51 and 5150

At age 1, my infant brain had no idea what changes were taking place and what wreckage my defective chemistry would produce in the 50 years to come. All I wanted was a clean butt and a full belly.

At age 11, I was a child genius who loved playing. Baseball, basketball, four-square, card games, dice games, board games, word games, and trivia games kept me sane at a time when people around me tried to force my psyche into submission. I would play by myself often, being an only child, but I always wanted to play with others too. I was not yet anti-social, although I knew I didn’t fit in very well with people my own age.

At age 21, I was an unmedicated mess. I knew I was a little volatile, but I figured that was just my personality. I was emotionally damaged, but trying to recover in small steps. I was no longer a kid, but not a real adult yet until my mom died. I was left with a big mess (literally and figuratively), and my wife-to-be helped me deal with everything. I got married way too early, but we promised to make it work. I was in the middle of my retail career and my college career.

At age 31, I was still an unmedicated mess. I knew my life was spiraling, yet I was too proud to admit I needed help. I tried to figure things out on my own, and I struggled to survive my demons. I had the feeling of leading a double life, with fake-me pretending to enjoy spending time with the family, and real-me wanting to be swallowed by the ocean. I was writing every day, at first to an old friend, then just to myself. I created an alternate reality where I could run away with her, and I was angry because my delusions weren’t real. I was preparing to enter my darkest decade.

At age 41, I was a medicated mess, still fragile emotionally but trying to reclaim a little bit of solid ground. I finished one of the most difficult chapters of my life when I left my job as a long-haul trucker, and started in my current position with the gas company. I rejoined my family just in time to try to help Nicole as her mental illness started to become evident. At the same time I was trying with minimal success to take care of my own problems.

At age 51, I started coming to terms with my age while continuing to struggle with my mental health. I had a significant manic episode where thankfully nothing was broken, whether physical items or my bank account. I had my 30th wedding anniversary, which is something of a victory after all the shit I put my wife through over the years. The coronavirus cast a spell over the year, but thankfully I didn’t get sick. Hopefully the story of year 51 can end without anything bad happening.

5150 is the code word in California for a 72-hour psychiatric hospitalization. It was also a pretty good album by Van Halen. Finally, 5150 is a road sign that I happened to pass one day in the middle of Illinois:

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.

mindfulness update: opening the book

I finally read the introduction and first two chapters of the book, but I have not actually done any exercises yet. My library wants the book back, so I might buy a used copy of the book. Surely some relaxed, anxiety-free person on Ebay or Bookfinder has an old dog-eared copy they would let go for a few bucks.

Here are a few disjointed thoughts:

Quote from the introduction:
… [there are] three common patterns of responding to anxiety … reacting to the painful emotions of anxiety with … self-criticism and judgement; then trying to escape the anxiety mentally; and finally, when that doesn’t ease the discomfort, trying to avoid whatever triggers the anxiety.

That sounds like my behavior in stressful situations. I have learned how to avoid many things that cause me stress, however I also miss out on things that might be beneficial, such as opportunities for professional advancement or just for fun.

The authors claim that mindfulness is a method of dealing with anxiety that will help me overcome fears and will provide me with a sense of fulfillment.

It turns out there are audio exercises to go along with the text in the book (well of course there are), but the link led to a defunct website. After some googling, I found the exercises at the publisher’s website. There are some short exercises, then there are longer ones lasting up to 37 minutes. I cut my mother off at 30 minutes on a good day, so there’s no way I’m listening to someone drone on about relaxing my muscles for that long.

Another interesting quote: “… we might recommend particular coping strategies that seem counterintuitive or that don’t immediately strike you as likely to be effective for you. We know from our own experience that sometimes all of us prematurely judge and dismiss information that doesn’t fit with how we typically view ourselves and the world.” This describes exactly what I am thinking about mindfulness right now.

too

I’ve never been comfortable being myself. I’ve always struggled with defining my self-worth by the way I perceive that others see me. I look at myself as though I am a judgemental outside observer, constantly criticizing my faults and shortcomings. I suppose this comes from a severe lack of self-esteem, something I learned at home and had reinforced at school when I was a kid.

