harried

I’m not ignoring everyone, but I haven’t been in a happy place lately. I’m trying to adjust to new medication, and trying to get sleep at night as opposed to feeling like a zombie every day. Pressure at work, mixed emotions at home, health concerns, and no timeouts in the near future. Squeezing my stress ball isn’t doing the job right now. … I’ll try to write more later.

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bored stiff

I’m bored. I’m actually buzzing with energy inside, but I can’t organize my brain to put that energy toward anything. Instead of doing something, I sit for hours, unable to do anything. It’s not procrastination, it’s a lack of stimulus. Nothing interests me enough to make doing something worthwhile.

I think ADHD is the cause, and it feels like it’s getting worse. It is very difficult to work because I can’t concentrate enough to finish anything. Working is sucking away all of my energy right now.

I wonder if Death could die of boredom. Maybe we’ll find out, if he reads this blog someday and just drops dead on the spot. I’m probably boring you now, but I hope you survive!

random thoughts from this week

I saw my psychiatrist Friday, and we decided to increase the Vraylar a little bit. He was concerned about the breakthrough manic-mixed-depression cycle that I just experienced. I told him I had been low-level depressed for a few months until the time change, when the mood swing hit me hard. He thinks that if the small increase doesn’t help within a month, it might be time to try something else. I’m not sure how I feel about trying something new, because the Vraylar had been mostly helpful. However, sometimes medications work until they don’t. We’ll talk about it at the next appointment.

I have a lot of anxiety going on right now, mostly because I am working on a large, time-sensitive project at the office. I used to be good with pressure and deadlines, especially in college when I was manic most of the time. In the past 10 years or so, I have really struggled with getting projects done quickly. I want to produce high quality work, but I often overanalyze and get bogged down in details, then the imposter syndrome sets in. The feelings of I’m not good enough, I’m going to get fired, or what if they find out how bad of an employee I am dominate my thoughts. This makes it more difficult to get work done.

I don’t know the circumstances, but I’ve been thinking about tWitch ending his own life. I think it raises questions among people who aren’t educated about mental illness: “But he seemed so happy…” or “He was just dancing with his family on Instagram …” or “Everybody loved him so much…” Those of us who deal with mental illness first hand might have a little more insight. We are good actors who play different roles for different people. We use defense mechanisms to appear okay because we don’t want people to define us by our illness. We hide our deepest fears from our loved ones because we’re afraid it would push them away. My hope is that people become a little more understanding and more educated about the effects of mental illness, and what it might look like in their friends and family

My son found out he had extra vacation to use before the end of the year, so he decided to take a trip to Japan. He is fascinated with the culture, and he has started learning a little bit of the language. He was gone for 9 days and visited different locations near Tokyo and Nagano. I think he really enjoyed his trip. There was no time to coordinate with his friends, so he went on the adventure by himself. He is coming over next week to give us a show-and-tell from his photos and videos.

I wish I could be more excited about Christmas. I have bittersweet memories about past Christmases, but I try to make an effort for my family. I like the lights and decorations, the food, and the music, but I don’t like the gift-giving. It is difficult for me to buy gifts for people because I either think of things I would want, or I’m afraid they won’t like whatever I get. I like to get my own gifts, because other people never get me things I like.

I’m thinking I could be more serious about creative writing. I seem to have a feel for writing interesting stuff, but I don’t know how to use proper techniques to create something coherent and compelling. I want to learn more about the craft of writing, even if I remain an amateur. I’ve written poems and a couple of micro-fiction stories, and some of them aren’t too bad. I would like to fully develop some story ideas I have written in outline form. I might also look for some writing workshops to get feedback on what I have already written.

I’ll end this with something funny I stole from Facebook. Have a happy whatever-you-celebrate, don’t be a dick to service workers, and stay well-medicated this holiday season.

improving, with assistance

I’ve been struggling with a nasty depressive spiral the last two to three weeks. The time change hit me harder than usual this year. First I went a little manic for a few days, then I went sharply downhill. This pretty much fits the pattern of my bipolar mood swings. In the past I have thought there wasn’t really a seasonal component to my ups and downs, but that’s what seems to have happened.

More than anything, I’ve felt incredibly hopeless and worthless. It seems like no one is giving me positive or negative feedback, that I’m being ignored, and that my life is meaningless. I’ve felt like I am under heavy pressure, and that I have no freedom to make the choices I want. The suicidal thoughts started to creep in, and when I am really feeling bad, they are louder than normal. Obviously those are strong signals of a depressive episode.

