Thursday, November 21, 2013


Disclaimer: this post is not about serious stuff. 

Rather, it is about my small business - in other words, a shameless plug for my products for gorgeousgoddesshair. 

I have another craft show this weekend at the Historic Oakland Manor. I'm going to be on the second floor, selling clips, bobby pins, headbands, ponytail elastics, and my new pin/clip combos. I'm very excited about this show - every vendor is selling hand-crafted goods, so I will be in good company! If you've never visited me at a show before, I encourage you to spend twenty minutes or more checking out my stuff and all of the other goodies this Saturday from 10-3. 

Below are some photographs of my work. 

These have pin backs and alligator clips. They are made from silk flowers, French netting, feathers, and pearls or beads: 

These are alligator clips. Feathers, flowers, and beads: 

Medium sized alligator clips. Flowers, feathers, pearls:

Headbands for your little princess. Elastic, found beads or pearls, flowers, netting: 

Ponytail elastics.  Ribbon roses, beads, flowers, elastic: 

Lots of bobby pins! I have some for fall and winter, too! Flowers and pearls: 

Thanks for taking a look! See you on Saturday! 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What He Really Wanted

When my grandfather passed away, five years ago before Thanksgiving, I set myself a task. 

I was going to make a great meal if it killed me. 

There are a few things I don't remember from that Thanksgiving - more than a few - but I do remember the weeks of preparation, finding new recipes, setting a day-of schedule, planning out the dishes and the drinks and seeking the perfect balance of leeks and mushrooms and cream for the soup course. I wanted to recreate the holidays, make at least one meal in my Grandpere's memory, fill his Victorian row house with candlelight and the perfume of sophisticated food. 

And I kept doing that - Thanksgivings and Christmases, I ran around the kitchen, trying to fit my love for my grandfather in every morsel and on every swirl of blue and white on our transferware china. As if, somehow, he'd be with me if I just got it right, if the food was good, if we all squeezed in together, bumping elbows, in the gilt-papered dining room, and were, against all odds, a whole and happy family. 

And then last year, my mom cooked. 

She told me recently about her own stress before that big meal, and how, as I sat around doing absolutely nothing, she began to wonder (perhaps a bit frustratedly) why I wasn't helping. And how, almost at the same time, I told her how precious it was to me that I didn't have to do a thing. Maybe I thought that Grandpere was sated, finally - or maybe I realized that his love for me was unconditional, even after his passing, and that I had done enough simply by being his granddaughter and by loving him back. 

Family events are challenging, sometimes, because as life changes we have to adapt, have to reconsider what family means as we grow older. Even so, I had to let go of the notion that I was the glue holding everything together, that what and how I cooked would fix the problems and return to us the mandatory cheeriness which my grandfather enforced with his own enjoyment of the holidays. I have had to reassess my entrenched feelings about Thanksgiving and Christmas - moments I have thought I had to endure, rather than enjoy. 

As it gets colder, I get grumpier. The sun stays out for approximately five seconds, the air is sharp, and I miss my Grandpere. 

But maybe, if I continue to let go of my insistence that everything should stay the same - that we all must gather round a big meal and smile at each other - maybe I can finally honor my Grandpere's happiness during the holiday season by being happy, myself. 

This year I am doing something so novel and unprecedented that I'm blowing my own socks off. My husband, of course, is the instigator in this - he's lived through the stressful holiday season with me for a few years now (God bless him), and he came up with a fantastic, while unorthodox, idea. 

Thanksgiving in my own home, on my own terms - and instead of a giant meal, a build-your-own-Thanksgiving-sandwich bar. Piling turkey and stuffing and cranberry between fresh bread - like making a leftovers sandwich a day early. 

I know, right? Pretty darn cool. 

I don't know if Grandpere would have liked it, but I think he would have liked to see me smile. Really smile, and mean it. 

So I'm getting my lists together - the shopping, the recipes, the timeline, the neverending cleaning - and I'm feeling a bit of stress niggle at the back of my mind, but I'm banishing it, forcefully. There's always cleaning to do - but will people really judge me if it isn't perfect? And there's cooking to do - sauerkraut, stuffing, turkey, pies, ice cream, etc - but I'm not going to let my perfectionism get in the way there, either. I'm making some new choices - gone is the pecan pie, enter my husband's favorite, cookies and cream (that really is a pie). I'm whipping up a few batches of ice cream - snickerdoodle, Oreo, chocolate. And I'm keeping a few traditions, too - namely, my grandmother's sauerkraut with juniper and gin. And, also very important, I'm going to get up early and watch the Macy's parade with my husband and stepmother, who is coming over to spend the night so that we can have eggs and bagels in front of the TV, wonder at the giant ballons, make fun of the boy bands on the ridiculous floats. 

