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, March 4th, 2018

As someone with a constantly racing mind, a new found practice of mindfulness has been a welcome place of rest. It is still very much a “practice” for me, and one that I struggle to successfully achieve for as short as a 10 minute period. However, I look forward to it each and every day and feel the calmer for it on the other side. At the same time, it does cause me a significant predicament.

I think we are all wired and prone to have an acute awareness of contrast. For example, severe changes in the weather. The audio launch of a rock concert. A bite into a particularly spicy dish. From level ground to a steep incline during a forest hike. We tune into these things, and they cause a sensory response in our bodies. Be it touch, hearing, taste, or even sight and smell. Contrast is simply a part of how we differentiate and how things are set apart in our minds and feelings.

The practice of mindfulness magnifies a rather extreme contrast in my living environment. I am already rather introverted and silent. I already value solitude and quiet above the average person. And I already struggle with the, at times, lack of appreciation other people might share for these same qualities. Couple that with the “contrast” of mindfulness sessions to regular life…and I can go from a state of peace to set on edge pretty rapidly. I know, totally contrary to the whole purpose of my mindfulness practice.

In fact, just finding a peaceful and alone time or location to engage in as little as a 10-minute meditation can be a challenge on some days.

The company I work for is owned by a Japanese corporation and therefore utilizes many of their workplace ideals. One example is the open workspace. Picture Dunder Mifflin from “The Office”. No cubicle walls. No offices except for the few at the top of the food chain. It is also a bi-lingual environment. Meaning that I am often working at my desk with a full volume conversation taking place over my left shoulder in Japanese, and a full volume conversation taking place over my right in English. Mind you, neither of which involve me or are of any importance to me. This environment makes my lunchtime mindfulness session 1) invaluable and 2) often immediately forgotten upon returning back to work. The contrast can be overwhelming.

This is my predicament. The practice designed to bring me peace can highlight an overall lack of peace. The practice designed to help me with a singularity of focus can highlight an ever run amuck mind. The practice designed to calm my life can often do little more than emphasize a greater lack of calm in my moment to moment existence.

For now, I look forward to my 10 minutes a day. And work on accepting the other 23 hours and 50 minutes in all their chaos.

Wednesday, August 24th, 10 a.m.

I had “disappeared” roughly 24 hours earlier. Checked into a hotel in my own version of “off the grid.” At the time, I thought I was just riding out the storm. Giving my mind a chance to settle. And for a short period of time, it did.

But then, near the end of the 24 hour period, it (being my mind) snapped. I snuck back to the home I would no longer view as mine, packed a duffel bag with a few “necessary” items to put the highly irrational plan in place (which I had developed as my mind began racing out of control.) Then, in my desperation, wrote two quick notes on a single piece of paper.

In my 30 year battle with Bipolar I had written “goodbye” notes. None quite like this…

And never anything like this…

Because I didn’t believe I would ever leave a note again.

Present Day, January 24, 2017

Tonight I will pop my first Risperdal. For those of you who don’t know, much like me a few weeks ago, it is an antipsychotic often utilized for treating people with schizophrenia, autism irritability, and in my case…Bipolar.

Following another rough spell a few weeks ago, it was determined that an up in my Depakote and the addition of another medication may be warranted. Once again, for those of you who don’t know, this shit is pretty tough to get right. For example, when I’m put on 1250 mg of Depakote following 8 days of inpatient treatment and chug along in pretty good health for a few months…is it because of the Depakote or because of my quality treatment at Camp Northwestern Memorial Hospital? You never really know until the next crash, and maybe not even then.

So…here we go again. The original plan was a fairly new drug called Latuda. That is the brand name for it. My name for it is “Turn Around and Bend Over and Take It Up the Ass Twice Daily.” Why? Because it came in at just over $400 for a 30 day supply or a cool $1,100 for a 90 day by mail supply. Seriously, thank you Mr. Big Pharma for wanting to do your community service to those of us in the throws of mental health challenges. (sarcasm)

Plan B switched over to Abilify. A much better plan at $40 per month or $120 for a 90 day supply, but still enough to make me want to cry on top of therapy costs, the other 10 pills I take each day, and god knows what else hits my pocket-book over the next 11 months that make up the dream year of our Trump 2017.

