Present Day, April 21st, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 18

I feel like I have no voice. Not that it has been taken from me, or there is a direct attempt to stifle me. Just that it is all being said. A hundred times over. Ad nauseam.

Take mental health for example. Now, during a pandemic, everyone is supposed to be taking steps to protect their mental health. Emails, blog postings, websites, from local newspapers to CNN.com there is no place you will turn where you will not run into a message on how to maintain your mental health. And they all largely say the same things. They all largely say the same things that those of us with mental health issues hear on a regular basis during “normal” times. Limit news exposure, practice mindfulness, get enough sleep, do not forget to exercise…you have seen the lists.

So why say it again?

And let’s face it. Unless I myself, or someone I know actually gets sick, there is very little news to communicate. Days are pretty much the same from one day to the next. It is like living the movie Groundhog Day and attempting to stay ahead of the day by making slight modifications that will change the outcome. Sometimes the day ends differently, but then the alarm goes off the next morning and we are right back where we started.

This past week they announced seven benchmarks that will determine when my state will reopen the economy. As my workplace has never indicated that I was furloughed or they largely ceased operation as a non-essential business, I do not even know if these benchmarks apply to my return. One of them is fourteen days straight of decreasing cases reported. We are on day one. Does that mean I am guaranteed at least two more weeks of furlough? I have no idea. Uncertainty remains constant. At least fourteen more Groundhog Days.

Yesterday they announced that our schools will not be reconvening during this school year. They will finish the year out with NTI (non-traditional instruction). Groundhog Day through May 27th. A slight modification to the day, leaving us right back where we started when the alarm went off this morning.

Today we will go for an afternoon hike. A modification to the day. And we will celebrate Taco Tuesday! And when the alarm goes off tomorrow? We will be right back where we started. Groundhog Day.

Present Day, April 8th, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 9

The weather is about to take a turn. After a number of very springlike days with highs in the 70s and lows in the sleeping with windows open range, it is all about to drop about 20 some degrees. Coupled with some clouds and rain, things will likely feel more like England or Seattle for the next 10 or so days. Which will present some new challenges to my stay-at-home lifestyle.

I do not know the process or clinical procedures for being diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), nor am I looking for another diagnosis to go along with my Bipolar. I just know I am one of those people who does better when the sun is shining. Who does better when I can relax outside in any number of ways on a 75-degree day. I have a daughter that absolutely loves the rain. I just do not get it, nor do as well in it under normal circumstances. And that is under “normal” circumstances, which we are far from living in.

I have had a pretty good morning routine going for the last few days. The weather has allowed me to enjoy an invigorating bike ride each morning as part of my exercise commitment. I am trying to avoid putting on the COVID-30 (no…not another virus…another 30 pounds). So daily exercise is part of the plan. However, I am used to having a gym to go to which is no longer a luxury. So my choice is the bike or these god awful workout videos that motivate my wife on a daily basis but I absolutely disdain. Unfortunately, the change in weather will mean a change to the videos. At least for the short term.

I have also enjoyed a daily afternoon walk with my dog. The weather is not changing so severely as to eliminate that, but we have really been taking our time on the strolls. No hurry at all. Depending on the weather, they may have to become more purposeful. Less relaxing and enjoyable. Less therapeutic.

If all this sounds like I am just being a whinny ass wimp, I probably am. It has been very difficult for me to establish a routine and rhythm to this period of life. To any period of life. Routine is critical for me to begin with, as with many people suffering from a mental illness. Now more than ever. Any disruption to that can be very unsettling during what is already a highly unsettling time. So the thought of having to “mix things up” really can mix my mind up.

I did a quick Google to try and obtain some advice for dealing with derailed plans as someone living with bipolar. First suggestion, do not panic. Okay, so it is a tad bit late for that one, but I feel my panic is still at a level that I can reel back in. Next suggestion, find a solution and adjust my schedule to accommodate the situation. Third? No, that is it. In other words, stay calm and carry on. Easier said than done.

When I wake up tomorrow it will be a new day requiring a new plan from the previous handful of days. Here goes nothing!

 

Present Day, September 25th, 2018

Almost five and a half months. Still the blogging screen is blank.

Retreats. Books. Life events. All the usual, reliable prompts. But nothing.

It isn’t really a writer’s block. That’s for people who write for income, or entertainment, or pleasure.

I write for therapy. For reflection. For healing.

So it isn’t really a traditional writer’s block lacking inspiration and creativity. It is a lack of medicine. A lack of progress. A lack of health.

And it is one of many signs to be mindful of. There are others.

I have no desire to do…well…just about anything.

A weight loss plan that was highly successful through the first four months of the year has stalled out. Even begun heading the other direction. The self-discipline…self-motivation is gone. Again.

Ironic, because I’m not truly hungry for anything. Restaurants disappoint. Grocery shopping is merely requisite. I can eat the same food night after night after night after…well, you get the idea.

Stamp collecting. Sports watching. Camping. Hiking. All of it. Just motions.

Truth be told these are the spells that grip those of us who suffer from clinical depression. Sure, everybody to some extent, but these are not just periods of feeling down. They are extensive valleys. Valleys that can turn from days to weeks to months. Valleys that can rob us of energy, enthusiasm, enjoyment. Valleys that can black out a computer screen for five and a half months.

