Friday, December 2, 2022

Two Weeks Post Rotator Cuff Surgery when You Deal with Mental Illness

Monday it will be two weeks (it's now Friday) since I had rotator cuff surgery on my dominant hand's shoulder. In some ways it has flown... in others, it has crept. But one thing I don't vacillate about - it's definitely not what I expected.

Though the recovery so far has been nowhere near a picnic, the worry that my anxiety disorder kicked up before the procedure was much worse. I talked to both my doctor and his nurse practitioner about the timeline of recovery. I searched Google and YouTube for tips and tricks to help with the post-surgery period. I questioned friends who had had it done.

Doing all this should have decreased my nervousness, but instead, it made it worse.

I know my friends were trying to be helpful when they told me it was horrible and extremely painful. One account I read online said that the pain for rotator cuff surgery recovery was the 3rd worst pain, after childbirth and a kidney stone. So though I was scared about the pain I would be feeling, I was prepared. 

But my pain hasn't been that bad.

I was told that I would have to sleep in a recliner for the first six weeks. (I am a stomach or side sleeper and have never been able to sleep in a recliner.) The first couple of nights I was taking Percoset to keep the pain at bay and I had no issues sleeping semi-upright. Since then, most nights I've slept at least part of the night in bed and it's been okay.

Another worry-filled item that wasn't as bad as expected.

I got home from the surgery with a horrible sling and pillow that didn't fit right and also didn't hold my arm in place well. At the beginning of my first PT session, my therapist said that I would be wearing it all of the time except when I showered or did exercises. I literally teared up and almost lost it.

However, one of the pieces of advice I got was that I buy a sling that I could use for showers and let dry in between. I quickly found that the cheap one I bought from Amazon held my arm in place much better AND was more comfortable.

So after fighting with the doctor-prescribed sling for the first week, I finally realized my mental health was as important as my shoulder and after doing more research, I decided to take the plunge and use the cheap one. (Also, I knew that I would be much more compliant keeping it on with the comfortable one.)

I expected to get a lecture from my PT today when I came in wearing it. Instead, he said it was fine as long as I wore it all the time.

One more anxiety-filled issue solved.

I could add a lot more (and I might in a future post), but this is the first time I've sat at my desk and typed (another thing I had been worrried about not being able to do) since the surgery. I don't want to push it so, for once, this post won't be super long. 

Overall, though, it's amazing when you sit and analyze how much worse your worry about how horrible something coming up will be than what it ends up being. 


Wednesday, November 16, 2022

When Something You've Dreamed for Happens

(Note - this isn't a post about a stigma... but it is about gratitude, which is a major part of overcoming all of the stigmas that many of us have to deal with.)

I had planned to write this right after it happened but life got in the way. Now, several days later, I finally have a minute to do so. 

My new husband is a drummer. It's part of his identity, though he might not admit it. He hasn't played in years but still thinks about it a lot.

I can fully understand this because being a musician (guitarist and keyboardist) is part of my identity, even though it's been even longer than him since I last played.

Like so many other things in my life, like learning sign language or becoming a writer, I had given up on ever playing again, especially as part of a team. He hadn't... though he did recognize that it was very unlikely for him to do so again.

When we first started dating and found out that the other had played on worship teams before, there was a slight hope that one day we would play on a team together. This had been a secret dream of mine since I was a teenager and when my first husband wasn't a musician, I resigned myself to knowing it would never happen.

As time passed, it seemed less and less unlikely. We went to a church for a while that had a semi-professional worship team - they were all at an extremely high level. He played on their team once as a percussionist - and wasn't invited back. He found out later that they didn't want someone who couldn't read music - but they never asked him if he could. 

He was so hurt that he didn't fight it and so we were back to thinking it would never happen.

We ended up leaving that church to go to a deaf church. Though the Deaf love music, obviously they don't have a worship team. We factored this into our decision to join that church. We love the pastor and people so much there that we didn't even have to think about it to decide to join... and gave up that dream.

Then, almost exactly a year ago, our pastor shared that he had been talking with a pastor of a hearing church to possibly merge. It took a long time to work everything out, but as a group, we joined that church this past summer.

This was really exciting for my husband and me. The way it would work is that our church would join the hearing church in a joint service once a month where we would have an interpreter and the other three weeks, we met separately and had deaf church (all done in sign language).

Our worship team dream wouldn't have worked if the hearing church only had one service - but they have two. So we knew when joining that we could potentially be part of the team for the first service and still go to the deaf church for the second.

Even after a period of several months, we still hadn't been able to "try out" for the team. (I put that in quotes because there's not a formal audition but obviously, they do want to make sure you fit in before becoming a permanent team member.)

Finally, it happened. Well, at least it happened for my husband. Due to my upcoming rotator cuff surgery, I knew it would be months before I could even think about trying to play again.

Early last week my husband got an email that they wanted him to come to practice Wednesday night and play this past Sunday.

We both were excited... and nervous. Would he play and get burned again? Each of us knew that we had that same worry but we didn't discuss it. It was enough for him to get to play even once.

Last Sunday morning I was so full of emotions. I have been super stressed about my upcoming surgery and on top of that, I didn't feel well physically. It took everything in me to make it to church that morning (he had to be there early for practice so we took two cars).

I'm so glad I did! Some of those in our deaf church wanted to see him play so they asked that I record it. My heart felt like it was going to burst while I watched him play. I couldn't keep the tears from trickling down my cheeks.

Mixed in with so much joy was also a little sadness. I wanted to be up there with him. I know it'll be a while before I can even possibly play - and there's the chance that they won't need me even then. 

That sadness was a minuscule part of my emotional state though. Mostly I was just so thankful... so very grateful... that at least he was up there, doing what he loved.

I can't leave without being totally transparent, though. It's Wednesday afternoon and he never got an invitation to practice this week. There are soooo many reasons that he hasn't been asked at this point that have nothing to do with them not wanting him as part of the team, that we're trying not to worry. 

Not worrying is extremely difficult to do for me. I'm working on it in therapy (have been for years!) but it's still my typical go-to in situations like these. 

I think in many ways it's worse when someone you love is hurt than when you are. 

No matter what happens with him being asked to continue to play, nothing can take away how I felt last Sunday - full of joy and hope and a big reminder that even when you've given up on a dream, there's always the possibility that it can still happen.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Perspective

Today is one of those many days I've had lately where I'm full of mixed emotions - and where I possibly got something very wrong.

I'm literally at a conference that I've covered for the last three years (well, it would have been four if not for COVID.) For this conference, I'm "just" a photographer. There are other writers covering each session.

The first year I worked with this media outlet, I knew nothing about working with a newspaper - at least not for something like this. This is one of the biggest events that this media company covers each year - and that first year, I was the only photographer. I didn't slow down for a moment all three days. If I wasn't taking pics, I was culling and editing... and editing again because I second-guessed everything I did then (now I just second-guess about half of my editing. Sigh...)

This year is really different. I was really upset and felt extremely slighted when I was told that I would only be needed for the first day of the conference. I asked about it and was told it was for budgetary reasons and that they would be using staff members to take pics the other two days.

Then I found out that another photographer, one who has been freelancing for them for maybe a year, was asked to work all three days. 

I was so hurt and felt incredibly rejected. 

I'm getting older and I have a lot more physical and mental issues than I did four years ago, when I ran around all over like this newbie is doing now. I recognize this. 

I can't kneel to not get in someone's way when I'm shooting. I have to shoot from the side. 

I can't run up to the balcony to get an overhead shot. (I can make it, but can't "run" anymore). 

For those who understand spoon theory (https://www.healthline.com/health/spoon-theory-chronic-illness-explained-like-never-before#1), I know I only have a  set amount of spoons each day and they vary day by day. I can't use up spoons at the beginning of an all-day shoot because I might not make it to the end of the day.

Even knowing this, it still hurts. It hurts to be replaced, especially when it is while doing something you love and are passionate about. 

But after starting today, I realized a few things that my hurt feelings hadn't let me realize... I may have it all wrong. Instead of being slighted by cutting back on my work, the one in charge may have been giving me this assignment as an honor and as a loyalty thing. 

The newbie could do it all without me - and I know I can't anymore. Right now, as I'm writing, he's kneeling down in front of the front pew to get some pics of the speaker. That's not even a possibility for me now. Add to that, he got a mirrorless camera which means he can shoot with no noise (shutter clicks) or noise (in the pics).  

This media outlet easily could have gotten by without me here. In other words, it's very likely that they gave me this assignment because they like me and my work and not because they "need: me. It's possible they are letting me work when it might been better to cut me out completely and save the money they will be paying me.

I feel a little guilty that I'm here making this much money for this little work. I keep checking the schedule to make sure I'm not missing anything. Instead of trying to get twenty angles of each speaker/performer, I get a few from one or two places and quit. 

I'll admit - there's a part of me that's concerned that if I don't run around and try to make sure I have much better pics than him, he'll edge me out completely. However, that could happen even if I bust my butt today. I choose to get good pics and leave it at that. God will have to take care of getting assignments in the future.

Anyway, I'm writing all this to say that maybe it wasn't that the person doing the assignments was being mean... but just the opposite. She might have actually given me day one because she respects me instead of taking away days two and three because she doesn't. 

I don't know if it makes sense, but it's a game-changer in my head. 

