51 and 5150

At age 1, my infant brain had no idea what changes were taking place and what wreckage my defective chemistry would produce in the 50 years to come. All I wanted was a clean butt and a full belly.

At age 11, I was a child genius who loved playing. Baseball, basketball, four-square, card games, dice games, board games, word games, and trivia games kept me sane at a time when people around me tried to force my psyche into submission. I would play by myself often, being an only child, but I always wanted to play with others too. I was not yet anti-social, although I knew I didn’t fit in very well with people my own age.

At age 21, I was an unmedicated mess. I knew I was a little volatile, but I figured that was just my personality. I was emotionally damaged, but trying to recover in small steps. I was no longer a kid, but not a real adult yet until my mom died. I was left with a big mess (literally and figuratively), and my wife-to-be helped me deal with everything. I got married way too early, but we promised to make it work. I was in the middle of my retail career and my college career.

At age 31, I was still an unmedicated mess. I knew my life was spiraling, yet I was too proud to admit I needed help. I tried to figure things out on my own, and I struggled to survive my demons. I had the feeling of leading a double life, with fake-me pretending to enjoy spending time with the family, and real-me wanting to be swallowed by the ocean. I was writing every day, at first to an old friend, then just to myself. I created an alternate reality where I could run away with her, and I was angry because my delusions weren’t real. I was preparing to enter my darkest decade.

At age 41, I was a medicated mess, still fragile emotionally but trying to reclaim a little bit of solid ground. I finished one of the most difficult chapters of my life when I left my job as a long-haul trucker, and started in my current position with the gas company. I rejoined my family just in time to try to help Nicole as her mental illness started to become evident. At the same time I was trying with minimal success to take care of my own problems.

At age 51, I started coming to terms with my age while continuing to struggle with my mental health. I had a significant manic episode where thankfully nothing was broken, whether physical items or my bank account. I had my 30th wedding anniversary, which is something of a victory after all the shit I put my wife through over the years. The coronavirus cast a spell over the year, but thankfully I didn’t get sick. Hopefully the story of year 51 can end without anything bad happening.

5150 is the code word in California for a 72-hour psychiatric hospitalization. It was also a pretty good album by Van Halen. Finally, 5150 is a road sign that I happened to pass one day in the middle of Illinois:

a haughty coworker

I hate people who go through life with the scornful, arrogant superiority of thinking their way is always right. Hey buddy, none of us have our shit completely figured out, and none of us have a moral compass pointing true north, no matter how much we wish it were true. Get off your fucking high horse, stop being a hypocrite, and admit your faults like everyone else.

losing hope

My heart hurts for Nicole (my daughter) right now. Her life is so incredibly difficult. Her bipolar is severe enough that the medications aren’t working. She has been mostly manic but sometimes in a mixed mood for weeks now. She wants to be better, but she is powerless in the face of the monster. She knows it, and she is losing hope.

I love her so much, and I would take a bullet for her, but I can’t help her against what hurts her the most. I wish I could take it away from her, absorb her craziness and keep it for myself, to give her a little peace. But miracles don’t exist. I don’t want to say this out loud, but I don’t think she will ever be well.

My fear is that she will get worse and finally have enough of her tortured life. I would be sad beyond words, but I wouldn’t be angry with her if she did end her life. She is never well, she’s not a resilient person, and she struggles with life. She tries to find pleasure but it is ripped away from her by her illness. I don’t know if I could live like that. She says she has thought about it, but she has no plans right now. I hope we can help her before it comes to that point.

After months, she made it to a psychiatrist who tried some new meds, but Nicole realized that the new drug had a side effect of weight gain, so she refused to take it. At her next appointment two days ago, she was bad enough that the p-doc told her she could go to a treatment center, or she would be pink-slipped and sent to the psych ward of one of the local hospitals. We chose the treatment center, and she was admitted yesterday. I hope she can find some relief there. If they can’t help her, I don’t know where to turn.

I’m crying as I write this, and I never cry.

the weekend update

Job update: I found out who was chosen for the job I interviewed for. She has no field experience and no design experience, but she was well known by the hiring manager. I was lied to, because I was told by that manager that they wanted someone with more field experience. I think I didn’t get the job because they didn’t know me personally and because I’m a middle-aged white male. I hate to be that way, but that’s the company culture. It’s not what you know, but who you know. I wasn’t bitter before, but I’m a little salty now.

Psych update: I saw the p-doc this week and told him I wasn’t having mood swings, but I’ve had a pretty good depression for weeks now. In addition, the Abilify makes me want to eat everything in sight. We are going to try a newer brand-name drug, Vraylar, because it treats both depression and mania, and weight gain is much less common. Hopefully I will have some good news to report.

Mindfulness update: I’m going to tell the therapist I want to concentrate on some other method of treatment. I’ve lost interest in the book, I can’t seem to get started on the exercises, and I don’t believe it will work for more than a few moments. What I need is to find a way to fight the social anxiety enough that I can actually exercise without thinking that everyone is looking at the fat guy trying to exercise.

