19 May 2017

Mick Jagger Bogarted My Meds

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written anything.

I may have mentioned it before but there are stretches where I’m literally incapable of writing anything. It’s not that the muse isn’t present, it’s just that the will is weak.

For me, writing used to be easy and fun. Now I have to be in the right frame of mind and physically up to do it. So it comes in spurts.

Anyway, I’m in the process of switching meds. My psych is switching out my Lexapro for Cymbalta. And it just took me two minutes to remember the name of the drug. Hell, I’m just popping pills so much I can’t even remember what I’m taking!

I’m on the one week weaning which is always a fun time when you’re taking two SSRIs at the same time. How have I been feeling? A weird kind of mellow is how I would put it.

I’m mellow but confused and forgetful. And, I’m dropping almost everything I touch.

Still, mellow like a hash buzz is better than the Midnight screaming meemies. For those of us who have been trying to find the right med combination for decades, the period between switching one to the other is partly opening the presents on Christmas morning and partly dread. You don’t know the longer lasting effects until weeks pass.

Why Cymbalta? The psych feels it will give me more energy, less lethargy, perhaps an appreciation of golf on TV, I have no idea. I remember I was on it once but I don’t remember why I got off it.

Such is life in the Wide Wide World of Psychotropic Medication.
Good points:

Occasional Zen-like moments of introspective tranquility – even at work

Better sleep

Bad points

Appearing and feeling occasionally drunk; balance issues.

Loss of extemporaneous speaking prowess.

Weird points

Zen state causes me to stare at inanimate objects and contemplate their existence. Staring at a lock on a door: “Wow, always wondered just how locks work with the keys and all that. Fascinating construction. Wonder what metal it’s made of? Beautiful man!”

Earwigs – the songs you hear or just appear in your head become mantras that last a long, long time. Currently, walking down the hall:

Laughter, joy, and loneliness and sex and sex and sex and sex
Look at me, I'm in tatters
I'm a shattered

Cool beans bro.

No I’m just groovin’ to the morning vibes. Don’t ask me how I drive. Man alive, thrive on jive.

I’m a cool poppa, 54 going on 21; what the Hell, it beats curling up in bed hiding from the world, shaking and sweating into the sheets. God love Big Pharma.

Rats on the west side, bed bugs uptown

I’m a creative. I write. I’m in control of my brain though I’m feeling my emotions drain. It’s vanilla shit but the vanilla beans are fresh and I’m satisfied.

Spacing out at the keyboard, wondering how long this will last

My brain's been battered, splattered all over Manhattan . . .

Shadoobie, my brain's been battered

my brain's been battered;

brain's been battered;





08 May 2017

OK, So I Lied

I've been nicely strong-armed back to a blogging group on Facebook in which we work to increase each other's blog awareness.

I've never been a part of such an effort but the people who run it, run it like schoolteachers. To wit: you get an assignment every Monday to link a FB post to this FB page. Then other members read and comment and like and well, I'm still trying to grasp it completely, but I thought it would push me in a more positive direction and keep me writing.

They are strict - do the assignments, don't fake it, or you're kicked out.

Writing is hard work. For me, it used to be a breeze but depression knocks the winds from your sails in many ways, especially bipolar depression and my traveling companion, anxiety. So it's very tough for me to write regularly - the muse comes in spurts. Heh heh (forever 12).

Anyway, I had a great time in New York City but when I came home I crashed very hard and am still not in a good place. The sick reason is that I was having so much fun I completely put work and all other troubles out of my mind.

You may think that's a good thing - but the way my mind works, when I came back on Wednesday, the shock of going back to work was too much. You see, when I worry, I'm prepared. Yes, I count the hours until I get back to work but it prepares me mentally for whatever may happen.

To forget my troubles for four days invites a sort of mental illness tsunami in which ALL of the worries come back at once. It's easier for me to deal with them continuously. As a consequence, I told my wife we'll probably not take a vacation like this for a long time.

Yeah, it sucks big time.

In addition since coming back, I've been having heightened anxiety and work flashback which have really thrown me for a loop since I haven't experienced those in many months. I see my shrink on Wednesday and we need to talk about this. The Ativan isn't working like it should - I'm taking more - and I feel like I'm on the verge.

Being 'on the verge' is not a good place to be, believe me. I even departed FB for the weekend because I realized beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was harming me. How? When I get really angry, anxious, worried or lonely, I post things that I should not - I'm trolling for attention and I become one of those people I dislike on FB. It also feeds a bad spiral that causes me to become more depressed, anxious and mad and post more.

I think it's therapy - it's not. It's coming apart in front of a small audience of friends, many of whom do not know how to take it, And I'm putting those friends in an uncomfortable situation. Facebook is a drug - it can be good or bad but when I'm in a serious state it's a bad drug.

Twitter seems different but that's because I try to avoid getting into flame wars and only deal with people in my interest circles. Yes, it's an echo chamber (so is FB) but people like me can't, and I really need to stress this, can't let their emotions drag them into something they regret. And when my emotions are on a hair-trigger, that is not a good thing to exhibit on a forum more public than Facebook.

I recently finished binge watching '13 Reasons Why' which will be the subject of another blog post.

PS: I told you all that my writing would reflect the mood I was in on a particular day and I wasn't kidding.

05 May 2017

The last worthless blog post that you'll have to read

PS: Read John Pavlovitz. He writes about what matters much better than I. He's who I wanted to be I guess.

