How Work is Like Currently

The last post I wrote about how I am coping with work was on January 17, 2021. I know that it has not been too long ago for an update about how I am coping at work, so, I thought I share some thoughts on what’s going on.

The past 2 to 3 months, work has been exhausting. I find myself dragging myself out of bed when the alarm goes off and forcing my brain to stop the anxiety thought loop that would start the moment I open my eyes. The level of stress I feel on each work day is all consuming and difficult to describe in words. Recovery is long and difficult and the days when I feel that things might finally start to look up, these days never seem to last long enough for me to sustain some respite from the constant struggle day-in-day-out. At work, it seems that my eyes and mind are focused on the task at hand but my soul was somewhere far away, like a distant observer watching me carry out work tasks, one after the other.

Since the start of last week, I have taken some time off work. I have 4 more days remaining for some respite before I need to go back to work at the start of next week. I am not looking forward to it as I know what it entails. But, life goes on, and I need to continue pushing forwards, even when I feel I’m dragging myself through mud. My relationship with my colleagues have been difficult because I still don’t have the language I need to create boundaries and to be assertive. My opinions and ideas doesn’t get heard or it just gets disregarded during meetings. Decisions have been made on my behalf while I am away from work, assuming that whatever this decision might be, would be ok with me. I don’t have a voice yet. Maybe, one day, this would change. I need to start learning to find the words to create boundaries and to be assertive.

Exhausted

Everything I am doing is towards mt recovery. Every decision I make on a daily basis is rooted on ‘doing the work’. The constant juggling of emotions, thoughts, exercise, work, studies and self care is exhausting. My therapist reminded me that I have come a long way from where I was at 13 months ago. My rational brain knows that what he said holds true in my recovery journey, but, I haven’t reached a point where I feel totally comfortable in acknowledging that just yet.

Going back to Therapy

I have just re-engaged with therapy last week on Friday after taking a break from it to focus on psychological work with a clinical psychology for the past 11 weeks. I am still on a temporary schedule for the next three sessions while waiting for a more permanent slot when it comes up.

When I requested for a session with the therapist, I wasn’t in a good space. I could feel the depression descending and as it always does, it filled me with dread and hopelessness, that this is what the rest of my life is going to be like. I went to bed restless, with my mind, having a field trip of tormenting me. I did eventually fall asleep, albeit a restless one. Somehow, I managed through the next four days at work, with only moments of despair and dread. Only during therapy did I realise that I have fallen back into the habit of coping through numbing and busyness. I wouldn’t have realised this if I did not have a therapy session. Therapy was a good reminder that I need to be mindful to move towards switching to helpful coping styles when I am falling back to old habits of numbing, ambivalence and busyness.

On a good note though, I am starting to enjoy work much more. Anticipatory anxiety every night before bed time is still in the fore, making sleep quite restless. There is a lot of psychological preparation that I need to make to calm myself down and not go into a panic every time I need to facilitate a group. I am not sure when this is going to be less prominent, but, I am hopeful that with time, and lots of practice with grounding skills, it will get easier.

Roller Coaster Ride

Last Thursday, I felt the best I have felt in a very long time. Why did I feel good about myself last Thursday? The reason is simple enough: I had enough mental reserve to provide a distressed client the mental and emotional support that she needed at the time. I can’t say more about the encounter due to confidentiality, but, what I can say is that it felt good to be able to support someone else and direct my focus away from my own mental health struggles to give another some reprieve from theirs. This warm, fuzzy feeling lasted for the rest of Thursday evening. It was short lived though…Come Friday, my mental health started to take a dive and at this very moment of writing this, I can feel myself plunging into the depths of darkness, the darkness that pulls you in, deeper and deeper, until there is nothing left to feel, apart from the emptiness and vast open void that you feel inside.

I am getting hooked with so many thoughts and feelings and I know what I need to do to diffuse and unhook myself from these unhelpful thoughts and feelings. Believe me, all I have been doing since Friday morning was that every chance I get an ounce of strength… to ground, re-centre and bring myself back to my present self… damn it! I even have a worksheet that my psychologist have given me to jot down how it went each time I used diffusing and unhooking strategies… it isn’t working. I think the reason why I am writing this post is because I need to try and quiet my thoughts, quiet my feelings … suppressing and numbing is not really working for me anymore. Supressing and numbing was all I used all these years to cope, and it isn’t working anymore. What do I do? What do I do?!

