You can only beat your head against the wall so many times before you crack, spilling your hopes onto the floor. You struggle to pay the price of existence, and the costs are staggering. Damaged and broken, you barely survive the day, and get no relief from a fitful sleep before waking up again. The cycle of hopelessness is not a circle but a downward spiral, a black hole from which positive things never escape. Your carefully constructed life is shattered by a disease with no empathy. The beast is not satisfied until its victims lie on the floor, crushed by its destructive power.
I’m not doing well. This is the first real depression episode I’ve had while on the new drug. I don’t think this is a chemical depression; it is more emotional in nature. There is a deep, pervasive hopelessness right now, and nothing is able to rescue me for more than a fleeting moment.
There seems to be no break from the negativity. I might socialize with people at work, but it’s all fake. Music may calm me temporarily, but I know after the last note I will be depressed again. Food might please me briefly, but I know every bite is bad for me.
[Insert 400 words of self-wallowing drivel here. I don’t want to write it, and you don’t want to read it.]
I don’t feel like I’m good enough for anyone – not as a husband, a father, a son, a friend, or a worker. I’m not good enough for my own standards of what I want my life to be. I feel like I let everyone down on a consistent basis, and that I’m not trying hard enough. I’m just a substitute until the right person comes to replace me, and they will do everything better.
I define my self-worth by how useful or helpful I am to others, and right now it seems like I’m not useful or helpful to anyone.
Sometimes you just have to face reality, and my reality is that no matter what meds I take, they can’t change the fact that I’m just not wired to be a happy, successful person. I want to be that guy, but I can only fake being that guy until I can’t fool anyone anymore.
Here are a few pictures that capture my life …
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have been so busy in the past couple of months that I haven’t had time to think. Maybe that is a good thing, but I feel like I’m out of touch with myself. I’m not taking my emotional temperature, thinking deep thoughts, or working on feeling better. I’m not doing anything to improve my state of being. I’m just standing in place, waiting for the next storm to come through and buffet me with fear and self-loathing.
I don’t like my house anymore, but there’s nothing wrong with it. I don’t like my conservative friends or family, but they aren’t bad people. I don’t like my job, but it’s the best one I’ve had. There comes a point where I start hating everything and everyone and I start making changes just for the sake of changing things. I move to a new place, change houses, change cars, change jobs, change clothes, discard some people and meet others. When the dust settles, I realize I’ve changed nothing, because the one constant in my life is me.
I feel so damaged and defective right now. I am unable to solve my problems, or even some of them, and therapy isn’t helping. I can’t solve other people’s problems either, even though I keep trying. There is no one here who can cast a spell to keep the dementors away.
Ugh. Excuse me while I wallow for a while.
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.
[This poem was written in the middle of the night when things were pretty dark and I was very unstable in February this year. I don’t feel the same way now, at least not in the stark and unflinching way as when I wrote this. I always think about death, no matter how light my mood is, but I rarely have concrete plans.]
If you are feeling hopeless and suicidal, please reach out to people or to a hotline. Depression lies to you. You are worth something to someone, and you will be missed forever.
TRIGGER WARNING – suicidal thoughts, death, hopelessness
memories I’ve deleted
wisps of smoke in the wind
disappearing vapor trails
something that was but is no more
people I’ve discarded
empty shells of flesh
devoid of substance and spirit
their essence is gone
places I’ve deserted
vistas left unseen
towns without a name
the spaces left behind
delusions I’ve denied
blind faith in gods
belief in myself
things that no longer matter
nothing to forget
no one to care for
nowhere to call home
nothing to believe in
I’ll delete myself
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:
Up. Down. Sideways.
Hopelessness. Defiance. Acceptance.
Spinning wheels, hit the brakes, stuck in first gear.
Restlessness. Depression. Mania. Fear. Anxiety. Psych meds with a whiskey chaser.
I don’t have a center right now. I can’t find balance. My brain is all over the place.
My doctor called me back tonight, and he is going to try a couple of things. My faith is wearing thin.
Work piling up, waiting for me to stop feeling overwhelmed and make my brain work properly. The forecast doesn’t look good for that at the moment.
I’m also calling a therapist tomorrow. Without help, I’m a train wreck waiting to happen, and I can’t crash right now. Actually I can’t ever, but that’s another discussion for later.
The problem with being a child genius is that everyone wants something from you.
The kid in 2nd grade wanted to cheat off my paper. The kid in 3rd grade wanted someone to be the butt of his joke. The girl in 5th grade wanted someone to manipulate. The teenager at church wanted to mock me as I performed for him. The school principal and the teacher wanted a spelling champion. Another teacher wanted an aide to help her teach the kids who didn’t understand. The kid in 6th grade wanted a partner in crime so he wouldn’t get in trouble all the time. The people at church wanted another fine young man to mold into someone who was less of a disappointment than their own kids.
The problem with being a child genius is that you want to prove how smart you are.
I let people cheat off my papers. I allowed people to bully, tease, and manipulate me. I performed for those who wanted entertainment from me. I spelled everything that was thrown at me. I gave answers and spread wisdom and behaved the way I was expected to. I believed the hype. I was full of myself.
The problem with being a child genius is that you believe you have everything figured out while you fail to realize you are socially and emotionally inept.
I couldn’t relate to my peers socially. I didn’t understand how to have meaningful friendships. My own depression was off the charts, even before the bipolar symptoms emerged. I kept my home life secret from everyone out of shame. I tried to use intelligence to buy acceptance and friendship. I would latch on to people hoping for understanding but receiving dismissal.
The problem with being a child genius is that eventually nobody gives a shit.
I started writing a different post, and it triggered a memory. It’s really important that I write this first.
I just heard a voice from the distant past saying, “don’t get too big for your pants.” That was always a code phrase for whenever this person was telling me I was too arrogant or full of myself; in other words, she was trying to tear me down anytime I felt a little bit of confidence.
Another one of her greatest hits was, “you’re breeding a scab on your nose,” which to me meant that I was setting myself up for embarrassment and failure. When I heard that code phrase, I would stop what I was doing because I was afraid to be seen as a failure. If she saw me as a failure, everyone else would too. This also made me want to succeed at things to spite her, and I’ve been told that spite is an ugly emotion.
I repeat those phrases in my head, and all I feel is negative emotions from the memory: anger at her for pulling a child into her bitter negativity; sadness for myself, who never learned to shake off the power her words had over me; and frustration at how badly this damaged my psyche to the point I would rarely have confidence in anything I do.
I can’t stress enough the effect this has had on me as a child, as a teen, and as an adult. My entire life has been filled with instances where I could have tried something new, but I didn’t have the fearlessness to try whatever it was because I thought it was predetermined that I would fail. I can’t count the times I might have been really good at something, but I was afraid to give it a shot for fear of embarrassment or ridicule.
I was a really smart kid, but I had no answer for the verbal abuse that was inflicted on me every day. I was book smart, but I had no emotional intelligence. I say that as if I’m blaming myself, but how could I lean and grow emotionally when I was stifled by the pressure-cooker environment I lived in? I knew my life was messed up, but not once did it occur to me that I wasn’t at fault somehow. A lifetime of emotional depression was caused by one mentally ill person constantly abusing a child, passing that mental illness down as if it were genetic, and morphing it to fit my specific weaknesses.
Failure, shame, embarrassment, sadness, anger. It has taken me many, many years to attempt to put these thoughts behind me and move on with life. I haven’t succeeded yet.