So it’s finally Christmas Day, and there is much to be thankful for – like that this day will soon be over and eventually your extended family will be gone. Here’s hoping you get into one of those fantastic political conversations that always go so well! Just think positive: Unless you are in a couple of states, it really doesn’t matter what you think or how you vote anyway!
Why am I so relaxed about this? Well, part of it is called Esketamine. It’s a nasal spray. Yes, that’s right, something I snorted into my sinuses has made not only made me happier but more relaxed than I have been in – EVER pretty much. I have always worried, since I was a little girl, and my body has been in permanent fight or flight mode for so long I thought that was how it was. Because while I hadn’t been as sad and stressed as I was when I was working full time, I wasn’t – well anything much. I was still a Mom, yes, but that was about all I could do. I slowly got worse and worse until I didn’t go out. I didn’t take basic care of myself. My house looks like a bomb went off filled with someone else’s crap, cause surely I didn’t buy this? So – I was thinking maybe there might be something more to life than this.
And so I tried the new treatment. And it was like getting glasses for the first time, and realizing I was supposed to see leaves on the trees.
Did you know the leaves are incredibly beautiful? I mean not when they’re swept into the gutter and filled with gunk, but before that. Listening to Christmas hymns about the birth of new life and hope now fills my formerly anxiety ridden chest with air that expands into ever rising joy. Stuff that used to worry me – like my in-laws on the holidays and how they don’t show up on time and you don’t know who is coming and they talk about how big their guns are (it takes two hands to hold that sucker up! Big Gun! Gun Big!), just floated off of my back this time. I learned the secret, gals. Be like men. Doze off in a chair. It’s amazing how effective that is. I even got offered a bed by my step-mother-in-law later.
That’s not all either. You see, last year we lost several Christmas ornaments when our shed got blown over and all those carefully collected ornaments from years past got rain damage. So I put the ornaments in labeled boxes in our craft closet to keep them safe. But then about a week before Christmas it occurred to us that maybe we should put up some decorations or something and we couldn’t find the tree, which is kinda the most important part. After a search of the house, it was still in the shed, only this time it didn’t get rained on – unless you count golden showers. As in the kind that come from tom cats marking their territory.
Those cats claimed that tree like no one’s business. My husband still brought it in because he’s a guy, and well, he got us a tree didn’t he? Problem solved! Except it still smelled of cat pee. Thing One tried the Lysol trick, but Lysol is no much for tom cat on fake pine. I was not going to put ornaments on that thing, so I mentioned to my parents that hey, our tree got peed on by cats. Can we borrow one of yours? Now my husband is normally dangerously laid back, but for some reason he decided this was the time to put his foot down and say that we were fine, and did not need another tree. Why we loved our pee pee tree; it was OURs.
Again, normally this whole thing would have me much more upset but since I am better (this is Alice on “better”) the first thing I thought of was how I could take that old classic “Oh Christmas Tree” and turn it into “Oh Pee Pee Tree, how smelly are your branches!” And then I could write a post about it. Because who doesn’t think of cat urine when celebrating the holidays?
I was getting tired of the smell though, cause did I mention we also got two more turtles, making the total up to three turtles? No? Well, yeah there are three turtles. And a leopard gecko. I thought that was enough animal for our house without adding another special smell, so finally husband dear agreed to let my parents give us a small 3 foot tree which was just fine with me cause it’d take up much less space. My brave Thing Two took out the smelly tree to the garbage where maybe it will make a home for more alley cats. Reuse, recycle I always say.
Then today a six-foot-tall package showed up from Fed Ex. There was no return address. We were starting to think maybe this strange gift was from Santa, before I realized that the six foot tall box must be the gift my friend of over 30 years, Ravin, mentioned sending to the kids. Turns out I told a lot of people about the pee pee tree, and so in the spirit of the holidays, my old pal sent us a full sized tree. What a way to end a story.
Except not entirely. I still have several treatments to go of the Esketamine, and am staying cautiously optimistic about the effects (as well as the bill), but so far it has worked a real Christmas miracle on me. Since many people may want to know more, I plan on other posts telling about my adventures with unusual uses of anesthesia. I also, for the first time in a while, have plans and resolutions for the next year I hope to write about, saying we don’t get bombed by North Korea or whatever. But this was a Christmas story, so I think I’ll end it here.
Happy Holidays and a Pee Pee Free New Year!
ALICE’S TRAFFIC REPORT
You know what’s fun about driving? Hahaha. It’s horrible. People are assholes. And they own cars, and possibly machine guns, and they are all over the roads like fruit flies on dishes that maybe someone didn’t wash the last three nights. I would stop this whole driving thing, especially at the witching hour of 7 to 8 AM, but I have these Things I have to take to school. Some people call them children.
I also have something called anxiety, so things like say screaming, crying, and loud noises tend to make my nervous system short out, and it so happened that all of this happened this morning. It started around 6 AM when I woke up to my husband screaming through the bathroom door at my thirteen-year-old, who also has anxiety. And hormones.
So she totally responded to him, since she could hear clearly with both the radio and the shower on full blast. Once she finally started getting the idea that Mr. Alice was soon to go nuclear, she got out, put on clothes, and unlocked the door. Haha, I’m just kidding. She freaked out and cried. Now my husband needed to get to work at a specific time, which was fast approaching, and his clothes were in the bathroom because of course he keeps his clean socks and underwear in that bathroom, even though we have our own bathroom in our bedroom, as well as things like a closet and drawers.
