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.

Present Day, April 4th, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 6A

Today was cancelation day. A sad day in a series of sad days. In a sad period of history. I had been putting it off for a few weeks and decided today to bite the bullet and get it over with.

My daughter is a senior at NYU. In case you do not have any children in school you may not make the connection that this has become a very awful year to be a senior. Four years of hard work are coming to a very awkward and abrupt ending. Though maybe abrupt is the wrong word. It is more like a suspended ending. An endpoint that is a moving target with no finality yet to be determined. All the pomp and circumstance on hold like a phone call where you wonder if anyone will ever pick-up the line.

Her being a senior meant that I had travel plans. My first trip to New York was on the books. I had faced all my anxiety and apprehension about traveling to such a mammoth city of hustle and bustle and turned it into excitement. Flight. AirBNB. All the arrangements were in place for four days of site seeing, and celebration with her. At the centerpiece of it all were her graduation and commencement ceremonies at such iconic places as Radio City Music Hall and Yankee Stadium respectively.

That was all pre-Covid-19. Now it has all been “postponed”. Her classes are finishing up remotely, and the celebrations are up in the air. At what point does postponed become canceled? At what point does postponed become irrelevant to her life and moving forward into the next phase? Because right now, we have no idea at what point all this comes to an end.

When the postponement was first announced I held off on any cancelations. I thought it might work out that I would still go to New York to see her. To be with her. To let her be my tour guide, and just enjoy the father/daughter time together. However, as time passed, it became clear that New York was not going to be a place to travel to. Not by mid-May. Not for quite some time to come. But I still could not get myself to do it. I felt like I would be a part of crushing her dream. That I would be playing a role in bringing an inappropriate end to her journey.

Today I moved forward with the cancelations. Not sure why I picked today. I merely found myself at my computer with nothing else to do, staring at the confirmation emails for my bookings, and realizing it was time.

My heart breaks for my daughter. She, like so many other people, is being robbed of something valuable. Granted, not as valuable as a life, but nevertheless something very significant. There is a finality to a graduation ceremony. A pride in the accomplishment that it represents. There is something to family traveling from afar to join with you in celebrating the culmination of years of hard work, which at this point of your life, make up a fairly significant percentage of your existence. That is being taken from her, and I hurt for her. I mourn for her.

I also mourn my loss as her parent. The joy that comes when you hear your child’s name called out and they walk across that stage. The warmth that comes with seeing her face-to-face and knowing she is well and she has done well. The love that is difficult to express over hundreds of miles as compared to in the embrace of a hug.

Like everyone, my life is surrounded by unknown. I do not know if the trip will get rescheduled or when. More difficult, I do not know when I will get to see my daughter again. I spend my days overwhelmed with thoughts for her safety in the epicenter of this unrelenting virus. I spend my nights hoping that there will be a cosmic reset button that puts life back on track with where it was before all hell broke loose.

Today was cancelation day. A sad day in a series of sad days. In a sad period of history.

Present Day, April 3rd, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 6

It had been scheduled weeks ago. Maybe months. I do not really remember. Just like the plans of so many others. A Spring Break get-away. For us, one of the family favorite activities: camping. Reservations in place. A great break in the weather. Three days away from “it all.”

Then, as it has for everyone, everything changed. Not actually until the last minute for us. It was just last night that the governor closed the state park campgrounds for overnight stays. We almost made it. Nevertheless, the order came down, the campgrounds were closed, and vacation plans had to be altered. It is just the new normal.

In this case, for this time, it meant pulling the camper into the yard and setting it up for a staycation. Same dinner, just cooked inside and then eaten outside on camping chairs. Same games of ladder ball. And for my wife and the girls, the same sleeping accommodations. I just cannot be this close to my bed and pass up the opportunity to sleep in it.

You really have to go with the flow during this time. That is not my specialty. I am easily derailed and frustrated. I am trying to be less rushed and more patient. Trying.

I took our dog for a walk this afternoon. The usual route that I typically hope to navigate in about 35 to 45 minutes time. I took a different approach today. It was sunny and mid-60s outside. So I just let the pooch set the pace. She tends to stop and sniff…a lot. Normally I give a tug on the leash and encourage her to keep moving. Not today. Today I just let her sniff. I kept telling myself, “What’s the hurry?” “What do you have to get back to?” “What else do you have to do?” The end result was a walk that took about an hour, and still get me home in plenty of time for…well, nothing.

