Finding Bottom…

It’s been a while.

I had retreated, trying to hold my ground. Tracking my progress on Moodscope. Handy little tool there. Ever helpful Sarah over at bi[polar]curious mentioned it.

Since starting the Lamictal, I have felt a little like I am wearing a too-tight dog collar. This feeling has increased with every dosage increase. If I look at my journaling and tracking, I am overdue for a manic cycle for sure. Every couple of days, I get this upward pulling sensation (though it is not a physical sense, of course) all over. But nothing happens.

Except that the next day my mood plummets. Like a whole body sneeze stopped short.

On 06/04/12 (terms like yesterday, today, or tomorrow don’t seem to mean much anymore) I got a score of 01%.

The thing that worries me is that I’m not sure I’ve hit bottom yet.

I have thought about a lot of things in the last several hours…self-harm, hospitalization, becoming a hermit and moving to Tibet.

But I did make one decision: I canceled my plane ticket to Ireland.

My list of reasons goes from somewhat practical to literally psychotic, but I don’t have the energy to list them all here.

I just wanted to touch base with someone other than an automated phone system.

I’ve canceled the cat sitter and my ride to JFK. I told a few friends who asked. I told my sister, of course, who was supportive as she usually is unless she is mad at me.

Then I took a nap on the couch and cried myself to sleep.

I have more phone calls to make tomorrow. And I luckily have a counseling appointment on 06/05/12 at the obscene hour of 8:00am.

But as I spend the next few days and weeks wading through aftershock, I am going to spend time keeping my house livable, taking care of my four cats (2 kittens!), and trying to remember to water my flowers and take my bp meds.

That is all I can really manage right now (with the help of the 9-yr old across the street who visits and my sister on her days off).

It’s pretty black down here…I hope the bottom is close…

Turn that frown upside down, Part III

As I posted last week on Monday and Tuesday, I have started a regimen of serious, sustained happy-making to pull myself out of a serious depression, and really also to help keep me more stable and on track mentally.

In case you missed the definition of “Happy-making”:

Happy-making: n. the act of making oneself happy, or at least less depressed, by engaging in simple, subtle, or extreme activities that lift one’s spirits. v. the action of performing these tasks, which may include a variety of diverse and often unrelated things that is different for every person in most cases.

The third activity I want to talk about is a little bit different from the first two, but no less serious of an undertaking. In fact, this is a much bigger, ongoing process…

Cleaning my house.

I know that sounds a bit odd as a happy-making activity, but really, in my case, it makes a lot of sense.

I’ve always been a bit of a messy person. I tend to accumulate far more things than I have shelves or drawers, and piles of stuff, most often books and papers, usually ensue. However, when I am depressed, I also have a tendency to stop throwing away trash.

I don’t know why. I just don’t throw things away. Like it is too much effort to put things in a trash can. Old food stays in the fridge, stacks of papers deepen on my desk, then tumble to the floor, where they remain with food wrappers, cardboard boxes, old newspapers, cat toys, and every other little bit of junk you can think of.

I’ve already mentioned the three year’s worth of recycling on my porch (I’ve added a few things to each trash pick-up). Then there is about a month and a half of old newspapers stacked in my kitchen and living room that I actually need to read and clip things out of before I toss, not to mention the daily paper that shows up on my porch. I also have several bags full of books and boxes full of childhood items (my favorite little dresses, my matchbox collection, etc.) sitting on my kitchen floor alarmingly close to my gas oven. And then there are three boxes of the contents of my college offices from the two places I’ve worked in the past, full of office supplies, graded student work, and old syllabi. Old magazines, books, book, and more books, clothes that don’t fit or have more holes or strings than coverage, those bolts of fabric I bought when I thought I would make my own curtains, more knitting projects than I can count, and just this week I found the cardboard wrapper for the plunger I bought over six months ago.

I’ve broken my whole house up into zones, prioritizing some areas over others (like the kitchen and bathroom), and breaking rooms up into projects (like clearing off the kitchen table, or picking up all the trash off the floor in a specific room).

In the past two weeks, I have taken out 12 full bags of trash.

Mind you, my apartment only consists of three rooms plus the bathroom. I only have one closet. There is not that much space.

