Close Call

November 25, 2014 at 3:09 pm (Congestive Heart Failure, Death and Dying, Hospitalizations, Medical) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Everyone in the room – the doctors, nurses, Rave, and even me – all thought the same thing, but no one wanted to say it.

For me, it became tangible when I realized I was having visual hallucinations and disturbances and couldn’t hear out of one ear. My blood pressure numbers were getting lower and lower and no one knew why. My chest hurt like crazy and I was struggling to breathe both out of pain as well as panic. The doc even asked me what my advanced directives were – like did I want a breathing tube – which they had never done before. That’s when I knew I might actually die, like, right now.

I’ve written a lot about how I hate asking people for rides, that it feels like panhandling. Even when people assure me that I can always ask and they like doing it, I still feel terrible about the whole process. After I left the hospital in October, my team had set me up with a slew of follow-up appointments; the idea was I was not well enough to go back home and return to normal life, but I wasn’t urgently sick enough to warrant staying in the hospital anymore. In particular, Johns Hopkins runs a “Heart Failure Bridge Clinic”, the “Bridge” being between hospitalization and home. You’re able to access services that regular doctors or cardiologist offices don’t offer, like IV diuretics.

I was able to attend my first Bridge appointment, and it was pretty standard. Other than a small med adjustment, it didn’t seem like a big deal. So when I wasn’t able to find a ride to the second appointment, I didn’t really stress over it. But then I missed a PCP appointment as well. It was a combination of people legitimately unable to make it and me not being in an emotional state conducive to putting as much effort in as I should have. Both Rave and I have been swamped with a preponderance of to-do items that are all “very important” and time sensitive as well.

I don’t remember when we first noticed that my blood pressures were off. I know I had started feeling dizzy and intoxicated without any cause. But however we got there, I started getting these ridiculously and somewhat unbelievably low readings with an average around 90/60. My home nurse told me to keep a close eye on it; well, that’s not exactly true, as she first recommended I go to the ER. When I told her I was feeling fairly okay and really didn’t want to go back to the hospital (can you blame me after a series of two-to-three week stays in the last four months?), she told me to keep an eye on it until I saw her later that week.

I decided to ask Dr. Google if there was some easy things I could do to bring my blood pressure up. This is when I was introduced into my current medical dilemma: as a congestive heart failure patient, I should severely restrict my fluid intake; but the one reliable way to raise and maintain a good blood pressure is to drink a healthy amount of fluids. So over the next few days I drank more fluids that I was “supposed” to and as it were, the more I drank the better I felt and the better my numbers were.

Well, not all my numbers. People with CHF have to weigh themselves every day because even small gains may be a sign of fluid retention and could require a change in your diuretic dosing. Every day I “cheated” on my restriction, the next morning would see the resultant weight gain; usually only a pound or two, but by the end of the week I was up over 10lbs. My nurse was pretty unhappy but we all agreed that since I had a Bridge Clinic appointment that Wednesday, I would just wait and see what they had to say.

Except that no one I asked could take me to Baltimore that day. By Tuesday midnight, I sent the message to cancel my appointment. I don’t know what my plan was, but until they invent transporters I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t even decide to drive myself, because Rave’s truck is still too broken to pass inspection and she needs my car to get to work. I didn’t sleep well that night. If I called an ambulance, they would have taken me to Hillbilly Hospital, and that was NOT going to happen. I felt defeated and depressed.

Even though Rave has been in hot water at work over how much time she takes off (mostly to take care of me), on the off chance the PTO gods would smile upon her, she submitted a request before she left work on Tuesday to see if they would let her take me to the appointment. We were pretty convinced the answer would be no, but I didn’t have a lot of other options. We were both surprised that when she got to work Wednesday morning, she saw that her request had been approved. She hopped right back into her car and came back to Hagerstown to pick me up.

We made a mad dash to Baltimore as we were cutting it pretty close, and the Clinic is one of those draconian offices that refuses to see you if you’re more than 10-15 minutes late. We even called ahead to see if that would help, but no dice. On top of that, I had only been to the location once before, and it’s hiding in one of the regular towers (instead of in the Outpatient Center) and I didn’t know which parking garage we should use. To make matters worse, there was practically no available parking in the one we chose, so we spent another ten minutes driving around in circles. We breezed into the office exactly 15 minutes late.

The nurse practitioner took my vitals and saw both the weight gain and low pressure – 80/40. She left the office to call her supervisor. Rave and I figured it was to figure out how much IV meds to give me…until more than 20 minutes go by and she still hasn’t returned. Finally, I gave voice to what we were both starting to fear – that they were going to admit me on the spot. Which is sort of what happened. There weren’t any free beds in the unit I would stay in, and after taking my blood pressure a number of times and getting consistently low numbers she felt the best course of action was to send me to the ER so I could be monitored while waiting for a bed. I am very glad to this day that this is what happened, as if I had not been in the ER when things went south I don’t know what would have happened.

Now, it’s good to know that even though my blood pressure numbers were ridiculously low (normal/average blood pressure should be somewhere around 120/80), I was upright, alert, oriented. I felt a little dizzy, a little fuzzy, and I was struggling more than usual with my aphasia, but overall I felt okay. I was more upset at the prospect of yet another long stay at the hospital forcing me to miss something I was really looking forward to (Thanksgiving with some of my most beloved tribe of the heart) and more medical complications and/or restrictions. But then things starting getting worse.

