Losing the routine that saved me from manic depression

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This analogy will not be perfect, but might make a decent movie review.

“History of Violence” is a movie by Canadian director, David Cronenberg. Viggo Mortensen plays Tom Stall, a middle aged man living a quiet life in a small rural American town.

Everything else is spoiler, so… spoiler alert.

Tom has a routine, he owns a diner and has a lovely wife and two kids. Every day is pretty much the same. Wake up, have breakfast, share a moment with his wife, walk into town, have a coffee in his diner and basically hangout until it’s time to go home, where he shares a moment with his family and then goes to bed.

Tom has a routine that works for him. He’s happy. Content even.

Then one day he’s forced to kill two very bad men, and becomes the lead story on the State newscasts. A few days later other very bad men show up and tell people Tom isn’t really Tom, he’s actually Joey, a psychotic mob hitman from Philadelphia.

Tom insists they’ve got the wrong guy. Eventually Tom, after having his family threatened, kills all three bad men on his family’s front lawn, and is exposed as actually being Joey.

Thing is, he really seems to believe he’s Tom, and that he “went out into the desert a long time ago and killed Joey”. He tells his wife it took three long years for him to kill Joey.

But then the bad men started coming to town, and the routine he adopted to kill Joey was disrupted.

Eventually Tom, as Joey, has to kill his own brother in order to have the option of establishing a new routine, become an entirely new person, so he can be accepted by Tom’s family.

So, to recap, Joey adopts a routine and becomes Tom, Tom’s routine is badly disrupted, so in order to save his family, and himself, he has to adopt pieces of Joey, then must find a new routine to become a new person.

Which is what I’m being forced to do.

When the manic depression was untreated, unmedicated, I was Joey (without the body count). When I entered into treatment I had to find a new routine to replace the one established for so long by the disease. Eventually, with a lot of hard work, I gradually became Tom. I took my version of Joey out to the desert and shot him three times in the chest and twice in the head.

The routine I developed wasn’t perfect — it left me with very little contact with friends and family — but it was effective and, after six or seven years, I broke the routine established over fourteen years by the manic depression.

I write a few thousand words a day; I never buy more than a day’s worth of milk and pop, so I always have a reason to get outside, even if it’s just to the store; I’m in bed at a regular time, I wake up at a regular time; I take my medications; I read three or more newspapers everyday, even if it’s just the sports section… and so on.

There are still some leftover behaviours and some habits I still have to overcome, but the twenty hours of sleeping is gone, the inability to leave my apartment is gone, the suicidal thoughts are gone, as are the feelings of worthlessness. Mostly thanks to finding a safe routine.

Unfortunately my routine has been crumpled up discarded like a pop can under a truck tire.

Just to finish the analogy… I feel confident my Joey-self is still under control, but I also feel like my Tom-self has gone completely off the rails.

The routine I had adopted to break the bipolar cycle took a shitkicking last year, with my girlfriend’s high risk pregnancy. The 3am trips to the hospital because we thought she was having a miscarriage, the six hour round trip bus rides to visit her in the hospital when she was held overnight in Ottawa, trying to keep her focused off her pain and on the baby.

I spent a lot of time looking after my girlfriend, but I still managed to find a few evenings to myself every week. I could still write at night, and recover during the mornings.

When our son was finally born, and my girlfriend was on maternity leave, we developed a schedule that allowed me to slide back into my routine. Our baby spent his nights in his mother’s apartment, then we shared most of our afternoons and evenings together as a family.

But a few months ago her maternity leave stopped, and she went back to work. And that was the end of my routine.

I cannot stress enough how important finding a routine is for someone with a mental illness. It ranks right up there with medications, proper sleep and therapy. Adopting a new routine means discarding the ones associated with the disease. It’s like moving out of the crack house you’ve been living in for the past decade.

It’s like an alcoholic finding a route home that doesn’t take them past the liquor store.

I have also been dealing with issues surrounding long term abuses in my family. But at no point over the past eight months have I felt like my problems with my mother and grandmother were taking away from my recovery. They were depressing, but not overly so… I wasn’t losing any sleep over my decision to keep my son away from my grandmother.

