#611 – Crash & Burn/Phoenix

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“Lord of the Dragons” copyright KLab Global Pte Ltd.
Art by Gameco.com

I haven’t written in some time, not because I didn’t want to, but because I couldn’t. The subject of this blog post was something I needed to tell family first before putting it out publicly, and now that certain people know, I can write.

Regular readers of this blog know that for the past two and a half years, I’ve been working towards an associate’s degree in diagnostic cardiovascular sonography. There are a lot of pre-requisites and co-requisites needed to apply to the program. One of those requirements is formal patient care education. This can be fulfilled through the college’s continuing education course for certified nurse aides, or by the EMT-Basic program, which would add an extra two points to an application worksheet where the difference between being accepted and not is often measured in hundredths of a point. Last spring, I tried the EMT-Basic program, and I crashed and burned out of it about a third of the way through the class. I had one experience actually out in the field in that class, and I started having panic attacks about the course, so I had to withdraw. This spring, I registered for the CNA program. I made it through the classroom aspect of the course very easily, and a week ago last Thursday we had our clinical orientation. There was some patient contact, but mostly it was a tour and an introduction to policies and procedures. The clinical started in earnest this past Monday.

Monday rolled around and as the start of the clinical drew closer, I became very agitated. I was having another panic attack, this time intense enough to have me vomiting and trembling all over. I got in touch with my instructor and texted her that I wasn’t going to be able to be there that evening. A little while later, she replied saying I should drop the course. (Texas state law requires that the nurse aide candidate complete so many hours of classroom and clinical contact. Since I was missing part of the clinical hours required by the state, I would fail the course if I didn’t drop it.) So I dropped the course. Doing so closed the door to me applying for my degree program this year, as the annual deadline would pass before I could take this course again. In effect, I have most of the next year off from school, since there’s nothing else for me to take but this class.

It was about an hour later that I realized that I had now had two panic attacks when faced with the prospect of direct patient care. If I couldn’t finish the CNA course, I wouldn’t be able to apply to my degree program, much less get in. This presented me with a problem. My degree is being paid for through Texas Workforce Commission as part of a program to retrain disabled people to return to the job market. As a result, the decision to pursue a sonography degree was one that the state and I made together after over a year of going back and forth proposing and rejecting various other career paths. Sonography was their idea, but it was the best option that was made available to me, so I took it. The contract I have with the state is very specific: it covers tuition and required books (used if possible) for core curriculum classes and pre- and co-requisites for the diagnostic cardiovascular sonography, as well as some supplies each semester. Anything outside this description is an expense I am responsible for. If I withdraw from a class due to illness and have to retake it, that is done out of my own pocket (I’ve done this multiple times now). In essence, I have a signed contract to be educated in a field that is giving me panic attacks anytime I am in direct contact with patients.

You see my dilemma. So I can either drop out of school with what I have, say it was a good try, and continue to collect Social Security disability checks each month until I die, or I can change my major and try for a different degree, knowing full well that I will most likely be responsible for all expenses.

My college has recently redone its student-oriented interface for its website, and with those changes have come a few new resources that were previously unavailable. One of these is a degree map which shows what your major is, which classes you have successfully taken, which classes need to be taken, and your progress towards your degree, shown as a percentage. There’s also a selection for “Explore Degrees” which will show you every degree the college offers listed in order of highest percentage of completion, as well as which classes have been completed for this other degree, which classes are outstanding for it and what the estimated tuition will be for these classes, and which classes you’ve already completed that cannot be applied towards the degree in question, and it compares all this information with the same information for your chosen major. Turns out I’m right at halfway through three other degrees, and more than 40% complete for several others, many of which aren’t in the health sciences department. Outstanding tuition for these degrees will run somewhere around $3000-3500.

I had a meeting later in the week with my campus advisor and it was agreed that there are multiple options available to me, and since I was going to have to take a year off anyway, I would spend that year researching a new major in a new field, with a projected return to classes in the fall of next year.

