Work and Kittens and Medical Tests

So I changed jobs a couple of months ago.  Same company, different department.  I work in Billing now.  Accounting.  It’s fun to learn new things.  The actual job though is often tedious.   However because they are working in a crazy old fashioned system and because the people who work in the department aren’t really trained bookkeepers (myself included) it’s all kind of crazypants.   Yesterday we discovered a rather large error that made my stomach hurt as I was auditing the bill and finding more and more not right.

I am a LONG WAY from perfect in my work life, but I have this ideal of what things SHOULD BE.  And sometimes I internalize it, so when I see a mess like that it makes me stressed even when I’m not the person who made the mess.  Maybe more so out of empathetic stress for the person who quite unwittingly caused the problem.  Because I’ve never met anyone who deliberately messes up.  We all want to do our jobs well.

I feel like we need to change things up on how we process the work, but I’m the new girl so it’s definitely not my place to direct that and I’m not even sure what would be the best solution.  So.

+++++++++

The kitten is a panter.  Like a dog pants.  He runs around like a banshee and then jumps on my lap panting.  It’s SUPER adorable.  But it’s odd too.  I mean I’ve seen cats pant, but generally it’s rare.   Tim pants daily.  Probably several times a day.  After each session of zoomies he’s panting.  I’m wondering if there is something wrong or if that’s just his little quirk.

So naturally I looked it up.  The list of potential medical issues is very disturbing.  I am now considering taking him to the vet.  Because even though it’s only after exercise, it’s also ALWAYS after exercise.   We can’t have him be sick.  It’s not allowed.  He’s the young one.  Also Bijou and I have grown exceptionally fond of the little brat.

++++++++++++++

So, I’ve been having chest pains.  Daily.  I’m fairly sure it’s anxiety, but it’s there.  And I have other risk factors.  My father and both grandfathers died of heart disease.  I’m overweight.  I have high blood pressure that I control with meds.  I don’t exercise.  I eat terribly.  I’m basically a walking statistic.  So I told the doctor on my last check up.  She ran an EKG in the office and there was one odd thing on it that could or could not mean something.

So she ordered a stress test with echo.  I scheduled it.  And then they called me to tell me that insurance wouldn’t cover that test.  How nice.  My doctor specifically told me she was ordering that test because it is much better at catching heart issues in women.  But I guess it’s more expensive and so now I have get a different, no doubt inferior, test.  This has naturally led to more anxiety and chest pains continue.  I don’t get the test for a couple of weeks because that’s how the urgent things work in health care.

Still, I think if it was my heart I would be dead already because it’s literally daily for periods of an hour or more.  So it’s probably anxiety or possibly it’s GERD.  We will see. Or not since I’m getting an inferior test.

everything is fine

 

 

 

Doing the Things that Work

The human brain is a lot like Alice’s Wonderland.  There are lots of things that are weird and wonderful about how it works.

Many experiments show how easily our brain can be tricked.  This week on podcast Invisibilia, they featured a story about how putting on a doctor’s coat makes people perform significantly better on attention tests.  They ran the test in a variety of manners to see if it was fabric or the weight of it on your shoulders by changing up what they told people it was or the color and they found – it was the IDEA of wearing a Doctor’s coat that made people feel more focused and attentive to detail.  The same coat described as a painters coat ruined the effect.

That is kind of creepy.  That we don’t decide to be attentive, but our brains are suddenly and without direction, acting in that way because of the ideas that are associated with a coat. Our brains are changed by things outside of our intentional thought.  More than that – they are more changed by things outside of our thoughts than inside of our thoughts.  Because the control group in the above experiment were intentionally trying to do well on the test and failing.

How many things are affecting our brains in ways we don’t know.  How can we know about what is affecting our brain?  It’s apparently invisible.  And since there are lots of experiments that show that we do things and then make up the reason for it later, it’s possible we really don’t know.

This is also very liberating.  It’s like being handed the key to maze. Just find ways to trick yourself into being a certain way.  Wear the right clothes or create the right environment or whatever.  The key is to find the things that will make your brain act in a way that benefits you.  No matter the reason.

I live in a housing program that was designed to keep mentally ill people from being homeless.  I got this housing because I was homeless 3.5 yrs ago due to nonfunctional depression. This housing is a safety net for me.  Because for 3 years I’ve been terrified that I will fall backwards back into the hole of nonfunctional depression and I will lose my job.  But I knew that even if that happened, they wouldn’t evict me, they would just adjust my small subsidy to something that would keep me inside instead of outside.

