Despair and Hope

You wake up feeling energized and ready to take on the world. Days like this are the ones with such clarity and concentration that solutions come at such a blinding pace that it’s hard to keep up. Plans are laid out for moving forward with so many things. Anything from practical things at home that need tending to, or have been neglected for whatever reason, business ventures that just need the time and effort put into them to be great to big ideas that can change the world. Not in minor ways, but huge improvements to the lives of millions. There’s nothing but pure possibility ahead. You can work 10 hours and get nearly a week’s worth of work done, then come home and have dinner with your wife and if you’re lucky, get lucky with the same level of vigor and enthusiasm that you had all day. You’ll both be sweaty, sore and a little embarrassed about what just happened, but swimming in too many endorphins to even care. You go to sleep exhausted, but know that tomorrow you’ll set in motion all of the things that you know need to be done to set those big plans in motion.

You wake up and can feel the heaviness of the expression on your face. You have a bit of a headache and are very lethargic. There’s a feeling of utter blackness in you. The fire in you has long fizzled out and whatever notions you had the day before now seem insane. How could you let yourself believe you’d do all these things? You’re so tired you can’t get up. The sadness is overwhelming. Depressed? No.. That word is an insult to the gravity of this feeling. You hit snooze too many times before forcing yourself out of bed. You wash your hair, face and brush your teeth. Good enough. Begrudgingly you get dressed and start the commute to work. You feel on the edge of tears, but even if you tried, you couldn’t muster one. Traffic only adds to the irritability that’s welling up as you head to that job that you’ve felt burned out on more often than not. You pull in the parking lot, put on your mask and just try to get through the day. By the time it’s over, you contemplate crashing the car into the nearest overpass column on the entire trip home. Dinner consists of whatever requires the least amount of effort, if you even eat at all. You go to bed early because you are so tired you can barely stand, but can’t sleep. You lie awake contemplating death from just about every angle and tangent of cause and effect. Somewhere in the middle of the night, you fall asleep.

Flip a coin – how you wake up the following morning is a 50/50 chance. Sometimes these cycles last for days, weeks, even months. Sometimes you wake up at one extreme and mid-day it flips. In my case, I’ll wake up on the upper side of the scale, then it all changes over the matter of minutes. It’s like being violated by your own chemistry.

The experience may be different from one person to the next as far as the severity of their experience with bipolar II, but that’s the general gist of my experience. I lived that experience for the vast majority of my life, but with age the depressive cycles got longer and longer and the good days were few and far between.

I’ve worked with therapists and psychiatrists over the years while trying to find something that worked. I figured it had to either be something psychologically going on with me, or chemical; maybe even both. It’s still hard for me to determine where “I” end and the disorder begins. How much intensity is really me? How much lack of vitality is really me? Some days I’m incredibly lazy. Other days I get shit done. So which am I? Which am I really? Since being successfully medicated, I’m about as even and calm as a Hindu cow. I still have ups and downs, but I totally understand how people with bipolar have described time and again how they don’t feel like themselves when they are medicated. That intensity is just.. Gone. Now I feel like an imposter within myself, if that makes any sense.

I have three options, all of which I’m going to assume that those with bipolar contemplate on a regular basis. Option 1: Keep on the same meds at the same dose and live a rather boring, but very stable life. Option 2: Don’t take meds, ride the wave and hope you don’t end up in a terminal depression or a manic high that leaves you in more debt than you’ll every be able to pay. Option 3: Insist of futzing with your medication, with or without your psychiatrist being involved in hoping for more emotion than the nearly flatline that you have going on now.

None of those options are all that appealing. Knowing how low the lows get, I’ve sworn to not rock the boat. I’ll take my meds with the regularity that’s usually reserved to old folks with apocalypse sized reserves of prune juice. But what kind of a life is that? It doesn’t “feel” like “me.” Granted, with the chemical imbalance, I don’t know what I actually should have felt like, but this certainly can’t be it. I’d say it’s kind of like a zombie sometimes, but zombies have been made into the terrifying fast-running things you see in 28 Days Later, not the kinds that you saw drooling and stumbling about in Night of the Living Dead. I’d say between the two, I’m about 70% toward the Night of the Living Dead.

