Kiss5Tigers

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


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Virtual Friends

An online friend of mine passed away today.

It was sudden but not completely unexpected, since she had a chronic health condition that was getting worse.

Still, she was young and apparently not a strong as it seemed.

Thing is, we were friends of a sort. Not close friends, not phone call friends, but we knew each other online.

And now there is this feeling of loss.

There is no real closure for this. I won’t be going to the funeral. It’s nowhere near where I live. No wake. And she will continue to exist in the virtual world.

Her posts still exist. Her jokes. Her stories. Her encouragement.

It’s a sort of ghost existence. The electronic residue of a whole and complete person.

So for a few days I will feel strangely off-kilter. Then I will only be reminded on days when Facebook brings her up again.

I have other friends like that: Scott, Faye, Taln. I get birthday notices. I get periodic messages from friends left on the memorial page. Whispers of a life not lived. Echoes from an alternate reality, where these friends are still alive.

I can’t quite call these people dead. In some ways, they were never fully alive for me, just a voice in the void. A creation of the ether and my imagination.

But I know, or at least I believe, there were human beings on the other side of the screen. Real people who laughed and loved and fought and fucked. And we connected, in the mind and in the heart if not in the flesh.

So my friend is gone now, on to whatever happens after this life. I hope she is happy and healthy. I hope she is still funny and kind and supportive and enthusiastic. I hope she is reunited with the people she loved and lost.

I hope I can embody some of the good things that she left behind in her posts and feed.

Gone but not forgotten. The internet never forgets.

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Is Mental Illness Real?

I was browsing a Facebook group where I’m a member and one of the other members stated that there is no such thing as mental illness.

Huh.

In a forum of people who have psychological distress, you have stated that mental illness isn’t real.

Not sure where I stand on that.

Well, no, I’m pretty sure where I stand on that: It’s a bit dismissive. It’s more than a bit dismissive. It’s downright belittling.

But also, I get it. I mean, we talk about mental illness as opposed to “being normal” only normal isn’t real. It’s a statistical construct based on the average way people act. It isn’t even based on feelings most of the time because we don’t know what people feel, we can observe how they act.

I suppose that’s why Abraham Low, who might be the first CBT practitioner back in the 40’s and 50’s, talked so much about seeking to be average. I feel like, it’s not about what you really experience, it’s about your ability to pass for typical.

The person’s perspective on the forum, if I understand correctly, is that extreme mental states are part of being human. They are normal and natural, and shouldn’t be pathologized.

Also, there is remarkably little data about brains with mental illness. Or the functionality of brains without mental illness, for that matter. We have some really good ideas about how the brain works, but when it comes to mental illness, it’s a black box. We don’t really know what goes wrong when people lose touch. We think it has to do with chemicals and neurons, and theories have led to some effective medications.

But medication is not 100%. Things like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are reported to be as effective in shifting mood as many drugs. Does that mean drugs aren’t effective?

Not all drugs work for the same condition in different people. I mean, you can pretty sure that if you and I both have an infection, the same antibiotic will help. But with my bipolar? I take one cocktail of medications and my friend with the same diagnosis takes a different one. Does that mean we have different disorders?

And there is no biological test for mental illness. We can test for high blood pressure or diabetes. We can see a physical injury like a cut or a broken bone. We can detect appendicitis or cancer. But mental illness is invisible in this sense, there is no way to detect it in the body. It only appears in behavior and reported feelings.

So here I am, dealing with bipolar. And I know the big thing is not that there is something wrong with me, but that my moods and feelings stray outside the realm of average and interfere with my ability to manage life.

Does that make me sick? Or maladapted? Or sensitive to mood?

I take drugs that help me with my mood. Mood under control means life is manageable, which is good. Manageable means I pay bills on time, take a shower, sleep daily, have a job. Manageable means I pass for normal, even though my moods are often outside the bell curve. Manageable means you don’t point and stare at me. I can pass.

