Thursday, November 19, 2015

Chemistry

In high school I was so bad at Chemistry that my parents got me a tutor, so as not to mess up my junior year GPA, or my reputation as a good student, or my chance at a successful future, or something like that. Even though a young college student came to our house once a week and sat with me at our kitchen table with my chemistry book open and that carbon paper workbook (remember carbon paper!) getting filled with numbers and letters, I still didn't understand it. Despite this tutor, I got another bad grade on a test. Honestly, it might have been a C or a C- (I don't remember)--could have been a D, but A's were always the goal.

I do remember, though, that I felt crushed. Chemistry made me cry. A lot. I'd go into my next class crestfallen. I'd go into the band room at lunch (such a nerd!) and sit in despair. I'd go to Mr. Brouhle's class at lunchtime--he was the math teacher whose own high school-age kids went to our school--and he'd help anyone who came to his classroom with their math questions while we ate. I went there a lot--Algebra II was no friend of mine, either.

We got one of our tests back on the Friday that the marching band was having our annual holiday party--who knows, in 1990, we may have still called it a Christmas party even though my best friends in the band were Jewish. I'd gotten that terrible grade and made up my mind that I simply could not go to the party because I should stay home and study until I finally got it right. I delivered all of this news--the bad grade, cushioned by the fact that I knew exactly how to punish myself and what I deserved and what I had to do to fix it--to my parents that evening. It felt like aliens had invaded our house. My mom said I should go to the party. She insisted. I remember standing in the bathroom watching her curl her hair while telling me we could work on the chemistry tomorrow, but I should not miss the party. (Who was this woman?!?! This valedictorian?!?!) My fourteen-year-old brother was getting dressed up and ready to go the mall with my mom. Neither of these people have ever liked shopping. There's no way in hell my brother would ever dress up to go shopping, leave alone without arguing about it. They were going to go. My dad would drive me to the party. I had to go. My brother, a freshman in the band, would meet me there. I begrudgingly got ready to go. At the party, which was in a rented room at a community park, my dad insisted on walking me to the door.

"No, Dad. I can walk there from here! You can just watch me walk across the grass! I'll be fine," I plead as he looked for a parking spot.

He parked.

When I opened the door all of my friends and my mom and my brother jumped out and yelled, "Surprise!"

I almost missed my surprise 16th birthday party because of chemistry.

Chemistry.



I drove down to San Diego last Wednesday to see my psychiatrist and see if she could somehow make my brain stop ruining my life.

The best thing about having my psychiatrist in San Diego--about an hour and a half or two hour drive from where I live--is the drive. That, and the fact that she is brilliant and sought after and there is no way I'd give her up after having had three or four psychiatrists that were not able to help me. I won't look for someone closer to my house until she tells me she can't see me anymore for some reason or another.

I listened to an audiobook, focused on the road, and spoke to no one.

Dr. S. listened to my description of life as I know it. The crushing sense of dread squashing my chest. The few steps from the brink of tears. The inability to keep a thought in my head that was affecting my ability to hold a conversation--even with strangers, around whom I'd like to sound competent. The way I so-much-more-than-usual could not remember why I walked into a room and what I wanted to do now that I was there.

I was so afraid she'd say, "Old Scary Medicine it is!"

But she didn't.

Turns out it's possible that the first med adjustment we did might have actually made things worse in a way. I never like to name my medications because all people are different and what works for me might not work for someone else. So, I'll say this: We upped medicine A so that it could support medicines B, C, and D that I'd keep taking as usual.  Turns out more of medicine A may have indeed done what I'd hoped--increased my sense of motivation to get off the couch and DO laundry rather than just lie on the couch and STARE at it. But, a side effect may be the inescapable, overwhelming feeling of dread.

Because of course. Side effects.

I was ordered to increase medicine C that night and reduce medicine A the next morning.

The dread subsided the next day.

So, now, back to our regular scheduled programming of deep sadness and melancholy. At least there's that.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Sand and Water and Foam

It isn't working.

The medicine that kept me steady for six or so years is not working.

I've done everything I can do (or is there more?) to try to fix it. I got a new, local therapist, after having kept my first therapist for eight years even though I moved more than 100 miles away from San Diego. I've seen my psychiatrist (still in San Diego) and done a med adjustment. I've gotten out of bed. I've eaten food every day. I've exercised. I've gone out in public when I'd rather stay in bed. I've taken care of Ella when I'd rather stay in bed. I've taken her to school, swimming, ballet, Girl Scouts. I've gone to the grocery store and Target and bought whatever we need and a few things we don't. I've done the laundry. I've thrown a party (a ray of light!). I've stood at school waiting to drop Ella off or pick Ella up and made small talk. I've responded to emails, but not taken phone calls. I've done dishes. I've taken bedding to the dry cleaner. I've helped with a kindergarten Star of the Week poster and various other assignments and crafts. I've bought, wrapped, and given birthday presents. I've been a mom. I've been a wife. I've been a friend. I've been a daughter.

I have been so depressed.

I wish I'd seen it coming and warded it off. I wish I'd known this could happen again. (But it's not again! It's different this time! It's not as bad! I'm out of bed! I'm off the couch! I'm not hospitalized!) With so many basically stable years, I think I believed I'd always be stable. I took my medicine, I saw my doctors, I did everything right. (Was it everything? Was there something more? If only I'd...)

I did believe I would always be stable. I did not know. I did not understand that a relapse could happen even if I worked hard at staying out of a deep depression. Even if I worked hard at staying me. Even if I tried.

And now this.

My heart is filled with dread. You know that feeling when you're about to do something you know you have to do, but you don't really want to do it? Maybe it's the dentist visit? Or the mammogram? Or the speech in front of a big group of people? Or meeting your significant other's parents for the first time? Or going to court? Or flying? Or taking a math test? Or doing your taxes?

