Category Archives: Deep Thoughts

It gets better(ish)

I was messaging back and forth with someone on my tumblr blog about something I’d reblogged about being middle-aged (ish, I know 40 is the new 30 *rolls eyes*) and mentally ill.

I tagged myself as being 42 and having bipolar 2, which prompted that person’s message, and thus far we’ve had a few back and forth messages about bipolar 2.   Among other things, I mentioned that I think (and still do) that I am a better writer when I am really depressed.

Something they said in response struck me (to paraphrase):  “I don’t know who I am without meds.”

I used to feel that way, and when I went to check out their tumblr profile I was reminded that they were in their late 20s.

It made sense, even though I don’t know how long this person has been struggling with their diagnosis.  Here I am, 42, and I’ve been doing the bipolar diagnosis thing for 10 years.  I’ve had this blog under one name or another for 10 years, however lately neglected it’s been.

And gosh, do I remember how fucking agonizing life was for a really long time.  First, because I was miserable and couldn’t fix it.  Then, miserable because I knew what was wrong with me but the meds weren’t a cure.  Then, more miserable because the meds would work for a while and then just stop working.

Never mind all the stuff about the impact bipolar has had on who I have managed (or abandoned) relationships with– family, friends, and work– and how hard those relationships were to navigate around trying to keep a stuff upper lip and keep going.  Never mind all the stuff about work and achieving what other folks expected of me and castigating myself for not being enough of a success.

A very big part of the angst and the agony was about questioning my identity– was I just malfunctioning neurotransmitters and faulty hormone levels?  Who was I if it required medication to change my perceptions to something “normal?”  Wasn’t there, surely, a “normal” that existed outside my ups(ish) and very deep downs? Wasn’t it really a character flaw inside my personality (whatever that was) that meant I wasn’t morally strong enough to just push my way through the depression?

I said to this tumblr friend that I had been through that and at some point it had stopped bothering me.  I guessed that in all the thrashing towards leaving my marriage, I’d unconsciously resolved the question in favor of “I am worth it,” and stopped questioning whether “meds me” or “non-meds me” was the real person who deserved to have attention paid to them.

I think this is probably true– although heavens know, I could go back to when I was blogging here then and re-read my posts to see if that’s what I was thinking then.  I’m not going to, though– because it matters less than what I know to be true now.

Here’s what I know to be true now.

It mostly gets better.  Better(ish), if you like.

Infuriating, right?  Everyone who’s not inside your head tells you this and it is so damned hard to believe in the midst of the darkness.  Someone told me this back then and I emphatically refused to believe it.

It’s true anyway.

I don’t want to navel gaze about self-help or sports-jargon words like “resilience” or “adversity” or “living with your struggle.”  I think that “keep calm and carry on,” is as close as I can come to paraphrasing what I’ve come to accept makes sense for me.  Or maybe Winston Churchill’s “if you’re going through hell, just keep going.”

I kept going and decided to do that even when things were objectively terrible– and not just because my perspective was tinged by depression and panic and very little hope that things would improve or that I deserved to keep going.

A lot of times I tried to trust in the therapeutic value of work– not in some big, high-minded way, but in an “at least I accomplished something today” kind of way.  I have journaled erratically over the last several years, and when I have it’s been focused on what I have been doing that means I accomplished something.

Sometimes it’s been– I fed someone something delicious.

Sometimes it’s been– I got someone back their health insurance, or hired someone who’s succeeded, or I gave someone the space they needed to attend to their health and still keep their job.

Sometimes it’s been– I made someone I care about laugh.

Sometimes it’s been– I cut back that overgrown, unblooming rosebush that scratched up everyone who came near it.

I hacked back that rose hedge the week after I left my marriage and moved.  I was scratched all to hell by the end, and I sweated the whole way through it, sore and tired from all the work.

It’s been 6 years since then, and that hedge is more or less orderly, blooms all summer long, and it’s beautiful in its own droopy, old-fashioned, slightly scraggly, occasionally thorny way.  Those things are all true, standing right up on top of the hedge.  But three feet away, it’s a well-put together rose hedge that delights everyone who sees it.  (We get notes through the mail slot about how nice a rose hedge it is.)

It’s work, though.  That first pruning was not a magical fix and it was ugly and bare for a while.  I have to tend to that hedge every year and cut out the dead parts, feed the roots, and take a step back to figure out how to fit other parts of the garden around it.

That rose hedge is a little too heavy handed a metaphor, but it’s true.  I had to hack my life back down to the ground for it to grow back– but it worked.  It got better.

Gardening metaphors aside, though, it doesn’t mean I don’t still get depressed, or anxious, or agitated and doubtful and occasionally helpless.  It does mean that having decided to keep going, there are more and more successes over time that are objective proof that I am mostly making the right decisions, and that whoever I am, with or without meds, I’m doing okay.  And then, I feel better more quickly than I had in past years.

