No, It’s Not The Coronavirus That’s Making Me Depressed

The thing that sucks about heading toward a depressive/anxiety episode, as my body is telling me that I’m doing is that there is very little I can do to stop it. It’s just part of the deal with bipolar disorder. I can call the doctor and ask them to up my meds, which I may do in the coming days, provided they don’t demand an office visit. I refuse to pay $152 for something they can just do over the phone. When they insist, I usually just tell them “Never mind, I’ll try to get by” and then I get my way.

I have to make sure that I’m also not helping along some self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t want to feel shitty and I have to constantly make sure that I’m not overblowing it. My grandmother left me scarred as far as knowing when I’m actually sick or not, so I constantly have to assess the situation and make sure I’m not telling myself that I’m better or worse than I actually am. It’s a little easier with a physical ailment, especially if it’s bleeding, but with a mental issue, I have to double-check that I’m being honest with myself.

One of the slightly annoying things is that I don’t feel like I have the manic upswings I once did. If I have to have the lows, the trade-off should be the highs that I experienced when I was younger. Maybe it’s a good thing they don’t happen now that I think about it.

I’m off to see my therapist in about an hour. I only visit her about once every three weeks now, but I’m going to suggest that we make the next appointment a little sooner. I really hope she doesn’t ask me what my mother and wife have: “This doesn’t have to do with being scared about the Coronavirus does it?”

I wrote about it last week and may have dismissed it a little more than I should have, but no, it’s nothing to do with that. I do think if Tom Hanks dies from it, we should rename it Tom Hanks’ Disease, like we have Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Maybe that’s morbid. No, that’s definitely morbid. The thing that hit me last night was that my uncle who died in late January has no idea that any of this happened. I don’t think his death has actually hit me yet. Maybe it won’t.

Mother Nature can be a bitch, but I think it’s important that humans are reminded now and then that we don’t have the power we think we do. We still can’t control the weather, nor natural disasters and we still can’t control pandemics. The world has had its share of volcanic eruptions that destroy the ecosystem or floods and fires that wipe out huge swaths of land. We’ve seen hurricanes and tsunamis take hundreds and thousands of lives and yes, there have been many diseases and plagues that took the lives of even more.

All that said, the human animal is resilient. We’ve gone 200,000 years and we’re going to go a lot more. In the coming days, you’re probably going to hear a lot more negative news and a ton of new cases, which is going to cause some people to have fatalistic, “the sky is falling” attitudes. To this, I say, “I don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.”

It’s interesting how people who haven’t experienced depression or anxiety think it works. When most people hear depression, they think sadness and when they hear anxiety they think scared. While I do get helpings of each, it’s more about a physical and mental paralysis with me. I physically feel both a tightness and a sense of detachment from my body and mind. For those who have smoked marijuana, it’s a little similar to that high. I just can’t operate at normal speed as I feel impaired.

Last year, I had a horrible bout of this, but I don’t see this one being even half as bad. I think what may have made it worse last year was that I didn’t recognize it soon enough and get the necessary rest to help move things along. I’m not going to make that mistake this time. I’ve cleared a bunch of my work for the next couple weeks and aside from a major radio show this weekend (if you’ve got Sirius XM, I’ll be on Sunday at 6 on Channel 131) I’m stepping back from marketing the book.

Anyway, I think I just needed to get this babbling out of my system before I see my therapist. I hope everyone has a good day. Wash your hands.

I Can Sense the Next Bipolar Spike is About to Begin

When my mind starts to really wander into metaphysical, philosophical and quantum mechanics areas of thinking at all times of day, I know that either a bipolar high or a bipolar low is about to make an appearance. I’ve made the decision to track some of these thoughts over the next few years so I can see if there are any trends in the content of the thoughts so I can predict which way things are going to go.

I tried to explain this to a woman at rehab once. I know people get songs caught in their head. That happens to me all the time, but a lot of the time it’s as if they are songs that aren’t in a language I can understand. It’s just background noise, like when you leave a fan running at night so the room isn’t quiet.

The best way I can describe this is as getting a really complex – yet utterly pointless – song caught in your head, and then getting like two or three songs caught at the same time. It’s like I’ve stumbled across an idea and I can’t just let it go. If you’ve ever binged at something, whether it’s a TV show or video game or something else, you might also understand this. For instance, when Tetris first came out 30 years ago for the Nintendo Gameboy, I played it so much that I was rotating blocks and hearing 8-bit classical music even in my sleep.

 

Here are a few examples of these things that get stuck in my head…

 

Almost every religious text references the end of the world. I was flipping through the TV channels the other night and one of the religious channels had a guy preaching that the coronavirus was the signal of “end times.”

