Saturday, March 28, 2020

Perfectionism and Anxiety

Write about anxiety over getting my eyes checked - wanting them to double check.

Being Socially Isolated with Mental Health Issues - A Perspective for Loved Ones

One of the mental health conditions I deal with is social anxiety. So you would probably think that I rejoiced when the CDC guidelines came down about social isolation. 

However, social anxiety doesn't mean I want to be a hermit. I still crave certain types of human interaction, just not all of them (like crowds, small talk, or making phone calls), and the amount of anxiety I feel about social situations varies depending on where I am with my other mental health issues. In fact, with everything going on, I need social contact more than ever.

In my case, I have bipolar disorder, type 2, which means my mania isn't as high as type 1 but my depression can go lower. I also have generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, social anxiety, agoraphobia, addiction issues, and I'm pretty sure I have ADD.

When I am manic... 
I get hyper-focused on multi-tasking several things. So in this case, when a friend reaches out to me, I often ignore the phone call or text until a later time "when I'm finished with what I'm doing." 

It's not that I'm ignoring that person as I often really want to touch base, especially now when there's so little regular human interaction taking place. It's just that once my brain is locked on to getting certain tasks accomplished right now, I can't switch out of that mode quickly. 

In my mind, I always think I'm almost finished and I can call or text that person right back. But then one of these possibilities usually occurs:
- I take much longer than I thought to complete the tasks and the person is no longer available; or
- I am absolutely worn out from my frantic focusing (seems like an oxymoron but it really isn't) and I just can't deal with communicating with anyone at that point; or
- I just plain forget that you called because the part of my brain that remembers those types of things was being used to keep up with all of the tasks I was trying to accomplish.

To my loved ones: 
Please understand that I'm not ever ignoring you because I don't want to hear from you or because I don't value our relationship. I know that if I did manage to stop what I was doing to take that call or reply to that text, I would be very distracted. My plan is always to wait until I have calmed down from all of the tasks to focus on you. The problem is that it rarely works out that way. If you haven't heard back from me soon, don't assume it's because I don't want to talk. Reach out again.

When I'm anxious... 
Another way I'm affected during social isolation is how hard it is for me to reach out. This is due to my social anxiety. Making a phone call can take a herculean effort. It sounds crazy and when I step back and look at it, it is. 

I will often put off making a phone call for hours or until it's too late, even when I really need or want to talk to the one I'm calling. I've always assumed it's because I don't want to disturb that person but I don't know if that's the actual reason or just one I can deal with. It also may be fear of rejection... if the phone isn't answered. It doesn't matter why I feel this way though because I've tried to overcome it and I haven't been able to.

Anyway, texting is easier to use for initial reaching out but it's hard to really have a good conversation. The way I often get around this is that I will text someone I want to talk to and ask if I can call. That's also awkward if it's someone I don't know well (and impossible if the person doesn't text or if it's a business call) so it doesn't work in all situations.

To my loved ones: 
Please understand that I want to reach out to you so much more than I actually do. I think about it many times during the day but if I'm having a hard time with anxiety, making that initial contact with you can take more effort than I have, especially with all of the anxiety that COVID-19 has brought. Don't forget about me and reach out to me, as when I'm in this state I can take calls and texts... I just can't make them myself.

When I'm depressed... 
Depression is a time that it's hard for me to communicate with others no matter what. However, when I'm really depressed (and sometimes when I'm really anxious), I need to know you are there for me more than ever. 

Clinical depression is a state where you often literally can't make yourself do what you want to do or enjoy. Concentration issues, crying, feeling hopeless, apathy, and irritability are other common symptoms. 

During a depressive phase, I need to know that someone cares while at the same time I don't want to burden others with how I feel. I don't want to snap at you because I'm so frustrated I can't stand it or spend an entire conversation on the phone crying.

To my loved ones... 
If we haven't communicated in a while, please make the effort to reach out to me. If you call, know that I might not be able to talk. Talk to me. Tell me about your day. Something as simple as listening to you breathe while you watch tv can help, even if neither of us says a word. It's a reminder that someone is out there and cares when I feel so alone. If I'm severely depressed, a phone call at the right time can literally save my life (and actually did for my daughter).

So what do you do when the one you love is like me and has multiple issues that each take different strategies to overcome? I have talked to my boyfriend, daughter, and friends when I am in a good mental health state about these issues so they know how to respond when I'm not. I also never mind being asked at the beginning of a conversation where I am with my mental health, so ask if that's an option in your situation.

Just don't give up on those you love with mental issues, ESPECIALLY during this fearful time in history. We need you now more than ever.

(At least I don't have to worry about my agoraphobia, as there are no crowds right now! 😅)

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Boredom x Depression + Anxiety = Misery

I am getting bored. Not the "I don't have anything to do" kind of bored, because as a freelancer, I ALWAYS have something to do.

However, I'm getting to the "there's nothing I want to do" stage of this COVID-19 social isolation quarantine. I pushed through this past week and even was able to do some of the things I didn't want to do. This was mixed in with things at least didn't mind doing or at least items I wanted to check off my list so badly that I got them done.

But you know how there are things on your to-do list that are overwhelming for one reason or another... those things you tend to procrastinate with much more than everything else? I'm at that stage of my "what to do during the quarantine" list.

