Tag Archives: university

One Year Later and a New Lifestyle

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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.

Transition

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.

Going Forward

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.

To Conclude

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.)

First Diagnosis

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It’s been a while and there’s things to update.

After seeing my new psychiatrist a few times, he was prepared to make a diagnosis. I’ve been diagnosed with Hallucinations NOS or nonspecified hallucinations. That means that I hallucinate with no known cause. It’s not linked to any other mental illness. It just appears independently. While I’m happy to have a diagnosis (and am glad that there’s not some greater mental illness), I’m disappointed that there’s no known cause. Maybe that will come with more time and conversations with therapists.

At my last appointment, I brought up the fact that I stopped sleeping and my psychiatrist decided he would start investigating. It’s been a year and a half since I stopped sleeping and finally one of my doctors is asking why. I’m so happy about it. The first step in that is a sleep study that will be done later this month.

At my second appointment with my psychiatrist, I got put on Latuda (instead of Risperidone). Within a week, I noticed a marked difference. I was connecting with the world significantly better. I was feeling more emotions. Customers were responding to me more positively. My coworkers commented on me being more positive and outgoing, so did my mom. It was incredible. I had no idea how disconnected I’d been, how distanced from the world I’d been, until I started to reconnect with it. Now I know, and I hope to never experience that again.

Unfortunately, Latuda isn’t covered by my insurance, so I had to change the meds again. This happened at my last appointment (a week ago) where I was put on Abilify. It’s too soon to tell how much it will impact me, but from what I’ve read of other’s use of it, it seems to work well.

In the non-mental health side of things, I’m still waiting on the CT scan of my pituitary gland to find out why I’m lactating. There’s still no word as to when it will be. I hope it’s soon.

In terms of transition, well, I found out that the three to four months until surgery after consult that I was quoted was wrong. It’s actually closer to nine to twelve months. So, instead of being at a point where I have less than a month until surgery, I’m waiting at least five more months. I’m disappointed, but I should have known better than to hope it would be so fast. Maybe there’ll be a cancellation. I do know that I have enough money saved up now to cover my expenses for two months off work, so that’s a stress off my mind.

In general, currently, I’m doing okay, a mix of good and bad. I officially dropped out of university. The program I was in just wasn’t a good fit for me and I failed both classes. I also realized that the work I want to do doesn’t require a degree, so why am I shelling out the money for the degree? I cancelled my loans for the second semester and am just waiting on hearing about repayment to find out what it’s going to cost me each month. Hopefully not much as it was a fairly small loan. My brother and sister in law got me colouring books for Christmas and I’ve been slowly working my way through them. I find it relaxing and engaging and it’s nice to do something other than just staring at my screen all the time. On the down side, I’ve lost a lot of motivation to do anything. I’m finding it very hard to convince myself to do anything and am not even getting out of bed until the last possible minute before I have to go to work. I’m not going out to meet with friends (not helped by my work schedule where I’m scheduled to work the only two days anything happens with my friends). And I’m not going out of the house to do anything except buy the necessities, go to work, and go to the doctor. I’m trying to find something more to do with my time, but I don’t even know where to start. I’m hoping the colouring will at least help. Part of the lack of motivation to do anything is impacting my sleep as I’ve lost the motivation to go to bed. I still don’t get tired, so it’s hard to convince myself that I need to go to bed. I’m finding more and more that I’ll only actually go to bed when I get bored with what I’m doing on the computer. In the last week, I’ve had 3 sleeps. I know it’s not good, and not healthy, but I can’t seem to convince myself otherwise. I’d rather stay up and actually do things than go to bed where I’ll stay until I absolutely need to get up, sometimes twelve or fourteen hours later.

Here’s to hoping things will improve.

Time Flies

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I suppose I should update, since it’s been a while.

I got in to see the counselors at the university, specifically, the counselor that was recommended by my counselor at the college. He’s a great guy, listens well, helped me get in a good headspace. I saw him twice before I realized I probably don’t actually need counselling right now. I’m in a pretty good space right now and don’t feel the need to work through anything.

