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It feels like forever since I posted last. I’m also terribly behind on Dannan’s blog, and on replying to the heap of email in my inbox.  However, I am beginning to allow myself to be the awful correspondent that I always have been, but which I have fought against. Three cheers for self-growth!!

At any rate, things were pretty rough here at The Muse Asylum.  The “trial” med that I was stuck on for three months wasn’t doing me any favours.  Neither was my psychiatrist’s office assistant, who couldn’t find me even a minute of his time.  But that’s a whole other rant, which I might actually have already ranted.

On February 19th, I rounded the corner, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.  That was the day I made my first trip to OneSouth, our local psych ward.  To sum up how I got there (because I’m too lazy to edit):  I was on one heck of a lot of meds, which all had nasty side effects that got together, had a party, and increased exponentially.   And as I’ve mentioned,  my past year has been rough in terms of access to a psychiatrist;  when my original Psydoc closed his practice in December of 2007, he referred me to a great female psydoc named Dr. F.  She was super, except for the fact that she and her husband decided that they didn’t like it here and moved to the Lower Mainland in June of 2008.  Long story short, I didn’t see anyone from June until November, and that was too long.

In November, my new guy (Dr. W.) saw me. I think he will prove to be fabulous if a person can actually get in to see him.  We decided to try a(nother) new med, on the theory that I would see him once a month for at least a year.  Except that he is supremely busy, and I am on the cancellation list until July of 2009.  (From then on, I do have a monthly appointment with him, if I can actually make it until then.)

From mid-December, no matter what we told the office assistant, I couldn’t get in to see Dr. W.  It didn’t seem to matter that I ended up moving home with Mom and Dad because I didn’t feel safe at home alone all day, or that my mood had absolutely plummeted on the new med.  Nothing would get me an appointment.

Finally, The Therapist suggested we tell her that it was “urgent”, which is apparently a code word that opens doors as if by magic.  Except.   Except her response was that their office doesn’t handle “emergencies”, so if it was urgent, I needed to go to the ER or to my GP.

Finally, on February 19th, Mom took me to my GP.  By this time, I was in a very bad way.  GP said she couldn’t do anything except admit me to OneSouth.  I didn’t want to go (OH, how BADLY I didn’t want to go), but I told Mom and GP that I was in no position to be making decisions for myself.  And this is how I came to be admitted (involuntarily, despite both my consent and Mom’s – the only way to get a bed was to go involuntarily), and how life started to be a bit brighter.

I have always been terrified of going to the hospital.  I have never been in the hospital overnight, other than for two sleep studies.  And when I practiced law, a number of my firm’s clients were folks with various mental illnesses.  Often when they called, it was from the psych ward.  And did they ever have awful things to say about it!  It’s quite ironic, actually, that their descriptions would foster this great fear in me.  When I think back to those days, one former client in particular comes to my mind, and I wouldn’t have considered here to be a credible witness on any other issue.  One of the more prominent features of her illness was that she was delusional;  most of what she told us was considered to be questionable in terms of it’s actual basis in reality, until further investigation was done.

However, the lasting effect of her (and others’) accounts of life on the psych ward was that I became extremely afraid of the place.  Certainly, at the beginning, a big part of the fear was probably that I wouldn’t, couldn’t, be admitted to the very ward ward where my clients could be.  (My whole adventure with mental illness began in Victoria, and it really was a possibility that such a situation could have happened.)  Thus began more than nine years of absolute refusal to be admitted to any psych ward (even after I left Victoria), and absolute terror of what would happen to me if I were admitted.

Despite my terror, OneSouth is a good place.  Even the isolation ward (where one wears yellow baggy pajamas and has a bare cinderblock room with only a bed, a pillow, and a blanket) isn’t so bad.  I was terrified when I got there, even under the influence of a hefty dose of Haldol. At GP’s office, I literally begged my mother not to send me to OneSouth.  I even at one point promised her that I wouldn’t be ill anymore, I would be better, if only I didn’t have to go.  In the circumstances, I am very proud of her for having made the decision to have me admitted anyway.

I calmed myself down once I was in the “cell”, mostly because I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to go home if I was hysterical.  (Suffice it to say, I could never have actually calmed myself if it weren’t for the shot of Haldol.)  I was, at first, determined to go home as soon as humanly possible (hopefully the next morning, if not sooner).  As time passed, I began thinking that the isolation ward wasn’t such a bad place to be. (I may write more about this in another post.)

I got to see Dr. W. the next afternoon (Friday).  How do you like that?  Three months of begging for a moment of his time…  Admittedly, I wasn’t begging him, but rather his office assistant.  Anyway.  He transferred me to the open side of the ward as soon as we had finished meeting. Our decision was to take me off all of my psych meds so we could start all over again. No better place to do that than in the hospital.

