Present Day, November 26, 2017

‘Tis the season.

No time of year is probably more defining of my plunge into mental illness than the holidays. There was a time in my life when I lived for November 1st. When the day after Halloween launched two months of thanksgiving, joy, celebration, and happiness. Don’t get me wrong, there were still the challenges, arguments, and stresses that come with any two month period of life…but they were tempered by decorations, music, and those glorious days off of work.

Now I would describe it as being marked by a huge unknown. The unknown of what emotions will hit me, when they will hit me, and what they will do to my overall psyche.

For example, today was to be decorating day. You know, haul out the holly…deck the halls…stringing up the lights. And it still is. There is a box sitting to my left and three more hours of daylight with which I am to get the outside lights hung. But I simply don’t have it in me. Haven’t all day. Tried Christmas carols playing in the shower. Tried moving around the pieces of a Dickens-like miniature village. Tried looking over wish lists and contemplating Christmas gifts for those I love. None of it works.

Why? I don’t know. I have enjoyed a four-day Thanksgiving break which included quality family time, visits with my out of town children, and lots and lots and lots of rest. The weather is nearly ideal for this time of year. Sunny. 50s. Perfect for walks, taking in fresh air, and avoiding the sedentary indoor trap that can come with the tryptophan coma. Two date nights with my wife in the past week. And the prospects of just four more weeks until a 10 and a half day…yep, 10 and a half day Christmas break!

But still the darkness. The sadness. The loneliness.

I worry about the direction my life is going. The trajectory. On a scale of 1 to 10, the existence of medications has given me a fairly steady and consistent year, but one that I had always described as being about a 4. The last few months, it feels more like a 3.5…maybe a 3. My environment has improved (employment, home life, relationships, etc.), but my emotions seem to continue to slide downhill. Depression has gone from simply the norm, to a deeper and darker daily hole that I have to climb out of each morning simply to manage a shower and climb in my truck in time to arrive at work.

A medication change has been prescribed to attempt to counter this direction, and we will see if it does. Ironically enough, the next 30 days may make it hard to tell. They can be filled with so much happiness while simultaneously serving as such a period of struggle for so many people. Myself included. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” while simultaneously being one of the least predictable. Especially with a mind that can do its own thing and turn left right when you are longing for it to turn right.

‘Tis the season. The season of the unknown.

Present Day, November 21, 2017

Reminders…

…pills

…therapy

…paranoia

…dark depression

…racing thoughts

…no pleasure

…irritability

…pills

…constant fatigue

…suicide ideation

…shame

…medication management

…lack of concentration

…pills

…lethargic living

…instant anger

…insomnia…

followed by stuck in bed…

…catastrophizing

…more pills

…and more pounds

…and more reminders.

Present Day, November 12, 2017

There is a strange but somewhat consistent and often proven out as true phenomenon surrounding death. I have witnessed it myself. It typically centers around the passing of an elderly person. In this scenario, it is often a grandma or grandpa who has been on their deathbed for some time hanging on by god only knows what power. Everyone, including the medical professionals, anticipate that their last heartbeat would have…should have…already occurred or take place at this very moment. But it doesn’t.

In fact, it is not until a certain visitor arrives. Maybe a loved one from out of town, an estranged child, or just someone with more of a life than the ability to simply stand vigil. It is with their arrival that things begin to change. Yet the arrival is not enough. Typically there is a very specific act, let’s call it “words of release” that are uttered…and death comes. Almost instantly.

“I made it grandma. You don’t have to fight anymore. I love you. Goodbye.”

“It’s okay dad. Be at peace.”

“We promise to take care of everything. Please don’t worry anymore. Just rest.”

And the battle to stay alive ceases. The last breath is drawn. Tranquility comes.

At my worst, this is how I feel. Like I am just waiting to be released. To be freed to quit fighting the demons in my head and find peace. Maybe it is just a survival mechanism or subconscious form of self-preservation, but without that release, I struggle to take those final steps. I envision them. I feel them in the depths of my being. But I am held back by something or someone who will not allow me to “go.”

I think the suicidal urges and ideations of someone with a mental illness are maybe hardest to understand from the outside looking in. The darkness of them is impossible for me to put into words. The tangible “realness” of each impulse.

I have just come through a rather dark period. I mood chart daily and have a level that indicates a particularly bad, desperate kind of day. After having only two of them through a four-month period I had six of them in three weeks. It was rough. And there were days when I just wanted to be released. I just wanted those closest to me to indicate they would be fine without me and that I could finally end the pain. To just hear the words that would allow me to end my torment.

They weren’t spoken and I survived another fall. Is it just me? Does anyone else know how this feels? Has anyone ever longed to know that it’s okay to never again want to feel not okay?

