Friday, December 9, 2011

Depression in December - A Holiday Challenge

Hello Friends:

Long time no blog - well, a month, anyway.  I always forget how crazy the end of the year can be.  November is particularly sneaky since I try to do a lot of writing, but also have to clean up from my usual huge Halloween party, and then suddenly it is time to get ready for Thanksgiving.  Then the month is over.  And with the MIs, time does not seem to go by at a steady rate, anyway, with some minutes and some weeks feeling like the same length.  I'm sure you know what I mean.

Plus, okay, I've been feeling crappy.  I always get extra down at this time of year, along with many other people.  I've been spending a lot of time over at my favorite mental health forum, Crazy Boards, where, with the holidays on hand, there have been plenty of people posting about how depressed they are.  It really twists my heart, since I relate so strongly.  I wish I could write a note to everyone who feels depressed right now and say something that would actually help them.  (And me.)  Something that would actually be uplifting.  No words really help when you feel that rotten.

But I am tenacious, and I've decided I'm going to try anyway.  I was inspired by this really excellent holiday ornament.  I love snowflakes as a symbol, anyway, and this one is made of silver people all connected together.  A great image.

So here's the challenge, to myself, and to you if you want to join in.  I'm going to pick ten blogs from folks with MI, and I'm going to leave a message in the comments to try to lift their spirits a little.  Like a little online holiday card without the expense or generic verse.  I can't send holiday cards anyway since the pressure of not missing anyone makes me freak out.  In this case I've given myself a small, realistic goal.  Just a little something, a gesture. 

I have an ulterior motive, too, I'm afraid.  I think that writing these little messages might make me feel better.  I mean, I read a lot of blogs, and follow the lives of a lot of people online with MI.  It has made a huge difference for me, knowing I'm not alone.  Having people read my blog and leave comments here has helped to make me feel more validated, and more in touch with others.  It's all good.  So I think a few messages are in order.

As for the messages, well, already knowing that words barely make in impact on depression - what to write?  Well, that I enjoy and get something out of their blog.  That I hope they see how far they've come this year.  That I hope the New Year brings more healing for them.  Hmmm.  Not sure, but stuff like that, depending on the person.  Righto.

I have a few other ideas for making the Holiday more bearable, but that's for another post.  First, I have some messages to write!

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Our First Tree by Tiger girl, on flikr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Even More Sane Than Ever

Hello Friends:

As you know by now I love online quizzes, and I love talking about the crazies.  So pretty much nothing can beat an online quiz about the crazies.  My favorite for the last two years has been The Sanity Score at PsychCentral.  I've mentioned before that I don't think it is terribly diagnostic, but given that I've taken this exact same test five times now over the last two years, it has proven an interesting way to track my perception of my own mental health.

And has given me data.  Which I also love.  'Cause you can graph it.  Like so.

I left off some of the points I had on the last time because now there are five lines, and the whole thing can get to be a little difficult to read.  Many points haven't changed at all, and as I mentioned before, the scores for things like Mania and Dissociation do not seem to really work well.

To recap, lower scores mean better mental health.  Overall Score is from 0 to 288, while all the other subscores are from 0 to 100.  For the Overall Score, I think anything below 50 is probably pretty normal, assuming nobody is perfect.  For subscores, anything below ten or so is probably just 'normal life' and not something most people would seek treatment for.  An issue at 25 needs help, and something at 50 needs lots of help.  Over that, the situation is probably pretty dire.

So my analysis of myself.  The general good news is that almost everything has improved, if only a very little bit, since the last time I took the test six months ago (I hadn't blogged about that.  My last blog post on this topic was a year ago.)  This heartening to see.  I'm especially happy to see that General Coping continues its slow improving trend, including amazingly (if more subtly) Self Esteem. 

About 3.5 years ago, I went into a bad depressive episode.  Too depressed to even do online quizzes.  It wasn't until I had started getting additional help to get out of it that I found The Sanity Score and started tracking.  By that time, my depression was down to simply 'bad' with a score of about 50.  The next six months saw it drop markedly, and it has been slowly improving since then.  My depression is now at a level where it still bothers me, but isn't ruling my life. 

PTSD also went down in severity the first six months, but then didn't move for a year.  Now finally after 1.5 years, it has moved down a tiny bit.  It is still too high, probably because of questions that ask about recurrent nightmares and intrusive thoughts about past events.  These still bother me a great deal, but perhaps not to the extent the score would suggest.

Anxiety took an extra six months to make a steep drop, and then has held steady for a whole year at about 25.  OCD also dropped a lot in that first year, but now isn't going anywhere, and is up around 35.

So what does it all mean?  Overall good, but there are indications that I'm not making much progress in some areas that really need to improve.  I think this might be an indication of a need to bump up the meds, but I'm not sure.  I know my pdoc is thinking we might go up a little, but I've been hoping that my other techniques like yoga, meditation, exercise, and better food would close the gap for me, here. 

Of course, I'm not doing those things like I should.  I talk a good talk, but I need to actually get into real habits before I'm going to see if they will be enough, or not.  Stay tuned ...

Have you tried the Sanity Score? 
Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Happy Flowers by rkrichardson from Flikr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Ridiculous "Hello" from Halloween

Hello Friends:

So there I am, in my kitchen, trying to make something to eat.  No, this story is not about mice.  Much.  Other than to say you know how hard it is to cook in a kitchen that has recently been visited by varmits.  I still do not have them out with certainty, but it's been five days since they've been sighted.  Heard one in the walls last night, but it did not enter the actual house.  Traps are empty.

Okay, I said this wasn't about mice.  It's about me trying to make lunch.  I'm having a very down day, with a bit of bad news, feeling overwhelmed in general, and dealing with my mice-heightened kitchen OCD issues that are not fun at the best of times.  And I know I am supposed to eat lunch, if I don't, I feel much worse as my sugar drops.  I struggle with myself, and finally settle on something I think I can force down.

I usually eat lunch as quickly as possible, with as little fuss as possible.  I am just not a 'lunch' sort of person.  I don't like lunch food, like sandwiches.  So I end up making either dinner or breakfast for lunch.  I knew it would be more work that I was quite up for, but I chose to make some pasta with red sauce and a good dose of cheese for added protein.  I knew that would hold me through the rest of a busy day.

Cook pasta.  Stand around.  Stir pasta.  Turn on fan above stove because steam is all over the place.  Right.  Stand and stir.  Feel hungry and bummed out.  Pasta finally done.  Drain pasta and put in small serving bowl.  Return pot to burner and dump in sauce, onion, garlic, and pepper.  Feel less bummed out since sauce smells good.  (One pot is always the way to go ...)  Stir and simmer.  Starting to actually want to eat this stuff, and hunger is pretty bad.  Dump pasta back into pot with sauce.  Stir.  Get cheese from fridge.  Sprinkle pasta in pot with healthy dose of cheese.  Then ...

Yeah.  It's like a sitcom around here sometimes.

Then ... a SPIDER, a big hairy black SPIDER drops on a line from the oven hood, inches in front of my face, and nosedives it right into the pot!  I $hit you not.  I about peed myself.  And get this.  He doesn't immediately croak because he is a big cuss and happens to have landed right on a bunch of cheese that just came from the refrigerator.  I am gape mouthed, and just starting to yell, when he seems to realize he is in MY POT OF BOILING SAUCE and starts reeling himself back up out of the pot!

The story ends here for the spider, because I hate them.  I'd have killed him even if he wasn't just spotted in my LUNCH.

I return to my pot.  I shut off the heat.  I sort of stare at it a moment, feeling bad for myself because there is just no way in heck I can eat this now.  And then I start laughing.

Because I am about to die of an irony attack.  I've spent the last two days decorating for Halloween, which is a holiday I love.  I do up the house like a vampire's lair, with fake spiderwebs and the whole shebang.  In fact, I have a bag of over 100 spiders I can put in the webs and scatter over the tables.  They really creep me out, which is sort of what I want on Halloween.

