365 Days

Song: “Banana Splits” by The Dickies

Mood: 6.5

Nightmares: 0

I didn’t sleep very well again last night – no nightmares but I kept waking up, worried about something or other. The good thing is that with no nightmares or panic, it usually doesn’t take me too long to get back to sleep. It was tough getting up this morning, though. It sucks being stuck where I can’t get back to sleep but I also can’t find the oomph to haul myself out of bed. It feels like I’m wasting time.

Despite not sleeping all that great, my exercises went pretty well this morning. I had to get up and run around a couple of times but when I was done my time I felt considerably better than when I started, and that’s the idea.

It was already pretty warm this morning when I went for my walk. I headed toward the creek, but decided to go a different way and I ended up walking around the next block over before heading for home. It was unpleasant, but I guess that’s another route I can take to add some variety if I want.

I spent some time texting again today. I like saying hello to everyone. It’s like saying hi to people when I’m pacing around the parking lot at the store, just considerably less creepy.

I gave the battery in the truck one last attempt to charge today. Unfortunately, the charger did the same thing – ran in desulfating mode for a couple of hours and then showed an error and stopped charging. I checked the battery with a multimeter to make sure the charger was reading it correctly, and it was. I guess that’s what I get leaving it sitting there for six or seven months through the winter and spring with all the electronics hooked up and no maintenance. I will put a tender on the next battery if it looks like the truck isn’t going to be used for a while. I should’ve known better, yeesh.

After hooking up the charger, I went to the back yard to take a look at the garden. Out of habit, I locked the doorknob. Also out of habit, I pulled the door shut behind me and locked myself in the back yard. The keys were in the house. My phone was in the house. The back door was locked. The gate was locked. The front door was locked.

Enter my good old friend, flop sweat.

I briefly thought about jumping the fence. Any of you who know me in person are probably laughing at that thought. I’m a lot more likely to run through a fence than try to scramble over it. Neither was appealing, so I put the thought aside. Then I tried to take the gate apart but I’d tightened things very well and wasn’t having much luck until I scrounged up the largest rock I could find in our pile of gravel and bashed at it until it loosened up. Hooray, I was free… I put things back together, closed everything up, and went inside.

[wow it just started raining really hard]

I noticed the pepper plant on the deck needed some water, so I filled up a pitcher and went out onto the deck. Out of habit, I locked the doorknob. Also out of habit, I started to push the door shut, but woke up and grabbed it before I locked myself in the back yard twice in 20 minutes.

[there’s some thunder, too… wow, it’s raining hard]

The fish tank in the living room has been getting pretty gross lately. The fish and shrimp don’t seem to mind too much but I don’t like it being all cloudy and green in there. It makes me feel like a bad fish dad. So I spent about an hour removing algae from the walls and the inside of the filter and changing out the water. I’ve got to admit, it looks pretty darn good. I missed a few algae spots but I’ll work on them tomorrow.

I played some more Star Trek Online. I played around with the new things that became available with getting the promotion to Admiral and it was pretty interesting. I also found out that the USS Pinkeye is getting a little long in the tooth. I wandered into a spot where another Federation ship was duking it out with a Klingon ship. I slowly turned and started to close the gap so I could help my ally out (you have to be within 10km to be able to attack something). Anyway, as I was chugging toward them, they suddenly darted much farther away, then closer, then way behind me, then ahead of me again. Finally, I closed to within 10km, and the Pinkeye let go with everything she had. The game shows you how much damage you’re doing, and I was seeing a lot of 40s and the occasional 65 popping up. It was going to take a bit, but I knew then that my ally and I were going to mangle this other guy. Well, as soon as I thought that, my ally’s ship blew up. No problem, I thought – I can handle this on my own. I turned to bring my torpedo tube to bear, and before I could fire, he hit me twice for twenty-three THOUSAND points of damage. And so ended my attempt to patrol that particular area of space. They’ll be lucky to find anything large enough left to make souvenirs out of.

Locking myself in the yard and my ship exploding aside, today is a significant day for me. Exactly one year ago, I walked out of the psych ward at the end of my last stay. I’ve been out for a year. It’s kind of hard to believe in some ways. There have been a couple of times over the year that I’ve almost felt like I needed to press that button again, but fortunately things worked out. I’m very grateful for being out, but I’m also very grateful that I can go back again if I need to.

