NAMI Walks 2016

It’s almost time for NAMI Walks 2016!  I had a great time walking last May, and can’t wait to do it again on Saturday, May 7th.  NAMI relies on donations to provide programs for those with mental illness and their families.  One such program is the 10-week Peer-to-Peer course which I recently completed.  It was a great way to meet other people with similar experiences and learn about how to manage some of the situations that come up when dealing with a mental illness.  NAMI also offers a similar course, Family-to-Family, for family members of those with a mental illness.

Please consider making a donation, or sign up to walk if your local NAMI Walks event is coming up.

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Loads of Changes

In early 2015, after quitting my overwhelming warehouse job and being prompted by both Sadie and Sierra, I applied for disability.  I was immediately rejected due to not having enough work credits.  I needed to work 6 more months to become eligible.  A year later I had worked enough in my occasional job at the hospital, and the social worker in inpatient encouraged me to reapply.  I did so in early February.

A couple of weeks ago I received a call from the local Social Security office.  The man I spoke with told me that under the current conditions he could not send my application on to state with any expectation of approval – I had earned too much money in 3 out of 10 months.  He said that he understands it is hard to turn down hours when you need money and that people often push themselves too hard as a result.  He said that he could update the onset date on my application to the present if I limited my hours to stay under the maximum earnings.  The conversation otherwise indicated that he thought I had a good chance of approval.

I figured up that I could safely work 10 days per month – half time, when I was only hired for 1 day per week.  I made a pros and cons chart and planned to discuss it with Sadie, but I already knew I wanted to tell my crew lead not to schedule me as much as she has in the past.

Then I talked to Sadie.  Before I even brought up the topic of the disability application she had mentioned that she was confident I could handle full-time work, or a second job if I couldn’t get more hours in this one.  She told me that her supervisor, Nelly, had recently asked about me and mentioned that I could do any of their jobs.  I asked if that meant she was no longer supportive of me pursuing disability.  She ended up saying that if that was the fastest route to moving out of mom’s house then it was a good idea.

Sadie also said that I understand DBT better than anyone else she has worked with and that  although I think I need therapy for the rest of my life I could walk out of there right now and be fine on my own.  I left feeling torn.  I really didn’t feel confident about my ability to work more, and I knew it would be a long time before I’d ever get a shot at full-time in my current position.  I don’t want to give up the work I’m doing now though.

I kept thinking about what Nelly had said.  I don’t have the qualifications for most jobs in their field, but on a whim I checked the CMHC website and found two positions as program assistants in inpatient – one full-time and one part-time.  The requirement is a high school diploma, with preference for experience in health care.

I’ve actually applied for this position twice in the past but never told Sadie about it.  I’m sure there’s no chance of me being hired, but I do sort of have health care experience now (although probably not what they intended).  So I applied for the part-time position.  I figured if I got it I’d be working nearly full-time between the two jobs, and if I didn’t then my disability claim was still in process.

I didn’t plan to tell Sadie unless I got an interview, but I let it slip today.  I said, “I applied for a second job that I’m definitely not going to get.” She told me I could have left off the negative part of that sentence.  Then I had to explain that it’s in inpatient and that I didn’t think the rest of the staff would feel comfortable working with me even though I was fine with it.  She didn’t seem to think it was definite that I’d be rejected, but she did bring up the question of what would happen if someone I knew as a peer were admitted and I was in a position of authority over them.  I don’t think it’s a problem – most of the people I know from my past admissions have moved out of the area, and I can end up in a similar position in the job I already hold.

Sadie asked if there were other job openings.  The only other one I qualify for is in dual-diagnosis residential treatment and I am not comfortable with that.  I go to DBT group with many of the residents and am not willing to give up the group.  She suggested some kind of job mentoring kids and I asked, “Do you want to visit me in prison?” I’m sure I would end up strangling them.  I did mention that I had applied and been interviewed for a CMHC accounting position last year and Sadie asked why I had never told her.  I guess I didn’t realize that I hadn’t.

Before the appointment with Sadie I had one with Brent.  We were discussing work and I brought up the full-time vs. disability debate.  He told me that he absolutely thinks I can handle full-time work, so long as I focus on doing what’s required for my job and stop trying so hard to make everyone else’s jobs easier.  He said pushing myself that hard will just lead to burnout and me cutting myself.

I feel a transition happening.  I’ve applied for that second job.  I don’t see Brent again for 2 months and after the next two weeks I’ll only see Sadie every other week.  I’ve also tentatively taken on a challenging volunteer task.