And it's going to be good. 

So, I will be pretty busy for the next week and a half - I have a craft show on Saturday and a bachelorette party on Black Friday on top of Thanksgiving. But I'm not going to obsess or worry or doubt myself. And I'm not going to think of my Grandpere as looking down on me with unrealistic expectations - not anymore. I'm going to do better than that. I'm going to remember him and his delight and his love of good food and honor him with contentment and joy. 

I think that is what he really wanted for us, after all. 

Friday, November 15, 2013


Sometimes, words of wisdom are hard to hear. Or, to put it another way - hard to parse. 

All of us have our own specific language. We may share words and ideas, but each phrase or use of common vocabulary means something different from person to person. I love words, obviously - my poetry, recently, is an exercise in parsing and reimagining the definitions and sounds of words. That exercise is proof in my mind that words can hold multiple meanings - connotations based on past experiences and present situations. Add words together to make a sentence? Well, that's even more complicated, and even more personal. 

For example, we can say, "pet." I grew up with hamsters, birds, and dogs, so when I hear that word I think of my cockatiel Rembrant singing to my braces when I was thirteen. Pet means my grandmother's standard poodle, Harry, who ate watermelon and had very human, compassionate eyes. Pet even means my experiences with my two hamsters, Emily and Sarah, who died of urinary tract infections (oh lord, how horrible). All of those specific memories engender equally specific feelings when I hear that three letter word. 

But your pet is different from my pet - your feelings and memories are not mine, are personal, are a part of who you are and how you approach animals and attachments. Even so, any word means any specific thing or group of things to each of us. We all hear the same word, but our brains parse it within our own contexts to arrive at a suitable definition. 

Then we get to sentences. Advice, encouragement, interrogatives, admonishments, pleas for help, compliments. When I was a teenager, I interpreted compliments as subtle digs, lies, things to make me feel better which were not actually true - especially when addressing my intelligence or physical appearance. I have this library of memories surrounding words like thin, smart, pretty, artistic, and while I am no longer a teenager and a bit more confident, I still end up shuffling through that library, searching for a reference in the card catalogue of my former insecurities. So, as an adult, if I am given a compliment regarding my appearance, I have to stop and remind myself that my old definitions of pretty, attractive, curvy, must no longer apply. I must reinvent myself, down to the way I hear and parse certain words. 

So words of wisdom - phrases which frequently employ simple, easy to define vocabulary? I often find them loaded or burdened, ideas to untangle and dissect and react to only once I have acknowledged my personal biases and history. That doesn't make encouragement useless, offensive, or judgmental - rather, encouragement is an opportunity to recognize my inner life, definitions, past, and present. It takes a minute, but I try to overlook my initial perceptions and filters in order to get to the point. 

Today on Facebook, I saw an image - a list of advice, or life-truths. At first, I will admit, my reaction to it was a pretty resounding, oh hell no, but I forced myself to look back at the text and think, what do these words really mean? Can I unpack them so that they might have meaning in my life? 

The advice was fairly innocuous - it was my bias, my library of personal definitions, which changed it from friendly to sinister. I interpreted the words in a way which made me bristle with, you can't tell me what to do! But going back, reading it again, I realized that I could make the conscious choice to change my definitions, to parse the words anew. And once I had done that, the advice - shocking! - actually made sense to me. And it's good advice, while, I'd argue, it requires us to evaluate how we react to it and how it applies to us. Here's what the image said, along with my reactions: 

1. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present. 

Initial interpretation: get over it already!

Reassessment: your past informs your current actions, emotions, and reactions to the world around you. Understand your past so that you might enjoy your present unburdened by previous hurts and harms. 

2. What others think of you is none of your business. 

First: don't be such a darn busybody, nobody cares!

Then: actually, other people probably don't think about you that much. So don't worry about it! It isn't that it's none of your business - it's that it doesn't make you a different person, place any expectations on you, or hand down judgment on your choices. 

3. Time heals almost everything, give it time.

First: get over yourself. Who wants to hear about your past or your problems?

Then: "time" is another word for change. Changing your life, changing yourself, is the only way to heal, and change is an active process - living is change, living is being engaged, and living takes time. Change happens externally but also internally, and it is how we change ourselves over time which allows us to heal. 

4. Don't compare your life to others' and don't judge them. You have no idea what their journey is all about. 

First: actually, this is pretty dead-on. 

