Bald Eagle, Barr Lake, Bosses, Colorado, Creativity, Depression, Nature Photography, Volunteering

Mental Health Breakthrough–or so I thought

Bald Eagle Pair at Barr Lake
Eagle Pair at Barr Lake

The past few weeks I have been feeling better, despite the shorter days and the approaching holidays (which can be depressing sometimes).

I had a visit with my PCP this week and he said my PHQ-9 scale numbers are significantly lower this week.  We talked about what I was doing that might be different.  I haven’t really been more active outdoors because of the cold.  The only difference I could define is my work with the Friends of Barr Lake Facebook page.

I was approached a few weeks ago to take over managing the charity’s Facebook page because the person doing that was also keeping up the Barr Lake State Park page, and didn’t have time to do justice to both.  I love Barr Lake, and was happy to agree to take it on.  I had to become a “real” park volunteer.  I get a shirt and a name badge!

Dr. Q immediately noticed that my spirits brightened when I talked about this.  He told me he always worried about me not having something to do with my time that was purposeful.  My work career was full of responsibility and opportunities for making substantial contributions.  I was a clinical informaticist–reading and interpreting the Federal Register, working with clinicians to determine how they would best be comfortable with implementing new requirements, and then working with application analysts to make it all happen.

I loved my work, but for the last 4 years I worked for a boss who made life miserable.  After my treatment for breast cancer, I had several health-related issues.  I have short term memory loss–I remember my childhood phone number, but often can’t remember if I ate or took my meds in the morning.  I have Raynaud’s Syndrome, essential tremors, osteopenia, severe arthritis in my hands, knees and one hip, and neuropathy in my lower legs that affect my balance and walking stride–I fall a lot.

I began to feel inadequate in my job.  I felt like I wasn’t pulling my weight.  Things that might have taken me minutes previously now took hours.  I had to check and double-check everything I wrote.  And I often still did not catch errors.  My boss would praise and encourage me one day and the next day be angry over the same thing.  She knew I was struggling, but didn’t want me to take time off because we were staffed so short–our department had shrunk from 28 to three over the past year due to financial issues across the corporation.

Last November Dr. Q put me on 90-day medical leave due to depression caused by stress and health issues.  This was really difficult for me.  I didn’t have anything to do, and I really wasn’t in any shape to do anything if I did.  I forced myself to get outside occasionally and take photos, but I even had a hard time making myself do this thing that I love!  And, on top of everything, it meant I had to learn to live on 60% of my salary.

After 90 days, I was still deep in depression.  Dr. Q extended my leave and suggested I try to find something at least part-time during this leave–something that I could manage without the stress.  I applied for many positions during this time, but never even got a call for an interview.  There are several factors that weigh into this.  First, I was 65 years old, a recent cancer patient, and I have no degree.  The latter was never a problem before because my experience, reputation and knowledge spoke for itself–I never really had to look for a job before–they came looking for me.  I did not know how to deal with this rejection.  My depression deepened.

Dr. Q sent me to a Neurologist to evaluate my neuropathy and tremors.  He tried a few variations of medications.  They all helped with the tremors, but caused too many side effects, turning me into a zombie.  He now wants to plant electrodes in my brain.  Not happening!  I also see a Rheumatologist who is amazed that I deal with all of this without joint injections.  I use Blue Emu–it works!  Not perfect, but a lot less pain.

Basically, there is not a lot that can be done about my physical problems.  I don’t react to medications the way other people do.  If I took a Benedryl at night for my allergies, I would be up all night, jittery.  Taxotere, the cancer drug that is given to most breast cancer patients, almost literally killed me within the first 60 seconds of my initial infusion.  One day I will write something about that experience.

