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.

Present Day, February 26th, 2017

The Big Three: Medications. Sleep. Therapy.

I have heard it time and time again. These are not the ONLY secrets to managing Bipolar or just about any other mental illness. However, they are three CRITICAL ones. In other words, do these three things right…and you are heading down a good path. Neglect them…and just about all other efforts will not likely make up the difference.

There is a catch tough. Probably more than one. But the one I am thinking of today is that they each carry a degree of humiliation to them.

Medications? I take a disgusting amount of pills every day, am practically a zombie by 10 p.m. at night, and live my life in the position of having to be held accountable to the periodical question “Have you taken your meds?”

Sleep? I take naps like a toddler. I wear a Fitbit to make sure I average out the necessary amount to keep my sanity somewhat in check. Like a teenager with an early curfew, I rarely get to “stay up late” and often pay a price if I do.

Even therapy has its humiliation. And I am not even talking about the phrases that exist in my life referring to having my own personal “therapist” or having to get to a “doctor appointment” every other week or sharing how “therapy went today.”

I am talking about the cold realities that therapy can put you through during the best of times. Because it is a reminder. Sometimes a slap in the face, that I am fucked up between the ears, as well as somewhere extending down into my heart (or soul, or wherever you ascribe as the seat of our feelings).

That was especially the case this past week. My wife joins me for therapy roughly once a quarter. It is a chance to make sure everyone is on the same page, and for my therapist (who…let me be clear, I greatly appreciate and enjoy meeting with) to see if there are any hidden issues that should be addressed. This time around I knew we would be addressing the management and handling of my next crisis experience. That’s right, no matter how good I was going to be feeling walking into those doors, we were going to address the when…not the if…of me losing my shit again. Because we all know I will.

As is often the case, following the session my wife and I grabbed an early dinner. A chance to debrief. To unwind from the tension the session can create.

By that point, I had entered a rather sober, somewhat discouraged place. We had just spent an hour talking about how my keys would be taken from me and locked in a safe that I didn’t have the combination to in order to ensure that I didn’t run away or park my truck in the garage with the door closed and a hose in the window. We had talked about whether I had the ability to load any of the antique guns in the house and blow my own brains out. We had talked about how I was allowed to sequester myself in the bedroom, but if I walked out the door my wife would have an acceptable authority to call the police and notify them that I was a danger to myself…and possibly others.

I’m pretty sure that you aren’t normal (and truly are insane) if that type of a conversation doesn’t sober you up a bit. Was it necessary? You bet. But so is sleep and medication. Doesn’t keep any of them from being at least somewhat humiliating.

Thursday, August 25th, 9 p.m.

I entered the room with no idea what to expect. I had been in a psychiatric ward before. Maybe 20 years earlier to visit someone. Scared the hell out of me. I had been in a hospital much more recently. Could never stand them. I had even held a job that required regular visits to a local detention center and watched plenty of movies or shows involving prisons.

In other words, my mind had plenty of memorized context for the sensory input it was about to receive. Which may or may not be helpful considering I was only barely able to hold myself up at this point due to the combination of my peaked physical exhaustion and complete emotional meltdown.

The nurse opened the door, reached inside, turned on a light and I shuffled in behind wearing my stunning ensemble of matching hospital gowns with tan slipper-socks trimmed those indiscriminate white rubber zig-zags to keep my feet from sliding out from under me.

To my right the wall stretched the entire length of the room. This was the wall that the headboard of the bed rested up against. A much simpler bed for a hospital. Lacking all the up and down incline gizmos and buttons. Just a simple headboard and footboard with a typical twin size, blue plastic lined box spring and mattress. It was unmade with two pillows, folded sheets and a blanket laying on top of it. On the wall was also a dry erase board. Not like a typical 2 x 2 one that I was used to seeing in a hospital declaring who my doctor and nurse for the day were. No, this one was large. Very large. Maybe more like 5 feet tall by 4 feet wide. While it did list the medical professionals on shift, the majority of it was designed to provide a morning to evening schedule for my day. Most of which was blank. Made sense for a new arrival at this time of day.

Straight across from the doorway was a wall that primarily consisted of three components. On the right side in the corner, joining up with the fairly plain wall I just described was a floor to ceiling wooden shelf unit. Sort of a closet with a door, but instead of a bar for hangers (or as I would later put together…for hanging myself) it simply had spaced shelves for folding my belongings and placing them in the closet. It was only 18″ or two feet wide, and then met a window that covered the entirety of the remainder of the wall. From desk height to ceiling. Looking out over the Chicago night. It was double-paned with the blind actually enclosed between the glasses. On the opposite wall was a switch that provided electronic control of the blinds. The panes looked extremely thick, which I am sure was also protective as in the days to come I would ponder throwing my desk chair through them and plunging myself to my death on the sidewalk below.

