Full Disclosure

I started a new job this summer in the midst of struggles with mania which got worse as the months between then and December passed.  Not a bad episode really, but bad enough to be uncomfortable.  That’s what mania is for me now:  uncomfortable.  I no longer enjoy it.  I associate it with bad times in my life and fear of a return of them.

In previous jobs, I had a tremendous amount of flexibility.  I could break when I wanted to and as often as I needed to.  I could also surf the net as much as I wanted to as long as I did my job.  But that is not the case at my new job.  We’re allowed a 15 minute break at 9:30, a 45 minute lunch at 11:30, and another 15 minute break at 2:30.  And sometimes I have meetings or have to work through those break times so I don’t get a break time at all.

Before I came, there was a notorious boss who monitored everybody’s breaks and internet usage and put cameras everywhere.  The staff still hasn’t recovered and the most wounded of them was my boss.  One day, though, I needed a quick 5 minute walk around the parking lot.  Afterwards, she called me up to her office to tell me she saw me walking outside of a break time and that the general manager personally monitors people’s breaks from his office overlooking the parking lot.   I’m sorry, but this is fucked up.  I’m a grown-ass man, a professional, who does his job no matter when he takes a break.  This really pissed me off.  I really have to take breaks, and sometimes more frequently than that, so I decided to invoke the Americans with Disabilities Act.

I went into the HR director’s office and gave full disclosure of my illness and asked for three accommodations:

  1. Breaks whenever I need them
  2. Use of the psychcentral.com website
  3. Unscheduled medical leave

She really hopped to.  I could tell that she had never encountered this situation before.  She likely had never even sat face-to-face to someone she knew was mentally ill.  She avoided eye contact, became flustered, and most importantly, became very accommodating toward me.  It was clear to me that she understood the legal ramifications of this and wanted to get it right and wanted me to know that she was cool with it even though she was having a hard to showing it.

I’m not at all self-conscious about my illness.  I’ll tell anyone I have it, but I think people worry that I might be, so they handle me very carefully as if they didn’t want me to feel embarrassed.  It’s very considerate, and very unnecessary.

I posted about this on the Psych Central forum and person after person shared stories of getting fired after disclosing.  I said that I just don’t see that happening to me.  I do a good job.  They like me here.  Yes, I can be a little disruptive once in awhile, but people are pretty forgiving of it.

I just don’t understand how all of these people could have been fired because they have bipolar.  Because they need time off to be in the hospital or to go to the doctor.  Or because they have a meltdown at work.  These are all things covered under the ADA, and I don’t care if I live in a right to work state where I can be fired without cause, I just don’t believe that they can fire me because of a disability.   People get fired because they’re bad at their job.  ADA doesn’t cover that.  I’m not saying that there aren’t tons of abuses and legitimate stigmas, but if you do a bad job, they will find a way to get around it.

Time will tell.  I haven’t used any of my accommodations yet, I rarely will, but it’s nice to know that someone has my back and that my boss understands my needs now.

 

Poems of a Manic Hypersexual

I wrote hundreds of little poems before my treatment.  They’re broken into sets.  This set is entitled “Words of Attraction”.  This collection, like all of them, was written as a live stream on twitter with no editing.  I can’t do it anymore.  I though you might enjoy a tease.

e3274dec6e06e22c2281b61e5dcb4d8c1.
dark corner bricks away from streetlight
cool, rough on your back
one hand on wall
the other pulling you closer

2.
scruffy face prickles your neck
warm lips soothe it
tease it

3.
took a drag of yours
while you moved your feet
close enough to share a smoke
close enough to share a beat

4.
warmed my hands
while you weren’t looking
hoping to touch you

5.
knew you ate oranges at two
before I knew your name.

6.
he didn’t care
whether it was the fabric softener
or the scent God had given her
he liked it on her

7.
cigarette smoke lingered
on her kiss
only quickening his addiction

8.
a lisp in her speech
centered his thoughts upon her tongue
and he desired her

9.
I take your hand in mine
give you a smile that holds an entire love affair
and thank you for your kind words

10.
reach out to me
with trembling hand or steady
it matters not for my hand is stayed

11.
bless me in morning light
with warm belly on mine
before words and before time

12.
touch the tip of my nose
that’s the only cold part of me

13.
you find salvation
in the strong line of my jaw
I find it in your half-closed eyes

14.
youth and beauty sat before me
one too young for a glance
the other too lovely to bear

15.
I dare only imagine
my fingertips on subtlest hairs
down your bare back

16.
when just a glance can be just a small lifetime
a tiny universe
of love and loss and never

17.
no sense of shame
boldly intrude on your eyes
will you look away?

