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

Goals and an incident this week

Hello fair readers,

I’m trying hard to adhere to my goal of posting more often. Let’s hope this trend continues.

Anyway, on to an incident this week that made me realize that despite my apparent stability over the last five months I’m still walking a tightrope of emotions. I’m not sure if anyone heard about the CNN/Apple glitch this week that sent the same push alert multiple times. If by multiple times they mean almost 50 alerts in 20 minutes, then sure. Between my iPhone and my iWatch I got the same CNN news alert that the guy that had triggered the inbound missile alert was fired almost 50 times in 20 minutes. But at the time I didn’t know this was a glitch. I was at work and the two would not. stop. dinging. My coworker estimated that I was getting an alert every 8-20 seconds. Turning both the watch and the phone off didn’t help. By five minutes in, I could feel the rage building. By ten minutes I was practically shaking. That same noise repeated over and over and over again was pushing a button that hasn’t been pushed in a long time. I could feel the rage in my chest. My heart rate was increasing. I was starting to sweat. It was the beginnings of a massive panic attack that had a really pissed off component to it. I wanted to break my phone, my watch. I wanted to slam something off of the desk. I probably should have taken an Ativan and in the moment I did have that thought, but I was clear-headed enough to know that I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to go into that blissful fog. It was almost time to leave and I knew if I took one I might not be okay to drive home. So I breathed. I took off my watch and put it and my phone in a drawer. The alert sound was still there, but it was muffled. I could deal with that. At the end of the day I dealt with what could have been a big trigger, and I survived. Clearly, therapy and all of the tools that it put in my toolbox are working.

One important thing that my therapist and I talked about today was goals. I always set myself goals every year. I write them down in the back of the TARDIS notebook that I haul around with me everywhere so I have a reminder of them. But goals, when you have a mental illness, can present challenges. Some everyone who sets goals experiences, and some that might be more specific to those with mental illnesses.

Everyone procrastinates. It’s a normal part of life. But sometimes that procrastination isn’t really procrastination. How are you supposed to accomplish anything when getting out of bed and getting a shower are extreme challenges? Procrastination goes hand in hand with motivation. Sometimes you have to put your goals aside and ride through those times the best you can. It’s ok to say “I can’t do this right now” and set other things aside and focus on the small things – getting a shower, getting through a work day, eating regularly, having a conversation with someone.

Fear is another component. For me, at least, that fear is bourne of the thought “what if I don’t accomplish this?” Am I setting myself up for another failure? Can I handle this kind of failure? How will I feel about myself if the end of the year comes and I haven’t accomplished this? Am I willing to take the risk of trying and not succeeding? Fear goes hand in hand with doing things outside of your comfort zone. There’s always a fear of doing things outside your comfort zone, I don’t care who you are. There’s a reason that it’s called a comfort zone.

So here’s some of my goals for this year:

  1. Find a new job – this is the biggest and scariest thing on my list. I’ve been at my current job almost six years. I know how it runs, I know what to expect, it’s familiar. But I went back and got my MBA so I could move on to something new. I need to put aside my fear of the unknown, and the fear of changing careers, and get on with it. Someone told me recently that the first job is always the hardest to get. And I think that’s very true. I have the education, I just may not have as much experience as a new position might call for. It’s time to start small. Maybe apply for jobs that might be a step below what I actually should be doing, but instead focus on getting in with a company where there’s room to grow.
  2. Lose ten pounds – this isn’t going to be easy. One of the medications I’m on has a side effect of increased appetite. I definitely get that. At times I get ravenously hungry and eat everything in sight. So I need to work at making better food choices, and probably eating at least light snacks more often to curb that. I put on ten pounds in four months last year after I started it. We just bought an Instant Pot so I’ll be cooking more at home now that I can cook things a lot faster.
  3. Continue learning French – I started using Duolingo last year, and made great progress on it until the Great Depression of 2017. I kind of fell off using the app during that and never got back into it. Time to pick it back up. I at least want to make progress this year as the goal next year is to go to the Benelux countries. At least passable French would be helpful.
  4. Quit smoking – at the very least I want to get back to vaping rather than smoking. Baby steps.
  5. Read 35 books – I’m on book number 2 right now, so I’m a little behind. But I’m going to work on catching up over the next few weeks. Maybe I should start posting book reviews.

So that’s that for this week. What could have been a major setback turned into a small victory. And I’ve set some pretty lofty goals, but go big or go home, right?

