Back on the Ice

If I could describe being bipolar with one movie scene it would have to be from Mighty Ducks, 1 or 2, when the Minnesota Miracle Man, Gordon Bombay, sees the error in his ways and goes back to the ice to set things right in his head.

I do a lot of that now.  Self reflection I mean.  I don’t think I could even stay up right on ice skates or rollerblades at this point in life.  There is a lot of self reflection in dealing with being bipolar.

I’ll be going along great and then something feels off, like a pebble in my shoe type of feeling, and it just builds til I have to go back to the ice and figure it out.  Or worse, you’re hit with seriously depressing thoughts out of nowhere and it wrecks you for about four days.  That’s what happened to me recently.

When I first found out that I was bipolar I made a daily checklist of things just to keep tabs on my behavior and I think I’m going to have to go back to that.  More than anything, to remind myself that  I do have more good days than bad days.  Its just the weight of those bad days can be so severe.  And what’s annoying is that my down swing came, at least partially, from having a great day the day before.

Things have definitely gotten better and I’m back to what I call normal thankfully.  The therapist has been pushing me to make a schedule for myself to help me see when I’m becoming manic and not wanting to follow it.  Unfortunately, I’ve never been much of a schedule type of person.  To quote an old friend “I do what I want” and no schedule is gonna change that.  He’s definitely right though and I’m gonna sit down again and give it another try for tomorrow.

Basically just wanted to let everyone that I reached out to through my rough patch I’m doing better again.  I just need to get better at realizing when I put blinders on and just concentrate on the hard things in life.  I turn that switch on and it pulls me down before I even realize it.  Prayers I can get better at that.  I’m also gonna start trying to spend some time in the ol’ Bible to try and help my mindset.  I was “saved” when I was five and I’m not sure I’ve ever made the transition into being an adult Christian.  I’m still that five year old in many ways.  Here’s to self improvement!

 

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Cougar

I have been writing for the better part of my life.  It was just relatively recently that I started sharing with people that I didn’t grow up with.  All of my earliest stuff was about where  I grew up, a little place in Texas called Merkel.

This continued when I wrote my first full length movie script.  It was about two kids growing up in Texas who ultimately didn’t end up together but always meant the world to eachother.  The main character, Nick Brody, was the son of Jack and Diane.  This was an obvious tip of the hat to the song Jack and Diane by John Cougar Mellencamp.  I liked the idea of writing the next generation of that love story.

The song Jack and Diane was really the first love story I remember hearing and it was definitely the first one I could somewhat relate to.  I, too, grew up in the heartland.  One day, when I was still an impressionable youth I went to Walmart and bought a John Cougar Mellencamp TAPE.  Not a CD, a cassette tape.

I spent the rest of the day driving around Colorado Springs, Colorado, listening to hits like Hurt So Good and Small Town.  Mellencamp completely encapsulated what it meant to grow up in the small Texas town I yearned to be in.

It would take me years to write that script that I ultimately threw away when my attempt to move to LA and be a famous writer blew up in my face rather quickly.  I quickly regretted that move but I was about to go through the roughest patch of my life.

The next few years I was unknowingly manic and mentally ill.  A lot of my writing has covered this time in my life so I won’t go into great detail but when I got out of the mental hospital years later I made myself a promise.

I wanted to get back to sharing my stories and not letting things build up in my head like they had been.  For some reason, I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to use my actual name.  It was just lacking something, not to say that I don’t love my name it just wasn’t right for this endeavor.

I thought back to that script that I wrote and how much it meant to me.  I remembered the characters Jack and Diane and just how grounded the story felt to me in my own life.  For better or worse, when I remember my childhood, John Cougar Mellencamp is singing in the background.

Ever since that first book, I’ve instinctively gone by the faux middle name Cougar.  It is simply my way of staying true to my writing roots.  If you notice, all my stories take place in Texas.  That isn’t on accident.  Like the Cougar himself, I want to tell stories about people like me.  I think in this day and age everyone can use a little more down home stories.

