Bad Day

Yesterday was not a good day for me.

It really started Sunday night; sometime around 9 or 10 PM, I started feeling intensely sad and lonely. At that time of night, there’s really not much that cane be done for the lonely part, and the sad part didn’t really seem to have a cause – it was just a rush of emotion that came out of seemingly nowhere and just made me feel lousy. Then Monday started, and things got worse. I went to work on Monday morning, and while I was boxing up books to send back to the publishers, I just kept feeling these waves of emotion. It was always sadness, and it happened pretty regularly, every 15-20 minutes. I would be doing just fine, and then bam, sadness, and I felt like I was about to start crying – which would have been hard to explain at work. That happened basically all day, and while I was on break I told a couple friends, but they were either working shifts that started before mine ended, making them unavailable, or having their own issues, which might not have made for the best company. So I just had to tough it out, go home, get dinner, get in touch with some people, and hope for a better day today. It probably didn’t help that I was turned down – again – for certified peer specialist training, which I only got notification of as I was coming home from work; that’s something I really want to do, but they keep telling me that the people they give preference to are either working or volunteering in the field. I wonder how, though; every place I’ve talked to that deals with mental health and accepts volunteers doesn’t have anything like a certified peer specialist area, and apparently volunteering with NAMI, while the right general area, doesn’t count. It’s really frustrating, especially since the next session of training won;t be offered until next January.

I’m not really sure how today is going to go, though it hasn’t started so well – I’m not normally up at this time, but I just woke up at around 5:30 sweating like crazy and didn’t feel tired anymore. One of my friends had recommended journaling as a way to try to work things through in my head, and while I just didn’t have the energy for it last night, right now is a different story. I’m not really sure what brought on these erratic waves of emotion, but I have been feeling kind of lonely for the last few days; the work schedules of me and my friends have been clashing this last week, so they seemed to be working whenever I wasn’t and vice versa – and Calla has been busy with family from out of town, which is leaving her stressed and frayed and without much time to herself, let alone to hang out with me.

I’m writing this knowing that my mother, at least, will read this, and probably my sister, and some other friends. I know that my history in this area has been pretty bad, but I’ve managed to make it here for over a year, and I don’t think a couple bad days will affect me long-term. I’m going to try to meet up with a couple friends after work tonight, and I hope that will help out; traditionally, being around my friends always cheers me up, even if we’re not together for long. And tomorrow I go to see my therapist, which will also help; he’ll probably have some ideas on what might have brought this on. If nothing else, I can always try to go see my psychiatrist and ask him what he thinks; this may just be some odd kind of seasonal issue. I’m feeling bad right now, but I’m not feeling particularly worried; one or two days of badness does not a pattern make, and as someone with depression, I know that occasionally there will be days like this. Generally, though, I hope that they won’t be on days when I work, because trying to explain to my fellow employees why I just started crying for no apparent reason is not something I look forward to.

Hell, it might just have been a Monday thing. Maybe, like Garfield, my psyche just hates Mondays. I guess I’ll find out.

Delaying Tactics

Man, 11 days since my last post? I had no idea it had been so long. Time flies, I guess. It’s been a busy 11 days, so hopefully I can be forgiven for neglecting my blog for so long. When last I wrote, I had just been to church for the second time, and had just finished my first week at my new duties in the receiving area of my store. Things have definitely gotten more interesting since then.

For one thing, I actually managed – with the help of a good friend, who deserves all of the organizational credit, because I would have trouble planning my way out of a paper bag – to run my first session of an RPG called Dungeon World, which I’m sure I have mentioned int he past. The first session was at a nearby game store, and it was me, my friend, and two gals he knew from work (we all work at the same company, just different stores). I thought the first session went really well – people made fun characters relatively quickly, the system didn’t get in the way, and I felt like I was able to improvise pretty smoothly, all fo which seemed to lead to a great first session. I say first, because this week we got together again, this time at my place, and two additional gals showed up – making the demographics 4 women, 2 men, which is weird, but awesome. The two new players again made up new characters quickly, and we finished up the adventure that had been started in the previous session, finally killing the Spider-Witch Florimel and returning some very traumatized children to their families. It was a lot of fun, and a big confidence boost for me, because I had been really worried that I wouldn’t pull it off very well. hopefully we’ll have another game soon.

