November 4, 2010 § 18 Comments

I’m sorry, folks, I’m still having health issues. It’s looking like this is going to be a long-haul kind of thing, and I just don’t have a lot of bandwidth for writing at the moment. I’ll post when I can, though. Maybe I can get that Mostly Martha/No Reservations comparison together, to keep you entertained while I’m out of commission.

There’s a big post on Gordon Ramsay and his ilk in the works, as there has been for weeks, but since I can’t manage to get more than a sentence or two done at a time, there’s no telling when it will be ready.

Some of you might be wondering if my current health issues are related to my disability. They’re not, but there is other news on that front.

For ten years now, I’ve been managing my bipolar without mood levelers or antidepressants (not that people with bipolar should take antidepressants without mood levelers). I’ve used a variety of things, including counseling, supplements, and birth control, and they’ve been working reasonably well for me for about five years now. Well enough that I could go to culinary school, work in the industry, and open a restaurant, anyway.

Tomorrow, for the first time in ten years, I will pick up a prescription for mood levelers.

It’s a big decision for me. I’m not doing it because my bipolar has gotten worse — it hasn’t — but because the medications have gotten better. I stopped taking them a decade ago because they were detrimental to my health, because I didn’t like the side effects, and because everything available was teratogenic (caused birth defects).

Eleven years ago, my bipolar was so severe that I had to be on meds. I was suicidal without them. And then I got pregnant.

No doctor would let me stay on my meds while pregnant. By the time I knew I was pregnant, there was already a high likelihood of damage to the fetus. And I could not go off them. So I had an abortion.

I don’t regret that, and never have. I have always been pro-choice, and had no qualms about the procedure. These days I am, if anything, more strongly pro-choice than I was then. But I wanted, and still want, kids.

At the time, there was no pregnancy-safe medication for bipolar, really, and my reaction to that pregnancy was terrible. Mood swings all over the place. Over the year that followed my abortion, I contemplated the possibility that if I relied on meds, I might never be able to bear children safely. Sure, I could take other options — adopt, find a surrogate, settle down with a woman partner who would bear children — and those were all viable and good options. But I didn’t want to lose the option to bear a child myself.

It wasn’t the only reason. The particular combination of meds I was on at that time gave me terrible rages. I would start screaming at people for no reason at all. My friends were frightened of me. The previous meds I’d been on had made me more depressed, left me weak and dizzy and lightheaded and with severe social anxiety. Oh, and I couldn’t add. And pretty much everything available caused steady weight gain. I was already “obese” (and one of these days, I will get into the idiocy of that — these days I’m a Fat Acceptance activist, thanks), and I didn’t want to think about gaining 5-10 lbs a year for the rest of my life.

And the literature I was reading was not encouraging. I’d devoured Touched With Fire and An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison. Dr. Jamison is a psychologist and lives with bipolar, on which she has become an expert. While it was comforting to read about how I was not alone, and to see how much worse it could be, things like her Rules for the Gracious Acceptance of Lithium Into Your Life (which I still cannot read without wanted to cry; “humorous but poignant” my ass) left me terrified of meds. The doctors assured me that the side effects I was experiencing would go away in time. Kay told me they wouldn’t.

What with one thing and another, I stopped taking meds, and refused to start again. Instead, I found a GP who worked with my psychologist, one who kept up with studies on things like flax seed oil and bipolar disorder, and slowly, with many false starts and setbacks, I got my life together — without mood levelers.

I still get mood swings, though. All bipolar people do, no matter how well our meds or management work. And if I can improve that, I will.

The meds for bipolar now are a lot less scary, with a lot fewer nasty side effects. With this one, I’m supposed to watch for signs it’s interfering with my birth control (in which case we’ll up my dose of hormones) and for skin rashes (because there’s a very, very small chance that all my skin will fall off and I’ll die; fortunately stopping the meds at the first sign of that specific rash is pretty effective in preventing, you know, dying). But if I got pregnant, I could stay on it if I needed to, if I chose to continue my pregnancy. And it doesn’t generally cause the mood swings it’s supposed to prevent.

As for kids, well, eleven years after my abortion, I still don’t have any. Before I can, I need to be reasonably stable emotionally (check), financially stable (um, mostly check), and have at least one committed and stable child-rearing partner (nope).* I’m in my thirties now, and have a birthday coming up this month. I’ve accepted, mostly, that I may or may not actually be able to get all of those requirements lined up while still fertile. If I don’t, I don’t, and I’ll deal with that when the time comes.

If I never bear a child, though, it will not invalidate my decision a decade ago to go off meds. My decision to go on meds now does not invalidate that decision, either.

It’s my choice, and I’ve made it as best I can. If it doesn’t work well for me, I can change my mind. That’s my choice, too. They’re all my choices.

You know, this post was supposed to be a quick check-in, just to say I was still alive, but having problems. All of this came pouring out. I feel better for it.

Thanks for reading. Sorry there’s no food or kitchen stuff in this post. Wait! I know! I can tell you that we’re adding pancakes to the menu! Mmmmm, pancakes. There, food.