The next day, I met with my therapist, who agrees that I am making the right decision, but disagrees with me waiting until fall 2021 to go back to school. She wants me to keep myself in a college frame of mind by taking at least one core class this fall and next spring that would count toward all or at least most degree plans. I’m willing to do this, as this gives me until late August to make research my highest priority and that should be plenty of time to have narrowed down my choices somewhat and figured out what classes would be most universally applicable. The other reason is that my college has over 200 scholarships that are all awarded from a single application and essay. The deadline to apply for 2020-2021 academic year scholarships is April 1st, and with a GPA of 3.914 I should be academically eligible for almost any scholarship.

There’s also another possibility for covering expenses in my new major. My college advisor recommends that I do my due diligence on whatever major and career I choose and then return to the state prepared with facts and numbers and sources to ask if they will allow me to write a new contract. It’s a slim chance, but it’s better than none at all.

This is the end of a four-year journey that has suddenly and unexpectedly taken a fork in the road. But rather than the end of the line, I prefer to see this as the start of a new journey, one where I get to choose the final destination, not the state. (This means that I can and most likely will choose a major that will provide options to transfer to a four-year university and a bachelor’s degree, something that was out of the question going through the state.)

Unfortunately, this is coming during a fairly deep downward spiral. I’m not experiencing any suicidal ideations, I’m not in any danger to myself, but I’m spending whole days locked between the need to accomplish things around the house and the complete apathy of doing anything at all, let alone chores. The end result is that a lot of the time I can’t tell you what I spent any given day doing since most of it was probably either sleeping or scrolling mindless through websites without any real direction. It’s hard not to feel just a little like a failure after putting so much into one degree only to just drop it without preamble. But I have a game plan. I’m going to spend the rest of March working on my scholarship application, then concentrate on turning this depression around in time for the fall semester, all the while researching new possibilities and interests. I will rise from the ash of this dream like a phoenix, with new life and a new direction.

#610 – Burnt Bridges

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Usually around this time of night I feel isolated and alone. Tonight it’s a little worse. I feel like I’ve been burning bridges left and right and that I’m isolated because of my own actions, so I feel like I can’t reach out to anyone because there’s no one left to reach out to. My rational mind is pretty sure this is incorrect, but it has doubts. My irrational mind is likely creating evidence that I really have had ties severed because of something and my rational mind … can’t just dismiss it. The reasons are plausible and that just makes me a little more confused and a lot more scared that there’s no one left for me to talk to, that everyone is sick of my crap and that’s all there is to it.

Part of me wants to stay up all night, if for no other reason that it won’t take as long as it usually does, but I know that will further wreck my already precariously held diurnal cycle. My brain says sit and stew in this – I’m not going to ever get control of my dependent personality disorder if I don’t actively spend time alone.

I’ve got a lot of other doubts going on, but those are for another time. I should get busy doing whatever it is I’m going to for as long as I’m going to do it.

#609 – Slow Start, Heavy Heart

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This one is going to be short, but emotional. First off, let me say that due to circumstances beyond my control I wasn’t able to get a head start on the things I wrote about yesterday, although I did manage to get other things that were more pressing done. So there’s not that much to write about.

My heart is very heavy tonight. Back on February 13th, I lost a friend of many years to chronic illness. On the 27th, I lost another long-time friend who had been ill for sometime but who experienced a rapid decline in the end. On the morning of the 1st I learned that a third friend – a chosen family member, really, for a couple decades – had lost his long fight to cancer. Before the end of the day I heard that a fourth friend of many years was in hospice care and was not expected to live much longer.

I would not be the person I am today without the influence of these four individuals, and it’s impossible to grieve them individually, as their deaths will have been so very close to one another. My heart and my brain will be treating these four departures as one massive bout of grief, I can already tell. This is going to take me a while to get over.

And I have a final exam in two days.

#608 – Relapse

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I haven’t written in my blog for almost 14 months. Life has been just busy enough to sustain me over that time, but as I’m getting closer to applying to my degree program I’m finding myself with more and more free time as the things I can do in preparation become fewer and fewer, and that hasn’t been good for me.

