Present Day, April 9th, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 10

Two full weeks. Two full work weeks. Two full work weeks with no work. I am not sure which seems stranger: the fact that I have not gone into work for two full weeks, or the fact that by all accounts this is forecast to stretch on for quite some time. This might just be the beginning.

The company I work for is in an industry that does a major shut down around Christmas. That means I get paid, for an almost two-week vacation, on top of my other vacation time, every Christmas/New Year’s Holiday. It is roughly the same time that I have been off this go around. Of course, there are some differences. For example, you have the celebration of the holidays in the midst of those days which typically includes family gatherings and time with friends. Places such as shopping malls and theaters are open, so there is plenty of getting out and about. It is roughly the same time length, but an entirely different vibe.

Today I was supposed to receive my first unemployment check. No check. I attempted to access the website and determine the status of my payment. It has crashed. Money is not a dire issue. At least not as of today. That makes this one of those things that you just have to let go, and check back in tomorrow. Otherwise, it could be a crazy maker. And lord knows we do not need any more of those at a time like this.

Our local NAMI chapter had advertised a video conference today on living with a mood disorder. I thought it might be helpful, and since it was on Zoom I could attend without any video or audio. Just sit in and gather whatever information was being offered. Anonymously. It was supposed to run from 11 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. Apparently, the moderator of the group is not very tech-savvy and was unable to join in. As of 11:30, they were still trying to get him on board. I was always taught you start on time with who you got. After giving it 30 minutes, I bailed. Let it go, check back at a different time. Another crazy maker.

I have been reading On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. It is a powerful novel wrestling with immigration, homosexuality, abuse, mental illness and more. I have been watching a series on Netflix called Black Mirror. Each episode stands alone and takes a futuristic look at the potentially negative consequences of technology that we are embracing today. These things help occupy my time and my days. But the days still pass slowly. Another crazy maker.

I am supposed to be doing a daily gratitude journal. I cannot even count the number of times this has been recommended to me, or that I have read the suggestion in an article. I just cannot find any traction for it. Partly because I know I am not a very grateful person. Quite the opposite in fact. Very pessimistic. In less than a week I will have my next therapy session and my therapist will ask me about it. Will I have started? Will I lie about it? Another crazy maker.

The days tick on. The crazy makers pile up. The tilt of my sanity hangs in the balance.

Present Day, April 8th, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 9

The weather is about to take a turn. After a number of very springlike days with highs in the 70s and lows in the sleeping with windows open range, it is all about to drop about 20 some degrees. Coupled with some clouds and rain, things will likely feel more like England or Seattle for the next 10 or so days. Which will present some new challenges to my stay-at-home lifestyle.

I do not know the process or clinical procedures for being diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), nor am I looking for another diagnosis to go along with my Bipolar. I just know I am one of those people who does better when the sun is shining. Who does better when I can relax outside in any number of ways on a 75-degree day. I have a daughter that absolutely loves the rain. I just do not get it, nor do as well in it under normal circumstances. And that is under “normal” circumstances, which we are far from living in.

I have had a pretty good morning routine going for the last few days. The weather has allowed me to enjoy an invigorating bike ride each morning as part of my exercise commitment. I am trying to avoid putting on the COVID-30 (no…not another virus…another 30 pounds). So daily exercise is part of the plan. However, I am used to having a gym to go to which is no longer a luxury. So my choice is the bike or these god awful workout videos that motivate my wife on a daily basis but I absolutely disdain. Unfortunately, the change in weather will mean a change to the videos. At least for the short term.

I have also enjoyed a daily afternoon walk with my dog. The weather is not changing so severely as to eliminate that, but we have really been taking our time on the strolls. No hurry at all. Depending on the weather, they may have to become more purposeful. Less relaxing and enjoyable. Less therapeutic.

