news of the world

A quick update post, then I’ll write something more substantial later.

My anxiety has had a few moderate spikes, but overall has been decreasing slowly since I discontinued the Wellbutrin and resumed taking Abilify. The twitchiness comes and goes with the anxiety, but the OCD ritualistic behaviors remain.

My therapist has talked about using CBT for my OCD. To prepare for that, he asked me to observe and document the behaviors I’m doing (no problem) without being judgmental (very difficult). I am also supposed to learn a little about specific CBT techniques for OCD. I see him again tomorrow.

At work, every time I complete a project, I get two new ones, adding to my anxiety. I actually let fly a bitchy rant during a video staff meeting this week. The department manager was on the call, and I was inspired. This is very uncharacteristic of me, and I guess a few people were surprised. I’m so bad at speaking to others though, so I just read parts of a bitchy email I had written a few weeks ago. Point was made, however.

I’m taking Friday off and spending this weekend hiking and communing with nature at Black Moshannon in Pennsylvania. I was supposed to do this when my anxiety was higher, but that was when my daughter was in the hospital. I still want to do this for myself, though. Weather is iffy but not too cold, so I’m going for it. I’ll post a few pics.

We’re waiting for my son to get his 2nd vaccine shot, then we will have a family barbecue somewhere. It’s been a long time. We have made the effort to keep my in-laws from getting too lonely, but it’s been difficult for them.

Finally, Genesis will be at the Q in Cleveland on November 30th, and we’ll be there. Phil can’t play drums and can just barely walk, and in fact he will be sitting for much of the show, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see them one last time. I know they’ll play mostly the pop-rock songs rather than the old prog-rock stuff, but I’m okay with that, as long as they don’t play Whodunnit. Having said that, I wish I had seen them in 2007 instead.

I guess this wasn’t so quick after all.

behind

I’m playing catch-up this week. I’m way behind on work projects, on reading blogs, on writing, on projects at home, on planning for the future, blah blah blah, yada yada. I made some progress on work stuff this week, so I feel a little better about that.

I also got my second vaccine shot, so I am fully juiced and ready to go. I’m ready to lick door handles and have someone cough on my airline food as I travel to a crowded city. Okay, maybe not, but I do feel more at ease knowing I have a little protection. I can see the possibility of everyone requiring a booster sometime in the next 12 months (I guess Pfizer has already indicated this). I was sore at the injection site until yesterday, and I was tired and achy for about 48 hours after the shot, which was about what I expected. Nothing serious, and I didn’t miss work.

I also saw my psychiatrist this week. I printed out part of this post and let him read it, and he said it was textbook OCD. (I also told him his “How are you doing” forms are crooked on the paper, and it mildly bothers me.) He said we can work on the anxiety first, and then see if the OCD symptoms need more attention. I agree with that, since the OCD gets worse with higher anxiety. In addition, he said I was much more stable when I was taking Abilify, so maybe we should go back to that. I had the same thought previously, so I told him that was fine. I’ll just have to eat better and get more exercise somehow. I’m also going to quit the Wellbutrin, since it can cause instability and maybe anxiety.

Last week I met with the therapist for the first time (same office as my p-doc). We got to know each other a little, and he was interested by some of my problems (social anxiety, lack of self-esteem, avoidant tendencies, inability to deal with stress, etc.) He said something that bothered me though: when I was explaining about being overwhelmed at work, he didn’t seem to accept the reality that I absolutely cannot take a week or more off work for my mental health right now – maybe an occasional day or two, but not an extended period. I also don’t feel like I can ask to have some work shifted to other people, because everyone I work with is swamped and unhappy and drowning in projects. The day after he suggested I ask for less work, I received two more projects. Yay. We’ll see what he has to say on Monday.

The weather is cool but nice, so I am going outside to enjoy some nature and not think about life for a while. But first, I need Second Breakfast (the best meal of the day).

running to stand still

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.

panic! at the home office

So Friday afternoon I may have had a little panic attack. Apparently I posted something here and then trashed it immediately. Then I started drinking.

