Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Last week, I faced a situation I knew would happen when I started writing a blog – not just a blog, but a blog titled BIPOLAR GIRL RULES THE WORLD.

I was in a BAD PLACE. It’s hard to break out of shame, fear, sadness, and hopelessness and write anything. I was in the BAD PLACE where I thought enough is enough. I’m tired of working so much on self-growth (insert sarcastic tone wherever italics appear), and spirituality, and really what is the point? Why bother going to my fabulous therapist, or talking to my wonderful friends, why bother asking for help. What is the point? I’ll just end up again, here, in this horrible sucky place.

What made the BAD PLACE worse is that I had just left my extended NJ family at the beach. Let me tell you about my NJ family. I open the basement door, and everyone – my grandmother, two sets of aunts and uncles, my parents, and five cousins – ranging from 15-22 – are hanging out one floor up. I let my dog off the leash, and she runs upstairs. The general loudness of the room – talking, television playing, laughter – turns to exclamation. “Kacey’s here, Kacey’s here!” And then I come up the stairs and I am greeted by smiles, and love, and every single person gets up to hug me. Eery single one of them. Good hugs, too, strong-armed and substantial. It’s enough love to get anyone through a desert of loneliness.

Now, only being able to spend a couple of days with my family because of work did contribute to the BAD PLACE. A stomach virus and an incredible amount of work to accomplish also precipitated the BAD PLACE.

But the worst part of the BAD PLACE was to be aware of my outrageous blessings, the love of my family and so many good gifts – and not be able to feel them. To know I should be wildly grateful and to be constitutionally incapable of feeling gratitude. The shame and hopelessness of that state is what makes a BAD PLACE even worse.

Perhaps worse than depression is the fear that depression will never go away, or if it does go away, it will only be for a short time. Ah, and tricky, tricky depression, you smarty pants, the fear that depression will never go away is a standard symptom of depression. There’s a way of living with depression (and by “living with depression,” I mean, acknowledging that it’s a fact of your life that there is this thing, depression, that you are vulnerable to) that is constructive – eat healthy, take your meds know you need to sleep enough, try to get exercise – it’s a preventative medicine kind of thing, like any other illness.

But then there is the feeling that depression and hopelessness is hovering, ever-present, and even if you feel ok right now, in this moment, you are not safe. It’s not safe to make plans for fall or fall in love or apply for graduate school or take any kind of big leap because you just don’t know who you’ll be in a week, a month, six months, a year.

Now, this feeling is could be called an exaggeration of the “well, you just don’t know,” that everyone has to live with on some level or another. If you want to make the gods laugh, tell them your plans, someone said.

But I seem to have returned from the BAD PLACE with a bang.

I had a few gen-u-ine miracles in these last couple of days that require writing about, but with more time and thought then I have today. Miracles seem to come just at the wonkiest times, unexpected.

My most basic theory about miracles is that there are two parts to any miracle: the miracle itself, and then recognizing that the miracle occurred. It is possible to be so busy, to be in an altered state and utterly un-present, that you’ll miss a miracle. My sense is (and I guess this is part two of the theory) is that it is more than likely you will get another chance to see the miracle – it will happen again in another time and place, and maybe this time you'll be ready and watching. I have this vision of a patient, world-weary God saying, “Well, it didn’t work this time, I’ll try again later.”

One last thought – I don’t think I came up with this idea – but I’ve talked about a lot with Pastor Pam. There are two basic prayers (I’m breaking it down today): helphelphelphelp and thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou. I think there was a third one but I can’t remember it right now.

This is a little cutesy, but I’ve been thinking about the connection between help and hope. Just asking for help (something I can be exceptionally bad at) implies hope. It implies that you think that there is a point in asking. Plus there is this nifty little thing that they are only one letter different, and if you say them one after another really fast they begin to sound alike.

The help prayer, even when it doesn’t feel like it, is the hope prayer too. Plus it’s simple and easy to learn, nondenominational, all purpose. You can write it on your hand with a Sharpie if you need to.