J and I celebrated this evening by having chicken fingers and fries for supper and a small (but very tasty) cake for dessert.

THANK YOU SO MUCH TO EVERYONE – FAMILY, FRIENDS, PROFESSIONALS. I WOULD NOT BE HERE RIGHT NOW IF IT WERE NOT FOR ALL OF YOU.

I don’t want to look like I’m taking the easy way out here, but I’m fighting to keep from falling asleep. I probably should’ve started my post with this stuff, but I will post more about it tomorrow. Thank you all again – I can never repay you for what you’ve done!

Stay safe.

So… I’ve Been Thinking About This A Lot

Trigger Warning: this post may contain content that can trigger a shift in mood, comfort, or mental status. Proceed at your own risk.

There has been a lot of media coverage of the suicides of two celebrities last week: Kate Spade on Tuesday and Anthony Bourdain on Friday.

Other than being familiar with the names, I know very little of either of them. I still find myself shaken and feeling terrible for them and their loved ones, though. It is, unfortunately, a familiar feeling. Many times a year, the loss of someone famous – be they wealthy/popular/creative/loved/loathed – makes the news, and, in too many cases, it turns out that they took their own life.

It bothers me in so many different ways. Part of it is how it plays out in the media. There’s always the initial shock and statements of grief. Then, invariably, the questions and positing begin. Some will wonder how anyone so wealthy or famous could possibly turn to suicide. Others will attempt to analyze and explain the behaviour. Still others will shake their heads and turn away in disgust, calling the deceased “weak”, “cowards”, “selfish”, or other misinformed pejoratives.

It embarrasses me to admit it, but I used to be in the latter group. I used to think that anybody could get through anything if they just put their head down, worked hard, and did what they had to do. Mental illness was synonymous with not working hard enough. If someone couldn’t do the work, they were either lazy or weak, and suicide was taking the easy way out. I thought therapy was a scam and psychiatric drugs did nothing but turn people into zombies. My opinions were formed by too many crappy movies and old books, and a casual disregard for the public speakers who came into my school and the posters and pamphlets in my doctor’s office or on the school counsellor’s desk.

I was wrong. Really, really wrong. I wish I could go back in time and slap some sense into my arrogant younger self and apologize to the people I hurt along the way. Knowing what I know now, I can see that, even at a young age, I was experiencing symptoms of mental illness. Everything from math to driving to writing to forcing myself to stay awake on plane and bus trips just in case something happened, starting when I was around four or five years old. I really wish I could go back and change some things.

Unfortunately, I can’t, and I will feel guilty and embarrassed about that for the rest of my life.

What I can do, though, is talk about how I was wrong.

Suicide is NOT cowardice

Nobody thinks that killing themselves is a quick and easy way to fix something that’s bothering them. People who consider suicide are ill with something they can’t see or feel, but is as real as a broken bone or tumour. They are miserable, feel they have nothing, and genuinely believe that the world would be a better place off without them. There is no yesterday and no tomorrow – just the slow, inexorable grinding of the intolerable NOW. Suicide is a cry from someone in horrendous distress – a flawed, desperate attempt at a solution to what feels like an intractable problem.

Suicide is NOT selfishness

I have been hospitalized four times over the last two years because I was in imminent danger of hurting myself. Not once did I think, “it sure will be nice when I don’t have to worry about upsetting J anymore,” or, “now I don’t need to worry about missing my nephews as they grow up”. All I could think about was how much stress and misery I was inflicting on all the people I care about and how much better it would be for them if I was no longer around. I also felt horrible for how much of the therapists’, doctors’, and nurses’ time I was taking; I was certain that they were wasting their time on me and would be better off using that time on other patients. I didn’t want anything – I just wanted to go away. I figured that people would be upset, but it would be like tearing off a band-aid – painful for a very short time but better in the long run.

Nobody – not even the most stressed-out family member or most overworked nurse – agreed that they thought the world would be better off without me. I also know several people who lost family or friends to suicide over the years and their lives were never the same – they still mourn their loss and question what they could’ve done differently to prevent it.

Suicide is NOT a joke

You make me want to kill myself!! – Howard Wolowitz (The Big Bang Theory)

The next person that offers me charity or pity will be mentioned – by name – in my suicide note. – Jeff Winger (Community)

Everybody has joked about killing themselves. It may have been a lighthearted moment, friends joking around with friends. Maybe someone got startled, or just discovered how long the chore list is. It may have been in a serious situation, like after failing an important test, or a teenager waiting for an angry parent to pick them up from the police station. Books, television, and movies are filled with characters mentioning suicide for comedic effect.

