Change

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!

Untitled

In the land of the free
And the home of the brave,
Fear and greed
Create the mind slave.

In what was believed
A land of abundance,
Writhes hate unrelieved
And lost moral compass.

Not the lost you may think,
Facade’s fake appearance;
Words and deed don’t sync,
Cognitive dissonance.

Against humanity
A legal crime
Political insanity
Time after time

Right is illegal.
Wrong wears the crown.
No longer an eagle.
Now an orange clown,

Playing the people
With words of false faith.
We’re called sheeple
Considered weak wraith.

We must together,
Stop vanity’s fight
From God’s aether
Let truth take flight.

Let compassion rule.
Let empathy drive.
Make justice true.
The spirit will thrive.

Take a stand.
Walk the talk.
Be peace in our land.
Make love the bedrock.

©️ 2019 lem

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.

Social Justice and Being Christian

Forgive this interruption in the regularly scheduled programming about my job search journey. This is just too important to me to not talk about.

This past week I was in a discussion with several others regarding social justice issues like homelessness, stereotypes, what we believe about them, and how we act on them as followers of Jesus.

A significant part of the conversation was regarding those who experience homelessness, with much of that centering on those in chronic homelessness, who often deal with substance abuse and dependence issues.

There were the usual questions about the whys and wherefores of “those” people’s choices and lifestyles. We also touched on the changes and so-called solutions in our society which foster the problem of homelessness and its impact on society.

When we got around to what to do about it, that’s when we got down to the nitty gritty of our role as Christians and individuals. How do you love people who may be unsafe, living in unsafe circumstances, who reject the social services they may have access to? How do you determine if someone will or can benefit from your involvement? What does relationship look like in this context?

One person stated that we can’t know what to do unless we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading. But, what if you’re like me and have difficulty accessing and discerning what the Holy Spirit may be saying?

Look to Jesus. Not to be trite, but, what would Jesus do?

• Make eye contact.
• Listen without judgment.
• Offer a willingness to understand.
• Treat with dignity.

It’s not our job to solve homelessness or poverty, as individuals. Those are goals to be worked toward, for sure. However, what we do know that it’s our job as individuals to love our neighbor, including our neighbors without four walls and a roof.

How to do that? Take time to get to know one of “those” people, even if it’s just to share a cheap fast food meal, a conversation on the corner, or offering a garbage bag so they can pick up their debris. These acts are acts of relationship and relationships are what Jesus is about.

I’ve experienced homelessness more than once in my life. The longest period was as a teen in relationship with a much older man who was, essentially, a professional, low-level con artist. Other times occurred when my mental health crashed and I couldn’t hold a job at the same time as my relationship’s toxicity clashed with my anxiety and mania…only I didn’t understand that’s what was happening.

I didn’t have substance abuse issues, but, my mental health issues, which weren’t recognized or understood by me or others around me, created an inability to toe the line of organizational and societal demands and expectations. Encountering someone willing to actually see ME and not just my circumstances or my history was priceless. It afforded me a sense of dignity that can only come from being seen and treated as if I was worthwhile and that I mattered, whether or not I could conform or meet the expectations of others.

I have neighbors who are unsheltered. Many experience alcoholism and dependency on other substances. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they panhandle. Sometimes they collect cans and bottles. Sometimes they do none of the above. They often do what they can to keep the areas they occupy free of debris. However, sometimes they don’t have a way to gather and dispose of garbage. Just like they don’t have consistent or frequent access to laundry or bathing facilities.

I’ve witnessed them helping and looking out for each other. They’ve helped me carry things too heavy for me to carry up a flight of stairs…without expecting or asking for anything in return.

Of course not everyone in these circumstances is friendly, open, or safe. There’s a lot of history of personal trauma for most people living on the streets. Substance abuse and addiction is very common for trauma survivors and those experiencing mental illness.

It’s easy to look at someone on a corner with a sign and make assumptions based on what you think you would do, given the set of circumstances you believe they are in. But, you don’t know them or their story. You can’t, unless you take the time and make the effort.

