Pain

The last few days have not been good.

I don’t know what it is.  I would love to be able to point and say that such-and-such is making me anxious and out of sorts, but I can’t.  Hormonal flux?  Rough week at work?  I don’t know.  The last few days at work have been exercises in “how many ways can I screw up.”  I am feeling full of failure although I recognise that this isn’t accurate, either.

I’ve come out to my mother’s house to housesit while she’s gone for the weekend.  I will go home today but I haven’t yet.  I’m feeling a bit paralysed with anxiety.  Paced a bunch in the kitchen before I could bring myself to eat, and I must eat, since I need to have food in my stomach for the cipralex.  I ought to take a seroquel, maybe, but with a twenty minute drive into town I’m hesitant to take it for fear of being dopey on the drive.

I did some housesitting for both my parents earlier this month. watching animals, and it really hit home for me just how much I miss having animals around.  I can’t have pets where I live, at least not cats or dogs.  Not that it would be fair to keep a dog where I live — we don’t have a proper fence — and Audrey, who owns the house, feels cats are too destructive.  I think this is nonsense, really.   Nevertheless, she was firm on it.

But I managed to face bringing up the subject with her, and we discussed things, and we met a compromise: I was granted permission for a small caged animal, a rodent.

I latched immediately onto a very old idea, one I’d dismissed for several reasons, and ended up getting a pair of rats.

This is the best idea I’ve had in ages.

They’re still getting used to me and the new situation, but they’re also genuinely engaging.  They’re inquisitive, and affectionate, and we spend the evening snuggled down all three of us after we play a little.  It’s ridiculously comforting to be curled up with one rat on my shoulder and the other settled in my lap or next to me.  Yes, I get peed on a little, but I lay out what I’ve termed the Rat Blanket (an old blanket which I never really liked) and I wear old clothes, and the smell is pretty inoffensive, actually.

One is fairly fearless.  Her sister is, I think, the runt of the litter, and is timid and afraid of everything, although she is certainly warming up to me, which is nice.  It’s strange to see that terror in a rat, because it mirrors my own.  Is that strange to say?  Unreasoning fear that goes beyond the healthy sense of caution any small animal must have.

I worried about the larger, bolder rat picking on her runty sister, or monopolising the food, but luckily neither of these seem to be the case, and the most trouble they have together is when the bigger of the pair wants to play and the little one would rather sleep.  But they snuggle, and they get along, and it’s wonderful.

They’re a ridiculous source of joy for me right now.  I get up in the morning, looking forward to a rat kiss, a friendly nose-touch through the cage.  I love the feeling of one of them snuggling down under my chin, that sort of warmth and trust.

I am looking forward to seeing them this afternoon when I go home.  I want to be able to coax the little one out of her fear, although I know all too well that likely she’ll always be timid, and prefer napping.  And that’s okay.  I love them both as they are.  They accept me as I am.

And that’s strange.  My mother is horrified by rodents in general; my father is interested but I doubt he would expect that sort of affection from a rodent.

Audrey loves them almost as much I do.  Rats really are good pets.

I feel better thinking about them, actually.  That’s how good it is to have animals in your life.

I am still here.

I am still here, more or less.

Apparently I’m doing well, and most of the time I feel it.  I see my psychiatrist more infrequently.  My counsellor is talking about shuffling me off into some sort of group, come fall.  His feeling, I gather, is that I’ve learned what I can from him, and seeing as how it’s a community mental health stabilisation program, it is time for me to move on and let someone else have the appointments.  This is fair.

I have a new job, the sort that really wakes me up to just how abusive my old place of employment was.  I’m growing my hair out.  I am trying new things.  And I’m down to taking the seroquel more and more infrequently, once or twice a week, sometimes less.  The cipralex, of course, is still daily.  I take it as prescribed.  I think it helps.

There is acknowledgement from my family about how well I’m doing.  My father, especially, tells me how wonderful it is to see me grow into my full potential like this.  He actually went so far as to write me a song about that.  I cried when he showed me.  It was… intense.

But for all that…

… sometimes, despite how ridiculously easier it is now to get from day to day, everything hurts, everything grates, and I want to do desperate, terrible things.  I hurt, right now.  I need someone to talk to me about… I don’t even know.  Nothing.  Inconsequential things.  Funny things.  Things that aren’t as loud and painful as television or music would be right now.  I need someone who can act like I’m normal, even if I’m not.  And there isn’t anyone.

