A Reluctant Rock-Star

Miss RockstarThese past four weeks have taught me a few things about work and me in a post-electroshock, ongoing-recovery age.

First, I need a steady schedule.  Routine is my best friend.  Without it I become crazy batter waiting for a nice oven to turn me into cupcakes.

Second, I need a place to use my skills.  I do have some and like to trot them out on occasion, if only to remind myself what they are.

Third, I’m pretty good at handling a crisis, but it takes a toll on me.  There’s a reason I never worked in an emergency room or intensive care.  Some people thrive on that adrenaline rush.  Me, it just makes hysterical.

So as I tallied up the week’s events at work, I noticed a disturbing trend.  My schedule resumed its rubber ball act, trying to land on all the meetings we’re forced to attend.  I spent most of my time making cold-calls to crazy people who really didn’t want what I was selling.  And everyday brought some kind of client crisis.

I knew it was a risk to campaign for a job that no one could describe.  I had no idea what I was getting into, but I was willing to wait and see what happened.  After sticking it out for a month, I decided it was time to pull the plug.  I typed up a resignation letter and gave it to my boss today.

I felt good about it.  Four weeks working in chaos and on a learning curve like the Himalayas felt like success to me.  I hadn’t blown up in a bipolar blitz.  I even contributed.  I could leave gracefully, without torching any bridges.  I looked forward to recovering from the stress and getting back to TechCon.  I’d left Carrie and Robert alone for too long.

But my boss had other ideas.  She simply refused to accept my resignation.  I can’t remember all the incredible things she said about me, but it was clear she would do anything to make me stay.  I needed a set schedule?  Done.  Never mind that the government says some meetings are mandatory.  “I will take care of it,” she said, “because this is what you need.”

I don’t like making the enrollment calls?  Forget about them.  I’m uncomfortable dealing with clients in crisis?  Let the Care Coordinators do that.  So, what the heck would I be doing?

I’m to be a consultant for the rest of the team and maybe, if I feel like it, work with a few clients each week.

Are you shittin‘ me?

What do you do when someone values you so much they take away every obstacle?

Jeez, I guess you stay.

Stronger and More Frayed

Vistas of BewildermentMiraculously, I’ve finished another week of work.  My life is both easier and harder.  Holding this paradox seems to be the Work set before me.

Easier:  Mom left me her 2011 Honda CRV, a car with features and comforts I never thought I’d have again.  I can hardly believe it’s mine.  After scraping a few dollars off the top of my disability check each month to save for a Smart Car, this thing of luxury dropped into my lap (or parking lot).  The first time I filled the gas tank, I cried.  It cost about half of what it took to fill my dad’s truck.

When Mom bought the car after Dad died, she said to me, “You know you’ll probably get this soon.”  It was just one of hundreds of references she made to her own death (It’s that thing old people do—”I won’t be around much longer, so you better…”).  I didn’t pay much attention.  I was glad she had a zippy little car that she loved.  Driving made her feel safe and in control.  I absolutely understand that.

Harder:  My schedule at work is all over the place—mornings, afternoons, mid-day.  I’ve told my supervisor that I need consistency.  I need time for my own self-care, and I need to be able to depend on it.  I’ve tried to hold my fifteen hours a week to afternoons, but this week was the worst so far.  And it’s all to make sure I attend an endless parade of mind-numbing meetings.  Some of them have been important—orientation to the organization, introductions to other agencies working with us, procedure—but most are irrelevant to my position.  Our boss wants us all to be cross-trained.  Part of that, I think, comes from not knowing what our jobs really are yet.  But the more of these meeting I go to, the more I can see what’s mine and what’s not mine to own.

Easier:   My boss relented on the meetings.  She created a buddy system, so my buddy will let me know if I miss anything important.  That allowed me to take charge of my own schedule.  I’m working 1:30-4:30 every day starting next week.  Good for me, but also good for the team.  Now they know when I’ll be available for client interviews and care conferences (what I should be doing).

Harder:  I had built up a reservoir of stability with my routine and daily monitoring.  That’s used up.  Everyday is a fight to turn my fear and negativity around.  Everyday I feel myself sliding toward lethargy and old habits.  I’m hypersensitive and my concentration is fragmenting.  I can still see it happening.  I can still pause, breathe, and choose not to react, but I’m getting so tired.

Yesterday I had to leave a meeting.  The woman leading it was one of those people who starts a sentence, restarts it, jumps to another topic, restarts that sentence and never gets to the point.  I know a couple of people like this.  They drive me ape-shit.  It’s a neurological thing—my nerves want to grab them by the throat.

Luckily, it was the end of my day, and I ran to the Chinese restaurant to eat lunch, listen to my iPod and journal.  It helped, but I’m not getting back to my set point like I used to.  I’m not able to repair the damage each day all this stress creates.  It’s only a matter of time before I really blow.

