Adventures with Cumulative Trauma Disorders

I finally gave in and saw a doctor about my horrible wrists. The verdict: thumb tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and possible arthritis in the finger joints. Whee! This means the doctor pulled me off of typing duty until I’ve seen a neurosurgeon, and I get to navigate the byzantine byways of our company’s medical leave and accommodation policies.

This should be fun.

I loves me nice, comforting ACE bandages, but they're no longer enough.

I loves me nice, comforting ACE bandages, but they’re no longer enough.

We’re not sure yet if I’m going to need surgery. I’m hoping to get away with physical therapy. At home, I can use Dragon, which means you may see some really fascinating typos while I train it on all our weird words. The nice gentleman at Nuance I chatted with assured me it should learn fairly quickly.

At least the blogs won’t suffer. And special happy bonus: I should be able to reply to email more consistently. Well, once the software’s trained, anyway.

I figure I’ll blog this wrist-fixing experience for the morbidly curious. The more squeamish of you may want to look away. It could get graphic. Some of you might actually enjoy that. If I can get the doc babbling, we’ll get some of the medical science behind it. Yay, more new words to teach Dragon!

In other news, my primary care physician is now monitoring the SAD I haz, so no worries on that front, either. Once we have the timing and dosage of Wellbutrin adjusted properly, it should be smooth sailing. I can tell you this stuff has already worked miracles. Despite some troubles, it’s been a huge help in keeping me out o’ the pit. Love it.

Modern medicine is teh awesome.

***I dictated this post with Dragon Premium Edition. It’s remarkably accurate for being brand-new. We’ll see how it does with scientific terminology, but I think it’ll do very well. I just taught it lolz and teh. That was fun.***

Sunday Song: Out of the Dark

Now that I’ve gone and gotten treatment, I’ll tell you the story of the Dark.

I’ve always been subject to black moods. Getting raped at 18 didn’t help, I’m sure. But those moods were always transient, usually correlated to known issues like severe stress, and predictable. They didn’t affect my day-to-day functioning all that much, and I could always find my way out. I just joined up with the part of my brain that was laughing into the darkness and walked out on it. I’d change up my routine, do whatever altered my mood toward happy, and the Dark would go.

So I wasn’t overly concerned when I began to slide in January. Vaguely and pervasively sad in Seattle in the middle of winter, during a time of high stress at work and home? Whee, SAD! Yay, environmental triggers! Time to take a break, then, watch some Agatha Christie, do busy work, wait for the Dark to go away.

But it started getting darker. Day-to-day stuff got harder. Little obstacles I’d normally hop over became insurmountable. Nothing I did worked; I lost the ability to enjoy things I loved, including the ability to talk to people I love. Sometimes, if it was short and simple and didn’t require lots of emotional energy, I could handle a quick reply to their emails. But generally not. Friendships have an emotional component, and it’s hard to handle emotions when yours are trying to kill you.

I could go to work, and do good work. I regained my ability to blog. I could manage some research. By the time those things were done, however, I was spent. Nothing left for anything else.

When February came, and no change, I decided, “Fuck this shit.” If the Dark wouldn’t go away on its own, I’d get someone to escort it out. Only, it had me backed into a corner. I literally could not pick up the phone to make an appointment. It wasn’t that I didn’t want treatment. I did, desperately. But I didn’t have the stamina to handle the phone call to a doctor I’d never seen, explaining the situation to someone, figuring out a time I could make it, getting in the car and driving there… Maybe tomorrow I’d have it. Always tomorrow.


Greta Christina wrote up a piece on her depression around then, and I recognized it. Standing in front of a mirror. That gave me courage, and a measure of peace. But still no strength. Maybe tomorrow.

Starspider and I talked about it. She monitored the situation, did exactly what I needed: gave me space until it became clear I couldn’t take care of my business, and then set a date to frog-march me into the doctor. Sometimes, you need a friend to do that, grab you and drag you out of the corner, run to get the bouncer so the Dark can be thrown out.

That week, things got bad at work. So bad I wanted to smoke. So bad I almost begged a cigarette. So bad that the craving, the sheer physical need, returned with a vengeance. And it was like an escape hatch had opened. What, other than Chantix, do they prescribe for smoking cessation down in our clinic? Wellbutrin! An anti-depressant. The Bouncer.

I could have my supervisor make an appointment for the clinic. So I did. Getting to a doctor’s office was a nearly-insurmountable obstacle, but downstairs I could do. So down the stairs I went. I kissed the prescription slip when I got it. Filled it that night, the instant I got off work. Waited for the drug to reach therapeutic levels.

The urge to smoke vanished first. Then, gradually, the Dark began backing off. The Bouncer now has it firmly by the scruff of the neck, and it’s on the way out the door, giving the occasional kick or scream. The insurmountable obstacles have shrunk to mountains; soon, they’ll be molehills. I’ll get to the proper doctor before this prescription runs out. I’ll have a professional monitoring the situation and ensuring a continuous supply of magic happy pills. (And these really are magic. I’m just two weeks in, not enough time for them to fully work, but I’ve got enormous energy and drive, like I haven’t had since November. And I’m writing fiction again for the first time in well over a year. Soon, probably, I’ll be able to handle all that and social obligations. Seriously amazing. That’s just a pill with no therapy. I bloody love science.)

