Some things I’m not grateful for….

Thanksgiving 2015

There are a lot of things that I’m not grateful for.
I’m not grateful for all the terrible things going on on the world stage
Although that makes me even more grateful for my life
And it makes me think about and care about
People in the world who I might never have thought about otherwise

Well I’m not grateful for the knee replacement they say I need.
Though it does make me even more appreciate
Some of the things I right now can’t do
Like Tae Kwon Do
And it’s making me think about
What other kinds of work I might want to do.
That would not have me on my feet for eight hours in a shift

I’m not grateful for bipolar disorder
Every seven to ten days
Throwing me into the dark and cold
Where I can hold on to nothing
That the day before I loved
About myself and about life.
But my new meds seem to be helping some
And I am clearer all the time
That reaching out to my brothers and sisters
With this terrible disease
And writing and teaching about it
For those who love us or have to deal with us
Is my life’s work.

I’m not grateful about not seeing you people very often
Except it does make me appreciate you even more
And I’m actually probably as busy as you are – or more when I’m up
Busy and unavailable when I’m up
Flat on the floor and unavailable when I’m down
OK, us not seeing each other is not all your doing
And, in the here and now, here we are

So, I’m not grateful for er-r-r uh, a lot of things
I’m kind of good at not being grateful
So I have to learn how to love
All the players on the world stage
Even those who are doing heinous things
I’ve got to love my knee doctor and Lucille
And you people
And myself when I’m not being grateful

I’ve got to love myself no matter what
Gratitude will come in spurts
I will learn it over the whole course of my life
And I guess I can be grateful
That we have a day like now
A season like now
That encourages us to go to that place

So I’m going to be grateful for this present moment
Radiating out as best I can
In all directions
I’ll do it the best I can, for as long as I can
And ask some benevolent spirit
To give me a heads-up
When I return to whining.

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How much do you want it?

I have played around with lots of theories about why I have not been writing on my blog, but they all really boil down to one factor: I haven’t wanted it enough.  Sure, it’s true that I’ve been depressed, but there have been other times that I have been depressed and still kept writing. It’s true that I’m tired at the end of the day, but that doesn’t explain it – if I wanted it enough I would power through the tiredness.  It’s true that when I’m manic I get all kind of scrambled: I generate too many ideas and can’t pull them all together into an intelligible post.

I’ve got to want writing more.  I’ve got to see it as super-important.  I’ve got to get how central it is to my identity, my life purpose.  I’ve got to really make the connection between not writing and depression.  When I don’t write, I’m more depressed.  It’s very circular: I don’t write because I’m depressed and then I’m more depressed. I’ve got to break the cycle.

It’s very parallel to what goes on for me with Tae Kwon Do.  I use some of those same arguments for why I don’t go to Tae Kwon Do, but then I get more depressed.  And Tae Kwon Do itself can be developing the qualities I need to push past my limitations and write.  When I had been practicing for just a couple of weeks, I had a little internal crisis about this practice.  “Why am I practicing such a hard, yang art? I need to be doing something soft and flowing like Tai Chi.”  But the answer came back loud and clear.  “There’s some shit in your life that needs kicking – so learn how to kick some shit.”  Depression rolls over me – completely takes me over.  I’ve got to learn better skills for fighting back. And these skills for fighting back can help me harness my wanting to write, can help me to push past the resistance – the depression, the tiredness, the manic scrambledness.  So Tae Kwon Do can very directly lead not just to the regular benefits of Tae Kwon Do, which are many, but can lead very directly to more writing – I need to remember that.

The rub comes when I get home at the end of my day with stuff to write.  I’m tired.  I may be depressed – or maybe I’m manic and scattered.  I can do some Tae Kwon Do to ground and energize myself.  So many things do one or the other – this can do both.  I don’t have to do much to get out of my head and into my body.  Today I resolved to learn my new form one movement at a time.  Five minutes.  Less.

At this moment, I’m very clear how much I want it.  At this moment, I’m tired from work and from a long day: up very early, then work until 7:30.  I may be manic – after about 11 days clearly depressed, today I seem more manic than depressed.  But so far I sure am not very manic.  My ideas seem to be coming out pretty clear.  Well, you be the judge.

Expanding in a grounded way

I am participating in Jessica Chilton’s brilliant Shine Expansive:  30 minutes a day for 30 days, to clarify our purpose and summon our courage to move past our fears and start to shine – to live out our true expanded selves.  For today’s lesson, she had us write out some of our fears on postits and then post them around a doorway in our house.  She then encouraged us to have a conversation with each of them and see what they might be telling us as we prepare to move into a more expanded life.  Here’s what happened for me as I did this exercise.

