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.

Present Day, July 12th, 2017

Quality of life.

An improved quality of life.

Sitting in my therapist office, reflecting on his traditional opening question (“So, what are we going to talk about today?”), I found myself giving that answer. Because that is what I had reflected on recently. That is what my mind had been on during the drive over. That was what I had come to believe needed to be a significant goal for me going forward.

As the one year anniversary of my hospitalization (and subsequent release) approaches, I have been faced with the reality of having survived the breakdown. Since the first week of September last year, I have avoided any episodes along the lines or magnitude of that horrific week. It has not been easy. At times, harder than hell. But I have managed. I have given intense focus to the big three (Sleep, Therapy, Medications), and have tried to consider most other things the minors to those majors. I have attempted to reward myself more, punish myself less, recognize small accomplishments, and let other takers be my worst enemy rather than fulfilling that role myself. But that all has left me with the question, “Now what?”

That is what has been stuck in my craw (because in Kentucky, we use phrases like that). Now what? Or, put another way. Possibly a more negative way. The question might go like this: “Is this really as good as it gets?” Is this the way I need to anticipate living the rest of my life? Is this the best I can do? This combination of drugs providing this baseline of emotions just this side of depression. This cycle of sleep merging nights and naps and zombie like periods of awake. This week after week battle to get out of bed and knock another seven days off the calendar.Having survived the big scare, it seems logical that my attention might shift to the year after. And dare I venture to let my mind explore the possibility not merely of having survived, but now attempting to find a way to thrive.

Having survived the big scare, it seems logical that my attention might shift to the year after. And dare I venture to let my mind explore the possibility not merely of having survived, but now attempting to find a way to thrive.

I have set some goals as to what this might look like. First, I have more than five months left in the insurance year with my out-of-pocket limit reached. Therefore, I will be meeting with my medications coordinator next Tuesday and asking her if we might experiment a bit. Venture away from the only cocktail I have utilized since leaving the hospital in an effort to find something that leaves me a little less comatose. A little less down. A little less fat!

Second, the employment situation simply does not seem sustainable for the long haul of my life. The doctors in Chicago didn’t think it was. The team at home seems to question whether it is. My own physical and mental stability seems to doubt it. Granted, for us bipolar, few employment situations seem sustainable for the long haul, but I do think there are three standards I can improve on: a) a later wake-up time than 3 a.m., b) weekends off, and c) the ability to accrue some paid time off (i.e. vacation). Seems reasonable, right? In four more weeks, I will have two children living out-of-state, and I need the opportunity to visit them. This job simply does not afford that. Financially, or time wise.

Finally, and this one is so hard, I have to lose some weight. I’m up 20 lbs since leaving the hospital…as the staff there suggested it would be easy to be. I’m up 30 lbs since losing almost 50 roughly three years ago. It takes a toll on me physically, emotionally, and motivationally. So as much as I disdain working out and dieting…I have to lose weight if I want to improve my quality of life.

For much of this, I have less idea of how to make it happen than I do the need for it to happen. But this is the next year before me. A year of quality of life. A year of improved quality of life. As long as I’m going to stick around, seems like I might as well enjoy doing so.

 

Present Day, July 4th, 2017

10 p.m.ish to 6:30 a.m.ish

10 p.m.ish to 6:30 a.m.ish

10 p.m.ish to 6:30 a.m.ish

Eight straight days. Something I had not experienced for almost 24 months prior, and have not experienced since. Not for eight straight days. Not for even three straight days.

Being hospitalized for a mental illness is a few things. It is a chance to hit the reset button. It is an opportunity to learn some coping skills. And it is most definitely an opportunity to get rested up. It is NOT the real world. Especially my real world. Or most anyone’s.

My real world goes to bed around 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Around 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Friday. Around 10:30 p.m. on Saturday.

My real world wakes up at 3 a.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. 6:15 a.m. on Wednesday. 5 a.m. on Saturday. And when I fucking feel like it on Sunday.

My real world is NOT 10 p.m.ish to 6:30 a.m.ish. And if there is one single thing I miss most about the hospital…or possibly one single thing I disdain most about my job…it is this reality. The routine. The peace. The quiet. The calm. The restfulness of a circadian rhythm with a common time to bed, and time to arise. An occasional up later here or there. Sleeping in a bit longer on the weekends. Enjoying the splurge of a few weeks vacation, some holidays, and a personal day or two each year. But sleep.

