Progress on Several Fronts

Standard

I met with my therapist today.

We talked about the last two weeks – about the SCA event over the weekend, about how I managed to avoid much anxiety, how much fun I had, and how glad I was to be getting back into an area of the SCA that I used to enjoy very much. She was very pleased to hear about everything, and when I was quick to give credit to having the Zoloft on board she was just as quick to correct me. She said that most of what I did over the weekend was me, and not the medication. The Zoloft might have taken the edge off, but the complete lack of panic leading up to the event and the relative low amount of anxiety I felt during the event was because of my progress over several months and my own efforts were what kept the panic attack at the event at bay.

We also talked about school, and she mentioned that my classes over the weekend will go a ways toward preparing me for my classes in the fall. She was concerned that I was going to be doing four classes at once, but she was relieved to hear that I would be doing them sequentially. I told her that Austin Community College offers an associates degree in Health Information Technology that would expand on the learning that I would receive through the certificate program, and that the associates degree transfers to the Health Information Technology program at Texas State University for a bachelor’s degree. She asked if I could go back to Texas Workforce Commission and ask if they would greenlight the associates degree instead of the certificate program. It’s six semesters versus two, but it would open more doors for me at the end of my education, and presumably increase my asking salary. I told her that I have a new counselor at TWC and that I’d send something over to her tomorrow.

We also touched on my fear of dying. I mentioned that it had come up in the book that I’m reading on her recommendation, and that the entry wasn’t very helpful. The end result of that conversation was a little surprising. She wants me to do some soul searching to arrive at what I believe happens when we die. I’d never given it much thought beyond “if there is something, living a decent life on Earth is the best way to secure a happy afterlife, and if there isn’t something, living a decent life on Earth is its own reward.” But I suppose that over the next couple weeks I’ll be deep in thought about this so I can report back to her.

It was a good session today.

Back to School

Standard

I’m going back to school in the fall for Medical Billing and Coding, and today was my orientation at Austin Community College. It was a good session, but short, and likely would have been shorter had there not been  a couple of obstacles in the way.

When my adviser brought me back, she took my application, reviewed it quickly, then started telling me about the coursework that I would be taking. First semester was recommended to be three classes, then second semester would be four, and third semester was two more classes and the practicum. This differed from what I read online, but I figured there was a change to the program that hadn’t made the website yet. The fall 2017 continuing education catalog was just released today, and this was the first time that my adviser had looked at it.

I told her that I could likely take the full four classes since I’m on disability and not working during the day, and she told me that the fourth class was largely on campus, with some of it taught online. Again, this was different from what I learned online, but I went with it. Then she told me that she couldn’t find the class listed in the catalog, so she checked online to see if it was in the system, and it wasn’t, so she told me she’d have to get back to me with all the registration information I’d need for that fourth class.

It’s at this point in time that she asked me if I was sure I wanted to take the medical assistant program, and I corrected her. She looked back at my application and said that she must have read it wrong, and then she wondered about the medical assistant program being “on the run” and probably not something someone coming back from a disability would want to jump into. She was thinking medical billing and coding given that piece of information, and I told her that was what I wanted. So she scratched through the classes that she highlighted and started over.

She told me that there were two semesters, the first being all the non-coding classes, and the second being all coding classes and the practicum. That meshed with what I’d learned online, so I felt we were back on the same page at this point. She went back through the catalog to highlight the correct classes and noticed that one of my four wasn’t listed. She checked online and sure enough, it wasn’t in the system, so she told me she’d give me a call when it was live and accessible. She asked if I had any questions, and I told her that I’d never done online classes before, and would she give me an idea of what to expect, and she filled me in on how they were run. That was the only question that I could think of, and she said she was available if and when others came to mind.

We shook hands and I left, making a stop past the registration desk to make sure that when I registered later online, I knew what information they needed from the catalog.

The whole thing was over in about thirty minutes. It was a good meeting and I’m looking forward to registering. My next step is to contact my TWC liaison at ACC and start the ball rolling on tuition arrangements, and when she clears me – and I have information on the fourth class – I can get online and register. At that point, it’s simply a question of picking up textbooks and waiting for class to start.

The online classes are arranged differently than the classes on campus. Each class is taught sequentially, so I’m only taking one class at a time. The downside to this is that each class lasts just a few weeks, so there’s very little room for getting behind. I’m going to have to stay on top of my classwork in order to succeed in this program, but I believe I can handle it.

I’m really looking forward to getting this first step to getting back in the workforce underway.