Sometimes it's all a matter of perspective...

(Also, I realized that the newbie could potentially be doing this for free - for the experience. I did similar things when I started out. The thing is, I don't know and maybe I don't need to know. I just need to do my best and let the rest work out.)

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Nerves, Part 2

 This time it's not the middle of the night. In fact, it's almost the exact same time I wrote "Nerves" - just change the AM to a PM. 

My nerves are back, with a vengeance. 

This time it's not as much physical as emotional. It's flat-out worry. 

With anxiety disorder, worry is common for me. I have to actively fight against letting it overtake my life. Most days I win, if only by a slight margin in triple-overtime.

Today I'm losing... badly. It's been a massacre.

It's also been a long time since I was physically affected by the anxiety I'm feeling. My stomach is in knots. That feeling is not that uncommon for me but it's usually over something imminent and usually focused on one issue.

Right now I feel this way because of a multitude of issues. 

One is the surgery I'm having in, GULP!, 11 days to repair a torn rotator cuff. I've been dreading it now for a couple of months. As it gets closer, I am getting even more nervous. I think of more and more things that I won't be able to do and that's compounded because I have no idea how long I won't be able to do those things.

What a way to start a marriage! The day I have my surgery it will be 7 weeks that we have been married. 

It's tough for someone who has had to be strong and independent for so many years as a single mom to be dependent on someone financially... and even more so to be dependent on someone physically. 

I know that I'll adapt. I know I'll figure out ways to do most of what I need to do while my right shoulder is healing.

It's just that uncertainty combined with a loss of control that's driving me crazy.

I don't want to get into specifics, but there are also several other situations that are really nerve-racking. 

It's been said before on this blog... the stuff that I'm dealing with would cause even a neurotypical person to worry, especially when thinking of everything combined.

Imagine what that means for someone who can feel anxious on the best day, during a time when circumstances are all going well. You can probably guess that where I am now is worse than a horror-movie marathon on Halloween.

Plus, I can't keep telling myself that it's all fake. 

I don't know how to shake it this time. I've tried distracting myself (as I can't focus enough to even try to work). I'm busy but nothing has changed in my stomach. Apparently, it hasn't gotten the memo that I'm not thinking about all of those issues right now.

I guess there is one piece of good news in all this... I've been doing EMDR with my therapist about not wanting to go to food when I'm overwhelmed. At least that's been working. I don't want to eat. (Maybe it's working too well...)

If I keep going I'm at an extremely high risk of repeating myself even more than I already have.

I do have a request, though. If anyone reads this and believes in prayer, I would appreciate some for me. Right now that's the only hope I have to make it through the next few weeks.


Monday, November 7, 2022

Fitting In

Right now I'm in the church I go to. Note that I didn't say I was in a class or in the worship service. I'm in an empty room with my earbuds in while the service is going on about 200 feet away. 

I'm in here for two reasons. One is that my stomach really hurts. I would rather run out of here than run full speed out of the sanctuary if I suddenly feel a lot worse. 

The other is much, much more complex. 

I won't name the denomination or the church, but it's the denomination I grew up in. I would consider it a "high expectations" denomination, one built around following rules, with a lot of emphasis on "doing good works" for God. 

Throughout my 54 years, I've questioned a lot of those rules, always trying to figure out what is a cultural expectation/tradition versus what God really wants us to do. 

It makes me really angry when I hear all of the guilt trips that are a part of church, at least all of the churches I've attended. These range from not giving enough money, to not giving enough time, to a multitude of other expectations either verbalized or implied. 

Today's focus was on having what many Christians call a "quiet time" - a time set aside every day, usually first thing in the morning, to pray and read the Bible. 

During class as this was being discussed, I looked up Jesus' example in the Bible. Now, I know that I'm not a Bible scholar, but from the small amount of research I did, Jesus never had a quiet time. 

Instead, He communed with God constantly. 

Yes, there were many times that He left the crowds, the disciples, the needs…  in order to be alone and pray. 

One more thing you need to know about me…  I HATE confrontation. I can be extremely meek on the outside while boiling inside. 

However, through my many years, I've started learning to speak up for what I believe. That's part of the reason for starting the Spotlight on Stigma blog, in fact. 

So this morning, I decided to speak up. I brought up my earlier point about Jesus not setting the example of getting up early, getting out His Bible and a highlighter, and having a quiet time before everything started for the day. 

I didn't mention it, but that's something man made up. Growing up (and possibly still in many churches today), reading your Bible every day was something you got to check off on your offering envelope or get a star for on the Sunday School chart. 

Feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison, praying for healing for those who were sick… those were not ever included with the boxes to check.

I have to give my Sunday School teacher a lot of credit… He didn't argue my point but agreed with the part about Jesus not doing that. He did still say that it's good to set aside that time every day. And honestly, I'm not saying it's not a good idea. 

What I am saying is the issue is the guilt trip that goes along with emphasizing having this quiet time, especially when it's implied that we need to do it because it's what Jesus did. 

I was already having a rough time physically before this happened, but the nervousness I built up while wondering whether to say something against the status quo kicked my stomach issues into overdrive. 

My husband and I (I'm still having a hard time referring to him as my husband and not my boytfriend!) haven't been able to come much the last couple of months, with the wedding, going out of town one weekend, and me not feeling well several weeks. We were already here. I decided to try to attend the main church service after Sunday School. 

It started out okay. I found out that it was "Impact Sunday" - basically a commercial to give to the missions offering. Then an old hymn was sung (which can trigger me greatly). 

I couldn't make it. I had to leave. Like I said earlier, a big part is that I want to be able to get to a bathroom soon if my stomach gets worse. But honestly, that's not the main reason I left. 

Our denomination believes in patriarchy and following all the rules set up by the church. Straying into the beliefs of another Christian church isn't allowed. 

I've heard some horror stories about this denomination no longer funding missionaries who broke these rules or (God forbid!) allowed a woman to have any part of a pastoral role overseas. 

I am a giver. I give time, money, and other donations to Christian and non-Christian charities. But I don't plan to give to this missionary organization, knowing what I know. 

As I wrote that, I realized that it's entirely possible there's a lot of crap in the groups I give to. In fact, it's probable. I guess in this case, ignorance is bliss. 

You may be thinking at this point, "If she has so many objections to this church, then why does she go there?" 

The answer to that is "community." Maybe it's because growing up and my most of my adulthood, my best friends were all from my church. Maybe it's because I'm not big into any clubs or group hobbies. Maybe it's something else. 

But after moving back to the city where I grew up about 6 or 7 years ago, I know that I've only made a few friends and none are couples. 

My husband and I wanted to find a place to worship and a place where we could potentially meet others to sometimes hang out with. We are part of a small congregation within the big congregation. (Today is a "big congregation" service where we all meet together.)

I'm here mostly for the small congregation. I'm here for the love that I feel for that group - and for those we are slowly meeting in the big congregation. 

I'm not here for the worship service, especially the joint service. I'm not here to hear more man-made rules and to be guilted into doing them. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm a Christian. I love Jesus and am thankful for what He's done for me. I just think that the lines have become extremely blurred between what God told us to do and what others decided we needed to do. 

The service is ending. I'm tired of this struggle. Sometimes I wish that I was what my husband and I call a sheep - someone who follows the crowd and doesn't question everything. I wish I could come to church without all this angst. 

But at the same time I'm thankful that I do question. And I'm thankful that I'm here. I just need to reconcile how to do both. 



Saturday, November 5, 2022

Nerves

It's 2:57 am and I'm obviously not asleep. Being awake at this time isn't unusual for me. It's my pattern most nights that I fall asleep early (my best friend calls it my "baby bedtime") then wake up somewhere in the 1:00 am to 3:00 am range. I'm awake for maybe an hour or so and then I got back to sleep and sleep through the night.

Insomnia, unfortunately, is also something I'm really familiar with. I've had bouts of insomnia so bad that I didn't want to go to bed, knowing I wouldn't be able to sleep - or sleep more than an hour or so. However, I haven't experienced that kind of ongoing, overwhelming anxiety for a little while now. (Thank God!)

This time was different. I woke up like normal and did what I usually do - play games on my phone and listen to ASMR videos on YouTube until I get sleepy again. But then I started thinking...

Those thoughts have continued racing through my mind ever since I woke up. I'll come back to them later.

After having the realization that sleep might not come again before morning, I decided to go ahead and get up. I had a snack (one part of not being able to sleep was that I was hungry) and laid down on the couch. Sometimes getting out of bed and going somewhere else helps. Tonight it didn't.

Those dang thoughts wouldn't calm down. I got some awards from the media outlet I often work for today - three awards for my photography. At first, I was thrilled.

Then I found out that a photography assignment that I've done for the past three years - one of the biggest and a great income-generator - has been cut back. Instead of doing the entire conference, I've only been asked to shoot the first day. 

I was really surprised and thought I heard wrong. When I clarified, the person I was speaking to mentioned budgetary reasons as to why they have to cut back this year.

So, I have incredibly mixed emotions. 

Today this same group awarded me for doing such great work. The judge (an award-winning veteran photographer who also teaches journalism) praised my work and said it was consistently outstanding. I haven't received any negative feedback about my photography (other than I often turn in too many photos for each shoot - I'm working on that.)

