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.

panic! at the home office

So Friday afternoon I may have had a little panic attack. Apparently I posted something here and then trashed it immediately. Then I started drinking.

I was trying to email a request form to someone for a project, but I didn’t know just what to say. But I got stuck thinking about it, and it never got sent. Then the 10 am department meeting happened, and the department manager started demanding more output than we have been producing lately. Just what I needed to hear. After the meeting, I froze up again.

I took a long lunch, thinking I would take a break and calm down, then get back to work. The getting back to work never happened, and instead of producing more, suddenly I’m producing less. Thinking about this made me start freaking out, and I gave up around 2 pm. I literally got into bed and covered up hoping I could calm down, but it just got worse. I briefly thought about calling my psychiatrist, but I don’t think I could have made it through the phone call, and I didn’t want to get sent to the hospital involuntarily.

So when my shift ended at 3:30, I poured a glass full of scotch whiskey and started drinking with the intent of knocking myself out as quickly as possible. After an hour I was successful, and I slept until about 8 pm.


I fear the manic episode from January has permanently damaged something in my already defective brain. I can’t organize tasks, I can’t follow through, I can’t regulate my mood, I can’t control the anxiety. I can’t stop thinking that I will no longer be able to do my job, and that I will have to find something less stressful for much less pay and worse benefits.

Before the manic episode I was relatively unhappy at work but I was able to cope with the stress and managed to produce work in a timely manner. Now I am completely unable to deal with my mental state. I have no coping skills; I have nothing in the toolbox that I can use to improve my situation. My fight-or-flight instinct has been engaged, but I have nothing to fight with. The urge to flee is overwhelming.

The only thing that helps me relax is when I am doing something new, like yesterday when I drove new roads for a few hours and walked at a park for over an hour. But there are only so many roads within a reasonable distance, and I can’t do that every day. Eventually I have to come back home to my life, and start thinking about everything again.

I will call my doctor on Monday when I am relatively calm and explain the situation, and see if he can recommend something.

money or sanity

Fuck it, I’m going to post it anyway.

There have been many changes in the past two years at work. First there was an incident where a big pipeline exploded (thankfully no one was injured or killed). There were changes in business and construction practices resulting from the explosion. There were changes in management, and employee losses through an early retirement offer to dozens of people. Then the pandemic forced almost everyone in my building to work at home.

Through it all, we just keep working, drawing construction plans, lining up contractors, and getting jobs constructed. We are well paid, we have good benefits, and we are fortunate to have continued working when many others were laid off or had their jobs simply disappear.

But I’m fucking miserable. I hate it. I want to leave.

We get more and more responsibility and workload without the hope of additional people to help. We get new requirements that make projects harder to complete, but we are expected to meet target dates. I can just barely do my shift because I am so stressed out and angry. I don’t enjoy what I am doing. I don’t like getting up in the morning and turning on the computer. I think about work when I’m trying to relax. I dream about unfinished jobs and missed deadlines. My anxiety is off the chart right now.

I looked online at different jobs on the internet this week, but that was rather discouraging. Any opportunities that exist right now would cost me as much as one-third of my current take-home pay, and would have a smaller benefit package. There’s nothing out there that is close to being as good as what I have right now, and there is no situation where I would be able to manage my mental health issues the way I am at the moment.

I talked to a friend from work Friday, and it turned out he is having the exact same conversation with himself. He feels the same way, but had a little insight for me on how to help my attitude and not get myself in a frenzy over it. He reminded me what I would be giving up by leaving this job behind without a better opportunity. He talked me down from the ledge a little, and I felt a little better about things.

Then yesterday and today happened, and I’m freaking out again.

I have zero confidence in my ability to do my job and stay sane at the same time. My supervisor is understanding, and he tells me it’s okay to talk to him when I’m feeling stressed. But of course he doesn’t know the whole story about my mental health, and I didn’t tell him I’m ready to leave no matter what it costs me.

Then there is my wife, who understands my feelings and does know the whole story. But she also told me to consider what we would be giving up, and would any other opportunities be any less stressful?

Then again, what happens if I have a meltdown and can’t work at all? Who’s paying for psychiatrist appointments and medication for myself and my daughter if I’m having a breakdown? So many questions, no answers, and another fun day of work on tap for tomorrow.

The whole house of crazy cards is teetering and ready to fall.

tics

I’m not talking about blood-sucking arthropods, but the little movements and rituals that are the major symptom of OCD or maybe Tourette’s. I’ve had little tics and quirks since I can remember, but usually they were only present during stressful times. The rest of the time, they didn’t have control over me and I could ignore them.

During the most recent manic episode brought on by taking Latuda, I started having uncontrollable “tic seizures” where I would be lost for seconds to minutes at a time, then only by force of will could I stop them for a few moments. I could maintain calm stillness if I really concentrated (which is the opposite of being calm), but eventually I would surrender to the urge.

