Present Day, March 29th, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 1B

Today started and ended the same way: a long walk with the dog. Time to think. Time to sort through thoughts. Time to try and still the mind.

However, not a lot in between. I can really struggle with motivation when I have a considerable amount of time on my hands, and I fear this furlough will not be any different.

To be honest about things, I am really quite depressed. Today the President announced a recommendation that current social distancing suggestions remain in place until April 30th. This was not so much of a surprise as a reality check. I have known that this is going to be a longer rather than shorter ordeal. But when it is put in formal terms, it can really cause it to set in with more weight and disturbance. That is an entire month more, with no guarantees that it will be the end. That is a lot of dog walks. A lot of time to think. A lot of time to try and still the mind.

One of the things I will need to sort out is one of the three keys to my mental health. Since returning from my breakdown and hospitalization I have attributed proper sleep, taking my meds, and therapy as three essentials to keeping the ship on an even keel. I currently have more than enough time available for proper sleep, have everything in line for the foreseeable future on medication refills, but have seen my relationship with my therapist fall off the map.  My latest appointment that was scheduled for yesterday was cancelled, and rescheduled for late April. That will have been almost 10 weeks between appointments. If that one is even maintained.

I am not sure if on-line appointments are an option he is offering. I kind of hoped he would be getting in touch with his clients and offering some insight into options for continuing regular therapy, but that has not happened. I am not much of an initiator, but it looks like I will have to be in this instance. And I am not sure I am even comfortable with the idea of virtual therapy, or remote therapy, or whatever the proper label for that would be. It is hard enough for me to talk in an office environment, I think my struggle would be compounded in some of these other platforms. Not to mention there is no way to clear the house, and I would be very self-conscious of others listening in. So yes, I have all kinds of excuses lined up to keep me from pursuing this, even though I know I need to.

Anyway, I know this is not inspirational or entertaining, but it is kind of where I am at this evening. Just in sort of a “blah” place of being. Maybe tomorrow will be better. Maybe I will be more productive and inspired. Or maybe I am in for a very long April.

 

Present Day, March 28th, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 1A

It does not seem right to refer to this as furlough Day 2. It is Saturday. So I would not be going to work even if I had a job to go to. So we will call it day 1A. Tomorrow day 1B. Then back to the count on Monday.

Spring in my hometown is a bit of a weather roller coaster. Temperatures from day-to-day can vary by as much as 30 or more degrees making you unsure of what time of year you are truly experiencing. However, the past two days have definitely been spring. Mid-70s for highs. Sleeping with the windows open at night thanks to seasonably warm lows. Which makes for good opportunities to get out and enjoy some sunshine. Especially since snow is in the forecast for next week. I told you things could vary!

Today we, the housebound family, decided to go out for a hike. We took about a 30-minute drive to one of our traditional hiking spots, one of the few still open to the public in the midst of this chaos. It was reasonably crowded, as was to be expected, but maintaining our social distancing was not an issue as we would simply step off the trail to let others pass or the same courtesy was extended to us. Unbeknownst to us, there is a new parking lot for this trail. We parked at our usual spot unaware of the new lot. This would subsequently become a problem.

As we passed the midway point of our hike and made the turn for home, we discovered that there were new signs along the trail that referenced the direction to the parking lot. Of course, unaware that there is a new parking lot, we simply took it as new signage routing us through a new trail back to our old lot. Well, that’s what we thought for about 30 to 45 minutes. That is about how long it took us to become fairly convinced and conduct our own GPS check to realize that we were not heading anywhere near our lot. At this point, the options were pretty simple. Either double back the way we came or use our GPS to navigate ourselves to a place that we thought would likely be our parking lot. So off we set through the overgrowth and trees in hopes of finding our way back home.

My wife directed this entire part of our adventure. I simply tried to remain calm, quiet, and not become a stressor in the midst of a stressful situation. At one point we all had to climb through a barbed-wire fence, which was really no problem for anyone other than my fat self. And in the end, we might have picked up a tick or two. Other than that, we were none the worse for wear. Some extra hiking. Some extra time. Some extra sweat.