I also got in to see a psychiatrist at the university. Finally. The appointment was over an hour and a half long and went through my entire mental health history. He actually read my files going back years. He took me seriously. I recognized my need for a diagnosis and is working with me on that. He gave three preliminary names of what I might have, but he wants more information before he actually gives a diagnosis. Schizoaffective disorder, borderline personality disorder, and Asperger’s (high functioning autism). He gave me a printout to have my parents fill out and they went over it when I was up to see them for Thanksgiving. Hopefully that will give him some clues. I’m ready to be armed with a diagnosis that will help me find ways to cope and make things better.

In a non-mental health vein, something happened with my physical health that has been weighing on my mind as well. A couple months ago, I started lactating. I saw a walk-in doctor first and she ordered a battery of bloodwork. I saw my GP a week later and he didn’t see anything alarming in the bloodwork but suggested I talk to my endocrinologist (who I’m working with through my gender transition because I’m on hormones). I saw him a couple weeks later and he was concerned by my bloodwork. My prolactin level was 99, normal is 25. He didn’t seem to think that it was because of my being on testosterone (though that’s a common problem) and ordered a CT Scan and some more bloodwork. I’m still waiting on the scan, but it should happen soon. He said that the scan would look for a growth on the pituitary gland which would cause the spike in prolactin. My research has found that the growths are fairly common and mostly benign, but I’m still worried. What if it isn’t?

In terms of transition, everything’s on track. I got in for my consult for top surgery a couple weeks ago, which means the surgery itself will be in three to four months, a lot faster than it was originally going to be. I’m excited and more than a little nervous. Part of the nerves come from wondering if I’m going to have enough funds saved up to make it through the two month recovery. I hope so.

I think that’s everything of note.

Counselors

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I’ve continued working with my sleep counselor at the college. She currently has me not reading in bed and getting up at 11am every day. At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen. It takes longer to fall asleep if I don’t read in bed, and I can’t seem to convince myself to get out of bed in the morning, even if I’m wide awake. I see the counselor again this Thursday and that’s the last time I’m going to see her. It just doesn’t seem like there’s anything else she can help me with. She has spoken with my GP and he’s going to investigate my potentially having restless leg syndrome and maybe send me to the sleep clinic to have an evaluation and see if there’s anything else going on. Beyond that, I don’t know what to do about sleep. Everything seems to circle back to it being a problem.

I saw my regular counselor at the college last Thursday. That was my last appointment with her. She’s given me the name of a counselor at the university (where I start in the fall) and I’m to make an appointment with him. She also agrees that I need to get in to see a psychiatrist. (I had a friend/coordinator helping me with that and he got nowhere with general psychiatry, same as I got nowhere with them.) The counselor reminded me that there’s psychiatrists at the university for students and suggested I get on with one of them. I’ll have to go to their doctor’s office and get a referral through them, but it should work and I should get in to see someone fairly soon, at least reasonably soon.

Other than that, nothing’s really been going on in my life. I need more going on in my life, but I don’t know where to start, especially since I’m not getting up in the morning. Maybe that’ll change with time though… maybe.

“They’re” a problem

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“Get the infection out of my face, the infection they put there.”

The last few months have been productive and things have moved forward, and not. I’ve graduated from Business Administration (official ceremony is in June, but I’m officially done). I went to all my appointments with mental health (the therapist and the psych). I’ve been released from them and will have to get a new referral in order to see a psych again if I need to. I’ve continued to see the counselor at my college, though because I’ve graduated, I won’t be able to continue to see her for much longer.

There was no diagnosis of anything and only vague assumptions as to what might be wrong with me. I’m not pleased with that and want better answers.

My risperidone (the antipsychotic) has been reduced down to 0.5mg, the lowest dose I can be on without going off it entirely. I’m still on the amitriptyline (sleeping pill) and that was increased to 20mg (2 pills, double the original dose).

I’m working with my counselor at the college to connect with a counselor at the university as I should be attending there in the fall for a new degree. I’m also working with one more counselor at the college specifically on sleep. We’re not making much progress and I don’t really want to push it right now.

I see my GP on Thursday and want to ask to go off the antipsychotic. My logic? The hallucinations came all at once and I went on the sleeping pills and the antipsychotic at roughly the same time. There wasn’t a chance to see what hallucinations were caused by the inability to sleep and what were caused by anything else. I want to find out what hallucinations I have that are not related to sleep problems. I also want to see if there are any other symptoms of note. I have nothing really happening this summer beyond a few family things and work. I would rather have another mental breakdown, or whatever you want to call it, this summer when things are relatively calm than in the fall or winter when I’m back in school. I’d also like to have a diagnosis, or a partial diagnosis so that there’s something to work off of if things go south down the line. I’ve told a few people that this is what I’m going to ask for when I see my GP and they all seem to agree that it’s a good idea and that they’ll be there for me if/when things start going south.

