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?


Thursday, September 30, 2021

Four Go on a Day Trip... All Have Invisible Illnesses... Producing 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 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

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Fear and COVID-19 - A Flashback

(Originally written March 17, 2020 and for some reason never got added to this blog.)

It has been a while since I’ve spent time writing. I have been sick, then super busy making up for being sick, then just super busy. My writing has been pushed aside more than once when I really wanted to... because, in this time of such uncertainty, I felt this wasn't being "productive" (with my definition at the moment meaning “do something to make money”). Well, I hit the breaking point just a few minutes ago and it doesn't matter if it's technically "productive" or not, I need to write.

 

The timing has been weird on this one. I'm about to have cataract surgery and due to a test I need to have before the surgery, I have had to go without contacts for a week. Given the nature of my businesses, wearing my old glasses has made it very difficult to do some of my jobs and impossible to do others. 

 

I have known this for a few weeks and have been preparing for the loss of work and income. I was very proactive by making a list of things that I've been putting off for a long time that needed to be done and could be done with less than ideal vision. I knew this would keep me busy and not feeling quite as bad about the loss of income. I actually wasn't anxious during the beginning of the news about COVID-19, maybe because I was already mentally prepared for this downtime.

 

Then COVID-19 hit my immediate area, one of the last states in the country to really be impacted. When I was "just" missing work due to wearing my glasses and recovery from the surgery, I could still make money a few other ways, just not as much. However, because I live with my parents who are very high risk, it's safer for me to stay home. COVID-19 killed that potential for "not as much" work that I was still hoping for during this time.

 

Add to that, I hit a down cycle in my bipolar disorder and have been extremely depressed (bipolar depression – not related to the circumstances around me). Several non-COVID-related hard to deal with issues have happened personally and with some of the people I love. The support groups I rely on have had to cancel (though we were able to pull off a phone conference for one support group last night). 

 

I have figured out that the most difficult issues I'm dealing with right now are the lack of control and uncertainty. I'll talk about each of those separately. 

 

Control... Everyone loves to be in control. Worldwide wars have been fought over control. Marriages have been lost over control. Businesses have fallen apart because of control. Wanting control is a common feature of humanity.

 

But note that control is a defining characteristic of an addict. Trying to control others and the surrounding environment and always failing is one thing that leads to addictive behavior. Not being able to control the addictive behavior leads to shame and a feeling of worthlessness.

 

So, I'm an addict who has major depression and anxiety issues and is a freelancer who can't work for who knows how long. Under these circumstances there is so little I can control.

 

I'm not doing well.

 

Uncertainty... I think we are all programmed to know that we can deal with just about anything for a specified amount of time. When I was still in college, I remember thinking that I could deal with any subject or any professor for just a quarter. If I know that I was going to have a medical procedure or if I was sick, I had at least some idea of how long it would be until I could get back "to normal." 

 

Not knowing how long this pandemic will last, what will happen before it's over, and what will be the aftermath is a huge problem for me. I have lived through some horrible times in my 50+ years and there was always an end. So intellectually I know there will be an end to COVID-19. But the biggest issue is what my life will be like when it's over.

 

For several years now I have been building a photography business - specializing in event photography. I was just starting to build up some momentum in my business. Big events have are obviously being canceled left and right. It's scary to not know if the businesses that host events will still remember me when it's over.

 

Of course, I'm also worried about my parents. I'm worried that they will get sick... and I'm worried that if I leave my house and catch it, it'll be my fault that they got sick. Both my boyfriend and my daughter are high risk so I’m also worried, though not as much, about them getting sick.

 

Surprisingly, I'm not worried at all about me getting sick. For myself, I'm worried about being inconvenienced... specifically with my cataract surgery. Wearing glasses for this week has been truly horrible. If the test is canceled at the last minute, then all that misery will have been for nothing. If the surgery is put off, then it's that much longer before I can get back to work full-time after recovery.

 

I know I’m whining… I know that I’m one of many dealing with all of these issues… I know that there are many others who have it worse off than I do… In this case, though, knowing I’m not alone in how I feel doesn’t matter one bit to help me feel better.

