Call me Crazy!

Friends call me crazy at work.  My Girlfriend calls me crazy at home.   I always have a joke, or a quick comeback, or just some silly response to a situation that catches people off guard.  If I hear one common theme when people describe me, it’s…

“You’re crazy!”

Not really of course.   I don’t go around loping of people’s heads or pulling legs off ants.   I don’t howl at the moon or wander around the street with a shopping cart talking to God.

Nope.  I’m just as sane as you are.

But I say all that to say this.  I’m a real fan of therapy.  Not because I’m crazy, but because I’m not!   And I can prove it!

I actually started seeing a therapist about 10 years or so ago.  I had just lost my job when my wife kicked me out after I caught her cheating.  (She kicked ME out?  There’s something wrong with this picture! But I digress…)    This woman was the love of my life.  We were so good together, and so much alike my friends used to say that she was just me with tits.   She was my soulmate.

Or so I thought.

So, to say I was devastated when she kicked me out is like saying that an atomic blast is a little warm.  There are no words to describe my total and utter despair.  I had to find a new place to live, but I was unemployed (Remember?)   At the time I was drawing unemployment, but it was just enough to survive.   Barely.   My food budget was $25 a week.   On a good week.   Lots of egg sandwiches and Ramen Noodles.  Not a good time.  But I still managed to start seeing someone.

My therapist.

At first, it was an hour of her listening to me cry.  And Cry some more.   Then cry until I couldn’t breathe.   (And so on…)

And then things begin to change…….

My best friend at the time also went through her own breakup just a few months after I did.    We all deal with things in different ways, and she turned to alcohol.   Okay, I’ll admit, I had a wee bit of that myself.    Many of nights we would sit and drink wine together sharing this immense misery.   But she REALLY Turned to the booze.  Over time I started to get a little better, and she just kept on drinking.  She started drunk texting me in the middle of the night…  One minute it was “I love you man”, then the next yelling and mad at me.    And then she switched to phone calls with the same.   I kept trying to encourage her to get help, but it fell on deaf ears.    We just about reached the breaking point when her daughter called me at 2:00 am to ask if her Mom was with me.   She wasn’t.    She had passed out on the couch at her house when her daughter came home, but when the daughter got up to pee, her Mom was gone.  (Her daughter was 22 by the way…)  So she called me.  I made all the calls to local hospitals, and to the jail, but she was nowhere to be found.    Finally, it occurred to me to check at her ex’s house.   He only lived about 5 miles from me, so I got dressed and drove over.   It was now about 4:30am, and sure enough, there was her car!   She had gotten up, drunk, and decided to drive over to his house, where they screwed, and she passed out again.  That was her account later, when she was lamenting to me again about how miserable she was.   I again encouraged her to get help, but she wouldn’t have anything to do with it.   The final straw was a few weeks later, when she called me at 3:00 am crying…  She asked how did I manage to recover from the breakup?  And I told her…. therapy and a lot of hard work.  And she said…

“That’s a lot of psycho babble mumbo jumbo… what really works?”

I wished her luck, asked her to please get help, and hung up the phone.    We haven’t spoken since.    I do hear from her daughter from time to time, and she’s coping.   Barely.   And still goes back to her ex (who is now remarried) occasionally for a one-nighter.

Some things just can’t be handled on your own.

I have another friend who is really struggling as well.   She has a huge fear of commitment, and an even bigger one with intimacy.  And she can’t remember anything at all about her life before she was 8 years old.   Personally, I think she’s dealing with some abuse issues, but that’s another story.  I keep encouraging her to find a good counselor and learn how to face commitment and intimacy issues.  But she is terrified.   She’s afraid that therapy is going to bring things up and force her to remember all the issues she’s suppressed from her early years.

But I disagree.

I told her a story.    There was a young man who was absolutely terrified of elephants!   I’m not talking scared, he would get physically ill just talking about them.   If he saw a photo of one, he would break out in a cold sweat, start shaking, and go into a complete panic.   No rhyme or reason, he was just scared to death.  So he finally agreed to therapy.  (You can only ignore elephants for so long) They started off easy…   A few conversations.   Then watching cute cartoons with elephants.   Horton hears a who….  George of the Jungle… anything with elephants in non-threatening environments.   Over time they slowly progressed through various levels of interaction until he could deal with a trip to the zoo, and come face to face with his biggest fear.   He wasn’t comfortable, but he wasn’t having panic attacks either.