My hair was too messy. My braces were too geeky. My face was too dorky. I was too slow. I was too nerdy. I was too “husky”. I was too quiet, too depressed, too clingy, too intense, too creepy, too naïve, too introverted. I was too smart. I was too boring.

I wasn’t outgoing. I wasn’t down-to-earth. I wasn’t cool to be around. I wasn’t athletic enough. I wasn’t happy enough. I wasn’t interesting. I wasn’t dateable.

Ugh. Enough memories.

I still feel my flaws as much as ever, but now I suppose there is more of a reluctant acceptance of my flaws. Some of those perceived flaws are imaginary, a function of my own insecurities projected onto what I believe others see in me. Some of those shortcomings are realistic, and I just have to accept them and work around them. I don’t have much faith that therapy can fix this mindset.

I don’t like who I am on some days, but sometimes I’m okay with myself. For a perennial depressive, that’s good enough. On very few days, I get to feel more positive, and that is always welcome.

mindfulness update: the book

As I told you in a previous post, my therapist recommended a book about mindfulness. I picked up the book from the library, and it has sat on my table for over a week now, unopened. I had a therapy appointment scheduled for today, which I knew wasn’t going to go well, so last week I moved that appointment to sometime in August. Just in case I go to that one, I made a second appointment for September.

In the meantime, the book on mindfulness still sits on my table, mocking me and my overactive brain. I picked it up once or twice in the past week, looked at the cover, thought “I’m feeling too anxious to concentrate right now,” then put it back down. I’ll probably renew the book so I have longer to worry about how futile it would be to try mindfulness.

mind over ice cream

I don’t know if I am on the same page as my therapist. Yesterday was an awkward appointment. I had very little to say and didn’t want to be there, and he seemed like he was stumped, trying to find something to talk about. Neither one of us seemed prepared. Granted, I’m the one asking for help, so I guess I should be the one with questions. I would have been fine if he had let me go home early.

After flailing for a few minutes, he started talking about mindfulness as a tool for reducing anxiety. He described what mindfulness is, and I was having trouble concentrating … as he’s telling me how to concentrate on acknowledging distractions then coming back to the moment. My brain was tired but bouncing all day yesterday, so it was a particularly poor time to have to listen to someone talk.

I have to admit I don’t get the mindfulness thing. I thought it was more about doing something to distract you from everything in your brain, allowing you to have a little reset. I know how to be totally present in the moment, like while listening to my favorite music for the 100th time, or when being by myself in the woods, or reclining with a purring cat. But either I get distracted by something or someone, the moment is gone, and I start thinking about all the things I took a break from.

I asked him if mindfulness was blocking everything out and just clearing your mind for a few minutes, and apparently that was incorrect, because he was trying to convince me that something like eating ice cream or the act of standing up can be the object of a mindfulness exercise. (Really? Does pooping count?) I asked him what did that solve, and I never really got an answer. He said he wrote a dissertation about the subject, so I decided not to tell him I didn’t get the point.

Then he started talking about Buddhists and India, and honestly he lost me at that point. Nothing against Buddhism, but I just need something I can understand. However he did refer me to a book on mindfulness for anxiety, so I’ll get that from the library and see what I think. He also told me about some guy’s videos, but I told him I can barely sit through an episode of a TV show on Netflix. My brain moves way too fast to listen to some dude drone on for an hour about how to enjoy ice cream.

I don’t know if mindfulness exercises are going to work for me, but I guess I will give it a good faith effort to see if I can get something useful out of this. If anyone has any tips or references for helping me understand this, I’m willing to listen. Comment or email me if you have something that might help.