Then, I was driving in the car and the song “In the Year 2525” by Zager and Evans came on the radio. It basically talks about mankind moving toward an unknown future and considering it was written in 1968, it probably makes more sense now than then. It got me wondering if mankind will still be around in 5,000 years.

Let’s say we do something stupid and we’re not around in 5,000 years. I think that’s entirely possible. Our ability to develop technology far outstrips our ability to recognizes consequences. Disregarding our similar, yet different, relatives, the modern human has been on Earth for 200,000 years.

If we have less than 5,000 years to go, we are 39/40ths of the way to extinction. If you’re on vacation for 40 days, don’t you consider the 39th day the end of the vacation?

Maybe end times aren’t coming. Maybe we’re living in them now.

Is the head technically a body part? The head is a collection of body parts, but is it a part itself? Is it more of just a concept? Can a part be a collection of other parts?

You could say that the ear is part of the head, but the ear is just a collection of other parts – the eardrum, the tiny bones, etc., so is the ear truly a part? I’ll admit I know nothing about the eardrum, and it’s too early to go researching, but it’s possible that’s made up of other parts.

So let’s say, yes the head is a body part. Does that make the body itself a body part because it encapsulates everything or does it stop being a part because it’s a whole? If I am in an accident and lose a finger, my body is still a whole…or is it?

If you take a piece of pie, the rest of the pie is still the pie. But when there is less than half the pie left, we talk about it in the past tense, “How much of the pie is left?” It was once a whole but is now less than that. If it’s less than a whole, it should be a part.

In this same vein, what would it take to officially exhume the Titanic and not just parts of it? At what point would we say we have the boat from the ocean floor? A lot of stuff has just rotted away and is gone. How much of the boat had to come to the surface of what’s still left to be considered saving “the boat” and not just pieces?

But, if things like head, pie and boat are concepts just as much as they are actual things, what isn’t a concept. Aren’t words just concepts used to codify and identify things? If that’s true, why dwell on this?

 

Anyway, that’s just a tony look at the kind of stuff that’s clouding my head right now. I’m also thinking a lot about the fact that every person I see has a complete, complex life and if there are any types of ranking systems to determine what a good life or bad life would be.

Sometimes my head doesn’t buzz with this kind of nonsense and other times it feels almost debilitating. It’s kind of exhausting, which I guess is why I’m drinking more caffeine than I have had in a while. I’m also sleeping a lot, which makes me think things are on a downward slope, but there’s nothing concrete signaling depression on its way.

I’ve been like this forever and I know that part of my addiction was not just to cope with trauma, but to escape this kind of thinking that is just loud random chatter happening in my head. I’ve talked to doctors and shrinks about it and none of them seem too considered, so I won’t be either. The addictions helped slow my mind. I know there are things like meditation that is supposed to help, but I can’t get there. I’ve tried many times. Meditation is either me going deeper into these crazy thoughts, or falling asleep altogether.

Don’t worry about me. I can cope with this stuff. I just wonder if anybody else has stuff like this happen.

 

Recovery Wouldn’t Have Been the Same Without My Dogs

We’re having our first measurable snowfall of the year and as I look out of the windows of the office that doubles as my bedroom, I can see our three dogs playing outside, reminding me of how I used to play with my brother or other neighborhood kids on a snow day when we were little.

We always had cats growing up. I liked cats because they fit my general detached, non-empathetic mindset. They, too, also seemed to have the bipolar disorder I had not been diagnosed with yet, either running around causing havoc at full speed or taking long naps wherever they could find a flat surface.

My family had one dog that we got when I was about five and I think lived 12 years. The dog and I never bonded. It needed too much attention and too much care. It demanded things yet didn’t follow commands 100% of the time. In essence, I had no control over the dog and that made me uncomfortable, so I never got close to it.

It was probably two or three years after getting married before my wife brought up getting a dog, but I shut that down quickly, and did every time it was brought up afterward.

It took almost 10 years for her to wear me down. It was in the early years of running the magazine, so everything was going well, and I was usually in a good mood. Our daughter was 12 or 13 and my wife thought it would be a great Christmas gift for her. I relented and my wife stood in line for nearly 7 hours at the shelter one cold early December morning for a chance at one of the retriever/lab mix puppies that were going up for adoption. Her face day home is the lead photo on this entry.

In the late morning, the Saturday before Christmas, she came home with Finley, who is now eight years old. I never remembered the puppy from my youth, so this was really a chance to have one for the first time. I was up at all hours, so Finley would stick next to me while everyone was awake and slept with my wife and I most nights. My daughter revealed herself to not be willing to care for a dog, so it fell on my wife and I. Living near my office, I’d come home at lunch to let the dog out.