My girlfriend’s work schedule, however, has left me exhausted every day. Especially now that she has moved to the other side of town. So my daily schedule works like this now:

5:30am my girlfriend brings our son to my apartment, change his diaper and give him a bottle.

6am I fall back to sleep.

7:30 – 8am: change diapers, feed baby.

8:30am: baby and I take quick nap

9am-11am: keep baby occupied and fed until my girlfriend gets home

11:01am-noon: my girlfriend has a nap

Noon-3pm: I fall back to sleep

3pm-4pm: try to wake up

Then I spend the evening with my girlfriend, make her dinner, or order out, we watch television, play with our son, do stuff until she falls asleep. Then I try to unwind, and by 12:30am I’m ready to write something, which is unfortunate because by 1am I’m exhausted and heading for bed.

Three to four hours later I’m waking up to change a diaper and cook up a batch of baby formula.

Nowhere in there is an hour to two to take photos, or an hour or three to write something…. anything, a blog post, an email, a comment on another blog.

When I was untreated I was living with three or four sleep periods every day — either I was sleeping in two or twenty hour increments. A steady sleep pattern is vital to recovering from manic depression, there’s no way around it. Currently it feels as though I’m living in one hour to three hour chunks throughout the day.

So I’m equally as exhausted throughout the day. And I know that’s supposed to be the natural state for a new parent, I get that. But I’m not a normal new parent, I’m the new parent who has only recently found a routine that prevents me from seriously considering killing myself…

It took me six or seven years to develop that routine, to find and build a safe place… and that routine is gone now, and I’m having a hard time developing a new one that includes the things I’ve used to define me for most of my life.




About Gabriel...

...diagnosed with manic depression when I was nineteen, for the next 14-years I lived without treatment or a recovery plan. I've been homeless, one time I graduated college, I've won awards for reporting on Internet privacy issues, and a weekly humour column. In 2002 I finally hit bottom and found help. It's now 2022, and I have an 8-year old son, and a 12-year old son... I’m usually about six feet tall, and I'm pretty sure I screwed up my book deal. I mostly blog at saltedlithium.com....
This entry was posted in Bipolar, Bipolar Disease, Bipolar Disorder, Clinical Depression, crazy people with no pants, Depression, Health, Living With Depression, Living With Manic Depression, Manic Depression, Mental Health, Pregnancy and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Losing the routine that saved me from manic depression

  1. zoom says:

    It sounds like your days (and nights) are very fragmented. Technically you might even be getting enough sleep, but it’s all in bits and pieces. I don’t know if this would work for you or not, but would it be possible to consolidate things at all? For example, go to bed at 11:00 instead of 1:00 so you get a longer solid stretch of sleep, and then use Victor’s morning nap for writing instead of sleeping? I guess I’m just suggesting that you experiment to find the best way to sync your life and your needs with Victor’s.

  2. william wallace says:

    Reading Grandmothers words it seems she
    still retains some working brain cells. Why
    you can’t understand what she says / as to
    respect what she says / being (realy) silly
    on your part. / Your conduct should be far
    more respectful toward her. The next time
    seeing her give her an hug & kiss from me.

    Such nonsense that you will keep your son
    from granmother /realy but beggers belief
    what a very childish attitude / its shocking.
    Make it an priority that grandmother sees
    the child as regular as she wishes /make it
    a first priority / not a action that you avoid
    because your behaviour/ be that of a child.


    Onwards to that which i intended in mainly
    comment (i was distracted due to your very
    indeed (appalling) attitude to grandmother.

    However getting the train back on the track
    that which called *mental illness being much
    misunderstaood // In the sense rather than
    mental illness what one’s experiencing / but
    an very tense period where one’s structure
    of the brain be altered/where it being more
    capable in expansion / that it then abled to
    take aboard far greater experience /as that
    of understanding within far greater depths.

    The normal development of the brain in main
    at such an pace it causes little / if any concern
    however such never always the case / where
    in many cases / individual pass through very
    very tense times in their brains development.

