bad knees

Fishrobber Classic – December 2012:

If a guy had bad knees but ran marathons, then collapsed in tears at the end of each race, and had to go lay down and do nothing so he could rest before the next race … people would talk about his courageousness, toughness, dedication, strength.

If he was forced to run the race to earn his family’s only source of income, and had no time or energy for other hobbies or friends, they would talk about his selflessness to provide for his family while sacrificing his own body and happiness.

If people found out the runner took drugs to help his body recover, he would be ridiculed as a fraud, a cheater, a less honorable person for having resorted to chemistry to perform better. People might question whether he should run at all.

How is this different from the functioning bipolar person? My mind is my knees, the marathon is daily life. My strength is a show for everyone while I feel weak inside; I sacrifice the happiness I don’t feel I deserve. I have no time or energy for hobbies or friends because I collapse at the end of each day, but my selflessness is really a sham concealing a dark desire to run away from this life and be free from its responsibility. People would treat me differently if they found out I was constantly medicated.

I wonder what happens when I can no longer run the race every day.

before and after

I have read a few posts lately about how being diagnosed with bipolar disorder changed someone’s life. In my experience, really changed is my awareness of my mental health, my understanding of my past, and my expectations for the future.

Before my diagnosis, I understood that there was something fundamentally wrong with me, even though I didn’t have a name for it. Even as far back as high school, I had a little understanding about my mood swings and my odd and risky behavior at times. I knew I had problems, and I knew I had depression at times, but I also thought mental illness was for the weak; I was stronger than that, I could break free from it, I could make myself better. I was able to fight it when I was younger, but it became more difficult with time. After years of increasingly severe ups and downs, I finally decided I couldn’t handle it on my own. I went to the doctor for depression, and thought everything would be okay again. However the anti-depressants made my mood swings worse to the point I was put in the hospital, then diagnosed with bipolar.

After the diagnosis, I felt I finally had a name for the problems I had since childhood. I felt like I understood why I had those behaviors and mood swings and mind-shattering depression over the years. Being a geek, I studied everything I could in the library and on the internet. I wanted to have a good understanding of my condition so I could manage it and beat it.

What I came to realize is that there is no beating bipolar disorder. The right medication helps you manage it, although finding that combination has been difficult in the past. I was very much disappointed by this, and there have been times I really gave up hope that I would be able to have a life that was anything close to normal. I have finally arrived at a place where I feel it is a losing battle, and I only have a limited amount of time to make the most of my life before it wins.

That sounds defeatist, but it also gives me a little incentive to keep fighting for life. Nothing with bipolar is easy, and I accept that it will always be more difficult for me than “normal people” to reach goals and improve my quality of life. Part of that quality is to increase chances for happiness and contentment, and decrease the things that bring me down. If that means a vacation I can’t afford, I might take it anyway. In some cases it means allowing my anxieties to win sometimes, and stay away from situations that cause me stress.

Bipolar has changed my outlook for the future, but not hopelessly so.

contradictions

I have done everything possible to forget about childhood in Goldville (the hometown), but I still tell stories from there. I have ignored all my friends for nearly 30 years, but I am trying to reconnect with them via Fakebook. However, connecting with those people brings up bad memories from those times, so I ignore them once more.

Much of the time, I want to be alone, yet I am often lonely. I have a family who loves me, but I feel so isolated. The bipolar has changed who I am inside to the point where I don’t really feel good things anymore. I want to be happy, but all I feel inside is melancholy and sadness. My illness makes it impossible to feel the way I want. Instead of valuing time with my family, I value the time away from them because I can be alone, which makes me feel more alone. I want to able to share the things I enjoy with them, but my own damaged thought processes won’t allow that.

I want to live into my retirement years so I can enjoy life for a change, but I know that I will not enjoy it when I get there. I will be worried about money and health care and quality of life, and I am afraid of early dementia robbing my mental vitality. I want to live, but every day I think of reasons it would be convenient to die now before things get any worse. I have plans for when I get to the point where I can’t enjoy life anymore. Despite wanting to live for my family, I will selfishly go out on my own terms.