Also, my birthday was this past Sunday. I turned 35, which sounds like a lot now that I think about it – so usually I try not to, because then it involves me trying to work out how close I am, percentage-wise, to becoming a Steve Carell character. You know the one. I celebrated thusly: on Saturday, after having nabbed the second Captain America movie on Blu-Ray earlier int he week, I started watching all 9 Marvel movies, in in-setting chronological order. I managed to get all the way up to the Avengers before calling it a night, then the next day, my birthday, got through Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 before going out to dinner with three friends, all of whom are awesome. We went to a Brazilian steakhouse called Fogo de Chao, and if you’ve never been to such a place, let me tell you – it’s like a festival of meat. They have a salad bar, but mostly, you sit at your table, and you have a little thing at your place setting – one side is red, the other green. When you flip it to green, servers magically appear with all variety of meats and give you pieces, until eventually you are so full that you get what one of my friends called the ‘meat sweats’. Then, for dessert, two of my friends, both women, rolled out a dessert they had constructed especially for me – a three-tiered pyramid of donuts from various places around Houston. Let me tell you, I was very full at the end of the night, and very happy. If any of y’all are reading, let me say this to my friends and family(both those who were present, and those present in spirit): I love you guys, and each one of you has helped me to have a life worth living. You have made my life so much better by being a part of it.

As for my professional life, I’m mostly used to working in the receiving area of the store now; my back still aches from being on my feet and carrying boxes all day, but it’s far less stressful than customer service for me. And I get to listen to audiobooks, music, and podcasts while I work – so far I’ve made it through Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown, Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal, all of the On RPGs podcast, and most of the podcast episodes of the Knights of the Night group dealing with their experiences with Dungeon World. At home, I’ve also been reading through a good book, through it’s taking longer than it normally would because I tend to read before bed, and my new job means that when I get in bed, my body tends to prefer sleep to reading much of the time. The book is called Friendfluence, by Carlin Flora, and it is about how friends influence us, change our lives, and can actually have an impact on our physiological well-being. It’s a pretty good read, and I look forward to finishing it (mostly so I can point out to my friends exactly what their presence is doing to my brain, which seems fun to me). I am still waiting to hear back from the Via Hope group on whether or not I will be accepted into this round of training for Certified Peer Specialists, and I should hear back from them by the 22nd.

All in all, it’s been a busy week and a half, but in a good way. I’ll make an effort to keep my blog more updated, because I know it’s something I have been neglecting, and I have some ideas for other things to write, but right now my body is telling me it was a bad idea to get up this early, so I’m going to listen to it and relax on my day off.

Stress Relief

So I started at a new area at my job today; I’ve moved to the receiving area at my store – which basically means that instead of working behind a cash register or at the customer service desk, I instead unbox and sort all new book and media deliveries. I don’t have to interact with customers at all, and even though it’s a little more physically taxing than the other work, I feel so much less stressed afterwards that it is easily worth it. I’m more relaxed at home, I can talk to people without getting frustrated, and I just feel much more at ease.

It’s weird how change of one thing can make such a big difference. I don’t know how this will pan out in the long term, but for at least right now, it’s a big relief to me. Also, yesterday I went to church for the first time in… well, probably since Christmas. I went with Calla, who is making a lot of progress and is coming back into her faith with a passion I haven’t seen in her in a while. It’s good to see her so excited about something; I think it’s an indication that she’s getting back to a stable place. Even if our relationship doesn’t go past friendship, it is still good to know that things are getting at least a little better for her.

