Tag Archives: illness

Double the Madness


depression green road sign over storm clouds

A few months ago I wrote about how I had again received the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. As many of us know, one of the major characteristics of bipolar disorder is mood swings. My doctor prescribed medicine that worked quite well in stabilizing my mood–that is until January 27, 2016. On that day, I had a hysterectomy.

Last year I was diagnosed with Stage IV endometriosis. The only permanent treatment is a full hysterectomy. After six months of unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant, we made the decision for me to have the surgery. After I healed, the physical difference was amazing, particularly in regards to my lower back pain. I can now walk long distances without much discomfort. Yay me! Mentally is a different story.

One of the side effects of a hysterectomy is that you are thrown into menopause, and one of the major things about menopause is that you have mood swings. Bipolar disorder and menopause is no joke. Although I’m on medication, the emotional upheavals were unbearable. I found myself getting irritated at little things (an aspect of hypomania) although I’m regularly taking my medication. On the flip side, I was crying for no reason at all. Because of these things, I made the decision to go on hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Along with my medication, HRT has helped with the irrational irritability and crying spells, however I still struggle with one mental challenge. I can only describe it as the most horrible mix of depression and anxiety that I have experienced since I was a teenager. On a good day, I constantly think about my own death. Not in a suicidal ideation type of way, but always thinking that I will be dying soon, either from a horrible accident or from fatal health issues.

On a bad day, the thoughts and feelings are so bad that I don’t like leaving the house, and I even feel shaky trying to drive–shaky in the sense that I’m panicked and hyper-aware of other cars because I’m waiting for the car accident to happen. You would think that being hyper-aware would make you safer, but I don’t feel safer so I usually find someone else to drive. Even then, I’m still looking out for disaster.

My daughter likes to sleep in the same bed as me to have mommy snuggles before slumber. I’ve gotten so panicked about me dying in my sleep and not wanting my daughter to wake up with her dead mother in bed with her that I’ve started refusing her requests. I don’t tell her the real reason why, but focus on her getting older and needing to sleep on her own.

Trying to sleep is a whole other issue. Not only am I plagued by thoughts of dying of a heart attack in my sleep, but anxiety over a house fire or natural disaster keep me up until the early hours of the morning. I will lie in bed and plot exit routes out of the house, safety precautions in case of or a tornado, or I’ll just cry because I don’t want to die yet.

This is no way to live. I’m hoping my doctor can switch my medication so that the madness can end. Until then, I’m writing more poetry just to get it all out of my head.

This is just a glimpse into mental illness and bio-chemical changes within the body. The next time you encounter someone with these issues, please remember this post and be compassionate–that person has enough hurt and worry to deal with without the need for social sanctioning or ostracizing.

Getting Real about Getting Healthy


hope concept

Much has happened since we moved to the Chicago area.

I spent a month on the couch in severe pain. Testing showed that I had ovarian cysts and a tumor, which required surgery. After the surgery, we learned that I have Stage IV endometriosis. During the first surgery, much of the endometrial tissue was removed, along with my left ovary and fallopian tube. Unfortunately, since I’m Stage IV, I still experience continual discomfort with random episodes of sharp stabbing pain. To treat this, I will be having a full hysterectomy in January, which will mean six to eight weeks of more healing time.

Given my physical health challenges and a familial episode that was sparked by my sometimes illogical sense of aggravation, I decided it was past time to really be serious about my overall health–for my benefit and my family’s benefit, particularly my daughter, Maya, because she deserves a healthy and happy mom. To this end, I decided to accept the diagnosis I was given when I was twenty-six. I went to a psychiatrist for re-evaluation and was finally honest about some things that I had never told a mental healthcare worker before–specifically about my compulsive spending, days of elevated irritability, and episodes where things seem to explode and my behavior becomes erratic (which often leads to self-injury). The psychiatrist confirmed what I was told fourteen years ago–I have bipolar II with hypomania. I’m not rejecting the diagnosis anymore.

