You do what you have to do

Ok, so. Yeah. I got that second job, which means I don’t have a ton of free time anymore (my next “day off” is the day of my brother’s graduation in two weeks. So not a real day off). But so far I’m doing pretty good. The 2nd job is (for me) very low stress. I’m literally just a cashier at a big box store. Honestly, if people think that this is stressful, they should come work at my primary job for a day.

My mood has been holding pretty steady. Only minor ups and downs. I don’t think I’m going to want to get off of the Zyprexa anytime soon, despite what my shrink might want. I don’t remember ever feeling this good that’s not part of an episode. I’m not hypomanic by any stretch of the imagination, I just can’t imagine people feeling this way without the help of pharmaceuticals.

My anxiety is ok. The second paycheck is helping greatly. I had a fuckup at work recently so I’m sure I’m going to be raked over the coals for that one, but I’m not in full panic mode over it. There’s literally nothing that I can do about it now. It’s done. I’ll take my punishment like a man and move on. Be more careful next time. Don’t fuck up again.

I hate to admit it but I haven’t had a whole lot of time to look for a job. I’m hoping I can get to do that a bit this weekend. I need to get back on that and not let that be the thing that falls through the cracks. Laundry, keeping the house presentable, even making sure there’s food in the house – those can all go by the wayside. These are things where Mike can pick up the slack. But looking for a job – that still has to be a high priority. So it’s time to make that happen this weekend.

So overall things are pretty good. At the end of the day this will all be a learning experience about money management, budgeting, and how to work as a team. As much as things suck right now, they’re really not all that bad compared to how things could be, and I think in some weird twisted way it’ll all be good for us and me.

A shift in perspective

So I’ve been on a bit of a reading tear this week. I think I’ve read three books in the last week? Maybe four. I’ve lost count at this point.

But one book really stuck out for me – The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson. I bought it on a whim a few months ago – it was on display at the front of Barnes and Noble, had a pretty orange cover, and I thought, ‘yeah, I could do with learning how to not give a fuck.’

But that’s not what this book is about. It’s about changing the way you think so there’s less negativity in your life. Instead of thinking ‘I hate my job,’ think ‘this might not be my ideal job but it’s a good job with a good salary and I do meaningful work.’ When I think about my job that way I feel less depressed. It also talks about how solving problems is where happiness comes from – the successes you have in life are what drives happiness. That kind of thinking makes sense to me. I’m not big on self-help books – most of them are pretentious in an ‘I know better than you’ kind of way and are not helpful at all. This was a quick read who freely admits that he doesn’t know it all and he doesn’t necessarily know better than you. I’m trying to shift my way of thinking and little by little it seems to help.

Tomorrow I start a second job. I’m not thrilled about this prospect, but we’re broke. And I work 4 on, 4 off. Working three of those four days off makes sense. So back to retail it is. When I left the retail job I worked in college I really thought, this is it. No more retail. Ever. But here we are. But I have to do what I have to do. Even though it’s not what I want. But it’s for the best. I’ll make do, I always do. And at least it’ll be hard to get stressed – my full-time job has taught me what real stress is.

We shifted my medication about a month ago – we lowered the dosage of the Zyprexa because I had gained almost 30 pounds in six months. I literally couldn’t stop eating. But on the flip side, I felt the best I had felt in years. I didn’t know it was possible to feel that good. Even on the lower dosage I still feel pretty damn good, but I’m no longer eating a planet five times a day. I mean by all rights I should be depressed. But I’m not. I’m soldiering on. Getting what I need to get done, done. There might be some signs of mild depression – not doing my hair and makeup like I normally do, sleeping a bit more, but it’s nothing that I would really consider a real depression, or even a mild one.

But at the end of the day I’m going to do what I do best – do the best thing I can for myself and my small little family, take care of my mental health, and the rest can go bugger off.

Cautious optimism

I’m not an optimistic person. At best, I’m a realist. At worst, I’m a pessimist. It depends on the day, really. Any optimism that I feel is cautious, at best, like I’m waiting for the shoe to drop. But I’m starting to feel the beginnings of that cautious optimism. I have an interview on Tuesday for a part-time job, and I had a recruiter contact me about a job at one of the local hospitals (which I have applied for and am hoping to hear something this week *fingers crossed*). After how many months of fighting to stay afloat, let alone on top, could the end be in sight?

