southbound

We will be headed down to North Carolina again tomorrow. The plan is to spend a few days at the beach, a few days visiting with our son Dan, and drive home next Sunday.

I don’t know if everything will go according to plan.

Nicole has been a little unstable the past week, not dangerously so, but just enough that all of us have noticed it. My prediction is that the first few days at the beach will go fine, but when we get to Raleigh she will start being first agitated, then depressed, then in tears. She will be out of her comfort zone, she will miss her cats, and not even the anime convention will make her want to stay. She will be further upset because (I also predict) that Dan will not have much time to hang out with her because he will prefer to hang out with his friends at the anime convention. I bet that we end up going home one or two days early, and everyone will be stressed out.

It is tough to plan anything due to Nicole’s illness. She sleeps at random times, she changes her mind about going places, and she resists keeping appointments with doctors. She won’t wake up when she needs to, but she gets mildly angry when she misses out on something. She chooses to not go out for dinner, but she insists we bring home food for her. It gets frustrating and stressful for Mrs. Fish and I to arrange our lives around her mental state.

Unfortunately, we are staying in a hotel near the beach instead of like last year when we rented a house on the beach. I don’t think it will be quite as enjoyable or relaxing this time, but a little beach time is better than no beach time at all.

tidepools

I saw your picture on Fakebook, loooking slightly windblown in a sweatshirt and jeans, braving the Mendocino weather. You were leaning on a smooth bleached log in the sand, surrounded by friends, enjoying the moment.

That was supposed to be my picture.

I took you and our friends camping on the beach. I showed you the creatures in the tidepools; you got pinched by a crab, and I kissed your hand to make it feel better. We walked up the beach for an hour, and returned closer than before. The group drank and played games by the fire, and I told you this had been the best day we ever spent together. Your deep brown eyes hinted at something more, and later that night we broke through the “friend barrier”. I cooked everyone breakfast, and you surprised the group by giving me a long, full tender kiss; in response to everyone’s stares, you smiled and said “thanks for breakfast.” Best campout ever.

I saw your picture on Fakebook, and but for a twist of fate, I would have been the one behind the lens.

Of course the world moved on, as did our lives, and here we are years later in separate worlds. As tidepools are abandoned by the receding tide, so do the feelings of love, sadness, and missed opportunity become more isolated over time … until one photo brings the flood of memories back again.

before and after

I have read a few posts lately about how being diagnosed with bipolar disorder changed someone’s life. In my experience, really changed is my awareness of my mental health, my understanding of my past, and my expectations for the future.

Before my diagnosis, I understood that there was something fundamentally wrong with me, even though I didn’t have a name for it. Even as far back as high school, I had a little understanding about my mood swings and my odd and risky behavior at times. I knew I had problems, and I knew I had depression at times, but I also thought mental illness was for the weak; I was stronger than that, I could break free from it, I could make myself better. I was able to fight it when I was younger, but it became more difficult with time. After years of increasingly severe ups and downs, I finally decided I couldn’t handle it on my own. I went to the doctor for depression, and thought everything would be okay again. However the anti-depressants made my mood swings worse to the point I was put in the hospital, then diagnosed with bipolar.

After the diagnosis, I felt I finally had a name for the problems I had since childhood. I felt like I understood why I had those behaviors and mood swings and mind-shattering depression over the years. Being a geek, I studied everything I could in the library and on the internet. I wanted to have a good understanding of my condition so I could manage it and beat it.

What I came to realize is that there is no beating bipolar disorder. The right medication helps you manage it, although finding that combination has been difficult in the past. I was very much disappointed by this, and there have been times I really gave up hope that I would be able to have a life that was anything close to normal. I have finally arrived at a place where I feel it is a losing battle, and I only have a limited amount of time to make the most of my life before it wins.

That sounds defeatist, but it also gives me a little incentive to keep fighting for life. Nothing with bipolar is easy, and I accept that it will always be more difficult for me than “normal people” to reach goals and improve my quality of life. Part of that quality is to increase chances for happiness and contentment, and decrease the things that bring me down. If that means a vacation I can’t afford, I might take it anyway. In some cases it means allowing my anxieties to win sometimes, and stay away from situations that cause me stress.

Bipolar has changed my outlook for the future, but not hopelessly so.

see the light

I’m a little better the last two days. This was a rough week.

