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…

Arrrrrggh!

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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Beginnings

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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Rabit holes and chemicals

And here we go again.

I’m beginning to think that I’m headed into another downward spiral.  Of course that’s a nice way of saying, I’m getting depressed.  Again.  It’s odd, really.  Winter is my bad season, almost guaranteed to bring on a bad cycle.  And this winter wasn’t bad at all, in spite of the fact that it was unusually wet and rainy.  In fact, I believe that today is the first Monday in over a month that it wasn’t rainy and dark.  Rainy days and Mondays always get me down, right Karen?  (That is a line from a song by Karen Carpenter for those not old enough to get the reference.)  But I came through with flying colors.   Even Christmas was nice, and that never happens.  So now, coming into spring, down I go.  And spring is my absolute favorite time of year.

Go figure.

I can’t say that I’m feeling depressed, but I’m seeing signs.  Nothing is fun anymore.  My sleep cycles are changing.  I have less and less energy.  And my annoyance trigger is getting awfully quick.  Experience has taught me that if not actually depressed, it’s at least coming.

Down the rabbit hole, Alice.

My job is driving me absolutely bonkers.  It’s never been a challenge, and lately it’s become so mundane I just want to scream.  Nothing changes day in and day out.  I’ve mastered all the nuances and learned pretty much everything there is to know.  And I’m in a form of customer service, and customers are a pain in the ass.  I’m fortunate that I don’t work with the general public at least.  My customers are business executives and technical subject matter experts.  It doesn’t stop them from being a pain, but at least most of the time they are somewhat reasonable.  It’s our sales people who really raise the bar of annoyance.  They tend to be much more demanding and unreasonable than the people I’m trying to help.  I know I should be grateful I have a job, and I am.  There are a whole lot of people in this country who are either without work, or doing menial labor far beneath their skill level just to survive.  That could easily be me, and no matter how bad things get with my mood, it could always be worse.  But dealing with the same old crap sure makes for a long day, and I can’t wait to get out in the afternoons.  I’m wishing my life away.

And I don’t care.

I’m a neat freak.  Well actually, I’m completely OCD when it comes to keeping my house up.  Until lately that is.  Normally, I barely have time to finish eating before my dishes are washed and put away.  I have a dishwasher, but I never use it.  I don’t need to.  I might have a couple of pots, one plate and one glass to clean.  And I do.  You can never find dirty dishes in my sink, and my dishwasher sits empty.  Until now.  I get home and throw my Tupperware from lunch in the sink, and there it sits, sometimes for two or three days.  I generally wash my pots, because I’m going to going to need them again for my next meal.  But my plates sit there with my lunch things until I can’t stand to look at it anymore.  My floor gets swept only when I can hear the dirt crunching under my shoes.  I can draw in the dust on my furniture.   And sometimes I do.  And there it is, weeks later.

That is so unlike me.

I believe I finally have a healthy, sustainable relationship with a wonderful woman.  She seems to be a near perfect fit.  She brings out my best qualities, and helps me maintain my bad ones.  And she’s in a position where I can help her, which admittedly feeds into my ego in a positive way.  She’s awesome, really.  And I’m bored with it.  Actually, I’m not bored with her, but I am getting tired of her situation.  She’s going through a particularly nasty divorce.  It’s been going on for years now.  Her ex had his own business, and it’s taking forever to sort through all that to figure out how to divide it all up.  Not to mention, he’s fighting to delay the process every step of the way.  But now things are starting to come to a head, and it’s consuming her.  Now, when it comes to divorces, I’m an expert.  Or at least I should be as many as I’ve gone through.  And it’s been gratifying to be able to give her support and empathy like no other could.  But it’s almost like it’s just another divorce I’m going through myself.  I’ve been sucked in emotionally, and am suffering the frustrations and anger along with her.

It’s something I never wanted to go through again.