I don’t know if it’s a product of the bipolar, or if it’s just how I am, but I never expect things to work out. No one was more shocked than me (well, I may have been the only one that was shocked) when Mike actually married me. I’m always surprised when things go the way they should – that I finished college, got married, got a good job, bought a house, finished my MBA… I’m always waiting for something to go wrong. And don’t get me wrong, things haven’t been totally smooth sailing, but things generally have gone well.

Maybe it’s a coping mechanism so I’m not disappointed when something doesn’t happen. Maybe I just expect things to go wrong because I feel like that’s what I deserve. Maybe that’s something to look more into in therapy.

In the meantime, fingers crossed, anxiety begone.

World Bipolar Day, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, and other things

It has come to my attention that World Bipolar Day was this week. I did my part and came out very publicly on Facebook. While it wasn’t a well-kept secret and most of my family and close friends knew, I had never literally announced it to everyone. But I did it, and it’s out there, and I’ve gotten some interesting responses. Mainly, “really? Never would have guessed.” I should be nominated for an Oscar if people really had no idea. “I’d like to thank the Academy…”

I was listening to the NPR Ted Talk podcast recently, and they had a gentleman on who started the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Going through some of it was eye-opening – these were things that I was feeling that I had never found a way to put into words.

One definition really stuck out for me:

paro

I experience this literally every day. I feel like no matter what I do, it’s never the right thing. I often wonder how people seem to go through the world with such ease while I struggle at every step. I never feel like I get ahead, I never feel like I’m safe in the decisions I’ve made (things like fear of getting fired from my job at all turns, fear of Mike leaving or worse, dying), I’m always waiting for something to go wrong. And by that I mean I’m waiting for my life to go up in flames. Generally speaking, I have a normal, good life. There’s nothing special about me or my life. But I always seem to be on edge, waiting for everything to fall apart. My therapist and I have talked about this at length, and while I do all of the things that I’m supposed to – identify irrational thoughts, engage in positive thinking, do things that make me happy. That little voice is still there telling that I’m going to lose everything.

Dear Anxiety,
Fuck you.
Best,
Meghan

I wish it were that easy. But it’s not.

On that note, I’m going to kick my feet up, make a White Russian, and continue my re-watch of The Newsroom. Because that makes me happy. And chances are I’ll get at least one cat that wants to cuddle.

PS – I started some social media accounts for this blog. If you’re interested, the Twitter and Facebook links are over in the sidebar. There’s not much on them now but I’m hoping to be more engaging.

I can’t believe it’s still snowing

I missed posting last week, and for that I apologize to anyone that actually reads this. Last week seemed to get away from me, and I’m not sure how because looking back, last week wasn’t that busy.

This week is very blah. I’m not depressed (I don’t think), but I just don’t feel my best. I get spurts of motivation, and then spurts of blobbing on the couch watching Chicago Med (as I’m doing right now). I’ve gotten stuff done today, got up at a good time, good a good night’s sleep. But…..blah.

It doesn’t help that the weather sucks. And I totally have to go out and shovel the driveway in a little bit.

I’ll update more later this week, hopefully when I have a better handle on what’s going on.

That’s not real…is it?

So… I was doing a little research this week on a problem I seem to have (that my therapist claims everyone has, I just have it a little more often than “normal” people). He calls them intrusive thoughts. I call them scary as hell.

These are the thoughts that come along seemingly randomly. Things like, while you’re driving, “I wonder what would happen if I wrecked my car into that pole.” Or (among my personal favorites) while holding something sharp, “I wonder what it would feel like if I stabbed myself in the stomach.” Another good one is while standing at the sink getting ready, “Mike could easily come up behind me with the shotgun.” Not that he’d ever do that. But there it is.

Yeah. Not fun. Fucked up. Creepy. And totally jarring.

I do have ones that aren’t quite as violent. The thought that I’m going to get fired is a common one. They’re still unsettling even if they aren’t as violent.

My therapist claims that everyone to some degree or another has these thoughts, but the regularity and severity of mine are definitely a symptom of my anxiety. It’s unsettling to have these thoughts, even if I don’t act on them. And I know they’re not based in reality.

It’s interesting, while I was doing some research for this post last week, really the only mentions I could find of these types of thoughts were women who postpartum. They talked about having thoughts that you couldn’t take care of your baby, or that something bad was going to happen to you or your baby, etc. But none of these websites dealt fully with the fucked-up-ness that these everyday thoughts bring with them.

