overwhelmed and tired

For the first time in a while, I feel like running away is a perfectly sane option. Not really, but you get the idea. I am on call for jury duty this week; most people want to avoid it, but I would love to go.

I am so overwhelmed right now at work. So many projects, so many demands. I’ve been working lots of overtime, but there is seemingly no end to the number of “emergencies” that keep me from getting my work completed. How much more do they expect of me? How much more do I need to give?

I have already shuffled a few projects off to other people, but I really can’t do it again. Everyone else seems to be getting their work done; I’m the only one who can’t seem to get any projects to completion. The others seem to be okay with working their amount of overtime; it is a struggle for me to work my 40 let alone any extra that is expected right now.

I am mentally and emotionally drained every day, and it is affecting my physical health. They don’t realize I have this little time bomb called bipolar ticking away, waiting to blow up my professional life. This affects me more than it would other people, because I’m more vulnerable to external stress.

I’m starting to wonder if I may have to play the “disability card”. If I were to have my psychiatrist place me under work restrictions for mental health reasons, I could force management to shift projects so that I could only work 40 hours. Could I keep that under cover? I don’t exactly want it known that I have bipolar, but if I play that card, the secret will get out. Mental health is one of the things that supposedly cannot be discriminated against, but good luck proving it. Then again, I have the protection of a union position, and I am not seeking any advancement from my current position (like I need any more responsibility, right?).

It’s so lonely in my head right now. Everyone has their problems, and I feel like this is the only place where I can actually unload. You don’t have to read, but thank you if you do.

I realize this is not a well organized or proofread post, but fuck off. I’m tired and I just want to sleep for a week.

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remember when?

Just a few things I have done during manic episodes:

  • Picked up a 5-gallon bucket and started beating it with a baseball bat until the bucket was in tiny pieces scattered across the lawn.
  • Slapped myself across the face and punched myself until I was sore and bruised all over.
  • Surprised my co-workers by taking a half-used can of whipped cream and spraying the contents directly into my mouth, in full view of management.
  • Tore apart several computers and worked on them all night just before the family returned home to find parts all over the house.
  • Bought a drum kit.
  • Drove to the beach and started screaming at the waves, sincerely hoping one of them would drag me out to sea.
  • Stayed up all night cracking the password to my wife’s computer, then going through her files and blog posts.
  • Bought a girl a bra for a birthday present, then actually gave it to her.
  • Urinated off a tall bridge into a lake.
  • Shouted obscenities at an inappropriate moment during a band performance.
  • Drove over 110 mph in the Blue Bomber (my old Chevy Impala).
  • Almost drove in front of a truck with suicidal intent.

I love these trips down manic memory lane. I’ve done some pretty stupid things over the years, and I know I was manic at the time, but hey, no excuses. The times I feel guilty about are where I could have hurt someone else.

new lamictal warning

There is a new warning for those who take the drug Lamictal. Since I mention it in my blog often, I thought I would link to this page on Drugs.com in case someone stumbles upon my site.

INTRO: The FDA is warning that the medicine Lamictal (lamotrigine) for seizures and bipolar disorder can cause a rare but very serious reaction that excessively activates the body’s infection-fighting immune system. This can cause severe inflammation throughout the body and lead to hospitalization and death, especially if the reaction is not diagnosed and treated quickly.

stories yet to be told

My bipolar has been relatively quiet; as usual I feel a little down most of the time, but with some minor mood swings either way. I welcome the energy of the mild positive swings, and I try to survive the downward phases without oversleeping and overeating. At my new doctor’s suggestion, I have been working my way up to the maximum dosage on the Topomax to see if that helps to suppress my appetite a little. I haven’t noticed much change yet, but we will see in the next two weeks. In the meantime, I haven’t noticed any other side effects, so that’s a good thing.

Lately I have been in a mood for reminiscing rather than discussing bipolar. Anytime I sit down to start writing something about my present condition, it seems lame and meaningless, while stories from the past seem to be more powerful for me. Even the bad poetry has dried up for now, and I much more enjoy spending time rewriting and recycling old stories in the hope that someday I can let the family see them. Maybe it will explain so much more than I can in person.

