Thursday, April 29, 2021

I Saw A Baby Today...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Wait Before You Judge Someone's Weight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Insomnia

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

I...

am...

exhausted...

...but I just can't sleep. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Journaling to Help Focus on Abilities rather than Disabilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 12, 2021

A New Focus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Fibro Symptom or Something Else?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is anyone else having this issue?

Sunday, February 28, 2021

A Year Later

It's a month later. 

My last blog post exactly a month ago. It was a quick one - I wrote it almost frantically as I realized that Groundhog Day was coming up and, as it was based on that event, I needed to get it done quickly. This month has flown by. I have barely thought about this blog. Of course, it has only 28 days and that's part of it, but that's not the only thing. I have noticed this phenomenon of February feeling like it lasts only a week year after year.

But the more important point is that it's a year later.

It's now been almost a year that COVID has been a part of our lives. Can you believe it's been a year? 

When we first heard that we needed to stay at home as much as possible, wear masks, and that restaurants, businesses, schools, and churches would temporarily close, they told us it would last only about two weeks. 

I don't know about you, but I know that I can do anything for two weeks. I remember when I was in college, I would make the conscious decision at the beginning of a semester of classes that I hated that I could do anything for those few months. 

I didn't think about the other horrible classes I would have to endure to graduate. I just concentrated on getting through the current semester. Though it was more than two weeks, I knew I could make it because there was an end in sight.

You may have seen the 1986 movie, "The Money Pit," with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long. They also had to deal with the concept of "two weeks." They realized that the house they bought for almost nothing had multiple problems after they moved in. 

They hired a contractor to rebuild practically the entire house. Even when it had holes in the walls, the water didn't work, no stairs to the second floor, and no electricity, he continually told them that it would only be "two weeks" until it was finished. As the work stretched out into months, he continued to say it would only be two weeks until it was done.

If we had known that a majority of the COVID restrictions would last for a year, I think all of us would have gone crazy. It was hard enough to last those first two weeks... can you imagine if we had known it would be a year? Or even worse, that there is no definite end in sight?

I'm a recovering addict and also have some mental health issues and one of the main principles of overcoming addiction/coping with mental illness is living "one day at a time." It's also a basic concept of many religions, including Christianity - taking each day as it comes and dealing with those immediate concerns instead of fretting about the past or worrying about tomorrow.

That principle is easy to talk about but difficult to do. If it was easy, there wouldn't be numerous workshops on how to learn "mindfulness," the concept of staying in the moment. We wouldn't have to pay therapists nearly as often to deal with our issues from the past and our concerns for the future. We wouldn't have sleep issues or need to take prescriptions to calm our anxiety.

But even though it wasn't easy, we've made it through this past year.  It's become almost automatic to wear masks and keep six-feet away from others. We have grown accustomed to meeting virtually and keeping the few get-togethers we have small in number.

We now have a vaccine that is being distributed to more and more people. There's hope again that maybe one day we'll be able to leave the masks at home, open restaurants, businesses, schools and churches without special restrictions, and shake hands and even hug each other.

Even without that definitive end in sight, we've made it a year and we can make it longer if needed.... one day at a time.