Seeking joy and meaning in a joyless mind and meaningless existence

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Epitome of My Efforts at Recovery

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Helpful Advice
What if people treated physical illness like mental illness?

Loneliness and Despair

I've been pretty isolated since quitting my job Thursday night, and it hasn't helped my panic and crushing despair.  But then not many people know my situation or that I impulsively changed my cell phone number.  My friend Marty has been in touch, but he's in St. Louis so there's not much he can do other than reach out by phone.  I went to my AA meeting Friday night for the first time in a long time and went to dinner after.  But I didn't really share anything or let anyone know about my depression or quitting my job.  A local friend e-mailed me some very kind, very heartfelt words in response to my last blog post, and her husband was very kind to me when I opened a checking account at his bank on Friday.  They're both extremely busy people, with three wonderful children, and they were leaving on a week-long vacation this morning.  I know I'm being selfish by wanting to hear from them yesterday, but I was just so incredibly lonely and sad.  My parents called me Friday afternoon to summon me to their house, but I'd taken a (legally prescribed) tranquilizer and told them I couldn't go.  I haven't heard from them since then.  I'm supposed to go over there for Father's Day tonight, and I'm nervous about what kind of evening it will be, particularly since I finally opened the emotional can of worms of sending them a link to my last entry in this blog.  (This blog is fairly raw in its personal honesty, and I've never let my parents know about it in all the years I've been writing it.)
As usual, I'm extremely conflicted in my feelings about the people in my life and their reaction to my crisis.  It's immature for me to expect people to rush over to babysit me and my emotions.  It's self-absorbed for me to assume they would drop everything in their lives to attend to my emotional breakdown.  On the other hand, any resource on dealing with a loved one struggling with mental illness will tell you not to let them isolate themselves and to proactively make yourself available, especially when one is in crisis.  I've been carrying my phone around with me and constantly checking it, just hoping someone will reach out to me.  For the most part it's been quiet, except for Marty, a friend I'm so lucky to have.  While I understand the perspective of others, it doesn't change the fact of how isolated and truly alone I've been feeling, absolutely panicked over what to do and what will become of me.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Broke and Unemployed

I quit my job of three years and nine months this evening.  One too many corpses floated up from the ocean floor, and I finally decided that I couldn't bear the stress anymore.  It wasn't helped by the fact that I had once again started the day praying for the strength to buy a gun and blow out the back of my head.  I pussied out of my first suicide with pills, calling 911 as soon as I took them.  The second suicide should have worked if not for the peculiarities of my body's metabolism.  I took about 60 prescription sleeping pills and tranquilizers and was unconscious for four days.  With a gun, I'd only need a split-second decision of irreversible resolve, safely unable to go back.

Through sheer force of will—while weighted down by unhappiness and the ever-present aversion to activity—I managed to laboriously put one foot in front of the other and get myself ready for work.  I thought about calling in sick, but of course I wanted to be mature and responsible.  And you see how far that ended up going.  By eleven o'clock, my pervasive inability to concentrate was robbing me of any pretext of productivity.  When the attorneys assign me discreet, time-sensitive projects, then I'm all over it, focused and productive.  But when I'm expected to beat tasks out of the files while also being held responsible for all of the clerical BS they refuse to delegate to the office receptionist and expected to have the preternatural ability to find the one needed document in a file of ten thousand pages, I quickly end up in a Sisyphean rat race of coming up short on billable hours.  The specter of BILLABLE hangs over my head like the Sword of Damocles.  When I billed at my firm in Los Angeles, I was working on substantive tasks that took hours to complete: reviewing case files, drafting discovery responses, meeting with clients, drafting motions for the Court.  I wasn't trying to fill most days with writing letters and making short phone calls and following up on medical record requests.  Trying to fill a day with tasks that are 0.1 hours or 0.2 hours or 0.3 hours takes a huge toll, especially when you spend half of your time shifting gears from one thing to another to another, which is time you can't bill for.

