Funerals, Memorials, Death, on and on

Clouds

I’m thinking about my dead friend and past lover. His memorial service was yesterday. It was lovely, being held in a small theater space where he had performed and helped out backstage.

Another friend provided pictures. They were very large and easily seen from every seat. There were lit candles, and flowers strewn about the tables and floor.

My heart is quite heavy writing these words.

A friend spoke eloquently about the kind man who chose to leave us so soon. Colleagues from his work shared their grief, and a regular of the theater spoke graciously of his last role. The director of that show brought a prop used by the departed man. He told us how he and my former lover drove the streets of our town singing with each other, and then he sang a hymn.

The father of the deceased spoke about the boy he had been and read a letter from a life-long friend.

I sat.

We all sang a group song, which I joined.

I returned home and distracted myself with mindless browsing on the Internet. I wrote an entry on this blog. I read other blogs. I chatted online with a distant friend.

This morning, I have been harassed by a fly. No amount of hand waving chases it away, and my mind – my easily amused mind – assumes it is the ghost come back.

Yet, I need no ghosts. I have text messages we sent one another to pour over. There’s even a picture of him. Our flirtations are right there in little bubbles. They are short bursts of yearning with a mixture of silly faces made from punctuation marks.

And there’s a long message from me telling him our sexual relationship was over, imploring him to seek care for his bipolar disorder. Quickly following that one were his questions, followed by my silence.

Today, I hear birdsong outside my cottage. Music plays over my computer. Cars rumble by on the street. A dog barks. There is no silence.

I sit.

I play no what-if games. I am simply sad. My heart aches.

Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.” My friend hid great pain. His questioning eyes and smile masked a soul full of angst.

Now, I’m left with pain, but it will pass. Time heals.

My friend is dead. I am here.

Water

The Good News

Followers of this blog will know that I have spent some time in mourning recently for a former lover who took his own life. I can report that I’m well on the way to healing. The initial shock was tremendous, but as with all things, time heals. There will be a memorial gathering for him in a week, and I will attend. I doubt I’ll share anything, but I will be there supporting my other friends.

On the job front, I can happily and loudly report that I passed my written and oral exams, and I am now a Certified Peer Specialist Intern in mental health. I can also shout out that I will start my internship at a local mental health clinic in early June.

I am going to a family reunion at the end of May, and I’m taking the opportunity by stretching my stay to have a nice long visit with my parents and family. When I get back from that trip, I’ll walk straight into my internship.

Things are really moving along quickly.

Things are not moving quickly in my romantic life. My beau lives two hours away, and I haven’t seen him since January. I was traveling too much for job training, and his job schedule keeps him very busy. We’ve spoken on the phone a number of times, and we’re still interested in each other. However, being apart does not make this easy. There’s no cuddling, and that makes me sad. At the same time, it makes for wonderful dreams of reuniting.

Through the statistics of this blog, I can view how people find me. One of the highest ranking terms is bipolar dating. To those searching for love and acceptance as a person with bipolar disorder or with a person who has it, I can safely assure you that it is possible to find a partner.

There is no magic pill to swallow that will make your perfect match appear, but then that’s true for everyone and not simply those with mental illness. While having a disability can add a layer of difficulty to the mixture, it’s not necessarily the defining factor. No person is solely defined by any one particular point, and we with mental illness are not either.

I truly believe in the tried and true formula of finding a mate the old-fashioned way. There are people in clubs who have similar interests and are also looking for companionship. Volunteering is a great way to meet others. The secret – and it’s no secret – is finding a way to get outside one’s head and open up to the possibilities  that abound all around us.

Opening up is easier said than done for some of us. I had my own long, dark period. It lasted for years, and every aspect of life was a chore or nearly impossible. I have been in that deep despair when simple acts of self-care like brushing my teeth were close to impossible. I clawed my way out with the help of loving caregivers, medication, and therapy. I did not do it alone.

All the time, I wondered where the right man for me was. It’s just a thought, but now I believe my focus should have been on being the right man for someone else.

When I take the focus off me, I win.

It is paradoxical, but it starts with loving me and spreading that. I give love more freely when I love me. I give more of me when I take care of my simple daily needs.

I no longer believe in countering negative self-talk with positive affirmations that I find unconvincing. I have no evidence from my past that looking at my reflection in the mirror and reciting clichés ever made me feel better. What worked? A lot of time and effort put into finding the right combination of medicine, meditation, exercise, and therapy from many loving caregivers.