I am outraged and sickened by the direction this country chose in the election, but I am so stunned and overwhelmed that I am unable to do anything about it. I sit in the sidelines, not contributing financially or with my voice or actions to fix the mess that has been created. I am so apathetic right now, and despite wanting to be involved and aware, I ignore the news as much as possible because it disgusts me so. I still find myself angry at my co-workers and acquaintances for doing this and thinking they were doing the right thing. They just don’t value the same things as me, and I wonder if that prevents me from being friends with them. This leads to isolation and loneliness, with depression on the side.

More than ever, I am motivated to be more healthy, but I know I will not do anything about that either. My social anxiety rises whenever I try to exercise, and I fear people are watching the fat guy stumble around in futility at the gym. I won’t go to the YMCA with Annie because I am simply too embarrassed to be seen there. Then when my clothes don’t fit, I feel worse and more embarrassed and more isolated from others, and I am less motivated to do anything about it. I get closer to the inevitable heart attack or diabetes, killing myself one slice of pizza at a time.

I’m proud of my kids for being kind, good-hearted people, but I wish they could have the motivation to do more, to be more successful. I know it’s not fair to compare your own kids to other people’s kids, but how can I help it? My friend is constantly bursting at the seams with his daughter’s latest great accomplishment, and all I have is “my kid showered today” (which is a big accomplishment for her). I feel like I didn’t give them the tools they needed to succeed in life, because I wasn’t there emotionally or mentally for them while I was fighting my own demons. Unless he finds the ambition to change his life, my son will be stuck in low-wage jobs for the foreseeable future. My daughter is essentially unable to anything for herself because of her mental illness. You want your kids to do better in life, but for many reasons it’s not going to happen. I want to be a supportive parent, but it is difficult.

I want to live, but I’m so tired of living.

karma and punishment

My daughter Nicole and I were talking about karma, revenge, and punishment the other day. She thinks it is wrong that our society’s need for “justice” revolves around revenge for the aggrieved or their family. I told her this concept has been around for thousands of years. Some Eastern cultures specified revenge punishments for certain crimes, and that carried over into the biblical/Western society as well.

She thinks that the purpose of prison should be to keep dangerous people away from society, and that non-violent criminals should not have to go to prison. I tend to agree with this, but right or wrong, I have been indoctrinated in a culture that says crimes must be punished. It would be difficult for me to advocate forgiveness for non-violent crimes, but perhaps there are better ways for punishment to be given: halfway houses, extended probation, and monetary fines for those who can afford it.

I don’t really believe in the concept of karma and the universe taking care of itself. I constantly see bad things happen to good people, and bad people (i.e. those who offend my value system) seem to get ahead in life. Whatever karma is, it doesn’t have the ability to right the wrongs in the world. If there were justice in the universe, I would be there to see vile, disgusting people get what they deserve.

Maybe this is wrong, but I wish bad things to happen to distasteful people. [The subject of the “yearbook” post comes to mind.] I want punishment for bad deeds and offensive behavior. But Nicole asks if I would be happy to see something truly tragic happen, like the death of a loved one, or a debilitating disease, or being paralyzed in a crash. That’s not what I want; it’s apples and oranges. For me, justice is proportionate to the crime being committed. When someone cuts me off on a snowy freeway, I would love to see them spin out and slide into a ditch, but I don’t want them to be injured. Likewise, when someone is a bully, I want to see them get bullied or humiliated, but I don’t wish them bodily harm.

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Twenty years ago I was badly injured in a car crash caused by a habitual drunk driver with a revoked license. He had several prior convictions, but this charge of aggravated vehicular assault was the most serious. It was a slam dunk case, and he was quickly convicted. Under Oregon law the penalty was a mandatory 6 years in prison. The judge asked his family to speak, and they said something to the effect that he was a good person who made mistakes, and that sending him to prison would be a loss for their family. I was asked to speak, and I said something like: my family almost lost me for good, and he should be punished, but I hoped he could get treatment while in prison.

I still have a bad taste in my mouth from what happened at the time. I think the driver deserved to be punished, but was it a violent offense? Maybe the sentence was just in that society was protected from his drunk driving for 6 years, but hard time in prison may be too much when a low-security residential institution may have been more appropriate. I thought at the time I wanted him to get treatment for his alcoholism, but I have seen cases where treatment didn’t work, and the drunk slips back into the same behavior. Maybe this was his last chance, and I was the unlucky one. I know this event changed my life forever, and I’m sure it changed his life forever as well.