Brain Grenades

I suffer from depression and anxiety.  One of the most distressing symptoms is the arrival of what I call brain grenades.  These are unwanted thoughts that show up randomly in my mind.  They can be memories of things that trigger a shame response, or projections of my future where everything goes wrong and I end up homeless, or imagining that everyone who “pretends” to like me is actually stabbing me in the back, or memories of failures etc.

The thing about the grenades is they arrive, explode and then I’m left with the emotional destructive chaos.  And what’s worse is that once my brain has lobbed the first one, it’s likely it will keep lobbing them, in random and unrelated ways.   In the first couple of years after my homelessness, I used to cry on my way to work every morning.  Because my brain had decided that driving was a great time to bomb me with grenades.  I finally realized that I could cut the battle out all together by playing podcasts in the car.  Distract my brain and I wouldn’t end up bawling for 20 minutes on the way to work.

Yesterday I was listening to one of those podcasts, called the Happiness Lab.  And it was talking about how avoiding thinking about a thing is much more likely to trigger thoughts of the thing.  And as a related note – avoiding an emotion, makes the emotion come out later in more destructive ways. I had a bit of an epiphany with that information.

You see, I am something of a judgmental cranky pants at work.  I get angry at the errors and bad work that other people do, which ends up on my desk.  This is a new side of me.  Back in the days before my brain imploded and I lost everything, I was generally patient and positive at work.  I always assumed everyone wanted to do a good job and looked at errors as learning opportunities.  But the aftermath of the breakdown seems to have fundamentally changed that part of my personality.  It’s one of the reasons why I reject the idea that I am somehow a better person for having gone through such a traumatic experience.

I am not a fan of emotional experiences and I am always trying to tamp down and avoid them.  And as a result, they spurt out at work when I see errors.  I’ve long been aware that I’m worse about this at the end of the day, as I get more tired, but haven’t been able to figure out a way to not react with anger at these errors and the people who make them.  I think the fact that I try to avoid emotions instead of accepting them is causing my spurts of anger.

I think I need to not focus as much on self control in the moment of the spurt as much I need to be more aware of moments when I am corralling an emotion and refusing to acknowledge it.  That the emotion I avoided feeling hours before is the root of the spurt – and I’m better off just managing it rather than the eruption later.

And even more important – will it also help me eliminate the brain grenades?  I cannot tell you how distressing brain grenades are to me.  I call them that because it often feels like I need to find shelter from the shrapnel and on really bad days I spend most of the time on the verge of tears.

So.  the new plan.  Pay attention to my emotions – allow them to exist in their appropriate time.   I will turn to face the emotion as it is happening, recognize it and accept it without judgement.  Look at it with a bit of detachment.

Hopefully this will be successful.  Because it’s not like I’m aware of all the moments I push my emotions into their boxes.  But we shall see.  Perhaps with more practice, one recognizes them more often.

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The Week that Was & The Week that Will Be.

Last week had it’s holes.  I fell into the abyss on Tuesday.  Hard.  And unexpectedly.  I was feeling like I had avoided the usual reaction to my failure to visit with family last weekend.  I refused to wallow in my shame.  On Sunday I got quite a bit done around the house in the Noticeable Improvement Process.  On Monday I had a decent day at work.

And on Tuesday the reaction set in.  Stillness took over.  I called into work, which then feeds even more shame to the depression.

However, routine and a friend saved me.  I walk 3X a week with a friend.  In the mornings before work.  And on Wednesday, I woke up feeling all the weight of the depression but also the standard of early wake up for the walk and the expectation of my friend.  And those two things made me move.  I was not a happy mover but I moved.  And I went to work.

The worst part of depression is how much risk it puts me in for my job.  I’ve already lost one job to it.  Which ultimately led to homelessness.   And I just cannot lose this one.  I feel like there isn’t another opportunity for me after this.

So.  Despite Saturday being a black hole of misery and stillness, today will not be.  I will move.  The primary thing I’m going to do is go to the Farmer’s Market and buy some tomatoes and corn.  Because that will give me pleasure all week.  It also will make me get dressed.  Which I find is key to me getting stuff done.

