That Escalated Quickly

Song: N/A

Mood: 5.5

Nightmares: 6+ (Thursday night)

**NOTE**

I started this post yesterday (Friday) evening but had to go to bed before it was done.

This post was supposed to be about how my day had gone and how nice the peppers are that we’re getting from the plant on the deck. See?

Chili PeppersBut other things have happened, which weren’t quite as fun. Anyway…

I went back to the walk-in on Wednesday morning for my follow-up. Today is Friday, and I didn’t get home until about 2:30PM. It was quite an adventure, quite a lot of discomfort, quite a bit of embarrassment, and enough anxiety that I was holding on by my fingernails for a while.

The next thing to get out of the way is that I fibbed a bit in a couple of my posts. After I confirmed it with every medical person who would talk to me, I am confident in not being the only person who has had an infection…

On their butt.

Yes, it’s true, dear readers. I lied to you and said abdomen because I was embarrassed, but the doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants, surgeons, and the lady who brought the newspapers around all say it just happens. Doesn’t mean I’m disgusting (although I kind of feel it right now), doesn’t mean I’m dirty… it just happens.

Okay, so here we go – best as I can remember.

WEDNESDAY

I got up at 7:30AM, showered, and got ready to head out. I figured I’d take my pills and breakfast when I got home (which I foolishly assumed would be less than an hour).

J and I got to the clinic at 9AM. At about 9:20, I got in to get my infection checked. It was not the same person who I saw on Monday about it. This person took a quick look and immediately summoned a colleague. Painful probing and embarrassing questions followed, and then the two of them huddled for a minute before turning back around and telling me I had to to go the emergency room. They would call ahead to the triage nurse so they’d know what was going on.

At about 10AM, J and I got to the emergency room. I was in quite a bit of discomfort at this time, but we got in to see the triage nurse quickly. I really like the renovations they’ve done – it’s way better than the old system.

At about noonish? Somewhere around there, I got moved into a small examining room. Over the next several hours, I was prodded and probed by more nurses, a physician’s assistant, and a doctor. The doctor took a look and then said he thought it was going to end up being a surgical intervention.

So we waited for the surgeon to come by. They’re busy people and a fat guy with a butt pain doesn’t rate high against car crashes and stabbings. But, he finally came and took a look. He was pretty sure that taking the antibiotics would be the best thing but he was going to consult with his boss.

A while later, his boss and several of his cohorts came by and took a look. The boss and his associates prodded around, said some fancy medical words, and then said they were going to slot me in for surgery, and they hoped they could get me in that afternoon or evening. That was great!

Except I couldn’t eat or drink anything until after the surgery… including my morning pills, which I had not yet taken.

Two Hours LaterI was brought up to a room that normally held four but I had all to myself. It was pretty nice. More people came to check on me and poke at me, and then J went home to pick up some stuff – magazines, clothes, my phone and charger, CPAP machine, all kinds of stuff. I was really glad she was there, but I feel terrible for ending up in the hospital AGAIN during one of her holidays. (I’m really sorry, sweetie – I don’t do it on purpose, I promise!)

Later Wednesday evening, it was determined that I was not getting in that day for the surgery. I got some of my night medications (the quetiapine and zopiclone were there, thank goodness) and two of the best tasting pieces of toast I’ve ever had in my life, and then got hooked up to a bunch more machines and tried to go to sleep. Of course, the fire alarm picked that time to start ringing. I was frozen in place, pressing the palms of my hands to my eyes and trying very hard to ignore the ringing and relax. Fortunately, the alarm didn’t sound for too long and I was able to use some of the ACT stuff to calm down a bit. I was already pretty tired, and between that and the zopiclone and quetiapine, it didn’t take too long to fall asleep. I woke up many times over the night in a panic, worrying about the house, worrying about J, worrying about the car, the garage door, if there were problems on the ward, if the nurses were okay, the hot water tank, the toaster, all kinds of things. I didn’t get a good sleep that night.

THURSDAY

Surgery was going to happen, so no food, no drink, and no venlafaxine again. I didn’t think missing a day or two would cause that much of a problem, but by the afternoon I had the sweats and the shakes, and it was REALLY hard to keep from freaking out or punching my way through a wall and walking home in my gown. All I could think of were all the horrible things that were happening that I couldn’t do anything about because I was stuck in the stupid hospital because of a stupid infection that I should never have got in the first place. My nurse came into the room and asked me if I was okay. I told her I was panicking and having a lot of anxiety, and she said, “Okay, I’ll be back in a bit,” and left. I understand why she did that now – she had dying people to keep an eye on and a fat guy with the sweats wasn’t at the top of her priority list – but at the time, it felt like a betrayal. I went back to bed and screwed my eyes shut and set my phone blasting ocean sounds into one ear and tried with every fibre of my being to keep from freaking the hell out. I tried every technique that I’d been taught or even heard of. It was so hard to think or to focus on anything. I had some luck with the cognitive defusion techniques that Dr P had taught me, and some with the grounding techniques that Dr C had taught me, but they served mainly to keep me rooted where I was instead of changing back into my own clothes and bolting for the door.

I managed to send out a couple of slightly mangled texts when I heard that I was finally going to be heading in, and they came and got me for my surgery shortly after. I finally went in around 2:30PM, and they asked me to try and lie still on the operating bed but I told them I was doing my best. Then down came the mask, they told me to breathe deeply, and for a couple of beautiful seconds I felt my anxiety melt away just before I fell asleep. I don’t know how long it took and when I woke up in the recovery room, it was only myself and two nurses, both of whom were very pleasant and helped bring me back into the world of the awake. My throat hurt quite badly (I’d been intubated for the procedure) and I was having trouble making more than a raspy sound at first.

