health

UBC 4/20 Day 19: “When is ‘I love me’ enough?”

I don’t know that it is possible for the average person to have never heard of Demi Lovato. However, just in case you’re an extraordinary person who never saw Disney’s “Camp Rock” movies or missed her performance of “Anyone” at the 2020 Grammys, she is a pop star, song-writer, and an addict who keeps working toward recovery, despite relapses.

Despite the fact that she’s nearly half my age (I’m 50 and she’s 27) her music is hitting me to my core. Her song, “I Love Me,” is very powerful, in how it so accurately describes my relationship with myself…especially the first few lines. She’s describing the struggle between body-image, identity, and mental/emotional health. The video does a very good job of illustrating the inner struggle that I, and probably many others, experience on a regular basis.

I’m in that kind of struggle right now. There’s the “enlightened me, who has been through six years of therapy and a lifetime of various forms of counseling, in addition to concurrent spiritual growth. This “me” says that my worth and value have nothing to do with my physical appearance, my weight, or my body size. This “me” tells me that I have much to be proud of: the hard work I’ve invested in myself, my mental health recovery, and the repair of relationships I wrecked prior to my diagnoses and treatment. She reminds me that I have gifts and qualities that matter in the world: intelligence, my writing ability, my EQ, my compassion, and my empathy for others.

Then, there’s the insecure, uncomfortable in her own skin, self-hating, self-saboteur and her minions: depression, anxiety, self-doubt, and exhaustion. When they get going, it’s like listening to a discordant dirge. They characterize me as lazy, weak, powerless, and unsubstantial.

The first is the intellectual me and the second is the mental me. You’d think both would get through to the emotional me. However, that’s not true for me. My intellect dissociated from emotions in order to survive and move through the various traumas I have experienced. The mental me is the one that was changed by the traumas and has genetic differences which activated into depression and bipolar disorder. Mental me seems to be in charge of the emotional me, who often totally ignores intellectual me.

Why am I breaking this all down?

Because I have spent the past three weeks on a “self-improvement” spending spree, which began slowly with a nail polish or two here and there. It was put on the fast track with the stimulus payment, a couple of smaller payments received, and getting hired for the new job. I bought clothes, shoes, makeup, more nail polish & accessories, and special personal hygiene supplies. I also paid a couple of bills, helped buy groceries, purchased a few small gifts for family members, and take out food. Finally, I purchased auto insurance for the car some friends are giving me. Basically, I’ve spent close to $1,400 in less than a month.

Maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot of money to some people. Many people I know pay that for rent. However, I’m pretty sure that all together, the money I’ve received in the past six years is less than that. But, I digress

Initially, the nail polish was something to do to pass the time, teaching myself a new skill, and celebrating the fact that I have miraculously stopped chewing my nails. Then, I needed clothes for my new job. Lastly, I bought makeup. I’ve basically gone 14 or 15 years without wearing makeup. Why the hell do I feel the need to buy it now? Especially during social distancing. I mean who will see it?

I felt good about the nail polish. However, once I got to the clothes, that good feeling went away once I tried them on. The last time I bought clothes, I had gotten down to a 2x, occasionally a 1x, from a 3x. Now, a 4x is tight in some places and a 5x is a bit loose…and the scale announced that I am almost 300 lbs. I think that’s when I decided to get the makeup. It may be a type of armor. I really don’t want to be seen right now. Maybe makeup will distract people from my size if I do it right. Finally came the membership to another weight loss program, online this time.

I want to leave diet culture behind. The last two times I managed to lose 20-30 lbs I ate healthy, followed a loose meal plan, and exercised. The last time, in 2018, I attended Weight Watchers for about six months. I treated it a bit like a 12 Step program – I did 90 meetings in 90 days. It wasn’t a nonsensicle, unrealistic eating plan. The app was amazing. The people were real and honest. The curriculum was really based in psychology and used what I call DBT-lite strategies to adjust thinking and responsive behaviors that drive overeating and weight gain. Yet, I couldn’t sustain the changes. Turns out that it takes more than 60-90 days to create a habit or replace an old one, for me.

michelin manI want to be body positive and accept all of me…love all of me. But, I’m not and I don’t.

I’m bothered by the “curves” in all the wrong spots that make me look like the Michelin Man. I’m bothered by cottage cheese like bumps on my stomach that push against any fabric, large or small, that lays across it. I’m bothered by the carry on size overlap. I’m really bothered by the verticle ceasarian scar that bifurcates my lower stomach and makes it look like I have a butt on the front. It’s also very frustrating to know that the natural side boob is made larger than what’s on the front.

So, long and flowing tunics and leggings to hide my body and makeup to hide my face – body armor and a face mask. I’m camoflaging my inner emotions and thoughts about myself behind the superficialities. I’m ready to go to battle.

