Feed a Fever, Starve the Bully-in-your-Brain?

I very rarely think that dysautonomia is a survival mechanism, but I’m kind of wondering about that today. My mental and physical health haven’t been awesome lately, because C-PTSD is a sponge that sucks up ambient fear, but I thought I was holding it together okay. Thought being the operative word in that sentence. I pushed body and mind too hard, and I ended up making myself legitimately sick as a result. When I went to work on Tuesday, I ended up fainting again and having to head home befuddled and confused, only to find I was running another 100+ fever.

By managing to be incontrovertibly sick; however, I managed to somehow avoid the public dressing down that was promised on Friday. The team was asked to collectively assess what they thought the team failures were that lead to the breakdown. I’ll find out soon what they suggested, but I doubt it will be what I think I now diagnose the problem to be. We are operating under extremely ambitious growth goals in some areas, but without a clear roadmap for interim steps during a time when we are also underperforming in other areas. The rapid growth is supposed to help drive overall costs down, by just producing more for the same costs. Without a sense of what milestones we are supposed to be hitting along the way – or how we know when we’re really in crisis life-or-death project situations vs. just driven and pushing hard now to avoid the cliff later – what it has instead seemed to create is permanent crisis thinking. Crisis thinking, unfortunately, is scarcity thinking, short time horizon thinking and self-preservation thinking. When every project deliverable feels life or death, but no one is really sure how what they are specifically doing fits into the whole. Thus, team members overdevelop or underdevelop, because they can’t read priorities right. They react only to the most recent feedback, and only to avoid the short-term loss, not thinking ahead to six months or a year later. I come from a tech background, which not everyone in an office does, so I would describe it – if I were ever given a safe space to do so – as we’re facing a classic case of trying to have all three points on the engineer’s triangle and running up against the inevitable fear and hiding by employees when they don’t know how to deliver three when two are possible:

Image result for engineer's triangle

I would claim that it’s my tech background that helps me come to this assessment. Its not. It’s my fear background. I’ve seen a lot of examples in my life of the mental toll a culture of fear takes on folks, and – spoiler alert – morale rarely increases even when the beatings continue. If we’re going to hit our goals, someone needs to be honest and admit that whoever came up with the maxim of giving 110% forgot that if the baseline expectation 110%, then when the company does move into crisis mode and suddenly tries to demand 120%, then 150%, then 175%, ad infinitum, that people just burn out. Maybe not everyone does so quite as spectacularly as my fainting spells, but they burn out all the same. And, they take on whatever maladaptive survival mechanism reflects their overall mental state.

Good mental health is good for the bottom line, but from what I’ve gathered from the meeting notes today, I don’t think good collective mental health is what I was missing out on by being sick today. Thus, I think I am overall more relieved than not to have missed having to try to hold it together during what would likely have been a trigger overload for me. I won’t claim sleeping twenty hours straight from fever, chills, body aches and physical exhaustion is fun, but part of me wonders if it wasn’t preferable to being in that meeting today even still.

The other part of me is a bully that woke me up at about hour twelve of that twenty hours of continuous sleeping to inform me of all the possible terrible consequences of being sick on such a dangerous day, and how that will inevitably cause me more harm later. Unfortunately, “about hour twelve” turned out to also be about 3:30am this morning. It was so insistent that I finally tried, semi-deliriously, to just write out what it was telling me in a version of that old mental health trick “write down your worries so you won’t forget them later.” I’m not sure yet whether being there today would have helped or not. This organization is starting to feel like an ouroboros – and not one on the upswing of its infinite loop. Either way, if you ever wondered what an RSD spiral looks like even when the initial trigger really was beyond my control (aka having a fever), enjoy what the bully-in-my-brain dreamed up to disquiet my “healing” slumber that I so dearly needed after such a stressful couple of weeks both physically and mentally:

Bully-in-Brain: “You’ll probably get your notice about your rent at the end of this month. Your rent will probably go up. How will you afford that?”