Finally, which is actually a pretty appropriate way to phrase it as it involved almost two weeks, plenty of conversations and voice mails, and more people than ever should have had to be involved, we have landed on Risperdal. $5 for 30 days, $12.50 for 90. YES!

Of course, the list of side effects is long and illustrious, including increased hunger which should help me keep up my post-hospital pace of weight gain. Drowsiness and trouble sleeping are on the list (don’t ask…I did, and it makes my brain hurt thinking of the answer), which for a borderline insomniac who has to get up for work at 3 a.m. could be an interesting piece of my life puzzle. And on the more serious list, “painful, prolonged erections” which at my age does not seem like a problem at all (nor do I think my wife will see it as one).

I once again need relief. The depression is one thing, I’m learning how to rest my way through those bouts. But the racing mind…so exhausting. While attempting to nap today, I literally awoke to my own snoring. At the time, I was deeply immersed in a dream, whilst simultaneously writing this blog in another part of my mind, and in yet another cavern fighting back the inner demons that never seem to need a rest (thus last Saturday’s Musical Truth).

Bipolar is rarely treated with a single drug. If a cocktail is discovered, it rarely stays consistent in mix and dosages for the long-term. It is an unscientific crap shoot (not a term the professionals would use, but one that many of them will admit to). This is my next shot. Will see if it works…or just produces an even larger pile of crap.

Monday, November 28th, 2016

As I laid on my bed, it hit me. I have always been afraid. Battling fear. Paralyzing, debilitating, irrational fear. Some might even describe it as paranoia.

In the early years of my childhood, I would wake up after everyone else had gone to sleep. The house completely dark, but haunted by endless sounds that all homes make. And while not the most logical next step, I would slowly get out of bed, and begin to search the entire home. Slowly peering around each corner. Opening each closet. Ever so quietly making sure that we were all alone and it would be safe to at least attempt sleep once again.

The searches continued into my teen years, but the fear grew intensively worse. Many nights I could not pull myself from the bed to conduct the search. I would lie there frozen. Not moving for fear of creating a sound that would draw a would-be intruder’s attention. Convinced that someone had entered the home, and would soon be harming us. Eventually falling back asleep due to mental and emotional exhaustion.

It should be noted that in the midst of these years were the endless nightmares. I don’t know at what age they actually began, but they have continued to present day. Not as frequent as they once were, and varying in their appearance at different phases of my life. Nightmares that play out horrific deaths. Of me. Nightmares that provide very real images of pain. Torture. Abuse. Acts that should have killed me, but during which I miraculously remain alive to continue enduring the onslaught. I digress.

As I entered my adult years, another element was added to the fear. My mind would begin to play out dramatic, emotionally horrific scenarios. Now, while awake. With my eyes open. It was like a whole new phase. First, nightmares while I slept. Second, paranoia while paralyzed in bed. And now, third, excruciating mental images while wide awake. Maybe it would be thinking through a sequence of events where a loved one dies. As my mind races forward through the time loop, I would tighten up. My nerves would come alive. I might even begin crying.

As my kids grew older this could take on a level that easily should have been addressed with therapy and medication. Let’s say my son was going out with friends after a high school football game. Everyone else in the home may be sound asleep. I would be in the living room. Imagining a knock on the door. A police officer informing me there had been a horrific accident. Advising me my son was no more. And I would sob. Sitting there. On a Friday night just like any other. Weeping over the death of my son…which was totally fabricated by my severely broken mind.

As I drove north on the interstate three months ago and began facing a paranoia like I thought I had never before experienced it struck me as odd. I didn’t see myself as struggling with fear. As being a frightened person.

Now I see it. Because it has always been here. Another puzzle with many pieces I had never placed together. Another piece in the larger puzzle of my Bipolar mind.

Today I still struggle with occasional nightmares. I can still play out the dramatic, emotional, painfully weighted scenarios in my racing mind. I constantly battle trust issues which can tie directly to fears of being hurt. Pain. Sorrow. In my challenge to separate my rational from irrational thoughts, days in which I fail to do so can bring back so much of this past.

At FDR’s first inaugural address he is known to have said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” 

For me…that’s more than enough!