 

The only thing that has made me feel better in this time has been to help others. Setting up the phone support group last night was one of the better times I’ve had the last week. Knowing I was doing something for others kept me out of my head for just a few minutes. It didn’t lift the overwhelming depression I’m feeling but did keep me going for a little longer while I’m in the midst of it.

 

With all of this, there is no better time to recite the Serenity Prayer... and really try to live it. "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Fireworks Thoughts

Independence Day fell on a Sunday this year, so it was extra fun! (Insert loads of sarcasm into those last two words.) That meant we got to stay up and get bombarded by the sounds of fireworks for TWO nights, not just one! 

So... 

much... 

fun! 

(Insert even more sarcasm into those statements.)

Our across-the-street neighbors decided to put on a major fireworks show. As I had no idea how long the Sunday night show would last and my boyfriend and I were hanging out playing a puzzle game, I elected to stay inside and didn't see that show. The next night, my boyfriend and I were trying to finish a movie so we missed watching that evening's show. 

When I say we missed seeing and watching, I want to make it clear that we did NOT miss hearing the fireworks. They sounded like they were literally just outside of my bedroom window and they were incredibly loud.

I don't like loud noises; I haven't my entire life. I used to hate to go to the city-wide fireworks show each year. I thought they were beautiful to watch but just couldn't take the volume, especially at the finale'. I spent the entire show with my hands tightly clasped over my ears.

Normally, if this happened in my neighborhood, I would have put on headphones or earbuds and turned the music up. But since I was with my boyfriend and both times we had started something we wanted to finish, I didn't feel comfortable drowning both the fireworks (a good thing) and him (a bad thing) out. 

So both nights I endured... clenching my teeth, getting knots in my stomach, jumping at the loudest booms. 

As they lasted much longer than I would have ever expected (who has that much money to spend on fireworks, anyway?), I had plenty of time to think as I prayed for them to be finished soon.

One thought that was pervasive during both "shows" was how I wanted to be the mean old neighbor who would call the cops. It's technically illegal to shoot fireworks in our small town, but I know a lot do it anyway. But there are lots of illegal things that I used to do and hated those adults who were too serious for anyone's good. (Don't go too far with that - I'm talking about trespassing to get our sole baseball or TP'ing a yard, not stealing a car.)

I decided I wouldn't be that neighbor. I would continue clenching, knotting, and jumping for a little while longer.

Then they kept going. So I had more time to think. 

During the Sunday night extravagance, I was thankful for a strange issue - that my cat was at the animal ER. Annabel jumps up and runs when I sneeze. Though I was very scared that we might lose her as she was very, very sick that morning, I thought that at least she wouldn't be subjected to this onslaught.

Monday night she was home but wasn't completely well. Earlier in the day I remembered thinking that I was so glad the fireworks were the night before and that she missed them. When they started back on Monday night, I was upset - I wanted to scream and cry at the same time. She was fragile anyway and I knew this would stress her out even more than her overnight stay in the vet hospital. 

I almost broke my prior night's vow to not be the mean old neighbor when she ran and hid behind the couch. I wanted so much for those kids to stop and I didn't mind if they got in trouble in the process. But I also know how much fun it is for kids to shoot off fireworks and there was a part of me that hated to spoil their fun.

(Besides, the police might not have even showed up so I would have still had to endure.)

The earlier thoughts both nights led to a very important one - when does one person asserting their rights trample over another's? On one hand, I had the right to have a quiet evening at home. I had the right to not have to fight a panic attack over something I couldn't control. I had the right for my sweet kitty to not have to stress out so much she can't heal.

But those kids also have rights. Leaving out the whole "illegal" part of this, they have the right to have fun as long as they weren't on our property. 

This led to a debate I have within myself multiple times a week - when is it okay to tell another individual that they can't do a particular activity because of how it affects you?

Some examples...

- TV volume: 

I live with my parents. They are at the age that hearing loss is pretty much a given fact. They watch tv a lot, loudly - shows I don't like and that particularly annoy me. But is it "fair" for me to ask them to always turn the volume down when they can't hear it otherwise?