18.
flash of smile and eye
she took her game to the street
hoping to lead him

19.
your face fades in my mind’s eye
but your sighs still hang in the morning air
and your scent lingers on my lonely pillow

20.
take me to your fountain
quench my powerful thirst
before I wither, o love

21.
would I let your fragrant hair
fall upon me
in the gentle rocking
of your giving spirit

22.
you see light in my eyes
hoping for revelation
find only glimmer of hope

23.
watched you walk away
jeans clinging to powerful curves
wishing it was my hand instead of his

24.
cold air and perfume clings
to your woolen sweater
and I cling to your lips

25.
when you didn’t smile
that is when
I first glimpsed your beauty

26.
kindle the heart of a lover
use it to woo
the marrow out of life

Despite What I’ve Written…

candle-lights-1This blog has been focused primarily on the woes of a bipolar.  I’ve written about my marital struggles a dozen times.  If you’re a regular reader, you might think I have a pretty miserable marriage, which is not true at all.

First off, here is marriage right now after 22 years.  I want to spend time with my wife more than I want to spend with anyone.  If there could only be one person in my life, even my children, it would be her.  The only time I wasn’t in love with her was when I was too sick to be so.  I cook her dinner at night and bring it to her.  We watch our favorite shows together until she konks out from a hard day of teaching.  We make each other laugh to tears.  We take long walks together and drive out to see the progress on the house we are building.  We love taking road trips together on which we talk endlessly of our lives and our future together.  I would take this over a great sex life.  Truly.

I heard a song on HBO’s Westworld, which we watch together, recently, Reverie by the French impressionist composer Claude Debussy.

It brought me back to a very specific time in our lives.  We’d dated in high school.  She was my first true love.  We dated for 11 months and then we began seeing other people…whole other story.  But in college, we became very close friends again.  I was dating her best friend from high school, who I was crazy about but she wasn’t crazy about me.  My moods scared her, I think.  And as we began to drift, I began to see more and more of my wife.

When the girl finally dumped me, I began spending all of my free time with my wife.  She wasn’t into me romantically, but she liked my company.  I was mainly just hot for her at that point.  Sexy girl.  I used to give her massages.  It was the only physical intimacy I could get with her as friends.  I must have been pretty good at it because she would let me stay over late and rub her to sleep.  She was a flutist and she would play her favorite tape of the great Irish flutist James Galway.  And on that tape was Reverie.

This memory or impression of a memory may have been the moment that I fell back in love with her.  Something beyond college boy lust.  It was well past midnight and she was nearly asleep.  I was rubbing her neck or something or other.  Her skin was so warm and soft.  I couldn’t get enough of it.  She wore perfume sometimes, but tonight it was the smell of her skin that was intoxicating.  She has a naturally sweet fragrance.  There was a candle burning on her dresser in her tiny room.  It was all very magical, or like a dream.  I wanted her to me mine again.  I wanted the other boys to go away, and in a few weeks I did, by asking her to marry me.  She was only 19 when I asked her.

Our tumultuous teenage love was gone, but this night, or on many nights exactly like it, we began our adult love, even if it was only in my heart.  If she would’ve turned me down, I don’t think I ever could have been fully happy without her.  Any other woman would have been competing with her.

This is one of the many reasons why I do everything I can to stay well.  I was lucky enough to have her, and I hope I’m lucky enough to keep her.

Life at the Party

No, I didn’t mean to say life of the party.  I no longer need to be the life of the party.  I’m satisfied with life at the party.  I recently attended my wife’s work Christmas party.  As a sex-starved, hypersexual bipolar, this is always a bit of a challenge to me.  My wife works at an elementary school and everyone of her coworkers is a woman and most of them quite cute.  Teachers are surprisingly wild at parties.  They have a lot of steam to blow off, and so they drink and get silly and, I think, very sexy.

