Welcome to one of my more tangible images of hell - imagining standing wherever the heck this photographer was standing and looking up at a sky full of flapping, and probably pooping, bats. My mind conjures all sorts of sensations, like what the air must smell like, or maybe more to the point what it might feel like, taste like.
And I am totally creeping myself out.
(Note for bat lovers - If you missed Part One – I Like Bats, you might think I’m an indiscriminate bat basher. Nope. Go read Part One. I’ll wait right here …)
My fear of bats does not stem from ignorance, is an irrational fear, based on my OCD related concerns about catching diseases from animals. My head knows that not all bats have rabies. My gut however, has its own ideas. In my gut, I ‘know’ all bats have rabies (all squirrels do too, for that matter). I also ‘know’ that you don’t even have to touch a bat to get rabies, all you have to do is touch anything a bat as touched. This counts triple for bat poop. None of this is fact true (you can go to the Bat World rabies site to learn more). But the point isn’t what is or is not true about bats. The point is if you have OCD that centers on diseases, violation, and contamination, bats are damn scary and the truth is next to useless in changing how you feel.
In a previous post, The Big Three, I mentioned how I have three diseases with a special place in my heart, and rabies is one of them. I ‘know’ rabies is everywhere, along with all sorts of other super scary diseases. The Bat World site attempts to put my fears to rest, “A person living in the U.S. is more likely to catch polio, leprosy or the plague than to contract rabies from a bat.” Great. Just great. Let’s do some OCD math. If Rabies = Everywhere, and Plague > Rabies, then Plague = All over the freaking place.
I feel better now.
My personal bat odyssey happened two summers ago when my husband and I were coming home from vacation. At about 2 am we approached the front door, where I had hung one of my usual decorative seasonal wreaths of fake flowers. As I leaned in to unlock the door, something small and brownish hurtled out of the wreath and into my head. Thump. Then it flapped away.
I stood there for several seconds trying to get a grip on what had just happened. I had been hit in the head with a bat. No question. I’d never been within a dozen feet of one before, but it was pretty unmistakable. A sort of warmish softness. Not like a bird at all, I’ve held birds. This was more like a wing-ed mouse kinda thing.
Needless to say, I was completely freaked. My husband spent some time trying to help me by being rational (because God knows how well that usually works). I ‘clearly’ hadn’t been bitten. There was no indication the bat was ill at all. The chance that there was any transfer of disease-ridden-yuckies was vanishingly small. He even did a bunch of research on the internet to make it perfectly clear that I would be fine.
I didn’t work. I tried. I tried so hard. I really, really didn’t want to get rabies shots. I am terrified of needles, terrified of what’s in them. Getting a tetanus shot is like being injected with poison – panic attack is impossible to avoid. I spend a week after a tetanus shot wondering every minute if this or that pain is me dying. Nothing, nothing could be worth going through the rabies series.
Wrong. About thirty-six hours of torture, wondering what the hell I should do, turned out to be worse than the fear of the shots. I absolutely had to be certain I would not get rabies. If I didn’t get the shots I’d spend the next full year, every day, wondering if I was showing symptoms. And by then it would be far, far too late. The uncertainty was too much. My husband called up our primary care facility and told them what was happening; that the war between anxiety over rabies and anxiety over shots had been settled, and rabies won. We went to the clinic.
Then added insult to injury.
My normal doc wasn’t there and instead we had a temp. She spent about fifteen minutes trying to diagnose me herself, and make up her mind for me if I really needed the shots or not. I almost lost it. Really. Having already made this terrifying decision, I was being dragged back through it. Then Providence intervened in the form of the nice redheaded nurse at my clinic, who pushed open the door and said, “You can only get the shots at the emergency room in the hospital. I’ve already called them. They are all ready and waiting for you.”
I don’t understand why my normal doctor did not have the stuff. It was bad enough going to the clinic. The doctor’s office is about as scary as it gets, what with all the sick people and heaven knows what on the floor, and people who think that having blood work done is a walk in the park. But the emergency room? Not good. Not good at all.
