Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Weight Loss, Adele, and What If We Have It All Wrong?

I just read an article on "The Mighty", a digital health community created to empower and connect people facing health challenges and disabilities, about the big deal the press is making of Adele recently losing weight.  This article so affirmed ideas I have had for years but never thought could actually be true, because society and especially medical personnel, have been saying the opposite.

The article, titled "What to Remember Before Commenting on Adele's Weight Loss" (published mid-December 2019, written by Lexie Manion... https://themighty.com/2019/12/adele-weight-loss-christmas-photos/?utm_source=newsletter_mighty_brief&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_mighty_brief_2019-12-30&$deep_link=true has some amazing thoughts in it.  But by far my favorite paragraph is this one:

"For those struggling with eating disorders and disordered eating, celebrating someone's weight loss uninvited can trigger dangerous behaviors in an attempt to lose more weight.  Some argue that by uplifting or just allowing fat people to exist we somehow promote obesity, which isn't true, yet no one talks about how we clearly promote self-harm through eating disorders and disordered eating when we carelessly celebrate someone's weight loss and nothing else.  It sends a dangerous message to people trying to recover from disordered eating and eating disorders that weight loss of every kind is an accomplishment."

I have been overweight by far the majority of my life - sometimes extremely, sometimes not as much, but I've never been what the charts say is a "healthy weight".  Even the times in my life where I worked out every day or was on a strict diet, I never made it to that magic number.

But until very recently, my physical health has been pretty good - and what I've been dealing with health-wise has had no relation at all to my weight (except for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome - PCOS - which actually could be a cause of my weight issues).  Other than that, for years I've dealt with Restless Legs Syndrome and Mitral Valve Prolapse/dysautonomia, and just being a sickly child in general with many, many ear infections, kidney issues, etc as I grew up, plus a myriad of mental health issues.

I just crossed the line from pre-diabetic to having type 2, but it's still controlled by meds so it's really no different other than the terminology.  I wasn't diagnosed as a pre-diabetic until just a couple of years ago.  My cholesterol was a little bit high at my last check-up - the first time I've had an issue with it at all.  My blood pressure has been slightly high the past few years but those years have been BEYOND stressful so how much of that was weight-related and how much was continuous, ongoing, major stress on top of an anxiety disorder and other mental health issues?

I have two clear memories of the medical field in relation to my weight and this issue - two extremes.  One was a time that I knew I had an ear infection (I have had many so I knew what they were like) and I needed to get antibiotics.  I had new insurance and hadn't established a primary doctor yet, so I went to one of the few in the area that would take me without being established.  He spent the entire visit lecturing me about my weight - and he didn't even look in my ears!  That experience to this day makes me nervous about going to a new doctor and experiences like this have also scarred my daughter concerning the same issue.

The other time was just the opposite.  I was severely depressed at this time of my life.  This doctor mentioned at my visit that my weight was something that we needed to address, but not at that time.  He was much more afraid that I would do something to hurt myself with my level of depression and he knew that adding on the stress of dealing with weight loss could send me over the edge.  (He was very correct, by the way.)  This was the first doctor I ever had who cared more about me than about my weight.

Since then the tide is slowly turning to where doctors don't blame weight for almost every physical problem out there.  I have found a few doctors now that care more about me than my weight issue.  But both my daughter and I both have dealt with this in the recent past so we know that thinking is still out there.

On a quick side note... for most of my life I would put off going to the doctor about anything, even an ear infection, because they made me weigh at each visit and all it did was throw me into a deep depression.  It has taken me years but I am finally at the point where I tell them I don't weight - and the medical field is starting to listen.  I've had to argue with some to get to that point but now I don't let me scale keep me from having other medical issues addressed.

If you are in the same boat as I am about that issue, stand up for yourself.  My point always was, if they can tell me a reason they need to have the number, I'll do it.  So far no-one ever has.  I can understand a child whose amount of medication is affected by his/her weight or a health issue that very directly involves weight gain or loss as a symptom, but not a freakin' ear infection!

Oh - and if they tell you that you don't have to look at the scale but they have to have that dang number, don't fall for it.  One time I read over my post-visit notes after they had said that, and saw the number.  I got so depressed I was down for weeks - all over that stupid number.  Again, know that I've done it for years now and though sometimes I have to argue with them about it, I've always gotten the medical care I needed, even without that number on their charts.

Back to the main issue... I know my eating is a huge problem.  I have said it before on this blog that I am to the point where I am terrified I won't ever be able to fix it - and those health and mobility issues that are just now showing up will get much worth over time.  But it's truly ridiculous for a doctor to bring it up in an office visit where you went in the first place because you thought you had a virus.  Do these doctors not think that we (those of us who are severely overweight) haven't already realized that it's an issue that needs to be addressed?

"The Mighty" author said it so well: "When we assume weight loss is a good thing without the person saying so themselves, we send the message that any lost weight is a win, when in fact, people can lose weight due to stress, illness, eating disorders, taking new medications and a multitude of other things.  This also sends a clear message to fat people that it's not OK to be fat, and that they should lose weight to fit in, too."

This happened to my boyfriend, though, because weight isn't a big issue to him, I doubt he even noticed.  A couple of years ago he was in and out of hospitals for months, extremely ill, while several teams of doctors tried to figure out what was wrong.  He was finally diagnosed with Stills Disease, a rare auto-immune disease similar to rheumatoid arthritis. Throughout the course of that horrible time, he lost about 45 pounds - and he's not a big guy to being with.  When he was finally strong enough to be able to get out and do things, a friend of his complimented him on how great he looked.  

All I could think about was the absolutely nightmarish way he got there - and how I had begged him to eat and drink during that whole time because he was so weak.  It tore me up inside and the one who said it is a big addiction recovery advocate.  Maybe he was just trying to think of something positive to say... but I really wish he would have emphasized how great it was that he was out of the hospitals and on the road to getting better.  If that same thing had happened to someone who was sensitive to eating issues, it could have spiraled them down to thinking that it was better to lose weight, no matter how you got there.

Sometimes I wonder about the future of medical science.  I have already heard one TedTalk speaker say it (Peter Attia - "What if We are Wrong About Diabetes?"  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMhLBPPtlrY )- and I know there are others who are starting to believe it, but what if... WHAT IF... the reason I am so overweight is due TO a medical issue, not the other way around?  What if it doesn't have anything to do with my willpower or the fact that I don't exercise enough?  What if, in fact, diabetes is part of this same underlying medical issue?  What if no amount of willpower or dieting would change the basic underlying make-up of my chemistry and even if I lost weight, the other issues would still happen to me?

I know one result of this thought process... the shame at being overweight would be gone.  The self-hate would be gone too, and so someone in my condition would actually care enough to tackle being as healthy as possible, instead of giving up because who wants to work that hard to help someone you hate?

I dream that one day this will no longer be an issue.  In 150 years I hope that medical science will have come so far that they no longer blame the person for issues that are much, much deeper than something like willpower or being shamed into it fixing it (issues such as addiction, mental health, weight, etc).  I hope that they look back at where we are now and think of this the same way we now wonder how the most enlightened 150 years ago believed that bloodletting was the best way to cure illness.

I still need to lose weight.  I know I have an addiction to food and it's controlling my life.  I know that there are definitely health issues that are directly caused by my obesity.  But people, especially those in the medical field, need to realize that weight loss is not the most important aspect of life.  After all, true health is the goal - not a number on a scale.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas is Here

I have had bad Christmas seasons before - the year I found out my husband wanted a divorce, the first Christmas I had as a truly single mom, the year I lost my job/career and decided to move back home... but this year has topped them all.  The biggest difference between those horrible years and this year is that it never got back.  I wasn't able to muscle-through and at least try by going through the motions.  I just couldn't work it up to care enough.