I’ve decided I want to do a journal.  Geared around my theme for life.  Better.  That’s it.  Just everyday – make it better than it was.  Whether it’s my environment, my routine, my job, my health.  Whatever.  Better.  Not perfect.  Not 100%.  Better than it was.

It’s easy to think I’m going to do that – but I find it’s also easy to forget.  If I journal then I hold myself accountable.  I listen to a podcast called Cortex that talks about living life around a theme and using a journal.  I think I will use their journal solution.  So.  That’s the plan.

Puppet on a String

I was supposed to visit with family this weekend and did not.  Cousins were in from out of town.  Another cousin, local, is recovering from a liver transplant.  It was a good time to touch base and connect with family.

I skipped it.  This is a side effect of my depression.  I isolate.  Also any change in routine is hard for me to do.  It’s like I’m riding in a rut and I have to jump over the ruts to get into a new path.  The problem is that the ruts are deep because my brain’s preference is for the rut I’m in.  And so what appears to be a simple change is actually the mental equivalent of an Olympic high jump for me.

It’s the same thing that keeps me still when I can’t seem to get myself moving.  When I can’t get out of bed at all.   But in those times it’s more of a jump across a chasm in the dark.

I use these metaphors because it helps me to remember that my thoughts and actions are not my depression.  My thoughts and actions are often a result of my depression and often feed it in a self sustaining loop of yuck.  But they are just the manure and fodder not the cause, not the disease.

This is why therapy works.  Because if you starve depression of it’s fodder by changing your thought patterns and actions it recedes.  It’s not gone.  I’ve pretty well accepted that it will never be gone, but if I can gain control over actions and choices,  I’m no longer a marionette enslaved to the depression’s pulled strings.

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Photo by Min Thein on Pexels.com

This weekend I let it pull my strings.  I know why.  I was tired on Friday night and when I’m tired my ability to use will power to change course is weak at best.  Saturday I let myself sit still for too long.  And the rut got deep.  Then I let my thoughts justify the stillness and feed the depression.  And in the end,  I didn’t do a thing that matters.

This morning it is easy to feed the depression all my shame and self loathing over not visiting my family.  But that just gives the depression more fodder.  So instead I’m writing this post to remind myself – this is how this happened, this is how to manage it.  Don’t feed the depression.  Move Forward.  Focus on the movement.  Don’t sit still and wallow in the manure.

Releasing Myself

I have been on the struggle bus for a year.  My brain, despite  various medication adjustments, just doesn’t want to climb out of the Abyss.   My focus sucks. Brain Grenades are a constant.  Stillness is prevalent.   My routines are the only thing I’ve held on to.

But those routines don’t keep the chaos at bay.  And when you ignore everything but cat care and taking out the kitchen garbage – the rest of the home slowly dissolves.

Every weekend I am sure I’m going to implement some improvement to my living space that will make it less chaotic.  Because I know that this mess is feeding my depression.  And every weekend, I don’t get out of the bed.  And things continue on, slowly creeping down the tube.

A few months ago I convinced my boss to give me remote access to the work systems so I could do some work at home.  It seemed like that would make certain stressful days less stressful.  The idea that I could always finish it at home seemed like a thing that would make me leave work on time.  And that would make me feel more mentally healthy.

But that just made a new thing to add to the pile of things I SHOULD do when I my brain was stuck in stillness and my body was stuck in the bed.

Then 3 weeks ago I splurged on a desk chair because the one I had was deeply uncomfortable – possibly due to having a distinct lean and no arms.  Curbside pickups have these issues.  I bought a new one at Staples.  They shipped it and I wasn’t home, so it was sent to an alternative location down the street from me.  No big deal.  Except when I picked it up – the box was just big enough and just heavy enough to be hard to handle.  If it had been smaller, it wouldn’t have been a problem.  If it had been lighter I could probably have managed – the but the combo made it hard.