But I was now determined. So we went to the ER. I was so bent out of shape that I could hardly breathe. My husband tracked down someone who would listen, and got them to come up with a dose of Ativan to keep me from looning completely. After that kicked in, the doc on duty came by and fortunately was both a nice guy and also informed. He said that there was occasionally some rabies in the county, that the shots were a nuisance but more than worth the peace of mind for someone like me. He said I had made a good decision. I love that man.
So one thing they don’t tell you is that the rabies shots are not the really painful part. Turns out that the rabies shots don’t confer immunity for about a month. Until then, you need something to beef up your immune system. Immunoglobulin. And those shots are given in proportion to the weight of the patient. I am not a small woman. I had seven of them. One in each arm, each leg, each butt cheek. Then back to the leg again cause we ran out of spots to stab. And they burn like F&%!S&#T. Hurt like M&#%$ING hell, in fact, each and every one of them. And it takes time, too. Get the shot, fill another hypo, do it again. Pick another spot to get stabbed. I was already in tears, and then ended up shaking like crazy as an encore. And of course pretty convinced I was going to die from whatever was in the shots, anyway. Then they finally got out the rabies shot, which I figured would be like getting your arm sawed off. Wasn’t though, it was a lot like a tetanus shot. Bit burny, but not like those immunoglobulin things that I’m assuming must have been invented by a certain Marquise.
Then they give you a form. This form is the schedule for the other five shots you have to get over the course of the next month. This about knocked me over. I thought I’d be getting them all at once, not coming back to the emergency room five more times that month. Pwned by the medical establishment. We went home and I contemplated my fate. A month. I was going to be a complete basket case. Might as well face it.
I did what I could to control the damage. I got some leave from work. Called certain people and told them my usual line, which is “I’m dealing with a flare up of a chronic illness.” Which is completely true and totally misleading, of course. My husband had to leave town, so I had to get myself to the emergency room a few times alone. Dealing with the contaminated, hacking, traumatized, crying and scared people one generally finds in the ER of a large hospital. Making sure I had my little form, and getting all the right signatures with each shot, then having them make a copy for their records. Dealing with a new nurse who had no idea what to do with the shot and was reading the directions off the box right there in front of me. One time they couldn’t find their copy of the form, so they figured mine was the most accurate. I am not heartened by a hospital that assumes my records are better than theirs.
And then I had some bad reactions to the shots. Headaches, bruising, muscle pain and nausea. This on top of the panic attacks they caused, and the anxiety from just going into the emergency room in the first place. I was messed up. Seriously.
But one after another I got the shots, and eventually my form was filled up. I got over the acute anxiety, and was able to go back to work for a while. Although I have no doubt that my subsequent decent into a year’s worth of terrible depression was assisted by this medical farce. For me anxiety always leads to depression. Stopping the anxiety is the key to breaking the cycle. So this little episode was contra-indicated in oh, so many ways. I try to remain upbeat about it all, and in fact, it’s hard not to joke about it now. I had always thought bats were cool in an angsty-goth way, and then I was given the opportunity to have a personal encounter with one.
And by the way, I hang the fluffy flowery wreaths on the inside of the door, now.
Your Hostess with Neuroses
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Yes, that is a bat. If you never thought bats could be cute, like me, then here is the irrefutable evidence. This is a baby bat sucking on a binky. You can even adopt this bat, along with others, being cared for at the Bat World Sanctuary.
I’m of two very disparate minds about bats. On one hand, I enjoy and honor the natural world, and bats are a part of it. They’ve as much right to be here as anybody. On the other hand, well, bats are … scary. I mean, they aren’t really scary, just flying mammals, but because of my OCD situation, I have this idea that all bats have diseases. In my mind I know it’s not true, but my heart is convinced that ‘all bats have rabies’. So I thought I’d tell two stories about bats, one where I talk about how I see them as good, and the other about how I see them as, ah, not so good. It’s a great example of holding two concepts in the head at once that are equally true (to me) and also completely in conflict. This is what the psychologists call ‘cognitive dissonance’. Us depressed or anxiety disordered folks have conflicting ideas in our heads all the time and it often makes us confused and frustrated, and usually we can’t quite put our finger on why.
