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Posts tagged ‘business meetings’

Bipolar Travel Tips

photo by Dan Reily

Last week I blogged about “Running Away From Home” (aka the geographical cure) https://wp.me/p4e9Hv-F9. This week I want to talk about actual travel – for business or pleasure. Travel was one of my greatest joys and one of the things I’ve missed most since bipolar stole so many parts of my life. I am delighted to be able to say that I am beginning to reclaim it.

I know that many people aren’t able to travel at all because of their bipolar disorder, but for those who can, here are some tips to make it easier.

The basic thing to remember while traveling is this: self-care. You may find it hard to do while on the road, but it is essential to keeping yourself functional. Just give yourself permission to do the things you have to do. And find ways to avoid the things that trigger you.

Business Travel

Business travel is the most difficult, and something I’m no longer able to do at all. Oh, I can drive an hour for a half-day training session, but I want to be back in my own house and bed when it’s over with. But the kind I used to do – four to seven days, with coworkers (sometimes in shared hotel rooms), and especially with booth duty – are simply beyond me. There’s no time or space for self-care.

If you must travel on business, however, I recommend bringing along a comfort object (https://wp.me/p4e9wS-k9) such as a small plush animal, a favorite pillow, or toiletries that have a soothing scent like lavender. Fuzzy slippers may have to do as a comfort object if you have to share a room. It’s also a good idea to bring along portable snacks such as nuts or raisins in your purse or briefcase, as regular meal schedules are often thrown off by meetings and other events.

“Me” time is hard to arrange, but do try. One trick that works for me is to find an unused function space and sit there with a pad of notepaper. Zone out. Then if anyone comes looking for you, claim you were just consolidating your notes.

Visiting Relatives

Avoiding arguments is one of the particular challenges of visiting relatives – particularly in-laws.

On one of the first visits I made to my in-laws’ house, I noticed that they shouted a lot. When that happened, I would go into the kitchen and make myself a cup of tea. That’s a strategy I have often used. It’s also a grounding method I can use when things are spinning out of control. When everything around me is chaos, the simple, familiar, soothing action of heating a pan of soup or a teakettle can bring me closer to stability. Whether I really want soup or tea is not the question.

My husband noticed that I kept skipping out to the kitchen and asked why I kept making tea. “Because you’re all shouting at each other,” I replied.

“No, we’re not,” he said.

“Listen to yourselves.”

Just then an argument broke out over where to go to get some sandwiches. “You take the 422 to Souderton, then turn…” “Nah, you follow Cowpath Road then cut over to the 309. That’s shorter.” “But there’s more stoplights!” With each comment, the volume grew. Dan and I went out and got the sandwiches and when we got back, the family members were still arguing about the best way to go. Dan had to admit that I had a point. He just couldn’t hear it until I shifted his perspective.

Another technique you may find helpful when hit with nosy questions from relatives is the “Boring Baroque Response,” described here – https://wp.me/p4e9wS-cY.

Leisure Travel

My friend Robbin says that when you travel, the only things you really need to have in your carry-on are your meds and some clean underwear. Anything else you can buy when you get there if your luggage doesn’t manage to arrive when you do. It’s also good to talk to your pharmacist beforehand and make sure you have enough meds for the scheduled length of the trip. (Do not do what I did and take your entire supply of meds and then leave them at the bed-and-breakfast.)

Once I went to DisneyWorld https://wp.me/p4e9Hv-2K. (Okay, twice, but the first time was epic.) Surviving it was an exercise in self-care. The things I learned there are applicable to almost any travel situation.

It helps if you go with a person or people who understand your disorder and your needs. When you’ve exhausted yourself, it’s good to have someone who can think of options – “Of course, we can go back to the hotel now, if you want, or we could sit in this café and have a cold beverage while you rest your feet for a while.”

The point is, you don’t have to go on what a friend calls the Bataan Fun March – you don’t have to ride every ride, see every scenic overlook, visit every church or castle. Give yourself permission to take a nap or read a book or lounge around the pool, if that’s what you need to do. (If you’re on a guided tour and want to skip an event, let the tour guide know, so the head count doesn’t come out wrong after an event or stop.)

Finances tend to prevent the kind of leisure travel I used to do, but at least now if I can ever afford it, I can also survive it.

 

Bipolar Me, Looking for Work

I have been very fortunate over the last few years in that I have been able to work and that, combined with my husband’s far-from-large – but steady – paycheck, we have been able to pay the bills. Now that seems to be changing.

