Present Day, April 28th, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 23

I have daddy issues. Where to begin with them would be a larger challenge than I am interested in undertaking today. 51 years of history is a lot to try and rehash. Leave it to say there is a past that includes emotional and physical abuse. Therefore, at the advice of numerous professionals, following my hospitalization, I cut all contact with him (and my mom). That was in 2016.

As time passed and I began to feel more managed in my illness, I hesitantly reached out an olive branch to him. We started to communicate once again. Sporadically. Superficially. Electronically. But communication nonetheless. I cannot even remember when this was. I do not know if it is the bipolar, or medications, or old age, or whatever else it could possibly be, but I have great difficulty with memories and dates.  I would guess it was maybe a year ago. Give or take. We had definitely been shut down for multiple years.

I digress, what is the point of all this? Simply to try, and in incredibly inadequate terms, communicate that our relationship has been strained at best. Which makes it difficult to know how to respond in times like this. Not times like a pandemic. Times like a heart attack. As in, he had one. A rather major one.

This past weekend he was admitted to an ER. They attempted a heart catheterization but found three blockages too major to handle with stints. So tomorrow or the next day they will be going in for a triple bypass. Open heart surgery.

He is currently in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Not that he is from there. He is from Northern California but was traveling on business when he had the heart issues. My mom is with him, sort of. With the Covid-19 restrictions, she is unable to actually enter the hospital and actually be “with him”. And I am here. Across the country. The semi-estranged son, responding to the situation as best I know how through text messages of support and interest.

Of course, this gets one’s mind racing through all kinds of thoughts. Due to our relationship, I had already wondered what I would do if my father ever passed away. Would I attend the funeral? Would I be emotionally/mentally in a place to face my family whom I have not seen for years upon years? Would it even be healthy for me to do so, physically or mentally? Would it be more unhealthy for me to not say “good-bye”? What does it even mean to say “good-bye” and does it matter whether it is done in person or from a distance? These questions have been thrown around in therapy, but never with any resolution. Never with any gameplan or finality. And yet, within hours, not likely, but possibly, an answer could be needed.

Of course, the pandemic adds all kinds of layers to the thinking. Or maybe not so many. There is the risk of catching Covid-19 during travel. There is the challenge of social distancing at all times, including a funeral. There is a need to self-quarantine for 14 days upon returning to my home state. And there is all the anxiety that plays into these realities for my bipolar mind to wrestle with.

I have a therapy session tomorrow. He often asks, “So, what are we going to talk about today?” and I often answer, “Well, I don’t know.”

Guess that will not be a problem this week. We will see if we can come to any finality this time around.

Present Day, April 15th, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 14

My wife and I have had some rough days during this period of lockdown, stay-at-home, whatever they are referring to it as where you live. Some rough days with some rough arguments. Not that we did not ever argue before COVID-19. Just that the current circumstances can amplify disagreements and conflict.

Our arguments have a typical pattern. Maybe not unlike that of many people. Someone initiates the discussion. The other person responds. Point, counterpoint begins to take over. Emotions, and often volumes begin to escalate. Eventually, someone has had enough and decides to punch out of the conversation. More times than not, this is me. I become emotionally overloaded and simply check out. I rarely walk out of the room or even declare that I have had enough. I just stop interacting. I am done.

My wife and I were discussing this pattern today when she made an interesting comment. I will not claim to quote her word for word here, but she had agreed with my above-described assessment. And then came the interesting comment. She indicated that the challenging part for her was not knowing when my normal self had left and my bipolar brain had taken over (that is the part I do not claim to have down word for word). What I got her to be saying as the discussion continued was that she did not know when the common, everyday me turned off and the bipolar me turned on.

And here is the thing. There is no point because it does not turn on. Why? Because it does not turn off. It is one of those ironic things about how we differentiate mental illness from a physical illness. We would never suspect a cancer patient of having times that they can just turn off their cancer. If a person suffers from diabetes, we do not wonder at what point of the day they turn on their disease. Lupos, Chrone’s, ALS, MS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s…we may refer to “flare-ups” or “bad spells” but we recognize that the good times are not times of miraculous healing. They are just that…good times. The carrier is still sick. The illness is still present. They have what they have.

People tend to look at it differently with mental illness. There is almost an implied assumption that it came with an ON/OFF switch. The only difference between our good times and our bad is our choice to throw the switch. Losing an argument, turn on bipolar. Feel like going a little manic, flip on the bipolar. Weather sucks for the third day in a row, hit that bipolar switch.

I have pretty much vowed from the start that I would never claim to be the spokesperson for bipolar, so I will not be today. I can only speak from my own experience, and that experience is that my mental illness did not come with a switch. Can I manage it better at some times than at others? You bet. Therapy, meds, sleep tracking, and other steps can make me feel almost “normal” at times. But I am not. I still have bipolar. And a slight deviation from the plan can make that abundantly clear fairly quickly.

My hunch is that it is the same for most people with a mental illness. Some days are better than others. Some weeks can feel almost triumphant. Some months might almost even go so smoothly that the illness does not dominate our thoughts and lives. But we are still sick.

I ended the conversation with my wife by trying to give her the most simple piece of advice I knew to give. When it came to trying to know when the regular me was shutting off and the bipolar me was turning on…just remember, it is always the bipolar me. Everything goes through my bipolar mind. It is always turned on.

I think it was about as comforting as being told your spouse has cancer.

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.