Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Insomnia

It's 2:26am. I have fallen asleep twice tonight but woke up within 30 minutes each time. I don't know what I can do to get to sleep.

I...

am...

exhausted...

...but I just can't sleep. 

I know at least some of the factors that are keeping me from sleeping. 

I have a pretty severe case of RLS (Restless Legs Syndrome). This is why I'm not in bed at least trying to sleep. The creepy-crawly feeling in my legs and the almost constant kicking drive me crazy. If I'm up doing something, it's not quite as bad. So I decided it would be a good time to do some cleaning and work at my desk.

I have several auto-immune disorders and a storm front is coming in. The change of barometric pressure seems to always cause a flare-up. For me, a flare-up causes increased pain (more than my normal), increased dryness in my eyes and mouth/throat, and I've just started suspecting it's why the RLS is worse at some times and not at others.

I'm also hypomanic right now. I have several indicators that I'm manic and currently, I'm hitting every one of them. Obviously, mania makes it harder to sleep just by definition.

This blog is being written with my eyes half-closed. You would think that if I'm so tired that I almost can't keep my eyes open, it's time to go to bed, right?

Wrong. Though I do plan to try again after I finish this post, I don't have a lot of hope that I'll be successful. I'm mostly going back to bed because I'm tired of sitting at my desk, not because I think sleep is forthcoming.

So far this evening I've tried many of the traditional approaches that help me sleep when I'm having these issues: taking extra RLS meds, eating a snack, taking a warm bath, listening to ASMR, and reading. None have worked.

This is something I've dealt with off and on for as long as I can remember. Most nights aren't quite this bad, however. Most nights I'll get at least a few hours of sleep. I'm trying to stay hopeful that it's now only 2:40am and maybe I can still get a few hours in before I need to get up and start the day.

If not, at least I got a few things done.

 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Journaling to Help Focus on Abilities rather than Disabilities

It's been close to two weeks since I first met with my new therapist. The last blog I wrote was about her insight that I had become too enmeshed with my various disorders/conditions/issues. 

I've been pondering this idea a lot this week. One of the big changes I've made was to revise what I record each day in my journal. 

Over the past year or so I've been producing my own guided journal. At first, I made up a word document and printed it out for the month, writing in it both morning and evening. Some examples of points I recorded each day were:

  • Thoughts about a Daily Meditation...
  • Focus for Today...
  • Today I Feel...
  • One Thing I Really Want to Get Done Today...
  • Excited about Anything? 
  • The Hardest Part of Today...
  • Plans for Tomorrow...

Each month I would decide what worked and what didn't. I would add things I decided I wanted to focus on (like one topic became: One Time I Laughed Out Loud about Anything because I was trying to focus on noticing good things that happened). I would also take out points whose answers never changed day-to-day (e.g. "Excited about Anything?" because I was very depressed at the time and always answered "no").

I also recorded my moods, as I was still learning about how having Bipolar Type 2 affected my life as well as noting whether I had stuck to my food plan (I'm addicted to food) and whether or not I had practiced ASL (a goal of mine is to become a sign language interpreter). 

The problem with that system was that I have very limited storage space, and writing a page each day was quickly adding up. It also took a lot of time to design and print each month's entry pages, hole punch them, and add them to the binder I used. 

I also have a difficult time writing by hand. My handwriting is atrocious and I don't have a good writing surface within my current living situation.

So, I went digital. I did the same kind of idea, except that I do it all on the computer. It's much easier to revise as needed and it only takes a tiny bit of digital memory to keep the days I've already journaled.

At first, my digital journal was the same as the one I produced myself, just not printed out. But I found that because it was easier to make changes, I made many of them. 

I decided to incorporate a to-do list in it and have it be something I fill-out every day when I first sit down at my desk, so it's a combination journal and to-do list. 

But I digress... The point wasn't to describe the journey my journal has taken the past year or so. The point was how my thinking is changing what I focus on each day in my journal - and vice versa.

The latest major change has been to take out if kept my food plan the day before. Even though most of the time the answer was "yes," I'm finding that, for me, a long string of days of adhering to the food plan isn't the point. It's that, if I do mess up, I can start again the next day. 

Taking that bullet point out is a small aspect of this change of focus, but it's important. I can't go back and hyperfocus on the days I did it "right" (which becomes more of a focus on the days I messed up). 

I added in something that I had in my original journal but took it out somewhere along the way - "One Thing I am Grateful for Today." Even if it's something as small as the yummy breakfast I ate or that I got an article finished and submitted to my editor, I write it down. 

Not only do I write it down, but I also copy and paste it to an ongoing list I have at the bottom of the document. The idea is to occasionally look back and see all of the things that I (not someone else) have noted as good things going on in my life. 

I also added "One Good Trait about Myself." As someone who doesn't like or even hates myself, some days those traits are hard to find. But every day that I concentrate on whatever I can find about myself that is good, I think it helps me realize that I'm more than my problems.

This is just one of the steps I'm taking to try to change the focus from my disabilities to my abilities.

Friday, March 12, 2021

A New Focus

"You are more than your addictions, health challenges, and mental health issues."

This is something that my new therapist emphasized with me at the end of our first session together. At first, I was defensive when thinking about it.

Not to excuse what I've been doing but in order of explanation, when, within the span of fewer than five years...
  • ...you figure out that you are an addict... and then recognize that you have addictions in two areas, not just the one previously recognized;
  • ... you are diagnosed with several new physical health conditions, not just those you've been dealing with your entire life;
  • ... you realize that you have bipolar type 2... and then learn that you have a few more mental health conditions, not just those you've been dealing with your whole life,
... it's difficult not to focus on these things.