Getting treatment for my SAD brain is no more bothersome than getting treatment for severe muscle spasms, say, or a chronic heart problem that didn’t require medication before, but does now. My mother saw herself as a failure when she was forced to go on medication. She’d been taught that mental illness was “all in her head.” We’re fortunate that she learned otherwise, because we learned together it’s okay to get help for a malfunctioning brain. I’m glad so many good people have shared their own stories, so that when it came time to get help getting rid of the Dark, I could do so without stigma.

There’s an answer to those who continue to insist it’s all in our heads. Sure is! My head is where I keep my brain, and it’s my brain that needs a medical assist to function properly. You know what else is “all in your head”? Brain tumors. I wouldn’t hesitate to treat one of those. I’m not hesitating to treat my brain disorder.

I want out of the dark. I’m getting there fast. (And so will Seattle, come spring, which is coming along with a quickness.)

I’m sharing this story so that there’s one more voice in the chorus saying that shit happens to the brain, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You can’t control it any more than you can will away cancer. Sometimes, it’s just like a little cold, and passes on its own. But sometimes, it’s serious, and serious treatment is required.. So if you need help, go right ahead and get it. Even if it’s by slightly nefarious means. Even if you need help getting help. Do what you can to get yourself healthy, just like you would for any other ailment.

And you well folk? If you see a friend backed into a corner, help them out. Don’t nag them. Just ask what they need, and offer to help overcome some of those obstacles, and stand with them.

There’s absolutely no reason for anyone to stay in the Dark.

(Bonus video for those who prefer originals: the Falco version of “Out of the Dark.”)

I Just Gave Away My Emergency Pack of Cigarettes

For those breathlessly following my quitting saga, and who might have missed the update yesterday: the deed is done. I’ve not had a single puff since last Saturday night. Haven’t even stood downwind of smokers inhaling deeply. In fact, I walked past the smoking area at work Thursday and quit breathing because it smelled bad. My nose is changing its opinions.

Quitting, I will not lie, has been hell. A primal part of my brain has spent the last two weeks frantic, believing it’s going to die. It was merely unhappy as I was cutting down. It had a few bad moments on Sunday, when I told it sternly that it could do without. And then came Monday, and work, and I thought it was going to end one of three ways: with a suicide, with a homicide, or with me busting into that unopened pack I’d got in Oregon assuming I wasn’t actually quitting completely on Sunday.

I survived, others survived, and the pack stayed closed. Barely.

Writing was awful. I’m in the habit of going out every hour or two to puff and think. My thought process revolved around: I have to get this done, I need a smoke NOW. And all the while, that physical addiction, pumping ye olde body full of panic juice. Chantix, I thought, should’ve cut down drastically on that. It blunted, but did not stop.

But it’s been getting better. Each day, a little less frantic. And the pack stayed unopened. I decided to get sour straws, so I could do the whole stand-on-the-porch-and-think thing smoke-free. That’s worked, to a degree, and replaced my favorite thing about smoking: unexpected moments. I stepped out for a breath of air and a sour straw before bed in the pre-dawn darkness the morning I finished my most recent Rosetta Stones post, and saw a meteor send a silver streak down the sky. That swath of silver against the deep blue was phenomenal, and no nicotine required. This will do.

Thursday, I dropped in on Dr. John to advise him of progress and ask about increasing the dose. He agreed we should since my body burns through drugs at a remarkable rate, and put me on three milligrams of Chantix a day. That led to fun times with nausea, but otherwise, a glorious lack of needing nicotine. My brain is no longer freaking out, even though I cut out the third milligram forthwith. And I’m so over smoking that I handed the emergency pack to another smoker that evening. Don’t want it. Don’t need it. Between Chantix and native stubbornness, I’ll get past the initial stage wherein it’s hardest to quit, and end up staying smoke-free once I’m off Chantix.

Oh, I miss it. I will not lie: I loved to smoke, and I wish I still could. Someday, I may even break down and go with the nicotine-free ecigarettes, simply for the joy of drawing something (this time safe) into my lungs whilst I contemplate life, the universe, and the turn of the next phrase. But I may not need to. A deep draught of earthy night air might start doing the trick. And I do very much like not having to drop what I’m doing to feed the nicotine demon. I like not hacking up my lungs. I like not spending insane amounts of money on a habit that will kill me. Only problem being, I now wish to eat everything in the universe, so total savings is probably in the negative digits. Still, it’s tasty spending.

Now I just have to convince my lungs we can breathe and hike at the same time. Argh. It’s like having iron bands slowly tightened around each side. I’m told this gets better. I hope so, because I didn’t used to be such a ginormous wuss.

So yes, going well so far. I shall probably stay on Chantix for an extra three months, just to be sure – it’s something they suggest you do to stamp out smoking completely, and helps ensure you don’t slip. I want this to be the only time I have to quit, because I never want to have to endure physical withdrawal again. Besides, I’m enjoying the dream life. For that, I’d stay on this stuff the rest of my life if I could. I got very lucky: Chantix doesn’t work this way for everyone.

