14 Years in 10 Minutes

For the past few months I’ve participated in a Peer Union Counseling class. It was an opportunity to learn even more about the various human service programs available in the community. Before our ‘graduation,’ the coordinator asked for a male and female volunteer to speak about our experience in the class at the graduation. When no female stepped forward, I decided I would step up. I had no idea how introspective my speech would leave me that evening.

I am far from being a planner, so in the 15 minutes before I left for the banquet, I jotted down a few notes. You might think that knowing that various local political figures were going to be present, I might have put more thought into it…but I didn’t. Besides, my best work has often come from last minute pressure! I stuck the slips of note paper in my pocket and didn’t think about it again until time for my speech.

I used the notes as a reference, but pretty much spoke what came to mind. I was open, honest and genuine in what I had to share. Afterwards, I received a number of comments of support and praise. Other than that, I didn’t really think about it much…until I made it home.

Sitting on my couch considering the evening as a whole, I suddenly became very pensive. It dawned on me that I had essentially summed up the past 14 years of my life in just 10 minutes or less. If you’ve been following my blog, even though I am only just getting to the time I moved in Indiana, you might guess that a LOT has happened in that time. The following is not verbatim, since I only went by notes, but it does convey the same message.

I started working at Purdue University the summer of 2001. I was across the hall from Roberta Schoeneman in the College of Science advising computer science majors. I would leave Purdue in September 2008 because of my mental health. By September 2009, 12 months later, I would have intimate knowledge of: in-patient mental health care, outpatient community health services, Division of Family Services for SNAP/food stamps, the homeless shelter, the Mental Health America day shelter, Lafayette Transitional Housing, Lafayette Housing Authority and the Social Security Administration. In the months to follow, I would also work with Area IV, the YWCA Cancer Program, and Riggs Community Health Center.

I had gone from someone with a Master’s degree working at a Big 10 university to being homeless having to use food stamps. I still remember the first time I used my SNAP card, I only purchased a drink and maybe a bag of chips. I didn’t even make it to the car before I started crying. I just couldn’t accept that I had fallen that far.

Life has dramatically improved since then. You could say it is like night and day. Now, instead of receiving services from the various agencies, I am helping others navigate the process to receive services themselves. A year ago I began attending the HPIN meetings, Homeless Prevention and Intervention Network. That is where I learned of this class.

Even though I was pretty familiar with many of the resources shared in this class, I learned of so many others available in the community. It seemed like each week I would take what I had learned and share with a friend here in town, or even with an aunt in Texas. Having the right terminology, I was able to locate a couple of similar programs for her to help with renovations to her home to help my uncle with disabilities.

I plan to continue helping others, primarily those that are experiencing homelessness, with all the information I learned. I also plan to apply for Leadership Lafayette. Don’t be surprised if I go asking for financial assistance [looking directly at the CEO of United Way of Greater Lafayette]. I WILL be on the board of one of the various agencies represented before all is said and done!

Sitting here writing, I’m still in awe that I am ABLE to sit here and write this blog. For so many years I sincerely believed that I would end up dead by my own doing. Now that thought seems so foreign to me…even though I only let go of that option five short years ago.

I don’t recall a time in my life where I was more determined than I am now to help make changes that will benefit others. It is a slow, long process, but I am in it for the long haul. I want to see the holes filled so that ALL people experiencing homeless have a fighting chance to get back on their feet and not just those with the ability to navigate the many systems on their own.

To the person that told me I had an “advocate’s heart,” watch out! I have you on my radar!

Strutting my stuff before my speech.

Strutting my stuff before my speech.

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Staying Ahead of Depression

spoons

So these past several weeks I’ve been working at least twice the number of hours as I normally should. Not only are we short a few people, but it is one of our busiest times with Back to College business. These past two weeks, I worked 40+ hours and it will likely happen again the next two weeks. Why do I say all of this? Well, as someone with major depression, it can have a HUGE impact on how I rebound.

The above image is one way to describe the limits of physical and emotional energy of someone with a mental illness. Essentially, we have fewer ‘spoons’ to get us through the day. Where we may have only 20 ‘spoons’ the average person may have 40-50 ‘spoons.’

Another way I have described it is in terms of recovery time. The average person can work a 40 hour work week, stay busy all evening and get approximately six to seven hours of sleep at night. Then, on the weekend, run and go with all kinds of activities and maybe get an extra hour or two of sleep. They can keep this pattern up week after week without any major consequences. This is NOT the case for someone with a chronic illness.

For me personally, it doesn’t work quite like that. When I worked full-time, my evenings were anything but busy. I would get home and only had energy enough to fix a quick dinner…usually something frozen…and then spend the rest of the evening on the computer and watching television. If I had to be social on a particular evening, it took extra energy to get through till I was home again. Because I was always carrying a mild depression and some insomnia, it generally took me at least an hour or more to fall asleep.

When the weekend came, that was my catch up time for sleep. I rarely cleaned except for the needed laundry and an occasional vacuuming. Dishes and bathroom were cleaned, but not very often. As Monday grew closer, instead of feeling rested and ready for the new week, I felt anxious and dreaded having to get up in the morning. Overtime, I was ‘behind’ on my recovery and my depression would deepen. Not only that, I had essentially no outside activities and really did not spend time with my niece and nephew like I had hoped. I just did not have the emotional energy to do anything but what was absolutely necessary…and even then I wasn’t always able to keep up.

I’ve since figured out a general equation that works for me. For every four/five hours of work I need at least eight hours of down time to recover. This does not include sleep time. I’ve learned I need at least nine hours of sleep on a regular basis. As long as I maintain 20/25 hours of work a week, I’m now able to also maintain outside activities. I know I will have to work more than 25 hours a week from time to time and that’s doable because I know it is only temporary.

To be honest, I am a little worried once this heavy work load is lessened because it has gone on for over a month. But, I have a plan in place of concrete tasks I can do to keep me from ‘crashing.’ In the past, because I was so close to a major depressive episode, I couldn’t even make a list of tasks I thought I would follow through on to keep me going. Now, though, I am ‘ahead’ of the depression and feel more optimistic that I’ll keep it at bay.

So here are my tasks which I feel are doable:

  • Since I know my tendency is to isolate, I have to remain committed to my Tuesday morning breakfast with the First Baptist Breakfast Babes.
  • I have to get myself out of the apartment on my days off.
  • I have to keep a cleaning schedule of more than just needed laundry.
  • I have to get myself to sit outside on my patio for at least 10 minutes a day.
  • And, one I didn’t have listed before…I have to get back to the gym.

Now that these are public, I feel more of an obligation to stick with these.

Remember, if you are going to make a similar list, make your goals reasonable and within reach. It’s better to be able to complete small tasks and have a feeling of success than to make a list of tasks which will be out of reach when you are depressed.