I chalk this up to major depression and some life events happening this month.  I haven't put up one decoration and have barely done any Christmas shopping.  I haven't gone to one Christmas party or event (well, with the exception of watching my daughter's college choir in their annual Christmas event - but I felt numb through the entire program).  My daughter and I make Christmas cookies together almost every year (very few exceptions), but that didn't happen.  We didn't even watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas" together - which is a staple for the two of us.

To top it off, my family Christmas is always on Christmas Eve because my daughter goes to her dad's the afternoon of the 24th and is there all day on the 25th.  So our Christmas Eve is the 23rd and our Christmas is the morning of the 24th.  Well, she had to work on the evening of the 23rd and I had a support group meeting I needed to go to.  So no Christmas Eve stuff happened.  Then I woke up with a bad headache, nausea, and some abdominal pain yesterday - on the 24th.  This has never happened before, but I didn't even have my daughter's Christmas gifts wrapped (she was basically the only one I bought for this year that needed to be wrapped).

It took all day to make myself just get up long enough to wrap those gifts (one was big and heavy and really difficult to wrap).  My daughter has never been one to wake up early to open presents (even as a little kid she preferred to sleep over seeing what Santa brought).  This year, though, she was in the same boat as me, except that she had done a little bit of decorating earlier in the month.  Yesterday, though, she was as depressed as I was - and so she didn't come down until late afternoon.  This gave me time to wrap the gifts before she came down.

I don't want to go into details, but the evening just got worse as it progressed.  I hoped that I would wake up today feeling better, but I don't.  Right before the nearest grocery store closed last night, I did have the foresight that I might feel this way - so I bought some snacks for my daughter's trip and some junk food to eat today.

Yes, I know that this is completely opposite to my goal of recovery through OA.  Yes, I completely realize that I am medicating my feelings with food.  Only a few times in my life have I bought alcohol to drink at home - and those were more for others.  But last night I did think about trying to get drunk, just to make the pain go away.  However, I'm too broke for alcohol so Little Debbie cakes and chips and queso made the cut instead.

Once more, it's a blog without a moral, without encouragement, without help for those of you in the same boat.  But then again, maybe it's not.  There is no great story about how I stayed sober with my food addiction through this hard time.  There aren't some helpful tips on how to make it through this kind of crap in a healthy way.  There's nothing positive about this post.

But... maybe you are in the same boat I am.  Maybe life circumstances or mental/physical health issues or finances have meant that this season sucks.  Maybe you are also by yourself and just like me, all you want is for this day to be over.  I might not be able to encourage you except to say: you aren't alone.

Mixed-State Ultra-ultra Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder Type 2 Is...

Mixed-State Ultra-ultra Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder Type 2 is...

... See the lists for "Depression Is...", "Hypomania Is...", and "Anxiety Is...", combine them, and have them pop up randomly at any time of day, any day.

Sometimes scenarios off of 2 or even all 3 lists can show up at once.  Sometimes it's more than one scenario from one list all hitting at the same time.  Sometimes in the morning, you start with scenarios from one list then at some random point in the day, change to another.  Sometimes you can stay on one list, cycling through many of the scenarios on just that individual list for days, weeks or months.

The only thing you know for sure with this disorder is that no matter how you feel at the moment, that feeling will eventually change with a different scenario or list heading your way.  Though it's possible for it to change into stability, even then it's temporary.  The lists will return with a vengeance.  Medicine, therapy, support groups, and supportive friends and family can keep you in stability longer, but there will be a point where it leaves and the lists attack again.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Mania/Hypomania Is...

Mania/Hypomania is...
... talking way too much and even though you feel embarrassed doing it, you can't stop;
... not being able to get to sleep;
... not being able to stay asleep;
... waking up way too early;
... having amazing ideas for all of these life-changing projects, but not being able to focus enough to finish any of them, or even really get started on them;
... feeling at the top of your game but in the back of your mind knowing can't trust that feeling;
... working non-stop without stopping to do basics like eating or getting something to drink;
... having medical conditions like restless legs syndrome amp up so that you are miserable while you are working non-stop;
... having anger issues that you can't seem to control;
... dealing with constant thoughts, usually negative, that you can't silence no matter what you do;
... not being able to stay on a topic of conversation;
... being distracted extremely easily;
... spending more than usual;
... having to really, really struggle to maintain sobriety in areas of addiction that you thought you had overcome;
... increased energy, but not necessarily in a positive way - more like a constant restlessness.


Every one of these scenarios is something that has happened, or continues to happen, to me.  I have come a long way in that now I usually am able to recognize how crazy the thought is and not get totally wrapped up in anxiety over it, but it's still there and is often still a fight.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Depression Is...

Depression is...
... knowing how relaxing a hot bath would be but still putting it off as it's too much effort;
... recognizing that there's one task for the day that has a deadline, and even though it should only take about 10 minutes to finish and submit, still putting off getting it done;
... not caring about how you look;
... not being able to plan ahead, like what you need to buy at the grocery store so that you can make meals for the next week;
... forgetting something someone just told you;
... not wanting to get out of bed but also not being able to sleep while in that same bed;
... feeling "foggy" all the time, not being able to focus or concentrate, becoming very ADD but only for that time;
... not being able to decorate for a holiday, or at least not wanting to;
... realizing that your addiction is killing you but not being able to stop doing it, again because it's too much to even figure out where to start;
... viewing your work as horrible, even when it's almost constantly praised by clients and employers;
... crying over something very tiny going wrong;
... not being able to laugh at a comedian who you used to laugh so hard it hurt over;
... not being able to enjoy going on a date with someone you love;
... not being able to get your normal amount of work done because you just can't concentrate;
... getting angry over stupid stuff - things you would normally take in stride;
... having an extremely difficult time scheduling anything - from doctor's appointments to things to do with your family;
... having to fight negative thoughts all of the time;
... not caring about, well, much of anything.

Every one of these scenarios is something that has happened, or continues to happen, to me.  I have come a long way in that now I usually am able to recognize how crazy the thought is and not get totally wrapped up in anxiety over it, but it's still there and is often still a fight.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Anxiety Is...

Anxiety is...
... heading down a staircase, imagining what the fall would be like and wondering which time it will actually happen;
... seeing a large nail or other sharp protrusion coming out of a wall and thinking about the scenarios for your head hitting it and having a major injury or dying;
... waking up in the middle of the night with some strange symptoms, looking them up to make sure it's not a heart attack (even though you've looked them up many times before), seeing you don't have even the unusual symptoms of a heart attack, but still not being able to go back to sleep because what if it is, in fact, a heart attack;
... having your boyfriend not answer your text for an hour and, even though you know he's probably just taking a nap, letting the fear freak you out - being sure that he's injured or dead;
... looking on a tracking program (our whole family does it) late at night and seeing that your adult daughter is at an unusual location and, even though you look up the area and find out a restaurant is nearby, can't let the obvious scenario be that she's eating there and instead thinks something happened to her;
... checking your bank balance and seeing that, for once, you made enough money to pay all of the bills for the month with a little leftover but all you can think about is that something could still happen to the car to wipe out that extra, plus more;
... noticing that someone you work with is treating you differently and, even though you are 99% sure that it's something going on with them (like a family issue, etc), you just can't shake the fact that maybe it's something you did;
... going to a party with people that you know and love but still find that once you get there, you are paralyzed with fear and hide out in an unused room for the majority of the event;
... overhearing that a diagnosis you have could possibly lead to another condition that could possibly cause major vision or hearing impairments and so you decide to start learning braille and sign language, just in case (this was at about 10 years old);
... observing that something fragile is near the edge of a table and automatically seeing it crash;
... watching your pet walk differently and have 20 different horrible outcomes (both with the pet and financially due to vet bills) even though he jumped down from a table funny last night and chances are huge that it's just a sprain;
... walking on an uneven surface, such as cobblestone, and not being able to stop thinking about how injured you could get if you fall...

