Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Monday, October 26, 2015

Silver Linings Moment #1

#SilverLiningsMoment #PleaseShare

Sanity escapes me

Today I love the title of my blog. 

A lot has happened in the last 9 days since I last posted.

I sort of realized I wasn't so much depressed as just that life kind of sucks right now.  Good to know. 

I reached a level of stress that went beyond my reserves, beyond, those backup storage reserves, and entered damaging to my health territory.  None of my usual techniques has fixed it.

I fell and cracked my head hard on the cement walk in front of my house.  I could have died.  Like my neighbor Ray did.  Like other people do.  Walking to the car. Dead.  So that happened.  So far? Still alive.

We sold our flip house, which until the burden leaves you, you don't realize how it has been there waiting, while you soldier on, refusing to give in to worry and stress.  It is a huge relief, but now all the worry I had bottled up is released.

A low level anxiety exists for a writing day I'm going to in December, with my idol author, and it is just giving me mild yet continuous waves of insecurity and ever stronger feelings that my stupid idea of being a fiction writer is so so ridunkulous.  Labeling what I'm  not good at is so easy.

I don't want to waste time here on my work stress.  Let's just sum it up this way: my team went from 14 to 8 in the last  2 months time.  We are still attempting to carry on work as usual down 40% of our FTEs. One of those losses was to unexpected, young death.  Two left for career reasons, and three were 'downsized' out of the blue. 

It is surely more than the sum of these few items that has my typical solid and ready attitude to battle any crisis in the toilet.  Instead I feel like I'm made of tissue paper.

But wait, there is good news.

So last night I curled up in bed with my ear buds and my super-sized box of Nutty bars and watched the most depressing movie, and it left me feeling so much better.  It is 'Cake' and was (unlike its title) about a woman with chronic, severe pain. Twenty-four-seven.  I don't know how I ended up with it, as I was looking for a 'feel good, stress-relieving' kind of movie.  After this I watched a really bad tv Christmas romance. 

But it made me realize for the 147th time that people have it worse than me.  That most of those things I listed above are actually GOOD, like really good things, I'm just in a fragile state.

I also used technology to my advantage, found a cool meditation app (more another day), read my bible, called in to work today which in and of itself is a luxury that I'm sure 98% of the world's population can't afford to do.  But while in the shower just now, a light shown from above and hit my palms. (I was trying to be in the moment)  Through the soft-focus of the water hitting my palms I had a major realization:  "The palms of my hands don't look any older than they did in high school."

Wow.  Life-changing that?  Yes.  I don't even worry about aging much, wrinkles, spots, sags.  But something in me said, 'There is a silver lining moment.  You should share.'  So I'm sharing.  And I'm taking it a step further.  I'm going to try to find as many silver-lining moments as I can every day between now and Thanksgiving which happens to be a month from today.  I promise it won't be every day, I'm too ditzy to remember. 

Learn by teaching?  Feel better by making others feel better?  Laugh at yourself?  I'm sure those are all on posters somewhere.

p.s. friends who got this far, feel free to share one of your silver lining moments as all writing is basically stealing being inspired by others.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

One Way. Or Another...

I tend to re-read my own blogs in the day or two after I write them, as people send me comments, and I have to admit, last week's I kept wincing at the last couple sentences.  Because I sound flippant, like ALL you need to CURE depression is a pill and a plan.  I should have spent a little more time on the ending before I clicked 'submit'.

Yes. Sometimes, when I have a difficult week, and the Prozac isn't enough, having something to look forward to is what makes the difference between living life and giving in to symptoms.  But I do realize there are dozens of levels of depression.  I know many people try five or six meds without any of them making a dent.  I know some people kill themselves, and some people think crying at sad commercials is depression. My goal was to share about my own experience, so that I can contribute to it being less of a taboo subject in general.  The more people talk and share their own experiences, the less square-peg-in-a-round-hole I feel, and hopefully you feel.  Admitting my imperfections, failings, human-ness is not so much scary, or bad at all, but stabilizing.  

I don't know the cause or cure for depression, just coping mechanisms I've learned.  But I do know a huge contributing factor in my case, is my brain not shutting up for one second.  You must all be like this right? Where one minute you are writing a swim team event on the calendar and then suddenly ten minutes has passed and you realize your blood pressure is high because your brain went from swim meet to coach to lack of communication, to that time last fall when you volunteered and no one showed up, to those other parents....  You get the idea.  My brain left to its own resources heads down a darker, more prickly corridor than it needs to.  I imagine some people just write 'Swim Meet 5:00 pm home' and then they move on to the next thing they need to do.  Do they?  Well I'd like to try going 24 hours without letting my brain take the reins.  Every single time I look at the pile of mail, I don't start thinking of insurance bills, and then taxes and then my checking account balance and then...  When I see a pile of dirty dishes I don't think 'Should have, could have, why didn't I?'  but just 'Dirty dishes, let me wash them.'  I can't imagine being successful at this for even an hour.  Also part of me thinks, well this is my creative mind at work.  If I stop being creative will I still be a writer?  If I stop being creative will I turn into a boring robot? 