And yesterday's miracles involved reaching out for and accepting help.

Anyway, the BAD PLACE feels beyond help or hope, and gratitude is only a knife in the side.

It’s hard to write about the BAD PLACE from within it, but I will try. I don’t want to be so cheerful about being bipolar that you all start to hate me.


p.s. I think the third prayer might be, “oh s*#$t” or something a little stronger, if necessary.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

random anxiety (or not)

I'm not sure what to make of the fact that I can get anxious over what flavor of frozen yogurt to choose, but in the face of fairly major life issues I can hang in there pretty well.

This isn't really a major life issue story, but it's a random thing that happened today, and I think I can write about it quickly.

I'm in the Target today, picking up stuff for the video institute (drinks, office supplies, etc. -- one of the great joys of my life is being able to purchase office supplies for CDS programs) and I take my full cart to the Starbucks to slap down my $2.68 on an iced venti Americano (mostly ice, very little water). I look in my enormous red faux patent leather pocketbook (thanks, Courtney), and my wallet isn't there.

I've been leaving my purse all around the building during the institute, so my wallet could have easily been filched by anyone wandering the building. So it's not unreasonable to think it might have been stolen. I also have a habit of leaving my purse in the front of my shopping cart (in the kid seat) and walking a few feet away to grab something off the shelf, so it could have happened that-away too.

But there I am, calm. I think, well, ok -- I can probably find change in my purse and my car in order to purchase the folders we absolutely need this afternoon. And the Guest Services desk will probably be willing to keep my cart of non-perishable food items until I can come back to make my purchase.

Then I think, I hope whoever stole my wallet really needs the money, and bless them, bless them. (I'm no saint -- there might have been $30 in my wallet, and I can cancel all my cards, etc.). The possibility of my wallet being stolen makes me oddly grateful, knowing how lucky I am that the money in my wallet doesn't really make a difference in my ability to eat or pay my bills or anything like that. I mean I just tried to spend almost $3 on a cup of coffee. And besides, my driver's license expired last October, so I needed a new one anyway.

Fortunately, I realized that I had both my checkbook and my passport (in my purse because of the expired driver's license, its presence is also reassuring lest I need to flee the country), and therefore I could pay for my groceries.

In my relief, I also went and wrote a check for $2.68 for my venti iced Americano (a Starbucks in a Tar-jey -- it's almost embarrassing to acknowledge what an obvious marketing demographic I really am).

In the end, when I went out to my car, I found my wallet under the passenger side seat.

This might be too much of a reach, but I’d like to use this incident as a theologically teachable moment.

I don’t think God or Jesus or whoever had anything to do with my wallet disappearing from my gigantic red pocketbook (However, I know that God had everything to do with my friend Courtney and I finding that pocketbook in a $5 clearance bin, and with Courtney’s generosity in purchasing me the said pocketbook). I do think, though, that my gratitude and calm had something to do with my experience of the S/spirit.

I believe that God places people in our path, opens doors, pushes us in certain directions, but I think there is a very complicated relationship between our own intentions and openness and how God (spirit, energy, etc.) works in our lives. I’m learning to recognize those moments when the spirit is present – but how that works is another story, for another day. But being present and grateful is the way to go, I think.

Now if I could only let go of my anxiety around little things, and things that don’t actually happen….

p.s. If you follow the frozen yogurt link, you need to hang in there til' the end to get the frozen yogurt reference. But I think it's worth it.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

drop waist dress

I made this commitment to short assignments a few days ago, and you can see how well its gone so far. It takes longer to write good short pieces -- long rambling ones are easier and quicker.

And I got caught up in this idea that if I am going to publish writing for people to read on this blog, then it should be thought out and revised.

So now I'm reminding myself of my goals to write everyday and get over being a perfectionist.

So the thought that has been hanging out in my mind over the last few days is a little story about why I decided never to wear drop waist dresses ever again, which is actually a bigger story about being a -- curvy, plus-size, large, fat, zaftig -- woman and refusing to dress like one.

