The Next 100: Time for a Tour!

This is post 101. That’s right, the first post of the second one hundred. Not bad for a blog that is less than one year old. And it seems like a good time to give you an idea of what I am trying to accomplish here. A quick tour of The Man On A Train. So here goes…

First, I originally set out to provide an inside look. Inside the mind of someone who is mentally ill, and being hospitalized. When I was taken into protective custody last fall, it was the first time in my almost fifty years of life that my illness had reached the point of being placed under psychiatric care. The experience was loaded with fear. Loaded with images of movie depicted institutions. Loaded with misconceptions. So I wanted to provide some insight as to what it can look like to obtain the kind of help that some of us need when a full-fledged admission is required.

These entries can be identified by their titles which begin with a date stamp occurring during the last week of August and first week of September (i.e. Thursday, August 25th, 5 p.m.). While no year is included, these events transpired in late summer 2016. These entries can also be searched via the “Categories” tool on the right side of the blog under the heading “Out of Town”.

Second, I wanted to share the after. What is it like to attempt to pick up the pieces after a complete meltdown? Breakdown? Loss of all sanity? It is not like they discharge you and all is well. We are not “fixed” near that easy. Knowing that the hospitalization was merely the beginning of another chapter or book of my life, I wanted to continue the story.

These entries can be identified by their titles which begin with “Present Day” followed by the actual day I am reflecting on (i.e. Present Day, July 12, 2017). Another way to isolate these entries is by utilizing the “Categories” tool under the heading “Back Home”.

Third, I love music. A massive variety of music. And music lyrics speak to me. Very directly. So I decided that every Saturday I would post a song containing words that I thought were particularly relevant to my journey and battle with mental illness. Some are sad. Some are upbeat. Some are heavy. Some are light. But all of them share a common thread of being songs that I can sing with the sense of being or having been right where the lyrics land.

And yes, these also have a simple way of being isolated. Utilize the “Categories” tool and search for the heading “Music for the Road” (i.e. July 15th, 2017 – Musical Truths… though based on the number of entries I have either missed a few weeks or failed to get all of them dropped into the right category).

There is a fourth category that I have yet to get to: the before. What was life like before the meltdown? Before the breakdown? When did I first know I had a mental illness? Or that something simply wasn’t right? How did I find out about it? What ways did I live in denial of it until denial was no longer a possibility? Which events in my life shaped the deterioration of my mental, emotional, and psychological health? Who was I or did I think I was, before I became who I am or who I think I am?

I don’t know if I will ever get to this fourth category. For now, the first three are keeping my plate full. But when I do, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Hopefully, this helps make more sense of just where this journey of The Man on a Train is going. Whether you want to know what life inside the hospital walls was like, how I’m struggling through the journey today, or are just looking for some music to speak for you when words don’t seem to come…I hope you will find my walk a helpful part of yours.

Peace.

Present Day, July 12th, 2017

Quality of life.

An improved quality of life.

Sitting in my therapist office, reflecting on his traditional opening question (“So, what are we going to talk about today?”), I found myself giving that answer. Because that is what I had reflected on recently. That is what my mind had been on during the drive over. That was what I had come to believe needed to be a significant goal for me going forward.

As the one year anniversary of my hospitalization (and subsequent release) approaches, I have been faced with the reality of having survived the breakdown. Since the first week of September last year, I have avoided any episodes along the lines or magnitude of that horrific week. It has not been easy. At times, harder than hell. But I have managed. I have given intense focus to the big three (Sleep, Therapy, Medications), and have tried to consider most other things the minors to those majors. I have attempted to reward myself more, punish myself less, recognize small accomplishments, and let other takers be my worst enemy rather than fulfilling that role myself. But that all has left me with the question, “Now what?”

That is what has been stuck in my craw (because in Kentucky, we use phrases like that). Now what? Or, put another way. Possibly a more negative way. The question might go like this: “Is this really as good as it gets?” Is this the way I need to anticipate living the rest of my life? Is this the best I can do? This combination of drugs providing this baseline of emotions just this side of depression. This cycle of sleep merging nights and naps and zombie like periods of awake. This week after week battle to get out of bed and knock another seven days off the calendar.Having survived the big scare, it seems logical that my attention might shift to the year after. And dare I venture to let my mind explore the possibility not merely of having survived, but now attempting to find a way to thrive.

Having survived the big scare, it seems logical that my attention might shift to the year after. And dare I venture to let my mind explore the possibility not merely of having survived, but now attempting to find a way to thrive.

I have set some goals as to what this might look like. First, I have more than five months left in the insurance year with my out-of-pocket limit reached. Therefore, I will be meeting with my medications coordinator next Tuesday and asking her if we might experiment a bit. Venture away from the only cocktail I have utilized since leaving the hospital in an effort to find something that leaves me a little less comatose. A little less down. A little less fat!

Second, the employment situation simply does not seem sustainable for the long haul of my life. The doctors in Chicago didn’t think it was. The team at home seems to question whether it is. My own physical and mental stability seems to doubt it. Granted, for us bipolar, few employment situations seem sustainable for the long haul, but I do think there are three standards I can improve on: a) a later wake-up time than 3 a.m., b) weekends off, and c) the ability to accrue some paid time off (i.e. vacation). Seems reasonable, right? In four more weeks, I will have two children living out-of-state, and I need the opportunity to visit them. This job simply does not afford that. Financially, or time wise.

Finally, and this one is so hard, I have to lose some weight. I’m up 20 lbs since leaving the hospital…as the staff there suggested it would be easy to be. I’m up 30 lbs since losing almost 50 roughly three years ago. It takes a toll on me physically, emotionally, and motivationally. So as much as I disdain working out and dieting…I have to lose weight if I want to improve my quality of life.

