Present Day, February 25th, 2018

The lack of societal progress in dealing with mental illness is as easy to see as attempting to determine if it is a disability. For this simple journey will make it rapidly clear that we still have no idea how to identify what we are dealing with.

This became clear to me during my recent (and latest of many) employment searches. Most applications now conclude with three voluntary questions that are largely demographic in nature. One dealing with gender. One dealing with military veteran status. But a third dealing with disabilities.

The questions itself could not make things clearer. It simply requires a yes, no, or choose not to disclose affirmation. For someone with a diagnosed illness, such as myself with bipolar, it gets even easier. Because it states in plain English, “Disabilities include, but are not limited to…” and then proceeds to list roughly 18 specific disabilities to include such mental illnesses as schizophrenia, major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD, and yes…bipolar.

Here is the logic: disabilities include bipolar. I have bipolar (as has been diagnosed by no less than a hand full of independent professionals). Therefore, I have a disability. Right? Not so fast.

If in fact you have a disability that severely limits your daily function and ability to adjust to daily work, you qualify for something called Social Security Disability Insurance.  However, in the case of bipolar, or a number of other mental illnesses, the emphasis should be put on “severely”. This is because the criteria to qualify for benefits becomes much greater than any criteria that were originally utilized to result in a concrete diagnosis.

Put another way, the system is set to credit corporations and business for diversity hires of us mentally crazed individuals, but not set to do anything to help us. Get them in the workforce, and keep them there. Short of announcing my legally private mental illness to the employer, there will not be any consideration of accommodations, or assistance for living with what has already been defined as a disability. Begging the questions, what do they think it disables me from doing?

Why do I care? I mean, I go to work. I have a job. I have stayed employed for the majority of the past 30 years. What should it matter to me?

It matters because work is the single largest deterrent to my quality of life. For people with depressive disorders, and others, getting out of bed in the morning is a major chore. That chore is followed by a second one of getting out the door and engaging in a profession. The vast majority of my emotional energy Monday through Friday is exhausted simply attempting to stay gainfully employed. Day after day. One step at a time.

Now, granted, I think our country suffers from a larger systemic problem. Namely, we have made work the centerpiece of our lives. Just compare time off in other developed countries to America. Especially as it relates to things such as maternity (and or paternity leave…total novelty!), sick time, and personal time (for such things as doctor visits, and basic life care that is almost impossible to take care of outside normal work hours). I am not advocating a country of sloths, but how did it ever become the intention that we work in order to be able to live rather than work as a part of living?

I am less than six months into my latest place of employment, and I am fried. I am largely sedentary for eight hours a day staring into a dual monitor set-up conducting data entry. I shake off the hangover of my medications in the morning just soon enough to plop down at my desk and fall back into a full-time stupor of what can at times be fairly mindless activity. But I had to change jobs. Again.

I had to find something with at least some time off. With at least some form of decent benefits. With at least some compensation that could pay a majority of the bills. And while my family, my sanity, and my overall personal life suffers…I come nowhere close to the government definition of someone in need of disability benefits.

Which is kind of ironic, because that same government has joined the long line of doctors declaring that I am in fact disabled.

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.

Present Day, Thanksgiving Day, 2016

Three months ago to the date my mind came unhinged. Three months ago to the day I was taken into protective custody. After more than 24 hours on the run. After the involvement of law enforcement officials from at least two different states. I was determined to be a danger to myself, and therefore to others. I was detained. Admitted to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Checked into the Psychiatric Unit. Began my first even inpatient treatment for Bipolar II.

Today in America is Thanksgiving Day. A day of mass family gatherings. Mass eating. Mass focus on what we are “thankful” for.

So, the question is asked, and the response is in many ways almost expected –

“What are you thankful for?”

“I’m thankful just to be alive.”

Except, and I know this will not be popular with many or even understood by most, it just isn’t that easy.

I look at it this way. There is this vast spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is “I am thankful to be alive.” On the other end of the spectrum is “I wish I was dead.” But in the middle is this massive gray area. The area where I, and I am guessing many people with mental illness, live many of our days.

Don’t jump too quickly to conclusions. This is not a declaration of being suicidal. In fact, maybe quite the opposite. It is a declaration of being alive enough to be honest. To be real. To be transparent. To recognize that “thankful to be alive” is way too simple of a response to describe where we live. Mentally. Emotionally.

Than what am I today? I have thought about that throughout the week. I am tired. Staying mentally and emotionally healthy is exhausting. To say the least. For each warning sign I have previously written about [Saturday, August 27th (Hospitalization Day 3)] there are seemingly countless activities needed to combat them.

And there are therapy sessions to attend. Meds to take. The financial implications of both to fret over. Books to read for their daily practical applications. Reminders to set. Situations to avoid. All while attending to work, family, and spouse. Fulfilling the roles that life brings the way of any given individual. Roles that don’t get suspended just because one struggles with a mental illness. And just like those roles grow tiring for the common person…as I see it through my bias eyes, exponentially so for someone living daily with Bipolar, or Schizophrenia, or Borderline Personality Disorder, or Manic Depression, or countless other diseases.

Is it possible to be thankful that I am not dead without being thankful that I’m alive? To be thankful for the many daily experiences that bring me joy, or peace, or love, or happiness, while simultaneously having the occasionally wandering mind to the eternal rest of simply no longer being?

For me, and I venture to guess many others, the answer is “Yes”. The answer is that there is this gray area in the between. A gray area that fills that space of pause when someone looks at me and says, “So, what are you thankful for?”