Here We Go Again… An Endless Cycle

For the past month, I have slowly found my mental health deteriorating. I could feel that slow, dread and despair, just lurking around the corner. From my work as a mental health nurse, I know the theory and concepts behind ‘unhooking‘, a term used in ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy), where you ‘unhook’ from difficult thoughts and feelings by acknowledging that they are there, but instead of focusing on them, you let them buzz in the background. The idea is to focus on the present moment, and not be dominated by these difficult thoughts and feelings, in order to live the life we want. It does work, when it works. As with many other coping strategies, unhooking is another skill that requires us to repeatedly practice and use and make it so automatic, that our brain automatically uses it as a positive coping mechanism when our thoughts and feelings becomes unhelpful. It’s great when it works, but for me, at this point, it’s a hit and miss at most times. So, what I am trying to say is that I am not quite there yet!

The irony of it all is that I teach my clients these skills. From various grounding strategies, such as physical grounding, object grounding, safe space visualisation and unhooking, to name a few. I understand the concepts behind them and the reasons why they work for some and not others, but, I find it difficult to use and practice them for myself.

My psychologist has given me a task to practice ‘unhooking’ on a daily basis. I have been trying, but, it hasn’t really worked out the way I thought it would. I am quite frustrated with myself. Maybe it’s the stress of work and the stress of an assignment that I am currently racking my brains to try and complete…Maybe my concentration is so bad that I can’t focus on any of the tasks I have in hand at the moment… Maybe it’s just the simple fact that I am slipping into a depressive episode again. The thing is, I have not even surfaced to the light from the episode 8 months ago. It’s just an endless cycle of ‘I’m ok’ and ‘I’m not ok’ and this is just so f***king exhausting!

Focusing on the Present Moment

Firstly, I just want to say that this is going to be a short post. I have not have time to really sit and write; to just ponder and write. Juggling part time study and full time work is much more of a challenge now then a year ago when I was in a better headspace.

Today is my last day of the Easter weekend holiday. I am glad that I have some time off work, but the anticipatory anxiety of going back to work tomorrow, has started bubbling up since Sunday morning. I do like my days off, but at the same time, it is like a double-edged sword because I feel at edge, almost untethered, knowing that I have to function and face work until the weekend arrives again.

Saturday morning was supposed to be a relaxing and calm day, because I finally convinced myself that going for a short hike nearby would do me good. Unfortunately, I was not able to enjoy the hike at all, my mind would not quiet down. I tried grounding myself to the sounds of the birds and the feel of the breeze on my face, but it did not work. What was supposed to be a calming and mindful outing, turned out to be a stressful one.

Since then, I keep berating myself for not being able to just enjoy the present moment. Little things would bring my thoughts back to my past and my mind would start to feed into the self-loathing and feeling unloved.

Focusing on the present moment sounds simple enough. But, really, it does take a lot of effort to make it work. Sometimes, it doesn’t not work at all. I guess I just have to keep practicing.

Note: the photo was taken during the hike at Taeri Mouth.

Spiralling

I took time off work today and yesterday. Firstly, it was mostly because I am physically and mentally exhausted. Work has been extremely stressful the past 3 weeks, due to shortage of staff. Shortage of staff is a norm more than an exception in my department, due to a multitude of reasons that I won’t talk about here. Essentially, I have been the only nurse at the moment, juggling between clinical work, supervision of student nurses and a new graduate nurse, facilitating groups and administrative tasks. I have fallen back into my coping strategy of just pushing through and numbing myself, and it is starting to unravel me.

Since Monday this week, I can feel myself slipping back into a depressive state. My mood has been low and I feel flat. Concentration is bad and all I can do is distract myself with watching Netflix and vaping. This is not a good sign.

I have a follow up consult with my psychiatrist tomorrow and I am considering to discuss the possibility of her signing me off for a 3 day work week for the next 3-4 weeks. I think I need to slow things down. But, I am not sure if this is going to help.