The next points on my list are either difficult, for little reward, or just plain ol' not fun. My anxiety is at a level where I'm kind of shaky from nerves no matter what I do. My depression is at a level where my motivation is almost nonexistent.

One of the major characteristics of depression is that you don't want to do activities that you previously enjoyed doing. One characteristic of anxiety is having trouble concentrating due to the racing thoughts you just can't get rid of. This makes any task extra hard to do.

Take, for example, watching TV. There isn't a TV show, Youtube video, or Netflix movie on that will overcome the racing thoughts I'm dealing with as well as the nervous feeling that makes it hard to stay still. (It's hard enough sitting here at my desk to do this, but at least my mind and fingers are busy.) My go-to when I can't find anything else to watch is usually a comedian. Nothing is funny right now. I'm not crying at everything so that's a step in the right direction, but laughter feels very, very far away.

Another example is Candy Crush. I would almost consider myself a Candy Crush addict, as there are times I want to quit but I keep finding myself saying, "Just one more game," until I run out of lives, even if that means another hour has passed. I still play but purely because it's a habit. I don't find it enjoyable. Before all this happened, I only had a limited amount of time I could play, just because I was so busy. Now, however, I keep reaching for my phone to play when I know I have more lives, but it's just not fun. It's kinda stressful, in fact.

I love organization and I've been cleaning out stuff, trying to find things that I can sell to help pay bills while photography sessions, rideshare, and mystery shopping jobs are almost non-existent. That gets really old too, due to the depression symptom: "things I used to find enjoyable no longer being fun."

It's a task... something to do to be productive... something to do to be proactive and keep from going crazy worrying about finances. However, almost nothing I've listed is selling. I'm sure others are worried about finances too so I didn't expect lots of sales. Out of listing lots of stuff, I've only sold one item.

It makes it harder and harder to list each new thing because in the back of mind I hear a voice telling me I'm wasting my time. There's also a voice that seems to get louder the longer I do this that says, "You might need this one day so you shouldn't get rid of it." The voices are unrelenting and wear me down over time.

Decisions, even small ones, are always difficult for me. My anxiety tells me I'm making the wrong choice so I research and research to at least up the odds in the favor of making the "right decision." When I'm in this state, it's so much worse. Culling photos, which is something I could do 24/7 for a week and still not get through all of them, is hard; editing photos, of which includes a multitude of decisions for each image, is darn near impossible. Making a decision on something important, like which ideas I should try to pitch to the newspaper I work for, makes my head hurt to think about.

Then there is my go-to when I'm anxious or bored or depressed... food. I'm trying to use the principles of my eating disorder 12-Step group and I'm working on not compulsively grabbing food when I'm in this state. But food calms me down. Depending on the food and the moment, it can be a physical rush with an instant peace that comes over me. I haven't been working that program long enough to know how to deal with times when I feel like this. I think it's very similar to someone addicted to drugs or alcohol - there's literally nothing that gives you the same feeling - so it's very hard to come up with alternatives.

Add having mental health issues... in my case, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and various anxiety disorders to the mix... I wonder sometimes if there is anyone else with my combo of mental health issues and addictions who successfully recovered. If so, how?

I haven't given up... yet. I am still trying to do my food plan and trying to not act out. (By the way, I'm successful at one but miserably failing at the other - from what I said above you can probably guess which is which.) I need something to cope with this stressful time. I know food isn't the answer... but what is?

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Anxiety... By a Stuck at Home Freelancer with Mental Health Issues

It has been a while. I have been sick, then super busy making up for being sick, then just super busy. This blog has been pushed aside more than once when I really wanted to write... because, in this time of such uncertainty, I felt that blogging wasn't being "productive" (with my definition of the moment meaning somehow do something to make money). Well, I hit the breaking point just a few minutes ago and it doesn't matter if it's "productive" or not, I need to write.

The timing has been weird on this one. I'm about to have cataract surgery and due to a test I need to have before the surgery, I had to go without contacts for a week. Given the nature of my businesses, wearing my old glasses has made it very difficult to do some of my jobs and impossible to do others.

I have known this for a few weeks and have been preparing for the loss of income and work. I was very proactive by making a list of things that I've been putting off for a long time that needed to be done. I knew this would keep me busy and not feeling so bad about the loss of income. I actually wasn't anxious during the beginning of the news about COVID-19, maybe because I was already mentally prepared for downtime.

Then COVID-19 hit my immediate area, one of the last states in the country to really be impacted. When I was just missing work due to wearing my glasses and recovery from the surgery, I could still make money a few other ways, just not as much. However, because I live with my parents who are very high risk, it's safer for me to stay home. COVID-19 killed that potential for "not as much" work that I was still hoping for during this time.

Add to that, I hit a down cycle in my bipolar disorder and have been extremely depressed. Several other things have happened personally and with some of those I love that have been hard to deal with. The support groups I rely on have had to cancel (though we were able to pull off a phone conference for one last night).

The biggest issues I'm dealing with right now that are so hard are the lack of control and uncertainty. I'll talk about each of those separately.

Control... Everyone loves to be in control. World Wars have been fought over control. Marriages have been lost over control. Businesses have fallen apart because of control.

