Ya Burnt!

I can feel an overwhelming chorus of “I told you so!” coming my way after this post. And, to be honest, I told myself so as well. Yet here we are at… burnout.

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Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

The negative effects of burnout spill over into every area of life—including your home and social life. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses.” (x)

After spending several long months ill and unemployed last winter I finally found a job with the Chamber of Commerce in late spring. It was only part-time, but I thought it would be a good opportunity to ease myself into work life after so long away. I spent 6 months doing this, but near the end felt I needed to find something full-time. I began applying and interviewing for positions in late summer, but unfortunately never landed anything.

In the autumn I decided that my finances required I figure something out, so I began applying for other part-time jobs that I could do in addition to the Chamber. Within a week of making this decision I found myself with 4 offers, and decided to accept 2 of them. One was a part-time retail position conveniently located in the same complex as my first job, and the other was a casual position at a local sport/entertainment venue.

For the next few months I easily balanced the 3 roles. I was tired, but it was working. When January rolled around the retail hours diminished, so I took on a second retail position that offered 1-2 shifts / week. However during January the hours at the casual position unexpectedly shot up to full time, and I found myself working non-stop. At the casual job I also found myself assisting other departments during events, and was offered a job in the finance department, which my people-pleasing self accepted in a moment of weakness. This brought me up to 5 jobs.

Did I mention that on top of this I was also doing regular volunteer work with a local non-profit as well and taking courses for my outpatient anxiety program? Yeah…

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In all of January I had one day off. I was completely exhausted, but knowing the hours at the casual job would drop down in February I powered through. And then February came and I thought ‘Oh, sweet relief!’

Except, not so much.

A family crisis hit early in the month, which I won’t get into, only to say that it was horrible and caused a lot of stress. I was so flustered that I began giving incorrect availability at jobs, double booking myself, missing enough class to eventually be kicked out, and having panic attacks at work (which as you know from my last post was a huge trigger issue for me).

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Everything came to head last weekend when I went on holiday. After months with only a handful of days off, and too tired and busy to think about anything other than work, I have 4 whole days off! And doing what I always do when such an event occurs: I hopped on a bus to NYC. I was expecting a few fun-filled days with theatre, friends, and wandering. And while all of those things happened, I can’t say the days were fun-filled.

The night before I left for NYC I developed a fever. As I have auto-immune disease this wasn’t a rare occurrence, so I ignored it, as I usually do. Unfortunately one of the effects of me being fevered is an increase in anxiety. And with finally having time off to breathe and relax all of the stress of the past month(s) hit me full force. I spent the entire weekend in a state of low-grade panic, I couldn’t sleep, and became wholeheartedly convinced that I was going to die. I was in full fledged terror psychosis mode, and actually wrote goodbye letters to people. It was terrifying.

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“Anxiety is a poorly performing fight or flight system, which is the system that your body activates when it’s experiencing severe danger. An anxiety attack is essentially the peak of this fear. Your body rushes with an intense amount of adrenaline, and this alters your brain chemistry and thought patterns to tell you that you’re in grave danger. It’s the same way you would feel if you were holding onto a ledge above a 10 story building. Your body is telling you that you need to be very afraid because your life is in danger. Unfortunately, in the case of panic attacks, your body is wrong.” (x)

When I got home I was beyond exhausted. I went back to work on Monday and by Wednesday felt like I was losing my mind. Some unpleasantness that I’d rather not talk about happened over the next 24 hours and I went to the doctors where I learned that 1) my white count and liver enzymes are completely out of whack; and 2) I am, indeed, burnt.

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My doctor ordered that I take some time off, so between now and April 1st I’ll be working just 2 jobs. This should total only about 25-30 hours / week, leaving me time to do my classes (6 hours a week), get some rest, and pack (as I’m moving on April 1st). I am also taking a full 7 days off in the middle of March for a big meet-up in New York. I’ll be seeing Hamilton (!!!) and Fun Home, catching up with lots of amazing friends, eating an obscene amount of delicious food, and doing activities all over the city. Needless to say, I’m very excited! And it’s nice to have something to look forward to in the midst of all this chaos.

So, I have 5 weeks to get my head back on straight. Wish me luck…

 

 

 

 

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2016: Same Old, Same Old

How is it almost February?

I spent January working my ass off and being sick, so I’ve lost all concept of time. I started a 4th and 5th job, so my schedule is ridiculous. Honestly, if I didn’t have a multi-device syncing calendar I’d be completely screwed. And it’s not like I’m working an excessive number of hours (40-50 a week, on average), but being all over the place at all different times of the day is making me scatterbrained. I’ve turned into a complete flake, and it’s really starting to get to me!

(In a spontaneous act of crazy, needing to feel like I had some sort of control, I got a pair of scissors and chopped off all my hair. Thank you to Saira for being my inspiration there! Heh.)