Drop waist dresses came back into my mind in part because my grandfather, who I called PopPop, didn't like to see me in clothes that were baggy. It was PopPop’s birthday on July 10 (he died seven years ago), and I've been thinking about him a lot lately.

For a woman with my hourglass curves, a drop waist dress draws attention to the largest part of me and just hangs on down from there. I think it was something about the way PopPop saw me, and what he liked to see me in, that moved me towards the decision to boycott the drop waist.

For me, drop waist dresses are about hiding and being ashamed of my size. I'm not saying I'm completely comfortable with my 230 pound body, and I do have moments of deep insecurity, but at the same time, I'm so much more accepting of myself than I was a hundred pounds ago. I think because I've had to face and deal with my size that I'm actually a lot healthier then a lot of women about how I feel about my body.

There is such a huge fear of fat in our culture, and in some ways, I've overcome it. I'm fat. I lived. I am still me, I am still loved. My fear of being fat when I was younger was huge, took up an obscene amount of time and energy, and um, I wasn't fat.

So this was supposed to be a short assignment about the topic of drop waist dresses. Short story: they don't look good on me. I don't want to hide, and besides, wearing something baggy doesn't hide anything, it just makes you look bigger. I began to dress sexy and in bright colors and in fitted clothing because I was saying, look, here I am. I may be a fat girl, but I can still rule the world.

I have fun with clothes. I don’t jiggle or show too much skin. But I dress like I am comfortable in my body. I dress like I like myself. What may have started out as a form of rebellion against our culture’s expectations about fat people is now a part of who I am, what I’m known for, and a form of self-expression I really enjoy.

I am a part of a very balanced and healthy program at the Duke Center for Living that is helping me let go of weight. I’m healthy, but I’m concerned for my future, and I want to be able to live a more active lifestyle (here I want to say that I completed a sprint distance triathlon at my current weight). But I know absolutely that I have to approach my health from a place of self-care and kindness, NOT of shame and self-hate.

So, in conclusion, drop waist dresses look very nice on other people. But not on me.

We write short shorts...

Either Anne Lamott or Natalie Goldberg (my two writing spirit guides) has an exercise called "Short Assignments," and that's how I'm going to approach my blog for the next ten days or so. Short-shorts to keep me writing and help me get through the Documentary Video Institute, where twenty-four students descend upon CDS from across the country to learn how make movies in eight-twelve hour days (on average). It's fun, but kind of exhausting. Enjoy the short-shorts!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

out of order

hello, blog-o-sphere,

I haven't given up on the blog, I've just been out of town (to the beach to see my wonderful family from NJ) and out of order, meaning, I have a stomach virus. Not bad enough to blast with antibiotics, but still rotten enough to make me both tired and stupid.

so, um, I'll post tomorrow.

Friday, July 14, 2006

ugly thoughts

I spent the morning looking and listening to some really wonderful photo, audio, and video work done by three of the four Hine Fellows, young women who will travel to regional and international fellowships that combine social action with documentary work. The fellowships focus on organizations that work with children.

There is a part of me that is elated by the work and by the journey these young women are about to take. I'm excited and proud that two of the fellows are a part of the program I direct -- in the past the fellowship has been given primarily to undergraduates, not participants in the Continuing Studies program.

But then, the ugly thoughts gargle in my throat -- jealousy and grief that materialize as a childish resentment -- I want to travel, I want to make art, why don't I get to go? I spent so much of my twenties mired in depression, and I am just now coming to a place where I can properly grieve that time. I used to say, quoting Dorothy Parker, "I spit on the grave of my twenties," and while the biting humor of Ms. Parker is always a comfort, it doesn't quite capture the complexity of my feelings. Though I will say, my thirties have been so much better, I can't even tell you. And for the most part, I anticipate that life will continue to improve.