For now, I’m on new medicine, and so far the change has been so amazing, I’m mentally kicking myself for not doing this sooner. Of course I will likely have to fight the urge that I had so many years ago–once I feel good for a while, I will need to resist the urge to convince myself that there’s nothing really wrong with me, those episodes were just me having a “bad day.” More recently I had justified all of this by saying that I had an intolerance for a**holes. Like I told the psychiatrist, with so many different episodes with different people, the only common denominator was ME. Therefore, I need to get over myself and accept the fact that I’m the one with the issue so I can treat it and go on with my life.

So that’s what I’m doing. As you can expect, you will read much more about my journey in upcoming posts. Until then, health and blessings to all.

What Did You Like Least About Your Job?


This is what my former employer, Amazon, asked me. This was my response, and is solely my opinion on the events that have happened over the past 6 months. **WARNING** some strong language.

Over the past six years, the leadership approach has changed significantly. The company is currently in a state where in leadership, it’s acceptable to be an asshole to your employees, even when that means being demoralizing, demotivating and condescending. I’m worth more than that, and it’s not something that I will accept. The company doesn’t pay me nearly enough to put up with it. This all started back in June, right after Ms. X became my manager. During our first 1:1, she asked me about the length of the eLearning courses we developed, and when I said that our target was for none of them to be longer than 20 minutes, she had a full-body reaction on the scale of Kramer from Seinfeld. My interpretation of her body language was that I just received a full-body eye roll, which implied that the work I had done was sub-par. I withheld comment at that time so that I wouldn’t speak from emotion. I scheduled a follow-up meeting with her to discuss my concerns with her communication and that with her being new to the team, I wasn’t certain how everyone would react (I specifically mentioned X employee, who later left the company because of these issues). Ms. X advised that she had an agreement with her last team that when she did these things, they were to speak up and ask what she really meant. My first thought on that was that if her previous team had to have this agreement, and it’s still going on, what does that say about this leadership approach? Immediately after this meeting, I began having tingling sensation all over, tunnel vision and felt like I was going to lose consciousness. Through drinking water and deep breathing, I was able to make it over to urgent care who sent me to the ER because of the possibility of a heart attack. The ER doctor concluded that I had had a severe panic attack, but noted that my blood sugar was higher than it should be. In my follow up with my PCP, we learned that I’m diabetic. I struggled after the diagnosis to get my blood sugar under control. At the time, the other ID had left the company and I was fulfilling the job of two IDs. Not long, we got a request to develop training for another team. Ms. X wanted us to provide data, facts as to why we couldn’t take this work on right now. In my e-mail message to her, I stated what I was working on for two people (since the other ID left), how long it would take me to complete, and what it would take to complete this new work. I followed this up with the following: “Additionally, what these facts/data do not capture is the human factor. I have a few medical conditions that are negatively impacted by stress, including one condition that is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008. I cannot take on additional work stress without escalating the current negative impact on my health. I have an appointment with my doctor tomorrow (7/1/2014) to discuss next steps.”

Ms. X’s response to this shocked me: “I appreciate your note. Is there some other role that gives you a sense that it will be easier to maneuver.

The instructional design work will increase… it can be really fun work. The Sr. ID will be tasked with allocating the roadmap for both internal and external facing assets. From the company’s point of view the business comes first, as the idea is people/leaders look after themselves and manage change.” Emphasis added by me.

I was totally shocked that, one, a company people manager would respond in this way when someone identifies themselves as having a disability, and two, that the people manager would be ignorant enough to write it down in e-mail. Really, how would people react that speaking on the company’s behalf, a manager responded to a person with a disability with “From the company’s point of view, the business comes first.” I read this as “If you have a disability, manage it, deal with it and do your job or leave.”

