Saturday, December 07, 2013

Ice Siege in the Holler: A Diary

Thursday (preparation): Doom, gloom, and catastrophe is all over the airwaves and online. We're going to be buried under three feet of solid ice. It's the new Ice Age, and it's starting in central Arkansas. The reports I read actually said that we were gonna have some sleet and "wintry mix" and then it was going to be so cold that it wouldn't melt for a few days. The behavior of other people in the area is where I came up with that first scenario.

Bella has a madrigal dinner tonight, in which she is playing the queen. It's not cancelled. It's cold and rainy, but not yet quite cold enough for sleet, though temps are dropping steadily. I take a sedative and head to Wal-Mart for a few perishable groceries, having already been tipped off that Kroger's shelves were bare. There is not a single loaf of bread (not that we eat a loaf of bread a month, but I'm thinking if the power goes out there're at least PB&Js to be had) on the shelves, and precious few eggs. I am missing my hens.

Instead of buying food, I buy the components of food and pray the electricity won't go out. Baking and cooking provides something to do if we're housebound, at least. Right? I stop at Dollar General after a mentally harrowing 30 minute wait in a Wal-Mart checkout line and buy what is literally their last loaf of bread. Get home, realize we won't likely use it, and toss it in the freezer.

Go to Bella's madrigal dinner, it's very cold and rainy, but the performance is a hoot, and she is fantastic. We hurry home, let the dogs out for one last potty, and hunker down for ICEAMAGEDDON. The sleet begins late at night.

Friday: I wake up at my usual ridiculous early time, and there's already ice everywhere. Down in the holler, I know it's worse than up top. Later in the morning, I need something out of my car, and have to pour hot water along the seal of the door to get it to open because it's frozen shut. The forecast is worse than ever, the National Weather Service is going nuts about WINTER STORM DEON. I bake chia nut bars. They look like barf but are tasty (in that way that lets you know it's HEALTHY--you know what I mean) and filling. I bake blueberry bread. It has no nutritional value aside from blueberries and calories, and is delicious. We eat an entire loaf over the course of the day. We eat chili and crackers and watch movies. Bella paints, I read. Cabin fever sets in. I let Bella stay up ridiculously late to watch City of Bones, which we agree sucks muchly. I go to bed with the useless cat, who's been allowed inside for the duration of below-freezing temps. I watch all of  "The Blacklist." I sleep fitfully.

Saturday:  Conditions down in the holler unchanged. Now we're bored silly. Even the cat sat in the windowsill for awhile before getting back in my bed. There is zero possibility of negotiating my long, steep, curvy, very much frozen solid driveway. All day long there is a running debate with the boyfriend over whether or not he could make it over here. As much as I'd like to see him, we decide not to risk his hide. I cook a country breakfast at 1:00 p.m., which is when Bella gets up. I bake brownies. We eat them all over the course of the day. We're coming out of this weighing 400 pounds, I'm sure.

At approximately 9:00 p.m. I call my mother, who lives in town, to see how they're handling the boredom of being housebound, and find out that the rest of the world outside the holler IS DRIVING AROUND DOING THINGS. Stores are open. Our mail ran. (I know this because Bella went stir crazy and climbed the hill and got it.) The forecast has now been slightly amended, which means they still have no idea what's happening, but apocalypse by ice has apparently been taken off the table. Donna N. still refuses to give me her recipe for scones, or I'd have made those to go with the strawberry jam I made.

My frozen driveway mocks me, and I fear I'm going slightly mad. Will update as situation continues.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day... Just Happy, Nothing Else. ODD.

I'm crying happy tears as I write this. It's going to sound odd given that my daughter is now ten years old, but today is the first good Mother's Day I've ever had, going all the way back to the one when I was pregnant.

It's not because I don't have the most amazing, wonderful child any mother could ask for, because I do. She is nothing short of a gift from God, a blessing that never stops. Last year, we were freshly grieving the loss of the father in our little family, and it just didn't feel very good. Celebrating Mom just meant remembering that Dad was gone... forever. So we didn't. It's still with us, but we're healing now.