A few years later he took his daughter to the circus, where she absolutely fell in love with the elephants!  And the joy she found was only accomplished by all his hard work.   He had mastered his fear.

Now, the reason he was so terrified of elephants was that as a small boy, he witnessed a circus elephant run amok and trample several small children right in front of him.  Seeing a 5,000 pound beast stepping on a 5 year old’s head is not something a child can deal with.  The memory was locked away, but he retained a deep fear of the animal.  And he got over it.   He got over it without reliving the trauma.

He learned to deal with his fear, not the memory.

I see therapy as coaching.   Tiger Woods was the number one golfer in the world.   And he thought he was too good for a coach and fired Mark Harmon.   His swing began to completely fall apart shortly thereafter.  He fell from the #1 spot, and never recovered.  Of course there was the incident with his wife and the 9 iron… but yet another story.

The point is, none of us are too good to not need help or the insight from others.

My Mom used to tell me that there are two basic kinds of people in the world; diagnosed and un-diagnosed.  And it’s the Diagnosed that are the lucky ones.   They have a chance to heal.

I know I’m a much better person now.  Not because of anything my therapist has done, but because I’ve worked on myself with the help of a professional.  She hasn’t fixed anything.   She never gives advice or tells me what I should do.  She listens.  She makes observations.  She asks questions.   And at the end of a session, I say… wow.  I did not know that about myself.   That’s something I can fix.   Understanding is the first step of healing.  Honesty with yourself is the path to change.  Nothing, and I mean NOTHING is too big that it can’t be overcome.  And with a lot of hard work, and a great therapist, I’m comfortable with myself.  I can be silly.  I can be a smart ass.  I can be Me.   But I’m not Crazy, and I can prove it.

Just ask my therapist.

Therapist couch

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At what cost?

Bipolar Disorder is a lifelong disease. There is no cure. Regardless of how well it’s treated, or not treated it has an effect on every day, one way or another. It may not be obvious, or disruptive, but it’s always there. And one thing I’ve noticed is, there is one thing that the vast majority of everyone with this disease has in common.

We end up with nothing.

Sure, there are exceptions. For example, Kay Jamison comes to mind. She’s a Clinical Psychologist and writer who has focused on Bipolar Disorder, which she’s had her whole adult life. I’m pretty sure she’s not broke. Carrie Fisher is another. Needless to say, I’m sure her share of the Star Wars movies was enough for her to live comfortably. Then again, she had a pretty extravagant lifestyle and made bad choices, so who is to say what she actually ended up with.

But they are the lucky ones.

Of course, there are various levels of impact depending on the severity of the illness. Bipolar I, while horrible in its own right doesn’t necessarily mean that one is incapable of maintaining a somewhat normal life. Not minimizing the personal struggle, but by definition it’s a milder form of the disease. Bipolar II is a totally different story. This can be completely debilitating, affecting every single day of a lifetime. Even during periods without an active episode there are consequences to deal with that never seem to end. Has anyone ever ended up in Jail because of an episode? I have. Has depression made it impossible to make it to work? It sure has for me. At the very least it results in lost wages, and worst case results in losing the job. Another way to be unemployed is working while in the throes of a manic episode. Boy can that be a doozy! I’ve screamed at customers (and bosses), worked for days on end to come up with grandiose ideas that are going to save the company, or just generally being a nuisance by bouncing off the walls and rambling on to coworkers.

And the state where I work is a ‘hire at will’ state, so they don’t need an excuse to let you go. “I’m sorry, we no longer need your services.”

I guess I’m really talking about the long term effects though. There may be periods of being highly functional and successful. But, for me at least, each one of those times has been offset by the bad times. And it’s what I’ve observed so many times with others.

