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.

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.

father time

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

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

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

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

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

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

blog soup – stir well

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

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

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

abusive memories

I started writing a different post, and it triggered a memory. It’s really important that I write this first.

I just heard a voice from the distant past saying, “don’t get too big for your pants.” That was always a code phrase for whenever this person was telling me I was too arrogant or full of myself; in other words, she was trying to tear me down anytime I felt a little bit of confidence.

Another one of her greatest hits was, “you’re breeding a scab on your nose,” which to me meant that I was setting myself up for embarrassment and failure. When I heard that code phrase, I would stop what I was doing because I was afraid to be seen as a failure. If she saw me as a failure, everyone else would too. This also made me want to succeed at things to spite her, and I’ve been told that spite is an ugly emotion.

I repeat those phrases in my head, and all I feel is negative emotions from the memory: anger at her for pulling a child into her bitter negativity; sadness for myself, who never learned to shake off the power her words had over me; and frustration at how badly this damaged my psyche to the point I would rarely have confidence in anything I do.

I can’t stress enough the effect this has had on me as a child, as a teen, and as an adult. My entire life has been filled with instances where I could have tried something new, but I didn’t have the fearlessness to try whatever it was because I thought it was predetermined that I would fail. I can’t count the times I might have been really good at something, but I was afraid to give it a shot for fear of embarrassment or ridicule.

I was a really smart kid, but I had no answer for the verbal abuse that was inflicted on me every day. I was book smart, but I had no emotional intelligence. I say that as if I’m blaming myself, but how could I lean and grow emotionally when I was stifled by the pressure-cooker environment I lived in? I knew my life was messed up, but not once did it occur to me that I wasn’t at fault somehow. A lifetime of emotional depression was caused by one mentally ill person constantly abusing a child, passing that mental illness down as if it were genetic, and morphing it to fit my specific weaknesses.

Failure, shame, embarrassment, sadness, anger. It has taken me many, many years to attempt to put these thoughts behind me and move on with life. I haven’t succeeded yet.

pascal’s wager

I’m still thinking about the memorial service I went to several weeks ago, but more about the role of religion in people’s lives and how it relates to my atheistic views.

I must admit that people who believe in religion get many positive benefits. They can have comfort and hope knowing that their god has a purpose for their lives, that he cares for them and guides them through trouble, that someone is listening to their problems during prayer, and that there is an afterlife of some kind where things will be better.

It must be nice to have that source of happiness and joy, even though it makes no sense to me anymore. I understand that giving one’s life to God means that they don’t have to worry as much about problems with the faith that God will solve them.

As an atheist, I have to work a little harder to find happiness, deriving it from the pleasure of living life while I still have it. As a perennially-depressed atheist, it is really difficult for me to achieve this happiness. It is hard for me to have a hopeful or optimistic life because of my brain chemistry, and I don’t derive as much pleasure from life as other atheists might. As a result, sometimes I wish I were one of the faithful.

There is a concept called Pascal’s wager, which supposes that the existence of God cannot be determined by reasoning and logic. If you believe in God, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose; if you don’t believe in God, you have nothing to gain and everything to lose. So you need to place your bets: if you wager there is no God or Heaven or Hell or any of the other trappings of religion, you risk eternal damnation. If you wager that God is real, you get all the benefits of belief without risking anything. It seems like the logical choice would be to believe.

As a former Christian, I know the benefits of believing in religion, but I just can’t bring myself to drink the Kool-Aid again. I’m betting against God. If he does exist, I’ll see some of you in Hell.

positively negative thoughts

When I start feeling too positive about myself, I look for something negative to relieve the pressure. For example, this time I thought about multiple teenage social encounters with girls who didn’t have the slightest interest in me.

There was the girl I took to the company Christmas party because I worked with her older sister, but I was told later she found me boring. There was the “wingman” incident where my friend and his girlfriend got it on in her house, and I was left for an awkward hour with her disinterested friend. Then there was the time I was trying to talk to a girl in class, while she was trying to set up a “sleepover” with another person in class.

Remembering good times. I fucking love my brain.

comfort for the atheist

I went to a graveside funeral recently. A Christian pastor led the service, and he read several passages from the bible about everlasting life with Jesus and how He has prepared a place to receive his believers after their life ends here on earth.

If you believe in the Christian faith, it must be comforting and uplifting to hear those words, to know that death is not a final end but a passage to a better place. I feel like the friends and family at the service appreciated this, and it helped them cope with the loss of a loved one.

As an atheist (or possibly an atheistic agnostic), I wonder what there is to give me peace and hope after someone close to me has died. Without the belief in an afterlife, am I to think that death is the end, hard stop? I am afraid that’s all there is; you had better enjoy life while you live it, because when the clock reads 0:00, you’re worm food, and that is it.

I believe that a person lives on in the memory of everyone they touched and everyone who loved them, but those memories are fleeting and fade over time. Some people live on through their accomplishments or inventions, but perhaps only in history books or remembered names of long-dead people. But these fragments are just temporary, and don’t imply any kind of afterlife. A person has no consciousness after death and cannot transfer from one phase of life to another one … or can they? 

