Mom vs. Dad

My parents have, for the record, been very supportive through this, but there is a distinct difference in their approach to this.

My parents are divorced.  They divorced when I was eighteen.  Their marriage lasted more than twenty years; their divorce has been generally as amicable as divorces ever are.  My mother has a wife; my dad lives common-law with a very lovely woman.  When they get together over some family event, they tend to catch up on each other’s families.  My mother is in contact with some of my paternal cousins on Facebook, which she honestly loves.  They’re on good terms, for exes.  I am on good terms with both of them.

My dad views what I’m going through as a wonderful thing.  I am learning about myself, I am paying more attention to the cycles of my thoughts, I am learning how to deal.  If some of that help comes in pharmaceutical form, then so be it, because he can see me growing strong and being capable and being the person I have always had the potential to be.  He  loves it.  He is curious about my thought processes, about what makes me anxious, about the patterns I get into.  He wants to know about what’s going on in my head, even the really bad stuff, and he wants to learn about this and how it affects me and how I’m getting over it, because he has a thirst for knowledge.

My mother worries.

Don’t get me wrong.  She is just as supportive.  But this all honestly scares her, and I can hear it in her voice when I talk to her, and I can see it in her face, and that is the reason this blog exists, because while I want to tell her these things, I don’t like to frighten her.  I don’t like feeling like I’m putting my mother through hell for this, for letting this finally come to the surface and dealing with it.  And it’s strange, because mom works in mental health.  Maybe that’s why.  Maybe it’s just that she knows how bad this can be, maybe it’s that she blames herself for not picking up on what was going on in my head when I was fourteen (although honestly, I couldn’t put it into words myself then).  I am in a better place right now than I have ever been.  I am stronger than I have ever been, but I’m also talking about the sort of shit I put myself through in this battle against myself which I’m learning not to fight (because fighting it is worse) and I think that terrifies her.

My father, on the other hand, doesn’t approach it from the point of view of someone in mental health, and approaches it as a new thing to learn about.

I don’t like the guilt of putting my mother through shit by getting better.  I had a long conversation with her this morning, over the phone, and while I confessed some things that stress me out and make me anxious, I was also aware of how I was stressing the positive, that yes I’m more aware of the things I’m doing wrong, and yes I’m talking about it more, but I can do that because it isn’t anywhere near is bad.  And, most importantly, that I’m glad I’m going through this, that this is a good thing.

I think it might have hit home.  I hope so.

Audrey is having an Oscar cocktail party tonight.  As always, with her parties, I’m invited.  Typically this would be my cue to vanish up into my room in a fit of nerves, but I think I can handle this tonight.  I can handle the influx of guests I don’t know, I can handle the inevitable mess that will result in the kitchen, I can handle the party, I can handle all these things that typically send me into fits of anxiety.

Not sure about the alcohol.  I really shouldn’t drink.  This, at least, is my first day without the clonazepam (woohoo!) so I’m slightly less medicated than I was, but.  Well.  A little should probably be okay.  Audrey picked up a bottle of pink champagne, which we’re both extremely partial too.  I may indulge.  One drink, though, no more, and we’ll be careful.  I haven’t had anything to drink since Christmas, after all.

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In Which I Have Unexpected Teeth

I talk about any of this only because I have the benefit of anonymity.  My family does not know about this blog — or rather, some of them know about the existence of it, but I’ve also explained that it’s a place I can talk without censoring myself for their benefit, and that’s something I need (although I am finding it less necessary as time goes by), and I have no intention of giving them the URL, ever.  They accept this.

My family is, as a general rule, fairly well-adjusted.

We have our quirks.  We have our dysfunctionalities.  My mother’s family was distinctly unconventional for the time, with my grandparents repeatedly separated and then divorced.  There are issues with depression and anxiety on that side.  It has been suggested that my grandfather was undiagnosed bipolar, because he had these great surges of energy and ambition and poor decisions, and being very charismatic would sweep everyone up and along with him,  and then would collapse into a deep depression.  My father’s side is somewhat better, though bizarrely rife with hypochondriacs and sharp tempers (this latter being something I certainly share).  My own immediate family, well, my parents are divorced, my mother is married to another woman, and my issues I have gone into in depth.  We have plenty of the components of dysfunctional families, but we all seem to get along.

