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.

Back at it – and where I’ve been

I worked at the grocery store today.  I work there again tomorrow.  Tomorrow night I’m committed to Tae Kwon Do.  Friday morning I leave for Louisville, KY for the weekend to see my son, daughter-in-law and grandbaby.  Tonight I skipped my beloved depression and bipolar support group in order to write.  This is my one window in the next several days where I can get some writing done and by God I’m going to write.  I’ve not written on this blog for 11 days and I’m half-desperate to get something written.

I’ve got about five topics queued up, some of which would be short and sweet – but it feels required that I first write about what has been going on while I’ve been offline.  People may be assuming – or at least concerned – that I am super-super depressed, which I’ve not been.  My not writing, however, does involve my mental illness, and I feel a little vulnerable writing about it.  It also has to do with medication, which really makes it sound like mental illness – which it is.

I have been depressed for the last two weeks, but not as depressed as I have frequently been during my depressed cycles over the last many years – and this may well have to do with my new medication.  I changed medication around eight weeks ago, weaning myself off of two drugs (Saphris and Seroquel) and adding in Zyprexa.  My shrink – whom after about two years I like and respect – said he felt optimistic that this might ground me better than the meds I am coming off of.

It was a kind of a funny business, getting started on this drug.  At my regular 3-month meeting with him, I said “My friend Toni says she is taking Zyprexa and Prozac for her bipolar disorder and this combination is really helping her.  I parroted to her”, I told him, “what you and previous shrinks have taught me – that anti-depressants are dangerous to bipolar people, can spike dangerous manias.  But she reported that her shrink says that this particular combination really works well for people, and that he’s having a lot of success with people who didn’t respond so well to previous meds.”

My shrink did not surprise me when he said, “No way I’m going to put you on Prozac when you are cycling as much as you have been.  But Zyprexa – hmm. That’s actually a pretty good idea.  Let’s try that.  If we reach a point when you are level – not cycling up and down – and depressed, we could talk about Prozac, but not when you are going up and down this much.”

This 2014 movie was tanked by the critics.  I have not been impressed by the impact of meds on my bipolar disorder.  Is Zyprexa a hopeful addition?  Maybe if I add Prozac?  Should I rather be aiming to get off of meds altogether?  I don't know.

This 2014 movie was tanked by the critics. I have not been impressed by the impact of meds on my bipolar disorder. Is Zyprexa a hopeful addition? Maybe if I add Prozac? Should I rather be aiming to get off of meds altogether? I don’t know.

So Zyprexa maybe is helping. My last round of ups was not as up, and this round of downs is not as down.  But it’s been messing with my writing even more.  Every time I sit down to write, I doze off.  This has been happening for a week and a half now.  Drowsiness is a common side-effect with psych meds – including this one – but not one that I have ever experienced with meds before.

So if drowsiness has kept me from writing for almost about 11 days, how is it that I am writing tonight?  Am I starting to cycle up again?  Maybe – time will tell.  Maybe my desperation to get back to writing – and to offer stuff to you my readers – is bigger than the drowsiness.

This has been a long down – longer than the two weeks that has for many months been my typical cycle.  It has now been maybe 2 1/2 weeks.  If it goes on a long time, it might not seem like such a good deal.  If it continues to mess with my writing, it might not be such a good deal.  At work – on my feet with a rapid pace of transactions – it doesn’t make me drowsy, but I think it makes me stupid.  Depression makes me stupid – actually about as much – but when I’m up I’m pretty sharp.  If I start being low-level depressed – and drowsy and stupid – more of the time than the half-time that has been typical, it might not feel like such a good deal.

We’ll see.

“You’re not going away unhappy…”

“I’m not going to let you go away a less-than-satisfied customer.”  That’s been the stance with me of James at the Frugal Backpacker.  And he has twice now rescued me from being an unhappy customer, to where I am now very happy – and a big cheerleader for their store, right next door to my store.  And I do like to chat – and will certainly tell lots of people, admirers of the new winter coat I bought from James and customers in my checkout line, about how much I like James and his store.