From the closet to the far wall was a single piece of marble or some stone. Interior design has never been my thing. It started about a foot lower than desk height and ran for about three feet as a sort of window seat. Over the next eight days, it would become one of my favorite places in the hospital. Then it rose to desk height and ran the remainder of the wall. There was a simple chair under the desk.

After a brief wall starting just to the left of the doorway was another doorway. This led to the bathroom. Similar to a handicap accessible bathroom at any other facility, this one was designed to provide everything in a single, undisturbed flow. As I discovered with the closet, this had to be very purposeful. No way to hang myself. No way to even harm myself. Even the toilet was of a very strange, almost indescribable form including a massive ring that would make it nearly impossible to even significantly harm myself with in any manner. If one wanted to hurt themselves in here, the primary choice would be bashing your head against the wall with whatever will you could muster. Otherwise, you were out of luck. No shower curtain. No hand rails. Even the place for soap or shampoo was a natural cut out of the material which the walls were made of.

The same held true for the sink, mirror, and beauty area outside the bathroom that consumed most of the rest of the remaining wall to the left of the door. Like the shower and toilet, no faucets or handles. Just small silver push buttons to provide the desired effect.

Strangely enough, there was an air of “nice” to it all at the same time. The subway tile in the bathroom, the small floor tiles, the marble (or psuedo-marble) material used for the desk, the electronic blinds with some amazing views of one of America’s largest cities. Yes, it was institutional…and clearly a hospital…but at the same time, I couldn’t help think a few days later that it was a few tweaks or modifications away from a reasonably impressive studio apartment. One not that much smaller than I had inhabited for 13 months of my life not that long ago. One that could probably fetch a pretty penny at this height in the sky and with these views in a city such as this.

All those thoughts would come at a later hour. At this hour the thoughts were simpler. More primal:

“I’m so tired.”

“How long will I be here?”

“What will tomorrow look like?”

…and the main one…

“No one here knows me. I don’t have to ‘be’ anyone in particular. Tomorrow morning, I get to define who I am and what I look like to these people. That seems very freeing.”

Thursday, August 25th, 10:26 p.m.

It is right there in the notes. The patient log. A direct physician’s order to provide me with 50 mg of Seroquel my first night in the psychiatric unit. Something to help me sleep, which I had basically not accomplished to a significant extent for more than 48 hours and to a healthy extent for weeks. Not to mention its assistance with depression and Bipolar Disorder.

However, it never came. In fact, I went to bed that night finding it extremely odd that after more than 12 hours in “protective custody”, emergency room care, and settling into the psych ward I had yet to place a single pill in my mouth. Not even a Tylenol PM.

Looking back, I fell asleep relatively quickly and slept relatively well. With significant emphasis being continually placed on “relatively.” Let’s face it, I was completely wiped out. Trashed. And I was resigned. For the moment. There would be future bouts and attempts to take back control of my situation, but not now. There was no way I was getting out of this room, in this ward, in this hospital, in this city on this night.

So I laid on the bed. The door was cracked with a stream of light coming in from the darkened halls. At the time, I assumed I was not allowed to close it completely. Subsequently I would learn otherwise, though leaving it open sure made the periodical nurse visits to check my vital signs and bed checks a bit more peaceful.

A mattress, sheet set, and pillow that would have on almost any other night of my life made sleep nearly impossible felt unusually comfortable compared to the lawns, benches, and train seats I had attempted to rest upon for the past two days on the run. The blinds had been left open to my right. A window that largely covered the entire spans of that wall in my room. The night lights of Chicago that could find their way to the 14th floor twinkled and flickered.

I do not remember all my thoughts of that evening, nor how long I remained awake. This one thing I do remember feeling deep down inside my heart…I was a mere shell of whoever I was born to be. The seven-year-old boy playing Little League. The 8th-grade member of the Junior High basketball team. The High School All-Northern California Honor Band trumpet player. The honor student. The Master’s Degree recipient. The husband. The father. The sole proprietor. They were all titles. All history. All accomplishments that seemed to belong to someone else.

Not a different person. The same physical body. But someone else. Someone other than this man lying on this bed in this room on this night. What was left of the mind of this man. What was left of the emotional stability and strength of this man. It had once again been fractured and broken in a more profound way than any of the times before.

And I had no idea if there would be found even enough left of “me” to truly constitute the person that was me.