Just beneath the surface of normal

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Anatomy of A Breakdown

Well, here we are at another healthcare post. I swear, 50% of this blog is me talking about medical issues. But I think that it’s important to talk about the stuff that nobody wants to talk about, because otherwise it always seems like we’re going through something unique all alone, which is pretty much never true. But my brain is really foggy and unfocused right now, so I have no idea how this will turn out or if you’ll be able to follow. At any rate…

Stuff I’ve learned this week:

1 in 6 mental health crises are due to workplace issues. That’s too many for me to accept the notion that I should hide this. Mental illness is still stigmatized, but it shouldn’t be if that many people are struggling with their jobs (which of course they are because humans were never designed to live like this). I came out at work that I was sick with a nervous breakdown, just like I would tell the truth if I’d had a heart attack or a broken leg. We don’t have short term disability (which should really be renamed, because STD sounds like something you wouldn’t want at a workplace when you actually should) so I’m using FMLA leave to get my brain functioning again, and I’m not going back until I feel like I can do the job I’m paid to do again. I started wanting to die instead of going to work, and I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t be ashamed of that when the environment is as toxic as it is. Absolutely everyone has been very kind to me about it, and I don’t have to hold the shame (or mental cohesiveness) of a secret, which is too much for me to handle right now anyway.

New meds can do super-weird things to your brain. For example, last night I accidentally made cupcakes. Yes, accidentally. See, I keep winding up at events that serve desserts I can’t eat because they have gluten and/or dairy in them, so I’ve had a growing urge for chocolate ganache, as I sadly pass up the pretty pastries. Last night after I dropped Jim off for his trip to Boston, I was rummaging in the cabinet for a snack and found these really bland gluten free cookies, so l decided that I would make some dairy free ganache (literally just some almond milk and a chopped up dark chocolate bar melted in the microwave & stirred, with a dash of salt at the end) to spread on the cookies and make them better – which I did. Except that by the time I finished making the ganache, I had forgotten about the cookies and I was all, “Why the hell did I just make a whole cup of chocolate goo? What am I going to do with it?” So I rummaged in a different cabinet and found expired gluten free cake mix and decided I’d make cupcakes or something. Which I did, adding a bit of extra baking powder to accommodate the expiration problem, and then I sat down on the couch and waited for them to bake.

At which point I realized that I’m home alone all week and not working, and I now have 18 gluten free cupcakes, which have an edible lifespan of about 48 hours, and nobody to share them with, and I only really wanted one cupcake. So now, instead of “why did I just make ganache?” I was left pondering, “why on earth did I just make cupcakes, and what the hell am I going to do with them?” (answer: probably freeze them) In other words: accidental cupcakes.

Which is all to say that while the new medication seems to be affording me a certain amount of volition, it’s not offering any focus or linear thinking/problem solving skills to accompany it. Which is probably why a lot of suicides happen right after a medication change. Don’t worry, I’m being careful. But this is also why I’m on leave. I can’t do my job if I’m losing track of what I’m doing this easily. I deal with academic petitions and confidential information, and that’s too important for me to lose someone’s paperwork and accidentally make cupcakes instead. Also I seem to be having panic attacks at semi-predictable times every day, which really doesn’t work in a customer-facing job.

There are a lot of resources for when you’re crashing, but they aren’t where you’re looking. Finding a new Psychiatrist is a joke, especially when you need one now. Because there’s a massive shortage, and the insurance industry still doesn’t treat mental illness as an illness, so what Psychiatrists there are often don’t  work with insurance companies. The good news:

  1. There is a thing called a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, who can help with medication issues. I’m seeing one at the crisis center until I can be shoehorned into a practice, but I’d be perfectly happy to just see her forever. The more time I spend with NPs, the more I prefer them to doctors, because they listen and have empathy and aren’t in it for the ego trip.
  2. This is too hard to figure out alone. Call a crisis hotline, or go to the Health & Human Services Mental Health site for immediate resources. If you don’t want to talk to people on the phone, you can also go to this services locator and find all the resources in your area. If all of that is too much, enlist a friend or family member. If that’s too much, you should probably call 911 right now, because you’re in worse shape than you realize, especially if you’re thinking about how nice it would be to be not alive right now.
  3. This is a serious illness, and it is eligible for leave from work, school, etc. while you figure it out. All of it will wait, and that happening is much better than dying, even if it fucks with your plans.

