Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Holidays are Coming! :-(

This is my second Thanksgiving/Christmas season in Eating Disorder recovery, but my first where I am really working a program. I started in a support group for eating issues about this time last year (Oct 2019) so I was attending meetings during Thanksgiving and Christmas but wasn't actively trying to control this addiction. This year it's different.

I've been incredibly depressed and stressed recently and this morning I figured out at least part of the reason why - the holidays are coming! I'm not that far into my active program and so I'm still learning how to handle food challenges that come up in the course of everyday life. Add to that having social anxiety disorder (where food is the main way I cope with social situations) and I realized I'm dreading the holidays incredibly, especially Thanksgiving.

It still amazes me how I can give advice on recovery to others but totally forget it when it comes to myself. I do a newsletter for one support group I'm a part of and each year the November issue is about how to stay sober during the holidays. There are several great tips that I learned through research and share in the article, but the very first tip I list is, "Before the holidays hit, make a plan." 

However, this idea completely slipped my mind when thinking about how I would cope with the upcoming family gatherings that surround food. It took two appointments less than an hour apart this morning - one with my therapist and one with my nutritionist - to be reminded of this simple but important fact.

I still haven't totally fleshed out what "making a plan" means for me this holiday season, but I have started with a couple of things. 

To help with my food addiction, I decided to talk to family members to see what will be served. After getting the menu, I can decide what I want to bring that are healthier alternatives for what is already there. I don't plan on bringing a full meal for myself, but having some options I know I will like but aren't horrible for me should make mealtime easier.

Also, my nutritionist gave me permission to give myself grace and to remember that it's only one day. Even if I do "blow it," I don't need to spend the next week beating myself up. All that does is make me feel I should just give up completely. She encouraged me to celebrate each good choice and know that even if I make some bad choices, it's not the end of the world. I can try again the next day, or even as early as the next meal.

Having some accountability before and after a family function can also be useful. If I call my sponsor or another friend in one of the programs I'm in before I walk in (getting a much-needed pep talk beforehand) and then commit to calling as soon as I leave (to hopefully discuss how great I did), then I'm more likely to make better choices. Everyone loves to be praised for the good job they did - or encouraged that it's not the worst thing if it didn't go as well as hoped.

To help with my social anxiety, one thing I do is to park my car in such a way that I can leave if needed without having to move cars around. This "escape plan" reduces my anxiety by giving me an out without having to bother anyone. 

Another is a pre-emptive strike. This year I'm visiting my boyfriend's family the week before and including Christmas. I've only met one family member so far because they live out of state. We had planned to stay with family but after deciding that I need to make choices to decrease my anxiety, I realized that the money I spend on a hotel will be well worth it. There are just too many unknowns and by choosing this option, I can control one of them.

During family functions, I have given myself permission to walk outside or find a quiet place to decompress if the noise gets too overwhelming. It's important that I remember that I don't have to be in the middle of everything going on. I also try to help others so that the focus changes from my anxiety to meeting another's need.

I can't predict the future and thus, can't tell if Thanksgiving and Christmas will go well or not, but with a plan in place, at least I have a shot of making them the best they can be - even though I'm an addict with mental health issues.




Thursday, November 12, 2020

Depression Really Gets You Down

I have several mental illnesses as well as many physical health conditions. But the one that rules my life, especially lately, has been depression.

Even though I have major depression, I have had many accomplishments in my 52 years on the earth. I graduated with the highest GPA in my class for both my bachelor's and master's degrees. I was a single mom throughout the vast majority of my daughter's life and did most of it without a lot of support (financial, emotional, physical) from my ex. I am both a published photographer and writer.

So I'm what many would call "functional" in spite of my health challenges. I am able to do photography or writing work when I am bale to get work (unfortunately with COVID those are still few and far between). I am in a long-term, wonderful relationship with an amazing man. My finances, though not abundant, are in order. I am involved in several service positions and have been told by others that I'm a big help to them. 

But if you look past the surface, my life is a wreck. Internally, I'm a hot mess.

Every day lately, it's been a huge accomplishment for me to just make it out of bed. I consider it a good day if I haven't broken down in tears within an entire 24 hours. (Nothing wrong with breaking down in tears but I'm tired of being so sad all of the time.) Hygiene is going by the wayside in that I do what I have to do as far as bathing and dressing go but it's not only a big effort to do so, I do the absolute minimum. 

As difficult as those things are to deal with, what gets me more is how I just feel numb all of the time. I just don't care... and I'm one who usually cares a LOT - about people, about excelling at what I do, about my friends and family, about my environment, about keeping stuff clean and organized, about helping others. 

You know that symptom of depression where you no longer find joy in the things that you used to love? It's something you can't understand until you have felt that nothingness yourself. It makes no sense... how can you suddenly, without warning, not be passionate about things you have been passionate about for years? 

Writing and photography are two of these passions. But at the moment it's all I can do to make myself write something as simple as this blog... and I definitely don't pick up a camera unless I'm being paid to do it right now. 

I sit at my desk for hours and do "stuff". I know I'm doing something because I'm not sitting staring at the screen for those hours, but it never feels like I've accomplished a single thing at the end of the day. I even make sure to write down what I've accomplished every day, hoping that the joy of a long list will help. 

It doesn't. I can have a page of items that I have been able to tick off my to-do list and it just doesn't matter.

Last night I realized it has gone deeper than usual in that relationships are being affected. I love my long-term boyfriend more than anyone other than my daughter and right now I don't even want to see him. I don't find happiness when I get to visit with my daughter. Part of it is the over-riding numb feeling I have; part of it is that I'm tired of dragging them down with me into this pit. 

I escape into seemingly endless videos and old TV shows, usually while I'm still  trying to be "productive". That may not be unusual for many of us nowadays, but this is not my norm. I can probably count on one hand the number of TV shows I've watched by myself in the previous six months before this one, much less entire series. Now I watch something for hours each night. 

You are probably thinking that I need a therapist... or a psychiatrist... or meds... or God... or exercise... or alleviating my stress... or any of the myriad of things that do help some people in my situation. The thing is, none of those things seem to help me. 

I've been working with therapists for decades. I haven't found a psychiatrist who does anything other than push meds - and I've tried just about all of the prescriptions for depression out there and they don't work for me. I am a Christian and rely on my God to make it through each day, but this relationship doesn't change my mood. Exercise not only makes me feel worse because I get sore easily, but it's also out of the question at the moment due to an ankle injury. My living situation, finances, and work are all stressful and there's no way to really change these at the moment. 

So what do I do to keep from wanting to just give up completely?

I blog when I don't feel like it. I bathe even when it takes a major effort to do so. I get out of bed even when I feel like a lead weight on top of me. I research, and research, and research more to hopefully find a better psychiatrist who can actually make a difference. I pray and connect with others who share my beliefs. I brainstorm ideas on how to alleviate my stress. 

Basically, I keep going.

Even though it feels like this will never end, I know that one day it will. I just have to keep going until it does.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Self-Employment with Invisible Illnesses

In the 40 or so years I've been working (and I do count babysitting as my first "job"), my job path has taken many twists and turns. I have tried and thought about a variety of options for a career - wanting to be a stay-at-home mom, being a full-time nanny, thinking about majoring in math in college, volunteering as a DJ at a local college radio station, working a short stint as a professional audio engineer, and several others. I finally decided on teaching.

I won't go into the details, but burn-out, government interference in the teaching profession, and my mental illnesses and health issues all led to my leaving that career. 

However, a former teacher who has spent her whole life working with children but is now completely burnt out in that area doesn't have many other job possibilities. I never worked in food service or at a desk; technology has changed so much that my audio engineering days are long gone; plus I don't have the money to go back and get another degree in math or another field.

My dream was always to be a professional photographer and/or writer. In the past, I didn't have the self-confidence that I could make it so I opted for the safe route of a salaried career path. I did side work as a photographer for a long time and even got published a few times in a local newspaper. I wrote journals and essays for myself, always wondering if one day my writing could be published. Even as the realization came that I needed to leave teaching, I still thought I wouldn't be able to make it by working for myself.

Through the encouragement of family and friends, circumstances that made it the right time to try, many "God-coincidences", and a LOT of trial and error, my photography business started taking off. Then my writing also started becoming a good means of income. It's still not to the point I can make a living off solely my photography and writing, but I'm doing so much better than I ever dreamed. 