But control is a defining characteristic of an addict. Trying to control others and the environment and failing is one thing that leads to addictive behavior. Not being able to control the addictive behavior leads to shame and a feeling of worthlessness.

So I'm an addict who has major depression and anxiety issues and is a freelancer who can't work for who knows how long. In this environment, there is so little I can control. I'm not doing well.

Uncertainty... I think we are all programmed to know that we can deal with just about anything for a specified amount of time. When I was still in college, I remember thinking that I could deal with any subject or any professor for just a quarter. If I know that I'm going to have a medical procedure or if I'm sick, I have an idea of how long it will be until I can get back "to normal."

Not knowing how long this will last, what will happen before it's over, and what will be the aftermath is a huge problem for me. I have lived through some horrible times in my 50+ years and there was always an end. So intellectually I know there will be an end to COVID-19. But the biggest issue is what my life will be like when it's over.

For several years now I have been building a photography business - specializing in event photography. I was just starting to build up some momentum in my business. Big events have obviously been canceled left and right. It's scary to not know if the businesses will still remember me when it's over.

Of course, I'm also worried about my parents. I'm worried that they will get sick... and I'm worried that if I leave my house it'll be my fault. Both my boyfriend and my daughter are high risk so there's a little worry about them getting sick.

Surprisingly, I'm not worried at all about me getting sick. For myself, I'm worried about being inconvenienced... specifically with my cataract surgery. Wearing glasses for this week has been truly horrible. If the test is canceled at the last minute, then all that misery will have been for nothing. If the surgery is put off, then it's that much longer before I can get back to work full-time after recovery.

I know I'm whining... I know that I'm one of the many dealing with all of these issues... I know that there are many others who have it worse off than I do... In this case, though, knowing I'm not alone in how I feel doesn't matter one bit to help me feel better.

The only thing that has made me feel better in this time has been to help others. Setting up the phone support group last night was one of the better times I've had the last week. Knowing I was doing something for others kept me out of my head for just a few minutes. It didn't lift the overwhelming depression I'm feeling but did keep me going for a little longer while I'm in the midst of it.

There is no better time to recite the Serenity Prayer... and really try to live it. "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."

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Choices... A Love Story

This blog is so serious and often very depressing. I tend to vent about all that is wrong in my life and sometimes forget that there's a lot good there too. So, though late because I've been very busy and somewhat sick, in honor of what Valentine's Day really means (not what Hallmark/the chocolate companies/the flower shops try to make it into), I present my personal love story...

They met online. Each had been involved in a long-term relationship that ended. They both realized, once distanced from these relationships, that they had been toxic. Each was an amazing person who had a lot to offer a partner but had been beaten down by the ones they chose.

Photography brought them together as it was highlighted on each of their dating site profiles. It also almost brought them apart after one asked the other… “Canon or Nikon?” and the answer was wrong. She was Nikon; he was Canon. It was so sad. They would never be able to share lenses or even speak the same language for settings.

This budding relationship was further hindered when a similar question was asked… “iPhone or Android?” Again, the answer was wrong. She was Android; he was iPhone. They also would never be able to Facetime or share all the same apps – and he was able to hear Siri’s angelic voice when he needed information where she had to almost yell, “Hey, Google!” to get the same response.

Thankfully, the last major question… “PC or Mac?” was answered the same by both parties. They were both PC! Though this wasn’t as big an issue as camera brands and cell phone platforms, it seemed there was hope after all. This led to their first face-to-face date which included barbeque and kissing by a lake in the moonlight. Neither wanted it to end.

By this point, they had learned enough about each other to want to try to overcome those two earlier almost insurmountable barriers. Maybe it was because each had known what it was to love someone who took advantage of that love. Maybe it was because they did have a lot in common after all, despite their oppositional preferences of cameras and phones. Maybe it was because there is such a thing as “soul-mates” and this powerful connection was felt by both.

Whatever the reason, they quickly became great friends. They found a spot by a river that was almost exactly equidistant between their homes where they would meet and hang out. Free time in between date nights was spent talking and texting each other. It quickly became routine to stay on the phone each evening until she, an early riser, was almost asleep.

Need it be stated in writing? It seemed that they were falling in love.

There was one other major barrier, though… She was also dating someone else. He worked in Information Technology. Actually, Mr. I.T. was the one who encouraged her to date others as his wife had passed away and he realized he wasn’t ready for a serious relationship. She hadn’t dated him long, but she thought she might love him.

Because she had never been the kind of person to date more than one person at a time and she couldn’t keep such an important secret to herself, she soon let each know about the other. Mr. I.T. was a little blue, as he kind of hoped that she wouldn’t find someone else and would be there for him when he was ready. Mr. Photographer was caught off guard but wasn’t upset because they had never discussed being exclusive.

For a couple of months, she pondered incessantly about what to do. Each one had characteristics that she loved. However, she knew she couldn’t go on indefinitely dating both as it was tearing her up inside.

Finally, she made the difficult decision.

She first went to talk to her soon-to-be former love interest, Mr. I.T. He was sad but wasn’t surprised. He knew her well enough to notice that she had been rapidly falling for the other. They both cried as they said their goodbyes and promised to stay friends.