Let me use myself as an example. The early years were just bad. I couldn’t hold a job more than a couple of years, and it always ended badly. I went through multiple relationships and marriages, all with disastrous results. There were periods of high success. I started and ran my own accounting firm, and built a solid business in a very short time. And I lost it all when I spent several months inpatient at a mental hospital. (Well, two hospitals, but that’s another story). And then spent years and years unemployed, more or less incapacitated. I started to get things together in my 40’s. I held a decent job for 5 years, with reasonable growth and promotions. About the time I started to lose it again, I moved to a new job and was able to focus my excessive energy in a productive way. Another 4 years of success. I did lose that job, but this time it was a buyout that got me, not as a result of my illness. And I was able to leverage that job into an even better one; this time as a vice president of a software as a service company. I was rolling with financial gain. I felt like I had truly made it. But again, through no fault of my own the job went away. An economic downturn in our market (Construction) shut us completely down. And I started my own downward spiral.

I have to say though, even though I was at peak performance with work, there were still related issues. Even though successful in my career, I made some really bad choices with relationships, and ended up losing everything I had gained. So when the job ran out, I was just as broke as I was at 35 when completely controlled by the disease. I eventually found another job, but at about ½ the salary I was used to. By then though, I had lost control of myself, and ended up with a spectacular manic episode. That one landed me in the hospital again, and when I came out I not only lost my job, but my wife as well. Again, I ended up with basically the clothes on my back. The next couple of years were absolute hell. I couldn’t find work, and even if I had, I was so depressed I doubt I could have maintained it. I had no income other than the small amount of unemployment I was receiving. My food budget was $25 a week. And that was a good week. I went from 175 lbs down to 130, just from lack of eating. That time resulted in a suicide attempt. Not that I haven’t had those before, but I came damned close to succeeding this time. But I pulled through, ended up finding another job, and have been there for 6 years and going strong. My treatment seems to be working, and I’m confident that I’m emotionally in a good place.

And I still have nothing.

I’ve been living with my Girlfriend for the past 3 years. I’m more than paying my way (I cover about two thirds of our bills), but it’s all hers. She owns the house. It’s her furniture. Everything reflects her style and taste. It’s not that I have a problem with that, except that if anything ever happens between us, I again will have to start over from scratch. And in spite of all the success in recent years, I’ve not been able to away anything towards the future. I’m getting older now, and retirement is staring me straight in the face. And I’ll have the choice of working until I die, hoping I don’t lose my relationship, or living in abject poverty.

Not too bad, huh? I’m almost 60 years old, and have nothing except a few items I’ve been able to hold on to through all the marriages and moves, and a car that I own with the bank. Oh, and a boat. My boat is the only asset that I have that’s fully paid for. It’s a shame it’s not big enough to live on.

So you see? By and large I’ve had a good life. Or, more to the point I’ve survived the worst, and grown into a good life. But the damage is done. The disease has taken its toll. There have been relatively short term episodes that have turned into a lifetime of failure.

Now, don’t misunderstand. This is not depression talking. I feel as good as I ever had. (But not too good!) It’s a realization I’ve recently come to about the sum of my life. And after a lifetime of pain and joy, of ups and downs, good times and bad, I really have nothing. Sure, I have my kids and my grandkids, and they are certainly not ‘nothing’. As much as I love them however, it’s not going to support me in my old age. My self-reliance will eventually fail.

Hm. I started off with the premise that we are all in the same place due to this affliction. But the more I think about it, the less I see the comparison. I’ve known people who are completely consumed their entire life, and others who have managed and coped successfully. So when I generalize on the cost of being bipolar, it’s not fair or accurate. Not everyone ends up with nothing to show for a lifetime of effort. Failure is not a forgone conclusion for those who suffer from this illness. There’s only one absolute I can state. Being bipolar can come with a high cost.

And it’s a cost I’ve paid in spades.

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A delicate balance

Bipolar disorder is an incurable disease that with luck, therapy and medication can be contained at best.  Even when it’s controlled I don’t think you can call it ‘in remission’ as with some illnesses.  It’s always there, lurking in the recesses of your brain just waiting for an opportunity to take over.

It requires a constant awareness and vigilance to keep in check.

Sometimes it feels like my illness is a living being.   There are times I can almost physically feel it as it moves through my brain.   The depression wraps its arms around me, covering my thoughts with a heavy, wet blanket of despair.  Mania races around my head, leaving the brain quivering with excitement.   There’s a line from the Doors song “Riders on the storm” that often comes to mind when I start swinging up out of control…

“There’s a killer on the road.  His brain is squirming like a toad”  

I can so identify with that feeling of a squirming brain, struggling to break free and run amok.