I tap or flick things repeatedly with my fingers. I blink my eyes forcefully, way more than necessary. I blow air on my fingers. I tap my mouse on the desk over and over. I click my teeth. I scratch my chin or my head. I wiggle my feet or my toes. All of this is fueled by the need to “get it right” – the right sound, the right amount of force, the right number of times, or the right rhythm. If I don’t get it right, I feel like I have to keep doing it until I succeed, and I never do. These rituals are not involuntary, I’m doing them purposefully and I’m fully aware I’m doing them.

I quit taking Latuda two weeks ago, and my psychiatrist tells me it should take no more than a week for the drug to wash out of my system, but the tics remain worse than ever before. I find them in control much of the day, every day, and only when my brain is fully occupied can I really prevent them from happening. I have had difficulty with concentration and focus over the past year or so, and when my mind is spinning or drifting, the tics are more difficult to control. They get worse with stress, and my anxiety is feeding them. They get worse with caffeine, which is bad because I need my coffee in the morning.

Between the manic episode and the increasing control of the tics, It has been mentally exhausting for the past three weeks or so. My work is suffering, and because I am working remotely it is too easy to take time away from the computer to try to relax. It has been difficult to work a full day every day, I am taking too long on projects, and I am struggling to meet deadlines. After work I just want to drink myself to sleep, but I have (mostly) avoided that so far.

My p-doc wants to put me on Klonopin or Ativan to calm down a little and hopefully reduce the tics, but my employer’s safety requirements and drug policy might be a problem. We are randomly tested to federal standards for opioids, marijuana, PCP, cocaine, and heroin. In addition, I’m not supposed to take any drug which might affect my “ability to perform” safety-related tasks. Klonopin is on that list, so if I do take it, I have to demonstrate to the safety police that it doesn’t affect me during work hours. Hopefully I can work with the company on this problem. I won’t ask my p-doc to be untruthful, but I wonder what will happen when they find out I have bipolar and anxiety disorders.

I don’t know if the manic episode or the Latuda triggered something in my defective brain, but something has changed, and I hope the effects are not permanent. I’m actually concerned for my future because of this. I am worried that my mental health problems will cost me the best job I’ve ever had, and send me into an uncertain future of trying to find a new job at my age. I’m not that old, and I can do good work when things are under control, but age discrimination still exists. I hope I’m just overthinking everything.

In the meantime, I’m exhausted, and I’m struggling.

cold wetlands, hot chili

Cold, rainy, slushy days remind me of my days in Oregon and Washington studying wetlands for delineations and permits. Developers always wanted their wetland study done in the late fall to winter so they could get their plans drawn for work in summer. Unfortunately this meant that I was trying to identify plants with no flowers or leaves, sometimes missing important species, or in the case of grasses trying to find stems that still had seeds. Of course it was usually raining, or even turning to snow, and I would end up getting sick from being wet and cold for hours.

There was one interesting location near Mount Hood about an hour from Portland. It was a tangled mosaic of wet and dry areas, with fens, meadows, and riparian wetlands interspersed with upland forest. It was a peaceful place, cool in summer under the shade of the tall hemlocks and Douglas firs, and it was botanically fascinating. On one wet slope I painfully discovered Devil’s Club, a nasty wetland shrub with thorns on the trunk, the leaf stems, and even on the leaves. Digging in the fens, I found identifiable plant material possibly hundreds of years old, preserved in the muck due to the cold groundwater and lack of oxygen. I hoped this place would never get developed, and 25 years later it is still intact.

There had been some logging prior to my visiting the site, and several trees were still lying on the ground. I was working with a student intern who was identifying plants for me. We were hiking through the woods when we heard a chain saw. We looked through the trees and saw a guy who was probably stealing firewood from the property. As we got closer, we realized he was naked except for a work boots and a cowboy hat. We looked at each other in disbelief, and hid in the bushes wondering what we should do. We must have moved the brush a little, because he suddenly looked in our general direction, put down the saw, and quickly moved behind his pickup to put clothes on. Tiffany and I decided to just go the other way and let him enjoy his lumberjack fantasy.

One miserable November day at this site, after being out in the bone-chilling drizzle for hours, my boss took me to eat at a nearby cafe he knew about from a previous visit. They had huge bowls of chili and bread, and a big fireplace to warm up by. It was the best chili ever.

working with bipolar

Working with bipolar is a challenge for anyone whose symptoms are bad enough to impact their ability to work, but not severe enough to be on disability. Bipolar can limit one’s ability to work, or it can limit the ability to work at 100% during the work hours. It affects job performance, making it difficult to concentrate and complete tasks.

In my case, I went through a period before and after my diagnosis where I was not able to work full time. When I was working, I was in a constant state of mental stress, making it difficult to concentrate and perform at a high level. This affected my work relationships, my income, and in one job it got me a demotion to a lower job classification. Now, even with mostly effective treatment, I still struggle with working full time every day.