Then she called the other. He had a difficult time comprehending her through all her tear-filled hiccups. All he could understand through the blubbering was that she wanted him to meet at “their spot.” Though it was late on a weeknight, he immediately said he would head that way. She did the same.

When he got there, he invited her into his car, wondering and worried about the outcome of this conversation. He then just held her, trying to calm her down so she could tell him what had brought on the waterworks.

She was finally calm enough to say three little words. No, they aren’t the words one might expect to be said in this situation, but it meant even more than the standard three little words...

She said, “I choose you."

She is still choosing him to this day.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Tired - So... Very... Tired...

I'm tired... Exhausted... Fatigued... Drained... Consumed... Spent... Empty... Wasted... Pooped... Worn out... Done for... Run-down... Finished... You get the idea.

Everyone close to me (including myself) has a chronic condition and/or illness:

- My mom has a laundry list of conditions but right now, she has been having fainting spells?/seizures?/something like that. She already has had several falls in the past few years, with many of them requiring at least an ER visit and sometimes a hospital stay. But the thing is, they can't find out what's wrong so they can't treat it.

- My dad has heart and blood pressure issues and is a diabetic. He has had a sore on his foot since last summer and it looks like there infection in the bone. Most likely he will need surgery but they are getting a second opinion. Until then he's supposed to try to stay off his foot but the lack of movement makes his diabetes worse. It's pretty much uncontrolled and he needs for his blood glucose to stay below 150 for his foot to heal. It's not even close and if he has surgery, then that will also have to heal.

- My boyfriend has an auto-immune disease and depression. The auto-immune disease has been flaring up a LOT recently and he's having a hard time making it through work each day. Though it's early in the evening, he's asleep right now and this is not the first evening he has had to do this recently. Everyday life wears him out and he used to be the epitome of healthy and athletic.

- I have many physical and mental issues, which I won't go into now. But I'm in a down cycle with my bipolar and I am having something go on with my stomach.

- But my daughter is the one who has torn me up tonight. She has fibromyalgia, POTS (dysautonomia), depression, anxiety and major back issues to name a few things. Today she is hurting so badly she couldn't even get in the car to meet me for supper. She's just 20 years old! It tears me up. She needs to get a job but she can't in her condition.

And I can't fix it - Any of it.

GREAT! My mom just came in here (I live with my parents) and my dad is sick and she says he's burning up with a fever. It won't ever end...

And I don't know how I'm going to make it. I very much want to just be the last synonym in the first sentence: Finished.

Awareness About Those Who Are Really Overweight

Weight problems are a huge issue in the US and even worldwide. We have access to food too easily and we often don't have to walk to commute in many areas of the country or work a physical job all day. Add to this, medications we take can add weight and it has nothing to do with overeating.

This also applies to anyone who has issues with not being a typical size - too tall, too short, too thin, physical differences... The world is made for the average person, as it should be. But when someone who is different has to live in a world built for the average, it can be an issue.

So this letter is:

To everyone who is of a typical size:

It is somewhat of a compliment when you treat me like everyone else. I appreciate it when you look at someone my size and not automatically think that I need every accommodation in the book.

But on the flip side, there is so much I wish you knew.

1 - If you are a hostess and there's someone really large in the party, even if they don't ask for it, know that a booth can be at the least, uncomfortable and at the worst, really embarrassing when you try to slide in and just can't fit. If a group has someone pretty large included, save everyone some heartache and offer them a table instead (and not a high top.)

2 - If you are a tour guide and there's someone with mobility issues (that could be either from a handicapping condition or just being big), please slow down. It's again really embarrassing when most of the group takes off and gets way ahead and the person with issues is behind and alone.

3 - If you have some kind of meeting or event, anything from a Sunday School meeting to a wedding, please be considerate of the seating. It's difficult to admit out loud (or literally in writing) but I don't fit into some chairs with arms (or they really, really hurt) and I am terrified I'm going to break a flimsy chair like a plastic chair or a non-sturdy folding chair.

I know sometimes there's just not an option and I can't speak for every big person, but I would much rather have the person leading the meeting/event come up to me privately before it happens, explain the options, and let us talk about it before I get there. Those options can include: bringing in another chair just for that person and also ask that person where he/she would like to sit and somehow reserve that seat and the ones around it for those who come with him/her; making sure the chairs are all big enough; or just asking the person in question what he/she would prefer to do. Some would rather take a chance or be in pain so don't assume that the person necessarily wants something different, either.

4 - If you are catering an event, don't assume a particular need for a type of food to either include or exclude. Some who are obese aren't on diets or might be on a diet where he/she can only eat at certain times but the types of foods don't really matter. Some need specific foods. Just think how you would handle a friend who has a food allergy/intolerance and give the big person the same consideration.

5 - If a larger person is riding in a car with you, let him/her choose the seat. Personally, sometimes I choose the back even if it's a tighter squeeze because it's embarrassing to get into a car and not have the seat belt fit. I know some states have laws about those in the back seat having to have a seat belt on too, but if neither will fit, I feel much more comfortable taking that chance in a back seat than up front.