Who do I take the drugs for? Me or you? Because some days, most days, I feel pretty average and that was true before my diagnosis. Am I making my life more manageable for my own benefit, or because you (whoever you is) are uncomfortable with my difference?

I have been called eccentric for most of my adult life. Eccentric is okay, not as creepy as being weird, not as out of control as crazy. I’m a little odd. You think I’m normal until you find out I’m not. I make you slightly uncomfortable from time to time, but you can pass it off.

For example, I seem to observe people closely, maybe a little too closely. It makes my friend feel scrutinized. I am not aware of doing it. I watch motion. If you happen to be moving, I’m watching you. It’s a habit. I’m not consciously doing it. In fact, my attention may be turned inward and I’m not paying enough attention to actually see you at all. But I’m tracking what you’re doing. I try to be conscious of this because it makes folks uncomfortable and gets me labelled weird. It’s rude. Is it a sign of illness? Or a poorly managed evolutionary adaptation? After all, in the wild, there are advantages to being visually attentive.

But I digress.

Suppose I am not ill. Suppose I am just at one end of the bell curve of emotional sensitivity. Why do I medicate? Wouldn’t it make much more sense to change my behavior? I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being 6’5″ tall or 4’9″. They are just opposite ends of the bell curve. Maybe I am just more sensitive and somewhere there is someone who is less sensitive. Maybe I don’t need medication but understanding.

Yet medication works, so isn’t that an indication that I’m sick? Medicine changes things for me in a way that is an improvement. Doesn’t that mean I’m unwell in some way?

Is mental illness real? I certainly have real troubles and real mood extremes and real cognitive distortions. What I don’t have is a physical diagnostic that shows where bipolar exists in my brain. I can’t have my bipolar removed or point to the area where my bipolar is. I can’t even say for sure what happens when I have an episode. Why am I sometimes depressed and other times manic? It seems like there must be 2 different things going on here, to get two such different mental states.

Personal experience says mental illness is real. Just like chronic fatigue syndrome is real. That’s something that was believed to be made up until enough people reported it. Pain is real. Psychological pain is real.

For me, I just keep on doing what works. Medication helps. Support groups help. Making art helps. Seeking wellness helps. Working helps. Learning about my disorder helps. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if I need medication to cope or if I can learn resiliency skills. What matters is that I figure out what I need to thrive.


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Planning for Spending

I will get paid probably tomorrow (Tuesday). If not, then the day after.

And I like to shop, and to get mail, so ordering online is huge for me.

I think, I don’t need much, though you should see my wish list on Amazon. Apparently I need all the books in the Library of Congress. Or at least most of them.

So, I have the following ideas:

I am going to order zines, from Microcosm Publishing and from Atomic Books. Some of them, even though I find them listed under zines, are more like books.

I want to work my way through a book on mixed media, and I am using it as an excuse to start acquiring real artist’s supplies. That is, for example, Golden acrylic paints with their heavier body and rich pigment, as compared to the $1.59 a bottle craft paint from Walmart. Nothing against that, just I am wanting to move up in the world.

I found this really cool package of Golden acrylics, a sort of sampler pack with a little of everything in it. I ordered that, so hopefully it will get me started. I can always pick up more as I need it from Michael’s or Asel. Or I can order it again.

I am also looking at yarn. Oh my gawd, I love yarn. I love the colors and texture and the way I can take a line and make a 3 dimensional object out of it. So I have 2 carts open for yarn right now, about $150 all together. It’s too much, but I haven’t bought yarn in months so maybe I’m due for a splurge?

Maybe?

Maybe not.

Plus there is a book by Jaron Lanier at Half Price Books that I want. I have looked over about 4 of his books and I want them all, but I don’t read that fast any more. Well, part of it’s the meds, but part of it is simply that print seems so small these days and my roommate doesn’t like bright light so I feel like I can seldom see well enough to read.

But, I need a trip to Half Price Books, and Barnes & Noble is having their half price sale.

Plus I need stamps, which I like to order online because there is a wider selection.