Monday night I went to the annual board meeting for my local NAMI affiliate.  As the only one there who personally has a mental illness I felt a little out of place while they all discussed difficulties with their mentally ill family members.  I stuck it out for the whole meeting though and at the end I approached one member privately to ask if I could help in some way with the Crisis Intervention Team.  They hold monthly meetings which are leading up to a 40-hour training program for police officers, scheduled for early 2017.

At first she said no.  I don’t know what possessed me to keep talking, but I explained that this was important to me because the way I got help was through an officer doing a wellness check.  Apparently that made a difference, as she was suddenly telling me I could be a presenter for this training program.  She said it would probably be in the format of the NAMI In Our Own Voice presentations, and there just happened to be one the next day I could attend to see how it works.  I had already planned to go, so I said I’d be there.

The presentation consists of a video divided into 5 segments and after each segment the two presenters tell their personal stories on the same topic and answer questions from the audience.  I am terrified and excited at the possibility of doing this in front of dozens of police officers.  I almost forgot to mention everything NAMI-related in my appointment with Sadie and after I told her she said it was a big thing to forget.

Speaking of NAMI, the NAMIwalk for southwest Ohio is taking place on May 7th.  You can donate here or sign up to join a walk in your area.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Last night was the third meeting of my NAMI Peer-to-Peer class.  Last night was the first time I missed the class.  I spent the day nervously looking out the window to see if snow would start up again (it had snowed heavily in the morning but instantly melted) and decided that if the weather was clear at 4:30 I’d try driving to the class.  Normally I would leave at 5, but I was allowing extra time in case there were snowy patches along the way.

At 4:30 I stared out the window and was disappointed that it looked like a blizzard.  I gave serious consideration to trying to go to class anyway, despite knowing how unsafe it was.  I felt awful about having to miss, as though I had in some way failed to follow through on a commitment even though I know no one else in the class would have driven 45 minutes to be there even in good weather.  I texted the facilitator, and he said he really appreciated that I travel so far to participate and that he’d have this week’s material for me next week.

Since I was going to be home for supper, I asked mom if we could make a pizza.  We had the crust made and I was almost done spreading the sauce on when I remembered that we didn’t have any of the Italian blend cheese.  On any other day I would have run to the store to buy some, but since it was snowing we threw on Mexican blend and hoped for the best.  The crust wasn’t done, even after putting it back in for extra time, and the cheese was disgusting.  I ate one bite of pizza and had nothing else to eat the rest of the evening.

I went to bed with a sore throat, which is always my first symptom of a cold.  I managed to sleep through the part where I shiver with fever, but woke up with my head feeling all cloudy and my nose stuffed up.

This morning I went to DBT group, planning to have lunch with a friend afterward and then go straight to therapy.  I got a text when I arrived at DBT group, cancelling my lunch.  Then the one person I despise from group decided to rejoin today.  Then Nadia announced that she is leaving at the end of the month to pursue a new career.

I’ve been trying desperately to use Radical Acceptance on this chain of events, but I’ve also been really irritable the past few days and can’t seem to stop fighting reality.  In my last appointment with Brent I mentioned irritability and he said it was normal if it was only one day a week, which it was at the time.  Now it’s been 3 or 4 days in a row and it is driving me up the wall.

The only break in the string of things going poorly has been today’s therapy appointment.  I felt like Sadie and I accomplished a lot, including making plans for Coping Ahead with the upcoming anniversaries of my grandparents’ deaths (the 13th and 21st).

Ungraduation

Two months ago I was planning for my Upcoming DBT Graduation.  I needed to make it to the end of the year without any negative actions, although I actually left group a little earlier due to being scheduled to work on the last Tuesday of December.  I did make it, although as soon as I considered myself “graduated” I slipped up a little.  I skipped my meds for two days until forced to take them in inpatient, and while I was in inpatient I got really upset one day and bit myself.  Although the social worker, upon seeing the bite marks, asked “Have you self-harmed while you’ve been here?”  So maybe biting doesn’t count?

At any rate, I did graduate and I was super happy to be done with DBT.  Why, then, did I attend the group this morning?  Well, I had lamented the fact that there weren’t inpatient-style groups that I could attend as an outpatient, and asked Sadie to try to find me some groups to attend.  It dawned on me that it was kind of silly to be looking for other groups while skipping out on the one that was definitely available to me.  So, after a little over a month off, I returned to group.