There’s a pace to living in Texas in the early nineties that I want to keep in my writing.  I’d like to say Texas is still that way but unfortunately we went and got ourselves in a hurry somewhere along the way.

Anyway, that’s why I go by the name Cougar.  If you haven’t heard the original Cougar in awhile I implore you to change that.  I’m listening right now and feel like I’m back at home sitting on my childhood front porch watching my dad and brother playing catch with my mom sitting by my side.  Yall have a great day!

Beautifully Broken

So I’ve been sitting here for a few hours writing my next book about having to go to a mental hospital a few years ago and all my experiences there and that led up to it.  It has been a tumultuous night with all the emotions that go along with self reflection but I feel so happy to be where I’m at.

I’ve known that I’m bipolar for about four years now.  They haven’t been the easiest years but God has definitely been watching out for me.  One of my biggest blessings is the people I have in my life.  That goes for family, friends, and coworkers.  It seems like every person in my life serves a purpose in my fight to survive the ups and downs of being bipolar.

The main thing I remember from the time that led up to my ‘incarceration’ was how awful I was to loved ones and strangers alike.  I spent my daily life trying to live up to what I was pretending to be on Facebook and Instagram.  I could never be a celebrity because having 500 Facebook friends went straight to my head.

I didn’t realize it but living that lie made me completely miserable.  I also didn’t realize that the stresses of being a teacher, for the year and a half that I did that, was the exact same thing.

Teachers, on the whole, are not allowed to be human.  This is not an attack on my previous employer but a nation wide problem.  They have insurmountable odds that they have to fight everyday and administration nay-saying their every move.  They can’t have personal lives or flaws.

I spent the year and a half that I was a teacher trying to live in a way where no one would think I was bipolar.  To be fair, this ‘rule’ was self imposed but I definitely didn’t feel the freedom to be a three dimensional person in the public school system.

Teaching ended for me, and in retrospect, that was the best thing that could have happened in the given situation.  I returned to working as a nurse and I’m once again allowed to care for people without having to worry about their grade point average in second grade.

It was so unhealthy for me to try and live like a “normal” person.  Being bipolar has its drawbacks but it definitely has upsides as well.  I was unknowingly trying to ignore both and live in the mundane middle and that’s not living.

Now, I’m allowed to be myself.  All of it.  All of my coworkers, friends, and supervisors know that I’m bipolar and it is completely fine.  I take my pills and supplements daily and go about my day.  I have never felt like a more complete and happy person.

To get here, though, I had to stop acting like I was perfect.  I’m beautifully broken and I’ve come to love that about myself.  The first thing I did when I got home from the Looney Bin was get online and blow up the facade that I had been living under on Facebook.

Seriously, the most toxic part of my life back then was who I was trying to be on social media.  If I could give any advice from this it would be to make sure you’re aware of who you are being online and if it is affecting your real life.  And also, respect the H-E-Double L out of teachers.

As always, thanks to everyone in my life that gives me the space to find out who I am daily.  I no longer feel like I have to tape myself up into something to be suitable for society.  I am blessed by each person in my life and want to do my best to return that blessing to each one of them.

To My First Reader

As I amazingly near 500 people buying my books and audio books, I want to take a second to thank my original reader.  Michael McDonald, an engineer of dreams, was always the person I shared my writing with.  The first book I wrote was with him and it was a smear book about a substitute teacher we enjoyed mocking.  We were no more than eight years old.  Poor Ms. Carter…

After that, starting I think freshman year of high school, I would email Michael my stories.  The original was called “Posse Out” and was about our times in middle school.  These were the happiest times of my life.  I had moved away and missed all my friends there.

I continued to send stories throughout college.  This was especially true when I took a creative writing class at Texas Tech.  Michael has always been my sounding board and biggest fan.

When I got mentally ill and had to go to the mental hospital, Michael and his awesome wife, Allison, sent me a care package and it meant the world to me.  While I was in there, I got the courage to start sharing my writing with other people.  That started with an ultra honest Facebook post apologizing for my behavior.  I got such a warm reception to that honesty that I decided to continue and I haven’t stopped since.

