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depression

Surviving Social Distancing with Depression

It’s not a secret that I live with depression. As an introvert, social distancing is great – to a degree. However, being alone most of the time means I’m left alone with the thoughts in my head all day. (I’ve been warned that my mind is a dangerous neighborhood, and I shouldn’t venture there alone.)

In order to deal with the social distancing aspect of COVID-19, I’ve created some rules to help me manage my depression:

1. Shower every day.

2. Brush your teeth twice a day.

3. Moisturize. Moisturize. Moisturize. Every day. No matter what. This rule has served me well for 40-something years. I’m not going to fuck up my skin now.

4. Put on fresh clothes each day. PJ pants or athletic shorts are fine.

PJ Pants!

5. Put on jeans to walk the dog. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with going out in PJ pants. My PJ pants are men’s medium and drag about 4 inches on the floor. I am not going to destroy them by dragging them around on the sidewalk.

6. Eat a mostly balanced diet, well more balanced than not.

7. Open the blinds every day. There is a sun out there.

8. Do whatever workout Coach David assigns. (I’m training to do my first Ironman in August, and anticipate it will go on as scheduled.) It doesn’t matter if I don’t like it. As Rocky Kees used to say, “I didn’t ask you to like it. I told you to do it.”

9. Try to talk with a real person each day – by phone or from at least 6 feet away.

10. No more than 2 Zoom-based events per day. I have enough challenges with the voices that reside in my head. Pumping in too many extra ones will make me bat shit crazy.

11. When in doubt, wash your dishes. Doing a simple task can make me feel like I’ve accomplished something worthwhile.

12. It’s ok to do the bare minimum. Every morning, I create a to-do list on my white board. If I only have energy to do the bare minimum, and I need to spend the afternoon taking a nap, that’s ok.

These are the rules that are helping me survive mostly sheltering in place. Hopefully they’re helpful to you too.

Legal services are considered essential, but I’m limiting my contact with the outside world, trying to do my part to flatten the curve.

How I Manage Stress

Yesterday, my coach asked me how I manage my stress. I instantly responded:

Poorly.

That’s actually not true all the time. When I feel solid and secure, I can be so confident it’s uncanny.

I know that feeling.

I’ve felt that feeling.

Just not lately.

Always Been High Strung

My standard response when someone asks me how I handle stress is, “Not gracefully.” Usually, I find a way to muddle through, but it’s not pretty. I’ve been living with anxiety since I was a wee one – like before age 10.

For as long as I can remember, my modus operandi has been to have a plan for escape – physically, emotionally, and/or chemically.  A lot of my -isms (alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, and self-injury) were ways to self-medicate. When I got into recovery and took away those vices, I still had to deal with my emotions and life’s challenges.

Here are some of the things I do lately to manage my stress.

Sweat

Starting in gymnastics and now as a triathlete, I workout 5-6 days per week. Working out gives my brain an endorphin boost it needs, and it gives me a break from the rest of my life. There’s not much I can do while I’m in the pool except swim.

It also gives me a safe way to vent emotions. The day after I got my California Bar Exam results (I failed), my coach had assigned a 17-mile run. I ran one of my fastest paces to date and I got flash of inspiration about how I was going to tell my friends. Pounding pavement for those hours gave me the much-needed break I needed.

Sweat keeps me sane.

Lists

My life is managed with lists:

  • Weekly to-do lists – x2
  • Daily to-do list – on my whiteboard
  • Medication checklists – one for the hooman, one for the hound
  • Workout checklist
  • Program checklist

If I didn’t have my lists, I’d never keep track of who took which medication or whether I did everything I needed to do on any given day. My stress is related to anxiety and depression, both of which make me forgetful.

My lists also give me a semblance of control over what I’m doing, which is reassuring since lately I’ve been feeling out of control. There are days I wish I could emotionlessly work through my lists without dealing with my feelings. Thankfully, I have loving people around me who remind me that I’m not a robot.

I love this photo of Jeff and me from an Ignite Phoenix #17 Speaker Bootcamp. Photo by Brandon Larkin. (Creative Commons License)

Selective Peopling

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m an avoidant and an introvert. I’m not a fan of people in general, particularly in crowds or places with a lot of noise. However, I selectively like individuals. These are the people I want to spend time with, and from whom I’ll ask for help. It’s so reassuring to be around and/or text with people I love. They get me.

Every year, I have my jar on my nightstand and I add happy memories to it throughout the year, and then on New Year’s Eve, I read through them. One thing I noticed when I reviewed the memories from 2019, was that a lot of them had to do with hugging people.

Hugs keep me sane too.

Short-Circuit

On rare occasions, my stress gets so bad that I emotionally crash and burn. I panic to the point where I have trouble focusing and I can barely eat. (That’s how I managed to drop 10 pounds in law school.) When my appetite drops out, that’s my tell that I need to take swift deliberate steps to counteract my stress.

Sleep

Sometimes the best thing I can do when stress hits hard is sleep. When I’m asleep, it means my muscles are relaxing and I’m taking deep breathes – two things I need when I’m stressed. (A friend recently suggested I add massage to my self-care routine, probably for the same reason.)