After recovery, I was sent back up to my room, where J was waiting for me. What a sight – I appreciate her so very very much, and her being there when I got back to my room was fantastic. She stuck around for hours to talk and be supportive, leaving a couple of times when nurses or doctors or that guy from Maintenance came by to look at my butt. She also sent texts out to some people to let them know I was out of surgery and it had gone well. Some of my lucky relatives even got a picture that looked (mostly) like this:

Hospital BedI was still pretty relaxed and groggy from the anaesthetic, and between that and J being there, I felt a lot better than I had earlier in the day. Supper came by, and I lucked out – it was perogies, garlic sausage, and corn. Not too shabby.

Eventually, J headed home to get some sleep (I felt really bad for her – she looked so tired but insisted on hanging around and making sure I was okay), and I got my evening medications and went to bed early.

Unfortunately, Thursday night was not good. Whether it was because of my discomfort, the aftereffects of the anaesthetic, that I had gone cold turkey on the venlafaxine, or that I hadn’t been given any prazosin, I had rampant nightmares. I was also hooked up to machines on either side of my bed so I couldn’t get up and go to the nurse’s station, and I was too much of a chicken to press the call button and tell the nurse I was panicking, so I laid there most of the night, shaking and sobbing through panic attack after panic attack. It was unbearable.

FRIDAY

I was very sore and groggy on Friday morning. Every one of my muscles felt like they were rusty and didn’t want to move – everything from my ribs to my shoulders to my thighs to my neck to my hands. Thankfully, though, the first thing my nurse brought me was my venlafaxine and I took it immediately.

Breakfast was a cinnamon bagel and some applesauce. Again, not too bad.

My nurse came by to remove the packing the surgeon had left in the wound. I was expecting it to feel kind of weird as she pulled it out, but was a little worried when she told me to “breathe through the pain”. And boy, was there pain. She stopped for a second and I said, “can’t you just rip it out and yell TAA-DAA or something?” I think she thought I was joking because she chuckled and then went back to tortuously pulling what felt like a red hot bass guitar string coated in salt and vinegar chip shards out of me, one agonizing femtometer at a time.

Finally, it was out. It took a couple of minutes before the pain died down. A couple more doctors and nurses came by to inspect my new butt hole and nodded approvingly. I got out of bed and had to admit that just standing there felt better than it had before the surgery. Sitting was another thing, though, and I’ve still got to be pretty careful when it comes to that.

My nurse then started to talk about letting me go home. We went through the paperwork and care instructions, and then she said I was free to go when I was ready. I texted J and she came right over. We waited to talk to my nurse for a little while (there was a critical patient on the floor that was in rough shape and needed help) but we chatted until my nurse came back and gave us the okay to head out. I changed back into my clothes and J and I headed home.

J dropped me off at home and then went to get my prescription and pick up some supplies, while I took some PRNs to calm down before I made some calls and sent some texts telling everyone I was home and doing alright. I also called Dr P and thanked him for introducing me to ACT techniques because some of them helped me get through the pain and venlafaxine withdrawal. He sounded very interested in talking about my experience and how I managed to handle being away from home.

I still have my appointment scheduled with Dr H on the 15th and I’m going to keep it. At my last count, 17 strangers have looked at my butt; may as well make it 18 and make sure everything is healing properly. I am also supposed to make an appointment to meet with my surgeon in a month to make sure everything is okay.

SATURDAY (Today)

So far, today has gone reasonably well. I’m a little uncomfortable but less uncomfortable than I was before I went to the clinic on Wednesday. My muscles all feel even stiffer and rustier than they did yesterday but once I get to shuffling around a bit, I start to limber up. I’m still trying to figure out why I’m stiff all over. J suggested it could be that I spent hours curled in a very tight ball when I was panicking – that could certainly be a cause.

Pretty much all of my family I’ve talked to have said that I proved that I can handle being away from home if I have to. While that may be technically correct, and while it’s true that I didn’t run out of the hospital and grab a taxi home, I was utterly miserable and wasn’t really a functioning human being. Thursday night was AWFUL, and after the third or fourth nightmare (all of them were the one with the tent) and subsequent panic attack I was starting to think about how to stop it all.

But now I’m home and safe. I won’t be going for my walks for a little while and I’ve got a bunch of restrictions on what I can do but I did my exercises today and they went reasonably well. And like I mentioned earlier, I already notice some positive changes from getting the surgery done.

Stay safe.

365 Days

Song: “Banana Splits” by The Dickies

Mood: 6.5

Nightmares: 0

I didn’t sleep very well again last night – no nightmares but I kept waking up, worried about something or other. The good thing is that with no nightmares or panic, it usually doesn’t take me too long to get back to sleep. It was tough getting up this morning, though. It sucks being stuck where I can’t get back to sleep but I also can’t find the oomph to haul myself out of bed. It feels like I’m wasting time.

Despite not sleeping all that great, my exercises went pretty well this morning. I had to get up and run around a couple of times but when I was done my time I felt considerably better than when I started, and that’s the idea.

It was already pretty warm this morning when I went for my walk. I headed toward the creek, but decided to go a different way and I ended up walking around the next block over before heading for home. It was unpleasant, but I guess that’s another route I can take to add some variety if I want.

