Mental Health #1: What Bipolar Feels Like To Me

This is the first in a series of posts that I plan to write on the topic of mental health. Please feel free to leave comments, or contact me privately via my contact form, if you want to discuss this issue further. Please be aware of the commenting policy if you plan to comment.

I was first diagnosed with bipolar type two disorder in late 2016. Until that time, I knew there was something going on with my brain that was making it difficult for me to function, but I didn’t know what it was.

When I first got the diagnosis, I wasn’t quite sure it fit. If you know me in person, a term like hypomania doesn’t accurately describe my personality (at least according to those around me that I’ve spoken to). My memory hasn’t been at its best, but in the recent past I just couldn’t make the symptoms of bipolar fit.

Then I rewound to my teen years and the symptoms started making more sense.

Throughout most of my teen years, I struggled with depression and some form of PTSD. I had never been allowed or able to properly grieve for my mother, who had died when I was eleven. I don’t recall any specifics of hypomanic behavior or suicidal thoughts, though I was irritable (but who wouldn’t be, being a teenager and an older brother?).

At seventeen, I was forcibly sent to boarding school. It was here, at the boarding school, that I can clearly remember several cases of hypomania.

One particular case occurred when I said something to a friend, who interpreted it as a suicidal ideation, or potentially more. I ended up talking with the residential director of the boarding school (and her significant other) for several hours.

My description of what was going on?

My mind was going too fast. I was constantly thinking on several different tracks. I felt out-of-step with the world. I had been sick, and there was too much work to catch up on. I’d never get caught up and I wouldn’t graduate. I wasn’t sleeping well.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this is likely one of the first hypomanic episodes I had (or at least, the first I can remember clearly).

And that is what bipolar is like for me. There’s too much input. I have this certain uncontainable, undirected energy, the need to do something, but I don’t know what. People move too slowly, talk too slowly. Everything, literally every single thing that happens, gets under my skin for no good reason.

I’ve also dealt, and continue to deal, with full blown mania episodes. I regularly have trouble with wanting to go on spending sprees to use up that undefinable energy. This has been worse in the past, but has been better now that I keep a budget and a close eye on my family’s bank accounts. (Yes, being in charge of these things helps me control these episodes. Though it can cause irritability and depression, so it’s a trade-off.)

I’m also aware of having other episodes of mania, though these were a decade and a half ago.

In any case, it took me a long time to seek out the help I needed to start managing my mental health. In fact, it wasn’t until my eldest daughter was born in 2008 that I realized I needed to do something. I’ve been in talk therapy since 2008, and have been seeing a psychiatric nurse practitioner to manage my medications for a few months (I used to see a different provider, but scheduling and travel to them didn’t work out).

If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health, please seek out help (here’s a starting point). Despite the stigma our society places on it, seeking help for mental health is not a bad thing. It is as important as seeking help for a broken bone or an infection.



The Derelict Ship Returns!

I haven’t written here much recently.



It’s been nearly eight months.

But, then, there’s a lot going on.

The fall, winter, and spring months are always hardest for me, managing fibromyalgia pain. My joints and muscles are on fire what seems like 90% of the time.

I’m also either titrating up on bipolar medications, or titrating down. We haven’t yet found a solid solution for me to stabilize the bipolar symptoms. The one I’m on worked for a bit, but it started leaving me cognitively deficient… I couldn’t stay awake, my memory was getting worse, and a bunch of other things.

As of today, I’m titrating down on a med. Which means my irritability levels from bipolar are sky-high, and thanks to the cold, spring-ish rain, my muscles and bones feel like hell-fire.

Despite all of this, I’ve been trying to get a regular writing routine down. I’m doing better than I have in years. I’m sitting down regularly at my desk in the home office, and I’ve jotted notes in my notebook. I have a character almost fully developed that just won’t leave me alone. There’s a story to tell there, and I think it’s getting told.

We’ll see how it goes. Keeping my brain ticking is the important part right now.

A Reason I Don’t Post

I’ve come to realize why I don’t post, why I don’t talk about myself much.

I’m afraid.

I fear what others are going to think, or say. This was instilled in me early by my father. My therapist has been telling me for a long time that I need to work my way around this, somehow, but I still find remnants of this fear in almost every aspect of life.

One reason I don’t post a lot here is that this is a public setting. Anyone, unless I specifically choose a private post setting, can read what I write. That old fear kicks in, and I start self-editing. Is it okay to say thisIs it okay to feel this wayIs it okay to mourn my mother, even though she passed away twenty-some-odd years ago?

The answer to all of those questions is, yes, it is okay. This is MY space (haha!). I can say what I’d like, feel what I’d like, mourn whomever I’d like, because there is no one right way to do anything.

