Chemistry Lessons

Some days you hear a voice taking you to another place
Some days are better than others
–U2

I haven’t been blogging much lately. I haven’t been writing much of anything lately, aside from posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. This is in part because it’s summer, and I don’t do well in summer. But it’s also because my anxiety has been off-the-charts bad for some time now. It’s been a while since it was this bad. Every day I make it through without having a panicky meltdown is a success. Every day that I’m able to leave the house and interact with people without crying is a success. Every day that I’m able to write a coherent sentence is a success.

My therapist and I are working on it. We’re looking at possibly changing my meds, because my brain chemistry is clearly fucked up and the meds I’m taking don’t seem to be cutting it. She also made some suggestions (well, something between “suggestions” and “orders”) on how I should change my diet. I’m trying to go easy on myself while also taking a really hard look at what the hell is going on in my brain.

This is complicated stuff, especially when you don’t have much in the way of an attention span or patience, especially when your self-esteem is erratic at best, especially when you’re friends with amazing writers but you’re having trouble putting two sentences together. (Writing this post is like slogging through a bug-infested treacle swamp.) But even at my worst, I’m optimistic about life. I don’t always feel like I’m capable of living in this world, but I’m in love with this world. And I have an amazing support network of friends and family who remind me as much as possible that this is a fight worth fighting. I can get through this.

I’m hanging in there. I’m doing my best. And I’m looking forward to figuring out the best way of dealing with my wonky brain chemistry, getting this mess sorted out. I’ve been better. And I will be better again.

The Electric Ghost Tornado Ride

I got a pretty good night’s sleep last night. It’s a gorgeous, sunny day with temperatures in the “Josh’s favorite weather” range (60s-70s F). It’s the last day of the work week before a weekend that involves me driving to Wichita with my daughter to see the Go-Go’s and hang out with my imaginary girlfriend, Jane Wiedlin. My job is going well, I had fun playing Pathfinder with friends last night…this is an excellent day.

It’s also a day when my anxiety is running really high. On my drive to work, my hands clutched the steering wheel like they were glued on, my knuckles white. Every time a car or truck passed me on the road, my heart skipped a beat. I feel like my clothes don’t fit me right and look stupid on me. When I see myself in the mirror, I look fat and idiotic. Everything I’ve said in the past week, no matter how trivial or conversational, is running through my brain, my mind scanning every sentence and phrase for blunders.

We’ve come a long way in our understanding and perceptions of mental health, but there’s still a lot of thinking that people can just “get over it.” “What do you have to be depressed about? Why are you worried when it’s such a nice day?” And while it’s true that situations and environments can trigger or compound anxiety, depression, compulsions, etc, they also exist independent of that. I can step back a bit, step outside of myself, look at how my brain chemistry is spiking my anxiety even when everything today is so good, and it fascinates me. It’s strange and amazing how our brains function, even when (especially when) they’re not functioning in the ideal way.

I can step back and look at it, but I can’t get away from it. I can take meds that help regulate my brain chemistry. I can use techniques to help keep myself calm and to deal with unhelpful thoughts that come up. But I can’t just look at the beautiful, blue sky, feel the delightful breeze whisk around my skin, count all the blessings in my life, and flip a switch that turns my anxiety off.

If only it were that easy.

Twice Bitten, Thrice Shy

I’d say it’s natural and normal to react badly to a dog bite. Who likes being bitten by a dog? But how many people get sent into a spiral of low self-esteem and insecurity from a dog bite?

We always had pets in my houses when I was growing up. My dad had an outspoken preference for dogs, but mostly had cats. My mom has always liked to have at least one dog and one cat in the house at any given time. The main dog we had at my mom’s when I was a kid was a cute and energetic but fairly neurotic Bearded Collie named Cookie.

