Employment

Ramble on

A lot’s happened over the past two days and even more is happening today.

On Monday, I attended the orientation session for the Health Careers NW study. It’s a federal research study to determine if providing vocational training in healthcare fields and employment support for low-income people receiving public assistance can help them attain a greater degree of financial self-sufficiency…uhmmm yeah!

In order to move forward with that process and when I, eventually, obtain a job, I’m going to need to show my Social Security Card. I don’t have it. Rather, it’s (hopefully) lost and buried somewhere in the depths of a very large box full of boxes and bags of papers…and by very large, I mean a moving box sized to carry several oversized pillows and lightweight items.

Trust me when I say there isn’t enough time or physical space for me to go through it and continue doing the job readiness, mental health recovery, and physical health activities I’m doing.

So, the Employment Specialist who has been working with me through the Social Security Administration’s Supported Employment Demonstration (a different federal research study to determine if people who have been denied Social Security Benefits for disabling conditions can successfully be transitioned back to employment with Employment Supports, Mental Health Case Management, and Physical Healthcare Supports…uhmmm yeah, again!) has been helping me get to and from some of these employment readiness activities I’ve been doing. She went to the orientation with me.

We decided to try to get to a Social Security Office afterward. However, she was on a tight schedule and had already agreed to take me to a store where I could exchange my empty 5 gallon water bottles – it’s too hot to go without decent water. The first place we went was out of water. So, we had to go to a different store.

While walking into that store, I tripped on a curb and went down on my left knee, then rolled onto my back. I managed to avoid going down too hard, thankfully.

By the time the water got replaced, it was too late to go to the Social Security Office. So, we agreed to go Tuesday…fully expecting at least an hour wait. Lo and behold, we got there and I had less than a 20 minute wait! 😮

I had tried to sign up for the NCRC, which I talked about here. However, I couldn’t just sign myself up. So, I called and spoke to the gal who’d led the Health Careers NW orientation on Monday. Now, I have four hours of testing to do today.

Not looking forward to it.

I tried to do math prep yesterday. I realized that geometry will kill my math score…which will kill my overall rating, since the lowest score determines the final rating.

The perfectionist in me is quite unhappy with that thought. However, the realist in me knows what’s what and that, ultimately, geometry is not a part of my career path and that my other abilities will speak for themselves when the time comes.

So, I decided not to make myself crazier with the math prep.

Later, I had a Volunteer Orientation at NAMI. NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It’s a nationwide, peer driven organization offering support, education, and community engagement for those experiencing mental illnesses and their families. Since I want to get into peer work, this is my next logical step.

There are several opportunities for me here: teaching classes, as long as I’ve already taken them myself; Community engagement – speaking at schools, organizations, and businesses about my lived experiences as both a person living with mental illness and a parent/family member of others who have experienced mental illness; operations support, which will have me exercise my office and writing skills.

I start next week. My first volunteer project will be working on updating the local resource guide. The current one is two years old and things change.

I’m really excited about this next phase.

On my way home, I experienced another knee injury. I’m afraid this one was a bit more severe than the first. I’m really hoping that the pain subsides without me having to make another medical appointment.

What happened?

A slightly out of it man got on the bus, chose not to sit down, and neglected to hold himself steady. So, when the bus started to move, he came toppling down onto my lap like a felled tree, his shoulder gouging into the top, inside of my knee, above and to the side of my kneecap.

That’s the leg with the nerve entrapment in my foot and the same knee I’d fallen on the day before. So, now I have some radiating pain going down into my foot. Yay.

Since I’m hurting, sleep is elusive. Which means, I’ll be going into my tests sleep deprived and in pain.

Wish me luck.

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Who knew I was a perfectionist?

Not me.

How can I possibly be a perfectionist? My life’s kinda, sorta, really a mess. I mean, I regularly accumulate two or more weeks worth of laundry to put away. After all, I spent Sunday morning folding and putting away three bags of clean laundry and still probably have three loads worth to still put away. (Who knew I had that many clothes?!?!?) I have bags of non-perishable groceries, purchased IN FEBRUARY, which still need to be put away.

Pretty much every surface above the floor is occupied with stuff. Papers are EVERYWHERE: loose on various pieces of furniture, in boxes, in bags, in boxes of bags…And notebooks, lots of notebooks. Every therapy group and class has a notebook, as does my Peer-To-Peer class, and I have a full notebook of all my job readiness stuff – the most organized thing in my life.

My adult kids suspect that I may be a paper hoarder.

Maybe they’re right.

