Some thoughts I had on expectations…..

Hello all.  It’s been a long while since I wrote here. Sorry about that…..

When I was a teenager I totally thought I’d be more than I am right now.  I was going to really BE somebody, I was going to do important things, and be someone important, too.  I believed this with every fiber of my young, cocky being.  For me, it was an undeniable truth – I didn’t even waste time thinking about the alternative.

Never mind the fact that I didn’t know how to work hard.  Never mind the fact that I expected things to be (basically) handed to me.  Never mind the fact that I was rather sheltered from reality.  Or the fact that I couldn’t slow down, or shut off the screaming in my own head (or my own house, for that matter).  I had so much anger, resentment and good old fashioned fear of my own mind.  It basically paralyzed me until my mid 20’s.

So now I find myself at 36 years old, not quite a college graduate.  I am just a regular guy.  My wife and I struggle to pay the bills.  I don’t make enough money.  We forget to do the laundry.  I hate mowing the lawn.  Just a regular, suburban guy. I’ve found enough peace (and quiet) in my head and life that I’m OK with that.  I’m “just” going to be Marli Ann Parsons’ or Luke Thomas Parsons’ daddy.  And that’s 100% OK.

Huh.  It looks like I’m going to do some amazing, important things after all.

–KBP

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So tell me, what did YOU do on your summer vacation, Keith……(part 1)

Remember that question? You used to hear that a lot a back to school time.  Everyone wanting to catch up with their friend who they didn’t see over the summer, see who had the best vacation or the funniest story or whatever.  Well, this is me doing that – sort of.

I haven’t blogged in 5 months here.  Part of it was me, part of it was my job situation, and part of it was motivating myself. I had days where I wanted to write about stuff, but thought “who’d want to read about that? You’re just going to ramble…..” so I didn’t get up here to the Cave and sit down and write.  This changed a bit a few weeks back. I was talking to a friend about writing fiction or creative writing stuff.  I didn’t do anything with it, but two weeks ago in therapy I told my therapist I was “going to write all of this down, so I don’t forget the details.  Maybe I’ll write a book about this process someday”.  She smiled at the idea and talked about the therapeutic value to that idea.  I listened, and listened, and while I listened I planned.  I tend to dream big, so I thought about how cool it would be to write a book, get published and make a ton of money, maybe do an Oprah show or something…… 🙂

Anyhow, the first morning I had the chance to act on this motivation was September 12th.  I sat down to write out my own narrative account of what my life has been like since my panic attack.  I thought that would be a good jumping off point, and give me a chance to work in my past adventures in mental health – while considering what that history means for me now, and more importantly moving forward into my future.  (Sounds good, huh?)  That first morning I roughly budgeted 2 hours to write, and got going – totally without any outlines or anything. I had some dates that I needed to pin down some happenings, but that was it.  Ninety minutes later I had 1300 words.  I don’t know if that’s fast or whatever, but all that covered was an “introduction paragraph” (mostly to organize my thoughts) and the actual panic attack. That was it.  I was a bit surprised that I got that much out of an event that only took a total of 5 minutes.  Writing ALL of it down could get to be quite the epic tome…….(not really).

Point is, some things that could have been half formed blog posts here (the one’s I was worried about writing/not motivated to write) will probably end up in that document instead.  At least for now.

 

Ok. So.  This summer went by quick for me, in a way.  One of the reasons I was not “encouraged” to blog about this topic was (in part) given to me by my employer. I was never told not to talk or write about my employers part of the process, but I was cautioned to remember that for as long as I was working there (even if it was only on paper) I could, in theory, get into trouble for what I might write.  In an effort to ease everyone’s mind, I took some time away form this forum.  Remember: My last post was in April or something, and I wrote that I thought I had about 10 more days till I’d see a resolution of my employment status.

