Thursday, October 28, 2021

Focusing on Commonalities Instead of Differences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 15, 2021

Frustration

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

Today is one of the days I feel so defeated. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Update on "Perplexing Depression Symptom" Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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