It feels like death

It starts with a tightness in the chest.   Then it becomes just a little bit hard to catch your breath.  You feel like you’re just not getting enough air.  So you start to hyperventilate, trying to satisfy that catch in the back of your throat.  It quickly escalates, and now there’s a heavy weight pushing down on your breastbone, and breathing becomes a real problem.   All the relaxation techniques fail, and the and it feels like drowning.  You just can’t breathe.   Fight or flight instinct kicks in, but you only want to run.   Pulse is pounding, there’s roaring in your ears, and even your eyesight fades out.

It’s a panic attack, and you are sure you’re going to die.

I thought I knew what it was like to have a panic attack before.  When faced with a stressful situation, or confrontation I just wanted to get away and think about something…anything else.  It was definitely uncomfortable.   But it never really lasted that long.  Easy is a relative term, but it was possible to relieve the feeling by removing the source of the agitation and fear without a lot of effort.  Visualization and meditation was very effective.  Just shut your eyes, lean back and take deep breaths; in through the nose, out through the mouth.  Find a safe phrase and repeat it over and over.  “I’m on a beach… I’m on a beach… I’m on a beach”…  Of course, as soon as you return to whatever you were doing, the apprehension was back, and you had to start all over.  Eventually getting up and walking away was all that would take care of the stress.    That was my panic attack.

Boy was I wrong.

A true panic attack is like nothing I could ever imagine.  I always thought that the “I’m going to die” thing was just a cliché.  The first time I was hit with a real one I was convinced I was having a heart attack.   I had all the symptoms; chest pain, sweating, pain in the left arm, couldn’t breathe.   Even my Dr. believed it was a heart attack to the point of admitting me to the Cardiac Care ward in the hospital.  I just knew it was going to be fatal.  Obviously though I didn’t die.   They gave me a strong pain killer that put me to sleep, and when I woke up all the symptoms were gone.   I was removed from the source of stress, and my body had been forced into relaxation with medication.  Now I just felt silly for having a false alarm.

But the threshold has been crossed, and the attacks are now happening daily.

The source of the stress hasn’t changed.  My job is clearly the root cause, and after the “Heart Episode” I went on Medical Leave.  And now I feel great.  That is, I feel great until I have to do anything at all related to work.  I should be contacting my boss on a regular basis with updates and the status with the insurance company with regards to the short term disability claim.  I have my laptop with me that has access to my business email, and of course I have her phone number.  And every time I pick up the laptop or phone, the panic kicks in.   I just cannot do it.  I tell myself that I’m being silly; my boss couldn’t be more understanding and I have nothing to fear.  Thinking and feeling are two different things however, and the feeling is much stronger.   I become absolutely paralyzed.  If I start to write an email or talk to her on the phone, I’m going to die.  And I want to die.  Anything to take care of the overwhelming emotion that I’m finding so intense.  Just make it stop!

It becomes a vicious cycle.
The longer I put off contacting my boss, the more I panic.  And the greater the panic, the harder it is to make contact.  Even though I’m not directly faced with the daily stressors that triggered these episodes, my emotional dilemma is progressing.   I find it difficult to sleep, and the slightest thing can cause me to overreact.   The slightest thing can cause the panic to return.  And because of this, my depression is worsening.  It’s a horrible way to feel, and it seems like it’s never going to end.  That in itself is depressing as hell.   I can’t stay out of work forever though, and that just adds to the stress that leads to panic that contributes to the depression.

So far, medications haven’t helped.  Exercise relieves the anxieties for a while, but it’s short lived.  Working on ‘Projects’ around the house is about the same; as long as I’m busy, I’m okay.  And my honey-do list keeps getting shorter, which makes the significant other happy.  I can only avoid this situation for so long however, so some kind of plan needs to be put in place.

I’m still working on that.

In the meantime, I can just keep on doing what I’m doing.  With the exception of keeping my boss updated, I’ve found a relatively safe environment that keeps the panic at a minimum.  Hopefully, between medications, therapy, and good living choices I can get to a point that I’m able to go back to work.  Or, I can find a new job that isn’t so stressful.   Yep   That could do it.  Of course, it won’t solve the Panic Disorder, but at least I can earn a living without the terror.

And I won’t die.

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Don’t Panic!

It was scary as hell.

It started with mild chest pains.   Frankly, that was nothing new.   Over the years when I’ve been in an extremely stressful situation my chest might hurt.  I always put it down to muscle tightness as it generally was the entire chest, and often with neck pain and headache.   I was definitely stressed out, and again the pain started.

But this time it was different.

Instead of an overall tightness, I had a very specific pain on the left side of my chest.  This went on for several days, but oddly enough only when I was at work.  Obviously, it was stress related.   After about a week of this, I started to experience quick, sharp pain on the left side.   It was just for a moment. It felt like a needle was being jammed into my heart, then immediately removed.   And that started happening more and more.  After a couple more days, I decided to see the company nurse to have my blood pressure checked.  (I have hypertension, so I was wondering if the work environment was giving me momentary spikes).   Sure enough, it was 160 / 99.   I have been on the same hypertension medication for years, and always stayed a perfect 120 / 80, so this was very unusual.

No surprise.   The stress level had been intense.

So, I went back to my desk, and did all the things I had learned about controlling stress.   Deep breathing, meditation, visualization, mindfulness: anything I could think of that could help call things down.  But the stress continued uncontrolled, and the pains became more severe and frequent.

One particular morning, the pains were much stronger than usual, and I again went to see the nurse.  The blood pressure was now 180 / 110.   The nurse suggested I take the rest of the day off, but with my work load that just wasn’t possible.  Within the hour however, the pain started to move down my left arm.  I started to get concerned, but tried to ignore it. And the pain increased.  My fingers started to tingle.  Later that morning we had a staff meeting that was particularly unpleasant.   We were told about some new procedures that were being implemented that were going to make an already impossible job even worse.   Walking out of the meeting, it felt like I had an elephant sitting on me.  It was hard to breathe, and the pain was getting unbearable.  I decided to go back to the nurse.  She took one look at me, and told me to immediately go to the urgent care facility in the next block over.  I kept telling her I was just over worked, but I was getting very concerned and agreed to go.   The Nurse then called ahead to tell them I was coming.

They were waiting for me when I walked in.

My blood pressure was now 195 / 140.   After a quick EKG, the Dr. came in and told me they had called for emergency transport to the nearest hospital.   But, I’m hard headed and insisted that I could drive myself.  I was hurting, but there was no need to take an ambulance.  After a brief argument with the Dr, I signed a waiver and headed to the hospital 10 miles away.  The Dr. called ahead to tell them I was coming.

They were waiting for me when I walked in.

I’ve never been seen so quickly in an ER before.   As soon as I sat down, the triage nurse came out and took my blood pressure again.   200 / 165.  Another quick EKG, and I was in a bed being hooked up to an IV.  They must have given me something to relax, because before I knew it I fell asleep.

At least I think that’s what happened.

I lost track of time, but the next thing I knew I was talking with a cardiologist, who was telling me I was being admitted to the Cardiac Care unit.  He said that the initial bloodwork had come back inconclusive, but with my family history (which is horrible) he still thought it was a cardiac event, and wanted to run additional tests.  By then the chest pains had abated, and it was an uneventful night.  The Dr. came in early the next morning, and said that all the bloodwork had come back negative for a Heart Attack, but he wanted to run a stress test to see how that affected everything.  It was scheduled later that morning, and I passed with flying colors.

So what the hell was going on!

When the Cardiologist had me released, he said that he agreed it was just a reaction to stress, and suggested I take some time off work, and while out I should find a new job.  I’m not the type to lay out of work, and headed back to the office.