There is something seriously wrong with my dad’s younger sister.

I feel utterly screwed up at times, but I am at least aware of what’s wrong with me, and I’m working to be better, and I am doing better.  I am doing better than I have ever done in my entire life, which is a huge thing to say.  Even at the worst of times, though, I never hurt anyone more than myself.  I was the only one who has ever suffered from my own mind.  My dad’s family, however, is beginning to finally acknowledge, after thirty years, my aunt’s behaviour as being abnormal.  The full scope of her manipulative behaviour, her utter lack of remorse and compassion, her vicious attacks on who she perceives as weak, her pathological lying: it’s all becoming very clear, now.  Normal, moral people do not behave in the way she does.  Her husband enables her behaviour.  Her children echo it.  It is, frankly, hideous.

On Monday I was sent a very vicious message over Facebook, after years of refusing to even acknowledge my existence while she chatted happily with all three of my sisters.  The message was passive-aggressive, condescending, and vicious as hell.  She made reference to my mental state.  It was, in every way, shape, and form, completely out of line.

I said I have the family temper.  I lost it.

So angry I could hardly see straight, I responded.  I told her, in no uncertain terms, that she did not get to speak to me like that, that she had no place to lecture me for anything, and she had better get the idea that she could out of her head, because it stopped, right now.

The second message she sent me was worse than the first, further accusing me of “major issues” and “serious baggage,” the apparent implication that Audrey is my girlfriend, and that while most of her family has good “Zen,” not all do, and she’s in a place now where she won’t allow negativity into her life.  And she blocked me.

I found out later she then defriended all my sisters, and send Cortana and Florence a message to the effect of “I’ve been talk to your sister, and I’m very concerned… is everything okay with her?  I think, if you’re not aware of it, that she’s going through something, and you should make sure she’s okay.”  This is… two-faced, and manipulative, and low.  Florence responded privately that whatever was going on between her and me should stay between us, don’t drag her into it.  Florence has the family temper too.  She was not impressed.

I laid the whole thing out for my father, that night.  I asked, had I gone too far in my response?  He said no, he said my response was perfect and he was proud of me.  That is a strange thing to hear for losing my temper.  He said I never made it personal, I never attacked, I merely said that her behaviour was unacceptable and drew the line.  I mentioned how sick with anxiety I had been all day, and my dad said, “No, listen to yourself.  You’re dealing with it.  You’re handling it, and you’re doing wonderful.”  And this is true.  Had this happened a month ago, I would have fallen apart.  Now, I stood up for myself and fought back in an appropriate manner, without emotional collapse.  Dad says it’s wonderful to see me do that.

It’s not about me.  The more I learn about the situation — and half of it I’m forbidden to talk about for the time being, particularly to my sisters, and I’m hesitant to do so even here — the more I realise is that this is a footnote in a frankly huge amount of family drama that is about to unfold in a family that’s been relatively free of drama, and it’s all centered around my aunt and her increasingly out-of-line and disturbing behaviour, and the slow wearing down of her siblings’ patience.

But it’s also becoming clear that it was, most likely, a calculated attack.  Already quietly disliking me (not because I did anything, but it’s also becoming clear this stems from the fact that I’m queer and so is her youngest daughter and she and her husband are definitely not okay with that and it is somehow my fault), my aunt perceived from what little about this I have talked about on Facebook that I was going through something, found an excuse to go after me, was vicious in regards to my mental health.  It was designed to wound.  She was unaware that I am stronger right now than I have ever been before.  I was not the victim she expected.

She’s trying to spin herself as the martyr, I think, and me as dangerously unbalanced and mentally ill.  There is nothing I can do about this.  It’s all out of my hands.  I can only stand back and let things happen.  But I know Dad’s got my back, and I know I’ve got his approval, and I know that I’m not twisting events to make myself look better, that my aunt really was nasty and out-of-line and looking for a fight — just, possibly, not exactly the one she got.

And I’m strong enough right now to handle it.

And that’s what I’m taking away from it.

Should I be allowed to know this?

Yesterday, I ended up seeing the referral letter my general practitioner wrote for the psychiatrist.

