Little Brother

 

Another poem from long ago, to my little brother, Michael. I used to call him my big little brother because he’s always looked out for me and acted like a big brother should. Thanks, brother. I love you!

LITTLE BROTHER

In my mind, I clearly see pictures of you walking with me

A little toddler with unsteady legs, chubby cheeks and smile for all

I hold his hand, watching, ready to catch him, should he fall.

He’s my little brother.

Many years pass, we’re a little bit older. Sitting on the couch, my head on his shoulder

Wondering where the times have gone (they flew right by)

“We’re growing up too fast!” I want to cry.

He’s still my little brother.

Through troubled times, when we kept our distance from each other

Through it all, my little brother. I always loved you, I’ve always cared.

The good times, the secrets that we shared.

Now, as I sit alone in the night, pen in hand, this poem I write.

I picture your face, of so long ago.

Where the time has gone, I do not know.

You’re many miles away from me, but little brother, in my heart you’ll always be.

5-21-87

Expectations (or Setting Yourself Up to be Disappointed)

I’ve been commuting for about 15 years now and my drive is just over 21 miles one way. Each and every morning I set out with the expectation that I will be able to complete this commute with little to no drama. My expectation is that people will use their turn signals, use the “fast lane” to go fast and to at least drive the speed limit. Each and every morning I find that the rest of my fellow commuters are in no way living up to my expectations. It’s almost as if they have all met at a coffee shop prior to getting on the road and coordinate how they can maximize the amount of irritation I experience in the 30 minutes or so I’m driving. From the cute little blonde that thinks her turn signal is actually something to hang her jewelry from to the guy in the ridiculously huge 4×4 truck that thinks because his vehicle is the biggest, it’s ok for him to drive 10 mph under the speed limit, while traveling in the fast lane, these people test my patience daily and I usually fail to some degree. I’ve tried deep breathing (you know you can almost pass out if you do it enough) to praying (it’s not so much the praying, but what I’m asking for when I pray…”please send down a stream of consciousness to this zombie in the BMW, Lord”) to absolutely losing it (that’s when I use all my special words) I have tried about every way possible to deal with this phenomenal and ongoing irritation, except the one thing that would work – adjust my expectations. Expect that people will not use their turn signals, rear and side view mirrors, expect that they will text, talk on the phone, put on makeup, shave, space out and try to plan their Thanksgiving dinner while driving. Expect that there are at least 5% under the influence of some sort of mind-altering substance, including sleep deprivation, on the road at 6:00 – 6:30 a.m. Expect that there will be those drivers that are so righteous that they refuse to move to another lane, even though there are 20 cars piling up behind them. After all, these are human beings I’m dealing with and as we all know, are imperfect and flawed. What on Earth would make me believe that my expectations would be met?

So, this morning when I head out, I will adjust accordingly and make another expectation; whatever will happen, I will be able to handle without losing it, I will listen to some soothing music and expect people to do what people do. It sounds like a wonderful idea, doesn’t it? We’ll see how it goes.

TGIF!

 

Fate’s Saving Grace

I would like to share a poem that I wrote a long time ago, but I would like to dedicate to my dear friend, JJ. He passed away unexpectedly and far too young. He is one of the people who always gave me tough love, the honest (and sometimes brutal) truth and encouraged me to not settle for anything less than the best.

Fate’s Saving Grace 

There are those who go through Life blindly trudging their way through each day, with no direction or purpose in their stride, just trying to make it through until they can escape into the refuge of the night and the fantasy of sleep, only to rise again in the morning and repeat the monotony of another day. They seem to believe that this is their destiny, to accept what is offered to them, no matter how incomplete they may feel, for this is all that they deserve. They like themselves, but do not truly love the person they are; they do what is expected of them and never question what they are told. They exist, but do not enjoy or love the life that is theirs.

If Fate looks kindly upon these people and if they can keep their eyes and hearts open, someone will enter their life who will help them to realize that they are indeed a very special person; that they can realize their hopes and make their dreams a reality. This someone will not tell them what to do, but offer them a way to accomplish what they desire; or maybe by speaking to them, listening to their words, can help them help themselves. Being a different kind of mirror for them to see themselves through, without all the insecurities and faults they see; with a clearer reflection of who they really are.

