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?”
Life is hard.
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?”
Life is hard.
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.
…lack of concentration
followed by stuck in bed…
…and more pounds
…and more reminders.
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.
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.
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.
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.