For much of this, I have less idea of how to make it happen than I do the need for it to happen. But this is the next year before me. A year of quality of life. A year of improved quality of life. As long as I’m going to stick around, seems like I might as well enjoy doing so.

 

Present Day, May 7th, 2017

There is this thing called “The Wise Mind”. If you are not familiar with it, here is the 30-second overview.

It is assumed that we operate through two different lenses within our mind. There is the Reasonable Mind. The Reasonable Mind is largely based on research. Statistics. The ability to make decisions based on the information that is provided. Analysing it and thinking it through to a “reasonable” solution.

Then there is the Emotional Mind. The Emotional Mind is largely based on…well, emotions. Whichever ones are present at the time: fear, anxiety, joy, happiness, anger, stress, and the list goes on and on. The emotions of the moment hold sway in bringing about an “emotional” decision.

The Wise Mind is located in the Venn diagram overlap. It is able to take reasonable information, combine it with emotional feedback, and come to a place of wise decision making.

Healthy people spend the majority of their time operating from the position of the Wise Mind. Especially as the decision looms larger with its ramifications and impacts. However, I would contend that MOST people operate with at least some leaning towards the Reasonable Mind or the Emotional Mind. Not necessarily an unhealthy leaning, but a bias none the less. This contention on my part is not without plenty of agreeance, potentially including yourself. It is all very similar to the right brain/left brain theories many of us grew up listening to.

I would also contend that unhealthy people (especially HIGHLY unhealthy people) are operating from an almost exclusive Reasonable or Emotional mind position. AND…that as you delve into the world of emotionally or mentally ill individuals, you will find an exclusive mind operation in many instances.

Which brings me (or us) to me (or us). Here is what I believe I have learned about myself recently through reading, studying, reflecting and therapy interaction regarding the Wise Mind.

First, on a day-to-day basis, I have grown up through the first 40-plus years of my life operating with a Reasonable Mind largely to the exclusion of the Emotional Mind. I thrive on intellect. Logic. Information. Data. Facts. The tangibles. Let me emphasise, not only with a leaning towards the Reasonable Mind but with a barrier being erected to block out the Emotional Mind. And for a given period of time, things progress rather smoothly.

Then along comes a trigger event. A piece of information. A moment of activity. A human interaction. Something that the Reasonable Mind can not make sense of. It simply cannot handle it in and of itself. However, due to the barrier, rather than being able to move into the locale of the Wise Mind, the pendulum radically swings to break through the wall into the Emotional Mind causing a complete meltdown. Now decisions instantly begin to be made from strictly an emotional point of view. Illogical. Radical. Fear founded decisions.

Proactive becomes reactive. Rational becomes irrational. Informed becomes ignorant.

Looking back, the people who have witnessed these swings in my life have most often responded to my rantings with “You aren’t making any sense.” (i.e. Not reasonable) Or “What’s going on?” (i.e. This isn’t making any sense) Maybe “Where is this coming from?” (i.e. These dots don’t logically connect)

It’s coming from a place of complete imbalance. A mind operating like a teeter-totter with the evil kid on the playground doing that thing where he pushes off the ground with all his might to send you on a downward death spiral only to immediately drop his fat ass to the ground again and shoot you right back up in the air.

Ironically enough, the solution seems quite logical. As I operate from the place of the Reasonable Mind I need to continually be pressing myself to open up more and more emotionally so that I might find myself moving towards center. Towards the home of the Wise Mind.

Problem is, one of the other factors working in the Reasonable Mind is past experiences. And past experience tells me this side of the wall is where I want to stay.

Present Day, April 30th, 2017

I live my life in constant conflict with myself. If not constant, nearly. My recent encounter with a kidney stone once again provided a stark example of this reality.

There is my personality, and then there is my illness. Not the kidney stone one. The other.

My personality is one of those somewhat hard care, highly driven, perfectionistic, some use the label…Type A personalities. That means my thinking is often characterised by a spirit of “suck it up.” Other phrases that commonly spew forth from my mouth are, “life’s not fair”, “deal with it”, “it is what it is”, “quit complaining and move on”…you get the idea. Worse yet, you have probably encountered someone like myself and these past few lines immediately brought them to mine. Double worse yet (if there is such a thing), you also are such a person.

Then there is my illness. Bipolar. Which, while once would have provided me with the identifying label of being a manic depressive, the more I age just provides me with the label depressive. I find my bouts with depression to come more frequently and more intensely. And they are polar (see what I did there…) opposite to the mentality of my personality.

In fact, the reality is that the depressed person has a counter to each of my spiritual pep rallying cries –

“Quit complaining and move on”but I don’t want to.

“It is what it is”but it shouldn’t be.

“Deal with it”but I don’t know how to.

“Life’s not fair”but it should be.

“Suck it up”but I can’t.

As a parent, I know the frustration of seeing a child down in the “mulligrubs” and unable to coax them out of it with a little cheerleading. Unable to do that for myself? Well, that’s just plain debilitating.

So I wrestle internally. At times my personality gives way to a greater sense of compassion for the other in front of me, and on very rare occasion the person inside of me. At those times, I find it in me to just be present rather than to be a drill sergeant. On other rare occasions, I am successful at picking another up by their bootstraps or even pulling myself from a plunge towards darkness through more tender and kind words of encouragement. Most of the time? I just wrestle.

Wrestle between a personality that is telling me not to cry over spilt milk and an illness that just wants to crawl back under the covers and cry.