A Great Time Was Had By All

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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.

Reframing

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“Reframing describes a technique used in therapy to help create a different way of looking at a situation, person, or relationship by changing its meaning.” (Kathryn Rudlin, LCSW)

I haven’t written anything since the day I had my meeting with Vocational Rehabilitative Services, because I’ve been processing what happened to me and trying to figure out where things went wrong. If you haven’t done so, the background for today’s entry can be found here.

I started by trying to determine if things did, in fact, go wrong. My initial career path was intended to be an architectural drafter. A search on salary.com for “architectural drafter I” in the Austin area came up with a bottom 10% of people in the profession making $14 an hour, the bottom 25% making $16 hourly, the median making $19 hourly, the top 25% making $24 hourly, and the top 10% making $27 hourly. Architectural drafter II positions are making $16/$20/$25/$31/$37 for the same percentile ranges, with the majority of positions requiring 2-5 years of experience at that level. As those that know from reading my prior post, I instead agreed to a certificate program doing medical billing & coding. Salary.com says that those positions in the Austin area are making $17/$20/$23/$27/$31 for the same percentile ranges above, which is considerably more than what an architectural drafter I would be making in town, for half the time in school. That got me to rethinking how things shook out last month at VRS.

In scrambling to get myself a career path, they managed to upgrade my salary and make it so I could be in the job market months earlier than I had initially planned.

Now, does this mean that I’m not going to file a complaint against my case manager? I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do about that. I have to deal with the person until I’m ready for the job market, which will be sometime next year, so I’m not certain that a complaint would help that relationship thrive. I think that his failings in my case are due to him being new on the job – the 30th was not the first time that he’d called a senior counselor in to assist him – so it’s simply a matter of inexperience, something that I’d have avoided by being assigned a more senior counselor – and something that I would have no way of knowing was desirable prior to several meetings with the man. At the least, I’m going to write out a detailed letter of what happened when, if nothing else for my own satisfaction of having written the thing. There’s also the possibility that a complaint will reverse the career path that I’ve found myself on, to something that will pay less.

In addition, I can always go back to school on my own dime once I’ve saved up some money from working to help defray tuition and expenses. That way I’ll have more time than 90 days to pick a career choice that will be both personally and financially satisfying on top of minimizing student loans.

After several days of soul-searching, I think I’m okay with how things turned out with VRS, even if it wasn’t what I was initially looking for. This is going to put me in a position to be far better equipped to make the decision regarding school when the time is right.

A Step Toward Self-Care

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Dinner tonight was an unmitigated disaster.

At noon, I started the crock pot to give us tasty, tasty chicken stroganoff. It was a new recipe and I was eager for it to be dinner time so we could try it.

Dinner time rolled around and I start the water for the noodles. Then I go and stir the crock pot, as it’s essentially cooked through at this point.

I did not have a thick, white, creamy sauce coating perfectly prepared chicken thighs.

What I had was a golden, brothy mess interspersed with mushrooms and the occasional curdle of yogurt and cream of mushroom soup.

And I immediately blamed myself.

I followed the recipe to the letter. I even said as much to my wife, who was trying to minimize the damage my self-hatred was doing to me. The fault must have been with the recipe, she said, but I wasn’t listening.

Finally, steaming mad at myself for having ruined dinner and wasted the money that went into it, I went to sit at my computer.

But instead of immediately distracting myself with the further adventures of Yet Another Character Through The Same Game I Keep Playing Over And Over, I silently asked myself a question.

“What do you see?” I answered that I see the character sheet interface in my game.

“What do you hear?” The game sounds from both the PC game and the tablet game I run concurrently (one’s an MMO, the other is a simulation, so the latter doesn’t need nearly the same amount of attention the former does), the air conditioning unit, the sounds of my wife making us turkey wraps as a plan B for dinner.

