Tag Archives: writing

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


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.

 

 


Singing in the Shower

Fozzie Bear : Singing in the Shower is all fun and games until you get shampoo in your mouth. Then it becomes a soap opera.

I’ve been chewing shampoo!

It’s fairly telling that my most “recent” post here dates from almost two years ago. It’s even more telling that I haven’t FELT like writing for two years. (That should be a red flag for a person like me, right?) And the real irony is that there was plenty to be writing ABOUT in those two years, which have played out like a soap opera on the screen of my life…  (To borrow the analogy from Fozzie Bear at the left, when suds get in your open mouth, your shower-song becomes a soap opera. I’ve been humming along as if everything were fine, when really I’ve been chewing shampoo!)

But after two years of twists & turns (or twisted turns) I found myself singing in the shower for real the other morning—which is a GOOD sign for me. Even though this particular rendition of “What a Beautiful Morning” took place in the uncurtained shower of a psych ward.

Clinical Depression isn’t new to me (or to this blog), but thanks to my little vacation psych-stint, my medical chart has a whole new line-up of initials added. B.P.A.D… P.T.S.D… O.C.D…B.P.D…. Bipolar Affective Disorder. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder. Borderline Personality Disorder. With all those disorders getting applied to me, I think an out-of-order sign is in order for my forehead!

out of order signJoking aside, I’m grateful. For each of those sets of initials, there’s now a treatment plan in effect. And with a new sense of perspective and self-awareness, I’m actually dealing with [cringe!] my emotions regarding events of the last couple years. I’m not good at emotions, but I’m tackling them.

In a blog that has previously served as a pretty comprehensive Journal of my Journey, I feel I should fill in that two-year gap with at least a “Cliffs Notes” catch-up before I start writing about THE NOW…  No doubt I’ll be treating a lot of this in greater detail at some point, but for now, for those who wonder what the heck has happened…

October 2014. Husband Keoni leaves me by means of his successful suicide attempt, literally in front of my eyes. I close our restaurant and try to contemplate an entirely changed life.

December 2014. I think (now) that the manic side of that Bipolar diagnosis can go pretty far in explaining my impulsive remarriage. (“Impetuous risk-taking behavior, anyone?) I will get to enjoy a few months of an imagined new life before I’ll start discovering all the lies on which that new life has been shakily constructed. In short, Dustin is a con man—among other things.

April 2015. Dustin doesn’t want me to work, but doesn’t want to hold down a job himself. When we do have money, he’ll do something like buy himself a guitar (which he’ll never play)  instead of paying the power bill. I’m becoming increasingly stressed about finances… And I’m utterly shocked at the sight of two pink stripes on a pregnancy test! I decide to treat this bombshell as joyful news (but note the revealing fact that I had to DECIDE on joy).

September 2015. Unexpected pregnancy may have been a jolt, but that’s nothing compared to the shock of Dustin getting served with divorce papers! The woman I had believed to be his EX-wife turns out to be his OTHER wife. (Well, one of them–turns out he hadn’t divorced his first wife either!) Oh, and it turns out that he had gotten fired from the “graveyard-shift job” for which he has still been leaving me most nights. Don’t know who “she” is, but she is not a job, and there’s not a paycheck. And now that I’ve kicked him out and filed for annulment, there’s not a husband.

baby ultrasound

growing a baby boy for Jennifer

My mother specializes in Adoption Law, and I ask her to find my baby a great family. When she introduces me to prospective mom Jennifer, I’m suddenly certain that God had a plan all along.

October 2015. I’m six months pregnant, unexpectedly single, and my van has just broken down. A kind man at my church sees me walking to Sunday services in hundred-degree heat and asks if I would like to borrow his extra car while I get myself sorted out. Jon has been widowed for five years, and he invites me to dinner when he gives me the car keys.  I’m not even thinking of this as a DATE (are you kidding?—did I mention “6 months pregnant“?) but I fall for him before the evening is over. (Literally. He picked me up on his motorcycle, and I landed on my rear in the parking lot trying to dismount. Ever graceful, that’s me!)

preemie premature baby

Greyson: 10 weeks early & just over 2 pounds

Baby’s not due till Christmas, but mid-October I’m in the hospital for an emergency C-section. Medically speaking, everything has gone haywire and sideways; I won’t get out of the hospital for several weeks, and tiny Greyson won’t go home with Jennifer for several months.

