Present Day, April 28th, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 23

I have daddy issues. Where to begin with them would be a larger challenge than I am interested in undertaking today. 51 years of history is a lot to try and rehash. Leave it to say there is a past that includes emotional and physical abuse. Therefore, at the advice of numerous professionals, following my hospitalization, I cut all contact with him (and my mom). That was in 2016.

As time passed and I began to feel more managed in my illness, I hesitantly reached out an olive branch to him. We started to communicate once again. Sporadically. Superficially. Electronically. But communication nonetheless. I cannot even remember when this was. I do not know if it is the bipolar, or medications, or old age, or whatever else it could possibly be, but I have great difficulty with memories and dates.  I would guess it was maybe a year ago. Give or take. We had definitely been shut down for multiple years.

I digress, what is the point of all this? Simply to try, and in incredibly inadequate terms, communicate that our relationship has been strained at best. Which makes it difficult to know how to respond in times like this. Not times like a pandemic. Times like a heart attack. As in, he had one. A rather major one.

This past weekend he was admitted to an ER. They attempted a heart catheterization but found three blockages too major to handle with stints. So tomorrow or the next day they will be going in for a triple bypass. Open heart surgery.

He is currently in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Not that he is from there. He is from Northern California but was traveling on business when he had the heart issues. My mom is with him, sort of. With the Covid-19 restrictions, she is unable to actually enter the hospital and actually be “with him”. And I am here. Across the country. The semi-estranged son, responding to the situation as best I know how through text messages of support and interest.

Of course, this gets one’s mind racing through all kinds of thoughts. Due to our relationship, I had already wondered what I would do if my father ever passed away. Would I attend the funeral? Would I be emotionally/mentally in a place to face my family whom I have not seen for years upon years? Would it even be healthy for me to do so, physically or mentally? Would it be more unhealthy for me to not say “good-bye”? What does it even mean to say “good-bye” and does it matter whether it is done in person or from a distance? These questions have been thrown around in therapy, but never with any resolution. Never with any gameplan or finality. And yet, within hours, not likely, but possibly, an answer could be needed.

Of course, the pandemic adds all kinds of layers to the thinking. Or maybe not so many. There is the risk of catching Covid-19 during travel. There is the challenge of social distancing at all times, including a funeral. There is a need to self-quarantine for 14 days upon returning to my home state. And there is all the anxiety that plays into these realities for my bipolar mind to wrestle with.

I have a therapy session tomorrow. He often asks, “So, what are we going to talk about today?” and I often answer, “Well, I don’t know.”

Guess that will not be a problem this week. We will see if we can come to any finality this time around.

Present Day, April 15th, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 14

My wife and I have had some rough days during this period of lockdown, stay-at-home, whatever they are referring to it as where you live. Some rough days with some rough arguments. Not that we did not ever argue before COVID-19. Just that the current circumstances can amplify disagreements and conflict.

Our arguments have a typical pattern. Maybe not unlike that of many people. Someone initiates the discussion. The other person responds. Point, counterpoint begins to take over. Emotions, and often volumes begin to escalate. Eventually, someone has had enough and decides to punch out of the conversation. More times than not, this is me. I become emotionally overloaded and simply check out. I rarely walk out of the room or even declare that I have had enough. I just stop interacting. I am done.

My wife and I were discussing this pattern today when she made an interesting comment. I will not claim to quote her word for word here, but she had agreed with my above-described assessment. And then came the interesting comment. She indicated that the challenging part for her was not knowing when my normal self had left and my bipolar brain had taken over (that is the part I do not claim to have down word for word). What I got her to be saying as the discussion continued was that she did not know when the common, everyday me turned off and the bipolar me turned on.

And here is the thing. There is no point because it does not turn on. Why? Because it does not turn off. It is one of those ironic things about how we differentiate mental illness from a physical illness. We would never suspect a cancer patient of having times that they can just turn off their cancer. If a person suffers from diabetes, we do not wonder at what point of the day they turn on their disease. Lupos, Chrone’s, ALS, MS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s…we may refer to “flare-ups” or “bad spells” but we recognize that the good times are not times of miraculous healing. They are just that…good times. The carrier is still sick. The illness is still present. They have what they have.

People tend to look at it differently with mental illness. There is almost an implied assumption that it came with an ON/OFF switch. The only difference between our good times and our bad is our choice to throw the switch. Losing an argument, turn on bipolar. Feel like going a little manic, flip on the bipolar. Weather sucks for the third day in a row, hit that bipolar switch.

I have pretty much vowed from the start that I would never claim to be the spokesperson for bipolar, so I will not be today. I can only speak from my own experience, and that experience is that my mental illness did not come with a switch. Can I manage it better at some times than at others? You bet. Therapy, meds, sleep tracking, and other steps can make me feel almost “normal” at times. But I am not. I still have bipolar. And a slight deviation from the plan can make that abundantly clear fairly quickly.

My hunch is that it is the same for most people with a mental illness. Some days are better than others. Some weeks can feel almost triumphant. Some months might almost even go so smoothly that the illness does not dominate our thoughts and lives. But we are still sick.

I ended the conversation with my wife by trying to give her the most simple piece of advice I knew to give. When it came to trying to know when the regular me was shutting off and the bipolar me was turning on…just remember, it is always the bipolar me. Everything goes through my bipolar mind. It is always turned on.

I think it was about as comforting as being told your spouse has cancer.

Present Day, April 8th, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 9

The weather is about to take a turn. After a number of very springlike days with highs in the 70s and lows in the sleeping with windows open range, it is all about to drop about 20 some degrees. Coupled with some clouds and rain, things will likely feel more like England or Seattle for the next 10 or so days. Which will present some new challenges to my stay-at-home lifestyle.

I do not know the process or clinical procedures for being diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), nor am I looking for another diagnosis to go along with my Bipolar. I just know I am one of those people who does better when the sun is shining. Who does better when I can relax outside in any number of ways on a 75-degree day. I have a daughter that absolutely loves the rain. I just do not get it, nor do as well in it under normal circumstances. And that is under “normal” circumstances, which we are far from living in.

I have had a pretty good morning routine going for the last few days. The weather has allowed me to enjoy an invigorating bike ride each morning as part of my exercise commitment. I am trying to avoid putting on the COVID-30 (no…not another virus…another 30 pounds). So daily exercise is part of the plan. However, I am used to having a gym to go to which is no longer a luxury. So my choice is the bike or these god awful workout videos that motivate my wife on a daily basis but I absolutely disdain. Unfortunately, the change in weather will mean a change to the videos. At least for the short term.

I have also enjoyed a daily afternoon walk with my dog. The weather is not changing so severely as to eliminate that, but we have really been taking our time on the strolls. No hurry at all. Depending on the weather, they may have to become more purposeful. Less relaxing and enjoyable. Less therapeutic.

If all this sounds like I am just being a whinny ass wimp, I probably am. It has been very difficult for me to establish a routine and rhythm to this period of life. To any period of life. Routine is critical for me to begin with, as with many people suffering from a mental illness. Now more than ever. Any disruption to that can be very unsettling during what is already a highly unsettling time. So the thought of having to “mix things up” really can mix my mind up.

I did a quick Google to try and obtain some advice for dealing with derailed plans as someone living with bipolar. First suggestion, do not panic. Okay, so it is a tad bit late for that one, but I feel my panic is still at a level that I can reel back in. Next suggestion, find a solution and adjust my schedule to accommodate the situation. Third? No, that is it. In other words, stay calm and carry on. Easier said than done.

When I wake up tomorrow it will be a new day requiring a new plan from the previous handful of days. Here goes nothing!

 

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.