returning

Yes, I have been away from this for some time. Far away, it seems, from thinking and writing and reflecting. I suppose I’ve just been living. There is something to be said for just living—without cataloging experiences. After all, neither Jesus nor Buddha left behind any written record of their experiences.

I have done a lot of living in these past months. Discovering (a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder for my daughter), realizing (the likelihood that I too am on the spectrum), laughing (I seem to have developed a strange guffaw that I at least had never noticed before taking lamotrigine). Oh, and working. I mean, outside the home.

Yes, this has been one of the curious developments of transitioning from lithium to lamotrigine. I have more energy and more interest in what’s going on outside my head.

I am working with children with special needs. And learning a lot about myself and my daughter at the same time. My social ineptitude is no better—in fact, it’s probably worse from my being out of practice. And so my relationships with my colleagues are incredibly trying for me (and very likely for them too). I seem to always be relying on the patience, understanding, and forgiveness of others.

But I love the children. I can be silly with them, and they are all really crap at this whole social thing too because they haven’t yet learned the code. I am completely incapable of understanding the code, and so the children and I have much more in common than you might think at first glance.

The unfortunate part of this whole enterprise is that I still have that voice in the back of my head that says I’m not good enough. No, that’s too gentle. It says that I’m bad for the children. Bad for my colleagues. That I don’t belong, and I never will. That everyone is just being polite but would really prefer that I go away. And sometimes it says that everyone hates me and is laughing at me behind my back.

So, yeah, in that climate it’s been hard to make friends. Luckily, I had given up on making and keeping friends a long time ago. (It is a rare and special person who will maintain a relationship with someone who is very bad at being a good friend. There are one or two of these special people in my life. So, I do have a couple of friends by their grace.)

Anyway, just keeping my head above water has taken all the energy I would have used on reflection. Hence, the separation.

But then the Coronavirus situation…

That is an issue deserving of its own space.

experimental gardening

My garden is once again in that precarious position between abundance and disintegration. Texas weather shifts so fast and dramatically from spring to summer that the lettuce turns bitter overnight. Very few things can survive the summer sun here, so it feels as if most of my plants are preparing for their last rites. This is a difficult time for me; I can only look at my garden in early morning when the plants have had the night to recover from the previous day’s battle.

I am watering a neighbor’s plants while my neighbors are away, which is always an uncomfortable proposition. My way of gardening is more experimental, or, depending upon your perspective, neglectful. So, it should come as no surprise that her chard is the worse for my care after a week. My chard, on the other hand, is obnoxiously abundant.

But how can this be so? They are the same plant, are they not? They are exposed to the same climactic conditions, similar soil, precisely the same amount of rainfall. So then why does my chard bolster while her chard balks when the sun reaches its zenith?

The secret lies in growing from seed, and starting as you mean to continue. That is to say, all of my mature plants have already made it through a sort of climactic selection process: those who could’t survive my adoring though neglectful manner either never germinated or never made it to so far as to produce their first true leaves.

This is a bit how I parent too. I don’t mean to, I just care very much when I’m thinking about it, and at times get so absorbed in something else that it appears that I do not care about anything else. Knowing myself and that I have the best of intentions, I will defend myself with the fact that I appreciate the essence of a thing (or person) and believe fully in the individual’s ability to overcome adversity–the triumph of the spirit, and all that. I believe that a thing (or person) needs respect to reveal its own individuating rhythm, which also means that applying some formulaic system of care based on an understanding of parts (how much nitrogen, potassium, or phosphorous a plant needs, for example) reveals a deeply flawed understanding of a life and my role as facilitator or steward.

So, with plants as well as children, there is no right way to encourage growth and development. They all adapt to their environment and, if given enough space to become themselves (with occasional frantic fertilizing), will flourish and become strong individuals, capable of managing and overcoming their own suffering.

Everything is an experiment: gardening, parenting, living. It is all a matter of being and doing the best we can with what we have available to us.

An afterthought…

My chard is now entering its second summer and is bright and strong as only a world-wizened being could be. My garden is in the front yard, so I have had many conversations with passersby about gardening, and in the process I have discovered that most chard does not do particularly well here. I had assumed that mine was like all the others and that chard was simply one of the three vegetables that can survive a Texas summer. But it seems that it is only “neglected” chard that has such survival instincts. Which of course leads me to question whether it isn’t precisely my faith in my chard’s ability to survive (and my minimal input to ensure its survival) that has resulted in its resilience. Indeed, I feel as if I should question whether it is MY chard at all, or simply another glorious individual in this crazy karmic enterprise.

Hiatus

Summer is over, or, at least school is back in. I’ve been such a zen master these last two months that I have a mind to tell my doctor that I’m cured (as long as he’ll continue to prescribe lamotrigine). But seriously, like many folks with bipolar, summer has historically been a highly agitated time for me. And while my last post was in fact about my agitation, I feel as if it has generally been under control since then.

I mean, there have been the occasional surges of rage—just a few days ago I stopped myself from throwing eggs at my child. Clearly that wouldn’t have been the best strategy for teaching a child to listen to her mother and help out. But the point is, I realized that and breathed until my thoughts were back under control. And we had the eggs for breakfast this morning.

For a couple of weeks this summer we stayed with my parents-in-law, which was a fairly triggering affair. But at each tricky moment, again, I breathed through it, cultivated compassion for the offender, and didn’t have a single outburst. And, yes, that is a record.

