Present Day, April 12th, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 11B

It is easter. Easter Sunday. A very weird day for me.

Today I consider myself an atheist, which combines with my lack of belief in the easter bunny to make this a fairly irrelevant day. That is a polar opposite for me.

You see, I spent the majority of my adult life in “Christian” ministry. Quite a few years of it as an actual pastor, and some in para-church ministry. This followed being raised as a pastor’s kid for the first 18 years of my life. All of which meant that easter used to be the day. I am talking the day of the year. Sure, Christmas had the gifts and gatherings, but easter had the resurrection. The whole church year was built around it. This was the day people would come to church that would not come any other day. This was the day we would cook the ultimate of feasts (well…maybe second to Thanksgiving). This was the day of candy, baskets, egg hunts and family. For the first 40 plus years of my life, this was the day of the year.

Now? It is nothing. Just another Sunday on the calendar. Granted, with plenty of Facebook and Instagram reminders of what day it is. Hell, even the Green Bay Packers account wished me a Happy Easter! But for me, nothing.

I have not blogged for a few days because each of the last few days have been just another day on the calendar. Very nondescript. Uneventful. Unworthy of memory.

I have not really felt deeply depressed, nor have I felt inspired. I do not know if I would call it a funk or a groove, but I have just been going through the motions. Up in the morning for coffee and social media trolling. Exercise. Shower and dress. Spend some time reading. Spend some time in mindfulness. Lunch. An episode of Black Mirror (highly addicted!). Maybe read some more. Maybe doze in and out of a nap. Walk the dog. Help cook, eat and clean-up dinner. Read some more. (Getting bored yet…I know that I am?) Eventually, call it a night and head to bed for more reading before floating off to sleep.

Some other activities mix in here and there and I blog about them if they are anything noteworthy, but most of them are not. Picking up groceries. Watching Jeopardy. Texting my kids to make sure they are still healthy and safe.

I attempted a gratitude journal today, but it was as forced as I imagined it would be. A couple of items that I am thankful for, and a few others that I “wished” I would feel thankful for. It seems like that is a start. Wishing to be thankful for something. Wanting that old attitude of gratitude. Hoping that someday such a journal will not feel like such a chore. Maybe I will try again tomorrow.

I guess my mood pretty much matches the weather. Overcast. Not warm, but not cold. Windy. Rain on the way in.

Looking forward to better days. Because easter is no longer the day.

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”.

Present Day, April 2nd, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 5

Today I got an unexpected call. It came from my place of employment. Or is it former employment. Really not sure how I am supposed to look at it. Nevertheless, they were calling to let me know they were ready for me to come back. One week from tomorrow, they would like me to return to work. Full-time. Permanently.

I was really quite surprised for a few reasons. One, we are not life-sustaining or essential as a business per the governor of our state’s guidelines. So I have been surprised we are still open and operating, to begin with. Two, I figured when I was furloughed it would likely match up with the rest of the state’s shutdowns and would last for quite some time, not just two weeks. Three, they furloughed a number of us and I guessed I would be one of the last ones called back. However, it looks like I am one of the first, and that they are going to be furloughing more people even after I return. What sense does that make?

Of course, a huge question to wrestle with at this point is how do I feel about all this. First, there is my personal safety and the wellbeing of my family. When I was furloughed, the workplace was not doing a good job of social distancing, wearing masks, disinfecting and all the other measures that are supposed to be a part of keeping this thing from spreading. I am not comfortable exposing myself to that environment again, but I do not know if I have the option of just saying “No” and still retaining my job down the line.

Second…well, hell, I do not know if there is a second, third, fourth or whatever. There is just a huge question mark of uncertainty over this. It is not a job I enjoy. In fact, my time there has compounded my depression at times and made my journey with my mental illness even more challenging. I have been looking for work for more than a year, but just cannot land anything outside of this. And of course, now is not exactly the prime time to be interviewing for a job.

On the other hand, I have not adjusted well to the time allotted me being home all day. I do not think my presence is helpful to the family, nor am I finding mental health in the small semblance of a routine that I have tried to establish. So if I manage to stay healthy, maybe getting back in the flow of a regular work routine is all for the best.

It is the proverbial rock and a hard place. I know returning to work is a great concern for my wife and my children. They reasonably see us in a pandemic and figure the prudent course of action is the safe course of action that is staying home. On the other hand, coming out of this without permanent employment is a highly daunting proposition in and of itself.

I have some time on my hands between now and then, and really need to brainstorm any questions or concerns I might have related to returning to work. It does seem reasonable for them to have to provide me a basic assurance of safety…at least, as much assurance as can be provided during this time.

Then again, if there is anything that we are learning right now it is that nothing is assured.

Present Day, September 25th, 2018

Almost five and a half months. Still the blogging screen is blank.

Retreats. Books. Life events. All the usual, reliable prompts. But nothing.

It isn’t really a writer’s block. That’s for people who write for income, or entertainment, or pleasure.

I write for therapy. For reflection. For healing.

So it isn’t really a traditional writer’s block lacking inspiration and creativity. It is a lack of medicine. A lack of progress. A lack of health.

And it is one of many signs to be mindful of. There are others.

I have no desire to do…well…just about anything.

A weight loss plan that was highly successful through the first four months of the year has stalled out. Even begun heading the other direction. The self-discipline…self-motivation is gone. Again.