Things at work are at a stress level of 9 out of 10 right now, and yet someone told me this week 'Yes, but you are always happy.' and it caught me off-guard.  That is how I appear?  I was surprised.  It reminded me of more than once taking one of those surveys that says 'If you have five or more of these symptoms of depression, seek medical help.'  And I would have 17 of 20.  Yet my co-workers think I'm happy. All the time.

Which leads me to the conclusion that happiness and depression are not mutually exclusive in the same person, or for me, even in the same day.  Or another conclusion might be that I'm good at acting happy even when I don't feel it.  Certainly you hear many comedians are depressed in real life, and I do spend an unusual amount of time trying to make people (and myself) laugh. 

But then, my supersonic brain can be a pleasure. Sometimes I look back at my 20s and think 'Oh I wish I could live that over again.' but mostly I appreciate the perspective another 30 years gives a person.  It is clich├ęd but true to say my life is much richer now.  I try to look at things and really see them.  In my 20s I was distracted by having enough quarters to do the 7 loads of laundry I had, how to get the cat to the vet, or being late to catch the train.  I rushed from one thing to another, never fast enough, always wanting more, more of everything.  Now I can sit and marvel at the sunlight hitting our leaded glass window, making rainbows on the old carpet.  I can sit at the high school and instead of wishing she would hurry up and get out here so I can _____, I'm thinking 'take your time, the radio is on, the window is down so I'm breathing fresh air, I can sit and think for a while.'  When I look at a child, I see her pigtails, and her mis-matched socks, and the marker on her hand.  I don't just look at them, I see them, and I think about what she was doing earlier, and wonder if she likes getting her hair put into pigtails, or if she cries. 

These two ideas, are at cross purposes.  On the one hand my loose-cannon thinking contributes towards my depression, but on the other hand my color-palette thinking makes life so much more flavorful, interesting, more of an adventure in the every day.  Over-thinking is like a thorn in your shoe, it never feels good, but not thinking at all?  That is like never going outside, so you don't need shoes.  I'm not willing to sacrifice that much.  I guess my experiment should not be to spend 24 hours not thinking, but to spend 24 hours asking myself every five minutes 'dark path or light path' and trying to go back and take the other fork in my road of thoughts.  Maybe there's a Fitbit for that?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Something to look, forward, to...

The title is meant to be sung to the tune of 'Someone to Watch over Me' from that famous Gershwin melody .  Why?  Because I love Mr. Holland's Opus, and because having something to look forward to is a theme that deserves something special like a musical hug. 

I'm a little down today, and in a certain mood, and random music lyrics are flying through my head. "When you're down, and troubled.." James Taylor. From my year obsessed with Les Mis soundtrack: Do You Hear The People Sing and I believe this entire movie and beloved (by me) soundtrack, with titles like 'Javert's Suicide' is one long depressing but enthralling score.  It is my heart's desire our marching band would do a Les Mis theme, but alas, I'm not in charge.   "Seasons in the Sun" by Terry Jacks because I listened to it on my little 45 record player, in the fifth grade, and contemplated life's shortness for the first time.  I was ridiculed by some older girls who said it was the worst song ever written.  Obviously I've forgotten their cruel derisive laughter from the edge of the skating rink, WHILE I was trying to perform my solo for the instructor. 

I do as they say 'suffer from depression'.  I've been on and off anti-depressants over the years.  Mostly on, like now.  But I still have days here and there, like everyone does, that remind me of life without medication.  Enough stress can do it.  Bingeing on sugar products and/or alcohol.  Sometimes I feel my body is programmed to have days like this every 79th day or something, like clockwork.  And having song lyrics fight for attention in my head, drowning out intelligent thought, is one way I know it is here. 

I say thank God, praise be to God, for Prozac.  It has been my life-saver.  I've never tried to hide the fact that it gets me on an even keel so that I can be a productive human who can look outside her inner windows to the real world.  I first was prescribed it in 1991. I recommend it.  I refuse to read all the stories about America's over-medicated moods because for me, it is freedom.  I remember after 911 I went off of it for a few years.  Somehow, I thought, with things like that going on in the world, you can overcome a little depression without pills.  Look at those people jumping from the skyscraper and grow up and get over it. 