That said, there are a lot of pros and cons of working for yourself when you are also dealing with mental illnesses and several invisible health conditions. I've listed a few I've dealt with in case you are considering doing the same thing.

Pro... The freedom to set your own hours: If I'm extremely depressed or my anxiety is getting the best of me, I can do what I need to do for myself without having to clock in every day at the same time. Having flexibility also allows for the many doctor visits that go with having more than one chronic health condition.

Con... The freedom to set your own hours: Sometimes it can be hard to not work, especially when I'm in a hypomanic cycle. I get obsessed and have a hard time stopping, even when I need to eat or take a break. Not having set times to clock in and out means I often work evenings and weekends. Other times it can be hard to make myself sit at my desk at all and even when I do, my focus is all over the place. 

Pro... Not getting a steady paycheck: Working on your own means that you have the potential to make a lot more than in some jobs, especially one that pays minimum wage - the only kind of work I could get as one who is burned out with my initial career and who hasn't really trained for anything else. The sky is the limit if you work enough hours and hard enough.

Con... Not getting a steady paycheck: As Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is one of my most impactful mental health issues, not having a steady paycheck can add a lot to the anxiety I already feel on a daily basis. Even though I've recently built up a small savings cushion for the first time since working for myself, there is ALWAYS the anxiety that it could be wiped out at any moment if I can't get more work. There is also the issue of not being able to get certain financial perks, like a loan or a credit card, if you can't prove a regular income.

Pro... No day is the same: Every job is different. Each photography shoot, each writing assignment, each mystery shop, each Uber or Lyft ride... each one has unique aspects and I'm always having to be on my game to do each one to the best of my ability. 

Con... No day is the same: Again, my anxiety comes into play with not knowing the conditions I'm going to deal with in each individual job. There are times I wish I knew what I was going to be doing each day; what environmental conditions I would have to deal with; and exactly how long it would be until my work was completed for the day.

Pro... Being a business owner without training: Everything from marketing to social media to doing taxes means expanding my horizons and learning a lot of new information. As one who loves to figure out how to do something new as well as not having to rely on others, it can be fun to figure out the aspects of working on your own like building a website, designing a marketable logo, or producing a brochure of your work.

Con... Being a business owner without training: Sometimes it's extremely easy to get overwhelmed. That research I mentioned earlier is fun but it's also something that takes a lot of time, which is something in short measure if you are working for yourself. Every hour I spend on that website... or logo... or brochure... is taking away from time used actually earning income (though I always recognize that it's those kinds of things that are the way to get income later). 

Pro... Learning how to rely on God: As a Christian, I very much believe that God will take care of me. This means not always finding that provision in the exact way or timing I'd prefer (I would love a lot bigger savings account and often nicer "stuff") but I do know that what I need will somehow be there when I need it. This has made me realize that I can get by with much less than I thought I needed and has helped me appreciate what I already have.

Con... Learning how to rely on God: It's a great lesson to learn but it's HARD. My anxiety leads to many nights of tossing and turning when I wonder if I'm ever going to get more work. Fear of not having that steady paycheck or what the next work assignment will bring can overwhelm me at times. But I do know there's no other way to learn something like that kind of reliance except for living it.

As you see, there are pros and cons with the exact same points in every aspect of not holding a traditional job. Though it's not for everyone, for those with multiple mental and physical health needs, working for yourself is definitely something that should be considered as a means to doing what is needed to make it.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

An Expression and a Question

A while back, I made a note about something that was said to me in a support group meeting. This happens often. Many meetings I will find myself writing down insights others share, so that I can ponder them later. 

This particular phrase isn't an "insight," however. It's said often in these types of support groups and the one who says it probably has no idea that it can have two meanings. It's spoken as casually as the more common term, "Thanks for sharing," that several say at the end of every share.

Most of the time, this expression is saved for those instances someone shares a particularly heartfelt experience. There are some support group members who gravitate towards using it regularly, so during some meetings, it might be heard more often than usual. But in most of the groups I attend, it's rarely used.

This phrase is "We're glad you're here."

On the surface, it doesn't look like it has a double meaning. It's pretty straightforward. When you tell someone you are glad that he/she is here, then that's what you mean - you are glad that person is at the meeting.

I've been involved with support groups now for over 2 1/2 years. For the first 18 months, I didn't hear it that often. I said it maybe once or twice. But then September 2019, it was said to me after I shared and a lightbulb went off.

I'm Bipolar Type 2 and have several other medical and mental health issues. Suicidal thoughts flood my mind often when I'm really depressed. A stretch of several days in September 2019 was one of those times. Though I never got as far as having a plan on how to do it, this time I got very close.

I went to a meeting because it's what recovering addicts do. When I'm depressed, I'm usually quiet and won't talk to anyone. I had no plans to share. I was just going to listen to others and was hoping I'd walk out of there encouraged enough to not even want to make a plan.

I can't remember what the topic that night was, or even exactly what I shared. I'm pretty sure I shared some of the struggles I was dealing with and that I was really depressed. I may have even shared that I was suicidal.

I finished my share and heard many say the standard, "Thanks for sharing." But then I heard a sole person say, "We're glad you're here."

You know those "lightbulb moments" that you sometimes get? I had one right then.

I don't know if the person who said it meant for it to have the straightforward meaning. I didn't notice who said it so I couldn't ask. 

But when those words were spoken, to me, at that time, in my current state of mind, it meant more than 'someone was glad I was at the meeting.'

To me in that moment it meant that the person was glad I was still here, on earth, alive. 

I came across that phrase today when I was looking through some old notes. As I was even more suicidal a couple of weeks ago, and did have a plan during that dark time, I'm thankful that I was reminded that there are those who are glad I'm still here.

I'm also thankful for others who are still here, and not just at a meeting.

On this same idea of being glad you are here, I want to share a life-saving question that has saved my daughter, some of her friends, my mom, and myself. 

It is, "Will you promise you'll stay safe?" 

My daughter and my boyfriend know when I get really depressed or incredibly anxious to ask me. I do the same for them. We don’t answer until we are sure we can really promise… and being asked the question helped saved me that night a couple of weeks ago. Suicide hotlines are helpful but knowing that someone you know cares enough to go out on a limb and ask that question can literally be the difference between life and death.

If you see someone really down and have even the slightest suspicion that he/she is thinking about suicide, ask the question. If suicide is being thought about, it's not offensive if you ask. Those six words could potentially save a life.


Sunday, August 23, 2020

"Quarantine" has Reached a Whole New Level

Sometimes it seems like life just won't go your way. This can happen due to illness, relationships, job issues, mental health, or an infinite number of other reasons, including a pandemic. I know that every person out there is battling right now in some way or another due to COVID. But right now, I'm having a difficult time thinking about "every person out there" when I'm having it especially rough right now. 

August has been an incredibly tough month. It started out with a stomach issue I had. Though I was still able to do some things, I felt miserable a good bit of the time. I still have no idea what was going on at the time but after a little over a week, it just went away.

The first day I felt half-way normal, I decided to get back into my regular routine. Now that the YMCA is back open, I have started swimming again a few times a week. With my stomach issue, I couldn't chance it so I was greatly looking forward to getting back to doing it.

Something you need to know to understand what happened is that I don't have full range of motion in my right foot due to multiple injuries throughout my life. When I swim I work on this and try to flex and point that foot to increase its range of motion. 

For some reason that morning the range of motion was much greater than usual. I decided to take advantage of it and worked it out harder than usual - thinking I must be making progress with it since it was increasing.

I was fine the rest of the day... until late that afternoon. While walking down the hill to my boyfriend's apartment, I felt a sharp pain. I didn't turn it and didn't feel a pop or any other obvious reason for the injury. However, I could barely walk the rest of the way to his place.

The pain got worse throughout the evening. By the time I needed to leave, I knew I wouldn't be able to drive. It took everything I had to get back to my car... and my boyfriend drove me home. Little did I know then what the weeks ahead would involve.

I thought it was some type of strain or sprain. I looked up articles about foot injuries and from everything I could tell, there wasn't a break. I was pretty sure there was nothing that my doctor could do except get me a walking boot or brace (I already had both) so I decided to rest and wait it out. 

