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.


Saturday, September 21, 2019

Realization About Progress Not Perfection

This is not the first time I've realized this and I'm sure it won't be the last.  Maybe that's part of having a mental illness - I don't know.  But when I think about it, I vaguely remember being in this place before. The fact that I don't know for sure is another issue that I probably should be concerned about... if I had the energy.

For over a year now I've been going to my current therapist, anything from weekly to twice a month.  We have made some real breakthroughs and I've learned a lot from her.  She's an incredible counselor, understanding yet tough.

My realization today came from a form that she has each client fill out before the appointment, kind of a "check-in".  (For those of you who have never gone to a support group meeting that has those, it's basically a gauge of how you are currently doing.  For my therapist, it concentrates on the areas of issues and emotions, a 1-10 scale of your depression and anxiety levels, and other similar questions and it's usually based on the period since you had therapy last.)

One time not long after I started working with this therapist, she looked at my paper as we were walking to her office and remarked that I might as well just do a big circle around all the answers under each question because I marked so many of the traits.  I can't remember the exact name of the categories or many of the individual items, but some I do remember (not divided by category) are: bipolar, sleep disturbances, family issues, anger, nightmares, happy, sad, joyful, difficulty with hygiene, etc.

Over a year in therapy, a year and a half going on average twice a week to support groups, serving in one group, and working on the 12-steps with a sponsor for over a year... but that stupid paper probably has the same things circled at my last visit as it did at my first.

Does that mean I haven't made progress?  No.  I don't see it much but many around me have definitely seen where I have made progress.  I know the AA saying is "Progress Not Perfection."  So I'm thankful for my progress.

I happened to think about that form during a support group meeting... and I thought about the fact that it hadn't changed.  I've been longing for the day that I'll get there and circle only a few things... or none.  All this time and work and I'm no closer to that wonderful day.

That's when it hit me - this thing called bipolar really will never go away. I will always be an addict.  I talk about it; I write about it; I advocate for people hearing it... that bipolar disorder doesn't have a cure; that addiction can't be willed away.  But I think it wasn't until today that I really, really realized that it means MY bipolar disorder and doesn't have a cure and MY addictions won't ever just go away.

I have understood for a while that the best you can really hope for is for them to be managed - by medication, therapy, CBT, support, 12-step work, etc.  Then what was it about this realization today that was so radical as opposed to what I understood before?

What I think it means is that for the rest of my life, if you take a one- or two-week period, I will have all of those issues the paper lists.  I will have all of those emotions - both the good and bad ones.  I will probably have at least one nightmare.  My anxiety and my depression levels may never get below an average of 8.

Maybe, just maybe, if I tracked it each day, one day there will be an entire 24-hours that will go by without feeling depressed even once.  Maybe I'll be able to make it a full 24-hours without having a work issue that overwhelmed me.  Maybe I can make it 24-hours without having to absolutely make myself take a bath and care about my appearance (that it would be effortless to do those things).

It's sobering to think that unless a miracle happens, I will never be free of this bipolar/addict thing.  It's exhausting to think of the battle that I will probably have to fight every day for the rest of my life.  It's terrifying to think that research shows that both bipolar and addiction, if not managed, often get worse as you get older.

All day I've been pondering this realization.  If this is all true, then why go on?  What hope do I have?

I thank God for this blog because I happened to look back two paragraphs to the one that starts, "Maybe, just maybe..."  This could be the key:  I have GOT to learn to put my hope in the "each day."  I have got to stop looking for an overall cure or even a way to permanently manage them away.

I'm going to have to learn to focus on doing the best I can for each day, knowing that I will never be free of all of the crap that this disorder and these addictions bring, but also knowing that I can make a single day the best it can be, even though I am an addict with bipolar disorder.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Sh*t Happens …


The following is something a friend of mine shared with me.  I love it because it's a perspective changer.

Posted with his permission.


Your sh*t is of your own making.

