To Do No Harm

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“Like any other view, non-harming may be a terrific principle, but its the living of it that counts.You can start practicing ahimsa’s gentleness on yourself and in your life with others in any moment. Do you sometimes find that you are hard on yourself and put yourself down? Remember ahimsa in that moment. See it and let it go. Do you talk about others behind their back? Ahimsa. Do you push yourself beyond your limits with no regard for your body and your well-being? Ahimsa. Do you cause other people pain or grief. Ahimsa. It is easy to relate with ahimsa to someone who doesn’t threaten you. The test is in how you will relate to the person or situation when you do feel threatened. The willingness to harm or hurt comes ultimately out of fear.Non-harming requires that you see your own fears and that you understand them and OWN them. Owning them means taking responsibility for them. Taking responsibility means not letting fear completely dictate your vision or your view.” –Jon Kabat-Zinn

Day 1 of the Not Wedding Week

It’s Monday of the week of our Not Wedding Day. The counter on our wedding website is in the single digits (I haven’t had the heart to even open it up and look at it, much less log on and KILL it.

(Here’s the skinny on the Not Wedding Day, in case you missed it: https://islandofmamabone.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/the-wedding-is-off-again/ )

I was determined to live in the now, and practice mindfulness, and try to be, if not happy, then content and not massively depressed. I pulled out my Happy Habits app, first thing and filled out my Happiness Journal for the day. I made a list of little stuff I could do through the day to stay calm and make myself feel a little better. I put my outfit together carefully so that I could add a few extra special accessories: a bracelet I received from a mentor to remind that I am making progress in a career I love–and people are noticing, a necklace from my baby sister to remind that I can find positive things in my past if I look for them and don’t focus on the negative, and a ring that my dear heart gave me early on in our relationship before his first big bipolar surge to remind me to look at the whole person, the whole experience, and again, to not focus on the negative.

I was fine through most of the day. Something maybe began to creep in around lunch–we normally meet for lunch because we work close by to one another–but when I contacted him, I found out that he was still helping a friend of ours move, because he didn’t have an afternoon shift today. I constantly prove to myself that human beings can feel two entirely opposite things at the same time. Because I was a little disappointed, but a little relieved at the same time. I settled for feeling good that he was helping a friend out, and spoiled myself a little with an americano and cinnamon roll from one of my favorite coffee shops. No, not Dutch Brothers:

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From commons.wikimedia.org

And then toward the end of my work day we did some texting back and forth and I found out he was still tied up helping with the move, and I needed to go pick our daughter up at daycare because he wasn’t going to make it on time. I think I started to unravel during the commute. I forced down the doubts and sadness and Panic that were starting to well up. Which is a bad thing, when you get to that point, because no one responds well to force. Seriously–when you start making demands of yourself, you resist that just as much as you would if someone else was making demands of you. I snapped at him on the phone–I can’t remember if he called, or it was through text. Holes in memory–another sign things are going south. I snapped something curt and rude while I was trying to get our daughter into her car seat. If anyone’s had to get a kid on the autistic spectrum strapped into a car seat on a regular basis, you already know why this is a stressor for me.

By the time I got home, my brain was trying to take off on it’s own. Why was he spending so much time at this friend’s house? (Any one who’s every moved, already knows the answer to that one.) Were they talking about our failed wedding? About me? Again, ridiculous: this friend, in particular, would never do anything unkind toward me. Did he just go home without a word, because, basically, he just doesn’t care. I’m just a the world’s biggest joke because I do care… Folks, can you spell panic? P-A-N-I-C.

I do give myself credit for not giving in to the more paranoid notions and ripping into him for nothing, but I did finally start leaking some fatalistic misery at him through intermittent texts. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I suggested we take the friend who was moving out to dinner. (Ulterior motives: cheer myself up by spending time with a good friend, have a third party present to force us both to be on our best behavior, to allay all my weird fears about gossip and so forth by personal witness.) He texted back that our friend wanted to head out now because they had a long drive to Salem ahead of them…. “but how about we all go out for dinner together next weekend?”

“Sure. Sounds a lot better than burying myself in a hole and eating myself to death which was my Big Plan A for next weekend. After all, nothing better to do.”

Yes, I was a bitch. And in the throes of angst and self immolation at the same time. It’s an art form. On the plus side, I kept enough of a handle on my PTSD that I didn’t lash out in a direct attack even though my stress level was suffocating by this point.

“Oh.” He says. That weekend.

He asks if I even want to see him at all this weekend.

I tell him, “I don’t know.” I really don’t. The one thing that I think that I will not be able to stand is if it gets treated just like any other weekend. Right now, though, as I am typing this out, is the first time I’ve been able to articulate that. And I still don’t know how I’m going to explain it to him, to anyone.

