Present Day, April 15th, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 14

My wife and I have had some rough days during this period of lockdown, stay-at-home, whatever they are referring to it as where you live. Some rough days with some rough arguments. Not that we did not ever argue before COVID-19. Just that the current circumstances can amplify disagreements and conflict.

Our arguments have a typical pattern. Maybe not unlike that of many people. Someone initiates the discussion. The other person responds. Point, counterpoint begins to take over. Emotions, and often volumes begin to escalate. Eventually, someone has had enough and decides to punch out of the conversation. More times than not, this is me. I become emotionally overloaded and simply check out. I rarely walk out of the room or even declare that I have had enough. I just stop interacting. I am done.

My wife and I were discussing this pattern today when she made an interesting comment. I will not claim to quote her word for word here, but she had agreed with my above-described assessment. And then came the interesting comment. She indicated that the challenging part for her was not knowing when my normal self had left and my bipolar brain had taken over (that is the part I do not claim to have down word for word). What I got her to be saying as the discussion continued was that she did not know when the common, everyday me turned off and the bipolar me turned on.

And here is the thing. There is no point because it does not turn on. Why? Because it does not turn off. It is one of those ironic things about how we differentiate mental illness from a physical illness. We would never suspect a cancer patient of having times that they can just turn off their cancer. If a person suffers from diabetes, we do not wonder at what point of the day they turn on their disease. Lupos, Chrone’s, ALS, MS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s…we may refer to “flare-ups” or “bad spells” but we recognize that the good times are not times of miraculous healing. They are just that…good times. The carrier is still sick. The illness is still present. They have what they have.

People tend to look at it differently with mental illness. There is almost an implied assumption that it came with an ON/OFF switch. The only difference between our good times and our bad is our choice to throw the switch. Losing an argument, turn on bipolar. Feel like going a little manic, flip on the bipolar. Weather sucks for the third day in a row, hit that bipolar switch.

I have pretty much vowed from the start that I would never claim to be the spokesperson for bipolar, so I will not be today. I can only speak from my own experience, and that experience is that my mental illness did not come with a switch. Can I manage it better at some times than at others? You bet. Therapy, meds, sleep tracking, and other steps can make me feel almost “normal” at times. But I am not. I still have bipolar. And a slight deviation from the plan can make that abundantly clear fairly quickly.

My hunch is that it is the same for most people with a mental illness. Some days are better than others. Some weeks can feel almost triumphant. Some months might almost even go so smoothly that the illness does not dominate our thoughts and lives. But we are still sick.

I ended the conversation with my wife by trying to give her the most simple piece of advice I knew to give. When it came to trying to know when the regular me was shutting off and the bipolar me was turning on…just remember, it is always the bipolar me. Everything goes through my bipolar mind. It is always turned on.

I think it was about as comforting as being told your spouse has cancer.

Present Day, April 1st, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 4

Today was my first “teletherapy”. Having been about a month since my last therapy appointment, and with no face-to-face therapy in sight for the foreseeable future, it was time to bite the bullet and delve into the world of technological therapy. I suppose this can take on a number of different appearances. For me, it was entering a video chat room similar to Zoom but through a physician certified site for confidentiality purposes. Both my therapist and I were on webcams, so there was visual to go along with the audio.

It felt awkward, but it should be known that for me therapy always feels awkward. It always feels like I am supposed to have some more specific agenda than surviving my mental illness when that is typically the only agenda I arrive with. It is also practically by definition a time in which I am supposed to share my feelings. This is something I am not good at, am not comfortable with, and rarely know how to even put into words.

Most of today’s session focused on the general lack of motivation I have to do anything during this time. Literally…anything. I have about the first two or three hours of the day down. I have set a time limit of 8 o’clock to be out of bed on the weekdays. Otherwise, I could easily sleep and/or lie there until noon. I either exercise first thing or have my coffee first thing. Whichever the case, Coffee, waking up, exercise, showering, checking up on the latest news and social media updates, and a household chore or such tend to get me up to about 10 a.m.

Aside from that, I have got nothing. I know there are household projects to be working on. I know there are things I could clean. I know I have a hobby I enjoy working on. Hell, even on the relaxation side there are movies I have been wanting to watch and books that I could read. But I am pretty much uninspired and paralyzed. So we talked about setting out a daily plan and trying to find the motivation to stick to it. That’s just the thing. I have no idea where this motivation is supposed to come from.

I have not found this to be an unusual challenge in my bipolar journey. It really should not be all that surprising. This is a mental illness that often lacks the desire to even be alive, let alone being productive with that life. Baby steps literally can be great accomplishments.

