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.