Tuesday, December 06, 2016

PHP - The Referral

I've been referred to a partial hospitalization program, a less friendly name than 'day program' as it was initially presented to me.

"Oh," I replied when my doctor suggested it.  It's what I say when I'm dismayed over something but don't have an immediate argument.

"Katie," she explained gently, "we've tried four medicines.  None have helped.  Two have made you worse.  You're still missing work somewhat regularly.  I don't want you to keep suffering when there is a potential solution.  I just called and I can get you in this week."

"Oh," I said again, trying to gather my thoughts frantically as I pictured pieces of them scattered around me in shards.  I was prepared to complain - I'm trying so hard!  Going to the gym of all places! I've been tracking food and water intake!  Attempting mightily to engage at work and keep promises.
"I don't want to be this sick," I finally said, blinking at tears.  "I want to say that I can figure this out - I'll try harder or do more or be better - but I don't know how to do it.  I'm out of ideas.  And I don't want to be like this forever."

She nodded, blinking a bit faster against tears herself.  "I failed you," she admitted softly and I immediately shook my head.  "Not because I wanted to," she clarified, "but because I don't know what else to prescribe.  I can't get you into therapy any sooner and your appointments are a month away.  You can do this now and other patients have responded very well.  If I were you, I'd do it without question."

"OK," I replied, nodding continuously in an attempt to convince myself.  "Yes.  I'll go."  So with a referral submitted and a request to call in hand, I left the office I'd visited twice-thrice monthly since May or June.

I wept when I told Mom, feeling desperately ashamed.  She held my hand as I waited on hold with the mental health intake line and made encouraging expressions when I offered to come on Wednesday, two days later (as this happened Monday last week).

In the meantime, I went to work.  I cleaned up projects and made plans to be out for the two week duration of this program.  I told select colleagues and received unanimous and enthusiastic support.

The intake meeting was straightforward - she asked questions, I answered and - because I do like to talk - elaborated.  And after 40 minutes, she reviewed my worksheets and her notes and smiled.

"This program will be great for you," she said.  "I'm completely confident.  When can you start?"

"Monday?" I offered hesitantly.  "I have meetings scheduled, want to wrap up a few things...  I don't know."

"Monday," she confirmed.  "It's going to be fine.  You're going to get better."

Monday, November 14, 2016

Never say Never

I joined a gym.

Even over the months that I typed nothing here, I often composed posts in my head, pondering how I'd start that opening paragraph - capture attention, initiate a story.  I can think of nothing more shocking than the statement above though.  I've been in exactly one gym - as a reluctant visitor when I weighed perhaps 80 lbs less than I do now, upwards of 15 years ago.

"Why," I remember asking Carrie, a friend from grad school, "would people pay to come here?"  The rows of machines, brightly-lit free weights, people pulling and pushing and bouncing around.  I shook my head - even if I liked working out (I don't), there are options at home!  Videos, games on X-Box, walks through nature!

So it was with no small amount of trepidation (read intense anxiety) that I drove to the building with the neon-orange sign, walked to the door, opened it then another door and hovered just inside the lobby that smelled strongly of rubber.  Like brand-new shoes or those mats that sort of give under your feet when you step on them?

I stuttered when the manager, wearing a bright orange bandanna around hair that emerged vertically from the top of his head, asked if he could help me.  I finally managed to explain that I wanted to look around, consider joining?  Or I could just escape - scamper back to my car, I thought when he called for a young man from the pack of them huddled around desks stacked with those giant tubs of protein powder.

"I don't belong here," I told Cam, staring at his elaborate hair style briefly before shaking my head and wondering if I were old enough to be his mother.  (Answer: probably.)  "But I'm not doing well - I'm sick all the time and I'm getting older.  And maybe if I take better care of myself, I'll feel better."

He nodded encouragingly, showing off the features of the building over the the thumping pop music that urged people to move.  I only relaxed for the moments we were in the pool area - the chlorine scent soothing me as did the quiet splashes and slow movements of the elderly folks drifting through the water.

"OK," I agreed when he asked me to join, returning his happy grin almost involuntarily and handing over my credit card.  It's like money, I told myself as I watched him painstakingly enter my information - once I was in the habit of saving, the dollars just accumulated.  And now I have more than enough, even when I splurge on things.