Donating money is easy – whether it’s to an organization or directly to an individual. Choosing any degree of relationship with an uncomfortable other is less easy for most of us and it’s not possible with all people at all times…but, it makes more of a difference and more impact than you may believe.

Redirection

Will I make it?

I’m doubting myself these days. Not completely, but, probably enough to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure, if I’m not careful.

What am I talking about? Two things:

  1. making a significant life change and
  2. doing the July 2019 Ultimate Blog Challenge.

I’ll start with the easiest, first, the UBC. Several years ago, I completed a couple of different 30-31 Day blogging challenges. It was fun, informative, and I “met” a couple of fellow bloggers with whom I still maintain contact.

My life was significantly different then and I was, too. The biggest difference was that I didn’t realize I had a bipolar brain and that the daily blogging I was doing was actually being done during manic or hypomanic episodes. High energy, effortless creativity, extreme motivation, massive productivity, and uncommon self-confidence were all driving affects to my writing, at the time.

I was a stay at home mom, in the midst of depression, chaos, and an increasingly deteriorating relationship I’d been in for the better part of 15 years. I was parenting a bouncy, stubborn, hyper energetic, and increasingly difficult to manage toddler. Writing was my escape and my DIY therapy.

Since that time, I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2 Disorder and PTSD…and medicated to stabilize my moods. I’ve spent five and a half years in therapy, learning how to navigate life with mental illness and to mitigate the effects of a lifetime of trauma.

My relationship completely broke down and now we co-parent, shuffling our child between two households. We also discovered that unstoppable child experiences and interacts with the world while navigating the the Autism Spectrum.

I haven’t been able to write consistently or complete a Blog Challenge in over five years.

The thing that hasn’t changed is my employment status. I’m still not employed. Which brings me to the next significant change I’m in the process of making…or attempting to make: financial independence. I’ve remained dependent on my daughter’s father to pay the bills and provide the basic needs of my household and myself. It’s past time to cut that tie that “binds and gag” (to quote Erma Bombeck). Yes, I’m that old.

It’s officially been seven years since I was last employed. My mental health, or lack there of, played a key role in me leaving the workforce, as did my child’s special needs. I recently turned 50. I’m significantly overweight. I have some physical health issues. All of these facts affect employability. Even though none of them are overt reasons for employers to reject me, every one of those things tap into unconscious prejudice because of societal stigma.

I am taking classes and working on some basic, employer friendly skills certifications. I’m working with an Employment Specialist. I’m continuing therapy. I’m doing what I know I need to do to be job ready. But, I’m terrified.

I know I have the intelligence and skills to obtain a job and do it well…for a time. However, every job I’ve ever left, regardless of reason given, ended due to my mental and emotional health issues. I don’t know if I can do it. I’m scared to try. I’m moving forward anyway.

I joined the Ultimate Blog Challenge this time, to test and challenge myself…and, just maybe, gain a little confidence in myself.

This month, I plan on sharing my journey to getting a job. Hopefully it will be more entertaining and less harrowing than it feels.

30 Day Writing Challenge-Day 2: I Am Enough

Today’s prompt: What are you ready to give up or get rid of?

I Am Enough

These words and voices in my head
These critical, self-shaming thoughts
Haunting my days, disturbing my nights
Telling me I’m too weak and not tough

I’ve been told and it’s been said
To stop “shoulding” myself with “oughts”
Quit beating myself up in one-sided fights
Letting go of these things is rough

Let go I must, that I may move ahead
Move forward knowing I’m not ersatz
Release these burdens, soar to eagles’ heights
‘Til the fear and shame fall away as slough

Past time for the old me to be shed
Untangle the twists and knots
Put new dreams and hopes in my sights
I can do this, If I believe I’m enough

©️ 2019 lem

Becoming Me

I’ve spent so much time being broken
I’ve believed the lies unspoken
My faith barely a token

With pain, my life’s been fraught
Begetting the misery I’ve wrought
Yet, others see what I cannot

