Kiss5Tigers

The 5 Tigers represent the big things in life. This blog is about facing them.


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New Digs

I am now living in Dallas proper, not just in the Dallas area.

I have a room at Shepherd Inn where I am the house manager. Right now that mostly means I cook. I don’t love cooking, but everyone likes my food here so I don’t hate it either.

My ex husband hated my cooking. He is the only person I know who could make the statement “This is like gourmet food” sound like an insult. He liked very processed food and I tend to start with ingredients and try to add veg whenever possible. He didn’t like veg. He wanted meat, cheese and bread. I’m surprised he didn’t have more digestion issues than he did. Anyway.

It’s nice to cook for people who appreciate it. I made crock pot chicken twice now. Banana bread. Egg salad. Omelets. Salmon. I have a crock pot of apple sauce cooking. It’ll be like apple pie filling without the crust. Chicken salad. This week I’ll try for spaghetti sauce. We have a couple pounds of venison in the freezer that I want to use up. Maybe chili later in the week.

We have our first guest at Shepherd Inn. She was an emergency intake, her boyfriend basically beat the shit out of her and she had nowhere to go. We are supposed to get a young single mom later this week. It’s pretty exciting. I really hope we can make a difference in these people’s lives.

V is painting the living room with her mother. I hope it’s done in time to go grocery shopping later today. We don’t need a lot of stuff but we are out of a few things. I’m working on this and on my Patreon today so I’m not painting. I don’t really have clothes to paint in anyway.

I had a job interview yesterday with Texas Workforce Commission, or Work In Texas or whatever euphemism they’re using for the unemployment office these days. I guess it’s not actually the unemployment office because all that is handled through a single office in Austin. The local centers are all about employment. So the position would be helping people get further education to move into a different field and helping with job matching. I was deucedly unprepared for the interview. They wanted to know what I knew about the job, which was pretty much nothing. I did tell them at the end that I knew I didn’t a lot about the job, but a benefit of that is that they can train me their way because I don’t bring a lot of preconceived notions with me. They gave me several scenarios to comment on. V overheard — it was online so I was in the kitchen — and said I interviewed really well. I’m not sure the interviewers share her opinion. But I did my best, what else can a person do?

I spoke to unemployment this week. They called me which was good because I had been trying for ages to reach them and couldn’t get through. I was offered that job at the census bureau but not given a start date. Now census says operations are suspended so I can’t even guess when they’ll need me. I figured I probably qualified for the extra $600 they are giving out, even though I have otherwise used up my benefits for the year. So they are going to update the information and reapply for me. See what happens.

I had several face masks, and now I can’t find any of them. I have misplaced the llama one and the sugar skull one. Sugar skulls might be in the car so I should check there but the llamas, I don’t know. I really need to look for them in case we go out later. We’re supposed to go grocery shopping and we are still social distancing.

Texas is supposed to be opening up starting yesterday. Restaurants are open at 25% capacity to keep distance between diners. Bars the same. But I am hoping for Barnes & Noble or Half Price Books to open. I miss coffee and browse the stacks. So many cool books waiting for me to read them.

I am currently reading Unf#ck Your Brain by Faith G. Harper. It’s a small book but it is taking me forever to read. I really hate that I can’t read any more. Well I can still read, I mean, I know how; but I seem to lack the focus to actually read a book. Even fiction.

I have put in my background check for CK Family Services. Talk about extensive! Ten years of residences, 6 personal references, and oh yeah supply my own copy of my driving record. Even the government didn’t ask for that much stuff. Though I suppose they have a record of my addresses due to filing income tax.

Parkland has been a headache. I am out of my blood pressure meds and I can’t get them. The out-of-pocket price was $108 which I just don’t have. I tried to apply for the Parkland Plan but I didn’t have all the documents I needed. I was told to bring a copy of my latest bank statement. I went back yesterday with the statement and they told me it was supposed to be my last 3 statements. I can go back Monday to finish the process but oh boy, do I not feel like going. But I will. I will feel pretty achy by Monday and be ready to get my meds. I might bring daughter down with me since she needs the insurance too. She would also benefit from the VIP program for abuse survivors. I just don’t know if she’ll live in town long enough to attend it. Her lease is up in August.

So much going on, and I’m feeling a real need to look for those masks. I think I’ll jump off here.