It really felt like a betrayal by the company that I had come to love over the past 12 years. Even HR recognized how bad it was because the HR Business Partner apologized to me when discussing this issue. I actually only discussed the matter with HR because Ms. X went to them advising that I needed “special consideration” in my job. The days that followed that e-mail and the time Ms. X went to HR on me, it was a constant barrage of suggesting that I needed some kind of alternate arrangements (I never requested such), a different job, maybe work part time, etc. I was mentally beaten down with this to where I felt like I was no longer trusted to be able to do my job. I regularly cried at my desk (as witnessed by colleagues) and began having regular panic attacks (the severe kind where I almost lost consciousness – this happened one time when I was on I-5). I made an excuse at one point to work from home for a week because I could not drive toward the office without starting to panic and feeling like I was going to vomit. During this time I didn’t even leave my apartment for that week because I couldn’t even manage the thought of being around other people. I met with my PCP and discussed these things, to which she said she was shocked because she had never seen me like that. Because of my condition, she referred me to both a psychologist and a psychiatrist. I was put on anti-anxiety/anti-depression medication, including Xanax. I was able to come back into the office, but I would regularly have to take Xanax to be in meetings with my boss just so the way she communicated didn’t make me feel worse than I already did.

Even with all of this, things did not approve. I had one more face-to-face talk with Ms. X where I expressed concerns over what she thought about me, because her e-mail communication came off as so condescending, it made me think that she didn’t have a very high opinion of me. Again, she said that she wasn’t going to change, and she would write e-mails to me the same way she would to the new ID. I pointed out that her leadership training with adaptive coaching and adjusting your leadership style to your employees’ personalities – I told her that it seemed that she expected the rest of us to adjust when she’s not willing to do the same, although it’s what she teaches. She didn’t agree with me and pretty much ended the conversation.

It was okay for a while, then on October 17th I received another e-mail where Ms. X had jumped to conclusions and felt the need to e-mail me about the proper process, including our contractor on the e-mail, when if she would have sought to understand the situation, she would have known that I did everything that she had assumed that I hadn’t. It hit a brick wall – it was never going to end. I called my husband crying and begged him, “Can I quit today? Please say I can quit today?” After seeing how I had been, he agreed that continuing on with this company just wasn’t worth it. That day I met with HR and explained things. I had a box with me and advised that my intention was to pack up my desk then and leave. She asked me to give her the weekend and she would discuss the issue with my boss’s boss (she had documentation of all the issues I had with Ms. X). She said she would follow up with me on Monday, October 20th.

When I got the e-mail from HR on that Monday, she advised that after looking over everything, it was determined that Ms. X had not broken company policy. That was even more concern for me. I knew then, without a doubt, that the leadership style at the company had changed. We no longer cared about being customer centric for internal customers. As stated previously, the current leadership style is that it’s okay to be an asshole to your employees. I can’t accept that. Right after responding to that e-mail, I walked into Ms. X’s office and gave notice.

During this time (in June), I began getting insight from an investigator with the Seattle Human Relations Commission. When I told her about the work environment and the impact to my health, her initial response was, “J.B., this company has broken you.”

NOT ANYMORE

This is the End


biohazard+mask

This month, I will leave the office job that I’ve had for the past twelve years. I fell in love with the company, believed in its mission…then things…changed.

It wasn’t a sudden change. It’s something that happened over the course of the past several years. The only way to describe the past six months is toxic environment. In the midst of an emotionally and mentally unhealthy space, I realized that the company I once loved is no more.

At one point a couple of years ago, I was contemplating the possibility of leaving. At that time, I still loved the company so much that I described the possibility as being like a divorce – when you end a relationship not because you don’t love the other person, but because you know that you can no longer be with that person and continue to grow and evolve.

Now, today as the end draws near, I describe the feeling as escaping from an abusive relationship where your partner expects you to do everything, even at the expense of your own well-being, giving you little in return. In fact, what you usually get is negative criticism, condescension, belittlement and a constant feeling of dread for when the next metaphorical punch will hit you in the gut.

And to the company, this is okay because the business comes first.

Not my home anymore.

Not meant for me.

Enough is enough.

This is the end and freedom is within sight.