- Dogs:

We have sidewalks in our neighborhood and many of those who live on my street have dogs. This combination leads to dogs being in or near our front yard almost every day of the week, multiple times per day. Sometimes these dogs bark at or run towards my cat. I would love for them to not go in front of my house and terrify my anxious cat, but is it "fair" for them to not be able to walk their dogs on the sidewalk in their neighborhood?

- Food:

I am what is called a "Supertaster." This means I taste bitter and spicy more aggressively than most. I don't even like black pepper. The bitter isn't usually an issue but there are many times that the food I am eating in a group situation is too spicy for me. But is it "fair" to ask the hosts beforehand for bland food? I mean, it's personal preference, not like a life-threatening allergy.

- Seating:

Being very overweight means seating can be an issue at times. The biggest fear related to this area is that I'll break one of those little wedding chairs or something similar at a gathering of friends and family. I would love to ask that whatever would be appropriate seating for me be used for all of the guests so I don't have to be singled out. But is it "fair" that those hosting have to pay more for seating due to one person's needs?

I could go on with more examples but this is my point... I'm an advocate for helping those who need special accommodations. I'm one of them. I've written several articles about the value of doing so. 

However, every time I ask for something special I wonder if it's "fair" to ask. After all, I'll be inconveniencing someone else, even if it's in a tiny way, to get my way. How much should a disabled person or someone with mental illness or an elderly person be able to ask for before it's too much? 

It's entirely accurate that the fireworks the past two nights were anxiety-producing and could have easily led to a panic attack either or both nights. We had just spent a lot of money taking our cat to the ER, only to possibly have her hurt herself due to the noise. We had plenty of reasons to ask for them to stop shooting those fireworks.

I'm glad we didn't. 

But the next time I have a dilemma like this, which will I choose? Asserting myself for what I or a loved one needs or keeping in mind that the other person(s) rights are just as important?

There's not a clear answer. There never will be. I just hope that as we keep standing up for the rights of those who need something special to have the best life possible, we don't trample over the rights of those who don't.

Please comment on what you would have done in this situation - would you have called the police or endured? Also consider following this blog, my Facebook pages (SpotlightonStigma and nowNovelPhotos), and my website (www.NovelPhotos.com). Thanks for your support.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

I Saw A Baby Today...

 ... and he was adorable and cute and cuddly and flirted with me. Nothing unusual about any of that. It was what I realized about myself that was somewhat unusual.

I haven't held a baby in at least 15 years. Now... some of that is just because I'm not around them very often. My adult daughter isn't planning to have kids; none of my nieces or nephews have decided to go that route just yet; and I recently moved and so I don't have any friends nearby who have grandchildren. The church I go to is made up of mostly older adults and we rarely have babies there. So I'm just not exposed to them very much.

But even if I did have them around, I know I wouldn't be holding them unless necessary (like someone just handing me their baby so that they can do something). 

You might think this is because I don't like children. However, it's the exact opposite. Until recently, my life centered around children - my daughter, her friends, and those I babysat, nannied, or taught. I played with dolls until I was about eight years old and my dream was to marry young and have lots and lots of children. 

I was one of those kids who couldn't wait until I was old enough to help out in the nursery at church and I was soooo excited the very first time a baby fell asleep in my arms. I started babysitting at home (with my mom nearby in case something happened) when I was nine or ten years old and then had a regular job babysitting by the time I was twelve. 

I never worked in food service or retail as a teenager - I worked in gym nurseries or daycares. I was a nanny right after high school and then part-time again during college. I taught for about twenty-five years, with most of those years being in preschool special education. I was a child and youth minister at several of the churches I attended.

So why won't I hold a baby now if the opportunity presents itself?

Something that I have recently realized about myself is that if something hurts me badly, I try to cut off those emotions within myself to save myself from the pain... and I avoid any reminders of that pain.

The first time I did this concerning babies was when I couldn't have children - at first because I was in college and my husband and I knew we couldn't juggle our schedules or finances with raising a child at that time and then later when I actually realized I had infertility issues and had to work extra hard to get pregnant.

During the time I wanted a baby with every fiber of my being, I avoided holding them. This was while I was completely in charge of the nursery at church so it was a real feat to work there without that close contact. I just made sure there were plenty of people who had none of my weird qualms about this issue and no one ever noticed. In fact, I think they were glad they got to keep the sweet ones to themselves.