“I Love Me” by Demi Lovato
Flipping through all of these magazines
Telling me who I’m supposed to be
Way too good at camouflage
Can’t see what I am
I just see what I’m not
I’m guilty ’bout everything that I eat
(Every single thing)
Feeling myself is a felony
Jedi level sabotage
Voices in my head make up my entourage

‘Cause I’m a black belt when I’m beating up on myself
But I’m an expert at giving love to somebody else
I, me and myself and
I , don’t see eye to
Eye, me and myself and I

Oh, why do I compare myself to everyone?
And I always got my finger on the self destruct
I wonder when I love me is enough (Yeah, yeah, yeah)
I wonder when I love me is enough (Yeah, yeah, yeah)

Why am I always looking for a ride or die?
‘Cause mine’s the only heart I’m gonna have for life
After all the times I went and fucked it up
(All the times I went and fucked it up)
I wonder when I love me is enough (Yeah, yeah, yeah)

I wonder when I love me is enough
I wonder when I love me is enough

Haters that live on the internet
Live in my head, should be paying rent
I’m way to good at listening
All these comments fucking up my energy

‘Cause I’m a black belt when I’m beating up on myself
But I’m an expert at giving love to somebody else
I, me and myself and
I, don’t see eye to
Eye, me and myself and I

Oh, why do I compare myself to everyone?
And I always got my finger on the self destruct
I wonder when I love me is enough (Yeah, yeah, yeah)
I wonder when I love me is enough (Yeah, yeah, yeah)

Why am I always looking for a ride or die?
‘Cause mine’s the only heart I’m gonna have for life
After all the times I went and fucked it up
(All the times I went and fucked it up)
I wonder when I love me is enough (Is enough)

I wonder when I love me is enough
I wonder when I love me is enough

I’m my own worst critic
Talk a whole lot of shit
But I’m a ten out of ten
Even when I forget
I-I-I-I
(I’m a ten out of ten, don’t you ever forget it)

I’m my own worst critic
Talk a whole lot of shit
But I’m a ten out of ten
Even when I forget

UBC 4/20 Day 15: Trauma Muscles

Many people are experiencing various waves of emotions about what’s going on in the world today: panic, fear, anger, sadness, etc.. These are all normal responses to the global threat and common traumatic experience. However, if those feelings get too intense and pervasive, it can become debilitating and make it difficult to function. Then, there’s also dissociation – that feeling of being disconnected from emotions surrounding these events…kind of like compartmentalizing thoughts and action separate from emotional response. In my personal experience, that kind of thing I’ve learned as an automatic coping mechanism, which is an automatic response to trauma, a symptom of my PTSD. For me, dissociating has enabled me to get through periods of life when I was experiencing things which would have triggered overwhelmingly immobilizing emotions.

The thing is, we get really good at what we practice, right? In my life, I’ve bounced from trauma to trauma to trauma and dissociating, disconnecting from my emotions to the point where it became my way of life. I got so good at it, that, not only did I not consciously experience the “negative” emotions, I was also disconnected from the “positive” ones. It’s important to realize that emotions are neither negative or positive. Emotions are instinctive tools which tell us something about ourselves and the world around us. If we don’t learn how to read and understand our emotions in any given situation, then, whatever action we take as a result of the emotions we experience can have negative consequences.

Another word for practice is “exercise.” The more we exercise dissociation, the stronger our ability to ignore, push down, and function in spite of our emotions becomes. Suffice it to say, I have very strong dissociation muscles. They developed into a form of brute strength. But, brute strength only gets you so far. In order for it to be useful and constructive, that brute strength must be shaped, sculpted, and toned. In other words, training is needed.

I had a lifetime of developing the brute strength of dissociation to contain and manage my emotions until they started leaking around the edges and creating some truly negative and destructive consequences. I’ve now spent over six years training to hone and reshape how I handle my emotions. Dissociation is still my automatic “go to” response to intense emotion. However, it’s now mitigated by things I’ve been learning. Specifically, DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) has been very instrumental in teaching me how to harness and use the strength of dissociation in constructive ways. All while I continue to train and learn new methods and ways to mitigate it.

Which brings me to the present time of stress and trauma we are all going through as individuals, families, communities, a nation, and the global collective.

In the past month, I have experienced the feelings and had the thoughts of many, if not most, people in the world around me. I have seen two distinctive responses to those thoughts and feelings: acknowledgment and acceptance of the world as it is now, or fear or denial about how bad things are or will get. The first response gets things done and keeps one moving forward, facing and learning to overcome these new challenges. The second response results in stagnation and, possibly, regression.