 

Fast forward (or rewind from today) from that post to September 12th, 2013.  I finally received in the mail my official “Letter of Separation of Employment” from Comcast, my now former employer.  I was free to write or say what I chose.  And I want to re-iterate something:  I have NOTHING negative to say about Comcast. They handled this (often painful for me) process wonderfully, and did everything they could to accommodate my needs and restrictions. The process is supposed to take 3 months. They extended me to almost a year to try to work this out.  I owe them a debt of gratitude, and sincerely mean it when I say I will miss a lot about working for that company.

 

So I got the letter, and was relieved. I’d been expecting it for awhile. I’d been called on July 26th and told what was coming.  I remember telling my caseworker it was good they got me on Friday to tell me, because that Monday (the 28th) we were leaving for a week in Cancun with my in laws and some of their family.  So either way, I was going to relax the week after getting the “bad” news, and re asses when I got back into the country.

 

(Oh, I didn’t mention Cancun yet?  My wife and I got to go to Cancun for a week this summer!  We got to spend some time in the sun with my in laws, my sister in law, and her Uncle, Aunt and cousins from LA. It was a great chance for me to get to know the LA family, since I haven’t seen much of them these past 5-6 years.  Not to mention a HUGE change for my wife and I.  Our ideal vacation is a quit week at Myrtle Beach.  This was VEEEERRRRYYYY different from that, let me tell you!)

 

So I was excited and nervous from the get go. There were some things about the trip right off the bat that had me a little worked up relating to money and the like, but I was able to put those things away for the most part, and concentrate on the fun times that were ahead of me.  I’ve never been out of the county other than the Bahamas, so the idea of traveling to Mexico was exciting.  My in laws are a globe trottiing-frequent-flying bunch, so maybe some of my excitement came off as a bit childish.  I noticed that, or at least thought I did.  So what.  I was enjoying watching planes take off and land – old hat for them, not as much for me.

 

So we got on the plane and left for Mexico.  I only have one comment regarding the plane flight that is germane to this conversation, and has any affect on my mental health.  Ok, maybe two.

  1. Small planes give me the heebie-jeebie’s.  That’s not anyone’s fault at all. That’s just me not having flown more than 4 times before.  I’m not sure I’ll ever really like it, but whatever.
  2. I am very, very defensive about my wife and her comfort and well being. If something happens that I even perceive to be a threat or an insult, I tend to shoot straight into a towering rage, and am not really reasonable about it. If you mess with my wife, I very much want to hurt you.  I very infrequently act on those impulses, but they are definitely real.  Even if the threat isn’t real.  (Paranoia is something we’re working on).  It’s not flattering, but it is a fact that I have some anger related issues, and they manifest in those situations.

So, to keep it short, we were on a small plane, and there was a seating discrepancy that lead to some discomfort, and an embarrassing exchange between a flight attendant, my mother in law, and 2 patrons.  It’s hard to keep things quiet in a flying MTA buss, so I don’t blame anyone at all.  It got as fixed as it could on that plane.  However, since the alarm bells started going of in my head, I spend the flight a bit tense.  And, glaring at a fellow passenger or 3.  Sue me. Like I said, I don’t act on things like this much, but I do remember them, Rinky Dink Airlines, Inc!

When we arrived the hotel was AWESOME.  The damned thing was a monument.  You could see it from EVERYWHERE.  It is called the Rui Palace Hotel in Cancun.  If you go to Cancun, stay there if you can.  You will not regret it.

Ok folks.  It’s 2:00 in the morning, so I’ll have to post Part 2 of this summer spanning blog post from Hell tomorrow. 

Good night, and dreams!

Do you know what it’s like to fight with your own brain and lose? Those days suck. They leave me in tears.

OK, so yeah….so I’m back at the keyboard.  So, I’m still not back to work yet. I still technically “work” for my current employer, which is great, but I don’t actually have a job with them (I’m on disability, for now). They’ve been very supportive of my process, up to a point. I have a feeling things might be coming to a head in the next 10 days or so, one way or another. If I can come back to work, that would be excellent. If I can’t, I still can’t fault my employer – I was given a pretty strict list of restrictions by my doctors, so my employer only has so many things they can do.  I’m not mad about that.

