don’t wake the campers

We are on vacation this week at a campground about an hour from home, avoiding insects and raindrops, burning marshmallows, and trying to relax. Relaxation is not easy for three people with anxiety issues, but we’ll do our best.

This annual campout started out years ago as a fun thing to do with my wife’s daycare families. After she quit doing daycare, it became more of an extended friends and family event. More people have stopped coming, and this year even my wife’s parents stayed home. So it is just the three of us in a large, private group campsite, with lots of equipment, lots of food, and much less activity than in the past.

We may get a few visitors during the week, but it’s a lot less fun without more people. We could have expended much less effort by buying a fire ring and sitting at home to make smores, while getting to sleep in our own bed.

political blues

I have had to back away from following the daily news cycle. School shootings, political maneuvering, and the culture wars have left me disgusted, and it’s difficult to have hope sometimes.

I’m pretty far left on the political spectrum, and it disheartens me to think that the wing-nut conservatives are doing what they set out to do for the last 40 years. They have skewed the system so they are in power in all levels of government, including everything from school boards to state legislatures to the Supreme Court. They have gerrymandered legislative districts so that a popular minority can win elections in purple states. They have run a highly successful propaganda campaign that has fooled people into thinking their needs are important to the people in power. They use the right-wing media to whip their devotees into a frenzy and disrupt the respectful, adult conversations that used to be more common. They use the culture wars as a dividing issue to dupe people into voting against their own best interest for policies that serve the rich and powerful.

I dislike most of the people I work with, including my so-called friends, when they start regurgitating talking points and conspiracy theories that they heard on right-wing media. Instead of thinking for themselves and voting for people that represent their interests, they vote for whoever will “stick it to the Libs.” My work-friend AJ is a nice guy, but is disgustingly conservative; I disagree with almost everything he says. He started talking about the Former President, saying “I’d vote for him again tomorrow; I don’t condone him as a person, but…”, and then I stopped listening. He apparently has no sense of ethics or integrity if he would vote for someone he finds repulsive just to get what he wants.

In short, AJ is an AWPAC – an Angry White Person Afraid of Change. I’ve recently invented this acronym, and I want to make it stick. AWPACs are highly conservative, complaining that “this country is going in the wrong direction” and saying that “things used to be better”. They are against inclusivity, sensitivity, multiculturalism, abortion, gun control, pronouns, immigration, government, public schools, vaccines, environmental regulations, climate change, and electric vehicles. AWPACs are for white Christian rule, discrimination, male-and-female-only gender roles, more military spending, more police spending, private schools, drilling for more oil, and sticking it to the libs. They don’t seem to care about the collateral damage that 40 years of conservatism has caused, such as more school shootings, increases in mental illness, corporations in power over our government, damage to the natural environment, greater economic inequality, and loss of opportunity for young people without affluent parents.

AWPACs see change as a threat to a system of White Christian rule that has lasted for 400 years. They are afraid of minorities having a greater voice in government and society. They hate anything that gives more power to the people without power. They forget that their ancestors probably came to this country through immigration, but they want to shut the door on opportunity for others. They don’t believe that liberals should win elections, and change the rules of government to ensure that is the case moving forward. AWPACs disingenuously cry for freedoms on one hand, but consistently vote to restrict the freedoms of millions of Americans that don’t look the same or agree with their regressive policies. They will use slimy tactics and dishonorable people to get what they want. They don’t care how you feel.

Many of my work friends are AWPACs. I need to reevaluate those relationships and ask myself if I want to be friends with people who think the opposite of my beliefs in so many ways. I would like to find new friends whose values are more aligned with my own. Unfortunately I suck at meeting new people and making friendships. I tried joining a Meetup group a few years ago, but they didn’t make me feel very welcome, and I was too intimidated to meet them again.

At least I have my blog friends … unless you leave because of this post.

change of scenery

Vacation is like deodorant; it can cover up things that stink, but when you reach the end of the stick things start to stink again.

We really needed a vacation, and for a few days it was in doubt whether we would get to go at all due to Nicole’s mental health, but she improved to the point that we could realistically leave home for a week. She flew with my wife to North Carolina because she gets too anxious to be in the car for more than a few minutes. I drove the 10-hour trip with all our stuff and picked them up at the airport.