*Please note: All three of these prerequisites for having kids are specific to me and my situation and abilities, especially this last one. None of them are intended as criticism of others’ choices, which are theirs. I simply acknowledge that I cannot be a decent parent without some pre-established stability and a partner, especially during the first few years of childhood. I have enough experience with other people’s babies to know that. If I tried, I would wreck my own life, and probably my child’s as well. These are the accommodations I make for my disabilities, that’s all.

Couple of Quick Things

September 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

Those points I made about it being more difficult for married women and women with kids? Echidne of the Snakes brings up a study on pay rates that I think relates.

Also, it seems I am spreading my bizarro kitchen work ethics to my front of house people, or at least my office people. I get occasional migraines, and if I’m already at work when I get them, or there’s something only I can take care of to do on a day when I have one, I often work anyway, albeit in the dark. My assistant-manager-in-charge-of-receiving-and-filing messaged me the other evening saying she had a migraine and so might be in late the next day, but was apparently planning to come in even if the migraine continued. I checked to make sure we weren’t expecting any deliveries (because if we were, I’d have to be there on my day off to receive them myself), and then told her to just stay home and recover. I feel weird about this. I do sometimes have to work with a migraine, but having had chefs who made me come in to work for them, I don’t want to do that to anyone else, and I don’t like that my example makes my staff think I want them to work with migraines.

Also, welcome to any Zuskateers who wandered over after Zuska so kindly linked to me.

Disability and Restaurant Life

September 18, 2010 § 12 Comments

I hadn’t planned about talking about this so soon, you know. I was going to lay more of a foundation first, give a better picture of what it’s like in a professional kitchen, before I talked about something this personal.

In my post about what it takes for a woman to have a kitchen of her “own,” all I talked about were the externalities. I didn’t talk about another thing anyone wanting to work in a professional kitchen must have: an able body.

Professional kitchens are never designed to accommodate physical disabilities. The equipment built for pro kitchens isn’t designed for it, either. And it probably never will be until and unless some celebrity chef at the top of his game and with access to huge amounts of money to remodel with becomes disabled. In the mean time, to work in a kitchen, one must be able to spend long periods on her feet, get things down from (sometimes far) over her head, carry and handle heavy things (sometimes one-handed), and perform a variety of other physically demanding tasks.

That’s not the personal bit. That bit is something I stare at and poke and at wish I could do something, anything, about. I can’t. I don’t have the money or the time or the clout.

No, the personal bit of disability and the kitchen I know about first-hand is invisible disabilities and mental illness.

I have bipolar disorder, with social anxiety and more general anxiety attacks. (And ADHD, but that’s rarely a problem in a kitchen.) And as I write this, I am having a particular problem with that.

And if I were still cooking, a day like today could mean losing my job.

I woke up an hour before I was supposed to be at work, and it took me five hours to get out the door. During that time, I had suicidal ideations and paralyzing anxiety attacks. Since one of the foci of my anxiety is phones, I couldn’t even touch mine to find out what was going on at work or let them know what was keeping me. Once I was finally able to put my feet on the floor and start my morning activities, I’d do one step, and have to go back to bed. I took a shower, and crawled back into bed for half an hour. Brushed my teeth and hair, put on deodorant and moisturizer, and back to bed for forty-five minutes. Got dressed and downstairs, and was curled up on the couch for another half-hour. Tried to think of something to eat and was absolutely paralyzed by the problem. I had to leave without eating, knowing that at least I could get food at work.

I finally did make it to work, and things got easier. It’s so much easier to pretend that everything’s ok when there are people around, when there are distractions to keep my mind off the anxiety and the awful thoughts. So it got better. But I wasn’t very effective. I was off my game, wasn’t as effective at handling problems, couldn’t touch the paperwork that was waiting for me (it’s another of the foci for my anxiety).

Now, I can get away with that at my restaurant, because I’m the boss, and as long as it all gets done to deadline, I’ll be fine. No one can fire me. I can not come in and not call, and while people might worry about me, I’m not going to lose my job for that. If I were working for someone else, cooking, I would. I’d lose my job — have lost jobs — by being off my game during a depressive episode.

And let me tell you, even the best-medicated bipolar people still have those episodes.

Kitchens don’t really make accommodations. Oh, if they don’t cost too much and they don’t interfere too much, they’ll do little things like buy nitrile gloves because you’re allergic to latex. But if they decide you can’t do the job, without help, without them going out of their way, you’re out. I’ve worked through migraines, having to run off and puke every so often; I’ve worked through anxiety and paranoia that insisted that everyone else on the staff was talking about me, laughing at me, behind my back; I’ve worked while so depressed that I had to clean all of the sharps out of my home. I worked because they needed me and I needed the money. I couldn’t so much as tell anyone what was going on for some of that, for fear they’d fire me for my disability.

I can try to do better for those who work for me, and I can arrange my business to provide accommodations for myself, but this is not an industry that is kind to the disabled.

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