I am a fucking badass. I have endured sexual abuse, rape, assault, emotional abuse, abandonment, and a veritable shit-bouquet of other traumas. I have PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Most people like me are unable to sustain relationships, and are trapped in some form of addiction (which is pretty much why I can’t watch Jessica Jones even though it’s really good). I’ve been in therapy for the better part of my life, and the return on that is that I know when I’ve gone too far and my feelings are out of my control and I need to get help. I know that hitting a wall is usually actually a stair step higher than I was prepared for, and I can see it as an opportunity for growth, even if the process is bullshit. I’m in a happy marriage with a supportive spouse who is an active partner in my healing process, and helps me confront things like shame and overwhelm and irrational terror with grace and kindness. I have a kid who appears to be a successful adult and is more or less free of the generational cycle of abuse. I’m doing better than most, and still I struggle and fall. Not to say that I’m better than anyone who is trapped in addiction or abusive relationship cycles, just that I have worked for long enough to have earned some perspective and I’m grateful for it. Usually I’m sort of embarrassed to be me, but the crisis counselor was genuinely blown away by how functional I am despite my breakdown, and how able I am to speak for what’s happening to me rather than from it. Go me! I rock at breakdowns, woo!

This is survivable. I know that most of the people who read this know me and know a lot of this (though I’m not talking much these days, so this also serves as a sort of an update). But I also hope that someone somewhere stumbles on this when they’re lost and don’t know what to do and at the end of their rope and finds their way to help, because even though it feels like a hole you can’t get out of, you totally can. And you will, because nothing stays the same even if you want it to (and hey, who WOULDN’T want to hang out in this pit forever, right?). But first you have to ask for help. And then you have to let go and trust that instead of falling further, you will rise. I totally believe in you – you can do this thing. Ten seconds at a time.

If random encouragement from a stranger doesn’t help, go read this, because cartoons about depression are somehow really comforting.


Allie Brosh is like the matron saint of depressed people.


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When Your Mental Health Crisis Doesn’t Fel Crisis-y Enough

I have a couple of half-written posts that I’m struggling with because I’ve been going over an emotional cliff in slow motion for a couple of weeks now. Yesterday I went over the edge- which is basically a good thing, but sucks balls while it’s happening.

I forced myself out of bed with this song:

to drag myself into my miserable job and try to hold it together another day, while I thought things like how much nicer it would be to be dead than to continue dying slowly in this place, and then tried to keep that line of thinking as controlled and non-specific as I could. About an hour in, someone pulled the panic alarm in the bathroom, where it went off for 10 more minutes. That was the straw was too much for my already camel-laden nerves. Tears came, and wouldn’t stop, so I had to go home. Not sobbing or ugly crying or anything, just leaking from the eyes and nothing I could do about it. So I grabbed a tissue and walked the long way around campus and took the train home, wishing I’d taken more than one tissue as the one I was holding got soggier and more full of eye makeup.

Jim came and got me, and I sobbed in the car a little bit, then took a whole Ativan and went to sleep. I woke up last night feeling hollowed out and still on the edge of tears despite a long walk in the sunshine, and so I called out sick today because this is the mental health equivalent of a cluster migraine, or possibly a TIA.

I spent this morning trying to find a new psychiatrist, because my last one moved away and I just let my primary keep renewing my prescriptions for the past 18 months or however long it’s been because I seriously can’t keep up with time anymore. Over the course of two hours of searching and calling, most weren’t taking new patients, some didn’t take insurance, and some were just incredibly impatient with me.

I went online to request a referral, but I had to name the unit to complete the request – and all of this is so fucking much to cope with when you’re about 80% of the way to catatonic. So I went to the website of the hospital network to look up what to call their behavioral health practice, when I came across a crisis number. I called it and they referred me to a place nearby that does walk-in intervention for people who aren’t at the planning point of suicidal (if you’re starting to plan, just call 911). I see my therapist in half an hour, after which I will go to my calculus class because I’m afraid of missing any more and there’s an exam next week and I need to improve my grade to pass, and then I will go get walk-in help before I get any worse. I’m afraid of being hospitalized, but I feel sort of safe that they’ll be able to determine if that’s the right thing, and it isn’t up to me to try to assess myself and navigate this on my own.

So I guess I’m writing this to say that nervous breakdowns are going to happen when you’re being treated for depression, anxiety, and PTSD and have been in a shitty situation for a really long time, and that if everything seems hopeless and inescapable and you’re having vague thoughts about dying but you’re sure that you wouldn’t follow through, you should still contact a crisis hotline right away – even if you’re not an immediate danger to yourself. They can do all the rational thinking bits and help you find the resources you need so that you can find a way through and get away from those intrusive thoughts.

Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

If you can’t bring yourself to talk, there is also an online chat option.



My Sheepish Re-Return to Blogging. Again.

I know. I know. It’s been months.

It’s been a rough winter. I mean, it was disturbingly mild as winters go, but it was definitely a long slow bloody-handed crawl through the dark times anyway. I slept a lot. I got sick a lot. I started writing a blog post about feeling crappy, and then realized that I do that every single February and all I’d really be doing is inventing new metaphors for the same Seasonal Affective Shit-Show I go through every year.


I thought about weighing in on politics, but frankly I’ve had my fill already and I have nothing to say that people with bigger platforms haven’t already (bless you, Samantha Bee). And suddenly BAM! – it’s been a quarter of a year since I posted.

I’m a terrible blog mom.

One of my birthday resolutions (yes, those are a thing, unlike those frivolous New Year’s resolutions that I refuse to participate in) was that I need to commit to writing every single week, even when I have nothing to write about. And then I got in trouble for Internet-ing at work, and I haven’t been able to find a good time to jump in. But it’s spring break now, so I can’t even fall back on “I’m a student and calculus is hard” (which it actually kind of isn’t, to my utter surprise, but I’m still keeping it on my excuse list).

So, to get you more or less up to date:

1.       Fuck winter. I think we covered that, but it bears repeating. If not winter, then fuck the society that insists that I get up in the dark and come home in the dark and in between spend the day in a soulless job in exchange for dubious societal benefits and marginal insurance coverage that is only good by our hideous national standards. It is stunning the degree to which working in a bureaucracy grinds you down.

2.       Having your adult kid come home to visit is weird because she’s sort of Schrodinger’s Guest. Not in the dead/not-dead way, but in the guest/not-a-guest way. It’s a whole new relationship to negotiate, and I understand my parents better as a result. PSA: your parents miss you like they’ve lost an appendage. They probably express it horribly and come across as needy, or overcompensate to the point of strained aloofness. The intention behind it is love. Connect whenever you can. It’s worth it, and the more time you spend on it, the easier it becomes.

3.       Invisible knapsacks are like Tardises – they’re bigger on the inside and they go every-damn-where. Being white means I get to be weird and vaguely inappropriate, and get away with things my colleagues of color would be criticized for. That’s so unfair. I don’t want that and there’s nothing I can do about it. It makes me sad beyond measure that authenticity is a privilege.

4.       Everywhere I go now, people are artlessly littering their sentences with “fuckin’” the way we peppered our speech with “like” in the 90s. Suddenly “fuck” has lost its luster, which makes me sad because it actually used to mean something. Now I find myself editing it out of my writing, which makes it sort of overly serious. I’m currently taking auditions for other casually aggressive but intimate emphatic words. In other news:


So. This is 41.

5.       Somehow I thought it would be a good idea to team up with my social psychologist friend to lead a roundtable discussion on Benevolent Sexism next Friday, which means I’m in crash-course mode about the topic.  Benevolent Sexism is sort of the friendly pigeon-holing of women that we receive as a compliment and so unwittingly reinforce unequal gender/power expectations. Chivalry is one example: holding doors, carrying heavy things, placing women on pedestals – generally treating us like idealized children. But so is the idea that women are better nurturers, better empathizers, and can juggle job and family where men don’t have to. So is wearing makeup, shaving our legs, and doing other things to adhere to society’s beauty standards, which value us only if we adhere to them, but not too zealously or we’re stupid and vacuous. I was introduced to the term “self-objectification,” which is where we become overly concerned with how our appearance is being judged. I’m trying to learn this stuff without becoming humorless or militant, which are apparently unacceptable things for a woman to be. Where is the line between being nice and being paternalistic? I’m not sure, but it probably has something to do with the power to choose whether to accept the “niceness” being wholly mine with no strings attached.


There’s probably a hundred other things that have happened, but I don’t want to inundate you all at once. Which is good, because I have a backlog now, meaning that I might be able to commit to posting once a week like I want to.


Sometimes I might even say something worthwhile.


Yay, self-deprecating Mad-libs! (continuous verb) existing

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DST Should Probably Wear a Cup

If Daylight Savings Time were a person, I would kick him repeatedly in the balls. I don’t know why I think DST is a guy, except that it was totally designed by men and exactly the kind of coercive fuck-over is very reminiscent of some of my poorer young adult choices. “C’mon, babe, it’s just an hour – what harm would a little hour do? You’re not a prude are you?” See? DST is totally a douche.