The first thing that clued me in as to how serious things were getting was when they moved me into the ERs version of an ICU bed. I was wired and constantly monitored. They took my blood pressure in just about every way conceivable – while I was in different positions, on different parts of my arms, and with different sphygmomanometers. My numbers were getting even lower – 80/30. 75/45. 60/40.

All of a sudden one of my ears went silent. It both felt and sounded like someone had slapped a thick earmuff on one side of my head. And of course, doctors and nurses and other hospital personnel are asking me a thousand and one questions and now I couldn’t hear them clearly. I was also getting more confused and finding it harder to understand everything that was happening. At one point, someone offered papers for Rave to sign because I was acting so erratically. (Yes, it’s legal, as she is my designated medical proxy.) I do remember someone asking me to state what was in my advanced directives, mostly about whether or not I had a DNR.

That was the first time I really and truly thought to myself, “This could kill me. They’re doing this because it’s possible this could actually happen.”

That was also when I noticed the visual distortion. I saw fireworks everywhere. Lots of red and off-white lights danced everywhere I looked. After images were causing trails if I moved too quickly (or if the thing I looked at moved quickly too).The light was getting brighter, to the point where I couldn’t really see anything else around me. My sense of chronological/linear time goes fuzzy at this point, so I have no idea in what sequence things actually progressed.

I do remember starting telling people, “I’m really scared. I am really, really scared.” Somehow, my reasoning said that if I refused to lay down I wouldn’t pass out or die. I started breathing more deliberately, again thinking that if I just kept willing each breath I wouldn’t stop breathing. The lowest recorded blood pressure was 40/30, although doctors are skeptical that it actually got that low since, in fact, I didn’t pass out.

That was just about a week ago. I eventually made my way into the critical care unit (which they call “stepdown”, as it is a transition between ICU and a medical floor) where we found out what the hell was going on. It seems there were three forces at play, and all of them were playing to win – which in this case means “messing with Del”.

  • CHF/Edema – In order to avoid retaining fluid which makes my poor heart and lungs work harder, I have to stay under a certain amount of fluid intake a day. I also take “water pills”, aka pills that make your body absorb less fluid and just pee it out instead. However, if I flush out too much fluid it puts a strain on my kidneys, which are already starting to show signs of damage from all this stress. It also leads to…
  • Dehydration – I am only supposed to ingest between 1.5 and 2 liters of fluid a day, and that’s not just what I drink. It includes any substance that becomes a liquid by the time it gets to your stomach, like jello, ice cream, pudding, salad dressing, sauce, etc. But as we all know, bodies need a certain amount of fluid to regulate themselves. I’ve always had low blood pressure, and 9 times out of 10 that’s considered a good thing. But when I was feeling dizzy and ill and I was pretty sure it was due to how low it had gotten, Dr. Google said the best bet to raise it was to drink more fluid, so I did. And even though I had increased my intake to almost 4 liters a day, I was still dehydrated because…
  • Infection – My pannus (the hanging part of my belly, the part that the 2012 surgery was about) is super swollen, which I assumed was part of the water retention caused by the CHF. Turns out that was only half of the story. My pannus is, once again, riddled with infected tissue. There isn’t a collection, like an abscess, that can be drained or removed. It is diffuse through the tissues. So my body was using every bit of fluid to make white blood cells and other infection-fighting stuff, which leads us back to dehydration. The lack of available fluids meant that the infection could proliferate faster and more efficiently. It didn’t help that I had to skip taking some of my meds for a month due to some health insurance stuff, and some of them were my maintenence antibiotics. (Bad Del.)

Yesterday I was transferred out of the critical care unit back to a medical floor I have been to before, which is nice because I know and like most of the nurses here. It also means less wires and other restrictions. The infection is pretty bad and causing a great deal of pain – the doctors keep telling me it’s the kind of healing that gets worse before it gets better. I’m on the good drugs for now – vancomycin (antibiotic version of a nuclear bomb) and dilaudid (painkiller version of a nuclear bomb). I’m in a lot of pain, but in a weird way it’s a familiar kind of pain, which makes it a little easier to deal with.

Most people with CHF really struggle with knowing how much fluid they can safely have without causing problems. Unfortunately, for me it looks like the line between too little and too much is very fine, and I’ve been warned that not only will it take some time and experimentation to figure out exactly where that line is and that there will be a lot of fuckups along the way. Fuckups mean more hospital stays.

My primary care doctor has even mentioned that I could go live in a skilled nursing facility – basically, a special floor in a nursing home that’s reserved for people of all ages who are too medically complicated to live at home but not sick enough to stay in the hospital. The idea is abhorrent to me, but if my lack of transportation is putting my life at risk I can’t fully dismiss the idea. Rave and I have started preliminary browsing to see if moving to Baltimore is even possible. However much we hate living in Hagerstown, the place we have is a godsend of accessibility; Baltimore is full of three-story row houses which will very likely not work for us. But I can’t even think about moving with a full heart until I deal with the divorce settlement, because Mike is claiming I have a part-time job with which I can support myself and therefore he should not have to pay spousal support or cover my prescriptions like he’s been doing since we split. I can’t afford a lawyer and few lawyers do family law pro-bono unless there are custody issues. It’s a big morass I cannot deal with without getting chest pain – and I’m not saying that to be melodramatic, I’m saying it because it really does cause me that much stress.

