Boxes of Stress

J, E, my health, school, work…..I seem to be developing more boxes to be sorted and analyzed and understood instead of fewer.

Health – What’s That?

So – I spent my summer recovering from surgery, swine flu, pneumonitis, and bronchitis, while juggling work, school, and family stress.  I really could not see my way clear of the fog, and I could not actually move forward. I managed to keep up with everything I needed to at work, and kept the basics going at home – I never showed up at work in my pajamas or anything, but I was definitely in a barely functioning state. J was very supportive when I was physically sick, but was increasingly impatient that I was not bouncing back. To make matters worse, I had my IUD replaced at the end of August, and then had a five-week long period, complete with spotting, cramping, and mood swings.

School

With a clear outline of when each assignment was due, I did manage to make some forward progress, and in October was actually able to finish off one class, but the other one just continued to drag on.

Work

The emotional upheaval at work continued. We had been without any real funding in almost a year, and the program director, who was also the associate director of the library and my best friend of 20 years, seemed to give up at that point. She haunted my office, played Farmville on her work computer, read articles and generally seemed lost. Only one of the department’s positions was grant funded, and it was continually at risk, and the general consensus in the rest of the library seemed to be that our department was siphoning money off from essential library services to pay for a program that had little to do with the library itself. I am not exaggerating when I say that the tension was palpable. We were still working on one federal grant, but it was very little money for a lot of work, and it somehow committed library departments other than ours to more work than they could handle for no money at all. The tension eased a little when the dramatic red head got fed up and left. The new department head, however, was not mentored properly, and bureaucratic procedures and requirements started to slip through the cracks. I felt more and more withdrawn, and spent a lot of time at work editing photos.

And Then There’s E

E was living in town and deeply immersed in school, and generally only called when she was stressed out about something. Her summer had been fairly smooth, but she barely made it into the fall semester before she started getting sick. By the end of October, she had the flu twice, followed by bronchitis, and actually ended up with asthma. She has been in the emergency room three times – once for breathing distress, once with her second case of the flu and once when she got dizzy and fell in the shower causing a concussion. She also had emergency IVs at the doctor’s office twice, once for tachycardia caused by a new asthma medicine and once for severe dehydration after a stomach flu. We never knew what was next with her health, she was having trouble catching up with her school work, and everything was really unstable at work – so I was afraid she would lose her job because she seemed unreliable. Whenever she called, I just wanted to cry instead of answer the phone because I knew it was going to be a fresh disaster that I did not want to deal with.

J’s Work Aggravations

J was still tied up in his trail research, but he had a falling out with his closest contact at the NPS. Even with all the acclaim he was receiving for his work, many of the promises that the agency had made to both him and the trail associations were being broken or ignored. The entire organization that he created along the trail was breaking apart   under the weight of federal bureaucracy. The beginning of the fall semester is also an extremely busy time at his “real” job, so the pressure from demands there was building. I was just not able to be as sympathetic as he needed me to be. I felt like I was facing similar issues at my work. I too was presenting material at state and even at a national level. My work has been recognized and praised at the regional and state level. At the same time, I was watching a project that I had worked on for 8 years, and which had received recognition from the local to the national level, be dismantled by my administration for its “sub-standard” nature. My whole department was in constant turmoil, and J was sympathetic, but only because he felt bad for me, not because he recognized that the project had any intrinsic value – or at least not nearly as much value as his work. His solution was for me to quit and find another job where I would be happier, since someone else could replace me or the program could just go. When I made a similar suggestion to him due to his frustration and the overwhelming demands made on him, he was firm that this was not a viable option for him because his work was too important.

J’s Dad

Even in the midst of my least functional phase, I realized that J had many of the same stresses for the last year as I have – a constantly sick child, never extra money, work stress, and my health. He has also had a major stress that was his own – he almost lost his dad at Christmas ’08 and several times over the course of ’09, and the constant worry and the attempt to stay in touch cost him in terms of time, money and emotional health. He also realized that his step-mom was not as reliable as he thought and so he constantly worried that she would flake if push came to shove. His relationship with his step-sister also moved from a lack of respect to active loathing. His visit to his dad’s during the summer so his step-mom could go to Rome not only freaked him out because of his dad’s deterioration and further evidence of his stepmom’s flakiness, but it also increased the distance between us when I didn’t want him fly and drive back.  All of his feelings coalesced into a belief that I didn’t need him, which was not true – I just felt like I needed him less than his dad did. If I had known that I had cancer, rather than a benign tumor, it might have changed my feelings about needing him to be here. Unfortunately, he perceived my unwillingness to place additional burdens on him as a lack of wanting and needing him and really hurt his feelings, and throughout the summer and into the fall, he became colder and more angry. Since I was already depressed, I withdrew more and more. He really started to feel that I was more interested in Farmville than I was in him. It did seem safer.

A Quest for Help

By the end of September, I was at the end of my tether. Work was a disaster, with chaos swirling all around. I had not met the schedule I had set with my professors, felt guilty and like a failure, but could not manage to pull it together enough to finish my work. J was not often home, and E was in the middle of another serious illness. Both my gynecologist and my family doctor advised me that an anti-depressant might help me recover from and handle the stresses of the past six months. I opted for counseling instead, but at the first appointment in October, the therapist also strongly recommended an anti-depressant. She really felt like I was not going to be able to recover from the summer, handle the current stress load, and move forward with my life without some assistance. I realized that it wouldn’t help me to pay for professional help and then ignore their recommendations. I started Cymbalta near the beginning of October, and started to dig my way back to the surface of my life.

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