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.