So why wallow in your sh*t?  It is all over us; we stand nose deep; and the devil comes by and says “break time is over so get back down.”  We are entangled not only with our sh*t but also that of others.  So we wallow - filled with grief, despair, depression, suicide, and hopelessness.  We are  completely at a loss with the prospect of life.  And there is no way out.  I could not even commit suicide when I tried…

I was talking with a friend the other day.  I found out that his grandfather and mine were students of sh*t.  His granddad had studied the effects of fertilizer from different zoo animals.  Most would dissolve right away giving a spurt of growth in foliage, but does not last to the maturation of bearing fruit.  But elephant sh*t is firmer and breaks down slowly - giving slow, persistent nourishment that reaches down to bear much fruit.  

Sh*t from the big cats, lions, tigers, and leopards, when placed around the perimeter of the garden, will protect the garden from varmints like rabbits and deer from entering in.   My granddad, also a farmer, knew his sh*t from cows and composting, and could make some of the best black jack soil to raise his fruits and vegetables. 

German farmers are proud of their sh*t.  They build bins in the front yard to show off they have lots of it. 

You see they have found the purpose of sh*t.  It gives life.  If something does not sh*t, it is not alive.  Over time this sh*t breaks down into nutrients, becoming part of the soil which is a base for growth.  

As we process our situation, the struggles, rejection, ridicule, and rejection, we find new inner strength to walk out of the mire.  We are able to see where others got out; we got exposure to the spiritual life that redefines our situation.  We find a new life with much more meaning and greater fullness in the simpler and relational aspects of life, thus giving ourselves and others the hope of a better, abundant life.

You see sh*t happens for a reason – to have a more productive and fruitful life.  May you find it in your journey.


Monday, September 16, 2019

Judging

I wish I couldn't say it.  I wish it wasn't true of me.  But I am so guilty of judging people on appearances.  At a very young age, I noticed things like, "If pictures of Jesus had long hair, then why is it a sin for a boy to have long hair?" or "Why does a female have to wear a dress to church?  What if she doesn't own anything decent enough to be considered 'Sunday clothes' (as a friend of mine didn't)?"  So from early on, I questioned basing people on just appearances... at least sometimes.

However, though questioning the status quo was something I have done my entire life, it took a while to realize that I was still judging people.  I remember looking down on fellow church members because they weren't there every Sunday.  I remember feeling superior to a friend who had parents who were divorced and they lived in an apartment.  I remember finding out that a school-mate was Catholic and thinking that was just plain crazy (didn't she know the "truth" about God?).

Even the phrase, "But for the grace of God, there go I," is actually judgmental, as you are assuming with that phrase that the grace of God doesn't extend to that person, which makes you better than him/her.

Maybe my questioning eventually helped me get past, at least a little, how incredibly judgmental I tend to be.  But at this stage of my life and because of what I've recently been through, I am seeing things I have never noticed before.

This thought hit me yesterday when I was at a food pantry, trying to get something to contribute to my household since I'm not able to work at the moment.  I saw a sweet woman with a big smile with very greasy hair.  In the past, I would have noticed her hair more than her smile, but this time, it was different.

You see, even after I lost my job I kept buying the things I always assumed everyone has in their houses... until I started really, really struggling financially.

If you've read my blog for any length of time, you know that I live with my daughter and my parents.  When I first moved in, I was able to give them something towards the utilities and I helped buy some food.  To be honest, the only way I was able to do that at the time was my heavy reliance on 0% credit cards.

I know; I know...  I shouldn't have been racking up more debt in my situation.  Here is where the tiny optimistic part of my brain was my downfall. My ex-husband owes me a LOT (and I mean, a LOT) of money for back child support.  He has been "about to sell his house so he could pay me back" for several years now.  For some reason, I thought that this time it would actually happen.  The years before this period were rough financially, but this time I really, really, really needed for it to happen. What I owed on credit cards was about what he owed me.  As long as I stayed in that range, I felt I would be okay.

