Six Simple Steps to Take Back Our Control: Part One of Three

I’ve been having the most difficult time putting my words down here. It can’t be because I’m afraid I’ll get it wrong. It’s my story, my life. How wrong could I get it?

It seems that my most effective/popular blog posts have been when there is a specific list to help change something in one’s life. Hey, who doesn’t like lists, right?

Six Simple Steps to Take Back Control

1. Question everything, and don’t be afraid of your doctor. When we lose or think we lose control of our lives, it’s not always with a crash and broken bones. It’s sometimes pretty subtle. For me, it starts with my doctor says that I need Prozac because I am in a major depression. I’m 27 years old at the time. I can say no, but he’s a doctor. If I didn’t need a pill, surely he wouldn’t suggest it? What I learned years later, something most of you probably know but I will share anyway, is this: doctors have to dx something in your chart in order for the insurance to pay. It’s not as important as Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, but for some reason it scared me when he said that. So, being a little shell-shocked, I would have agreed to anything short of a lobotomy. Here’s the thing. Our doctors stumble in the darkness too. They aren’t perfect. Don’t be afraid. Honestly, I still get fearful, and have to tell myself over and over before an appointment: “He may have more medical knowledge, but I know myself better.”

2. Trust your instincts. I have been on psychiatric medications for over 30 years, and I’ve written before about trusting our instincts, especially with health concerns. I think I wasn’t absorbing for me what this actually meant. It means knowing how my body feels on drugs, identifying side effects you are absolutely not willing to live with, and letting that be okay. I’ve had two different reactions to my objection to side effects which made me so light-headed and clumsy that I fell twice in six weeks, once spraining my wrist. “You have to weigh the cost of living with the side effects on one hand or living with the symptoms of your illness on the other.” That was my psychiatrist.

I’ve gone on and on. Important things to ponder. I’ll cover steps three and four tomorrow.

Peace. xoxo

Christina

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? 😉 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.

What Could Be Scarier Than a Great White Shark??

epiphanybatman Happy ninth day of Twelvetide. I wish you health and prosperity this day, and a modicum of sanity as we go and be with various family and friends that we may have a genuine love it or leave it sort of ambivalence toward. Living with ambivalence is not for sissies.

Let’s assume for a bit that you don’t live in or anywhere near Flint, Michigan, and as far as you know it’s safer than it’s ever been (since that great white shark in the 70s) to dip your toe back in the water. I give you three simple words.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

If your heart beats a little quicker than usual at seeing those three words, or you feel your shirt getting damp and wonder to yourself, “Did it just get hot in here?” … I am here to tell you that you are never alone. Don’t get up and check your thermostat. Don’t worry you might have a heart attack if you even allow the thought of those three words to linger in your mind.

You are absolutely fine. After all, they’re just words, right? Still, if you’re like me, the past 365 days of your life flashed through your mind’s eye on New Year’s Eve. Also, if you are hopefully like me, you’ll find some peaks and valleys in the past year along with maybe one terrific thing you did for yourself or someone else (or both). There will be those times we wish we could take back something we might have done or said. But no, Virginia, there are no takesie-backsies, regardless of how much you wish there were. And it’s useless to go back and wish we stuck with our diets, exercised more, quit smoking, read better literature, or whatever else happens to pass through your mind. That time’s gone; say bye-bye and face today with unflinchingly optimistic hearts. I have a few guidelines, as we go through this next year:

Be yourself: I don’t think I can stress this one enough. Always, always be your best self in any situation you find yourself. For me, if I have a bad time at a party or gathering, the largest reason I can trace it back to is that in some way I wasn’t being genuine to myself. When we work too achingly hard at pretending to be other than who we really are, when we strive to always be prettier, smarter, more interesting…than everyone else at the party, it falls flat. After all, we wouldn’t be invited in the first place if we weren’t so beloved by being exactly who we were meant to be. So, whatever happens, take a breath, square your shoulders, and open the door. You are wanted.

Be kind: I didn’t think this up, but it’s a great question to keep asking ourselves this year. That is, “What is the kindest thing I can do/say?”