You know what does frustrate me?  I’ve had people ask me “Why aren’t you back to work?  You seem fine.” Or “you need to take whatever job you can get – having ANY job is better than not having one!”

However, for me, that isn’t true.  Sometimes, the answer is more complex than it looks.  I am still trying to get the right dosages together on my medications, and am still working to get my emotions back together and under my control. I might look fine when you see me, and we can have a great conversation, but those are just surface things. There are still an alarming number of hours a day that I simply lose track of.  Do you know what it’s like to fight with your own brain…and lose?  I do. It’s not fun.  It’s a struggle, day to day, to get my shit together, and actually accomplish things.  So, I’m really not “doing fine”, I guess.

Oh, I’m getting better. I shower, wear clean clothing, eat (sometimes) and stuff like that.  But without some help (in the form of medications and therapy) I sometimes REALLY struggle with motivation. I’ve become very dependent on routines.  Routine’s are comfortable, and provide structure.  They silence the noise in my head.  That’s why I’m looking forward to mid May when my school starts back up. That really helps me define my time differently.  I’ve got enough classes to take that I’m not going to have a lot of “free time” to allow my mind to wander.

People in my inner circle have asked me “Hey, what’s it like? Are you like, sad all the time? You seem in good spirits…..”   I know these people love me, and want the world for me. They see I am in pain (of some kind) and want to help. And I love ALL of them for it.  One of the big reasons I have decided to write (when I can) about this is because of those types of well intended, loving questions.  Mostly because I want people to know that asking me questions is perfectly ok, and I will make every attempt to answer them. However, sometimes I do get frustrated by the questions asked.  I think I’m allowed that.

Anyhow, here goes.  I am not sad all the time, or depressed all the time.  I don’t think any of the estimated 2 million American adults who have bi-polar disorder are always in ANY particular mood.  The point is, or is for me, that depressive symptoms tend to manifest (as well as manic ones, too) in cycles.  If I don’t know how to control that, things can get very, very bad. It can take months (as it did this most recent time around) or just days.  I tend to be moody, and impulsive.  I do things without thinking. I’ve always been like that, even when I’m totally healthy.  It’s just a part of what makes me special, I guess.

On the flip side, I can also have days (or weeks – which is frightening) where I have to fight my brain to get myself up and be productive. Those days suck.  They leave me in tears sometimes. I’m not afraid to admit it.  I also tend to struggle with attention to detail.  Basically, my mind wanders around, all the time. (This is why reading is my favorite hobby – it forces me to focus, but my imagination wanders around WITH the book).

In my case, what seems to set me off (or at least be exceptionally bad for me) is highly pressurized situations, where the pressure never relents day in, day out.  This is why my previous career in sales was bad.  There was too much “all or nothing” pressure every day. That’s not the ideal role for me – in fact, I’ve been forbidden by my doctors from doing that.  And, if sales jobs are all an employer has in my entire state, then that’s not going to be a relationship that can succeed.

You see, sometimes, no job IS better than any available job……..

Thanks for reading. I’m not sure if this blog post is doing anything to advance my personal mission of making bi-polar better understood, or putting a “face” to it. I do know that it’s providing me some comfort, though. I’ll try to get better at writing more often.

Some thoughts while I wait on a job interview

Hello! I got to a job interview really early, and some thoughts had been forming over the last few weeks.

One thing people all want to do, on some level, is fit in. This happens especially for children.  We all see this as we grow up, or watch our own kids: the painfully awkward kid who desperately wants to fit in, to be accepted.  Sometimes that kid gets picked on, bullied, and made to feel more outcast.  Sometimes, they actually manage to fit in.

But when they’ve “fit in” have they lost something of their own individuality? Was conformity a good idea? For kids and teens, the answer is easier. Usually, they’re going to say yes. But what about adults? As we attempt to “get ahead” and focus on making money, are we losing ourselves? Are we focusing on the wrong things?