That was... until the 0% offers stopped coming.  He was actually no closer to selling his house and paying me back.  I couldn't play the game anymore.  25+% interest adds up quickly.  I started panicking.

Thankfully, my part-time job at the time was next door to a financial advisor.  He used our services so I got to know him.  One day I asked if there was any way he could help me with my situation.

His suggestion was the last thing I ever dreamed of - he suggested I declare bankruptcy.  As one who had always before paid off debts and made payments on time, I couldn't imagine doing it.  But he explained that bankruptcy was actually set up for people like me - those who had unexpected job losses, a lot of medical bills, and no child support to help with expenses.

I thought about it for a while, prayed about it, talked to others, and did a lot of research on my own.  Finally, I came to the conclusion he had - it made the most sense.

So, I started the paperwork to file for bankruptcy.  I had to stop using credit cards completely.  Back when I worked a regular job, I paid off my credit cards in full every month.  I thought it was essentially the same thing as using a debit card.  I always kept the total spent less than my paycheck.

What I didn't realize was that this system still gives you a little bit of leeway.  You don't have to have the money in hand to go on and buy something - you know you'll have it in a day, or a week, or at least by the due date.  I also didn't realize how much I had come to rely on that "little bit of leeway."

Now I can't buy anything if the money isn't in the bank.  My lowest point came when one day, I got low on gas while I was across town doing rideshare.  For some reason I let it slip by me and there was a stark realization when I figured out that I didn't have enough gas to get home and no money in my bank account to buy some.  With Lyft you can cash out any time with a $.50 fee, but I had only done one Lyft ride that pay period, like a $2.50 ride, not enough to make a difference.  I prayed I would get another Lyft ride and thankfully I did.  After that ride, I cashed out and bought enough gas to drive home.

Anyway, it was around this time I started really watching what I bought.  I've never been a big spender and I've always been on the frugal side, but I had to ramp it up.  I ran out of conditioner and I decided it wasn't necessary so I didn't replace it.  Please don't think I'm gross, but I decided it would make my shampoo go further (and have a lower water bill), if I only took a bath every other day, unless I really needed it.   (Did you know that baby powder works as a cheap dry shampoo? It's become my friend.)  Bathroom sinks don't need fancy cleaners when you have water and a washcloth. I started rationing my "coffee" (Diet Dr Pepper) and limited myself to at the most one a day.  I also had to be frugal with doctor and therapist appointments - if it wasn't necessary, I canceled.

Back to the theme of this post and what I realized yesterday - about judgment.  I grew up lower-middle class.  We didn't have much, but we always had the basics.  In the past, I would have assumed that the woman I saw at the food pantry was lazy or depressed and had let her hygiene go.  Now I know that it's very possible she can't afford the water bill for daily baths, or maybe for shampoo.

I know because I've been there.  Will my experience make me completely stop judging?  Probably not, as I've done it for so long.  But I pray when I start to judge someone based on appearances, I'll stop and remember that not only "But for the grace of God, there [could] go I," I have been there and though it's tough, it's not the worst place to be.


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Sometimes Doctors Don't Know...

Sometimes doctors don't have all the answers.  I have dealt with enough doctors concerning my daughter and myself to know this.  So why am I so floored that when my mom goes to the doctor yesterday for one more follow-up about the issues I've described in earlier blogs... only to find out that he basically said there's nothing he can do?

Maybe the difference comes down to the fact that when I come to the point of knowing a certain doctor doesn't have an answer, it's because I or my daughter do what he/she says and nothing gets better.  This time the doctor actually said there was nothing else he could do. 

This brings a whole new dimension to my mom's struggles. The medical issue she is specifically dealing with this time is that she has times of random low blood sugar and low blood pressure.  We know why she has low blood pressure (which shoots up high in the evening).  She has a type of dysautonomia called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, or POTS.  Its main symptom is having a large range of blood pressure readings.  She has dealt with this for a long time and it hasn't affected her this badly before.

