Climbing the mountain

I was feeling frustrated and annoyed and anxious yesterday, going to a counselling appointment I had to wait a full month and a half to get.  Jesus, I had to wait two weeks for the intake appointment for where they worked out where the hell they were going to put me and what sort of program they were going to funnel me into.  Having been going to this temporary, casual sort of counselling, the sort  of counselling which has been pretty typical in my experience, I was wondering what the hell the point of going to this guy too was going to be.

It turned out to have been worth the wait.

I suspected, based on some admittedly paranoid dissection of the questions they asked me during my intake, that they were sending me to someone versed in anxiety issues.  This turns out to have been true.

But this was not like any counselling appointment I have had before.

I was very anxious going in.  New counsellors make me anxious.  When I climbed the stairs and looked down the hallway towards reception, I realised abruptly that I had been in this building before, years before, when my mother had wrangled things to get me on Plan G.  Plan G is a provincial drug plan providing psychiatric drugs to patients who need them and cannot afford them.  At the time, it was for some antidepressants that were having a debateable amount of effect, possibly not much.  But this?  This was where we’d got the forms.  I hadn’t had any clear memory of what the building had been but this had been it.

I suffered a sharp spike of anxiety and loitered for a moment at the top of the stairs, aware that I could see other people in the waiting room, and that made it worse, but I took a deep breath and soldiered on, feeling progressively worse.

I was a bit early, and the recptionist was still on lunch.  Again, anxiety.  What was I supposed to do?  I picked up a magazine on anxiety and depression, and managed to read part of an interesting article on medication before the receptionist returned.  She gave me a form to fill out.  Again, another spike of anxiety.  I recognised it right off as what it was, actually.  It was the Beck Depression Inventory on one side and the Beck Anxiety Inventory on the other.  I have filled out many of these lately, many in my life, this is nothing new although having to do the anxiety test is a particularly new shade of thing.

But I hate these tests.  I am conscious constantly of self-editing and trying to see if I’m answering “right.”  Obviously there’s no right answer, but I worry constantly about my ability to judge this accurately, and my sense of what the various gradings on the scale mean, and it’s always in the back of my mind that if I do it wrong, they’ll send me away as not really needing help.  On the other hand, if I err on the other side, what will it mean if they think my situation is far more severe than it is?  And how severe am I?  I can’t judge myself against other people, I can’t say how much of the mess in my head is “normal” and how much is not.

And then I had to wait again, and the magazine I had been reading had vanished (and I didn’t see anyone else in the waiting room with it, either, so I couldn’t even blame anyone) so I fidgeted until my counsellor showed up, by which point I was in a state of high anxiety and building towards a panic attack, and had to be walked around the building until I calmed down.

And this was, as I said, not like any counselling appointment I’ve had.

He is versed in anxiety problems.  In fact, he suffers from them himself.

He says he doesn’t believe in “fixing” people.

He says he doesn’t approach this as “dealing with anxiety” or “coping with anxiety” but instead as “accepting anxiety.”  His view is that anxiety, or depression, or anger, or other sources of “negative energy” come from the emotional mind, and that the rational, thinking mind is trying to fix them.  And of course, they cannot be fixed, they cannot be suppressed, they cannot be ignored or diverted without suffering backlash and problems and generally just making things worse, which is something I am becoming aware of.

His process, he says, is to allow the rational mind and the emotional mind learn to work together, to accept what the emotional mind is doing, to allow oneself to experience anxiety or depression or anger without it taking over and without trying to “fix” it, and to then be able to tap into the wise mind.

This is a different approach than I’m used to, and the idea that by learning not to fight myself — because fight myself I certainly am doing — I can be better… well, it’s very appealing.  What counselling I’ve done in the past has been, when it touched on anxiety at all, was focused on learning to calm oneself down, which is impossible to do in a crisis, and does not prevent the anxiety from being an issue in the first place.  This is new.  This sounds promising.  Possibly I’m grasping at things, but it sound promising.

As he puts it, I’m scaling a mountain, and he’s climbing the same one, and he can offer me advice on which tool to use or which handhold to take, but he’s there with me when he knows  how difficult it is.

