Monday, June 22, 2020

Peace in the Midst of a Storm (Literally)

It’s storming all around me. Incredible winds... thunder/lightning... a small lake forming in the backyard... and I'm in the 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. 

It’s one of those days that's 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 with mental illnesses, and did a few mundane chores.

Unfortunately, I don't have the choice of riding a roller coaster 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 illnesses/addictions, there are very few says with the option of not getting on that roller coaster.

Finding peace 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 reasons to be pessimistic. I used 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, you won't be able to stop.  

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. 

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

And 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 issues were insurmountable.

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

Every time I look around and can’t something in the distance, it produces anxiety. The doctors said that my eyes just need more time to completely heal after 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 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. I’m relying on those benefits until events start back and since I don’t know how long that will be, the anxiety is high if the 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.

So how can I possibly be grateful? I can understand accepting them as "things I cannot change" ("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; they were postponed to while I am out of work which has made everything easier; and even though I can't see clearly yet, my vision is much better without correction than I’ve ever experienced.

Concerning unemployment – Freelancers normally can’t get unemployment, so anything is a blessing; through working on these unemployment issues, I realized a mistake in my favor; I discovered an 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 before I lost even more; the fight 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 can lead to peace 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 peace. Maybe being grateful for the positive aspects of each is the key to enjoying whatever comes - storm or peace.


(As if this experience wasn't wonderful enough already, a local cemetery that plays "Taps" at certain times of the day just played it.  I have never heard it from my home before. Hearing that from so far in the distance during this enormous quiet after all of the sounds of the storm and this emotional blog is the icing on the cake of what I'm now calling 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 you do.

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...