Anyway, my therapist (his name is Sean, I don’t feel like typing out ‘my therapist’ every time I mention him) and I came up with a plan. I would develop some kind of mental totem, if you will, to remind myself that these thoughts are irrational. This works most of the time, mainly because my totem is so absurd. It started out as Leonard Nemoy wearing a crossing guard vest, holding a stop sign, saying “this is illogical.” Then I watched a whole lot of Futurama and it became that Leonard Nemoy. I think it works so well for me because it is absolutely ridiculous. But it’s a visual I’ve trained myself to create quickly, and it makes me stop and really address that the thought isn’t logical or true, and I can dismiss it.

It can be hard to realize that these thoughts aren’t real, or aren’t something you would do. But they AREN’T real, they AREN’T true, and you AREN’t crazy for having them.

Sleep; that elusive mistress….. or not

The worst part of my job is switching shifts month to month. One month, 7p-7a. One month 7a-7p. After five years of this, my body does not know when it’s supposed to sleep. Especially around switch time. And on my days off, apparently no matter what shift, I sleep for 12 hours (at least; sometimes it’s closer to 14) a night. And I admit it, sometimes the cats coerce me into a nap.

This schedule shouldn’t work for me – everyone knows that when dealing with bipolar, keeping to a schedule is the best thing you can do. I have no normal schedule. I end up only sleeping 6-7 hours a night (or day) on days (or nights) that I work, so my body tries to play catch-up on my days off. I get out of bed at all hours of the day, and it really doesn’t seem to matter if I set an alarm. It’s like my brain knows that I don’t have to be at work so it does its damnedest to ignore the alarms. And it normally does.

I’m hoping that if I find a new job a sense of stability will come with it – I can go to bed at the same time every night, get up at the same time every day, maybe sleep in a little on weekends. Have a normal schedule like a normal person. Wouldn’t that be the day?

 

Job stress and the job hunt stress

Me working my job should not be possible. Especially not for six years. I work 4 12-hour shifts, 4 days off. Every month I switch between day shift and night shift. I’m sure one thing we all know by now is that routine is the key to dealing my bipolar disorder. As such, I literally should not be stable working this job. At least that’s what my psychiatrist says. He’s not wrong. My sleep schedule is all over the place. My body doesn’t know when it’s supposed to sleep, and I can sleep almost anywhere. And while there is a routine, of sorts, switching between shifts is rough. My days off include sleeping for 11 hours, trying to find the motivation to get off of the couch and out of the house, confusing days of the week, and dealing with everything from laundry to paying bills to grocery shopping and everything in between. My schedule literally should not work. For now, for some inexplicable reason, it does. I can feel it wearing on me, though. This type of lifestyle is just not sustainable, and I’m really starting to feel the toll its taken on me for almost six years. If for nothing else other than my mental health, I need to find a new job. And fast.

But the job search has its own set of problems. The stress of looking for a job, waiting for a call that may never come. Searching week after week for something that might be a good fit for me. It always leads me down the path of wondering if I did the right thing by going back and getting my MBA. But I never would advance or even get out of where I am if I didn’t do something. I didn’t have a lot of options. But what now? What comes next? It’s an anxiety that practically rules my life now. And this? This isn’t sustainable either.

Rhythm and the blues

Music. Some says it soothes the savage beast. And I don’t disagree, sometimes it seems like I can almost change my mood by listening to certain music. And sometimes the music that I listen to is an accurate representation of my mood and how I’m feeling. My husband once famously said, “are you listening to Dashboard Confessional because you’re depressed or are you depressed because you’re listening to Dashboard Confessional?” He’s not half wrong.

I’ve come to find over the years that I tend to have a more visceral reaction to music than a lot of people. Most people mindlessly listen to it while driving or in the shower. But music makes me feel things. I’m not a very emotional person – even when depressed it’s not so much that I’m sad, it’s more that I just can’t – can’t get out of bed, can’t stop sleeping, can’t find the motivation to do anything other than be a slug. But music. It makes my soul sing.

I have a very eclectic taste in music – I grew up playing the violin from a very young age and involved in all different kinds of orchestras, so classical music holds a very special place in my heart. One of my favorite pieces – The Great Gate of Kiev from Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky makes me come alive. Mike had the brilliant idea that they play that on the organ at our wedding. Best. Idea. Ever. It was amazing. Seriously, go YouTube it. If you’re not moved by the piece, then I literally don’t know what to say. For me it evokes feelings of power and strength and images of the Russian Court during Alexander II’s reign. It makes my soul fly in triumphant arcs. I really can’t accurately describe how it makes me feel.