So, what’s going on? Full disclosure (which deflates my zen master bubble somewhat), my lamotrigine dose is finally at a therapeutic level. But it makes me feel rather powerless to attribute my successes to chemistry alone. Surely meditation and mindfulness training along with a healthy dose of Buddhist principles are the primary source of my newfound self control? Maybe something just clicked, and all my preparations found a place in my behavior?

I suppose it’s most likely that it’s a little of both: my medication has taken the heat out, so I’m comfortable enough to let things go.  I’m free to be downright cheerful and much less a victim of my own fears. And I’m experiencing something of a personal creative renaissance with big (for me) plans to actively seek out a gallery for representation.

In short, I feel great—for the moment. And I’m trying not to think about the shaky ground I’m on, the fact that my moods can and do regularly pull the rug out from underneath me. For now, I truly do feel better than I have for decades.

Morning harvest

Last year we moved the garden beds to the front yard, where the sun is strongest on our property. There were two things working against me: bad soil and exposure to the neighbors. Both of these factors meant I used more fertilizer than I had ever done before—I was desperately afraid of failing, and so publicly.

My plants struggled. Few tomatoes; no summer or winter squash; climbing beans with no flowers. Only the okra, chard, and sweet potatoes forgave my ineptitude.

This year I returned to my horticultural roots, focusing on improving the soil rather than fertilizing the plant.

Earthworm castings (so, worm shit) rather than expensive organic fertilizers have made all the difference. The plants have been quietly but steadily growing all spring, and are now flowering and fruiting as if they were specimens for a textbook.

I am not completely embracing my budding sense of glory—the summer sun has yet to reach its full force, and that will no doubt exhaust the majority of the plants in my garden. But I do think there is a lovely lesson here. Something along the lines of less is more. It would be cliche if it weren’t true.

Being

Years ago, before I was a mother, back when depression offered no possibility of joy within the darkness, an acupuncturist from China suggested that I simply fix my mind on positivity when I woke up in the morning. He was treating me for depression. At the time, I thought he was crazy, or that maybe people in China don’t get depressed.

Fix my mind?

But somewhere along the way, perhaps during the period of awakening following my breakdown, I began to understand his meaning. Because nothing is as it seems, everything can be something else. That is to say, my daughter’s rejection of me yesterday was in fact a natural step along her path. It was not a rejection at all for her, but an acceptance of the magnetic pull of the external world. My job was and is to let go.

Fix my mind.

I chose—yes, chose—not to descend. I did make it back to the school to have lunch with my younger child. I deleted my dragon game (all games, for that matter) from my phone. I made it out this morning to collect my meds. I planted out some sad plants that had been crying to extend their roots. I rubbed sandalwood oil on my third eye point. I meditated. I laughed to myself that my doctor—so square he’s a cube—prescribed daily yoga and meditation for me, out of respect for the things that he knows keep me balanced. I opened my heart.

I am fixing my mind on positivity. I am focusing on one task at a time. I will make my children dinner this evening—a dinner that doesn’t involve the microwave or leaving a tip. I am choosing to smack that black dog on its ass, and laugh as it runs, whimpering, back to the shadows.

At least I hope that’s what I’m doing. But if that Chinese doctor is to be believed, if Buddha was really on to something, perhaps it is a simple matter of fixing my mind and seeing things as they really are. Ending suffering by not suffering.

The revolt

My children, the weather, the dog have all turned on me. In my hour of need.

We are in the home stretch of my partner’s absence, and it’s as if the universe is collapsing, just in time for my partner to swoop in and pick up the pieces. Which is completely unfair, since I have been a champion for the last two weeks: making all meals (mostly from scratch); getting my children to and from school and activities with no assistance; sticking to a schedule and getting to bed most nights at a reasonable hour; more or less keeping my house clean, including doing the dishes on an almost daily basis. You know, tasks that are normal for you but Herculean for me. And the thing is, I have enjoyed it. I am finding purpose in pedestrian productivity.

But in the last few days, I suppose the stress has caught up with us all. I have had some visuals and a feeling that my blood is vibrating. The condensation on the inside of the greenhouse has turned my tomato seedlings’ tropical paradise into a refrigerator. The dog leaves me a shitty gift on the doormat every single morning and then expects me to feed her before all others. My eldest refuses to wear a coat because the weight of it prevents her from taking flight at recess, or something.

And the biggest stain on my successful run as a lone parent: On Saturday, my youngest jumped off a trampoline and landed on her forehead. Can’t quite figure out how she managed it because there is a safety net encircling the trampoline. I suppose I should be writing about the pointlessness of safety nets—literal and figurative. Anyway, she couldn’t have helped it, and it really was quite scary for all of us—a concussion, no matter how mild, is never delightful. But the worst part was her insistence that her injury was more severe than it was. It was like she was hoping for the worst-case scenario, claiming symptoms that she expected would land her in the hospital. She reminded me of me. And frankly, that scares me.

But the faultiness of safety nets and the heritability of parental flaws is not under discussion today.

It is the revolt—of human, beast, and nature—the high stakes conspiracy that the universe has orchestrated for my edification—that is the subject of my thoughts. And the fact that I am still standing and even laughing about it, planning to get on with my housework as soon as I rattle this off, is a testament to the fact that I am winning. This long, slow recovery from breakdown—now in its fifth year—may very well be shifting into a new gear, the pace of life becoming more delightfully challenging. I am buzzing with excitement. I have in mind an image of a world-weary woman standing on a hilltop in a thunderstorm, face and arms lifted, laughing hysterically, and challenging the lightning to strike.

That old saying that the universe gives us only what we can handle? It’s true.