My dad talked a lot about how bad my mother was at training and controlling dogs. He said it was because she lacked any sort of interior authority, which dogs could sense. My dad talked a lot about how weak my mother was. I loved my mother and thought she was as strong as most people could or should be, but I still internalized the idea that “can’t control dogs” = weakness, something my father would disparage and laugh about. My dad would sometimes compare me to my mother, as well as tell me (from childhood well into adulthood) that I was passive-aggressive and manipulative, which were other ways he had of saying someone was “weak.” (My father valued directness and honesty, despite the fact that he was often neither of those things.)

Dogs are not easy pets to have. They’re generally quite clever and eager to please their owners, but they need to have clear pack hierarchy established and reinforced. What might seem to me to be a common sense way of establishing order can turn out to be the opposite of what a dog needs to keep it in line. I like dogs, but I’m generally much more comfortable with cats as pets. When Berkie adopted Dicken, she read a lot on dog behavior and training. We weren’t living together at that point, so I didn’t read up on training and looked to my companion for instruction. I’ve done my best at interacting with the little guy, but I am, admittedly, inconsistent and don’t always behave the right way with him. Add to this that he is clever and eager to please but also loves to test his boundaries and can sometimes just be a little asshole. He gets cranky with me in particular, especially when he thinks I’m encroaching on his quality time with Berkie.

Last week, I got up to let him outside early in the morning. After he came back inside, we both headed up to go back to bed. He wasn’t happy about me coming back to the bedroom and started growling and barking at me–which isn’t all that unusual, but Berkie and I just tell him to shut up and get off the bed, which is usually the end of it. This time, he bit my leg, then when I grabbed him and told him no, he bit my thumb. Neither bite was bad enough to draw blood, but they both hurt and startled me. And then yesterday, he was chewing on the fluff he’d pulled out of one of his toys, and when I started taking it away from him, he bit my other thumb, hard enough to draw blood on both sides of the digit. After both bites, I pinned him down to re-establish my dominance, but it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t really see me as an alpha.

Which shouldn’t really be that big a deal. Berkie has nicely, patiently explained to me things I was doing wrong and things I could do to rectify the situation. I’ve done my best to listen and be open to her instruction. But there’s this strong voice in my head–a voice that sounds exactly like my dad–telling me that the dog is biting me because I can’t project any kind of authority. Because I’m just too damn weak.

I’m sure anyone reading this is thinking, “Ignore those inner voices! Forget what your dad said! He was full of shit.” And he was. I know that. But these are long-established thought patterns in my head. I wish it were as easy as just ignoring them. I wish I could just say, “Fuck it! I know I’m strong!” But I look at the bandage on my thumb and I see a big, obvious sign that I’m weak. I assume everyone who sees it knows that it means I’m weak. I look at this 20-pound mutt and I feel nervous that I’ll never dominate him. And I feel stupid for letting my father knock me down from beyond the grave.

This will pass, as all things do. But today? Today, I’m feeling like a weak-willed, cowardly crybaby.

Broken and Loving It

A few years ago, a psychologist suggested I’ve been dealing with generalized anxiety and depression throughout my life. A year ago, a therapist suggested I have ADHD. Both of these diagnoses explained a lot of what I’ve dealt with in my life. A lot of the time, I feel like this: poohs heffalump halloween movie 9 - piglet is scared

Other times, I feel more like this:tigger-bouncing-pic

Both have been strong forces in my life.

I’ve had a pretty rough few weeks, and for much of the time, I’ve felt small, scared, and insecure about my ability to cope as an adult. My demons have been screaming in my head, repeating things I’ve been told all my life. “You’re immature and irresponsible!” “You spend too much time daydreaming!” “You’re unrealistic!” For a long time now I’ve felt broken, doing what I can to take myself apart and glue myself back together, new and improved. I’ve been trying to learn new habits, chastising myself when it seems like I’m not learning them fast enough, not getting better fast enough.

And then I thought about my recent post on refusing to apologize for some aspects of my personality. I thought about the self-help books I’ve been reading, the medication I take, the therapy I’m in. And I decided I AM NOT BROKEN AND THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH ME. I mean, I know I’m not perfect, I know I have my faults, I make mistakes, I fuck things up. But not any more than anyone else I know. And yes, there are changes I want to make so that my life is easier for me. But I’m not on a timetable. There’s no rushing deadline of “I have to be relaxed and focused by such-and-such date OR ELSE!” There’s no end goal of “I’ve finally achieved mental stability and life focus. I’M DONE!” And I don’t have any responsibility to anyone else to get “better,” to be “unbroken.”