So what am I supposed to do?  Get all pissed off with the universe for giving me a good scare?  Too hypocritical.

Doesn't mean I was able to eat lunch, but I did get a serious laugh out of it.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Spiders on Flikr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Varmint Warfare

Hello Friends:

I was far, far too optimistic to hope I had managed to rid my abode of mice.  A week after we returned from our trip, my spouse spotted yet another varmint.  This time in the LIVING ROOM and the little sucker ran into the KITCHEN and went into the cupboard where my COOKING PANS are.

Of course you know, this means war.

At this point, there is no food they can get to, at all.  Everything in my pantry is now in glass.  All bread is in the microwave.  Everything else is fridge or freezer.  There is nothing here to tempt them.  There never really was, given I didn't see any signs of chew marks on anything, ever.  But for some reason they have moved into my townhouse.  I have now heard them scratching at the walls between us and the neighbors.

And all I can really think is, now what?  Seems like those sonic repellers, of which I now have six in my home, do pretty much nothing.  Well, that was always a possibility.

The land lady has been notified.  No response yet.


Where is my kitchen stuff possibly safe?  Do I have to find a way to pull everything out of the cupboards on the ground and only use the ones over the sink?  That's gonna put a dent into my dish holding capacity for certain.  Otherwise, I'm going to have to wash my pans all the time.  And I don't even like that idea because if the mice are ... are ON MY PANS then I don't think I even want to touch them.

Trap was empty this morning.

MY PANS.  Not to mention my KITCHEN and my LIVING ROOM.

Calm. Yes.  Calm.  We are eating out every meal today as I try to figure out how to deal with this.  Just not sure.  This is nuts.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info:  Promo photo for the Movie Caddyshack.  Character Carl Spackler plans his attack on the gopher that has been tearing up the golf course.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Blog Carnival - World Mental Health Day

Hello Friends:

Welcome to the October 10, 2011 edition of World Mental Health Day Blog Carnival!!!  (At last!  Six hours late, thanks to Blog Carnival being down and then my own internet being flaky.)

Exposure Woman presents Exposing OCD: I am the Keeper of My Time posted at Exposing OCD.

Kat presents Am I Worth the Investment??? posted at Keeping In The Sunlight, saying, "World Mental Health Day post about being worthy of investing in your own mental health."

Blue Morpho presents Accommodating Mental Illness in the Workplace - A Little Goes a Long Way posted at Adventures in Anxiety Land, saying, "Some thoughts about how investing some time and energy in the workplace might help everyone, especially those w MIs."

Aliquant presents The Anatomy of Assault posted at Purple Noise, saying, "I'd like to submit this post as an example of where there is a severe *lack* of investment in simply being human. Someone who self-injures is seen as a second-rate citizen. Current political position is moving away from mental health considerations altogether with the focus being on physical health only - and there is no provision for danger to self including self-harm. Is it any wonder it's common practice to treat us worse than animals."

Jack presents Why doesn't mental illness have a color? posted at One Man's War on Depression, saying, "I wrote this week about Mental Illness Awareness Week and my struggles with depression. Many thanks! This is my first "carnival" since childhood."

Kat presents World Mental Health Day: Investing In Mental Health posted at Keeping In The Sunlight, saying, "My view on what it means to invest in mental health."

Blue Morpho presents Investing in Ourselves - Treating the Whole Person posted at Adventures in Anxiety Land, saying, "A past post that is relevant to this year's WMHD Theme. A call out to MI sufferers to invest in ourselves by getting all the different kinds of treatment we need, and to advocate for ourselves."

blog carnival index page.

Technorati tags:   , .

Thanks so much to everyone who submitted to this little carnival!  I'm going right now to read and comment on all of your posts!

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Ferris Wheel, CC 2.0, Flikr via Creative Commons

Accommodating Mental Illness in the Workplace - A Little Goes a Long Way

Basic Office - No Touchy My Chair
Hello Friends:

The theme for World Mental Health Day this year is "Investing in Mental Health." With the wide variety of options for interpreting this theme, I finally chose to highlight the need for accommodations, particularly in the workplace. A little investment in time and energy, and much less investment in actual money, would improve the workplace conditions for many people who suffer with mental illnesses. In the process, conditions could be improved for everyone in the workplace.

In the US, certain mental illnesses fall under the Americans With Disabilities Act. This act requires that reasonable accommodations are made for otherwise qualified employees. You have a right to ask for changes to your workplace environment that will make you a happier and more productive employee. Of course, the kinds of accommodations needed by those with mental illness can differ radically from those with physical disability. We don't necessarily need ramps, elevators, or water fountains placed within easy reach. Instead, we might need a dedicated 'quiet' space to cool off, feel safe, or meditate, for example.

I first learned about possible accommodations by reading the materials at the Job Accommodation Network. Since the kind of accommodations we need can be seen as strange to others, you can't just go into your boss or HR department and say, "Make my life better." They might want to help, but have no idea how. You need to think of the concrete changes that you want, and consider how they can be implemented.

I started by making a list of everything in my work-day life that triggered my OCDs, GAD, phobias, and the rest. I tried to be as specific as possible.  I thought of ways to mitigate these situations, then went and discussed some specific ideas with my boss. He thought some of my request were odd, but did his best to grant what I asked.

Some things were easy.  I wanted a chair no one else would use. My OCD's make it difficult to use items that are 'public.' When we had big meetings, chairs would be pulled randomly out of peoples offices and dragged around the table. Even if you were not present, your chair might be appropriated. When I would come to my office and find my chair moved, I wouldn't be able to sit in it until it had been 'decontaminated' which can be a lengthy procedure. The same was true for other items, like my desktop computer.  He agreed that I alone had access to my chair and computer, unless IT had to do maintenance.

Some were more difficult.  The commute was very hard on me, over 1:15 minutes, and most of that on public transportation.  I have a very difficult time dealing with the GAD and OCD issues that come up on public transport.  Since I could see no way to change that situation, I asked to be able to work from home two days a week, so I could have a break from the stress.  He couldn't do more than one day a week, given the schedule of meetings.  But even that was a big help for me.

Mental illness, like any invisible illness, is very difficult for others to perceive and understand. The stigma remains - if you don't *look* like you need an accommodation, then you are taking up resources unfairly.  When I asked to have a chair of my own, some of my co-workers acted poorly.  Even though it was a small change, it was a noted change in office culture.  A few times people used my chair for meetings even knowing they were not supposed to.  I knew they were confused and some people interpreted any change as me trying to get attention or be 'special.'  They have no idea how badly I wanted to be 'normal.'  Some people were actually offended, wondering what was wrong with them that I wouldn't share my chair with them.

So the resources that have to be applied are mostly the time and energy to educate ourselves, and have our workplaces educate themselves, on what mental illness is, and what appropriate accommodation means.  Money is not usually the issue.  If we want people to be productive at work, we need to make the workplace as non-threatening as possible, and management needs to ensure and enforce accommodations and provisions so the requester does not feel like they are being outcast as other worker try to adjust.  Everyone needs to be educated.

Offices that begin to make accommodations or provisions for those with mental illness often find that it improves working conditions for everyone. Morale as well as physical wellness go up in environments where people are treated as whole people, not just workers.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: My workplace, CC 2.0, Flickr via Creative Commons

Fun with Blog Carnivals - Update

Hello Friends:

UPDATE:  Blog Carnival site is still down.  So when I finally get access, I will extend the deadline.  Bother.

Annnnd ... blog carnival site is down.  For crying out loud.  If it stays down for too long I'll extend the deadline.  But I wanted the edition to come up today for obvious reasons.  Sigh.

Computers make our lives easier.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Sunday, October 9, 2011

World Mental Health Day - Blogging on Investing

Hello Friends:

Want to join in on a little blog carnival for World Mental Health Day?  The 'how to post' is here.  That post also has a few links to other sites of interest.

Submit your post by noon EDT Oct 10, tomorrow to be included in this 'edition.'  The edition will list on Blog Carnival, and I will also post it completely in one blog post, myself.