If you find yourself talking or thinking about suicide, stop for a moment and consider the context. Are you frightened? Are you depressed? Do you feel desperate? Do you feel alone? Do you agree with the sentiment? If you feel negative emotions (or a lack of emotion) while thinking about suicide, talk to someone and get help. Go to the nearest emergency room. Call a Crisis Line. Talk to your doctor. Talk to your therapist. Talk to your favourite teacher. Talk to your parents. Talk to someone and get help. If you don’t think the person you talked to understood or believed what you were saying, talk to someone else.

You deserve to get the help you need. You are worth it. Don’t let anybody tell you differently.

Another reason that the suicide of a celebrity bothers me so much is that, for every news headline or front page story about a famous person who killed themself, there are thousands of other people who aren’t known the world over who ended their own life. We collectively mourn the rock star, the football player, the physicist… but what about those who don’t have their daily activities followed by legions of fans? The nurse? The teacher? The electrician? The lady at the paint counter? The neighbour? The artist? The friend? Family?

On average, there are 123 suicides in the United States per day, or 13.42 suicides per 100,000 people.1

In 2009, there were 3,890 suicides in Canada, or 11.5 suicides per 100,000 people.2

In 2016, there were 5,965 suicides in the UK, or 10.4 suicides per 100,000 people.3

I am not implying that we should not mourn celebrities – far from it. We do, however, need to remember that, just as the suicide of a celebrity shocks and saddens us, there are hundreds or thousands of others who are stunned every day at the suicide of a family member, close friend, coworker, or someone they knew in passing.

Mental illness is the primary cause of suicide.2 The US National Institute of Mental Health says that “Mental illnesses are common in the United States. Nearly one in five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness (44.7 million in 2016).”4. The Canadian Mental Health Association states that “In any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness.”5, while, “In 2007 nearly one person in four (23.0 per cent) in England had at least one psychiatric disorder and 7.2 per cent had two or more disorders”6.

Mental illness does not discriminate. It affects people regardless of gender, orientation, age, race, wealth, appearance, career, success, location, family… anything. There is no certain way to prevent it, nor any definite way to cause it. Anyone can experience mental illness at any time in their lives. It can be mild or life-altering, temporary or lifelong.

It is nothing to be ashamed of.

There has been considerable progress in treating mental illness, both by new and evolving therapies as well as new medications and a better understanding of older ones.

The public opinion and awareness of mental illness and suicide is changing. More people than ever see mental illness as something that can (and should) be treated – like a cyst that must be removed or a bone that must be set. Fewer people see it as weakness or as a flaw in a person’s character or personality. This is great news, but more must be done. Nobody should feel embarrassed to talk to someone about their mental health, and everybody should have easy access to help.

Whether you’re a celebrity or not.

Please – if you are contemplating suicide or otherwise hurting yourself or someone else, please contact your local crisis line or go to your nearest emergency room. You can find some contact numbers on the resources page.

THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO CARE ABOUT YOU AND WANT TO HELP. PLEASE, PLEASE TAKE A MOMENT TO REACH OUT.

YOU ARE WORTH IT.

 

 

1. https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/ – retrieved 2018-06-11
2. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-624-x/2012001/article/11696-eng.htm – retrieved 2018-06-11
3. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/suicidesintheunitedkingdom/2016registrations – retrieved 2018-06-11
4. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml – retrieved 2018-06-10.
5. https://cmha.ca/about-cmha/fast-facts-about-mental-illness – retrieved 2018-06-10.
6. https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/adult-psychiatric-morbidity-survey/adult-psychiatric-morbidity-in-england-2007-results-of-a-household-survey – retrieved 2018-06-10.

An Anniversary Of Sorts

Trigger Warning: this post may contain content that can trigger a shift in mood, comfort, or mental status. Proceed at your own risk.

While J and I were having supper this evening, she mentioned that two years ago this weekend I spent my first night in a psychiatric ward. I had been transferred there from the Crisis Centre (which the Emergency Department at my local hospital sent me to after evaluating me earlier in the day), and the following day I would be transferred again to the hospital where I would spend the next three months under the care of Dr W.

