How I Survived A Life-Threatening Illness


I lie awake at night, wondering what fresh hell tomorrow will bring me.

“Change is inevitable We can depend on that. By letting go of our efforts to influence the future, we become freer to experience the present, to feel all of our feelings while they are happening, and to more fully enjoy those precious moments of joy.” –Courage to Change, One Day at a Time in Al-Anon

So, you might think, as you read this, that bringing humor to the situation is insanity. But you know me and my sarcastic wit. Would you recognize me any other way? ūüėČ Besides, the alternative is too stupid to consider, and useless. Plus really, who doesn’t love a little Tina Fey?

But seriously, I have had such a hard time writing this (it’s been on my mind for a while), because I honestly don’t want to come off sounding pitiful, or elicit sorrowful responses, most of all. What has happened to me could happen to anyone–could happen to you. So please–don’t feel sorry for me. I’m here, I’m alive, and that’s a¬†good¬†thing.

It has not been the greatest year so far. Lol. First, I had to go back into a psychiatric partial day treatment program to get my bipolar meds adjusted. But what I learned shortly after I was admitted was that this therapist had noticed my hypomanic episode building since before Christmas. Why she didn’t say something earlier is still a mystery to me, but hey–at least she copped to it when my mom finally told me my agitation and irritability were getting hard to deal with. All of this explains why I ¬†had such a hard time decorating for the holidays last year. Seriously, I was like a slug, and even when I’m depressed it’s like my favorite time of year. I barely put up lights on the ceiling and yanked out the tree (with lights already on), no ornaments—voila. There. Be happy. Ha ha.

Psych partial started on January 25th. My psychiatrist there (it’s like you no longer have the shrink you had on the “outside;”¬†this¬†shrink, the one in the hospital, calls the shots) tried several different meds, at different levels, and suddenly—instead of hypomania, I started feeling incredibly depressed. Yeah, I know–I should have my own channel on Youtube, because my life is just¬†that¬†fascinating.

Then, I went home early from the program on February 13th, because my back and left leg were just killing me. All I missed was relaxation therapy, but you’d think it was chemical engineering, for all the tap dancing I had to do to get out of it. So I went home.

That night, I woke up in the wee hours freezing cold with my teeth chattering. Yikes. I can’t remember the last time my teeth chattered. So I got up, took my temp, and it was elevated; something like 101. (I’m not totally sure at this point; my baseline temp is 97. I just know I had a fever) I also noticed like a big cyst or something high up on my inner left thigh. I wasn’t too worried at this point. I took a couple aspirin, ran some hot water on a washcloth to lay on the cyst and went back to sleep under like 5 blankets.

The next I knew it was morning and I was in a sweat. Good. So my temp was down and the cyst had also diminished. But then, my fever spiked back up again at around eight. I told my mom I thought I needed to go to the ER, and she agreed.

Long story short, what started out as a simple cyst turned out to be necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria. Yep. My WBC, which is supposed to be 10 or under, was 21, so I was admitted—instead of let go from the ER—on Valentine’s Day. I had three surgeries in four days in that most private of areas–whether you are a woman or a man–and spent eight days inpatient. Granted, I was on morphine, and much of the pain is now a blur, but still. My fever was up and down, up and down. They had me on I.V. antibiotics, three at a time (once I read a label, and it said 2,000 units!!)–like throwing paint on the wall–trying to see what would work. Finally the WBC came down enough that they could let me go with Amoxicillin for one week.

I had to have the surgical sites packed (with gauze) by home care nurses for¬†at least¬†two months, my surgeon said. So yes, I’m positive 2,000 people have seen my va-jay-jay at this point. I kept forgetting to charge an admission fee. I always meant to, though. At least I still had some self-respect. Just kidding. The nurses were so kind and gentle with my body and my heart. I couldn’t have asked for nicer people to care for me.

Now here’s the best part. I saw my surgeon yesterday for our weekly checkup of the surgical wound sites, right? She was SO pleased with how well everything is healing. Everything has closed (from the inside out, to prevent future infection) at least halfway, in some cases more. In fact, I’m doing so well that she said I can say goodbye to the daily nurse care and she doesn’t want to see me again for a month. After that, who knows?¬†That’s exactly¬†five weeks¬†from the day I was admitted, right?