To encounter a person such as this is a very rare find indeed and should be treasured for their talents and dedication. In a world that is mostly negative and cold, it is exceptionally refreshing to find someone who is positive and warm, genuine and caring and truly desires to help those who do not know how to help themselves.

Such a person may sound like a dream or a character from a child’s book of fairytales but I have found a person who is all of this and more; he has helped me to realize that I was one of those people stumbling blindly through my days and has given me the praise, encouragement and wisdom that has enabled me to love myself enough to demand more from Life than what is offered, to realize that dreams can become realities and to know that nothing is impossible so long as you believe. And I believe.

-May 1993

Victim vs. Victor

The more honest I am with myself, the more I realize that I’ve had a tendency to play the role of The Victim. It was always someone else’s fault that I was angry, someone else’s rejection that caused me to turn bitter, or cynical. I held other people responsible for my fate, my status in the world and in society, in general. It was God’s fault that my brain was all messed up, I was destined to be broken, forever. It was that sort of victimology (I doubt that’s a real word, but it’s certainly a real condition) that allowed me to spiral downward in addiction, depression, rage and apathy. I was on a one-way express ride to a very Bad Place; I was just a helpless victim carried along a raging river of helplessness and irresponsibility. I fell pretty hard, pretty fast into that Bad Place and through some miracle that I have yet to explain, I was able to ask for and receive help. I was able to put aside my childish tendency to blame everyone else and finally accepted that I was in this place because of all the choices that I had made. No one held a gun to my head and told me to drink myself into oblivion or to numb myself to the unpleasant feelings that are a part of life. Disappointment, hurt, rejection, depression and even a little bit of childhood terrors. These are the fires that forge our soul, strengthen our faith in ourselves and test the limits of our endurance. To avoid them is to avoid growing, conquering and discovering who we really are and who we wish to become. Once these feelings have been felt, the healing can begin and the progression to our True Self is possible.

So, I asked for help and my request was answered and then some. I met some incredible people who I would call my Life Teachers because they not only helped to educate me about addiction, alcoholism, and mental illness, they educated me about Life and myself. Taking responsibility for myself, my actions and turning that critical eye inward instead of trying to change the world to fit my expectations. One of my teachers gave me the most simple, yet effective tool for controlling my anger at the world and I’m going to share it with you now. Put your arms in front of you, fingertips touching (like you’re making a big circle in front of you) This is your Hula Hoop; everything that is within this Hula Hoop you have control over. Everything outside of this Hula Hoop is not your concern and you have no control over. So, whenever you find yourself getting angry, look to see where it falls in relation to your Hula Hoop. If it is outside, let it go. If it falls inside, decide what you need to do to make that change and then do it. 

I am now able to catch myself when I start thinking like a victim and I make a conscious decision to stop that thought  and take full responsibility for my actions and to avoid judging others for theirs. I am frequently looking at my Hula Hoop to remind me where my focus needs to be and where I shouldn’t be looking. 

I’m looking forward to meeting my True Self and celebrating the death of the Victim and the birth of the Victor. I hope you’ll travel with me on this journey. 

 

Thank You for the Music

Ever since I can remember, I have loved music. From my dad’s 8-track of Patty Page singing Mockingbird Hill to my first concert (Run DMC & the Beastie Boys) to playing the piccolo from kindergarten then flute when my fingers had grown enough to reach the keys. Music has been there for me, through the absolute darkest of depressions, to the highest high of mania and every moment and mood in between. Music takes me completely out of myself; I lose myself in the rhythm, the cadence and the mood of the song. I cannot hear a gospel song without thinking of the time that I lived in Mississippi, or of my Grandma Jo-Jo’s slow southern drawl “Come over here and give your grandma some sugar…”  I’m there. Again. Bugs and brilliant skies, heat and humidity, the Baptist church on the corner with its windows open, pouring out the love of God along with the heart and soul of its people. The notes carry along their prayers, their hopes, their troubles and their faith. I can feel it in my soul and it feels electric and alive.

