#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.