Via a blogger friend of mine doing a study into such things, I received a free code to take a “scientific” personality quiz appearing in Psychology Today, called “How Assertive Are You?” (The overall assessment is free, but they charge you if you want to know more about your detailed report.)

The invite came via a bit of synchronicity, since last week, I blogged about my struggles with anxiety, and the fact that I wondered if much of it came from unexpressed anger and rage. Anger and rage aren’t “nice”, “ladylike” emotions, and too many women have a tendency to “let things go” that truly bother them, rather than engage in confrontation. In reality, those things are rarely “let go”, it’s just a mask created to please others. In reality, the feelings often come out in the form of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, passive-aggressive behaviour, and talking about people behind their backs rather than addressing problems directly. Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t that I don’t think men don’t do this, as well. I know plenty who do. It just seems there’s a higher incidence of women doing it, in order to keep the peace, appear loveable/amiable/easy-going, or to keep everyone else happy. Proportionally, there’s a higher incidence of women suffering from anxiety and depressive disorders rather than anger management. (I once had a therapist encourage me to punch pillows during our sessions, because “self-destructive behaviour is just anger turned inward.”)

I’m a bit of a dichotomy. I’m very nice, if you ask most people who know me well. Sometimes, too nice. But if you ask people who don’t like me, you’ll hear that I’m too aggressive, too direct. I express my feelings in a way that’s off-putting to some, especially when I get tired of pretending. In situations where I feel the need to pretend—such as in relation to smiling and putting up with hurtful criticisms of who I am as a person from the Mother Of The Guy I Am Currently Dating, or from my own mother—I can only stand it for so long before something in me explodes. The longer it takes to explode, the more anger and resentment build within me, and I often become moody and withdrawn, allowing the hurtful things that go unexpressed to become real feelings I harbour about myself, to tear me down.

So, I was very curious what the inventory on this subject would say about my level of assertiveness.

And, while my results generally identify me as a relatively average, well-adjusted human being in the department of assertiveness, it clearly identified this dichotomy. I am both more subservient than average and more outwardly aggressive than average. (Somehow, I’m S&M all rolled into one package.*laughs*) I also tend to sometimes fear confrontation with authority figures, but have no problem speaking up when it’s needed. (I suppose this explains my lifelong attraction to older and/or more powerful and accomplished men, rather than to those in my peer group.)

I often laugh when I hear that someone is afraid of me—afraid to confront me directly, afraid to talk to me about something, or only comfortable taking a passive-aggressive approach to dealing with me. I think, “Who’d be afraid of little old me?” I also could never understand why I’d work so hard to make sure everyone around me was having a good time, only to find out later that so-and-so didn’t care for me, my personality, or my attitude. If this test is to be believed, my desire to make others happy is constantly at war with a desire to defend myself from attack (or even perceived attack). Even though I’m just “little old me”, I do have certain attributes that others might find imposing or unapproachable. It’s probably because of, as the test mentions, my “being uncomfortable with vulnerability”. (that one, I freely admit to.)

All in all, it’s an interesting personality inventory. I’ve included my results below the dotted line for those who know me well enough to care, or for those with a keen interest in psychology. If you personally would like to take this test, it’s here

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Overall results (score 64)

Ability to express opinions, thoughts and wishes in a clear, direct way, even if there’s the potential for rejection or disagreement.

According to your results on the Assertiveness Test, you are doing quite well in this department. You have developed most of the necessary skills and the self-confidence to stand your ground, whether it’s with family, friends, or colleagues. You know that you deserve respect from others and the way you behave encourages others to treat you accordingly. You certainly demonstrate some leadership potential. Just be aware of your actions so that when you assert yourself, you are not overly aggressive – you don’t want to come across as hostile or bossy. As long as you show as much respect for others as you expect in return, you are on the right track.

Ability to speak for self (score 80)

Acting with confidence to voice a personal opinion.

You rarely hesitate to address the issues that concern you the most. Whether it’s noisy neighbors or a raise you feel you deserve, you’ll immediately bring it to attention. You express yourself freely, asserting your personal rights with the confidence that your request is reasonable. As a self-assured individual, you are comfortable with letting others know you disagree with them, especially when you feel you’re being treated poorly. This approach shows that you feel you deserve respect and expect others to treat you this way.

Handling assertive/strong people (score 59)

Ability to stand up to those who might be intimidating.

Your skills are average when it comes to assertively dealing with authority figures. You are sometimes able to stand up for yourself quite well, but in other situations you can be overwhelmed by feelings of insecurity. Perhaps you feel inferior or don’t think that your opinion is as important as that of others. Unfortunately, these beliefs allow your self-doubt to get in the way. Keep in mind however, that you have something worthwhile to contribute too.

Comfort with vulnerability (score 53)

The ability to take action despite the risk of rejection or embarrassment.