That’s the story of my close call. The reality and tangibility of the end of my journey is coalescing, and it’s a lot more terrifying than I was prepared for. One of my doctors admitted to me that if he were in my shoes, he’d be freaking out a lot more than I am. He even offered to send me a social worker to talk to, which is probably not a bad idea.

If you wanted to send flowers or the like, you can email Rave at delandrave at gmail dot com and she’ll give you the information. It would be greatly appreciated. I’m feeling kind of lonely and sad these days.

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Hanging In There

August 21, 2014 at 1:42 pm (Disability, Living, Living With Chronic Illness, Mental Health, Spiritual) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

If you’ve ever had any kind of conversation with me, regardless of the medium, there is an incredibly high probability that when you’ve asked some version of “How are you doing?” I have responded with my fallback, favorite, non-pessimistic, doesn’t-drag-you-into-a-conversation-you-didn’t-want-to-have response:

“I’m hanging in there.”

Those who get to know me more intimately hear that phrase so often it begins to lack meaning. Or they’ll see a twinge, a wink, a deep exhalation; something to cue the listener to the “where” I might be “hanging in”.

I learned at a party four years ago that “How are you, really?”, can easily be mistaken for “I know you had a medical ‘thing’ recently; please tell me how miraculous your healing has been so I can feel good about the world.” I know some people actually mean “I read your blog and I have a general sense of the technical side of what’s not working for you; we’d just like some secret stuff not shared on the blog and I know some pretty awesome doctors who treat Ginger Cancer*.” But once the gathering gets past the awkward social niceties, no one is sure what the next step should be. (If you’re roleplaying 1950, I believe it is to take his hat and coat and usher him into the downstairs sitting/crochet/wielding/welding/spelling correction room while asking him about coffee preferences.)

Sometimes people really do want to know how I’m feeling, generally or right in the moment. Maybe they read this blog and want to hear some of the wacky stories straight from my mouth, or they want to ask questions about things I’ve written.

And sometimes people are super grateful when I answer with something so non-committal, so they can skip past the whole ‘Del’s life is hard’ part and get straight to the “Do you want to go catch frogs with me?” mode. Or just about any other question or conversation or activity.

People are correct that when I go to a party or fun gatherings or even just have you over for hangouts, that I am both of the following at the same time:

  • Totally willing to answer any questions or share any details about my medical journey. Remember, that’s what Baphomet said in the beginning of all this, was to share my experiences as far and wide as I can.
  • Sick and fucking tired of every conversation I have with any human being on the planet is somehow related to me being sick, disabled, or in pain. I want to pretend for an hour or three that I’m just an average ordinary Joe doing ordinary Joe things like going to the movies or setting my friends on fire. Y’know, stuff that just happens every day.

I have been getting MUCH better at setting and supporting boundaries around these things, including being totally willing to withdraw into my bedroom if we are hanging out and I’m starting to feel weak, tired, in pain, etc. I warn people before they visit that it will happen, and sometimes it happens for the majority of a visit, and sometimes it was just during the most critical moments of why they came to see me. But there’s nothing I can do about that, so I accept it and move on.

Too Intimidating?

Another social thing I’ve been trying to figure out lately is that many people think of me as being intimidating. I think the first time someone brought this to my attention was a wonderfully powerful and bodily petite Priestess. We had been to a lot of the same events and such, and when necessary we’ve have fun and interesting but politely distant social contact. I couldn’t really tell if she liked me as a person, or if she was being respectful of my experience while secretly disagreeing with any one of my many unusual beliefs or practices, or if she just thought I smelled funny.

Anyway, said Priestess comes striding into my cabin during a camping event, and sits on the edge of my bed. “Del,” I paraphrased, “I am done being intimidated by you.

This is the sort of thing I hear a lot. People saying that they read something I wrote or went to one of my classes or saw me at a party but couldn’t approach because I am intimidating. It baffles me, as I try to be open and warm and friendly, even though I am introverted down to the remnants of my toenails. But it’s a perception, and all I can do to change perception to be reliably un-intimidating (whatever that looks like).

I mean, it’s nothing like what you’re going through…

People are sometimes afraid to talk to me, especially about wellness-related issues, because they’re afraid that being worried/upset/tired/challenged with their health situation when compared to whatever they perceive I’m going through.

What you don’t see is how that reflects on me. Here are some of the things I hear between the lines when people say things like this:

  • You’re so much sicker/weaker/poorer off than I, so much so it’s only okay to talk about your struggles all the time.
  • You’re never going to take my struggles seriously because yours are so much bigger and more threatening than mine,
  • You are so, so ill that even a simple conversation causes you pain, so instead I will only engage in flighty small talk with you.

I’m sure you get my drift.

