Present Day, February 25th, 2018

The lack of societal progress in dealing with mental illness is as easy to see as attempting to determine if it is a disability. For this simple journey will make it rapidly clear that we still have no idea how to identify what we are dealing with.

This became clear to me during my recent (and latest of many) employment searches. Most applications now conclude with three voluntary questions that are largely demographic in nature. One dealing with gender. One dealing with military veteran status. But a third dealing with disabilities.

The questions itself could not make things clearer. It simply requires a yes, no, or choose not to disclose affirmation. For someone with a diagnosed illness, such as myself with bipolar, it gets even easier. Because it states in plain English, “Disabilities include, but are not limited to…” and then proceeds to list roughly 18 specific disabilities to include such mental illnesses as schizophrenia, major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD, and yes…bipolar.

Here is the logic: disabilities include bipolar. I have bipolar (as has been diagnosed by no less than a hand full of independent professionals). Therefore, I have a disability. Right? Not so fast.

If in fact you have a disability that severely limits your daily function and ability to adjust to daily work, you qualify for something called Social Security Disability Insurance.  However, in the case of bipolar, or a number of other mental illnesses, the emphasis should be put on “severely”. This is because the criteria to qualify for benefits becomes much greater than any criteria that were originally utilized to result in a concrete diagnosis.

Put another way, the system is set to credit corporations and business for diversity hires of us mentally crazed individuals, but not set to do anything to help us. Get them in the workforce, and keep them there. Short of announcing my legally private mental illness to the employer, there will not be any consideration of accommodations, or assistance for living with what has already been defined as a disability. Begging the questions, what do they think it disables me from doing?

Why do I care? I mean, I go to work. I have a job. I have stayed employed for the majority of the past 30 years. What should it matter to me?

It matters because work is the single largest deterrent to my quality of life. For people with depressive disorders, and others, getting out of bed in the morning is a major chore. That chore is followed by a second one of getting out the door and engaging in a profession. The vast majority of my emotional energy Monday through Friday is exhausted simply attempting to stay gainfully employed. Day after day. One step at a time.

Now, granted, I think our country suffers from a larger systemic problem. Namely, we have made work the centerpiece of our lives. Just compare time off in other developed countries to America. Especially as it relates to things such as maternity (and or paternity leave…total novelty!), sick time, and personal time (for such things as doctor visits, and basic life care that is almost impossible to take care of outside normal work hours). I am not advocating a country of sloths, but how did it ever become the intention that we work in order to be able to live rather than work as a part of living?

I am less than six months into my latest place of employment, and I am fried. I am largely sedentary for eight hours a day staring into a dual monitor set-up conducting data entry. I shake off the hangover of my medications in the morning just soon enough to plop down at my desk and fall back into a full-time stupor of what can at times be fairly mindless activity. But I had to change jobs. Again.

I had to find something with at least some time off. With at least some form of decent benefits. With at least some compensation that could pay a majority of the bills. And while my family, my sanity, and my overall personal life suffers…I come nowhere close to the government definition of someone in need of disability benefits.

Which is kind of ironic, because that same government has joined the long line of doctors declaring that I am in fact disabled.

Present Day, November 26, 2017

‘Tis the season.

No time of year is probably more defining of my plunge into mental illness than the holidays. There was a time in my life when I lived for November 1st. When the day after Halloween launched two months of thanksgiving, joy, celebration, and happiness. Don’t get me wrong, there were still the challenges, arguments, and stresses that come with any two month period of life…but they were tempered by decorations, music, and those glorious days off of work.

Now I would describe it as being marked by a huge unknown. The unknown of what emotions will hit me, when they will hit me, and what they will do to my overall psyche.

For example, today was to be decorating day. You know, haul out the holly…deck the halls…stringing up the lights. And it still is. There is a box sitting to my left and three more hours of daylight with which I am to get the outside lights hung. But I simply don’t have it in me. Haven’t all day. Tried Christmas carols playing in the shower. Tried moving around the pieces of a Dickens-like miniature village. Tried looking over wish lists and contemplating Christmas gifts for those I love. None of it works.

Why? I don’t know. I have enjoyed a four-day Thanksgiving break which included quality family time, visits with my out of town children, and lots and lots and lots of rest. The weather is nearly ideal for this time of year. Sunny. 50s. Perfect for walks, taking in fresh air, and avoiding the sedentary indoor trap that can come with the tryptophan coma. Two date nights with my wife in the past week. And the prospects of just four more weeks until a 10 and a half day…yep, 10 and a half day Christmas break!

But still the darkness. The sadness. The loneliness.

I worry about the direction my life is going. The trajectory. On a scale of 1 to 10, the existence of medications has given me a fairly steady and consistent year, but one that I had always described as being about a 4. The last few months, it feels more like a 3.5…maybe a 3. My environment has improved (employment, home life, relationships, etc.), but my emotions seem to continue to slide downhill. Depression has gone from simply the norm, to a deeper and darker daily hole that I have to climb out of each morning simply to manage a shower and climb in my truck in time to arrive at work.

A medication change has been prescribed to attempt to counter this direction, and we will see if it does. Ironically enough, the next 30 days may make it hard to tell. They can be filled with so much happiness while simultaneously serving as such a period of struggle for so many people. Myself included. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” while simultaneously being one of the least predictable. Especially with a mind that can do its own thing and turn left right when you are longing for it to turn right.

‘Tis the season. The season of the unknown.

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.