Be forgiving: Forgive quickly and often, beginning with ourselves. Try not to be too quick to judge, because–well, we know what that feels like. Try, though surely we won’t often always be successful, to give the benefit of the doubt, to those you cherish, as well as yourself.

Be goal-oriented: This is essentially quite different from resolutions. Goals are infinitely good to have, for without them, we despair and languish. If your only goal is to make it through the day unscathed, and when you collapse into bed that night, having counted all fingers and toes and found none missing, then that’s a good day’s work.

Most of all, don’t live back there. You can’t get there from anywhere in the rational world that isn’t met with opaque glasses, never seen quite clearly. And for all the goodness in the world, don’t spend too much time in the future. You might start finding yourself too old for this or that, that it’s inevitably too late. I’m of the opinion it’s never too late. Not for marriage, not for love, for education, etc. It’s not even too late to have children, regardless of age–one can always adopt, or be a stupendous aunt or uncle.

I sincerely hope you have had nothing but happiness this past Christmas, and that Santa Claus was good to you. You deserve it. Moving forward, let’s join hands and step into 2017, with our eyes on trying hard to be better in every way. Here’s to you, plus a cartoon to make you laugh: bear-snowman

 

Panic Disorder

P (1)Well, I did manage to bring in the mail during the day yesterday and, as always happens, by the time I got back in the house my heart was pounding, I was sweating, I could barely catch my breath, and I had to sit on the stairs before I could take the mail either up or down (we live in a bi-level).

So, before I could celebrate that I had achieved something which was a 9 (on a scale of 1-10) on my Fear Ladder, I needed to calm myself down. I did something my therapist had taught me. I placed my right hand on my chest, my left on my stomach, and began to do my best to take deep breaths in through my nose, and out through my mouth, then eventually out through my nose as well. I kept my eyes open the whole time, so that every time I caught my chest rising when I breathed in instead of my stomach, I had to change that. I thought about how babies breathe. They’re such belly breathers! Not a care in the world as they lie on their backs wherever they are, breathing in and pushing that belly out. When we sleep at night, we’re belly breathers. We’ve just forgotten this in our hell fire hurry to get things done.

Let’s belly breathe more often. I’ll sure remember it, next time I get in a tight spot.

This is the entirety of my Fear Ladder. As you can see, it’s written for, and leading up to, a very specific reason:

3 Imagining walking the dog
3.5 Draw self walking dog
4 Look at pictures of lots of people outside
4.5 Watch video of someone walking outside
4.5 Ask for help in a store
4.5 Buy jeans
5 Putting gas in car
5 Walk with someone in a private area
5 Answering the phone
5 Driving in the car
5 Ask for directions
6 Walking into unfamiliar store or business
7 Walk with someone in public
7 Sit outside reading a book and smoking
8 Watch video of someone else with social anxiety disorder
8 Stand outside, look around
8 Taking garbage out
8 Walk with Lucy to the mailbox
9 Walk alone to the mailbox
9 Walk dog around the block
9 Walk down Meadowbrook with Lucy

Hmm. It occurs to me that I’m opening myself up for lots of ridicule by being so vulnerable and, well, open about myself. But I couldn’t think of a better example about panic disorder that didn’t sound straight out of a textbook.

So there you have it!

Ciao, Bella.'That's right! No huffing a puffing for 30 minutes on a treadmill. We've developed a new stress test that is faster and more accurate.'

 

Expectations

E (1)is for expectations. An expectation is a belief or a thought that is about an anticipated outcome, not necessarily about what might really happen. Man, oh man, have I had my share of those, with disastrous results! Seriously, I could write a book about how not to have expectations. Forget that, I could star in my own movie. I either worry too much about it (the situation), thinking it’s going to be horrible, or I’ll think something’s going to be easy and it turns out it’s super difficult. You know?

The reason we create expectations is because of the uncertainty in life. We want some certainty so we decide what’s going to happen or how things should be, whether with ourselves or other people. But—when they keep messing up our lives (and other peoples’ lives tangentially), why do we hold onto them? I mean, like a dog with a bone.

The hardest part for me is trying to quiet the noise in my head, whether I’m with family, my best (and only) friend, or strangers. Thoughts run through my mind like, “Oh God, that was brilliant, ” “Why can’t I just shut up now?” “Why did I wear these jeans? I should have worn my other ones—these are too tight.” “I just know everyone’s staring at me.” “How do I get out of here?” And on and on and on until I feel like I want to stick my head in a freezer or something. It’s awful.

