two-faced

Impostor. Pretender. Phony. Fraud.

Everywhere I go, I feel disingenuous. I’m always pretending, whether I am at work, or with friends, or even in the mental health community. I’m good at faking wellness; I work hard to seem normal enough on the outside while I am struggling on the inside. However I always feel dishonest wherever I find myself.

I hide my mental illness from my employer, even though by law they are not supposed to discriminate based on health conditions. But because they have designated my job a “safety sensitive” position, I have to be “fit for duty” when working. If I told my employer, would they be afraid I could suddenly snap? Would I be forced off work until I could demonstrate I had recovered (as if that is even possible)?

I don’t tell my coworkers or my few friends about my mental health, and I dissemble when the subject comes up in conversation. Would they not believe me because I act “normal”, or would they overreact because they wonder if I could “go nuts” on any given day? Would people suddenly avoid me for fear of being associated with the crazy dude, or would they tell my employer that I was hiding the truth? I’m not willing to take the risk.

I avoid settings like group therapy meetings, forums, and online communities because I don’t want to face reverse stigma. Would people who are truly struggling not accept me because I don’t seem to be as ill as they are? Would people judge me for being “high functioning” and feel like I was just looking for attention? Even in the hospital mental health ward, someone told me I seemed the most normal out of everyone, and that bothered me.

In the past I have wondered if my psychiatrist takes me less seriously because I’m not as sick as his other patients. I think that was the case several years ago with Dr. PrescriptionPad and his 7-minute appointments. [Fortunately, I think my current doctor does take me seriously and seems to listen to me when I describe how I am feeling.]

I guess this is why all my mental health issues come out in my blog, because I have an outlet where people can come or go, read or not, and I never hear about it if they think I’m only doing it for attention. I can be honest here, even though I am doing so under a fake name in the hope no one in real life ever finds me (which is a story for another day).

Note: here’s a post by Meghan which discusses similar feelings.

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that was unexpected

Every so often, something happens when I am least ready for it, and it unleashes a torrent of negativity and self-loathing that is usually restrained. I think that’s what happened the other night when a backlog of frustration and mental fatigue burst forth all at once.

Negative things seem to affect me more than “normal” people, and this is one of those instances. Some people would simply solve the problem, where I turn it into a metaphor equating one event with all the negative feelings I have about myself. I don’t react well when events happen that I’m not prepared for. I turn temporary setbacks into catastrophes.

I am truly worn down by a lot of things. I am very dissatisfied with life right now for many reasons. At the same time, my life is not all bad. I need to remember to even out my emotions when I am capable; try not to get too high or too low when events affect my mood.

midnight malcontent

I’m tired of being a disappointment to everyone. People would be better off if they had never met me.

I’m tired of having a mediocre existence, always accepting my fate and going through life wishing I had made different choices.

I’m tired of worrying about things I can’t control, and being too inept to do something about the things I can control.

I’m tired of being anxious and paranoid all the time. I don’t want to be in a cage, on display to be an object of ridicule or disgust.

I’m tired of working to make profits for other people who don’t understand me and don’t care about what I am struggling with.

I’m tired of feeling impotent, physically and mentally, unable to reach whatever meaningless goals I might have had.

I’m tired of having other people rely on me for anything, forcing me to take care of their needs and ignore my own.

I’m tired of being trapped in a life I don’t want to live, and having to search for reasons to stay alive while constantly undermining my health.

I’m just tired.

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Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere, not today at least. Maybe some other day when I grow a pair.

retail days

I was reminded of something funny from long ago. I used to work in retail at Longs Drugs, a regional drugstore chain formerly found all over the American west but now only existing in Hawaii since being bought out by CVS. They were usually medium sized stores that had a pharmacy, cosmetics, gifts, small appliances, hard liquor, a large variety of household items, and non-perishable food and drinks. I worked in five different locations during high school and college. At the time, my income wasn’t great but it was almost enough to make it through college. I had full-time hours and benefits – where can you get that anymore in retail?