But, the flaw in that logic is, it isn't a problem that only affects me.  It affects my spouse and my children, especially.  They suffer when I'm losing my temper three times a day.  When I'm refusing to leave the house or yelling at them just for slamming a door.  And so at some point ten years ago or so I finally went back on my anti-depressant and stayed on it and am very happy that I have.

So back to the title, something to look forward to.  Because a pill doesn't fix it all.  Having something to look forward to is the #1 thing that helps me when I feel depression creeping in.  I put something enjoyable on the calendar.  I talk about it.  I daydream about it.  Right now I'm looking forward to my husband and I closing on our flip house in a couple weeks, a shopping trip with my sister in November, and attending an amazing writing workshop with my favorite author, Elizabeth Berg, who you've patiently read about in earlier posts.  I wanted to share a link, just in case any of you want to give yourself this same Christmas gift that Chuck and I are giving me ;)  Here is the description of the day she has planned: One-Day Writing Workshop for Women with Elizabeth Berg

But as deliciously anticipatory as I feel about this upcoming event, you don't have to go that extravagant to have something to look forward to.  It can be, on a Thursday morning, I remind myself that Project Runway is on that night.  It might be buying a new planner but not opening it yet, so that you know, when you need it you can go open that box and start writing and scheduling perfectly, just like Carol Brady.  For me anticipating any kind of travel is guaranteed good vibe material, so I'm already weighing options for next June.

I love my Sunday School class.  They are a group of encouragers who want nothing more than to improve your day, with as little drama as possible.  Love that hour of the week.  I love my book club, because, duh, its about BOOKS which are the best thing ever, and a group of ladies who continue to show up to talk with me, even though they know me well.  After ? years I still keep waiting for them to pat me on the head and tell me they are tired of humoring me and they have better things to do with their time than pick apart the relationships in The Help for instance. These two appointments are examples of what I've built into my schedule so I can grab that balloon before it flies away and tie it to me.  I can look up and say, aha, something to look forward to this week.  

Sometimes I have to dredge down to the smallest things.  Some days it is a dentist appointment that gets me out of work in time to see the sunshine.  Yeah, I know. Or just knowing when I get paid that Friday, I get to buy mums, or pumpkins or (this week) some new black socks. 

I know I may have lost many of you by now, but if you are someone who has dealt with depression, I think you are still with me.  Because part of the treatment, is just knowing others have the same issue, they survived, and you will too. Everybody's story is different, but this is what works for me. A pill plus a plan.

And my best advice--don't make any major life decisions while in a low plateau.  Stick to the socks choices.  You're welcome.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Stress at work? Perspective.

I always declare in planning, in job interviews, when discussing with others, that I like/love change.  I hate stagnancy.  I hate boredom.  I don't use the 'H' word lightly. I want to help manage change, think of great changes, implement change, and never do the same thing twice.  But I have reached a level of change to the hundredth power at work that is (no longer) bordering on chaos, and is no longer feeding my desire for variety or challenge.  It feels more like I'm in a blender with dull blades, and somebody is pushing down the 'chop' button every morning. And then again every five minutes.

For 20 years in IT, I've marveled at the accuracy of the Dilbert cartoon.  I mean we have good days and we have bad days, but a lot lot lot of days resemble this now classic cartoon.  You are telling someone why they need to care about something.  Because if not, the company might fail or a person could suffer, and you are wondering for the ten thousandth time, why you are always the one trying to get everyone to act responsible.  Why are you expending twice the effort trying once again not to do their job for them? But I only feel this way when I am self-centered, which is only 'most' of the time, thanks be to God.

I know I sound jaded, and in actuality, I am 100% positive and 100% cynical and 100% creative and 100% bored, it just all depends on the day at work.  Most days I see no reason to be negative.  Who wins there?  Who benefits?  Even I don't win, so why do it?  Counteracting that is my sarcasm level,  set somewhere around sophomore year of high school to a 96 out of 100.  I don't know where it came from, but when that personality takes over, you are going to laugh.  There are so many jokes out there about how lucky I am that I amuse myself, and I do feel lucky.  So many times, in an elevator or walking to my car I will just start laughing out loud, because of a thought in my head.  I amuse myself.  I try not to share things that tear a person down, but I don't always win that battle.  But I ask for forgiveness and move on to the second hour of my day :)

So, if 39-year-old women are dying of cancer this week, and houses are burning, and college kids are getting shot, and other people are laid off work, why am I complaining about stress at my job?  I mean, I'm lucky to be alive, have a house, have healthy kids and have a job. 