James and I got off to a great start with each other.  I don’t remember how I found out that he worked at the outdoors outfitter next door.  But I vented with him.  “I am so much needing a really warm winter coat – an industrial strength winter coat.  I hate winter and I’m really suffering.  My current winter coat was old when I got it at the resale shop four years ago and has never been warm enough.  Now the zipper is broken and takes forever to get it to work – and it’s not worth the expense to replace it.  It’s january 8 – have I missed all the good post-Christmas sales?”

James has shown world-class customer service chops since I first met him.  Not just a good businessman, but the kind of guy I'd like as a friend.  Starting next week he'll be in the store on Thursdays only - but Becca is also great, and Emily.

James has shown world-class customer service chops since I first met him. Not just a good businessman, but the kind of guy I’d like as a friend. Starting next week he’ll be in the store on Thursdays only – but Becca is also great, and Emily.

“On the contrary, you are right on time.  Our sale on winter coats starts tomorrow – 40% off.  Come by and I’ll hook you up.  We open at 10.”

“Great.  I’m not working tomorrow – I’ll be there at 10.”

The next day at 10:15 there were already a lot of shoppers in the Frugal Backpacker.  I don’t know how they had advertised – probably not just word-of-mouth –  but the word had gotten out.  James gave me a big warm greeting, made points by remembering my name, and immediately made himself my personal shopping assistant.

I kept feeling like I was being a very demanding customer because one jacket after another seemed to me not warm enough.  I wanted industrial strength warmth.  But the truth is that from start to finish I didn’t spend a lot of time picking out a jacket.  And, in that moment that I found the right one, I loved it.  I thought it was probably warm enough – and it was a beautiful blue color.  It was a good brand, one that radiated quality.  A brand new winter coat, after years of resale coats!  And, let’s just say it, I was manic.  Reality on steroids.  What might seem nice another time seemed awesome, fabulous with that manic chemistry flowing through my veins.  James was happy, I was happy, life seemed happy.

When I saw James three weeks later, back in my checkout line, he was clearly happy to see me and very brightly asked how I was doing with the new jacket.  I practically hung my head.  “It’s not warm enough.”  It had taken me a couple of weeks to decide this.  Those first two weeks I was manic and warm.  I don’t know if it’s anywhere in the clinical research that people are warm when they are manic and cold when they are depressed, but it makes good sense to me and certainly fits with my experience.

So now I was depressed, cold, feeling like I had mismanaged the whole situation, discouraged about the chances of setting it right three weeks after making my purchase – genuinely ashamed of myself.  James brightened right up.  “We’ve got to fix this!  We can’t leave you unhappy.”

“I don’t have my receipt.”  My personal organization is genuinely chaotic and I have a hard time holding on to receipts.  (About an hour ago I pulled out an envelope, labeled it “receipts” and deposited in it a receipt from today.  I really do mean it that I intend – no matter what voice says I can’t – to bring some order to my life.)

So I went back to the store the next day and this time James found me a genuinely industrial strength parka – not as pretty as the previous jacket, kind of industrial strength looking, but as much goose down as any jacket they carry and a strong windproof exterior.  The 40% off sale was well over, but James gave me that discount.  I went out of the store once again a happy customer.

People think I'm dressed for the Arctic in this coat.  I feel good that I've done everything possible to stay warm, even though I'm not.

People think I’m dressed for the Arctic in this coat. I feel good that I’ve done everything possible to stay warm, even though I’m not.

I returned to the store today, three weeks later, once again feeling like a failure.  The jacket is definitely warmer than the last two, but still not warm enough for me.  I have basically given up on finding a jacket that will keep me warm – and blame myself for being so bloody cold-blooded.  I have really kind of resigned myself to that limitation; what brought me into the store today was that all the buttons were falling off the jacket.  “They really ought to do something to make good for that”, I thought.

James was once again clearly happy to see me – exactly the way i would most love a shopkeeper to greet me.  Knows me, remembers my name, happy to see me – and wants me to be a happy customer.  And, in this instance, ready to let me get to know him as a person.  Very shortly into our conversation he shared his good news.  “I’m going part-time, one day a week, so I can stay home with our nine-week-old baby.” He was radiant.

