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Staving off burnout

June 4, 2010

Yesterday, I mentioned skating on the edge of burnout. I think I have the resources to write about that some today.

As I mentioned before, I have a bit of a history of burnout episodes. These were interpreted before as severe depressive episodes–and depression, frustration, and helpless feelings certainly have gone along with it. But that was not the whole story. (And an assortment of psych meds and seriously off-base therapy, based in faulty assumptions about what was happening, did not magically fix the problem.) Not surprisingly, I get more than a little anxious at the prospect of that happening again, even now that I have a better idea of what’s going on and better coping strategies. Part of that anxiety comes from some of the ways you’re liable to get treated (even by the well-intended) if other people think you’ve had some kind of nervous breakdown, and you are really not capable of standing up for yourself right then.

I’m trying hard to apply some mindfulness, and not borrow trouble. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof”, and all that. But it’s difficult sometimes.

Right now, I’m trying to simplify things, and put some more thought into what I really need to be doing, and what I have been made to feel like I should be doing. One of the frustrating things, though, is that I’ve already simplified things to the point that even less is getting done around here, and it’s still too much. It’s hard to figure out what else to change, without really putting an unfair load on Nigel.

In general, when your improved coping strategies and attitudes turn out not to be enough to keep you from getting overwhelmed, it’s both frustrating and a little frightening.

One of the major things overwhelming me right now is the looming specter of the move. When I’m already having a lot of trouble keeping up with things, adding layers upon layers more does not help. (Neither does stressing about it, and, again, I’m trying not to borrow trouble.) For instance, between the allergies–which are helping with the overload levels, too–the unhappy back, and the overload itself, I have not been able to even get started on getting rid of some of the junk and cleaning this place up. The place is already a mess because I haven’t been able to do a lot of stuff. Having a rather nebulous deadline doesn’t help. It’s not so much demand resistance in this case, but feeling totally overwhelmed. And I resent honestly not being able to do it. Much less not being at all sure that I will be able to. Much less its feeling unfair to expect Nigel to do all of it, especially when he has his own problems in that area.

Though, on the practical side, it may be stressful to the point that I need to go somewhere else for a few hours, but I suspect we may just have to get the firm that cleared the patio to come in. There’s a lot of just plain junk, and neither of us is up to dealing with it right now.

That’s just one example of moving-related concerns, and a very practical, physical one at that. Then there’s all the forms and arrangements (as my EF and inertia get worse with more stress), besides the uproar and change. Now, at least, I am not beating myself up much over having trouble with even moderate changes, but it’s still hard to deal with.

Again, I’m trying to be mindful of what’s going on and not let them drive me up the wall, but I’m getting the looping thoughts again about Being A Burden and Disappointing People, and worrying about what Nigel thinks about my burning-out behavior. I am all too aware of being more dependent on one person than anyone should be in a just society. And my behavior lately could well be interpreted as lazy, while I focus my limited energy and other resources on things that might look frivolous. Frankly, at this point, I kinda wish Laziness and Not Trying Hard Enough really were behind the difficulties, because then trying to get my ass in gear might do some good. As it is, trying to force myself to get more “productive” things done–and running myself into the ground in the process–only makes the situation worse.

My physical health is actually seeming a little better than it was–other than the allergies–but it’s still far from ideal. It is frustrating that this drain on resources makes it harder in a lot of ways for me to do something about it! (Especially through the medical PTSD.) So, ideally, I’d get some of the physical stuff managed better, but am overwhelmed enough that it’s not looking possible right now.

I am also trying not to worry about getting away from the NHS and back into US insurance nightmares with exclusion periods and lots of paperwork. (While realizing that I’m very lucky indeed that Nigel’s future employer is pretty good about benefits–and that, bizarrely, AFAICT I am probably better off as a spouse than I would be with a group plan of my own.) While most NHS care has been inaccessible enough to me for a while that I may as well not have health care available, and the quality isn’t always what it could be, the prospect of even 6 months of totally uncovered chronic stuff is kind of daunting. Along with the hoop-jumping required to get the chronic pain treated once it’s covered. At least weak codeine preparations are available without a prescription here; while they’re insufficient when I’m having a serious problem, it’s one hell of a lot better than the nothing I got last time I was back in the US with incapacitating back spasms and just about capable of seeing a doctor! (That is not a given. It is not the case right now. Guess I’m just “noncompliant”, with the diabetes and all. {headdesk}) I don’t think Nigel totally understands some of the headaches in store, never having lived in the US. (And no, I don’t trust the ridiculous attempts at reform to do much, if anything, to help much of anyone. The system is so firmly broken, I don’t know what would.)