Then I finally got pregnant and had my daughter. I was ecstatic - probably the happiest I've ever been in my life. My best friends also had daughters within a few months of the birth of mine so it was a babyfest within our circle of friends. During that time, the earlier issue I had about holding babies had completely disappeared. 

Then, about the time I thought that we were ready to have a second child, my husband left us. Since I had my daughter later in life, I knew that by the time I got remarried, I might not ever have another child, but I never completely gave up hope. In fact, I'm 53 now and only within the past few years have I totally given up the dream of having another baby, thinking that I might be one of those women who shares the pregnancy experience with an adult daughter who is also pregnant... that most people freak out about. 

It was sometime during the separation and divorce that I again buried that part of my heart. I just couldn't hold an infant without that longing for another child tearing me apart. So I avoided those situations like I did during those years of not being able to have a child.

So... exactly what was the revelation from seeing the baby today? It was twofold:

- I had not realized how many years it had been since I closed down that part of my heart, and 

- I do this with so many other things in life.

I am still exploring the idea, but I learned recently that one symptom of PTSD is doing just that - avoiding anything that reminds you of the traumatic event. It's something that I need to learn much more about and discuss in therapy, but I can't help but think it's not good. I've done this to myself in so many areas that it's no wonder that I feel very little joy in my life - I've shut it all down. 

Maybe one day (after COVID), I'll again be one of those people who ask to hold that cute, adorable infant instead of wanting to run the other way. Maybe one day my heart will be healed enough to take that risk and, instead of it causing pain, it'll cause the joy I had when I was that pre-teen who was beyond thrilled to have an infant fall asleep in her lap. 

Update on July 19, 2021 (about 3 months later)...

Today I saw another baby but it wasn't the baby that got to me. It was his bottle. He was drinking from the same brand of bottle I used with my daughter. I felt like I had been punched in the gut - just from seeing a baby bottle! This goes deeper than I thought...

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Wait Before You Judge Someone's Weight

I am overweight... very overweight. The medical term is "morbidly obese" (which I hate) and the standard term is fat (which I'm trying to accept as an accurate description while ignoring all the emotional pain that word brings up). 

From the time I was young, it seems that everything that was wrong with me was because of my weight. I remember going to a doctor one time as a young adult because I had an ear infection and before the doctor even looked at my ears, I got a long lecture about the need to lose weight. 

For the longest time, more doctor's appointments than not included a lecture about my weight. It was like they assumed I had never heard that same lecture before, that I didn't even realize I was overweight, or that I hadn't ever tried anything to fix it.

Doctors have gotten more understanding over the years but I still walk out of every appointment with a new doctor amazed when I wasn't lectured about my weight - it is so ingrained in me to expect that.

Just to go on and clear this up, I have tried just about everything... fad diets, low carbs, high protein, Adkins, lots of exercise, fasting, diet pills, fiber pills, etc. I was on diets from the time I was really young until I finally gave up about 10-15 years ago. So, dear doctors of my past, I want you to know that I was trying. It was just that nothing worked.

For the record, I am now trying again. However, no more "diets." I realized I have an eating disorder/food addiction and I'm going that route now to deal with it instead.

At my age, I don't expect to ever be what the charts say is an ideal weight. When I was young and working out all the time, I never got there, so I know it's unrealistic to even imagine that now. But even if I do end up losing a great deal of weight to become closer to "normal," I know that the battle inside my head will probably continue on.

This battle is what my mind automatically tells me that everyone is thinking about me when I differ from the norm. Let me give you some examples:

- Sweating... I have several medical conditions and medicines which, combined, tend to make me sweat. A LOT. I can be sitting at my desk and the temperature creeps up to 76 (which is really mild for most people) and I break out in a sweat. But if I'm outside and I'm pouring sweat, I automatically assume that everyone is thinking, "If that woman would just control what she puts into her mouth, she wouldn't sweat like that."

- No booths, please...When I go to a restaurant, I always ask for a table. Yes, I could technically fit into most booths out there, but it's highly embarrassing the times I can't. Plus, it's uncomfortable most of the time even if I fit. So I insist on a table. The majority of the time the hosts are very accommodating but I've had a few times when I felt that I was inconveniencing them by my preference. 