I’m not sure why I got to see this, or whether I should be permitted to, but I did as part of a discussion of what/how much of various drugs I have been taking and some confusion over it, because while I did fill out paperwork permitting my psychiatrist’s office access to my prescription record, that paperwork hadn’t yet been filed.  New office, new practice.  I think they’re still having trouble with the computer system.  Dr. K himself expressed some frustration with having to learn how to fill out a prescription on the computer.

But I did see this, or part of it.  My GP’s suggestion is that, should the cipralex not work, I should be put on buspirone.  I spent some time reading that over.

This shit is scary.

Extreme levels of caffeine ingested while taking Buspirone may result in extreme nervous breakdowns, followed by amnesia of the event.

Define “extreme levels of caffeine.”  Define “extreme nervous breakdown.

Jesus christ, let the cipralex be working.

I’m not always very comfortable with taking psychiatric drugs.  They make me, as a rule, very nervous, far too nervous for someone who has so many bottles of them over her desk.  They do strange things to the chemicals in your brain, they are not always predictable in their effects, there are unfortunate side effects.  I am not entirely comfortable with the cipralax and the seroquel, but I take them because I’m hoping the former will work and I know the latter is working, even if it does still make me sort of sleepy.

But the potential for problems worries me, as does the idea of being on these things forever.

Then again, what doesn’t worry me?  Ba-dum ching.

Bad days.

Sunday and Monday were wonderful.  I felt in control and on top of things and capable.  I got lots done, I wanted to do things, I made things up for me to do.  I made cakeballs for my roommates and bread for myself, I went shopping and bought tea.  Can’t find decent jeans that fit, but we’re working on that.

Yesterday, though, was a struggle, and I feel the same way today.

I have no doubt that the seroquel helps, and it certainly doesn’t make me as ridiculously sleepy as it did before, although it certainly slows me down.  But this was a morning where I lay in bed far too long and stared at the ceiling and was miserable and anxious for no reason.  My bedroom was cold, still is cold, and that doesn’t help, but bed was warm and safe and as long as I stayed there I didn’t have to deal.

I said, in the beginning, when I began this blog that I was beginning to hate the term “mental illness.”  I’d like to rescind that comment.  Sometimes it is infinitely easier to think of this as something Other that comes down upon me and takes over that I must fight than for it just to be some indescribable quirk of myself and therefore a personal failing.  All the stigma of mental illness is one thing, but I’m getting help now, and I never was getting appropriate help before.

But sometimes it is such a battle, and such a struggle, and days like yesterday and days like today where it’s hard to drag myself out of bed, or out of the house, to run errands or to go to work, because all I want to do is crawl in bed and hide until everything goes away and I don’t have to deal with it… they’re very discouraging.  It feels like I’m losing.

It’s easy for me to tell people, my family in particular, that I’m having a good day, that I feel good.  It is fiendishly difficult for me to stand up and say, today I’m not doing so well.  There are going to be bad days, of course, there always will be, but on some level I still think of this as a personal weakness, and if I have a bad day, where my brain is so eaten up with anxiety I can hardly think straight, that it is my fault for not being strong enough to be better.

Pink Floyd is cathartic.  Pink Floyd is mental illness as music, much of it.  For a very long time I’ve loved the line, from the song Brain Damage, the last song on The Dark Side of the Moon: “And when the band you’re in starts playing different tunes/I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.”  I love it because sometimes that’s what I feel like, like I’m out of sync with the rest of the world, like I’m playing the only tune I know but it doesn’t fit with what’s around me.  Why is my brain against me?  Why can’t I be normal? Why do regular, everyday tasks have to be such a battle some days?  Why don’t I have the same sheet music as everyone else, why can’t I deal with life like regular people do?

If I think of this as something else, as something other than myself, it’s easier.  I read, once, a memoir of a girl struggling with anorexia, and one thing that struck me was the way she named and personified her disease as Cruella, as something other, as something that was not her but tried to take her over.  I’m suddenly seeing this as being an extremely apt point.  What, if anything, do I name the anxiety?  Would naming it help me?

Or is it better to take the Bene Gesserit path, to accept it, live it, and dismiss it?