I am home sick with a migraine.

Probably caused by stress.

But that’s not why I’m writing this.

I’ve been hit with depression since I returned home from my vacation on Wednesday that has gradually become more severe. I think that the severity is due to the stark differences from spending four days in Manhattan truly enjoying myself and the reality of coming back to work in a place that is like a real haunted house – one I can’t escape and keep telling myself that I should be grateful to work for in light of how much they pay me for so little work I actually do.

I used to work in jobs where I felt I made a difference but lost them all because I couldn’t control the emotions caused by a condition I didn’t even know I had.

But that’s all over now and I finally accept that.

Circumstances have forced me to accept that.

You know, I could go on like I usually do in these boring screeds but in this case let me TRY to be mercifully brief for all seven readers.

My skills are deteriorating. I can’t stand the world I live in anymore. I have overburdened my wife with my illness. I hate myself. I can’t take the fact that I could have been much more than what I turned out to be if I had been able to master my illness earlier in life. Some people can live with that, I can’t.

Nobody really wants to hear anyone whine. Trust me, this will be the last one.

When one door closes, another one opens. But what if it doesn’t? How do you force the door? After over 30 years of being an ‘escape artist’ in life, the door is closed.

I’m tired of being told about attitude and outlook and re-invention and ‘finding your muse’ and all that hippy-dippity self-help crap that makes its purveyors tons of money while leaving more frustration in its wake among the people who bought the snake oil. Live in my head for an hour and tell me how possible all of it is. When your brain reminds you of every regrettable thing you’ve done your whole life and what a shit you are for doing it, it’s hard to see out of that fog.

The fog – the forgetting of words, keys, names that keeps getting worse. A once sharp mind struggling to put coherent sentences together. Blanking out in the middle of a thought or task. Looking at words written just ten minutes before and finding them unrecognizable.

Fuck it, I’m overwriting again. I won’t explain myself to anyone anymore. No one can understand and I don’t give a shit anymore if they do or not.

What I really wanted, all I really wanted, was someone to talk to. I’m a two-time failure with support groups; I won’t go into why. I’ve had 30 shrinks. I’ve taken boatloads of pills. But all of those could have been bested by having someone, anyone, who understands all of this to talk to. Not even someone with bipolar/anxiety/depression but someone who would just be willing to listen.

I’ve tried.  Believe me, I’ve tried. On Facebook, someone sneezes and 40 of their friends rush to comfort them. I know, being a guy, it’s much harder. As a man, emotionally and physically, I’ve been a failure. The guys I went to school with and those I have met along the way couldn’t understand a person like me. Ergo, most of my friends have been female. But still there is a big gulf of understanding. Sometimes they listen but after a while, I get the sense that most of them wonder when I’m going to get my shit together and start pretending to be happy and successful – like everyone on Facebook does. Except me of course.

My posts the last day or two have hinted at my deteriorating state. I’m going to go back and erase them. It really is an embarrassment to bleed all over a semi-public forum if you’re a guy. I have to admit that as it went on, the posts were kind of an experiment – would anyone read between the lines and wonder if I was in some trouble (I am) and reach out.

Well if someone had, I would not be writing this.

I’m done.

I have a function on the 12th that requires me to be on Facebook at least until then. After that, I need to suck it up, be strong, and separate myself from posting and replying. I’m not cut out for this. It’s too much of an emotional roller coaster and people like me shouldn’t play the game because, eventually, we’ll always lose. I can’t pretend to present a smiling happy successful face to the world when it really doesn’t exist. And everyone has problems and mine are no greater or lesser or worth the trouble for anyone else to acknowledge.

I read other people’s lives in their Facebook pages and wonder what cosmic crimes I committed that I couldn’t have that – that even when I stumbled there would be people who would reach out – first online, then in real life. We all still have phones in those computers.

But again, I’m whining and I know it. And I’m going long and I don’t care. Since I was a little kid it’s been this way. I can remember the first day at school each year at Notre Dame Elementary when I was so excited to think that maybe this year would be different – this year I could make real friends and be accepted into the group. I would sit there on the first day trying to catch someone’s eye to talk to. But they were too busy talking amongst themselves about the vacations they took and the things they did during the summer that my parents could never afford. And I would feel this invisible wall descend around me between me and everyone else. And it hurt. Every year. And it hurt like hell.
I know I’m not attractive. I was always the fat kid with the funny last name and the intelligence that even my own mother warned me was going to be threatening to others.

I’m tired of trying to be someone I’m not to fit in. I’ve tried to be other people so many times that I really don’t know who I am.  I’m tired of trying to lose weight, meet the right people and get involved in outside activities, clubs and groups only to crash and burn every time because of some facet of my personality or illness.

I know now, it is best for me to be alone and wait.

I’m lonely but I’ll just have to get over it. At some point it will end and I will be grateful for it.
There will be no more vacations. If I must work where I am, then I need to be there to not only protect my job but not to let myself think that it will get any better. This is your life – adjust; until it becomes too much which it will at some point.

So that’s it. I used to be a writer but now I can’t write for shit. I used to be on radio now no one wants to hear me. My time has come and gone. The mental health organizations want young good-looking faces for their writing and speaking staffs. No one cares about middle aged white guys with mental issues until we become a statistic – ‘my God, look at the rates of suicide spiking for this group!
‘Well, having been on top for so long on the backs of others, they’re just getting what they deserve.’

