Bipolar disorder, mania, depression, anxiety. I'm only just discovering what those words mean for my well-being and the shattered pieces of my life. The "work in progress," it turns out, is me. Expect an exploration of my thoughts, my feelings, and my journey. And hopefully some fun stuff like my opinions on comic books, movies, and books to name a few.

Old "archive" posts remain if you want to get to know me further.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Week 20 - Who the Hell Wants My Opinion Anyway


I wrote five hundred words for this post yesterday. I deleted them all. I was being too clever by half. But that means I have to start over for today. This should be interesting. Yesterday’s aborted entry set me off into a spiral of anxiety and self-recrimination that left me in a bit of a dark place last night (a dark place I’m not sure I’m back out of).

Several weeks ago I alluded to my conflict-averse nature. I am so averse to it that I stopped being able to do an important part of my former job—critique and correct employees—at least a year before I lost that job. Last week I addressed my absolute conviction that thanks to things I’d done—mostly to/by myself—I was a bad person who was incapable of balancing the scales with future acts, didn’t deserve forgiveness, and should be punished.

The too clever by half comment regarding the original version of this blog was because I was trying to draw a connection to a pop culture character the way I incorporated the comic book reference last week (what can I say—it was fairly successful relative to other recent entries and I’m not above pandering). I was likening myself to Colonel Sanders of Spaceballs fame. He was always preparing. When it comes to conversations of any significance so am I. I play them over and over in my head. And then I either self-censor my side of the conversation or simply don’t engage at all.


Background for how this went so bad. We’ve been cleaning up my grandmother’s house to sell. About three weeks ago I had pointed out that an antique mirror wouldn’t fit in my mother’s car without putting the seat down (there were three of us). Nevertheless, and over my repeated insistence that it wouldn’t work, my uncle and I carried the mirror out only to see clearly that it wouldn’t fit.

I don’t make suggestions of an activity planning or job accomplishing nature very often. When I do I launch into a long explanation supporting my suggestion. Generally I expect my idea to be ignored (and when it’s not ignored it often turns out wrong—or at least the turning out wrong is what I mostly remember). When the mirror didn’t fit absent any acknowledgement that I was right it just reinforced what I already think about people’s view of me. Each of these instances is a raindrop but those raindrops have long since unleashed a flood that won’t abate. The idea that I’m a fuck up no one wants to hear from is pretty rooted.

My therapist suggested that I explain to my mom my perspective of what happened so she could understand. I agreed. Seemed simple enough, and I don’t ascribe any kind of maliciousness to what happened. Should be an easy conversation…that three weeks later I still haven’t had.

This brings us back to yesterday. I was writing on similar topics while my mother was in close proximity. Queue anxiety. Then we went to a grocery story. Queue more anxiety. Then I spent the entire night thinking about how I couldn’t talk to my mother which reinforced the knowledge that I am basically a wimp because I cannot stand up to anybody which of course led to me spiraling down a very dark course of how completely worthless my life is and how there’s no real point to it. Somewhere in there I had a full on anxiety attack. Thankfully there’s Xanax.
Green Lanterns #15

Have I mentioned I still feel worthless this morning? In a way it’s every day. Xanax this afternoon made the anxiety bearable. Though it’d be lovely if my heart wasn’t trying to bust out of rib cage. But still in darkness. Most days I don’t live in the darkness; most days I’m above it—still unhappy but not lost.

But I’m still a fucking pansy ass and it’s not like anyone wants to hear what I have to say anyway.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Week 19 - What Makes a Good Person?


Once upon a time…

I’ve always had this weird existential distrust of my memory. My memory makes up who I think I am. But what if I memory isn’t reliable? What if my memory is faulty? What if I do things I can’t remember or justify?

[You’re talking about mania, aren’t you?]

Why yes! I’ve always been a bit of a space cadet. But the last several years my memory has grown more unreliable. I always made excuses for it or brushed it off as me being “spacey” (though admittedly that is an ineffective excuse when the memory gap is emails you’ve written and sex dates you’ve had). Now that I know what is driving some of (or a lot of) these memory gaps I’m a little less surprised when they happen—though it’s still a strange experience to have someone tell me about a conversation I had with them just the day before that I have no memory of whatsoever.

How to be sure of who I am when I can’t trust my own memory—not entirely? The nice thing is that certain older memories are locked in stone. One of those is when I received my first comic books.

[Oh my God he’s found a way to talk about comics and mental health in one entry!]

