“Big D”, Glass Art, and Peace

Glass art, for me, is my self care.  I think it’s the only thing that will keep “Big D” at arms length.  I know it sounds very strange to use very sharp glass as a means of self care, but it works for me…most days. There’s just something about stepping inside of my studio and seeing that wall of glass, seeing the rainbow of colors, envisioning what those sheets of glass will become, and bringing them to life.  It gives a great sense of calm.  Now, I will admit there are those times that I curse out loud like drunken pirate because the glass isn’t cooperating.  It decides to break in an entirely different direction than I want it to.  If I find myself too frustrated, I turn off the power to the studio, walk out, and close the door behind me.  I have to respect the glass.

I have been creating glass art for nearly 15 years now.  I used to just make it for myself and my family and friends.  I then started making pieces for charity.  That brought me so much joy.  The art that helped me could now help others.  About two years ago, I started Zarit Glassworks (www.zaritglassworks.com).  That was both rewarding and frightening all at the same time.  I made the decision to turn my coping mechanism into a business so it could self supporting and so I could donate proceeds to local charities.  My goal was not to make to a ton of money, but to help.

You may wonder why I decided to donate rather keep all my profits, maybe not.  I’m going to tell you anyway.  I’ve always believed that I had Bipolar Disorder for a reason.  For me, that reason is to help others find a way to work with their mental illness; to find the positive in it.  There is always a positive to be found within all the negative.  I will never be rich from art and I’m okay with that.  I can help organizations that don’t get much, if any, government funding and that’s all I need.  It’s my hope to inspire others to something similar.  You don’t have to donate money through your art to help others.  You just have to be kind.  You just have to listen.  You just have to be present.  You just have to be mindful.

So, yes, glass art is an odd choice for coping with the day to day battles of Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety Disorder.  Sparkle is my favorite and in my world it is a valid color.  🙂  When I complete a stained glass piece, I rush outside and hold it up to the sunlight to watch the way the rays of light dance through it.  I’m always amazed at the way the colors change.  It’s like the sunlight and the glass are doing the Tango.  It’s beautiful to watch…mesmerizing really.

What do you do to keep “Big D” away?  What’s your best coping skill?  I would love to hear from you.

The “Big D”

I want to be better, but why bother?  No matter how hard I try… No matter how many medications I try… No matter how many doctors I see; the “Big D” always returns.  What’s the “Big D” you ask?  Depression!  It always comes back and with a vengeance! I want off this roller coaster ride!

That’s what it is.  Up, down, round, and round!  Here we go ladies and gentlemen!  Step right up! Sit down! Fasten your seat belts!  You’re in for a bumpy ride! I can visualize the master puppeteer running the ride… the “Big D”.  He’s menacing, maniacal, with a handlebar mustache that he’s waxed at the ends so he can curl them up.  He wears a tattered old black top hat, dirty overcoat, and pin striped pants with mud splatters from tromping through the rain soaked fairgrounds.  He has oil under his fingernails, not from fixing the ride…no…from sabotaging it.

As the ride come to a stop, just as you are about to get off, he starts it up again!  No medication can stop the “Big D”! No talk therapy…No coping skills…you’re screwed!!  Well, at least I am.  I seem to have run out of options.  No, suicide doesn’t enter this scenario.  I won’t give “Big D” the satisfaction of winning this ongoing battle.

The ride continues as if he doesn’t see that I want to get off.  I’m trying to get out.  I’m taking my medications.  I’m seeing my doctors every week.  I’m using my coping skills.  Yet, he continues the ride.  Am I being punished?  Or am I meant to learn something from all of this?  For the love Pete “Big D”!  Enough is enough!  My brain, my body, my friends, my family can’t take much more of this.  Release this vice like grip you have on me.  I can’t take much more.

These are all of the things I so desperately want to say, but I don’t…or won’t.  I’m a fighter.  Although, I feel my resolve is weakening.

Fear Nothing

I was sitting in a hospital room almost 15 years when I received my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder.   This particular time was a voluntary “commitment”.  Oh that’s a strange word in this scenario.  The dictionary defines commitment as the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.  Well, I suppose after 3 or 4 involuntary “commitments”, you could say I was dedicated to this particular cause,activity,etc.    What else would you call it “voluntary lock-up”?  That’s really what it is, but then that implies the person has perpetrated a crime and is in jail.  So that won’t work.  It feels a bit like a prison.  You can’t go anywhere.  All of your rights are taken away while you’re there.  Your every move is monitored.  How about “voluntary time out”?  That really doesn’t either…sounds a bit childish.

