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Archive for April, 2016

What Happened To Me

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One of my more pathetic Instagram moments.

So, here’s something that happened…

Some folks have been wondering what’s been up with me. Others, don’t give a shit (*high five* …thanks). I realize that, for almost two months now, I’ve been erratic, angry, depressed, a little crazy. A lot. Why have I been such an intolerable fucking bitch? I’ve made it no secret on social media, which, though I’ve I lost a number of rather dis-compassionate “friends,” was absolutely necessary to help me get through what I’ve been going through, for no other reason than as an escape for feeling as alone as I did. And in some ways, still do.

Actually, a few things happened at once, but the two major things were: 1) withdrawal symptoms from an anti-depressant had kicked in, and by “kicked in,” I really mean to say that they kicked me in the teeth. And 2) someone whom I considered a very close friend and whom I care a great deal for, quite suddenly removed me from their life. These two things happened at exactly the same time. I honestly can’t tell if one compounded the other, or vice versa, but the effect was like having been emotionally and psychologically nuked. I am the emotional equivalent of Ground Zero and I’m not exaggerating even a little bit.

I’ve been able to figure out a number of things, in terms of depression, medication, and my life, as a result of all of this. On one hand, that’s a good thing. On the other hand, it was a hell of a lot to go through to finally have the tools to get a handle on something that should have been handled years ago. I’m talking in my childhood, or at the latest, in my early twenties.

Sometime last spring, I hit a wall. I woke up one day—seriously—and I couldn’t function. I was overwhelmed with racing thoughts (much worse than usual) and I couldn’t figure out how to get going—how to do anything. It was a little like trying to step off a rapidly moving merry-go-round, whereas before the ride would stop occasionally for me to get off. It was no longer stopping and I couldn’t get off. It was immediately noticeable and pretty much hobbled me. A lot of projects fell by the wayside. I got very depressed. But I didn’t stop trying to figure out what was going on. It’s not really the kind of thing you can pop by the doctor’s and say, “I have this particular kind of pain right here.” I had happened across a few articles, independently of one another in a helpful confluence of good luck, about ADHD, which isn’t something I’d ever considered before, because I’m female and I’m not hyperactive, and nothing in our culture pointed me that way. Turns out, though, that the knowledge of ADHD has changed drastically since I probably should have been diagnosed, which would have been as far back as age 7-8. Nine at the latest. Age nine is the earliest I can pinpoint depression with no discernible pattern, which isn’t normal.

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But the things discussed in these articles were things I understood instantly, and my God, I’d figured it out. I thought back to my childhood and the difficulties I’d had—the terrible grades, the inability to concentrate or retain certain forms of information—a ton of stuff—and unfortunately, the labels “stupid,” and “lazy,” and the cute, but ultimately deflating “space cadet.” Then, the depression. I’ve concluded that I very likely suffer from inattentive type ADHD, which manifests more in females than males. Unfortunately, in 1983, girls weren’t believed to exhibit any form of ADHD, and so we were ignored and undiagnosed. It didn’t help that my parents, frankly, could safely be labeled as dumbasses in terms of meeting the needs of all of their children above food and shelter. Not to mention the bootstrap, we’re-a-military-family-ness of my general upbringing. If I could not perform as expected, it was absolutely my fault, and me, being a kid—I didn’t know how crippled I was in that environment, so I believed it. All of it. Stupid, lazy, space cadet. Because no matter how hard I worked, how hard I tried, I failed the vast majority of the time. So, the fact is, I learned how to compensate for these failings by pushing myself ten times as hard as anyone around me just to get by. I was also incredibly hard on myself. I also learned unhealthy coping mechanisms, like bottling everything up, and misdirecting my righteous fucking anger inward.

Is it really any wonder I got “depressed?”

