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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Baby Steps . . . Sorta

So, one positive thing to come out of the debacle of dying relatives, lost jobs, and just general "YIKES!" moments of the past year: we moved to Garrett Co. MD.

For the most part, I like it here. It reminds me of going to college in the Shenandoah Valley. But, the majority, and I mean vast majority, of people we meet here make it clear that we are outsiders, and outsiders are not welcome. Well, their wallets are welcome, but not the people. Go ahead, try to figure out how my money is going to be spent where I'm made to feel a blight on the world. I'll wait...

Now, GC is largely known for Deep Creek Lake. And, like any other touted beauty spot, the Lake draws tourists. I don't think it would be as many as we used to see in the Outer Banks, but it's more than a fair few. Not belonging to either the local crowd, or the tourist crowd, I sometimes get a bizarre third-person experience watching the interactions of the two.

I get why almost everyone I've met users the term "tourons". There's the typical sense of entitlement from some of the tourists you'll run into. "I'm on vacation - I won't be here for long and I don't care about your backstory. I want enjoyment and I want it now." Even I, avoiding the Lake area as much as I can seeing as our house is less than 2 miles from Wisp, can feel the haughtiness and disdain oozing from the shoppers at Shop N Save or Walmart. It pisses me off, and I've only lived here about a year. As an aside, it reminds me of Eddie Izzard's description of Americans pursuing happiness. Look it up, it's worth it.

Now, so far I've bitched a bit, where's the positive?

Well, when the established population labels you as a "touron" based on where you lived before, and you have to fight to be recognized as something other than "part f the problem", nonsensical struggles lose their luster.

Such was the case with psychiatrist. I know there's not a whole lot of selection in mental health providers here, but back in March I informed my provider's office that I was beginning to have serious problems with depression, and would he like to see me sooner to look at my medication. I never heard back, even after I started cutting myself to cope with the intense periods. I was genuinely scared for myself. I sure as hell wasn't going to the local ER, though. The last time I saw my psych before that I had stressed that Lamictal made me too tired since starting the Lyrica, which just made the depression worse. My now former psych thought my best treatment option would be ECT.

I don't have anything against ECT per se. I did my undergrad work in Psychology. I know the very real benefits. I also know the side effects and risks, particularly to someone of my size. I already have memory problems (due to the fibro, I've been told), and it makes me frustrated and distressed, almost to the point of tears. Could you imagine someone like that trying to cope with the memory problems that might come after ECT treatment? Not to mention that I'd be going into it morbidly obese, with a history of arrhythmia, episodic hypertension, and breathing complications after anesthesia. Not the greatest setup.

So, admittedly not expecting great results, I endeavored to find a new psychiatrist. The behavioral health specialist at my PCP's office actually put me in touch with a nurse practitioner. I've only seen her once, but I'm optimistic. She actively tried to determine how past medications have made me feel, both mentally and physically. Yes, I was over the moon to stop Lamictal. I'm sure that has me a bit prejudiced at the moment.

But the difference . . . Oh, dear Reader, the difference is phenomenal. I know I may sound like I'm waxing manic, but I assure you, I have kept a strict eye on myself, and I'm maybe around a 5.5 on a 10 scale for mood. Maybe.

The first major difference is my mental acuity. I can actually think, properly think, almost all the time. Yes, I do still have spontaneous recall problems, sometimes. And, yes, I do still feel foggy, sometimes. I don't feel like I'm trying to think through treacle, though. My thoughts don't race around, either. They're a little more snappy to the tangential, but I just as quickly come back. That's the ADD, though, which I'll have to fight insurance on later. (The only medicine to ever help my ADD isn't approved by the FDA for adults, yay.)

Second amazingly awesome and fantastically fabulous difference? I've gone down two pants sizes in about six weeks. Yes, I'm a tad more active. I mean, I'll have a day where my back and body pain is around a 4 instead of an 8, so I'll try to do more on those days. Granted, I pay for it the next day, back up to an 8 or higher but the fatigue isn't quite as bad as when I took Lamictal. I'm dead tired in the morning. And left to my own devices, I can easily sleep 16 hours on those days including naps. But my body responds to persistent prodding better. I can goad it into action with a little caffeine (a cup of half coffee/half water, maybe). The fatigue on Day 2 after the activity of Day 1 kinda negates the benefits, so in talking with one of my PTs today we decided it has mostly been water retention and some general swelling to ease. Still, two pants sizes!

I can actually get excited about stuff and have the energy to be excited. My husband told me that he and my mother had discussed how they haven't seen me this "alive" in a long time. I told my PCP and my therapist, this is the first I've actually felt like myself in over two years. Not "manic", not "depressed", just able to think clearer and feel something other than sluggish.