In the past two days, I’ve attended two groups: the NAMI Peer-to-Peer class last night, and DBT this morning.  As it happens, I’d been doing an activity for therapy that involved noting how I felt during each thing I did, and I had noted “exasperated” for one of the groups.  Sadie said, “You have trouble with groups, don’t you?”  I do.  I mean, I love having activities to fill my time, but I get very frustrated with other group members when they keep talking interminably about things that are completely not appropriate to the group.  Sadie and I agreed that I could make the best of this situation by learning to be more patient and attentive even when the conversation goes off-topic.

So what has taken place in these groups?  In Peer-to-Peer we created a list of ground rules for the group, and a list of difficulties that mental illness has caused for us.  Then we rated how traumatic (on a scale of 0-10) our mental illness has been.  I was surprised by some of the answers.  Many people said 10, and that seemed a bit extreme to me…have their lives really been utterly ruined by mental illness?  I think the fact that they are capable of attending and participating in such a class says otherwise.  Another person said 3, which seemed a little on the low side.  My own answer?  7.  Yes, my life has been really screwed up compared to what it could have been, but I also feel like I got lucky in that my problems started in childhood.  It would be much more devastating to get used to a “normal” life and have it ripped away.

We went over three stages: recuperation, rebuilding, and recovery.  Recuperation was about having other people meet your basic needs during and immediately after a crisis.  The kind of thing that happens in inpatient, where you don’t have to cook or remember to take your meds or even make decisions about when you will sleep.  Rebuilding was about getting those basic needs met for yourself, and recovery was about finding your purpose and making a difference in other people’s lives.  I felt like I was between rebuilding and recovery.  I still struggle with some of the basic needs, but I’m also working to help others.  I mentioned my book-in-progress and about half the class applauded.

There were two exercises we participated in.  First we were broken up into pairs and told to find things we had in common that had nothing to do with mental illness.  I was paired with a man who was a bit older than me, and it was a struggle to find commonalities, but we did come up with three: we are both cat-lovers, we both express ourselves through writing, and we both love to try foreign foods.  We also discussed some things that were different for us.  He is fluent in French, Mandarin, and Indonesian.  My only foreign language is Spanish and it’s a bit rusty, although I have used the “test out” feature on Duolingo to get up to 30% fluency so far.

Our final exercise was the weekly mindfulness exercise, something I have to do in both groups.  For this exercise we were each given a raisin and told to spend 60 seconds looking at it, then share what we observed.  I noticed the little spot on the end where the stem was when it used to be a grape.  Then we placed the raisins in our mouths for 60 seconds.  This time I observed that I didn’t like the texture of the wrinkles rubbing against my tongue.

The mindfulness exercise in DBT group today was imagery.  We spent five minutes visiting the place of our choice in our minds, observing the five senses.  I took myself back to an amusement park I visited last year.  It was fine for about four minutes, but that last minute was an eternity and I could not stay focused any longer.

Also in DBT group I learned some exciting news.  I had been frustrated with the repetitive nature of the group last year, going over and over Marsha Linehan’s original material from 1993.  Starting this week, they are updating to the 2015 edition of her book, which has more skills and many more worksheets.  I’m looking forward to this new material, although I suspect that the numerous worksheets will make it take longer to get through it all.

When Sadie and I reviewed my treatment plan this afternoon in preparation for updating it in two weeks, she commented on me accomplishing the “graduate from DBT group” goal.  I said I didn’t, as I’ve now “ungraduated”, but she insisted that having done it still counts even though I chose to go back.

Peer-to-Peer First Impressions

Last May, at Sadie’s suggestion, I signed up for the local NAMI Walks.  Then I signed up to receive their e-mail newsletter, in which I learned about a Christmas dinner they were having at a local restaurant.  NAMI in my area only holds programs for family members, not for the mental illness sufferers themselves, so I didn’t expect to be welcome when I asked if I could attend.

The dinner was a little overwhelming.  I knew two of the attendees from doing the walk months earlier, and another one because she was in my DBT group for a while.  As the only other diagnosed person there, we ended up seated together and she talked non-stop.  One of the topics was about the NAMI Peer-to-Peer class.  I was planning to register for an upcoming session, but it would be at a location 45-minutes (by interstate) from my home.

Sadie and I planned a series of steps to work on my driving anxiety, with the ultimate goal of attending the Peer-to-Peer class, and I joked to her, “I can’t drink and drive!”.  As it turns out, I completed 1/3 of the steps in the first week, and then was unable to continue.  First, Oops, I Did It Again – totaled my car for the second year in a row.  Then I got locked up for a few days, as covered in my Inpatient Summary.  Then a few days later I took off for my vacation and was gone for a week.

The Peer-to-Peer class started last night.  I thought I would be able to quash the anxiety and make the drive on the first night, but I was having a bad day and didn’t even want to go (after being excited about it for 2 months), and I worried about the drive.  Mom volunteered to drive me there the first time, so that I could see how to get there before doing it myself.