While you are sometimes able to put yourself on the line, you tend to hesitate when it comes to showing your vulnerable side. If there is a lot of emotional risk involved in a situation – like the potential to be rejected or embarrassed – you might choose to avoid it altogether. Perhaps you are unsure about your ability to bounce back from humiliation or you just don’t think you have the confidence to pull it off. Occasionally, you might decide that the potential benefits are worth it but that doesn’t happen too frequently. This is something you may want to start doing more often. It is essential to take gambles if you want to achieve your goals.

Subservience (score 49)

Allowing the needs of others to take precedence over own desires.

When you feel that what you want may be in conflict with the desires of others around you, you are torn between giving in to their needs and expressing your own. While you dislike being treated like a doormat, you could end up feeling like you are the victim in a situation because you don’t deal with the perceived injustice effectively. You try not to take the blame for things you are not responsible for but if you keep telling yourself that your opinion is just as valuable as anyone else’s, you’ll soon find it easy to add in your two-cents when asked.

Aggression (score 77)

Using aggressive tactics, such as intimidation, physical force or manipulation.

According to the results of this test, you often use aggressive tactics, like intimidation or swearing, to get your point across. Some would say that there is a fine line between assertiveness and aggression, but there are definite differences. Assertiveness is the ability to express opinions, thoughts and wishes in a clear, direct way, even if there’s the potential for rejection or disagreement. Aggression is unnecessarily forceful, hostile, demanding, or even manipulative. Aggression shows disrespect for other people, since it does not allow them to assert their own rights. It puts your own needs above anyone else’s and takes the focus away from the topic at hand. The use of aggressive tactics is counterproductive and should be avoided at all costs.

It’s been a bit of a challenging week here so far, so you’ll have to forgive me for being a little forgetful about keeping everyone in blog-world updated. I had the misfortune to, a few days ago, run out of my prescription Valium about a week before the next prescription was to be filled. This is completely my fault; rather than being on the suggested dose of 5mg per day, I’ve been steadily using 7.5 mg per day for the past few months, the “set point” at which the desired effect of the drug sets in.

For anyone who hasn’t experience with this type of drug, Valium, and all the drugs in the benzo family (Xanax, Klonopin, and Librium, to name a few) are frequently prescribed—and over-prescribed—for anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, and as one of many drugs in the cocktail used to successfully treat bi-polar depression. My experience with benzos started after my first admission to the ER in July, returning from a trip to the beach where I’d gotten heatstroke and 2nd degree burns, and started to experience lightheadedness, chronic vertigo, intolerance to light, and worst of all, these never-ending moments where I felt as if I were having a heart attack. Finally, three weeks after my symptoms began, I started hearing a “wooshing” sound in my ear that drowned out everything, and intense spasms under my ear. I thought I had an aneurysm, so I went to the ER.

After a lot of tests, they found nothing was wrong with me except “sinus tachycardia” (an exceptionally high pulse rate) and an elevated BP, probably due to the chronic panic attacks I’d been having. (I didn’t know they were panic attacks, as I’d never had one before. I legitimately thought I was dying.) They put me on Ativan (another benxo) and antibiotics for a supposed ear infection. Although the Ativan let me sleep, the vertigo and light intolerance never let up, and as soon as I was out of Ativan, the panic attacks returned. 3 trips to the ER later, they’ve put me on a beta-blocker to keep my pulse rate from elevating and a long-term anxiety drug called BuSpar.

From my perspective, BuSpar is evil. From the second day I was on it, I was sitting in the dark (because I couldn’t stand light) with vertigo too bad to ride in the car, and a serious fear of leaving my room. I cried for hours at a time. I wrote suicide notes and burned personal letters and diary entries I didn’t want anyone to find when I was gone. I seriously needed help. I didn’t get it. The doctor told my boyfriend that it took 10 days or so for the body to get used to the drug. By day 7, I was on the phone with 911. I couldn’t stand the movement of the ambulance, and I thought my head was going to explode. The right side of my face was paralyzed. In the ambulance, they told me I was exhibiting signs of “aura” (associated with migraines and seizures) and my pulse was 180, high enough to indicate a trans-ischemic-attack, rare in a previously healthy 30-year-old.

That’s when I met Valium. After a CAT scan, MRI, and tons of blood work, nobody could find a thing wrong with me. My scary symptoms were caused by a negative reaction to BuSpar, which works by blocking your dopamine levels. Oooops. If being on BuSpar was bad, the three days I spent detoxing from it were worse. They prescribed me Valium to help me through withdrawals, at 20 mg a day, a very high dosage for a petite woman with limited tolerance to prescription drugs. I still had horrible BuSpar withdrawals; “brain zap” that felt like electric shocks going through my brain, shaking, constant headaches, the inability to sleep or leave bed for days. I immediately made an appointment with a neurologist, given a history of epilepsy in my family, and arrived in a wheelchair, wearing sunglasses, unable to stand without assistance. Thanks, BuSpar.