As an engineer I have always had a mentally taxing job, solving problems and working with computers. I’m pretty good at my job, not great, but I fool most of the people most of the time. At the same time I have this “other thing” going on in my brain, an illness which occupies a majority of my thoughts and mental energy while I am trying to get work done. Bipolar intrudes upon my thought processes, interrupts my work flow, disrupts my concentration, and affects my relationships with coworkers to the point where I wonder how I accomplish anything during the day.

Imagine being asked to work at a physical job, but with one arm tied behind your back. Think of the frustration and anxiety caused by knowing how to do a job, and having your best efforts be inadequate, but knowing you could so much better if it weren’t for this unseen force holding you back. That’s what working with bipolar feels like for me: I could do so much better, if I were different.

don’t trust the man

A little word association:

permit – permission – authority – power
ask – beg – plead – pray
humility – distrust – fear

I have to apply for permits as part of my job, and I hate it. I don’t like asking for anything, because it subjects me to someone else’s authority. Who am I to be asking for favors from the powers that be? I have the power of a large company behind me, but some days I feel very small inside, and I feel like I am in a powerless position.

I have always had a distrust of authority figures, whether parents, teachers, or gods. I don’t want to like authority figures, and I certainly don’t want to be one. When my supervisor compliments me, I am always waiting for the sarcasm or the damning criticism that I am afraid will follow. This is learned behavior from childhood, reinforced by damaged people and taken to heart by a socially awkward kid whose personality was suffocated by an overbearing mother.

In religion, God is the ultimate authority figure, and he is one angry, mean son-of-a-bitch; do not trust him. My suspicion of authority figures is part of the reason I am an atheist.

[for the record: my supervisor is genuine when he compliments me on my work; he just doesn’t know how damaged I am.]

unwelcome houseguest

Knock Knock.
Who’s there?
Corona.

No joking. We don’t know for sure, but we think Mrs. Fish is infected. She’s sick with something, and what else could it be? She doesn’t have the cough, and only a mild fever at times, but she has other symptoms that are consistent. We’ll try to get her an online doctor’s appointment tomorrow to see what they say (and they’ll say “call us again when it gets worse”).

What else would be that easy to catch for the little contact she has had with the public? She stopped working three weeks ago. She has been careful while out shopping, distancing, wearing a mask, and staying home unless necessary. I have done the same, and I have no symptoms. It’s not easy to catch a flu virus in the wild when you’re not being careful. What are the chances this is the flu, really?

I’m worried about her, but she’s in good health, so I don’t think she’s in any real danger. On the other hand, I’m real nervous about myself getting it. I’m 50, fat, and have elevated blood pressure, which put me more at risk. And I don’t like hospital food.

So Anne is isolated in our bedroom with Netflix and Animal Crossing (our daughter’s handheld game). I have been sleeping in my easy chair (don’t worry, I’ve had lots of practice). I’m doing all the cooking, and I’m running out of ideas (who says you can’t do grilled cheese every other day?).

And tomorrow, I have to tell my supervisor that I have to be restricted from coming into the office because I’ve probably been exposed. I’ve been working from home, but with occasional trips in for printing or essential paperwork. I guess someone will have to print large sets of plans for me this next week.

Update: Her doctor nurse practitioner seems to think it is something else, not COVID, but “get better soon, ok?” They will not test her, because of the lack of adequate public testing in this country. So do we assume the NP is correct, and go back to a semi-normal life, or do we continue to have her self-isolate under the assumption that she might have the COVID? Do I tell my office it was a false alarm and that I haven’t been exposed? So many unanswered questions that a test would help put to rest.

2nd update: Her symptoms seemed to go away after five days, so just to be sure she stayed in the bedroom for a few days after her symptoms went away. No one else has felt anything adverse since then. Again, due to a lack of testing, we don’t know if it was COVID or not, but it seems less likely now.

the home office

Since the social distancing and the stay-at-home order began, my company has me working from home. I have discovered that I love it. I never want to work at the office again.

For an introvert like me, it is mentally taxing and sometimes downright painful to negotiate all the social interactions I am required to perform every single day in the office. Talking with co-workers, sitting through unnecessary meetings, and small talk in the break room cause me so much stress every day that it becomes difficult to concentrate on my work for a full 8 hours or more. I find myself behind on my work, and I need to work overtime to finish what needs to get done. I get severe phone anxiety, and I can’t have necessary conversations that “normal” people have no trouble with.

Suddenly however, I’m in my comfort zone, and I am getting lots of work done! I don’t have to worry about inane conversations, looking good for other people, or even shaving. In my home office I can relax and get my work done without interruption, unless you count the cats coming to use the litter box (eww) or walking across my laptop. I have lost my phone anxiety for the time being, and I can converse with people much more easily when necessary if e-mail or IM won’t do the job. (I draw the line at video calls, however.)

When life starts to return to normal, I might petition management to try to work from home maybe 2 or 3 days per week and see if they agree. For now, I’ll just enjoy it while it lasts.