Within me they see a light
Which keeps me in the fight
Making hope shine bright

In me is seen an appeal
This I do not see or feel
But, it’s not any less real

To borrow words, not my own
Beauty from ashes is shown
When love is known

Light through the wound
Radiates when I’m attuned
No longer cocooned

Not wrapped in guilt and shame
Letting go of self-blame
I and my life are not the same

My psyche is healing
Fighting the panicked feeling
I’m coping, I’m dealing

There’s more than just surviving
More than frustrated striving
I want to be thriving

Lord, heal my eyes to see
Teach me how to be
Guide me to . . . me

Here I go again…I’m doing it different this time

Commit
Start Gung Ho
Fabulous success
Overdo it
Injury
Lose momentum
Forget your “why”
Stop moving
Start binge eating
Striking regress
Health issue rises…
Rinse and repeat

Anyone familiar with this cycle for weight loss/improving health style?

Yes?

I thought so.

Back on September 12th I was diagnosed with Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome…like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, just in the ankle. I’d been dealing with pretty excruciating nerve pain in my foot.

So, I joined Weight Watchers, committed to 90 meetings in 90 days (today is Day 55, meeting 57), changed my eating, and started walking.

I’m not exactly sure when I started walking, but, I haven’t missed a day since then. I worked my way up from just under a mile at a time to over two miles at a time.

Throughout that time, the nerve pain never went away, but it diminished and walking got much easier…until day before yesterday. I logged a cumulative six miles in one day. I pushed again yesterday and logged 2.6 miles.

The pain came back with a vengeance…and I’m feeling frustrated by my self-sabotage and discouraged by my continued overeating.

In the past, this would have been the point at which I gave up. Not this time.

Why? What’s different now?

Community.

This time I have the WW community. Yesterday, I walked in the door of the studio and I was greeted by name by one of the “Wellness Guides” (formerly, receptionist). One of the Guides is also a coach in other workshops (meetings) I’ve attended. She always asks what number I’m on and tells me what an inspiration I am. She “brags” to other members about what I’m doing as a way to motivate and encourage them. The Coach for that meeting is very focused on the members giving ourselves credit and props for showing up and engaging.

There’s also the online community who has been following along on Instagram and FB, where I share more of the day to day details of this journey I’m on. Plus, my fellow bloggers who are also encouraging me.

There’s my faith community where we go broader and deeper into all our lives and journeys. Several of them are also following my journey on FB & IG.

These three communities are encouraging and supporting me. I’m holding myself accountable to them. And, if I’m being honest, the praise and approval is motivating me, as well. Is that shallow and less “evolved” than one should be at 49? Probably. But, it is what it is…another thing for me and my therapist to discuss.

Another thing that’s different is that I’m one of my “whys.” I finally feel like I deserve to take the time I need and give myself the attention and consideration I should to make taking care of me one of my priorities.

Walking is part of my daily self-care routine. It helps my mental health. However, I don’t have to walk six miles in a day. I need activity every day, but one mile, approximately 20 minutes is sufficient. When I walk, I need to walk enough to raise my heart rate but, I don’t have to push myself like I’m in a race. I need to reframe why I’m walking. It’s helping me lose weight, but, it’s purpose is to improve and maintain mental and physical health through daily activity.

I need to remember that the ultimate goal isn’t the weight loss. It’s mental and physical health and wellness so I can sustain and maintain consistent functionality in taking care of my responsibilities, my relationships, and become self-sufficient.

This is the 8th post for

Click image to discover other NanoPoblano bloggers

Happiness is as Happiness does: Musings from a Bipolar Brain

Happy is a feeling and feelings are fleeting. Happiness is a state of being and takes work.

The experience of Happiness is more challenging for some more than others and may seem impossible to achieve.

That’s because Happiness isn’t a goal or destination, but a byproduct, a side effect of the combination of our genetics, circumstances, beliefs, attitudes, and actions.

For many of us coming from lives filled with trauma and/or mental illness it will look different than it does for neurotypical people. We have to work through the trauma and confront ourselves to heal and grow. These are our prerequisites to Happiness.