I think the biggest impediment to healing is the belief that you’re horribly fucked up and broken, when what you should be doing is accepting yourself for who you are and loving yourself for it. Today, I’m loving myself for who I am and not stressing about all the “horribly broken things” in my head that “need to be fixed.”

Breaking

A couple of key points:

1) When I was in pre-school, I was over at my best friend’s house one day. We were running around outside, and he stepped on a large piece of broken glass. While barefoot. He let out a piercing scream, and our parents rushed him to the hospital. His scream and the sight of the glass he’d stepped on have stuck with me to this day.

2) If I don’t eat regularly throughout the day, I get shaky and emotionally unstable (well, more so).

I had a lazy morning this morning, then ran out to the grocery store to get some food. I started preparing tonight’s dinner–pot roast in the crock pot–when I saw I was getting shaky. I looked at the clock and realized I’d forgotten to eat lunch. I got some food out of the fridge and planned to heat it up and eat it as soon as the pot roast was all set up to cook.

And then the top of the crock pot fell off of the counter and hit the floor with a crash. Broken glass was everywhere. Brooke was in the shower and in no condition to help. I immediately went into crisis management mode, ushering the dog out into the back yard and running through the house to find our broom and dustpan. But I couldn’t find the broom, which is when the panic attack started. I finally found the broom and did the best I could to sweep up all the glass, all the while hyperventilating and fighting the urge to just collapse and cry like a little boy, terrified of stepping on a piece of glass and having it embed itself in my foot.

I’ve now taken a Xanax, eaten some food, drunk some water, and gotten myself to take slow, deep breaths. I’m calming down. But boy, was that not fun!

Dear Josh…

Dear Josh,

Dude, I know. You’ve been chastised ever since you were a little kid for being “irresponsible” and “inattentive.” You’ve been teased for being “unrealistic” and “lost in your own head.” You’ve never been good at showing up on time or meeting strict deadlines. You’ve made mistakes. Sometimes you’ve made the same mistakes over and over again. Yes, it’s frustrating. Yes, it’s disappointing. You feel like you’re letting people down and you hate that. You’re worried someone’s going to yell at you, which you also hate.

Here’s the thing: you’re working on it. You’re sincerely trying to get your life in order, to sort out what’s really important and what isn’t, to learn from your mistakes and do better. You’ll still fail sometimes. It’s OK. Everybody fucks up. Everybody is scared, uncertain, insecure–just like you. Yes, people will feel disappointed in you. Some people might even get angry and yell at you. But you’re doing the best you can. So be good to yourself. Stop yelling at yourself. Stop telling yourself you’re stupid, incompetent, a fuck-up.

Tell other people they should be kind and merciful to themselves. They shouldn’t beat up on themselves too much. And while you’re telling them that, tell yourself that, too. OK?

I know it may not always seem this way, but I love you, man. Really.

All the best,

You

Enter, Stage Left

I’m teaching a class on e-readers for library staff this afternoon. Although when I say “teach,” I mean I lead and facilitate discussion, presenting some basic information, riffing off of major topics.

I love presenting and leading discussions, but every time I do it, I get terrible stage fright before hand. Once the presentation starts, I forget all about my anxiety, but before hand, it’s pretty potent stuff.

Which means right now, my heart is racing and I’m really on edge. I want to cry, run away from everything, and curl up into a ball on the floor. At the same time, I know that once the class starts, I’ll have a really good time and I’ll be too involved in what’s going on to be scared. But damn, it’s really annoying while the stage fright is going on.

I’ve read that Henry Fonda threw up from stage fright before every performance. I know there are other performers who experience terrible anxiety before they perform. I know I’m not alone in this. Which is good to know.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to do some more deep breathing before my class begins.