Saturday, December 25, 2021

A Diary from the Holidays

December 17... 

I'm sitting at a local church, getting ready to cover a Christmas concert with a well-known Christian artist and I should be really happy. But I'm not. I'm sad. I'm incredibly sad.

What gets to me the most is there's no reason to be sad. It's been 2 1/2 years since I was diagnosed with Bipolar Type 2 and even before I knew I had it, I've had these cycles of depression and hypomania for as long as I can remember (it just took a while to be diagnosed). 

So, in other words, this isn't new. I know that this will eventually go away. I also know there's not much I can do to make it go away... I can just ride it out.

But it truly sucks that it's the worst it's been in a while during the holidays...

December 18 (morning)...

It's my dad's 84th birthday. My family is meeting at a Mexican restaurant and then they are coming back to our house (I live with my parents) to celebrate. 

However, I'm still in a low cycle. It's difficult for me to socialize on my best day - and this is DEFINITELY not my best day. I dread having to hang out with the family as no one understands me and I know I'll be judged for not being social.

December 18 (afternoon)...

"Well, that went swimmingly," she said very sarcastically. 

First, I got there last and so my boyfriend and I sat at the far end of the table. One of my brothers and I have recently had some, um, disagreements on some issues and of course, guess who I ended up sitting nearest to? 

I proceeded to be ignored by my family the majority of the meal.

Normally, that would be a good thing but I felt hurt anyway. They didn't know I was in a low cycle. They didn't know I didn't want to socialize. So when they ignored me, I knew it had nothing to do with giving me grace for feeling bad; it was because they didn't care.

Second, the restaurant was loud. It was full and so there was a lot of people talking plus the music was really loud. I didn't bring my ear protection that I have for concerts so by the end of the meal, my nerves were shot. 

I decided to take care of myself and go out to the car while everyone waited for the check. I told them what was going on so it wouldn't look like I just walked out on them and they looked at me like I was an alien... just when I thought I couldn't feel worse, they were able to make it happen.

My boyfriend and I needed to run a quick errand on the way back to the house, so we were the last to get there. I walked in and found the family - all sitting around the kitchen table. Our kitchen table sits 6; our dining room table can hold as many as 10. They were crowded around the kitchen table - leaving no room for my boyfriend and me. 

They knew we were coming. They knew the reason I needed to get out of there had nothing to do with them but was because it was loud in the restaurant. They didn't know that I was in a low cycle. But they excluded us anyway.

Talk about feeling bad! So, my boyfriend and I sat by ourselves at the dining room table and had some cake. The family didn't talk to me except to say goodbye when they left.

December 19...

It was a better day in some ways. I visited the church of some friends I had last seen about 35 years ago, when I practically lived with them. Lately we had gotten back in touch through Facebook but had put off actually seeing each other. It was a fun time, though it still had some tough moments because I am still low.

I had been looking forward to this evening for a few weeks. After consulting with my daughter and her fiance', I got tickets to see "It's a Wonderful Life" at the Alabama Theatre for tonight. I made sure their schedule was open, only to find out yesterday that they had ended up making plans to go out of town today.

So, I had 2 tickets that at this late time I couldn't find someone to give them to. Everyone already had plans. I even tried to give away my ticket too so my boyfriend could go with some of his guys friends (plus, I was so down I didn't know if I'd enjoy it). 

I had originally wanted my parents to go, knowing how much they would like going. I offered them to them again and they said they would go.

The logistics of getting them there where they wouldn't have to wait in line and we could get a few of the limited handicapped seats in a general admission scenario was a nightmare. But we figured it out and did it.

I'm glad I went because it was the only Christmas-y thing I think I'll do this year outside of family stuff. However, I was so tired from the depression that I kept falling asleep during the movie. It was still worth all of the hassle.

December 20-23...

From all indications, this week was supposed to be really slow with work. I had some things I had planned to do personally instead.

I'm both thankful and a little upset that I was slammed with work all week. I'm thankful because when you freelance, you never know what work you are going to get so it's always good to get jobs.

I'm upset because I was really hoping for a break. Between the two, though, I'm glad I got the work. It just made this week really hectic.

There was a big bump in the road on the 22nd. My mom felt horrible and seriously thought she had COVID. She went to get tested for both flu and COVID and both were negative. We were thankful it was "just" bronchitis. Antibiotics, steroids, and rest meant maybe we could still celebrate Christmas like we had planned.

The 23rd wasn't great for her and she started to doubt she'd feel up to having everyone over. But we still had another day to make the decision.

December 24... 

Christmas Eve. I didn't feel like it was, feeling absolutely no "holiday spirit." 

I knew mom would need help today with cooking etc, and I planned to help her. But my boyfriend was off work and he was going to come over, so I hoped to spend some time with him. We also had planned to go see a long-anticipated movie being released today and exchanging gifts with my daughter and her fiance'. 

All that changed mid-morning.

Mom felt much worse, instead of better. What was the scariest was that she had lost all taste. We did some research and found that rapid COVID tests are only about 85% accurate so she planned to go back to an urgent clinic to get re-tested before having the family come over. 

I thought she and my dad had already left when I got a phone call that they needed my help. My dad couldn't find something and they asked me to look for it. My mom was so weak she couldn't get dressed, which was the reason they hadn't already left.

In the course of maybe 10 minutes of me finding what she needed and starting to help her get dressed, she crashed. She couldn't hold her head up; her arms were numb; and she could barely talk. I finally called 911.

They took her to the ER and after doing lots of tests, found out she had the flu, Type A, as well as the bronchitis. They were planning to release her after giving her Tamaflu until they noticed her sodium level.

My mom has major issues with her sodium levels. She has been in the hospital before for a week at a time to try to fix it. But this time it was lower than even her bottom and they admitted her.

So, Christmas Eve was spent trying to update people and help her as much as I could from home (as they only allowed one person and my dad was already there). I tried to watch a movie with my boyfriend but kept getting interrupted with phone calls related to how she was doing. 

Then after finding out they were admitting her and knowing that my dad needed to get home, I went to the hospital. I planned to stay the night if needed, knowing that the hospital was short-staffed due to the holiday and knowing that she couldn't take care of herself. However, her nursing team ended up being great so I only stayed until about 11:15pm. 

Christmas morning I woke up to absolutely nothing Christmas-y. I heard my dad getting ready to go to the hospital. I called my mom to see how she was doing and she said she was worse and had been coughing since 3am (where was that great nursing them then?) I helped my dad gather up the things she needed before he left.

It's not 9:45am. I'm alone. My boyfriend and daughter both wanted to sleep in today and I know friends are doing their own things with their families. It takes me back to all of those years that my daughter was with her dad on Christmas so we had ours early (23rd and 24th). But those years I got mentally prepared for being alone on Christmas Day. This was very last-minute.

But I'm thankful. I don't feel happy, but I'm still very thankful that mom didn't have COVID, that she didn't have a stroke, that she had a good enough nursing team that I felt like I could leave and at least get some sleep last night. I guess I'm also thankful that I have experienced being alone on Christmas. I'm sad, but I'm honestly used to it.

It could have gone very differently and been much worse.

I know this post has been a downer, but I wrote it for two reasons:

- One was to help those who are having less-than-Hallmark holidays know they aren't alone.

- Two to show that you can still find things to be thankful for even when everything seems to be crashing down on you. 

I can't say "Merry Christmas," as I'm a horrible actress and don't like to say something I don't feel. I can, however, say, "I hope YOU have a merry Christmas," but know that if you aren't, it's okay. Whatever junk you are going through will end and one day, I promise. Keep going so you can make it to that day.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

New Year's Resolutions for Addicts

I am the main writer and editor for a newsletter for one of my support groups. Earlier today I emailed the group its 38th edition. When you are the main writer of articles sent to mostly the same group of people every month, sometimes it's difficult to think of a topic.  

However, it came to me pretty easily this month... I realized I've never written about New Year's Resolutions. I pretty much avoid making them myself as when (not if) I stop working on them, I beat myself up for a while.

That said, I don't think they are a bad thing. Staying realistic about how much you can do as well as remembering that life-changing support group that says, "Progress, not perfection," makes attempting them worthwhile.

On a side note, this is the 100th blog I've posted. This is another reason I chose to use the article on New Year's Resolutions for this special post. 

When I started this blog, I couldn't imagine even getting to 25. The idea of writing 100 posts could have easily overwhelmed me.

Like New Year's Resolutions (and sobriety), I decided to take it one post (day) at a time. Sometimes it was easy to find a topic... something would just pour out when I sat down to write. Others I had to work for - both in finding a topic and writing. 

At first, I planned to publish a post a week but I miserably failed at keeping that up. Giving up that expectation, I was then able to relax and write when I had time and when I had a topic I wanted to share.

And now I'm up to 100 posts. Wow. I'm blessed and amazed.

Back to New Year's Resolutions... This is the article I wrote. Note that I took these ideas from other articles and those references are listed at the end.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS FOR ADDICTS

Every January 1st it always happens… someone brings up New Year’s Resolutions and asks you about the ones you made. As addicts, at least in the area of our addictions, making a resolution doesn’t help stop the behavior. That's part of the definition of being an addict.

