Saturday, March 30, 2013

Family Matters

When my friend Vicki had her accident last year, the Mood Disorders Association of BC had to find a lot of heads that fit into the hats that she customarily wears, and that was no easy job. Vicki is a tireless hard worker who has applied herself to many, many tasks in and out of the office. One of her jobs is to facilitate our Family Support Group on the second and fourth Tuesday night of each month.

Because I am familiar with a lot of members in our other groups, our office manager, Catherine, asked if I could think of anyone who could warm Vicki's chair for awhile, and since I only had three MDA meetings to attend in a busy week, and only two to facilitate at that time, of course, I volunteered to do it.

Catherine gave me as stern and as serious a look as she knows how to give...and it's a good one. She reminded me that all of our groups are facilitated by people who are peers to the other members, and she asked me if I had someone in my own family that I had been supporting. Shamelessly, without a blink or a blush, I replied that Sheral has an obsessive compulsive disorder. That was my ticket into the Family Support Group.

Now, you need to understand that the most dramatic and disturbing (to her) manifestation of the Tall Lady's OCD is her scrupulous attention to locks. When she was working for Autogas, she was often the last person to leave the premises, and had to set the alarm and lock the doors. This meant that after she had turned her key, she would need to rattle the door as hard as she could, and would bump it with her hip to ensure that it had not come unlocked spontaneously. After long, hard payroll days, she might have to repeat this action three or four times. On nights that she was especially tired, she would be halfway home when she had to return to check the door again.

Since the members of my Family Group are pretty sharp, it didn't take long for them to see through my subterfuge and find me out for the imposter that I am. They belong to a group of people who are dealing with the problems of family or of friends. Their children or spouses behave badly to them, and may even blame them for making their lives worse.Occasionally, the group members find themselves thinking that they have been dragged into a private hell of someone else's design and creation. They came to the group looking for ways to fix the lives of the people they love, and they stay because they have found friends who understand what they are living through.. They are used to deceptions, and they soon found out that I was not one of them, but was one of those other people - the ones that they'd left at home.

Sometimes, in our other groups, we complain that our significant others, our co-workers or our parents just don't get it. They have no idea what we're going through, and they're not willing to make any allowance for our problems. I was surprised to find that our families need a support group of their own to talk about the same issues. I am honoured that they let me stay to hear their perspective, and to share mine when they ask for it.

We all have something to bring to the discussion, and many of us come armed with our little aphorisms. The person who has been longest in the group might show the card she carries in her wallet, which reminds her and the rest of us that "It's Not Your Fault". My co-facilitator will take a cotton swab out of her purse to encourage all of us to "Quit Taking It Personally". When I am asked, I will tell the new folks that my family "didn't break me; they can't fix me".

My co-facilitator sits in the pilot's seat more often than I do these days. She really belongs there, and she drives the group well. I keep going because there is much that I can learn from these wise and caring people. Even though they know my dirty, little secret, they let me come back. I think that they like me, that they respect my opinion, and they value my unique perspective on their concerns. Of course, it may just be that I have the keys and the alarm code.

After all of them have left the office, I turn out the lights and I go to the alarm panel. Each time I open the flap over the keypad, I worry for a moment that I've forgotten my code, but I never do. My next concern is that I won't get out of the door before the countdown ends, but I always have.

I shut the door behind me and turn the key in the lock. I turn the door handle to the left and to the right, then to the left again. Sometimes, I have to do this three or four times, to make sure that my crafty lock has not come unsecured of its own playful accord, and so far, it hasn't. Often, if I'm sure that no one is watching me, I bump the centre of the door with my hip.

Be very, very well, my friends.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Nine and Fifty

I am about to turn fifty-nine years of age. Tomorrow is my birthday, and I intend to keep on having them until I get one exactly right. If my birthdays keep on being as skewed, screwy and unsettled as the rest of my life, I may be around for a long time to come.

The last time I posted to this page was on January 10. Many of you know that I have depression and anxiety, and that on some days they have me. It might relieve you to learn that they are not the cause of my absence. In fact, I've just been too busy to write.

Depression makes me feel that I'm slow and incompetent, anxiety that I will never get back anything that I value. Lately, though, my life has been very good.