Telling myself this helps, it does.  For a while. For some problems.  But it doesn't fix anything broken.  It just helps you get through it.  No matter how positive and strong and capable you feel going in in the morning, if you spend the day in a blender,  you are going to come out rumpled, disoriented, and feeling pissed off at yourself for letting any of it get to you.  We work to live, we don't live to work, right?  Yet work causes such impact on sanity and spirit.

The only answer I have is quantity. We spend so much of our lives at work.  Anyone working full-time is spending say 50 hours a week if you count lunch and breaks and overtime.  Plus at least an hour per day gearing up for work (i.e. putting on mascara) and gearing down from work, so that's 55 hrs.  I happen to be on-call and travel at times and work from home here and there.  With 32 waking hours on the weekends plus 25 waking hours through the week, that equals 57 hours of non-work vs 55 hours of work.  So a minimum of 50% of my waking hours are spent at work. 

Now you might have a friendship, a marriage, a church-life, a child, all things that fit into that 57 hours.  You might read the bible, or watch TED talks, or do yoga at sunrise, but it ALL fits into that 57 hours.  Each thing is a piece of the puzzle.  WORK is work.  It is one big chunk compared to the littles.  It is like the wedding cake next to the cupcakes.  There is no hiding that wedding cake behind a cupcake--it is not just easy to see, it is impossible to miss.   Imagine, if you spent 55 hours per week...hmmm...I don't know....sitting in your car.  Your car is your life 55 hours per week.  You clean it, you polish it, you buff it, you organize it, you find the best radio station and then you do it all over again the next week, and the next, until years pass.  Imagine telling yourself not to allow that car-time to affect the rest of your life.  To put it aside the minute you get home and not dwell on it,  not think about it, not dread it or look forward to it, but to compartmentalize and leave it behind. 

OK, let's say that is a dumb example, how about 55 hours per week shopping?  You are a professional shopper and you are told to visit every retail establishment in a 20 mile radius, and shop.  You might take on the challenge, you might enjoy it, you might have strategies and like me, look for beauty in the parking lot or the historical quotes on the wall or the view from below.  You might be given adorable shopping bags for your birthday and end up with every credit card ever seen, but eventually, no matter how professionally you take this role, no matter how much you like shopping, 55 hours a week is going to get old.  And after five weeks or five months, you are going to hate it at the worst, and lose your perspective at the very least.  What can you do not to hate doing the same thing every day?  Working the same place?

Well, for one you can not work the same place forever.  Most IT people move about ever 24 months to a new company to learn something new or try a different role. 

Or, you can stop working, go on welfare, and never have any money to spend. 

Or you can make friends at work, goof off, and party all the time the boss isn't around (even 55 hours per week of fun gets old I'm sure).

Which leaves, figure out someway to stay sane amid sameness, steady stress, personality conflicts, bickering over mouse pads or locked doors or wet floors.  Stay sane, make a difference, not lose your sense-of-humor.  Try to contribute towards something in case you die long before retirement.  Try to make a difference.  It doesn't work for me, to say 'its just a job it will be over in 8 hours' because I can not swallow spending 8 hours per day not making a difference.  If I'm not making a difference, I want to be creative, if I'm not being creative, I want to be learning or problem-solving or laughing.  These four itsy-bitsy things are all I need from my career:  purpose, creativity, learning and laughing.  Is that too much to ask?  I know, you want money too.  On a good week, I make sure those four things happen.  I mean, I laugh every day, period.  The other three are goals.  But even so, I am stressed at work.

Here are my coping mechanisms for stress, not recommended by any sane therapist or wise person, in no particular order:
1. chocolate--fast and cheap and it works every time for a few minutes.
2. books--far, far away within minutes of picking one up.
3. nature--easier to forget about IP addresses and Medicare rulings when looking at leaves, rocks, and water.
4. pinterest--this really is my current therapist. I know, you're embarrassed for me.  I search for funny quotes.  Or I search for cottages by water.  Or I search for my next hair color.  It is escapism like a women's magazine custom-designed for me, by me.  Free, can last 90 seconds or 90 minutes.
5. fellowship-- this is not my first thought, I'm an introvert, but whenever I do step out and force myself to 'people', I always come home glad I went.  I hear a story or a bit of gossip, or a sliver of news that enriches my life and makes me gain perspective.
6. volunteering -- any time you can forget about your own perfectly imperfect life and concentrate on another-- run, don't walk.  It works every single time.

All of these basically are ways to escape.  Once I escape, I gain perspective.  Perspective allows me to remember all the truth. It allows me to forget my ego which is obsessed with the work day, and then I can actually participate in something else.  Whether it be read the bible, scrub the kitchen sink, or be a car-pooling mom again, it is perspective that allows me to see clearly.

p.s. here is a picture from an interesting perspective I took last weekend.