Every one of these scenarios is something that has happened, or continues to happen, to me.  I have come a long way in that now I usually am able to recognize how crazy the thought is and not get totally wrapped up in anxiety over it, but it's still there and is often still a fight.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Making it Through the Holidays with Addiction and/or Mental Illness


No matter where you are in your sobriety or mental health journey, the holidays won't make the urges to turn to your addiction or make the symptoms of your mental illness go away.  Social media and television portray holiday parties and family gatherings as wonderful, fulfilling, stress-free times.  In fact, they are just the opposite.  For an addict or someone who struggles with mental illness, the stress of the holidays can be the trigger to bring even someone who has gotten more healthy into going back into old behaviors. 

I'm not a doctor or therapist but I did some online research to try to find any tips that might help during this difficult time of year. 

Following are some suggestions that might help:

- BEFORE the holidays hit, make a plan.  Studies show that stress can bring long-dormant behavior back.  Get with your sponsor or another support person and plan for those stressful times.

- Remember that you aren’t alone.  We are all dealing with staying sober or living with mental health issues. If an addict, keep in mind that turning to your addiction is only a temporary fix.  Reach out to fellow addicts when you have a low moment.  If you are someone with mental illness, also reach out if you feel like you can't handle your symptoms.

Call someone - preferably a fellow addict or another person who deals with mental illness.  Keep phone numbers with you for those low moments when you want to drink, use, act out, or you just need someone to listen.    
        
Remember HALT - Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired – are common triggers.  Figure out ways to deal with them beforehand.  Remember that you need to get adequate sleep and nutrition through the chaos of the holidays.  Phone calls, meditation, escape, or distraction can help.  Slow down and don’t overbook yourself.

- Release resentments before going to family gatherings or parties. The #1 reason for relapse is due to resentment.  Before seeing the ones you may still have resentments against, get with your sponsor and try to work through some of those feelings.  If you aren't an addict, think about forgiving some of those that have hurt you before you deal with them.  Remember that forgiveness is much more about you than about the other person.

- “Bookend” events with planned calls.  Have someone call you before and after an event to check on you (and get you out of an event if needed).  Friends and family could be triggers and you might need help escaping or dealing with the stress.

- Have an escape plan.  Limit time in stressful situations.  Make sure you have a way to leave if needed (and that your car isn’t blocked in).

- Relax your standards.  Don’t compare yourself, your home, your party, your family… to others’.  Progress, not perfection.

- Avoid isolation.  If going out of town, before you leave, find support groups that you can attend while you are gone.  If you are alone and isolated, shame and boredom can make it harder to stay sober and more difficult to handle your mental illness.  If you are alone during the holidays, find people to be around.  Addicts... keep in touch with your sponsor and continue working your program.

- Don’t feel obligated to discuss your addiction or mental illness with friends and family.  However, just in case, be prepared with answers to uncomfortable questions.  Role-play conversations/interactions with a safe person if you feel they could be especially difficult.

- Serve others.  One of the best ways to be stay sober is to serve others.  For those with mental illness, if possible, try to put the focus on others' happiness instead of your own.  See how you can help at a family gathering or party.  Visit a shut-in.  Help serve food to the homeless.  Write letters to the military or those in prison. Take the family’s kids out for a treat.

- Make time for physical exercise. Exercise releases endorphins that can help.             

Oh... The Holidays...

Every year around the middle of October I start to dread what is to come: The Holidays... Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas - the trifecta of guilt, bad memories, and stress.

All of my memories of this time of year weren't bad.  I guess Halloween was ruined first.  As a kid, I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia.  I could still have sugar (this was before they equated carbs with sugar), but had to only eat it with something to slow down the spike in blood sugar that would later lead to a glucose low.

Reese's became my favorite candy during this time, and it still is.  The peanut butter has protein and fat, which helps slow down that surge of sugar from the chocolate that would run through my veins.  Halloween to me meant getting all of the cool different types of candy and then trading pretty much everything for the few Reese's Cups my brother got.

Maybe it happened and I forgot about it, but I don't ever remember ever going crazy on candy after Halloween.  I had to dole it out slowly.  It did cause me to save it, savor it, which was probably a good thing, but I became jealous of my friends and brothers who would eat all they wanted (at least until parents or a stomachache made them stop).

It took much longer to put the pieces together on why I have hated Thanksgiving since I was little. I'm just now figuring it out.  It was a combination of things... too many people in too small a space; being compared to cousins that all seemed to be prettier and wealthier and more popular than I was; cigar smoke that made me gag; but mostly it was the food.

For the majority of people, food is the best part of Thanksgiving.  While a child until probably in my early 40's, I was never one to love the traditional Thanksgiving foods: casseroles, ham, turkey, green beans, yams/sweet potatoes, etc.  I ate them only because I was hungry as there were no other options.

I also ate because of one other major reason I grew to hate Thanksgiving - social anxiety disorder.  Looking back, I had it since I was a young child but didn't know anything about it until around10 years ago.

I just recently learned how these two things fit together to make Thanksgivings horrible for me.  I recently admitted to myself and on this blog that I'm a food addict/have an eating disorder.  Food is often how I cope when I get anxious, especially in social situations.  So I was put into a social situation that I couldn't handle, with food that I didn't like, and I was plain old miserable.

Though I now like many Thanksgiving foods, my social anxiety has gotten worse as I've gotten older and so it's balanced out.  Plus, the older I get, the more I feel guilty when I use food to help my anxiety, which just adds to the anxiety (fun cycle, huh?)

But Christmas... Christmas was the last one to go.  As a child I really did love most of Christmas.  My mom was a perfectionist and some things, like wrapping presents or decorating the tree, were never done good enough, but I loved the whole mystery of Santa coming and going to neighborhoods to see the light displays and putting on Christmas plays and choir performances.

It was still okay as an adult, even though it was harder when I didn't have a baby nearly as quickly as I wanted to after getting married.  The first year or two after you are married, it's novel and fun to just be with your spouse, but for me at least, I wanted to start Christmas traditions with my child(ren).  It took a painful nine years for my daughter to be born and after it happened, I could hardly wait for her first Christmas - and the many to follow. 

Then something I had never imagined possibly happening did... my now ex-husband decided he no longer wanted to be married.  We pretended to be a family during holidays for the couple of years of separation but it was strained and stressful.  The first year after the divorce I didn't want to even decorate.  A friend spoke up, saying that I needed to do it for my child, even if I didn't feel up to it.  So I went through the motions for her, while stuffing down the deep depression I felt.

I think that's when going through the motions started.  It just never seemed "right" after that.  As my daughter got older, I really enjoyed watching her in plays and choir performances and we did have some Christmas traditions that we both enjoyed, but mostly I have felt numb.

A few years ago, some major, life-changing events happened, and on some levels, I'm still reeling over them.  Because my daughter's favorite time of year is Christmas, I think I was able to make it off her energy during those years to make it through the season.

This year has been different.  I've been even more depressed than usual and my daughter has been going through her own, major, life-changing events.  She has been anxious and stressed, as have I.  So we are now at December 13th... with no decorations, no plans (my daughter and I used to decide around Thanksgiving each year a plan of all we wanted to do and see during December), and no desire to even try.  If I put up even a mini-Christmas tree, without any ornaments, it will be amazing.

I...
Just...
Don't...
Care...
This...
Year...

Sorry to be such a downer.  I usually work really hard to share on this blog how I've overcome my struggles... or at least how I am working to overcome them.  This year - I just don't know.  I'll let you know if/when something changes.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Post-Thanksgiving Thoughts... (trigger warning about food addictions)

The day after Thanksgiving...  I always have regrets.  Many people do.  Most revolve around eating or drinking too much, or staying out too late, or spending more on Early Black Friday sales than they should.