The box lived in my car for 2 weeks as various friends offered to come over and help.  But that meant the apartment needed to be cleaned before I could accept their help.  So I refused.  I finally bought one of those clever straps with handles.  I had it for a week and still didn’t drag the damn box upstairs.

Then finally – last Thursday – I just did it.  And, like all such things, it turned out to be much easier than I expected.  The strappy handle was a miracle – heavily recommend to anyone.

But then the next obstacle – unbox and put together.  The plan was to do it on Saturday.  Nope.  Then Sunday.  I tricked my brain on Sunday by going to the Farmers Market.  It made me get dressed and get moving.  Once my brain was in that mode, I managed to unbox the chair.  But not assemble it.  So now – the apartment was not just fuzzy with cat hair – it was strewn with cardboard, plastic wrap and chair parts.  I went to bed depressed.

The next morning I was feeling a bit better.  Perhaps the small step had helped me.  Then my friend Chad started to text me.  Chad does more in an hour than I have done in the last year.  I wish I was as competent at ANYTHING as Chad is at every damn thing.  As we bantered over text and he shared his various chores I began to get a less heavy feeling about all my tasks.  And so I put together the chair.

I felt like a DIY god.  I get that feeling every time I have to assemble something and manage to do it.  I actually like assembling these sorts of things.  They are geared toward my skill level – ie none.  And yet somehow I manage to have a fully functional chair or whatever – when I’m done. ellie-front

I took that accomplishment energy and threw it into doing a bit of noticeable improvement to my apartment – vacuuming and sweeping.  I pulled together a couple of loads of laundry but was defeated by a neighbor doing it when I took it down.  I was going to do it this morning and completely forgot until I typed this.  My brain.  And then spent 4.5 hours doing work from home.  So I have a head start on what promised to be 2 days of busy busy work.

Today I woke up felt so much less of the weight on my shoulders.  The constant low level anxiety dreams still exist.  But the waking up was much less like the world was ending.  And day itself seems perfectly doable.

Sometimes clearing one obstacle, even if it’s not an obstacle you think is causing your problems, clears the path to a better place.   I hope this is path lasts a good long time.  It would be nice to get to a better place and stay for awhile.  emotions-1034916_960_720

 

It’s been a very busy week.  Very stressful.  And it was capped today by a mistake by omission that sent me home in near tears.

We are putting in a new software system and I have been given quite a lot of extra responsibility with that.  And since it’s implementation was supposed to be Friday, the last week was fraught with various glitches and various things not done.  All while my full time job was not done by me with any great focus.

In the end we did not go live on Friday because there were too many roadblocks.  I was relieved because a good portion of my responsibilities on it were unfinished.

To add stress and work to this, Friday was the monthly close for billing.  On the 1st I am normally putting in at least a 10 hour day.  But due to the system it was just impossible to even get done, after my 12th hour.  So.  I left and came back today.

Needless to say, I have set aside a whole lot of non-urgent tasks during the last month.  And one of them was a contract my boss gave me to read.  It outlines the new rates etc for our biggest client.  I read it today.  After I sent the invoices, which were based on a conversation I had with my boss on how much the fares were.  I don’t know if I misunderstood him or if the contract was not written to his verbal agreement, but it specifies a whole different rate structure than I billed at.   And it doesn’t matter what he or I understood, because what he signed says these things.

When I say it’s our biggest client, I had 1500 line items on one invoice and 600 on the other.  And all of it is wrong.  I have pull it apart and redo it.  Then apologize profusely to their AP folks.

I couldn’t face it and I walked out tonight  on the verge of tears.  I called my coworker and she talked me off the full on breakdown.  She’s good at that.   I might go in tomorrow.  Because Monday is going to be yet another day of system issues and I won’t have time to do it.

But I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  Last time I felt this shitty was when I literally stopped moving, lost my job, and after exhausting my savings became homeless.

On a positive note though, I notice I’m handling it better this time.  I have tools to deal with it, I guess.  Last time I refused to acknowledge it.  Because I had a great life, I couldn’t possibly be depressed or anxious.