If all this sounds like I am just being a whinny ass wimp, I probably am. It has been very difficult for me to establish a routine and rhythm to this period of life. To any period of life. Routine is critical for me to begin with, as with many people suffering from a mental illness. Now more than ever. Any disruption to that can be very unsettling during what is already a highly unsettling time. So the thought of having to “mix things up” really can mix my mind up.

I did a quick Google to try and obtain some advice for dealing with derailed plans as someone living with bipolar. First suggestion, do not panic. Okay, so it is a tad bit late for that one, but I feel my panic is still at a level that I can reel back in. Next suggestion, find a solution and adjust my schedule to accommodate the situation. Third? No, that is it. In other words, stay calm and carry on. Easier said than done.

When I wake up tomorrow it will be a new day requiring a new plan from the previous handful of days. Here goes nothing!

 

Present Day, April 7th, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 8

One of the ways recommended for getting out of your own head is to do something for someone. Some type of act of kindness. Maybe volunteer at a soup kitchen or a food bank. Help out at a homeless shelter. Assist with a literacy program.

While the recent outbreak of COVID-19 has not eliminated such opportunities, it has definitely made them a greater challenge. On top of that, in recent years I had gotten disconnected from much community service as I have simply tried to keep my own shit together. For better or for worse.

However, one very simple and basic way that I try to “give back” is by donating blood. It really could not be less of a big deal for me as I have no problem with needles (I watch the entire process so intently it is probably a bit creepy for the phlebotomist), it only takes about an hour out of my day every few months, and I am even rewarded through various donor programs with such things as t-shirts, mugs, and movie tickets.

Even this has been somewhat challenged by the recent dynamics in society. They have put out a number of calls for donors during these times, and the calls have been answered. At least, they were a few weeks ago. I made an appointment for my wife and me to donate. On the day of our donation, we went to the blood center only to find it packed with people. We were told it would be a two-hour wait, even with an appointment, and there was clearly no space for the number of people they had in line as far as social distancing was concerned. They simply were accepting too many walk-ins for us to feel safe. Regretfully, we left and figured we would just have to give it another try at another time.

A few days ago I decided to give it another go and booked another appointment. This one, for today. Upon arrival at the parking lot I could tell that the circumstances were very different, and when I reached the door it was clear as to why. They had gone to an appointment-only basis. There were a few other differences as well. All the employees were wearing masks (as was myself and a number of the clients). Before check-in, I was asked if I felt healthy today, and also if I had traveled out of the country or to New York in the past 14 days. They wanted to know if I had been exposed to anyone who had tested positive for the virus. My forehead was scanned for my temperature, and then and only then was I allowed to approach the check-in counter and report for my appointment. Tables and chairs had been removed to thin out the waiting area and space people further apart.

From there forward things proceeded as normal. Blood pressure, pulse and finger prick. Lie back and squeeze the stress ball a few times. The customary multiple stabs to strike a vein (I have tough veins to find apparently…multiple efforts are always required). Roughly ten minutes of blood flowing into a pint-size bag, and a handful of test tubes. Like I said, for me…no big deal.

It felt good to do something that I am at least told is a good thing to do. To do something that might land beyond my world and help someone in theirs.

I wish I could do more. In what now seems like different lives I worked for a rescue mission. I once directed a residential addiction recovery program. Not anymore. The mental and emotional fortitude required for such work is no longer there. Maybe it never truly was, but definitely not since my breakdown. So I have to settle for more basic acts. Like serving on my daughter’s high school marching band food crew, or donating blood. Simpler things for a simpler man.

Maybe when things die down and the world goes back to normal I will be able to discover something more. Something regular. Something more frequent than every two or three months. But for now…for today…this was my act of kindness. My act outside my own head, that hopefully will mean something to someone else.

Present Day, April 6th, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 7

This is where it started: Thursday, August 25th, 10 a.m.

133 entries ago I launched this blog. And it started by recounting a mental breakdown and subsequent hospitalization I underwent, brought about by the lack of management of my bipolar. Three and a half years ago I began to tell my story in hopes that someone, somewhere might find it helpful.

