retail days

I was reminded of something funny from long ago. I used to work in retail at Longs Drugs, a regional drugstore chain formerly found all over the American west but now only existing in Hawaii since being bought out by CVS. They were usually medium sized stores that had a pharmacy, cosmetics, gifts, small appliances, hard liquor, a large variety of household items, and non-perishable food and drinks. I worked in five different locations during high school and college. At the time, my income wasn’t great but it was almost enough to make it through college. I had full-time hours and benefits – where can you get that anymore in retail?

I had untreated bipolar at the time, so I was rapidly alternating between depressed, a depressed/angry mixed mood, and manic. You never knew which version of me was going to show up for work on a given day. There were good and bad memories, and occasional conflicts with coworkers, but we had a little fun whenever possible. Sometimes when customers were waiting for additional cashiers, we younger employees were in the back playing music, building forts using cases of toilet paper, throwing Frisbees or footballs, or riding the pallet jack like a skateboard through the receiving area.

Anyway, a Twitter thread about Longs reminded me of one slow evening when Christine, the new assistant manager was micro-managing. She was a little uptight and controlling, so several of us decided to tease her a little bit. One of the guys laid down under a case of paper towels, and we placed additional boxes around him to look like a tall stack of merchandise had fallen on him. Another guy went running out to the floor to get Christine, telling her “a bunch of stuff fell on Adam and he’s hurt!” She came running to the back, where we were pretending to dig Adam out of the boxes. When she got there, the boxes were moving because Adam was laughing uncontrollably. The only thing hurt was Christine’s pride; she was really pissed off and told the store manager the next day, but eventually she saw the humor and relaxed a little.

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thanks for the memories

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.

put another record on

We went to the Genesis concert in Cleveland on Tuesday night. It was a good show, and I’m glad I was there. At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go, but I knew I had to. They’ve been my favorite band forever, and this is definitely the last tour. 

It’s like visiting old relatives for the holidays; they tell the same stories, sometimes leaving out parts you remember from before, but you listen anyway because you grew up with those memories, and you may not get to see them again. 

Phil Collins’ performance was mostly good, but there were a few moments that were a little painful to watch. He sat in a chair for the show, and he kept adjusting his position as if he was in significant pain. He forgot the words a couple of times, and his voice was a little weak at the beginning of the show. But he got stronger as the show progressed, and he was having fun with the crowd just like in the old days.

The other members are doing well enough at their age to have a good show night after night. Tony Banks just barely cracked a little smile during a long ovation. Mike Rutherford and Daryl Steurmer were solid as usual. Finally, Phil’s son Nic was a beast on the drums. 

The crowd took a little while to warm up, but got more into the show as it went on. Everyone cheered, some people got drunk or high, and a few people had a few tears (not me, because I’m dead inside). 

It was definitely bittersweet, but I’m glad I got to see them one more time.

too

I’ve never been comfortable being myself. I’ve always struggled with defining my self-worth by the way I perceive that others see me. I look at myself as though I am a judgemental outside observer, constantly criticizing my faults and shortcomings. I suppose this comes from a severe lack of self-esteem, something I learned at home and had reinforced at school when I was a kid.

My hair was too messy. My braces were too geeky. My face was too dorky. I was too slow. I was too nerdy. I was too “husky”. I was too quiet, too depressed, too clingy, too intense, too creepy, too naïve, too introverted. I was too smart. I was too boring.

I wasn’t outgoing. I wasn’t down-to-earth. I wasn’t cool to be around. I wasn’t athletic enough. I wasn’t happy enough. I wasn’t interesting. I wasn’t dateable.

Ugh. Enough memories.

I still feel my flaws as much as ever, but now I suppose there is more of a reluctant acceptance of my flaws. Some of those perceived flaws are imaginary, a function of my own insecurities projected onto what I believe others see in me. Some of those shortcomings are realistic, and I just have to accept them and work around them. I don’t have much faith that therapy can fix this mindset.

I don’t like who I am on some days, but sometimes I’m okay with myself. For a perennial depressive, that’s good enough. On very few days, I get to feel more positive, and that is always welcome.

what do you want from me?

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.

high inquisitor

I have questioned my memory of the person I was in the past. I think I was a decent person, but at the same time broken, awkward, and angry due to the years of abuse. I tend to remember the worst of who I was and how I treated people, and I remember the stupid things I did because of early-onset bipolar. These feelings happen during my depressive moods, and I have a difficult time escaping the darkness that envelops my thought processes.

I have this irrational desire to question my old friends to find out what I was like from their perspective and see how terrible a person I really was. I found something I wrote here during a depressive spiral in 2011:

I keep going back to my memory to try to find the answers on my own, but I need [old friends’] testimony as evidence to build the case against myself. I want to know if they remember everything the way I do, if their story checks out with the alleged facts in my mind. I have to know what they were thinking or feeling at the time, why they did what they did, why they cared about me in the first place, what I did to drive them away, … and why they decided they could no longer trust me. I need them to tell me how badly I hurt them, and if those scars remain, and if they think about those times with sadness or anger. I want them to confirm that I was really the monster I think I was.

I’ve had people from the past tell me they remember me as a basically good person and a good friend who seemed to have things figured out. Maybe I really fooled them, which makes me a disingenuous fraud, or they aren’t being truthful; either way, I don’t believe them. I think they are trying to protect my feelings, trying to be supportive and kind rather than honest. That’s not what I want from them; I want the unvarnished facts, don’t pull your punches, give it to me straight … I can handle the truth.

I want to know … but I don’t know if I have the right to ask these questions. I want to put people I’ve loved through this insane line of questioning even though it might hurt them now more than I ever did before. Sometimes I’m prepared to torture my friends and family to get the truth, and fuck the consequences. … I know I shouldn’t do this, to myself or my loved ones, but I’m still obsessed. I still want to know, even if I have to hurt them to get the answers.

 

I have had to accept that people from my past grew up and let go; they’ve moved on, lived their life, and made their choices … while leaving me in their past. They have forgotten the exact details of that afternoon in 1986, or that weekend in 1989, or that evening in 1993. They don’t remember what song was playing, or what cookies we shared, or where we sat in the grass. They have done what adults do, leaving the details to fade into the background, just remembering the highlights, maybe feeling a little nostalgia when looking at an old yearbook, but then closing the yearbook and coming back to the present.

Sometimes I don’t know how to do that. Sometimes I want to punish myself by examining everything in painful detail, repeatedly analyzing what went wrong and what I could have done to fix it, wishing I could go back and just make a small revision or two, and wanting to find out how the story could have ended.

escape

This town doesn’t need a name, it’s just a place on the road to somewhere else. It’s not a destination, it’s a part of the map that people avoid. This place is a starting point for some people, a purgatory for others, and a finish line for too many. Youthful dreams and old memories die here, and the cemeteries are filled with restless spirits who could never get away. Those who stay are forever scarred by the desolation of this town, a place where hope withers in the parched landscape. Those who do escape have a dark spot on their memory burned away by the searing summer sun.

And yet … something calls me back to the place it all began. Someday I will visit again, and part of me will die a little more.