Honestly, I know that none of it is as bad as it feels right now.  That’s the nature of depression, isn’t it?  There’s no rhyme or reason, especially when it comes in a bipolar swing.  The brain chemistry changes, and the mood follows suit.  If someone could figure out how that happens then the disease could be cured.  At least it could cure that aspect of the disease anyway.  So here I am, in my favorite time, with a great relationship, and a good job, and I’m not enjoying it a bit.  And it’s so frustrating and can really piss me off.

Well, it would if I gave a damn.

But I have the antidote!  I’ve broken the code!  Experience has taught me the signs, and I’m not too far gone.  My medicines can be adjusted, and I can focus on my therapy.  I know, I KNOW I can beat this.  I think that’s what makes the difference when it comes to living with this disease.  It’s also what makes living with someone who has the illness possible.  There is a responsibility for those of us who suffer from being bipolar.  Not only do you need to learn to recognize your own mood swings, you need to take ownership and seek help before it’s a real problem.  It’s easy to convince yourself to stop taking your meds.   You might see the signs, but you have to do something about it before it’s too late.  I can’t help having the illness, but I can help keep it controlled.  And it’s my responsibility alone.  No one else can do it but me.  It IS springtime, I DO have an awesome relationship, and I CAN pay my bills.  I’m not going to let a little chemical imbalance take that away from me.  The healing starts today; right here and now. My disease is strong, but I am stronger.  I’ve proven that before, and I’ll prove it again.  I still have choices, and I know which choice to take.

You know what?  I feel better already.

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Great Expectations

And the fight goes on…

I’ve said it before, this whole “normal’ think is boring.  I’ve strived for this years now, and thanks to a successful treatment plan, I’ve managed to put the crazy to rest.

And it’s driving me crazy.

Mania isn’t fun.  Well, to be honest it can be, but cleaning up the aftermath and the subsequent depression that always follows isn’t.  My mania’s are not comfortable, I’ll admit.  My stress level goes through the roof.  My muscles are strung taught all the time, and there’s this feeling that I have a giant spring coiled up inside of me that is about to explode.  Yet, that doesn’t sound so bad right now.  Along with the stress is exuberance with life.  The opportunities are endless.  Ideas pour out of my head, each one better than the last.  I’m going to make a fortune; I’m going to grow my company; I’m going to write a bestseller.

I’m going to save the world.

Then there is all the fun activities.  I tend to play a lot of golf when I’m on a high.  The more I play, the better I get, and the better I get the more people I can beat.  And beating others is so satisfying!  When I’m single (which happens a lot) I go on the hunt for someone new.  There are three or four dating sites that I’ve belonged to that always generated results.  I could have a different date every night, and usuall do.  And you’d be surprised at how many dates have little inhibitions when it comes to… well, let’s call it a sleepover.   There’s nothing like the thrill of the hunt.  If I am in a relationship, then boundaries get pushed and horizons are expanded.  It’s rare to have any participation from my mate, but there’s always the planning and anticipation.

The energy is boundless!

Even the anger my mania can cause brings a certain appeal.  Anger is a different form of passion, and passion fuels life.  And the best part of being manic, is most times you don’t even realize that you’re having an episode.  Things just happen, there’s no awareness of the craziness.  Others always get hurt in some fashion, but when in that mode the damage being done is unseen.  When in the grasp of a full blown manic episode you become oblivious to anyone other to yourself.  Or if you are aware, your perception is that you are making their life better and saving them from all the tribulations.

It’s all quite fun, actually.

That’s quite a contrast to my new ‘normal’ life.  There’s nothing to get excited about.  My energy level is constant and just enough to get done what needs to be done.  The routine doesn’t really change either; get up, go to work, fix dinner, hang out then go to bed.    And tomorrow is the same; get up, go to work, fix dinner, hang out then go to bed.  Then you get up, go to work, fix dinner, hang out then go to bed.   It’s the whole hamster on a wheel syndrome.

And it’s all so blah.