It's probably the effect of the low blood sugar aggravating the POTS, said from my non-medical opinion.  However, since no test has shown why she's suddenly getting low blood sugar levels, they can't fix it.

She gets weak spells and has had several falls, some with bad consequences (fractured skull, broken pelvis, etc).  With this, she gets almost unresponsive.  And it comes on quickly.  I worry so much that she'll start feeling bad and not have time to get to a chair or that she'll be alone when it happens.  

In the near future, it may be time to bring up her using a wheelchair.  She uses a walker now, and has for years, but she doesn't always use it.  Honestly, it doesn't even help all the time.  She fractured her skull during the fall where she had her walker right beside her.  It happened so quickly she couldn't grab it.  

I dread this discussion.  The living room, kitchen and her bedroom aren't overloaded with furniture, but there's enough to make navigating with a wheelchair a difficult prospect.  IF she agreed to a wheelchair, we would have to do some rearranging or change some furniture.  Plus, she doesn't have the strength to use her arms pulling on the wheels for propulsion.   I guess she'd honestly need a scooter, but the house is definitely not big enough for that.

Why did I bring this up on a blog about stigmas?  Well, one point is straight from the title.  Sometimes doctors don't know... don't know a solution, don't know enough about how a condition affects you to effectively treat you, don't know that the side effects of a drug can be worse than the condition, don't know an answer.  

The other is something I'm still amazed I believed for so long in my life.  There are many who use wheelchairs and scooters who can still walk, especially in the elderly population.  I always assumed that those who use a wheelchair have no mobility at all.

Instead, there are many who, because of mental, physical, or both kinds of health issues can't walk.  These so-called "invisible illnesses" look on the outside like everything is good.  But pain, dizziness, blood pressure issues, lupus, MS, auto-immune diseases, chronic fatigue syndrome, and on and on, can mean someone who looks healthy on the outside, might not be.  Some days or even weeks, these same people could be totally fine.  There are many diseases that cycle and have weeks of reprieve but then a relapse.  

So don't judge those who you see sometimes using a wheelchair and sometimes walking around.  You might think of that person as lazy, but live with his/her condition for just one day during a flare-up and you'll see that these are some of the strongest people out there.


Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Interview


In a recent mental health conference I attended, one presenter described it like this:  Imagine that you just landed an interview for your dream job, one that you spent your entire career working towards.  You are confident of your skills; work doesn’t feel like work; the pay is just what you’ve always hoped for… but you wake up feeling horrible.  The symptoms are so severe that you are going to have to reschedule.  You have two options: (1) You can call the interviewer and tell him/her that you are sick or (2) You can tell the interviewer that you are having panic attacks.  Which option would you take?

When this scenario was described in the workshop, I almost jumped up and yelled, "Yes!"  I could so easily relate to this scenario.  I can't imagine telling that interviewer that I was having panic attacks, or anxiety, or that my depression was so bad I just couldn't get out of bed.  After all, that would be saying good-bye to THAT opportunity!  But I would easily lie (though I hate liars) and tell them I am sick and could I possibly reschedule?  Heck, I just remembered I actually did it with an interview last year.

Why is this so?  I don't have scientific research to back this up, but I feel it's because everyone gets sick at one time or another.  Everyone can relate - and empathize.  However, between the stigma of mental illness ("It's all in your head."  "You could 'will' yourself out of feeling that way if you just wanted to enough."  "You just need to be more positive about life.") and the myth that someone with a mental illness would be a terrible employee that most employers believe, chances are great that you would never get the job.

This is one reason I did this blog and I'm trying to figure out ways to tell my story.  Mental illness, addiction, and so many other stigmas aren't moral failings.  You don't have them because you are lazy and undisciplined.  Prayer, memorizing Bible verses, or looking at life more optimistically won't make them "just go away".