Stress is exhausting.

An hour-long nap can make a world of difference.

Little White Lie

I told a little fib last weekend. The exterior of the buildings in my complex was painted months ago, and then last week, we got an email that said a painter would be on-site over the weekend to paint the edges of our doors and we would have to leave each painted door open to dry for an hour after it was painted.

Did I mention the powers that be decided to do this on a weekend with an excessive heat warning?

I’m coming off a pretty nasty bout of depression and anxiety. Two weekends ago, I was so withdrawn, I wouldn’t even talk to the clerks when I ran my errands and I went dark on Facebook. I didn’t want to deal with a stranger knocking on my door. I didn’t want to inhale paint fumes. And I didn’t want to be forced to sit with my door open when it was 100+ degrees outside. (The complex has the paint so those of us who didn’t get our doors painted this weekend can do it ourselves later.) To keep the painter away, I clipped a little note to my door:

I figured, “it’s just a little white lie so it wouldn’t hurt nobody.” I bet he felt better about passing my place. It seemed like a nicer and more effective note to post than, “I have severe depression and selective mutism. I really don’t want to deal with strangers today. Please go away.”

Either way, it worked. No one knocked on my door while this was posted on my door.

Mission accomplished.

PS – I sent this picture to my friend who is a new mom, and she responded with, “You win all the things.”

Mulling Over my Gender Identity

It’s been about three months since I came out about questioning my gender. For now, I’m most comfortable identifying as non-gendered. I don’t feel like I fit with the concept of being a woman or a man. This is quite freeing, and a source of insecurity. It’s also exhausting.

Self Portrait at Dawn by Jörg Reuter from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I’ve been paying more attention to my physical body – how I wish it looked, and how these thoughts fit into my gender identity. For the most part, I’m not a fan of my feminine curves. I’d rather see myself with muscle definition – especially vertical lines on my abs and striations on my shoulders – but still maintain a thigh gap. I’ve never been a fan of my own boobs. They serve no purpose and I wish they would shrink. I’d rather have muscular pecs than tits.

I wish I could pass as male or female and/or be so androgynous that strangers aren’t sure how to interact with me because of my unknown gender. It would give me a “blank slate” to play with. As it is, my dress varies widely day-to-day. In one week I wore a feminine top with a bound chest, a shirt and tie, and a dress and heels. I was also giddy when my new Starfleet uniform arrived – the red mini dress from the Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Despite my desire to have an androgynous shape, I think my hips will disclose my biological sex. Even before puberty, my hip bones stuck out, and now, I have curves that I fear can’t be slimmed through diet and exercise. And while I know I have a “good butt,” I prefer to keep it smaller, firmer, and lifted. Being curvaceous does nothing for me.

Note: these are my thoughts about myself. I feel no animosity towards the female shape on other people and U.S. standards for beauty.

Image from Last Year’s Junkyard Photoshoot by Devon Christopher Adams (Used with Permission)

It became obvious that I want to be more androgynous when I was invited to the annual Junkyard Photoshoot. I went last year and had a blast. And I enjoy being a model – getting to show different emotions and aspects of my personality. When I model, I always want to feel my inner strength.

But this year, I declined the invitation. This is an open photoshoot where models and photographers get to show up, have fun reign of the junkyard to do almost anything we want. Most of the models are women, and many of them use the setting to pose in lingerie or less – very over-the-top sexy. (And a lot of female models do this type of modeling. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just not for me.) I’d rather be in jeans and a tank top, feeling more like Wolverine than a centerfold.

I decided not to go for two reasons:

  1. I didn’t feel comfortable in my skin. Questioning my gender and other events exacerbated my depression, so I didn’t feel strong and confident. It wasn’t a good space to be in for going into an artistic setting where there would be lots of people I’d never met before.
  2. I was afraid of feeling rejected by photographers who wouldn’t want to work with me. (I know, they can go fornicate with themselves, but easier said than done when I’m feeling vulnerable.)

I’m still mulling over lots of different thoughts about gender identity and how I interact with a mostly two-gendered society. The more I learn about myself, the more I realize that many social norms don’t apply to me.

Ruminations on the Road

Relaxing for a moment at the Trees of Mystery

Relaxing for a moment at the Trees of Mystery

I’ve been ruminating about my sexual abuse and the person I used to be for the last few days. I’ve had memories of my past and parts of others’ stories of abuse (real and fictionalized) entering my mind at random times. They’re nothing compared to full-blown flash backs which leave my completely paralyzed until the memory has run its course but they are thoughts and ideas that invade my brain and random and often inopportune times.

It came on fast and strong while I was walking through San Francisco. Ruminations are not new for me but they are something I haven’t had an issue with for a few months. Memories and ideas by themselves are not harmful but they can be distracting, and at times distressing. I told myself, “Ok sweetie, calm down. It’s ok that you’re having these thoughts but you’re scheduled to speak in an hour. Perhaps you should focus on that.”

