Present Day, January 20th, 2018

phi-lat-e-ly /feladle/:  the collection and study of postage stamps

Hobbies have been difficult to come by for me. In the past few years I have tried to take back up the piano. Could never return to where I even was in my teen years. Hardly my elementary school level! Way too self-conscious of my own ineptness and unable (willing) to find (take) the time to claw my way back.

I ventured into other adult creative efforts. A daily prompt journal. Worked with adult coloring for a period. But struggled with perfectionistic needs to stay in the lines. The slightest sway outside taking me away from the work completed to date. A lack of creativity requiring a photo of the image to even select colors and shades. More of a burden than a relaxation.

But I have needed something. Something to occupy my mind. Something to bring a sense of calm during downtime. Something to help fill the hours of free time that my new work schedule can afford me on the weekends.

Earlier in my adult life I collected sports cards. Thousands of them. I know it is crazy, but an obsessive mind like mine could find great pleasure in opening packs, sorting numbers, and building complete sets. The hunt for the missing pieces to the puzzle that would tidy up the series. The history of the players and games uniquely chronicled on the cards. The adventure of sub-series or inserts that added even more intrigue to the search.

For hours on end, I could think of nothing else. It would take my mind, in a good way, off the other thoughts that can race through it. Just this side of manic? Maybe. But better than plunged into a sea of depression.

However, sports cards are expensive. And when most parties are honest about it, there is not much return on the hefty investment. Yet it got me thinking even further back into my life. To my childhood. To a very brief sliver of my childhood when another, similar hobby occupied periods of my free time. Stamp collecting.

And then I got the itch.

I began doing some online research. IF…IF I were to go down this path, what would I collect? How would I limit myself? What parameters would keep it enjoyable and keep it from being an all hours of the night manic obsession? When would I collect while still keeping other responsibilities and goals (i.e. reading) in sight?

The more I explored, the more excited I got…and this last week I decided to take the plunge. To see if this could be a place of fulfillment. Of hobby. Of pleasure. Something to build on through the years. To enjoy learning, expanding, studying.

So far, so good. But I’m bipolar and the first few days of just about anything in my life are so far, so good.

Here is the thing – racing thoughts and a manic mind are not inconvenient side effects of the bipolar life. They are serious challenges. Possibly even dangers. What for many people can be a restless night or afternoon of obsessing can for a bipolar person be the beginning of a serious slide…crash…or even worse. Thus having a hobby to counter that is about more than just…well, having a hobby. It is about a safety net. A place of sure footing. At times, even a refuge or escape to allow our minds to be captivated by a single thing in order to cease the endless ruminations.

That is a lot to ask from an album and some postage stamps, but I do not have to perform for anyone. I get to make the rules for my collection. The lines are of my choosing…if I choose to have any at all.

One week and a few hours in…so far, so good.

Present Day, May 18th, 2017

I have a Moleskine journal. Moleskine because that is the only journal my oldest daughter believes to be a true, authentic journal. Like any other father, I am always striving to impress my children. I know, right?

Inside the back cover is a pocket for storing things. I really do not know what they have in mind. Locks of hair from loved ones or wanna be loved ones? Stamps for collecting? Clips from newspapers or magazines?

I have a few items in mine. Things I wrote when I didn’t have the journal along. Or things written down for me. 

Two items create a unique juxtaposition in the pouch, sitting back-to-back. The first is a letter from my wife. We did a wine box for our wedding. The idea for the  wine box is that you seal a bottle of wine with love letters to each other in a decorative box to be opened on your first anniversary. You place it in a visible place. If, god forbid, your marriage is on the brink in less than a year, you both agree to open the box and read the letters. I am not sure what happens with the wine.

We didn’t. Make it a year that is. Oh, we are still together, but it was close and the box was opened. The letters were read, and I keep the one she wrote to me in my journal. I don’t remember what happened to the wine.

The letter is right next to a much shorter note. Torn off a sheet of paper. By my therapist. It is the number for a suicide textline. In case of an emergancy. 

So I don’t know what Moleskine intended, but it is kind of my survival pouch. A love letter from my wife, a suicide textline’s number, and another item or two. Things to review if I am on the brink. And have my journal handy. And am willing to seek inspiration.

I reviewed the contents tonight. Mainly just to remind myself of what is in there. It was a rough day, but I am not at “that” point. Just curious. So I scanned the contents, reordered them all, and tucked them safely away again. 

I was reminded that I have not been mindmapping enough lately. Have not been “journaling” enough. Have not put enough ‘pen to paper’ so that I can go back and see what I was thinking. See what conclusions I was drawing. See where I was and how it compares to where I am.

I think my daughter is right. I think Moleskine does make a better journal. However, sitting unused on a shelf…they are all the same.

Present Day, March 28th, 2017

A gift to you.

I recently completed a work by Albert Ellis entitled A Guide to Rational Living.

Granted, I am not a full advocate of Dr. Ellis’s therapy techniques (god rest his soul in peace). However, for most of us, and especially those of us struggling with racing minds and unhealthy thoughts, his work regarding irrational beliefs has a lot to offer.

After completing the roughly 250-page work (somewhat laboriously at times), I decided to journal out a snapshot of the key “stuff”. A quick reference guide of sorts for me to go back to from time to time.

So, here it is. A little out of focus, and in less than ideal handwriting, but maybe with enough clarity to bring you a thought or two which might help bring your mind in check when like mine it is trying to feed you a line of irrational nonsense.

Present Day, March 26th, 2017

Today is a personal retreat day for me. I’m loaded and prepared. My Chromebook, headphones, journal, novel, Kindle, A Guide to Rational Living, and of course…I will go through copious amounts of iced coffee.

My wife and I pre-planned a number of these retreat weekends throughout the year. Time for me to catch my breath, and try to reset anything that might be trying to misfire in my mind. I say “weekends” because that is the goal. So far, personal calendars and weather have transitioned them to single day getaways, which is fine for now. However, as winter gives way to spring, summer and fall…I look forward to hauling the camper out for overnight trips with a little more nature and a little less corporate America.

Today? This will do.

There is an agenda, but a loose one. An alternating of mediums between productivity (such as blogging), relaxation (such as likely taking in an episode of my newest addiction…The Blacklist), and mental health productivity (such as getting down some life application notes from my journey through Abert Ellis’s book). But it is loose. I won’t feel guilty if I don’t achieve all of these things (at least, that is what I am telling myself at 9:15), and I haven’t set times as to when I will move between events or activities. Just going with the flow. As much as I know how to.

If you have mental health issues, or a beating heart, you should schedule some of these.

If you have a significant other with mental health issues, or a beating heart, you should allow them to.

While we all seem to thrive in various levels of community, I believe we also all have needs of resetting as individuals.

It is no magic formula or guarantee of sanity. It is just what we are doing. What we had recommended to us to do. And what for today, I’m glad (and thankful to my wife who is covering the family business and kids) I have the opportunity to do.