I spent some time texting again today. I like saying hello to everyone. It’s like saying hi to people when I’m pacing around the parking lot at the store, just considerably less creepy.

I gave the battery in the truck one last attempt to charge today. Unfortunately, the charger did the same thing – ran in desulfating mode for a couple of hours and then showed an error and stopped charging. I checked the battery with a multimeter to make sure the charger was reading it correctly, and it was. I guess that’s what I get leaving it sitting there for six or seven months through the winter and spring with all the electronics hooked up and no maintenance. I will put a tender on the next battery if it looks like the truck isn’t going to be used for a while. I should’ve known better, yeesh.

After hooking up the charger, I went to the back yard to take a look at the garden. Out of habit, I locked the doorknob. Also out of habit, I pulled the door shut behind me and locked myself in the back yard. The keys were in the house. My phone was in the house. The back door was locked. The gate was locked. The front door was locked.

Enter my good old friend, flop sweat.

I briefly thought about jumping the fence. Any of you who know me in person are probably laughing at that thought. I’m a lot more likely to run through a fence than try to scramble over it. Neither was appealing, so I put the thought aside. Then I tried to take the gate apart but I’d tightened things very well and wasn’t having much luck until I scrounged up the largest rock I could find in our pile of gravel and bashed at it until it loosened up. Hooray, I was free… I put things back together, closed everything up, and went inside.

[wow it just started raining really hard]

I noticed the pepper plant on the deck needed some water, so I filled up a pitcher and went out onto the deck. Out of habit, I locked the doorknob. Also out of habit, I started to push the door shut, but woke up and grabbed it before I locked myself in the back yard twice in 20 minutes.

[there’s some thunder, too… wow, it’s raining hard]

The fish tank in the living room has been getting pretty gross lately. The fish and shrimp don’t seem to mind too much but I don’t like it being all cloudy and green in there. It makes me feel like a bad fish dad. So I spent about an hour removing algae from the walls and the inside of the filter and changing out the water. I’ve got to admit, it looks pretty darn good. I missed a few algae spots but I’ll work on them tomorrow.

I played some more Star Trek Online. I played around with the new things that became available with getting the promotion to Admiral and it was pretty interesting. I also found out that the USS Pinkeye is getting a little long in the tooth. I wandered into a spot where another Federation ship was duking it out with a Klingon ship. I slowly turned and started to close the gap so I could help my ally out (you have to be within 10km to be able to attack something). Anyway, as I was chugging toward them, they suddenly darted much farther away, then closer, then way behind me, then ahead of me again. Finally, I closed to within 10km, and the Pinkeye let go with everything she had. The game shows you how much damage you’re doing, and I was seeing a lot of 40s and the occasional 65 popping up. It was going to take a bit, but I knew then that my ally and I were going to mangle this other guy. Well, as soon as I thought that, my ally’s ship blew up. No problem, I thought – I can handle this on my own. I turned to bring my torpedo tube to bear, and before I could fire, he hit me twice for twenty-three THOUSAND points of damage. And so ended my attempt to patrol that particular area of space. They’ll be lucky to find anything large enough left to make souvenirs out of.

Locking myself in the yard and my ship exploding aside, today is a significant day for me. Exactly one year ago, I walked out of the psych ward at the end of my last stay. I’ve been out for a year. It’s kind of hard to believe in some ways. There have been a couple of times over the year that I’ve almost felt like I needed to press that button again, but fortunately things worked out. I’m very grateful for being out, but I’m also very grateful that I can go back again if I need to.

J and I celebrated this evening by having chicken fingers and fries for supper and a small (but very tasty) cake for dessert.

THANK YOU SO MUCH TO EVERYONE – FAMILY, FRIENDS, PROFESSIONALS. I WOULD NOT BE HERE RIGHT NOW IF IT WERE NOT FOR ALL OF YOU.

I don’t want to look like I’m taking the easy way out here, but I’m fighting to keep from falling asleep. I probably should’ve started my post with this stuff, but I will post more about it tomorrow. Thank you all again – I can never repay you for what you’ve done!

Stay safe.

So… I’ve Been Thinking About This A Lot

Trigger Warning: this post may contain content that can trigger a shift in mood, comfort, or mental status. Proceed at your own risk.

There has been a lot of media coverage of the suicides of two celebrities last week: Kate Spade on Tuesday and Anthony Bourdain on Friday.

Other than being familiar with the names, I know very little of either of them. I still find myself shaken and feeling terrible for them and their loved ones, though. It is, unfortunately, a familiar feeling. Many times a year, the loss of someone famous – be they wealthy/popular/creative/loved/loathed – makes the news, and, in too many cases, it turns out that they took their own life.

It bothers me in so many different ways. Part of it is how it plays out in the media. There’s always the initial shock and statements of grief. Then, invariably, the questions and positing begin. Some will wonder how anyone so wealthy or famous could possibly turn to suicide. Others will attempt to analyze and explain the behaviour. Still others will shake their heads and turn away in disgust, calling the deceased “weak”, “cowards”, “selfish”, or other misinformed pejoratives.

It embarrasses me to admit it, but I used to be in the latter group. I used to think that anybody could get through anything if they just put their head down, worked hard, and did what they had to do. Mental illness was synonymous with not working hard enough. If someone couldn’t do the work, they were either lazy or weak, and suicide was taking the easy way out. I thought therapy was a scam and psychiatric drugs did nothing but turn people into zombies. My opinions were formed by too many crappy movies and old books, and a casual disregard for the public speakers who came into my school and the posters and pamphlets in my doctor’s office or on the school counsellor’s desk.