But since clearing all that crap out, even though I am a long way from being done, I can’t get over how much bigger it looks in here. How much more room to walk. How the light seems to reach farther into the room.

All this de-junking as also given me a chance to tackle the other two dirt factors I have in my apartment: cat hair/litter and coal dust.

Both the cats and I seem to shed a great deal. All of the hair seems to combine to form tumble weeds that colonize nooks and crannies. Since I have actually unearthed the vacuum, I am trying to use it at least twice a week. This is up from an average of once every four or five months. I also not longer feel like I am walking on the beach from the bits of litter that invariably get scattered around. I am actually scooping it every day, with happy results for everyone.

Coal dust is another problem that gets even worse in the summer. I have gas heat, so the dust is not internal. In the summer when the windows are all open, the dust from the passing coal trains, the smoke belching scenic railroad, and the trucking route pour into my house, coating every surface.

I’ve invested in Swiffer products and the air quality alone in my house is a great factor in being happier.

I also find a dirty, cluttered environment is harder for me to function in. But it is a horrible Catch 22: one or two down days and the house goes to pot, which makes me more down. And when I am manic, I usually fixate on something creative. Apparently laundry and sorting papers don’t fit the bill.

While I still have about 17 more projects to tackle, and really trying to keep up with the daily dirt, my house is cleaner than it’s been in months. And with some areas, years!

This also has the happy side-effect of me being less embarrassed to invite people over. My sister actually has a place to sit when she visits. M’ James can actually crash on my couch when she invariably gets herself drunk during her visit. If I was less of a chicken, I would actually love to have more visits from people over the age of 12 (the neighborhood kids do stop by). Low stress hang-outs at my house make me feel much better.

This makes me very happy!

Arts in the Schools Week!

When I was little, I remember making my sister play school with me. I’m pretty sure she hated it, but I was always pretty good at convincing her to do things my way.

Like that time I convinced her to give me all of her dimes since they were smaller, and therefore obviously less desirable, than my pennies in exchange.

I would have her write things and do simple math problems that she could understand. When that got boring, I started teaching her algebra. She was about 5 years old. She actually caught on fast.

I remember my mother being worried that I was confusing her, but as I have discovered throughout life, kids tend to deal with challenges better than we expect. As long as we phrase things simply for them and spark their interest.

I was honored to be invited to participate in Arts in the Schools Week this past week. Monday through Thursday, I visited South Penn Elementary School to teach an hour-long writing workshop with the theme of Japanese fairytales.

Though I am ridiculously tired, I am very pleased with the way the classes went. On top of that, I was actually paid to be there! Which is obviously a very good thing.

I began the session with a quick introduction and an interactive overview of Japanese culture. Then I read two versions of stories about the Chin Chin Kobakama while the kids followed along. The story selection seemed to be a hit since it is so different.

Then I explained to them how I start writing.

I usually start with a “what if” question or a “I wonder how that would/does work” thought and go from there, making things up on paper. I gave them one example from my short-story-that-needs-to-be-a-novel, The Murcep People, and also how the sea became salty. I gave them some ideas based off the story I read, like changing the point of view, then let them loose.

I love the performance of teaching! Making funny voices, pretending to whisper or making jokes.
I tried to draw a map to show the general location of Japan, which ended up with Europe as a swirly ball and Japan as a banana off of the eastern cost of a big, blobby China.
I had the kids sit on the floor so it was a less formal setting.

One interesting thing about South Penn is that it is built in the 1970s style of open classrooms with few interior walls. I was in one of the few multi-purpose rooms that was actually enclosed. I’m not exactly sure how I feel about open classrooms. I loved how the “library” was at the center of the entire second floor, so books were extremely present.

Everyone worked hard on their stories. A couple of them really stood out, like Why the Firefly Lights Up, How the Chin Chin Kobakama Got Their Job, Why Pigs Taste So Good, and The Real Story of Dragons and Knights.

I also made sure to plug my free workshops offered through Tri-State Community School for the Arts. Some of the kids said they were interested in coming, and I promised to send the reading instructor more information.

One little boy, who carries his notebooks full of stories around with him everywhere, wanted to know more about getting his stories published. So I made up a quick handout for him Wednesday night, and he met with me for a special conference Thursday morning.