Baseball update: I’m hoping the Giants can win today so they don’t have to play in the wild card game. I also hope the Cardinals beat the Dodgers in the wild card game. Fuck the Dodgers. If the Giants get to the World Series and lose, I’m afraid I will go into a deep depression like I did in 2002. It sounds silly, but I feel like I’m in a precarious place right now, and all I need is a trigger to push me into a spiral.

out of touch

I have been so busy in the past couple of months that I haven’t had time to think. Maybe that is a good thing, but I feel like I’m out of touch with myself. I’m not taking my emotional temperature, thinking deep thoughts, or working on feeling better. I’m not doing anything to improve my state of being. I’m just standing in place, waiting for the next storm to come through and buffet me with fear and self-loathing.

I don’t like my house anymore, but there’s nothing wrong with it. I don’t like my conservative friends or family, but they aren’t bad people. I don’t like my job, but it’s the best one I’ve had. There comes a point where I start hating everything and everyone and I start making changes just for the sake of changing things. I move to a new place, change houses, change cars, change jobs, change clothes, discard some people and meet others. When the dust settles, I realize I’ve changed nothing, because the one constant in my life is me.

I feel so damaged and defective right now. I am unable to solve my problems, or even some of them, and therapy isn’t helping. I can’t solve other people’s problems either, even though I keep trying. There is no one here who can cast a spell to keep the dementors away.

Ugh. Excuse me while I wallow for a while.

doors and rubber rooms

What’s the old saying? When one door closes, it hits you in the ass, then you’re stuck in a dark room and you’ve misplaced the key? That’s how my life feels now.

I didn’t get the job I was hoping for, but I’m not really too shattered about it. My hopes were tempered significantly a few days ago based on a conversation I had at the office with a former coworker. He told me some behind-the-scenes info which made it pretty clear the hiring manager was looking for someone from the field to fill the job. At least I know for sure now, and I can stop thinking about it.

But then another door opens. A new job posting appeared on the job board, one which I am definitely qualified for. I’m not sure if I actually want the job, but I am looking for a change; I can’t continue with what I’m doing for another 15 years. There would be a modest pay increase and more responsibility. It might be another bang-your-head-on-the-wall type of job, but it would be a different and more lucrative wall than the one I am banging on now. Maybe it will have padding. Maybe I belong in a rubber room without doors. That remains to be seen.

Speaking of mental health, we finally have a psychiatrist appointment for my daughter. Now I just have to get her out of bed and get her to the office for the appointment. She understands now that she is totally empty on meds and I can’t give her any more of mine. I’ve cut back a little on my lamictal for two weeks now to be able to give her enough to wean her slowly off the drug rather than have nasty withdrawal symptoms. I’m feeling a little funny, nothing serious, but I need my full dosage again, and she gets it now.

Everyone needs things from me. Fuck I get tired of doing things for other people all the time. I don’t mind helping people, but the steady stream is wearing me down at work and at home. I took my little vacation in May all for myself, and it was wonderful. Unfortunately I can’t do another getaway right now. Instead, I eat my feelings.

I need to remind myself of things I am thankful for and be grateful for what I have. Maybe my attitude will be a little better if I can do that. The bipolar depression doesn’t help in this regard, but it’s something I can work toward.

Finally: I have a therapy appointment looming, and he wants to work through a mindfulness exercise with me. I’m still skeptical, but we’ll see how it goes. Update to follow.

a frustrating week

It has been a very frustrating week for me. I still have not heard anything about my interview three weeks ago. The wheels of HR turn slowly at the Big Gas Co., but now this is bothering me. Just make a decision already. As Tom Petty once said, the waiting is the hardest part.

Another source of tension is the fact that my daughter won’t take steps to improve her mental health. I have been trying for months to get her to make an appointment with a psych. I tell her I will make the phone call and all she has to do is be there to say “yes, he can discuss this with you” (because of privacy), but she won’t do that. I’ve been so angry with her this week. I told my wife I’m not equipped to deal with this situation, and it’s pushing me too far.

My wife and I planned months ago to take a short 3-day trip to celebrate our 30th anniversary, but I don’t know if it will happen because of my daughter. She is tapering one medication because she is running out, and won’t see a psych. She has been stable with the lower dosage, but if she has a mental health emergency while we are gone, we will have to return immediately. I’m not sure we should go, but we will only be two hours away.

There are so many things that cause me stress and worry, and I can’t control any of them. I’m compiling a growing list of triggers for anxiety and obsessive thinking, and I must say the list is quite extensive. I went to therapy to try to learn how to reduce my stress, but thinking about this mindfulness crap is stressing me out even more.

On Tuesday I went for a drive to calm myself down and ended up mildly lost in Pennsylvania, but thanks to Google Maps I found my way back to the freeway. Usually driving takes the stress away, but not this time. I got more angry and tense as I got closer to home.

Enough for now. I’ll post again when I hear about the job.

mindfulness update: pop quiz

My next therapy appointment is looming, and I haven’t done my homework. He will ask me if I tried any mindfulness exercises, and I will:
a) lie;
b) tell him I think mindfulness is bunk; or
c) ask for a hall pass to the bathroom, then ditch the therapy session.

