Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


The Last Can Be First: The (Almost) Billion Step Program

First off I will tell you that I was last both times. And both times I survived.

A few Novembers ago, I went trailblazing with an Alexandria Meetup Group. We embarked from Fort Ethan Allen Park. The hike was described as of moderate difficulty, with a few water crossings, and rock scrambles, and elevation changes. It promised a scenic overlook of the Potomac River. Only five and a half miles in just under two hours.

Piece of cake.

I almost died.

At an early water crossing I slipped on a rock and fell flat on my face into the stream. I hit my head and bruised my left shin. I was soaked head to toe. My shoes and socks were sopping wet. It was 35 degrees. My lips turned blue. To avoid hypothermia, I stripped down to my skivvies in front of fifty of my new best friends. A handsome stranger lent me his dry coat and warm gloves.

I should have turned back. But…

It seemed there was just one dangerously steep hill to descend and then I would be back on solid ground. A transgendered park ranger held my hand all the way down. (I would love to thank her but I forgot to get her name.) I thought the worst was over.

I was wrong.

It turns out “rocks” meant “boulders” and “scrambling” meant “scaling” and a “few” meant “way the hell too many”. The hills turned into cliffs, breathtaking, death dealing cliffs.

I prayed for a helicopter.

God-in-three-persons answered my prayer, namely three handsome (and sadly married) guys: Gordon, Joe, and Luke. One in front and two behind, they took turns literally holding my hand and guiding me each and every step of the way – “Put your foot here, grab a hold there”. If I looked down, I was a goner. Instead I looked to them. I listened to them.

Thanks be to Gordon, Joe, and Luke, I came in last. Exhilarated, shaking like a leaf and kissing the ground, I came in last.

But not for the last time.

Just one week later on Thanksgiving Eve, I finished the Real Girls RUN Half Marathon in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The race started in Crozet, a picturesque village in the horse country outside of Charlottesville. The field of 100 plus runners quickly outpaced me. I was blissfully left alone with my thoughts to walk the course: 13.1 miles of serious hills but no cliffs and no boulders!

(But hills, lots of hills!)

Piece of cake.

When I was finally in sight of the finish line, a fellow racer – who had long ago finished herself – cheered me on from her car window. “It’s my very first one,” I told her, “and I am coming in last!” She pulled over and walked with me the last half-mile. “You may be last” she said, “but you finished the hardest damn half marathon in in the state of Virginia. That’s a first!”

I recovered from the five-mile hike. I recovered from the 13.1-mile walk. But more importantly, in the process, I recovered myself. Not an overnight process for sure. But with every little step I took, I got a little bit of myself back – body and soul.

(And since I have completed two more half marathons and planning on the fourth!)

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Coming in last, Real Girls Run, Nov 23rd

Looking back, I see that I took thousands of steps long before I ever strapped on that first pair of size 7 ASICS. Steps that did not seem to matter. Steps that were daunting. Steps that were awkward. Steps that were clumsy. Steps that were steep. Steps that were halting. Steps that were scary.

Steps forward. Steps backward.

The Million Step Program.

The (Almost) Billion Step Program.

So far I have been in the program for fifteen years. I will be in it the rest of my life. It’s about lifelong recovery. Not recovery from bipolar disorder. I will never not be bipolar – nor would I ever want to be. The program I am in is about embracing the gift of my bipolar self.

To help quantify what it takes to get with the program and keep up with the program, I compiled a few statistics from just this last year. Holistically speaking, I’ve done pretty well.

  • 48 weekly visits to get my head examined (Thank you, Sondra!)
  • 4, once a quarter trips, to my psychiatrist (aka Mr. Rogers!)
  • 3 x 365 nightly vitamins for my brain
  • 24 hikes round Huntley Meadows
  • 52 walks on the river front
  • 104  tours (2 miles each) at the Library of Congress
  • 389 tunes “Folk Rocking Down the Highway” (Thank you, Spotify!)
  •  29 blog posts (so far)
  •  a baker’s dozen of sermons
  •  6 score (120) services planned
  • 2 times, twice over, on the Story District stage
  • 1,095 cups of coffee
  • 400 pieces of toast
  • 4 dozen books devoured
  • 1st book written
  • “2” much time on my couch
  • 5 new dresses and just as many shoes
  • 1/2 dozen new pairs of pajamas
  • a few sleepless nights
  • and maybe more than just a little mania

But…

I lost track of the calories. I lost track of the miles. I lost track of the steps.