I’ve never felt on top of anything.

As I wrote above, I have nothing to say that hasn’t been said about my condition by others who can now write circles around me. It was a decent ride; I had a lot of luck but I don’t see the worth in wasting my time writing something that no one really wants to read. I don’t feel like wasting any more time struggling to be fit or sociable when my long track record of failure in those areas is a testament to futility.

This is the last entry of the last blog. The last worthless effort to be heard and understood – and, really believe me, to try to find others like me – to write for all of us old guys who have felt the pangs of suicidal ideation but kept going trying to find peace in a world that really wishes we’d just shut up and hang ourselves already.

I’ve just looked at the word counter on the bottom of the screen – 1,400 words of undiluted bullshit. 

So I’ll stop here.

25 April 2017

Boring Man Goes to New York

There are, it seems, 10,000 blogs in English talking about various mental illnesses. Mine is one of those.

Of course, I want to talk about other things as well, with an emphasis on sharing my experiences in midlife dealing with bipolar2 and anxiety issues.

I don’t think I’ve been doing a very good job of it. I’m not good at self-promoting. I feel I have something to say but, really, are my experiences any better or worse; is my writing better or worse than the other 10,000 bloggists? I read some incredible blogs, some that literally want to make me stand and cheer.

I look at what I write and it seems flat.

I really used to be better than this. I was a columnist for two daily newspapers. I’ve been a journalist most of my life. I used to get a lot of kudos for my columns and it kept me going. I enjoyed writing them. I am acutely aware, right now, that my short sentences must sound like a jackhammer on the brain.

In the last several years, I have forced myself to write through the illness for my own mental health. This does not always produce entertaining or enlightening material. And let’s face it: no one wants to read vanilla blogs.

It is a great sadness to me that writing only comes when it comes. Several days go by and I just can’t do it, even though I have something to say. And when I do, it all seems so flat; sort of the writing equivalent of a flat affect personality.

Is it the medication? I think that plays a part. When I miss the highs and lows I also miss a lot of the creative spark that could send my writing flying in all kinds of exciting (and dangerous) directions.
Am I more afraid? Perhaps, but I’m getting over that. Pretty much everyone who knows me knows what I’m dealing with. There are certain things and people I can’t write about, family being one of them.

I think it is possible that I fear wasting the reader’s time. I’m probably doing that right now.

Author David Foster Wallace worried extensively about his medications hashing his creativity. A switch in medication led him into a downward spiral resulting in his suicide. Considerations of dropping medications for the sake of creativity are not to be taken lightly.

As much as I miss a lot of the old me, I understand why I must stick to my medication. The mania that was so self-destructive is held at bay and the depression, well . . . it’s handled as best as can be expected.

My psychiatrist has suggested subbing Celexa for Lexapro when I get back from New York. I doubt it will make me feel like a ‘new man’ whatever that means, but I’m more willing to experiment (with her supervision) than I would have been two years ago.

The basic problem is I can experience all the lows but the highs bring with them a certain glib silliness without the energy and creativity I would like to experience again.

My psychiatrist said I should mentally prepare myself for our (my wife and I) upcoming trip New York City. I told her that I was doing that by imagining every terrible thing that could happen to us.
Why do I do this? Simple – it’s insurance for the anxiety. If I go through every bad thing that might happen, if it does happen, I’m mentally prepared for it and it’s less of a big deal than being surprised. If nothing happens and I have a good time – it’s a bonus.

This is the typical thinking of people with anxiety issues. It’s why so many of us find it hard to relax and have a good time. Going to New York is me pushing myself far out of my comfort zone on the off chance that I will actually enjoy myself. It beats sitting on the couch wondering: what if?

20 April 2017

My Story in 'My Life and Mental Illness'

Here's the linkhttps://mylifeandmentalillness.wordpress.com/2017/04/20/keiths-story/

Here's the main page: https://mylifeandmentalillness.wordpress.com

I'd like to thank Maria for including my story in her blog. I am one of many people who are telling their stories in the fight against the stigma surrounding mental illness. These stories show that we're your friends, co-workers, family and people you meet everyday.

May, by the way, is Mental Health Month. Follow that link to find out all about what's being done to raise awareness and fight stigma. Also, a major point is that awareness is not enough - services have to be available and affordable or society will continue to pay the price.

I recently found out that in parts of rural America there may be one psychiatrist or psychologist for an area containing 50,000 people? And even if people find a mental health professional nearby, many times they don't have insurance - you know the drill.

In a way, mental illness touches everyone - probably someone you know. Like any other illness, it is treatable and people do recover and are productive members of society.

I am very lucky to have such a supportive wife and Facebook friends that put up with my screeds. Many people don't have such a support system and that's what this month is really all about.

I hope you'll take a few minutes and read these stories and look at some of the materials linked above.

14 April 2017

High Anxiety

The reactions to my Monday therapy experience have not gone away. This morning I was as nervous as I’ve been in many a month.

I don’t get it. Maybe a therapist could tell me. For two weeks, I unpacked some fairly traumatic experiences in my life. The first week was work, the second week was family. This may be because the entire conversation centered on trauma.

I hate that I can’t control the ‘willies’ as I like to call them through conventional means. My brain races too fast for mindfulness techniques and Ativan will only take me so far. It’s not good to either drive or try to work popping too much of that drug.