All-in-all, the pace of Covid-19 life suits me. There is no reason to get into a hurry because all we are all doing is heading back home anyway. Time is in abundance. As long as I can occupy my mind and keep it from racing away, this is how I prefer to live. Slow and steady. No rush. No urgency.

As long as I have to be furloughed…which I am…then I want to enjoy the pace. I know it cannot stay this way forever. But at least for now, it is a chance to find a place of peace. A place of ease. A place of comfort. A place that I have often dreamed of, and now seem to be living in.

Present Day, March 12th, 2018

It seemed so bright for 4 a.m. Too bright. A quick look out the window explained the reason. A significant snow had fallen. From the view of the bedroom window, maybe as much as six inches. Which in this town typically means shut down. As in, life shut down.

Which caused me a bit of a predicament at this early hour because I had never before had a “snow day” at this workplace. Would I receive a text? Would they post it on the local TV channels? Would they even shut down due to a snowfall? All of which meant that the two and a half more hours of sleep I had waiting for me, in either event, was now shot to hell.

When six o’clock rolled around I decided to grab my phone and check in on the snow closings. Sure enough, there near the top of the list (as our company name starts with an “a” followed by a “c”) was the indication that we were closed for the day. (Ironically enough, and unbeknownst to me until later…not because of snow, but because of a power outage caused by the snow. Thus meaning, I still do not know if we in fact shut down for snow.)

A few snooze alarms and FitBit notifications later (don’t ask), and I actually managed to fall back asleep. Most likely in the 6:45 range, but regardless my next significant conscious moment didn’t come until around 8:25. A nice additional block of sleep to help compensate for the previously lost.

Bring on stressor number two. Being closed doesn’t mean the customers that direct work my way will be shut down today. Meaning double the work will be awaiting me tomorrow. Maybe not a huge deal in a normal week. However, this is not a normal week. It is my birthday week. Which means I am scheduled to utilize my free day off on Friday and enjoy an extended weekend. Alas, a four-day week is now a three-day week.

I was texting the same thoughts with a co-worker who ended the conversation with “try to enjoy the day off.” I am pretty sure she was sensing that I was probably more stressed about the work awaiting tomorrow then I was focused on enjoying the free day that had fallen into my lap today. She would be correct.

Seeing the pattern here? I imagine most people would flashback to 4 a.m. and respond with something like… “Looking like a snow day!!!” Then they would check back in around alarm time, and enter into a true celebration of the gift that is a day away from work (and/or school).

Not me. Not my mind. Not that simple.

The difference is not the reasonableness of stress or the unknown. It is more the management thereof. I assume everyone experiences some curiosity as to if they will get the day off. Everyone likely wants to make sure they get accurate information rather than guess about staying home from work. Everyone probably thinks ahead to the fact that a double day of work will likely be awaiting them. But not everyone obsesses about any of the above. Or loses valuable sleep due to them. Or sees a day slip away in stress rather the enjoyment of “didn’t see this coming when I went to bed.”

Obsessive minds do. Racing minds do. My mind does.

4 a.m. was almost 10 hours ago. The good news is, I seem to have it all under control now, and with still a good six or seven hours of a day to enjoy. I’m sure the panic will come back as the sun sets. That’s just part of it. But for now, it is a half a snow day to enjoy, at the launch of an unpredictable three-day work week.

Present Day, October 7, 2017

12 weeks. Such a perfect number in some ways. Three months. A quarter. And without even intending to make it so. That is probably what excites my neurotic mind most.

It has been 12 weeks since I last posted on this blog. And what a 12 weeks it has been. To be honest, there was no direct intention the day I submitted that post to take such a hiatus. It all unfolded very naturally. Very organically. A week or two break. Some anniversary and life changes unfolding that made staying away the healthier choice. Chaos of daily living beginning to unfold in a new and fresh way. And before you know it…three months are gone.

My current intention? To catch you all up (which really means to take some time to process through this three months within my mind and allow you to come along for the ride …if you are so interested) on life from then to now. The losses I have experienced. The “quality of life” (see – Present Day, July 12th, 2017) improvements I have managed to navigate. The anniversaries that have been survived. And hopefully all within the context of the original purpose and goals of this venture (The Next 100). In other words, to get back into the habit.