I don’t remember much of that first evening, but J says that we kind of played Crazy Eights and talked. I say “kind of” because I apparently kept losing my train of thought and forgetting how to play. I do recall walking around in hospital clothing with a big plastic mug full of ice water that had “PATIENT USE ONLY” stamped on the side.

If you feel like you may want to harm yourself, please take two or three deep breaths, and contact or go to your local Emergency Department or Crisis Centre. It may seem daunting to ask for help, but you can do it. There are people who care about you in this world and they want you to feel better.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

There are links and phone numbers that may be helpful on the Resources page, including a link to the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) Crisis Centre list.

Stay safe.

My Side Effects

I’ve been taking psychiatric medications for almost two years now, and I consider myself to be very lucky with the side effects I’ve experienced. They have been more of an annoyance and haven’t really affected my quality of life. I am taking (or have taken) the following medications to help me with my recovery:

  • Haloperidol (no longer taking)
  • Lorazepam (no longer taking regularly, but have PRN if needed)
  • Prazosin
  • Quetiapine
  • Sertraline
  • Venlafaxine
  • Zopiclone

I can’t say for certain if these side effects are related to the medications (the whole “correlation is not causation” argument), but they only started happening after I began to take them. Here we go:

Weight Gain: This has been the most obvious side effect that I’ve experienced. Since beginning the psych meds, I’ve put on almost 50 pounds. I’ve managed to lose a little bit of it, but it’s proving to be difficult. I don’t consider it the end of the world, though. Like I said in a previous post, I’m willing to put up with the weight gain because of the stability that the medications give me.

Hand Tremors: This mainly involves my fingers, particularly my index and pinky fingers on both hands. Some days it’s noticeable to the point where I have difficulty typing well, and handling small objects like screws and electronic components can be frustrating. I enjoy puttering around with my bass guitar, but the tremors make it very difficult.

Limb Twitching: Another side effect that comes and goes, and I only notice it when I’m not moving around, like when I’m watching TV or lying in bed. It involves my limbs and occasionally my torso. I’ll be still and then suddenly one of my legs kicks or my arm flails out. I’ve accidentally smacked J a couple of times and woke her up because of this. I don’t flail around, it’s just a single movement.

Slow Urination: I think this one is specific to the sertraline because it started happening well before I started taking anything else. My issues are also nonexistent first thing in the morning but appear in the afternoon and get worse into the evening, after the sertraline has taken effect. No discomfort, and I can always void – it’s just slow.

Jumpiness: This showed up after I started taking venlafaxine. Everybody jumps at sudden loud sounds, but I’m startled by a lot more stuff than I used to be. Sudden sounds – everything from the TV to the phone ringing to the slight creaking noises the house makes – startle me and make me jump. It doesn’t matter if I expect the noise, and it doesn’t have to be loud, either. The same thing happens if I see something in my peripheral vision. On really bad days certain bubble sounds from the aquarium can make me jump, and something as simple as a car pulling up next to me while driving can startle me.

Flashes of Light: I only notice this when I’ve got my eyes closed, and it’s worse at night when it’s dark. Flashes of light that look like ribbons appear and float downwards. Sometimes it reminds me of a curtain being lowered repeatedly. This doesn’t really bother me, it’s more curious than anything.

Heartburn: This one is definitely caused by the sertraline. It caused me some pretty brutal heartburn until I got another medication to help.

Low Blood Pressure: I take prazosin in the evenings to reduce the frequency and intensity of my nightmares, but it’s actually a blood pressure medication. It sometimes makes me a little dizzy at night, particularly when suddenly standing up.

Runny Nose: This one’s pretty irritating. I eat something, my nose runs. I drink something, my nose runs. I brush my teeth, my nose runs. I go from a warm room to a cool room, my nose runs. I go from a cool room to a warm room, my nose runs. I brush my teeth, my nose runs. I put on my CPAP mask, my nose runs. I watch TV, my nose runs. You get the idea. I spend a lot of time blowing my nose.

Morning Grogginess: Zopiclone and quetiapine both cause drowsiness, so it’s just a matter of sleeping the grogginess off or waiting it out. My head is usually clear by 10 or 11AM.

Like I said before, I consider myself to be very lucky with the side effects I’m experiencing. Psych meds are no joke and can cause very serious and life-altering problems. It’s very important to keep informed and to talk to your doctor and pharmacist about the medications you’re taking. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and be open with any concerns that you have.