I was talking to someone the other day whose path I cross in the manner of daily business. They have stayed in their position (or a similar one) with the same organization for roughly 15 years. Their longevity has earned them eight weeks of PTO (Paid Time Off) per year. They suggested that I had to consider that it was all inclusive. That was holidays, personal days, sick days, vacation days…you name it. I suggested they had to consider that was two months out of 12. One sixth of the year, less weekends. Paid.

I take off one day a week. It costs me $90 to have someone cover a portion of the tasks I would do if I worked that day. Were I to take a vacation, it would cost me a payment of $300 per day to the company that I am a distributor for. Yes, I knew this going in. No, it was not the brightest part of my decision to become an independent operator.

Why this post? Why today? Because it is July 4th. Independence Day. And American holiday if there ever was one. My hometown firework display is scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. by which point I hopefully will have been in bed for roughly three hours, and asleep for no less than 2.5 of those. I awoke at 6:30 a.m. today and headed out for a few hours of work. It would have been earlier and it would have been longer except for the fact that my wife is a champ and rose at 5 a.m. to handle a couple more hours of the work that awaited.

In days, and jobs, gone by I would have scheduled a vacation or personal day for yesterday. Gave up one day of time off to buy a four-day weekend. I even put seven years in at one company that gave off Monday when the 4th fell on a Tuesday. Why have people work on a day when you know you aren’t going to get much out of them?

Rhythm. Sleep. So critical to my mental health. So easily attainable. In the hospital that is.

June 10th, 2017 – Musical Truths

If you’re standing with your suitcase
But you can’t step on the train
Everything’s the way that you left it
I still haven’t slept yet

And if you’re covering your face now
But you just can’t hide the pain
Still setting two plates on the counter but eating without you

If the truth is you’re a liar
When just say that you’re okay
I’m sleeping on your side of the bed
Goin’ out of my head now

And if you’re out there trying to move on
But something pulls you back again
I’m sitting here trying to persuade you like you’re in the same room

And I wish you could give me the cold shoulder
And I wish you could still give me a hard time
And I wish I could still wish it was over
But even if wishing is a waste of time
Even if I never cross your mind

I’ll leave the door on the latch
If you ever come back, if you ever come back
There’ll be a light in the hall and the key under the mat
If you ever come back
There’ll be a smile on my face and the kettle on
And it will be just like you were never gone
There’ll be a light in the hall and the key under the mat
If you ever come back, if you ever come back now
Oh if you ever come back, if you ever come back

Now they say I’m wasting my time
‘Cause you’re never comin’ home
But they used to say the world was flat
But how wrong was that now?

And by leavin’ my door open
I’m riskin’ everything I own
There’s nothing I can lose in a break-in that you haven’t taken

And I wish you could give me the cold shoulder
And I wish you can still give me a hard time
And I wish I could still wish it was over
But even if wishing is a waste of time
Even if I never cross your mind

I’ll leave the door on the latch
If you ever come back, if you ever come back
There’ll be a light in the hall and the key under the mat
If you ever come back
There’ll be a smile on my face and the kettle on
And it will be just like you were never gone
There’ll be a light in the hall and the key under the mat
If you ever come back, if you ever come back now
Oh, if you ever come back, if you ever come back

If it’s the fighting you remember or the little things you miss
I know you’re out there somewhere, so just remember this
If it’s the fighting you remember or the little things you miss
Oh just remember this, oh just remember this

I’ll leave the door on the latch
If you ever come back, if you ever come back
There’ll be a light in the hall and the key under the mat
If you ever come back
There’ll be a smile on my face and the kettle on
And it will be just like you were never gone
There’ll be a light in the hall and the key under the mat
If you ever come back, if you ever come back now
Oh, if you ever come back, if you ever come back

And it will be just like you were never gone
And it will be just like you were never gone
And it will be just like you were never gone
If you ever come back, if you ever come back now

Present Day, June 9th, 2017

Overwhelmed.

One word. The only word. The only word needed. And quite conveniently so, because the only word I can come up with.

My guess is that readers will fall into two categories (well…the majority of readers). Those with a mental illness will say, “Exactly. I know what you mean. What else needs to be said? That is it what I have been trying to tell people.” Those without will ask, “Can you describe your feelings further? Maybe help me understand better what you are going through? What is overwhelming you?”