Now I know, I'm only thirty-five, and my life is far from over. It's not like my twenties were the only time available to me for travel and adventure. But now, I have a beloved I treasure, a job I like, and an artistic community I value. I have good, dear friends, and a top-notch spiritual community. My parents and two grandmothers are close by. I own a house, and I'm about to buy a couch, for goodness sake. This groundedness is so important to me and I don't want to walk or fly away from my many blessings. And I know I don't have to go somewhere else to make art, or to address social concerns.

I don't live my life wishing the past was different. I have moments, and sometimes sadness overwhelms me. The years I lost to depression are worth grieving, but getting lost in grief and regret obviously doesn't let me move forward.

So there are my ugly, self involved, thoughts. Well, so what. I'm moving on.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

bipolar girl rules the world, part 2

The original inspiration for the title "bipolar girl rules the world" goes as follows...

Clark Kent transforms into Superman. Peter Parker into Spiderman. What's his name into Batman.

I think the difference between the Dawn that is so debilitated by depression and anxiety that she can’t even get out of bed and take a shower and the Dawn who is out in the world doing good stuff is at least as much of a transformation as any superhero.

So someday, “Bipolar Girl Rules the World” (working title) will be an animated documentary about bipolar disorder. I want the approach to be different, less clinical, more experiential (and experimental) then most of the work on mental illness out there.

I work in a creative field with an amazingly supportive supervisor. My coming out process was critical to my healing (and breaking through my deep, dark, ugly shame), though I know that’s not true, or possible, for everyone. It took ten years for me to be properly diagnosed and by that time, not telling people was not working. I got the support I needed because I was honest about my illness. It was absolultely terrifying to tell the people who needed to know, but I wasn't functioning and needed to be upfront about why. It was an act of desperation, at first. And I was so blessed, so incredibly lucky, at the loving and positive responses I received.

I’m out there about my illness not because I want to be defined by it, but because I want people to understand that it’s a part of me, and because I hope that my lack of shame will help people see the illness differently and that people who share the illness will feel support and connection. That’s how I feel when someone shares their truths, whatever they are. Writers like Anne Lamott, or musician Mary Chapin Carpenter, both speak openly about their struggles with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, etc. And it helps me be not so crazy, and frankly, to say, well, I think she’s an utterly amazing person, so maybe there is hope for me.

In part, what prompted my openness is a piece I produced for the radio, where I came out about being bipolar. It’s a part of what spurs me creatively and politically– not the illness itself (I’m much more productive creatively when I’m level), but a desire to tell my story and the stories of others who deal with mental illness. The radio piece was call “The Three Furies: Poverty, Addiction and Mental Illness” and it aired about a year ago on WUNC as part of the NC Voices on Poverty series. You can listen to it here.

Anyway, being bipolar girl out in the world isn't always simple or easy, but it has been the right choice for me.

there sure was a lot of Jesus in that post

I'm paraphrasing my mom, who attended church with me one Sunday, and said, "Well there sure was a lot of Jesus in that service." My response was, "Well Mom, it is Easter."

My mom is a very spiritual person, and she likes the kind people in my church, and believes that my spiritual life is a very important part of my overall emotional health. She think it helps me to go to church, which it does, and for a while she would call me on Sunday mornings and say "This is the Lord. Get up and go to church."

But I also know that when I talk or when she reads my writing, and I say something like, well, Jesus, she mentally translates it to spirit or God and feels like she can relate better to my experience in that way. And I want to welcome you to do the same when you're reading my blog.

Given some of the more upsetting representations of Christianity today, I do feel it's important to say that while I found my spiritual home in the Methodist church, and understand and know God within the specificity of Christ's love, I don't feel it's the only way to connect with the spirit, or more right or relevant then Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, trees, birds, Jungian archetypes, or the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan (though I can say from personal experience that’s a dangerous route to take).

I do believe that different faiths can learn from each other, and that we can deepen our own spiritual practices by learning about the ways other people understand God.

