2008 -2010 were tough years for me. In 2008, I took “the package” after basically blowing my career then tried to work again in the Fall only to go on short term disability (again). On therapist/p-doc recommendations, I applied for SSDI in 2009 feeling like a complete failure, but out of options. Was approved in unbelievably record time (3 months) but it was 3 more “no-income” months before I started receiving benefits. Upon approval, I learned the disheartening fact that I would have to wait for 2 years, count ‘em 2 years, before being eligible for medicare. That unfortunate fact resulted in over $10K in private insurance costs, paying over $900/month, plus almost $250/monthly just for seroquel. This was even more difficult due to the huge financial adjustment from my previous salary. Then in 2010, my sister (in-law, but sister) passed away unexpectedly after a week in a coma, leaving devastation in her wake.
So for three years I was a depressed, non-functional anxious mess, eating, sleeping, and curled in a ball. And I didn’t think 2011 would be any different. Well, I was wrong! I did accomplish a few things in 2011 and here they are.
Positive Changes in 2011 / Achieving Goals
Mental Health. Meds – In just 1 year I’ve cut my Seroquel dosage in HALF: 800mg down to 400mg, and now am sleeping 8-9 hours versus 12-14. Now I have more energy and am able to think clearly for the first time in years. Am still on 50 mg of lamictal but that’s working just fine. But the biggest was cutting Xanax from 8mg (enough to fell a Wilderbeast and why I couldn’t function at work) to 4 mg! Still start going into withdrawal if don’t take it on time at night and in the morning and can’t get below 4mg, but amazing improvement. AND incidents of anxiety / irritability are 1/4 of what they were a year ago. Episodes – Another goal was to decrease the number/length of episodes from bi-weekly to once a month and have achieved that one in spades! Also have gone from a constant state of anxiety and frequent panic attacks to one or two incidents a month.
Therapy – I credit these amazing strides to a year of EMDR and DBT therapy – both of which were a lot of work, agonizing, but incredibly healing. I learned new coping skills; using mindfulness for anxiety and radical acceptance for the “crap” I simply have no control over. Started EMDR in the Fall of 2009 and finished in June after coming home from Buddhafest in DC a much healthier person. It was probably the most difficult and painful time since being diagnosed but the changes have been transformative!
Destructive Actions – I’ve struggled for years with an addiction to impulse spending, needing the high to feel better, even for a few moments. Mainly it’s been online but started out as clothes shopping. When I was making decent money at my last job, it wasn’t an issue and we were able to sell our small house and move to a larger, much nicer one in a great neighborhood, furnish it, and live the dream. If I wanted something, I bought it. (Was also contributing to 401k so not completely gone!) But after leaving that job and going on disability, my/our lives have taken a 180. Now it’s WalMart instead of Publix and gourmet shops. It’s swapping for beauty products instead of buying them. Saving for months for a new nano. It’s selling everything not nailed down on Amazon and eBay to pay bills. Like the rest of America, it’s cutting back, budgeting, and pinching every penny. But it’s still very hard for me and I fall off the wagon all the time, especially with online “deals” and eBay. But am now able to actually close sites without buying, even with discounts, wait 30 days to get a desired item, hold back when shopping (all the “extras”), and actually focus on how much money I spend on non-essentials. Have made huge strides in this area and spouse is very relieved as a result!
Physical Health. Weight – Last year at this time I weighed about 278, could not walk a block without pain, my entire lower body, especially hips, ached constantly, and I had given up. I was also borderline diabetic and other numbers were high. Deciding to start this weight loss journey in April was more than a health decision and a desire to stop the constant pain. Every time I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize myself. All my size 3x, 28W clothes were tight and I was afraid to use stairs or go on a ladder because of how badly I might hurt myself if I fell! Recovery – Since April I started slow with a hospital sponsored therapy swim class, short daily walks, weekly yin yoga, and a jump start diet. In August I added a weekly personal trainer, expanded to 1-2 yoga classes/week, 2-3 strength training plus cardio sessions/week, and a very effective carb-cycling mode of eating. Am now almost completely off sugar, very little dairy, mostly poulty, fish, fresh veggies, and complex carbs. I’ve fallen off the wagon many times, not done as many work-outs as my trainer desired, been discouraged by slow weight loss, and relied on the support of spouse and friends to keep going and somehow it’s all “worked out”!
The result: have lost 64 pounds in 9 months, gone from size 28 to 18, actually look forward to working out, all my bloodwork is in normal range, lower BMI, and joints no longer ache. Am wearing clothes I haven’t worn for 12 years and am amazed at the “limitations” that I push through on a consistent basis. Losing weight also has had a side benefit of having the energy to start cleaning the house again and actually caring about it – many thanks to FlyLady! Now anyone can drop by and the house always looks great and for me, that’s a huge victory!!
Attitude. This area has had the most impact. For many years, especially since going on SSDI, I have felt like a failure, unable to finish grad school, poor performance at work, finally forced to stop working, and becoming socially isolated. Trapped in the house due to panic/anxiety, huge and ugly, going through depression after depression, and having no future to speak of. I felt like my life was over. But a conversation with my uncle, along with lots of therapy, helped me change my attitude, giving me hope that I would one day work again and that I was a worthwhile human being. Social security came out with a new “back to work” program that will let me test the waters without losing benefits. I started looking forward, trying new experiences, and even was able to go alone on a trip with only one meltdown (and that was with going through security at the airports!). I came back transformed, with renewed confidence and actual hope. If any of you have had dealings with depression and rapid cycling, you know that’s a huge step forward. And I continue to do the work to improve my self esteem and overall outlook.
Spirit-Work. I started to seriously study Buddhism this year and attended a conference (on own but with Uncle) in June. By meditating weekly, practicing breathing techniques and mindfulness, now I have a more positive outlook, more patience, am able to socialize again, and feel like I have my mind back. Although I’m still working on the forgiveness piece and staying consistent with study and participation, it’s completely changed my life. And this isn’t the “I found ___ and now I’m ___!”. It’s learning how to find the pause, challenge and modify toxic thought patterns, and get outside my own head to care about in practice and help others. It’s a long and difficult road but that whole “way out of suffering” piece has real appeal!
It’s been an amazing year to say the least. When I look in the mirror now, I recognize myself again and am happy with what I see. I am from the depths of my heart grateful for all of this and the amazing people in my life and who I’ve met this year as a result of these actions. But most of all, am grateful for the loving spouse who believed in me no matter what. So what are you grateful for? What gifts have come into your life this year?Take a few moments to think about it and you may be quite pleasantly amazed!