I saw my therapist on Wednesday, and we had a good talk. She helped talk me through some of the worst feelings, and I left thinking my load wasn’t quite as heavy as when I went in. My mood has lightened, and I have been feeling better since then.

I think it’s important to differentiate between bipolar depression, caused by my brain chemistry, and emotional depression, caused by personal experiences of past trauma. I have little control over bipolar depression except for taking my pills regularly, and adjusting medication when things change for the worse. That’s something to consider when I see my psych two weeks from now. My experience is that the bipolar causes depression, then my emotional depression takes over and makes me feel worse than the chemical imbalance could by itself.

When I become emotionally depressed, I often get stuck in my negative thoughts and stay in a deep pit of despair until some outside force can help pull me out. In this case, it took a conversation with my therapist; other times it can be a positive interaction with a friend, an upcoming road trip, or something as simple as listening to different music. If I am feeling really poor, it takes something more significant to change my mindset.

two-faced

Impostor. Pretender. Phony. Fraud.

Everywhere I go, I feel disingenuous. I’m always pretending, whether I am at work, or with friends, or even in the mental health community. I’m good at faking wellness; I work hard to seem normal enough on the outside while I am struggling on the inside. However I always feel dishonest wherever I find myself.

I hide my mental illness from my employer, even though by law they are not supposed to discriminate based on health conditions. But because they have designated my job a “safety sensitive” position, I have to be “fit for duty” when working. If I told my employer, would they be afraid I could suddenly snap? Would I be forced off work until I could demonstrate I had recovered (as if that is even possible)?

I don’t tell my coworkers or my few friends about my mental health, and I dissemble when the subject comes up in conversation. Would they not believe me because I act “normal”, or would they overreact because they wonder if I could “go nuts” on any given day? Would people suddenly avoid me for fear of being associated with the crazy dude, or would they tell my employer that I was hiding the truth? I’m not willing to take the risk.

I avoid settings like group therapy meetings, forums, and online communities because I don’t want to face reverse stigma. Would people who are truly struggling not accept me because I don’t seem to be as ill as they are? Would people judge me for being “high functioning” and feel like I was just looking for attention? Even in the hospital mental health ward, someone told me I seemed the most normal out of everyone, and that bothered me.

In the past I have wondered if my psychiatrist takes me less seriously because I’m not as sick as his other patients. I think that was the case several years ago with Dr. PrescriptionPad and his 7-minute appointments. [Fortunately, I think my current doctor does take me seriously and seems to listen to me when I describe how I am feeling.]

I guess this is why all my mental health issues come out in my blog, because I have an outlet where people can come or go, read or not, and I never hear about it if they think I’m only doing it for attention. I can be honest here, even though I am doing so under a fake name in the hope no one in real life ever finds me (which is a story for another day).

Note: here’s a post by Meghan which discusses similar feelings.

that was unexpected

Every so often, something happens when I am least ready for it, and it unleashes a torrent of negativity and self-loathing that is usually restrained. I think that’s what happened the other night when a backlog of frustration and mental fatigue burst forth all at once.

Negative things seem to affect me more than “normal” people, and this is one of those instances. Some people would simply solve the problem, where I turn it into a metaphor equating one event with all the negative feelings I have about myself. I don’t react well when events happen that I’m not prepared for. I turn temporary setbacks into catastrophes.

I am truly worn down by a lot of things. I am very dissatisfied with life right now for many reasons. At the same time, my life is not all bad. I need to remember to even out my emotions when I am capable; try not to get too high or too low when events affect my mood.

a difficult session

I had a rough meeting with my therapist yesterday. I appreciated that rather than the inane “how are you doing?”, she started by asking “how have the last few weeks been for you?” I started saying the first words that came to mind: “Turbulent. Draining. Stressful.” I could have added “painful”, but I moved on instead.

I talked disjointedly about recent events, and how I didn’t want to talk about things because I’m tired of thinking about them; somehow this led to the idea that maybe I’m overstating all of my issues. Maybe life wasn’t as bad as I have imagined it to be, or maybe I’ve exaggerated and magnified everything to the point where I’ve created my own distorted thought patterns. I told her about my desire to interview and interrogate people from my past who might know the answers I seek: what did I do to hurt you, was I really a terrible person, was my home life as damaging as I think. I want the unvarnished truth from everyone to confirm the worst things I think about myself and everything I remember about my past.

