too

I’ve never been comfortable being myself. I’ve always struggled with defining my self-worth by the way I perceive that others see me. I look at myself as though I am a judgemental outside observer, constantly criticizing my faults and shortcomings. I suppose this comes from a severe lack of self-esteem, something I learned at home and had reinforced at school when I was a kid.

My hair was too messy. My braces were too geeky. My face was too dorky. I was too slow. I was too nerdy. I was too “husky”. I was too quiet, too depressed, too clingy, too intense, too creepy, too naïve, too introverted. I was too smart. I was too boring.

I wasn’t outgoing. I wasn’t down-to-earth. I wasn’t cool to be around. I wasn’t athletic enough. I wasn’t happy enough. I wasn’t interesting. I wasn’t dateable.

Ugh. Enough memories.

I still feel my flaws as much as ever, but now I suppose there is more of a reluctant acceptance of my flaws. Some of those perceived flaws are imaginary, a function of my own insecurities projected onto what I believe others see in me. Some of those shortcomings are realistic, and I just have to accept them and work around them. I don’t have much faith that therapy can fix this mindset.

I don’t like who I am on some days, but sometimes I’m okay with myself. For a perennial depressive, that’s good enough. On very few days, I get to feel more positive, and that is always welcome.

mindfulness update: the book

As I told you in a previous post, my therapist recommended a book about mindfulness. I picked up the book from the library, and it has sat on my table for over a week now, unopened. I had a therapy appointment scheduled for today, which I knew wasn’t going to go well, so last week I moved that appointment to sometime in August. Just in case I go to that one, I made a second appointment for September.

In the meantime, the book on mindfulness still sits on my table, mocking me and my overactive brain. I picked it up once or twice in the past week, looked at the cover, thought “I’m feeling too anxious to concentrate right now,” then put it back down. I’ll probably renew the book so I have longer to worry about how futile it would be to try mindfulness.

big time

I hated growing up in my old hometown. People who lived in my town were either senior citizens or people whose families had lived there for multiple generations. It was relatively poor, unless you lived on the ridge above town or overlooking the lake. The downtown was dead (except for one good record store), and you had to go to a nearby city to do any serious shopping. The weather was blazing hot and dry all summer, and the vegetation looked dead or in serious distress every year. High school graduates, who were becoming more rare every year, had to leave town to go to college or find good jobs, and most of them never came back. There were few options for kids to do something other than fight or get into trouble or kill themselves and others while they were drunk driving. Crime was high, suicides were high, and homelessness was becoming a serious problem. There were so many drug addicts, and this was before methamphetamines took over. It wasn’t a fun place to live.

I wanted out, partly because I hated it there and partly because of bad memories of my childhood forever associated with the town. My first escape was to college in Nevada, but for various reasons, I had to return to town. I was angry about it, and I knew I had to leave again. In the meantime my adopted mom died, which broke the last link I had keeping me there. My girlfriend hated the town too, so we made a plan to get out. We got married, sold my childhood house, and moved elsewhere in California; I finished college before we moved out of state for several years. We returned to California for a while, then left again, moving to Ohio where we have been since 2005.

I’ve always liked the song “Big Time” by Peter Gabriel. Some of the lyrics:

The place where I come from is a small town
They think so small, they use small words
But not me, I’m smarter than that, I worked it out
I’ll be stretching my mouth to let those big words come right out
I’ve had enough, I’m getting out
to the city, the big big city

I remember being in my bed as a teen listening to this and thinking about leaving my hometown and the small-town life there. I think my wife and I have been pretty successful after leaving. We visited her extended family a few times many years ago, but I couldn’t wait to leave again because of the memories of living there. Now her family there has all moved away, so I have no reason to ever go back.

mind over ice cream

I don’t know if I am on the same page as my therapist. Yesterday was an awkward appointment. I had very little to say and didn’t want to be there, and he seemed like he was stumped, trying to find something to talk about. Neither one of us seemed prepared. Granted, I’m the one asking for help, so I guess I should be the one with questions. I would have been fine if he had let me go home early.

After flailing for a few minutes, he started talking about mindfulness as a tool for reducing anxiety. He described what mindfulness is, and I was having trouble concentrating … as he’s telling me how to concentrate on acknowledging distractions then coming back to the moment. My brain was tired but bouncing all day yesterday, so it was a particularly poor time to have to listen to someone talk.

I have to admit I don’t get the mindfulness thing. I thought it was more about doing something to distract you from everything in your brain, allowing you to have a little reset. I know how to be totally present in the moment, like while listening to my favorite music for the 100th time, or when being by myself in the woods, or reclining with a purring cat. But either I get distracted by something or someone, the moment is gone, and I start thinking about all the things I took a break from.