I was wrong. Really, really wrong. I wish I could go back in time and slap some sense into my arrogant younger self and apologize to the people I hurt along the way. Knowing what I know now, I can see that, even at a young age, I was experiencing symptoms of mental illness. Everything from math to driving to writing to forcing myself to stay awake on plane and bus trips just in case something happened, starting when I was around four or five years old. I really wish I could go back and change some things.

Unfortunately, I can’t, and I will feel guilty and embarrassed about that for the rest of my life.

What I can do, though, is talk about how I was wrong.

Suicide is NOT cowardice

Nobody thinks that killing themselves is a quick and easy way to fix something that’s bothering them. People who consider suicide are ill with something they can’t see or feel, but is as real as a broken bone or tumour. They are miserable, feel they have nothing, and genuinely believe that the world would be a better place off without them. There is no yesterday and no tomorrow – just the slow, inexorable grinding of the intolerable NOW. Suicide is a cry from someone in horrendous distress – a flawed, desperate attempt at a solution to what feels like an intractable problem.

Suicide is NOT selfishness

I have been hospitalized four times over the last two years because I was in imminent danger of hurting myself. Not once did I think, “it sure will be nice when I don’t have to worry about upsetting J anymore,” or, “now I don’t need to worry about missing my nephews as they grow up”. All I could think about was how much stress and misery I was inflicting on all the people I care about and how much better it would be for them if I was no longer around. I also felt horrible for how much of the therapists’, doctors’, and nurses’ time I was taking; I was certain that they were wasting their time on me and would be better off using that time on other patients. I didn’t want anything – I just wanted to go away. I figured that people would be upset, but it would be like tearing off a band-aid – painful for a very short time but better in the long run.

Nobody – not even the most stressed-out family member or most overworked nurse – agreed that they thought the world would be better off without me. I also know several people who lost family or friends to suicide over the years and their lives were never the same – they still mourn their loss and question what they could’ve done differently to prevent it.

Suicide is NOT a joke

You make me want to kill myself!! – Howard Wolowitz (The Big Bang Theory)

The next person that offers me charity or pity will be mentioned – by name – in my suicide note. – Jeff Winger (Community)

Everybody has joked about killing themselves. It may have been a lighthearted moment, friends joking around with friends. Maybe someone got startled, or just discovered how long the chore list is. It may have been in a serious situation, like after failing an important test, or a teenager waiting for an angry parent to pick them up from the police station. Books, television, and movies are filled with characters mentioning suicide for comedic effect.

If you find yourself talking or thinking about suicide, stop for a moment and consider the context. Are you frightened? Are you depressed? Do you feel desperate? Do you feel alone? Do you agree with the sentiment? If you feel negative emotions (or a lack of emotion) while thinking about suicide, talk to someone and get help. Go to the nearest emergency room. Call a Crisis Line. Talk to your doctor. Talk to your therapist. Talk to your favourite teacher. Talk to your parents. Talk to someone and get help. If you don’t think the person you talked to understood or believed what you were saying, talk to someone else.

You deserve to get the help you need. You are worth it. Don’t let anybody tell you differently.

Another reason that the suicide of a celebrity bothers me so much is that, for every news headline or front page story about a famous person who killed themself, there are thousands of other people who aren’t known the world over who ended their own life. We collectively mourn the rock star, the football player, the physicist… but what about those who don’t have their daily activities followed by legions of fans? The nurse? The teacher? The electrician? The lady at the paint counter? The neighbour? The artist? The friend? Family?

On average, there are 123 suicides in the United States per day, or 13.42 suicides per 100,000 people.1

In 2009, there were 3,890 suicides in Canada, or 11.5 suicides per 100,000 people.2

In 2016, there were 5,965 suicides in the UK, or 10.4 suicides per 100,000 people.3

I am not implying that we should not mourn celebrities – far from it. We do, however, need to remember that, just as the suicide of a celebrity shocks and saddens us, there are hundreds or thousands of others who are stunned every day at the suicide of a family member, close friend, coworker, or someone they knew in passing.

Mental illness is the primary cause of suicide.2 The US National Institute of Mental Health says that “Mental illnesses are common in the United States. Nearly one in five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness (44.7 million in 2016).”4. The Canadian Mental Health Association states that “In any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness.”5, while, “In 2007 nearly one person in four (23.0 per cent) in England had at least one psychiatric disorder and 7.2 per cent had two or more disorders”6.

Mental illness does not discriminate. It affects people regardless of gender, orientation, age, race, wealth, appearance, career, success, location, family… anything. There is no certain way to prevent it, nor any definite way to cause it. Anyone can experience mental illness at any time in their lives. It can be mild or life-altering, temporary or lifelong.

It is nothing to be ashamed of.

There has been considerable progress in treating mental illness, both by new and evolving therapies as well as new medications and a better understanding of older ones.

The public opinion and awareness of mental illness and suicide is changing. More people than ever see mental illness as something that can (and should) be treated – like a cyst that must be removed or a bone that must be set. Fewer people see it as weakness or as a flaw in a person’s character or personality. This is great news, but more must be done. Nobody should feel embarrassed to talk to someone about their mental health, and everybody should have easy access to help.

Whether you’re a celebrity or not.