I was trying to email a request form to someone for a project, but I didn’t know just what to say. But I got stuck thinking about it, and it never got sent. Then the 10 am department meeting happened, and the department manager started demanding more output than we have been producing lately. Just what I needed to hear. After the meeting, I froze up again.

I took a long lunch, thinking I would take a break and calm down, then get back to work. The getting back to work never happened, and instead of producing more, suddenly I’m producing less. Thinking about this made me start freaking out, and I gave up around 2 pm. I literally got into bed and covered up hoping I could calm down, but it just got worse. I briefly thought about calling my psychiatrist, but I don’t think I could have made it through the phone call, and I didn’t want to get sent to the hospital involuntarily.

So when my shift ended at 3:30, I poured a glass full of scotch whiskey and started drinking with the intent of knocking myself out as quickly as possible. After an hour I was successful, and I slept until about 8 pm.


I fear the manic episode from January has permanently damaged something in my already defective brain. I can’t organize tasks, I can’t follow through, I can’t regulate my mood, I can’t control the anxiety. I can’t stop thinking that I will no longer be able to do my job, and that I will have to find something less stressful for much less pay and worse benefits.

Before the manic episode I was relatively unhappy at work but I was able to cope with the stress and managed to produce work in a timely manner. Now I am completely unable to deal with my mental state. I have no coping skills; I have nothing in the toolbox that I can use to improve my situation. My fight-or-flight instinct has been engaged, but I have nothing to fight with. The urge to flee is overwhelming.

The only thing that helps me relax is when I am doing something new, like yesterday when I drove new roads for a few hours and walked at a park for over an hour. But there are only so many roads within a reasonable distance, and I can’t do that every day. Eventually I have to come back home to my life, and start thinking about everything again.

I will call my doctor on Monday when I am relatively calm and explain the situation, and see if he can recommend something.

money or sanity

Fuck it, I’m going to post it anyway.

There have been many changes in the past two years at work. First there was an incident where a big pipeline exploded (thankfully no one was injured or killed). There were changes in business and construction practices resulting from the explosion. There were changes in management, and employee losses through an early retirement offer to dozens of people. Then the pandemic forced almost everyone in my building to work at home.

Through it all, we just keep working, drawing construction plans, lining up contractors, and getting jobs constructed. We are well paid, we have good benefits, and we are fortunate to have continued working when many others were laid off or had their jobs simply disappear.

But I’m fucking miserable. I hate it. I want to leave.

We get more and more responsibility and workload without the hope of additional people to help. We get new requirements that make projects harder to complete, but we are expected to meet target dates. I can just barely do my shift because I am so stressed out and angry. I don’t enjoy what I am doing. I don’t like getting up in the morning and turning on the computer. I think about work when I’m trying to relax. I dream about unfinished jobs and missed deadlines. My anxiety is off the chart right now.

I looked online at different jobs on the internet this week, but that was rather discouraging. Any opportunities that exist right now would cost me as much as one-third of my current take-home pay, and would have a smaller benefit package. There’s nothing out there that is close to being as good as what I have right now, and there is no situation where I would be able to manage my mental health issues the way I am at the moment.

I talked to a friend from work Friday, and it turned out he is having the exact same conversation with himself. He feels the same way, but had a little insight for me on how to help my attitude and not get myself in a frenzy over it. He reminded me what I would be giving up by leaving this job behind without a better opportunity. He talked me down from the ledge a little, and I felt a little better about things.

Then yesterday and today happened, and I’m freaking out again.

I have zero confidence in my ability to do my job and stay sane at the same time. My supervisor is understanding, and he tells me it’s okay to talk to him when I’m feeling stressed. But of course he doesn’t know the whole story about my mental health, and I didn’t tell him I’m ready to leave no matter what it costs me.

Then there is my wife, who understands my feelings and does know the whole story. But she also told me to consider what we would be giving up, and would any other opportunities be any less stressful?