Lavender: “You woke me up to tell me that? I thought you were the literary representation of my rejection sensitivity. How, exactly, are you going to blame me for the housing market? Do you think I earned a real estate license sometime when you weren’t looking? Or have you decided to start doing generic proclamations of doom, too, because I totally need my anxiety to start becoming free-floating on top of everything else right now… ”

Bully-in-Brain: “Don’t worry. I’m going somewhere with this. Your next lease is going to be a dangerous call. Buying a house means you are confident you will be in this city for at least seven years. Good luck with that. But, if you keep renting, you’ll probably face a rent hike. You’ll probably have to sign a two-year lease just to keep the rent the same. Are you sure you can even commit to that with everything going on at work?”

Lavender: “I’m pretty sure I am too delirious right now with, you know, a fever to decide, so shut up and let me sleep. It’s not like there’s anything I can do anything at *checks clock* 3:38am about my rent. Also, wtf. I went to bed at like 2pm yesterday. You waited until now when it’s dark and gloomy to wake me up and scare me with this?”

Bully-in-Brain: “Well, your spectacular and blatantly obvious attempt at ditching the most important meeting of your recent career doesn’t exactly inspire me. You could still make the meeting if you woke up now. I’m just looking out for you”

Lavender: “So, you think looking out for me is denying me the sleep I need to get better, then blaming me for my own illness, and expecting me to go listen to a meeting where we all hear how we’re failing constantly with you there to ‘interpret’ how it’s even worse than our Boss is saying publicly?”

Bully-in-Brain: “You shouldn’t have taken a sick day, is all I’m saying. It looks bad. It paints an even bigger target on your back when management is already on the hunt.”

Lavender: “Have you ever considered that maybe you should take a sick day? Or maybe a vacation? Or maybe just a permanent retirement? Also, what is up with your ability to double down every time I run a fever? Do you realize that every single time I run a fever you give me even worse, less coherent, and more terrifying dreams than even my normal nightmares? And that every. single. time. I have acted on those fears it has only made things worse? I refuse to listen.”

Bully-in-Brain: “Name one time listening to me when you’re sick has turned out poorly.”

Lavender: “Umm, dating a certain ex who absolutely wasn’t good for me because you convinced me I didn’t deserve better and would end up alone? Where does that rank?”

Bully-in-Brain: “Well, goodnight then. Guess you don’t need me. Nothing will happen because you missed the meeting. Nothing at all. Night.”

Lavender: “That…was entirely too easy. I’m going to have nightmares about losing my job because I’m sick the rest of the night and probably stay sicker longer as a result of not getting any rest, aren’t I?”

Bully-in-Brain: “Sweet dreams!”

(For what it’s worth, obviously, I didn’t forget my worries later. This blog post is proof of that. Also, my handwriting is so much worse than even my usual when sloppily recorded at 3:38am, but the basic refrain of the mental diatribe was similar enough to the fears I usually feel about missing work when I have a high fever that I didn’t really need much in the way of notes to recreate it. I did, at least, get back to sleep later. I slept for most of the rest of the day. That is why I’m now confused about time and writing a blog post after midnight. Ugh. Here’s hoping tomorrow doesn’t bring any fresh new crises to add to the general crisis thinking permeating our office…)

 

 

 

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I Love You More than Salt

Today has been lousy. There’s no other way to say it. Its lousiness has stemmed primarily from two causes: dysautonomia and C-PTSD. (I will write dysautonomia and C-PTSD officially, but I could just as easily have claimed dysautonomia and office politics. The two are kind of synonymous when C-PTSD views any perturbations in power dynamics that result in strong words being exchanged as an existential threat. The bully-in-my-brain helpfully comforts me while triggered with the alternative idea that office drama doesn’t always have to mean that I’m not safe. It could just simply mean that I am safe but suck.)