We followed the Garmin’s directions fine until we reached the destination.  The church where the class is being held has multiple buildings, and we followed the Garmin to the main building.  I went to the door where there was a sign that the NAMI classes were being held in the “Healing Center”.  I had to go in and ask how to get to the Healing Center, then a woman offered to have her husband take me there, but mom insisted we had to find it ourselves so she’d know where to pick me up.  When we looped around and found the right building, I went to the main doors which were locked and had a sign pointing to a creepy side door.

Once I made it into the correct building, the classroom was right by the entrance.  Everyone was having trouble finding the location so we started a few minutes late to accommodate the stragglers.  Someone from the NAMI office came in to welcome us and give us his e-mail address in case we have any problems with the course, then he left and turned it over to the “mentors” who are leading the class.  These are people who also have mental illness themselves and who have been through the class before.

There were 3 of “them” and 10 of “us”.  We went around the room for introductions, and that’s when things got a little uncomfortable for me.  We were supposed to say our name, something we hoped to learn from the class, and something about ourselves (such as a hobby).  However, everyone was going into detail about the nature of their mental illness and what they’d been struggling with lately.  None of the mentors stopped them, so it seemed like they considered this appropriate, and I was dreading my turn.  Apparently I can run my mouth about anything and everything to anyone and everyone until it comes time to talk to people who will actually understand what I’m talking about.

I was relieved when the girl before me (Lori, who gets a name because she’s the person I was instantly drawn to and will therefore likely be mentioned again) did not state her diagnosis.  I omitted mine as well, saying that I wanted to learn to make better use of the resources available to me, and that I work a day or two per week in a hospital but spend way too much time just hanging out there off-the-clock.  The girl after me started by saying her name and was halfway through her diagnosis when one of the mentors interrupted and told her they weren’t asking for that, and there’d be a day later when we’d have the opportunity to tell our stories.  They said the same to everyone who followed.

I thought perhaps we were pressed for time, but we ended up only using 1 hour of the 2-hour time slot.  After introductions, the mentors went over some information about the philosophy of the class, emphasizing that it is educational – not therapy or a support group.  Some of the people’s introductions indicated they were looking for support so I hope they don’t bail on the class as a result.  I was confused as to whether this information was supposed to be in the binders we received.  There was some general information and material for class #1 in the binder, presumably with us receiving more pages at each class.

We ended by watching a video with quotes from the creator and past participants.  A major aspect of the course is going to be creating a relapse prevention plan, which is similar to some of the paperwork I’ve filled out in the past, where we’re asked to identify signs that trouble is a’brewin’ and what we can do to prevent it from escalating.

I’m not sure how I feel after the first class.  I read through the outline of what happens each time, and it seems like some useful material will be covered, but I’m not sure about the other students.  There were 6 men, 4 women, but around 25 people registered and only 10 showed up, and the mentors said they usually lose a few people after a week or two.  One person I’m hoping to lose is the girl who sat to my left.  She’d just finished partial hospitalization at a well-known facility I would sell organs to be able to afford, yet she spent the entire hour playing on her iPad and only looked up long enough for the minute it took to give her introduction.  I kept waiting for the mentors to ask her to put it away and they never did.  I will not be surprised nor saddened if she doesn’t show up next Monday.

I can’t drink and drive!

Today Sadie asked me which part of my treatment plan I want to start working on first.  I stalled.  I asked if we could post it on the wall and throw a dart at it.  I begged her to choose something for me.  Ultimately I was forced to make a choice, and as a result I chose the thing that seemed least difficult.  Well, aside from “graduate from DBT group” as that’s just going to happen on its own without any intervention from Sadie.

We proceeded to spend the rest of my appointment creating a hierarchy of steps to work through in an effort to reduce my anxiety about driving.  We started with the ultimate goal of driving 45 minutes on the interstate to attend the NAMI Peer-to-Peer classes, then made a list of other steps and then organized them from least to most anxiety-inducing.  This will be rather cryptic since I don’t want to include the real place names, but here’s a rough idea of what we came up with.