What makes me fear a bigger, more successful, more love-filled life? Can getting to know those fears help me be successful in my expanded life?

What makes me fear a bigger, more successful, more love-filled life? Can getting to know those fears help me be successful in my expanded life?

As I posted my fears around my doorway, preparing to confront them one by one and find the courage to move past them to a more expanded life on the other side, I made a realization that amazingly managed to elude me at last year’s Shine Expansive. I have bipolar disorder and for me expansion has become equivalent with mania. Expansion= mania, contraction=depression.

A little bit of mania works good for me. I do manifest many of the characteristics of expansion that we are talking about here. But several of the fears I wrote on my postits are really fears of my own mania: “I fear that if I trust my own judgment too much I will make bad decisions”, “I fear that I will leave my job and not physically survive”,   “I fear that if I have a romantic relationship I will never work.” All of these fears have some realistic basis regarding things I have done when I’m manic. So them asking me to stop at the doorway is not a bad thing. I can see them as benevolent gatekeepers, asking me to get my feet firmly rooted on the ground before I go out into my big life. If I do this, I can retrieve the word expand for a good meaning: “not held back by depression”, “expanding into my big self, with my feet firmly on the ground.”

I’m going to keep those postits on my doorway and practice checking in with them before I leave for my day. Perhaps as some deeper and wiser part of me takes over the role of keeping my feet on the ground, I will have less need for depression to keep me in balance.

Shit

Last Sunday at Jubilee, where I go to church, I introduced a poem in this way:

This morning around 8:30, I read a post Howard put on the Jubilee Facebook page about today’s service, where he said that I was going to offer a poem.  Shit….I thought sure I cancelled on that poem.  I went through my recent correspondence with Howard and found no reference to cancelling.  “Well I’m just gonna call him and cancel anyway – I’ve got no poem ready.”  But all that started to feel really lousy, so I pulled out my poetry book and came up with a poem that is serviceable – not great but good enough, not exactly on point for the theme of the service but close enough.  And if you spin the theme to embracing our imperfections, then it’s right on the money..  So here it is, full of imperfections – it’s called “Shit”.


SHIT     (Majo, 11/3/05) 

This morning, shit, my bus was late
It made me late for work
My job today might be at stake
This world did not regard my hurt

I do not only think today
That things are going very wrong
I know it in my bones
Or, where do I know it, actually?
I know it in my mind – that biggest know-it-all
My mind does not only think and think
Mr. Descartes, sir
It thinks it really knows

Talk about a job at risk!
If my mind is not really right
Is not sure, does not know
And know for sure it knows
It fears for life its very self

What if my old mind, day-in, day-out
Is making all its knowing up?
Is maybe seeing nothing as it is?
But perhaps is just a movie screen
Projecting all its weary plots
As if they all were real?
What if I know nothing, not at all?
Save just that this moment here, of time and space
Is tied to every other one
As this breath to my next and last

Today I think that things are going wrong
Because I yesterday saw them as right
The hubris of my mind, my guide
Does bounce me like a silly ball
My thirst to know, to judge the plays
Is the only fatal flaw

Or what if even that is not?
What if this dramatic life I live
With me as hero, villain too
But mostly victim of the script
Is scripted by a bigger brain?
By Life, which sees and is it all
Me, my fellow actors, props and stage

I will insist to tell my tale
Full of fury, idiot that I am
As long as Life gives me that role.
This moment’s glimpse of waking up
Is just as it was meant to be
But no better or no worse
Than the next moment’s fitful sleep

Nothing here is good or bad
Including my persistent dreams
They are all, like this poem, too
With its freedom, flaws and doubts
Just part of the show
Like you and me – and him and her
At least I think it’s so – you know?

 

Manic work

Cashiering is manic work.  You’re waiting on one customer after another.  You want to really show up for each of them.  You want to be alive, engaging, maybe even funny.  When I am manic, I am magic behind the cash register.  When I am down, I’m often really pretty lousy.

Until recently, my cashiering work has had no power to shift my down mood – if I arrived for my shift depressed I was depressed the whole eight hours.  But something has changed recently.  Several times in the last two weeks, I have gone to work a little depressed and over the course of my shift have moved into a little bit of mania – not a lot of mania, just enough to be functional in my work, enough actually to make me really good.

When I'm up, my checkout line can be an exciting place to be - fortunately, lately, not quite this exciting.

When I’m up, my checkout line can be an exciting place to be – fortunately, lately, not quite this exciting.