Please – if you are contemplating suicide or otherwise hurting yourself or someone else, please contact your local crisis line or go to your nearest emergency room. You can find some contact numbers on the resources page.

THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO CARE ABOUT YOU AND WANT TO HELP. PLEASE, PLEASE TAKE A MOMENT TO REACH OUT.

YOU ARE WORTH IT.

 

 

1. https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/ – retrieved 2018-06-11
2. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-624-x/2012001/article/11696-eng.htm – retrieved 2018-06-11
3. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/suicidesintheunitedkingdom/2016registrations – retrieved 2018-06-11
4. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml – retrieved 2018-06-10.
5. https://cmha.ca/about-cmha/fast-facts-about-mental-illness – retrieved 2018-06-10.
6. https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/adult-psychiatric-morbidity-survey/adult-psychiatric-morbidity-in-england-2007-results-of-a-household-survey – retrieved 2018-06-10.

An Anniversary Of Sorts

Trigger Warning: this post may contain content that can trigger a shift in mood, comfort, or mental status. Proceed at your own risk.

While J and I were having supper this evening, she mentioned that two years ago this weekend I spent my first night in a psychiatric ward. I had been transferred there from the Crisis Centre (which the Emergency Department at my local hospital sent me to after evaluating me earlier in the day), and the following day I would be transferred again to the hospital where I would spend the next three months under the care of Dr W.

I don’t remember much of that first evening, but J says that we kind of played Crazy Eights and talked. I say “kind of” because I apparently kept losing my train of thought and forgetting how to play. I do recall walking around in hospital clothing with a big plastic mug full of ice water that had “PATIENT USE ONLY” stamped on the side.

If you feel like you may want to harm yourself, please take two or three deep breaths, and contact or go to your local Emergency Department or Crisis Centre. It may seem daunting to ask for help, but you can do it. There are people who care about you in this world and they want you to feel better.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

There are links and phone numbers that may be helpful on the Resources page, including a link to the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) Crisis Centre list.

Stay safe.

Not A Good Day

Trigger Warning: this post may contain content that can trigger a shift in mood, comfort, or mental status. Proceed at your own risk.

Song: “Get Over You” by The Undertones

Mood: 5

Nightmares: 2

Today has been a little rough. I didn’t sleep all that well last night and nightmares woke me up at least twice. I managed to snooze for about a half hour after J left this morning but after that I couldn’t get back to sleep again.

I was anxious for the entire day, starting in the morning. It caused some problems with my exercises and made my work with the stove this morning a little more difficult.

I kept myself pretty busy today, listening to music and working on the quadcopter (I think I’ve almost got it back to where it was before I wiped everything out), and doing some reading. I’ve been using my phone (a Galaxy S7) very heavily and the battery isn’t quite what it used to be. I’m perfectly happy with the phone, though, so I’ve been looking up places around here that can swap in a new battery. There are a lot of guides out there that show how to do it, and a few years ago I would’ve tried but now my hands are shaky and my self-confidence is pretty much shot.

Speaking of my phone, one of the things I’ve been doing with it lately is trying to keep in touch with people by text a little better. I’ve collected a couple of pictures and have been sending them out as well as sending messages. I still have troubles answering the phone but I find it much easier to receive, check, and reply to text messages. I even sent one of the hosts from the radio station I listen to a text saying I enjoyed his show and he replied this morning thanking me for the message. That was kind of neat. They didn’t play my request today, though.

My appointment with Dr P was tough again today. I had a lot of trouble concentrating but Dr P suggested I record the audio from the session so I could listen to it later, which I think was a really good idea. He has gone out of his way to consult with some of his colleagues about OCD and has some new information that he shared with me today. I really appreciate the fact that he used time outside of our sessions to go digging for more information – I think that says a lot about the kind of therapist (and person) he is. The new information that he mentioned today was how checking things repeatedly moves things from one kind of memory to another, which happens to be less reliable. So repeatedly checking things is actually making things worse from a brain standpoint.

He also gave me more homework to do, which involves me stopping myself before I check something and writing down some things like what emotions am I feeling, my level of anxiety, and what my prediction is for the status of the thing I’m going to check. It’s an interesting approach and I’m looking forward to trying it to see what happens. I’m still supposed to keep doing the exposure with the stove and keep doing my walks.

We went almost 20 minutes over time but he didn’t seem to mind (and he was keeping an eye on the clock, too). By the time I got outside I was worried that J had been sitting for a while but it turns out she was late arriving so it worked out well.

I was relieved to get home and spent a little bit of time calming myself down. After a while, J and I had supper.

Around 8PM we went downstairs to watch two episodes of Elementary. It turned out to be a two-parter that had Kitty Winter in it again, which was good – I think she’s an interesting character.

About ten minutes before the end of the second episode, I could feel my anxiety ramping up. It felt like someone was tightening an inner tube around my chest and my muscles were tensing up. J and I talked for a little while before I kind of interrupted and said I needed to get upstairs to take my evening medications.

I took them then went and brushed my teeth. In the time that it took to brush my teeth, the anxiety had turned into the beginnings of a panic attack. I went out to the living room and grabbed a PRN, then put some music on my computer and turned it up (I was wearing headphones). I tried grounding and breathing but I couldn’t shut the panic attack down and it hit.

J came over and helped me through my misery, and I think that her being there helped keep it to only about a half hour (instead of the usual hour-ish that my attacks usually are) and I was grateful for her help (thank you!). I was embarrassed and frustrated too – I had really hoped that by now I would’ve been past this stuff.