But just because we struggle in stopping our addictions doesn’t mean we can’t accomplish other things that contribute to recovery.

When we think about New Year’s Resolutions, we usually think about diet and exercise. Those obviously are good ones to include for general health reasons as well as to help stop the addictive behaviors.

However, there are others that help with recovery that we often don’t think about.

So… here is a list of other thinking-outside-the-box resolution possibilities (or reminders):

- MOST IMPORTANTLY… If you don’t have a sponsor /worked the Steps, make that a priority. 

- Focus on a passion. 

- Give one compliment a day.

- Do random acts of kindness.

- Write down one thing you’re grateful for every night and put it in a jar.

- Clean out your car.

- Call a friend instead of texting.

- Start a new hobby or learn a new language.

- Send handwritten letters and/or thank you notes.

- Donate clothes and items you don’t use.

- Write down your goals.

- Turn on music instead of the TV.

- Ditch one bad habit (one you are likely to succeed in and not directly related to your addiction).

- Take time to appreciate your accomplishments.

- Find someone to mentor.

- Invest in a non-profit, either monetarily or by volunteering.

- Stop beating yourself up over mistakes. Learn from them and move on.

- Make certain places (kitchen table, bedroom, car, etc) “no-phone-zones”

- Deep clean an area in your house or work.

- Walk more.

- Allow yourself five minutes to dwell on a mistake, then move on.

Mostly… if you choose to pick one or more of these resolutions to try, remember our saying…“PROGRESS, NOT PERFECTION."

May 2022 be a great year for you (and for all of us). God bless us, every one.

References:
https://parade.com/969195/megangrant/new-years-resolutions-ideas/
https://collegelifemadeeasy.com/new-years-resolution-ideas/
https://bestlifeonline.com/creative-new-years-resolutions/
https://collegelifemadeeasy.com/new-years-resolution-ideas/
https://www.realsimple.com/holidays-entertaining/holidays/100-resolutions
https://passionplanner.com/blogs/content/letting-go-perfection-new-years-resolution-setback

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Thanksgiving... Sigh...

 Hallmark movies. Holiday commercials. Magazine spreads.

They all perpetuate the myth that holidays are a joyful time for everyone.

I don't want to be a downer, but I'm one of those who doesn't like most holidays. 

The noise is overstimulating. I feel guilty when I eat foods bad for me... but I'm still struggling with saying no to them, especially when everyone else is. I feel pressure to socialize, which when I'm in a low cycle is especially hard.

Today, Thanksgiving 2021, has been rough. It started out rough, with several difficult to deal with situations first thing this morning. 

I thought it was getting better. When I first arrived for Thanksgiving dinner with my family, I was able to talk to them without too much trouble. I thought that it was going to be a "good day."

About an hour into the gathering, I was done. I started having a hard time just talking to others. I wanted to hide. And then one of my worst fears happened....

The chair I was sitting in broke.

For someone who weighs what I do, it's always a risk, always a fear. However, my brother, at whose house we always spend Thanksgiving, weighs about as much as I do. 

I assumed his furniture was sturdy. It's possible, even likely, that the reason this chair broke is because it often was the one he sat in. Or maybe it was just defective.

When I sat down in it, I knew it didn't feel "right." I tried to scoot a little in it and it twisted instead of scooted. It rocked - and it wasn't a rocking chair. 

What I should have done was get up at that time and point it out to my brother. I should have traded chairs with someone else. I should have done... something.

But I didn't. And with one scoot too many, the chair fell apart. 

I didn't get hurt. At least my body wasn't hurt. My pride was... so much.

I'm thankful that more didn't see it happen. Everyone except my daughter, her finace', my mom, and my boyfriend were in the other room.

As of this moment, my brother and his wife still don't realize I broke one of their chairs. I don't know how to tell them. I want so much to run away.

I feel sick. I feel tired. I feel mad. 

Why can't I have a Thanksgiving without something bad happening? It seems that something happens every year. 

I can't seem to win.

Again, I apologize for being so pitiful. I'm sorry I can't be all upbeat about this day. I am grateful for so much but at the moment I just feel sad.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Pushing Through When It's Difficult

It's been a rough few weeks. 

I've had a lot of work, which as a freelancer, is wonderful. 

However, I've had a lot of work, which as one who struggles with several invisible illnesses, is terrible. 

Yesterday and today I've felt especially rough. I would almost swear it's the flu, or even COVID, except that 1 - I'm not running a fever and 2 - I've felt this exact way before and was tested, and was negative.

I'm in a low cycle right now with my bipolar though because of my tremendous work ethic, I've been able to get any work with deadlines done on or before those deadlines. 

But that's where it ended. All of those other things that I want to do when I have time, like work on my book ideas, research some more in-depth articles I want to write, or get more done on personal projects, simply aren't getting done. 

I can't help but think back to a few years ago, before I found a medicine that helped my mental health issues, when I wrote an article for "The Mighty" about not being able to make myself go to the pool to work out - https://themighty.com/2020/01/worst-frustrating-symptom-depression-force-yourself-do-things/ . It was the most well-read of any article they published that week. It has gone on to have over 2,000 likes and who knows how many have read it without officially liking it.

Recently I did an update on that article - https://themighty.com/u/spotlightonstigma/content/615c2859bc0e5d01f90b8dba?utm_source=engagement_bar&utm_medium=link&utm_campaign=thought_full_card.engagement_bar/ -  saying that things can change. For almost a year, other than those times I was sick, injured, or had more work than is typical for me, I've averaged getting to the pool around 2-3 times a week. 

I thought I had conquered that struggle.

Turns out, I haven't.

I'm back in that same boat. I MADE myself go back to the pool last week and I could only stay in there 45 minutes (and that was a huge fight). From lasting only 20-30 minutes a year ago, now I usually stay in over an hour, sometimes up to an hour and a half. 

I was going to try to get one more time in last week. 

I couldn't make myself go back.

I thought that this week I could get at least 2 times in, maybe 3, because I don't have much work to do (being Thanksgiving week). 

It's now Tuesday afternoon and I haven't been able to make myself go yet. I extremely doubt I'll be able to go today... and I'm pretty doubtful I'll make it tomorrow.

When I first had the idea to write about this topic this week, it was about how it is possible to accomplish what you need to even when depressed. I do it all the time with work. If I have a scheduled shoot, I can't cancel if I'm depressed or if one of my auto-immune diseases flares up (not if I want to get more business, that is). The same goes for a deadline for an article - it has to be done no matter how I feel.

But those things that I don't consider necessary, like working out, I just can't do. 

The best way to describe how I feel when I'm like this is like "swimming through molasses." All movement is a struggle. Even though my vision is physically fine, I can't see what's ahead. I feel sticky and yucky and like there's a weight pressing in on me from every side.

Last week I shot a conference. I got there Sunday night and left Wednesday afternoon. It was almost non-stop. I shot maybe between 3,000 and 4,000 photos and edited/submitted between 550 and 600. 

Remember that I'm experiencing a low cycle right now. I cried a LOT last week. I got frustrated easily. Tasks that usually aren't hard were really difficult. 

But I got the job done. I didn't cry around others. I didn't show my frustration (much). I tried my best to make taking photos this time look as easy as any other shoot.

Then why can't I get to the pool? I know that in actuality, neither event nor at least the amount of effort I put into it, is "necessary." I could have done less and still gotten paid for the conference. I could get to the pool and only stay for 15-20 minutes and it still would help my joints and my mood. 

On the other hand, getting money to live on is definitely needed, though not technically necessary. However, so is my health.

I just realized something else. I feel like spending the day in bed. However, I am at my desk typing this. I'm not getting paid for it. I'm not even sure if anyone else ever reads it. 

Maybe I put a higher priority on it because it's somewhat work-related, more so than exercise at least, which isn't. 

I don't have the answers to these thoughts. I do know that writing them out has helped me organize them so that I can work through them easier. 

Meanwhile, I'm still going to try to get to the pool this week. Maybe this heavy, numbing depression will leave and I will want to go. Or maybe the depression won't leave but I'll make myself go anyway.

But whatever happens, it's one more reminder that in this journey of mental health issues, you never completely "arrive." 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Apps that Help Me Make it Through the Day (Part 1)

I jokingly call my smartphone my "external brain," but honestly it's not a joke. I can't imagine living without it. Yes, I use it for fun, for entertainment, but more than anything it's a tool to keep my life somewhat sane.

If you have any issues with mental health or auto-immune diseases that affect your mind and body, I'm sure you can understand. No matter how much I try to keep my life organized, there is just way too much information to try to keep up with and less brainpower than I've ever had in my life in which to do it.

I thought this week I would list some of the apps that I regularly use to help stay on top of things.

CHROME INTERNET BROWSER...

    I found Google's Chrome browser many years ago, when they were one of the very few, or maybe the only, browser that you could use on multiple platforms and share info. I have a system of bookmark files for various parts of my life and I save bookmarks like crazy. Sometimes I go through them to clean them out because I get too many and some are useful anymore. But having the same access to those bookmarks makes many tasks easier - and I have that same access on my phone, desk computer, or laptop.  

TEXTRA...