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Post Apocalyptic Pharmacy

I went to the pharmacy today. Usually that would be just one more thing in a list of places but today it was a trip in and of itself.

I don’t have a general practitioner or as the insurance people say, a primary care physician. I don’t have insurance right now so I use the public health system. I go to Parkland. My pharmacy is on the hospital campus.

I ran out of my blood pressure meds with this last refill of my meds box so I called it in. They told me everything would be ready Monday. I made my daughter get up and go with me in the morning to get them.

When I got to the pharmacy building, only one door was open. A path was cordoned off so you could only go one way. Two nurses in masks stood at the corner. First they asked why you were there. Some people had appointments but most of us were for the pharmacy. Then they took my temperature. 97.5. I feel like a radio station.

Next I was directed down the line to get a wristband. It was like a concert wristband with a tribal design on it. Then another nurse directed me to the hand sanitizer. After that I was finally able to enter the pharmacy.

The check-in line had X’es taped on the floor showing where to stand. The receptionist didn’t take my ID as usual. Instead I held it up to the glass partition for her to read. The glass partition has always been there, with just a slit to talk through and have her hand me a ticket. I always figured it was a physical safety issue, to keep violent people away like at a bank only for drugs not money, but now I think it has always been about disease.

Turned out my meds were not ready and they needed me to come back after 1230. I left the building and went with my daughter back to her place for a few hours. Coffee and kittens made the wait pass quickly. Just after 12 I got an automated call from Parkland that my meds were ready.

My daughter and I drove back to the pharmacy. I brought my daughter to wait in the car so I wouldn’t have to pay for parking. My budget is that tight right now, that $5 for parking seemed exorbitant. I went through the process again and was let into the building. This time the receptionist gave me a number.

I went into the waiting room. Usually it’s packed. The seats are arranged in rows of 6 and I’m used to 4 or 5 people sitting in each row. Today there was only one person in each row. Several people were wearing masks.

I was number 807. When I arrived, they were on number 788. I figured it would be a solid half hour wait. It was about half that. Things progressed smoothly and rapidly. I got my meds and by the time I left, it was pouring rain. Fortunately my daughter had been waiting nearby so I didn’t have long to wait to be picked up.

Now I am home. It seems so strange now, just going to the pharmacy. I also wonder what I will do the next time. I am now out of refills and insurance. I don’t know how I’ll get my meds next month. Even if they do an automatic refill extension like most places are, I don’t have any income and I don’t know how I’ll pay for them. But I have faith that something will have changed by then.

The world is all different right now and it changed practically overnight. I believe it can change again just as fast, in ways I can’t predict. I can only wait and see.


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Working the WRAP

WRAP is Wellness Recovery Action Plan, and I’ve talked about it in some detail in other posts so I won’t bore you.

I am struggling with spending.

I am spending money I don’t really have to spare.

I can’t seem to halt the behavior.

So it’s time to get out my WRAP notebook.

What can I do when this takes over?

Oh, turn over the bank card to someone else! That really scares me so it’s probably the one I’d better do. Tank up the car, get a couple dollars in cash so I can get a coke or a coffee, and take the bank card out of my purse.

Scary.

Really scary.

What else can I do?

Use up the art supplies I already have. Make art. Making art makes me happy, and most of my spending is on art supplies which want to be used. Make art seems like a good plan.

I have 2 online courses I’m taking, I could listen to one of them.

I need a shower before I see my family tomorrow.

I am owning my faults and blogging about them *right now* as I am typing this. I’m not sure if that’s helpful except that it’s always helpful to be honest and start from truth.

I can sleep. I just finished dinner and I have full-belly sleepiness. Nap is possible.

I think . . . I think I will listen to one of my courses, and maybe do some journaling or write some letters. I have a letter to Fishspit to finish. Then the shower before bed.

And I will not get on Amazon or Etsy, even though I want to.

Because the medicine keeps the feelings under control and this is just behavior. I can change behavior. I can do this.


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Is Mental Illness Real?

I was browsing a Facebook group where I’m a member and one of the other members stated that there is no such thing as mental illness.

Huh.

In a forum of people who have psychological distress, you have stated that mental illness isn’t real.

Not sure where I stand on that.

Well, no, I’m pretty sure where I stand on that: It’s a bit dismissive. It’s more than a bit dismissive. It’s downright belittling.