I have another friend who just moved to a new place, and she seems to be settling in; it might take a while to get used to a new place, but from everything she’s said, it sounds like a good place to live, with a pretty friendly, it eccentric, mix of people in her new apartment building. I got to visit her this past Saturday, and while she still has some unpacking to do, it seems like it has a lot of promise, and will let her express herself much more authentically than her old place. I’m hoping that it will be a first step to her moving forward with other things in her life, because she’s a good friend and it’s hard to watch her go through what she’s had to live with.

Sadly, not everything is great; I have another friend who’s been in the hospital for the last week. I haven’t had a lot of contact with her – which is on me – but it’s not the first time she’s been there, and I wish I could do more to help her out. There’s a lot in her background that probably has played a part in her problems, but it’s not my place to say; I just hope that this is the time that really helps her turn a corner. 

Fear Leads to Anger, Anger Leads to…Tired?

Yesterday was not a good day on the anger scale for me. To be clear, when I say anger scale, I really mean on this scale:

0 – Totally at peace
1 – Mild annoyance
2 – Frustration
3 – Full annoyance
4 – Hostile
5 – Angry
6 – Seething
7 – Furious
8 – Red Rage
9 – Hulk
10 – Murdertron 9000

I imagine most people have a scale like this; they may use different words, but the result is the same. I spend a lot of the time hovering between 0 and 1, but yesterday I spent a good 8-10 hours between 7 and 8, and it was not pleasant.

Some of it was anger as a secondary emotion – that is, anger that people often use as an immediate reaction when they are in fact feeling something else. Like if someone were to say something hurtful to me, my primary feeling would probably be sadness – but I would instinctively react in anger, maybe saying something just as hurtful in response. I was feeling very sad and hurt by some events happening with a friend of mine, and while I didn’t respond to my friend in anger, I definitely felt it. 

Then I had to fight with my insurance company – and everyone who has ever done that knows how much anger that can bring up. It seems that even though I don’t have a thyroid gland anymore, and so have to be on a thyroid replacement medication to mimic the production of thyroid chemicals, my insurance company thinks that it is an expense that is more than they want to cover. So, in order to convince them that it is a necessary medication, I need to get in to see my doctor – who doesn’t have an opening for a couple weeks, leaving me at the very end of my current prescription. I suspect they want me to change to a medication that is less costly, but frankly, I don’t care. 

Third, Houston traffic. This is generally anger-producing even at the best of times, because Houston drivers seem to have never mastered the fine art of, well, driving. That left lane on a highway? The one for passing and going fast? They feel free to just sit there going the bare minimum, regardless of what you do. That line you’re in waiting for a light, because the lane next to you is closed – but the cones don’t start until the light? They will pull out from behind you, go around you, and then swerve back into the open lane just before the other lane is closed. And right now there is a lot of roadway construction in Houston – especially, of course, on my way to work. A drive that normally takes me 15-20 minutes took me an hour yesterday. 

And finally, customers. I work in retail, and I imagine anyone who has worked in retail knows how annoying indifferent or careless customers can be. At the bookstore I work at, many people feel free to grab stacks of books or magazines, flip through them for five minutes, then leave them at their seat – or worse, they try to conceal the stack somewhere. Or people show up, sit in a chair – either in our cafe area or in the store – and proceed to work on their laptop for 6-8+ hours, never buying anything, never even browsing. As I spend most of my shifts closing the store, the messes inconsiderate customers leave behind are something I have to clean up before I can go home. And then there are always the joyous customers who come in, demand a book – sometimes a big new release (that is sold out because they waited too long to get it), but more often something more specialized or small-press that we either don’t get or have to special order – and get insanely angry when you don’t have it. Or customers who assume you’re an illiterate idiot because you don’t happen to know anything about their favorite author.