Of course, it takes time.  At any rate, I’ve come away with a Plan G form, so that I can afford the Cipralex in the meantime.  Assuming it helps.  I hope it does.

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Sliding backwards

I feel like the clonazepam is losing effect.

I was doing so well, I felt competent and capable, and I thought, “maybe this is what it’s like for normal people” but I can feel myself sliding backwards.  No more skipping doses, maybe, it might be a short-term acting drug but let’s stay safe.  Let’s hope for the cipralex to start working, and soon, but antidepressants take weeks.  Doctor’s appointment on Friday to review the drugs I’ve been taken, we can see what she says.

Oh.  Oh my god.  I cannot.  I am fighting this, I am trying to be calm, but this terrifies me, to feel myself slipping back into the anxiety.  Yes, this is the way I’ve felt nearly constantly for years, but I’ve had a taste of something else and I don’t want to give it up.

I’ve always had good days and bad days, as far as this goes.  Possibly this is just a bad day, and it if weren’t for the clonazepam, I’d be doing a hell of a lot worse.

I have an appointment today.  I need to leave to catch the bus in about twenty minutes.  I should eat, can’t face food, am rocking in my chair.  This is that stupid counselling appointment that I initially tried to make in mid-December, had to wait two weeks for an intake, and had to wait another month for an actual appointment.  What sort of bullshit is this, that it takes this long to get help?  Thank god for my temporary counsellor, is all I can say.

Speaking of which, the temporary counsellor asked me to make a list of everything that makes me anxious.  Everything.  I’m adding things as they occur to me.  It’s becoming… a daunting list.

Letter to my mother.

This is what I would like to say to my mother, but seem unable to make her understand.

Mom, you seem to have no problem comprehending what I’m going through.  You seem to have no problem letting the pieces settle in and admitting that an anxiety disorder is very likely what I’ve been struggling with for the majority of my life.  You’re aware yourself of the many issues with depression and anxiety on your side of the family.  You work in mental health.  None of this is difficult for you.

Why is it difficult for you to accept me being on clonazepam for a short time?

Yes, it is a drug that can be abused, that become addicting.  So can morphine, but I don’t recall you being verbally worried about Cortana receiving morphine several times in the emergency room when she was having troubles with her gall bladder.  Please, please think of it like this.

I suspect if I could probably explain to you what this experience is to me, you might grasp it, but I can’t seem to really be able to bring myself to explain.  I censor myself a lot, because I know you take it hard, and I know you are upset by it, and I hate, hate doing that to you with my own troubles and pain.  So I will likely never be able to tell you this.

The truth is, I’ve been fighting this a long time.

I have been depressed for a long time.  You became aware of my having suicidal thoughts when I was about fifteen, but truthfully, I was having them years earlier, when I was thirteen, when I was younger.  I am twenty-seven now.  There were antidepressants at some points, counselling at others, and the latter was more helpful than the former but it was all just band-aid solutions, because I never, even at the good times, the times when I felt okay and was reasonably functionable and could handle it, felt all that great.

And I have been declining.  You know this.

I’ve had breakdowns before.  Quite a few of them.  You know this.

But this last one has been devastating for me, and I am thankful as hell that this time I managed to put into the right words what was going on in my head, or someone listened to what I was saying, or someone put the pieces together, or whatever it was happened, and that someone realised that the depression was only a symptom.  Because this last breakdown?  I was feeling so worn down trying to drag myself through everything, trying to face everything I had to do to “make myself better” and “get through this” and even when I was being reassured that I always get through these things and come out stronger, getting through it felt so very, very beyond me.  To get over depression, they tell me, you must do this and this and this, you are socially isolated and should do this and this, and it all only made me feel overwhelmed and anxious and worse to think of all these things I had to do.  I didn’t feel capable of any of it.

And it was becoming harder to imagine ever getting through this.  Under normal circumstances, I don’t think I was a danger to myself, but there were a few panic attacks where I seriously considered doing myself harm, because it hurt too much, and making it better seemed beyond my means.

Having a label of “potential anxiety disorder” and the first appropriate prescription for that in my life has made a world of difference, Mom.  Even if you don’t like the clonazepam, even if you worry that I will become addicted, I wish I could tell you properly what it means to feel like this.

