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  • Can't Breathe

    I've been wanting to say, "Hey guess what? The medicine situation is all worked out and I feel fantastic and life is back to normal!" for weeks now ... But I can't. In fact, maybe you can tell by my silence, I haven't been feeling well.

    After finally getting into the doctor on June 3rd, they put me on Zoloft, because I was on it briefly in the past, and it seemed to work. (Their policy is to try things that have worked in the past before trying new things. Makes sense.) She said to give it two weeks for my body to transition and for me to start feeling better.

    The first, I don't know ... Two days? I felt pretty dog gone good. I was opimtistic. I had way more energy than I'd had in a long time due to the citalopram. I jokingly told Matt that I might not even need naps anymore.

    Then I ran into a brick wall. Anxiety more intense than I ever remember feeling, my body in a constant state of "flight or fight". Being that physically anxious, whether your brain agrees with the anxiety or not, wears you out pretty quick. I started getting headaches, ranging from fairly annoying to so severe it sent me to bed where I didn't dare move. But I just had to hang in there - after two weeks, I would be fine. I got things done where I could, and tried to forgive myself for the things I just wasn't up to.

    By the time my two weeks were up, things were starting to taper off. I was slowly beginning to feel normal again. My anxiety still felt like it was triggered more easily, but it wasn't as dramatic. Having read that it could take up to six weeks for the medicine to take full effect, I figured I'd wait it out.

    Then I couldn't breathe.

    It wasn't an emergency situation - I wasn't even worried about it. But more often than not, I couldn't get my body to take in a full breath of air. I was tempted to wait the additional two weeks and just discuss it with my doctor then, but after three days, I broke down and told Matt what was going on, and he insisted I get an appointment.

    At that appointment, my blood pressure was super high, which has never been a concern before. After running tests and discussing my symptoms (or lack thereof), they concluded that my body was having panic attacks, even though I wasn't consciously worried.

    They increased my zoloft dosage and gave me a prescription for xanax to help my body relax.

    That's where I am today. I have to wait another two weeks to see how my body does with the increased dosage, and then we'll decide whether to keep me there or try something else.

    The xanax helps, but it doesn't take away everything (I specifically wanted a low dose). I was warned that in this two week period, my body may experience the same crappy side effects from increasing the dose as it did when I started it.

    I'll be honest - this all sucks, and I hate it very much. I don't feel like I have much, if any, control over how I feel on a given day. I can usually get the bare minimum done, but it requires great effort, and when your body is extremely crazy anxious, things like going out in public are excessively difficult. I haven't wanted to do much, because existing is draining enough.

    But I'm hanging in there. I don't know whether the increased Zoloft is going to be enough. I'm not looking forward to trying something else if it isn't, but at this point, I know I might as well stick it out until we find a good solution.

    I know it will get better - it just doesn't feel like it.

  • Stigma

    It's happened more times than I can count. I'm laying in bed, and an unwelcome thought pops into my head.
    Mikenna's laying too still at my feet. What if she has died and I didn't notice. Should I check now or should I ignore this until morning? I mean, it'd be worse if I wait until morning, because she'd be stiff by then, probably. What will we do with her? Should I call the vet?  Do they handle that sort of thing? I know the humane society does. Or can my parents bury her? Is that even legal around here?

    On and on the thought train goes until I am almost completely convinced that my dog has died, even while acknowledging the absurdity of the idea.

    I remember once in particular that I was afraid I'd left something out, that Mikenna would get ahold of it while we were out, and I'd come home to a dead dog. (I really do worry about other things, these just happen to be the first things I think of) So while out to dinner with my husband, I was constantly thinking about Mikenna and worrying about her, and I made myself so sick that I had little appetite. I choked down the food, rushed us home, and there was Mikenna, asleep in the chair.

    I've found that anxiety multiplies in darkness, whether the darkness of night or just our minds. Because if I ever just tell Matthew, "Hey, I know this is stupid, but I keep worrying that I left the curling iron on." he'll tell me that he knows I unplugged it. Often, just the act of airing things out makes it all seem so silly and small.

    Anxiety isn't the only thing that thrives in darkness. Depression and unnecessary shame also love our silence, where no other voices can stop it from taking over. This is where the stigma around mental illness is so very dangerous. Thinking that we will be judged, that we will be scoffed at, not taken seriously, or even disowned, keeps us silent. We isolate ourselves, having convinced ourselves that we are unworthy of the love or compassion of another human, that our problems are, for whatever reason, our own baggage to carry. This is how small problems grow big, how addictions spiral, because we are steeped in darkness.

