Saturday, March 28, 2020

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."