Or, maybe, just maybe my therapist is right. Maybe I’m a perfectionist.

I have difficulty with little goals. You know, the little daily goals that list makers have. Tasks that need completing in that day’s 16, mostly functional, productive hours.

Little goals never seem like enough. For me, that is, not for others. I’m a “go big or go home” kind of gal. Unfortunately, if it looks like I’m not going to be able to complete the big goal, I get overwhelmed and shut down. I’m fairly certain that’s why I haven’t written anything longer than short flash fiction or a blog post. The thought of curating and editing what I’ve written on the blog feels monumental and overwhelming, on several levels.

It’s always been that way academically, too. Good enough is seldom good enough for me. In retrospect, it’s partly that mentality that precipitated me running away from home when I was 16, which you may or may not have read about here and here. Since I’d missed 1/3 – 1/2 of the first term of my Junior year, I was convinced that there was no way I could catch up and earn the grades I would need to take advantage of the potential scholarships which had been implied with the recruitment letters I had received from Whitman College, Harvard & Radcliffe, and the combined branches of the military (I was offered my choice of ROTC scholarships).

All or nothing. All too often it has turned to nothing.

I realized yesterday that particular attitude is manifesting again in my job readiness process.

There’s a thing called the NCRC (National Career Readiness Certificate).

The NCRC is a multi-functional, Nationally Known and recognized credential designed to document the current essential skills of job seekers and students. A Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum certificate can point to a specific industry and/or job type that is translates into a “right fit” for an employer.

There are three assessment tests: Reading, Math, and Locating Information using graphics, ie. maps, charts, and other visual representations of data. There are four levels of achievement: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. I’m fairly certain I could earn Gold or Platinum for Reading assessment. I might be able to do Silver or Gold for the Locating Information assessment. However, I’m pretty sure my math skills are rusty enough that I could only score a Bronze for that assessment. Pesky fractions and geometry!

I could handle all of that, except, it’s a 3 for 1 kind of deal. What that means is that there’s one overall score/rating. It isn’t an average of the three. It isn’t the middle score. It certainly isn’t the top one. Nope. It’s the lowest one. So, if I score a Platinum rating for Reading, a Silver for Locating Information, and a Bronze for math, my overall rating is Bronze. The thought of that makes me cringe. I’m better than that, dammit! (or so I tell myself.)

The assessments are offered twice a month. Which means there have been at least two or three opportunities to take it that I have passed up, in favor of other job readiness activities which may or may not hold universal weight with potential employers. I haven’t taken it because I wanted to figure out how to brush up my math skills first.

Yesterday, I attended an orientation for Health Careers NW. “Health Careers NW is a WorkSource program that provides coaching, training and job placement support to low-income adults interested in a career in healthcare. . HPOG is a study funded by the federal government which is being conducted to determine how these training opportunities help people improve their skills and find better jobs. which is a potential opportunity to get training funded and employment supports.”

During the orientation, I found out that there aren’t any child care funds available. However, the person giving the orientation suggested that obtaining the NCRC certification opens to door up to travel funds and other benefits. It also might make child care funds available. When I raised my objection regarding the probability of me getting a Bronze for Math, she told me that it doesn’t really matter what the level is, what matters is getting the certificate and that any assessment can be retaken.

I still have an internal resistance to doing this. HOWEVER, I’m going to see what I can do tomorrow to register for the orientation and assessment sessions on the calendar for Wednesday. After all, it probably holds more weight than the Google applications computer course I’m signed up for and can take at any time.

So, as I stated in a prior post, I’m going to Just Do It!

In recovery: sharing my story

I may or may not have mentioned that one of the myriad of things I’m doing, for myself and for my employment readiness, is NAMI’s Peer-to-Peer class. On Saturday mornings for several weeks, I get together with a group of other people also experiencing mental health issues and we learn with and from each other about what our mental health conditions are and do and how to live with them. Yesterday was the day to share our stories.

I’ve shared bits and pieces, summaries and rants, and some full out essays on my history in various other posts in the past. I’m not doing any of that, this time. I’m going to transcribe what I shared in the group. Then, I’ll let you know what makes it different.


WHAT HAPPENED?

Sentinel Event – what was the spark that you believe led to your mental decline? (Ex: job loss, housing loss, win the lottery, broken relationship, life gain, etc.)

I’ve known for decades that I experienced depression. I’d begun to suspect PTSD and Bipolar 2 for a couple of years. On 12/06/13 there was an explosive breakdown of my family.

Behavior/Symptoms? Progressive onset?