Somehow the door got opened and husband got clothes and out the door, whereas my teen stayed in the bathroom, with the door still locked, and the shower and radio still running, as she scream cried.
I tried to get her out as well, to no avail, at which point I did the right thing and beat down the door with a two-by-four. Actually I laid under my weighted blanket as my heart rate attempted to go down to somewhat normal. Finally, she got out, and asked me to dry her hair. So the hair drying calm down only took like twenty minutes or so, during which time I tried stupid stuff like reason. Example: Hey maybe you should tell Dad when you’re taking a shower so he can get his crap out and not blow his top? Thing One also tried to help by telling moronic jokes as Thing Two twitched like a ticking time bomb. Anyway, the morning was going great considering I now at least didn’t have to get to work at the same time as my kids. It didn’t change the traffic so much though, which was what I was getting to, right?
I came up with the master plan of dropping Thing One off at the high school and then offering to get Thing Two a biscuit from McDonald’s which used to be a very easy, and cheap, fix. We got to McD’s and oh crap, they decided to block off the second lane most of the way so I couldn’t just bypass the other cars in a line and cut in front of them. This sounds like I’m just being an asshole, but it also keeps the line of cars from drifting out onto the highway, so technically I was helping. Not this time. Thing Two saw that we had only 10 minutes and decided I should just take her to school before time ran out and the teachers got together to sacrifice her to the administrative gods for being late which is really not much of an exaggeration because school is like some other universe.
Warning: 100% chance of foul language and caps lock
So we get close to the junior high and I forget for a second that I have the yield and the other guy has the stop, which was why she wasn’t moving, so naturally the person behind me HONKS THEIR FUCKING HORN. HOOOOOOOOONK goes the horn, and BAMMMM goes my heart which had just gotten into a normal goddamn rhythm thanks so much. I yelped in surprise, and hit my gas, and we got out of there so that the freak behind me could get to wherever she was going, which I’m hoping was straight to Hell.
Extreme? Yeah, try having anxiety and hearing a loud, sudden noise while operating large machinery. I will say that road rage is a very bad no-no and you certainly should not get out of your car and shoot a missile launcher (Second Amendment!) at the other car and laugh ecstatically as the car bursts into an enormous ball of flame. That would be wrong.
Still, it seems to me that the horn is mostly for use in an emergency, such as another car is about to hit you, or someone has a missile launcher aimed at you. It is really not for use because someone made you wait a half second at a stop. So fucking CUT IT OUT cause you don’t know what is going on in in the life of the person whose car you honk at, or what weapons said person might be carrying because this is Texas, and even dentists carry guns.
I did get Thing Two dropped off at school, and I even got a hug, cause I know how to drop her the proper distance away from the building. I decided I’d go back to McDs cause I DID deserve a break today and they DO have sausage biscuits and a hash brown for $1.50 which even I can afford. So all was well until, guess what you will never guess! Another car honked. This time it wasn’t at me, I’m fairly sure, it was one of the cars that was blocking the way. Not sure who honked at who, but they got moving away from me, and I was finally able to get home.
I can’t wait for tomorrow!
In case anyone was wondering why I haven’t been here in a month (I know I have), here’s an update. Still having ECT. Right now they say I am in maintenance treatments which is much like actual maintenance on highways and such- uncomfortable and lasts forever. I have been at this since June 5th or in my estimate, the beginning of time.
Earlier I promised to give a review of this controversial mental health treatment. Turns out it’s not really as cut and dry as medications. With those you can say “Well I took the Zufrika but it made me gain 15 pounds in my elbows and start watching Fox News so I stopped.” or “Scaramouchi gave me diarrhea but really got rid of my depression and I hope they get it back in stock soon.” It’s not either definitely successful or definitely a waste. I might be able to make a better determination after it finally ends, but it’s almost mid-August, and they haven’t given me a hint about when this stops for good.
When you start treatments, you generally do three a week, then you start spacing out once you feel better. I did feel better, enough that going back to work sounded good, but then as I mentioned I went back down again so I tried part-time, and then I tried no time. I have been on no time for a while, and though this has been good for my relaxation it hasn’t been so hot on my pocketbook. And it’s hard to tell just how much better you’ve gotten when you are still frequently driving six hours to a big city to spend the night, get shocked, and travel another six hours home again. The people at the hospital are nice, but that is wearing thin.
I should also note it’s not just depression but anxiety chumming around with me. And since the treatment meant stopping a medicine for that, I am Squirrel as often as Sad Pony. Vroooooom. Beep beep. Oh, if only I could feel better as easily as little boys, or our President, with a big red truck.
Twice I have felt much, much better. But each time I’ve gone back to – not so great. While yes I am better than I was before any treatments, I can’t really tell you exactly how I’m feeling now, because therapy requires way too much naval gazing. How are you now? How about now? Or now? Or now – compared to yesterday? Or last week? Or before you started? Here, fill out this sheet of questions about whether you are definitely sad, or kind of sad, or slightly less sad than that, or happy! What do you mean you’re confused?
I’m starting to wonder if I have to start lying on the “happy sheet” in order to make them stop. Tapering down on treatments is the best way to go – but this taper is not just slow it’s a crawl. I went from three times a week, to two times a week, to once a week. We might go back two weeks after my treatment tomorrow. And then – I don’t know. Three weeks apart? A month? How about a never? My brain may not be scrambled (completely – you have to remember the condition before) but I’m tired. Each treatment, besides being away from my Things and requiring a trip to Dallas, requires fasting the night before, having anesthesia, getting disgusting goop stuck in my hair, and then the fun waking up where I stumble around and hope someone catches me. It gets old.
