Although I’m happily in a relationship, I do have to admit that I rather miss the days when emotions such as disinterest and indifference were not the standard reactions my presence evoked from other people, particularly the male members of my social circle.

Perhaps I’ve lost a bit of my charm and youth and vitality over the years, but there’s still plenty there to not be indifferent about.

Somehow, I feel as if I’ve lost my ability to fascinate and interest others and draw them into my world, and that’s never anything I had to work to achieve. It would simply happen. Social events were never work, never draining affairs.

These days, in large groups and social situations, that magical natural gravitation that ensures others are interested in knowing me, or knowing me better, does not always happen…and I sometimes feel invisible.

It may seem shallow, but it hurts when you can no longer take for granted that you’re the most compelling person with whom to converse, and others demonstrate vis a vis their behaviour that perhaps you’re not.

Throughout my life, I’ve never been the kind of girl relegated to sitting quietly in the corner, while attractive and interesting people talk amongst themselves. In fact, if nobody is paying attention to me, I often see it as a cue to leave, because I feel as if the people around me will manage just fine without my presence.

The older I become, the more often I feel this way.

I’m not certain I know how to accept that particular role with dignity and grace, and thus, I greatly dislike feeling ignored. Perhaps that’s what happens to women once they’ve hit 30, and lost their joie de vivre. They are meant to gracefully retire from occupying the centre of attention whenever possible.

But, indifference and disinterest make me feel exactly like the sort of person I am: an aging, insecure performer without an audience.

There are very few people or groups of people who truly make me feel wanted these days. On the contrary, I spend a good deal of time feeling largely irrelevant.

Perhaps, in a certain way, I’m happier in seclusion, where I’m the most relevant and interesting person in the room, because nobody else is here, and the television does not count as a person. :P

This weekend, I had a very busy weekend, which I was looking forward to enjoying. On Friday afternoon, I conquered one of my fears, going out alone to do errands, and took a trip to the waxing salon, did some shopping, and enjoyed lunch at a Mexican restaurant. Friday evening, I planned a little dinner for friends at a place called Aqua Blue. Ironically, it’s a sushi and seafood restaurant, where I can eat virtually nothing on the menu, but they have some of the best martinis in town, as well as delicious desserts.

It was a fun night, despite a few mishaps. The staff put us at a large table in the loud, brightly lit “group dining area”, right next to the kitchen. The other spaces in the restaurant, decorated in a swanky urban blue atmosphere and featuring a live musician, were much more dimly lit and 15 degrees cooler. 15 minutes after our arrival, I started to feel dizzy and ready to pass out. 30 minutes later, I wasn’t the only one complaining. Fortunately, The Guy I Am Currently Dating managed to get our table moved to a more suitable location, and the evening was an enjoyable one. Unfortunately, the laid-back and enjoyable tenor of the night was marred with a misunderstanding between myself and a friend I regard very highly. He made a comment I took the wrong way, and when I pointed out that the comment was insulting, it was repeated with the insulting interpretation becoming even more obvious. Needless to say, this hurt my feelings a great deal, coming from someone I considered a friend…but to add insult to injury, was followed up by a snarky remark from someone I’ve known for years. It’s a good thing I don’t drive, or I likely would have left the event altogether rather than subject others to the evidence of my hurt feelings. Later, apologies and conversation about the misunderstanding ensued, but it cast a black mark upon what I’d hoped would be an enjoyable evening, and rather kept me from wanting to bond with my other friends. It was a special and considerate gesture, though, that one of my oldest friends in Atlanta, knowing about my recent struggles with my illness and dietary considerations and hating to cook, made me a batch of turkey chili to take home with me. It is those type of thoughtful gestures that remind me I am cared about.

Saturday was trivia day, and that required us waking up early to go play in the Team Trivia tournament, the first we’ve ever attended. A team we normally compete against at Outspoken Entertainment had an extra space they weren’t using, and so we competed on their behalf. Again, it was a fun experience, until my body decided to rebel. I didn’t sleep enough, took my pills at a different time than usual, did not have my typical morning organic cookie, started the day off with plenty of caffeine, and waited quite a while for lunch, which was salad. All of the sudden, I felt extremely dizzy, and then overwhelmed by anger and adrenaline, the feeling that makes me want to stab myself and other people with pencils, knives, toothpicks, and the like. My doctor has told me this behaviour is not crazy, but happens because I’m hypoglycemic, and the meds I take cause sudden spikes and crashes in blood sugar, but largely masque the effects. I ate an emergency candy bar, and tried to get back to normal, but again, I kind of felt the damage had been done. Also, we didn’t do well on the Team Trivia bonus, leading us to a less than stellar performance.

On the way home, we got some chicken nuggets from Chick-Fil-A, which seemed to make me feel better (they have become my go-to food when my body feels weird and like it’s freaking out, because they stop it from happening.), and I had time to take an hour nap before going to play trivia at Dagwood’s. I love trivia at Dagwood’s. It’s the closest thing I have to a neighbourhood bar, and I enjoy seeing people who have somehow become friends over the years, and talking about random stuff until the pizzeria closes and kicks us out. We also won second place, which is good for us at that location, but by the time the pizza sign was switched off and it was time to go home, I was exhausted. My head hit the pillow at about 2:30 AM, and the next thing I knew, it was 11 AM.

Unfortunately, I woke up in a very stressed out mood about all the outstanding work I have to do. I had two weeks to complete 30 articles for a client, and I didn’t. Not because I didn’t want to, but because often, the strain of completing 12 articles within a 4-5 hour window each day is exhausting. That is my normal workload, and it doesn’t really allow me breaks, unless I choose to work at night, or get up earlier in the morning, which my pills seem to leave me unable to handle. Today I expressed my feeling of being stuck in a hamster wheel, a machine of article creation, where any mistakes or missed deadlines can end up in me losing an important job. Yet, the stress of working more than most people (how many people spend much of their 8-hour work day ACTUALLY working the entire time?), while getting paid less, having a social life/obligations, and trying to lose weight, look healthy, and hide symptoms of my illness from the world as much as possible…well, it’s wearing me down. I used to have the energy for it, but in reality, maybe I never did.

Once upon a time, I was a very laid-back person. I didn’t make much money, or have a lot of responsibilities, and my chief worries were about my electricity getting turned off or paying the cable that week. Yet, somehow, I had a better quality of life. If stuff didn’t get done, it didn’t get done. If I was late for something social, it wasn’t the end of the world. I didn’t always have to feel in charge of *everything*, and that if I dropped the ball or took time out, everything would fall apart.

I don’t remember what it’s like to be like that. I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. If my work is late, I *will* get fired. If I’m late for a social event or overlook a detail, my phone rings off the hook. Everyone constantly seems to want me to do things and take care of things, although I’m the one who’s chronically ill and could use some being taken care of. I don’t have time to slow down, to do many of the things I love, and I still feel like I don’t have as much money as I need to never be concerned about it.

A friend of mine recently related that he went through a similar experience at a point in life when he was around my age. A happy-go-lucky guy I adore, he admitted that as soon as work became his primary focus and there was no longer a daily struggle for food and electricity and cable, he began to suffer debilitating anxiety. Suddenly, he felt it was his responsibility to take care of others, since he’d learned to take care of himself, and felt the burden to be too much. Suddenly, there was time to think about how demanding it was to be an adult, instead of going out to the bar or a concert or to play poker after work every day.

That’s where I am in my life right now. I feel overwhelmed, stuck in a wheel I can’t afford to get off of. And when the wheel goes too fast, my health suffers. My relationships suffer. My perception of myself and of others suffer.

I want off the wheel. A world of constant deadlines and stress and expectations is something that drove me to be an overachiever throughout most of my life, until something happened, and I realised I just couldn’t keep trying to be perfect and make everyone happy all the freaking time. Then, I felt like I failed myself and the entire world, and engaged in behaviour that was ultimately self-destructive, and destructive to others. When that phase in my life passed, I realised I was happiest being a laid back, chilled out person who really enjoyed life…but I missed stability. I wasn’t achieving anything, I was stressed about paying my bills, I made bad decisions, took advantage of others…in short, I was the irresponsible teenager I never really allowed myself to be.

And now, here I am, back on the wheel, back in the world where any mistake or shortcoming is the end of everything. If I don’t finish work on time, I get fired. If I am too sick to do things, my roommate/boss/friends/boyfriend will yell at me for not trying hard enough, not being on top of things. If I don’t take care of stuff, it doesn’t get done. If I don’t look or behave my best in social situations, someone is there to write a nasty e-mail or end a friendship or make comments that destroy my self-esteem. The preoccupation with being *perfect* and my innate inability to focus on perfection long enough to attain it has returned, and causes all kinds of anxiety and fear and self-loathing.

