Linearity

Most people assume that their life will progress on a linear track – go to the right school, marry the right person, get the right job, have kids, get promoted a few times, retire. But for a lot of us, especially those of us with mental illness, our lives are full of starts and stops, jumps, regressions. Breaks for self-care. Times when taking a lower paying job was a necessity. Times when taking a step back from life becomes life-saving.

But I think that sometimes that’s a hard thing to process. Sometimes you need to take a step back, reassess your priorities, and take a new path. But what new path?

I’m going to be honest, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing with my life. I don’t know where to go or what to do. I’m spinning my wheels and I just don’t know what’s next. I look at job postings and think ‘yeah, ok, maybe,’ but nothing really makes me say yes, that’s the job that I want. I guess that my next job doesn’t have to be The Job, but I’d like to have some direction in my life. Or at least feel like I have some direction in my life.

This whole state of affairs is not really great for my mental health situation. I’m stressed, I feel like a failure, I feel like I’ve let everyone that’s supported me down.

I had Mike hang up my diploma in a place where I see it every day to remind myself that you did it, you have an MBA, now it’s time to use it. To remind me of my accomplishment.

I don’t know. I honestly don’t anymore.

Anxiety lies

There’s been a lot of posts on Facebook and Instagram recently (at least on the pages that I follow, which to be fair there’s more than a few about mental health) about anxiety and how it doesn’t look like a lot of people expect it to. Even when I first got the “official” anxiety diagnosis a year or so, I didn’t realize that a lot of the things that I was experiencing could be attributed to anxiety. Headaches, upset stomach and digestion problems, irritability, insomnia, jumpiness, anticipating the worst (I honestly thought that this was a bipolar thing, which it very well might be, but I personally think it’s the anxiety).

But how can you trust yourself when your brain is constantly lying to you? Telling you that you’re not good enough, making up scenarios with absolutely no evidence and then convincing you to believe them (things like your husband is cheating on you while you’re at work, that everyone is just pretending to be your friend and they really can’t stand you, and on and on and on), making you reinterpret things that happened into something totally different.

My anxiety, at least, gives me these really dark, fucked up thoughts. These are not rooted in any kind of reality, but these are the things that my brain has convinced me are legitimate fears, no matter how times I’m told these are not going to happen.

***This is going to get a little graphic, so feel free to skip this paragraph if you have a weak stomach.***

We have an alarm system on the house. Not because we’re worried about things getting stolen, but because I’m convinced that someone is going to break into the house and mutilate, maim, and disembowel the cats and hang their bodies on the wall. I know, this is totally fucked up and has no root in reality, but this is one of my greatest fears. Not many people know about this, but the ones that do all agree that this is one of the most fucked up things that they’ve ever heard and very not likely to actually happen.

I know that. I know this is irrational. But I can’t make it go away.

***It’s safe to start reading again***

I’ve talked about these dark thoughts in therapy (and believe me, this isn’t the only one, but probably the most common for me), and the best solution we’ve come up with is to acknowledge them, understand that this is not reality, and try to move on.

Yeah, easier said than done.

What people don’t realize is that when your own brain is the one that’s lying to you, it becomes really hard to differentiate what is real and what isn’t. Mike and I have played the Real or Not Real game a few times when I really need help sorting through these thoughts. Sometimes they get so bad that I really can’t make sense of things.

I wish that there was a better course of action other than the “acknowledge, understand, move on” bullshit, because I have to tell you, sometimes this is almost impossible. Please don’t take this as bragging, but I’d like to think that I’m a fairly intelligent person. Which makes not being able to trust myself that much harder. I hate it all. I don’t wish this on anyone.

Anxiety lies, and she is also a cruel mistress.

This was the right decision

I quit my job almost three weeks ago now. It’s amazing the change. My mental health is more stable, my stomach and intestinal problems have just about gone away, my hair has stopped falling out, and I’ve lost ten pounds.

But my mood… oh my God I had forgotten what it was like to feel this good. I actually called my shrink the other day because I thought I was getting a little hypomanic-y. He told me he didn’t think so – I’m just feeling “normal.” I’m still sleeping normally, eating normally, not talking fast, not starting any crazy new projects, not irritable, none of my normal signs. I just feel… good. It’s scary.

Which got me to thinking – how screwed up is that I don’t know what it feels like to truly feel good? As soon as my mood goes up, I immediately start to worry that we’re on the edge of a hypomanic (if not full out manic) episode. I’m well aware that my normal “baseline” mood is kind of apathetic. I go through the motions, not depressed, but just kind of plugging along. But as soon as my mood starts to shift up I start to panic. Why shouldn’t I be happy? Why would I not deserve to be happy? I think that’s the problem I’m really wrestling with.

At the end of the day, I feel like a failure. I know I’ve accomplished a lot in my life, I shouldn’t feel like it’s been a colossal disaster. I know that disease that’s inside my brain has warped my thinking to make me feel that way. I know that that’s not true, it’s not reality. But I can’t seem to convince my brain of that.