"You'll hit a positive spiral here," the guy I saw the next day promised, echoing my thoughts.  I laughed when he wrote down "help" over the spot where I was supposed to list my strength and cardio routines.

"I can't even think of a plausible lie," I told him.  "I have no idea what a routine would even be."

Then - after 3 days of going to this gym that stresses me out and sitting at a desk talking about my goals (My goal, by the way?  To show up there and try to exercise without hating every second.  That's it - that's my goal.), I finally met my trainer, hired to coach me twice a week for the next two months.

His name's Pete.  He wears a little topknot.  He's unphased by my distinct lack of enthusiasm.

"Slower through the resistance," he coached after teaching me how to adjust the leg machine.  I winced when my knees crackled.  "No, pull from your back," he corrected, touching the right muscles while I frowned and tried to get them to pull accordingly.  "Ass out," he noted when I was doing squats (Good gracious but I hate squats).  "Knees can't go over your toes."

I see him again tomorrow.  This trainer I hired.  At the gym I joined.

Because I'm taking afternoons off on FMLA to try to get better.  And while I wait for a new medicine to work, taking care of this body that carries around my mind and soul seems like a reasonable plan.

"Track your food," Pete requested after having me download an app on my phone.

"I'm never going to do that," I told him.  "My plan was cardio.  I'll do strength training since you feel so strongly about it.  But food?  That's mine still."

"Just track it," he said.  "Some of it - baby steps."

Never, I thought - or at least not soon.

I've tracked every single morsel since I left the gym last Thursday.  And when I wondered who in the world I am, I remind myself that I'm trying to get better and wonder if I might be wrong when I think this will never work.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Disability? Personal problem?

My dad, when confronted with a complaint he considered invalid, would often turn his pale blue eyes on me and remark, "Sounds like a personal problem."  Then he'd grin within his snow-white beard while I'd roll my eyes.  I blink back tears now because he's been gone upwards of four years and some of his phrases have fallen from my vocabulary - I used to use "sounds like a personal problem" a lot but just as the sharpness of grief dulls, so do the... strength? frequency? of those little links that connect you to those you love and see most.

It is not the worst of times of late.  It's not good, per se, but it's not the worst.

"Katie," my current boss said, eyes kind but mouth screwed into an impatient grimace, "I need you to get better.  Fix this."  And I nodded because I agree.  I'm great - brilliant, even! - for a sequence of days.  I fix problems, progress projects, coach team members and giggle with the team.

Then the fog I call "depression" settles over everything and I feel sick and disconnected.  I don't much care, but when my feelings spark to existence, they're bad - dark dread, crackling anxiety, hunched-over-please-don't-notice-me guilt.

One day, I was settled in a private office in southern India, half a world away.  Staying at a five-star hotel after a business class flight, I was staggered by the contrast of feeling like such a special, pampered snowflake versus gazing wide-eyed behind prescription sunglasses through the windows of my chauffeured car at the masses of people in the narrow, dirty streets with the endless honking of horns.

Despite the guilt of privilege, I was productive.  I had tough meetings, made big decisions, guided discussions with knowledge, humor and grace.  One evening, flushed with success, I FaceTimed Mom, as was my daily routine, and found her weeping.  Chienne's lipomas had grown heavy and grotesque and we'd waited too long to have them removed, fearing the surgery would not return my old, blind girl.  I'd made the appointment before leaving but procrastination punished Mom rather than me.  The chest tumor had broken, leaving the house liberally splashed with blood and Mom inconsolable.

So I sat in my beautiful room overlooking the gracious pool in the foreground and slums farther afield and made frantic phone calls, begging for help from home - an earlier surgery date, please.  "My mom," I explained, "she can't do this.  We lost my dad - Jim - and were helpless to save him.  This feels the same - we need help."  But three clinics apologetically declined and I was reminded that power and self-sufficiency are elusive.  I could get anything I wanted there in Bengaluru - food or drink, fabrics or jewels, massages, laundry service, towels folded into whimsical animals.

