The Places in Between

I have revamped and renamed my blog here at charlottedonlon.com. After several months of struggling with the nature of blogs and my reasons for blogging, I have settled (for now) on this being a place where I just write. It will be a mishmash of essays, the results of writing exercises, thoughts on the ordinary and reflections on faith. And probably other things that I can’t think of right now. Continue reading

I need to write. I feel like more of myself when I write. And I want to put some of what I write out there for others to read since a few people have told me they enjoy reading what I write. This is not a mommy blog. I have no desire to talk about mothering and my kids all the time. This is not a Christian I-Want-To-Blog-So-I-Can-Build-My-Tribe-So-I-Can-Get-A-Book-Deal blog. I just don’t have the energy to play that game. (Although I am working on a book which will probably never get published because I don’t have the energy to play that game.)

So I’m just going to write.

The title of this website defines how I feel much of the time. At 39, I’m not old, but I’m no longer young. Although I am bipolar, I spend most of my life  in the space in the middle of being manic or depressed. My children are in their tween years and still need me, but they don’t need me as much as they used to. I’m moving forward on my journey, but I haven’t “arrived.” (Does anyone ever?) I’m content with being in the places in between and want to pay attention to the view and enjoy the ride.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Writing

Recovery

This is the second post of a two-part piece offering a glimpse into my world during my second manic episode in 2011. The first post can be found here

It is difficult to get out of bed. I feel too paralyzed to face the ordinary tasks of life. To escape my own story, I overdose on others’ stories. I seek short bursts of connection on Twitter or Facebook and information highs through reading multiple blog posts and news articles. I turn to food to numb the over-stimulation. Then I try to drown everything out with music. I put my headphones on and blast Johnny Cash, U2 or Beyoncé, their lyrics offering escape from the noise created by my own mind. The relief from these coping mechanisms does not last long, but I continue to go to them again and again.

My parents travel from Florida to our home in Birmingham, Alabama, to help. Our refrigerator is stocked with meals from friends, and my daughter and son are whisked away for extended play dates. My husband uses several of his vacation days so he can better care for our children and me. I can see the exhaustion and worry in his eyes but I’m incapable of comforting or reassuring him. I’m scared I’m not going to get better, that I’m never going to heal.

But there are small improvements over time. The new medications continue to decrease the effects of the mania, and I’m eventually able to lower the doses so I can have more energy. Therapy is going well, too. I am learning how to replace my paranoid thoughts with truthful thoughts and have plenty of opportunities to practice this new skill. When I feel like I am being watched by whoever is in on the conspiracy while playing outside with my children or when I think my husband and parents are giving each other secret hand signals to communicate about me when I’m in the room, I’m able to convince myself those scenarios are not likely. Continue reading

After two weeks, I arrive at a point where I am stable enough to re-enter more of life. My psychiatrist and therapist are telling me to incorporate some day-to-day activities despite the mania and paranoia. Even though it is overwhelming, I try to do as they recommend because I know I can’t stay in bed or on my iPhone with a bag of M&Ms forever.  It’s time to practice wellness. It’s time to move through the discomfort and re-establish a routine and a rhythm.

My husband brings me coffee and awakens me. I wrap both hands around the steaming ceramic mug and drink deeply, thinking through what lies before me: Getting out of bed, changing into jeans and a T-shirt, brushing my teeth, walking my dog, caring for my children, preparing meals and interacting with my husband and others who might cross my path. I wonder how I’m going to be able to make it and am tempted to give up even before I attempt to make my first move. But something inside me wants to be well. Something inside me wants life. I tell myself to plant my feet on the floor beside my bed and stand up. I am in motion. I move forward and fight against what makes more sense. Staying in bed and tuning out is a mirage in a desert. It seems to offer me what I need, but it is not life-giving.

I proceed through the day and adjust my focus on what is right before me instead of the whole picture. As I spend time with my children, manage their exposure to screens and referee their arguments, I’m on auto-pilot. I remember the guilt I felt during my first manic episode when I beat myself up because I could not care for them the way I wanted to, the way I thought I needed to. This time I know they are OK. They are safe and content. They have my presence, even though I am not fully present. We are making it, and that is enough for now.

