Present Day, January 7th, 2018

It is interesting how life changes us. I am not going to argue the issue is maturity. Or experience. Or any single factor. Life, collectively, just changes us. And at times that can mean something we once wore as a badge of honor becomes something unattractive to us. In fact, the inverse activity or thought processing of the badge may actually become what we find ourselves striving for.

Rather than talking in circles, let me give you two of my own life examples.

First, multi-tasking. I was raised to believe it was imperative, and even as recently as a 2017 job interview touted my ability to multitask with the best of them. Two. Three. Four or more. I can keep all the plates spinning. I can handle multiple things all at once. I found pride in living life like the moron I saw driving the other day with a cigarette in one hand, a burger in the other, and maneuvering in the driver compartment in a manner which suggested that the car had to be a stick shift! I was appalled, as most people witnessing it would be. Yet somehow it is considered successful, even normal, to live the day-in day-outs of life in the same manner.

Now, it is the opposite that I long for and am striving for. Single focus. The ability to do one thing at a time. In fact, you really want to find a person with some intense mental ability, ask them that at a job interview… “Are you capable of, with distractions coming from all directions, staying focused on a single task?” In this day of social media, cell phone notifications, and multi-screen workstations I can’t help but wonder if the greater skill is not the ability to do one thing at a time. To manage oneself on a one-track path. To be fully present in one place, with one thing or person, at a given time.

Second, with some correlations to the first, “to do” lists. I lived for them. The creation of them. The almost erotic joy of crossing something off of one. The euphoria of completing one and throwing it in the trash. There was great pride in generating items to throw down on the list at a high rate of speed and being able to shrink the overall length of the list at an even higher one. The fulfillment of a day, especially a weekend day, measured by how efficiently a “to do” list had been tackled and how long of one had succumbed to my sovereignty over it.

Now, they are necessary evils. Needed to keep me from forgetting things that my mind will no longer hold in place. But not my purpose. Not my objective. Not the guiding light for my Saturday. I prefer to find myself attempting to just be rather than identifying myself by what I have been able to do. That is not to knock people with a highly productive drive. My wife is one of those people. It just does not work for me any longer. It is a beat down rather than a build up. It takes me away from who I am and focuses me in on what I have accomplished. Which at my point in life, is sadly uninspiring.

None of this happens overnight. It is more of a metamorphosis. What I was. Recognizing what I would rather be. Breaking habits and thought patterns. Settling into a resolve that it is okay to see things differently. Establishing new ways of thinking. Making decisions that reflect a paradigm that has changed through the journey. Becoming someone different.

Badges of honor that have lost their luster. Have been replaced by a longing for a singleness of focus. By a being overdoing. Searching for a longevity of fulfillment rather than the short-term high of happiness.

Present Day, December 31st, 2017

“…activities that arouse pleasure are short-lived but memorable, such as enjoying a good meal, watching a movie or reading an interesting novel. By contrast, those that offer gratification lead us to expand our identities and enrich our sense of competency, thereby offering more lasting happiness.” (The Bipolar Relationship)

Go ahead. Give that a second read. Maybe meditate on it for a moment or two. I can wait.

 

Tomorrow starts another year. Well, every day starts another year in a sense. There are birthdays that start another year. Wedding anniversaries. Hospital discharge dates. Almost enough landmarks to fill a calendar and make every day the start of some form of New Year. But this is the one that humankind shares worldwide. The New Year.

On and off throughout my life it has been a significant period of goal setting. You know, resolutions. And on and off throughout my life those have been helpful towards personal growth or accomplishment.

At some level, I have some informal ones lined up for this year: lose 50 pounds, read 18 books, camp 18 nights (I often set my goals to play off the calendar year number), etc.

However, I recently read the above quote and had a new thought regarding the New Year.

I had a Facebook memory today indicating that two years ago I was excited to try and rediscover my creative side. I was anticipating diving into a daily prompt journal and adult coloring book that I had received for Christmas, along with picking back up the piano which I hadn’t played in years. Two years later, none of those took. Which leads me once again back to the quote.