Here’s the thing… Before being diagnosed I had been suicidal for years. I’m not saying that for dramatic effect. I literally wanted to die and thought about it often every single day for years. Even on those up days. Why? Because I knew they wouldn’t last and I’d be right back in that hellish place again. Before I went into the hospital I had sat in my car next to the ocean fidgeting with a straight razor. I had the full intent of going for one, if not both carotid arteries, provided I could push through the pain enough to go after the second one. I’d not do this in the car, though. At some point, the car would have to be sold and I still owed money on it. You know, being practical and all.

Hope.. So, I don’t get the amazing highs. I also don’t get the horrifying lows. I can go to sleep knowing that the next day, I may wake up at one of those extremes, but it will pass. Not only will it pass, but it will pass quickly. I have learned that I have a seasonal thing going on, which I’m in the thick of right now, so yes, I’ve been rather depressed, but it’s manageable. Maybe hope isn’t so much a feeling of well-being. Maybe that’s not what it really is. I always thought it was, but for me, hope is knowing that overall, I’m going to be alright. Alright enough to plan ahead, even. My wife and I are actually looking ay buying a house in about a year. We’re also talking about having kids, even?! Hope is knowing that there’s a future that you can build on. Hope is knowing that even if everything turns to shit, you’ve already lived through hell, so you know you can tackle whatever happens. With everything evened out, I’ve gone back to basics as far as what makes me happy. A good steak is up there on the list. Sex is still pretty awesome, so there’s that pretty much topping the list. And sleep – actual, restful, un-anxiety filled sleep because you know that you’re not about to wake up on the roller coaster in the dark not knowing what’s next. So.. Maybe hope is what you make it. At least that’s what hope has become for me – the ability to dare to dream.

How bad had the depression been in the past? I was 22 and had gone through my first divorce already. I had PTSD really bad at the time and wasn’t coping. Mix that with suicidal depression. I’ll blame that divorce on me – hell, I’d of not stayed with me. Anyway, at 22 I had a vasectomy. Why? I knew in my heart of hearts that I’d be dead by 30 by my own hand. I didn’t know when, but it was inevitable. I had already come so close so many times by that point. I wasn’t going to have a child, then have said child grow up without a father. Now at 37, with medical technology being what it is, having a child is possible, albeit kind of expensive.

Crazy, huh? I’d of never guessed that things would be the way they are right now.

Frequent travel for work – an introvert’s dream?

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that my job involves travel. In the last 3 months it’s required extensive travel. What does that mean? Aside from being really sick for a week and a half and being out of work entirely for it, I’ve traveled pretty much every week, travel meaning spending more than two nights at a hotel in some other city.

I’m introverted and luckily my job only requires limited engagement with sales staff, existing clients, new clients and pre-sales engagements. If I’m at a client site, it’s usually only for 1-3 days, and not always back to back. I generally train a customer on the first day, which involves training the main person whom will be running the machine and possibly some of the others intimately involved with the process in some functional way. Once I’m done, I’ll contact them in 4-6 weeks to see how they’re doing and if they need any follow-up training. That can usually be done remotely via WebEx or some similar service.

The on-site part of the training can be pretty exhausting as it is usually a full day and to an introvert, that’s a really long day. Generally I’m done at around 3-5PM and can retreat for dinner somewhere alone, then head back to the hotel room. Work is work, so there’s no social component to it. I don’t see clients outside of work. I miss my wife terribly on these trips. We manage to talk every day, if only for a few minutes, but still.. For one I miss the physical contact. My wife works nights for 3 nights per week, and the schedule varies. Even when I am in town, on nights that she works we don’t cross paths at all. Every other weekend is a given for her, so when we’re both home I let her sleep. I snore quite loudly, so I don’t usually curl up with her no matter how tired I am unless she asks. It seems odd saying this, but with being gone so much, I miss my small social bubble.

