21 February 2017

I'm no one special

So I have been chosen by the stage show "Listen to Your Mother" (LTYM) to recite my story on how my mother broke dishes at Christmas to express her frustration. It's typical of the kind of sweetness and misery stories this blog is made of. After about half a dozen entries, it becomes clear if you've come for Lake Wobegon, you're in the wrong territory.

I thought I did well at the audition but I've thought that before in other auditions and didn't get a part. Now I'm presented with an unexpected opportunity to read before an audience.

As part of the LTYM bonding experience, quite a bit of personal information is being shared among the 12 women and myself (yep) on their social media page and later on other parts of the Internet.

 From what I have read so far, my showmates all seem to be high achievers with beautiful kids, jobs, husbands, etc. I know everyone wants to put the best goods in the shop window, so to speak, but I have a hard time doing that. And I feel intimidated that I need to do that.

If one peruses this blog, you get a look at me warts and all. I'm my own worst press agent and, as an ex-wife often castigated me, I reveal too much of myself publicly and land up getting in trouble. Other people do it and get book contracts.C'est la vie.

Normally, I don't have any problem sharing my life stories on the Internet. If I did, this blog would not exist. However, this is different. I haven't much left in the shop window.

So I have to tell it like it is because that is all I can do.

I have bipolar 2 disorder which was diagnosed, provisionally, a few years ago. My shrink is not completely sure how to classify it because she finds me difficult to classify in general. I find myself difficult to classify ('I'm a this, I'm a that, "I love to cuddle with my cat') the way most people do. I most certainly have general anxiety disorder and I know I've had it all my life. So if I avoid you, don't take it personally. I've been know to avoid mailboxes because I've seen those old 'Candid Camera' shows (where the mailbox talks. . .remember? God, I'm old).

To get the usual status seeking stuff out of the way - I earned (!) a b.a. in mass media communications from The Cleveland State University (fanfare) and minored in history, political science and sleeping in the library.

I used to be a sports reporter, news reporter, court reporter, radio reporter, radio talk show host, collegiate sports information representative, etc. But that's all over now. I work as a public relations specialist for the Department of Veterans Affairs. If they'd pay me the same money to sweep streets, I'd jump at the opportunity.

We all can't be 'up people,' and I am one of those who balances out the ratio of type A to 'I don't give a shit' people on the planet.

But I'm lying of course. I do give a shit. And that causes me great joy and great pain.

I've been married three times. I have two grown sons, one on the autism scale. My oldest son has an ordinary computer job for the state of Ohio and is unmarried and seems to have inherited some of my more antisocial traits. My youngest son generally tells me what he wants me to buy him on Amazon. He lives with ex1. Ex2 and I don't speak.

I had hobbies. I used to read voraciously. I liked to travel. I used to run and work out. I took an improv class at the Arcade Comedy Theater but didn't jell with the powers that be (the story of my life). Ironically, I was once a psychological operations specialist in the Army.

This blog has been my attempt to strike a balance between writing a mental health memoir and advocating for more mental health outlets for middle aged men. Readers will note that I have observed repeatedly that the vast majority of mental health blogs, websites, organizations, etc., all seem to have targeted the money demo (18-34 years, mostly women, mainly because they talk about their issues more). By the time you are 45 (or earlier) you have disappeared from the mental health community.

By my age (54), most men with mental issues are either dead, in jail, in the bottle, or in seclusion. Some are still trying therapy. Bless 'em all.

Writing, at this point, is all I have left. It is both painful and necessary for me to do. I would like to have the audience I had as a newspaper columnist or a radio talker but this will have to do. I'm not sure what I have to say would garner much of a marketable audience anyway.

Despite the tone of this post, I still manage to get up everyday, go to a job I hate, and do what I have to do. I take pride in the appearance of my house and property. I still find joy in the little things, the absurdity of modern life and the fascination that my wife puts up with me.

If it helps explain things, I grew up in Cleveland and was a rabid Browns fan. That alone is enough to drive anyone to despair. Now I dip myself into the refreshing waters of black and gold and look forward to football season -- just not as much as I used to.

Once you get to know me, I'm funnier in person.

06 February 2017

Ruinations on Bipolar and Life

It's taken me the better part of my life to realize that I have always carried this disease of the brain and I shall take it to my grave.

It has been the catalyst of a series of up and down mood swings which have largely determined the trajectory of my life. How much control did I really have? How much control does an alcoholic have? A drug addict? There were times I felt I was totally in control. Those were the most dangerous and destructive times of my life.

So sometimes I think that when I am feeling my most down I am the safest. I am aware totally of what is happening to me and even though the feelings suck, to put it mildly, I am well aware of my capability and liabilities under this conditions.