So that’s that. I’m leaving my profile pic up as is, because I like it, and that’s still me. I may not have a cigarette in hand, and there has been a lot of water under a lot of bridges since that day, but I’m still that person, kicking back in Mexico on the way to see the Peacemakers. Just like being transplanted to the Northwest didn’t take the Southwest out of me, quitting smoking and very rarely drinking hasn’t taken away from that tequila-marinated, sun-soaked person I used to be.

I suppose that’s the moral: for those who didn’t heed the warning not to start smoking in the first place, quitting’s all right. You get past the withdrawal. You don’t give up your identity, just the little burning cylinder. And you can do it. With prescriptions, with patches, with sheer stubborn force of will, you can do it, if a part of you is ready to say, “Enough.”

And I’ll be here to cheer you on if you need a gothic cheerleader with sonic screwdriver pompoms.

Info Request for GRE, Quitting Update, and Kitteh Rescue

A few items on the agenda, here.

Firstly, I’ve got a G+ friend named Craig DaGeek who is investigating the possibility of getting into grad school for geology. He could use some insight from those in the know: what’s the new GRE like? Do you know of any good study resources for it? Any info you can give him would be much appreciated. Let’s get another geology major into grad school and out in the field!

Lockwood alerted me there’s a kitteh in Sequim, WA that could use a home. Keep an eye on the comments section there if you’re interested: they may have found a place for it, but maybe not, and it would be nice to know it has several potential homes willing to take it in just in case one falls through. Lots of people have already pledged to help with vet bills and transportation. Yay, crowdsourcing!

(For those wondering why I’m not in a car to Sequim right this moment, let me just say Misha would murder us both upon arrival home. We lost the chance at a fantastic brother because she wouldn’t accept the idea of a second kitteh. I still have moments where I deeply regret not being able to keep him – he was the sweetest thing in the universe.)

On the quitting front: the dreams are fading, which makes me sad. I’m tempted to ask Dr. John if it would be safe to up the dose to bring them back! Outside of that, Chantix is beginning to work. I’ve had four cigarettes this weekend, which is unheard of for me. I went an entire phone conversation with my best friend without smoking, which hasn’t happened in over fifteen years.

The cravings still come on rather strong at times, but I can go up to 8 hours now before it gets to the point where I need to smoke a bit to allow myself to focus on other things. Some of my friends who were on Chantix said it took them three or four weeks before they were able to quit completely, so since we’re only one day into Week Three, I’m not stressing. We’ll see what happens at work tomorrow, though! After the second or third call, it’s possible I will be marching into Dr. John’s office asking if dosage can be upped. Yeesh.

My stepmother, who is undergoing quite a lot of stress, is still smoke-free. My mother is trying to quit. My father, damn him, quit over a year ago without a single patch or pill. Damn him.

We live in hope that the whole family will be non-smoking by the end o’ the year. Woot!

Right. That’s the end of the housekeeping items. Please do mention to current/recent grad students and other such denizens of academia that we’re in the market for GRE info – I want to see Craig DaGeek become Dr. DaGeek, and know we gave him a little help along the way!


Dude. This Shit’s Actually Working…

Just a quick Chantix update. I’m almost done with Week 2, and I was despairing, because I still wanted to smoke. I made myself cut back a bit, but the cravings came on pretty strong, and I was all like, “Shit. My body isn’t going to let me be in that group that just loses interest, is it? It’s burning through this just like it does Demerol (and believe me when I say penchant for blowing through painkiller 5x faster than normal people sucks leper donkey dick when you’re dealing with kidney stones). We’ll have to treble the dose to get any result, and no doc in their right mind will ever do that. Wah!”

But I was able to cut back a bit, which until now had been unheard of.

And then came today. Aunty Flow arrived after I’d only gotten two hours of sleep, and this was one of those “Whee, let’s cause as much pain as possible!” cycles, so I decided fuck work and called out so I could lie about moaning all day. Normally, when I’m in acute pain, what I want are cigarettes and lots of them. Standing there smoking often helped the pain. This time? Nah. I took my ibuprofen, and settled in with Robert Ingersoll, and read for a couple of hours until the drugs kicked in. Then I napped. Then I woke up in more pain, as per usual, and popped more profen, and read some more, and finally in the very late afternoon decided that since I had a halfsie on the porch, I might as well go smoke it before it got too stale. Then I read for a while longer before I did so. And my brain didn’t do the “ZOMG nicotine!!!” dance. It did the, “Meh, that was alright, nothing special” thing.

This shit actually works. Even on people whose metabolisms burn through prescription drugs, alcohol and anything else in about 2.2 seconds. Even on people whose bodies seem to take a perverse pleasure in responding to medication in unexpected ways. I mean, I’m the person who can’t take NyQuil, because instead of sending me off to coma-land, it acts like a methamphetamine: jacked-up heart rate, paranoia, extreme wakefulness…

The dreams continue somewhat vivid. I had a fantastic one a few nights ago where I went up to Canada to blog about astronomers tracking an asteroid, and they caught me as I was taking pictures of the observatory. I thought I was going to get kicked out, being there unofficially, but they were delighted a layperson was so interested and invited me up to join them. They even let me play with the equipment, take lots of pictures for the blog, and gave me copious information on what and how they were doing. We enjoyed the intersection of geology and astronomy. And all was wonderful until I realized I’d crossed the border with my drivers license, not a passport, and wouldn’t be able to go back to the States, because our border guards are shits. Whoops! I briefly panicked until I realized Natalie and Jason would probably help me arrange couch surfing until I could get a passport arranged. That crisis sorted, I went back to enjoying science with the pros, and it was one of the greatest dreams ever.