While gathering up the dirty laundry, I’m on the brink of tears.  I sort through the piles and throw a load of white towels into the washing machine. Twenty minutes later, I move them over to the dryer. After an hour, they are clean and dry.  When I am folding the towels and putting them away in the bathroom cabinet, I recognize there is not much room for paranoia in the midst of doing these daily, somewhat- mindless tasks. My body and mind have moved through these motions so many times, I know the choreography by heart. What I often experience as drudgery is now offering me comfort and safety.

I bring myself—a small part of my self—to my kitchen and make a pot of chicken, white bean and rosemary soup. It’s the same recipe I used before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It is the same recipe I will use ten and twenty years from now. It’s the same recipe I use if I am manic or depressed or somewhere in-between.  Somehow, through the act of soaking the beans, sautéing the onions, chopping the chicken and breathing in the aroma of the rosemary, I am connected to both my health and my brokenness. I serve the soup to my family. As we share this meal, we are connected to more of each other.

My dog and I meander through the neighborhood along our usual route and a sense of order is restored. With each step along the familiar paths, truth reveals itself more and more to my tortured mind like the June sun leaving its mark on my face. The blooming orange daylilies and pink and blue hydrangeas in my neighbors’ yards serve as beacons, helping me remember the past and helping me have hope for the future. They remind me of the cycle of birth, life and death, and with this knowledge a seed of faith is planted. I have assurance I will eventually come out on the other side.

And I do. After six weeks I wake up one morning and the mania and paranoia are gone. A switch has been flipped in the recesses of my brain. It is as if someone stood up and said, “We are all done here.” In an instant I am both relieved and fearful. My mind is no longer held hostage, but a severe depression is on its way. My battle is not finished. It will never be finished.

So I keep fighting. I take my medications and go to therapy. And I immerse myself in the daily. I do the laundry and clean our home. I run errands and cook dinner. I spend time with my husband, children and friends. I also crawl back into bed with my iPhone and chocolate. But I don’t get stuck there for too long anymore. After a while, I find the courage again to do the next, right, usually mundane thing. Because I know the ordinary is where healing resides.

12 Comments

Filed under Hope, Life

Manic

This is the first post of a two-part piece offering a glimpse into my world during my second manic episode in 2011. The second post can be found here

I’m in orbit. Again. We have been waiting for this since my first manic episode four years ago when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. My psychiatrist has reminded me during my checkup appointments every six months that most people with my illness who have a manic episode will have at least one more. Even though I’ve been warned, I’m not fully prepared for the whiplash I experience as I spiral into a distorted world created by my own mind.

I tried to hold it back before it had a full grip on me. I took some extra meds for a few nights so I could get more sleep. I even went to see my psychiatrist so he could tell me I was OK. If I could sit on his couch in my bright pink sundress with a cheery and confident demeanor and convince him I was healthy, maybe I could also convince myself. He told me I seemed fine.  Twenty-four hours later I am swimming in a sea of crazy. Continue reading

Now that I am in it, I can tell it has been building up over the past two months. I can see a version of the truth and a slice of the past that brought me to this point. The triggers were there. A former pastor of mine just died of pancreatic cancer, and a dear friendship recently ended. I have been staying up late most nights working on a community newsletter project and have not been getting enough sleep. Also, it’s late spring—a time of the year when I usually experience some mild mania.

I’m experiencing feelings of euphoria; the sun is brighter, the sky is clearer, colors are bolder and everything is more interesting. But I’m also paranoid and having hallucinations. There are too many connections and coincidences, which provide evidence of a conspiracy. My husband is in on it. My kids are too. My brain is engaged in a game of tug-of-war and insanity is winning.

My husband and I return to my psychiatrist’s office. We wind up the dark, concrete stairway, enter through the heavy-as-iron door and wait. I wonder if anyone else in the room is as crazy as I am. When we’re called back to his office, we settle into the couch and relay my latest actions and our concerns. I’m speaking with more intensity and speed than the previous day. And I’m distracted by a wound on my psychiatrist’s forehead. It seems to grow larger with each passing minute. I’m convinced it is makeup and some kind of special effect—a test to see my reaction. I can’t recall seeing it the day before when I was trying so desperately to avoid where I am now. My mind is torn. I want to trust those who are trying to care for me, but everything seems staged.

After just a few minutes of listening to and observing me, he confirms what we already know: This is my second manic episode. We leave with prescriptions for additional medications and instructions for me to get as much sleep as much as possible. Since we’re catching it early, outpatient treatment seems like the best option.