Why? Because it is part of my therapy. It is part of living and staying healthy. Because when I am “healthy”, I truly enjoy writing. I enjoy the expressiveness of it. The “getting out of my own mind” of it. The ability to release my thoughts from the cage of my skull to a place where they can be free and I can be free to move on to new, present ways of thinking. Because I have entered a new phase of life (more on that down the road), and this phase needs some filler. Needs some hobbies. Needs some anchors which help me focus on a daily…or at least weekly basis.

So for those who so choose…all aboard! Welcome back onto the train. If you are new, feel free to troll and scroll and catch up on the past 15 months that this blog has been dedicated to. If you are a long timer…yep, I’m still alive and kicking and living out the clickety-clack rhythm of the rails. Still taking my meds. Still logging my sleep. Still going to therapy. Still recognizing that bipolar disorder is not something you overcome, but something that you can manage with hard work and diligence.

…and still believing that living with a mental illness does not exclude one from the rightful pursuit of an ever-improving quality of life.

February 11th, 2017 – Musical Truths

There’s an infestation in my mind’s imagination,
I hope that they choke on smoke ’cause I’m smoking them out the basement,
This is not rap, this is not hip-hop,
Just another attempt to make the voices stop,
Rapping to prove nothing, just writing to say something,
‘Cause I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t rushing to sayin’ nothing,
This doesn’t mean I lost my dream,
It’s just right now I got a really crazy mind to clean.

Gangsters don’t cry,
Therefore, therefore I’m,
Mr. Misty-eyed, therefore I’m.

Can you save, can you save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
Can you save, can you save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
For me, for me, uh
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
For me, for me, uh
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?

Nah, I didn’t understand a thing you said,
If I didn’t know better I’d guess you’re all already dead,
Mindless zombies walking around with a limp and a hunch,
Saying stuff like, “You only live once.”
You’ve got one time to figure it out,
One time to twist and one time to shout,
One time to think and I say we start now,
Sing it with me if you know what I’m talking about.

Death inspires me like a dog inspires a rabbit.

Present Day, January 15, 2017

I started at a very young age. Maybe five. Possibly earlier. It was just what we did in my family. The first lessons came from my mother. My sister had started them a couple years before me. My brother would follow a few after. Once we outgrew my mother’s ability to push us any further, or was too busy due to outside employment, or the drive to mold us into mad over achievers overcame her teaching skills my parents passed us on to a professional. A very rigid, classical instructor. I can still picture him.

So from a very early age until my junior high years I would give hours each week to sitting down on the bench, in front of the ebony and ivory keys and practicing my piano. And I became quite good. Was even what many would call a bit of a natural. Purely classical in training and repertoire. Rigid in posture and structure. Bred to succeed.

At some point we each picked up a secondary instrument. As memory serves me, this was also mandatory. Not a choice. The choice was the instrument. For my older sister, flute…though later replaced by the saxophone. Or visa-versa. For my younger brother, the drums. Always, the drums. For me, the trumpet.

School bands, and private lessons. To commend my parents, no expense was spared for either instrument. Though the expense came with a price. We would perform whenever, where ever, and for whomever they required it. Often against my will. Often kicking and screaming. Often ending in my humiliation.

However, again, I was good. Even better than at piano. All Northern California Honor Band good by my senior year of high school. United States Naval Academy good my freshman year of college. A little more diverse this time. Classical. Jazz. Spiritual. Marching.

Music was in my blood. To the point of serving as drum major of the high school marching band. I had no trouble reading music. Playing it. Transposing it. Fully engaging in it. And practicing it for hours on end between the two instruments daily.

My senior year of high school also launched another creative part of my life. Acting. With no previous experience and no participation in the drama department, I auditioned for the school play and was awarded a leading part. This paired with debate and public speaking right into my college years. Intercollegiate competitions across the western states winning awards in impromptu speaking, extemporaneous, and with the drama background…reader’s theater.