But I am stepping up my game and getting it back: a new Fitbit, an actual scale, a stair stepper to step on, and resistance bands. Walking clothes and shoes always at the ready. Back in the pool for a little aerobics. Even a bike ride, now and then.

It took me a dozen of years of coming in last — to finally count myself as first. And what is true for me is surely true for us all.

There is no magic pill or miracle program or magic bipolar wand.

But — bipolar or whatever – you can recover yourself one step at time. Walking this way may seem ENDLESS. Yet every step may take you places you never thought you would go.  And on this road, miraculous people you are likely to meet.  Neighbors turn into friends; coworkers become companions; and strangers – wilderness guides along your way.

Like the  park ranger, like Gordon, Joe, and Luke, like the woman who walked with me that last half mile. God in all these persons witness to the truth.

The last can be first.

Just take it one step at a time.

JoaniSign


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Dirt Therapy, the 3rd

 

Easter, this year, began for me at Christmas Tide.

Sunday evening, December 11th, my phone rang. It was my baby brother Joseph on the line. “Are you sitting down?” he asks me. “Joani, we have never talked about this. Do you remember in 1972 when you were pregnant and gave a child up for adoption?” Dumbfounded, I literally respond,  “Yes, Joseph, of course, I do.”Well, she found me,” he says. “Through a DNA test on Ancestry.com, she found me.

The birth of a child to a teenage mother is a familiar story at Christmas. But the family trauma that resulted from my personal story, I had long buried.  And these forty-five year old memories resurrected a trembling seventeen year old child.

The very next day, December 12th, scared to death, I called my newfound child.  It was the best Christmas present I have ever been given. Her name is Rebecca.

We have spent the past four months condensing more than four decades, and without going into the details, I am happy to declare that all is good, very good. And if you like, you can catch up here: Scarlet Letter, No MoreThe “Nua” Normal“Knock the Unicorn Off the Cloud”

And resurrection has brought reunion.

It is remarkable how deeply Rebecca and I resemble one another: our personalities, our intellectual curiosity, our spiritual bent, our sense of humor. Not only our way of speaking but what we say. People have confused my writing for hers and her writing for mine. It is uncanny. It is remarkable. Rebecca says that distance reinforced her DNA. It was a form of rebellion, she says.

I do like the sound of that, though I am not sure exactly what it means.

Needless to say, this has been an incredibly healing experience.

I tremble no more.

Sprouted from the same soil,  Rebecca and I, our selves, our souls, and our bodies are intertwined.

So this Easter is all the sweeter:

Now the green blade riseth!  indeed!

So it seems very apropos to post Dirt Therapy once again.

A post that includes an anecdote about Jacob, Rebecca’s newly discovered little brother and a snapshot of my mother, the grandmother Rebecca never knew.

So, here we go…

Once upon an Eastertide, a little boy came home singing the Pete Seeger song: “Inch by inch, row by row, Lord, please help my garden grow”. At school the little boy, along with his class, had planted bean seeds in jelly jars. Each day they tended their little glass gardens, checking the moist dark earth. Some of the children drowned their seeds with love. While others, their seeds withered from neglect. While others, theirs actually and miraculously sprouted and grew.

Tiny green shoots poked their heads into the fluorescent light. Slender green vines wound around the inside of the jars.

And then one day — the little boy proudly brought his home and set it down on the kitchen table. His mom asked, “Okay, my little sweet potato, what’s this?” And the little boy replied:

”That’s Jesus, mom. That’s Jesus in a jar.”