Stay safe.

Pushing Back The Boundaries

Let me just put this out here: I am most comfortable when I am sitting at home, in the basement, and listening to music. I can’t hear the outside world, and if I’m all the more comfortable for it. Sometimes the phone will ring and I will stare at it until either it stops ringing or I manage to answer it, but for the most part, sitting downstairs and listening to music is when I’m most comfortable.

The problem is, the outside world exists. I can turn up the music or wear headphones but the reality is there’s a real world out there and I need to be a part of it.

I’ve been having trouble driving for a year and a half now. I am limited to driving in about a 5km radius around the house. It was even worse when I started driving again but I’m getting a little frustrated now because things have obviously plateaued and I’m having a lot of trouble expanding my zone of comfort. I managed to ride the bike around the city, but I’ve always been more comfortable on the bike than in a car, and part of the bike ride was very unpleasant anyway. I really appreciate her help, but I feel guilty that J has to drive me to my Dr W appointment every week because it’s too far away.

I need to figure out how to drive more comfortably and without risking a panic attack if I go too far, and I need to figure out how to calm down my OCD while I’m driving. Changing lanes is very difficult because I turn to look and make sure my blind spot is clear but as soon as I look forward again I don’t believe it’s clear and I’m going to cause an accident. Even when I’m driving a straight line in very light traffic, I get worried that I’ve run a red light or caused an accident because there are no other cars around me.

I also need to get out of the house more. Both Dr W and Dr C have told me many times that getting out – even for something like a short walk or drive – is very beneficial. It can be really difficult for me to do, though. Some days it takes so much effort to get out of bed that there’s no way I’m going to be able to go outside. Even on easier days, I would much rather stay home than go out. I worry about the house – did I leave the stove on? Are the doors locked? Are the windows closed? Is the hot water tank leaking? Is the garage door closed? I worry about missing an important phone call. I worry about missing an appointment if I have one that day.

My anxiety and OCD keep me catastrophizing about every little thing, and my depression makes me want to not even try. It’s a one-two punch that is really difficult for me to work through. I really need to make some headway here, though, because I feel like I’m weighing J down when it comes to things like holidays and when she takes time off. I also feel terrible for making our parents come into town last Christmas instead of us driving out there. It was the first time in 20 years that that’s happened and I would really like to not have to do it that way again. I was also invited by my uncle and cousin to go out East and hang out with them for a while, but again, I can’t do it. I don’t want people thinking that I’m trying to avoid them, it’s just so difficult to get out of the house, and leaving it for a couple of days is pretty much unthinkable at this point.

Even something like cooking food is difficult for me. Easy things like cereal and pasta are no problem, but throw in something like produce or meat and I start to have problems. When I’m opening a salad kit, all I can think of is whether it’s dirty or if there’s been another vegetable recall because of e.coli or something, and when I’m cooking meat, I have a lot of trouble believing it’s done. I’ll use a thermometer to confirm but that’s not good enough to calm my anxiety so I very frequently ask J if she can take a look at it before we call it cooked.

I’ve got to start answering the phone more. It’s such a basic thing but I find it so difficult to do. Even when it’s my parents on the caller ID, I have trouble answering. I get so wound up that work is trying to call me in or the insurance company is calling to cancel my coverage that I can actually start to sweat while the phone is ringing. Even with my parents calling, I worry that somehow work or the insurance company has called them and asked them to call me on their behalf. I know this is irrational and there’s no way it would happen, but I just can’t get it out of my head.

There are so many aspects of my life that I feel like I have little to no control over, and everything is just so much better if I stay in my safe space. I need to fix this.

Two appointments ago, Dr W and I were talking about safe zones and making progress in pushing the boundaries of the safe zone outward. I’ve always seen my safe zone as a little circle with danger and discomfort around it, and when I got more comfortable with one thing, the whole circle got a little bigger. One of my problems is I tend to see the big picture and don’t think about the little pieces. I have to start considering every aspect of my life that my illness has affected as individual things instead of one large problem to solve. That way, I can work on them one at a time and push the safe zone outward like an amoeba’s pseudopods instead of like a circle:When I think of it this way, it also makes it easier to tell which problems I’m making headway on and which still have a long way to go.

As with everything, some things will be easier to work on than others, but expanding my boundaries is a huge part of my recovery. I will have to keep talking with Dr W and Dr P, too – they should have some useful techniques for me to use to help keep my focus.