I've been thinking more about the theme this year "Investing in Mental Health."  At first it might seem like it refers to how we can put more money into mental health care, or programs for mental illness.  But to me it is broader.  We have a lot of different things we can invest besides money - like our time, energy, enthusiasm, prayers, etc.  And we can invest them in a lot of places - ourselves, our family, community, food, jobs, planet and much more.  So there seem to be a whole host of ways we can view "Investing in Mental Health."  I know that I think a lot about how I invest in my own personal care.  I'm going to submit an older post about that, as well as a new one that looks at several ways to invest.  'Cause I can't stand the idea of missing out on anything.

I've read a lot of great posts on your blogs in the past that have to do with all the ways we can invest in mental health.  Please consider submitting them and/or writing up a new one and submitting that!

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Stopwatch, wwarby on flickr via Creative Commons, CC2.0

Friday, October 7, 2011

World Mental Health Day - Updates to Blog Carnival

Hello Friends:

Here's a friendly reminder, please join in on the Blog Carnival!

Okay, responding to some commentary from the people, I've made a few updates to the info for said Blog Carnival.

First,  Deadline change.  Deadline for the Carnival is now Noon, EDT, October 10, 2011.  So now it is possible to have your relevant post come up on October 10 (instead of before), and also be included in the Carnival.

Second, You can submit up to 2 posts.  Some folks want a little wiggle room.  Fine w me.

Third, Your blog does not have to be a mental health blog.  Even if you've never posted about mental health before, it would be great if you'd like to post about mental health just for this Carnival.

Fourth, If it is irrelevant, it will be deleted.  Here we are trying to do a little thing of our own for Mental Health Day, and already I've had companies submit stuff they are trying to sell.  Or just people submitting about the latest supplement or whatever.  Unreal.  So just to make it clear to the people who aren't bothering to read this, anyway, you can post a personal, non-selling, real life kinda thing.  Other stuff will be deleted.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Namibnat, Creative Commons via Flikr, Wild Elephant

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

World Mental Health Day - Join Me for a Blog Carnival

Hello Friends:

World Mental Health Day is on its way, October 10, 2011.  The theme this year is "The Great Push:  Investing in Mental Health."  Here are two of the sites promoting WMHD ... World Federation for Mental Health and World Health Organization (United Nations Sponsor).

My major contribution to WMHD will be to put up a blog post on Adventures in Anxiety Land on October 10, 2011 (of course) and to read what others post that day (of course).  There are a few places that are promoting us bloggers to blog the subject.  The one that caught my eye first was ... PsychCentral (Blog Party).  I'll be connecting my post that day to the PsychCentral Blog Party list.  But while it'll be fun to be a small part of something huge, it also sort of feels a little too impersonal.  I've really enjoyed reading all of your blogs, and thought it might be nice to do something a little more "close to home."

So, I have created a blog carnival at Blog Carnival called World Mental Health Day.  I would love to have you participate!  The end result will be a listing of submitted blog posts around the theme of WMHD 2011, Investing in Mental Health.  You can interpret that any way you want - investing money in a public program, investing time in a workshop on coping strategies, investing your energy in learning more about meds, investing your heart in hoping for better days ahead, or even investing your mind in blogging all the time :)

It is easy to submit a post.  Click on the link above, and then push the "Submit Your Blog Article to this Carnival" button at the top.  Fill out the form, which basically asks you for the URL of your blog post.  Submit by 9pm EDT on October 9 (UPDATE - Deadline Moved to Noon October 10, EDT) to be included on October 10, 2011!!!  You can submit the URL of an older post, if you prefer, or write a new one.  You can feel free to submit the post to other carnivals, or other blog parties or whatever.  Pass the carnival link on to your friends who have personal blogs about mental illness. (UPDATE - You can submit 2 posts for the edition.)

Then on October 10, the full list of submitted blogs will become available on Blog Carnival for us to peruse.  I think it will be great to have a corner of the world that's just ours, but also something we can point friends and family to to learn more about what "investing in mental health" means to those with mental illness.

(UPDATE - Posts that are selling something, hateful, not directly relevant, etc. will not be approved.)

This will be the first Blog Carnival I've ever hosted ... so here's hoping I don't mess up.

Please join in!  Looking forward to reading your posts!

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: PsychCentral Blog Party

Monday, October 3, 2011

Bitch Slapped by the Universe, Again - Part II

Hello Friends:

I apologize for the cliff hanger, especially since the story might not have the earth shaking climax expected in this modern world of high energy entertainment.  I can say I certainly didn't find the whole experience to be entertaining.  Other words come to mind, but not the sort I can write out online without a lot of $*#!% in them.

So, ah, okay.  There I was wondering how my kitchen would ever be tenable again, and feeling really rotten.  We ditched all the food, took out all the trash, and then I went back upstairs to try to get a few hours of sleep.  It was rough, knowing there was a mouse running around down there and knowing I couldn't do anything until my spouse went to work, came back, and then we went out to Home Depot to get some accoutrements for varmint warfare.

I tossed and turned, managed a few hours of sleep, and then got dressed.  I couldn't eat anything, not that there was much left.  But I couldn't bring myself to eat.  It was a strange feeling, though.  It didn't seem just a simple "this place is contaminated and I'm scared."  It felt more like it just wasn't right to eat.  It didn't feel right.  I couldn't figure it out.  Finally spouse came home and we went out, got some materials for fighting varmints, and then returned.

I bought two voltage traps, feeling bad about it all the while.  Ideally, I'd use catch and release traps, but there is no way I'd be able to handle a live mouse, thinking all the time I'd make a mistake and it would bite me.  And where could I release it around here?  Still, I felt as though this was another case of OCD making my choices for me, and I didn't like it.  Felt guilty.

In spite of all this, I got the batteries in the traps, got them baited, and put into place on the kitchen floor.  My plan was to try to catch the mouse over night, and then either way, to plug in the set of sonic rodent repellers all over the house the next morning, and hope that would discourage future visitors.  Not the best plan, and it sort of hinged on catching said mouse (since there is no concrete evidence that the sonic things work) but it was the best I could do.  I'd spent plenty of time figuring out what I could and couldn't use, like no poison obviously, and this was the best plan I could come up with.  We were going to be flying out the next day, after all.

And somehow at that point I started to feel better.  I sat down on the couch and tried to figure out why.  Mouse had not been caught, and I had no idea what would or would not work.  My husband suggested we go get dinner, and suddenly I felt like I could eat.  It took a while, but eventually it hit me that part of my problem was merely feeling totally out of control.  Once I had made a plan and put it in motion, I felt a lot better.  Even if it wasn't a great plan, I was clearly happy to be doing something, or at least doing the best I could.

My T doc is always reminding me that I don't always have to be doing something, or anything.  Sometimes the best or most functional response in a situation is to acknowledge it and then do nothing.  This really goes against my grain.  I always, always want to do something.  Sitting and abiding is the hardest.  And at least in this case, with a mouse in the house, one really did have to do something about it.  Maybe that's why I felt better, I'm not sure.  I'm not even sure that analyzing it is going to help, but you can't take the science out of the scientist.

Next morning ... there was a former mouse in one of the traps.  I was happy and sad.  Cognitive dissonance overload.  I had my spouse dispose of the entire trap, mouse included.  It's supposed to be good for 50 zaps, but I can't imagine reusing something that has had a dead mouse in it.  Ewww.

I plugged in the sonic repellers, and spouse and I left the house.  I'll have to put an update in sometime about if more of the critters show up or not.  For the moment, anyway, we seem to have success.

As for the kitchen, a good cleaning, and then putting food in glass jars, and the place is tenable again.  I have this strong sense of certainty that the place is okay.  I can't believe it.  I was expecting to be unable to use the kitchen for weeks, but I don't feel that way anymore.  Maybe this is a sign of general increasing mental health.  That'd be pretty nice. 