It wasn’t exactly “Now the green blade riseth” but it was sweet indeed. That sweet little boy was my son Jacob (now 29 years old!). Sadly the little Jesus vine did not survive very long — but don’t blame Jacob. Sadly, you see, plants often came home to my house to die.

Even though I quite ironically once worked at plant store called “Great Plants Alive” most of the plants that crossed my threshold sadly met an untimely death.

And back in the day when I still had a backyard, I was quite happy to just let Mother Earth be my gardener. So whatever grew — grew –and whatever withered – withered. My yard was a little city patch of green. And since I had no green thumb, this was my rule:

If it’s green let it grow.

My lawn was covered with crab grass, wild violets, clover, and dandelions. The fence was covered with tangled honeysuckle vines, ghetto pines, a struggling maple tree, and poison ivy. Plastic baseball bats and dead tennis balls dotted my lawn. A sad little wagon and outgrown bicycles littered the grass.

Occasionally I would attempt to tame this wilding place with my lawn mower and a weed whacker. But much more often, I would retreat and recline in a plastic chair on the patio to read a good book.

If it’s green let it grow.

My manic-depressive mom, Mary Lou was quite the gardener. While I have been blessed with her bipolar brain, God did not see to bestow upon me her green thumb. And hers was very green indeed.

When I was growing up, my mother could lash out like lightning just as easily as she could erupt in joy. Her highs and lows were beyond her control, tamed only by a regular shot of bourbon, a little lithium, and the occasional session with Dr. Freud. My beloved mom did the best she could.

And she did her very best in the garden.EA11B186-69B7-45E1-8E52-41A174207E9A

Mary Lou was totally at home in her rock garden. She relished her trips to the local greenhouses and she spared no expense at the nursery.

The back of the station wagon would be overloaded with peat moss and potting soil, flats of flowers, hydrangeas and azaleas, and a shrub or two — or three.

The lawn would be littered with empty plastic pots, as she dug down deep in the dirt planting geraniums, petunias, and marigolds. I have a snapshot of her doing just this. Her sun kissed skin is freckled and bronze; her auburn hair peaks out from her kerchief; and golden hoops dangle from her ears. Gorgeous.

Resplendent and radiant, digging in the dirt, all is right with her soul.

Digging in the dirt is therapy.

Sowing seeds is therapy.

Fertilizing the soil is therapy.

Watering the ground is therapy.

Gardening is therapy.

Dirt therapy.

Wordless, holistic, holy, hopeful, dirty therapy.

My mother’s daughter, namely me, no longer has a backyard. But I do have a little balcony. And each Eastertide I plant my little English garden in half a dozen clay pots. I am partial to bright colors: Shasta daises; hibiscus; and geraniums. I am partial to plants of the forgiving kind, the kind that forgive me if I don’t water them as often as I should.

A little Miracle Grow, a little sunshine, a little dirt, and all is right with my soul. At least for a little while.

In the beginning, the Creator walked in the cool of the wet garden at the time of the evening breeze. God made us out of the dirt of the garden. God made us out of the dirt of paradise.

And so in all the deaths we die — both large and small — we return to the Garden. We go down into the dirt like seeds forgotten and buried in the dark earth.

So as we are in the beginning, we are in the end. The Alpha is also the Omega.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary of Magdala, came to the garden and she saw that the stone was rolled away. And there stood the Gardener, the same Gardener who had walked at the time of the evening breeze. Mary did not know him until he called her by name. And then she knew. Here stands the very tiller, the very tender, the very lover of my soul.

Now the green blade riseth.

Dirt therapy.

JoaniSign


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Insides, Outsides 2016

wash post 2006 list in and out

On the eve of 2016, herewith is Joani’s bipolar analysis of the yins and yangs, ups and downs, and ins and outs – especially the ins and outs – of the last twelve months, 2015.

So once again with apologies to the Washington Post (my hometown newspaper!) and without editorial comment, and in no particular order, I submit this list for your consideration. And might I suggest that you consider, for the sake of your brain, doing the same!

