Job stress and the job hunt stress

Me working my job should not be possible. Especially not for six years. I work 4 12-hour shifts, 4 days off. Every month I switch between day shift and night shift. I’m sure one thing we all know by now is that routine is the key to dealing my bipolar disorder. As such, I literally should not be stable working this job. At least that’s what my psychiatrist says. He’s not wrong. My sleep schedule is all over the place. My body doesn’t know when it’s supposed to sleep, and I can sleep almost anywhere. And while there is a routine, of sorts, switching between shifts is rough. My days off include sleeping for 11 hours, trying to find the motivation to get off of the couch and out of the house, confusing days of the week, and dealing with everything from laundry to paying bills to grocery shopping and everything in between. My schedule literally should not work. For now, for some inexplicable reason, it does. I can feel it wearing on me, though. This type of lifestyle is just not sustainable, and I’m really starting to feel the toll its taken on me for almost six years. If for nothing else other than my mental health, I need to find a new job. And fast.

But the job search has its own set of problems. The stress of looking for a job, waiting for a call that may never come. Searching week after week for something that might be a good fit for me. It always leads me down the path of wondering if I did the right thing by going back and getting my MBA. But I never would advance or even get out of where I am if I didn’t do something. I didn’t have a lot of options. But what now? What comes next? It’s an anxiety that practically rules my life now. And this? This isn’t sustainable either.

Rhythm and the blues

Music. Some says it soothes the savage beast. And I don’t disagree, sometimes it seems like I can almost change my mood by listening to certain music. And sometimes the music that I listen to is an accurate representation of my mood and how I’m feeling. My husband once famously said, “are you listening to Dashboard Confessional because you’re depressed or are you depressed because you’re listening to Dashboard Confessional?” He’s not half wrong.

I’ve come to find over the years that I tend to have a more visceral reaction to music than a lot of people. Most people mindlessly listen to it while driving or in the shower. But music makes me feel things. I’m not a very emotional person – even when depressed it’s not so much that I’m sad, it’s more that I just can’t – can’t get out of bed, can’t stop sleeping, can’t find the motivation to do anything other than be a slug. But music. It makes my soul sing.

I have a very eclectic taste in music – I grew up playing the violin from a very young age and involved in all different kinds of orchestras, so classical music holds a very special place in my heart. One of my favorite pieces – The Great Gate of Kiev from Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky makes me come alive. Mike had the brilliant idea that they play that on the organ at our wedding. Best. Idea. Ever. It was amazing. Seriously, go YouTube it. If you’re not moved by the piece, then I literally don’t know what to say. For me it evokes feelings of power and strength and images of the Russian Court during Alexander II’s reign. It makes my soul fly in triumphant arcs. I really can’t accurately describe how it makes me feel.

The story-telling of musicals always gets me, and when I find a new one that I like I become low-key obsessed with it. Hamilton was the latest one, but in high school I was obsessed with Rent (who wasn’t? It was the late 90s and theater nerds everywhere salivated over this one). Into the Woods was another. When Wicked came out I was hooked. Ran out and bought the books and devoured them (sadly I still haven’t read the last one in the series, I’m seriously slacking in that regard). The story of Elphaba resonated more strongly with me than that of Dorothy ever did (never was a big Wizard of Oz fan).

Modern bands like 30 Seconds to Mars, the Killers, Jimmy Eat World, the Juliana Theory, all of Andrew McMahon’s projects from Something Corporate through Jack’s Mannequin and onto Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. I connect with this music. I can feel it in my bones. I’m a card-carrying atheist, but the only thing I can like it to is that it’s a religious experience. I’m free in those moments. Free from worry, stress – I just get lost in the music and let myself go.

I often wonder if this is the case because I keep a very tight rein on my feelings. I keep them in check, scared to let them free for fear they turn into mania or depression, or even worse – a mixed episode. But with music, with music let myself feel everything I keep such a tight hold on.