Then he surprises me. He asks if I want to see him tonight, then. Hell, he surprises me so much, I say sure. He never comes over late on Monday nights. He politely lets me know when he’s on his way. He even sends me a text to let me know he’s driving up the hill to my house now. I’m not sure why. In the old days, before his bipolar disorder became so bad, I could have seen him reasoning out that it’s not good to surprise someone with PTSD who is in the middle of stressing out and panicking. But I really don’t think he’s been functioning at that level for years. Instinct? Some other motivation stemming from one of his own mood swings? I feel bad for leaning toward the cynical choice, but these days everything seems to revolve around his own slightly detached from reality world. So I just don’t know.

Anyways, surprisingly, we spent a nice quiet night watching old Avatar episodes on Netflix, and sharing some ramen. He surprised me further, by staying the night after I put the small to bed. And he didn’t complain to me in the morning about how he was always late for work when he stayed over on week nights and how that was all my fault.

???

I know, it sounds awful that I’m expecting the worse here, but part of living with someone with bipolar disorder–especially when its out-of-control and untreated–is waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Here’s what I’m thinking: if he actually feels bad enough about the wedding to modify his behavior in a way that is cognizant of another person… that’s gotta be bad. I mean he’s gotta be feeling really bad. And last time he felt really, really bad, he tried to jump off the St. John’s Bridge.

Any here you thought I was always posting pictures of that thing because it was pretty.

This is what optimism looks like.

Sometimes, to discover something new, you have to get lost first.

Sometimes, to discover something new, you have to get lost first.


I made a wrong turn on my way to teach at an unfamiliar location. First, you have to deal with the irrational thinking: Don’t panic. You are early. You have time to turn around and get back on track.  And what if you were late? Is that a catastrophe?  Is it life or death? No seriously.  Will anyone die if I’m late? No. Of course not. So it’s not a catastrophe; it’s an inconvenience.  My GPS will get me back where I need to be. And hey, (here’s the second part of this optimistic thinking job ) isn’t it great that GPS is so available these days? Right here on my cellphone.  I remember how much stress getting lost cost me back in the way back, before I had that. It’s nice to be able to let that particular stresser go. And look, there’s one of my favorite restaurants. Now I know where I can go for lunch in this unfamiliar city. How cool is that? Oh, what’s that? A restaurant with “all organic Japanese salads ” What is that?” I’ve never eaten any place like that before. Maybe I’ll try that for lunch. Trying new things makes me feel pretty good -I like adventures.  It’s a good thing I took that wrong turn back there.

Yes, I really think that way. No, it does not come naturally.  Does it for some people? I can’t help but think so. In fact, I tend to feel thus kind of optimistic thinking comes naturally for almost everyone else but me. That statement has some key words in it that makes me think I may have some irrational thinking in that area, but that’s a job for another day. Right now, the important thing for me to is to carefully practice my optimistic thinking. Two things happened there just now. First, I avoided the downward spiral my PTSD wanted to toss me into that was going to start with panicking over getting lost, and spiral into unfounded conclusions like, “I’m going to get fired!” and probably shoot off from there into doubt of my self worth. Second, I practiced the habit of looking for aspects of my situation that might actually be positive.  That’s really, really hard. If it sounded a little forced there, especially at the beginning,  it’s because it WAS. You don’t start off naturally brushing your teeth regularly without someone, you, mom, your girlfriend -working on it. Reinforcing the habit. And until it becomes a habit, it doesn’t feel natural. Ever tried to diet? You have to consciously practice those good eating habits. It doesn’t just magically happen. For some reason, people don’t realize you can apply the same principles to you thoughts. You can consciously practice optimistic thinking. Until it becomes a habit.

I can’t wait to find out what an organic, Japanese salad tastes like.

Forever.

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Sometimes I contemplate my memories and I feel terrified. Not because of their content: it’s the good memories that make me feel this way.

Someone who had some authority in the matter once told me that NO MEMORY is genuine. That is, the very first time we remember an event, even split seconds after it happened, the memory is flawed. It’s not what really happened, but a recreation. It’s our brain massing together some chemicals to retell a story the best we can recall. We are fooling ourselves if we think of our memories as an exact recording of events–a movie printed on the filmstrip of our mind. Physically, that’s what a memory is–a bunch of chemicals, which is the first place things can go wrong, if that brain recipe isn’t just right–whipped together in your skull mixing bowl to recreate what you think happened. Even things you think are perfectly factual: a smell that you feel went along strongly with the memory, isn’t going to be remembered the same way, or at all, by someone who was standing right there next to you as the event unfolded. I’m reminded of the cilantro conundrum, where they finally proved that people that loved cilantro and people who hated cilantro REALLY WERE actually tasting cilantro in a wholly different way from one another.

