Update 04: I’m Still Here (Again)

I’m still alive. It’s surreal, to say the least, that I can no longer say that euphemistically. I really, truly almost did not make it out of 2020 alive. But since then I’ve had a full plate of contemplating life and piecing myself back together. I’m thankful to have had a not inconsiderable amount of help from my wife, my family and the good friends who stuck with me. Oh, and my therapist. Another area in which I’ve been working overtime, but I’ll admit getting on the right medication did most of the heavy lifting.

Suffice it to say, all of this has meant coming to terms with my diagnosis as well as a (fairly) recent attempt at self-annihilation. Perhaps it’s no surprise at all that this wasn’t the insurmountable horror I expect.

My sense of self returned, and with it a greater understanding of who I am without the burden of mental illness. For fellow sufferers, I don’t need to tell you how impossible it is to address your problems and behaviors when the solution ceases to mean anything (and so becomes no solution at all). If everything hurts, it’s hard to find the wound. But now that I’ve found it, it’s already begun to scar over. With new perspective, I’ve gained intentionality. That is, the ability finally to choose a path as opposed to hurtling down whichever presented itself.

All that said, it’s taken some getting used to. Gone are the lengths of time in which I had inexhaustible energy, forgoing sleep and food to work and work and work. The illusion that I am now less productive is hard to fight. After all, on the surface, my output during my hypomanic states was nothing short of insane. Thousands of words during the day, game design and world-building at night, not to mention the not inconsiderable times I was able to maintain some consistency with learning different disciplines. But of course this necessitated a depressive episode shortly thereafter, which even with antidepressants proved insurmountable by comparison to hypomania (itself incensed further by the antidepressants). Funny how happiness can become melancholy by states of comparison.

It’s easy enough to pierce that illusion now.

I’ve taken a step back from writing by choice for the first time in a (very) long time. A much needed break is in order, and other projects long put off beg for attention. Among them: finally knuckling down and learning 3D modeling and programming; designing the tabletop RPG system to accompany my books; and fleshing out the world in which both these last take place. It’s proved to be immensely rewarding in a way that it was not before.

These are things I’ve attempted to do, but ultimately gave up more than once. Writing always came naturally to me, otherwise I might’ve done the same with that. An element of the bright side to my brush with death and proper diagnosis is the fact that I’ve lost the freneticism that came with unmedicated Bipolar II. I can sit for longer and focus harder. The work comes at a slower pace (albeit the same output in the long run), but that’s only meant I have the patience now that I never did before. I was never exactly hyper, but restless constantly.

All in all, despite everything, I’m glad I can at least begin to plan and set realistic goals without getting down. As you can probably imagine, a heightened altered state gives you a very bizarre idea of success and a depressed altered state gives you the idea that success is impossible. I won’t say I’m excited about the days to come. Things are still pretty rough and will be for some time. Not just for myself, but for everyone. Covid, climate change, the total clusterfuck of our political landscape. It’ll be difficult. But I’m glad to be able to face that difficulty with a realistic perspective and an understanding that maybe (just maybe) this too shall pass–and not merely as a poetical musing of my tired, tired mind.

My goals for this year are only a little less lofty than last year: complete the sequel to my debut novel that I released last year (see the Books tab for details); assemble a function beta test of my TTRPG system (tentative title, Pale Age: Aberrant); and complete one back-to-front game, by which I mean program and model and write. Being that considerable work has gone into at least the first two and a decent among into the last, I think it’ll be less arduous than it sounds. I’m excited to see the results, and I hope you are too.

See you on the other side of tomorrow.

Finding the Brink at the Edge of a Cliff

The most intense flood of relief I’ve felt in years came when I placed the barrel of a rifle underneath my chin the evening before Election Day.

Finally: no more attempting to hold things together, no more trying and trying and trying to be happy. No more wondering what more I could do if therapy and antidepressants weren’t cutting it, if quitting my job to follow my dreams did as much as playing video games all day in college. Which is to say, nothing. No more anything. I thought I’d succeeded in pushing away anyone who ever cared about me. And if no one cared, then that meant I didn’t need to care anymore either. Finally, was the only word I could think. Finally.

That was, at least, until my wife walked in just after I’d loaded the magazine.

Something was always wrong. I just didn’t know what. No one else did either. Mental illness runs in my family like a hereditary birthright. This was normal. We knew nothing else. And even after years of therapy and medication, I could not imagine anything else. I ran aground time and time again. I was out of ideas as well as energy and hope and just a general will to continue. This past year, horrid for anyone with a soul or at least bills to pay, had thoroughly depleted me. Beyond just the looming sense of doom, the noxious atmosphere hanging over all our heads, it was easily the worst in my own personal hell.

I started and quit a job in two months that I thought was going to last me for decades. I thought I finally grabbed the brass ring. Not so. Quite the opposite was waiting for me. Then the pandemic hit. I didn’t last long after that. My health, physical and mental, quickly started to spiral. My antidepressants were increased twice, but to no avail. So I did the only thing I thought would help and quit on the spot. And for a minute? It did help.

Then the minute passed.