I’ve thought before that this was my way in the early days before diagnosis and meds to regulate my moods. It was easier just to not feel. To push everything in the closet and shut the door, if you will. But I’ve learned that everything comes tumbling out eventually. And then it’s even harder to deal with than it would have been in the first place. I think it’s hard for a lot of people to get to know me for that reason. I’m generally in a genial, if not good mood. Happy to chat. Talk about the cats. But I don’t let people close enough to really understand me. 15 years later and I’m still not sure how Mike managed to get through all of my walls and make himself at home. But even with him, we don’t talk about feelings. We talk about how our day was, or what’s happening in the world. He was raised Irish-Catholic and I was raised Italian-Catholic. We don’t talk about our feelings. It’s just not what we do. This is part of the reason therapy is always so hard for me. My current therapist never pushes, though. He lets me open up if I feel the need or desire but everything is very intellectual – he lets me work through learning classic CBT/DBT strategies from an intellectual standpoint rather than an emotional one (my visualization for irrational thoughts is Leonard Nimoy in a crossing guard vest and a stop sign saying “that is illogical.” Don’t ask, it works.) He’s learned that I seem to do much better when things are approached from a clinical standpoint. It must be the scientist in me.

I don’t know. What I do know is that most often my music matches my mood. I’m sure a lot of people can say the same thing. But how much of our mood is dictated by things like music? Or is it like the Dashboard paradox – the music perpetuates a certain mood and keeps you in an emotional loop. Maybe one feeds off of the other, maybe there’s only a causal link. But what would rather do – drive in the summer with the windows down and the wind in your hair listening to upbeat music or be stuffed into the car in the middle of winter with the windows up against the cold listening to music that keeps you down?

I hate social media

Social media seems to have become a kind of necessary evil. If you don’t have Facebook, you miss out on plans being made, jokes being shared, events that only advertise on Facebook, you name it.

For about four months last year, I deleted my Facebook account, burned and salted the earth. In a lot of ways it was freeing. My phone wasn’t constantly dinging with stupid notifications. I had real conversations with people. But I missed out on a lot – there are a lot of events that are only advertised on Facebook, and while some friends would pass along, a lot I missed. I eventually caved and signed back up. To be fair, I still kept active on Twitter and Reddit, but only a select group of friends know my Twitter handle, and no one knows my Reddit handle except Mike.

But it got me thinking a lot about what we share on social media. We only put our best selves forward. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone is leading a better life than you – they’re more successful, happier, have their shit together. But most people don’t broadcast their struggles, their battles with mental health, their failures. It’s easy to feel alone on social media.

For those of us with mental illness, feeling alone or inadequate can be a death knell. If you’re depressed it can easily push you further down the hole. And if you’re manic it can push you higher. Not to mention the bullying that goes on. I recently left a biopolar disorder support group on Facebook. At least half of the posts were people talking about going off of their meds (and other people encouraging them), and the rest, while they were about questions people had, or people looking for a place to share their successes, there was always in the comments people bullying other people for a myriad of reasons. While the original purpose of the group was laudable, there wasn’t enough policing by the mods. I remember one girl, in particular, was really struggling with depression. She reached out to the group because she was suicidal and just wanted someone to talk to, almost a third of the posts were people encouraging her to do it or bullying her for feeling the way that she did. She ultimately attempted suicide, but a smart group member figured out roughly where she lived and called the cops on her. It was horrifying to watch the whole thing unfold.

I hate social media. And I really wish I could delete my presence, at least on Facebook. But since I can’t, I’m going to do what I can to annoy my right-wing family. =D

Goals and an incident this week

Hello fair readers,

I’m trying hard to adhere to my goal of posting more often. Let’s hope this trend continues.

