losing hope

My heart hurts for Nicole (my daughter) right now. Her life is so incredibly difficult. Her bipolar is severe enough that the medications aren’t working. She has been mostly manic but sometimes in a mixed mood for weeks now. She wants to be better, but she is powerless in the face of the monster. She knows it, and she is losing hope.

I love her so much, and I would take a bullet for her, but I can’t help her against what hurts her the most. I wish I could take it away from her, absorb her craziness and keep it for myself, to give her a little peace. But miracles don’t exist. I don’t want to say this out loud, but I don’t think she will ever be well.

My fear is that she will get worse and finally have enough of her tortured life. I would be sad beyond words, but I wouldn’t be angry with her if she did end her life. She is never well, she’s not a resilient person, and she struggles with life. She tries to find pleasure but it is ripped away from her by her illness. I don’t know if I could live like that. She says she has thought about it, but she has no plans right now. I hope we can help her before it comes to that point.

After months, she made it to a psychiatrist who tried some new meds, but Nicole realized that the new drug had a side effect of weight gain, so she refused to take it. At her next appointment two days ago, she was bad enough that the p-doc told her she could go to a treatment center, or she would be pink-slipped and sent to the psych ward of one of the local hospitals. We chose the treatment center, and she was admitted yesterday. I hope she can find some relief there. If they can’t help her, I don’t know where to turn.

I’m crying as I write this, and I never cry.

doors and rubber rooms

What’s the old saying? When one door closes, it hits you in the ass, then you’re stuck in a dark room and you’ve misplaced the key? That’s how my life feels now.

I didn’t get the job I was hoping for, but I’m not really too shattered about it. My hopes were tempered significantly a few days ago based on a conversation I had at the office with a former coworker. He told me some behind-the-scenes info which made it pretty clear the hiring manager was looking for someone from the field to fill the job. At least I know for sure now, and I can stop thinking about it.

But then another door opens. A new job posting appeared on the job board, one which I am definitely qualified for. I’m not sure if I actually want the job, but I am looking for a change; I can’t continue with what I’m doing for another 15 years. There would be a modest pay increase and more responsibility. It might be another bang-your-head-on-the-wall type of job, but it would be a different and more lucrative wall than the one I am banging on now. Maybe it will have padding. Maybe I belong in a rubber room without doors. That remains to be seen.

Speaking of mental health, we finally have a psychiatrist appointment for my daughter. Now I just have to get her out of bed and get her to the office for the appointment. She understands now that she is totally empty on meds and I can’t give her any more of mine. I’ve cut back a little on my lamictal for two weeks now to be able to give her enough to wean her slowly off the drug rather than have nasty withdrawal symptoms. I’m feeling a little funny, nothing serious, but I need my full dosage again, and she gets it now.

Everyone needs things from me. Fuck I get tired of doing things for other people all the time. I don’t mind helping people, but the steady stream is wearing me down at work and at home. I took my little vacation in May all for myself, and it was wonderful. Unfortunately I can’t do another getaway right now. Instead, I eat my feelings.

I need to remind myself of things I am thankful for and be grateful for what I have. Maybe my attitude will be a little better if I can do that. The bipolar depression doesn’t help in this regard, but it’s something I can work toward.

Finally: I have a therapy appointment looming, and he wants to work through a mindfulness exercise with me. I’m still skeptical, but we’ll see how it goes. Update to follow.

a frustrating week

It has been a very frustrating week for me. I still have not heard anything about my interview three weeks ago. The wheels of HR turn slowly at the Big Gas Co., but now this is bothering me. Just make a decision already. As Tom Petty once said, the waiting is the hardest part.

Another source of tension is the fact that my daughter won’t take steps to improve her mental health. I have been trying for months to get her to make an appointment with a psych. I tell her I will make the phone call and all she has to do is be there to say “yes, he can discuss this with you” (because of privacy), but she won’t do that. I’ve been so angry with her this week. I told my wife I’m not equipped to deal with this situation, and it’s pushing me too far.

My wife and I planned months ago to take a short 3-day trip to celebrate our 30th anniversary, but I don’t know if it will happen because of my daughter. She is tapering one medication because she is running out, and won’t see a psych. She has been stable with the lower dosage, but if she has a mental health emergency while we are gone, we will have to return immediately. I’m not sure we should go, but we will only be two hours away.

There are so many things that cause me stress and worry, and I can’t control any of them. I’m compiling a growing list of triggers for anxiety and obsessive thinking, and I must say the list is quite extensive. I went to therapy to try to learn how to reduce my stress, but thinking about this mindfulness crap is stressing me out even more.