Steady As She Goes

Standard

I had my first follow-up appointment with my new psychiatrist this afternoon. He asked how things were going, and I told him about the event on Saturday – how I didn’t have panic attacks beforehand like I’ve been doing recently, and how I handled the minor panic attack at the event. He said that it sounds like the Zoloft is working as expected to control my anxiety, perhaps even a little bit better than expected, and he said that he was going to keep my meds where they were. He wanted to know if I felt myself wanting to do things that I had been avoiding and I told him that the event on Saturday was my return to an aspect of the SCA that I hadn’t felt up to pursuing in years, so he was pleased to hear that. He inquired about side effects and I told him that I haven’t seen anything. I was honest – not every day is rosy, but very few days are truly down right now, and he commented on how things seem to have turned around for me pretty notably in a short period of time. He advised that the Zoloft still hasn’t reached maximum efficacy, so I might see that similar attacks like the one I had on Saturday are even easier to deal with in another month or two. He asked if there was anything on the horizon that might test the Zoloft at full strength and I told him that I was returning to school in the fall, and that the plan was for me to be working again about this time next year. He was happy to hear that I’m looking forward to school and to getting back to work. He wants to see me again in August, just to follow-up around the time that the Zoloft has well and truly kicked in. All in all, it was a very good appointment.

Taking the Day Off

Standard

Today is Father’s Day, and my wife is making a big deal out of it. She’s done everything she can to allow me to just take it easy, and I appreciate it. Yesterday kinda wiped us both out, unfortunately, so we’ve been content to do as little as possible today. That crosses over to this blog, where today’s post ends right here.

A Great Time Was Had By All

Standard

Today my wife and I attended an SCA event a little over two hours from home, the longest we’ve commuted for an event in over a year. It was a symposium of classes, and I took five during the day. All the classes were very well taught and I learned a lot about how things are done now. (There were some major changes made to the rules governing this aspect of the SCA back in 2011, when we were inactive and out of the region, and this was our first foray into learning the new rules.) We both took the warranting class (local branch officers need to be warranted to hold office) and I got some new information and a lot of new resources for an area that I already knew a bit about. There was a court (for those not in the SCA, it functions as, among other things, an awards ceremony at the end of the day) and several people we’re friends with got well-deserved awards. Two of them were announced to receive the Society’s highest award for service at a future point in time. (For the Society’s highest awards, there’s usually a period where the recipient receives counsel and congratulations from individuals that wish to pay them respects, followed by an elaborate presentation ceremony. When the recipient is announced, they are usually given a choice of receiving the award on the spot or choosing an event in the future in order to better plan the ceremony and to make sure that those people important to the recipient are all in attendance.)

It wasn’t until the end of the day that my wife remarked that I hadn’t had a panic attack at all regarding this event. Events that I’ve gone to over the past few years were usually marked by a panic attack the evening before the event and another one the morning of the event – this time, there was nothing. She also mentioned that I wasn’t exhibiting any signs of anxiety during the day, something that usually gets me at some point – that’s because she wasn’t there for the one time I did start to panic.

I was in a class where I was asked a question that I didn’t have an immediate answer for – I could have answered it given a few seconds of thought, but I was panicked that I didn’t have the answer right on the tip of my tongue, and so I begged off answering it. For a good portion of the rest of that class, I was fighting that part of my brain that was telling me that I was a screw-up, that I should be embarrassed, and that I should run screaming from the class. But I used my tools to counter all the things my lying brain was telling me and eventually I calmed down to the point that I went to the instructor – a friend of mine – and apologized for freezing up. She said that it was fine, and that it lent itself to something that she was trying to accomplish more often in her classes. The same friend later told me that while she rarely comments, she follows this blog, so if you’re reading this – and you know who you are – thank you for the opportunity to put the tools I’ve learned into use.

The day was a wild success and I’m very pleased with how I came through the event. Now time to fall down and go boom. Five in the morning was a long time ago.

Preparing for Tomorrow

Standard

My wife and I are planning to travel out of town tomorrow for an SCA event. It’s a symposium of classes centered around one aspect of the SCA, and it’s one that I’ve been interested in since my earliest days in the Society.

The trick is, since my mental illnesses have gotten worse, I’ve lost all interest in doing anything active in the SCA. It’s not that the desire isn’t there, it’s that the confidence that I used to have in my abilities has completely gone away, and I’m essentially starting from scratch. And I’ve been terrified of starting from scratch.