Is it ok for an introvert to say they get lonely with extensive work travel? I don’t see many people at all when I’m actually home, but I still feel connected via geography. If I were so (rarely) inclined, I could call someone to meet up for dinner, or go see some family member. When traveling though, social contact is much more difficult. I’m not into the bar scene. and even if I were I have liver disease, so drinking isn’t a good thing. Come to think of it, though, I drink too much when I travel. The closest thing to social contact I have is at one of the hotels that I’m at every few weeks for several days. There’s a woman who works at “The Bistro,” which is in every Courtyard Marriott hotel. She works the afternoon shift and is usually there, except on Thursdays. We commiserate about in laws. When I check in she’ll see me and start my usual food order, complete with a glass of wine that she tops off endlessly while we sit and chat. There’s nothing aside from friendly chatting going on there, but still, that’s the closest thing to social contact that I have while traveling.

Can one join a book club that they may or may not be able to attend for weeks at a time depending on the travel rotation? My travel consists primarily of Pittsburgh, Cincinnati/Dayton and Columbus. There are a ton of other cities, but those are the ones I find myself in most often. None of them have much going on.. I suppose I could join a photo club via Meetup.com and see if my schedule allows for last-minute outings if there’s room. Would it be odd to somehow find a way to just meet up for dinner? Like, actually meet up for dinner only and to hang out without there being some sort of possible sexual overtone? I’m really not interested in that. I just want some good company and good conversation. A date without it actually being anything relating to romantic involvement? Surely there has to be some service or website for this sort of thing for busy professionals that travel, but for the life of me, I can’t seem to find anything. I suppose I could start a service. Web hosting is cheap and I have the IT skills to make it happen, but then I need to worry about liability and such. If some creep does something to someone, I don’t want to be held responsible. Maybe I could start a Meetup.com event in each city for a game night. Something like Cards Against Humanity at some venue (likely a bar) that could handle people laughing loudly. I’d need to get someone local to take the reins, though as my travel schedule can be inconsistent..

I’m only writing this as I’m thinking out loud about it and it is relevant to my sense of well-being. I can’t be the only one. The other part is the happen-chance that someone reading this might have ideas or know of a service to meet up as friends. Craigslist has the “strictly platonic” section, but part of me thinks that could also be the “torso found in a dumpster behind a Denny’s” section.

Windows to Go / Windows on a USB drive with Windows 8.1 Pro or Enterprise

Here’s a much lighter post than other posts on this blog, but I wanted to share. This is so cool (if you have a geeky side to you)!

I travel a lot for work. I’ve been issued a fast company laptop, but you’re not to use it for personal use at all as it breaks the company communications policy. They are right about that, after all, you could be opening up the system to malware that slips past the antivirus that’s installed, etc. I am with them on that. I also assume, just like most major companies, that they spy on the usage anyway. I don’t care to have some IT person within the organization reading screen caps of my emails and such. So, what is one to do with this sort of situation? My company, like many, uses Bitlocker drive encryption on the entire internal hard drive. That means if I boot into some other OS, the data on that drive for all intents and purposes is protected.

I had been using Ubuntu on a thumb drive for personal surfing while wasting hours in the hotel rooms that I stay in for my job. The problem with that is that you can’t stream most video as Ubuntu is difficult at best, if not impossible to force the necessary plugins, codecs or other software needed to watch Netflix or iTunes movies. If only you could put Windows on an external drive…

After doing some digging around, I found that Windows 8.1 Professional and Windows 8.1 Enterprise can be loaded onto an external drive via Windows to Go. This process can be rather simple via free software that basically automated the process, or if you are someone who doesn’t trust third party products, you can do it via command line.

You need WinToUSB if you want to take the easy route. I’m not going to post redundant instructions on how to do this as they clearly outline them on the website for the product. It’s free.

