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Deep Shit, Arkansas

April 18, 2014

Well, it doesn’t look like I’m coming off Zyprexa anytime soon. That wasn’t the focus of today’s appointment with Dr. A; in fact, we didn’t even really discuss it—I just asked and he said he was leaving things the way they are. I was sure he’d want to take me off the Z soon, or at least taper it down over a couple of weeks. But while this announcement surprised me, it’s almost a relief to know I’ll be on the med for awhile longer, for manic season is coming and Lord knows the late winter and early spring haven’t exactly been a picnic.

I’ve got to give the guy a lot of credit for showing up this morning. He’s got the upper-respiratory crud I had in February, and canceled all his appointments for yesterday and all but the morning ones for today. (He said he came in today because he knew I was on the books and he always looks forward to our sessions. LOL.) He looked so miserable that I didn’t even tease him about the newly sprouted facial hair around his jawline, although I was able to make him spit coffee across the room when I told him I was in Deep Shit, Arkansas.

Mostly, we talked about my job and the effects it’s having on my illness and general sense of well-being. For some reason he has a LOT more confidence in my abilities than I do—and he thinks I’m not doing well because I don’t like what I’m doing. Which is weird, because to me it feels like it’s the other way around, but considering the fact that he’s not the first or only person to propose that idea, I have to give it some credence. I do tend to self-sabotage (ooh, now there’s a shocker) and overthink things (really??), but I’ve been so nervous about my poor performance and the possibility of being let go that it’s turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Get rid of it,” he said of the anxiety. “Do the best you can, and maybe it’ll be good enough and maybe it won’t. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You lose the job and go on unemployment and get a chance to find out what your passion really is. It’s not that you can’t focus on learning the information you need to do your work—after all, you’re able to concentrate well enough most of the time to write your blog and your articles—but you’ve found out this is not what you want and you’ve put up barriers to learning it.”

Bull’s-eye!

Shit.

As much as I hate to admit it, he has a point there. Unless I’m in the middle of a manic episode, I can consistently produce decent writing, and even then I can usually put a post together, though it takes several hours of on-and-off work and comes out pretty tangential in the end. But that’s because writing IS my passion, and believe me, if I had the cojones to find a way to earn a steady paycheck for doing it, I’d have done it years ago.

In the meantime, I’m going to try to do as Dr. A suggested and push away the anxiety, give my VERY best, and let the chips fall where they may. What do I have to lose? Odd how I never thought of things that way…..but then, that’s what I (and the insurance company) pay him for.

I’m also going to try going six weeks between appointments. Two months is apparently still too long—I always seem to run into some sort of trouble when I schedule too far out—and monthly appointments aren’t really necessary anymore, since even my crises are less severe than they used to be, and we can always deal with them over the phone. Who knows, maybe if I stay on Zyprexa long enough I’ll get into a lasting remission and be able to go three months between appointments….wouldn’t that be grand?

 

 

Coming Out Bipolar: The Sequel

April 18, 2014

Today was “report card” day at work, and my meeting with the managers went just as I expected—they are very understanding and supportive, and they definitely want me to be successful, but I’ve got to get my shit together.

So I told them what I told my training instructors the other day. Oddly, they didn’t seem as surprised as the trainers were, but I’m sure they’ve had bombshells dropped in their laps before. I know I have….as a supervisor myself, I had employees literally confess all kinds of things to me that they probably should have told their priest or therapist. So the announcement of an itty-bitty case of manic depression shouldn’t have been a big deal, right?

What it all boils down to is this: I have an illness—and am on medications—that play nelly-hell with my ability to learn new information and, to some extent, recall older information. I can’t help that. Sometimes I’m tempted to go off meds in the hope of getting rid of some of the brain fog; all it would take is missing a couple of nighttime doses, and I’d clear up in no time. (It would also throw me headlong into mania, which is when I THINK my mind is firing on all eight cylinders…..although from what I’ve been told by family and friends, it really isn’t.) But of course quitting meds is not an option, so I try not to ruminate on that too much.

Ultimately, it won’t matter because this job is not going to work out no matter what I do or don’t do, but I still think it’s preferable to be thought crazy than stupid, and to this end I decided to lay it all on the line with my supervisors. Of course, sitting there in the conference room talking with them, I’m sure I didn’t seem crazy, and they both acknowledged they wouldn’t have guessed this about me. Once again, I assured them that my illness is under good control and that any breakthrough stuff is dealt with swiftly by my doctor. All in all, it was a good conversation, and I was able to keep things professional and maintain my dignity throughout.