I’m not exactly the kind of person who condones gratuitous irritation-based violence, either. I have studiously avoided the whole “makes me stabby/want to punch ___ in the face/etc” meme that won’t die. Eight years of therapy has me all seeking to understand like a graduate of the Ivan Pavlov Institute for the Harmlessly Insane. And yet, there is no bell loud enough to keep me from actively and violently hating the week after our clocks are randomly shifted in either direction. People didn’t talk this way when there were still violent cartoons. Thanks a lot, Children’s Television Act.

My entire ability to act as a functional member of society is predicated on carefully moderated routines regarding bedtime and wake-up-time and light therapy and medication and eating. In one fell swoop the whole thing comes crashing down and I’m essentially jetlagged for a whole damn week (I’m horrid with jetlag – inevitably I adjust to the new time the day before it’s time to go home).

This past Sunday was especially crappy because Jim has pneumonia – well, technically it’s almost-pneumonia, but that’s too complicated and everyone’s so sympathetic when I just say “pneumonia” so I may have just discovered the magic word for martyrs. Anyway, he’s been all coughs and moans since like Friday and I’ve been fetching 90,000 cups of tea and delivering food in bed and picking up lozenges at the store, etc. So last weekend was kind of the weekend that wasn’t. Which is fine, it’s not his fault (though we did have to cancel my fancy birthday dinner, about which I think I’m being a remarkably good sport, though I’m pretty sure Jim is still testing his tea for poison just in case). And for the record? I totally told him it wasn’t Whooping Cough.

Anyway, so I was already exhausted on Sunday. Monday I staggered into work like a hung-over junkie. I don’t actually remember what happened, it was a mostly haze of intravenous tea and whining and a supremely awkward and territorial interdepartmental meeting (WTF is it with universities and territoriality?).


“No, Bob, you listen to ME!”      —       Actually both of you can listen to me, because you know what? We’re bureaucrats. And not even important ones. If ever there was a group of people who belonged on Golgafrincham Ark Ship B, it would be us. How ’bout instead we work together for the greater good and celebrate the outrageously good pay & benefits we get for what is ultimately a ridiculously low-pressure job?

Afterward, there were naps, in direct and gleeful defiance of my doctor’s orders. Yesterday was only slightly better (mostly due to the lack of meetings), and I only thank my lucky stars that I got to use Jim’s pneumonia to get out of going to Secretary at the PTA meeting.

Today I was pretty sure was going to be better. It’s in the 60’s and gorgeous and I decided to wear a skirt. I miss skirts – and there’s only a short window when they’re enjoyable to wear, because once it gets hot then there’s thigh chafing unless you wear pantyhose or those spanx shorts things, which nobody wants to do because a) pinchy! and b) sweaty. Do you think antiperspirant would work on inner thighs?

Wait, you know what? Forget I just said that.

But so I was all ready to be springy and pretty and un-chafy today, and I had a delightfully temperate stroll from the train to my office. At my desk, I went to change from my walking shoes into my little black ballet flats when I made the sort of discovery that causes tight zooms and tense music in horror movies: no flats in the bag. Evidently in my Spring-Ahead-induced fog, I somehow forgot to put them into the bag despite having had them in my hands right before I left. It’s like a lost moment in time where anything could have happened. I guess I should be glad it was just vanishing shoes.

Which means I spent my day wearing a skirt and sneakers, like an old commuter.

skirt & sneaks

Skirt & sneakers: even less of a chance of becoming a trend than Panty Hats.

On the bright side, one of our student workers was having a really bad day. To cheer her up, I got up from my desk and showed her my outfit. She laughed for a full minute, y’all.

So see? Looking like a dork is a public service. I am truly a woman of the people.

Joke’s on you, Daylight Savings Time. The week’s not over, though, so I wouldn’t take off that cup just yet.


My Own Worst Enemy

This is not my time of year. I mean, we already know I’m the poster child for Seasonal Affective Disorder, but if winter is the Pacific Ocean, then late February through Mid-March is the Marianas Trench; in theory it’s got a bottom, but it’s a long, long way down. And it gets more dark and surreal the further down you go.

what late winter depression looks like

Dude, I’m SO fucking ready for spring.

