That tattered leather chair was so obviously out of place in the otherwise immaculate décor of our house. It was old, black, and tired, with tiny fissures running down the back cushion like a colony of persistent spider webs. The top skin of leather had been worn off of the seat in soft beige spots but the tarnished brass nail-head trim that surrounded the piece reminded everyone of its regal origins. It had been passed down through my father’s side of the family and had once been a fine specimen of the tradition of North Carolina furniture making.
It sat in the back corner of the den our prototypical seventies household, softly wearing four dents into the rust-colored shag carpet. It was his spot and that fact was non-negotiable. Its purpose was to house him for drinking and watching TV. This was back in the days when children were human remote controls and amateur bartenders. He used to laugh at me for being so heavy handed with the alcohol in his vodka tonics. Hell, I didn’t know the difference; it all looked the same to me. Dad occupied his throne like a lazy benevolent dictator, but as long as his immediate needs were met – ice in his drink and “Hee-Haw” playing on channel 3 – he was largely silent. He had the uncanny ability to tune out any chaos that arose around him. And there was plenty of chaos.
From that chaos, all I really ever wanted was some sort of safe place to just exist without fear or anxiety. I felt ashamed of being scared. Nobody was beating me, well, not unless you count the general smacking around that was the sibling pecking order of the household of which I was on the lowest rung. I had a lovely roof over my head and wanted for nothing material. School was school. Family was family. I was the one they all bullied. It made for long, sometimes terrifying days. All I wanted was for it all to stop, just for a while, until I caught my breath. The only stillness and calm emanated from the man in that chair. I used to mistake that calm for kindness and affection. I’m sure it was there somewhere beneath the shield of alcohol and digital distraction he wore to keep the world out. When I was little, I climbed up in it once when he was there and wrapped my arms around his neck. He gently pushed me away. There was nothing there for me.
When no one was around I used to curl up in that chair seeking solace – that safe warm spot – like a cat sneaking in to take the place of the soft indentation left by its temporarily displaced master. I imagined he was there with me, comforting me. But there was only ever room for one of us in that chair, so I went along my way.
I’ve never been the patient sort
Have rarely kept my ship in port
I’d rather be out sailing free
You’ll never take that wheel from me
Please don’t tie me to the dock
If stowed away, I’ll pick the lock
And push myself out to the brink
Damn the wind, refuse to sink
I wish I could let loose the sail
Risk the stumble, dare to fail
Alas I can’t control my fate
I guess sometimes you have to wait
Trapped in a body broken
Betrayed by a brain unwired
Stifling fears unspoken
Pondering sins transpired
Trapped in a cage of my making
Betrayed by my own two hands
In the corner cowered and shaking
Dreaming of travel to freer lands
Trapped in an anxious sand pit
Betrayed by the ones I trust
Looking for an ounce of respite
Stomping my dreams to dust
Trapped in this place of delusion
Betrayed by my perception black
For I failed to see in the confusion
There’s an exit there in the back
So a couple of weeks ago I quit my new job. It was scary. I’m not one to diagnose others but I would bet big money that my boss was in the midst of a major manic episode and I just could not be around her. She was spinning me into such a place of unbridled anxiety that I up and quit without another job in place. I know this was a huge financial risk but in this case I prioritized my mental health over all other factors. I’m still convinced it was the right thing to do. While I was in the process of taking financial risks I decided to spend the last 11 days at Miraval Resort in Tuscon. This wasn’t for the purposes of taking a “vacation”, although it’s a lovely resort, it was more about learning skills, (meditation, etc.) that will help me better manage my anxiety in ways that enhance my drug therapies. Don’t panic, I’m not giving up any of my meds, they just aren’t always enough.
Miraval has lots of super interesting classes. Everything from sound healing to meditation while swinging in a silk hammock to painting on horses (yes, ON the horse. I did it twice.) That may sound off the wall, and it was to an extent, but as a form of art therapy it’s pretty genius. You are supposed to “paint your story” on the horse, accept the imperfections created by having a moving canvas, and cooperate with another living being. Then when you are done you tell your “story” to the other participants (this is the part where everyone cries, except for me, I’m weird that way) and then you literally wash your story away as a symbol of letting go. The picture attached to this post is a visual representation of the poem “Desert Birth”
I also learned ironic tricks like “having your anxiety but not being anxious about it” That one may take some practice. And the most important and simplest of all…..JUST BREATHE. Granted, there were cheaper ways to learn that one but practicing it daily, in different styles and with the discipline required for it to really work, was worth all the money spent. Assuming I maintain it.
I was also advised to write and create, which I’ve already been doing here, so expect my tone and subject matter to be more on the zen side than before. At least I hope. The poem “Meditation” was written after I did a meditation walk of their famous labyrinth. I had to take a full breath with every step. It was excruciatingly hard to keep focus and it took forever and that’s when I realized all of this was not as easy as it looked.
None of this will be easy. Change is hard, ambiguity is hard, acknowledging when something is wrong to the extent that every cell in your being is screaming is hard. But the decision to make the change seemed clear and obvious. I don’t know what lies ahead but rest assured I will continue breathing in the meantime.
I see you
Insidious slithering thing
I see you boring your holes
You don’t belong
You are not welcome here anymore
I’m already full
Of growth and beauty and light
So fuck you
Get out of my house
It’s Saturday, the end of my first week of “disability”. I put that in quotes because the paperwork is not complete or approved yet. My psychiatrist called me today to ask me some questions she needed help with on filling things out. Something about her tone of voice worried me, like maybe she wasn’t even convinced. I mean, this whole “time off from work” thing came from her. I would have asked about it in that same session anyway (I had already discussed it with my therapist) but she brought it up first and for a moment I was relieved. She could see it too, the trouble I was in. She wanted to help.
But today seemed different. If I were to guess I would think she’s mad I didn’t say anything sooner. That I had been telling her I had “some anxiety” but that’s it. Maybe she’s right to be mad. Nobody can help me if I’m not willing to speak up. Now I’m speaking up but I don’t feel like anyone hears me.
I’m petrified my claim will be denied. What will I do then? I can’t just stroll back into work right now. Just because an insurance company might not buy it doesn’t make me any less sick. I guess I could take it as unpaid personal leave. That would eat pretty harshly into my savings but I can’t go back in there. Not now. I will crack.
But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Maybe the paperwork will go through and it will all be ok. The next few days will be endless with wait. I just wish this wasn’t so seemingly a game of subjectivity. I suck at games.
In the meantime I will continue to make really awful art (my art is only good when I’m manic), sleep when I can, and get out of the apartment some. I want to see friends but most of them don’t know I’m bipolar, so how do you explain being on disability when you can’t say why? It’s just plain awkward. Maybe I should just come out of the closet altogether. So what, I may lose some friends but the real ones will stick around and this will be one less secret to keep.