But I have little control over matters of importance.  I bowed my head and prayed, reciting the Lord's Prayer, my favorite arrangement of words, and waiting in silence for guidance and peace.

I returned home to a post-surgery puppy-dog who'd done well.  Mom clung to my hand after I tossed luggage in the back and rode home from the airport.  Brother was here too, smoothing his hand over Chienne's greying-brindle head and softly speaking in soothing tones.

But as my canine companion recovered, I did not.  Her wounds, carefully tended, oozed and scabbed grotesquely but slowly closed.

Mine did not.  I was missing more work.  Listless even when present.  My favorite phrase - "I don't care" - came from illness, the fog that surrounded me rather than the Katie-ness that exists within me.
"I need to fix this," I told the nurse who shares my employer on the phone, headphones in my ears while I parked by the river and waited for Pokemon to happen by, desperate for the distraction.  "I want time off, I think - half days?  To join a gym.  Actually go to the therapist my doctor has recommended.  Try to learn to live within this disease and understand how to thin the fog if I can't clear it."

"You have a couple of choices," she explained, not unkindly.  "It's either disability - where you'd be off full-time, likely inpatient care or daily therapy appointments.  Or you could take personal time off - get your life together, organize your closet, stuff like that."

My eyebrows raised, the fog gleefully separating enough to let irritation arrow in.  "Organize my closet?" I clarified, not waiting for a response before continuing.  "It's between those.  I'm not completely incapable nor I am completely capable.  At least not on most days."

But she didn't understand - I suppose it's difficult unless you've dwelled within the fog of mental illness to truly appreciate the effects.  So I thanked her for her time and looked forward to my doctor appointment the next day, preparing to beg for help again.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2H, 2015: Executive Summary

The Ones came to visit - Little went to a STEM camp and Smallest stayed at my house.  I went all out with the spoiling - candy, ice cream, endless quarters for those claw machines, cartoons - but made one fatal error.

"Are ghosts real?" she asked as we watched a horror movie preview during American Ninja Warrior.  And because I thought we were friends who could be honest, I answered her thoughtfully.

"I don't know," I replied.  "I've never seen or experienced one but there are people who believe they have and I don't know enough to claim they're incorrect."  Pleased with myself, I was astounded when she burst into tears, fleeing from the house as if the gates of Hell were inside.

Frustrated after 30 minutes of trying to reason with a 7 year old at the end of my driveway at dusk, I called my mom.  Then Smallest's mom.  Then I picked her up and carried her inside to go to bed, disgusted with both of us.

A mother, I am not. And while I mourned that bitterly once, I'm pretty cool with it now. 

As a proud aunt though, I do OK.  Little gave the best closing speech at her group's presentation and I beamed while taking video on my phone. 

Mom and I also took them to Great Wolf Lodge and King's Island.  It was difficult.  And exhausting.

I started reading infertility blogs before moving to academic ones and starting my own.  So as I watched a colleague struggle, I became increasingly certain she was going through something reproductive-y.  So I gently nudged until she talked to me about it, holding her hand and grabbing Kleenex and trying to remember all I'd read about being supportive and not judgmental at all.

Utterly convinced I was put in her path for a reason, I returned home one day after having lunch with her.

"I'm going to Colorado," I told Mom.  So I shared some of the story - how she'd lost twins recently, how devastated and guilty she felt, overwhelmed at work and unable to have her husband make the trip.  "So I'm going to book a ticket and a room and just show up.  Then if she needs someone, I'm there.  If not, I'll hang out and do work from out west for a week."

My colleague - and friend - was thrilled and we spent an intense, yet somehow wonderful, week just focused on doing things that made us happy - always getting dessert, driving in the mountains, wandering the botanical gardens and marveling at the flowers.  Spending time in prayer and exchanging little gifts to add light and love to the world that seemed too dark to bear at times.

"You saved me," she said when we met just before Christmas.  I demurred, of course, because she saved herself, but I reminder her that Friend saved me during my post-doc.  Being present and reminding me to be kind to myself, to seek help when I needed it, that there were amazing, wonderful, loving, supportive people out there and that maybe I could grow into someone who could be someone's angel for a little while someday.

So I was.  And it was the best thing I did in 2015 - feeling God's close proximity, spending time in peaceful prayer and graceful support.