Hyper-reactivity; rapid and disorganized speech; getting “stuck” or “lost” in the stories of my trauma experiences.

Difficulty accepting or asking for help:

Decades of denial of manic/hypomanic episodes and “manipulating” psych service providers to only see and treat the depression. Ignoring symptoms of anxiety. Initial refusal of meds for Bipolar, Anxiety, and Depression.

WHAT HELPS?

Wellness strategies (Ex: Self-care, medications, sleep, self-talk, spiritual)

Medications, DBT, Therapy, Engaging with my faith community, Writing/Blogging. Need to increase physical activity and nutrition.

Results/Reflection

Improved and restored relationships with my adult children. Increased self-awareness. Hope for the future.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Successes: Continuing to work towards employment – doing the PSS/PWSS Training and volunteering; continue therapy and do possible med adjustments.

Hopes: Financial independence and self-sufficiency

Dreams for the future: Write/publish a book.


The assignment was to write this outline to tell our story in a way that would be five minutes or less in order to allow others time to tell their stories. That’s not something I could have done five years ago. Probably not even a year ago.

Remember how I identified getting stuck or lost in my trauma stories as a symptom or behavior? It’s a manifestation of PTSD. I didn’t know that five and a half years ago when my life imploded. Turns out that PTSD flashbacks don’t necessarily manifest themselves in vivid reliving or re-experiencing the moments of trauma. PTSD manifests differently according to the variations of the trauma and the individual. My trauma was successive and chronic. I dissociated as my coping mechanism – didn’t even realize I was doing it. So, I could share my story, but, I couldn’t just summarize it, keep it brief, or access the mental shut off valve to my mouth even as I wanted to stop.

This is probably the thing that’s driving my fearfulness around doing job interviews. Not being able to briefly describe what happened, without going into excruciating detail from the beginning of time, and turning into a sobbing mess.

My adult daughter thinks I’m too honest for my own good. Wait. What? How can you be too honest? Well, by telling more than was asked and spiraling into details they don’t need to know. So, some of the most common interview questions are psychological landmines for me.

I know that if I “finesse” my answers to avoid mentioning the mental illness, that I will be lying by omission. Lying, misleading, and manipulating people to get what I want is something I absolutely cannot bring myself to do, 99% of the time. (The truth is we all lie a little, even if it’s just to ourselves. So, no one is 100% truthful, 100% of the time.) There’s a trauma story there. That story rises to the surface and can be seen in my facial expressions and body language if I attempt to verbally manipulate someone. That’s kind of disastrous in an interview. So, I’m going to have to tell my truth when I’m in the interview room.

The fact of the matter is that the mental illnesses of Bipolar 2, PTSD, and Depression live in my brain and sometimes come out to play, without invitation and at inopportune times. Most of the time, they’re well behaved because of the meds and the retraining of my thinking processes through therapy. But, once in awhile, they like to party like Beetlejuice and wreak a little havoc.

So, I have to learn how to be brief, concise, and honest and keep the story reined in. I didn’t think that was something I could do. But, after sharing my story, like that, in a room of my peers, I am slightly more confident I can do it in an interview.

Q & A: Preparing for The Interview

Here’s the deal: I need an income sooner rather than later. IF I get into the training, it doesn’t start until September. The first session is about 11 weeks, the second session is about 10 weeks, with a week or two in between, maybe. So, maybe I’ll have earned my Peer Wellness Support Specialist by mid-late February. Then, I may or may not have a job to go into right away. That’s at least six months away. I can’t wait that long before I am earning an income.

I need to update my resume, which is slightly intimidating. Then I need to flesh out my LinkedIn . . . I’m quite intimidated, not gonna lie. These things are time consuming and brain straining activities. But, I have no doubt that I can and will get through them. However, my heart and mind are terror stricken at the thought of interviewing.

Tell me about yourself . . .

Uhmmm . . . I can’t talk about my age, my family status, or my mental health issues. It’s best not to focus on the fact I’ve been out of the job market for 7 years. So, what DO I say?

Why did you leave your last job?

Ahhhhh . . . I left because I was on the verge of another nervous breakdown, in a conflicted and dying relationship, and parenting a behaviorally challenging toddler who had yet to be identified as being on the Spectrum. But, I’m much better, now.

What is your greatest accomplishment or achievement?

Well, you see, I had such a broken relationship with my adult son that he disowned me. It was basically due to my behaviors and lack of emotional stability from incorrectly diagnosed and untreated mental illness. I’ve spent the last five and a half years in the recovery process. During which time, I’ve been able to work toward the healing and restoration of my relationship with my son. He’s calling me “mom” again.