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]

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.

lakeside letdown

I had a big emotional letdown yesterday, and I couldn’t get any work done after about 11 am. I get a little hypomanic when I go on adventures, and the depth of the depression is correlated to the anticipation of the adventure. I was feeling depressed and tired and especially worthless yesterday; I’m slightly better this morning, so we’ll see how the day goes.

I feel guilty anytime I do something for myself, because either I don’t deserve it, or I’m not doing something for someone else, or I’m abandoning my family. To be honest, I didn’t think about anyone but myself almost the entire time I was gone; not in a selfish way, just that I was wrapped up in my activities.

Mindfulness, I hear someone thinking. Yes, I was being mindful much of the time, living in the moment in the place I was. But when I come back from the mindfulness trip, I feel like I should have been doing or thinking something else other than living just for me.

There’s a whole bunch of things wrapped up here: self-esteem, anxiety, worry, feeling undeserving, and a lack of self care.

Ugh, my brain.

In the meantime, more pictures:

Lakeside

 

At the far edge of the lake

 

Downstream

 

Pileated woodpecker gulping down insects

news of the world

A quick update post, then I’ll write something more substantial later.

My anxiety has had a few moderate spikes, but overall has been decreasing slowly since I discontinued the Wellbutrin and resumed taking Abilify. The twitchiness comes and goes with the anxiety, but the OCD ritualistic behaviors remain.

My therapist has talked about using CBT for my OCD. To prepare for that, he asked me to observe and document the behaviors I’m doing (no problem) without being judgmental (very difficult). I am also supposed to learn a little about specific CBT techniques for OCD. I see him again tomorrow.

At work, every time I complete a project, I get two new ones, adding to my anxiety. I actually let fly a bitchy rant during a video staff meeting this week. The department manager was on the call, and I was inspired. This is very uncharacteristic of me, and I guess a few people were surprised. I’m so bad at speaking to others though, so I just read parts of a bitchy email I had written a few weeks ago. Point was made, however.

I’m taking Friday off and spending this weekend hiking and communing with nature at Black Moshannon in Pennsylvania. I was supposed to do this when my anxiety was higher, but that was when my daughter was in the hospital. I still want to do this for myself, though. Weather is iffy but not too cold, so I’m going for it. I’ll post a few pics.

We’re waiting for my son to get his 2nd vaccine shot, then we will have a family barbecue somewhere. It’s been a long time. We have made the effort to keep my in-laws from getting too lonely, but it’s been difficult for them.

Finally, Genesis will be at the Q in Cleveland on November 30th, and we’ll be there. Phil can’t play drums and can just barely walk, and in fact he will be sitting for much of the show, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see them one last time. I know they’ll play mostly the pop-rock songs rather than the old prog-rock stuff, but I’m okay with that, as long as they don’t play Whodunnit. Having said that, I wish I had seen them in 2007 instead.

I guess this wasn’t so quick after all.

behind

I’m playing catch-up this week. I’m way behind on work projects, on reading blogs, on writing, on projects at home, on planning for the future, blah blah blah, yada yada. I made some progress on work stuff this week, so I feel a little better about that.

I also got my second vaccine shot, so I am fully juiced and ready to go. I’m ready to lick door handles and have someone cough on my airline food as I travel to a crowded city. Okay, maybe not, but I do feel more at ease knowing I have a little protection. I can see the possibility of everyone requiring a booster sometime in the next 12 months (I guess Pfizer has already indicated this). I was sore at the injection site until yesterday, and I was tired and achy for about 48 hours after the shot, which was about what I expected. Nothing serious, and I didn’t miss work.

I also saw my psychiatrist this week. I printed out part of this post and let him read it, and he said it was textbook OCD. (I also told him his “How are you doing” forms are crooked on the paper, and it mildly bothers me.) He said we can work on the anxiety first, and then see if the OCD symptoms need more attention. I agree with that, since the OCD gets worse with higher anxiety. In addition, he said I was much more stable when I was taking Abilify, so maybe we should go back to that. I had the same thought previously, so I told him that was fine. I’ll just have to eat better and get more exercise somehow. I’m also going to quit the Wellbutrin, since it can cause instability and maybe anxiety.