Lately, I have been feeling a little dragged down by Life (it happens to the best of us) but today I decided to sing my blues away. So, I turned on the radio to the R&B station & one of my all-time favorite songs came on “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry. Now, if that doesn’t get your feet tapping and your face smiling, then you’re really in a bad way. The entire way to work, I kept the radio up and the music going. By the time I got to work, I really felt like I had gotten those negative feelings out of the forefront of my mind and locked them away, starving them of any attention that could encourage their growth. It seems like such a simple thing to do because it is. It’s not going to get me out of a deeply depressed state, but it may shine enough light into my soul that I can believe I will survive. Music motivates me, calms me, inspires me, reminds me of people, places, memories and imaginings. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, music is the road that leads to the soul. I’ve been relying for too long on my intellect and my logical mind to unravel the mysteries of my mind; I believe I’ll look more towards my soul, my intuition and music to show me the way.

Now, I’m going to put on some ABBA and dance around, singing out loud while I cook dinner. I doubt these depressing thoughts survive a night full of music, dance and good food. They don’t stand a chance.

To all those musicians out there – thank you for the music! Keep on singing, playing, creating and telling your story. I’ll listen, I promise!

Love, Dating and Other Complicated Issues

I understand that from my side of the fence that love is complicated, fleeting and not altogether positive force in my life. This due largely to the fact that when I’ve been in a manic, hypo-manic state, I’ve fallen in love on the average of 4 times a day, more if I’m actually going out, meeting people and seeking out the experience. Of course, they are all my soul mate and we are “destined to be together” and such.

I remember one time years ago, I was out with my best friend (let’s call her Kat) and we were at a bar where her then-boyfriend’s band was playing. I had been drinking (that’s back when I was drinking, of course) and dancing with a guy, I’m not sure if I ever got his name, but I was certain that THIS WAS THE GUY. He was cute, funny and more than a little drunk. We were having the time of our lives, dancing and flirting and doing the whole ritualistic checking-you-out thing. We didn’t do a whole lot of talking, as the band was really loud, but that didn’t matter because HE WAS MY SOUL MATE and WE WERE DESTINED TO BE TOGETHER FOREVER. Well, at around 2 a.m., it was last call, the band was playing their last song and it was time to go. I remember standing out in the street with Dude, kissing like it was the end of the world; like he was shipping off to war, never to be seen again. Kat had to literally pull me away from him and I was heartbroken. At least until the next morning, when I realized I had never gotten his name, had no idea if he was the Son of Sam or Jesus Christ himself. I did realize that I could no longer trust my brain when intoxicated and on the higher end of the mood scale. Not that this occasion marked the end of me falling deeply and hopeless in love…I should be so lucky.

But I started thinking the other day about the other side of dating me. The poor guy who gets reeled in by this extraordinary woman, full of energy, extremely affectionate, just crackling with electricity and charisma. Then, a couple weeks later, meet her again, only to find that she’s completely different; quiet, shy, withdrawn and subdued. I can only imagine their thoughts “Ok – what have you done with the fun girl?” Or even worse, to meet again and find that she’s gone to even higher heights and is so spun that she cannot make coherent sentences, can’t sit still and is starting to show a little bit of temper. What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here??? Then, if I dare to come clean and ‘fess up that I have bipolar disorder, I am usually met with the all-time most ignorant statement, “So,  you’re crazy?” Yes, I am crazy; crazy to think that I could educate someone who has already decided that any mental illness equals crazy. Crazy is one of the most overused words in the English language. So, I decided that if I was going to continue to date, I would cut to the chase and just let them know right up front and let the chips fall where they may. Fall they did. One right after another. Kat wasn’t really thrilled with the idea and felt that I wasn’t giving them a chance to get to know me, but I felt that once they got to know me, even if they were deeply infatuated with me, the truth was like a cold shower on a hormonal teenage boy. End game. Run, Forrest, Run!!! You get the idea.

So, until the Universe sends me an intelligent man who is not afraid, ignorant or just shallow, I will continue to be single, happily so. If I can’t stand my own company, how can I expect someone else to do so? I am not against marriage or true love or soul mates, but I do know that love is complicated, even without the flavor of bipolar disorder.

What are your thoughts or experiences?