I also followed up with children on Wednesday morning since time seemed to fly away. We could easily have taken another half hour. The reading specialist even mentioned the possibility of having me come back to do more workshops!

Another little boy was so enthusiastic about Japan, that I was a little intimidated. He is apparently very bright. He rattled off names and facts I didn’t have a clue about, like exactly how Japanese houses were the first ones for be earthquake-proof. His story was fantastic.

My first thought with both of those little boys, the writer and the savant, was one of concern. Because I know how much their lives are probably gonna suck. And I also know how closely creativity and genius fly to crazy and substance abuse.

I had an overwhelming urge to protect them somehow.

I saw bits and pieces of me, and it made me sad. I really hope they turn up at one of my workshops, so I can check in with them.

For the first two days, while I was still working the kinks out of my presentation, I left time at the end for kids to share their stories…but by the time Wednesday rolled around, everyone was so intent on the writing I didn’t have the heart to pull the plug until the last-minute. I really wished I would have been able to read, or better yet listen, to everyone’s story.

Planting Passion

Passion long suppressed will always burst and grow one day. While this has not yet happened in my “love life,” I do have hopes for another area.

This past week, even during the holiday, I was chained to my desk trying to be productive. I am not a productive person by nature. Eyes wide-open, I stare off into space and think about all sorts of things: lines of poetry I’ve read or have yet to write, items that have shifted from wants to needs on my wish lists written on scraps of paper littering my desk, the particular shade of blue-purple-grey at a point in the sky. My mind wanders, and sometimes so do I, ending up at the window or in another room without realizing I had moved. In any case, that means tasks that should take 20 minutes take me an hour. So while I did finish a number of projects, it took enormous amounts of time.

Quite a bit of that time was spent ghostwriting 30 freelance articles on the crazy mix of heterosexual relationships, martial arts, and container gardening. Before you get an image of a straight ninja needing advice for his windowsill herb garden, let me assure you the topics were separate. By the time I came out of my work-fog Friday morning, I had decided to have an unproductive day. As I let the cat out so she could inspect the porch, I noticed that my own container garden was looking a little worse for wear. Actually, the pansies filling my three railing-boxes were all flat! My garden was shriveling up and ready to die while I was typing planting advice! Some serious garden time became my priority for the day.

Bereft of a watering can, I make due with a sports bottle. The first round of watering went straight through, trickling onto the neighbors porch (and dog). To relieve the stress on the plants, I trimmed off all of the flowers and buds showing color. Pansies produce more flowers and flower longer if you prune them back on a regular basis. I had already added some slow release fertilizer a few weeks ago, so I didn’t need to worry about that, but I did notice some of the lower leaves were wilted beyond help and yellow. I pulled them off as well to promote airflow around the plants’ bases and prevent conditions ripe for mold.

I have been placing trimmings in a spare box I didn’t plant in this year (ran out of funds) in a makeshift compost heap (I also tossed in two bananas that I just could not bear to trash). Eventually, I would like to compost for real, but that has not hovered near enough to the top of the To-Do list as of yet.

Next, I moved on to my long neglected house plants. Luckily for me, spider plants and heart-leafed philodendrons are damn-near foolproof. However, the white crystals forming on the stems, sides of the pots, and creeping across the top of the soil were ominous. Salt build up. Potted plants need periodic deep waterings to flush out excess salts (which also means they need more nutrients added). I had also neglected to transplant my cutting…for a year! So I hauled everything out onto the porch and set about giving some TLC.

I think what made this even more fun was the fact that I was in my nightgown.

I also rescued my beleaguered basil from over-watering. Basil tends to prefer root watering (place a pot with drainage holes in a bowl of water), and I had dumped too much water in last week since I was in a rush. Of course, basil is another easy-care plant as it likes going dry between waterings.

My lettuce is a hopeless case. I also need to diagnose some nutrient deficiencies across the board. For example, why of two surviving borage seedlings, one is gigantic and the other is so tiny. It’s like the one is a nutrient vampire. My only real success was stringing the philodendron up and away from my munching kitty. I told my sister that you would think after it makes her so sick she would stop eating it. Then my sister reminded me that we often rationalize drinking that last glass of wine, knowing we may be worshiping at the porcelain altar. I just can’t imagine the leaves tasting like a fine bottle of Beaujolais.