Yesterday in a meeting I got the ‘willies.’ I hoped no one saw me taking the deep breaths in through the nose and slowly out the mouth. That DID buy me time.

This week, routine meetings have become ordeals of nervousness and paranoia. Today I have to attend a noonday awards banquet which I am dreading. At least I get a free meal which is about the best I can say about the experience.

My new therapist promised to teach me some techniques (which I probably already know) for managing these issues. I wanted to unpack some more personal garbage but perhaps I should give my continuing reveal a rest. She’s already diagnosed me as PTSD (and surprised other mental health professional haven’t) and knows enough about me to get to techniques. I suppose the rest of the shit package can be unwrapped later.

The rudimentary Cognitive Behavioral Therapy hasn’t been of much use either. I KNOW I will survive the day. I KNOW I can make it through this awards luncheon. I KNOW I can somehow manage my workload. My rational brain knows these things and keeps telling me I’ll be OK. But all of that knowledge seems to be overridden by – what? I don’t know. Some part of the brain that likes to fuck with me.

It is one of the most frustrating parts of the illness – getting mad at yourself for not being in control, thereby starting a vicious circle.

Yesterday something else happened. I had an eye appointment and went to get glasses. While waiting in the mall for the glasses, I experienced phenomena that comes about every 18 months to two years.
I will write a post in Facebook or Twitter and then come back to that post in 20 minutes and the post will look foreign to me – I didn’t write it that way. I can remember I wrote a post – right there – but not using those words and phrases. It’s like someone, not me, completely rewrote it.

It’s a scary thing. I tend to panic and start looking at other posts and tweets, making sure I haven’t written anything odd or offensive. I used to joke that I think my ghostly rewrites were better than the original text.

So I did post about it, trying to explain that my posts might not be written in my normal style and that if I wrote anything people found odd or offensive to forgive me. I said I’d look at them tomorrow and correct or delete them if so.

Of course, while writing that post, I was fully aware that these words might not look the same to me 20 minutes later. So I stared at the post for about 10 minutes trying to make sure.

When this happens I feel like I’m losing my mind or possibly having some kind of weird stroke. The episode lasts about 6 hours, always comes in the late afternoon or evening and is usually gone after a night’s sleep.

By posting it, I was also hoping someone would recognize the process and maybe help me with some advice. I’ve talked to doctors and the only thing that was ever done was switch me from Xanax to Ativan. It did not help.

But it’s worrisome. The best thing to do is to sign off social media, stop writing anything, and take a walk and connect with the environment around me.

My fear is that one day I’ll get an episode that might not go away.

11 April 2017

Nightmares of my Father and other things

I must write this out because I fear if I don’t this day could be worse than I’d imagined.

I already clawed my way out of bed 10 minutes late, had a cup of coffee and a small bowl of cereal and knew, just knew that I would have to call off sick today.

I didn’t want to. I hate calling off sick. But the overwhelming tiredness, the shaking hands, the seizing feeling in my chest told me I would be a complete, useless mess if I went in to work.

Waking up at 9:45 a.m. confirmed that feeling. I am still feeling out of sorts, tight, nervous, jumpy, etc.

I went to my new psychologist yesterday. It was part two of ‘everything that ever scared the shit out if you – family edition.’ Last week was work and modern times edition.

I should say something about getting a mental health diagnoses. Most of the time, you can only get an ‘official’ diagnosis from a qualified psychiatrist, that is, one with an MD after their names. 

Occasionally a Psy.D (Doctorate in psychology) will do the trick. But getting one from an MSW (Master’s in Social Work) counselor is a bit rare.

Yesterday’s session – ever see those Hitler scenes from the movie ‘Downfall’ or pretty much any movie featuring Hitler and his emotions get the best of him and he rages and gesticulates and such? You know, pretty standard Hitler stuff (note: I hate using Hitler as an analogy but right now the bastard is the best one I can think of)?

That was me. Talking about my family. I was shocked at how worked up I was. I had covered this ground with other shrinks before but I never gotten quite this worked up.

My shrink was concerned and told me we needed to get off the topic because she wanted me to leave in a settled state of mind. I understood this as Turnpike driving is bad enough without me processing another beating from my father.

She wanted me to look her in the eyes. I had not been doing that the entire session or the one before. Because what I was telling her embarrassed and ashamed me.

“There is no doubt in my mind that I can diagnose you with PTSD,” she said. I questioned, she was firm. I asked her to talk to my psychiatrist since Dr. H-S is protective and cautious of her diagnoses.
My shrink would. But she held firm. It was that obvious after two sessions? Yes, she said, and, really, nobody has ever broached PTSD with you before? No, I replied, no one had.

And so, I went home and everything seemed OK. I had dinner, did a little Internet surfing, watched Jeopardy, talked about it with my wife, all the usual.

Then I went to bed and the gates of Hell opened.

Not even here, not even now or maybe even later, will I recount the dream that woke me, finally at 3:15 a.m. It was one of those dreams that you clutch the covers and look around a darkened room convincing yourself that this is the real world, not the one you just left.

I clawed my way backwards out of bed, trying not to wake up my wife, downed an Ativan and went to the bathroom to try to get my shit together.

I will tell you the dream was about my father and a cat my mother had. It involved a weapon. And that’s as far as I will go.

It was, without a doubt, the worst dream of my life. And, it had seemed to go on for hours. In dreams, it may have indeed lasted that long.