We spent a lot of the time sitting at the beach house, watching the endless waves, feeling the breeze, and doing very little. I checked work emails a couple of times, and I worried about the cats and the house, but otherwise our problems were left behind for a much needed break. The sound of the surf made me feel more calm and relaxed than I had for quite a while, and I could feel the stress melting away.

Oh well, at least we had a few days of relaxation before the next crisis appeared. Nicole caught an uncommon fungal skin virus from somewhere, and it took over the rest of our vacation. After a visit to an NC doctor and another doctor after returning home, hopefully the treatment will kill the fungus.

So we’re back at home now. The cats were fine and happy to see us, and I had to mow twice because the grass was several inches too tall, but nothing bad happened while we were away.

We’ll see what happens with everything that was going on before the trip. Will Nicole’s mental health improve or go backwards? Will my wife choose to see someone about anxiety, or just talk about it because she’s too stubborn to take meds? Will we need to replace our septic system at considerable expense? Will I walk away from my job? How long will it be before I say “fuck it all” and go on my own vacation?

Strangely for me, I didn’t spend a lot of time overthinking about everything during the drive to NC and back. I think I concentrated more on the act of driving, in part due to the rain and the traffic delays. I had lots of music, which always helps me stop thinking. Yes, I sing in the car, but very poorly and an octave lower; I also drum on the steering wheel. One time I lost a drumstick out of the car window, so I had to listen to Def Leppard. (I know, that’s bad.)

revisions

I decided to take down several previous posts. It’s fine to tell my story, but it’s not fair to tell someone else’s without their knowledge. I’ve been warned about this before, but I had forgotten how it was unfair to other people. From now on, it’s just about me.

I also decided to shut down my poetry blog. I created that site to share with my real-life friends, but I get almost zero traffic when I post anything. I posted links for my Fakebook friends, but the only people who visit the page arrive via the WordPress Reader tags. That’s not what I had in mind. I wonder if the algorithm prevents my posts from being seen by my friends since I almost never use Fakebook.

Isn’t any blog an exercise in vanity? Really, who wants to know the life story of an average guy with bipolar who does nothing remarkable with his life? Yet I continue to write, posting things that seem important to me but are next to irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. I say I post for myself, but I secretly wish I had hundreds of followers (real people, not bots) who cared about every word.

I suppose the internet is moving on from blogs to shorter formats, but I have resisted using those platforms. Most of the time, I can’t share in real-life the things that occupy my thoughts; it’s too deep and too personal, and I have to constantly censor myself. Having anonymity helps me write out my private thoughts while having the knowledge that I could pull the plug at any time.

Maybe I will unplug things sometime soon. I’ve done it before. I could start a shiny, happy site where I only post the positive things about my life, but at that point I may as well be on Fakebook again. The problem is that even if I rebranded and opened a new blog, it would still be me doing the writing. The leopard can’t change his spots, and I would still have the same doubts and fears and demons that show through in everything I write.

stressed but not depressed

It’s been a few months since I had a true depressive mood swing. I have been a little melancholy a few times, my concentration is terrible, and I have had anxiety issues. However, my overall mood has been pretty even since December. I’m almost not sure what to do without having the feeling of the dark cloud following me. It’s easier to accomplish things and make decisions when you don’t think your world is going to end tomorrow.

I have been stressed, however, because it’s been rather busy lately:

      • We successfully found a new psychiatrist for my daughter; the doctor has plans for treating her ADHD along with the bipolar-or-maybe-schizoaffective disorder. I hope the doctor will be responsive to messages or phone calls in case things change or don’t work well.
      • We had roof leaks probably caused by ice dams on the roof. We had contractors and insurance people here last week, which was the easy part. The hard part was dealing with the three very loud fans which operated for about 5 days straight to dry out the ceiling. The three of us and the cats almost went nuts.
      • Our dishwasher died, so during the middle of the leak mitigation we had a new dishwasher installed. Actually, the second dishwasher was successfully installed; the first one was 1/2 inch too tall for the cabinet space. We bought from a local small business, so it was easier to work with them than it would have been with the orange big-box hardware store.
      • We have airline credits that expire at the end of March because we canceled a vacation due to Covid in 2020, but a major airline (starts with A) will not extend the date to use the credits. We really had no plans of going anywhere, and during spring break time it would cost more to stay somewhere fun than it would to just lose the credits. Instead, we are going to visit my mother for a few days. I haven’t seen her in over 4 years (since the Butterfly Incident), and she would be happy.