From last year’s post on the topic, we know that this is the time of year that saw me drop out of college when I was eighteen so that I could stay home and watch golf on TV alone in the dark because it was so soothing. That’s right: at 18 I opted for golf in the dark over a warm early-spring day, or friends, or boys, or my birthday. And I don’t even play golf. But I guess there was something about the green grass and the slow, papery voices that made me feel safe and calmed the overwhelm of navigating being newly on my own on a huge anonymizing campus with no structure, unlimited freedom, a full-time course load, a full-time job, and untreated PTSD and depression. Eventually all the avoidance just crushes you. While I haven’t actually hit that low since, not a late winter goes by that I don’t drift down into the trench and remember the warm cocoon of golfy oblivion.

Somehow that was twenty years ago. Now I have a light box, two different antidepressants, a gym membership, a juicer, a CPAP, a carefully regulated sleep schedule, and a house full of supportive family to keep me on track. And still I feel the sinking when this time of year rolls around. It probably doesn’t help that the blue light of my light box always makes me think of being in a submarine in Barbados, which also happened this time of year:

Also gives you a sinking feeling. But with tropical fish and a shipwreck instead of a cup of tea and a laptop on yet another cold and dreary day.

Worse? I can’t drink coffee anymore. Coffee used to be my life raft this time of year and I kept my doses low the rest of the year so that come mid-February I could double it and vibrate my way through. But in January, when I started the second medication, it started causing things like panic attacks and vertigo, so we said a teary, Ativan-soaked goodbye. We’ll always have Yirgachaffe. I’ve since funneled that frustrated energy into being absurdly well-versed in tea, though I do still occasionally sate my frustrated Arabica lust with fair trade organic decaf and revel in the memories of French presses past. But seriously, even WITH coffee I feel like crawling in a cave and full-on hibernating (fecal plug and all), and the gallons of tea I down every day has not even come close to stilling the relentless fatigue-induced eyelid twitch that has been my near-constant companion since shortly after Halloween. That is not helping things much. But I have to admit, lack of panic attacks and random sober bedspins is nice; most of the time I manage to choose it over still eyelids.

Regardless of my chosen caffeine delivery system, I also get really, really flaky this time of year. So I’ll think of this really great idea for a blog post and then I’ll totally forget by the time I get to a computer. And then I’ll remember again when I’m on the train – underground, with no signal. Needless to say, I’m not getting much of anywhere with writing right now. Most of my amusing moments these days occur in short pithy comments because I can’t muster the focus to draw it out into a whole post.

Like how there’s this student whose last name is close enough to “Mangina” that I ALWAYS have to retype it. He very briefly even got a file folder that said that. It’s a good thing I’m not in the Registrar’s office, where it might wind up on his actual diploma. Or – God forbid – his transcript. Of course if anyone is gonna screw up somebody’s chances at grad school with an unfortunate typo, it’s gonna be me. Imagine if he had to legally change it in order to get accepted so that eventually he had to go by Dr. Mangina. All because I have the sensibilities of a twelve-year-old boy.

But that little paragraph is all I have to say on the subject. Do you really want to read a 50-word post? Probably not. It’s like the written equivalent of tapas: lovely, but not nearly enough.Hell, maybe I should start Tweeting in earnest if that’s all I can muster. Though I honestly can’t think of Twitter without thinking of that scene in The Lonely Guy where everyone is shouting a name on the rooftops, and no one is listening, so I always have an irrational twinge of shame when I post. Especially to a famous person who doesn’t know who the hell I am. Hi, this is me, inadvertently e-stalking you. I swear I’m not creepy. Much.

Nor do you probably want to read yet another IM Transcript, where a good half of my decent material happens these days. That being said, here’s another one because I can’t resist a cheap laugh:

David: Thought of the day: Where are the children’s industrial albums?
Me: At the bottom of the remainder bin where they belong.
Or possibly at the Charles Manson Community Daycare
David: Heh
Trent Reznor’s Muppet babies
Me: Our talents for developing sketch comedy premises are totally wasted.
Because that would be freakin’ hilarious.
David: Not as much as Quentin Tarantino’s Muppet Babies
Me: “do you know what they call diapers in France?”

Also, I keep thinking things that keep me from writing like, “why does everyone speak in hyperbole all the time anymore? Like something can’t just be lovely, it has to be completely fucking epically awesome.” And since I kind of tend to speak in hyperbole myself, I’m suddenly keeping my mouth shut and saying things like “lovely,” which is completely fucking epically boring.

Still, despite the cold, the fatigue, the full-time job that it surviving the winter, and the lack of much interesting to say, I did just manage to write some words. That’s how you make art, and I should probably give myself points for that.

Nah. Because then I’d be my own worst frenemy. And I completely fucking epically hate that word.