the bro code

The gas company gave away free tickets to the Cleveland Guardians baseball game yesterday. The seats were waaaayyy up there, and I had a nice Goodyear-blimp-like view of the game. There was a metal and plexiglas guardrail directly in front of my seat, and the architect designed it so I could not see home plate without leaning into my neighbor or painfully craning my neck. The “chicken strips” were just big nuggets of mechanically-separated goo. But the worst part was that it was a night out with the bros.

I’m not a social person; I like meeting new people about as much as I like the New York Yankees. The problem is that my friend at work (AJ, from a previous post) asked if he could have my extra tickets for his friends. That’s fine, no one else I know wanted to go with me, but then again I don’t have any other friends. AJ, however, has lots of friends, primarily other middle-aged white guys who try to be as ironic and witty as possible to cover for the fact they don’t discuss personal or serious topics.

Instead of going to the game alone, I allowed myself to get roped into joining the gaggle of guys for the game. They were mostly well behaved, but they occasionally made inappropriate comments and were unusually loud a few times – typical for a bunch of older dudes with alcohol. I like to sit quietly and watch the game, but they kept involving me in the conversation. As the game wore on, I wished I had not gone at all, but I survived. I did get a nice sunset picture from the upper deck, so it wasn’t all bad.

I have always enjoyed the company of females or mixed groups rather than just a bunch of guys. I don’t know what to talk about with other guys – sports, grilled meats, booze, tools, strippers? Those topics were pretty much all that was discussed, with the typical amount of one-upmanship and embellishment. I mostly sat back and let the conversation flow around me. As usual, I felt alone in the crowd, although AJ did his best to make me feel like part of the group (which I appreciated).

rear view

I was looking back at my posts from early 2021 that followed the arc of a long manic episode. The posts from that time aren’t scary like some of the deep depression posts from the old blog, but they are interesting to me.

My episode started with the side effects of starting on Latuda in November of 2020; I felt pretty good for a few weeks, but I started climbing the hill in December. By January 2021, I was frequently staying up in the middle of the night, my anxiety was climbing, and my OCD symptoms became overwhelming. I couldn’t concentrate at home or at work, I was having panic attacks, and I almost left my job out of frustration. After quitting Latuda and returning to Abilify, there was a long downslope where my symptoms were decreasing steadily, but were still there. I was afraid something had permanently changed in my brain. It wasn’t until May when a solo mini-vacation brought some relief from the storm.

Looking back from a year later, I am reminded how much I was struggling. This manic episode seems odd because on one level I knew what was happening and how dangerous it was, but at the same time I was very much caught in its uncontrollable grip. I didn’t think I could fly, but I believed that my life would be better if I tore everything down at work and at home. Had I followed through with my late-night schemes, it could have damaged my family relationships, cost me tens of thousands of dollars, and jeopardized the continued treatment for myself and for Nicole. I think I escaped the episode just in time, because I don’t know what I would have done if I had remained manic for a longer period.

My bipolar experience has been mostly depression, with very brief manias or mixed episodes followed by a deep spiral. This episode was different in that it had a long buildup and a long letdown, and I didn’t crash in the same way I had in the past. Since that time I have had no mania and a few depressions, and not with the abruptness and intensity as in the past. I know mania will happen again in the future, but I think having been through this most recent episode makes me better equipped to deal with it.

black box warning

Relationships should be a positive thing, but I feel like they cause pressure and bring a sense of obligation to be an equal partner in the relationship.

It’s not being selfish when I don’t fully participate in the give-and-take, but it is being protective of my own psyche. Sometimes I just don’t have enough spoons for anyone besides myself. I don’t always have the mental or emotional capability to give everything that is expected of me, and I feel guilty because I’m not contributing enough.

If I were single right now, there is no way I would try to develop a romantic relationship with someone. I wouldn’t want to spare enough mental energy to put the effort into being a good partner. In addition, the other person would find too many faults and would run away as fast as they could. I guess this says something about my wife’s love for me, as well as her loyalty and perseverance. This also is an indicator of my being unable to see myself as worthy of someone’s love.

I guess it has become a thing to give out personal business cards when meeting other people. People like me should have a black-box warning on the back of the card:

WARNING: This person is damaged, and will disappoint you in myriad ways.