I must have sat there for 20 minutes at least – shaking, breathing hard, trying to concentrate. Our cat came and sat next to me. Our cat seems to know when we need some company, so I was not surprised. She did not nuzzle me and jump up and demand petting as she normally would. It’s like she knew I didn’t want to be touched but just to have someone there.

The other thought I had is, it’s interesting that my father, dead since 1983, could transcend the decades to reach out and touch me again and make me hate him all the more. Some shrinks talk about giving someone space in your head. I guess he never left or something else is going on I’d rather not believe. Because this is not the first time I’ve had a nightmare about him – just by far the worst.

I managed to go back to sleep with more Z-Quil, a half Ativan and some meditation music. I knew that if I stayed up from that point I would just be re-living this dream over and over.

It didn’t work. I woke up less than two hours later and knew I had a problem. But I did my best to get up and try to shake it off and go to work.

So here I am. I have a day to try to work my way out of this, forget the feels as best I can, and not fear sleep tonight although I think that’s a given.

So, I understand my shrink’s concern about covering certain subject matter. Yesterday’s session must have somehow planted a ticking time bomb in my subconscious that went off in my sleep. 

Recounting the subject matter covered in the session and in my dream, I think it’s a good bet.
Why this reaction now when previous re-tellings didn’t spawn this reaction? All I could think of is the cumulative aspects of the last 10 years – taking care of my infirm mother, watching her slowly die while trying to protect her estate from a sister whose boyfriend threated to kill me (in front of my mother). Also: my job, the SWAT team raid on the house and then the 18-month inquisition at work that followed – all of it, wrapped up in one awful package.

Here on the couch, in a darkened living room, trying to write it out, am I. It looks like rain. The cat has left me and I just had a piece of raisin bread and a cup of tea. I don’t know how to process the rest of the day. I don’t know what my co-workers are thinking of me having taken the balance of the afternoon yesterday to attend this session with an eye appointment looming Thursday.

Yes, I always worry what they think. Because one time what they thought about me almost got me killed in front of my wife. A ‘mistake’ the current director refused to apologize for since wasn’t in charge then. I thought I’d forgiven that; I guess I haven’t.

I know when I come in tomorrow, I will work twice as hard, twice as fast, to make up for it – out of fear, no more, no less. I can’t escape the place, I told my shrink, so I will have to deal with it or lose everything.

I remember years ago, the Most Giant Asshole Rush Limbaugh pontificating that “fear is a great motivator.” It was, as he admitted, easy for him to say. Decades later, that fear would produce Trump. Fear is never a great motivator. If you rely on fear to motivate other or yourself, eventually, you’ll break down your people or yourself. Perhaps some thrive off it, I don’t know. The Limbaugh legions (who have now moved on to the even more execrable Bannon bastards), would probably attribute it to being a ‘snowflake.’

The personal is the political indeed.

But somewhere, deep down inside, a little growing voice tells me I am stronger than I know. To have gone through all of this and not jumped into a homemade noose is a good thing – taking nothing away from the poor souls to whom the pain was too great. We live in a society where the suicidal are hounded into their grave as a kind of sport. But my heart aches for each misguided soul to whom the pressures of the world and the fight against their illness, have become too great to bear. They have my sympathy – not my condemnation.

I feel battered this morning. But for some weird reason, I will get up and go back there tomorrow – a place that pains me every time I step on its grounds. I will fight the fear, not only of that, but of crowds, traffic, cops, my own government, and, most of all, the demons of the past. There’s still something in me that wants to fight – that insists I fight.

But today, I must get my shit together.

08 April 2017

I Am (not) A Rock

Part of the life of most bipolar people is regretting not living the life they could have lived. In most respects this is caused by the illness – the inability to make a keep friends, jobs, other social contacts.

But environment plays a part too. If one has strong ties to neighborhoods, friends, parent’s friends and school mates, that can go a long way towards ameliorating the effects of bipolar behavior. In short – they already know you’re kinda weird and they accept the good with the bad.

I recently felt this little sting of regret when I saw a reunion of the eighth-grade class of one of the Catholic schools that fed into Lake Catholic where I went to high school.

They aren’t the only Catholic grade school to hold such reunions. There were a lot of Catholic grade schools in the 70s that had large classes (it was the height of the enrollment boom) that sent the majority of their students on to Lake. Now, many of them are struggling to hold on and some have had to close.

My elementary school I attended beginning in November of my kindergarten year, still exists. It grew a little and became more exclusive and expensive than it was. The nuns have pretty much disappeared, giving way to lay teachers. It is in many way, a shadow of its former self. Which is a good thing.

About six miles to the north is St. Mary’s Chardon where most of the people I rode the buses with went to school. It was a bus transfer point for Notre Dame’s students. It was also my family’s parish where we went to church.

But my mother (who was the sole decision maker here – the only time in our family she was allowed to make unilateral decisions, perhaps because she was a cradle Catholic and my dad was not) refused to send me there. Her story, passed down through the years, was that a teacher at St. Mary’s told her that if she wanted the better Catholic education available, to send me to Notre Dame.

But Notre Dame has the beginnings of what would become a long waiting list to get in, as the entire school from K-8 had room for less than 400 students. So, I went to a public school, Park Elementary (strangely enough with some kids that would transfer later to St. Mary’s) until November of my kindergarten year when I was unceremoniously yanked out of what I thought was a fun school and delivered to the tender mercies of the Sisters of Notre Dame.