So this post is about the good feelings I get when I think about bats. And I really do feel good about them. There are some small reasons, like I have a side to my personality that’s a goth, and loves darkness, vampires, and Halloween. To that part of me bats are totally excellent. And I’m a scientist so I’m well aware of how bats are a key part of their ecosystems. I also do not like insects as a general rule, and bats eat them. Then back to the idea that they are a part of the world, and belong here. And besides, would you look at that picture? It's cute! A cute bat! Ah, my illusions are shattered. Again.
But really, I mostly feel good about bats because they connect to a person. When I was in my last year of undergrad studies, I made friends with another student in one of my classes named Randy. We were both interested in astronomy, and intended to pursue it as a career. In fact, two years later, I found myself in the same graduate program as he. His favorite hobby was caving, and towards the end of my graduate work he, along with another caver, announced an amazing find - a cave they’d explored 14 years before and had kept mum about in order to preserve it from vandalism. If you are not familiar with Kartchner Caverns, then check out the State Parks of Arizona. It is truly a gorgeous cave, and the state is going to unprecedented extremes to keep the cave as pristine as possible.
Randy talked about how excited he was when he and his friend found the cave and began exploring. They had suspected there might be a big cave there, but were not ready for what they found. He talked, very happy and animated, about how they found bat droppings all over, and could even smell the bats. I found this nauseating, but Randy thought it was fantastic. Apparently cavers love to find bats because they signal a cave large enough for a bat colony.
Unfortunately, Randy Tufts isn’t with us any more to enjoy the full fruits of his labor. By the time he announced the find in 1999, he was already ill. In 2000 he had a bone marrow transplant for his myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS, the same illness Carl Sagan suffered), but BMT’s are not the straightforward cure often portrayed in the movies, and he died in 2002. I have a close relative with a related disorder called myeloproliferative disease (MPD), and so Randy’s passing was a double whammy. Besides the fact that honestly, there wasn’t a nicer person. I know everybody says that when someone’s passed away, but I mean it. He was nice to everybody and made everyone feel like a friend.
So when I visit Kartchner Caverns, enjoy the cave, and listen to the rangers talk excitedly about the bats, I think of Randy. I also think that if the end product of my life is something as fantastic as bringing this amazing cave and it's inhabitants to the world to share, I'd be very pleased with my life. Very pleased. I hope he is - at the very least he's made one person (me) think deeply about their fears (bats) and reconsider the reasons for it. I'm still afraid of bats, but I know the fear is not based in fact; check out the Bat World site for more info.
Next post - I'll describe a rather close encounter I had with a bat, and why in spite of how damn cute this bat is, I'm still scared.
Your Hostess With Neuroses
Monday, February 16, 2009
So my second-ever poll had five responses! This is a big deal to me, since as far as I know I have three regular readers. So whoever took the survey, thanks!
The poll came out like this - with answers preceded by the number of votes:
My opinion about mind meds (like prozac) is ...
(1) They make things much worse
(0) They don't help at all
(1) No experience with mind meds
(1) They help a little, or intermittently
(2) Couldn't cope without them
So with almost nothing for data, I'll manage to create a blog post around it anyway :)
This little poll seems to generally reflect the country at large in the sense that there is a wide spread of opinion about the use of medications in treating illnesses like anxiety and depression. There are those that believe the proliferation of SRI-type meds is a national tragedy, and those that believe they are a gift direct from the Divine. As with a lot of things like this, I think the truth is partly both, party neither, and then partly something completely different.
One of the negative aspects is that in some cases people who really don't need mind meds end up with a prescription anyway. This might result from pressure from a doctor, erroneously thinking that any hint of anxiety or depression warrants pills. Or pressure from a patient who believes that if you go to a doctor you have the right to leave with a prescription for something, or else it was a waste of time. Doctors can also find themselves under pressure from other avenues; for example, these pills are big business. There are very strong lobbies and advertising backing the meds. Another negative aspect is that some people need treatment much more aggressive than a prescription for an SRI med. There are those who have complex issues who are not getting proper care in lieu of the simple expedient of a magic pill. They may need immediate intervention, even hospitalization, but their needs are not identified because of an idea that there is an 'easy solution' that should work for them.
