Monthly Archives: December 2015

Lighthouse

There are many reasons I wish I didn’t have bipolar disorder. There are many reasons I wish I weren’t an addict. None of them compare to the gut-wrenching regret about how these conditions affect my legacy to my daughter.

No matter how hard I tried to minimize the effects back when I was using painkillers, no matter how hard I tried to keep my mental issues from overcoming the good things in our relationship, it all had an impact. Today, there have been many improvements and I’m able to do a lot for her that wasn’t possible before.

However, some things don’t change. This incredible young woman still got issued a breathtakingly imperfect mother, and that’s not going to change. She sees me struggle with the large problems and the trivial ones. She sees me be inconsistent with self-care and the tasks of daily life; she sees me go through times of being weepy or rocking back and forth with anxiety or staring at the wall with a flat affect.

I try, as always, to strike a balance between honesty and appropriateness. I have enough observing ego to know when I’m in an episode, and we are matter-of-fact about them and the truth that they will pass.

I do not make a habit of beating myself up about these things, and I know I am passing on some important good messages to her. She sees me fail–but she always sees me try again. She sees me struggle with the impulses of my addictions–but she always sees me work humbly on my recovery. She sees me be sad–but she always, in an hour or day or week, witnesses me hauling myself up with the sheer power of imagination and metaphor. She sees me be down on myself–but she always sees me come back to a place of love and acceptance.

I’m teaching her that we fail, and the world doesn’t come to an end. I’m teaching her that there’s a way back from the dark places. I’m modeling humility, and perseverance, and the willingness to keep trying. I know this–but, like any parent, I want to be better. As a mother, as an addict in recovery, as a person who lives with mental health issues, I want to be a message of hope strong enough to accompany her through anything. I want her to see me fucking win.

I want to be an ever-present, shining beacon. I’m not.

I am a lighthouse.

I shine, and sometimes go dark, and shine again.

Do you know why lighthouses shine intermittently? It’s to help them stand out from stars, or airplanes, or lights from the shore. They catch the eye because of their changes.

I have no intention of taking this metaphor to the point of concluding that my daughter has a special snowflake of a mother whose light is actually better or more guiding than the steadier ones. I’m simply using this image to comfort myself, because it’s what I do.

Perhaps I can use the image to help me accept the truth more, and give myself permission to shine brightly when I shine. Does the lighthouse apologize for the dark period each time its light returns? What a waste of time and brilliance that would be!

About a Brick

I brought a brick home the other day. The women’s recovery event I attended had two bricks as part of the centerpiece at each table, and two women at each table were randomly chosen to keep the bricks. Some didn’t want them, and gave them to another person. Not me. I was thrilled to get it.

So, I have a brick now. It’s painted yellow and has the word Faith on one side, and Unity on the other, in black cursive lettering. The Faith side was facing me at the table, and it had struck me as a lovely coincidence with faith being one of my deficits lately.

Should I feel a bit pathetic that getting a brick made me the happiest I’ve been in weeks? Or should I be pleased that at 48 I’m still the kind of person who can take childlike joy in something as simple as a brick?

I like the feel of it in my hand; the solid weight. I like the rough, uneven texture and the grounding tactile sensations it creates when I run my hand over the surface. I like the synchronicity of getting a tangible symbol when I can use it.

We all need elements of simplicity in our lives, especially in our world of constant and multiple inputs of sensory information. For those of us with mental health issues that warp our perceptions and emotions, it’s even more important. We need to get through those moments of disorientation or those episodes of having to buy time until we recede from the edge.

I use many grounding techniques, with varying degrees of success. Tactile sensations are good; the feel of water or the softness of a dog’s fur. Reducing the world to me and–for instance–my brick. Focusing on the surface as if it’s the surface of a planet I am exploring. Most of all, registering the boundary between the brick and my skin. These are my fingertips, that is the brick. Right here, where the sensation of touch is present, is where I end and the outside world begins. I am contained; I am not dissolving.

This is one reason I enjoy my brick, but let’s not forget the element of childlike pleasure in having it. How important such reactions are to me! I don’t think I could survive very well without them, if I survived at all. The ability to be pleased by small things is so essential, and I need more of it as December starts and the media begin to bombard me with reminders that I’m supposed to think I’m a failure because of not being able to buy stuff.

My brick represents taking pleasure in a thing for no logical reason; taking pleasure in a thing no one else might understand. A thing not connected to money, or ego, or even my hopes for the future. A thing that simply is.

Here’s another memory my brick brings to mind. I used to read the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary, books that began with an imaginative five-year-old Ramona and followed her as she grew older. One of Ramona’s favorite games, played with a friend, was called Brick Factory. It could only be played when the house next to hers, which was undergoing a remodel, had a load of bricks delivered.

Brick Factory had very simple rules. It consisted of Ramona and her friend sitting in her driveway, each holding a brick. They pounded said brick into the concrete surface, over and over, as the brick slowly became smaller and was at last reduced to brick dust. It took a long time, and if they finished their first brick they’d just start another one.

I totally identified. I could imagine their pleasure in watching the red brick dust accumulate and feeling the brick diminish; their enjoyment of the process. Repetitive activities are soothing to me when I am anxious, and even when spending time with friends I’d rather be sharing some simple activity than just talking.

This concludes the story of my brick. I’m extremely worried about many things, fighting some pretty scary depressive thoughts, and physically ill from months of inconsistent self-care…but I have a brick.