    It doesn't have to be that way. I can't tell you how many people came forward after I admitted my own anxiety and depression and told me that they shared my experience. I had no idea because I thought it was something I was fighting all on my own.

    Exposing these things to the light of day, to people whom we feel safe talking to, can bring so much freedom. Because you'll usually find that whatever you've kept squashed down isn't as big and scary as your mind has made it out to be. Or if it is, you'll find that you're not alone and that there's hope and help available.

    My husband recently started counseling, and was told that if he wanted to pay without using insurance for confidentiality reasons, it was an option. But if we don't use our insurance, then the carrier won't have any idea of what benefits to offer. Our last insurance company only paid for five visits per year. That might be sufficient if you aren't struggling with something and just want to touch base with someone a few times a year, but for those who actively need help, it falls way short. I can't help but wonder how much of that is because the provider has no idea what people need.

    The only way we'll get rid of the stigma is to keep talking about it. To make taking care of your brain just as normal as taking care of your body. To help people see that they are not broken or a failure for needing help. If you had diabetes or a broken leg, you wouldn't judge yourself a moral failure. Depression is no different.

    There is help, there is hope, and there need not be a stigma around it. Pass it on.

  • Twenty-nine

    I turn twenty-nine on Saturday, and I typically like to mark my birthday with some intelligent sounding post about the last year, or the year to come, or something - just as long as it sounds like I know what I'm doing.

    But here's the truth: I turn twenty-nine on Saturday, and I realize that I know nothing. (Jon Snow)

    If I had to pick a recurring theme out of this last year, it would be something like, "The cake is a lie."

    So many things that I thought would always be are no longer. People that I thought would always be around ... aren't. Things that I thought would never happen did.
    That's not to be completely negative - at this time last year I had no intention of adopting another animal, and now I can't imagine Gwen not chasing me around, smacking at me from the door frame. This year has just challenged my assumptions of life, truth, and showed me that no matter how much I would like things to stay the same, they won't. Sometimes change will run you over.

    Change can be good, it can be your choice, and change can hurt and blindside you. Honestly, change can hurt and still be good and so on. The point is ... it's inevitable. As much as I thought I knew that before ... I understand it so much more now. There's nothing that can be taken for granted, because you really don't know that it'll be there tomorrow.

    I read something a couple months ago that has rattled around in my brain a bit. The gist of it is that information is just that - how we interpret and react to the information is what makes it good or bad. It's how getting laid off will devastate the man who wanted to work for this company forever, but seem the golden opportunity to another. It's an interesting thought, though for me, it reads to me like, "Hey you, don't panic over everything, you don't always need to."

    Not exactly a succinct life motto, but there you go.

    As much as I want to step up on a soapbox and declare what the next year will look like for me, and all of these things I'm going to do before I hit the milestone of thirty, I know better. I know that there are things I can influence, few things I can control, and that making the effort rather than talking about it is at least half the battle.

    Lord willing, for the next year, I intend to keep living. I will strive to be healthier, happier, and more creative, but I understand that there will be setbacks. There will be bad days, bad weather, and projects that fail or never get worked on. But I'm going to keep plugging along, and enjoy the ride in the process.

  • Something new

    I'm trying this new thing where I actually leave the house (*gasp!*) and get some writing done. Maybe errands too. Definitely the gym - eventually. Step one is just getting out of the house, which is still weird for me.

    I had to run to the post office this morning, and I need to pick up a few groceries on my way home. I'm still fighting the urge to treat this like another errand and "hurry up and get home!"

    Having a routine that includes going out for writing is something I've wanted for years. Now I just have to make it happen. Knowing that, if I don't go out and write it is squarely on my shoulders is a big deal. Eeep.

  • You are my sunshine

    You are my sunshine

    Gwen really likes to play with me. She'll run into the bathroom, hide behind the door, and wait for me to drum my fingers along the space where the hinges are. Then she leaps forward and smacks at my hand with her paws. If I did this with Aeris, it would be a disaster, because Aeris has never learned that claws hurt. But Gwen is so gentle and playful that it's fun.

    She waits for me to fall asleep at night and then slips onto the pillow next to the bed. There she'll stay until I get up for the morning, and then she does too. She only sleeps on that pillow at night.

    When she's not feeling stressed out by Aeris (which we're working on), she is such a happy-go-lucky cat, but not obnoxious. She doesn't get in your face, but looks delighted and kitten-like if you initiate some play with her. Here and there, she decides that running is far superior to walking, and runs everywhere. I think she acts like a much younger cat than I've been told she is, without the behavior problems associated with young cats.

    Gwen makes me so happy. So much so, that I feel a little guilty sometimes, because I do have two other sweet, loving girls that I really do love just as much.