I have throughout my life done things for pleasure. Even today I experience pleasure on a weekly basis. Yet that more “lasting happiness” eludes me as I have battled the depths of depression. And I began to wonder if at some level it wasn’t at least in part due to lack of engagement in activities, or hobbies, or lifestyle habits that bring “gratification”. Not just pleasure. That bring that expanded identity. That enriched sense of competency.

It isn’t for lack of trying. There were the creative efforts I mentioned above. Throughout 2017 there were efforts to engage in learning a foreign language. First Spanish. Then relearning the German I had studied during my high school years. Then the Japanese which would be helpful in my current workplace. All to no avail.

The book quoted offered such examples as “painting, drawing, woodworking, growing plants and photography.” Some of these I know my inner self well enough to know are not cohesive with my personality. Others (i.e. photography) have been given a shot without lasting effect.

That’s the thing, I cannot seem to get a grasp on gratification. On that thing or things that bring me a longer-term sense of fulfillment than the momentary pleasures of daily life. That activity or activities that would provide an emotion that I can only assume would provide a positive counterbalance to the day-in-day-out struggles with depression and darkness.

All of which is to say, that is my big one. My main resolution for 2018. Put succinctly, “To explore the possibilities which might bring my life gratification.” I am open to suggestions and ideas and would love to hear from you if your journey has brought you to a place of such fulfillment. A place beyond the temporary high of a great movie, a good read, or a fabulous meal.

“More lasting happiness.” The kind that can’t be so quickly stolen by the downswing of depression. The kind that allows me to fall asleep with a smile on my face rather than the dread of another day waiting. The kind that allows deep sighs of contentment and peace.

Let the search begin.

 

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, March 6th, 2017

I have entered into a loosely defined two or so week period that is traditionally a bit dicey at best and dangerous at worst for my life. It is the period of, and please…this is not a clamor for attention, my birthday.  Annually one of the most challenging periods of my year.

If you wonder how that might be possible, I would venture to say that you may not have spent the better part of your life wishing at some level that you were not alive. Or at the very least failing to see the upside of still breathing. For those who struggle with Bipolar, depression, suicidal thoughts or ideation, or other battles to stay alive it is difficult to differentiate the difference between celebrating having survived another year, and mourning having survived another year.

As is normally the case for me, there are soldiers on both fronts attempting to win the battle. It was the first full year of my life married to my beautiful wife. I was able to see my daughter achieve a massive life dream of heading off to college in the city of her dreams. My son performed an amazing senior recital and will soon find out where he will next venture to for his master’s work. My relationships continued to grow with three unique step-children. Together, my wife and I were able to purchase and launch our own business. I seem to have achieved a new level of stability in regards to medications, therapy, and management of my illness.

However, in almost the smack dab middle of all this was an unscheduled, unannounced train ride that resulted in a pseudo-arrest and eight-day hospitalization proving once again that no matter how well things may be going I am more than capable of losing my shit on a moment’s notice. There was an intense struggle with a depressive low at the Christmas holiday which almost resulted in a second hospitalization. As predicted, by the resident psychiatrist and staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, the addition of medications to my life have added 15 pounds and climbing to my frame. And my inability to keep my mind together that glorious week will likely cost our family a cool $8,000 thanks to a health insurance policy that is “ass.”

I suppose every life has its yin and yang. For the Bipolars in the crowd, it is more like a damn yin and mother fucking yang. And it all makes the “celebration” of a birthday a little more precarious for a man who is notorious for over memorializing landmark days and moments.

In a few days, I will turn 48. My daughter asked me what I wanted. I told her that I wanted her to save her money. I told her I wanted her to enjoy her college experience and friends. I told her I have everything I need. And I meant it all.

They say money can’t buy happiness, and I happen to believe that. In my case, nothing can. Some days are just happy days. Some days just are not. For year 47, more were than were not. So I guess that means being alive for another birthday is a good thing. Let’s just hope that by the time this little period of life ends I still feel that way.