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info:  Mindy Mouse by Wednesday Elf - Mountainside Crochet, on flikr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bitch Slapped by the Universe, Again - Part I

Hello Friends:

You know how it feels when you are cruising along, and things seem ok (or at least meta-stable) and you think you are handling it ... and then suddenly from out of nowhere ... POW - bitch slap.  You are on the ropes, hoping you don't pass out and end up TKO'd.  You don't just get a jolt, or any kind of new manageable challenge.  Instead, you get handed something about three orders of magnitude above whatever it was you were just coping with.

I've been doing a lot of travel.  A lot.  When possible, I've been posting some of my so called insights here to share with y'all.  It's been rough, but I've been having some good times, and am grateful for the chance to have these experiences.  But we are running ragged around here, not even bothering to put suitcases away before the next trip.  They just sit out on the floor and clothes cycle through them as we come and go.

So two days before having to get on a plane for an international flight ... I'm in the kitchen at 3:00am, 'cause of course I can't sleep, and figure I might as well try to get something useful accomplished.  I stop a moment, standing by the trash, and gaze out the dark, foggy window.  It is in fact trash day, which is why the bag is there, so it can be taken out in the morning.

It seems it did not get taken out quite quickly enough.

Rustle.  Crinkle.  Munch.  Scratch.

I back up and stare at the bag, my mind simply refusing to process this.  We've lived in this townhouse for six years, and although the centipedes are big enough to cart off small children, we've never had to deal with uninvited mammals.  Yet somehow the rustling is unmistakable.  I grew up in an old colonial house that was often visited by small grey mice.  The cats (and the dog, actually) kept the population at bay.  I didn't like them, but was used to the fact that they would occasionally pop up.

That was before my contamination OCD's hit, of course.

Anyway, I knew immediately what it had to be in that bag, there.  I stood for a moment, trying to talk myself out of it, when the perpetrator suddenly emerged and scampered at high speed to disappear under my sink.

I squealed in an octave I didn't know I could reach.  Probably would have jumped on a chair if there had been one handy.  Instead I tore up the stairs and woke my poor spouse, who was trying to get some much needed sleep.

It took a while to get the story out, since he was groggy and I was panicking.  A mouse (or a small rat, possibly, for God's sake) was in our house.  The KITCHEN.  As if the kitchen wasn't hard enough, fraught as it is with all my food OCD issues.  Now there's a mouse.  In the kitchen.  Holy f*#k.  I had no idea what to do, what with it being 3am and all that.  All I could think about was plague and rabies and fleas and worms and ticks and all sorts of things that somehow I never worried about as a kid.  This ... this furry thing ... was in my kitchen and spreading its whatever all over whatever.

And the floor had just been mopped, too.

Spouse got up and took the trash out, of course, and we resigned ourselves to just dealing with the fact that it was down there until morning, when we could actually be proactive in getting rid of the sucker.  I couldn't sleep.  (What a shock.)  I was still up at 6am, and went down to make tea.

And heard ... heard ... munch.  Chew.  Rustle.


OMFG.  My pantry.  All the FOOD IS IN THERE.

This was finally a bit too much for me, and I sort of looned.  I didn't have a panic attack, and I didn't run around screaming, but I decided that all the food that was not in the fridge, freezer, or in metal/glass containers was no longer viable.  All of it.

Poor, poor spouse.  I woke him up and said, basically, that he had to empty the pantry.  All of it.  And haul it out with the rest of the trash.  Fortunately for us, all this travel meant we didn't have too much food on hand.  Still, the guy dragged himself downstairs, tore out everything, bagged it, and took it all away.  There was no sign of the mouse, and so I was wondering if my spouse thought I'd imagined all of this.  But I certainly had not.

I spent most of the time he was doing this trying to hide the fact that I was crying.  What had me most upset was that I had to get him to help me.  I knew he was beat, that he had to have some sleep, but I couldn't do this myself.  It was all contaminated beyond reprieve, and beyond the point I could even touch it.  I sat on the stairs, and watched him a while, wondering how, HOW, my kitchen would ever be a place I could eat again.

And I'm sorry to leave the story there (cliff hangers suck), but I am so tired, I just gotta go to bed.  To be continued!

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info:  Mindy Mouse by Wednesday Elf - Mountainside Crochet, on flikr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Monday, September 19, 2011

Taking on Travel Anxiety with some Fun

Hello Friends:

So last time I talked about flexibility.  This time I want to talk about fun.  Turning a strange circumstance into a party is definitely a skill worth learning.  Wish I could do it more often.

Anyway, after being at home a week, we were pounded by another storm.  Three days of rain, and the Susquehanna valley up to the north suffered the kinds of floods it hasn't seen since '72.  For the first time in years, we lost power ourselves.  That's odd for us since all our power lines are buried.  But, never say never.

Certainly not the night before another trip.

So there I was, packing, doing laundry, getting some things folded, then with the small, wailing blip of a surge protector, all the lights are gone.  I stand a few seconds, feeling totally disoriented, and then bravely start calling out for my spouse.  We are on different levels of the house, and are both fine.

I calm down and my mind starts to move again.  No flashlights, since they all got bought out during Hurricane Irene and ours are old and dead.  But I have more candles than you can probably light in one home and still meet the fire codes.  I wait a few minutes for my eyes to adjust, and find there is plenty of weak, filtered moonlight to be had.  I start lighting candles and distributing them around the house.

It's fun.  Like a spooky party, and I am such a fan of Halloween.  It's actually fun.

I start thinking we should find some ghost stories to read to each other.

Then I reconsider, since tomorrow (it was tomorrow at the time I wrote this, anyway ... my verb tenses are all over the place) I will be doing one of the most terrifying things I can think of - flying.  No horror for me tonight.  It does not, however, take the shine off of the novelty of packing suitcases by candlelight.  I can't even be sure if the clothes all match.  Normally this would be the sort of thing that would have me freaking out.  But somehow knowing there is absolutely nothing I can do about it has absolved me of the responsibility of matching my colors.  Packing actually took me less time than usual.

Then taking a shower by candlelight.  Very fun.  Really.  I think about all those people out of power for weeks and weeks from Irene and other storms.  No doubt this post would seem utterly silly to them.  How many showers have they had in the dark?  I can't help it, it is still fun.  I have candles on the sink, flickering away, and it's kind of romantic.

So another entry into the book of travel: Don't assume you are going to be able to pack with adequate light.  Be prepared to shower in the dark.  (Or skip it if the water is cold.  No one will notice, since by the time you get to the airport you will be drenched by the torrential rains, anyway.)

I realize that having things shaken up like this has actually made things better.  I always do the same things before I travel, all the same way.  Just doing them makes me jumpy, because it means *travel.*  The power going out made me alter the pattern, and it felt like a party.  I could have allowed myself to get even more worked up than usual, but instead I let it become something fun.  Not sure this will work again, this idea of 'altering the pattern,' but I'm going to see if there are other ways I can make travel surprises fun, instead of frightful.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Floating lights by ToastyKen on flikr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Taking on Travel Anxiety with Some Flexibility

Hello Friends:

Not that I'm an expert on the subject.  I do travel a great deal.  I do have plenty of anxieties, OCDs, phobias, and the like.  I do have my own ideas about how to make it easier.  And then I go right ahead and get all worked up anyway.  Still, I've had a lot of success creating a strategy and support structure for dealing with doctor's visits, it's time to do the same for travel.

I am, in fact, writing this blog post on an Amtrak train.  I'm headed from Boston to Washington on the Acela, the first day after hurricane Irene when the tracks near Trenton were clear enough to get all the way through to Maryland.  I thought long and hard about what would be a good opening topic for travel, and in the end, it was pretty obvious.  And it's a no-brainer to see how all of this ought to apply daily to that great journey called life.

Topic of the moment - Flexibility.

I had to change my trip three times because of the hurricane.  This is not a complaint.  I think that would be ungrateful since I didn't have any property or personal damage to anything other than my nerves.  Others didn't fare so well.  So I'm not complaining.  Just a fact, the trip changed three times, and seeing how I'm still well north of NYC, getting through to DC still remains a theoretical construct.

