Mental illness and fear

I have mental illness. I’ve seen doctors; they’ve diagnosed me. I suppose I could go into all the gritty details of my diagnoses, which would make all the armchair psychologists come out of the woodwork to give me advise on how to overcome my mental illness and become a better person. I’m not going to do that.

2016 was a very bad year. I went into it very optimistically, thinking that maybe I could finally line up my ducks and move forward with my life and plans. That didn’t happen. One thing led to another, which led to disappointment following disappointment. I tried writing it all off, but there are some things that can’t be swept under the rug and ignored.

2017 hasn’t turned out so hot for me either, in many ways. There has been a lot of good. I won’t say that everything is bad, because it isn’t. It’s just that the bad outweighs the good, no matter how much of each there is. The bad always weighs more. It bogs one down until the load feels too overburdening to carry. And then I want to lay down and just stop breathing.

It’s been a very long time since I last updated this blog, so I should back up and fill everyone in on what’s going on in my brain. I returned to college after a 23 year absence and started working towards a degree in a field that interests me. It hasn’t been easy for me, because I’m much older than most of my classmates, and it’s a heavily male-dominated field. Every time I would get excited about achieving something, I would get knocked down by friends who mock me and accuse me of bragging. I guess I’m not supposed to be excited at finally being good at something. School has not always been easy for me – not now, and not back in my high school days. When I struggle with something, my brain tells me that I’m not good enough, and that I should just give up. My parents were always good about reinforcing the fact that I was never good enough, and that I’d never be as successful or intelligent as my sister. I don’t recall a single time when either of my parents have ever said they were proud of me, for anything. I’m not praiseworthy. I’m not anything. My brain tells me to give up. It’s not worth fighting for a sliver of recognition about anything. I’m not worth fighting for.

Logically, I know that my mental illness is giving me bad messages. Logically, I know that my thoughts are damaged. Logically, I know that depression lies. Mental illness isn’t logical. Mental illness is pulling my hair out by the roots or digging my nails into my own skin until I bleed, just to feel the pain. Mental illness is downing the last half of my prescription bottle of painkillers, just to see what would happen. Mental illness is jumping off the end of a pier, just to see if I would float. Thankfully (?) so far, mental illness hasn’t won. It probably will, someday.

According to my family, I could permanently cure my major depressive disorder by thinking happy thoughts instead of dwelling on negative ones. According to my family, the medications I take are unnecessary and probably filled with all kinds of things that are bad for me, and may cause cancer. (Then again, I’ve had cancer, so maybe they’re right.) According to my family, if I would just change my diet and exercise more, I wouldn’t feel sad anymore. It would seem that I’m the only person in the entire history of both sides of my family to have ever battled mental illness, so it must be in my head. Well yeah, that’s exactly where my mental illness is… in my head.

That’s the mental illness part (for now), here’s the fear part. I’m scared that I’ll never get better. I’m scared that something will happen that will hit me at just the wrong time, and I’ll actually push myself too far. I’m scared that no one will care. And after that, I’m scared that no one will take care of my cats. Let’s face it, they are the only reason I’m still alive some days. Some days, the pain (both real, physical pain and mental pain) is so bad that I don’t want to be here any longer. Right now, the stabbing headache from my screwed up spine hurts so badly I can barely breathe. I overcame my fear of chiropractors a couple weeks ago, when I met a very kind one through a friend. He’s been trying to help with my headaches because he says the pain I’m experiencing doesn’t match up with what the x-rays tell him. In 7 visits, we’ve gone from “no change at all” to “severely worse pain.” This is not an improvement. I want to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head until the world goes away.