Because, for the first time in probably fifteen years, I feel like I can handle the things I need to do.  It’s not going to be an exhausting, will-destroying battle to do my day-to-day tasks.  It’s not going be anxiety-provoking to try to get better from the depression caused by anxiety, because, without that anxiety, I am miraculously not depressed.  It is worlds better.  I recognise there will be effort in keeping in this state of mind, I do.

But I feel alive.

And I feel competent.

I feel like a new person.  I am not entirely sure who this person is, exactly.  I’m still learning that.  But for the first time in a very long time, I like her.

It comes.

I have a psychiatrist appointment on Feburary 4th.

One way or the other, I’ll be looking at an official diagnosis.

Either way, that’s something that carries a lot of weight.

The good drugs.

I skipped the clonazepam last night.

You’d think that a drug that makes you drowsy would not cause problems when taking it night, but paradoxically, it is.  Sure, it puts me to sleep, and I sleep like a rock, but I’m sleeping ten hours and still feeling exhausted, and I’m groggy in the morning, and it’s almost a hung over sort of feeling, and I can’t do that every single day.  I just can’t.  I’d tried taking it earlier in the evening.  That hadn’t solved the problems of the morning, and meant I spent the evening falling asleep.  I thought about taking only half a pill, but last night I decided that why do things halfway?  I forwent (as an aside, there has got to be a better past tense for “forgo,” because that sounds wrong, just less wrong than “forgoed,” which I think is surely wrong) it entirely.

It was an experience.

I slept much lighter than I had been.  And while I can’t remember much of anything I’m reasonably sure I was dreaming a lot.  This is a big thing, since apparently, according to my researches, clonazepam suppresses REM-sleep, which would be why I’m sleeping like the dead and yet so exhausted in the morning.  A little before 3:30 I woke up, very suddenly, as though something had startled me awake.  If anything, I suspect something I was dreaming.  Wide awake, I tossed and turned for a little, reached over for my iPod and checked my email and answered an email to my sister who works the night shift.  This is neither Florence nor Mongoose, but… hm.  I shall henceforth refer to her as Cortana, because she will kick your ass at Halo.  She would certainly kick my ass at Halo, anyway.
I then rolled over and attempted to sleep again.  And this is where things got odd.

I’m not sure how much I actually slept, because for the remainder of the night I was aware of being in a bed, but it was very confused.  I seem to have been in a dreaming state for much of it, despite the fact that I can’t be sure I was asleep.  Some of the time I was aware I was in my own bed, while at other times I was sure I was in the bed in my basement room in the house we lived in when I was in high school.  For much of the night there was something beside me, either our old cat Samantha, curled up beside my head and purring (and it was distinctly her, and not, say, my mother’s cat Grace who occasionally slept with me when I lived with my mother),  and at other times it was our dog Tilly, a border collie/blue heeler cross who was fond of sleeping in bed with me despite the fact that she understood perfectly well that while I would let her up beside me it was not actually allowed, stretched out beside me  and occasionally disturbing me by scratching an itch behind her head.  Both of these animals are dead, now, Tilly a few years ago of kidney failure, and Sam some years earlier of a stroke, both of them living into arthritic old age.  At other points, I was aware of my own bed and my own room, but my sense of spatial awareness was skewed strangely, my head and hands huge, or myself tiny and my pillow huge.  I was aware of a strange throbbing in the air around me, a pulsing that seemed to come up through the floor and vibrate through the bed and into me.  At one point my mattress began to undulate under me, violently.  Maybe like a water-bed with someone vigorously jiggling it?

And I can’t swear to having been asleep for any of it.  And except for the undulating mattress, none of it bothered me to any particular degree.

Maybe I should be more worried about this than I am, but I can’t really bring myself to be concerned.  I’m perfectly aware of the fragile nature of our own sense of reality, and how very little it can take to cause a hallucination.  I”m also well aware that there is a state of mind between full sleep and full waking in which it’s possible to “dream” while still partially awake.  And if my REM-sleep has been suppressed lately… who’s to say it’s not just kicking into overdrive?  Is that possible?  I’ve had experiences like this before, too, although not nearly on this scale.

