february

February is historically not a very good month for me. There are the memories of the car crash, b-mom’s birthday, b-mom’s death and funeral, the breakup with my not-quite-girlfriend (totally my fault), and other events.

I’m feeling melancholy and introspective lately, with memories floating aimlessly in my head, and thoughts of change and upheaval lurking in the periphery of my easily-distracted brain.

I have the itch to make major life decisions, but I am somewhat stuck in my current position in life. It would be stupid to make changes right now. Instead of looking for ways to blow up everything I have, I need to be more thankful at my fortune.

If only I could work on problems here at home … Nicole still struggling, stress among her and Anne and I, dealing with my feelings of being boxed in, and more.

Yet the snow falls, and the sun shines, and the traffic flows, indifferent to the problems people face. Tomorrow really is another day, and blissful sleep provides a short respite from anxiety and worry and sad memories.

saturday at the salt mine

At work I have multiple large projects currently at various stages of design, and deadlines are rapidly approaching. Unfortunately there are not enough hours in the day to get all this work done without working overtime or getting more people. Since they are not hiring any extra help right now, management has politely asked us laborers to work extra hours.

So instead of my usual weekend sleep-in, I arrived at work way too early this morning. I got some McBreakfast on the way, put in 5 hours, then went home early so I could have a relaxing remainder of the day. I don’t like being here, but it will be nice to have the extra money. And the bathrooms are less toxic on the weekend.

Never mind what the extra hours will do to my mental well-being. I have been only mildly depressed, but I have been more than a little stressed out. In addition I find it difficult to concentrate for 8 hours in a typical workday, so staying late during the week is usually out of the question unless I am feeling hypomanic. I find it much easier to come in early on Saturdays than staying after during the week.

I care about getting projects done and constructed, but I don’t like being forced urged to work more hours when they should hire more design technicians. They hired too many salaried project managers recently, and I think some of them are going to be let go. A few PMs in my department exchanged nervous looks when the words “reorganization” and “reallocation of resources” were used in a corporate e-mail.
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… and to the three or four people who actually read this post, I’m sorry for boring the shit out of you.

planet earth is blue, and there’s nothing i can do

I’m in a mood, and I can’t quite identify it. Things are still stressful at home sometimes, and work is work, but despite that I haven’t had any real mood swings. I’ve been taking my meds and getting good sleep, but I am frequently out of energy during the day and unmotivated during the evenings. I feel a little melancholy, but it doesn’t dominate my day.

I’m not a big movie fan, but I have been watching more movies lately. I finally got a blu-ray player, and I can see I was missing out. We watched the Hobbit series, and it was spectacular. I’m ruined for regular DVDs. Now I want to set up a fundraiser so I can buy the James Bond box set, all 23 movies, one each weekend for the next 6 months.

Watching the east coast blizzard from the comfort of my chair, I’m glad we don’t have all that snow to deal with. We have had very little snow so far this winter, I think 2” was the most so far. We live far enough south where the lake effect snow off Lake Erie doesn’t reach here. We could still get hit with a big storm this winter, but my fingers are crossed.

With the recent passing of David Bowie and Glenn Frey, I realize more every day that some of my favorite musicians are getting old. The people who made the music I have listened to my whole life are getting into their 60s and even 70s (yeah, you, Mick Jagger). Some of the rock stars have lived a pretty hard life, with all the drugs and partying, but it is still sad to see these people dying relatively early. Speaking of old rockers, we are thinking of seeing Peter Gabriel and Sting on tour together this summer. It depends on the ticket prices, I guess.

sinking together

Nicole is really struggling with depression right now. She spends almost all her days sleeping, and when she is awake she mostly lays in bed with her computer. She stays awake during the night so no one bothers her about laying in bed. She has no motivation to do anything to help herself or anyone else. Instead of growing into a strong, independent young woman, she has been robbed of her vitality by her depression.

She has not had a manic episode in several months, and her p-doc thinks she only has depression. Maybe that is true, and maybe it is because she is still taking the mood stabilizer. She is now on three medications: Lamictal, Abilify, and Zoloft. She is also seeing a therapist and goes to group therapy. I don’t know if she is getting anything positive from therapy, because she seems unable to shake the depression.

I’m trying to be compassionate, but I’m not succeeding. I have tried to be understanding, but it is exasperating to watch as she gives up on her own life. I have been consumed by anger and frustration at her inability to participate in life, and at my inability to do anything to help. Every day is a struggle to keep myself from saying something that will only hurt her. Anne is depressed and frustrated as well, and I think she is being less understanding than I am.

Neither of us know what to do. We can’t physically drag her out of bed, and when we tell her repeatedly to get up, she simply says she won’t. The medication won’t get her out of bed, and the therapy isn’t working. It is almost overwhelming.