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Cars, music, and broken abandoned things

I was in a discussion recently with a great friend (whom I’ve yet to meet in person) who lives in Detroit. She’s an amazing artist and photographer, and through her, I’ve come to appreciate the forgotten city. When people think of Detroit, it’s often in relation to the breakdown of the automotive industry and the horrible recession/depression that destroyed so many livelihoods so quickly. I jokingly commented that I relate to Detroit, because the three things the city is known best for is cars, music, and broken abandoned things. I have a deep and abiding love of cars, music runs through my soul, and anyone who has read any of my past posts knows that I am a broken abandoned thing.

Ernest Hemingway once wrote “The world breaks everyone, and afterwards, some are strong at the broken places.” I’ve not had the easiest life, but I know others who have had it much worse than me. I grew up with the knowledge that I would only ever be second best, behind my sister. It didn’t matter how well I did, how smart I was, how much I tried. I would never be the golden child. That was the first crack. I started dating and discovered that I am drawn to abusive men, either physically or mentally. More cracks. I’ve never been good enough, and because of this, I get cast to the wayside. I am a broken abandoned thing. I’m still waiting to find out if I’m stronger at the broken parts.

Here’s the irony: broken abandoned things can be beautiful. Looking at photographs of abandoned factories in Detroit, I see all the years of history and feel the pulsating energy that once filled those buildings. I don’t see rubble, I see memories. I try to look objectively at my life and see the beauty, and that’s a lot harder. Some breaks can’t be fixed. How do you get over hearing “you’re worthless” and “you’ll never be good enough” continuously without it slowly eating away at your soul?

My answer is a little 10 pound charcoal tabby and white cat affectionately known as Tiggy. He’s also a broken and abandoned thing. He was handed to me through a car window, and the woman (girl, really) who handed him to me promptly drove off, leaving a very scared cat in my arms. I took him home because I was still devastated by the loss of my previous cat Moo. Three days after bringing him home, he started peeing outside the litter box. That’s a common sign of a urinary tract infection, so I rushed him to the vet and it was confirmed. She also told me that during her scans, she discovered that he had a history of untreated urinary tract infections and that his bladder, kidneys, and urethra were terribly scarred and that he would be an expensive cat to keep because of these medical problems. She also told me that he had fractured ribs (and I recently discovered that he also had broken vertebrae in his back which have since fused and cause him to hunch over when he sits). At that point, he was literally a broken and abandoned thing.

I had a gaping wound in my heart from the loss of my Moo, so I told the vet that he was my cat, he needs me, and I would do whatever it takes to make things right for him. Thankfully, a proper diet has solved his UTI problems, his ribs healed on their own, and he loves me unconditionally. He’s no longer broken, and he’s definitely not abandoned, but that’s because the universe set out to put him in my path at the time I needed him most, and he needed me most.

I don’t think I’ll ever get past the feeling of being broken and abandoned. Too many harsh words, too many physical wounds, too many people walking out on me when I needed them most. Until then, I listen to a playlist of musicians who make me happy and I seek out cars that lift my soul. I try to remember that breaks can be repaired, but those repairs will always be imperfect. I try to accept that I am me, and to shut out those people who don’t like me or want to change me.

I look forward to finding happiness again someday. Lately, that’s been difficult. I disappeared from writing for a long while because my life had become so painful that metaphorically slashing my wrists to let the poison run out was too much to bear. The past month has been a roller coaster of emotions. The ascent so high I felt like I was flying, only to be followed by the let down that reminded me that I am a broken and abandoned thing who doesn’t deserve happiness. My depression is lying to me again. I do deserve happiness, I just need to remember that it comes from myself, not from anyone else. I’m sorting through a lot of emotions and dilemmas right now, and flowing words are how I function best. There will probably be many posts over the coming days, weeks, months, even possibly years. Many of those posts will conflict with each other as I argue with myself, and many will probably be repetitive. I apologize in advance if you’ve gotten this far.

Thing(s) that I am grateful for today: Driving around in a light drizzle with the top down and Matt Nathanson blasting on the radio. The soft, extra fluffy white belly that my cat loves to have rubbed. Dark chocolate M&Ms.

The beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning

It’s been a pretty rough 14 months for me. I knew going in that worker’s comp cases are often long drawn out affairs, with an extra topping of frustration. I started out with a great rep who was very responsive to me and always answered my phoned and emailed questions, generally within a few hours. Then I was shuffled to a different rep who was also fairly good, and replied within a business day. After that, it went downhill. I had two reps after that who did not return calls or emails until I threatened to go directly to their supervisors. Finally, I was transferred to the Corona CA office, and I’ve had two reps in a row that have been overly nice and helpful. I finally feel like I’m getting somewhere on my case.

When Kurt was my rep, he was not only less useful than nipples on a boar, but he was terrible about making sure that my disability checks were sent on time. He turned down every therapy request with really stupid replies (one of which was that I’m not old enough to have arthritis yet – good to know) and was very bad at returning messages.

Since being transferred to the Corona office, I’ve been approved to see a pain specialist, who actually gave me a drug that not only helps with the pain, it also works as an appetite suppressant, which is wonderful for my waistline. The pain doctor wants to have me genetically tested to find out which medications will work best on me, and which to avoid. I’m hoping that request gets approved, because I’d really love to know.

One of the bad things about dealing with this knee issue is that I’ve become more withdrawn. I’ve always been moderately antisocial, but in the past year, I’ve hardly left the house at all unless it’s for work, doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, and occasionally to a friend’s house to watch football. It’s just too much effort to go anywhere or do anything. I know that’s partially due to depression and feeling like no one will want to be around me because I’m so slow at getting around these days. I forced myself to get out of the house and took a nice drive up to the mountains yesterday and ended up meeting a friend I haven’t seen in 14 years.

I know I need to force myself to be more social. I have very few friends because I don’t like the normal things that people my age do. I’d rather read a book or crochet something. I need to create some goals for improving my life. I’m staring down the barrel at 40, and I feel more like I’m 80. I need to do some proverbial house cleaning and start doing things differently. Time to start writing up some lists.

Workers compensation sucks

I’m frustrated, angry, depressed, furious, but mostly just tired of it all. It’s been over a year now, and I have worse pain now than I did a year ago. My request for surgery was turned down, so now I have to get an independent medical review to see if it can be overturned. Until then, I just get to deal with the pain. It’s so bad right now that I’m resorting to crutches, which I hate, because I can’t put any weight on my right knee at all. It sends shooting pains up my leg, in addition to the “normal” pain where the condyles are crumbling and grinding against each other.

It’s really hard to stay positive when one is constantly in extreme pain, to the point where any tiny movement when I’m sleeping causes me to wake up in agony immediately. Needless to say, I haven’t gotten more than about 2-3 hours of sleep a night for the past two or three weeks. I was able to get an emergency appointment on Friday to see what, if anything, can be done. I highly doubt anything can be done at this point, until the independent review is completed. I think the best I can hope for is stronger medication and, unfortunately, being pulled out of work again. I emailed my new WC admin to ask about a stool for underneath my desk so I could rest it on something, and he hasn’t bothered to reply. I’m not sure why I expected any different.

All I can say is that they’re not going to out-stubborn me. If they want me to jump through hoops, I’ll jump through the damn hoops, but I’m fed up with being in pain all the time.

There is one distinct advantage to having chronic insomnia

Over the past few weeks, we’ve had some screwy weather around here. It’s been super hot and muggy more days than not, which means that personal productivity is slightly higher than a tortoise galloping through mud. However, since I’ve been dealing with nearly two weeks of insomnia this time around, I figured I’d put it to good use.

I’ve been spending a good portion of the evening, night, and early morning to clean and organize my house. It’s relatively cool, considering the nice breeze from the fan that’s blowing on me, so I just put on some music and get stuff done. In an ideal world, I’d like to have my room completely organized before my knee surgeries.