The first few days after the injury it seemed to be healing. I stayed off of it absolutely as much as possible and used an old walker that had been stored in the attic to go to the bathroom (the only place I went other than my bedroom). I did the RICE treatment, rest, ice, compression, and elevate, and assumed it would heal within a week or two.

But then it didn't. 

It got worse.

I decided to break down and call my primary doctor. Because they don't have the capacity to do an x-ray at their office, and I had no idea how I was going to get to and from the car to get to an office visit, we did a telehealth appointment. I described what was going on and was told to keep doing the same thing I had been doing. She gave me some slightly stronger pain medicine than the OTC meds I had been taking and I thought it would be enough.

It wasn't.

I don't know if the little bit of weight-bearing I did on it injured it more or if it just couldn't ever completely heal, but sometime towards the end of that first week, it was excruciating even when I was laying down. I couldn't even rest it on a pillow without crying. Nothing helped. 

I got a message to my doctor that I needed a specialist as well as a knee scooter or something similar in order to not have to walk on it at all. (I fell when I tried to hold it up while using the walker so I knew I needed something more stable). This was a long process - to get the referral for the orthopedist and the prescription for the scooter and I was in incredible pain while I waited.

Finally, the day of the appointment came. The doctor confirmed it was ligament damage (nothing broken) and gave me some steroid shots all around my ankle. I finally picked up the knee scooter (possibly the only one in the city). I got some better prescription meds - for pain and to relax the muscles around the ligaments. 

I am now on my 17th day with this injury. During this time I have only left my bedroom to go to the bathroom (just a few steps away), work in my study once (before it got so bad), go to three appointments using a combination of walking boot, walker, and wheelchair for each, and eat with my family earlier today in the dining room maybe 10 steps from my room.

Even though I have a laptop and a bedside table, I haven't been able to do much because it hurts too much if I let my foot dangle down for more than a few minutes (for example, I couldn't make it through lunch with my family without major pain). I am only able to do this blog because I finally figured out a way to set up the laptop so that I can keep my foot on the bed while I write.

So... August has been a bust. I have been able to get some things done on my computer but it's been slow going. Many days I was just in too much pain to be able to form coherent thoughts (which is why writing just hasn't been happening). 

I'm thankful for a few things even in the midst of this, though. I'm thankful that it happened during COVID, when I have very few events to photograph. I've been able to do a little writing but that's also limited due to COVID so I haven't gotten behind with work.

I'm thankful that I live with my parents. If you have read much of this blog at all, you know that it's been difficult at times to deal with being an adult living with your parents. But I honestly don't know what I would have done if I didn't have them. I try hard to not ask much of my parents but at least they will bring meals and drinks when I need them and when my boyfriend is at work.

I'm very thankful for my boyfriend. He has been amazing and has come over most of the time when he's off work, and he does whatever I ask without complaining (even empty the bedside commode I got - yuck!)

I'm thankful that earlier this year I changed to a laptop with a dock and an external monitor for my main computer instead of a CPU/monitor combo. At least I can work with everything on my desktop while I'm stuck in my bedroom. If I didn't have this system, I would've had to get help transferring files from my CPU to a laptop just so I could get some basic work done.

I'm also thankful that it's summer. I'm extremely heat-intolerant and am absolutely miserable in the heat and humidity in the South. If I have to be stuck at home, at least it wasn't during milder weather.

Yes, it's been an extremely difficult month so far. But even in the midst of the problems and pain, I have been able to endure and I've been taken care of. I have a lot to be grateful for.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Why Reward Based Systems Don't Work with Addicts

The other day I treated myself to a much-needed and long-awaited massage (obviously with the masseuse wearing a mask). While I was lying there, I thought about why I'd put this off for so long. My first thought was obviously my finances, as I've never made much money. But as pondered the whys, I realized there was also something else much more thought-provoking.

I love touch. It's my main "love language." I remember crying at my first massage after my prolonged separation/divorce because I had so little touch in my life after my ex left. I didn't date much because I wanted to focus on my daughter and my career, so massages were the only lengthy times I got to experience that craved touch. So, at first, I easily justified the expense. 

Then money got much tighter - and as time passed it got even tighter. My ex stopped paying child support. My daughter and I both had a lot of medical expenses. Massages were now considered a luxury. Even though they still fulfilled a basic need in my book, I wouldn't schedule them due to other needs that I felt had much higher priority.

Several times through the years when I decided to try once again to lose weight, I decided I could kill two birds with one stone - making that desired massage a reward for losing x-number of pounds. 

But the thing was... I was never able to get that reward.

Not...
Once...

Over the course of many years...

It...
Never...
Happened.

Even though it was one of my most enjoyed self-care elements and it fulfilled a need that nothing else could at the time, it never happened. I wanted one so badly. So why could I accomplish so much in life but never could make myself lose even a little weight in order to get something that I so desperately desired?

Since then, I've learned so much about that why. I realized I'm a food addict/compulsive overeater. One of the main tenets of addiction is that no amount of willpower and no punishment/reward in and of itself will provide lasting change. So that was one reason why I could never get to that place.

But somehow I felt there was more involved.

Fast forward to this past weekend... lying on that table, thinking about all this. I recognized there was more involved in this issue that just being an addict didn't include. Then I had the thought, "I'm glad I did this, even though I haven't lost weight or done anything to deserve it." 

The lightbulb went off - I didn't "need" to do anything to "deserve" it. 

The real reason I didn't get a massage during those lean years was that I didn't feel worthy of spending time and money on myself. I could have come up with the money to pay for it if I really wanted. I thought I had to perform (which, in this situation, meant losing weight) to justify the time and expense... to make myself "worthy." 

One huge struggle during my addiction recovery journey is that I'm loved the way I am. Though I am trying to recognize that who I am isn't defined by what I do, I still don't believe it in my heart. 

Every time I fail, there's more shame... there's more heartache... there's more confirmation that I'll never be able to do this (recover and reach a reasonable weight). Every time I lose a reward that I set up for myself these feelings are magnified and flood over me - and I feel even less worthy.

In fact, using punishment when I fail doesn't help because it's what I already think I deserve... all the time. I am so full of ever-present shame because I got myself into this mess that I punish myself daily - even when I'm experiencing success in my recovery battle. That punishment takes many forms but mostly it's by things like not buying clothes that look good on me because I feel I don't deserve to have them. (I also feel I don't deserve to be happy - possibly one reason for my overwhelming depression - but that's something to ponder more later.)

However, what I realized is that maybe I need to do those types of activities because I already am worthy... even if I'm not able to obtain one full day of abstinence from my eating addiction, even if I'm not successful at my career at the moment, and even if I feel like no matter how hard I try, I'll never make a difference in this world. 

I am worth spending time and money and effort on myself because I am me... and I don't need another reason. 

Another awareness from this idea is that maybe I've had it wrong all these years (actually, I know I've had it all wrong all these years - this is what got me into this mess). I've had it backward. 

Part of the reason I am so overweight is due to not feeling that I am worth enough to put the time, effort, and money into eating in a healthy way and exercising regularly. So feeling worthy enough to treat myself to a massage when I need it could be a big reminder that I'm also worthy enough to work the 12-Steps and do everything else that's included in eating disorder recovery. 

Then one day, chances are good that abstinence will come - not because I used rewards when I lost a few pounds or punished myself by not allowing myself nice things (like good clothes) when I didn't - but because I learned my worthiness doesn't come from performance...

And though my plan is to continue on this lifelong journey of recovery, I must remember that even if  I never reach my goal weight... I am worthy no matter what.




Monday, June 22, 2020

Literal Calm in the Midst of a Storm


It's been a terrible day.

It’s storming all around me. Incredible winds... thunder/lightning... a small lake forming in the backyard... and I'm in a screened-in porch. I had to move close to the house and put a big bag around my laptop to protect it from the blowing rain so I could write while I enjoyed the sounds, smells, and feelings of the storm. 

However, though externally I'm enjoying the storm, internally I'm a wreck.