Truth be told, I continue to struggle. Struggle with depression. Struggle with anxiety. Struggle with getting my head around this whole situation we are in. The old saying says “One day at a time”, but I cannot think of another time in my life that I was living more hour to hour. Activity to activity. Just trying to pass time, make it to the next activity, complete another day.

It is terrible thinking that there are months of this still to come. And that even with that, literally hundreds of people may die! How are we not supposed to be afraid? How are we supposed to “feel” healthy or normal? How is someone with a mental illness supposed to manage their condition in the midst of this?

The family is in the backyard cooking s’mores. I should just join them and act like everything is okay. At least for tonight. At least for the next few hours of this staycation. But that is so hard for me. I just want to meltdown and scream. I just want to crawl into bed and weep. I just want to find a new way to get away from “it all”.

Present Day, April 2nd, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 5

Today I got an unexpected call. It came from my place of employment. Or is it former employment. Really not sure how I am supposed to look at it. Nevertheless, they were calling to let me know they were ready for me to come back. One week from tomorrow, they would like me to return to work. Full-time. Permanently.

I was really quite surprised for a few reasons. One, we are not life-sustaining or essential as a business per the governor of our state’s guidelines. So I have been surprised we are still open and operating, to begin with. Two, I figured when I was furloughed it would likely match up with the rest of the state’s shutdowns and would last for quite some time, not just two weeks. Three, they furloughed a number of us and I guessed I would be one of the last ones called back. However, it looks like I am one of the first, and that they are going to be furloughing more people even after I return. What sense does that make?

Of course, a huge question to wrestle with at this point is how do I feel about all this. First, there is my personal safety and the wellbeing of my family. When I was furloughed, the workplace was not doing a good job of social distancing, wearing masks, disinfecting and all the other measures that are supposed to be a part of keeping this thing from spreading. I am not comfortable exposing myself to that environment again, but I do not know if I have the option of just saying “No” and still retaining my job down the line.

Second…well, hell, I do not know if there is a second, third, fourth or whatever. There is just a huge question mark of uncertainty over this. It is not a job I enjoy. In fact, my time there has compounded my depression at times and made my journey with my mental illness even more challenging. I have been looking for work for more than a year, but just cannot land anything outside of this. And of course, now is not exactly the prime time to be interviewing for a job.

On the other hand, I have not adjusted well to the time allotted me being home all day. I do not think my presence is helpful to the family, nor am I finding mental health in the small semblance of a routine that I have tried to establish. So if I manage to stay healthy, maybe getting back in the flow of a regular work routine is all for the best.

It is the proverbial rock and a hard place. I know returning to work is a great concern for my wife and my children. They reasonably see us in a pandemic and figure the prudent course of action is the safe course of action that is staying home. On the other hand, coming out of this without permanent employment is a highly daunting proposition in and of itself.

I have some time on my hands between now and then, and really need to brainstorm any questions or concerns I might have related to returning to work. It does seem reasonable for them to have to provide me a basic assurance of safety…at least, as much assurance as can be provided during this time.

Then again, if there is anything that we are learning right now it is that nothing is assured.

Present Day, April 1st, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 4

Today was my first “teletherapy”. Having been about a month since my last therapy appointment, and with no face-to-face therapy in sight for the foreseeable future, it was time to bite the bullet and delve into the world of technological therapy. I suppose this can take on a number of different appearances. For me, it was entering a video chat room similar to Zoom but through a physician certified site for confidentiality purposes. Both my therapist and I were on webcams, so there was visual to go along with the audio.

It felt awkward, but it should be known that for me therapy always feels awkward. It always feels like I am supposed to have some more specific agenda than surviving my mental illness when that is typically the only agenda I arrive with. It is also practically by definition a time in which I am supposed to share my feelings. This is something I am not good at, am not comfortable with, and rarely know how to even put into words.