She said there are several problems with that line of reasoning. First, everyone’s “truth” is different based on their perception, their biases, and their memory of what really happened. In addition, even if they had the information I seek, these people may not want to be 100% honest with me (who among us is completely honest, after all?). Finally, if they told me I wasn’t a bad person, or that they liked me and I was a positive presence in their life, I am so deeply programmed in my thought patterns that I wouldn’t believe what they say. I would throw away their evidence because it didn’t fit my narrative. The only conclusion I can make is that things must have been bad enough at an early age that my sense of self was badly damaged, which caused me to remember my entire experience through the filter of distorted thinking. I think the way I do because I was in a bad situation, and my memories of my life may not be entirely accurate.

We went on to discuss the difficulties with my daughter’s current situation and the negative effects on the entire family. I told her about how I went unfiltered for a few minutes and said things which I believe to be true, but were very hurtful for my daughter, which my wife sat by and didn’t say a word during or afterward. That pretty much sums up the family dynamic in our house for the past several years: Nicole is the victim, I’m the control-freak bad guy, and Annie won’t tell me what she thinks. Instead we paper over things with conversations about unimportant things, and distract ourselves with fish or Fakebook or videos of cats. We can discuss the most inane things, but meaningful things get ignored. Annie won’t tell me what she’s really thinking, whether she agrees with me or if she thinks I’m full of crap. Right now we can’t even sell an item on Fakebook because I think she disagrees with me and just can’t say so.

Sometimes I wonder if I have misled my therapist into thinking the current situation is worse than it really is. Her opinions about my family’s actions and words are filtered through what I choose to tell her, and this leads me to question some of her statements. She wants a more complete picture though, and she has asked a couple of times if I might bring Annie in for a session or two to talk about the situation. I scoffed a little, because I don’t think that would be successful at all.

Stay tuned, for I fear worse times are ahead.

off the spectrum

I wrote previously that my new therapist asked me to do some research about autism, and see if I thought I might have it. I looked at multiple reputable sources, and after reading many lists of symptoms and presentations, I don’t seem to fit the overall autism profile. I suppose some of the criteria could apply to me, but it seems like two general patterns of autistic behavior are a lack of understanding of social norms, and difficulty with communication. I don’t feel like those two conditions apply to me at all, currently or in the past.

I know autism is a broad spectrum of different abilities and limitations, and it expresses itself in different ways with different people, but it just doesn’t feel right to me the way other diagnoses feel right. My actions and behaviors seem to be better explained by a combination of bipolar, ADHD, and personality changes resulting from years of emotional abuse in childhood. Even if my therapist and I decided I was a little bit autistic, what good would it do for me to have another label? There’s no treatment, and having that diagnosis doesn’t help me solve anything.

When I was diagnosed with bipolar, it explained everything that had happened up to that point in my life, and I finally got the treatment I needed. After being diagnosed with anxiety disorder, I am working on ways to finally deal with childhood traumas in order to help cope with my anxiety. I have also been diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder; I haven’t researched it extensively, but it seems to describe my thoughts and behaviors related to social interactions. My psychiatrist and I discussed OCD, and it seems to fit pretty well, but we didn’t really dive deep into that rabbit-hole. And although I haven’t been officially diagnosed with ADHD, I am very sure I meet almost all of the criteria for the inattentive type.

disorders on order

I feel like I’m being pulled in many different directions right now, like that Stretch Armstrong doll when I was a kid. I don’t have much time for myself, and I have to be “on” a lot. I’m often asked to solve the emergency of the day. I have to play different roles for different people, and it is really tiring right now. I need a break, but I don’t have time for a break. I have one vacation day remaining at work, and I need it for something fun in September.

I have so many unfinished tasks and projects, and it’s a trigger for anxiety. I can feel it closing in around the edges of my vision. I wish I had the motivation to finish a few things, or just to make progress, but I give up because I can’t break things down into manageable pieces. It’s all or nothing, and I know it is distorted thinking, but as a result I’m mentally paralyzed.