Since I was about 17, I have been diagnosed as bi-polar, manic depressive, and/or psychotic–all different times, different doctors–and I’ve had doctors try very hard to medicate me for these things. Turns out, I’m pretty positive, I am not and have never been any of these things. What I can say for sure is that, at age 20, after about 11 years of pushing myself to exhaustion to achieve “low-to-normal” standards of success in academic and social pursuits (and often failing anyway, and sinking periodically into stretches of a depression I could not pinpoint the source of because I had no reason to believe that this wasn’t just some pathetic weakness of character in me), I had a nervous breakdown.

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Without going into the gory details, it’s important to note that I was medicated at the time—an anti-depressant and sedative, the names of which I can no longer remember. I tried to kill myself. Took a bunch of pills. Obviously, I survived, but just barely, and I spent the next month and a half or so in a psyche ward (where they decided I was “psychotic,” though I gave them no reason to think this). Here, they tried to put me on Lithium (which is absolutely ridiculous). I didn’t want to be on anything at this point, but they insisted on sedatives to help me sleep, against which I did not argue. They proceeded to overdose me and I spent months physically recovering from that (their excuse: “Oops.” No kidding–I am not fucking kidding).

I swore I’d never do that again.

Fast forward about twenty years. I’ve spent half of my life, more so, really, believing my depression was clinical. Chemical. Something I would just have to live with. And while I went through periods of my life coping with various downturns as well as anyone could be expected to, I think, much of the depression was still without a pattern. Thus, it must be chemical, right? Right. Meanwhile, I’m still running circles around myself and my own brain to manage to accomplish anything. The shit I had to do to get through undergrad and grad school, I can see now, was ridiculous. At the time, I just thought, “This is how stupid, lazy space cadets get through school. It’s all-consuming and it’s what you do 24-7.” By the time I got my MFA (literally, the final semester), the stress, anxiety, and depression blew out my fucking thyroid (they still have no “explanation” for that, but I know what lead up to it).

That said, my depression at this point, though still out-of-the blue, so to speak, was manageable. It was something I came to look at as this inexplicable thing that was terrible for the time it lasted, but would always go away. So, when it came, I just sank into myself and waited. Eventually, it would go away. Not the most awesome way to live, but much better than how I’d been handling it in my teens and 20s. I wasn’t anywhere near wanting to kill myself.

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So, when I realized last spring that, hey, it seems very likely—I have far too many of the symptoms to dismiss it—that I actually have this inattentive form of ADHD, I decided I would tackle it like an adult. I’d go get it diagnosed and treated. (I should note here that in terms of my many so-called depression diagnoses, my symptoms might only have matched one or two out of twenty of thirty, but depression was always the go-to diagnosis. It was the 90s. It was too bad I didn’t get a psychiatric degree just to have been able to figure this out on my own…I guess I was too busy trying to survive with literally zero guidance and zero support).

I suppose another important detail is that I’d managed to inadvertently cultivate a general social anxiety disorder (with agoraphobia gravy, no less) in the last six or seven years. This is another thing, apparently, that happens when you go through life with ADHD and don’t know it. You do just about anything to stay away from anyone who could possibly look at you like you’re worthless—you steer clear of anyone that might notice how screwed up you are—how stupid and lazy and spacey. Pretty soon, you don’t leave the house. It happens slowly, so that you don’t even realize it. Then one day, because you can’t just be a hermit and you must sometimes be around people, you get knocked down by an anxiety attack. And then another. And another. And they don’t stop because you can’t live in a bubble. Once again, not depression, but pretty standard for undiagnosed ADHD.

I made an appointment at the local ADHD treatment program here. They made me fill out the most ridiculous, anxiety-triggering forms that I can’t imagine anyone with ADHD or general anxiety filling out without at least one meltdown (I had at least one). These forms, I found, didn’t allow me to fully explain what my symptoms were, nor did they really ask. They were, though, all about focusing on my supposed depression (though, at this time, I was pretty at peace with all of that—I dealt with it). What they said sounded reasonable. We would treat the depression/anxiety and then once that was under control, we’d address the ADHD issue.