I recently got a large raise at work and this put me over the income threshold of the housing and so I must move.  My initial reaction was a bit of panic.  But then a friend on tumblr talked me down and reminded me of doing things in small steps.  So I forced myself to open a spreadsheet and I put down all the steps and calculated how much it would cost and figured out a plan.  And the anxiety, which was on the edge of panic attack subsided.   I think it wasn’t the thoughts that changed.  It was action.  The idea of doing something in an organized and controlled manner made my brain change track into a new way of being. I wasn’t helpless and afraid now.

I’m still fully aware of all things that made my brain start toward panic on reading that notice.  But I’m no longer afraid.  I’m just on a plan toward a new home.  Hopefully one I will love.

I’m going to try to trick my brain more.  I know that my own thoughts don’t change my mental landscape that much.  But it seems that certain actions and apparently environment and even clothes will.   So.  New Plan.  Whatever Works.

 

How I get things done with depression/anxiety.

I am in that temper that if I were under water I would scarcely kick to come to the top.

~John Keats

That is what depression is for me at its worst.  Its apathy of the greatest and most destructive sort and when its manageable its a fight to gain enough traction to move.

When its manageable, I have to set up systems or I won’t win.  These are methods, tricks, processes I use to get myself to do the simple everyday tasks that you do without much thought.

The best systems are habits.  For example, my morning routine includes things that are habit.  I clean the kitty litter every morning before I leave for work.  I take out the trash when I leave the apartment.  They just happen without much thought.  And once the habit is there, it has to be a very bad day indeed to stop the habit.

But some things are just not tasks you can turn into a habit.  For example, I’m not going to vacuum my house daily.

So I set up a list of tasks that I will do.  The items on the list are not huge.  It does not say for example:  Clean the Bathroom.   It says clean the sink.  Clean the toilet.  Sweep the floor.  Mop the floor.  Clean the tub.

Then I set up a timer.  The timer is set for 45 minutes or an hour.  When it goes off I do a task for 5 minutes or until its done, whichever is first.  Then I reset the timer.  If I don’t finish the task, it has to be finished when the timer goes off next.

When I do that all day, I get a clean apartment, clean clothing, etc.

The thing is that nothing on the list is overwhelming.  And nothing on the list takes more than 5 minutes in normal circumstances.

Another thing I do is time how long it takes me to do onerous tasks.  Cleaning kitty litter used to be a bugaboo of mine.  I used to put huge blocks in my mind around it.  So one day I timed how long it took.  45 seconds.  It stopped being onerous when I realized it took less than a minute of my life.  Sometimes my brain creates disproportional views of things – and taking a simple step like timing it creates an objective ruler to break into my misconception.

I want to create more habits.  Routines that get done daily.  However starting and sustaining a routine for long enough to become a habit is hard.  My attempts have been failures so far.

Depression is not a static thing.  It changes daily and even hourly.  Its on a continuum.  Sometimes I just don’t move.  Stillness.  I can’t even get out of bed to go to work.  I’m nonfunctional.  There is no hope at all to exercise willpower.  Its not even in my list of options.

Sometimes I’m functional.  And if I pull out the mental whip and beat myself with it I can get some basic things done like going to work.  Its a weird terribly unhealthy way to get myself to move.

Sometimes I functional and hopeful.  And in those days I work with systems and goals..

Today I’m functional and hopeful.  Today is a good day.

Good Morning from Lily & I

lily computerI had lots of exciting plans for this weekend…

OK.  Exciting might possibly be hyperbole. I had plans.  To organize and clean and cook.

And now the lifesucking weekend is here and I can already feel it is going to be a battle.

I may be the only person in the world who does not like weekends.  Or to be more precise – days off.

I need days off.  But when they arrive I stop moving.  And all productive things happen only if all the stars align, if I implement a process of timers and lists and and my brain isn’t using the ONE RING* to ruin my life.

My life is a strange dichotomy.  At work, I’m very productive.  I do things both required and not required.  But when I leave work, it all falls apart.  I want so much to transfer the way I am at work to the rest of my life.  But I have yet to figure out the way to do that.

To be clear – depression/anxiety doesn’t disappear at work.  I still struggle with focus and make ridiculous mistakes because of it.  I have elaborate quality check processes because of this.

I still isolate at work.  I keep my back to the room, and don’t socialize much when I’m at work.  People will talk to me and I will respond with my back to them.  I’m not acting like a normal person there.

