Present Day, March 13th, 2019

Last night I attended a Munford and Sons concert with my wife. The tickets were a Christmas/Birthday gift that I had anticipated enjoying for almost three months. The concert far exceeded my expectations, and that is saying a lot. At today’s ticket prices, I set the bar very high. However, the point of this post is not a concert review, so I’ll get to the point.

I cried. A lot. Pretty much from the moment they entered the arena to the crashing crescendo of applause until the final exit. Not an all-out bawling. Just a steady welling of tears and overflowing down my cheeks.

There are a number of reasons for this. One of which relates to the aforementioned applause. But that is an explanation for another post on another day. I promise to get back to it soon.

In a collective sense, the tears were generated by the reality and presence of music. Music has always played an important part in my life. It was prominent in my childhood as my mom taught myself and all my siblings piano. We were each expected to try another instrument as well, and I choose the trumpet. I was moderately successful through high school and into college (and greatly enjoyed the horns incorporated into Munford’s music!).

The tradition continues to build today as my son just completed his Master’s recital in classical guitar, one daughter just performed on the flute in a high school All-District Honor Band and the youngest continues to develop as a percussionist. So music stirs my emotions. It has a past and present in my life. It is an active piece of my life.

Then there are the lyrics. I know they are purposefully written to strike a personal note with us. But for me, Munford’s do on a very deep, emotional level. More so than ever would Kanye or Two Chains.

“I really fucked it up this time.” (Little Lion Man)

“I will wait, I will wait for you.” (I Will Wait)

“Cause even when there is no star in sight, you’ll always be my only guiding light.” (Guiding Light)

“This is never going to go our way, if I’m gonna have to guess what’s on your mind.” (Believe)

“I will hold on hope, and I won’t let you choke on that noose around your neck.” (The Cave)

These tie to my story. My personal story. Maybe in a way that is emotionally overstretched, but it is what it is. And that stirs a passion. A feeling. Something that expresses itself through tears.

Because crying is feeling. And I haven’t felt much in recent years. Everything has been so drugged and numbed. It has been so difficult to be stirred. Moved. To feel.

But last night everything was so alive. I cried a lot because I felt a lot. And feeling is life. And last night I loved being alive.

Present Day, September 25th, 2018

Almost five and a half months. Still the blogging screen is blank.

Retreats. Books. Life events. All the usual, reliable prompts. But nothing.

It isn’t really a writer’s block. That’s for people who write for income, or entertainment, or pleasure.

I write for therapy. For reflection. For healing.

So it isn’t really a traditional writer’s block lacking inspiration and creativity. It is a lack of medicine. A lack of progress. A lack of health.

And it is one of many signs to be mindful of. There are others.

I have no desire to do…well…just about anything.

A weight loss plan that was highly successful through the first four months of the year has stalled out. Even begun heading the other direction. The self-discipline…self-motivation is gone. Again.

Ironic, because I’m not truly hungry for anything. Restaurants disappoint. Grocery shopping is merely requisite. I can eat the same food night after night after night after…well, you get the idea.

Stamp collecting. Sports watching. Camping. Hiking. All of it. Just motions.

Truth be told these are the spells that grip those of us who suffer from clinical depression. Sure, everybody to some extent, but these are not just periods of feeling down. They are extensive valleys. Valleys that can turn from days to weeks to months. Valleys that can rob us of energy, enthusiasm, enjoyment. Valleys that can black out a computer screen for five and a half months.

Which brings me to this moment. This moment that is called forced blogging. Push the keys one at a time. Put words on the screen. Run sentences together until a paragraph is formed. Then another. And another. Paragraphs that may serve as stepping stones for climbing out of the valley.

Not for income, entertainment or pleasure.

For therapy. For reflection. For healing.

Present Day, April 14th, 2018

My daughter is a sophomore at NYU. She also interns (and has interned) with organizations which focus on the rights and advocacy of individuals based on gender, race, and mental health based issues.

Recently, she was researching CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) New York Police Department trained officers. These are police officers specifically trained to assist with situations involving mental illness, development disability or emotionally disturbed peoples. Following are some of the statistics and bullet points from her research. Take them for what they are worth as food for thought and information to ponder in our modern-day struggle to provide quality assistance and help to people struggling with mental health and in crisis situations.