Today, I turned on all the Christmas tree lights in the living room, lit the birthday cake and gingerbread candles, and made a cup of Alayna’s special detox tea. It felt like Christmas for a little while, and reminded me of how happy and peaceful I felt over the holidays. I think small comforts and a slower pace of life makes me the happiest right now. I don’t want to have to be perfect. I don’t want to live in fear of making a mistake or disappointing someone. I don’t want who I am to be measured in how much energy I have to accomplish everything, smile at everyone, and hide the fact that I’m sick from public view, lest it make people uncomfortable or not want to be my friend.

I have already learned my lesson. I can’t be this person, stuck on the wheel. I can’t be the one who always takes care of things, meets deadlines, makes everyone happy, is charming and entertaining, makes sure all the bills are paid and the dog is walked and nothing in life fell apart because I slept too long. I can’t handle being that person. The Guy I Am Currently Dating, he is that kind of person—he has more demands on his shoulders and works harder for less appreciation than anyone I know, and is still kind and generous and responsible and liked by all.

Trying to be that kind of person pushes me to a place I just can’t handle. It makes me anxious, emotionally imbalanced, physically exhausted, and unable to cope with life. I shut down.

I disappoint myself because I will never be as accomplished, as perfect, as responsible, as well-liked, as happy as I want to be. Especially since becoming ill, I lack the physical and mental stamina I need to write 12 articles a day, every day, and then do other projects on the side because that doesn’t pay enough…but I can’t quit, or slow down, or show weakness, or let people know I’m ill, or get behind, or I will be replaced by a faster, more efficient hamster. And I have too much debt to afford that.

Poor people literally do work themselves into the ground, because when there’s only you to depend on and you always need the money, the luxury of illness does not exist. If you want to keep your wheel, you have to keep on pushing, no matter what.

Last night, on a free, low-key night spent running errands, eating dinner from Moe’s while watching “Smash” On Demand, fixing my computer, and later watching “Breaking Dawn” on DVD, the Guy I Am Currently Dating and I got to talking about some of life’s more serious and thought-provoking subjects. Among them, this one:

“Is a person only as good as the worst thing he’s ever done?”

This is clearly not a black and white question, and the answer does not apply fairly and equally to all people. If you say “No”, you have to take into account people such as Hitler and Stalin and others whose brutal disregard for human life far outweighs the good they could ever do. If you say “Yes”, you’re minimizing the contributions of Wagner, Dostoevsky, Oscar Wilde, and others whose behavior ranged from anti-social to unconventional to downright criminal. Even the Marquis de Sade, the self-described lunatic credited with the art of sadism, is a respected author.

As it applies to me, I certainly don’t think I happen to be defined by the worst thing I’ve ever done. I’m not Hitler, I haven’t destroyed thousands of lives, I haven’t killed anyone or even caused physical harm to another human being. I do not necessarily think of myself as the world’s best person, but neither am I the villain I seem to be typecast as.

I’ve lived a wild, complicated life, to be sure. In my younger years, like many people, I experienced a great deal in my life that I’m not sure I ever had the tools to deal with in a positive way, or at all. On the outside, I was a charming and bright, talented student who worked hard because there was no other option for someone desiring a better life. I found achievement to be necessary to define my place in the world. Yet, there was another side of me that was intensely self-destructive.

I’d like to say that changed when I went off to college and found myself, but it didn’t. I was still accomplished, talented…but I also drank heavily, experimented with drugs, engaged in promiscuous behaviour, battled with my weight and a constant dislike of my body, and pursued virtually any dangerous or masochistic behaviour that came my way.

I’d like to say those things changed when I went to work after college, and came to Atlanta…some of them did, and others remained. I found myself being the sort of person who could easily lie, cheat, steal, manipulate. I never behaved with the intention of harming other people, but I had a reckless disregard for myself and anyone else in the world, and even life itself. I had a few lovers, all of whom I put through a very difficult time, who stayed with me through my many betrayals because I represented some sort of exciting world, only to inevitably recognise it wasn’t worth the investment of emotion and moving on was the healthiest thing to do. I didn’t even take time to think about the kind of person I was becoming; in fact, I never thought beyond the next day in life.

I paid an extraordinarily hefty price for my poor decisions over the course of a few years, times when I did, in fact, engage in the worst things I’ve ever done. I was left completely alone, friendless, broke, and in a difficult situation. I faced legal consequences for my choices, and the embarrassment of everyone in the world knowing about the worst things I’d ever done in a very public way.

Yet, I believed I could start over. I believed everyone is entitled to rebuild their lives, to make amends, and to carry on without judgement. As a result, I entered a new phase in my life, one that was highly focused on joie de vivre, of living a rather hedonistic, manic existence. Many people judge this period in my life, as I unintentionally hurt others…but I do not cast judgement upon myself. I lived more in the course of a few years than most people will live in a lifetime. Those who were most hurt were rarely hurt by my actions, but by the fact that I’d have the unmitigated gall to proceed with my life as if the past were not everyone’s business. To this day, it’s an attitude I do not understand. Simply because you live your live in a way that many judge or find morally difficult to comprehend does not make it wrong, it makes it different. If a person does not confide in you about their past, or about their private life, it’s simply because it does not affect you. You’re not in a position to judge, nor to know the sordid details of another person’s past, unless you’re that close to them. I will never understand this “Everyone has a right to know everything and pass judgement on everyone” kind of world we live in.

If we are close, I will tell you about myself, about my past, about my sordid adventures, about the things that fall into the “worst things I’ve ever done” pile, as well as into the “worst things ever done to me” bin. Again, I paid an extremely high price in my life during those years, a period during which I abandoned and forgave myself for my past wrongs to others…for doing nothing wrong, other than having a chequered past that I’d moved on from, and living an unconventional lifestyle that simply wasn’t the world’s business. Despite some appearances to the contrary, I can really be a remarkably private person when it comes to the things that truly matter in my private life.

After that difficult experience, which found me alone and abandoned by virtually everyone who dared to call me a friend—not based on how I’d treated people in the present so much as offenses I’d committed in the past—I was forced to rebuild yet again. Honestly, I didn’t think I was strong enough. I went through a period of great isolation and depression, where I didn’t wish to leave the house for months. People took it upon themselves to attempt to destroy my life for no other reason than they judged my past and disagreed with my present.

It took some time, but eventually, I built a really strong group of friends. I knew that, when push came to shove, many of these people were the real deal, because when people whose lives I did not affect in the least would contact them to tell them about my chequered past and the things I’d done to hurt others, they were not only not shocked. They defended me. In fact, I had older and wiser friends reassure me “You are not the worst thing you’ve ever done, or defined by the pain you’ve caused those you loved.”

I truly believe that. I am not the person I was a decade ago, the one who believed that reinventing myself and letting go of the past meant creating a whole new persona. I am not the self-destructive person who would lie, cheat, and steal because life was a game of “Survivor”, and no matter what, I was determined to survive. It took me years to gradually abandon my wild ways, and get in touch with the person who was still inside, a romantic dreamer with ideals the world couldn’t possibly live up to, and a girl who didn’t need sex or alcohol or material possessions or crazy adventures or destructive outlets, but love, and a way to indulge her desire to create.

I credit this to letting go of some toxic people in my life. When I was at a point in my life where behaving with a certain level of class and respectability wasn’t a concern, I met others who led me down similarly destructive roads. I met people who had no compulsion about lying, cheating, stealing, and learned what it was like to be on the other side of a destructive relationship, more than once. I had a roommate who ran off with my belongings. I carried on affairs with married men without caring, put myself in situations that might have been dangerous, the kind of stories we all see on Lifetime movies. I met people who were unconventional artists, former and current addicts, people with pasts who made mine look sweet and innocent.

When I found myself becoming a different person, the law of attraction seemed to apply. I attracted more kind, understanding, and forgiving people than I’d met in 6 years in the Atlanta area. I found people who, little by little, I could open up to about my life. I found more than one guy who knew about my past and decided to believe in my inner beauty anyway…and one who turned into a relationship that’s totally changed my world for the past three years. I found a job I could stand for more than a few weeks at a time, that used my creative skills and helped me launch a new career. I stopped being afraid of a world filled with people bent on destroying me.

I’m not a saint. I’m still a little wild and crazy. I still like to party and have a good time, but I’ve learned life is not an episode of the Jersey Shore. Most of that is simply growing up. I would not consider doing most of the things I did when I was 22, and because of that, I don’t think I deserve to be permanently defined as the worst thing I’ve ever done. People do change and grow and live and learn and develop into who they’re eventually meant to be.