But the pessimist in me - the part of me that hasn't quite gotten rid of imposter syndrome - feels like either I'm not good enough or someone else is better (or both).

On top of that, I'm nervous about another impending surgery. I thought that when the second carpal tunnel procedure was finished, I was done with restrictions for a while. 

Imagine my surprise when I went to check on the results of an MRI of my shoulder - thinking the pain and numbness were from some kind of arthritis or nerve damage - only to find out I have a torn rotator cuff. 

Though the surgery wasn't something I had to have very soon, it would definitely be in my future and the longer I waited, the more likely it was that it would tear more, or even tear completely. I looked at my photography schedule and decided to put it off just a couple of months - after the aforementioned shoot.

Maybe that's one reason this is hitting me especially hard. I could have had the surgery a little sooner but I thought I'd be needed for all three days of the conference. However, after asking about it but not hearing back and then making the assumption that they would want me the entire time, I scheduled another shoot for the weekend afterward. 

So now it's too late to reschedule the surgery for earlier.

Sitting here analyzing this, I realized I'm also really nervous about the recovery time for this one. Though I am supposed to be able to type, and thus can continue that part of my freelance work, I won't be able to shoot for probably 2-3 months. I won't even be able to drive for four weeks. 

With every surgery, I've had over the past few years (and I've had several), the recovery has taken longer and been more difficult than I was led to believe. I'm nervous about this one.

I guess on one hand, I have several upcoming real-life scenarios where many people would be worried.

My major photography client is cutting back due to budget... what will that mean for me? Even though I've been praised for how good my work is, what if I'm still not good enough? What will the next four months look like and how will I handle everyday tasks during that time? 

On the other hand, I'm thankful for what this media outlet has done for me. I have grown so much as a photographer while working with them and I wouldn't be a professional writer at all if it weren't for them. My shoulder at least can be fixed so I'm hopeful the pain I live with every day will be eradicated.

Either way, I'm still wide awake. I think I'll edit photos for a while. I'm still slightly behind from post-wedding/early marriage time suckers and it would be good to catch up completely before the surgery... just in case.

I just have to keep in mind that I've made it through many, much harder events in my life. I can make it through all this too.



Monday, October 17, 2022

Honeymoon vs "Normal"

This is going to be a super-short post. (I know, I know... you are wondering which alien kidnapped Tracy and/or is writing through her.)

I'm tired of being negative but I need to vent.

The wedding weekend was incredibly stressful but had many fun moments. The wedding was somewhat stressful but overall was wonderful. The honeymoon was slightly stressful but was overall amazing. Even though I'd call it a success overall, there was a part of me that was ready to get back to normal life.

That didn't happen... not even close.

It was like a Top Gun plane launching without any runway to build up speed. We had enough time to run by the house and unpack before heading off to a big dance performance shoot. 

This was the first time I had ever done a dance shoot without attending the rehearsal because I wanted one more day of honeymoon before starting regular life again. I felt we were experienced enough to not have to see the dances to get really good images. But I forgot about something...

Just about every rehearsal I have to stick up for myself and for the photography by insisting that the person doing lighting gives me more than is his/her usual. For really good shots of any kind of action - like dance - a lot of light is not only desired, but it's necessary. 

I wasn't there to fight with the lighting tech at the rehearsal... and I paid for it during editing. I had to spend 2x-3x more time on each image to make it look right because of the dramatic lighting that had been used.

This editing was happening while I was trying to unpack from the wedding, unpack from the honeymoon, and unpack my husband's things from his apartment. I also had a lot of other work that I needed to catch up on after mostly taking off the weeks before and after the wedding.

Then on the Monday after we got back, having been married only 8 days, my mom had surgery on her feet. She was supposed to be able to walk (with boots) immediately after the surgery was over.

That didn't happen... not even close.

My focus went towards helping her while still trying to put things away. Work was put off even longer except for a few things I already had scheduled. I got almost nothing work-wise done that week. My new target for getting back into my old work routine (as much as I ever had one) was today.

That didn't happen... not even close.

My mom's left foot was badly infected. She called her doctor and they told her to go to the ER. My oldest brother recently retired and I thought he would be available to go with her. 

He wasn't - at least not at first.

So I spent the majority of my first day back to "normal" at the ER with my mom. I didn't get any work done. I'm not going into details, but it was also one of those days where nothing seemed to go right.

It's been a rough day. 

I really try to take a breath in the middle of crappy days like this and ponder the thought that I'm married. Actually, truly, amazingly married. So many times I prayed for this. So many times I cried over this. So much energy went into worrying about what I should do if he never proposed.

It's been tough to enjoy this time. It's the 15th day of our marriage and I'm so tired, so over life as it is right now. 

But I'm working on not dwelling on all that but instead thinking about how God answered all those prayers, tears, and worry-filled moments by providing an amazing husband for me.

Me. 

I'm still in awe. And this may be cliche', but I'm hoping this might encourage someone who reads this, someone who is also having a crappy day (or week, or month, or even year), to think about what is going right and to not get caught up in the junk. If it happened to me, it can happen to anyone.


Tuesday, October 4, 2022

How the 12-Steps and Quality Mental Health Therapy Can Affect Life, Not Just Addiction

(Trigger alert... mention of suicidal thoughts)

It's Tuesday, October 4th and I'm on my honeymoon. My husband (a word that's still very weird to say concerning him) is a late sleeper and I'm an early riser. I've avoided getting on my computer/laptop for the last few days - due to a packed weekend of wedding activities from Friday until Sunday then resting once we got to our honeymoon destination.

I wanted to check my email and catch up on a few work activities for a few minutes this morning.

I've reflected a lot on the wedding ceremony and the weekend before a lot while on the honeymoon. For the past six months, I've spent hundreds of hours planning this wedding and details about joining our lives together. 

Throughout the process, my mental health issues interfered. From anxiety getting the best of me, to brain fog making it hard to remember what I had just done, to depression or mania just getting in the way of getting anything productive accomplished, there were many times it was a struggle.

My biggest fear was that I would do something that would mess up the wedding. You see, I've been married before. My first wedding was beautiful, but it had some big mistakes. When I think about that wedding, those issues are all I remember. I didn't want that to happen again.

To help work on that problem, I put at the top of the "Detailed Program Notes" this message:

    REMINDER FOR TRACY - and anyone else who might need to know:

        IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG, JUST PICK UP AND KEEP GOING.

        PERFECTION AND FORMALITY ARE NOT THE GOALS...

        HAVING FUN AND SHARING LOVE ARE.

It was a big realization when crap started hitting the fan in the weeks before the wedding as I made that note about the ceremony, not the process of getting there. (Read about that here: https://www.spotlightonstigma.com/2022/09/wedding-rehearsal-day-and-my-dads-in.html)

You need to know that I've been in counseling for years and I've been in 12-Step recovery for about 4 1/2 years now. A major tenet in 12-Step programs is "Progress, not Perfection." Though not worded so succinctly, this is also one of the main mental health challenges I have worked on in therapy - that I don't have to be perfect to be progressing.

If I look at it through the lens of - Did I stay calm when all the adversity happened? Did I use what I've learned to keep going and not get incredibly discouraged? Did I "have fun" throughout the entire process? - then it would be a big FAIL. In fact, one night I got lower than I've been in at least a couple of years and I really thought about taking a bunch of pills because I felt like I couldn't do anything right.

When I look back over this past weekend, was it perfect? Hell, no! There were a lot of little things I wish I could go back and change - the main one being that I wish I could have stayed calmer when all my planning didn't mean a thing as we had to deal with one unanticipated problem after another.

In fact, the rehearsal went so badly, I had no idea if we would even get the basics I had planned accomplished.

HOWEVER... overall, I had fun. I took time to do some unplanned things, like showing my two best friends who live out of state the spot where my now-husband and I spent many of our earliest dates. I played card games with my family and friends, when there was a part of me who wanted to go over the wedding ceremony a few more times to make sure I hadn't missed anything. I really stayed "in the moment" during our after-rehearsal dinner and had a great time with my family and friends.

And when the ceremony didn't go as planned, I literally just laughed and kept going. The biggest blunder was during our unity ceremony. I had planned a sand ceremony but there was no way to practice it and be able to tell how long it would take for the sand to funnel into the receptacle. 

We ended up playing the song we were using while we were doing it ("Family" by Dolly Parton) twice and still hadn't even filled it halfway. I made jokes while the sand was SLOWLY funneling in, like looking at my non-existent watch, tapping my foot, and sighing pathetically. Everyone laughed with us as we decided to abandon it and finish it during the reception. 

Several times the officiant got off the script - or I interrupted him because I THOUGHT he had gotten parts out of order. But it didn't bother me, him, or anyone else there. 

My husband messed up signing correctly part of one song we did in ASL - a part that we had practiced so much and that he had finally gotten down. We both just laughed about it later.

The worst - and funniest - part was during the recessional. As my ringbearer and her owner (the ringbearer was my daughter's emotional support animal) were leaving, one of my aunts stopped her and wanted to get Jake's picture. As my husband and I had planned an "encore" (I called the wedding "the greatest show on earth"), she needed to be out of the ceremony area before we came in. 

But with a lot of "encouragement" (me yelling from the door where my husband and I had exited), she got out just in time for us to come back in.