But the memories I’m worried about–the issue isn’t that someone else might be remembering them differently–although I’m sure you can see where that aspect can lead to miles of discussion. The problem for me is realizing that no matter how hard I try, I can’t get a filmstrip of what’s happening. Here is one of those memories that inspire such terror in me, something that just happened:

My little daughter comes into the bedroom. I’ve had a long week–my first week at a new job, and I’m still reeling from the loss of the wedding and my new unsure ground with her dad. He’s not here of course. We don’t know where he is. That’s typical. But I’m relaxed. I’m laying on the bed, the patio door is open and its grown dark, the cat is petting himself on my outstretched hand as I just doze. Suddenly that little bundle of sweetness bounces in and perched on the bed near my head. I can just see her face in the fading blue light. Her eyes are glimmering and in that smile shape. Yes, she’s smiling. There are the dimples. “I want more juice bottle.”

“Okaay…”

Just the slightest shadow passes over her smile because I am slow to answer and haven’t jumped up to get her juice. Did I understand her and what she wanted? Is she going to have to wait a -to her toddler mind–unbearable long time for me to shake off my sleepiness and get up to get her more juice? I am quick to reassure her:

“I’m going to get you more juice. But…you’ll have to pay me first.”

The shadow leaves, and the smile actually grows bigger. Oh! This is a game. The slightest of thoughtful crinkles touches her eyes and she starts to turn to leave. Oh goodness, she actually has something in mind! Is she heading for her piggy bank? Or has she thought of something incredible and funny and unexpected? Part of me wants to find out, but part of me really wants what I originally intended, not just for me, but for the effect it will have on her. So I let her off the hook.

“I’ll need your best kiss.”

What do you know, it possible for that smile to get bigger. That look on her face is just what I was hoping for: she is surprised and bemused and very happy because I’ve asked for something she knows she good at and she can deliver. She actually winds up. Sits back and straightens up and takes a big healthy breath in, and then dives in and gives me the sweetest baby kiss on my right cheek. It’s not even too slobbery. And I try so hard to freeze that moment in mind.

Even as I’m getting up and walking into the kitchen, as I’m getting the juice, as I’m responding to her chatter with, I admit it, half a mind, I am trying to cement that one moment in my mind. The sweet squeak and timber of her voice. The sound of her breath. The way that kiss felt–carrying with it that incredible gentle softness of touch that only babies and very small children have. I want it recorded like a move, but I’m already realizing it’s hopeless. I try to recall other details from the environment. The way the mattress felt, the feel of the cool air and the night sounds from outside the patio, the cat’s purr. Was the cat purring? Oh God, see? Already I’m not sure. And you’re supposed to remember these kind of details, to help you recall the important parts of the memory. Recall, not play back. Redo. Recreate. It is slipping away from, becoming intangible, sliding away down the drain of my mind to get lost in some great homogenous river.

I try to think back to similar moments with my older kids. From when they were little like this one. I start to reassemble memories, but there’s nothing there I can just play back. I can hear each one of their little voices. Each one’s was different and sweet. The oldest–even when he was small, he always sounded a little worried, earnest. Tiny Tim’s really was the tiniest, like you would imagine belonging to a little cartoon mouse. And my older daughter, she has this one constant note in her voice, like her own specially minted bell, that is always ringing the way a tuning fork would, behind every sound she makes. It’s there in her adult voice still, and it was already there in her little voice. I can imagine the things they said. Every morning, while I was pregnant with his sister, Tiny Tim would come in at the break of dawn and curl up with me and whisper, “I love you mom.” and then he would put his mouth up against my belly and whisper, “I love you, little sister.” I KNOW this happened. But even as I “remember” it, I realize I am just recreating it. I don’t actually remember–have printed on mindfilm, any of the moments where this happened. As I turn it around and around in my head, I can come up with a setting. Early in the morning–I need the bedroom, then. Where did we live at the time? Ah, right. That bedroom. Once I have that, I can even supply the most likely bedspread for the time. Oh, that awful lamp. That was there too. But the more I build the picture, the more I despair. Because that’s all I’m doing: reassembling the pieces, painting a collage of what logically must have all gone together–and voila! My brain spits out a “memory” at the end. But it’s not. It’s not real. Even if I put it all back together just right, if I somehow managed to hold all the minute pieces all these years and somehow miraculously stuck them all back together exactly right–it’s not the memory from 17 years ago. I made it brand new, just now.

And what kills me, what really kills me, is that I know that I did the same thing back then, that I just did right now: I thought, “I want to remember this moment forever.”