As many of you have noticed, I stopped my daily blog entries before I could even get halfway though the A To Z Challenge. It is a lovely idea and a great group of people; I just honestly had no idea when I started this project in April that I’d also end up tackling a much tougher project: cutting back on my beta-blockers in an attempt to feel a little bit healthier.

I’m pleased to report that nearly 20 days after deciding to finally do something about the beta-blockers, I have successfully cut my dose in half. This is a much faster transition than doctor’s recommend, but one of the “special” things about me is that when I set my mind to do something, I tend to want to reach goals as fast as possible. I had a terrible two weeks of withdrawal and rebound symptoms, and know these symptoms may keep on going for a good while yet, after reading the experiences of others. But I’m proud of myself for making it this far.

One of the strange and most distressing symptoms is pain and swelling in my fingers, which make it difficult to write longer blog entries like this one. I’ve never had anything like this before, but do spend a large percentage of my day typing on electronics. I am hoping it is a temporary problem or side effect of drug withdrawals, and not an entirely new health issue or worrisome symptom of my “mystery illness”. In any case, all of this has caused me to simplify my life, check out of anything causing stress or deadlines, and having to give up on the A-To-Z challenge. I’d love if all of you who wrote supportive messages would keep coming back to visit, and my thanks for that support. I’m also very sorry for having to abandon something I was very excited over doing…that is not like me at all. I do tend to overload my plate with things I want to do and get very stressed out about that, and it just wasn’t something I could handle while going through withdrawal symptoms. I promise I will be back next year, though.

I do not know if cutting back on the beta-blockers has helped me, but it certainly hasn’t hurt. I’ve started to wake up earlier, started working even a minimal number of hours again, dropped a few pounds, and some days, I catch myself feeling way happier than I have in a long time.

One of the things that goes along with dealing with a chronic illness is that people think you’re depressed, especially when it changes your lifestyle from being the life of the party to being a bit of a recluse. Earlier in the week, The Guy I Am Currently Dating and I got into a fight because he found out I’d been spending time playing a game online every day, meeting new online friends, and didn’t mention it for a year or so. I understand why he was angry about it, that I kept something important to me a secret. However, when you’re sick, sometimes it’s important to have a space of your own, where people don’t treat you like someone who is sick…even the rare people you strike up friendships with via Skype or e-mail. It is important to have a space to just be yourself, the you that you were before something came along and took away pieces of your spirit and your life. It is important to meet other people, even strangers, who may be suffering in their own lives, but rarely talk about it because it is a relief to escape from the world and the people in it that consistently want to help, but just remind you that you’re not normal, and hurt you because you can’t give the thing they want: the old, energetic, healthy you back.

Sometimes, remembering what it’s like to be healthy for a few hours is more helpful to a person suffering with chronic illness that the most supportive and loving friend. You don’t love your friends any less, but when they are living out in your old life, in a world you can’t participate in, it kind of hurts and is hard not to be depressing or feel depressed after a while.

I do not generally feel depressed, even if I can’t go out and play. A friend of mine has told me that everything that has happened to me has made me a more substantial person. I am happy and appreciative of the small things; the TV shows I love, reading and writing, a lovely chat with a friend, a visit on the weekends, a surprise for no reason. I am no longer spending hours posting pictures of myself, and getting involved in arguments on Facebook, or spending every Sunday in bed with a hangover. I am not even killing myself with anxiety over sick family members, financial troubles, or even what has made me so ill for so long, and if there’s going to be a diagnosis or treatment. My primary focus in life is me and doing the things that make me happy, for maybe the first time in my life. Pleasing others is no longer something that is there to define me. It may seem selfish, and it may seem weird, but I am not depressed. Some days, I am even optimistic that a day will come when I have my life back, and still have that greater appreciation for the small things. Some days, I am even happy; I smile and I laugh. I am not always at peace with my situation, but I am at peace with myself more than I’ve ever been. There is a reason that when people are recovering from anything, whether it’s addiction, mental illness, or a physical ailment, “putting yourself first” becomes less of a foreign concept. I still feel guilty over it sometimes, but when “feeling the best you can today” becomes your most important thing, so many other things are secondary.

