Kiss5Tigers

The 5 Tigers represent the big things in life. This blog is about facing them.


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Crowdfunding

I make no secret of the fact that I am diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I don’t just tell random strangers on the bus, but I’m not embarrassed about having it.

I would like to help other people with this difficulty to navigate their recovery process. I don’t have the resources for a degree at this time but fortunately there is a certification program that takes only a week for becoming a certified peer counselor. I could do that.

What is a peer counselor? It’s an advocate that helps other diagnosed individuals figure out their recovery. It’s a mentor – coach kind of situation. It is not a therapist, and it is not a doctor. It’s sort of like an AA sponsor.

The training will be in Dallas in April and I would like to take it. However it is $650 and I am between deployments so cash flow is an issue. They don’t have any scholarships available so that’s not an option. I have to come up with this money.

I figured, it would be worth checking out crowdfunding. I have some part of the funds, just not the whole thing. I don’t like to ask family or borrow from friends. But crowdfunding, now, that seems possible. Surely I know several people who can give some money towards this endeavor.

I have posted in a group on Facebook that I trust looking for reviews of different sites I could use. Indiegogo has already come up, and there’s Kickstarter and GoFundMe. I just have to figure out which one of the several choices is the best fit for me.

So, hive mind and dear readers, if you have any experiences or knowledge about this to share, feel free.

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The Right to Fail

I’m thinking about this in terms of parenting, but I think it’s bigger than that.

My daughter is 21. When I was 21, I had been on my own for 2 years, having been orphaned when I was 19. I knew a lot more than when I was 19 but I still knew almost nothing. My daughter, well, she’s had a hard life and she knows a lot, but she seems to make bad decisions. It’s okay, she’s young and has time to recover from an stupidity she may commit.

I have to keep reminding myself of that. She is an adult. She has the right to make her own decisions, good or bad. She also has the right to bear the consequences. I keep wanting to save her, to make her life easy, to rescue her. She, of course, does not want this from me. So I have to remind myself, she is an autonomous being, she has the opportunity to succeed, and also the right to fail.

We don’t think of failure as a right, but if you want to make your own decisions, failure is simply going to happen from time to time. Some decisions are bad from the get go, others are reasonable at the time but turn sour, some are positively brilliant. If I rescue her from negative consequences, she never learns. She is never fully autonomous, she is simply a human avatar for my ego. And at the end of the day, I want her to be a functional adult. After all, she will outlive me, she has to be able to get along without me.

I got to thinking of this with regards to mental health. So often we who have a diagnosis are treated like children. We have decisions made for us, supposedly in our best interest, but without our input. We lose agency by admitting to our difference. We are seen as so impaired that we cannot decide whether to take medications that have such dangerous and unpleasant side effects.

Now I take meds and I am happy with them, but there was a time when the dose was too high and it flattened me. I had long pauses in conversations before I responded, and I was so slow that I didn’t even know it. Freaked out my friends. I felt fine, but they were worried. Then I had a family member die and I couldn’t cry about it. I told the doctor and he tweaked my dosage. I have the right to cry when things are sad. I have the right to be miserable, actually, though I don’t choose it.

I, however, have never been suicidal or psychotic. Both of those are potential states I could experience with bipolar. So I have been up and I have been down, but I haven’t been truly out of my head. I have mild symptoms. I’m lucky.

But even if I had intense symptoms, I don’t know that someone should be able to take agency away from me. If I am dangerous to other people, sure, but we do that with anyone who becomes dangerous, like the guy who robs a convenience store with a gun, or a mugger with a knife. If I am simply not in consensual reality, well, does that require forced medication? I mean, we as a society assume it’s a sign of health to acknowledge the same reality as everyone else, but maybe it’s not a necessity.

Because for us with a diagnosis, success is seen as partaking in society as it is, as the constituents agree it is and opting out is failure. The person has failed to adapt, to present as typical. There is no suggestion that there is a failure of society to accommodate the other experience. Or that adaptation to an unwell society is not a sign of mental health. And make no mistake, there are aspects of our culture that are not healthy. Which is true of any culture.