I will face my fear.  I will permit it to pass over me and through me.  And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.  Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.  Only I will remain.

I dreamt last night I was in a hospital, on a psych ward, and they were giving me brain scans to see what was wrong with me.

The Peanut Butter Analogy

This is what I’m calling the Peanut Butter Analogy.  It’s how I try to explain the anxiety to people.

The situation is that I am at the grocery store, and I must buy peanut butter.  I like peanut butter, and it is nutritious, and I always have some in the house.  However, I am required to make a choice.  Do I get chunky or smooth?  Natural?  Natural chunky?  Light?  Whatever the hell this “whipped” peanut butter is?  Organic or regular?  Kraft, Jif, generic grocery store brand, some strange organic gourmet brand?  Big jar or little jar?  There are literally dozens of choices.  I can only walk away with one.

And I find it absolutely paralysing.

With every choice comes the possibility that I have chosen wrong.  If one brand is more expensive, is the cost justified?  If I buy natural peanut butter (and I like natural peanut butter) will I regret it when I spill peanut oil over the counter when I try to stir it?  Is Light peanut butter worth even looking at as significantly different?  If I choose wrong will I end up gaining back all of the seventy pounds I have lost?  Does the brand matter?  If peanut butter X is on sale, should I buy it instead this time?  Should I buy peanut butter at all, do I need to buy it yet?

These are normal considerations.

But every single thought has all the weight as though it were a potentially life-ending catastrophe.  If I choose wrong, everything will be ruined.  My life will be over.

Because of peanut butter.

And if I don’t go into the store with a plan, without saying “I am going to get generic grocery store brand natural chunky peanut butter,” (which is what I normally buy) then I end up fussing and comparing anxiously for ten minutes in the store, taking jars and putting them back and getting new ones and putting them back, because I am eaten up with anxiety under the pressure of choosing peanut butter.

Now imagine going through that for every item on the grocery list.  What percentage milk?  What veggies should I buy?  Regular or extra garlic hummus?  What kind of deli meat?  Should I treat myself to a piece of Guinness cheese?  Do I need more granola and if I buy it bulk will I buy too much for my granola container at home?

It’s exhausting.  It is utterly draining.  And at the same time, I can’t not go grocery shopping, so I subject myself to this regularly.  If I’m very anxious, I often end up coming away without half of what I actually need, because I’m far too nervous to think clearly.  The register becomes an impossible obstacle, becuase not only am I subjecting myself to the possible judgement of the cashier, but whatever choices I have made become irrevocable.

In other stores, never in the grocery store but in  pharmacies and dollar stores, I have lost all my nerve at the last moment, backtracked and put everything back on the shelf, and left without buying anything.  I’m sure this looks weird, but I can’t seem to help it.  Sometimes that last obstacle is too much.

Old lyrics

I had a good conversation with my Dad last weekend.

It was partly a confession about how bad things sometimes are for me — the suicidal thoughts, my trouble with menus in restaurants, and what I’m beginning to term “the peanut butter analogy” — and partly just a brutally honest question-and-answer period for him and his wife.  Some of that I’ve never told to my mother, and some of it I never will.  Particularly the fact that I get suicidal during bad panic attacks.  She will not take that well.  My desire to censor myself when I talk about this is much stronger with my mother than my father.  My father asks questions because he doesn’t entirely understand and wants to.  My mother asks questions because she worries.  A lot.  Telling her that particular fact will only scare her and make her worry more, despite the fact that this has been something I’ve experienced for decades and I haven’t offed myself yet.  I hadn’t planned to tell Dad, to be honest, but we were looking at something I’d written back in 2002.

My father songwrites, as a hobby, and he had extended to me the offer that if I ever wrote anything that might work as song lyrics, to bring it to him.  There were a few things I wrote for him, but one in particular always stood out, lyrics that were very dark and uncomfortably desperate.  Dad composed something for it, a song that was just a little bit discordant and a little bit strained, but was at a loss as to what to do with the song, because it was just so intense.  It was good — he told me that then, and I hold it now as one of a few pieces of writing I’ve done that I have a hard time believing I actually wrote because of its quality — but too intense to do anything with.  In more recent years, he’s been making a concept album.  It’s the story of a nation that is brutally attacked and invaded by another, the rise of a hero who defends his homeland, and the subsequent transformtion of the celebrated hero into villified scapegoat and the hero’s quest for spiritual meaning for what he went through.  Dad used this song I wrote to bridge the destruction of war into the rise of the hero, trying to make sense of the chaos and the horror, on the very edge of choosing to act and change everything.