I have many ideas for posts that I would like to write. I’ve not been good about sitting down to do it. Or at doing much else useful. It has been nice to just breathe. But I don’t quite know what’s next. I do want to get back to it, though, because a lot is happening right now! Maybe I will finish my treatment before North Korea blows up Guam! Or us! I definitely want to be there should justice actually happen and our dear presidente get taken to his next vacation home behind bars.
If I figure anything out, I’ll let you know! Probably. If you read this, feel free to leave me links to anything you wrote so I can have something to read. It’s good to get out of my head.
Last time I talked to you about why I chose to try ECT, or more specifically, my history of depression. Many people called me brave, and I thank you for your kind words. This made me consider, though, exactly what bravery is. Most people think of brave people as those who take great risks. There are many kinds of risk, but even in cases where a split second decision is required, you will rely on what you know. You will make an assessment. Is the risk I’m taking worth the possible costs?
For instance, you might decide you want to go bungee jumping. What are the risks and what are the benefits? Everyone’s different, but I’d probably look at it like this.
Risk: You could fall to your death and die.
Benefit: Wee, it’s fun!
In this case, I’d decide that no, jumping off a cliff, even with a rope tied around my ankle, is not worth risking my early demise for benefit of an adrenaline rush (I don’t even have to pay for those!). On the other hand, when I made a decision about getting ECT, I looked at the decision this way.
Risk: Very Expensive. Memory loss. Cognitive problems. Pudding brains.
Benefit: I might feel like living, and my life become more worthwhile, for myself and those who love me.
In order to make this decision, I did my research. I can research the crap out of anything, taking hours to find out which shampoo brand is the best, which makes me a great librarian though sometimes an annoying person. So after my psychiatrist asked his students in front of me what was available to those who didn’t respond to drugs, they said, as one example, ECT. When he asked them what it stood for, they hesitated, and I said “Electroconvulsive Therapy.” Give me an A.
You might think my psychiatrist is mean asking his students these questions in front of me, but honestly I think he just loves to mess with them. The best way to learn is to do so in a real setting. I could have refused the students had I wanted to, but it turns out I find their suffering entertaining as well. Anyway, at first I said, “Yeah, nope”. I’d heard plenty about ECT, and Sparky had always told me to watch myself around electricity, so this seemed a no-brainer.
My psychiatrist told me what ECT was like now, and how much it had changed from the days of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. He bemoaned the fact that there is so much stigma, and that this and politics often dictated whether a variety of treatments are available to patients. For instance, ECT was once available near my home town, but it was taken away. The closest hospital that offers ECT now is over a five hour drive from where I live. “In the end,” he said. “They take it away, and the patients suffer.” He said he has seen it work because he’d administered it himself. “I am convinced you could feel better in as little as two weeks.”
What exactly takes place during ECT? I won’t know until I’m there, and even then I’ll be asleep most of the time, but I did find this video that shows the procedure.
A little disconcerting? Slightly. On the other hand, it’s also a far cry from what they did to Jack Nicholson. As you can see, the actual shock lasts seconds, and only one part of the body shakes to show there is a seizure. Oxygen is given, anesthesia, and something to stop the convulsions. But just look at those people helping with the ECT, holding his hand, smiling gently. Vultures!
By this point, as I said before, I’d been through years worth of drugs that eventually failed. Some of them had dangerous side effects, just as dangerous as ECT’s side effects, or worse. If you get right down to it, everything carries a risk of side effects. Childbirth is risky, even if you’re young and healthy. I know, because at 27, I had to wait two weeks for tests to find out if my baby was mentally handicapped. She turned out healthy, but it did shock me into reality. None of us is immune to tragedy.
So I researched, and so did my friends. As I mentioned briefly earlier, I found a little straight forward information, and many, many websites full of warnings and sometimes near hysterical accounts from patients. I realize that this treatment doesn’t work for everyone, but the success rate is listed at near 80 percent. Even if that data is wrong, and it’s only 50 percent, or heck, 5 percent, is this something we should deny desperate people? Chemotherapy kills your body’s cells, both healthy and cancerous, yet it is a common procedure for people with Cancer. Rarely do I hear of someone cautioning a person “You know Chemo is barbaric. Don’t do it!!!” The reason you don’t hear this is because, unfortunately, for now it is one of the few treatments that have been shown to succeed. It takes a terrible toll on the body, and it doesn’t always work. But what else should a person do? Take vitamins? Smoke kale? Tell me, what else should they do?
What else should terribly depressed people do?
That is why I don’t presume to tell others what to do with their own bodies. Screaming that a treatment – whether pills, a medical procedure, or even eating kale (you might choke)- is barbaric, outdated, and cruel could scare people away from the one thing that might help them. I did find one blog written by Natasha Tracy, advocate for mental health. She had a terrible time with ECT. But she fights for it to be available, because she knows that her experience is not what everyone will experience. What helps you could hurt someone else, or vice versa. I encourage you to visit her website; it is full of good information. It is also full of really angry people in the comment section. But she keeps writing.
I am aware that writing about this could open myself up to a lot of these same angry people. But so many have helped me over the years, and I want to help someone else. I want there to be more information about what ECT really is, and how it works. I want people to find an account that is from a real person, but still factual. Even if it’s a bad experience for me, I want to demystify this treatment for Depression. That’s why I decided to write. I weighed the risk (testing out the waters with a friend), and I made a decision. Eventually you have to stop researching, and make a choice, just as I did to try ECT.