    It somewhat like example of an person having
    work done to the home/ a door replaced as an
    window being replaced /thus have to deal with
    an bit of inconvience for a short period of time.

    Where another person having work done to the
    home. However it much more than inconvience
    in their case. The electricity needing re-wiring
    the roof of the house needs complete replacing
    all floorboards taken out/ eplaced by new /etc.

    Thus the difference betwixt such normal brain
    development/ as tense periods of development
    for one a pace easly dealt with / for the other a
    very tense periods in their life / having to face.

    The answer to all problems where one turning
    the senses inward / thus bringing an unfolding
    of the spiritual self / in such all questions that
    related to purpose / meaning of life answered
    even one’s questions not yet asked /answered.

    In spiritual development one needs guidance of
    a spiritual teacher. /In present times humanity
    be blessed with Prem Rawat not only a spiritual
    teacher. He a teacher of teachers /the very best.

    On PC search put (words of peace) site showing
    a selection of videos of Prem Rawat speak upon
    the art of meditation the turning of ones senses
    inwards / allowing bringing the unfolding of self
    where ones spiritual being not based on ideas as
    beliefs / but in understanding /ones experience
    brining a clarity of knowledge in ones knowing.

    PS. for a human taking unto meditation is as an
    duck taking unto water /it but a natural course.

    PPS. In regard to grandmother put bad feelings
    emotions aside / let bygones be bygones / don’t
    hold unto past bad feelings / they just rot inside
    causing self more harm than the intent for other
    more so where bad feelings /emotions in coming
    from ones own misguided /very poor judgement.
    Some say THE PEN mightier than THE SWORD
    in my opinion An HUG mightier than them both.

    • Gabriel... says:

      Hello William, thanks for commenting on my blog. My grandmother calls my grandfather an “idiot” and “stupid” almost daily, because he had several small strokes a few years ago, and his brain to mouth wires get a little crossed occasionally. She also physically abused, and mentally tormented my mother for decades.

      She also manipulated my brother and myself for years, and recently told my brother she hoped his son didn’t look “Asian” because of his wife’s Filipino heritage. And she told me a few months ago my girlfriend and I should have aborted our baby because: 1. it cost too much to have him, and; 2. because he would end up like me.

      Maybe you can “hug it out” with someone capable of saying these things, and hurting all of the people around you, but I can’t.

  3. Rae says:

    I hope that you can figure out a schedule that works both for you and Victor. It’s hard, and the best you can do is keep trying.

  4. markps2 says:

    Going to (feeling) extremes is manic depression. As long as you vent your pain or feelings, talk about it or write about, logically you should not go manic depressive.

    You will find better times again.

  5. Melanie says:

    Life for me has always been plagued with routine changes. It’s not easy by any means. When you start to feel things getting crazy, give little V a big hug (screw your grandma – sorry). You’ll realize that you only have 18 more years of this insanity and maybe, just maybe you’ll enjoy it just a bit more. Breath deeply my friend because the rollercoaster ride your on doesn’t let you off if you volmit. Words of wisdom from an old friend. Take care of yourself.

  6. Jay says:

    Hi Gabriel – My first comment. 🙂 I love the pics that you share on your posts as well as what you write. Life has been quite the roller coaster ride and abuse has robed your self authority but you are on your journey to reclaiming these losses. The wounds that you bear go deep and whilst you cannot change the past nor the way others behave, you seem to be right on the button about making changes your self. Kudos to you! Your courage to withstand being in a rock and hard place so many times speaks of the tenacity of your character. You cannot stand in the same river twice so continue to be mindful and be in the moment; the unconditional love you give your son is being mirrored back to you so let your spirit be buoyed by this; Victor is adorable and you are undoubtedly a wonderful parent. Thanks for sharing…By the way, I highly recommend Feminist Pedagogy An autobiographical approach by Anne-Louise Brookes as well as Feeling Good Together The secret to making troubled relationships work by David Burns. Be well Gabriel.

  7. Pingback: Evaluating My Evaluation | …salted lithium.

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