"My dad died 3 years ago today," I told her while we were having dinner one night, having forgotten until Mom reminded me when we talked on the phone.  And it was her turn to clutch my hand and fetch tissues.

I kept asking - reading books, doing exercises in career building, networking, making spreadsheets, sitting with small groups, excelling at my everyday tasks and taking on additional projects for the organization.  Yet I was at a dead end and increasingly frustrated that my attempts to forge a path forward were failing.

So - when I wasn't beating All The People at Soda Crush (!) - I started interviewing back where I started my career in Industry.  And while I didn't get the first job I wanted, I did get the second one that I wanted even more!

It's my dream job, honestly - I have a team (my very own team!) and we do super-cool stuff and talk about interesting projects that can really make a difference and it will be wonderful!

Almost immediately after being hired, I returned to Europe for a visit.  And while in past trips to Europe, I'd fantasized about bringing along a suitably sexy man, I took Mom!  Which was odd and delightful - we really had a wonderful time. 

"Would you like to play?" I asked over and over, smiling down at children dressed as angels and witches, superheroes and scary spiders.  "Pick a sucker - any one you want!"  Then I'd hold the homemade cardboard stand steady while they carefully selected a flavor.

Mom has really made a home with me - she has a walking group, takes water Zumba, knits with the ladies at church, goes and sees shows and talks with her new friends.  I'm so proud of her - this wasn't what either of us wanted - we'd much rather have her with Dad back in the house where Brother now lives - but we're happy together. 

"They wanted 40 volunteers and they only have 8," she told me one morning.  And I sighed - working at a kids' Halloween party didn't really interest me, but by the time we wandered through the field to find our car afterward, my cheeks ached from smiling.

The challenge with the new job is that it keeps me away from Mom a lot more - I'm at the office more, doing more at home, just ramping up and being more mentally engaged.  So when she asks me to do something, I suck it up and offer candy to strangers.  

For as well as we did in August with the anniversary of Dad going to Heaven, my parents' anniversary and Daddy's birthday hit us hard.  We were sad.

We cried after having someone come to the house to fix the front door and look at the vent fan in the master bathroom - Dad would have fixed both of those for us.

The snow thrower that Dad bought me, brought to me and taught me how to use didn't start after its summer rest.  And I wanted to curl up and cuddle it - it's precious to me, even if it doesn't really fit in the garage anymore with both Mom and my cars.

So we went north - drove around, relaxed by the fire and hung out.  I took calls at 11PM and 4AM, creeping downstairs and starting the fire before muting the phone before I yawned.  Work is intense but rewarding. 

"I want to go home," Mom said a day before we were due to leave.  "Dad would leave early so we're leaving now."  So we threw stuff in bags, got in the car, dismissed my sweetheart of a dog-sitter and headed home. 

I'm settling in at work - wrote my performance review and am pleased with my progress and path forward.  It's a good feeling.

I write this from a hotel room in Florida - we spent Christmas with the Ones at the family home where Brother now lives.  Then we drove south - which Mom loves and I strongly dislike - and while we stopped each night, I managed to worsen my back spasms until I needed Many Pills here in Tarpon Springs (we bought sponges - they're awesome).  So I'm a bit drugged and was missing all of you so I thought I'd pop in and wish you a very Happy New Year!

I do have an Instagram account - it's my real name since Little One pressured me to get one so I could like her photos - but I do use that more frequently if anyone's interested.  I hope you're all very well and enjoy a wonderful 2016.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


"Hello, princess!" I greeted Smallest One, resplendent in a white sundress as she ran gracefully toward me at the door of the church.  I scooped her up, pushing her blonde locks behind her shoulder and smiling down at Little One, smoothing hair that was darkening to match my deep brunette.

"What'd you bring me?" Smallest asked and I reached for the jewelry boxes I'd had for years, smoothing the dust from the velvety top with my thumb before flipping both of them open.

"I bought these," I showed her the cross necklaces - one simple, one containing a sparkling ruby, "years ago but I saved them for your baptism.  I carried your sister at hers - she was just a baby - but you get to wear yours today!"