I wonder at times how my life will end. Will I get old? Face cancer? End up in a hospital or hospice care? Whatever the scenario, I think I will be holding on loosely. And when the words come…I will go. Quickly.

Present Day, November 1, 2017

“Is it real…or is it in your head?”

I heard a version of this line recently during one of my guilty pleasures, Stranger Things. It reminded me of another question I often like to repeat: “Why is it either/or rather than both/and?”

There seems to be a suggested thought that if things are “in your head” they are not real. It is one or the other. This actually goes contrary to a rather significant pile of historical philosophy that says quite the opposite. Namely, that if something is real it is because it is “in our heads.”

More importantly to me is the fact that what is in our heads is very real to us. Depression. Suicidal ideation. Grandiosity. Voices. These are not just whims or figments of wild imaginations. For someone with a mental illness, maybe even someone without, within our minds, they are very real. And therefore, by natural consequence, outside our minds, and in our daily lives…they are real. As real as the chair I am sitting on or the computer I am blogging on. It is not some either/or declaration, which is really a way to convince us that they are not real and we just need to accept that to be healthy. It is a both/and, which really means we have to develop skills and techniques for coping with our reality of thoughts and existence.

You actually can see this portrayed in Stranger Things. Those who have experienced “the upside down” have had a very real experience which is now haunting their lives AND minds. Those who have not…are not sure what to believe. At least those who choose not to simply scoff away what they are hearing. They ask the question because we all seem at some level to desire a black and white line. Reality…or in our heads. We think they should be separated rather than embracing a merging. A merging of what people experience mentally and within their reality.

It is my belief that this merging is critical to empathizing, understanding and even helping a friend or loved one with mental illness. When someone operates from a paradigm that tries to exclude what is taking place in our minds from our reality it only makes us feel crazier. Maybe even makes us crazier. However, joining in with our paradigm, where what we are experiencing mentally IS our reality…that can remove a sense of isolation and loneliness from our lives. Not to mention providing a greater sense of unity between mind and reality for the individual attempting to administer care. And it is obviously also my belief that at some level we all would benefit from a greater merging of the two in our lives.

Not either/or. Both/and. Not “real…or in your head.” In our heads…and therefore, very real.

 

Present Day, October 29, 2017

We should get chips.

We are expected to take our meds. Go to therapy. Get our sleep. When we do not, best case scenario we are ostracized. Worst case, we hear the old song and dance denying the existence of our illness. Our “mental” illness. But in a world that would never argue the importance of positive reinforcement, there is no system for it. At least, none that I am aware of.

Maybe we are told that our health is its own reward. True. But I think chips would be better.

If you are an alcoholic who has made a living being drunk you are rewarded when you go a week without a drink. A month. 90 days. 6 months. 9 months. A year. And you should be. Those are significant milestones on the road to recovery.

If you have abused drugs throughout your life, people applaud you as you pick up your token for seven days without abusing. 30 days. 3 months. And more.

Why? Because we live in a society that believes that when you have been facing a significant battle, it will aid your success to feel that very success. To be recognized for what you have accomplished. For people to say, “Hey, that is no small task you have just completed. Congratulations. Carry this with you and take pride when you hold it.”

Yeah, I think we should get chips.

At the end of this week I will complete one month on my new job. 30 days. Small potatoes for some people. Not for anyone with bipolar.

My wife recently congratulated me on going a year without spending a night away from home. What she meant was, on the run. Because that is an achievement for me. I panic. Depression overtakes me. I flee. And I haven’t for more than a year now. That’s noteworthy.

It has been 14 months since my hospitalization. Since I reached such a state that legal and medical intervention was necessary to keep me out of harm’s way. To keep me alive. Seems like that might be worth celebrating.

Definitely. We should get chips.

People get raises for doing their job, even though it is already what they are paid to do. Parent’s get Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gifts for being good parents, even though being anything less is really just wrong. And substance abusers receive accolades from their peers when they pass landmark days on their journey of sobriety.

Is it that absurd to suggest that an individual who suffers from a mental illness and takes all of their meds, with all of their horrific side effects, for six straight months should be congratulated? Is it that crazy (no pun intended) to think that individuals who are prone to manic or suicidal flight but stay put for 90 days should be told they are doing well? Has anyone ever thought that if we said, “Great job” to the bipolar individual who has averaged 8 hours of sleep or better for 30 days they might dig deep and find a way to pull it off for another 30 days?

Call it a hunch, but I think so. Yep, we should get chips.

Present Day, October 24, 2017

The other day someone called me Grumpy. Not like, “Are you feeling grumpy today?” Or “You’re acting kinda grumpy.” More like, “You ARE grumpy.” And the truth is, I agree.