Jon visits me in the hospital and when he holds my hand I feel school-girl-giddy, even in a hospital gown and draped with tubes & wires and other unappealing accessories that comprise hôpital couture

December 2015. The annulment has gone through, my health is improving, the growing baby is a feisty fighter, Jon & I are getting serious… In other words, things are looking UP for the first time in a while. The illogical response of my alcoholic brain is to let down my guard—and pick up a drink. A LOT of drink.

“the new black” is NOT my color

After dropping my kids at school, I am arrested for Excessive DUI at eight in the morning.  Driving Jon’s car.  My kids are frightened and furious; neither one will talk to me for months. (Christian still hasn’t.)  Jon is furious but forgiving. I begin adjusting to life-without-license. Life-without-my-kids. Life-with-Probation-Officer.

On New Year’s Eve the ball drops—and so does Jon… to one knee, with a ring. I say “yes please!” My mother points out that I’ve been divorced, widowed, and annulled; I’ve gotten out of a marriage every way possible, so “how about if this one sticks?” Once again: yes please!

wedding day… waiting at the starting gate (OK, the church nursery)

February 2016. On the lucky 13th, a wedding. Not an impromptu spontaneous leap this time, but a real wedding. In our church, with our pastor, friends & family invited, “for as long as we both shall live,” Amen.

A week after our wedding we move into the 40-foot Fifth Wheel RV Jon has just bought us—he moving from his brother’s house and I from my now-too-empty three-bedroom apartment. Consolidating households and offloading extra STUFF is extremely satisfying. I’m offered a job working in the office of our RV Park situated right on the Boise River. I become fast friends with a near neighbor.

So….  This year has had its highs and lows… I gained a husband and a best friend and a home on wheels. I enjoyed my first seaside vacation in almost a decade. I lost my share in custody of my teens. I lost my dad. I grew a new person and gave him into the loving hands of an amazing mommy. I’ve enjoyed my job and RV living, but I’ve been virtually unable to get myself writing. I’ve had a more solid “safety net” (emotionally, financially) than I’ve enjoyed for years, but my moods have hit some new lows that don’t align consistently with the circumstances.

Newport Oregon

with My Jon on the Oregon coast

The above fill-in history should provide enough context for me to be able to write about my current life without confounding my previous readers, but there’s another bit to add today. The thing is, the last couple years have been over-full of drama & trauma—and until now, I haven’t actually dealt with a lot of that. I’ve been stuffing shit under the rug until I’m standing on top of a rug, on top of a pile of shit, and still maintaining that “I’m okay!” Yeah, that was awful, but I’m okay now. And “being okay” has seemed so important to my own self-image that I’ve even fooled myself into believing it. Throw in some additional un-diagnosed mental health issues, and my emotional life was becoming inexplicably dark. Hence my recent ten-day tour in a mental health facility.

It’s time to peel back the rug and start actually cleaning out the accumulation beneath. So here I am at the keyboard. And I’m happy to report that when I sang in the shower this morning, it wasn’t a soap opera. I’d call it a Praise Song.

sandal feet on the beach

feet on a fresh path…


Jon (Desert Storm combat vet) holding Service photos of himself, his brother, and their dad

Jon (Desert Storm combat vet) holding Service photos of himself, his brother, and their dad

An unrelated thought on this post-Election Veterans’ Day…

Heartfelt THANKS to all who have Served our country and sacrificed for others. 🇺🇸
We live in a country where people DO that for others, and THAT is something of which we should be proud. Let’s remember this week that we don’t have to be defined by our politicians–we can be defined by our heroes.