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Okay. Fair enough. And I thought, hey, it’s been twenty years. I can’t let that experience twenty years ago stop me from possibly getting this crap taken care of, right? I had dreams of thinking and living “normally.” I fantasized about starting projects, working on them, and finishing them all within a tightly organized framework. I was so optimistic. So, I got medicated. First on Zoloft, which helped, but wasn’t awesome in terms of tolerable side effects.

Meanwhile, after a few months, I finally got an appointment for an assessment to determine if I have ADHD or not. Mind you, this assessment is, by and large, given to children, not adults. In the end, they concluded—and, get this, because it’s almost funny—that I once had ADHD when I was a kid. But I somehow grew out of it (which isn’t actually possible, but okay). No, not ADHD, but clinical depression and that depression was what was causing me the anxiety and current ADHD-like symptoms.

Got that? I had ADHD, but it magically went away and now my ADHD symptoms (which predate any kind of depression and have occurred unbroken from before I can remember) are just the result of my depression. Right. Also, part of what they felt proved I didn’t have ADHD now was that I had a Masters degree. Apparently, no one with ADHD pushes themselves through higher education without special provisions (or at all…they never asked me about special provisions). That I just about fried my nervous system doing it didn’t seem to make any difference.

Now, I’d been on this medication and it was absolutely helped with the anxiety. No more anxiety attacks, which was wonderful. And, no, no depression, but then, I wasn’t really having an issue with that to begin with. However, the ADHD symptoms persisted. I told them this and was promptly ignored. They insisted it was just because we hadn’t really tackled this depression/anxiety thing, despite that I was feeling pretty good about that, actually. Their diagnosis was, apparently, far more important than the symptoms I actually felt and told them about. My experience in all of this had no bearing whatsoever.

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I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt, and I liked not having the level of anxiety I had been experiencing, so I went on with it. I switched the Zoloft to Effexor, because there were side effects from the Zoloft that didn’t really excite me, so why not try something else? Mistake. On the Effexor, at first the side effects were okay, but then they were worse than the Zoloft, so we added some Wellbutrin to the mix to mitigate that. It was okay for a few months—and, again, my anxiety was almost non-existent—but then I started having side effects that really weren’t the kind you messed with. Dissociation, depersonalization. Just a few, very brief moments, but if you’ve ever experienced that, you know it’s not something that should (can) be tolerated. So, I told my doctor at my next appointment that I need to get off of this shit. The plan was to taper off the Effexor and stick to the Wellbutrin…see how that does for a bit.

Well.

A couple of weeks after starting the tapering (which ended up being far too fast and too extreme), I started having these emotional issues that weren’t normal for me. It was hard to pinpoint, but I knew something wasn’t quite right. And then, very suddenly, I lost my fucking mind. And it coincided exactly with this terrible loss of this friend who’d meant so much to me. It was a double whammy, which no one—and I mean no one—could possibly have dealt with well, let alone in any sane manner.

A little bit into this, I saw my doctor. According to her reaction, I went from being a fairly pleasant, jovial patient to someone who looked like they’d been dragged into an alley, beaten, and left there. We slowed down the tapering and she prescribed me yet another drug. Klonopin, a sedative. I knew nothing about it, but she talked about it in the same breath as Xanax, which I have taken before and is one of those take-it-as-you-need-it drugs.

It was not only too little, too late, it was actually pouring gas onto the fire. Here are some of the symptoms I experienced from the Effexor withdrawal: agitation, anxiety, confusion, impaired coordination, dizziness, dry mouth, dysphoric mood, fasciculation, fatigue, headaches, hypomania, insomnia, nausea, nervousness, nightmares, sensory disturbances (including shock-like electrical sensations), sweating, tremor, vertigo, and vomiting.

Sound like fun, right? It gets better. I started having anxiety attacks again, one after the other, which, for me, goes a little like this: I feel this building tightness in my chest and when it gets bad enough, my throat constricts, making it hard to breathe. Gee, if only my throat wasn’t constricted…well, it didn’t matter because once that happened, my lungs will also just…stop. They just stop working, voluntarily or involuntarily, and it’s always on the exhale. Which is fucking terrible. This invariably leaves me on my back on the floor sort of staring up at the ceiling trying to will my lungs to just inhale. Just inhale. Veins feel like they’re going to burst. Vision starts to get a little hazy. Banging on my chest with my hand doesn’t do anything to help things along, but at a certain point, you start to get a little desperate and more than a little scared. But eventually, before I can black out, finally, a wheezing, pathetic inhale through a still-constricted throat.