I’ve been in a dysautonomia flare the past three days. (Have we established yet if it’s appropriate to call an uptick in autonomic nervous system symptoms a “flare” when it’s not necessarily an inflammatory response?) I’ve been cycling rapidly between blood pressure extremes for the past couple of days. Today, I started out borderline high and watched it tumble after completing the rather physically demanding requirements – aka getting up and walking around for fifteen minutes as a break after a couple of hours on the computer – of my job. I usually don’t faint until I dip below 90 systolic, which fortunately is relatively rare with my meds now, but tumbling from 145/70 down to 92/54 in about fifteen minutes isn’t fun even if I do somehow manage to stay upright. (Also, yes, for those asking, I do keep a wrist blood pressure cuff at work. Those are real numbers. Not my worst, by a long shot, either. One of the two final numbers was technically in the human normal range, after all!)

Continue reading “I Love You More than Salt”

War and Piecemeal Memory

Have you ever lied about reading War and Peace?

Me neither. At least, I don’t think I have ever lied about reading it. I mean, it’s not like I’d remember, or anyone could tell the difference between my lying about having read it or my actually reading it.

I have read it. I just unfortunately remember virtually nothing about it. I’ve read most of the classics (including 1984), and I remember just as little about the majority of them.

Continue reading “War and Piecemeal Memory”

Improv* #6: A Meetup Group with Social Anxiety Tries to Walk into a Bar…

How to Make Friends
Source: XKCD

…The bartender says, “We don’t serve folks with social anxiety here.”

The groups shrugs their shoulders and replies, ‘Well, if that diagnosis doesn’t work, how about depression, PTSD or ADHD? We’ve got a few options for what to call ourselves…’

The bartender shrugs, “One of those ought to count. Come on in.”

You probably thought I was going to go with the ending where they all shrugged their shoulders in relief and walked away because they didn’t really want to be in public anyway, didn’t you? Well, I was trying not to be cliché. After all, I tried to go to a meetup group for folks with social anxiety last night. At the time I thought of that joke, it seemed like the obvious ending was just a mental loophole giving me permission to chicken out. Chickening out at the last minute, even mentally, didn’t seem like the best option given I had three hours left to keep myself psyched up to actually go and “be friends at people.”

Continue reading “Improv* #6: A Meetup Group with Social Anxiety Tries to Walk into a Bar…”

*Press it* Some days you burn it with fire and some days…

…it burns you with fire instead!

If it isn’t one spoonie nearly burning down her office, it’s the heat from a heating pad causing a rare heat-related burn rash for another spoonie. Life is complicated enough with electric appliances + brain fog. Now there’s another concern about the use of heating pads to be aware of, sigh!

I’ll admit I am re-blogging this without independently verifying the medical information. However, Fibonacci – in addition to being a great writer and painter – is a scientist with journal access like I am. I trust her to do her homework!

via Hidden Dangers of Chronic Heating Pad Use!

Lack of Selfiesteem

I love winter because I can plausibly claim scarves as a fashion accessory. I don’t have to face the overwhelm that is shopping with ADHD or planning coherent outfits in the morning with low blood pressure. I can wear seemingly infinite permutations of plain black or brown work pants, button-down blouses and vaguely stylish scarves that I can buy from the comfort of my computer. If I could wear scarves indoors year round, I might actually have a viable personal brand!

We were spared the brunt of a full nor’easter, but we did still have snow on the ground this week. With temperatures hovering around freezing in the first full week of Spring, I’ve enjoyed the guilty pleasure of an extra week of wearing scarves instead of having to think about what I’m doing with my work attire.

Continue reading “Lack of Selfiesteem”

Bombogenetics with a Side of Pie

Cross one random thing off my life’s bucket list. For Pi Day this year, we were gifted with a snowstorm that shut down the city for 36 hours (including leading to the cancelation of an Improv show I would otherwise have been in, boo!). The whole city – at least those in it who had office jobs – got work-from-home days on Pi Day. My partner and I both decided to make pies in honor of the occasion.