Every year before that, and I mean every. Single. Year, there was a bipolar crisis of some sort on Mother's Day, since it just happens to fall at the height of bipolar manic season. Alex bought gifts, often for every mom in his and my family, and I almost always got flowers from his mom, and taken to lunch by my mom, and all that, but there was never time to celebrate or even relax, because there was always a disaster happening. Always. And that required my full attention.

So today, it felt warm, good, and slightly unsettling when I woke, after having been allowed to sleep in, to the smells of butter and bacon. Of course my first response was to yell, "WHAT'S BURNING?" because it never occurred to my sleepy brain that someone besides me was cooking in the morning. I got a "YOU STAY PUT!" in response, so I did. My daughter showed up in my bedroom a couple of minutes later with a plateful of eggs and sharp cheddar, scrambled in butter, thick slabs of bacon, and an ice-cold glass of fresh raw milk. Which she sat and watched me eat every bite of, to make SURE it was really good. It was, but even if it hadn't been, I certainly would've pretended, because when someone is WATCHING you eat something they cooked for you, the only response is, "MMMMMMM!!" Fortunately, she's an excellent cook.

Then came, "Presents? Time for presents?" while bouncing up and down. I love how much she loves to give. We share that, and can barely make it to Christmas for the anticipation of giving people our little gifts. So yes, presents! There was a musical card, a gorgeous bromeliad that is the perfect hue for the living room, and a precious little palm that I love (a few weeks ago, in Home Depot, I had admired some plants and mentioned how very much I love architectural plants, but we couldn't afford them just now)...and even a card from the dogs. All of them.

Then she asked me what else I want. And I hugged her, thanked her for my best Mother's Day ever, and let the tears slip, and said, "I can't think of a thing. I have it ALL."

And so I do.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

PTSD: Mischief Managed

That's my mom. She's VERY supportive, as you can see.

As many of you know, I've been hearing this diagnosis for months now--maybe a year or more, even. I'm not sure, because I just put it right out of my mind every time, because that's ridiculous, right? Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? That is something that soldiers get, from the chronic stress of being shot at night and day, or being in explosions, or seeing their friends killed. Not from being... well... me. It just felt presumptuous, or something. But my GP has been saying it the longest. "Belinda, you're dealing with a good deal of PTSD after everything you've been through." I should have listened to him, because he also treated Alex, and he's been in on EVERYTHING. And then there was the therapist who saw both Alex and myself, and the two of us jointly. "Belinda, it sounds like you have PTSD." Nah, I'll be fine--I'm doing so much better already, see? Watch me spin these plates!

Because I "overshare," but moreso because so often, things I've "overshared" here have helped others with similar problems, I want to talk about this. My overriding symptom is a tremendous anxiety/panic, that manifests in tachycardia, sudden and instant all-over sweating, flushed skin, nose and eyes dripping like faucets, lightheadedness, and that classic feeling of "impending doom," when there is ZERO emotional stimulus happening, and I don't, intellectually, feel panicked, anxious, or even upset about ANYTHING. It was always the worst upon waking, and I wasn't getting much sleep to begin with. I felt like I was having a heart attack, and of course, that fear made all the symptoms was misery.

At first, I would just wake up and immediately hit the treadmill, without even getting dressed or anything. It felt like I had adrenaline poisoning that HAD to be worked off. Sometimes it seemed to help. Sometimes. It felt better than doing nothing. Then over the course of a year or more I just took benzos. Xanax or Klonopin, low doses, 2-4 times a day. Xanax ER worked really well for me, but my insurance wouldn't cover it, and $200/month for one prescription just wasn't something I could sustain. Plus, I was just treating symptoms and not addressing the cause. Which I was NOT acknowledging as PTSD.  So my GP started running heart tests on me, "to rule things out." He knew there was nothing wrong with my heart, but he's not the kind of doctor to not listen to his patient's concerns. When those tests turned up nothing and I was still complaining about my heart, he referred me to a cardiac specialist and a neurologist.