The last few days I’ve noticed something new that really has me worried. I’ve started getting intrusive paranoid type thoughts. Like the one at the beginning of this post. “They put an infection in my face and I have to get it out.” (zits) “It’s their fault.” (I slept late.) I don’t know who “they” are, but the thoughts pop up whenever I get thinking about something that’s happened or is happening. I stop and logically work through where fault really lies and what’s really going on, but the thoughts keep popping up and I don’t like them.

The paranoid thoughts are new, not something I’ve ever experienced before. I really think they’re a part of everything else that’s going on and I should probably mention them to my GP when I see him, if I remember.

I keep getting stuck in circles of thought being anxious about my future and what it holds for me. The degree I’m hoping to start in the fall is Child and Youth Care. This is something I’m really passionate about and really look forward to. I love working directly with kids and helping them grow. I worry that whatever diagnosis I wind up getting will be something that inhibits me from working directly with kids on a regular basis and will force me to rethink my career choice. I really want this, but health and safety come first.

Inching Toward Answers

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A week ago, I saw the psychiatrist and therapist at the same time. Together we talked about things like my transition, my general mood, where things are going, and how things have been.

The hallucinations have officially stopped. I’m grateful for that, but I can’t help but keep wondering when they’re going to show up again. Generally, I have to say that things have improved. I’m sleeping better (though it’s taking me a couple hours to fall asleep again, up from 20 minutes or so when I first went on the meds). I don’t have any compulsions right now, so that’s good. When we discussed those, the psych seemed to agree that they were OCD like. She encouraged me, next time I notice one, to push past the anxiety and let the anxiety happen until it goes away.

My mood has been, well, flat. My mom first identified it over the phone the night before the appointment. I repeated it to the therapist and then again to the psych and we talked about what that meant. I’m not excited, can’t get happy or feel sad, and generally don’t really care. I want to care and be excited and eager and all that, but I can’t. The big word that popped up here is depression.

I’ve known that depression is a possibility, but it felt so real for them to say it. Thinking about it later, it made sense. The psych wants to wait and see what’s happening, give it time to manifest or whatever and decide on medication when I see her again in a month.

On the note of medication, she also wanted to reduce the dose of the antipsychotic. I was taking 2mg of risperidone at bedtime every day. She bumped me down to 1.5mg. Since doing that, I’ve noticed no change, so I’m going to stick with it.

The psych also wanted to talk about my transition a bit. She wanted to know why I wanted to transition and how I saw that working. I talked about how I’ve always felt, how I’ve always leaned towards the masculine and roleplayed the boy in games. How I always picked boys clothes first and fought wearing the dresses. I talked about feeling okay about myself, but uncomfortable wearing flattering clothing anyway. About how I’ve always been more comfortable when perceived male. I mentioned that I wanted to have a baby or two later down the line and that’d be okay. And I talked about being excited for top surgery (getting rid of my breasts) which should happen in the next year and a half. I don’t know what she thought of it all, but I’m glad I got it out.

Today, I had another appointment with the therapist. We continued the conversation from last week, going more into the flatness and general emotion state. I talked about how I haven’t done the dishes or cleaned the living room in a while and that’s a problem. We talked about how I’m always well groomed when I go out (and I do shower regularly even without expectations from somewhere else), but my house is a mess. We talked more about how sleep is an issue and I’m sleeping more but it’s harder to fall asleep and I’m still tired all the time.

She wanted to know about my plans for having a baby and how they fit in with my transition. She had no idea anything related to transgender care, so I’m happy to educate. I told her about the possibility of birth defects if you get pregnant while on testosterone. I talked about the wait time between going off the hormones and trying to get pregnant. I talked about how I’m really after the secondary sex characteristics (facial hair, deeper voice, no chest) that stick around after hormones have stopped, so stopping them will be no problem for me. Having a baby is something I’m excited about, it’s something I look forward to. I’m sad I won’t be able to breastfeed, but I know it’ll be okay anyway.