It would be hard to say that Finley and I deeply bonded, but we certainly had a decent thing going. I laughed at any suggestion of a second dog and life took such a crazy turn not long after that any talk of new pets stopped as I went through my legal ordeal.

Fast-forward about three-to-four years. I’m several years deep into recovery and doing a very good job turning my life around. I’ve been out of jail for eight or nine months, and building a decent little ghostwriting and freelance writing business from home. However, with both kids in school and Finley now mostly just a fan of laying in my bed, I was lonely.

One weekend my wife made an off-hand comment about a post she read on Facebook that the local shelter was taking in 40 puppies from down south after some kind of disaster. I don’t know why, but I knew at that moment I was going to get another dog. About a week later, after everyone had gone to work and school, I went to shelter, waited in line about two hours and eventually took the puppy that ran at me from the holding pen. I was probably 20th in line to pick and I have no idea how this one slipped through the cracks.

I took her home, after swinging by wife’s office. She was upset I got a new dog without telling her…for about 15 seconds. My wife and daughter named her Scout and while we were told she was a Shepard mix, three years later, it’s clear she’s mainly a begel mixed with a couple other things. I thought I was getting a big dog, but she’s half the size of Finley.

Thankfully, she and Finley got along immediately, and she helped Finley lose a much needed 10-15 pounds with the playing they did. I couldn’t believe I was a two-dog household.

I’ve never bonded to anything except my kids and wife as much as this little dog. She’s slept next to me since day one and is the most loving dog I’ve ever seen in my life. I never thought it was possible to love an animal, but I love this one. I like our three cats and I like Finley, but I finally understand that bond with an animal, and no, she doesn’t always do what I say and she’s the first one up in the morning, usually around 4:45, which means I’m up to care for her (and by default the other dogs).

In the summer of 2018, my daughter – who was leaving for college just months later – somehow convinced my wife she was ready to take care of a dog and was willing to spend money to get one. I think this shows just how much recovery mellowed me because I didn’t fight it too hard. I was concerned about being the one to be at home trying to work with three dogs, but didn’t sweat it.

On a late June day, we went to a breeder about an hour away and my daughter dropped $1,000 on a purebred German Shepard. She named him Arlo and he was the naughtiest puppy to the point that it took me a long time to like him, but now, as he approaches his second birthday and is a huge beast, we get along very well. He sleeps at my feet in the bed and Scout is tucked into my neck and head. Finley loves this, because it gives her the entire couch in the living room.

I was never a dog guy, but I have to say, having these dogs during my recovery has been terrific. No, they don’t always listen. No, I don’t always have control. The feeding duties fall to me and I spend way too much money on grooming and vets throughout the year.

Scout broke her leg around the time we got Arlo and the surgery was over $1,500. I just handed them my credit card without thought. My wife and daughter both told me that I never would have done that five or six years earlier. I also never would have been the guy whose phone was 75% pictures of his dogs.

The dogs don’t know what I do for a living, or what I used to do. They don’t know about my legal ordeal or how big my bank account is or isn’t. They don’t care. They just need me to be there for them and that’s a healthy thing for me now.

Think Addiction and Bipolar Disorder aren’t Connected? Think Again.

Quite often when I’m doing interviews, I’m asked about the connection between my bipolar disorder and my alcoholism and pornography addiction. I’ve always felt like there was some link between the two, but I finally did a little research to confirm it. As it turns out, there’s a huge link.

Bipolar disorder, which has made it onto the list of most self-diagnosed conditions (migraines continues to top that chart), actually only occurs in between 1.5 and 2.5 percent of the population according to one 2018 study. Another said that it was 4.4%, so I guess you have to believe the one you want.

I was diagnosed at age 26, although I can recognize episodes of mania and depression going back to my mid-teens, not-so-coincidentally when my addictions first began to surface. Ironically, the average age for onset of bipolar disorder is 25, but I know I had it long before that.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of research yet on the likelihood of someone with behavioral addictions like sex/porn addiction, gambling addiction or video game addiction also suffering from bipolar disorder, but based on what we know with substance addictions, I think it’s safe to say there’s a link.

To the unaware, bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression) is essentially a psychiatric disorder characterized by unstable moods, depression or mixed manic and depressive episodes that are accompanied by drastic changes in sleep patterns and energy levels. Erratic, irrational decision-making can also be a sign of untreated bipolar disorder.

Back when I went untreated, manic was my norm. It was the bouts of depression that indicated to me something was wrong. I’m not going to give my entire history here, but if you’d like to see an article I wrote for my magazine way back in the day where I essentially confessed to the community I had bipolar disorder, click here. It’s a long read, but a good one.

I’m going to try not to turn this into an academic paper, so if you want sources for my statistics, just let me know and I’ll provide them, but I’d rather these be an easier read.