Take today for instance. I had set out to take a bike ride as my form of exercise. I put it off for about four hours hoping the weather would warm-up and the sun would come out. Finally, it reached the time where it was going to happen, or it was not. So I set out. A baby step. But it was a pitiful effort. Oh, I climbed the hills I intended to climb and accomplished the route I intended to accomplish but I could have ridden so much harder. But I didn’t. In fact, at one point I almost broke down in tears and had to stop. Just feeling so overwhelmed. So helpless. So hopeless.

There were other things on my agenda for today that I accomplished. All of them in fact. And yet still so much time spent just feeling lost. Unmotivated. Uninspired.

I’ll try again tomorrow. A new agenda. A new list. A new attempt to find the motivation to get out of bed, get active and get productive. It will be a struggle. Not just for me, but for so many others. A struggle we have to face one little step at a time.

Present Day, March 29th, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 1B

Today started and ended the same way: a long walk with the dog. Time to think. Time to sort through thoughts. Time to try and still the mind.

However, not a lot in between. I can really struggle with motivation when I have a considerable amount of time on my hands, and I fear this furlough will not be any different.

To be honest about things, I am really quite depressed. Today the President announced a recommendation that current social distancing suggestions remain in place until April 30th. This was not so much of a surprise as a reality check. I have known that this is going to be a longer rather than shorter ordeal. But when it is put in formal terms, it can really cause it to set in with more weight and disturbance. That is an entire month more, with no guarantees that it will be the end. That is a lot of dog walks. A lot of time to think. A lot of time to try and still the mind.

One of the things I will need to sort out is one of the three keys to my mental health. Since returning from my breakdown and hospitalization I have attributed proper sleep, taking my meds, and therapy as three essentials to keeping the ship on an even keel. I currently have more than enough time available for proper sleep, have everything in line for the foreseeable future on medication refills, but have seen my relationship with my therapist fall off the map.  My latest appointment that was scheduled for yesterday was cancelled, and rescheduled for late April. That will have been almost 10 weeks between appointments. If that one is even maintained.

I am not sure if on-line appointments are an option he is offering. I kind of hoped he would be getting in touch with his clients and offering some insight into options for continuing regular therapy, but that has not happened. I am not much of an initiator, but it looks like I will have to be in this instance. And I am not sure I am even comfortable with the idea of virtual therapy, or remote therapy, or whatever the proper label for that would be. It is hard enough for me to talk in an office environment, I think my struggle would be compounded in some of these other platforms. Not to mention there is no way to clear the house, and I would be very self-conscious of others listening in. So yes, I have all kinds of excuses lined up to keep me from pursuing this, even though I know I need to.

Anyway, I know this is not inspirational or entertaining, but it is kind of where I am at this evening. Just in sort of a “blah” place of being. Maybe tomorrow will be better. Maybe I will be more productive and inspired. Or maybe I am in for a very long April.

 

Present Day, September 25th, 2018

Almost five and a half months. Still the blogging screen is blank.

Retreats. Books. Life events. All the usual, reliable prompts. But nothing.

It isn’t really a writer’s block. That’s for people who write for income, or entertainment, or pleasure.

I write for therapy. For reflection. For healing.

So it isn’t really a traditional writer’s block lacking inspiration and creativity. It is a lack of medicine. A lack of progress. A lack of health.

And it is one of many signs to be mindful of. There are others.

I have no desire to do…well…just about anything.

A weight loss plan that was highly successful through the first four months of the year has stalled out. Even begun heading the other direction. The self-discipline…self-motivation is gone. Again.

Ironic, because I’m not truly hungry for anything. Restaurants disappoint. Grocery shopping is merely requisite. I can eat the same food night after night after night after…well, you get the idea.

Stamp collecting. Sports watching. Camping. Hiking. All of it. Just motions.

Truth be told these are the spells that grip those of us who suffer from clinical depression. Sure, everybody to some extent, but these are not just periods of feeling down. They are extensive valleys. Valleys that can turn from days to weeks to months. Valleys that can rob us of energy, enthusiasm, enjoyment. Valleys that can black out a computer screen for five and a half months.

Which brings me to this moment. This moment that is called forced blogging. Push the keys one at a time. Put words on the screen. Run sentences together until a paragraph is formed. Then another. And another. Paragraphs that may serve as stepping stones for climbing out of the valley.

Not for income, entertainment or pleasure.

For therapy. For reflection. For healing.

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.