It’s one of those days that's been a true roller coaster ride - jerky ups, steep downs, twists and turns and loops, and some boring straightaways. I fought with a company who misled me (and lost), contacted another company who charged me for something I didn’t receive (and won), filed for unemployment once again because they messed up at the unemployment office once again, had a huge fight with my daughter, was interviewed for an article about having a child who deals with mental illness, and did a few mundane chores.

Unfortunately, I don't have the choice of riding again. Most days include similar rides. Some are kiddie versions and some are the latest and greatest thrill rides, but for those who battle mental and physical illnesses as well as addictions, there are very few days with the option of not getting on at least one type of roller coaster.

Finding calm in the midst of these storms while riding that roller coaster is my goal. But how? 

In every addiction recovery group, the importance of gratefulness is mentioned. It's also vital for those with mental illness... or who lean towards pessimism... or actually anyone breathing.   

With everything I've gone through in my life, I thought I had justifiable reasons to be pessimistic. I use it as a safety measure - after all, if I've imagined and prepared for the worst thing that could happen, then I'd be ready for anything. 

But it doesn't work that way. Looking for the bad in everything, consciously or unconsciously, takes its toll. I am a prime example that if you have that attitude long enough, it's extremely difficult to change.  

Having several anxiety disorders doesn't help. In fact, they may be the cause. It's like the question of which came first - the chicken or the egg – but it really doesn't matter. It’s something that needs to be corrected. 

My epiphany started with a phone call. It was pity-party time and my boyfriend mentioned that I should be grateful within my horrible situation. However, earlier in the conversation, he had his own pity-party about an issue he's having. I thought I was so clever when I turned the tables on him, telling him that he should also be grateful in his situation.

Then he said three words that floored me:

"You are right."

I was speechless. I wanted him to agree that us wallowing in pity was okay. I sat there and tried to think of a good counterargument. 

I couldn't.  

There isn't one.  

In both situations, if we each looked hard enough, we could find something to be thankful for, even though just a few moments prior we each thought that these obstacles were insurmountable.

I then thought about other circumstances in my life that have been highly anxiety-producing lately: my eyesight and unemployment benefit problems. Both are massive issues. 

Every time I look around and can’t see something in the distance clearly, it produces anxiety. The doctors said that my eyes just need more time to completely heal after my cataract surgeries but there's always that little voice saying, "But what if they don't?" 

I am currently getting unemployment benefits (PUA) because there is almost no work currently in my field. You might be thinking, "But she can't work anyway due to the cataract surgeries." I could do photography shoots if I had to (it's just harder with these vision issues) so I’m relying on those benefits until events start back. Since I don’t know how long that will be, the anxiety keeps increasing every day my unemployment problems aren’t solved. 

Either issue could make even the most optimistic person worry… and I’m definitely not an optimist. Plus, I am dealing with both as well as several other small, but very burdensome, matters.

So how can I possibly be grateful? I can understand accepting them as "things I cannot change" (from "The Serenity Prayer"), but being grateful? 

Using the skills I use to find the worst in a good situation - and flipping it around - I found ways to be grateful even in bad situations. 

Concerning my eyesight... I don't have to dread the cataract surgeries anymore; because they were postponed to a time when I am out of work, I've been able to rest and heal easier; and even though I can't see clearly yet, my vision is much better without correction than I’ve ever experienced in my conscious memory.

Concerning unemployment... Freelancers typically can’t get unemployment, so receiving anything is a blessing; through working on these latest unemployment issues, I found a mistake in my favor; I discovered a useful app that auto-redials (the only way I could get a human in the unemployment office); and I was able to pass along what I’ve learned to others having similar problems. 

Concerning today’s issues... Although I lost money over the misleading subscription practices, at least I noticed it before I lost even more; the fight with my daughter helped me realize some things about myself that I need to work through; and I was able to contact unemployment the third time I called (a new record!) and hopefully fixed one of the issues.

So, though life might be storming around me while I'm riding that dang roller coaster (aren't rides supposed to be shut down during storms?) gratefulness might be the ticket that leads to calm in its midst.

And on a side note… the storm that was whirling around me when I started this post has now stopped. There's blue sky peeking through the clouds. Birds are singing. The wind is barely blowing. It's really mild for a late June afternoon in the South.

I loved the ferociousness of the storm but also love this calm. I just need to keep reminding myself that being grateful for the positive aspects of each will help me enjoy wherever I am - calm or storm.


... Just as I was finishing up this post and about to go inside, I heard "Taps" being played at a local cemetery.  I have never heard it from my home before. Hearing that wonderful song from so far in the distance during this enormous quiet after all of the sounds of the storm while writing this emotional blog is just one more reason I'm now calling today an amazing day.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Focus

I just realized there's a double-meaning to the title of this post. I picked "Focus" for what I need to be doing as far as activities and professional work in the upcoming weeks. However, as someone who just had cataract surgery on my second eye and who is having trouble "focusing," it works for that too.

As I said, I'm now recovering from my second cataract surgery. I'm really disappointed and frustrated. I can't see with my left eye - the one I use for distance vision. (Note... I have been corrected for what's called monovision - where one eye is corrected to see close up and the other to see far away. With most people, your brain adjusts and uses the correct eye to focus on what is needed at the time while temporarily shutting down the other. I used this method with contacts and had really good success, so I do know my brain can adjust.)

I know that my eye doctor, multiple websites, etc ALL say that it takes, on average, 1-2 weeks for your eyes to get clear - with full clarity not coming for up to 3 months later. My follow-up appointment yesterday went well. I was cleared to drive (though it's scary because I cannot see clearly, but legally I can see well enough), the pressure of my eyeball is fine, and everything is healing the way it should. 

I also realize that because of the monovision, not only does my eye have to adjust to the new lens, my brain has to adjust to making both new lens replacements work together, which will take even longer.

But when you have anxiety and you are a photographer where your livelihood depends on sharp eyesight, the fear is HUGE that you will be one of those few where it doesn't work. 

That's where I am.

It's all I can do to keep from living in a constant panic. I keep testing my eye for improvement - only to not be able to tell any real changes. It doesn't help that the vision issues not only are difficult to deal with to see, but also make me feel really nauseated. As someone who has an eating disorder, this adds to my frustration.

But back to why I initially titled this post "Focus"... 

I am now coming up to almost 3 months of being home practically 24/7 - only going out to to get groceries from Walmart pickup, doctor's appointments, cataract surgeries (obviously) that included staying with my boyfriend because someone had to take care of me afterward, and early on, a few no-contact photography shoots. 

I have gone from being actually a little excited that I had all this "at home" time to getting really depressed to lately being extremely anxious about the future. I am very blessed in that I have been able to receive unemployment so financial issues haven't been a huge problem. However, right now that is supposed to stop the end of July, which is 7 more weeks. 

In thinking about August, even more fear than my usual arrives. I'm primarily an event photographer. Most events won't start back in August; in fact, many concerts might not start back until NEXT August - 2021. Because of lingering depression, it's incredibly difficult to be motivated to figure out what to do. 

I have been drifting for a few weeks now.  I have some ideas on how to make money instead of using photography - mostly through writing and one product idea that could be profitable. But I can't seem to figure out where I need to focus the very little motivation and energy I have each day.

Fast forward to a couple of days later... Because of my limited energy, nausea, and headaches from eye strain, I haven't been able to finish this post. I have been trying to rest and, as much as possible, not obsess over my vision issues. I'm so thankful for others, like my boyfriend, therapist, and support groups, that have given me permission to rest. The guilt and shame I feel from not being productive are so much easier to handle if I know that others empathize with how I feel and are encouraging me to take care of myself.

So, with that in mind, I'm also not going to obsess over this post. I'm not going to read over it a few times to triple-check for errors or for a better way of expressing a thought. I'm going to take care of myself and go lay down. 

(By the way, I give you permission to do the same.)

 

Monday, June 8, 2020

Blah (My Journey Between Cataract Surgeries)...

No real theme for this post, except that I'd like to just share where I am. 

Life just doesn't seem to want to let up. Almost two weeks ago my mom had a stroke. The day after that, I had the first of two surgeries on my eyes due to cataracts. The air went out at my house (at a time when I was told to NOT sweat, and I sweat even when it's in the low 70s). For many reasons, I was the only one who could stay with my mom at the hospital, which I did from Sunday until Friday all day, every day. My daughter had a big issue with her dad and I had to help mediate it. 