     It might not be the same now, but my texting program on the phone I had a few years ago stunk. I hunted around the app store and found Textra. It's really not that special but one feature I love is that you can pin certain contacts to the top of your texts. I have seven people who rotate around in those first seven spots and so it's always easy to find them when I want to text them again. There are also some personalization that can be done, such as assigning specific colors and individual ringtones or vibration patterns to each person.

ALARM CLOCK PLUS...

    This is one of the few apps that I paid for. It includes a good bit of personalization like how long you want your sleep timer to be either for all of your alarms or by the individual alarm. It also allows for specific ringtones to be attached to certain alarms. Again, a lot of these options are standard now but when I first found Alarm Clock Plus, they were rare. Oh... I also love the nap option, where you set an amount of time before the alarm goes off, not a specific time of day. I'm actually using a nap timer right now. When it goes off, I have to leave.

    Well, guess what? It JUST went off. I'll finish this later.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Sometimes Really Good Things Happen

So much of this blog is focused on the negative that I thought I would mention three really wonderful things that happened this week.

1 - My ex-husband sold the house he inherited from his parents. He owed me a LOT of back child support. For years, I've been thinking about going after him for it. However, since he doesn't have a regular job, I didn't think I could get anything from him. In other words, you can't get blood out of a turnip.

For over ten years, he has been telling me he was going to sell his house to pay what he owed. EVERY time I talked to him about it, he told me that it should be ready to list on the market in "about six weeks." This went on for years. 

Then four or five years ago, he inherited a house from his parents. By this point, I pretty much never talked to him as our daughter was older and so I didn't need to (no more co-parenting). I just assumed that he would sell that house as it was ready to sell, no major issues that needed to be fixed first. 

More and more time passed and finally, I asked. He told me he was planning to see one of the houses. It didn't happen.

By this time, I was over it. I was VERY over it. I decided to file with the child support enforcement office, not caring if I never got any money or if he went to jail. I was just over the whole thing and wanted someone else to deal with it.

I filed just before COVID. Needless to say, my case got held up for a very long time. I had to wait again, but at least I was working on it.

A year and a half later, I got a letter that my court case was scheduled. I won't go into that day and all that went into it, but it went well. I was very pleased with the judgment. 

During that year and a half, he decided to sell that extra home. Again, I won't go into all the specifics of everything that happened, but before he sold the house, I got a lein on this house using the child support judgment. 

Well, finally, the good news! He sold the house earlier this week. I'm not 100% sure, but I think that sometime next week I should get a check for the entire amount... the ENTIRE AMOUNT! I'm truly amazed that this could happen... finally.

2 - Back in August I took a plunge and did something I've always been too scared to do - I entered a photo contest. 

I didn't hear anything for months. I finally assumed that I didn't win. 

This week I found out that I won - and with BOTH my photos! No money was won but my photos are on display at the Birmingham Museum of Art for the next couple of months. I think that's too cool!

3 - I took a day off yesterday and went to visit a friend who lives almost two hours north of me. I went with my daughter, her fiance', and my boyfriend. We saw some of the beautiful fall colors. We ate lunch with my friend. I got to show him some of my photography that he usually doesn't get to see (he's my mentor and life coach). 

It was incredible to be able to get out in nature as well as spend time with some of the people I love the most. 

Even with lots of mental and physical health issues, good things do happen. I'm starting to try to recognize those things, even the little ones. Gratefulness is so important in recovery but it's also extremely important to make it through life, especially when you deal with hard times every day.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Focusing on Commonalities Instead of Differences

One part of my freelance work includes writing articles for a denominational newspaper. I won't go into my feelings about organized religion in this post, but you need to know that they are mixed. There are times I've had to write about issues that I didn't feel as passionate about as others, but for those, I would make them into a challenge to write a good article about something I don't necessarily believe in.

Yesterday I interviewed a man who is doing something amazing involving racial reconciliation. You might wonder why I'm bringing this up on a blog dedicated to mental health and invisible illness awareness. I'm doing so because there are many similarities to the fight for racial inclusion that we have for the inclusion of those with the issues we face.

Roy started an organization called "Pledge Group" in 2014, which later organized an annual event called "Shrink the Divide." Though it didn't come up specifically in our conversation, 2014 was an epic year regarding racial tension with the "Black Lives Matter" slogan originating in July 2013. He did express to me that his pain over what was going on helped birth this new organization.

I don't yet have his permission, but if it's okay with him, I'm going to include the Pledge in this post. For now, you can read it if you go to https://www.shrinkthedivide.com/who-we-are and scroll to the bottom of the page. 

The main tenet of the Pledge Group is to encourage open communication between races by getting together and not only talking about what's going on in the world but mostly listening to each other. This group does have one main commonality that helps its success, Christianity, which can't be applied to a random group of individuals. But I think the main point is the same.

It's so easy to pay more attention to differences than to realize that we are all much more the same than different. I've definitely been guilty of that in my life and in this blog. Feeling left out of activities, groups, and conversations helps create that "us vs them" philosophy that fuels violence like with race riots on one end and a defeatist attitude on the other.

Races looking different are obviously more, well, um, obvious. The whole idea of an invisible illness being invisible is because you can't see it on the outside. It's only when you look deeper into a person's life that you can tell it's an issue that affects everyday life. However, just because you don't see on the outside how a person is different at first, doesn't make ongoing treatment of the person the same as others.

Both issues have an extensive history of injustice and discrimination. Until recently, children with special needs were kept out of mainstream education, more because they were different than because their needs were different. Adults missed out on job opportunities due to a history of having mental health issues or having to take more sick days than is typical. Many haven't been able to access buildings that only had stairs or seating that wouldn't work for everyone. 

Both issues also have legislation that has changed the official way we deal with them. No longer (at least legally) are there separate water fountains, seating areas, or entry and exit doors due to race. No longer (at least legally) are there separate schools for children with handicaps unless it's in the best interest of the child to be in a different school. No longer (at least legally) do buildings not have ramps and elevators.

But problems still abound for each group. Just because the law says you have to provide equal treatment as much as possible, it often doesn't happen in everyday life. There are still areas in the country an African-American can't spend the night because of fear for his life. Deaf can only go to movies at certain times of the month because that's the only time it's close-captioned - and only one movie out of 10 new releases might be. Students with mental health issues are suspended when they have a breakdown instead of being helped. 

We still have a long way to go. But just like in the Pledge Group, communication is key. The more awareness we raise on how we feel related to our differences, hopefully, the more we can find in common.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Frustration

Sometimes I feel like I'm making headway against all of these invisible illnesses... and sometimes I feel extremely defeated by them.

Today is one of the days I feel so defeated. 

In the past, I was able to juggle so many parts of my life - mother, daughter, volunteer, employee, pet owner, photographer, musician... I could go on and on. The vast majority of the time I could keep all of this in the air and didn't miss a beat.

Of course, there were the occasional missteps - forgetting about an appointment, being late to an event because I went the wrong way, getting behind on cleaning or grocery shopping - but overall, I felt I had a handle on life.

This ability to handle so much was still the norm even with a few invisible illnesses. For example, I've been dealing with major depression and anxiety as long as I can remember. Both would get in the way at times but usually I was able to keep functioning in spite of them.

But as I've gotten older, more conditions have piled on. Some I think I've had for years but weren't diagnosed until recently. Some are new. What's especially fun about this is as I get older, those undiagnosed conditions get worse and new ones continue to show up.

Sometimes I wonder if it's the treatments that are making me worse - like the many medications I take for all these conditions. Sometimes I wonder if it's all due to age. I also wonder if it's the mentality - when I didn't know I had a certain condition, I think I could deny the symptoms more than having it diagnosed. 

What happened today could happen to anyone. I keep telling myself that to hopefully make myself feel better. It's not working.

It was a simple mistake. I bought two new pairs of glasses for different specialized functions and I got them from different companies. One company messed them up and I had to return them.

This is where the problem lay... I have been so scattered and overwhelmed with trying to keep those balls in the air lately that I dropped one - and returned the working pair instead of the bad pair. 

Since I rarely use these glasses, I didn't notice until it was too late and there was no way to retrieve the ones I sent by mistake. 

I'm beating myself up for not checking closer, for not slowing down for tasks like that so I don't mess them up. 

And, like I said, this could have happened to anyone. Accidents happen. People make mistakes all the time.  I'm human and invisible illnesses or not, I won't do everything just right.

I console myself that at least I don't rely on these glasses. I can live without them. I might even be able to get another pair pretty cheaply to replace them (though they won't be the quality these were). 

But what worries me is how much I'm forgetting lately. I'm so much more scattered and ADHD-like (haven't been diagnosed but it's highly suspected) the past few years. It's so difficult to focus and complete one task without another infringing on it, and sometimes I don't make it back to the first task.

I'm concerned I'll miss a deadline at work, or that I'll miss an appointment with a client, or that I'll make a major mistake like not managing my parents' meds properly. 

It's scary - and I don't know what to do about it. I make list after list. I try to stay organized. I work to keep the stuff that tries to overcome my space contained.

It's like I'm driving at 90mph and I know that there could be a speed trap coming up but I no matter what I do, I can't slow down. 