Easier:  Our parents left us some money.  It’s not enough to live on the rest of my life, but it will give me some breathing room.  I can do my laundry every week.  I can get some work clothes.  I can even plan a trip to the Southwest this winter to see if more sun and open space will keep me from needing hospital-level care come spring.  Poverty has been the biggest stressor in my life.  Mom and Dad knew that.  They planned their last act of love carefully to ease that for me.  I’m so grateful.

No matter what happens, no matter how the easy and the hard continue to play against each other, I am a success.  I have gone to work every day for three weeks.  That’s a miracle.  Walking through the office door is a miracle.  Waking up and doing it again is a miracle.  Even if it all stops today, I’ve triumphed.  No one can take that away from me.  It’s all mine.

Man, I freakin’ rock.

Tempest in a Teacup

Don't Know BeansHere I am, finishing up my second week of work.

The stress is enormous, not just for me, but for everyone trying to learn this new program and making up the next steps as they are needed.  The real challenge for me is to moderate the anxiety and pressure.  Under stress, I’m easily overwhelmed.  I’m like a teacup that flattens, slopping out my ability to concentrate and my emotional flexibility.  I lose capacity.

I also become reactive, and my first instinct is to bolt.  I run from the stressor, fling it off and dive into a hide-hole.  So, the words “I can’t do this” fly in and out of my head regularly.

But part of my personal journey is to work on increasing my tolerance to distress.  If I’m ever to make any lasting changes in my behavior and my life, I need to work this work situation like a puzzle.  What do I need to do to stretch my envelope of tolerance?  As always, I created a plan.

The first piece is to breathe.  It’s my starting point.  When the acronyms start flying and I can feel my body vibrating like a tuning fork, I stop and breathe deep into my belly.  It tells me to come back to myself.  It starts the process of flinging off the assumptions and negativity.  Breathing deep, I can remember why I’m doing this.  I can remember I don’t need to understand.  I can remember that I’m not alone.

I also realized that creating more structure would help soothe the anxiety, so I put an After Work plan in place.  I go straight home, change, and go to the Y to ride the recumbent bike for an hour.  That helps burn off some of the adrenaline and agitation.  Then, I journal with a cup of something soothing.  Then, I meditate.  After that, I’m rational enough to eat a sensible supper.  This helps.  Instead of bingeing all night with a movie, I’m taking positive action to stretch my tolerance.

And it seems to be working.  I may be an emotional puddle by the time I leave the office, but by the next morning my teacup is upright and able to hold water.

This is new behavior for me.  It’s also more stress than I’ve endured in years.  I’m proud of all that.  I’m also aware that I could blow at any time.  That’s the unknowable, uncontrollable piece to bipolar disorder.  All I can do is stay as mindful as I can from moment to moment and see what happens.

I’m on an Adventure.

tiny cups

In The Trenches

More Traditionally GallantThe last time I had this much change, pressure, and emotional hoo-haw in my life I ended up getting electroshock.  That was then, as they say.  This is now.

Yesterday I started my job as a Peer Support Specialist.  The Integrated Health Services team (of which I am a part)  is squeezed into one tiny office and a converted utility closet (the sink is still there).  Ten people with lap tops, all talking on the phone, or to each other, or elbowing into their TV-tray-sized work spaces.  The plan is to move the team off-site to a real office space.  But for now, we are literally on top of each other.

barnabasA year ago—heck, three months ago—I would have bolted from that chaos after a half hour.  But, I didn’t.  And the fact that I didn’t makes me proud.  I could feel dread and panic creeping into my head like Dark Shadows mist, turning my thoughts sour and rigid with resistance.  But then I went on my first client visit, and the doubt and hysteria melted.

Talking to clients, listening to them, asking questions, empathizing and marveling at their courage and resilience—it all fell into place.  What I used to do as a nurse, what I do now with this blog, even what I’ve become as a person all come into play when I’m with the clients.  I was made for this job.  I can do this.

So, last night I drank a beer, popped a Xanax, and slept long and hard.  This morning I was ready to jump back into the fray.  Until I got my own TV tray, I set my laptop on top of a waste basket to do my work.  That was fine.  I’m relearning Windows after eight years alone with my iMac.  That was fine, too.

Everyone on the team is supportive, enthusiastic and only a little less confused than I am.  This roll-out of Integrated Health Services across the state is enormous, complicated, sometimes incomprehensible.  It makes us comrades.  They sent a lovely card and a plant when my mom died, and I’d only met them twice.

