Me and Burning Out

I’m burning out. After months of propping myself up, telling myself that everything is going to be okay, and a few weeks of struggling with a new puppy, I’m starting to get exhausted in a way that I don’t know how to recover from. This is a dangerous place for me because it’s prime depression ground. I know that after I was first diagnosed with cancer I entered a kind of hyper-vigilant phase. This often happens to me during times of personal or family crisis. I step up, I do what needs to be done and I manage. I take care of whoever needs taking care of, I provide the shoulder to cry on, I neglect myself.

Generally speaking, this kind of behaviour isn’t particularly destructive. Most of us will have to step up and manage personal crises, care for loved ones etc… and there will always be some combination of adrenaline or sense of personal duty to keep us going. The problem is, eventually that runs out — or at least it does for me. In 2013-2014, when I had to act as a caregiver for my mother, I looked after everything. I did all the housework, cooking, driving to and from appointments, grocery shopping and ran all the errands. I also went back to school part time and managed my coursework. It was familiar territory for me in many ways, because I also had to care a great deal for two of my grandparents when I was in my 20s, but it was difficult. It’s never easy to see your parents suffering — it is the definitive indicator of your finally becoming an independent adult. I think, no matter how old we get, we tend to see our parents as people who should be looking after us and not the other way around.

My mother needed surgery and once she began to recover from that, I truly began to fall apart. I fell down into a deep, depressive pit and could not claw my way out: I spent about 18 months playing Final Fantasy XIV (the MMO sickness finally hit me) and taking one easy course in my certificate program at a time. I convinced myself that as long as I could complete the courses, I was totally fine.

I wasn’t totally fine. I was anything but totally fine. I needed help and (probably) medication. While depression is a consistent issue for me, I have had sustained periods where my depression worsens to the point of my not being able to function. Over the years I’ve come to recognize that significant burnout is one of my major triggers. A crisis occurs, I step up and go at it until I run out of steam, and then I fall apart.

So, right now, I’m a little terrified. My dog, Daisy, died on October 20, 2017. Two weeks later, during the first week of November 2017, I was hospitalized. A few weeks later, I was diagnosed with cancer. By the end of 2017, I had had a port installed and started chemotherapy. Despite some fairly minor fear and nervousness, I have stood up and faced these issues head on. I haven’t been on the floor crying, as some expected me to be. I’ve been productive and I’ve made an effort to enjoy myself, despite side effects that limit what I can do with my spare time.

But then we were stupid and we got a puppy. The greatest piece of advice I could ever offer someone right now is that you should not get a puppy when there are things going on in your life that are stressful and potentially life-changing. People will always tell you that puppies are hard, but reading/hearing that and then actually living it are two totally different things. Puppies are much more difficult than anyone will ever tell you and the fatigue from cancer treatment certainly doesn’t make things any easier and any other major stressors in your life won’t help you either.

When we first got Frankie, I went through another short phase of hyper-vigilance. My adrenaline got going and I was able to manage everything again. I trained her when I was able, became much more mobile, and generally felt physically stronger. A few bad days later, however, and I’m starting to feel all that strength leaving me. I just don’t have the energy right now to sustain the kind of consistency that Frankie needs. I’m tired and I’m sick and I get lazy sometimes.

I know that things will get better with Frankie and I know that, eventually, we will bond properly and I will love her more than anything, but I’m scared right now that all of this new stress might push me somewhere that I don’t want to go. I’m going to make an appointment with my social worker as soon as I can so that I can talk with her about how to avoid falling into another dark and awful pit. I’m hoping that talking about it with a professional will help me a great deal. I think also, a little vacation will help. Next week, my boyfriend is coming for a visit and, hopefully, that will be a nice break where I can be a little selfish for a few days and recharge my batteries.


Starting over

After several years of not blogging, I have decided that it’s time to start writing on a regular basis again.  On the recommendation of my therapist, I have tried using a paper journal, but while I find writing on paper to be quite satisfying, it can be a little time consuming and I have trouble sticking with it.

And thus I am blogging again and I have some grand plans.  For the past few years I have taken an interest in self-improvement and self-actualization.  I’ve tried out a lot of different things like tarot readings, goal setting, journals, wellness wheels, watching lifestyle videos on Youtube, planning, all to varying levels of success.  I have found wellness wheels to be particularly useful, as they provide me with an overview of which areas of my life need work.

Every year I do two particular wellness wheels, both of which have an interesting crop of categories.  I tend to do well in areas such as fun and leisure, personal growth and learning, romance (because right now I am in a good relationship), spirituality and intellectual health.  None of this is surprising as I generally excel at pushing myself up steep learning curves in my spare time and I have a lot of interesting hobbies that I enjoy.

My lower scores are almost always in the friendship, physical/mental health, career and money categories.  This is also not particularly surprising, as my main career choice has been a huge flop, I have been unemployed for long stretches, I have been diagnosed with several chronic illnesses, I suffer from depression, and I have been in significant debt for the past few years.

I have been making positive changes, particularly with regards to my finances.  I have nearly paid off my credit card (which was maxed out at about $8000), which has carried a balance for about 17 years.  I have also made a responsible budget and, while it is a little complicated, I have confidence that I can stick with it.  When I do my wheels again in January of 2017, I know that this score will improve a great deal.

I am proud of myself, but I feel like there is more that I can be doing to make improvements in other areas of my life that need attention.  I had a significant falling out with an old friend this week and, while I think he was being a tremendous asshole, he made a few points about me that were accurate.  This was a significant wake-up call for me and I spent most of my day yesterday thinking about (and writing down) the main aspects of my life that need the most attention:

  1. I have isolated myself and almost completely withdrawn from all of my friends.
  2. It is likely that I have been in a depressive episode since mid-2014. I have felt better at times, but I suspect that I have never fully snapped out of it.
  3. I have not been managing my chronic medical conditions as well as I could and, due to my depression and various other issues, my emotional binge eating has reached a level that is extremely damaging.
  4. My previous career path is not working and I need to embark on a complete career change.

In order to work through these issues, I am going to do my best to go to counseling once per month.  I am also considering medication to assist me, but I will discuss that with the counselor.  Sometimes I think that counselors think I am doing quite well, because I am good at assessing and analyzing my issues; however, I am not good at dealing with them.

I will also be blogging.  Writing has always been a hobby that I enjoy and I believe that it can help me with a number of the issues that I discussed above.  My plan, for now, is to primarily write about my journey through a CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) workbook, my feelings around depression and taking medication and how I do with counseling.

And finances, I will probably write about finances.  I purchased an interesting book about finances that has weekly exercises for improving and adding to your knowledge about  money.  I have become a lot more interested in personal finance, and I think it will help to keep me honest and on track with my budget.

Here’s to hoping I stick with it!