This thought that I start from a place where I love me first is new. I was taught long ago that I had to ignore my inner voice and my feelings and only concentrate on the needs of others. I have no evidence that action ever helped me.

Today, I have abundant evidence that loving me allows me to then reach out and give. I struggled with guilt and shame for decades. Today, I live openly and honestly.

Today, I live in truth.

We Can Recover from Mental Illness

There are stages in the recovery process of mental illness similar to stages in the grieving process. But wait. Did I just write the words “recovery process”? There must be something amiss here. Something’s gone awry. Recovery? Can there be recovery from mental illness?

Yes!

I completed my first week of training for a new job recently. For those just stumbling across this blog, I’m becoming a Certified Peer Specialist in mental health. I have three more weeks of classes and then a three-month internship. It’s intensive and tiring. My brain hasn’t been used this much in years.

The first week felt so good. I grasped and really appreciated so many things. There was so much information to absorb. I was humbled and excited to be a part of it. I am learning to help myself recover and then to help others by sharing my own recovery story.

We are learning about WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan developed by Mary Ellen Copeland, PhD) and how to maintain our own wellness and recovery. It has many parts, and I want to get to it. First, let me say the program is not mine. I did not originate it. You cannot learn it from me in this single blog entry. If you are truly interested in wellness and recovery from mental illness, then I encourage you to follow the link and order Dr. Copeland’s book and join a WRAP group.

We all possess tools to help us stay well. Physically, we have hunger and thirst to remind us to eat and drink appropriately. Mentally, we have needs for social interaction and friendship. I believe we have innate yearnings for nurturing. We search for love and acceptance. When mental illness strikes, it skews the core of those desires and things get out of whack.

We often require medical intervention to set things aright, but there is much we can do on our own. For my own early recognition of self-help, you can read this blog entry from two years ago. The Wellness Recovery Action Plan puts it all in much greater detail and to much greater effectiveness.

Beginning, we each create a daily maintenance plan. Importantly, we are asked to start by taking a good long look at ourselves when we are well. Encouraged by a long exercise of listing exemplary attributes, we can begin to feel the hope this whole program engenders. My list includes things like out and proud to be gay, sober, getting exercise, taking medication, and many other things.

The daily maintenance plan goes on to list vital things we do each day to stay well. Some items are repeated from the previous list, but that’s OK. I added things like checking in with close friends and family and supporters. The whole notion is to build a list of daily activities I can do to aid my recovery and wellness.

Then there is a list of things I do to keep well, but not daily. Simple items like buying groceries appear on this list. I also put down hiking and writing letters.

After the daily maintenance plan, there are five more sections of what is called the wellness toolbox. I’m not going into detail here about each of those pieces, because I don’t want to give the impression that this is something that can be easily transferred in one sitting. My own WRAP toolbox took days and is still a work in progress, and it will take me many more days of classes and study to learn to teach others how to make their own.

The point to be taken away from this post is the hope that the program brings. Persons with mental illness can recover. We can be vital advocates in our own plan for wellness. We are not pawns of any system. We are not defined by our disease.

To paraphrase something I wrote a few entries ago, I am an active participant in my own wellness and recovery today.

I Braved the Movie Theater

I have written in this blog about not being able to watch television for unknown reasons. It makes my brain twitch uncomfortably. I have avoided movies for the same reason. My brain throws a switch that makes my skull itchy inside. (You can find the blog entries by typing “I can’t watch TV” in the little search window on the right.) The crowds in movie theaters are also a deterrent.

I have seen three movies in the last month. It’s been amazing. I had to practice some deep breathing at points during each one, but I made it through. Last night was the most difficult. I saw Silver Linings Playbook, a movie about a bipolar man and his budding relationship with a troubled woman.

The movie begins with words on the screen announcing the upcoming scene as taking place in a psychiatric hospital. I tensed instantly. A group therapy circle unfolded on the screen with someone speaking gibberish about his hair. Another patient sat in his chair but had physical tics. The lead actor was composed but spouting loudly about finding good things in bad circumstances.

The movie twists and turns through the life of the lead actor. He moves back to his parents’ house, and immediately begins to obsess about his estranged wife. He meets an interesting, troubled woman, and they begin seeing each other. Their relationship revolves around his learning to dance. There are scenes finding the man up all night pouring through books only to toss them through a closed window into the street. He wakes his parents at odd hours to rant about wild things. He jogs a lot. The pair spark off each other, though their relationship remains platonic since the man insists he’s still married.

