Esmé Wang-20Credit: Sarah Deragon

Before I get into today’s post, I want to give a big ol’ shout-out to Sarah Deragon of Portraits to the People. I won a contest that she ran recently — the prize, ka-ching!, was a free not-so-corporate photo shoot, and given that I had just hung the shingle on my new business, it seemed like perfect timing for some new headshots that were not taken with an iPad. So if you start seeing some new pictures of me popping up around here, including the mini-bio image in the sidebar, please know that Sarah is amazing to work with, a total pro, and will make you look almost as good as Beyoncé.

On the plane back from New York, I had a realization about the status of my mental health.

I’d been on “vacation” for a week. Though I’d been good about taking my medication, and had tried my best to sleep despite the jet lag, I had not been particularly good about being vigilant regarding potential pre-symptoms. Pre-symptoms, or what I sometimes call prodomal symptoms when I’m feeling fancy, are signs that real symptoms are likely to break through if I don’t take action soon. I was sitting in my window seat, waiting for the plane to take off, when the signs began to rattle through my brain.

I hadn’t been eating. It wasn’t so much that I was restricting — a sign of eating-disordered thinking — but rather that I had lost interest in food. Part of the reason I was, in fact, so excited to travel was that I had been excited about eating in a new place. Instead, I had been skipping meals when possible, eating tiny amounts when alone if I became truly hungry, and staring at menus without the slightest idea of whether or not anything looked good. I was ordering randomly from menus when I actually didn’t feel like ordering anything at all.

I had been waking up to sounds that didn’t exist: doorbells, knocking, my name being called, the phone ringing. This is not an actual symptom of psychosis, but the fact that it was happening so frequently was a sign that something was going on.

My sense of reality had become strangely tenuous. You might think it strange that this wasn’t cluing me in on the fact that I might be vulnerable to illness, but pre-symptoms are sneaky like that. The book I had been reading on the trip was confusing my sense of its world and my world. When I was very sick a few months ago, I would frequently confuse my life and the life of the protagonist in The Yonahlassee Riding Camp for Girls.

When these signs began to register in my brain, I wrote them down. Then I started thinking about possible stressors, because I knew that when I was finally able to speak to my psychiatrist, she would inevitably ask if anything stressful had happened lately.

I’ve been battling with disability claims from both the state and my job’s insurance company for months, often spending hours on the phone every day. I had to borrow money last month to help pay the mortgage. I am working with a legal aide to appeal one of the cases involved. That has definitely been a stressor.

While I was in New York, I also encountered a major stressor — what my therapist, once I got a hold of her, called an acute stressor as opposed to a more chronic one. My participation in the stressor was necessary in order to help a dear friend get out of a bad situation; I don’t at all regret that my part in it happened, only that the bad situation was happening in the first place. But it was clear to me the day before I left, when I found myself intermittently crying, sleeping, and unable to move from my other friend’s couch, that I was very tired. Like, soul-tired.

I then reached out to my psychiatrist, realized that she was on vacation, emailed my therapist, and later, called my psychiatrist’s nurse for advice. I also reached out to a private Facebook group that I’m a part of, asking for tips on how to actively slow down when one has a lot on her plate and a potential bout of illness looming overhead.

Some takeaways for those of us living with chronic illness, mental or otherwise:

  • Learn your pre-symptoms.
  • Train yourself to become aware of them when they happen.
  • Reach out for help immediately.
  • Follow instructions from trusted sources.
  • Slow down. Rest. Take care of yourself.

Do any of you have suggestions for me, or anyone else, who needs to slow down in the face of busyness?