And on the inside, I’m screaming “BULLSHIT!” There is nothing dignified about any of this. I hate it that I’m so slow in processing information. I hate it that I’m so anxious. I hate it that I’m in over my head—again—and drowning in my own foolishness. But mostly, I hate it that I don’t know what to do about it.

Thank God I see Dr. Awesomesauce tomorrow. I’m feeling somewhat mixed again, though nowhere near as much as before I went back on Vitamin Z, and I hope he’ll have some ideas……since he often plays the role of job coach, cheerleader and guru, he’s sure to come up with some piece of wisdom I can use. I’ll have to admit he was right about the job, and to let him say “I told you so” because he did tell me so, as did my sister, my husband, and several of my friends who know me well. But I know he won’t rub it in, and after the humiliation of being almost four months into this job and unable to function at even a basic beginning level, the last thing I’m worried about is a little good-natured ribbing from my psychiatrist.

 

 

Coming Out Bipolar

April 16, 2014

I came out to my instructors this morning.

I didn’t have much of a choice. I simply cannot abide being thought of as old and slow, even though my work performance thus far sure makes me look that way. I hadn’t planned on doing it, but given the grim tone of today’s meeting, it was an act of sheer desperation: I’d rather have people think I’m crazy than stupid.

Which, as I explained to the two of them, I am not. I reassured them that I’m doing all the right things to be as healthy as I can be and my illness is reasonably well-managed, but it also makes learning new things more difficult and I have to do them over and over again until I get it. Unfortunately, there are only so many do-overs built into the training program, and I’m reaching the end of the line. So if I wind up being forced to drop out, I’m going to need something I can show the Employment Division as a reason for quitting.

It was interesting to note the surprised expressions on their faces. They clearly weren’t expecting that announcement. But they both remained professional, and I give them credit for hearing me out and not reacting with horror and revulsion. I don’t want special treatment, I just wanted them to know that there’s a reason why I’m so inept at this.

I haven’t decided whether or not to share my not-so-secret secret with my managers. I asked the trainers to keep what I told them in confidence, and they promised me they would; it’s my story to tell or not tell, after all, and my co-workers certainly don’t need to know. The trainers work with me every day, though, so if anyone deserves to know, it’s them. But I’ll be meeting with the managers on Thursday, and I may or may not say anything about the bipolar; they are both very nice people, but so was my last boss, and we all know how well THAT worked out for me.

At this point, however, I don’t think I have much to lose. I’m very well-acquainted with being in a precarious position on the job, and I recognize when I’m getting close to crashing and burning. I’ve already had several people say “I told you so”, and it’s true, they did; but no matter how this all turns out, I don’t regret for a minute my decision to take the job in the first place. I knew I was taking the chance that I’d fall on my face, but I’d have kicked myself forever if I hadn’t at least tried.

It’s hard not to let the constant negative energy get to me, but I can’t get too down on myself over this one.  As disappointed as I am that things have turned out the way they have, life is way too short to be this miserable at the place where I spend a good portion of my waking hours: I dread the 40-mile commute, hate the cold, sterile building I’m in, and don’t even like the actual work. What on earth would make me think it’s going to get better even if I COULD learn it?

But like Scarlett O’Hara, I’ll think about that tomorrow. After all…..tomorrow is another day. :-)

 

The 300th Post: Disabled or Not?

April 14, 2014

Wow, it’s hard to believe that this is already my 300th post on this blog. I started it last June at the suggestion of a fellow writer and friend to enter a blogging contest, and while she bugged out within the first few days, I got hooked…..and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s amazing to be able to reach people all over the United States and Canada. But some of my readers hail from the Czech Republic…..South Africa…..Egypt…..the United Kingdom…..Germany……even Brazil. I mean, how cool is THAT?!? Whatever the disadvantages of the Internet, it’s brought people together who would otherwise have never met—or read each other’s blogs—and it’s gratifying to know that someone, somewhere, is reading what I write and saying “Oh HELL yeah, that’s me!!”

But now a number of those readers, as well as friends and family, have brought up a subject that I think deserves some discussion, even though I have no intention of pursuing it: applying for disability benefits. I’m against it on principle, and so is Dr. Awesomesauce, who is ex-military and believes that the vast majority of mentally ill people do better when they have the structure provided by useful work. Still, I seem to come undone rather easily when I’m under pressure, and I’m positively allergic to job stress.

