friends with depression

I have a friend at work who has been going through depression for the past few years due to stress over his daughter’s worsening mental illness. He is a very funny person, but when the laughter stops, he turns quiet and moody very quickly. He has been coming to terms with the fact that he has a mental health condition, but he is not someone who is likely to write about it. He is a more take-action type of person, and it bothers him greatly that he can’t simply fix the problem of depression in the same way one would fix a broken bone or by taking cold medicine. I don’t know for sure, but I think he would be very reluctant and uncomfortable talking to a therapist about the stressors that are causing his depression; he would rather sit and stew about his problems and drink whiskey to forget about things for a while. I don’t want to stereotype, but I think this is a typical “guy” response to depression when he doesn’t understand why this is happening and he doesn’t understand how he can more effectively cope with stressors causing the depression.

We have talked about mental health because of his daughter’s illness, my daughter’s illness, and my own experience. He is the only person at work who knows I have bipolar, but I think to him it is simply an abstraction I live with and he doesn’t understand the full experience. I’m okay with that; it never seemed appropriate to give him the full story of how bipolar has fucked with my life over the years. I don’t know what he suspects about me, but he understands my personality is different than his, and that I tend to be more closed-up about my thoughts. He may be curious to know I have been to therapy multiple times (I wouldn’t tell him that it didn’t work for me very well), but I don’t think I could convince him to see a therapist. I think it would really surprise him to find out how open I have been on this blog about my mental health issues, but I don’t think it would surprise him that it has all been written under a pseudonym.

this site requires cookies

Back in December, I had posted here that I wasn’t feeling great emotionally, and I wished I could just be alone with a plate of cookies for Christmas.

Last week, I had an appointment with my psychiatrist, and I was describing this feeling to him, telling him that I had been feeling very flat and a little depressed. I told him this was normal for me, but I knew I would get over it after a while.

Apparently it raises a red flag when you tell your psychiatrist you want to be alone with a plate of cookies, because he offered to increase my Wellbutrin until I was feeling better. I declined, telling him I wanted to wait it out and see if things improved within a few weeks.

He did make a joke about it – he asked, “were the cookies in the shape of Christmas trees?”

—-

Regardless of what my p-doc thinks, I think this guy approves of my plan:

just say “fuck this shit”

I seem to have shaken the deep depression for a little while; I’m back to just being a little depressed all the time instead of wanting-to-escape-it-all depressed. Work is no less hectic and stressful, but I seem to be dealing with it a little better right now. A healthy “fuck this shit” attitude seems to have helped, along with adding Wellbutrin to my medicine cocktail. The p-doc, who I still like, seems to think that a little bit of the anti-depressant will not send me spinning off kilter, it will help with the depression, and it will give me a little more energy. So far, I think he was right.

I know most people don’t get to do what they enjoy for work, and work is something they have to do to pay bills, myself included. I somewhat enjoy engineering, I’m somewhat good at it, I just hate all the shit that accompanies the actual engineering part: budgets, schedules, meetings, permits, deadlines, and so on. I enjoy solving problems, doing the math, brainstorming solutions, and drawing things in Autocad. If I could have someone else do all the other crap, I would have a lot more fun.

The other frustrating part is that the workload keeps growing, management keeps hiring more project managers to deal with more projects, but the number of technicians who actually produce the work has actually shrunk. We are expected to accomplish more work with less people, and management will not get us any more help, and instead asks us to work more overtime. Other departments seem to get more help when they need it, but not ours. If this were a temporary thing, we could deal with it. But there is seemingly no end in sight; morale in our department is getting lower, and the constant pressure is wearing people down. People are starting to have a “fuck this shit” attitude toward overtime, because people have lives outside of work too.

Most people’s lives are much more interesting than mine, but that’s a topic for another post.

guilty as charged

When I was a kid I learned how to internalize guilt because, despite being powerless over the situation, I was made to feel guilty whenever something bad happened. I became conditioned to accept blame for things that were not my fault and that I had no control over. I still carry those tendencies with me, and I have no idea how to let go of that notion that I am not to blame for everything. As a result, I have accumulated a tremendous amount of guilt over time, some of it warranted and some not. It weights on me like extra gravity that no one else can feel, dragging me downward and draining my energy day after day.

One of the biggest sources of guilt right now is that every time I look at Nicole and see all the weight she gained, I blame myself for allowing her to stay on the wrong medication when I should have known it would make her gain weight just like it did to me. Now her beauty is hidden, and despite her positive attitude, I know it affects her life, just like my fat affects my life. I hate myself for not putting a stop to the medicine before this happened.

I feel guilty about the state of our marriage. I know some people our age find it difficult to keep the passion alive, but I feel like I checked out emotionally years ago and I don’t know how to come back. We are good business partners, we seem to be friends, but we’re just not lovers anymore. I entirely blame myself for that, due to a medication-induced lack of libido and a general lack of interest in intimacy. I wish things were better for her, but I don’t know how I could ever fit into that better picture. She is stuck with me, and that makes me sad for her.

Another major source of guilt is the sudden news that Dan has been feeling suicidal over the past few years, and I think the root cause goes way back to the decision to move here from California. Despite it being good for the family, he never did handle it well, but I never knew the extent of his depression. If he would have said something … but what example have I shown? I tried to hide my bipolar symptoms from the kids as much as possible. Dan’s personality never was very demonstrative, and he learned to hide everything he was feeling.

I feel guilty for so many things. There seems to be no way to let go, no way to fix things, no way to be redeemed. The root of my sadness and depression is the guilt that festers inside me.

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.

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

together

(This is a cheery poem from 2015. It might be a little too depressing for my public poetry blog.)

Snowflakes falling,
each one a thing of beauty,
but together they smother the earth.

Clumps of soil,
each one giving nutrition and life,
but together they bury the dead.

Droplets of water,
each one flowing and trickling,
but together they drown the weary.

Sheets of paper,
each one a part of my work,
but together they break my back.

Seconds in the day,
each one a brief moment,
but together they measure the length of sorrow.

Thoughts of ending it all,
each one a fleeting fantasy,
but together they extinguish the will to live.

… and the snowflakes keep falling.

runaway

It used to be easy to fake your death, run away, and never look back. It’s more difficult now in the information age. The surveillance state we live in ensures that you will be photographed somewhere, whether the airport, train station, or in public places. It’s illegal to do so many things which don’t hurt anyone – faking your death, getting fake identification, sneaking into a tropical country with lots of money – and you can’t live cheaply anywhere anymore. It takes a lot more knowledge and resources to run away now.

There have been many times when I just wanted to run away from my life and pretend I didn’t exist. Most people want to run away and hide in some sun-drenched paradise like Fiji or Mallorca or the Virgin Islands. I probably would have ended up somewhere totally gray and depressing, like southeast Alaska or Labrador, where the only people are those who want to get away and those who are hiding from something.

I wanted to fake my death and run away, but I knew my family would be devastated. I also knew I didn’t have the resources or the advance planning needed to disappear without a trace. Instead I hung my head, forced myself to get up the next day, and continued living life.

Thankfully I’m no longer in that dire circumstance where I spent my time always thinking about death or hiding or leaving my family. My bipolar was really out of control at that time, and it was not easy or fun to be in that mental space.