The months that followed were a tidal wave slowly rolling to shore. I was free and clear from that awful job, but what did that mean for the next job? Was it the job, or was it me? Could I work again with my particular cocktail of mental and physical chronic conditions? What did it mean for me if I couldn’t? I’d be dead weight. I was dead weight. If the job killed the engines, then leaving it started the nosedive.

I wouldn’t realize until later that I was caught in the trap of a misdiagnosed mental illness, that I was in freefall and flailing. Looking for anything to hold onto or at least keep the blinders on. And each time I found something? The winds changed. Every therapy appointment was a new solution. Whatever I’d found the week before didn’t fit anymore. Inexplicably. It must be something else, then. Right? Wash, rinse, repeat. Until I got tired of looking around for an answer and in the process drove a lot of the good out of my life, drove a wedge between myself and those who loved me.

I came so close to tying the whole thing off with total blackness. In the days before and after, I thought about the release many times and in great detail. So much detail, in fact, that after learning rifles were not ideal for home defense, as the round can penetrate through walls and injure a neighbor, I started to think about which way I would lay in the bathtub so not only would the mess be minimized but also mine would be the only death. I even tested the sit of the muzzle to be sure I wouldn’t just suffer a brain injury and become a vegetable for someone to take care of. I am profoundly lucky that my wife had not gone to sleep as I thought. Profound luck is the only reason I am still alive. I made it to the next morning and an emergency psychiatry appointment.

And, lo and behold, I was correct. Something was seriously wrong. After taking a deeper look at some of my symptomology I was diagnosed with not just Bipolar Disorder, but Bipolar II Disorder. The condition is notoriously hard to diagnose and worsens over time, leading some experts to declare it the worse of the two varieties. Traditional Bipolar is characterized by the low-low’s of clinical depression and full-blown mania with (sometimes lengthy) spurts of normality in between; but Bipolar II is not so clear-cut.

Again and again I saw the metaphor of a snowball rolling downhill, noticeable only at dangerous proportions. Only my snowball had a little help. Bipolar Depression, already a cause for mood dysregulation and personality disturbances, becomes incensed when unknowingly medicated with an antidepressant. Hypomania goes from simply excessive to dangerous. Mixed episodes increase, and your mood cycling becomes much more volatile and rapid. I became far more aggressive and agitated than happy or excitable. My life had turned into a game of Russian roulette, the gun pointed inward and outward and upward and downward. But now, with my revised diagnosis, I could finally see the gun.

Suddenly all the pieces started to fall into place. I soon realized this had been happening for many years. I never had any throughline or baseline to work from. My interior self operated entirely of its own accord. My emotions (and consequently my feelings toward people) seemingly changed with the wind and without any rhyme or reason. I ran down so many ghosts in life and in therapy, shuttered myself into so many roads forward, that I’d ended up nowhere I wanted to be and with no way to get back.

You see, this illness–undiagnosed or, worse, misdiagnosed–is not unlike being caught in limbo. Nothing is real, everything is changeable, including yourself. You pinwheel through a chaos of emotions and personality disturbances until you’re not you anymore. Put simply, it is hellish. For yourself and everyone around you. You can imagine how much pain and destruction you’ll do to yourself and leave in your wake by following a broken compass. So step one was of course getting a new one.

That reorientation came in the form of a little white pill called Lamictal. The change, while not immediate, has been profound. Each night I log my mood for the day, checking with my wife to be sure I’m not deluding myself. And I can’t believe I’m able to say I haven’t had a bad day, much less a mood swing, in well over two weeks. That hasn’t happened in a long, long time. When I’m happy, I’m just happy. Calm, contented. When I’m down, I’m just down. I can turn away from negative thoughts and hardly ever feel the compulsion to brood.

I haven’t felt this way in over a decade. I finally feel like I have choices now. That I’m not chasing these weird emotional winds that vanish and reappear and blow in different directions, obeying this supposed and secret will of the universe.

But this hasn’t come without a cost. All of this has been really hard to bear. Harder to bear, I think, than if I was anyone else. One thing I’d always been able to hold onto is my durability. That I was a survivor. Because truthfully I’ve survived a lot. I’ve kept climbing whatever mountain this is even when I was too weak to stand. And I really, really thought I’d got high enough to not worry anymore about falling. Until I did. All the way to the bottom. I suppose it’s not surprising. Even the best climber tires out if the summit never gets any closer. But now that I’m at the bottom, free to rest and recuperate, I can see all the paths to the top for the first time. The mists have cleared. I know which way to go now.

So in the end I am glad this happened. I am proud to say this was all for the best. I don’t know where any of this goes from here. Except to say that when you’ve hit your nadir, the only way to go is up. A lot of work remains to be done; but I am hopeful for the first time in many years. Truly hopeful. Not guardedly, not suspiciously or waiting for the other shoe to drop. The other shoe has dropped. And I am still alive. I want to remain alive and to rebuild my life. Put simpler: I ‘want’ again, and not to be dead or forgotten. I have a feeling that nearly succeeding with self-obliteration will have been the best thing to ever happen to me.

~~~

Don’t get as close as I did: get help if you’re thinking about the unthinkable.