But I do get things done.  And I mostly don’t get stuff done at home.  I sit in bed all day, playing on the internet or reading.

Anyway, I’m going to begin the battle to make things happen today.  First the list.

*ONE RING: Used to “rule them all” or to ruin my life with Anxiety/Depression.

 

Why I was homeless 3 years ago.  

I certainly never thought I would be homeless in my lifetime.

I grew up in an upper middle class family.

I have a college education.

When I lost my job in 2009 I was making 62K a year.  In Cincinnati that is comfortable for a single person.

I had an excellent management job that I expected to keep and continue to be promoted in.

I had lots of friends and family.  In fact a few month ago, I found something I wrote about being grateful which included something to the effect that I was grateful that I would never face homelessness because I had family and friends, so if everything else went south I was at least safe from the depths of hell.

I think no one would think that I was the person who would be homeless.  So what happened?

Depression.

Non Functional Depression.

It didn’t start as nonfunctional, of course.  It started as an irritant in an otherwise rather lovely life.  I found myself unable to focus.  I didn’t want to go to a job I loved.  I began to call in due to the depression more often.

But I didn’t do anything about it.  Because Depression.   That’s what it does.  It makes you both irrational and unmotivated.  And I was convinced that I wasn’t depressed because my life was pretty damn good AND because I was big on projecting how strong I was and I didn’t want people to know I was actually a fucked up mess.

So I ignored it.  And it got bigger and stronger until one day – I couldn’t get out of bed at all.  That’s when I thought it might be a good idea to call the doctor.  She referred me to the psychiatrist who told me to take 6 weeks off and get my brain back online.

This is a career melting thing to do, but I didn’t have a lot of choice.  I wasn’t getting out of bed.  When I got back to work I was feeling pretty vulnerable and exposed and I was NOT feeling a whole lot better.  But I was DETERMINED.

Until I fell apart again 6 months later.  And took another 6 weeks off.  At this point my career was shot, but I still had a job.  They sidelined me and this gave me a chance to work on a project dear to my heart.  It didn’t require much interaction and allowed me to just wander down a labyrinth of writing up documentation.    I also spent a good deal of time training people.

My project was a success and the VP decided to forgive me, so she gave me a department that was drowning in a backlog of work and bad process.  So, despite not really loving that job, I did it.  While I did the job, the work got caught up, I got the employees engaged in making a better process, promoted several who needed the recognition,  and improved the overall quality of the work.

And I was late to work everyday.  To be fair, I was actually late because I was working from home, but this wasn’t a particularly enlightened company and my new supervisor was both very old school and not particularly fond of the fact that I fixed a department she had run for 10 years without any change of the issues I fixed in 6 months.  But you know.  Different styles.  I cared and I asked the folks doing the work what would make it better.  She showed up on time but couldn’t be bothered to talk to them.  But I’m sure being on time is helpful.

Anyway, she didn’t like seeing emails from me timestamped 630am and then having me walk in at 9am.  I liked working at home because I wasn’t interrupted.   At the office, if I wasn’t in a meeting, I was on the phone, or there was a line of people at my door waiting for me to solve a problem.  Its impossible to do any productive things in that environment.  And there were things I needed to get done.

So.  She put me on warning for being late.  Eventually she fired me.

I should have been on time.  She had a boundary and I couldn’t seem to make myself adapt to her boundary.  That was the depression.  You see in depression – its hard to change direction.  Imagine you are driving somewhere and you realize you missed your turn.  The fastest solution would be to turn around but instead you feel compelled to drive 6 miles out of your way to get there by NOT turning around.   Depression is like that.  Its on a track and once its on the track it doesn’t want to turn around or change tracks.

That’s why people with depression don’t take out the garbage or clean the house or get lots and lots of things done.  Because they are in a track that doesn’t include that task.  Its sort of like OCD but usually without action.  Usually the track is just non-movement.

For me getting ready for work was a change of track.  I was sitting in my pjs at my home computer getting a lot of stuff done.  But getting ready for work was an a different track.  And it was so hard to do.  So I decided to stop doing the work at home.  But then it was hard to get out of bed and get ready.

In anycase.  I lost the job.  And the depression then enveloped me like a black fog.  I got in bed and lay there.  If my mother hadn’t become bed ridden I don’t think I’d have moved.

But she did and so my life took on a new purpose.  I cared for her.  But she died 2 years later and that was the last tether holding me up.  I sank into the abyss and I haven’t been out since.  I lay in bed for 2 solid years until I had no money left and I was evicted from my apartment.

