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