How the h*ll do I put on the brakes when there are times it's seems I've forgotten where the break pedal is?


Update on "Perplexing Depression Symptom" Post

On September 4, 2019, I blogged about my depression: https://www.spotlightonstigma.com/2019/09/perplexing-depression-symptom.html

Earlier this week, I was working out IN THE POOL and happened to remember that post. I just wanted to do a quick update.

Things CAN get better. It's now almost exactly two years later and I have been consistently going to the pool on average twice a week since last July (with the one exception of a time when a major ankle injury sidelined me from even walking for over a month).

The wildest part of this is now I feel still bad if I don't go - but it's not a "I feel guilty about not going" bad but an "I miss getting to go" kind of bad. I am now up to working out in the pool for over an hour each time and there are even times I've had to stop before I wanted because of scheduling conflicts.

I will admit that it took something as bad as COVID to get me to start going in the first place. As all of us were, I was going stir crazy after being home for a few months. When the Y opened back up on a limited basis, I was ready to get out of the house.

Some of the restrictions the Y had put in place also helped, especially those where you had to make a reservation to swim and it was only available for lap swimmers and not for families/kids (except for the daycare kids as they had stayed opened to provide child care for essential workers even through the quarantine).

This helped me in several ways... I could look over the schedule for the day and see which times had the least number of people, which helps my social anxiety. No kids allow for a more peaceful time in the pool. Needing to commit to a time slot made me plan around it and get up and go when I had it scheduled. (Scheduling it myself had never worked... I needed that level of committing to the organization for this to work.)

At first, it was still difficult. The self-talk about it not helping because I'm so incredibly out of shape ran through my head a lot. It took a lot of willpower to stay in for only 30 minutes. There were several times I had a hard time making myself go and a few times I still didn't make it.

The shift in my thinking was gradual but it was amazing when I realized it. I have always enjoyed the pool but even that knowledge didn't overcome the part of depression that makes you no longer enjoy the things you love to do. 

Now, though, it's different. It's hard to explain but I guess it's a shift of thinking how I "needed to go," vs now thinking "I get to go." Instead of one of the tasks I knew I needed to accomplish for my health, it's now part of my self-care.

With this, I'm not saying I still don't struggle with depression and its effects. I'm not trying to guilt those who are still in the stage I was when I couldn't make myself get to the pool at all. In fact, just last week was very hard in this respect and it took everything I had in me to do the basic daily tasks... but this time it was a priority to get to the pool for a different reason and I still made it there.

So what I'm saying is that you should keep trying... keep fighting. You just don't know when a breakthrough will come and something that is such a struggle now will become an indescribable joy. 

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Four Go on a Day Trip... All Have Invisible Illnesses... Resulting in a Day to Remember

For years I have wanted to visit the Georgia Aquarium. Due to a series of circumstances, earlier this week I was able to finally do so with some of the people I love most in my life - my boyfriend, my daughter, and her fiance'. 

I won't say who has what, note that some of these conditions are dealt with by more than one person, and know that I might miss some of the diagnoses, but between the four of us we deal with...

- MDD (major depressive disorder)

- Bipolar Disorder Type 2

- Dysautonomia/POTS

- Still's Disease (similar to Rheumatoid Arthritis)

- Anxiety issues/various phobias/PTSD

- Addiction

- mobility issues

- Migraines/headaches

- Osteoarthritis

- Fibromyalgia

- Joint Hypermobility Syndrome

- Sjögren's Syndrome

- Sleep issues/Insomnia/Sleep Apnea/Narcolepsy

- ADHD

- Dissociative Identity Disorder

Like I said, I might have missed some. But needless to say, going on a trip, even a day trip, with the four of us is, um, an adventure.

For one thing, because any one of us might need it at any time, we brought a wheelchair, knowing there would be a lot of walking throughout the day. One of us has a service dog, so he came along - with all of his supplies. I brought one of my cameras though it turned out that it just wasn't worth it to try to take pictures with it with everything else going on, so I just used my phone camera instead (the quality wasn't as good but it was so much easier). 

Though none of us are hearing impaired, between issues like ADHD, one having a bad headache, and things like brain fog that all of us have at times, communication was difficult at times. The fact that most of the aquarium was loud didn't help. Background music in almost every area plus all of the people talking, or at least trying to talk, over the music made it hard.

Speaking of the noise, the aquarium was also way overstimulating. COVID has made all four of us more sensitive to light, noise, and crowds. This aquarium had a lot going on both visually and auditorially and it was just too much for our minds after living in quarantine and reduced capacity situations for so long. Actually, it would have been difficult before COVID, but getting used to more times of quiet and isolation made it stand out more. In fact, I ended up using the noise-isolating earbuds I have for shooting concerts.

COVID didn't help the mobility issues that we all have in various forms. Even though all four of us have tried to get out and exercise some through the past year, it still is much less than when we all worked full-time jobs and were doing something outside of the house every day.

We did pretty well, considering. We took turns pushing and riding in the wheelchair as needed. We took breaks when the service dog got overwhelmed. We took breaks when we got overwhelmed. We took our time at the exhibits and sat and chilled at some of the big tanks, just watching the aquatic life. 

But we also had a few episodes and meltdowns. The entire day didn't go "smoothly." I'm not going to list specifics, but one time I noticed a sensory isolation booth geared for those with autism, and I almost jumped in there for just a few minutes to get away from all of the stimulation and honestly, to get away from those people that I love so much.

I would love to go back. To be perfectly honest, I'd love to go back completely by myself... to take time taking photos at each exhibit and to rest whenever and for however long I needed without worrying about anyone else. Dealing with the stimulation of the environment is enough without trying to take care of others.

However, for every difficult moment, there were many more wonderful ones. I loved hearing my daughter's laugh at some of the animals. It was wonderful watching her interact with the woman she loves. Observing the wonder in the service dog's eyes around the low-to-the-ground tanks was something I'll never forget. And finally, getting to spend a day with the love of my life outside of our regular routines was priceless.

A quick piece of advice before I end... even though there's no way you'll be able to predict every scenario (like I really thought I could use my good camera and ended up lugging it around for nothing), planning for any possible contingency helps. Having the wheelchair, the service dog, carrying water (even though technically we weren't supposed to), and having the earbuds made a big difference. I can't even imagine how hard the day would have been without all of that. 

I hope that this account helps someone not feel so alone when a day like this doesn't go smoothly. A lot of times the expectation of walking around all smiles, like in a commercial, sets us up for failure. A lot of times those of us with invisible illnesses won't use aids like a wheelchair, fearing what others might think. A lot of times, in fact, probably most of the time, the day won't go as planned.

But it's so worth it. The memories I have of this particular day are worth all of the hassles. And even though my family has a lot of issues, each one is worth it.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Disappointment

As I'm writing this, I'm in the media room at Barber Motorsports Park. I'm here to photograph a Motorsports chaplain for an article I wrote about him and while I'm here, I also have been able to get some decent photos of the practices.

I should be incredibly thankful. I mean, how many photographers my age ever get these kinds of opportunities? A few months ago, I wasn't able to be in the media room, but I was able to shoot trackside for an Indy race - and one spot I shot from was about 10-15 feet from the cars as they passed at approximately 150 mph. 

But yet I'm disappointed. This weekend has had horrible rain. Friday (practice day) was wet but it only sprinkled some - no torrential rain. 

Yesterday (Saturday) the real rain started. I shot a foot race in the morning and even though I took most of my photos from the car, I still got soaked. I ended up using my poncho as a barrier to protect the electronics in my door (the locks and window controls). Eventually, the poncho fell into a puddle and got soaked, inside and out. Between that and the fact that the rain was supposed to keep up through the afternoon, we opted out for day two of the racing weekend.

Not going Saturday afternoon meant that there was less of a chance that I would get the specific photo I had hoped to use in my article. You see, for a big race like this, the chaplain prays with the riders before each race. He made arrangements for me to go out and take pics of him doing so - on the track where the riders line up for the race start. It could be a once-in-a-lifetime activity... and the rain has prevented it for every race so far today, except the one I missed because of a miscommunication with him about where to meet.

Because he doesn't have time to pray with the riders for "quick starts" and those aren't changed until close to the time for the race, I can't go anywhere else and shoot - there's not enough time. So today I haven't been able to shoot the action OR get the photo I wanted.

I'm so upset and I really shouldn't be... It's amazing that I had a chance to "live" in the media center at Barber Racetrack for a big race weekend; it's really cool that I already was able to watch a press conference after a race; I did get some good photos and it's not like a needed more than a couple for my portfolio; and I was able to get a photo that I can use for the article, even if I don't get the one I came for.

I keep repeating to myself the Serenity Prayer - and reminding myself that the rain is definitely something I cannot change. I am having a hard time not beating myself up for coming yesterday afternoon as well as for not getting to the prayer time this morning - but the forecast showed that it was supposed to be nicer today so I just knew that I would be able to get what I needed.

Honestly, there are still two races to go. The forecast is showing the heavy rain continuing, but there's always the small chance that one of them will do a regular start and I'll still get to get what I came for.