I still have unconventional views that not everyone understands. Although I’ve been in a monogamous relationship for three years, I am still unconvinced about monogamy. I believe we all have more than one soulmate in our lifetime, and those soulmates come in all different forms; hence, the perfect relationship or marriage is one that does not place limitations or restrictions, and is not defined by jealousy. I still believe that if I want to marry someone of the same sex, smoke pot, or visit a prostitute, the government should allow me to make my own choices about my life. I do not wish to have children, am not sure that marriage is a necessary institution, and think that large corporations and government are slowly eroding individualism, and perpetuating a culture of “Everyone is entitled to know everything about everyone and judge accordingly.” I am pro-choice, anti-judgment, and would love to see a world where love and equality reign supreme.

A friend of mine told me this is likely part of the problem I face in my life; not that I haven’t changed from the person who selfishly hurt others and paid a tremendous price a long time ago, but that I have not relinquished my pride, changed my ideals. I’ve suffered through a great deal, and in many ways, simply see it as karma for the unhappiness I once inflicted upon others.

These days, I’d say I define myself as a good friend to many, and a devoted admirer of a few I’d like to know better. I’m a loving and supportive girlfriend and companion, an intellectual equal to most I meet (though certainly not all), and a talented writer, actress, singer, event planner, and bar trivia participant. I’ve been told I am compassionate, have the gift of empathy, know how to bring people out of their shells, and am the instigator of good times. I’ve learned to choose friendships over acquaintances, because popularity has little to do with love or understanding. I’ve learned that life is short, and it pays to say “Yes” to adventures more often than “No”. I’ve learned that health isn’t forever, and you have to care for yourself above all else. I’ve learned that giving to others…whether donating a few extra dollars to a charity, creating a piece of art for a friend, or sending greeting cards for life’s important occasions…helps define who you are. I’ve learned that you can’t change yourself to please others, because you never will, and you can’t abandon the things you love because they don’t fit with who you think you should be. There is no “who you should be”, only who you are.

Part of that is, of course, who you were. Accepting and coming to terms with the past is important, but it still doesn’t mean I believe everyone in the world is entitled to know everything there is to know about my life. It certainly isn’t in anyone else’s place to tell them. Neither is it in any other person’s place to judge or gossip…we’ve all walked different and complex life paths.

I am no better than anyone else, but I don’t believe I am any worse. I’ve made my mistakes, and I’ve paid the consequences. I’ve made choices, and positive or negative, had to deal with the fallout. If you look at the world around us, obsessed with scandal and self-destructive behaviour and lack of connection with others, and the idea that sex and money make the world go round, there’s little I’ve done that seems too scandalous. I suspect trading stories with Angelina Jolie or Kim Kardashian or any of Atlanta’s “Real Housewives” would leave me looking like a choirgirl in comparison.

Yet, although I am not famous or notable or anyone special in any way, I live in a world where people repeatedly think my past is their business, and they have an obligation to bring it into my present. This happens in the forms of stories I hear from across the country, people I barely knew who attempt to embarrass me in public settings should there be an encounter, and those who send e-mails to people I care about, re-hashing the past in an ultimately painful way.

At what point in life has a person redeemed herself? At what point is it safe to say “I’ve moved on, and I don’t understand why so many others, particularly those who will never again encounter me, cannot.”

I am not who I was at 19, or 22, or even 27. I suspect few of us are. And many of us have more than a few transgressions that have been forgiven, and made personal life choices that are none of the world’s concern.

I have a good friend in NYC who shares a similar story; the more high-profile her life becomes, the more she has those determined to bring up her past in an attempt to humiliate, discredit, or make her an object of ridicule and ostracism.

My life is not a high-profile one, and those who I love and trust enough to discuss matters like my past know what there is to know about me. Shockingly, I’ve learned there are far more people in my life who know about the stories from my past, and still love and accept me. I’ve been blessed to learn that for many, friendship and love is fairly unconditional.

I have moved on. I am a different person with a different life, surrounded by different people, focusing on different goals. It is unfair to be repeatedly cast in a light that’s no longer reflective of who I am, and to be judged upon the past rather than the present.

This year, the tarot reader at my party told me that in order to move on with a prosperous future, I had to make peace with my past. I believe I’ve done that. I only wish everyone else would choose to let it be.

If I *do* deserve to be defined by the worst thing I’ve ever done, it means so does everyone else in the world. And, were all the skeletons to be released from the closets of everyone you know by others who believe “it’s only right that everyone knows, I think the world would struggle greatly.

Even in today’s day and age, certain things are entitled to be kept private. And, when I choose to share those secrets in my life with someone I love or care about or respect, that should be my choice, and not anyone else’s.

My past does not change the person I am today. Judge me on what I am to you *now*, not on what and where and who I’ve been.

After all, no matter who you are, I do not think you are the worst thing you’ve ever done. I think you are a complex human being, and until I walk a mile in your shoes, I cannot understand your life or your choices. I do know, beyond a doubt, that everyone changes.

Once upon a time, a friend of mine advised me not to take it all so seriously, to be so hurt by incidents that constantly rehashed the mistakes of my past or put me in situations where my lifestyle was open to judgment. He told me, “Life is just like the movies. People are comfortable with the idea of heroes and villains, even though neither is so clear-cut. For some reason, you’ve been cast as a villainess in your own life, and your major transgression is your lack of conformity.”

Whether or not I am destined to play one in life, on stage, or anywhere else in the world, I am no villain. I’m extraordinarily emotional, and have a definite need to be liked. Judgment hurts me, being overlooked and gossiped about and ostracised hurts me…but not enough for me to lose sight of who I am, where I’ve been, and where I am going.

In my way, I possess a tremendous strength, and a kindness of heart, a unique and endearing soul, and keen survival instincts. I may not have always made use of these gifts, but I know now they are mine.

And what about you, dear readers? Are you ultimately and permanently defined by the worst thing you’ve ever done?

Addendum: The Guy I Am Currently Dating pointed out that this question is a complex on explored in one of my favourite books/musicals, Les Miserables. It’s a very multi-faceted story, and explores the question from multiple perspectives: Can a person be defined as anything other than the worst thing he’s ever done? An important element of the story is that while Jean Valjean finds himself beaten down by judgement for his past and ultimately returns to a life of crime once he sees he will always be thought of as a criminal, and unable to succeed or survive in a difficult time, it is the love and compassion shown to him by a priest he attempts to rob that transforms his life and his character. The final sentiment of the musical?

Remember the truth that once was spoken: To love another person is to see the face of God.”

I’m happy to report I’m feeling much better in general (although it’s raining, and that seems to activate the dizzy button in my head), and the anxiety and depression I was feeling was simply the fallout from me messing with my medication. Even though I returned to taking it as prescribed, the up-and-down rollercoaster effect the entire week had on my body, mind, and spirit was just a bit too much for me to handle without having something of a nervous breakdown when my roommate was kind of an ass and my toilet broke. (these things have since been fixed.)

Fortunately, I’d had an appointment to go and see my doctor on Tuesday, which was how I began my Valentine’s celebration. The Guy I Am Currently Dating came to pick me up and drove me to the doctor’s office. As always, she spent a long time with me talking about my issues, and agreed that a majority of my issues were related to the vestibular disorder I’d been diagnosed as having, and the health-related anxiety and predisposition to panic attacks. She gave me instructions not to mess with my medications until the next time I saw her, and she assured me that my heart, lungs, and other vital organs were perfectly fine.

She also reassured me that feelings of anger and depression and low self-esteem were natural, and almost everyone who’s been told that they’re facing a long recovery process and need to learn to live with something that there is no cure goes through that, whether the illness is life threatening or not. She pointed out to me that, in certain ways, my extensive medical knowledge, gained from a lifetime of reading and exposure to the field, and friendships with people with actual medical knowledge, was actually enhancing my symptoms. Apparently, highly intelligent and highly intuitive people are more likely to suffer from anxiety issues, simply from thinking too much, and believing whatever they’ve read about applies to them. For instance, medical residents routinely come down with a number of illnesses, all induced by hypochondria. Studying a brain tumour leads you to imagine every little thing in your head is a symptom of a brain tumour, since you are aware of many things that are symptoms. Certain personality types are prone to suffering symptoms after reading about them; oddly, the same personality type that excels at method acting, and can bring on not only the feelings of but physical signs of certain ailments. In the end, she told me to take my pills, eat right, exercise, stop stressing about weight loss because it would happen slowly on this medication, and to realise my problems were a simple vestibular disorder that happens to cause some weird things to happen, much like the struggles of chronic migraine suffers. She told me to talk to a psychologist specialising in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, stay off any other drugs anyone might wish to prescribe me, and go to the vestibular rehab sessions. Mostly, she told me the only “cure” for my problem was time and a willingness to keep on moving past the obstacles, and eventually, things like depression would pass as I retrieved my self-confidence. All that was very good to hear, and I left feeling pretty awesome about things, actually.