Oh, one other thing. I'm a meticulous planner, especially for vacations. I try to figure out all the options of what activities we can do while gone; I use lists to make sure I pack all needed items; and I clean before I leave so I can come home to a nice environment.

THAT didn't happen. My husband and I just wanted to get going. We hadn't had time to pack the night  before like we had planned and so we packed frantically. We both forgot several items we wish we had remembered. 

But you know what? It's been okay. We've made it work with what we brought. 

Overall, the whole process was nowhere near perfect. I didn't handle the problems "perfectly" (to say the least!) at least not until the actual wedding. I wasn't completely organized or prepared the way I had wanted to be. 

And you know what else? I don't look back at the wedding and have a visceral reaction because of all that went wrong. I can think about my wedding and smile - because of all that went right. 

It may have taken 32 years between the two weddings, but this is just one more example of "Progress, Not Perfection."

Note: if you want to see the fun we had - and all of the mistakes - feel free to go to our wedding website and watch the recordings. Look for the "Recordings" tab on loveca.st/TravisandTracy (yes, the period is supposed to be there). If you do watch it and notice how therapy and the 12-Steps have helped in a real-life example, please leave a comment in our guest book on that same site.



  


Friday, September 30, 2022

Wedding Rehearsal Day - and My Dad's in the Hospital

There's a gorgeous sunrise. The weather is supposed to be beautiful today. It's the day I've been planning for about 6 months. It's the last step before the day I've been waiting for since my divorce over 15 years ago.

It's the day of the wedding set-up and rehearsal.

Sooooo many hours have gone into planning the wedding - and this day. I've tried to think of everything possible for it to go smoothly. I've made list after list, arranged for out-of-town guests, asked people to help on parts of the wedding that I couldn't do (such as playing the music during the ceremony or baking for the reception... I'm not a baker!), made decorations, packed and re-packed everything needed... and in a few hours, we will start making all this happen.

In the past few weeks, I've already had some big hiccups/disappointments (note that I'm not listing everything that has happened - just the most important ones)...

- We had to get a new officiant.

- The sign language interpreter lost her husband just last week and it was touch and go whether she could do it or not.

- My daughter got violently ill the day we went to get our hair and nails done. 

- I hit an extreme low with my bipolar disorder and had a hard time staying safe one night.

- This one is a long story that I won't go into, but we had a major furniture issue that took a lot of time away from doing what needed to be done.

- My fiance' is having issues at work and I had some big disappointments with my freelance jobs.

- I found out I have a torn rotator cuff in my right shoulder (at least the surgery can wait until after the wedding).

As I said, there are even more issues (less significant than those listed above but that add up to a big deal overall) that I've had to deal with while dealing with the stress of the wedding and moving my fiance' in with me - two major stressors for anyone, especially someone with several mental and physical health issues.

(That was a horribly worded sentence but it's the best I can do at the moment).

Anyway, after all this, I was hoping that the wedding weekend would mostly go off without a hitch.

I was wrong.

As you could read from the title, on top of all of this, and by far the most life-impacting, is that my dad is in the hospital.

He has multiple health issues and has been hospitalized several times in the past few years for pneumonia and other health problems.

But overall, he's been doing okay...

...until a couple of days ago. 

At first, he just wasn't feeling 100% (his 100%). Two days ago, he slept most of the day and didn't eat much. This wasn't that unusual and he wasn't complaining of other symptoms.

Yesterday, he seemed like he was doing better. He ate a little breakfast and went with my mom for her doctor's appointment. When he got home, he felt worse and slept the rest of the day.

Late afternoon, he started complaining of being cold. Mom checked his temperature and it was 101.7. It was just after his doctor's office closed, so we decided he needed to go to urgent care. As these are his usual symptoms of pneumonia, we hoped that he could get some antibiotics and with rest, he would be able to at least make the wedding if not the other activities I had planned.

Well, they couldn't find any reason for the infection that the blood tests showed at urgent care. They recommended that he go straight to the ER for more testing.

I met my brother at my and my parent's house since he was going to take them to the ER (so I could get back to doing final wedding prep). We couldn't get my dad out of the car so I took him to the ER and they planned to follow as soon as they got some of his things in case he was admitted.

My dad slumped to the side in the seat - he couldn't sit up straight. After a few minutes with me driving, he slumped over more so I put my arm out so he could lay his head on it. 

Even though it wasn't far to the local hospital, it seemed like forever. When I got there, I went in and asked for a wheelchair, knowing that he wouldn't be able to walk in. However, I couldn't get him out of the car. (It had been a struggle for me to get him out at urgent care but then he was doing a little better - his fever went up over a degree while we were there).

Thankfully, my fiance' came right then and between the two of us, we got him out of the car into the wheelchair.

My heart almost broke when he opened his eyes and asked, "Where's Tracy?" I knew we had done the right thing to get him there.

I got him checked in and we started waiting to be called. It wasn't long before my mom and brother showed up. They wouldn't let all of us stay so my fiance' and I left. 

He and I tried to focus on wedding stuff since there wasn't anything we could do for my dad at the moment anyway. It wasn't easy and after hearing that they were still waiting to get a room in the ER, I went to bed.

I woke up a few hours later, wide awake, wondering what was going on with dad. I texted them and he had been seen by the nurse but they still didn't have an available room.

Over the next couple of hours, I checked in occasionally while also trying to do last-minute wedding stuff. Finally, about 3:30 am, I got a text that the doctor had been in. They still didn't know what was causing the high white blood cell count and fever and were going to admit him.

I wanted to stay up until they got home but it was another hour before they got him in a room. I called my brother before going to bed and asked if they had any more information.

He told me that they had found a mass in his abdominal area near/on his pancreas. However, at this point we have no idea what that means. I'm trying not to speculate and anticipate the worst, but of course, that's what I'm doing.

Now the sun is up on the day I've been planning for about 6 months. After we found out he needed to go to the ER, my mom and I talked about what we should do if he was admitted. She said that I needed to go ahead with the wedding.

So, on this day that I've anticipated with so much joy, I'm full of mixed emotions. I'm excited that it's finally here. I'm sad that there's almost no chance my dad will make it to the wedding. I'm nervous because now I'll have less help to do this already overwhelming set-up and rehearsal. I'm disappointed that my mom probably won't be at my rehearsal, though I'm still hopeful she can make it to the wedding. I'm mad that all this has happened, especially the part about my dad.

And mostly, I'm scared. I'm scared that the diagnosis will be really serious, much more serious than I ever anticipated. I'm scared of how it will impact my wedding, my honeymoon, and my life. I'm scared of how it will affect my mom. 

I'm trying my best to not worry about what I don't know - and take it one step at a time. Like so much else in my life, I am also trying to remember that this qualifies under one of those things I can't control and like the Serenity Prayer says, "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can't control." I'm trying to accept this... but it's just *$%# hard.



Sunday, September 25, 2022

Seven Days and Counting... Planning a Wedding with Mental Illness

In hindsight, I should have been writing about this journey all along. But in hindsight, there's SO much I wish I had done differently.

It's September 25, 2022... seven days, only ONE week, before my wedding - the wedding I started planning back in late March of this past year, soooooo about six months ago (about 180 days and 24 weeks). 

When I started, it was all fun. I had a blast making my wedding unique. Basically, I took all of the parts of a wedding, researched the traditional way each is done, and then found an alternate way to accomplish the same thing.

There are all kinds of quirky aspects of my wedding - things I'm proud of thinking of:

- We couldn't find a wedding topper that represented us, so we found Lego photographers.

- Instead of a fancy, traditional wedding cake, we are building one with Little Debbie snack cakes.

- My fiance' absolutely loves baseball so we're making a special small Little Debbie cake to put on our table at the reception, complete with a Lego baseball player for our Lego selves to photograph and various Lego people (including superheroes) to be in the stands.

- I have a suit of armor who was going to be a prominent part of the reception when it was going to be held at our house (more on that later), so the main wedding cake, the Little Debbie cake I mentioned earlier, is going to be in the shape of a castle... complete with a moat made with a mixture of sanding sugar and sprinkles... AND a moat monster (Randall from Monsters, Inc).

- I don't like to wear dresses so I'm wearing a tunic with leggings... and an incredibly sparkly long veil and rhinestone-covered tennis shoes.

- My fiance' and I are becoming fluent in sign language so we are going to sign parts of the wedding and one of the decorations is a set of wooden hands that have joints - we are making them each have the hand shape that says, "I love you."

- Instead of a ringbearer, my daughter's fiance's emotional support animal will carry the rings up the aisle. When it's time to give them to the officiant, the plan is for her to say "Shake," and he'll hold up his paw with the rings tied on it for her to take.

- Sand ceremonies are becoming more traditional so that's not too unusual, but we are including a blend of four colors to represent our parents, white sand to represent God, and we are including my daughter and her fiance' with their own colors. We are also putting the sand in a shadow-box frame and on special occasions, we are going to turn it one rotation - so that the sand gradually being blended shows how our lives are becoming more enmeshed.

- Our flower girl is going to push a cart that holds the sand ceremony stuff... and on the cart will be a sign I made that says, "Though I'm undeniably adorable, wait until you see the Bride."

There are so many other touches that I'm doing that will make this wedding unique - and ours.