I love gardening. Envy creeps down my spine when I see other people’s sunny yards. I do have plenty of space, but until now I have not really utilized it. Most of the flowers I really love tend to be sun plants. I also have no patience for growing things from seed, so budget concerns frequently squash my dreams. But I am planning to buy myself some shade loving climber roses (large pot with freestanding pillar) for my birthday this September. And jujitsu classes. After all, I am turning thirty. Time to start flossing and going to the gym and only doing things I love. Or at least that is my plan: Ninja (check), herb garden (check), heterosexual relationship (um, maybe not that one).

*Note: This blog is meant for edutainment purposes only, and to that end, I may occasionally use some literary license. Also, I am wearing my nightgown right now.

Coping with Multiple Writer Personality Disorder (MWPD)

Usually, my Thursdays this semester have been spent in a hodgepodge sort of way with errands and student appointments. I try to keep myself on the clock as much as possible or, at least, make the most of my time, but, invariably, the day ends with me having earned little in the way of money and accrued much in the way of frazzled nerves and stress.

This past Thursday started out rather typically. After an extremely short night of restless sleep (at one point I was standing on my precariously narrow bed, convinced a large rat was in my room. Sorry Ashley), I was off to campus for an 8:30 am appointment. To fill in the gaps in my schedule, I had stuffed my backpack with things needing my immediate attention. Finishing one appointment early, I decided I should go sit in the sun. Vitamin D is so important.

I sat for an hour, busily involved in returning phone calls, making future appointments, outlining my latest freelancing gig, making lists, and trying my damnedest to resist the green mountainside view on the lower part of campus. It’s hard to say what was louder—the buzzing of insects or the buzzing in my head. I had taken a perfectly good opportunity to relax and turned it into a detached moment of forced productivity. Friedrich Schiller would be so disappointed.

Finally, my thoughts (or I should say, my To Do List) turned to this week’s blog, yet I find the single-clutched shift from business writing and course prep to creative writing nearly impossible. While my ability to punctuate a sentence and creatively approach problems lay in a common pool, my business-self and expressive-self, more often than not, exist in two different oceans separated by continents-worth of subtly shifting moods. It is only after my subconscious tide has quietly ebbed in one direction or the other that I can truly work, producing pieces (or syllabi or spreadsheets) I am proud of in an almost Marxist sense.

So basically, that all boils down to “I’m screwed when working on deadline.”

By branching out into private tutoring and editing as well as freelance writing, not to mention six classes this summer and four this fall, deadlines have become a constant fixture in my life. In a word: Gulp!

To survive, I somehow need a way to double-clutch: shift out of one gear into a neutral space to allow easy shifting into an entirely different gear. Otherwise, I was going to burnout my clutch, er, nerves (maybe I should drop the extended metaphor here). In any case, Thursday afternoon, I was searching.

I found a labyrinth.

Several years ago, a labyrinth was built in a small glade near the ACM athletic fields. The design is not even remotely Bowie-inspired (not a Muppet in sight), merely pea gravel and sand-colored stones.

Walking in, the buzzing continued. Lines for this blog, since forgotten, tasks left undone, jokes and questions crowded my mind, flapping to get my attention. Forcing the thoughts away is like negative reinforcement: by focusing on the thoughts as thoughts you are only encouraging more thoughts.

Instead, I listened.

Eventually, my inner buzzing subsided. The rumble of the commercial lawnmower, the metallic clack of the baseball bats, the hum of traffic: the layers of sound were so complex and rich.

Finally, after saluting the four corners at the center and meandering back out, the layers of sound peeled away, and I was with my breath. In and Out. Sacred and Mundane.

I found my neutral gear.

I would not say the experience made me more productive or made me work harder. Besides that was not really the point in the end. I felt happier and clearer headed. And more aware. States that are valuable in and of themselves, which may also lead to better work. I do feel more relaxed and confident, but I also gave myself the evening off (Friday evening, too). I remembered to value the empty bowl. Do you?

*Note: This blog is meant for edutainment purposes only, and to that end, I may occasionally use some literary license. The author would like to apologize for the overly extended car metaphor (she can’t even drive a manual), but she is more than a little excited that the best little sister in the world gave her a car.

Tiffany Santos - Find me on

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