Present Day, April 7th, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 8

One of the ways recommended for getting out of your own head is to do something for someone. Some type of act of kindness. Maybe volunteer at a soup kitchen or a food bank. Help out at a homeless shelter. Assist with a literacy program.

While the recent outbreak of COVID-19 has not eliminated such opportunities, it has definitely made them a greater challenge. On top of that, in recent years I had gotten disconnected from much community service as I have simply tried to keep my own shit together. For better or for worse.

However, one very simple and basic way that I try to “give back” is by donating blood. It really could not be less of a big deal for me as I have no problem with needles (I watch the entire process so intently it is probably a bit creepy for the phlebotomist), it only takes about an hour out of my day every few months, and I am even rewarded through various donor programs with such things as t-shirts, mugs, and movie tickets.

Even this has been somewhat challenged by the recent dynamics in society. They have put out a number of calls for donors during these times, and the calls have been answered. At least, they were a few weeks ago. I made an appointment for my wife and me to donate. On the day of our donation, we went to the blood center only to find it packed with people. We were told it would be a two-hour wait, even with an appointment, and there was clearly no space for the number of people they had in line as far as social distancing was concerned. They simply were accepting too many walk-ins for us to feel safe. Regretfully, we left and figured we would just have to give it another try at another time.

A few days ago I decided to give it another go and booked another appointment. This one, for today. Upon arrival at the parking lot I could tell that the circumstances were very different, and when I reached the door it was clear as to why. They had gone to an appointment-only basis. There were a few other differences as well. All the employees were wearing masks (as was myself and a number of the clients). Before check-in, I was asked if I felt healthy today, and also if I had traveled out of the country or to New York in the past 14 days. They wanted to know if I had been exposed to anyone who had tested positive for the virus. My forehead was scanned for my temperature, and then and only then was I allowed to approach the check-in counter and report for my appointment. Tables and chairs had been removed to thin out the waiting area and space people further apart.

From there forward things proceeded as normal. Blood pressure, pulse and finger prick. Lie back and squeeze the stress ball a few times. The customary multiple stabs to strike a vein (I have tough veins to find apparently…multiple efforts are always required). Roughly ten minutes of blood flowing into a pint-size bag, and a handful of test tubes. Like I said, for me…no big deal.

It felt good to do something that I am at least told is a good thing to do. To do something that might land beyond my world and help someone in theirs.

I wish I could do more. In what now seems like different lives I worked for a rescue mission. I once directed a residential addiction recovery program. Not anymore. The mental and emotional fortitude required for such work is no longer there. Maybe it never truly was, but definitely not since my breakdown. So I have to settle for more basic acts. Like serving on my daughter’s high school marching band food crew, or donating blood. Simpler things for a simpler man.

Maybe when things die down and the world goes back to normal I will be able to discover something more. Something regular. Something more frequent than every two or three months. But for now…for today…this was my act of kindness. My act outside my own head, that hopefully will mean something to someone else.

Present Day, April 3rd, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 6

It had been scheduled weeks ago. Maybe months. I do not really remember. Just like the plans of so many others. A Spring Break get-away. For us, one of the family favorite activities: camping. Reservations in place. A great break in the weather. Three days away from “it all.”

Then, as it has for everyone, everything changed. Not actually until the last minute for us. It was just last night that the governor closed the state park campgrounds for overnight stays. We almost made it. Nevertheless, the order came down, the campgrounds were closed, and vacation plans had to be altered. It is just the new normal.

In this case, for this time, it meant pulling the camper into the yard and setting it up for a staycation. Same dinner, just cooked inside and then eaten outside on camping chairs. Same games of ladder ball. And for my wife and the girls, the same sleeping accommodations. I just cannot be this close to my bed and pass up the opportunity to sleep in it.

You really have to go with the flow during this time. That is not my specialty. I am easily derailed and frustrated. I am trying to be less rushed and more patient. Trying.

I took our dog for a walk this afternoon. The usual route that I typically hope to navigate in about 35 to 45 minutes time. I took a different approach today. It was sunny and mid-60s outside. So I just let the pooch set the pace. She tends to stop and sniff…a lot. Normally I give a tug on the leash and encourage her to keep moving. Not today. Today I just let her sniff. I kept telling myself, “What’s the hurry?” “What do you have to get back to?” “What else do you have to do?” The end result was a walk that took about an hour, and still get me home in plenty of time for…well, nothing.

Truth be told, I continue to struggle. Struggle with depression. Struggle with anxiety. Struggle with getting my head around this whole situation we are in. The old saying says “One day at a time”, but I cannot think of another time in my life that I was living more hour to hour. Activity to activity. Just trying to pass time, make it to the next activity, complete another day.

It is terrible thinking that there are months of this still to come. And that even with that, literally hundreds of people may die! How are we not supposed to be afraid? How are we supposed to “feel” healthy or normal? How is someone with a mental illness supposed to manage their condition in the midst of this?

The family is in the backyard cooking s’mores. I should just join them and act like everything is okay. At least for tonight. At least for the next few hours of this staycation. But that is so hard for me. I just want to meltdown and scream. I just want to crawl into bed and weep. I just want to find a new way to get away from “it all”.

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.

 

February 18th, 2017 – Musical Truths

Run away, run away if you can’t speak
Turn a page on a world that you don’t need
Wide awake and you’re scared that you won’t come down now

Didn’t I tell you, you were gonna break down
Didn’t I warn you, didn’t I warn you
Better take it easy, try to find a way out
Better start believing in yourself

We build it up, we tear it down
We leave our pieces on the ground
We see no end, we don’t know how
We are lost and we’re falling
Hold onto me
You’re all I have, all I have
Hold onto me
You’re all I have, all I have

Now and then there’s a light in the darkness
Feel around till you find where your heart went
There’s a weight in the air but you can’t see why, why