overwhelmed and tired

For the first time in a while, I feel like running away is a perfectly sane option. Not really, but you get the idea. I am on call for jury duty this week; most people want to avoid it, but I would love to go.

I am so overwhelmed right now at work. So many projects, so many demands. I’ve been working lots of overtime, but there is seemingly no end to the number of “emergencies” that keep me from getting my work completed. How much more do they expect of me? How much more do I need to give?

I have already shuffled a few projects off to other people, but I really can’t do it again. Everyone else seems to be getting their work done; I’m the only one who can’t seem to get any projects to completion. The others seem to be okay with working their amount of overtime; it is a struggle for me to work my 40 let alone any extra that is expected right now.

I am mentally and emotionally drained every day, and it is affecting my physical health. They don’t realize I have this little time bomb called bipolar ticking away, waiting to blow up my professional life. This affects me more than it would other people, because I’m more vulnerable to external stress.

I’m starting to wonder if I may have to play the “disability card”. If I were to have my psychiatrist place me under work restrictions for mental health reasons, I could force management to shift projects so that I could only work 40 hours. Could I keep that under cover? I don’t exactly want it known that I have bipolar, but if I play that card, the secret will get out. Mental health is one of the things that supposedly cannot be discriminated against, but good luck proving it. Then again, I have the protection of a union position, and I am not seeking any advancement from my current position (like I need any more responsibility, right?).

It’s so lonely in my head right now. Everyone has their problems, and I feel like this is the only place where I can actually unload. You don’t have to read, but thank you if you do.

I realize this is not a well organized or proofread post, but fuck off. I’m tired and I just want to sleep for a week.

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remember when?

Just a few things I have done during manic episodes:

  • Picked up a 5-gallon bucket and started beating it with a baseball bat until the bucket was in tiny pieces scattered across the lawn.
  • Slapped myself across the face and punched myself until I was sore and bruised all over.
  • Surprised my co-workers by taking a half-used can of whipped cream and spraying the contents directly into my mouth, in full view of management.
  • Tore apart several computers and worked on them all night just before the family returned home to find parts all over the house.
  • Bought a drum kit.
  • Drove to the beach and started screaming at the waves, sincerely hoping one of them would drag me out to sea.
  • Stayed up all night cracking the password to my wife’s computer, then going through her files and blog posts.
  • Bought a girl a bra for a birthday present, then actually gave it to her.
  • Urinated off a tall bridge into a lake.
  • Shouted obscenities at an inappropriate moment during a band performance.
  • Drove over 110 mph in the Blue Bomber (my old Chevy Impala).
  • Almost drove in front of a truck with suicidal intent.

I love these trips down manic memory lane. I’ve done some pretty stupid things over the years, and I know I was manic at the time, but hey, no excuses. The times I feel guilty about are where I could have hurt someone else.

all about beth

I was having a crappy time as a brand-new adult, and college life in Reno was not treating me very well. I was in the middle of a deep depressive spiral, as usual saved only by music. Then Beth arrived in my life, and things changed dramatically. Unfortunately, Beth was in the wrong place at the wrong time, because my bipolar was causing collateral damage before I even knew what it was.

Beth was one of those strange people who seem to be a hundred years old in the body of a young person. Some people call that an “old soul”, and maybe she just kept her experiences from a previous life. Apparently she inherited a little bit of crazy from her mom, but I didn’t see it at the time. She had ruffled brown hair bleached almost blond from surfing in Santa Cruz for the past few years, and a laid-back personality formed by the sun and waves. She had lived with a guy previously, but they broke up when she came back to live with her mom. She was mysterious, carefree, and easy to like. I was instantly attracted to her.

A girl from my high school also went to school in Reno, and she lived in my dorm building. We weren’t close friends, but she invited me out with her and her roommate Beth. We went out as a group of 6 people, but very quickly it became a 4+2 scene. Beth and I talked to each other most of the evening and basically ignored the others. We laughed, we flirted, we played keno at Denny’s. I have no idea what we talked about, but even with my bad luck and lack of experience with females, I could tell we liked each other. We ended up crammed together in the back seat of someone’s little deathtrap car, and at one point we just started holding hands. I looked at her fingers laced in mine, then looked at her face; we both shrugged and laughed a little and decided to go with it. When the night ended and we got back to our building, she gave me a quick kiss and a promise to see me again soon.

Finding a new girlfriend is a great way to beat depression.

She was the first girl I ever had sex with; I knew she was experienced, and she knew I was not. In the minutes after losing my virginity, she found a shirt in her closet and casually cleaned herself with it. While doing so, she told me a strange story about a Central American tribal custom. When a couple first has sex, the woman keeps the rag that was used to clean the man’s sperm. If he mistreats her or breaks his promises to her, she can have vengeance by burning the rag; the custom says that the man’s testicles will shrivel and become useless for the rest of his life. “I’m keeping this shirt,” she said somewhat seriously, and that was my first inkling that she might be a little bit crazy.