But though all the planning was fun at first, my and my loved ones' mental illnesses and physical issues have come into play over and over throughout the process.

- It's not directly related (pun intended) to my mental/physical issues, but family has been a big factor in adding stress, which makes those issues worse. Originally, I had planned to have the wedding and reception at home with only a few people attending in person. We decided this somewhat for financial reasons but due to my social anxiety disorder - I don't like crowds. We were planning to Livestream it for those who are out of town. 

Then my family started taking over and telling me how to do my wedding. To combat that, we decided to move it to a neutral venue... one we could control easier. It didn't eliminate the stress my family continues to pile on concerning the wedding, but it helped.

- My daughter is not doing well right now - physically or mentally. I really wanted her to be much more involved than she can be. I understand what's going on but it's still disappointing.

However, because I know that some days she does well and others she doesn't, I have backup plans for all of her parts of the wedding, just in case she's having a bad day. I also changed some things I originally wanted to do to give her more time to rest in between all of the wedding activities.

- I have a similar issue to my daughter's... I also have good days and bad days physically and emotionally, though not as extreme or life-altering as hers.

Similar to the strategy to help her, I've been working since the beginning of the planning to get as much done up front as possible, so I'm not having to go sunup to sundown every day this last week. I'm still nervous that I'll overdo it so I'm making a conscious effort to try to rest some everyday.

There is a lot more that I could share, but I honestly do still have a lot to do. If I think about anything else, I'll either add it to this post or will do another one AFTER the honeymoon.

One last thing I need to say, though. At the top of my master to-do list, I wrote:

REMINDER FOR TRACY - and anyone else who might need to know: 
    IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG, JUST PICK UP AND KEEP GOING.
        PERFECTION AND FORMALITY ARE NOT THE GOALS…
            HAVING FUN AND SHARING LOVE ARE

As a perfectionist with a lot of OCD traits, this is very difficult to do. However, I know how important it is to remember. If I worry about perfection, there will be no way to be in the moment and enjoy what a great time this is.

Like we say in addiction support groups... It's "Progress Not Perfection."




Friday, September 23, 2022

Navigating a Professional Conference with Mental and Physical Issues

 Any time I leave home to go somewhere overnight, there are so many questions...

- What will it be like where I'm staying?

- Will I be on the first floor/is there an elevator?

- Will the bed be too firm for me to be able to sleep? Will it be too soft?

- What will the weather be like?

- Is the water filtered?

- What will the meals consist of? Will I have choices or have to eat whatever is provided?

- What kind of seating is provided? (Tiny seats like wedding chairs don't work for someone like me.)

- How will I get there?

If you've been a part of my blog for any time, you know that all of these issues aren't just because I'm a diva. Though not necessary, these legitimate questions and answers make a big difference in how well I do while I'm gone.

Earlier this spring I attended a conference for professional communicators in a city about five hours from my home. It was a big deal to get invited to go as a freelancer and I was excited about not only learning from some great speakers but also getting away for a few days.

However, there was a wrench in the plan. My dad went into the hospital the Wednesday before I had to leave on Monday. My mom had recently had surgery on her hand and was still very dependent on the help of others - mostly from my dad, actually. I had no idea what to do.

After talking to my mom and to my now-fiance, I decided to go but to drive myself in case I needed to come home early. 

Maybe it was the stress of making the decision, helping to take care of my mom, other work issues, a physical illness that made me more fatigued and nauseated than usual, or just the way my brain works, but I entered a bipolar low mood cycle (i.e. depression) right before I left home. 

When there was a lecture that was really exciting, I could push through to attend and even engage with what was going on.

But I quickly found out that the only way I could do that was if I took a lot of breaks.

I'm the kind of person who gets to a professional conference and wants to learn everything I can - not one who skips the workshops and heads to the local attractions or goes shopping at a nearby mall. So it was really difficult for me to miss any of the sessions... but I did.

Before all of the therapy and learning about my physical and mental issues - and realizing that it was okay to not be "on" every second of every day, I would have pushed it to attend 

every... 

single....... 

one................ 

of......................... 

the............................. 

professional........................ 

and............................................ 

fun.................................................. 

activities (WHEW! That was hard!)

But pushing myself to make the most of the time there would have been miserable. (It was bad enough even with the breaks I allowed myself to take.)

The first night we were there, I did okay through the few first-day sessions. But when it came time to eat supper, I knew all of my "spoons" were used up. (If you don't understand that reference, go to https://theswaddle.com/what-the-spoon-theory-means-for-people-living-with-chronic-illnesses-disabilities/#:~:text=The%20metaphor%20uses%20spoons%20to,to%20get%20through%20the%20day )

Again, before I learned it is as important to rest when I need it as it is to be productive, I would have pushed it and gone out to eat with my work buddies. I wanted to go since they are a fun group of people and we were planning to eat in the French Quarter of New Orleans, something I've never done before.

But instead, I made the difficult, though smart, decision to stay in my room and order Chinese take-out. 

And now, months later, though it would have been nice to have the energy to go with them, I have no doubt it was the right decision.

Another thing I did was walk out of a workshop that was good, but wasn't directly related to what I do. Keep in mind, my social anxiety makes it almost impossible to walk out. But I was trying to have discernment on which classes were the most impactful to what I do - and leaving one that I realized wasn't in that category gave me enough spoons to make it to those that were.

It's taken a while but I finally feel that I am starting to recognize my limits and put that information to good use. I might not be able to do as much as I could years ago - before the plethora of mental and physical illnesses started invading my life - but I can still do a lot.

I guess that old saying, "Work smarter, not harder," applies to not only work... it applies to the lives of those of us with these issues.

Take care of yourself. Take breaks. Do what you need to do and take breaks as needed so that you can, at least sometimes, have the energy to do what you want to do.



Monday, September 12, 2022

Engagement, Surgery, and World Games - Oh, My! (Surgery and its Impact on The World Games)

So... the busy-ness hasn't stopped. I'm writing this much later than planned but I feel it's important to share.

Today is September 7, 2022 and I'm writing this while in the waiting room as my dad is having a stint put in his heart. It's 25 days until the wedding. As of this point, I'm surviving. However, this post is about my surgeries and how they impacted The World Games - as well as how my ongoing issues affected it.

First - my carpal tunnel surgery...

As I mentioned in the last post, it took a lot longer to heal than I thought it would. When I scheduled the surgery, I knew that I would still be weight restricted (lifting no more than 5 pounds). I got home that day and immediately looked up how much my cameras weigh. 

I wasn't surprised that my camera with the long lens is over the weight limit. It was about 5 lbs, 4 oz total weight. I thought about how I hold my camera and assumed, without testing it, that the bulk of the weight was on my right (dominant) hand.

Mistake! Even though I pick up my camera with my right hand, I rest it on my left hand when I shoot.

Okay... so now let's talk about my regular mental health issues and invisible illnesses/other health issues - and how they impacted The Games.

I hate crowds (part of my social anxiety disorder). In most instances, this wasn't a big deal because the photographers could be on the floor for most events... and there weren't many photographers attending.

However, it was different the times I had to ride the buses from the parking areas to the venues. Not only did I not want to be in the middle of the very full vehicles, but I had a lot of equipment to carry (with one hand) in addition. Between my size, my social anxiety, and my equipment, I almost panicked each time I started to get on and saw that it was full.

It just so happened that each time, I was able to sit in the front, either because of nice people moving for me or luck. But it didn't help the ongoing anxiety... because what if the next time it didn't work out that way?

Of course, neurotypical people would simply be thankful for the seat they got and wouldn't immediately be concerned for the next time. My brain doesn't work that way. 

Heat intolerance... It was hot. I mean, HOT! One time I had to walk a few blocks to get from the shuttle to the venue and after I got inside, I looked at my phone to see the temperature. The heat index was 110. 

It was one of those times that I literally had to take one step at a time to get to the venue. I made it, but my core temp had increased and so it took a while to cool down.

In addition, I walked into a completely crowded room - full of media and full of spectators. 

THAT was a difficult day, but I made it.

Another problem was that the media was told that there would be snacks and drinks in all of the media centers. Sometimes that was true... sometimes not. Because I was already carrying a lot of equipment and I wasn't 100% due to my recovery, I couldn't add snacks and drinks to my already-very-heavy load. 

Sometimes I would find something somewhere; other times I had to wait until I got back to my car and I could get to a fast-food place. Again, I always made it but there were times I would get weak or start to feel sick because of this issue.

The noise was one more difficulty. At times I can be very sensitive to loud noises. Some of the venues were really loud. However, I carry earplugs with me all the time for those events. Those earplugs saved me more than once during The Games.

Now... back to my recovery from the surgery. The first time I realized that I was holding my camera with my left hand, the anxiety started. Shooting The World Games is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for someone like me and I wasn't going to quit...

(Busy-to-the-point-of-going-crazy Tracy inserting that at his point in the post, my dad got out of surgery. Now it's five days later and I'm just now getting back to this. Sigh...)

...but I still had to deal with the anxiety about what I was doing. Would this negate the benefits of the surgery I had? Would I be able to get good shots if I had to worry about holding the weight of my camera in my right hand? Should I take more breaks from shooting, knowing that I wouldn't have another chance to do this big of an event?