I completed my Peer Support Workers' training last year, and for six months I had a contract to work with an individual whose courage and commitment made me very proud. The team that I was working with were not able to renew my contract, but I keep applying and I keep interviewing with other teams. While I suppose that technically makes me a ronin, I don't think I'll be one for long.

When my contract was coming to a close, my supervisor took me out to lunch. She told me that a friend of hers was thinking of hiring a companion to spend a couple of afternoons a week visiting her father in the care home in which he lives. She asked me if I would be interested in the job. It has been just great. Her father and I go for walks, read the newspaper, National Geographic, Robert Service and Doctor Seuss. Over the past couple of months, we have been travelling the world by tracing our fingers over the Rand McNally world map on the big table in the main floor dining room at his residence. We stop every now and then to read about the countries that we visit in a fifty year-old World Book encyclopedia that we've found nearby. The information is current enough for our purpose, and I'm beginning to feel quite cosmopolitan.

Because these visits take place on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, I've had to give up my two daytime meetings at the Mood Disorders Association of BC. At one point, I would attend five MDA meetings in a busy week and would facilitate or co-facilitate four of them. I miss my afternoon groups, but I'm very proud to be one of two Scottish Agnostic founding members of MDA's new Jewish support group. I'm trying to work out a way to attend our South Asian Women's Group, but I haven't figured out the logistics yet.

MDA has formed a Speakers' Bureau whose members visit different venues to tell our stories to small groups of people. While we can stand in front of an audience and let them look into the darkest parts of our souls, some of us are petrified at the idea of reading aloud to them. I'm not, so often, I'm the one who gets to read our MDA information and introduce the other speakers. Originally, this was intended as a volunteer activity, but lately, funds have been allocated to pay us an honorarium. Sometimes, I feel like a pirate, but I'm not giving the booty back!

The past two weeks have been an absolute blur. Some of my good friends have bipolar disorder, and they have a term for what's going on with me. They tell me it's called "hypomania". They assure me that it'll be fun. They lie. Anyway, I can't be hypomanic; because I don't get highs. On occasion, my lows will ascend almost to the surface and permit me to look through my periscope, but that's as close as I can get. Sometimes I wonder if all of the other submarines dream of being airplanes.

I spent all of last week in a classroom. I was being trained to facilitate WRAP, or the Wellness Recovery Action Plan, and now I have been deemed to be qualified to assist people in designing a plan to keep their lives in a proper balance and to help them decide what they can do when things go wrong. In April, I will get to facilitate my first group with a friend who has done it several times before.

Monday was my day off. I went to visit my friends at MDA to show off my brand new certificate. Tuesday morning, I went to a Speakers' Bureau presentation to a group of students in the Community Mental Health and Addictions Workers' program at Stenberg College...we rocked! At one o'clock, I visited my travel companion at the senior's residence, and at three, I was at my Peer Support Workers' monthly meeting.

On Wednesday, the Speakers' Bureau got to address a class of Licensed Practical Nursing students at Vancouver Community College. I got to talk about me for a change - god, I love telling that story! They kept us half an hour late with great questions. I felt lucky to make it back home to our co-op, where Sheral and I were hosting the monthly meeting of the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association in our common room.

Thursday afternoon, it was back to the seniors' home for a visit, and then home to get ready for the monthly MDA Educational Evening at Sunrise Hall.

On Friday morning, I went to North Vancouver to interview with my friend Debbie for a Peer Support contract being offered by that team. I hope I rocked! I don't remember Friday afternoon.

So this is the state of things on the eve of my birthday. I might not ever get highs, but I am greatly pleased with myself tonight. I'm busy building a reputation, and it seems to be a good one. So, that explains my absence from this page of late. I promise that I'll be back before I have to do my "Three Score" post. Really, I promise...

The Tall Lady is bonny, the cats are well and I'm getting better and better.

I hope you are too. Be well, friends.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Blackbeard the Kitten

While I was getting ready for work on Tuesday, I was alarmed to discover that our nicely-made bed had devolved into a shambles. Sheral's cat pillows were strewn about the top of the bed, and some had tumbled to the floor. Her quilts were tangled and disheveled, the smaller one at the foot of the bed becoming an untidy ball of material defined by furrows, wrinkles and great, soft rolls and folds.