Most of today’s session focused on the general lack of motivation I have to do anything during this time. Literally…anything. I have about the first two or three hours of the day down. I have set a time limit of 8 o’clock to be out of bed on the weekdays. Otherwise, I could easily sleep and/or lie there until noon. I either exercise first thing or have my coffee first thing. Whichever the case, Coffee, waking up, exercise, showering, checking up on the latest news and social media updates, and a household chore or such tend to get me up to about 10 a.m.

Aside from that, I have got nothing. I know there are household projects to be working on. I know there are things I could clean. I know I have a hobby I enjoy working on. Hell, even on the relaxation side there are movies I have been wanting to watch and books that I could read. But I am pretty much uninspired and paralyzed. So we talked about setting out a daily plan and trying to find the motivation to stick to it. That’s just the thing. I have no idea where this motivation is supposed to come from.

I have not found this to be an unusual challenge in my bipolar journey. It really should not be all that surprising. This is a mental illness that often lacks the desire to even be alive, let alone being productive with that life. Baby steps literally can be great accomplishments.

Take today for instance. I had set out to take a bike ride as my form of exercise. I put it off for about four hours hoping the weather would warm-up and the sun would come out. Finally, it reached the time where it was going to happen, or it was not. So I set out. A baby step. But it was a pitiful effort. Oh, I climbed the hills I intended to climb and accomplished the route I intended to accomplish but I could have ridden so much harder. But I didn’t. In fact, at one point I almost broke down in tears and had to stop. Just feeling so overwhelmed. So helpless. So hopeless.

There were other things on my agenda for today that I accomplished. All of them in fact. And yet still so much time spent just feeling lost. Unmotivated. Uninspired.

I’ll try again tomorrow. A new agenda. A new list. A new attempt to find the motivation to get out of bed, get active and get productive. It will be a struggle. Not just for me, but for so many others. A struggle we have to face one little step at a time.

Present Day, March 31st, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 3

The weather has been in our favor. Right up to today. Today the temperatures have dropped 20 to 30 degrees, and the rain has moved in. I had actually been doing a pretty good job of getting outside and getting some fresh air. Not so much today. Things are more gloomy. Things are more homebound. Things are more challenging.

But nothing like what my daughter is experiencing. My daughter is really my greatest concern at this point in my life. That is because she is a senior at NYU. As in New York University. She lives in Brooklyn and is pretty much locked up like the rest of us. Unlike the rest of us, she is in many ways all alone. Hundreds of miles from home. Maybe not what she considers home anymore at 21 years of age, but what I still consider her home. And now she is trapped in the epicenter of it all.

She is smart and cautious. So I do not have to worry about that. In fact, she has not left her apartment for about five days now. No stepping outside. No fresh air for her. Totally penned up. Groceries are delivered, and needs are taken care of…for now. All of her classes have gone to remote learning, giving her something to work on and occupy her mind. At the same time, all of her classes have gone remote giving her something to mourn the loss of. Per her own words, her classes were not designed to be handled on-line. They are seminar-based classes and she misses seeing the other students and professors for interaction. She misses dreaming of a graduation that has been postponed (which may just be a fancy word for canceled). She misses the excitement of four years of college culminating in a family celebration that she has now been robbed of. In other words, she has plenty of unhealthy things to occupy her mind.

Meanwhile, I have my fears. They may not be rational, but they are real. I read the headlines, though I keep myself from reading too many of them, and read about the situation in her very city. In fact, the situation in her very hospital. It is not good. As long as she stays locked up and healthy, everything is fine. Yet if she somehow contracts this virus, things could go downhill fast. And that worries me. That gets my racing mind going. What if she is sick and all alone? What if she does not know when to get help? What if she does not get help in time?

It is a terrible thought to think of your child dying. Even worse to think of a child dying at such a young age. Even worse to think of a child dying in a hospital hallway all alone. Or on a ventilator. Or in an apartment. All incredibly morbid thoughts, but all thoughts that find their way into my somewhat paranoid cranium.

It is part of mental illness at a time like this. Part of the bipolar mind. It exasperates the worst of emotions. The fear. The fatalistic thoughts. The restlessness. Feelings of worry. And of course, all of these things lead to irritability, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, change in eating habits, and more.

So I struggle on. Hoping that she will be alright. Hoping that she will stay patient and stay smart. Hoping that this insidious disease will pass her door.