It’s been a year and a couple months since I last posted and it seemed like now would be a good time to return. It’s odd to think about, but when there are fewer negatives in life, there’s less need for cathartic writing. Catharsis has definitely been the point of this blog and while I’m sure it has been informative for many readers, it has been an appropriate escape and thought collection for me. (Though, at this time, I am not prepared to go back and reread all that I’ve written.)
A little over a month after my last post, I had my chest surgery. It was a reduction, as had been discussed with my therapist and with my surgeon. The results have been great, as the surgeon expected, healed really well. Unfortunately (due to things discussed further down), I am not pleased with it and have scheduled a complete double mastectomy to help ease my mental health.
While I stayed at my parent’s house during the recovery from surgery (as stable a place I could possibly find in my life at the time), I did the final weaning off of the antipsychotics. There was no change in anything. There was no return of hallucinations, no change in mood or connection to the world. It was brilliant.
Near the end of my recovery, I connected with an amazing family and got a job as a nanny. In just a few more days, I will have been working with these kids for one full year. On commencement of my employment with them, I began a life-changing, well, change.
I was provided lunch, which is the same thing the kids ate, and due to certain issues around food, there was constantly a conversation about healthy eating habits. This conversation led me to become more aware of what I put in my body the rest of the week, not just at lunch time. This first inkling of awareness is what started my year of “slow healthy habit changes.”
Slow Healthy Habit Changes
Historically, I’ve tried to change my habits, change what I eat, how I exercise, everything, and it’s always flopped. Historically, I’ve tried to do it as an overnight change. This past year brought about an awareness and change of attitude. When I changed something, it was literally just one thing and it was never big. One week, I realized that I needed to eat something in the morning (I had never really taken to eating breakfast), so I started buying a chocolate and a pop which would get me through till lunch. It would take a further ten months and a further 4 changes (with several relapses) before I adopted a healthy square breakfast with an “adequate” morning beverage. (Perhaps in a couple weeks I’ll switch from hot chocolate to tea.)
I didn’t limit myself to diet either. I spent some weeks focusing on how I interacted with friends, establishing closer friendships, pursuing routine in meeting up with people, and ensuring that I was actually connected with people. I spent some weeks working on how I interacted with the outside world, from exercise to casual hellos with strangers. I spent some weeks looking inward and seeing how my house felt, not denying myself little luxuries (like spice containers or a new shower curtain) and generally making myself feel more welcome in my own space. And I spent some weeks working on how I talked to myself.
I think the biggest change, in all of what I’ve done in the last year, has been in my self talk. I see myself as someone who is able to complete things, someone who can stay on top of things, someone who can do what needs to be done. This wasn’t always the case and certainly wasn’t the case a year or two ago in the midst of my madness.
Through all of these habit changes (because they are truly habits that have been changed), I have kept a careful log of my body size and less careful log of my weight. I knew, during my year and a half on medication, that I was gaining weight, but I wasn’t aware of how much. Sometime shortly after January of 2016, I measured myself and became aware of how much I had actually gained. I weighed in at the time just over 210lbs. The last time I had been weighed (in early/mid 2014) and for the prior ~7 years, I had weighed in consistently around 150lbs. I started trying to fix it immediately, but made no great strides. Even my surgery didn’t change much and actually disheartened me to continuing with monthly measurements. But, through the healthy habit changes (a whole mind/body view rather than a body-centric view), I did lose weight, a lot of it. I am proud to say that I fit into some of the clothing I wore prior to 2015 again. At my last weigh in, I was 163lbs and I know I’ve lost more weight since then.
While it hasn’t been a key topic in my posts, it is integral to my mental and physical well-being and the key cause of my decline originally. Since the diagnosis by my psychiatrist in the fall of 2015 of hormonal insomnia, I have done a lot of reflective thinking on the implications. When I finally weaned off the sleeping pills, I found that I slept better than I had in all my memory. However, in spring of 2016, I accidentally went off testosterone. I missed one week, then another, and before I knew it, I was back to female hormone levels. While I wasn’t satisfied with the secondary sex characteristic changes yet, I was even more scared of what going back onto testosterone would do to me. Since I started working with the kids, I was keenly aware that while I managed four months of extreme insomnia well enough while working retail and attending college, I would not be able to do the same in childcare. So, I refused to restart testosterone.