In the US population, roughly 15% of the population are tobacco smokers. Among those with bipolar disorder, anywhere from 60% to 80% either were or are currently tobacco smokers. I was among those in early 20s, but I quit a two-pack-a-week habit in my mid-20s. I took it up again shortly after I was arrested (ironically in rehab) in 2014 and kept it up for about 9 months before quitting again.

In the US, about 1-in-8 people, or 12.5% or the population can be classified as alcoholics. Among those who have bipolar disorder, it’s closer to 42% to 44%, depending on which study you use. I was firmly in this group as well.

As for drugs, someone with bipolar is 14 times more likely to have a substance use disorder than a person without. In fact, over half the people with bipolar disorder (56%) have a history of illegal drug use. One study I saw said that number could be as high as 70%. Although I experimented a little bit, I never embraced illegal drugs the way I did alcohol or pornography.

There is information out there that also links bipolar disorder to populations who report much higher than average anxiety, ADHD and eating disorders.

It’s important to note that it’s just not higher rates of addiction among people with bipolar disorder. You’ll find higher rates of homelessness, violence (both committed by and against), crime and suicide in this population.

There is no known cause for bipolar disorder, addiction, or co-occurrence. It’s just as important to highlight that addiction does not cause bipolar disorder and while the numbers clearly indicate those with bipolar disorder have a much, much higher likelihood of a co-occurring disorder, it is not guaranteed. Researchers believe a combination of factors, such as environment, genetics, biology, etc., are believed to play a role in both bipolar disorder and addiction. Reading between the lines, that seems code for, “We still have no idea.”

When I was at rehab, it felt like two-out-of-three people claimed they had bipolar disorder. I thought they were way overstating it, but as it turns out, maybe those numbers were right on the money.

I hope that the scientists who conduct the kinds of studies and surveys that I referenced above are studying behavioral addictions look to establish a connection between them and bipolar disorder as they’ve done with substance addictions. Anecdotally, based on the sex and porn addicts I’ve known, I think you’ll see very big numbers.

Pacing Myself Has Never Been My Strong Suit

Last spring, I was burnt out. I had just experienced a prolonged bout of anxiety, worse than any I ever had. It sent me away from this site for a while and through the first five months of the year, I posted on here as much as I did in an average week these days.

Behind the scenes, I was in a particular busy cycle with my freelance writing/ghostwriting career and I was putting the finishing touches on the first draft of the book that will be released on December 1. When it came to writing this blog however, I just wasn’t feeling it.

So, around Memorial Day, I made the decision to shut it down. I was done with the book, it was in the editor’s hands, I didn’t feel like telling my story for the 300th time on a podcast and I was out of ideas to write about, or simply didn’t want to put in the effort when it came to my website. I found somebody who would produce a few guest columns for me and I only posted one all summer, when I came off of probation in July. I went on vacation for the month of August and largely forgot that this site existed.

I had to play catch-up upon returning, so the first couple weeks of September were a little slow on here, but the book had progressed to a point where real progress was made and a release date was set. Having not told my story for around 4 months, I agreed to appear on a couple of podcasts and, rather unplanned, I started posting here every day. That may have had to do with a spike in the manic side of my bipolar, but either way, I was producing more content then ever.

Here we are, two months later and I’m not getting fatigued in the least. I recorded one podcast last night, already recorded one this morning (you can watch HERE, just fast-forward to 1:02 to get to my part) and I’m recording one tonight. I also have two to record tomorrow. I’m also creating a website post every day and doing a few other things to prepare for the release of the book.

Yeah, the freelance/ghostwriting thing is slow right now, and I’m not pursuing much new work, so that’s a drawback, but I’m not starving yet and my bills are getting paid. I’m just not saving money.

In my burnout last spring, I said that I could never put the energy into promoting a book, or simply continue to put the energy into spreading the message of porn addiction that I had in the first half of 2018. I didn’t want to go back to that marathon, but here I am and I’m pushing twice as hard. Granted, I feel like I’ve helped create a book that will do far more good and reach far more people than my memoir did, but I’m starting to recognize I should put some limitations on myself.

I think next week, I’m going to refrain from posting on Thanksgiving, and maybe the day before or after, and I won’t write something and schedule it in advance. I think that I’ll make sure not to do any podcasts for a few days before Christmas or a few days after. It’s dawning on me that I’ve never been great with balance. I find a project, I fall in love with it, and I work it hard. Stepping back and taking breaks is going to be a learning process, but it’s one I intend to succeed at so I can continue to do this work. Hopefully someday this will pay off monetarily, but it feels very purpose-driven either way. I just have to convince myself to maintain balance for that purpose.