52 pickup

I used to play a card game with a kid I knew, and I called it 52 Pickup. I told him there were 52 cards in a standard deck of playing cards, then I asked him to hand me his deck of cards. I took the cards in one hand and bent them slightly backwards in my fingers as if I were preparing to shuffle. I then released the tension in my fingers, and the cards sprung out of my hand at him, landing all over the ground. I walked away, saying “now you get to pick them up.” The funny part is that he fell for the joke more than once.

–o–

Getting older means having a new perspective on things you once took for granted: your health, your brainpower, your balance. I have become unnaturally afraid of falling down and breaking bones. I had a fractured hip due to a car crash when I was 26, and I’m afraid it will break again someday. I actually think about falling every time I go down a flight of stairs. Maybe sometime soon I’ll start carrying the Life Alert thing with me (“I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!”) I’m somewhat joking, but it’s not very funny when older people fall outside and die of hypothermia because no one was there to help them.

When you’re young, you think that you will live for a very long time, because old people are so damn old. But as the years roll by, you realize you are closer to “old” than you are to “young”, and time is a one-way ticket on a bus to the future. People who talk about time travel always want to go back and be young and do things differently; no one wants to fast-forward to their old age. Middle-aged people don’t usually dream of skipping parts of their life and getting to the end any faster than necessary.

–o–

On my last birthday, I told my wife that if I fall down she might have to play 52 Pickup, except this time it would be picking up my 52-year-old ass off the floor. The funny part is that I had to show her what the original 52 Pickup was like, except she refused to pick up the cards. I guess the joke was on me this time.

political blues

I have had to back away from following the daily news cycle. School shootings, political maneuvering, and the culture wars have left me disgusted, and it’s difficult to have hope sometimes.

I’m pretty far left on the political spectrum, and it disheartens me to think that the wing-nut conservatives are doing what they set out to do for the last 40 years. They have skewed the system so they are in power in all levels of government, including everything from school boards to state legislatures to the Supreme Court. They have gerrymandered legislative districts so that a popular minority can win elections in purple states. They have run a highly successful propaganda campaign that has fooled people into thinking their needs are important to the people in power. They use the right-wing media to whip their devotees into a frenzy and disrupt the respectful, adult conversations that used to be more common. They use the culture wars as a dividing issue to dupe people into voting against their own best interest for policies that serve the rich and powerful.

I dislike most of the people I work with, including my so-called friends, when they start regurgitating talking points and conspiracy theories that they heard on right-wing media. Instead of thinking for themselves and voting for people that represent their interests, they vote for whoever will “stick it to the Libs.” My work-friend AJ is a nice guy, but is disgustingly conservative; I disagree with almost everything he says. He started talking about the Former President, saying “I’d vote for him again tomorrow; I don’t condone him as a person, but…”, and then I stopped listening. He apparently has no sense of ethics or integrity if he would vote for someone he finds repulsive just to get what he wants.

In short, AJ is an AWPAC – an Angry White Person Afraid of Change. I’ve recently invented this acronym, and I want to make it stick. AWPACs are highly conservative, complaining that “this country is going in the wrong direction” and saying that “things used to be better”. They are against inclusivity, sensitivity, multiculturalism, abortion, gun control, pronouns, immigration, government, public schools, vaccines, environmental regulations, climate change, and electric vehicles. AWPACs are for white Christian rule, discrimination, male-and-female-only gender roles, more military spending, more police spending, private schools, drilling for more oil, and sticking it to the libs. They don’t seem to care about the collateral damage that 40 years of conservatism has caused, such as more school shootings, increases in mental illness, corporations in power over our government, damage to the natural environment, greater economic inequality, and loss of opportunity for young people without affluent parents.

AWPACs see change as a threat to a system of White Christian rule that has lasted for 400 years. They are afraid of minorities having a greater voice in government and society. They hate anything that gives more power to the people without power. They forget that their ancestors probably came to this country through immigration, but they want to shut the door on opportunity for others. They don’t believe that liberals should win elections, and change the rules of government to ensure that is the case moving forward. AWPACs disingenuously cry for freedoms on one hand, but consistently vote to restrict the freedoms of millions of Americans that don’t look the same or agree with their regressive policies. They will use slimy tactics and dishonorable people to get what they want. They don’t care how you feel.