And if I’m a killer, the victim is me.

When deeply depressed or high with mania, I start repeating words and phrases in my head.  It’s usually just a short sentence, ruminating over and over and over.   And depending on the mood, it’s in a specific part of the brain.  I can feel it.  Depression lives in the back, just above the brain stem in the darkest part of the brain.  It’s a low, slow thought that keeps creeping in, despite of the efforts to push it back down.

Mania lives in the front, just behind the forehead.   Maybe that’s why it’s easier to escape.   It’s sitting there right below the surface, bouncing back and forth like a ping pong ball in a clothes dryer.   “Squirming like a toad… Squirming like a toad… Squirming like a toad… Squirming like a toad…”

Not that I really hear the voices.   It’s just a thought.   The only difference is the repetition and location.

The first clue starts with a long conversation I have with myself.   Usually, I’m planning something I want to say to someone else, but it’s a monologue, not an imagined real conversation.   And that’s always in the middle of my head.

And when that starts, I know I’m about to get in trouble.

But I’ve learned tricks and skills to react once I realize that I’m headed in the wrong direction.   Before, it seemed like both the depressions and manias just slammed in.  Boom.  Zero to Sixty in 2.3 seconds.  The signs were probably always there, I just didn’t know to look for them.  So now it seems like a slow progression that I can feel taking over and controlling my mood.  And since I can see it coming, I can throw up the defenses to ward it away.   Depression needs exercise and focus.   Work can be a big trigger for both depression and mania.  Sometimes the volume of tasks gets overwhelming, causing me to react in one of two ways; up or down.  So when I feel the down slide, I really focus on telling myself that in the grand scheme of things, it’s just a job.   So what if I’m behind.  The world keeps turning, babies are born and people will die, it will rain, or there will be sun.  It’s all about perspective.   But that only works though when you catch the fall early.

Oddly enough, the Mania is the easiest for me to reign in.   I feel the shoulders start to rise, the knee starts bouncing, my typing gets incredibly fast (and the typos occur exponentially).   But I’m waiting for it.  I stop, take a deep breath, and force my body to relax.   And I find one physical thing I can focus on.  It’s a form of mindfulness I suppose.   I focus until all I feel is my still fingers on the keyboard.  Or my ass sitting firmly on the chair.  Something… ANYThing that releases the excess energy.   It’s kind of like I imagine what it’s like being struck by lightning.  The electricity pours into your body, permeating everywhere, then pouring out of you at the point of contact between you and the earth.   All that energy leaves the body in one small point.   So when the mania starts up, I try to give it a ground where it can go.

See how easy it is?  Oh HELL No it’s not.

It has taken years and year of therapy to learn the skills that work for me.    It’s taken even longer to practice, and find the best way to apply to my specific situation.  And sometimes even that doesn’t work, and I have to move to the next level of defense.

But I have to be very careful.

When I start feeling unstable, it’s easy to go too far with the countermeasures.   This is especially true trying to pull back from a manic episode.  Once the excess energy has been dissipated there can be a vacuum, allowing a space for the darkness to invade.  Sometimes it’s just the fact that I recognize a swing.  It’s a reminder that the disease is still there, active and deadly.   That alone can be depressing as hell.   Other times, the mania comes from a churn of all kinds of different emotions, and when one is gone, another can move to the front.

So you see, the fight is never really over.

I spend my days in a wonderful normalcy now.   The disease isn’t the core of my being anymore.   For so many years, the Bipolar Disorder defined who I was.  Now I’m free to be true to myself without the overwhelming emotions ruling my life.    But it takes vigilance and acceptance to keep everything in check.   There’s a very fine line between sick and well, and it’s too easy to cross over that line.

It’s a delicate balance.

Oh, and work is beating the hell out of me these days.

Deep breaths man, deep breaths.   My ass is firmly connected to my chair, pulling the boat away from the dock.

It’s going to be all right.

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Sympathizing with empathy.

No one’s pain is greater than their own.

It’s all relative you see.   Empathy and sympathy are fine, but it’s still no possible to truly feel what someone else does.   Sympathy?  Okay, you can tell someone is hurting and care about their feelings and respect their right to have them.  Empathy is a little misleading.   By definition, empathy is vicariously feeling the same thing as someone else is feeling.  The problem with that is, it’s impossible to really understand and feel someone else’s pain.  Even if we’ve been through similar circumstances, how it affects us, and the emotions it elicits is going to be totally unique to every individual.