Let me catch you up, in case you’ve never read my blog. I have a handful of mental illnesses that have had me on disability since 2014 and pretty much housebound for a couple of years after that. In 2015 I began the process of working with Texas Workforce Commission to get me retrained and back in the job market and we finally agreed on a plan that would see me earning an associate’s degree in the healthcare field in 2017. Two other things happened that year. I had a major breakthrough in therapy and a tweak in my psych meds that together brought me out of the agoraphobia I’d been experiencing, just in time to start college in the fall of that year. Since that time I’ve been doing exceptionally well in school. After completing 35 credit hours I’ve got a 3.914 GPA. This covers all the prerequisite and co-requisite classes for my degree program, so I can concentrate fully on excelling in those classes. I’ve been socializing, I’ve been driving again, I’ve been shopping, all things that I didn’t do during my agoraphobia.

Since the start of winter break in December, I’ve been on more and more of a downswing, which I was hoping was going to turn around once I was back in school last month. I’m instead intimidated by the course I’m in now (it’s not credit towards my degree, but it is required to be completed on the application) and I’ve gotten out of almost everything that could be considered a daily habit. The only thing I am doing is continuing to take my medication almost all the time. Periods of joy are few and far between, I hardly ever have the energy to do much of anything, which means housework is usually waiting until either one of us has energy. (My wife is also dealing with a downswing on top of her narcolepsy, so she is chronically exhausted and out of energy.) Living in a messy apartment just drives my mood further and further down. It’s rare that I can find a distraction strong enough to make me forget everything else for a time.

So I am pretty much wiping the slate clean and starting over. A lot of my habits are gone. It’s going to take a while to get them ingrained again. I’m going to write them all down and then use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to prioritize them all, and start at the bottom of the pyramid, one at a time, and work my way up. In addition, I’m going to start rereading The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, which was a huge part of my turnaround in 2017.

I’m also going to start back with the regular blogging, so there is some accountability during my efforts to reverse the downswing, so you’ll be seeing more from me in this medium.

I am aware that this all looks like the person that tries to help by saying “Have you just tried not being depressed?” I know that I don’t have a large amount of control over my brain chemicals, but I believe that working towards a goal will make it more likely that I reach it. So, I’m doing this.

It’s late, and I’m tired, and I don’t expect many people to read this entry. But it needed to be written. More later.

#607 – Reaching Out

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Regular readers of my blog – well, the ones I had before I took most of last year off – know that I use my blog as a coping mechanism whenever my mental illnesses get rough. I’d guess that most of my posts here for the first year and change I was writing were very much me coping. But since mid-2017, my symptoms have been largely dormant. There have been brief dips in my mood here and there, but the past year and a half, things have been on a pretty even keel. Until recently.

Let me catch you up on the relevant bits of the story. In August 2017, I started taking classes at the local community college. Within a couple days of winter break starting in mid-December, a friend came to stay with us for close to two weeks. A day or two after he left, my wife and I flew to Florida to spend some time with family celebrating a milestone birthday. Once we came back home, we immediately started packing for our most recent move at the end of January. And then classes started the third week of January. The move was scheduled for the weekend of the second week in school, so there was actually some overlap between move and school. Spring semester was 14 credit hours that ended in mid-May 2018. I took one class over the summer, so I pretty much had about ten days to myself before I was right back in school mode. That class ended mid-August 2018, and then two weeks later the fall semester started, and that lasted until the middle of last month. Since then, I’ve pretty much had my time to myself, with the exception of a trip to visit family over Christmas that ended up with my wife and me in quarantine for two days thanks to the flu. So I told you all that to tell you that I’ve had from December 27 to today to myself, with minimal school obligations and not much else from there.

I had gotten used to the school routine over the previous 16 months, and having my time all to myself came as a bit of a shock. I miss the routine of classes and studying. I miss having that structure in my day. And having my day to myself means I’m idle with very little to do. This gives my lying brain ample opportunity to tell me that I have no interest in pretty much anything, and my mood has pretty much tanked in the void. Tonight, I realized that I need some help getting over this, so I’m reaching out to my friends for a bit of a boost.

I know that I’ll be better once I’m back in the routine of school, but it’s still a couple weeks away. Fortunately I have an appointment with my therapist next week, so I’m not too far away there, but I think for the time being I’m going to ask that we meet more regularly (I’d gotten to the point that I was meeting her every six weeks) until I’m sure I’m past this.

If you’re my friend and you’re reading this, I wouldn’t mind if you reached out and checked in from time to time over these next couple weeks. You all make my day better, and I could use the smile.