I had untreated bipolar at the time, so I was rapidly alternating between depressed, a depressed/angry mixed mood, and manic. You never knew which version of me was going to show up for work on a given day. There were good and bad memories, and occasional conflicts with coworkers, but we had a little fun whenever possible. Sometimes when customers were waiting for additional cashiers, we younger employees were in the back playing music, building forts using cases of toilet paper, throwing Frisbees or footballs, or riding the pallet jack like a skateboard through the receiving area.

Anyway, a Twitter thread about Longs reminded me of one slow evening when Christine, the new assistant manager was micro-managing. She was a little uptight and controlling, so several of us decided to tease her a little bit. One of the guys laid down under a case of paper towels, and we placed additional boxes around him to look like a tall stack of merchandise had fallen on him. Another guy went running out to the floor to get Christine, telling her “a bunch of stuff fell on Adam and he’s hurt!” She came running to the back, where we were pretending to dig Adam out of the boxes. When she got there, the boxes were moving because Adam was laughing uncontrollably. The only thing hurt was Christine’s pride; she was really pissed off and told the store manager the next day, but eventually she saw the humor and relaxed a little.

a difficult session

I had a rough meeting with my therapist yesterday. I appreciated that rather than the inane “how are you doing?”, she started by asking “how have the last few weeks been for you?” I started saying the first words that came to mind: “Turbulent. Draining. Stressful.” I could have added “painful”, but I moved on instead.

I talked disjointedly about recent events, and how I didn’t want to talk about things because I’m tired of thinking about them; somehow this led to the idea that maybe I’m overstating all of my issues. Maybe life wasn’t as bad as I have imagined it to be, or maybe I’ve exaggerated and magnified everything to the point where I’ve created my own distorted thought patterns. I told her about my desire to interview and interrogate people from my past who might know the answers I seek: what did I do to hurt you, was I really a terrible person, was my home life as damaging as I think. I want the unvarnished truth from everyone to confirm the worst things I think about myself and everything I remember about my past.

She said there are several problems with that line of reasoning. First, everyone’s “truth” is different based on their perception, their biases, and their memory of what really happened. In addition, even if they had the information I seek, these people may not want to be 100% honest with me (who among us is completely honest, after all?). Finally, if they told me I wasn’t a bad person, or that they liked me and I was a positive presence in their life, I am so deeply programmed in my thought patterns that I wouldn’t believe what they say. I would throw away their evidence because it didn’t fit my narrative. The only conclusion I can make is that things must have been bad enough at an early age that my sense of self was badly damaged, which caused me to remember my entire experience through the filter of distorted thinking. I think the way I do because I was in a bad situation, and my memories of my life may not be entirely accurate.

We went on to discuss the difficulties with my daughter’s current situation and the negative effects on the entire family. I told her about how I went unfiltered for a few minutes and said things which I believe to be true, but were very hurtful for my daughter, which my wife sat by and didn’t say a word during or afterward. That pretty much sums up the family dynamic in our house for the past several years: Nicole is the victim, I’m the control-freak bad guy, and Annie won’t tell me what she thinks. Instead we paper over things with conversations about unimportant things, and distract ourselves with fish or Fakebook or videos of cats. We can discuss the most inane things, but meaningful things get ignored. Annie won’t tell me what she’s really thinking, whether she agrees with me or if she thinks I’m full of crap. Right now we can’t even sell an item on Fakebook because I think she disagrees with me and just can’t say so.

Sometimes I wonder if I have misled my therapist into thinking the current situation is worse than it really is. Her opinions about my family’s actions and words are filtered through what I choose to tell her, and this leads me to question some of her statements. She wants a more complete picture though, and she has asked a couple of times if I might bring Annie in for a session or two to talk about the situation. I scoffed a little, because I don’t think that would be successful at all.

Stay tuned, for I fear worse times are ahead.

waking up

I’m not doing great, but I’ll be okay. I felt like I should post something, but my heart’s not in it. I could post a poem instead, but I couldn’t decide whether it should be dark and dreary, or something more light-hearted. Lucky you, I chose an odd little thing about the moment after you wake up.

