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.

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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.

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 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.

I muse upon a beginning.

I am beginning to hate the term “mental illness.”

It’s a very broad term.  It carries a lot of stigma.  And I hate the fact that I am beginning to think of it as applying to myself, without really knowing what it is that I’m defining, either.

There is a little bottle of pills.  It is sitting on my desk as I type, in its place next to the monitor.  The bottle is blue and white, the pills inside are also white.  I take one once a day.  I don’t know if they do anything.  Some days I think they help, and some days I think they don’t, and some days I think they actually might be making things worse, but I take the little pill every day, because my doctor tells me to, and I will take them and tell her what happens until she tells me not to.  That is a lot of trust there.

It is also, frankly, insane to be blindly taking pills that alter your brain chemistry because someone else tells you to when they can neither predict how it will affect you personally nor entirely grasp what is going on your head because you have no way of describing it.

I tried recently to describe a panic attack to a friend of mine, and found I couldn’t.  I can describe the physical aspects of it, sure.  I can describe my inability to breathe, the pound of my heart, the shaking, the tunnel vision, the anxiety, the fear that I am losing my mind, but there are no words in the English language to properly express the oppressive and all-encompassing despair, the misery that is so strong that it is very nearly a physical symptom, despite all logic, like a million tiny hands are pressing outwards from your skull and that your head might very well explode.  I cannot explain the thought process that leads me to seriously consider banging my head on the wall or inflicting some other injury upon myself in the hopes it might stop that feeling — I haven’t done this, but I think about it.  When I’m having a panic attack I know that’s what’s happening, but that doesn’t mean I can make it stop.

And what brought this panic attack on?

Nothing.  Merely the come-down from an exhausting and inexplicable rush of energy and good mood and productiveness.  I have felt like shit since.

I’ve been diagnosed repeatedly over the last decade as severely depressive.  They give me antidepressants, but they don’t seem to change anything, and in the last three cases have been worse than not taking anything.   I have a counsellor, albeit a temporary one, who is finally listening when I talk about the crippling level of anxiety I am experiencing, that I drive myself to work through somehow in an exhausting and self-defeating fit of stubborness which leaves me depressed and limp and crying, and that in turn serves to only make the anxiety worse.  It’s a terrible vicious cycle, and I can’t explain it, and I can’t break it, and it all builds until I break down.  I lash out, because when I am screaming and irrationally angry, then at least I can’t feel anything else, at least I don’t hurt anymore.

“Depression” is a weighty enough label to live under, but at this point… I’m wondering if all of this is leading up to a diagnosis of something more, because it’s a little more complicated that that.  I don’t know how I feel about that.  I’m waiting on an appointment at the health unit.  I have been waiting over a month and have weeks to go.  Sometimes I feel like I won’t make it.

I feel crazy, and possibly I am. I feel broken and I feel a failure on some intrinsic level that I can’t deal with my own brain without help.  There are good days, and there are bad days where everything is a struggle, everything from deciding what I will have for breakfast to using the newly-introduced style of bus pass to grocery shopping to making it to work, it’s all so insanely difficult to accomplish.

My brain is my own worst enemy.  I’m trying to commit that to paper.

But this is a beginning.  It will get better — I have to believe that, because the alternative is to go on like this indefinitely, and that’s an unbearable thought.