What an incredible journey!! I wonder what the rest of the year has in store? Bring it on.

Should I Stay, Or Should I Go?

bigmacI almost closed/deleted/whatever my blog yesterday, which I’ve kept since (I think) May of 2007. Anyway, it’s a pretty long time. It’s just getting to be like FaceBook to me, which is why I mostly stay away from FB these days. FB is all about the houses to me. The big ones, the prettiest ones, the ones with adorable kids on swing sets in the backyards, handsome couples walking hand-in-hand down the neighborhood for all to see. Most of the rest of us stand there and admire, whistle, and applaud. Oh, and we can’t forget the likes. The more likes you get, it means more¬†people¬†like hearing about your pretty house, husband, wife, kids, pets . . . and not simply friends but total¬†strangers.¬†Someone you have never ever met in your entire life likes your dog, Fido. :/ What, and now there are¬†love¬†buttons, in case one can’t like the person enough. Am I the only living soul who finds this a little surreal? No, you needn’t argue with me about the difference between liking the poster and liking what the poster posts.

Anyway, blogging is getting to be like that, like FB. It’s been that way for a while for me. I just don’t “like” myself waiting and worrying over . . . likes. If you know me at all, I don’t need to explain that sentence to you, and if you¬†don’t¬†know me, there’s not enough time to educate you. ¬†I suppose I could keep writing, for myself (it’s the only time I write anymore), while disabling the likes and comments. That way I might wonder who would’ve liked it, but I don’t have to torture myself over why no one liked it.

Nobody realizes the power they wield. I¬†know¬†I don’t have any power. I’m¬†nobody.¬†But not you, nope, not to me. Okay, there’s a lot more rolling around in this old head, you know, but I’m going to stop now. See you.¬†okay

Broken?

beI’ll be taking a break from writing for a while, I’m not sure how how long. Could be weeks, could be months.

I’m feeling completely empty. Besides the fact I only have three squares left to do out of 88 in the granny square blanket I’ve been working on, I have absolutely nothing good to show for my life. When I look at this photo, it makes me feel more than wistful, it parks a huge lump in my throat that refuses to budge.

Fearless¬†is who I used to be. Shoot, after graduating from college, I drove myself from here (Michigan) to Wisconsin and over to Georgia for job interviews. Then I went again to an interview in Burlington, VT by way of Boston (stopping at Cheers–which is¬†so¬†a tourist trap—and the duck pond for a ride)¬†BY MYSELF.¬† I was so confident and relaxed that I was offered the jobs in Vermont and Georgia and was forced to make a choice. I didn’t consider the fact that Burlington was probably used to dealing with lots of snow, and the fact my job was as an itinerant teacher factored a lot into my choice for Georgia. I can still smell the magnolia blooms years later. –sigh–

Now, today, I’m a nearly 53-yr-old woman on disability who is¬†riddled¬†with fears. I can’t even take my dog for a walk for God’s sake, and I have seriously psych myself out before I can go down the driveway to get the mail. Yesterday I went to the Recovery Int.¬†meeting in the morning and actually had¬†tears¬†because someone told me I broke a rule and couldn’t talk about something. Sheesh. Talk about needing thicker skin! When I go somewhere I can’t answer the question “What do you do for a living?” because I don’t¬†do anything.¬†

I know this seems like a self-pitying rant, but I am working on all this in therapy. It may not seem like it, but I am. And I’m going to start journaling again. I just need some time, and I felt it only fair to let you know why.

Namaste.

Performance Anxiety Redux

wpid-20150526_080944.jpgAll right. This is not an apology, this is an explanation. There’s a reason I have been so flaky lately with my posts . . . well, this whole entire month, specifically.

Last year, when I tried to crochet Christmas presents, I didn’t start working until like October or even November, and of course didn’t get finished in time. I have a large family. So this year I began in January. So far I have two granny square blankets crocheted. I just have to put them together. I’m working on my third (pictured above) which looks like snowflakes! I have 30 out of 88 squares done.