6 - If you go to an amusement park with a group of friends and/or family, remember that the one who is very overweight won't fit into a lot of rides. As safety standards have gotten much stricter, the number of restraints on rides, especially roller coasters, have increased. If the person in question doesn't want to wait in line only to then find out that they don't fit, the embarrassment has increased exponentially. Don't try to coerce them to try, even if you would have ended up being right. It's not worth it many times to take the chance.

On a similar note, I applaud parks like Dollywood who have seats at the entrance to the line for you to test yourself and see if you can make the restraints "click".  I do wish they would be in a more discrete place than out in the open (because it's still embarrassing to have it not click even if you haven't waited in line, just not as much) but I don't know if there's a way around that.

I also applaud those ride workers who are very discrete in the way they hand me a seatbelt extender on rides that take seatbelts without my having to ask. It's no fun to have to ask for one, especially if the ride is loud and you practically have to yell it or the ride is stalled from starting because you didn't realize it would be an issue until you sat down and it didn't fit.

7 - For concerts, plays, and similar events, I know lots of people like to sit in an aisle seat but if there is limited seating left in a general admission situation, please move to the middle and allow the big person to sit on an end. I have sat through performances with my arms crossed across my chest the entire time because I didn't want to bother the people sitting on either side of me. If I'm in an aisle seat, then I only have to worry about one person to not bother because I'm too big for the area.

8 - This leads to air travel. I love to travel and sometimes I have to. I can't afford to buy a 2nd seat and I technically fit into one - it's just really tight. I know it's uncomfortable if you end up sitting beside a big person but you could also sit by someone extremely annoying, or talkative, or who doesn't understand personal space. Please don't embarrass us (or yourself) by automatically assuming that we are the worst seat-mate you could have and begging to be moved.

From an atypically sized person who has to live in a typically sized world

PS - Some hints I've learned for others of atypical size like me:
- Find an airline where you can choose your own seat. I personally love Delta for that feature but I'm sure there are more. Get a seat as near to the bathroom as you can. Going up and down those tiny aisles with people trying to sleep or eat or read and somewhat spilling out into said aisle is difficult. If you are traveling with a companion, find a row with only 3 seats and choose the ones on either end for you and your companion. If the flight doesn't sell out, you have an extra seat between you. If it does, you can always ask the one stuck in the middle if he/she would please switch.
- Get in the habit of just asking for a table instead of a booth (and after a recent bad experience, if the restaurant has high-tops, specifically ask for a low-top table).
- If you are going to an amusement park, do some research ahead of time to find out which rides are, as one atypically sized comic says, "fluffy-friendly". Sometimes you can find out that information on the website but I've found calling works even better.
- I have found handicapped seating to be my friend. Some places are very strict on someone being in a wheelchair, but again, if you call and describe the situation, I have found that most are accommodating. Theatre seats, especially those from years ago, are really small and uncomfortable.
- When I book a hotel, I request a handicapped room because it's often on the ground floor and the tub/shower is easier to deal with. I tell them that I'm not in a wheelchair and it's just a request, because I don't want to take it from someone who needs it more, but again, I have found that more often than not, it's available.
- About the seatbelt issue, I usually offer to drive. I like driving and then I don't have to worry about the seatbelt not fitting with another car. Also, because my car has difficult to fasten seatbelts for everyone, I bought a seatbelt extender. You can find them on ebay or Amazon and it makes life so much easier (it's also great for those who wear big coats). If I am going to ride in another car, I can always take the extender with me.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Fooled Again

I hate... hate... hate having bipolar disorder. It's so sneaky and even though you know you have it and know what it does, it still can fool you.

Last week I had some really bad things happen. However, I used what I've learned in the 12-step program, support groups, and counseling, and dealt with them all. Unlike my norm, I didn't stress too much over it or worry constantly on how I could change each thing that happened. I worked very hard at letting go and surrendering.

This time was the most peaceful time I've had in a while - a long while. I was on cloud 7 (cloud 9 is still just a little too much right now). I got together with a friend for lunch early in the week (my social anxiety usually doesn't let that happen - I might make plans but often can't carry them out). I got a lot done at my desk and even though nothing I did was for pay, I didn't stress. To top it off, on Saturday I went out with some friends for lunch and I realized I was participating in the conversation and even found myself laughing. Not fake laughing because I'm tired of being sad, but honest-to-goodness find-something-funny-and-laugh kind of laughing.

The mood stayed through Sunday. I signed a song for the deaf church I attend and even though I messed up some, I didn't beat myself up. I did rideshare for a little bit in the afternoon but when I wasn't getting rides, I didn't worry about it. When a ride took me close to home, I didn't analyze to death whether I should quit earlier than planned or not - I just went on home.

But the real kicker was this morning. In my journal, there's a prompt that asks what I am excited about. When I first got the journal about 3 weeks ago, I wrote things that I was looking forward to, but never could say I was "excited" about them. Later I couldn't even name anything I was looking forward to, as my depression got worse. However, this morning, I actually said I was excited over some possible upcoming opportunities. I wasn't lying one bit about it - I actually FELT excitement over those things.