By the time I got there, my chest and arm were hurting again.  My boss told me to take the rest of the day off.

I happened to have an appointment with my Therapist the next day, and as I related the experience to her she kept nodding her head with a slight smile.  “It was very simple” she said.   “You were having a panic attack”.    Sometimes the symptoms can be the same as a classic heart attack.  The chest pains, arm pain, tingling fingers; it all fit.  She suggested I take some extended time off work, and use the time to look for another job.

I kept working of course, and ignored the pains as well as I could now that I knew I wasn’t having a heart attack.  Two days later, I had a follow up appointment with my general practitioner.   She heard my story, nodded a few times, and said it was a classic panic attack.   Her recommendation was to take some extended time off work, and use the time to find a new job.

Okay, that’s two.

As part of my follow up, I went to see the Dr. that has been managing my Psych drugs for me.   Just like the others, she said it was a panic attack.  The treatment was an SSRI, and a mild tranquilizer.   I knew from experience I didn’t do well on SSRI, but I would try clonazepam. She then suggested I take some extended time off work, and use the time to find a new job.

I’m up to three.

And I went back to work relying on the Clonazepam.   And the pains returned.   After only one day, my boss sent me information on Short Term Disability and suggested I seriously consider looking into it.

And that’s four.  I’m done.

And I went home.

I’ve had what I believed to be panic attacks before, but none of them came close to what I had been experiencing this time.   I truly felt like I was going to die.  Short of the cancer diagnoses I’ve never been so scared of a medical event.  And now it’s an ongoing fear.  All I have to do is think about work and I become paralyzed.  I can’t do a thing except ignore what I should be doing and find something else to do.  I’ve been out of work now for almost 3 months, and haven’t been able to find anything new, so I should really be getting back.  And it scares me to death.

I haven’t found the solution yet, or figured out a way to deal with the fear.   The anticipation of returning to my job remains debilitating.  I’m not afraid of returning to the stress, but I’m terrified of having another attack like that.  I’ve dealt with mental illness all my life, and I’ve never had anything like this.   I always manage to come up with a plan to address current situations and have even learned to recognize signs and start dealing with things preemptively.

But this time I haven’t a clue.   And this time I’m scared.

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Supporting someone who’s depressed. (Or not)

Living with a depression is hard at best.   Living with someone who is depressed can be difficult too.   When a friend or loved one is suffering, it’s normal to want to help, but not always easy to know what to do.  Speaking from experience, the last thing you want to do is to be social and surrounded by other people.  There are times where I’ve wanted…or needed… to maintain an outward appearance of normal.  Other times the depression is so deep it’s not possible to hide it.

Either way, you just want to be left alone.

Trying to maintain appearances is usually an exercise in self-deception.  In my experience, I feel like I’m doing just fine.   I’m going about my business as usual, with no indication that anything is wrong.

But who am I kidding.

I’m normally an outgoing, gregarious person.  Generally upbeat, positive, and always have a joke or funny story for every appropriate opportunity.  At work or at home, I’m the life of the party.  That’s kind of difficult to do when life has no meaning and all hope is lost.   You think you’re pulling it off, but people care about you know better.

And they want to help.

If you’ve never experienced the horror of depression, it’s really impossible to understand.  People tend to believe they can emphasize; they know what it’s like to be sad.  We’ve all been sad.  The truth is, most people can’t even truly sympathize.  Without knowing what you’re going through, how can they offer anything relative?

So what is there to do?

I think that the real issue here is what you can’t, or shouldn’t do.  I’ve been seeing the same lady for years now, and there’s no doubt in my mind that we’re in love.  And she knows that there’s something wrong with the way I’m feeling.  But she has absolutely no understanding of any mental health issues and completely clueless about what any of it means.   The strange part is, she herself suffers from a number of different issues, including depression.   She doesn’t have the self-awareness or even knows that she’s has problems to address.   She has developed coping skills to insulate herself from the feelings she is experiencing.   Her way of dealing with everything is to stay frantically busy.  She throws herself into work, and from the time she gets home until she falls into bed exhausted, she’s cleaning, doing projects, researching hobbies or anything else to keep from thinking.  I’ve tried to get her into therapy, but she doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong that she needs to address.  But that’s not the point here.   What I’m getting to is that even though she has a lot of the same issues, she has no idea how to help.

And what she does do is absolutely the worst thing I need.

A large part of what I’m dealing with involves an overwhelmingly stressful job.  I’ve worked in many places that have a lot of pressure, but they’ve never even come close to the situation I’m dealing with now.   Just for example, on any given day I’ll have between 800 and 900 UNREAD emails that I’m supposed to respond to. I’m expected to resolve issues for up to 200 customers at once, and am constantly yelled at (literally) by all involved.  It’s 12 to 16 hours a day of being told what a horrible job I’m doing.

And she tells me that she’s had stressful jobs too, and sometimes you just have to put your head down and deal with it the best you can.

Really?  Just deal with it?  Even if there wasn’t the constant, overwhelming bombardment of demands and criticism, I’m very dedicated to do a good job.  And that is totally impossible in this environment.   It’s not something I can just deal with.  And frankly, it pisses me off that she thinks she has been in the same situation.  She works for State Government, and there is no job there that has the same kind of stress.  Not even close.  So please don’t tell me that you’ve been in the same situation and that it can be acceptable.

She thinks that it’s her fault that I feel so bad.  She’s constantly asking what she’s done to me and why am I so upset with her.  I’ve told her over and over that I’m depressed, and it’s not because of her or any other individual.   There are external triggers, but she’s not one of them.  Her own insecurities however inadvertently take precedence over my situation.  Now, bear in mind that before I got so depressed, I supported her through some absolutely horrible times and addressed her needs before my own.   I feel like it’s a two way street, and now that I need her, she can’t get passed her issues.

She gets upset that she can’t ‘fix’ anything.  She cares about me, and doesn’t want to see me suffer, but when she can’t do anything active to make it go away, she gets very frustrated, and eventually gets angry.   Not in a mean way, but angry in general that she can’t do anything to help.   I can tell you this, getting angry doesn’t help.

Just snap out of it!  That is probably the worst.  If it were that easy, do you think I’d chose to be in this state?  Oh shit!  Is that what I should do?   I’ll just hoist up my own petard, trade out my feelings for happy ones, and shake it off.  Wish I had thought of that!  Thanks!  Talk about a lack of understanding.

So what’s to be done?

Ultimately, getting through a depression comes from within.  Not suggesting that it just ‘goes away’ (although that can happen sometimes).  What I mean is finding a way to take care of yourself and develop the environment that promotes healing.  That’s not an easy thing to do of course.  Frequently medication is the first step.  Depression can be strictly clinical, or over time can become clinical.  What that means of course is that the chemicals that control mood change, and it is a physical issue.   Medication addresses that.  Serotonin and dopamine for example can have a direct impact.   And there are medications available to level out these chemicals.  It’s just a matter of finding the one that helps.

For me, having a good therapist is also key.  Fortunately, I’ve been seeing the same therapist for years, and we’ve developed a good working relationship.  She’s known me long enough, and we’ve been through this together so many times she knows what I respond to the best.  But if you don’t already have a therapist, much like medication you just have to find the right one.   Give it a fair chance, but if you aren’t finding it helpful there’s nothing wrong with trying another one.

Exercise is important.   That’s a hard one as it takes some self-discipline to find the energy to commit to it.  You don’t have to start off spending hours in a gym pumping iron from day one.    Even a simple walk around the block is going to be helpful.   I decided I’d try to start riding a bike after 20 or so years.   My anticipation was that I’d take a slow ride down a scenic trail that’s near my house.  I actually surprised myself, and within days was riding 15 miles!   And you can’t believe the difference it made.  By the time I get home, my blood pressure is (almost) normal, I have more energy, and my mood has improved dramatically.  That’s not a solution by any means; I can’t ride all the time, and the effects don’t last but for so long.  In conjunction with everything else it makes a difference.