I realize that stories from Fishrobber’s Life History is not likely to gain any new readers, and may alienate the few people that do actually read this site. If you care about my day-to-day life, I appreciate it, and I would love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail me if you are interested in talking one-on-one about bipolar, life, Giants baseball, or anything at all. I will gladly answer. Contact info is at the top right of the page.

doctor, doctor

My previous psychiatrist left his practice with very little warning last December, so I had to find a new one. This week I had my first appointment with the new p-doc, and I think it went very well. After the obligatory paperwork, I was interviewed by an intake nurse who asked me a lot of wide-ranging questions about my symptoms and my life in general. She seemed very organized, and made plenty of notes in the computer.

I was sent back to the waiting room for about 15 minutes, then they brought me in to see the doctor. We talked about my current and past symptoms, and how they have changed over time with the medication. I felt like I had to make a case that I still have bipolar, and he seemed to agree that even though I have been relatively stable with the meds I would be in trouble without them. We also discussed the weight gain with Abilify, and he started me on Topomax, an anti-seizure drug with a major side effect of appetite suppression and weight loss. He said several patients have had success with this combination. Finally, he gave me a little bit of Ativan to take as needed on days when my anxiety is problematic.

I was nervous the entire time, but I think I covered everything I wanted to during the appointment. I had prepared by writing up a list of symptoms, a timeline, a list of meds, etc., which helped me lay things out in an organized manner when responding to questions.

I got the impression from the conversation that he was much more friendly and personable than my previous doc. I also believe he is much more inclined to listen and be interactive, working as a partner in my mental health goals rather than just ordering me to do what he says.

signs of bipolar

I had symptoms of bipolar disorder as far back as maybe 11 years old. Even at that time, I knew something was wrong with me. I definitely had depression, long periods where I would be in a crappy mood all the time and I wanted to isolate myself from people. During high school I had deep recurring depressive episodes that grew worse.

On the other hand, I realized I could anticipate when a hypomanic episode was on the way; I almost felt like I could hear it coming in the distance, and I knew it would cause me problems. I called it a “dangerous mood”, and it was during those times that I said and did stupid and hurtful things without regard for consequences or safety. I also developed a lot of obsessive thinking and rumination during that time. While that is not necessarily a symptom of bipolar, it was another facet to my struggle with undiagnosed mental illness.

My symptoms became worse as I moved into my 30s. When I was mistakenly diagnosed as having unipolar depression, I believe taking the anti-depressants made things even worse. Soon thereafter I went into the hospital, but the roller-coaster ride continues to this day.

image credit: kurumi.com

dumped by my doc

I found out yesterday that my P-doc has moved to another city, and I have to find a new provider. It is a pain in the ass for me to find someone new, but it is no emergency. In a city this size, you would think there would be more doctors accepting new patients, but apparently not.

I don’t know how I am supposed to feel about this. I know it can be traumatic for some people with mental health problems when the need to change doctors. I’m not in a crisis mode, so I have time to wait while I can be scheduled (March, one potential new doctor said). But what if I was feeling bad, or needed someone right away? I know there are the crisis centers or the hospitals, but it’s not like having a relationship with someone who knows you.

Despite the inconvenience, I had been wondering if it was time to look for another pair of eyes to review my symptoms and get a different perspective. I guess that time has come.

wide awake

Yes, it’s way past my bedtime, but sleep isn’t happening. I’ve been in a stress-induced hypomania for several days now, and it shows no sign of stopping. I’m anxious, twitchy, my head hurts, my eyes hurt, and despite being very tired, I can’t sleep.

I’ve been working 10-hour days this past week, 8 on Saturday, with the promise of more long days this next week. The overtime money will be nice (it will pay for my Christmas present, a new computer), but being able to sleep is good too.

I have several worries spinning around in my head, none I wish to write about, and I don’t think I could form coherent sentences even if I tried. Thoughts of doom and inevitability and negativity are pervasive right now.

Finally, and this may be connected, I have been tinkering with the dosages on my medication. I am trying to cut back a little just to see if I can manage at lesser amounts of chemicals, but I think that plan has been unsuccessful. I plan on riding this hypo a few more days until a project deadline passes, then I will go back to my normal dosage. I’ll be okay in the meantime as long as I watch myself.

the bipolar gender gap

I have noticed the bipolar blogging world seems to be populated by more women than men. I don’t really know why there seems to be many women blogging about mental health, but maybe I can guess why there are fewer men here. I think there is a greater stigma among men for mental health problems, more so than women.