So when I started a nose-dive into a depressive cycle later this same morning of finally feeling excitement for the first time in a while, I was truly caught off guard. I know that my bipolar won't just go away. But I thought that the things I was doing - finally committing to an eating addiction 12-step program and an eating plan; drinking more water and much less soda; hanging out with friends; making a major effort to not stress about things I couldn't control (think Serenity Prayer) - would keep it away a little longer. I thought that as long as I kept doing all of these things that I assumed had made the depressive cycle lift in the first place, it would stay gone.

 I was wrong.

I've never thought about it this way, but maybe my bipolar is also one of those things I can't control. Maybe the mania and depression will come no matter what I do. Maybe I'll never get consistently  "well".

I already wrote about a very similar experience last September in "Realization About Progress Not Perfection." I'm trying to remind myself now what I realized then - I may never get "well" but I can keep trying to make each day the best it can be, no matter whether I'm depressed, manic, or one of those rare times I'm stable.

Friday, January 24, 2020

A New/Old? Mental Health Issue... Really?!

So... I'm working on a document and in it, I'm describing some of the mental health issues I had when I was in my early 20s. I thought one condition I had was called agoraphobia but I get all of the phobias' names mixed up so I decided to research it to make sure.

Some background... My panic disorder started at that age (or my late teens, I can't remember exactly). It got so bad that I developed a mild version of agoraphobia. I would leave my house only to go to work and to church but wouldn't go anywhere else. Even work and church were difficult but my sense of responsibility somehow prevailed during those times.

As many of us with mental or physical health issues do, I was a good actress and acted like I was okay when I was away from home, but I was a basket-case otherwise. Looking back, I was already displaying signs of both my addictive-prone personality as well as bipolar disorder, but then I had no clue mental health was really the issue.

You probably think, "How could she NOT think that mental health was the issue with panic disorder and agoraphobia?" The times were very different then. Most people didn't believe you if you had major depressive or anxiety disorders (which I also had) - they thought you just needed to think more positively or "just let go and let God."

Actually, I guess times haven't changed that much, as many people still believe those things about mental illness. But there are many who are learning about it and there are so many more systems to help now than there were then (mid- to late-80s) - from counselors, to medical professionals, to support groups, to online publications and communities.

During that time, I was diagnosed with Mitral Valve Prolapse (MVP) which is greatly associated with two conditions - a form of dysautonomia and panic attacks. It was treated much more from a medical (physical health) viewpoint than a mental health perspective. I took meds to help regulate my heartbeat. I drank lots of water with electrolytes to raise my blood volume (another issue with these conditions). I also tried to find patterns on when I usually had panic attacks - which for me were too little sleep and/or too much caffeine.

Once I did those things, the panic attacks didn't go away, but they lessened in frequency and severity. No one told me that I needed to get to the root of the problem, which was my anxiety disorder. But the agoraphobia got better as the panic attacks lessened and I assumed that I no longer had agoraphobia because I was again able to leave my house without too many issues.

Jump to this week and my realization... When I looked up what agoraphobia was, just to confirm it was the phobia that deals with not leaving the house, I found it was so much more.

Mayo Clinic's website defines it as "a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless, or embarrassed. You fear an actual or anticipated situation, such as using public transportation, being in open or enclosed spaces, standing in line, or being in a crowd." ( That alone answered my question about it being the correct term, but that last line nudged me to look more into it.

What I discovered blew my mind... My go-to medical site, WebMD has lists of causes and symptoms.  (
Their site states:
               "With agoraphobia, you might worry when you are in:
                        - Public transportation (buses, trains, ships or planes)
                        - Large, open spaces (parking lots, bridges)
                        - Closed-in spaces (stores, movie theaters)
                        - Crowds or being in line
                        - Being outside of your home alone
              Symptoms may include:
                        - Fast, pounding heart
                        - Sweating, trembling, shaking
                        - Breathing problems
                        - Feeling hot or cold
                        - Nausea or diarrhea
                        - Chest pain
                        - Problems swallowing
                        - Dizziness or feeling faint
                        - Fear of dying"

I still have this! I can't stand crowds and avoid them at all costs. I have to sit on the end of the aisle or the front row when in an audience, and I need space between me and the next person (not always possible, which freaks me out). Online shopping was a God-send for me because I can't stand going into stores. I always try to sit where I can see the door and/or most of the room at a restaurant or event where we sit at tables. I will wait if there is a line (I try to be either first or last) and don't go to areas like amusement parks on days they will be crowded, both because of the crowds and because of the lines.

I have attributed all of these things to other issues, such as social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, major depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder. Where one starts and another stops is a mystery. I'm not even sure if a person can technically have all of these disorders or if everything would actually fit into one - like my bipolar disorder.

In my research, I found out that agoraphobia is one type of anxiety disorder, with some of the others being social anxiety disorder and panic disorder ( I did also find out that a person can be diagnosed with more than one anxiety disorder ( but I'm still not sure how that fits with the bipolar.

It really doesn't matter in practical terms, though. Anxiety disorders all have very similar symptoms and treatment options. The reason I'm glad I came to this realization, though, is that it explains more of the behavior that has become so much a part of me that I didn't even realize it needed to be addressed. Now that I know that it didn't "just go away" when I was young and I'm still dealing with it at times, I can bring it up in counseling and maybe one day the fears I have that are associated with this disorder will be much more manageable and I can live a better life, with a few less fears.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

It Sounded So Simple...