On the other hand, it may just have been very vivid and very weird dreaming, and my dreams have always tended towards the vivid and the weird.

I was groggy in the morning, but not like I have been.  Tired, but like I said, I can’t swear to how much I actually slept after waking at 3:30.

But I feel rested in a way that I haven’t been all week.  I will try this again and see how it goes.  And on Friday, I will confess to my doctor that I’ve been screwing with the recommended dosage.  Awesome.

I had a wonderful conversation with my father on the phone last night, too.  My father struggles, a little, to understand all this.  I may have said so.  But I love our conversations, that can cycle around from science fiction to things we find fascinating about the way we dream to music to technology to the roots and reasons for various racial traits, science and philosophy and religion and everything that fascinates us.  And like my father, I am fascinated by nearly everything.

Last night he said two things of note to me.

I think I’ve said that my mother is very anxious, and admits to it, about my being on clonazepam.  I said so to my father, and he had a very different point of view.  Some years back, he had a kidney stone.  When he was going through this, he took what the doctor offered and described as “the good drugs.”  And yes, these were the sorts of drugs that were powerful, that could invite abuse, but my father took them.  And they made things better, because he could get over the pain and get on with his life and work on getting better.  And as he sees it, and as I’m starting to see it, the clonazepam is the same way.  It’s a painkiller for my brain, and it’s temporary, but it will help me get better.

(One of my roommates, who I shall refer to as, ahh…. Audrey, for her love of classic movies and Audrey Hepburn, because who cannot love Audrey Hepburn… anyway, she said to me when I was telling her what’s going on that I, unlike herself, don’t have an addictive personality.  My father has said the same thing about himself, and it’s certainly true in his case, so this is possibly an encouraging thought.)

The second thing my father said was a quote, or possibly a misquote (knowing Dad) from a movie I have never heard of but that my father happened to see on television the other night.

“The gods don’t make life easy for us.”

And this is very true.

He went on to add just how good it feels to overcome the difficulties.  And this is also true.

I have had, variously on my desk or near my desk for the last five years, a small, poor-quality brass statue of Ganesha.  One of the several things he’s named as is the Lord of Obstacles.  He removes obstacles, but he also places them where they need to be.

And sometimes — and this is why I’ve kept this little figurine, because I need sometimes to remind myself of these things — those obstacles need to be there, so that we can overcome them and be stronger.

This is what I’m hoping, anyway.

Religion and things.

I went to church today.

I have a peculiar relationship with organised religion.  I was raised in the Unitarian Universalist church, which is, quite frankly, a weird church, and one that is often criticised as not being a “real” church, because it has no formal creed.  It can be summarised, if you need a summary, as a religious group that encourages questioning and personal inquiry into spiritual matters, that it’s better to find something worth believing in through personal search and inquiry than to blindly accept what someone tells you to believe, and that there is equal value in all forms of belief.  Believe what feels right — whether that’s Christian or Wiccan or Muslim or atheist or agnostic, whatever feels right to you — and respect the rights of others to believe what they want, and in general, just try to be nice to everyone.

I believe it’s Sikhism that describes all the religions of the world as rivers flowing into a single ocean.

But essentially, yes, I was raised in a weird, liberal heathen church, and those ideas have stayed with me, and I still consider myself to be a UU.  There is, however, no Unitarian Universalist church in town here.

Some years ago, my mother began attending a very liberal Anglican church, and I occasionally accompanied her for no real reason I could put my finger on.  She still occasionally goes, although she expresses a little bit of frustration with the sheer archaism of the language used, that while it’s one (and entirely valid, don’t get me wrong) way of expressing and attempt to understanding the higher forces in the universe, which we as human beings and mortals can never truly grasp, it’s a way that is firmly rooted in language and thought processes that are thousands of years old, too, and my mother finds that frustrating.  I do too, to be honest.  But when she started going, she was going through a very difficult time, and needed that spiritual support in her life, and this church, for all the things she found difficult about it, was a good fit.  And while the minister that made that church so unique and special has since retired, my mother still goes occasionally and volunteers in the kitchen.  She sees this, she says, as her way of paying the community back for what the church was when she needed it.

