Waiting for This to Happen

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Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve been making some pretty significant strides over the past several weeks regarding my anxiety and general mental health. Today, however, was the setback that I’d been anticipating for some time.

I got in a shouting match with my wife about two issues, and during the fracas I started to get irrational. I suppose that I just let it go, just as much as my wife did. Things eventually settled down as they always do, and we made up.

Given the stress that I’ve been under recently, I’m actually surprised this didn’t happen sooner. The death of my father-in-law was followed almost immediately by a great deal of soul searching regarding my future career choices, which was instantaneously followed with the prospect of having to do all the things new students get months to do before classes start in only four weeks. I think that was the tipping point, because I’ve been stressing out about the time frame all day.

The first step on this journey is going to be taking the TSI assessment, which determines what classes I’ll be placed in. That involves taking the email and certificate that I received upon successful completion of the pre-assessment module to the advising office, then stopping by the cashier to pay for the test, and finally back home to schedule the test online. All in all, not that much to do, and it should be easy for me to knock out on Monday.

The problem that I ran into this afternoon is that when I stopped by the local campus to check in with the advising office, I found out that it closes at noon on Fridays. So I’ve had the stress of knowing that I can’t do anything to move forward until the beginning of the week, and all this time other students will be registering for – and filling up – classes that I’ll need.

There are a lot of things that have to go right in order for this endeavor to work, and I’m nervous that it won’t happen the way it needs to in order for me to graduate. But it’s only the first full day of knowing for sure that this is the path I’m going to follow, so I need to remember to be easy on myself. I can only control myself, I can’t control anyone else.

I guess now that the decision’s been made, I want to get started as soon as possible, a sentiment that’s shared by the folks at Texas Workforce Commission. They sent emails over to Austin Community College expediting my financial aid yesterday after my meeting. That’s one less thing that I have to worry about, but it also shows the urgency that TWC has in getting me started.

Patience, grasshopper. All in good time.

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New Blood, Old Pains

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My radio station family is growing!

We’ve brought two new DJs on board. One is a longtime listener who’s been working to become a DJ for years, and I’m thrilled that he finally made it. The other is a newcomer to the community, so I don’t know that much about him, only that he’s got experience with another station and is glad to have a new radio gig.

Tonight is the debut of one of our new DJs, the former longtime listener. I’m really looking forward to hearing him and seeing what he can do.

On the mental health side of things, this morning started with an immediate irrational disassociation that led to a verbal spar. Took us a while to recover from it, but we eventually did. I’m still a little on edge and probably overthinking everything I do to prevent a return to the elevated voices and irrational statements, but so far nothing’s happened since we calmed down this morning. And to top it all off, I have a screaming headache – again. So I’ll be listening to our new guy tonight but likely going to keep it kinda quiet.

Didja Miss Me?

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Well, that was fast.

A few days ago I said I was taking a break for an offline writing exercise. I finished that up last night, about four days before I anticipated being done, so here I am.

Today’s been somewhat rough. We had the car serviced this morning and in addition to the regular service being done and the right rear tire needing a plug to patch a hole from a nail, turns out the reason that the “check emissions” warning was coming up was that the thermostat was sticking, preventing our engine from running hot enough for optimal performance and as a result throwing the gas/oil ratio out of whack. We got the regular service and the patch done, but we’re shopping around for a place to replace the thermostat.

Somehow all this information got inside my head and made me very nervous and submissive – as we say here often, I felt very small. I don’t know what triggered it, and it came and went for a couple hours, but it’s better now. (There might have been an emergency viewing of the Avengers to distract me. It’s paused right now at the point just before Thor makes his entrance.)

There’ll be a radio show later tonight and that always manages to distract me. At this point I don’t think I need the distraction, but it’s definitely not going to hurt.

Anyway, that’s about all that I have that isn’t somehow political and I try really hard to keep my politics off this blog, so I’m shutting up now.

Morning Meltdown

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This morning I awoke at 7:30 or so because of my back (the alarm doesn’t go off until 9:00) and I did my vitals and brushed my teeth. Went to prepare coffee for both of us, which usually means putting sleeves on the cups (we use the plastic reusable Starbucks cups: they’re durable, they’re stackable, and they cost a buck apiece), putting one scoop of xylitol and two scoops of creamer into the cups, and preparing two reusable K-cup filters’ worth of regular coffee per cup, then using the small cup button on the Keurig when brewing. I was planning on prepping both cups for me and my wife, but only brewing mine until she awoke.