Stay safe.

It Takes Time

One of the things that frustrates me the most about mental illness is that there is no quick fix. It takes a lot of time, work, and (in my case) medication to be able to claw my way out of the pit and into the sunlight.

You’d hope that antidepressants would work quickly, but a lot of them can take weeks to reach full strength. And, of course, in the meantime you can still experience the side effects. Some psych medications work quickly but their effects are temporary.

I find that keeping my mind and hands busy can be very difficult when I’m having a rough day. All I want to do is go back to bed or plop down on the couch and try to shut the world out. That doesn’t help anything, though, and if I do that too many days in a row it can really cause me problems.

Dr W has told me many times that the best thing that I can do for my recovery is keep active, and anything that bumps my heart rate up a bit and gets me moving is important. He’s right, too – on days where I really don’t feel like doing anything but I manage to force myself to spend some time on the treadmill, I feel better after I’ve walked for even just half an hour.

I look at myself today and see someone who, in many ways, is quite a bet better than a year ago. There’s still so much more I need to do, though, and I wish I could make myself get better a lot faster.

I can’t, though, so I need to make sure I keep doing things to pass the time. J and I watch a lot of movies – that can use up two hours out of a day. I play computer games (not as much as I used to) and that can be a good way to pass the time. Listening to records or any other source of music helps pass the time and cheer me up when I’m in a poor mood. Playing with some of my hobbies is a great way to pass the time but can be difficult to start when I’m feeling down. Even just watching videos on YouTube can take hours out of a crappy day.

Then there’s people. J and I spend a lot of time talking and laughing about stuff. Getting together with friends or family can be difficult sometimes but it sure is rewarding, and even just giving them a phone call helps me with the feelings of isolation that come with the depression.

Meditation, mindfulness, and worry exercises can use up an hour or two a day if I’m able to clear my mind enough. Sometimes just sitting still with my eyes closed for a few minutes can be refreshing and give me a bit of a boost to help me get engaged with something.

All of these things help me pass the time, and on bad days they can take a great deal of effort to do. As the time has gone on, though, I can see a trend that I’m having more good days and fewer really bad days than I used to. It tough to remind myself of this when I’m feeling awful, but it’s true. I just need to remember that getting well takes time.

Stay safe.

What Am I Going To DO?

I’ve been away from work for the last sixteen months and this has given me a lot of time to think. Something I keep getting stuck on is that I can’t go back to where I was or I’ll end up back in the hospital.

I always wanted to be an IT guy. I’ve loved computers for my whole life, from the Commodore PETs that we had in elementary school to the C128D that my parents bought for Christmas one year, to the various PCs that I’ve built or purchased over the years. I’ve done every job from an ISP technical support rep to managing datacentres and networks.

And now I can’t handle it. Any of it. Just the thought of having to fix my computer if it breaks makes my stomach churn – I’d most likely take it somewhere to have someone else deal with it. I enjoy writing on them and playing games but I don’t like sitting in front of them any more than I have to.

J has said she doesn’t want me to go back to my old job, or any IM/IT job at all. We’ve had many conversations about this, and I agree with her.

My employer has a back-to-work program and is supposed to be able to accommodate changes in duties, skills, or abilities. That includes a certain amount of training. I’m grateful for that – it will make going back to work a lot easier when I’m ready.

But what am I going to do? What am I going to be? I used to identify myself as “Mark, the computer guy,” but who am I going to be now? Are there really any jobs for an out of shape, mentally ill, 41 year old who has no training in anything but the field he can’t handle going back to?

If my employer had infinite flexibility and I could pick any job I wanted, what would my next career be?

I have no idea.

J and I have talked at length about this, too, and she has a lot of good advice but I just can’t seem to get any traction on the subject. I would love to be a welder, but who’s going to hire a creaky 41 or 42 year old apprentice welder when there are 19 year olds willing to do the same job? I wouldn’t mind working in electronics, but I’ve lost so much of what I used to know that I’d be looking at doing a LOT of catching up. I wouldn’t mind being an electrician, but again – there’s the “old apprentice” problem. I love microbiology but that’s three more years of university and age would be a factor again.

Where do IT people go when they can’t or don’t want to do IT anymore? I have supervisory skills but they’re five years out of date, and it was an IT supervisor position. I have decent communication skills but can’t answer the bloody phone, and I really enjoy writing but so do a billion other people, most of whom are better at it than I am.