Tuesday evening was a low-key Valentine’s Day…it was Tuesday, and both The Guy I Am Currently Dating and I had a ton of work. So, we exchanged cards and gifts, and went to play trivia! It was one of our best trivia nights ever…we were in 1st all the way down to the tie-breaker. We tied the tie-breaker, but the other team handed it in first, so we still came in 2nd. ARRRRGH. We’re trying our best for that 5th place spot, and the tournament is in two weeks. Of course, plenty of other teams are trying to get in the top 5 as well. There’s really no incentive, other than we’ve been in the top 5 for the past 4 tournaments, and we get a plaque. I like getting plaques. It reminds me of being 12 years old and getting an award for something that’s really awesome when you’re 12.

The Guy I Am Currently Dating bought me a stuffed blue M&M. I love it. No flowers or balloons or chocolates, but I love my M&M. Everytime I go to NYC, I bring back an M&M for him from the M&M Store. Last time, I got him the pillow shaped red one for the bed…and he got me the blue. The colours of the M&Ms correlate to different emotions. Blue is happy and energetic.

I got some other lovely Valentine’s gifts from friends and family in my life, including a beautiful book called “The Art Of The Moment”, DVDs of “Phantom”, “Chess”, and “Les Mis” from Royal Albert Hall, a few copies of a book written by an aspiring author friend (one of which was immediately passed along to The Guy I Am Currently Dating), and a poem. Not to mention, there were of course some Facebook greetings, which always spread the love. Naturally, I bought myself a Valentine’s gift, too, long before the holiday. I’d pre-ordered the latest DVD in the Twilight series, and it arrived on the 15th, so…that’s what we’ll be watching this Friday.

The Day After Valentine’s Day was pretty good, too. It marked my debut with Atlanta’s Write Club Atlanta, a group of writers, actors, directors, and other artistically inclined folks who put on a show that features three pairs of performers reading 7-minute stories/poems/monologues composed on opposing subjects. As it was February, ours all had to do with things that could (but did not have to be) Valentine’s Day related. My round, “Stay Vs. Go” had me representing “Go”.

I had a million reasons not to do this sort of thing; getting on stage with bright lights, a sound system, a huge crowd, and just having been diagnosed with a vestibular disorder makes something that most people dislike by nature (public speaking) even more challenging. Add to that that I’m a self-conscious person these days, having gained 25 pounds and learning it’s a long road to losing weight on a beta-blocker, and it would seem that signing up to get up on stage in front of strangers…and then invite all my friends…would be a remarkably bad idea.

It wasn’t. In fact, my friends were very supportive and the Write Club people very kind, diverse, and funny. They’re the kind of people who not only embrace quirkiness but demand it, something I’ve missed since living in Atlanta. I’d definitely participate in their projects in the future, and will certainly return to hear other people read their works. It’s just a good, creativity-affirming time.

Also, I actually ended up winning my round (audience applause is king in these situations) although the guy who wrote about “Stay” was really funny. I actually clapped for him, until I remembered audience applause counted, so I was effectively voting against myself. Oooops. The best part was hearing praise and encouragement from other people on my way out. I met a group of people who asked if the story I’d written about was true (absolutely, 100%, and then some…I had to omit quite a bit in the name of time and because not everything is funny.) I also met a girl who told me she knew exactly who I was talking about in my story ( a humorous anecdote based on a guy I went out with a few times), because her friend met said guy at a party and almost went out with him. It’s a small, small world.

I’d post my composition here, but, it will eventually be released in podcast form…so, all in due time.

Most importantly, I conquered a potential fear. I wondered if this inner ear/dizziness problem was something that would keep me from ever getting on a stage again. While I’m not quite up for doing a musical yet, I proved to myself that the answer is “No”. I may be afraid of having a panic attack, but I can get up on stage for 10 minutes. I can go to parties and concerts and even shop at Kroger. I can start working off the extra pounds with exercise, and learning to cook for myself. Maybe I can even travel.

After the show, I went out to a nearby pub for a few drinks and conversation with a group of close friends here in Atlanta. One of them told me about a time in his life he went through a similar situation that I’ve been dealing with, albeit for different reasons, and likely around the same point in his life that I am at right now. (my friend is a bit older and wiser than myself, though just by a few years.) It made me feel, for the first time in months, I was talking to someone who understood.

Few things make you feel stronger than talking to someone who understands, who has been where you are, and survived.

All in all, I had a pretty good week, although work has been intense, I started a new project, things kept breaking, and I feel the internal need to slow down and rest, but have too much to do. Also, it has occurred to me that I may have offended a friend/acquaintance of mine, as I sent a “here’s some random “thinking of you” stuff in the mail” package to him, as I’ve been known to do. Yet, I’ve not heard from him in quite some time..so, I don’t know. I tend to offend others unintentionally and when I’m not looking. I’d say I’m paranoid, but the fact that I’ve actually lost friends I cared about without explanation, have been kicked out of social groups, and still avoid certain places in multiple cities for fear of running into those who are openly not Alayna fans…well, I’d say I’m just a realist. ;)

I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine’s Day week, as well…single or couple, married or not, children or not, long-distance or in the same house. I like Valentine’s Day because it’s a reminder that there’s so much love in the Universe, and it’s the kind we could be putting out there every day, without all the inhibitions and insecurities and judgments and limitations. I’m not just talking about romantic love and sexual attraction (though it applies to that, too), but to friendships and familial relationships and saying hi to that barista at Starbucks you have the secret crush on. I’m talking about remembering to put love and support and compassion out there as much as possible, and to have more true friends, and fewer acquaintances (my personal focus for this year, along with getting back to myself, physically and emotionally.)

I’m also incredibly happy my toilet is fixed, although the Y on my computer is not.

That being said, I kind of wanted a balloon. I love balloons. :P But I’m learning to be a little less high-maintenance. ;)

A note I posted on Facebook today:

For friends and family who don’t believe I’m sick, don’t understand why I have days I’d prefer not to be alive, and expect me to handle everything from work to social engagements to household chores the same way I did before getting sick, please read. It’s not going to happen, and empathy rather than judgment and lectures are in need right now. On top of it, I’m on multiple tranquilizers, and not sure there are not other heath issues at work. So, no, I can’t handle it, and I’m not the person I used to be. I probably never will be again. If you can’t deal, hit the de-friend button.

My roommate sees fit to lecture me about not taking the dog out early enough, when the fact is, I physically am unable to get out of bed before 12, thanks to a combination of whatever’s slowly killing me and the medications they have me on. Almost every time, he’s up, and could do it…but instead waits for me to do it, and then lectures me for making her wait.

In addition, I have a 4 PM deadline at work now, which often leaves me working from 12-4 without a break, taking some pills in the middle, and not even having lunch. They don’t cut me slack either; I miss a deadline, I don’t keep my job.

I wonder if I ended up in a wheelchair or went blind tomorrow, if everyone would yell at me for not pulling my weight or doing things on time.

I think maybe I need to leave town, because I am not getting the help and empathy I need to get through this in my current living situation. I don’t know where I’d find that; mostly, people could care less about me, much less take care of me. My parents would make me feel like shit for being sick and looking like shit, I’m not allowed at my boyfriend’s house, and people everywhere seem to wish I would die or disappear from their lives, and mince no words in telling me so. I don’t really *have* anyone to take care of me if I can’t take care of myself.

Breaking news: You all may just get your wish. Be sure to throw a party in my honour. I hope that some of my good friends will be willing to look after my dog, and give her the love and kindness she deserves. I hope that everyone will be extraordinarily kind and patient to The Guy I Am Currently Dating when I am no longer here, because he will need a friend and someone to take care of him, and the kind of support and understanding I found it so difficult to find once I became ill.

I just can’t continue on this way. The person I used to be, the one who loved life and had hopes and dreams and ambitions…that person is already dead. All that’s left is a shell that’s constantly judged, criticised, and made to feel inadequate on a daily basis for all her failures.

In my heart of hearts, I know I have limited time left on the earth. The doctors aren’t treating my symptoms, everyone’s telling me I’m crazy, but the body doesn’t lie. I have scary illness-related symptoms I have to deal with every day, involving my heart and my brain, and the only time I’m happy is when I am asleep.

I just want peace and love and understanding. I want someone to take care of me and hold my hand. Unfortunately, I didn’t create that kind of family for myself, and God knows I wasn’t born into it.

“In the end, only kindness matters.”

Thank you to those who have been kind to me during my life. You’re really the only reason I haven’t given up on life yet.

I’m starting to realise it isn’t enough, though. It isn’t a substitute for life and hopes and dreams and a healthy, vibrant person that was murdered this summer, and whom I realise will never return.

I am not the sort of person who deserves to be loved anymore, and I know that when I do leave the Earth, it will be alone and without drama or fanfare. Doctors will be perplexed, and say “We should have caught this”, but when you’re not wealthy and full of anxiety and anger and sadness, it’s easy to dismiss someone.