So the standard of success is how much I can pass for neurotypical. If I can’t pass, I must be medicated, even though many of the medicines used are no more effective than placebo. I must be medicated until I comply, then I am a success.

What if I don’t comply? What if I am happy with my ups and downs, my creativity and deep thoughts, my highs and lows? Then I would fail to pass. And I have that right. I have the right to fail. I have the right to make my own choices about my health. I have agency over what happens to my body. Or I should.

Except that I am mentally ill, so I must pass as “sane” or “normal”.

We call them “average people”. I am not insane. I am not abnormal. I am not typical. But I might be average. I might have higher highs and lower lows, but you have ups and downs and nobody feels the need to medicate you out of a range of emotions. Average people have the right to fail. I want the right to fail.

I fail miserably at 40 hour a week jobs. I simply don’t have the stamina to keep it up beyond a certain length of time. I want the opportunity to make other choices. I want the right to choose other paths even if it means I fail. I don’t want to be medicated into compliance. I don’t want a job that I need to take happy pills and valium to go into an office every day. It doesn’t sound like a life, even though it would look successful. I want the right to fail.

So here is my daughter, with all the drive of a young person, all the fire, all the dreams. And the best I can do is let her go, and hope she fails gloriously.

Don’t conform, daughter, unless it’s a game you enjoy playing. Do your best. Make different choices. I hope you succeed, but you have the right to fail.


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Current Project

Blue Flower


This is the project I was drawing flowers for. I really like the blue. I am not sure about 2 things: first of all, the adhesive. I might have to try something else but I don’t know what. Most glues are water based and I”m concerned it would blur the painted image. The second thing is, I wonder if I should attempt to age the watercolor paper. It looks pretty darn white, But that does make the flower pop, so? For now I’m calling it finished, we’ll see what happens.


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Procrastination

I am procrastinating, right now, even as I write this.

What I want to be doing, is working on some watercolor sketches for the focal point of some art I have made. I’m actually not sure if watercolor or acrylic would be the best medium; and if I use watercolor, whether I will apply it directly to the surface or collage another layer. Probably collage.

The point is, I mean to be working on art, not blogging. And here I am, blogging.

I have also started another set of cards for my mailing list. I’ve worked my way from the Z’s up to the C’s. There’s about a page of names, maybe 30, left to send. After this I will start replying to the cards I’ve gotten in return. It will be a lot fewer items, but it will be real letters, not the sort of generic cards I’ve been sending.

None of which is getting my art done.

In a minute dinner will be ready, another cause for procrastination. I love me some chicken wings. Nice and crispy from the oven. So good.

So now the question is, did I procrastinate or just wait until after dinner to avoid getting paint and food mixed up? I think the motivation is to procrastinate. Or is it the lack of motivation?

After food, I plan to get out my pearly watercolors and some sketch paper, and try out making loose flowers. The idea is to lay down general color, then go over them with Pigma pens to sketch outlines and details. Kind of Traci Bautista style but not really.

Dinner is ready so I will go eat now. Food is good. Then art will be good. Then writing cards will be good. Life is good.


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Mental Health First Aid

Disclaimer: I am going to talk about when I learned. If you’re interested you should take the class, don’t assume I have said everything you need to know. Link is here: Mental Health First Aid

The central acronym is ALGEE. It stands for:

Assess the person for risk of suicide or harm

Listen non-judgmentally

Give encouragement and information

Encourage seeking professional help

Encourage self-help

Now this is a crisis intervention technique for lay people. It is like CPR, just designed to help a person ride out a crisis until professional help is available.

The very first assessment is whether the situation is safe for you to engage with the person in crisis. Someone who is violent, for example, it may be best to simply call 911, explain the situation, and stay until help arrives. Usually this will be law enforcement, hopefully it will include a crisis team or officers who are trained for mental health situations.

After you decide to engage, assess them for risk of suicide or harm. It’s okay to simply ask if they’ve thought of harming or killing themself. If they say yes, you can then ask about whether they have a plan, what the plan is, and if they have the tools to carry it out. If the person is clearly in the midst of an attempt — they have a gun, they say they’ve already taken the pills, they are bleeding — you will call 911 right away. Then focus on keeping them alive and safe until professionals arrive.