You’ll also need an external hard drive. I’d highly suggest using a USB 3.0 drive if your system has a USB 3.0 port. You can check your system specs for that. You can pick up a 1TB external drive from Best Buy or whatever online retailer for about $75-$80. I went one step further and spent about $120 on an internal solid state (SSD) hard drive meant for laptops, then another $20 for an external USB 3.0 enclosure made for laptop hard drives. It’s the same physical size as one of the 1TB drives that I mentioned above and weighs about half as much. The performance is amazing. Once I had everything up and running with all of the Windows updates (dear god are there a ton of updates for Windows 8.1!), the system was basically just as fast as the internal hard drive, if not faster. I went into the disk manager and disabled the internal hard drive so that it’d quit asking me to enter the Bitlocker key. I shut down as I normally would, unplug the drive and turn the system back on. Since I had set up the BIOS to boot from USB first, then the internal hard drive, it simply boots from the internal company-issued hard drive as normal.

I’m sure I’m still breaking company policy by doing this, but not nearly so bad as using the internal drive with the OS they provided for doing personal stuff. Is it entirely safe? No, but I limit my activities on this drive to only legitimate sites and searches, only use actually purchased software and only do common sense things with it. The other nice part? It isn’t just bound to use on the company laptop. I can use it on pretty much any system that allows for booting from a USB. It saves me lugging around a second laptop and adding all of that bulk and weight to my luggage. I used Bitlocker on my portable drive, too with a strong password. If I lose it, no harm done aside from the cash that I’d be out for it.

It’s really worth a try!

Confessions of a depressive who’s spent years in treatment

Apologies, this is a long post, but it gets into the meat of depression and treatment from the perspective of someone who suffers from depression and the cycle of treatment so many face.

Seeking help for depression is difficult, especially when you’re in the thick of it and can barely force yourself out of bed. If you have difficult health insurance, the search for a provider can be rather daunting as well. For me actually saying the words – the truth about how bad it really was was by far the hardest part. I held out as long as possible until I simply couldn’t trust myself with my own safety.

There are some misconceptions about people who are suicidal. It’s as if all people are exactly the same when it comes to the warning signs. There’s the whole withdrawing from family and friends bit. Then there’s the giving away significantly important items to family and friends. Happiness, even once someone’s committed to the act. Then there’s “the plan.”

I’ve read a number of things about depression and suicide in my relentless search for something – anything that would help. Did I withdraw from family and friends? Emotionally I did, but I was still very much present when I had reached my limit. My marriage was suffering greatly and every insecurity was tormenting every thought. You see, I have abandonment issues. Throughout my life, the most important people have left, be it emotionally or physically. As such, I was convinced of a few things..

For me, I sought validation through wanting to have sex. That’s another misconception that seems to be floating around in the literature. Not everyone loses interest in sex. For some, it’s the only damn release of tension and pressure they have, and masturbation doesn’t cut that need to connect, if only for a few minutes. The validation this is a separate issue, but when I was rejected I’d take it personally on a very deep level. Far more than I ever should have. So, assumption 1: She didn’t love me anymore. Assumption 2: She always enjoyed sex, loved it in fact. She must be having an affair. Assumption 3: She’s going to leave. That last assumption was actually true – I had taken her to the end of her rope. Just like nearly every relationship in the past, she uttered the words “I’m afraid I’m going to come home some day and find you dead.” For that.. For any assumption, I couldn’t blame her. In some ways the thought was terrifying and a relief at the same time. If she left, I was off the hook, so to speak. I could leave this world without making her a widow.

I didn’t give away possessions. Not everyone does that. I feel safe in assuming that I’m not the only one who the thought never crossed their mind, much less if it had that it’d be automatic.

Then there’s “the plan.” In the many years of treatment I never expressed that I was suicidal. I never said how on the edge I was. I’d say that it’s gotten real bad, but I didn’t have the apparent tell-tale signs of uncontrollable crying. You know when I’d cry? Touching moments in movies or songs. Always when I was alone. Not profound touching moments, but simple kindnesses. Basically, anything of fiction. As it relates to my own life, never. I truly mean never. The closest thing I had to a plan was the short letters I had written and kept in the console of my car to be found later at some point. They were difficult to put into words, but they basically tried to explain away any doubt people may be left with as to whether they could do anything or not. The follow-up question would be how detailed the plan was. When I was asked if I had a plan, I’d say “not really.” There was no detail. I didn’t need it. The human body is weak and if someone is committed enough, they will find a way.