I love this shit.

Dreaming on Chantix. Plus, Answers to Reader Questions, Including Some Nifty Geology.

Yeah, I meant to have waterfalls ready for ye, and then I fell asleep. I’m not sure if massive sleeping will be a side effect of Chantix or if it’s just a result of finally having time off after a strenuous trip to Oregon. I can tell you, after my first dose of Chantix, that sleeping is far more interesting than it used to be.

The dreams… well, they’re not quite Technicolor yet, but they’re as detailed as those I used to have when I was writing fiction regularly. They’ve not been violent, as some folks report – mine have been along the lines of geologic field trips. No wonder I’m still tired when I wake up, right? One that I remember had a big group of various geobloggers and coworkers headed up to Erratic Rock State Natural Site, and we attempted to have a picnic until we decided the hilltop was too hot and exposed. Also, the state was doing some improvements, including new paved trails and a nifty new informational sign, so the area was a little torn up. As we were rounding up kids and gathering food, I snapped a photo of it to read later, then my friend Anthony came by with a bag of green olives. He poured me out some, including juice, and I could taste them. So much for the morons who claim you can’t taste anything in dreams: you can, and I haven’t even needed to take Chantix to do it. That glazed donut that one time remains a fond memory. Mmm, yeasty bread and sugar!

Anyway. Yeah. So it’s mostly been geologic excursions, but I also had one where Starspider and I went to point and laugh at some Islamic creationists with the local skeptics group. They played a song, which was a mix of Arabic and English, and had the lyrics scrolling on a screen beside them. Unfortunately, the bastards didn’t translate the Arabic bits, although they’d transliterated it (in Arabic-style font, mind you: kinda curly and fancy, hard to read whilst scrolling). But it’s interesting, looking back, to know I was seeing Arabic as well as English, and some of those were Arabic words I knew, like Allah. Someone once told me you can’t read in dreams, either. They’re full of shit. I’ve done it often.

The Islamic creationists may have been hideous at science, but they were damned good musicians. Very catchy song, excellent beat, and quite fun. One of the verses was asking how people could worship someone as lame as Jesus and said how much cooler Islam is, which made me LOL. At the end of the presentation, I was going to get in line to meet them and say that they have much better music than Christian creationists, but that’s all they have going for them, then decided against as the line was long and it wasn’t that important.

So that’s it. That’s Chantix so far. I’m enjoying the dreams enough that I have a suspicion I’ll be sleeping more than I should. I’ll try not to let that interfere with blogging. Much. As far as other side effects: none. No nausea, no life-threatening skin conditions, no other problems. Still smoking, but it takes about a week before the drug starts doing its thing. We’ll see if the urge is reduced once the dosage goes up on Tuesday.

Because reading about other people’s dreams is boring, I’ll take this opportunity to answer a few reader questions.

Hotshoe said on my “I’m Back” post, “Hey, cool rocks. What I want to know is did you find the geocache?”

We didn’t, on account of not looking, but the gentleman looking for it did. You can see him to the right in this photo, looking for it:

Geocaching bystander at Erratic Rock State Natural Site.

Poor Lockwood was about to fall over by that point. Comes to that, so was I.

RQ said in the answer to the geologic riddle, “Wow, yay us smarty-pants, do we get a prize? Like another riddle or something? :)”

I have got another riddle coming. Lockwood and I are still mulling over how to present it, but yes, you will have another riddle. Probably more than one, as I sort through various adventures with riddles in mind.

In the same thread, F asks, “Do we have any idea when the stratum this was found in was formed and and under what conditions?”

Lockwood certainly does, and I’ll have him answer in some detail. I’m not sure of the age – I believe he said it was formed around the Pleistocene. This is on Quartzville Drive, and we’ll have a map as soon as I can dragoon Cujo into making one. We’ve got mileage and stuff: it’s 11.2 miles from Green Peter Dam, and would have been an early stop if we hadn’t missed it on the way in. We dropped by at the end of the day, when we were all exhausted and not thinking clearly. The outcrop is listed in the field trip guide (item 17) as “a roadcut in which sandstone, siltstone, and volcanic material are exposed as bedded units. Note the eastward dip of the beds. At the east end of the roadcut the sedimentary sequence is overlain by a basalt flow. The black layer which separates the two units is a paleosoil horizon which was baked by the heat of the basalt flow. This soil zone contains some petrified wood fragments.” They got the sandstone, siltstone, and volcanic material all right, but that massive stone above isn’t basalt – it’s a debris flow. It is manifestly a debris flow. Which means the wood was already burnt when it was buried, possibly in a forest fire. So you’ve got a paleosol with large trees growing in it, which were burned, and then a massive debris flow buried them before they could rot away. Silica got down in that charcoal and turned it into something seriously hard. The whole outcrop lithified, and the debris flow is solid enough now that some experienced geologists have mistaken it for a lava flow. Kinda nifty!