She selected the one with the ruby, turning and holding her hair off her neck so I could fasten the clasp and admire the sparkle once she flounced around again.

She's just finished 2nd grade, Smallest One has, and Little will go into 5th grade in the Fall.  Their mother remarried and I rather like their stepdad.  He coaches softball.  Helps with homework.  Cooks dinner.  And takes them to church where he plays in the band.

He - Stepdad - was baptized first, wading into the pool on stage while the lights went deep blue and the electric guitars quieted.  The pastor prayed over him before motioning for him to cross his arms under his chest and lean back into the water.  I smiled when Stepdad plugged his nose, emerging to slick the water from face.

He hovered while Smallest carefully went down the steps into the pool.  She looked angelic as she grinned at Stepdad then her pastor.

And I wept as we prayed over her.  I was just so proud - feeling that rush of 'I remember when you were born!' that hits me at dance recitals or school plays.  But this - the cementing of a relationship with Christ - an immersion in a faith I pray will sustain and strengthen her - was profound.

"She will serve God valiantly," the pastor said and I nodded, gulping back a sob and dabbing at my eyes with wet fingertips.  For she is valiant - a powerful force who shares snacks with those who have none, plays with the friendless, gives freely of what she has with the simple trust that she'll find more.

We had lunch about a week later and I grinned back at her after handing over a $50 bill.

"Katie," Mom scolded, "she doesn't need that."

"Yes, I do!" Smallest insisted.  "That's why I made her feel sorry for me - so she'd give me money!"  For she is as manipulative as she is darling and I shake my head at how very often she gets her way.

But, watching her on that stage, plugging her nose, closing her eyes and reclining into the water, I said my own prayers and curled my hand on the empty chair beside me, praying that Dad got to see and rejoice with us, and cried a bit more.

For while I may feel stagnant at times, the Ones rarely are.  So I brace myself for exhaustion as they visit again today.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Friendly Visit

I smiled and kicked my legs with delight, eliciting a widening of Friend's eyes as she stood above and behind the couch on which I reclined.

"I saved all the bears from the honey!" I declared victoriously, causing said eyes to roll.  "Now what were you telling me?"

Friend is - as she ever was - intensely intelligent, thoughtful, sharp and more wonderful adjectives.  I've learned about cells and students, rocks and NIH, theoretical scientist tracks and sexism.  She educates, Friend does, and it delights me to watch, even when directed at yours truly.

"It's silly," she said, driving me from the airport which delivered me to the land of drawling accents, sweet tea and cars abandoned on the sides of highways.  "But I feel like I'd either veer too far into talking about students or that I should join the conversation for reals."

I opened my mouth to respond to her thoughts on blogging - for mine independently are more shallow (I use an iPad to play games rather than a laptop to generate content for fun - when I have my laptop, I'm working - defining strategy, convincing people to agree with me, sending email, progressing projects) but paused.

"For realz?"  I repeated?  "Like with a z?"

"I work," she responded haughtily, "with 20 year olds.  And it's with an s."

So I giggled at us - for as rarely as we talk (I'm terrible at maintaining long-distance relationships - it's a serious character flaw) - it's as easy as ever to slip back into familiar patterns even in circumstances that are dramatically different (as they remain refreshingly and eerily similar).  The more things change, the more they stay the same and all that.

"I read a book on the plane," I told her, "that talked about online presence as people look for jobs or establish the groundwork for promotion."

"I should update my LinkedIn profile," she mused.

"Yes!" I confirmed, remembering my highlighted sections on the iPad.  "Add a photo, update at least monthly, fill in all the sections with stories that differentiate you, but not too much.  But it also talked about having a YouTube channel (I watch PewDiePie, BTW.), having a professional blog..."  I trailed off, unable to remember the other items without checking and I was still too hot to put my bag (clearance!  I love that bag even though I keep losing stuff in its many pockets) on my lap to retrieve my device.

But I read career paths (in order to gain more power and money as well as fulfilling my mission in life, as fuzzy as that may seem sometimes) while she reads pedagogy (determining how to best shape young(er) minds).  And I ponder that while I am a good person - I love God, I try to do good and be kind - Friend is ever-so-much better.