Many of my work friends are AWPACs. I need to reevaluate those relationships and ask myself if I want to be friends with people who think the opposite of my beliefs in so many ways. I would like to find new friends whose values are more aligned with my own. Unfortunately I suck at meeting new people and making friendships. I tried joining a Meetup group a few years ago, but they didn’t make me feel very welcome, and I was too intimidated to meet them again.

At least I have my blog friends … unless you leave because of this post.

we could be heroes

Who do you look up to, who do you want to be like? Whose example do you want to follow in your professional or personal life? Who do you look at and see as someone we should all strive to emulate? Who is your hero?

I think there are everyday people who choose to do extraordinary acts, and they deserve recognition for it, but I have no heroes. There are no individuals who I would want to be like just because of who they are or what they have done. There is no one who I would want to pattern my career after, and there is no one in particular who I would want to live my life by their example.

I have such a hard time relating to people who have done great things and serve as examples for the rest of us. I don’t feel like I have the tools that make other people successful. I don’t even know what it takes to be a success. I don’t really have dreams or goals, so it seems futile to try to be like someone when I know I could never reach their level.

I could read a bunch of motivational books, biographies of successful people, or go to seminars to learn some tools for personal growth. Maybe I could find someone to pattern my life after. Maybe I could find a life coach to help me. Maybe I just need lots of therapy.

You can read all the self-help books you want, but at some point you just have to accept what you are. I’m not someone who will do heroic things in my life. As a wise philosopher once said, “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.”

change of scenery

Vacation is like deodorant; it can cover up things that stink, but when you reach the end of the stick things start to stink again.

We really needed a vacation, and for a few days it was in doubt whether we would get to go at all due to Nicole’s mental health, but she improved to the point that we could realistically leave home for a week. She flew with my wife to North Carolina because she gets too anxious to be in the car for more than a few minutes. I drove the 10-hour trip with all our stuff and picked them up at the airport.

We spent a lot of the time sitting at the beach house, watching the endless waves, feeling the breeze, and doing very little. I checked work emails a couple of times, and I worried about the cats and the house, but otherwise our problems were left behind for a much needed break. The sound of the surf made me feel more calm and relaxed than I had for quite a while, and I could feel the stress melting away.

Oh well, at least we had a few days of relaxation before the next crisis appeared. Nicole caught an uncommon fungal skin virus from somewhere, and it took over the rest of our vacation. After a visit to an NC doctor and another doctor after returning home, hopefully the treatment will kill the fungus.

So we’re back at home now. The cats were fine and happy to see us, and I had to mow twice because the grass was several inches too tall, but nothing bad happened while we were away.

We’ll see what happens with everything that was going on before the trip. Will Nicole’s mental health improve or go backwards? Will my wife choose to see someone about anxiety, or just talk about it because she’s too stubborn to take meds? Will we need to replace our septic system at considerable expense? Will I walk away from my job? How long will it be before I say “fuck it all” and go on my own vacation?

Strangely for me, I didn’t spend a lot of time overthinking about everything during the drive to NC and back. I think I concentrated more on the act of driving, in part due to the rain and the traffic delays. I had lots of music, which always helps me stop thinking. Yes, I sing in the car, but very poorly and an octave lower; I also drum on the steering wheel. One time I lost a drumstick out of the car window, so I had to listen to Def Leppard. (I know, that’s bad.)

broken

You can only beat your head against the wall so many times before you crack, spilling your hopes onto the floor. You struggle to pay the price of existence, and the costs are staggering. Damaged and broken, you barely survive the day, and get no relief from a fitful sleep before waking up again. The cycle of hopelessness is not a circle but a downward spiral, a black hole from which positive things never escape. Your carefully constructed life is shattered by a disease with no empathy. The beast is not satisfied until its victims lie on the floor, crushed by its destructive power.

underwater

I’m not doing well. This is the first real depression episode I’ve had while on the new drug. I don’t think this is a chemical depression; it is more emotional in nature. There is a deep, pervasive hopelessness right now, and nothing is able to rescue me for more than a fleeting moment.

There seems to be no break from the negativity. I might socialize with people at work, but it’s all fake. Music may calm me temporarily, but I know after the last note I will be depressed again. Food might please me briefly, but I know every bite is bad for me.