In this 15 years, I have learned a tremendous amount.  I still have a lot to learn.  Once the unknown had a name, it suddenly didn’t seem quite so daunting.  I had a starting place at least.  I also became a master list maker.  I had a list for EVERYTHING!  It gave me a sense of control over the uncontrollable.   I had a list for weekly tasks, cleaning tasks, work tasks, exercise, goals, things I wanted to accomplish before I die (not that I was in a rush), places to visit, glass projects to make.  Keep in mind one thing, I didn’t always finish everything on these.  As the years went by and my Bipolar ebbed and flowed as it does, I became better at it.  I refined my lists to more meaningful ones.  I maintained the ones that kept me in check like the weekly tasks ones.  Apparently my doctor thinks it’s good to stay on schedule.  😉

What’s the point of all this rambling?  To be honest, I’m not really sure.  I had a thought in my head and had to get it out.  I’ll try to make next post better.  🙂

Embracing Your Illness

The Guest House

When my doctor gave me this poem, I was so grateful.  I refer back to it often to remind myself that I need to be mindful of every emotion, every experience I have, every person in my life, and every journey I am on.  Each one of those teaches me, shapes me, and emboldens me.  Don’t get me wrong, not all of these experiences are good ones.  Not all of the people who come in and out of my life are pleasant.  Not all of the journeys I embark on are straight forward and obstacle free.  However, without those, I would not be who I am today or will be in the future.

Once I started to embrace my Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety Disorder in this way, it started to make more sense to me.  It didn’t happen overnight, but I’m so glad it finally did.  My life have lost the shackles of any stigma that may be around me by embracing my disorders.  By embracing the disorder, you take away the power of anyone that tries to shame you.  You take away the power of anyone that tries to tell you that “You can’t…” Simply put, once you embrace your diagnosis, you then know that “You can…”.  It is so liberating!

As you can from my blog, it’s been quite some time since I last wrote.  I took a “bit’ of time off to pursue my glass art.  It’s something that I love and something that helps manage my symptoms.  It’s also how I am able to give back to my community.  This is very important to me.  So often I feel that I take so much from the people around me (in time, support, energy) as often happens when “episodes” occur.  I feel the need for this outlet…the need to help others, including my loved ones when I am able.

I feel like I’m rambling a bit in this posting.  My apologies.  I am bit rusty.  One of my New Year’s resolutions is to keep this blog more current.  I am stepping back into the Mental Health Advocacy arena once again after a LONG break.  I feel it is time. So, there more posts about that.  I would love to hear from you.  What are some of your resolutions?

Don’t Ever Give Up

Hello my friends!

I know it has been quite some time since I have written in this space.  I have been busy starting my art business, Zarit Glassworks (shameless plug, I know.) and trying to get my migraines under control.  I have also been hard at work with mental health advocacy.  I have never stopped that.  It has and always will be a passion of mine.  I may take a break from time to time as needed, but I always come back.

Well, today, I and a few others met with two of  Senator Murray’s staff members for two hours.  We were able to share our stories, our experiences, our concerns about mental health care reform, our concerns about current/future policies.  It was wonderful!  It was an incredible opportunity.  It was something I never thought would be possible on my own without the backing of a large organization.  I’ve never made it a secret that I parted ways with AFSP.  However, I harbor no ill feelings toward them at all.  We may have a difference of opinions, but without them I would not have the voice I have now nor the advocacy skills I possess.   In fact, I even advocated for their Centers of Excellence today because that is one of their lobbying points that I happen to agree with.  I still direct people to them for support and I even help people with fundraising for them.

Anyway, I’m not sure what the outcome will be of today’s meeting.  One thing I do know for sure, it felt great to have the ear of the highest ranking member of the senate.  Even if nothing comes of today’s meeting, I can rest easy now.  I know in my heart that I have truly done my best.  I can now get off my soap box about HR 2646.  I believe our HIPPA rights will be fine.  I know CIT for first responders is going to be alright.  I know Congress has been educated by people living with mental illness.  I know I have been heard.  What more could I ask for?

