A little bit of everything – work, music, books, mood, and suicide

I don’t think I’ve ever been so busy in my life. Between the two jobs I’m working between 70 and 80 hours a week. The money is good and is definitely helping our financial situation. But good grief, I’m practically never home. I sleep there. Maybe spend an hour or two trying not to fall asleep before it’s time for bed so I can spend some time with Mike or getting caught up on email, or both at the same time.

We have made some time over the last few weeks to see a few concerts – The Wrecks (who if you’ve never heard of them go give them a listen) toured with The Stolen and The Orphan The Poet (who have both made it into the music rotation in the car and at work), and then Thirty Seconds To Mars toured with practically all of the big bands from Sirius’s AltNation. Both great shows. We first encountered The Wrecks about 18 months ago at a Nothing But Thieves show, and I’ve kept up with them since. They’ve easily become one of my favorite bands, and we dragged my brother and a few friends to the show. Good time was had by all. The Thirty Seconds to Mars show was just me and Mike, which was nice having some time that was just us. Despite a few annoyances due to the weather and a few of the people around us we had a really good time. Walk the Moon absolutely killed it; we’ll definitely go see them again if they come around again, headlining or opening.

Despite being busier than all shit and constantly on the move my mood and anxiety haven’t been that bad. There was some drama at my full-time job (I mentioned it last post) but that seems to be over. I got a nice big reprimand, but bottom line I can’t screw up again. I’ve decided between that and some other things that are going on I really need to make a point to find a new job and soon. I need to prioritize the job hunt and get that moving.

Anyway, yeah. My mood has overall been pretty good. I’m tired as hell, but I’m still getting a normal amount of sleep so it’s not like I’m sleep-deprived or not sleeping enough. But this constant motion means I don’t get a lot of downtime.

I need to get back to reading. I was blowing through books for a while there, and I seem to have stalled out on Undeniable by Bill Nye. It’s not that it’s not interesting, it is, I’m just not as engaged with it as I was Neil Degrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. Maybe I need to take a break from the science books and read something a little more fun and one that doesn’t require as much active thinking. Between that and the Truman biography I’m reading, while both interesting, there’s not a lot of “getting lost in the story” kind of thing going on. It probably also doesn’t help that the Nye book isn’t written for people that have a four-year degree in the sciences. It’s written for more of a basic understanding.

I wasn’t going to bring it up, since they’ve been talked about ad nauseum, but someone recently asked me what I thought about the Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. They were horrible. It’s horrible when anyone feels that the only way out of their pain is to kill themselves. Whether it’s an 11-year-old who is being bullied of a 60-year-old fashion designer that seems to have everything. For days after both Facebook and Twitter were full of infographics with suicide statistics and numbers for suicide hotlines. But I know from personal experience that when you’re depressed it is literally the hardest thing in the world to reach out and ask for help. Last August when I was stuck in the pit of despair it took more effort that I knew I had in me at the time to reach out to my psychiatrist and to find a therapist. I had even called the local crisis network and the whole thing was exhausting. And then when it turned out that my psychiatrist was out of town for the next week I couldn’t handle it. Everywhere I reached out I wasn’t able to actually get any help. I wasn’t suicidal so checking myself into the hospital wasn’t an option (believe me, I asked), my shrink was out of town so an emergency appointment and possible med change was out of the question at least until he got back. And I had to wait to go even make an appointment with a therapist (I didn’t have one at the time) until I went through an intake interview. Only one person reached out during that month to see if I was ok. I had basically disappeared from everything, I went to work because I had to, but I did my job and didn’t say much and I found out later that everyone knew something was wrong but no one knew what. Fucking ask. Sometimes just having a person to just talk to can be the best thing in the world when you’re that low. Even if you don’t talk about what’s going on – talk about the latest Marvel movie or the newest episode of Chicago Med. Talk about the fucking weather. Just to have someone engage with you can lift your mood, even temporarily, and make it so you don’t feel like you’re the only person in the world and nobody cares. Just a connection, even for a momnt, to someone else.

I was greatly saddened by both Kate Spade’s and Anthony Bourdain’s passing. One of the things I had promised myself is that when I got a big girl job I was going to buy a Kate Spade bag with my first paycheck (or parts of it, two, and three). And while I wasn’t a religious follower of Anthony Bourdain’s shows, I did watch them when they were on and I wasn’t invested in anything else. But more than anything it makes me sad that a person can feel that much pain and despair.

I’ve heard a number of people say that suicide is the coward’s way out. But I really don’t agree with that. And I’m probably going to get a lot of flak for saying this, but I think that suicide is the act of someone desperate. Desperate to make the pain stop. Desperate for it to end. Not necessarily for their lives to end, but for the way that they feel to end. If you haven’t experienced that kind of soul-crushing depression you can’t understand why someone would see suicide as the only solution. I empathize with them, I sympathize with them, and I can completely understand why someone would think that that’s their only and best option.

It makes my heart hurt to think about someone suffering that much.

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.

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?

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.

Things that make me deliriously happy

Every once in awhile I find it helpful to actually sit down and remind myself of all of the things that make me happy. This is one of those times.

  1. My husband
  2. My cats. I have a favorite of the four, but I’ll never divulge who it is.
  3. Sunrise when I’m coming home from my last night shift of the week.
  4. Apple pie
  5. Hockey
  6. Spending time with friends
  7. Fresh laundry (even though I hate doing it and folding it. The end product is worth it. Especially since I discovered Downey Unstoppables – they keep the laundry smelling fresh a lot longer)
  8. Lazy mornings in bed where I don’t have to get out immediately and can enjoy the comfort and warmth
  9. Reading and allowing myself to be transported to another world
  10. When things work out. Every once in awhile the universe aligns and everything just seems to fall into place.
  11. I just discovered that the keyboard on my laptop has a backlight that I can turn on
  12. Music
  13. Good meaningful conversations. I hate small talk, so being able to have a real meaningful conversation about whatever is rewarding
  14. When Newton curls up against my hip and watches TV with me just because he wants to cuddle
  15. Being able to relax because my to-do list is done
  16. Good food
  17. Doctor Who

This list is (I’m sure) far from complete, but this is what I was able to come up with in ten minutes. Sometimes it’s just good to have a little reminder, especially when a month and a half ago everything seemed so bleak.