“Awesome – congratulations.  Does this mean you will have to give up your job as the store manager?”

“I’ve never been the store manager – I’m a sales associate.”

“But you take so much personal ownership for the store and its products.  You’ve gone way out of your way to make sure I’ve been happy, including maybe bending policy by giving me 40% off when the sale was over.  You didn’t consult with any manager, you just empowered yourself to do it.  How did you learn such great customer service chops?” (I didn’t say, “and so young”, but I thought it – ageist that I am.)

“My dad ran a hardware store for 30 years – I picked a lot of it up from him.”

Then I gave him my bad news about the buttons.  He was clearly shocked at the sight of my buttonless coat.  “That’s terrible – I’ve never seen anything like that.  We’ve got to do something about this.  Let me see what we can do.”  This time I think he did go consult with a manager, the lovely Becca whom I would meet a few minutes later.

He came back and said, “Woolrich has a warranty on the jacket, but you’ll have to call them to work that out.  From our end, to try to make up for your inconvenience, we’re going to resell you the jacket not at 40% off, but 65% off.”  I brightened right up.  By the time he finished his calculations, I was buying the jacket not for its original retail $170 nor for the $107 I had paid for it three weeks before, but $67.  I said, “I honestly don’t completely love this jacket, but at $67 I love it and am a satisfied customer.”

Becca then came out and introduced herself.  I told them both about my blog and about how some of my posts get kind of psychological because I have a background of being a psychologist.  “James said Becca’s a doctor – she teaches courses at UNCA” (University of North Carolina Asheville).  Turns out she has a doctorate in environmental science and is a classic destination Ashevillain – she and her husband moved to this job-challenged town for the life style and are cobbling together jobs to make ends meet.  It felt good to know that I’m not the only front line customer service worker in this plaza to have a Ph.D.

Becca was smart and charming - a classic Asheville overqualified front line customer server.

Becca was smart and charming – a classic Asheville overqualified front line customer server.

This incited me to probe a little deeper into James.  “Us cashiers are such interesting people.  What else do you do besides working in the outdoor store?”

“Well, I’m an audio engineer.  I have worked with various bands, but these days I’m reining in all the traveling and I do audio work with Biltmore Baptist Church.”

“I knew it – an artist.”

Before I left, I got James’s email address so I can send him my favorite book on stay-at-home dads – From Deadlines To Diapers, written by my friend Mike Perricone during a period when he was a therapy client of mine and left his job as the hockey reporter for the Chicago Sun Times to stay home with little Jenny.

Oh, and before I left, Becca introduced me to her cute and very sweet and friendly dog Pepper, the store mascot.

Not  a great shot of Pepper - she's way cuter than this shows, and as friendly as James and Becca.

Not a great shot of Pepper – she’s way cuter than this shows, and as friendly as James and Becca.

Asheville is a very dog-friendly town and it is common for people to bring their dogs to work.  Jubilee, where I go to church, will have several dogs in the room on any given Sunday.

I left there feeling redeemed as a consumer – and proud to be doing customer service for a living.

 

 

Writing, finally

There are lots of possible reasons why I am writing tonight, after six very depressed days when I have not.  (My previous longest stint without writing, since starting this blog three months ago, was three days – and my target is to not miss more than one day in a row.)  I’m writing even though it’s 10:30 and lots of me is crying to be in bed.  Here are some of the plausible reasons:

  • I was off of work for four days and there is often less stimulus towards writing when I’m not working. Yesterday I was so dead in the water at work that there was no appreciable stimulus, but today there was.  One customer talked about reading and liking the blog – and talked about stuff she had read.  My coworker Amanda told me how much she liked reading the blog and what a good writer I am.  Another customer, being told about the blog, got enthused and said “Keep writing.”  My co-worker Rex, having come over to my line to bag (we do this for each other when our line isn’t busy), said, “Aren’t you going to promote your blog?  I like the way you do that – no guilt or shame, you just put it out there.”  I had not promoted my blog at all yesterday, nor today up to that point.  I did a couple of times after.  In my last strong spurt I probably averaged 10 business cards a day handed out at work and one or two a day to random cashiers and customer service people where I’ve been the customer.