Now, imagine that every fifteen minutes or so.

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Surely you can understand that, along with my thinking Klonopin could be taken like Xanax, I popped a few more. I really, really needed those attacks—the product of the Effexor withdrawal—to stop. Funnily enough (because all of this is just hilarious), the dose my doctor had me on to begin with—I learned later—was far too high. So, I was already on too high a dose of that shit, and I popped a few extra, hoping to make this mortal horror of sequential anxiety attacks stop. Well, here’s what can happen when you take too much Klonopin: confusion, unusual thoughts or behavior, unusual risk-taking behavior, no fear of danger, weak/shallow breathing, unusual/involuntary eye movements, pounding heartbeats, easy bruising/bleeding, drowsiness, problems with thinking or memory, muscle weakness, loss of balance or coordination, slurred speech, dry mouth, loss of appetite, nausea, blurred vision, headache, insomnia, weight changes.

These are some side effects. Well, they’re the ones I experienced. I should clarify that “loss of appetite” and “weight changes” was actually vomit-inducing aversion to eating of any kind. I had an appetite. I was hungry, absolutely starving, but it was a good day if I could keep down a protein drink and about a cup and a half of food. That explained the rapid, unhealthy weight loss. I spent one night (just about all night) alone in a hotel room on the floor in front of the toilet trying to get down a single protein shake, because it’s all I had there that I could even realistically keep down, but even if I thought I could have eaten anything else, I was literally too weak to move. I should also mention…”problems with thinking or memory?” I could barely put a coherent thought together. And there’s about a week in early March that’s pretty much gone. Missing. There was one night that was gone pretty much immediately, but as time has gone on, that memory loss seems to have seeped both forward and backward into the proceeding and preceding days, where I recall some things, but it’s all very fuzzy and completely unreliable.

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I have absolutely no memory of taking or posting this. This, though, I know, was a particularly bad night.

Let’s talk about depression. Remember how I described what it had gotten to be at this point in my life: “It was something I came to look at as this inexplicable thing that was terrible for the time it lasted, but would always go away. So, when it came, I just sank into myself and waited. Eventually, it would go away. Not the most awesome way to live, but much better than how I’d been handling it in my teens and 20s.”

Compared to what I was now experiencing, any level of depression I’d ever experienced up until all of this bullshit was a fucking cake walk. Now, I have lost people that I loved, and I would count my deepest grief until this to have been when my father died. In fact, it is that grief that gives me a reference to this most recent experience. Those of you who have lost a loved one will know that the sadness and loss and depression that is grief is unlike anything you’ve felt. It’s its own thing. It’s all of these terrible things, but there is a certain tone to it, a depth, or a harmonic that resonates in every part of you. It’s very different from your run-of-the-mill depression. What I experienced for about a month was this, except a hundred times worse. It felt like everyone I knew and loved had all died at once. Not just a bit worse. Not just super-duper sad. I’ve never experienced anything like that and I’d chew my own arm off if I thought it would guarantee prevention in the future.

During the month of March, I tried to kill myself twice.

That’s pretty much where this whole thing freezes and my brain goes, “Wait. What?” Part of me feels like this should be embarrassing, but…it’s a fact of these drugs. It might be important for someone reading this to have this information. I would have liked to have had it.

I went to a doctor to get help for ADHD symptoms. They said they’d tease out the ADHD symptoms from the anxiety/depression and we’d move forward. The ADHD symptoms have never stopped. And here I am trying to end my life. Twice. This didn’t begin because my depression was so intolerable that I sought medical help, but because the doctor could not move past “a history of depression” on the paperwork, despite what I was currently feeling and suffering from–ADHD. And I’m trying to kill myself. Because I wanted to think more clearly and get a better handle on my life now that I knew what the real problem was and could learn healthier coping mechanisms/tricks to maneuver around the ADHD.