So I’m looking for distractions and a break from the monotony.  But so many of those activates aren’t free, and an excess of money is not something I have.  I know, not everything has to cost.  Unfortunately, the things I enjoy the most, do.  I love to go dancing, but it’s impossible for me to go out without having food and drink.  That gets expensive in a hurry.  A couple of glasses of wine and appetizer can set you back $50 in a heartbeat.  Speaking of wine, I enjoy visiting all the local wineries we have in our area.  And I can’t leave without buying at least a couple of bottles can I?  It would be rude to the vintners’.  And there goes another $50.   So we’ve started taking dance lessons.  Because I did so much with East Coast Swing with my ex, I really don’t’ want to get back into that.  The same goes for West Coast Swing, not to mention it’s a style I don’t really enjoy.  Ballroom is nice, but there’s nowhere to use what you learn.  It’s not like there are weekly balls around here.   So we decided on learning shag.  My lady is very experienced in that style, and has her own history with her ex, but as long as we don’t go to the same venue she’s okay with it.  She has history, but she absolutely loves the dance.  Taking dance lessons gives you something to anticipate, a break from the routine, and the challenge to learn new things.  It helps with the competitive drive I have.  I want to be better than everyone else!  And I want them to know it.  Even though my Girl is so experienced, I’m not.  She’s kind enough to take the beginning class with me, so I can get the proper basics before trying to catch up to her skill. Shag isn’t that much different from East Coast Swing however, and it only takes being shown once and I’ve got it.

It’s kind of boring, actually.

And my illness isn’t happy about that at all.  I can feel it building up inside, pushing and fighting to get back in control.  It’s like a whole different being living in me; and complete entity lurking in the shadows.  I can almost feel it.   There’s a like from the song “Riders on the storm” by the Doors I’ve always related to.  “There’s a killer on the road.  His brain is squirming like a toad”.  It’s totally out of context, but the visual fits. Well, the brain squirming that is; I’m no killer, and have no fantasies or desire to become one.  This ‘thing’ in my brain is tangible almost though.  I’ve seen images of mud pits in Yosemite National Park where the escaping gasses make slow, gooey bubbles, like a pot full of sludge boiling.  My brain feels like that.  The illness I’ve trapped is bubbling to the surface.  There are cartoon images of someone trying to punch their way out of a balloon; fists striking the walls and bulging out, but contained.  That’s the image I have of my brain; lumps appearing and disappearing until they break through in a slow boil.  It’s difficult to describe, but it’s really almost a true physical feeling.   And part of me wants to let it out.  The little voice inside my head keeps reminding me how fun life can be.  The temptations are always there, but they are harder and harder to ignore.  Maybe I’ll take just a peek; it doesn’t hurt to fantasize a little, right?  Just think how exciting it could be again.  I’m not always at work, or with my girlfriend.  I have time alone to partake just a little.  She’ll never know, and it won’t interfere with my job.  And I can control it, and keep It hidden away.  No one will ever find out.

Yeah, right.  How’s that worked out for me before?

That’s what makes this new existence so difficult.  With everything I’ve been through my expectations of how life should be have set a very high bar.  It’s very difficult to be satisfied with the small successes and mild entertainments.  What might be exciting and pleasurable for someone who’s always been healthy don’t even come close to the levels I’ve become used to.  Thanks to my illness, my excitement threshold is over the top.

And frankly, I miss it.

It’s not hard to understand why people who are bipolar stop taking their medications and quit going to therapy.  The bipolar brain tells you that you’re not really sick, and you’re being stunted with your emotions; drugged almost into a stupor.  You just don’t feel like yourself, and the call to give in to call is hard to resist.  People who support someone who is bipolar just don’t get it.  Things were going so well, all they had to do was continue on their meds and everything would be fine.  But for us, fine is dull.  I want more.

But I have to remember all the carnage I leave in my wake during an episode.  The messes created can take years to recover.  The losses experienced never go away.  And there’s the other side of the coin too.   My manias are always followed by depression.  And depressions are a special kind of hell that you never ever want to enter again.  The manic side does its best to make you forget the pit.  So I have to force myself to remember.  It’s so very difficult to learn how to lower the level of expectations to a normal range.  But face it, it took my 50+ years to get to this point; I’m not going to reverse that overnight.  Accept the challenge of not succumbing to the call of the demons, even through the monotony.  Give yourself time to relearn.  The brain has its own muscle memory.  Just like repeating a golf swing over and over imbeds itself to the point it becomes second nature, the brain can actually change itself, even the physical chemical balance.