    Yesterday and today I'm back in the store after four days away. Today that started to show signs of stimulating the writer in me.

    Yesterday and today I’m back in the store after four days away. Today that started to show signs of stimulating the writer in me.

  • I went to Tae Kwon Do tonight.  The last two times I went, I got so in my head, so tied up in my knickers that I left more neurotic than when I went in.  Tonight was better.  I had practiced some last night following videos on the school website and there was one form tonight that felt good some of the time.  That’s more than on those two previous classes.  So I came home in a better mood.

    A couple of times I ended up feeling lousy after Tae Kwon Do, but tonight I came away kind of energized.  One girl who has progressed to a green belt comforted me by saying that she went home and cried a lot when she started because she felt so useless on the mat.

    A couple of times I ended up feeling lousy after Tae Kwon Do, but tonight I came away kind of energized. One girl who has progressed to a green belt comforted me by saying that she went home and cried a lot when she started because she felt so useless on the mat.

  • Maybe my depression is starting to lift.  It’s hard to tell: feeling good after a strong stimulus like my martial arts class doesn’t necessarily translate into feeling better the next day.  If I lifted up after just six days, that would be a real shift: my depressive cycles have been running 10-14 day, mostly around 14, for several months.  But all that is in play.  My manic cycles have been 7-13 days, but this last time I didn’t really have a manic cycle.  I had about six days of not being depressed, and looking like I was on the edge of cycling too high, but I just never did.  It was like the manic motor kept trying to fire up, but couldn’t catch.  That was kind of disappointing because I love that manic buzz. but I knew not to look this gift horse in the mouth.  That middle zone – or even more the zone that I call a complex healing state,  which has elements of both states – that’s the really juicy place, that’s where the healing happens.

Soon I’ll write a post about complex healing states and one about why I think I didn’t swing into a mania this last time around.  By then I’ll have more information like what happens tomorrow.

My five dirty secrets

See the happy, smiling cashier.  This cashier is not worrying about giving out bag points.  This cashier is thinking about getting laid tonight.

In my store, we give people bonus points on their membership account when they bring their own bags. These points eventually apply as a discount on your grocery bill. I have five dirty secrets about how I implement these bonus points:

  1. I frequently forget to touch the button on my touch screen that applies these points.
  2. To counteract this tendency, my policy is to give the points right up front to everybody who comes through my line – including people who take bags and thus don’t deserve the bonus (remember the parable about the laborers who work different durations in the fields), and people who don’t belong to our frequent shopper program and for whom these points are completely irrelevant.  (I picture them poring over their receipt at home and asking, “Bag points?  What bag points?”)
  3. Our system is a little screwy and often requires people to re-enter their credit card at the end of the transaction.  Sometimes, however, when I tell people “The machine is asking you to swipe your card again” a more honest statement would be, “I just realized at the end of the transaction that I had not yet entered your bag points.  Touching that button at this point in the transaction caused your credit card info to fall out.  I understand that the hassle of once again pulling out your credit card may greatly outstrip the value of your 5 measly points.”

    See the happy, smiling cashier.  This cashier is not worrying about giving out bag points.  This cashier is thinking about getting laid tonight.

    See the happy, smiling cashier. This cashier is not worrying about giving out bag points. This cashier is thinking about getting laid tonight.

  4. Sometimes, after the transaction is over, I have a moment of wildly neurotic insecurity in which I ask myself “Did I give them their bag points?” Then, in an environment that greatly values conservation and where we are all proud that we recycle unwanted receipt slips, I print out another copy of the receipt so I can see if I actually did dispense the magical five points (value 5 cents).
  5. More often than not the receipt says that I actually did give them the points.  What’s more out of it – to forget to do something or to do it and not remember doing it?

I really, really want not to care very much about all this: we’re talking about five cents, for chrissake!  But it haunts me.  It adds stress to my day.  It makes me feel like a bad cashier.

Oh, here’s the deal: it haunts me when I’m depressed.  When I’m manic I don’t give a shit.