Anyway, we’re here to talk about performance anxiety, and the causes and helps for it. The three main causes of PA are:

  • Mild social anxiety.
  • Inexperience in public.
  • Strong distaste for failure

As with most anxiety problems, it’s hard to know the exact cause, but performance anxiety is also self-sustaining, because it creates a mindset that focuses only on mistakes and seeing others as judging you. One small mistake, even if no one notices, or one person in the audience that looks unhappy and all of your fears are reinforced, causing more performance anxiety to happen later.¬†No matter the effects of anxiety, there is no denying that anxiety itself can create more anxiety. The more you are worried about your performance, the more your performance suffers.

Some strategies which can help in overcoming performance anxiety are:

  • Pre- and Post- Presentation Positive Writing Exercises ‚Äď Since anxiety is a problem with negative thinking, one way to combat anxiety is to force yourself to think positively. An example of this type of exercise includes writing out 10 or 20 genuinely positive thoughts about how you performed or will perform. It’s not perfect, but it will stop you from focusing only on the negative.
  • Positive Support ‚Äď You also need support from others. It’s easy to think about the negatives when you mess up ‚Äď or when you have the possibility of messing up. But if you can find people in your life that are always supportive, you won’t care as much about any mistakes because others in your life will make things easier. Positive support is very helpful for this type of anxiety.
  • Happy Distractions ‚Äď Much of performance anxiety is not what happens at the time of the event, but what occurs before and after it. This is when the mind can wander into negative thoughts. Keeping yourself mentally active and busy prevents the mind from focusing on the negatives, especially if you can focus on more positive activities like going outdoors and spending fun time with friends.
  • Practicing Under Pressure ‚Äď It is often hard to practice under pressure, because practice itself rarely has that much pressure. But if you can get used to being under pressure situations, then when you actually face some type of pressure it won’t cause as much anxiety. For example, if you are giving a speech, do it in front of smaller crowds and work your way up to the bigger ones. If you are playing sports, practice playing where people challenge you with noise and energy ‚Äď just like you would experience in a big game. This will help you get used to some of the components of pressure situations, even if it doesn’t resemble it completely.

 

Fino a domani, I miei amici! Mwah!

 

“All The World’s A Stage . . . “

anxiety-memeI just had to post this anxiety meme, and like larger than life, because as soon as I saw it I laughed so hard I almost choked on my¬†coffee. It’s¬†so totally¬†true. Every time I’m ever with my therapist and we’re talking about something that makes me anxious, or we try to do something on the fear ladder and I get anxious, she immedately goes for the “Okay. start your breathing. Try to take yourself down to at least a three.” Right. I must’ve been breathing wrong before! ¬†If that worked all the time, psychiatrists would be completely out of business.

Anyway, that’s beside the point. I would be a court reporter right now if it weren’t for perforance anxiety. ¬†And, I absolutely¬†loved¬†that job, even more than teaching, and teaching was pretty darn cool. See, the skill of stenography came pretty easily to me because I also knew the skill of braille from when I was a teacher for visually challenged K-12 students in Columbus, GA. Braille is a combination of keys on a machine that amount to much like chords, piano chords is what it made me think of. Court reporting shorthand is similar, so I was able to adapt quickly.

When I graduated, I worked on a temporary license until I could pass the state exam. Only . . . that day never came. Although I did very well in school and often surprised both teachers and students with my speed and accuracy, when it came time to take the test, I felt lost. We were given three five minute timed tests and one hour each test to transcribe them afterwards: 225 wpm for testimony, 200 wpm jury charge, and 175 wpm hard literary. I froze. I just froze.

It didn’t matter how much prep time I had given myself before I walked through those doors. It didn’t matter what I told myself about others who had gone before me and passed. ¬†The first two times I made it through all three timed tests and tried to transcribe all three parts. The second time I managed to transcribe two parts. The third time, although I took all three tests as per usual, I was too disgusted with myself to even read through what I had taken down. Mind you, each time I entered the test in Lansing, it cost fifty dollars; not exactly something to sneeze at. ¬†After the third time I resigned myself to performance anxiety and gave up. I gave up a chance at a career I know I would absolutely love for the rest of my life.

Any time I walked in those doors in Lansing, Michigan, even before the actual test began, my heart would start beating faster, I’d start sweating, I’d get this¬†horrible, unshakable feeling¬†that every other person in the room is staring at me, my hands would shake, and I’d have trouble catching my breath. I talked to psychiatrists and therapists about possible hypnotherapy for this so that maybe I¬†could¬†take the test and pass it, but so far no one has been able to help me.