I asked him if mindfulness was blocking everything out and just clearing your mind for a few minutes, and apparently that was incorrect, because he was trying to convince me that something like eating ice cream or the act of standing up can be the object of a mindfulness exercise. (Really? Does pooping count?) I asked him what did that solve, and I never really got an answer. He said he wrote a dissertation about the subject, so I decided not to tell him I didn’t get the point.

Then he started talking about Buddhists and India, and honestly he lost me at that point. Nothing against Buddhism, but I just need something I can understand. However he did refer me to a book on mindfulness for anxiety, so I’ll get that from the library and see what I think. He also told me about some guy’s videos, but I told him I can barely sit through an episode of a TV show on Netflix. My brain moves way too fast to listen to some dude drone on for an hour about how to enjoy ice cream.

I don’t know if mindfulness exercises are going to work for me, but I guess I will give it a good faith effort to see if I can get something useful out of this. If anyone has any tips or references for helping me understand this, I’m willing to listen. Comment or email me if you have something that might help.

giving up

It’s tough to see someone simply give up on themselves and lose all faith in their ability to thrive. When it’s a friend or family member, you do what you can to help, with the understanding that they will attempt to help themselves as well. In this case, my daughter won’t do anything to help herself and is willing to let my wife and I do everything for her. Part of me wants to let her sink or swim, but I can’t do that. I’m not willing to let her be without health care or let her be homeless or destitute, or even committed to a long-term mental hospital. She wants others to take care of everything for her, including her health, and she can’t or won’t understand that she needs to be a partner in this. Until she agrees to take some responsibility for her own health, I don’t know what else to do. I wish I had a better answer.

[note: severely edited]

allow me to recapitulate

It has been an interesting year so far. Manic episodes, sketching house plans in the middle of the night, COVID vaccines, no more masks, mentally preparing to work from the office again, and the Giants still in first place bitches! (yeah, you, LA fan). 

Anyway, I feel like it’s a good time for a bulleted list, so here is a recap of the first 6 months of this year:

  • In January I began a strong manic episode for about 6 weeks, possibly encouraged by trying Latuda for bipolar depression. I had extreme anxiety and a couple of panic attacks, I couldn’t sleep most nights, and I was very restless. My OCD rituals became much stronger and nearly impossible to control.
  • In February I began to come down from the manic state but the OCD and anxiety continued in full force, and it was very difficult to work or be “normal” at home. 
  • In March, there was very little improvement, and I worried that something had permanently been damaged in my brain from the manic episode. (I still think that is the case, but I’m learning to manage it.) I was very concerned that my continued employment was in jeopardy, and the resultant worry fed my continuing anxiety.
  • In April I discontinued Wellbutrin and went back on Abilify, and my anxiety calmed down somewhat. I was officially diagnosed with OCD. I also began seeing a therapist for help to deal with the anxiety and OCD behaviors. My daughter spent a week in the hospital with a vomiting syndrome.
  • In May, the anxiety began to decrease significantly, although the OCD rituals were still a problem. I finally got to go on my planned hiking trip to Pennsylvania, which was calming and satisfying. We had a multi-family barbecue for the first time since COVID, since everyone is vaccinated now.
  • In June (earlier this week), I applied for a new position at the company I work for. It would be a promotion, although the pay would be about the same. I don’t think I have much of a chance, but if you get an interview, anything can happen.

Looking forward to the rest of 2021, who knows what will transpire? We do have a few plans:

  • As of July 6th our company will begin a hybrid work schedule, which means I will be able to work every other week at the office again. Maybe I will remember all the people who I used to see every day.
  • In August we will have our annual family camping trip at a local state park. We had to cancel in 2020, breaking a streak of 12 years. 
  • In September my wife and I will take a short vacation to celebrate our 30th anniversary. We’ll probably take a bigger vacation next year, but my daughter can’t be alone for more than a couple of days, so we’ll see what happens then.
  • In November we will be seeing Genesis in concert. 

… and off we go.

father time

It’s time for my annual episode of mixed feelings about Father’s Day.

When my son was born on Fathers Day, I had this feeling that life would never be the same, and it has been true. It seems cliché to say, but when I sat in the hospital room, holding my son while watching a baseball game, I had a feeling of unconditional love which I had never known before that day. I had similar feelings when my daughter was born, but at that time it was mixed with relief and thankfulness that I had survived a bad car accident to reach that point in life.

I have never thought I was a great parent, mostly because my bipolar disorder caused me to ruminate about mistakes, elevated my anger and emotional instability, and caused me to be mentally absent for long periods of time. Looking back though, I realize I did the best I could, that all parents make mistakes, and that the kids don’t hate me. The conversation at Thanksgiving made me feel so much better about myself, and I don’t think the kids realize it.