I think that’s an important thing to talk about, especially as a father. I can’t impose my way of managing the world on my children. I can only guide them and try my best to help them as they find their own path. They’ll find their own ways to cope with stress, sadness, anxiety, fear, happiness, and all the other emotions.

But the worst thing I can do is tell them there is one right way to handle those emotions.

The long and short of it is: I’m allowed to write, feel, talk about how I feel without self-editing to what I think someone else would want to hear. So are you.

Trauma and the Things That Save Us

I read the essays in Last Night, A Superhero Saved My Life yesterday, pretty quickly after having received the book. It amazes me, even now, how much I identify with many of these writers and the events of their lives.

It inspired me to write my own essay about my trauma, and the things that saved me. Unfortunately, it wasn’t superheroes or comics, but it was still fiction and it is still important for me to write about it.

By most standards, I had a normal, middle-class childhood. My parents worked hard; they ran a business together. My mother did accounting and sales, my father did marine electronics repair. We traveled a lot, sometimes for my parents’ business, other times for holidays, once or twice for family shenanigans.

I became a reader very young. I remember the first Christmas where I received a set of Hardy Boys books. They were among the first things I opened, and I started reading immediately. My mother had to continuously remind me to come back to the other presents. My love of reading never dimmed; I spent a lot of time in my school library, and when my rural town finally got one, my town’s library.

When I was about six years old, my mother fell ill with brain cancer. I only vaguely remember this. She had surgery, a tumor was removed, and life went on.

Then the Rule of Three struck a couple of years later.

My parents’ business ran in peaks and waves. Spring and summer were very active times; fall and winter were not. To conserve money, they raised and lowered their insurance rates accordingly, since they’d have more or less customer equipment (and new equipment or replacement parts) in the shop during certain times.

If you know the human brain, you know what a fickle thing it is. Add in a dash of brain cancer (i.e. A GIANT SQUISHY THING PRESSING BETWEEN YOUR SKULL AND YOUR ACTUAL BRAIN) and you might understand why my mother (the aforementioned accountant of the family) failed to raise the insurance rates before the business’s busy period started.

That’s when the shop burned, or immolated, or whatever it did. It didn’t burn to the ground. It just kind of… melted. The structure was left intact, but everything inside was destroyed.

Thankfully, no lives were lost. Just the business and my parents’ livelihood.

Because of all this, my parents went through bankruptcy. My brother and I lost significant college savings accounts, my parents lost their business, my mother’s insurance was maxed to the hilt for her cancer. We had to sell my childhood home and move.

My world was rocking. My once-wide circle of friends shrank to just one (who became my adopted brother, and his family my adopted family). My books became my escape. I was going through puberty, fast. I was already taller and heavier than most of my classmates, some of my teachers, and my father. By the time my mother died, I was eleven years old, over six feet tall, and weighed easily two hundred pounds.

The last few months of my mother’s illness started me down the path of escapism into fiction. There was too much I didn’t understand in the real world. Cleaning up my mother after she wet the bed, picking her up out of shattered pictures frames because she’d fallen down, babysitting her in the car while my father fought with the pharmacist over prescription refills. The worlds in my books were nicer places to be.

The escapism continued even after my mother passed away. After her death, my father changed. Where once he was kind and caring (with a side of harsh criticisms), now he was emotionally abusive and tyrannical. It took me over a year to cry about my mother’s death, at which point I was told she was gone, move on, shut up.

So I did. I moved into outer space. I moved into fantastical realms. I found a place where I could be okay, even for the briefest moment. I learned moral codes, found people who treated themselves and others the way I wanted to be treated. I found fathers and mothers that I could temporarily believe could be mine. I found siblings that might have valued me for me, rather than as a tool to gain a tyrant’s favor or as a shield against his wrath.

Whenever I wasn’t escaped into a book, I lived in literal fear for my life. According to my father, if I talked to my mother’s family and friends (or didn’t clean my room, or do my homework), my mother’s family and friends would take me away from my father and brother and destroy my life. I’d just lost my mother, how could I contemplate losing my remaining parent?

Drugs and alcohol were becoming problems in my hometown amongst teens. I can’t recount here the number of times I heard the phrase, “You’re mother didn’t like drinking. So you won’t.” or “If you get involved with that shit, I’ll kill you.”

Outside of my books, I became invisible. It became my quest, between reading sessions. Don’t talk unless asked a question. Avoid my younger brother, lest I be drawn into an argument that draws father’s ire.

I made the mistake, once, of telling my father of the treatment I received on the school bus. Because of my early onset puberty, many of the other males on my bus liked to harass me. This particular day, one of them had their girlfriend with them. She had a panty liner with her. They thought it would be hilarious to attach it to the back of my shirt, right where I couldn’t reach it.

My father listened, and dealt with it. The school kicked the kids in question off the bus for a week.

When they returned, the harassment turned to full-fledged physical assault. One of the kids punched me in the lower back until I blacked out. Luckily, I woke up in time to get off at my stop.