#606 – The Embarrassing Epiphany

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First off, hi there, I’m Steven, and this is my blog. I haven’t written in it for most of 2018. I’ve been busy with school and life, and honestly, my therapeutic need for writing on a regular basis is mostly in remission. When I started this blog I was pretty much house-bound because of anxiety. Today, I am a successful college student carrying a 3.893 GPA and a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two-year colleges. I’m back to doing all the things I was terrified to do a few years ago and I’ve been like this pretty steadily for over a year with only low-grade, brief dips into anxiety and depression in between.

The name of this site, MWMISOSELF.com, is an acronym, meaning “Married White Male In Search of Self-Esteem, Living Fearlessly.” While this originally applied to my mental health, there are other situations in which my self-esteem is suffering, and so I’m returning to my blog to work on those.

A little bit of background about me. I’m 49 years old. If I stand up straight, I’m five foot eight, and as of this morning, I weigh 296 pounds. That clocks me in with a BMI of an even 45, 20 points higher than the threshold of being overweight. (For the record, I put little stock in the BMI, I’m just using it here to illustrate just how morbidly obese I am.) My extra weight is causing me a wide variety of health issues, primarily type 2 diabetes and dangerously high blood pressure. Both are under control, but between these two conditions, I’m taking 15 pills a day with a weekly injection to do so.

I carry my extra weight primarily in my belly, although I’m a little bigger everywhere because of it. That means that my waist measurement is markedly longer than my hip measurement, and because of my body shape my pants are constantly slipping off my waist and down to my hips. As a result, I’m very frequently hitching my pants back up around my waist.

I promised you an embarrassing epiphany, and finally, here it comes.

Yesterday I spent the day traveling from Chicago, where my mother-in-law lives, to Austin, where my wife and I live. Both of us have the flu, my wife much worse than me. (PSA: She’s in awful shape, I barely have any symptoms. I had my flu shot, she did not. Coincidence? I think not. Get your flu shot.) As a result of the fatigue she was experiencing, and also because of a herniated disc in her back, we reserved a wheelchair to get her to the gate more easily. We traveled with her purse and my backpack, as well as two carry-on-sized rolling bags. She carried her purse and the backpack in her lap as she was being wheeled, and I had the two rolling bags trailing behind me.

The guy that was pushing the wheelchair set quite a pace for us, and at one point during the journey, I felt that tell-tale slip of my waistline migrating to my hips. But I had a rolling bag in each hand and couldn’t just hike them back up as I went. So I walked for several more yards, feeling them continuing to slip lower and lower on my hips.

Finally, my pants slipped off my left hip and there was no longer anything keeping gravity from doing its thing, and my waistline fell to my knees before I could catch it. My pants were pretty much the only thing keeping me from an indecent exposure charge and they were in full mutiny. Fortunately, I was wearing my jacket and it was long enough to avoid doing anything obviously criminal, but it was a very close thing. I was mortified, and the only thing that kept me from having a panic attack is knowing that no one that I knew was watching and therefore no one would have any way of knowing it happened. (Except, of course, for this blog post of admission, but I have my reasons for ratting myself out.)

I called out to the guy to stop while I pulled my pants up as quickly as I could, and once I was again properly dressed we continued on to the gate, a trip that involved walking underground from one terminal to another and then to the far end of that.

We got to the gate only to discover that our plane wasn’t even there yet, so we sat for some time before we could board. I was very warm from all the exertion, so once we got settled I took my jacket off and then noticed that the collar was pretty damp with sweat.

It took me a full fifteen minutes to catch my breath from the brisk walk that we took, but in that fifteen minutes, I had time to think about what had happened to me on the way. The waistline incident was just one more reason that I had to lose weight. I’d been tossing the idea around for some time, but nothing more serious than making an appointment for three classes with a nutritionist in January. I know I need to lose weight because of my health, but having my pants actually fall off in public was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It suddenly became a high priority.

At the same time, I was realizing that the trip through O’Hare was the most actual exercise I’d gotten in months, possibly years. I’ve walked plenty, but it’s all been leisurely strolls rather than purposeful workouts. I was scared of how my body would react to doing something that rigorous for that long, but now I knew. I was dripping with sweat, I was heaving trying to catch my breath, and I was doing it all in a very public setting, so there was no ability of me to hide that struggle away – but I survived it. And as I was resting, I realized that I felt more alive at the end of the journey than I did before we set off through the airport. There was an immediate benefit from exercising, one I hadn’t foreseen, and I liked how it made me feel.