When I have been at my most confident is when I have taken leave of my senses - sometimes partially and sometimes almost totally.

Of course as years go by and my memory becomes like a sharp knife poking at my conscience, I look back and wonder how I could have made such destructive and hurtful decisions. The terrifying thing is that it all seemed like a good and exciting idea - at the time.

Bipolar people are good at apologizing. One might say that when we come to our senses, we are the masters of drawn, out, maudlin, emotional apologies. This is not to say they are not genuine - they are for we are not psychopaths. It's just when we are moved to apologize for past acts we're in a state of 'thoughtful depression' and more succeptible to grand, moving spectacles of 'I'm sorry.'

After awhile, the apologies pile up over the years and our memories torture us with the things that might have been had we, somehow, been able to seize upon some kind of will and behave with rationality, empathy and compassion. We tend to leave a lot of broken and dazed victims in our wake, especially those we love.

I don't have the answer. This blog for instance, is one I cannot write continuously. I write, not only when I feel the need to, but when I mentally and physically can. You can talk about spoon theory but there are other things at play. The brain fog, the apathy, the belief that no one gives a damn about what you have to write and whether the medications are working better than usual.

Writing, work, family relations, sociability - it's all the same. Sometimes our interactions operate smoothly, like a well-maintained car. Sometimes we can get by with the engine sputtering. Other times, it's crash and burn. We try to anticipate, read our own bodies and minds and take medications when we feel we need them. It is the ultimate inexact science.

I think the older one gets, the danger is that one becomes battle weary. I know I fight that every day. It gets harder to cherish the good days because they seem futile. We know the bad days will at least even them out. It's just a matter of time. It's like being being in a nice prison with plenty of food, recreation and creature comforts. Just every so often, for no reason at all, you get thrown into solitary confinement. Maybe for a day, maybe for a week.

I often wondered how I would do in solitary confinement. I have the ability to stare at a wall for hours and live in my head. Hopefully, I'll never find out.

This essay was inspired by a meme I saw on twitter this morning. It read "describing your mental illness is like trying to describe color to a blind person."

I though about that for a little while. I have tried every way I can from when I was a child to a young adult to now to provide an explanation that would make sense to the normals. The best thing I can come up with is this: other people are competing for space in my brain.

I sit in my living room, the cat is cozied up to me and late afternoon light is streaming through the front window. The only sound, other than my typing, is the tick tock of the cuckoo clock - the one that was a wedding present in 1984 from a long lost sister-in-law. She had good taste. It's a nice clock.

But I become very aware of the silence otherwise and my need to say something, regardless of how mundane or ponderous my prose might be. I feel that I can't say much anymore. I am marked at work and can no longer try to seek understanding. I still find it incredible that I must have apologized a couple of hundred times for what I said but my employer could not bring themselves to apologize even once for what I was put through. Not even for almost getting shot in front of my wife.

As John Wayne said - it's a sign of weakness. And weakness is not tolerated unless you have rank and status. So it is with my employer. But I will write anyway. If they lay claim to my words, I will burn them. They have already laid claim to my behavior and my livelihood - they will not have my words. Never again.

No one realizes how incredibly difficult it is for someone with my condition to function in a system where they are not respected. Every day I feel like I am being treated with kid gloves no matter how professional my work and behavior may be. Zero tolerance, zero humanity.

I guess that is why I sit here and listen to the clock tick and wonder what it all was for. It has been a ride to be sure. I wish I had not left so much wreckage in my wake. Wherever death takes me, I am sure that will be levied on the debit side of my account. I want it not to be over just yet. Even though everything seems to be winding down slowly, I would like just a few more adventures; a few more grand things to look forward to before the brain fog closes in for good.

I was in the Costco today. For some strange reason, I became sad. The same way I do in the halls of the Home Depot. I remember a going down similar halls on my last great adventure a decade ago - a grand achievement made during my last great manic period - and a great disaster that cost me a marriage.

Ten years before that, there was another grand manic period that accomplished the same thing - a great return to my career and a shattered marriage.

But during those times, the senses were heightened and the fire was in my belly. The air smelled different, the sun shone brighter, I had energy, enthusiasm and drive. I could do anything I set my mind to.

Such great accomplishments aside such great tragedies, such is life, I suppose for people like us.

I would like not to feel the chain-weights of depression and lethargy; of hopelessness and dysthemia. But the only other option is another flame out. As exciting as might seem, I would rather be this morose medicated mess that the streaking star that leaves eventual regret.

And the clock ticks and I think - is that all there is now? Why can't I have one last spurt of creativity and energy without the resultant destructiveness? Why does it have to be one or the other?

I don't know. Such is my and many others lot in life, I guess.

Does any of this make any sense?