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.

 

Present Day, July 4th, 2017

10 p.m.ish to 6:30 a.m.ish

10 p.m.ish to 6:30 a.m.ish

10 p.m.ish to 6:30 a.m.ish

Eight straight days. Something I had not experienced for almost 24 months prior, and have not experienced since. Not for eight straight days. Not for even three straight days.

Being hospitalized for a mental illness is a few things. It is a chance to hit the reset button. It is an opportunity to learn some coping skills. And it is most definitely an opportunity to get rested up. It is NOT the real world. Especially my real world. Or most anyone’s.

My real world goes to bed around 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Around 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Friday. Around 10:30 p.m. on Saturday.

My real world wakes up at 3 a.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. 6:15 a.m. on Wednesday. 5 a.m. on Saturday. And when I fucking feel like it on Sunday.

My real world is NOT 10 p.m.ish to 6:30 a.m.ish. And if there is one single thing I miss most about the hospital…or possibly one single thing I disdain most about my job…it is this reality. The routine. The peace. The quiet. The calm. The restfulness of a circadian rhythm with a common time to bed, and time to arise. An occasional up later here or there. Sleeping in a bit longer on the weekends. Enjoying the splurge of a few weeks vacation, some holidays, and a personal day or two each year. But sleep.

I was talking to someone the other day whose path I cross in the manner of daily business. They have stayed in their position (or a similar one) with the same organization for roughly 15 years. Their longevity has earned them eight weeks of PTO (Paid Time Off) per year. They suggested that I had to consider that it was all inclusive. That was holidays, personal days, sick days, vacation days…you name it. I suggested they had to consider that was two months out of 12. One sixth of the year, less weekends. Paid.

I take off one day a week. It costs me $90 to have someone cover a portion of the tasks I would do if I worked that day. Were I to take a vacation, it would cost me a payment of $300 per day to the company that I am a distributor for. Yes, I knew this going in. No, it was not the brightest part of my decision to become an independent operator.

Why this post? Why today? Because it is July 4th. Independence Day. And American holiday if there ever was one. My hometown firework display is scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. by which point I hopefully will have been in bed for roughly three hours, and asleep for no less than 2.5 of those. I awoke at 6:30 a.m. today and headed out for a few hours of work. It would have been earlier and it would have been longer except for the fact that my wife is a champ and rose at 5 a.m. to handle a couple more hours of the work that awaited.

In days, and jobs, gone by I would have scheduled a vacation or personal day for yesterday. Gave up one day of time off to buy a four-day weekend. I even put seven years in at one company that gave off Monday when the 4th fell on a Tuesday. Why have people work on a day when you know you aren’t going to get much out of them?

Rhythm. Sleep. So critical to my mental health. So easily attainable. In the hospital that is.

Saturday, August 27th (Hospitalization Day 3)

Typically I prefer to refrain from all-inclusive terminology: every, none, always, never, everyone, no one…you get the idea. I’ll stick to my leaning in that regard while suggesting that it might work in this particular instance.

When it comes to individuals with certain mental illnesses, such as Bipolar II in my case, most of us of a fairly reliable list of warning signs that things are about to go really bad. In fact, to take it a step further, the list is usually not even a short one.

Which means that as I entered my third day of hospitalization it was no surprise to begin reflecting on what went wrong, how it might have been avoided, and discover a rather lengthy list. It flowed easily, and for each item on the list…there were plenty of warnings!

warning-signs

I have been told the “Big Three” for Bipolar are Medications, Therapy, and Sleep. Well, since I was not on any medication, or in any therapy (yeah, I know) that only left sleep or it was three strikes and I’m out.

For me, seven hours a night will generally cut it. An average of seven and a half is better, and under seven…things are probably going to get a bit dicey. Quickly. Especially over any extended period of time.

I wear a FitBit to try and keep me honest and make sure I’m somewhere close to on track. And I wasn’t. Over the previous month just under seven hours had slid. First to six-and-a-half hours. Then to six, but that was largely due to five-hour nights getting supplemented with 60 to 90-minute naps. By the week before my hospitalization, I was pushing almost five days at right around four-and-a-half–hours a day…total.

One of the reasons sleep makes the Big 3 is due to the chain reactions created by a lack of it. For me, headaches ensue. My temper shortens. My hands start to shake. Under stress, I’ll experience chest pains and shortness of breath (fairly alarming for a man who survived a heart attack back in early 2015). Nothing in life seems to bring pleasure or fulfillment. And all while the mind is racing, thoughts are spiraling out of control, and hope of things feeling normal is plummeting.

Let’s face it, no one likes to be tired. I get that. People with mental illness are not special in that regard. Here seems to be the difference as I have experienced it. Without the illness, finding a way to catch up (sleeping in on the weekend, taking a nap, going to bed early, etc.) can get you back on track pretty quickly. With the illness, in a very short period of time, everything can start misfiring to where lack of sleep isn’t even recognized as the problem. Even if you do see it and find extra time in bed, lethargy sets in with its best friend depression. Life falls into a quicksand. Sleep wise you feel damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

All the while our world’s shift. Rationality disappears. Very smart people can begin to lose their grip on very rational, even simple solutions to what is taking place. And the ability to write…to process…to even come up with the list I sat down and wrote above seems so very far away.