Monday, November 03, 2008


I often wonder if my leaving work to take care of my mental health was the right decision. I left work in April 2003 and it took me until fairly recently to loose MOST of the guilt for leaving work. I still struggle almost everyday with guilt about not working at something, or somewhere, but I think I have managed to almost drop the guilt about not working at the job I had.

I cannot shake the idea that I am a burden on society and that my not working is me being lazy, or not having the right direction, or simply not trying hard enough to get better. I was always an over achiever, but something happened to my ability, desire and my will to get back to work. Getting back to working seems like a completely overwhelming task.

I write this as, once again, I am dreading teaching my art classes this afternoon and tomorrow. Dr. X. says these things are work, but to me they are a tiny symbolic repayment for me and my lazy self being on disability. The volunteer work is a way for me to assuage my guilt about being paid to do nothing.

My volunteering to teach is not only that. I do also see it as behavioural therapy. Work a little and increase the work a little at a time until I can work the equivalent of at least four full time days a week for an extended period of time. When I can do that I feel I will be ready to work again.

The problem is my volunteering is only 2.5 hrs/two days a week and it completely exhausts me. Takes me down to the point that I am wondering if I should do it next term. Right now I am going to sleep for a few hours before my afternoon class. I feel like it is the only way I will manage to get there. That and the fact that I have responsibilities to go.

Responsibilities MAKE me do things. My puppy is a huge responsibility, but a good one. The puppy responsibilities, like feeding, cleaning, walking, training, socializing, and basically helping the puppy become a healthy, well behaved dog, are not always responsibilities I want to take on, or that I feel prepared for each day. There are many days when I lay in bed and wish I didn't have to get up and walk the dog, or feed the dog. However, I have no choice, unless I want to give the puppy away. That is not an option. I love him more than I dread the responsibilities. Maybe that is the key. Find responsibilities you love, more than the option of avoiding them.

On Saturday I knew I had to take my puppy out for both a long walk, and some socialization. He needs the stimulation, and the training in a stimulating environment. So I got us both in the car, and drove into the city to go to a gigantic park, with tons of off and on leash trails for dogs and people. (Although I didn't see any "on-leash" people")
There were people jogging, others walking with their kids, and we came upon a girl on a horse, and an infinite number of different breeds of dogs and their owners, both of which had equally infinite types of temperaments. It is important for my dog to meet and experience all kinds of people, see all sorts of things, experience all kinds of smells, sights, and sounds. These experiences, if they are positive, will shape who he becomes.
On the walk I brought my camera, because last time I walked through this forest I saw incredible mushrooms and other fungi...something I find intensely interesting and beautiful. I have no idea why these things capture my attention. Perhaps it is the sense that beauty can develop, grows and even thrive in an environment so full of decay. I want so badly to believe that the death of my old self, the decaying of my old life has a purpose.

I need to believe that like a dying Phoenix whose flames provide a means of rebirth to another, like the rotting leaves in the forests that provide food for the canopy above, and like the decomposing, disintegrating tree stumps that feed the birth and growth of toadstools, mushrooms and all manner of fungi, I need to believe that the change I see so much like a death in me is really a transfiguration; a metamorphosis into a life that embraces and lives a purposeful, meaningful and spiritual existence.

(All photos by Aqua)


Hannah said...

I can really identify with this post Aqua. It's approaching a year since I last worked and there isn't a day that goes by when I don't feel ashamed of the burden I have become to family, friends and society.
Part of me wishes I had a more visual disability so people would imediately accept that I can't work instead of that funny look that comes across their faces that suggests they think there's nothing wrong with you.
Like your pup, my cats have got me through some low times, they are a big responsibility and one that I do love, but there are still days when I've had to call in help for someone to feed them because I simply can't. Even now I share them with my ex and only have them part time! Goes to show that even if you love doing something it's not always enough to override the constraints of the illness.
I applaud your teaching - I know how much of a challenge those few hours a week must be, it's a shame it has to be overtaken by feelings of repaying a debt to society, try to focus on what it gives you and not what it gives others.

Han xx

P.S Love the pay it forward idea :)

Lola Snow said...

Aqua - the people were actually on the leash, they just didn't know they were being walked by the dogs (dogs are nice like that, they are helping build the human's self esteem!)
As for the guilt, it seems fairly apparent that if you could be working then you would be, and that you want to work. How do I know this? Well for a start if you didn't want to work, then you wouldn't be feeling so guilty about not working! Therefore if you could work you would.
Not being able to work due to ill health is nothing to be ashamed of. It's easy to say I know, but when it boils down to the facts, if this was due to diabetes, or MS, then there would be considerably less difficulty for you to accept it (although I get the impression that you might still beat yourself up a little!)

It's not like you are out and about enjoying every minute at the tax payers expense. You are in a very sad place, and miserable as hell! I know full well that if this was a post on someone elses blog then you would be the first to step in and point out the same. So there! Consider yourself told!

As far as your painting class goes, it seems time is the same as money, as in: it's all relative. If you were well enough to work 60 hours a week, and worked 2 then perhaps there would be some cause to be guilty, but if a few hours a week exhausts you to your bones, then you are giving all you can, and even more. I love that you have put the spin on the situation, that the class helps you more than vice versa, because it just goes to show how kind and generous you really are.

