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.


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.

Recently

Hah!

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.

This is my essay. It rambles. My early life was chaotic, thus is the telling of it. I’d apologize for it, but why should I be sorry? Continue reading “Trauma and the Things That Save Us”

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 “icloud-backup.sh” 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 icloud-backup.sh
  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 * * * ./icloud-backup.sh
  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.

Thoughts On Internet Privacy

I’ve read a lot over my years as a developer about privacy, especially as it relates to the Internet and technology. My views have skewed from one extreme to another (Everything should be private! Nothing is private!). Over the last year or so, my views (and the actions that go along with them) have settled a bit.

It wasn’t so long ago that I would go out of my way to host my blog and e-mail on my own server, where I (theoretically) was the only one with access. Yes, it was in a remote data center, so someone else still had physical access to the drive the data was stored on. So, again theoretically, everything I put on the drive was encrypted and would take awhile for someone to break into.

Then something would happen and my views would change. Who cares what happens to my data? Use whatever service I want. To hell with privacy policies.

Now, though, I’m a bit more middle of the road.

There’s got to be an understanding that technology will only do what us, as humans, tell it to (at least right now — if you’re reading this, Skynet, please don’t hurt me!). Humans, by nature, are fallible and imperfect creatures. Mistakes happen.

So what does this mean?

It means I’m willing to use services I need or that fit my workflow best, with the knowledge that: a) my privacy may not always be 100%; b) there are trade-offs to putting data into the cloud.

Mistakes are going to happen. If I use GMail (and I do) for my data, a mistake could happen that routes my e-mail to someone else’s box. Or allows another user into my account. If I use WordPress.com to host my blog (and I do), errors could happen that allow my private or draft posts to be exposed to the public.

Things happen. (And, yes, government intrusion into my data is also something that could happen. Is it likely? No. I haven’t done anything that would warrant the government snooping my data.)

Now, the other part of this is, if I make content available to the public, I have to accept that people might copy it, or comment on it, or something. I can’t control what other people do. The only thing I can control — if I have the money, time, and wherewithal — is whether another person makes money from content that I created, or content based on content I created.

In the end, there’s got to be some understanding for how these systems works, and how putting content out into the public arena works.

Moving Hosting Service

This is a grab bag of disjointed updates. I’m attempting to journal a bit more, so this is coming as a stream-of-consciousness style post.

My wife, via her workplace, just got a free-for-life hosting deal for her websites. Which means we no longer really need the Linode VPS I’ve been running for us.

I haven’t been doing much writing. I’m trying to generate ideas, and I’m fixed on one. I just can’t seem to get started. I’m doing more journaling here, which is good.

I’m finally back in therapy. I was traveling, round trip, 250+ miles every couple of weeks to see my therapist. Because she is great and I’d been seeing her for over six years. That’s a lot of trust and rapport to lose, just switching to a new therapist. I finally did find a new therapist, though, who is much closer and easier to visit. Although… she isn’t my old therapist and I’m finding it hard to get comfortable.

That’s all I’ve got for today.

Tim

I’ve got no idea, but a house on the beach sounds nice

For the last couple of days, I’ve been playing around with some new software called Jekyll. It’s an alternative website compiler that just delivers static files, rather than being database-driven.

It’s pretty slick.

And it has been itching the tech geek bone a bit. I didn’t realize how much I missed noodling around with some of these things until I was eyeballs deep in getting my Linode server configured to run Jekyll and Ruby and all of the other pieces.

I also managed to break my Linode server, then fixed it on my own without the almighty Google. I feel fairly proud of that, as usually I know how to run the commands, just not what commands I need.

I’ve also managed to somehow break the DNS for my main URL. I think it’s a matter of propagation with DNSSEC, which I turned on for a bit yesterday. So we’ll wait and see how that turns out.