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alarm clock, 6:01

a dream had just begun
odds of waking 10 to 1
sandman chased by the sun
no time for sexy fun
I’ll shower when you’re done
the lights are set for ‘stun’
warm water starts to run
garbage truck wheels spun
eyelids weigh a ton
interest in today is none.
I’ll bet Atilla the Hun
was never woke by anyone

alarm clock, 6:02

(2007)

up, down, sideways

Life has been up and down and a little out of control the past couple of weeks, like an old wooden roller coaster that is falling apart and miraculously hasn’t maimed or killed anyone yet..

Several negative events: a rough conversation with my daughter resulting in her hating me; bad health news; depression; procrastination and laziness; giving up on something I would love to do for myself; back and neck pain; cancellation of best-laid plans for my wife’s birthday; and the ever-present exhaustion.

On the plus side, the LA Dodgers are out of the playoffs, and I hope the fans feel miserable. The other thing that brought a smile this morning was the story of the Tennessee goalposts. Google it or search for videos; you’ll be entertained.

I’m trying to find something interesting to write about, but it’s just not there. I should go for a walk, shower for the first time in a week, and then try to accomplish something before going to dinner with Annie and her parents. Instead I feel like wallowing for a while and taking a nap.

liar liar

A remarkable political event happened in Britain in the past week or so. The Conservatives didn’t lie about their economic plans to lower taxes on the rich. They told the truth, and they were crucified for it. The public saw the naked truth, and they understood the consequences for their nation’s economy.

Today the Cons backtracked on their public admission that they will reduce taxes for the wealthy, but you know that their plans haven’t changed. They will attempt to do it quietly while implementing their schemes.  I hope that the liberal parties will continue to call attention to their plans until the next election.

The Conservative politicians said “we heard the people”, but they really meant that they realized they can’t be honest ever again. That’s something the American Republican Party learned long ago. If you want to reward the rich, you have to lie about it, then confuse the masses with culture-war issues so that you can get elected anyway.

Why do I care about British politics anyway? I guess the country fascinates me. I would love to visit someday, although I suppose I’ll need a shirt that says “I’m not that kind of American” so nobody spits in my ale.

PT in DC

My trip to see Porcupine Tree in Washington was really fun, although it was tiring due to the schedule. The concert was absolutely incredible, not just the music but the whole experience. There were lights casting beams through the artificial mist, strobes pulsing in time to the drums, video screens adding depth to the music, the crowd was energetic, and there wasn’t a bad seat in the theater (The Anthem). The band started off with a few powerful songs, then eased up a little bit before intermission, then just blew everyone away during the second half. It was nearly a three hour show, and the audience would have stayed for another hour or two, but the singer said the band needed a break after doing New York, Philadelphia, and Washington on consecutive nights.

The next day I stopped at the International Spy Museum, then walked through the US Botanic Garden and past the Capitol on the way back to the train station. The train ride was 10 hours each way, but it’s not as much fun at night when you can’t see the scenery.

I took a few pictures, including one of a guy peeing on a wall in the park two blocks north of the Capitol.

riding the rails

Tomorrow in the early morning I am taking Amtrak to Washington DC to go to a Porcupine Tree concert. I’m really excited because I wanted to see them in 2009 but missed my chance, then they took a 12-year break. Their style is hard-edged, guitar-based progressive rock with odd time signatures, unconventional chords and song structures, and dark, brooding lyrics. It’s really good music, but not quite feel-good music to dance to (unless you can dance in 11/8 time). I don’t know why the genre appeals to men much more than women, but as I’ve been told by my daughter, it will likely be a sausage-fest. I’m going alone because my wife doesn’t really like their music.

I’m staying overnight in Washington to see a museum or two on Monday, then riding the train back in the evening. I will get home around 2 am Tuesday morning and try to go to work at 7 am. I’ll be doing quite a bit of walking, and I wonder how my sciatica will respond. My leg might fall asleep, which would be rather inconvenient when I’m trying to catch a Metro.