Anyway, around eleven o'clock, one of the partners said that he fielded a call from our largest client, not just locally but for all three offices in three states, over discrepancies in my last month's billing.  Being legally trained and thus over-cautious, I don't want to go into any further detail.  The upshot was that I had to work maniacally all afternoon to right the wrong in the best way possible.  ("Nothing like a hanging in the morning to focus the mind.")  While I was in anxiety overdrive over Floating Corpse No. 1, the same partner comes back to my desk and says that he got another call from the same client about a different case and another discrepancy in my billing.  (Floating Corpse No. 2)  That one wasn't entirely my fault, just mostly, with some of the blame going to poor communication channels.  However, I'm pretty sure everyone involved lays on the blame squarely on me, and it was just enough to make me realize that I was done and today was my last day.
To my credit, I was very classy about the whole thing.  I spent most of the day putting out the fire my ill-conceived actions ignited.  After that crisis was managed as well as it was going to be, I entered all of the remaining billable time I had for the month of June into the system and organized my desk as best I could.  I wrote out a polite resignation letter and made notes of everything I could think of to make the transition easier for the firm, such as my workstation password and where to find the credentials for the different online professional sites.  I thanked my boss for employing me.  After everyone else had left for the day ("See you tomorrow, Michael!"), I scanned and e-mailed the letter to my boss and the HR manager.  I put the hard copy on my boss' desk with my office key and parking fob.  I didn't do anything vindictive or petty, though that's generally in line with my character.  Actually, the real surprise is that I didn't use this boondoggle of bad ideas (the full weight of which has yet to come crashing down on my head *tick tock*) as an excuse to get black out drunk with a couple of packs of smokes along for the ride.  When I got home from work, I took my regular trip to the gym and spent the rest of the evening writing this.
So This Is My Life

Every day I feel I'm a failure, a burden to others, trapped in an existence without viable options while spending almost all of my time alone and lonely.  So frankly, I've decided that I'm fucking sick to death with trying to keep all of these plates in the air when nothing that I do, no matter how hard I try, has any measurable impact on my life as it continues its active decay into inevitable entropic doom.  My sobriety is a case in point.  No one helped me through that, and I had no meaningful social support from family or friends through that intensely difficult struggle.  I didn't have the luxury of going through detox or any formal program and didn't have the option to put off work while I focused on my sobriety.  I white-knuckled the months and months of post-acute withdrawal symptoms towards a state of protracted sobriety while still holding down a stressful job and paying my bills and taking care of all the needs of living independently all on my own.
So what did all of that struggle get me when my life is no better than when I was a pathetic drunk?  Sure, my family gets categorize me in the sobriety box, and it doesn't matter that I'm miserable and unhappy and unfulfilled all the time as long as I keep up the charade by holding down a job and living independently.  It doesn't matter that I've dug myself into a financial pit to where a third of my income each month is used to slowly pay down my unsecured debt.  Mental illness and addiction have put me in this position, but I might as well attribute it to voodoo and ancient curses for as much leeway those constantly struggling with mental illness are allowed.  I just can't be assed anymore, and it's time for those plates to fall (and crash) where they may.

I hate that I have to endure life, and I find nothing redeeming about existence.  I think our opinions about deities and consciousness after death are entirely moot and nothing but self-serving mental masturbation.  Either individual existence ends at death or it doesn't.  I have no opinions about the unknowable, but what I want is for oblivion to obliterate my consciousness and completely erase the entirety of my existence.  I want to be unmade upon the lathe of Heaven.  Cowardice is the only reason I don't follow through with my will towards death, cowardice plain and simple.  I eagerly anticipate the dream of unbeing while living in crippling fear of the process of dying, the unknown and the potential for pain and panic.  I was reading a deposition about an 80 year old man with lung cancer, and he says the knows he'll die eventually, but he wants to live just a little longer.  I found myself wondering if this desire for more life is just a panicked desire to postpone the horrors of the dying process rather than a positive desire for life.  I find it nearly impossible to reconcile my perceptions with the idea that others would want more life for its own sake.

A Current Look at Chronic Depression
An article on PsychCentral provides a succinct but thorough examination of the dysthymic disorder that I struggle with every day, and the following highlights speak eloquently to my existence:
  • Other signs include low self-esteem, plummeting energy, poor concentration, hopelessness, irritability and insomnia.
  • [D]ysthymic disorder — is typically described as a mild depression. But the data show a different story: Dysthymia is often a serious and severe disorder
  • Experts refer to dysthymia as a paradoxical condition because it appears mild day to day but becomes brutal long-term
  • Epidemiological studies reveal that dysthymia frequently has a devastating impact on people’s lives.
  • If they do work, they typically work part-time or report under-achieving because of emotional problems. They also tend to be single because depression can make relationships more challenging.
  • In fact, as many as 80 to 90 percent will get major depression. ... There’s evidence that dysthymia boosts the risk for suicidal behavior.
  • Comorbidity with anxiety disorders also is common. And dysthymia tends to co-occur with alcohol problems and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Dysthymia still largely goes undiagnosed and untreated. ... They may assume that they’re just pessimistic or self-conscious or moody. After struggling for so many years, people come to view the fog of depression as their normal functioning.
  • Lifestyle changes, exercise, and social support are usually enough to improve short-term mild depression. But this doesn’t work for dysthymia. Most people with dysthymia have typically tried modifying their lifestyle; yet their depression doesn’t disappear