After my last big emotional crash, I was unable to work at all, and after my husband’s major burnout, he was not able to work for a while. We ran through our IRAs and ended up in the situation where we are now.

I do writing, editing, and proofreading jobs from my home computer. It is really ideal, in that the projects usually come sporadically, with time in between them, so I seldom require more energy than I have available. I do not have to go out very much, or dress up very often and can work in my comfort zone, in my comfortable study, in my comfy pajamas. In these respects I am lucky or blessed, or however you wish to define it.

But clients have become a little thin on the ground lately. And I am afraid. I fear both a financial crash and an emotional one. The two are not unrelated. Finances and dealing with them were two of the largest triggers that started the major depression-plus-anxiety that swallowed me up for quite a few years.

Now I am feeling the pinch again. I felt it back in August, when my “proactive hypomania” helped me get through (https://wp.me/p4e9Hv-y4). But one can do that only so many times. Or at least I can’t summon the necessary mood at will. (Surprise, surprise.)

I have a writing project now, but it will run out in January. I have another client, but work from them is not as consistent as it used to be. We are already behind on some of our bills, including the mortgage.

So I am looking for more work, and it is scary.

The kind of work I’ve been doing is ideal, even when my symptoms increase. It lets me work around the deficits that bipolar heaps upon me. If I have a project due Monday, I can work during the weekend. If I have insomnia, I can work at night. If I am immobilized, I can usually schedule my deadlines so they don’t all hit at once.

I try to network, also at home from my computer, but that lets out job fairs and professional organizations and groups inhabited by people. I should put together a resume and sample packet and then try to figure out whom to send it to. Which is kind of like throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing if any of it sticks. And the impressive kind of packet – slick, personalized, colorful, foil stamped, business-carded, sample-stuffed, stationeried – costs money to prepare, which of course is itself a problem since you have to spend it before you get results, if any.

So I have signed up with a number of sites that provide leads on jobs, and some of them don’t even want me to drive for Uber or move to Massachusetts.

Each time I apply, I ask myself, “Can I really do this job?”

Sometimes the answer is “Probably not, but I’m going to apply anyway.” Those are the 9-to-5 office jobs that would require me to upgrade my wardrobe just the teensiest little bit and try to keep the depressive phases under control if not totally under wraps. I have serious doubts about my ability to be “on” for eight hours a day, five days a week.

The Americans With Disabilities Act says that certain categories of people are entitled to “reasonable accommodations” in order to fulfill their job requirements. For someone like me, accommodations might include flextime, doing part of my work at home, time off for doctor appointments, and the like. If I got one of those jobs, I would have to reveal my mental disorder in order to receive accommodations, and I would have to decide whether to speak up about it before or after I got the job. Probably after.

The not-quite-as-frightening jobs are part-time ones, like working the circulation desk at the local library. They have their drawbacks too, including the same ones as full-time jobs, with less pay besides. Would it provide enough income to make a difference? Maybe not. Would I be able to do a part-time job and still squeeze in a little freelance work? I just don’t know. The idea is still daunting, to say the least.

(Another potential solution would be for my husband to get a better-paying job, but he is in the process of changing his meds, so that doesn’t seem likely either, at least for now.)

I know this seems like a better class of problem than many people with bipolar disorder have. Trying to keep up the mortgage payments is better than living under the Third St. bridge, fighting stray dogs for cold french fries. My husband’s job may be low-paying, but at least it’s steady and has a health insurance plan. I am truly grateful for these things.

And I am truly scared nonetheless. And tired. And sliding back down into depression.

Parts of My Life I Miss the Most

Last month I wrote about how bipolar disorder had cost me – well, not the ability – but the capacity to read (http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-qp). I am intensely thankful that the concentration, focus, and motivation to read have returned as my healing has progressed.

But there are some other things that are missing from my life that I wish desperately that I could get back. Or wish I had never lost in the first place. (Depression is very much with me right now, so forgive me if I dwell in the past with my failures a bit.)

First are friends. I’ve written about this before too (http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-2W), but the subject was brought home to me recently when I received a fuck-off letter from a former friend I was trying to reach out to, in hopes of reestablishing the relationship. One of her main reasons for cutting me off was that every time we went out, she felt it was “her and me and my misery.”

