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, February 8th, 2017

I need him to like me best. Not want. Not wish. Need.

No amount of study regarding rational emotions. No therapy. No medication. It does not appear that anything will change that. And that isn’t even the worst part.

He is a cat. A type of animal I have distained all my life and vowed never to share a domicile with. He’s not even my cat. My wife’s Valentine’s Day gift cat. And it gets even worse.

The moment prompting this reflection involved an elementary school age daughter. It appears that during the previous night when I was thoroughly drugged and thought the loyal feline was by my side, he had ventured to her room. Spent some time with her. Checked out some of the other relational options in the house.

Nope. We aren’t there yet. But we are getting closer. This  information saddened me. Then it frustrated me. Then…wait for it…it angered me. All within a rapidly escalatory matter of moments. So I attempted to come to the rescue of my absurd emotions.

“Well, you might have to start closing your door when you go to bed. We can’t have him waking you up on school nights.”

If you think this sounds like ridiculously childish behavior for a grown man, you’re right. It is. And now we have arrived.

Upon reflecting on these emotions for this cat and the subsequent interaction with my daughter, the internal humiliation begins. The loathing. The anger. The self-hatred.

It is a life cycle for myself. For thousands of us with Bipolar. For millions of us with a mental illness. We experience immature, over reaching, inappropriate emotions for a given situation. All of our therapy and treatment goes out the window as onlookers think we should just “grow up” or “get over” ourselves. Then, later, we do. And the knife cuts very deep. The knife of misunderstanding of what drove our motives. The knife of embarrassment. The knife of shame.

This time I started to binge eat. Some pretzels. A peanut butter and jelly roll-up. A Ding Dong. Child food for the grown man who had behaved like a child. And with each bite, I had another reason to hate himself.

Monday, August 29th, 6 a.m.

I tend to move through emotional states and stages rather rapidly. Jovial one minute. Angry as all get up the next. Cruising through my day before lunch. In deep depression after. More so off medication than on (duh). But I have yet to say anything unusual for an individual in the throws of Bipolar II.

While Friday had seen me quickly transition from denial to anger (as previously discussed as part of the Five Stages of Grief in my Friday, August 26th, Early Evening post) today would provide another opportunity to knock out a few more stages. Though I didn’t know that at the time.

Having survived the rather ‘less structured’ and thinner staffed weekend of a psychiatric ward, I awoke Monday morning ready to get on with life. I sat on my bed, grabbed a pencil and began drafting a plan for escaping the walls of this institution and returning to my life as I knew it prior to my little meltdown (yeah…I know, still some echoes of the “denial” phase hanging around). Phrased another way, I began to map out my “bargaining” (Stage Three) plan.

The plan was to serve a couple of purposes. First, to show that I was cognizant and aware of the realities of life. Family. Friends. Work. Looking back at the page of notes, it is almost comical to see that there is not a mention of aftercare. Almost.

Second, the way I figured it, anyone able to so clearly delineate his responsibilities, obligations and commitments couldn’t possibly be crazy (there’s that ol‘ “denial” again).

Third, I knew whatever was going on during my stay wasn’t free. In fact, the tab had to be running hard and fast. With an insurance policy carrying a $5,000 deductible and a few more grand in out-of-pocket maximum charges, I needed to get moving (little did I know those numbers had been blown by some time ago!).

Fourth, and most importantly to my well rested and to be quite honest somewhat bored mind,  it would get the ball rolling. While this was my first go around with mental health inpatient care, it was not my first go around with a hospital. A little over 18 months prior I had suffered a heart attack and spent a few days catching my breath at a half-dozen grand a day. Therefore, I was well aware that getting checked out was typically about as slow a process as getting admitted. If I wanted out before Thanksgiving (or say…Wednesday), I need to get things moving to help encourage others to do the same.

Anyone seeing why during my stay, evaluations and subsequent therapy it will be highlighted that I might have control issues?

I went to breakfast and came back to see what type of schedule had been written on my white board for my day of treatment. It was significantly different than the weekend. Namely, it was jammed with group sessions, treatment, teaching, and structure. Oh my.

I grabbed the handy dandy patient folder that I had been provided and began to notice there was a sheet for Monday. For Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Even Friday. There was a form explaining the “week long” format for recovery and treatment structure.

What already felt to me like Day 5, they were seeing as Day 1. What felt to me like a good time to start packing, they were seeing as time to get to work.

What felt to me like the opportunity for Stage Three Bargaining…was giving way to Stage Four Depression.

Monday, November 28th, 2016

As I laid on my bed, it hit me. I have always been afraid. Battling fear. Paralyzing, debilitating, irrational fear. Some might even describe it as paranoia.

In the early years of my childhood, I would wake up after everyone else had gone to sleep. The house completely dark, but haunted by endless sounds that all homes make. And while not the most logical next step, I would slowly get out of bed, and begin to search the entire home. Slowly peering around each corner. Opening each closet. Ever so quietly making sure that we were all alone and it would be safe to at least attempt sleep once again.

The searches continued into my teen years, but the fear grew intensively worse. Many nights I could not pull myself from the bed to conduct the search. I would lie there frozen. Not moving for fear of creating a sound that would draw a would-be intruder’s attention. Convinced that someone had entered the home, and would soon be harming us. Eventually falling back asleep due to mental and emotional exhaustion.

It should be noted that in the midst of these years were the endless nightmares. I don’t know at what age they actually began, but they have continued to present day. Not as frequent as they once were, and varying in their appearance at different phases of my life. Nightmares that play out horrific deaths. Of me. Nightmares that provide very real images of pain. Torture. Abuse. Acts that should have killed me, but during which I miraculously remain alive to continue enduring the onslaught. I digress.

As I entered my adult years, another element was added to the fear. My mind would begin to play out dramatic, emotionally horrific scenarios. Now, while awake. With my eyes open. It was like a whole new phase. First, nightmares while I slept. Second, paranoia while paralyzed in bed. And now, third, excruciating mental images while wide awake. Maybe it would be thinking through a sequence of events where a loved one dies. As my mind races forward through the time loop, I would tighten up. My nerves would come alive. I might even begin crying.

As my kids grew older this could take on a level that easily should have been addressed with therapy and medication. Let’s say my son was going out with friends after a high school football game. Everyone else in the home may be sound asleep. I would be in the living room. Imagining a knock on the door. A police officer informing me there had been a horrific accident. Advising me my son was no more. And I would sob. Sitting there. On a Friday night just like any other. Weeping over the death of my son…which was totally fabricated by my severely broken mind.

As I drove north on the interstate three months ago and began facing a paranoia like I thought I had never before experienced it struck me as odd. I didn’t see myself as struggling with fear. As being a frightened person.

Now I see it. Because it has always been here. Another puzzle with many pieces I had never placed together. Another piece in the larger puzzle of my Bipolar mind.

Today I still struggle with occasional nightmares. I can still play out the dramatic, emotional, painfully weighted scenarios in my racing mind. I constantly battle trust issues which can tie directly to fears of being hurt. Pain. Sorrow. In my challenge to separate my rational from irrational thoughts, days in which I fail to do so can bring back so much of this past.

At FDR’s first inaugural address he is known to have said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” 

For me…that’s more than enough!