Last week I met with the therapist for the first time (same office as my p-doc). We got to know each other a little, and he was interested by some of my problems (social anxiety, lack of self-esteem, avoidant tendencies, inability to deal with stress, etc.) He said something that bothered me though: when I was explaining about being overwhelmed at work, he didn’t seem to accept the reality that I absolutely cannot take a week or more off work for my mental health right now – maybe an occasional day or two, but not an extended period. I also don’t feel like I can ask to have some work shifted to other people, because everyone I work with is swamped and unhappy and drowning in projects. The day after he suggested I ask for less work, I received two more projects. Yay. We’ll see what he has to say on Monday.

The weather is cool but nice, so I am going outside to enjoy some nature and not think about life for a while. But first, I need Second Breakfast (the best meal of the day).

a busy week ahead

I have felt a little better this week. I am not as anxious during the weekend because I can stop thinking about work. I still have issues at home I am not dealing with very well, and I’m not getting any help to solve the problems.

I’m glad to have a short week. Next week will be short also, as I am taking a vacation day to make a 3-day weekend. I’m going to the highlands of central Pennsylvania to do some longer day hikes. I’m hoping there will be only a few people there so I can feel like I have the forest to myself. I’ll post a few photos if they turn out well.

I’m going alone, although I wish my wife could go too, but she’s working hard as usual. She only gets one week of vacation this year, and we’ve already scheduled a camping trip in August. However, we couldn’t leave our daughter alone for an entire long weekend, and she wouldn’t want to go with us as she hates traveling.

In other news, I have my first appointment with a therapist Monday. I’m going to see if he can give me some better coping tools for stress and anxiety and feeling overwhelmed by everything. What I’m doing now isn’t working very well. I’ve been in therapy in the past, and it wasn’t really successful, but I’m willing to try again. I know one appointment won’t solve everything, but I’m hoping to gain something from talking things out and getting feedback from someone more knowledgeable than me.

worries

I’m not doing well. My anxiety was not as bad this week, but I still feel unstable. I’m not doing my work adequately. I’m not taking care of the little tasks that need to be done at home. My brain is foggy sometimes, and I just mentally check out for a while. I’m having trouble focusing on anything more than my immediate needs, but there are so many things besides myself that I need to worry about.

My daughter is really struggling with her mental health. Her psychiatrist moved away, and I’ve been trying to get her to make an appointment with another one. She has severe phone anxiety, and she sits in her room and cries about it rather than making a call. She will run out of medicine soon and that will be very bad for her. In addition she has something physically wrong where she feels constant nausea and vomits nearly every day. She knows she needs to take action, but she is so emotionally fragile that she gets upset and turns into a “fussy baby” (her words). For me, it’s like having a special needs child who needs help doing everything, and I’m not dealing with it very well at the moment.

One positive thing: I got my first vaccine shot a few days ago, with no side effects other than a little muscle soreness at the injection point. I’m hearing that the second shot makes you feel ill for a day or two, but I’m not worried about that. I’m just glad we are taking steps to eventually get back to a normal life. At the same time, I feel bad for all the people who have died and all the families affected.

running to stand still

Up. Down. Sideways.

Hopelessness. Defiance. Acceptance.

Spinning wheels, hit the brakes, stuck in first gear.

Restlessness. Depression. Mania. Fear. Anxiety. Psych meds with a whiskey chaser.

I don’t have a center right now. I can’t find balance. My brain is all over the place.

My doctor called me back tonight, and he is going to try a couple of things. My faith is wearing thin.

Work piling up, waiting for me to stop feeling overwhelmed and make my brain work properly. The forecast doesn’t look good for that at the moment.

I’m also calling a therapist tomorrow. Without help, I’m a train wreck waiting to happen, and I can’t crash right now. Actually I can’t ever, but that’s another discussion for later.