I can’t control what Congress will or won’t pass.  All I can do is try to educate people and hope it makes a difference.  For those of you that sent me your vignettes in the past, they made it to Congress.  They were read.  They would like more.  Please feel free to send me more.  I am happy to pass them along.  My email is bravelybipolar@gmail.com.  Just keep it to one page in length.

I will try to write more often.

Thank you for your support and thank you for reading.

Advocacy in Action

I blogged numerous times about my advocacy efforts.  I have complained about how hard it has been to go out on my own since leaving a national nonprofit.  Well, today I am here to tell you that it can be done!  One person can do it.  It takes a lot of time, patience (which I really do not have) and determination (I do have that).

If you will recall, I made several posts asking for you to send me your experiences living with mental illness so I share them with Congress.  I had a grand plan of having a round table discussion with a few members.  Well, the round table discussion did not happen.  What did happen was this.  I began calling each of my State members one by one for meetings.  I was only able to get one meeting, not even with my one Rep.  To be fair, that one was my fault.  I had already met with him personally and they wanted me to meet with a staffer.  I felt offended.  I have no idea why.  I’ll chalk that one up to Bipolar.  Any way, the one I met with really listened.  This has turned out to be a great working relationship with his local staffer. She has kept me informed on legislation and helped me get a meeting with one of my Senators…well the legislative aide.  And here is the rest of that story:

I had a meeting with my Senator’s legislative aide and it was absolutely wonderful. I told her of my concerns about Rep. Murphy’s bill (HR 2646). You know that fact that it will violate HIPAA laws and that of the 5 committees it forms, only one has a person with a mental illness on it. Oh, and that committee has NO power to do anything! Also, he’s getting rid of SAMSAH (I know the H is the wrong spot). I also talked to her about the partner bill in the senate (S.2680). The main problem with that one: HIPAA violations. She really didn’t think Sen. Murray would let anything pass with HIPAA violations. She also agreed with me that HIPAA violations would not prevent another Sandy Hook as Rep. Murphy is hoping. I felt so reassured. She actually agreed w/ me the correct statistic that people w/mental illness account for 1% of the violence nation-wide. Finally, someone who understands!

Anyway, as we left it, I will be asked to speak to committees and both of our Senators’ about living with mental illness. Now, will any of this change Murphy’s bill? I don’t know, but it might help change that senate bill. At least my voice, and others because I brought those stories I asked for months ago, were finally heard.

All in all, a good day. I even talked about the plight of Bullseye because art is a form of therapy. I gave her my letter that went to Oregon rep. as well. Not bad for being with a nation nonprofit anymore. I’m finally able to speak freely about what it is really important….preventing suicide and helping people like me, people living day in and day out with an illness of the brain

The moral of my story is this: Keep trying.  You will be heard.  My State senator is the highest ranking member of the senate and now our letters are firmly in her hands.  Our voices have been heard.  What will come of this?  I don’t know.  All I know is this:  I didn’t give up even when I so desperately wanted to.  So to all of you, please don’t give up either.  Keep writing your members of Congress.  I will help you if you need help. I will give you guidelines for writing an advocate letter, timeline for sending and re-sending letters and help with phone/in-person meetings.  Just don’t give up.  The more of us that do this, the louder our collective voice will be.

CALL TO ACTION

This is a modified letter I’m sending to all of Oregon’s congressional leaders and State leaders.  I would urge you to do something similar if any of you are glass artists or have a glass producer in your home state.  It’s too late for WA, but not for the others.  I won’t give up.  I’m doing everything I can and so are others to save an industry.  I hope you’ll join me.

I am the owner of Mind and Soul Art.  I am not an official business.  I create art for the sole purpose of raising funds for nonprofits. You see, I live with Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety Disorder.  Glass art is a way for me to manage my ongoing symptoms of my illnesses.  Sometimes it is the only way as modern medicine has not always worked for me.  Suicide rates continue to rise across the nation and I refuse to become another one of those statistics.  I am down to three medicines left that might work for me.  The only thing that has consistently worked is my glass art.

This is why I travel over 4 hours from Port Angeles, WA to Portland, OR for the classes that Bullseye provides.  I soak up their knowledge like a sponge.  While in Portland, I stay in a local hotel for several nights.  I eat in local restaurants.  I purchase from local shops.  I spend money in your state as do other people who come from out of State for Bullseye’s educational art classes.  Bullseye is not an island unto itself.  It is a vital part of Oregon.  It is also a vital part of my life.  Without their glass, their classes, their very kind and understanding employees, I wouldn’t be able to create.  If I can’t create, I wouldn’t have an outlet for the constant battles of a Bipolar mind.