In addition to a deep depression swing, my headaches have become strong again. I have always had sinus problems, and I have always had headaches since I can remember. But the sinus headache seems to trigger a stronger migraine, and my sensitivity to light aggravates those migraines. Any kind of light is bothersome, especially fluorescents and bright cloudy days. I have been wearing sunglasses inside at home, I bought a sleep mask, and I have been taking non-prescription pain pills constantly. I need to talk to my doctor about this, because it has become very difficult to function. Maybe I will end up wearing colored glasses all the time, like Bono.

fake

I’m holding my head in my hands while trying to work. I can pretend I have a headache. I can fake that.

I’m close to weeping at my desk. I can pretend my allergies are bothering me. I can fake that.

I go home and want to crawl in bed and just be alone. I can pretend I have a migraine. I can fake that.

I am tempted to put my real feelings on Fakebook, but instead I make a witty observation or post a funny picture. I can pretend to be my old self. I can fake that.

I don’t want to live being hopelessly depressed all the time. I wish I would suddenly just cease to live.

I don’t know how to fake that.

vulnerable

I am sinking. I feel vulnerable and fragile. It scares me that anyone could walk up to me and say something that would damage me to the core, and I seemingly have no defense at the moment. I’m afraid that I will let that vulnerability show.

I tend to isolate myself when I feel this way, like a wounded animal that hides while they regain their strength. I feel wounded, but I don’t feel like hiding will help me. It’s not like I can hide anyway, because I have to put on my mask and go to work every day.

I’m trapped between the need for income and insurance on one side, and my own unmet needs on the other. It has always been this way; reading back through 12 years of blogging reminds me that I have always had this conflict between what I need for myself and what I need to be for everyone else.

I don’t know how to solve this dilemma. I read advice that tells me I need to take little breaks and do things just for me. The reality is I want escape, and no amount of temporary respite will give me what I need. I don’t want a break. I just want to leave it all behind.

These are the type of thoughts that lead one to believe it is okay to put an end to it all. It makes the most sense logically, if you really consider it. The problem is that I don’t want to die just yet.

contradictions

I have done everything possible to forget about childhood in Goldville (the hometown), but I still tell stories from there. I have ignored all my friends for nearly 30 years, but I am trying to reconnect with them via Fakebook. However, connecting with those people brings up bad memories from those times, so I ignore them once more.

Much of the time, I want to be alone, yet I am often lonely. I have a family who loves me, but I feel so isolated. The bipolar has changed who I am inside to the point where I don’t really feel good things anymore. I want to be happy, but all I feel inside is melancholy and sadness. My illness makes it impossible to feel the way I want. Instead of valuing time with my family, I value the time away from them because I can be alone, which makes me feel more alone. I want to able to share the things I enjoy with them, but my own damaged thought processes won’t allow that.

I want to live into my retirement years so I can enjoy life for a change, but I know that I will not enjoy it when I get there. I will be worried about money and health care and quality of life, and I am afraid of early dementia robbing my mental vitality. I want to live, but every day I think of reasons it would be convenient to die now before things get any worse. I have plans for when I get to the point where I can’t enjoy life anymore. Despite wanting to live for my family, I will selfishly go out on my own terms.

I am outraged and sickened by the direction this country chose in the election, but I am so stunned and overwhelmed that I am unable to do anything about it. I sit in the sidelines, not contributing financially or with my voice or actions to fix the mess that has been created. I am so apathetic right now, and despite wanting to be involved and aware, I ignore the news as much as possible because it disgusts me so. I still find myself angry at my co-workers and acquaintances for doing this and thinking they were doing the right thing. They just don’t value the same things as me, and I wonder if that prevents me from being friends with them. This leads to isolation and loneliness, with depression on the side.

More than ever, I am motivated to be more healthy, but I know I will not do anything about that either. My social anxiety rises whenever I try to exercise, and I fear people are watching the fat guy stumble around in futility at the gym. I won’t go to the YMCA with Annie because I am simply too embarrassed to be seen there. Then when my clothes don’t fit, I feel worse and more embarrassed and more isolated from others, and I am less motivated to do anything about it. I get closer to the inevitable heart attack or diabetes, killing myself one slice of pizza at a time.

I’m proud of my kids for being kind, good-hearted people, but I wish they could have the motivation to do more, to be more successful. I know it’s not fair to compare your own kids to other people’s kids, but how can I help it? My friend is constantly bursting at the seams with his daughter’s latest great accomplishment, and all I have is “my kid showered today” (which is a big accomplishment for her). I feel like I didn’t give them the tools they needed to succeed in life, because I wasn’t there emotionally or mentally for them while I was fighting my own demons. Unless he finds the ambition to change his life, my son will be stuck in low-wage jobs for the foreseeable future. My daughter is essentially unable to anything for herself because of her mental illness. You want your kids to do better in life, but for many reasons it’s not going to happen. I want to be a supportive parent, but it is difficult.