Now, this is not an invitation to grill me further the next time I tell you I’m “hanging in there”. Sometimes I really do need a little pushing to open up about things, partially because I find myself telling the same stories over and over again (Baphomet sorta promised me this blog would stop that from happening), and partially because I don’t want to waste the 20 minutes of face time I’m going to get with you at the party/gathering/concert/event to be all about my blood sugar numbers and my O2 sats.
I also have a hard time telling who really wants to hear every single detail about what tests I’ve had and what they’ve shown and who all the “charming players” there are (I not-so-secretly nickname most of my doctors and nurses, especially if there are ones that stand out screaming for one. This trip to JH has given us several – Nurses Anxious, Snake, and Afro; Doctors Bopper, Blondie, and Randomly In Charge; even techs like Pocket Fairy and New Best Friend. In fact, I’ve been asked to come up with a new cast of characters and why they got the nicknames they did, so I’m going to end this post a little prematurely so I can take a break and then tackle that. The next post will also likely have much bigger updates as to what’s going on and why I’m not discharged yet…

….and I just may have found my Zebra hunters. Oh yes, another nickname. The “Zebra” thing comes from an old medical school saying – “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.”

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Own Your Own Happiness

March 19, 2013 at 12:00 pm (Living, Mental Health) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Your happiness relies on you. You rely on your happiness. It’s a reciprocal relationship, one where you feed into your happiness bank, and it pays you in dividends. When you are feeling less stressed, more relaxed, more focused, more satisfied with your life, it’s easier to achieve your goals, whatever they may be. If you don’t feed your happiness bank, your life becomes a constant struggle to find a moment of peace, and you get diverted from the things that you want to be doing, in an emergency-like feeling of desperately needing that release.

happiness piggy bank

The problems may start because the people in your life – your lovers, partners, friends, co-workers, clients, employees, etc – also somewhat rely on your happiness. When you’re not feeling sad or stressed, you’re easier to work with, more fun to be around, and more able to give and receive love without hesitation. So it’s in their best interest to try to make you happy, in whatever way they can intuit that. Because it’s hard to ask, and get an honest answer to, the question, “What would make you happier?” And even if you ask it, and get an honest answer, it may be hard to manifest exactly what that person needs.

We all want to nurture the people we care about. It’s an innate feeling, hard to fight. If they are physically harmed, we want to be there with band-aids and antibiotic cream. If they’re suffering from grief, we want to give them a shoulder to cry on and things to distract them. If they’re feeling unloved, we want to give them as much attention and affirmation as we can. And if we’re not careful, two very unhealthy and unfair things result from this.

The first is that we give so much that we aren’t feeding our own banks. Everyone has heard of burnout, but few people are savvy enough to recognize the beginning symptoms, so it gets discovered too late. We spend so much time feeding other people’s banks that we aren’t doing things that make us happy, or only make us happy as a side effect. Even if making other people happy feeds you in some way, if you aren’t getting anything in return – and it’s very hard for sad, depressed, angry, lonely, neglected-feeling people to give much, since they feel empty themselves – then you’re spending what little you have supporting others. This can work in short-term situations, like when your friend loses someone close to them, but in the long term it leads directly to burnout.

The other side of this, the more insidious and dangerous side, is that the other people comes to see you as their sole or primary provider of the happy. If they aren’t taught to find their own happiness, but instead are taught that complaining to others about their bad-feeling feelings results in getting time, attention, support, money, or whatever else makes them happy, they become mice in an experiment, pushing the “happy” button over and over again, addicted in a way, to whatever it is that others have done to make them feel better. They become resentful and angry when you can’t feed them as much as last time, or if you have other things to focus on, or even if you just need a break to refill your own ability to engage.

It’s a trap we all fall into. We see each other on both ends of the spectrum, the one burned out from trying to make everyone happy, and also desperately trying to milk whatever happiness we can get from those who support us. In this cycle, we totally forget that we are able to do both of these things on our own, and in the end, it’s a better and more reliable way to get what you need.

We all suffer

Think of it in terms of money, because it’s an apt analogy. If your friend is unemployed, and you give them enough money to live on (not just an emergency fund to pay a bill or keep them housed), eventually the motivation to get their own job and support themselves starts to evaporate. As you realize that you can’t keep it up long term, and you start to lessen or withdraw your financial support, the friend blames you for not being able to pay their bills, or to buy food. They can’t see past the fact that really, that responsibility was always on their shoulders, and they just chose to rely on someone else rather than their own ingenuity and self-worth to get it done. There’s nothing inherently wrong with taking a break from supporting yourself – whether financially, emotionally, or spiritually – as long as it’s a “break”, and not “a new reality”.