As boring as it is, it’s the best choice I can make.

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Healing in a flash

I love my therapist.  Have I ever mentioned that?

I’ve been through quite a few different therapists in the last 40 years.  I was about 16 the first time I met with one, and as I’ve progressed through the various stages of my life and illness I’ve been through more than I can remember. To be honest, most of them weren’t any good; not for me anyway.  I think one of the reasons I’ve had such a difficult time with therapy is because of all the study I’ve put into both mental illness and treatments, especially after I got a little older.  It can be difficult to buy into a treatment when you know the underlying theory and techniques.  That’s not to say I haven’t ever had a good therapist because I have.  And my needs have changed dramatically as I’ve gone through the various stages.  But if one more asks me ‘How does that make you feel” I’m going to scream.

But my therapist isn’t like that.

The treatment I’m in now is really more like self-help.  I relate past events and circumstances through general conversations, always of my own choosing.  And she listens.  Most of the time, just going through the conversation a light bulb will go off, and I learn something new about myself.  There are times too where with just one simple sentence she turns that switch and I get that flash of realization.

Last night for example.

Lately I’ve been talking about family in my sessions.  There’s no doubt that most of my immediate family had some major issues, sometimes catastrophic ones.  (My sister being the only exception I think.)  And last night was my brothers turn.

He was significantly older; 17 years in fact.  And I had no clue that he even existed until I was about 4 years old, and I woke up one morning with a strange 21 year old man I had never seen before sleeping on a cot in my bedroom.  I don’t recall any conversation about him, and there was no warning that he was going to be staying with us.  Just all of a sudden, I had a brother.  Wow.   I had no idea why he was staying with us, but boy did I find out later.  I do remember when he got married (the first time) when I was about 5 years old.  Mostly just ‘snapshot images’ of specific moments, but I do remember.  It wasn’t long though before the troubles started.  I never really saw my brother unless he was in trouble.  In the beginning I didn’t really understand what the troubles were, but I clearly recall the tension.  My father in particular would get very upset whenever he came around needing help.  For example, He and his wife were about to be evicted from their apartment and came to my parents for the money to catch up their rent.  My parents were not wealthy by any means, but they always seemed to manage to find enough to bail him out.  And that includes literally bailing him out; he was arrested more than once in my childhood.  When I was about 14 he was sent to prison that was located about 2 hours from our house.  It was on the way to where we went camping, and we’d stop by to visit on our way home.  What an uncomfortable feeling for someone my age.  Especially since I really didn’t even know him as a brother; it was all kind of abstract.  Eventually he divorced his first wife, and then it seemed that every six months to a year he would show up at our house; destitute broke and in some kind of trouble.  And most of the time it was a repeat of our first meeting.  I would wake up and there he’d be; camped out on a cot in my bedroom.  One time as a teenager I remember spending a couple of weeks sleeping in the living room on the cot so he could have my bedroom to himself.

But it turns out he was my half brother.  Another surprise!

No, I wasn’t specifically told about the relationship.  I found out when I first went to a General Practitioner when I aged out of my Pediatrician.  (Unlike today when you stay with your Pediatrician until your 20’s, back then you move to a regular family Doctor as soon as you hit puberty).  My mom was filling out the paperwork and I just happened to notice she wrote down ‘Half Brother” listing my siblings.  What?????  I didn’t ask her about it until the next day, and she told me that she had been married before and that he had a different father.  My dad had adopted him before I was born, so he had the same last name and I hadn’t a clue.   In her typical fashion she didn’t give me details, but started leaving a few photographs around of her and her first husband for me to find.

You could have knocked me over with a feather.