I have much more to talk about, but I’m running out of space. I will tell of what the actual process of preparing for ECT entails (hint: you don’t walk right in and get shocked), and how I went about figuring out how I was going to get there in the first place. The decision was one thing. The execution of that decision, quite another.
Remember: Everyone is brave in their own way, just by getting up in the morning.
“What if you get all the way up there and there’s nothing?”
“What if there’s everything?”
– from the movie Tomorrowland
Earlier Merry at Knocked Over By a Feather wrote about a friend who is preparing for ECT treatments. That friend is me. You may have noticed, if you read my blog much, that I haven’t exactly been posting a lot lately. I’m sure the lack of informational posts about Trump, boogers, imaginary ponies, etc., have left you in a lurch. I hope to get back to that at some point, but right now things aren’t going so well. This is nice speak for “There is no need for Hell; I’m here guys!”
The reason I asked Merry to write about it first was because I was afraid of the responses. I’ve researched ECT, (electroconvulsive therapy or “shock therapy”), for nearly two months now, and most of what I find are horrifying stories. Yet ECT is often successful at treating depression, or at least raising you to a point where you can treat your depression. The minority write the scary stuff, and shout down the ones who have positive experiences. I’m not saying people do not have bad experiences, but what one finds positive and another finds positive can be very different. If you are so depressed you can’t function, side effects, even serious ones, can take a back seat to even the possibility of getting well.
I don’t like to talk that much about my illnesses. Alice is supposed to be funny – to a select group of people anyway. (Hi, friends!) Some might say it’s because I use humor as a defense mechanism. Humor at least makes the awful go down a little easier. These illnesses are not something to joke about, though, especially not to the new psychiatrist who is in charge of the ECT program. He seemed to think my joke about the butcher knife was not funny. Killjoy.
I feel like I should offer you my history, because I did not wake up one day feeling sad and decide to go get my brain shocked. It doesn’t work that way. ECT is, in general, a last ditch effort when other treatments have failed. We have come a long way in mental health treatment just within the last few decades. Now, thankfully, we have antidepressants that do work for many people. They might even work for Scientologists, though I fear their problems mostly stem from being jerks.
And that’s another issue. It’s hard enough to juggle a chronic illness like Depression without dealing with other stress. Most people have to work. You’d be amazed at the number of people who have worked for years with the black dog dragging them down. Don’t tell the cute college students, but work kind of sucks at least part of the time, even if you like your job and your coworkers. I have been in my job as a library assistant at a university library for over seven years now. If it were not for the people I work with, especially my direct boss, I would not still be working. Like far too many people, I would be forced onto disability. Depression is the second greatest reason for people taking disability now. Only heart disease has more people.
Yet even with my decent working conditions, I am struggling to keep afloat. I already take antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. These help me if all conditions are going well, but stress is always present, and it doesn’t take much for my cup to runneth over. When you are depressed, everything becomes difficult. Bit by bit I’ve watched as I’m able to do less and less. Reading back on old blog entries, I can see my downward trajectory. For a well person, a stress would be your car breaking down. For a depressed person any of the following will do:
- Getting out of bed
- Putting on clothes
- Doing laundry so you have clothes to put on
- After that shower you haven’t taken
- Brushing and flossing your teeth
- Putting on makeup – sorry I made myself laugh there
- Getting your hair cut – I am now Rapunzel
- Taking your children to school in traffic
- Walking into work. And the day has just started.
People who are well have a hard time understanding this. Depressed people don’t understand it either, because often there is a disconnect between what part of your brain knows you should be able to do, and what the other part is willing to let you do. This disease does not exist in a vacuum – it exists in an ever winding circle involving illnesses both mental and physical. IBS, Asthma, auto-immune diseases, chronic pain, and even the heart disease that is winning the disability race all wind round and round. Did the depression cause the illness, or did the illness cause the depression, or both? Where does it start and where does it end?
I’ve always dealt with respiratory illnesses due to being allergic to all of creation. But in 2012, I came down with a serious case of pneumonia. This wasn’t your walking, take a pill, back in a few days kind of pneumonia. By the time doctors put their tiny heads together and figured it out a week after symptoms started – a chest x-ray! What a wild idea! – the pneumonia had spread over my entire right lung. It was a miserable experience. If you want to hear about it with cartoons and jokes, just look up “pneumonia” in the search box. Anyway, I missed over a month of work, and even after I returned it took a couple more months to fully recover. I never recovered my sick or vacation leave at work. From that point on, I was always running behind, making up time for being sick or going to appointments because I could never keep any leave. I almost never have a week with no absence. For the last five years I have wondered when they would fire me. At times, I hoped they would, because I was just so tired.
The depression came next. I’d been fairly well for the last several years on the meds I was on. Yet each major stress would cause a pill combination to fail. It didn’t help that my shrink was a psychotic idiot. I thought I had no other choice because I lived in a small city. He gave me meds, then if they didn’t work, he yanked them and threw others at me. Often there was no way to know what, if any, of my new meds were working and which were not. All these medications have side effects. One, Abilify, made me feel great for about a month before I was taken off of it for a 10 pound weight gain. I would be put on it another time at a lower dose, only to be taken off it once more after a few months because I was climbing the walls. I also developed a tendency to shop online which, along with gambling and other risk taking, is another possible fun side effect.