Does that make me disabled? Perhaps, if you listen to the growing number of friends, readers, and even family who have raised the topic in recent months. I know they have my best interests at heart, and most of them have mentioned something along the lines of “just think, you could finally focus on your writing!” But I think there’s a big difference between being disabled and having a disability; and of course, I put myself in the latter category. I don’t see myself as needing to be taken care of (except when I’m going through a bad mood episode) and as long as I CAN work, I believe I should.

Now, there’s no denying that I have a great deal of difficulty maintaining steady employment. I prefer to think it’s because I simply haven’t found my “forever” job yet. I’ve had some that I stuck with for as long as 2 1/2 years, and almost made it to three years at my last hospital job; being an older worker, I yearn for a position that I can retire from one day, but I’m beginning to think I may never find it. And maybe that’s the way it was always meant to be.

At any rate, having bipolar disorder isn’t terribly compatible with long-term job stability. However, it does not make me “disabled”…..at least, not enough for an SSDI claim. The fact that I find some ordinary tasks extraordinarily difficult—like using a multi-line telephone—doesn’t mean I can’t do them; it just means it’s harder for me than it might be for someone else. Yes, I get tired of throwing myself against a wall every day; yes, if I had my druthers I’d stay home and make my living as a writer. Seriously. I don’t particularly enjoy commuting, and if I could earn enough money at the keyboard to keep Will and me from having to live in a cardboard box behind a strip mall, I’d drop out of the rat race tomorrow.

But I won’t ask society to take care of me. Not unless I become so incapacitated that I’m of no use whatsoever, or until Dr. A says he’ll sign off on my paperwork. I’m not there yet. I pray I never will be.

The “High-Functioning” Bipolar

April 13, 2014

I used to be a fun person.
Once upon a time, I enjoyed going out and spending a day with friends, shopping, seeing movies, even attending parties and other gatherings. I loved having big holiday get-togethers at home and making sure everything that wasn’t red hot or running for the hills was decorated in seasonally appropriate twinkle-lights. I even used to get a kick out of hosting birthday parties for the kids.

Now I’m quite possibly THE lamest person on the planet. I don’t go to parties because the experience of being in a crowded room is excruciating for me—there are too many people, too much light and noise, and I am so easily overstimulated it’s not even funny. I still do a couple of the major holidays because a) it’s tradition, and b) I don’t want to have to drive on a holiday if I can avoid it. But after working all week and using the vast majority of my energies to keep a roof over our heads, all I want is a day where I don’t have to go anywhere and I can lounge in my jammies, work in the yard, or hang out on the computer.

This is the price I pay for being what’s called a “high-functioning” bipolar. I can do what needs to be done to make the rent and put food on the table; I can even manage to go to the store for groceries on a Saturday afternoon and to Mass on most Sundays. But ask me to drive 30 miles one way for a visit or God forbid, participate in a social activity, and I’m apt to break out in a sweat and come up with a hundred excuses for why I can’t make it.

It’s not that I don’t want to go places and do things. Well, okay, it IS because I don’t want to, but I want to want to. Does that make sense?

Being high-functioning means that I can fake ‘normal’ really well. To look at me, to listen to me, you would never suspect that I am mentally ill. I can carry on a conversation and deal articulately with complex ideas. I know a little about a lot of things, and a lot about a few other things. I’m able to teach people how to do tasks, like giving themselves insulin injections or checking their blood pressure; I can discuss the issues of the day with intelligence; and I’m damn good at assessing both the physical and psychosocial aspects of peoples’ lives. It’s just that being a bipolar woman with a career means there’s not enough of me left over for much of anything else.

I’ve tried explaining this to a few folks without much success. But the fact that I am able to have a career doesn’t make the rest of my life work; if anything, it sucks the life right out of me and renders me too exhausted for play.

I’m not sure what the answer to this dilemma is, or even if there is one. It seems almost as though I’m issued a finite amount of energy at the beginning of each week, and by the time I get to Friday, ninety percent of it is gone. That leaves a mere 10 percent for the most important people in my life……including me. Something is very wrong with that picture. And high-functioning or not, I owe it to all of us to figure out a healthier balance between life and work; after all, when I’m on my deathbed I am NOT going to wish I’d spent more time at the office. Or in traffic. Or at war with myself.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nobody Knows (The Trouble I’ve Seen)

April 12, 2014

Oh man, and Job thought he had troubles…….