I’m now on a med called Remeron (mirtazapine), and I was in a good place to go off everything else. And I finally got to see for myself what the psych ward was all about.  I have a friend who told me once about one of her other friends who called her times in the psych ward a vacation.  I couldn’t imagine before how anyone could say such a thing, but it is in reality a very nice place to be. Rooms of four, a richly-appointed lounge with a pool table, a table-top curling game, a ping pong table, a piano, board games and puzzles, and lavish comfy chairs. An open kitchen where a person helps herself to whatever she want at any time. A TV room, nurses to look after anything a person needs, and time to do whatever a person wants. I had a grounds pass, so I wasn’t confined to the ward.As long as I wrote on the chalkboard by the nurses’ station that I was going for a walk, I could do it.

I was there from the Thursday of the GP appointment until the following Monday, and it was the best decision I never made.  (I have thanked both my mother and GP many times for finally overruling my fearful protests.)  And, so far, the new med is working well (knock on wood). Not too many side effects (and most of myformer side effects are gone!). I am very sleepy all the time (somnolence being the #1 side effect), and I’m pretty dizzy most of the time (the #2). My appetite is also way crazy (another side effect), but I’m trying to keep my eating in reasonable check.  I had also decided that if I had to choose, I would choose sane and balanced over keeping my girlish (ha ha!) figure.

The big thing:  my mood is better than it has been in many months, and my anxiety (which had become almost unmanageable) is well in control. I haven’t really been doing well since June of 2006 (when I went off all meds to do my second sleep study, which in the end told me absolutely nothing), but I think that I might have turned the corner.

Wow, what a long story.  All to get to the point of writing this:  as I wrote, I am doing better than I have in a very long time.  I nap a lot;  nothing like compulsory napping to make a person feel four years old.  But when I was in my very bad state, having to nap everyday sounded a hell of a lot better than the way I was feeling.  So I’m holding to that memory, and I’m also happy to say that the somnolence is lessening as time passes.

The dizziness, not so much.  I did a trial drive to the grocery store yesterday, having decided that I was okay to be on the roads.  (Fortunately, the grocery store is quite close to my parents’ house, and I can get there and back on roads that are virtually empty of people at the time of day I tried this.)  Turns out, sitting around all day and only moving around the house is a misleading test of how dizzy I am.  I drove home very carefully, on the deserted roads.  So I have to give up some of my independence and allow other people to drive me places.  (Have I mentioned that public transit makes me very anxious?)  And I even have to ask people for rides, which is an exercise that The Therapist will be very happy to hear about.

My appetite is still enormous;  indeed, it seem to grown everyday.  I could eat the world, that’s how it feels.  So we’ve stocked up on fruit, veggies, cereal bars, rice cakes, cheese and crackers, and the like.  I’m not trying to diet, but if I’m going to eat the world, I might as well start on the healthier part.  Get some of my recommended servings from the food pyramid.

I am slowly starting to get back to my routine.  I’m going out to dinner with The Roomie tonight, and tomorrow I am going to a Chamber of Commerce social for the SPCA.  I’m posting here, and I’m catching up gradually on the many posts piled in my Google reader.  I’ll post something soon for Dannan, too.  It’s all so much better than it’s been in so long, I can’t even begin to tell you (even though my 1800 words so far are probably far too long of a start!)

That’s the update.  Now for the next part….  Elton John gives me shivers!

I was watching the last episode of The Bachelor last night (no, I’m not going to bother linking to it;  Google it if you need to find out what I’m talking about), as well as their post-competition wrap-up shows.  (Yes, I watch terrible t.v.  You don’t have to watch it with me, so let me have my vice in peace.)  During the commerical break, I was channel-surfing, and I found this:  Elton John: Live at the Royal Opera House.  As long as I can see him perform songs like “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and “Your Song”, the world is a wonderful place.

Seriously, hearing him play these songs with a 90-piece symphony sent shivers through me.  And at the time, I was thinking:  I must always remember that life is worth living so long as there is music out there that can send chills through my entire body when I hear it.

Music is so powerful, such a gift to humanity.  For me, many pieces of music (from all sorts of different genres) evoke this kind of response.  Elton John (at least his older work) is an example.  If death metal, hip hop or even Marilyn Manson give you chills, then I’m glad for it.  Even if I don’t understand it, I’m glad for it.  If there’s someone out there with this kind of musical taste who can tell me that it makes you shiver, please leave a comment.  For me, this is the magic of music, and I’m curious to know if you fans feel the same way.

