Tuesday, March 19, 2013

the monster

to blog or not to blog about it, that's the question i've been pondering since the monster returned a couple of months ago: the monster of psychological problems, the monster of burnout, the monster of me not quite being myself, the monster of control slipping out of my hands.

i've wanted to write about it here, but then i thought about how some people told me in the past that it might be stupid to do so, because someone who is "somebody" at work could stumble on it. but - i guess, if they have nothing better to do, so be it. and i remembered how people emailed/messaged me five years ago, saying that my blog posts helped them feel less isolated, and a little more "normal" or "understood". i know my problems are minimal compared to those of some people i know, but they are still real and they still make me struggle and they make life very hard at times. so, i guess i am already in the middle of it ...

i had hoped i would never have to deal with the emotions, the pain, the panic i experienced in 2007/8 again. and for a long time it looked like my wish had been granted. however, my world seemed to crumble again earlier this year: in my job i went from being blissfully happy with what i was doing, where i was doing it, with whom i was doing it, to a project that is utter chaos, where i feel i am being wasted, where i have to constantly lower my (high) standards in order not to burn out completely, where nothing is going to change in the foreseeable future. in my relationship, things weren't going too well either, because both of us have had too much on our plates for a while. there was so much aggression towards people at work, so much frustration (can't go into details here, but some not so pretty things happened). and - the biggest problem of all: me, my own worst enemy. me, as in - my expectations (of myself, mostly), my high standards, my extraordinary sense of responsibility (for basically everything), the way i tend to define/identify myself mostly based on performance, accomplishments, etc., how i always tend to give 120%, how i work myself too hard, my low self-esteem, my need to feel loved, the pressure that i put myself under, how unforgiving i can be towards myself. i make allowances for everyone, it seems, but not for myself.

i could see where i was headed, and yet, i didn't do much about it. then i slept less and less. i saw the signs, in neon, blinking like crazy. i had been there before. one week in february, i slept less than 4 hours each night, and those were not a few hours of blissful, deep sleep, but half an hour here, half an hour there, and each morning i felt as if somebody had dragged me halfway across the city in my sleep. the last night of that week was the worst: i slept from 10.30 pm to 00:30, and that was that. i went to work, feeling like a zombie. i came home, feeling like a zombie. i couldn't sleep. i had a massive breakdown around 08:30 pm, started to cry, and couldn't stop. i cried and cried and had panic attacks and got caught up in ever the same thoughts, until i couldn't even move anymore, until i honestly thought i was losing my mind, that something would just snap. at 00:15, when heinz was home and saw me through another panic attack, i finally took a xanax, which knocked me out for some hours.

little wonder that i left the door wide open for all sorts of nasty little viruses, and i was really ill by monday morning. even then i still contemplated going to work! and even during my time off i felt responsible for everything - i checked assessment tests, i was online via the remote desktop half the day, i started looking for a place to stay, and generally didn't allow myself the rest i needed so badly. i had to take antibiotics for the first time in 20+ years.

my GP wanted to put me back on the same medication as in 2007/8. i accepted the trittico retard pills so i could sleep better. but i refused to go back on the sertralin (SSRI). last time it wreaked havoc with my digestive system, put an end to all creative processes for almost as long as i took the stuff, it also had a major negative influence on sexual pleasure, and i lost way too much weight in a really short time. and when i went off them ... ugh. for a week i went through every withdrawal symptom in the book. not pretty. i asked my doctor to refer me to a neurologist. a month later, i still haven't had an appointment - they must be the busiest people in the world. but, the day after tomorrow i am going to see the neurologist who treated me in 2007. perhaps we can find a better solution. i think i need to come to terms with the fact that medication might be it for me - at least for now.

i was off work for a full two weeks. my GP was reluctant to let me go back. my therapist didn't exactly call me crazy for going back to work in my state, but she very nicely asked me to go straight to my GP and go back on sick leave. which i didn't do. one reason was that things were looking good for a two-week class with motivated high level english students, a pleasant change from the normal fare. so i wanted to give that a go in order to have some pleasant experience at work and to get some of the energy back that i invested all the time.

the last 5-6 weeks have been really, really tough. sleeplessness, doubt, worry, moving out temporarily to a friend's studio, the sense of not belonging anywhere, not having a home (because, what home was i to myself?), anxiety, panic attacks, crying fits, and on more than one occasion i started hurting myself (digging my nails into my arms or hands, scratching myself till i bled), getting used to the pills ...

i am working very hard on myself these days. i think i have finally understood that if i don't change some of my faithful old patterns, i'm in real danger. it has never been as palpable as now. for my own sake, for MY own sake, i need to learn to love myself, not for the things i do, but for who i am. i need to learn to say no. i need to accept that i make mistakes and that that is okay. i need to treat myself with kindness. i need to be good to myself. i find it much, much easier to behave like that towards others. it's going to be a long, long road, but i am happy and proud to say that i have already managed to say no a few times lately, that i have allowed myself to do prep work in ten minutes (and it was still a very good day for myself and the students!), that i have allowed myself to stay at home because i was feeling awful, because i needed to look after myself and not others. i have allowed myself to say "i'll take care of it later" instead of doing everything at once. i have allowed myself to do absolutely nothing. i have allowed myself to make mistakes. i am taking it one step at a time, as best i can, and taking it one step at a time really isn't all that easy for me. i have also asked for help. i have just sent off an application for what they call rehab/a stay at a health resort. i have been diagnosed with burnout (and not one of the early stages), stress-induced depression, mental overload, anxiety and panic disorder. treatment at a health centre can help me become fit for work - and, basically, life - again. i would never have dreamed of asking for something like that even two or three months ago. perhaps all this sounds like nothing to some of you out there. to me they are giant steps in the right direction.

of course it all takes a lot of energy, and i have good and not so good days. last week was really good. my students were nice, and teaching was - once again, finally! - fun. heinz and i seemed to be on the same wavelength. i had no panic attacks, just a few incidents of feeling anxious. but it seems that even the good times take a lot of energy out of me, and perhaps that week also put me under some kind of pressure ... i.e. that this week would have to be just as good. it didn't start well, though. another fairly sleepless night. anxiety, panic. i couldn't go to work, i was exhausted. i try to see it as a small detour rather than a setback. i try to tell myself that it's okay. that i can't function perfectly at the moment. i know i am doing the best i can most of the time, and the rest of the time i am just trying not to sink.

this blog post is probably as much for me as for anybody else, or even more for myself than for anybody else. it's an addition to the many entries in my diary, an addition to my "good things that have happened this year" box, which - despite my difficult time - is filling up nicely. perhaps this will reach someone out there. perhaps it will fill my friends in on a few things i didn't post on facebook. and if someone who is "somebody" from work reads it - you can thank me for coming to work despite the shit hitting the fan so many times.

song of the day: the tower by vienna teng.


Halofading said...

I have never seen your blog before Michi but the signs have been there on Facebook. I know there are risks but you are doing the right thing posting here.
My work life reached crisis point last year but I survived, mainly with partner support and self hypnosis. A new job at last certainly helped.
Hang in there my friend - you are worth it. Garry

Ivy said...

Thinking of (and praying for) you and sending you virtual love and hugs (((Michi))). I hope there will be an abatement to your pain soon.