In my personal world, most people having mental distress are not suicidal. Depressed, anxious, even psychotic, but not suicidal. Engaging with them is as basic as asking, “How are you feeling today? Is everything alright?” And then listen without judging. Many people just want to be heard and taken seriously. Something about telling your story is cathartic for people.

When it is your turn to speak, provide encouragement and information. Do not give advice. Do not make promises that you can’t keep. Also don’t be too glib. “It will be alright” is not a valid comment for a situation where it clearly isn’t and possibly won’t be alright. It feels patronizing to the person hearing it. And a person in distress might not be able to hear that the feeling will pass.

Encourage professional help and self help. Ask what has helped in the past. Have they seen a therapist before? It might be good to see one now. Provide grounding techniques, going through the exercise with the person. Help them reframe the situation. Suggest peer support groups or other services. Veterans can be referred to the VA, but they might also need AA or other counselling.

Taking this course does not make me a professional. I simply have some tools in my arsenal for situations that could be frightening or unmanageable to other people. No different than CPR. It doesn’t make you a doctor. But now you can help people survive until long term help can be available.


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Working It Out

I am signed up with a group called Succulent Wild World, which is the brainchild of an author called SARK. She teaches about the Inner Wise Self, which many people think of as their Higher Power but for me it is Intuition. One of the activities for this month is to write a letter from your Inner Wise Self and share it. So here I am, sharing.

One piece of backstory so this maybe makes more sense: my parents died when I was 19. My mom had cancer, my dad had a heart attack a month later, and they had been divorced for 7 years at that point. I used to say, “The first thing they do together in years, and I can’t do it with them.”

Here is the letter:

Dear Alive Allison,

You are here and alive. You did not die with the others, stop acting like you did. You deserve to have a life and to live it fully. You are needed just as you are.

Free yourself from fear of failure and survivor’s guilt. You did not kill your parents. Their deaths were the logical conclusions of their lives. It was about them, not you. It wasn’t done to hurt you. It’s normal to outlive your parents.

So take off the shroud and take up your superhero cape. Fly away into love and adventure. Life is available to you, make it a good one.

Now I’m old, it’s been 35 years since they passed. I have done a LOT of grieving and I don’t really need to be overly gentle with myself at this point. I am no longer sad in a daily way that I lost them. It’s still sad, but there is distance from the pain, it’s not visceral any more.

I used to compare it to losing a tooth. Do you remember losing your teeth as a child? At first there is a hole and it is tender and you keep poking it with your tongue even though it feels weird. Then the skin toughens up and you can poke it without getting that tingle. Eventually another tooth takes up the space, and it’s different but it becomes normal. Now obviously with a death you don’t just replace the person you lost, but life has a way of filling in the gap until it isn’t noticeable on a regular basis. If you think of it, you notice it; but you are no longer thinking of it constantly.

So this is the theme for me this week: move past my parents’ deaths. It happened. It’s sad that it happened when I was so young. And yet, I seem to have let it prevent me from doing some things. I wonder if it had anything to do with me breaking up with so many serious boyfriends, though I also wonder if that is a result of being bipolar. I wonder how much of my settling for jobs rather than pursuing a career is out of fear of taking the risks that lead to success.

Fear of taking risks. I heard of a friend’s brother who won $8000 at a casino and lost it all. I though, I’d never lose that much money because when I got to that amount, I’d walk away. Truthfully, I’d never get to that amount, because I wouldn’t bet the amount of money it takes to get there, and I’d probably walk away happily with $100. I wouldn’t take the risk. You don’t win big without betting big, and I need to learn to bet bigger.

Now obviously this is a calculated risk. I can’t afford to lose $8000 so that kind of risk is not for me. However, I can tolerate a little rejection, so taking the risk of, say, showing my art might be reasonable. I can live with not everybody liking my work, and I can even live with the idea that some of my art is just plain bad. I am still learning.

All of which is to say, I need to stop letting fear stop me from doing things I want to do. I may not have a safety net any longer — really, who does at 54? — but I can’t spend the rest of my life standing on the ledge. Sometime I have to grab the trapeze and fly.


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Holistic Fair

I went to a holistic fair at the local Unitarian Universalist church today.