Spectrum Glass will be closing its doors after 40 years because they simply can’t bear the unknown costs of what’s to come with the new EPA regulations.  Kokomo Glass is in trouble, as well, but they have the support of their local government.  Bullseye wants to do the right thing. and has done so voluntarily. Yet, unlike the government of Indiana, the government of Oregon seems to be making it very difficult for Bullseye to comply with the DEQ, by ordering Cease & Desist orders not once but twice.  This is not an accusatory statement against Oregon; this is a factual statement.

All I ask is for your help.  Please help Bullseye have a fair chance to do their part to comply with the standards that have been set forth.  Allow them to have a fair amount of time to fix the problem areas that need to be fixed.  I urge you to step in and do something to correct this situation because it is not only good for Bullseye as a local, small business, but it’s good for the Oregon economy as well.

It is not only Bullseye that stands to lose their business, but the thousands of others that rely on their products for their own small businesses. I believe, not long ago, the auto industry and the banking industry needed the government’s help and it was given to them.  Please consider helping Bullseye by giving them a fair and equal chance.

Thank you for your time. I know I can count on your support.

 

What will your mark on the world be?

 

To be one, to be united is a wonderful thing. But, to respect the right to be different and the rights of your fellow-man is even better.  We are here for a fleeting moment.  What will you do with your time?  For what do you want to be remembered?  What mark will you leave on the world?

I have always wanted to take on the world and help others when I could.  This has not always met with kindness.  Yet, I don’t give up.  Some have questioned my motives, thinking I do this to as a means to gain attention…not so; others think I do this for personal gain, not so.  I choose to help others because I want to.  Also, because when I was at my lowest point, someone was there for me to lend a hand.  Someone cared enough (without knowing who I was) to show me kindness, to tell me I was worth something and that I was somebody.  I know how that kindness feels and how that kindness can change a person.  I want others to feel that as well.   I see it as a gift I am allowed to give another human being.  It brings me great joy. I don’t see it as penance, for I have done nothing wrong.  I have a mental illness and I have those low times where I need help.

I don’t how much time I have left on this earth.  What I do know is that I want to make every moment count.  So I focus my time on my family and friends.  I also try to help as many people as I can.  The way I do that is through my art (stained and fused glass art).  As many of you know, it is my art that helps me control my Bipolar and Anxiety symptoms (yes, I do still take medications).  As many of you also know, sometimes medication isn’t enough.  My glass art has saved me so many times.

Now, the main supplier of my glass, Bullseye Glass (and the glass industry at large) is under attack (for lack of a better word).  I go to Bullseye for classes to learn new techniques and I absolutely love the employees there.  They are kind, knowledgeable and they put up with my craziness!  I remember the first time I went there for a class.  Oh my goodness!  I’m sure they had never met someone quite like me.  I just asked a ton of questions.  I think I was there for three hours and this was the day before the class!  I was picking out glass, asking questions about how to make projects,  questions about the sale in July, my goodness the questions from me seemed never to stop.  They were very kind to me.  Every time I call in, they seem to remember me.  I don’t know if they really do, but they play it off  well.  I’ll take it!  🙂  Anyway, I think you get my point.  They really care.  So, I won’t go into detail about what the State of Oregon is doing to them because I don’t have all of the facts and I don’t want to spread more rumors.  The one real fact is this:  Their business is threatened.  This effects not only Bullseye and it’s employees, but thousands of glass artists world-wide.

So, back to my original question: What mark do I want to leave on the world?  I’ve already established that I like helping others.  I know it goes beyond “like”.  I feel compelled to help others.  It’s become a part of who I am. Since this all happened with Bullseye, I’ve gone into full advocate mode sending out congressional contacts to concerned glass artists, working on a form letter (which must be cleared with Bullseye), fundraising mode to help them…  The mark I would like to leave on the world is this:  Whether I am remembered or not is immaterial.  What is important is the work I do.  If I have made the lives of people better, happier, easier, then I’ve made my mark.  The world doesn’t need to remember me, I will just feel better knowing that I’ve made some kind of difference.

I will leave will you with your own question and yes, I would really like to hear from you.

