Month: June 2014

So far I have managed to survive.

I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, and had a busy day. In the early evening I noticed my thinking was a bit off- I was in a park, listening to live music and enjoying a cider (I was at a fantasy-themed event known as Faery Fest), and I couldn’t shake some negative, paranoid thoughts about coworkers. Specifically, that they were gossiping about me last summer. Thinking this about people I am generally on good terms with, as far as I know, left a bad taste in my mouth that even the excellent cider could not wash away. 

I have what is known as “pure-O” obsessional form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. This means I generally don’t have strange outward habits, like handwashing or ritual doorknob touching (though I do tend to whisper weird little mantras to myself and it’s so automatic I forget that I’m in public- so yes, I do seem strange to others). However, I do tend to think thoughts over and over and over- and this is a problem when the thoughts are distressing or negative. 

As far as I know, I don’t have any problems with my coworkers. I have a memory once of one of my coworkers apologizing to me, but I can’t trust memories- my mind fabricates them, and even completely implausible events can seem very real, very “remembered”. But I’ve never been given an official reprimand, I’ve never had an awkward conversation with my boss or with anyone I work with along the lines of “you’d better shape up”, and if people were gossiping last summer, I didn’t realize it then- so it seems most likely that this is something I’ve fabricated, and it is probably coming to my mind now because I didn’t get enough sleep. 

I realize I have this Achilles heel, and it’s a big one- if I’m subtly abused, I can’t tell- but I would rather forgive to the extent that I can than walk about harbouring grudges for things that might not even have occurred. I would rather be injured than be a horrible person to others. Similarly, I’ll risk getting hurt if it means I can spend my life enjoying myself, instead of trying to record everything that happens to me just in case someone has ever tried to hurt me. I’d rather risk hurt than live a life trapped by fear and hate and mistrust. I have paranoid tendencies, it’s true, but I try hard to overcome them by trusting others. I have my moments where I can’t, and when this happens I try hard to just avoid confrontational situations, and to avoid saying what’s on my mind (I don’t always succeed). My life would be a wasteland if I wasn’t able to trust and forgive.  

It’s possible I’ve been hurt, maybe even badly hurt, and been unable to do anything about it, because of my illness- but so far I have managed to survive. 

A little side note: I accidentally posted something along these lines in my company blog! Oops. That’s what happens to me when it’s late and I am thinking more about what I want to say than I am about making sure I’ve logged out of one account and into another! I don’t consider the content of this post to reflect negatively upon me, but it would be unprofessional to blog about it via my company, so I really hope no one saw it there. I deleted it within seconds of posting, for these reasons, and didn’t even keep a copy of it (it was particularly well-written, much more so than this post). Ah, well! C’est la vie. 

Call it an experiment.

I was feeling blue earlier today regarding how much work I had to do, and then wound up taking on the task of helping to find funding and design a project for something that is both ambitious and really, really neat– and while I have not yet had success, I am optimistic about getting it done. This optimism has buoyed my mood. 

I should really be more concerned with the logistics of the project- it is a BIG project- but I see my role with this as more of an advisor and not as the person actually doing the work. I plan to farm that out to someone that a grant pays for, and finding the grant money- now that’s the difficulty, and I’m racking my brains right now trying to think of how to do this quickly.

In the meantime, I have my cancer research project to do– that one is a little frightening because it’s me risking everything with it, not someone else- and a variety of other projects that are progressing at a reasonable pace. 

Today I also spent about an hour or so in the sunshine and fresh air, and I’ve had several kind expressions of concern from friends, some of whom are quite distant indeed. These things also help buoy my mood, and so while I am still worried about a few things (I think this is fairly normal, considering the extent of risk my self-funded research entails), I am managing it now fairly well. 

Tonight, after dinner, I was able to relax with Downton Abbey and am now watching a BBC series about a detective who runs a restaurant called “Pie in the Sky”. I have things to read but I want to see if I can keep my good mood going by giving myself more time to relax. Call it an experiment. 

It’s just a tad insulting

Photographer imagines life filled with anxiety and mental illness

“Photographer imagines life filled with anxiety and mental illness” kind of doesn’t get the point of why people with mental illness behave oddly. It’s not because hey, we’re quirky and we just think our quirks ought to be considered normal. It’s because, to us, everything we do makes sense. It’s because, in the narratives going through our distorted thinking, the odd things we do are completely justifiable, and have their own dreamlike logic which, to us, makes sense.