I know what I said and what I believed I was writing about at the time.  I look at the song now, and I think it’s the closest I’ve ever come to describing a panic attack in words.  It has recurring images of unending night and entrapment, fear of the situation and equal fear of changing it, acceptance of the horror, confusion about everything, hope that it might be better.  And for the first time, I told my father that’s what I see in it now.

I worry, sometimes, that I’m putting my family through the wringer, making them deal with me and my issues, and that it’s hard for them, and this is likely why I censor myself like I do.  But that night, my dad said to me that it was, as awful as it sounded, really great to see me go through this, because I’m understanding myself more, and I’m learning how to deal with things, and I am growing and strengthening visibly.

That was a good thing to hear.

The  seroquel… well, it’s not as dramatic a change as the clonazepam was, but it’s definitely a help.  It’s really a huge help.  I am calm.  I am also sleepy as hell, a lot of the time.  I don’t like that so much.  I’m not sure how much I like that.

Results

I saw the psychiatrist yesterday.  I think it went well.

He’s South African, which I did not expect.  His diplomas on the wall were from some university in Johannesburg, the name of which struck me as amusing at the time but I forget now.  He’s a big, black South African doctor with a moustache, and I like him.

And I told him everything.

Which was exhausting.

I told him how amazing I had felt on the clonazepam, but how it was losing effect as I was clearly building a tolerance to it, and that the last week had been hell.  I told him about how, during my bad panic attacks, I felt suicidal and inclined to self-harm, although I had never gone so far as to act on any of these thoughts, short of biting very hard on my hand.  During the entire appointment I was so nervous I couldn’t stop moving, restlessly shifting in my chair and wringing my hands and clenching my fists.  It felt like torture.  A few times, during lulls in the conversation, I looked out the window, couldn’t see much but the hospital and a parking lot, but it helped.

We ruled out diagnoses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or OCD.  Just… general anxiety, which surprises no one at this point.  I’m puzzled by the question, though, of if I’ve heard voices or experienced hallucinations.  I said no, but I said to my father last night, how would I know? What if I was unaware that they were hallucinations?  Dad thought that was pretty funny.

The doctor doesn’t like me being on clonazepam either, and since it’s unwise for me to go on a higher dose, and since the effectiveness of the Cipralax will be weeks away, he has given me something called co-quetiapine, or Seroquel.  It’s an anti-psychotic, which is weird to think of.  Also apparently if my parts of my life really are hallucinations, I’ll find out soon enough.  It definitely has a tranquillising effect, though.  Luckily I have a couple of days to get used to the loopiness before I go back to work.  Working on cutting down the clonazepam now, not that it’s doing me a lot of good right now anyway.

The Cipralax is probably a good fit for me, but he mentioned another drug we can try if it doesn’t help.  Again, it’s the sort of thing that takes weeks and weeks to work, so we should at least give the Cipralax a chance first.

Speaking of my father.  We got on the topic of self-medication last night, and he asked me why I thought I had never got into that alleyway.  I said I wasn’t sure, although perhaps if I was a chain-smoker I’d be more functional than I am.  With alcohol, the line between “buzzed enough to be unanxious and happy” (and I am the happiest drunk in the world, for good reason) and “uncomfortably intoxicated” is too fine to walk regularly, and I can’t drink every night, although there have certainly been periods of my life where I’ve had, say, a beer every night for a week or two.  And later in the evening, thinking more on it, it occurred to me that when I’m at the low point in this cycle that I’m beginning to recognise in myself, where I am anxious and depressed and more anxious and more depressed and doing everything in my power to force myself to go out to work and accomplish tasks, I do self-medicate that lack of energy.  The amount of coffee I’ve had in the last week is… astonishing.

And of course, caffeine makes anxiety worse.

How much simpler would my life have been if I’d started smoking in high school?

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