Okay Smarty, Go To A Party…

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Last Saturday, I went to a party hosted by my husband’s coworker.  No big deal, right?  Except that the last BIG party I went to was in 2005, shortly after my father died.  And the last time I went to a party hosted at THIS house, I was bitten by their miserable fear-biting mutt, badly enough that I should have had stitches and still have a scar on my right pinky.

So, 8 years since I’d been to a party with People I Don’t Know.  10 years since I’d been to The Dog Bite House.  And I Did Not Want To Go.

Which is exactly why I did.  The fear-biting mutt – who really couldn’t help himself in the first place – died a few months ago, so he couldn’t hurt me.  The Husband’s other coworkers hadn’t met me, and I was SURE they thought I was his “Imaginary Wife.”    Most important – I realized just how like my Mother I’m becoming in my anxiety and agorophobia, and That Must Stop.

As it turned out, only one of The Husband’s coworkers showed up.  She is a delightful person and I wish I’d met her sooner.  Her husband is a mellow, steady man much like my husband – just the energy I needed to be able to manage being around so many people.  There was a dog there, but she is a mellow shy girl and I was comfortable with her in spite of her size.  All of the other guests were friends and coworkers of the host’s wife – I told them upfront that I am very anxious in large groups of people, and while they were a boisterous bunch, each one of them was warm and welcoming and utterly willing to let me socialize or not at my own comfort level, without judgement.  Nobody pressured me to drink, the herb cheese and pita chips I brought as an alternative to The Husband’s Salsa From Hell were well received, and I was able to enjoy myself just a little.

I’m not saying “Hallelujah, I’m Cured!”  But I think maybe I won’t wait 8 years to go to another party.

Six Days of Something Awful

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It hasn’t been a good week.  In fact it’s been pretty awful; a family member has been diagnosed with cancer, the AC in our apartment is having its annual “I’m broken and nobody can figure out why” fit of spite, The Husband and I had a big old stupid fight over something that we should have taken care of together months ago, and I have been sick with a sore throat that just won’t go away.  My anxiety has been through the roof and I’ve been struggling with a small depressive swing.  And last night I got smacked with the grand daddy of all gallbladder attacks, after thinking I could get away with potato pancakes AND eggs after a week of restaurant food/fast food/junk food because it was too hot to cook.

But…

The stupid fight resulted in plans for a “fix” that will make both of us happy.  The AC will be fixed some time today or tomorrow – according to the property management company, it qualifies as an “Emergency Repair” that gets priority as soon as it goes over 100 degrees – which it will do today.  I got a “life-preserver” phone call from a friend who saw my Facebook posts and realized I was floundering.  The physician’s assistant appointment yesterday set some things in motion that should result in me feeling MUCH better soon.  And when we went out to dinner last night, we had one of those “state of the marriage” talks that left both of us feeling more sure and secure with the choices we’ve made and the direction we’re going.

It’s been six days of something awful – but yesterday I rounded the corner and there’s a whole lot of something good just up ahead.

This is not about what you think it is.

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28 years ago, give or take a week or two, I was supposed to be giving birth.  My baby was going to have thick curly hair and skin the color of hot chocolate, and she was going to grow up to be a fierce brave woman… Of course, I didn’t really know what gender the baby would be, and in the end it didn’t matter.  My baby was never born because she was taken away from me by her father, who pounded his fists against my belly to make sure she would never be born.  I miscarried on Christmas Eve and then spent the holiday trying to hide my grief so I wouldn’t be beaten again.

Every year on Christmas Eve, and again in July, I thought about her and who she would have been, and how much I wish I’d gotten to watch her grow up.  This year, I’m thinking about her, and who she would have been, and wishing I’d gotten to watch her grow up… and feeling a guilty sense of relief.  I’m relieved that I never had to explain to her why her grandmother refused to acknowledge her existance.  I’m relieved that I never had to explain to her why I was so terrified of her father.  I’m relieved that I never had to try – and fail – to protect her from a world that labeled her as “less-than” because of her color and gender, and went out of its way to hurt and control her.  I’m relieved I never had to hold her hand as she tried to decide what to do about a pregnancy she wasn’t ready for.  I’m relieved that I never had to comfort her as her friend was lowered into the earth because someone deemed him too dangerous to live – for no other reason than being male and black.  

I feel guilty for feeling relief – and I am ANGRY.  I am angry at a government that says a woman has no right to determine what happens in her vagina, and I am angry at a judicial system so broken that a teenaged boy is dead while his his murderer not only got away with it, but was only charged in the first place because of public outrage.  I am angry and tired of feeling powerless against that government that bears no resemblance to the one I grew up believing in.

I am ANGRY, and it’s time to do something about it.

Brain Chemistry

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It’s been just a bit over two months since I quit Cymbalta (under doctor’s orders, for those who have not been following along).  Over the past two weeks, I’d say I’ve had more good days than bad.  Most days, I have not needed more than two lorazepam.  On the really good days, I’ve only needed one, at bedtime.  I am still crying a lot, but my husband assures me that most of the time I do have good reason.  I still have to remind myself not to fight the tears when they come, because when I do it turns into a panic attack.  Contrary to my childhood conditioning, there’s no shame in crying.

