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.

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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.

In Which I Have Unexpected Teeth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letter to my mother.

This is what I would like to say to my mother, but seem unable to make her understand.

Mom, you seem to have no problem comprehending what I’m going through.  You seem to have no problem letting the pieces settle in and admitting that an anxiety disorder is very likely what I’ve been struggling with for the majority of my life.  You’re aware yourself of the many issues with depression and anxiety on your side of the family.  You work in mental health.  None of this is difficult for you.

Why is it difficult for you to accept me being on clonazepam for a short time?

Yes, it is a drug that can be abused, that become addicting.  So can morphine, but I don’t recall you being verbally worried about Cortana receiving morphine several times in the emergency room when she was having troubles with her gall bladder.  Please, please think of it like this.

I suspect if I could probably explain to you what this experience is to me, you might grasp it, but I can’t seem to really be able to bring myself to explain.  I censor myself a lot, because I know you take it hard, and I know you are upset by it, and I hate, hate doing that to you with my own troubles and pain.  So I will likely never be able to tell you this.

The truth is, I’ve been fighting this a long time.

I have been depressed for a long time.  You became aware of my having suicidal thoughts when I was about fifteen, but truthfully, I was having them years earlier, when I was thirteen, when I was younger.  I am twenty-seven now.  There were antidepressants at some points, counselling at others, and the latter was more helpful than the former but it was all just band-aid solutions, because I never, even at the good times, the times when I felt okay and was reasonably functionable and could handle it, felt all that great.

And I have been declining.  You know this.

I’ve had breakdowns before.  Quite a few of them.  You know this.

But this last one has been devastating for me, and I am thankful as hell that this time I managed to put into the right words what was going on in my head, or someone listened to what I was saying, or someone put the pieces together, or whatever it was happened, and that someone realised that the depression was only a symptom.  Because this last breakdown?  I was feeling so worn down trying to drag myself through everything, trying to face everything I had to do to “make myself better” and “get through this” and even when I was being reassured that I always get through these things and come out stronger, getting through it felt so very, very beyond me.  To get over depression, they tell me, you must do this and this and this, you are socially isolated and should do this and this, and it all only made me feel overwhelmed and anxious and worse to think of all these things I had to do.  I didn’t feel capable of any of it.

And it was becoming harder to imagine ever getting through this.  Under normal circumstances, I don’t think I was a danger to myself, but there were a few panic attacks where I seriously considered doing myself harm, because it hurt too much, and making it better seemed beyond my means.

Having a label of “potential anxiety disorder” and the first appropriate prescription for that in my life has made a world of difference, Mom.  Even if you don’t like the clonazepam, even if you worry that I will become addicted, I wish I could tell you properly what it means to feel like this.

Because, for the first time in probably fifteen years, I feel like I can handle the things I need to do.  It’s not going to be an exhausting, will-destroying battle to do my day-to-day tasks.  It’s not going be anxiety-provoking to try to get better from the depression caused by anxiety, because, without that anxiety, I am miraculously not depressed.  It is worlds better.  I recognise there will be effort in keeping in this state of mind, I do.

But I feel alive.

And I feel competent.

I feel like a new person.  I am not entirely sure who this person is, exactly.  I’m still learning that.  But for the first time in a very long time, I like her.

The good drugs.

I skipped the clonazepam last night.

You’d think that a drug that makes you drowsy would not cause problems when taking it night, but paradoxically, it is.  Sure, it puts me to sleep, and I sleep like a rock, but I’m sleeping ten hours and still feeling exhausted, and I’m groggy in the morning, and it’s almost a hung over sort of feeling, and I can’t do that every single day.  I just can’t.  I’d tried taking it earlier in the evening.  That hadn’t solved the problems of the morning, and meant I spent the evening falling asleep.  I thought about taking only half a pill, but last night I decided that why do things halfway?  I forwent (as an aside, there has got to be a better past tense for “forgo,” because that sounds wrong, just less wrong than “forgoed,” which I think is surely wrong) it entirely.

It was an experience.

I slept much lighter than I had been.  And while I can’t remember much of anything I’m reasonably sure I was dreaming a lot.  This is a big thing, since apparently, according to my researches, clonazepam suppresses REM-sleep, which would be why I’m sleeping like the dead and yet so exhausted in the morning.  A little before 3:30 I woke up, very suddenly, as though something had startled me awake.  If anything, I suspect something I was dreaming.  Wide awake, I tossed and turned for a little, reached over for my iPod and checked my email and answered an email to my sister who works the night shift.  This is neither Florence nor Mongoose, but… hm.  I shall henceforth refer to her as Cortana, because she will kick your ass at Halo.  She would certainly kick my ass at Halo, anyway.
I then rolled over and attempted to sleep again.  And this is where things got odd.