Now I have 5 books available on Amazon and Audible and am working on a sixth.  My life has definitely had its ups and downs but I feel like I am right where I’m supposed to be and exactly who I am supposed to be.  I owe this entirely to friends like Michael who have always allowed and supported me to be myself.  I am fortunate that the majority of my friends are that way.

Lets all lift our glasses to the sky for friends like Michael McDonald!

Rough Draft of the first Chapter from The Nut House

Chapter 1

Jackson, Mississippi

And when the sunshine showed

Her face I felt like I was ready to die

Went looking for a place to hide

A hole I could crawl inside.

–Kid Rock

My eyes jerked open.  My mind rushed to figure out where I was and I couldn’t get a deep breath for the life of me.  The alarm clock next to the bed read 3:11 AM and I began to remember my surroundings. I was on a cross country trip from South Carolina back home to Texas.

I had moved to South Carolina just a handful of months before to get away from a toxic situation but, as it turned out, I was toxic and the situation followed me to the east coast.  I was having countless panic attacks and my mind would not slow down. I was averaging about five a day.

I woke up to find myself in another one.  I saw my phone laying on the covers but was too afraid to use it to call for help.  I told myself that I didn’t want to wake anyone up and bother them with my insane problems.  Part of me knew that nothing was truly wrong but the other part was freaking out because of every decision I’ve ever made in my life that led me to this hotel in Jackson, Mississippi.  

For the first time in my life, I started pacing and I couldn’t stop.  I was hugging myself and pacing back and forth for about two hours straight when I finally called and woke up my mom.  She talked me down and I apologized for waking her up. I finally stopped pacing and laid back down in bed. I laid there wide awake for about three hours as my brain spun on and on.  

I got up and continued my journey back home to Abilene, Texas, crying all the way just as I had the day before.  I knew something was wrong with me but I couldn’t figure out what. There’s nothing quite as terrifying as driving through the DFW traffic in tears.  I just stayed in the middle lane and hoped for the best.

I got back to Abilene around 4 o’clock on a Saturday.  The first thing I chose to do was go to all the saddest places I could think of to intensify my despair.  I went out to the lake and sat in the car listening to some indie rock song no doubt made for such a moment.  It was like I was living in an episode of One Tree Hill but without the douche bag estranged father figure. After this, I went to a park and walked around listening to John Mayer’s amazing cover of Beyonce’s “XO” and held back tears because I was now in public.  

About a mile in to walking, I got a text from a friend saying that they were going out to drink that night if I wanted to join.  Before I started my down spiral, I wasn’t much of a drinker but as my mind started spinning like a top it was the only way I could find to slow down my thought process.  

Case in point, about six months before this I found myself in a “situation” where I really didn’t want my head spinning and obsessing about something so I decided to get schloshed by myself.  In a WalMart parking lot. This was stupid for so many reasons.

The “situation” was me obsessing about a woman that I was dating who didn’t feel as strongly as I did.  In her defense, I went hard when it came to relationships. I was basically a Nicholas Sparks character at this point in my life.  My spinning mind and unstable emotions made me fall quick for anything in a skirt. You could have put a ham sandwich in a halter top in front of me and I would have spent the entire night in its front yard with a boombox over my head like John Cusack in Say Anything without even a second thought.  

The current problem with my obsession was that she was going out with friends to a club and I didn’t feel secure enough in what we had for her to be surrounded by drunk men.  So, instead of sitting and stewing on that all night, I headed to the liquor store to numb my brain. It probably would have worked out if I hadn’t been a handful of minutes after their closing time which forced me to forego my Snoop Dogg inspired typical gin and juice.  

Things went awry when I chose to get “four lokos” at a nearby gas station.  I only got two and will never touch one again. I had never had one but thought it couldn’t be that bad.  As it turns out, drinking one is like drinking a six pack of regular beer and I had bought two!