So I was pretty amped up yesterday when I got to work; my co-workers could tell, and some said they could hear me grinding my teeth. They were very understanding, when I explained what was going on, so there wasn’t any trouble there, at least. Oddly, the anger seemed to keep me very focused, and I think I went through my assigned tasks much faster than the managers were prepared for; they had to find more for me to do, which eventually ended up in just trying to keep the store tidy. And that kept up for much of the shift – thankfully, I wasn’t working at the cash register or the customer service desk for much of that time. But when the anger finally began to fade, I felt myself just become totally exhausted. The anger burned through what energy I had and left me with nothing when it dissipated. And now, a day later, I don’t feel any of it. I can look back and see why I was angry, but there’s none left right now. Of course, I’m now stuck having to deal with the pain and sadness that are the results of my difficulties with my friend, but I was going to have to deal with that anyway; the anger was just a way to hide from it for a while.

I’m not sure if there’s a point here, really – maybe it’s that feeling my anger, instead of suppressing it, allowed me to let it go, or it to let me go, instead of having to deal with it for days or weeks on end. Maybe it’s that anger can be productive int he short term, but long-term it just sucks you dry. I’m not sure. It could be any number of things. But I felt it was worth talking about.

Authenticity

Again, I’m sorry for the delay between entries; this time I have a much better excuse. I’ve actually been visiting my family in St. Louis for the past couple days, and while I meant to write a post while I was there, I kept getting distracted by things like food and sleep. But the trip went well; it was good to see my parents, and it gave me a chance to do some things I’ve been putting off for a while. I read two books between leaving Houston and coming back; one was a book on Captain America (because, let’s face it, he’s my favorite superhero and he’s awesome) called The Virtues of Captain America, which talks about Cap’s virtues in philosophical terms, and explains why he’s a good role model, even though he’s a fictional character. If you’re a fan of Captain America, I recommend reading it.

The other book was one I’ve read before – Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. I though it had some good stuff the first time I read through it, and my second read-through definitely confirmed that – and it helped me to work out some things I’ve been going over in my head recently. Recently, my work has been asking employees if they would voluntarily self-identify as having disabilities – which includes things like mental illness. There doesn’t seem to be a benefit to me self-identifying, but there’s a part of me that wants to – and a part that is scared to, as well. 

That’s where authenticity, as the title implies, comes in. I don’t tell anybody at work about my depression, mostly because I am afraid of how they will react to hearing it – will they reject me? Will they tell the managers? But at the same time, keeping that from people – when it is an important part of my identity – means that I constantly feel like I’m hiding something, that I am lying to people. I am showing them a face that isn’t really me – I’m not being authentic. And not feeling like I can act like myself is not a cool feeling. It’s good when there are times I feel I can joke around and discuss things with my co-workers; those are times when I feel like I’m being myself. It’s becoming clear to me that feeling like I can be myself – not just parts of myself, but all of myself – is important to feeling happy and comfortable. While keeping my mental illness secret might help to keep my job safe, it doesn’t help my own sense of well-being.

I also have been feeling that my weight is a problem. I’m not particularly fond of what I see when I look in the mirror in the morning – I don’t think it makes me any less worthy as a person, but it does kind of bother me. So that is something else I am going to get back to working on. I’m going to a consultation at a place called My Fit Foods on Thursday, to see what kind of diet they recommend; they sell a number of ready-made meals intended for helping people to lose weight, and I’m looking into a fitness program – inspired by the one Chris Evans used to get ready for the Captain America movies – to get some exercise in. It’ll be rough – I haven’t felt like I’ve had a lot of energy lately – but it is something I want to do, and I think it will help to make me feel better.

Work In The Field

So today I was talking with my therapist, and he asked me why I wanted to be in the mental health field, and what I thought I would like to do if I had my choice. It was kind of an awkward situation, but I managed to put together an answer, and I thought I would try to replicate it here.