To say this was a shock to my system was putting it mildly. I will skip details; I’ve discussed some of them earlier in this blog.

But the real mistake was probably made earlier when my parents decided to move from Mayfield Heights to Chardon. I was on the verge of kindergarten when they moved (August 1968) and was set to go to my neighborhood public school in the Mayfield system, one of the better and later, best in Ohio.

It was also the system where my mother taught second grade – not in the school I would have gone to, mind you. But there would have been some familial clout later when she because the teacher’s union president.

I often stare at the ceiling at 3 a.m. and wonder what my life would have been like to go to school with the kids I knew in my neighborhood, without ever having to be subjected to the ritualistic humiliation suffered at the hands of the nuns, largely for two reasons – my parents weren’t rich and I was a willful and smart kid who didn’t want to hide it.

Even though my mother would never admit, I was in the worst possible situation I could have been placed in. Even she would later admit that I learned almost nothing in school relative to what I taught myself by reading. Several years into my 8 ½ year sentence, even my father was making the case to my mother that perhaps I should transfer to St. Mary’s. If you knew my father, or have read about him here, you know that his objections were significant. Usually he didn’t care if I was suffering if it would ‘toughen me up.’ But he had seen enough of the nuns’ behavior and what went on in the halls that even he was disturbed.

I got off easy. We literally drove some kids right out of that school through bullying – kids that entered in the fourth and fifth grade. And yes, I participated lest they pick on me. And I was picked on enough being a fat kid with a funny last name, a geeky intelligence and a family nowhere near the economic level of the most popular kids. And there was nowhere to escape when you spend almost nine years with the same 26 kids (more or less) in the same room.

An aside: I often wonder if it ever occurred to her when she sent me to my first shrink between seventh and eighth grade, that my school environment would have had something to do with it?
But mom held fast. First, as I said, it was the only decision she had ever been allowed to make unilaterally in our family and second, she was one of these people who believed that once you committed to something, you should stick it out no matter what the damage or regret. After all, she didn’t have to be exposed to the nuns on a daily basis, she didn’t have to stand in a lonely outfield on a hot day waiting for the occasional fly ball that I would inevitably drop.

She also didn’t have to attend the Cub Scout pack comprised of people from the local elementary schools I didn’t go to when the majority of my Notre Dame classmates were part of the pack at. . .yep. . . St. Mary’s.

I KNOW this sounds like whining and I get that. But she couldn’t have devised a childhood to fuck me up more. I was surrounded by people I couldn’t bind with. And my insecurity as I got older just got worse as the mental issues took hold. Chicken or the egg? Causation or correlation? I’ll never know.

When I was paroled from Notre Dame and went to Lake Catholic I was very intimidated at first. But the people I met were not like the kids at Notre Dame. They seemed far more accepting. There were more people like me. And a lot less snootiness. After about a month, I was in smoothly and greatly relieved.

It wasn’t perfect but for me, no environment is ever perfect. But, although it isn’t the same most people, high school, looking back, was some of the best years of my life, especially after what I had gone through.

The years immediately after high school were full of effort on my part, to retain those friendships and connections. Eventually, slowly and sometime painfully, eventually, we all drifted apart.

I guess that’s why I was so jazzed about my class reunion last year – our 35th. Of all the friends I had known, these were the people I had gotten closest to. I was very curious whether I could make friends again and possibly keep some.

The reunion went very well. I thoroughly enjoyed it and re-connected with some people. Unfortunately, for some of these folks, my own posting about religion and Trump have undone some of these connections. To their credit, most of my classmates are still nominally Catholic, many seriously so. Catholicism and I parted company some time ago. I do miss the feeling of belonging to a community, having something in common with people and the strangely comforting rituals of the Mass. But for many, many reasons, I simply can’t go back. They have their rules and I respect them but I don’t think it can ever be again.

As for politics, the heartbreaking thing is in another time, this would not have been an issue. Unfortunately, we only had a small grace period before the election would tear some of those bounds asunder.

If we can’t find a way to get beyond it, and we probably can’t, I probably won’t go to the 40th reunion. I still have Facebook friends that I am trying not to lose or push away for various reasons. I hope they understand that I was always just a little – maladjusted. But I mean well.

When the elementary school classes of 77, whether they be St. Justin Martyr or St. Mary’s Mentor get together, I feel that tinge of what might have been. Although I recognize many of them who went on to Lake Catholic from the Facebook photos, I know that is not my tribe. I had four years with them – they had 12 and many grew up just streets away from each other, attended the same sports and social leagues and hung out at each other’s homes.

There were only four of us from Notre Dame that went to Lake, absorbed into a freshman class of 375 students – all boys, no girls.

And many of them still have friends and family in Northeastern Ohio. I’m two hours away in Pittsburgh so I can get up there if I want, but it’s not the same. I only really interact on Facebook.
Strangely, one of the guys I went to school with at both Notre Dame and Lake Catholic lives here in Pittsburgh. We used to be thick as thieves at Notre Dame. He won’t respond to my friend requests yet he is friends with some of our mutual friends at Lake Catholic. I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt just a little.