I heard somewhere recently that “depression is the grief that comes from the death of part of you”. That when you realize you have to make a big life change, where something you’ve relied upon for your strength, identity, or survival (or some combination thereof, like a marriage) is over; you go into a state of grief. Sometimes – oftentimes, mayhaps – this starts not when the change actually happens, but when you (consciously or subconsciously) realize that the change needs to happen. I had already phrased this differently, for my own life, as “depression is a sign that you’re afraid to change something.” So when I get sad, angry, lonely, frustrated, or depressed, I look around my life and start to sort out what change I’m resisting or running away from.

running away from home

What makes things difficult and complicated, is that sometimes – oftentimes, mayhaps – the gut reaction is to try to fix or change whatever is making you depressed, rather than facing what it really means. And this is where we start to look to others to feed us; instead of facing the fact that you’ve become radically insecure about your place in the world, and that you need to bone up and face that, work on it, change it into something better, you start to rely on your loved ones and family to make you feel more secure. Again, though, that’s something that’s best only done in an emergency-type situation – if it will keep you from, say, killing yourself or turning to self-harm (alcohol, drugs, cutting, indiscriminate sex, going into debt shopping, etc) – but it’s not the solution. It might feel like it, because in the short term you do actually feel better; but it’s only skin deep. You can’t keep burning people out in hopes that they will fill the hole in your heart; if you can look back and see a trail of dead relationships, well, you know what they say about seeing a problem happen over and over again – it means the problem is you.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But it’s sounds so easy on paper – make yourself happy. In reality, it’s hard work. Sometimes it sucks, especially in the beginning. You need to figure out what you’ve been doing that keeps you unhappy – staying in a bad relationship, giving too much of yourself away, not focusing on what makes you feel good, etc – and get it under control. That’s where most people resist the hardest – they don’t want to do it. They don’t want to break up a bad relationship, they feel like they can’t, for one reason or another. And we’re fucking talented at creating bullshit reasons why we can’t do something that will severely mess up the status quo. “But this job that pays me shit wages will lead to better things!” exclaims the person who doesn’t have enough money to pay the bills, “And it’s fun, and it doesn’t feel like work to me, and I like the people I work with, and I don’t want to have to take a job that isn’t fun or convenient. So I can’t do it.” Yes you can. It will suck, and you’ll be unhappier in the short term, but when you go to sleep at night knowing that your bills are paid, you have better health insurance, and you don’t have to sweat out the next car repair, you’ll thank yourself. Not only that, but you’ll appreciate the hard work and sacrifice that you made to get to where you are – believe me.

I have faced this sort of thing so many times in my life, I start to wonder if my diagnosis of “Major Depressive Disorder” (having many depressive episodes over a long period of time) isn’t a misdiagnosis of something more simpler – “Afraid of admitting you’ve made a mistake and don’t want step up and fix it.” I’ve made tons of mistakes in my life; maybe more than most people. I had a vision in my head of what I really wanted, but every time I got close to it, I started sacrificing things that were vitally important to my sense of self to attain and maintain it. I married Mike because I wanted something resembling a normal home life – I wanted a husband, and children, and I wanted to feel safe and comforted in that sort of arrangement. Even when it became clear that children weren’t going to just show up on their own, I still clung to this idea that he and I were a family, not a relationship, and you don’t break up with your family, right? So when he emotionally manipulated me, lied to me, cheated on me, lied to my friends, cheated on his other relationships, used money to control and manipulate me, and demanded that I keep up this appearance that everything was okay; I fell into it. I fell so deep that when it came to leaving him, I ended up waiting until he left. Yes, even after I called him on all the bullshit, I was willing to stay and work it out, because you don’t break up with your family. Even after we were separated, I tried to keep him involved in my life in some way, keep him in the role of being my family, and the more he rejected me, the worse I felt.

But anyone who’s been by my side while this has all been going on, can easily tell you that the separation has done miraculous things for me. It has freed me from all of the things Mike was afraid of, namely my transition, but a million other things, too. I was able to reclaim the course of my life, and took power in sitting down and figuring out what was really important to me, because I had learned the long, hard lesson that other people was the wrong answer. I truly believe that’s why Hel did two things in the course of my ordeal – one, she wouldn’t accept other people as a valid reason to allow me to continue living, and two, she declared that I could never make other people my main focus in life.

But things are getting dangerous in that realm of my life, because so many people are trying to get my focus. All of them seem to only want a part of it, but when you add it all together, I can point to many little issues in my life coming directly from this. I have insomnia because often it’s late at night when one or another one of my friends, lovers, clients, etc, think/know that I’m not actively working/writing/doing spirit work, etc (even though often they are very, very wrong) and so they pick 1am as a great time to process what’s going wrong with our relationship. (It doesn’t help that many of my friends/lovers/etc have jobs or lives that allow them to have these conversations at 1am, either.)

...and that has it's own effects on my health and well being.

…and that has it’s own effects on my health and well being.

I get frustrated at myself, because a terrible side effect of this is that even when a person only contacts me once, asking when they might get a piece of my time and attention, I overreact. I react with all the stress, frustration, and unhappiness that has built up from each one of these requests, and there have been many. I also feel like crap, because I should be overjoyed that so many people love me so much that they want my time and attention, and I sound like a privileged brat when I complain about it. “Oh, I’m too popular! I only wish more people didn’t give a shit about me! Woe is me!”, right? It also has the added detriment of making the people asking for my time – probably because they’re lonely, or sad, or depressed, or in some other way feeling negative about themselves or their life – feel even shittier, because I’m complaining about getting exactly what they wish for; people who want to spend time with me.