I’ve been through some of the things you can do for yourself.  And expressed some things that definitely do not work.  So the question remains, what can YOU do to help?

I always hear…  Just be supportive.   But what the heck does that mean?  My girl thinks she’s being supportive, but she’s far from it.  What I find helpful is:

Be sympathetic.   I know, I said it’s difficult to be sympathetic if you haven’t experienced depression directly.   And that’s true.   What you can sympathize with is the fact that I’m going through something horrible that you can’t understand.  And express it that way.   “I don’t know what you’re going through, but I’m sorry that you feel bad”.

Listen without making suggestions.  Generally speaking, I know what I need to do.  I don’t need you telling me what I should do.  Having a quiet ear that I can talk through my feelings can help get some things out of my system.   And sometimes (Like with my therapist) just talking about the problems can sometimes give you solutions.   My therapist is awesome with this.   Many times I finish our sessions with an “Aha” moment.

Allow time to be depressed.   What I mean by this is, let me be depressed.  It’s real, it’s not going away overnight, and sometimes you just need to ‘settle in’ to the feelings and go with it.   Depression can come from suppressed feelings and emotions, and sometimes what can help is to let go and accept what you’re really feeling.

Let it be about me.  It’s not good to always have attention on yourself; sometimes you have to make it about others.  But when you’re depressed, hearing about someone else’s problem, or how somebody has it worse is not what you want or need to hear.  When you’re in this state you believe that no one could possibly feel any worse.

Don’t tell me it’s not so bad.   How do you know how bad it is?  And believe me, when I’m depressed it’s bad.   It’s as bad as it can be.

Help take care of the little day to day things.   One time I was going through a really bad depression, and a friend of mine would randomly show up with a cooked dinner.   Other times she would bring me groceries that she knew I needed.   Once while she knew I was at a Dr. appointment, she cleaned up my house.  At the time I didn’t have the energy to take care of any of that myself, but being fed and in a clean house made a difference.

Be available.  When you are down and feeling alone, nothing makes it worse than to reach out to someone and they aren’t there, or they don’t have the time for you.   That’s within reason of course… you can’t call every night at 3:00am and expect them to be there for you.  Walking out of a meeting at work to talk to you isn’t a realistic expectation either.  Just being acknowledged makes a world of difference.  Set the ground rules (No 3:00am calls, leave messages at work), but let them know you care about them and will be there as much as possible.

Is this a complete ‘list’ of the do’s and don’ts of helping a friend or loved one through a depression?  Is this what’s going to work for everyone?  Of course not.  These are just some of the things that I find helpful, and not helpful when dealing with my own depressions.  And even then, some things may be helpful one time that are detrimental other times.

Depressions are intensely personal, and unique every time.  There’s one thing I can think of that will help someone help you get through such a bad time.  Being supported in the best way for you boils down to one thing.

Let them know what you need.

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Keep calm and carry on.

Well, I guess it was bound to happen.   Things have been going so well for so long now that I ran out of things to write about.  Well, obviously that’s changed.    The bad news is, I’m depressed as hell.   The good news is, I’m coping.

More or less anyway.

I don’t think this is the ‘traditional’ bipolar crash.   In most of my previous episodes, there’s been no rhyme or reason to trigger the mood change.   Or if there was a reason, it wasn’t proportionate to the subsequent mood.

That’s not the case this time…

To say my job is stressful is like saying there’s a little bit of water in the ocean.  I’ve had a lot of jobs over the years that have had a lot of pressure, and even the job I’m in now has always had more to do than was possible to do.  And that in itself creates stress.  But about a year ago that all changed.  The boss I used to have came up through the ranks.  She’s done my job, and she knows just how impossible it is.  Under her, when the workload became overwhelming, she understood and treated us accordingly.  We were told to do the best we could and not worry about being so far behind.

You know, reasonable.

But all that has changed.  That boss got a promotion, and a new manager was brought in.  Now understand; up until I took the job I’m in I had senior management positions, up to and including executive levels.  Changing economy and a shift in local industry however dried those jobs up, and I was forced to take a position much lower than my ability and experience.  What made it tolerable was the way management treated us as professionals with respect and understanding. This is no longer the case.  My job is resolving major customer issues with a highly complex product.  We of course have many different customers we are assisting at once with all levels of issues.  The way it was set up, the simple problems were routed to a less experienced staff and I got all the complex and time consuming ones.  I interact with major customers, engineering and sales.   The way I’ve always approached this is to analyze the situation, decide what the best course of action was based on both the good of the customer and the good of the business, and develop a plan for resolution.  The staff have strict protocols on what the can and cannot do.  I have had the flexibility to do what makes sense.  If I had to spend $5,000 to save a $1m customer, I had no pushback, whereas the regular staff had to make sure that it met their criteria.   They don’t deal with the major customers however, and aren’t putting large customer revenue at risk.

They were like an upper level call center, I was more of a business consultant.

My new manager came from a call center environment.  Success was measured by metrics, not by individual performance.  And to be fair, that is appropriate for the junior level staff.  But that is absolutely inappropriate for what I do.  But now I’m being held to the same metrics and performance as the rest of the group.

Now, when I had my previous manager there was a group of us that dealt with the major customers.  We were responsible for supporting all of North America and had enough (even if just enough) people to reasonably keep up.   Various and sundry things happened however, and now I’m the only person wo has this responsibility.  I’m the only person supporting an entire continent!  But now, I get daily emails reminding me of meeting the defined metrics, and even a weekly ‘report card’, which of course just tells me how management thinks I’m failing at my job.

It’s a call center environment.   It’s nowhere near what I’m capable of or my experienced.  In fact, I’ve managed the managers who manage call centers three times the size of ours.  And now I’m a call center representative.

So back to the stress.  The incredible workloads are very stressful.  My customers were mad because they had issues.    Our sales people were mad because their commissions were at risk.   Engineering was mad because I was dumping more work on them.   But I had the support of management, and could handle this as a professional.  Now, add to that my manager is mad because I’m screwing up his metrics. It’s 10 to 14 hours per day (often 7 days a week) of being told I’m a failure.

This would drive anyone mad.

All this stress began to manifest into physical issues.   First it was hives.  Then my blood pressure started to spike.   Finally, I started having some fairly significant chest pains.  One day, these pains started to travel down my left arm, and then my fingers started tingling.  I went to the company nurse, and my blood pressure was 198 / 130.  Needless to say, I was transported to the ER for a heart attack, and admitted into the cardiac care unit.

But lo and behold, all the tests came back negative for any heart problems.

I took a couple of days off, then returned to the same old grind.  From day one, my chest would start hurting as soon as I left for work, and by lunchtime I had the same arm involvement and tingle in my fingers.   I kept an eye on my blood pressure, and it stayed between 150 ~ 190 over 100 ~ 130.  I was being followed by my General Practitioner, a Psychiatrist, and my Therapist.  And no surprise, they all attributed my physical issues with the stress of work.

And the depression started.

In no time at all, I found it difficult at first, then impossible to do my job.  Just being at my desk was making my physically ill.  No matter what I tried to do, I couldn’t bring myself to do anything.  It was completely debilitating.  Depression has put me in this position before, and the way I’ve handled it is try to hide my lack of performance as long as I could.   Which of course ended up putting me into a suicidal depression, usually ultimately involving hospitalization.

Hopefully though, I’ve learned a thing or two about taking care of myself.