I’m glad the railroad strike was averted, because that would have derailed my plans (pun intended). I would have driven my car and had plenty of time, but I’ve been looking forward to riding the train instead. It’s clean and comfortable, inexpensive, and easy compared to flying. I’m a little concerned about leaving my car for 48 hours at the train station in a sketchy part of a sketchy small town, but hopefully it will be okay.

A sampling of PT songs on YouTube, if you’re interested:
Blackest Eyes, What Happens Now, Halo, Harridan

separate vacations

I’ve been preoccupied lately with Canada. I’m fascinated with the idea of making a long road trip next summer to the far eastern point of Newfoundland, which is about as far as you can go without falling off the North American continent. I’m so fixated on this that I have already planned out a 12- to 14-day, 4400-mile journey, with different options for routes and sightseeing. About a week would be spent exploring Newfoundland, with three days’ driving each way to the ferry port to get there. Due to the compressed schedule, I would miss out on most of the attractions between here and there, which means I would have to make a second road trip to see everything in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. I would also like to make a third trip to see Montreal and Ottawa.

The problem with this plan is that my wife doesn’t really like road trips. She gets queasy and uncomfortable with long rides in the car. She doesn’t have the same level of enjoyment that I get from just seeing new places and new roads while driving for a full day. I’ll admit it’s a lot of windshield time in between places that might be interesting to visit, but I enjoy the drive just as much as the places I visit along the way. It’s the journey, not the destination.

The thing is, I would really like to do this trip by myself. I love finding interesting and out of the way trails to hike or places to visit, but we don’t necessarily have the same interests when we travel. We enjoy things at a different pace sometimes; I might see a museum in two hours when she wants to take four hours to see the same things. I enjoy playing travel agent and planning things out, and she tends to just go along with what I propose. I spend too much time worrying if she is having a good time, and she is not someone who tells me in the moment if something isn’t interesting.

I don’t know how to tell her that I want to go alone. We have taken separate excursions before, but not for more than a few days. This would be for two weeks, and I don’t know if it is fair for me to explore and see new places and have interesting stories while she is left behind and keeps going to work. Nothing is stopping her from doing the same thing, but that’s not really her kind of vacation. She gets more enjoyment out of going to the beach for a week and doing nothing but sitting on the beach and taking naps. We just did that together, and she said it takes some of the enjoyment away from her when I’m not having fun. I feel the same way.

off the spectrum

I wrote previously that my new therapist asked me to do some research about autism, and see if I thought I might have it. I looked at multiple reputable sources, and after reading many lists of symptoms and presentations, I don’t seem to fit the overall autism profile. I suppose some of the criteria could apply to me, but it seems like two general patterns of autistic behavior are a lack of understanding of social norms, and difficulty with communication. I don’t feel like those two conditions apply to me at all, currently or in the past.

I know autism is a broad spectrum of different abilities and limitations, and it expresses itself in different ways with different people, but it just doesn’t feel right to me the way other diagnoses feel right. My actions and behaviors seem to be better explained by a combination of bipolar, ADHD, and personality changes resulting from years of emotional abuse in childhood. Even if my therapist and I decided I was a little bit autistic, what good would it do for me to have another label? There’s no treatment, and having that diagnosis doesn’t help me solve anything.

When I was diagnosed with bipolar, it explained everything that had happened up to that point in my life, and I finally got the treatment I needed. After being diagnosed with anxiety disorder, I am working on ways to finally deal with childhood traumas in order to help cope with my anxiety. I have also been diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder; I haven’t researched it extensively, but it seems to describe my thoughts and behaviors related to social interactions. My psychiatrist and I discussed OCD, and it seems to fit pretty well, but we didn’t really dive deep into that rabbit-hole. And although I haven’t been officially diagnosed with ADHD, I am very sure I meet almost all of the criteria for the inattentive type.

disorders on order

I feel like I’m being pulled in many different directions right now, like that Stretch Armstrong doll when I was a kid. I don’t have much time for myself, and I have to be “on” a lot. I’m often asked to solve the emergency of the day. I have to play different roles for different people, and it is really tiring right now. I need a break, but I don’t have time for a break. I have one vacation day remaining at work, and I need it for something fun in September.