Believe me, I do not tell you all this to brag. Rather, to confess a regret.

The piano was surrendered in almost its entirety by high school. Allowed by my parents having put in my obligatory number of years to earn the freedom of choice. The trumpet passed during college, and my instrument was formally donated to a young man in need of a better one just a few years later (it was a beautiful, silver, Bach Stradivarius…musicians out there will know what that means!). Acting? Theater? Never again.

The connectivity between arts. Music. Drama. And mental illness. Bipolar. They aren’t hard to find. They are not challenging to locate throughout history.

From Robert Schumann to Demi Lovato. Vivien Leigh to Carrie Fisher. Van Gogh to Virginia Woolf.

How did these people get famous while battling a mental illness? My theory? Their creativity helped provide an outlet for their mental illness. Rather than the illness stifling their lives, it placed within them the type of mind, that while often maddening, spurred the ability for creative greatness.

Back to my regret, which potentially has nothing to do with the previous three paragraphs, I regret that my creativity died. That my ability to make music passed.

Last year I attempted to re-engage with the piano. The struggle was too great. The frustration. The reality of playing worse, much worse, at 47 than I was able to at 12 or 13. The fact that what used to flow so easily now seemed nearly impossible.

Since leaving the hospital last September I have been aware of what a shell of a person I am compared to what I used to be and/or what I could have been. I think this has a lot to do with it. I was created…or born…or wired…or whatever philosophy and/or theology works for you…to be creative. It was in me. It was a gift. And it is gone. Not taken away. It has died.

And with it, a piece of me. A large, vibrant, positive reinforcing piece of me.

I have returned to listening to a lot of music lately. A large variety of music. With a massive dose of classical mixed in. It has stirred something in me.

Not something that can fill that void. But something alive. Something better than dead.

Thursday, August 25th, 10:26 p.m.

It is right there in the notes. The patient log. A direct physician’s order to provide me with 50 mg of Seroquel my first night in the psychiatric unit. Something to help me sleep, which I had basically not accomplished to a significant extent for more than 48 hours and to a healthy extent for weeks. Not to mention its assistance with depression and Bipolar Disorder.

However, it never came. In fact, I went to bed that night finding it extremely odd that after more than 12 hours in “protective custody”, emergency room care, and settling into the psych ward I had yet to place a single pill in my mouth. Not even a Tylenol PM.

Looking back, I fell asleep relatively quickly and slept relatively well. With significant emphasis being continually placed on “relatively.” Let’s face it, I was completely wiped out. Trashed. And I was resigned. For the moment. There would be future bouts and attempts to take back control of my situation, but not now. There was no way I was getting out of this room, in this ward, in this hospital, in this city on this night.

So I laid on the bed. The door was cracked with a stream of light coming in from the darkened halls. At the time, I assumed I was not allowed to close it completely. Subsequently I would learn otherwise, though leaving it open sure made the periodical nurse visits to check my vital signs and bed checks a bit more peaceful.

A mattress, sheet set, and pillow that would have on almost any other night of my life made sleep nearly impossible felt unusually comfortable compared to the lawns, benches, and train seats I had attempted to rest upon for the past two days on the run. The blinds had been left open to my right. A window that largely covered the entire spans of that wall in my room. The night lights of Chicago that could find their way to the 14th floor twinkled and flickered.

I do not remember all my thoughts of that evening, nor how long I remained awake. This one thing I do remember feeling deep down inside my heart…I was a mere shell of whoever I was born to be. The seven-year-old boy playing Little League. The 8th-grade member of the Junior High basketball team. The High School All-Northern California Honor Band trumpet player. The honor student. The Master’s Degree recipient. The husband. The father. The sole proprietor. They were all titles. All history. All accomplishments that seemed to belong to someone else.

Not a different person. The same physical body. But someone else. Someone other than this man lying on this bed in this room on this night. What was left of the mind of this man. What was left of the emotional stability and strength of this man. It had once again been fractured and broken in a more profound way than any of the times before.

And I had no idea if there would be found even enough left of “me” to truly constitute the person that was me.