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.

 

National Men’s Health Week 2017

Quite confident the statistics cannot have changed much in one year.

And not in to squabbling over UK vs USA numbers. A bleak picture regardless.

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.

Wednesday, August 31st, 1:30 p.m.

I found myself growing more and more used to the routine, and even finding my personality with no part of it probably harder to squelch for long than my natural competitiveness. All of which meant that eventually, I was going to need the daily time of recreational therapy to shift away from coloring and crafts, into the realm of the stock of board games that resided in the room.

This day seemed like as good as any for taking that plunge, and my timing could not have worked out better when our hospital staff member actually suggested that we try a game of Scattergories together. I am a fan of the game, but was a bit perplexed by a certain aspect of it. As I would later learn, these “therapy” hours were being billed out to my patient account at a clip of $125 per day. Call me crazy (which my location at the time might well have suggested I was…am), but it would seem like for that price we would have someone guiding us through the playing of the game who actually was familiar with the rules of the game.

That was when the “true” me sprung forth. I just can’t…or choose not to…or don’t know how to…or however the fuck you want to interpret it…I just don’t let it go when someone thinks they know how to play a game, but when compared to the instructions or formal rules of the game make it clear that they do not. This would prove to be no exception. So I did what any reasonable person who has ditched his job and family, jumped on a train, fled the state, been placed in protective custody and had his shoelaces removed less he off himself would do…I took over. And for better or for worse, she let me. She tried to guide us, but I think she grew weary of my correcting her (not the first one to experience that phenomenon in an encounter with me). Eventually she, or at least the other clients (because crazy people prefer to listen to another crazy person rather than the sane ones…I know, crazy…huh?) looked to me for game guidance. And I? Hell yeah. More than happy to provide it.

This all fit into what I would come to consider the abnormal normal. The abnormal normal was when I was doing something completely normal, such as playing a game of Scattergories with a group of adults, in a completely abnormal environment, such as a psych ward with the group of adults being people I really don’t know from Adam.

Other examples would come to include brushing my teeth (normal) with a prison toothbrush at a sink that required constant pumping to continue the water flow (abnormal). Placing an order for my dinner (normal) an entire day before with fairly decent certainty that it might not arrive as what I ordered (abnormal). Checking my email (normal) while someone paces behind me swearing loudly at another individual who does not visibly exist (abnormal). Or putting on my socks (normal) and them having those little no-slip rubber stripes on them and the face of a small teddy bear (abnormal…at least, for my wardrobe).

I can’t remember who won the two games we played that day, which means it is highly likely that neither of the winners was me. That’s just how I roll. But I do remember who knew the “right” way to play the game, and for that afternoon at least…that felt normal.

Present Day, March 28th, 2017

A gift to you.

I recently completed a work by Albert Ellis entitled A Guide to Rational Living.

Granted, I am not a full advocate of Dr. Ellis’s therapy techniques (god rest his soul in peace). However, for most of us, and especially those of us struggling with racing minds and unhealthy thoughts, his work regarding irrational beliefs has a lot to offer.

After completing the roughly 250-page work (somewhat laboriously at times), I decided to journal out a snapshot of the key “stuff”. A quick reference guide of sorts for me to go back to from time to time.

So, here it is. A little out of focus, and in less than ideal handwriting, but maybe with enough clarity to bring you a thought or two which might help bring your mind in check when like mine it is trying to feed you a line of irrational nonsense.

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.