morbidly awkward

Following up on something in a previous post: my severe lack of self-esteem makes it difficult to socialize on a normal level.

I don’t feel like I have anything to give another person, whether as a friend or a casual acquaintance. I don’t think other people are interested in being around me, and if I try I feel like they are actually repulsed somehow by my attempt to interact with them. I am not interesting, I lose track of conversations, I have a hard time listening, and when I do say something it usually comes out wrong, and I feel stupid as a result. This effect gets worse in proportion to how much I would like to have a conversation with someone (which is rarely the case, but it happens).

I am terribly awkward at making conversation because I am overwhelmed while the other person is talking; my brain is working on so many different levels that I find it hard to keep up. I am trying to figure out something to say while wondering if I look ignorant, or I’m thinking about the stain on my shirt, or remembering the idiotic thing I said last time I talked to the person. In the meantime I have lost track of what the person was actually saying, then I feel stupid for not paying attention to the other person. This reinforces my fear of social interaction, and the next time is no better.

I dread interacting with people at the store or at restaurants, because people are only being friendly because it is required by their job. I loathe buying something where you have to talk to a salesperson, because I know I will get overwhelmed no matter how much I have prepared beforehand; internet shopping and the drive-thru window were made for me. I hate having to call people and talk to them for any personal or office business, because I am self-conscious about my voice and I always seem to stumble over my words. I could be dying and on the phone with 911, and I would be worried more about my side of the conversation than about the compound fracture in my leg.

The end result of all this is that I try to avoid dealing with people whenever possible. Talking to people exhausts me, not because I don’t like people (and I don’t like most people), but because I don’t really value myself. My negativity gets in the way of being an equal participant in social interactions. This gets worse as I get older and I become less confident in my ability to relate to people.

The only exception to this rule is at work, on the rare occasions where I really know what I am talking about, and I find that I can contribute intelligently to the conversation. This doesn’t happen often, but sometimes it surprises me. Last week I had a snap meeting which I unexpectedly was in charge of, and had no time to prepare for, but everything worked out okay. I answered everyone’s questions reasonably well, and I didn’t feel like a failure afterward.


what stress?

I had a very stressful year in 1991. I was 21, and working my way through college, when this happened. I:

– broke up with the not-quite-girlfriend
– met a new girl, my future wife
– lost my b-mom to pneumonia
– sold a house and part of a business
– finished the semester at college
– bought a car
– moved to a new rental
– rented out my old house
– got married
– sold 2 cars
– moved again
– transferred to a new college
– got a new job
– lost my dog, then found him again.

Sometime in 1992, I saw a magazine article telling me I needed to reduce stress, and there was a scorecard to tell me if there was stress in my life. Almost every event that had happened in the past year was on the scorecard, and the result suggested that I should be in therapy. Imagine that.

bowling for katy

A short story about teenage drama.

Junior year at Goldville High School, 1987: I had a huge crush for three years running on Katy, a clarinet player who wore too much makeup. One time I tried to show her how much I liked her by giving her a frog leg. From biology class. Left in her locker on top of a book. Oh, the screaming.

Anyway, one day she sidles over to me with a twinkle in her eye, and I’m feeling lucky. She gives me a folded note and says “open it later”, and keeps walking. Of course, I open it immediately. “Our church is having an all-night bowling party Saturday. Would you like to go? ___Y ___N ___ I’m indecisive.”

YES! A church thing is almost like a date, right? An hour later I drop my answer in her clarinet case. “I guess so … are you going?” She turns around and gives me a look and a smile, as I peek over my music stand at her.

Saturday evening: I arrive at her church and scan the parking lot. I see another girl from the band, Tina, and we start talking. I told her why I was there, but she looked dubious. “I really don’t think this is a date,” she said. Moments later, Katy walked up and gave me a little punch on the chest, and we talked for a few minutes. Not a bad start, I’m thinking.

Another moment later, this sassy dude with spiky hair ambles over … and starts sucking face with Katy.

I’m stunned, and Tina is beside me trying to control spasms of laughter. After Katy pulls her tongue out of this dickhead’s tonsils, she says “hey Rob, this is my boyfriend Lee.” Clearly, this would have been good information previously, but it was now useless. Lee and I look at each other and give the typical male “whassup?” as I reluctantly shake his extended hand. Tina is now pretending to cough to cover her laughing, and I am uncomfortably stuck in an awkward situation until the chaperones tell us to get on the church bus.

Tina and I sat together, leaving Katy and Lee to swap fluids several rows back. Tina and I ended up spending the rest of the evening hanging out together, chatting in between bowling very poorly. On the bus ride back, Tina leaned over on me and went to sleep, but not before warning me not to try any “funny stuff”. I promised, and we slept for a little while. As the sun rose, I realized I had lost a potential girlfriend but gained a new friend. Not a bad night.