Suicide.

What the fuck?

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This week, currently, is the first week since the second time I took a bunch of pills that I’ve felt mostly okay again. In this particular case, trying to OD on the Klonopin rebooted all of those shit symptoms, including, for a little bit, this whooshing sound in my head when I move I eyes. Also, accompanying that, the sensation/sound of someone banging on a metal door, loud and hard, inside my head. Yeah, that couldn’t go away fast enough. I’ve only recently been able to drive again, and to walk down the stairs in the morning without sliding most of the way down with my arm against the wall because I can’t stand up straight. It’s all very similar to the overdose of sedatives they’d given me twenty years ago.

On one hand, I’ve been angry at myself for having gone through it again, but really, wasn’t it reasonable to have thought that over the course of twenty years, something might have changed? That they’d have a better understanding of not only how these drugs work, but how serious they are? These are not drugs you should fuck around with, even under a doctor’s supervision (because, honestly, they seem the worst prepared to administer them correctly, let alone to follow-up responsibly). I stopped going to my doctor and finished tapering off with what I had. I stopped the Wellbutrin altogether. She didn’t call to follow-up until two weeks later.

(Just for fun, here are some side effects of Wellbutrin: confusion, trouble concentrating, hallucinations, unusual thoughts or behavior, delusions, hostility. It might have contributed to my issues with all of this, but it might also be applicable to my next post).

Story time: In the spring of 2010, we had a friend who stopped taking his anti-depressant a few weeks before he had a complete psychotic break and murdered his girlfriend. This was an acquaintance for me, but actually a good friend of my husband’s. He’d stopped seeing the campus counselor who prescribed it and that counselor never followed up with him, despite having still been a student on campus, completely contactable. He’s doing 26.5 years in prison; she’s dead.

This isn’t shit that you fuck with. Anti-depressants are fairly well known at this point in actually causing suicidal thoughts. Two weeks, my doctor waited to call me. And the times I’ve been suicidal and actually tried to follow through were while I was medicated by a psychiatrist for a mental illness I never had.

Fact: ADHD, particularly undiagnosed and untreated, can cause severe depression and anxiety in adults. It’s hardly surprising—I spent 32 years trying to force my brain to work in a way that it simply could not. I was judged repeatedly, constantly, for not functioning “normally.” My nervous breakdowns weren’t the result of being bummed out, or clinically “crazy.” They were the result of the constant strain of having to keep that shit up. When I hit that wall last spring, it was just my mind telling me, “Enough of this shit. I’m done. I can’t do this anymore.” No professional person seems to give a shit that these symptoms predate any form of depression. I was a fucking kid, for fuck’s sake.

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If I’m not mistaken, I took a bunch of pills this day.

I’ve been belittled and told I’m defective my entire life. Anytime I tried to get any kind of help (I challenge you to figure this shit out on your own when your family doesn’t want to deal with it and no one knows you well enough to see the exact ways in which you are struggling), I was drugged, and not even responsibly. I feel like a guinea pig. I almost killed myself three times in my life all because depression, I assume, makes more money and more headlines than ADHD.

So, I’m currently still working my way out of that. I am leaps and bounds better than I was two months ago. Better than a month ago. Hell, better than two weeks ago. But I’m still depressed, though it’s not the I’d-rather-die-than-feel-like-this-for-one-more-minute kind of depression. It’s the regular ol’ existential depression when your experience of something turns out to have been, apparently, some kind of mirage, and of loss. Actual loss, not drug-induced pretend loss. But I can’t get into that.

Note: In case you’re wondering why all the selfies–no, I’m not a narcissist. I’m pretty sure. But I posted all of these during the last couple of months and I can tell you…these were not good times. I am heartbroken, miserable, desperate, and very often contemplating killing myself. This is pretty much what this shit looks like, but, needless to say, I did not record and post the worst of it. None of what you see here touches that.

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