Yes I have.

Costco used to sell bundles of assorted comic books—different series, non-sequential issues, etc. My parents gave me a Marvel bundle for Christmas when I was nine, and thus my obsession with comics was born. Daredevil, Uncanny X-Men, West Coast Avengers, Iron Man, Silver Surfer, Fantastic Four. Being all of nine I didn’t know what one was supposed to do with comics, so I stored them in a sweater box until my burgeoning collection outgrew the sweater box.


[Why is this important?]

Among this batch of comics were two issues of Amazing Spider-Man: 326 and 327. I lost both several years ago when I was forced, as a result of my own very bad decisions, to sell off almost half my collection. Just the other day I found 327 at a comic shop—the issue that I weirdly associate as “my first comic book” despite receiving it with all those others.


[Still waiting for those connected dots…]

Spider-Man’s origin (for the half dozen people who don’t know it) is that shortly after getting his powers he allowed a burglar to get away out of spite and that burglar later murdered his Uncle Ben. Spider-Man learned that with great power comes great responsibility. That idea has always held a lot of power with me. Spider-Man is a hero not because he does the right thing when it’s easy but because he does it in spite of it being hard. He worries about how his actions will impact others (this is a significant part of Amazing Spider-Man 327 in fact).


I’m not a good person. Not to my own way of thinking. I haven’t committed any kind of violent offense. I’ve done other things (including the drinking, sex, and drugs I’ve already spoken of). Nothing I can do can ever rebalance those scales. No actions will ever outweigh all the negative things I’ve done. This is what I believe about myself. Somewhere along the line I got it in my head that the measure of a person is what they do. Feelings don’t get in the way of that. When the end comes all we leave behind is what we’ve done. That’s who we are. And I’ve done lousy, worthless things while utterly wasting my life.  As my counselor points out, most all these actions were the result of an illness—having bipolar disorder and taking care of myself in the only way I knew how. Not only could I likely have done nothing other than what I did but I will never completely be free of the illness that made me do them—that continues to make we want to do more.

And at some point—I’m told—I have to learn to be able to forgive myself.

Did my love of Spider-Man and the notion of responsibility make me this way? Obviously not. I don’t know where that hardened value came from. Though it’s possible that my childhood hero didn’t help matters—especially since Spider-Man never truly forgives himself.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Hating the Thing that's Keeping You Sane


Would I like taking daily medication more if it was for blood pressure?

To say that I have a complex relationship with my meds would make the whole thing sound overwrought—like something out of a prime time teen drama. I currently take three medications: lithium as a mood stabilizer for my bipolar disorder, gabapentin for my anxiety (though it is primarily an anti-seizure drug it is used to treat anxiety) and as a sleep aid, and a generic Xanax as needed for anxiety.

I’ve been on the non-Xanax the longest. Though it is a daily prescription I’ve never been comfortable taking it on anything resembling a regular basis; I resort to it only when the anxiety reaches a point that I can’t manage to control through patience and breathing—a process that, though time consuming, usually makes the anxiety tolerable more often than not.

The gabapentin seems to reduce the frequency of serious anxiety flare ups. The anxiety remains ever present but is more of a white noise most of the time—part of me yet not assertive. I’ve experienced a reduction in anxiety attacks since going on it, though we did have to up my dosage more than once. An additional side-effect is a mild drowsiness component; to help me fall asleep and to sleep better through the night I take double the daytime dosage in the evening.

Lithium carbonate. If ever there were a drug that medical science appeared not to understand (and it’s unclear whether or not they understand any mental illness related medication) it is lithium. The side-effects seem to be a potential either/or for everything under the sun. I take it to get my mood swings under control—specifically to curb my manic episodes. It’s unclear whether I will ever be able to do double duty as a battery. I’ve been on the lithium for two months (and one dosage increase), and I can say that as far as the mania is concerned the lithium seems to be working. I’m not having any strong upward swings. I am still a depression poster boy; in fact, I’ve cratered into new (or at least long unexplored) lows in the last four weeks. But, as I understand it, once there’s a cap on the mania we might be able to explore depression medication.

Thing is…I hate taking the medication. In the case of the faux Xanax every instance of my resorting to it feels like holding up a flag announcing my failure as an ordinary person—especially since I almost always am around others when I have to take it. I’ve gotten better at tolerating that (and it is a topic I’ve discussed in counseling). But I can’t shake the notion: shouldn’t I be able to handle the anxiety on my own?