So there I was, parked at WalMart, listening to Cat Stevens, getting unknowingly blitzed.  I have never in my life been as drunk as I was that night. The only upside was that my brain finally slowed down.  Unfortunately, it slowed down too much and I had to find a way to get inside the WalMart to go to the bathroom.

Of course it was after ten so the doors next to me were locked so I had to stumble to the other side of the store to even get in.  I played it cool til I got to the bathroom and then exploded from the mouth. I vomited like it was going out of style. My head was spinning even worse than before.  

It was spinning so bad that I laid down on the nasty WalMart bathroom tile floor.  Don’t worry, I made what looked like a chalk outline with toilet paper and laid on top of that.  From time to time, I would get up and vomit some more. I saw no end in sight. This was my life now.  

After awhile, I heard a voice saying something.  It was a manager saying that a customer told him someone was dying in the bathroom.  That someone was me. He talked me out of the stall and led me to their breakroom where he allowed me to ‘sit it off’.  I sat there for hours not getting better and making random trips to the bathroom throwing up some more.

I finally felt okay to go back to my car, not to drive but to stop being a spectacle, only I couldn’t walk.  So, classy member of society that I am, I got wheeled out in a wheelchair while holding a tin foil pan to throw up in because the world was still spinning.  

The only way I could make this deal was to let the manager hold on to my keys so that I wouldn’t drive.  Clever girl. I wouldn’t have driven at this point because, I couldn’t walk, but having to trek back in to get my keys was a good hurdle to clear before allowing myself to drive.  I sat there in my tiny sports car listening to music on my phone until minutes before dawn.

I knew my head was recovering when it started spinning in the old way and the horizon stood still.  I made my way back in and thanked the two managers profusely for helping me when I deserved to go to jail for being drunk in public.  

The whole thing was basically an accident due to my not knowing the strength of four lokos but after talking to a group of friends about it, I realized it was becoming a regular thing.  I would go a few months without drinking a sip of alcohol but then my mind would get the best of me and I would need a break from it and I chose alcohol each time and most of the time, I was alone.  

That brings me back to that night at the track when I got the text.  My mind was once again spinning and I needed a break. At least this time, I wouldn’t be alone.  I left the track and met them at a local dive and started drinking rum and cokes. I had many rum and cokes.  I had so many that the feeling of anguish that had been living in my gut finally went away and I felt more free than I had in a long time.  I started making jokes again and laughing. I felt great. So great in fact, that I decided I didn’t even need my glasses anymore. In what I termed a “feat of strength”, I broke my glasses in half and threw them onto the table.  Everyone was horrified for me.

When it was time to leave, I was talked into going to stay with a friend instead of driving.  I was just sober enough to know I should listen so I did. I slept on a friend of a friend’s couch but I sobered up and woke up at straight up six o’clock back in complete agony.  Worse than ever, honestly. It was like my anguish knew I had tricked it the night before and now it was pissed.

I tried to lay there until other people woke up so they could give me a ride back to my car

but i just couldn’t do it.  I put my shoes on, locked the door behind me, and walked at least two miles back to my car.  It is important to remember, from this point on, I’m basically going through life blind without my glasses.  I can make out things but everything is insanely fuzzy and it takes me forever to figure out what stuff is.

I felt a little better walking to my car, just because I was doing something.  I got back to my car in about an hour and made the 45 minute drive over to where my mom lived squinting the whole way to see 18-wheelers.  I knew my mom was at church and the anguish in my stomach was raging.

I called my aunt, Dana, and luckily she had stayed home from church that Sunday so I

went over there and cried on her couch.  I sobbed more than anything and I said the words that I had been feeling inside for months but hadn’t been able to voice until now.  “I just want to give up”.

We both knew it was time to get real help.  I finally realized that if I continued the way I was going I would become a full-blown alcoholic if I survived at all.  As it was, alcohol was the only thing I could find to slow my brain down and that was going to end up being destructive.  