I’m so sorry this has gone on so long. There are causes and solutions for performance anxiety. I’ll write about those next time.

Until then, be well and be happy!

good performance
Fino a domani, I miei amici!

The Bystander Effect

bystander effectAccording to Wikipedia, the bystander effect, a.k.a. bystander apathy, “is a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. The probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders.”

The first case that caused research into this “effect” took place in 1964. At that time, 28-yr-old Kitty Genovese¬†was raped and stabbed to death in front of her apartment.

The attack lasted over 30 minutes and was witnessed by several dozen people (at least, it was reported, but later found to be not quite accurate–only about a dozen people actually witnessed the crime.) who failed to report the incident. Some didn’t know an actual crime was happening, claiming they thought it was a “lover’s quarrel,” while others knew a crime was happening but didn’t report it because they assumed someone else already called the police. My only question is, how do you confuse someone being raped and stabbed with a “lover’s quarrel?” Right?

Remember the movie “The Accused,” with Jodie Foster?¬†I think she might have won an Academy Award for her role as a women who was raped by a bunch of men on a pool table in front of several witnesses who did nothing. ¬†Some even clapped and cheered. The actual incident took place in New Bedford, MA in 1983.

There are more incidents of The Bystander Effect, probably many more than are reported, but I will not cite them all here. I can tell you about something that happened to me and my mother years ago in front of our own house. My brother Greg has a penchant for Packards. One day he was over, visiting, and he couldn’t get it to start. He told my mom and I that if we gave him a push start, he was sure he’d be able to start it. So (foolishly) we started pushing, and got sort of running, not thinking we should let go of the car once it started.

We both fell in the street, my mom flat on her face. She could’ve broken her nose, but thankfully didn’t. Of course there was a lot of blood, and my brother and I helped her stop the blood while she sat on the porch. She didn’t want to go to the ER. My point is, we fell right in front of my “across-the-street” neighbor’s house. They had their screen door on, so I’m sure they heard and saw everything that happened. There was also the neighbor kitty corner from us. Not one person bothered to see if we were all right, even as my mother sat on the porch bleeding. No one checked in on her later to make sure she was okay.

Are these bad neighbors and friends? Not at all. They most likely didn’t want to get involved or assumed someone else would help. Neighbors aren’t like they used to be, after all. It’s not an easy world to live in any more. And if we could ask Kitty Genovese, she might reply, “Was it ever?”

Hope you enjoyed this late late blog post. I’m really very sorry. It’s not my intention for them to be late. I get caught up in things and forget, which is not to say you are not just as important! Please stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog post, which will most certainly NOT be late. ūüėČ

Ciao Bella.

 

Zany

Z (1)I don’t like the word zany as it applies to mentally ill or anxious people. It’s the same as saying “crazy,” and it’s placing a stigma on a population that has enough to deal with on a day-to-day basis. I’m not even sure I like “mentally ill.”

Sure, I have three separate anxiety problems, and bipolar disorder, but does that make me mentally ill? Does someone with diabetes say that she is physically ill? Of course not. She has a problem with her sugar, and she’s hopefully taking care of it.

We all of us exhibit crazy¬†behaviors¬†now and then. None of us are immune. Shouting at someone who cuts us off in traffic is not exactly normal.¬†Talking¬†to the driver in front of you (come on, I know you’ve done it, so have I) when you know s/he can’t hear you, is pretty crazy behavior. Once, when I still had borderline personality disorder (I have since¬†aged¬†out of it, thank God) I laid down in front of my niece’s car because we were in the middle of an argument, she was trying to leave, and I didn’t want her to. I’m still that way, needing to resolve things, but I don’t lie down in front of peoples’ cars any longer. lol¬†That’s¬†crazy.

Today, let’s remember to use the words “zany” and “crazy” judiciously, when talking about events and things, rather than people. It will go a long way toward reducing stigma in the world at large.

Well, everyone, that’s the end of the alphabet. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with you, and hope you have the same. Stay tuned for Mental Health Month in May, where anything can happen and we aren’t constrained by the letters of the alphabet!

Ciao, Bella.