don’t talk about it

When I was a kid, life at home was pretty messed up, and I was aware of it from about age 8 or 9. I didn’t want anyone to know what my home life was like, and I never talked about home to any of my friends. I never invited any kids over to my house, even though I wanted to. I always went to other kids’ houses instead so no one would know what it was like in my home. I was ashamed of my life, and for not being able to deal with it; this was the start of my depression.

Fear and suspicion of other people was drilled into me from an early age. What went on at home was “none of their business”, they being people at church, teachers, kids at school, the government, or the neighbor lady who listened in on the telephone party line. School counselors were off limits because they might tell someone else who would interfere in “our business”. I would feel immense guilt if I wanted to talk to anyone I knew about my problems. There was no safe place for me to vent. I didn’t know what a hotline was or that you could call to talk to someone anonymously.

I was taught to avoid all forms of outside help. Counselors and therapists and shrinks were not to be trusted. I was depressed all the time, and most of the time I felt like I needed to fake being okay. I felt like a fraud, and like I was divided between two existences. On the outside I had to pretend that everything was fine, and on the inside I suffered. I knew things weren’t right, but I had been taught that admitting mental illness meant you were weak and vulnerable and stupid, and I couldn’t admit those things to myself or anyone else.

I didn’t feel like any of my friendships meant anything, so I pushed everyone out to the farthest circle of my defenses as if they would hurt me like so many people had before. I was being fake with them because I couldn’t trust anyone. By 7th grade I had no real friends, just acquaintances who thought they were friends.

My friend Lisa was the first person I let myself get close to in a genuine way. She was caring, intelligent, wise for her years, and she valued me for myself rather than as the “smart kid”. I felt safe with her, like I didn’t have to pretend to be someone else. I finally allowed her inside my defenses and let her see into my life. I shared way too much of course, but she was supportive and comforting. She returned the favor, letting me know some of her secrets that she couldn’t share with other people.

Since that time I have grown emotionally, but I still struggle to trust anyone. It is difficult to be honest and genuine with people for fear they will hurt me somehow. I have several acquaintances, and a few next level “work friends”, but really only a few friendships that I value enough to where I can have some level of trust. Then I have you, my blog friends, who I trust with almost everything.

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ending therapy

I received a letter from my therapist explaining that he is no longer practicing at my psychiatrist’s office, and my scheduled appointments are canceled. If I want to continue seeing him, I would need to visit him at his new location.

After some thought, I’ve decided I’m not going to continue therapy with him, or anyone else. I was thinking about ending our sessions anyway, as I wasn’t getting a lot of benefit out of them. His emphasis on mindfulness didn’t seem to work for me, and sometimes he appeared to not really have any alternatives. There were a couple uncomfortable moments where he would struggle to find something to talk about. He might be effective for someone else, but apparently not for me.

I’m not really emotionally affected by this. I know some people have a true connection to their therapist and see them as a lifeline to their continued mental health, but I never had that feeling. In the past I have had the idea that I “failed” therapy three different times. I don’t feel this was a failure for either me or the therapist, I think we just weren’t compatible or complimentary.

When I started seeing him, I wanted some techniques to work on the constantly increasing anxiety that I struggled with a year ago. I now think it was a physical effect of a long manic episode, because my anxiety slowly decreased when we got the medication right. I still have plenty of anxiety, but it has returned to a manageable level at this time. I don’t think I need individual assistance in dealing with my problems. I need strategies to work on my social anxiety, but I think I can do it on my own at this time.

thanks for the memories

My daughter and I both have memory problems, and I believe they are directly related to bipolar disorder. We were talking about this recently, and she said she has forgotten lots of things, but it also feels like she never made the memories at the time; there is simply nothing there to remember. I never thought about it that way, but when she said that, it completely made sense.

I’ve given this more thought since that conversation. Looking back at what I remember and what I’ve forgotten, it seems like my ability to make and retain memories correlates to how severe my bipolar mood swings were at the time, and the depressive moods in particular.

I remember some of the depression “highlights” over the years, but during the times I was severely depressed there seem to be large blank spaces in my mind. School happenings, kids’ milestones, and my own work life just blend into a grey fog. I also have some memorable manic or mixed moments, but I seem to remember mental images from those times rather than the context of what was happening on either side. These memory snapshots don’t do anything to help me remember the life events surrounding the moments I do remember.

The memory loss feels strange, but just as odd is my ability to retain many events from times when I was alone. For example, I can remember locations I delivered or picked up from while I was a truck driver. I can remember places I’ve been hiking or exploring or just driving around by myself. I can remember vivid details about places I visited many years ago. In addition, I can remember lots of useless information and trivia (people always told me I should try out for Jeopardy, but I never wanted to).

My memories are often triggered by something else, whether it is music, a photo, or a geographic location. If I can associate a moment in time with a particular song, I will remember it for many years. For example, I recently listened to some music by Wham! for the first time in a long time, and it triggered a memory of driving through the Sierras in the dark when I was 18. A Hall & Oates song reminds me of a railroad crossing on a main boulevard in San Jose. A Tears For Fears song reminds me of a girl I liked in 9th grade, but also specifically of one part of a highway in Sacramento when we were on a school trip together.

