my gate… And didn’t get on the plane. Of course, that was even worse than if I’d made the decision rationally and in good time—now I had to call my mother and tell her I wasn’t on the plane she had already left the house to meet! And told her why. And to compound the awfulness, I took my miserable butt home and got really drunk.

Any guesses what my parents did? You won’t guess, so I’ll tell you. They cancelled their big Thanksgiving, called off the out-of-town guests, put the turkey and side dishes (everything but great-grandma’s china) into their car, and drove the 300 miles to my house.

Thanksgiving rose

Thanksgiving rose!

Dad walked in the door crying, folded me in a hug, and told me, “I love you. I’m an alcoholic.”

And that was the beginning of the end of his drinking. He took about a month to wean himself off of alcohol (safely and scientifically, as he did most things) and then he never drank again. If I have to pick one story to tell about my Dad, that’s the one I want to tell.

This year on Thanksgiving day my mother sent a photo to my sister and me: a single rose that had materialized (in November cold!) on the rose bush we planted the day Dad died. I agree with my sister’s idea: “Dad is saying hello!”


Impossible to “summarize” a LIFE! (BUT someone is expected to attempt it…) Dad’s Obituary, Sep 2016.

We lost a kind and gentle soul when Bob Dwelle died on Sunday due to complications of congestive heart failure.

Bob Dwelle

Daddy

Bob Dwelle arrived in this world on December 3, 1946, to the delight of his parents, George & Edith, and the possible consternation of his older brother Dick. Bob shared his brother’s impish sense of humor, as well as a penchant for getting both into mischief and out of scrapes. The stories they would tell on themselves and each other in later years might not fall in the traditional category of “moral storytelling,” but Bob’s young daughters delighted in the tales of their Wisconsin childhood.

An active and athletic young man, Bob enjoyed camping and canoeing, and spent his college summers leading  groups of teenage boys on lengthy canoe-treks through Wisconsin lakes and Canadian wilderness. As a Freshman at Carleton College in Northfield MN, Bob met Anne Zier, and the two of them married in March of their Senior year, incidentally becoming the first Carleton couple to be permitted to marry, or live off campus before graduating.

With his Carleton degree in Biology, Bob was admitted to the graduate program at University of Montana, where he bypassed the Masters program and went directly to work on a Ph.D. in plant physiology.  After completing his Ph.D., Bob accepted a position at the University of Idaho’s potato-growing Experiment Station, located in the small farming town of Aberdeen ID, despite the fact that he had never seen a live potato plant.  On the way to his job interview, knowing that potatoes were in the tomato family, he stopped at a likely looking field to scope out a real potato plant.  From that shaky start, Bob cooperated over the years in research projects with scientists around the globe, and gave papers in locations ranging from Peru to the Ukraine, from Israel to Germany, and taught Potato Physiology for years.

He and Anne soon added a pair of “tater tots” to the family with the arrival of daughters Janna in 1974 and Karin in 1977.  He was deeply involved with the Aberdeen community, within the church (St Paul’s Lutheran) as well as in community groups like Rotary and Girl Scouts (yes, Bob too), and served for some time on the Aberdeen City Council.

After a decade in Aberdeen, the family relocated to Moscow, where Anne had enrolled in UI’s Law School. With his typical generosity, Bob rearranged his career to accommodate this goal, and in the process discovered his deepest professional calling: teaching! The “temporary” teaching reassignment transformed into one of the most fulfilling aspects of his professional life.

The family remained in Moscow, where Bob continued to teach and rose to the position of Plant Science Chair in the College of Agriculture.  Bob’s graduate students became Family Friends, and wherever in the world the family traveled, they could be assured of welcomes in the homes of Bob’s colleagues and former students. During his career as a Potato Physiologist, “Dr. Spud” was able to indulge his own love of travel, and instill the same in his daughters. The Dwelles’ 1984 European Sabbatical (just one of many memorable trips) spanned six months and eighteen European countries, all meticulously planned in advance by Bob (by letter in that pre-Internet  era).

deep-sea fishing trip

deep-sea fishing with Dad off the Oregon Coast, 1992

Bob had to retire early from the teaching he loved, when his cardiac health became precarious. Before ill health took its toll, he served on Moscow School Board, but even later he continued to serve in positions such as Treasurer with Emmanuel Lutheran Church and preschool, and the Campus Christian Center.

“Plant-Guy” that he was, Bob delighted in his garden—but his greatest joy in his last years was the arrival of his three grandchildren, Christian and Elena Grace (both of whom affectionately called him “Boboo”) and Clara.

Bob… Dad… Boboo… We love you. God’s got you!