Burn-out, Balance, and Change

Go on social media, and you’ll see a thousand videos that make you laugh, cry, or cringe. Some gain their followers or reacts by being controversial. Some prefer to just produce comedy. Some are designed to help the world move in the direction the creator feels is beneficial for us. There’s always a video to find. There’s always a person behind the video’s creation. There’s always an audience that forgets about that person.

When I started my blog and YouTube channel in 2018 it was a way for me to get away from things going on in my life. They were rough, and not things I could change or control; so I chose to change my focus. I used my free time to focus on hobbies and art, and making videos from those. I used my weekend mornings (which were unfortunately very lonely) to write blog posts. It was phenomenal, because even under the weight of my problems I still managed to get up and do something that made me smile. I chose last year to only put things up when it suited me, because my life changed and posting all the time wasn’t feasible without giving a huge part of myself to the wants and needs of a social media audience. For this reason, my “brand” hasn’t gotten very popular. This is okay with me; I just want to do what I love and have fun with it. After all, this was my stress relief, not work.

My actions and choices aren’t the norm, as a lot of social media personalities choose to completely involve themselves with their channel or blog — to the detriment of their mental health. I thought about this two days ago as I watched a video from a popular video personality who makes down to earth mom-comedy. She talked about how she’s been stressed and spread thin; that her husband sent her to a hotel at night to get away from everything and just relax.

In our country it’s normal to expect a person to produce a product. Whether that product is entertainment, a service, or a usable good, we are all expected to be productive members of society. Your worth is only as good as the role you play, and that’s incredibly stressful. Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone should do something. It doesn’t seem right to sit around all day and do nothing at all; but it doesn’t have to be for the purpose of proving your worth. I think doing things simply because you love them has value. I believe going to a job every day because you love it, not because it helps more people, or saves lives, or makes the most money, is what brings happiness. Maybe that shines a light on my own values, but it certainly couldn’t hurt to consider. Because the alternative is a world where everyone does things they hate because they want to be valuable, where everyone is depressed and anxious because it’s impossible to be valuable to every person.

I’ve watched friends crumble under the pressure to match other’s expectations. I’ve listened to new college students emit waves of anxiety over making it through, whether school is something they want to endure or not. I’ve experienced my own anxiety over not being productive enough; in fact I worry so much about it that I’ve melded my hobbies into productive endeavors so that I can have productivity and stress relief in one nice little package. A real anxiety reducer…if you do it right (I don’t always do it right).

My housekeeping job has been incredibly fulfilling. I help patients get what they need each day, within the tasks I’m permitted to do without an STNA license. Some days I can make them laugh, or not feel so alone, or get them water and a blanket, or just keep their room clean so it feels a little bit nicer. It’s a job that’s worth doing, that needs doing. It’s a job that isn’t for everyone. The days are long; in my case it’s 10 hours at a time of cleaning patient rooms and function rooms. It’s a job that, if you use common sense and good time management, plus some good interpersonal skills, you can get through quickly and smoothly. It takes navigating patient preferences, surprise messes, and day to day changes, all while cleaning up the things that happen in a medical setting.

It can be gross. It can be tiring. It can be thankless. A lot of the time, however, I receive tons of thanks from patients and their families and our staff. The team I work with is supportive and adaptable, and our supervisor is excellent at her job. They’ve been my home away from home for over a year, and the housekeeping staff have been my work family for about 6 months.

I had planned to stay two years.

I wanted to be there for them after two years of 10 different trainees walking out on the job. Of not getting their vacations, and working understaffed in a field that isn’t exactly easy on the body. Life didn’t exactly agree with my plan. I put in around three weeks notice, and I’m trying my best to do a great job for all of it until I leave in mid-November. Part of me feels like a failure, the other part feels like this is the right decision.

Society tells me I should stay in this job, regardless of how that affects me or my family, because I’m producing a valuable service. My ideals tell me it’s time to go before I burn out trying to balance work and home life; I’m needed at home in so many ways.

I could go into all the detailed reasons I’m needed here, to cook, clean, do laundry, and provide support wherever I can because the people I love need it. I could go into the health reasons that the physicality of the job is taking its toll and I need to find something just slightly less rigorous. The job is a sprint, whereas I’m more of a slow marathon kind of woman. Three days of 10-hours in a row, sometimes four days, and then one or two days off to get the housework done just doesn’t work when you’re trying to get meals on the table each day, and the spaces you live in clean. Waking up at 4:30 AM, and then the next days waking up later for a different shift or a day to fit my family’s schedule, means my circadian rhythms are extremely off. My body is in a constant state of jet-lag.

If I had a different home life, if I was at a different point in my life, or if my body had just slightly more endurance, would mean I could easily continue working this way. For now, I need something different. I need a regular schedule that’s also either flexible, or within time frames that let me cover my responsibilities at home. Some people see this as a weakness, but I see it as a strength. If I find a job that fits well with the rest of my life I’ll be a more productive employee. I’ll be awake and alert, well nourished, and ready to take on new challenges each day. I won’t have the same level of stress that I do now. I won’t be worried about how I’m going to get it all done, because I know I’ve planned for my responsibilities, and a few surprises too.

