a difficult session

I had a rough meeting with my therapist yesterday. I appreciated that rather than the inane “how are you doing?”, she started by asking “how have the last few weeks been for you?” I started saying the first words that came to mind: “Turbulent. Draining. Stressful.” I could have added “painful”, but I moved on instead.

I talked disjointedly about recent events, and how I didn’t want to talk about things because I’m tired of thinking about them; somehow this led to the idea that maybe I’m overstating all of my issues. Maybe life wasn’t as bad as I have imagined it to be, or maybe I’ve exaggerated and magnified everything to the point where I’ve created my own distorted thought patterns. I told her about my desire to interview and interrogate people from my past who might know the answers I seek: what did I do to hurt you, was I really a terrible person, was my home life as damaging as I think. I want the unvarnished truth from everyone to confirm the worst things I think about myself and everything I remember about my past.

She said there are several problems with that line of reasoning. First, everyone’s “truth” is different based on their perception, their biases, and their memory of what really happened. In addition, even if they had the information I seek, these people may not want to be 100% honest with me (who among us is completely honest, after all?). Finally, if they told me I wasn’t a bad person, or that they liked me and I was a positive presence in their life, I am so deeply programmed in my thought patterns that I wouldn’t believe what they say. I would throw away their evidence because it didn’t fit my narrative. The only conclusion I can make is that things must have been bad enough at an early age that my sense of self was badly damaged, which caused me to remember my entire experience through the filter of distorted thinking. I think the way I do because I was in a bad situation, and my memories of my life may not be entirely accurate.

We went on to discuss the difficulties with my daughter’s current situation and the negative effects on the entire family. I told her about how I went unfiltered for a few minutes and said things which I believe to be true, but were very hurtful for my daughter, which my wife sat by and didn’t say a word during or afterward. That pretty much sums up the family dynamic in our house for the past several years: Nicole is the victim, I’m the control-freak bad guy, and Annie won’t tell me what she thinks. Instead we paper over things with conversations about unimportant things, and distract ourselves with fish or Fakebook or videos of cats. We can discuss the most inane things, but meaningful things get ignored. Annie won’t tell me what she’s really thinking, whether she agrees with me or if she thinks I’m full of crap. Right now we can’t even sell an item on Fakebook because I think she disagrees with me and just can’t say so.

Sometimes I wonder if I have misled my therapist into thinking the current situation is worse than it really is. Her opinions about my family’s actions and words are filtered through what I choose to tell her, and this leads me to question some of her statements. She wants a more complete picture though, and she has asked a couple of times if I might bring Annie in for a session or two to talk about the situation. I scoffed a little, because I don’t think that would be successful at all.

Stay tuned, for I fear worse times are ahead.

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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.

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.