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 30th, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 2

Today is our day! It is World Bipolar Day!!!

I may sound enthusiastic about that, but the reality is that I had no idea it was until about 4:45 this afternoon. That is when it popped up in my Instagram feed and I discovered that there even was such a thing. The link above (by clicking on “World Bipolar Day”) will do it more justice than I ever could. However, it is nice to know there is a day set aside for recognizing the reality of this illness and receiving encouragement in the battle.

Instead of reading my ramblings, take a few moments to click over to BPHope.com, and find some true inspiration. And of course, stay safe and stay home.

Present Day, March 27th, 2020

 

FURLOUGH – day 1

Yesterday my workplace presented me with a furlough letter. I was officially laid off. Another financial victim of Covid-19. The company hopes to bring us all back and hopes that happens in three or so weeks. Time will tell. I think that is quite optimistic, but I am fairly heavy on the pessimistic side of the teeter-totter, so that is not saying much. 

For the immediate future what that means is that I have time on my hands. Like an amount which I have not had in quite a long time. This morning I woke up, did an exercise video, enjoyed a cup of coffee, tackled a couple of home projects, filed for unemployment, showered, and realized it was barely 10 a.m. I need goals. Daily goals. Maybe getting back to blogging should be one of those. It seems to be worth a try anyway, though I hardly remember how to do this. If it is supposed to be like riding a bike…I’m pretty sure I’m about to crash. 

As one might guess, a pandemic is difficult for everyone. And not to act like we are somehow more special than the rest of the world, but this is only exponentially compounded for people with mental illness. It is one thing to have the concerns of a disease (Coronavirus…not the Bipolar), but then on top of that, you have the concerns of a disease (Bipolar…not the Coronavirus). It is like having cancer, and then getting the flu. And if you do not think so, it is just because you are likely one of those who have yet to grasp the correlation between mental illness and physical illnesses. Yes, it is a real thing. 

I do not know where you live, but my state is currently a “stay-at-home” state. Probably would have shut down my place of employment in the immediate future anyway. At least this way I have access to income assistance. Such an order is in and of itself not totally devastating as I am not the most social of beings to begin with. Though that was a part of my 2020 goals that I was working fairly aggressively on. Well, aggressively for me. I do already miss my bi-weekly coffee gatherings with my best friend, and might even find myself missing the banter of the office before too long. 

I will not unload all of my stressors and concerns in this initial post, but I have a daughter living all alone in one of the epicenters of this whole thing. A son who lives with his girlfriend in another city. Of course I worry about them. I have a wife and two step-daughters joining me in this house for our “stay-at-home” experiment, and I think all three of them are concerned that I’m the wild card in this whole thing. A legitimate concern. Hell, I’m pretty sure that I’m the wild card in this whole thing. 

So here is what this will and will not be. It will continue to be what it has always been…a look inside the mind of someone struggling with bipolar in the midst of day-to-day life. Granted, a day-to-day life which has been radically altered over the past few days and weeks. It will not be an update on Covid-19 (well…unless I actually come down with it). There are more reliable places to obtain information on that and you are probably overloaded with it anyway. However, if you struggle with a mental illness or know someone who does, you may find this insightful. 
 
If nothing else, what else do you have to do? It seems like we all have plenty of time on our hands!
 

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, February 25th, 2018

The lack of societal progress in dealing with mental illness is as easy to see as attempting to determine if it is a disability. For this simple journey will make it rapidly clear that we still have no idea how to identify what we are dealing with.

This became clear to me during my recent (and latest of many) employment searches. Most applications now conclude with three voluntary questions that are largely demographic in nature. One dealing with gender. One dealing with military veteran status. But a third dealing with disabilities.

The questions itself could not make things clearer. It simply requires a yes, no, or choose not to disclose affirmation. For someone with a diagnosed illness, such as myself with bipolar, it gets even easier. Because it states in plain English, “Disabilities include, but are not limited to…” and then proceeds to list roughly 18 specific disabilities to include such mental illnesses as schizophrenia, major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD, and yes…bipolar.

Here is the logic: disabilities include bipolar. I have bipolar (as has been diagnosed by no less than a hand full of independent professionals). Therefore, I have a disability. Right? Not so fast.

If in fact you have a disability that severely limits your daily function and ability to adjust to daily work, you qualify for something called Social Security Disability Insurance.  However, in the case of bipolar, or a number of other mental illnesses, the emphasis should be put on “severely”. This is because the criteria to qualify for benefits becomes much greater than any criteria that were originally utilized to result in a concrete diagnosis.

Put another way, the system is set to credit corporations and business for diversity hires of us mentally crazed individuals, but not set to do anything to help us. Get them in the workforce, and keep them there. Short of announcing my legally private mental illness to the employer, there will not be any consideration of accommodations, or assistance for living with what has already been defined as a disability. Begging the questions, what do they think it disables me from doing?

Why do I care? I mean, I go to work. I have a job. I have stayed employed for the majority of the past 30 years. What should it matter to me?

It matters because work is the single largest deterrent to my quality of life. For people with depressive disorders, and others, getting out of bed in the morning is a major chore. That chore is followed by a second one of getting out the door and engaging in a profession. The vast majority of my emotional energy Monday through Friday is exhausted simply attempting to stay gainfully employed. Day after day. One step at a time.

Now, granted, I think our country suffers from a larger systemic problem. Namely, we have made work the centerpiece of our lives. Just compare time off in other developed countries to America. Especially as it relates to things such as maternity (and or paternity leave…total novelty!), sick time, and personal time (for such things as doctor visits, and basic life care that is almost impossible to take care of outside normal work hours). I am not advocating a country of sloths, but how did it ever become the intention that we work in order to be able to live rather than work as a part of living?

I am less than six months into my latest place of employment, and I am fried. I am largely sedentary for eight hours a day staring into a dual monitor set-up conducting data entry. I shake off the hangover of my medications in the morning just soon enough to plop down at my desk and fall back into a full-time stupor of what can at times be fairly mindless activity. But I had to change jobs. Again.

I had to find something with at least some time off. With at least some form of decent benefits. With at least some compensation that could pay a majority of the bills. And while my family, my sanity, and my overall personal life suffers…I come nowhere close to the government definition of someone in need of disability benefits.

Which is kind of ironic, because that same government has joined the long line of doctors declaring that I am in fact disabled.

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.