I think there is a different process for men when they come to terms with having a mental illness. Based on my own experience, I think went through phases of anger, sadness, anger again, denial, suicidality, defeatism, a little more anger, and shame … but also a little bit of strength and resistance on the good days.

I wonder how many guys make the effort to reach out for help to a doctor, or a friend, or a wife/girlfriend; maybe they don’t for various reasons. My perception is that men are less likely to write journals or talk about feelings and fears in any semi-public manner (like support groups or blogging). Those men that do write about their mental health range from angry and defeated to strong and uplifting.

I think some guys are a little more in touch with the more emotional and introspective side of ourselves, and those are the men who are more likely to write about their own mental health. I don’t think that makes us less masculine in any way, even though we may experience depression in a stereotypically feminine way.

I think everyone has their unique experience with mental health issues, and it has little to do with being male or female. I realize I may be criticized for laying out several stereotypes here, but this is just my perception of the gender divide among bipolar bloggers. Let me know if I’m right or wrong or somewhere in between.

the manic road trip of 2004

One of my undiagnosed manic episodes centered around a road trip in May of 2004. I was sent to training course in Las Vegas by my employer at the time, and instead of flying there, I decided to drive our trusty van 2000 miles. Driving has always been therapeutic for me, as have the Sierra Nevada mountains. I had been in a severe funk prior to taking the trip, so I thought a long drive through beautiful scenery would be a great pick-me-up.

I drove through Sacramento to Lake Tahoe in snow, then south to the tufa formations of Mono Lake. I climbed a cinder cone and visited an obsidian formation in the forest near Mammoth Lakes. I couldn’t sleep that night, due to cold and excitement, so I ended up hanging out at an all-night gas station. At first light I headed for the Bristlecone Pine forest in the White Mountains, then continued through the desert to Vegas.

After my last day of training, I won about $250 in the casino, then I couldn’t fall asleep (still slightly manic). I checked out of the hotel and went to the old downtown casinos at 2 in the morning, then took off for home at 4am. I started falling asleep while driving through the Nevada desert; the song “Time” by Pink Floyd probably saved my life by waking me up when the alarm bell sounded. I drove straight through to home in about 21 hours, stopping at Death Valley and Yosemite National Parks, and being dangerously tired on the way.

I didn’t have a crash or a spiral after the trip, more like a slow letdown. After having a great experience, returning to the everyday world was deflating and depressing. I returned to work, wishing I was in the mountains again.

I’m glad I took the opportunity to get away by myself for a few days when I really needed it. I will always have the memories and the photos of that trip, and it reminds me that even in the middle of a chaotic time in my life, I was able to have such an enjoyable experience. However, I made some poor decisions during the trip. Who lets a manic person loose at a casino, and why was I climbing granite outcrops in Yosemite? I could have lost a lot of money, I could have fallen off the rocks and died, and I could have fallen asleep while driving and killed someone else.

At the time, I wrote:

I think the trip was in general the most uplifting and healing time of my life. Right when I really needed it, I got the opportunity to be alone in the landscape I love so much, to take some beautiful pictures to look at later, but more than anything to just let the pressures and demands and negativity just slip away … feeling the beauty in the landscape and in the forest that honestly I think many people can never feel … I was exploring everything – forests, valleys, plants, small furry creatures, large outcrops of basalt and tuff and obsidian, volcanic craters and peaks, joshua trees, lizards and cactus surviving at 10,000 feet, 4,000-year-old trees, earthquake faults, tufa deposits, glacier-carved canyons, alluvial fans, rain shadows, playa lakes, microclimates, glacial erratics. I was so unafraid and content and free, I actually found it safe to let myself talk to people … At those times it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or says, you are simply enjoying life in that moment.

[When I arrived in] Las Vegas, I had a little anxiety episode … After the beauty and solitude of the natural world, [it] was quite a shock to me. That feeling passed soon, but it was interesting to me how shocking it was, letting me know that I was totally immersed in the escape mode of my trip. I walked the Strip, looked inside a few places, but really returned to feeling alone, detached, and invisible while I was there. … I could have done stuff with other people attending the class, but I didn’t feel comfortable, I just wanted to be alone.

I will eventually post some photos of the trip so all 3.2 of you readers can see some of my favorite places. [here’s the link.]