I didn’t know that I would be the crazy one who blew up everything.

We had fun for a few weeks. We spent lots of time together, as much as conflicting schedules would allow. We didn’t have any specific plans, we were just young people enjoying a new relationship. But in the meantime I wasn’t sleeping, my grades were tanking, I was extremely stressed, and I didn’t realize I was heading toward a manic episode.

I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I now know I was in that dysphoric mania I have become familiar with over the years. I was freaking out about something, and Beth knew there was something wrong with me. I remember we were arguing, although I can’t recall why; I know there was this sudden, desperate urge to run away. She was crying, asking me to stay and talk things out, but I was telling her some stupid reason why I needed to go. Finally I just turned and went down the stairs and out the door to the parking lot. As I got in the car, I could see Beth sitting on the fourth floor stairs, watching me through the window, and I hesitated for a moment.

I still wish I could have that moment back, a moment where I wondered if she was right and I was fucking crazy, a moment where I briefly thought about going back to her and letting her help me, a moment when I could have stopped repressing feelings for once and be genuine with someone. But I wasn’t mature enough yet. I wasn’t ready.

I started the car and drove away.

My instinct was to head for the mountains, as usual, the place I felt most at home. Escaping the desert and reaching the forest, I headed for the highest point on the old highway. I was still upset and out of control when I parked at the top of Donner Pass and wandered through the granite boulders and silvery evergreens. I kept walking without a destination, climbing up ledges and struggling to maintain my footing on the rocky landscape. Running out of breath and energy by this time, I found a large flat boulder and just sat there in the moonlight. I was home, in the trees and rocks and stars, and I could just lay back and let the calm return to my hyperactive brain. I stayed for a couple of hours before I started to get cold. I don’t know how I found my way in the dark, and I blew out my flip-flops on the way, but somehow I made it back to the car without falling off a cliff or being ravaged by a hungry bear.

By this time the manic energy had passed, and as I drove back into town I felt like crap about what I had done. I knew I had been stupid and immature, and I had really fucked things up as usual. I wanted to apologize and try to put things back together. Now I understand that I was scared to let someone new get that close to me, that I was afraid of being hurt, and that I sabotaged everything because I felt like I had to push her away so she could earn my trust by coming back. In hindsight, I know how fucked-up that logic was, but at the time I simply wanted to fix what I had undone.

The next day when I knocked on her door, Beth’s roommate told me she had gone for a few days without really explaining why, so I left a note for her. On the fourth day, Beth answered the door, and she pointed me toward the stairs. She stared at me with the saddest look. How do you think that made me feel, she asked. She said she needed time away from me to figure out her feelings, and she would let me know. I saw her again three days later when I showed up in front of her classroom. We talked only a couple of minutes and hugged, but I knew there was no going back to what we had.

I never saw Beth again.

There was a note under my door a few days later. It turned out she was making bigger decisions than just the fate of our relationship. She was failing a couple of classes, and instead of staying she decided to move back to Santa Cruz. She said it wasn’t my fault, but I made her decision much easier. She might have loved me, and she might have stayed for me, but she didn’t feel like she could trust me. At the time, she was probably right.

the biggest little man-child

It was my first semester of college in Reno, and I was very depressed. That is not surprising of course, but this was a particularly nasty episode before I even knew bipolar existed. Nothing I was doing was working out very well, except for being in the marching band. All my band experiences were good; everything else sucked.

My old friends from Goldville didn’t seem to miss me, whether I drove back to visit or wrote letters that no one answered. My racist roommate got me into trouble by flying a Confederate Flag in the dorm window, and I was too stupid to know it would offend anyone, such as the offensive line of the football team. I had to play “wingman” for a friend who nailed his girlfriend while I was left to babysit her dumb-as-a-stump friend. I couldn’t get a job delivering pizza because my auto insurance wouldn’t cover it. I got food poisoning while eating at the campus dining commons, and I was down for three days with gastrointestinal distress. I got a parking ticket for being in the preferred lot, and when I didn’t move the car after 24 hours, I got another ticket and “The Boot”, the device that immobilizes your car.

More importantly, I was struggling in multiple classes, which had never happened before. I was a fucking genius in high school, but it was so easy that I never learned any study habits. I never learned how to work for good grades, and I found I couldn’t do everything at the last second and expect to be successful in college-level classes. My presentation and organizational skills sucked. Believe it or not, I was trying to write papers with a manual typewriter. I was banished from my dorm room for banging away on a Royal late into the night, and someone mercifully let me borrow an electric typewriter until I could find one to buy for cheap.