And we all got older, but the troubles continued.  He went through countless wives and divorces, came home to recover (or hide) from the latest issue, and seemed to be getting worse and worse as time went by.  He ended up getting married one last time, and this one ‘stuck’.   They ended up together until the very end.  But even this ‘stable’ relationship didn’t stop the problems; it just added another person to it.  Finally, in his 50’s my Mom put her foot down and said enough.  He and his wife had been living with my now elderly parents for several months, with no effort at all to find work and move out.  She gave him an ultimatum, and kicked the both of them out, even knowing that would put them living on the streets.  And, that’s exactly where they ended up.

That whole saga is a story within itself.

Ultimately, mom ended up taking care of him again.  She gave him money when he was broke, paid off debts that he wasn’t able to pay, and made sure he always had a place to live.  It only stopped with her death.  He only lived another six months after that, and his wife followed him six months later.

And so ended the codependency that carried him throughout his entire life.

There’s no doubt that my brother was seriously mentally ill.  Another time perhaps it would be helpful to chronicle that whole aspect, but it’s really a whole story in itself.

The story here is how I had a sibling who drifted in and out of my life, always needing help; and getting it.  There’s obviously a lot of resentment on my part, and in a way it was a relief when he died.  At least my sister and I weren’t going to have to be the ones to take care of him.

And my therapist listened.  Every once in a while she’d comment with a ‘how horrible’ or a ‘that’s not good’,  just enough to show she was listening and engaged in the conversation.  Until I finished the story.  She thought about it a moment, then she said…

“It sounds like your brother never had a problem getting attention from your parents that you said you never had.”

Flash!  There goes the light bulb.

I’m not suggesting that I’m not bipolar, or that I ‘developed’ it just to get attention.  The illness doesn’t work that way; it’s something you’re born with.  But I will acknowledge that competition for attention could have certainly influenced the severity.  I also know that my mental illness includes many more features than just being bipolar. I learned from a very early age however that crisis’s were an effective way to get attention.  Unfortunately, it didn’t really work for me, for some reason he was the only one who did.  But I’m sure that subconsciously that lesson had a great effect on my behavior.

I am in NO way trying to blame all my mental problems on my brother.  Everybody is exposed to outside influences of various degrees.  There are plenty of people who were exposed to an environment much more severe than what I experienced that grew into happy, healthy adults.  Regardless of the influence, the ownership of my illness is mine, and mine alone.

But understanding leads to awareness; and awareness leads to healing.

My therapy has been a long, hard journey.  The whole point of this guidance and self analysis is to learn, recognize and ultimately feel to move towards a healthy life.  And I’m in no way finished.  I suspect that I’ll end up missing my last appointment by dying first.  Combined with proper medications however it’s has been a major part of my recovery; maybe even the most critical part.  Medications control the physical causes, but therapy addresses the behaviors.  But God knows it’s a difficult road.  In many ways it’s worse than going through the original experience.  This time you have the cognizance and full capability to know just how bad it was.

But you know what?  I do love my Therapist.

It’s the therapy I hate.

The therapy that has saved my life.

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Breathe…

Damn if I didn’t wake up on the wrong side of the bed today.   No particular reason I think, but my annoyance level is off the charts.  Everything and everybody is just grating on my nerves.  To say it’s a bad mood is an understatement.

I am just grumpy as hell.

I think it started last night watching the Superbowl.  I’m not a huge fan, but I do enjoy our football, and this is the biggest game of the year.   And the two teams I despise the most were playing.  I particularly dislike New England.  They are arrogant, condescending, and determined to win at all costs.  In fact, they’ve been caught cheating 3 times under this coach.  It was the lesser of two evils, and the evil one won.  My Girlfriend came over to watch the game with me, but she couldn’t find anyone to take care of her dog, and had to leave at halftime.  That’s a good way to set the tone for the evening.

Breathe……..

Actually, I think the mood started earlier in the day.  I was called by an old friend who was upset about breaking up with her long term boyfriend.  When my marriage ended, she spent hours on the phone with me and gave me a lot of support when I needed it.  How could I refuse to talk to her?  And really, I was glad I could.  Listening to her, it was clear that she was really unhappy with herself as a person and had tied herself emotionally to him to feel happy.  My encouragement was to work on her self esteem and get happy without anyone else.  That went over like a ton of bricks of course, and I didn’t even really try but once.  She needed to unload, and I owed her that much. And I really am happy to be there for her.  But I had things to do, and places to go.  I hadn’t planned on spending two hours on the phone listening to someone else’s woes.   The longer she talked, the more anxious I got.