While my 8-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son are snuggled in my bed with me the next morning, I promise to give them an electronic game system if they will tell me the secret they have been told to keep from me. I sneak out and go to a neighbor’s house for help. I’m sure she knows some answers and can provide assistance. I ask her to move my car around to the back of her house so no one can see I’m there. She takes her newborn baby with her when she moves my car. While at her house, I change the passwords for my email, Facebook and Twitter accounts, because I’m positive someone has hacked into my computer and is stealing my identity. I call an attorney to discuss divorcing my husband.

My erratic behavior continues for a few more days until the medications work their magic. I’m still manic, but everything is in slow motion. My euphoria and hallucinations have been replaced with irritability and frustration. The large amounts of drugs in my system have caused a medically induced layer of depression. The paranoia remains.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Life

Five Minutes Every Day

10:56 a.m.

Not much can happen in five minutes. I stare at the lines of my Moleskine and twirl my pencil for at least 30 or 45 seconds. Then I spit something out onto the paper–something horrible that will most likely go nowhere. But there are words. There are seeds of ideas forming. My mind and my heart and my hand and my pencil are all connected, doing the work of creating. Just for five minutes. Then I stop.

My goal is to write every day, so five minutes is very doable. I’ll increase the time by five minutes every two weeks until I hit the hour mark. Then I’ll allow myself to go over the allotted time. But for now I stop. It reminds me of when I read aloud with my kids (although it’s been a while since I’ve read aloud to them…) and whenever I stop at a really good part they beg me to keep reading. But I don’t because it’s so great to give them time to savor what they’ve heard and space to anticipate what will be coming in the future.

All week I’ve been writing late at night, right before I go to sleep. But today it’s 10:56 a.m., while my kids are home and there is laundry to do and dishes to clean and meals to plan and a grocery list to make. And I wish my goal was longer. But I know there will be more time tomorrow. And even more in the weeks to come. So I’ll wait in this space with anticipation, wondering what the future may hold.

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Writing

A Love Affair

It is George’s idea. I go along with his suggestion and feel like I’m crossing a threshold into adulthood.

After clearing away the lunch dishes, our server places two white ceramic saucers on the crisp, starched table cloth and crowns each one with a matching cup. He presents a silver pot and pours the coffee before leaving our table. I reach for the cream and sugar, but George stops me. “You should drink it black,” he says.

We have been friends for six years and are about to go our separate ways for college. He has taught me about music—primarily R.E.M. and Bob Dylan, with a mix tape of various jazz musicians thrown in there. He introduced me to sushi and sake. He took me to my first independent film at the Capri Theatre. And now he’s heading off to Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. I’ll be at a small liberal arts school an hour and a half from our hometown. So I drink it black.

Except for the few curious sips out of my parents’ mugs as a child, this is my first coffee experience. I don’t particularly like the taste. It’s little more than colored, caffeinated water, but I finish it and allow our server to give me a refill.

During the fall of my sophomore year, one of my suite mates mentions how much she loves studying at O’Henry’s Coffee Shop. The next day I’m restless and need a change of scenery (or an excuse to put off my Organic Chemistry homework), so I look it up in the phone book, call for directions and make my way there. It’s situated in the quaint downtown area of Homewood, a city in the Birmingham metro area about 15 minutes from Birmingham-Southern College. It is on a street lined with boutiques, an upscale salon and restaurants. There is a record store next door. I’m immediately captivated with the atmosphere and vibe of the area. Continue reading

The bell on the door jingles when I open it, and I step out of the early afternoon sunshine into a whole new world. There is wall dedicated to rows and rows of glass cases filled with coffee beans from all over the world. Vibrant art is hung in prominent spots along the other walls and Van Morrison is coming out of the speakers overhead. Students are studying with mugs beside their textbooks, children are drinking hot chocolate while their moms chat over more sophisticated beverages and a couple of businessmen seem to be discussing something very important.

They have several types of brewed coffee, espresso drinks (I’ve never heard of espresso.) and a wide variety of decadent desserts, muffins and scones available for purchase. I order a medium cup of the bold blend—African Classic—and find a place at a small round table. I drink it black.

This is not anything like my first cup of coffee with George or the hundreds of others I’ve had during late night study sessions with classmates at the Denny’s a few blocks from campus. This is much more than colored, caffeinated water. I have discovered real coffee—coffee full of flavor and “floral overtones and citrus acidity.” Before leaving O’Henry’s and the neighborhood that seems to be pulling me into its magnetic field, I fill out an application to work there.