Changing plans is something that is very hard for me. Travel is tough enough.  Not knowing when it is going to happen makes it all quite a bit worse.  And yet travel delays, cancellations, rescheduling, and all the rest are so commonplace that you can't travel if you can't deal with them.  Or you can go ahead and travel and NOT deal, but you'll be pretty miserable.

I'll go so far as to say that travel is *defined* by unpredictability.  It's not the exception, but the rule.  If you can accurately predict some set of events from beginning to end, I'll bet you are not traveling. 

So how do the anxious ones (i.e. us) maximize our travel enjoyment?  It is hard to just start being 'flexible" about travel issues overnight.  If I could generate flexibility on a whim, I"d be less OCD and much more yoga.  But if you break down "flexibility" into a few other concepts, it seems like something different.  It seems to include an acceptance of how situations can change, a willingness to change with them, and an ability to make the most of it when you do.  So here are a few thoughts as I consider the nexus of flexibility, adaptability, compromise, and resourcefulness.

Being flexible is understanding that plans are guidelines, not a script.  The plans you made before the trip might not be the best (or even possible) when new data comes to light.  So we end up having to accept the change, and then find creative ways to deal with the situation.  Never assume a change in plans inevitably means your trip will suffer.  You could end up with a better trip in the end.  One year we were stranded by a snow storm up north.  I'm not a fan of snow, so wasn't too pleased.  Instead of brooding, however, we all ended up at a local ski resort, and I had a facial at the spa there.  It was the perfect cap off to the trip.

Being flexible is being willing to tolerate some level of discomfort.  This might be physical (sitting on hard benches) or mental (dealing with a crowd of people).  Those of us with MIs have a host of constraints and discomforts that others do not have.  Imagining that they won't crop up during travel is totally unrealistic.  So we have to find ways to deal.  The more creative and resourceful I am with my responses to discomfort, the more likely I am to find something I can tolerate, and occasionally something better than I would have had in the first place. My husband and I were walking through NYC one time, and I said we should get a taxi back to the hotel because I was getting a blister.  Next thing I know we are taking a pedicab through Times Square.  Thought we were gonna get mowed down by a real taxi, but still, it was some wild fun with a view I don't think I'll ever duplicate.

That was also an example of compromise, since I never would have gotten into that pedicab unless my spouse had really wanted the ride.  I was able to keep a handle on my anxieties, and take advantage of the little adventure.

Compromise isn't just with others, of course, it is with ourselves.  Sometimes I can't keep a handle on my fears, and end up missing out.  When a group of friends went on a guided tour of a volcano, I couldn't make myself go because I was (am) afraid of the poisonous gasses.  Hikes that include gas masks are generally not in my repertoire.  I do regret not having had the experience though.

So this takes more acceptance.  I need to focus on what I can do, not what I can't.

I like to think of it as evolution - adapting to become the organism that is best fit to the situation and environment.  The person on the train next to me wants to talk, and I want to write.  Well, I can put my headphones on, or I can choose to chat.  This time I'm choosing to chat a little.  Scary for me, but worth the discomfort to have the experience. 

Especially since now that we are south of Philly, I know I'll actually be getting home tonight :)  Well.  Probably.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Allergy Freak Out - Or Maybe Not

Hello Friends:

It's taken me a week to write about this, it freaked me out so badly.  But now, safe in the distance of time and an explanation I can handle, things look differently.  Of course they do.  But at the time, it felt like this ...

Never eat sushi before having an allergy attack.

Because you (who have OCD food contamination issues) will imagine it was the sushi.  Even though you only eat cooked and vegetarian sushi.  Even though you eat it all the time, you will still think it was the sushi.

My sister and I had just entered a bead shop, looking around for fun.  It wasn't ten minutes after leaving the restaurant.  I started sneezing as soon as we entered the shop.  At first I thought it must have been dust, or maybe they were burning incense.  My OCD and GAD radar was up in a flash, of course, but years of training had the messages nicely contained.  "No problem.  Just a sneeze or two."  Then my nose started to run.  Well, I am allergic to dust.  Maybe it was a dusty shop.  I'd been there before and not had any reaction, but, first time for everything.  My cognitive rationalization was going nicely.

And then I started feeling really, really hot.  Celexa can give a person hot flashes, but those are almost always at night.  This was odd.  I assumed it was a physical reaction to my anxiety.  So I tried to talk it away.  Which, these days, always works.  I haven't had a full blown panic attack in years.  I can get them and beat them into submission before they beat me.  I started through my mental toolbox almost without realizing I was doing it.

Thirty seconds later, my skin felt like it was on fire.  This was particularly the skin of my forearms and face, but it felt like my neck and chest were starting up, too.  I couldn't believe it.  It had been a whole minute, maybe two, and I had not beaten down these panic symptoms.  It sort of hurt my pride as the OCD cognitive therapy poster child.

Then.  Then I heard this voice.  It was an inside voice.  It was very calm.  It said, "This is not panic.  This is a real physical reaction to something.  You are not making this up.  You are not making this happen with your anxiety.  This is real."

I didn't doubt the voice.  Which is bizarre in the extreme.  I hear voices all the time telling me things like "that shrimp you just ate was bad" or "that canned food is spoiled" or "that spinach you ate was clearly problem spinach."  And I have almost always been wrong.  Over and over, that voice that says "this is real" is wrong.

This was not that voice.

The OCD voice, it turns out, is something of a high pitched, whiny voice.  Demanding and scared $h!tless.  This other voice, telling me that my arms feeling on fire was real, that voice was clear, cool, matter of fact, and far more concerned with offering data than trying to instill fear.  It got my attention.

I finally actually looked down at my arms, and they were beet red.  Hives were starting to creep up to my upper arms while I watched.  Terror and odd calm were warring inside of me, as I turned to my sister.  She was browsing, and I wanted to get her attention right away.  I said, "I need you."  That worked.  She put down what she had in her hands and turned right to me.  I didn't need to say anything at that point, and don't remember the conversation exactly, but she instantly noticed that I had gotten rather red in the last three or four minutes since she'd last looked at me.

She immediately pulled me into the street, and we both watched as the red blotches continued creeping up my arms, and now apparently on my neck and chest.  Her first reaction was "let's go to the drugstore and get you an antihistamine right away."  That I agreed to this is an indication of how desperate I was.  I have not taken even Advil for pain for over a decade.  I take vitamins under protest, and only take my Celexa because I tell myself it is not a pill.  It is food.  Antihistamine?  Never.  Well, apparently 'never' just came up on the calender.

I can't really describe how I felt, although I am clearly trying.  I was about as anxious as I can get without totally losing it.  And yet there was still this cool, other voice, sort of testing things and reporting in.  "Okay, still breathing fine.  Rash is not spreading beyond current boundaries.  No sign of dizziness.  Suggests allergic reaction.  Not dead yet, so probably not a shock thing.  Probably won't just keel on over.  Something you ate, maybe.  Probably the sushi.  Something you ate."

That should have been the end of my self control.  Something you ate.  I ate.  My greatest, worst fear.  Something I ate.  And yet when my sister, who now had the joyful vision of me completely blotched and red next to her, said, "Maybe the emergency room," I said, "No."  I had a deep conviction, in the middle of all my fear and panic, that I wasn't actually ER worthy.  Not yet.

The drugstore pharmacist seemed to agree.  Since I could breathe, and the rash wasn't spreading further, she suggested the antihistamine, and to keep and eye on things.  As if I could do anything other than keep an eye on things, given my skin felt like it was burning right off of me.  Painful, fiery.  I'd never had a rash like this in my life, even being sensitive to heat, soaps, and fragrances.  This was the absolute worst.

Trying to choke down the liquid child's allergy med was a real thrill.  I had to stand there, tiny plastic cup in hand, eyes closed, and force myself to confront the choice.  Take the risk of taking a med, which I hated, or take the risk of having this attack get worse.  In the end, rational sense won out, and I drank the stuff down.  Unbeknownst to me, my sister had already decided I wasn't likely to get any worse, having been the recipient of many an allergy and hive attack, and mostly wanted me to drink the stuff for the sedative effect.