Then: this is absolutely true - but it's hard to execute when you think other people are judging you! So, let's go back to number two - no one is really thinking about you all that much. So live your life outside of the cloud of expectations, judgment, and comparison. 

5. Stop thinking too much, it's alright not to know the answers. They will come to you when you least expect it. 

First: honey, please, thinking is a good thing. How can I figure anything out when I don't think? What's that like? I'm not going to wait around for contentment to fall in my lap, you know.

Then: honestly, this one is still bugging me. My positive spin, though, is that this is about worry rather than about critical thinking or intellect. Perhaps "thinking" in this context actually means "fretting." And yes, goodness knows, worrying too much can definitely harm you. So, you know, let's worry less. But I'm not going to stop thinking, or stop questioning everything from my thought process to how to nail the fourth page of Ravel's Sonatine. 

6. No one is in charge of your happiness, except you.  

First: what, are we giving a free pass to people who are mean and inconsiderate? Those people need to check themselves because their actions and words really do hurt. 

Then: well, yeah. I must take responsibility for my own happiness instead of waiting for others to do the right thing. Sometimes it stinks when we feel like we need respect or affirmation from people who are incapable of giving it - but it's valuable to remember that we have opportunities to distance ourselves from negativity. Taking charge of our happiness can mean creating boundaries so that we are less likely to be hurt as well as reinforcing positive self-talk. Taking charge, sometimes, means being able to walk away. Tough lesson, that. 

7. Smile. You don't own all the problems in the world. 

First: excuse me? First off, I know I am privileged to the extreme and that others have issues. Second, I will smile when I want to because sometimes I just can't! I will not lie with my face to make other people more comfortable, that's for sure. 

Then: I think I am dead on about the smiling thing. The "buck up," "man up," "tough it out," school of thinking really concerns me because it implies that a person's feelings are either invalid or of no import. And I think that "bucking up" is usually for the benefit of the people around us, because we are taught not to have messy, ugly feelings. We are not supposed to be truthful when we are upset, and that leads to so many issues - self-doubt, stress, unhealthy stress releases, physical problems, etc. I will smile to be polite, perhaps, but I will not smile just because I am supposed to. 

However, it is helpful for me to count my blessings, which this tip is probably about. I do feel better when I think about my awesome sister, or my wonderful husband, or the organic, local produce in the fridge. Realizing my incredible luck is very useful when I feel downtrodden by things I cannot change. So, again, re-thinking this advice means letting go of my initial dependence on my card catalogue of emotional reference so that I might come to a better understanding of myself. 

All seven of these points can be interpreted for ill meaning or for good. I'm never going to respect a "get over it" attitude, nor will I respect the idea that I must hide my emotions in order to be happy. Having feelings - as I wrote earlier this week - is a good thing, and what makes it better is thinking through those feelings, seeing myself through a compassionate rather than a dismissive gaze. No, my emotions should not rule me - rather, through introspection and self-critique, I should come to terms with the things which bother me or which upset my internal balance. 

When confronted with such words of wisdom as the above, I need to understand myself before I attempt to parse or assimilate these well-intentioned phrases. I cannot give in to my habitual behaviors of rejection and defensiveness; I must study myself and, finally, come to appreciate the true, or at least deeply personal, meanings of the words. 

No one hears language the same way. We communicate with the same vocabulary but draw conclusions based on our own experiences. And I think we can better understand each other if we first understand ourselves - not just what we say, but what we mean. Not what we read, but what we learn. 

Oh, and one more thing. My own number eight: 

Respect yourself, because you and what you feel are valid and true. Understand yourself so that you might learn happiness. And give yourself a break when you don't get it right the first time - sometimes all you need are a few moments to re-think the completely surmountable separation which is being human in a world of language. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


My therapist can say some pretty useful stuff. 

Therapy can be hit or miss - for each piece of good advice it seems to me that there are moments when your doctor just isn't getting it, isn't into it, or forgot what you said last time. It's a hazard in any profession; some days are better than others. My doctor asking me repeatedly over the course of three sessions if I had tried marijuana to manage my symptoms, not remembering my (increasingly emphatic) no? That was a miss. 

A hit, however, was a recent session in which I spoke about some of my typical reactions to emotional stimuli. Everything from resentment to guilt to shame - I talked about my relationships with family and with my disorder. My doctor reminded me that all of those reactions are habits - like smoking or drinking, they're something one can fall back on to deal with new or repeated stressors. And they're breakable; she suggested that I could quit - quit the guilt, quit the shame, by altering myself rather than that which surrounds me. 

Good advice. But also very difficult. 