And, finally, on the Derpy Caturday post in which I mentioned I’d thrown over blogging for scrubbing shiny rocks whilst watching classic Doctor Who, Aliasalpha asks, “What stories did you watch?”

Lessee. I watched “Colony in Space” the first night, then “The Curse of Peladon.” You may notice “The Daemons” and “Day of the Daleks” missing – that’s because either Channel 9 didn’t broadcast them, or my DVR forgot to record them, not sure which. I’ll catch up later.

Impressions: while the special effects are atrocious, and the storytelling is sometimes, ah, how shall I put this… not all that could be hoped for, I absolutely adore Jon Pertwee’s Doctor. Out of all the classic Doctors I’ve seen, he’s by far my favourite. He’s the first who’s made me feel that I’m actually watching Doctor Who, that this is the Doctor, and that I pay almost undivided attention to. Granted, I’ve been scrubbing rocks, but I don’t need to focus on that. I can sorta feel my way around them with the toothbrush whilst I watch.

As far as Three’s companions… I bloody miss Liz Shaw. Favorite. Companion. Ever. Okay, so Jamie was awesome, no argument there, but Jo Grant is driving me nuts. She’s starting to grow on me a bit, but I adored Liz from the moment she appeared, and I wish she’d had a longer run. It was nice to have someone calm, competent, and science-savvy running about with the Doctor, and so often giving him a look that said, “I cannot believe you are that much of an outrageous idiot.” Glorious!

I can’t wait until Sarah Jane Smith appears on the scene. I hadn’t realized she started off with Three. Woot! Two of my favoritest in the same place!!!

And, it appears, I’ll still be scrubbing rocks when we get to her episodes. Some of the dirt on these quartz samples is determined to stay put. Sigh. Ah, well, it’s worth it to bring out the sparkles. Sparkles is how you hook innocent folk on geology. Perfect lure. And it allows me to claim that my Doctor Who watching is actually work, doncha know. Shh. Don’t tell anyone it’s actually recreation.

In Which I Admit I Am Not Noble and Can’t Do This Alone

It’s been a day. I spoke to my mother, who had sounded better the last time we spoke. She sounded much worse today, and informed me my grandfather’s in the hospital, although she can’t say for what. A rehabilitation center of some sort. She thinks he’s going to die soon. And then she wants to move to Washington.

I’ll admit that cold dread fills me at the idea.

We have a history. I spent a considerable chunk of my twenties trying to extricate her from a horrible situation. She’d call me in tears every time her husband went back to drinking and began beating her. She’s really leaving him again, this time, she’d say, and so I’d tell her to come on down. She’d live with me for a few days or weeks, interrupting my writing, putting my life in disarray, and inevitably, just when we’d got things sorted enough she could begin to live a life of her own, she’d go back to him. Always. This went on more times than I can remember.

He called me once, drunk, barely able to do more than breathe, and said, “Your mother…” His voice trailed off. My heart tried to explode. My body went cold and numb, my field of vision shrinking to a sliver, because I thought this was the call, this was where I’d find out he’d finally killed her. I still don’t know the reason he called, but I got hold of her later and found out she was fine. But he was drinking and abusing her, and every time she went back because he was good at winning her back, I’d watch her leave with the certainty that this was the last time I’d see her alive.

I spent a lot of time angry and scared. I spent a lot of time confused and hurt. The confusion and hurt would morph into anger. That’s how my personality works. I’m not one of those people who can suffer mildly and patiently. I just get mad, and the more scared or hurt I am, the angrier I am.

But no matter how angry I got, the fear won out. I’d always accept her back. She eventually left him for good only because he beat her dog. I made her buy a house that time, not trusting her not to go back. Get her in a house, something she’d invested in, where we could live together, and this time she’d stay put, I thought. It wasn’t much, but it was a pretty double-wide with potential. Between the two of us, we could afford it. I gave up my lovely little studio apartment, where I’d been happy for a great many years and could walk to work in a trice. I gave up my freedom and independence, and moved in with my mother. And her dog. And her two cats.

It was a disaster. She treated me like I was still a child, virtually a toddler. You’d think someone dancing attendance on you and making you meals would be awesome, but it wasn’t. It felt like being smothered. She wanted to know every detail about what I was up to. And while she didn’t demand, the constant quest for information got right up my nose. We had opposite schedules: she’s an early bird, I’m a vampire. The walls were thin. And she wouldn’t smoke outside. I’m a smoker, but I smoke outdoors. Can’t stand the smell in the house. I’m a desperately light sleeper, awakening at the slightest noise or strange odor. So sleep deprivation piled up on top of the loss of autonomy.

And then there’s the Illness. Being faced with that every day, this shell, wearing an approximation of my mother’s face but with few traces of who she’d been, that was rough. Incredibly rough.

It wasn’t easy. I was miserable, and sometimes she’d push a button and I’d lash out. I yelled, and hated myself for yelling. But she knows which buttons to push and can’t help pushing them. Everyone in the family talks about that, how Linda just finds those buttons and grinds her finger in. I don’t think she’s even aware of doing it. But you’re surely aware. And you howl.