What diagnosis?


cartoon+blue+landscape

I have been working with a couple of doctors, seeking a diagnosis to address my anxiety, depression and other issues that I’ve discussed in previous posts. One doctor (we’ll call her Dr. P) said something that I had a rather bad reaction to – “You definitely have PTSD, but I’m not ruling out the possibility of bipolar disorder.”

When I was a college undergraduate, a campus counselor had also suggested that I was bipolar. At first I accepted it, but the more I analyzed myself in relation to the diagnosis, the more I rejected it. For over ten years, I have disregarded this possibility. Until the Dr. P said those words.

As she said those words, tears started to fill my eyes. The tightness in my chest signaled that deep down, I really didn’t want this diagnosis. Not just because I don’t agree with it. It also seems that I have fallen into the stigmatization of bipolar mood disorders. In part I think this is because of the celebrity association I have with the diagnosis. When I think bipolar disorder, one of the first images that comes to mind is Axl Rose. Surely I’m not like that.

As a teenager, I remember reading any article about Axl Rose and bipolar disorder. Friends of Axl commented that you could be talking to him and he’s fine one moment, then the next he has you up against a wall, beating you. Explosive temper to say the least. Like it or not, I can identify with this. I do have a rather short, fiery temper, but as I told my other doctor (we’ll call her Dr. F), my temper is not something that just randomly explodes. Something is said or done that triggers it in me. And quite frankly, I don’t think my unwillingness to put up with bullsh*t means that I’m bipolar.

Dr. P did say that how bipolar is defined now is broader than it used to be. I researched the common definitions of bipolar disorder I, bipolar disorder II, cyclothymia and bipolar spectrum. If one looks at the bipolar I definition which states that you only have to have ONE manic episode in your life, then yeah, I could be considered bipolar. The episode that I had in grad school where my mind basically shut down, and I even had hallucinations…sure, you could consider that a manic episode. 

Still, whether I’m just scared of the diagnosis or overly-self-analytical, I’m still not convinced that bipolar disorder is the issue. In my perspective, I do suffer from PTSD where certain things do trigger certain reactions related to previous trauma. This is something that Dr. P, Dr. F and I all agree on. Chronic depression has been a serious issue since I was a teenager. Even on “normal” days, I struggle with the side of depression that affects motivation and energy levels. Some days it just seems like too much effort to leave my home. On the worst days, it’s too much effort to leave my bed, even to take a shower. When you regularly have to force yourself to do these things, you become quite exhausted. I never have episodes of extreme happiness, activity, rapid speech/thoughts, etc. What I DO sometimes experience is extreme avoidance…specifically with situations that cause me great anxiety. For me, that’s related to an anxiety disorder. 

Stress is something that we all experience. For some of us who have a chemical imbalance, increased stress can completely disable us. In some ways it’s like the depression, but instead of not wanting to leave your home because it’s too much effort, you don’t want to leave your home because of fear. THIS is what I deal with in my life. Even looking at the episode I had over ten years ago that some could categorize as a manic episode, my stress levels during that time were off the charts. I was working more than sixty hours a week and going to grad school full time. If that weren’t stress enough, Andrew passed, which completely devastated me. It was too much to deal with for any one person. Although I was living with someone at the time, she was no real help to me in dealing with these things. So, since I couldn’t deal with it adequately myself, my subconscious mind forced me to take somewhat of a mental vacation by shutting down normal production, tuning out from a reality that my conscious mind could not deal with. Is that bipolar disorder? I’m not sure. What I do know is that at that time, it was the circumstances that were abnormal, and my body saw fit to deal with them in the best way it knew how.

Dr. P hasn’t given an official diagnosis. She wants to talk to me one more time. What this tells me is that even she is not confident that bipolar disorder is the right diagnosis. In processing the possibility, I have come to terms with it. Whatever label you want to give it, I just want to be able to wake up in the morning without fear and happily shower and get dressed for a day that may be stressful, but is nothing that I can’t handle in a healthy way. Is that too much to ask?

 

Great prices! What about the workers?