When I told my father about it this time, he told me I should’ve taken care of it, that he was done. Apparently, I should’ve fought back.

So I shut up, went quiet, strove for invisibility. The harassment didn’t end, the assault didn’t end. Reporting to teachers was laughable: I was over six feet tall, and outweighed my harassers. Surely I could take care of myself? My brother even got in on it (when we started at a new school, at my father’s insistence, my brother told everyone I was the “mentally challenged” brother who was at the school to fill some sympathy slot on the school’s admissions roster).

The only safe place I had was my books. I didn’t have a particular favorite. No characters spoke to me. I just needed a good plot, good writing, and off I’d go. I’d escape into that world and enjoy my stay for as long as I can.

Memories on May the Fourth

It was one year ago today that we lost my father-in-law, Charlie, to lung cancer. It was fast, confusing, distressing, heartbreaking, and a whole host of things.

Charlie and I had a strange relationship. When Caroline and I first started dating, I was this hulking, quiet, bear of a guy that was suddenly in his daughter’s life. He had no idea who I was or what I was like. I barely talked. He cracked jokes, as he always did, and I barely reacted.

After a few years, though, it became clear that Caroline and I were in a serious relationship, and I also started opening up. I remember clearly the day the ice broke completely, for me, and I truly felt like I was part of the Moore family.

I’d been struggling in school; I had been for years. My academic performance had descended to the point where I was deathly afraid–literally afraid for my life–that my flesh-and-blood father would do me harm. I was put on academic probation. I was close to being put on academic suspension. The university had sent my father a letter.

Dear Lord, I thought I was going to die.

When all of this went down, Caroline and I had been visiting her parents for a long weekend. I honestly forget how the subject came up, I just remember it was late at night and Charlie finally confronted me about what was going on. He asked me one question that no one else had bluntly asked me before:

“What are you really afraid of?”

That was the moment I realized how terrified of my own father I was. I realized that it didn’t matter what my academic performance was. None of it mattered. I’d been living in fear, soul-rending fear for so long that I’d lost track of what really mattered.

That was the first time I’d cried, really cried, since I was a child. Since before my mother passed away. The last time I’d cried like that, my mother had held me in her arms.

And you know what happened next?

Charlie hugged me.

It was an unexpected gesture, but exactly what I needed at that moment. And that one gesture told me I was part of his family, he understood me, and he cared about me.

From that moment on, he and I had a much better relationship. We had our ups and downs, our spats. I definitely pissed him off a few times. But we talked a lot, we laughed and joked, and we worked together.

There’s a reason I took my wife’s name when we were married, and this is part of it.

So last year, when we lost Charlie, I lost not only my father-in-law, but a dear friend and someone who was much more a father to me than my own was.

To Charlie: Wherever in the ‘verse you are now, I hope they are treating you right.

The Ups and Downs of a Day

Down: I had therapy this morning with my new therapist. Unfortunately, this morning is the last session with this therapist. There’s something missing from the sessions and I’m convinced there’s no way to fix it.

Up: I finished a short story. Drafted it by hand and I approximate that it comes to about 1,500 words (it is eight hand-written pages).

Up: I’ve been using the iOS and Mac app Things to keep track of To Do items, iCloud’s Calendar to track appointments and school events, and IFTTT’s iOS app to set reminders for taking medications. Overall, this “outboard brain” (as Tobias Buckell refers to it) is doing much better than my previous hand-written calendar and task sheet at keeping me organized and on-target.

Up: I’m already juggling ideas for a new short story that I’ll start (and maybe finish!) writing tomorrow while the girls are in school.

Backup iCloud Docs Without Expensive Software

Did you know you had all the software you need to perform backups already installed on your Mac?

There’s Time Machine, which does well, but beyond that, usually most articles point you to expensive apps to do selective backups. What if I have this one folder I want backed up?

Given that OS X is based on a Unix backbone, there are all kinds of under-the-hood tools to use.

Here’s one I’ve started using to back up my iCloud Drive files. Follow these steps in order to start using it yourself.

  1. Create a folder in your Home directory called “iCloud”
  2. Open TextEdit from your Applications folder. Paste the following, exactly as shown, into a new document:
  3. Save the file as “” in your Home directory. Be sure to use “.sh” as the file extension, not “.txt”
  4. Open Terminal from your Applications -> Utilities folder. Type the following: chmod +x
  5. Now type
    crontab -e
  6. In the new window, use the arrows on your keyboard to scroll down to the bottom of the file. Paste the following, exactly as shown:
    0 0 * * * ./
  7. On your keyboard, press CTRL and O (the letter O), then the enter/return key. Then press CTRL and X. Exit Terminal.

Your computer should now sync your iCloud Drive to your computer’s Home directory every hour. Only changed files will be synced.