I discovered I wasn’t the big fish I thought I was. There were a lot of smart people all around me, and while I knew I didn’t suddenly turn stupid, I realized that I wasn’t anything special in the bigger world. Goldville was a small pond I outgrew, but college was the ocean in comparison. I had two girls from my high school who also came to Reno, and they seemed to be doing okay, but I wasn’t. My ego took a big hit that first semester.

At this point, my college career was starting off with a thud, my shiny new proto-adult life was a mess, and I was depressed as hell. Yes, I was dealing with bipolar mood swings that I didn’t know existed, and emotional depression from a fucked-up childhood, but no excuses.

Then a girl arrived in my life, and things changed dramatically.

stories yet to be told

My bipolar has been relatively quiet; as usual I feel a little down most of the time, but with some minor mood swings either way. I welcome the energy of the mild positive swings, and I try to survive the downward phases without oversleeping and overeating. At my new doctor’s suggestion, I have been working my way up to the maximum dosage on the Topomax to see if that helps to suppress my appetite a little. I haven’t noticed much change yet, but we will see in the next two weeks. In the meantime, I haven’t noticed any other side effects, so that’s a good thing.

Lately I have been in a mood for reminiscing rather than discussing bipolar. Anytime I sit down to start writing something about my present condition, it seems lame and meaningless, while stories from the past seem to be more powerful for me. Even the bad poetry has dried up for now, and I much more enjoy spending time rewriting and recycling old stories in the hope that someday I can let the family see them. Maybe it will explain so much more than I can in person.

I realize that stories from Fishrobber’s Life History is not likely to gain any new readers, and may alienate the few people that do actually read this site. If you care about my day-to-day life, I appreciate it, and I would love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail me if you are interested in talking one-on-one about bipolar, life, Giants baseball, or anything at all. I will gladly answer. Contact info is at the top right of the page.

doctor, doctor

My previous psychiatrist left his practice with very little warning last December, so I had to find a new one. This week I had my first appointment with the new p-doc, and I think it went very well. After the obligatory paperwork, I was interviewed by an intake nurse who asked me a lot of wide-ranging questions about my symptoms and my life in general. She seemed very organized, and made plenty of notes in the computer.

I was sent back to the waiting room for about 15 minutes, then they brought me in to see the doctor. We talked about my current and past symptoms, and how they have changed over time with the medication. I felt like I had to make a case that I still have bipolar, and he seemed to agree that even though I have been relatively stable with the meds I would be in trouble without them. We also discussed the weight gain with Abilify, and he started me on Topomax, an anti-seizure drug with a major side effect of appetite suppression and weight loss. He said several patients have had success with this combination. Finally, he gave me a little bit of Ativan to take as needed on days when my anxiety is problematic.

I was nervous the entire time, but I think I covered everything I wanted to during the appointment. I had prepared by writing up a list of symptoms, a timeline, a list of meds, etc., which helped me lay things out in an organized manner when responding to questions.

I got the impression from the conversation that he was much more friendly and personable than my previous doc. I also believe he is much more inclined to listen and be interactive, working as a partner in my mental health goals rather than just ordering me to do what he says.

signs of bipolar

I had symptoms of bipolar disorder as far back as maybe 11 years old. Even at that time, I knew something was wrong with me. I definitely had depression, long periods where I would be in a crappy mood all the time and I wanted to isolate myself from people. During high school I had deep recurring depressive episodes that grew worse.

On the other hand, I realized I could anticipate when a hypomanic episode was on the way; I almost felt like I could hear it coming in the distance, and I knew it would cause me problems. I called it a “dangerous mood”, and it was during those times that I said and did stupid and hurtful things without regard for consequences or safety. I also developed a lot of obsessive thinking and rumination during that time. While that is not necessarily a symptom of bipolar, it was another facet to my struggle with undiagnosed mental illness.

My symptoms became worse as I moved into my 30s. When I was mistakenly diagnosed as having unipolar depression, I believe taking the anti-depressants made things even worse. Soon thereafter I went into the hospital, but the roller-coaster ride continues to this day.

image credit: kurumi.com

wide awake

Yes, it’s way past my bedtime, but sleep isn’t happening. I’ve been in a stress-induced hypomania for several days now, and it shows no sign of stopping. I’m anxious, twitchy, my head hurts, my eyes hurt, and despite being very tired, I can’t sleep.

I’ve been working 10-hour days this past week, 8 on Saturday, with the promise of more long days this next week. The overtime money will be nice (it will pay for my Christmas present, a new computer), but being able to sleep is good too.

I have several worries spinning around in my head, none I wish to write about, and I don’t think I could form coherent sentences even if I tried. Thoughts of doom and inevitability and negativity are pervasive right now.