There are so many stigmas that fit the above scenario...
- A woman who has a teenage child with severe autism who was up all night and who she can't leave with anyone else because he's acting so badly right now.
- A man who has a huge hangover, not because he was out having fun partying, but because he has an addiction and no matter what he does, he just can't figure out how to stop drinking.
- A single dad whose child woke up sick and needs to go to the doctor... again.
- A teenage girl who just found out she is pregnant and can't even think about getting a good job because she is so wrapped up in what her next step will be.
- A professional who couldn't stop looking at pornography all night, is now beyond exhausted from getting no sleep, and knows he won't be his best for something so important.
- A mother whose child attempted suicide last night and the whole family was up all night trying to find ways to keep her child safe... and alive.
- A teenager who had a really rough night and participated in self-harm so badly that she's afraid that the blood will seep through the gauze and then through her long-sleeved shirt while there.
- A woman who had yet another negative pregnancy test result the day before and is so depressed she can't get out bed.
- A man with an auto-immune disease that's flaring up and his joints hurt so badly he can't move.
- A daughter whose dad, who has Alzheimer's Disease and is usually cared for by an in-home nurse,   fell this morning and so she has to take him to the hospital.

What are the common traits for all of these people?
- Most, if not all, would lie about what's really going on in the face of an important interview...
Again, if you are sick yourself, that's one thing, but admitting you deal with any of these chronic or ongoing situations instantly means you will be a bad employee, even if you have a wonderful track record at other jobs.
- They are doing the best they can in the circumstances...
Most people would think that in some of the scenarios, those involved are just not trying enough or it's their own faults.  These people don't have the brain of an addict or a mental health issue or a chronic health condition or a family member who needs a lot of help... or don't recognize that sometimes people just make mistakes.  Remember that those in these scenarios need support, not judgment.
- The shame, self-doubt, and regret felt can be overwhelming...
I have not yet met or heard about an addict that didn't try to stop on his/her own - and couldn't.  I personally had a child who attempted suicide and at the time I was a teacher and had suicide prevention training every year - I still didn't recognize what was happening under my own roof.  Even those who have no control over their situations, like having a child or parent with special needs, feels like they should be doing more.  Again I say, these people need support, not judgment.
- In most of these situations, the people around them - friends, family, and coworkers - literally can't understand...
Even if you have lived through something similar, everyone's situation is different.  Though it can help when struggling to know others have gone through the same thing and made it, it's easy to cross the line and feel condemned because "my friend survived and I'm still drowning; something must be really, really wrong with me."

The safest thing to do is to listen.  However, also recognize that sometimes people aren't ready to share - and if not, let them know you will be there when they are.  Do something practical, like provide a meal, for that person if he/she is willing and able to accept help at that time.  Ask what you can do to help - and then do what they say.

Overall, as a therapist I talked to about some of this said, "We have to change our mindset."  We have got to stop judging others and realize that we are all broken.

#SpotlightOnStigma #SOS #WelcomedButNotAccepted #Stigma #MentalIllness #Bipolar #Addiction #SingleParenting #Alone #NotAlone #Depression #Anxiety #EatingDisorder #SuicidalThoughts #OCD

Friday, September 6, 2019

Finally... A Support Group Near Me.

I am hyped.  I have been trying to get to a mental health support group now for a couple of months.  I finally found some and put them on my calendar.  I went to my first one in the downtown area and realized that I read it wrong and I missed it.

Since then something has come up for every meeting time.  It doesn't help that the closest one is about 25-30 minutes away and you have to pay for parking (sometimes I just don't have enough to do that).  The times and locations just aren't good for me, but I kept trying.

Then today I realized I had erased one of the groups off my calendar by accident and I looked online to find the information again.  It wasn't easy to find.  After trying different searches for at least 15 minutes, I then remembered that I had it bookmarked.

When I got on the site, I had to look several times before believing what I was seeing.  A support group on a night I could attend... only a few miles from my house?  What?!

But because I'm a pessimist and didn't want to be burned, I emailed the facilitator to make sure that the information was accurate.  I got back a reply from someone who said it was the wrong email address.