But even if I don't, it ultimately doesn't matter. Like I said, I can't control the weather; I can't control the timing of making the calls about quick starts; I can't control that there's not enough time to find a place to shoot in between races and still be available for the possibility of catching a prayer. 

All I can do is try my best to control my disappointment and hopefully focus on the positive... and remember that life isn't about getting what you want all of the time.

Update:

Well, there was a quick start for the next to last race so that one was out. Then the weather started clearing up. I was very hopeful that the last race (which was the highest level group), would have a long start and I could get that photo.

I got ready and started to head down to the track when I got a call. It was a woman so I was taken aback at first. She introduced herself as the chaplain's wife and told me that there was a medical emergency with one of those involved with the race and that he might have to go to the hospital with him. I told her that of course, it was okay as that's the most important part of his job. But after getting off the phone, my true emotions emerged.

I couldn't believe this happened. Really? I was torn. I hate to say it but my immediate response was complete disappointment and sadness for the missed opportunity. Then it quickly changed into compassion for whoever it was that had the medical issue as well as for the chaplain, because he wanted that photo as much as I did.

But when I got off the phone all I wanted to do was cry. Thankfully, I was out of the media center when I got the news so I didn't have to stay completely composed. I was also mad at myself, as I didn't go to the race on Saturday afternoon and I realized I should have.

Honestly, though, who would have predicted all this? The miscommunication in the morning, the ongoing rain when it hadn't been forecast in the afternoon, the medical emergency? 

However, it all changed with a call from my boyfriend and photography partner. He found out that we could go into the pit area and shoot with the credentials we already had. We had been told we could during a practice day but then got in trouble when we tried to do so, so we assumed it was the same on race day. 

So even though I didn't get that photo I really wanted, I did get to shoot from the "hot pit" area, a place that you usually have to have a special pass to be in. Because I was in the media center most of the afternoon, I got to see and shoot a few more press conferences. I also got to rest, which, because I couldn't sleep much at all the night before, was much needed before that last shoot (I wouldn't have made it through that last race otherwise). 

I'm planning to try to find out how the medical emergency person is doing and I'll try to remember to do another update about that. So more later on this ongoing weekend.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

One of "Those Days"... and Expectations

Today has been one of "those days" - the days we all have but no one enjoys... the days when everything seems to go wrong... the days we feel like we are spinning our wheels.

But today I realized something - expectations make days like this seem even worse than they actually are. Let me 'splain.

I woke up ready to go. Woo-hoo, I'm manic! Being manic for me means waking up early, ready to work. It means I'm able to tackle difficult tasks with much more confidence than usual. It means I'm able to socialize, make phone calls, and deal with people in ways I can't when I'm depressed or even sometimes when I'm stable.

(If you haven't read my other blogs, I'm bipolar, type 2, which means my mania is less severe than type 1 and I'm usually able to function fairly well. I don't want to make it sound like something everyone should have, though, as it also has many drawbacks. I'll often find myself talking too much and even when I realize it, I can't stop. I shop online more than usual but I'm not embarrassed to return something so when I am out of control there, I can usually fix it when I come down. Though I am more energetic and full of ideas, I'm also scattered and have a very hard time focusing. Sometimes my anxiety can go through the roof during this mood. But it sure beats being depressed and feeling like you are swimming through molasses day after day.)

Back to today... I woke up early and instead of laying in bed trying to make myself get going, I went almost immediately to take a bath and get to work. I finished an article I started yesterday, completed some little tasks I had been putting off, had a phone meeting with a sponsee, and then had teletherapy.

The therapy appointment was very helpful as we worked through a big dilemma I'm facing and I got not only a lot of support but some very practical tips on how to handle it. Because I didn't want to forget what she said, I spent some time after therapy working on the suggestions we had figured out. 

By this time it was lunchtime. I worked while I ate (which is typical for me, especially during an up-cycle) and then when I got to a stopping place, I decided to take quick break before getting ready for a doctor's appointment. 

Then the day started going downhill. I went to that doctor's appointment only to find out once I had checked in that I didn't need that follow-up after all. I tried to stay positive and thought, well, since I'm dressed and out (I work from home so I am super casual, staying in PJs sometimes all day), I might as well finish the errands I put off until a day I have to be out anyway.

I went to drop off a script at my local DME (durable medical equipment) store. When I got there, I had to wait a while and when someone finally helped me, she told me that they didn't have what I needed. I know a few weeks ago I called them about it but, whatever. I couldn't argue with her and make the brace I needed appear out of nowhere. She was very sweet and gave me the phone number of a place that did carry them.

I went out to my car to call them and get the address so I could still finish that task today... only to find out that I would have to make an appointment that would take 45 minutes to an hour to complete - and their location was all the way downtown. So that would have to be put off for who knows how long.

Another item I had on my to-do list for way too long and really wanted to cross off was to get the mail-order glasses I got checked out by an optician. The eye care place I use didn't have an optician in today so I pulled over to pull out the flyer that came with the glasses to get info about another optician in the area. I didn't have the flyer. I did have the receipt so I called them. Meanwhile, I tried the glasses on again and they seemed to work better. I told him I needed to check them out again at my computer (as that's what they are exclusively for) and I'd call back. 

I had planned to meet a friend at his office but he didn't text me back so I wasn't sure that he was still there.

I did get one thing accomplished... I had to get a car wash subscription I had bought (extreme coupon deal) canceled and I was able to get it done without a problem.

I got home and realized I hadn't seen the other pair of glasses I got (for other tasks as needed) in a while and bawled as I thought I had accidentally pushed them into the trash can under the table where I keep all of the stuff that needs to go elsewhere. I looked and looked for them and just about gave up. 

I was talking to my boyfriend at the time and I burst out, "This isn't the way the day is supposed to be going. I'm manic!" 

The realization hit me... those dang expectations got me again. Because the day started so well and because I had energy I usually don't have, I thought that the day would be without flaws. 

But there is good and bad to EVERY day. In fact, I am trying not to get to the point where I don't label an entire day as good or bad. Each day is full of good, bad, boring, exciting, fulfilling, scary, and/or depressing moments. And each day is actually a good day, because I'm still here. I'm still trying. I'm still putting one foot in front of the other.

Though every moment might not be classified as "good," life is good.


Monday, September 6, 2021

Colonoscopy While Dealing with Invisible Illnesses

Author's note... This post is taken from my experience and my research. I'm not a doctor and so don't utilize any of my tips unless you talk to your doctor about them.

I just had my first colonoscopy this past week. This is something I had been dreading for at least 20 years, as I have a bad gag reflex and I had heard all of the horror stories about the prep solution being difficult to get down.

One of my biggest worries other than gagging was that I would do all of the prep and it wouldn't be done well enough. This caused me to second-guess the way I interpreted what my doctor said in his "before-the procedure" notes.

As with so many of the experiences that those of us with anxiety worry about, it wasn't as horrible as I thought, though I did run into some issues I hadn't even worried about. As the day came closer, my anxiety increased. I found myself online more and more, looking for tips and the experiences of others to help me fight the worry. 

One thing I always wondered while during my research was, "Do those whose experiences and tips I'm reading also face dealing with invisible illnesses?" As you probably know first-hand, the experience of someone with, for example, anxiety issues already, can totally lose it during a test that even the most positive person might have some anxiety about.

I thought it might be helpful to share what happened in my case to possibly help others facing the same dread over this necessary test.

- I wish I had known why it's so important:

In hindsight, it would have been helpful to know how colon cancer progresses. Remember that I'm not a doctor, but my understanding is in at least most of the cases, polyps develop and those can turn cancerous. So the screening is to look for and cut out those polyps before they have a chance to grow large enough to increase the risk of cancer. 

When I read that, it all made sense and wasn't as scary. Maybe it should have been - I mean, who wants to have something cut out of the inside of their intestines? - but it gave me hope. It actually is pretty cut and dry - if the doctor sees a polyp, he cuts it out. It's biopsied and you know one way or another if it's precancerous or cancerous. Usually, it's not.

I guess I thought it was like a mammogram, which, because I'm a large woman, always seems like a guessing game. Fibrous tissue can easily look like lumps and you have to totally trust that the radiologist reading the scan knows the difference. I've been called in more than once to have a follow-up ultrasound to make sure a questionable area wasn't cancer. 

(But at least mammograms don't include almost a week of prep beforehand.)

- Being fully "cleaned out" before the test:

Until I started my seemingly endless Googling about all this, I didn't realize some of the whys on the importance of the prep. After hearing them, it made it easier to comply.

I'll get into the specifics in a bit, but to sum up, if the doctor can't see the inside wall of the colon clearly, he can't see the polyps and other abnormalities to either fix them or come to an accurate diagnosis. The reason for no red or blue dyes on the clear liquid day is because it can look like blood on the scan.

- The prep week:

My understanding is that not every doctor suggests this method of getting cleaned out, but mine wanted me to do two days of a low-residue diet and one day of a liquid diet before drinking the prep solution.

They suggested that you read over the list of what you can and can't have for those 3-4 days as soon as they come in the mail so that you can grocery shop accordingly. However, because I was anxious about the procedure and I have an eating disorder, I procrastinated even reading the list (does anyone else do that?). I have a hard time during the best week making a grocery list for what I might want to eat in the days ahead - and these restrictions added a good bit of stress. 

