Making Progress

I’m doing well, I think.

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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.

Results

I saw the psychiatrist yesterday.  I think it went well.

He’s South African, which I did not expect.  His diplomas on the wall were from some university in Johannesburg, the name of which struck me as amusing at the time but I forget now.  He’s a big, black South African doctor with a moustache, and I like him.

And I told him everything.

Which was exhausting.

I told him how amazing I had felt on the clonazepam, but how it was losing effect as I was clearly building a tolerance to it, and that the last week had been hell.  I told him about how, during my bad panic attacks, I felt suicidal and inclined to self-harm, although I had never gone so far as to act on any of these thoughts, short of biting very hard on my hand.  During the entire appointment I was so nervous I couldn’t stop moving, restlessly shifting in my chair and wringing my hands and clenching my fists.  It felt like torture.  A few times, during lulls in the conversation, I looked out the window, couldn’t see much but the hospital and a parking lot, but it helped.

We ruled out diagnoses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or OCD.  Just… general anxiety, which surprises no one at this point.  I’m puzzled by the question, though, of if I’ve heard voices or experienced hallucinations.  I said no, but I said to my father last night, how would I know? What if I was unaware that they were hallucinations?  Dad thought that was pretty funny.

The doctor doesn’t like me being on clonazepam either, and since it’s unwise for me to go on a higher dose, and since the effectiveness of the Cipralax will be weeks away, he has given me something called co-quetiapine, or Seroquel.  It’s an anti-psychotic, which is weird to think of.  Also apparently if my parts of my life really are hallucinations, I’ll find out soon enough.  It definitely has a tranquillising effect, though.  Luckily I have a couple of days to get used to the loopiness before I go back to work.  Working on cutting down the clonazepam now, not that it’s doing me a lot of good right now anyway.

The Cipralax is probably a good fit for me, but he mentioned another drug we can try if it doesn’t help.  Again, it’s the sort of thing that takes weeks and weeks to work, so we should at least give the Cipralax a chance first.

Speaking of my father.  We got on the topic of self-medication last night, and he asked me why I thought I had never got into that alleyway.  I said I wasn’t sure, although perhaps if I was a chain-smoker I’d be more functional than I am.  With alcohol, the line between “buzzed enough to be unanxious and happy” (and I am the happiest drunk in the world, for good reason) and “uncomfortably intoxicated” is too fine to walk regularly, and I can’t drink every night, although there have certainly been periods of my life where I’ve had, say, a beer every night for a week or two.  And later in the evening, thinking more on it, it occurred to me that when I’m at the low point in this cycle that I’m beginning to recognise in myself, where I am anxious and depressed and more anxious and more depressed and doing everything in my power to force myself to go out to work and accomplish tasks, I do self-medicate that lack of energy.  The amount of coffee I’ve had in the last week is… astonishing.

And of course, caffeine makes anxiety worse.

How much simpler would my life have been if I’d started smoking in high school?