I have regrets every year.  Mine almost always involves thinking about how I failed at coping with the day and trying to think of ways to cope better next year.  Sometimes the regrets do include how much food I ate or the kinds of food (ie - desserts), though since I'm not a huge fan of most Thanksgiving foods, I'm more likely to eat too much pizza than during a Thanksgiving meal.

Thanksgiving is a horrible day for someone with an eating disorder.  Even though I'm technically not in recovery, as I haven't committed yet to working a program for food addicts, I know I'm close to making that decision.  I'll be honest in that I actually plan to wait until Christmas is over to do so.  I know that's not the smartest move, as one more month of literally feeding my addiction means I'll be even deeper into my addiction before I start to take steps, but I'm just not ready for such a big step at such a hard time of year.

That didn't keep me from thinking about how it will be different next year - and the rest of my life.  The Thanksgiving foods that I do tend to eat are probably ones I'll have to avoid in recovery.  I'm 99% sure that desserts will be out, even on holidays.

I went to a support group meeting this week and of course, they discussed Thanksgiving.  It's probably the worst day of the year for most of those in recovery.  The summary of the meeting was that the main thing to remember is that Thanksgiving needs to be more than about food - it needs to be about the people you share the holiday with.

Okay... that's a problem.  I also have social anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder.  To be frank, I eat because I don't want to be social.  It's a way to cope.  Yes, it's an unhealthy way, but it's the best way I know how in that situation.  I also cope with social anxiety by bringing my camera and shooting the get-together, but most people don't like having their pictures made while eating, so I can't really do that then.

The bipolar disorder just means it's hard to plan for the day.  If I'm manic, I tend to be better on the social anxiety front.  However, most of the time, my mania is not the fun, euphoric kind.  I almost always have dysphoric mania, which is basically anxiety mixed with mania.  (Note... it's not a fun day at the beach).  So if the anxiety is overwhelming the mania, I may talk to others but then I constantly worry that I sounded stupid with what I said.  If I'm depressed, well, of course, it's hard to deal with people as it was just hard to get out of bed and get going.  My depression also always includes at least a little anxiety too, so when I don't talk to others, I worry about the repercussions of not being social.

I am learning that my food tastes and habits change according to my bipolar cycles also.  I literally have had the same food taste different depending on if I was depressed or manic.  So that, of course, plays into a plan for attacking the "How to Cope on Thanksgiving" food issue.

I talked to one other person with an eating disorder who purposely shows up late so that she doesn't have to deal with the eating part of the day nearly as long.  I thought that was a genius idea until I tried it... and realized that my ethic of being on time is so ingrained that I felt horrible for doing it.  Maybe with time, I'll realize that putting my needs above the societal norms in this situation is the healthiest and best thing I can do for myself.  I'll just have to work on it.

My family is well, family.  Just like I do, they have both good and bad traits.  But for various reasons, I don't feel I can talk about my mental health and addiction issues with my family.  I know for a fact that they don't understand or really care to try to.  Family gatherings are one of the places I feel very stigmatized.

I am thankful I now have my very supportive boyfriend there with me because in the past I always handled it alone.  But even with him being there, I still felt like I need to apologize for my existence. I know that I have these mental illnesses which makes me not a lot of fun at parties... I know they aren't my fault.  But I'm still learning how to handle it when I know this but no-one else does - and they all blame me for being a downer.

No matter what, I'm glad it's over.  I know I handled it badly... I was moody and I'm sure I wasn't fun to be around until later in the afternoon, after I got my camera out, ironically.  (It honestly didn't help that I woke up with a horrible headache; I can't shake this cold I've had for weeks; and that I felt generally cruddy when I got there, but I shouldn't have let all that rule my day.)  I guess at this point I need to just know that there's nothing I can do to change yesterday and to hopefully remember some of this when it comes to Thanksgiving 2020.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

A New Diagnosis... and Hope

I have mentioned my daughter on this blog several times.  I have several mental and physical issues that I deal with... my daughter has more.  She has fibromyalgia, dysautonomia, generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and has a few addictions.  This semester at school has just about taken her out.  It has been very difficult for her to deal with, to say the least.  But Friday something happened to give us hope...

Her old rheumatologist was a wonderful woman and we are thankful for her helping us figure out what was going on.  However, she is pretty old-school and has resigned herself to saying that there's nothing that can be done for the pain of fibromyalgia, except for narcotics, which she won't give to a young person, especially one with a history of addiction.

This all makes sense but when my daughter is in so much pain she can't make it to class AGAIN, I always have to wonder if there is the possibility of something else out there that could help her.

Well, after the debacle of trying to make it through this semester, I became determined to find someone who could at least attempt some type of intervention for her pain. I asked around for recommendations (and was pretty discouraged by hearing that most people weren't getting help).  However, there were a few doctors that I heard about that I thought we could try.

The first one not only seemed promising, he was in my area of town.  So we did all of the work to get a referral sent to him by her primary and then we tried to make an appointment.  Many messages were left before we finally found out they don't even treat fibromyalgia.  So it was back to square one.

Another round of trying to figure out which doctor we wanted to try.  I settled on one, made sure insurance covered his office, and then got another referral.  Most rheumatologists have a several month wait for an initial appointment, so I wasn't holding my breath that she would be seen before the end of the year.  I was wrong.

My initial call for an appointment was I think last Tuesday.  I about fell out of my chair when I heard the receptionist say that someone had canceled and there was an appointment available this past Friday.  WHAT?!  I was so excited. 

It was a relatively early morning appointment, which is really hard for my daughter right now, but I told her I would drive so that all she had to do was get up and put clothes on and stumble to the car.  So Friday morning arrived and we left.

It was hard to find the office and it had been there awhile - it had that tired look about it.  On the surface, I wondered if this was the best choice.  But then my daughter noticed some of his awards - things like "Best Doctor in 20..."  He had received many.  I again had hope that maybe this could be good.

My daughter went back for vitals but then came back out into the waiting room.  I had read some reviews and they all said the wait was long but was worth it, so I was prepared for that.  It was long - but oh, it was so worth it.

We finally got back to a room and the doctor came in.  He was older and seemed nice.  He sat down at the desk in the room and started asking my daughter questions.  It wasn't like an interrogation - more like a get-to-know-you kind of thing - but the questions seemed pretty random.  He never mentioned her current conditions or asked about her pain. 

After maybe 3-5 of these seemingly random questions, he opened a desk drawer and rifled through some papers.  He pulled one out and handed it to us to read.  It was a condition neither of us had ever heard of and a list of symptoms/associated diseases. 

He went back to asking questions but we could see he was asking about the items on the list.  She either had almost every item or had something similar.  It was so strange because many of them didn't seem to be related.

So she has a new diagnosis: "Joint Hypermobility Syndrome".  It really doesn't tell us much as far as treatment goes, but it's interesting how all of these unrelated aspects of her health actually go together.

So that was interesting but the information given really didn't tell us what could be done to help her go back to school without major pain. 

Then he said the words we both had been wanting to hear but didn't think we ever would... "I have something that should help."

I almost fell out of my chair.  What?!  There's a medicine that will actually help her?  While he talked I didn't know what to do - part of me wanted to cry with relief, another part wanted to shout, another wanted to get up and dance.  I ended up just sitting there with tears in my eyes, listening.

He explained that there's a non-narcotic pain reliever that works for those with fibromyalgia at really low doses for some reason.  It is a compounded medicine so insurance won't cover it, but it's not that expensive.  Most big chain pharmacies don't compound medicines but thankfully the local one we use does.

We weren't able to get the prescription turned in until the end of the day Friday and they don't do compounding on Saturday so tomorrow is the earliest we can pick it up.  Over the weekend, the doubts began... what if it works for most people with fibromyalgia but not with her?  But I worked really hard to quelch those doubts and hope.  It will take a few weeks because you start on a low dosage and move up, but maybe, just maybe, it'll work and she'll start to be able to actually live without pain.