There have been warnings, too. I’ve had two very clear, verified by outside sources, knocks on the Del skull that other people are starting to take focus away from what the Gods want me to be doing; which right now, that means mostly writing, resting, and contemplation. All three of those things don’t seem like they are as important as spending time with people, nor do people tend to feel bad for interrupting such things. I was ranting the other day, when someone dared hint that maybe working on the book was really my problem, that if I had a regular 9 to 5 job, in an office somewhere, that was going through a crunch time (I have a deadline coming up that I have to meet if I want my first book to come out in June, which is very important to me emotionally as well as financially), no one would dare insinuate or state that I should just stop working and spend more time with my family/friends/lovers. Now yes, if someone was in “crunch time” for, say, a year, I could see advising them to not forget that life exists outside of work. But I only got the book deal three or four weeks ago, and the “request” of spending the year in contemplation three months ago, so it’s not like I’ve been in my hidey hole for too long. I also do go out, although mostly to events, but there’s a social element to those things and it means I’m not just spending my time in front of my computer, getting a severe lack of Vitamin D for lack of seeing the sun.

I even got some outside verification that this current frustration could be a test – whether or not I will bail on my promises to Hel at the first opportunity, and make other people a priority, rather than manage to set clear and unbending boundaries around what Hel and I both want out of what time I have left. It’s not like either of us didn’t expect this; I spent much of 2012 spending time with people, making them my focus, and so like the friend who starts expecting you to pay their bills, I’ve made many people accustomed to getting my time and attention fairly easily.

The deeper lesson here, as I am beginning to realize, is this “happiness bank” analogy. I have a lifelong (even in my childhood) issue of being so afraid of not being liked, of being alone, of not having any friends or lovers, that I go way further than most to make my people happy. I mean, again, look at my last marriage; I stopped myself from doing things I really wanted to, to keep Mike happy. I wanted to change my last name. I wanted to bottom more often. I wanted to start taking testosterone. I wanted to buy more men’s clothing. I wanted to keep my hair short/shaved. I wanted to date other people. These, and so many other things, I deprived myself of because it might make Mike feel the least bit uncomfortable. He was so used to me doing these things, he didn’t even see them. And when I brought them to light, he would blame me for doing these things without being asked. That’s true. He never outright said, “Never bottom in public, it really upsets me and reminds me that you don’t bottom to me anymore.” What he did, was get very sad and withdrawn when I bottomed to someone else. I didn’t like seeing him like that, and didn’t like being around him. Easy answer, right? I fed his happiness bank with a little of my own; I gave up bottoming in public so he would feel better.

But where I seem to be failing in this lesson is that when I take a step back, and try to illustrate to my people (my shorthand for “friends, family, lovers, clients, etc”) that I need them to start feeding their own happiness bank, and stop expecting my weekly direct deposits, they feel like I’m doing something directly to hurt them, or am being mean to them. It feels hurtful for me to ask them to be responsible for their own sense of peace, because I’m taking something away from them. It is hard to stay resolute in that, and stand by my own boundaries, even with the God-threat of losing all of my relationships over my shoulder the whole time, because like every other human, when I see people in pain I want to make them feel better.

I can’t. My happiness bank is currently overdrawn, and I have to fix it now.

What everyone's happiness bank should look like!

What everyone’s happiness bank should look like!

It starts with the most direct and dire situation – I need time to write, edit, re write, and produce the book. It’s not an exercise in ego, this project; it’s a direct line to making more money. I don’t want to get into numbers, but let’s say my alimony is barely enough (and sometimes frankly, not enough) to keep living life the way I have been living it. Events think I’m getting big in my britches when I tell them I can’t afford to pay for my own hotel, but really, it’s because I’m living on about an eighth of the resources I had a year ago. This weekend, I attended an excellent workshop on how to make more money as a presenter, especially how to do it without just demanding that events give you more in terms of compensation, and it wouldn’t be terribly hard to do some of those things. Of course, however, that they require my time and attention. This book is only one step in that direction – of being able to continue doing pastoral care counseling, teaching classes, writing blogs, facilitating ordeals, mentoring, etc – and not charge an arm and a leg to do it. It would be easier on me, and on the world at large, if I can ask many people to give me small amounts of money (paying for a download, buying a book, getting a reading) than it would be to only require my clients to pay me larger amounts of money in order to survive. I can help so many more people if I distribute my financial need among all the people I’ve touched with my words, my actions, my rituals, my classes, etc.

But I need the time, energy, spoons, to set these things up. That’s, understandably, have to come from somewhere.

Like many people who have found themselves in this situation, when I talk to people about this, they’re completely understanding – as long as that time, energy, attention, spoons, etc, doesn’t affect them. Like I have this secret cache of people to whom it’s much easier for me to say “fuck off, I need to do this other stuff.” Clients think I should tell my friends to fuck off. My friends think I should tell events to fuck off. Events think I should tell my lovers to fuck off. My lovers think I should tell everybody else to fuck off. And my Gods?

There’s that scary threat. That I’ll lose it all if I don’t do the Work. And like any good submissive, the prime directive is “take care of the property”, in this case, my life and ability to live.

So instead of writing sixty different emails to people about feeding their own happiness banks, I wanted to write a blog post that might help even more people. Maybe you need to feed your own bank. Maybe you’re burnt out from feeding other people’s banks. Maybe you’re suffering from depression because you’re afraid of the piece of you that has to die in order to make a change.