I went out on short term medical leave.  I’m fortunate enough that our insurance will continue my salary for a period of time under short term disability, so I could go home without a financial consequence.  And I made good use of this time.  I did needed projects around the house, started exercising, and increased my time with my therapist.  I also made some changes to my medications to address the physical part of the depression.  The medication became a little problematic however, as everything new I tried came with untenable side effects.  I think I just started my 5th one since going out.   We’ll see if this one works.   I also used this time to look for a new job (which of course is the real ‘cure’)

And to no surprise, my depression lifted.

The job market is tight though, and after two and a half months I’ve had no responses to the multitude of resumes I’ve submitted.  I know I have some ‘special challenges’ with finding new employment.   I’m not a young man anymore.   Even though age discrimination is illegal, we all know that it happens all the time.  Another challenge is I’m overqualified for jobs that I would be more than happy to accept.  Potential hiring managers don’t realize this however, and I’m not even considered.   I’ve ‘dumbed down’ my resume significantly, but it hasn’t helped.

My short term disability is running out, and it looks like I’m going to have to return to the job that has been killing me.

And that depresses the hell out of me.

So do I have a plan?   Honestly, not yet.  I’m going to try and talk with my old manager to see if there’s anything she can do to help ease the stress some.  I will keep trying different medications until I find one that makes a significant difference.   And I’m working daily to try and prepare myself mentally and adjust my expectations to see if I can get my attitude in line.   Of course I’ll continue to find different employment.

Hopefully this will sustain me until I find a way out.

There’s a whole lot more to this story that I have no room to tell.  There are other factors with the job that I haven’t gotten into.   I get zero support from my girlfriend.   In fact, her lack of understanding what depression is creates more stress as she just expects me to ‘snap out of it’.   On the plus side, I now have 5 grandchildren that motivate me to be healthy.  And I have a much better relationship with my children, and don’t want to hurt them either.  And ultimately, I have knowledge on how to face this and survive.

And whatever it takes, I will survive.




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There’s that word again…

How many times can you say it?  I’m doing great… really.   It’s like being Normal.   Isn’t it?

Normal.   There it is again.

I’ve asked this question before; just what is normal?  Normal is being just like everyone else, right?  It means you’re healthy.  Your behavior is acceptable to society.   So in this regard, I guess that’s my life.

But is it really normal?  Or is it just controlling the abnormal behaviors?

Honestly, I think it’s the latter.  My behavior is perfectly appropriate.   I get angry when it’s acceptable to be angry, but not so much over the top that I’m out of control.  I’m sad when sad things happen.   And I’m happy; really happy most of the time.   I have a good job, nice place to live, and am in a good relationship.   How normal is that?

But that’s not how my brain really works.

I DO get excessively angry, and in situations that don’t warranty that kind of reaction.  Depression is sometimes just barely under the surface.  My OCD can drive me insane if I let it.

That’s the key though: if I let it.

That’s my path to normalcy.  All the underlying features and symptoms are still there.  My reactions haven’t really changed.  The disturbed thoughts and the way I perceive things are still…well… disturbed.  I’ve just learned through all the years of therapy and introspective how to keep all that in check.  I can recognize when it’s getting out of control, and can do something about it before I start to run amok.

I’m still crazy.   I just don’t let the crazy out.

I accept the fact that I’ll never be truly ‘normal’.  I have a disease that can be horribly destructive to myself and others.  To be fair, I don’t think about it most of the time (Another sign of mental health) but sometimes things happen that remind me just who I really am, and what I’ve lived with for so long.

Like this weekend.

I lost a very dear friend this weekend.   She was only 50 years old, and at least as far as I know had no really major health issues.  She was a beautiful girl, and so full of life.  And by far one of the sweetest, most unselfish people I’ve ever known.  But her life was far from perfect.  We jokingly called her Catastrophe Cathy.  She was Murphy’s Law personified.  If something could go wrong, it would go horribly wrong.  She had a dance injury so severe it required several surgeries to fix.  (She fell while shagging and broke her humerus so badly it required a rod to be inserted between the two bones to hold it together while she healed)   Who has social dance injuries like that?  Well, she did.  She bought a brand new car, and hit when someone ran a stop sign; totaling her car she’d only had for less than an hour.

Less than an hour?  Are you kidding me?  She had a friend store her things while she was between houses, and sold everything and took off, never to be seen again.  She had even more failed relationships than I have.  And they failed due to poor choices, not that she did anything to directly cause it.

And now she’s gone.

It happens, I know.  People die all the time: it’s just part of life.  People even die too young for no apparent reasons.

But maybe there was a reason, just not so apparent.

I know she suffered from Depression.  I couldn’t really blame her the way she always seemed to be the target of the worst Karma.   She gave so freely of herself, and was taken advantage of so much of the time and usually at a great cost to herself.  She was hurt over and over by people she had chosen to love.   All she wanted was to love and be loved.   And she never really found it.

I’m really thinking it was suicide.

Okay, I don’t know that.  I may be reading way too much into this than there really is.  Here’s my perspective though.   She put a simple post on her Facebook page; “Please pray for me”.  There were tons of responses from all her friends who care so much for her as I would have expected, including my own.  But her last post was:

“I love you all”.

But here’s the thing.   As soon as I saw her first post I had a strong feeling of unease that something was bad wrong.  She’s posted things like that before, but this time it just felt different.  I sent her a private note asking if she was okay, and was there anything I could do for her… no response.  This Saturday I was working in the yard and had the strongest premonition that gone, and that it was by her own hand.  I immediately ran to check, and sure enough there it was.

She was gone.

Now I don’t know at all that she killed herself.   There was nothing in her obituary to indicate that there were any mental health issues.  It didn’t give any reason (Like after a long illness) but I wouldn’t expect it to, especially if it were self inflicted.  I’m basing this on a feeling, not anything factual.

And in truth, it doesn’t matter.

She was so sweet, and always treated me so wonderfully and caring.  My worried about her every time she had one of her all too frequent accidents.   My heart broke just a little bit for each heart break she suffered.  No, we never dated or had anything other than a true platonic relationship.  I never even harbored any secrete fantasies about her.  She was just a great lady that I had the privilege to know.   I’ll miss her terribly.

But suicide, real or not is terrifying.

There’s a good chance I’m projecting.  I do have such a fear of killing myself even though I never even think about it anymore.   I don’t have a reason to anymore.  And truly, it doesn’t change anything; a good women is gone, and way before her time.

But the old specter raises his head.   The memories return.   I think about all the times I felt like dying, and even more so the times I almost did.   There were several attempts that were so very close to being successful.  That is not normal.  Not by a long shot.

And yet, I survived.

I struggle with the memories of my madness at its worst.  My awareness is raised again of just how sick I have been; that I am.  But more importantly, I celebrate just how far I’ve come.  Just the fact that I can care without reservation and have a friendship that is solid is amazing.   Having any kind of relationship that I haven’t hurt by my irrational and disturbed behavior has been rare.   Real or imagined she brought up unhealthy thoughts that threaten my recovery.   But in spite of going on about how it affected ME, I know it’s really about her.  She was a wonderful friend, and for whatever reason she is lost to so many who cared about her.  Her presence, her mere existence was a joy and brought so much goodness to this world.   She shall be missed and never forgotten.  I mourn the loss of a friend and grieve the tragedy of a life taken way too soon.  I treasure her memory and am so thankful I had the privilege of her friendship.

And if that’s not normal, I don’t know what is.

Rest in peace my friend.