So, desperate times call for desperate measures. Survival was always the goal. I’d trudge on knowing it was a cycle, so I’d wait it out. Sometimes waiting it out meant weeks. Sometimes months. On a couple of occasions, more than two years. The severity of the cycles were always the same, meaning that the thoughts of suicide were relentless consuming nearly every waking hour. I also suffer from PTSD which raises its ugly head every so often in the form of horrific night terrors. Toward the end of my ability to keep myself together I sought out every type of specialist. Doctors of every specialty. I had an insurance plan that allowed me access to some of the best doctors in the country – Harvard instructors among those that I saw. Why? Just in case there was some obscure medical cause for the relentless depression. I had stopped obsessing about the past years ago. I was indifferent. I sought out alternative and extreme, even dangerous treatment options. Anything and everything from ECT, TMS, Ketamine injections, etc.

I’ve found through the years having had many psychiatrists that each has their own belief system about what makes people tick. Each had their own opinions about the source of my own torment, and each had their own preferred cocktail of medications. So you start on the one that they prefer for Treatment Resistant Major Depression. After a few weeks, if there’s any response to the medication, which in my case meant one worked almost immediately, provided mild relief, then lost effectiveness. So, we max out the dose, usually over the corse of a few weeks, then add another medication. This requires a ramp-up of the secondary medication which takes anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month. Either way, you wait 4-8 weeks to see if it really makes a difference at a therapeutic dose. No? OK, let’s ramp you off from those meds and repeat the process. This isn’t to knock psychiatrists. It’s really not.. It’s to talk about what it’s like from the patient’s perspective. Having to wait for several weeks for any chance of relief, only for it to fail is so difficult. If you’re barely hanging by a thread, a day is a long time to wait. The process is brutal.

I remember thinking so often that I must be defective somehow. Clearly I must have been defective as a human being for not being able to cope with the stresses of life like everyone else, or dealing with depression. Maybe the advice that others were giving was good and I just wasn’t able to cut it somehow. At least that’s what it felt like. Yeah, you withdraw from them emotionally, but some people can’t be avoided.. Coworkers, family, friends, other people you see regularly.. So, you wear your mask. At some point you don’t know where the mask ends and you begin. “Fake it until you make it?” Living a lie only adds to that negative self-image. You become convinced that people have gotten to know the mask, but if they saw the real you they’d turn tail or talk behind your back.

The talking behind your back? You witness it. You hear terms thrown around out of sheer ignorance. You see the utter lack of compassion, even for those closest to them. It’s as if those suffering from mental illness are somehow less than human. Less than deserving of compassion.. If you did decide to talk to them, what would you say? “I really want to give up. I actually want to die. Not as a form of escape, but more as an act of mercy. You’d put a pet down if it was suffering with something that had no hope of getting better. Why is it not ok for people to be given such mercy? I’m not asking for help. I’m asking to not be alone with this in the end. I’ve been alone all this time with this, but I don’t want to leave alone. Is that too much to ask? I know it’s asking a lot. It’s asking the unthinkable, but just spend a little time with me in silence so that I can know at least one other person knows what I’ve lived with for so long. Bear witness to this unrelenting suffering.” See how that goes. It’s a gamble at best. Considering the alternative, it’s worth a try I guess. In my case, I wrote out for the first time in my life how intense the suffering had become. How close I had come. I handed what I had written to my therapist with the knowledge that she’d take the torch and get me the help I truly needed. I knew that it meant going inpatient and placing my life in the hands of others.