Yesterday was the first day I had a break. I expected to be able to rest (finally!) and just be a bum all day. 

It didn't work out that way. 

You see, even before the cataracts, I had horrible vision. When I was about six years old and got glasses for the first time, my parents told me that I looked around and said, "Wow! The trees really DO have leaves." I probably actually had terrible vision from the time I was a toddler or preschooler but just adapted really well. 

My vision was so bad, in fact, that I was the youngest my eye doctor ever put in contacts, because my glasses were so thick that he thought I'd do much better in them. I'm now 52 and I've been wearing contacts since I was 8. 

Thankfully, age-related vision problems started late for me, not like the early 40s as is typical. When they did, as a photographer, I didn't want to wear reading glasses because I would be taking them on and off with every image I took. I tried the multi-focal contacts but I couldn't get used to them (plus, they were thick and due to my extreme dry eye, I needed thin contacts). 

My eye doctor offered another solution - using one eye for near vision and one for far vision. It's one of the cool things about how our brains can adapt... when your eyes start seeing that way, your brain learns when to get most of the data from the eye that's being used more at the time. For me, because I am left-eyed (like some are right-handed), my left eye is for distance and my right eye is for near vision. 

I had a hard time adapting at first to this type of vision correction, but my brain did eventually work well with this system. 

Until it didn't.

As my cataracts got worse, my brain started relying more and more on my left eye, as my right eye had the worse cataract. Plus, I wore my glasses a lot more or didn't use contacts at all and used the tiny bit of clear vision I had about 6-7 inches from my face (no more, no less). My brain couldn't keep up with the changes. 

As the cataract surgery drew near, I went without contacts completely because I had to put drops in my right eye 4 times a day - and couldn't have a contact in when I did it. It was a lot easier to just deal with my glasses (though they weren't the correct prescription - they were old) or with nothing.

So my brain got somewhat re-trained for my eyes to work together to focus. 

Now I have a new lens in my right eye. It's still for near vision and my near vision is amazing - 20/20 in that eye. But my brain hasn't yet re-adjusted to one eye being for near vision and one for far. It's not helping that I take out my contacts at night and so my left eye is incredibly blurry while my right eye can only see up close - but then when I wear them during the day it's the opposite. 

It's amazing just how annoying this is - it gives me a slight headache and just makes me feel "blah."

Are there many other life issues that are much worse? Yes! Does this mean I'm not thankful that my mom is doing well? Of course not! But I'm still very tired and SOOOOO ready for the other surgery in a few days. Then maybe my eyes can learn to work together and I can get past all this. At least I really hope so...


Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Numbers

Have you ever stopped to notice how numbers define our lives?

Some examples:
- Grades
- Bank account balance
- Credit score
- Likes on a social media post
- Facebook friends
- Blood pressure
- Weight
- And with COVID-19, temperature.

Those are just a few examples.

But have you ever gotten depressed over a number?

I have thought about this a lot throughout my life. If you have read much of my blog at all, or if you know me in person, it's apparent I am extremely overweight. My number phobia probably started in elementary school when they weighed every student. It might have been done in private but I think it leaked out. Or maybe I was just embarrassed that the number might get out. But either way, I remember it as being traumatic. 

Fast forward to a little later in life... the number still terrified me. However, I didn't know that it was possible to refuse to be weighed at the doctor, or at least to turn around so I didn't have to see the number on those few instances when it was necessary for them to get an accurate number. I would actually avoid going to the doctor for something like an ear infection because I knew hearing the actual number of my weight would spiral me into depression.

I deal with clinical depression and chronic, horrible anxiety, and have since I was a young teenager. When I say that it would depress me, I don't mean that it would make me sad... it would make me want to crawl into the bed and ironically, eat. This depression and unrelenting anxious thoughts related to it could last for weeks.

I know the saying that your weight is just a measure of the gravitational pull of the earth on a scale and it has nothing to do with your self-worth. That saying is really, really true... but it doesn't help my phobia - or my depression when I do hear that dang number.

In the past few years, I have been extremely diligent about avoiding hearing that information. But one day when I had to be weighed for a medical thing, I broke my rule. I asked what the number was (after telling them I didn't want to hear it). 

BIG MISTAKE.

Now I can't unhear it. 

I even dreamed about it last night, even though this happened a couple of months ago. I can't shake it. 

My depression is beginning to lift but it took a good month. It still fills me with so much shame and embarrassment. My boyfriend knows some of my biggest secrets - I tell him just about everything - but I just can't tell him this. I KNOW he won't love me any less for knowing it... but I just can't say it out loud. 

At the moment, I'm helping my mom who is an inpatient in the hospital after a small stroke, literally typing this on my laptop in the hospital room. Being in the hospital with her brought back up this issue of numbers. For her, the key numbers are sodium level, blood pressure, oxygen level, and heart rate. The numbers have got to be in an acceptable range before she can go home, so they are extremely important. 

Because of this importance, they also have the power to cause depression. But it's the kind that's more "just" sad, not an episode of clinical depression that can last for a long time. There is a difference.

Does anyone else deal with this? I know I can't be alone in this phobia but because I don't talk about it, I don't know of anyone else who deals with it. I would love for you to comment if so.

Maybe one day we will all be able to accept ourselves enough to actually know in our hearts that our self-worth isn't based on the number on a scale. I hope so...

 

Sunday, May 24, 2020

On the Merry-Go-Round Once More

It has been a truly emotional week - both good and bad. You would think I would be used to riding this mood roller coaster by now, living with bipolar as well as going through all kinds of crap throughout my life, but it's still hard to deal with.

First, the really good news... two months after I first filed for unemployment because of COVID-19 issues, I finally received it, including some (not all) of the weeks I filed in the past but didn't get anything. This has been an incredible stressor off of me, as even though I had a decent amount of money still out due to the way my clients pay me and I had a little bit saved up, I knew it wouldn't last forever. I tried not to worry, but I had a huge underlying stress every minute of every day during that time of uncertainty.

So, that's a big relief.

But medical issues... Ah, medical issues... Many years ago I wrote an article about the issue of not finding answers to my medical issues - or at least not ones that help. I updated it and posted it last year. If you go to https://www.spotlightonstigma.com/2019/09/on-merry-go-round-again.html and read it, you'll see more where I'm coming from.

The past couple of weeks I've been spinning again on that merry-go-round. I virtually saw my sleep specialist after the last failed attempt at using a BiPAP (similar to CPAP) machine for my truly horrible sleep apnea. I finally got to see a rheumatologist after suspecting I have fibromyalgia for many years. I also actually asked my primary doctor to prescribe something for the GERD (acid reflux) that she told me I have, but that taking an OTC acid reducer didn't help (hoping the prescription will help more). I also was finally able to reschedule my appointment for my cataract surgery after COVID-19 postponed the original one.

Second, the good news... I guess. My rheumatologist did confirm that I have fibro as well as an overarching syndrome called Joint Hypermobility Syndrome. Though hearing you have yet another lifelong, chronic condition isn't good news in and of itself, he does have a treatment that he uses that most rheumatologists don't.

In fact, that's why I decided to pursue a diagnosis - my daughter switched to him after already being diagnosed with really bad fibro but the doctor told her there was nothing she could do other than yoga or water aerobics to help the pain. Always before I had assumed that there was nothing that could be done about it, so why take the money and time to pursue that particular diagnosis?

The frustrating part about that good news is that there was a mix-up with calling in that wonderful prescription and I have no idea when I'll be able to get started on it. I'm hoping for one day later this week, but I just don't know.

At least the fibro diagnosis only had one frustrating part. The sleep apnea was an incredible debacle...

So, third - the pursing of an alternative to the BiPAP machine. I was originally diagnosed with both really bad Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) in 2007. RLS was able to be somewhat controlled through meds but I tried various types of CPAP machines and different masks and couldn't handle any of them. After trying and trying, I gave up. If I knew then what I know now, I would have saved myself a lot of time, trouble, and money.  But there's nothing I can do about that now.

(Note... CPAP and BiPAP are two versions of the same type of OSA therapy. Throughout this I might use them interchangeably but they mean the same type of thing.)