I've walked around with that weight on my chest all day today. All. Day. All day just a few steps back from the brink of tears. One deep breath at a time.

I just want to lie down.

Everywhere I go.

But I can't get to the kindergarten pick-up area in front of the school and just stare into space until Ella comes over to get me to take her home. So I stand and I chat and I smile and hooray-here-she-is-let's-go.

I've been getting by like this for six weeks, so far. Some days are better than others, but not in any particular order. Just whenever. One day I think, "Oooo! It's working!" and then a bad day happens.

My new therapist is a gem and only a fifteen minute drive from home. She's been asking me how fast I cycle (I'm Bipolar II, you know, so every up has a down, but maybe I had my up (I'm only hypomanic... it's mild) and we missed it because I was just getting a lot of stuff done, or maybe it's on the horizon, either way we're watching for it). She reminds me of all of the things I tell other people about having a mood disorder when I'm stable. (I said these things in August! Where did that Me go?) It's like having diabetes or high blood pressure, you take your meds but sometimes they need to be adjusted and it's not your fault, it's just your body chemistry doing its own thing. You're so brave and smart and strong for getting help. There's nothing to be ashamed of. You caught it early (it could have been earlier!), you might stabilize faster. You have so much to live for. People love you. You will get better. No one is judging you. (Which is fine. I do the best job of it, anyway. I've been well-trained in judging. (Maybe second best.))

I don't believe her. I want to, and maybe I do, but still... there's just so much deep breathing and praying happening over here.

On Wednesday, Veterans Day, I go back to San Diego to see my psychiatrist. It's been four weeks since she tinkered with my doses and I'm afraid she's going to have to tinker again. She's so good. She knows what to do. But, when I sent her an email saying I needed to see her, that things were not good, her first thought (which she knew I'd hate) was to give me a medicine that I had an adverse reaction to the first time we tried it six or seven years ago. It made my legs so restless I literally could not sit still. At first I just felt a little squirmy, like I couldn't get comfortable enough to sleep at night. But it built up, until one day Justin was driving us home from the grocery store in Redondo Beach and I could not stop moving. I felt like I had to pee. The seat belt was holding me down while I shifted my body around, frantically trying to get comfortable. Or at least still. Fortunately, he was a newly graduated medical doctor doing his residency in Emergency Medicine, so he knew what to do. I took Benadryl and went to bed after calling my psychiatrist. She said I was doing the right thing by taking Benadryl and that it was a possible side effect--another possible side effect is a twitching face. For some people it never goes away. Needless to say, we changed to a different medicine.

She says they've made a better version of that drug. She says it is the most likely thing to help. She might have one other trick up her sleeve that we can try before going to that option. That scary option.

My therapist says there have been a lot of triggers recently that can cause people to fall into a depression even if they don't have a chemical imbalance. There are people who feel a sense of loss when their children move into elementary school (or out to college). There are people who have a tough time transitioning when their spouses move from day shifts to swing or night shifts and their daily routines are thrown off. There are old wounds made new. Those are environmental factors--situational, experiential factors--that have impacted my mood. That feeling of sadness around those moments, that's environmental. The feeling that I can't get out of bed and shower, but that I know that it would make me feel better, but that I just can't muster the energy to do it, but that I hate myself and feel worthless because I don't do it and then I still don't do it, and then when I finally do, I don't know why it took me so long to just do it, and so I judge myself for that, too. That's brain chemistry. Having that crappy brain chemistry while also facing some life changes... that's what brought me to this hell.

The good news is that, though I don't think this first med change we're trying is spot on, I have managed to function a little bit better than I was functioning in late September. Also, I still remember there was a time when I was a better person, a better version of me, and I still cling to the hope that I can be that person again. Soon. Maybe soon, please God, please?

I take those pills every day. Everyday, looking at them in my hand with a wish and a prayer that they will work. That they will keep me stable. I've done it for almost ten years. My therapist thinks it's great--a good sign, at least--that I never stopped taking them because "I thought I'd be OK without them, now that I was OK," like so many people do. At least I haven't messed with my brain chemistry a lot by going off and on my meds, thus making them less effective for me, she said. I laughed and told her I wasn't an idiot, that they're my lifeline. But bipolar people are notorious for stopping their meds when they're feeling good. Justin sees it in the ER with all kinds of diseases--diabetics who stop taking their insulin, blood pressure patients who stop taking their pills; so many people feel invincible at some point and just stop medication, then end up almost dying because of it.

I do not do that. I did not do that. It is really not fair that I have fallen so hard.

My therapist compared it to cancer. People who have cancer can relapse. No one blames them for not staying cancer-free.

It's a disease.

I did everything that I was supposed to do and I still crashed.

I feel like I'm dying.

You know when you go out into the ocean to play in the waves? And you've ridden wave after wave in and swam back out to catch another? And it was so fun? Now imagine that big wave. The one that pulls you under, and you see the sand and water and foam swirling all around you and you know that you have to get up to take a breath, but you're tumbling. You finally make it up and gasp, but the next wave sucks you back down and swirls you around, and this time you've only got that little sip of air in your lungs, so who knows if you can make it last until you see the sky again.

It doesn't stop.

Those waves just keep coming and coming.

I've had a few breaths--we went to Disneyland and I had fun (I almost didn't go, so having an OK time there was an accomplishment (if also a lot of work)). We had a Halloween party and I really thought it had put me back on track. (We love throwing parties!) But then there was a mini-crisis and I went back under. Still, I have had a few moments of respite. The ability to feel happy for even a moment is a very good sign.

But for right now, there's only the waves and the churning sand and the teeny tiny breath that God-willing will sustain me until it's fun to be alive again.