During every shift, I drink coffee, espresso and Americanos. At first I stay away from the flavored coffees and chocolate-y mochas, but I eventually try them only to discover I really do prefer the black options without sugar, milk or whipped cream. Whenever I leave, my hair and clothes reek of coffee. My car even smells like coffee. When I’m not working, I go there often to study or have coffee dates with friends. My love affair with coffee has begun. 

…to be continued

This is the result of a writing prompt from Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg. It’s a first-ish draft, and there is a lot more to the story which I will most likely work on in the near future. I struggle here with the details about the first visit to O’Henry’s. I don’t remember what types of people were sitting at the tables or what kind of music was playing. I did order African Classic and drank it black. So is this piece truthful? Mostly. I might take those questionable tidbits out and try to reach for more that I really do remember. But now I need to go clean my house and do some laundry.

5 Comments

Filed under Life, Love, Writing

A Writing Exercise: Why I Am Who I Am

1.
“Little girls are to be seen and not heard.”

2.
I remember the thick, lingering smell of sawdust when my dad was building a tool shed behind my childhood home. Whenever he was working, I would make my way to the saw horses, scoop up handfuls of the feathery fragments and breathe in the earthy, smoky aroma. Two decades later when I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I hired a contractor to renovate our kitchen and bathroom. I was suffering from terrible nausea, and the sawdust odor was especially repulsive to my first trimester sense of smell. Every night I would sink into our overstuffed moss green couch, watch Trading Spaces and wonder if I’d ever recover.

3.
The Beatles    Chicago    Grandma Byrd’s jewelry box    cabbage rolls   Grandma Boyd’s Oil of Olay    Dallas    swing set    train tracks    peanuts   oranges    olives    my mom’s black eyeliner    tape recorder    roller skates rosin    blisters    bourbon    reel-to-reel    yellow shag carpet   “You Are My Sunshine”    nap time    Soul Train    Annie    root beer floats    red geraniums     Easter egg hunts    Aunt Carol’s wedding    Aunt Betty’s cigarettes    Fluffy     Stand by Me    Little House on the Prairie    pink leg warmers    Tang    

4.
My daughter’s hair is thick and silky straight. It falls below her shoulders and is perfect for braiding. Except for the one golden streak near her face, it’s the color of chocolate. Those bleached strands are visible evidence of her independent, free spirit. And they prove I’m a mama who picks her battles.

*This post is the result of a writing exercise by Dinty W. Moore in Creative Writing Demystified, although I found the exercise on a random website after Googling “creative nonfiction prompts.” Moore says it’s “an experimental essay, in collage form…” and that I should “marvel at the unexpected connections and odd logic.” 

6 Comments

Filed under Family, Life, Writing

An Abundant Life

When I became a Christian 18 years ago, one of the things I learned is that Christ came to give us an abundant life. In John 10:10 Jesus says:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (ESV)

When I am alive to my true desires, I long for the abundant life that he promises. When I allow my true desires to fade, I ignore the promise and look to cheap substitutions. But my idols and addictions never come through for me the way I think they will. They always fall short, and my true desires resurface. Their return is as sure as the continuous cycle of the seasons. It may take a while for spring to be ablaze in all its glory, but we know it’s coming. It never fails to arrive.

Not long ago, I was struck with the reality that I already have what I so desperately want.  The abundant life isn’t a life of constant happiness free from pain and discomfort. If that’s what Jesus was claiming to give us, he would have said that. The abundant life is a life full of life–with ups and downs, rest and struggle, sorrow and joy.

It ‘s having a thriving marriage, a wonderful family and dear friends. And knowing the heartache of broken relationships.

It’s being content as a wife, mother and neighbor. And having days, weeks, and months of feeling like I offer no valuable contribution to society.

It’s caring for others. And being depleted with no more time or energy to give.

It’s tasting and enjoying God’s presence and goodness. And experiencing periods of spiritual disconnection.

It’s being hopeful about the future. And wondering if this is as good as it gets.

It’s having a sane mind. And journeying through several seasons of depression, two episodes of hypermania and one week-long stay in a psychiatric ward.

It’s having a healthy body. And undergoing an emergency hysterectomy.

It’s feeling beautiful and confident. And knowing that I may never truly love what I see in the mirror.