So far so good and a bit of happiness

Over the last week, I’ve done what I can to get my life back in order, starting at home. The house has been in a perpetual state of clutter. I had fallen behind on everything. Sure, laundry got done and put away every week and so did the dishwasher, but there was always stuff piled on the kitchen counter, my closet and dresser were a mess of (too many) clothes. There was crap all over the living room.

But I took control this week. My work schedule is on a 4-on-4-off cycle. Normally my first day off I take it easy and recovery from the week. Not this week. I got up at a decent time, went grocery shopping, went to Sam’s Club, cleaned up the kitchen and living room, did the laundry, ran the dishwasher, started a new book. Yesterday more of the same – cleaned, put things away, cleaned out my closet and dresser and took 5 bags of stuff to Goodwill. Today I’ve been cooking for a good chunk of the day, making sure I have food (read: not a peanut butter sandwich) to take to work for lunch and Mike has food when he gets home and on his day off so we’re not constantly eating frozen pizza and cereal. I also went on Indeed and started searching for a job. I saved maybe 10-15 jobs to go back and apply for. All in all, so far it’s been a good week. I even got a nap in today.

This week I thought a lot about happiness. What is happiness? What makes other people happy? What makes me happy? I had a lot of questions and not a lot of answers.

The Ancient Greeks said that happiness is the joy that you feel when you’re striving after our own potential, and that you have to accept uncertainty. Ok, makes sense. But still pretty academic. Not really what I was looking for, but it’s a place to start.

The Ancient Greeks also said that there are two aspects of happiness – hedonia, or pleasure, and eudaimoniam or living a life well lived. Was I living a good life? Was I happy?

So I sat down and asked myself – what makes me happy? I wasn’t sure. Obviously my husband and my cats, but my work doesn’t make me happy, My friends make me happy, but due to the fact that most of my friends work with me in one department or another it’s practically impossible to coordinate schedules to do something or even just get lunch. So I asked a few of my friends – what makes you happy? I got all kinds of answers. And those answers made me think.

I got answers that hit all over the spectrum – great sex, puppies, raises, travel, friends, good conversations, success, strength, family, spouses, good food and wine, days off, good bras, coffee, and deep sea fishing to name just some of them.

Their answers really made me think – was I thinking too hard trying to find things that were deep and academic rather than looking around at the simple things.

So I sat down and rethought things. What makes me happy? My husband, my cats, my house, spending time with family and friends, spring, good food, good books, live music, baking, the smell of cookies in the oven, good TV shows, group watching TV shows and spending the next week discussing them via email, the smell of new books, kittens, purring cats, waking up after a good night’s sleep and not having to jump right out of bed.

See? There are things that make me happy. Maybe I was just thinking too hard. Maybe this exercise was good – it got me to stop and take stock of all of the good things around me that I take for granted.

It’s time to start taking my own advice

For years, through hardships and bouts of mental illness, through both bad times and good, my unofficial motto has always been “keep moving forward.”

I haven’t been following that. At all.

I’ve let my anxiety cripple me in a number of ways. I haven’t applied for a job in months – there’s always some excuse. My cover letter needs work, I’m not happy with my resume, it’s the holidays and no one is really hiring. There’s always an excuse. A reason not to do it.

I’m worried that I won’t find something. I’m worried that I spent all of this money and time on a degree that I’m never going to be able to use for one reason or another. Now it’s to the point where I’ve worked myself up so much about the whole thing that I’m literally crippled with fear about the whole process.

What if I’m not good enough? What if all of the work that I’ve done, all of the sacrifices I’ve made, leave me with nothing but huge student loan bills? What if I let my husband down? What if I do get a job and I’m really not cut out for it? What if, for the past three years, I’ve made nothing but bad decisions?

At this point, I don’t know what’s worse – failing at everything and letting everyone down, or facing my fear and actually succeeding. Because succeeding means facing all of my fears and powering through them. And that’s a terrifying thought.

It’s times like this I really hate mental illness and the fact that I’ve been burdened to carry the load. Sometimes I think I’m not strong enough to handle it. Sometimes I want to curl up in bed and wish the world away. But I don’t have that luxury. I manage to keep up with everything that needs to be done, but for whatever reason, I have a really hard time facing this.

But I have to face it. It’s time to stop letting the fear run my life. It’s time to take the reins again. It’s time to keep moving forward.