So a couple of days before the prep started, I finally looked over my options and tried to plan out what I needed to get. As I live in a small area, have a very tiny fridge, use a dresser for a pantry, and am on a limited budget, I have to be selective in what I buy. 

I figured out a few things... I knew I could eat peanut butter and jelly one or two meals (creamy peanut butter is okay), but I eat jam and fruit spreads so I didn't have jelly. One thing I had to put on the list. I needed white bread because I usually use 12-grain. The second thing on the list. I knew I wanted jello (it's a treat I rarely eat because of blood sugar issues but while I also try to avoid artificial sweeteners) so I found some sugar-free jello and added it. 

Then I started running into questions about both the low-residue and liquid diets. A few of these were... Was beef broth considered a clear liquid? (Yes) Why could I have Diet Coke and not Diet Dr. Pepper, which is my "coffee" every morning? (Because of the cherry flavoring in Diet DP) Was watermelon considered a low-residue food? (Yes) Were strawberries? (NO.) I know well-cooked vegetables were okay but was well-cooked broccoli included? (I couldn't find an answer so I just didn't eat the broccoli). 

I ran into an issue as I got started on the diet - I hadn't thought through enough scenarios. Because I live in an apartment area in my parents' house, I can always get something from them if I don't have it already. I knew they almost always have ice cream (another treat I rarely eat) and I was looking forward to that. But when I went to get some, I realized that all they had were specialty flavors, not plain flavors like chocolate or vanilla. So that was out. 

I hadn't thought about the fact that most things in the low-residue diet didn't crunch and I like that sensation so when that craving hit, I realized that all I had were high fiber items like wheat thins, tortilla chips, and popcorn. I finally found some plain crackers and munched on them.

The list included "well-cooked tender meats." How tender do they have to be to make sure they were tender enough? (Like the broccoli, I couldn't find an answer so I just skipped meat). 

I had questions like these about the majority of items on the list so it was a difficult few days of questioning anything I put in my mouth (and often worrying about it before, during, and after eating it).

- The prep solution and the, um, results of drinking it.

This was the thing I dreaded most. The afternoon before I had to take it the first time (at 6pm), I found myself looking at the clock every 15 minutes or so. I tried to watch a movie to keep my mind off it, but I couldn't do it. Google to the rescue! My research began again in earnest.

What did it taste like? Did anyone have tips on how to get it down? How long did it take to work? How long would you be, um, occupied with its effects? 

I started with general questions and then realized I wanted to know about the specific prep solution I was prescribed - Suprep. So I started googling again.

These are some of the tips my doctor mentioned or I found in my research and whether or not they worked for me.

- Take anti-nausea medicine.

My doctor prescribed anti-nausea medicine for me. He didn't tell me how to use it so I looked it up. From all I read, nausea could hit when you start drinking the prep and I found that it took about 30 minutes to work, so I tried to take it 30 minutes before I started each prep. I didn't have any nausea so this is one I highly recommend. (I often get nauseated very, very easily.)

- Take Gas-X.

My doctor told me to take two 160mg or 180mg tablets of Gas-X/Simethicone right before starting the prep each time. I could only find tablets in 125mg so I took three each time. It's supposed to help with bloating and I didn't experience much so I guess it worked.

- Mix the prep and water you have to drink afterward with something to help the taste and get down that massive amount of liquid. 

I found out that the best description of the taste of Suprep solution is cherry/grape cough syrup, mixed with seawater, with a dash of dish soap. So I was determined to find something to help make it more bearable.

This was one time I ran into trouble. Adding Sprite is an option, but sometimes it can make me gag on its own so it scared me to try. I had bought some Gatorade and at first, planned to use the Gatorade as a mixer, but then I realized that the prep was already described as salty. So, should I add even more?

I keep drink mixes around - both electrolyte solutions and others - to help if I'm having a day where I just can't drink any more plain water. However, almost all of my favorite drinks include cherry flavoring so I didn't have anything that would work. I tried my parents' stash and found the same thing - everything was red, purple, or stuff I didn't like. 

Looking again much more carefully through my stuff, I found a tube of powder to make lemonade. I thought that it would work and be okay to go with the cherry/grape-ish flavor others mentioned it had. 

It didn't taste nearly as bad as I thought. I wouldn't ever choose to drink it and it got harder to get down the more I drank, but I didn't gag once.

- Drink it cold.

Many sites said that if you chill it before drinking it, it helped. Personally, I don't know if it made a difference in my case, but it didn't hurt to stick it in the fridge a few hours before.

- Use a straw.

Again, many sites recommended using a straw to bypass your taste buds. Maybe if you sipped a little at a time, it would work, but I wanted to get it down pretty quickly so I still tasted it. With the 2nd prep (which I had to do at 3am the next morning) I still used a straw but I seriously thought about skipping the straw and chugging it.

- Take a shot (glass).

I read this suggestion online but to me, there would be so many shots you'd have to drink that it would take forever to get it all down. I told my daughter about it later and she mentioned that you could do it like a drinking game, which I wish I had thought of. If you decide to try this idea, make sure the cues you use for your game happen pretty often as you have I think an hour to get the prep and 32 more ounces of fluid down. So I can't say whether this works but I'm planning to try it the next time I need this test.

- Exchange Gatorade or Powerade for the extra 32 ounces of water. 

My doctor's orders didn't specify whether it HAD to be plain water that you drink after you get the prep solution down and I found plenty of sites where others had used Gatorade or something similar as that liquid. I know that I wouldn't have been able to get enough plain water down so that was my justification - it was better to get down a lot of Gatorade, even if it wasn't the best option, instead of little to no water.

- Eat a flavored item (that's included in the clear liquid guidelines) in between sips.

Those online recommended Italian ice or sucking hard candy between sips. I used some of my jello for this. Drink some gulps, eat a bite of jello. This killed the aftertaste, which I can tell would have been difficult for me to deal with.

Note - I don't know if I recommend this next part, as I worried and worried about it after I did it, but I also ate jello, mixed the prep with lemonade, and drank Gatorade instead of water during the second prep. My doctor's instructions said not to eat or drink anything after finishing the prep and my anxiety told me that eating jello or drinking Gatorade instead of water was going to mess it up. My head told me that my body would treat the jello as liquid as soon as it warmed up and that the electrolytes of the Gatorade were helpful, as I have a tendency to get dehydrated easily - and that all of this would be flushed out soon anyway. 

It worked out fine as I was completely clear for the test so at least in this one instance, I know it's okay to do these suggestions for both prep times. But it's a risk you'd have to take on your own, knowing that there's a possibility it won't be okay for you.

- Use wipes instead of toilet paper and Vaseline, Desitin, or something similar after going.

I do the first part of this suggestion on a daily basis anyway and didn't want the hassle of doing the second part. It makes sense on paper, but honestly, that night you won't know how long you have between, um, episodes. It would be a nightmare to be in the middle of applying Vaseline when the explosive diarrhea shows up once again. However, if you wanted to try it once things seem to be calming down, it does make sense.

- Wear something loose and comfortable. Slip-on shoes can also be helpful.

I usually wear shorts or jeans since I'm a freelancer and most of my work is from home. It was recommended that anything with a tight waistband could be uncomfortable so wearing something looser is good. I have a cotton casual dress I rarely wear and I brought it out for this procedure. I also wore slip-on shoes. After the procedure, you are pretty woozy and one less thing to deal with when getting dressed is helpful.

Just a few more suggestions about the day of and the day after it's over.

- Be prepared to rest all day.

In my case, I was lucky and got a good amount of sleep during the night, even with the prep interrupting my sleep some. The meds they used for the anesthesia gave me an extremely restful nap during the procedure. I was a little groggy but it was nothing like other times I had anesthesia and I was fully awake by the time I got home. I did run out of steam in the early afternoon and needed to take a nap but overall I was okay.

But the vast majority of accounts I read mentioned being really sleepy so plan to take it easy the day of if at all possible.

- Watch what you eat for a few days afterward.

My discharge notes said to eat easy-to-digest foods on the day of the procedure. I did well that day, other than a good bit of bloating from the air they use during the procedure that resolved pretty quickly. So, I thought that the next day I could go back to my normal diet.

WRONG! I don't know if it was the colonoscopy or my IBS, but the next day I ate a bean burrito at lunch. MISTAKE! I was extremely bloated and gassy all evening, then had diarrhea much worse than the night of the prep all night. It only resolved after taking several Pepto-Bismol tablets and Gas-X tablets. 

The research I did to see if this is a normal occurrence after a colonoscopy had mixed results. I can't say whether it was the colonoscopy itself, the colonoscopy irritating my IBS, a typical flare-up of IBS, or something else, but I would advise caution in this area, especially if you already have digestive issues. You might want to stay on a more restricted diet a few days, just in case.

All in all, though I hope I don't have to repeat it again too soon, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I tried to think of the good aspects of the different diets to make it more bearable... (Being told to eat white bread instead of grain? *Woo-hoo!* Having so few options that ice cream and jello are okay? *Yes! Let's do that!* Drinking Gatorade instead of water all day? *Sounds like a plan!*) 

I found out that something I had consoled myself with during the weeks prior turned out to be true... my ongoing digestive issues have been much worse than the prep night was. So even though it wasn't fun by any means, it wasn't something I don't deal with off and on throughout my regular life. And the benefits of catching colon cancer FAR outweigh the yuckiness of the test.