Monday, November 18, 2019

When Those You Love are Hurting

I write this blog from both the perspective as someone who deals with these things personally and as someone who has several loved ones who also deal with these issues.  Right now the latter is tearing me up inside.

My daughter has several health issues - mental and physical.  As anyone who deals with these issues knows, the mental makes the physical worse and vice versa.  In other words, anxiety from an anxiety disorder can cause physical pain.  If you already have a condition that causes pain, like fibromyalgia, add anxiety to the mix and it's a lot to deal with.

She is currently in college and was hoping to do something really special next semester - one of her big dreams.  However, this semester has been truly horrible for her. 

Right before the semester started, she hurt her back badly - so badly we thought for a while that she would need surgery.  Instead she "just" needed physical therapy 2x-3x a week by a specialist in this type of injury... and the only one in our area was over 30 minutes each way from our home.

Due to fibromyalgia and dysautonomia that she deals with, mornings are very hard for her in the best of circumstances.  Given her extreme back pain on top of it and having to take time for physical therapy and... let's just say that she started off already behind in her classes this year, missing many classes and being in so much pain she couldn't concentrate on schoolwork.

As soon as she started getting behind, the stress started mounting.  The added pressure of getting ready for the study abroad experience she has hoped for years she would be able to do added stress, which increased the pain and symptoms of her health issues.  Then the pain increased her stress.  You can see where this is going...

She has stumbled along, fighting with everything in her, to even barely make it through this semester.  Even with all of the work she has done, her grades right now are pitiful.  She's an A/B student and it's entirely possible she'll fail, even though she's worked her tail off.

It's...
Just...
Not...
Fair...

Due to miscommunication, not caring, or just not understanding, her professors this semester have added to the struggle by not following her accommodations that were already set in place.  Her medications aren't the right ones, or aren't enough, but she's been struggling so much to deal with school that she hasn't been able to focus on getting those corrected.

I have been stressed and hurting along with her.  It's been a real roller-coaster ride - where we thought she would get to go and then something would happen that would put a kink in the works.  Then that would work out and we could get excited only to have another kink.  I can't tell you how many times this has happened this semester concerning this experience.

So last Friday she finally committed to going no matter what.  I got in high gear and finally started on all of the many details that we have been planning but were waiting for a final confirmation before we actually started doing.

Then everything changed.

I don't want to go into detail on how it happened but Friday afternoon she realized that even though she can go, it just might not be the best thing for her to go.  Because I know how much she's wanted to go, I know I've pushed her, probably more than I should have.  I thought that if she could just make it there, everything would somehow be okay.

With this realization, I felt like my heart was being torn out (because it's all about me, right?)  Really, I just hurt so much for her, knowing that this dream could come to an end because of these stupid diseases that we just can't get a handle on.  Co-dependent?  Of course, I am.  I'm a momma.  When she hurts, I hurt.  Maybe one day I'll get healthy and get boundaries and be able to handle it better when she hurts.  But for now - I'm a basket-case.

I have been all weekend.  I was already in a low cycle with my bipolar disorder and can't seem to get rid of this stupid cough, which exhausts me on top of my regular always-tired feeling.  So I especially haven't been in a place where I could separate myself from her pain this weekend.  But feeling her pain isn't helpful because I couldn't take it away... she was hurting too.  And I know there's nothing I can do about it.

Sometimes I get so bitter about the fact that my little girl can't just be a regular college kid.  She has to put so much energy into just getting through life, she has nothing left for fun.  But even with all that, she gets lumped into a group with the college kids who just party and don't care about class... I know that's at least a partial factor on why her professors don't cut her more slack.

Anyway, today we gave up.  She hasn't made the final decision, but it looks like she is going to ask for incompletes this semester because trying to get everything done before finals is stressing her out so much that we are seriously worried about her possibly having a complete breakdown.  Then most likely she is going to take the next semester off from college completely, to get her health straightened out.

With this plan, the hope is that she will go back to her current college next fall and will be able to attempt again to do the study abroad experience the next spring.  This will put her a year behind on graduating from college, but she will still get to fulfill her dream.

I wish so much that I could just fix it - make it all go away.  In the meantime, even though I fail more than I succeed, I'm going to keep trying to be supportive of both her health needs and her dreams... and try my best not to let the supporting her dreams get in the way of her health.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Failure?

It's been a very busy few weeks.  I'm a professional photographer and when the work is there, I have to take it.  Who knows when I'll get another job?  In the past two weeks, I have been blasted with work, which is a good problem except that I totally wore myself out and got sick.  I've had a bad cold for the past week and it continued through a massive 3-day out-of-town shoot I had earlier this week.  When I got back home I hit the bed and haven't been out of it much since.

Today I decided I wanted to get out of the house.  I really don't think I'm contagious and my coughing is at a minimum, especially when I'm sitting up, so I wasn't worried about infecting anyone.  So I decided to go to a social activity I've been looking forward to attending for a few weeks.

Background... One of the things I've been doing lately is learning sign language.  This is something I've been trying to learn since I was probably about 10 years old but for various reasons have never been able to get fluent.  Even though this is an extremely busy time of my life, I found a wonderful (and free 😉) ASL -American Sign Language - class at a local church and it's been so much fun finally being able to feel confident enough to talk to those who are deaf.

Recently I started attending the Deaf Church held at the same location as the classes.  So far I love it.  It's small and the people are very friendly and extremely patient with my bungling ASL.  Well, this church was invited to eat Thanksgiving dinner with another Deaf Church in the area and I was told they would love for me to come too.

It was today.  Actually, it's still going on.

Obviously... I'm not there.

I went.   I'm proud of myself for going.  My boyfriend was supposed to go with me but he had something else he had committed to that he remembered at the last minute.  I thought I had met enough people from the Deaf Church that I would be okay going by myself.

But when I got there and saw not one person I knew, it was too much.  I hid in another room for about 30 minutes while I texted a couple of those I had numbers for and tried to get my courage up enough to go in.  When one said she wasn't going to make it and the other didn't answer, I decided I couldn't do it and left.

This has happened before - it's not just because it was a group of people with whom I would have to work at communication.  Two times come to mind: 1 - I went alone to a Christmas party with people who had been dear friends for years.  I don't know what triggered it, but I ended up hiding in an unused room so that I could cry and be alone until I got up the courage to leave.  2 - I went alone to a Women's Conference that I had heard wonderful things about.  I did okay for the sessions because I could sneak into the back and just listen, but when it came time for lunch, I couldn't make myself walk into the room and sit with a table of strangers.  I had a small panic attack in a side room before the main eating area started to clear out and then I was able to go in and eat.

The obvious common denominator of these 3 instances is that I went alone.  However, it's happened before if I've been with someone.  So that isn't it.

I realized about 10 years ago that I have social anxiety disorder.  When I read the description it explained so much!  But at the time I remember wondering why there were those times that I was almost paralyzed with fear in a social situation and why other times I was okay.  (I was never "great", but I could hold my own in some instances.)

About 6 months ago I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.  After learning more about the characteristics... Mind blown!  So much more made sense at this point, like an answer to the "why" in the above scenario.

Back to today... not only am I in a low cycle with the bipolar (in other words, depressed) but I also am coming off a physical state of exhaustion from illness and overwork.  I knew this when making the decision to go.  My desire to get out of the house and try to be social overcame my fear of it not going well.

So maybe it's not actually a failure.  Yes, I wasn't able to stay.  Yes, I ended up in a room by myself crying when others were socializing.  Yes, I drove 30 minutes there only to turn around and drive 30 minutes back home without getting to use my ASL skills, learn more signs, or meet some wonderful people (and possibly even have fun).

But I did go.  I didn't stay in bed and worry about whether I could do it or not.  I wasn't paralyzed before even getting out of the door (which has also happened in the past).  So even though the day wasn't exactly the success I had hoped for, calling it a failure isn't right either.  It's just one more step in getting better... and that's okay.





