“…and it’s California, where everything is powerfully strange. Everyone wants it to be home.  Everyone left where he or she was from with dreams of transformation.  Everyone runs away to California once, or at least all the lonely, hungry people do.”  “Madness: A Bipolar Life” by Marya Hornbacher

California, I can’t say it is where all my problems started, but it is where I started to experience the most prominent and life changing events of my existence.  My move to California was preceded by my two best friends moving out there.  One, with his growing family, to San Diego followed by the other and her new(ish) husband to the L.A. area.  Before those two moves, California never occurred to me.  But I visited him in San Diego and drove out to L.A. with her and I guess it was just a matter of time before I was on my way West.

Now, it’s not as though I wasn’t leaving anything behind.  I had lived Virginia Beach for seven years, my parent’s were in Southeastern North Carolina and my sister and her family were in the Washington D.C. area.  On the other hand, Northern California from Sacramento, to Petaluma, Elk Grove and well all over Northern California was packed with relatives.  Let’s see, two grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, a third cousin twice removed or, I don’t know, just a load of relatives that I never spent a whole lot of time with.  There was that opportunity as well.

So, my friend talked to some people he knew, and then I talked to those people and after a bit of time I was on my way to San Diego.

Virginia Beach is a Navy town.  Everything is geared towards the Navy.  There is a Naval Air Station there.  Jets fly directly over the beach, and houses and the mall.  Right next door is Norfolk, a Naval Base, the across the river is Newport News and Hampton, where Navy ships are built.  To me it was a big place with a small town feel.

San Diego, on the other hand, is a Navy City.  There is so much more going on there than Navy or Marine Corps.  San Diego is where “Top Gun” was set.  The Naval Air Station is now a Marine Corps Air Station.  I think the biggest shock for me was how big it was.  There were so many freeways, 8, 5, 805, 15, 163.  So many things to do.  Sea World, The San Diego Zoo, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, I could go on and on.  That was just San Diego.  The other friend I mentioned had moved to the L.A. area.  You can just imagine how overwhelming could get.

I was a bit overwhelmed and to add to that I had a brand new job I had to excel at. (I don’t think I knew any other way to work)  Not to mention, I was looking for a way to transform my life.  I was hoping I would find something in California that would be different, better, something else.  I was looking to escape some of the horrors Virginia Beach held for me.  My friend J, overcome by breast cancer, my own bout with cancer, starting to deal with depression.  It was time for me to leave.

After moving and finding a place to live (I stayed with my friend and his family for a few months) things started to settle down.  Work was good and not too hard, I started exploring the city some.  I was getting to know the people I worked with.  We were going out to bars and restaurants, pretty much having a good time, I didn’t drink so I was commonly the designated driver.  At the time, I had a blue Ford Expedition and everyone loved to pile in.

A few years later, my friend and his family have moved away, my relationship with my friend in L.A. has soured.  I was spending too much time at work and with the people from work.  The next couple of years are a blur to me.  When I concentrate hard on what went on in those two years all I get is working way too many hours at the office and at home.  I see going out a lot, in spite of all the work, and I see my mentor and now friend being diagnosed with cancer.  The cancer diagnosis is very clear in my mind, the rest is just a flurry of activity which ends with me in the hospital having just come through a psychotic episode.

Some days I have clear memories of sunny skies, a light breeze and a feeling of well-being.
Others are roller-coasters of faces and noise that are completely terrifying.  Those days I feel like California, at least San Diego, chewed me up and spit me out.

I loved living in
San Diego but it did
not like me at all

Where Do I Go From Here?

I just finished up my 100Words entry for tonight/tomorrow and I’m finding myself in a big funk.  I’m not sure what to do about it other than write it out, no matter how long or short it might be.  This isn’t really a new subject for me I’m just looking at it from a different point of view.  The main premise that gets me all worked up is that I totally fucked up my life when I suffered the psychotic-break four years ago.  I was living in San Diego.  My career was rapidly growing (I went from a “Systems Engineer” in 2005 to a “Senior Systems Engineer Manager” in 2009).  My company was also paying for me to get a MBA from The George Washington University.  I had good friends. My life couldn’t get much better.  Then, I had the psychotic-break and everything went away.

Today I posted a short “article” about talking to your doctor. After I posted it I read it through a few more times until I realized that if I had talked to my doctor, the way I emphasize in that article, I might not be here writing this.  If I had been diagnosed Bipolar ten years ago then I could have been getting help for it ten years ago.  Which means that the psychotic-break might not have happened.  Which means that my career would be intact and I would have a MBA.  I would still have my friends and it is likely that I would still be living in San Diego………

My biggest questions right now are:

How do I reconcile this within myself?
How do I keep from continually beating myself up for this?
Where do I go from here?

Changing Energy

Discussion at the NAMI peer support group today got me thinking about how important friendship is to  virtually every aspect of my life.  A friend asked me to a movie last Sunday when I was just sitting home alone watching football.  I have a friend who calls me every three months to give me an update on how his life is going and check up on mine.  I text message almost every day with my best friend who lives in another state and when we get together it’s as if we had never been apart.  I’ve chatted with several friends on Facebook over the past week.  I have a strong support structure in place and my friends are a part of that whether I’m in touch with them every day or every three months.

I had the same feelings when I was living in San Diego.  I had built a group of four or five good friends  that were all pretty close.  It seemed to me as if we could talk about anything and count on each other to be there when necessary.