I am just a random person who fell through the cracks, who had one stroke of bad luck too many, and spent her whole life looking for a life filled with love and kindness and support and understanding; the family that never existed for me.

I am tired of struggling. I am tired of being made to feel inadequate. I am tired of being an imposition on a world that doesn’t understand. I am tired of an illness that nobody even acknowledges, but has robbed me of everything.

I am just tired. So, please, when I am gone, somebody take the dog out. And it would be awesome if you didn’t make me feel guilty for not being around to do it.

Maybe peace and love and understanding and kindness aren’t meant for people like me, not in the type of world we live in today, with the cards I’ve been dealt.

It could have been worse, this thing called life. But I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the idea it could have been so much better.

I’d give anything to be healthy enough to start over. I’d give anything to believe in dreams, and in a future. I’d give anything to know it won’t always be like this.

But 8 months has been 20 years, and I am tired…and so is everyone around me.

When I’m gone, I’ll have little to leave behind. But maybe, somehow, the years of love I put out in the world will be enough to mean something.

“I’d rather have 30 minutes of something wonderful, than a lifetime of nothing special.”-“Steel Magnolias”

I am, sadly, still struggling with my health. I tried my best to have a good weekend, celebrating at my favorite Italian restaurant with some of my favourite people, and playing trivia with some of those same favourite people, plus others I always look forward to seeing. But, dizziness, light-sensitivity, a feeling of pressure on the top of my head, and feeling spaced out and hating the world cast a pall over everything.

I have so many good things in my life, but my body won’t let me enjoy them. I have opportunities I’m not always physically up to handling. Whatever is wrong with me has destroyed both my mind and body, and I’m not sure I will come back from this. People either tell me to pray or keep a positive mindset—which makes me irrationally angry, because I cannot believe that hope and smiles and rainbows and blind faith will cure what science cannot— or, they tolerate my incessant struggles with anxiety and depression, and I have no idea why. I’ve become so self-consumed with this invisible illness that not only can nobody else see, many are convinced only exists in my head, that I bore myself. In social situations, I wouldn’t have any interest in getting to know me. It’s one thing to be unattractive and feel that makes you wish to keep away from social situations. It’s another to realise just how tedious your company is, to both yourself and others.

I sent this e-mail to The Guy I Am Currently Dating today. I wish my doctors could see it, too.

Every day is different. Most days are crappy.

Something is WRONG with me. Nobody will pay any attention except to tell me how anxious I am. But there’s pressure on top of my head that crushes my skull and makes my head numb—always at the same place— my heart races, I can’t stand loud noises or things that vibrate, I hate light, I feel dizzy at a drop of the hat, there’s often pressure in the arteries of my neck, my right arm sometimes goes numb, pressure bothers both of my ears, and I gain weight constantly.

Nobody is going to care or take my situation seriously until I’m not alive anymore. But there is something physically wrong with my body that isn’t being treated, and it keeps me from even enjoying the time I do have to be alive and young and vibrant.

I want my life back. I do not want or find value in the life I have now, because these physical issues take the joy out of everything. :( It is so hard to have a simple good day. Most days, trying to do so seems to take too much effort.

Yes, I am anxious and depressed and panicky. Because the way I feel isn’t normal. I am not anxious or depressed or panicky about other things. I am anxious and depressed and panicky because of these physical issues that are robbing me of my life. I’ve gained almost a fifth my body weight in 7 months, but I also aged 10 or 20 years.

If I could live like this for 40 more years, or just have one or two years where I was the way I used to be, I’d pick the latter. I used to see life as big adventure. Now it’s just another day of struggle after another, and knowing there’s no end to it, that “it’s all in my head”…I don’t know how to handle that.

I know they’re not right. I know my body and my mind. And I get really depressed and anxious BECAUSE anyone who can help me dismisses me. But people don’t go to the beach, get a horrible 2nd degree sunburn, develop an infection because their parents tell them it’s nothing, collapse from panic attacks for two weeks, and turn into an entirely different person. Mentally, emotionally, psychologically, I am the same person. But something happened to my body and it changed EVERYTHING.

It is my body that’s different, and perhaps it’s also the never-ending “let’s try this” approach with drugs and tests. And as a result of all the “let’s try this” and “nothing’s wrong with you”, I’m constantly anxious because something is wrong inside my body, and I just intuitively know that nobody knows it but me. I’m not being a hypochondriac; I don’t necessarily think I have a brain tumour or something wrong with one of my arteries or cancer somewhere in my body. It might be something as minor as hormones, or something that got damaged by my illness this summer and just needs the right treatment. But until someone tells me what it is, every day I have any weird symptoms at all, I’m afraid. I’m afraid that by the time a doctor finds out what it is, it will be too late to fix it. I’m afraid to be one of those people I read about posting on the internet message boards who have been sick for a decade and don’t know why, and don’t have the resources or know the right people to actually get a diagnosis.. I don’t want to give up my younger years to an illness nobody understands.

My mind and my feelings are perfectly fine. I am just sad and panicky because my body does weird stuff that interferes with my quality of life. When my body no longer does the weird stuff, I will go back to being the person I used to be…not necessarily happy or calm, but not wondering every day if today is the day I’m going to die because there’s something on the right side of my body interfering with my brain and heart and ear and internal organs. Even my right knee is the broken one.

I just want someone to understand and find me some answers so I can go back to living my life and planning for the future. And so I can *have* one.”

That is how I feel today. I have a list a mile long of things that I want to do; but it’s necessary for me to be healthy and energetic and young and attractive and friendly and vivacious in order to live my life on my terms. I am too stubborn to be willing to accept these limitations will define me, will define my life, for whatever amount of it remains.

People my age should be worried about their careers and love lives and making the most of the prime of their life, not thinking about death and putting their affairs in order and making sure nothing has to be too complicated or unpleasant for anyone else on that day I inevitably don’t wake up.

Everything has changed, and I just want my life back. Even if it’s something I only get to have for a little while, I want to look and feel normal, to have some of the adventures that are still waiting for me, to know that I may not be around forever, but I have the energy and joie de vivre to not waste a single second or ignore a single chance for something amazing to touch my life.

Oddly enough, I do pray sometimes. I do attempt to meditate and calm myself. I do attempt to read about my symptoms in hopes of stumbling on to something 13 doctors have ignored, and relate to the thousands of people who post their stories of “Nobody knows what’s wrong with me, I’m scared, it’s destroyed my life, and everyone just says I’m depressed/anxious.” I do try to have a positive attitude. But like everything else, there are simply no answers, just more days passing by, while I watch them from my window.

I just want my life back. It wasn’t the best, it wasn’t the worst, but I was healthy, energetic, and always up for a fun adventure. I had my freedom. And, that, I value more than anything; more, perhaps, than life itself.

I feel like I failed at something really important. :( (

4 days into cutting my Atenolol (beta-blocker) dosage from 25 to 12.5 mg, I started having side effects I just couldn’t handle. The past few days haven’t been a walk in the park, but today felt exactly like I did before I got myself on the atenolol/Valium combo. I started having severe panic attacks, as well as a feeling like someone was crushing a particular place on my skull, a pressure on the right side of the top my skull traveling down to the base of my skull. I had bursts of adrenaline that were so intense that I wanted to break things, and ended up picking up a pair of dull scissors in order to carve X’s in my skin. I didn’t feel anything, because of this overwhelming crazy adrenaline feeling, although when it subsided, I saw all the marks on my chest and realised they hurt.

I took Trixie out and almost fell down the stairs. Finally, things got dizzy and black around the edges and I started thinking I was going to die. I couldn’t make it through. I felt convinced something bad was happening to me, much like the day I had to call the ambulance after taking BuSpar for 10 days, and taking extra Valium didn’t help.

In the end, I had to take another quarter of my beta-blocker. I can’t stop taking this drug, although I’m tired of gaining weight and don’t want diabetes. There must be something in this drug that my body needs, meaning there’s something wrong with me, and it’s NOT ALL IN MY HEAD. I may feel like I’m losing my mind, but I’m not. Something is wrong with me that nobody is seeing, and I need help. I don’t know what to do. :(

There is no reason for me to need to be on a drug that is largely prescribed for blood pressure and heart rate issues. In the 4 days I cut my dose, my BP didn’t go above 130/75, and my heart rate never went above 90. In fact, yesterday, my BP was lower than ever. However, I had a terrible migraine with aura, something I haven’t had in a long time. Today, the side effects were so terrible that not only did I feel I was losing my mind, I felt I was going to die.