“All of us have secrets and habits that would appear eccentric to others, but It’s Hardly Noticeable suggests perhaps our desire for normalcy is just another neurosis.”

ORLY? Maybe I want to be normal because I’m fucking tired of living with nightmares.

It’s just a tad insulting to have an outsider tell me why I think as I do.

These are the sorts of things I do to pass the time.

Today I’ve taken care of a number of little things, and submitted one paper (I wrote it in my spare time, which sounds impressive until I tell you it’s just a hypothesis paper that’s only about 1500 words long), and I’m pretty much finished with another. I’m waiting for a figure for the second paper, and I need to put finishing touches on the manuscript as well as the supporting information, but it’s pretty much finished.

Got some good news today- my reference letters are all uploaded for a job I’d like to have! The submission deadline is June 20, so I am hopeful that I’ll get an email back from them sometime after that. My research trip to UCLA is from June 30 to July 12, with travelling days bracketing those days, so I’m hoping I can take care of the interview either before I leave or after I come back.

I’m a bit stalled on a third paper I should be writing, mostly because I am using data supplied by a student, and I’m not sure he calculated the figures in his thesis correctly. The data file I have is at odds with one of the figures in his thesis. It’s kind of difficult to talk about what his data means when there are two possible, and very different, interpretations of the data, so I’m really dependent on waiting for his input so I know what data we have to work with. I can write a paper either way, but it will be a waste of time to go ahead without this input.

A fourth paper is in the data analysis stage, and unfortunately the analytics are slow. One part of the work will be done by a collaborator in Denmark, and that may or may not lead to something. Another part I am doing and the analysis I’m on will take another week, maybe longer, to complete.

For a possible fifth paper, I am waiting to hear back from a collaborator. I should contact him next week to see if he’s been able to look at my data or not.

And finally, I’m probably going to start on a review paper while all this work is going on, because I have free time and no lab work to do at the moment.

These are the sorts of things I do which pass the time for me, fairly quickly most of the time. Most days are like today, a day where I can focus and get quite a lot accomplished.

She’s not wrong.

I like to think I’m fairly tough, and I can put up with a lot- but today I found myself wondering, more than once, if I might need to rest more than I have been. I’ve been lacking sleep for a few nights now, and my moods have progressively worsened.

Instead of working tonight I am trying to rest, just in case, and plan to sleep early. I hate this fragility, but it’s my responsibility to act as warden for my own brain. Like it or not, it’s my responsibility to earn a living for my husband and myself, and I can’t keep doing that if I can’t focus at work because I’m distracted. I managed fairly well today, but why push it?

My aunt Marion, a GP, mentioned to me yesterday that she doesn’t understand people that bring their work home with them, and that she feels it is very important to enjoy life, to relax.

She’s not wrong.

For me, for tonight, a hot bath followed by tea and a pleasant book are in order.

The various children that might have been.

I don’t have children. This is mostly by choice, though a large factor in my decision has been finances and the instability of having contract-based work that can end with a few weeks’ notice. So for my husband and I, Father’s Day is largely about our friends who are fathers, or about my father (still in good health, thankfully), since Seth’s father has passed away some years ago. 

Today was a pleasant enough Father’s Day- we spent it in the company of my aunt and uncle, and relatives from their side of the family. I managed to eat something at some point with gluten in it, as I got a headache for no ostensible reason and generally whenever that happens, it’s because I have eaten something I shouldn’t have. My husband shared some of his new line of barbecue sauces (gluten-free!) with our relatives and they were well-received. I spoke to several about my research plans for UCLA, and how things seem to be shaping up nicely with the project I want to do there. The day was sunny and cheerful, and I only wish I had spent a bit more time with my father (we brought him a gift, a couple of books about past Canadian prime ministers). 

Last year around this time I wondered if I’d ever have children, and it occurred to me that, had I chosen a different life path, I probably would be a mother to at least one child. I’m not averse to children, but I am 42 and still do not have that stable job, so I don’t see a clear path to having the ability to comfortably raise a child (and I will not raise a child in poverty or instability of any sort). This is all right- I’ve never really had children as a life’s goal. But sometimes I wonder what days like today would have been like if I had ever had a child; I wonder what person I might be looking at as the father to my child. I wonder about the various children that might have been.

