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.

March 4th, 2017 – Musical Truths

Hey, I hear the voice of a preacher from the back room
Calling my name and I follow just to find you
I trace the faith to a broken down television and put on the weather
And I’ve trained myself to give up on the past ’cause
I froze in time between hearses and caskets
Lost control when I panicked at the acid test

I wanna get better

While my friends were getting high and chasing girls down parkway lines
I was losing my mind because the love, the love, the love, the love, the love
That I gave wasted on a nice face
In a blaze of fear I put a helmet on a helmet
Counting seconds through the night and got carried away
So now I’m standing on the overpass screaming at the cars,

“Hey, I wanna get better!”

I didn’t know I was lonely ’til I saw your face
I wanna get better, better, better, better,
I wanna get better
I didn’t know I was broken ’til I wanted to change
I wanna get better, better, better, better,
I wanna get better

I go up to my room and there’s girls on the ceiling
Cut out their pictures and I chase that feeling
Of an eighteen year old who didn’t know what loss was

Now I’m a stranger

And I miss the days of a life still permanent
Mourn the years before I got carried away
So now I’m staring at the interstate screaming at myself,

“Hey, I wanna get better!”

I didn’t know I was lonely ’til I saw your face
I wanna get better, better, better, better,
I wanna get better
I didn’t know I was broken ’til I wanted to change
I wanna get better, better, better, better,
I wanna get better

‘Cause I’m sleeping in the back of a taxi
I’m screaming from my bedroom window
Even if its gonna kill me

Woke up this morning early before my family
From this dream where she was trying to show me
How a life can move from the darkness
She said to get better

So I put a bullet where I shoulda put a helmet
And I crash my car cause I wanna get carried away
That’s why I’m standing on the overpass screaming at myself,

“Hey, I wanna get better!”

I didn’t know I was lonely ’til I saw your face
I wanna get better, better, better, better,
I wanna get better
I didn’t know I was broken ’til I wanted to change
I wanna get better, better, better, better,
I wanna get better

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.

Present Day, February 8th, 2017

I need him to like me best. Not want. Not wish. Need.

No amount of study regarding rational emotions. No therapy. No medication. It does not appear that anything will change that. And that isn’t even the worst part.

He is a cat. A type of animal I have distained all my life and vowed never to share a domicile with. He’s not even my cat. My wife’s Valentine’s Day gift cat. And it gets even worse.

The moment prompting this reflection involved an elementary school age daughter. It appears that during the previous night when I was thoroughly drugged and thought the loyal feline was by my side, he had ventured to her room. Spent some time with her. Checked out some of the other relational options in the house.

Nope. We aren’t there yet. But we are getting closer. This  information saddened me. Then it frustrated me. Then…wait for it…it angered me. All within a rapidly escalatory matter of moments. So I attempted to come to the rescue of my absurd emotions.

“Well, you might have to start closing your door when you go to bed. We can’t have him waking you up on school nights.”

If you think this sounds like ridiculously childish behavior for a grown man, you’re right. It is. And now we have arrived.

Upon reflecting on these emotions for this cat and the subsequent interaction with my daughter, the internal humiliation begins. The loathing. The anger. The self-hatred.

It is a life cycle for myself. For thousands of us with Bipolar. For millions of us with a mental illness. We experience immature, over reaching, inappropriate emotions for a given situation. All of our therapy and treatment goes out the window as onlookers think we should just “grow up” or “get over” ourselves. Then, later, we do. And the knife cuts very deep. The knife of misunderstanding of what drove our motives. The knife of embarrassment. The knife of shame.

This time I started to binge eat. Some pretzels. A peanut butter and jelly roll-up. A Ding Dong. Child food for the grown man who had behaved like a child. And with each bite, I had another reason to hate himself.

Monday, August 29th, 6 a.m.

I tend to move through emotional states and stages rather rapidly. Jovial one minute. Angry as all get up the next. Cruising through my day before lunch. In deep depression after. More so off medication than on (duh). But I have yet to say anything unusual for an individual in the throws of Bipolar II.

While Friday had seen me quickly transition from denial to anger (as previously discussed as part of the Five Stages of Grief in my Friday, August 26th, Early Evening post) today would provide another opportunity to knock out a few more stages. Though I didn’t know that at the time.

Having survived the rather ‘less structured’ and thinner staffed weekend of a psychiatric ward, I awoke Monday morning ready to get on with life. I sat on my bed, grabbed a pencil and began drafting a plan for escaping the walls of this institution and returning to my life as I knew it prior to my little meltdown (yeah…I know, still some echoes of the “denial” phase hanging around). Phrased another way, I began to map out my “bargaining” (Stage Three) plan.

The plan was to serve a couple of purposes. First, to show that I was cognizant and aware of the realities of life. Family. Friends. Work. Looking back at the page of notes, it is almost comical to see that there is not a mention of aftercare. Almost.

Second, the way I figured it, anyone able to so clearly delineate his responsibilities, obligations and commitments couldn’t possibly be crazy (there’s that ol‘ “denial” again).

Third, I knew whatever was going on during my stay wasn’t free. In fact, the tab had to be running hard and fast. With an insurance policy carrying a $5,000 deductible and a few more grand in out-of-pocket maximum charges, I needed to get moving (little did I know those numbers had been blown by some time ago!).

Fourth, and most importantly to my well rested and to be quite honest somewhat bored mind,  it would get the ball rolling. While this was my first go around with mental health inpatient care, it was not my first go around with a hospital. A little over 18 months prior I had suffered a heart attack and spent a few days catching my breath at a half-dozen grand a day. Therefore, I was well aware that getting checked out was typically about as slow a process as getting admitted. If I wanted out before Thanksgiving (or say…Wednesday), I need to get things moving to help encourage others to do the same.

Anyone seeing why during my stay, evaluations and subsequent therapy it will be highlighted that I might have control issues?

I went to breakfast and came back to see what type of schedule had been written on my white board for my day of treatment. It was significantly different than the weekend. Namely, it was jammed with group sessions, treatment, teaching, and structure. Oh my.

I grabbed the handy dandy patient folder that I had been provided and began to notice there was a sheet for Monday. For Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Even Friday. There was a form explaining the “week long” format for recovery and treatment structure.

What already felt to me like Day 5, they were seeing as Day 1. What felt to me like a good time to start packing, they were seeing as time to get to work.

What felt to me like the opportunity for Stage Three Bargaining…was giving way to Stage Four Depression.