I had a bath.  I am telling myself that it’s okay that I feel like this, that it is not a weakness of character, that it will pass and that will be fine, so I accept this.  I accept this anxiety and will let it exist until it goes away.  I can’t fight it, so I accept it.

But it’s still an unpleasant place to be.

Making Progress

I’m doing well, I think.

At least, I can hope so.  Dr. K seems to think so.  I feel… okay, most of the time.  I no longer find myself backtracking through stores putting things back on the shelf, and decisions over things like what variety of yogurt I’m going to buy or what cereal I should get… well, they’re still causing me problems.  And I find myself putting off the big things.  I’m still sitting on my college application form, debating classes.  But it’s not as bad.  It takes me ages to decide on cereal, perhaps, but I can decide without being in agony about it.

Hating my job lately, I’ve tried to find time to drop off a resume here and there.  This is something I used to find very difficult.  It’s still hard, and even if I came out of there without hearing anything terribly encouraging about the prospects, I still felt good.  I did not feel sick like I have after so many resumes in the past.  That’s huge, by itself.

There are bad days, where I feel tense and worried and a mess, but they’re less.  I can cope with them, sometimes with seroquel, sometimes not.

I have a truck, now, my father’s old truck.  Driving is a freedom.

This is a time of openings, new things, beginnings.

Crossroads.

I feel somewhat at a crossroads right now.

My job is… well, it has been adequate.  It is physical, it is low-paying, I have a great deal of responsibility, and it is high-stress.  And for a long time, holding that job down was a great accomplishment for me.  I’m doing better now, and it’s… well, it’s a menial job paying just barely a living wage, and it’s still high-stress.  It’s not a bad job, but it has no future.  For the first time in a long time I can manage to think far enough in the future to make other plans without it being overwhelming.

And I’m better than this job.

That is a strange thing to say.  It sounds conceited and I have, as I have said before, very little self-esteem.  On my bad days I feel like I can hardly do it, on my good days I find it satisfying, but there’s no challenge.  My coworkers tend to be underachievers or high school drop-outs, the sort of people who are perversely proud of their ignorance., which is something I can’t understand even remotely.

I flunked out of university years ago.

I don’t talk about that.  I don’t admit it to most people.  I’m horribly ashamed of it, actually.  Looking back, I see what happened very clearly.  Overcome with anxiety about my classes, I skipped chronically.  Therefore, I flunked out.  I was an honour roll student in high school, but I failed disastrously in university because I found myself flung into a new environment I had no coping mechanisms for, and reacted by simply not going to class because that was easier than suffering panic attacks halfway across campus.  I failed, they kicked me out.

In retrospect, my planned major was something I would have hated anyway.  Not well thought out.

But now, I feel good enough, most days, that my current job is not enough.  I want more from life, I am ready for more, I am capable of more.  I can think and I can handle myself and can recognise my issues and I am considering going back to school.  Maybe not this fall, I don’t think I’ll be able to get in.  Next fall.  I can keep up my job for another year.  Maybe do one or two classes in the meantime.  I’m looking at aiming for a degree in English.  It seems doable, it’s something I want.  From there, I might get a degree in education and go into teaching high school English.  Maybe.  I would be in my thirties before I had any sort of degree, alas.  Such are the woes of the late bloomer.

Am I overreaching myself?  Can I do this?  I still have bad days.  Today has been a bad day.  Can I possibly manage to pull myself together to do something that I have already failed to do?  Sometimes I feel so screwed up, and so helpful, and like I don’t even have a real excuse for it.  I mean, an anxiety disorder is all well and good, but I’m not struggling with bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, or any number of what seem to me to be far more serious hurdles.

This is something that always gives me pause about this blog.  I wonder if, to the impartial observer (assuming there are any), this simply looks like the moanings of some poor overly emotional girl who blows her small problems out of all proportion.  I know what I go through is a struggle for me.  I know that other people go through worse.  Does that mean it’s petty of me to whine about having difficulty getting through shopping and not backtracking and putting everything back on the shelf, something I do to myself?

I don’t know if I can do this.  I feel so screwed up some days.  I feel so helpless and scattered and unable to cope and I want to die, because I am just tired.  And it passes, but the self-doubt remains.

There’s so much to do to arrange this and it’s a little overwhelming.

But if there’s one thing in the world that I know, it’s books, it’s language, and put like that it seems far more like something achievable.

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.

Previous Older Entries