First of all, this is a universal experience. Every single human being experiences all of these feelings, at different points in their lives. Some people have it harder, especially if they have biochemical predispositions for feeling depressed, insecure, out of control, or in some other way not able to rely solely upon themselves for their own happiness. It is important to reach out to someone who gets paid to help you with that, though – because that’s the reciprocity. That’s why a therapist is better than relying on all your friends; the money makes it worth their time, and they can feed their kids and pay their bills at the end of it. (This weekend, I learned about the “resentment fee”, that is, how much money will it take so I don’t resent you for asking me to do this thing for you? It’s a useful tool for entrepreneurs who are trying to figure out how to price their services.) So if you are scared of the prospect of feeding your own happiness bank, especially if the need feels too great, it might be a good idea to seek out a therapist or other professional to get you on the right path.

Secondly, you need to know what makes you happy, and learn how to achieve those things without anyone else’s assistance. And before you tell me that “being around other people” is one of those things, you can go to a concert. Join a book club. Go to a bar. Throw a party. Do things where you create and control the situation, rather than relying on others. As I recently said, it’s so much nicer and easier for me to make time for other people if I don’t also have to invent the fun thing we’re going to go do. If you ask me out to a dinner and a movie, and you pick the restaurant and the film, I’m so much more likely to feel enthusiastic and willing to futz with my calendar to go; whereas if you just whine “I want more of your time!”, thus dumping the responsibility of finding said time, and then filling it with something more than just staring at each other, which makes it feel onerous and work-like.

wambulance

Take control! Make things that make you happy manifest. Throw your own party, instead of waiting to be invited to one! Go out and meet people, rather than expect your friends to invite you to places where potential new people might be. Put on your big kid pants and if you have to fake the confidence, the self-esteem, the security in your self, your attractiveness, do it. Practice little steps, if you have to. But I promise you, when you feel more in control of our own happiness, you’ll have more love and devotion to pour onto those around you, rather than sucking them dry of theirs.

So if you’re burned out? Say so. Don’t lay the blame at the people who have burned you out, because you chose to feed them as much as you have. It may be difficult to wean them, but in the end it will be worth it. Please remember that taking time for yourself, and solitary activities, is not self-indulgent. It is fucking necessary in order to be healthy and peaceful enough to engage with others without a bad attitude. Read books. Watch documentaries. Write a shitty novel (or a great one, whatever, just don’t pressure yourself about whether it’s good or not), it’s the doing, not the result! Take up a solo hobby by watching videos on You Tube. Make “office hours” – days of the week, hours of the day, that you respond to emails from friends, or take phone calls from them, or in other ways give to others – and make them public if you have to, so people know when you’re willing to engage, and when you’re busy taking care of yourself.

You can do it!

You can do it!

Don’t be afraid to unplug. Many of my friends have been reveling in the feeling of turning off their phones, disengaging from the Internet, not watching television, and then figuring out what to do with their time. We let so many things suck us in, distract us from the real flow of our lives, that sometimes we stop living. Mike was infamous for his “clicky games”, spending hours playing Farmville and online poker, and then complained that I didn’t spend enough time and attention with him. I understand the need for these things to help you relax, but honestly, I find they are usually just as stressful as they are relaxing. Maybe promise yourself two hours a week – a week – where you turn off your phone and disengage from the computer. Tell people if you have to, but sometimes it’s better when you don’t.

Remember that in our age of everything-on-demand, that you don’t owe anyone an immediate response. No matter if they call you, text you, email you, send you a chat, a message on social media, a comment on your blog, whatever; you have never made a promise to respond in a certain amount of time. Teach your friends by example that they shouldn’t expect you to be available to them at every hour of every day. If they complain, ask them what they expect in terms of response time, and then respond with something reasonable, taking the rest of your life into consideration. I had to make the decision that no one – not my mother, not my lovers, nobody – is owed immediate responses. If it’s an emergency, they’ll tell me so, and then I can decide if I can engage with their emergency or not. They have other people they can turn to, and if they don’t, that’s on them.

In the reverse, there’s nothing nicer than getting a message from someone that explicitly says that no response is necessary, or expected, or that I can get to it whenever I have the time. (Just, be truthful about this; if you know you’ll get pissed if you don’t get a response in two months, don’t say you don’t care at all.) So when you send someone something that requires a response, let them know they can take their time with it. After all, I’d much rather receive an answer when my friend is calm, collected, relaxed, and has time to spend on it, rather than a dashed-off, two word response that makes me feel disregarded and bothersome. Decide that quality is more important than quantity, and that you’d rather have a single email a month that was chock full of attention to detail, and interesting information, than six emails a day that are written while they’re simultaneously doing four other things.

short reply

If you’re in a relationship, be brutally honest about how much time you need from another person to feel engaged with them. Even if you’re afraid they’ll tell you they can’t meet it, it’s better to not be in a relationship where you feel hungry all the time, than to be in one where your partner is constantly feeling like they are neglecting you. It creates this terrible loop where no one is happy. And if the person you want can’t give you what you need, you have a decision to make. If you can get supplemental happiness from other sources (namely, yourself, but also other people, things, hobbies, etc), then know that you’ll be expected to feed yourself from those things in perpetuity while the relationship is happening. If you can’t, then no matter how sexy, charming, interesting, or stellar-in-bed they are, you’ll both feel crappy all the time, and it’s better off not to engage. If you’re already in the relationship and realizing that you have vastly different expectations in terms of time and attention, you have to be radically honest with yourself about whether or not you can live what what they give, and if you can’t, then you need to “take care of the property” and walk. Not every break up is about the lack of love or desire; sometimes, incompatibility is more than just liking different kinds of movies or having different hobbies; it can also mean that what you envision a “relationship” as, and what they envision, are too different, and neither of you will be happy. Fuck, read 50 Shades of Gray if you want a good example of what that kind of relationship looks like.