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Week Is a Week

[Y]ou did it for a week, which admittedly for you is a record.
{Saffy, Absolutely Fabulous}
Well, I actually managed to stick with my diet and exercise regimen for seven days, so things have been going all right.  I exercised every day and didn't binge eat or consume any extraneous sugar, and I couldn't tell you the last time I was able to remain so disciplined.  I've already lost a couple of pounds and have gotten my BMI down from morbidly obese to garden-variety, "I'm a middle-aged American" obese.  So that's progress.
I even managed to basically stick with my budget as well, although I still ended up adding to my debt.  Obstructive sleep apnea is the newest focus in my endless quest to find some relief in my depressive symptoms.  My health insurance co-pay to see the sleep specialist was $50 just by itself, which tanked my checking account, and I had to use a credit card to buy groceries for the week.  Even with insurance, my part of the sleep study a week from today is going to run $1,000 or more (and that's before I get a CPAP machine), so my efforts to pay down my debt have once again been derailed.  However, I do think it's important to see if I can get better sleep, and I'm hoping it makes a significant improvement in my energy and mood.
I haven't done anything with my writing, though I've made some strides in getting my desk at work in order.  I had to e-mail HR about only getting a third of my billable hours during the first week of April, and while they were nominally supportive, I was upset with how they characterized the extent of accommodation they've had to extend me for my depression.  I also have to anxiously wait for the second shoe to drop when the attorney I actually work for sees my billing for last month.  I'm trying my best to keep things in perspective and not let it all get to me.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Mayday Mayday

The ketamine infusions were a bust and a thoroughly unpleasant experience.  I guess it's not a complete mindfuck for some people, but it certainly was for me.  And the setting where I got my treatment was lacking in many ways as well.  The only thing I accomplished that week was finishing my playthrough of Dragon Age: Inquisition.  I thought a lot about the game while tripping balls on the ketamine; it became a sort of focus for my mind.  Whenever you destroy a demon in the game, they sort of bleed out of this reality and back into the Fade, the realm of spirits.  That concept stuck with me as the drug distorted my sense of time and reality.
I came back to the desperate, lonely stress of my life and my job with no psychological gains and continuing to wish for the courage to end myself.  In the next few days, when I turn in my billing for the month of April, I'll have to explain my lack of hours, for one week in particular, as the result of my issues with mood and attention.  HR knew the purpose of my trip, but I'm not looking forward to how that loss of billing will go over with the attorneys I actually work for.
The only thing I've had any energy for is my anger.  I've been harboring lingering anger towards everyone I know because I irrationally accuse them of not being solicitous enough while I deal with my severe depression alone, even as I often ignore those who've touched base with me.  I've even been slightly angry with my parents, the people who gave me $3,000 with no strings attached simply in the hopes that the treatment might help me.  When I analyze that anger, I realize that it stems from the fact that they don't rush in and take care of everything in my life as if I were a child, so my emotions are more suited to someone who's five not pushing fifty.
The Power of Lowered Expectations
I've decided that I just need to focus on the practical and stop expecting a change in mood.  I have two options: kill myself or deal with my life.  Since I'm not going to do the former, then by process of elimination, I have no choice but to devote myself to the latter.  My sobriety has been a major stabilizing factor in my life, and I need to remember that and give myself credit.  There are three areas of my life that I need to improve in order to further stabilize things: my weight, my finances and my writing.  My every waking moment needs to be moving those three things forward and none of them backward, so I've chosen this arbitrary date of May 1st to, once again, take steps in that direction.
I'm not going to worry about finding a better or less stressful job.  If something comes along, fine, but I'm just going to force myself to invest as much energy as possible into the job I have now and reflect on the financial foundation it provides.  I need to focus on my billing on a going-forward basis and weather the storm last month will create.  Doing so will reduce my stress and give me back my non-work time.  I'm not even going to worry about publishing, just writing.  (The three stories I submitted to the new writers contest were all rejected out of hand, by the way.)  I can't do anything about whether or not my writing will ever be appreciated.  I can only invest the time to organize my ideas and create a body of work.  I'm not going to worry about the world or politics or public policy or public opinion.  I can't help the world, and the world can't help me.  I barely have the psychological resources to keep my life going and won't wallow in guilt that I can't help others, even with their much greater need.  I have one thing to offer the world: my ideas and my writing.  And the world can take it or leave it.  (Leave it, if the past is any indication.)
If I get a handle on those three things while continuing my sobriety, then maybe, just maybe, I'll be in a position to work on the only two goals I've had in my life for the past 30 years: finding a relationship and getting published.  There is nothing better for me to do than to build up the things I actually have some control over and put off worrying about the life goals beyond my control until some future time.  I'm not happy, and I don't anticipate being happy, or even being able to enjoy pleasurable things most of the time.  I need to stop chasing pleasure and give up on transient enjoyment just like I've given up on drugs and alcohol for a year and seven months.
A Stacked Deck
You know, I've realized that it's been a repugnance towards hope that has been driving the engine of my depression these past several weeks.  I just couldn't stomach forcing myself to do anything positive when I knew my mood wouldn't follow and it would all inevitably collapse again.  The reduction to pragmatism I've outlined here sounds well and good, but even it is driven by that detestable emotion.  My past dictates that it's a matter of when, not if, my resolve once again fails me.  Our minds have evolved through the ages to protect us from the fickle chaos that is the true nature of reality and the fact that all of our lives come to nothing.  Hope is the face of that lie.  I've had to come to grips with the cold, hard facts that, for someone with my problems, it isn't a matter of finding help; help (in any real sense) simply doesn't exist for me.  I've pretty much pursued every available option without success.  But I have no viable alternative, so wearing this perspective will have to do for now, until I once again bottom out emotionally and need to construct another narrative to blind me to the inevitability of despair.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Riding the Crazy Train