At parties, especially manic,  I tend to become very social especially with women.  I zero in on certain types.  Single women who are attracted to older men.  Now, understand, I’m not old.  I’m 43, but to a 26-year-old, I’m an older man, and a little attention from a more mature man is welcome to some, and icky to others.  I have a way of finding the former.  Then there is the married woman who is neglected by their husband.  I can be very charming when I’m “on”.  I can give the kind of energy they are lacking in their lives.   Finally, there’s the woman around ten or fifteen years older than me who wants to show she’s still got it.  That’s practically a sure thing for a good flirtation or more.  This demographic loves me. Everyone wants attention from a younger man or woman.  My wife is generally too engaged with her coworkers to really notice.  She is still a new teacher there and desperately wants to make friends.

This is my normal approach to parties, to create as much energy around myself as possible.  If there is a piano, I play some songs.  If there is an opportunity to sing, I show my skills.  If I see a shot for anything to give me positive attention, I take it.  But I no longer drink, I no longer cheat in any form, and I’m currently pretty level thanks to Saphris. And I no longer need to be the center of attention, and that’s the way I want it these days.  Attention is a major trigger.

The first and perhaps most important thing I did to break this cycle is prepare.  I came to the party with a plan.  No one-on-one conversations with women.  Number one!  I will talk to hubbies and couples.  Women love to be listened to and I have a knack for this.  It’s simple.  Ask, “So what’s new with you?”  The question gets them out of the normal here’s what do for a living into thinking about new ground where the true possibilities lie.  Then listen 80% of the time, and talk 20%.  That goes for most anybody, but, and I don’t mean to be sexist, women especially need to feel listened to and they don’t always get that from their significant others.   So I avoid that altogether.  Next, I stick to my wife as much as possible.  She knows how to subtly cue me when I get obnoxious or inappropriate.  That is a sure way of staying out of trouble.  That’s the plan.

I tend to get overwhelmed at parties when I’m not drinking, so I slip away to the bathroom once in awhile to get a little quiet.  This allows me to reset my nervous system and evaluate my plan.  It has a risk, though.  If I make contact with someone in the hall, I might act impulsively, but so far that hasn’t happened at one of my wife’s parties.  It’s happened elsewhere, though.

When I’m manic, I tend to get funny.  This is a common thing among manics.  My brain shoots fast and I see the jokes quickly and intuitively.  I get a lot of laughs, but often I take it too far.  Then no one is laughing anymore, and so I bide my time.  If a good quip comes to mind, I wait just a split second longer before I say anything.  This really helps me regulate and keep things in bounds.  This really only works if I’m level enough to control my impulses.

Perhaps it was a mercy that my wife conked out at 8 before things really hit a fever pitch.  I could already see the potentially trouble women.  There was the young woman with the slim figure and the slutty eye makeup.  I’d seen her in action at the previous year’s party.  She loves to show off her skinny posterior, and if possible, her thong undies.  She might not pay me any attention, but I would be inclined to pay her some attention.  Then there was the 50-something gifted and talented teacher who used to flirt with me when she taught my kids.  I avoided her like the plague.  Half of my affairs were with women exactly like her.  Then there was the giggly, tipsy, chubby blond chick who was already drunk before the party started.  Once, she placed her hand on my chest as she talked.  Trouble.

Finally, I didn’t dress in my hottest clothes.  My wife and I wore matching t-shirts which said “And why is the floor all wet, Todd?”  “I don’t KNOW, Margot” which says I’m attached and no longer care about being attractive.

I’m ducking a future party which will be attended by people I used to get drunk and high with.  It’s the night before my big Christmas program at church so I didn’t really want to stay out. I usually fly solo at that party.  My routine for that party is to get drunk, get high, get flirty, and jam out some Christmas carols on the piano, putting me at the center of attention.  BAD BAD BAD combo.  Maybe next year.

Parties are not easy for people with mental illnesses.  They can be over-stimulating and full of all kinds of potential pitfalls.  A little preparation is the key for me.  I have a game plan and an exit strategy.  In this case, my wife was the one who needed to exit, but she would totally understand if I needed to leave early.

As Still as a Possum

I will write about this in Daniel Undone in the future, but it’s been on my mind.