It gets mostly better.  And when it doesn’t, it’s okay.  It will get better(ish) again.  Just please keep going.

Dispatches from the other side of adulthood

This morning, I was watching a squirrel climb down my rose trellis in order to sneak away from the hawk tearing into a starling from its perch atop my bird feeder.  As I watched the squirrel flee this natural scene, I thought, hmm, that’s something.

We put up the trellis so the roses have someplace to grab, something to hold on to on its journey up— and sometimes we even tie roses there when it’s a rambler instead of a climber, but anyway, still, a trellis goes down and sideways as well as just up, it’s all just a matter of which way you want to use it, the trellis is just a tool and it doesn’t care if you’re a rose or a squirrel or a clematis, some weedy bindweed or that dumb, stupid cat who’s not as subtle as it thinks it is when it sits on top of the fence and uses the trellis to climb down the fence but still the cardinals and blue jays fly off before it finishes its “stealthy” approach, because it’s orange, and I hate to tell you, cat, but the ground is not orange.  You’re not going to blend in.

This evening, my Dad was talking to me about something while I washed the pots.  I have no idea what he said, because I couldn’t hear him over the sound of the water, and in any event, if I had turned off the taps he’d have been mad that I’d interrupted him to say anything, even though he knows perfectly well he can’t hear me when our roles are reversed.

But that’s often how it is with parents, not to mention people in general. They’re not talking to you for you to hear them or so you can respond; they’re only speaking to get the voices out of their heads.  Calling out that you can’t hear what they’re saying won’t change anything; not only cann’t they remember what they’d think if they were in your place, but your yelling gets in the way of enjoying the hot soapy water and the satisfaction that comes with accomplishing something, even if it’s only clean spoons.  Clean spoons are important.  How else are you going to eat your dulce de leche?  With your finger?  Don’t be a heathen.

(with apologies to Welcome to Night Vale)

It isn’t full circle

It isn’t full circle, I have to tell myself that, when I find myself in a chair no one held six years ago when I was falling apart and people asked, “Was I doing okay,” but took it at mostly face value when I said yes, then let me fall apart and drop off the face of the earth, only to slowly scotch tape, duct tape, Krazy glue myself back together with no one’s particular help (no matter how much I did try to ask, too little too late, but still, I did ask and they vowed, marital, Hippocratic, parental, but still, they all failed, when asked they unanswered).

It isn’t full circle, I have to tell myself that, that I now sit in the chair that no one held six years ago and tell the truth I did not want to hear.  ”You are not doing okay,” I say, and lay out the hard options, which are take the time off which is some hardship, or take the exit and the door will hit you hard in the ass on the way out, and trust me, that will take longer to recover from.  I don’t say, “I’ve been there,” but I do say that maybe the time off will give them time to straighten things out, and if not, at least give them time to make a more graceful exit.  It’s hard to be kind, but if it’s not kind, it’s true, and it’s a truth no one told me and a tough love I had to learn all by myself (a love for myself I had to learn, too, when the people who owed me nothing didn’t bother to extend me anything, either).

So, no. It isn’t full circle.  It’s miles and loops and six years ahead of myself. And fuck yes, it’s hard, because I want to cry with them, too, and cry for myself, for who I was then and still always will be, just a bit, always a little raggedy-broken unevenly stuck to myself in places it hurts to detach myself from to sit in a different chair than where I ever expected to be— but that is the joy and the pain of learning and growing and doing something for others that no one bothered to do for you.

It isn’t full circle, it’s a line, and it’s a line going forward. That’s better.

The rose trellis

It takes time to rebuild what one tempest brings down.  (Tempest in literal hours or metaphor as months or years, pick your perspective.)  First, you’ve got to cut back the wreckage of roses, years’ worth of beautiful growth, heirlooms and hybrids, all tangled and thorny and a veritable reminder of what you’ve left lying dormant too long, then let it lie until the blooms have died back and you’ve filled all the vases all over the house with the beauty that still (still) is there, no matter the mess of it all.

And then, when it’s all been cut back, runners and canes gone to ground and all of the pruned bits are bundled and bagged and then (inspiration!) why don’t you have stackable trashcans for this (the old dog has tricks in her yet, because you may be a bitch but that term doesn’t mean anything here in the yard) it’s all set aside and you’ve even remembered the date for yard waste pickup (it feels good to be organized, like a real adult, yes it does) you’ve got to pull down the wreck of the wood you put up with some kind of “help” decades ago.  Now, power and hand tools and pry bars and sledgehammers at hand, your shoulders and arms ache in different ways than they did when the trellis went up the first time, when much shouting and swearing about levels and measures and the “right” way occurred, when really, roses don’t care as long as there’s some kind of solid support. Eight-five degrees versus ninety won’t kill a wild thing as long as the inches and feet all add up and the ends meet, more or less.  (Now your eyes sting with sweat and sawdust and your arms shake with effort, but you shoulder the support beams yourself as you pry them away where the masonry anchors are rusted fast to the wall, and that rip-crack feels good, in a way, saying something final the tempest did not.  Destruction can be good for the soul.)