With recent clarity, I’ve decided that I can’t let a little fear get in the way of things. I’ve researched hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and how it is approached for people with hormonal disorders (like PMS or endometriosis) and developed a new plan of approach alongside a nurse. Very soon (as soon as I can fill the prescription), I will be restarting testosterone, almost exactly 3 years after my first shot. Unlike my first shot, I will not be taking quite so much at once. In fact, I will be doing a very low dose weekly shot. This will slowly over the course of months or longer be stepped up to eventually get to the full dose that I was on initially. As I have the awareness of my hormonal insomnia this time, I will be able to immediately take actions to correct if things start going sideways. I feel prepared.
It’s funny. As you work to set your life in order, good things follow. The more I worked on my physical and mental health, the more receptive others were to me. I made more friends and engaged more, even if that wasn’t my direct intent. In the last couple months, there has been another huge shift for me. I’ve engaged more with the local Deaf community and renewed my interest in learning ASL (which is going great!). I broke up with my overseas long distance boyfriend. I’ve spent more time reading non-fiction (my not-so-secret passion). I’ve spent more time with people who are currently actively engaged in learning (undergrad, post-grad, and PhD students, as well as other general learning adults like myself). I’ve been surrounding myself with a positive and encouraging community and I’ve been thriving.
A hard lesson that has taken far too long to learn is that it doesn’t matter what you plan for, life likes to throw curve-balls. As much as I would love to become fluent in Dutch, move to Europe (Netherlands maybe) and attend university there, then find a nice man to marry, have kids, find a great job/career working with kids, and eventually retire to luxury, I have to accept that that’s likely not to happen. Instead, I’ve created a new plan.
I am still saving as if I’m moving in a year and a half. I don’t see that as a bad thing even if I don’t actually end up moving. I’m not denying myself the close personal connections that I have with people locally (including one that may turn into an actual relationship, eek!). And I’m actively pursuing to better myself and my education.
Part of that last point is a request for referral for a neuropsych evaluation for Autism/ADHD/other stuff. I have long since known that I am not neurotypical. In fact, my last 6 or 7 psychs and therapists have said as much, point blank, to my face. Several friends who work closely with or know people who are autistic have told me that I fit the mold for the mild end of the spectrum. I’m also keenly aware that I do not thrive in a university setting. If I’m intending to return to school, then I need to do something to ensure my success. I see getting an evaluation as a key component to that. I’m also hoping that a diagnosis will allow me to find better coping and management skills in the rest of my life, not just at school.
Another part of that point is the keen knowledge that one of my largest failings in school has been in notes and reports. I’m working on that, combating it on my terms, outside a classroom, and in a setting where I can work to success with no possibility for failure. I love non-fiction books, and actively seek the ones on topics of most interest to me. I have also picked up a notebook and am taking notes, now, on the books I read. Facts that jump out at me, things that seem of key importance, therapies that could use further research for understanding (hey, I like reading about kids and special needs). I plan in the future to write several research papers on questions of my own choosing and topics of my own interest, with review from friends who have an academic background and will be able to help me build my skills. I’m also intending on spending several weeks/months learning a specific developmental theory that keeps jumping out at me as something I can’t wrap my head around just yet, but I know will show up in whatever line of courses I end up pursing. My hope is that I will build, over the next 2+ years, a foundation of skills and knowledge that I can build on once I do return to school, enabling me to succeed even if I don’t end up getting a diagnosis.
My readers, life is incredible, amazing, glorious. Life is what you make of it. However bad and horrible things may be right now, there is always the potential for it to improve, even in small ways. And who knows, if there’s one small improvement here or there, perhaps in several months you’ll look back and see you’ve ended up making huge strides.
Thank you for reading. (Potential future updates to follow, as needed.)