I hate hate HATE panic attacks and how disabling they are. I can’t think, every part of my body and mind is screaming an overwhelming flood of indecipherable messages at me, I can’t move properly, can’t control my breathing, and I sweat like I’m in a sauna. Panic attacks leave me desperate for any relief from the attack, but aside from riding it out or offing myself, there’s nothing that I can do. God, I hate panic attacks. I’d rather have another kidney stone.

This is now my second panic attack in two weeks, which doesn’t seem like much but I went for quite a stretch without having any at all. I really hope this isn’t a sign that they’re coming back – I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle having several of them a day again, and frankly, I’m a little scared.

I hope my viewpoint is skewed because today has been difficult but I really don’t know how I’m going to do all of this stuff. I’m doing my best to do everything that Dr P and Dr W have been telling me to do, but it’s all so difficult. Just going to the appointments is exhausting and makes me feel like I’ve gone through a cheese grater. Something as simple as going for a walk makes me feel terrible, and constantly fighting (or trying to ignore) the chorus in my head that’s telling me that everything is wrong and it’s all my fault is very, very hard.

I know I’ve got to keep at it, but Jesus, it’s tough. I’d do almost anything to make things get better faster.

Even if this stuff gets better, what’s next? My current problems blew up out of… I have no idea, so what’s to say there isn’t something else lurking somewhere in the part of my mind that’s full of cobwebs, waiting for its chance to take centre stage? And what if there’s another one behind that? And another behind that one?

I can’t do this forever. Sometimes I don’t even think I can do it for the rest of the day. I’ll keep trying, though. Hopefully a layer of something will be peeled back and suddenly everything will get a lot easier. Cross your fingers for me…

Stay safe.

My Side Effects

I’ve been taking psychiatric medications for almost two years now, and I consider myself to be very lucky with the side effects I’ve experienced. They have been more of an annoyance and haven’t really affected my quality of life. I am taking (or have taken) the following medications to help me with my recovery:

  • Haloperidol (no longer taking)
  • Lorazepam (no longer taking regularly, but have PRN if needed)
  • Prazosin
  • Quetiapine
  • Sertraline
  • Venlafaxine
  • Zopiclone

I can’t say for certain if these side effects are related to the medications (the whole “correlation is not causation” argument), but they only started happening after I began to take them. Here we go:

Weight Gain: This has been the most obvious side effect that I’ve experienced. Since beginning the psych meds, I’ve put on almost 50 pounds. I’ve managed to lose a little bit of it, but it’s proving to be difficult. I don’t consider it the end of the world, though. Like I said in a previous post, I’m willing to put up with the weight gain because of the stability that the medications give me.

Hand Tremors: This mainly involves my fingers, particularly my index and pinky fingers on both hands. Some days it’s noticeable to the point where I have difficulty typing well, and handling small objects like screws and electronic components can be frustrating. I enjoy puttering around with my bass guitar, but the tremors make it very difficult.

Limb Twitching: Another side effect that comes and goes, and I only notice it when I’m not moving around, like when I’m watching TV or lying in bed. It involves my limbs and occasionally my torso. I’ll be still and then suddenly one of my legs kicks or my arm flails out. I’ve accidentally smacked J a couple of times and woke her up because of this. I don’t flail around, it’s just a single movement.

Slow Urination: I think this one is specific to the sertraline because it started happening well before I started taking anything else. My issues are also nonexistent first thing in the morning but appear in the afternoon and get worse into the evening, after the sertraline has taken effect. No discomfort, and I can always void – it’s just slow.

Jumpiness: This showed up after I started taking venlafaxine. Everybody jumps at sudden loud sounds, but I’m startled by a lot more stuff than I used to be. Sudden sounds – everything from the TV to the phone ringing to the slight creaking noises the house makes – startle me and make me jump. It doesn’t matter if I expect the noise, and it doesn’t have to be loud, either. The same thing happens if I see something in my peripheral vision. On really bad days certain bubble sounds from the aquarium can make me jump, and something as simple as a car pulling up next to me while driving can startle me.

Flashes of Light: I only notice this when I’ve got my eyes closed, and it’s worse at night when it’s dark. Flashes of light that look like ribbons appear and float downwards. Sometimes it reminds me of a curtain being lowered repeatedly. This doesn’t really bother me, it’s more curious than anything.

Heartburn: This one is definitely caused by the sertraline. It caused me some pretty brutal heartburn until I got another medication to help.

Low Blood Pressure: I take prazosin in the evenings to reduce the frequency and intensity of my nightmares, but it’s actually a blood pressure medication. It sometimes makes me a little dizzy at night, particularly when suddenly standing up.

Runny Nose: This one’s pretty irritating. I eat something, my nose runs. I drink something, my nose runs. I brush my teeth, my nose runs. I go from a warm room to a cool room, my nose runs. I go from a cool room to a warm room, my nose runs. I brush my teeth, my nose runs. I put on my CPAP mask, my nose runs. I watch TV, my nose runs. You get the idea. I spend a lot of time blowing my nose.

Morning Grogginess: Zopiclone and quetiapine both cause drowsiness, so it’s just a matter of sleeping the grogginess off or waiting it out. My head is usually clear by 10 or 11AM.

Like I said before, I consider myself to be very lucky with the side effects I’m experiencing. Psych meds are no joke and can cause very serious and life-altering problems. It’s very important to keep informed and to talk to your doctor and pharmacist about the medications you’re taking. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and be open with any concerns that you have.