Now, as we all find ourselves homebound and with time on our hands, I thought there might be individuals who would like to hear from those early days of my struggles. So I have provided a link above to that first blog. If you scroll to the bottom of it you will find a link for the “Next Article”. That will allow you to sequentially follow the story as it unfolded. Reflections of what it was like to be hospitalized. Reflections of what it was like to journey forward upon returning back home. Reflections on how the struggles do not just abruptly come to an end.

I thought this might be a good time to introduce other features of the blog as well. On the right side is a thought cloud called “Train Stops”. By clicking on one of the items in this section, the blog will pull all the entries (from newest to oldest) with that tag. For example, you can click on “medication” and pull up entries where I talked about issues surrounding medications.

Another filter tool is located further down the right side: “Catagories”:

  • Back Home blogging about life back home post-hospitalization
  • Brain Tracks thoughts from inside the bipolar mind
  • Music for the Road songs that speak to life with a mental illness
  • Out of Town posts related to my escape and subsequent hospitalization

Take today’s entry as a shameless plug to delve further into the blog. To see what has been left in the past. To see what is the foundation for the present. To see why the future holds the challenges it does.

Share some thoughts and comments as various writings speak to you.

And continue to stay home, stay healthy, and stay safe.

 

Present Day, April 5th, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 6B

What is the difference between a bad person with Bipolar, and a person that Bipolar makes bad? Surely there are pitiful excuses for human beings who also happen to have a mental illness, just as well as there are people with a mental illness that turns them into a pitiful excuse for a human being. But how do I know which one I am? You know, am I an asshole at my very core who carries the added burden of being Bipolar, or does having Bipolar turn me into the asshole that I am so often perceived as?

Is there a difference? Or does it even make a difference if there is?

There is no doubt that whichever the case, we are just nine days into quarantine and I have worn out my welcome in my own home. My wife and I just completed an argument that concluded with my declaration that “this will be the end of us.” Not like a sarcastic, tongue in cheek, laugh it off because we all know we will get through this kind of declaration. More of an authentic, there does not seem to be any other way around it, things are rapidly disintegrating type of declaration. And that is because the general tone of the argument was the same as it has been for years: I am the problem. Or I have the problem. Which one it is I do not know or am unwilling to admit to myself.

There is an inherent danger with second marriages, of which this is mine. The danger is that arguments and disputes will reveal faults in you that have always existed. Behaviors, attitudes, actions that are not new to marriage number two. These revelations can ferment over time, and leave you aware that no matter how much you may have ascribed the break up of your first marriage to your spouse…you were the problem all along. You were the one with the character flaws. You were the one with the personality problems. You were the one with the issues that broke things apart. And then you are left back at the question, am I just a dick with a disease or a decent person with a disease that is causing me to behave like a dick?

Honestly, I think the answer to the question is irrelevant. People have expectations for my behavior regardless of any mitigating factors, and I suppose that is fair enough as there are only a handful of people in my life who even know I have a mental illness. They have no basis for compassion or understanding. They just see me as I am and draw their own conclusions.

But even with the people that know. Even with the people who love me. Even with them, there is a limited ability to understand what it is like to live inside my head and to act out life as a grown adult operating with this mind. There is a limited ability to differentiate the parameters of the question. To decide if I am just a “normal” person who is being unkind or someone who has lost the ability to function as a “normal” person. Even with those closest to me, there is a limit in either their choice or ability to accept that not everything that comes from me is by choice. At least, not by my choice.

So where does that leave me? I am an individual whose behavior is found to intolerable by those closest to him. I am an individual with a mental illness that is difficult at best to control and almost impossible under current circumstances. I am an individual who feels incapable of being the person I wish I could be.
Again, I think the answer is irrelevant. Because in the end, I am just the bad person. I am just the dick.