I try to follow this advice. Deep breaths are helpful, as it positive self-talk. What I love about the "quitting a habit" metaphor is that it doesn't place blame on anyone, and it doesn't require me to stop feeling what I feel. It is okay when I am upset, and I can say so - but I don't need to rely on guilt to handle my sadness. I don't have to feel shame when I am confronted with something ugly in myself or in others. 

Old habits die hard, as they say, and negativity is terribly challenging to shake. And, to be clear, this kind of negativity comes from within me when I respond to events - and it doesn't make me a bad person. Again, it isn't being upset which is the problem; it is blaming myself. It is taking on a load too heavy to bear. It is swallowing my feelings because I think I shouldn't have them. 

Today was a day in which I stopped trying to swallow my feelings. Honestly, I thought I would vomit - all of it bubbling out of me at once, a tide of the at-last, not hiding it, not trying to fix it, not trying to smile. Not pretending that I am okay because I think that I must. And it was hard. And I feel, unexpectedly, purged. 

None of it is my fault. I don't have to put up with anything, from anyone. I can say no. 

Not being able to say no, too, is a bad habit. I've been getting better and better at it - I pick up the phone when I feel prepared to answer. I give to others only what I can spare. Loving is easier when I can say no, because I don't end up soul-sick with resentment. My life is on my terms and no one else's. And I have incredible support in this endeavor, the breaking of this habit, from family and friends. As with any illness or difficulty, having people to turn to makes it better. 

My stepmother sent me words of encouragement this morning about this very topic - she actually sent me a link to the tumblr, skeletorislove (which is hilarious and very, very true). It perfectly addressed my feelings, and in general, my stepmom deserves a very hearty shout-out today. As I attempt to heal and conquer my own demons, so does she. We shore each other up, filling in the holes, laying beams across the pitfalls of adulthood. We have found ourselves closer than we have been in years, and I am so, so grateful for that gift of family. 

Habits. Aren't we all trying to get rid of a few? 

I have good habits and bad; I play the piano when I'm stuck on a story, and I wait 'til I get home to cry rather than speaking my mind. And, my goodness, neither of those happened today. 

Sometimes breaking a habit can feel just as terrible as relying on it. But it's worth it. 

It is always worth exploring who we are and how we feel. It is a good thing to acknowledge things we are not good at and try to change them or try to get help. Without that kind of introspection and assistance, we cannot change our lives or ourselves. I'm always going to have a lot of feelings and, perhaps more because of my creativity than because of my disorder, I am always going to study them. I must be critical of myself so that I may improve. I must break the habits and can only do it by understanding them, by understanding their hold on me and why I feel I need them. 

Why should I ever, ever feel shame? 

Why should I feel guilt?

Why should I say yes, when I need to say no?

Why do I lie? 

I refuse to do those things - never again will I lie, hide, feel obligation beyond reason, feel shame for my self-preservation, feel guilt for actions which are not, at the end of the day, my responsibility. Tonight I am purged of it, and while I realize that recovery from bad habits is a continuing process, I also realize that recovery is more valuable than the quick comfort which is established patterns of psychological self-harm. Recovery is something I can maintain. It's not crash dieting or cold turkey - it is a fundamental change in how I see myself and how I interact with others. Getting better is every day, every hour, every minute that I choose to love myself. 

And I do. I will! My feelings are valid, I have support, I can call my stepmom and hug my husband and have the kindness of friends or family and I can get better. And no part of me is wrong. 

I am a good person. And nothing - not bipolar disorder, not being a housewife, not childhood trauma, not adult expectations, not my sexuality, not my anger, not the damned price of my pills - can alter the fact that I am worthy of respect, compassion, and that I will return it tenfold.

Tonight is a lazy night - we have a bunch of recorded shows on the DVR, we are going to order a pizza, I'm going to pull on my comfiest pajamas. Though I feel wrung out and hungover from shedding my problems and my fair share of tears today, I am going to enjoy this life with my husband who expects nothing more than my love, respect, companionship, and honesty. He gives it to me in turn. 

I will lie no more, and I will feel shame and guilt no longer. 

I am finished with my bad habits. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Civilized Society

Years ago, when I first filled my prescription for my bipolar medications, I looked at the retail price and thanked God I had a $60 copay. 

At the time, there was no way I could have afforded the regular price - around $3,000 for three months of incredibly necessary medicine. I was on my parents' insurance plan through the Howard County Public School System, and I have to tell you, that plan was a life saver. It doesn't matter how affluent you are, $3,000 is a lot of money. And it feels like even more when you're paying for the proof of (and hopefully, the solution to) your mental shortcomings. 