In the case of the two daily dosage drugs it’s more like a quiet resentment. I take the lithium and gabapentin in the morning and again at night. Middle of the day I have to take the gabapentin again. They feel like a tether—especially the midday pill. All of these are a reminder that something in my head isn’t right and I have to do certain things at certain times to correct it. This particular aspect of self-loathing was turned up to eleven on Super Bowl Sunday. For my money the day might as well be a national holiday. I do not spend it sober. At least until this past February, anyway. I had just started on lithium and couldn’t drink at all. I hated it. The day was a constant reminder to me that something was wrong with me.

The frustrating thing is that I know my medication makes my life better—makes me more functional. Setting the anxiety alone, just having the mania and its consistently bad decision making under control is a huge positive. But then…what?

Every time I take a pill it reminds me that I’d much rather not. And apparently I’m not alone in that respect since it’s not uncommon for me to see other people likewise express resistance to them. But there’s no real thinking when it comes to this question: Do I keep taking them? Undeniably yes. There’s no choice in that. I’m a better Theron on these three drugs than not. Meanwhile I try to find ways to look at them that doesn’t feed back into my depression and lackluster self-image. So Good luck me!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Spine on Backorder; Will Ship Soonest


I’ve always disliked journaling. I think I alluded to this in my very first entry. Even worse is when the topic is dictated. Someone wants me to write on a fiction prompt for a prescribed length or time? No problem. Someone wants me to write about myself based on a generic prompt?

You can’t hear me but I’m laughing.

I took a creative writing class in 11th grade. If ever there were a case of a misappropriated classroom that was it. Every period began with journal writing for approximately ten minutes. Every journal-writing had a prompt and was supposed to be about the writer and the writer’s experiences.
My personal favorite entry was when I transcribed the lyrics to The Song That Never Ends for ten minutes.

One of these entries had apparently drawn a very choice response because whatever the teacher had written in my notebook in response (we turned them in every couple weeks) I took offense at. The argument with the teacher began with me saying “Were you trying to insult me…” and I know I carried it on in front of the entire class.

Fights in middle school over insults. Cutting someone to the quick with well-timed, embarrassing sarcasm. In short, I was not a conflict-averse pre-adult.

***

A week ago my counselor gave me homework. He wanted me to list events that have caused me pain and classify them by either clean or dirty. The assignment came at the very end of my session, and I didn’t ask for clarification on the clean/dirty aspect of the list. It turned out that creating the list on its own proved harder than separating them out.

Among the winners:
My grandmother’s death three years ago.
An early break up with my current boyfriend.
Cheating on my boyfriend.
Being blown off by my favorite professor at my college graduation.
My stepfather lying and cheating.
My grandfather dying twenty years go.
Going out and being unable to approach and meet new people.

I designated “clean” pain as anything that was no one’s fault and included in that category the deaths of both grandparents and my inability to meet new people. Everything else—any pain that was the fault of either me or others—I labeled dirty.

***

Excepting my grandfather’s death, all of the painful instances (those I’ve included here and those I haven’t) remained with me in some way or another.

In the clean instances: I’ve never thought that I felt correctly when my grandmother died. Understand—I saw my two sets of grandparents almost as much as my parents. They weren’t surrogate parents but they were some kind of close sub-tier. I spent summer days at their houses. I was there after school. In the case of my grandmother’s death we knew it was coming for several days before it happened. At that time, and then the funeral and memorial, and finally the wake (where I spent at least an hour alone in the garage drinking Rye because my numerous relatives are far too intense) I have long felt I just didn’t act right—that my response to her death should have been deeper or more expressive than it was.

When it comes to socializing with strangers I’ve always accepted that I’m an introvert, but I continued to believe—perhaps even insist to myself—that I could go out to bars or comic shops or games stores and meet new people. Time after time after time that failed me. It must have been an excessive shortcoming of mine.

All of the dirty pain entries were obviously someone’s fault—mine or someone else’s. It didn’t take more than peeling apart the first few of these for my counselor to have an idea—seemingly confirmed when we addressed the latter portions of the list. In all cases I looked back on the event with anger more than anything else. The ones where I was at fault were easy. I blamed myself for problems I caused others and for failing to live up to my own standards. In the case of sleights or insults made to me my counselor’s thinking was that, absent knowing why a person had done what they’re done—such as the professor blowing me off at graduation—I would imagine a motive for the other person (because I’d never ask them) and it always centered on my own failings and inadequacies. I must have deserved what was done to me.