100918-possum-pictures-32aI’d been skipping work, living with a jazz singer I’d met in a bar, drinking, and smoking heavily.  And I had pneumonia by then from a campout with my son’s Boy Scout troop.  It was three weeks since I’d walked out of my home with the notion of never returning.  My wife knew about my affairs and I was glad.  The marriage counselor asked me if this last one was an exit affair and I was glad there was a term for it.  And now, I’d decided I’d had enough of the jazz singer.  She was a kept woman of a prominent lawyer who needed a diversion.  She hoped that one day he would not have to keep her a secret and would introduce her to his friends and family as his girlfriend.  I knew that he never would.  We decided that we needed each other in an ephemeral sense;  me at the seeming end of my marriage and her in her anguish over being kept a secret of a much older man;  most likely one of many secrets. But the moment was over and I trudged back to the little, shabby room I was renting from an artist hippy.

The snow had given way to an early spring.  It was warm enough for me to stand out on my solitary back porch with my bare feet and enjoy a cigarette and a scotch.  In that moment, I felt like I was the luckiest man alive.  I was free from the bondage of an oppressive marriage.  A possum joined me perched on the porch wall, so quiet and still that I didn’t see him for 10 minutes.  He was studying me perilously. Waiting for my next move.   I raised a glass to it, finished it off, put out my Camel Blue cigarette, and walked into my room for bed.

Besides my clothes, I only took three things with me:  my tuba, a bottle of old single malt scotch, and all of my liquor glasses.  I was certain she would destroy these, my most valuable possessions.

I was alone, for the first time since I was living in my first apartment in college.  I left my clothes on and crawled under my borrowed sheet and blanket. I had no pillow case.  As I settled in I began to notice the rattle in my chest.  With every breath it crackled and gurgled.  I lay as still and as perilously as the possum.  More still than I’d been in months  I knew I had pneumonia.  I’d been given medicine, but I didn’t take it.  I wondered if it would be ok.  I’d had pneumonia before, but I rested, took meds, drank pomegranate juice and tons of water like a good boy.  But I wasn’t a good boy anymore.  I was lost in world which no longer made sense to me.  Family.  Wife.  Job.

I knew I would never be able to be faithful to another woman again.  It was no longer in me.  I’d prayed with preachers, but it was useless.  I was who I was;  a lonely, drunk who could expect nothing but visits with my kids on the weekend, one-night stands, and drinking myself to sleep every night.  I didn’t want to hurt anyone anymore and I didn’t want to hurt.

As I drifted off, to the sound of my chest slowly filling with fluid, I wondered if I might not wake up.   It was a just a matter of time before there was no curing me.  I took my chances and fell asleep.  I slept the first whole night I had slept in a week, and the first night I’d slept alone and thankfully the last.  My long bout with mania had ended.

 

Bipolar Infidelity: Breaking the Stigma

You’re a cheating asshole using Bipolar as an excuse for cheating.
That is the stigma.  That bipolar infidelity is simply a moral failing.  Just like addiction.  You drink because you lack the strength to control it.  A moral failing.  Drinking and infidelity are not the same, but when it comes to bipolar infidelity they both have the same stigma.

The first time I cheated was before bipolar was a significant issue.  I was very dissatisfied in my marriage.  We rarely had (have) sex (couple times a year).  We had all kinds of relationship problems.  REAL problems, not the crippling delusions that followed.  But as mania/depression began to ramp up, something broke in me.  I no longer wanted to cheat.  I was working on my marriage.  We went to counseling.  We started having sex more frequently.  But I became increasingly more sexual and more impulsive and deluded until I was cheating online, then when my mania exploded I slept with 6 different women in just a few weeks.  If you follow this blog you know about this a bit.  You know that I believed I was on a mission from God to help these women feel desirable.

Before it happened I visited another church than my own.  I couldn’t talk to my pastor, because I was incredibly attracted to her.  It was a mega church.  Big and dark.  Nobody knew me.  Afterwards, the minister invited us to meet with his associate pastors for prayer.  I found my way to one and pleaded with him.  I needed him to pray for me to remain faithful.