I realize that a set of circumstances led me to where I am today – some I had control over, some I didn’t. I love Pittsburgh. I love my wife. But one should have friends outside of their spouse. My wife does – she’s tight with both her former classmates and all the friends she’s met in her knitting hobby.
My effort to do the same at work, at the Mustang club, at the local NAMI branch, at the improv school all have ended in either regret on my part or simply not being a good fit with others. But I have tried.

It’s difficult to talk about being lonely when part of the fault is mine. Most people who know me online don’t know how hard it is for me to go to work every day and when the day is over, I’m all out of spoons and find it difficult to leave the house for socialization. In fact, on my days off, I find I almost always have to work up the nerve to leave the house at all.

I try to be someone I’m not to make friends because I’m always worried that people won’t like the real me. And to those who always say, ‘be yourself’ I can go over my track record where that has lost me enough people in my life. And besides, this three-page whine has gone on far too long.

It just hurts.

31 March 2017

Requiem: Amy Bleuel

I suppose I should write something about the death of Amy Bleuel, the founder of Project Semicolon.

Amy committed suicide.

It saddened me greatly, but did not surprise me.
There is a dirty little secret in the depression/bipolar community that we don’t talk about because it goes against the eternally happy you-can-do-it ethos slammed down our throats in America:

15% mortality rate.

That, strictly speaking, is the fatality rate for people with bipolar disease, not necessarily depression. It is the number of people who will die as a direct result of their disease either by suicide or some other behavior associated with the disease that results in death.

Some cancers have a lower fatality rate. Yet, we see cancer as a medical issue to be addressed with great resources. We see mental illness, as a corporate society, as something to be tolerated within boundaries while Big Pharma develops one useless drug after another.

The dirty little secret is no one can tell, no one can predict, no one knows for sure whether the smiling, outgoing, full of life person you knew on Monday isn’t going to be swinging from a rope on Tuesday.

And the scary thing is – the person with the illness generally doesn’t know it either.
So did Amy, who was a depression sufferer with other attempted suicides, wake up one day and Klingon-style, declare ‘this is a good day to die?’

Perhaps, but we’ll probably never know; and that is the worst part.

Experts prattle on about ‘suicide prevention’ as if there was some kind of ethereal naloxone for mentally ill people that can ‘sniff’ out those predisposed to suicide and offer some kind of fix to get their tortured brains to see things ‘a different way.’

It’s all bullshit. We exist by the grace of God, if you’re a believer, by sheer luck and circumstance if you’re not.

Amy Bleuel, like every one with this illness, fought it every day. And every day, like the rest of us, she woke up wondering what hand her brain was being dealt that day. Or, think of it this way – every day you get up and roll the dice. One day it comes up snake eyes. Why? No idea. One day your brain says, that’s all.

That’s all I can stand. Take the pain away.

And no amount of cheery self-help bullshit or bootstrap mentality is going to have any effect. Sorry.
One day, all the king’s horses (psych meds) and all the king’s men (mental health professionals) can’t put your shattered brain back together again. Self-medication has reached its limits and your brain told you that finally on this day, you could indeed, fly.

We still do what we can in terms of reaching out for help, taking our meds, battling the demons within. But the one thing no one talks about is the demons outside – a society and economic system that is unforgiving to those with these illnesses. Never discount the effect that the world we live in can deal from the bottom of the deck or load the dice any given morning.

But since society won’t change and it’s still winner-take-all, dog-eat-dog (and getting more so), at some point there is an existential angst that contributes mightily to the brain’s decision to push the button.

Amy’s whole cause was to get the survivors and the sufferers to find each other and find strength and support. It was also to use that semicolon tattoo as a way to try to educate a society on how many of us are out there fighting in ways you’ll never know.

But there was something else. Amy was a believer. She believed in a God of love and mercy and tried her best to express that in everything she did and said.

“Faith for me plays big around the aspect of love and hope. I have had the opportunity to have people come into my life and love me with a Christ like love. Through that love I am empowered to continue my story and spread that same love to others. To have faith in something bigger than yourself allows you to keep striving for something more, something bigger.” – Amy Bleuel

I don’t know what to say. There are no guarantees. One day, for reasons no one else will understand, it will be the day. People search for reasons but sometimes there are no reasons; there are only reactions.

If I could give any advice at a time like this it would be this: understand that no one really wants to die. They just want to feel like they are needed and wanted, not shunted aside as a societal embarrassment. They want dignity and respect, not frightened stares and mumbled excuses.

For whatever time people have on this earth, they need a mission that connects them with what is real, what matters – not the false values of consumerism, but the interconnectedness of human souls that, working together, can truly save the world.

“People want to know they’re not suffering in silence, you feel alone like no one cares, to know someone is there, that is what these people go forth with, they take this energy to better themselves,” Bleuel said. “I think it’s just opening the minds of society. I would hope through my stories and platforms that they would see these are everyday people, just like you, and they’re attempting to make their lives better, but here is what they struggle with.”
“I wanted to start a conversation that can’t be stopped,” she said, “and I believe I’ve done that.”

27 March 2017

Notes from the Schlub

Ah, a book I need
What do you do when you think your life is somewhat on borrowed time?

The WaPo reports this morning that Jared Kushner is being give wide powers to restructure the Federal government with their first sites set on the VA.

I’ve been a worrier all my life but I’m trying not to let this get to me. I have a job today, I’ll have a job tomorrow and I don’t want to live my life as if the roof is about to cave in any second. There’s been too much of that in my time on Earth.