What mark would you like to leave on the world?

Embrace Bipolar

I’ve been writing this blog from the perspective of the positive side of Bipolar Disorder, at least that was my intention.  There were some times that it was difficult to do.  I feel I have grown  in the past year and a half since the start of this blog.  It hasn’t always been easy to see the advantage of having Bipolar Disorder especially when I’m in the middle of an episode.  I can assure you, though, there is…at least from my perspective, a definite advantage.

Let me start with a poem that my doctor read to me during our last session.  It’s called “The Guest House” by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

I found this poem so profound.  It really helped me put together all the work I’ve been doing to try to understand the different levels of mania and depression and how to function within them.  I have been working so hard to not only accept these states, but welcome them.  Now, let me explain that last part.  By welcoming the states, I am able to see the value and advantage in each state.  For instance, I’ll start with mania (that’s usually the easiest one).  When I’m in a manic state, but still in control (and not just in my head, others around can see the controlled state) I am able to be quite productive in work, house work, advocacy work, volunteer work, etc.  I, however, don’t stay in this state too long.  I am an ultra rapid cycler and if I don’t watch it, I can cycle out of control rather quickly.  When I’m in a depressive state, I tend to have more empathy for people.  I may not always be nice depending on the degree of depression, but this is when I tend to do more service oriented tasks.  By helping others, it helps to take my mind off of the depression.  This is when I will start more volunteer projects and usually just on my own…not with organizations.

I’m not saying these things to advocate that you should actively stay in either of your states.  I can just appreciate what I learn from each one.  I do learn something each time.  This goes right along with my “Live life with no regrets” motto.  If I learn from each state, how can I regret having been through it?  The advice my doctor gave me for the next time I’m in either mania or depression is to simply say “hello”.  Actually address it and welcome it.  By doing so, I take its power away and empower myself.  I like that.  The whole idea of the online course I’ve been taking (at least for me) is to empower myself.  To not live in fear of my illness.  To not be at the mercy of my illness.  I have by no means perfected the skills yet, but I practice every day. By practicing every day, I grow stronger every day.

This strength I gain means the world to me.  It spills over into other aspects of my life.  Once you can see the value and advantage in something that was once so scary and stigmatizing, it’s no longer stigmatizing to you.  Does that make sense?  For me, that is very empowering.

Medication, Reflection & Bipolar

I have written a few posts about what I call the “medication rollercoaster”.  For me, it has never been a question of whether to take medications or not.  It has been whether the medications are going to work and for how long.  I wouldn’t say I’m med resistant just yet, but I’m down to about 4 meds that I haven’t tried. It has just been extremely difficult and I know I’m not alone.

I had grown accustomed to a certain quality of care from my previous doctor.  When he retired, I went on a search for a new provider that took well over a year.  I quickly learned just how lucky I was to have the doctor I did have.  Dr. P. would take late night calls if I was in crisis.  He always made time for me if I needed a medication change or a quick therapy visit in between scheduled visits.  That is not the case now.  I don’t say this to complain about my current care.  I have a wonderful care team in place…now.  It took time and few bumps in the road, but it’s not quite the same.  It’s not bad.  It’s just different.

Now, I write all that because the new medication provider I have now seems to be quite good.  I’ve been with her a short time, but she understands my situation well. I’m finally back on a medication regime and, for the time being, it is working.  With caution, I have hope for the medication.  The doctor I see for therapy is just awesome and someone I can trust.  I really think I have a good team in place now.  It’s nice to be able to write that.  For once, I’m not writing about firing my med provider! Hahaha!

With my care in order, I’m able to think clearly and reflect back on this year.  I realize this is usually done at the end of December, but I’m gear up to check off a life goal from list.  It’s seems appropriate for me to do now.  I’ve always said that I live my life with no regrets.   Good or bad, whatever I’ve done, it’s all me.  There are some things I will do differently.  For instance, I think with this blog I might try to more of a conscious effort to improve it.  I think I let more of bad days creep in here than I would have liked.  I’d like to tone down trying to save the world.  Perhaps I’ll just take baby steps.  I’ll take on smaller projects and build up to the larger ones.

Question for the day:  If you were to write a book about your life, what would the title be?

~ Mine?  “If I Only Had A Brain”

Don’t get me wrong, I am quite smart.  I can just be so scatterbrained sometimes.  The title fits me.  🙂