51 and 5150

At age 1, my infant brain had no idea what changes were taking place and what wreckage my defective chemistry would produce in the 50 years to come. All I wanted was a clean butt and a full belly.

At age 11, I was a child genius who loved playing. Baseball, basketball, four-square, card games, dice games, board games, word games, and trivia games kept me sane at a time when people around me tried to force my psyche into submission. I would play by myself often, being an only child, but I always wanted to play with others too. I was not yet anti-social, although I knew I didn’t fit in very well with people my own age.

At age 21, I was an unmedicated mess. I knew I was a little volatile, but I figured that was just my personality. I was emotionally damaged, but trying to recover in small steps. I was no longer a kid, but not a real adult yet until my mom died. I was left with a big mess (literally and figuratively), and my wife-to-be helped me deal with everything. I got married way too early, but we promised to make it work. I was in the middle of my retail career and my college career.

At age 31, I was still an unmedicated mess. I knew my life was spiraling, yet I was too proud to admit I needed help. I tried to figure things out on my own, and I struggled to survive my demons. I had the feeling of leading a double life, with fake-me pretending to enjoy spending time with the family, and real-me wanting to be swallowed by the ocean. I was writing every day, at first to an old friend, then just to myself. I created an alternate reality where I could run away with her, and I was angry because my delusions weren’t real. I was preparing to enter my darkest decade.

At age 41, I was a medicated mess, still fragile emotionally but trying to reclaim a little bit of solid ground. I finished one of the most difficult chapters of my life when I left my job as a long-haul trucker, and started in my current position with the gas company. I rejoined my family just in time to try to help Nicole as her mental illness started to become evident. At the same time I was trying with minimal success to take care of my own problems.

At age 51, I started coming to terms with my age while continuing to struggle with my mental health. I had a significant manic episode where thankfully nothing was broken, whether physical items or my bank account. I had my 30th wedding anniversary, which is something of a victory after all the shit I put my wife through over the years. The coronavirus cast a spell over the year, but thankfully I didn’t get sick. Hopefully the story of year 51 can end without anything bad happening.

5150 is the code word in California for a 72-hour psychiatric hospitalization. It was also a pretty good album by Van Halen. Finally, 5150 is a road sign that I happened to pass one day in the middle of Illinois:

doors and rubber rooms

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.

giving up

It’s tough to see someone simply give up on themselves and lose all faith in their ability to thrive. When it’s a friend or family member, you do what you can to help, with the understanding that they will attempt to help themselves as well. In this case, my daughter won’t do anything to help herself and is willing to let my wife and I do everything for her. Part of me wants to let her sink or swim, but I can’t do that. I’m not willing to let her be without health care or let her be homeless or destitute, or even committed to a long-term mental hospital. She wants others to take care of everything for her, including her health, and she can’t or won’t understand that she needs to be a partner in this. Until she agrees to take some responsibility for her own health, I don’t know what else to do. I wish I had a better answer.

[note: severely edited]

worries

I’m not doing well. My anxiety was not as bad this week, but I still feel unstable. I’m not doing my work adequately. I’m not taking care of the little tasks that need to be done at home. My brain is foggy sometimes, and I just mentally check out for a while. I’m having trouble focusing on anything more than my immediate needs, but there are so many things besides myself that I need to worry about.

My daughter is really struggling with her mental health. Her psychiatrist moved away, and I’ve been trying to get her to make an appointment with another one. She has severe phone anxiety, and she sits in her room and cries about it rather than making a call. She will run out of medicine soon and that will be very bad for her. In addition she has something physically wrong where she feels constant nausea and vomits nearly every day. She knows she needs to take action, but she is so emotionally fragile that she gets upset and turns into a “fussy baby” (her words). For me, it’s like having a special needs child who needs help doing everything, and I’m not dealing with it very well at the moment.

One positive thing: I got my first vaccine shot a few days ago, with no side effects other than a little muscle soreness at the injection point. I’m hearing that the second shot makes you feel ill for a day or two, but I’m not worried about that. I’m just glad we are taking steps to eventually get back to a normal life. At the same time, I feel bad for all the people who have died and all the families affected.

this so-called recovery

People who don’t have mental illness seem to think that you can recover from all mental illness. I suppose it’s in how you define “recovery”. If you see recovery as having no more symptoms and leading a “normal” life, I’m afraid that’s a myth for me.

I believe recovery, by this definition, is possible for some people with anxiety or depression or other disorders where therapy is the primary treatment, possibly enhanced with medication. But I think people like me who have bipolar or schizophrenia or other serious lifelong conditions have to accept that being symptom-free is nearly impossible.

I have accepted for some time that I will always be chasing stability, that I will always need a cocktail of medication to control the bipolar, and that I will fight it to a draw on most days. Some days it will win, and I won’t be able to function at all; most days the meds help me deal with it and allow me to pretend to be a functional adult.

That doesn’t sound like recovery to me. It seems more like a fight to the death, and at the moment, I’m hoping to die from something else and not the bipolar.

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.