She did acknowledge that at times our friendship had been burdened by her misery too, but evidently that either didn’t count as much, or else mine lasted too long. (If it was too long for her, it was even longer for me.) I am very disappointed that, now that my “black dog” is smaller and on a leash, she found other reasons not to associate with me. To make it more ironic, she has been a therapist and now teaches psychology.

I also miss having a steady paycheck. My last 9-5 office job was over ten years ago, and since then my mental state has not allowed me to get and keep another such position. The security of knowing how much money I would have every month allowed me to plan.

And to travel. I really miss traveling. Admittedly, part of my inability to travel now is determined by my physical health. But my anxiety would make it just that much more difficult. Now I can barely get away for a weekend, and even then I must carefully monitor my moods, limit my activities, track my eating and sleeping, and avoid crowds.

One of my deepest regrets is that when I was undiagnosed and untreated, I couldn’t fulfill my potential. I attended an Ivy League university, but I can’t say I got out of it what I could or should have. I feel now that I skated by, impeded by many depressive spells, lack of focus and concentration, and confusion. I even took a year off to get my head together, but since that didn’t include getting help for my bipolar disorder, its value was questionable.

Lest this seem like nothing but whining (which my depression is telling is what it is), there are also some things that bipolar disorder has taken from me that I don’t miss at all.

Oddly, one of them is a 9-5 office job. While I do miss the steady paycheck, I absolutely don’t miss the things that came with it. Now, doing freelance work, I can fit my work around the things I need to do (like seeing my therapist) and the things I have to do (like slowing down when depression hits). I don’t have to get up at the same time every day and dress appropriately (if at all) and try to fit in and socialize with my co-workers. That was never easy for me and became nearly impossible after my big meltdown.

And, as much as I miss travel, I don’t miss business travel. Again, being “on” all the time, for days at a time, with no time or place to decompress, would be impossible now. Since we usually had to share hotel rooms, there wasn’t even a chance for any alone time, which I need a fair amount of. I could never get the hang of “team eating” either.

Finally, I don’t miss the boyfriend who took an already broken me and broke me worse. (I wrote about him in my post about gaslighting http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-pm.) My self-esteem was not great before the relationship, but afterward it went into negative numbers. Self-harm, self-medication, self-doubt, and negative self-talk were what I had instead. But Rex didn’t do it alone. He had my bipolar disorder there to reinforce his words and actions. And to not let me see what was happening.

Bipolar disorder is a balancing act, in more ways than one. It takes away good things from our lives. But my therapist reminds me that it also gives an opportunity – as I rebuild my life, I can choose which pieces I want to reclaim and which I want to discard. And the parts I can rebuild are what I should concentrate on.

And I will, once this spell of depression releases me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can I? Can’t I? Bipolar and Business

I work freelance at writing and editing, and as many of you know, that life is fraught with insecurity. How much work will I get? How much will I be paid for it? Will the check be enough to cover the mortgage and the health insurance? Anything else, like light and cable and phone, which I need in order to work from home?

Since  I’m bipolar, these questions are laced with more than the usual amount of anxiety. Especially since the progression toward my last major breakdown was a lot of what caused me to lose that 9–5, well-paying job. My attendance became spotty, my attention refused to focus, my relationships with coworkers went downhill, my evaluations took a turn for the worse, and I bailed.

I stayed immobilized for a long time, applied for disability (didn’t get it), then embarked on freelance work.

I’m much more stable now. I’ve have published this blog and my other one for over two years, and proved to myself that I can attend business meetings, at least once in a while. My paying work has built up to the point where we can at least live paycheck to paycheck, but not much more. Time to spread my wings?

So I started looking around for other jobs, in addition to my faithful, steady client who has sustained me for years now. First I asked them if they could send any more work my way. Then I started expanding my platform, as we say in the writing biz.

I joined LinkedIn. And there, one day, I saw a listing for someone who needed an editor. One with exactly my skillset. Precisely my experience. The kind of work I love to do.

But.

It was full-time, likely high-pressured, and 45 miles away (during rush hour). I knew those factors would make it impossible for me to succeed at the job, even if I got it.

But.

I wanted it. I wanted to have back the things I lost after my breakdown – my competence, my confidence, my pride. Oh, and the money too.

But.

Much as I wanted to, I couldn’t let myself apply for it. I didn’t want to trigger the kind of meltdown I had before. I didn’t want another period of literally years when I could do nothing – not work, not take care of myself, not cook, not read. Nothing.