    There's just something special about Gwen. Maybe it's that infectious happiness, or that when she gives her love, she gives it so fully. (And in a uniquely Gwen way) I have this feeling about Gwen that she is the type of cat who would run after someone who was threatening me and tear them up if she had to. It's like she swore a wookiee life debt to me.

    I love that quirky little Koo, who snuggles with me so contently on the couch. I love Aery Bean, who will throw herself on my arms and expect that I'm going to let her cuddle me. (And I do) I don't like imagining us without any of these girls, as they are all my family.

    I think what it comes down to is that I'm in a better place emotionally with Gwen. When I got Mikenna, I was deep in grief for Max, and paralyzed with anxiety from day 1 that she would die. With Aeris, I was deep in the trenches of untreated anxiety about just about everything. I had forgotten what cats were like, and found this crazy little ball of fluff to be overwhelming.

    With Gwen, I understood (mostly!) what we were getting into. I expected the worst and have been pleasantly surprised with how she's blossomed and become so fun. I'm in a stable, supportive environment, and despite my qualms with my medication, it does keep my anxiety in check. I'm able to enjoy Gwen without worrying about her life span or what else may come. It's a new experience for both of us, and I'm immensely grateful.

    Gwen is my little sunshine.

  • What they see is what you get

    This week, I read "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn. I saw the movie last year, and I enjoyed it. It was dark and twisty in a way that reminded me of one of my favorite novels - Wuthering Heights. (Not that the stories themselves have anything in common...Just that you go, "Wow, that's ... messed up.")

    As best as I can remember, the movie and book are very similar. I think there was at least one character omitted from the movie, and there were a few scenes in the book that I didn't recognize from the movie, but all the major points were the same.

    But I liked the book way better. Why is that? Surely, movies are a nice shortcut. Spend two to three hours on a movie, and call it good, or spend several days on the book. Plus, having seen the movie, that's pretty much what I pictured in my head, so my imagination wasn't unique. But what made it superior, and what I think might be the downfall of all movie adaptations, is that what the characters were thinking was spelled out.

    On screen, the character tilts their head and scrunches their nose. In the book, another character sees this and thinks, "they always scrunch their nose when they're about to tell a lie." There's so much more information that can be learned from the page because film doesn't have the time or perhaps the ability to convey it.

    I think it's easier to feel sorry for movie Nick Dunne than his book counterpart. Sure, he's confused as to what's happening in the first half of the book, but by the end, it's easier to come to the conclusion that he's brought this on himself and he and Amy really are two insane peas in a pod.

    Same goes for the Game of Thrones books versus their tv adaptation. While the first few seasons seem (to the best of my recollection) on point with the books, to me it's far more interesting to see their thoughts. There's only so much Tyrion Lannister can say out loud without being executed - but he can think a lot more.

    Of course, whether to let a reader into the character's head is a narrative choice. The author can leave the reader out as much as if they were watching a screen. But that's another discussion for another day.

  • Put it down

    I'm a planner. Here I am, with a notebook of story, world, and character notes, a matching folder with printed out character sheets - and the digital versions here on my laptop.

    I wasn't always a planner. Once upon a time, I had a loosely planned out story and characters, and I flew by the seat of my pants. Somewhere along the line, I decided that my work wasn't high quality enough this way and that I needed to do more thinking before I started on a draft.

    But here's what I managed to forget: First drafts are supposed to be messy. You may think that you're going to cut down on your revision work by doing more upfront, but the truth is ... you probably won't. Even in the best case scenario, you're probably going to discover along the way that this character would be much cooler with a different personality trait, or that you (gasp!) left a plot hole wide open. You're not going to re-write a page or two. Chapters are going to fall, characters are going to come and go, and that's just something you're going to have to accept.

    I say this as much to myself as any of you. Because knowing and accepting are two different things. And trying to get things "perfect" up front has just made me more reluctant to start that first draft. The idea is perfect in my notebook and my little scrivener file - I can't muck it up if I never go any further!

    But that's not how it works. You may think something is perfect now, but it's probably not. The only way to find out, to make it even better than you imagine now, is to get down in the muck. Find out first hand where your flaws are, and then go back to the drawing board.

    Is it tedious? Yes.

    Heartbreaking? Yes.

    Time consuming? Yes.

    Worth it?

    Well, that's up to you. But an idea never realized for fear of getting dirty with it is an idea that will never live, and I think that's more sad and painful than working through the kinks. Now, to put that into practice.