Perception vs. Reality

I’ve long struggled with how I see the world (in any given state of mind) versus what everyone else is seeing. I have long tried to be a chameleon, anticipating what a person needs me to be, believes me to be and then I become that. I never really felt that I knew who I was or that I really WAS. I was in a constant state of change, never staying one way for too long. I was happy at breakfast, optimistic at lunch and then depressed and hopeless by dinner. All these shifts in mood came about from what others said or didn’t say to me through the course of the day. If I tried on a new outfit and my best friend loved it but the guy I had a huge crush on said I looked silly, I had my elation and my devastation in two single servings. If my friend was talkative, I was the perfect listener; if my date was shy, I would carefully steer the conversation to draw him out, gently asking questions about him, what he liked, who he was. If I was in a job with a very competitive, insecure co-worker, I would stay away from the limelight, defer any praise and lay low. If there was a bully picking on a smaller or weaker person, I was the whirling dervish of destruction (that’s where the anger would be put to good use) and the protector of the innocent and weak. So, you get the idea. It wasn’t until just recently that I had the simple, yet revolutionary thought that we each have our own realities. What? Are you serious?? But we all walk on the same spinning ball in space – how can we have our own realities??? It’s actually quite simple…what we (choose to) believe is our reality. The woman who is petite and looks fragile but believes she stands 6 feet tall and is as fierce as any Warrior cannot be intimidated and does not bow to anyone. Just as the person who is 6 feet tall and built like a Sherman tank sees himself as a gentle soul has the lightest touch, the biggest heart and a strong dislike for brute force. It’s not always the physical manifestations that give us strength or gentleness, it’s what we believe. That is our reality. I had lived for too long asking others for their approval, yet withholding it from myself; looking to others to love me and prove me worthy of love. Now I love myself, through good times and ball gowns to sad days and sweat pants, from victories to losses, forever and ever. Amen.

My reality is ever-changing, as my perception is ever-changing, too. I no longer believe that people or circumstances MAKE ME mad; I CHOOSE TO get mad, to respond with emotion, rather than thought tempered with a belief that there is a lesson somewhere in that ordeal, encounter or event. I am by no means a Vulcan or a robot, but I am trying to be the human being that I know I am capable of being. It’s going to be an interesting journey as I learn to feel what I feel without numbing or denying it, but not be consumed by it. By living honestly without being unnecessarily cruel and by helping my fellow man, without taking control or responsibility for their lives. Most of all, letting each person live in their reality without judging it or them.

My perception is that I am flawed, but the reality is that I am complete and perfectly me. And I love that.

Dr. Bruce Banner, The Hulk and Me?

I went to the movies a while ago and saw Marvel’s The Avengers. I have always loved comic books and superheroes, but there was a part in the movie that spoke directly to me. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, I’m not giving anything away, but here it is:

Captain America: Doc….I think now is the perfect time for you to get angry.

Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk: That’s my secret, Cap, I’m always angry.

Now, I don’t turn into a huge, green guy who somehow manages to tear out of all his clothing with the exception of his pants (I’ve never understood how those pants could contain All That, if you know what I mean) but I do understand Bruce Banner’s statement and his secret. I’m always angry. I’ve been varying shades of angry for as long as I can remember, but I never felt that I had any real power over that particular emotion. It just overtook me, seized control of my otherwise rational, orderly, intelligent mind. I usually chalked it up to my “disorder” or in less generous moods, I would think it was everyone else’s fault for constantly doing stupid things that MADE ME angry. I never once thought that I was the one making myself angry, childish or even just downright mean.

One day at work, it all came to a boiling point, when I became so enraged that I threw something against my cubicle wall, then walked in a blind fury into the ladies’ room to physically assault the innocent bathroom stall door. Wow. Talk about your Hulk-Like Transformation. Instead of taking away the anger and bringing about a clear head, it served the opposite purpose; to increase my rage and feed that beast inside of me. My logical mind was freaking out – “This is completely unacceptable!!” (I sometimes think my rational mind sounds a bit like C3PO with a little old school Lost In Space robot – Danger, Will Robinson!! thrown in) At any rate, it was enough for me to realize that I was pretty much out of control and barely hanging on to what little control I had. That was when I decided to start making some changes. That’s a longer story than I have space to tell you today, but I will get back to it, someday.

I finally have realized that I have choices. I can choose to let my anger own me or I can choose to not let it even have space in my head. I cannot say that I will never be angry; I mean, I drive on a California freeway daily, so yeah. I can give voice to that anger and make every living person who crosses my path live in fear of me or I can keep it contained and locked away until I can find a cure for it. Much like Dr. Bruce Banner, it is a part of me, but no longer rules me.