I believe my well-developed “trauma muscles” and the training they’ve been getting from therapy, DBT, and spiritual growth is what has enabled me to address the issue and effectively deal with issue of being unemployed. It is also the thing which has helped me to continue my healing and growth process in my mental health.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that trauma is the best training tool for learning how to deal with and manage emotions. It isn’t. Trauma changes us and derails our path to who we had the potential to be. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it’s not. It impacts our relationships and our ability effectively and constructively function in the world. But, with training and healing work, I believe that the strength we gain from surviving trauma, can become powerful and impact our lives and the lives of others in amazing ways.

UBC 4/20 Day 10: The Colorwheel of Emotion

Color Wheel of EmotionMy therapy homework this week is to start identifying and naming the waves of emotion I experience. Here’s the way it works:

You can either work your way from the inside out, which is what my therapist asked me to do this week, or you can work your way from the outside in, which I think could be quite useful.

When she assigned this to me I asked her when or in what context she wanted me to do this. Basically, her response was to do it whenever I experienced a wave, big or small, of emotion.

I’m beginning with this very moment.

Honestly, I’m feeling anger. What am I angry about? Sleep…rather, the lack thereof. My scalp feels tight and achy. So does the back of my neck. I have been tossing and turning all night. I was too warm, so I turned the ceiling fan on. But, it was too loud and blew too much air. I could have gotten up and turned it down, but, I didn’t for some unknown reason. So, now, the kind of anger I’m feeling is exasperation and irritability. Being exasperated means I’m feeling agitated, frustrated, or both. In this instance, it’s both. I’m agitated that the insomnia has gotten so bad and I’m frustrated because I’m tired and want to go back to sleep, but I know it’s futile. I can tell that irritability is right beneath the surface. Annoyed and aggravated are the extensions of that. Again, I’m experiencing both: annoyed with myself for not getting up and adjusting the fan and aggravated by the knowledge or belief that it wouldn’t have done any good anyway.

Let’s try another one.

Yesterday, I received the email containing the link to the employee portal for the company I’ve been hired by. Through this portal were all of my onboarding processes: completing my I-9 verifying my right to work; the same with the W-4 telling the company how much of my earnings to submit to Federal and to Oregon, before giving me anything I had earned; I submitted my banking information to let them know how I wanted them to pay me; I received instructions on getting the TB testing done; and, finally, accepting and signing the job offer itself.

Ever since the HR guy told me I had a job, I’ve experienced joy whenever I think about it. On the wheel, joy is a base emotion like anger is. This means there’s more to it. After the phone interview, I felt optimistic. I was both eager and hopeful. I was hopeful that I would get the job offer and eager to know if I had the job. Once I got the first email offering me the job, I felt proud, triumphant that I had gotten the offer within a week and a half of submitting my application. Getting the second email containing the link to the employee portal made me enthusiastic and optimistic again. I was excited about embarking on this new leg of my journey, moving toward what I want to be doing with my life, instead of merely surviving. I was eager to do the preliminary onboarding process and move into training. In the midst of it all, I’ve felt proud. Triumphant that my hard work on my own healing and recovery, as well as all the job readiness and training I’ve done over the past nine months has paid off.

Then, I got to the point in the process where I was supposed to schedule the TB test. I contacted the medical facility the company uses for the testing, only to find out that they aren’t doing ANY pre-employment testing…because… COVID-19. Bounced back to anger, with a little fear mixed in. Back to feeling exasperated and agitated. I was feeling scared and nervous, which was really feeling helpless and worried that this whole virus fiasco might prevent me from starting work.

So, I sent an email to the person in charge of the onboarding process. The response made me feel something not on the wheel – relieved. I think that was a joy response to the worry being nullified. I also felt proud again, illustrious, perhaps. She said she was impressed that I had acted so quickly to do the onboarding paperwork and that they were suspending the TB test prerequisite until the medical facility is testing again.

All of those emotions were experienced over a seven-hour period yesterday.

No wonder I was ready for bed by 7:30 last night.

UBC 4/20 Day 9: Good News and Hypomania

I got it!

I got the phone call with the job offer. It’s contingent on me passing the criminal background check. The HR guy still needed to finish the reference check and get the employment verification done. However, there shouldn’t be any issues with any of that. So, for all intents and purposes, I HAVE A JOB!!!

I am scheduled to attend orientation on the 17th of this month. I’ll be working Thursday through Saturday, just over half-time. It’s a union position. However, that’s a brand new situation and they are still negotiating the initial collective bargaining agreement. I’ve never worked with a union before. So, we’ll see how that goes. Once my training is complete, I will be the only staff on duty during my shift. That’s something else I’ve never done…work alone. I’m sure I’ll do okay, but, it’s still a bit unsettling to think about. I just have to trust that I wouldn’t have gotten the offer if I wasn’t qualified for it.

I called my daughter and told her she either had to go into labor before the 17th or between then and the 23rd when I believe my actual job begins. She laughed and said she’d let the baby know. We talked about the contingency plans and who will stay with her kids and who will transport her, both if I’m available and if I’m not. I told her that I wanted to be able to take her and be there when the baby comes. However, it’s about what she needs and not what I want…obviously.