By the time I finally found another psychiatrist, I had been hospitalized three times. I fully believe that people should go to the hospital if they are suicidal or even just so desperate they can no longer cope. But after the first visit at my hospital, the other two were lousy experiences. I have a couple of these stories on the blog as well. However, the one good thing about the hospital was that you did not have to cope with the outside. They gave you meals. They gave you pills. You went to group. The other people could be kind of scary, yet you still felt a belonging with them. And while you wanted to leave, it was hard to return to the outside.
My new shrink is not perfect, but at least he looks me in the eye and seems to care. I encourage everyone, if possible, to shop for a good shrink. This guy is messing with your brain and body. It’s good to trust him if at all possible. No, most shrinks are not going to have long talks with you. They prescribe medicine because they have big brains filled with knowledge that does not always include common sense. Common sense is for counselors. Don’t be afraid to try talk therapy if you can, because it can be very helpful. Some people are able to get by with it alone. Some use it and medication. But for some, both of these stop helping after a while. I found myself on a cycle of new pills, everything okay, new stress, pills fail, rinse repeat. Finally my doctor suggested ECT.
I know I haven’t discussed much about the actual ECT, but I plan to in the next posts. My history is important though, because all of this weighed into my decision to try this treatment. It is my hope to detail the process of getting ECT (it is NOT easy) and then the actual ECT itself. Since I am told I will lose memory, I figure I should write down what I can when I can. My hope is to help other people who are faced with such a decision with information and not just fear mongering. ECT could fail. I could be worse off than before, but then again, I could be better. My family deserves for me to try this. I deserve to try this. I don’t want to spend a life in misery, and I’m willing to try whatever it takes.
I will officially start ECT on June 5th.
So here goes. Geronimo.
I haven’t been posting as much lately. I’m not sure if very many people have noticed, but I have, and there is a reason for it. Put out an APB for one sad pony and one squirrel possibly high on meth tainted nuts.
In case you don’t know much about these two (any first time people who somehow stumbled over here can find out more on my About page) these guys represent my depression and anxiety. Guess which one is which? I’ve been having issue with both of these little hairballs, and since I’m allergic to fur, I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to both of them as well. Some say they are just pictures, but believe me, they are a little too real.
These guys didn’t always represent my issues. Originally Sad Pony was just a funny meme I found somewhere that I tossed onto my page. I loved him so much I did this quite often. There is something about a pony that just looks this sad. I realize he probably isn’t really sad, he’s just tired, you know, typical pony burnout. But he sure looks pathetic in that picture. Added to the humor (my sense of humor is a little different, like me!) are the words “Sad Pony is Sad.” I find this dopey redundant sentence totally hilarious. But also fitting. Because even depressed, I can see humor everywhere. Sometimes, with enough distance, I can see how humorous some of my depressive thoughts can seem. Like Eeyore on steroids.
At some point, Sad Pony just became another character on my blog, just as he is a character in my life. I am not depression, and depression isn’t me. In this case, it’s a fat pony that just flops down on top of me and says “Take a break. Take 50.” It’s rather hard to get things done with this thing sitting on you. Forget the black dog. I have a Sad Pony, and ponies are heavy, especially when lethargic. Or so I’ve heard. I’ve never met a real pony – er beside this one who is REAL. Somewhere. I mean I have no idea who shot this picture. But I thank them.
But I’m not always just sad. I also have anxiety. And the best way I’ve figured out to describe anxiety is with a squirrel. Have you ever watched these guys before? Holy crap, it’s like some wire in their brain is being repeatedly shocked so that they have to dart from here to there and back again for no particular reason that I can tell. Maybe it’s because they are toward the bottom of the food chain, and don’t want to get eaten. The only time I’ve seen them remotely calm is on the college campus where I currently work, and that’s because college students are always – purposely or not – feeding the little suckers. They’d grown so unafraid that they will actually sit on your foot. The squirrels, not the students. These squirrels can never leave campus or they will be killed almost immediately.
Squirrel also started out as a picture I threw into posts partly because of the Disney movie “Up” where a dog is given the ability to speak and, not surprisingly, he has little to say and is often distracted. He can be in the middle of a sentence, spot a squirrel, and yell randomly “SQUIRREL!” That’s my anxiety in a nutshell (pun intended bwaha). I can be totally fine and then suddenly feel extreme panic. I am fearful of what most people are not, like say going to work. Sure they might not want to go to work, but their adrenaline doesn’t shoot up because they are going there. This anxiety would be considered normal if I worked in, say, an ER. But I work in a library. Rarely is my life in danger at a library, though we have had snakes, bats, spiders, wasps, and yes, once a squirrel invade. Also when people shoot up campuses, they often go for the library. I learned this is our Active Shooter Training at work. It really helped with my anxiety.
As you can see, these two fellows often interact. Depression makes me see anxiety as even more ridiculous, causing me to feel sad, then spiraling me into anxiety because oh no I’m sad again and how long will this last and then back to depression because come on, you have nothing to be afraid of, Alice. Well, except maybe the possibility of a Trump presidency. Then again, if we do get him, we probably won’t last long as a country because we will be bombed off the earth. Either by other countries or ourselves.
Comforting thoughts, there. Not really, but what is comforting is that I have this blog. And over the years, I’ve had others identify with these two, and even encourage the figments of my imagination. It’s great when other people willingly share in your delusions. And no matter how much that squirrel runs, no matter how much he distracts me, no matter how much he encourages me to scroll through the Internet all day long or do impulsive things, I have a support system. Same with Sad Pony. There is usually someone – like friends Lindy, Jody, my best blog friend Merbear and naturally my Things (among others) – to eventually help distract me from the distraction of that squirrel. There is usually someone who, while maybe unable to lift that pony, will lie down with me until he leaves.