I got as far as getting the sweetener and the creamer in the cups when I suddenly was overcome with doubt that I had done it correctly – I thought I’d only put one scoop of creamer in each cup instead of two. I opted not to toss what I’d done and waste the xylitol, since we were pretty low, but instead just set them aside and quietly freaked out over screwing up the coffee. I went into the bedroom and snuggled up to my wife, who woke up and asked me what was wrong. I told her and she tried to reassure me that everything would be okay, but my brain, in the time it took to realize what I thought I’d done, stand there for about fifteen seconds contemplating my options, and then slowly pad into the bedroom with the gait of someone that’s guilty of committing a grievous offense against humanity and was caught doing it, wasn’t having any of it. I’d hit full meltdown mode and I was refuting everything she was trying to reassure me of.

Somewhere in there I got sleepy again and felt that it was wrong of me to have woken her up while I was still sleepy. Again she refuted me and asked me where my evidence was that I had done wrong. After getting her frustrated to the point that she was starting to kick herself for not fixing my problems, we both went back to bed and didn’t wake back up until 11:00. The sleep was the reset that we both needed.

The problem that I have with this is that I have the tools to refute my brain weasels on my own, yet this time I failed to use them – just like I’ve failed to do so very often throughout my life. The version of reality that my brain tries to convince me of is the only thing that I can hear, even in the face of overwhelming concrete evidence against that alternate reality. Maybe I wasn’t awake enough to bring those tools to bear – I oftentimes have morning meltdowns and that might be one of the reasons why. Maybe it’s because I felt like I had to be awake because I woke up and it was light outside, and my body really wasn’t done sleeping, and I was dealing with that fight that my body and my brain were having with one another. I really don’t know what caused it this morning, but I knew that it was almost instantaneous, the feeling that I had massively screwed up and the overwhelming need to be comforted through it.

Things worked out this time, but next time something like this happens I’m going to try and be more critical of it, refuting the brain weasels best I can. (Incidentally, if you’re wondering why this doesn’t work all the time, well … I wish I had an answer for you. If we could just talk or breathe our way through our emotional crises like this, we’d put the vast majority of therapists out of work. A lot of times events like this morning have a deeper root than we’d like to admit, and sometimes it takes digging deep to find the root problem and work on that. I think this was one of those times. I couldn’t point to a single instance from my childhood that would have formed the behavior that I exhibited this morning, but I can tell you that I was under a great deal of pressure from my parents to excel at school, and I think that’s one of the reasons I didn’t, to rebel against the pressure to be the golden child. Or I could have been kicked in the head by a horse when I was a kid. Who knows. Also, that bit about the horse actually happened to me, but that’s a blog post for another time.)

A Glimpse Into My Irrationality

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I am not having a good day.

I was in the midst of my learning activities on my phone when my wife called during her break. Three times. Not knowing if the software would reset if I set it aside, I trudged on through the programs and ignored my wife’s calls. When I finished I asked her if she wanted to call. She did.

I profusely apologized to her about not picking up straightaway and immediately started looking for things to do around the house to do penance for my transgression. She told me that she’d set aside the stuff for my next cup of coffee. I told her I saw but I can’t have it yet, that I haven’t earned it. She told me I don’t have to earn the coffee, but of course I do. I have things left on my checklist that haven’t been done up to this point of the day and I need to get those done. So while I had her on speaker, I cleaned the cat box, washed my hands, and cycled the empty water jugs back into rotation. The reservoir is filling as I type this, then I can go top that off and put it away, then once I’ve typed this I can breathe and maybe have that cup of coffee.

I am convinced that because I didn’t pick up the phone immediately after she called that I’m a bad person, that she should be mad at me for wasting her break time, and that I need to be punished for doing so. The only punishment that I can think of is to finish the stuff I have to do and then sit here doing nothing, drinking nothing. It’s not time for me to do anything else yet and so with nothing to do I will do nothing.

Every mistake I’ve ever made comes back to haunt me. Every time I’ve done something wrong gets recalled and even though they’re years and years old I still have to somehow make up for them, even though I don’t know anyone that would remember what I did wrong way back then. There’s not enough I can do to make up for a lifetime of errors and so I find myself inadequate, lessened, unworthy.

And I have yet to find a way to control this except for distracting myself to the point that I forget what’s going on and have mentally moved on from this incident. But sitting and doing nothing gives me nothing to do except dwell on my failures as a person. Maybe that’s for the best, maybe that’s by design.

So this is my irrational brain in control. I don’t like it, but I don’t know what to do to stop it. I’ll understand if this is too weird for you and you want to stop reading my blog or unfriend me on Facebook. No one wants to have to put up with this and it was wrong of me to put you through it as well. I just didn’t have anything else to write about today and for once I figured that I’d write my feelings down and share those. I know it was a mistake, but I’m going to be brave and hit the Publish button now, let the aftermath work  itself however it will.