And I’m also feeling guilty about worrying about me when there’s so many people around the world worse off. And there are a lot of good people right here doing their best for our country’s Veterans. They deserve better too.

In any case, war could break out in several places tomorrow rendering a lot of extraneous worry moot.

We’re lucky. We’ve been lucky. Perhaps it’s cosmically just that the luck, my luck, runs out at some point. But when I look at the horrible disparagement of income in the country, compared to what it was when I was a young adult, I feel less justified in guilt. There is plenty of pie to go around – for everyone. What has happened to many people is nothing less than economic violence. I’m afraid it’s going to get around to formerly lucky ones soon. If not, then robots will do our jobs. I’m waiting for the first fully mechanized McDonalds. I don’t think it’s too far off.


I’ve been a little rough on my psych doctor lately. It seems that the luck of the draw is the day I see her, something bad has happened and I’m in a downward spiral. She lets me vent, reminding me this is the place for it, but in fairness, she doesn’t deserve it. No one does really. I guess the measure of venting effectiveness is if you feel better afterwards. I don’t; I feel guilty.


There is something to be said for being electively bald. I recently had my head shaved as part of a fundraiser for St. Baldrick’s Foundation which helps children with cancer. The shaving party was at a local bar and I had an uncharacteristically fun time. But I also wanted to see what my large noggin would look like without hair, plus a beard that I was re-growing.

I knew the beard would come in mostly grey and I was prepared for that. I think it looks pretty good, my wife will get used to it but surprisingly, many of my FB and IRL friends like it too.

Two of them have said I look a little ‘BA’ (bad ass). I don’t think that’s a term that has ever been used to describe me in my life and I’m not sure how to take it. I hate being ‘lifestyle-ish.’ That is, someone who tailors themselves to a particular lifestyle (and associated look) whether it comes naturally to them or not. I’ve always been ‘me,’ which is to say, something of a schlub (and yes, I know my Yiddish).

Not saying I’ve never exhibited streaks of talent and lucidity but always within the framework of schlubbiness. I’m not sure I could pull off a new persona for even a week. 

12 March 2017

Spoon issues

Spoon theory, for the uninitiated, is a way for people with a host of behavioral issues to explain how they deal with stress.

You are given a certain amount of spoons every day from the great spoon-giver. Each spoon represents the amount of social interaction or physical activity a person can expend before the need for what we’ll call regeneration.

Regeneration usually, for most of us, means spending time alone with our thoughts to process the situation and regain emotional strength to go out into the world and interact again. Those of us who live with social anxiety use spoon theory as a simple way to explain what we go through but we don’t really expect people to understand it. At least I don’t. It’s impossible to empathize unless you can feel it.

Anyway, I have problems on weekends recovering from work. It’s really starting to piss me off, perhaps more so now that it’s so obvious. When things were bad, weekends melted together with workdays since the level of stress and hyper-vigilance was constant. 

Although the ‘bad times’ I experienced are receding into the past, the emotional scars remain. I feel them every time I drive onto the property at work. The subdued, yet ever-present feeling that I am always one word away from having the moon and stars fall on me again is always there. 

But the overt threat of losing my job or being shot by the police in a botched ‘health and safety check’ is gone and now weekends should be a time for me to ‘do’ and enjoy more than sit and worry.

And yet, Saturday morning arrives and I make it to the couch and find I have a monumental task trying to raise myself back up again and get on with the day. Other than the bed, the couch is my ‘safe place.’ 

Yesterday I went to the cast dinner for the performance of Listen to Your Mother, an event I have been very much looking forward to.

But yesterday morning I felt entirely empty of strength and filled with worries. It took everything I had to get ready for this happy event. The cast had lunch at Lidia’s and read our written stories to each other. My worries included how I, as the only man in a 12-person cast would be received, and the usual fears about driving downtown exacerbated by the St. Patrick’s Day parade being held at the same time.

As usual, my fears were groundless. Listening to everyone’s stories was literally a transcendent experience.  Being around such creative and intelligent people was like breathing pure oxygen for me. 

And yet, when I got home, in no time flat, the feeling of excitement and stimulation drained quickly and I was back on the couch, dog tired, wired and fried.

And mad.

I am so sick of this. 

I should be over this. But I should have realized long ago that my conditions, which have waxed and waned my whole life, will be with me always. Thirty years of meds, shrinks, zen training, ‘lifestyle changes,’ weight loss and exercise have not exorcised this beast. I will carry it to my grave. 

It is my shadow. I can, under certain conditions, banish it for a period of time or land up in hypomania – where I’m in a fun and creative period making everyone else’s lives miserable.
But it always comes back.

I vent to my wife but she’s heard it all before and I know that my moods affect hers. So I try to keep the feels to myself.

“Why couldn’t this feeling last just a few hours longer,” I asked my wife and the universe. 

Why indeed? Would it be so much to ask to at least go to bed feeling the warm afterglow of an enriching, life-affirming experience?
But that’s not the way things work. Every day is a fight, sometimes easier than the day before, sometimes not. Two days are never the same and the differences in mood and energy from one day to the next can be so stark as to be scary.

I must realize that getting angry at the situation or getting angry at myself for not being able to maintain a steady mood state will get me nowhere except more frustrated. 

Somehow, at this late stage of a lifelong struggle, I must learn to accept the situation with grace, appreciating the good periods as well as the bad. 

Easier said.