Friday, September 26, 2014

The Worldwide Waiting Room

So far, so anxious.

Justin was able to find records of my blood tests as far back as 2004. Looks like I've always had a low-end-of-normal level of white blood cells. White blood cells are the ones that fend of illness, so it's pretty important to have enough of those around. Mine have only gotten below normal in the past two years.You'd think I'd be sick all the time, but Justin says the ones I do have must be really strong. I think he's joking, but I like the image of those few but mighty warriors bouncing around in there, hammering away at invaders.

It turned out it wasn't as easy to get my history of prescriptions since 2006 as my first call with the pharmacist led me to believe. ("Sure! Just come in and bring your ID and we can print it out for you.") The local pharmacist was only able to print out the list for the past 12 months, which doesn't help at all. However, I called the Privacy Desk and if I could recall all of my street addresses for that period of time, she could get it right out in the mail tomorrow morning. I spent 25 minutes on the phone with the woman while I looked at Google Maps and tried to remember the directions to an apartment we lived in for one year eight years ago. She finally just gave me a hint, figuring that with my unique name, my date of birth, and the accurate addresses for three other locations, I was probably legit. Then, I realized that I had been using a different national chain pharmacy during the most crucial two years of history--when I started working with a psychiatrist. Cue the redo, except this time, the Custodian of Records requires that I mail or fax a signed and dated written request for information. So it will be 7-10 business days from this morning before I can even give my hematologist/oncologist enough information to start figuring out whether this leukopenia is caused by any of the medications I've ever taken.

I was freaking out before I called the pharmacists to get these records. I absolutely hate making phone calls, so the entire time I was making Ella's peanut butter and jelly sandwich while taking deep breaths and trying to relax, I was also dreading calling. I decided that if I just got it over with as soon as Justin took her to school, I'd feel better because I'd have done all I can do for now and could just move on and relax until the next step. Whatever that might be.

Then, I didn't feel better.

I'm worried about the anxiety I've been feeling since I got the referral to the oncologist a week ago. I realize the cruel joke of being anxious about anxiety, but that's the glory of a mood disorder: it's not at all rational.

I know that it's totally reasonable to be anxious about a medical problem and an unknown diagnosis--especially when you're referred to a cancer doctor.

However, I thought that after the hematologist/oncologist appointment I would feel calmer. The doctor didn't ever say he thought it was cancer. He thinks it's meds related. He's doing a bunch of other blood tests to rule out things like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and hepatitis. It's not the most comforting news ever, but cutting out cancer as a possibility should be comforting, right?

I'm worried though. I have this tight feeling in my throat, my heart feels like it's going faster than usual, my hands are a bit shaky, and my palms are sweating. Plus, I have a tension headache everyday.

So, like any hyper-vigilant mood disorder patient, I emailed my therapist and psychiatrist to ask for help. What should I do about my meds? I have taken anxiety medication in the past, but it really knocks me out and I don't think I should be alone with Ella--leave alone drive her around--if I take it. I'd love to just lie in bed, but obviously that's not a mom-option. I can't remember the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy things that might help. Being mindful is really quite a battle right now. Any suggestions?

There's a reason I keep seeing these people even though it's been over six years since we lived in San Diego. It's worth it to drive two to three hours to have doctors who respond to emails and texts within minutes to an hour or two from when I reach out to them for help. Since I've been so stable all these years, it's been fine just going to an appointment every month or two. 

The therapist reassured me that it is reasonable and appropriate to have worries and be anxious. She reminded me about observing my feelings instead of worrying about them. The theory is that if I can drop worrying about anxiety and just observe anxiety, I'll be ahead. She is pleased that I can identify what is happening in my body--the tight throat, racing heart, sweaty palms, tension headache. Awareness of body and thoughts without getting attached to them--just letting them come and go--is a helpful practice. "It just is what it is. No judgment. Be kind and compassionate to yourself and breathe."

My psychiatrist suggested taking a very small dose of anxiety medication and seeing if that doesn't sedate me too much. Maybe tomorrow, when Justin's home (albeit asleep between working swing shifts) and I can just refuse all invitations that would involve driving. Just enough to take the edge off.

The reminder about observing anxiety and feelings rather than getting swallowed by them was really helpful. Somehow seeing them and letting them just be makes them less powerful--sort of an, "Oh, look. There's anxiety going by again. Yep. That's it." The alternative is, "Holy shit! There's anxiety again! It's going to get me! I'd better run! There's no where to run to! I'd better hide! I can't hide! Oh God! It's going to get me! I can't get out of it!"

It's the difference between looking through the zoo fence at the tigers while they eat or jumping into their space and trying to steal a bit of their food.

I'm trying to avoid the anxiety meds because I usually have to drive Ella around. We'll see if I can manage over the next few days. I just worry because I don't want to get stuck in this anxious mode in my brain chemistry--and it's so easy because it feels so familiar. Awful, but familiar.

The worst of it is,  I can see already that it's affecting the way I interact with people. I'm totally distracted. I'm exhausted. When they ask, "How are you doing?" I want to tell them, but no one really wants to hear, "I'm waiting for a diagnosis and fending off a bout of clinical depression and anxiety that I don't really have time for. Also, Ella wants a snack."

I can feel the bubble forming around me that keeps me from being all the way present, all the way engaged, all the way me.

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