My forth divorce (Yes, four.  Glutton for punishment) was a horrible affair.  It was a fight to the finish, with no regard to how much money the lawyers were taking or whoever else was affected.  I was even arrested and charged with something I didn’t do.   She knew I didn’t do it, but was being vindictive and cruel.    And boy, was I mad.  I’m not a violent person, but if I’d run into her on the street when I was released from jail, I can’t say I wouldn’t have tried to kill her.  (That moment passed, thankfully).  Years later, my girlfriend was also going through a nasty divorce.  It was also a wicked fight, with thousands and thousands of dollars to the attorneys and total rage against each other.  It was horrible.   Just like mine, right?  After all, I had been through the same thing, so I knew exactly what she was going through.

Wrong.

I had been divorced three times already (I believe I mentioned that).   In spite of the viciousness and hatred, I knew what to expect.  And I was at least partially responsible for what precipitated the breakup.  She on the other hand had been married to the same guy for 35 years.  She gave up a career to raise their kids, went back to work so her ex could go to school and move into a new one.  She helped him start a business, and worked for nothing while he pulled company funds out for his personal use, and lived like a king.  And then she dealt with the IRS and Dept of Revenue to clean up the mess when he got caught.   And then she caught him having a torrid affair.   He was caught red handed, dead to rights.    The feeling of emotional betrayal were huge.    And the fact that he had money to fight and she had nothing was overwhelming.  It was a nasty divorce.   Mine was a nasty divorce.   And I could no more feel what she was feeling than I could fly to the moon.   Sympathy?  Sure.  While I don’t know how she really felt, I could appreciate that divorces were hard in ways someone who had never been divorced could understand.

But it’s still her pain, and her pain alone.

I don’t really like my job.   Well, the job itself isn’t bad, but it comes with a tremendous amount of stress and can easily be overwhelming.    One co-worker in the same position loves his work.   He’s always positive, and rolls with whatever punches get thrown.  Yet another co-worker is absolutely miserable.   We all do the same thing, but it’s a matter of where we each sit with it.   But there again, there’s more to that story.    The guy who loves his job is by nature one of the calmest person I’ve ever met.   He studies some type of Indian meditation and Gandhi-like approach to life.    You never see him agitated by anything.   His kids are grown and gone, and living their own good lives.   My wretched mate has all kinds of issues going on outside of work.   He’s suffering through some marriage strife, he has three small kids that are always either sick or in trouble.  His own health isn’t the greatest either.  So it’s no wonder that his attitude is so horrible.   So we all have the same job, but our experiences are totally different.  How can I empathize with either?

It’s still their pain, and their joy.  Not mine.

So this seems pretty obvious, right?  My experiences and your experiences are going to be based on everything that has happened, and is happening to us individually.  Everything that has happened in our lives has led us up to this exact point, and no one’s path is the same.  And the point we’re at is going to affect the feeling and reactions to any event, even if the event is the same.

So, riddle me this.

Why are we so quick to judge others for their actions?  That guy driving slow in front of you is an idiot, right?   Well, maybe this idiot was in a horrific wreck before, and this is his first time on the road since it happened.  Or a thousand other reasons to explain what’s happening.  Not so idiotic to me.  Of course, he may just be an idiot, but that’s not up to anyone to decide.   The fat person next to you on the airplane may have developed an eating disorder after being brutally abused as a child (That is not unusual for abuse cases).   So keep your fat ass off the plane.  It’s ridiculous for you to me inconvenienced just because they want to see their mother before she dies, and to be there when she’s buried.  Or, she may just be a fat pig with no self-control.    Even the beast that abused the young child can have their own horrible experience that drove them to that.  That is an unforgivable act, and regardless of the motivation cannot be allowed.   But we have a system to make that judgement.   Theoretically those judgments are based on careful evaluation of facts, and deliberation by twelve honest people.  Okay, that system is broken, but it still doesn’t give us the right to make our own judgements.  What does it say?  Judge the sin, not the sinner.