After my second 90-day LOA, I had to apply for long-term-disability.  Of course, the depression diagnosis was an automatic denial, even though that was not a primary diagnosis and it was a result of the physical issues.  I appealed.  Denied again.  I appealed again.  This time it went to a physician reviewer who wrote a scathing letter regarding the previous reviews.  Since my job kept me on a computer 8 hours a day, he said just the severe arthritis in my hands was enough to grant the disability status.  There was a lot more, but I will just say that my LTD was approved.  This was a huge weight lifted from my shoulders.  I got back pay from May through September that allowed me to pay off the bills that had been accumulating.  I now have Social Security and Workplace Disability payments.  They total that 60% of my salary since the SS payments are deducted from the disability payments.  But I have adjusted, and I’m doing OK financially.  My fear of losing my home is pushed off until at least April 2020.

So, one big worry was removed, at least for a while.  But, I still felt worthless and unwanted.  Rejection still affected my feelings about myself.  If I could have found a job, I could have gone off LTD.  But that was apparently not going to happen.  Let’s face it, the kind of jobs I was looking for were ones that didn’t require me to work on a computer all day, didn’t require me to stand, and didn’t require me to have short-term memory or the ability to appropriately evaluate situations.  Those jobs are few and far between, and there are plenty of young folks out there who can fit into those nicely.  My years of knowledge, experience and hard work counted for nothing in those types of jobs.

So, when I was approached by Friends, I decided it was something I could do.  It only requires a couple of hours a few times a week.  And it gives me an opportunity to be creative.

I saw my therapist a couple of days ago, and she also noticed the change.  She asked a lot of questions, and even went out to the internet to look at the page and photos I have posted.  She was very complimentary and encouraging. That made me feel really good.

The number of likes of the page have increased by almost 100 (up 475%) in the time since I started.  Page views are up 70% and post engagements are up by 204% (those are when someone click on a post).  However, this is causing a problem–believe it or not.  And it’s taking a toll on the enthusiasm I have for this volunteer work. I believe there is a bit of jealousy by the person managing the park page.

The person who manages the park page still wants to keep posting things on the Friends page, even though she basically ignored it previously.  That’s OK, and sometimes she knows things I don’t.  I appreciate that.  But, she has started critiquing my posts and posting her own instead.  I have been creating my posts as requested by the park administrator and the Friends web presence manager.  Debbie (not her real name) doesn’t like the fact that they praise my work and ask me to do additional postings.  When I post something they ask me to post, Debbie gets angry and asks if I didn’t like what she posted.  I have explained time and time again that I’m doing what I’m asked to do.  But the sniping continues.  Today she said I need to stop adding so much information to my posts about events because people using their phones can probably not read them.  I can read them fine on my phone without my glasses…  She posts in events, which require that you click on details and try to find the event in a long list to get the details.  That drives me crazy.  But it’s what she does, and I don’t complain to her about it.  I don’t find any problem with posting events two ways, but she sure does.  And this conversation came after she uploaded a post with all of the event information on it.

So, I’m between a rock and a hard place. I don’t want to complain about this to the admins, because she was a park employee who recently lost her job due to budget cuts.  I’m sure she is not happy about that, and I imagine it carries over to this situation.  But it is now taking away some my joy of creating and improving the page.  For instance, I posted something about the Winter Wonders Walk coming up on December 15th.  She then posted something about a Chili Cook-off on the same day and pinned it to the top of the page, pushing my post down where you can’t see it.  I had also created a post about the Chili Cook-off, and was going to post it today, and when I told her she said I didn’t need to bother.  I know that sounds petty on my part, but she wasn’t doing anything with this page at all, and all of a sudden she is all over it!

As I type this (well, I don’t really type–I use a microphone since it’s hard for me to control where my fingers go), I just now got a message from her about a video I posted this morning.  I posted it as myself–not as Friends.  She said she changed it to a quote because it was in the first person.  It was in the first person because I was posting it as me!

Not a good day here.  I feel like I’m back working for my old boss, except this is not my job and she is not my boss!  I’m stressed and I feel attacked.

Things were really looking up, and I was feeling good about myself for the first time in a long time.  Now I feel like I have to justify everything I do.  I don’t want to quit this because I love having a chance to be creative.  But, I don’t need the stress, either.  I feel that old deep depression sneaking back in, and I don’t want that!  The sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach that tells you something is not right.

Is this the way life goes from now on?  Is the lack of civility that pervasive?  I just want to go out into the field behind my house and scream!!!

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