So now that I’m home and the holidays are behind us, I’m finally ready to commit to losing weight and all that comes with it – the dietary restrictions, the cardio, all of it. And the timing is such that it can commence with the new year. That’s not to say I’m making losing weight a New Year’s resolution – I don’t believe in resolutions because they’re set up to crumble at the first sign of difficulty – but I will make a goal to lose ten pounds as soon as possible. And when I hit that, then I’ll make a goal to lose fifteen more, and then twenty. At the end of those three short-term goals, I’ll have lost 45 pounds and will be at my first target weight of 250. And then I’ll keep working on goal after goal until the excess weight is gone. My future depends on it. And so does my state of dress, apparently.

#605 – I Survived

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Once again, I find myself in the unfortunate position of catching you up on a couple months’ worth of activities instead of writing a little bit as I go through the days and weeks. This entry will be shorter than my last one, since there’s really not that much to report on, outside of school.

This will be repeat information for many people on my Facebook feed, but I just completed my second semester of college. This semester I took 14 credit hours, up significantly from the six I started with last fall. I was taking Anatomy & Physiology I, one of my pre-requisite courses for my cardiovascular sonography degree program; Applied Physics, another pre-requisite; English Composition I, a co-requisite course; and Effective Learning, the college’s introductory course in learning and life skills that it requires all students to take early in their degree program. Physics and A&P are both hard classes, designed to weed out students before they get into the program. English Comp is pretty much just that – I was worried about it, though, since I generally don’t write well when assigned a topic. Effective Learning was a comparatively easy course, but outside of labs was the only instance where I had to work with other students on projects and the only instance of doing a class presentation at all. I was very worried about how I’d be able to respond to that much schooling at once.

I survived the semester! I was worried about my grade for three of the four classes – I was pretty sure I’d made at least a B in them but wanted to do as well as I could on the final exams. I must have done well enough. I got straight A’s for the semester!

Throughout all my years of schooling, I have never gotten all A’s for a grading period. While I was an intelligent child, I was also lazy, and in my early years in school was promoted from grade to grade based simply on my ability to perform well on tests, rather than taking into consideration my homework, or lack thereof. That habit started to cost me in middle and high school, though, and my grades suffered for it. I never learned effective time management skills for doing homework and studying and I was a champion procrastinator. So this accomplishment is very special to me.

It puts me on the President’s Honor Roll for the semester, the first time I’ve ever been on any honor roll at any level. It also makes my overall GPA a 3.85 and my pre-requisite GPA a 3.73. The pre-requisite GPA is important for my program application in the spring of 2019. My degree program requires a 2.0 GPA on pre-requisite courses, but I’ve been advised that a 3.5 is competitive to enter the program. My performance so far puts me in good shape heading into the fall, when I’ll take my final pre-requisite course.

So my plan for the rest of my pre-program education looks like this.

In the summer, I’m taking Essentials of Medical Terminology. While this is technically part of the degree requirement, it can be taken prior to applying for a small number of points on the application worksheet. It is an online course and will be the only one that I take for this degree. I hope that I’ve learned enough discipline to keep up with my studies without the structure of an in-class schedule.

In the fall, I’ve got Anatomy & Physiology II, Ethics, Interpersonal Communication, and Introduction to Psychology. A&P II is my final pre-requisite, the others are my final co-requisites. It’s 13 credit hours, but if I can get all A’s on 14, I can do it again this fall.

In the spring of 2019, I’m going to be taking the Certified Nurse Aide program. My degree program requires formal patient care education, and the minimum requirement that meets that is the CNA program. It’s an intense three-week program, Monday through Thursday, 9:00 am-3:30 pm, so it will leave most of the spring semester free for me to prepare for the TEAS exam that is also required by my degree program. And then it’s just a matter of sending in the application and waiting.

I’m looking forward to the rest of this path and to the work that lies ahead of me in the profession. And I’m looking forward to writing more this summer.