First thing we did was walk the labyrinth they have there. It really is a meditative practice. You go around and back and forth and you finally reach the center. This particular labyrinth had a cluster of huge rose quartz rocks in the middle. Truly I mean rocks, they must have weighed a solid pound each, maybe more. They were rough hewn. I felt like they were lonely, like people don’t get out to visit them often enough.

The idea is, you walk from the outer world to the inner world, then you circle back out. This one was laid out with rocks so to be completely honest, we just stepped over the “walls” to get out, we didn’t circle back out. Then we saw some paths through the woods that we decided to check out. Trees had grown over the path so it was pretty covered. It’s winter in Texas so even though it’s not terribly cold out, the trees were bare and the ground was covered with their leaves. The branches met over our heads and created a sort of tunnel through the woods.

We went inside to check out the vendors. They seemed a little pricey to me. Or as the Brits say, proud of their goods. We looked at hemp infused coffee and keto creamer. They wanted $70 for about a pound of coffee, just a little high. I mean that to sound understated.

There was a young man who had made some wands. I asked him about them, he said he made them from wooden beads and adhesive. I feel like the actual stick part, not the handle, was made out of resin so it must have been the adhesive, which I suspect is glue sticks. He wasn’t exactly outgoing.

There was a woman in African or Carribbean dress who made statement necklaces. She had a huge piece of different stones as the focal. The beads on the necklace were quite large, maybe an inch in diameter. These were solid pieces but a little too big for me.

Another woman had body creams and candles. I would have bought some of the Ms Coco body cream but I couldn’t find it except in the tester. She also had quite large tea light candles, the size of the palm of my hand. Some were just scented, others had plant material, crystals, or other inclusions. I felt like she was the most reasonably priced of everyone.

There was another jewelry vendor there. She had lovely crystal point necklaces. The points were probably an inch in diameter and a good 2 or 3 inches long, very clear. I would have believed they were glass but they were quartz. Or amethyst. She also made pyramids and pendulums that were designed to clear an area from electro magnetic pollution. It was interesting. But again, a little high priced.

I got a reading from a lady named Sherry. She called it a wisdom reading, not a sort of fortune telling. I’m fine with that. It’s a little blurry, everything that she did. Her technique is to attune herself with me and contact my higher consciousness. She put oil on my palms and had me inhale it and pull up an image. I got baby dolls, particularly the kind with painted on hair. Then she asked me to listen to my heart and tell me if there was something my inner self wanted to let go. I said “weight”. I felt a little self conscious about that, since I am a fat person and weight is always a politically correct answer for me. But I couldn’t change the word, I couldn’t turn it into anything else, so I had to go with it. She said weight is often related to emotional states, and that the body often uses weight as a form of protection. On the physical level, toxins and other things can be caught in fat as a way of keeping them out of the body systems. On an emotional level, stresses cause the body to hold onto fat. So there could be both health and mental health reasons for letting go of weight.

She put more different oils in my hand, had me breathe in and out, and asked me for a memory. I remembered the day the priest told me that my father died. It made my heart hurt. I felt great loneliness. As we worked, the loneliness morphed into sadness. I felt sad for the little girl who lost her parents. Sherry had me remember the scene in detail and I remembered how Judy had been so upset and even teary eyed on my behalf. The sadness literally caught in my throat and stole my voice. Eventually it dissipated and there was a sort of release.

Sherry then shared an image she had for me, one of those jewelry boxes with the little ballerina in it. I don’t know if they still make them. I had one as a child. She said, my higher self wanted me to dance with freedom, not stuck in one pose like the ballerina. She asked what was stopping me. I told her, fear. Fear that if I fail, there’s no safety net. I don’t have parents or siblings to help me out if I get stuck. I have to do it all myself so it feels like there’s no room for mistakes. She had me visualize something that means strength to me (tigers, of course) and absorb the strength of it into myself.

So what I take from this, is that my parents’ deaths have affected me in ways I am not fully aware of. After all this time, I still make choices and behave in ways that are underscored by that experience. And maybe it’s time to find a new way of being. Just maybe, I can find a safety net and take a risk to do or be something more than I currently am.