We prayed hard. I thought maybe it would be okay. I do believe in God, and I do believe in miracles. But a spiraled out of control very quickly after that and I cheated with a bunch of random women in the course of the next couple of weeks.

This is mania. This is not a moral failing. I know it’s hard to understand that, especially if you’ve been hurt by it. I did not expect my wife to forgive me. In fact, I bowed out when she found out. I walked away and things got even worse. I eventually contracted a bad case of pneumonia. I wasn’t sleeping. I was doing nothing but drinking, smoking, and carrying on with strange women. I quite going to work.

My lungs were filling with fluid, but it did not change my behavior for many days. Then one night, it was like a fever broke. I called my wife. She had never wanted me to leave. Her friend, a psychologist, told her that I was probably bipolar and needed treatment immediately. She took me first to the hospital to get treatment for pneumonia. It had been more dire than I realized. She took me home and nursed me in our bed. Oddly enough, she made mad love to me in spite of her great pain. She had thought that she had lost me.

Then came the doctors. Each of them, Bipolar I. Counseling. Medicine. And the beginnings of healing. Our marriage is better now than it has ever been in 22 years.

Mania is not a condition that can be controlled with moral will-power.  It needs medical treatment.  Right now, I’m in a state of enough mania for this to happen again.  That’s why I reached out.  But I came up with a plan.  I cancelled all of my plans tomorrow to see my doctor and to stay away from people as much as possible.  He’s been treating me for 6 years and this is the first time that he hasn’t been able to knock me down.  I’m going to have to accept doses that have been very uncomfortable for me.  I’m desperate enough, for example, to risk another panic attack because of a high dose of a medicine.

I DO NOT WANT TO CHEAT.  But that isn’t enough to prevent it. I am open with my wife about my symptoms.  She appreciates so much that I can be honest about it.

Break the stigma, friends.  An illness is an illness no matter how you feel about the symptoms.  I feel that I deserve no less compassion.  I need help, not judgement.

 

It’s Crazy Time

its-miller-timeOk, before I catch hell over it, I’ll say that I would never use the word crazy to describe another person, but it is an accurate description of me between 3:30 and 6 pm most days.  I become crazed…agitated, motor-mouthed, intense, and overwhelming to be around.  Nothing all that serious, but still.  It started happening in February of this year.  After years of mostly level moods (I’m Bipolar I), I began to experience hypomanic and mixed states.  I started taking Seroquel XR and it helped, but with one glitch, it wears off after 22 hours or so.  Not 24, but 22.  You see problem here?

Because it is 22, I have a 2 hour gap of being under-medicated.  So, Daniel, why not take it 2 hours early each day?  Well, Jill or Josephine or whomever you are, 2 out of 10 times it makes me feel like a just drank a double bourbon.  This cannot happen at work.  And so I suffer through.  I try to shut my mouth at work around 3.  I drive home, often talking non-stop to myself.  I enter the house.  I go straight to the medicine without stopping to chat and take my pill. Then I go to my piano and either play or sing until it’s time to cook dinner, which I do by myself.  By the time I serve dinner, I’m good.  I’m chill.

Here’s the history of coming home from work. “It’s Miller Time” eventually became “It’s get shit-faced drunk time” which became “drunk and crazy time”  which became “drunk but medicated time”  which became “sober but not sure what to do during Miller time anymore” which became “It’s Seroquel and Shut Up and Sing Time!”

We do the best we can.  We create plans and strategies.  We isolate ourselves when we need to.  My motto is “When in doubt, don’t go out!”  I’d rather be alone for an evening than hurt my friends and family or create a scene or embarrass myself and others.

As I’m writing this, it’s 3:07. It’s already starting to happen.  Even my typing is more furious and intense.  I’m sharing an office.  My goal will be to say as little as possible between now and 4:15 when I get off.  I got drawn into an impromptu meeting once around this time.  I flipped out over a misunderstanding because I don’t listen when I get this way and confused the hell out of everyone.  No one understood why I was behaving that way.  I stammered something about medicine and moods but I didn’t really communicate anything intelligible. And there have been little hints dropped that members of my team don’t want to hear anything about my “personal” problems so I don’t feel comfortable disclosing and educating.

So yeah, it’s crazy time.  It’s the new normal for me.  I’m doing the best I can with it.