Anyway, off to work (at home), where I will fight boredom and struggle to stay focused on tasks. Yay.

have yourself a merry covid christmas

My wife still has symptoms, but is feeling a little better than earlier in the week. She has the bedroom, bathroom, and the craft room to herself, but the rest of the house is off limits. Today is Day 6 of her isolation, and she is going stir crazy. She has a hard time sitting still and not working on something (just like her dad). The strategy is working though; neither Nicole or I seem to be getting sick. I suppose I could be asymptomatic and not know it, but I don’t think so. Either way, we are both getting tested, but we couldn’t get tests until Tuesday the 28th (which would be day 10 of isolation for Annie).

Since Uncle Covid came for Christmas, we obviously had to cancel dinner with our son and Annie’s parents. I’m still going to make dinner for the three of us, with a turkey and only a couple of sides. We are planning a video call with Dan, and maybe the in-laws (if they can figure it out). I don’t know if we are doing presents tomorrow or waiting. Annie is going to sanitize and wrap presents, so maybe Nicole will get her presents on time. I don’t really care, I’ve kinda lost the spirit of the whole thing. I just want Annie to rejoin us.

We are very aware that our current situation is fortunate in comparison to those who are in the hospital either fighting the illness or dying from it. There are people losing loved ones today, and tomorrow, and every other day. There are exhausted and shell-shocked health care workers who keep coming to work because they’ve dedicated themselves to helping sick people. I admit that as inconvenient as this week has been, it could be so much worse.

I hope your Christmases are safe, warm, and well-medicated.

scrooged by covid

I had just written a post about how I used to love Christmas, then I hated it, then I loved it again, and now we have a mutual understanding, and how my wife loves Christmas much more than I do.

Then came an unfortunate plot twist.

Christmas is canceled due to Covid. My wife caught it from someone who came to her work while sick. We are all vaccinated btw. Now she is quarantined in our bedroom for another week at least, and I’m sleeping on the couch. Needless to say, this puts a damper on the holiday spirit. I’m sure she’ll be okay, but she has felt pretty poor yesterday and today. She’s pretty healthy, so I’m not too worried about her recovery, but I’m a little concerned if I or my daughter gets infected. We both have multiple risk factors. No symptoms yet, and we’re being careful, and I got a booster a month ago, but it could still happen.

Kind thoughts, please.

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.

the weekend update

Job update: I found out who was chosen for the job I interviewed for. She has no field experience and no design experience, but she was well known by the hiring manager. I was lied to, because I was told by that manager that they wanted someone with more field experience. I think I didn’t get the job because they didn’t know me personally and because I’m a middle-aged white male. I hate to be that way, but that’s the company culture. It’s not what you know, but who you know. I wasn’t bitter before, but I’m a little salty now.

Psych update: I saw the p-doc this week and told him I wasn’t having mood swings, but I’ve had a pretty good depression for weeks now. In addition, the Abilify makes me want to eat everything in sight. We are going to try a newer brand-name drug, Vraylar, because it treats both depression and mania, and weight gain is much less common. Hopefully I will have some good news to report.

Mindfulness update: I’m going to tell the therapist I want to concentrate on some other method of treatment. I’ve lost interest in the book, I can’t seem to get started on the exercises, and I don’t believe it will work for more than a few moments. What I need is to find a way to fight the social anxiety enough that I can actually exercise without thinking that everyone is looking at the fat guy trying to exercise.

Baseball update: I’m hoping the Giants can win today so they don’t have to play in the wild card game. I also hope the Cardinals beat the Dodgers in the wild card game. Fuck the Dodgers. If the Giants get to the World Series and lose, I’m afraid I will go into a deep depression like I did in 2002. It sounds silly, but I feel like I’m in a precarious place right now, and all I need is a trigger to push me into a spiral.

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.

believe the hype

I have a job interview coming up (on Friday the 13th of all days). It is for a new job with the same company, but I still have to go through the formal process because Big Energy Company is all about following the process. I’m often not a “follow the process” kind of person, but I won’t emphasize that.

I’m practicing responses to potential interview questions, the ones that go like “Tell me a time when something really difficult happened, and you singlehandedly turned it into a success overnight with no authority and no budget.” You have to answer in a certain format, emphasizing the actions you took and the end result (which had better be positive). I would prefer to have more of a conversational interview, but again, follow the process.