I went to a dietitian yesterday. That in itself, is somewhat of a small miracle. I can't afford a dietitian, though I've needed one for a very long time. But in December my numbers finally got bad enough to technically become a type 2 diabetic. Though that's not a good thing, something else happened at the same time.

My insurance company started including dietitian services for those who are diabetic. I think that started in January of this year, though I may be wrong about that. But anyway, because of this change, I could afford to go to this dietitian and get some help.

Since my very first meeting with a food addiction 12-step group, I knew it was the answer I was looking for. I have known and seen success in my other 12-step group and knew that it was possible. But from the way everyone was defining abstinence (though I knew in this program you come up with your own definition), I wondered if I could ever deal with being so strict.

We are talking MAJOR food issues with me. I've never had a normal relationship with food, not even when I was very young. My older brother wrote an essay for school about his "red-headed little sissy" who would "burn the soles off her shoes if she heard someone in the kitchen because they might be getting out something to eat," talking about when I was a toddler.

And there are so many barriers to not being able to make this work now. My bipolar isn't under control; I live with my parents which brings major stress; I'm trying to start a business and I'm always in major stress from that; my mom is a food hoarder and there's literally no room in the pantry, the kitchen refrigerator, the refrigerator in the garage, and the very large deep freezer for me to keep some foods that I like or want to cook; cooking is difficult because I have to keep the kitchen clean and my mom wants to be involved (which translates as "wants me to prepare stuff her way"); there is always junk food laying around; my schedule is constantly changing; I'm extremely picky on what I like to eat and don't; I am nauseated most days... I could keep going but I'm sure your eyes are glassed over by now.

Needless to say, it's not the time to start something that will be an added stressor on top of an already incredibly stressful life. But I can't wait.

So I got what I called a pre-sponsor until I was entirely ready to tackle this. During that time, my pre-sponsor would give me some encouragement when I told her I didn't know how to do this. She was there to support me before I was ready to take any real steps towards abstinence. This gave me time to try to think through some of the above issues and see if I could figure anything out.

Then after the holidays were over, I told my pre-sponsor I was ready to get to work, even though I was terrified of doing so. We planned to meet tonight but ended up having to cancel. So this past week I was trying to get ready for this first meeting.

Like I said before, within this program, you define your own abstinence. Most choose foods that they tend to eat compulsively and avoid them. Many have a meal plan where they weigh and portion their food and even might email it to their sponsors each week. Some avoid entire categories of food - like no sugar or non-whole-wheat breads.

I knew none of those wouldn't work for me. For me, it's not a particular food that causes me to eat compulsively. I have had times where I had a half-eaten candy bar in my desk for weeks and other times I thought I would die if I didn't eat peanut butter every night before bed. So I do have foods that I want to eat compulsively but they constantly change.

I finally figured out that it was situational. I will compulsively grab a doughnut off the counter if there's a package of them sitting out. I will grab something to munch on to keep me from falling asleep at my desk or will run through a drive-through for the same reason if I'm out late at night. It could also be if I'm bored, or stressed, or depressed, or on the flip-side, manic.

Because of this realization, I had already planned to go into the meeting with my sponsor wanting to discuss having times when I could eat and when I can't. This would mean that if I'm extremely exhausted but it's not during a planned time to eat, I would have to figure out a way to get through it without food... and the same with the other scenarios. I didn't know how that would go over but it just felt right to me.

Back to my dietitian (you probably wondered if I had forgotten about her). She was amazing. She listened to me and I didn't feel at all condemned by my weight. After listening to all of what could be taken as excuses, but are just my reality, she said that we needed to start simple. She wanted me to focus on two things.  1 - drinking water instead of diet sodas through the day (which she blew my mind about, telling me that your brain thinks diet soda is the same as regular and even though there are no calories and no direct weight gain, your brain tells your pancreas to shoot out insulin, which messes up everything). And 2 - eat every 4 hours, and don't eat between those times.

WHAT?! She basically told me, as far as food goes, to do exactly what I had already come up with for my abstinence plan. I was riding high. I was hyped. I had thought I could do this and now I had a professional to back me up. How hard could this be?

Turns out, very. It's my first day trying this out. I drank only one soda this morning, though I did have tea with supper (very, very watered down). I woke up super early and had forgotten to eat supper last night so I was so hungry I could barely stand it. I ended up eating breakfast about 5:00am. Four hours after that would just be 9:00am, which is way too early for lunch. So I compromised and ate a snack around then and ate lunch about 1:30pm. Supper was a little late for the four hour rule - 6:00pm - but my stomach has been torn up all day and it was hard to think of something I could get down. My plan is to eat a small snack before I go to sleep.

So far I've been able to do it. I got super stressed and depressed earlier today and it was during an in-between time. I wanted to grab something to eat so badly I could hardly stand it. But I made it through. The water has been a bigger issue than I thought. I go through phases where all I want to drink is water and other times I can't stand it. I'm much more towards the latter at this point. But other than the watered-down tea, I've been faithful to drink my water through the day.

