Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I fooled them again!

“Every two years when I have to renew my license, and the new certificate arrives in the mail, I think ‘ha!, I can’t believe I fooled them again!’”

I had to laugh when my co-worker said this, especially because he was one of those people with a lot of experience who seemed to 'have his shit together.'

"At least they gave you a license," I replied. "I'm still provisional."

At this point in time I was still un-licensed, primarily due to procrastination. Also, I was pretty certain that I didn't know what the hell I was doing and didn't deserve a license.

But, eventually I completed my requirements. That day came when the certificate arrived in the mail and it was official. I immediately called my co-worker to let him know, "I fooled them, too."

Two years have passed, and it is now time for me to renew my license for the first time. I'm much more confident now than when I started out. Still, I have days like today when I'm pretty sure I don't know what the hell I'm doing.

The difference today is that I'm learning to accept my self-doubt. I know that the committee in my head can, and does, manufacture all sorts of crazy things if I let it. I also know now that many of these people who appear to 'have their shit together' don't feel that way on the inside. Often they have their own committees (and sub-committees) to contend with. So, I'm not being fair to myself when I try to compare my insides to other peoples' outsides.

Some level of doubt is okay. It keeps me motivated to try to evolve. It’s the people that never have any doubt that I really worry about.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

bad days and BAD DAYS

 "A photo is worth a thousand words."


Monday was a fairly typical day at work. I had a new patient assigned to me. The patient had just transferred from the Detox/Crisis Stabilization Unit to the regular inpatient side (where I work). So, I read over his chart, then took a look at his photo from admission. I went to find him so I could introduce myself and schedule a time to meet with him.

I looked for this patient in the day room, and I did not see him anywhere. I asked the Health Care Techs if they had seen him. Was he with a doctor? in his room?

They just pointed, and he was actually sitting right in front of me. I hadn't recognized him because he looked nothing at all like he did in that photo, taken 10 days ago when he came in (intoxicated) to detox.

Sort of without thinking, I said, "Wow, you definitely look much better now than in your admission photo."

Of course, as could be expected, he said, "what picture?" Quite understandably, he didn't remember having his picture taken.

That day I went home on a mission. I tore apart my closet throwing boxes everywhere. I wasn't even positive that I still had the exact thing I was looking for. It took forever, but finally I found this gem, along with an accompanying psychological evaluation...



The sad part is that I don't remember having this picture taken. I actually don't remember too much of that day at all - only bits and pieces due to a benzodiazepine-induced blackout.

I first saw this photo when my favorite Health Care Tech was laughing about it a few days after it was taken. At this point I was clear-headed and integrated into the millieu, trying to make a joke out of the sad (and utterly humiliating) situation I was in.... which was a locked psychiatric unit!

I remember this Health Care Tech waving my picture around and asking, "Amanda is this you? It doesn't even look like you... You're an attractive girl; this is a horrible picture...Look at this, right? doesn't look anything like her.."

"Well, I wasn't exactly at my best when I came in," I said.

A week or so later when I was released back into the world, I showed this photo to a close friend, and he said, "Don't hang on to that. Move forward to more positive things."

But, I kept the photo anyway. It actually sat on the door of my refrigerator for quite some time. Then I moved, and it got thrown into a random box where it sat for years untouched (along with the psych eval)...until now.

They gave me a copy of my picture with no questions asked, but the psychiatric evaluation was a bit trickier to get.  Being the way that I was (and still am), I began demanding a copy of my psych eval soon after my discharge. When it arrived in the mail I read it immediately.

The most complimentary part of the eval is the part where it states that: "Ms. Hopper seems to be of average intelligence, with no apparent cognitive deficiencies."

The report also mentions a propensity to abuse substances, lack of insight in this area, and "Ms. Hopper verbalizes anger through sarcasm and a spewing forth of obscenities."

Naturally, when I first read this report, I folded it up and stewed for a while. All of it was crap, especially the part about substances. I disagreed with everything that this pretentious, asshole psychologist wrote about me.

Today as I read that same report, I agree with probably about 90% of it. Much of it no longer holds true (thankfully), but it pretty accurately describes how I was at that particular point in time.


At work on Wednesday, my patient asked to see his admission photo which I had referenced earlier. So, during our Treatment Team Meeting, one of the doctors showed him his photo. He frowned and said, "wow, I look horrible."

I said, "well, most people aren't at their best when they come in to detox...Maybe we can give you a copy of that picture for you to keep when you leave."

"Why would I want to do that?" he asked.

Other staff turned in my direction, and I felt my face flush.