I don’t want to be like the social media personalities who burn-out and need to get away at midnight. I don’t want to be that person who loses the important parts of themselves and their lives for a job, when there are easily alternatives which suit me better and companies I can be even more helpful to. I also don’t want my career to be the marker of my value. My health, to me, is the most important thing because if I lose it at 30 from burn-out then everything I’ve done will be for nothing anyway.

I want to be productive, I want to fit into society’s idea of valuable, I want to be that model employee. I also want to be a good girlfriend, a good daughter, a good friend and pet-owner. Someday, I want to be a good wife and mother who helps keep her family healthy. I want to be a good example to my children, who can look at me and see a mother who knows her limits, and balances her priorities in a healthy way. The thing that makes life great is the process from start to finish: what we do with this time, not how we end it. Money means nothing if I have to spend it all on medical bills. The approval of a company means nothing if I’ve alienated the people I love, focusing on work so much I forget to actually love them. Our lives are a balance, and sacrificing that balance feels more like failure to me than failing my original plan to make adjustments. Small failures help us grow, but if we fail to find balance in the process of our lives—that’s sometimes too large of a failure to come back from. I’m not afraid to fail, but I’d prefer it be in the ways that help me grow.

Zech Whitby

“I love you, know that…..You have the world ahead of you, and it will be great”~Zech Whitby

On September 6th, 2018 the world lost a good man. Our friends at Bitter Hearts Tattoo lost a part of themselves.

My roommate and I have found a sort-of home at Bitter Hearts, and we care about the people there. Last Thursday, while sitting in class, I received a text from him. It was a screenshot of a post that Zech made on Facebook the night before:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fzech.whitby%2Fposts%2F1817868241667377&width=500

What happened with my roommate and I next doesn’t matter. What matters is what Zech wrote. Please read it all. Then read it again. Then show it to everyone you know, because that’s what Zech would’ve wanted.

I don’t have much to say, because there are no words for the pain that not just I feel but that our friends at Bitter Hearts feel. No words for what I see in their exhausted faces after a week of his absence.

What I do have to say is this: There ARE people out there who will listen. People who want to help. People who don’t ever want another person to end their own life.

How do I know?

That Saturday, the 8th, we attended a gathering at the shop of everyone who’s ever cared about Zech who was able to be there that day. Most got tree tattoos (his specialty) in memory of him. Over 130 of us got tattoos and are now connected by our love for Zech. Some drove hours, or flew in from other states; some came to help give tattoos. Within the first 30 minutes, they had around 40 people signed up. The cost of the tattoos plus any donations were given to Zech’s family to help pay for funeral costs. The turn out was overwhelming. What was most overwhelming was how much we’d all wished he had just asked for us all to come. How much his friends and family wished he could’ve seen the crowd, the tears, the family of people come to pay respects and share their memories, and their love.

Every one of those people would gladly give their time to listen to someone who needed it. To help someone who was giving up, whether they knew them or not.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts please call the suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255 and the text line is: 741741 (text “TALK” )… The national suicide prevention website also has a computer chat feature.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there.”-Zech

If you would like to see Zech’s art, please check out his Facebook page, personal instagram, and his Dead Trees Art Insta.

If you would like to see Bitter Hearts collective work as well as posts for Zech, please check out their Instagram page.

Time, Energy, and Changing Plans

Sometimes I forget that I have chronic illnesses. I’m incredibly lucky to be able to say that, but it can become a problem.

When I’ve put in the work, and planning, and gotten a good day (or few days if I’m lucky) with no health problems…. eating what I want without enzymes, doing what I want and not feeling tired, no dizziness or extreme fatigue, no stomach pains, no muscle or joint pain, no episodes of extreme hypersensitivity…. I forget. Being sick is my normal, so when it doesn’t happen my brain gets excited and forgets so that I can plan all of the wonderful things I want to do.

So I call/text friends and family and make plans. I offer to work extra days at my job; which is a highly physical job and fast paced so it takes a lot out of me while also keeping me healthy. I basically over-book myself. That’s what happened this past week.

Getting my YouTube channel started, making plans with friends, cleaning the apartment completely, all while it was a difficult week at work because the steam in the building was shut down and I work running a giant industrial washer sanitizing supplies like carts etc… proved to be too much.

The steam shut down took all of my extra spoons because I was working in freezing conditions and constantly covered in water or at least had soaked socks and shoes. Along with that, I misjudged the time needed to do some things and lost sleep.

Postponing and then, for another reason, having to reschedule plans with a friend was one consequence. I got lucky and another friend postponed plans which gave me time to rest. Even so, by the time I got to Saturday, a day to visit museums in Cleveland with my dad, I was feeling the week. It was a great day, I saw a lot, but not as much as I wanted. I had to head home early because my body was just done.

Luckily I have an understanding father who didn’t mind making plans to come back another time.

Something a lot of people respond to Spoonies postponing, canceling, or cutting short plans with is anger, or disappointment, or even questioning whether we really want to be there. It’s frustrating and can really make a person want to never make plans with anyone again just to avoid it.