My mom and I had already talked about going to a treatment center in Dallas that my aunt had told her about so that was the plan.  We are from a fairly rural area of Texas and there weren’t very many options close. There were a few but they didn’t have the best reputation.  

Part of the problem, though, was that I had quit my job a few months earlier and I had no insurance.  I can’t remember the exact price but this place was not cheap. All the three of us knew was that I was running out of time and I needed something that was going to work.  

I had hit rock bottom that night on the WalMart bathroom floor but I was just now realizing the fact that I had fallen so far.  This wasn’t where I ever expected my life to be. For those who have not read the original Bipolar Express, I was not raised to be living how I was.

I was born into a Christian family here in Texas.  It wasn’t perfect, by any means, but my dad never hit me and my mom never tried to sell me for a pack of smokes.  I can honestly say that they tried their best with the situations they found themselves in and what else can you really ask for?  

My childhood wasn’t the problem.  My parents divorced, what I remember as days, after I graduated from college.  I spent pretty much the next decade angry at my father who moved to Colorado. Angry isn’t even the right word, I was full of rage.  It drove me in so many ways. I lost around forty pounds from working out to try and deal with my anger.

My anger and spinning mind were not a good combination.  It made me horrible to be around for everybody. I loved my mom dearly but even she saw the ugly side of how I was feeling through this period in my life.  My mind moved so fast that I was always six steps ahead of everyone and I would get pissed if anyone slowed that down. My poor coworkers probably got the worst of it, though, as I would yell and cuss at them randomly.  

I’d like to say I thought about all of this while packing up the truck to leave for the treatment center but my mind no longer worked.  The years of speeding from thought to thought, coupled with the panic attacks, had taken its toll. The three of us loaded up the truck and headed towards Dallas.  It was the least exciting road trip of my life. I laid in the back and made sarcastic jokes in between tears. The sarcasm never left me.

When we got to Dallas, we met my cousin, Cole, at In and Out that had just recently made its way to Texas.  I had my favorite: a double double, animal style, with well done fries. As far as last meals go, it’s pretty choice.  

Cole is about eight years younger than me and was doing church work in the DFW area around this time.  Our relationship, when we were younger, centered on the video game, Madden. I came out on top in the early days but haven’t gotten close to a victory in years.  That’s not to say we hadn’t had real talks. I can remember countless trips over to Abilene together in endless conversation. Cole and I have completely different mindsets but have always understood and appreciated the others viewpoint.  He would prove to be a priceless asset in the upcoming week.

That night before admitting myself was a stressful one.  We all laid around the hotel talking while I sent messages out to basically everyone I’ve ever met telling them what was going on.  I got some great messages back and it helped me sleep a little more sound.

I had some of the weirdest dreams of my life that night.  For some reason, in the year 2014, I had a “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper’ dream.  It had something to do with racism. All I really remember was racism never stood a chance.  As I opened my eyes to a new day, I knew nothing was ever going to be the same.

We drove over to the mental hospital from the hotel and sat in their lobby for a few minutes, waiting for me to be checked out.  Basically, they were making sure I wasn’t on drugs and that I was the right kind of crazy.

The lady that interviewed me was very kind.  We talked about everything that led up to this point.  I told her that I had been drinking too much in hopes of slowing down my mind and that I was having countless panic attacks a day.  All the while, I was in tears.

After I told them my story, I was admitted.  I hugged my mom and aunt and was led away as the three of us sobbed in unison.  This was never meant to be my life. At least that’s what I thought as I took in the last view of what I had begun to call normal and felt the doors close and lock behind me for the best, and worst, week of my life.

Bipolar Express: The Nut House

I’m finally sitting down to write a new book!  Like I’ve said, I’m returning to nonfiction and to the topic of mental health.  This is partially due to the fact that I recently found myself in the hospital with suicidal thoughts but also because I feel the need to finally deal with some things from my times at rock bottom four years ago and my life since.

I dealt with a lot of them in my previous Bipolar Express book but it has taken this long to really understand myself in a better way than I did back then.  Everything was so fresh then and I didn’t understand it like I do now.