“What do you smell?” Well, to be honest, I smelled the same thing I smelled before I lifted the lid to the crock pot – chicken stroganoff. At least it smelled right.

“What do you taste?” The neutral taste of the water I had just drunk.

“What do you feel?” I felt frustration at the way dinner had turned out. I felt the couch under my back and butt and upper legs and the floor against the bottoms of my feet. And I felt something else … calmer, more in control.

I went to the recipe page to see if anyone else had experienced this same result and, sure enough, they had. It was recommended to add flour or arrowroot to thicken up the result, but I knew there was no way flour could salvage this mess. The recipe’s contributor also acknowledged that even the desired result is runnier than a typical stroganoff. So now I was calmer and knew that it really wasn’t my fault, it was just a bad recipe.

And my mood lightened, my grip on rationality had returned, and I was looking past the dinner snafu and on toward what we actually had for dinner.

This incident marked the first time I had the presence of mind to do the sensory inquiry on my own, and it worked brilliantly.

I know that these five magic little questions aren’t going to solve all my problems when it comes to stress and anxiety and irrationality. But they may be a stopgap measure to get me to the point that I can listen to reframing statements, and those can be what really pulls me back into a rational frame of mind.

I wish someone had shared these questions with me years ago. Then again, I’m not sure I was ready to listen to their wisdom when I was younger.

I’m ready now. And I hope that this precedent is just the first of many instances where the sensory inquiry interrupts a situation rapidly growing out of control.

A Trend Emerges

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Regular followers of this blog are familiar with my two black books, one containing my daily health and hygiene checklist and my daily vitals, and the other holding my running to-do list. I’ve noticed a couple of trends emerge across time.

First, I notice that by the time I get to my post-dinner activities, I barely want to get off the couch. Those familiar with the Spoon Theory will recognize that feeling of being “out of spoons” by this point in the day.

Secondly, I’ve noticed that if I start the day in pain, or pain develops at some point during the day, the rest of the day is almost always something of a wash.

So I’m doing two things to try and correct the problem. The first is that I’ve moved my yoga/stretching to just after my morning walk. I think the cool down stretching will do me some good and I’ll be in a better place mentally and physically do to it earlier. The second is that I’m trying to remember that if I need to take time away from my checklist regimen for pain management to return to it as soon as the pain has stopped.

I’ll start these things in earnest in a couple days, once I flip pages in my checklist book.

I think the situation is important to address because whenever I don’t get my checklist done I start to kick myself mentally for not even being good enough to get the bare minimum done. Making it easier to do that makes it easier to say I’ve accomplished what I set out to do with my day, and gives me less reason (excuse) to browbeat myself for failing to do the baseline of what I need to do to take care of myself.

I also need to figure out a backup plan for walking. I don’t have any athletic equipment at all that wicks away moisture, I walk in Crocs because I don’t really have anything else, and I’m generally out walking in the one pair of jeans that I own that fit me. And they’re expecting it to be a wet summer here in Austin.

I’ll eventually get it all figured out. It’s good that I note there’s a problem and am doing things to correct the problem. Now to execute this plan, which looks flawless on paper.

The Fine Line Between Perfection and Paranoia

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I woke up this morning at 11:00.

While I slept, I didn’t hear my vitals alarm at 6:00, got woken up to chug down my morning meds with a glass of milk at 7:00, and missed both breakfast and my 8:45 appointment with my general practitioner on a diabetes follow-up. My day did not start on a good note when I realized how much of it I’d already missed, and I was in a mind of “screw this” for the better part of the next two hours. I dove back into the computer game that’s ruled my life for the past several days and almost forgot to eat lunch.