I have always wondered why other people could beat egg whites into stiff peaks, but I never could. I have gone my entire life unable to make a meringue, custard, french silk pie, or banana cream pie despite otherwise being a pretty good cook and/or baker. I have tried all the tricks I have read about over the years – chilled metal bowls, tilting the bowl and doing an undulating mixing motion with my beater and/or hand mixer for an optimal mixing motion – and I do mean everything. I once asked a chemical engineer about chemical admixtures and fluid dynamics just to determine if he could help me make a meringue. He could not, but he could make one himself. And, he assured me there really was something to the tilted bowl and optimal mixing stroke thing I had read about from the literature in general. It works for concrete as well as meringues.

Before I got an upgraded diagnosis,* I interpreted my continual meringue “failure” as just that – true failure on my part. I thought it meant I was a lousy baker because aren’t meringues kind of one of the “five mother sauces” of pies? It’s kind of disheartening when RSD shows up in the kitchen. The kitchen should be a failure-free zone, because, as my Partner says, “if you mess up, you can still eat the evidence.” But, no, I blamed myself for my meringue failures anyway. Well, it turns out it was probably an early bit of evidence – along with ankles that kept giving out during soccer leading me to be medically retired, early carpal tunnel and “double jointed” hands that made a no-nonsense Eastern European strings teacher tell me point blank that I should give it up because I couldn’t hold my bow well enough to be any good at it – that I’m hypermobile. I’m medically excused from meringues, too.

But, I’m older and wiser now and I have better kitchen equipment. I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask for accommodations if you have a chronic illness, including in the kitchen. There’s no shame in a little help. My particular unexpected accommodation for my own bomb-o-genetics came this Christmas in the form of a fancy KitchenAid stand mixer given to us by my Partner’s parents. I progressed from a lifetime of failure to, in 2018, both understanding the root cause of my prior failures and being able to make a meringue at literally the touch of a button. (I did have to make my Partner put it in the oven and take it out later. I also randomly drop things sometimes and unset meringue fillings and/or fresh-out-of-the-oven meringues are not something I want to risk dropping!)

I wasn’t a cooking failure after all: just too poor in grad school to afford a stand mixer. With that knowledge, whole worlds of homemade whipped creams, Boston cream pies, and more have opened to me! For now, though, enjoy some pictures of my first ever lemon meringue pie and custard. I also include my Partner’s apple pie as a shout-out to him. They are a little toasty on top, but that is because we didn’t realize our new oven ran to the extra-hot side of 350. I’m still willing to eat the evidence.

 

*What subtype you ask? Well, presumably just hypermobile, but ask me after the genetic test results come back. I have a side of my family that I don’t know a lot about that also raised some flags in the review, so good to rule out anything more serious with a full genetics test. Presumably hypermobile unless I say otherwise in a few weeks. Hope I don’t say otherwise for my sake! Hypermobile is supposedly the least severe subtype, as well as not having a clear genetic marker yet.

Where’s Whoopsie #10: Fireworks

When putting out metaphorical fires, it’s generally a good idea not to add any literal ones into the mix.

I didn’t this past week, but it was a nearer miss than I would have preferred.

I spent most of my twenties self-medicating my ADHD with coffee. My grad advisor used to text me before conference presentations to make sure I’d gotten my daily dose. He observed that I was always calmer after a venti double shot. I credited a coffee shop for my thesis acknowledgments. I always wanted one of those necklaces with the chemical structure of caffeine, but then I felt guilty because I somehow never managed to have the physical effects that other coffee addicts wore like badges of honor as overextended graduate students pulling long hours. How could I claim to be a true caffeine junkie worthy of her necklace when I truly could stop at any time? It was everyone else, not me, who practically forced me to keep imbibing! How could I be a true caffeine addict when I didn’t suffer for my art with shakes and withdrawal symptoms when I did stop, and when I was even one of those lucky migraineurs who benefitted from caffeine instead of it touching off further migraines?