Breathe…

I spent almost two hours making a casserole yesterday afternoon.  I’ve started doing that lately; cook something like that on Sunday, then take it to work for lunch the next three days.  It’s frugal and easy.  I tried something new yesterday.   Polish Kielbasa, sliced and sautéed with onions.  Bacon fried and shredded.  2 cloves of fresh garlic (Okay, 4 cloves –  I love garlic) Mix it all together with two cans of cream of mushroom soup with some basil, rosemary and 1 cup of shredded monetary cheese.  Pour in a casserole dish and cover with another cup of cheese then bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.  Sounds scrumptious, doesn’t it?

And it gave me heartburn from hell.

Took forever to get to sleep; dinner did it’s best to come back on me.   And so much for lunch this week.   Just the thought of eating it again is unappetizing.  I’ll end up giving it away I think.  All that time and money wasted.  My morning meds tend to upset my stomach a little even with food, and still feeling the effects from dinner this morning guarantees it’s going to make me sick.  I hate taking all this medication, and I hate the reason I have to take it.  I’m certainly not going to skip a dose though.

Breathe….

Monday morning, and it’s raining like crazy of course.  Which means the drive into work was stupid slow.  I understand slowing down a little and increasing following distance, but dropping from 80 mph to 30mph?  It’s a little rain, not a blizzard!  And the left hand lane that is supposed to be the passing lane is slower than the other three to the right.  And sure enough, there’s one idiot poking along with nobody in front of him for ¼ mile!  No need whatsoever to be going this slow.  Then the idiot in front of me pulls out his cell phone and starts texting.  I can see the glow of his phone; he starts to weave and slows down even more.  Arrrrrgh!

Breathe…

The mother of a girl I work with has been really sick, and in the hospital’s intensive care.  She’s not old (64) by any means, but it doesn’t look good.  But all last week she came in and worked full days, and fussed and moaned all the time.  I don’t blame her a bit for being upset; but go!  If she’s as sick as she seems, then the place my coworker belongs is with her.  It might be her only chance.  But that’s not what set me off.  Another coworker was out Thursday and Friday last week with his Mom, who fell and injured her head.  She’s a lot older (84) and a fall like that could easily be fatal.  So when he comes in this morning, I ask how his mom is doing.  Before he can get two sentences out, the girl pops up and starts telling him how her mom is still in the hospital too, and gives everybody an update on what’s going on.  Hello!  We asked him, not her.  We had asked her earlier, and now it was his turn.  That really sets me off!!!  Listen people!  It’s not always about you!

Breathe…..

Truth be told, today really isn’t any different from any other day.  It rains and traffic is slow.  Sometimes different foods do upset my stomach.  I never spend the night with my girlfriend on Sundays; that’s one of my days at home.  And very few people know how to listen.  In any conversation instead of listening, they are thinking ahead about what they are going to say next.  Truly listening is an art, and extremely rare.  I’m not sinking into a depression, nor is this a sign of an impending manic episode.  I’m just annoyed.

And I need to breathe.

With the annoyance the stress starts to build in my neck and shoulders.  The muscles tighten up and feed into more annoyance.  When I feel that start to build up, stopping to breathe helps to shifts the focus and help me relax.  Deep breaths in through the nose; slowly exhale through the mouth.  As the air leaves, push the shoulders down and relax the neck.  I sound like a relaxation tape, don’t I?  Well, there’s a reason for that; it works.  My annoyance trigger is still very sensitive, but by not letting the stress build up it’s easier to keep it manageable.

So like the song says…”So I got me a pen and a paper, and I made up my own little sign’.  Using my computer I printed out a reminder I could post on my wall just beside my monitor.

Monday 2.2.15.2

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