I can tell that it’s not true biochemical mania because on days when I am not working I immediately drop back into a light depression.  A light depression! A little bit of mania! You have no idea how encouraging this is to me!

The obvious next question is why – what’s different? I have a theory. I’m actually pretty convinced that I know what’s going on.  Let me put it in another post.

 

That’s why we’re here…

I had just had a brief exchange with a coworker who recently experienced a terrible loss.  The exchange itself had not been particularly deep – she was showing me a meditation passage on loss that was meaning a lot to her.  But then every exchange with her on this topic is feeling very deep – and this little conversation gave me goosebumps.

Then I had to pull away to wait on  a customer.  I initiated my usual exchange with “What’s been a highlight of your day?”  I honestly don’t remember Jill’s reply, but when she asked the question back of me, I related what had just gone on with “a coworker”.  I ended by saying “It gave me goosebumps…and now, telling you about it, I’ve got goosebumps again.  I’m really feeling it – and feeling so deeply is a highlight for me.”

Jill said “That’s what we’re here for, is to feel things.  We’re not here to be up in the clouds.”  This felt right on the money, and I felt very seen.

When I googled for photos of feelings, I kept getting things about love.  A Course in Miracles says there are two basic feelings, love and fear.  When we are in fear, we may get so frozen that it's hard to keep feeling and hard to communicate, but maybe there is the chance for big healing if we open our heart to our fear.

When I googled for photos of feelings, I kept getting things about love. A Course in Miracles says there are two basic feelings, love and fear. When we are in fear, we may get so frozen that it’s hard to keep feeling and hard to communicate, but maybe there is the chance for big healing if we open our heart to our fear.

Bipolar disorder can facilitate the feeling of feelings – and can impede it.  When I’m a little bit speedy, I tend to feel things intensely, I am touched by the feelings and situations of others and am moved easily to tears.  I can also be deeply touched by joy or beauty or love.  Similarly, when I am just a little bit depressed, I can feel things strongly – especially sadness or loss or pain.

When I get too speedy, I get way up in my head and don’t feel my feelings – except for anger, which comes more easily.  When I am too depressed, I also get into my head – ruminating over what I have done wrong or how screwed up everything is.  I get frozen as a defense against the pain.

Moving towards other people can be an antidote to the isolation of mania or depression – or of human life in general.  This includes really showing up when a coworker is sharing her pain, even when the content is a little heady,  It includes  being grateful for feeling feelings, even feelings that include a sense of vulnerability.  It includes opening up to  the comments of customers – to let them be teachers to me.

At the movies…

Michelle, a manager at Carolina Cinemas, is my new customer service star.  (They’re everywhere!)

Me and three of my seven roommates from Lotus Lodge, along with one of their boyfriends, were in a very good mood, headed to the movies.

Lotus Lodge is halfway between an intentional community and a boarding house: 8 people trying to discover what community means to them.  For me, one thing it means is outings like this one.

Lotus Lodge is halfway between an intentional community and a boarding house: 8 people trying to discover what community means to them. For me, one thing it means is outings like this one.

None of us do this very often, so it was a big treat.  And we like each other and don’t get together as often as we would like, so we were very animated in the car riding there.  None of us knew much about Birdman – just that it had won several Oscars exactly one week ago and that it stars Michael Keaton, whom several us like quite a lot. (“How about Beetlejuice?!”  Several of us raved about that movie – agreeing that it was wacko in all the right ways.  “Yeah, and The Dream Team!?”  I stumped them with that one – nobody else had seen it.  I informed them that it’s a very good, very funny movie.)

Things quickly went south when we arrived at the theater.  The kid selling tickets had two pieces of bad news for us.  We had arrived right on time, 1:50, and he said that the show was actually scheduled for 2:30.  How could that be? Three of us had seen the time in two different online places, including the Carolina Cinemas website.  He had no answer, except to add that in addition the 2:30 showing was already sold out.

We indulged in several varieties of being bummed out.  For whatever reason, I was mostly able to quickly refocus on what else we might see.  I asked the kid, where are your movies and times listed?  “Usually on that TV screen over there by the concessions, but it’s turned off because the movie times were wrong.”  By that time, two of our members had pulled up the list of films on their phones.  The only one that any of us had any enthusiasm about was a Kevin Costner film, McFarland USA – and only me, because I had seen and liked the trailer two weeks before.

McFarland USA is kind of a classic Kevin Costner feel-good movie - and we all agreed that he had done a good job.

McFarland USA is kind of a classic Kevin Costner feel-good movie – and we all agreed that he had done a good job.