When I was searching for a copy of the book on Amazon, the first promoted suggestion was a book about crystal therapy for anxiety. I have approximately the same attitude toward crystal therapy as I do mindfulness, right wing ideology, and the Los Angeles Dodgers. My wife said it would be funny if I went into the session and placed crystals in a pattern around me on the floor before beginning.

I contacted the therapist because my anxiety was off the charts and I needed coping mechanisms in a hurry. I didn’t really get what I wanted, although it was helpful to talk through a few things. Now my anxiety is down to my normal background level – it is there, but it doesn’t scare me. I survived bipolar and anxiety without therapy since 2007, so maybe I don’t need it now.

Then again, I shouldn’t break up with him just yet. If I get this new job, my anxiety will increase, but I haven’t heard back from HR yet. My anxiety will definitely increase in my current job, because we continue to get more work without adding people to spread the new work around.

mindfulness update: opening the book

I finally read the introduction and first two chapters of the book, but I have not actually done any exercises yet. My library wants the book back, so I might buy a used copy of the book. Surely some relaxed, anxiety-free person on Ebay or Bookfinder has an old dog-eared copy they would let go for a few bucks.

Here are a few disjointed thoughts:

Quote from the introduction:
… [there are] three common patterns of responding to anxiety … reacting to the painful emotions of anxiety with … self-criticism and judgement; then trying to escape the anxiety mentally; and finally, when that doesn’t ease the discomfort, trying to avoid whatever triggers the anxiety.

That sounds like my behavior in stressful situations. I have learned how to avoid many things that cause me stress, however I also miss out on things that might be beneficial, such as opportunities for professional advancement or just for fun.

The authors claim that mindfulness is a method of dealing with anxiety that will help me overcome fears and will provide me with a sense of fulfillment.

It turns out there are audio exercises to go along with the text in the book (well of course there are), but the link led to a defunct website. After some googling, I found the exercises at the publisher’s website. There are some short exercises, then there are longer ones lasting up to 37 minutes. I cut my mother off at 30 minutes on a good day, so there’s no way I’m listening to someone drone on about relaxing my muscles for that long.

Another interesting quote: “… we might recommend particular coping strategies that seem counterintuitive or that don’t immediately strike you as likely to be effective for you. We know from our own experience that sometimes all of us prematurely judge and dismiss information that doesn’t fit with how we typically view ourselves and the world.” This describes exactly what I am thinking about mindfulness right now.

after the ordeal

Welp, the interview went about as well as I could have hoped for. Not great, not a failure, but a solid B+ effort. I’ll be mildly surprised if they choose me, as I think they are looking for someone with more field experience who will learn the office tasks. I have more office experience and would need to gain field experience. Overall I’m happy with it, I gave my best shot, and the rest is out of my control.

Talk about poor timing: my daughter was freaking out a little because she had missed her meds yesterday, and I was trying to talk her down a little, but this was two hours before the interview. I finally asked my wife if she could come home from work for a couple hours to help me out. Then I had to calm down and get back into interview mode.

I may have hyperventilated a little at one point, but at no time did I vomit. However, I may have accidentally peed on my leg a little before the interview. Don’t ask. You know how sometimes a fire hose will get out of control? It’s like that, but different.

I didn’t tell anyone at work except my supervisor, who gets notified by HR. I kept it to myself, and didn’t even tell my friends. Well, I told you guys, but I don’t think you would spill the beans. Then just 5 minutes ago, one of my friends at work texted me: “How was the interview?” Fucking Columbo. I thought about playing dumb, but I confirmed it. Good thing I didn’t choose a life of crime, because everyone would know who did it.

believe the hype

I have a job interview coming up (on Friday the 13th of all days). It is for a new job with the same company, but I still have to go through the formal process because Big Energy Company is all about following the process. I’m often not a “follow the process” kind of person, but I won’t emphasize that.

I’m practicing responses to potential interview questions, the ones that go like “Tell me a time when something really difficult happened, and you singlehandedly turned it into a success overnight with no authority and no budget.” You have to answer in a certain format, emphasizing the actions you took and the end result (which had better be positive). I would prefer to have more of a conversational interview, but again, follow the process.

Writing a resume isn’t terribly difficult because it’s factual. However, promoting myself and talking up my knowledge and skills in an interview is something I have never been comfortable with. If we could do it all in writing, I would do great, but I have to deal with my self-esteem issues long enough to hype my accomplishments and talk around my failures. It goes against years of bad habits to say something good about myself without following it up with a perceived weakness or flaw that would shoot down my chances quickly.

I figure the less I ad lib and the more I can stick to what I’ve practiced, the better off I will be. I have to build up the hype long enough to make it through the interview, then go vomit afterwards. It is a panel interview, with two managers and their boss, which is a little intimidating. One of the interviewers knows me personally, which could be good; she is the person who hired me 10 years ago. It is an online interview, which may help me a little since I can be at home. However I don’t know if I should dress up for the video like I would if it were in-person; any advice?

Anyway, fingers and toes crossed.

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.