She had an appointment, which I insisted we keep.  After all, I knew we'd either go to her place and I'd sit around for a hour waiting to die, or we'd keep her appointment and I'd sit around for an hour waiting to die.  Of course, I wouldn't be writing this if all wasn't basically well.

By the time we returned to her home, the rash was much improved, and was now mortally itchy instead of feeling like hot acid.  I was starting to feel a bit drugged, since I react pretty strongly to sedatives.  So overall, this was an improvement.  I sat by my computer, wondering if I should do some search on "strange sushi rashes" when it hit me.

Niacin.  I was on a new kind of niacin.

Before, I was on no-flush niacin to improve my cholesterol.  Except research of just the last few months shows it does not work, so I had switched to the regular niacin.  I mentioned this to my tdoc, weeks ago, and he said he'd be on the stuff himself, but the "niacin flush" was too irritating to put up with.  I almost laughed at this, at the time.  After all the Celexa night sweats a bit of a hot blush "personal summer" was not going to be a problem.

I am, as I have noted, a complete moron.

Niacin flush, in extreme cases, can be exactly what I experienced.  Burn-your-face-off rash like fire over forearms, neck, face, and chest.  Why it waited until I'd been on the stuff for more than three weeks before causing a problem, I have no idea.  But after all the reading I've done, that is clearly what happened to me.  Niacin for cripes sake.

Lessons learned?  Interesting.  I confronted, rather obliquely, one of my greatest fears.  What I found was there is someone inside me who can be rational in the face of panic.  It wasn't a big or loud voice, but I heard it easily.  I found I can act with some semblance of control, even in the middle of panic.  That didn't use to be true.  My sister said she never saw me act in any way that she didn't feel was warranted.  She herself would have been freaked out by such a sudden reaction, unable to explain it.

So I feel stronger, in a way.  A little shaky, too, since the world managed to throw me a real sucker punch, and I practically hit the mat.

And pissed off.  Vitamins.  Hate those things.  The niacin is off the program, for now.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Red Mask, stefg74, flickr via Creative Commons CC 2.0

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Real Blue Morpho

Hello Friends:

For as long as I can remember I have been a little obsessed with butterflies.  They quickly attract my attention, and if one is floating by I'll stop everything to watch it.  When I was a child they seemed like fairies.  Beautiful, fast moving, colorful things will attract the attention of any child, of course, but I'm still suffering pretty acutely with this ADD behavior around butterflies.

As I became a little older, about high school, I started identifying more with the idea that butterflies represented a glorious end-state.  What starts as a crawling caterpillar bursts forth into a beautiful, winged, angelic creature - a perfect metaphor for growing up and getting an adult life of my own.  I started using butterflies now and then as images to represent myself.

And then, as more years went by and the true extent of my mental illnesses became apparent, the butterfly represented a new dimension of change - changing from something lowly, even ugly, that must crawl, into something gorgeous, heavenly, perfect, that can fly.  This was the change I wanted to make, and I started using butterflies as my icons all the time.  I collect stamps, and I found a few butterfly stamps that I would take out and look at regularly.

In graduate school I visited one of those live butterfly exhibits, this one in Houston.  You can sit in a replicated rain forest, quietly on a bench, and watch scores of butterflies flitter less than a dozen feet away.  I saw a real blue morpho butterfly alive for the first time.  One landed on my arm.  Several butterflies had landed on me that day, but it was the brilliant blue one that had me riveted.  Wow.  Blue has always been my favorite color It became the indelible icon of my hope for greater mental health. 

The symbol of freedom.

A butterfly even flew around under the wedding canopy during my wedding ceremony, and we all couldn't help but consider it a good omen.

The last few years have been a struggle to alter the image into something a little more accepting.  The idea I have been moving towards as a result of my mediation is that I am already the butterfly.  This is me, and this is now.  I might feel like a caterpillar, but the wings are already in place.  As enlightenment is likened to a flower, slowly opening its petals, I now see myself as a butterfly learning to spread her wings.  The idea is to focus on that acceptance, that realization.  We are not ugly.  We are not broken.  We are already gorgeous butterflies who need to open our wings and get some flying lessons.

My sister surprised me with an amazing birthday present this year, a real (sustainably farmed, previously deceased by natural causes) blue morpho butterfly.  While it feels a little strange to my OCDs to bring a dead insect into the house, the basement is already full of them, living and late. :)  Besides, I'm not so literally minded that I equate myself to a dead butterfly preserved in glass - that would be more the princess trapped in an ivory tower thing.  Definitely not my self image.  In any case I thought it was a fabulous gift and put it on the wall over my desk. 

It is beautiful, a wonderful symbol and reminder.  You are beautiful.  You are already what you are supposed to be.  Freedom is right now.  Open your wings and fly.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: My own blue morpho

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hanging With the Normals at the Car Shop

Hello Friends:

Right now I am waiting for my car, which is in for routine servicing.  I have a great shop, which is where we bought the car.  (Pic is not my car - I have a Honda.  One can dream.)  They have a nice waiting area at the shop with tables, free internet, and plenty of light.  And lots of people who have no idea that you are terrified.

I call them 'normals' sometimes.  This is so unfair to them, and to me.  I know perfectly well there are no normal people, only people pretending to be normal, or people who don't even realize that 'normal' is an issue.  Still, I can't help it, looking around and watching how they touch things without thinking, use water fountains with impunity, and eat their lunches on tables that have vague grease stains.  How do they do this?

It's been an hour and a half, so far, and nearby is a dad and his little girl.  I heard him say, "You've been so good!  It's been more than three hours, and you've been so patient."  He has a computer for her to play games, and she's been playing and listening to music.  He's been a great dad, watching her and commenting and giving her praise.  Bored or not, she obviously loves the attention.  It is so very cute, and I should be filled with thoughts about how d@mn cute she is.

And yet.  She is sick.  With something respiratory.  She has been coughing the entire time I've been here.  Every cough makes me jump inside.  I have to mentally try to calm down, and fight the urge to run away.  If she was at the same table, I would have moved - making some excuse about giving her and her dad more space.  But they are a dozen feet away in a large, well ventilated room.  She's sitting and playing happily, if getting a bit tired.  She isn't running around coughing on everyone and touching all the doorknobs and flat surfaces.  But I am still half stuck to the ceiling.  And I feel so bad about it, trapped between (1) wanting to feel sorry for her being sick and bored and/or smile at her cuteness, and (2) running away from her in fear.

More coughing.  Lots of coughing.  It has been two solid hours, now.  They must have been here for four.  I am still fighting the urge to run.  To find another table.  I don't want to.  I'm reading blogs and working on my writing and am in a nice, quiet spot without a lot of foot traffic.  I want to stay.  I know perfectly well there is no "safe" table.  No matter where I go, there will be something that will make me cringe.

My car is finished - two hours and fifteen minutes of cognitive dissonance.  I'm sure you know exactly what I mean.  I am so relieved to go.  I stand, collect my things, and my courage.  I walk over to the little girl and her dad and I say, "Wow, you are so patient!"  She's surprised, and sort of blinks and half-smiles at the stranger.  Her dad smiles broadly and replies, "A lot more patient than I am.  She's a good girl."  He is pleased with what I said.

So this is my win for the day.  Going home and wondering if I am going to get sick isn't anything new. That's every day.  But making someone smile in spite of terror, that was bonus.  So what's your latest win?  How'd you make it happen?

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: cool car from donaldmctim on flikr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Investing in Ourselves - Treating the Whole Person

Hello Friends:

The scientific literature for anxiety and depression continues to amuse, entertain, and on rare occasion actually enlighten.  I'm not even sure why I read the journals, since for the most part my only comment is "no duh."  But my psychologist continues to remind me that there is a difference between something being obvious to me as a sufferer of mental illnesses, and having actual metrics and research to back it up.  At least we have more and better ways to explain how crappy we feel.