Movies like this are a good answer to my "I can't do it" voice (2/24).  You come out of there thinking. "If I want it bad enough, I can do it."

Movies like this are a good answer to my “I can’t do it” voice (2/24). You come out of there thinking. “If I want it bad enough, I can do it.”

The kid was able to tell us when the movie came on – also around 2:30.  I asked to speak with a manager.  He called one and said she would be right up.  My friends all look quizzical: “Why a manager?”  “They’ve jerked us all around – I want a discount on our tickets.”  This seemed a novel notion to all four of them, but to me when a business jerks you around, they are usually very ready to somehow make it right to keep you as a loyal customer.  I routinely send food back when I don’t like it – or have even complained about it after eating it, especially if they ask if everything was OK.  I’ll say, “No, actually….” I almost always get the food replaced, taken off the bill, etc.  And i find that if you make your complaint assertive but friendly – not defensive, just like you know in advance that they will want to make things right with you – the vibe almost never gets bad.  (OK, there have been exceptions – and those are mostly places that i never then do go back.)

Michelle showed up pretty quickly.  Watching her brisk step and air of authority as she walked across the lobby, a couple of us said simultaneously, “Looks like a manager”.  Tall, olive-complexioned, attractive, maybe 30, she picked us out right away as the customers with a beef and came up to us very graciously – giving no indication of any defensiveness or that she thought this might be a difficult encounter.  If I were to read her body language, which I do pretty instinctively, she planned for this to be a good conversation with a positive outcome.

“Hi, what’s going on?”  I took the lead, explaining how we had been jerked around.  One little bit of logic had not occurred to me (or any of us, I think) and which Michelle, if she had thought of it, had the graciousness not to point out.  As we had gotten caught up in our bummed-outedness, we never thought: “If the movie started at the time we planned, we still were too late – it was sold out.  Bad planning on our part, with a movie that won a bunch of Oscars one week before.”  So we had not thought that and Michelle showed no sign of having thought that.

I wrapped up my presentation by saying, “So we’re wishing that we could get discounted tickets for McFarland USA”.  Michelle said, “I have no way to give you discounted tickets.  What I can do is to give you free passes for a movie now or in the future.”  She was so friendly about it all that you would swear she enjoyed giving away free passes – and maybe she does.  I had said that several of us were devoted customers – though in fact it was only me, and not so much lately.

Michelle also explained to us why the times had gotten screwed-up.  On Sunday mornings they rent out one of their theaters to a church group and that group had been very late getting out of there today.  She got all kind of inclusive in telling us about it: “It’s the second time it’s happened – we have to figure out what to do about it.”  She was making us part of the team.

She even parlayed a little joke by me into a much funnier line.  I said, with a poker face, “So do we need to be prepared for some serious spiritual energy in there?”  “You always need to be prepared to encounter some serious spiritual energy, everywhere.”  Whether she really believes that (which would be very cool) or was just playing with me, either way it was a wonderful comeback and totally cracked me up.

She also went on to say that everyone she has talked to about McFarland has really liked it – including several of their staff.

Here we are (minus the camera man) - happy campers.  Well, relatively happy cuz we just got in the movies for free.  Our happiness is tempered by the fact that everyone but me is a little skeptical about a Disney movie.    Michelle, while she seemed positive about a blog post and fine with me using her name, did not warm up to a photograph.  I'm struck by how many very attractive women are hesitant to be photographed.  I think we do a number on them about what it means to look good.

Here we are (minus the camera man) – happy campers. Well, relatively happy cuz we just got in the movies for free. Our happiness is tempered by the fact that everyone but me is a little skeptical about a Disney movie.
Michelle, while she seemed positive about a blog post and fine with me using her name, did not warm up to a photograph. I’m struck by how many very attractive women are hesitant to be photographed. I think we do a number on them about what it means to look good.

 

Well, we loved the movie.  Oh, several of us loved it – I don’t know about all.  But we mostly all agreed that for the genre – go-for-it, feel good movies – they pretty much got it right.  Only one of the five of us did not volunteer that they got teary-eyed in places (and she didn’t deny it, just didn’t comment beyond saying she liked the movie).  For myself, I actually shed tears at several points.  My emotions are way near the surface when I’m manic, as I am today.

I got big points from my cohort about my negotiating with Michelle and we all went home happy – and beginning to make our plans to see Birdman.  (I talked with my friend Lynn later in the afternoon and she said that life had spared us by bumping us to this other movie and that I’d be better off skipping Birdman altogether.  I trust Lynn’s judgment, though it doesn’t always mesh with mine.  We’ll see.)