So I’m having a lot of ups and downs. Meds really help with this, especially this last one that injected several of Squirrel’s best friends directly into my bloodstream, leaving me wanting to literally climb the walls and run out of my own skin. You are ready for anything to help you at that point, even a fat pony to sit on those squirrels. But I stopped that med, and I continue to hope for the future. For even the most sarcastic people have hope. I thank this blog, and my blog readers, for helping keep up that hope. I thank them for letting me be Alice.
P.S. As a little aside, I have started another blog about my dolls, titled appropriately Wonderland of Plastic. I only have an introduction and one review up so far (Wonderrrr Womaaaaaaaaaan!), but promise more to come. I discuss the dolls and history and since it’s me, Alice, of course I have snark. I’m not sure I can totally write without it. This is also where I’ll be moving my doll stories with the Things. We have more torture planned for our Disney princess housewives. Because there is life after the fairy tale.
It’s Monday, ya’ll, which means another full week OF DREAD. I like to be prepared, so I started my dreading early – Sunday night – when my anxiety reached top notch and I had to decide how to calm it down. Oh, sure, there are lots of ways, but you have to be able to GET to those ways in order for it to work. For instance:
Music can be calming. But once you reach Maximum Squirrel Overload, you are kind of past that. No kind of music, saying you were calm enough to find a music player, is going to make you feel better. There are a few types of music. Sad music: bad idea cause you are already anxious and probably depressed about being anxious and sad songs won’t help. Happy music: bad idea too because what business do people have being happy when you are freaked out? Then there’s rap music most of which I think is best classified as Angry music because there is much talk of popping caps in posteriors. Popping a cap might help with anxiety, but the jail time afterward would not, so don’t try it. Also, what are your chances of being able to find the gun?
I love when people say to work out your anxiety or depression with exercise. Look, people, I have no idea where any of my sweatpants are, and if I did, they would be dirty. Then I would have to wash them. And dry them. And put them on. That’s way too much work when your mind is going 1,000 miles an hour. You are already getting a mental workout, and trying to add physical to it can be too much. I guess the best way to describe it would be to expect someone to solve 500 quadratic equations, cure Cancer, and write a symphony, then tell them they had to do this all on the treadmill or elliptical. Now yes, if you manage to get to a gym before you reach Squirrel Overload, you have a chance of physically beating that anxiety back, but if it comes on suddenly, it’s just way too late.
Hot, soothing beverage!
This is usually my best bet, except this time I could not make the cocoa because even though I had cocoa packets, I did not have milk. Well, I had milk, two half gallons, but they had both expired. Saying I was able to force myself to pour the milk (which might come up in chunks which milk should never do) down the drain without barfing, I couldn’t because there were already dishes in the sink. So first I would have to put the dishes in the dishwasher. Except the dishwasher is full so then you have to put the dishes up except that they didn’t all come clean, so they have to go back in the sink. No one wants milk curds on top of that. So forget it. Finally I drove to McDonald’s for some, but they “broke” the machine. I would break it too if I worked there, but still. I had to drive yet another place before I finally got my cocoa. Then I remembered I hadn’t taken some of my pills, so I swallowed them with cocoa only to swallow them wrong and get heartburn. Once I had finished taking care of the heartburn, I managed to go to bed. That, my friends, is way too darn much work.
The last thing I feel when under Squirrel Overload is funny although I probably act rather amusing and or terrifying (it’s such a fine line) when under the influence. This morning I was not as sparkified, just dreadish, and telling myself that I just had to go to work for a little while even though I wanted to stay home. So I drove my Things to school and somehow the conversation diverted to dead dogs because – are you really surprised with us? Anyway, we discussed Where the Red Fern Grows which is a classic children’s book because it involves two dead dogs AND a dead child (for more on the dead dog topic see my post on dead dogs in literature. It’s a real romp.) And the Things, who were both forced to read this book, reminded me that the bully in the book was killed and I was like oh when he was mauled to death and they said no, an ax fell on him. Which is such a great image there. And I was like, dang, that author had some sort of personal vendetta against dogs and boys named Billy. And Thing Two said, “Mom, it was just an AXident.” Get it? Well, we did, and we laughed, because we have problems. But not as many as the author of Where the Red Fern Grows.
So the dread is still there, but at least I made it to work. And when I think of that horrible pun about an ax falling on a kid, I smile. I guess when you are on Squirrel Overload, it helps to have a couple of Things handy. I’m willing to rent them out.
For a long time now, I’ve felt like I was struggling to get through a desert. Choking on dust, slogging through sand, extreme heat and cold, walking into cacti (I’d probably do this in a real desert), falling into craters, running scared from those creepy sand worm things you see in the movies. It’s not real. I know it’s not real, it’s not even logical, but it’s there. I’ve made this trip every day for over a year. Three hospital visits, dozens of drugs, tons of time missed from work – I’ve had respites, mirages that seemed so real. But I always return to this damn desert.
I’ve run a long time. Sometimes it’s from the anxiety causing (I’ll say) sand worms. Other times it’s running toward something – the cure. Surely there is some pill, some treatment, something, that is going to cure me and make me all better and normal and functional. I run and run and run. Until I can’t run any longer. I look back, but it’s too far to go back from where I’ve come. If all stays as it is, if I continue to run, continue to fear, continue to tell myself “Once x happens, then y= HAPPY”, I’m not going to get anywhere. Already I’ve collapsed several times from exhaustion, ready to just lay down and give up on the desert sand.