I have so many unfinished tasks and projects, and it’s a trigger for anxiety. I can feel it closing in around the edges of my vision. I wish I had the motivation to finish a few things, or just to make progress, but I give up because I can’t break things down into manageable pieces. It’s all or nothing, and I know it is distorted thinking, but as a result I’m mentally paralyzed.

I have been officially diagnosed with social anxiety and general anxiety, and I’m certain I have ADD and some elements of OCD. I don’t know how likely it is that someone has all of these things going on, but here I am. My new therapist asked me to consider if I might be on the mild side of the autism spectrum. I’m skeptical, but I’m doing some research to see what I think. I don’t think I need another label at this time, so I will ask her to table that discussion and help me work on social anxiety (which currently seems to be my biggest problem).

the cost of bipolar

I’ve had bipolar disorder since I was a pre-teen, and the costs of my illness have been eye-opening. I have lost educational opportunities and had instability in my career, resulting in a loss of many tens of thousands of dollars over the years. There have been the financial costs due to unnecessary purchases and moving to different places. There are significant costs for ongoing mental health treatment. I have lost or damaged several important relationships, and I nearly lost my life on a few occasions.

There are also the physical health costs associated with bipolar disorder. There is the weight gain associated with the meds I take, which causes me problems such as high blood pressure, the potential for heart disease, and lack of mobility. I have sleep problems, decreased libido, and ongoing gastrointestinal problems, all of which decrease my quality of life. Bipolar medication may one day cost me my intellect, if the potential for early dementia becomes a reality (I wrote a previous post about memory problems).

My bipolar has inflicted harm on the family as well. My wife has stayed with me despite over 30 years of instability and unpredictability, and it has cost her emotionally, including unhappiness, fear, and anxiety. She had to be responsible for raising the kids while I was unable to help due to my illness. She has felt like she has to work harder to make more money to pay for the medical bills (she doesn’t at this time), so she continues to work at a physical job and often has debilitating aches and pains.

My son and daughter grew up in an unstable home where I wasn’t mentally present for long periods, which in my opinion caused ongoing mental health issues. My son has battled depression, but seems to have dealt with it pretty well. My daughter has been diagnosed with bipolar, schizoaffective disorder, and anxiety disorder. Her illness has cost her most of her friends, dreams of a normal life, two potential career paths, and many thousands of dollars in medical bills. She struggles with emotional issues in addition to her other physical and mental problems.

therapy 5.0

You might recall that I didn’t seem to connect very well with my previous therapist, who was intent on making me do mindfulness techniques despite my lack of enthusiasm. He then suddenly left the practice, and I declined his invitation to follow him to his new office. I thought I could work on my anxiety on my own. Yeah, right.

This week, I started seeing my fifth therapist, who works at my psychiatrist’s office. The first appointment is always difficult, especially for someone like me who feels awkward talking about myself, to a stranger, trying to summarize my dumpster-fire life in an hour. I started out very nervous, like it was a test I had not prepared for; she actually offered me some fidget toys if they would help. I passed on the toys, but I calmed down a little while we talked.

She seems like a good listener; even though she was typing notes as fast as I was talking, she asked the right questions when necessary. She appears to be quite young, but I don’t have any problem with that. Her personality would be good with children, but she didn’t treat me like a child. Overall I got a good feeling from the visit.

After the short life history (which I struggled to keep short), she asked what the most important things were to discuss. I told her that I have already written a “field guide” to my many mental health problems, but maybe we could start with my social anxiety and general anxiety. She was interested in reading my lists, so I will print that out for next time.

I’m guessing that starting with a new therapist is as difficult for everyone else as it is for me. I am forced to immediately allow her within my “trusted circle” rather than getting to know her slowly, which is quite unnerving. This is a place where only a few people are allowed, and yet here is a stranger I am telling things usually only reserved for my blog friends. At the same time, I have to remember she is a professional, paid to listen and help me solve problems, and we’re not going out for coffee afterward.