Then again, what happens if I have a meltdown and can’t work at all? Who’s paying for psychiatrist appointments and medication for myself and my daughter if I’m having a breakdown? So many questions, no answers, and another fun day of work on tap for tomorrow.

The whole house of crazy cards is teetering and ready to fall.

ten things

I wrote a long post about work, and decided it was too much right now. The TL;DR is that I’m unhappy at the best job I’ve ever had, but there’s nothing better out there right now, so I need to change my attitude and deal with it.

I had other things to write about, including my recent bipolar problems (I’m a little more stable right now), my recent anxiety-driven excursions (which helped me cope), and saving one of a kitty’s nine lives (I was able to hit the brakes in time).

But I can’t really focus right now on anything coherent. Instead I will give you 10 random facts about me. These were written a long time ago and hermetically sealed in a mayonnaise jar until today. So in random order:

3. I played trumpet, trombone, baritone, euphonium, and tuba during high school and college. I was once in the state honor band. Unfortunately I don’t play anymore.

7. My first post-college job was to perform wetland delineations. I used to know the fauna of the northwest very well. One day I was chased out of a wetland by a pissed-off nutria.

4. I can look at maps and air photos for hours. Google Earth is the best thing ever.

1. I’m addicted to crackers, bread, and anything salty.

8. The last time I smoked a cigarette, it gave me a massive boner. I liked it so much I smoked another.

2. I have actually hugged trees. I love hiking and being alone in the forest. When I was a kid, the forest behind my house was my refuge from life.

6. When I was growing up I wanted to be an engineer. Once I became an engineer, I wished I could be something else: naturalist, writer, musician, baseball player, geologist, or a world traveler.

10. Many years ago I was charged with a felony for violating California environmental laws stemming from a contractor mishandling PCB-contaminated soil. The charge was dropped.

5. I love rain and dreary weather because it makes everyone else feel miserable.

9. I wish I was a cat instead of a human.

11. I’m 1/4 Canadian, 1/16 Mexican, 1/16 Native American, and 100% looney.

tics

I’m not talking about blood-sucking arthropods, but the little movements and rituals that are the major symptom of OCD or maybe Tourette’s. I’ve had little tics and quirks since I can remember, but usually they were only present during stressful times. The rest of the time, they didn’t have control over me and I could ignore them.

During the most recent manic episode brought on by taking Latuda, I started having uncontrollable “tic seizures” where I would be lost for seconds to minutes at a time, then only by force of will could I stop them for a few moments. I could maintain calm stillness if I really concentrated (which is the opposite of being calm), but eventually I would surrender to the urge.

I tap or flick things repeatedly with my fingers. I blink my eyes forcefully, way more than necessary. I blow air on my fingers. I tap my mouse on the desk over and over. I click my teeth. I scratch my chin or my head. I wiggle my feet or my toes. All of this is fueled by the need to “get it right” – the right sound, the right amount of force, the right number of times, or the right rhythm. If I don’t get it right, I feel like I have to keep doing it until I succeed, and I never do. These rituals are not involuntary, I’m doing them purposefully and I’m fully aware I’m doing them.

I quit taking Latuda two weeks ago, and my psychiatrist tells me it should take no more than a week for the drug to wash out of my system, but the tics remain worse than ever before. I find them in control much of the day, every day, and only when my brain is fully occupied can I really prevent them from happening. I have had difficulty with concentration and focus over the past year or so, and when my mind is spinning or drifting, the tics are more difficult to control. They get worse with stress, and my anxiety is feeding them. They get worse with caffeine, which is bad because I need my coffee in the morning.

Between the manic episode and the increasing control of the tics, It has been mentally exhausting for the past three weeks or so. My work is suffering, and because I am working remotely it is too easy to take time away from the computer to try to relax. It has been difficult to work a full day every day, I am taking too long on projects, and I am struggling to meet deadlines. After work I just want to drink myself to sleep, but I have (mostly) avoided that so far.