I'm not just saying all this to be nice either, I mean it! It's tough being ill, and being guilty. You can only do one at a time. You are fulfilling your part of the "Sick role" by trying to get better, there is no need for guilt, it will just slow you down.

Smile. You're healing as we watch

Love, Lola x

Polar Bear said...

What a great post. Im glad you found a responsibility that you can love, in the form of Skookum.

I understand your struggle over the guilt thing, but am glad that you seem to be slowly letting that go. Your illness is legitimate. And it was right for you to leave the job you had to look after yourself.

I love the photos, by the way. I'd like to challenge you to take more nature photographs when you take Skookum out for his walks.

Handsome B. Wonderful said...

I love your photography. You have such a great artistic eye. I really related to this part of your post:

I need to believe that the change I see so much like a death in me is really a transfiguration; a metamorphosis into a life that embraces and lives a purposeful, meaningful and spiritual existence.

Beautifully put and a wonderful attitude to latch onto. I am going to borrow those words and latch onto them for hope and strength.


Michelle said...

A beautifully written post. The way you can give words to all of the feelings you are experiencing is a true talent. I think what Lola said is so true, "if a few hours a week exhausts you to your bones, then you are giving all you can, and even more.

Society has such potential to make us feel inferior at every turn. I know women who work 40+ hours and have kids and SEEM to have it all who are wracked with guilt every day over not being "enough".

Acceptance of ourselves can seem impossibly hard - one day at a time...right...the only least that is what I need to keep telling myself.

Thank you for sharing with so much honesty.

Kat said...

Hi Aqua,

It's my first time commenting here. I came across your blog a few days ago and I just want to say thank you for your candid yet thoughtful posts. I'm still in the closet about my depression (even though I've suffered for the past year or more, I felt as if I was a fraud, that my issues were insignificant and that the doctor would laugh at me) but reading your posts, and those of Hannah, Polar Bear and others has prompted me to seek help. I'm going to my doctor tomorrow. This is a big step, since I've found it very hard to leave my house lately.

I'm also not working. I gave up a part time job to focus on some research that I needed to write up to complete my degree studies. Well that was back in April and guess what, I'm still not finished. I've been pondering about responsibility too. Sometimes I wonder, if I had kept some of my commitments and not had so much time to dwell upon my insecurities, would I have finished by now and not be in my current mess.

Your imagery (both in pictures and text)of death and renewal are inspiring. It takes time for life to spark again from the ashes, so don't feel guilty. You're getting there. You've put up your sprouts by pushing yourself to teach those classes. You'll feel the sun on your outstretched leaves before long, I just know it.

Take care,

preciousrock said...

Great post and really cool photos! I am still working but feel completely overwhelmed and wonder how much longer I will be able to keep up the pace. I can certainly relate to "I was always an over achiever, but something happened to my ability, desire and my will..." And, even though I still work, there is the constant guilt from all the things that I do leave undone both at work and at home. Speaking of pet responsibilities?! I have a rabbit that desperately needs his litter box cleaned out.

Aqua said...

Hannah: When you said "Part of me wishes I had a more visual disability so people would imediately accept that I can't work instead of that funny look that comes across their faces that suggests they think there's nothing wrong with you." it really resonated with me. One time I ran into someone I used to work with and they said (no lie): "It must be nice to have all this time off". I felt like being really bitchy and say: "Yah, it's great wanting to die and thinking up new ways to make it happen each day; a blast!"

Lola: I laughed and cried at your comment. You are right the dogs do have us on a (very short)leash, ha, ha...and cried because you are so thoughtful. thanks

Polar Bear; Thanks for the comment about my photos. They triggered the idea for the post. I am going to try to bring my camera everywhere, because I always see cool things I want to remember.

HBW: Thanks.... I do love taking photos. I was really thinking of Buddhist and Christian imagery in that last paragraph...the idea of reincarnation, or in Christianity the death of Jesus melding him with God.

Michelle: I feel a sense of relief when I get my thoughts out in writing. I am sad others feel the way I one should have to, but glad I am not the only one struggling with these things.

Kat: Welcome to my blog and thank you for your comments. It makes me very happy to hear you are seeking help for your depression. It is so important to have a good support structure in place to get you through a depressive episode. I hope you are able to find peace soon.

Preciousrock: Welcome. Oh I definately understand the added guilt of all the things that get left undone while you try to do the things you "need" to do. My poor cats are in the same predicient as your rabbit. If only I had taught them to use and flush the toilet, how much easier life would be

jcat said...

hey girl,

you are so harsh on yourself sometimes. I know where it is coming from, but hey...after everything else is discounted, you are still an awesomely talented and caring person, making a huge contribution to society by teaching the classes. And you are still making everything else in your life happen too, even if you are wondering how...
love ya,

Aqua said...

You know what it is like to feel like this. That feeling that nothing you try works. It becomes so disheartening. On some level I get that I am doing things, but on another it seems they are unimportant things that I should be able to manage AND have a job...argh. I hate this feeling. Thanks for the nice words though. Your support really matters to me.