Ironic, because I’m not truly hungry for anything. Restaurants disappoint. Grocery shopping is merely requisite. I can eat the same food night after night after night after…well, you get the idea.

Stamp collecting. Sports watching. Camping. Hiking. All of it. Just motions.

Truth be told these are the spells that grip those of us who suffer from clinical depression. Sure, everybody to some extent, but these are not just periods of feeling down. They are extensive valleys. Valleys that can turn from days to weeks to months. Valleys that can rob us of energy, enthusiasm, enjoyment. Valleys that can black out a computer screen for five and a half months.

Which brings me to this moment. This moment that is called forced blogging. Push the keys one at a time. Put words on the screen. Run sentences together until a paragraph is formed. Then another. And another. Paragraphs that may serve as stepping stones for climbing out of the valley.

Not for income, entertainment or pleasure.

For therapy. For reflection. For healing.

Present Day, November 26, 2017

‘Tis the season.

No time of year is probably more defining of my plunge into mental illness than the holidays. There was a time in my life when I lived for November 1st. When the day after Halloween launched two months of thanksgiving, joy, celebration, and happiness. Don’t get me wrong, there were still the challenges, arguments, and stresses that come with any two month period of life…but they were tempered by decorations, music, and those glorious days off of work.

Now I would describe it as being marked by a huge unknown. The unknown of what emotions will hit me, when they will hit me, and what they will do to my overall psyche.

For example, today was to be decorating day. You know, haul out the holly…deck the halls…stringing up the lights. And it still is. There is a box sitting to my left and three more hours of daylight with which I am to get the outside lights hung. But I simply don’t have it in me. Haven’t all day. Tried Christmas carols playing in the shower. Tried moving around the pieces of a Dickens-like miniature village. Tried looking over wish lists and contemplating Christmas gifts for those I love. None of it works.

Why? I don’t know. I have enjoyed a four-day Thanksgiving break which included quality family time, visits with my out of town children, and lots and lots and lots of rest. The weather is nearly ideal for this time of year. Sunny. 50s. Perfect for walks, taking in fresh air, and avoiding the sedentary indoor trap that can come with the tryptophan coma. Two date nights with my wife in the past week. And the prospects of just four more weeks until a 10 and a half day…yep, 10 and a half day Christmas break!

But still the darkness. The sadness. The loneliness.

I worry about the direction my life is going. The trajectory. On a scale of 1 to 10, the existence of medications has given me a fairly steady and consistent year, but one that I had always described as being about a 4. The last few months, it feels more like a 3.5…maybe a 3. My environment has improved (employment, home life, relationships, etc.), but my emotions seem to continue to slide downhill. Depression has gone from simply the norm, to a deeper and darker daily hole that I have to climb out of each morning simply to manage a shower and climb in my truck in time to arrive at work.

A medication change has been prescribed to attempt to counter this direction, and we will see if it does. Ironically enough, the next 30 days may make it hard to tell. They can be filled with so much happiness while simultaneously serving as such a period of struggle for so many people. Myself included. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” while simultaneously being one of the least predictable. Especially with a mind that can do its own thing and turn left right when you are longing for it to turn right.

‘Tis the season. The season of the unknown.

Present Day, October 24, 2017

The other day someone called me Grumpy. Not like, “Are you feeling grumpy today?” Or “You’re acting kinda grumpy.” More like, “You ARE grumpy.” And the truth is, I agree.

I could make all kinds of excuses. I’m dieting. God knows that never helps. I exercise every day, and hate every minute of it. The weather has been pretty gloomy recently. Life’s schedule has been pretty hectic as of late. I suffer from a number of areas which seem to be chronic pain. And oh, by the way, I am bipolar and seemingly constantly battle depression.

However, truth be told, I think it is more ingrained in me than that. I think it goes back further than that. I have always been known as a very intense individual. Often accused of taking much of life and what it throws my way too seriously. Throughout my years the label pessimist has found its way to my side as people get to know me and spend time with me. My parents have this old black and white Polaroid picture of me that they would always refer back to. I’m less than a year old. Laying on my belly in the grass. Propped up on my elbows. And I have this look on my face that some major life challenge in need of a complex solution is rattling around in my little brain. Or if you look at it from another perspective, I look like a grumpy old man.

I FEEL grumpy, which I am sure doesn’t help. I have times of laughter, joy and being entertained with life…but they aren’t the majority. I daily think about and miss my adult children. I constantly fret over my weight but feel the addicting pull of food. I miss things like camping and attending pro sporting events. Yet I am simultaneously consumed with financial concern and worry. My negative thoughts far outweigh my positive and I’m left feeling grumpy. Or not feeling…just…am. I AM grumpy.

After my psychiatric hospitalization last year I noticed a sensation inside of me. I felt like a shell of who I once was. Other events in my life have robbed me of some of that essence, but this experience left a noticeable sense of emptiness. A feeling of never again being able to quite be who I once had been. Maybe this is part of the process of becoming grumpy. Of evolving into this grumpy old man that I find myself seeing in the mirror.

Hopefully, life changes will help. A new job with reasonable hours and quality benefits. Losing weight. Camping. Staying connected with the kids through modern technology. Maybe this grumpy man doesn’t have to become a grumpy OLD man.

But for now, that person was right. I AM grumpy.

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.