There is no set formula for experiencing it. However, common and necessary elements include self-care (nutrition, activity, personal hygiene, etc.), engagement in healthy community, gratitude, service, and passionate purpose.

Pain, loss, grief, and other feelings and experiences, often considered “negative,” may suppress Happiness and cause us to lose it. But, what is lost can be found again. The negative doesn’t necessarily negate the ability to experience Happiness.

Of course, I could be way off and this is hypomania talking…but, I don’t think so.

What say you?

This is the 7th post for

Click on image to discover more NanoPoblano bloggers

My WW Story

WW, formerly known as Weight Watchers. “Wellness that works.” What finally drove me to sign up for a weight loss program after decades of self-sufficient obesity?

Pain.

Not just any pain. A very particular kind of nerve pain. Specifically in my left foot. More accurately, the top of my foot…with periodic zaps of electricity pricking the sole of my foot from the inside out,

The top of my foot is so hypersensitized right now that the hem of my pant leg feels like a jagged, splintered shard of glass scraping across it.

Fun stuff.

According to the doctor it’s a rare condition called Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome. Like Carpal Tunnel, but, in the foot.

Yay me! I have a knack for the unusual when it comes to pain and injury. A few years ago, I fell and gave myself a spiral sprain. That’s usually something athletes get, not the general population. But, that’s another story for another time.

The doctor laid out my options:

Gabapentin – an anticonvulsant sometimes used to treat a wide array of mood disorders with some extreme (but rare) side effects like agitation, increased libido, and mania…Sounds like it could trigger a manic episode and I’m already taking four different psych meds to manage the bipolar, depression, anxiety, and insomnia. No. Thank. You.

Surgery – I’m a single mom, struggling to parent my High Functioning Autistic child who also experiences ADHD. I also live upstairs. I can’t afford an extended recovery period from surgical intervention.

Weight Loss – the universal answer to whatever ails you if you carry excess fat on your body, Don’t EVEN get me started! However, it was the most viable of my three options.

Initially, I doubted I could effectively transition from a life so sedentary that my spirit animal could be mistaken as a sloth. After all, WALKING HURT! So, I decided nutrition was the key.

I have lost weight before, using activity and nutrition. As a matter of fact, I lost 20 lbs at the beginning of this year with walking and changing to a healthier diet. Then, I transitioned from my manic state to a bad depressive state, stopped moving, and switched to a fast food diet. The 20 came back and brought a few friends. Five to be exact.

So, here I was – a 49 year old, medically obese woman of 265 lbs with hypothyroidism, Type II Diabetes, high cholesterol, Bipolar II Disorder, PTSD, fibromyalgia, and, now, Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome.

I also have the child I’m parenting, a 25 year old daughter, who is also parenting three littles, who (whom?) has me as her primary emotional support person and occasional baby sitter, and a son turning 32 in three days.

I have a lot of healing to do and a lot to live for. Also, I’m finally reaching the point in life where I believe I’m worth taking care of, too.

I needed help.

So, I searched Weight Watchers. They still had their Labor Day Special going on. It was barely something I could financially afford.

I’m destitute. Between my youngest daughter’s issues and mine, I am not currently able to sustain employment. Her dad pays for electricity, internet, this miniature hand-held computer I use to blog aka cell phone, and pays for all she needs. I live in public housing, survive on $352/mo of SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps), and a $72/mo stipend.

I committed close to half my stipend to the first six months of my Weight Watchers lifestyle.

Since I also experience a hitherto undiagnosed Binge Eating Disorder, I decided to approach this like a recovery program and committed myself to attend 90 meetings in 90 days.

Today, November 6, 2018 is my 53rd day and I will be attending my 55th meeting.

If you’re curious about or interested in how this part of my journey has gone, you can find it on my Instagram, humaninrecovery. Start here.

Addendum: I’ve lost about 20 lbs and I have walked daily for the past several weeks and can now walk two miles at a time…sometimes in under 20 min/mile. Yes, the nerve pain is still there.

This is the 6th post for

Click image to discover other NanoPoblano bloggers.