Guess what they both said at our initial consults? "It sounds a lot like PTSD." The neurologist recommended Buspar to "reboot [my] neurophysical responses," did some tests, then told me to get finished with the cardiologist before seeing her again.  She wore jeans and cowboy boots, so I took her very seriously. My cardiologist looks like a more-handsome Don Cheadle, so I took him VERY seriously. He ran tons of tests, including a 24/7 heart monitor, which was the only thing that turned up anything out of the ordinary, that "anything" being exactly what I'd described--periods of sudden racing, pounding heartbeats for no apparent reason. I had more tests, which were normal. I have not yet had my followup with him, but I've gotten letters saying as much.

In the meantime, I had still been seeing my wonderfully patient and thorough GP, who is some kind of Norman Rockwell throwback to the "family doctor" of some ago time. He sits down and TALKS to you, refuses to see pharmaceutical reps during office hours, and won't have any drug-branded products in his offices. And he's a ginger. I love him. Anyway. Going at it from the anxiety angle, we'd tried a few of the antidepressants (starting with the neurologist-recommended Buspar) that are used for anxiety disorders, but without success. Just like all other anti-depressants, they had the unfortunate side effect, in me, of ...wait for it ...CAUSING PANIC ATTACKS.  Yeah. The anti-crazy drugs make me crazy. So I'd just kept taking the benzodiazepines, and they were getting less and less effective.

This brings us to a couple of weeks ago, when I was sitting in my GP's office, shaking and crying and begging for help. I had made an appointment with a psychiatrist, because I recognized that something was going on with my brain, but it was going to be weeks and weeks before I could get in. In the meantime, I was dying. Or at least that's how it felt. He said (I paraphrase, because I didn't take notes), "Belinda, you have lived for over a decade under constant fire. Maybe not from bullets, but it might as well have been. Your brain and your body are now conditioned to respond to every little bit of stress in a certain way, and absent a real-time crisis, you're just eating yourself up from the inside. We have to do something--you can't go on like this."

And that's when he pulled out (what was to me, anyway) the big guns: a class of drugs known as atypical antipsychotics. Which made me go, "NUH-UH," because while I might be a little crazy, I'm definitely not psychotic. ALEX took those drugs, and he was capital-C Crazy. But then I realized that he never had a psychotic episode in his life, and HE didn't balk at the label.  And intellectually, I knew that this class of drugs is seeing a LOT of off-label use. I still said no, because I'm smart like that. So Doc wrote me another prescription for Klonopin, and said to call him back in TWO WEEKS, no less, if I wasn't remarkably better. And off I tottered to the pharmacy... and when they brought me my prescription, it was two prescriptions: the one I'd been expecting, and the other that I'd refused. Tricky, tricky Doc! So after a lengthy discussion with the pharmacist, who assured me that it was a small dose, and that, as the doctor said, it would only be temporary, I went ahead and took it home, where I reflected upon it some more.

And then, as bloggers are wont to do, I took the issue and crowd-sourced it. Albeit more privately, with a select group that I knew had experience both with this drug and with anxiety disorders. For once in the history of the Internet, the response was entirely unanimous: TAKE THE MEDICINE. It's temporary, it will help you, and (paraphrased) you're being kind of stupid about this whole thing.

So I started that night. Two weeks later, the relief I'm getting is phenomenal, and I wish I'd done this an age ago. And if you are reading this and have lived the kind of stuff I've lived, know that it's impacting you. I held it together amazingly well for a number of years, but after all was said and done, it caught up with me, in spades. I WAS living under a hail of bullets and explosions, to the metaphorical point that every sudden or loud noise sent me crashing to the ground with my hands over my head. I'm still a bit twitchy, but I absolutely believe that I AM, in the words of Doc, restoring my brain to factory settings. And even though I know it's temporary, a this point, at this level of relief, I don't think I'd care if I were told to take this medicine for the rest of my life.

