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.

Present Day, October 8, 2017

There are a lot of things that have headed in the right direction for my life over the past 90 days blogging hiatus. Including the avoidance of some pretty significant pitfalls and traps. I have come through all of them relatively unscathed. However, one area has not gone so well. In fact, it has gone down right horribly. My weight.

10 pounds in 90 days. 20 pounds in 9 months. 30 pounds since being placed on medications and being released from the hospital in September of 2016.

This would come as no surprise to any educated psychiatric provider. In fact, I was warned of it during my last psych review at the hospital. Even warned it would amount to 20 to 30 pounds on average. Guess they called that one.

It is one of the catch 22s of bipolar medications. Feeling depressed? Don’t worry, your meds will help you feel groggy and lethargic. Bad self-image? Don’t sweat it, your meds will help you put on weight and feel even less good about yourself. Uncertainty an issue? No biggie, your meds will leave you trembling and nauseous. In other words, the stuff you need to help you can just as easily hurt you. Or best case scenario, greatly frustrate you.

In the case of my weight, other frustrations are at work. I made a commitment roughly three weeks ago to begin exercising on a regular basis. According to my Fitbit, have managed to log a decent workout 17 of the last 20 days. That’s pretty damn good. But the weight keeps climbing.

I downloaded “My Fitness Pal” to my phone and began counting calories. This was about 10 pounds ago. Back when I thought to be 20 up was enough and it was time to turn the tide. Granted, I have been far from legalistic with it, but I have paid attention which is more than I had done. But the weight keeps climbing.

I had to go through the degraded process last week of updated the wardrobe. Maybe you have been there. The waist gets too tight, and to avoid complete discomfort, it becomes necessary to hit the Goodwills and upsize a bit. Goodwills rather than new retail because you are convincing yourself that this is not going to be a permanent change. The weight will come back off. You’ll figure this out. But in the back of your head, you are wondering if that is true. You are wondering if this is even where it stops.

I am within five pounds of my all-time high. That weight was not medication driven. Just too much time not taking care of myself while sitting at a desk. One morning while going through the struggle of tying my shoes I decided enough was enough. The journey began, and over the next few months (I can’t really remember how long) I dropped just short of 50 pounds. And most of them stayed off until being hospitalized last fall. Now they are almost all back, and I have to try again.

I recently received blood work back from an annual physical. I am pre-diabetic. My kidney function has dropped (maybe related to the massive stone and surgery earlier this year…maybe not). My bad cholesterol (at least, I think it is the bad one) is up a bit. There are plenty of reasons to drop some weight. And tomorrow I will start the journey again.

Maybe past success will provide hope for the future path. One thing is for sure, of all the things that are on my side…the medications are not on the list.

Present Day, October 7, 2017

12 weeks. Such a perfect number in some ways. Three months. A quarter. And without even intending to make it so. That is probably what excites my neurotic mind most.

It has been 12 weeks since I last posted on this blog. And what a 12 weeks it has been. To be honest, there was no direct intention the day I submitted that post to take such a hiatus. It all unfolded very naturally. Very organically. A week or two break. Some anniversary and life changes unfolding that made staying away the healthier choice. Chaos of daily living beginning to unfold in a new and fresh way. And before you know it…three months are gone.

My current intention? To catch you all up (which really means to take some time to process through this three months within my mind and allow you to come along for the ride …if you are so interested) on life from then to now. The losses I have experienced. The “quality of life” (see – Present Day, July 12th, 2017) improvements I have managed to navigate. The anniversaries that have been survived. And hopefully all within the context of the original purpose and goals of this venture (The Next 100). In other words, to get back into the habit.

Why? Because it is part of my therapy. It is part of living and staying healthy. Because when I am “healthy”, I truly enjoy writing. I enjoy the expressiveness of it. The “getting out of my own mind” of it. The ability to release my thoughts from the cage of my skull to a place where they can be free and I can be free to move on to new, present ways of thinking. Because I have entered a new phase of life (more on that down the road), and this phase needs some filler. Needs some hobbies. Needs some anchors which help me focus on a daily…or at least weekly basis.

So for those who so choose…all aboard! Welcome back onto the train. If you are new, feel free to troll and scroll and catch up on the past 15 months that this blog has been dedicated to. If you are a long timer…yep, I’m still alive and kicking and living out the clickety-clack rhythm of the rails. Still taking my meds. Still logging my sleep. Still going to therapy. Still recognizing that bipolar disorder is not something you overcome, but something that you can manage with hard work and diligence.

…and still believing that living with a mental illness does not exclude one from the rightful pursuit of an ever-improving quality of life.

July 22nd, 2017 – Musical Truths

Are we awake?
Am I too old to be this stoned?
Was it your breasts from the start?
They played a part.

For goodness sake
I wasn’t told you’d be this cold
Now it’s my time to depart
And I just had a change of heart

I’ll quote “on the road” like a twat and wind my way out of the city
Finding a girl who is equally pretty won’t be hard
Oh, I just had a change of heart

You smashed a glass into pieces
And that’s around the time I left
And you were coming across as clever
Then you lit the wrong end of your cigarette

You said I’m full of diseases
Your eyes were full of regret
And then you took a picture of your salad
And put it on the Internet

And she said, “I’ve been so worried ’bout you lately.
You look shit and you smell a bit.
You’re mad thinking you could ever save me.
Not looking like that.”

You used to have a face straight out of a magazine
Now you just look like anyone
I just had a change of heart
I feel as though I was deceived
I never found love in the city
I just sat in self-pity and cried in the car
Oh, I just had a change of heart

Then she said, “I’ve been so worried ’bout you lately.
You were fit but you’re losing it.
You played a part, this is how it starts.”
Oh, I just had a change of heart

I just had a change of heart
I just had a change of heart
I just had a change of heart
Oh, I just had a change of heart
I just had a change of heart
I just had a change of heart
I just had a change of heart
I just had a change of heart