Tag Archives: Names

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.


Gypsying (OR: A Borderline Personality Working on Borders)

hand of cardsIf you’re not familiar with poker, the thing to understand is that you start a hand with some cards of your own, and you don’t yet know what other cards will be available to you to use in that hand. You have to “sign up” to play that hand by putting some money in the pot before the other cards are revealed, and there’s a minimum amount (the Blind) that’s essentially the baseline price of admission to play. Sometimes people will bid higher than the Blind (if the cards they CAN see bode well for play, or if they want their opponents to THINK that), but sometimes a player will hope to see the next few cards without investing a great deal up front. Calling the Blind, or going in for the minimum amount, is called Gypsying, or Limping in.

RV fifth wheel Grand Design

I literally do live on wheels. Here’s HOME cruising by my workplace one day…

The other day my counselor told me several times that the word “Gypsy” describes me. (I don’t think he even knows that I literally do live on wheels, in an RV!) In that same day, reading a book about Borderline Personality Disorder*, I got forehead-smacked by chapter-headings titled “Playing the Dealt Hand,” and “Learning to How to Limp.”

With the word “Gypsy” on my mind, and the poker-connection of Gypsying or Limping, those headings felt significant, so I read mindfully; I believe in Messages rather than Coincidence. (“As my first Sponsor always said, “Coincidence is God’s way of staying anonymous!”)

The chapter in question talked about practicing change, which can be “a monumental struggle” for a Borderline Personality. Okay, that sounded odd to me at first, given my own very-varied past performances in Life… On the surface, you wouldn’t tag me as a person who struggles with change.

Borderline Personality Disorder job changeIn fact, if you look at my behavioral patterns over recent years, you’d probably say that I don’t Limp In or Gypsy (at least not in the poker sense) in most decision-making moments.  I throw myself headlong into whatever I’ve decided to do, nothing half-assed about it.

You’d probably also say that my resulting Journey has been remarkably Gypsyish in nature—-in the sense my counselor may have intended, of “one who follows an itinerant or otherwise unconventional career or way of life”…

And perhaps the conflicting senses of that single word are suited in their own way—Borderline Personality seems to be defined by opposites.

contradictory notesI’m a black-and-white thinker in many ways, but I might change my mind about which is which. My old black is my new white. Or my old turquoise is my new pink. I’ve joked before that the surest way to ensure I WILL do something is for me to vow I will “Never” do it. In any given moment I am certain of my beliefs, and will act on them without pausing for thought… But I also coming to distrust my sense of Self because I’ve switched up my paths (and some beliefs) so many times.

Part of that is just LIFE happening. I have to make a choice based on the cards in my hand, before I get to see any of the other dealt cards. And it’s sometimes fitting that the “big reveal” of the next three cards is called the “Flop.” The trouble with a bad flop comes when I’ve bid high, putting a lot on the line rather than Limping In. And that’s where my Gypsyish propensity to go All In serves me more sadly than if I’d actually “Gypsied.”

Case in point: my ill-fated (and brief) marriage two years ago… I didn’t know much more about the man than his name when I said “yes”—and a great deal of what I did “know” turned out to be entirely fabricated. Within a matter of months I was broke, pregnant, and reeling, clutching annulment papers that he’d agreed to sign in hopes of evading criminal charges of polygamy.

That’s an awful example of a situation where there was no real reason to go “All In.” Instead of staking everything before gathering the pertinent information, I could have been unblinded by waiting to seeing his “cards” for the considerably lesser price of the Blind. (As a frustrated friend put it, “Have you heard of dating first? Maybe you should try it!”)

And here we have it—“Impulsivity” is one of the hallmarks of the Borderline Personality.

walking contradiction feet

a walking contradiction…

In other words, a defining trait of a Borderline is the habit of NOT consistently keeping habits. (Irony, anyone?) Along with that, consider the word describing Gypsyism: Itinerant, defined as “habitually traveling”… or you could say, habitually resisting Habit.

William Least Heat Moon wrote about traveling that “you are what you are right there and then [because] people don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.”  Imagine the freedom of defining yourself only by the present moment, without the context of habits or roles or expectations.

borderline personality disorderNow imagine the confusion when a Gypsyish Soul is asked to describe herself honestly. In order to accurately answer, I’d need a time-tag to the question! I’ll happily tell you all about myself yesterday, or two years ago yesterday—but those will be two drastically different depictions. No single snapshot-in-time would actually explain ME.