The thing is, I could easily spend $400 on just stuff. I need to keep it under control. I think maybe not going to Barnes & Noble, and just getting the one book from Half Price. Nothing from Amazon. Maybe one yarn order, the other can wait. I mean, I can only use it so fast. And one zine order. Plus the art supplies. I can cut back. I don’t need everything, and things will still be there later.

Shopping is an issue for me with mania, I don’t want to spend wildly and send myself into a manic episode.

Unless I can figure out a way to get more money.


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Short Time

There is just a short time until I leave. I’m ready to get ready, but until the unemployment money hits, I’m at an impasse. I need the money for things like flip flops and deodorant. I just need a few things before the trip.

I spoke to my travelling buddy yesterday. She is also excited. She’s looking forward to the food, she says, because cruises always have great food. I’m just looking forward to real, fresh seafood. Which there should be plenty of on an Alaska cruise.

I also need to mail 3 purchases on my Etsy site, and pick up some postcard stamps. My friend wants to read, but I want to send postcards. I’ll do some reading too. I bought The Four Agreements to read during my down times. If I have a chance, I’ll get a couple magazines too.

I need a new backpack, my current one is coming apart at the seams. I really like it, but I’m afraid it won’t last. I don’t know what to bring out of it. My little Alaska notebook for sure, but what about my journal? It’s big and heavy, so maybe not, maybe just a little notebook, like a composition book. But what else? Do I bring a tape runner, a glue stick, watercolors, water color pencils? Probably none of those things, just keep my keepsakes and get to relive the trip putting it together afterwards.

I need to get my sweater out of the car to wash it. I need to think about what shoes to pack. I need a pair of dress shoes for dinners, but I don’t have any. Something else I suppose I could buy if I have time. Or I could buy a pair in Vancouver or Alaska. That would be an interesting souvenir.

I am hoping I can fit everything in my suitcase and still use it as a carry on. So much to bring. So much to do. And I sit here watching Lucifer since it’s only 1000 degrees today and I am overheated. Waiting for the sun to go down and the house to cool off a little.

Dinner in a minute. Then get the sweater then do another load of laundry.

Busy busy.


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Mothers Day

Mothers Day was yesterday.

Is it Mothers Day, as in the day we celebrate mothers, or Mother’s Day, as in the day we celebrate Mom? I don’t know. I don’t suppose it matters.

This is a holiday that I am truly ambivalent about.

In 1984, my mother died of cancer. Part of the issue was that she wouldn’t go to the doctor so the disease was pretty advanced by the time anyone picked up on it. Part of the problem was, well, it was 35 years ago, cancer treatment just wasn’t as advanced as it is today. She was given the option of treatment that would extend life but make her sick, or no treatment with a life expectancy of about 8 months. She chose to forego medical treatment.

Now let’s be clear. She turned down radiation and chemo. She said, “If medical science is done with me, then I am done with them.” But she did pursue holistic alternatives. Only, again, it was 1984. No internet. No community of people to help with advice. And “holistic” was a concept without a name.

I remember her insisting on organic produce, and soaking it in the sink to remove toxins. One time, after she had moved back to my grandparents’ house, she accused of us trying to poison her by not soaking the vegetables. They came from Grandpa’s garden, which was de facto organic because that was the way he learned to farm when he was a kid.

So I am without a mother, and by this age, I am without grandmothers. Nobody for me to spoil on this day. For many years, Mothers Day was simply a reminder of what I don’t have. I chose to ignore the holiday.

Only, I am a mother myself.

I have been terrible with holidays because I missed my family of origin, but that means my daughter has never really experienced a good holiday. I was perhaps too caught in my own grief and did not provide the right environment for her in terms of celebrating special days.

This year, I spent most of Mothers Day afternoon with my daughter. I went to her place. We drank rumchata (horchata with rum in it) and made art. I made an abstract of her friend, she tried out a texture technique that she didn’t like and painted over. Several of her friends visited. I laughed, and said it’s because I’m the cool mom, but really I know it’s because my kid is cool. People want to be around her.