Filial Piety: To What End?

According to Confucius, filial piety is the virtue of respect for one’s parents and elders. This virtue is also embedded in Buddhist and Taoist teachings. All cultures have some form of this expectation in varying degrees, but, it is more pronounced in cultures that are more collectivist in nature.

I remember fearing my mother’s rage for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories were when I was 2 or 3, my mother would sit me on the potty and leave me there for as long as she needed to complete her tasks in the kitchen. As she busied herself in the kitchen, I would play with a locket that my grandmother gave me. It was a black stone shaped into an eggplant, attached to a gold ring, where the chain would lace through it. I remember that I would suck on it as I sat on the potty and wait for my mother to be free to wash me. I would not make a sound as I quickly learnt that if I did, my mother would yell at me to be quiet. So, I would sit, suck on the black stone locket and wait patiently while watching my mother in the kitchen, waiting for her to glance over, but she never did. By the time she picks me up from the potty, my bum was already quite numb from sitting on the potty for so long. She would wash and dress me and leave me beside a small transistor radio. I loved that thing. It was my priced possession. The first one that I got was a red one and when that broke, my father bought an exact same one but in black. It had a retractable antenna and a dial at the top beside the on-off switch that you turn to set the frequency. I remember just sitting quietly beside the radio and listen to music as my mother went along with her house chores everyday. Music was my friend, my solace.

I do remember happier times when I was a toddler, even after the sexual abuse started. The fondest ones are the ones where I would sing and dance along whenever my favourite songs get played on the radio. Being able to do Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk was my favourite move and I relished the attention I got from the laughters of my father and sisters. In those happy snippets, I remember that there were no hearty laughters from my mother, only a smile carved on her face each time, while my brother was always absent.

I think I would need to continue this post for another time. I think I need to pause and contain my distressing emotions while I write this part of my life. I’ve decided to still publish this unfinished work because I feel that I need to get this out there. There will be a part 2 of this post at some point when I am ready to reopen my containment ‘vault’ and process through this part of my life in writing.

Reminding Myself… It’s ok!

My anxiety levels started creeping up on me since Saturday (16 Jan 2021), as I know that after 6 weeks of being back at work, I am expected to be back in facilitating psycho-educational groups at work. Most of Saturday, I kept myself busy: I went for a 10km run with a friend of mine; worked on what to write; dinner with some friends in the evening; walked my dog and helped my partner in an essay she was writing. All of this worked well to distract me from the anxiety that was building up.

On Sunday morning, I woke up with the tightness in my chest and a palpable feeling of dread. I decided not to pay any attention to that and pottered along with my day, quite aimlessly, even though I was working on another article on a book review that I post on Medium.com. It took me almost the whole day to get it done, as I was forcing myself to concentrate. I did think of not writing and do some studying instead, but that did not work either. So, I went back to writing. By Sunday evening, after dinner, the anxiety and feelings of dread about work was bursting from under the layer of mud that I have worked so hard to suppress since Saturday. Come bed time, I did not want to go to bed, because when I wake up the next morning, I have to face work.

Woke up this morning with the same awful feeling of dread and tightness in my chest. The chatter in my mind was relentless: “I can’t do this, I can’t do groups!” I pushed it all away buried all of this deep into the recesses of my mind, had breakfast, got changed, jumped into my car and drove to work. The beginnings of a panic attack was surfacing as I parked my car, and the bubbling under the surface panic attack hit me: my chest tightens and I could not breathe. My mind was racing as I try to gather my thoughts together to ground myself: Knuckles turned pale as I gripped the steering wheel as I tried to breathe, focus on my shoes, then lifted my head to see what was around me and placed my feet firmly on the floor of the car. It worked. The tightness in my chest relaxes, and my breathing slowed down, but I was paralysed. I just could not make step out of the car! I sat there, in the driver’s seat, for almost 20 minutes, focusing on telling myself that I need to be at work. Over and over again: “I need to be at work.”

As I write this, the relentless chatter in my mind that says: “I am weak, I am useless, this is how it is going to be always”, dominates. My rational mind is saying: “Write an entry for what happened this morning (so you can process what happened), don’t beat yourself up, everything passes, and it’s ok.”