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

 

Staycation Life Update

staycation
image: Ron Mader

This week I’m off work.  Not doing anything except recovering my equilibrium.  I was feeling my mental state getting too close the edge of the abyss.  And I just did not want to fall in.  So I took off a week.

Already I’m feeling better.  So I think it was a good choice.

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I only have one, possibly two work related things I need to do.  One is to catch up a report that I’ve been neglecting all month.  It’s tedious and it’s easy to say to myself, I don’t have time today.   It’s supposed to be done daily.  I think I’ve got 5 days in the report so far.

The other is to possibly go into work for a visit from a tech guy for our reservation/dispatch system.  I have thoughts I want to share.  Many, many thoughts.

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I have become addicted to a game on my phone called Wordscapes.  Like I just started playing 3 weeks ago and I’m on level 1241. Each puzzle is a level.  I hate when computers  make pretending it’s not that bad impossible.  At least it’s a mind exercise, but it is far too easy to do the game rather than do my life.

I find it easier to break a habit by replacing it with another habit.  So I bought an embroidery kit to see if I can start a new habit to keep my life occupied.  At least there is a sense that I accomplished something tangible with the embroidering

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I’ve recently become obsessed with keyboards.  I want a mechanical one.  Like we had in the old days.  Where there was a tangible click when you pressed down.  And you could feel the key go all the way down.  And the keyboard wasn’t flat but had a pleasant upward curve.

I know it’s probably a bit more fatiguing to your hand if you have to type a lot, but I am mostly not typing long form.  I’m working in accounting software.  I mostly use 10key skills.  And doing 10 key wants to feel more like I associate with those horrible giant adding machines.  So I want to have a mechanical keyboard.

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I have decided that the small daily changes – like a different keyboard are the things that make life better. So many things in life that we just accept, but are not really that comfortable.  So I’m going to start paying attention to those things.  See if I can get my life to feel more like it’s moving smoothly, rather than being dragged over gravel.

 

Things I just can’t deal with right now.

Life Generally.

Flat tire, specifically.

I had a flat at work about 3 weeks ago.  I work for a transportation company, so I just refilled the tire and watched it.  It kept inflated for weeks.  I thought perhaps it was an April Fools joke as it happened on April’s Fool Eve.

But today, the tire is flat.  Indeed, it was flat yesterday.  My neighbor knocked on my door to tell me.  I was feeling like the struggle bus had run over me and then he showed up with more cheery news.

I ignored it.  I have a portable electric air pump.  But it does need to be plugged in and that is where it all sort of falls apart.  I live on the second floor of the building but I don’t have an extension cord long enough to handle it.

I also have a roadside assistance contract.  They will come and change the tire.  Presumably they might have an air pump as an alternative option.  But it’s not a guarantee.  I cannot change the tire.  I know this from previous attempts, when I was in better shape than I currently am.  I have little to no upper body strength,

Right now my trunk is full of various forms of detritus that have formed in the last 7 years.  It’s in desperate need of a clean out.  And if I call roadside assistance, I’m gonna need to clean it out, so the spare can be removed.   My desire to do that clean out of the trunk is damn near nil.  But it must be done.

All of this is just me whining about a perfectly normal hitch in life, which the stillness in my brain has enlarged into a mountain of gargantuan size.  So much so that my plan to take care of it today did  not happen.

 

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.

 

 

Work: The Mountain

Both my coworkers have been off since last Thursday.  The back up girl was unexpectedly off last week but thankfully returned this week.

But since she was off for the birth of her newest grandchild, who is now in NICU I don’t think I can count on her.  She needs to be her daughter’s biggest support and that is more important than anything else.

So.  As the days past, the things that don’t get done remain undone and those piles get bigger.  I’m reminding myself daily that tomorrow is another day.

Last night I was there until 11pm.  And still the giant pile remains.  And expands because poor back up now has her own pile.  She took on half my job on the busiest day and she has a full time job of her own.  So.

Life happens as it will, however we plan it.  Only one person was planned to be off.  But my other co-worker ended up in the hospital.  And as I said the back up has the new grandbaby.  None of that could have been predicted.  It’s just how life works.

However.  I intended to go to work over the weekend to clear it to a fresh starting point.  But I didn’t.  So as a result I was there until 11pm last night and didn’t get as much done as I’d hoped.  That weekend choice was something I could control and didn’t.

We always pay for those moments we don’t do something.  I knew it when the stillness of my depression kept me in bed.  But the knowledge didn’t move me.  I wonder why knowledge isn’t motivating?  Imagine how many of our personal problems would be solved if knowledge was enough for us to change.  All the smokers would quit smoking, we all would exercise and eat well.  No one would be overweight.  We would all work on climate change… It’s odd how knowledge is just so useless as a catalyst for changing personal behavior.

I wonder if there are people who learn something and adapt their personal behavior immediately and permanently to the new information?  If so, what is going on in their brain?  Can I get that wiring?

I find emotion is mildly motivating, but not permanently motivating.  Fear, of course, being the best motivator.  But I think because we don’t remember emotions in the same way that we remember events or information, it’s not as permanent.  And we obviously aren’t supposed to because when you remember deeply negative emotions like that, you have PTSD.

Anyway, all of this is to say, I’m not thrilled with my choices this past weekend.  They were mostly dictated by the stillness that envelops my weekend, but it remains true that motivation is elusive, especially with depression.  To the point of being useless.

Watching People be Busy and Productive

I adore youtube channels where people make things.  I watch makers do things I have absolutely no interest in doing myself, I’m just fascinated with their productiveness and the creation of a thing.  I follow woodworking, metal working, cooking, gardening, and artists of all kinds.

Yesterday I binge watched a channel of a young man who is rebuilding a 108 year old yacht.  I think he he is going to be lucky to keep 20 yards of original board on that boat.  It was a mess.  It will take years and years to rebuild it.  And he’s filming it.

He’s a boat builder, so it’s not like he’s inexperienced.  And he threw himself into this project heart and soul.  It’s hard work.  Both mentally and physically.

A few weeks ago he cut off his finger.  He was quite philosophical about it.  Life is about taking risks, he said.  You don’t learn anything or experience anything if you don’t take risks.  Sometimes you get hurt, but it’s all part of the process of living.

I don’t do anything.  Even in smaller ways.  People like Leo, the ship builder, fascinate me.   They just do it.  It might not work.  But the doing is worth it.  My grandmother was like that.  I’m not.  I’m stillness to their wind.  I want to be more like the wind – changing things, making things, doing things.  It seems like it’s just as simple as Just do it.

But something in my brain, Depression, makes the space between thinking about a thing and doing a thing enormous.  It’s like the Grand Canyon and my brain doesn’t seem to be able to cross to the part that makes me move into action.

I call it Stillness.  It’s the antithesis of a well lived life.

I think I watch these youtube channels so I can live the life of productivity vicariously.  That might be making the stillness worse.  It’s possible my brain marks my experiencing the video as a thing accomplished.  Our brains are fucked up wonders.