I can't speak for anyone but myself, of course, but for me the meds have been a blessing - but they are not a cure.
The real healing and cure for my issues is a result of the interaction of a lot of factors playing off of one another, gaining momentum, and moving forward together. One of these key factors is therapy with a good psychologist. The meds give me a break from the overwhelming emotions so I can get myself to therapy, and then get the most out of it when I'm there. The therapy is really the place where all of it starts to work, and the meds allow me to handle talking about some of the really tough issues with without turning into jello.
Other major factors are: eating better, making good sleep a priority (not merely an option), making some exercise time for both active things like the treadmill and more contemplative things like yoga. Then there are factors like building a stronger support network with family and friends, educating myself about my illnesses, and for me - doing all sorts of writing (like this blog, say).
And it is slowly working. Over time, I am actually getting better. It isn't always up, sometimes there is a lot of down. But the ten year trend is most definitely up. The meds are only one part, but for me they are an important part. What works is doing lots of different, positive things, letting them build on one another, each making the other more powerful, more effective. It is hard, and it is taking decades, but it is beginning to look like a day without fear or self-hatred isn't a dream. Instead, if I keep up with therapy, meds, taking care of myself and the rest, it is starting to look like a matter of time.
Your Hostess with Neuroses
Image from flikr via Creative Commons by MargauxV
Thursday, February 12, 2009
I'll take inspiration from anyplace I can get it. Including science fiction. I happen to write science fiction so it seems fitting, anyway. One of the most quoted passages from Frank Herbert's novel Dune is the Litany Against Fear.
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. 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.
When I first read the book I was in seventh grade and couldn't keep up with all the characters and factions and intrigue and invented history and all the rest. But still, the passage above caught my attention, as it has caught that of so many others. I found myself actually using it as a real litany, a meditation almost, and then felt bad for it because in those days I assumed if it wasn't direct from the bible, God would punish me.
Too bad. Because now-a-days phrases and quotes like this are very useful to me. Ways to center myself when I'm overwhelmed. I stand back and watch the fear itself, the path it takes. It moves through me and then I'm still there.
I've spent most of my life afraid, experiencing fear. There are times when I conquer it temporarily, but I always find myself with something else pushing terror down on me. As depressing as that idea is, it carries a core of hope. Fear comes and goes, and I remain. It waxes and wanes, ebb and high tide again and again, but I'm the sky, I'm the shore.
Right now I'm scared because I have to go to a meeting related to a contract, and I haven't done that in a long time. I'm not even certain that when the time comes, I won't drop the car keys on the floor and find I don't have what it takes. And I'll feel like crap if that happens. But the fear doesn't beat me anymore, I'm here to live another day, try again, and maybe find I can do something new tomorrow that yesterday was impossible. You never know.
Your Hostess with Neuroses
Image from xKimJoanne on flikr via Creative Commons
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Okay, not too hard to grasp this metaphor, I know. But it is powerful for me, anyway. I have very strong feelings of fear centered around being trapped, in someone else's power, having no way to change the situation. Not to mention the dread that comes from being forced to wait around for whatever horrible trauma the people on the outside care to bestow next.
I'm a huge fan of the science fiction stories written by Manna Francis in the 'Administration' series. (Note, this is homoerotic fiction suitable only for adults and non-puritans. You've been warned.) One of the two main characters in the series, Toreth, suffered emotional abuse and neglect from his parents. As a result of that, and of reinforcing incidents in his life, Toreth is not a very nice person. In spite of the fact that he no longer lives in the cages of his past, like his parents house and the juvenile detention center, he continues to react as if he did.
Toreth visits the zoo, and makes an observation that keeps ringing through my mind like a passage from the bible, "Cages. You can't get out, and every bastard with a key can get in."