I’m not sure how much I actually slept, because for the remainder of the night I was aware of being in a bed, but it was very confused.  I seem to have been in a dreaming state for much of it, despite the fact that I can’t be sure I was asleep.  Some of the time I was aware I was in my own bed, while at other times I was sure I was in the bed in my basement room in the house we lived in when I was in high school.  For much of the night there was something beside me, either our old cat Samantha, curled up beside my head and purring (and it was distinctly her, and not, say, my mother’s cat Grace who occasionally slept with me when I lived with my mother),  and at other times it was our dog Tilly, a border collie/blue heeler cross who was fond of sleeping in bed with me despite the fact that she understood perfectly well that while I would let her up beside me it was not actually allowed, stretched out beside me  and occasionally disturbing me by scratching an itch behind her head.  Both of these animals are dead, now, Tilly a few years ago of kidney failure, and Sam some years earlier of a stroke, both of them living into arthritic old age.  At other points, I was aware of my own bed and my own room, but my sense of spatial awareness was skewed strangely, my head and hands huge, or myself tiny and my pillow huge.  I was aware of a strange throbbing in the air around me, a pulsing that seemed to come up through the floor and vibrate through the bed and into me.  At one point my mattress began to undulate under me, violently.  Maybe like a water-bed with someone vigorously jiggling it?

And I can’t swear to having been asleep for any of it.  And except for the undulating mattress, none of it bothered me to any particular degree.

Maybe I should be more worried about this than I am, but I can’t really bring myself to be concerned.  I’m perfectly aware of the fragile nature of our own sense of reality, and how very little it can take to cause a hallucination.  I”m also well aware that there is a state of mind between full sleep and full waking in which it’s possible to “dream” while still partially awake.  And if my REM-sleep has been suppressed lately… who’s to say it’s not just kicking into overdrive?  Is that possible?  I’ve had experiences like this before, too, although not nearly on this scale.

On the other hand, it may just have been very vivid and very weird dreaming, and my dreams have always tended towards the vivid and the weird.

I was groggy in the morning, but not like I have been.  Tired, but like I said, I can’t swear to how much I actually slept after waking at 3:30.

But I feel rested in a way that I haven’t been all week.  I will try this again and see how it goes.  And on Friday, I will confess to my doctor that I’ve been screwing with the recommended dosage.  Awesome.

I had a wonderful conversation with my father on the phone last night, too.  My father struggles, a little, to understand all this.  I may have said so.  But I love our conversations, that can cycle around from science fiction to things we find fascinating about the way we dream to music to technology to the roots and reasons for various racial traits, science and philosophy and religion and everything that fascinates us.  And like my father, I am fascinated by nearly everything.

Last night he said two things of note to me.

I think I’ve said that my mother is very anxious, and admits to it, about my being on clonazepam.  I said so to my father, and he had a very different point of view.  Some years back, he had a kidney stone.  When he was going through this, he took what the doctor offered and described as “the good drugs.”  And yes, these were the sorts of drugs that were powerful, that could invite abuse, but my father took them.  And they made things better, because he could get over the pain and get on with his life and work on getting better.  And as he sees it, and as I’m starting to see it, the clonazepam is the same way.  It’s a painkiller for my brain, and it’s temporary, but it will help me get better.

(One of my roommates, who I shall refer to as, ahh…. Audrey, for her love of classic movies and Audrey Hepburn, because who cannot love Audrey Hepburn… anyway, she said to me when I was telling her what’s going on that I, unlike herself, don’t have an addictive personality.  My father has said the same thing about himself, and it’s certainly true in his case, so this is possibly an encouraging thought.)

The second thing my father said was a quote, or possibly a misquote (knowing Dad) from a movie I have never heard of but that my father happened to see on television the other night.

“The gods don’t make life easy for us.”

And this is very true.

He went on to add just how good it feels to overcome the difficulties.  And this is also true.

I have had, variously on my desk or near my desk for the last five years, a small, poor-quality brass statue of Ganesha.  One of the several things he’s named as is the Lord of Obstacles.  He removes obstacles, but he also places them where they need to be.

And sometimes — and this is why I’ve kept this little figurine, because I need sometimes to remind myself of these things — those obstacles need to be there, so that we can overcome them and be stronger.

This is what I’m hoping, anyway.

A short thought.

Florence sent me a text message today, out of the blue.  It made my day.

Hey jess!  I’m just on my way to clinical but I wanted to say I hope you are having a good week and I love you!

Sometimes I think Florence gets this more than a lot of the rest of my family.  In high school she attempted suicide, once, and I think she can grasp the agony that can come out of your own brain better than the rest of them.  Mom knows about anxiety, and she’s had troubles with depression, but not, I don’t think, to the same degree.  To my father, it’s all completely alien; I know he’s trying to understand, but he has acknowledged to me that he and I, for all our similarities, are wired very differently.  It’s nice, though, to have an “I love you”  just out of the blue like that.

I had a very good day, in fact.  I worked, I was left in charge for quite a few hours, I had a few incidents pop up, and I was not consumed with anxiety over dealing with them.  It was a slow day, and my boss took off, and I spent the afternoon with three of the part-time high school boys.