Stay safe.

Pushing Back The Boundaries

Let me just put this out here: I am most comfortable when I am sitting at home, in the basement, and listening to music. I can’t hear the outside world, and if I’m all the more comfortable for it. Sometimes the phone will ring and I will stare at it until either it stops ringing or I manage to answer it, but for the most part, sitting downstairs and listening to music is when I’m most comfortable.

The problem is, the outside world exists. I can turn up the music or wear headphones but the reality is there’s a real world out there and I need to be a part of it.

I’ve been having trouble driving for a year and a half now. I am limited to driving in about a 5km radius around the house. It was even worse when I started driving again but I’m getting a little frustrated now because things have obviously plateaued and I’m having a lot of trouble expanding my zone of comfort. I managed to ride the bike around the city, but I’ve always been more comfortable on the bike than in a car, and part of the bike ride was very unpleasant anyway. I really appreciate her help, but I feel guilty that J has to drive me to my Dr W appointment every week because it’s too far away.

I need to figure out how to drive more comfortably and without risking a panic attack if I go too far, and I need to figure out how to calm down my OCD while I’m driving. Changing lanes is very difficult because I turn to look and make sure my blind spot is clear but as soon as I look forward again I don’t believe it’s clear and I’m going to cause an accident. Even when I’m driving a straight line in very light traffic, I get worried that I’ve run a red light or caused an accident because there are no other cars around me.

I also need to get out of the house more. Both Dr W and Dr C have told me many times that getting out – even for something like a short walk or drive – is very beneficial. It can be really difficult for me to do, though. Some days it takes so much effort to get out of bed that there’s no way I’m going to be able to go outside. Even on easier days, I would much rather stay home than go out. I worry about the house – did I leave the stove on? Are the doors locked? Are the windows closed? Is the hot water tank leaking? Is the garage door closed? I worry about missing an important phone call. I worry about missing an appointment if I have one that day.

My anxiety and OCD keep me catastrophizing about every little thing, and my depression makes me want to not even try. It’s a one-two punch that is really difficult for me to work through. I really need to make some headway here, though, because I feel like I’m weighing J down when it comes to things like holidays and when she takes time off. I also feel terrible for making our parents come into town last Christmas instead of us driving out there. It was the first time in 20 years that that’s happened and I would really like to not have to do it that way again. I was also invited by my uncle and cousin to go out East and hang out with them for a while, but again, I can’t do it. I don’t want people thinking that I’m trying to avoid them, it’s just so difficult to get out of the house, and leaving it for a couple of days is pretty much unthinkable at this point.

Even something like cooking food is difficult for me. Easy things like cereal and pasta are no problem, but throw in something like produce or meat and I start to have problems. When I’m opening a salad kit, all I can think of is whether it’s dirty or if there’s been another vegetable recall because of e.coli or something, and when I’m cooking meat, I have a lot of trouble believing it’s done. I’ll use a thermometer to confirm but that’s not good enough to calm my anxiety so I very frequently ask J if she can take a look at it before we call it cooked.

I’ve got to start answering the phone more. It’s such a basic thing but I find it so difficult to do. Even when it’s my parents on the caller ID, I have trouble answering. I get so wound up that work is trying to call me in or the insurance company is calling to cancel my coverage that I can actually start to sweat while the phone is ringing. Even with my parents calling, I worry that somehow work or the insurance company has called them and asked them to call me on their behalf. I know this is irrational and there’s no way it would happen, but I just can’t get it out of my head.

There are so many aspects of my life that I feel like I have little to no control over, and everything is just so much better if I stay in my safe space. I need to fix this.

Two appointments ago, Dr W and I were talking about safe zones and making progress in pushing the boundaries of the safe zone outward. I’ve always seen my safe zone as a little circle with danger and discomfort around it, and when I got more comfortable with one thing, the whole circle got a little bigger. One of my problems is I tend to see the big picture and don’t think about the little pieces. I have to start considering every aspect of my life that my illness has affected as individual things instead of one large problem to solve. That way, I can work on them one at a time and push the safe zone outward like an amoeba’s pseudopods instead of like a circle:When I think of it this way, it also makes it easier to tell which problems I’m making headway on and which still have a long way to go.

As with everything, some things will be easier to work on than others, but expanding my boundaries is a huge part of my recovery. I will have to keep talking with Dr W and Dr P, too – they should have some useful techniques for me to use to help keep my focus.

Stay safe.

It Takes Time

One of the things that frustrates me the most about mental illness is that there is no quick fix. It takes a lot of time, work, and (in my case) medication to be able to claw my way out of the pit and into the sunlight.

You’d hope that antidepressants would work quickly, but a lot of them can take weeks to reach full strength. And, of course, in the meantime you can still experience the side effects. Some psych medications work quickly but their effects are temporary.

I find that keeping my mind and hands busy can be very difficult when I’m having a rough day. All I want to do is go back to bed or plop down on the couch and try to shut the world out. That doesn’t help anything, though, and if I do that too many days in a row it can really cause me problems.

Dr W has told me many times that the best thing that I can do for my recovery is keep active, and anything that bumps my heart rate up a bit and gets me moving is important. He’s right, too – on days where I really don’t feel like doing anything but I manage to force myself to spend some time on the treadmill, I feel better after I’ve walked for even just half an hour.

I look at myself today and see someone who, in many ways, is quite a bet better than a year ago. There’s still so much more I need to do, though, and I wish I could make myself get better a lot faster.