But what's strange is that the "wrong number" again replied a few minutes later.  He told me that he goes to therapy twice a week and that he was proud of me for trying to find a support group.  He encouraged me to show up at the site even if I couldn't get in touch with anyone.  This... from a total stranger.  That encouragement was what I needed to try the phone number I had.

So I texted the facilitator (social anxiety means a phone call is a last-ditch option).  He called me back a few minutes later and I actually answered (normally I wouldn't due to the social anxiety, but because of the encouragement by a stranger, I did).

I am the first one who has contacted him about coming.  Apparently, he's been there for a few months with no one else coming but the website was slow to upload the new location once he started it and also entered his email address incorrectly.

The faithfulness of this man is allowing me something that I have wanted ever since I found out I have bipolar disorder - a community of people who understand.  I go to an addiction support group and I love the people there, but it's still not the same.  It's close, but not the same.

I'm hoping to find more people who can attend.  If you live in this area and have a diagnosed mental illness, please join us.  This one meets at First Baptist Trussville at 6:00 on Thursdays.  You can find more information at http://www.namialabama.org/affiliates

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Perplexing Depression Symptom

I've had a clinical depression diagnosis since I was a teenager (over 30 years now).  One thing that still gets to me is how I can desperately want to do something but can't seem to make myself do it.

One prime example has been going on the past couple of weeks, I have really wanted to go to the pool.  I have a membership for the Y pretty much for that purpose.  It's been really hot, even inside, the past month and it would wonderful to go cool off and relax at the end of a work day. 

But I... just... can't... make... myself... go.  Seems simple to just put on a swimsuit or pack one in a bag, get in the car, and drive the 10 minutes to the Y.   I don't understand why it's not.

Every time I am almost paralyzed.  I will plan to go, then when it's time, I'll actually start to get ready.  Then I find something that makes me hesitate: It's pretty cloudy outside - will I get there just as it starts to rain?  Are my earbuds charged up?  Will it be crowded (I hate crowds)?  Do I have enough time before it closes to make it worth going?... 

Even one of these questions can start a spiral.  That's all it takes.  Suddenly I'm doubting and the paralysis starts to set in. 

The last nail is hammered into the coffin:  One small, innocent question is almost always quickly followed by, "I'm so fat and undisciplined that one time in the pool won't make a difference anyway, so why try?

At that point, I know I'm done for.  I don't have the strength at this point in my life to overcome this specific thought in that moment.  When I'm not in the moment, I can tell myself that the pool relaxes me; that the weightlessness in the water helps my joints, even temporarily; that being out in the sun gives me much needed Vitamin D and helps my mood; that the time in the hot tub is helpful for my often sore muscles.  But in that moment of trying to actually go... none of that matters. 

The worst part is as soon as this dialogue with myself has occurred, usually lasting until it literally is too late to go (since I usually go in the evening), the guilt and shame sets in.  Why did I not go?  Why am I paying for a gym membership each month when I'm struggling so much financially if I'm not going to use it?  Should I give it up?  But if I give it up will I suddenly want to start going?  I know going would have made me feel better so I must be stupid to not go... 

The spiral continues with these thoughts, which get louder and louder and stronger and stronger until I just want to quit everything.

Then the next day, I wonder why I just couldn't make myself go.  I decide that next time I have the opportunity, I'll try again.  However, there's a part of me that knows the same thing will most likely happen.

It's terrifying to know that you are a smart woman who has accomplished a good bit in life but you can't make yourself do something as simple as go to the pool when you want.  Even knowing what I have accomplished, I still have no idea how to accomplish this simple task.


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

On the Merry-Go-Round Again

It’s not my first time.  It probably won’t be my last time.  But I’ve decided to jump back into the water and try to again figure out what could help me feel better. 