"You are," I told her over cheese biscuits and honey butter (God bless the South), "inherently kind.  Non-judgmental.  Not to everyone - not to stupid people - but to those who approach with real pain and problems.  You are good."

Then I blinked back a tear or two because she is and I love her and that's profound.

"She saved you," Mom reminded me when I sighed over having to get on a plane (which I hate less than before but still don't enjoy - the "look at me going places!" excitement is eclipsed by the "don't like prolonged contact with strangers stealing my half of the armrest" and "I have landed - don't leave me on the tarmac while I want off this plane.")

"I know.  I remember," I said, giving kisses and "love yous" before departing.  Brother has been struggling with his mental health of late and I adopt the gentle tone Friend used with me when speaking to him at his most fragile.  "It's fine to just sleep.  This will get better.  Don't be afraid of the medicine.  Let's say the Lord's prayer.  If you can get outside and take a walk, that may help.  Just breathe.  Try to eat something.  Be patient and kind with yourself.  We love you."

And now I miss you, my bloggy friends who may still keep me in in reader lists.  So Rudoguil may have to wait for my help with finding the spectral blade for the new king frozen in rock while I try to write a bit again.  We shall see.

But - for now - Friend and I are well, trying to make our small corners of the world better.  I very much hope you're the same.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mapping, part 2

 On a Saturday evening, after mowing my lawn and showering, I began to draft my journey map.  In Excel.  Because I'm super-cool like that. 

I'd be percolating on this since Wednesday, not thinking about it very hard, but letting myself absorb that I wanted to devote it some attention. 

Is it bad to confess I was a bit afraid of this?  I have a friend who did an intensive yoga retreat in Vietnam last year.  Even listening to her talk about it Freaked Me Out.  I don't want to explore the depths of my soul.  Or reach the boundaries of my consciousness.  That's releasing control over your boundaries and I like my boundaries. 

I still have recurring dreams of being driven somewhere - often in a school bus - and very suddenly going over an edge and down a deep incline.  Though the bus remains on the road, I am unanchored and lift up, plucked from my seat by forces beyond me.  I typically wake, frantically looking around and ahead, seeking something to which I can cling or hoping the road levels so I can find a seat to support me again.

Point is why would I want to delve deeper into a brain so scary?  I'm good with superficial knowledge, thanks.   

Anyway.  Back to mapping!

I had three columns - (1) Month, Year (2) Feelings on an arbitrary scale from -10 to 10, (3) Notes.   I added the colors later - ignore those if you're following along on your own journey map.  (In Excel.  Because you're super-cool like that too!)

I quickly found that I could best assess my past if I looked at May as that's when the academic year typically ended for me.  I added extra time points as they struck me as important but I set my minimum sampling at May.    I finished with May, 2014, so I have a current state.  There's no particular reason I started in 7th grade - it felt like my first "professional" accomplishment and gave me upwards of 20 years to consider patterns. 

I may have scrunched up my face in thought to get a Feelings Number but I tried not to think about it too much.  I made it a 'your first answer is probably the right answer' exercise so I worked pretty quickly, going back and inserting rows if I realized I'd forgotten something I wanted to capture or adjusting values if I found my scale was a bit off. 

Also recall that I did this at night.  I'm sharp in the mornings - my brain is nimble and fast.  Like a ninja.  Or an otter.  An otter ninja!  At night, my brain more resembles a befuddled yet emotional elephant  - the edges of thoughts blur, I'm much more likely to get upset - angry, sad, anxious - depends on the day.  So I tapped into the emotions that tend to linger closer to the surface at night for me. 

I was oddly disappointed when I inserted myself a line graph and did not find my squiggly line profoundly informative.  I poked the screen of my laptop with my finger, befuddled-elephant-brain wanting it to tell me something.  Upon admitting it was going to remain a squiggle and smiling over how I could see some Ms - "M is my middle initial!" I giggled - I closed the laptop and went to bed.

When I realized the ends of those Ms looked remarkably like my dreams.  Sharp, surprising declines that leave me floating frighteningly above the ground, grasping for help that won't come fast enough.

Closing the laptop quickly, I calmed myself and climbed the stairs to snuggle in bed and sleep.  I'd think about the rest later.