One of the things which has also been frustrating me about this whole situation is uncovering layers of disability shame I didn’t know were still there. Being honest with myself, without support available, I am just not up to the much-vaunted “independent living”. Even living with one other person, it’s hard. I thought I was closer to OK with this and placing fewer value judgments on it these days, but apparently not when my apparent “functioning level” dips sufficiently. This is another of those things in which standards for myself and standards for other people are very, very, different, deep down.

I mean, one of the damned repeating thought loops I’ve been having a hard time defusing involves one oh-so-amusing offhand comment my mother made 4 or 5 years ago, made of multiple layers of fail. When I mentioned that Nigel was looking at job openings in Virginia (mostly for my benefit, I think), she came out with something along the lines of: “If you do move back to the US, you’d better get a job or people will think you’re weird.” This coming from someone who’d been disabled herself for years, with lots of wishful thinking thrown in about how I come across regardless of employment status*. Talk about a concise expression of bundles of disability shame. It just about gutted me at the time, and I felt sorry for her if that’s how she was thinking about her own situation.

Still, that was such a neat expression of worries I’d already experienced on my own–and no wonder, with some of the lousy attitudes out there!–that I keep thinking about it. It may be chock full of hurtful attitudes, but she was right. And, again, I thought I’d mostly come to terms with not being well suited to doing paid work for much of anyone else, given the prevailing work environments and expectations (maybe self-employment, with bookkeeping help). Apparently not completely. Besides thinking about being unfair to Nigel, I am also thinking about some of the nasty assumptions people will make if you’re not in paid work–and not wanting to deal with that. And, yeah, there don’t even seem to be as many SAHMs in the US, especially in the economic climate right now.

Whatever the details (and those are just a couple), I haven’t been best pleased to find out how many hurtful attitudes are still lurking. When sufficiently overwhelmed, I’m having to deal with some of the same crap which has historically made similar situations worse. Deep down, I hope I do not believe that I’m somehow a less worthwhile person if, for whatever reason, I can’t be strong in the ways I’ve been taught are important. I’m hoping that this is more like greater vulnerability to nasty memes when I’m overloaded.

I needed to get some of this out. As much as Nigel tries to understand and help, I think it makes him uncomfortable when I start talking about some of this stuff–very possibly because there’s nothing he can do to fix it.

For now, it looks like the best plan (as in, plan most likely to give decent results) is to continue trying to take it easy as far as possible, and resist the “but I should be doing X (and Y, Z, K, Q, etc.)!”. Not to mention “if I can do X at the moment, surely I can do Y and Z” which are totally unrelated and require different skills. That’s why I haven’t been around much online lately. Concentrating on books and perseverations–sometimes in combination *g*–helps. And if that’s most of what I’m up to doing right now, feeling guilty about not being able to do other stuff isn’t going to help. At all.

Today I got a shipment of books including Lorraine Massey’s Curly Girl, a couple of dog books, and a Peter Linebaugh history one (The London Hanged–thanks to Retrieverman for the recommendations!). And I’m tempted to go and start one of them in a while. So, yeah, books and perseverations. 😉

Now, what to have for supper… 😐


* She may not have wanted to admit it to herself, what with all the value judgments combined with different cultural messages giving about as serious cognitive dissonance as I’ve had with that. But she knew very well that I just wasn’t up to that good old “independent living”, and obviously considered my getting married a relief in terms of support when she was gone! Hell, on her deathbed, she hung on for days–even unconscious–until Nigel could get there. He could tell that was the case.

And yeah, I do strike a lot of people as weird. Politeness levels and value judgments placed on said perceived weirdness are other balls of wax. Harmless and possibly charming eccentricity has always been the best I could hope for. The contrast of this bit of reality and the “oh, there’s nothing wrong with you” wishful thinking kinda floored me.

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