Toreth's partner Warrick points to a panther pacing restlessly back and forth behind the bars of her cage. Except the cage is huge with a properly designed habitat, and far bigger than the space the panther is pacing. Here's some of the rest of the story, edited by me from one of the books of Francis' I picked up on Amazon.
"Why's it doing that?" Toreth asked eventually.
"Her stereotyping is very deeply ingrained. The damage was done to her during early development, and was then heavily reinforced for a number of years."
"So it's going to be like this forever?" The panther turned and Toreth turned with her, perfectly in time and barely less graceful.
"They hope not. They've had other animals arrive in a similar condition, and most of them can be coaxed out of it eventually. Helped to learn new behaviors. It's likely to take a long time, though. Months at least. Perhaps years before she's anything like normal."
"Why's it staying just there?"
"I don't know for certain. Possibly she paced at the front of the old cage, where she could see the most, and so she's doing the same here. If you look, the track is where the light from out here is strongest. I don't imagine there's much choice involved in the activity—it's a reflex, that's all. A compulsion, rather."
It seems so easy when you put it that way, but I can't wrap my mind around it when it comes to myself. Why is it that although the cage now exists only in my own mind, that I still can't get out? Why am I still trapped here? Why the constant dread and fear?
I could have chosen any number of nasty pix for a trapped creature, by the way. There is some seriously twisted stuff floating around the ether. But I picked this one because I'm trying to create new impressions from the old. This was a 6mo old tiger that was being nursed back to health. So being held for him was positive, I guess. Still, its so hard not to project myself into that cage, and feel it's me pushing against the metal and saying "I think I'd rather be out there".
Your Hostess With Neuroses
Sunday, February 8, 2009
I love earning money (who doesn't?) and I love writing. And I love science and I love teaching. It seems that writing a science textbook under contract should therefore be complete bliss and ecstasy.
But as we all know when you have an anxiety disorder, nothing is that simple.
My employment over the last few years has been based in contract work. When economic times are tough, no one can hire a full time person, but work still needs to get done. So I've had some luck bringing in temporary project and contract work, as well as teaching some classes, as the basis of my career these days. And it initially was working okay. Nothing ever works perfectly given my mental health, but okay is good enough. When this latest depressive episode hit, it all fell apart. One by one I had to tie up contracts and then not seek to extend. In the end, any contract that had me working out of my house had to go - my agoraphobia and other anxieties made it impossible to leave the house consistently. This was besides the overwhelming depression, which for weeks at a time would have me unable to leave my room at all. And completely uninterested in leaving my room, since I didn't care about myself or anything other than wanting the horrible pain to stop. You've been there, so you know what I mean.
I had a couple of contracts that were not time critical during my current depression, so I let them go on, hoping I might recover enough of myself to actually do the work. This textbook I'm working on is one of them. Deadlines have been pushed and pushed, and now I really have to finish writing this thing. And I am doing a lot better, with the bulk of the depression under control, and the anxieties uncomfortably high, but not panic level. So with a tremendous amount of effort, support, and help, I've been able to plod through some of the writing. I have about 40% of it done, after so much effort. I am daunted and I'm beginning to think it will never get finished.
I've only just learned about one of my specific PTSD symptoms, and that is 'foreshortened future'. I've never known it had a name, I just assumed that my complete inability to think past certain points in the future was an 'I'm overwhelmed with anxiety' thing. It's not that. Anyone can be overwhelmed by an upcoming deadline, but if you ask them to plan to meet you for dinner two weeks after their deadline, they understand what you mean, and can crack open their calender and pencil you in. 'Foreshortened future' means that there is a wall in time, maybe in a month, a week, a day, or even the next hour, where nothing beyond exists. If people ask you about something after the wall, you can't deal with it, and you might not even really be able to understand the question. People will repeat the question, and you still can't get it. And more than likely someone forcing you to think beyond the wall won't work, and will end up with you having a strong emotional reaction like crying or anger.