But also, I get it. I mean, we talk about mental illness as opposed to “being normal” only normal isn’t real. It’s a statistical construct based on the average way people act. It isn’t even based on feelings most of the time because we don’t know what people feel, we can observe how they act.

I suppose that’s why Abraham Low, who might be the first CBT practitioner back in the 40’s and 50’s, talked so much about seeking to be average. I feel like, it’s not about what you really experience, it’s about your ability to pass for typical.

The person’s perspective on the forum, if I understand correctly, is that extreme mental states are part of being human. They are normal and natural, and shouldn’t be pathologized.

Also, there is remarkably little data about brains with mental illness. Or the functionality of brains without mental illness, for that matter. We have some really good ideas about how the brain works, but when it comes to mental illness, it’s a black box. We don’t really know what goes wrong when people lose touch. We think it has to do with chemicals and neurons, and theories have led to some effective medications.

But medication is not 100%. Things like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are reported to be as effective in shifting mood as many drugs. Does that mean drugs aren’t effective?

Not all drugs work for the same condition in different people. I mean, you can pretty sure that if you and I both have an infection, the same antibiotic will help. But with my bipolar? I take one cocktail of medications and my friend with the same diagnosis takes a different one. Does that mean we have different disorders?

And there is no biological test for mental illness. We can test for high blood pressure or diabetes. We can see a physical injury like a cut or a broken bone. We can detect appendicitis or cancer. But mental illness is invisible in this sense, there is no way to detect it in the body. It only appears in behavior and reported feelings.

So here I am, dealing with bipolar. And I know the big thing is not that there is something wrong with me, but that my moods and feelings stray outside the realm of average and interfere with my ability to manage life.

Does that make me sick? Or maladapted? Or sensitive to mood?

I take drugs that help me with my mood. Mood under control means life is manageable, which is good. Manageable means I pay bills on time, take a shower, sleep daily, have a job. Manageable means I pass for normal, even though my moods are often outside the bell curve. Manageable means you don’t point and stare at me. I can pass.

Who do I take the drugs for? Me or you? Because some days, most days, I feel pretty average and that was true before my diagnosis. Am I making my life more manageable for my own benefit, or because you (whoever you is) are uncomfortable with my difference?

I have been called eccentric for most of my adult life. Eccentric is okay, not as creepy as being weird, not as out of control as crazy. I’m a little odd. You think I’m normal until you find out I’m not. I make you slightly uncomfortable from time to time, but you can pass it off.

For example, I seem to observe people closely, maybe a little too closely. It makes my friend feel scrutinized. I am not aware of doing it. I watch motion. If you happen to be moving, I’m watching you. It’s a habit. I’m not consciously doing it. In fact, my attention may be turned inward and I’m not paying enough attention to actually see you at all. But I’m tracking what you’re doing. I try to be conscious of this because it makes folks uncomfortable and gets me labelled weird. It’s rude. Is it a sign of illness? Or a poorly managed evolutionary adaptation? After all, in the wild, there are advantages to being visually attentive.

But I digress.

Suppose I am not ill. Suppose I am just at one end of the bell curve of emotional sensitivity. Why do I medicate? Wouldn’t it make much more sense to change my behavior? I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being 6’5″ tall or 4’9″. They are just opposite ends of the bell curve. Maybe I am just more sensitive and somewhere there is someone who is less sensitive. Maybe I don’t need medication but understanding.

Yet medication works, so isn’t that an indication that I’m sick? Medicine changes things for me in a way that is an improvement. Doesn’t that mean I’m unwell in some way?

Is mental illness real? I certainly have real troubles and real mood extremes and real cognitive distortions. What I don’t have is a physical diagnostic that shows where bipolar exists in my brain. I can’t have my bipolar removed or point to the area where my bipolar is. I can’t even say for sure what happens when I have an episode. Why am I sometimes depressed and other times manic? It seems like there must be 2 different things going on here, to get two such different mental states.

Personal experience says mental illness is real. Just like chronic fatigue syndrome is real. That’s something that was believed to be made up until enough people reported it. Pain is real. Psychological pain is real.

For me, I just keep on doing what works. Medication helps. Support groups help. Making art helps. Seeking wellness helps. Working helps. Learning about my disorder helps. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if I need medication to cope or if I can learn resiliency skills. What matters is that I figure out what I need to thrive.


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Mind and Body Are One

I have two chronic conditions and they interact.