50 shades sucks

Beware of emotional manipulation. It can be really subtle, and most of the time, the person doing it isn’t even aware of it. But a statement like, “Oh, I really want to go with you on the cruise, and I think it would be good for our relationship, but alas, I don’t have the money…if only I could find some…” may sound like an honest statement about one’s financial situation, but it can also be a form of manipulation – implying that if the person wanted good things for the relationship, they’d happily pay your way on the cruise. But that way lies dragons, my friends. Big, ugly, nasty ones that I’ve fought time and time again. It starts out small, but once someone realizes it works, they will continue to do it. Model good behavior by stating your needs and wants in direct statements, rather than wishy-washy emotional ones. “That cruise sounds like fun, but I don’t have the money. Is it possible for you to pay my way?” I had an ex who would come over to hang out, but every time we left the house to do stuff, they wouldn’t tell me they didn’t have their own money until we were there. I remember standing outside of a nightclub, her having gotten all dressed up, driving over there, and only letting us know that she didn’t have the cover until we were on our way inside. It worked, though – for years, we paid her way into everything. I had another ex who, instead of telling us she didn’t have money for food, would just choose not to eat, and make a big dramatic show of it. But it worked; we paid for her food more often than not.

But what did those people also do? They also became exes. Because over time, they kept taking without giving. It’s okay if you don’t have the money once in a while, or if you’re up front when you’re invited – “I’d love to go, but I don’t have the money.” or “I’m coming for a few days, but I need to watch my budget when it comes to ordering food.”

The same goes from time, attention, emotional energy. It’s easy to give time to someone when you don’t have a lot going on. If you are asking me to give up time I need to be working on the book; then when I ask you for time during finals week, you better be ready to give it back. If you know you can’t afford to make that sort of sacrifice, then don’t ask someone else to do it for you.

tally

It’s not like you need to keep a tally of who did what for whom when. It’s more of a feeling. You should feel like spending time with your people is a fun, happy, feeding you sort of thing. It’s okay if once in a while, you decide to spend time with someone else because it makes them happy, even if it’s a little inconvenient for you. But if you see your friend calling, and always press “ignore” because you know phone calls with them inevitably last three hours; if you turn down invitations to things you enjoy because someone will be there who will monopolize your time; if you feel guilty posting about a fun night out with a friend because you know you’ll get five nasty emails asking why you had time for that but not for them; it’s time to take a step back and figure out where the problem(s) are.

At the core of it all, though, the one thing you have completely and utterly within your own control, is your own happiness. If you catch yourself thinking, “If so-and-so would only do things differently, I would be happy”, you need to take a moment and rephrase that. “Why is so-and-so doing things that way, and do I necessarily need to engage with them while they do it?” is a start. But really, the better questions are things like, “Okay, regardless of what my calendar says, what would make me happy this weekend?” “Instead of sitting at home, moping about having nothing to do and no one to do it with, I can be researching groups in my area that do stuff I like, or find a party to attend, or call up some friends I haven’t spoken to in a while.” Ask yourself, “What can I do, all by myself, to make this situation better?” If the answer feels difficult, or emotionally challenging, know that you’ve hit a much deeper hole, and it may take some time and attention to fill it, but you can. In a way, you have to. Because if you aren’t the arbiter of your own happiness, then you’re surrendering a level of control over your life; and you’ll still only have yourself to blame if it isn’t making you happy.

Do it. Make a list, right now, either in the comments, on your own blog, on your Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr, or even just on a piece of paper – five things. Five things that would make your life a little happier. A little less stressful. A little more carefree. And it’s okay if these things aren’t inherently fun in and of themselves – “saving up enough money to pay off the car note” doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but if not having to worry about getting repossessed will make your life happier, then it’s still worth listing.

Then, hold yourself accountable. Each day, ask yourself what you’ve done to make one of those five things come to fruition. You don’t have to do them all in a day, and I’m sure many of them are actually made up of several microsteps of their own. “I brought leftovers to work for lunch, rather than ordering out, and took that $20 and put it in the ‘pay the car note’ fund.”

..and we all know how I feel about awesome metal lunchboxes, right?

..and we all know how I feel about awesome metal lunchboxes, right?

You, my readers, know that ordinarily, I’d post my own as an example. But in this case, some of them are involve other people, and I don’t feel comfortable posting that. But know that I have my own list, and I’m doing this too. And I welcome emails or messages about this exercise, as long as you understand that until my writing deadline is met, I have a limited amount of time I can spend on email (#3 on my list).

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