These stories, both fictional and delusional, dominate my life.

I haven’t slept much in the past couple of days. I was productive today, but it’s 11 pm and I’m completely exhausted, not to mention that earlier this afternoon I started being distracted with thoughts of events that can’t be real (that someone famous bought me an expensive car and put things in it for me, and the message sent to me telling me these things were mine was stolen by evil people intent on causing me harm or enriching themselves). These little stories emerge, detailed and full-blown, into my storytelling mind and they are very convincing. They are hard to ignore. Their existence is why I take my medication and why I try to get enough sleep- because when I push myself too hard, I start breaking down and these weird, sometimes frightening little stories become big ones, all-consuming ones, ones that take over my attention and cause me even more stress, take away even more sleep. 

Luckily today’s events were mild- they put me in a bad mood for a while and made me snap distractedly at my husband, but otherwise no harm was done. 

I am very pleased- among today’s activities was finding inexpensive utility shelves to be put up, to help organize our things. Our living space is already looking better, and once all the shelves are up I expect to see a dramatic improvement. My husband is using his new pressure canner to can his apple butter barbecue sauce and curry ketchup. I hope the canning does not alter the flavours too much. I guess we will find out! 

I also am pleased that I managed to find time to write/edit four more chapters of my science fiction novel, Anagama. I really think that if I were to take a month to myself, maybe sit on a beach in Mexico as my former psychiatrist did, that I’d finish it! I know the story. I write quickly now (I used to take forever since I was so busy worrying about my writing style and how to make the work as poetic as possible).  I could do it. 

However, finances being what they are and the demands of my job and research projects being what they are, I won’t be able to take a month for myself in 2014 unless something unexpected happens. This is fine- I struggle to organize my time but I find I am so happy when I write that I will try to make creative writing time more of a priority. I told myself in January that I would finish Anagama this year, and I will- I just need to be disciplined enough to work on other projects as well. These stories I write, both deliberately in fiction and accidentally, in delusion, dominate my life and I think, even though the latter may give me a great deal of stress, they have also given me a great deal of inspiration. My storytelling mind is constantly fuelling the creative fiction that makes me happy and which, I hope, will someday entertain others. 

 

Finding time to be human

When it comes to working, sometimes my ambitions are greater than the amount of time and energy I’m able to devote to my various projects. I had told myself in my diary that I’d work on four different things today, and actually only was able to work on one. However, the reason I wasn’t able to keep my nose to the grindstone is a happy one- spending time shopping at the Farmer’s Market downtown, picking out some books for Father’s Day, spending time running errands with my husband, and later in the day, spending time with friends I hardly ever see. Case in point, I received a Christmas gift! It had been at least six months since I had seen my friends, and I blame that entirely on this phenomenon that sneaks up on busy people, this frantic pace of living which makes finding time to simply enjoy the company of others, to connect over coffee or a card game, so very rare. I appreciate the time I’m able to spend with my friends, even if I see them all too rarely. 

I’m typing this as Downton Abbey is playing on the television, and I have a stack of patents to look through to find information on a procedure I need to do when I go to UCLA in three weeks. I suppose finding it now, or finding it tomorrow morning, does not make a lot of difference. My therapist would probably tell me that I need to give myself time to be human, time to relax, and I often find myself driving myself to achieve, or to be productive, to my own detriment- I push and push, and then become burned out and less productive as a result. This is probably common among North Americans. While living in Sweden, the Swedes found this kind of behaviour puzzling, and I found their calm emphasis on taking time to rest and enjoy life to be refreshing. 

I did manage to indulge myself today- I wrote the first chapter of my revised version of my science fiction novel Anagama, and sent it to a friend for critiquing. Tomorrow I have the entire day free, and plan to get back to working on the projects I had hoped to work on today. It’s nearly midnight- finding the protocol I need tomorrow will take me about ten minutes, and conveying the important bits to my collaborators will take one well-crafted email (about another twenty to thirty minutes). I tell myself it can wait, and part of me feels like I am slacking off, I am not meeting my basic standards for productivity. After all, what did I do today in terms of work? It does not matter that it is Saturday, I have so many projects planned that I need to keep up the pace if I’m to progress on all or even most of them. Another part of me nods sagely and tells me that if I wait to find the protocol until tomorrow morning, I’ll be better able to convey the most important details to my collaborators- I wont miss something important because I am tired and distracted, I won’t run the risk of making a mistake. And, there is also the show playing on the television- exciting things are afoot in Downton Abbey, and it would be a shame to miss them because my mind is somewhere else entirely. 

