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.



Loving You Is Easy Cuz It’s Like Friggin’ Heroin

This morning I woke up in a panic.

The roofing guys arrived at my house at like 7:30am. I was still in bed, because that is a damned uncivilized hour, and there’s no reason to be up at that time if I don’t have to. For the time being, I don’t have to. Except today. Also, I was up past midnight getting the house ready for the roofers – tarping the attic for the cutting of the roof vent, removing things from the perimeter of the house, taking down pictures, having minor panic attacks, etc.

Do you know what doesn’t help anxiety? People walking on your roof and scraping at it. My cat was totally flipped, and I frankly didn’t blame her one bit. The feeling of things falling around your safe place is singularly unnerving.  It felt like we were under siege, or had at least been teleported to a very large batting cage. I tried offering her an Ativan, but I don’t think she understood what I was trying to do, so I just gave her some catnip instead. She was sort of nonplussed, as if to say, “are you fucking crazy? Do you REALLY think a pinch of weed is going to make this better?” To which I say, “we both know I am, dumbass. Take what you can get until you learn to swallow pills with water.”

So I sat down with my coffee and girded myself for a day of jangling nerves, and (of course) shared my misery on Facebook.

And then a thing happened. Nothing special, just a random everyday thing. A friend from college posted something that I resonated with and I decided to drop her an IM to say I missed her and I’d like to get together soon. We made plans and appreciated each other for a few minutes. It felt so good I decided I wanted more. So I put out this invitation:

“Okay, I need an attitude shift. Like this status and I will tell you how I appreciate your role in my life.”

Well, who doesn’t like to be appreciated? One by one my friends joined in and I wrote a few lines about how neat they are, what I appreciate them for, a special memory of them that stands out in my head, or similar. It felt so. good. y’all. Like drugs good. Like falling in love good. I have amassed a really special group of people in my life. I usually take them for granted because life is busy and we don’t see each other much, and maybe we like cute pictures of each others’ kids and vacations, or we sometimes post things that are weird or dogmatic or annoying (or maybe that’s just me), but we don’t spend much time thinking about how genuinely (and I know this word is overused) awesome the people we call friends are. Or maybe you do. Maybe I’m just really narcissistic. It’s not impossible.

It settled me down a whole lot, in any case. Like, more that cat pictures and animal babies combined. So I decided to finally tackle the desk that Jim has been waiting over a month for me to paint so he can mount it on the wall. I went up to the attic searching for paintbrushes, all calm and confident.

BAD IDEA! Oh, SO very, very bad. All that banging and scraping and shouting just inches from my head sounded like it was raining zombie apocalypse. Or possibly giant angry squirrels wielding heavy implements. Whatever it was, I decided I’d rather go out and buy another damn paint brush than spend another second thinking about how hollow the term “safe as houses” really is.

So I sat down and loved on my friends some more until I got all calm again. I especially enjoyed the one I wrote for my childhood best friend, reminding her of when we were in first grade and she told me about how much she loved her new Peanuts lunchbox, but I kept thinking she said “penis lunchbox” and I wondered where you even FIND a lunchbox with penises, and what would that even look like? Was it penis shaped, or did it have a picture of a penis on it? And why did this exist? Especially for seven year olds? Thankfully I asked her to show me her penis lunchbox (when we were seven – not today), and then I understood. A great friendship was born. Also (back to today), my anxiety was totally quelled again.

So I scavenged a paintbrush from the basement and went at the desk. Every time I started getting overwhelmed, I went back and told more people how special they are. Not that I’m willing to give back my bottle, but I’m pretty sure this is better than Ativan. All that crap about gratitude? It’s not just a bunch of hippie feel-good nonsense; science is happening inside of me – chemically! I should totally do this more. I want to start tagging people who didn’t ask to be love bombed to tell them why I am so glad to know them and what weird and awesome thing about them has totally rubbed off on me. But what if I run out? Would it be weird if I got addicted to appreciating people and started going to bad neighborhoods and paying people to listen to me tell them how great they are? Wait. Just…please don’t answer that.

Special bonus-cool is that several of my friends are doing it on their walls, too. I started my very first meme, y’all! It’s no panty hats, but in terms of spreading goodwill, it’s pretty awesome. I’ll bet the Dalai Lama never puts out an open invitation for appreciation. I should totally get awesome robes and the ability to make any crazy ass thing I say sound spiritual just because it’s coming from me.

Blessedly, it’s supposed to storm like a motherfucker tomorrow, so no roofers. Here’s hoping that a half-done roof keeps water out. Also? I really appreciate how you come and read my blog and think that my fucked up is entertaining. It’s really helpful, when I’m feeling like total crap, to think, “how can I make this entertaining to my readers?” So thanks. You’re pretty awesome.

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New York Causes Brain Damage

Sometimes life is a ride that you’re on and there’s not much to do but throw up your hands (without throwing up on your fellow riders) and try to enjoy the terror until they unlatch the metal bar and let you stagger away to regain your bearings. The last few weeks has been kind of like that.

I finally realized last week that the reason I keep getting so depressed is that New York fucks my shit up. I go, I have a nice time, I come home, and my nerves and adrenal system are all like, “we’re SO out of here, you monster!” and I’m left to lie in bed in the dark and play endless rounds of sudoku on my phone and/or stare blankly out the window for about 10 days.

Unfortunately, last Sunday was Corinne’s 16th birthday AND the beginning of her spring break. Jim was scheduled for yet another business trip to NYC, and I had promised Corinne weeks ago that we’d tag along. As departure day approached, I felt more and more dread for shaking myself up again when I was still rebounding from my birthday trip. But as my therapist often reminds me, parenting is a sacrificial love and I wasn’t about to bail on my promise.

That did not, however, stop me from whining about it to my friend Susie. She knew exactly what I was talking about with the hiding in the dark and not wanting to talk to people after being overstimulated, and promptly handed me a book called The Highly Sensitive Person, which basically explains that we’re not crazy just neurologically more prone to over-stimulation, and lists some ways to cope with it.

We really did have a lovely time. Corinne is an awesome traveling companion and there were some utterly bizarre people on the subways this time, much to our amusement. It was without question worth the hangover.

I’m still entirely trashed, though, and don’t want to talk to people and I still feel like there’s a giant opaque sheet of plastic between myself and the rest of the world, but at least I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with me this time. I don’t worry that maybe I need to up my meds, I know it’s just a sort of neurological head cold. Rest, take some brain-boosting supplements, and wait it out. I’m not crazy (well, not for this), just depleted.

I probably won’t be visiting NYC again anytime soon, though. Oh. Except that for Christmas I got the promise of tickets to see Book of Mormon. That would probably be worth it, too. whee!