In the article “Great Expectations=Great Disappointments,” by Bradley Foster in the Huffington Post, he offers eight steps to help create realistic expectations (what a concept!):

1. Become aware of expectations you are creating.
2. Understand the beliefs behind your expectations.
3. What are your needs in the situation? Are there other ways to meet them?
4. Is your expectation a reasonable or a likely outcome?
5. When your expectation turns out to be incorrect, notice and adjust accordingly.
6. When you are disappointed, don’t take it personally.
7. Stay flexible: What other options do you have?
8. Be okay with “what is.”

Hope you have an absolutely wonderful anxiety-free day!

Peace out. ❤
change-your-expectations1

Double-Edged Sword

D (1)Okay. First, I just have to say that I’m writing this on my new HP Mini Laptop Stream, which is pink, so very light, and so gosh darn cute!

Picture this: a professional runner at her mark. Her head is down, her feet set at the blocks, waiting for the starter’s signal. She quickly brushes away something you can’t see with the tips of her fingers. As the camera zeroes in on her, you see a few drops of perspiration slide from the runner’s forehead, nose, chin, and hit the ground below. She licks her dry lips. She checks the runner on her left and right. She turns her head straight out in front of her toward the path ahead, then hears the starter’s signal go off and kicks off the blocks.

What exactly is that? Is it stress, anxiety? But–at least for me—when I’m overcome with anxiety, I’m a hot mess, curled up in a ball somewhere, or on the phone with my best friend. Hence, the double-edged sword. It cuts both ways. Anxiety can work for us or it can overwhelm us. In the case of the pro runner, she has found a way to make it work for her. The challenge is to always manage to find a way to do that, emphasis on the word challenge. 

For instance, I shared with my therapy group that I was super proud of myself that I had gotten the mail during the day two times that past week. Instead of just being happy for me, I’ve been challenged to do it again this week. *le sigh* I only have Monday and Tuesday left to go to accomplish this task, as the group meets Tuesday afternoon.

Do something brave, just because you can!

Peace out.
double edged sword

Benzodiazepines

B (1)Once upon a time, a discovery was begun by a man named Leo Sternbach and finished by a co-worker named Earl Reeder. What he had was a compound which showed very strong sedative, anticonvulsant, and muscle relaxant effects. They named it Librium and they introduced it to the world at large in 1960. A few years later, Valium came into being, the one referred to as “Mother’s Little Helper” by the Stones.

It is said that “benzos” are most effective if used in the short term, that is for about a month to six weeks. HA.

Full disclosure: I take a benzo, and it is not the first benzo I have ever taken. The first one I was on for a few years, “as needed for anxiety,” was Klonopin. I took myself off of it when the pastor in my church told me I didn’t need it. I guess I was really gullible at the time because I believed him. Well, to be truthful, he didn’t understand or believe in mental illness. So then I was on Xanax and got wildly addicted. My whole family got really scared and angry, so I had to get off of that (even though I was only taking it as directed). Now I’m on Ativan. I’m supposed to take it three times a day for all my anxiety problems. But see, I also have chronic fatigue syndrome, so I’m naturally a bit wacked out. Add to that the sedative properties of Ativan, and I might as well kiss the day goodbye. I cut myself down to one pill a day, at lunch time, and I just deal with the stress when it comes up.

I have never known anyone who was on a benzodiazepine in the short term. That’s absolutely fascinating. It’s like the tobacco companies suddenly becoming scared about the dangers of nicotine. Sort of like trying to close the barn door after the cows get out. Too little, too late. Don’t tell me you care now. For some reason I’m finding it difficult to trust you. 😉

In one of the articles I read there was talk about other treatments for anxiety; such as MAOIs or other antidepressants which may have anti-anxiety-like properties in them. It’s something to think about. I take Neurontin, which is for my bipolar, but it also helps with my back pain and anxiety. It’s a wonder drug!! LOL

Anyway, cheers to as much of an anxiety-free day as you can get.

Peace out.anti-anxiety