That’s the part people don’t understand with all of this. Control. If you tell someone, you will likely go inpatient. If you’re “free,” at least you can chose when and how. That’s if you’re lucky enough to get a bed in a decent facility that will keep you until you either get better, or your insurance runs out. If you don’t have insurance or you have crappy insurance the cost is staggering. Still, considering the alternative, the cost is inconsequential. In my case, it worked out. It relieved enough of the daily stress to give me a chance to rest. I slept a lot. I went to group therapy, but didn’t talk much. I did talk to interns with brutal honesty. It’s odd how open you can be with someone who cares that you’re certain you’ll never see again. Telling someone else for me was liberating. I had held that secret for so long all alone and it was one of those things that later in the day or night I’d feel a little lighter. There’s something to be said about someone else knowing the dark secret so many carry around in fear of shame, rejection, ridicule or indifference.

So, my “cocktail” of meds ended up being a mood stabilizer and a very small dose of an SSRI to help with premature ejaculation. Yeah – getting older sucks.

Christmas with my family

Christmas every year is kind of an odd experience. As my father will turn 70 in 2015, he’s a bit preoccupied with his mortality. He’s mentioned that he has a living will made out and such over the last several months. Our family isn’t all that close, so these conversations are pretty awkward. Since I and my first eldest brother, “J” were the two children there, and the closest to him, he showed us how to get into his hidden and secure gun safe (it’s quite the process, really), as well as where he keeps some other things. He’s claimed to start to clean up and organize things in his garage/workshop. Having been a skilled tradesman and loving to work with his hands, he has many industrial lathes and such. There’s also the motorcycles.

I’m the youngest in the family with my first eldest brother being 7 years my senior, and the other two 8 and 10 years older respectively. The second eldest, whom I’ll refer to as “R” is rather estranged from the family, and not by our choice. This brother had literally taken beatings in my place a few times from what little I remember. The eldest brother has an awkward relationship with the family, or I should say we have an awkward relationship to him because about 18 or 19 years ago he was tried and convicted of third degree sexual assault with a 9 year old girl. I don’t know all of the details, but I’m still in contact with the girl since my girlfriend/later wife at the time used to take her to the zoo and other fun stuff. Needless to say, there’s a lot of distance with everyone.

My sister in law hates everyone on our side of the family. She sees my wife as a huge problem because when we were leaving after everyone met the first time she hugged and kissed everyone on the cheek. Everyone included “J” and from what I’m told, his wife nearly had an aneurysm over the deal and bitched about it for nearly a year on a regular basis. He wasn’t allowed to deliver wood to the house we were living in when we first moved back. I should mention that the hug and kiss on the cheek is part of my wife’s culture. Even the men do the same. One hug and one kiss on each cheek.

Anyway, now we’re all prepared with practical matters of my father’s eventual demise. He’s in excellent health, at least as far as we know. He also looks and acts like someone in his early to mid 50’s, not someone in their late 60’s. If there is a health problem, he’s certainly not said anything about it. Admittedly, I’m not prepared emotionally to deal with this loss whenever it may be. We had a very distant relationship until a few years ago. We never had that whole father-son bond when I was young. For the most part, he was out chasing women after my parents divorced when I was 5. We’re still getting to know each other.

I don’t deal with loss very well. It’s far better than it used to be, but still.. I keep myself very distant from most people. There’s only a handful of those that are part of my family/chosen family. It’s been 15 years since my best friend took her own life and it still gets to me at times. I miss her.. I’m glad to have known her and I’m very grateful for the time we had, but I still miss her terribly. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in constant fear of loss of those still here, but I do know myself to know that losing my father will be devastating. If something happened to my wife… Something I’d rather not think about.

Aside from all that, my wife’s family remained at a distance for the first time since we’ve been married. That was very welcomed for both of us.

My wife and I have new laptops. That was necessary and was basically our gifts for Christmas. Neither of us are religious, but we still exchange gifts every so often. I’m typing this on my new Macbook Pro. We both got the same model. So far we love them. They are screaming fast and the video card performance is most excellent.

I guess that’s about it. It’s time for some sleep.

Untitled

This basically sums up the ups and downs of the last few days. I’m usually a solid 7-8 as far as mood. That’s overall content – happy, even. My sleep is all over the place, too. I’m exhausted most of the time, but when I do give myself time to sleep, I rarely do.

I think I need a sun lamp.. A portable one that I can drag along when traveling.