My p-doc wants to put me on Klonopin or Ativan to calm down a little and hopefully reduce the tics, but my employer’s safety requirements and drug policy might be a problem. We are randomly tested to federal standards for opioids, marijuana, PCP, cocaine, and heroin. In addition, I’m not supposed to take any drug which might affect my “ability to perform” safety-related tasks. Klonopin is on that list, so if I do take it, I have to demonstrate to the safety police that it doesn’t affect me during work hours. Hopefully I can work with the company on this problem. I won’t ask my p-doc to be untruthful, but I wonder what will happen when they find out I have bipolar and anxiety disorders.

I don’t know if the manic episode or the Latuda triggered something in my defective brain, but something has changed, and I hope the effects are not permanent. I’m actually concerned for my future because of this. I am worried that my mental health problems will cost me the best job I’ve ever had, and send me into an uncertain future of trying to find a new job at my age. I’m not that old, and I can do good work when things are under control, but age discrimination still exists. I hope I’m just overthinking everything.

In the meantime, I’m exhausted, and I’m struggling.

cold wetlands, hot chili

Cold, rainy, slushy days remind me of my days in Oregon and Washington studying wetlands for delineations and permits. Developers always wanted their wetland study done in the late fall to winter so they could get their plans drawn for work in summer. Unfortunately this meant that I was trying to identify plants with no flowers or leaves, sometimes missing important species, or in the case of grasses trying to find stems that still had seeds. Of course it was usually raining, or even turning to snow, and I would end up getting sick from being wet and cold for hours.

There was one interesting location near Mount Hood about an hour from Portland. It was a tangled mosaic of wet and dry areas, with fens, meadows, and riparian wetlands interspersed with upland forest. It was a peaceful place, cool in summer under the shade of the tall hemlocks and Douglas firs, and it was botanically fascinating. On one wet slope I painfully discovered Devil’s Club, a nasty wetland shrub with thorns on the trunk, the leaf stems, and even on the leaves. Digging in the fens, I found identifiable plant material possibly hundreds of years old, preserved in the muck due to the cold groundwater and lack of oxygen. I hoped this place would never get developed, and 25 years later it is still intact.

There had been some logging prior to my visiting the site, and several trees were still lying on the ground. I was working with a student intern who was identifying plants for me. We were hiking through the woods when we heard a chain saw. We looked through the trees and saw a guy who was probably stealing firewood from the property. As we got closer, we realized he was naked except for a work boots and a cowboy hat. We looked at each other in disbelief, and hid in the bushes wondering what we should do. We must have moved the brush a little, because he suddenly looked in our general direction, put down the saw, and quickly moved behind his pickup to put clothes on. Tiffany and I decided to just go the other way and let him enjoy his lumberjack fantasy.

One miserable November day at this site, after being out in the bone-chilling drizzle for hours, my boss took me to eat at a nearby cafe he knew about from a previous visit. They had huge bowls of chili and bread, and a big fireplace to warm up by. It was the best chili ever.

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.

don’t trust the man

A little word association:

permit – permission – authority – power
ask – beg – plead – pray
humility – distrust – fear

I have to apply for permits as part of my job, and I hate it. I don’t like asking for anything, because it subjects me to someone else’s authority. Who am I to be asking for favors from the powers that be? I have the power of a large company behind me, but some days I feel very small inside, and I feel like I am in a powerless position.

I have always had a distrust of authority figures, whether parents, teachers, or gods. I don’t want to like authority figures, and I certainly don’t want to be one. When my supervisor compliments me, I am always waiting for the sarcasm or the damning criticism that I am afraid will follow. This is learned behavior from childhood, reinforced by damaged people and taken to heart by a socially awkward kid whose personality was suffocated by an overbearing mother.

In religion, God is the ultimate authority figure, and he is one angry, mean son-of-a-bitch; do not trust him. My suspicion of authority figures is part of the reason I am an atheist.

[for the record: my supervisor is genuine when he compliments me on my work; he just doesn’t know how damaged I am.]