Finally, and this may be connected, I have been tinkering with the dosages on my medication. I am trying to cut back a little just to see if I can manage at lesser amounts of chemicals, but I think that plan has been unsuccessful. I plan on riding this hypo a few more days until a project deadline passes, then I will go back to my normal dosage. I’ll be okay in the meantime as long as I watch myself.

the manic road trip of 2004

One of my undiagnosed manic episodes centered around a road trip in May of 2004. I was sent to training course in Las Vegas by my employer at the time, and instead of flying there, I decided to drive our trusty van 2000 miles. Driving has always been therapeutic for me, as have the Sierra Nevada mountains. I had been in a severe funk prior to taking the trip, so I thought a long drive through beautiful scenery would be a great pick-me-up.

I drove through Sacramento to Lake Tahoe in snow, then south to the tufa formations of Mono Lake. I climbed a cinder cone and visited an obsidian formation in the forest near Mammoth Lakes. I couldn’t sleep that night, due to cold and excitement, so I ended up hanging out at an all-night gas station. At first light I headed for the Bristlecone Pine forest in the White Mountains, then continued through the desert to Vegas.

After my last day of training, I won about $250 in the casino, then I couldn’t fall asleep (still slightly manic). I checked out of the hotel and went to the old downtown casinos at 2 in the morning, then took off for home at 4am. I started falling asleep while driving through the Nevada desert; the song “Time” by Pink Floyd probably saved my life by waking me up when the alarm bell sounded. I drove straight through to home in about 21 hours, stopping at Death Valley and Yosemite National Parks, and being dangerously tired on the way.

I didn’t have a crash or a spiral after the trip, more like a slow letdown. After having a great experience, returning to the everyday world was deflating and depressing. I returned to work, wishing I was in the mountains again.

I’m glad I took the opportunity to get away by myself for a few days when I really needed it. I will always have the memories and the photos of that trip, and it reminds me that even in the middle of a chaotic time in my life, I was able to have such an enjoyable experience. However, I made some poor decisions during the trip. Who lets a manic person loose at a casino, and why was I climbing granite outcrops in Yosemite? I could have lost a lot of money, I could have fallen off the rocks and died, and I could have fallen asleep while driving and killed someone else.

At the time, I wrote:

I think the trip was in general the most uplifting and healing time of my life. Right when I really needed it, I got the opportunity to be alone in the landscape I love so much, to take some beautiful pictures to look at later, but more than anything to just let the pressures and demands and negativity just slip away … feeling the beauty in the landscape and in the forest that honestly I think many people can never feel … I was exploring everything – forests, valleys, plants, small furry creatures, large outcrops of basalt and tuff and obsidian, volcanic craters and peaks, joshua trees, lizards and cactus surviving at 10,000 feet, 4,000-year-old trees, earthquake faults, tufa deposits, glacier-carved canyons, alluvial fans, rain shadows, playa lakes, microclimates, glacial erratics. I was so unafraid and content and free, I actually found it safe to let myself talk to people … At those times it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or says, you are simply enjoying life in that moment.

[When I arrived in] Las Vegas, I had a little anxiety episode … After the beauty and solitude of the natural world, [it] was quite a shock to me. That feeling passed soon, but it was interesting to me how shocking it was, letting me know that I was totally immersed in the escape mode of my trip. I walked the Strip, looked inside a few places, but really returned to feeling alone, detached, and invisible while I was there. … I could have done stuff with other people attending the class, but I didn’t feel comfortable, I just wanted to be alone.

I will eventually post some photos of the trip so all 3.2 of you readers can see some of my favorite places. [here’s the link.]

the costs of bipolar

I’ve had bipolar disorder since I was a pre-teen. It has cost me several important relationships, educational and job opportunities, and tens of thousands of dollars over the years. It has nearly cost me my life on multiple occasions. Besides the monetary cost of the medicine I take, there is the weight gain associated with the Abilify, which causes me problems such as high blood pressure, the potential for heart disease, lack of mobility, and embarrassment. It may one day cost me my intellect, if the potential for early dementia becomes a reality.

My bipolar has also inflicted a toll on the family. My wife has stayed with me despite 25 years of instability and unpredictability, and it has cost her happiness and many sleepless nights ridden with fear and anxiety. She constantly feels like she has to work harder to make more money to pay for the medical bills, so she works at a physical job and always has sometimes debilitating aches and pains.

My son and daughter grew up in a home riddled with turmoil, which in my opinion has caused them both psychological issues which remain unaddressed. My defective genes surfaced in my daughter, who had first been diagnosed with bipolar, and now schizoaffective disorder. Her illness has cost her most of her friends, dreams of a normal life, two potential career paths, and many thousands of dollars in medical bills for us to pay.