I’m feeling pretty good these days. The meds are working, Therapy is productive, I’m in the start of a new relationship, and springtime is coming.
And all hell is breaking loose!
Some of the things that are going on are ultimately going to be positive. I’m moving this weekend to a new house. I’ve enjoyed where I’ve been for the last year and a half, but the new house is going to be so much better. Where I’ve been has some issues I didn’t realize when I moved in. The windows are hopelessly painted shut, there’s not nearly enough storage space, and the kitchen is horrible for cooking! It’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s turned out to be nearly impossible to manage cooking. So there has been more or less nothing but frozen dinners for the whole time. But, my new house has all the things that I didn’t have before, and then some. However, moving is a pain. There’s utilities to set up, packing and organizing, preparing the new house (I’m going to be painting), moving everything and getting it set up in the new place. It’s a good thing, but getting there is certainly stressful and time consuming.
Moving also adds to the financial stress. My rent is the same, and the utilities will be a lot lower than I’ve been used to, but the act of moving is expensive. My finances have been tenuous for quite a while, and any additional expenses really put a strain on things. It’s ultimately going to help, but for now it’s stressful.
My developing relationship is very good, but there are a few things there that have to be worked through. There’s nothing wrong with our interaction; we’re having a great time! She had to have some surgery this week on her foot, and is going to be immobile for four or five days until she’s had a chance to heal some. It’s not my responsibility, but because I like her, I want to help. That takes more time away from what I need to be doing, and is just another thing adding to the equation.
The biggest influence however is my job. I work with a large technology company as a project manager responsible for resolving customer issues. It’s not difficult, but it does involve dealing with customers who are generally unhappy as they are having the problems I have to fix. That can be challenging, but the real problem is the work load. Normally I handle 30 to 40 projects at a time; I’m now up to 98! I am required to contact each of the customers at least once a week, and update the documentation. I also have to contact the customer within 24 hours of getting a new project; which is about 12 a day. Yes, I said 12 new projects a day. It typically takes about 25 days to complete a project, so do the math. There’s absolutely no way to keep up. It’s not just me either; there are two other people on the same team, and they are struggling just as much as I am. What ends up happening is that with all the calls and contacts I have to make, there’s no time to actually do the work. That means the customer is unhappy that their problem isn’t resolved, and generates more angry phone calls I have to deal with. It’s a never ending cycle. There are a couple of reasons this has changed recently. We’re down three people in the department for various and sundry reasons. That and the general volumes are increasing. I’ve been putting in between 60 and 70 hours per week, and haven’t had a weekend off in about 4 weeks. Don’t get me wrong; in this economy I’m grateful I have a job. Not working at all would be catastrophic! But damn… this is really pushing the limits.
So here’s the deal. Add being bipolar to this situation. Yes, I’m maintaining well under my current treatment plan. But the underling illness and tendencies are still there. Being in such a high pressure environment has two effects on me. Trying to keep up the pace to deal with everything requires a lot of energy, which easily escalates into a frenzy of activity. It wouldn’t take much at all to shoot up into a full blown manic episode. There’s a fine line between the hectic, never ending pace and manic behavior. Without being bipolar, maintaining such a work load is overwhelming and exhausting. With the illness however, it’s a recipe for disaster.
There’s another side to this too. When it becomes impossible to do everything you need to do, it can become completely overpowering. It can be hopeless. Just like depression is hopeless. When you are struggling with a situation that cannot possibly be done for day after day, it can really bring you down. Especially when you have the tendency and physical attributes that are part of the disease.
It would be so easy to go either way.
There’s only so long this level of stress can be tolerated. Even if it’s possible to keep the mind calm and focused, the body can’t be fooled. I’ve been under treatment for High Blood Pressure for 30 years, and it’s been completely controlled. It’s not under control anymore; even with the medication it has gone sky high. I stay exhausted all the time now and have been collapsing on the couch as soon as I get home from work. And worst of all, I’ve broken out in hives all over my body. The nonstop chaos is taking its toll, and the evidence is obvious.
So what do I do?
Breathe. Stopping for deep, relaxing breaths releases some of the pent up energy and gives a moment to clear the mind. I have made a sign for office wall that simply says “Remember to Breathe”. It’s a simple exercise, but effective. Another thing I can do is take out time for myself; by myself. Yes there is a lot going on, and great demands for my time. But I know if I lose control I won’t be any good for anything. So when my body says sleep, I sleep. Even if it’s right after work and not even close to bedtime. I’ve also reserved a couple of nights a week that I allow myself to sit at home, with my cat on my lap while I’m either reading or watching some mindless television. Just some calm, relaxing time, where I don’t have to think about anything or be hammered by a constantly ringing phone or 400 unread emails. (This is true. My inbox at work is overflowing with hundreds of actionable messages). I also work very hard to manage my work day. I might miss some of my metrics, but I won’t allow myself to worry about it. If I can’t do it all, I can’t do it all. Let the metrics reflect that. Finally, I give myself some fun. I really enjoy going dancing with my girlfriend, and we usually go every weekend. Its great stress relief and I love the music and movement. That’s on hold for now until she recovers from her operations, but there are other distractions, and I can still dance at home, even if it’s by myself.
I’ve made great progress over the last year or so in managing my illness. I’ve strived to live a ‘normal’ life and not be ruled by the extreme moods. And I think I’ve been rather successful with this. But life isn’t always sunshine and light. There are going to be stressors, setbacks and crisis to deal with. Loved ones will get sick or die, Jobs will be lost, houses and cars will malfunction, and all kinds of things can happen that keep you in turmoil. In fact, the chaos is more the rule than the exception. If I want that ‘normal’ life, I need to learn how to handle all of it; the good, the bad and the ugly. This is it. This is my time to see if I really do have the strength and knowledge to maintain in spite of everything.
And you know what? I will.