Any one of those three aforementioned areas would be hard for anyone to deal with in that time span. Having to learn and navigate what all this means, as in typical symptoms, life implications, and treatments, is overwhelming enough. Then figuring out your symptoms, life implications, and treatments is even more overwhelming. 

Life added additional stress. During that time, I also have been dealing with a major life trauma, navigating how to live as a freelancer, helping my teenager become an adult and both she and my parents with their own physical and mental issues, nurturing a new relationship, and trying to fulfill a childhood dream, it's honestly no wonder I got caught up in it all. 

After all, many of the diagnoses explained a lot about how I act and react, why I feel the way I do mentally and physically, and gave me communities of people who I could relate to in ways I couldn't with "normies."

But my therapist was right. After pondering it over several days I realized that I've done what I preach against in mental health advocacy - that you are not your condition. 

There has been a move for a while now to change the language of how we talk about people with mental and physical issues. For example, it's not "that autistic child." The better way to say it is "that child with autism." 

It's a subtle change but it really does make a difference. In the first expression, autism is the focal point and the implication is that that characteristic is more important than anything else about that person. In the second, autism is just one of the parts of that person as a whole.

I knew this shift in language and I've adopted it. After having to work at it at first, now it's automatic to use this "people-first" way of speaking.

But until my new therapist gave me that bit of insight, I didn't realize that I hadn't used it for my own life. Like I said earlier, I have had good reasons for being wrapped up in focusing on those issues for the last few years and so my life hasn't been "myself-first, condition-last." I have been my diagnoses.

It is always a major revelation when I realize how one of my issues explains something I do or feel. For example, the reason I have insomnia at times and have no problems with it other times is due to being hypomanic or not. It was a big deal when I found out that the sinus issues I've dealt with for years and couldn't ever effectively treat are a result of having fibromyalgia. It's important to know that I'm an addict with an eating disorder and no amount of willpower will make me lose weight - that I need support in ways that even the best weight-loss program can't manage.

But in the process of learning about all of these new diagnoses and how they impact my life, I lost who I am. When I am really confident about my images, I chalk it up to being manic, not that my photography skills actually have improved. When I'm hurting, my first thought is that it's the fibro and not that I worked out hard the day before, which is something I should celebrate. When I want to avoid social situations, I tend to focus on the fact that I have social anxiety and not that I have been complimented on my interviewing skills as a journalist, so there must be a social part in me somewhere.

Again, not that it was a horrible thing to learn about myself through the filter of all of these diagnoses, conditions, and disorders. It's been good to know more about why I am the way I am. However, it's really time to move on. 

One of the first decisions I made, in order to distance myself a little more from these issues, was to stop going to one of the addiction support groups I have attended every Thursday night for almost three years. As a disclaimer, I'm not advocating that everyone do that - I'm just discussing my journey. For me, it just made sense. 

I still am going to two support groups a week - one focused on each addiction. I still have numerous doctor's appointments scheduled to keep trying to figure out ways to combat my physical problems. I still am working closely with both a psychiatrist and a therapist to help with the mental health side.

If I'm going to become more than my issues, then I need to focus on other parts of my life. Though that support group only takes about an hour of time each week, I could take that hour and use it to practice sign language, as becoming fluent is a childhood dream of mine. Though the virtual conferences that are now very abundant due to COVID are helpful, right now it's more important that I use that time to rediscover what I enjoy doing. 

My therapist asked me what I do for fun. I honestly don't know. Nothing is fun anymore. Though I realize that's part of my mental health issues (not enjoying things you used to love), it's now time to not just automatically blame that on depression but instead try to find things I enjoy doing. I need to actively put forth the effort to find out more about the playful part of myself. 

I'm not sure how to do this. Giving up one support group a week and skipping some conferences won't make a big difference if I don't use that time to learn who I really am - not just about my issues.

My goal is to once more learn to enjoy life... to live again.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Fibro Symptom or Something Else?

When you have multiple physical and mental health issues, new symptoms pop up all the time (or old symptoms come back into play). When you have an anxiety disorder and those symptoms show up, it's less than exciting, as the big dogs - cancer, heart attack, and major organ failures - are the first thoughts.

The latest was a pain in my ribs, mostly in my right side. I've had this pain for a long time, off and on. During the time I've had this pain, I had my gallbladder taken out (as it's in that area) and I was diagnosed with diverticulitis after an ER visit when the pain became extreme. 

However, my gallbladder has been gone for several years now and I'm not showing the other symptoms of diverticulitis. I have researched it over and over throughout the years I've experienced this pain. 

Last night it was acting up and I decided to research it again in order to calm my fears that it might be something serious. After reading all the same information I had read the other times I looked into it, I happened to think, what if it's related to fibromyalgia?

It's not one of the main symptoms by any means, but it did come up. In fact, I found a site that relates experiences from those who have fibro. One person asked the question I have and several responded that yes, they have those same symptoms. 

Now, my anxiety mind started racing with questions I wish I could ask them... have they been checked out by a doctor for those specific symptoms to rule out other issues; do they have other disorders that could have that same side effect; how long have they had the symptoms?

I have an upcoming annual visit with my primary care doctor so I'm going to bring it up. I just had one with my rheumatologist and I wish I had thought about the connection before that appointment to bring it up to him. If I don't find out anything from my primary care doctor, I'll contact him about the possibility.

But the point of this blog isn't about whether or not others with fibro are having this same symptom. It's that it's so hard to figure out if a new symptom is related to fibromyalgia or something new. 

Is anyone else having this issue?