Where some people could self-assess with examples of accumulated life-choices, I’m truly at sea when faced with such an inquiry. (Please pause to send a prayer-of-patience to my poor counselor.)

sailing ship dictionary page

at sea without definition…

I’m at sea. “A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for,” observed John Shep. Apply the analogy to people, and I’ve definitely been out there on the open swell—but feeling none too seaworthy of late, and I’m pretty sure my compass is fried.

My latest foray (and a type of travel for which nobody plans or packs!) consisted of ten days in a psychiatric ward. Strictly speaking, a foray isn’t just a brief excursion, but a sudden attack. Precipitated by my own mind’s attack on my Self, and reciprocated by the attack of the Self on the problem of that mind, those ten days functioned like a Pause button on the stimuli of daily life, giving me some time to study myself in something like a vacuum instead of in situ

The hospital environment certainly fulfilled Least Heat Moon’s vision of a place-and-time where a person does not have to fill any expected roles. In there, I wasn’t defined or identified by being anybody’s daughter, mother, employee, wife. I was simply Kana. I hung out in hospital scrubs and (ironically, given the intensive amount of reflection going on) didn’t see a mirror for the duration.

tinker

…and my brother-in-law calls me “Tink”…

While I was there, I began the Project of becoming more Self-Aware, questioning the assumptions about myself that I had been holding as absolutes, tinkering with my self-image and behaviors. (“Tinker” is an act of repair or invention. It’s also used to mean Gypsy.) And while Gypsycraft might usually refer to foretelling the future, I’ve undertaken the assignment of dissecting my present and past for clues to my Self. Clues to my own role in my own life.

When Kreisman & Straus wrote about borderlines finding “different aspects of their personality emerge in different situations,” I identified completely. As a kid, I loved a song my mother taught us that began, “If everybody had a tail and chose its shape and size”—and went on to enumerate the different types of tails one might choose for different functions. I was so enamored of the idea that I created an entire wardrobe of interchangeable tails to pin to my pants, and my sister and I played “Tail Monsters” for months.

If I offload the accessory appendages, who am I really? I find I’m overturning assumptions, and even some of the trivial discoveries can shake me a bit, just because it’s disconcerting to realize I’ve been wrong about mySELF. Case in point: I’ve been certain, for years, that I hate pink. My passionate protestations have achieved the level of “family joke”–I refused to dress my infant daughter in pink even though the world assumed the blue-clad baby must be a boy, and my husband Jon jokingly threatens to dress ME in pink if I misbehave…

pink shirt

test-driving PINK…

Yet one evening in the hospital I found myself choosing a pink set of scrubs. (“These appeal to me. Do I wholly hate the hue?”) Imagine Jon’s amusement when I told him over the phone that I intended to buy a pink pullover when I got out. Yup, that’s right: I’m test-driving pink.

And okay, I like it. But even with an adjustment that is more symbolic than substantial, my brain can create complications. My black-and-white thinking (or in this case, pink-and-turquoise thinking) urges me to decide between the pink and my habitual turquoise shades of dress. Of course there’s no earthly reason for this to be a mutually exclusive choice, but my mind wants to make it one.

image

It’s no mystery which side of the closet is mine… turquoise!

My entire closet (minus the single pink top) consists of shades of teal-and-turquoise, to the point that acquaintances refer to these as “Kana’s colors.” (I respond by joking that “when everything goes with everything, it’s easy to shop, easy to pack for a trip, easy to get dressed in the morning… When I find a great purse or scarf, it goes with everything!”) Apparently this has become important to me. I literally won’t buy a sweater I (otherwise) love, if it’s not in “my” color palette. If the addition of one pink pullover throws me into mental turmoil, I’m definitely having some identity issues.

All I can conclude is that some Gypsying (of the poker variety) is in order. No more jumping in till I’ve seen at least some of the cards.

stay where there are songsAnd probably some Gypsying of the exploratory variety is in order as well—continuing to get to know myself, as it were. I don’t yet know what that means, but I’m open to the journey.

 

image

hubby Jon reading the “User’s Manual” to ME…

*The book on Borderline Personality Disorder  recommended by my psych-doc “to see if it resonates” with me… Um, YES.

Kreisman, Jerold J. & Straus, Hal. I Hate You–Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality. Penguin, 2010.