So I am learning to make days special in non-traditional ways. What’s important is to spend time together, not to go to brunch or get flowers. I feel good about making art with a friend, and my daughter is becoming a friend. I miss my mom, but I will see her again soon enough. And I want her to see how far I’ve come, when we finally get to catch up.


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Shutting Down

So many things in life take money, and I have none, so I am shutting down parts of my life.

I can’t afford Ipsy any longer, which makes me sad. I was enjoying getting surprise cosmetics each month.

I also can’t afford Zine-O-Matic. Again, not that it’s so very expensive, just I don’t have the money for it.

But the one that really hurts is, I can’t afford Succulent Wild World any more. It’s a subscription Facebook group with SARK, one of my favorite authors. Right up there with M. Scott Peck, only very different. For self-help type stuff, that is. (For fiction I like Charles De Lint, Neil Gaiman and William Gibson.)

I have been part of the SARK world for several years now, and this was the first time I could actually afford to join. I get 2 group mentoring sessions per month and what they call dessert groups, which are small group sessions with other members. I haven’t been able to take part fully because I am usually in the living room and my roommates have the tv on, so there’s too much background noise to volunteer to speak. Maybe one day I’ll have both the money and the silence.

I know I have to keep cutting back. I can’t go as many places because I don’t have gas money. Not that I should be driving without insurance anyway. I can’t stop and grab a burger or an ice cream. I wore out the insole in my sneakers and I can’t afford a new pair. I am concerned about feeding the cats. And paying for my phone. The stuff in storage, well, I might just have to let that go.

Shutting down my life as I run out of money. Trying to keep as much of it open as I can. I need a life regardless of employment. Everyone needs a life. Life shouldn’t cost so much.


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Dead Phone

My daughter managed to kill another phone.

This is a problem because now there is no way to get in touch with her and she is going through a rough time. I worry. I worry a lot.

In the meantime, I had a bit weirdness. I was doing laundry and I opened the washer, and there was a white plastic rectangle on top of the wet clothes. It was a driver’s license. It belonged to my daughter’s ex. So I tried to reach my daughter, which like I said, is difficult right now. I ended up texting her ex. We met up at the 7-Eleven near Elm and Good-Latimer. She called me “mom”. I know she thinks I am a great mom because her own mom is, well, less than accepting. She told me she is going back to school to get her diploma. I’m proud of her for that, but she really hurt my daughter. My daughter could deal with the break up, but she hasn’t seen her in days. I think that’s so true for my daughter, that it’s not about the sex but the emotional connection. I feel that she is so alone right now. See? Mom brain. It keeps coming back to my daughter.

Finances are crap. I have to tell K that I can’t go to Alaska with her. I really wanted to go. I never take a vacation for myself and this would have been the thing. But I own less than $100 so I just have to suck it up. Plus K will basically remember this every time it comes up about taking a trip together. Assuming it comes up again. But I will babysit Archie the cat while she is gone, as good as a vacation for me. Well, almost.

I applied for food stamps today. I don’t know what kind of documentation they’ll want. I really have none. How do you prove a negative? I can’t prove I have no income, nobody documents that. In Texas, as a single adult, there is a lifetime limit on what you can get in food stamps as well. So I am out of unemployment money until June, and I don’t know how long it will be if I even qualify for food stamps.

On Saturday I really need to go down to the local food bank. I may not be able to bring money home but I can sure bring food. Us unemployed people can get food almost anywhere.

Someone, one of the animals, tried to tangle my yarn up. I left a half-crocheted hat and its ball of yarn on the back of the sofa. I got up in the morning and it was all over the floor. At least the hat was intact. The yarn had to be untangled and rewound. I assumed the culprit was Charli the kitty because she has a long history with yarn. But while I was working, Jack the dog kept grabbing mouthfuls of yarn and pulling it to the floor. I think Charli knocked it off the back of the sofa and Jack pulled it apart. Good teamwork. Sort of.

Well, back to the job hunt. Maybe I can find something I’m qualified to do.