From Lethargic to Panicked to Calm(er)

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I spent the better part of the morning and afternoon in bed. I woke up in a dead panic because I had forgotten to do something in the kitchen, and went to do it before realizing my wonderful wife had already done it. My panic didn’t go away, though; now my brain is telling me that I have to accomplish everything humanly possible before I can do anything that I want to, and it’s so frantically screaming at me to “do all the things” that it’s not telling me a single thing to do, which is panicking me more.

I hate panic attacks like this.

At least at this point I realize that it’s a panic attack and can address it that way, but I need to pop my head back into rationality before I can adequately do that.

Blogging is helping with that.

The action of putting emotion to paper, as it’s occurring, is helping me to analyze my behavior and combat what my brain is telling me. Looking at my situation from the position of an outsider, an observer, is helping me to calm down and take things at face value instead of the rampant irrationality of earlier.

Fortunately this didn’t last very long. I was able to take my tools and put them to good use.

However, now my brain and my stomach are now telling me to hurry up and finish writing so I can have lunch, since that’s the next thing on my checklist to do, so I suppose I’ll do that.

An Irrational Hatred of Self

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I went to see my therapist today.

She asked how I’ve been doing, and I was honest with her: the last few days have been filled with such deep seated self-hatred. I cannot shake the feeling that I’m always doing something wrong or not doing enough for the people in my life or somehow screwing something up, and that quickly builds into completely polar thinking. I get distracted and things are just fine for a while, and then something happens and I remember I’m supposed to be mad at myself, and the whole cycle starts over again.

This is nothing new for me; in fact, it could be said that this is my modus operandi. Start with a faulty thought, let it cascade into a stream of faulty thoughts, hate myself for thinking that way, hate myself for hating myself, continue until I get to the point that I want to end the cycle but don’t know how so rather than listening to anyone I simply continue the cycle into absolute irrationality. Up is down, black is white. Nothing is correct, nothing is the truth. It’s exhausting to go through this because it’s starting to happen in cycles rather than isolated incidents. Where I once worked my way through episodes like this in a couple hours, now I’m stretching them out over several days.

My therapist asked me to write down the expectations I have of myself, as a way of getting the irrationality down on paper and in a tangible, refutable form. Then she asked my wife, who attended the session with me, to write down the expectations that she has of me. There was a considerable difference in the two lists. Hers was simple and direct – take meds each day, take time for yourself, accept acknowledgments of tasks and accomplishments, accept supportive praise, don’t give up on yourself, be honest about what’s on your mind. Mine was full of intangibles – do more, earn more, be better, and all delivered as a “should” statement, which if you don’t know is often used as a type of cognitive distortion. (The idea is that a “should” statement goes beyond a simple statement of fact, like “I should have stopped at the dry cleaners on the way home,” to an intangible method of self-abuse, like “I should be doing better.” It’s a very slippery slope for “should” statements to go from constructive to destructive, and a lot of it is the intent behind the statement. If you are using the word “should” as a punishment, then it’s moved beyond statement of fact and into cognitive distortion.)

She also asked me to write a list of the things that I do accomplish, and the list was typically self-deprecating – I clean the kitchen, I sometimes cook, I sometimes help with laundry, I sometimes help with menu planning, I sometimes pay bills, I make the budget and maintain it. (That last one is a weirdness – I like spreadsheets and enjoy manipulating data to get a desired effect, in this case being how we can manage our money to where everything gets paid as close to on time as we can and above all avoid missing anything to be paid out.)

My therapist then asked me to address each one of my expectations realistically, and I came up with a second list to combat the first, irrational one. One a week I dust, a new thing that addresses the need for me to do more around the house. (I dust, just not weekly.) I am allowed some downtime. I get some guilt-free time during the week, either a few hours daily or a day weekly. I understand and accept that earning more money right now is currently out of my control. I would like to – not should – meet the guidelines my wife has written for me to be a better partner, remembering compromise, communication, and assertiveness. Text or call my daughter more often. I will try harder to understand and accept reason when faced with it. I will acknowledge that low periods or days are a part of life, and I will try to be easy on myself when they occur, remembering that “this too will pass.”

All in all, the session took a lot out of me. I came home and immediately went to bed and stayed there for a few hours, getting up to try – and ultimately fail – to do my radio show, at the behest of my wife. She reminded me that today was a low day, and that I need to be easy on myself and not try to put on a brave face for radio.

The self-hatred has passed, though there’s a certain fatigue that’s set in now that it’s gone. Being irrational and having my emotions and logic completely out of control for as long as I have been is an exhausting thing. Like I wrote in my session earlier today, it’s a part of life with mental illness – but this too will pass.