[Insert 400 words of self-wallowing drivel here. I don’t want to write it, and you don’t want to read it.]

inadequate

I don’t feel like I’m good enough for anyone – not as a husband, a father, a son, a friend, or a worker. I’m not good enough for my own standards of what I want my life to be. I feel like I let everyone down on a consistent basis, and that I’m not trying hard enough. I’m just a substitute until the right person comes to replace me, and they will do everything better.

I define my self-worth by how useful or helpful I am to others, and right now it seems like I’m not useful or helpful to anyone.

Sometimes you just have to face reality, and my reality is that no matter what meds I take, they can’t change the fact that I’m just not wired to be a happy, successful person. I want to be that guy, but I can only fake being that guy until I can’t fool anyone anymore.

stained

another rainy day in the city
cascading down walls and window panes
no need to wash the walk today
as feelings trickle down the drain

well-heeled patrons crowd the cafes and delis
it’s much too wet to sit outside except a man in a slicker,
soaking, smoking, reading the Times as he sips his tea
to which he’s added a touch of liquor

his cigarette crumbles, the ember extinguished
the paper disintegrates as he reads,
unaware of the ink staining his hands
like in some film noir when a lover bleeds

standing in a window on the seventh floor,
watching your taxi silently motor through the rain
the last of your things packed away,
regrets and harsh words flowing to the drain

my hands are stained as well

(2010)

dermatillomania

I have been picking at my fingers since I was a kid, but until recently I didn’t know there was an actual name for this. Dermatillomania is a real disorder in the DSM-5, and is diagnosed when someone causes repetitive injury to the skin through scratching, picking, or biting that results in an injury, with an inability to stop. It is related to OCD, but differs in that people with OCD perform compulsive actions to relieve anxious thoughts, but skin-picking is often more pleasure or sensory-based. [Link]

Picking at my fingers is something I feel the need to do despite the pain, blood, and embarrassment. I find visible or perceived imperfections and have the urge to pick the target area. I also look for fingers that seem “too perfect”. I pick at and mutilate my fingers and cuticles, usually with a fingernail, my teeth, or tools like tweezers or a push pin. There is never a time when my fingers don’t have some level of injury, and I have permanently damaged a couple of fingernails due to the repeated picking.

It’s an uncontrollable compulsion that is always present; in the moment I know what I am doing, and I know I should stop, but it feels good to remove that imperfect piece of skin. However I can’t always remove just the imperfection, and I make the problem worse. I know when it is going to hurt and bleed, but I follow through anyway. I do it even though I know my fingers will look horrible to anyone who notices. Sometimes it is bad enough that I have to use band-aids to stop the bleeding or to help heal the raw areas. When I take the band-aid off, the skin is moist and pliable, and sometimes I go right back to picking in that spot.

I think the urge to pick increases during stress or anxiety episodes, or during a hypo or mixed mood, but I pick when I am feeling well also. I keep score of how many fingers are bloody at a given moment, and it correlates directly to my anxiety level. Today my score is a 6, but tomorrow it could be 7 if there’s a nice juicy cuticle that needs picking. Sometimes I can temporarily will myself to stop picking, or put off the urge, but eventually I will do it anyway.

It’s not a harmless habit, but in the big picture it is a minor problem. In the moment I enjoy the picking, but later I regret doing it. Having people see my bloody and mutilated fingers is occasionally embarrassing, and covering multiple fingers with band-aids is noticeable, but I don’t seem to obsess on that thought.

I searched for ways to help stop this behavior; several resources focus on combinations of therapy (sometimes CBT) and stress reduction using mindfulness (oh fuck, not that again). The Cleveland Clinic even suggests substituting different behaviors such as going for a walk. One, I can pick my fingers while walking; and two, if I could substitute another less harmful behavior, I would already do it. I’ve thought about wearing a rubber band on my wrist and giving myself a good snap, but that would be less satisfying.

revisions

I decided to take down several previous posts. It’s fine to tell my story, but it’s not fair to tell someone else’s without their knowledge. I’ve been warned about this before, but I had forgotten how it was unfair to other people. From now on, it’s just about me.

I also decided to shut down my poetry blog. I created that site to share with my real-life friends, but I get almost zero traffic when I post anything. I posted links for my Fakebook friends, but the only people who visit the page arrive via the WordPress Reader tags. That’s not what I had in mind. I wonder if the algorithm prevents my posts from being seen by my friends since I almost never use Fakebook.