    :Goes back to Zoe:Red file:

  • Sweetie Pie

    Sweetie Pie

    Gwen is by far the most playful cat I've ever had, and she's pretty happy to play by herself. She will stare down a toy, tackle it, flip it in the air, catch it, chew on it, and then repeat until the toy gets too far out of reach or she's otherwise satisfied that the toy has been maimed. Her favorite is this little crinkly butterfly. I think it's the easiest to throw because it's crinkly and not plush, and it probably feels funny in her mouth.

    She still likes to be around us most of the time - as I write this, she's been walking back and forth on my desk, taking turns sitting at each end. She does, however, enjoy a little bit of solitude. This privacy usually involves her curling up on a sweater of ours, so even when she's not near us, she apparently likes our scent. Cute little weirdo.

    She still doesn't really ask for things - not like her sisters. If she happens to catch your eye while you're feeding the other two, she'll give you this inquisitive look, "Me too?" but that's it. In my opinion, she seems more grateful for any bit of attention or special food you're willing to give her. The other two expect it, she still seems pleasantly surprised. In a way, it's kind of nice.

    Quirky is one word that would definitely describe her. When she's feeling playful, she's happy to grab your hand, nom it, and then jump away. She also enjoys running after you and tapping the back of your legs in an infinite game of tag. She doesn't always do that, but probably once or twice a day. But she really loves hanging out in the bathtub lately. Part of it, I think, is that she seems to enjoy the 'fresh' water that drips occasionally out of the faucet. But I've also seen her wrangle a bug or two and shove them down the drain. I do appreciate that - she's a better hunter than the other two, and she cleans up. It's not uncommon to think you've gotten to the bathroom by yourself, and then a little Gwen head pops up from inside the tub.

    Gwen is also starting to dabble with the idea of sitting with us - sometimes even on our laps for little bits of time. It's not something I find that we can coax her into. We can make the invitation, but it's all up to her. However, whereas last month she was pretty sore with me when I'd pick her up, she seems to be okay with it now. She just doesn't want you to pick her up because you feel like cuddling her - it has to be because you're putting her somewhere. But one night I carried her from the back room into the living room, and she didn't seem fazed at all by it. So she's either understanding that we have her best interests at heart, or she likes us enough to put up with us.

    She really is such a sweetheart, and every day I feel lucky that she's ours.

  • On Citalopram

    I've been on some dosage of Citalopram, otherwise known as Celexa, since November 2013. At the time, it, or some kind of medication was absolutely, positively necessary. To some degree, I've struggled with anxiety and depression for a long time, and my brain needed a break.

    What's great about citalopram, at least in my experience, is that it cuts off the emotional highs and lows - at first, it feels like this blissful cone of silence. You don't feel the awful depressive lows, nor do you feel the heart pounding anxious highs. It's so nice just to go about your life with that filter, you can just do things without all the noise and draining emotions.

    It's a very nice vacation for the brain, and one I desperately needed at that time.

    In the time since going on citalopram, I've learned a bit about making decisions that I want to make, versus making them out of anxiety. I've learned that anxiety is so very uncomfortable, but it's not the end of the world - or at least it hasn't been so far.

    I even made my first road trip to Virginia and back, all by myself, last September. It took me years to venture out on any major highways in Michigan - a road trip like this would have been unfathomable. It's no big deal to me now, and I love that. In some ways, being medicated has allowed me to think for myself without the anxiety and depression demons lurking over my shoulder.

    But there are downsides to just about any medication, and citalopram is no exception. For me, the big one has always been drowsiness. On 20mg, for me, it's the feeling of constantly being an hour short on sleep. A little tired, a nap always sounds good, but isn't necessary.

    However, once my brain settled, I also noticed that cutting off the emotional highs and lows began to feel restrictive at times. I still had (and have) all my normal human emotions, I just feel like I have to work a lot harder. I still enjoy things, but I don't enjoy them as voraciously as I know I could. When something is funny, I chuckle. Things don't make me laugh so hard I cry. Speaking of crying, I find it extremely hard to do that. It's not for lack of desire - on the occasion that I'm in a lot of pain or very frustrated, I find that I can't vent out my feelings in the form of tears. As a person who occasionally needs that "good cry", not being able to get there is really annoying!

    So I think, when I had my physical back in January, and they asked me questions regarding my emotional state, I sounded like my medicine wasn't working very well. Not enjoying things, sleeping too much ... Let's up the dosage!

    As I've mentioned in a few other posts, increasing the dosage has been a nightmare for me. If 20mg made naps sound like a good idea, 40mg makes sleep inevitable. I've told Matt that if I'm not moving, I'm sleeping. I can, at times, outrun the constant need for sleep - but not always. The increase in medicine has made me feel even more "blunted" emotionally, and it's made me feel like a very boring person. I hate it.