Personally I don’t believe in any god or eternal life for the soul, but I’m open to the possibility of other outcomes that can’t be explained. There is something appealing about the concept of reincarnation. There are young people that seem truly wise beyond their age (you hear these people called “old souls”). I can accept that ghosts might exist (I think I saw one as an older child). I believe evil forces exist in this world and cause pain and suffering.

But those possibilities cannot be explained through science or logic; these are only constructs of the mind. The brain goes dark after death, and doesn’t return. People who talk about “near-death experiences” are simply confusing perception with the action of chemical reactions and electrical impulses.

None of this answers the questions at hand: what is there that gives me solace and comfort when someone has died, and what do I have to look forward to after death? I don’t think there is anything for me after death, but first I need to finish living. I can help keep alive the memory of people who are close to me. I can do good for others while I am alive. I can have a positive effect on the people around me, even if only a few. 

That’s good enough for me.

high inquisitor

I have questioned my memory of the person I was in the past. I think I was a decent person, but at the same time broken, awkward, and angry due to the years of abuse. I tend to remember the worst of who I was and how I treated people, and I remember the stupid things I did because of early-onset bipolar. These feelings happen during my depressive moods, and I have a difficult time escaping the darkness that envelops my thought processes.

I have this irrational desire to question my old friends to find out what I was like from their perspective and see how terrible a person I really was. I found something I wrote here during a depressive spiral in 2011:

I keep going back to my memory to try to find the answers on my own, but I need [old friends’] testimony as evidence to build the case against myself. I want to know if they remember everything the way I do, if their story checks out with the alleged facts in my mind. I have to know what they were thinking or feeling at the time, why they did what they did, why they cared about me in the first place, what I did to drive them away, … and why they decided they could no longer trust me. I need them to tell me how badly I hurt them, and if those scars remain, and if they think about those times with sadness or anger. I want them to confirm that I was really the monster I think I was.

I’ve had people from the past tell me they remember me as a basically good person and a good friend who seemed to have things figured out. Maybe I really fooled them, which makes me a disingenuous fraud, or they aren’t being truthful; either way, I don’t believe them. I think they are trying to protect my feelings, trying to be supportive and kind rather than honest. That’s not what I want from them; I want the unvarnished facts, don’t pull your punches, give it to me straight … I can handle the truth.

I want to know … but I don’t know if I have the right to ask these questions. I want to put people I’ve loved through this insane line of questioning even though it might hurt them now more than I ever did before. Sometimes I’m prepared to torture my friends and family to get the truth, and fuck the consequences. … I know I shouldn’t do this, to myself or my loved ones, but I’m still obsessed. I still want to know, even if I have to hurt them to get the answers.

 

I have had to accept that people from my past grew up and let go; they’ve moved on, lived their life, and made their choices … while leaving me in their past. They have forgotten the exact details of that afternoon in 1986, or that weekend in 1989, or that evening in 1993. They don’t remember what song was playing, or what cookies we shared, or where we sat in the grass. They have done what adults do, leaving the details to fade into the background, just remembering the highlights, maybe feeling a little nostalgia when looking at an old yearbook, but then closing the yearbook and coming back to the present.

Sometimes I don’t know how to do that. Sometimes I want to punish myself by examining everything in painful detail, repeatedly analyzing what went wrong and what I could have done to fix it, wishing I could go back and just make a small revision or two, and wanting to find out how the story could have ended.

glass half empty

I have had a sense of impending doom lately. I’m very pessimistic about several things right now: the election, my moods, my job, my daughter, and the coronavirus. I just get the feeling that things are about to get worse.

I don’t think the changing season is to blame; that doesn’t usually have much effect on me. I have had the California fires on my mind, because my old hometown was in danger, but the threat is less now.

I don’t claim to be psychic, just perceptive, and I see dark times ahead.

Or I’m just as crazy as Professor Trelawney, and I can’t see anything at all.

this so-called recovery

People who don’t have mental illness seem to think that you can recover from all mental illness. I suppose it’s in how you define “recovery”. If you see recovery as having no more symptoms and leading a “normal” life, I’m afraid that’s a myth for me.

I believe recovery, by this definition, is possible for some people with anxiety or depression or other disorders where therapy is the primary treatment, possibly enhanced with medication. But I think people like me who have bipolar or schizophrenia or other serious lifelong conditions have to accept that being symptom-free is nearly impossible.

I have accepted for some time that I will always be chasing stability, that I will always need a cocktail of medication to control the bipolar, and that I will fight it to a draw on most days. Some days it will win, and I won’t be able to function at all; most days the meds help me deal with it and allow me to pretend to be a functional adult.

That doesn’t sound like recovery to me. It seems more like a fight to the death, and at the moment, I’m hoping to die from something else and not the bipolar.

girl of my dreams

Lisa visited me again last night. Of all the people I’ve ever met, she is the one who appears in my dreams most often. Sometimes as a friend, sometimes as a lover, sometimes as someone else’s lover, but always with that brilliant, genuine smile that lights up the room and makes you feel like you are the most important person in her world.