We also talked a lot about my future, what I want to be doing and where I want to go. She asked me, if I could wave a magic wand, what would it fix. I told her I wouldn’t have any more issues with money. Money seems to be a big issue. Last month I was playing “pick two” where the three I had to pick from where meds, rent, and food. I’m still really tight on my budget and not sure how I’m going to make ends meet properly with enough to spare to save for the vacations I really want to go on, but I’m sure I’ll figure something out.

The therapist says there’s lots of stressors, lots of reasons to be feeling anxiety between work and school and future plans and transitioning. My life’s in turmoil right now and it makes sense for me to be in turmoil mentally.

She gave me homework, and I’ll have to think about it. She wants me to write out (since writing comes easier than speaking) what I want out of life, where I want to be.

This afternoon, I saw the counselor at the college. I gave her a brief overview of how things have been going with mental health and the psych and therapist and where we’re at there. Then we got into the meat of her appointment.

We started where we left off last time, with the “addiction” to the internet and how that’s an issue. I said it wasn’t really an issue anymore. It isn’t, really. I can stop any time I want, I’m just not motivated to do anything else. And really motivation is the big problem. We talked a lot about motivation, that was the big heart of what we talked about.

Right now, I’m really externally motivated. I do my homework because it’s for a team project and if I don’t do my part, others suffer. I go to work because my manager and coworkers expect me there. I go to class because there’s a team meeting every class. I go to appointments because the person I made the appointment with expects me there. I’m not motivated to do anything for me.

We talked about the self care issues that I’ve got, with the apartment a complete disaster and mold growing in the dishes. It’s completely not healthy to be living like that. I’m not motivated to cook for myself when it’s like that because it requires too much effort. If it were like that and someone were to come over, I’d spend the time to clean up in preparation. I’d clean up and do the work to make meals for someone else, but not for me.

I want to want to care, but I don’t.

After a lot of back and forth, the counselor narrowed it down to the idea that I don’t think I deserve the best of care. She said, if I were a nanny for myself, I’d be fired. It’s true, I would. But what I need to do is start treating myself as I would someone I were caring for, or like a team project. A team project with me, myself, and I is a good analogy. I’s the slacker, always making excuses. “I don’t care,” “I don’t want to make the effort,” “I don’t want to,” “I can’t be bothered.” If me and myself can make it work despite the I, maybe eventually, we’ll get I on board.

My homework from her is to start telling myself “I deserve the very best of care.” I’m to start thinking about providing that care, but the important thing first is to make sure I know that I deserve it. Right now the phrase seems awkward and uncomfortable, maybe that will change.

I feel like I’m on the right track with all this. I’m going to see the counselor again and keep working on things with her. Because I seem to be working on different things with the counselor from the therapist and psych, I don’t mind continuing to see them both. It kind of makes sense. I’m still overwhelmed by everything, anxious about how things are going, are they going fast enough or too fast. I wish I wasn’t so flat right now, I want to get excited again. We’ll see, I guess, maybe things will get better.

Potentially Bad Employment Decisions

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Right now, I work at a liquor store. This is alright, retail, fun enough with great coworkers. I’m also in my final semester (final class) of a Business Administration diploma. The course looks like it’ll be fairly easy to complete and when it’s done I’ll have a piece of paper that says I know stuff about businesses.

For two years, though, prior to 2014, I was a nanny. Prior to that I’d only done babysitting and tutoring. I took the nanny gig initially to get some references so I could get an Au Pair position and move to Europe. What I didn’t count on, was falling in love with the job. In the two years I was a nanny, I worked with three families, part time, full time, and one live-in position. I decided live-in wasn’t really something good for me, and it turned me off of childcare a bit.

On my return to school, I threw myself into business and figuring out what I could do to get myself into a career. Coming into this last semester, though, I realize now that as much as I love marketing and working retail and doing management, what I really want to do is work with kids.

So, after much internal debate, I submitted an application with a local nanny agency. I hope to have better luck through an agency than I have independently.

Why do I feel the need to include this step, seemingly forward, in my blog about mental health issues? Because, part of me thinks that I’m not mentally fit to care for children right now.

In the fall (before the hospital visits but after I was getting the run-around from the mental health system), I was invited to take up a position with the local boys and girls club. I denied it because of my mental health and not knowing how stable I was and would be. I still don’t know if I’m stable enough to care for kids on a regular basis, but I want to give it a shot.

So, here’s to potentially bad employment decisions: because you never know if you don’t try.