I hate Atenolol. It makes me shaky, it makes me too physically exhausted to function, and it’s caused me to gain 25 pounds in 6 months. I can’t have dental work when on the drug. I can’t burn calories. And yet, I can’t quit taking them because the side effects are not only unpleasant…they feel life-threatening, either because something is going to happen to my body, or because these bursts of adrenaline make me want to harm myself and break things. Reading on the internet, I discovered that not only is there a link between beta-blockers and obesity, and ultimately type 2 diabetes, but that beta-blockers suppress rushes of adrenaline. There must be something in my body that releases excess adrenaline in a problematic fashion, and it isn’t because I have an anxiety disorder. I was strong enough to cut back on the beta-blocker, despite the anxiety, until these adrenaline bursts started happening.

Cutting down on the beta-blocker actually cut down on my dizziness and disorientation a little. But, by day 3, my extreme sensitivity to light returned with a vengeance, just like the very first day I got sick. I don’t understand how this has anything to do with a diagnosis of vestibular neuritis and panic disorder. I know beta-blockers are used to treat panic attacks and migraines, and taking them has helped with that…but the side effects have been a terrible trade-off. My friend told me he felt like a whole new person when he got off Atenolol.

My blood pressure and pulse rate tell me I don’t need a beta-blocker. Even when anxious, these things were slightly elevated but normal. If I were healthy, I know I could work to lose the weight this drug has put on me, which makes me hate how I look and how I feel. I know this would probably lower my blood pressure naturally. But on the beta-blocker, I eat less than 1,000 calories a day and struggle not to gain a pound a week. I have no endurance. I used to walk 4 miles a day, now I struggle with 15 minutes.

I don’t know what to do. I need help, and not just the “dealing with your anxiety” and “here’s some new pills” variety. I am an emotional person, and I do have anxiety, but I’m also very rational. I’m rational enough to know that if negative symptoms return when quitting a drug, the drug isn’t curing the problem, it’s hiding it. It’s not identifying the cause, just allowing you to live with the effects. And that might be OK…although I don’t think it is; most of my anxiety comes from not having an understanding of what’s going on and being dismissed by specialists as another anxious girl who doesn’t know how to deal with stress….but I don’t think it’s OK when the side effects are limiting my quality of life, and there’s still no diagnosis that makes sense to me.

All these doctors…someone is missing *something*.

What I know is this: 8 months ago, I was a healthy active girl with a pretty good life. I went to the beach, got sick, and feel like I’m 80. I’m now always tired, don’t exercise enough, don’t enjoy places with bright lights and loud music, feel horrible about myself due to the extra weight and inexplicable breakouts (both never a problem for me in the past). I sometimes feel irrational if I don’t eat within a certain amount of time after taking my pill, or have outbursts of anger for no reason. I get dizzy and lightheaded for no reason. I thought maybe the pills were exacerbating the effects, but I can’t seem to handle life without them. Sometimes, I have feelings of social anxiety, and I don’t know why. Other times, I never feel more normal than going out and drinking martinis with my friends. I was never mentally ill. I never needed medications for depression or anxiety; I had those things sometimes, but managed them. I was never skinny, but never gained 25 pounds in 8 months. I had plenty of energy, plenty of enthusiasm for life.

Something happened to me. I don’t know what, or why, and I’m not convinced anyone else does, either. I might buy the diagnosis of a vestibular disorder with an associated panic issue, but that doesn’t explain why I can’t quit the beta-blockers without feeling insane pressure on top of my head, tingly migraines, and the inability to tolerate even normal light.

I know they’ve tested everything there is to test, and my insurance isn’t paying for anything, so I can’t keep looking for answers. But something happened to me this summer, and I need to know what it is if I’m ever going to improve.

For eight months, I have cried and prayed and looked for answers and had scary tests I can’t afford…and I’m still no closer to an answer. The Valium and Atenolol make me healthy enough that I can cope with life and feel like a normal person, even if it’s a fat cranky person. But they don’t tell me what happened to me.

It isn’t something floating around my head. It isn’t just anxiety about life. Panic attacks don’t make you not able to stand even normal light without medication. Normal, healthy people don’t have random bursts of adrenaline that make you feel overly impulsive and irrational and immune to pain until it wears off. If there were a specialist I could see anywhere in the world that had answers, I’d go there. I just want an answer, and to know what to do to live a long and healthy life…preferably in an energetic and attractive form.

I see people posting stories kind of like mine…always slightly different…all over the internet, talking about doctors who hand out beta-blockers and anxiety pills and anti-depressants, and the hell of withdrawing from those things…and how eventually, you can’t remember what bad feelings were caused by sickness and what bad feelings were caused by cutting back on the drugs. I can’t tolerate most drugs; a majority have made me so ill I don’t even want to try. The fact that the Valium and Atenolol work…at least until I’m 250 pounds and drop dead from some unknown condition…should convince me to stop worrying and take the drugs.

But it isn’t enough. I need to know what’s wrong, and how I can fix it. If I have a vestibular problem, I’ll go to rehab. If I’m mentally ill, I’ll go to therapy. If I have a heart problem, I’ll take the medication and shut up about it. If I have a brain tumor, I’ll get it cut out. But I’m not going to keep paying to go from specialist to specialist, just to hear the equivalent of “We don’t know, try this.”.

I’m not unwilling to do the work and put up with a certain level of discomfort. But I’m not willing to experiment with something as precious as my life and my health to treat something nobody understands with stuff that might make me sicker, or not work at all.

I thought maybe quitting the beta-blockers would be the answer. I feel like a failure because I couldn’t do it…but maybe I couldn’t do it because my body was telling me it *wasn’t* the right answer.

For those who don’t follow me on Facebook, it’s been a particularly tough two days for me. I’m trying to be as strong as I can, to tough things out, but honestly, I realise I’m not a strong or tough person in a lot of ways. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve survived some dark times, but I always had a sense that ultimately, my survival and how I navigated through the world following those dark times was up to me.

When it comes to illness, it’s not up to me. It’s up to science, up to medicine, up to God, up to the sheer luck of getting the right doctor who might prescribe the right thing, make the right diagnosis, order the right test. I do not always feel confident that I am going to be able to pull through this particular time in my life, I do not always feel confident that I received the correct diagnosis from the correct doctor. I waver back and forth from agreeing that it’s all a simple psychological problem, it’s all “in my head”, to feeling that the unexplained symptoms that doctors try to hide with pills or dismiss as unimportant because they don’t fit with any logical, simple diagnosis are important, and that I am in fact a very ill person that isn’t being heard.

Over the weekend, I made the resolution that on Monday, I was going to start dropping the amount of beta-blocker, a particularly side-effect-laden pill called Atenolol, I’ve been taking for about 6 months. A quick search on the Internet turned up countless message boards from people on this drug, wondering how to deal with the side effects. I made it through the initial phase of feeling to exhausted to move and actually became functional on Atenolol. However, I gained 25 pounds in 6 months, and when doing a Google search on this, found numerous medical studies that suggest a link between beta-blockers, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. I learned one in 5 adults today is currently on a beta-blocker; they slow down your heart rate and your BP, they treat anxiety, and are essential to people suffering from certain heart conditions.

The problem is, they are overprescribed, and once you’re on them, it’s very tough to get off of them. The withdrawal symptoms are so unpleasant that it hardly seems worth it to get off a drug whose major side effect is making you fat and sleepy, when the alternatives include heart palpitations, insomnia, depression, high blood pressure, and a host of other “rebound effects”.

I was prescribed a beta-blocker because I had a pulse of 120 for an extended period of time, and my body was releasing adrenaline constantly, causing me to have sometimes as many as 8 panic attacks a day. I do not know if this was a result of the infection I had that doctors claimed led to the development of my vestibular disorder, or due to an anxiety-related condition. My blood pressure was only slightly elevated, and since being on the beta-blocker, my panic attacks have ceased, but my blood pressure has become exceptionally low. Meanwhile, weight gain and being tired all the time are making it more likely I’ll develop heart problems.

A while back, two different doctors had given me the OK to cut my Atenolol dose in half, to see if this decreased the side effects. I’d never done this, because I was scared to mess with what was working. I’d been able to function like a normal person much of the time lately, stopped feeling convinced I was going to die, but hated myself for feeling fat, lifeless, and dependent on pills. Yet, I was afraid to make a change because I didn’t want a huge setback. I never found out why I mysteriously had heart problems when I’d always been active, energetic, and at the time of my illness, walked miles every day. I was at a relatively healthy weight, didn’t have the best dietary habits, but also didn’t have any significant health issues—mental or physical.

There was no explanation for why my heart should suddenly go out of control, not even the vestibular and panic issues the last doctor diagnosed me with, and it causes me a lot of anxiety to think that it might happen again…or, worse yet, suddenly stop.

Yet, reading about other people going through stories like mine, how a drug that helped them feel better was actually destroying their health and quality of life and ability to live life fully…it was enough for me to decide that I had options. One was to cut down on this pill to see if I really needed it, and if I do, why? What’s wrong with me that I need a heart-related medication to feel well and function properly? A visit to the cardiologist yielded no answers back at the beginning; he didn’t examine me, and ran a test to see if there were any physical abnormalities within the structure of my heart, and dismissed me with “You have anxiety. Go to a psychiatrist.”