Then around 2014-15 I decided I'd try again. I thought maybe the technology was better with the machines or there was another new therapy that would help. The same thing happened. No matter what I did, I couldn't sleep with the BiPAP going.

This time I took it a step further... I went to an ENT. He told me I had several issues that made me a horrible candidate for CPAP/BiPAP therapy - a severe overbite that put my lower jaw too far back, a deviated septum, and a large tongue (gross to think about). Surgery could fix the first two but jaw surgery is a big surgery with a long recovery period, so that was out. Because fixing the deviated septum alone didn't seem like it would help that much, I gave up again on this therapy.

Something the ENT has stuck with me since that visit. He actually got mad... saying something like "These neurologists should never prescribe a CPAP without consulting an ENT who can sometimes automatically tell if the patient can use one or not." So all that time I fought with the machine was for nothing! I never would have been able to use it. But there's nothing I can do about that now.

After seeing the ENT and finding out about my jaw, my neurologist prescribed a custom-fitted mouthguard to bring my lower jaw forward. Getting that mouthguard was a huge mess in and of itself, which I won't go into. But I tried the mouthguard and even went back for another sleep study solely to see how much it helped. During the follow-up visit, my neurologist said that it wasn't a big improvement and since it was a pain to deal with, I also abandoned that treatment even though the mouth guard cost like $750 out of pocket. But there's nothing I can do about that now.

So... a few more years roll around and I had a routine visit with my cardiologist. He told me that there were was a brand new treatment for OSA that didn't have anything to do with tubes or mouthguards. It's a hypoglossal nerve stimulator (brand name "Inspire") which basically is similar to a pacemaker for your airway, keeping it open throughout the night.

I decided to look into this option. I got a new sleep specialist (who was the first one I really felt had my best interest at heart and didn't just want to push CPAP treatments). During our first visit, I explained my history and that I wanted to look into this new surgical option. She told me that because it was new, they were pretty strict on the criteria to qualify and at this time I wouldn't due to my high BMI (which, ironically, is probably at least partially so high BECAUSE of the apnea... sigh...)

She did, however, tell me that the technology once again had changed and would I again try the BiPAP? She also told me that the settings the last neurologist had used were way too high and it was no wonder that I couldn't stand it.

In addition, she asked why I was no longer using the mouthguard. I told her that the last doctor said it wasn't helping. She said that it was, just not enough to "cure" the apnea. This kind of ticked me off. I could have been using it that entire time and could have had a little better sleep. But there's nothing I can do about that now.

Against my better judgment, I gave in and decided to try the newest, latest BiPAP machine and ending up getting a mask that was hot off the press. I really thought this time it would work.

I was wrong.

Once again, I tried and tried. This time I also added in another mouthguard, but one I didn't have to see a dentist to get (you fit it yourself). I didn't really try the mouthguard much without the BiPAP, as I thought my jaw was part of the reason the BiPAP wasn't working. In hindsight, I should have at least kept using the mouthguard when the BiPAP therapy wasn't an option. But there's nothing I can do about that now.

I also had sinus surgery, as I knew my sinus issues were at least part of the reasons I couldn't use the BiPAP. The sinus surgery corrected one of the issues but didn't help enough for me to be able to use the machine.

Life got really busy and so I just put the machine in the closet and just prayed that I wouldn't have a heart attack due to the apnea (one of my biggest fears). I didn't want to follow-up because she acted like she had exhausted all of her options anyway, so why deal with one more doctor's appointment?

Then a couple of years passed. I thought that maybe by now they would have relaxed the qualifications on the nerve stimulator and I might qualify now. So I made an appointment with her to discuss it. It takes months to get in to see her and guess when my appointment hit?  Yes, right as the COVID-19 restrictions made most doctor's offices close. But there's nothing I can do about that now.

I had to wait a couple more months for the appointment, but thankfully I was able to get in to see her virtually relatively quickly. I suggested trying the nerve stimulator and said that maybe the standards were less now. She checked with the ENT who does this procedure. (See? An ENT consult IS needed for sleep apnea issues!)

This is where it really got messed up. She told me that they require a recent sleep study - within 3 years. My last one was too old. I haven't yet mentioned this but I HATE sleep studies. I can't sleep; I have horrible anxiety; and I am more than miserable the entire time. I had said I would never do another one. But if it was required, what could I do? I agreed to do the sleep study appointment.

She also told me that they would have to do an Upper GI to see how my airway opens and closes in order to see if I was a candidate for that treatment. An Upper GI isn't fun, by any means, but it's much easier than a sleep study.

After I got home, I realized that I might not qualify because of the way my airway opens and closes (I assumed that if my BMI was still a rule-out, I would find that out early on). So I called the ENT's office and asked if I could do the Upper GI first. If it showed I was still a candidate, then I would do the updated sleep study. After all, I had two sleep studies that showed I had it and it doesn't cure itself, so I definitely still had OSA. The scheduler supposedly asked the doctor and said that I had to have the sleep study first.

Well, the day came for the sleep study. My anxiety rose all day even though I tried really hard to keep myself calm. One thing I comforted myself with was that I didn't have to have the RLS leads, which I hate more than all the other leads combined (except the nasal cannula - it's #1).

I got to the clinic and when the tech came in to hook up the leads, she reached down to my legs. This wasn't my first rodeo so I knew what she was doing and I objected. I won't go into that whole story, but let's just say I lost and had to have them. If I had thought about it ahead of time and specifically asked my doctor to mention not to do that part of the test, I probably wouldn't have had to do it. But there's nothing I can do about that now.

I'm also not going to go into the details about the sleep study. It was just as bad as I remembered... no, it was worse. The ONLY thing that was good was that I was exhausted so I was able to sleep a little on the front end of the night. I knew from past experience that an hour or so of data is enough so I knew I had enough by the wee hours of the morning. I was able to leave at 3:00am, which was wonderful (though I was messed up from the anxiety and lack of decent sleep for a couple days afterward).

But I was glad it was done. Now I should be able to at least get to step two towards the nerve stimulator treatment, right? WRONG!

My follow-up with the ENT was two days after the sleep study. Once more, I won't go into all the ENT said, but the main point was that the nerve stimulator wasn't an option because of my BMI. WHAT?! So I went through that sleep study for nothing?!

He gave me some other options, none of which are really good options - soft palate surgery (which is mentioned twice is really painful), jaw surgery, which I already knew was major surgery with a long recovery time, and a tracheostomy, which "wouldn't be that bad because I could plug it up during the day." WHAT?! A trach?! Jaw surgery that takes literally months to heal? Soft palate surgery that is really painful (and doctors never admit that something is going to be painful so it must be really bad).

I got home and spent the day extremely depressed. That horrible sleep study (and the huge copay) may have been for nothing. As of right now, I did go on and make the appointment for the Upper GI test, just to know my options - exactly which of the procedures I would need to get done. However, I might cancel it. I already know I would need the jaw surgery and that's the one that has the longest recovery time. I just can't be off work that long. However, I might cancel the appointment and just keep praying that the apnea won't cause something like a heart attack. After all, there's nothing I can do about that now (or at least nothing I feel I'm willing to do about that now.)

And last, the cataract surgery. This blog is already way too long but I wanted to mention it. Right now the first one is four days away and the one on the other eye is two weeks after that. I'm again really nervous. Everyone I talk to says it's not a big deal but it seems like no medical procedure is simple for me. But hopefully both surgeries will go well and for the first time since I was a preschooler (or maybe earlier), I will be able to see clearly without glasses or contacts.




Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Exhaustion From COVID-19 - Not the Illness, But From Helping to Flatten the Curve

COVID-19 has affected society in so many ways. When the CDC first asked everyone to stay at home as much as possible, I didn't think too much of it. In fact, I kind of liked the idea... at first.

When I first heard it was going to be much longer than I had originally thought, the idea became a lot harder to deal with... but it was still doable. My initial impression had been how much I could get done with not as much paid work as before (though that worried me on another level) and so much time at home. As the time was extended, that was still my goal - to get a lot of projects done that I normally don't have time for.

But nothing in me realized how it would feel to be home so much - and its unanticipated effects. 

One of those has been exhaustion... bone-weary, fall-asleep-at-my-desk, can't-think exhaustion.