But I also feel ambivalent about the way the dominant culture will adopt or trivialize “ethnic” spiritual traditions, like Native American ceremonies or African drum circles (ok, the truth is, for some reason, I find those white-people drum circles on the lawn at Weaver St. Market in Carrboro unreasonably annoying. But I’m not claiming my annoyance is a fully developed theological statement).

For me, it’s about going deep into a particular faith tradition, and not taking a smorgasbord approach. Like the Unitarians, for example. What is up with the Unitarians? Wiccans, Christians, and Buddhists, oh my!

A shout out to my favorite Unitarians, Barbara (who was raised Unitarian – I didn’t even know that could happen), Amy, and Alison.

If my attempt at humor in this post was not successful, I apologize to white drum circle members and Unitarians.

Monday, July 10, 2006

blueberries in abundance

This morning I got up at 6 a.m. to drive to Few's Ford on the Eno River, and set out banners to direct folks to my sweetheart L's baptism. It was a glorious day; I placed the altar right by the river, and reveled in the morning and my ability to get up early for a good reason.

The baptism was a sacred and joyous event, with L's parents, friends, and members of our church there to celebrate her and her decision to be reborn into God's abundant love. (How I came to the place where I could say things like "reborn in God's abundant love" is its own story, one I'll definitely be writing about here.)

I hosted a blueberry pancake breakfast after the baptism; the blueberries were ones that I picked myself on the Saturday before July 4th. One of the many wonderful things about being with L is that she initiates things like blueberry picking -- something I like the idea of but probably wouldn't have found the time to do on my own. But she was passionate about picking blueberries and blackberries (though you need to get there first thing in the morning for blackberries -- 8:45 a.m. was too late). And so it was right that the blueberries I picked with L and her friends were brought into the day of her baptism, and with the berries, the experience of that day.

I'd never been blueberry picking before, so I didn't have any idea what it would be like -- I wasn't even really picturing bushes, exactly.

So first, I experienced an embarrassing wonder of seeing actual blueberries growing out in the world -- not in a package in a grocery store. Then amazement at how good each one tasted. The feeling of the ripe ones dropping easily into my hand.

L went to search out her friends and I found myself alone for a little while, picking one or two or three blueberries at a time, and dropping them in my bucket. I started to pray, or meditate, in gratitude for the sun and the coolish-morning air, and the sweat on my face and the feeling of the dampness of the ground seeping through my overalls. I sat and stood by this one bush for a long time, looking and feeling for the ripe berries.

I’ve been so raggedy and anxious lately. I’m so tired of answering “busy” when someone asks me how I’m doing. I’m tired of the whole wonky culture where being busy, or too busy, means you must be of value or worth something (am I projecting my own stuff out there?). I’m over “busy” conceptually, but I’m struggling to make the actual, um, you know, life changes.

So here I am in the blueberry field being still, present, and having a meta-moment of, “oh, this is what being still and present feels like.” Oh, this is what I want. Good to note. Keep an eye out for it happening again.

Before we arrived, I was worried the berries were going to be picked over, that we were too late in the day, etc. As I focused on that one bush, the anxiety dissipated, even before I wandered further into the field and realized and I realized that there were bushes that were overflowing with berries, and that my careful pick-pick-pick wasn’t really necessary. Of course, it was necessary, it was the essential blueberry picking experience I was destined to have (whoo-ha), but as I moved along was able to fill my bucket pretty quickly – which was good, because religious experience or no, I wouldn’t want to hold up the group.

In the midst of my blueberry-bliss, I sent a prayer to the folks who pick blueberries for a living (or for less than a living wage). My friend and colleague Tennessee Jane Watson works with the Maine Migrant Health Network during the blueberry-picking season. Found her family website here. She’s even more amazing than this description makes her sound.

Go, go, blueberry picking. Herndon Hills Farm is no more than five minutes from Southpoint Mall – they have the “NO MALL” sign on their garage to prove it. This farm captures the Platonic idea of a blueberry field -- it looks like a rose garden. Give yourself an hour and end up with 6 lbs of berries at $2.25 a pound. You’ll find they go very quickly, especially if you eat them out of the freezer like candy. Directions are below.