And then it’s time to rebuild.  There’s the handheld masonry bit, your grandpa’s whom you never knew except through his tools and this house with its ancient wiring that holds, that and the set of your father’s chin, just like his dad’s in the photographs on top of the silent piano.  The chink of old iron against stone is satisfaction itself, the reverberation through your body from the bit/hammer/swing of your arm placing new anchors (ones that you bought without interference from dudes who may well have wanted to help, but you’ve got Storey’s Wisdom and the internet, too, not to mention a basement full of a dead master contractor’s bits, bolts and bobs and why not put history to your own use, this time?).  There’s a feel not just of power but of placement, creation, in the whir-grind-hot burr of the old (as old as you) Skil power drill, extended from the garage thanks to the trench you dug through the yard two years ago and the line you had laid out from the house (sometimes it’s okay to accept you have your limits) as the special concrete bits dig in and bite, take anchor and pull you forward as you push, cast your anchors in stone and then set your planks, two by four by eight hardwood cut to fit the wonky dimensions of mortar and stone.

Vertical struts go on first, drilled and anchored and screwed as the sun crosses the sky and hits your neck and shoulders around the crabapple tree (and today you don’t look up for Icarus, no, today you’re not flying too close or falling, not trying and failing, glorious in momentary success, today you’re just a gardener, because catching a fish feeds you one day, but fixing your garden feeds you for months in more than just the physical way), and then once they’re done, the horizontal slatwork, easy, compared, but un-anchored and needing more verticals to hold the whole rigging in place.  It’s a sailboat of sorts, though it’s a ship that sails with the seasons and sun, and not with the wind– at least, you hope not for a while, not like the last blow that brought the last bout of hard work cracking down.

And then last but not least, the oil stain, rubbed on by hand as the ladder teeters a bit underfoot– but it’s not far to the ground, and you’re not wearing wax wings, nor will you be hurt by more than some thorns (would that thorns were all that could hurt us), because you’ve been careful in your construction to pick up the nails, screws and bolts as you go, to be tidy and not leave too much scrap because as you’ve worked, the roses have already budded green, inches and feet gained back from the retraining you gave them at the start of this all.   There’s a moment of silence for the dragonfly who flew too close and was wing-splattered with stain.  He is still, stiff by the time you see him, resting on top of a thatch of Lillian Gibson’s regrowth, a fingernail’s worth of driftwood-colored weatherproofing forever stilling his flight.  It’s an unworthy thought, to think that some flies must die so that things bigger than them can live, but still, there’s something else, if not worthy, than worthwhile of acceptance:  even when you’re rebuilding a rose trellis with as much care as you can, you can’t look everywhere all the time, and there are bound to be splits in the wood, spots that you’ve missed, and tempests that you cannot predict, somewhere, off, outside the yard.

Too, it’s a comfort to know (grounding, it is) that just you, Storey’s Wisdom, a well-planned trip to Lowe’s, and the contents of your dad’s and grandfather’s basement built you something your roses, crabapples, and other things to be fruitful and counted-upon in the future, built this all by yourself, give or take five degrees.  You’ve taken a measure, and somehow, it fits.

Ways of looking

I follow the English public thinker Alain de Botton on Twitter, and while I don’t always agree with him, he does provoke thought in his posts, books, and links, which of course is the whole purpose of being a live, working philosopher.  Yesterday, he tweeted about the “evils” of photography versus learning to draw and linked to an article in The Philosopher’s Mail about phone-photography versus sketching.  I don’t agree with the article, by and large.

The points I chose to take away from the article were:

1) we shouldn’t be living our lives through our gadgets, and that phone camera snaps shouldn’t substitute for being actually present in a moment, for noticing the minute details versus just collecting proof that Kilroy Was Here before we move on quickly, because there’s a (socially constructed and inherently false) schedule to keep to so that we can document to the next snapchattable moment, and,

2) by cultivating a “slow” skill such as drawing, especially when it’s something that doesn’t come naturally to us, we learn to take in the world in a different way, to truly notice the depth of beauty all around us and all the fine details that we can breathe in if we just look,

3) the ability to look and perceive both the whole and its details is important.

