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, December 31st, 2017

“…activities that arouse pleasure are short-lived but memorable, such as enjoying a good meal, watching a movie or reading an interesting novel. By contrast, those that offer gratification lead us to expand our identities and enrich our sense of competency, thereby offering more lasting happiness.” (The Bipolar Relationship)

Go ahead. Give that a second read. Maybe meditate on it for a moment or two. I can wait.


Tomorrow starts another year. Well, every day starts another year in a sense. There are birthdays that start another year. Wedding anniversaries. Hospital discharge dates. Almost enough landmarks to fill a calendar and make every day the start of some form of New Year. But this is the one that humankind shares worldwide. The New Year.

On and off throughout my life it has been a significant period of goal setting. You know, resolutions. And on and off throughout my life those have been helpful towards personal growth or accomplishment.

At some level, I have some informal ones lined up for this year: lose 50 pounds, read 18 books, camp 18 nights (I often set my goals to play off the calendar year number), etc.

However, I recently read the above quote and had a new thought regarding the New Year.

I had a Facebook memory today indicating that two years ago I was excited to try and rediscover my creative side. I was anticipating diving into a daily prompt journal and adult coloring book that I had received for Christmas, along with picking back up the piano which I hadn’t played in years. Two years later, none of those took. Which leads me once again back to the quote.

I have throughout my life done things for pleasure. Even today I experience pleasure on a weekly basis. Yet that more “lasting happiness” eludes me as I have battled the depths of depression. And I began to wonder if at some level it wasn’t at least in part due to lack of engagement in activities, or hobbies, or lifestyle habits that bring “gratification”. Not just pleasure. That bring that expanded identity. That enriched sense of competency.

It isn’t for lack of trying. There were the creative efforts I mentioned above. Throughout 2017 there were efforts to engage in learning a foreign language. First Spanish. Then relearning the German I had studied during my high school years. Then the Japanese which would be helpful in my current workplace. All to no avail.

The book quoted offered such examples as “painting, drawing, woodworking, growing plants and photography.” Some of these I know my inner self well enough to know are not cohesive with my personality. Others (i.e. photography) have been given a shot without lasting effect.

That’s the thing, I cannot seem to get a grasp on gratification. On that thing or things that bring me a longer-term sense of fulfillment than the momentary pleasures of daily life. That activity or activities that would provide an emotion that I can only assume would provide a positive counterbalance to the day-in-day-out struggles with depression and darkness.

All of which is to say, that is my big one. My main resolution for 2018. Put succinctly, “To explore the possibilities which might bring my life gratification.” I am open to suggestions and ideas and would love to hear from you if your journey has brought you to a place of such fulfillment. A place beyond the temporary high of a great movie, a good read, or a fabulous meal.

“More lasting happiness.” The kind that can’t be so quickly stolen by the downswing of depression. The kind that allows me to fall asleep with a smile on my face rather than the dread of another day waiting. The kind that allows deep sighs of contentment and peace.

Let the search begin.


Present Day, March 21st, 2017

I have started playing the piano again. Actually, I should probably say again, again. I gave it a go last year, but it wasn’t a very valiant or persistent effort. I printed out a few rudiments and songs, quickly found myself frustrated by my lack of ability, and surrendered before Christmas arrived.

I decided that a little cash investment might help this time around. So I purchased a book of classical pieces at a beginners level. Less than $10. I did say a “little cash investment.” I have set some practice goals, and so far am sticking to them. Very modest beginnings. A few times a week for a few minutes at a time. Just to develop some consistency.

Consistency is so difficult. Tomorrow is my bi-monthly therapy day. My therapist was proudly touting at my last session that I had never missed an appointment since being released from the hospital last September. I guess that might not be the norm.

I can’t think of a day in that same period of time when I have missed my medications. Been a little late a few times, but tomorrow makes 200 days without missing a beat. And trust me, that is a shit ton of pills. A shit ton of feeling drowsy. A shit ton of battling weight gain. A shit ton of wondering where in the hell my sex drive went. A shit ton of shit tons.

Since September I have not had a week go by where I did not average at least 7 hours of sleep per night. That is kind of a magic number for me, and not always an easy one to achieve with a job that sounds the alarm at 3 a.m. every morning, and a 2nd grader and 8th grader that return from school 12 hours later. But I have found a way to be consistent. To get the job done.

Yoga. Exercise. Reading. Journaling. Oh…and blogging. All things that I find valuable to my mental health and well-being. All things that require an effort at consistency.

And I know this is true for all of us. All of us as people. So this isn’t some attempt at a pity party, but it is a reality check. Because when my consistency fades…things turn bad. Real bad.

Little things aren’t little things when if they aren’t done the next thing on your mind is how to take your own life. Consistency isn’t “optional” when inconsistency creates a crisis that sends your life and all those directly connected to you into a violent tailspin. Checklists are more than check boxes when they are necessary to keep the thoughts between your ears in check.

HOWEVER, it is fatiguing. On a good day. Exhausting on a bad. And much like sitting down at the piano, it can often seem like having to start back where I left off decades ago.

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.