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Same Old Routine

Same ol’ same ol’

Day in and day out, it’s always the same.  I’m up at 5:00am, to work by 7:15, lunch at 12:30, leave at 4:00pm.   Then its home by 5:00pm, dinner at 7:30pm, in bed by 10:00pm and I’m back up at 5:00am.   Even the deviations from the daily grind are the same.   Monday nights are therapy.   Wednesday night is the bowling league.  Thursday night I take dance lessons, Even the weekends follow the same pattern: Up at 5:00am, Saturday night out and on Sunday is when I do the house cleaning and laundry.   Day after day, week after week; it’s always the same.

It sounds boring, doesn’t it?

In a way, that’s exactly what it is; boring.  As a general rule, there’s nothing exciting to look forward to.  It feels like I’m just marking time while the days go by.   And the older I get, the faster those days go.  It seems like it was just Christmas, yet the year is over a quarter gone.  I can’t believe how old I’ve gotten either.   Not that I’m OLD, but it’s still a big number; a number I couldn’t even imagine at 30 years old.  But now, I can see retirement from work, old age, and death.

Is that all there is?

It wasn’t always this way.  When I was younger, my life was impromptu and exciting.  This was especially true when I was going through a manic episode; and with the nature of my illness there were a lot of episodes.  You want to talk about predictable?  I never knew what was going to happen from one minute to the next.   And exciting?  There was nothing but God’s clean air and opportunity!  The sky was the limit, and there was nothing, NOTHING I couldn’t do.  Even the angry side of the episodes was full of the unexpected.  Here I am thinking I have a plan, then Boom!  I was off on a tirade or new crusade.

That kind of life is about as far away from a routine as possible.

So let me think about this for a minute.  I’m trying to control this unpredictable and spontaneous disease.  I know from experience that once I start giving in to the unbidden impulses things can escalate quickly.  That’s true with mania or depression too.  A bad day can quickly turn into a bad week, and on to a bad month.  Before you know it, it’s a full blown depression and completely in control.

Maybe a routine isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Then there’s the OCD Factor.  Much like the organization I require of my ‘things’, maintaining this rigid and unbending schedule has to be.  Unplanned deviations throw me completely out of sorts.  Changes can even make me angry. The hour of time between getting up in the morning and getting ready for work is my time.  My ‘ahem’ uh, roommate doesn’t get up until a little later, and I have uninterrupted and quite space to myself.  So the days she wakes up at the same time I do I lose that time, and it pisses me off.  No, it’s not really rational, and certainly not healthy.  I should really just enjoy the extra time with her, or continue on as I normally do.  But it’s out of order;  against the norm, and it interrupts my daily flow.

There’s no question in my mind that keeping to a schedule helps control my illness.  Not by itself of course; the therapy, medications, and vigilance are all part of the formula.  And yes, it can be a rut that becomes repetitive and methodical.  I’m learning however that I can find acceptable distractions, anticipation and excitement while maintaining even a strict routine.  I can get involved in a dance club and make new friends.  Friday nights might be the stay at home day, but I now have new friends to stay at home and socialize with (My home or theirs).  Saturday can be my golf day.  Yes, its scheduled and routine; tee off every Saturday at 7:00am.  The excitement there comes from challenging myself to improve.  When you make that ‘impossible’ shot, make eagle on a tough hole or break 80 for the first time (Okay, a guy can dream) it can be exhilarating.  And when you hit the level where you’re the best you’re going to be, there are always new courses and more partners to keep things fresh.  There is a downside of course; not all days are going to be an improvement, and some days you’re just going to plain suck.  But learning to deal with these disappointments and maintaining calm within myself is part of how I manage my illness.  Life isn’t always going to be sunshine and roses.  Being able maintain that self control and keep calm is one key to happiness.

And now I have grandchildren!

Talk about something to look forward to!  Even seeing them the same day every week at the same time, each time they are going to be different as they grow and learn new things oh so quickly.    And then there are the babysitting opportunities I have to look forward to.   Mom and Dad need a break sometimes, and unexpected events and changes in plans can create a need for Papaw to step in.

Same ol’ same ol’?  Yeah, I guess so.  The trick for me is to take that same old routine and use the structure and stability to enjoy the life around me.  The healthier I am the more I can appreciate what I have.  When I’m not spending all my energies fighting my illness I have the ability to live life to the fullest.  I have the challenge of learning to accept the inevitable diversions and interruptions without my instinct to freak out.  Structure leads to stability which creates an environment that promotes good health.

And good health is ultimately what it’s all about, isn’t it?

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Well, hello there!

He’s Baaaaaaaaaaack!

And oh, how I’ve missed it.  Writing every day was so much part of my routine, and it’s been way too long that I’ve been out of that groove.   I can make all kinds of excuses: work has been crazy, I’ve been focused on my relationship, I have three new grandsons I love to spend time with.   And they’re all true!  But the real truth is, I just haven’t made the time.  I’ve been doing really well for quite some time now. I really feel that I’ve got my illness under control, so how can I write about being bipolar?  Well, I may not be dealing with all the craziness, but that doesn’t mean I stopped being bipolar, does it?  It’s just different.

There are still issues and adjustments.

For me, being bipolar means a couple of different things.   One is the obvious; all the crazy ups and downs and the consequences that go along with it.  I’ve found and lost all kinds of employment.  Relationships have come and gone.  There has been self harm and hospitalizations.

It is my own special insanity.

But there’s another side too.  All the influences of the disease that I’ve experienced more or less my whole life have left personality traits, perceptions, and behaviors that affect everyday life have to be relearned and redeveloped.  It’s not as bad as dealing directly with the disease, but trust me, it isn’t easy either.

Obsessive compulsive disorder frequently goes along with bipolar personality disorder, and I’m no exception.  Mine is more obsessive than compulsive though.  I don’t have the rituals or repetitive behaviors that are typically related.  Obsession though?  You bet! Obsessive thinking is a predominate part of my illness.  In either the manic or depressed states I’ll get a thought in my head that completely takes over rational thinking.  I’ll have a sentence or even a phrase on replay over and over that blocks out the ability to process anything else.  In fact, that type of obsessive thinking is a sign that I’m getting out of control.  I’ve learned to listen to my thoughts, and make adjustments accordingly.

And, so far at least, it’s helped me maintain normality.

There are other types of obsessions that can be disruptive to daily living though.  I take neatness to a whole new level.   Everything has a place and it damned well better be there!  Nothing sets me off quicker than going to get something and it not being where it’s supposed to be.  I’ve lived by myself for some time now, so that really hasn’t been a problem.  I know where things go, and if I need something, it will be there.

But I don’t live alone anymore.

So, I have this lady friend now…  Lady friend, girlfriend, significant other, partner; whatever you want to call it.  (Girlfriend sounds a little juvenile for someone my age though…).  And after almost 3 years of dating, we decided to move in together the first of this year.  And it’s wonderful to have that kind of relationship again.

And it’s driving me crazy.

I’m not saying she’s a slob, because she’s far from it.  But she is easily distracted, and things we use frequently end up in different places then they are supposed to be.  (Listen carefully and you can hear me start to hyperventilate…..)  Every single day there’s a scavenger hunt to try and find something I use all the time.   The spoons go in the fork slot; scissors are left where she last used them instead of going into the utensil jar on the counter; my tools seem to just disappear…


But she’s hyper sensitive to anything she perceives to be criticism.  She’s come from a 30 year relationship where her husband emotionally abused her and completely robbed her of any self esteem.  She’s working on that, and getting a lot better.  But if she feels that she’s being accused of anything negative, she is extremely hurt and upset.  My tendency is to get very upset when my organization is disturbed; she gets very upset when I get upset.

It’s a real quandary.