I have fallen out of my daily coffee habit post-diagnosis. Coffee has nothing on real ADHD meds, and it’s expensive when it needs to come from a coffee place within walking distance of my work in a financial district. It is, however, still a psychological crutch I rely upon during stressful periods in my life. I am not sure if it’s the coffee itself, the walk to get the coffee from the local barista, or even the enforced social interactions with my office mates while I make the rounds and ask if they’d like a cup, too, that is most helpful, but, in any case, I will still overspend on fancy coffee as a coping strategy. The ritual of getting coffee gives me a much-needed emotional breather during the work day on the bad days.

I tend to forget my coffee on my desk until it is too cold to be worth drinking. As a result, I also own a little electric coffee warmer that I have had since grad school. I can set a paper to-go cup on it, and it will keep the coffee at just the right temperature to nurse slowly over an hour or two. The warmer has never burned the paper cup, and it has an impossible-to-ignore blinking orange light that flashes while it is on.

This is helpful because I am too oblivious sometimes to feel physical sensations like heat radiating off hot burners. I have ADHD, and, as if that wasn’t enough, I can function in a state of partial dissociation on top of it. I need a highly salient visual cue that something is, in fact, hot to save me from myself. Little things like on/off switches alone aren’t always enough to catch my eye. Heck, I am so inattentive that I sometimes must resort to physically unplugging my flat iron from the wall before I leave in the morning just to be sure I took care of it, but I’ve never forgotten to turn off my coffee warmer. The orange LED light reminds me. Or, it used to remind me.

It failed me last week. After my last cup of coffee, I never turned the warmer off. I had a moderately hot disc situated next to my hand all day and was completely oblivious to its warmth because there was no orange blinking light. I went home over the weekend and left it on. I continued to be oblivious most of Monday. Later in the afternoon when I went for more coffee, I finally noticed the problem.

The coffee warmer was more than moderately warm! It was genuinely hot – but thankfully not sparking or singed! Its heating coil must have been very well engineered! I’m not sure whether to curse the brand for their failed LED light creating a risky situation in the first place or bless their engineers for creating a heating unit that could stay on for so long without catching fire.

I have said many times before that I am ambitious and hope to eventually see my career catch fire – but not like that!

You know how some companies ban space heaters in winter? Do companies need to start banning coffee warmers, too? I disposed of the coffee warmer in question, but I know I must eventually decide whether to buy another one. There are more expensive ones that claim to have an auto shut-off feature. They aren’t from the same company, though. Should I stick with the brand that didn’t fail me when the heat was on, even though it doesn’t have an auto shut off feature? Should I buy the more expensive warmer with the auto shut off feature and assume it’s also well-enough designed that it, too, will never even burn a paper to-go cup? Anything less than that level of heating regulation probably would have gotten me fired at work! Should I give up and decide I can’t have hot things?

Or should I assume I’ll learn to be more attentive after this scare such that it doesn’t really matter which brand I buy?

Spoiler alert: no! I don’t know whether I’ll buy another coffee warmer for work, or which I’ll invest in if I do decide I trust myself to have one.

I do know; however, not to rely on myself alone. I am way too inattentive for that! Clearly, even supposedly idiot-proof features don’t always work. I didn’t fail to notice the flashing orange light of danger on my old coffee warmer – it just failed to flash! Yet, I’d be an idiot to think I’m not the idiot those safety features were designed for in the first place.

Have one fiery-colored Where’s Whoopsie this week, and two serene pastel pink colored ones. Because, after all, there was no fire. What a relief.

 

Messages in a Bottle#5.5: You Failed *Me* the Day The Newspaper Headlined “Families Trusted ___ To Care for Their Relatives and it Systematically Failed Them,” Too.

CW: Discussions of systematic abuse of various types.