Some points of the movie were particularly wrenching for me to watch. When the lead actor maniacally reads, I was reminded of myself engrossed in books all day long. A crowd encircles the man at one point, and I found my heart pounding in real fear. I have been in the middle of crowded department stores and had to leave to breathe. He went on a painful, angry hunt for his wedding video, and I understood the drive, the single-minded mania. I have been in the situation where I had to accomplish a minor task at all costs and was thwarted.

There was quite a bit of violence in the movie. I’m very lucky that I’m not given to violent outbursts. I withdraw inwardly and use a great deal of negative self-talk.

The movie talked a lot about medication, and the lead character refused to take any. Some of his more egregious explosions prompted him to take medication, but the subject was treated poorly. Regular readers here know I am a strong advocate for taking medication to treat bipolar illness. I only speak for myself, but there’s no amount of prayer or meditation, no distance of running or walking, nor any length of talk-therapy or doctor visits that can control the hallucinations, the rapid thinking, or the burning brain. I need medicine. It’s plain and simple.

The movie ended happily. The boy got the girl. There was no hint of disability. All was right with the world, and I call, “Bullshit.” I’ve been manic about love in the past. If a relationship would fix me, I would be on every dating site around. People can’t fix me. If a relationship could fix the lead character in the movie, then why couldn’t his loving parents help?

Bipolar illness is tricky. I appreciate this cinematic portrayal. I intend to get the book and see if it may be different. I wish my happy ending would be so simple. I’d pay $10 for that.

Finding Stability

Bipolar illness is — I’m sorry for the cliche — a roller coaster. There are periods of slower ratcheting up to highs that catapult a sufferer into the depths. The rush of the ride provides momentary exhilaration but is always followed by the hollow feeling of the pits that drag the stomach down. What’s more, the person with the illness doesn’t realize it’s possible to live without the constant highs and lows.

When manic, I am exuberant. Colors are brighter. My nose is more sensitive to anything around. I want to hear words of praise for whatever I might be engaged in. I want music, and interestingly, it can be quiet and soothing. It doesn’t have to be raucous and loud. I want to eat. I like spicy food or the flood of good chocolate melting around my mouth or a piece of crisp toast flooded with ever-so-slightly-salty butter. And I want hugs. Touch becomes important. Clothes have weight, and I feel them. I don’t just dress. I adorn myself.

Depression slows the whole organism. Senses become dull. Simple routines are hurdles to overcome. The example for me is brushing my teeth. When I find I neglect that small chore, I know I’m sliding down the slope. Most importantly, my mind turns on itself.

Negative thoughts abound. They are present on awakening. I hear them when I look in the mirror. Turning the corner from the living room into the hallway, they bounce to the front of my mind. It’s not something that can be battled with affirmations. If reciting happy ideas would rid me of these horrendous voices, I would never have had to endure them even once.

In my eleven years since I was diagnosed bipolar type one, I have been hospitalized four times for psychotic breaks, suicide attempts, and suicidal thoughts. A person isn’t admitted to the hospital for biting his nails. I applied for and now receive government benefits that provide me a means to live. I cannot work a normal job. Government benefits for mental illness are notoriously hard to come by and require a long wait. Mine came in a short six months revealing a bit of something about my case.

My distant past was fueled by alcohol, which ceased to be a remedy for me a very long time ago. Once that fog lifted, mental illness rushed to the foreground. Stress on almost any level stops me in my tracks nowadays. If positive thinking is not enough, if prayer is not the answer, if herbal remedies won’t suffice, where then is the fix to the conundrum?

Happily, it’s in a mixture of modern medicine, vigilant self-help, and heavy reliance on a tried and true network of support. I rely on medicine to help regulate the highs and lows of my condition. It works. It’s been proven. I know in my experience that taking medication for bipolar illness far outweighs the alternative. I help me by practicing some simple strategies for coping with the extremes. I try to remain logical when I’m manic. I vociferously question those negative voices that hound me. I exercise, which may be one of the most important components of all. I meditate. It’s not a formal religious ceremony. It’s something that centers me and gives me a safe place to go in a troubled mind.

Then there’s therapy. After 26 years of it, I’m sold on its benefits. I get the advantage of sitting with a professional who is not emotionally attached to my situations and hearing sound words of help and solace and encouragement and even chastisement but never judgement.