Insides/Outsides

  1. Size 6/Size 10
  2. Inside Out/Outside In
  3. Author/Blogger
  4. Story District/SpeakasyDC
  5. It’s Just Lunch/It’s Just Coffee
  6. Lipstick/Lip gloss
  7. 60/59
  8. Canadian/American
  9. Water Zumba/Water Aerobics
  10. Grounds/Beans
  11. Manicure/Nail biting
  12. What’s Tumblr?/Tumblr
  13. Playwright/Liturgist
  14. Bookstores/Libraries
  15. Sour Cherry Pie/Pumpkin Flax Granola
  16. Carluccio’s/Mancini’s
  17. T-Backs/Sports Bras
  18. Bucketfeet/Toms
  19. Wedding Wedding/Gay Wedding
  20. The Angel of the Lord/The Blessed Virgin Mary
  21. Margaret Atwood/Shirley Jackson
  22. Silk/Lace
  23. Missing Bailey/Walking Bailey
  24. “Liked from Radio”/Playlists
  25. Trader Joe’s/Whole Foods
  26. Preacher/Teacher
  27. eCP/BCP
  28. Sketchbook/Notebook
  29. Throws/Pillows
  30. Cloth Napkins/Paper Towels
  31. Club Soda/La Croix
  32. Global Warming/Snow Globing
  33. Badlands/Wetlands
  34. Hoppy Beer/Fruity Beer
  35. The Cloud/The Cosmos
  36. Skorts/Shorts
  37. Chimes/Bells
  38. Sugar Shack/Krispy Kreme
  39. Aggressive/Assertive
  40. Peacock Postcards/Peacock Feathers
  41. Killer ESP/Starbucks
  42. SPF 70/SPF 50
  43. New Therapist/Old Therapist
  44. Executive Chef/Executive Producer
  45. Almond Milk/Coconut Creamer
  46. Grace & Frankie/Thelma & Louise
  47. Smoked Turkey/Tofurkey
  48. Cracked Pepper/Sea Salt
  49. Free Range/Cage Free
  50. Savannah Bee’s/Burt’s Bees
  51. Body Butter/Body Lotion
  52. Composting/Recycling
  53. Mentalist/Evangelist
  54. Lavender/Lemon
  55. Worrier/Warrior
  56. Pugilist/Pacifist
  57. Stripes/Solids
  58. Tangerines/Clementines
  59. Socialist/Democrat
  60. Lewis Carroll/Oscar Wilde
  61. Aroma Therapy/Physical Therapy
  62. Home Town/Old Town
  63. Flat White/Latte
  64. Revelry/Rivalry
  65. Redemption/Salvation
  66. Vancouver/Virginia
  67. Sabbath/Sunday
  68. Bee Keeping/Peace Keeping
  69. LEDs/Light Bulbs
  70. Mittens/Gloves
  71. Semicolons/Commas
  72. Makeup/Tattoos
  73. Trilogies/Anthologies
  74. Eastern Market/Metro Center
  75. Tibetan Prayer Beads/Rosaries
  76. Osteopath/M.D.
  77. Mohair/Fleece
  78. Kierkegaard/Hildegard
  79. Sensual/Sensible
  80. Ginger Mints/Altoids
  81. Rainmaker/Tentmaker
  82. Band Leader/Baton Twirler
  83. Just Books/Books about Books
  84. Incandescence/Transcendence
  85. Passionate/Platonic
  86. EEC/BBC
  87. Lint Remover/Vacuum Cleaner
  88. Passport/Carport
  89. Angels/Saints
  90. 26.2/13.1 + 13.1 =
  91. Colored Pencils/Colored Pens
  92. Patio Lights/Christmas Lights
  93. Stemware/Fiesta Ware
  94. Progressive Lenses/Rose tinted glasses
  95. Chutzpah/Challah
  96. Shaman/Chaplain
  97. Fluid/Druid
  98. Easy Listening/Smooth Jazz
  99. Dream Dresser/Mad Hatter
  100. Hypothetical/Heretical

and of course

  1. Unorthodox&Unhinged!

Happy New Year!

JoaniSign