Isn’t any blog an exercise in vanity? Really, who wants to know the life story of an average guy with bipolar who does nothing remarkable with his life? Yet I continue to write, posting things that seem important to me but are next to irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. I say I post for myself, but I secretly wish I had hundreds of followers (real people, not bots) who cared about every word.

I suppose the internet is moving on from blogs to shorter formats, but I have resisted using those platforms. Most of the time, I can’t share in real-life the things that occupy my thoughts; it’s too deep and too personal, and I have to constantly censor myself. Having anonymity helps me write out my private thoughts while having the knowledge that I could pull the plug at any time.

Maybe I will unplug things sometime soon. I’ve done it before. I could start a shiny, happy site where I only post the positive things about my life, but at that point I may as well be on Fakebook again. The problem is that even if I rebranded and opened a new blog, it would still be me doing the writing. The leopard can’t change his spots, and I would still have the same doubts and fears and demons that show through in everything I write.

somewhere else

No matter what I’m doing, I often find myself wishing I was somewhere else. I’ve been this way since I was a young kid. When I was at school, I would stare out the window and wish I was in the forest. When I lived in the woods, I wished I could live in town. When I lived in town, I wished I was back out of town again.

When I’m around people, I usually wish I was alone. Sometimes when I’m alone, I wish I could share the moment with someone. When I’m stuck at work, I wish I was driving somewhere, but sometimes when I’m driving I wish I could sit still. Sometimes when I’m away from home, I miss my people and wish I could be with them. But sometimes when I’m home, I wish I was by myself again. At first being a long-haul trucker satisfied my need for seeing new places, but it soon became just a difficult job that kept me away from home too much.

When I’m working (and no one is looking over my shoulder), I might open Google Maps for something, and then my mind starts drifting and I start looking for places I want to explore by myself: hiking in nature, seeing new cities, finding waterfalls, and planning road trips. When I’m done working, sometimes I go on a random drive just to see something new, but it’s getting harder to find new and interesting things within a couple of hours from home.

I don’t get bored easily, but I need something new all the time. I drift through museums faster than most people, looking at each painting or artifact just enough to enjoy it, but not long enough that I get bored with it. I can spend an hour where other people might spend all day. I’m still enjoying myself, but my enjoyment of the moment ends very quickly. I used to enjoy my work, but now it’s just a job, and sometimes it sucks the life out of me.

My life is not normal, but it’s not bad like it used to be. Even so, Sometimes I want to run away from it all – abandon my problems, hide somewhere off the beaten path, scratch out a living in isolation, and be alone in my misery. Unfortunately when you’re running away from yourself, you can’t run far. Maybe what I’m asking for is a final escape from myself, but there are too many places I haven’t visited yet for me to give in and finally end it all.

Maybe what I want is freedom – to come and go as I please, to see new things when I feel like it, and go back to my comfortable chair when I am done. I guess that’s what retirement is for, but I don’t see myself having a long time to enjoy freedom from having to work. At the rate I’m going, I’ll be very fortunate if I even make it to retirement age.

a very sad dream

I had a heart-wrenchingly sad dream a few nights ago. I was in charge of resistance fighters in a Star Wars-like scenario, with spaceships and lasers. I don’t remember who or what we were resisting, but there were maybe several dozen of us remaining. An attack by the enemy was imminent, but we were defending our home base, so spirits were high. Unfortunately we had few weapons, so some people hid while others awaited the attack from above. I had miscalculated though, because the enemy had tricked us by landing out of sight and hiking to the rear of the base. They walked in and captured everyone in hiding, and to save their lives, the people with weapons surrendered. Everyone except me and two other leaders were loaded into a transport ship, while I was being held on the command bridge of the enemy leader’s ship. We took off first, and I could look down toward the surface as the laser cannons targeted the transport ship and fired. The transport exploded, taking the lives of everyone I was supposed to care for and protect. I had caused their destruction; it was a crushing feeling, as all hope was lost.

I woke up at about 4am feeling incredibly sad, to the point of tears as I returned to reality. I’m still struck by how much it affected me that day.

The dream involved mostly anonymous dream-people, and some off-planet creatures, but several people I know in real life were in the dream and were among those who died; one real-life person was on the enemy command ship with me and survived.