Sad SmileWe’ve been digging through lots of old stuff at my mom’s house.  We found a box with my grandfather’s WWI kit and a trunk of my dad’s with his WWII navy uniform and a photo album.  In those pictures, I can see how tight the bonds are between Dad and his friends.  I understand that a little.  I’m not saying we’re experiencing anything like what Dad and Grandpa went through, but adversity and a common goal does something to a group.  Those of you in business know more about this than I do.  There’s probably even a name for it.

I know these people have my back.  I know they won’t let me fail.  I know they will understand if I ever do have to bolt from the room.  And I’m not afraid to do it if I have to.  Because I know how to take care of myself now—without plugging into the power grid.

Sugar Pie

New Month.  New Day.  New Breath.Sugar Pie

Feeling so grateful for my Sister in Charge, who is performing her Trustee duties with grace and diligence.  As the stress starts to weigh heavier, and I paddle faster to stay afloat, I can rest in this thankfulness where there is more space to breathe.

Grateful, too, for all my friends and family who have agreed to “babysit” me at suppertime.  Eating that evening meal alone is too much to face at present, so when I called in the cavalry, they galloped to my aid.

I will get through this time of trial.  I will.

I Am Breathing Me

This is a lot.Baby

Sitting with my mom as she died; supporting my sister as executor of Mom’s affairs; preparing to return to a professional form of work; preparing to go to England for the first time; stepping into a financial unknown; navigating the sudden rush of family, friends and strangers; gripping healthy practices while my routine shreds.

I feel the grit of my bipolarness scratching behind my eyes.  It shoves my stomach up into my throat.  I feel the veneer thinning.  I’m exposed.  Vulnerable.

This is the way of things.  Seasons of strength followed by opportunities to use it.  Seasons of building up and tearing down.  Seasons that rise and fall like breath.

I am breathing me.

Night of Stars

SupportI just got home from saying good-bye to my mom.  She died earlier tonight after falling and hitting her head.

It happens— just like that—sometimes.

And now the world is strange and quiet.  So many plans to make, so many people to touch.   But in the center is this night of stars.  And Mom rising toward them.

For David…

Not Only Fat

 

… who’s really feeling it today.

To My Big Brother, With Gore

Scott's Birthday

 

I know my brother doesn’t read this blog, but I’m sending him birthday salutations anyway.  Nine years my senior, Scott twigged me onto the joys of comic books, science fiction, and Stephen King.  He’s the reason I watched the original Star Trek faithfully as a fifth grader (He’s also the reason I had to sleep with my light on for many years).  I wouldn’t be the geek I am today if it weren’t for my equally-geeky brother.

Live Long and May the Force be With You, Bro.

Stepping Up To Recovery

DestinyAhh.  There’s nothing like two weeks in the hospital to perk a person up.

As always, the experience of partial hospitalization is a combination of learning and acceptance.  Because the program has changed so much, the learning curve is a little different this time.  Mercy Hospital merged their Behavioral Health and Substance Abuse programs.  Theoretically, this makes complete sense.  Most folks with mental illness turn to drugs and alcohol to dull the symptoms and escape from their emotional pain.  Treating both at the same time rounds up all the demons in one pen.

But, I’m one of the lucky few who’s only hooked on second helpings and Cheetos.  As I told my counselor at Mercy, “I understand the whole 12 Step shtick.  It’s a gateway to doing the inner work we all need to do.  It’s not my gateway, but I can respect it.”

So, I’m learning a lot about addiction, resistance, and willfulness.  I’m appreciating my life in comparison to folks who have faced a Rock Bottom a bit rockier than mine.  I admire these fierce, ruthless addicts in their fight to be free and clean.  I’ve made more personal connections this time around than ever before, because… well… I’m one of them.  Badasses tend to recognize one another.

And, again, I see a bit more clearly that I’m meant to do this work.  Once the depression started to lift, I found myself able to listen closely and catch signals of distress and/or bullshit.  Again, I found the staff remarking on those skills and encouraging me to continue.  One counselor said, “I need you working in the adolescent unit.”

I get it now.  I need to do this kind of work.  Not just because I’m good at it, but because it’s the next step in my own recovery.  I’ve been convinced for years that I’d never be able to re-enter the work force.  I’m too vulnerable, too capricious, too broken.  Well, it’s time to give up that belief.

It’s a slow process, changing firmly held beliefs.  Ask any Catholic-turned-Atheist.  Or a Reformed Republican.  We believe what we believe, and we always find evidence to support our beliefs.  So, I’m on the look-out now for different bread crumbs.  I intend to get that Peer Support Specialist job at my mental health clinic.  I’ll follow up next week, as is appropriate.  I’ll ask the counselors at Mercy to write me some recommendations.  If I ever hope to be free, I need to do this.

In the meantime, I’m in treatment for another week or two at the least.  That’s fine.  I still have a lot to learn.

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