I agree, fully, that there are too many of us who are distracted in our everyday doings, but it didn’t start with the camera– perhaps with the telegraph, or same day post.  The fact is, life is fast and has been getting faster since the invention of the printing press (darn that Gutenberg, he had no value for the small quiet value of hand-inked vellum), and “drawing” as a way to stop & smell the roses is all well and good as a metaphor.  It’s not so great as a general moral proposition.

The points inherent in the article with which I take issue are, if not legion, ones that have been brought up by people far more articulate than me–

1) that a camera phone photograph cannot inherently capture finer details,

2) that the takers of camera phone photographs are all rushing, rushing, rushing, rather than– pausing to notice and focus in on that detail– the cornice of that building, that tulip, that couple embracing,

 

3) that the takers of camera phone photographs do not take the time, later, to share that captured detail with other people later, either in print or on one of the many social media sites where photographers congregate to share photos, look for those details they personally find beautiful and worthy of documentation and sharing (Instagram? Flickr?  Twitter?  Does Mr. de Botton not know about photography social media platforms, or that photos can be shared on the platform he uses?)

4) that all the details & moments captured on camera phones are inherently “shallow”– selfies or fashion shots or pictures of expensive meals or other consumables rather than externally objective objects of beauty– travel, nature, animals, smiles, architecture, “what a wondrous thing is man” when he manages to capture a macro of a peacock feather– when, in fact, a review of any mobile photography website will show you the whole range of human and earthly existence,

5) that drawing is inherently and always better than phone (or any other) photography, and that photography is not, therefore, art, however “art” is defined,

6) that camera phone photography, as an “art” and a “skill” is something that does not inspire the doer toward improvement, toward other forms of the art, toward more technique or toward gatherings with like-minded persons who likewise seek to gather & appreciate the beauty out there in the world.  (One word/hashtag: #instameet.)  I didn’t start out with a camera phone, for my own self, but my little point & shoots, and my desire to improve my own naked eye shots of the things out there in the world have certainly caused me to read more about how to frame, how to compose, whether to upgrade to a DSLR (and I did) so that I could capture better, finer, more beauty than I had been able to heretofore.  I have met and know many, many, many folks online & in person whose “gateway” drug was the point & shoot or the iPhone, but now they go on photo safaris & print out real art, real beauty, real moments that reflect our world as it is– or as we’d like it to be.

I have no problem, at all, with people who have the time and perseverance to sketch, paint, or engage in other forms of non-photography art.  I admire the talent and ambition and stick-to-itiveness that it takes.  But it is an unassailable truth that life does move quickly, and all the slowing down and taking time to smell the roses (or sketch them, as the argument would suppose) doesn’t change the fact that in the every day churn of it all, sometimes we don’t have the time to stop and sketch, because we haven’t got the concatenation of timing, life circumstances and courage to choose to do anything other than get to work and take care of our selves and our loved ones in mundane, material ways.

It would be nice, lovely, ideal, to live a more artistic, more reflective life in more moments over the spread of a lifetime– but sometimes, realistically speaking, a camera phone shot and five minutes to notice whatever image you saw is all the time you have in a day to notice the beauty and humanity around you.

Five minutes’ pause on your way is better than none.

I also freely admit that there are a hell of a lot of pretty pictures of flowers and beloved children and cats of no particular artistic inspiration on the internet and in photo albums all over the world– though I would also argue that art isn’t always the point of a photograph, because it is also useful in capturing a moment, preserving a memory, and whether it does it with more or less technique or artistry is less important than the preservation itself.

In that regard, photography in its speed does what sketching (and those without patience or time or talent or any combination of those you choose to combine in your moral judgment) does not– it preserves a moment in time which, looked back upon, recalls happiness, even if it is done artlessly.

I’d also argue that today’s selfie might be someone else’s coup de foudre— art is at least partly subjective, after all, and however much sarcasm someone else might inflect the term with, to the aficionado, an iPhone shot of “nail art” has meaning and increases the general quantum of happiness– if some of it is at the shallow end of life’s pool, why does everything have to be deep? I’m not trying to say that there is no objective truth, or larger, important set of truths, but if a shallow happiness works for that person in that particular moment, or if something that seems trite to one person is meaningful to another– well.  I’m happy to wait while someone is standing on the sidewalk before me, taking a camera phone shot of something they find to have meaning.

 All pictures taken on my Google Droid phone, and uploaded to my Flickr, via Instagram & its various automatic filters.

 

(Links) Narcissist parents

Raeyn at The Scarlet B blogs thoughtfully & consistently about all kinds of things, including family/life balance and managing the ups & downs of Bipolar 2, but recently she’s been posting about narcissist parents & terminating the relationship, with helpful links to different blogs, including this one at The Invisible Scar.

It’s a subject I’m all over the place about, and still feeling raw & aswirl when I try to write something down.   Continue reading