As I put the pillows back in their place at the top of the bed, and was smoothing the small quilt's lumps and bumps flat, the largest of them began to squirm, wriggle and purr. On lifting the top of the quilt, I was greeted by the sleepy, contented, smirk of my buddy, Don Ciccio, who is our eight-month old foster kid, sometimes known as Blackbeard the Kitten.

Cheech is the last of our carport kittens, and he arrived here when he was seven weeks old with his brother, Don Fabrizio, and his sisters Dona Carolina and Dona Concetta. Cheech was the smallest of the four, and the most timid, which is to say that he was not really very shy at all. His sister Connie's Russian Blue coat with its faint tabby markings and her kinky Manx tail have led us to believe that their mother was a liberal democrat. The gentle good nature and tireless curiousity of her kittens have convinced me that she was tame too.

For the most part, Fabio and Cara were content to play by themselves, while Connie and Cheech sought the society of our other cats. Connie was a Xenaphile, following the Big Perfect Cat wherever she was allowed, while Cheech spent most of his days annoying the small, grouchy black-and-white cat who lived beneath our bed like a troll under a bridge. In time, he broke through the barricades to become Robin to Leonard's brooding, one-armed Batman. They would race around rooms together, Cheech keeping to the high ground - like kitchen counters and tabletops - and throwing any desirable, forbidden baubles he found up there to his delighted, less-nimble big brother.

It was soon after Fabio and Cara were adopted that we got our four bottle-feeders. Renfrew, Cherie, Pierette, and their brother Redmond were only two weeks old, and had just started to open their eyes when they came to us. Connie and Cheech were fascinated by everything about these little, mewling clumps of fur. As they grew and became more mobile, they would play with them, treating the four fragile little mites as if they were kittens of the same age. One day we caught them on a downfield run across the living room, tossing a squealing Renfrew back and forth between them like a little, fat football. We quickly intervened to break this rough and dangerous game up, only to have Renfrew waddle up to the big, bully brigands, defying them to try that again.

Connie was adopted a little before the bottle feeders were. In a little while, our family was joined by three timid four-month old kittens, who were designated Dennis One, Two and Three. They became Denis, Fleury and Madelene, and quickly decided that the big, black kitten was the most interesting of all of the new things they found in our home. It wasn't long before the two boys began to snuggle up with our long, lean, handsome pirate and began trying to nurse from him. To our surprise, Cheech has turned out to be a good and patient little mom. 

I can't say that Ciccio is always a good boy, but he is unfailingly a nice one. He doesn't understand our rules restricting kittens from tables and counter-tops, so he ignores them completely. He will sometimes steal a bit of Leonard's raw beef, and it is the only time we have seen his big brother upset with him. Leonard becomes so flustered, that he will try to batter him with a missing left paw, as Cheech retreats, unscathed, of course.  I swear I heard him chuckling as he ran down the hallway with his ill-gotten morsels.

I spent most of yesterday afternoon sitting on the couch watching old movies on TCM. Cheech sat on my lap with his chin cupped in my hand. If the little scoundrel was playing his Get Out of Jail Free card, I had already forgotten his offense. I was treasuring the moment, because it will probably to be the last opportunity I have to do so.

Don Ciccio has been visited by adopters before, but they have always found some flaw in him. He is too shy, or too bold; he's too quiet, or too rambunctious; he's too young, or he's too old. Mainly, I think, he's too black, and sometimes the most enlightened of us are a bit superstitious. I expected Stephanie to be the same, but she isn't. She visited us on Sunday, and early on Monday morning, she informed us that she had signed the papers, paid the fee and done the deed. Cheech has been adopted, and left us on Wednesday afternoon for his new home with Stephanie, Ross and their three boys.

Although that's the whole point of the exercise, today is a sad day for Leonard and me. He is our little buddy and he will be missed. As for his flaws, all gems have a flaw, and Cheech is a big, black diamond. I expect that he will be treasured as such, and will be very spoiled.

Leonard and I will probably be just fine...

 To support to the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association,