Yeah. No. That won’t fly.

Tell me about a time when . . .

*scratches head* Ehhh, I’m thinking . . .

Hard to remember anything through a dissociated state. Which is how I’ve lived most of my life. I know things happened, I just don’t remember them, at least not the details of them.

Have you ever had conflict with a co-worker/employer? How did you handle it?

Yes. I had a panic attack, shut down, and avoided them as often as possible.

I just crashed and burned like the Hindenburg.

I could continue, but, you get the idea. My life has been so severely consumed and affected by mental health issues and parenting a child with special needs, that I don’t have any other reference points.

In Thursday’s Interview Workshop my biggest fears about this job search process were realized.

Why can’t getting a job interview be like walking into McDonald’s and using the touch screen kiosk:

Job Search Combos

Resume: Chronological or Functional?

Application: In Person with paper & pen or online with Resume & Cover Letter Attachment?

Interview type:

  • Group
  • 1:1
  • Panel
  • Working

I’ll take a Functional Resume, with an Online Application, and a Working Interview, please.

Scattered Goal Setting: Just Do It

I suck at structure and routine. It’s my kryptonite.

Every day planner or daily journal I’ve ever had, was lucky to be utilized for more than a couple of weeks. Organized goal setting? Forget about it. I’ve tried. I’ve taken classes. I’ve been mentored. I’ve learned strategies and used templates. Nothing sticks. It’s just beyond me.

Maybe it’s a Gemini thing. Maybe it’s a Bipolar thing. Maybe it’s a PTSD thing. Whatever it is, it’s a ME thing. I have felt like a failure because, no matter how hard I try or how much I want to, it’s just not something I have been able to achieve and maintain. I’ve had people who have done their best to teach me and guide me into doing this, give up on me, with the false belief that I am not interested in growing and achieving success . . . or their idea of success.

I’ve had mental health advocates and therapists explain and teach methods and techniques, stressing the critical importance of structure, order, and routine in the recovery process. Service providers for my daughter, who experiences the world through the autism spectrum, have campaigned for me to do these things for her well-being.

I’ve tried. I really have.

I’m coming to a realization: I’ve been doing the things, just not in recognizable ways. I have a loose routine and keep a schedule, sort of. Every appointment, class, and commitment goes into my phone’s calendar. If it isn’t in there, it doesn’t happen. So, I show up to just about everything I say I’m going to. There’s one thing that’s a constant. Every Sunday, I go in early to help set up for the worship and teaching service with my faith community. The rest of the schedule varies from day to day and week to week. But, it’s all in my phone.

My personal care routine revolves around those appointments. The ADLs (Activities of Daily Living): specifically the personal hygiene ones revolve around the things in my phone. If there’s an external commitment where I’m going to be around people, then it happens. If it’s just me, myself, and I staying home . . . well, it may or may not happen. I’m working on that. Definitely room for improvement. Baby steps.

As far as goal setting goes, I’m not so SMART. Do you know what SMART goals are?

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-based

Written down, with steps and actions laid out, in small, manageable bites.

I’ve tried. Haven’t been able to keep up with it. I get overwhelmed with the planning, my brain starts spinning, I lose focus, and get lost in the details.

Here’s the thing. I’ve been recovering anyway. Guess what else? I’m on the right path and trajectory for what I want to be doing.

I decided that, after five years of focusing on my mental health recovery and eight years of working to stabilize my youngest child, who is on the autism spectrum, that I’m probably ready and able to hold down a job. At least, I hope I am.

Get a job. I didn’t write it down, exactly. I’ve written about wanting to get one, but, it’s not in a diary, journal, or planner. I got a little specific – Peer Support Specialist. Not written down, but continuously on my mind.

I didn’t write an action plan. I just decided that, after seven years of not being employed, I needed to refresh and update my office computer skills. After all, there really isn’t a job in many industries that doesn’t require knowledge and ability to use some computer skills to document the work being done. So, I went where I knew to start the process because it’s where I’ve started in the past.

There was a calendar of classes and for updating those skills. It also had job readiness activities listed: Workshops for Resumes, Job Search, Interpersonal Skills, Interview Skills. So, I signed up for all of them and plugged them into my phone calendar as appointments, so they would happen. No concrete plan going in; just find out what was being offered and take advantage of it.