I knocked out a big chunk of my to do list today by doing some remodeling in my closet. I hung up a new clothes bar with a shelf over it, so that I have more room to store things, and I plan on adding some additional shelving in there as well. I’ve also dismantled part of the Elfa system that was in my room and reconfigured it to make it more user-friendly for me. By the time I’m done, I should have an actually functional room that will be easy to maintain and look a lot less messy.

I love the satisfaction of writing out lists of things I want to accomplish, and being able to check things off once they’re completed. I guess that’s the super-organized overachiever part of my personality. I don’t like when things are messy and I can’t find what I want. It drives me nuts. I’m also taking the time to do some more crocheting. Again, it is immensely satisfying to see the progress as I stitch together whatever the hell it is I’m making.

Yesterday (September 7) was the one year anniversary of trashing my knee, and I’m getting to the point where reading is getting boring. While I was out of work on full disability, I was reading an average of 600 pages a day, because I just wasn’t able to do anything more than go to the kitchen or bathroom, or to the doctor’s office or physical therapy. Slowly but surely, things are coming together. I’m still waiting on whether or not my surgeries will be approved; I plan on calling WC tomorrow (today?) and trying to get an answer from them. The new claim rep that has been assigned to me doesn’t have a direct phone number listed, and I can’t find him in the company directory when I try to call. If I can’t track him down, I’ll call my previous WC admin and see if she can get me his phone number. There are things I need to discuss with him in addition to trying to settle the surgery plans.

I’m just so ready to move on with my life now, so I can start the next chapter and see where it leads me. I feel like I’m walking up a down escalator. One step after another, with no forward progress in sight. Fortunately, I seem to be keeping the depression at bay for now, which is making things a lot easier for me. I still have just the edge of anxiety gnawing at my subconscious, but I’m doing my best to ignore it, and mostly succeeding. The not knowing what’s happening next is the hardest part of the whole situation.

For every high, there is a low

It seems that my life is a constant struggle to balance out my highs and lows to maintain some sort of “even” that I’m not actually sure exists. I have good days and bad days, and sometimes the bad days outnumber the good days, but sometimes the good days outnumber the bad days. I’ve found that when I’m at my lowest point, staying busy and cleaning or organizing helps my mood. There’s something very satisfying about fixing something that is broken AND fixable or organizing a space and seeing the improvement afterwards.

I took a huge emotional hit two weeks ago when I found out that I’m going to need at least two more surgeries on my right knee, which means that I’m stuck here in San Diego for a minimum of one, but more likely two, more years. Worst case scenario, it might be as long as four more years. I know it doesn’t make much sense to San Diegans as to why someone would want to leave this “perfect” place, but it has no emotional ties to me, aside from a few very good friends who live here. There are planes. I’m trying not to dwell on the fact that I’m stuck in a city I don’t like, that has emotionally been nothing but despair for me, and instead making long-term plans for how I am going to escape once it gets to that point. I’m also working on building up my credit while I have the opportunity to do so, so that when I do move, things will be easier. There is no way I’m leaving my beloved Morgan behind, which means renting a U-Haul with a car hauler, which means expensive.

I’m also starting the process of weaning away at stuff I don’t need. There are things in my storage unit that I haven’t even looked at since putting them in there. Aside from my books, that tells me that they’re not necessary to my life. In all honesty, if it weren’t for my books, I doubt I’d need anything except my clothes. Everything else can be replaced. It’s time for me to really start getting rid of the detritus in my life, so that I can concentrate on healing my knee and my life.

At least I’ve pulled myself out of the deep, dark hole I was in for three weeks, when every day was a struggle to just make it through to the end of the day. I’ll get through this.  I have before and I will again, and I’ll keep on getting through this every day, even if getting through just means pulling myself out of bed and hugging my cat.