Today is one of the less-than-good days.  I have been wrestling with anxiety all morning and will need a lorazepam with my lunch.  I know the cause of the anxiety – I had my seven months overdue labwork done yesterday, and there was an email from the doctor covering for my former primary care doctor asking me to come in to discuss the results.  Normally, my results appear online and I just have to log in to see them.  I know that he wants me to come in because I haven’t had an office visit since December.  My brain is galloping away with me anyway, telling me there must be something wrong.  I know that if there was something seriously wrong, he would have called me instead of sending an email.  The part of my brain that controls the anxiety attacks isn’t getting the message.

Tomorrow, I should hear from my psychiatrist about the results of my labwork testing my depakote levels.  If it’s at therapeutic levels, then my dose gets left alone and I can finally go for a refraction exam and get new glasses (and therefore the freedom to drive again).  If it’s too high or too low then there will be dosage adjustments and I will have to wait a few months more for the glasses.  

I am really looking forward to the day when all of my levels balance out again.  

Life With Cataracts

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These are my old glasses – all less than 2 years old:

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Back in November, I was diagnosed with Trace Cataracts and Central Serous Retinopathy.  My vision had been changing rather rapidly, my headaches were constant, and I was having triple vision when looking at traffic lights.  At the time, I was told it wasn’t really bad enough yet to warrant surgery, and to come back in six months for a recheck.  Given my tendency to anxiety and OCD, I spent most of that time half-convinced my mother had been right:  I was going to go blind and be utterly dependent on someone else.

Back in the beginning of May, I went back for that recheck, and the cataracts were upgraded to Nuclear Cataracts.  My vision isn’t as bad as the example in the picture yet, thankfully.  The doctor opted to wait another six months for my surgery because I was only just a week into my Cymbalta detox, and since just about all psych meds can cause blurred vision, she want wants to see how my vision is once my brain chemistry stabilizes again.  For the same reason, she didn’t want to write me a new prescription for my glasses because my prescription is crazy-expensive.  When your prescription is -8 diopters, “cheap” glasses still run about $400.

That meant I had to stop driving.  I couldn’t read the street signs until I was right on them, and while GPS helped, it’s a little scary to depend solely on it.  The loss of independence has, to say the least, SUCKED.  It’s really hard to be patient when everything I want to do outside the home depends on someone else being able to drive me there.  This is Sacramento in July – public transit is not an option for someone who is as heat and sun sensitive as I am.

It’s not all doom and gloom though.  I’ve been off the Cymbalta since the beginning of May. Two months out.  Saturday morning The Husband took me out for breakfast, and on the way home I realized I could read the freeway sign for the next exit – far enough away that if I was driving I’d have plenty of time to make my lane change.  Residential street signs are still a little too blurry to feel safe driving yet, but I see the Psychiatrist tomorrow for a medication check.  If he doesn’t change my medications, I think it’s time to call and schedule  a refraction appointment.  If it means my vision can be corrected enough to be able to drive again this summer, it’s worth spending the last of the Flex-Plan account on.  I have places to go, and people to see!

Therapy Day

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Yesterday was therapy day, and I had scheduled for 4pm instead of my usual lunchtime appointment.  I won’t be making THAT mistake again!

Instead of my normal routine – get up, get dressed, jitter for a couple of hours until The Husband gets home from work, go pick up lunch and eat it in the car before going up to my session – I sat and jittered and worked myself up into anxious knots All. Damned. Day.  Then when The Husband got home to pick me up, I kept misunderstanding and mis-communicating as we talked about what I needed before the session. We wound up arriving WAY too early to go up for my session, and WAY too late to go through a drive-thru to get me a tide-me-over til dinner, which resulted in me having a teary meltdown in the car.  I hate doing that.  It makes me feel like a spoiled five-year old.

Therapy itself was good, in the way that getting a root canal is good:  it’s painful and you cry a lot, but then it’s over and it’s a huge relief to have that particular pain eased.  I am *never* going to like having to go to therapy, but I know it’s necessary to maintain my stability and so I’ll keep going.

Things I wish people knew about mental illness: the bipolar edition

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  • Having “mood swings” does not mean a person is bipolar.  There are a lot of reasons, medical and situational, for a person to be “moody.”  Leave the diagnosis to the professionals.
  • I am not bipolar.  I have bipolar disorder.  Big difference.
  • No, it’s nothing like they show on TV or in the movies.
  • No, it won’t go away if I just think happy thoughts.
  • Sucking it up and pushing through are only short-term solutions.
  • Depression isn’t just feeling really, really sad.  It’s sitting in the dark feeling empty and hopeless and worthless too, all at once, and knowing the light switch is RIGHT THERE but being unable to see it, much less reach it.
  • Mania isn’t just feeling happy and hyper.  It’s feeling like you could do ANYTHING, only you lose interest in the middle of whatever it is and scamper off to something else and wind up with 20 different half-finished things going on at once.  It’s feeling like you can’t sit still, like you’re jumping out of your skin, and not being able to manage a normal conversation because your brain keeps skipping all over the place and where the brain goes, the mouth follows.  It’s frustration and anger because you just want to concentrate but you cantslowyourbraindownlongenoughtothinkstraight.
  • No, there is no cure, only maintenance and periods of recovery.
  • No, the medications don’t make it all better.
  • Yes, I have to take them anyway.
  • No, you don’t need to ask if I’m taking them.
  • In fact, it’s okay to ask if I’m okay.  It’s NOT okay to ask if I’m taking my meds unless you’re one of my designated support people (husband, therapist, doctor).
  • It’s okay if you can’t be there for me when I’m recovering from an episode.  Just don’t disappear without a word.  A simple “love you, praying for you” is enough.