Good Days and Bad Days

SparrowLast week I was so excited! I thought that I had found a miracle. I thought that treating my attention disorder (as Dr. Head Doctor calls it) was going to be the solution to all that ailed me. I felt so much better for four days. I felt better than I had in two months! I had energy! I could get things done! It was fantastic! I think I talked a lot! With exclamation marks! Day five was when the crash began to hit.

If you have read my previous post, I have alluded to the emotional “stomach virus” that I have been living with for the past two months (or maybe I should call it a “heart virus,” but that sounds really terrible and life threatening). In two months, I can count two good days. I spent them in New Orleans with my darling, supportive, loving friends. Even those days were bittersweet and I absolutely crashed on the drive home. Some days that have been tolerable; I get by. Then, there are the bad days.

On the bad days I wake up thinking about the germ that caused the “stomach virus.” I think about the exact moment it entered my body, wrecking havoc. I think about how good things appeared to be before it struck. Sometimes this starts at a normal-ish hour (when did 5:30 a.m. become a normal time to wake). Other times it happens in the middle of the night. On the bad days, I know that the second that my brain is empty, the virus is going to attack. When the virus attacks, the tears will start. On the bad days, walking across the house is a chore because my body aches and is so very, very tired.

Since I started taking medication to manage ADD last week, I have found that I am better able to focus on tasks and get one thing done at a time— even on the bad days. However, I still find that I am not as efficient on these days. I flit a bit more. I work more slowly. I focus, but probably on the wrong tasks. I can’t really prioritize. The medication does allow me to escape into work, but then I find myself working until there is nothing left of me. I try to escape the building without anyone seeing me because the tears are starting to well up in my eyes. By the time I get to the freeway, I am sobbing. Sometimes it passes, and others it goes on all night.

I recently read that many people feel better after a good cry, but people who suffer from depression often do not. I remember when I was a young teenager, I would watch Beaches or Steel Magnolias because they would always bring on a good, stress relieving cry. As time went on, and depression took hold, crying was no longer stress relieving. Now, when I start crying, I cannot stop; I am not in control. It is like being forced to run emotional sprints several times a day. It is embarrassing. On a bad day, I never know when my mind is going to take the opportunity to drift and and I am going to end up fighting back tears in front of others. I don’t know when someone will ask or say something that strikes a nerve and the sprint starts—figuratively the tears, and literally to find a way to hide.

As a teenager, I fell into a state of chronic depression, but did not receive treatment or support. I began seeing a therapist and taking antidepressants in college and mostly got it under control. In my late twenties, I was also diagnosed with anxiety and a medication change really helped. I have spent years off medication and done fine. However, an antidepressant which also helps with anxiety just makes it easier to be me.

All of this is to say, it has been a very long time since I have been in this low a place. I had forgotten what it is like for a low to last this long. I said that there are good days. When I started taking medication for ADD, I suppose it made me feel so much better. For a few days it shut up the part of my brain that kept yelling at me, “YOU ARE SAD!!!” There were times during those four days that I really laughed, not just chuckled, but laughed. I thought, “Maybe this is it. Maybe I’ve turned a corner.” I wanted to see people and get out and do things. I cleaned the public areas of the house for the first time in a month (spare rooms will have to wait for the next round of good days).

Day five, I woke up and felt the exhaustion. I still met friends for lunch and a massage, but the “sad” hit during the massage. I came home, curled up on the couch, and started watching Grimm (we need more shows about killing monsters— but that is another post). It is now Wednesday and I am still waiting for this to let up. Who knows— maybe it is just work that makes me feel this way— come on weekend!

Why am I writing this? I hope that eventually I will be able to write about something other than how I am feeling, but right now this is what I have to get out of my brain. If I don’t sort through this, I can’t write stories about fluffy cats and unicorns. I hope that eventually some part of my story will reach someone who needs to hear it. Also, I am claiming that this will pass. It will take time to recover from having something I wanted and thought was good taken away from me, but I will recover.

I am lucky because though I know mental illness, it has not prevented me from getting an education or doing my job. Through my latest experience, I have had a few more limitations. I can only drive limited distances and I have to substantially limit my social interaction. There are somethings I want to do like go to church, but I am afraid of that much public exposure. In spite of those limitations, one aspect of my depression that I have overcome is the lie that I am worthless and unlovable. For many years that lie haunted me. I might be a hot mess right now, but one thing I am certain of is that I am worthy of love, friendship, and most of all, respect. If you are reading this and happen to be doubting your worth, please let me inform you that you are quite valuable— and I might be right.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs on your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. —Matthew 10:29-31

What should you be doing right now?





A headache, a doctor, and pharmaceutical speed

This piece was written very late at night and was the first that I wrote for this blog. I admit that I did not trust my judgement when I wrote it so I held off on posting it until I could reread it in the light of day. Please forgive the length. I have a compulsion to tell the whole story.