On Tuesday I went for a drive to calm myself down and ended up mildly lost in Pennsylvania, but thanks to Google Maps I found my way back to the freeway. Usually driving takes the stress away, but not this time. I got more angry and tense as I got closer to home.

Enough for now. I’ll post again when I hear about the job.

giving up

It’s tough to see someone simply give up on themselves and lose all faith in their ability to thrive. When it’s a friend or family member, you do what you can to help, with the understanding that they will attempt to help themselves as well. In this case, my daughter won’t do anything to help herself and is willing to let my wife and I do everything for her. Part of me wants to let her sink or swim, but I can’t do that. I’m not willing to let her be without health care or let her be homeless or destitute, or even committed to a long-term mental hospital. She wants others to take care of everything for her, including her health, and she can’t or won’t understand that she needs to be a partner in this. Until she agrees to take some responsibility for her own health, I don’t know what else to do. I wish I had a better answer.

[note: severely edited]

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.

lack of compassion

I was telling my therapist last week how I have no self-esteem and a very poor sense of self-worth. I define my worth by what others see in me, and I project my negative thoughts onto them. I assume they see the worst in me, and my inner critic reinforces those mistaken assumptions.

My inner critic has voices; sometimes it is my own voice, sometimes it is the voice of peers or strangers from my past, but most often it is the voice of my abusers who told me repeatedly how little value I have and how ashamed I should be. Several years ago I wrote that my anger had lost its hold over me, but that is not true for the voices of the past.

The therapist asked me if I could be more compassionate toward myself, and I told him truthfully that I have no idea how to do that. I don’t know how to give myself a pass for being an imperfect, fallible human without thinking of myself as defective and broken. What about others, he said; for example, how would I comfort my wife if she were feeling bad and was hurting emotionally? I told him honestly that other than an uncomfortable hug, I don’t really know.

My wife is very likely to lose an uncle to COVID in the upcoming days, and maybe her aunt as well. She wasn’t really close to them for the past 25 years, but I know she will be sad about it, and she might have some tears. I have no clue what I will do when that happens. I care about the feelings of loved ones and strangers, and I sympathize with their sadness, but I feel like awkwardly comforting people close to me is a duty I have to do.

It doesn’t seem very compassionate to say that her aunt and uncle brought this risk on themselves by choosing to listen to the Orange Cult Leader, and they are suffering the natural consequences of dismissing the danger caused from being anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers. She knows that of course, and we share the same opinion, but that won’t stop her from being sad. I will feel like I have to comfort her because it’s my job as her husband, but I don’t feel comfortable doing so.

The inner critic is right: I am emotionally defective. My therapist better bring his A-game.

feeling better

My daughter came home from the hospital on Tuesday. The tests and the endoscopy were negative, so the most likely conclusion is that it was caused by smoking marijuana. All the sources I researched said her symptoms would be gone in 1-2 days after quitting, but apparently the THC was slow to leave her system, since she had the symptoms for almost a week after her last smoke. Anyway, she started feeling better Monday, and they kept her one more night to make sure there wasn’t a recurrence. I am relieved that she is okay now, because we were really worried about her.

Now I have to catch up on the work I missed, since I took 2-1/2 days off. Work doesn’t seem too important when your loved ones are seriously ill. I was behind last week, so now I’m even further in the hole. Now I have to manage my problems again. Ugh.

no vacation

I should be on a trail in Pennsylvania somewhere, but instead I’m sitting next to my daughter in a hospital room. She has had nearly constant nausea and frequent vomiting that has become worse over the last two weeks. We took her to the ER Wednesday, and they gave her prescriptions and sent her home. We had to return later on Wednesday because she couldn’t keep anything down.

The toxicology report said there was marijuana In her system, and they decided it was Cannibinoid Hyperemesis. She had been smoking pot to help the nausea, but instead it made her worse. They didn’t think they needed to do any more testing, but we asked them to look for other possibilities. She got a CT scan, but it showed nothing significant. They don’t want to do an endoscopy, but we will keep bugging until they agree.

Needless to say, things have been pretty glum around here. Hopefully we can get her healthy soon. I feel pretty helpless right now.

where there’s smoke, there’s pizza

I think I’m coming down from the recent manic episode. Monday I got my first good night of sleep in several days. My tension headaches are still there, my anxiety is still elevated, and I’m still twitchy, but sleep has returned.

So why am I up at 2:30 writing blog posts, you might ask? My daughter decided to bake a frozen pizza just after midnight. Apparently there was something that had dripped in the oven, so when she turned it on the “something” started to burn. She opened the oven door to put the pizza in, the smoke came pouring out, and the smoke alarm went off.