This year, I encountered something new - my husband's insurance doesn't cover one of my meds. And boy, it stings - muddling through finances while dealing with insurance companies and prescription plans has been a challenge. Fortunately, G's company has many options for health insurance, and we are going over the open enrollment process with complete attention because we absolutely cannot continue this way; we are lucky that we can cover these costs, but shelling out the kind of money which could pay for rent on a studio apartment? Awful. 

And it's awful not only financially, but on principle, and it's shaming. 

I feel so pitiful when the people at the pharmacy do a double take when they ring up my meds. I know, intellectually, that they are shocked by the price (and I am, too), but I often walk away with my plastic bag of pills feeling like I am the one who is shocking, like I am always the oddity, the problem, sick. I know how lucky I am to have these meds, and I know I am doubly lucky to have found the right blend of pills on the first try, seven years ago. That's almost unheard of when it comes to bipolar disorder - so many others have had to endure countless adjustments to their regimen because medicines don't work, or stop working, or cause worse problems than the symptoms they're trying to manage. So the look of horror on the pharmacist's face is probably worth it - but I come away from the experience feeling like that one little shard of shame, that reminder of how strange I am, the bitter icing on the cake which is bipolar disorder, is terribly unfair. 

People with mental illnesses - we don't need to be told that we don't fit in. We already know. 

If you want to show how healthcare in America is failing, there's no end to the examples, the proof, the stories of individuals and groups who have poor access to minimal care. The systems we have in place - what my stepmother rightly described as insurance companies getting rich off of sick people - aren't adequate, and more often than not leave mentally ill people without appropriate care. Again, I am lucky that (for now) we can afford my meds and my quarterly trips to my psychiatrist, but so many people cannot. I know that when I went to group therapy last winter I might have been paying $200 a day without insurance - and how many people don't have any kind of insurance? I met men and women who had been in the hospital and had no way to pay their bills, and the partial hospitalization program was a bandaid on the wound of being poor because they were ill. 

I'm going to say that again: American citizens are suffering financially and emotionally because they have health problems. American citizens are drained dry - of their money and their pride - because of something they cannot change. 

How can we call ourselves civilized when our health care system leaves us uncared for? How can we survive as a nation when we care so little for our neighbors? How can I accept any idea of equality or the American dream when whole groups of people are marginalized because of the chemicals in their brains?

I read Jezebel regularly, and often find myself scrolling through the comments. The overwhelming consensus of non-American readers is, what the hell is going on in America? They list the prices they pay for the same services I receive and boy, it sure sounds great - I'm so envious that in the United Kingdom or in Canada, someone with bipolar disorder doesn't have to break the bank to get access to care. I read their experiences and question why other civilized countries can afford to help everyone while America, seemingly, can't. What are we doing wrong? Why do we spend so much on healthcare in this country to get so little? It's as if paying for insurance in the US is a massive scheme, a manipulation, a rip-off and a lie. We are paying into a system which does not work. 

I have hopes for the Affordable Care Act and for the recent announcement that mental health and addiction services must be treated the same as physical services. I know there are problems with any new program, but it would be great if America could wake up and take notice of the flaws, the cracks we slip into, the huge populations of the under-served. It would be fantastic if we learned how to be compassionate rather than exclusionary. 

Mentally ill Americans don't need to be reminded that we stick out and need specific care - but we do need that care, and I believe adequate services for everyone benefits society as a whole. I'm sure I don't have to describe the inevitable articles after mass shootings which paint the perpetrator as struggling with mental illness - and while I absolutely do not enjoy being lumped in with murderers I have to admit that an untreated mind is an unstable one. Poor care, financial insecurity, and the knowledge that society doesn't value you? That's a perfect storm of isolation and shame and, sometimes, anger. 

Where do you turn if society looks down on you? What do you do if you're struggling and have nowhere to turn? How can you manage an illness if you can't afford your meds? 

Of course, as usual, I don't have the solution to the problem or many answers to my questions. For now, I'm just trying to find out if there is any insurance plan which will address and cover my needs. I'd like it - no, I'd love it, and it would be a miracle - if we could funnel our money into a down payment on a house rather than on my psychological maintenance. I'd be so happy if I could feel normal, feel recognized and respected, feel like my bipolar disorder is just one part of me rather than my definition. 

I don't need to be told that I am weird. I don't need to get shocked looks from behind the counter at Wegmans. What I do need is to be treated like everyone else. 

What we all need is a civilized society - a society where healthcare is a human right and not a luxury.