But really I’m just talking about everyday life.  All the daily aggravations and how we respond to them and to others.   We have a choice.  We can hold everyone to the same standards and opinions we have, or acknowledge that everyone has your unique experience or temperament.  There is no way to control what happens to us.   Past history that influences who we are cannot be changed. What can be controlled is how we react to ourselves, and to others.   There is no sympathy, or empathy involved.

There’s just acceptance.

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A new day

It’s a new dawn,
It’s a new day,
it’s a new life…
and I’m feeling good! 

That kind of says it all, doesn’t it?

It depends on perspective I supposed.

It’s a new dawn…   And my happy ass is already at work watching the sun rise and looking at 10 more long hours ahead.
It’s a new day…   Wednesday.  Three more days of stress and aggravation until the weekend.
It’s a new life…   That’s getting shorter for this old man every day.
And I’m feeling good…  If you don’t count the advanced arthritis in my knee, and general aches and pains that are always worse in the winter.

I’m not really old you understand.   I still have a couple more years until the big 60.  And at least 15 more years before I can retire.   But when your manager is 43, and the average age of your coworkers is 30, then 58 is definitely old.  A few years ago my career took a huge downturn.  Thanks to a change in the economy and shift in the local business concentrations I went from being the head honcho of a mid-size business to an individual contributor part of a large staff for a fortune 500 company.  And my salary adjusted accordingly.  I’ve recovered somewhat, but when I took this job it was a 60% pay cut.  But 60% of something is better than 100% of nothing, and that was the choice I had.  I had a former employee apply for a job at my company, and she approached me for a reference.  She used to be an indirect report (By two levels), and the job she’s applying for is two levels above me.   I have to admit, that smarts.  Of course, she’s half my age, has a degree (which I don’t) and is in a field that isn’t affected by the job market changes.  I am old enough however to be beyond the point of any major job change.  My opportunities within my current company are limited, and no one is going to hire someone who will be able to retire in just a few years.  And don’t say, you never know!  You might still find something.   Two years of job applications and head hunters with no, yes NO responses will beg to differ.   So I’m trying to look at this as my pre-retirement job, not part of my career path.

It’s kind of fun being the old man though.  I love telling stories to the kids at work about how it used to be back in the day.   As a youngster I used to keep a dime in my shoe to be able to call home from a phone booth in case of an emergency.  Phone booths?  What the hell is that?   Why not use your cell phone?  They’re so cute.   Call 411? (or 999 for my friends across the pond).    That didn’t even exist until the 1980’s.  Whaaat?  What did you do in an emergency?   They were talking the other day about ‘classic’ music.   Green Day?   Weezer?  Foo Fighters?   Please!    What about the Animals?  Waylon Jennings?  Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead and The Band for crying out loud.    THAT was real music.   Of course, if I could have asked my parents it would be more like Frank Sinatra, Irving Berlin, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland.   The difference though is that I also know and appreciate that era too.   Today’s punks, uh…I mean today’s youth by and large doesn’t have a clue.   Ask anyone under the age of 40 about the Viet Nam war.    Yeah, they’ve heard about it… maybe.   Tet offensive?  Mai Lai?   Ohio State?  Huh?   They have no concept of what it’s like to live without a microwave, personal computer, or cable TV.

And I’m not just talking about millennials either.  These are the 30 to 45 year old range too.

You know, I appreciate all the new gadgets and conveniences of today.   But I really miss the old days more.    It wasn’t without our own strife and anxiety though.  Remember the monthly air raid drills?   The town siren would blow at noon the first Wednesday of the month, and we’d all go into the hallway at school, sit on the floor with our backs against the wall, and wait for nuclear annihilation by those commie reds.   The Kennedy assignation was a catastrophe on a world scale.  The sexual revolution, the anti-war movement, gas crisis, and the resignation of a US President (For offensives that would barely make the news today) kept our world in turmoil.  But we didn’t have all the news outlets screaming   in our faces 7×24, sensationalizing events real and imagined just to keep their ratings and everyone worked up.  We had the morning paper with news and the afternoon paper with local stories.    And 5 days a week the local TV Station (one of three) had an hour news broadcast, with news, weather, sports, and generally an editorial piece reflecting the stations views.    CLEARLY defined as the stations VIEWS, not hard news.  The weekends were for Cartoons, Westerns and Hee Haw.