    I want off this ride. I can't say for certain that I don't need medicine at all right now, but I know that I don't need this.

    For full disclosure, I'm being thwarted in my attempts to get off this medicine. A recent change in policy at the doctor we chose meant that they insist on having my medical records in hand before they'll even make an appointment for me.
    So they sent away to our doctor in Michigan for them.
    I got a bill in the mail, saying that when they received a check, they'd send over the records. All that paper correspondence takes time, which is especially annoying when my records with this doctor are so short that I could have told them almost virbatim what's there.
    I'm still in the process of waiting for our new doctor to receive the records, at which point they said they'd call me to make an appointment. I don't know if they'll remember.

    When you've reached the point where you realize that the medicine and the dosage of said medicine are completely wrong for you, and are harmful, it thoroughly stinks to be bound to that medicine because of paperwork. I don't recommend this course of action, but this is the extent to my desperation - I've started tapering myself off the citalopram because I can't stand it anymore.

    You really shouldn't do it without talking to a doctor, and I know that, and I wouldn't tell anyone to wean themselves off of medicine like this. The withdrawal side effects are kind of nasty, and I've gotten away rather easily so far.

    But that's my story, for better or worse. I haven't decided yet whether I want to ask a doctor to switch my medicine, as they did with Matt, or try life without an SSRI for a while. Right now, I kind of want to try living on my own again, and trust that Matt will help me see if I'm wrong once everything is out of my system. At least by then, the paperwork will all be straightened out.

  • Anti-progress

    Autumn told me that I should write more about exercise - so, here you go.

    Up until a couple of years ago, I avoided the doctor because, and I quote, "I don't want to step on the scale." I realize how bad that sounds, how trivial in the scheme of things. But, that's crippling anxiety for you.

    I'd placed so much of my value in that number that the fear of deflating my self worth further by seeing that number was unfathomable. But I told you this was about exercise, didn't I?

    The gym we go to has a scale by the front door. Periodically, I'll step on it, for kicks. I like that I've gotten to a point where it doesn't really matter what it says.*

    *Except that it kinda does matter. Much as I tell myself that my worth is not wrapped up in what the scale says, it would be nice if the scale could humor me and not remain in the same 3lb range. I mean, really. It's nice that I can flex my calves and feel like I magically turned them into stone, but I don't feel any different in my day to day life.

    I'm still fat flabby Sarah. I'm hyper aware of my stomach rolls in all shirts, and I go through my day wishing that said shirts were just a little bit baggier because I feel so self conscious.

    I'm willing to take ownership of this problem. Matt and I haven't been as regular at the gym as we'd like the last few weeks because things have been so chaotic. (For the record, I don't recommend taking two whirlwind trips to Michigan in less than a month's time.) We need routine and are having a difficult time carving it out - even more so when the side effects of our medications feel so awful.

    Ideally, I would like to continue our current theoretical routine - 45-60 minutes of weight machines, 3x per week. I would also like to add 30-60 minutes of cardio 2-3x per week. I don't think that's unreasonable, and I'd like to think that if I could just get there, that would help move things along.

    But, as I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, the dog gone medicine. Yeah, I still haven't had that adjusted yet. Part of my reason for delaying, I'll admit, is that I'm debating whether I want to ask for the secondary medicine that should take away the constant fatigue, or ask to be weaned off the celexa.

    On the one hand, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!" - I'm at a point now where my anxiety is pretty minimal. Things still bother me here and there, but I can recognize the discomfort and move on. I'm not crippled by it. My depression is also largely under control. I can honestly say that being tired all the time is a much larger factor in feeling hopeless than the actual depression.

    So if I wanted to try and wean off of the medicine, I think I'm in a good place for it. However, the fact that I am doing so well probably means that the medicine is working.

    I don't know what unmedicated Sarah is like these days. In addition to the fatigue, sometimes I lament what feels like a 'blunting' of my emotions. I don't notice it too often, mostly when I'm very upset. I get to a point where I need to cry, to release the steam and feel better, but the medicine blunts me just enough that I can't. Those moments make me hate the medicine.

    But what does the medicine discussion have to do with exercise? Well, one of the side effects of celexa is weight gain. Because I haven't yet gotten to a place where I've exercised consistently enough, I don't know that the celexa is keeping the scale stubborn, but I feel like it is.

    I suppose the 'right' answer is to get the medicine adjusted, which will help me get into a good routine all around, and then see where I'm at.

    It's just frustrating, not being where I want to be. As far as I've come, I have so far to go.