Healing, even a little bit at a time, is a personal journey…but I really do appreciate everyone who cares, everyone who leaves comments or chats with me on the internet or sends me Skype messages or posts things on Facebook I like. I know that The Guy I Am Currently Dating may be bored with all our “quiet time”, but the 100% truth is that I look forward to Friday nights with Boston Market and Amazing Race every bit as much as I did going to the coolest new restaurant, and drinking until 4 AM at the club. Yes, I still miss those things and someday, adventures may be part of my life. But for now, things that used to bore me and be met with a “Why can’t we DO something?” are now things to which I look forward.

Perhaps it’s fair to say all these struggles have helped me grow up, just a little, without my even noticing.

Thank you to everyone who is sharing my journey with me. It may not be the road I’d have chosen for my early 30’s, but I am not alone and I am not depressed. In fact, I’ve started feeling happier than I have in a long time, looking forward to things that are months away, without the caveat “If I’m still around”.

I would have liked to have the energy to finish my A To Z project, but instead, I spent April focused on healing, baby steps at a time, so that maybe I’ll be in a better place for next year’s A To Z April. 🙂

And who knows? Perhaps this less than desired chapter of my life will make a wonderful book someday.

I have been quite disappointed in myself, after making the commitment to do the A To Z challenge, that I was unable to keep up with it this week. It is particularly disappointing because I’ve already blogged about my tendency not to complete things and to be hard on myself when I do not succeed at things.

However, all of Monday had gone by in a blur, and at the end of everything, I was upset because the day disappeared and I hadn’t blogged. Then it was Tuesday, usually the busiest day of the week in my world, and I still had not blogged.

E is also for Easter, which was Sunday and a relaxing day. Easter happened to be overflowing with TV shows I wanted to see, and I also tried my hand at another “E” thing, eating. *laughs* In particular, I made soup in the Crock-Pot, which turned out better than I expected—specifically considering I don’t really know how to cook, but I use recipes as guidelines rather than instruction manuals. I think I ate about 8 bowls of soup over a three day period, before I decided I was souped out (note to self: cut recipes in half. Also, rice is bigger after it’s cooked for a while.) After successfully making the soup, I watched the Smurf movie, which was pretty smurfing cute!! 😛 I don’t really love animated movies; I only usually see them if they are something fantastic, and “cute” isn’t usually my cup of tea. But the movie was entertaining, surprisingly witty, and had a great cast.

E is also for Energy, and I had been in better spirits and having more of it. So, as happens every time I’m feeling positive, I decided to try to cut back on my beta-blocker. Although doctors like to deny it because they are so widely prescribed, many reputable studies and also personal observations have shown me that beta-blockers severely slow down your energy level, cause weight gain, bloating, and in some people, diabetes. However, for people like me who have a high pulse and an irregular heartbeat, it is one of the only effective treatments and significantly lowers your risk for heart attack or stroke. Since my mother started having both in her 50’s, both my brother and I were put on beta-blockers at the first sign of “something’s wrong”. During my trip to the ER after the episode recounted in “B Is For Beach”, the doctors found I had PAT: Paroxysmal Atrial Tachycardia. My heart rate will randomly speed up, trigger heart palpitations and panic attacks. It is not entirely uncommon and not life-threatening, but an episode will keep you in bed or send you to the ER– and the beta blocker put an end to them almost completely. However, the side effects are terrible, even after 4 years.

Worse yet, my doctor denies things like the beta-blocker being responsible for weight gain and fluid retention (even though it has happened to almost everyone I know who takes them. Recently, a friend was put on them, and his doctor immediately put him on a low-carb diet before the pills even took effect.), and also does not understand why I cannot seem to cut back the dosage of this medication. I have tried multiple times, but after doing extensive research on the internet, learned that “rebound symptoms” were common. Cut back on your medication, symptoms of whatever made you take it to begin with return. I’ve never gotten past 4 days of even a small reduction, and my doctor gave me the OK to cut my dose in half. When my blood pressure started to read 92/58, I got scared, and decided it was time to try again.