It’s also not helping that my anxiety is getting bad. And the irony is that the source of anxiety is that (1) I’m beyond paranoid that I’m going to have a panic attack at work, and (2) I lose my prescription benefits at the end of this month.

A big issue for me in early 2015 was that I stopped sleeping regularly due to nocturnal panic episodes, caused my dreams (typically the traditional teeth falling out dream). They went away last spring, but returned in the last few weeks. Recently it’s the same dream over and over: I’m at work (my retail job, which I’ve been at since October and quite like) and am constantly getting into trouble because I’m doing everything wrong. As the dream goes on coworkers start coming up to me and telling me how incompetent I am and that management is furious. Eventually in the dream I have a panic attack, am yelled at by a manager, and fired. And then I wake up in a panic attack (hyperventilating, crying, nose bleed, all that fun stuff). I’ve had this same dream, and same panic episode, the last 3 nights in a row. UGH.

As for the benefits, I don’t even know what to do. I can’t afford my auto-immune meds AND my anxiety meds. So I weighed the option of taking one vs the other. If I stop the anxiety meds I’ll probably relapse into my anxiety-ridden self, but if I stop my auto-immune meds I could potentially die, so… I voted for anxiety meds! But I went to my doctor this morning and asked about weening off the meds to which I received the most incredulous look of all time. “You have an incredibly severe anxiety disorder. You can not go off medication.” OKAY, OKAY.

So, I now need to figure out how to pay the $500/month for meds. I keep getting denied for private insurance, so I might try Trillium again. I’ve been denied twice, but maybe third time’s the charm. Everyone please cross all fingers and toes. Thx.

Hmm, what else? I was supposed to start the 3rd semester of my out-patient anxiety program yesterday, but being a sleep deprived flake, I missed the first session. So I need to make sure that I sort that out and don’t get myself kicked out of the program. And today I finally made appointments with my counsellor and occupational therapist. They’re both going to shout at me for taking more jobs…

The last time I saw either of them I had just taken on a second one, and neither were impressed. But I think I needed to do it, and I’m happy I did. I realized the only reason I wasn’t was because I had convinced myself I couldn’t. But it turns out I could! I’m not completely incompetent!

Well, not outside of my anxiety dreams, at least.

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Stress

As some of you know I’ve been in an outpatient program for severe anxiety with the NHS since the beginning of this year. The experience has been incredibly tough, but if I look at where I was 12 months ago compared to today I can say that it has been – and continues to be- rewarding. The program has provided me with clarity, acceptance, and in its success the will and motivation to continue my path to recovery.

However, in saying that, over the past month I’ve found myself missing sessions due to work conflicts. But considering I was unable to work when I began the program, there are much worse reasons for absence! And I did meet with one of my clinicians last week and commit to improving my attendance come the new year. Having recently been offered a permanent role with my new employer (I was hired as a seasonal staff member) I am now left with the dilemma of whether or not to disclose that I am in this program. On one hand I want to explain my sporadic availability, but on the other I still greatly fear being fired. But, that’s something I’ll need to continue to mull over.

But that’s not the reason I decided to write today, so moving on!

I’ve been on a self-help book kick lately. Most recently I dug out my copy of The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, which I was given during my stint in the Region’s anxiety program. (Remember the anxiety program I was kicked out of for being too anxious? Yeah, that one.) At the time I didn’t get very far into the book, first being too overwhelmed with the program, and then being too upset after being asked to leave. But going back to it I must say that it’s excellent. I’m only in section 2 but am already finding a lot of new and helpful information. I’m also realizing some misconceptions or misunderstandings I had about certain topics, namely: Stress.

My relationship with the idea of stress has always been complicated. I’ve spent years beating myself up, and telling myself that I can’t be experiencing stress. What do I have to be stressed about? I don’t have a stressful job, or family to take care of, or any of these other things that I’ve always associated with being sources of stress. But I’m coming to realize that I hold a very myopic view of what stress is. It’s not a short list of things that affect everyone in a specific way. It’s a very, very long list of things that affect everyone to varying degrees.

Section 2 of the book is entitled “Major Causes of Anxiety Disorders”, and one of the topics discussed is Cumulative Stress. It includes an instrument called the Life Events Survey, which is used to determine a person’s level of cumulative stress. Several events are listed, and given an accompanying score. If an event has occurred more than once over the past two years, then you would count the score the applicable number of times. The conclusion states that:

If your score is under 150, you are less likely to be suffering the effects of cumulative stress. If it is between 150 and 300, you may be suffering from chronic stress, depending on how you perceived and coped with the particular life events that occurred. If your score is over 300, it is likely you are experiencing some detrimental effects of cumulative stress.

Examples of ‘events’ include Personal Illness, Change in Residence, Losing a Job, Change in Finances, Major Purchases, etc. It asks you to include only events that have occurred in the last 2 years.

My score was… 595.

I guess I need to stop beating myself up, thinking I have nothing to be stressed about!

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