Sometimes I feel like I’m 12. I love comic books and airplanes taking off and fire engines.  Two of my favorite things to eat are cheeseburgers and macaroni and cheese (Velveeta, thanks).

For a long while I buried a lot of that. It wasn’t “adult enough” for who I thought I was supposed to be. Screw that. I’ve been learning differently recently. Its always good to be yourself. If others can’t deal, so be it. I’m sure if they can’t deal with the real you, you don’t want them around. I know that’s true for me.

So if you see that kid trying hard to fit in, or if you are the kid trying to fit in – don’t sell yourself short. Be yourself. In the long run, it feels better than it does to fake it.
Hello! I got to a job interview really early, and some thoughts had been forming over the last few weeks.

One thing people all want to do, on some level, is fit in. This happens especially for children.  We all see this as we grow up, or watch our own kids: the painfully awkward kid who desperately wants to fit in, to be accepted.  Sometimes that kid gets picked on, bullied, and made to feel more outcast.  Sometimes, they actually manage to fit in.

But when they’ve “fit in” have they lost something of their own individuality? Was conformity a good idea? For kids and teens, the answer is easier. Usually, they’re going to say yes. But what about adults? As we attempt to “get ahead” and focus on making money, are we losing ourselves? Are we focusing on the wrong things?

Sometimes I feel like I’m 12. I love comic books and airplanes taking off and fire engines.  Two of my favorite things to eat are cheeseburgers and macaroni and cheese (Velveeta, thanks).

For a long while I buried a lot of that. It wasn’t “adult enough” for who I thought I was supposed to be. Screw that. I’ve been learning differently recently. Its always good to be yourself. If others can’t deal, so be it. I’m sure if they can’t deal with the real you, you don’t want them around. I know that’s true for me.

So if you see that kid trying hard to fit in, or if you are the kid trying to fit in – don’t sell yourself short. Be yourself. In the long run, it feels better than it does to fake it.

Trust me.

Sorry I’ve been gone….

Hello everyone.  I’m still out here, toiling away.  Sorry I haven’t posted in a month.  I had some things to do with school, and my disability, and stuff.  Also, I couldn’t work up the energy to write much.

I saw this from the National Institutes of Mental Health today, though.  They host online chat’s, though Twitter.  This is from a chat on Teen Brain’s from earlier today.  I thought it should be shared with as many as possible.  I know from personal experience – the warning signs of teen or young adult suicides are often missed.  PLEASE take the time to educate yourself on this issue.

I’ll be back more regularly going forward.  Thanks.

Some thoughts on the tradgedy at University of Maryland, and on the Baltimore Sun

“All mental illnesses are not the same. They vary in intensity and duration of symptoms. Some sufferers will show periods of lucidity that can be confusing even to experts. Not all chronic sufferers from mental illness will have an acute psychotic breakdown”

This passage from an editorial in the Baltimore Sun prompted me to write this post today.  It seems to me that this is entirely true.  I don’t agree 100% with the article after this statement (it’s in the early stages of the letter).  But I do agree that attempting to define “mental illness” with some set of constant terms is impossible.

Before I get to far, I wanted to express my sadness over the shootings.  I am sad for the victims, of course, but also for the shooter, reportedly a grad student.  School shootings are always terrible, and usually make the population think.  This one in particular seems not to have, much.  Maybe it’s because we’ve had so many shootings at schools in the past 6 months.  Again, I am saddened by this

Back to the letter to the editor.  It’s actually written in response to this article initially written and posted on February 13th.  In it the author paints a picture where students would help identify students having a breakdown, and steer them towards treatment.

“The deaths of Mr. Green and his roommate, along with the wounding of another student, demonstrate the need for colleges to help faculty and students become more aware of potential mental health problems they observe. Such discussions should occur early on, during orientation week for incoming students, for instance. Being able to identify peers who are psychologically distressed and recognize the changes in behavior that signal problems would allow students to react more appropriately and be more in control of situations that may arise.”