Anyway, on to an incident this week that made me realize that despite my apparent stability over the last five months I’m still walking a tightrope of emotions. I’m not sure if anyone heard about the CNN/Apple glitch this week that sent the same push alert multiple times. If by multiple times they mean almost 50 alerts in 20 minutes, then sure. Between my iPhone and my iWatch I got the same CNN news alert that the guy that had triggered the inbound missile alert was fired almost 50 times in 20 minutes. But at the time I didn’t know this was a glitch. I was at work and the two would not. stop. dinging. My coworker estimated that I was getting an alert every 8-20 seconds. Turning both the watch and the phone off didn’t help. By five minutes in, I could feel the rage building. By ten minutes I was practically shaking. That same noise repeated over and over and over again was pushing a button that hasn’t been pushed in a long time. I could feel the rage in my chest. My heart rate was increasing. I was starting to sweat. It was the beginnings of a massive panic attack that had a really pissed off component to it. I wanted to break my phone, my watch. I wanted to slam something off of the desk. I probably should have taken an Ativan and in the moment I did have that thought, but I was clear-headed enough to know that I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to go into that blissful fog. It was almost time to leave and I knew if I took one I might not be okay to drive home. So I breathed. I took off my watch and put it and my phone in a drawer. The alert sound was still there, but it was muffled. I could deal with that. At the end of the day I dealt with what could have been a big trigger, and I survived. Clearly, therapy and all of the tools that it put in my toolbox are working.

One important thing that my therapist and I talked about today was goals. I always set myself goals every year. I write them down in the back of the TARDIS notebook that I haul around with me everywhere so I have a reminder of them. But goals, when you have a mental illness, can present challenges. Some everyone who sets goals experiences, and some that might be more specific to those with mental illnesses.

Everyone procrastinates. It’s a normal part of life. But sometimes that procrastination isn’t really procrastination. How are you supposed to accomplish anything when getting out of bed and getting a shower are extreme challenges? Procrastination goes hand in hand with motivation. Sometimes you have to put your goals aside and ride through those times the best you can. It’s ok to say “I can’t do this right now” and set other things aside and focus on the small things – getting a shower, getting through a work day, eating regularly, having a conversation with someone.

Fear is another component. For me, at least, that fear is bourne of the thought “what if I don’t accomplish this?” Am I setting myself up for another failure? Can I handle this kind of failure? How will I feel about myself if the end of the year comes and I haven’t accomplished this? Am I willing to take the risk of trying and not succeeding? Fear goes hand in hand with doing things outside of your comfort zone. There’s always a fear of doing things outside your comfort zone, I don’t care who you are. There’s a reason that it’s called a comfort zone.

So here’s some of my goals for this year:

  1. Find a new job – this is the biggest and scariest thing on my list. I’ve been at my current job almost six years. I know how it runs, I know what to expect, it’s familiar. But I went back and got my MBA so I could move on to something new. I need to put aside my fear of the unknown, and the fear of changing careers, and get on with it. Someone told me recently that the first job is always the hardest to get. And I think that’s very true. I have the education, I just may not have as much experience as a new position might call for. It’s time to start small. Maybe apply for jobs that might be a step below what I actually should be doing, but instead focus on getting in with a company where there’s room to grow.
  2. Lose ten pounds – this isn’t going to be easy. One of the medications I’m on has a side effect of increased appetite. I definitely get that. At times I get ravenously hungry and eat everything in sight. So I need to work at making better food choices, and probably eating at least light snacks more often to curb that. I put on ten pounds in four months last year after I started it. We just bought an Instant Pot so I’ll be cooking more at home now that I can cook things a lot faster.
  3. Continue learning French – I started using Duolingo last year, and made great progress on it until the Great Depression of 2017. I kind of fell off using the app during that and never got back into it. Time to pick it back up. I at least want to make progress this year as the goal next year is to go to the Benelux countries. At least passable French would be helpful.
  4. Quit smoking – at the very least I want to get back to vaping rather than smoking. Baby steps.
  5. Read 35 books – I’m on book number 2 right now, so I’m a little behind. But I’m going to work on catching up over the next few weeks. Maybe I should start posting book reviews.

So that’s that for this week. What could have been a major setback turned into a small victory. And I’ve set some pretty lofty goals, but go big or go home, right?