This post has a much longer introduction here that explains why I am posting it today. Read that first if you want the full backstory (or forward story as the case may be). I won’t give the original date of this journal article. I’m already quoting almost verbatim the headline I found when I looked up the new hospital system I’d been referred to for outpatient treatment for ADHD in the new state I once hoped would be better than the one I grew up in. If I dated the journal article, I’d probably be sued for libel for mentioning it without having been a direct victim. I’m sure that hospital employs an army of lawyers to keep that article well buried, especially when referenced by families not directly involved. I wasn’t directly involved – in that abuse case, at least. I’ve been involved in others. I’ve been the family member speaking out against systemic abuse, and I’ve been threatened with libel for daring to speak the truth. It shouldn’t be libel when it’s true – but, hey, that this is the world we live in and the country we live in.

Go ahead and look up the article that I found in the city papers after just moving to a new city that led me to write the journal article below. You’ll find it. You will also – if you dig far enough to find that one – find dozens of others that are similar from other states. You’ll find enough that maybe you will wonder which article was the one referenced in this journal article. You’ll find enough that maybe you’ll take it a step further and wonder which of those articles is the one written about my original trauma. I welcome you to figure it out if you can, but I know what’s in print. I know that my little corner of the journalism world is buried behind a whole lot more recent stories of abuse. Stop and think about that for a bit. Then read this very meta post about a girl who was in one of those stories in the paper years and years ago later moving to a place she hoped would be better, but only finding in her new city paper another one of those stories of abuse, now written about the clinic she had just been referred to for her own care. Read her writing about her attempts to process a world in which this keeps happening and the therapist who was assigned to help her deal with it was part of the system itself. Then process that it never stopped happening for her even this week – and that’s why there is a whole separate post’s worth of introduction to this meta-post in addition to the post she apparently felt she needed to write just now. Is that a big enough picture for readers to believe that her trauma was real and that action needs to be taken to stop it from happening to others?

Continue reading “Messages in a Bottle#5.5: You Failed *Me* the Day The Newspaper Headlined “Families Trusted ___ To Care for Their Relatives and it Systematically Failed Them,” Too.”

Messages in a Bottle #5: Don’t Tell Me I’m Safe

CW: Discussions of systematic abuse of various types.

This week has not been a good week. I’ve said before that I’m a primary caregiver (along with another family member who still resides in the state) of someone who needs full-time 24/7 medical, disability and mental health care beyond what is possible for us to provide at home. I’ve said before that one of the organizations licensed to provide such care was demonstrably abusive to my family member, and that we received no justice when we fought the state to try to close that organization even with all of our carefully gathered evidence. That organization is still open, still providing services to others, and that thought never leaves my nightmares.We removed my family member from that particular situation, but we didn’t change the system.

Over the years, other organizations that have been licensed providers in that region have been found to be abusive, too. The same state services that should have been protecting society’s most vulnerable have shielded the providers more than then they have ever shielded their patients. They have dolled out only slaps on the wrist, but slaps on the wrist don’t change anything. In rare instances, organizations have closed. (I’ll leave to your imagination what had to have been found for that to happen given what we discovered that didn’t lead to closure.) But, in most instances, they haven’t. I grew up with an acute awareness of just how common this kind of abuse is, how unlikely anyone is to help, and with further ramifications of the toll of that early exposure to trauma that then happened to me in other ways because the nature of early exposure to trauma is that it begets further situations that cause trauma for any person who grew up with it.

I fled from that state as soon as I could, and at one point I was naive enough to believe things would be better in other states.  I then discovered decade-plus waiting lists for disability services in other states, and, quite frankly, that the abusive situations I hoped were unique to the Red State I grew up in happened in the Blue States, too. I am still on the list to try and re-establish services in the state I currently live in, but this Messages in a Bottle is both a current story of something that happened in the Red State I call the 9th Circle of Hell this week and a past story that happened in the Blue State in which I currently reside.

Continue reading “Messages in a Bottle #5: Don’t Tell Me I’m Safe”