I’m not the first woman who’s been tempted to think that God is holding out on her. When I’m back in the garden, questioning God’s goodness and battling with the thief whose job is to steal, kill and destroy, I can choose to believe that I already possess what my savior came to give me. This messy, mixed-up, fantastic, ordinary, extraordinary life is mine for the taking. Knowing that the  triune God is always with me and that my ultimate hope is in the eternal life Jesus obtained for me gives me the freedom to take hold of all that comes my way this side of heaven. And I pray for the grace and the faith to do so.

 

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Faith, Hope, Life

Staying Power

This is my sixth post in Stealing Time magazine’s  Fortnight of Flash.

He swings the bat, makes contact and gets his first double. He experiences the thrill of catching two pop flies during one game to get opposing players out. His team makes it all the way to the league championship game. Watching March Madness with his dad ignites his interest in basketball, resulting in multiple trips to the gym to practice lay ups and free throws and playing countless games of Horse with the Nerf basketball hoop that hangs on the pantry door. The rules of football finally make sense.  He subscribes to Sports Illustrated Kids to keep up with this season’s news. He receives a special treat–a trip to New Orleans to attend a Saints game.

His passion for baseball, football and basketball knows no limit. Playing catch, shooting hoops, watching games, wearing his favorite team colors, reading Mike Lupica books, and talking stats—he can’t seem to get enough. He’s standing at the end of a fire hose of information, trying to drink it all in. He’s caught up in the stories of the teams, athletes and traditions. These stories are never ending and span across generations. There will always be more to see, more to learn and more opportunities to cheer or sulk.

During the spring and fall baseball seasons, he is a player in his own stories of triumph, loss and perseverance. He is a part of something larger than himself and feels the camaraderie of fellow teammates and coaches.  And more awaits him as he looks forward to the upcoming basketball season, a new round of spring baseball after that, sports camps in the summer and maybe even flag football next fall.

His past loves expired within months, but this one seems to have some staying power. He could only pretend to be a train conductor, dump truck driver, fireman and Luke Skywalker. He is already an athlete and a fan. He  experiences firsthand some of the elements of the stories that initially attracted him to the world of sports, and the ongoing and new stories continue to draw him in.

3 Comments

Filed under Family, Fortnight of Flash

Reaching for the Clouds

This is my fifth post in Stealing Time magazine’s  Fortnight of Flash.

“I want to touch the clouds!” my daughter screams with toddler joy as I push her on the red plastic swing in our backyard. It’s a glorious June morning, and we are soaking it all in while my infant son naps inside our house. I’m weary with the weariness that comes from caring for two small children, but her exclamation grabs my attention and awakens something deep within me. She wants more. She wants to go as high as she can comprehend, and she’s not afraid to ask for it. It’s another teachable moment, and I am the student.

I’m caught off guard by how much I’m learning from her. Before I entered motherhood, I expected to be the one with all the answers, to be in charge of doling out wisdom and knowledge. But I’m seeing that it is a shared responsibility. She’s a unique person with her own thoughts and desires, and she has much to offer.  She welcomes me into her world—to a place that I vaguely remember from my own childhood—and draws me into wonder and curiosity. As I take this journey with her, I realize that I am breaking through my own boundaries and exploring the far off places.

She’s content swinging for almost an hour. Maybe she believes she will eventually reach the clouds. I remember the “Dream Big” mosaic that I bought for her at an art show a few months ago. She can’t read the words yet, but she already knows what it means. And so do I.

1 Comment

Filed under Family, Fortnight of Flash

Sometimes I Wonder

This is my fourth post in Stealing Time magazine’s  Fortnight of Flash.

It’s been over two years since we talked, since our friendship came to a halt. My anger turned to grief a few months after we traded those last text messages where we were both so sure of our own righteousness. The sadness still lingers; I believe it always will.

We did not discuss our parting in person. Sometimes I wonder if that would have made a difference. You would have seen my tears; I would have seen yours. Perhaps another story would have unfolded even though the dominoes were already in place and the first one had fallen.  Maybe a face-to-face conversation would have made some room for hope and cleared some space for reconciliation.

I can’t deny that I long for this chapter of our lives to be different. I certainly wish it could be rewritten. But brokenness won. The cord of our relationship was severed, and we are both left with a frayed remnant of something that once was and will never be again.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Fortnight of Flash, Life, Loss