I’m really at a good point right now.  I love my job and the people that I work with.  My previous job was stressful beyond belief but I was able to handle it because of the coworkers I had.  I imagine it was like working for the Empire on the second Death Star.  Sure I had great friends at work but one day you know its all gonna blow up.  My Emperor Palpatine was more bipolar than me.  I definitely found myself rooting for the Rebels.

This book will deal mostly with my time in the treatment facility in Dallas.  I spent a week there and it stands as both the best and worst week of my life.  I still have nightmares that I am being forced to stay somewhere for a week.  I hope against all hope that I never have to go back but that place saved my life.  I met some of the best people inside those padded walls.

The staff was amazing and everyone in there was fighting for their life.  It was definitely a watershed moment in my life.  I wouldn’t be here typing today without it.  I’m still understanding stuff that happened then though.  I can definitely tell that people on the outside were praying for me because I got the best psychiatrist I could ask for.

The friends I met in there I will be referring to by nicknames because I don’t want to unwittingly tell their stories and I think that will help me keep it more impersonal when it comes to them.  My best friend I met in there, Kerouac, is gonna read over everything when I get done so that I know it doesn’t out anyone but myself.  I care about the people I met in there so much.

My biggest regret from the first Bipolar Express book was my treatment of the guy I named Billy Madison.  I was still exhausted by him at that point and I look forward to being more fair towards him this go around.  He was in the same boat that I was and I never should’ve considered him worse off than myself.

Anyway, its time to get ready for work but thanks to everybody in my life.  Everything in my life has worked out so that I could survive being bipolar and each of you are a part of that.  Like I told a friend at work the other night, I wouldn’t be able to survive being imperfect/bipolar if I hadn’t worked at the state school when I did.  Everyone there is so open about their lives and faults that it taught me it was okay to not be okay.  Much love to everyone!

 

Daily Battles

When I was at my lowest, it was a battle to even get out of bed.  That’s a problem about living alone.  There is nothing in this world heavier or more intoxicating than covers when you’re depressed.  The release of rolling back over and ignoring the world a little longer is like a breath of fresh air.

Fortunately, my sleeping habits have improved since I went to the hospital for suicidal thoughts about a month ago.  At that time, I was sleeping about 15 hours a day.  Easily.  I would come home from work at ten at night and go straight to bed.  Then I would sleep until 1:15, in the afternoon, so I had just enough time to get up and put on, hopefully, clean scrubs, and head back to work.  That is not a life.

For better or worse, the increased book sales lately have helped my self esteem.  It has helped give me a little pep in my step and given me a push to get out of bed each morning.  It is so nice waking up in the morning and checking to see that anywhere between 15 to 20 books have sold in the last 24 hours.

It is especially uplifting because Bipolar Express is my life story.  And having so many people reading it, and hopefully learning from my missteps, further changes my perspective of what has been the darkest point in my life to date.  At my lowest, I wanted to help others find peace.

That’s what I found in the mental hospital in 2014.  I was given a mental picture of my happy place and it becomes clearer and clearer with each day.  Rocking back and forth on the water under an orange sky.  At the time, I could almost feel the water splashing up and touching my face but I was insanely doped up at the time on Ativan.

What’s funny though, it seems even more real now sitting here writing.  I’ve decided to make a sizable part of my life and energy into realizing this happy place and bringing it into my daily life.  One of my best friends, Zach Gill, is an avid kayaker.  That’s probably not the right term but oh well.  He invited me to go with him sometime in the future and I realized that it was a great opportunity to experience my happy place in a real way.

One thing that I think is interesting about my happy place is that I’m there alone.  It may sound weird, but I find that comforting.  I’m a 34 year old man who hasn’t had a relationship last longer than a Tootsie Pop and loneliness plagues me.  I think the most comforting thing about being alone in my happy place, is the peace I felt inside being there.  I felt like I was one with everything.  I felt anything but alone.