***

The funny part. At least to me.

The me from high school who I wrote about above—he’s been obliterated over time. I had to call an OnTrac operator three times over one Amazon shipment last week (it was a week late, two day shipping not withstanding). I could talk a great game about what I wanted to say to these operators but sure enough as soon as I was on the phone it was, “Yes, ma’am. Thank you, ma’am.” I even had serious anxiety over the last one.

It got me thinking: How does a person’s behavior do almost a complete one-eighty and in a fairly short period of time (sophomore to senior year of college)? My counselor’s answer was unexpectedly simple. His guess was that I’d had the same self-worth and validation issues as well as the same need to understand what others were doing when I was younger. I tried a set of behaviors, namely being more up front and intense. When that failed, I became more withdrawn and more conflict averse.

It was interesting, over the last several years, how at three different employers my ability to manage subordinates had steadily eroded for the simple fact that I couldn’t provide negative critique. In that way I was fairly emasculated.

I couldn’t stand up for myself when mocked by a business owner. I couldn’t say no when I didn’t want to move somewhere. I’m not saying I can do any of these things now. But I do have some tools I didn’t before.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Before and After


I had this thing about death. It terrified me. I thought about it. Not a lot but with strange regularity. I was raised Catholic, and I do still believe a lot of it. But I suppose not enough. The possibility of oblivion, of nothingness, of “Theron Couch” being gone for good was horrifying.

Then two weeks ago happened.

It was a Friday. I was lying in bed in something resembling a fetal position. Life had been crazy already with family stuff and me being lower than usual with my depression. Well the day before I’d cratered. Add to that that the anxiety was such that I was basically living off Xanax (and would continue to daily for well over a week).

Lying in bed late in the day, thoughts on when I would take my next Xanax, the idea of simply taking them all ran through my head. It ran through my head and set up shop. It lived there. And for the first time in my life there was no fear of death to backstop it. The notion of no longer being alive didn’t frighten me at all.

I didn’t do it. Obviously. Nor did I attempt it in any real sense. I didn’t pour out a handful of pills. I certainly didn’t take them.

That healthy—or perhaps completely irrational—fear of death had always been enough to give me a reason to live. The reason wasn’t a terribly complex one: life is worth living because dying could suck. Problem was that when the fear went way (it’s simply not a part of me anymore which I do not consider a good thing) it took with it the one remaining purpose I felt I had to live for: the purpose of not dying.

Do you know what it’s like to hate living? To wake up every day and know—not worry but know with absolute certainty—that your day with be a miserable one? There will be isolated moments of amusement and happiness, but they’ll be like a momentary water trickle down a stone—a surface impact that runs off and evaporates away.

I push and push and push, but not only does it hurt to live this life but I no longer see a purpose to it. Though I never really did have a purpose beyond fearing death.

I’d hurt less if I weren’t here.

Now—before you call for an intervention and a 72 hour hold—suicide is not an option for me. The fear of death had kept things in check for a long time. And maybe that will come back. Beneath that, though, has always been a huge prejudice against suicide.

I will apologize if this offends, but it is a personal belief.

From my perspective—even now as I write this and actively don’t want to go through today, tomorrow, or any day to come—I consider suicide a supremely selfish act taken because it’s easy. And I understand the temptation. But taking that out means doing unforgiveable injury to my family and friends. It means giving up on that dim flame of hope my counselor and family are trying to nurture. They see an outcome that I don’t, but I’m trusting them.

Here’s the thing. Existing primarily because doing anything to not exist will hurt others isn’t a purpose for me. It doesn’t make getting out of bed any easier. In a strange way it makes my life harder because it removes that escape hatch.

It’s paradoxical. I wouldn’t trade those connections. But as hard wired into me as they are they aren’t helping. Their existence doesn’t make me happy.

I can’t say that I don’t think about suicide, with strange regularity, in an abstract sense. I’m miserable. Functioning is hard. Sometimes just being hurts. I know I’m not alone in these feelings—in these realities. I know I’m not the only one who has spent weeks, months, years in a crouch trying to get through the days ahead of them.

And I know I’m not the only one that has thoughts of how, if every day is a painful struggle, simply ending that struggle is best way out.

But we’re all connected to other people. They’ve got out back no matter what we may think sometimes. And they don’t deserve to have us run out on them. We’re strong enough to keep going. I mean—hell—we’re strong enough to fight our own minds. Every. Single. Day.

We got this.