When I had the psychotic episode, those friendships broke down.  It was like I ceased to exist.  I had expected something from someone but they disappeared. Every single one of them!  After a few weeks, after I had some time to recuperate and gather myself, I called and wrote e-mails.  I stopped short of going my their houses and apartments.  If they weren’t answering or returning my calls or responding to my e-mails who knows how they would have reacted to me showing up at their door?  I wanted to avoid  an encounter with the police.

But why should I be put in that situation in the first place?  What did I do that was so…. heinous, as to cause five people to act as though I never existed?  These were people I had grown to trust and to count on and I was experiencing none of that.

So, on top of the most traumatic event of my life, I find that the people that I expected to be there for me and to support me aren’t there.  They aren’t anywhere.  In addition to feeling scared because of what I’ve just been through, and confused as to what my life is going to turn in to, I started to get mad, really, really, really, mad.  The thing is…. I had no energy to express my anger.  I don’t even know what shape it would have taken.  I just had to take my anger and turn it inward.  I had to shove it down deep inside so it would be out of sight.

That anger is still inside me, but it is in a different form.  It’s no longer the negative energy that it used to be.  I try to use it in my every day life.  When I see something, or hear a familiar song, or even enter a situation that I recognize as something I had shared with one of those friends I say to myself “X would have enjoyed this” or “Y would have done this or that”.  I treat my memories of those people as happy ones.  I figure that Bipolar is going to come up with ways to attack me with enough negative shit, there’s no reason to add to it with something I have control over.

The Perfect Storm

May this be a lesson to all. Unless you’re a ninja, gymnast or MacGyver, if you should be handcuffed behind your back, DO NOT try to get your hands out in front of you by trying to pull them up and over your legs and feet. You will only find yourself upside down on the floor of the police car with the officers belly-laughing at you. They might even take pictures.

This happened to me in October of 2010. I had been undergoing ECT treatments for several months and I was feeling good. My employer had laid me off in September and I was looking for a new job. I talked with a guy I met through work, who worked for another company but we were on the same project. He arranged for me to talk with someone in his company and after several conversations with his hiring department I eventually set up an interview.

The meetings were scheduled to last a whole Friday. I went out and bought a new suit and crammed for the types of questions I expected to have thrown at me. I was very nervous for a few days and hadn’t been sleeping very well. When that Friday rolled around I arrived early for my day of examinations. I was relaxed and felt comfortable in the first meeting but as the day went on I could feel myself tightening up. As the meetings became more intense I was getting more uncomfortable. By the time I got to the last one I was just a ball of nerves inside but, I held it together for another 40 minutes or so. When we were done, I was asked to wait in the reception area for a little while. After about 20 minutes, the gentleman I had met last came out and told me “We just don’t think you’re a fit with us. Thank you for interviewing”.

The only other time I had felt so demolished was when I was told I had cancer. Still, I kept myself together, thanked the man for meeting with me and left the building. I drove straight home and took off the suit. Then events get a blurry. My parents had been staying with me this whole time but they were in Northern California for my mom’s high school reunion. I was home by myself, feeling very distraught. That is when my first “mini-break” happened.

I do not recall as to whether my encounter with the police was on Friday or Saturday night but I know that they detained me on the sidewalk across the street from my apartment and called an ambulance to take me to the emergency room. I’m still not sure who called the police on me but I have my suspicions. I’m also not sure as to why they were called. It will probably always be a mystery. It was while I waited for the ambulance that I tried the amazing handcuff trick and failed.

After I was released from the hospital, I assume I took a cab home, I got in touch with my father and they cut their trip short and raced back to San Diego. He told me not to leave the apartment again.

After they returned, an emergency ECT appointment was made. After telling the doctor about everything that happened and all the circumstances surrounding the “break” he pronounced my psychotic episode as “The Perfect Storm.” The stress and big disappointment with the job interview coupled with the absence of my support system and a few nights with little or no sleep, was all that was necessary to push me over the edge.

These days I make sure I get good night’s sleep and keep tabs on the support system I’ve built. I’m getting more and more independent and feeling safer and safer in my own skin.

Still in the dark

When I start to go anywhere near that time, walls start going up and I start shutting down. I’ve only even been able to approach it in the company of my psychiatrist, therapist, or peer support group. With that in mind…

It was in early August, 2009. I was flying high. I was living in San Diego and I had recently gotten a BIG promotion. My company was putting me through grad school. Things couldn’t have been going much better. I wasn’t getting as much sleep as I really needed but with everything going on, I was getting enough.

It was early Monday morning and my work cell was ringing as I stepped out of the shower. My boss was on the other end and she said that everyone was worried about me and that she and another one of my co-workers where there to take me to the hospital. For some reason, I didn’t argue with her. I must have known that things with me weren’t exactly as they should be. It wasn’t until much later that I found out how bad “exactly” was.

That Monday was a blur of doctors and nurses and emergency room attendants. When all was said and done, I found myself in a private hospital room, hooked up to an IV and a pulse monitor. My boss showed up a little while later. She told me that she had called my parents and that they were on the way from North Carolina and that the hospital had called my psychiatrist (though I hadn’t seen him yet).

When the hospital doctor made his rounds, he informed me that I had a very serious bladder infection and that I would have to be on IV fluids and antibiotics for a few more days. It wasn’t until my psychiatrist showed his face on Tuesday that things became a bit clearer. He explained to me that the bladder infection was interfering with the antidepressant that I was taking and that this is what had caused me to act the way I did.

Act the way I did? I was still in the dark about that. I would stay in the dark for some time to come.