 

 

Just Another (not so) Manic Monday

Mondays have always been a challenge for me. There’s the happiness that I have a job to go to, the sadness that the weekend is gone, mixed with the regret that I really didn’t make the most of said weekend. There’s the heavy sigh that I liken to standing at the bottom of a steep hill with a large boulder to roll to the top. Monday. Day One of the work week. I’ve noticed that as I become more in tune with my thoughts, I have the power to either psych myself into believing that I will have the worst Monday EVER, or I will enjoy the day, be thankful for the opportunity to not only make some money, thus ensuring I have a place to eat, a vehicle to drive, etc., but also to give me purpose. I need to have a purpose, a task that I can place a check mark next to when it is finished, I can prove to myself that I am relevant, that I am more than just a condition or a diagnosis. I can make a difference, help someone else, make Monday not so horrible, terrible, awful for me and those around me.

I used to think I had no control over my thoughts, that I was just a passenger on a runaway freight train of chaotic, rather unpleasant thoughts. Sometimes that is true, but I now understand that I have a choice as to whether I entertain those thoughts or take the brake in hand and pull with all my might to stop that runaway train. As He-Man said, “I have the power!”

I do. We all do. So on this Monday, I challenge you to halt those negative thoughts that creep into your mind; send in a little soldier with a hand grenade & blow that negative thought to dust. If you’d rather bring a ray gun or some other Weapon of Mass Destruction, that works, too. Whatever you choose isn’t as important as the fact that you will have destroyed that thought. Find a more positive thought & plant that in place of the negative. Nurture that thought, give it encouragement and will it to grow. Think it over and over throughout the course of the day. Try this just for today and see if it makes a difference. 

My thought for today is “I am strong enough to handle whatever comes my way, with grace and humor”.

Happy Monday!

Will Power vs. The Power to Will Others to Change

I just spent an entire day with a friend who desperately needs help but who is so sick that they cannot recognize it. With the best of intentions and being the type of friend that I think I am (caring, dedicated and just good friend in general) I made an attempt to get my friend to a place where there was help, or so I thought. Ten hours and all of my patience later, I realized that I do not have the power to make anyone change and that will power alone isn’t enough to deal with mental illness, addiction, delusion and/or the deeper states of denial. The only place that I have any measure of power at all is in my recovery and my dedication to realizing my full potential. It was a lesson that I thought I didn’t need to learn, or that I had already learned along the way. Obviously, there was a completely different layer to that lesson that I had to experience.

I’ve been the family member, friend and person in crisis and it wasn’t until late last night that I realized just how much it takes to try to get someone help. I think back to when my brother, desperately trying to get me into treatment, scared for my life and sanity, had gotten me all the way into the doors of the treatment center, face to face with the admitting clerk. He must have been breathing a sigh of relief until I destroyed all his hopes with just a 2-letter word: NO.

NO, I’m not a harm to myself or others (driving 90 mph down a street isn’t at all a harm to myself or others, right??) NO, I don’t need help (even though I haven’t slept in 48 hours and I’m on the verge of psychosis) NO, I don’t have a problem with substance abuse (I’d been on a steady diet of street drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and air for quite some time) NO, I’m great. I’m fine. Really!

I now understand how that must have completely destroyed any hopes of getting his real sister back, the one who could speak sensibly and didn’t strike out with rage. So, to my family, my friends and those who saved me from myself, who kept believing in me even when I gave up, I thank you. I thank God for whatever force directed me to pick up the phone one day and reach out to someone and let them know that yes, I was a harm to myself and others. Yes, I am in crisis. Yes, I am scared and yes, I need help. Thank God he put aside how much I had hurt him and took me to where help awaited, where sanity was not out of reach and where healing could begin.

They say that you never know how much one act of kindness can change the world. I can tell you personally that that one particular act of kindness not only saved one single life, but it gave a son back his mother, a family back their loved one and a lot of others back their dear friend. It gave me the chance to live to fight another day, to learn that you can come back from the brink of destruction and that will power is sometimes not enough and the real power lies in being able to admit you have no power at all. I am powerless.

I will continue to pray that my friend will be able to find the strength to seek real help to make a change, invest in a life that is not without challenges, but a true, honest life, free from the chains of addiction and anguish. In the meantime, I continue on my path of recovery, discovery and quest for happiness.

Thanks for stopping by.