The negative emotions surrounding the day stem from the fact I have never had a father. I didn’t have that influence on my life, someone to play ball with, someone I could pattern myself after or enjoy being his son. Because I was adopted by a single woman who never got married, I saw poor examples shown by imperfect people with problems of their own, and I didn’t really understand how there is no such thing as the perfect dad. I knew I didn’t want to emulate those men, but I didn’t have a healthy idea of who I could emulate.

When I found my birth father’s family in 2019, I was a little bit sad to learn he had died several years previously. I also found out I have three half-brothers, but they got to spend time with my father. I wish I had been able to meet him, because he sounds like a good guy at heart, but part of me would always remember that he left me behind. I’m not good with new relationships anyway, as evidenced by how much difficulty I have had maintaining a relationship with my birth mother.

Enough rambling. If you are doing something nice for your father, maybe let him know if he was a good parent. That would make a great present.

blog soup – stir well

I have a busy week ahead. I have three field days at work this week, two of which are unnecessary; I have an appointment with both my therapist and my sleep doctor; and it’s my father-in-laws birthday. My wife has no idea what to get him other than a gift card to the hardware store. It’s difficult because his birthday and Father’s Day are so close together, and he doesn’t need anything except carpal tunnel surgery. Fortunately he will get that at the VA hospital, because it’s hard to get medical procedures from Amazon (for now).

My daughter needed to replace a broken phone, and our other two were glitchy, so we finally ditched our old prepaid cell plan and went with a major carrier (the pink one) to get discounted phones. The red carrier is too expensive even though they have better coverage; I hate the blue carrier and I think their bundling prices are predatory. I’m happy with the service, but my brand new phone has problems reading the SD card.

The thought occurred to me that everyone I went to high school with is at or near 50 years old, and their parents are getting older to the point where funerals are becoming more common. That’s depressing in several ways. Maybe seeing your parents getting older is part of the mid-life crisis experience because it makes you think about your own mortality. Nothing lasts forever, so go nuts while you still can, or something like that. My idea of going nuts is completely different, but even I fall victim to the urge to buy expensive things to make myself feel alive. For example, I bought pricey brioche buns for my grilled hamburgers instead of the cheaper plain buns. Living on the edge, that’s me.

lack of compassion

I was telling my therapist last week how I have no self-esteem and a very poor sense of self-worth. I define my worth by what others see in me, and I project my negative thoughts onto them. I assume they see the worst in me, and my inner critic reinforces those mistaken assumptions.

My inner critic has voices; sometimes it is my own voice, sometimes it is the voice of peers or strangers from my past, but most often it is the voice of my abusers who told me repeatedly how little value I have and how ashamed I should be. Several years ago I wrote that my anger had lost its hold over me, but that is not true for the voices of the past.

The therapist asked me if I could be more compassionate toward myself, and I told him truthfully that I have no idea how to do that. I don’t know how to give myself a pass for being an imperfect, fallible human without thinking of myself as defective and broken. What about others, he said; for example, how would I comfort my wife if she were feeling bad and was hurting emotionally? I told him honestly that other than an uncomfortable hug, I don’t really know.

My wife is very likely to lose an uncle to COVID in the upcoming days, and maybe her aunt as well. She wasn’t really close to them for the past 25 years, but I know she will be sad about it, and she might have some tears. I have no clue what I will do when that happens. I care about the feelings of loved ones and strangers, and I sympathize with their sadness, but I feel like awkwardly comforting people close to me is a duty I have to do.

It doesn’t seem very compassionate to say that her aunt and uncle brought this risk on themselves by choosing to listen to the Orange Cult Leader, and they are suffering the natural consequences of dismissing the danger caused from being anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers. She knows that of course, and we share the same opinion, but that won’t stop her from being sad. I will feel like I have to comfort her because it’s my job as her husband, but I don’t feel comfortable doing so.

The inner critic is right: I am emotionally defective. My therapist better bring his A-game.

deleted [TW]

[This poem was written in the middle of the night when things were pretty dark and I was very unstable in February this year. I don’t feel the same way now, at least not in the stark and unflinching way as when I wrote this. I always think about death, no matter how light my mood is, but I rarely have concrete plans.]

If you are feeling hopeless and suicidal, please reach out to people or to a hotline. Depression lies to you. You are worth something to someone, and you will be missed forever.

TRIGGER WARNING – suicidal thoughts, death, hopelessness

 

 

 

 

memories I’ve deleted
wisps of smoke in the wind
disappearing vapor trails
something that was but is no more

people I’ve discarded
empty shells of flesh
devoid of substance and spirit
their essence is gone

places I’ve deserted
vistas left unseen
towns without a name
the spaces left behind

delusions I’ve denied
blind faith in gods
belief in myself
things that no longer matter

deleted
discarded
deserted
deluded

nothing to forget
no one to care for
nowhere to call home
nothing to believe in

maybe someday
I’ll delete myself