It’s still a war I’m fighting every day, even under the guise of “stability.” It’s a war that seems like it will never end. But all I can do is keep soldiering on, hoping that things will get better. But how do you win a war that’s being waged inside your own head?

I did it

I quit my job. God, I feel so liberated. The stress immediately melted off. My anxiety was reduced to almost nothing. My mental health almost immediately rebounded. I feel SO MUCH better.

Granted, things are going to be a little tight until I find a new one, but we decided that ultimately my mental health was more important than a paycheck. I think we both knew that I was on the verge of a breakdown. I had told my psychiatrist earlier in the week that my mood felt very brittle. I was soldering through and maintaining, but it wouldn’t have taken me much to break. And it was going to be a big break. Bigger than last year. And I couldn’t have told you which direction it was going to go.

So we talked, and I sent an email.

It’s done. And it feels. So. Good.

I had forgotten what it was like to be out from under all of that stress. I feel human again. I’m sleeping better, I’m eating better, I feel like a new person.

The last week has been filled with getting our ducks in a row, but starting tomorrow the job hunt begins full throttle.

Regrets and the current state of affairs

I have a lot of regrets, and if I’m really being honest, I’m not happy with the direction my life has taken up to this point. But, I’ve started working on changing that – really knuckling under and making time to look for a new job, trying to get my finances in order, etc. But at the end of the day, yeah, I’m not happy. Not in the slightest.

I shouldn’t have gone back to college in the first place. I should have done the smart thing and gone to a trade school to be a mechanic or a welder or something along those lines. Going back and getting a 4-year degree is one of the biggest regrets of my life. It put me tens (that’s an under-exaggeration if ever I heard one) of thousands of dollars in debt. I don’t really care for the field I’m in. And when I wanted to change jobs, it was more of the same kind of place that I’m currently working. And I don’t want to do this anymore. My second regret is going back and getting an MBA. I fully understand that that is literally the only hope I have of getting out of the field I’m currently in, but yet again, more debt. But at the end of the day, everything related to my education I regret. A lot.

I shouldn’t regret getting an education. It should be something I’m proud of. But all I can think of is the debt that comes along with it, and the lack of success I’ve had finding a job. And I really think I should have just gone to be a mechanic and have been done with it. But that’s not something you do in my family. Everyone goes to college. It’s just how it is. And when I dropped out of Pitt, I felt a lot of pressure for the next three years to go back and finish. I wish I would have told them all to go hang.  I think that in the long run, I would have been a lot happier. Definitely a lot less stressed. Dear College Education, I shouldn’t have done you. You were a waste of time, money, and effort. I shouldn’t have listened to my family and instead did something totally different. Maybe I’d be no better off, but I wouldn’t have all of this debt. Or stuck in this godforsaken job. Maybe it would be another godforsaken job, but it wouldn’t be this one.

Between the house and our cars, we’ve had a number of things go wrong in the past year, and everything ended up getting put onto credit cards. We didn’t have a choice – we needed a new furnace/AC, we had to get the roof fixed, Mike’s car needed a couple thousand in repairs, the list goes on. But it’s put us in a bad spot right now. But I’m working on fixing it, and I’m starting to make some progress, but it’s going to be a long road.

I hate to even say this, but sometimes I regret staying with Mike. It’s not that I feel that I’d be better off alone, but more along the lines of he wouldn’t be saddled with me and all of my issues. And to be honest, there really are times when I would just rather be alone. I know that sounds selfish and kind of insane – I have a supportive partner that loves me and treats me well, why would I want to give that up? Sometimes I think it’s because then the only life I’d be screwing up would be my own and I wouldn’t be dragging him along for the ride to hell. He doesn’t deserve it.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be happy. I mean really, genuinely happy with life and the direction it’s going. I look at people I know that seemed to have gotten everything they’ve wanted, and I have to wonder if they’re even happy with that? Or do they just keep wanting more? Another promotion, a bigger house, another kid. Where and when does it end?

My mood these days is… brittle. Maybe that’s not the right word, but it’s all I can come up with. Generally, it’s fine (ok, my anxiety is still pretty bad, but that’s mostly manageable), but it feels as though one good hit and it’s going to break. Nothing is really wrong, per se… but I feel a little off-kilter. Not really unstable, but more like on uneven footing. A small pebble shifting will cause the whole hillside to go.

I’ll get through it; I always do. I just hate feeling like this. I hate all of it. I just wish I was a typical person that didn’t have to worry about these kinds of things, that didn’t have to feel these kinds of things. That didn’t have to worry that they were on the verge of their life falling apart because of an episode.

I need a new job. And a vacation. And a stiff drink.

The drink I can at least do something about right now. It’s White Russian time.

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.

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.

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.

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?