Present Day, April 7th, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 8

One of the ways recommended for getting out of your own head is to do something for someone. Some type of act of kindness. Maybe volunteer at a soup kitchen or a food bank. Help out at a homeless shelter. Assist with a literacy program.

While the recent outbreak of COVID-19 has not eliminated such opportunities, it has definitely made them a greater challenge. On top of that, in recent years I had gotten disconnected from much community service as I have simply tried to keep my own shit together. For better or for worse.

However, one very simple and basic way that I try to “give back” is by donating blood. It really could not be less of a big deal for me as I have no problem with needles (I watch the entire process so intently it is probably a bit creepy for the phlebotomist), it only takes about an hour out of my day every few months, and I am even rewarded through various donor programs with such things as t-shirts, mugs, and movie tickets.

Even this has been somewhat challenged by the recent dynamics in society. They have put out a number of calls for donors during these times, and the calls have been answered. At least, they were a few weeks ago. I made an appointment for my wife and me to donate. On the day of our donation, we went to the blood center only to find it packed with people. We were told it would be a two-hour wait, even with an appointment, and there was clearly no space for the number of people they had in line as far as social distancing was concerned. They simply were accepting too many walk-ins for us to feel safe. Regretfully, we left and figured we would just have to give it another try at another time.

A few days ago I decided to give it another go and booked another appointment. This one, for today. Upon arrival at the parking lot I could tell that the circumstances were very different, and when I reached the door it was clear as to why. They had gone to an appointment-only basis. There were a few other differences as well. All the employees were wearing masks (as was myself and a number of the clients). Before check-in, I was asked if I felt healthy today, and also if I had traveled out of the country or to New York in the past 14 days. They wanted to know if I had been exposed to anyone who had tested positive for the virus. My forehead was scanned for my temperature, and then and only then was I allowed to approach the check-in counter and report for my appointment. Tables and chairs had been removed to thin out the waiting area and space people further apart.

From there forward things proceeded as normal. Blood pressure, pulse and finger prick. Lie back and squeeze the stress ball a few times. The customary multiple stabs to strike a vein (I have tough veins to find apparently…multiple efforts are always required). Roughly ten minutes of blood flowing into a pint-size bag, and a handful of test tubes. Like I said, for me…no big deal.

It felt good to do something that I am at least told is a good thing to do. To do something that might land beyond my world and help someone in theirs.

I wish I could do more. In what now seems like different lives I worked for a rescue mission. I once directed a residential addiction recovery program. Not anymore. The mental and emotional fortitude required for such work is no longer there. Maybe it never truly was, but definitely not since my breakdown. So I have to settle for more basic acts. Like serving on my daughter’s high school marching band food crew, or donating blood. Simpler things for a simpler man.

Maybe when things die down and the world goes back to normal I will be able to discover something more. Something regular. Something more frequent than every two or three months. But for now…for today…this was my act of kindness. My act outside my own head, that hopefully will mean something to someone else.

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.