Today is one of those days that I wonder if there is hope for this journey. I woke up feeling down but that's nothing new. However, I also had a bad headache. I took meds, waited just a bit for them to kick in, and started working at my desk.
The meds seemed like they took care of the headache and I live most of my life with an underlying depression, so I still had a small amount of hope that I would be able to accomplish some things today. One item on my calendar was a therapy appointment this morning. With the way I feel right now, therapy is probably where I should be. However, as I started getting ready, the headache came back with a vengeance. I ended up rescheduling the appointment at the last minute.
After I finished rescheduling with my therapist, an overwhelming wave of depression came over me and I just cried and cried. I finally made myself stop, as the crying was just making my headache worse.
I have had clinical depression off and on since I was a teenager but those moments of overwhelming sadness don't happen that often - at least not the kind where I cry uncontrollably without an obvious reason. Also, right now is one of those moments I just can't seem to reach out for help. You see, when mental health issues are messing with me, I'm always worried I'll burn my friends and family out because I share so much. Plus, there are those times that even though they love me, they (through no fault of their own) just can't understand where I am. When that happens, I often feel worse because I feel like I not only burdened them with my junk, but I didn't feel validated doing so.
I feel so hopeless at the moment. I keep trying to figure out this thing... to try to make it better and manageable. I know this is probably not the place to do this, but I just want to list some of the junk I deal with to show you what I have to overcome (or to show myself that it's a lot and I don't need to feel shame that I'm not handling it well):
- RLS (restless legs syndrome) - This affects how well I sleep, which is a huge issue for me. Because I take medication for it, it also has side effects that greatly affect my daily life, like sweating/heat intolerance issues.
- Sleep Apnea/Insomnia - I have tried 3 different sleep specialists and many different treatments over about 20 years. However, I have major sinus issues as well as regular insomnia that cause a CPAP machine to be extra difficult for me. Last year I was so hopeful when I had sinus surgery to fix a couple of the problems and thought that the CPAP would work after I healed. The surgery didn't work, at least not to the extent I thought it would. I still can't use the dang CPAP. It's one of the things that terrifies me because I know how sleep apnea can lead to so many other issues in the long run, like heart trouble, and of course, it affects my daily life. Every... Day... I'm almost always tired.
- Major Weight Issues Combined with an Eating Disorder/Addiction - I am extremely overweight. I have tried diets, pills, exercise, prayer, support, a combination of those... I'll lose weight only to gain it back again, plus more. I finally realized what was going on after my daughter was diagnosed with an eating disorder (she's also overweight... I hadn't realized you could have an eating disorder and be overweight). In addition to my other addiction, I have a food addiction/eating disorder. Think of it this way... Some people can drink a few beers and stop without an issue. An alcoholic literally can't, no matter what consequences may be on the horizon. An addict's brain is just different. It's not a matter of willpower for me to lose weight. It's like a drug that I'm addicted to and it's going to take major work to overcome it. I'm not saying drugs are easy to stop for addicts, but at least you can avoid being around them in almost all circumstances. Food is necessary for life. That means that in many ways, a food addiction is much harder to control than a substance addiction. I know my weight is slowly killing me. I'm not diabetic but it's inevitable if I can't figure this out. Hip and knee replacements are in my future if I live long enough. Heart disease, stroke, and so much more are huge dangers. Even knowing all this, I'm an addict. The threat of consequences isn't enough. But the fear is still there.
- High Blood Pressure and a Fast Heart Rate - I take meds to control my blood pressure and I was prescribed meds for the fast heart rate but the side effects were so bad that I stopped taking them. Stress affects blood pressure. I have rapid-cycling bipolar disorder; a major anxiety disorder; I live with my parents; am a single parent to a daughter in college but who lives with us; I just got over a bankruptcy; for the first time in my life have a horrible credit score and no credit cards as a buffer if there's an emergency; lots of physical and mental health issues; and am trying to get a business going. I don't think my life will ever not have a lot of stress.