When a company grows, it’s usually a good thing. However, there is the real possibility of too much of a good thing being bad.

I’ve seen people run companies like a Wall Street portfolio. Diversification is key. When you diversify, you’re not investing all of your money in one thing…one thing that could ultimately fail. Creating different sides of the business, and even acquiring subsidiaries, not only ensures that you will strengthen your main business, but you will also have reach into many other businesses as well. You can do this by breaking off parts of the company under different names, and as long as you don’t focus too much on one side of the business, you don’t risk the hackles of anti-trust lawsuits.

Add to this an intense focus on retail growth by worshipping your customer base, and you have the recipe for building an empire.

But to what human cost?

When you live in a consumer culture, investing in customers is a no-brainer. It’s simple when the average individual has been socialized from birth that buying random products that in no way fit any real world need, all in the name of proclaiming a socially constructed status that says, “Hey! Look at me! I’m cool, and important, because I have all of this STUFF.” Well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that loyal customers will continue to pay to buy their fictional happiness and the fat-cats at the top will continue to get fatter.

How are customers impacted? Well, they have it good for a while. With a focus on low prices, customers can buy even MORE of what they don’t really need. But think of this, as the company grows, becomes better at its various business interests, what will this do to the market in the long run? What a lot of people don’t realize is that the tendency of capitalism is toward monopoly. You may ask, how so? Think of completely free, open market competition – no holds barred. In any competition there are winners and there are losers. Our government has recognized this, and this is why we have anti-monopoly laws. But even when it doesn’t come down to just “one company,” the consumer choice will become fewer and fewer.

So what of the company that has diversified its business? Surely it couldn’t corner the market in every side of its business dealings. However, when one side of the business does well, that spendable income can be used to boost the competitiveness of other businesses. And when all of the businesses focus on having the lowest prices…well, we’ve already talked about the tendency of capitalism and competition. 

All of this culminates in one company being able to corner multiple markets. As a reasonable people, what do we think will happen when said company controls market share and the competition either folds or just cannot keep up anymore? Quite simply, once a business controls the market, they can then control the price of products with little regard to having the lowest price because they have the only price 

Even if prices do not go up because the business wants to maintain consumer loyalty, how can the business continue to remain relevant, particularly if new competitors come on the scene? There are multiple ways that companies cut costs, mainly by controlling overhead. What is one way to control said overhead? Workers. Either by outsourcing the work to cheaper labor or by underpaying the non-union workers that are currently employed. A very easy way to do this is if the workers actually BELIEVE in the cause, so much so that the idea of lower pay or perceived mistreatment does not even enter the collective mind. Corporate enculturation. Enslaving the masses is easy to do when they’re willing to be enslaved, or better yet they don’t even recognize they’re being exploited.

When thinking about big companies that do things such as this, one very simple thing to do is follow the money and ask who benefits. Do consumers benefit? Absolutely. Do the shareholders benefit? Sure. Upper echelons of the corporate structure? Without a doubt. What about the workers? All the way from the front line to upper management (below VP level). If long-time employees struggle to take care of their own families and are urged to be “happy” with minimal increases (if any), is it really worth it? Even more so, what about the conscientious consumer? When thinking customers learn how workers are expected to overwork themselves, put the company before family, manage any illnesses that come about because “customers” come first and be content with this mission when annual take-home income actually decreases…aren’t those the seeds for boycotts? You would think that someone in PR is thinking about these things…and of course directing the company to provide a few more crumbs so that the working masses do not revolt. 

When health care and mental health professionals speak of seeing trends with a particular company in that multiple employees are patients because of stress and anxiety-related illnesses, surely there is something more that needs to be investigated.

As consumers…as employees…as decent individuals, we need to start asking these questions. And for the love of all that is holy, if you find yourself in a situation like this, and there’s no union…start educating yourself quickly. Remember, if it’s bad in “good times,” just think of the outcome when times are rough. It won’t be the company’s elite that has to lower their living standards…it will be the workers.