I have been officially diagnosed with social anxiety and general anxiety, and I’m certain I have ADD and some elements of OCD. I don’t know how likely it is that someone has all of these things going on, but here I am. My new therapist asked me to consider if I might be on the mild side of the autism spectrum. I’m skeptical, but I’m doing some research to see what I think. I don’t think I need another label at this time, so I will ask her to table that discussion and help me work on social anxiety (which currently seems to be my biggest problem).

the cost of bipolar

I’ve had bipolar disorder since I was a pre-teen, and the costs of my illness have been eye-opening. I have lost educational opportunities and had instability in my career, resulting in a loss of many tens of thousands of dollars over the years. There have been the financial costs due to unnecessary purchases and moving to different places. There are significant costs for ongoing mental health treatment. I have lost or damaged several important relationships, and I nearly lost my life on a few occasions.

There are also the physical health costs associated with bipolar disorder. There is the weight gain associated with the meds I take, which causes me problems such as high blood pressure, the potential for heart disease, and lack of mobility. I have sleep problems, decreased libido, and ongoing gastrointestinal problems, all of which decrease my quality of life. Bipolar medication may one day cost me my intellect, if the potential for early dementia becomes a reality (I wrote a previous post about memory problems).

My bipolar has inflicted harm on the family as well. My wife has stayed with me despite over 30 years of instability and unpredictability, and it has cost her emotionally, including unhappiness, fear, and anxiety. She had to be responsible for raising the kids while I was unable to help due to my illness. She has felt like she has to work harder to make more money to pay for the medical bills (she doesn’t at this time), so she continues to work at a physical job and often has debilitating aches and pains.

My son and daughter grew up in an unstable home where I wasn’t mentally present for long periods, which in my opinion caused ongoing mental health issues. My son has battled depression, but seems to have dealt with it pretty well. My daughter has been diagnosed with bipolar, schizoaffective disorder, and anxiety disorder. Her illness has cost her most of her friends, dreams of a normal life, two potential career paths, and many thousands of dollars in medical bills. She struggles with emotional issues in addition to her other physical and mental problems.

therapy 5.0

You might recall that I didn’t seem to connect very well with my previous therapist, who was intent on making me do mindfulness techniques despite my lack of enthusiasm. He then suddenly left the practice, and I declined his invitation to follow him to his new office. I thought I could work on my anxiety on my own. Yeah, right.

This week, I started seeing my fifth therapist, who works at my psychiatrist’s office. The first appointment is always difficult, especially for someone like me who feels awkward talking about myself, to a stranger, trying to summarize my dumpster-fire life in an hour. I started out very nervous, like it was a test I had not prepared for; she actually offered me some fidget toys if they would help. I passed on the toys, but I calmed down a little while we talked.

She seems like a good listener; even though she was typing notes as fast as I was talking, she asked the right questions when necessary. She appears to be quite young, but I don’t have any problem with that. Her personality would be good with children, but she didn’t treat me like a child. Overall I got a good feeling from the visit.

After the short life history (which I struggled to keep short), she asked what the most important things were to discuss. I told her that I have already written a “field guide” to my many mental health problems, but maybe we could start with my social anxiety and general anxiety. She was interested in reading my lists, so I will print that out for next time.

I’m guessing that starting with a new therapist is as difficult for everyone else as it is for me. I am forced to immediately allow her within my “trusted circle” rather than getting to know her slowly, which is quite unnerving. This is a place where only a few people are allowed, and yet here is a stranger I am telling things usually only reserved for my blog friends. At the same time, I have to remember she is a professional, paid to listen and help me solve problems, and we’re not going out for coffee afterward.

mind reader

I hate having to be a psychic, but I do it all the time. How else would I find out what horrible things my friends and loved ones feel about me, let alone what the barbarians in public think? It’s all about me of course, and while people won’t tell me what they’re actually thinking, with just a glance I can read people’s minds and know how they really feel about me.

This is ludicrous, of course. While I can pick up on non-verbal communication as well as the next person, there’s no way I know what they are thinking. What I’m really doing is making an assumption based on my interpretation of what is said and those non-verbal cues, and usually my assumption is incorrect.

I define my self-worth based in part on what I believe others think about me, because it is difficult for me to believe that I am worthy of someone’s love or friendship. I am constantly trying to get a real-time gauge on where I stand with a person, which is impossible if the person isn’t explicitly telling me their honest feelings. People very rarely do that of course; sometimes they filter their thoughts, sometimes they lie, and sometimes they say nothing.