It all started with a headache. No, it all started with a prescription. Wait, no­— it all started with a rash. Wait, no— it all started with Thanksgiving, but that really is another story for another time (after lots and lots of therapy). Every few years I break out in a rash. Maybe eczema, maybe, Satan’s own particular way of torturing me. Knowing that I could not face the weekend covered in itchy bumps, I braved a “Doc-in-the-Box” to beg for a particular topical cream which had brought relief in the past.

Apparently, the fine professionals at “Doc-in-the-Box” cannot give you a prescription for a topical cream if you complain that your rash is on your face (side note: my “lady doctor” had no problem writing that script, though he does not deal with my face). D.i.t.B. will write you a script for a very high dose of oral steroids. However, said trained professionals will not adequately warn you, the poor, unsuspecting patient, of the side effects of said steroids. For those of you unfamiliar with prednisone’s side effects, they include nausea, mood swings, and for me, a headache that felt like a railroad spike had been driven through my skull. They will also not advise you that you really are stuck with this drug cycle for at least two to three weeks. Needless to say, I will not be juicing up unless I am near deaths door and that is the only thing that will save me.

Fast-forward a week in the future and days of constant nausea later (the mood swings did not start until I was almost off of the hell pills). I now have a great deal of sympathy for those with medical conditions that require oral steroids. If you have to live with the side effects I did, I am so very sorry! About half way through this experience, I experienced a shit storm in my personal life. I am not going into it now, but let’s just say that it was of the explosive variety. That was when the headache hit.

I have always had headaches. When I say always, I mean since I was very small. I remember when I was maybe four or five­— my mom took me to a special doctor about my headaches. They said that they would have to put me in a big machine to take pictures of my head and it would be loud and I would have to be very still. They took me in to see the machine at work. A woman was in the machine and they were about to sedate her because she was moving too much. It was scary. It was an MRI and honestly, between ear infections, tubes, and all the other above the neck ailments I suffered, it probably wouldn’t have been a big deal. However, I thought that they were trying to scare me because they thought that I was complaining of headaches because I liked the taste of baby aspirin too much (what child raised in the 70s and 80s did not have a taste for those bitter orange pills— our parents should have given us more candy). I guess that I stopped complaining enough that I saved myself from an MRI, but I grew up believing that headaches were just a part of life.

Typically, my headaches can last from three days to a week. I have had headaches that have lasted for months. Some things bring them on (damn you delicious, delicious red wine and soft cheeses). Sometimes I get “auras” where I see lights flashing in my peripheral vision. Typically this is a warning sign that a headache is coming on, and I have three days of fun ahead of me. When I “come off” a headache, I am exhausted. I have a day or so where I just cannot think or make sense out of anything. As I have lived with this particular pattern at least since adolescence, I am not sure how many people truly understand this kind of headache.

Now, as I said, the typical headache is a three day ordeal. The one that started the chain of events that led me to taking completely legal, doctor prescribed speed was a whole ‘nother ball game. For a week, I felt like I had a railroad spike driven through my head above my right eye, exiting at the base of my skull. Now, I am very familiar with the concept of hyperbole. I do not exaggerate! After three days of this agony (and again, not wanting to end up at “Doc-in-the-Box,” or the ER over the weekend), I e-mailed the “lady doctor” and told him that I needed something to get rid of the railroad spike. I would have accepted a script for pliers, forceps, or basically, a handgun, at that point. As his specialty is below the waist, he sent in a script for migraine medicine, and referred me to a neurologist.

Apparently doctor name dropping works because the “head doctor” was able to get me in within the month (on New Year’s Eve to be exact— crazy, I know). By the time I saw Dr. HD, the railroad spike headache was down to a dull ache, but  still present. I filled out an extensive questionnaire and he asked me a bunch of questions to which I was only allowed to answer “yes,” or “no.” I was reprimanded if I tried to divert and give additional information. I have watched enough House to know that this is something called “differential diagnosis.” However, when you are still suffering from the general confusion of a month long headache, a metaphorical emotional stomach virus, and meeting a new doctor, it is kind of unnerving. At the end of the visit I had had a EEG of my brain, was prescribed two different pills to control headaches, and sent for that MRI that I did not get as a child. Diagnosis: I have a genetic anomaly that makes me susceptible to migraines, I have more degenerative arthritis in my neck than I should (no idea why), and I do not have a “tuh-mah.”

Now, this is where we get to the legal speed. Each time I visited Dr. Head Doctor he asked me if I had ever been diagnosed with an attention disorder. Nope. Never. Full disclosure, I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I do not wear it on a t-shirt, but I fight the good fight and I will tell just about anyone who wants to know about my experience. However, no psychiatrist that I have seen has ever considered an attention disorder. That being said, when I have seen therapists, I have been there because I was either in a state of extreme depression or anxiety and there were circumstances to prompt them. Why would you question the attention issues of a person who is obviously depressed because of a break up  or experiencing anxiety because of a change in life circumstance?