- Living with My Parents - This was a mutual decision when my career went into the toilet (due to issues from the bipolar, though I didn't realize it at the time) and the fact that due to their own major health problems, they needed someone around to help out. This causes so many issues. I was a single parent for about 15 years before I moved back in with them. In many ways, though, they still see me as a child. I had a house and car that I owned and that I maintained without help. I had total independence. Then bam! I move back in with my parents and I have no control over anything. I know they love me and they are amazing for allowing me to work freelance, which means less money to contribute to household expenses, but it's very much their house, not our house. I feel like an eternal guest. I have to constantly, immediately, clean up after myself if I use the kitchen or living room; I can't let it go a day or two like I would at my own home. My mom buys way too much food and so there's no room for anything I want to buy. This complicates my and my daughter's eating disorders immensely. I should be cooking at home and eating healthy foods but there's no room to put them when I buy them (and my parents and my daughter and I have very different tastes). Or I'll buy them and they'll disappear before I get a chance to cook with them. I feel like I'm already an imposition on my parents' lives just living with them without paying rent so I hate to mess up their clean kitchen by cooking. Plus, my mom has control issues (like me) and won't leave me alone to cook in peace. I understand that everyone has their own way of doing things, but it makes it especially hard to cook when I'm being criticized for how I'm doing it, as I'm doing it. Privacy is also an issue. It's gotten better, but for the longest time, my mom would just come into my bedroom or study without asking me. Then she started ringing the doorbell I put outside my area (I have like a little apartment with a bedroom, study, and bathroom), but still expected me to say she could come in any time she wanted. Finally, about a month or so ago I made a "Do Not Disturb" sign to say when I'm working and that unless it's an emergency, please wait. (I told them this many times but before the sign, it didn't make a difference). To add to this, the cat door is in my bedroom window so I have to leave my bedroom door and the swinging doors that lead to the rest of the house at least partially open. I can't ever close or lock those. I feel so much guilt and shame that I'm not able to help more - either financially or around the house. It takes so much work, especially when I'm depressed, to just get what I need to done and I'm always just barely making it financially - I don't have anything left to help them as much as I'd like to. I do some things and try to contribute financially when I can but I know it's not enough. This guilt wears on me constantly.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder/Panic Attacks - So many things get blown out of proportion for me. It's weird. I'll know I'm doing it, but I can't seem to stop it once the thoughts start running through my head. I've had times where I have been worried - what I experience with anxiety is not "worry". If I'm having a really bad day with anxiety, it often leads to panic attacks. And get this - I figured out one of my biggest triggers for having a panic attack... and it's not getting enough sleep! These are the kinds of things that make me feel like I'm screwed and it's never going to get better.
- Social Anxiety Disorder/Social Phobia - On top of the regular anxiety disorder, I also have social anxiety disorder. Of course, this complicates all kinds of relationships, but especially professional ones. Cold calls aren't easy for the majority of people to do... they can paralyze me. One of the jobs I do is rideshare (like Uber and Lyft). Talking to a rider often leads to good tips. Some days I just can't do it. Other days I do it but it absolutely wears me out. Picking up the phone to make a call can be an incredibly anxious time and sometimes that call doesn't get made. It also causes me to be unreliable. I've been invited to more than one party or social function that seemed like a great idea at the time, but when it came time to go, I froze. I've spent time at parties literally hiding because I couldn't deal with people. I suspect that part of this is due to the bipolar but it's a very debilitating part.
- Dysautonomia - Dysautonomia is a dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system in your body. Basically, that's the part of your body that controls everything that you don't think about doing - breathing, pupil dilation, digesting food, heart rate, blood pressure, insulin regulation, etc. It's different for everyone but for me, I get dizzy more often than the average person; my heart rate is normally too high (not sure if that's dysautonomia or caused by something else); I have vision issues that fluctuate; and I have breathing issues. The breathing issues are especially fun... I sometimes forget to breathe. This is partially due to anxiety but it can happen anytime. My boyfriend is great at noticing. He'll lightly hit me on the arm and I know to take a breath. This is the main issue with sleep apnea - not breathing regularly during sleep. But this is when I'm awake. The dysautonomia is also associated with the panic attacks, as I was diagnosed with it after having several panic attacks. This is another complication that my mind just spins when I think about it. One symptom of dysautonomia is low blood volume. Another is that you get dehydrated easily. Because of that, when I was younger I drank a homemade sports drink concoction a lot. But now, I have high blood pressure and swelling of my legs and feet when I'm at my desk for a long time, so I'm supposed to watch the salt intake. Speaking of that...
- Hypoglycemia/Pre-diabetes - When I was young, I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar, kind of the opposite of diabetes). Ironically, it's treated the same way diabetes is treated, with a diet low in sugar and carbs. So when I said I drank a homemade sports drink, the reason it was homemade was that Gatorade and similar drinks at that time only were made with sugar. I couldn't drink lots of sugar, so I made one with saccharin. It was nasty, by the way. But now, with my weight, my age, and my poor diet (the eating disorder doesn't help), this has flipped into pre-diabetes. I am still able to manage it with diet and meds but it's creeping closer and closer to Type 2 Diabetes. This scares me but, like the weight, even the fear doesn't help me fix it.