I also had a surprising bit of sympathy from an unexpected source.  It’s not really well-known why I suddenly took three weeks off work out of nowhere, other than that is has something to do with my having a bit of a meltdown.  One of my coworkers, who got off as I started, asked me in tones of genuine interest and concern how I was doing.  This coworker… I am not close to him.  He’s at least ten years older than me, has worked there perhaps not quite as long, and while we’ve always been friendly it’s never been anything more than that.

Half jokingly, I answered, “Pretty good.  I’m on some interesting drugs.  All doctor-prescribed.”  Joking about this is easy for me, and the easiest way for me to deal with it.  I’m not always very comfortable with the idea of brain-chemistry-altering drugs.

“Valium?” he asked.

And I admit to being slightly taken aback.  Valium is a benzodiazepine… as is clonazepam, which I am taking.

“Close, actually, ” I said.

“Prozac?”

And again, a bit of a surprise.  Prozac is an antidepressant often prescribed for anxiety disorders… as is Cipralex, which is what I am taking.

“Still close.  Bit of both, actually,” I think I said.  “Giving me one while I wait for the other to start working.”

“Well,” he said, “as long as you get better.”  And he smiled.

And it was genuine, and it was from a completely unexpected source, and I think he very possibly had put the pieces together without anything being said.  I am sure there are rumours about me going around at work but no one will tell me, so I’m not sure what he might have heard.  It’s strange, though, to suddenly find yourself that transparent.  Was it a lucky guess, just the first drugs to pop into his head?  Is it something he’s gone through?  Someone he knows?  I won’t ever know, possibly, because I can hardly go ask him why he guessed Valium, why he guessed Prozac, why he seemed so completely at ease and understanding about the idea that his coworker was sorting through some personal issues and how he had guessed what those personal issues might be.

“I hope so,” I said.

And I do.

Talking to the mongoose

My youngest sister is significantly younger than me.

I am the oldest, she is the youngest, there are two between us (including the aforementioned Florence).  I was just shy of fourteen when she was born, and I’ve lived ever since with being mistaken for her mother everywhere we go.  Although, she’s thirteen herself, now, and that seems to be stopping.

She is one of the most vibrantly, vivaciously alive people I have ever known, enthusiastic about everything, genuinely empathetic, creative and intelligent and full of energy, a born performer who loves to be the centre of attention.  For this, and for a similarity between a real nickname of hers and a certain character from Kipling, I append to her the pseudonym of the Mongoose.

The Mongoose has forever been very mature for her age, in ways, partly due to the fact that she’s grown up surrounded by so many adults.  She walked early and talked early and she is a born mimic.  People outside the family used to be very struck with how grown-up she sounded when she talked, and really, this came down to the way she copied the way everyone else around her spoke.  I love her to death, and in defiance to what people tend to expect, I’m probably closer to her than I am to my other sisters.

She is rapidly becoming a young woman.  Of course, we still think of her as the baby of the family.

I let myself into my father’s house last night, and crept downstairs to find Mongoose on the computer, killing time before Mom picked her up.  I scared the crap out of her, because I have never, ever let myself over in that way, and she wasn’t expecting anyone else to be home.  She was thrilled to see me.  I was feeling amazing, this being the first full day on the clonazepam, and despite the side-effects I was giddy with the relief of not being twisted in knots of anxiety for the first time in years.

Because we think of Mongoose as being the baby, no one tells her when these things go on, but she was there when I broke down in tears at Florence’s birthday, she was there the next morning when, in my dad’s kitchen, I cried my eyes out, out of terror and frustration.  She could not fail to have noticed.  She is a very smart person, but at the same time… I suspected no one had thought to say anything to her, and knew her well enough to suspect she hadn’t asked.

I asked her if anyone had said anything about what was going on.  She told me no.  She said, “No one tells me anything about these things until after I’ve already figured it out and then Mom goes, ‘I don’t know if you’re aware of what’s happening,'” her imitation of the tone mom uses for patient explaining was perfect, “but I already know by then.”

So I told her.

I told her that I had been on various antidepressants, on and off, to little effect since I was seventeen.  She was very surprised by this.  I told her that, very obviously, I hadn’t been doing well for a while, but that I was going to go to a psychiatrist (which she found hilarious — “You get to have a shrink!” — she shares the typical family sense of humour), and that the doctor thought I was actually dealing with an anxiety disorder which was making me depressed, and that I was feeling better that day for the first time in years.

The Mongoose was thrilled I was feeling better, and, I think, relieved to finally know what was going on.  She added to me, I think in an attempt to let her big sister know that this is okay, you’re okay, and I get what this is about, that she has a friend that she just found out has obsessive-compulsive disorder.

“Just diagnosed?” I asked.

“No, new friend,” she said.

I am glad I told her.

It’s possible that I may get some criticism for discussing this so frankly with a thirteen-year-old, but I doubt it.  She’s very smart, and she’s very mature for her age in some respects.

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