I figured if I want to do Peer Support work, I should probably continue and increase my participation in mental health group programs. So, I signed up for NAMI’s Peer to Peer class. Through that process I discovered they have a training for the job I want. I applied, but didn’t get in. Since I hadn’t planned and counted on it, not getting in didn’t derail me. I just looked at the reason I didn’t get in: I needed to be currently engaged in a job or volunteer position doing the work. When a volunteer opportunity presented itself, I jumped at it. No planning. I just did it.

I heard about another training opportunity and called about it the next day. Heard back the following day and discovered I have less than a week to submit and application and a letter of reference. I happened to run into my therapist while waiting for one of the groups and asked for the letter. We’re doing it later today when I see her for my appointment. I submitted the online application yesterday.

The point is, that I haven’t done any planning. I just decided and followed through with steps that made the most sense in the moment they presented themselves. I’m not going to lie and say that none of the things I have been taught and told about goal setting, time-management, planning, and organizing haven’t helped the process along. They absolutely have. Just not in ways most recognizable to the gurus of goals.

If you’re anything like me and planning for a goal or developing a structured routine don’t work, then, as Nike suggests . . .

Just Do It.

 

Personal Marketing Tool

A resume . . .

Did you know that a resume is considered a form of marketing yourself?

That was a repeated theme throughout the Resume Workshop I attended yesterday. It is, essentially a Personal Marketing Tool. It’s purpose? To get you to the interview.

Tailoring, experience, achievements (preferably quantifiable), and transferable skills. All elements and components necessary to the resume. Do you know what else? LinkedIn. The facilitator may or may not have indicated that LinkedIn is where references could (possibly?) be verified. Apparently, in addition to figuring out how to sell myself as a Mental Health Peer Support Specialist by building a resume that uses my past experience in such a way as to make it relevant, despite it not really having much in common with my objective, I also need to update and polish my LinkedIn.

There are also two different forms of resumes: Chronological and Functional. I guess some do a hybrid. Mine needs to be functional since a) I haven’t been employed for seven years and b) I’m transitioning to an entirely new line of work. Elements of a resume include:

  • Contact information: Phone, email, LinkedIn – NOT physical address
  • Summary of Skills: 3 – 5 key skills and/or accomplishments.
  • Experience Section: Categorize using the potential employer’s job description to use key words when identifying additional skills and accomplishments.
  • Licenses and certifications
  • Education

And guess what? Keep it down to one page, if possible. Two pages is the maximum, for most industries and employers. However, it all has to be done with specific formatting: 10-12 point, clean font (nothing fancy), with wide enough spacing to keep enough blank, white space on the page for readability and them to write notes on.

I’m going to be honest. I feel intimidated and out of my depth when it comes to doing this resume. I used to have no problem creating a resume. But, that was with jobs in alignment with what I already had experience in. Highlighting skills was fairly simple and straightforward. Now, I have to figure out how to attach an accomplishment to the relevant skills. I don’t see any relevant accomplishments that I have had recently, or within the past seven years. I honestly don’t see accomplishments in work I’ve done in the past. Of course, a lot of that is memory related; meaning I don’t remember what I’ve actually done because of my mental health symptoms of dissociation. I did the things, but don’t remember what a lot of those things were. I just know I used the skills.

Also. References. Uhmmm . . . I don’t have them. I am not in contact with ANYONE I previously worked for or with. I have no clue who I can have vouch for my reliability, capability, or desirability as an employee. The closest person who could possibly do those things for me would be the Teaching Elder (pastor) of my faith community. I’ve been volunteering the past two or three years to create the chart books for the worship team, put together the slide presentation for the lyrics and order of service, and creating lyric sheets for external events.  Except, we’re supposed to avoid mentioning religious affiliation.

I feel a tension migraine coming on. Oh, it’s a minor panic attack at the thought of all these things.

Realistically, I know I’m capable of doing these things. I know I would be good at the work. I know I have the experience and skills necessary to the work. However, virtually none of those skills and accomplishments are in a professional setting and are 98% related to my personal circumstances. The most relevant reference is my therapist and I’m pretty sure that is a violation of the client/therapist boundary. I might be able to call on my child’s DDS Case Manager or her school’s Special Needs teachers.

I’ll figure it out. I’ve already reached out to my Employment Specialist and mentioned the need to obtain some job descriptions. I’m going to troubleshoot this whole resume/LinkedIn thing with her.

This whole job readiness thing is a full-time job in itself! And it’s exhausting. Two hours in the resume workshop, a two hour break (with 45 minutes of that in transit), then a two and a half hour Power Point class, followed by the afternoon rush hour on public transit. All I could do when I got home was lay down and pass out.