The mind can go either direction under stress-toward positive or toward negative: on or off.  Think of it as a spectrum whose extremes are unconsciousness at the negative end and hyperconsciousness at the positive end.  The way the mind will lean under stress is strongly influenced by training.
{Frank Herbert, Dune}
I had my first ketamine infusion today, and it was extremely unpleasant like a very bad trip.  Ketamine is a dissociative, and I found myself in a terrifying psychic space where time had little meaning and each thought rippled further into a constrictive prison of the mind.  The whole fundamental nature of existence and reality, undefined and yet forever inescapable, seemed to dissolve into a chaos of endless fear.  I had at least 2-3 panic attacks and was sure I was going to have a heart attack and die.  I managed to ride it out, but I'm anticipating tomorrow's appointment with trepidation.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Amended Assessment

But quick as a shot came the sickness, like a detective that had been watching around the corner and now followed to make his arrest.
{Alexander DeLarge, A Clockwork Orange}
Every goal that I have for myself—writing, getting myself in some kind of shape to attract a mate, unburying myself from debt—inevitably, invariably gets derailed by my mental illness and depression.  I try so hard, running with any improvement in mood, pouncing on any momentum and believing that, this time, things will be different.  That's why this blog often seems bipolar when reading through the entries, even though I don't suffer from that particular affliction.  The most apt metaphor for me is someone with one foot nailed to the floor, forever limping along in a circle—getting nowhere—while life just passes by.  My efforts always devolve into pleasure-seeking: expensive calories, movies/TV and video games (now that I've managed to stay away from alcohol and drugs) while practical matters of my job, fitness, finances and personal environment get thrown over, even as they weigh me down with stress and feelings of failure.
I spent most of last week wishing I had the courage to end myself, since cowardice is often the only thing that stays my hand.  As I get older, it seems harder to believe the lie that one day things will be better, and I have very little use for my existence.  My psychiatrist says that there is nothing further he can do for me pharmacologically.  He suggested I take a leave of absence from work and go into intensive outpatient therapy, but that would just cause me more problems while likely solving none.  I have no social support to speak of and spend most of my non-work time alone.  It's not that I don't have wonderful people in my life who care about me, but my need is so great that it wouldn't be fair to overwhelm those people in what would be an endless drain.  And I'm not at a place where I could nurture new and healthy relationships and haven't been for some time.