Oh, and just because we stopped Lamictal, it doesn't mean I'm off medications entirely, so please do not be overly concerned. My entire health team and I watch everything like hawks. We're just trying a new combination to test the waters.

Off to enjoy what remains of the day. I hope you do, too.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Let's Begin to Begin.

The universe amazes me and leaves me awe-struck at times. The plethora of right turns life had to take for me to see a single day lily growing at the edge of the woods behind me? Breathtakingly fascinating.

And then there is the uncanny knack my life has for encountering monkey wrenches the size of Toledo when I try to make some positive headway.

No, this isn't a rant about the "unfairness" of life. Actually, this has more potential run the other direction.

As I was preparing the second post for this revived blog, I met with my psychiatrist. It seems he felt, with my depression worsening, that we should increase my mood stabilizer dosage. The only issue with that, and believe me, I did my best to stress this point - Lamictal has never helped to mitigate or curtail my swings. All it has ever done, with 100% effectiveness, is make me bone tired. So, with the Lyrica in my system now for fibro, guess who went back to sleeping 16 hours a day? That should sound like an awesome vacation for a mom of a young child. Believe me, it wasn't.

I mean, I was belligerent without meaning to be, and I think I could have started several world wars had I been placed in the right (or maybe wrong) place during those days. Because as anyone should know - tired people can be cranky. Exhausted people can be downright vicious. And when I'm that exhausted, I'm not snappish and abrasive because I don't care about you. I'm that way because I'm trying to hold back how strongly I feel the urge to just ream people out over things like not transporting dishes the 3.5ft necessary to go from the sink to the dishwasher.

Still, I was determined to come out of the depressive cycle relatively unscathed, so I tried to immerse myself in keeping up with my Gratitude Adjustment and Positive Projections every day. It didn't work so much as I'd hoped. I kept forgetting to write things down, which meant I would berate myself for forgetting, which ultimately made me feel worse.

Right on the heels of the fatigue from the Lamictal came another blow: the hard drive in my laptop apparently died. Now, I say "apparently" because it appears I may be able to revive it, but we'll get to that later. At the time the BSOD appeared, I almost passed out. The laptop in question was the only device in the entire house with ye olde telephony modem. (The house is in the middle of the land economic and technological development forgot, no LOS for a satellite provider, and no reliable cellular data.) Being wiped out from the meds, it took me almost four weeks to develop a workaround.

At that point, after a long night fiddling with drivers and settings, I had restored modem access and was at the library with my son, getting things together for the upcoming school year, when my mom called and said she was having chest pain and had been throwing up.

"Fuck," I thought. I knew she was having a heart attack, and I told her to call an ambulance, but she insisted on waiting for me to drive her to the hospital. That meant at least 15 minutes to get home, get her in the car, and then at least 20 minutes to the hospital to drop her off at the ER so I could pick up DH from work and come back. It occurred to me halfway to get DH that I realized I hadn't eaten yet that day. Bright spot that day - I discovered Sheetz's fried macaroni and cheese bites.

In the ER, the doctor treating my mom tells me, quite calmly mind, that my mother is having a heart attack and there is no cardiologist at that hospital, so she will need to be treated to Mon General in WV for treatment. Which, I suppose, is better than calling the janitor with a plumber's helper, but still . . . No cardiologist? How about they change the sign out front to "Kinda-Sorta Urgent Room: If this is a life-threatening emergency, go anywhere else"?

It is an hour drive, roughly, into WV, so the doctor made the mistake of mentioning that airlift could have been an option in front of my mother. Oh, she was going in a medevac. It didn't matter that the weather was threatening an impromptu trip to OZ. It didn't matter that the little voice in my head screamed, "$$$!!!!" And mind you, it is very strange to have your internal monologue scream symbols at you. She told the doctor she wanted to go via air transport because she's a pilot, and that was that. She made it to WV just after dinner time.

DH, DS, and I didn't make it there until after 9:30 at night. Our initial route to the hospital took us in a complete circle, so we decided to go home, take care of all the animals, and then head out again. We walked into her room in the cardiac unit, where my mother had the audacity to be the outward picture of health. "Just give my cell phone, and you guys can head home. I don't want it to get too late for you." It had just taken me the better part of 3 hours, all side-trips and shenanigans included, to get to the hospital. I parked my ass in the recliner and stubbornly partook of the free guest wifi. Dammit if I wasn't going to get something out of the experience other than clogged arteries from fried cheese. The mac and cheese bites were good,though.