What I decided to do was to compromise. I looked at my schedule of events and decided to try to get as many different events in - but only to shoot once at each event. It would have been nice to shoot the same event for qualifiers and finals and I know if I had done so, my images would have been better after "practicing" during the qualifier. 

But I also knew that it wasn't worth the long-term risk of hurting my wrist. 

I ended up with ten straight days of shooting (though one day was an assignment for the paper) and over 10,000 photos taken. I took that incredible number of photos even though I drastically held back from what I had originally planned to do! 

And I survived. 

Was it fun? Yes, most of the time, especially when I was shooting. Would I do it again? Maybe. Would I do it again right after carpal tunnel surgery? Not a chance.

Like so many things in life, it was hard but it was worth it. 

If you find yourself in the middle of something hard, remember...

- take care of yourself,

 - pace yourself,

- and it's not a failure to not accomplish all you wanted but instead focused on what you needed.

To see some of my favorites of those many images I took, go to https://novelphotos.instaproofs.com/gallery/#events/1900477. 



Thursday, August 25, 2022

Engagement, Surgery, and World Games - Oh, My! (Wedding Planning and Jury Duty)

As part of the mental health issues I deal with, I can be a little (ahem!)... a lot obsessive. No, it's not true OCD but sometimes it feels like it. 

Wedding planning was one of those times for me. 

A combination of factors led to a crazy frenzy of wedding planning during the months of April, May, and June:

- Pure, unadulterated excitement... 

I've been wanting to get remarried ever since my divorce was finalized almost 20 years ago. During that time I didn't just run around looking for a husband, but I did pray about it - a LOT. 

When I met my fiance', I knew how great we were for each other, but he had never been married and wasn't sure if he wanted to ever get married. 

The prayers started again in earnest. One thing I learned from my divorce is that God doesn't make someone do something so I knew my fervent prayers wouldn't necessarily lead to an eventual marriage. But I hoped so. 

When it happened, I was more than excited. All I wanted to do every waking minute was work on wedding plans. Those early days of planning were so much fun - other than considering cost, the sky was the limit for fun and unusual ways to celebrate this commitment we were making.

- Upcoming schedule concerns...

Though at the time I got engaged, I wasn't positive I would have to attend jury duty instead of being excused and I didn't know if I would get credentials for The World Games. 

I knew that they could potentially take out entire weeks of potential planning time - not only for the events themselves but for the time it would take to catch up on work and recover, as with some of my physical issues I can't go full-steam like I could when I was younger (unless I'm manic and that also includes recovery after I come down). 

- Upcoming surgery...

I was supposed to have carpal tunnel surgery on both of my hands this past spring. Insurance issues came up and caused me to delay both surgeries. 

Just before The World Games, I had the procedure done on my left hand. I had not anticipated how difficult routine tasks would be, especially typing, with one hand compromised. 

It took longer than expected to heal from that first surgery and in August I had the second one done - on my right hand. This one is healing faster, but because it's my dominant hand, it actually impacted me more.

It's been over two weeks and I'm JUST NOW getting back to where I can work without much pain. (More about the surgeries in an upcoming post.)

So now I'm less than 6 weeks away from the wedding. For once, my obsession worked in my favor. Even though I sometimes felt embarrassed to work so hard on the wedding when, at the time, it was months away, there is no way I could have worked on it with these factors involved. My stress level would have been sky-high if I had to do wedding planning on top of something like The World Games or jury duty when I needed to work. 

I have to smile when I think about it. This wedding is not going to be like any other and some of the qualities I have like hyperfocusing, attention to detail, and wanting to stand out worked in my favor. 

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Engagement, Surgery, and World Games - Oh, My! (The Beginning)

It's been a hot minute since I've posted. I know that many say that if you are a writer, then you need to write no matter what else is going on in your life. 

Not to be mean or crass, but those who say that don't have the life I do (think about walking in someone else's shoes and all that jive). 

Mid-March started a roller coaster ride - one of those with top speeds and extreme drops and twists. 

Have you ever wanted something so much you cried over it, and prayed to receive it, and talked to your best friend about it, and then you couldn't talk to your best friend about it because she had heard it so much, and you saw signs everywhere that it was going to happen... but it still didn't. So you finally gave up. This is how this period of my life began.

In March, the boyfriend I've dated for almost five years (at that point) and who I seriously thought might never want to get married, casually asked during a meal out, "What's your ring size?"

I had a huge rush of mixed thoughts and emotions... Was he serious? What if I misunderstood? Was he simply wanting to buy me jewelry for my upcoming birthday or did it mean more? Should I be excited or hopeful or what? My final emotion was fear; my thought was that I needed to evade the question.

I changed the subject. 

A week or so later (I really SHOULD write down all these things), we were at another restaurant. Again, in the middle of eating, he casually asked, "What's your ring size?" 

I had chalked the earlier encounter up to meaning nothing during the time in between the two dates. This time I had a little more courage. I asked him something like, "Are you asking what I think you're asking?"

He said he was. 

I can't even describe the emotions I felt - elation, joy, hope, fear, anxiety, and many more rolled into one. I think I asked again. It was like the room got quiet and I tried to process his actual question. I remember hearing Randy Travis' "Forever and Ever, Amen." I hadn't heard a word of the restaurant's music before that moment.

I choked out that I had a ring sizer at home and I'd let him know... then we both went back to eating.

That is, we went back to eating for maybe a minute before the real excitement hit. I quickly pulled out my phone and looked up the screenshots of possible engagement rings I thought I would like when we hadn't been dating long and I still had hope that we would get married. 

It took a while to find them as it had been several years since I had taken the screenshots. When I finally found them, I showed them to him and quickly told him that these were like what I wanted (like he was going to run out the minute we parted to buy me one and I wanted to get my opinion in). 

He laughed and took note of what I wanted.

We went back to eating... for a few minutes this time.

I couldn't hold it in - and I was really pretending to eat anyway.

Words exploded from my mouth... descriptive words about how I wanted this and not this in a ring and when was he planning to get this and that I wanted the ring before he officially asked me and who knows what else I included about this development. 

Then I finished with, "Actually, the more I think (and talk and talk) about it, I really don't know what I want, so how can you find it? Is it okay if I find it and let you buy it?"

He said that was fine. (I think he was secretly relieved not to have to try to read my picky mind about something so important.)

But back to speaking of roller coasters, I have got to get going with my day.I feel like I'm finally getting to that stretch of a coaster where it starts to slow down and I think I can catch up on how far behind I am with this blog. I'll pick this story up and hopefully can continue it in a day or two. 

Monday, June 6, 2022

Dealing with Jury Duty with Mental and Physical Issues

Jury duty. Back when I was in another career and was a single mom to boot, I always asked to be released from serving jury duty. It wasn't that I didn't want to serve... it was that it was difficult to find a sub for several days in a row and I had no one to take care of my daughter. It was never an issue to get out of it.

So when I found out I had jury duty as a freelancer, I was torn. Like I said, I had always wanted to serve. It seemed like it would be very interesting to see what goes on in an actual trial (as some of my past obsessive periods concentrated on law shows and books).

However, I knew that a week (or more if I got chosen for a big case) would be extremely rough on my income plus, on the slight chance I was sequestered, it would be difficult for my parents. 

The weeks before I was supposed to serve, I was extremely busy and let making the decision to try to get out of it slip away. Finally, with only a few days left before I had to be there for my first day, I realized it would be better on everyone to see if I could get out of it.

When I didn't receive a release from duty, I thought it was my procrastination that got me to that point. When I arrived, though, I found out that jury trials were still extremely backed up due to COVID-19. No one was released, no matter what the reason, as they needed every jury available.

So I resigned myself to going... only to hit one of the worst manic cycles I've ever experienced the weekend before I was to start on Monday. I got almost no sleep and as my mania usually involves anxiety and not euphoria, needless to say, I was not fit to make major decisions that could affect another's life for years.

I knew from my earlier research about the possibility of asking for a release that major mental or physical issues could cause you to be released so when a judge came in to hear excuses, I got in line.

This judge was extremely kind and told me that, yes, I was right, I wouldn't be fit for jury duty in my present state. He apologized profusely when he said that he couldn't release me, though. The judge in the case had to. He assured me it would happen but not until I got chosen for a trial.

So the wait began.

One article I read said that jury duty was a great thing for freelancers. You are able to work without the constant interruptions of a regular business day. I wanted to make the best of this situation, so I tried to have that attitude.

I had brought my laptop and lots of other work I could do. In theory, there wasn't a lot of difference between waiting to be called and working at home. But in practice, I found out it was very different.

Several factors made it difficult, including a less-than-ideal workspace. I had a vent blowing cold air straight on me. At the point I thought I couldn't stand being cold anymore, I walked around to find another spot with a desk only to find them either occupied or with the same issue.

I'm hot-natured but during this time I was absolutely freezing. I finally asked if I could run to my car and get a rainjacket I had in there for emergencies. Though it didn't provide warmth, it was a windbreaker and was able to deflect some of the air blowing on me.

Another was that I had to constantly listen for my name to be called. I brought earbuds so that I could review the recordings of interviews to find quotes for various articles I needed to finish. I couldn't use the earbuds because I had a big fear of missing my name being called and being embarrassed as they hunted me down.