Mostly, I wanted to be able to interact people who are going through a tough time with mental illness. I know that my own story isn’t the worst or most terrifying, but it does involve 14 years of depression and two suicide attempts, and being able to talk to other people who had similar issues was extremely helpful. I think one of the worst parts of suffering from mental illness is the nagging sensation that I was doing it all on my own. That’s part of the reason that group psychology was the group I felt was most helpful at Menninger – because people were telling their stories, and trusting the others in the room, and that made others felt like they could tell theirs too – and letting that burden go, and sharing that loneliness, helped to lessen it.

I think it’s the stigma of mental illness that makes that happen, because I knew, rationally, that I wasn’t the only person suffering. But I was the only person I really knew who had been through serious treatment, and so it always felt like somehow I was alone in my treatment. It wasn’t until coming to Menninger that the groups we had there made me feel a connection wit other people who had similar issues, and realize that if they could manage their issues, I could manage mine, as well.

I want to be able to share my story, and as well as my story, I want to be able to share my experience with the recovery process. I want to be able to help others realize that not being alone is a powerful thing, and that the social network, the sense of community, that creates can be very helpful. Just because I can work to get where I am doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone with mental issues can, or that they can use the same methods, but it is being able to show people who are suffering that they can direct their own recovery and take charge of things in their lives, and possibly show others at least one or two ways to work towards that recovery, seems important.

Really, though, I think it’s just important to let people suffering know that there is strength in numbers, and they are not alone, 

Meaningful Work

So it has taken me quite a while, but I have managed to work my way through more of Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. And as I keep moving through it, I continually wonder exactly how it is that she has such a direct line into my head. Chapter after chapter, it sounds like she’s either reading my mind now or has in the past – but I would imagine a lot of people would feel that way, reading through this book. It seems to cover a variety of situations and circumstances that are common in all of our lives, simply because of the way in which we live or lives. The one that really made me want to write something, though, is Guidepost #9: Cultivating Meaningful Work.

Those of us who have jobs go to work. But not all of it is meaningful. I like working at B&N, but I don’t really find any meaning in it; it’s just something I do to make money and get experience that I can use further down the road. What Dr. Brown calls meaningful work comprises  a number of different factors, on which she elaborates: gifts and talents (when and how we use the gifts that each of us have), spirituality (being able to share our gifts and talents with the world), making a living (the ability to use your talents to, well, make a living), commitment (how committed we are to our particular area of work), supposed-to’s and self doubt. Both of the last two are linked, because every time we think of something that we are supposed to do – “I’m supposed to hate my job,”, “I’m supposed to care about making money, not meaning” – we start to doubt ourselves, and drift away from being committed to doing any meaningful work.

She talks about other things, as well, but I really like this chapter, because while I have a job, the meaningful work I do is totally unrelated. To be honest, it’s here. I don’t have to write this blog; there are reasons why writing it could be problematic for finding another job. But I find meaning in it; it lets me explore what is going on in my head, talk about issues that have meaning to me, and do it in a public forum where anyone else who feels inclined can comment. It might end up helping other people who have had or are having similar experiences, too, and that’s always a plus. I used to think that, when I ‘grew up’, I would be a writer of fantasy novels; now it turns out that I did end up writing – just doing an entirely different kind. 

It turns out – according to Dr. Brown and another author, Marci Alboher, that more and more people these days are pursuing what they call slash careers – writer/surgeon, carpenter/playwright, lawyer/artist – in order to give themselves as much of a helping of meaningful work as they can. When people don’t feel fulfilled doing one thing, they’ll often turn to something else – maybe not as a full-time job, but as something that helps them to express themselves, and use gifts and talents they don’t get to use in the rest of their professional lives. I take some solace in that, because no matter what else I end up doing in my life, I can always write – whether on this blog, or on something more private, or something more whimsical – and find some sense of meaning in that.

In the meantime, I think more people should read The Gifts of Imperfection – you’ll probably be surprised at how much of what she talks about in it applies to you.