I can’t, though, so I need to make sure I keep doing things to pass the time. J and I watch a lot of movies – that can use up two hours out of a day. I play computer games (not as much as I used to) and that can be a good way to pass the time. Listening to records or any other source of music helps pass the time and cheer me up when I’m in a poor mood. Playing with some of my hobbies is a great way to pass the time but can be difficult to start when I’m feeling down. Even just watching videos on YouTube can take hours out of a crappy day.

Then there’s people. J and I spend a lot of time talking and laughing about stuff. Getting together with friends or family can be difficult sometimes but it sure is rewarding, and even just giving them a phone call helps me with the feelings of isolation that come with the depression.

Meditation, mindfulness, and worry exercises can use up an hour or two a day if I’m able to clear my mind enough. Sometimes just sitting still with my eyes closed for a few minutes can be refreshing and give me a bit of a boost to help me get engaged with something.

All of these things help me pass the time, and on bad days they can take a great deal of effort to do. As the time has gone on, though, I can see a trend that I’m having more good days and fewer really bad days than I used to. It tough to remind myself of this when I’m feeling awful, but it’s true. I just need to remember that getting well takes time.

Stay safe.

What Am I Going To DO?

I’ve been away from work for the last sixteen months and this has given me a lot of time to think. Something I keep getting stuck on is that I can’t go back to where I was or I’ll end up back in the hospital.

I always wanted to be an IT guy. I’ve loved computers for my whole life, from the Commodore PETs that we had in elementary school to the C128D that my parents bought for Christmas one year, to the various PCs that I’ve built or purchased over the years. I’ve done every job from an ISP technical support rep to managing datacentres and networks.

And now I can’t handle it. Any of it. Just the thought of having to fix my computer if it breaks makes my stomach churn – I’d most likely take it somewhere to have someone else deal with it. I enjoy writing on them and playing games but I don’t like sitting in front of them any more than I have to.

J has said she doesn’t want me to go back to my old job, or any IM/IT job at all. We’ve had many conversations about this, and I agree with her.

My employer has a back-to-work program and is supposed to be able to accommodate changes in duties, skills, or abilities. That includes a certain amount of training. I’m grateful for that – it will make going back to work a lot easier when I’m ready.

But what am I going to do? What am I going to be? I used to identify myself as “Mark, the computer guy,” but who am I going to be now? Are there really any jobs for an out of shape, mentally ill, 41 year old who has no training in anything but the field he can’t handle going back to?

If my employer had infinite flexibility and I could pick any job I wanted, what would my next career be?

I have no idea.

J and I have talked at length about this, too, and she has a lot of good advice but I just can’t seem to get any traction on the subject. I would love to be a welder, but who’s going to hire a creaky 41 or 42 year old apprentice welder when there are 19 year olds willing to do the same job? I wouldn’t mind working in electronics, but I’ve lost so much of what I used to know that I’d be looking at doing a LOT of catching up. I wouldn’t mind being an electrician, but again – there’s the “old apprentice” problem. I love microbiology but that’s three more years of university and age would be a factor again.

Where do IT people go when they can’t or don’t want to do IT anymore? I have supervisory skills but they’re five years out of date, and it was an IT supervisor position. I have decent communication skills but can’t answer the bloody phone, and I really enjoy writing but so do a billion other people, most of whom are better at it than I am.

I need to figure this out.

Stay safe.

My Weight

I’ve never been a huge fan of sports, but up until my first year of university, I was a pretty fit guy. Unfortunately, the “freshman fifteen” curse was more like a “freshman thirty” for me, and I struggled to get rid of the extra weight.

As time went on, my weight would slowly creep upwards and then plateau for a while, which would give me time to buy new clothes and get used to things. Then it would start to creep upwards again, and the cycle would continue.

For about five years as an adult, I started fencing three nights a week and lost quite a bit of weight by being particular about what I ate and exercising. My right knee has always been tricky, though, and the more I fenced, the worse it got. Eventually I had to give it up, and my weight inexorably went back to where it was before I’d started exercising.

My first psychiatric drugs were prescribed by my then-GP. Unfortunately, they didn’t quite do the trick and I ended up in the hospital. When I left the hospital three months later, I was taking four different psych medications and had put on fifteen pounds. Those fifteen pounds sure weren’t caused by the hospital food – while the meals were good, they were not not what you’d call “large”.

A little over a year later and I’m now on six psych medications and have put on a total of about 45 pounds. Buying new clothes is an inconvenience, none of my good clothes fit, and I’m concerned about what long-term effects there will be on my health. Diabetes, for example, runs in my family.

But let me tell you this: I will not give up those medications myself. I can exercise and eat healthy foods so I can try to be a “fit fat person”, but I can’t exercise or do anything to help myself or anyone else if I can’t get out of bed. My looks are not as important to me as being a functioning person is.

I’m not saying that I want to keep taking all this medication forever. If Dr W and I decide I don’t need as much of something or that I can go off a medication entirely, I’m all for it. If the only way to keep me stable is to keep taking them, then that is what I will do.

I’ve been told that there are several reasons as to why psych medications make some people put on weight. One is that they can make people crave carbohydrates. Another is that they do something to the gut bacteria so digestion works a little differently. I don’t know how true these are but I am pretty sure I can personally verify the carb craving aspect. I want candy. All the time. And that is bad.

The good thing is that it’s easy to make sure there’s no candy in the house. What I do need are my medications; without them I would be in serious trouble.

Stay safe.