However, by far the biggest issue was that I was manic... and at the same time exhausted. I know that typical mania means you can go without sleep for days and not be sleepy. My "hypomania" isn't like that. I need much less sleep than normal, but I get tired, sometimes really tired, the next day. 

I usually can't go to sleep when I'm that tired, but the few times I'm in that horrible state, I often take some time off of trying to get work done and I do other things where I'm moving around and focusing on an activity instead of working at my desk. These are times I do some of my best cleaning and organizing.

Obviously, there was nothing to clean or organize in the large jury holding room. I just had to sit and try to stay awake and keep from shivering, while also not being able to accomplish any work tasks.

I...

was...

MISERABLE!

Every second seemed like an hour. They couldn't call me soon enough, as the earlier judge had told me that I could leave after the judge on a case released me. Group after group was called until there were only about enough left for one final jury pool left in the room. Finally, those few people left were called... and I was one of them.

Even though it was almost the end of the business day at this point, I was just ready to get out of there and get to a courtroom. Because of where my desk was (I had been able to find somewhere warmer after so many had left), I was second in line to the courtroom.

Then we were told amazing news! There wasn't time to start the next step in the jury selection process, so we were going to get to go home early. I was especially excited because I had a car inspection that I needed to get done and that gave me time to do it that day. 

I held my backpack and waited as they gave final instructions on where to go the next day and which parking pass to choose depending on which parking deck you had parked in.

I heard these instructions... but then promptly forgot them. Between the lack of sleep, being so cold all day, the anxiety that I felt which didn't allow me to work to pass the time, and the overall stress of the day, I couldn't hold a thought in my head. 

When they dismissed us, I realized I didn't know which parking pass to pick up. I asked the one person in front of me and got the correct one. Then we walked out. The person in front of me headed down the stairs.

I was incredibly confused. I thought we were going to a courtroom - so why did he go down the stairs.

Then I did something that embarrassed me to no end when I realized what I had done... I asked which courtroom we were supposed to go to. I was told that we were dismissed for the day and that we would find out in the morning.

That was one of the lowest points I've ever had directly resulting from my mental illness. I am smart... technically in the gifted category of intelligence. I had a 4.0 GPA with my Master's and I was the top student in both my bachelor's and master's programs. I was a whiz at math in school and won several math tournaments. I pick up new knowledge quickly.

Yet, I couldn't hold simple instructions in my head for even five minutes that afternoon.

I somehow made it to my car before I lost it. I cried and cried. I was so scared that I was losing it completely and that this could be the beginning of some kind of psychotic break. 

I stayed there as car after car wound around the parking deck and left. Finally, I was calm enough and awake enough that I felt it was safe to drive.

The next day I ended up having to stay the entire day but once I told the judge about what was going on with me, I was dismissed and didn't have to come back.

What would I have done differently if I knew then what I know now?

I'm not sure. Though it wouldn't have mattered about being excused before the actual week of duty because no-one was excused, I possibly could have asked more questions when I tried to get out of it.

However, the more I think about it, I don't know what I could have asked. How would know to ask if it was freezing cold in there, or what happened if you were wearing earbuds and your name was called, or if you had bipolar disorder and arrived in a manic state? 

I guess the only takeaway from all this is that even though it was a no-good, very bad, horrible day (and I wish I could have gone to Australia), I made it through. I didn't have the feared psychotic break. I got a little more sleep that night and the next day I knew to get there early enough to find a place away from the dreaded vents. 

In other words, once again that darn serenity prayer came to the rescue. I tried to control those things that I could change but survive through the things I couldn't. 

And like so many other bad memories I have, one day this will fade away and all I'll keep from the experience is that knowledge that I did, in fact, make it... and can do so again if/when needed.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

What If It All Goes Away?

Nothing has changed in the last 24 hours. I haven't had anyone insult my photography or writing, tell lies about my character, or leave my life. Actually, it's been a pretty good day.

No, the change has been in me. I've hit another low cycle. Being in a low cycle has made circumstances that normally would be neutral extremely negative. But I can't blame my low cycle for everything I'm feeling.

I have realized how arrogant I've been over what I've accomplished lately. Yes, I've worked hard. Yes, I've gotten experience through hours and hours of practice. Yes, I've analyzed my work to see how it could be better.

But none of that is how I've gotten to where I am now professionally. It's been God. Some might call it circumstances; some might call it luck; some fate... but I believe in a Higher Power and my Higher Power is God. 

You might be wondering why I titled a post about my arrogance "What If It All Goes Away?" It was one of those realizations that hit me in the head today. I've lost basically everything at different times in my life. Each time God has been with me and provided. 

But each time this life-shattering event has occurred has led to one thing - my pride being exposed. I have always felt I needed to be the best in whatever I did. Second place wasn't good enough. While that provides success in life, it's diametrically opposed to God's plan. 

The only way to really live out His will is to not be looking at my success - it will only be to look to Him. And if it does "all go away," I am finally starting to realize that it will be okay.



Sunday, March 20, 2022

Apps that Help Me Make it Through the Day (Part 2)

I don't know your definition of "later," but my guess is that it's not over four months. Yet, that's how long it's been since I wrote the first part of this post. If you want to read about some of the other apps that help me each day, look for a post with the same title on November 10, 2021.

So... I'm finally getting back to sharing more about this idea. 

On a side note, if you want to read something really ironic, read my post from February 5, 2022. You'll see why almost immediately after checking it out.

Let's go back to the topic at hand (or at a magnetic stand, as that's where my phone is right now.)

GOOGLE CALENDAR...

Like Chrome, I found the wonders of Google Calendar years ago. There have been several times I've tried to switch to something newer and flashier, but I've always gone back to it.

The best part of this calendar for me is that I can divide schedules into who is affected by them. I'm a very visual person and I can also get overwhelmed easily. Putting my daughter's schedule and my schedule and reminders of when things like bills are due and other tasks is too much for me to be able to focus in the next activity, depending on how I'm doing at the moment. 

Let me give an example of how I use Google Calendar:

When my daughter was younger, there were activities she had that I didn't have to be with her (like Colorguard practice after school). So I made three different "calendars" to take care of this issue. One calendar was for activities I wasn't involved in; a second was for items that I did by myself, and another was for those times we were both included. This part of this system had several advantages.

Why did she need one by herself, you might ask? Well, I'll tell you. My daughter has a lot of health issues and goes to the doctor a good bit. I needed to know when she was free when scheduling an appointment. So when I'm scheduling an appointment, I show all of the three calendars I mentioned. However, if I really need to focus on what I'm doing for the next week, I show only my calendar. 

Bills were another calendar. When my anxiety was high, I didn't need to look at all of the upcoming bills, so I would hide that one during those times. 

I now have one for my boyfriend, for those activities he participates in without me - again, so I won't ever accidentally plan something for a time he's already busy. But like with my daughter, I can also hide his when I need to focus purely on my schedule.

The color-coding provided also helps. You can assign each calendar its own color. I would do little tricks to remember categories - like with the three calendar example, my color was blue, my daughter's was red (our favorite colors) and the one for us together was purple. Bills are a yucky green and work activities were a nicer shade but still green to symbolize getting paid for that time. You probably get the idea.

MONDAY.COM...

While Chrome and Google Calendar have been my friends for over a decade, Monday.com is a new kid on the block.

As a freelance writer and photographer (as well as an odd job person), there are many steps in order to complete each project. I have tried making up various spreadsheets, lists, calendars, and other methods to try to tame this beast. Finally, I got tired of it and decided to dedicate a day to looking for a work organizer app.

I tried many that day. I would find one I thought I liked, get the trial version, start loading my info, only to find out it wouldn't work for my situation. Then I happened upon Monday.com. 

Monday.com has a LOT of templates. I had to mess around with it for a bit before I found a template that I could personalize to meet my needs, but so far it's really fitting the bill.

The only way I can easily describe it is that it's like a spreadsheet that has incredible versatility on what is included in each column. There are drop-down menus, fill-in-the-blank, file holders, upcoming date, and status update options. Once you create a work item, the whole row can be moved into various categories; in my case, this means whether I need to do something soon on a project, or everything might be ready to go but I just have to wait, or it's finished but I want to keep the information in case I work with that client again.

I'm probably not explaining it well, but I highly recommend it. It's one that I'm willing to pay for if I have to - it's that important to me - but so far I've been able to do a LOT with the free version. Look it up if you need a program like that. I know it's worth it to at least check it out.

(And by the way, they have a wonderful app for your phone, so you can access where you are on a project on the go).

BANKING APPS (choose your bank)...

Even though banking apps are really common now, even for normies, there is a specific reason I love them... depositing checks. Keeping up with how much is in a certain account is important, but my social anxiety keeps me from getting out many days unless it's necessary. Being able to skip a trip to the bank helps me get back to the comfort of home that much faster.

Okay... this post included an additional three apps that I love. I have a lot more but I won't bore you with all of them. However, I will provide some insight on a few more that help me... later. (LOL!)



Friday, March 4, 2022

Gratitude and Stillness - The International Justice Mission (IJM) and the Problem of Human Trafficking

Yesterday I interviewed a man who works with the International Justice Mission (IJM) in order to write an article based on his work. 

I am always amazed by people who work on the front lines dealing with such horrible atrocities as human trafficking - and their stories.

This man had two which really affected me. 