The solution I’ve come up with is to just not give a damn. If I have to do something for my health, and I’ve been honest and upfront with my friend, family member, or boss about my inability to be there, then I have done what I can. There’s no sense in beating myself up when I’ve done nothing wrong.

As Spoonies it’s our job to advocate for ourselves because many times no one else will. It’s difficult, of course, because advocating takes energy. Sometimes the spoons to explain in detail that you don’t dislike a person, you’re just genuinely exhausted, just aren’t there. But here’s the cool thing: it’s a great way to find out who’s worth having in your life and who isn’t.

If someone doesn’t understand your needs, or isn’t compassionate towards you, then maybe they’re not someone who needs to be in your life. If you can’t cut them out for whatever reason then remember that you haven’t done anything wrong. Don’t apologize for doing what you need to be healthy. Apologize for any inconvenience, apologize for changing their plans or schedule, but don’t apologize or feel bad for making healthy choices.

We cannot expect, in a world full of people with no health problems, especially in a country that has a culture of “fix the symptom, take pills, postpone the bad feelings” instead of promoting true overall heath with lifestyle changes, that everyone is going to understand that you’re not jerking them around. That you genuinely need time off to sleep, even if it feels like all you do is sleep or sit.

No one can tell you what you need. You’re the only one living in your body and the only one who’s stuck with it for your whole life. You’re the only one who gets to make decisions about it.

Side note: If you are in a situation where you feel like someone has taken away your choices about your own body, please seek help. Hospitals are equipped with staff who are trained to handle that kind of thing. When they ask if you feel safe in the home or even if they don’t ask, in America it is a patient’s right to request a private meeting, without a family member present and that is a good time to say something. Police also can help and have access to other longterm resources.

Camels, Dolphins, and Exhaustion

It’s taken me a while to write a new post, but I had a lot going on as well as some problems with my illnesses. Here’s the update:

I missed a week of school, before the official week of spring break, to go to Los Cabos San Lucas for spring break. I went to a resort with my family and just spent the time relaxing. This trip was significant because it was a vacation I’d been waiting to go on since 2015, when I got too sick to go and had to let my parents go without me.

I was pretty nervous about going, first for the plane ride, and second for being out of the country. The plane trip made me nervous because I would be confined to a small space and if my symptoms flared there would be no way to help me until we landed. The next concern was that I would have a serious problem while in Mexico, which wouldn’t be too bad given we’d have the funds for adequate medical care…. except…. my condition isn’t directly known. It doesn’t have a true diagnosis and lands in the grey area of cardiovascular no-man’s-land. This makes it difficult to treat without a language barrier, let alone when I have no official term to describe what’s wrong with me.

Well, I put my worries away and went on the trip. It was amazing! I rode a camel, which we were shown are given free, non-fenced, room to roam, and learned about survival methods in the desert. I was shocked I was able to stand the heat, and found out there’s something to be said for clothing designed for a sunny climate. My dad let me borrow a big, UV reflective button down that kept me from overheating or getting sun poisoning. I learned about desert plants and ate a wonderful meal, where our guide Augusto taught us all about making tortillas the traditional way and gave us four kinds of tequila to try (I was having some health problems so drinking wasn’t as feasible for me).

I also got to ride, dance with, and kiss a dolphin, which was an incredible experience not available in the US. Those are memories I’ll never forget.

The trip did have some downsides: I was feeling ill and exhausted for a good portion if it. My stomach and heart giving me problems. I had to worry about things that most vacationers don’t have to think about quite so intensely: am I drinking enough water? Did I reapply sunblock on time? Do I have the energy to be out or should I go to bed? Is this food going to cause my conditions to flare? Is my exhaustion from traveling, or did I get a virus or is something else wrong? All of these concerns had a basis in whether I was going to push my heart or GI system to the edge and need medical care, or at the very least ruin a nice vacation moment for my family by needing to cut it short.

Luckily, I made it back to the states with only some mild discomfort and went back to work (sort of…). I have been experiencing a level of exhaustion I haven’t experienced in quite some time. My school work is stressful and to add to it I’m so exhausted I usually sleep instead of completing it. Or, I wake up and have housework to finish which makes me too tired to study. Needless to say, chronic illness is a vicious cycle. As any Spoonie will tell you, borrowing spoons is tricky work. My spoon borrowing is beyond out of control and it’s going to take a lot of work to get it in check.

Vacations for Spoonies are sometimes more tiring and stressful than relaxing. But I don’t regret my experience and am really glad I was able to go. In my life lately I’ve been trying to push myself more, which, I’ll admit has the effect of making my stress a lot higher and may not be the wisest decision. Life isn’t always easy to figure out. What seems to make perfect sense to one person is incredibly opaque to another. When you add emotions, surprises, and the responses and actions of others, life becomes a seriously frustrating puzzle and borrowing spoons to handle it is even more frustrating.

My puzzle right now is a very tiring one, and I may take longer to post updates. I’ll be doing my best though, and I hope you all enjoy reading about my sometimes wild, sometimes boring and repetitive life.