- Injuries... I recently had an ankle injury, a bad one. Well, I use the term "injury" very lightly, as it was caused by overuse while exercising. (Ironic, huh?) Since then I've had to use a walking boot, an AFO (a stiff ankle brace), a walker, a knee scooter, a wheelchair, and sometimes a combination of several of those items. If anyone else uses these accommodations, I feel that no one thinks twice about it and assumes it was from an injury. If I'm using them, I feel that everyone is thinking, "She did it to herself by eating too much."

- Second helpings/desserts... Depending on what type of meal plan I'm on at the time, I might be able to eat dessert or get a second helping of some type of food. I always feel that I'm being judged for my food choices. Keep in mind that there are those of us who are doing something to work on this weight issue... but it's just not healthy to "be good" all the time. My mental issues and stress levels combined with some past and current life issues mean that I honestly can't deal with the stress of "eating healthy" 24/7. In fact, the first doctor who I ever felt cared more about me than my weight told me that severe depression had a higher chance of killing me (through suicide) than my weight did. So if you see someone overweight getting more food or different foods than you think they should, hold back your judgment. You don't know what's going on in their lives and how losing weight might not be the priority you think it is.

- Saying no to invitations most would automatically say yes to... I'm sure some think I'm stuck-up or don't like them because I don't attend certain activities I've been invited to. There are some places that have a high potential to be embarrassed so I avoid them (and it's embarrassing to admit why so I just leave it to the imagination of the one who did the inviting). Some examples: 1 - An outdoor wedding could mean those little wedding chairs. Those terrify me. How incredibly embarrassing would it be to break one at one of the most important days of a couple's life? 2 - Theme parks could mean sitting and watching while the others go on a fun roller coaster that you just can't fit into. 3 - Fun times at the beach can be embarrassing as you try to walk in soft sand and sink much lower than everyone else. These are just a few examples of things that someone really overweight thinks about that the normies wouldn't ever even imagine are issues.

- Travel... Seatbelts in different cars are different lengths and the receptacle sometimes is almost buried either between the seats or in the back of the seat (in the car's backseat). Airplane seatbelts are never long enough. And back to amusement parks... some rides still use regular seatbelts, which are also usually not long enough. I've mostly gotten over the stigma of having to ask for a seatbelt extension or using a seatbelt extender myself, but there are times I would rather not go out with friends or try to ride an amusement park ride just because I don't feel up to dealing with it. One way I've gotten around it is to offer to drive so that the seatbelt isn't an issue. But for those who work in air travel or those amusement park rides, please be discreet when asking about or giving out seatbelt extensions. You can make an overweight person's day by taking that extra step and saving him/her some embarrassment. 

- Conferences, training, or learning opportunities... Don't even think about me being able to fit in a typical student desk. I've walked into the breakout rooms at some conferences held at high schools or colleges and there was absolutely nowhere for me to sit. The same holds true with classrooms or meeting rooms that only had one size of chairs, with arms, that are not one-size-fits-all. I've learned that it's more important for me to suck it up and go find a chair from another room that will work than miss the information that I planned on getting with my attendance. 

- Theatres, auditoriums, and concert halls... Similar to my last point, many theatre seats are not built for plus-sized people. Older theatres, especially, terrify me because it's not even that I'm uncomfortable in some of those seats - I literally won't fit. I've learned to ask for handicapped seating. Again, it's embarrassing because the other audience members can look at me and think, "She's not disabled." (Oh, but if only they knew the physical and mental issues I deal with...) But I've gotten over that concern so that I can enjoy the wonderful musical, movie, or concert the same as every other person there. Also, to be honest, the other audience members will enjoy it more if I'm not spilling out of one of those tiny seats. (To this same effect, handicapped seating is also great for social anxiety, as I am not sitting in the middle of a group of strangers.)

I could include more examples but these are some that affect my life every day the most. I'm writing this to increase awareness and hopefully to decrease the judgment and stigma that those of us with weight issues deal with frequently. Please keep in mind that a person is not his/her weight - and just like someone who is very tall, or short, or has other physical features that aren't "average," we just want to live life the best we can.