But we were making it, to a degree. I wasn’t happy, but we had our good moments, and they were enough to keep me from going mad myself. We’d get it sorted out. We’d forge a life together. We were on our way.

Then she abandoned my ass for Indiana. Temporary, she said. Just to take care of her mother for a few weeks. Then months. Then it became permanent.

I’ll spare you the details of the shrieking that ensued. I’ll just advise that I was not happy being left with the land lease, and with her trying to also dump the mortgage on me, which I couldn’t afford, and then constantly after me to sell the place for her. The house we’d started to build together, all she wanted to do was get rid of it. She couldn’t think what that meant for her daughter. She couldn’t think.

And that was during one of her best times. She was pretty coherent, back then.

So I told her the truth, tonight, when she said my aunt had told her I wanted her to fly back here. I know how that conversation went. My aunt told her I’d floated the possibility of getting her into an assisted living facility out here, and that morphed in her damaged mind in to “My daughter wants me to live with her right now.” You can’t trust her thinking anymore. You can’t trust that what she says is true. It’s true to her, but it’s like seeing reality through a funhouse mirror. So who knows if she’ll even remember the truth? But I told her:

She can’t live with me.

There’s no way. Both of us would end up destroyed. I don’t have the time, money, physical and emotional resources to handle it. The only way she’s coming out here is if I can get her in to an assisted living facility. And I won’t bring her here unless we have that. She will need to live with people who can take care of her physical and medical needs, in a home where she might make a few friends, so that I’m not her only friend. I don’t know if this state will pay for such a place for a dirt-poor person. We’ll find out.

If they don’t, she must stay where she is. There’s family there, and she’s established residency, and she has a home, and a mental health facility that picks her up thrice weekly to make sure she’s treated and taking her medicine. These are things that are already being done for her. She may not like them, and they may not be quite enough, but they’re far more than I can do.

I’ve had to face the fact that there is no possible way, short of sacrificing my own life, to take care of her. And I’m sorry, I’m selfish, and I do not want to let my life go. I’ve sacrificed quite a bit of it for her already, and I know what happens when I do: I get us nowhere.

I feel, right now, like a trapped animal eyeing its leg and considering how much less pain will be involved in chewing it off rather than succumbing to the trap. I actually, seriously, considered emigrating to South Africa. Not kidding. My dad’s about to lose his job, but he might get a job in South Africa, in a gorgeous region I might add, and I swear to you all I can think about is that if he does, I want to go with him. Because then I could escape.

I’ve considered engineering a break. I’ve considered a lot of things that are not at all noble, and involve me running away at greater or lesser speeds. All this in the course of one afternoon and evening, all this because I want, desperately, to elude that trap. In the end, I won’t do them. I won’t let her completely down. I won’t (probably) move to South Africa. But there’s a negotiation that has to be done, in which boundaries are established, and it’s determined just how much of a sacrifice I can make. It won’t be as much as some. Those people who give up their lives in service of others, that’s not me, and I can’t be that person, no matter how much guilt and anguish it causes to admit it.

So, I shall be spending part of the day tomorrow on the phone with various people, including her counselors, and trying to track down what resources might be available here in Washington, and whether any sort of life for her here is viable, or whether we’re going to have to do this long-distance. Because she agrees: I can’t go there. I can’t move to Indiana. No jobs, and I’d be suicidal almost from the moment of arrival. It has that effect. At least that boundary’s clearly established. But what can I do if we find out there’s no way for her to be here? No help, no health care, no home? How do I tell her that, then, that’s that? How do I live with that answer?

VNV Nation’s “Entropy” speaks to me: “When does enough become enough? / When does “no” have meaning?”

[Los Links is coming. I promise.]

You’re Under No Obligation to Read This

I didn’t even mean to post it. It’s just a person pouring out pain on the internet. But if you want a look at what it means to deal with mental illness, then you can read on. If not, amuse yourself with my cat, partake of the other excellent offerings on the toobz, and wait for Los Links.

I spoke to my aunt today. We’re not a close-knit family: I haven’t actually talked to any of them since my grandmother died, several years and two cities ago. But Mom scared me enough that I went on a hunt for people I haven’t talked to in ages, because I needed to know what was actually going on.

And it’s ugly.

My mother’s disease has progressed to the point where she can barely function. My demented 90 year-old grandfather is actually doing the driving for them now, because she can’t even make it down the road to his house. How he remembers to pick her up, I have no idea. But you know it’s bad when it’s the guy who should be the caree becoming the carer.

There’s other stuff, and I won’t go in to it. But it’s gotten bad enough that her sister and her brother have been trying to find residential care for her. And apparently the doctors are saying that she’s just going to get worse with age. If they can get her to sign the release form, I’ll be able to talk to them directly about that. But considering she’s been out of the hospital for just about two months now and is rapidly deteriorating to the point where she’s going to have to go back, I don’t doubt that things are getting worse. There may be no more good days.