Thursday, October 31, 2019

What a Wonderful Day!

I wrote this in 2004 when I was living in Tennessee.  It's a very busy time in my life right now so I thought I'd post something that was very important to me, even though it was a long time ago.


Saturday evening...
Wow.  Now that I'm back home it's hard to believe that it really happened.  I went on my first hike in years!  It was so hard but so wonderful.  I wrote this stuff in my journal so that I would be able to remember this day and I'm pasting it here for your reading edification.  :)

Get a snack, go to the bathroom, get settled in a comfy chair - it's not short - but I think the time that God provided for me today is so great that I just had to share...


The views of the river and the mountains on the way there were so beautiful!  I will have to go back; it was prettier there than in the Smokies.

I originally was going to go on the hike and then meet my best friend to spend the rest of the afternoon with her.  When I finally realized it just wasn't possible to finish in time to meet her, my phone had no service. Just a few minutes later (after I said, "Please, God"), my phone had service. So I was able to call her and tell her that I wouldn't be able to make it (which allowed me to not worry about rushing).

I originally missed the trailhead and ended up going over the North Carolina border (this was not amazing or profound, but was interesting - I went to another state today!)

Right after I finally found the trail I looked ahead and saw that the way was blocked by some fallen trees.  It was really tempting to just leave, but I decided to push through.  (This was a theme throughout the entire hike).  It wasn't difficult once I got there to climb over the trees.

I started out so excited and super-confident in my ability to make it - especially after I "overcame" the trees.  At first, the trail was easy... level... mostly beaten down.  I went through an area of complete silence - the only thing I could hear was the rustling of the trees.  I saw a patch of rhododendrons that had to be 20-30 feet high.  Once I saw a beam of sunlight not far off the path; I felt the urge of the Lord to go and stand in it.  It was scary to sept off of the path but it was no neat to look up through that virgin (according to my guidebook) forest and see the sun through the one hole the trees allowed.  It was like twilight on most of the path - except for those patches of sunlight that would pop up occasionally.

Not long after stepping off the path, the trail began to get harder, steeper, with more mossy, slippery rocks and roots.  I was probably a 1/3 of a mile in by this time.  There was mud in the trail that I had to work around and sometimes just had to step in.  I had to go under a tree and over another one that was blocking the path.

Then about halfway in it got really difficult.  It got so steep that I was terrified (I'm scared of heights).  God kept reminding me that He would take care of me, but I kept thinking about falling and hurting myself so much that I wouldn't be able to make it back to the van.  But I had peace and kept going.  I said out loud, "I need a walking stick."  And right then I looked down and saw one that had been discarded by someone (I hadn't seen it before).  I was still scared but I decided to go down this really steep part.  When I looked at the path ahead, I literally couldn't see a way to get down certain parts of it.  But as I walked, with each step I took I could see how to get through the next part.

I walked through streams, where I had the thought/fear that I would slip and soak my shoes, making walking the rest of the trail very difficult.   But my feet stayed sure on the rocks in the streams.  I did slip once but it wasn't in one of the streams and I didn't fall; I was able to catch myself with my walking stick.

- I finally made it to where I could hear the falls.  I was getting weak by this point and decided I had better take a break.  I ate my crackers and drank part of my water, and finally made myself get up - after all, it was just around the corner (or so I thought).  But instead around the corner was the steepest part of the trail yet.  I could not see a way to do it.  However, I had come too far to go back.  It took all my resolve but I started.  I had to use the walking stick as a balance point and halfway down I broke it.  At first, I started to panic (how would I ever finish without the stick?!), but then I realized that it broke at just the right place to become an even better height for me.  So I made it down that steep part - to a place where I could see the falls.

I was so disappointed.  The "Falls" that I had walked so far to see was just some water trickling through some rocks.  I took a few pictures and then took a drink of water before heading back.  As I took the drink I looked up... and saw the Falls.  They are so beautiful!  I then realized that the trail continued to the real viewpoint that I had read about in my guidebook.  but I had to cross a large stream that flowed from the base of the falls.  I really debated with God about continuing!  I was very tired by this point and even after I made it over this stream, I would have to go up an area that was as steep as I had just made it down.  I felt God say, "Go," so I finally decided to go.  Even though this point was not the base of the falls, I got a great view of them from there (one day I'm going to go back when I'm more prepared and can make it the entire way to the base of the falls.)  I took more pictures and chilled out for a minute.

I saw another group of hikers at the falls.  (I had suspected there was another group on the trail but I wasn't sure).  When I noticed that they were getting ready to leave, I started back.  I knew I was pretty tired and a tad dizzy and I didn't want to be behind them (just in case I did fall, I wanted them to come upon me).  I pushed myself too hard... going down the steep part was hard, but going back up was even harder, especially as weak as I was getting.  I had to take frequent breaks and when I felt the Lord say, "Rest", I would rest.  (Something I realized about myself, though - I had to take a few more steps and reach another goal int he path ahead before I could really rest.  I'm going to have to work on obeying immediately, even if "my goal" isn't met.)  This group did pass me, but just as they did, another group passed heading towards the falls.  So I knew I could slow down my pace and not worry about being completely by myself.

The trail back seemed so much longer than the trail there.  Like I said, I had to rest a lot.  It was scarier too because I was a little lightheaded at this point.  But what choice did I have?  I could make it back or sit down and quit (not really an option).  So I made it, one step at a time.  One thing that was really wild was that when I finally did make it back to the first half)the level, somewhat beaten down part), it was really hard to walk!  I was so used to stepping up or down that I could hardly walk on a level path.  I finally made it back to the rhododendrons, then the trees that I had to go over and under, then the trailhead.  I MADE IT!!!

I shared this lengthy novella because God's provision was so wonderful.  He is so faithful!  He led me to do something I've desired to do for a long time, gave me the time and strength to do it, and provided during the process.  At the risk of super-spiritualizing everything, God did show me some really great truths:

- That the whole "one step at a time" bit isn't just a cute idea.  I wouldn't see how I could walk on the path ahead of me until I got up to the hard place - and then EVERY TIME there was a way - over, under, around, through...

- That sometimes I have to step off of the beaten path in order to stand in the light...

- That God will provide extra help when I need it (my walking stick). And even if something about that help needs to be broken or changed, it will still be enough.

- That it's easy to think that I've made it to the end and assume that what I first see is all there is (when I thought the falls were nothing but a small drop-off in the stream).  But then when I looked up, I was able to see something spectacular.

- That I can make it through a really difficult path and then have the easy part be as hard because I'm having to compensate differently because I'm already tired of "conquering" the hard stuff.  I had to adjust myself for the path and just continue walking (the flat end of the trail where I could hardly walk).

- But mostly God showed me that I can make it through something that is too much for me to handle on my own (I now realize I really wasn't in shape to do this) WITH the Lord's help, guidance, and encouragement.  he cares about my desires and He fulfills them!  Isn't He a wonderful God?!


Sorry to sermonize.  This has been one of the most awesome days of my life and I just really wanted to share.  May God with you on His paths in order for you to see something spectacular!

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

To All of the Professors and Teachers of Those with Invisible Illnesses:

I know that, overall, you are compassionate people and really do try.  You chose to work with young adults.  I don't think that you chose teaching just because you like kicking people when they are down.  I'm sure you feel you are doing the best thing for everyone when you don't honor a student's accommodations so that you can "be fair" to the other students.

But there are some things you may not realize.

You may not believe that these students have actual medical conditions because when you see them, you are usually seeing them at their best - on the days they are able to make it to class and get their work done.  There are many medical and psychological conditions that are cyclical.  A student might be fine for a month or more and then have a flare-up that's so bad she can hardly get out of bed.  Just because a condition isn't there 100% of the time doesn't make it not real.