Today is a Job Search Workshop, followed by a mental health Socialization Group. The group is interesting. I don’t really feel like I fit in. There’s very little common ground and a disparity between where I’m at in my recovery process and where many of the others seem to be. I guess I can count it as peer experience and consider it another component on my job readiness journey.

Priming the pump with prompts

I have a resume workshop this morning and a PowerPoint class this afternoon. Yesterday was a church picnic in the park. Very few people showed – which was expected. Still, it was an enjoyable experience after the stress and activity of Saturday. Long story with little purpose. Short version? I helped my ex shop for a mattress for our daughter to have at his place, then helped him to assemble the loft bed he’d ordered for her off of Amazon. Fun times.

Anyway, I’m short on ideas and there wasn’t anything of import to report about Sunday. Also, for some reason, I don’t receive the prompt emails sent out to the participants of The Ultimate Blog Challenge, despite having gone through the website to sign up more than once. So, I turned to the social writing app I’ve gotten prompts from before and saw this “Finish the Story” prompt. Don’t know where I’m going with it. Join me?


I’m afraid you might not like me, when you meet me, she texted him. Three dots appeared on her screen, indicating he was typing. But, then they suddenly disappeared.

“Well, that’s that, I guess.”

She sighed fatalistically and reflected, I’m not any good at this whole dating game thing. It’s been so long since I’ve been on the market. Gah! “On the market.” What a horrible idiom. I’m not for sale . . . except maybe I am marketing myself as “damaged goods” when I tell men what I told him. WHY did I say that to him?

“Well. I don’t want to be accused of false advertising . . .”

There it was again, this language of sales, as if I’m a consumable commodity. Where on earth was this idea that women, even if they weren’t in the sex industry, were for sale?

Even as she asked herself that question, she knew the answer. It’s from the old patriarchal roots when women were considered possessions to be sold or traded in marriage for a bride price paid by the man who became her new owner, her husband.

“Well. I’m no one’s possession. I’m not for sale. I’m not a consumable commodity,” she declared to herself.”

Wow! I use “well” a lot! She chuckled to herself. Just then her phone buzzed.

What do you mean?
Sorry, I got a phone call.

Oh . . . he texted me back.

My selfies don’t really show all of me
and I’m much bigger than they make me look.

That doesn’t matter to me.
Skinny chicks don’t do it for me.

Ugh! Do I REALLY want to go any further with a guy who thinks like that,
“Skinny chicks don’t do it for me.” Seriously?!?!?

Listen. I’m sorry. I just realized, I’m not really ready for this whole dating thing.

What do you mean?
Whatever. You’re too much.

Bye.

Pretty sure I dodged a bullet there. Obviously I have some more work to do with my therapist.

She walked to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, knowing the answers she sought weren’t going to be found there.


Ah the joys of middle aged dating. It’s not like I’m writing from life experience or anything. 😉

Seriously, though. I’ve been dabbling in the online dating thing off and on for over a year. It’s kind of a nightmare. Especially for a woman of a certain age with low self-esteem and mental illnesses, including Binge Eating Disorder. I have more work to do before I want to deal with taking on the search for a new relationship.

But first, a job. I mean, some of the insecurities I have around dating, aren’t just about dating and trying to be in that kind of relationship with a man.

I’m not comfortable in my own skin and only part of it is the sizist/fatphobic discrimination that’s both insidious and overt in our society. I mean, it is a significant part, this internalized sense of being “less than” because I’m physically “more than.” There’s actual physical discomfort and difficulty with me being as overweight as I am. And still I overeat, choosing the foods that perpetuate the problem. BED is a bitch.

I’m working on it. I’m doing the difficult things of being seen in clothes that are physically comfortable, though not necessarily society approved for someone my size. I’m putting myself “out there” in ways that are uncomfortable because they call attention to me on a larger scale than one on one or in a smaller group . . . or at least I’m willing myself to do that. That’s part of the reasoning behind volunteering to speak and share my story in schools and in the community.

I am not my body. My body is only part of me. I am not the excess fat stored in the body I live in. Just like I am not my diagnoses. I have a bipolar brain that has been structurally altered by trauma and chronic stress. Genetics and hormones play a part in both my brain structure, as well as how my body reacts and is affected by environment, circumstances, and food choices. There is so much more to me than these things.

Factually, I know these things and I’m trying to live and make choices based on these facts, despite how scary it feels and the internal voices leftover from voices from childhood and beyond:

🎶Watch that wiggle, see that jiggle.🎶 Thank you Jell-O for that advertising jingle, twisted by middle school classmates.