So, with reluctance, I let the opportunity pass by. I went back to my blog posts and my irregular freelance work. I occasionally do some non-paying work for organizations like the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF), or Sheknows.com, TheMighty.com, and even redtri.com. I lined up a gig editing a friend’s dissertation.

Then, as it sometimes happens, another opportunity appeared – a part-time paid position with a company that already knew my work. Steady work. Pay. Work at home. All this could be mine if I applied, passed the editing test, and was able to work the number of hours per week I rather optimistically said I could. I’ve taken the test (it was two hours long and grueling, the kind I used to give to other people). And now I wait, more or less patiently, never my best quality.

And while I wait, I wonder. Am I even capable of doing half-time paid work at home, plus my other freelance assignments, plus my blogs, plus the novel I’ve written about 1/3 of? Can I do the part-time job (if I get it), without my disorder screwing me up too badly to do it or anything else well? Is hypomania tricking me again? Do I have to give something up to get something better? Will it really be better?

The answer to all those questions is, “I don’t know.”

My disorder surely lost me the 9–5 job I once had. It made me give up the idea of trying for that similar job that seemed “just right.” But at least now I have some ambitions again.

Can I? Can’t I? This balancing act of higher ambitions and lowered expectations is delicate.

 

 

 

 

I May Have Miscounted My Spoons

This week I actually got out of the house, going for lunch and a little shopping with an old friend. (Another friend of mine calls these “pants days” because they obviously require putting on pants, for going out farther than the mailbox.)

After less than three hours I went home, did some work, and promptly collapsed. All told, I think I was either active, sociable, or some combination thereof for at most five hours – most likely more like four. That for me is an exceptional day of fortitude, stamina, spoons, and hypomania.

However, I have gotten myself into a situation that will require much more than that. I am going to a writer’s conference – three days of thrill-packed seminars, lunches and dinners, and other business and social-type events. I’ve done half-day business meetings lately, but nothing so extended, crowded, or spoon-depleting. It will hit a lot of my anxiety triggers – crowds, noise, small talk, social events, and more. I know that by the time we gather for dinner in the evening, I’ll already be extra crispy.

The three days of the conference will not allow for much of any downtime – although I have fantasized about asking someone who’s staying in the hotel if I can borrow a room for an afternoon nap. (The conference is local so I don’t have a room of my own or it wouldn’t be a problem. Less of one, anyway. All I’d have to do would be pick which seminars to skip. But the idea of asking a relative stranger for the use of a room or the idea of a relative stranger letting me use a room is pretty ludicrous.) Fortunately, I have to get the car home by 10:00 so my husband can go to work. That means I can’t stay for the after-hours socializing, even though that’s said to be one of the highlights. But it does mean I get a few more hours in pjs instead of pants.

Back before I had my most recent major meltdown, I was able to attend business conventions and do at least most of the requisite functions. I could and did give little talks at power breakfasts or afternoon cocktail parties – even opened with a joke. I could meet and greet the public at our booth – “howdy and shake,” as my father would have called it. I could have lunch with potential writers. I could almost interact with our sales force.

Those days are long past. So now I ask myself, how can I build up my stamina for the writers conference? Maybe it’s time for me to try to reclaim some of those parts of myself.

It feels like I’m going to be training for a marathon – or maybe the Normandy invasion. I know that in order to get through it, I will have to prepare in advance: writing my Sunday blog posts before the conference starts, assembling my wardrobe, checking out the parking situation, stocking up on business cards, and all the other little details that make me so frantic at the last minute.

Perhaps during the next two months I can keep track of how many pants days I’m able to have and gradually increase them. Perhaps I can arrange more lunches and shoppings. Perhaps I can improve my usual record of doing only one major thing per day. Perhaps I can try to work up to three pants days in a row.

The conference itself is certainly a massive and major incentive. Plus I’ve already paid for it – yet another reason to get myself in shape to take advantage of it.

Right now the conference looks like rather an ordeal, but I hope that by the time it rolls around I’ll be in good enough shape to both enjoy it and benefit from it. At least it’ll be a group of writers, and humor writers at that. They’re known for being at least a little odd. Maybe I’ll fit right in. I’ll be the one napping on a couch in the hotel lobby in fuzzy slippers. And pants.

Bipolar Me vs. DisneyWorld

Once a group of us were on a business trip to Anaheim. “If any of you want to take clients to Disneyland, I can get you tickets,” the boss said.

