Tag Archives: packing

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


Living Large by Living SMALL

I’m sometimes convinced my purse is cursed. It swallows the things I want to find (it has happened on more than one occasion that I’ve had to empty out the entire contents in order to lay hands on the cell phone that has eluded me through three thorough rummaging-searches) and mysteriously fills with things I don’t need to find.

purse kitchen sink

everything AND the kitchen sink–a bursting purse

Seriously. Why did I end up toting Pizza Hut packets of parmesan, plastic Communion cup,  cinnamon-scented pinecone, tire pressure gauge, metallic Sharpie markers, a pair of chopsticks, completed crosswords, a fishing fly in a prescription bottle… Okay, not all of these things at one time, but those are actual examples of things my purse regurgitates when I only want my phone!  The lesson here is that if I have space, I WILL fill it—whether that space be in a purse or in a home.

If I live in a house, the STUFF I own will inevitably expand to fit the space. (I’m certain this happens without any help from me— surely I’ve played no part in accumulating said stuff, ahem…) If I have an attic or shed or garage or storage space, that stuff-expansion will continue till all the corners are filled in. Picture a marshmallow swelling in the microwave–that’s the sort of bloat we’re talking about.

movingI’ve moved eight times in the last eight years, each time with enough boxes to build a fortress. Each time packing, hauling, and unpacking all that Stuff. I would intend to sort and dispose, but I’d cave to the “Keep-its,” afraid to get rid of things I might want or “need,” hesitant to let go of sentimental items or gifts… Every time I packed more stuff than the previous time, instead of less.

The stuff I owned was owning me right back.

I suppose I could take comfort in the fact that this is a thoroughly American dilemma; it shouldn’t shock anyone to hear that Americans invented the self storage facility, an industry that Slate magazine called “a surprisingly fertile cultural indicator.”

What’s the most ubiquitous business in America? I would have answered Starbucks, but the New York Times reported this country supports seven times as many storage facilities as Starbucks stores, with customers’ “third-most-popular use” admitted to be “storing items that they ‘no longer need or want.'”

from a LetGo.com ad

skydiving with sewing machine: a LetGo.com ad

The humorous ads for LetGo.com might be puzzling to people in other countries (the continent of Europe apparently has about 1 storage facility for every 25 in the U.S.) but we here in America understand the underlying truth that makes them funny: people here DON’T let go of their stuff…

I may not have been paying out extra monthly money to keep the stuff I didn’t want to keep, but I was still dutifully packing and moving all of it at least once a year.

fifth wheel RV camp

Home! 350 square feet…

This February I married Jon and we moved into a fifth wheel RV. It’s good-sized for an RV, 40 feet long with a toy-hauler “garage” section for the motorcycle and some storage. Still, we’re talking something like 250 square feet of living space and another 100 for the garage. Big for an RV, yes, but tiny-house-small compared to most American dwellings.

I was watching a marathon of “Tiny-House Hunters” the other day in the RV park-office where I work (or where I work in busier months, anyway—this time of year it may not qualify as “working”)… I’m amused by the whole “tiny house” fad, and even more amused by the fact that the people who enjoy this show are some of the same who seemed aghast that we would consider moving into an RV.  The home-buyers in these episodes riff on common themes: simplicity, sustainability, mobility & flexibility, financial freedom, minimalism…

packingSo I picked up a word that’s new to me: Minimalist. It’s fairly self-explanatory, but I hadn’t heard it (or hadn’t heard it capitalized) until an episode in which a buyer repeatedly used the word to reassure himself about tiny-house squeezes. When his pragmatic sister challenged him with almost any question (“Where will you put furniture?“) he would automatically respond, “That’s okay; I’m a Minimalist.”

Another episode’s couple reported that they had taken the “Minimalist Challenge” before deciding on tiny-house living. The 30-day Challenge calls for disposal of one possession on the first day, two on the second,  and so on until the player/experimenter/prospective-Minimalist has either jettisoned 465 items or decided that Minimalism doesn’t suit.