I need to figure this out.

Stay safe.

My Weight

I’ve never been a huge fan of sports, but up until my first year of university, I was a pretty fit guy. Unfortunately, the “freshman fifteen” curse was more like a “freshman thirty” for me, and I struggled to get rid of the extra weight.

As time went on, my weight would slowly creep upwards and then plateau for a while, which would give me time to buy new clothes and get used to things. Then it would start to creep upwards again, and the cycle would continue.

For about five years as an adult, I started fencing three nights a week and lost quite a bit of weight by being particular about what I ate and exercising. My right knee has always been tricky, though, and the more I fenced, the worse it got. Eventually I had to give it up, and my weight inexorably went back to where it was before I’d started exercising.

My first psychiatric drugs were prescribed by my then-GP. Unfortunately, they didn’t quite do the trick and I ended up in the hospital. When I left the hospital three months later, I was taking four different psych medications and had put on fifteen pounds. Those fifteen pounds sure weren’t caused by the hospital food – while the meals were good, they were not not what you’d call “large”.

A little over a year later and I’m now on six psych medications and have put on a total of about 45 pounds. Buying new clothes is an inconvenience, none of my good clothes fit, and I’m concerned about what long-term effects there will be on my health. Diabetes, for example, runs in my family.

But let me tell you this: I will not give up those medications myself. I can exercise and eat healthy foods so I can try to be a “fit fat person”, but I can’t exercise or do anything to help myself or anyone else if I can’t get out of bed. My looks are not as important to me as being a functioning person is.

I’m not saying that I want to keep taking all this medication forever. If Dr W and I decide I don’t need as much of something or that I can go off a medication entirely, I’m all for it. If the only way to keep me stable is to keep taking them, then that is what I will do.

I’ve been told that there are several reasons as to why psych medications make some people put on weight. One is that they can make people crave carbohydrates. Another is that they do something to the gut bacteria so digestion works a little differently. I don’t know how true these are but I am pretty sure I can personally verify the carb craving aspect. I want candy. All the time. And that is bad.

The good thing is that it’s easy to make sure there’s no candy in the house. What I do need are my medications; without them I would be in serious trouble.

Stay safe.

Can’t Stop Thinking About Work

I don’t know why, but work has been on my mind a lot lately. I keep going over the same stuff in my head again and again, and the nightmares have made a bit of a comeback.

J asked me why I was thinking about it. That’s a good question. I know I’m not ready to go back to work, so why do I keep thinking about it?

Part of it is that I used to enjoy my job. I was good at it and it was a good fit for me. I worked with and for good people who I liked and respected, and pretty much everyone got along. Even now, I’m still sad that work pushed me into a place where, after four years of excessive stress, I finally broke down and lost so much.

Part of it is that being on disability is nothing like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – in fact, it’s a lot of work. I have to force myself to get out of bed, force myself to eat breakfast, force myself to take my pills, force myself to shower, force myself to do my exercises, force myself to keep in touch with people, force myself to stay busy so my thoughts don’t take dark turns… It’s not “free time” at all.

Part of it is that I miss my friends. We had a pretty decent group of people working and we all got along pretty well. Most of them don’t even know what happened to me – the last thing I said at work was, “My stomach hurts. I’m going home.” I’ve managed to keep in touch with a couple of them but I don’t see them very often and I worry that we’ll drift apart.

Part of it is that I like being productive. Successfully finishing tasks and helping people out made me happy. So did working as part of a team to track down and fix problems. There were always new problems to tackle and I enjoyed being involved.

Part of it is that I’m scared that somehow my disability insurance will be cancelled. Dr W has assured me that won’t happen, but it’s still something that the irrational part of my brain just won’t let go.

Part of it is that I’m scared that I’ll have to go right back into my old job, with the same problems and stresses that led to my hospitalization in the first place. This is something that both J and Dr W have said I don’t need to worry about but again, I just can’t stop thinking about it.

Part of it is that I feel like I’ve disappointed everyone. J, my family, my friends, people from work… everyone.

Part of it is that I know I can’t do the same job that I did before, but I don’t know what else I CAN do. Assuming I can concentrate and remember enough to be retrained, what on Earth can I be retrained to do?

Part of it is that I’m worried that Dr W or Dr C/Dr P will think I’m faking my condition and “fire” me as a patient. I don’t know what I’d do without their support and skills.