The final day of survey was a disaster. My ego was already pretty bruised from the beating it had been taking all week, and it took almost every bit of courage I own just to push myself out the door this morning. The trainer who came with me today isn’t quite as nurturing as the other one, and he let me know in no uncertain terms that this is only going to get tougher: next time I’ll be expected to take on 3/4 of the customary workload, instead of carrying just half a load like this time.

Well, I suspected as much, and I understand that it’s necessary for me to make progress. But knowing that and being capable of translating it into action are two totally different animals, and that’s where I’ve hit a wall. I can’t DO any more than this. At least not while I’m having so much trouble getting the basics, and the performance standards are so out of reach I can’t even visualize a time when I might be able to meet them.

This is nobody’s fault……not even mine. I feel bad that my trainers have been working so hard to try to get me where I need to be without success, and I really don’t mean to be so much trouble for them. But I’m doing everything I can and I still can’t get past the inability to absorb and use massive amounts of information, let alone the utter impossibility of mastering the subtler nuances of this work. I can see the goal, but I can’t touch it, and I’m wasting people’s time (including my own) by continuing to pursue it.

That’s what my mind says……I wish someone would explain it to my pocketbook, because I can’t afford to quit. I would imagine it’ll be talked about fairly extensively at the postmortem (AKA debriefing session) on Monday at the office; then again, I’m also sure that there will be a lot of dialogue about how best to fix the problems so I can move forward. Unfortunately—for perhaps the first time in my life—I am fresh out of ideas. I’ve run headlong into a reality I can’t escape, but I can’t tell these people what it is. How do you fix THAT?!?

Answer: you don’t. Even if I could talk to my superiors about all this, they could never truly understand the place I’m coming from. No one but another bipolar really does. Hell, I don’t even understand it half the time, and I’m the one who lives with this magnificent, creative, broken brain. But I’ve learned enough about the nature of my condition to know that although it has rendered me incapable of some things, my intelligence and critical thinking skills are still intact; I just need to find a way to use them that doesn’t demand what I don’t have to give.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep limping along until I can find another job, or until they decide they’ve seen enough and let me go. As Dr. A  says, sometimes life really sucks, and this is one of those times. :-(

The End Is Near

April 11, 2014

Well, boys and girls, it looks like I’m going to wash out of my training program after all. It wasn’t put exactly that way by my trainer this afternoon, but I had to be honest with her about the reasons why I’m struggling so badly and she acknowledged that they’re pretty much incompatible with the work. The truth is, no matter how hard I try, I am simply not capable of reading and retaining large amounts of information, let alone utilizing it. This has been such an awful week on survey that I was sorely tempted to pull the disability card, but I couldn’t think of a single benefit other than demonstrating that contrary to appearances, I’m not stupid or lazy.

At this point I don’t think it matters; there’s nothing to be gained by elaborating on the causes of my learning problems because I’m not asking for accommodations. What’s to accommodate? This job is all about absorbing enormous volumes of information and using it to make critical decisions out in the field, and I can’t do it.

I still don’t regret trying though. AND, I don’t think I’m a loser because I can’t handle it. It takes a lot of smarts and hard work to even be considered for a job like this, and I know I’d have kicked myself for the rest of my life if I hadn’t at least given it a shot. To say that I am beyond frustrated and disappointed would be an understatement, and I’d love nothing more than to say “the hell with it”, but I can’t quit because I’ll need unemployment benefits. I don’t know what my next step is—I don’t have a Plan B—but somehow I’ll land on my feet. I always do.

Thank God I’m on enough medication to be able to weather this particular storm…..I can feel only a hint of mania and an inkling of the despair that so often leads to depression. It’s literally stifled by the meds. So different from last year at this time, even though this too is work-related and will undoubtedly create another major upheaval. One day I hope to learn not to overreach, or to push my limits too far, but I had to try this one last time to be and do more than I believed possible.

That’s why it was so good to have my daughter and her family come for a visit tonight. They brought a big pizza for us all, a pair of yellow carnival-glass candleholders for me, and a lot of love and laughter that soothed my sore ego and filled my heart with gratitude. I need more evenings like it; life is simply too short to be this miserable, and I will NEVER achieve any kind of stability as long as I continue to allow ambition to overrule common sense.

~~sigh~~Dr. A is going to have a field day with all this when I see him next week. He wasn’t thrilled that I took the job in the first place; maybe he’ll have some ideas since he fancies himself to be some sort of vocational coach where I’m concerned. And why not…..at this point, I think my DOG has got better ideas for my next job than I do.

To be continued…..

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