Dr. HD (yes, I realize that is redundant­— this is stream of consciousness— deal with it) seemed to know exactly how to treat my headaches, but he seemed more worried about other issues . His focus on attention issues annoyed me at first. I mean, anyone who knows me knows that  I keep all of the balls I juggle in the air— until they start crashing down on my head. On my second or third visit, he explained that he often saw people come in who had been treated for depression and anxiety and were dealing with undiagnosed attention problems. That might have been the visit when I was crying in his office (shit hurricane still raging and all). While I have never considered myself as someone with Attention Deficit Disorder, I agreed to take the computerized test the following week.

I have been having good days and bad days lately. That’s not true— most of the days have been bad. The day I went to take the ADD test was a “meh” day; it was better than awful, but not great. I went in to the office and was brought back to the computer testing room.  I was instructed to listen to directions, and then take the test. Now, to describe the test, I was instructed that I colored shape would appear inside another colored shape, either at the top or at the bottom. I was to click a button when it appeared at the top of the colored shape . At least, I think that is what the directions said. As the test began, I was thinking, first, “Oh, my God, how am I going to do this for twenty minutes?” I then thought about all of the things that I had done throughout the day and switched to, “Wow, it sure is nice to only have one job at this moment.” At first the test was easy and I thought that I was doing great. No problem. However, as I reached portions that had more and more positive input (I had to click), I started making mistakes. At times, while my brain was saying, “Don’t click,” I would realize that my thumb was clicking the button. I don’t think the computer had any way of registering my hitting the desk with my other hand and yelling “Shit!”

Long story­—well, it is still a long story— I was officially diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder at thirty eight years old. I was surprised until I really thought about my patterns. When I think of an adult with ADD, I think of several of my friends (who I love dearly) who have a difficult time staying on topic in conversations or staying focused on tasks. That is not me. I can have a focused conversation. I can appear to stay on task. Because I am smart and capable, I can fake it and people think I am very focused. However, what they do not realize is that I am constantly asking myself, “What am I supposed to be doing right now?” This means that tasks may take me longer and I expend more energy than I need to in order to accomplish anything. Also, it is very hard for me to prioritize. I learned this when I took the computer test. I think I was doing “okay” when the positive input  was limited. However, when I reached a long series of positive input, that is when I stated making mistakes.  When several demands come at me at once, it is difficult for me to determine what I need to give my attention to. Therefore, in my “natural state” everything seems equally important. My “natural state” is exhausting.

Today was the first day that I tried taking medication for ADD. Basically, the medications are speed—legal, pharmaceutical speed. I was terrified. I was afraid that I was going to be edgy, nervous, or anxious. I wanted to try the medication that was prescribed to me over the weekend, but due to insurance issues, it took a week get the medication. I did not want to wait until next weekend to start so that left me starting on a work day. I followed Dr. HD’s directions and took the medicine with a protein and fat (I ate a boiled egg), and avoided citrus. As I started my day, I kept waiting for a jolt, but it never came. What I felt was calm. When I had three tasks on my plate, I realized that I needed to tell others that I would help them when I finished those. I could focus on one thing at a time and if I needed to move from one task to another, I was actually switching tasks, not just trying to juggle.

I would have easily told you that I take medication to manage anxiety and depression. Who cares if I take medication to prevent migraines? However, I never would have guessed that I would have been diagnosed with and attention disorder. What I will say is that as a first day impression I have never taken a medication that has made such a difference the first time I have taken it. I wonder what would have happened if I had had that MRI at four years old.

I am not a medical professional. I am not saying that you have ADD. I am sharing my experience. It is also 11:40 and I am a little “spazzy” so I need to see how the sleep thing is going to work out.

Epilogue- I have been taking medication for ADD for five days now. I take an extended release medication in the morning and a “booster” in the afternoon. The timing of the booster is a little finicky to work out. What I have learned over the week is that I definitely need it in my system or I have a difficult time focusing on tasks around the house in the evening. However, the first day I took the booster too late in the afternoon and it left me manic and sleepless that first night. I have learned to take that earlier in the afternoon so that it is out of my system in time for me to sleep.

The night that I wrote this, I was a bit manic (just ask my cat— she let me know the next morning that my behavior was unacceptable). Partially it was because I had taken the booster too late, and partially because I felt good to feel, well good. I have been feeling really, really bad for a long time. While I still have a lot of emotional garbage to sort, this medication has allowed me to think about and focus on other things. I have edited this in the morning because some things need to be looked at in the light of day. I have decided to leave it as long (and let’s face it, kind of chaotic) as it is because this is the first true piece that I wrote for the blog.

What should you be doing right now?