I have a laundry list of conditions – and all are probably related… Dysautonomia, Bipolar Disorder Type 2, an eating disorder, addiction, high blood pressure, clinical depression/anxiety, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), RLS (restless leg syndrome), sleep apnea, SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), Mitral Valve Prolapse, hypoglycemia, social anxiety/phobia, horrible insomnia and sleep issues, PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder), major sinus and ear issues, as well as a horrible immune system and allergies where I get sick at the drop of a hat.  None are immediately life-threatening… but all have the potential to be debilitating.  I have spent years of my life going to doctors to try and get to the bottom of all this.  Whenever I move and/or insurance changes, I must start over.  And because of recent move to a new state, it’s beginning again.

To date, I have tried to treat the sleep apnea with three full rounds of doctors’ visits, tests, and failed treatments.  I have tried just about every anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medicine out there and it’s still a daily struggle.  Bipolar meds have not been worth the truly terrible side effects they have.  I had sinus surgery that didn't fix a thing.  I had problems conceiving my only child.  No allergy medicine has worked.  I can’t stay out late because if I’m not in bed when I get sleepy, I might as well give up for the night.  I plan activities around keeping my blood sugar levels okay (hypoglycemia), not sitting too long in one place (RLS), and not getting too hot (dysautonomia).  I’ve tried diet, exercise, a combo of the two, and many other weight-loss regimens and my weight just won’t go down.  (And if one more person flippantly mentions how I should "just" get gastric bypass surgery…)

Each round starts the same – finding a new primary doctor.  I give my history… list my current medications… and hate how most the time they assume when I list the medicine metformin that I’m diabetic because I’m overweight.  Then the tests come – again.  They test my thyroid, which has always been okay.  They, of course, test my blood sugar levels because they don’t seem to believe me. They repeat tests I’ve had many times.  I try to see if from their point of view – that they need to see the results themselves – but can’t they just request my old medical records and, for that matter, put some trust in the one who is living with all this?

A couple of years ago I moved to another state.  I again took the plunge.  I went to my new primary doctor after having to do lots and lots of searching just to find one that would work with my new insurance.  So, the frustration started even before I walked in the door. I got there and do the typical stuff – filling out loads of paperwork, telling them my history, and submitting to those tests.  I told them I needed referrals to specific specialists and asked if they could get that going.

A week or so later I got the results of the tests they had done.  Shocker!…  Everything was just as I expected and had already told them.  I started getting calls from the specialists that I had been referred to.  One was for a liver ultrasound because my liver enzymes were a little high.  This is not new. I’ve known this for years.  When they told me what my co-pay would be for this little test, I said, “No. Thank you.”  When I went to a follow-up visit to my doctor, he made me feel so bad because I had skipped that test.  

It’s just not right that I’m made to feel horrible about picking and choosing because I can’t afford to do all the tests and go to all the specialists suggested. People who haven’t been here don’t realize just how tiring it is to spend so much time at all these doctors. This round I made the decision to spend my time, money, and energy on the diagnoses that affect my day-to-day life because I know I can’t do it all.

I agree to see one more sleep specialist but I’m already defensive before I walk in the door.  I’m expecting this doctor to tell me that there is a new and better CPAP that I should be able to use… even though I’ve had an ENT tell me that I’m not a good candidate for CPAP due to some structural issues.  I’m hoping against hope there is something out there other than CPAP or a mouth guard or any of the other therapies I’ve tried that will actually work.  But I am not holding my breath.

I went through all of those tests, including having sinus surgery to fix a couple of the issues that have been holding me back from being successful with treatment in the past.  The sinus surgery didn't make a difference.  So I once again have a CPAP I can't use, one of the latest models with the newest, greatest mask, sitting in my closet, making me feel guilty because I keep failing at this therapy.

The same with the anti-depressants… I’ve tried almost all the ones currently out.  Many had horrible side effects.  The withdrawal side effects for some caused me to stay on them much, much longer than I wanted to (though they weren’t helping), because it took such a long time to get up the courage to get off them knowing how terrible stopping would be.   And yet after time passes, there’s always been that hope that they might be beneficial this time and so I try again, only to not have them work… again.