So who’s right and who’s wrong?  Who needs to change their core behaviors?  Well, there is no right or wrong, and I have to be responsible for my actions whether she is or not.  (She is working on it though).  So I’m learning to deal with the obsession.  When that tool is missing or dishes are put in a different cabinet I stop.  My eyes close, I breathe deep and count to 10… or 20… or 30… however long it takes for that knee jerk reaction that’s always been there.  And I’m finding that the longer I do this and impose self control the easier it becomes.  It’s still there, and probably always will be.   But it doesn’t instantly tear me out of my frame now.

My therapist says that the best relationships are those that challenge our weaknesses.  If truly invested it provides motivation to focus on improvement.  I don’t want to hurt her feelings, so I am learning to do better on my negative behavior.

Because I want to, not because I have to.

Behaviors that we try to change just because others think we should are very difficult to overcome.  I know that eating jellybeans at night watching TV isn’t good.  But they are soooo good and a big part of my nightly routine. My head tells me ‘don’t do it!’, but everything else says ‘screw it’.   This can be changed, but it’s oh so hard.

Frankly, I’m still eating my jellybeans; and loving every single one of them.

But hurting my lady’s feelings?  No, I don’t want to do that.  I don’t enjoy that.  I can’t dismiss that or blame it on being sick.  She’s someone I love, and if you truly love someone you just don’t treat them that way.  So I learn a new way to be.  I work through things with my therapist; I develop skills; I focus on the positives.

And I feel pretty darned good about myself when I succeed.

Living with bipolar disorder can be an absolute nightmare.  Dealing with all the mood swings and crazy behavior can be absolutely miserable.  It can be and frequently is life threatening.  As I’m learning however it can be controlled and life lived in a more acceptable, stable way.

But there’s so much more.

Over the years the focus of my rambling writings has been how to survive this debilitating disease.  It’s been very therapeutic, and a big part of the catharsis that has brought me to the good place I’ve created.  Now it’s time for phase two.  I’ve learned the hard lessons and fought the worst demons and come out on top.  Is that the end?  Absolutely not.  It’s going to take ongoing vigilance and continued adjustments to keep me where I am.  Now I need to learn new lessons.  I have scars to heal.  I have a lifetime of experiences and the resulting personality to reshape and transform.  Can I change the core being that I am?  Of course I can’t.  Can I change how I feel?  Absolutely!  Can reactions be modified?  You bet!

Can I do this?  You’d better believe I can!

So I have a new focus.  There is a new challenge.  And I know I’m not alone, that there are others who are at the same place in their lives as I am in mine.  That means lessons to share, failures to analyze, and successes to celebrate.

That means I have a reason to write.

I’m back.

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It’s like reincarnation; living one life after another, each one vastly different from the last.

Every life goes through changes.  Through normal maturation, needs, desires, circumstances, environments, disasters, and successes carry one from one place to another.  And during this journey it’s almost like becoming a new person.  If you look at someone at 21, then again at 45 and then 70, it can be difficult to tell it’s the same one.  There is likely a first real job, which provides money to do new things and explore activities that couldn’t be afforded before.  Then the serious relationships develop, followed by marriage, children, college tuition, weddings, grandchildren and finally retirement.  The focus of a young adult is totally different from one who is moving into retirement, each stage bringing its own perspective and behaviors.

At least, a normal life.

My own life has followed that path to at least some degree.  I had the young fun, the marriage, children, and soon the grandchildren.  I haven’t planned much for retirement, but it’s coming, ready or not.

But there’s a difference.

Throughout my adulthood I’ve taken on many different careers and personas.  Much of this has been influenced by my early development and then my disease.  My first marriage and even career were driven by a need for a strong family.  My wife came from a very close-knit clan.  The immediate family was very tight, deeply involved with each other.  I had never experienced that, and craved that sense of belonging.  They were very religious, and I adopted their fervor for acceptance.  The father was a retired accountant, and I dove into that as my own career.  I struggled through a two year degree in accounting, than joined with my father in law in starting our own accounting practice.  It was the religion that eventually ended the marriage.  It’s not that I’m a non-believer, but their church was extreme, and extremely fundamental.  My own views were more progressive, and I found their dogma to be overly strict and unenlightened.  Over time, it drove a wedge between us all, and we divorced.  I had gained proficiency in my profession well however, and continued on with the business on my own.

After the demise of the marriage, I quickly became involved with someone of a much different sort.  She wasn’t extremely religious, and all the taboo activities were possible.  She had issues of her own however, and we met in a mental hospital.  But, maybe because of this we were reasonably compatible.  We bought an old house out in a very small town, and I went back to my roots, and then some.  For a time, I became ‘a redneck’. Any time I wasn’t working, I was in overalls, hanging out at the local farm store and cutting and splitting wood for our heat.  But our issues fed into each others, and I began to cycle ever higher and deeper with one hospitalization after another.   Over time, it was impossible to maintain my business and I lost it all.

Enter phase three.

I surrendered completely to being bipolar.  It dominated my whole life, nothing but therapy, doctors, medications, hospitalizations and even a brief institutionalizing.  I was a very sick man, and behaved as one.  The one silver lining was my children.  Since I wasn’t working, I became a stay at home Dad.  In spite of all the illness, it was arguably one of the best times of my life.  I had the joy of full involvement with them; taking care of their daily needs, walking them to daycare, chaperoning field trips, and fully responsible for them in all ways.  I was comfortable in my disease, and had fully embraced it.  And I loved my children as you can love no other.  But giving in to the illness only made it more prevalent, and it ultimately took complete control.  And then it wasn’t so comfortable anymore.  I knew I was capable of so much more.  As my children entered school and I found more time on my hands, I began to crave the challenges and fulfillment of a career.  But the environment didn’t support that development, and ultimately I had to make a choice.  And I chose to move on.

I had enough of the accounting, and was drawn to technology and computers.  I had no education or experience however, and had to talk my way into a job as a computer operator to break into the field.  Once I had my foot in the door however, I found a flair for it and quickly advanced.  Before long, I learned the technology and became more adept at computer support.  Then I was leading the group as a team lead.  This turned into department management.  And I changed jobs a few times until I was running the full computer support for a large government agency.  I had become a techno-guru.

And I began to get restless.  My career path didn’t show any change; only responsibility for larger staffs and bigger customers.  So I took that experience into customer support.  Bridging the technology background with new management skills, I worked my way into another job heading a customer support department for a software company.  It was in the technology field, but it was more about caring for the customer than it was the high-tech role.  I became very good at anticipating and fulfilling our customer needs in a complex and very specific world.  The nature of the product was highly specialized, and as I learned more about it I became an immersed in a totally new field.  I moved out of customer support, and into a training and efficiency expert role.  I was traveling the world, going from company to company; teaching the users how to use our product and helping management become more productive and profitable.

And again, it changed.  I entered the world of Senior Executives.

I was now a Vice President in a totally different industry.  It combined the accounting, technology, management and services.  I had responsibility for all of operations in a project management firm.  It was a highfalutin’ time; hanging out with other top dogs, country club membership, a huge house in an upscale neighborhood, vacation home and luxury cars.  I really felt I had arrived.  Like many with new found wealth, I developed a superiority complex.  I had come so far; it just proved to me that I was better than others stuck in their mundane, middle class lives.  I admit; I was a complete jerk.

But all ‘good’ things must come to an end, and when the industry tanked, I found myself unemployed and unable to find a job.  The house, the cars and the lavish lifestyle melted away and I found myself on the brink of disaster.  I called in a favor from one of the few former associates I’d had and finagled a job as a team lead for quality control in a manufacturing facility.  No experience in quality at all; but as my friend said, a good manager can manage anything.   And surprise!  I excelled at it.  Not only did I find a knack for the engineering side of it, but it was a Japanese owned company and I dove into the culture and even started learning the language.  It was a huge difference however, going from the highbrow executive world to the greasy, dirty world of manufacturing.  And I was having a blast.