I got through my talk just fine, but that random invasive thoughts continued to enter my brain whenever I had down time. As I was driving north towards Oregon, I tried to step back and look for themes running through the memories. I noticed my thoughts had underlying issues of anxiety, rejection, vulnerability, being attacked, and craving comfort. I grew up in northern California and I wondered if being near the places and people that are connected to the time of my abuse and the maladaptive behaviors I engaged in to cope with it was stirring me up emotionally.

I wonder if the thoughts will subside the further away I get from California. Perhaps I’m getting emotionally agitated because The Undeniable Tour is almost done and I have so much crammed into the back half of this trip. I guess time will tell.

Still Don’t Officially Know What’s Wrong with Me – and I Don’t Care Anymore

I love my running shoes.

I love my running shoes.

I am officially over my medical mystery. I don’t even want to think how much time I’ve spent in doctor’s offices and hospitals or how much money I’ve spent on medical tests related to my chest pains, dizziness, fatigue, and night sweats. And we still have no idea what’s wrong with me.

My cardiologists (all three of them) determined I have a hole in my heart but it’s a congenital defect that shouldn’t be causing my symptoms. My primary care doctor drew nine vials of blood and ran every test he could think of – CBC, thyroid, hormones, Epstein-Barr, other random illnesses – and everything came out negative or normal.

I’m annoyed that trying to do the right thing and take care of myself yielded no actionable results. It disrupted my marathon training and left me unprepared so I couldn’t finish the race. I feel like I wasted my time and I am frustrated that I don’t have any answers except what’s not wrong with me. I’m done doing this process of elimination. I’m ready to call it and apply Occam’s Razor. I say I have reoccurring costochondritis, fatigue from the fact that I work myself into the ground on a regular basis and have depression, dizziness from low blood sugar from my eating disorder, and night sweats caused by anxiety. I changed my linens and took the blanket off my bed so I’m cold when I tuck myself into bed at night, but it seems to be decreasing my night sweats so that’s good enough for me.

My Race Shirt for Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon 2015

My Race Shirt for Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon 2015

I’m ready to say “fuck it” and get back into cycling and running. When I go on The Undeniable Tour for two weeks, I plan to go running in every city I stay in. I am a much more balanced person when I work out on a regular basis.

Just in case some things really wrong with me and they just haven’t found it yet, I still don’t leave the house without my Road ID strapped to my left wrist. That way, if I collapse or something, my bracelet will contain the information the emergency medical team should know about my medical history.

Will I try to train for another marathon? I’m not sure. I workout more consistently when I have a race on my calendar and a training program to follow, so I’m looking for a race to train for – either a 10K or a half marathon. I’m contemplating doing a half marathon trail run in June. That could be really fun. We’ll see what happens.

Nobody Knows I Have an Eating Disorder

Warning: This post may be triggering to some people. Please seek help and support if you need it.

Photo by SLR Jester from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Photo by SLR Jester from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

From the outside, many people would say I’m young, successful, adventurous, and happy. I’m a daring entrepreneur and an outspoken writer. They have no idea that I struggle with an eating disorder.

As a size 4, I’m small but not emaciated. I don’t have the stereotypical eating disorder “look.” Most people don’t know that you don’t have to be severely underweight to have a serious illness that attacks your mind as much as your body.

They don’t understand how hard it is for me to eat. Most of my meals and snacks are carefully planned to keep my calorie count low. They don’t know how often I make a mental list of everything I’ve eaten that day to make sure I haven’t had too much. If I could give up food completely and just wear a calorie patch every day, I would.

They don’t know how I critically examine myself in the mirror, yearning to see more of the bones of my rib cage, shoulder blades, and collarbones. I don’t want to be horribly underweight, just “a little bit thinner.” They don’t know how important it is for me to be able to touch my fingers around my wrists. That tells me I’m still small enough. They don’t know how guilty and disgusting I feel when I’m having a “fat day.”

They don’t know how soothing it feels to devour a carton of ice cream or a big slice of cake, only to have that feeling overtaken by tremendous anxiety and shame – so much that I stick my fingers down my throat until I throw up again and again. There is no moderation in my world.

Burdened by Shame by John Hain from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Burdened by Shame by John Hain from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I once described my disorder as having a Get Out Of Jail Free card. I can eat whatever I want without worrying about getting fat. (Never mind the toll it could be taking on my internal organs.) It’s like being able to drink and being able to make yourself instantly sober again.

Every day is a struggle for me. My mind is filled with anxiety when it comes to deciding what to eat, when to eat, and when to stop. I constantly deal with the fear that if I start eating I won’t be able to stop, and if I over indulge myself that I’m going to get really fat. And in my mind being fat means I’m undisciplined and possibly out of control, which is ironic because having an eating disorder means I’m out of control when it comes to managing my emotions. So I use food to manage, medicate, and escape my feelings instead.

Having an eating disorder is painful – both physically and emotionally. It is truly an illness; it’s not a diet; it’s not something I do to get attention. On the contrary, it keeps me depressed and isolated from the people I love because my shattered self-esteem tells me no one cares. And intellectually I know that’s not true. But this disease doesn’t care about intellect. I can’t think my way out of it.

Having an eating disorder is a bitch.
And most people have no clue that I have one.