So, if you've been putting it off, instead make that appointment. 

(Just make sure you read your doctor's suggestions and research your questions well in advance of your test.👧)


Wednesday, August 18, 2021

My Introduction as a Guest Blogger for Blanket Fort Hope

My story began over 50 years ago in Birmingham, AL. An early value that was instilled in me was the importance of church. My first outing after being born was going to church and being enrolled in the “Cradle Roll” at two weeks old. I grew up in a family that was at church just about every time the doors were open.

Though I was raised in an intact, lower-middle-class, Christian family, I had a lot going on. I had several medical conditions that were difficult to diagnose and I had to do a lot of things differently or apart from peers. I was considered gifted academically, which is a blessing, but that also made me different. Then as a teenager, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression which made it hard to navigate life during those transitioning-to-adulthood years.

I did experience success in my young adult years, graduating top of my class for both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. But I also experienced a lot of failure – or at least times of major frustration and waiting.

I wanted children badly – a huge desire since I was about 8 years old – but couldn’t get pregnant. After I finally did get pregnant and had a healthy baby girl, my husband left us, eventually getting divorced. I had job challenges, some of them life changing. I was a single mom with very little financial support from my ex-husband. These issues are just the tip of the iceberg.

And my mental and physical health issues didn’t help.

However, one positive outcome from these difficulties has been developing empathy. I recognize that there is no way I can fully comprehend what another has been through and how those experiences have affected them, but I have experienced plenty of pain, heartache, and having things done to me that I didn’t deserve.

I understand what it means to not be understood. I understand what it means to have something or someone you love taken away from you. I understand what it means to be falsely accused. And though I’m a Christian and know in my heart that God is on my side, I understand feeling very alone, without hope, without a future - as there have been many periods of my life where I’ve felt just that way.

Fast-forward to a few years ago. The same God who I knew was on my side proved Himself in an incredible way. After losing a lot of parts of my life dear to me in the state where I lived for 25 years, I moved back home. I had to start over, and I wasn’t sure how and even if I would be able to make it.

You see, one of my dreams has always been to make a career out of photography, a passion of mine since I was a teenager. Another big dream I’ve had is to be a writer. Still another is to learn American Sign Language (ASL). And one more is to be an advocate for others with mental and physical health issues.

However, after that time of loss, I gained something – having the dreams I mentioned earlier happen.

I now do freelance work in photography and writing. I have had almost 150 paid photography sessions and have had published over 100 articles, not counting those in my two blogs, during the past few years. I am in the process of learning ASL and even though it’s slow going, I’m starting to become fluent and hope to be a licensed interpreter one day.

I created a blog called “Spotlight on Stigma” and have had many articles published in an online magazine called “The Mighty” – both of which address the advocacy part of what I hope to do. (You can go to www.NovelPhotos.com to learn more about my work in everything but ASL.)

I found out about Blanket Fort Hope (BFH) through an article I was writing for TAB Media (The Alabama Baptist newspaper and The Baptist Paper). Both Alexa and Justin are so passionate about this cause, it encouraged me to consider volunteering. I offered to BFH both the gifts God gave me for photography and writing and the empathy He provided through my struggles to further this effort.

My desire in being a part is to help spread awareness of what’s happening with trafficking as well as bring up some points that some might not think about concerning others’ problems and pain.

Possibly something I write or a photo I take will cause someone to pause and think about the article/image. Maybe those thoughts from that someone will also lead to supporting those who have never had that kind of care - the survivors of sex trafficking.

And hopefully, if we all work together, living the hope of Christ and showing it to these children and young adults will help these survivors heal.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

"You Can Do Anything if You Try Hard Enough" is a LIE

With the Olympics just finishing, I hear it even more than usual: "You can do anything if you try hard enough." This is simply not true and it's one of my biggest pet peeves.

I was interviewing a mom whose daughter has a very rare condition with multiple physical and mental impairments and she mentioned this too. She realizes that her daughter can make great strides and do great things but can't "be anything she wants." I love her attitude, but it's just not possible.

When I was young, I first thought about this, ironically, concerning fair employment practices and acting. I knew that an employer was supposed to consider each candidate equally for a position. But how did that work if the part was obviously for a child and the one who wanted it was a senior citizen? In the times we live in, it would be possible to do make-up or CGI to make that elderly person into one much younger, but in most cases, it would be cost-prohibitive... and frankly, unnecessary. 

My daughter is a good example of someone who has a great aptitude to do work that physically she can't do. Yes, I'm biased, but she has incredible potential to be a great cinematographer. She has an eye for unusual angles and knows the psychology of how a certain type of shot makes you feel. 

But she has a condition that makes her extremely sensitive to extremes in temperature, especially heat. You know the phrase, "The mind is willing but the body is weak?" She epitomizes that phrase. She would love to work in film but knows her limits. Working 12 hour days on film sets that range from very hot to very cold is not something she can do. 

Though I believe those with Down Syndrome can do so much more than many give them credit for, it's extremely unlikely that someone with Down Syndrome will ever become a top physicist. Even if it's just the way their education was handled due to our low expectations and not their true capacity, it's just not going to happen.

I'm extremely overweight and have been at least somewhat overweight the majority of my life. Plus, I have Joint Hypermobility Syndrome. I never could have been a top gymnast. Between my loose joints and my weight, I wouldn't have been able to pull off even the most basic skills, much less top-level ones.

Other quick examples of people not being able to do what they really want to do, even if they tried REALLY hard:

- a person who has major visual difficulties wanting to become a pilot;

- a person who is very hearing impaired wanting to be a sound engineer;

- a person with type 1 diabetes becoming a dessert critic;

- a paraplegic becoming an Olympic athlete (not the Paralympic Games, the regular one);

- a person with severe heart disease becoming a Triathalon champion;

- a person with scoliosis becoming a weight lifter;

- a depressed comic (wait... I know of several - never mind on this one).

I could go on and on with other examples but that's not the point of this post. 

The point is that we need to stop portraying the message that trying hard will lead to success (as society defines it). Instead, we need to focus on helping each person become the best he/she can be, even if that's not "the best." We also need to encourage those who have a dream to think outside of the box. Maybe the original dream isn't possible, but there may be something similar that is possible that would be just as fulfilling.

Indulge me by letting me share one more personal example. I am 53 and have multiple physical and mental conditions that affect my day-to-day life. I'm also a freelance photographer and writer and would love to be the best in my area at what I do. However, I recognize I have limitations and can't "do anything." 

I can't do 12-hour shoots due to no longer having enough stamina. I can't do outdoor shoots in the summer unless they are short and I can have access to something very cold to drink throughout. I can't climb a lot of stairs or jump onto the bumper of a truck (which I did years ago) to get the best angle for a shot. Some days my depression or brain fog is so bad that I can't think well enough to sit at a desk and write. Other days my anxiety is so high I have a hard time editing the photos I took because I keep second-guessing myself.

I would absolutely love to be a photographer who works for one professional sports team,  music group, or performer. But that involves a lot of travel (not good with my mental issues), a lot of unknowns (not good for my anxiety), a lot of physical work (not good with my stamina). No matter how much I want this kind of job and "try hard" to get it, it's not going to happen.

But some examples of I CAN...

- work towards getting the best angles and shots within a smaller space so I'm not wearing myself out before a photography session is over;

- schedule summer shoots in the morning or evening, try to put off the shoot until cooler weather, or refer them to another photographer;

- write a lot when I'm mentally able so that when I'm not, I'm not behind; 

- unless there's a tight deadline that's not in my control, give my clients a later image delivery date than I would like so that I can wait to edit if I'm not able to do my best on a certain day; 

- set my schedule so that I can take breaks if needed (again, unless there's a tight deadline); 

- ask for help and accommodations if needed - such as a cold drink on a hot day or an extended deadline for a client who usually has a tight deadline;

- shoot as many professional sports, concerts, and performers as possible who are in my area so that I can take a day or two to recover if needed.

Sometimes I feel guilty because I can't do everything I'd like to do as a photographer and writer. I would love to be able to run around and get the best photos possible. I would love to be able to sit down and write any time for as long as I want and know that I won't have to re-do it later because it made no sense. 

If you look at my photography and writing you can see that even with these limitations, I do a pretty good job. Is it the best it could possibly be? No. Do I try hard? H*ll, yeah. There's always something I wish I could do better. I'm not making excuses but my physical and mental limitations are a big part of why I can't. 

However, there's so much that "I can."

The message we need to relay is encouragement while being realistic. Though it doesn't fly off the tongue as well, what about this: 

"Find a dream that is within or just beyond your skill set, personality, mental and physical abilities, and work hard to achieve that goal. Know that it's okay if you fall short or need to come up with a different dream but don't give up on yourself. Even if you don't fulfill your dream, your life can be wonderful and meaningful and will be if you don't give up, not on your dream, but on you."