In the meantime, I was just waking up from a dream in which Tony Danza was showing off some exceptional drumming skills while on the set of a tv show. His character carried a pair of drum sticks in his back pocket, apparently for drumming-related emergencies. As he was finishing another paradiddle on a kitchen countertop, I woke up to the sound of the smoke alarm.

I hit the snooze on the alarm clock first, and when that didn’t work I realized what it was. Awake in a heartbeat, I jumped up, put on pants, and went rushing out the door while shouting at my wife “SMOKE ALARM”. I got downstairs and found my daughter standing in the kitchen with a chagrined look on her face. I pushed the button on the smoke alarm and went back to my still-sleeping wife and told her it was under control. “Mmmph,” she responded, as she settled into the covers.

Of course I’m wide-awake at this point, and so of course I turn on the computer and start reading to calm down. Two hours later, I’m still awake. I will try to take a nap in my easy chair before the night is over.

not so bad

During our Thanksgiving dinner, my adult children spontaneously took turns thanking my wife and I for the job we did raising them. I was grateful for this, especially coming from my son, who keeps his feelings closely guarded.

At the moment I was a little bit stunned, and I didn’t know what to say. I can’t take compliments, so of course I responded with something self-deprecating. I told them I appreciated them acknowledging our efforts, but that I was sorry for not being mentally present most of the time due to my bipolar. My son said that I kept it hidden well, because he would not have known I felt that way without me saying so. Then it became a little awkward (“Awkward Moments” is my middle name), and the conversation took a different turn.

Thinking about it later, I take comfort in knowing that despite my flaws, and in the face of my fears of being a bad parent, they thought I was pretty good. It took a long time to have that conversation, but it helps me reconcile years of self-flagellation about my ability as a parent. Since 2004 I have blogged thousands of since-deleted words about how terrible I was and how I blamed myself for irreparably harming my kids. Expressing those thoughts did nothing to help me and in fact made me feel worse about myself.

After hearing their thoughts, I feel much better about myself. I’m still flawed, but maybe I’m not such a bad person after all.

in-laws

I’ve been thinking about the brevity of life. We have our loved ones with us for an unknown amount of time, and you never know when that time will end.

My wife’s parents are old, in their late 70s. I know they’ve been “getting older”, but “old” seems to sneak up on people. They both have health issues: my mother-in-law has atrial fibrillation and has a pacemaker, and problems with depression and anxiety; my father-in-law has various things going on with his eyes and knees and digestion.

They handle their age with such grace. They are endearingly stubborn, befitting their midwestern roots. They try not to complain or dwell on the daily aches and pains of getting old. But they don’t fool themselves, and they don’t avoid the fact that their twilight years have arrived.

Despite the longevity in both their families, I fear they might not be with us much longer. I think about how Anne might cope with their passing. I wonder how I will feel, because I will be just as sad.

I look at the in-laws as if they were substitute parents. When my adoptive mom died many years ago, before Anne and I were even married, they helped me deal with A-mom’s affairs and showed me kindness and compassion. They cared for me as if I were family, not just as a boyfriend of their daughter. I will be forever grateful for that.

cheerleader

All parents are cheerleaders for their kids to a certain extent, but my adoptive mom was the whole squad. As I got older it became embarrassing when she would tell people how smart I was, how good a singer or musician I was, or how skilled at baseball I was. Even when I was proven to not be the best in those endeavors, she would stubbornly hold on to the belief that I was better than anyone else. She would complain to the coach when I didn’t get enough playing time, and she would tell the choir director that I deserved a solo when I really didn’t. I was her precious genius with superpowers, and she mollycoddled me to the point of smothering.

Despite A-mom being a cheerleader for me to the rest of the world, she never seemed to encourage me very much at home. She never sat me down and said “you can make it through college, you’re smart enough.” I felt like my motivation to succeed came from myself, partly to escape poverty and partly to prove wrong the people who told me I wouldn’t amount to anything.

I wonder if she didn’t feel like she could help me anymore once we escaped the abuse in Treetown. Maybe she felt like I was grown up at that point, which was far from the truth. I wish I had someone to help me through the transition from high school to college, but the reality is I did it all by myself. I don’t think she wanted me to leave home, and I think she was quietly happy when my first attempt at freedom failed and I moved back home.