I’ve already lost my mother. I lost her to this disease a long time ago. The woman she was has been gone since I was a teenager. I’ll probably tell you about her sometime. She was incredible. I know most kids are partial to their moms, but she really was extraordinary. She was everybody’s mom. Our entire neighborhood loved our house, and loved her, because she always had activities and adventures for us, so much time and love. And she’s still a very loving person, but she’s been like a child for a long time now.

When she had her first breakdown, once we got her committed, the doctors were able to bring her back. She was my mother again. The problem is, she felt well, so she stopped taking her medicine. You can’t do that when you’re bipolar. And she entered this vicious cycle for a while where she’d have a psychotic break, get medicated, think she was better, stop taking medicine, and descend once again. And they were able to bring less and less of her back each time, until she became a shadow of what she used to be.

But she was still a wonderful person. Everyone loved her. She was like a child, a very simple person, prone to yammer on about her animals and her family, both of which were the most important things in her life. She married a violent alcoholic and only left him for good because he threatened her dog. She didn’t care about herself, but she loved that dog. That fucking dog saved her life.

And then she moved back to Indiana to help out with her mother, who’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She’s stayed there ever since. It was supposed to be temporary, but she and her dad need each other.

It’s been mostly okay. She’d had a few times where she ended up in the hospital, but she’d usually come out stabilized. But over the last several months, possibly longer, she’s gotten dramatically worse. And now begins the coulda-shoulda-woulda, because I don’t know how much of her is left and how much they’ll be able to get back this time. We had an adventure planned. I didn’t go out there over the summer because I got busy, and then she got hospitalized, but we’d thought, someday. Someday, when she isn’t so busy with her dad. Someday, when she’s a little better. Someday, when I’m a little less busy with things here. Someday.

There may never be a someday. Right now, I’m wondering if I’ll ever see her again, and if I do, if I’ll recognize her.

I’m looking in to options to make sure she’s taken care of. My aunt and uncle have their hands full trying to take care of their dad; it’s tough for them to take care of her, too. I’m far away, and there’s no job market back there. If I try to move, all I’m doing is giving up a good union job for probable unemployment. Won’t be able to support myself, much less her. Even with this job, I can’t afford her treatment, and she won’t come out here anyway while her dad’s alive. There are few options for poor people. She’s lucky to be disabled enough that she gets some care from the state – she’d be dead without it – but I have no idea if I can get her care in Washington if we try to get her out here. These are things I’ll have to investigate, before we even try to talk to her about her future. And I can’t bring her here without having a facility to bring her to.

I’ve tried living with her before. It was too much for one person to handle even before she got this bad. I can’t help feeling like a selfish shit over that, but this isn’t something I can do alone. But I’m sure as hell not tearing her away from her family only to have her put in a nursing home. The only way I’ll bring her out is if we find a good assisted living facility that will make her happy. I know they exist. I just don’t know if we can find the resources to pay for one.

And then there’s the fact that even if we can, it might not be a good idea to install her in a strange city, where there’s only me.

These are the kinds of things that those sanctimonious bastards who preach about personal responsibility and sacrifice never have to face. They don’t value lives like my mother’s. They don’t have to make the choice between a job and a relative. They don’t have to worry about their loved ones ending up dead because they can’t get them the treatment they need. According to them, I should have planned my entire life around her disease. I should have gone out and got rich, because I knew this day was coming, didn’t I? Never mind that so few of us can join the 1%. Never mind that we can’t afford the education that might have given us a shot at that. Never mind that no health insurance company in this country would take on a bipolar person, that mothers don’t qualify as dependents for your own health insurance, that even if they did, the mental health care it pays for is laughable when it comes to seriously ill people. Even my vaunted union-negotiated Cadillac health insurance pays well for mental health care. It wouldn’t even cover the necessary doctor’s appointments and medications, much less the 24-hour care she’s going to need soon, and really needs now. My insurance is for functional people.

And I’m not alone. I’ve got friends dealing with the same dilemmas. They’ve got a mentally disabled relative on their hands, and there’s so damned little they can do. Some of my friends sacrifice everything they have to care for their relative. Some of them don’t have to just yet, but might soon. Some of them have discovered that no matter how much you want to help, no matter how much of yourself you give up, you still lose.

But you don’t give up. You can’t.

So that’s life right now. It’s not like other people aren’t dealing with their own crap, and a lot of people have it far worse than I do. And I’ll get it figured out. It sucks, it’s painful, it’s life. We go through some shit, and then, usually, it gets better.

There’s this spark of hope: she sounded a little better today. So maybe, just maybe, there’s still a someday. We’ll try to get there.

One step at a time…

Mental Illness Strikes Home. Again.

Funny we should be having this conversation about skepticism and mental illness now. I called my mother for her birthday today, and it’s clear she’s on her way to another psychotic break.

We’ve been down this road a thousand times. She’s severely bipolar, and her medications frequently stop working. She ends up anxious and paranoid and confused. It’s painful to watch. There’s nothing you can do except ensure she’s getting treatment. They’ll probably hospitalize her soon to stabilize her, and for a while, she’ll be okay. Then the vicious cycle will begin again.

It’s not this way for every bipolar person. Medication helps many of them stay stable, and I have friends who have managed the disease without any spectacular crises for years. My mother’s not so lucky. But with treatment, she’s able to function. Without treatment, she would be dead. Literally dead. There was a point when she was determined to kill herself, because she believed bad men were going to hurt her family to get to her, and death was the only way she could protect them.