But now I see what’s happening and have more tools.   I am better prepared and more aware of it.  When the feeling of near breakdown was worst was the beginning of this week, I just sat myself down and realized I had to let things go.  I had to stop internalizing things I couldn’t control and recognize the limits of what I could do in the space time I was allotted. .  And after that, things got a lot easier.  Although I’m still prone to snapping at people, and all of my coworkers recognize that I’m a bit overwhelmed, I’m not internally as ready to just curl up into a ball and not participate.  Which was how I was at the beginning of the week.  And how I was when I fell apart years ago.  Back then I did just curl up and stop participating.  But I won’t do that this time.

I won’t let this kill me.  I’m fighting for my own sanity this time.  Maybe the odds don’t look in my favor, but I think I got this.

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Passing the Doctor’s Office Visit

I had a physical and follow up visit with my doctor yesterday morning.  I very much was not interested in going when I woke up.  The stillness was enveloping me.

But that was the reason I needed to go.  Also I have a spot on my leg that my anxiety has diagnosed as skin cancer.

But I went.  Using all my mental resources to push the rock up the mountain and get moving.  I love my doctor.  She is kind and thorough and responsive.  She listens.

So.  We adjusted the depression meds.  And she told me I don’t have skin cancer.  And she ran a calculator on my risk factors for a heart attack and found it’s only 2.5% in the next 10 years – which is basically just the standard of the general population.  And since I’ve been harboring an anxiety that I will die of a heart attack at 55 like my father did that released another anxiety.

I normally feel like I flunk every doctor’s appointment.  Something is diagnosed as wrong and then we have to treat it and then we follow up for what feels like dozens of times trying to get it fixed.  So it feels nice to have only depression which feels like the normal.

Which is, of course, why it’s problematic.  I think this way I’m living is normal.  It’s not.  It’s just the life I’m used to.  But when she ran through the questions for anxiety/depression it struck me that this REALLY IS WRONG.  It’s amazing how awful living just stops feeling wrong and just feels like awful is normal.  And in many ways, my ability to manage my depression and keep functioning is why it feels OK.  I never felt like it was OK when I was unemployed and stayed in bed 23.5 hrs a day.  But now I have a job and an apartment and I keep a minimum standard of living going.  It tricks me into thinking life is supposed to be this way.

Hopefully the meds will kickstart a new path in my brain that I can take advantage of.

Cross fingers.

 

 

Eating

I don’t eat well.  Mostly because the depression’s stillness and odd thinking makes cooking into a monster task that doesn’t get done regularly.

So I resort to frozen meals and sandwiches most of the time.  And I’m not even getting a variety of those.  I eat the same frozen meals over and over and over…

I eat the same 2 sandwiches as well.

None of these items is particularly healthy.

All it would take for me to eat in a healthy way would be for me to prepare food.   I dream about doing a big meal prep once a week and just having that be my go to all week.   And every once in awhile I do that.  But it’s a rare event.

I follow a subreddit called Meal Prep Sunday  and I honestly think that my brain feels like it’s accomplished the goal by subscribing and seeing other people’s meal preps.

I bought a slow cooker in the mistaken belief that this easy no fuss method of cooking would make me cook and I would come home from work to hot food.  I’m pretty sure my brain thinks buying the slowcooker accomplished the goal.  I have only used it once in 3 years.

I think about making excellent tasting food to make me want to eat better.  I watch a TON of cooking videos on youtube.  I have only tried to make one thing from one of those videos.  My brain is capable of deciding that watching someone cook that meal is the same as me cooking the meal.

I know that it sounds like I’m being funny, but your brain does it too.  The human brain is kind of broken in how it evolved us into thinking creatures.  One of the things that broke is that the brain can imagine doing something and it marks the experience as a real.  MRI imaging shows the act of picking up a cup and imagining picking up a cup look EXACTLY the same in our brains.  I think it’s why so many people, myself included, have a hard time accomplishing their goals and dreams.