Many doctors and many tests later, what they discovered is nobody knows what’s wrong with me. I’m off caffeine, limit chocolate and alcohol, and don’t put any drugs in my system that don’t come from the doctor. The result was always the same: I have a generalized anxiety disorder. I’m not coping with life. Take your benzos and see a psychiatrist. They tried me on Xanax and Klonopin, as well as Antivert for the vertigo. Nothing worked.

Nothing, that is, except Valium. Although I’ve inconveniently gained 20 pounds as the result of Valium + beta-blocker (my heart rate no longer rises high enough to burn calories, and beta-blockers are notorious culprits of a 7-10 pound weight gain due to water weight, while Valium makes you want to sleep instead of exercise.); I am actually functional. I self-adjusted my dose over time, finding out that at about 7.5 mg of Valium, I don’t have vertigo. I don’t have panic attacks (although, ironically, I do sometimes panic about having panic attacks, which manifests as a form of social anxiety. Two drinks with vodka, and it’s gone, which tells me it’s an anxiety issue.). I sleep more than I ever have in my entire life:;9-10 hours uninterrupted.

Since then, it’s been discovered by visits to specialists that I may be dealing with a vestibular (inner ear) issue that causes the vertigo, which in turn caused panic attacks, which in turn caused high blood pressure and pulse. So, possibly, I have a physical disorder that shouldn’t be treated with psychiatric drugs, or heart medication. Unfortunately, until a diagnosis and cure is established, the only thing that keeps my vertigo and panic attacks at bay seems to be Valium.

Valium is highly addictive. The Prozac of the 1960′s, it was called “Mother’s Little Helper”, because it was given as the cure-all for stressed out, disenchanted housewives who needed jobs and a nanny instead. Nowadays, doctors dislike prescribing it, because you can get addicted to it in as little as a week. If you abruptly stop using it, you can expect detox symptoms ranging from shaking, vomiting, and the inability to function as a human being to seizures, coma, and even death. (Amy Winehouse was on the benzo Librium when she died, though she obviously disregarded the “Do not mix with alcohol” warning.)

I’ve been using Valium for well over 4 months. I am on a very low dosage, but two separate times I’ve tried to discontinue use, I’ve had severe side effects. Quitting Valium is apparently a long-term plan; one that involves your doctors lowering your dose every 3-4 weeks until you’re basically done with it. My doctors aren’t aware of this, which is information out there at every rehab center and on every medical advice website. They simply want me to stop taking it, so they’re not going to prescribe it anymore.

Never mind that they haven’t fixed the primary reason I’m using it in the first place: my vertigo and panic attacks leave me alone and help me function. For a time, I was on the brink of losing my job and not able to leave my house. Now, life is often normal for weeks at a time, courtesy of the “not messing with my drugs program”.

I now basically have 3 weeks to see the ear doctor and hope for some sort of diagnosis that will help me get past all this, and a psychiatrist or GP that sees the value in either keeping me on Valium or doing a safe detox plan. On top of it all, I’m broke and my insurance doesn’t want to pay…they’re dubbing everything a “pre-existing condition”, although no one knows what condition I have.

So, I spent the past few days going through physical and emotional hell because I dropped my Valium dosage from 7.5 to 2-2.5 mg a day. I couldn’t cope. I finally got a refill, with the caveat that there would be no more Valium for me, so I need to find a qualified doctor to handle this problem.

As if I weren’t stressed and broke enough…now it’s back to hunting for doctors, solutions, and finding more guesses and experiments than actual answers. And I have a limited time frame to accomplish it, if I don’t want to spend the holiday season in my bed, detoxing from Valium.

Don’t mean to sound whiny, because I know plenty of people have it worse. But when life decides it hates you, it really throws some crappy shit your way, and says “Let’s see you get out of this one”, while laughing hysterically.

During this rather depressing period, I’ve been reading a biography of Sylvia Plath (there’s something for every mood, I guess). Interesting character; one it’s a little to easy for me to identify with, with her oversensitivity, attraction to older and accomplished men, perfectionistic and ultimately masochistic nature, and high level of intuition. I mentioned to a friend that, as far as the Jungian/Meyers-Briggs types go, Intuitive Feelers seem to have the most difficult road in life, either becoming so disenchanted with themselves and the world that they commit suicide or get involved in self-destructive situations, or try to save the world, only to become disillusioned and depressed when they cannot. Just as there’s been much written about the link between creative genius and insanity, or at least eccentricity, there also seems to be a link between NF personalities and the ability to live a long, quiet, understated life.

Plath’s story is sad, but the sadder one belongs to her husband, Ted Hughes. A poet who is also a narcissist, sadistic, and likely meets many of the markers for being labeled a psychopath, he not only pushed his manic-depressive wife to stick her head in the oven, denying us years of literary genius—but years later, the woman he had an affair with while married to Plath would also commit suicide, killing his child along with her.

Sylvia Plath is an understandable tragedy. She lived a lifetime suffering from inherited bi-polar depression, in a time when nobody knew what bi-polar depression was. The story of Ted Hughes makes far less sense. From a psychological standpoint, at least, it’s interesting how one person can have the power to destroy without ever lifting a finger.