“I can’t even imagine myself wanting to do that,” I replied.

The others laughed, though I wasn’t trying to be funny. I get that a lot.

I have always had deeply mixed feelings about Walt Disney and his creations. How could I not? A place that bills itself as The Happiest Place on Earth vs. Bipolar 2 That Has Caused Depression Since Childhood. (To be fair, I used to like “Wonderful World of Color,” particularly the nature films, even when we had only a b&w TV. Gray Tinkerbelle is a metaphor for. . . well, something involving depression.)

So what explains this picture of a dear friend, me, and my husband being photo-bombed by a Lego dragon?

smithdragon

The first thing you have to know about Tom (left) and Leslie (the photographer) is that their inner child is, let’s say, very close to the surface. They are DisneyWorld aficionados. And they know all (well, almost all) about my mental disorders.

We desperately needed a vacation, and they offered to be our guides for an adult-friendly, non-teacup visit. Also, it was the Millennium celebration and early in December, which promised no sweltering heat, interesting decorations (as much or as little as I could stand) and other spiffy stuff, including few children, who would not yet be on Christmas break. (Ah, the high-pitched shrieks of laughter from children meeting their cartoon heroes. It cuts right through me like a knife.)

Here’s what I learned.

• The restaurants there are incredible. Eat your way around Epcot.

• I dreaded the Tower of Terror because I thought my stomach would drop out. This proved not to be the problem; my inner ear objected, though. Our friends got me on it by telling me to repeat the mantra, “Disney will not kill me. They want more of my money later.” It was one of those things that I’m glad I did and now Will Never Do Again.

• The Explorer’s Club is extremely cool.

• There are lots of nifty tiny things that aren’t rides and attraction that you can try to spot – bits of the sidewalk that light up randomly like a surprise Dance Dance Revolution, Mouse ear shapes in unexpected places, such as the wing nuts on shelves in the many gift shops, and so on. This is where knowledgeable guides come in particularly handy.

• At night, you can see the stars from the top of that mining train-roller coaster thing, something I didn’t expect, given all the ambient light an amusement park puts out.

• Also, we all won giant purple-and-red plush armadillos at one of the games. That’s one thing my inner child can appreciate.

• STAY AWAY from the teacups and It’s a Small World. They will turn you into a whimpering, burbling puddle of regret and sugar-shock. When your mother asks later, just say, “Oh, yes. They were nice. You would have loved them.”

If you go with the right people, do not try to make it into the Bataan Fun March, and rest and eat or retreat to the hotel when you need a break, it’s survivable and even – dare I say? – enjoyable. Sufficiently medicated with Prozac and Ativan, I could handle it.

I’d have to give this round to Disney, but really it was all Tom and Leslie.

P.S. Also, the Food and Wine Festival is a great experience. I spent three months in Orlando and a co-worker got us tickets. Cute guys with devastating Australian accents chatting about Australian wine. What could possibly be more satisfactory?

 

 

From Panicky to Manicky

I’ve been having one of my rare, slightly manicky  upswings for the last few days.

Why? And about what?

Well, I survived the business meeting/lunch on Wednesday. I prepared for it with a lot less anxiety than the last time (hair, outfit, jewelry, car, arrival time – all came together with astonishing speed). I even made it through lunch without my hand tremors causing me to dibble all over myself. Yay me!

And although the subject matter could have felt like an attack directed at me, it didn’t. I didn’t get defensive (well, maybe a little) and I help uncover some problems that indirectly supported my point of view.

Maybe I am getting better at this stuff, or remembering how I used to do it.

Also, I was not completely spoon-depleted that evening or the next day, as I had told my husband to expect.

I’ve donated small amounts of money ($25 and under) to a few charities and causes. I don’t know if this is cause or effect of the upswing, but who cares? I was motivated, and I did it. A small enough accomplishment for many people, but summoning the will to care and to act constitute progress.

I have supported a friend in his first solo freelance venture, predicted its astoundingly rapid success, and reveled in it with him. It’s a good feeling to share, even if my own freelance efforts have been less spectacular (though significant to me).

I won’t deny that this upswing makes me wary that a crash may be on the way. You know how feeling happy always seems like tempting fate? With bipolar disorder, I know that there will always be another downswing waiting around the corner for me.

But at least, for now, I can enjoy the good. And that’s a major improvement.

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