I’ve come a very long way when I look back over the years. I’ve survived self-hatred and self-loathing that have come close to killing me on a number of occasions. I’ve rid myself of fears that spotted the inside of my eyelids with angry points of lights. I’m continuing to work on filling my life with substance and meaning.

I am an active participant in my own existence today.

Job Training

I have written a couple of posts on this blog about a job I applied for. It’s called a Peer Specialist. I began to toy with the idea of working a year ago. I applied for the training program 6 or 7 months ago. I was accepted for that training 4 or 5 months ago only to have it delayed to the new year.

Now it’s the new year, and I finally have the schedule in hand. I will be certified to work with people just like me, people with mental illness. I honestly don’t know the full capacity of the job yet. I don’t know full extent of the training even. I only know it will take 5 weeks. I am very excited, but I’m also worried.

I tried working in late 2008 and failed miserably. However, that was a high stress job. The one thing I’m certain of in my new endeavor is that I will set my own hours. It will be very part-time. I will not save the world with this new position. I will simply be working one-on-one with others who have a mental illness.

One day at a time, I will stretch and grow in my new job. This field is entirely new for me as a provider. I have only been a consumer. I will be part of the network of support for others.

I will have a chance to pay it forward.

Overbearing Emotions

It’s a sad day for many. A massacre occurred at an elementary school in Connecticut in the U.S. Many small children lost their lives, and many brave adults did, too. As soon as I heard, I shut off the news on my computer and limited my intake. I am sensitive to these tragedies, and they have a way of needling into my thoughts and taking center stage.

Despite the measures, I wept for a long while and felt anguish and helplessness. My mind returned again and again to the unbearable loss.

Thankfully, I had an appointment scheduled with my psychiatric nurse practitioner, so I knew I would have an opportunity to discuss my emotions regarding the horrifying news. I arrived early and asked if she’d heard the story. She had.

***

I don’t trust my emotions. I’m unable at times to distinguish how I feel, if anything at all. I’m fighting back tears as I write this, and I don’t know what the tears are for or why I’m fighting.

***

The nurse informed me that people with a mental illness like mine will often repress emotions. “Little incidents,” she said, “that I wouldn’t even spend a split second thinking about become mountainous obstacles in the lives of my bipolar, depressed, and schizophrenic patients.” Due to this, we often shut emotions off only to have them resurface in odd ways.

I found myself pacing my little house several days this past week. On several occasions, I wandered back and forth along a worn path from room to room. When it dawned on me I was walking aimlessly, I didn’t stop. I tried to remember what my thoughts were while pacing, but it was no good. The thoughts had vanished. My memory was faulty. The nurse informed me this was a classic example of repression.

My sleep has been troubled, too. I wake after a few hours and then can’t get back to sleep until several more hours pass.

And there are the dreams. One I call “The Actor’s Nightmare,” in which I find myself on a bare stage where someone is just about to raise the curtain. I don’t know my lines. There is no set. I’m wearing no costume. There are no props or even other performers. No one else is backstage with me, but I can hear people in front of the curtain talking to the audience announcing the beginning of the show. I can’t get their attention to tell them about the emptiness they’re about to expose the audience to. I find a kind of bag full of papers that I begin to fling about so that I can take the empty bag on as a prop.

Emptiness. Lack of control.

There’s the dream of which I only remember the ending. I have lit a cigarette lighter, and I’m inhaling the flame to burn away the rotten parts of me. My lungs are engulfed by the blaze. I have a desperate need to burn what is unworthy.

Self-loathing.

I saw my therapist yesterday, and we discussed the dreams. We talked more about the sexual healing I’ve been working on. She mentioned love.

“How far back do you have to go to an age when you know you were loved?”

“The cradle,” I replied.

She displayed no surprise, but I was. My answer was quick and certain, so we spent time imagining caring for a “baby me.” I held the baby close. I cooed to him. I rocked him. I cuddled him.

We went through the steps of changing a messy diaper, and I got to express love in all circumstances with a baby’s needs.

***

Healing is slow.

***

I cried today for the lost children in Connecticut. My heart aches now for them, but then my heart aches much of the time. I sent out a prayer to whatever it was that set this universe whirling, asking for healing and solace for their families and me.

Getting Help and Preventing Suicide

Please, let me reassure regular readers I am not suicidal.