Today is day 4, and the side effects have been terrible. I feel sad and just want to lie in bed all day, and the smallest thing going wrong makes me want to bury myself in a hole and never come out. My hands shake, and one night, felt so dry and swollen I couldn’t move them. I had a heart palpitation, my BP is up (it’s actually normal, which to me feels like I am riding a rollercoaster), and I generally feel scared. Still, I’ve done everything I can to stick to taking that little piece of pill away every day. It made me feel comforted to know at the same time, another friend has been struggling to cut back on his terrible smoking habit, and his symptoms and struggles aren’t much different. I try to remind myself that if I keep focused on the goal and don’t panic, I can do this thing that will help in the long run. But it is hard on my mind, my body, and my emotions.

I almost quite trying on Monday evening, when E was for Emergency. I had a text from my brother saying my dad was in hospital again. One of the things that scares me about my own health is how unhealthy my own parents are, in their mid-60’s. My dad has stage IV prostate cancer that’s spread to the bones, and is currently doing chemotherapy and injections to shrink the tumours. He also suffers from Lymphedema, is over 500 pounds, and has been confined to a bed and wheelchair for about 6 years. One of the side effects is an inability to get enough oxygen into his body, and although he has a machine to help with this, he doesn’t use it. So, when trying to get into his wheelchair, he fell, and the doctors discovered his carbon dioxide level was at 95%. He is currently in a medically induced coma while they get his body balanced. It is perhaps the third time this has happened. Yet, my dad refuses to go to a nursing home where trained professionals can give him 24/7 care. It is a very tough situation, and it upsets me that my own health issues keep me from being able to travel to see my family.

I try not to beat myself up for forgetting to blog in the midst of all this, and my body struggling with itself to even do simple tasks—but it does feel a lot like “F”, which is failure.

At this point in my life, I need a win. I need something to go right. I need to do something I didn’t screw up along the way. I need to fight for every day to be a good one, even if my quality of life isn’t what it used to be and may never be the same again. It’s too easy to give up hope and not find anything to smile about when you wake up in the morning, when everyone should be smiling just because they woke up in the morning. There is so much in life I don’t have the means, ability, or knowledge to control, making sure that there are little successes where I can find them is important to me–even if it just means writing on this blog every day.

I may only be able to live a “C” kind of life these days, but it’s way better than an “F” kind of life.

When I was a little girl, I learned to read at a very early age, around two. I was already a very verbally precocious child; I learned to speak very early on, and by two, loved to sing almost anything. So, when I started “reading books” to people around me, my parents of course thought I was merely repeating the stories I heard, crediting me with a fairly good memory. So, of course, they did what all parents do, and tricked me. They took away all my books and replaced them with new ones I hadn’t read. Of course, I started to read them, and it was official: I was labeled a “gifted child”.

However, I had a fault that would show up in most aspects of my life…I tended to use my gifts more for evil than good. By the time I was about 9, I knew more about sex,marriage, and relationships than many 22 year-olds, courtesy of all the Danielle Steel and Nora Roberts books my mother and aunt left lying about. I learned a lot of British history and developed a lifelong fondness for historical fiction via reading Kathleen Windsor’s often banned “Forever Amber“. I learned about adultery and bad marriages and getting away with murder via “Presumed Innocent” and “Reversal Of Fortune”.

And like most pre-teens with a dark side who would later become angsty teenagers with dark nails and too much eyeliner, I was obsessed with the dark, Gothic, “this-couldn’t-get-any-more-wrong” stories from V.C. Andrews, particularly the “Flowers In The Attic” series.

For those who haven’t read V.C. Andrews, they are written on about a 9th grade reading level, but are full of things you don’t want your pre-adolescent daughters reading about; violence, sex, always a parent who dies, incest, beautiful women who kill (often their childen), innocent young girls with artistic gifts who get pregnant as teenagers. an evil someone locked in something, adult men who like teenage girls…as many taboos as you can fit into one story.