He gave me the figure that there are 40 million held in some form of slavery today. 2022. That blows me away and seems completely overwhelming.

Sometimes it can also be hard to remember these victims are individuals who have been created in God’s image, not simply a number.

A young man named Godwin is one such individual. Like many others, his family was deceived into sending Godwin into what they thought was a safe environment - where he could get the education he craved and learn a trade.

He ended up being trafficked to Lake Volta to work in their fishing industry. Instead of fulfilling his dream of advanced schooling, he was in a nightmare of 12-14-hour days of hard labor. One of the slaves’ tasks was to dive and untangle nets. Many didn’t know how to swim… drowning was common.

However, Godwin was relentless and clever. He acquired a cell phone and got in touch with an aunt on the outside who was looking for him. She called the local police who connected with IJM. Together, they rescued Godwin.

“A part of what blows me away is that even in the moment of rescue, even as he’s finally experiencing this freedom and release that he didn’t imagine was possible before, he was already saying to the police and IJM folks there, ‘You’ve gotta go back. I know where more kids are. You’ve got to go back,’” the man I interviewed recalled.

After Godwin was safe, he told IJM where the others were. They were also rescued.

This account made me upset at what those boys faced (and others still do) but it gave me chills about how Godwin reacted after reaching safety. 

The other account was how those at IJM start their days. 

He told me that even though they've had great success in rescuing and protecting thousands, it can still be overwhelming with the huge number of those still in need of help. So, every day every IJM employee starts the day by spending time with God for 30 minutes... in stillness. Then they get together as a team, pray together, and remind each other that this is God's work.

I've thought a lot about these two aspects of life. 

I know that when I am in the throes of a pity-party, it's almost impossible to use the old adage, "It could be worse," to help me feel better. While in that state, as embarrassing and humbling as it is to admit, it's difficult (for me, at least) to look past those overwhelming feelings and realize that I can find much to be grateful for even while experiencing struggles. 

I can't help but wonder if that time of stillness with God would make a big difference. Personally, I'm not directly fighting human trafficking. But I do have my own fights, issues where I feel that God wants me to be a voice. 

Maybe even if I'm not part of a huge team fighting the incredibly huge problem of human trafficking, taking the time for stillness and prayer, and reminding myself that what I'm doing in my small way is God's work will help with that gratitude, which will help with every part of life.

And by the way, to help this movement, go to www.IJM.org and click “Get Involved.”

Saturday, February 5, 2022

An Example of Releasing Control

One very common trait of people in general, but especially those who deal with addiction, is the desire for control. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) describes it well in Chapter 5 - "How It Works, pages 60-62."

"Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery, and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest, and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish, and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits.

"What usually happens? The show doesn’t come off very well. He begins to think life doesn’t treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still, the play does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well? Is it not evident to all the rest of the players that these are the things he wants? And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony?

"Our actor is self-centered—ego-centric, as people like to call it nowadays. He is like the retired businessman who lolls in the Florida sunshine in the winter complaining of the sad state of the nation; the minister who sighs over the sins of the twentieth century; politicians and reformers who are sure all would be Utopia if the rest of the world would only behave; the outlaw safe cracker who thinks society has wronged him; and the alcoholic who has lost all and is locked up. Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

"Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.

"So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic [sex addict] is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so. Above everything, we alcoholics [sex addicts] must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid."

Several times in the years since I recognized that I'm an addict, I have heard the first bolded quote in support groups. Every time it hits me really hard personally. I'm one who LOVES to be in control - even while I fully understand that it's a wrong way to live. The other bolded quotes describe me during the tale I'm about to tell. 

It describes it so perfectly... in other words, life would be so wonderful if everyone and everything would line up to what I want.

This past week I had a big lesson in releasing control. I dropped my phone on tile and, even though it had a shockproof case on it, it hit in such a way that it immediately died. As I am a freelancer and I call my phone my "external brain," it was a huge issue that needed to be resolved asap. 

After researching various phones, I finally decided on the one that was the best balance of performance and cost and got it ordered. At first, I was optimistic about getting a new phone quickly, thinking that the one I ordered would be delivered the next day. 

I looked at my receipt, waiting to see an estimate of when it would arrive. It just said "processing." Since I didn't know what that meant, I called the company to ask for an estimate. 

My stomach dropped as I heard the words that it took a couple of days for processing and 3-5 days to ship it. WHAT?! I would have to go a WEEK without a phone? How would I work? How would I relax? What would I do?

I went into troubleshooting mode, trying to figure out a temporary solution. I knew with enough time and effort I would figure it out and fix this issue. I gathered up old phones I had and asked others if they had old phones I could borrow. For different reasons, nothing worked. 

Racking my brain for other options, I finally realized that a pre-paid phone was the way to go, though not a cheap one. The only place I could find one in a store that was still open was across town, but my boyfriend was willing to go and get it for me. Knowing that sometimes it takes a while to port a number, we activated it together with me using a borrowed phone (not my number) late that evening, fully expecting it to work the next morning. 

Whew! I had made it through the day without my phone and my phone number. I was really proud of myself.

Boy, was I wrong. This next morning, I met my boyfriend at his office to get the phone. When I turned it on, it didn't work. I got home and began the many, many phone calls and online chats to various customer reps about what was going on.

By that evening, I gave up on this phone. There was nothing I could do. Apparently, there was a defect. I returned the phone to the store and got a refund on the service, planning to buy one from a different company.

Because I didn't find a good deal on another phone, had already made it two days without one, and was trying to be optimistic that my new permanent phone would come sooner than promised, I went into Wednesday knowing I wouldn't have a phone at least one more day.

I can't remember how I realized this next issue, but it was even more stomach-dropping... Because I had canceled my service plan the night before, I possibly lost my phone number permanently. I have had this phone number for over 20 years and now run a business with it. I can't even imagine how many hours it would take to inform everyone about a new number and how much business I could lose every day until I had fully switched over.

Spending another day working on this issue, I was able to figure out a solution to hopefully keep my phone number, but I wouldn't know for sure until I activated the new phone. I bought another pre-paid phone to get my account going again as soon as I could. 

Trying to activate it for the first time Wednesday evening, it didn't activate immediately. Again, there was nothing I could do about this part of the process. My stomach had been in knots all week but I was exhausted. Somehow I was able to get to sleep. 

I woke up about 4am, as I often do (though I usually go back to sleep relatively quickly).  My first thought was to check my new phone and see if it had activated. It hadn't. So, I went to my account for the permanent phone to see when it would arrive. 

I almost threw up from anxiety when I saw that the order had been canceled. As the company didn't open until 8am, I had 4 hours to worry about what was going on. Needless to say, I didn't get back to sleep.

Calling at exactly 8am, I then found out that the service with this company wasn't available in my area. Nothing in the ordering process mentioned that it wasn't in my area - or that it was something I should even check on. There was again nothing I could do about this issue... I had to start over researching and buying another permanent phone.

To complicate matters even more, the pre-paid company I was using had issues with both phone and chat in their customer service department on Thursday morning and I couldn't even check into why the second phone wasn't activating. Once AGAIN, there was nothing I could do.

I moved into the mode of finding another service company and another phone. It was a lot harder this time as I had already been burned by several wireless companies over the years and wanted one with inexpensive plans and phones as well as good customer service (a hard thing to find). Finally, something I could control! 

However, I still couldn't control the fact that my pre-paid phone still wasn't activating. I couldn't control that it would now be Monday before I got the permanent phone. I couldn't control if I had, in fact, lost my phone number and would have to deal with the complications of getting a new one. I couldn't control that, because of dealing with this issue, I had lost almost a week of work.

I finally surrendered to the situation (at least partially) Thursday afternoon. I didn't stay on the phone and/or chat (yes, I did both at the same time occasionally because I got different answers about what was wrong from almost every rep I talked to) like I had been doing all week. I still checked into the issue, but I tried to move on and recognize that this issue wouldn't go on forever.

Friday morning I had peace about it. I woke up and checked my phone and, once again, it still wasn't working. I waited patiently for the call center to open up and checked into it again.  Still nothing. However, I was assured that the problem had been found and I would have service by 6pm that night. I was able to do some work that day, with exhaustion from the stress of the past week now affecting me more than anxiety about the future.

At 6pm when the activation still hadn't happened, I called again. This time I got someone who saw the real problem and fixed it. WOO-HOO! I had a phone again... and I got back my original number!

My happiness was short-lived as there was a problem with my service plan. I spent another hour or so on the chat and phone trying to figure it out, finally talking to a supervisor.

This is when I knew I had really surrendered. Instead of arguing with the supervisor about how unfair this ordeal was and how I was still dealing with it, I calmly explained the situation and accepted her solution (though I still don't feel it was fair). 

I have no doubt that this entire week was a lesson in letting go of control. I didn't even go into every problem that I dealt with during a workweek without my phone (things like having one photography assignment I had to get done and still being on the phone with a service rep when I needed to get ready and leave). There were too many coincidences in things happening with the worst timing possible for me not to recognize that it was a chance maybe set-up by my Higher Power, or at least used by my Higher Power, to work on my character defect of having to be in control.

But, even though it took a week of stomach-churning anxiety to get there, I was able to eventually get to the point of surrender (at least this time) and realize a taste of the serenity we are promised if we work the Steps.