I assume the worst when people don’t speak to me, whether due to physical distance (I’m too far away to hear), social norms (people don’t often speak to strangers), or by choice (someone could speak but is choosing to ignore me). In each of those cases, I feel like I have to fill in the blanks with what I believe their thoughts are at a given moment. Then I interpret those invented thoughts through the “I’m not worthy” filter, and reach the illogical conclusion that everyone is thinking negatively toward me in some way. This black-and-white thinking is clearly distorted, but I fall into the trap every time.

When I can look at things logically, I can see things from a less judgemental perspective. Strangers are probably not thinking about me very often, and possibly not at all. Acquaintances may have a nuanced opinion about me, while friends apparently like me despite my flaws. Loved ones care about me for my positive qualities. I don’t have to be on-guard against others’ negative thoughts all the time; that’s just an artificial defense mechanism that I learned during childhood.

However, thinking logically is difficult when your spouse is giving you the silent treatment, and you can’t figure out why. It’s easy to be emotionally insecure when a social interaction doesn’t go as you think it should. Fears of rejection, awkwardness around people, and feelings of inadequacy cause me to fall back into the pattern of self-centered, black-and-white thinking. I spend a lot of mental energy in this way, and it detracts from my well-being.

rear view

I was looking back at my posts from early 2021 that followed the arc of a long manic episode. The posts from that time aren’t scary like some of the deep depression posts from the old blog, but they are interesting to me.

My episode started with the side effects of starting on Latuda in November of 2020; I felt pretty good for a few weeks, but I started climbing the hill in December. By January 2021, I was frequently staying up in the middle of the night, my anxiety was climbing, and my OCD symptoms became overwhelming. I couldn’t concentrate at home or at work, I was having panic attacks, and I almost left my job out of frustration. After quitting Latuda and returning to Abilify, there was a long downslope where my symptoms were decreasing steadily, but were still there. I was afraid something had permanently changed in my brain. It wasn’t until May when a solo mini-vacation brought some relief from the storm.

Looking back from a year later, I am reminded how much I was struggling. This manic episode seems odd because on one level I knew what was happening and how dangerous it was, but at the same time I was very much caught in its uncontrollable grip. I didn’t think I could fly, but I believed that my life would be better if I tore everything down at work and at home. Had I followed through with my late-night schemes, it could have damaged my family relationships, cost me tens of thousands of dollars, and jeopardized the continued treatment for myself and for Nicole. I think I escaped the episode just in time, because I don’t know what I would have done if I had remained manic for a longer period.

My bipolar experience has been mostly depression, with very brief manias or mixed episodes followed by a deep spiral. This episode was different in that it had a long buildup and a long letdown, and I didn’t crash in the same way I had in the past. Since that time I have had no mania and a few depressions, and not with the abruptness and intensity as in the past. I know mania will happen again in the future, but I think having been through this most recent episode makes me better equipped to deal with it.

black box warning

Relationships should be a positive thing, but I feel like they cause pressure and bring a sense of obligation to be an equal partner in the relationship.

It’s not being selfish when I don’t fully participate in the give-and-take, but it is being protective of my own psyche. Sometimes I just don’t have enough spoons for anyone besides myself. I don’t always have the mental or emotional capability to give everything that is expected of me, and I feel guilty because I’m not contributing enough.

If I were single right now, there is no way I would try to develop a romantic relationship with someone. I wouldn’t want to spare enough mental energy to put the effort into being a good partner. In addition, the other person would find too many faults and would run away as fast as they could. I guess this says something about my wife’s love for me, as well as her loyalty and perseverance. This also is an indicator of my being unable to see myself as worthy of someone’s love.

I guess it has become a thing to give out personal business cards when meeting other people. People like me should have a black-box warning on the back of the card:

WARNING: This person is damaged, and will disappoint you in myriad ways.

underwater

I’m not doing well. This is the first real depression episode I’ve had while on the new drug. I don’t think this is a chemical depression; it is more emotional in nature. There is a deep, pervasive hopelessness right now, and nothing is able to rescue me for more than a fleeting moment.

There seems to be no break from the negativity. I might socialize with people at work, but it’s all fake. Music may calm me temporarily, but I know after the last note I will be depressed again. Food might please me briefly, but I know every bite is bad for me.

[Insert 400 words of self-wallowing drivel here. I don’t want to write it, and you don’t want to read it.]