I want to live, but I’m so tired of living.

stable but unwell

My bipolar seems to be in a stable phase lately, however that stability is still not feeling well.

I have had depression phases, but until lately I think they were related to outside events rather than developing on their own. I have had no hypomania phases for at least a year, maybe more. The medication, especially the Abilify, takes the edge off so that I rarely get those highs anymore. I miss the highs a little bit, then I remember that I usually have an agitated mixed state rather than a happy hypomanic state.

This time I seem to be in a real depression. I worry constantly, my OCD is there all the time, I exhibit social anxiety symptoms every day, I try to avoid contact with people, and I have the added stress of maintaining the constant mask that keeps people from seeing how I really feel. Physically I don’t feel well, I am tired all the time despite getting good sleep, and my weight has ballooned. I have no motivation or energy to do anything, and getting the house ready to sell seems like an overwhelming task at this time. When I am overwhelmed, I give up, and that makes me depressed, and the vicious cycle continues.

I don’t know if any changes to my meds are warranted, but I will ask him if I can do anything else. The p-doc says I am maxed out on the Lamictal, and the Abilify is doing nothing for my depression or anxiety. The social anxiety is probably a behavioral issue rather than medical, and changing the meds won’t affect that. There is no magic formula to make me change the kind of person I am, and I don’t believe any amount of therapy can give me confidence or self-esteem, or take away the insecurities I have had since childhood.

I guess the theory behind the medicine is that if they can fix your brain chemistry so that you’re not depressed all the time, you will be able to make changes and make progress necessary to improve your life. Nicole and I were discussing that with respect to her illness, and I was telling her that it seems like she is just stagnating, standing in place, choosing not do to do things to make progress toward independence and rejoining the world of the living. I think I am stagnating as well, but I have the added stress of being forced to play the role of worker and provider and all-around good guy for everyone who needs me.

Fuck bipolar.

karma and punishment

My daughter Nicole and I were talking about karma, revenge, and punishment the other day. She thinks it is wrong that our society’s need for “justice” revolves around revenge for the aggrieved or their family. I told her this concept has been around for thousands of years. Some Eastern cultures specified revenge punishments for certain crimes, and that carried over into the biblical/Western society as well.

She thinks that the purpose of prison should be to keep dangerous people away from society, and that non-violent criminals should not have to go to prison. I tend to agree with this, but right or wrong, I have been indoctrinated in a culture that says crimes must be punished. It would be difficult for me to advocate forgiveness for non-violent crimes, but perhaps there are better ways for punishment to be given: halfway houses, extended probation, and monetary fines for those who can afford it.

I don’t really believe in the concept of karma and the universe taking care of itself. I constantly see bad things happen to good people, and bad people (i.e. those who offend my value system) seem to get ahead in life. Whatever karma is, it doesn’t have the ability to right the wrongs in the world. If there were justice in the universe, I would be there to see vile, disgusting people get what they deserve.

Maybe this is wrong, but I wish bad things to happen to distasteful people. [The subject of the “yearbook” post comes to mind.] I want punishment for bad deeds and offensive behavior. But Nicole asks if I would be happy to see something truly tragic happen, like the death of a loved one, or a debilitating disease, or being paralyzed in a crash. That’s not what I want; it’s apples and oranges. For me, justice is proportionate to the crime being committed. When someone cuts me off on a snowy freeway, I would love to see them spin out and slide into a ditch, but I don’t want them to be injured. Likewise, when someone is a bully, I want to see them get bullied or humiliated, but I don’t wish them bodily harm.

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Twenty years ago I was badly injured in a car crash caused by a habitual drunk driver with a revoked license. He had several prior convictions, but this charge of aggravated vehicular assault was the most serious. It was a slam dunk case, and he was quickly convicted. Under Oregon law the penalty was a mandatory 6 years in prison. The judge asked his family to speak, and they said something to the effect that he was a good person who made mistakes, and that sending him to prison would be a loss for their family. I was asked to speak, and I said something like: my family almost lost me for good, and he should be punished, but I hoped he could get treatment while in prison.

I still have a bad taste in my mouth from what happened at the time. I think the driver deserved to be punished, but was it a violent offense? Maybe the sentence was just in that society was protected from his drunk driving for 6 years, but hard time in prison may be too much when a low-security residential institution may have been more appropriate. I thought at the time I wanted him to get treatment for his alcoholism, but I have seen cases where treatment didn’t work, and the drunk slips back into the same behavior. Maybe this was his last chance, and I was the unlucky one. I know this event changed my life forever, and I’m sure it changed his life forever as well.