You also may not realize that often those with invisible illnesses are great actors.  They work hard to cover-up the fact that they feel bad.  So even when they do make it to class, they might be a huge internal fight just to make it through the class time and learn something - and it's possible you would never know how hard they were struggling while sitting right in front of you.

It's easy to think that someone who consistently is late to class or doesn't show up is lazy.  There are many students who are.  High school and college kids ditch class all of the time.  You probably think your strict attendance policy is to help them show up.

But for those who have diagnosed mental, physical, or mental and physical issues, it's a totally different ball game.  You see, my daughter has several "invisible illnesses".  She has fibromyalgia, dysautonomia, major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder along with some other issues.

You don't see her crying because she's hurting so badly that she can't stand up to pick out her clothes for the day.  You don't see her not eat because she is nauseated from anxiety because she's behind in her schoolwork.  You don't see her try to "be normal" (for once) and go to a sporting event during a school break only to have it wipe her out for days afterward.

I understand that you probably have many in your classes that don't care.  They don't care what they learn; they don't care what grades they make; all they care about is hanging out with friends and partying.

I can't speak about every student with an invisible illness, but I have known several.  Generally, they are incredibly hardworking and care so much about doing a good job and making great grades, even with all of the obstacles they deal with daily.

These young adults have more than the average number of doctor, therapist, and specialist appointments that take time away from attending class and getting homework/studying done.

Not going to class is a necessity at times for these kids because they literally can't deal with the pain or they literally aren't able to concentrate.  They know that if they make it to class, they will be held accountable for the information so sometimes they are absent because they know they won't be able to retain what was said.  It's better to wait and get the notes later when they are able to focus.

Anxiety increases with every class missed. This starts a horrible cycle: Class was missed so the notes have to be obtained, which takes time and effort.  If there are questions about the lecture or assignment, a peer or professor has to be contacted to make it clear.  If there was a quiz, test, or in-class work done, time outside of class must be found to make it up, which takes much more time and effort than just doing it in class.  If there is a test review, these students miss this important benefit.

Spending time catching up from the missed class(es) means there may not be enough time to get the new homework or studying done before the next class.  So even if able to get to the next class, they are behind.  They are trying so hard to catch up but "brain fog" (yes, that's a real thing) won't let them concentrate.  New material is much harder to comprehend if they haven't been able to fully understand what was discussed earlier.  The anxiety increases, which makes it harder to focus on catching up and usually makes the underlying condition worse, getting even more behind.  And the cycle continues...

Think about it logically... Why would a formerly good student choose to do all that extra work day after day if it wasn't necessary?   Yes, some students get to high school or college and decide that fun is more important than grades, but those students also don't work constantly to try to make up what was missed.

This cycle is complicated further when a student feels that the teacher or school won't understand and thus doesn't feel comfortable disclosing a disability or accommodations. In this situation, the student struggles alone.

These students with health issues essentially have to teach themselves the material.  I don't want to offend, but it seems like some of the best professors and teachers automatically assume each student who isn't on time at every class is lazy and doesn't care.  In many cases, that couldn't be further from the truth.

Another argument I sometimes hear is: "When they get out in the workforce there won't be those accommodations."   I understand this point.  As a mom, I am concerned about this point.  I don't want my daughter to rely so much on her accommodations that she won't be a good employee or have a great career.

But there are several problems with that argument.  One is that an employer is paying you to work; in college, you are paying for the education.  The school is essentially the employee.  So the school should do what the student (employer) needs in order to get the training needed to later enter the workforce.

Along those same lines, when these young adults go out to get jobs, they can look for jobs that could accommodate their needs.  Jobs that include working from home, gig work, freelance, or those with flexible work hours are becoming more popular these days.  Will these young adults always be able to get these jobs that will work around their disabilities?  Maybe not, but if they know that there is no way they can work a typical 9-5 job, then they'll have to figure that out.  Penalizing them while doing what it takes to get a degree won't automatically mean they will be able to work a standard job later.

Another problem with that argument is that a young adult is just figuring all this out.  Most would agree that being a teenager or young adult can be a difficult time of life in the best of circumstances.  Many young adults with chronic mental or physical illnesses aren't diagnosed until the late teenage years.  Even if diagnosed as a child, learning to deal with these issues on your own is entirely different than when your parents or teachers were there to help you.

Think about a 10-year-old diagnosed with diabetes.  At first, his parents and teachers help with managing the disease.  So by the time he gets to college, he should have experience in watching what he eats, independently testing his blood glucose, and figuring out how much insulin to inject.  But in college he has to also be in charge of making sure he stays on top of ordering insulin; that he gets the supplies needed for testing and injections; that he knows what is going to be served at the cafeteria or an event so that he can bring something different if needed; and that he knows how to inform his teachers and other peers about what to do if he has an issue.  This is a lot to handle for someone who has already been dealing with it for years, but it's even more so for someone just diagnosed.

If you find out that you have a chronic condition that even doctors don't fully understand or can fix when you are a teen or young adult, it makes this already difficult time of life much, much harder to navigate.  This age group doesn't have the life experience to know how to navigate the medical system; in fact, many don't know how to make a doctor appointment on their own.  When you find out you have a life-long condition that is manageable once the right therapy is found (which could take months or years) but isn't curable, it makes getting a homework assignment done on time not as much of a priority.  Give this student a few years working with doctors and specialists and management might be a whole different story.

I know that you want to help all of the students you are teaching.  Please remember that these young adults deserve the same education that the others do, even if it takes more effort to give them that education.  Work with them within the limits of their accommodations.  Recognize how hard it is for them to make it to class at all, instead of looking down on them because they were late.  Make them feel comfortable about coming to you when they run into issues because of their diagnosed conditions.  Listen to their concerns about their grades and their later careers being affected by something they don't understand and can't fix.  Above all, trust, support, and validate that you realize that they are trying as hard as they can... just like everyone else.

Sincerely,
Just Another Mom of a Hardworking Young Adult with an Invisible Illness

Monday, October 7, 2019

Autobiography in Five Chapters by Portia Nelson

This is one of the best portrayals I've seen about the struggle of recovery... 
...and how you finally win.

I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost...
I am hopeless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I'm in the same place.
But it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in...it's a habit
My eyes are open; I know where I am;
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Eating Addiction Support... Finally

In the midst of everything else going on right now, I don't think I mentioned something that could be more life-changing than anything else I've written about.

First, I want to tie it to the theme of this blog.

I have mentioned before that I am extremely overweight.  I won't put a number on it since I honestly haven't weighed in a very long time - and with my mental health issues, hearing a number puts me into an even deeper depression than usual.  It's not worth it to know a number. However, you can imagine it as more overweight than anyone you know but not as overweight as the shows where people are practically immobile (closer to the first than the last).

As a stigma, eating too much is both the most accepted addiction because so many events center around food and the least, as it's one of the few addictions/mental health conditions that society and public figures can make fun of without any backlash.

There isn't an overt stigma in most of society but the stigma is still there. I have no doubt that I have had things held against me just because of my weight.  There are jobs I know I'm qualified for and was high in the running for - until a face-to-face interview.  I could go on but I won't.  But it is definitely an area that in many places, you are "welcomed but not accepted" (the tagline for my blog).

I have been on diets or other weight loss methods from the time I was little until I was in my 30s.  However, I would gain weight and then would lose it, only to repeat the cycle over and over.  You know the saying about how if you can do something for 2 weeks, you'll replace the old habit with a new one?  Well, I'd keep up "being good" for months, only to still relapse.  Now that I know I have bipolar, I wonder how much that played into it, as I have realized I eat differently when depressed than when manic.  It doesn't matter; no matter why it happened, it consistently happened.