Obviously all this mental desert time has caused problems in my “real” life with my husband, my kids, my work, my health (nutrition is pop-tarts right?), my cluttered, sometimes disgusting house (Let’s play what’s that smell today), my finances, and on and on. And I’ve tried to solve these. Or hoped that a new med or therapy would give me the ability to solve them. ALL OF THEM. As Allie Brosh, author of the blog Hyperbole and a Half and a fellow sufferer, would say “CLEAN ALL THE THINGS”.
It doesn’t work. It’s too much pressure. You will drown. Even in the desert.
So I told my therapist about the desert. And she said something simple. “Build a tent.”
Don’t focus on “cures”. Don’t focus on what’s behind you. Don’t focus on what’s ahead. Just keep hanging in there – exactly where you are right now. Use whatever “coping” mechanisms you can, and I don’t just mean “deep belly breathing” or making gratitude lists (Thank you so bloody much for depression.) No, use YOUR coping mechanisms, anything that makes you able to make it through another hour. Some of mine are getting away somewhere that I can cry alone (especially while trying to tolerate work) hot cocoa (it soothes my nerves), soft socks and this sweater / throw rug my friend gave me. And my Things of course, they are my two favorite things.
So I’ve stopped. I have my tent, and my goodies, and I sit and I peek out occasionally. I am counting down the days (three weeks now) until I can visit a shrink who is not a total jackass. I’ve gotten a small increase on one of my meds from his nurse who is not a jackass. I’ve missed work, gotten time without pay, and gone home and napped. I missed half a day today, and woke up depressed. Sleeping that much is not a good coping skill. Naps are good. Hours and hours, which leads to hours and hours up at night watching Lifetime and infomercials (I can lose 80 pounds without exercise if only I do extreme damage to that heart thingy!), is not good. I need good sleep. Without it, even the tent shakes.
So I just have to focus on day by day. I hope I can stay at work, because being at home is not much better. If anyone has tips for handling depression at work that do not have to do with breathing (trust me, I’ve heard it), please feel free to offer them. I thought a lot about just quitting, but realizing today how bored and sad I get at home (especially whilst playing the “what’s that smell” game), I know I need my job, and for more than just the income. I also need to know what I want. If I sit in the tent instead of constantly racing and racing, my counselor says it will come to me.
What do I want – in work, with my husband, with my kids, with family, with my house, with my life. What do I really want? I don’t know right now because I am too blinded by everything else, all the hurry and worry and sad and sick. If I can just sit in my tent, can I just sit and thinks? What do I want (besides getting well). I hope I can find it. But I can’t rush it. The knowledge of what Alice really wants will only come when I stop looking.
So I have to stop. Take comfort in the tent. Survive. And listen to that voice in my head. Not the mean, depressive one.
The one that belongs to Alice.
“All I want from tomorrow
Is to get it better than today.”
– “Jacob’s Ladder” – Huey Lewis and the News
Life is hard. Like Math. It’s just hard. And when you add on extras to life, like depression and anxiety and asthma and whatever my next diagnosis might be (weird?) it gets harder. Getting out of bed, knowing you have to get a teen and a pre-teen out of bed in the morning when you have a giant stone sitting on you, knowing there WILL be drama, knowing you will be exhausted from it before you even get to your actual job, knowing that is enough to make one not want to wake up in the morning. This isn’t to say I want to literally climb Jacob’s ladder up to Heaven right this minute (Is there a downward ladder? I hope not in my case). It’s just that I don’t do mornings. Or afternoons. It’s that I want a break. From life.
But you don’t get breaks. Even if you do, you know it’s temporary. The job waits, the kids wait, the husband waits, the bills wait. Well sometimes the bills get all uppity and don’t wait and go to those nice, friendly collection people who offer me discounts if I pay, whereas if I paid on time I would not get a discount. I’m not sure what lesson they are teaching us here.
In the movie Office Space, exhausted office worker Peter says, “So I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that’s on the worst day of my life.” Ever feel that way? I’m 38, which means that I’m looking around another 30 years or so before I can retire, and that’s if I even CAN retire. Saying I live that long and don’t die at my desk. I don’t have a cubicle. I wish I did because then people wouldn’t see me and ask me for stuff like books and crap.
Still you have to keep going, and you can’t look too far ahead. It’s too scary. That’s why I like this song by Huey Lewis, “Jacob’s ladder”.
Step by step, one by one
Higher and higher
Step by step, rung by rung
Climbing Jacob’s Ladder
Rung by rung, day by day, hour by hour sometimes. Just get through it.
I’m just another fallen angel
Trying to get through the night
Oh and the nights are the worst, when everyone else is asleep and there you are just racing in your hamster wheel – the one in your head anyway. Your body just sits, or sits and taps a foot or a leg or just plain vibrates. I can only hope I burn calories when I do this. Thinking about tomorrow, and what I’ll have to do.
All I want from tomorrow
Is to get it better than today
That’s it. That’s all I can do. Make another day, and hope the next one is better than the last. And maybe it will be. It’s that hope that keeps you climbing. Step by step. Rung by rung.
Higher and higher.
So last time, I spoke to you guys about my first few days back at Camp Loopy which is not that fun cause they don’t even give you t-shirts. I think unit t-shirts would be awesome, you know, like in Harry Potter. I could have been in Schizoloren if the magic hat I talk to daily said okay. I’m getting off topic already.
Anyhoo, last I left you they’d just decided to transfer me from the geriatric unit to a new unit (bye bye Huffledafts) because clearly my anxiety was getting better too fast. One thing I’ll give them – the head nurse fought for me to stay. They like to hoard the “good patients”. I didn’t fully understand what that meant until I got to the new unit.