I could make all kinds of excuses. I’m dieting. God knows that never helps. I exercise every day, and hate every minute of it. The weather has been pretty gloomy recently. Life’s schedule has been pretty hectic as of late. I suffer from a number of areas which seem to be chronic pain. And oh, by the way, I am bipolar and seemingly constantly battle depression.

However, truth be told, I think it is more ingrained in me than that. I think it goes back further than that. I have always been known as a very intense individual. Often accused of taking much of life and what it throws my way too seriously. Throughout my years the label pessimist has found its way to my side as people get to know me and spend time with me. My parents have this old black and white Polaroid picture of me that they would always refer back to. I’m less than a year old. Laying on my belly in the grass. Propped up on my elbows. And I have this look on my face that some major life challenge in need of a complex solution is rattling around in my little brain. Or if you look at it from another perspective, I look like a grumpy old man.

I FEEL grumpy, which I am sure doesn’t help. I have times of laughter, joy and being entertained with life…but they aren’t the majority. I daily think about and miss my adult children. I constantly fret over my weight but feel the addicting pull of food. I miss things like camping and attending pro sporting events. Yet I am simultaneously consumed with financial concern and worry. My negative thoughts far outweigh my positive and I’m left feeling grumpy. Or not feeling…just…am. I AM grumpy.

After my psychiatric hospitalization last year I noticed a sensation inside of me. I felt like a shell of who I once was. Other events in my life have robbed me of some of that essence, but this experience left a noticeable sense of emptiness. A feeling of never again being able to quite be who I once had been. Maybe this is part of the process of becoming grumpy. Of evolving into this grumpy old man that I find myself seeing in the mirror.

Hopefully, life changes will help. A new job with reasonable hours and quality benefits. Losing weight. Camping. Staying connected with the kids through modern technology. Maybe this grumpy man doesn’t have to become a grumpy OLD man.

But for now, that person was right. I AM grumpy.

Present Day, October 20, 2017

The first year of this blog remained pretty strict in format. I allowed myself three choices. One, write about my 9-day hospitalization at Northwestern Memorial Hospital after a psychiatric breakdown. Two, write about life in the days that followed returning home from said hospitalization. Three, allow myself some artistic liberty to post songs of meaning to me lyrically each Saturday. That was it. That was the list.

With year two upon me, I find myself expanding my horizons. Feeling free to go where my mind may take me. Maybe some pieces of my life that led up to the actual breakdown. Possibly glimpses into my contact with other individuals facing battles with mental illness. Or in the case of today…venturing into the ever-dangerous land of recommendations.

Today’s recommendation is doubly dangerous. Why? I’m glad you asked. The reason is a simple one. I haven’t finished it. The book. The book I am about to recommend, I haven’t finished reading it. In fact, I am just over halfway through it. But have found it mesmerizing and personal enough to believe in the beauty of it regardless of the conclusions it draws.

I should note at this point that I often take that approach to a book, and recognize that not everyone is able to. I can enjoy a book even if it ends at a place of conclusion that I 100% disagree with. If it is well written. Thoughtful. Reflective. Challenging. Insightful. It can still be a read that I am glad I embarked on. Granted, the less I agree with it, the more of those things it better be in greater strength, but nevertheless, it is possible.

The book is No One Cares About Crazy People: The chaos and heartbreak of mental health in America. If the title seems harsh, just wait until you read the background leading to it. The author, Ron Powers, is no stranger to the written word having won the Pulitzer Prize and weaves a very dramatic and personal fabric throughout the text. In almost alternating fashion, chapters swing from autobiographical to a historical review dating back to the 1800s of mental health care within the United States (and even touching on a few global aspects). Having been personally touched by the plague of schizophrenia on two of his sons, it is a deeply transparent and sincere reflection. There is no attempt to be unbias. No desire to remain outside of the story. And that is likely what makes it the work that it is.

Two-thirds of the way through it, I have found myself deeply moved to sadness…anger…frustration…and at times, fear. It is a rare work based on extensive research and able to provide factual data, that is also able to express individual thoughts and takes without there being confusion within the author’s own mind or that of the readers’ as to which he is doing when.

I am not a book critic. Therefore, I will conclude my words here. Reviews and analysis can be found for those looking to investigate further before reading. I can only say that in my experience, I have not found enough of these texts. It is a book that needed to be written and needs to be joined by others. A book that gives voice to people that suffer from mental illness, and those that walk beside us. A book that continues to declare that while recent generations have promoted the “coming out of the closet” of numerous people groups, the closet is still locked for those whose minds keep them forever captive.

I look forward to the remaining 100 plus pages, and yet I don’t. The hope and the pain. The gains and the losses. Suffered by the Powers family, and others like them. But don’t take my word for it. Read his for yourself.