Heck, maybe I'll even get away from the house. Living with Alex, I really couldn't get away, nor could I have people over. Afterwards, that mindset was pretty much all I knew. Even when I DID begin a new relationship with a man, it was with someone who was "safe" in that he didn't live here, was a bit emotionally unavailable, and was of an age that made it pretty well a sure thing not to last. That wasn't an accident, I don't believe. My subconscious operates on a HIGHLY EFFICIENT LEVEL. Be afraid. But do come visit, or let's go out, shall we? I think I can safely promise not to cower underneath a table at any point unless an actual air-raid siren goes off.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Maybe Yes Begins With Maybe

Maybe it's time, you know? Maybe, at long last, I start in on the enormous backlog of Things I Need and Things I Want, and stop making excuses, and start checking them off. For the most part, a lot of these things have been trying to practically fall into my lap, if only I weren't standing up and facing the other direction. In other words, I may not even need to start out saying "yes," as much as to just stop saying "no."

"No," you see, has become a habit. A defense mechanism that I have come to use, over the course of years, to protect myself, and more importantly, my family. No, I can't have company, I'm needed. No, I can't spend time with friends, I have to stay here. No, I can't go on that trip that I planned all year, because I have to deal with this crisis, because I'm the only one who will. No, I don't have time to finish that book, or even to tend my website, because my attentions are demanded elsewhere. No, no, no... thank you for thinking of me, but I can't.

All anyone has to do is glance back through the last dozen entries here and see the snapshots in time that sum up the wild emotional-tsunami-driven ride of the last few years of my life. The one thing I opened myself up for was a relationship that started (and ultimately, ended, at least in one sense) with "no." I denied myself at least 6 months, maybe more, of quality companionship because of my Armor of No. I preferred being alone to taking a chance on what turned out to be something that did me good and for which I have zero regrets.

But if you go back even farther in the archives, you can pretty much see how this response formed, and how it became so ingrained. I don't really need to say more about it here, because it's all there. There was literally no one else who could handle the... issues that had to be handled. No one but me. Not when it came down to the nitty-gritty. I DID have help, from both family and professionals, for the bigger stuff, but the day-to-day heavy lifting was all mine. I didn't really have any choice. And so it began, and so it became ingrained.

"No" is easy. "No" is safe. "No" insulates and protects... unfortunately, "no" also isolates and alienates. I lost friends--good friends who just became weary of being seemingly rejected time after time. It got to the point (and many of you can attest to this) that I couldn't even talk on the phone. I was alone long before I was alone, and after a while, it became my default setting, comfortable in its familiarity, secure and safe, like my own little metaphorical hobbit-hole.

"Yes" is scary. "Yes" is risky. "Yes" means putting yourself out there, exposing vulnerabilities, and taking chances. All things with which I used to be, once upon a time, supremely comfortable. I have a lot of things that are needing a "yes" from me. But after all this time, it's extremely daunting. I can't promise I'll be able to follow through with a solid  "YES!" every time. But I can start with "maybe," and then move on to "probably," and hopefully in short order to "yes."

Yes, I will accept help from others.

Yes, I will submit my chapters for editorial review.

Yes, I will resume the posting here that has meant so much to me.

Yes, I will have my chickens. (That one makes me smile.)

Yes, I will actively seek more artistic earning opportunities.

Yes, I will allow a well-intentioned gentleman or two to lavish me with courtly blandishments.

Yes, I will use more phrases like "courtly blandishments" in blog posts.

Yes, I will have parties. At MY home. I will return my home to the warm, inviting place that it was once upon a time (when it was located elsewhere and was 100% mine), when friends felt comfortable gathering and socializing and eating delicious things and laughing and talking and laughing some more.

Yes, yes, yes. But let's start with... maybe. Probably. Yes.