Thursday, August 5, 2021

My Hero - Simone Biles

It's something that very few would do... walk away from something they've prepared their entire life for, something that could easily disappoint an entire nation, something that many wouldn't or couldn't understand.

But Simone Biles did it at this year's Olympic Games. 

According to an article on ESPN.com, Biles said, "Once I came out here [to compete], I was like, 'No, mental is not there, so I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself."

I applaud her courage. I have a hard time letting my mental health issues get in the way of tasks that could disappoint just one person, much less potentially an entire world of fans. 

Biles hasn't always had it easy or been a star. When she was young, she had a horrible home life until she was adopted by her maternal grandfather and his wife. She was bullied in high school due to her muscular build and was given grief by the public when it was discovered that she has ADHD. She admitted being one of the 100+ girls abused by Larry Nassar.

"Most of you know me as a happy, giggly and energetic girl. But lately... I've felt a bit broken and the more I try to shut off the voice in my head the louder it screams, Biles wrote on her social media (according to the New York Post article).

Those of us who deal with mental health issues can fully understand. Many of us have wanted to withdraw from something because it was hard on us due to our mental health issues, but we were afraid of the repercussions of doing so. We are taught to please others no matter the toll it takes on us. But while many applauded Biles' taking care of herself above the expectations of others, there is another important aspect of this news.

"USA Gymnastics released a statement July 27 declaring the Biles' withdrawal following her vault rotation was due to an unspecified 'medical issue' and she would 'be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions,'" said the New York Post.

This kind of statement just amplifies the stigma that a medical issue is a valid reason to withdraw, but not that a mental health one is. Most of the time when an athlete has to leave a competition due to a medical issue, that issue is labeled. For example, a basketball player that can't play due to a broken ankle would be listed as such, not as an "unspecified medical issue."

It's possible that Biles or her coach didn't want to specify the reason at the time the statement was released. It's also possible the USA Gymnastics didn't know the actual reason.

But it's much more likely that USA Gymnastics was trying to cover up that it was "only" a mental health issue that caused one of the greatest gymnasts of all time to quit right before a major competition.

And that's wrong.

A symptom like "brain fog" (yes, that's a real thing) can affect performance as much or more than a broken wrist for an office worker. However, it's perfectly acceptable for someone to take sick leave for a broken wrist and not be allowed to do so for the auto-immune flare-up that caused brain fog.

An anxiety attack can interfere with a job interview as much as the flu, but if you try to reschedule a job interview due to having an anxiety attack, it's very likely you won't get the job.

Mental health symptoms can be just as debilitating as physical... but so many times we can't admit it when mental health is the real issue.

We have got to continue efforts to normalize that it's okay to withdraw from something because of mental health impairments. We need to recognize that untreated mental health issues can be as deadly as physical health issues, sometimes more so.

We must continue to spotlight the stigmas that affect our daily lives and bring them to light.

Referenced articles:
- https://www.espn.com/olympics/gymnastics/story/_/id/31902290/simone-biles-withdraws-individual-all-competition-tokyo-olympics-focus-mental-health
- https://nypost.com/article/history-of-simone-biles-mental-health-issues/

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Information Overload

Does anyone else have information overload from the year+ of virtual conferences due to COVID?

Before COVID, I saw some amazing conferences, workshops, and seminars that I would have loved to take part in. However, travel time, admission fees, and making a commitment well before the event (not knowing if I would need to work) made a natural limitation in the number of events I could participate in.

Then came COVID - and the world went virtual. 

Every group I'm part of started holding those same conferences, workshops, and seminars online. Woo-hoo! That meant no travel time, greatly reduced admission fees, and being able to cancel at the last minute because you would almost always get a recording of the information later. For that matter, it was rare that a cancellation was needed because I had very little work as it was. 

The first few months of this were just short of heaven. I was loading my little information-starved mind by the bucketful. I was going to meetings that were being held worldwide and it was just beautiful to hear viewpoints from many cultures while getting the knowledge I craved.

Then after a few months, it became more difficult to sit through another hour or two of anything, no matter how beneficial, at the same desk where I sat working for hours before and after that time. 

I started multi-tasking to pass the time. I'm a photographer so editing is something I can do while still listening, but it did make it hard to take notes and it made it impossible to pay total attention to the broadcast. But I still did it.

By this time more and more groups were going online and there were groups I had never heard of inviting me to this workshop or that seminar. I assume they got my information from the groups I was already part of. But the topics were so very interesting... so I signed up for more and more events.

Fast forward a few more months... All of this wonderful input that I had been so glad to get previously became too much. I no longer cared about the subjects I previously thought were so fascinating, or at least didn't care enough. I canceled more often, knowing that "one day" I would get around to that compelling knowledge through the emailed recording eventually.

But I found that there wasn't time for all of the new classes while trying to fit in the ones I missed. I filed them away in my email folders with the hope that in time, I would finally engage, while subconsciously knowing I wouldn't.

At some point - I'm not sure when - I gave up. I didn't even file those emails anymore. I was barely able to make it through the meetings that I really needed to attend online, and found myself missing even some of those. These are meetings that I would drive 30 minutes each way to attend before COVID and now I couldn't make myself sit at my desk in order to attend.

I've thought a lot about why this happened. I'm one of those who needs almost constant input... as my main goal in life is to be learning, growing, mastering the world around me. Why did I decide to give up the great opportunities for that easy to obtain input?

My only valid hypothesis at this point is information overload. Even though I pride myself as one who wants to keep learning something new constantly, in practice I guess it doesn't work out that way. The ebb and flow of life - working, running errands, cleaning, cooking, eating, sleeping, etc - naturally limits the flow of new information one can obtain. What I thought was "constant learning" was, in fact, only as free time and opportunity allowed. 

The world came to a place where that free time was more plentiful because I wasn't doing as much as before. Plus, I had more time for those varied educational opportunities, I found out that my brain didn't need as much new input as I thought. 

I'm hopeful that once the world gets back to "normal" (whatever that is), that leveling aspect of life will return and I will again crave those times of learning something new. I just also hope that I can stay balanced enough to be able to enjoy them.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Opposite of Addiction

 (Author’s Note: I know there are actual differences in the terms of “abstinence”, “sobriety”, and “recovery”. But for the purpose of this article, I’m lumping the three terms together and using the word “sober/sobriety” to mean any of those three things. Furthermore, this article is based on https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-real-cause-of-addicti_b_6506936)

 Those of us in addition recovery know it well – the opposite of addiction is sobriety.  This is why almost every addict first showed up at a 12-Step support group – to find a way to quit addictive behavior… to become sober.

 But what if the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety? If it isn’t, then what is?

 First, a quick background on addiction. This stigma about addiction started with the scientific community, according to www.drugabuse.govIn[RC1]  the 1930s, it was thought that addicts were “morally flawed or lacking in willpower.” Overcoming addiction usually involved punishment or encouraging willpower to break the habit.

 Later research showed that with any addiction, the brain reacts the same way – the pleasure an addiction gets from the addictive substance/behavior increases dopamine much more than in a non-addict’s brain when experiencing the same pleasure.

 This was “proven” by experiments made popular during the “War on Drugs” campaign. In these experiments, rats were put alone in small cages with two bottles of water: one drug-laced and the other plain water. Each rat chose to drink the drug-laced water until it overdosed. This idea was generalized to all addictions.

 But in the ’70s, one scientist, Bruce Alexander, decided to test another theory. His thinking was that, of course, the rats would want drugs… they had nothing else to do. So, he set up a similar experiment with very different conditions.

 He got one huge cage with 20 rats of both genders. He added good food, places to mate and raise young, and stimulating toys and activities. He included the same two bottles of water. What he saw was very different than the results of the first experiment. These rats who had a social outlet and various types of stimulation preferred plain water.

 He theorized that human connection is the opposite of addiction. As the author of this article isn’t a scientist and also doesn’t have time to plow through the many scholarly articles about the implications of this finding, I’ll leave it to you to form your own inferences of how this affects long-term recovery.

I want you to know that this was mind-blowing to me. I know the power of support groups by just seeing the success stories in local support groups I’ve attended. I know that addiction is a disease of isolation – and of course, the opposite of isolation is socialization. I also realize that humans are much, much more complex than rats and that’s why a support group alone won’t bring sobriety. But to see it played out by a bunch of rats blew me away.

 I’ll go out on a limb and say that long-term sobriety won’t ever come without it – this human connection.

 One more quick thing I have learned about the power of being connected…

Estimated rates of PTSD have increased in war veterans from about 5% after WWII to 15-20% for the more recent wars, according to an article titled “U.S. Wars and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder[RC2] .”

 What was the difference?  Though there are many possibilities for this change, at least one speculated difference was that in WWII, the soldiers came home by boat. They had weeks to talk about their experiences with others who understood. However, in modern times, soldiers are home within a day, by plane. They go from a very traumatic situation to regular life without anyone to listen to and empathize with about what they’ve experienced. This lack of being heard very likely made a major difference in their future mental health. 

The takeaway… Put a priority and getting and staying connected. Your recovery may depend on it.                                                 

 [RC2]https://www.sfgate.com/health/article/U-S-wars-and-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-2627010.php