The Audacity Delusion of Hope

I have just arrived in Atlanta today to try a week of ketamine infusions, a new and somewhat experimental procedure, once more grasping at hope.  It has only recently been used for the therapeutic treatment of depression, and this is the closest place to me that offers it.  My time and monetary investment in TMS didn't work out "as my hopes have flown before."  Even if this new treatment helps, it's unlikely to last for any significant amount of time, and I don't have the resources to make bimonthly trips out of state for something that isn't covered by insurance.  As it is, my parents had to give me the $3,000 to cover my trip and treatment, which they generously gave to me freely out of kindness and love.  I do feel tremendously grateful to have such caring parents, but my mind always warps it into guilt for having so many advantages over other people and yet still can't get it together.  But I've been desperate, and the desperate will try almost anything.

On a more sanguine note, I did have an auspicious fortune in my Chinese food last week: "Traveling to the south will bring you unexpected happiness."

My Healing Brain

Once I managed to stick with protracted sobriety, especially after a year, I really expected more of my brain to come back.  My depression has a measurable effect on my cognition and memory, but I anticipated the avoidance of recreational chemicals to clear out some of the fog.  While that wasn't the case for the longest time, I do think I'm seeing some improvement.  I still have the attention span of a fruit fly, but I think my focus has clarified somewhat.  I've been replaying the Dragon Age: Inquisition video game, which has an extremely complex and multifaceted story built upon a richly established set of lore.  I've noticed myself being better able to remember details and tie things together more easily.  The same has been true of the recent audiobooks I've been listening to in the car.  So that, at least, is something.

I am the Inquisitor

Personal Roundup

Sobriety: 1 year, 6 months, 2 weeks
Weight: 241 pounds
Debt: $24,200

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Next President?

But sir, with all due respect: That's the argument of a five-year-old.
{Anderson Cooper}

Friday, March 11, 2016

For the Marty Tells Me So

I have submitted three of my short stories (the only three that are finished, in fact) to a new writers contest.  Just today, I also submitted some of my poems to two magazines.  I include a link to this blog on all of my manuscripts in the vain hope of creating a brand around my pseudonym and artistic endeavors.  My friend Marty suggested that perhaps I shouldn't include a link to a blog whose last entry four months ago sounds like a suicide note, so I decided to post an update.
For six weeks in November and December last year, I underwent transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) at a local psychiatric clinic.  The technician who performed the procedure on me every day also provided daily counseling, and she was an incredible help.  I really thought the TMS was making a difference.  But halfway through my treatment, I came down with a mild case of strep throat, and it seemed like all of my progress got derailed.  I don't know how much it ended up helping me or not.  A couple of month ago, my psychiatrist started me on a new medication.  I seem to have responded quite well to it, and the sexual side effects of the previous medication have gone completely.  I have also managed to remain sober for a year and five months now, and things seem much better, at least compared to the constant depressive symptoms I'd been experiencing.
I'm trying to capitalize on my improved energy and motivation as best I can.  I managed to go to the gym more than twenty time last month, and I'm doing my best to eat better.  I've applied for another job where I would make more money and wouldn't have to bill my time.  The first interview last week seem to go well, and I'm hoping that I get a second.  I'm trying to organize my writing and have made an effort at publishing with the aforementioned submissions.  All in all, I've decided that my first, best destiny is to write and that I need to focus all of my attention and drive into moving that forward.
Boomerang Cat
About the time I started my TMS treatment, I received an e-mail that a cat I adopted a couple of years ago was turned into the humane society.  In 2012, one of my two cats (Bailey) died, and I decided to adopt another cat because the remaining cat (Pfeiffer) was so close to her lost companion.  I went to the pound and took possession of an older male (christened Dewey by my friends' daughter) and brought him home to meet his new sibling.  Dewey tried to walk up and be friends, but Pfeiffer made his life a living hell.  After a couple of months I decided that I wasn't going to be able to keep him.
I had a few false starts rehoming him, but he always came back to me.  I finally found a situation that I thought would be ideal until I got the e-mail as a result of the microchip I never switched over.  I don't know how long he'd been out on the street, but poor Dewey was a terrible mess.  He was all but skin and bones, and he had sores all over from flea bites.  However, lots of food and TLC has brightened his outlook.  Now that Pfeiffer has passed away, he has the apartment to himself and me to cater to his every whim.
A King on His Throne