“Fatty, fatty 2×4! Can’t fit through the bathroom door.” called out in singsong by kids on the playground. “Whale on the beach!” by the boys at the public pool. Lovely expressions of contempt by my elementary school peers.

“Fat ass!” A verbal gift from a former neighbor in denial about some legitimately serious mental health issues of her own.

That childhood rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” just ain’t true. Words have the power to hurt or heal. Even with the healing, the underlying hurt doesn’t go away, it just isn’t allowed to dictate and define anymore.

Advancing ahead

I made it to and through my Advanced Word class on Friday and didn’t nod off once! Yay, me! I was kind of shocked considering the fact that, between fireworks, physical discomfort, and my brain, I didn’t sleep much or well.

I think a major difference is that I wasn’t already familiar with much of the material. So, I was actually learning and not just rehashing what I already knew.

Interestingly, it was my lowest assessment score of all seven MS Office classes I’ve taken so far. I’m kind of an intellectual perfectionist (trying to let that go). So, less than 100% causes an internal twinge and tic. Which is absolutely ridiculous because my score was over 90%.

Enough about that.

I’ve got two more computer classes to take, then I’ll be done with what Goodwill has to offer. Power Point is scheduled for Monday. Google got moved to the 24th when I went to the doctor about the sleep issues, which I discussed here.

I’m feeling antsy, like I’m kind of spinning my wheels. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I really want to work as a Mental Health Peer Support Specialist…which requires certification through the state. Certification classes usually cost money…of which I have none.

I had applied to the local NAMI affiliate, which offers a free certification class. Unfortunately, there were only 20 spots and 80 applicants. Preference is given to those already volunteering or employed in peer support work. So, I was part of the unfortunate majority.

Fortunately, I had already signed up for their Peer to Peer class, designed as an educational and practical class for those experiencing mental illness, led by those experiencing mental illness. I was already familiar with a significant amount we went over yesterday. However, it’s only the second class and I missed the first one – which I’d arranged when I signed up.

Towards the end of class, one of the leaders made a plea for volunteers to speak and share their stories at schools, businesses, and out in the community. There are also opportunities for training to become class leaders. They need leaders for the Peer to Peer class, which I’m in. They also need leaders for two other classes I plan on taking: the Family to Family class for those who have loved ones who experience mental illness and the Basics class for parents actively parenting children with mental health issues. Since both of my adult children experience their own mental heath issues, as does my 10 year old, who experiences life through the Autism Spectrum, I feel these classes will be helpful to me on a personal level and, potentially, on a professional one.

So, after class, I had a brief conversation with the leader who is in charge of speaker recruitment and got the Volunteer Interest Form. I explained to him what my employment goal is and he enthusiastically asked if I was taking their certification program. When I explained I’d applied but not gotten in, he looked slightly surprised – as if he felt I should have been accepted. I explained why and he seemed to have an objection to my exclusion, but said that I was in his class now, which supports my goal. I agreed.

I completed the Volunteer form and pretty much checked off all the things – including the office/admin support roles. So, we’ll see where things go from here.

Wish me luck!

Not Alone

I seem to be straying from my original intent to focus on my job readiness journey this month. But, perhaps not. Today, I’m talking about mental health.

Here’s why: If you’re struggling with mental illness or emotional instability OR you have a loved one who is OR you have experienced trauma OR any combination of the aforementioned, you need to know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

I want you to know that, despite however weak, fragile, overwhelmed, and incapable you may feel right now, you are one of the strongest, most courageous people you know.

Feeling the way you feel, experiencing anxiety, depression, hyper-reactivity, mania, having compulsive self-harming behaviors, experiencing suicidal thoughts, or any other “wrong” thing does not mean you are “less than,” unworthy, insignificant, or “damaged beyond repair.”

You see, I’ve been there. Some days I’m still there. I have friends and family who have been or are there. I’ve known those who didn’t make it and know those who make it one day at a time, if not moment by moment.

Last night I had the privilege to speak with another mom, who is facing and navigating challenges similar to those I have experienced – some of which I’ve come out on the other side of and some that will ever be with me. A history of physical and mental trauma, mental illness, and parenting a child with mental health and behavioral challenges through childhood and into adulthood.

Feelings of loneliness, isolation, despair, and thoughts of permanently packing it in are all things I’m more than familiar with and gave me the empathy she needed. I was able to listen with understanding. I had knowledge of resources and professionals better equipped to help her than I am to offer her. I was able to share some of my stories, giving her hope and shoring up her faith.