During our friendship she saved me from my dark places, she saved Christmas for me, and on one occasion maybe saved me from hurting myself (though she never knew it). She was the most emotionally well-adjusted person I knew, but she had her problems too, and I was there for her to cry on my shoulder. She was the first person I ever truly loved, but we never officially became a couple because she said it would ruin the relationship. She was probably right, but at the time I would have followed her anywhere had she wanted me to.

We remained in contact for several years after I got married, and we even visited each other a couple of times. Then my bipolar started raging again, and my e-mails and messages got increasingly neurotic. It scared her away, and she said she couldn’t continue down that path. We drifted apart, like so many friendships do. It would be difficult to be friends again without saying or doing something stupid that would make her uncomfortable.

Out of all the people I’ve discarded and relationships I’ve let slip away, this is the one that hurts. I remember what we had in 1989, but I can’t seem to let that go. I couldn’t go to her wedding, and I can’t go to reunions because I would see her there. I’m afraid to write to her because I don’t know if she would be interested in what I have to say anymore.

We are friends on Fakebook, but we don’t interact with each other. How sad is that? I would have spent a lifetime with her, and now we have the ability to catch up on things but never do. I don’t know what her thinking is, but maybe she believes that I would just cause chaos that she doesn’t want. She’s probably right, as usual.

unhealthy nostalgia

I spend way too much time looking back at my past. I dwell on things I’ve done, both good and bad. I mentally escape to places I’ve visited. I think too much about people I’ve loved (or hated). I ruminate about the events that shaped my life.

Usually my brain is occupied with the tasks at hand, whether working, dealing with Nicole’s illness, or taking care of the house we live in. The trouble comes in those quiet moments when I’m by myself and my brain is caught in between processes. That’s when I revert to the rumination and dwelling on the past.

There have been times when I was unstable that I actually felt like my “current life” was not real, and I needed to run away from it to someone or something that was real. I felt like I had lost my true self with every decision I had made since events in 1989 and 1990. I felt like I could reverse time and fix those choices many years later, with no regard for the collateral damage it would cause to other people. Fortunately I escaped this distorted thinking and never followed through with any half-hearted plans I may have had.

I think my emotional depression promotes that dualistic, fork-in-the-road type of thinking where I ponder what might have been if I had made the other choice, or if fate had made the other choice for me. My bipolar depressive mood swings exacerbate this way of thinking. I have read the term “double depression”, and I believe this describes my state when I am at my worst. During these episodes it is difficult to concentrate on real life and stay engaged, but that is exactly what I need to avoid slipping back into those thought patterns.

It’s not good for me to be alone for long periods of time, because I think myself into a spiral of sorrow and regret for the life I have lived and the choices I have made. It was very bad when I was driving the big rig for days in a row, because my mind wandered during the long stretches of open road. While I was very creative during that time, I was also self-destructive in my introspection, and it shows in my writing from that period.

This behavior is unhealthy. I need to spend more time thinking about what is, and the choices I will make now and in the future, rather than dwelling in the past. It’s difficult for me to let go, like a story where you have grown so connected with the characters that you don’t want to let them go … but sometimes things need to fade into the distance.

quiet moments

What do you think about in those quiet moments you have to yourself? Just before you fall asleep, or waiting for someone to arrive, or drinking a morning cup of coffee?

For me? Lots of things: regrets, guilt, shame, bitterness, pessimism, and self-loathing. Sometimes people I used to love, or hate. Sometimes, if I’m feeling good, I think of places I’ve traveled or sights I’ve seen.

Mostly regrets, though – stupid things I’ve done, people I’ve hurt, choices I’ve made, and missed opportunities.

I’m pretty well broken emotionally, but for some reason I have this stubborn streak that keeps me from giving in. The melodrama of suffering in silence, but telling everyone here about it.

As if anyone cares. Save the drama for your llama.

motivational speaker

I never seem to be motivated by other people’s stories of how they accomplished their dreams in the face of adversity. I don’t really care about people’s stories of perseverance, faith, courage, or whatever strength of character allowed them to reach their goals. Maybe that’s because I never had anyone to motivate me other than myself and a twisted sense of spite.

I decided early on that I would accomplish everything I could because people around me told me I wasn’t capable. Spite is a great motivator, for a while, but it becomes an empty feeling when there is no one left to prove wrong. In the end, I decided to accomplish things for myself, and later for my family’s well-being.

When I was a kid, no one really motivated me or gave me guidance on how to accomplish the things that were important to me. No one took an active role in helping me become the person I wanted to be. I can’t remember anyone sitting me down and telling me “You’re smart enough, you can do this, but you have to work hard and push yourself to succeed.” As I grew into adulthood, I just forged ahead with good and bad decisions, and made some really dumb mistakes along with my humble successes.

I didn’t really have any guidance as a kid, but that’s not to say I did everything alone. My friend Lisa and I encouraged each other and pushed each other to succeed in school; I had other friends in college who did the same thing. My high school band teacher taught me how to act with integrity and hold myself to a higher standard. The pastor at our church showed me dignity and humility, even if the religious teachings didn’t last very long.