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!)

photo-10

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


2 Comments

It’s a 61-derful Life!

FullSizeRender-3

1965, A very good year.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is my favorite Christmas movie. In fact, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is my favorite movie period. Not because it is full of holiday cheer, it is not. The 1947 film’s focus is on an attempted suicide.  The grainy black and white photography perfectly fits the mood. (The colorized version is an abomination!) The inebriated George Bailey is about to throw himself off a bridge. But before he plunges in, the Angel Clarence beats him to it.

Someone is about to be rescued. Someone is about to sprout wings.

Clarence walks George backwards through his life. Through all the light and all the dark and all the gray, through all the crap and all the joy, through all his years — and it still turns out to be a wonderful life.

“The glory of God is a human being full alive!” – St. Irenaeus, 4th C.

When I was 40, I would have told you that 60 was old.

Now that I am 60, sixty is the new forty. No, let me rephrase that. Sixty is better than that. 60 is like being two rocking 30 year olds. (Within reason, of course!)

And now I am on the verge of turning 61. On February 28th, I turn 61-derful!

Cosmically speaking SpaceTime can stretch; SpaceTime can contract. But the arrow of time travels in only one direction. With each passing year, we grow older. With each passing year, we dig deeper. With each passing year, we live larger. With each passing year, we become who God created us to be.

I no longer see the world through rose colored glasses. I see the world through progressive lenses – beautiful, breathtaking, heart breaking, and bittersweet. In six decades my life has progressed and regressed and progressed again  in O’ so many ways.

Let me count them down. Listed below are touchstones, milestones, and millstones (with a little parenthetical commentary!).  All linked and connected —  for better and for worse — throughout my 61-derful years.

2016. Mind Over Matter, Atlas Intersections Festival ( A star is born!)

2015. My 4th (brain) child, Unhinged, April 25, 2015

2014. Emmanuel on High (My spiritual home)

2013. Real Girls Run 13.1 (and Walk 13.1!)

2012. The Artist’s Way (Journaling each day)

2011.Huntley Meadows Wildlife Preserve (Enchanted Forest)

2010. All Saints, Sharon Chapel (A Way Station)

2009. Bishop Payne Library (Bibliomania!)

2008. Ten Thousand Villages (Fair Trade Fridays)

2007. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (A little help from our friends)

2006. South Meadows Condominiums (Me, myself, and I!)

2005. St. George’s, Fredericksburg (Interim time)

2004, Saint In-Between

2003. Dominion Hospital (Crazy time)

2002. D*I*V*O*R*C*E

2001. Holy Cross, A Space Oddysey

2000. A Closet full of Bridesmaid Dresses (Job search)

1999. Emerald Isle Sabbatical

1998. The Diocese of Virginia (Committees, committees, committees)

1997. AT&T Wired Wirelessly!

1996. WHFStival (Rock on!)

1995. Mount Vernon Community School (and the Caboose!)

1994. St. Luke’s, Alexandria (Sometimes Wellington)

1993.Politics & Prose (DC Book Store Extraordinaire)

1992. Shrine Mont (Fried Chicken, But Rolls & Apple Butter)

1991. Virginia Theological Seminary (What I want to be when I grow up.)

1990. George Mason University (A belated college degree)

1989. The Voyage of the Minivan (Three kids in tow!)

1988. Frisco Island, The Outer Banks (Ribbons of Sand)

1987. Jacob Nathaniel Peacock Clark (Indie Gamer Extraordinaire!)

1986. Immanuel on-the-Hill (Launchpad)

1985. 212 East Windsor Avenue (Delray!)

1984. Colleen Noel Peacock Clark (Development Director Extraordinaire!)

1983. Freddie Mac (The IT Crowd)

1982. Zachariah John Peacock Clark (Indie Film Maker!)

1981. Computer Learning Center (No link to be found!)

1980. The Springs Montessori School (Primarily a teacher)

1979.Library of Congress Reading Room (Study away!)

1978. The Montessori Institute (The Halls of Maria)

1977. The Key, The Biograph & The Georgetown Theaters (Subtitles!)

1976. Bicentennial Moments at The Reflecting Pool

1975. Spanish Education Development Center (Se habla español?)

1974. The Potter’s House (Coffee!)

1973. Catholic University (Philosophizing)

1972. William, the boy next door, 5/19/1972

1971. May Day Protest of the Vietnam War (Skipping school)

1970. Immaculata Preparatory School (Brainy school)

1969. La Reine High School (Jock school)

1968. Holy Family 8th Grade Valedictorian

1967. Expo ’67, Montreal, Canada (Foreign travels)

1966. “Remember You’re a Peacock” (my dad)

1965. Saint Veronica (Confirmation 101)

1964. Lady Bird Johnson makes America beautiful again.

1963. November 22, 1963 (Tragedy)

1962. “Grounding Rounds & Rattling Beads” (Communion)

1961. “In her house are many dwelling places” (Salvation)

1960. A Catholic in the White House (JFK)

1959. “Are you my mother, Mother Mary?” (my mom)

1958. Hillcrest Heights Brick Colonial (home)

1957. Marlow Heights Semi-detached (home)

1956. Anacostia Row House (home)

1955. Providence Hospital, 2/28/1955 (Ground Zero!)

Happy Birthday!!!

JoaniSign


6 Comments

The Last Shall Be First — The Million Step Program

Hot Pink ASICS Size 7

Hot Pink ASICS Size 7

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

Last November 16th, I went trailblazing with the 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 in the clear and 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. And 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 November 23rd 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!

Piece of cake.

When I was finally in sight of the finish line, a fellow contestant – 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 the last half-mile with me. “You may be last” she said, “but you finished the hardest damn half marathon in in the state of Virginia. And that’s a first!”

I recovered from the five-mile hike. I recovered from the 13-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, mind, spirit, and soul.

photo-10

Coming in last, Real Girls Run, Nov 23rd

And looking back, I took thousands of steps long before I ever stepped out in my hot pink 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.

So far I have been in the program for a dozen years. I will be in it the rest of my life. It’s about lifelong recovery. Not recovery from bipolar disorder. I will never be rid of bipolar disorder nor do I ever want to be. The program I am in is about the lifelong recovery and embrace of my bipolar self.

To help quantify what it takes to get with the program and keep up with the program, I pulled out my calculator and compiled a few statistics from just this last year:

  • 24 biweekly trips to Marvelous Mary’s, my therapist’s office
  • 6 trips, every other month, to the psychiatrist
  • 1,095 little pills swallowed
  • 12 group therapy meetings along the Artist’s Way
  • 48 times in the pool
  • 1,460 walks with Bailey the dog
  • 10,220 Hail Mary’s
  • 208 trips to the Bishop Payne Library
  • A dozen times in the pulpit
  • 200 Christmas carols on my Ipod
  • 36 dozen eggs
  • 36 blog posts
  • 1,095 cups of coffee
  • too many books to count
  • too much money spent
  • countless meals with friends
  • too little time with family
  • more time listening to music
  • more than my share of sleepless nights
  • 718,522 calories
  • 1,116 miles
  • 2,634,125 steps

A dozen 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. There is no miracle program. There is no bipolar magic wand.

But — bipolar or whatever – you can recover yourself one step at time. Walking this way may seem endless and discouragement a given. Yet every step along this way may take you places you need to go – a hospital, a doctor’s office, a friend’s couch. And on this road the slower you go, the more miraculous people you are likely to meet : Neighbors become 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 – that the last shall be first.

Just take it one step at a time.

JoaniSign