  • In 2016 in NYC there were 157,000 calls involving people in mental crisis.
  • The NYPD cannot guarantee that CIT-trained officers will be deployed to incidents involving people in mental crisis.
  • The NYPD currently handles more than 400 mental health crisis every day.
  • Currently, data collection regarding mental health crisis is fragmented across departments.
  • The NYPD currently trains between 20-25% of officers. This training lasts for 40 hours over a 5 day period.
  • The NYPD does not currently have the capacity to track the special skills of officers. This includes not only CIT but also language skills, domestic violence training, etc.
  • Nationwide, in 2016 police officers shot and killed at least 251 people who had exhibited signs of mental illness.
  • The addition of a CIT coordinator would: consistently connect with the community, serve as a liaison with outside agencies, be available to make training adjustments and assist in conducting data analysis
  • Current NYPD policies call for assigning a “designated shooter”, but do NOT specifically call for de-escalation if possible.
  • The AIDED Card system rewards an NYPD officer by allowing them to document when an individual receives medical treatment but is not arrested. The AIDED Card system is NOT specific to individuals with a mental health crisis. Out of 157,000 crisis calls in 2016, only 19,328 AIDED cards were issued (12%).
  • Currently, just 25% (5,500) of nearly 22,000 patrol officers are CIT trained.
  • NYPD Call dispatchers receive 2 hours of CIT training out of 45 days training (.5%)
  • Even if unarmed, not violent, and willing to leave…ad individual in mental health crisis may be taken into custody.

Present Day, March 12th, 2018

It seemed so bright for 4 a.m. Too bright. A quick look out the window explained the reason. A significant snow had fallen. From the view of the bedroom window, maybe as much as six inches. Which in this town typically means shut down. As in, life shut down.

Which caused me a bit of a predicament at this early hour because I had never before had a “snow day” at this workplace. Would I receive a text? Would they post it on the local TV channels? Would they even shut down due to a snowfall? All of which meant that the two and a half more hours of sleep I had waiting for me, in either event, was now shot to hell.

When six o’clock rolled around I decided to grab my phone and check in on the snow closings. Sure enough, there near the top of the list (as our company name starts with an “a” followed by a “c”) was the indication that we were closed for the day. (Ironically enough, and unbeknownst to me until later…not because of snow, but because of a power outage caused by the snow. Thus meaning, I still do not know if we in fact shut down for snow.)

A few snooze alarms and FitBit notifications later (don’t ask), and I actually managed to fall back asleep. Most likely in the 6:45 range, but regardless my next significant conscious moment didn’t come until around 8:25. A nice additional block of sleep to help compensate for the previously lost.

Bring on stressor number two. Being closed doesn’t mean the customers that direct work my way will be shut down today. Meaning double the work will be awaiting me tomorrow. Maybe not a huge deal in a normal week. However, this is not a normal week. It is my birthday week. Which means I am scheduled to utilize my free day off on Friday and enjoy an extended weekend. Alas, a four-day week is now a three-day week.

I was texting the same thoughts with a co-worker who ended the conversation with “try to enjoy the day off.” I am pretty sure she was sensing that I was probably more stressed about the work awaiting tomorrow then I was focused on enjoying the free day that had fallen into my lap today. She would be correct.

Seeing the pattern here? I imagine most people would flashback to 4 a.m. and respond with something like… “Looking like a snow day!!!” Then they would check back in around alarm time, and enter into a true celebration of the gift that is a day away from work (and/or school).

Not me. Not my mind. Not that simple.

The difference is not the reasonableness of stress or the unknown. It is more the management thereof. I assume everyone experiences some curiosity as to if they will get the day off. Everyone likely wants to make sure they get accurate information rather than guess about staying home from work. Everyone probably thinks ahead to the fact that a double day of work will likely be awaiting them. But not everyone obsesses about any of the above. Or loses valuable sleep due to them. Or sees a day slip away in stress rather the enjoyment of “didn’t see this coming when I went to bed.”

Obsessive minds do. Racing minds do. My mind does.

4 a.m. was almost 10 hours ago. The good news is, I seem to have it all under control now, and with still a good six or seven hours of a day to enjoy. I’m sure the panic will come back as the sun sets. That’s just part of it. But for now, it is a half a snow day to enjoy, at the launch of an unpredictable three-day work week.

Present Day, March 4th, 2018

As someone with a constantly racing mind, a new found practice of mindfulness has been a welcome place of rest. It is still very much a “practice” for me, and one that I struggle to successfully achieve for as short as a 10 minute period. However, I look forward to it each and every day and feel the calmer for it on the other side. At the same time, it does cause me a significant predicament.