  1. Drive to the bank down the street in the dark.
  2. Drive to Kroger in the next town in the dark.
  3. Drive to White Castle by the interstate in the dark.
  4. Drive to a friend’s house in the next state in the dark.
  5. Drive all the way around the interstate loop around the nearest metropolis, with occasional passing and lane changing.
  6. Make left turns off of US highway when not at an intersection.
  7. Make turns onto US highway crossing traffic.
  8. Drive somewhere new locally.
  9. Drive somewhere new in town where doctor is located.
  10. Drive somewhere new in town where dentist is located.
  11. Drive somewhere new on the interstate.
  12. Drive somewhere new locally in the daylight and come back after dark.
  13. Drive somewhere new in town where doctor is located and come back after dark.
  14. Drive somewhere new in town where dentist is located and come back after dark.
  15. Drive somewhere new on the interstate and come back after dark.
  16. Drive somewhere new locally in the dark.
  17. Drive somewhere new in town where doctor is located in the dark.
  18. Drive somewhere new in town where dentist is located in the dark.
  19. Drive somewhere new on the interstate in the dark.
  20. Drive to location of NAMI classes in daylight.
  21. Drive to location of NAMI classes in daylight and come back after dark.
  22. Drive to and from location of NAMI classes in the dark.

I have expanded the list of steps and reorganized it a little since the version I gave to Sadie this afternoon.  There were only 15 steps in the original, but I realized as I was typing it that I had missed a few things.  My deadline for completion is January 25, 2016, as that is the date of the first class.  In the slightly over a week before my next appointment, I have committed to completing the first four steps – driving to familiar places in the dark.

I have actually driven to all those places in the dark before, but wanted to include them here as they still make me anxious and I need to practice having cars behind me in the dark and not completely freaking out.  I always think they are going to either run me off the road or follow me to my destination and kill me, so I end up driving faster trying to escape.  At times, I’ve even considered driving past my destination and circling back around, although I do manage to overcome my paranoia enough to avoid doing that.

Sadie and I discussed DBT skills I could use during this process.  I named off TRUST first – trusting myself to be able to do it.  Then Opposite to Emotion, because I’d be acting opposite of the anxiety by making these drives anyway.  ABC (the “Coping Ahead” part) to prepare for things that could go wrong, like car trouble.  Sadie reminded me that I’d just called Square Breathing my go-to skill for anxiety.  Then she suggested Self-Soothe.  My first thought was soothing music, as music tends to distract the part of my brain that worries about what could go wrong while driving.  Her suggestion was taking a soothing drink along.  I exclaimed, “I can’t drink and drive!” and she dissolved in a fit of laughter.

NAMI Walks

Back in September, I wrote about A Perfect Life that I was fantasizing about. At my latest therapy appointment, Sadie brought up this checklist and we talked through which parts I was making progress toward and which parts had fallen by the wayside. There were many areas where I said, “That’s never going to happen” and Sadie pointed out that I was placing a lot of limitations on myself.

We talked through some of the bigger items that I said would never happen and why I felt that they were impossible. When it came to the smaller ones, like wearing my own handmade cardigans and chainmaille jewelry, I could give no explanation other than that I was unsure I really wanted that. In reading The Happiness Project recently, the author’s first commandment for herself was “Be Gretchen”. The point was to do things because they made her happy, rather than because she felt they ought to make her happy.

The example from my own life which I shared with Sadie was scrapbooking. My grandmother created dozens of scrapbooks. One for each of my years in school. One for each vacation we took to Walt Disney World. She collected all sorts of mementos to scatter among the photos. After she was gone, I collected the same sort of bits and bobs from all my vacations, but they languished in my hanging file rack, doing nothing but making me feel guilty. I finally realized a few months ago that, no matter how much I felt I “should” make scrapbooks like grandma did, the reality is that I never will. It’s not consistent with the idea of Being Donna. So I threw all those folders full of papers in the recycle bin.

This is the problem I encountered with my perfect life scenario. I genuinely don’t know what makes me happy. I mean, I guess everything in it made me happy at one point, but there’s so much in there that I can’t realistically do it all, and I’m not sure what elements are most important to me. Sadie encouraged me to revisit my checklist and give further thought to what I actually want, ultimately rewriting the whole thing. Then the goal would be to take small steps toward accomplishing these things.

One of the big items we discussed was traveling internationally for charity work. We identified that this was actually three things. Traveling, going outside the country, and doing charity work. I have some issues with the first two due to some ridiculous anxieties, so Sadie suggested I start with charity work close to home. Perhaps a mental health charity. In fact, why don’t I try the NAMI Walk happening on May 9th, for which there were flyers in the mental health center’s waiting room? I had been looking at these flyers for weeks, and never picked one up, but on my way out that day I grabbed one.

It took me two days to convince myself, but today I registered for my local team. I’m not going to link to my individual fundraising page, as it uses my real name, but I encourage you to go to the website linked in the previous paragraph and sign up for your local walk, or donate to a team in your area.