Of course, all the books and all the series were usually the same, and followed the Victorian gothic “damsel in distress who becomes empowered” model, only set in upper-class Southern society. The haunted mansions didn’t differ much between London and Virginia. Yet, I read them all, and I even remember a great many of them today…even that Flowers In The Attic is this hugely creepy story about the Dollanganger family.

Of course, the first book was published before I was even born, so I was reading some of these books between 10-15 years after publication. If they were scandalous and banned then (I remember having a V.C. Andrews book confiscated for reading it during study hall), I can only imagine the trouble they caused in the 1970’s. I would later learn that most of V.C. Andrews’ books weren’t even written by her; she died when I was only a child, and her estate took over writing the books.

So, of course I was thrilled to see they were remaking this story I never forgot into a cleaned-up, accessible version for cable, broadcast on Lifetime, and starring Ellen Burstyn and Heather Graham (who is a terrible actress, but looks the part.) And when I heard they were debuting the third movie, If There Be Thorns, on Sunday (Easter Sunday, oddly), it was some odd coincidence that the second film was on that same night.

Of course I watched it, and of course it was the same trashy soap opera that the books were, but they reminded me of being 9 years old and absolutely devouring these twisted stories. And although most teenage girls have read V.C. Andrews’ books, especially girls who grew up in the 1980’s or 1990’s, I have a confession to make that is somewhat embarrassing.

Most people who know me knew that when I was very much younger, I fell in love with someone online and flew to meet him—in the days when doing that was weird and taboo and not an MTV show or Match.Com ad. I did so much to try to make a good impression, and I arrived in New Orleans about a day and a half before we agreed to meet. I had left a copy of a V.C. Andrews novel lying on a chair in the little 2 bedroom apartment I was staying in, and didn’t think twice about wanting to read it when he was sleeping or in the shower.

Before we broke up, he told me a few things that had surprised and disappointed him, and one was that I was not as high-brow and cultured as I’d wanted him to believe, because I was 21 and reading V.C. Andrews. *laughs*

I’m now in my early 30’s, and looking forward to a twisted Lifetime movie based on a V.C. Andrews book. Uncultured and low-brow? Perhaps. But nobody in the history of ever said “Hey, I can’t wait to see that War & Peace movie!”.

(* I’ve also read War And Peace)
(** You can’t wait for war so something interesting happens.)

Am I the only one? Who remembers “Flowers In The Attic” as some sort of adolescent rite of passage?

“Average. It was the worst, most disgusting word in the English language. Nothing meaningful or worthwhile ever came from that word.”
― Portia de Rossi, Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain

Today, I wasn’t feeling entirely well, and while I was resting and thinking about what today’s blog topic should be, I drew a blank. The only thing that popped into my head was the Sesame Street song from my childhood, “C Is For Cookie”.

It also got me to thinking how as a teenager, the same kids who learned along with that song would sing it in relationship to grades (since a C or above constituted a passing mark). It was, in a way, a song about accepting mediocrity and the realisation that sometimes, just squeaking by got you the same results as trying extremely hard.

Like many people in my generation, I suffer from a love-hate relationship with both laziness and perfectionism, which are often two sides of the same coin. Of course, sometimes laziness is just laziness–a lack of focus, a lack of discipline, not feeling like doing something because it’s hard and not that much fun. On the other hand, often laziness covers up the feelings that lurk behind laziness: You can’t fail if you don’t even try.

I think this is a common problem amongst people who describe themselves as lazy, ordinary, or not really that great at things. I know it always has been for me; all the auditions I never went to, the stories I never submitted, the books I never published, the jobs I never applied for, I tend to let people think didn’t work out because I’m a bit lazy, a bit disorganised, a bit immature. But the truth of the matter is, although I am a little bit of those things, I also consider myself an extremely ordinary person. There is always a voice in my head that says, “You aren’t special, and you’ll never be good enough.” I don’t know where the voice comes from. If anything, I spent most of my time until my early 20’s being an overachiever. If there was something I could do, I wanted to do it better than anyone else. If there was something I couldn’t do well–say, perhaps, playing volleyball or figuring out how to put furniture together– I tended to not try at all.If I didn’t even reasonably stand a chance at being the best at something, I didn’t do it at all.