Now I've done the same with bipolar meds, but they have many more and serious side effects so I stopped trying different ones much sooner.  One of them made me incredibly suicidal.  I've been suicidal before but this time was different - even if I didn't want to end my life, I was afraid I would do it on impulse.  I haven't tried another one since.  The horrible symptoms that bipolar gives me aren't nearly as bad as that.

The cycle continues. Years of saying I’m tired of doctors, of spending my free time and any extra money trying to figure all this out.  Then I jump back on the band-wagon and think that surely there’s someone/something out there that can help.  Even though I’m naturally very pessimistic, there’s that bit of optimism that says, “Maybe, just maybe, this time I’ll succeed.”  That thought is what always ends up prodding me to ride that merry-go-round once again.





#SpotlightOnStigma #SOS #WelcomedButNotAccepted #Stigma #MentalIllness #Bipolar #Addiction #SingleParenting #Alone #NotAlone #Depression #Anxiety #EatingDisorder #SuicidalThoughts #OCD  

Monday, September 2, 2019

I Didn't Mean to Tell

Well, I told my family I have bipolar disorder, major depression, anxiety disorder and am an addict today.  I didn't mean to.  It's not the kind of bomb you usually drop at a Labor Day cookout meal.  Leave it to me to do something like that.

I honestly don't know how I feel about it.  As a family we were talking about some stuff that I can't really share, but then my family started throwing out some statements about mental health that I couldn't let go.  I'll just leave it at - they were talking about things that were common misconceptions and myths; things that are just not true.

I sat there and debated with myself.  I hate being the center of attention, especially with my family.  I like to just hide in the woodwork until the event is over.  But after a few minutes of hearing this junk and keeping quiet, I finally couldn't hold it in anymore.

When one family member talked about how drugs made a friend of his a paranoid schizophrenic, that was the tipping point.  I argued that mental health issues are not caused by drugs but that many with mental health issues take drugs and it exacerbates the condition.

They argued back... but again used the misunderstandings that most people have.

Usually at this point I would shut up.  I am easily intimidated and so I have a hard time holding my own, especially when my whole family believes one way and I believe another.  But this time I didn't.

I explained that I have researched this stuff for articles I am writing. I know this stuff.  Then it just came out: "I have bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder and I'm an addict.  I know what I'm talking about."

Crickets...

But only for a second.

I realized what I had done.  Even though I hadn't told them before, I have never been ashamed to talk about my mental health issues.  It just never came up.

But being an addict... that one was a closely kept secret.  I'm getting better talking about it to a few friends and I've started talking about it more to increase awareness and reduce the stigma.  But it's easy to write a blog that very few, if any, see, and totally another thing to tell your family, especially a family as judgmental as mine.

I started shaking, wondering what the fall-out would be.  But then something happened I would have never dreamed of in any scenario of how this could play out.

Most of my family went on with their conversation like I had never admitted something so personal and stigmatizing.  But the weirdest thing was that one of my brothers told me I wasn't an addict!  I was floored.

He actually started to argue with me about it.  I was so stunned I couldn't even respond. I wanted so much to say something like, "Well, I guess going to Twelve Step groups for a year and half and working the Steps with a sponsor has been a big waste of time, then."  But I didn't.  I mean, one characteristic of my family as a whole is that they don't really listen - or care.  So I just let it go.

I'm hoping that one day this will come back up and I can explain more.  Maybe they'll find this blog or hear about an event where I tell my story (still a dream but hopeful it'll happen one day) and ask me more about it.  I'm doubtful.  But at least I, though accidentally, opened the door.

#SpotlightOnStigma #SOS #WelcomedButNotAccepted #Stigma #MentalIllness #Bipolar #Addiction #SingleParenting #Alone #NotAlone #Depression #Anxiety #EatingDisorder #SuicidalThoughts #OCD