And that was the shitty part. Hard on its heels came a flurry of happy surprises - rockstar parking everywhere I went, paychecks higher than I had anticipated, my mother only had a very mild heart attack and stroke, found money in various forms. And yet, it was hard to enjoy them because I know that the rhythm of my life meant there would be hell to pay after our good run was over.

Maybe its my age, but there is a certain beauty in knowing how that rhythm works now. Yes, I do expect the shit to hit the fan when I'm on a run of good luck. Despite what people used to say in high school, I'm a pragmatist, not a pessimist. I know that there will be good day and bad days. In my life, the better the good day, the worse the shit that follows. Or, maybe it's that I have to go through the shitty days first to reach the great days. Either way, I know that good and bad won't last forever. Now that I'm on to you, Life, let's see who wants off the roller coaster first.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Are you ready?

I think things have finally reached a stage where I can attempt posting here again.
My plan last time I checked in – the one involving quitting work to become a SAHM – didn’t work out quite so well. Like, not at all.

It took a bit longer to finalize things with the transfer of our old house (June 2013), which meant that we didn’t move in with my mother and grandmother as scheduled, which meant that I had to go on working in tech support (when  I wasn’t on sick leave) to make sure we had enough to cover childcare expenses. But, I found out by eavesdropping in the break room (hey, at least I admit it – and, really, can it be called “eavesdropping” if I was at  the complete opposite of the canteen and the geniuses held their conversation at a level to be heard over the TV and shenanigans from the call floor?). So, it was stated that people in supervisory/management positions were deliberately looking up Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, blogs - anything written by employees - to see if they were complaining about work.

Now, I’m relatively behind seeing that people are releasing damaging information and quietly addressing it. Like, if Chef had checked MySpace to see if people were talking about being stoned while on the job, I could kinda see that because, let’s face it, more than one person would have done just that. But, the blind testing described in the canteen? It extended to people just bitching about having to listen to callers cuss them out without recourse. Now, yes, in the past we were granted a little room by some supervisors to disconnect a call after four or five personally-directed F-bombs from a customer. Likewise, if a customer threatened to harm us personally, we could inform them that we were disconnecting the call for security reasons and please call back.

Then the powers that be decided agents could no longer deliberately disconnect a call for any reason, except to call the customer back immediately following a dropped call or to troubleshoot their phone system. This followed the introduction of the “resolve everything on the first call” initiative, largely directed by a meeting where-in a lovely bar chart indicated that too many resources were spent addressing issues it was felt could have been handled in one session. Now, when questioned what percentage of those calls was due to irate customers calling back because they had been disconnected for safety/security reasons or because the customer had called back on their own because, for example, the agent had told them their issue was not eligible to have expedited case resolution, it was relayed that the analysts had determined those calls did not warrant a large enough portion of repeat entry calls to require an exception. Ideally, we were supposed to immediately connect those customers with someone above our pay grade. If we're going to be honest here, we weren't supposed to let customers hold our line hostage, but if there wasn't a superior available (and believe me, I had a running record of screenshots where there wasn't a single person available) you basically just had to sit and listen to abuse until the caller either gave up, or someone finally became available.

I’ll throw my own experience out. In the years I worked for the company, I’d disconnected a call for profanity less than five times, and I think only twice for a personal threat. However, I had witnessed people trying to accost employees leaving the building, or even trying to force their way in, multiple times. The fact that the company had decided protecting its employees’ safety and rights to human decency (as some people perceived it) massively pissed people off. When most of us signed on, there was no clause about having to sit and listen to Joe-with-the-Entitlement-Issues dehumanize us. It was attempted to argue the change in requirements fell under agreeing to work in a changing and flexible environment, but you can only dress up being a dick so far. Then the company wants to hold people responsible for bitching about their jobs. That’s almost as nuts as expecting a woman who is deeply in love with someone, marries them, then one days finds her spouse is beating the shit out of her and calling her a whore, to keep her mouth shut and not tell her friends and family. Almost.

I usually make it a rule not to mention fellow employee or company names directly, anyway, but I didn’t trust my supervisors (well, one supervisor in particular) not to go off and running through my profiles.

So, I let my pages fester. I could pull off laziness being the cause of their demise easier.