And Mr. Bipolar reared his ugly head again.

I became extremely manic.  I was constantly angry, impossibly high expectations, frustration with my management and a superiority complex.  But I couldn’t maintain the insanely intense pace, and ultimately crashed ending up in yet another hospitalization.  I was already on the cusp of dismissal anyway, but the Japanese perspective of mental illness is that of a dishonorable weakness.

And that was the end of that.

Here was another long period of unemployment.  I haven’t mentioned the other three wives I gained and lost during that time, but concurrent with losing my job, my marriage failed.  I entered a deep depression that almost killed me.  Ultimately, I was able to pull out of it, and somehow found a job back in front line support.

And that’s where I am today.

So progressing up the career ladder and crashing back to the start doesn’t sound that unusual, does it?   I guess the way I see it is because of all the different industries and roles I’ve had.  Sales accounting, computer technology, government contracting, telecom, construction, manufacturing, and back to customer support is quite a spread.  My wives have been ultra conservative, liberal, snooty and fantasy.  My illness had fed greatly into all these changes as I’ve moved up and down through cycling moods.  My adaptability and quick learning skills allowed me to conform to where I was at the time.  And there was a little piece of who I am that followed through all the changes.  But not enough to ever feel like I had really found myself.  I’ve never really felt like I’ve fit in anywhere.  I’m not a redneck, but I was not comfortable in the upper management role either.

I guess I’ve never really been comfortable with myself at all.

So now things have settled down, and I don’t feel like I’m dominated by all the mood swings and influences of being bipolar.  I feel like I have a clean slate in front of me; a time to really discover who I am and what I want to be without the interference of my illness.  But honestly I haven’t a clue of who or what that is.  I don’t fit in anywhere, yet I fit in everywhere.  Now I just need to decide where that is that is true and comfortable.  It’s a process that I’m just getting started with, and much harder than I would have imagined.  With all the variables and experiences it’s really difficult to see where I fall.  I think though that I’m in a good place to figure it out.  My challenge is to not fall into the path of least resistance, but really follow what’s in my soul.  I have a great therapist, I’m in a strong relationship, and my emotions and actions are stabilized.  It’s time to take time.

It’s time to be me.

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The next step

I miss writing.

It’s been over a month since I’ve written anything or posted any blogs.  I have used my writings over the years to both document my trials dealing with Bipolar Mood Disorder and as a part of my therapy as I convert thoughts and feelings into words.  I’ve been through the depths of hell, and flown higher than the moon as I’ve cycled through this illness, leaving a trail of destruction and misery in my wake.   And through it all I’ve recorded it by the written word.

And I’ve gotten better.  I’ve gotten so much better.

So how many ways can you say ‘things are going great’?   That’s not much of a bipolar chronicle, is it?  But that’s how it is; things really are going great.

It hasn’t been an overnight transition or miraculous healing.   It’s taken a ton of work, therapy and medications to get to this point.  And I can’t say with all certainty that I’ve completely overcome this illness.  I could relapse again tomorrow.  But it’s been almost three years since a major episode, and more than that, I’ve developed more and more appropriateness to all situations.  I get angry, but controlled and focused on the source in a non-destructive and reasonable level.   Sadness is a part of life, and I have my share. And I’ve learned to accept it as just that; sadness.  Being sad isn’t depression, and should be felt and worked through for what it is.  I can get excited without being over the top.  It’s taken some time to adjust to what can be perceived as boredom, but I’m getting used to it, and have found ways to keep from getting stagnant or stuck in a routine.  I’m dancing again, and even through I’m seriously taking lessons, I have no desire to push to the competitive level.  I’m learning a new style just for the joy of the dance.

I’ve got a healthy relationship.  We’ve been together now for a little over a year and a half.  Not a record by any means, but what is different this time is the lack of influence of my disease.  We have an honest connection and share things that couples should share.  We’ve been through some tough times from outside influences, and handled them together in a positive and supportive way.   We’ve enjoyed quiet time together just chilling out and we’ve gone out to have fun. And we do have fun.  Yes, I’ve been in relationships in the past that have started with that, but the difference this time is I’m not manic.  For so many years I was either hypo-manic or depressed, and I believe that the start of previous relationships was during that hypo-manic stage.  And I also believe that this one isn’t like that.  This feels really healthy.

And neither of us feels the need to get married.  I’ve had enough of that and I’ve learned that leagally defining a relationship has nothing to do with happiness.  And neither does she.

I’ve reconciled with my children.   No, it’s not 100% and there are still a lot of things to work out and reestablish.   But the connection is there, and I’m very hopeful that we can recover our past closeness.

And they are both giving me grandchildren in the fall.  How much better does that get!  I couldn’t be more excited for both of them, and myself.     They are going to be parents, and I’m going to be a grandfather!   The great circle of life.

Did I mention I was so excited?   Wow.

I’ve settled into a new career.  And it’s great!  I am not a manager, I’m not bringing in the six figure salaries, I’m not traveling the world, and I’m not carrying the responsibility of success or failure.  And I’m totally okay with that.  My job isn’t particularly difficult, and there’s a lot of repetition.   It’s dealing with other businesses though, and I’ve really enjoyed connecting with other professionals and helping them resolve their issues.  And I do it well, but not with an obsession.  And best of all, at the end of the day I pack up my computer and go home; leaving the job behind until the next day.  When you are at the senior management level you never really turn it off.   Now, I can turn it off and focus on what is really important in life.  I’m still in somewhat of a leadership role, but more as a mentor and guide.  There’s nothing official and I’m not responsible for success or failure.   I’m just able to share my experience and provide support to my other coworkers.   And I learn from them too; we all have things to share.

Things just couldn’t be any better.

So am I cured?  Can I relax and enjoy my new found normalcy?  Have I finally beaten this beast?  Absolutely not!  I’m going to have to remain vigilant the rest of my life to maintain my sanity.  I’ve totally accepted the fact that I won’t ever be able to stop my medications.  I have to stay in tune constantly to the signs of changes in my mood, and react appropriately before things can get out of control.  Listening to my mind and body has to be a conscious act every single day.  And I still see my therapist once a week.  She helps keep me focused, and there are always new things to learn and ways to improve myself as a person.  We’ve developed together and I really owe her a lot for sticking by me and never losing faith.

The biggest thing I can offer now is hope.

My disease has been through some devastating extremes throughout my life.  I’ve lost so many opportunities, I’ve caused much self harm and I’ve destroyed others lives.  Of course diseases really can’t be compared, but for me, it’s been a very dramatic and destructive illness.  It’s been a long hard road to get here, the most of which was completely uncontrolled and in denial.  It’s only been within the last 5 years or so that I have really embraced my illness for what it is and begun to really work on the root cause instead of just attacking the symptoms.  And I’ve been able to turn my life completely around and have the real chance of continuing to succeed.

If I can do it, anybody can.

Honestly, there’s nothing special about me.  I have my strengths and weaknesses with good traits and bad.  I’m reasonably intelligent, but there are a whole lot of people who are a lot smarter.  Insight into myself and others is one of my strengths, but there’s nothing unique about that either.  All in all, I’m really just an average guy.  Or one of my favorite quotes…  I’m unique; just like everybody else.

No matter how bad things are, or how hopeless the situation is, it can be overcome.  Not everyone can or will, but that doesn’t make them weak or failures.  Every life and circumstances are different and sometimes the illness is just too great.  But having the illness isn’t a life sentence with no hope for parole.  Of course there is no cure, but that doesn’t mean it has to rule a life.  I’m living proof.  This beast can be contained.