I know a lot about mania. My brother has bipolar depression, which can cause a person to swing from lows to wayyy too highs. Not that he can’t be annoying (he is a brother), but he does take his meds so he’s usually okay. I hadn’t actually witnessed a person in full blown mania who did NOT need meds thanks so much. Then I met Mandy (names changed to protect the looney). Or rather I heard her before I even got there.
Oh. My. God.
Mandy talked. And talked. And talked. I don’t think she ever shut up except for the rare times her entire body gave out and she slept for a few precious minutes while we tiptoed around her and said “She’s kinda cute when she’s sleeping.” But otherwise, she was talking – loudly. Yell-speak I call it. Every single word was shouted. Try to imagine this for a few minutes. Now imagine it for 2 days. Yeah. They don’t usually send you somewhere with the apparent intention to drive you even MORE insane.
She was also very active, like a child who had just downed 5,000 pixie sticks and a few dozen Monster drinks. She danced, she sang, she ran around the room, she swung her head around like a head banger. And if that wasn’t enough, Mandy was religious, so we also got mixed-up Bible thrown at us every few seconds. “Amen,” she said. “No Ah-men. No, A-men. AMEN!!!”
Mandy was a pretty young woman. She reminded me of this ice skater who was so beautiful, graceful, and mercifully silent. But not Mandy. She was as active as a speed skater on speed, if said speed skater yelled Bible verses. Come to think of it, some of those street corner preachers could have picked up some tips from her.
I’m pretty sure I lost more hearing from her in those two days than I did from the infancy of my each of my two children. Occasionally a nurse would yell “Mandy! Shhh!” and she’d sit down, hold up two fingers in a peace sign, and yell “Sorry, sorry! Peace out!”
One might think I could have escaped from her by going to my room and closing the door. But nope, because I roomed with the Grinch. The Grinch was mad. Always. About absolutely nothing. And boy did she let you know. She slept with a glass of water in her hand, and both nights woke up cursing and howling, shocked that there was water in her bed! This usually happened around 1 AM. No sleep for YOU, Alice!
At least I didn’t room with Mandy. God have mercy on that poor woman’s soul. Her roomie seemed incredibly laid back. Maybe they dosed her with a lot of meds. I hope so. Mandy’s completely unidentical cousin was also in the same unit. She looked apologetic a lot. We felt sorry for her. I can only imagine the family reunions.
Now why didn’t they make Mandy take her meds? Cause they can’t. They can’t force you to take anything, nor can they restrain you unless you are an imminent threat to your life or someone else’s. No, for the real stuff you gotta go to a state facility. Our hospital is a holding pen for these people – for up to six months. Yup. Six months with psychotic people who can barely be controlled. She’d already been there a few weeks when I got there. How those nurses, techs, and counselors stayed in their jobs I will never, ever know. I think I’d be shoving pills down Mandy’s throat. After tying her to some railroad tracks.
But I digress. Group meetings were completely useless since she could not stay down for more than a few seconds and was constantly interrupting then saying sorry and interrupting again. Also the Grinch was always griping about all us annoying Whos and how she was HANDICAPPED and couldn’t walk (though she’d walked into the room) and that the staff were total jerks. She couldn’t figure out why no one leaped up to help her.
At one point, the Grinch and Mandy got into a shouting match and I shamefully admit I was waiting for them to duke it out so maybe we could call the police to take them away. Also it would have been entertaining. We had little entertainment since they never let us go outside or get exercise in spite of telling us in Group that this relieved depression. No fresh air for you!
I reached my breaking point about 1 AM the morning of my release day. I was up waiting for them to change Grinch’s sheets and dose her with enough stuff to make her go back to sleep. Mandy was shouting, as usual, and I turned and yelled “MANDY! BE QUIET! I NEED TO SLEEEEEEP!” She blinked at me, shocked. “Oh, I didn’t know I was being loud!”
One of the nurses must have seen the deranged look in my eye so she sat down with me. She asked me the usual questions.
Nurse: Do you feel suicidal?
Nurse: Do you feel homicidal?
I looked right at Mandy.
Nurse: Moving on . . .
She finished her checklist and helpfully talked me down from my tree. Mandy was headed for state lockup – they’d luckily found her a spot. Maybe because the staff threatened to quit in mass? I would have. I still don’t know why they couldn’t have found her a nice padded room of her own somewhere far, far away from the rest of us. But then, her presence did tell me that there is no real escape from life. The crazies are everywhere.
So Mandy left at 4 AM the same day as my departure. Hello, Silence, my old friend. So that gave me about five or six hours of actually enjoying myself a little before being unceremoniously booted out of the ward. But I did make friends. They say in wartime, soldiers become very close. It’s the same in the crazy ward. I met one woman in particular that I still text. We and a few others laughed a lot while we were there as we talked about all the patients and their quirks. One of them pointed out:
“Hey – I just realized we’re the mean girls of the mental unit.”
Why not? You take your perks where you can. This crazy story has a happy ending. I got a pill – a teeny, tiny little pill that has been an absolute miracle. I also experienced a little bit of the old Jewish tale “It could always be worse.” I have true compassion for those with mental illness, even Mandy (when she’s far away from me) and frustration at the lack of decent care for them. I hope one day we can build more and better facilities around the country, because it’s not just a few of us out here. There are more than you know, living day to day, undercover.
It’s time for us all to be able to come out into the light.