My mind was telling me that if I can’t be perfect with my day, if perfection isn’t even an option at the point I get out of bed, why even bother with trying? That’s been a mantra of mine for the better part of my life. Once, while I was in grade school, I was taking a math test (in pencil, of course) and I made a mistake in writing down numbers. This happens all the time with people, they skip to the next number in a series or just write it down wrong. Rather than erase the mistake, my mind (emotion mind, I can tell in retrospect) told me that I’d screwed up the entire thing, and I made a grand show of ripping up the paper and flinging the pieces into the air, not caring that I was scoring a zero in a rain of tree pulp. I didn’t care that the mistake could be corrected; it was bad enough to ruin my day that I’d made it in the first place.

For years, I’ve realized that I could care less about the results, so long as the process to get there was flawless. I’ve never understood why I hold myself to that unrealistic standard, and in recent years it’s come and gone with my mental state. Is this something else that I’ll discover is part of my borderline diagnosis? There seem to be so many little aspects of major things that I’ve talked about in therapy recently and so very many others that were niggling little irritants that now seem to have a cause, and with that cause they can be dealt with.

Have my mental health professionals been so blind to this that they’ve missed it for 30 years? Or have I just not been so openly honest in therapy that it’s my fault?

As I read more into Kiera Van Gelder’s “The Buddha and the Borderline,” I see some new relevance BPD has to me. Those voices that I’ve been hearing all this time – are they really those parts of me that she speaks of coming to the Conference Table? My fast attachment to people and my chameleon-like ability to change to suit the people I want to be around – which in the past has included adopting new religious and political beliefs – has already been explained by BPD. I wonder how much else is because I’m a borderline.

I wonder how much of this can be fixed with therapy.

I’m finding myself more and more enamored with this memoir, because it feels like in so many ways it’s my own story. And as I start to come to the end of it, I’m realizing there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Which brings me back to today.

At some point I realized that just because my day started out rough doesn’t mean that it has to end that way, and I started doing the things that I needed to do to turn things around. I ate lunch. I started the timer for my glucose meter. I read a chapter in “The Buddha and the Borderline.” I wrote this! I might go walking later (it’s threatening rain here, the remnants of the storm surge that drenched the West Coast a few days ago, and I really would prefer not to be walking in a downpour). I’ve even completed my to-do list and a few things that weren’t even on it. Today looks like it’s going to be a decent day after all.

Reframing was the magic tool that turned things around. I can recall my mind (wise mind this time) telling me that the day is not a loss, and that it is up to me what happens with the rest of the day. I can either sulk and feel sorry for myself that I overslept (in actuality, this is a symptom of another problem, that being that my entire circadian rhythm is out of whack, and that needs to be a priority in the coming week) or I can take the day by the horns (this is Austin, horns are a big thing here) and make the rest of it good.

And from here, I think I’m going to go make the bed, cause I’m not getting back into it until tonight.

December 8, 2014: Three Good Things

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Today’s good things:

1. I started the day on a rough note, but was determined not to let it be what defined my day. As a result, I managed to get the non-time contingent items on my checklist done earlier than I can remember doing before, which made me feel like I’d accomplished a lot with my day.

2. I got to watch the cat launch herself from the foot of our bed into the living room in midair, then tussle with her in-flight luggage: she brought a sock in her mouth with her. The gigglefits over this were epic and memorable.

3. I learned that radical acceptance is not necessarily accepting yourself for who you are, warts and all, it’s accepting all of what has transpired in the world, both good and bad, to bring me to this one single perfect moment in time. This is a minor breakthrough. I struggle with trying to change what’s already happened, and in doing so become more and more irrational. That irrationality makes more sense now that I see what I’ve been doing all this time – trying to change the unchangeable rather than accepting it for what it is and moving forward from this point in time. This realization should make it easier for me to transition this new thought process into accepting myself for who I am rather than dwelling on what could have been. Rarely, I get glimpses into this “it is what it is” mindset with regard to my current status in life, but generally speaking I obsess with what could have been, even though I profess to have no regrets and swear up and down that I wouldn’t change anything for fear of losing what I already have in my life that’s good. I’ll be writing more about this tomorrow, because this was a big step for me to make today.