So is this the end of the blog?  I certainly hope not, and don’t intend it to be.  I still have things to say and need the therapeutic outlet.  My daily life isn’t the total focus on the disease as it has been however, and the daily posts I have done in the past is more than I care to maintain.  I’ve got things to do, places to go and people to love.  (Did I mention I’m going to be a grandfather?)    My focus is on living my life.  But this isn’t goodbye or the end of my story.  I will always need to write, and always want to share.

One of my goals when I began my story here was the hope that sharing my story could somehow help others.  Even though I don’t have the daily trials and tribulations my journey is still here.  I have to believe that I’ve influenced others in at least some small way.

And who knows… maybe there’s a book in all of this.  I’ll have to think about that.

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In the beginning

So, I had a rather disturbing event this past weekend.  It really wasn’t a big deal, or it shouldn’t have been anyway, but it significantly affected my whole weekend.

My Girlfriend had a yard sale on Saturday.  Initially her daughter was going to help, and I was going to spend the day at my house taking care of some yard work and spring cleaning.  But she had some last minute company and had to back out.  I wasn’t comfortable with my Girlfriend being there all alone with cash money in her hands and a bunch of strangers around, so I went to help.   We had already set things up so there’s wasn’t much to do at first except wait for people to show up.  And they did show; by 9:00am we had a steady flow of people, and most of them were buying.  And then she got a call from her attorney.   She’s in the middle of a nasty divorce, and the attorney had received a bunch of documentation from her ex that she wanted my Girlfriend to pick up to review before a meeting on Monday.  So she agreed to meet her at 1:00 that afternoon.  At 11:30 she went in to get ready, and left a little after noon, leaving me there alone to watch over things for her.   That was no problem, and I was glad I was there to help so she could take care of it.  Since she was only picking up documentation, she expected to be back in an hour or so, and we could pack the leftover things and get it all cleaned up.  I had no issues at all with it.

By 3:00 I hadn’t hear from her, and people had stopped coming by, so I started to break everything down and box it up to be stored until she figured out what she wanted to do with it.  No worries.

Then it was 4:00.

I had just about finished, and stopped to text her to make sure she was okay.   No response.  I went in to grab a bite to eat (I hadn’t eaten all day), and even sat down to rest for a minute.   I must have been tired, because that minute turned into an hour, and it was 5:00 before I woke up.

And still no Girlfriend.

I knew there was no way she could have spent 4 hours meeting with her attorney, and I started to get upset.  Where was she?  I thought that maybe she had gotten some bad news about the divorce and had gone off a while by herself to think.  That would be no problem, but she could have at least texted me to let me know she was going to be out a while.  Her inconsideration began to eat at me.   Couldn’t she at least take 10 seconds to let me know she was okay?  Then of course I made the leap to:  ‘she’s had an accident and was hurt to badly to get in touch’.

Now I’m really freaked out.

I knew deep down that everything was really okay, and there was a reasonable explanation for why she wasn’t home.  But in spite of that, my mind was going 100 miles a minute, and I was getting more and more upset.

It’s 6:00, there’s no word from her, and I’m getting angry.

I sent a very terse text that I was headed home, and hit the road.  The OCD kicked in, and I was stuck on ‘she could have at least called’ over and over in my mind.  I was really at my wits end.

By the time I got home, she called.  As inconceivable as it was, she had indeed been with her attorney the whole time.  Now that they had some missing documentation that they had been waiting for, the attorney wanted to go ahead and review it with her so they could plan the next steps.  She’s (Understandably) angry about the whole divorce process, and got completely caught up in what they were doing, and didn’t realize it had been so long. She apologized profusely, insisting that she would have called to let me know if she had only realized how long it had been.

I believed her.  And it made no difference at all in how I felt.

Now, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be concerned and maybe even a little angry with the situation.  I don’t ever expect her to constantly check in, or account for her time.  I trust her completely.  But there was an expectation, and when it didn’t happen getting upset is entirely appropriate.  But my reaction was totally over the top.  And once explained, I couldn’t get past what had happened.  There was just something wrong with the whole thing, and I couldn’t shake how bad I felt.  In my rational mind I knew that it really wasn’t that big of a deal, and as far as my interaction with her I presented as normally as I could.

My feelings weren’t normal however.  They were even kind of scary.

Fortunately, Monday’s are the day for the weekly meetings with my Therapist.  And needless to say, this was the immediate topic for discussion.  After hearing the story, she agreed that there was a valid reason to be upset.   She also agreed that my real reaction was not appropriate, nor was the fact that it was something I was struggling to get past.  And then she changed the subject.  She started asking again about my family history with regard to mental health.

And I immediately went back to the first significant event I had with mental illness.

I’ve told the story before.  The short version is, I had pestered and pestered my mother to let me walk home from some errands instead of riding with her.  We lived in a small town, and all the kids would walk to the store. It was a big deal back then, almost a rite of passage, and I really wanted to do it.   But I was 5 years old, and it would be totally irresponsible for her to let me do it.  But I continued to bug her, and finally she agreed to let me off a block away from the house and tell my Father that I had walked all the way.  She stopped the car, let me out, and I proudly walked up to my Father to announce that I had walked the whole way like a big boy!

I didn’t see my Mother again for a month.

Again, the Readers Digest version of the story is that she had been extremely depressed, and had finally reached the point where she just couldn’t cope.  So she had dropped me off, and immediately drove herself to the local mental hospital for help.  But no one talked about things like that back then, and especially to a 5 year old.  It was beyond my comprehension anyway; all I knew was I was being a brat, and my Mother disappeared.

Talk about abandonment issues.

Wait a minute. During the most developmental time of my life, I had a major trauma involving being left by one of the most important in my world.  I’m an adult now, and with my history I certainly understand 100% what drove her to make that choice.  I get it.  But obviously the damage was done.

This behavior was not a new thing.  It’s happened a lot over the years, and I usually have dealt with in a bad way.  Typically when put in that situation, I would start calling and texting over and over; becoming more and more frantic.  And the longer it went on, the angrier I got, the voice mail messages I was leaving were getting really nasty.

It’s killed more than one relationship.

This time I handled it completely differently.  I was still greatly upset.  I went through the same escalation of feelings.  The temptation to obsessively start calling and texting was almost overwhelming.  But no; I’ve learned through my therapy that situations like this really aren’t as bad as they seem.  I knew I could trust my Girlfriend; I know she cares about me, and I knew deep down that there was a reasonable explanation.  So in spite of the distraught, I kept my interaction with her in check.

That’s progress isn’t it?

In her usual way, my Therapist helped me realize the obvious.  She didn’t tell me why she thought I was having that reaction; she led me to come to the conclusion on my own.  I may or may not have believed her, but I believed myself.  And I gained some valuable knowledge about myself that I can apply the next time something like this happens.   And it will happen again, no question.  Life happens.  I may not be able to stop the feelings, but I can understand them, and understanding is the beginning of healing.

But that’s true for everyone isn’t it; Bipolar or not.  We all have life events that shape who we are and govern our behaviors in every situation.  Good and bad, we become the sum of everything we experience.  Maybe it’s not as extreme as what I went through this past weekend, and maybe it’s even more disturbing.  But it’s how we all are, and there’s no measure of better or worse.  I think that the more we know about ourselves the better we can understand what drives us.  The more you know, the more chances there are to change behaviors that aren’t healthy.  Not everyone needs therapy obviously, but I do think it’s good to reflect on situations that are uncomfortable and at least try to be able to explain to ourselves the why’s and how’s.  It’s how we all can become better people.

I don’t think that happens nearly often enough.

At least in this particular instance I was able to come to an understanding.  I immediately felt better, and when it happens again I’ll be ready.  It’s another step forward for me on my path to healthy living.  I can’t change the past, but I can change the future.

And my future is looking better every day.

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