When I told my sisters I was deeply ashamed.   I was expecting to be evicted in 10 days when I finally made the call.  They came over to my apartment and this is what they said.

You need to put your animals to sleep.

You need to go into the hospital for depression.

You need to go to a homeless shelter.

I only heard the first part.  For the first time in 5 years all of my soul roared and I exploded in anger.  I refused to kill my pets because I was broken. It was unfair.  It was wrong.  It was awful.   One of my sisters agreed to take the dog because she thought her son would adopt it.  But the cat, Lily, was not part of the deal.

I called my friends and one of them agreed to take Lily until I could find a way to get her back.

That relief was palpable but it was followed by the realization that the last part of their plan was for me to go to a homeless shelter.  They didn’t want me in their homes.  They were rejecting me.

They used terms like “you have to hit rock bottom” and “tough love”.  But I firmly believe that those are just ways to make their choice feel righteous.  They certainly had the right not take me into their homes.  I recognize that.  I even understand why they would be reluctant to do it.   But I HATE that they want to feel righteous about it.  Because the act of putting a mentally ill person on the street is NEVER the helpful choice.  EVER.

I was spending 23 1/2 hours a day in my bed and they put me in a situation that would overwhelm a mentally healthy person.  I couldn’t cope with even minor things.

I drove myself to the hospital and they never visited me in the week I spent there.  I’m not sure what their logic there was.

They put a bit of a cherry on the rejection by renting a uhaul and a storage locker, packing up most of my stuff and putting it in storage.  They paid to keep my things safe and sheltered after I had already told them it didn’t matter to me if I lost all of it.  I just watched them numb and useless.

They drove away from me after handing me some money and a map to the homeless shelter.  I slept in my car.  It was early March and it was cold.

On the 2nd or 3rd night I was arrested because I hadn’t filed my taxes in the town where I lived.  I went to jail for a night.  The judge, upon recognizing that I didn’t actually OWE any money, I just didn’t file the form for 3 years (yeah depression), let me go.  When my sister picked me up from the court afterwards, she asked me if the friend who was taking care of my cat could take me in.    She also said it God’s blessing that the judge was kind and that I was arrested on the night that it snowed 6 inches so I was inside on that night.  I was arrested at 3am.

She gave me a gift certificate for a couple hundred dollars and I used it to get a night in a motel, so I could wash off the jail and sleep.  It turns out sleeping in a car was mostly NOT sleeping for me.  And there is NO sleeping in a jail.

My friends on tumblr set up a fundraiser and got me 3 weeks in a motel.  And then I was in the car again.  I did that for about a few weeks when my friend who took the cat in, got me a job with her sister.  The job I currently have.

Another friend got me a week in a hotel after I got the job.  His position being that as long as I was trying he was willing to help me with some money.

After I had the job a couple of weeks I got a paycheck and was finally able to move into a rooming house.

I have just barely sketched out what happened.  I was homeless for about 2 months.   Its was a terrible experience from a lot of points of view, but it doesn’t even come CLOSE to how terrible it can be for people who live on the street.  I own my car outright and I lived in it.  I never went to the homeless shelter because I was terrified of them.

In the end, I was still depressed, I had a dramatic increase in Anxiety and whole new boatload of emotional pain associated with my sisters.  I am now functioning.  Sometimes barely, sometimes reasonably.  But I am not well.

 

The Insidious Cruelty of Positive Thinking

“Good humor is a tonic for mind and body. It is the best antidote for anxiety and depression. It is a business asset. It attracts and keeps friends. It lightens human burdens. It is the direct route to serenity and contentment. ”
~Grenville Kleiser

I hate this cliched overly simplistic statement with a loathing that seems at odds with its intention.   It represents an abysmal lack of understanding of what being seriously and deeply sick with depression and anxiety is all about.

It makes me despair that any of my real life family or friends will ever understand my illness or that they will ever forgive me.

Kleiser is dead but this sentiment keeps dogging us.  If I could call up his spirit I would do it just so I could slap the shit out of him.  In fact if I could build a field of dreams I would do one just for all the fuckers who built the train tracks to the train station of positivity – I’m looking at you Normal Vincent Peale.  And then I would I would just start to rant at them.

Sadly, you will have to do as stand-ins.

I know, I sound like big pile of negativity when I say these things.  But idiots spout this crap at people who are struggling with depression and anxiety.  Apparently they think its just a switch in our heads.  Just turn on the SMILE!