As it states in the tiny “about” paragraph on this blog, I am merely here to share my experience, strength, and hope as it relates to living with bipolar disorder.

That being said, readers can search here and find times when I have been suicidal, and there were times before I started this blog when I was suicidal and others I have not written about.

I am writing this today to share some resources that helped me in crisis. There may be readers who are searching for help.

First, there is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline you can call in the US at 800-273-8255. If you search the Internet, your country may have a similar phone assistance program.

Second, there is a little website I stumbled across that helped me: metanoia.org There is an excellent line on that site:

“Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.”

I was jolted into remembering my first time to visit the metanoia.org site. I was deeply depressed. All around me was black. I felt like I was in the bottom of a pit so deep and dark that no light shone in. No light. There was not the tiniest glimmer. All I could feel was pain. All I wanted was for it to stop.

Depression is a disease. It is recognized by doctors as such. It is not a moral failing of the sufferer, although that is just how many people internalize their experience with it and how many of those around judge them.

Through many struggling years and patient family, friends, and caregivers, I reached a point where I began to think about helping others. I will start job training in the new year for that, and I’m anxiously awaiting it.

This blog has been both a form of expression for me and a way to reach out to others hurting, too.

I can honestly say that I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had many excellent psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, nurses, therapists, and caseworkers over the years.

One thing has stood out for me. I have used them. When I was in crisis, I sought out help, and it was given to me amply.

If you are in crisis, reach out. Extend your hand. Help can be found.

A New World

I’m turning over a new leaf. I’m starting fresh. I’m dusting off my dancing shoes. I’m starting over.

“It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life for me, and I’m feelin’ good.”

Wait. Those are cliches and the lyrics of a song.

And they are exactly how I feel. I did something life-altering today. I cleaned out a little corner of my Internet. I deleted all my accounts on dating sites. They were bringing me nothing but worry. I was using them as a way to reach out and getting nothing in return but confusion and heartache.

There is a man I started emailing more than 8 months ago. We then began talking on the phone. We met for coffee. We had a meal together at a restaurant. We’ve been taking things very slowly. We have not yet visited each others’ houses. I have no idea where this will lead.

I told him after we’d known each other for about 2 months that I was a recovered alcoholic. He took it in stride.

After another month, I let it be known that I was bipolar. He did not run screaming from the room.

Is he a good mate for me? Only time will tell the answer to that question.

I’ve been talking to my therapist about sex a lot lately. We’ve also talked about my dating habits and men I’ve been attracted to. In the past, I’ve felt lust strongly for men who were unavailable either by marriage or emotionally. I’ve also fallen heavily for men with some kind of defect, especially emotional ones.

This new man is healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally, which scares me to death. A friend and I laughed about that last bit. We are both in the throes of potentially healthy relationships, and we’re both scared by it. It’s exhilarating to know that I’m not alone.

It’s also good to know I have the assistance of friends to talk to. I can open my closets to them, and they can dust out the cobwebs and the skeletons. I’ve spoken to my caseworker about my budding relationship, and he’s asked pointed questions and is supportive. My best friend knows and is happy for me. My therapist steers me in healthy directions.

As far as having a relationship is concerned, I’m a youngster. I’m new at it. Yes, I was married, but I was drunk. Without the veil of alcohol, I’m growing up and experiencing things that most gay men do in their teens. In some ways, I feel like I haven’t had my first kiss yet. The anticipation is electric.

Mania 3

Sigh.

Here I sit at my computer in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping.

My mind is racing.

Everything I touch is magical, and colors have meaning.

The tapping of the typing speaks to me in secret code.

I’ve been pacing through the rooms of my very small house.

I’ve overeaten.

I sat in front of the TV long enough to run from the lowest channels to the highest.

And then I paced some more.

I’ve taken my medication.

I should be sleepy.

I’m groggy, but I feel agitated.

If you go to the right side of this blog and click the word “mania” in the tag cloud, you’ll find a lot of entries about this subject.

I want to sing. Shout. Dance. But not in a healthy way. I want to flail and thrash.

I had a change in my medication recently. I’ll be calling my psychiatric prescribing nurse practitioner in the morning to ask if it could trigger mania.

I know a lot of people with bipolar disorder who actually look forward to this high, but for me, it’s devastating. I spend money I don’t have. I act out sexually in unhealthy ways. I have delusions. I talk to trees.

I’m angry and anxious.

I feel vulnerable.

I feel sick.