Apparently I qualify as a Minimalist. I spent most of January sorting and winnowing, taking daily carloads to Goodwill and watching with satisfaction as my furniture walked out the door, piece by piece, on the shoulders of Craigslist buyers. By the time my mother arrived in town for the wedding, my three-bedroom apartment was echoing and empty, save for a small stack of boxes and luggage in the living room. “You must have some serious storage,” she commented. I didn’t correct her assumption at the time, but in truth, everything I own is now in this fifth wheel.

RV living room fifth wheel

still roomier than a sailboat…

Also truthfully, to a person who has long dreamed of living aboard a sailboat, this roomy rec-vehicle didn’t seem squeezed or unfeasible at all. Like a sailboat, it makes the most use of every space, tucking storage areas under the bed and in lofts by the ceiling… Like a sailboat, cabinets are built to keep objects from achieving flight when the home is in motion. Like a sailboat, the shower sports a hatch skylight and the toilet sports a flush-pedal and the tanks have to be monitored and maintained… It’s all familiar enough to be comforting, even exciting.

And for a Gypsyish soul like myself, the wheels beneath have as much appeal as the compact home itself. I have sat in the park office and watched my house roll by, knowing that HOME will be somewhere other than where I left it. And guess what? I didn’t have to pack a single box! (I will admit, though, that it felt odd to affix a license plate to my house!)

Gypsy-mobility is its own topic, about which I could write volumes (and probably will), but for now let me just say that my life is open for Experiences. When my counselor asked me recently what I want out of Life, “Experience” was the word that flew out of my mouth.

sailing skipper

greatest riches are in my mind… Skippering a sailboat, 2008

“Living Large” is not my aspiration; my greatest riches are in my mind. The things that fill pages in the box of journals stored in the RV’s extra bunk, or the pages of this blog. These are riches no one can strip from me—they won’t go into foreclosure or get repossessed or have a tax lien put on them. I may be an “anti-packrat,” but I do collect one thing: Memories. And fortunately, memories don’t require storage space—not even in the form of mementos or souvenirs.

The idea of minimalist living seems to appeal to many people on the surface—just look at the popularity of magazines like “Real Simple,” which hawks facsimiles of Streamlining & Simplicity with exorbitant price tags! …but minimalism does require some Letting Go. Actually, a lot of it.

vase of flowers

“small space” DOESN’T have to mean “cluttered”…

I had a conversation in the park office the other day with another full-time RV-er whose possessions are piled up in storage units, and who expressed curiosity about how I had managed to minimize my own Stuff enough to eliminate the need for storage. Like most Momentous Things, it’s deceptively simple.

Um, I got rid of the Stuff.

I suppose a person (if she does want to minimize) has to consider the various reasons why she has been keeping the Stuff she has. Does she use it or wear it regularly? Is it Important to her for some reason or another? Does she feel “guilted” into hanging on to it? Does she love it?

Things in the “use-it-regularly” category I kept. You might be surprised what a small pile that is, compared to the sum total of the Stuff you own!

storage boxes

TWO sentimental-storage boxes… (AND some unused space)

“Important” things—well, that can be subjective. I kept the little fire-proof safe with birth certificates, passports, and the like. I kept a large-ish box containing four decades’ worth of journals. I kept a smallish box of mementos: a handful of my kids’ baby-things, my own baby-blanket, some other items I feel strongly about… But honestly, the majority of things I’d been saving for “sentimental” reasons could fulfill their purpose in a photograph as well as in person. I took pictures, and I let things go.

fifth wheel autumn

the view out my window: my Best Friend’s home…

Things I would have felt guilty about getting rid of, I offered to the other people who might feel strongly about them. I gave things to my children, who live elsewhere; I took family-furniture to my parents; I handed family genealogy records to my sister-the-historian. And some things I really didn’t need. The current FaceBook comments from high school classmates mean more to me than what they wrote in my yearbooks a quarter-century ago. I dismantled bulky photo albums and simply kept the pictures.

Living a mere mile from the Oregon Trail, I feel a strong affinity for its travelers of long ago: people who embarked on a new life with everything they owned stowed in a very small, mobile space. The trail is ahead of me—we’ll see where it leads.

imagehome is where we park itI’m packed, and I have more than I need. At the end of the day, as the country song goes, “Ain’t never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch!”

(If you haven’t heard the song, I recommend spending the three minutes—just click below.)  :)

 

 


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.