It's not going to be easy, but I know it's possible. I do plan to add more parameters as time passes - probably drastically stopping or eliminating sugar for example. I also want to build up to almost never eating in the car, which is a huge problem for me. But this is where I can start and with the help of my  a food addiction 12-step group friends and the 12-steps, I'm hoping I'll learn how to deal with life without food being my go-to. Maybe one day I'll be at least mostly free of this horrible disease.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Exhausted and Overwhelmed

So many "shoulds"... I should be resting. Or I should be out making money with Uber and Lyft. Or I should be doing one of the myriads of other items on my current To-Do list...

But I'm not doing any of those things. I need to process this day and this week even more than those things. I'll get them done eventually.

It's been a rough week. My depression has been at one of the lowest places it's been in a while. I often don't cry much when I'm depressed (though it happens sometimes), but this time I've felt like crying almost constantly for several days.

After thinking about it a lot, I've realized there are several reasons that may not be the cause but are at least likely to be contributors. One of my best friends has been mostly MIA for various reasons, none having to do with me. I understand why he hasn't been available but I've missed him terribly anyway. It also made me feel so helpless because there was nothing I could do about the situation.

Another best friend has also been missing but it's a very different context - my 20-year-old daughter. She in her first serious relationship and is spending any free time she has with this person. I knew in my head that this empty nest thing would be coming up soon, but I honestly thought it was when she moved out. I never realized it could happen while she technically still lived in the same house I do.

Every time I talk about her being one of my best friends, I can hear the chorus saying that you need to be a parent to your child and not a friend. I see the wisdom in that. But she and I have been through some major hell the past few years together and it's bonded us in ways that aren't just a very close mother and daughter relationship. We have a lot in common and have had a lot of both fun times and really, really bad times together. So I'm no ashamed to call her one of my best friends... and one with whom my relationship is drastically changing and there's once again nothing I can do about it.

So many other issues like finances or my health keep my anxiety at a moderate level under the surface constantly, even if life is going great otherwise. So this doesn't help.

If you've read my blog much at all, you know that my bipolar disorder, anxiety, and addictions affect every aspect of my life. The paragraph before this one isn't new information. Even the way I'm handling missing my friends isn't unusual.

But combine it with yet another week of dealing with my parents' health issues and it's just been too much. Again, if you have read my blog at all, you know that doctor and even ER visits are not uncommon in this house. There is never a week that goes by without at least 2 doctor visits (usually many more), and I'm not counting ongoing therapy or support groups in with that.

So when my mom falls again or my dad has another health issue pop up, I know the drill. The majority of the time I'm calm and collected. I know what needs to be done and I get it done. I gather up needed supplies or information; I inform my family; I take care of what needs to be taken care of.

Today when my mom had another issue (not quite a full fall, but she was so weak she might as well have), I felt like a basket case. I don't think I really let it show but I had a hard time figuring out what to do. I felt very scattered as I gathered up the things she, my dad, and I would need for an ER visit and possibly a hospital admission. I was mentally and physically able to drive to the hospital but if I had been just a little more upset, I wouldn't have been.

I'm at a loss about what to do now. I feel like I've been through a wringer. I had planned to do rideshare but I'm not sure if that's the best idea, given my physical and emotional state (my financial state is yelling at me to go and get to work though). The longer I sit here doing this, the more I realize the way I feel right now, it's just not safe for me to do rideshare. Maybe I could do it a little later tonight. But for now, I need to just be and let God take care of that particular worry.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

New Year... Recording My Life

Well... I had planned to post so much sooner than now.  I've sat down to post several times but other things kept interfering.  Even now I really need to get out of here but I just wanted to write a little bit.

I don't make New Year's resolutions but this year I have tried to do a few new things once the holidays were over.  One is that I bought a guided journal and I'm trying to work through it each day.  It took a good bit of searching before I found one that I thought I would like and I'm so happy I took that time.  This one has some wonderful prompts that make me think about things I need to ponder on before I start my day.  It has a few prompts that I don't use so I fill in those areas with other things I want to record.  I'm actually proud of myself for not being so rigid that I feel I have to fill in each area with the dedicated prompt.

I'm also proud of myself that I didn't beat myself up when I missed a day.  I found it right around New Year's but shipping took some time so I just got it last week.  I had only written in it a few days when I had to be at a shoot (I'm a professional photographer) super early so I decided it wasn't worth the stress to scribble something in it before I left just so I could say I did.

I didn't realize until I got it that it has some questions for the end of the day too.  That's a great thing as I can look back over my day for just a moment before I go to sleep and reflect on what happened during the day.  I can go back over emotions I had a hard time processing and try to figure out why.  I can think about where I currently am in the wonderful cycling that bipolar disorder causes.  I can list concerns and worries that are eating up my brainpower with the thought that putting them on paper gets them out of my head so that I can go to sleep.

Eventually, I hope to have enough information from this record to be able to track my moods along with what happened during the day.  When I was first diagnosed with bipolar, I used an app on my phone to do the same thing but it didn't have the detail that a written record will have. 

Along with this, I'm dedicating the time each morning to read some type of recovery information - from an informational book or meditation book about one of my addictions.  I write about what I read.  This keeps me accountable to do the reading as well as the writing.

Not to be too much of a pessimist, but I just hope and pray I can keep this up.  It hasn't even been a full week so it's way too early to say it's going to be a habit.  But I can hope...