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.]

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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.

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.

refresh button

Sometimes you have to clean house, which is true with blogs as well. This site became bloated and stale, with almost 500 posts of sometimes meaningless drivel. There were also some things written which I don’t want to be public information anymore. Finally, I lost interest in writing, and people lost interest in reading.

I decided to start over with this site rather than delete it and find a new title. Lazy, I suppose, but I still like the symbolism of the daily struggle for me to survive. I have kept the old posts, just hidden them, and when I find something I like I will repost it for your entertainment or disgust.

As usual, this site will be about me, but there will be much less about other people. This will be a place to share things I don’t want to post under my real name. There will be some bipolar discussion, but probably more about photos, life, and people I used to love.