So I finally gave up.  I thought that maybe I'm just going to be this weight and there's nothing I can do about it.  The only problem is that I haven't stayed that weight.  I haven't gained a lot at a time, but even a few pounds each year over many years eventually makes a big difference, especially if you aren't thin to begin with.  For a while now I have been in the "I'm worried" stage.  Recently due to some joint and other health issues, I'm to the "I'm terrified" stage.  But even that won't make me change, which gave me a realization.

Over the past couple of years, some ideas started to come together.  My daughter was diagnosed with an eating disorder and I realized at that point that overweight people can have eating disorders.  I also realized I'm a sex addict.  After becoming abstinent from that addiction, I realized that at those support meetings I was starting to substitute "food" for "sex" in all of the readings and the shares.  When I did that, everything in my past concerning food would start to make sense.

It's just like any other addiction... some people have no issues with dieting and when they decide they want to lose weight, they have the willpower to stop.  Just like my sex addiction, I realized I am powerless over this thing without help (and not just help from a nutritionist or from the latest diet fad).  We're talking major, gut-wrenching, get-a-sponsor, 12-Step, with consistent-support-group-meeting-attendance help.

I went to a few meetings with the group that met where my daughter got treatment.  Nothing against them, but I didn't see any success in that group.  I need success.  I have got to know that it could work for me to even think about trying again.

Once again I gave up.  I was still terrified about this addiction but I thought that maybe I could work on it when I finally got completely through the 12-Steps in the other program.

Knowing how important support groups have become to me, I finally looked for and found a mental health support group in my area to get support with my bipolar disorder. When I was successful in finding a mental health group, I decided to try again and look more into eating disorder help. I finally found a group that I thought would meet my needs. I looked up the meeting time and shockingly, it was a night I was available.

So I went.

Just like when I went to my first support group for my other addiction, I knew these were my people right off the bat.  They struggled with not only losing weight but keeping it off.  They knew it was deeper than breaking some bad habits or a willpower issue.

I walked out with mixed emotions, though.  I was really happy to have found this group.  There were people who had success.  I had a little bit of hope which is something I had completely given up on having.

But I knew that it was going to be hard.  I mean HARD.  I know how hard it was to become sober from my other addiction and that one I had picked up later in life.  Though I know addictions are progressive, I got support for sex addiction very early, when it was impacting my life but not incredibly. It "only" took a few months to become sober in that addiction and I've now been sober over 18 months.  But being addicted to food is something I've dealt with since I was a toddler - about 50 years of addictive behavior.  I have no doubt that it's not going to be easy - and I remember how those few months becoming sober from that addiction were FAR from easy.

Plus, as I've written in other blog entries, my life is almost as far from settled as it can be.  I am not living in the kind of conditions to be able to successfully undertake such a huge endeavor.  I also realized I just can't wait.  I have to start now, even if it means only taking baby steps.

I couldn't go to the next meeting but went again this past week.  The same thing happened: feelings of both hope and despair.

Those feelings were amplified when I went to an all-day retreat yesterday.  So much hope.  So many stories that I could relate to.  So much validation that I'm not alone in this struggle.  So much love and support from complete strangers.

However, so much fear.  So much wondering how I can do this given my current mental, financial, living, and emotional state.  So many conflicting feelings.

By the end of the day, I was exhausted, much more from this mental merry-go-round than by anything physical.  For once I was thankful for the terrible heat because it wasn't really an option to do rideshare last night.  I went to my boyfriend's place and chilled out.

I'm still wondering how to do this.  Honestly, I'm still wondering if I can do this.  But I know I have to try... one day at a time.


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Another Pity Party

It's time for another pity party, even though I don't have cookie dough for this one.  If you read my last post, you'll have at least some idea why.  But it basically comes down to:
I'm living in a house with...
- my mother who deals with mental illness and lots of physical conditions;
- my father who deals with mental illness (though mild) and lots of physical conditions;
- my daughter who deals with mental illness, addiction, and lots of physical conditions; and
- myself, who deals with mental illness, addiction, and lots of physical conditions.

I'm trying to be a partial caregiver (thankfully none need full-time care at this point) to all 3, as well as take care of myself.

Last night I went to an Overeaters Anonymous support group for the 2nd time.  My other addiction was, frankly, relatively easy to overcome, because it came up later in life.  It wasn't easy, by any means, but compared to overcoming compulsive eating, I'm sure that becoming sober in this other area will seem like a walk in the park.

I've been a compulsive eater as long as I can remember.  Looking back, both the undiagnosed bipolar disorder and food addiction contributed to why I could never stick to a diet.  No consequence, no intervention, nothing worked to keep the weight off.

Now I'm horribly overweight to the point where it terrifies me.  I now know why I haven't been able to diet before, which gives me hope that there is an answer to my weight issue.  But that does not mean it will be easy.  I know it's gonna be a lot of really hard work.

Here's where the pity party comes in... I know that everyone in that support group deals with some amount of crap.  All addicts have crap to deal with, a good bit of their own making.  But I just can't imagine that anyone in that group has dealt with all that I have in the past few years and still do on a daily basis - career loss, home loss, moving to another state, caregiving to 3 people who need help but also have some independence (which makes it harder), bipolar disorder, severe anxiety, major financial issues, and lots of dysfunction in my home.

Right now I am going to a therapist every 1-2 weeks and three different support groups every week to help with these issues.  But that alone adds an issue - time.  When you are self-employed, time is money.  The therapy appointments can usually be scheduled when I wouldn't be working much anyway but the support groups that I can attend are all set times, and some of those times would be good for rideshare work.

However, I know that I have to do this right now.  I know that my finances may continue to go down the toilet, but I have to get better.  I can't wait anymore.

But is letting my finances go a smart thing?  My daughter's issues are compounded by the fact that she also has to work. Usually, I say it's a great thing for 20-year-olds to work, but she already has so much to deal with that it would be so much better for her to be able to just go to school and concentrate on learning and have some time to be a kid.

I guess it doesn't matter if it's a smart thing or not.  It is.  That's where I am in life.

I guess this is a perfect time to bring in the Serenity Prayer:
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

The majority of the stuff I wrote about is stuff I can't change.  I need to stop focusing on that and focus on the little bit I can change.

Since one of those things is making money, I guess I'll have to call off the pity party so I can work.  I'm sure there will be more later you will be invited to.

You can email me at spotlightonstigma@yahoo.com if you want to invite me to a pity party of your own.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Why Even Try?

I really am trying to stay as positive as possible with these posts.  They are supposed to be encouraging... helpful.  But today I just have nothing left.

My daughter has chronic pain from some medical conditions as well as clinical depression and anxiety disorder.  On top of all that, she hurt her back about a month ago and has been in lots of pain off and on for that issue.  This all is with the start of a new semester at school.

I can't remember off-hand but I'm pretty sure I have blogged that I haven't been able to do rideshare much lately due to the heat. Also, I haven't gotten much photography work.  Finances are always an issue but it's at the "I'm terrified" point now.

After a long time without a credit card, I'll admit I got one recently. I was only going to use it for purchases that I could easily pay for within the month; purchases that I had to make (like doctor copays, etc).

Well, these little expenses are adding up and the work, though starting to come a little, is still not enough.  The heat just won't break.  It's almost OCTOBER and it's still in the 90's most days.

Because my daughter's pain lately has been really flaring up, she hasn't been able to work much either.  But last week she was able to work some... and I was able to do some rideshare.  Things were looking up.

But - the breaking point for us was last night.  She had about $250 stolen from her wallet.  She was going to deposit it last night after work.  That much money is a big deal when you are struggling like we are.  I decided to do rideshare in the heat today because we need the money so badly but only got one ride.

It just seems like we can't catch a break.  I so wish I could say I was strong... that I'll get through this like some of the other crap I've dealt with in my life.  But I'm so tired; so very, very tired.  I don't want to fight anymore.  I'm trying but I can't see how it's "gonna be okay".  Today I just can't.  It just seems like nothing we do makes a difference.  I seriously am wondering why we should even keep trying.