Part of it is that I have no idea how to tell when I’m ready to go back to work. When the nightmares stop, I don’t have a panic attack, and I easily get out of bed for X number of days? When Dr W says so? When the thought of going somewhere outside doesn’t make my stomach cramp up?

Part of it is that there is such a difference between my good and bad days that I worry that when I go back I’ll hit a down, be unable to work, and cause hardships for my co-workers – not to mention the embarrassment.

Part of it is that I’m worried I’ll never be more than a shell of what I used to be. I was GOOD at my job, dammit.

Part of it is that I’m scared that word will get out about what happened to me and anyone I work with will think I’m “Crazy Mark” and everyone will be nervous to eat lunch around me or work directly with me.

Part of it is that I really wish I could turn back the clock or go back in time and tell myself six years ago what was going to happen. Dwelling on things doesn’t make anything better, but I can’t help it.

Part of it is that I’m scared I won’t be able to work in a meaningful way again.

Part of it is this dark, amorphous cloud of dread, anxiety, and sadness that hovers in my periphery, telling me there’s no point in trying because I won’t be able to do anything.

That’s what I can think of right now… I’ll try to listen more closely to my thoughts and if there’s more, I’ll update this list.

Stay safe!

My Nightmares

Trigger Warning: this post may contain content that can trigger a shift in mood, comfort, or mental status. Proceed at your own risk.

I’ve been having the same nightmares for the past sixteen months. I can trace their beginning back to an incident at work that I initially didn’t think much of but that quickly started to gnaw on my nerves. The nightmares came on strong and I found myself waking up in a sweat, heart racing, and sometimes not knowing where I was right away. It quickly got to the point where I was experiencing them multiple times every night.

There are three of them. They all start out the same. Someone is calling the police in a panic, saying that some people are missing in the middle of nowhere and nobody can get ahold of them. The police contact the Search And Rescue (SAR) group and relay the message. The SAR crew tries to get some information but their computers aren’t working. Meanwhile, I’m in a room, surrounded by more computers and panicking because the system is down and I don’t have the parts to get it working again.

The SAR plane takes off and starts searching. This is where the nightmares diverge.

Nightmare 1

The SAR plane searches for hours and then finally finds a large orange tent in the snow. The plane comes in for a landing and the wind from the propellers ripples the tent fabric before blowing it away, revealing five people who have frozen to death. I can see their faces, the stubble on their chins, and their clothes rustling in the breeze. The SAR people are upset. For some reason, I know deep down that if they had made it there just minutes earlier, they would have been able to save the people. Minutes they wouldn’t have lost if their computers were working. It all ends up being my fault.

Nightmare 2

The SAR plane searches for hours and then finds small orange dots in the water. The plane descends and finds five people in lifejackets, all drowned or dead from exposure. Again, if they’d made it there just minutes earlier they would’ve been able to save the people in the water. Again, it’s my fault.

Nightmare 3

The SAR plane searches for hours and then finds an upturned boat. The SAR crew can find no signs of life on the boat – all of the crew has drowned. Again, five minutes would’ve made the difference, and again it’s my fault.

There are significant continuity and factual problems with these nightmares, but it doesn’t matter – that’s how they play out in my head. I’ve left out a lot of detail (mainly because it bothers me to think about it) but that’s pretty much how they go. People dead and it’s my fault. In all three of them I can hear and see everything. I can feel the panic and sweat running down my back as I look around the room with all the computers, knowing that no matter what’s wrong, I don’t have the parts to fix it.

Back when the nightmares were really bad, Dr C took me through an exercise where I recorded myself talking about a nightmare in as much detail as I could. Then I would play it back again and again and build up a tolerance to it. It worked very well. At the same time, Dr W prescribed me prazosin which greatly reduced the number of nightmares I was having.

For a while I was almost nightmare free but recently they’ve been making a bit of a comeback.

So that’s what happens to me at night a lot. Ever since I got home from the hospital the first time, we’ve been leaving some lights on upstairs so when I wake up in a panic, there’s enough light for me to be able to tell where I am. Usually I’ll get out of bed and walk around the house a bit, just to make sure everything’s okay. It makes me feel a little better and I’m usually able to get back to sleep within 15 minutes. If I go from nightmare directly to panic attack, it takes considerably longer.

Stay safe!