Three days ago, on the 5th of February, it was the one year anniversary of the fire, the night Dragonfly Cottage burned, windows exploding out of their frames, flames shooting through the roof, my endless screams in the night as a kind policeman held me back because my 4 little parrots were dying inside and I couldn’t get to them, and the rest is a blur. The year that followed was filled with losses, one after the other piling up so high I toppled over time and again and barely held on to my sanity. On the anniversary of the fire I had a very hard day, my PTSD waving it’s banners high, flashbacks, many sleepless nights preceding this day leaving me ragged and teary, and, as we do, every hour throughout the day I kept thinking, “This time a year ago the fire hadn’t started yet and my babies were still alive.” I kept seeing Solomon, my blue crown conure, Emmy Lou, my tiny green cheek conure, little Thomas, a dusky conure, and my beloved Sierra, a Meyers parrot, all of whom I had hand raised and had for nearly 20 years. I could see them, in my mind’s eye, talking and singing and giving me kisses and riding on my shoulder in the morning while I got them fresh food and water and treats. February 5, 2014 I woke up with 9 animal companions. When I returned home on September 27 there were only 4 left, my beloved Sampson, my heart pug, having died in August, in my arms, at 16 1/2. The months that followed had an odd feeling of not quite being at home. It was my house, but not my house. Outside it looked the same, inside it was completely different. And I was in the middle of struggling to get disability, and wondering how I would survive. I felt lost, hopeless, and wasn’t sure I could ever have a life that would feel whole, fulfilling, where I could do my work, and give to the world, and make a home for those of us who are left.
The greatest blessing we are given is the knowledge — though it was difficult and sometimes impossible to see over the last year — that life goes on. And even that tragedies, and loss, make way for something new, something we never could have seen or imagined. I am only at the beginning of this, but when I got up on Friday, the 6th, something came over me. The year of the fire was over, a new year had begun, I was somehow released from the ominous, dark clouds that, like the billowing black smoke the night of the fire, kept me from seeing clearly beyond the horrors of that night and the time that followed. I said a prayer of thanksgiving, I was filled with gratitude, with hope, and yes, even with joy.
This past week I have thought a lot about some of the things we have heard all of our lives but don’t really take in deeply because they can seem like tired old saws that have lost their meaning. But I see them with a kind of clarity now, and my heart lifts, and I feel powerful. “That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” It did indeed. When you face death, and lose precious loves, and so many things you held dear, in the midst of it all the will to live just drains out of you. Conversely, once the tides turn you know that you can survive anything, you can and will keep on going even though you don’t have all the answers. That’s where I am today. And I am grateful, but still…
What I am facing today, in a way I never have before, in large part because of going through the disability process, are the very many ways I really do not fit in the world in the way that most people do. Being bipolar is something that I lived with for so long, and having, the last 15 years, pretty much cut myself off from the outside world completely, making a home for myself and my animals that centered around our days in the cottage, gardening, writing, making art, the rounds of prayer, and contemplation, silence and solitude, that, having gotten used to living apart from the world, my life seemed more and more “normal” to me because I wasn’t holding it up against other people’s lives. The year of the fire thrust me out into the world, if not always physically, emotionally, and practically, in ways I hadn’t been in years. The four pugs and Miss Scarlet the grey parrot and I spent a month in a hotel, 8 months in a small rental, I have had a year of dealing constantly, often several times a week both in person and on the phone with the insurance company, builders, hotel staff, and walking the dogs four times a day around a busy hotel parking lot which, being agoraphobic, took such a toll on me I could barely speak at all once I got back in the room.
I had to work very closely with the builder, especially from summer on, and he was lovely and made it as easy as possible for me, but I constantly felt buffeted around as if by strong winds and I could never get a firm hold on anything because things were changing so rapidly. Finally, facing moving back, and not knowing how I would survive financially, and dealing with the disability paperwork, and then the attorney to appeal after being denied, and having to allow my daughter to take over management of my financial life — she now has financial power of attorney — I slid into a more vulnerable place than I have ever been, like a snail without a shell, recoiling at everything that seemed to be sailing toward me, and swirling around me, the sands of the life I had known shifting fast and faster under my feet so that there was nothing to hold onto I crashed and began to hole up in a cocoon here. One end of the couch with the pugs around me and covers and pillows became my nest. I could not even sit in my studio except for short periods. Sometimes most of a week would go by with no dishes being done and almost no food in the house because I couldn’t bear to leave to get groceries. I no longer slept at night, my Circadian Rhythms flip-flopped and got worse by the week, from being up until 3 or so to nights in the last couple of weeks where it has been 7 a.m. before I could crawl into bed. All I could see was this bipolar woman who couldn’t do anything, even manage her own finances, and couldn’t manage her house, or God knows much of the rest of her life. What kind of life could I ever have? But then something shifted.
