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.

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.

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.

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.

The Value of Literary Role Models

Anyone who knows me will say this is true about me: I love Sherlock Holmes.

Madly, to the point of obsession.

My first exposure to Sherlock Holmes was probably from Star Trek: TNG, actually, where Data and Geordi muck about on the holodeck and end up giving Moriarty sentience.  I still love this episode more than it’s probably healthy to.  When I was twelve, I had further significant exposure: a point-and-click adventure game that I found fiendishly difficult, a poorly done dramatised version of “The Adventure of The Dying Detective” in our school reader (which we actually weren’t reading but I read everything in the book whether we were supposed to or not, even if most of it was very lame), and a cassette tape for car trips which had a reading of a couple of stories on it.

But, I mean, he’s Sherlock Holmes.  You cannot fail to know who he is.  He is far too much of a legend.

The cassette tape made the most impact on me.  On one side was “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.”  This is a great story, and still one of my favourites, although Holmes’s logic that “well, he has a big hat, therefore he has a big head, therefore he is highly intellectual” doesn’t actually hold water, but it’s such an insignificant point in the story I can forgive it entirely.  It’s a Christmas story, it’s told backwards, it’s clever, it shows Holmes at his best.

The other was “The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual,” which is… well, it’s not a bad story.  Not one of my favourites, either, but it’s a perfectly good story.  What caught my attention at the time, though, was the bit at the beginning in which the good Dr. Watson (truly, one of literature’s most underappreciated characters, because he is a bad ass motherfucker, make no mistake about it) lets off a little steam about what it’s like to have Sherlock Holmes as a roommate:

But with me there is a limit, and when I find a man who keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece, then I begin to give myself virtuous airs. I have always held, too, that pistol practice should be distinctly an open-air pastime; and when Holmes, in one of his queer humours, would sit in an armchair with his hair-trigger and a hundred Boxer cartridges and proceed to adorn the opposite wall with a patriotic V. R. done in bullet-pocks, I felt strongly that neither the atmosphere nor the appearance of our room was improved by it.

When I was twelve, I had no idea what a patriotic V.R. was, but the idea of Sherlock Holmes, the great and genius detective, casually shooting designs into his wallpaper with a revolver, shocked me a good deal.  Everyone, of course, knows Holmes, and everyone has a preconceived conception of what sort of character he is.  This didn’t jive.  I listened to Blue Carbuncle many times because I loved the story, but I listened to the beginning of Musgrave Ritual because this new bit of information fascinated me.

The summer I was sixteen, I think it was, I went to the library and checked out a massive tome containing several collections of the short stories, as well as The Hound of the Baskervilles, and I gorged on it.  I read through the whole thing, said “Wow,” and flipped back to the beginning to read it again.  Sherlock Holmes was not the man I had been led to believe he was, being far more eccentric and unconventional and, well, bohemian as Watson himself terms it.  I had never been much for reading mysteries.  I could not get enough of this.

I discovered one other thing, during this reading: Sherlock Holmes was a user of cocaine.

And this shocked me, too.

…while Holmes, who loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street, buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature.

So Watson says in “A Scandal in Bohemia.”

Cocaine was perfectly legal then, available over-the-counter at any chemist’s.  Its dangers were only dimly beginning to be realised — Watson’s distinct discomfort with his friend’s drug use, and his strong feeling that it cannot be good for him in the long run, are actually somewhat ahead of conventional medical wisdom for the time.  And yet Holmes, in the early stories, uses cocaine between cases.  Why?  Because when he has a case everything is fine.  When he has nothing, life is boring, life is unbearable, and the cocaine (and arguably, morphine at times) makes it better.

He’s self-medicating.

Says Sherlock Holmes himself, upon introducing himself to Watson for the first time:

“I get in the dumps at times, and don’t open my mouth for days on end. You must not think I am sulky when I do that. Just let me alone, and I’ll soon be right.”

And this, this is one very good reason among many why I remain obsessed with Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes has been “diagnosed” by various medico-literary experts as everything from bipolar to ADHD to high-functioning autistic to just a plain old ordinary addict.  Take it with a grain of a salt.  He’s a fictional character, he has whatever personality traits Doyle deigned to give him, and he’s very much based upon the typical portrait of the poor artist in an unconventional lifestyle with unconventional points of view, a confirmed bachelor living by his wits, and this isn’t even a literary convention that’s changed much over the years.  A similar sort of shorthand today would be to give the character a stash of pot in which he occasionally indulged, or to have them be a chain smoker, or some such thing.

I don’t care what it is.  I don’t care why it is.

All I know is that when I was sixteen, and first read these, I saw something in Sherlock Holmes that struck a chord: an occassional and persistent inability and antipathy towards dealing with real life.  The cases?  They are not real life.  They are adventures.  He listens for a while and smokes a lot and  jumps up from his chair, dragging his loyal and long-suffering ex-army surgeon friend, along with aforementioned friend’s service revolver, off to brave danger and intrigue and occasionally to dip a toe into the wrong side of the law.  It is exciting.  It is all-encompassing.

And it’s all he has.

He has no interest in society.  Without cases, without the rush of adrenaline, he retreats into himself, into his violin and his tobacco and, yes, his cocaine, because he will not, cannot cope with life.  By his own admission, he will lie on the couch and refuse to move and eat and simply suffer, he acknowledges these spells and gets through them as best as he can, because what else can he do?  What else can anyone do for such a case as himself in the 19th century?

And I’ve long seen the same in myself, before I could positively say so.  I get in the dumps at times, not because anything is wrong but because things are going on in my head that I cannot explain effectively to anyone.  When, in high school, I would retreat into my room with the lights out and my headphones on and listen to Wagner or John Williams soundtracks very loudly and on repeat for hours, it disturbed my parents.  Of course it did.  In retrospect they might have been more reassured to hear their teenage daughter moping to something other than things like Mozart’s Requiem, as that might have seemed more normal.  And then the fit would pass (it was intense anxiety, I can say in retrospect, though I couldn’t name it then) and I would emerge, and my parents brought me to the doctor and I admitted to feeling awful a lot of the time, but the antidepressants did nothing because the depression I felt was just a symptom, not the condition, and the counselling was not terribly helpful because I was not exactly depressed.  I can say that now.  I retreat from the world because I cannot cope with it, sometimes, because it makes me too anxious to consider doing anything else.  My reasons may not be what Holmes’s are, but our solutions are, unfortunately, the same.

And, unfortunately, neither are particularly effective in the long-term.

Yesterday I came home from work in a fit of anxiety of despair and the intense fear that it would never be better, that the two weeks of clear thought and functionality I had never had before would never return to me.  I curled up in bed and did not move, for an hour.  I didn’t sleep.  I just lay there and was miserable and wanted to die.  There were, surely, aspects of a panic attack there, but not entirely.  I don’t know how to categorise it.  I felt awful.

I took a clonazepam, hours early, a whole instead of the half I’ve been taking at night because I sleep better that way, and I felt… well, better.  Eventually, better.

And then, I thought, what is the difference between this and Holmes’s cocaine?

I have a prescription for mine.

That’s really the only difference.

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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