There are so many factors directly related to the pandemic that could be playing into this issue:

- Not getting enough sunlight...
     Lack of sunlight affects us physically in two main ways. First, being in direct sunlight for about 10-30 minutes a day helps your body produce vitamin D, which is essential in warding off fatigue. Second, the lack of sunlight causes your body to produce more melatonin, which helps make you sleepy. On top of these, there is a psychological boost to being outside and spending time in the sun.

- Anxiety...
     Excessive worry causes tiredness due to many factors. It's draining to try to figure out solutions constantly, especially if the cause of the worry doesn't have a solution (like COVID-19). Your adrenaline runs high with anxiety and when it finally runs out, there can be a physical crash. Wanting to get away from the worrisome thoughts may lead to naps which makes sleeping at night more difficult. Insomnia from this stress can also lead to being very tired during the day.

- Lack of exercise...
     We don't realize how much we are up and moving around in the course of a typical workday. Even short times of movement like walking to and from your home/office to the car add up. Kids activities, church events, social gatherings... these all lead to not sitting as much. I know that for some, being at home has caused increased exercise - maybe from chasing children who would normally be at school or cooking and cleaning more because of more bodies being in the house all day. But for many of us, the days are passed through more screentime than we are used to and thus, less being up and about.

- Too much or too little noise...
     Too much noise can cause what's called "listener fatigue." There are many who are used to having at least periods of quiet at home or work during the day. More people at home, as well as more screentime, often means more noise to deal with. On the other side, for those who may be home alone may have too little noise, which subconsciously promotes the feeling that it's time to sleep.

 - Boredom...
     Like anxiety, being bored can lead to activities and behaviors which interfere with good sleep. Not having a lot of plans can lead to staying in bed longer than typical in the morning, taking naps throughout the day, and going to bed early at night.

- Eye strain...
     Because of the screentime increases in most households, eye strain can be a problem. This can result from looking at something at one set distance for long periods. In the course of a regular day at school, work, or even leisure, there are a variety of things to look at - all different distances. For example - going to your child's ball game. Getting ready involves going back and forth from looking for what you may wear to what you are putting on to looking in a mirror to just looking around the room. The drive there includes looking out the window, looking at the speedometer, and looking at others in the car. Once you are at the ballpark, you are watching your child play ball, checking your phone, looking at the back of the ball field for the score, etc. During the stay-at-home order, there often are much longer periods of watching tv, gaming, or Zoom meetings where you look at one place. This eye strain can lead to feeling worn out when all you've done is sat in a chair all day.

- Grieving/Depression...
     Everyone has lost something during COVID-19. It could be having to cancel special plans, job/income loss, a relationship, or just the freedom of being able to run into a store without worrying about wearing a mask and abiding by social distancing measures. Grief is hard on both your physical and emotional state. It often leads to a period of depression. One of the main symptoms of depression is not being motivated to do tasks that were loved before. This lack of motivation, like several other factors mentioned, leads to less activity, more naps, and generally an interruption of regular sleep cycles, which contribute to fatigue.

- Too much caffeine or rich/sugary foods...
     Caffeine and sugar are often used as ways to wake up. But what many don't think about is how after that period of being artificially alert, there is a crash. The fatigue that some of the other issues listed have caused is only exacerbated by using stimulants such as sugar and caffeine to combat it due to this crash later. Plus, these can interrupt getting deep sleep at night due to the effects of caffeine lasting into bedtime and GI issues from too many rich foods.
     
- Not enough water...
     Dehydration is a sneaky thing. It's obvious when you have been outside in the hot sun and haven't been drinking water. But it's way too easy to miss when you are home all day and just forget to drink as much. Maybe you are used to having a water bottle at your desk at work but can't seem to remember to carry it around with you while you are at home. Maybe it's because you are used to bottled water but there is a shortage in your area. Maybe it's because since you are home you are drinking more soda or alcohol than you would normally drink in a typical day. But either way, even mild dehydration can lead to fatigue.

- And finally, actually having COVID-19...
   One of the top symptoms of COVID-19 is excessive fatigue because it's a byproduct of your body fighting the virus. Add to that, other COVID-19 symptoms can lead to not getting good sleep, like continuous coughing or a high fever. 

So when I am fighting exhaustion, there is a continuous battle playing out in my brain... Is it one, two, or a combination of many of the non-COVID-19 causes listed above or do I have one of those cases of COVID-19 where I don't really have the other symptoms? Without being able to get tested every time I feel really tired, I'll never really know. 

What I'm doing is trying to work on as many of the preventable non-COVID-19 exhaustion causes as I can. I'm taking extra vitamin D and trying to get outside every day for just a few minutes if I can't do more. I'm trying to be grateful for little things, which helps with both anxiety and grieving/depression. Exercising isn't happening but I'm working on a plan to do so. I try to control noise levels and eye strain (though not always successful). I finally got to the point where I carry water with me all day. 

All I can do is control what is possible to control. There's that Serenity Prayer again: God, give 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, May 7, 2020

Mania to Depression During COVID-19


I have bipolar disorder, Type 2, which some consider "mild"... but live in my shoes for a few weeks and you'll think it's anything but mild.

As with many mental illnesses, one can be high-functioning or lower-functioning, depending on the severity of the illness, support from others, etc. 

Maybe it's because performing well is a major part of my self-worth; maybe it's the work ethic I've been brought up with; maybe it's something else, but I have to be really, really depressed to keep me from working if I have a deadline for a task.

Lately, I’ve been that depressed.

Today I realized a couple of the reasons...

First, the obvious: I mentioned why I feel I am high functioning despite having a serious disorder. COVID-19 has robbed some of that from me and I hadn't even realized it.

My main job is as an event photographer. I supplement my income with rideshare (Uber/Lyft), mystery shopping, and some writing. So, three out of four of my main sources of income have been taken away, as I'm high risk so photography, rideshare, and mystery shopping are all out.

I thought my recent severe depression was due to the financial stress of losing my main three sources of income. But today I realized it's a lot deeper.

I get a lot of my self-worth by hearing how great a job I've done on a project. Since all this social isolation started, I've gotten very little of that positive feedback. There has been almost no photography work and my writing though "good enough" isn't award-winning.

This has affected me more than I like to admit. I had no idea how much I thrived on hearing those accolades or even just giving them to myself when I took a great photo. Both the photography and writing assignments I've gotten haven't lent themselves to getting those types of compliments. They are good... just not "great." Many mystery shops are scored... and I love getting those high "grades." Even with rideshare, you can tell when a customer has enjoyed the trip, and even when my riders don't mention it, I can tell when I've done a good.

Currently, I don't have that steady stream of compliments. With the work I've managed to get, I send the photos and/or articles to the newspaper and then hopefully later see them published. I don't get any, "Wow, that was a great photo!" or "I really enjoyed that article. You had some wonderful insights."

Then there is the mania/depression cycle that is inherent in Bipolar Disorder and its impact on all this.

At the beginning of the stay-at-home orders, I was mostly manic (I am a rapid cycler and can cycle between moods even within a day). I had so many hopes and plans about what I could get done since I had to be stuck at home - all the projects I've been putting off for a while, sometimes years.

The mania stuck with me long enough to get started on several projects. I pitched some great ideas to my editor (of course I thought they were great - I was manic). I was going to catch up on personal photo editing, go through and get rid of lots of stuff in my attic, finish updating a series of articles that never got published, clean out and organize all of my camera equipment, list most of this extra stuff on eBay, work on the book I started writing months back, etc. And then, in my spare time, I was going to take over the world.

It hasn't happened quite that way.

To my credit, I have had a lot of issues that got in the way. Major computer problems showed up that had to be resolved before I could do anything else. I re-did my photography website which took at least four times longer than it should have, due to issues with the new hosting site. My daughter broke her foot which caused some hassles. I started showing symptoms and, though I tested negative, haven't felt well more days than not. Basically, it seemed like everything I tried to do took at least two or three times longer than usual... or more!

So, my list of all of the things I planned to do during my COVID-19 isolation should be mostly done by now. 

It hasn't been. 

Not by a long shot. 

I have made progress and have gotten a lot done, but one thing about the mania, you think you can do so much more... and it's just not possible. Then you get down on yourself for not finishing all you started. Then that depression leads to doing even less. The only thing that breaks this cycle is a new manic period, but then though I do get more done, I add more to the list.