I guess the part that bothers me is that I don’t know what is normal and what is not in my bipolar-addled brain. I think most people make memory associations from photos or music. I realize that normal people don’t remember everything about their lives, and usually just the highlights are what they remember. But I don’t think people typically have long years of time where they forget virtually everything. People have told me I had a great memory because I can tell them obscure details from events long ago, but I feel like my memory is getting worse all the time. I don’t know if it is caused by bipolar brain chemistry, long-term effects of psychotropic drugs, or early dementia coming on.

sleep problems

It’s the middle of the night again. I’m developing a pattern of going to bed relatively early, waking up for a few hours during the night, then going back to sleep in time for my alarm. Some nights I will sleep through with no problems, but sometimes not. I know I will be really tired tomorrow.

When this happens, I will try to go back to sleep, but my brain is too active to fall asleep quickly. As soon as my eyes open in the dark, I am thinking about a million things and listening to the increasingly disruptive music running through my head. I don’t think this is anxiety or hypomania, I think this is my normal ADD-brain on hyperdrive.

When I get up, I could sit in the dark and do nothing until I fall asleep again, but that seems so boring when I could be on the computer doomscrolling, or writing, or doing word searches, or designing a kitchen remodel. Sometimes I can’t concentrate on anything, and just relive old memories or think about weird shit.

This could be related to the time change; it really affects my sleep and fatigue level every time. It could also be a function of increasing my dosage on the Vraylar, but I didn’t really expect it to keep me up at night. Hopefully this is a temporary phase.

mindfulness update: end of the road

My most recent therapy appointment was online because his child had Covid. I suppose that gave me a small advantage as I prepared to tell him how I felt about the mindfulness exercises he had recommended.

Let me backtrack: at the previous appointment, we went through a mindfulness exercise where I was supposed to simply listen to all the sounds around me, not trying to process them but just listening. I listened, but my active brain was spinning in the background; I was processing the sounds, as well as thinking about how I was getting distracted, trying to refocus, and continually wondering if I needed to stop seeing the therapist. For the second exercise, he went to the office’s kitchen, and while I thought he was rummaging through everyone’s lunches, he returned with a protein bar. The exercise was to fully taste and smell the protein bar, feel it in your mouth, and be fully aware of the process of eating it. I did what he asked, but my active brain was thinking the entire time that this was stupid and unhelpful (although the protein bar was very tasty).

Back to this week: As he greeted me and asked if there was anything I wanted to talk about, I looked at the notes on my scratch paper and started into a somewhat-prepared monologue. I said I didn’t think mindfulness exercises were helpful for me because I was stressing so much over doing them “correctly” that I couldn’t do them at all. I can’t shut my brain off for more than a minute or two unless I’m in the right place and time. I let him know I didn’t want to fail therapy for the fourth time, but I felt that some other kind of therapeutic exercises might be more helpful.

I told him that under the right circumstances, I can naturally achieve some kind of mindfulness practice when I am writing creatively, listening to familiar music I enjoy, hiking or being out in nature, or when driving and exploring new places. Sometimes it may only last for a short time, but for a while I can let everything else go and concentrate in the present moment. I also said that writing has been more productive for me than any other kind of therapy, and that it has successfully allowed me to deal with a lot of anger, sadness, and negativity more effectively than with the efforts of any therapist.

I think he was a little surprised, but he took it in stride. He said that we don’t need to do the exercises if I felt like they weren’t doing me any good. He agreed that writing can be therapeutic, and he thought for me writing became a sort of self-directed trauma therapy. We discussed how writing allowed me to take the past fears and memories in the dark corners of my brain, examine them carefully and objectively, and help them lose their power over my current emotions.

Anyway, it was a good appointment, and next time we will be talking about my social anxiety and what triggers it.

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.

mindfulness update: pop quiz

My next therapy appointment is looming, and I haven’t done my homework. He will ask me if I tried any mindfulness exercises, and I will:
a) lie;
b) tell him I think mindfulness is bunk; or
c) ask for a hall pass to the bathroom, then ditch the therapy session.

When I was searching for a copy of the book on Amazon, the first promoted suggestion was a book about crystal therapy for anxiety. I have approximately the same attitude toward crystal therapy as I do mindfulness, right wing ideology, and the Los Angeles Dodgers. My wife said it would be funny if I went into the session and placed crystals in a pattern around me on the floor before beginning.

I contacted the therapist because my anxiety was off the charts and I needed coping mechanisms in a hurry. I didn’t really get what I wanted, although it was helpful to talk through a few things. Now my anxiety is down to my normal background level – it is there, but it doesn’t scare me. I survived bipolar and anxiety without therapy since 2007, so maybe I don’t need it now.

Then again, I shouldn’t break up with him just yet. If I get this new job, my anxiety will increase, but I haven’t heard back from HR yet. My anxiety will definitely increase in my current job, because we continue to get more work without adding people to spread the new work around.

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.

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.