I have this symptom all the time. The wall isn't tied to any sort of deadline, although it can combine with anxiety sometimes to make it hard to tell. But anything beyond the wall is not real. Non-existent. Planning past it is nearly impossible, and imagining that you'll even be alive after the wall is hard to do. Which means, oddly, that part of me does not imagine I'll actually finish the book because I won't be around to do it. Should be comforting in a way, but it isn't at all. It causes real terror. How can I promise to do something in the future, like sign a contract, when no future exists? And this isn't a depressive 'I'm going to kill myself' thing, this is a cold, factual feeling. There simply is no future beyond the wall, no reasons given or needed. It just is.
This is on top of the usual perfectionist 'I hate myself' anxiety, which has me bruised in the head over worrying about people critiquing my work harshly, or having them get bent because I'm not working fast enough, or maybe they'll just back out before I can get it done. That and the fact that I was researching the quantum basis for electromagnetism today all have me really FREAKED OUT.
Trying to find a silver lining - ah ... let's see. After all this textbook research today, I now understand why magnetite and hematite, while both iron bearing minerals, behave different magnetically. Yowzer.
Your Hostess With Neuroses
Saturday, February 7, 2009
I don't happen to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is nice since the six formal diagnoses I do have are plenty. But still, I love the sun - I lived fourteen years in the desert southwest and always felt the warm (even smoldering hot) sunshine was bliss. I have an iTunes playlist that I listen to as one of the ways I try to pull my mood up when I'm down. I named it in honor of my favorite song on the list. And this isn't really a song for me anymore, I sing it like a hymn in a baptist church. It's a psalm. A prayer.
Things are gonna get easier
Things'll get brighter
Things are gonna get easier
Things'll get brighter
Some day, yeah
We'll get it together and we'll get it all done
When your head is much lighter
Some day, yeah
We'll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun
When the world is much brighter
I'd like to crack my usual jokes about cheesy songs and modern wisdom, but I can't seem to do it about this song right now because I am too attached. I'll be irreverent about something else later.
Your Hostess With Neuroses
Ooh Child - The Five Stairsteps
Thursday, February 5, 2009
What is it about the medical profession that makes it so very difficult to get your needs understood and met? Now, nurses have a craptacular job, dealing with sick people all day, and much worse. And yet I have this idea that compassion, gentleness, and empathy ought to be part of any nurse's emotional makeup. Ah, my treasured illusions go smasha smasha once again.
Okay, I'll back up and say I visit a great practice with a very understanding primary care doctor, a great head nurse, and staff that does make an attempt to meet my needs. And still, in spite of three years of building relationships, I get taken off guard. On a routine visit I run into someone new who does not seem to have had the common sense to review my file for the split second it would take to spot the (no doubt) big red flag saying THIS ONE IS A FRUIT LOOP and treat me accordingly. Instead, after saying "You are not on the schedule" and "It's important that you understand that this is not appropriate for a nurses visit" (which wasn't actually true, by the way) she wonders why her patient is starting to get flustered and cry. Having spent the last fifteen minutes staring at the empty blood vials on the counter before me hadn't helped, mind you. But this is not the woman who will have the honor of drawing my blood, unless she plans to use her nails.
What is going through a nurse's mind when she looks at a crying patient, and instead of saying, "Oh dear, you are so unhappy. What can I do for you?" she says "Now, you need to calm down." If I could &%$@# calm down by wanting to, it wouldn't be an anxiety disorder, would it?
I ended up leaving in tears before they got to the blood work. I wasn't even sure they intended to do it, given I was "not on the schedule" for an appointment that my doctor told me to make - in writing - with her own staff. Man. Can we all get ourselves on the same page people?
The contrast, and the ray of hope, is the response of three people. My husband, who is as supportive and attentive as a person can be without being an eighteen-hour underwire bra. Then the head nurse I like calls my house - she talks to my husband, apologizes, and asks what we can do in the future to make things different. And then my psychologist, who is going to call my primary care doctor and have "a bit of a chat". Advocates. I think we could all use more advocates for our needs, especially in the medical field. So often it seems they try to treat us in parts, not realizing that a person is a whole package. You try to get well, and you end up leaving battier than when you showed up.
My mind isn't perfect, but I'd sure like to keep what I have left.
Your Hostess With Neuroses
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