Medication has taken those delusions away, and they rarely come back now. But she still has these times when paranoia starts to return. She fixates on strange ideas, and can’t remember anything else. We go round and round in conversations, circling back to the same simple points, and she’s incapable of remember things as basic as how long mail between Washington and Indiana takes, and where a store is. She’s too paranoid to drive. Luckily, she’s disabled enough that the clinic comes to pick her up for treatment, and keeps a very close eye on her.

So this is my weekend: trying to get in touch with family members who can keep an eye on her until Monday. Calling the clinic to make sure they’re aware of her symptoms, because she’s very good at hiding them even when she’s far gone. Trying to do all of this on the sly, because right now she trusts no one, and if she found out what I was doing, she wouldn’t trust me. Trying to sift reality from her fantasies, so that I know what’s actually happening and just how bad it is. And then we have the delicate task of trying to get her to sign a release form so I can have a more direct hand in her treatment, because we’ve reached that point now where the rest of the family may not be able to help. Not with her believing they’re out to get her. Not with her father in the throes of dementia.

One of the reasons I want to see the stigma of mental illness ended is because when so many people believe it’s all in a person’s head, and they could get well if only they really tried, there’s no push to solve these issues. We need research done that will lead to more effective, science-based treatments. We need to understand how these diseases begin and unfold. We need to know causes. And when we think that people are just imagining things, or not strong-willed enough, or don’t believe in God enough, this doesn’t get treated like a medical problem. It becomes a character problem. It becomes the type of problem no one wants to waste time and research dollars on because hey, isn’t it the fault of the sufferer? And we go haring off in the wrong direction.

Things are better now than they used to be. But they’re still not good enough. And people like my mother suffer.

The thing that enrages me the most is that she didn’t have to suffer this way. But she’d grown up in a society that told her that mental problems were horrible character flaws. She internalized the idea that admitting to being mentally ill meant she was a bad person. She thought she’d be locked away forever in a terrible place, a Thorazine zombie. She thought she was a failure as a wife, mother and human being if she admitted she was crazy. And that kept her from recognizing the disease when it began. It allowed things to progress to the point where medication can’t do more than allow her to function. The longer a person’s left untreated, the worse they get. And she refused treatment for far too long. When a person is in such dire straits that they qualify for involuntary commitment, it might be too late for a little medication and therapy to bring them all the way back.

We’ll hope for good enough again. And for the people who come after her, we’ll work for treatments that turn a catastrophic disease into a manageable annoyance, and a society that understands that mental illness is something you treat, not something you hide in shame.

Grab Some Tissues and Watch This. Then Take Action.

JT Eberhard, my darlings. One of the bravest fucking human beings I know. Watch his Skepticon IV talk and read his post.

I’ve got nothing much to add to this. I wrote up a whole big post on it once and then never posted it, because honestly, my occasional tussles with depression are stubbed toes compared to what others go through. It may not always be like that. Bipolar disorder runs in my family right alongside the heart disease and cancer and Alzheimer’s. I’ve learned to watch the highs and lows with minute attention, because it’s off to the doctor the instant they cease to be within normal range. I refuse to go through what my mother did, descending into a hell we didn’t know enough to rescue her from until it was almost too late.

That’s the thing. Society doesn’t talk about this shit nearly enough. So when your loved one starts displaying the signs of a mental disorder, you have no idea what’s wrong or what to do. And there they are, crushing themselves with guilt, because it’s all in their heads.

My family and I know that’s true. It is all in your head – because that’s where you keep your brain, and your brain isn’t working properly. Just like diabetes is all in your pancreas, and heart disease is all in your heart, and ulcers are all in your stomach.

But too many people think that “all in your head” means you can think your way out of the situation. They’ve not been there. They don’t know how impossible it is to think your way out. You might as well try healing cancer or a broken leg with your thoughts: it’s just as effective.

And there are a lot of people making perfect the enemy of the good. Our treatments for mental illness aren’t yet perfect. The brain is complicated, and we’re just beginning to understand it. But an imperfect treatment is better than no treatment at all.

It takes a fuck of a lot of courage to come out as mentally ill. But here’s what I want: I want it to take no courage at all. I want a world in which people with a mental illness can bring it up as casually as someone with diabetes or epilepsy or any one of a billion other diseases can mention it. I want a world that won’t judge them as broken because of it. Don’t you ever believe that people with a mental disorder can’t lead full, productive, and amazing lives. Not with JT standing in front of you. Not with Greta Christina taking the world by storm. Not with my mother working her ass off taking care of my elderly grandfather and who knows how many strays. Not with so many people doing brilliant and beautiful things, who also happen to be one of the 1 in 4 who’ve got a few kinks in the gray matter.

I want a world in which there are effective, science-based treatments improving every day, and the means to access them, for everybody who needs them, with no barriers to said treatment.

I want a world in which everybody realizes that mental illness is just another neurological disorder, and no more the fault of the sufferer than aphasia or Parkinson’s is.

Skeptics, atheists, humanists: let’s make it so.