I am still anxious, still scared. I’ve made it through two days on half a dose of this drug, and nothing about it has been easy. Every hour feels like three. Just moving makes me feel exhausted. I wonder if I’m going to wake up in the morning when I go to sleep, or my heart is just going to get tired and stop. I am afraid I won’t have enough time left to do everything in life I want and need to do.

I am afraid I am dying, and unlike those who suffer from something that is sometimes actually fatal, I have nothing to base that on except an internal feeling, and the fact some scary medical problems happened to me that countless tests and doctors couldn’t adequately explain.

I feel like there are too many things left for me to do in this world to die now. There are too many loose ends, things (good and bad) I never said to people that I’d want them to know, things I never took the chance on because I believed in myself too little, mistakes I never recovered from and others won’t let go.

I want a second chance. I want to be healthy, mentally and physically. I want to do more and be more and share more and touch the lives of others more. I want to make a difference, to be here for a reason, to be loved.

People my age, and far younger, die every day. Nobody is immune. But there are phases where I become convinced I need to get my affairs in order, that I won’t be here for as long as I need to…and maybe I won’t be healthy enough to make the most of those days during the time I’m here.

I worry that one day I won’t wake up, and all these people will never know how much I loved them, or respected them, or thought the world of them, but never said so, because people just don’t say things like that…and when they do, it is so often misinterpreted. I worry that people will say things like “She was a girl who had so much potential”, meaning I never actually accomplished anything of note with my life. I wasn’t all the things our society values; a rich, hot girl busy climbing the corporate ladder, or a loving wife and mother who took care of everything and everyone.

Instead, I lived my life like it was a never-ending 1920′s salon, full of art and witty people and intelligent conversation and food and cocktails and music and sex and life. Someone once told me my best quality was my joie de vivre, the ability to enjoy life when the world around me is going to pieces. In retrospect, that seems a little shallow to be one’s best quality. I don’t think I ever had it in me to be the kindest, the smartest, the prettiest, the most talented and accomplished girl in the room, but I think I have something rare I should have made better use of, but didn’t. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t know what to do, or was afraid of rejection,of being ridiculed and used and gossiped about, or because I just didn’t believe I was special.

Looking back, that seems silly to me. Once upon a time, I had health and energy and youth and vitality, and could have taken a world full of chances I didn’t. Now, I don’t know if I have enough energy to get out of bed, or I can make it to dinner without falling to pieces.

Sometimes, I’m really scared. That’s how I’ve been feeling lately…just scared, and alone, and like nobody understands. Yet, I don’t want to be alone. That’s my greatest fear in the world, dying alone when there’s still so much more I want from the world. When you’re ill, everyone seems to disappear, save those few close friends and family that will always be there, and most friendships seem remarkably shallow.

I wish I’d been the kind of person in my life that bothered to connect more; not just to know people or to be recognised or admired at parties, but to get to know people on a level that really matters. It took me three decades to figure out that being the most popular girl in the world didn’t mean being the most well-liked, and it doesn’t mean feeling the most loved and supported. It just means you’ve met a lot of people. I wish more people had known me, the real, authentic person who always felt too much and loved too much and cared too much about everything.

I wish I hadn’t made so many mistakes and acted as if life is a party destined to go on forever. Inevitably, it won’t.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me, or how to fix myself, or how to find peace when every day is a struggle. All I know is that if life is a party, it’s still early, and I’m not ready to go home yet.

You may have noticed I haven’t been around a whole lot lately, and I’m not sure why, other than I’ve been struggling with a sense of depression and isolation I don’t wish to inflict on my readers day in and day out, just as I don’t wish to be that person who’s always bringing my friends down in real life. The result is often a feeling that it’s too much work to talk to anyone, and I’d prefer my world quiet and filled with solitude. At the same time, I feel kind of a large weight on my chest that’s either anxiety, or a warning sign that my heart is about to go on permanent strike.

I’m still not recovering. I’m still gaining weight steadily, despite eating and drinking less than ever. Research into the subject shows this is an unpleasant side effect of my medication, along with hair loss, and short of discontinuing my use of beta blockers and restricting my calorie intake to about 800 calories per day to maintain my weight, there’s little I can do. I still suffer from headaches and intolerance to bright lights and sometimes, merely leaving my house. I sometimes wonder, “What if the doctor is wrong, like so many before him?” I wonder if I am dying, and how best to put my affairs in order, to make it easier on everyone if I don’t wake up tomorrow.

According to the literature I’ve read, my feelings are pretty normal, although they seem pretty screwed up to me. It mentions that being diagnosed with a chronic illness sends people through the five stages of grief typically reserved for coping with the loss of a loved one or receiving news of your own impending death. Instead of mourning for another person or preparing for the end of your own life, you’re mourning the loss of your former self, of things you believe you can no longer do, a person you can no longer be…at least for awhile. This makes a lot of sense to me, because it *is* how I feel. I just feel compelled to go through my process in isolation more days than I’d typically feel comfortable with just my own company. Too often, I don’t feel strong enough to face the world…and when I try and fail, the failure hits me hard. I wonder if I will be alone and unloved for much of the next portion of my life, after a life spent constantly on the go, in the spotlight, seeking the attention and approval of others.

I did make it out this weekend, despite some struggles with anxiety and feeling physically ill, and to a concert of all things. We saw Ani DiFranco at Variety Playhouse, and although Ani didn’t perform many of my personal favourites, I enjoyed a lot of the stuff from her latest album. Her opening act was a rather unknown act from Brooklyn called Pearl And The Beard. I liked their music a great deal, although the acoustics made it difficult for me to enjoy them as much as I’d have liked to. Their lead singer is a fabulous, eccentric lady, barely taller than I am, but with a belt voice that encompasses almost her entire range. It’s unusual to come across a white female who can belt without a break in her voice (no, it’s not racism, it’s just one of those weird biological facts learned throughout my years of vocal training.), but this band’s singer, Jocelyn, belts almost up to a high C. As an operatic soprano whose belt voice won’t even think about trying that, I’m both jealous and impressed….enough that I wanted to purchase their CD. Alas, it was sold out. We said a few words of congratulations to Jocelyn after the show and received hugs, so I hope to see and hear good things from them.

As for Ani, I think her voice only gets better with time. Like Tori Amos, she has an unusual, quirky voice that may fool you into thinking she lacks true vocal skill, but you’d be dead wrong (on both accounts.) Ani doesn’t have an interesting range or the ability to play with light and darkness in her voice the way Tori does, but she performs in a variety of styles and shows off a really strong voice when she chooses to. Other times, she chooses to take a Bob Dylan-esque, musical-without-singing, narrative approach. Both are equally compelling. As a person, I think she’s extraordinarily likable, slightly to the left of me in her personal and political views, and not afraid to tackle the controversial. This was my third Ani show, and I’ll keep seeing her, as long as she keeps coming to town.

This was my personal favourite from her latest album:

Ani DiFranco: Promiscuity

I made it through most of the concert without any unwanted feelings or panic attacks, until the bright blue gels went on and everything started flashing. I sat with my black wrap covering my head like a burka and using the hat The Guy I Am Currently Dating always wears as a shield. But,all in all, I’m glad I went to see the show.

In other news, I was invited to perform at an event at a local theatre, a monthly showcase called Write Club. It seems to consist mostly of actors, writers, and other theatrically-minded individuals. You’re given a challenge partner, and two sets of contrasting themes (i.e, Happy Vs. Sad.) It’s not improv; you have about two weeks to craft a 7-minute monologue, story, poem, performance art piece, essay, whatever you want to do. The person receiving the most applause “wins”, which pretty much means you’re entitled to choose a charity that one-third of the proceeds will go to benefit (there are three winners per night.) You also have the benefit of hearing some pretty interesting and talented people do their thing.