I think we are all wired and prone to have an acute awareness of contrast. For example, severe changes in the weather. The audio launch of a rock concert. A bite into a particularly spicy dish. From level ground to a steep incline during a forest hike. We tune into these things, and they cause a sensory response in our bodies. Be it touch, hearing, taste, or even sight and smell. Contrast is simply a part of how we differentiate and how things are set apart in our minds and feelings.

The practice of mindfulness magnifies a rather extreme contrast in my living environment. I am already rather introverted and silent. I already value solitude and quiet above the average person. And I already struggle with the, at times, lack of appreciation other people might share for these same qualities. Couple that with the “contrast” of mindfulness sessions to regular life…and I can go from a state of peace to set on edge pretty rapidly. I know, totally contrary to the whole purpose of my mindfulness practice.

In fact, just finding a peaceful and alone time or location to engage in as little as a 10-minute meditation can be a challenge on some days.

The company I work for is owned by a Japanese corporation and therefore utilizes many of their workplace ideals. One example is the open workspace. Picture Dunder Mifflin from “The Office”. No cubicle walls. No offices except for the few at the top of the food chain. It is also a bi-lingual environment. Meaning that I am often working at my desk with a full volume conversation taking place over my left shoulder in Japanese, and a full volume conversation taking place over my right in English. Mind you, neither of which involve me or are of any importance to me. This environment makes my lunchtime mindfulness session 1) invaluable and 2) often immediately forgotten upon returning back to work. The contrast can be overwhelming.

This is my predicament. The practice designed to bring me peace can highlight an overall lack of peace. The practice designed to help me with a singularity of focus can highlight an ever run amuck mind. The practice designed to calm my life can often do little more than emphasize a greater lack of calm in my moment to moment existence.

For now, I look forward to my 10 minutes a day. And work on accepting the other 23 hours and 50 minutes in all their chaos.

Present Day, January 20th, 2018

phi-lat-e-ly /feladle/:  the collection and study of postage stamps

Hobbies have been difficult to come by for me. In the past few years I have tried to take back up the piano. Could never return to where I even was in my teen years. Hardly my elementary school level! Way too self-conscious of my own ineptness and unable (willing) to find (take) the time to claw my way back.

I ventured into other adult creative efforts. A daily prompt journal. Worked with adult coloring for a period. But struggled with perfectionistic needs to stay in the lines. The slightest sway outside taking me away from the work completed to date. A lack of creativity requiring a photo of the image to even select colors and shades. More of a burden than a relaxation.

But I have needed something. Something to occupy my mind. Something to bring a sense of calm during downtime. Something to help fill the hours of free time that my new work schedule can afford me on the weekends.

Earlier in my adult life I collected sports cards. Thousands of them. I know it is crazy, but an obsessive mind like mine could find great pleasure in opening packs, sorting numbers, and building complete sets. The hunt for the missing pieces to the puzzle that would tidy up the series. The history of the players and games uniquely chronicled on the cards. The adventure of sub-series or inserts that added even more intrigue to the search.

For hours on end, I could think of nothing else. It would take my mind, in a good way, off the other thoughts that can race through it. Just this side of manic? Maybe. But better than plunged into a sea of depression.

However, sports cards are expensive. And when most parties are honest about it, there is not much return on the hefty investment. Yet it got me thinking even further back into my life. To my childhood. To a very brief sliver of my childhood when another, similar hobby occupied periods of my free time. Stamp collecting.

And then I got the itch.

I began doing some online research. IF…IF I were to go down this path, what would I collect? How would I limit myself? What parameters would keep it enjoyable and keep it from being an all hours of the night manic obsession? When would I collect while still keeping other responsibilities and goals (i.e. reading) in sight?

The more I explored, the more excited I got…and this last week I decided to take the plunge. To see if this could be a place of fulfillment. Of hobby. Of pleasure. Something to build on through the years. To enjoy learning, expanding, studying.

So far, so good. But I’m bipolar and the first few days of just about anything in my life are so far, so good.

Here is the thing – racing thoughts and a manic mind are not inconvenient side effects of the bipolar life. They are serious challenges. Possibly even dangers. What for many people can be a restless night or afternoon of obsessing can for a bipolar person be the beginning of a serious slide…crash…or even worse. Thus having a hobby to counter that is about more than just…well, having a hobby. It is about a safety net. A place of sure footing. At times, even a refuge or escape to allow our minds to be captivated by a single thing in order to cease the endless ruminations.

That is a lot to ask from an album and some postage stamps, but I do not have to perform for anyone. I get to make the rules for my collection. The lines are of my choosing…if I choose to have any at all.

One week and a few hours in…so far, so good.