The story-telling of musicals always gets me, and when I find a new one that I like I become low-key obsessed with it. Hamilton was the latest one, but in high school I was obsessed with Rent (who wasn’t? It was the late 90s and theater nerds everywhere salivated over this one). Into the Woods was another. When Wicked came out I was hooked. Ran out and bought the books and devoured them (sadly I still haven’t read the last one in the series, I’m seriously slacking in that regard). The story of Elphaba resonated more strongly with me than that of Dorothy ever did (never was a big Wizard of Oz fan).

Modern bands like 30 Seconds to Mars, the Killers, Jimmy Eat World, the Juliana Theory, all of Andrew McMahon’s projects from Something Corporate through Jack’s Mannequin and onto Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. I connect with this music. I can feel it in my bones. I’m a card-carrying atheist, but the only thing I can like it to is that it’s a religious experience. I’m free in those moments. Free from worry, stress – I just get lost in the music and let myself go.

I often wonder if this is the case because I keep a very tight rein on my feelings. I keep them in check, scared to let them free for fear they turn into mania or depression, or even worse – a mixed episode. But with music, with music let myself feel everything I keep such a tight hold on.

I’ve thought before that this was my way in the early days before diagnosis and meds to regulate my moods. It was easier just to not feel. To push everything in the closet and shut the door, if you will. But I’ve learned that everything comes tumbling out eventually. And then it’s even harder to deal with than it would have been in the first place. I think it’s hard for a lot of people to get to know me for that reason. I’m generally in a genial, if not good mood. Happy to chat. Talk about the cats. But I don’t let people close enough to really understand me. 15 years later and I’m still not sure how Mike managed to get through all of my walls and make himself at home. But even with him, we don’t talk about feelings. We talk about how our day was, or what’s happening in the world. He was raised Irish-Catholic and I was raised Italian-Catholic. We don’t talk about our feelings. It’s just not what we do. This is part of the reason therapy is always so hard for me. My current therapist never pushes, though. He lets me open up if I feel the need or desire but everything is very intellectual – he lets me work through learning classic CBT/DBT strategies from an intellectual standpoint rather than an emotional one (my visualization for irrational thoughts is Leonard Nimoy in a crossing guard vest and a stop sign saying “that is illogical.” Don’t ask, it works.) He’s learned that I seem to do much better when things are approached from a clinical standpoint. It must be the scientist in me.

I don’t know. What I do know is that most often my music matches my mood. I’m sure a lot of people can say the same thing. But how much of our mood is dictated by things like music? Or is it like the Dashboard paradox – the music perpetuates a certain mood and keeps you in an emotional loop. Maybe one feeds off of the other, maybe there’s only a causal link. But what would rather do – drive in the summer with the windows down and the wind in your hair listening to upbeat music or be stuffed into the car in the middle of winter with the windows up against the cold listening to music that keeps you down?

I hate social media

Social media seems to have become a kind of necessary evil. If you don’t have Facebook, you miss out on plans being made, jokes being shared, events that only advertise on Facebook, you name it.

For about four months last year, I deleted my Facebook account, burned and salted the earth. In a lot of ways it was freeing. My phone wasn’t constantly dinging with stupid notifications. I had real conversations with people. But I missed out on a lot – there are a lot of events that are only advertised on Facebook, and while some friends would pass along, a lot I missed. I eventually caved and signed back up. To be fair, I still kept active on Twitter and Reddit, but only a select group of friends know my Twitter handle, and no one knows my Reddit handle except Mike.

But it got me thinking a lot about what we share on social media. We only put our best selves forward. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone is leading a better life than you – they’re more successful, happier, have their shit together. But most people don’t broadcast their struggles, their battles with mental health, their failures. It’s easy to feel alone on social media.

For those of us with mental illness, feeling alone or inadequate can be a death knell. If you’re depressed it can easily push you further down the hole. And if you’re manic it can push you higher. Not to mention the bullying that goes on. I recently left a biopolar disorder support group on Facebook. At least half of the posts were people talking about going off of their meds (and other people encouraging them), and the rest, while they were about questions people had, or people looking for a place to share their successes, there was always in the comments people bullying other people for a myriad of reasons. While the original purpose of the group was laudable, there wasn’t enough policing by the mods. I remember one girl, in particular, was really struggling with depression. She reached out to the group because she was suicidal and just wanted someone to talk to, almost a third of the posts were people encouraging her to do it or bullying her for feeling the way that she did. She ultimately attempted suicide, but a smart group member figured out roughly where she lived and called the cops on her. It was horrifying to watch the whole thing unfold.

I hate social media. And I really wish I could delete my presence, at least on Facebook. But since I can’t, I’m going to do what I can to annoy my right-wing family. =D