I found a photo of the ‘city’ nearest the town where I grew up the other day.   Just a few ladies downtown shopping in their dresses and bouffant hairdos, and a man walking by the ‘56 Chevy in his overcoat and fedora.   I showed my co-workers, and they were just amazed!   Both at the fact that there were people from that time were still alive, and I was one of them!    It made me sad, but a happy memory at the same time.

downtown

Wow.  How did I get down this path?

That’s my joy with the written word and my style of writing.   I never know quite where I’m going to go. I guess I like stories that have a surprise ending.  Even my own.

That reminds me of something that happened just last week.    That’s for another time though.

I wonder how it’s going to end?

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Evolution

It’s a new day.

It’s a new beginning.

It’s a new focus.

You never truly ‘beat’ bipolar disorder, but I think I can safely say I have mine under control now.   It’s been 5 years since I’ve had any kind of major manic episode, and the few depressive events have been manageable, and situational.  When times get bad, when people die, and when stress gets overwhelming anyone is susceptible to depression.  And by and large, that’s where I am.  I did have a bit of a problem a couple of years ago when my job got completely out of control.  I deal with the upper echelon of large businesses, helping to resolve crisis situations, supporting sales efforts and managing large scale issues.   Summer before last we were inundated with massive crisis across the board of our enterprise customer base.  Working 16+ hour days was just enough to fall further behind.    And due to the magnitude of the problems, it was basically being yelled out the entire time.  Customers were pissed that they were having problems, Sales people were frantic to protect their commissions, engineering and other resources I had to pull in were unhappy I was giving them more work, and of course my management expected results in spite of the volumes.  And that’s when the panic attacks started.   I didn’t recognize what was happening, and was convinced that I was having a heart attack.  Day after day the chest pains got worse and worse.  Then the pain migrated down my left arm.   My blood pressure went through the roof (180 / 145) and I was short of breath.   Finally I went to the company nurse, who sent me to an urgent care, who called an ambulance to take me to the emergency room.   They were also convinced it was my heart.   I spent the next 3 days in Cardiac Care, undergoing every test imaginable to identify what was wrong.   Guess what?  It wasn’t my heart after all!  It was panic attacks, pure and simple.  My Dr. prescribed time off from work, and I spent the next three months at home.  So yes, it was a major event.  But it had nothing to do with being bipolar.  Now work is as bad as ever, but I’ve learned new skills to deal with it, and limit my time at work to 10 hours a day, no matter how far behind I get.  It is mainly a matter of perception.   With everything that’s going on with my family, in this country, all over the world, a pissed off customer is the least of our problems.

It’s a cliché, but life is too short to waste that energy on the negative.

I also have been in a (more or less) stable relationship for the last 5 years.  We’re not getting married (ever!) but we live together, are buying a house, and more or less living like an old married couple (without the complications of marriage).  I’m not too thrilled with the ‘old’ part, but at my age, I guess that’s to be expected.   (But I’m not giving up quite yet!)

And I got a boat!  It has always been a lifelong dream to get out on the water, so when I finally got the opportunity, I went for it.   I’m now the proud owner of a 17.5’ Center Console.  And it’s everything I’d always imagined it would be.   For me, there’s nothing more relaxing or peaceful than cruising out on the open water.  It’s truly my happy place.

So, life really is good!

I started this blog as an outlet to learn how to deal with my illness, and hopefully by sharing my experiences I’d be able to help others along the way.  And during that time, I think I did both.   But what do you write about, when being bipolar isn’t the central focus of life?  I still monitor for signs of a relapse, but I can go months without ever even thinking about my illness.   I’ll never be cured, it doesn’t go away, and everything can come crashing down tomorrow.   But now, I’m too busy living a normal life to remember just how bad it can be.

So where does that leave this?

I miss writing every day, and if I’m honest with myself, there’s a lot of enjoyment and validation with being followed, and the comments received.  Maybe that’s a little self-centered, but who doesn’t like being noticed and appreciated.

So I’m going to try and get back into the habit.  Since Bipolar Disorder is no longer the driving force for me, there may not be as much focus on the disease, but hopefully I can keep things relevant and meaningful.

So, here I go.  Wish me luck!   And with a little bit of optimism, I’ll be back tomorrow.

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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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