One of the themes my novel, Anagama, explores is the definition of humanity. I am human- I will find the patent, I will look at it, but I will probably not write to my collaborators until tomorrow. No one will see my email tonight, no one will be able to act on anything I write until Monday, and the world will not end if I take a few hours tonight to enjoy my husband’s company and watch some television with him. 

I think she had the right idea.

As of today I’m discharged from my psychiatrist’s care- she has been laid off due to funding cutbacks, and is moving back to Halifax. I’m not a high-priority mental patient because I can pretty much take care of myself, and with help from my GP, I’ve been managing my medication. About three weeks ago I suffered from a very severe episode (I discuss it slightly here) of paranoid, psychotic thoughts and while I was more or less able to work during this time (I analyzed data for a paper which I was able to finish last week), it was very difficult for me to function. I’m fine now- apparently the culprit was some new medication my psychiatrist put me on where the dose was too high.

I’m not going to belabour the point that mental illness is hard. I expect this diary will, over time, demonstrate my struggles perfectly eloquently. I will not tell you everything I experience (this is not a place for horror stories), but just enough to make my point: that I’m basically a normal person, pretty much like you, and once in a while I get a little bit weird, a little bit lost.

Tonight is a quiet night. Seth, my husband, is making and canning homemade gourmet ketchup and barbecue sauce (hickory-smoked! Very tasty) and I am sitting with a pile of reading. We do not have cable because of where we live in the country, and we also now do not have satellite reception (it went down a few weeks ago, mysteriously), so we are catching up on our favourite shows via downloads we watch directly on our television. I don’t always pay much attention to the television, particularly when I’m busy writing something or working up plans on a spreadsheet.

I’ve been doing a lot of financial planning lately because I want to be able to pay for my two-week research trip to UCLA to study a novel cancer-fighting gut bacterium (my fundraising page that describes this project is here). This is a passion project for me because it involves work I was inspired to do, in part because my brother died of cancer in 2003.I’m taking all my vacation days and working through them to do this project, because I can’t afford an extended unpaid period away from my job. I am pleased that I’ve been getting some assistance from various academics, and I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to get enough data to be able to write an R21 with the help of my collaborator, Dr. Schiestl, at UCLA. Everyone’s funding is tight though- the glory days of lots of extra money in research are long gone.

In my spare time I try to write fiction, and I’ve decided to finish a novel I began in 1998. Finding the time to work on it, uninterrupted, is a challenge. My research trip in July is coming up soon, and I am spending a lot of time planning it. I am trying to make sense of a mass of data (none of it generated by me!) for my full-time job- that’s the pile of reading sitting by me, waiting for me to finish this post. I’ve mostly figured it out, I just need to synthesize the results, and so another trusty spreadsheet will open. I need to check on the laundry and I need to find half an hour to get on my elliptical and try to get in better physical shape. I’ve got a stack of books to read, a business plan to write, and a stack of references that I plan to use to synthesize a hypothesis paper (unrelated to my full-time job, this paper is something I have come up with in my spare-time readings and musings). Somehow writing for pleasure has taken a back seat to all of these things. If I had a month to myself to sit on a patio with my computer and simply write, all day, every day, I’d get the novel finished.

I need my income at the moment, but my husband is hatching a variety of business plans (my financial planning is partly to keep track of his various sources of income, to assist him in writing his own business plans) and perhaps someday I will be able to take a month or two and spend it following up on all the projects my current hamster-wheel lifestyle is preventing me from progressing on. Before she told me she was discharging me, my psychiatrist said she took a month to herself to catch up on a mountain of work she had been lagging behind on. She went to Mexico and sat on the beach and wrote report after report, and cleared her backlog of work. I think she had the right idea.

I am not in a position to be able to do that myself just yet, but perhaps someday soon, I’ll be able to go somewhere sunny and sit comfortably outside at a table with my laptop, and catch up on all the things I love to do which are so important to me.