It is not fun to be in our house lately.

the digital life

I watched a movie the other night that made me think, and I realize I didn’t do enough to prevent the Man-Child from getting too involved in video games and internet games. He has wasted so much time with these alternate realities. I wasn’t really present for him due to bipolar and then being out on the road so much during the driving days, but I shouldn’t use that as an excuse. I let it become an addiction for him, and I blame myself.

We have become so addicted to our devices. In the 80s they told us that too much TV viewing would ruin our lives. In the 90s it was video games, and now it is the proliferation of phones and tablets that will doom the fabric of society. Maybe “they” are right. It is so easy to get lost in a virtual world and forget about the analog people who are distracted by technology. Tech has brought us some incredible advances in all areas of life, but I don’t think it is a good idea for people to rely on devices for their sole source of entertainment. Play card games, read a book, interact with nature, talk to people. Be in the real world rather than hiding in an electric world.

Easy for me to say, right? I’m attached to a computer for most of the day, mostly for work, but there is rarely a day I don’t pick up a device of some kind. Am I any better for not having games on my phone, or having a plain Kindle rather than a tablet? I still have the ability to back away from technology when I choose, but I don’t make that choice nearly enough.

five years later

Five years ago this week, I interviewed and was hired for a job with the Big Gas Company. More importantly, it got me out of the truck and returned me to a more stable, normal life. There were times I enjoyed my time on the road, and I saw some interesting things and places, but getting my engineering career back on track was the single best thing I could have done for my mental health.

Here are some links to my state of mind at the time: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

Five years later … I’m a little burned out, and wishing I was doing something different. Maybe it is just my typical cycle where I want to blow things up and start over at something else. I have had several “career changes” since college days, and I wish I could make another big change. However I would be an idiot if I left my current job for work in private consulting again. Any job I would want to do would pay significantly less than what I make now, the benefits wouldn’t be as good, but my job satisfaction might be higher. Also I might find myself in another toxic situation like where I worked in 2005-2008, and my mental health suffered greatly during that time.

I wish I would have studied different things in college, or at least looked at other career possibilities. I was so focused in on engineering that I didn’t realize I would enjoy work as a environmental scientist, a biologist, a geologist, or a surveyor. I had a decent job as a wetlands field tech, and I seriously thought of going back to school to improve in that field. Instead of continuing on that path however I took a job in engineering, and missed an opportunity. Later I transitioned to being an IT guy, and I enjoyed that role, and could have been successful at it, but I was forced to return to engineering.

My engineering jobs were usually taken because of outside factors: moving to be near family, moving to get away from family, or getting away from a negative job experience. I don’t think I factored in my job satisfaction, I just did what was best for all of us at the time.

Even though I would like to do something different, I don’t know how I could do so without jeopardizing our financial future. I know other people start over in middle age, but I don’t have a big savings account that would allow for the reduced income.

slappy new year

Another year and another holiday season finished, and no tragedies occurred, unless you count the death of our terminally-ill dishwasher and a large tree in the backyard.

It was a quiet year for the most part, but some interesting things happened. I had fun on my baseball trip. Anne quit her hotel job for good and started her home cleaning business. Nicole graduated from high school, but she also spent a few days in the hospital for her depression, and has been unable to make any effort at growing up a little. Dan got his job making decent money at the potato chip factory, and seems to be okay with 12-hour shifts in return for 3- or 4-day work weeks; he is looking to move out soon, and we encouraged him by buying him kitchen stuff for Christmas.

We had our second full year with the fish-in-laws here in Ohio, and despite having occasional health issues, thankfully nothing bad happened to them. Anne’s mom had a defibrillator implanted to control her heart, and that has worked well. Anne’s dad had eye surgery, and is impressed with how well he can see now. They are in their 70s, and I know problems can appear suddenly, but overall they are doing well. I truly appreciate having them here with us, and I hope we can go another year without any significant health problems.

I tend to not make any new years’ resolutions, other than not making resolutions. It is tough for me to plan things ahead of time, or to commit myself to a course of action when I know I won’t follow through. I don’t maintain things very well, and I don’t have a good track record with setting goals and achieving them. I will simply try to get as much out of each day as possible, and not fuck things up along the way. Every day survived is a little victory.

We do have a few things to look forward to this year. We will spend several days on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a 25th anniversary present to ourselves. We will also visit with my b-mom along the way. We plan on taking the fish-in-laws on their first trip to Niagara Falls. We might help Anne’s sister (the Goat Family) move here to Ohio.

The past year was not perfect, but I am thankful for how it turned out. Hopefully 2016 will be tragedy-free as well. I’m a pessimistic person, and I see all the bad things that can happen, but as my friend the Viking once said, what if everything turns out just fine? Let’s hope for that.

the gospel according to barney

There is this guy at work who I call Barney because his voice and body type reminds me of the big purple dinosaur. He loves to talk, especially to our supervisor, but usually I manage to avoid conversation with him. Then I made the mistake of talking to him, and now he wants to convert me.