But I don't want to actually get too down on it.  As a scientist I love research and data, I just wish these papers I read would say something really surprising.  I wish they would offer a jolt of realization, a truly new idea or approach.  Instead they say things like, "The people with GAD in this study felt bad, and the people with GAD as well as other diagnoses felt really bad."  In spite of everything, I keep hoping to spot that magic formula, that golden key that will unlock the mess that is my mind and make everything come together.

One advantage of reading over and over things you could have told the researcher yourself is validation.  There is now a lot of research backing up what many of us have been saying for years.  It gives me more faith in myself and my perception of my own situation.  And in spite of my belly-aching, the fact that I do keep reading the journals must mean I am enjoying it to some extent.  It's hardly required reading.

Anyway, here is something that caught my eye in the April 2011 issue of Depression and Anxiety.  (Yes, I'm behind in my reading.)  Hollon wrote a report entitled "Cognitive and Behavior Therapy in the Treatment and Prevention of Depression."  Here is an interesting quote about ADMs (Antidepressant Medication) "A recent reanalysis of the FDA database for all registered trials for a dozen of the more recently approved medications (including the bulk of the SSRIs) found evidence of substantial publication bias.  Trials that produced positive findings almost invariably found their way into the literature, whereas trials that did not either were never published or were published in a manner that made the target medication appear to be efficacious when it was not."

This is sad, but not unexpected.  Null results are always harder to publish, and large drug companies that fund many studies are not going to promote a paper that shows their drug is mediocre.  The reason I honed in on this is because I am a strong advocate for multiple kinds of therapy being used together - an integrated, holistic approach to treating people as whole people.  In my case, that means both meds and talk therapy, as well as other things.  I've known too many people who chose to treat depression with meds, and nothing else.  Hollon goes on to say, "Finally, there is no evidence that having taken ADM does anything to reduce risk for subsequent symptom return and standard practice has evolved over the last several decades to keep most patients who respond on medication indefinitely."

And, well, some of us may need that.  I'm not sure I'll ever be in a position to go off the meds completely.  I had four major depressive episodes that were completely untreated, and that carves quite a biochemical path through the brain.  Still, I do not think this means everyone needs the meds forever, as is the current trend.  I also think that concentrating on just meds means that a lot of people who need deeper intervention never get it.  There are people who would improve and take control of their lives in a whole new way if they had the right combination of treatment.  Some talk/cognitive/acceptance type therapies DO have evidence to show a reduced risk for subsequent symptom return.  And that is certainly some data that shouldn't be ignored.

I think as patients we need to be sure we advocate for the treatments we need - what we know works for us as individuals and complete people - rather than what is the trend of the moment.  Research is great stuff, but in the end, bias shows up in the literature the same as it does in any human endeavor.

The literature can point us all over the place.  I advocate that the investment we need to make in ourselves is to treat ourselves as whole people, who need a host of things like good food, sleep, and social interaction.  Our minds and bodies are working with the same chemistry, and are the same electrical system.  We need all kinds of options, like meds, CBT, ERT, talk therapy, DBT, yoga, meditation, acupucture, and more, to create a therapy program that really moves us forward in our healing.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: [F]oxymoron, The Chemistry of Inversion, Creative Commons via Flickr CC 2.0

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Learning More About Grief, the Hard Way

Hello Friends:

I lost a friend a few days ago.  I had intended to blog about it immediately, but was still sort of in shock.  Or denial.  Definitely denial, since I can feel this "how can this person not exist anymore" sensation.  I had known for several months that she had cancer, something with a bad prognosis.  But the last report just a week or so ago was that she was in treatment, battling hard, still writing papers and grading tests.  And then this.  She was 47, and as full of life and willpower as anyone I'd ever met.

I am really tired of people dying.  In the last several years I've lost my father-in-law, a grandmother, a grandmother-in-law, several science colleagues ... it's a bit of a list.  Some were older, and had been ill for some time.  That doesn't help, but facing the stark inevitability of someone elderly passing away is at least vaguely comprehensible.  Some were younger, like my friend.  This is not comprehensible.  Not computing.

I've written before on the problem of grieving past losses.  I know part of the healing process is looking back on an abusive and traumatic past and learning how to grieve what never was.  Not that I'm particularly good at it.  It's just too hard, and seems sort of optional.  Who wants to go digging, even if you know you need to deal with that loss eventually?  It seems ignorable.  Easy to focus on other "more pressing" issues.  And then something like this happens, and grief and loss come and slap you in the face.  There is no escape from this.

You can feel the echoes through your whole psyche - it feels too familiar - and you realize your interior tapestry is largely woven from sadness, grief, and loss.  That past is the fiber inside of you, and this new grief is catching on the threads, caught, tangled.  You have an inclination to grab a pair of scissors and cut it out, every spot of grief and pain.  But you get some semblance of sanity, and realize you'll end up with an inside full of more holes than you already have.  You can't cut your memories away without cutting yourself out along with it.  It is so much harder to try to darn and re-weave, but that's the choice.  Hardly profound, but facing facts is one of those things I'm trying to get myself to do right now.

I don't want to forget my friend.  It hurts, but I want to go on remembering.  It's important.  She deserves to be remembered and her life deserves to be celebrated.

Not that I feel like celebrating at the moment.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Sky Cries Mary by frantikgirl on flickr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Monday, April 25, 2011

New Doctors and Other Triggers

Hello Friends:

So here today is a happy picture, in honor of Easter, obviously.  I found out that a long time reader was very distressed over the picture I had in my last post.  She wanted to check and see if I had posted anything more recent, but had stopped checking the blog since the picture was too triggery.  This is a good lesson for me.  I had, of course, intentionally chosen the image since it was a good match to the subject of the post, and because it generated an emotional reaction.  I wanted to express some of the outrage I felt at the subject, but I hadn't meant for it to be actually painful to view.  I'll be a bit more careful with my images in the future.  Here is a new post, with a happy image, so that the other one moves on down the line.  We all have enough sources of stress without running into creepy images on our favorite mental health blogs, eh?

And speaking of sources of stress, how about the one where you lose three of your mental health providers within two months of each other?  This is what I have going on in my treatment life right now.  My pdoc (psychiatrist) and two of my somatic therapists are moving on to other things, or have taken extended leaves of absence.

My reaction has been pretty typical of a patient losing a doctor that they have become attached to - denial, anger, fussiness, pouting, and then trepidation at trying to find someone new.  My pdoc has already provided a list of possible alternate doctors, and since I only see this person once every three months, I'm trying not to get too bent out of shape.  I just need someone who will write that prescription and keep me on track with my meds.  But still, I am anxious that I'll have to go about justifying myself all over again to a new doctor.  It is a process I hate.  I know I need the meds.  And I despise the fact that there is someone else who actually has the veto power over my ability to function.  Being dependent on another person to deign to allow you access to your meds is demeaning.  Or at least it can feel that way to me.

I'm more worried about finding new somatic therapists.  In the last two years I've made a lot of progress because I've engaged in this mix of massage/talk/energy work that goes straight to the deepest emotional memory of the body.  It has made a huge amount of difference in my being able to process issues around my CPTSD.  But the trust level involved is huge - it takes a long time to get to the point where you can be that honest with anyone, while at the same time they have their hands on you, possibly causing actual pain as they realign your pelvis.  A strange but effective process that hinges on the trust in the therapist.  No surprise there.  But finding a new energy therapist is going to take a lot of time, indeed.  I'm not even sure there is another clinic in proximity to where I live.

So this might the time for me to try some other kinds of therapy that I haven't really given a fair shake in the past.  And I have hardly been keeping up daily with my mediation and yoga at home, either.  Still, I'm not quite sure where to go from here.  I guess I'm still in the denial/fussy phase, where I just don't want to find new people.  It is so hard.  How is it that those of us with such low self esteem have to be in these positions of thinking we deserve new and good therapists, anyway?  I'm glad I'm not really depressed right now, since in a low like that it would be impossible even to consider finding new people.