I’m feeling a little bit topsy turvy

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

 

I think my feeling of being “off” started on July 24th when I walked out to find my roof slashed on my car. Nothing was stolen, but it still felt very much like a personal violation. My car is very special to me. He symbolizes the grown up me who is supposed to be fun and spontaneous instead of dull and boring. I feel good when I sit in my car. I enjoy the attention I get when people comment on what a nice looking car he is. (It never extends to what a nice looking driver he has, but I’m quite okay with that)

Things started to get better once I was finally able to get to the claims adjuster to inspect the tear and get a check to pay for the new roof. I felt like I was finally making some progress. Then, the following Saturday, I suddenly lost fifth gear. Thankfully, I have a dual clutch transmission, and was able to utilize fifth gear by switching into manual mode. Once again, I fell into stress mode, worrying about what this was going to cost me to repair it, even with my super awesome bumper to bumper warranty. At this point I was looking at a $250 deductible for the roof, plus a minimum of $250 deductible on the transmission repair. Since I’m still on disability, this meant that I was going to have to save up for a very long time before I could get either repair done.

I returned to work on a modified schedule, working four hours a day. After the first two days, my knees hurt so badly that I could barely walk. I made an emergency appointment to see my surgeon’s PA and he cut me back to 3 hours a day to see if that would help. I’ve discovered that if I keep my legs elevated at work, they don’t hurt nearly as bad, but I’m still having to ice them for several hours when I get home.

My check arrived from State Farm and I called the auto upholsterer that was recommended by State Farm (and more importantly, but a very close friend of mine whose wife used the same company on her beloved Miata) and found out that the cost of the roof and labor was the exact amount of the check I was given. State Farm forgot to back out the $250 deductible that I was supposed to pay. Oops. I called them and asked, and they informed me that the check was correct, so I was went with it. I ordered my new roof . In the meantime, Morgan (my 350Z) decided that he was going to use fifth gear again, and hasn’t had any shifting problems since. I still want to get it checked out, but it’s not on the urgent list anymore.

Then I went to see my surgeon. He told me that he’s done all he can do with arthroscopic surgery, and the next thing to try is a procedure called “autologous cartilage replacement.” Basically, they do a quick arthroscopic procedure where they harvest some healthy cartilage and send it off to a lab to grow into a patch large enough to cover the two condyles on my tibia that are crumbling. Then, he’ll go in and do an open surgery to essentially sew the new cartilage onto the bone, where it should theoretically grow into healthy cartilage and be just like new. Finding out I need two more surgeries put me over the edge again and I spend a good portion of Monday crying and trying to wrap my brain around the fact that this means I’m stuck here in San Diego for at least the next two years, and possibly as many as four. I’m trying to stay optimistic and think of how wonderful it will be to not have pain and grinding/crunching in my knee every time it bends, but it’s hard to stay positive right now.

I did get my new roof on my car installed on Friday, and it looks very nice. It’s driving me a little nuts that I can’t lower the roof until tomorrow afternoon, because it needs to stretch properly so that I don’t have issues down the road, but that’s a minor inconvenience that I can live with. Also on Friday, I got a surprise visit with my son, as his father had some business to attend to here in town.

At this point, I’m so mentally turned around and upside down, I don’t even know what I’m feeling anymore. I’ve been having panic attacks again since finding out about the new surgeries and I have a pervasive feeling of anxiety that I just can’t get rid of. I try so hard to stay positive and always look on the bright side, but sometimes it’s just too hard. I feel like I’m bogged down; stuck in a city I hate, for the foreseeable future, and every time I try to make any plans to leave, something else comes up to hold me here longer. I should have never moved back. I haven’t been completely happy since returning, and I’m brokenheartedly homesick for the Carolinas. It’s getting to be time for the leaves to change color, and the air to turn brisk.

I feel like I’ve lost control of my life, and that I’m surviving on the whims of others. The depression is creeping back in, and so is the anxiety. No, they’re not the same thing. I’m trying to do the one coping mechanism that generally works for me, and that is taking control of one aspect of my life and setting it right. If I can control just one thing, then I know I’m not helpless. Inside, I’m still screaming though.

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