While muddling through, I began to experience massive pain in my shoulders when I was touched (later diagnosed over a year later as fibromyalgia), but searing pain in my right leg was ever present. Like, “there is real danger of losing bladder control” kind of pain. I was initially supposed to be out for just a few weeks while I was on PT for IT band syndrome, but it turns out the painkillers (that didn't help, anyway because it wasn't an IT band issue) triggered a depressive episode, and I ended up out for about seven months. Great from the standpoint of avoiding office drama, but lousy when your short term disability is denied and work threatens to cut you loose. So back I went, not really 100%, but knowing I needed one last push at some money for my son’s first year in Pre-K. I was back for about a week when a couple higher ups asked, rather bluntly, why I hadn’t promoted in all the years I’d been there. Well, gee, do you guys remember the hiring freeze that’s been in place since the recession started? If there are no openings, where would you like me to go? Aside from Hell, I already work there.

But it turned out that the ban on new positions had been lifted, even if the selection was mostly limited to supervisor positions in a department I loathed. As one of the supervisors I “gelled” with pointed out, any interview would be good practice, and no one said I had to accept if offered the new position. Off to interviews I went, trying to learn the easy, smooth confidence of Patrick Maitland.

Just a couple of weeks later, my grandmother passed away. It was exactly one week, to the day, that I took her for a physical and bought her a wheelchair. It was also about three/four weeks after I went back to work, which pissed off some people who felt I shouldn’t need more than the three days of bereavement time that was standard to get my family's shit together. Well, let’s face it. My bipolar swings had reached the point where I would be out of work for three months or more while I waited for the depressive or hypomanic swing to pass. My mood stabilizer had never prevented them in the first place, but I did notice they lasted longer after my second son was born. What happened next was inevitable, really.
After working thirteen-hour days multiple times a week for OT, hypomania from really set it. I went back out, after less than three months actively working, I think. HR asked when I expected to be back, and I gave them a timeframe I said I thought should be in the ballpark. Well, it turned out I was wrong. My doctor said I would be out for probably twice as long, if not more. And I don’t blame the company, per se, for cutting me loose when you look at how often I had been out. I did, however, find it illogical to cite, as one of the reasons for separation, that the timeframe my doctor quoted was much longer than what I had quoted. I get that I’ve been bipolar for quite some time, but I’m still not the medical professional who actually knows the expected time needed for the prescribed medications to begin leveling things out. Partly because it’s a bit like spinning a prize wheel to see what treatments we’ll try this time, and partly because, and I think I mentioned this, I’m not a medical professional. Seriously, who believes that going to the patient and getting a guesstimate on recovery time is wise? Anyone?
So, that chapter of my life ended. In the interim my family has had some japes, scrapes, and misadventures that I now feel far enough off the company’s radar to share again.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Temper, Temper

I took my mother and son out on a shopping jaunt yesterday. Nothing dramatic, just a quick trip through the grocery store for some staple items. However, we made the mistake of taking my son out directly after his nap.

About five minutes into the store, my son started to fuss, and the fussing progressed into a full-blown, teary tantrum. Ordinarily, I would have my husband take my son to calm down while I finished, but with my mother in tow, and just a few things on my list, I pushed on despite the theatrics. My son wanted to run around the store, and, as any parent knows who has been in a busy store, particularly one on re-stock day, it wasn't about to happen.

As I've mentioned before, my mom and I differ in parenting styles. My mother is much more indulgent. Case in point: I told her to watch my son for a second while I grabbed a piece of ham from the meat section, and I turn around to see her taking my son over to a rack of toys. I motored my way over as fast as I could before she could even touch one of those toys.

"If you give him the toy now, he'll think that throwing a tantrum will get him rewarded in some way," I calmly stated, turning the cart, and my wailing child, back toward the household items. I wanted to shout, "Oh my God, you flipping saboteur! Have you lost what little mind you have left in the graying meat-case you call a head?", but I didn't. Probably a good thing. Probably.

"I told him that he could have it," she replied. I walked on, but re-stated that we needed to send my son the message that throwing a tantrum doesn't yield whatever he wants. After he settled down, we gave him his afternoon snack, and that seemed to restore his sense of balance.

We were on our way out of the store when there was a piercing shriek from outside. A woman, somewhere between my age and my mother's, was struggling with a girl who was probably about six or seven. It turned out that the girl wanted to ride in a cab on the way home, and her mother said "no". The girl was shrieking as loud as she could, not because she was in any danger, but because she wanted to attract attention. Every time she let loose, she would glance around to see who was staring. It was a power play with even odds on who would win.

I felt for the woman. I think most people did, really. She kept saying she didn't have the money for the cab (something I can well understand given the rising cost of food), and her daughter kept screaming louder with every refusal. She was still screaming by the time we had finished loading the car and were getting in to leave.

I looked over the car to my mother and, pointing to the shenanigans, said, "And that's what happens when a child gets their way from a screaming match."