Writing a resume isn’t terribly difficult because it’s factual. However, promoting myself and talking up my knowledge and skills in an interview is something I have never been comfortable with. If we could do it all in writing, I would do great, but I have to deal with my self-esteem issues long enough to hype my accomplishments and talk around my failures. It goes against years of bad habits to say something good about myself without following it up with a perceived weakness or flaw that would shoot down my chances quickly.

I figure the less I ad lib and the more I can stick to what I’ve practiced, the better off I will be. I have to build up the hype long enough to make it through the interview, then go vomit afterwards. It is a panel interview, with two managers and their boss, which is a little intimidating. One of the interviewers knows me personally, which could be good; she is the person who hired me 10 years ago. It is an online interview, which may help me a little since I can be at home. However I don’t know if I should dress up for the video like I would if it were in-person; any advice?

Anyway, fingers and toes crossed.

allow me to recapitulate

It has been an interesting year so far. Manic episodes, sketching house plans in the middle of the night, COVID vaccines, no more masks, mentally preparing to work from the office again, and the Giants still in first place bitches! (yeah, you, LA fan). 

Anyway, I feel like it’s a good time for a bulleted list, so here is a recap of the first 6 months of this year:

  • In January I began a strong manic episode for about 6 weeks, possibly encouraged by trying Latuda for bipolar depression. I had extreme anxiety and a couple of panic attacks, I couldn’t sleep most nights, and I was very restless. My OCD rituals became much stronger and nearly impossible to control.
  • In February I began to come down from the manic state but the OCD and anxiety continued in full force, and it was very difficult to work or be “normal” at home. 
  • In March, there was very little improvement, and I worried that something had permanently been damaged in my brain from the manic episode. (I still think that is the case, but I’m learning to manage it.) I was very concerned that my continued employment was in jeopardy, and the resultant worry fed my continuing anxiety.
  • In April I discontinued Wellbutrin and went back on Abilify, and my anxiety calmed down somewhat. I was officially diagnosed with OCD. I also began seeing a therapist for help to deal with the anxiety and OCD behaviors. My daughter spent a week in the hospital with a vomiting syndrome.
  • In May, the anxiety began to decrease significantly, although the OCD rituals were still a problem. I finally got to go on my planned hiking trip to Pennsylvania, which was calming and satisfying. We had a multi-family barbecue for the first time since COVID, since everyone is vaccinated now.
  • In June (earlier this week), I applied for a new position at the company I work for. It would be a promotion, although the pay would be about the same. I don’t think I have much of a chance, but if you get an interview, anything can happen.

Looking forward to the rest of 2021, who knows what will transpire? We do have a few plans:

  • As of July 6th our company will begin a hybrid work schedule, which means I will be able to work every other week at the office again. Maybe I will remember all the people who I used to see every day.
  • In August we will have our annual family camping trip at a local state park. We had to cancel in 2020, breaking a streak of 12 years. 
  • In September my wife and I will take a short vacation to celebrate our 30th anniversary. We’ll probably take a bigger vacation next year, but my daughter can’t be alone for more than a couple of days, so we’ll see what happens then.
  • In November we will be seeing Genesis in concert. 

… and off we go.

blog soup – stir well

I have a busy week ahead. I have three field days at work this week, two of which are unnecessary; I have an appointment with both my therapist and my sleep doctor; and it’s my father-in-laws birthday. My wife has no idea what to get him other than a gift card to the hardware store. It’s difficult because his birthday and Father’s Day are so close together, and he doesn’t need anything except carpal tunnel surgery. Fortunately he will get that at the VA hospital, because it’s hard to get medical procedures from Amazon (for now).

My daughter needed to replace a broken phone, and our other two were glitchy, so we finally ditched our old prepaid cell plan and went with a major carrier (the pink one) to get discounted phones. The red carrier is too expensive even though they have better coverage; I hate the blue carrier and I think their bundling prices are predatory. I’m happy with the service, but my brand new phone has problems reading the SD card.

The thought occurred to me that everyone I went to high school with is at or near 50 years old, and their parents are getting older to the point where funerals are becoming more common. That’s depressing in several ways. Maybe seeing your parents getting older is part of the mid-life crisis experience because it makes you think about your own mortality. Nothing lasts forever, so go nuts while you still can, or something like that. My idea of going nuts is completely different, but even I fall victim to the urge to buy expensive things to make myself feel alive. For example, I bought pricey brioche buns for my grilled hamburgers instead of the cheaper plain buns. Living on the edge, that’s me.

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).