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.

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