I learned in the last year that I am subject to panic attacks. It isn’t regular but when stress gets to me, I have issues. They aren’t hugely severe in a physical sense, but emotionally I become detached and feel like I’m floating or like my head is going to explode. Disconnected. Disembodied. Buzzing in my ears. Can’t make decisions. Even basic things, like getting dressed, become huge trials when you can’t figure out how to put together an outfit. What shirt to wear with what pants should not be overwhelming, esp. since most of pants are black and anything that’s not a t-shirt is fine for work.

Fortunately they make a medicine for this. They probably make several medicines for this, but the one I take is Prozac. Works pretty good. Now I am not a huge fan of medicines as the best answer for everything so I went years of not feeling optimum because I was trying other methods. But sometimes you can’t control your brain, which means you can’t control your thinking.

The body is an organic electromechanical interface between what we think of as self or soul and the physical world. Not going to get metaphysical about the idea of self here, though I could, but it’s not my point today. Sometimes the equipment fails. Maybe it was flawed from the beginning or maybe I did something that caused damage. In either case, functionality was less than peak.

Now that isn’t necessarily bad. Any engineer will tell you that a machine can sufficiently well at less than 100% I mean, if I could feel 90% on an average day, that seems acceptable, It’s not a peak if it is, in fact, a plateau. And a plateau can be a great place to pause, rest and reflect before pushing on again.

Anyway, with regard to brains. Brains need a certain balance of chemicals in order to function properly. If the chemicals are out of balance, your brain doesn’t work well. All the positive thinking and motivation in the world are not going to help a brain that misfires. I tried many kinds of self-improvement which did not solve my problem. Medicine helps. So I take it, and feel disbelief that it works because life should not become manageable due to taking a pill. But it does. (See the title of this post again, mind and body are one, because changing the chemical situation in my body actually changes my mind.)

The other condition is a highly acid stomach. I apparently don’t have an ulcer, but I do take medicine. It stops my stomach from hurting. Since this crept up on me, I didn’t realize I was in so much pain until I started taking the medicine. Now if I miss a dose, I have PAIN. Eating sometimes helps since anything bready soaks up the acid and moves it out of my stomach, so for a long time I was frustrated by trying to diet (since I am a person who should really lose a few pounds) and the fact that restricting food intake made my tummy hurt. Now I have medicine that stops the pain. It’s kind of amazing.

Again, I’m not a huge fan of medication for no reason, but the right drug at the right time is a real blessing.

So how do these interact?

I don’t get big physical effects from the anxiety, just a little shortness of breath sometimes and a sort of butterflies in the tummy feeling. Stress goes right to my stomach, always has, my mom even commented on it when I was a kid, and the way to help was to eat something.

Wait now. Physical symptoms of stress can be resolved the same way high stomach acid was resolved? So, yes, my emotional state affects how my body works. Treating the anxiety helps the stomach problem. That doesn’t seem so hard to understand.

It’s the fact that it works in the other direction that astounds me.

If I miss my stomach meds, I become anxious. This is not because I am somehow concerned that I’m sicker than I am. It’s because my body reacts very similarly to missing this medicine as it does to anxiety. Close enough, in fact, that my subconscious interprets the symptoms as being upset and will add in the other signs of anxiety. I can be aware that I do not feel emotionally bothered at all, but my body is acting like I’m really freaked out about something.

For example, I might have a cup coffee at breakfast and at lunch have a sandwich that had a tomato on it and a pickle on the side. These are all common foods, all of which I enjoy, any of which I might eat on a typical day. Only, all together, it’s too much acid and my stomach is already highly acid, so now I have butterflies and tension. Then my subconscious decides this is a sign of anxiety, and suddenly I feel like I can’t breathe properly and I can’t focus on my job. Not bad enough for me to call it a panic attack, but enough to distract me and affect performance. Then I do become stressed, because I realize I am not doing as well as I could and I know I can do better, and the stress increases the acid.

It’s all connected, body and mind, mind and body. What affects one, affects the other. Finding balance becomes very important. Sometimes it seems impossible. Sometimes I have to be very regulated, even though it means I look like a party pooper, because for me the consequences are greater than simply being tired the next day. Sometimes I get frustrated with restrictions and limitations. Yet the most beautiful Shakespearean sonnets are created within specific guidelines, so knowing your functional boundaries can be a great thing.

Tomorrow is Christmas and then we are heading into a new year. What I wish for you, is finding your balance.