Sigh...

This has happened before but usually, steady work gets in the way. In other words, I make the plans but there's a part of me that knows I probably won't be able to finish many of them. In the COVID-19 isolation situation, my expectation of finishing that crazy amount of tasks was way too high - and the disappointment when there is still a lot more on my list even after almost two months of being home has driven me into a deep depression, which, ironically, has made it more difficult to get anything done.

My plan is to take some time and try to list everything I HAVE gotten done during this crisis. Maybe being positive and putting the emphasis on what I've finished instead of what I haven't will help list some of my depression and give me hope again.

With writing this, it occurred to me... maybe I'm not the only one who feels this way. Maybe others with high-functioning Bipolar or other mental illnesses are having similar problems coping with these kinds of issues. Maybe, just maybe, it's not just me.


Wednesday, May 6, 2020

My Heart is Breaking Once Again

I don't know how many of you have children with multiple physical and mental issues, but it's hard. I mean, HARD! As a parent, one thing you most want for your children is for them to be successful in whatever they want to do... whether it's to be a stay-at-home mom, a garbage collector, a doctor, or anything else.

She did so much to become all she could as she was growing up... All those years of trotting around to lessons and sporting events and after-school activities... All those years of Science fair projects and research papers and practicing math facts... All those years of teaching manners and work ethic and compassion for others... Sometimes I feel like all of that was for nothing because of the diseases and conditions and syndromes that my almost 21-year-old has to deal with.

Last semester her physical and mental health issues caused her to have to drop out of college and take incompletes for 3 of her classes (she was able to finish 2 through a lot of pushing through). She now has about a week to make up the work that she missed in those classes in order to change the incompletes to credits or they will turn into F's.

She worked so very hard last semester to try to get everything done but her own body and mind became her worst enemy. It just wasn't possible to push through and do everything needed in time.

So she took the incompletes, knowing that a couple of months to focus on her health and it would be no problem to finish these 3 classes when she was already so close... right???

Just as she was starting to recover from all of the trauma and stress of last semester and was again able to focus on getting into various specialists (which always takes a while), the world stopped. She had made several appointments but then she only got into one before doctors' offices closed for anything except for emergencies or COVID related cases.

Even without the doctors' appointments and treatments being done, at least she could go on and get in touch with her professors and start her work, right? NOPE! About the time she planned to do that, the college shut down. The professors were scrambling to switch to online learning for their current students so she felt bad about bothering them to help her get started on her classes.

At this point, she had plenty of time to finish so it wasn't a big deal. But as the deadline loomed closer and closer, stress about finishing set in and exacerbated her symptoms. This was heightened by stress about COVID-19, both because she is high risk and because she can't work.

As a parent of a child with an invisible illness, I often get "advice" on how I should be pulling back and letting her take care of her life on her own. "She's smart and she's 20 years old now," they would say, having no idea how hard it can be just for her to get out of bed each day or take a shower without almost passing out. They see her on good days and so, for them, she should be able to be doing these kinds of things on her own by now.

But what the advice-givers don't understand is that ongoing struggle. They haven't seen her cry because it hurt to get dressed. They haven't seen her try to study (and she really is smart) where she would read the same paragraph over and over and not be able to retain the information.

So this is my dilemma in all of this... How much do I push her to finish? How much do I let her do it on her own, knowing that the consequences could be failing those classes and ultimately not finishing school (because she's already struggling so much, any issue like having to make up these classes, could be too much)?

I've been walking this tightrope for a few weeks now and finally really talked to her about it last week. She said she did want to finish and I and some of her friends said they would help her in any way we could.

So I had hope that at least this chapter of her life would be okay... until she was in so much pain that she again missed a virtual voice lesson earlier this week. I was devastated... and so mad.

Your first thought might be that I was upset and mad at her. I'm not. I'm so f'n mad at these diseases that are robbing my beautiful, talented, smart daughter out of living the life she should be able to that sometimes I can't see straight.

I don't know what to do with these feelings. It's not going to change. She has been able to see a couple more doctors virtually the past couple of weeks, as offices are switching to that format, but there are still no answers. The more I learn about her conditions, the more I realize that she will probably have to deal with chronic pain and mental health issues her entire life. There are no cures. There isn't even an effective treatment for most of the issues she deals with.

The best we can hope for is a reduction in pain, a reduction in depression and anxiety, a reduction in the symptoms that keep her from living life.

Now she's at less than a week. I'm worried she won't finish, but I can't do it for her. Once again, it's time for 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."

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Another Week of Solitude

Another week... For the most part, my computer issues have stayed away (though I still haven't fixed those small other issues I found). However, the virus hasn't. My older brother was diagnosed on Monday after starting to show symptoms last Thursday night. His girlfriend started showing symptoms yesterday.

I'm still thankful... it looks like he's going to have a relatively mild case. He's had no breathing issues and his fever never got that high (it's been about like a seasonal flu in his case). He hasn't had to stay in bed all day, every day. He was able to "attend" our family's virtual Easter get-together and he seemed to be fine (even though we all knew he wasn't).

That said, it's still been difficult. He was over at our house to eat supper with us the same evening he started showing symptoms. My 82-year-old parents and I have now definitely been exposed. So it's the waiting game the whole world has been playing... waiting to see if we get it; waiting to see if we are the lucky ones that have it mildly; waiting to see if we may have infected someone else... but now the game's on hyperdrive.

My anxiety and depression have been constant companions during the quarantine but now they are also on hyperdrive. At least they've taken turns fighting for which one is in charge each day. Anxiety took the lead and pulled way ahead after we first realized my brother was symptomatic. Then Anxiety went into cruise mode and wasn't doing anything remarkable - just still there, holding his own by steadily whispering random thoughts and worries straight into my ear...

"What will we do if he gets sicker? He lives alone - are you guys going to just let him fight this out himself or will you go help him, though that would be risking your own lives? What will we do if one of us gets sick? What will you do if you've infected someone else you love? How are you going to be able to live with that guilt?" (I did see my boyfriend and daughter over the weekend because I thought I might lose it if I didn't see some friendly faces.)

Ironically, Anxiety wasn't worried about keeping the lead in the race, so Depression (which usually doesn't care about winning - it's all she can do to enter the race and just get started) zoomed ahead into first place. She caused me to feel numb and not care, after Anxiety had made me care too much. She kept that first-place pace for a while and her whispers were more like yelling...

"Why even try?! What good will it do?! If your brother can get sick when he was so careful and interacted with almost no-one, then what kind of chance do you and your parents have when you guys are high risk and he isn't?! You are never going to get the things done you wanted to do during this time, so why even work on them?! You might as well give up on addiction recovery, too, while we are at it! You'll never see any real progress there, especially with the food addiction! It's just too hard! You can't do it!"

Then there was the late entry from the twins... Insomnia and Exhaustion. They must be drinking major energy drinks, because they found the reserves somewhere to recently speed past Anxiety and even overtake Depression. Maybe it's because they work together and can take turns driving and also because they are focusing on driving instead of talking to me, but it doesn't matter why - they are definitely in the lead at this point.

When I am able to fight off the monologues by Anxiety and Depression and try to get something done, Insomnia and Exhausted make that work time much shorter than I'd like. Exhaustion makes me fall asleep at my desk; fall asleep in the tub; fall asleep when eating meals... then his twin, Insomnia, jumps in so that the only time I don't fall asleep and stay asleep is at night, in bed.

Somehow I've got to learn to withdraw from this particular race because I know that there's no way I - Tracy - can win when these opponents are so strong.

Maybe withdrawing isn't the answer, though. Maybe I need a yellow flag - and resign myself to last place for the duration of the race (pandemic quarantine). If Exhaustion is in the lead, I need to take a nap without guilt. If Insomnia, then a middle-of-the-night cleaning binge or other similar work is okay. If Anxiety is whispering constantly, instead of fighting the thoughts, I need to make a plan, knowing that I can change it if needed. If Depression is yelling, then to quiet her down, I can answer with things I am thankful for and that are going okay, if not "great."

If I recognize that they have superior cars, pit crews, and probably cheat a lot, and try not to win this particular race, just maybe it will be enough to keep going with life until life gets back to whatever normal is.