I just hope that I can settle into a good sleep schedule between now and the start of my job. The insomnia has been pretty bad the past couple of weeks, causing me to be inordinately sleepy during the day. I can’t afford to have that happen while I’m working. Now, it seems that a bit of hypomania has been triggered by the news of the job offer. I never actually got sleepy last night. When I did fall asleep, that didn’t last more than an hour or so. I have this kind of buzzing, humming along the nerves, right under my skin, antsy. I can’t seem to settle down. At the same time, due to the accumulated exhaustion in my body from the lack of rest, activity, and good nutrition, I can barely bring myself to move. My body feels sluggish and my head is foggy, but my thoughts are racing and there’s this nervous energy coursing throughout my being. These are all signs of hypomania.

If I can, I’ll channel the nervous energy into increasing my physical activity so that I can get at least a week’s worth of activity to build up a little stamina between now and when I actually start working. I also hope that I can wrangle the racing thoughts into doing something more creative here instead of just giving an account of my daily comings and goings.

I miss how easily I could access the creativity with words that I had when the Bipolar wasn’t being treated. Thankfully, though, the bipolar is “mild” enough that the meds to help mitigate it enough that I can still prioritize the relationships and functionality of my life over how good the rush of the beginning of a manic or hypomanic episode feels. I’m grateful that I am able to exercise that level of control with the meds and DBT skills I’ve learned over the past six years.

Not everyone with a Bipolar diagnosis can do this. It can be a real struggle when the brain fights itself in these ways. I have an online friend who shares his experience and struggles with his bipolar brain. He works as hard as he can and has as much support as he can get and he continues to fight what probably feels like a losing battle a significant amount of the time. He still shows up and fights. So, not just for myself, but for my fellow Mental Health Warriors, if I can work to maintain and continue my recovery, I have to.

UBC 4/20 Day 4: Sitting on Pins and Needles

Waiting.

Waiting is one of the most difficult things to do, I believe.

I got a phone call on Thursday from the gentleman I had interviewed with the day before. The gist of the conversation was that I was only waiting to be hired until they found the right placement for me. He said they had a couple of positions. One is full-time, but, it requires working on Sunday. The other one is part-time, 24 hours a week, but, it gives me Sundays off. I haven’t really been employed for seven and a half years, unless you count my recent and very short stint as an H & R Block Tax Preparer – which I don’t. Since I’m incredibly out of shape, physically and in terms of being mentally focused for eight hours a day, part-time is probably best. Starting off slow and working my way up seems to be the prudent course of action.

After that phone call, I was explaining the details to my friend, who I’ve been sheltering in with. She gave me an incredulous look when I told her I was turning a full-time position down because I wanted to keep my Sundays because that’s the primary day I connect with the people in my faith community. She proceeded to tell me that while the bible has a place where it says to keep the Sabbath holy, there’s also a place where it talks about gleaning and healing being done on the Sabbath. In other words, even though attending church on Sunday may be sacred and holy, it’s still permissible to do what needs to be done.

First off, for a lot of reasons, I happen to believe the actual, biblical day of Sabbath rest is Saturday. I won’t go into why I believe that, I just do. For years my faith community met on Saturdays. However, for a variety of reasons, we moved our service to Sunday nights. The structure of those nights is a key reason I don’t want to give up my Sundays. Even though in our current reality we can’t meet in person, we are using technology to ensure we stay connected with one another and worship together. Prior to this time of social distancing, we spent about three hours or so worhshipping, learning, eating, and talking together, as well as praying for each other.

Secondly, I’ve volunteered weekly to support the worship team and helped to set up the building for the service. That’s probably the most consistent thing I’ve done and the only real structure I’ve had in my life since 2012. Now that we’re doing virtual church, I’m participating in ways that support the new way we have to do things. So, I still have structure and routine in my life on this day. It’s a touchstone for me in a world upended on itself.

These two things mean that holding space on Sundays isn’t a mandatory religious routine dictated by the evangelical interpretation of biblical scripture. It is an act of self-care and a very important way of me taking care of my mental health. It gives me structure, routine, and connection to a supportive community of people who know and care about me, whom I care about and want to deepen my relationships with.

I tried to explain this to my friend. I don’t think she gets it. I suspet that she doesn’t completely approve. However, that’s her stuff, not mine and I’m grateful that I’ve reached this point in my recovery process that I don’t feel the need to keep explaining myself in an effort to get her understanding and approval. I know she loves me and cares about me even if I don’t make choices that align with her opinions.

So, I don’t have to feel like I’m walking on eggshells with her while I’m sitting on pins and needles trying to wait patiently to hear about the job.

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.

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.