By the end of the call, we had established a rapport and a bond borne of shared experience and the knowledge that neither of us is alone in our struggle. She seemed genuinely hopeful, a 180 degree turnaround from where she was when we first began talking.

My lived experience of surviving trauma and mental illness has equipped me to be of service to others who are living through similar things. Even though I still have my struggles and even though I’ll never be “fully” healed and recovered, I’m far enough along that I have something good to offer.

I have a friend who says, “God doesn’t waste a wound.”

While I am not of the belief that God punishes and wounds us by causing trauma and devastation in our lives, I do believe he is present in and with us throughout these things. Furthermore, I believe that, if we are able to participate in the healing process, he redeems our personal tragedies in ways that can bring good.

This is what I want to do with my life. I want to walk alongside others on this healing and recovery journey, bolstering them up when they’re walk is shaky and help them stand back up, dust off, and get going again.

That’s what it’s about, right?

We all stumble. We all fall. We all get exhausted, worn down, and overwhelmed. We all need a little help getting by.

Now, due to several factors, prior student debt to a private institution being chief among them, going back to college isn’t a feasible option. Especially if I want to start working ASAP.

What I CAN do is get a certification to be a Mental Health Peer Support Specialist.

I didn’t get into the certification training I wanted to, this go around. But, I’m only getting started and there are other things I can do while I figure out how to access the training I need.

Today I start a Peer to Peer class put on by NAMI – the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It will help me be less isolated on my own journey and add to my toolbox of coping skills.

Wish me luck!

Health Matters

On Monday, I spent pretty much the entire day in computer classes. As I explained, here, the severity of my sleep deprivation became inescapable. Yesterday was supposed to be a Google (for business application) class. However, when I went to schedule an appointment, expecting a 2-3 week wait, I was offered an appointment during the scheduled class time. I opted to see my doctor.

Where to start?

There’s a laundry list of physical and mental health conditions I experience.

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Diabetes, type 2
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Sleep Apnea
  • PTSD/Anxiety
  • Bipolar II Disorder
  • Depression
  • Binge Eating Disorder

There are also symptoms of other things happening as well. Pretty much all of these things contribute to the sleep disturbances or the fatigue or both…perimenopause probably being chief among them.

And then there’s the chicken or the egg matter of an almost 40 lb weight gain since the beginning of the year. Having the nurse tell me 275 wasn’t a shock, just an unpleasant reality check. The really disheartening thing is that I worked hard, made healthy choices, and lost nearly 30 lbs last fall.

Depression & trauma triggers activated the BED, which I know contributed a lot to the weight gain. However, it’s a scientific fact that sleep deprivation, stress, and hormonal changes all affect metabolism and contribute to weight gain.

At this point, I have to say how profoundly grateful I am for access to healthcare through the ACA, which I know has had a negative impact for many. If I hadn’t had access to diagnosis and treatment for my mental health issues five years ago, there’s a high probability I wouldn’t be here today.

After five years of primarily focusing on my mental health, I made a decision at the end of 2018 to do better in taking care of my physical health. Fortunately, the community mental health agency I’m working with now, has been making changes to integrate mental and physical healthcare in their services. So, my new primary care physician is at the same location as my therapist.

Today, she informed me they are now providing (or will be soon) acupuncture, as well as chiropractic care. Both of these things can help with the fibromyalgia and potentially help improve sleep.

We talked at length about all the things and she ordered a comprehensive series of bloodwork to check the various thyroid hormone levels, as well as the other hormone levels to determine where I may be in the premenopausal transition.

I was dehydrated and my veins went into hiding. The first stick went all the way through the vein when it moved. The second stick got 4/7 of the vials needed before it collapsed. The third stick had the vein move on it. The fourth stick finally got the job done.

Note: the nurse had a “two stick policy.” I pushed him to do the last two…I didn’t want to either come back another day or go to the hospital for the draw. The nurse is more than competent. My veins are just hard af to get blood from.

I now have an assessment scheduled with a Psychiatric Nurse to evaluate my psych meds, an initial chiropractic appointment, an appointment with my therapist, and a follow up with my doctor all scheduled for July. I start a 13 week Diabetes group starting on the 10th. I attend a weekly group Dialectical Behavior Therapy class and am taking a Peer to Peer Mental Health class on Saturdays.

This is all as much a part of job readiness as the computer classes, job related workshops, and meetings with the employment specialists.