"I don't know," I said, "maybe just so that years from now you can see this photo, and on a bad day sober it can give you perspective, that even a bad day sober is not all that bad in comparison."

He stared at me blankly and didn't say anything.

Later that week he asked his doctor for a copy of the photo. 'Just for posterity' he said.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The value of being heard

If there is one thing worse than being depressed, I think that would be: being depressed and being told you shouldn't feel that way. Perspective is important, as is gratitude, and I try to remember this. At the same time, pain is still pain. Whether or not you tell me that I should (or shouldn't) feel a certain way does not change how I actually feel.

Long story short: I recently found out that my ability to run is likely over FOR GOOD. (I still haven't given up hope, and I'm investigating various options, but the prognosis is dismal.)

The thought of never running again just feels unbearable sometimes. I remind myself, "No one cares about how many miles you run, or your 5k time, or how quickly you can get from point A to point B. And you shouldn't care either. It's all irrelevant." It truly is irrelevant. I know this, but still, I feel like I am missing a huge part of myself when I can't run. Running has been a part of my life for a long time (18 years) and it has always been something I could turn to.

I try to explain to non-runners what this loss is like for me, and I automatically hear: "Have you thought about riding a bike? Maybe you could get on an Elliptical. Maybe you could start hiking. Walking fast can give you a very good workout and burn calories. Why don't you try swimming? It's really not that big of a deal that you can't run anymore. There are plenty of other things to do."

I know that the people making these suggestions are trying to be helpful and well-meaning. Still, hearing these suggestions seems dismissive and insulting. I am intelligent enough to problem-solve and have thought of all of these things. I do some of these things already. But, it is not, and will never be, the same. There is no quick-fix or easy solution. This is a loss that I will grieve for a little while before I reach acceptance and move on.

Sunday I was feeling in a bad spot, depressed. I even thought for a minute or so about getting high...Anything just to feel better for a brief period of time...It kind of sucks that I am without my best coping skill: running....So, I took my own advice not to isolate, as that just makes depression worse. I went out to be social. I did the standard, polite, "I'm good; how are you doing?" and talked with others about their lives and their problems and got out of my head for a while. It was helpful. I started to feel better...Until I decided to tell this one friend how I was really feeling.

I said, "my life is for the most part good. But, I'm just really depressed about not being able to run anymore; it's a huge loss, and I'm just having trouble coping with it."

And, this friend said, 'I don't see what the big deal is. Why don't you just get on an elliptical?'

I tried to explain, but it was like talking to a wall. Not only did this friend not 'get it' but he basically made me feel like it was stupid for me to be upset about my inability to run.

I looked around me at all of these people and suddenly felt all alone, disconnected. I asked myself, "Why did I even come here in the first place?" and immediately wanted to flee the scene.

I am not one to cry in public, but I was feeling so frustrated and depressed and alone that it just sort of happened. Fortunately it was dark out, and it was time to go home. So, on the car ride home, I was very quiet, and my friends could tell that I was not right. I tried to say, "nothing is wrong. I'm just tired," but they didn't buy it. I told them I needed to go home.

I was really just trying hard to avoid having all of this pent-up raw emotion leak out. Too late.

They would not let me go home knowing something was wrong with me. So, I sat on their porch and cried, and tried to explain the pain I was feeling: the loss of my greatest joy in life and the added frustration of having people tell me I shouldn't feel how I felt, having my feelings completely invalidated by people who just didn't understand. Pain (emotional or physical) is hard to explain. It's something we can only grasp when we experience it.

I totally expected my friends to discredit what I was feeling, to tell me that being unable to run is really an insignificant problem, that I have a lot to be grateful for; try the elliptical.

They did not say this. In fact, they said very little. They just listened and offered their support. They acknowledged that they did not know exactly what I was feeling, but that they understood the magnitude of this loss for me. They told me that my feelings were legitimate and that my pain mattered...and that I was worth their time.

Then, of course, they told me not to give up hope, to keep trying to find solutions. "You're not the type of person to just give up." (And, I'm not. I continue to search for remedies and to run what little I can even though I'm not supposed to run at all.)

When I finally left their house, I realized that the depression that had been with me for a week or so was suddenly lifted. The whole not-being-able-to-run thing suddenly didn't seem like such a big deal. It still sucked, but the intensity of the emotion was just not as strong anymore. The depression and frustration was replaced with gratitude...Gratitude that I have such truly great relationships in my life, friends in my life that care enough to actually hear me, friends that can handle me at my best and my worst.

It says in the Basic Text that "pain shared is pain lessened." In my experience this is only true when people are able, and willing, to actually hear the pain we are sharing.