Which brings me to this moment. This moment that is called forced blogging. Push the keys one at a time. Put words on the screen. Run sentences together until a paragraph is formed. Then another. And another. Paragraphs that may serve as stepping stones for climbing out of the valley.

Not for income, entertainment or pleasure.

For therapy. For reflection. For healing.

Present Day, April 14th, 2018

My daughter is a sophomore at NYU. She also interns (and has interned) with organizations which focus on the rights and advocacy of individuals based on gender, race, and mental health based issues.

Recently, she was researching CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) New York Police Department trained officers. These are police officers specifically trained to assist with situations involving mental illness, development disability or emotionally disturbed peoples. Following are some of the statistics and bullet points from her research. Take them for what they are worth as food for thought and information to ponder in our modern-day struggle to provide quality assistance and help to people struggling with mental health and in crisis situations.

  • In 2016 in NYC there were 157,000 calls involving people in mental crisis.
  • The NYPD cannot guarantee that CIT-trained officers will be deployed to incidents involving people in mental crisis.
  • The NYPD currently handles more than 400 mental health crisis every day.
  • Currently, data collection regarding mental health crisis is fragmented across departments.
  • The NYPD currently trains between 20-25% of officers. This training lasts for 40 hours over a 5 day period.
  • The NYPD does not currently have the capacity to track the special skills of officers. This includes not only CIT but also language skills, domestic violence training, etc.
  • Nationwide, in 2016 police officers shot and killed at least 251 people who had exhibited signs of mental illness.
  • The addition of a CIT coordinator would: consistently connect with the community, serve as a liaison with outside agencies, be available to make training adjustments and assist in conducting data analysis
  • Current NYPD policies call for assigning a “designated shooter”, but do NOT specifically call for de-escalation if possible.
  • The AIDED Card system rewards an NYPD officer by allowing them to document when an individual receives medical treatment but is not arrested. The AIDED Card system is NOT specific to individuals with a mental health crisis. Out of 157,000 crisis calls in 2016, only 19,328 AIDED cards were issued (12%).
  • Currently, just 25% (5,500) of nearly 22,000 patrol officers are CIT trained.
  • NYPD Call dispatchers receive 2 hours of CIT training out of 45 days training (.5%)
  • Even if unarmed, not violent, and willing to leave…ad individual in mental health crisis may be taken into custody.

Present Day, October 20, 2017

The first year of this blog remained pretty strict in format. I allowed myself three choices. One, write about my 9-day hospitalization at Northwestern Memorial Hospital after a psychiatric breakdown. Two, write about life in the days that followed returning home from said hospitalization. Three, allow myself some artistic liberty to post songs of meaning to me lyrically each Saturday. That was it. That was the list.

With year two upon me, I find myself expanding my horizons. Feeling free to go where my mind may take me. Maybe some pieces of my life that led up to the actual breakdown. Possibly glimpses into my contact with other individuals facing battles with mental illness. Or in the case of today…venturing into the ever-dangerous land of recommendations.

Today’s recommendation is doubly dangerous. Why? I’m glad you asked. The reason is a simple one. I haven’t finished it. The book. The book I am about to recommend, I haven’t finished reading it. In fact, I am just over halfway through it. But have found it mesmerizing and personal enough to believe in the beauty of it regardless of the conclusions it draws.

I should note at this point that I often take that approach to a book, and recognize that not everyone is able to. I can enjoy a book even if it ends at a place of conclusion that I 100% disagree with. If it is well written. Thoughtful. Reflective. Challenging. Insightful. It can still be a read that I am glad I embarked on. Granted, the less I agree with it, the more of those things it better be in greater strength, but nevertheless, it is possible.

The book is No One Cares About Crazy People: The chaos and heartbreak of mental health in America. If the title seems harsh, just wait until you read the background leading to it. The author, Ron Powers, is no stranger to the written word having won the Pulitzer Prize and weaves a very dramatic and personal fabric throughout the text. In almost alternating fashion, chapters swing from autobiographical to a historical review dating back to the 1800s of mental health care within the United States (and even touching on a few global aspects). Having been personally touched by the plague of schizophrenia on two of his sons, it is a deeply transparent and sincere reflection. There is no attempt to be unbias. No desire to remain outside of the story. And that is likely what makes it the work that it is.

Two-thirds of the way through it, I have found myself deeply moved to sadness…anger…frustration…and at times, fear. It is a rare work based on extensive research and able to provide factual data, that is also able to express individual thoughts and takes without there being confusion within the author’s own mind or that of the readers’ as to which he is doing when.

I am not a book critic. Therefore, I will conclude my words here. Reviews and analysis can be found for those looking to investigate further before reading. I can only say that in my experience, I have not found enough of these texts. It is a book that needed to be written and needs to be joined by others. A book that gives voice to people that suffer from mental illness, and those that walk beside us. A book that continues to declare that while recent generations have promoted the “coming out of the closet” of numerous people groups, the closet is still locked for those whose minds keep them forever captive.

I look forward to the remaining 100 plus pages, and yet I don’t. The hope and the pain. The gains and the losses. Suffered by the Powers family, and others like them. But don’t take my word for it. Read his for yourself.