- Vision Issues - So... I'm a professional photographer. My eyes are my life. Thus this is also terrifying... I have major dry eye issues. I also have very poor vision and even though I'm only 51, I have early cataracts. Here are the fun complications for this one. I mentioned earlier that I have heat intolerance. So I use ceiling fans, other fans, and the air conditioner in my car a lot in the summer. All of these blow into my eyes, which make the dry eye worse. So I have to choose to either be too hot, which is hard on my physical and mental state or let my eyes dry out. I have had stents put in my tear ducts, tried expensive eye wipes and prescription drops, and nothing really works. I wear contacts because I can't use my camera with glasses. However, because of the horrible dry eye, I have to wear daily disposable contacts, the most expensive kind. The expense of these kinds of contacts affects my stress level and my anxiety. In addition, I use the supplement melatonin to help with my sleep issues. But I found out it can make dry eyes worse. Aaaarrrrrggghhhh! However, I have to keep my eyes as healthy as possible because photography is the key to one day hopefully being able to support myself again.
- Bipolar Type 2 Disorder, Rapid Cycling - The more I learn about bipolar, the more things make sense about my life and my past, like why I act the way I do even when I don't want to act that way. And the hardest thing to realize is that it affects everything else. I always wondered why, for a while, I was able to stay on a great exercise schedule and diet and get much healthier, only to not be able to keep it up. There are, of course, environmental factors such as schedule changes that account for some of that and I realize it happens to everyone to some extent, but it happened a lot to me. I now recognize that when I was manic, I could exercise and I wasn't craving carbs as much so I could deal with all this. But then depression hit and I was doing good to make it through everything I had to get done in a day, much less keep a low-carb diet going. In fact, looking back, most of the good changes I made in my life not even relating to diet would never stick because of this cycle. Now I'm rapid-cycling. I see no way to deal with something as daunting as overcoming a major eating disorder/food addiction until I'm stable in the mood department. But I see no way of getting stable until I can do some of the things that the experts say will help - like healthy foods and exercise.
- Medication Resistance - I did the genetic testing twice to figure out which meds would be best to try for some of the mental health issues I deal with. (The 2nd one was because new meds have come out since the first one - not because my body chemistry had suddenly become different.) Both times very few "good likelihood" choices for medicines were listed that will help. I have tried most of the ones on the good and okay-to-try categories to no avail. All have major side effects and/or just didn't work. One made me incredibly suicidal. That was terrifying. I knew I didn't want to die but while on that med, I still wanted to kill myself. I also am one of the unlucky ones who has even worse side effects when withdrawing than I have while on the medicine. I stayed on an anti-depressant that wasn't helping for years because I was scared of the withdrawal, which was hell when I did finally decide to do it. Furthermore, I have serotonin toxicity syndrome. I probably don't have enough serotonin in my brain, which is one reason I am depressed, but if I get too much due to the effect of anti-depressant medications, I can have major side effects, which can be fatal. I finally went to a psychiatrist who specializes in those with medication resistance. She told me that a lot of the research is showing now how much diet literally affects the hormones that affect mood. So once again, if I could improve my diet, I might get better. But I can't seem to make myself improve my diet until I get better.
- Finances - I already mentioned how finances affect my stress and anxiety levels. What I didn't mention is that it's expensive to have chronic physical and mental health issues. Doctors and therapy visits, prescription medications, supplements, and other treatments all add up. Many times I've had to let a treatment go, cancel a doctor's appointment, or stop using a medicine because I just couldn't afford it. I have and have always had good insurance but it's not enough. This stuff adds up. On top of the expenses that pile up higher and higher, there's the loss of work that accompanies these issues. I work probably at least 50 hours a week most of the time, but a lot of it is unpaid or underpaid. For various reasons, being available for medical appointments as one example, a full-time job is not a good option for me right now.
There are many, many other smaller aspects of my life that play into this craziness, but I have already written enough for you to get the idea. Every part of recovery I deal with is affected by another part of my life I can't change at the moment. When I think of this stuff I feel like I'm trying to just excuse why I won't do the work to get well. It's... Just... Not... That... Simple... There is only so much energy, money, and resources each person has. I've tried tackling these issues one at a time but each is so intertwined in other parts, that I can't conquer it. I've tried attacking groups of things, but individually they would be hard for anyone to overcome and I just don't have enough strength to conquer multiple issues at once. Some things I just can't change right now, like living on my own so it would be a little easier to cook more and eat better. Many things I'll never be able to change, like having bipolar disorder.
I know this was long, but I hope it helps anyone who feels this way - so overwhelmed with multitudes of issues you just don't know where to start. If anyone who reads this doesn't have all these issues, #1 - be thankful. And #2 - be compassionate. The word "struggle" just doesn't even come close to describing the lives of those who deal with all this.
#SpotlightOnStigma #SOS #WelcomedButNotAccepted #Stigma #MentalIllness #Bipolar #Addiction #SingleParenting #Alone #NotAlone #Depression #Anxiety #EatingDisorder #SuicidalThoughts #OCD