When this is said, there is an implication that because we aren’t turning on that positive switch, this entire illness is just our fault.  Its a character flaw.  We must actually WANT to depressed/anxious or we would just be good humored!

People think we’re just sad or being downers.  ’Just think Positive!’ they say.

Yeah.  Thinking isn’t really the problem, is it?  Positive, negative, – any thought at all will come and even roost for awhile.  But it still doesn’t make any actual movement happen.  No motivation is delivered with it.  No changes.

No happiness takes root because I think of happy things or funny things.  I may laugh, and even smile.  I may even feel hope occasionally.  But it is fleeting moment and overwhelmed by apathy and despair.

You CANNOT think your way out of Depression and Anxiety.  I know.  I’ve spent years trying.  Depression is a sickness of thinking.  Overthinking.  Ruminating on things.  Cogitating.  Sometimes we even have positive thoughts.  Shocking, isn’t it?

But these thoughts positive, negative, weird, horrible, funny, insightful… They never actually result in a change in our lives.  Because the thoughts live in one place and they never connect to the part of our brain where action happens.  Its like there is a big canyon between the idea and the action.

Anxiety will take you into thinking holes that your rational brain can distantly see are NOT issues, but a stronger part of your brain is funneling in an emotional ick with these thoughts and now you are swimming is an sewer of fear and horror.   We don’t invite those emotions into the brain, they show up and they don’t go away when we smile.  Instead they can start to take over our bodies and then we have REAL physical symptoms of the horror show that is going on in our heads.

Depression comes with an apathy that is so deeply etched into our brains that many people with depression will tell you that it didn’t occur to them that this utter lack of interest was not right.  That’s the trick of depression.  It makes what it completely abnormal seem like its just normal.

Nor do the random positive thoughts turn all of it into a wave of serenity and contentment.

The longer you struggle against depression and anxiety the more if feels like a monster with endless tentacles that pull you back just when you feel like you might have gotten a foothold to get out.

When you say these sorts of “Smile!” “Be Positive!” things to us, you are showing how utterly invisible our struggle is to you. How our incredible battles with minor things are trivial to you.

But to us, these things, these tiny things that are everyday matters to you – they are HUGE.  There are people in the world right now who are proud that they took out the garbage today.  That was their triumph.  For most people its just one of dozens of everyday tasks they do and so they don’t get it.

People think if we would just smile it will get better.  It won’t.  Please believe me.

Saying those things reiterates the feeling of isolation and self hatred in the mentally ill.  It announces that this is my fault, because if I would just think the right thing this will all go away.  But it doesn’t go away when I think positive, so I am a failure, I am not trying hard enough, I am not good enough at smiling.

That’s what happens when you tell someone with a mental illness to be positive.

It’s an insidious and well intentioned cruelty.

“Trainee’s unemployment came through and so he won’t be back.” ~my boss

I haven’t been able to go to work for 3 days.  The depression/anxiety is winning the current battle.

When I sent my email of non-attendance this morning, the response contained that sentence in the title.  (except Trainee was the person’s name)

I’m confused by the sentence but I guess it means 2 things.

a.  Trainee would rather not work than work. Or possibly it is a better deal for Trainee due to COBRA benefits that will be lost if he has a job?  Our company doesn’t provide benefits.

b.  My boss thinks that I’m not at work due to Trainee.

The second one is more on my mind.  People think that there are reasons – concrete understandable reasons for my behavior.   The reason – Depression, isn’t sufficient.  It has no context or meaning for them.  An annoying person who she thought made me feel uncomfortable – that is a concrete reason she can wrap her head around.

We all do this.  I do it.  I want there to be a path of reason between my brain and my action.  And so I look for plausible things.  There are whole psychological theories looking for plausible reasons for unhealthy behaviors.

But I have come to realize that there is no rational, plausible reason.  Its Depression.  I’m stalled because my brain has decided to implode.  There is no event that caused this behavior.  Its just my brain derailed and went into a stall.   Its part of the illness.  It happens.  Too often.

Its very hard to deal with the lack of plausible cause.  It makes the illness far more terrifying.  It makes it harder to grapple with.  And it makes it almost impossible to explain to another person.  Because People want Reasons.  I want reasons.

The world is a horrible place.

597px-veave_in_jailAnd it always has been.

But most of the time my mind is effective at filtering and ignoring the horror.

Today it is not.  And all I can see is the terribleness of things that have happened, things that are still happening and the horrors keep inflicting themselves inside my brain.

I call this the crawls.  Because I want to crawl outside my brain.  To hide.

But I’m trapped in here.