I have had to learn to accept myself. Yes, I am bipolar, and yes I am odder than I ever knew, and I have had to come to grips with this, and I don’t mean that in a bad or self-pitying way, I mean, as I said earlier, that, having built a life that worked for me, in which I felt safe and comfortable, I got so used to feeling okay about the way things were that it shook me to my core when I had to realize that things weren’t exactly as okay as I’d thought they were. And then somehow I started to see the gift in all of this, that if I could come to accept and love myself for who I am, and how I am, I could begin to build a new life for myself, one better than I ever knew was possible for me.
I have had to accept, though gently trying to shift my sleep patterns as I can to earlier bed times, that my Circadian Rhythms are what they are, and since I don’t leave the house, or rarely do, that that is okay as long as I lead a productive life within the hours that I am awake. This is very hard. When everyone you know is up and going early in the morning you can feel like a real slacker getting up at 11 or 12, but also they are not working from 7 at night until 3 a.m. either. When I could begin to clearly see that the only thing that was different for me in this regard were that my sleep patterns were opposite most other peoples I could begin to relax into my body’s schedule. It has been transformative. And the last couple of nights I have actually gone to bed between 1:30 and 2:30 and been up between 10:30 and 11:30. I texted my daughter Rachel yesterday, “What do people DO when they get up at the crack of dawn like this?” We laughed. 10:30 felt like the crack of dawn to me.
And then beginning to accept myself has led to absolutely shocking (to me) changes in other areas. Last Monday I swept all of the floors in every room and mopped the kitchen and the studio and the Cozy Room where I spend most of my time. LAST night I mopped the kitchen again. Today I am going to mop the front room and down the hallway. Although it must be said that it is not a good idea to sweep your whole house and mop half of it if you haven’t been in the habit of doing it and aren’t in the best shape because the next morning I felt like I had been run over by a semi after which someone beat me with a board for hours. I could barely stand up straight, but MAN were my floors gorgeous!
AND I am keeping my kitchen cleaner, I am cooking more, I am making changes in my diet that I thought I might never be able to, I am losing weight, I am beginning to feel better. I am picking daffodils and singing all the time and giggling kind of giddy like, and I even, which you know if you read the last entry, have kind of shyly opened my heart and mind to the possibility that there might be some person out there in the world that could love me. ME? Crackers and as odd as all get out! Well, I feel ridiculously shy, and timid, and goofy about it, but I also feel, well, hopeful in a way I never imagined I would. I am in absolutely no rush at all. Nothing happens quickly in my world or it throws me so off balance I have trouble recovering. But the very notion that I could open up to this possibility is truly amazing.
I am coming to a place of tender acceptance for myself, a nearly 61 year old (On April 30) bi polar, agoraphobic woman with a basket full of other oddities and peculiarities, but with a heart bigger than the full moon, a heart that is tender and gentle and kind, maybe all kinds of things could be possible even in this world I need to create for myself to be okay, and if romantic love never comes perhaps I will make some lovely new friends, friends who feel like kindred spirits, with whom I am comfortable. I haven’t found this here, and had finally given up. I haven’t found anyone that felt so comfortable I could let them into my world and relax with them here, and the thing is, I am okay with that too. Accepting myself, loving myself, that is the first step, and it is a big one, and believing that I am okay just as I am, and that a life that I will love is possible, well, it has given me a whole new sense of things, and everyday there are new gifts, and I become aware of miracles that daily appear, miracles that wouldn’t have been possible before the fire.
What a beautiful day this is, what a beautiful life, despite all of the hard things, and the challenges that will always be a part of my life. I am so blessed.
Now the puggeries are waking up from their naps and we will take a walk outside, and I will kiss them and squeeze them, and dash after them shouting “PUG MUG!” which makes them run in every direction as I lunge at somelittlebodyorother to squeeze a whole tiny face, smooshing and squishing and kissing, and they practically laugh, wiggling and jiggling, their curly tails going round faster and faster as Miss Scarlet starts babbling and dancing and singing at the top of her lungs, “OP OP OP OP OP,” (“Gangnam Style” is her favorite song!) and we shall carry on with our Sunday. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood Mr. Rogers. And a beautiful life right here, right now, just as it is.
Be gentle and kind to yourself dearhearts, just as you are, right now, at this very moment. Love yourself, accept yourself, and watch miracles begin to happen. As one of my zen teachers said to me and I often repeat to my students, “If not, why not? If not now, when?” Indeed. It’s time.