Enough for today.  I’ve got many other ideas for posts bubbling away in my brain, so hopefully my next post will be soon!

I had originally planned to write about Stigma and Skepticism yesterday, but I guess I get a little side-tracked….

My point was going to be that it’s a double whammy when you have an invisible chronic illness and that illness is psychiatric in nature. The first whammy is that it’s invisible; in our advanced Western society, we don’t believe what we don’t see. We are empiricists; we want to see it. If you’re sick, show me your symptoms.

Well, invisible chronic illnesses, by definition, can’t be seen. You can’t see anxiety or depression (or fibromyalgia, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or Crohn’s disease, or rheumatoid arthritis, or any of dozens of other illness I could name) by looking at someone. The illnesses do often have physical manifestations (e.g. someone with rheumatoid arthritis might have swollen or differently-shaped knuckles), but most of those physical manifestations of invisible chronic illness are not considered evidence of the illness that caused them.

The second whammy is “psychiatric in nature”.

There are still people, even in this day and age, who think that depression and anxiety (and for all I know, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) are “all in your head”. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard “feel the fear and do it anyway!” or “can’t you just decide to be happy?” There is a pervasive belief that “getting over” depression and anxiety are a matter of willpower. Either that, or that we’re all a bunch of hypochondriacs who imagine that we’re ill. Or even worse, that we’re doing it deliberately for attention, or to take advantage of someone.

When I wear the Mask, I know I make it harder for people to understand that I am ill. I can seem confident, capable and competent, but it’s only for a short time, and I will pay a significant price for the illusion. The Mask and my illnesses don’t square well with each other.

Another unfortunate belief is that a person with depression or anxiety is somehow to blame; either for having the illness in the first place, or for failing to “get over it”.

When this perception is still not uncommon out there, is it any wonder that people who have a psychiatric illness don’t want to tell people about it? Trust me, even if you think you can tell, you really can’t tell whether a person harbours this perception.

This belief works nicely with the stigma still attached to mental illness to make the double whammy even stronger. This links back with the “blame” aspect: if I was only strong enough, or had enough determination and willpower, I could get better. Since I’m not better, I’m obviously not trying hard enough.

Well, I’m here to tell you, I am as strong as a bull. I have enough determination and willpower to choke a whole herd of your choice of animal. I have tried and tried and tried, more times than you can even imagine. And I’m still ill. If strength, determination, and willpower could make me well, I’d be the most damn well person you’d ever meet.

I guess I should define my terms here. Stigma is a mark of disgrace or shame. When something has a stigma attached to it, what it basically boils down to is this. A label is applied to that thing (or person). That label comes along with negative stereotypes (see above), and those to whom that label applies are considered to be of a lesser status. They are marked because of it, and seen as somehow “less”. Less worthy, less deserving of respect. And then, stigma is often followed by discrimination against those who have been so labelled.

The stigma and the skepticism often will keep me from revealing my illnesses. Why would I set myself up for all that? If I don’t know you well enough to know what your reaction will be, I probably won’t bring it up in casual conversation.

When I was first recovering, I thought, “To hell with the stigma! I’m going to be a one-woman anti-stigma crusade!” I thought I would tell everyone, and single-handedly change the world. As time went by, I discovered that this attitude set me up for unnecessary arguments about the nature of mental illness and the quality of my character. So now I’m more selective in whom I tell. Not everybody needs to know.

People with mental illness are no different from people with other diseases, like diabetes. When we’re recovering, we’re no different from people who are recovering from heart attacks. Doctors say this all day long. But people… people just don’t buy it… or get it, or something.

One thing that my favourite psychiatrist told me (I affectionately called him Psydoc) was that it took me twenty or more years to get to the point of breakdown; why did I expect that in a few weeks, or even a few years, I could recover? He often told me that we don’t expect someone who has a heart attack to get up and run marathons, so why would we expect someone recovering from severe depression to be well overnight?

Psydoc was also fond of reminding me that not so long ago, people with depression as severe as I have were not out in the community, getting well. They were in sanatoriums, or institutions. But he was right; even a couple of generations ago, someone with a severe case of depression would live in a psychiatric facility, undergoing treatment every single day, under care 24/7. And I was out in the community, having therapy at most once a week, doing try-it-and-see-if-it-works with meds. In a facility, meds can be given intravenously, and it is MUCH faster to do it that way. It takes a certain level of many meds in your bloodstream before they become effective, and it takes time to reach those dosages when someone is taking meds orally. And with inpatient care, they are constantly monitoring the patient, able to adjust meds as needed, and to try many more types of medication in a much shorter period of time.

Psydoc was a wise, wonderful man. I miss him. Psydoc, if you’re reading this, please move back from the Yukon!

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