Pipe dream.  As well intended as this approach would be it would be a disaster.  College students aren’t qualified or capable of identifying the “psychologically distresses” from among their peer group.  In fact, the author lists a few reasons why it wouldn’t work in their own editorial.

Listen, people:  college’s have a tough time with this subject.  Most now have student aid centers where counselling is available, some can even write prescriptions.  When I was a college student in the mid 1990’s, the student health center was there and willing to do what if could – but again, all mental illnesses are not the same.  Students who are brave enough, or willing enough, to go get help can get some measure of help.  But we have to remember the issues new college students face when they enter the campus community.  Even the “well adjusted” can have some issues with pressure, new social scenery, new peer groups, and then throw in pressures from the actual schoolwork.  It can be daunting.

Picture how daunting it can be if you know something isn’t quite right in your head.  Imagine, if you can, the fear involved in having a mental illness, needing medication or therapy, and having to tell friends.  It can be hard.  Again, this is in the case of a student who knows their situation already.  Never mind the slow decent into madness and paranoia that can happen to a student over a period of years as their workload increases, and their focus decreases.  I’ve never been a grad student, but I can imagine, and have been told, that the pressure is immense.  Everything you are doing, 25×7 is all about that grad work.  There often is nothing else.

To me, the key to slowing our rate of school violence (not just shootings, but suicides, beatings, etc) would be to do one simple thing:  reduce the amount of pressure we put on students, and on people as a whole.  I was chatting back and forth with a friend as I was writing this, and he pointed that out:  we place so much pressure on our students, all in the name of an often inferior education.  There’s financial pressures from college, social pressures, as well as obvious academic ones.  I’m no genius here, but I would think that something could be done to lower the pressure related to being a college student, right?

I know what you are thinking:  how does lowering pressure on students lower the likelihood of mental illness?  It might not lower the likelihood of someone getting sick, but it would alleviate some of the outside factors that make being mentally ill tough universally.  I know mental illnesses are not all the same (as stated above), but there are some things that everyone would benefit from.

Imagine if you could somehow create a college atmosphere where students had less worries, not more?  What if college students were relaxed people, as opposed to the tightly would bunches of hormones they generally are now?

One last thought on University of Maryland (and others, surely), and what they are dealing with in this time and place:  Please be very careful how you proceed from here.  I completely agree that some things need to be done, and many things could be changed, in the light of a school shooting.  In fact, University President Wallace Loe said as much:

“there are lessons to be learned, policy questions to be discussed, changes to be made” – University of Md. President Wallace Loe, February 12th, 2013

I would encourage the U of M community to address their concerns, but to work hard to address them in a manner that does not further ostracize the mentally ill community on your campus and in your town.  It does no one any good if you further push away a group of people who merely need help.  Not every mentally ill person is a violent sociopath in waiting.  As I’ve mentioned (probably harped on) before, we’re not all bad people, and most of us just want to go about our days, just like you.  If you begin to place even more pressure on a mentally ill student to conform, or try to force someone to get help who doesn’t want it yet, you can easily push them to hurt themselves.  That is a true tragedy as well.  Trust me, I know.

Another quick reminder that seems timely: According to the NIMH, the 18-25 age bracket is the most affected by mental illness.  Which is also the age we all get sent off to college.  I’m not saying it’s definitely linked – I’m not qualified to do that.  I’m just saying that the age bracket that colleges have to work with is one that is susceptible to a lot of things, and serious mental illness seems to be one of them. (Thanks again to the BBR&F for the link!)

As my ramble comes to a close, I wanted to stress/repeat this:

  • I am truly saddened by the loss at College Park
  • Mental illness does not fit into a nice little box.  They are all a bit different, just like the patients.
  • Asking college students to identify the mentally ill amongst them is a really, really bad idea.  Just look at any historical examples of a witch hunt for reference.
  • Please be sure not to demonize all of the mentally ill over the actions of a few sad individuals.  That doesn’t help solve any problems – it just makes them worse.

Thanks to Skylar for chatting with me through this.  Great insight, man.