It isn’t a panic attack. At least, I don’t think it is. Though maybe people that suffer from those would say the symptoms…or feelings…or sensings…or whatever plays out the same. It isn’t a manic episode or plunge into depression. Though I’m guessing it can lead to one or both of those (my recent experience definitely shot me directly and deeply into a state of depression). It isn’t a collection of emotions making some overbearing cocktail of explosive energy.

It is simply a singular feeling. That of being “overwhelmed.” Which is actually the past tense of the word overwhelm even though we feel “overwhelmed” in the present. Weird, huh?

By definition…

  • o·ver·whelm
    to bury or drown beneath a huge mass.
    to defeat completely.
    to give too much of a thing to (someone); inundate.
    to have a strong emotional effect on.
    to be too strong for; overpower.

Which one most recently applied to me? All of them. I was overwhelmed by the multitude definitions of being overwhelmed! What caused it? Not the point. At least not of this blog. The point is that it hit me like a Mack truck (possibly preferred), and I was almost instantly left paralyzed. And really all the Mack truck was, was life. Ordinary. Everyday. Run of the mill life.

But life instantly became a huge mass. It defeated me completely. It inundated me with too much. It had an incredibly strong emotional effect on me. It was way too strong for me and overpowered me. For the better part of five days, I was down for the count. It was all I could do to get out of bed, get to work, do whatever family socializing I needed to do, and get back to bed.

And there were two real kickers to this. First, it was quickly apparent that it takes less and less with each passing year to overwhelm me. That’s not supposed to be the case. I’m in therapy. I take a shit ton of pills every day. I get the sleep I am supposed to get. Doesn’t seem to matter. Life still wins. I still lose.

Second, the reality of being so easily overwhelmed was in and of itself, well, further overwhelming. This didn’t used to happen to me. In the past, less self-care would still result in less overwhelming. I would still know how to fight through it. And a fight it often was. But now it is just debilitating.

What was you ask? I told you, nothing. Just. Being. Overwhelmed.

Present Day, March 27th, 2017

Insomnia is an awful thing.

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday my job requires that I wake up at 3 a.m. Saturday…5 a.m. Wednesday…6:30 a.m. Yeah, I know.

Sunday is my sleep-in day, but you can imagine how well that works for a body conditioned to these other alarm times. There are options, such as Tylenol PM, to try and get a good night’s sleep heading into my day off, but there is also the yang of the yin which is attempting to wake up on that day without having to fight through a fog in my head for the first two or three hours. So there are evenings I choose to take nothing.

(CONFESSION: the best weekend remedy I have found is a couple quick hits of the mari-ju-ana. Knocks me right out and I feel great in the morning!)

So what is worse than your everyday insomnia? Well, there is the insomnia when it is 8 going on 9 o’clock and you are still awake knowing the alarm is going off at 3 a.m. Because nothing makes it harder to go to sleep than the awareness that you damn well better get to sleep!

Or there is the insomnia that this is your one night a week, one of your four every month when you actually can get a good, long, full night of sleep…and here you lie wide, fucking awake.

Or there is the insomnia on Saturday afternoon when the week of sleep has been pretty off the rails but now you can get a good nap and reset yourself for the weekend, but you can’t fall asleep and are aware that you will be crashing out at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night when the rest of the family is looking to have a great time.

Or there is the insomnia that reminds you that this is your life and you will never feel rested, never feel in a circadian rhythm and that the god’s of time changes, sun cycles, and moon phases have a personal vendetta against your existence. (Yeah…even I am aware of the fact that one is fairly irrational.)

I am working on accepting my reality. Working on it. One, because of my work schedule, it will likely always take some type of medication schedule and/or prescribed drugs to sleep. Two, healthy sleep numbers will almost always require a combination of napping with my nighttime hours. Three, guilt over my sleep schedule and its impact on family life will do me no good. None. Zip. Nadda. Four, living by strict sleep hygiene rules will always be imperative to my existence. And five, all of the above mean I need to quit being a little bitch about it and just accept that it is what it is.

All of which are a lot easier said than done when you are staring wide-eyed at the ceiling, knowing the clock reads 9:27 p.m. and the alarm 3 a.m.

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.