I submitted an application at the end of December, when on my “I’m going to break out of my comfort zone and focus on doing things I like, even if I’m sick” kick. I had rather forgotten about it, but was kind of impressed they wanted me to appear so soon after I’d submitted my application. It made me feel liked for a brief nano-second. :P

Since the show occurs the day after Valentine’s Day, the three themes are relationship related. Mine is “Stay Vs. Go”, and, appropriately enough, I have “Go”. I immediately wrote a piece that was funny and charming, in my own opinion, but since The Guy I Am Currently Dating has encouraged me to explore writing different pieces instead, I’m not sure he agrees with my assessment. The hardest part, of course, is fitting the story you’d like to tell into 7 minutes. On first reading, mine was 11. I had to edit my piece 5 times to get it down under 7 minutes, and there’s not much room for leeway still. I’m totally not used to editing, so of course, now I think the whole thing probably sucks. :P I’ll throw it under my bed somewhere with the rest of the random stuff that was a good creative idea at one time or another, but really wasn’t. :P

I also read Paulo Coelho’s Aleph, which I would have finished in one sitting, did I not have the terrible habit of only reading and writing late at night. Paulo Coelho is my favourite author, probably the best thing I got out of my time with someone I’ll likely never cross paths with again, but who made an impact upon my life in terms of love and spirituality and finding the essence of oneself. Not coincidentally, these are Coelho’s favourite themes. I enjoy some of his books more than others; the more abstract, philosophical stories he shares appeal to me on a much different level than those that read like a “My Trip To The Mayan Ruins’ docu-drama. Aleph is one of his strongest, along with “Eleven Minutes”, ““Veronika Decides To Die”, “The Alchemist”, and “The Witch Of Portobello”.. I have a habit, borne out of the friendship previously referenced, of sharing these books with those who touch my life in some extraordinary way…and are also the type to understand and appreciate the complexity of what’s being shared. This is certainly one I’ll be passing along.

On a similar note, I started reading a book called Yours Ever: People And Their Letters, a sad reminder of how bleak and emotionless our world will look 50 or 100 years from now, when impersonal communication has taken the place of the outpouring of ideas and feelings. I don’t think one person will be saving the tweets and e-mails of those who may potentially change the course of our world, which is a little sad. I think I am simply, at heart, part of a different era, one where communication and expression and vulnerability and human connection are valued….and not in blocks of 140 characters at a time. I think I may always continue to write little handwritten notes and cards, although it’s impractical and unfashionable.

The author of the book, Thomas Mallon, agrees:

In this electronic age, a letter is personal and permanent. It says you took the time and trouble to communicate. The impact of a letter is unique, whether you’re complaining about a disappointing purchase or declaring your love. The point is, write. A letter or a card is truly a unique gift—a piece of yourself.”

That being said, I’ve crafted some pretty memorable letters—both of the disappointed-and-pissed-off-with-your-product sort and the hopelessly-and-secretly-in-love-with-you sort, and sent them via e-mail. And I didn’t give myself an ulcer agonising for weeks until receiving a response. There are advantages to instantaneous communication.

I didn’t watch but the the last 3 minutes of the Super Bowl; I don’t follow football, commercials disinterest me, and it was largely too much work to turn on my TV to see Madonna. However, happy that New York came out victorious, since it’s only like the world’s most awesome place and stuff. :P
R

“Dying is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well. I do it so it feels like hell. I do it so it feels real. I guess you could say I’ve a calling.—Sylvia Plath

If you want some wiser, more positive, less self-pitying views on life, I’d totally skip reading my journal today and visit Letters Of Note: On The Meaning Of Life. Anything I have to say here is just going to piss you off if you’re the kind of person who only wants to surround themselves with positive light and energy and whatnot.

This week, it’s been really hard not to feel down on myself, and to feel as if I’m not really worthy of existing. In fact, it’s been kind of hard to remember why there’s much good about me existing at all.

It all started with some random person I don’t know harassing The Guy I Am Currently Dating, outing the fact that, *gaspshockawe*, I had changed my name in the past. The next day, I attended a birthday brunch for a friend where I apparently offended an overly politically-correct HR person by using the word “crazy” to describe my personal feelings/mental state while on certain anti-anxiety medications. I then offended her the next day by posting pictures of the event, wherein I tagged everyone I knew. She was one of the two people at the event who wasn’t a personal friend of mine on FB, but she left a snippy comment about how she and another person were invisible because they weren’t tagged. (you can only tag people on FB if they are friends, and you know their names.) Then, to round out the offense, she “friended” everyone she met at the event, conspicuously excluding The Guy I Am Currently Dating and myself.

Then, of course, there was the communication from “G” I posted yesterday; fat, crazy, horrible person, nobody cares about you, more negative reinforcement.

This was all topped off by trying to go and play trivia last night, which I could barely manage. The first place, Las Margaritas, plays their music so loudly you can hear it inside your car while in the parking lot. They then close off the room with the speakers, so it’s a self contained patio area, and have decorated it with tons of white Christmas lights and heat lamps for comfort. I lasted two question, and on the way out, was shaking and had the typical desire to repeatedly stab myself with a sharp object. (a common and particularly dangerous side effect of whatever causes my brain to become agitated. Sometimes, I actually do it. I don’t intend to harm myself, it’s just a release of the energy that makes me feel like my brain is going to explode. Like cutting, for people who hate blood. As I said, whatever is wrong with me very easily makes me feel “crazy”.

We then went to a second location, which wasn’t much better. It was a build-your-own-stir-fry/grill place with loud music and the relentless chop-chop-bang of a metal spatula. I felt dizzy the entire time, and the feeling of tingling and wanting to rip my skin off only disappeared when I went home, took an Advil, and laid down on the bed for awhile.

Sometimes, I feel so depressed and hopeless. I don’t feel like there’s anything good I have to offer the world, and all the people who hate me are right to range from not wanting a thing to do with me to mocking me behind my back to actively trying to harm my relationships and cause problems in my life. I can’t even go out of the house to engage in quiet, sedentary activities with friends, much less go to an event where I’m social and likeable. It hurts when people call me fat and make remarks about my weight problem, because I don’t know what to do about it. I’ve gained over 20 pounds in less than a year, and my doctor has told me I won’t lose an ounce as long as I’m on my current medications. However, quitting the beta blocker that makes people feel lethargic and cause weight gain has unwanted side effects like heart attacks, heart palpitations, panic attacks, and high blood pressure. It’s not my fault…none of this is…but it doesn’t mean I don’t hate myself because of it, and I don’t hate the way other people judge me when they look at me.

I’ve always been attractive; not thin, not pretty, but attractive. And I’ve always been energetic, the life of the party; not always the most charming or the most interesting, but always up for a good time. I’ve always wanted to go out, be around people…and this illness has taken all of that from me. Now I sometimes wish I never had to leave my house again, because I’d rather not have other people see me this way. I have friends and family spread out across the world who ask me when I’ll be up for visiting and traveling again, and the truth is, I need my friends and family more than anything in the world, but I don’t want them to see me like this. I want to be the person they remember, not this listless, moody, fat blob that’s nothing like me, and will either burst into tears, have a panic attack, or attempt to rip her skin off with a pencil at any given time.

I would give 10 years of my life just to be able to live this part of my life healthy and happy again. But the truth is, sometimes I have no idea if I have those years to give. Out of all the doctors I’ve seen, only one made a diagnosis, and all my reading points to the fact that it’s often a cop-out diagnosis, one they give when someone has odd neurological and inner ear symptoms, but there’s no logical indications why. I sometimes think maybe I have some tiny little thing in my brain; an aneurysm, a tumour, a lump where one doesn’t belong, or that my heart simply isn’t working right, causing me to gain weight and carry around more and more water by the day.

Some days, I hope the secret thing that $50,000 of inadequate and less-than-informed medical treatment couldn’t buy me a diagnosis for will just kill me and get it over with, so I don’t have to spend more days hating myself, hearing how much others hate me, being criticised constantly, having no defenses with which to handle life. I don’t want to spend more days missing what I used to look like, what I used to feel like, how easy it was to find joy in things.

So, today, when I read Gala Darling’s journal about making a list of 100 things you like about yourself, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I can’t think of a single thing worth adding to the list, except for the fact that I did my work, didn’t get fired, and didn’t let my dog starve all day.

Sometimes, I think about how I’d trade places with a terminally ill person if I could, so I’d have the definite answers I need, the closure and the ability to just disappear that I want…and that person would have the skills to cope with living the kind of life that’s been thrown my way, whereas all I can do is curl up in a ball and cry because of everything that seems lost. This…whatever it is…has taken away my ability to feel young, to feel attractive, to look attractive or interesting to anyone, to go to the grocery store, to go for a walk in the park, to randomly go out and drink with my friends after work, to be a supportive and loving friend, girlfriend, daughter, sister, to do anything worth anything in the world. I feel like I’m just a shell now, and maybe if I knew I only had a year left to live, I’d be relieved. I wouldn’t have the time to miss everything that I’ve lost, and I’ve lost so much, at so many different points of my life…I don’t have it in me to keep starting over. There’s only so much life can take from a person.

Sometimes, I just want to be at peace with my life, say my goodbyes, and know I don’t have to struggle every day of my life, or cry because I’m not better, and I can’t stand being the person I’ve become.

I honestly wouldn’t have one thing to put down on the list, much less 100. There isn’t much that’s good or unique or special or appealing or interesting about me, period. Sometimes, I don’t even know if I *am* anymore. I’m just leftover pieces of a girl who once had a very difficult, adventurous, colourful, and unconventional life.

I think someone else would be able to make better use of the pieces than I can.

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