Of course my other friends had a good laugh, but it all worked out for the best. Years later I find out on Fakebook that Katy became an ultra-religious conservative and attended a racist bible college.

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:

stairway to heaven

Another memory of Lisa from my senior year.

Normally I would hang out near the band room (I was such a band geek), but near the end of high school I was getting tired of that scene. I needed a change, I needed to expand my horizons a little. I was relatively happy the last half of that year, looking forward to a future away from Goldville. I had a few good friends, I was doing well in school, and I was feeling adventurous socially.

One spring day Lisa dragged me out of the band room, and we spent the majority of lunch sitting in the quad, typically the hangout of the “in crowd” and very much the social focal point. Normally I avoided this place, but on this day the grass was a little greener, the April sun warming me inside and out, and I was encouraged rather than unnerved by the sound of people laughing and chatting. I ate a thick chocolate milkshake with M&Ms, the candy freezing hard, crunching in my mouth. We joked, we watched people, we talked about whatever.

The library aide had rolled out a stereo system and big speakers, typical for springtime. Led Zeppelin IV was playing. It was the first time I had really listened to the song Stairway to Heaven. I felt every note. I was very quiet, taking it all in, seeing what I had missed out on during my self-imposed exile from the rest of the world, saving the memory like a video in my brain. Lisa looked over and asked me if I was okay – I must have drifted off into my mindscape again.

Yeah, I was good. I had my best friend, I wasn’t nervous, and I felt the music. I felt alive.

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.]

beast of burden

I’ll never be your beast of burden
My back is broad but it’s a hurting

I’ve walked for miles my feet are hurting
— Rolling Stones

Our house, in the middle of our street

Our house it has a crowd
There’s always something happening
And it’s usually quite loud
— Madness

We moved on to the next chapter in life. Our house is sold; we left it with little sentimentality (except for Nicole, who cried a couple of times). I don’t really worry about stuff like houses and cars and household junk, although photos and music are important to me. Besides, home is where the cats are, and they adjusted very quickly, even the blind cat.

The move went fine, even though it was tiring and painful. We schlepped everything into the moving van, then schlepped everything upstairs at the rental house. The goat family helped us for most of the day. Anne’s dad helped us also; at 74 he is strongest of all of us. Among the crew we had bad knees, bad backs, gall stones, ADHD, and bipolar. Maybe that should be the tagline for a moving company: Two Bipolar Men And A Truck, We move your emotional baggage.

The process of selling was very stressful for me, and I expected an emotional letdown afterward. That doesn’t seem to have happened, just a big sigh and a feeling of relief that it is all over and the money is in the bank account. Life has pretty much become a new normal, with new scenery. I still have my problems with anxiety and bipolar depression, but otherwise things are okay.

Now I need a car upgrade.

the mother of all visits

The mother of all visits went pretty much as I expected. The first couple of days were fine, the next 2 days she got on my nerves, and on the last day I think we were both glad she got on the plane.

The simple truth is that I just don’t like her. She is a little too pushy, too loud, too racist, too whatever, and it just rubs me the wrong way. She thinks she knows everything and is an expert on everything, and isn’t afraid to let you know. She thinks she has my problems figured out, and she thinks she can figure out Nicole’s problems. Just like 10 years ago, I don’t really know how to tell her that she has no right to do that.

We are such vastly different people. She hides her vulnerabilities behind brash outspokenness, while I try to disappear into the wallpaper. She loves to speak her mind constantly – so many words – where I am more parsimonious with my thoughts. She is very emotional, while I am dead inside. She has no respect for my personal space, while my space bubble is the limit of my vision.

She pushes too much sometimes. She touches me when I don’t want her to. I guess it is a combination of her personality and her desire to be parental. She is constantly finding new and horrifying ways to express her love, which I have not returned. She is trying too hard to be “Mom”, and I don’t really want that. I don’t know how to express that without upsetting her deeply. Like I wrote in the old blog many years ago, I don’t want or need another Mom; I had one, and the experience wasn’t the best, and I don’t need B-mom thinking she is finally ready to assume that role.

This is no way to build a relationship, yet that is exactly what she has wanted for the past 10 years. I don’t know how to like someone when I don’t, so I guess I fake it, just like I fake everything else.

It has been almost two weeks since she left, and we haven’t talked. If I could get a word in, I might tell her how much her meddling irritates me. I could tell her I don’t have room to “love” any more people. I could tell her I don’t really want her to visit again, and definitely not longer next time. Then again, I won’t get a chance to say any of those things because she will be talking the entire time.

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.


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.