And I fell off subject again.  Sorry.

So, the problem, as I see it, is to overcome my brains natural tendency to assign something as accomplished when it didn’t happen.  I think depression makes that extra slippery because obviously my conscious brain can see the issue but depression makes me forget about the things that should be accomplished.  It takes that feeling of the task being accomplished and uses it to misdirect my brain away from the doing.   ie – it’s part of depression’s stillness strategy.

This is why I’m a big fan of lists and alarms.  But the same problem often happens with the lists – the stillness will make me ignore / forget / or defer the list.   Or and this is one of the shittiest things – I will get a flood of thoughts about all the various things I should do.  And all of them come with some corresponding reason that they should be the priority.   This creates a barrage that guarantees a stillness in me.  I won’t leave the bed wen the barrage starts.

Again – lists are helpful – but they aren’t as good at setting up the priority thing.  Should I vacuum or cook?  Should I take a walk or draw?  Should I do laundry or shop?  Should I call a friend for socializing or should I go to a park a sketch? Except it’s never even a dichotomy it’s always a bunch of options.  So now I need to prioritize the list.

And more than that, I need to prioritize the reasons for each one, otherwise how do I really know how to prioritize the actions.  Ie – what’s the long term goal?  Is socializing more important than eating well?  Is exercise more important than a clean apartment?  Is being creative more important than socializing?   I DON’T KNOW?!

So I freeze up and don’t make a list of priorities.  And so here we are.  Me eating a shitty frozen meal for breakfast and wishing I would eat well.

ANNOYED HUSKY

I hate knowing what is wrong, how to fix it and yet still being somehow and RIDICULOUSLY defeated by this damn depression.

So – by New Years I will have a set of priorities in place and I will have a plan for the 2019.   I’ve got work to do on this mess of a life I’m leading.

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Noticeable Improvement Plan

Because of my depression, normal everyday tasks often feel huge to me.  In the past this has created a lot of stupid chaos in my life.  Including living in disaster areas, otherwise known as my apartment.

The advantage of growing older is that you learn coping skills.  And one of those skills was to recognize that small improvements over time make A HUGE DIFFERENCE.

So now my goals are tiny and I only task myself with noticeable improvement, not perfection.

The holidays have not been particularly happy for me.  And this has led to me not putting things away and not keeping up on the tasks that keep the chaos at bay.  So the floor around the kitty litter didn’t get swept after I scooped and kitchen counters are littered with ingredients that didn’t get put away and the table is littered with various small gifts I got from work, etc.

The things that slowly turn a home into a disaster area are starting to build up.  So today is my day off and I started to do the things.  But I don’t intend do an intensive clean and leave this apartment in shining order.  I intend to improve the situation in a way that I will notice.  So I swept the floor, I didn’t mop it.  I will clear off the clutter but I won’t dust and polish the furniture.  Next week or next month the improvement task will be polishing furniture or waxing the floor.  But it’s OK that it’s not today.

An interesting thing happens when I look at life as an ongoing process of improvement rather than a defined goal of perfection.  I look for and find a thing that will improve it.   And when I no longer need the thing to be perfect, doing it is less burdensome.  I’m not chasing a fantasy of golden perfection.  I just want to see a difference.  I can find satisfaction in the improvement, rather than dissatisfaction at the perceived ways I didn’t meet the perfection goal.

My brain is very good at twisting things into huge hairy deals.  And I think that was part of what made keeping my environment in order when I was in my 20s so hard.  To 26 year old me the house needed to look like a magazine cover or there was no point to cleaning.  All of it should be cleaned to perfection at once.  So cleaning was a huge task.  And so I put it off and things just kept getting worse not improving.

Now I just want my house to feel comfortable and neat.  I no longer feel any burden if at the end of the day there is dust on the tables.  Because that is a task that can be done tomorrow and no one is any worse for it.