I helped out in the kitchen.  I had a blast.  Two weeks ago I would have been eaten up with anxiety and found the entire experience agonising and unbearable, but I bounced around and chatted and grinned and enjoyed myself while I took over various duties.  I told Mom I’d like to go back when she volunteers in the kitchen, because it was enjoyable, it was something that got me out of the house.

I saw, briefly, the now-retired former minister of the church.  I see him occasionally, and he was at least tangentially aware of my last terrible breakdown, five years ago, and he is a wonderful person who is still, even retired, deeply involved in community outreach.  When my mother and her girlfriend got married a year and a half ago, he insisted on doing the ceremony.

He asked me how I was doing.

I said, honestly, that I was doing a lot better than I had been doing in a long time.

“Oh?” he asked, in that way people do when they want you to explain further.

“Well… I’m in the process of being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.”  He’s an easy person to talk to, one of the reasons he was always such a wonderful minister, and I was not in the least hesitant telling him this.

He was sympathetic, frowning a little.  “And how’s that going?”

“Well, it’s like… things are getting better, and it’s good to know… that I can… that I’m not…”  And here, I completely faltered, at a loss as to how to put into brief words what it was like to suddenly have a working brain that doesn’t cripple itself with unnecessary anxiety.

“Fucked up?” he supplied, straight-faced.

“Yes,” I laughed.  “That.”

A short thought.

Florence sent me a text message today, out of the blue.  It made my day.

Hey jess!  I’m just on my way to clinical but I wanted to say I hope you are having a good week and I love you!

Sometimes I think Florence gets this more than a lot of the rest of my family.  In high school she attempted suicide, once, and I think she can grasp the agony that can come out of your own brain better than the rest of them.  Mom knows about anxiety, and she’s had troubles with depression, but not, I don’t think, to the same degree.  To my father, it’s all completely alien; I know he’s trying to understand, but he has acknowledged to me that he and I, for all our similarities, are wired very differently.  It’s nice, though, to have an “I love you”  just out of the blue like that.

I had a very good day, in fact.  I worked, I was left in charge for quite a few hours, I had a few incidents pop up, and I was not consumed with anxiety over dealing with them.  It was a slow day, and my boss took off, and I spent the afternoon with three of the part-time high school boys.

I also had a surprising bit of sympathy from an unexpected source.  It’s not really well-known why I suddenly took three weeks off work out of nowhere, other than that is has something to do with my having a bit of a meltdown.  One of my coworkers, who got off as I started, asked me in tones of genuine interest and concern how I was doing.  This coworker… I am not close to him.  He’s at least ten years older than me, has worked there perhaps not quite as long, and while we’ve always been friendly it’s never been anything more than that.

Half jokingly, I answered, “Pretty good.  I’m on some interesting drugs.  All doctor-prescribed.”  Joking about this is easy for me, and the easiest way for me to deal with it.  I’m not always very comfortable with the idea of brain-chemistry-altering drugs.

“Valium?” he asked.

And I admit to being slightly taken aback.  Valium is a benzodiazepine… as is clonazepam, which I am taking.

“Close, actually, ” I said.

“Prozac?”

And again, a bit of a surprise.  Prozac is an antidepressant often prescribed for anxiety disorders… as is Cipralex, which is what I am taking.

“Still close.  Bit of both, actually,” I think I said.  “Giving me one while I wait for the other to start working.”

“Well,” he said, “as long as you get better.”  And he smiled.

And it was genuine, and it was from a completely unexpected source, and I think he very possibly had put the pieces together without anything being said.  I am sure there are rumours about me going around at work but no one will tell me, so I’m not sure what he might have heard.  It’s strange, though, to suddenly find yourself that transparent.  Was it a lucky guess, just the first drugs to pop into his head?  Is it something he’s gone through?  Someone he knows?  I won’t ever know, possibly, because I can hardly go ask him why he guessed Valium, why he guessed Prozac, why he seemed so completely at ease and understanding about the idea that his coworker was sorting through some personal issues and how he had guessed what those personal issues might be.

“I hope so,” I said.

And I do.

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