This weekend marks the first time since I’ve gotten worse that I’ve expressed any interest in trying to get back into the things that I once loved to do, and my wife is thrilled that I’m taking these first steps. To me, it’s not that big a deal. I don’t anticipate putting what I plan on learning tomorrow to immediate use, so it’s not like I’m actually getting back into anything just yet. I’m just preparing for the day when I’m ready.

Two of the classes that I plan on taking deal with the use of a database to gather and check information, and that means that a laptop is suggested for the class. My main laptop’s battery and keyboard are shot, which means that if I take it, I’m going to have to plug in and carry my wireless keyboard with me. My laptop is pretty cumbersome to carry with all the accessories that I’d need to take with me, so I’m planning on using the 2-in-1 that we had initially purchased to be a broadcast laptop. (It’s an ASUS Taichi. The screen is only 11 inches across on it, which rendered the broadcast software so tiny as to be unreadable, so we had to drop back and punt for broadcasting purposes. It means there’s a spare laptop for us to use just in case.) It should be serviceable for the purposes of the class.

It’s been a long time since I’ve updated Windows 10 on it, however, and I’m in the process of going through what is apparently all the updates. The software that controls my Bluetooth mouse needed updating, Microsoft Office needed updating, and there are several Windows updates that are trying to install as I write this, plus the battery needs a good charge. I plan on taking the power cord for the Taichi, and plugging in if I have the opportunity, but the battery should last long enough to get me through the class if necessary.

The Windows updates are trying my patience. They’re going very slowly, and I’m used to the faster processor on my main laptop. But I have all day to get them done, plus the battery is still charging, so I have nothing but time.

I’m nervous about tomorrow, though. That will likely dissipate once I get to site, but for now, it’s pretty high.

 

Unresolved

Standard

As I mentioned a few days ago, I have an irrational fear of dying. It’s not the being dead part that scares me; it’s the fear of the sickness and pain and suffering that’s associated with death that gets me. I talked about how the book I’m currently reading, The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, Sixth Edition by Edmund J. Bourne PhD, has a section that covers the fear of death, and how I was looking forward to getting to that section to hopefully find some guidance in how to get over my fear.

Today is the day that I got to that section, and it is … lacking.

It explains that some of the most common types of thanatophobia (the official term for a fear of death) are a fear of nonexistence; a fear of the unknown; a fear of negative afterlife based on religious beliefs, such as hell or purgatory; my situation, the fear of the negative aspects of the process of dying; fear of the death of a loved one; fear of what will happen to loved ones after you die; and an outright fear of dead things.

The book goes into some detail about the fear of nonexistence. It talks briefly about the fears of death that center around religious beliefs. It has a couple of paragraphs on how some people respond favorably to literature on near-death experiences. It mentions a couple of therapeutic options for people whose fear of death began with a traumatic experience of watching a loved one die.

And this is what it says about dealing with the pain and suffering of the process of dying.

“The fear of pain and suffering associated with death may arise from a traumatic experience of witnessing a loved one go through a protracted process of dying. Often the death of a loved one may lead to an increased fear of one’s own death as well as a fear of sights and objects associated with death.”

That’s it. That’s all the book offers.

First off, I’ve had this fear for as long as I can remember. My mom’s dad passed before I was born. My dad’s dad passed very suddenly in a town three hours away. We lost dad’s mom after a protracted illness, but because of my age I wasn’t allowed in to see her throughout most of it, and Mom and Dad didn’t go into much detail about what she was going through. My first memory of a protracted illness in a loved one was my mom’s mom, who died when I was 25 after a years-long deterioration into dementia. A stroke finally took her in November 1994 after spending over a year living at a nursing facility that I never visited. My first hands-on experience with death was with my father, a year later. He suffered a heart attack and then a second one took him a week after that. I had that week with him in the hospital and woke up the morning of his death knowing that it would very well be his last day on earth. But my fear of death dates back long before my father and my grandmother. It wasn’t anything to do with a loved one dying.

Secondly, There’s absolutely no real help here at all. Just two sentences speculating about the origin of the fear, and another sentence later in the section that says that hypnotherapy or eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing could be helpful in instances where the fear of death originates with the death of a loved one.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating what turned out to be nothing useful.

I’m a little frustrated about this. I was really hoping to find something that would address the dreams that I have about dying, the ones where I wake up in a cold sweat. I was looking forward to getting some tips on how to combat the immediate sense of panic that I feel anytime the thought of my death crosses my mind. And instead I’ve got nothing concrete that I can use to alleviate that fear.

Well, no matter. It’s something that I can bring up with my therapist and we can work on it together.