Okay, enough ranting about that there.  I'm interested to know how you cope when you need to find new providers.  How long do you spend in denial, and how do you go about filling in the gap?  Do you have any strategies to bolster yourself, and finding new people?

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Rainbow Easter Eggs D. Sharon Pruitt on Flikr via Creative Commons CC 2.0

Friday, February 18, 2011

Words Through the Walls

Hello Friends:

I am, this very moment, hearing my neighbors arguing.  I live in a townhouse with reasonably thick walls, but yelling, loud music, and such can be heard pretty clearly.

This couple has a loud argument about once a month.  They have done this for the last three years.  Usually I immediately play music to drown it out, leave the house, or start up with an engaging video game until they are done.  Usually lasts 15 minutes to half an hour, and then they seem to wind down.  I try to avoid hearing them because (1) I really don't have any interest in knowing what my neighbors are doing, I am not nosy or gossipy by nature, but more importantly (2) hearing the sound of yelling in an argument makes me really, really uncomfortable.  Scared.  Angry.  Sad.  Confused.  Then scared again.  These arguments really, really upset me.  I get a sensation that I'm going to freak out, and can't move fast enough to find a way to drown it out.

This is hardly a huge shock, given how I grew up.  The yelling at us kids for stupid things.  And worse, the yelling between my parents that would always be turned on us once they got tired of yelling at each other.  I was raised in a chaotic environment where verbal abuse, loud and otherwise, was commonplace.  And having been raised that way, it is again no surprise that I repeated this pattern of self-abuse by living with an emotionally and occasionally physically abusive boyfriend for five years.  So I am understandably very touchy when it comes to couples yelling at each other.

The thing that makes this argument different is that I am intentionally not tuning it out.  I've chosen to practice my mindfulness in this really uncomfortable situation.  I'm going to sit here and listen to this.  I'm going to feel what I feel.  I'm not going to judge myself or try to keep from feeling unhappy.  I'm just going to sit with this discomfort.  I'm going to think thoughts, ask questions, but I'm not going to avoid anything.  No avoidance.  This is really hard.  There is a rock in my stomach.  My palms are sweaty.

And it is still going over there.  Loud and scary.  I can hear, actually hear, the sound of my parents arguing in my head.  I feel like I am being yelled at, personally.  This is a bad one even for the neighbors.  It has already been a half hour.  Why does a woman stand there and let a man call her a *uk#ing idiot?  Why does a man stand there and let a woman call him a lazy bastard?  These are somewhat rhetorical questions, since as I said I was in an abusive relationship, and at the time I thought I deserved the abuse.  That I wasn't worth anything better.  That I could never find anything better.  I was also afraid to leave.  I was afraid he would stalk me, hurt me.  So yes, I get why people might do it.  But ... but really.  Now that I'm out of it, no, I don't get it.

Good grief, he is actually mocking her now.  Mocking.  A sing song voice.  The tone makes me want to tear someone's eyes out.  Wait.  Now they are yelling about who is at fault that each one of them no longer has friends.  Their words through the walls are loud and perfectly clear.  I'm choking down pained laughter.  If they would actually listen to themselves, the 'lack of friends' would be less of a mystery.  I sure have no interest in them.

My husband and I never yell at one another.  Not now, not ever.  Not once.  We've had a few heated arguments in the 17 or so years we've been together, but never yelling.  Part of the reason, of course, is that I can't abide it.  He is much less sensitive to it, given the normal volume of conversation in his house growing up was yelling, even when people were perfectly happy.  But even so, he agrees it is much more pleasant without the constant noise.

Okay, now it is so loud it is garbled.  Um.  He's saying "You are an a$$hole to me.  You haven't changed at all."  She is too shrill to be understood.  I realize I am actually afraid of ... of him doing something like ... well ... firing a gun.  I have this image of a gun going off, and a bullet flying through the wall and killing me.  How ... bizarre.  I ... you know, I have that thought every time they yell over there.  Somehow ... somehow I see their arguing as a direct threat to me.  A threat to my life.  Well, of course I do.  But now that I think about it, that's me doing ...

Oh, for heaven's sake, I'm having a flashback.  Of course I am.  I don't mean to say I've been shot at.  It's not that literal.  I have Chronic PTSD, not trauma from a single event.  When I flashback, I find myself caught in an amalgam of events; a mix of memories, some clear, some vague.  So it takes me 45 minutes to realize I'm in the middle of a flashback.  It does usually take a while since I don't have any visual symptoms.  I don't 'see' the past.  But I can hear it, smell it, even feel it.  My eyes see 'now.'  The rest of me is perceiving a blur of events from long ago.  My heart is pounding, I can hear my parents yelling, at each other, at me.  I am ... I am a little girl hiding in a corner.

And as soon as I started writing the above paragraph, I started feeling more normal.  Realizing it wasn't 'real,' wasn't 'now' helped it go away.  I have no evidence that things next door have ever gotten physical.  Just yelling.  There is no indication or evidence that any kind of violence has or will happen over there.  My fear of being hurt is completely unfounded in the 'now'.  It is entirely the past.  I'm there, living it as if it were the present.

It's been an hour.  They are finally done.

That sucked.

Was it worth it?  Hmm.  I'm an experimentalist, so it's hard to say an experiment was useless.  Even a null result is a result.  I didn't actually freak out.  I had a flashback.  I probably always do and never realized it before, even when I turn up the music, since I am always rattled for hours after they shut up.  Running from it did not make the fear stop.  I can't say confronting it made the fear stop, since I feel like total crap right now.

But if nothing else, I did just prove to myself that I can live through an argument.  The yelling alone can't kill me.  I did not 'freak out' any more than usual.  And I also have some more proof about how tough it can be to tell the difference between a PTSD flashback and a nasty GAD anxiety attack.  They seem so similar on the surface, but a flashback is more insidious.  Darker.  Deeper.  Tangled.

Whatever.  I deserve a reward.  Chocolates.  I know I shouldn't use food.  Too bad. 

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info:  The Sun Goes Down, gideon_wright on Flikr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Back with More Acronyms, and Some Frustration

Hello Friends:

Back after another hiatus.  It is starting to get easier to come back and try to take up where I left off.  Less guilt about having been away.  Which was, admittedly, always kind of silly given that anyone who reads this blog already knows all about mental illness and the problems it causes.  So I'll say I'm glad I'm up to writing today, that I hope I'm back on track for posting, and it's nice to see you all again and catch up on your blogs!

BUT the motivation to write today does, indeed, come from a point of frustration.  For the last two weeks I've been arguing with my psychologist, saying that no, I do not have Seasonal Affective Disorder, I just really hate the holidays and need lots of time to get over them.  Then my psychiatrist entered the fray, and I finally had to admit to the weight of the evidence. 

Scientist = Objective x Irony

So now I have another disorder to add to my list at the top of this blog.  I'm running out of room.

Why does this make me so angry?  Usually, I feel validated when I get a diagnosis.  I feel that my 'issues' have a name, a reason, and more importantly, a treatment.  I usually feel some hope that there are new avenues to try, new options to explore to feeling better.  But I strongly resisted this diagnosis, and now am angry I have a new disorder.  I have enough to deal with ...

Then a semblance of rationality flits across my brain.  Whatever has been going on during the winter months - either SAD, or family issues, or simply how much I hate snow - it has been and still is going on no matter what it is called.  Reality has not changed because my 'winter blues' have a new name.  I've been dealing with this all along.  Naming it helps.  Yes.  Focus on that.  Yep.

Still angry.  Okay.  Need some more time on this one.  Did you get angry when you got a diagnosis?  How about if you got like three of them?  Five?  More?  Do you feel better with an acronym to your problem, or worse?

I know that eventually I'll focus on the positive, since that's what I've done before.  But right now ... frustrated.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Zach Klein, from Creative Commons via Flickr  CC 2.0

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