At one point in writing this entry, I actually referred to a blueberry as “a sweet orb.” Yes, I did. It’s such a terrible phrase that I just have to share it with you. I hope you cringe with delight in its awfulness.

Herndon Hills Farm - Blackberry, Blueberries, Muscadine Grapes
7110 Massey Chapel Road, Durham, NC 27713.
Phone: 919-544-3313. Click here for a map to the farm. Email: Open Tuesday, Thursday & Saturday 7 am-7 pm; July thru Oct 15. Typical harvest dates:
Blackberries & Blueberries - early July-mid August
Muscadine Grapes - early September-October.

Directions: From I-40, take exit 276 south on Fayetteville Road. Take 1st left on Herndon Road, go 1/2 mile, turn right on Barbee Road. Farm is 1/4 mile on right.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

bipolar girl rules the world

Someday I'll make a documentary with this title, but until then, it's my blog. And though I am indeed a bipolar girl (bipolar-2, heavier on the depression, with a fortifying dose of hypomania), I am also deeply grateful for the powerful cocktail of (in no particular order) pharmaceuticals, family and friends, religion, and professional support (aka a really good therapist and a top-knotch psychiatrist) that keep me mostly healthy.

I don't just see myself as bipolar. I contain multitudes. And even bipolar doesn't quite get it right as a description of my experience. I don't experience hypomania and depression as distinct states -- it can feel quite muddled. And I'm quite invested in this idea of muddled -- and don't have much patience with binary oppositions -- so the name of my blog addresses that concept too, in a round about way. Red State/Blue State, Straight/Gay, Male/Female, Black/White, Christian/Everything Else -- none of these differences makes sense to me as absolutes. I have passionate beliefs, but I feel just as passionately about listening to people. I get mad, of course, when confronted with hate and close-mindedness, but, well, I know I'm capable of the same darn thing.

"Bipolar Girl Rules the World," is also, well, a joke on myself in a number of ways. Lord help me, I don't want to rule the world. I'm working very hard to let go of the illusion of control. I believe that we take small steps forward, seek out our calling, but we can't know where we'll end up. I pray, ask God for guidance, but hello, surprise, tah-dah, oh heck -- I don't know what is going to happen. I say this so simply, but trust me, this process of letting go is excruciating.

I have a friend and religious mentor, Pastor Pam, and I've watched her place her life in God's hands for many years now. Her journey inspires me and frightens me a little too. She is fierce in her faith, and very human, and today she preached her first sermon in her own church in a small town in rural NC. So a shout out to Pastor Pam, and lots of prayers for her and her parishioners.

In Pastor Pam's honor, here's to the fear, and the promised freedom, of letting go.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

why blog?

I'm blogging because I'm sitting here thinking what would be the exact perfect way to start this blog and I want to let go of some of my perfectionist tendencies.

I'm blogging because I like to tell funny stories on myself.

I'm blogging because lately I've been creating all of these stories in my head and I want to write them down.

I'm blogging because I think that some of the things I have to say are relevant to other people, their struggles and joys and just the day-to-day getting by of it all.

I'm blogging because I'm working to be present in my life, to really engage, to fight against numbness and despair, and I think writing helps. Plus, I'm thinking about the ideas of presence and spirit in so many areas of my life, I think it will be a recurring theme.

I'm blogging because I'm seeking community and dialogue around ideas that are important to me.

I'm blogging because the idea of linking to other website, and including images and sound sounds like a lot of fun.

I'm blogging because I'm inspired by my friend Jerry's blog (he's a comic genius, don't you know).

I'm blogging because I write about my family and friends, and this will be an interesting place to begin to think about what it means to negotiate those public/private boundaries.

I'm blogging to get into the discipline of writing something every day.

I'm blogging because I believe to be a writer, you have to write stuff, and maybe, pieces of this blog can be starting places for other, larger projects.

Ok, so there you go. I'm blogging. I am a blogger.