I don’t want to be unfair to her. We were poor, and we didn’t the financial opportunity to take advantage of special tutoring or coaching or music lessons. In addition, we were both recovering from years of abuse, and we were still in a raw emotional state, trying to figure out how to live a normal life. We needed therapy more than we needed music lessons, but we had the mistaken belief that Jesus would help us more than psychiatrists.

disorders on order

Old friends of this site will recall that my daughter has schizoaffective disorder and  generalized anxiety disorder. If you didn’t know already, schizoaffective disorder combines all the fun of bipolar with the psychosis and disorganized thinking of schizophrenia. 

She is medicated, and thanks to us she has been taking her pills, but I don’t think they are working very well. She has tried several combinations without much success.

Yesterday my wife and I were out on an errand for a few hours. When we got home, Nicole was crying and said she had just called 911. Apparently she was hallucinating; she thought she had self-harmed, then she didn’t think she had, and I think she was scared by that time. When police and paramedics arrived she thought she was back to reality, but she willingly went to the ER for a psych evaluation. They admitted her to the hospital soon after she arrived.

There may have been warning signs for her. She said two days ago that she was having the sense of derealization again (where she feels detached from our world and that none of what we see or feel is real). I should have recognized that and made her call her doctor. 

Another factor is that she had been drinking. She knows alcohol and psychotropic drugs are not a good mix, but this reaction was different than a previous time. [And obviously, we can never have alcohol in the house again.]

For the millionth time, I am cursing myself for passing on my defective genes. 

the most interesting mind in the world

Back in December, I was bored, and my mind was wandering. Nothing good comes from that.

I started thinking something interesting might happen, something that would shake up the social order, something that would wake up America and maybe change the path of our country for the better. Instead, we got the coronavirus.

A few weeks ago, once again my mind was wandering, and I was thinking again about something interesting happening just to our family. Maybe we could win some lottery money, or get a new car, or have something positive happen to break us out of the lockdown doldrums we have been in. Instead, we got this:

My wife was in a serious crash about 2 miles from our house. The car did its job and protected her; she wasn’t hurt too badly. She had no broken bones and no significant injuries, she just had a sprained knee, a few bruises, and pains all over. It was 100% the other driver’s fault, as they had rolled through a stop sign and left her zero reaction time before impact. Their insurance is paying for everything, so we’ll see how smoothly that goes.

The next time my mind wanders, I will think of nothing interesting. Normal. Boring. Ordinary. Safe.

In the meantime, we will have to get a new car, at significant expense. We can either replace our car with something similar (100,000 miles, unknown maintenance history), or spend a ton of money and get something newer. I’m leaning toward the latter, even though that will take a serious bite out of our savings account. It’s only money, right?

unwelcome houseguest

Knock Knock.
Who’s there?
Corona.

No joking. We don’t know for sure, but we think Mrs. Fish is infected. She’s sick with something, and what else could it be? She doesn’t have the cough, and only a mild fever at times, but she has other symptoms that are consistent. We’ll try to get her an online doctor’s appointment tomorrow to see what they say (and they’ll say “call us again when it gets worse”).

What else would be that easy to catch for the little contact she has had with the public? She stopped working three weeks ago. She has been careful while out shopping, distancing, wearing a mask, and staying home unless necessary. I have done the same, and I have no symptoms. It’s not easy to catch a flu virus in the wild when you’re not being careful. What are the chances this is the flu, really?

I’m worried about her, but she’s in good health, so I don’t think she’s in any real danger. On the other hand, I’m real nervous about myself getting it. I’m 50, fat, and have elevated blood pressure, which put me more at risk. And I don’t like hospital food.

So Anne is isolated in our bedroom with Netflix and Animal Crossing (our daughter’s handheld game). I have been sleeping in my easy chair (don’t worry, I’ve had lots of practice). I’m doing all the cooking, and I’m running out of ideas (who says you can’t do grilled cheese every other day?).

And tomorrow, I have to tell my supervisor that I have to be restricted from coming into the office because I’ve probably been exposed. I’ve been working from home, but with occasional trips in for printing or essential paperwork. I guess someone will have to print large sets of plans for me this next week.

Update: Her doctor nurse practitioner seems to think it is something else, not COVID, but “get better soon, ok?” They will not test her, because of the lack of adequate public testing in this country. So do we assume the NP is correct, and go back to a semi-normal life, or do we continue to have her self-isolate under the assumption that she might have the COVID? Do I tell my office it was a false alarm and that I haven’t been exposed? So many unanswered questions that a test would help put to rest.

2nd update: Her symptoms seemed to go away after five days, so just to be sure she stayed in the bedroom for a few days after her symptoms went away. No one else has felt anything adverse since then. Again, due to a lack of testing, we don’t know if it was COVID or not, but it seems less likely now.