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, February 20th, 2018

Doctor: “On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being your best day ever, how have you been feeling?”

Me: “Wow…umm…2? Maybe 3?”

Doctor: “Damn.”

 

Life is hard.

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.

Present Day, November 21, 2017

Reminders…

…pills

…therapy

…paranoia

…dark depression

…racing thoughts

…no pleasure

…irritability

…pills

…constant fatigue

…suicide ideation

…shame

…medication management

…lack of concentration

…pills

…lethargic living

…instant anger

…insomnia…

followed by stuck in bed…

…catastrophizing

…more pills

…and more pounds

…and more reminders.

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 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.