On Monday I accidentally told him I wasn’t just okay, that I had injured my back and I was in significant pain. He proceeded to tell me something about his dad having back injuries, but I passed out in the middle of that story. Not really, I just lost interest, and when I woke up, he was was talking to someone else.

Yesterday, while still in pain, I was setting up one of those standing desks I make fun of, so I can switch between sitting and standing when one or the other starts to hurt my back. Barney stopped by to ask if my back felt any better, and I told him not really. He had some stuff on his face, possibly popcorn detritus stuck on a whisker on his cheek. Remember that Tide commercial where the stain was talking during the job interview? Yeah, the popcorn crumb was a little distracting. Anyway, He noticed my standing desk, and he started talking about how much he loved his standing desk, and that humans weren’t meant to stand all day. Unfortunately, I didn’t try to end the conversation.

I said for most of the past 70,000 years we were all hunting and gathering, and that only in the last 200 years have we become office-bound, and we have not evolved to sit all the time. He told me that he doesn’t believe in any evolution or “hundred thousand years or whatever”, that he believes the bible and has a close relationship with Jesus Christ. At this point my brain hurt as much as my back. I told him I don’t believe any of that, but holy fuck, he just kept on talking. Just before I blacked out again, he was saying that he is excited about JC and wants to share it with everyone he can.

During my short coma Barney told a story about his dad’s hearing and how they prayed really, really hard and miraculously he healed; another story about how he almost got hit by a semi and called out to JC, who saved his ass; and another story about his own back problems and how God healed him, or whatever. He finally ran out of words, but just before he left, the popcorn on his face said he would remember me in prayer.

I am an atheist, and I am a pretty strong believer that mankind created gods, not the other way around. But I’m not that kind of atheist, the angry, militant atheist who rents billboards or files lawsuits about nativity scenes at Christmas (I approve of both, by the way). A few people at work know I am a non-believer, and I will tell anyone who asks me, but I don’t go proclaiming from the rooftops that I think religion is naive and unnecessary. I think it is better to respect everyone’s right to believe what they wish without being harassed about it. But shouldn’t that work the other way? Just because I am in a tiny minority of atheists in a society of believers, does that mean I have to accept preaching and proselytizing and people trying to convince me I am wrong?

I don’t really know what to say to the guy, and hopefully I can avoid him. But if he starts with the Jesus shit again, I’m going to tell him to drop it, or else. He can believe what he wants, but he should not try to preach to me, and I will be greatly offended if he does so. If he continues, I will take it to my supervisor, and we can have a little meeting about the pros and cons of discussing religion in the workplace. If that doesn’t stop it, there is a workplace harassment hotline, and I’m not afraid to use it, and we will all end up in sensitivity training.

Or I’ll get burned at the stake.

self-esteem at dinner

Recently I was at a birthday dinner with about 40 people. Most of them were relatives of the birthday boy (who turned 80), and I was at the “neighbors’ table” with the other people who live next door. I was sort of an outsider, but I didn’t really feel that way. For once, I wasn’t really anxious about being out.

However, about halfway through dinner I caught a side view of myself in a mirror. I thought, “Ugh, do I really look like that?” After that moment I started feeling self-conscious and anxious, and the negative self-talk started up. Fat, unattractive, eating too much, making a mess, don’t belong here, need to leave. The thoughts were not quite overwhelming, but I forced my wife to leave at the earliest opportunity. A typical night out for me.

I have such low self-esteem, and I automatically believe that people are thinking negative thoughts about me. Logically I know they probably are not even noticing me, but that inverted narcissism makes me believe I am the center of their scorn and disapproval. I know there are tools to help people get over the habit of thinking those thoughts, but changing habits is different from changing beliefs. I mostly believe all the negatives about myself, and I don’t believe any amount of “Stuart Smalley” self-help psychobabble can change that.

catastrophe

The cats are driving me crazy. Rephrase: The crazy cat is driving me. Erma has gone over the edge after we took in a young cat who was headed for a shelter. I was against it, but I figured it would be okay. But Erma fights with Cleopatra whenever they are in contact, not just batting and hissing, but a serious, fight-to-the-death brawl. We have to keep them separated at all times.

Other than being psychotic, Erma is in great health, so we can’t put her to sleep. She’s like that racist, dementia-addled great-grandma with orange hair who will live to be 100, and occasionally starts a fight because she thinks you aren’t a christian. Wait, that’s Donald Trump. You can see the confusion there.

Anyway, I was discussing cats. Because Nicole is the youngest crazy cat lady in the world.

Opal is fat. I can hear her when she walks across the floor. I hope cats can’t understand what we are saying, because she might develop a self-esteem problem when we keep calling her Tubby and Chubbs and Thunderpaws. We would never say that about people. Not to their face, anyway.