As a result my apartment is nearly always in a fairly decent condition.  It may need to be dusted but there is never so much stuff on the floor that I need to step around it.  The dishes are done and the kitty litter is always kept clean, there is no laundry on the floor and the garbage is always taken out.   Because of that, now when I’ve had a bad month, the only things that need to be done to make it feel better about it will take me less than 45 minutes to sort out.

Noticeable improvements.  It’s the only way to live life.

 

I need a list

of things to do when my brain is functional.

Inside my brain are a dozen or more nagging things I should do .  Things that don’t get done because during the brain stillness, I function on a rail.  I do the habits. I walk through the day by doing the next habit.  I focus on conquering the small stuff.

But depression is not a static state and when it moves into the zone of normal I very often get less done than I should because I can’t really seem to put my thoughts into gear to get those nagging tasks done.  I can’t remember them.

I think I need a list.  It has to be on something easily accessible.  So when the nagging thought shows up, I can put it immediately on my list.  Thus removing it’s anxiety from my head.

And when I realize I am in functional normal mode, I can grab the list and do something I wouldn’t normally get done.

I also need the list to be already set up as a functional to-do.  Ie – task broken into it’s component parts.

I will try to do it on one of my phone apps I think.  Although I find writing things down easier, I no longer carry any pad of paper.  I have a phone after-all.

But breaking down the task means it can’t be an app like Remember the Milk.  It has to be a proper to do app.  But that will be an additional electronic nagging rather than a place to put my nagging thought that safely removes it from the anxiety place until I can do it.

I think finding the right app might end up being the first thing on the to do list?  Or at least figuring out how to make an easy app like Milk work for this.

Anyway – that is my current state of mind.  I need more lists in my life.  My brain is way to full of holes.

The Dentist – a lesson in depression management

My mouth is a disaster.  A disaster created by lack of maintenance which is a byproduct of depression.

When the stillness of depression overtook me I didn’t go to the dentist.   My teeth are not great – very prone to cavities and so they need regular attention.  But I didn’t go.  Until a painful tooth pushed me there and I had to have the tooth pulled because I didn’t have the money for the root canal.

That was the first of 3 teeth I had pulled in that fashion over 6 years.  Those were the only time I went to the dentist.  All of them were visits to the Urgent Dental Care.

But the painful teeth wasn’t the worst.  The worst was a cavity in my front tooth that was visible as a divot on the side of it.  It made me feel shame.  It made me feel like I couldn’t go on interviews because people would think badly of me for having a hole in my tooth.  It made me ashamed to see old friends and family.  It was a huge mental monster in head.

The last tooth I got pulled was earlier this year.  The dentist was very kind.  He suggested we tackle my mouth one tooth at at time.  He didn’t suggest a regime of dental cleanings or plan a giant trip tick of my mouth problems.  He just said – when you have some money saved just walk in.

And that’s when I realized that this was how I could make it work.  The Urgent Dentist is obviously more expensive than most dentistry, but not exorbitantly so.  (at least this practice.)  But they offer something that is invaluable to me.  They work 7 days a week, 5 of them until 10pm.   They encourage walk ins.

Convenient hours is a huge plus and when it’s tied to walk in it works with my brain dysfunction.  It takes a whole lot of self talk and consideration and aborted attempts to get me to the dentist.   And when the moment gels – I can just go.  No need for an appointment – just go.

An appointment would create a whole new layer of problems.  I would miss appointments if my brain moved into stillness at the moment the appointment came up.  That would make me a persona non-grata with a dentist.  And I would create a larger thing out of potentially missed appointments than they might in reality be so I would just make that into a reason not to set up appointments.

Yesterday, a Sunday afternoon, I walked into the dentist and got my front tooth fixed.  It felt like a triumph.  It’s been a source of shame for years and now it’s fixed.  In an  hour.

It’s not the dentistry tradition I grew up with.  And so it never occurred to me that I could do my dentistry by just walking in, but I can.  So, now for the next few years, I will be saving money and when I have enough, doing next tooth.  By walking into the office when my brain will allow it.   I am not rich.  But the extra money is more than worth this benefit to me.  I wonder how many other people would benefit from it.