This problem has followed me into adulthood, and left me with issues regarding laziness, procrastination, and a general lack of self-esteem. Recently, I had a dream in which I was attending an audition where all the other girls there were tall, beautiful, sexy, charismatic, and danced perfectly…and then there was me, kind of resembling Mary Catherine Gallagher from the infamous SNL “Superstar” skit.

Tonight, before I wrote this blog, The Guy I Am Currently Dating and I watched an episode of The Goldbergs, and in it, the teenage daughter–who is actually pretty, bright, popular, and talented—decides she wants to become a pop star, like most teenagers somewhere along the way. Most kids want to be an actor, a singer, a movie star, the President, anything but an ordinary person. There is this feeling of “If only I were special, life would be easier”, and for some of us, that doesn’t go away with age. In the show, her parents attempt to crush her unrealistic dreams, but what does that is realising that every girl her age thinks they are just as special, just as talented, just as likely to be famous someday. Everyone shows up to the rock concert with a homemade demo, hoping something wonderful will happen and someone will say, “Wow, you’re really special”.

But it doesn’t happen, because in reality, most people don’t have extraordinary gifts. And for people like me, who grew up with very high expectations and surrounded herself with high-achieving, way-more-perfect people all the way into adulthood, the hardest thing to come to terms with is “being ordinary”. If you happen to be able to do a whole lot of things averagely well, is anything about you special at all? Should you even bother doing those things, knowing that so few people will ever really notice? Should you bother to speak if nobody’s listening? If you’re in a group of people where everyone is more accomplished, better-looking, more intelligent, more charming, is it normal to feel so inadequate you wish you could disappear–and wonder if anyone sees you?

I don’t think it is, and “not being special” has held me back from doing a lot of things and taking a lot of chances. I’ve always waited for the “someday” when I was more perfect, and as karma and time would have it, you often become more damaged and less perfect as time goes on. I do not even want people to see me until I’m able to be the person I could and should be, because I can’t stand being the one in the group who isn’t good enough, whom everyone laughs at.

I don’t know why I am this way; the same quality that’s led me to have a larger-than-life personality and a unique appearance and a quirky way of looking at and experiencing the world hides a very deep insecurity, one that says “When I try to be like everyone else and accept being just an ordinary person, nobody knows I’m here”.

The “C Is For Cookie, And That’s Good Enough For Me” mentality was never one I could deal with…yet looking at myself realistically, as an adult, I’m a C kind of person, one who isn’t going to be famous or change the world or be the most interesting person in the room. I’ll usually be less interesting in a social setting than my prettier friend, less noticeable in intelligent conversation than my more accomplished friend, less everything in most situations.

And somewhere along the line, I know the trick is stop caring how other people see you–even if you agree with them—and to just be happy with the little things. It is important to just accept being you.

It was much easier when we were all kids and were willing to make fools of ourselves because we genuinely thought we were showing the world we were special. In reality, that confidence and courage is special, because most of us don’t have it as adults. Not even people like me, who wear glitter and fascinators and have loud voices, and “suck all the air out of the room”. Not even that guy or girl with the great job, the perfect hair, the “just came from the gym” body, and all the friends. Not the woman who has all the kids but manages to still do everything perfectly. We’re all kind of faking it, hoping the world will see something better than a C. So many times, we don’t try, because we’re afraid that the only thing worse than failing is being unremarkable.

Today, I wrote this blog. It was not a masterpiece, and it was perhaps not even very good. It is sitting on the internet, where people, many of whom are better writers than I am, might read it and laugh at it.

I’m learning to be OK with that, because C is for cookie, and at some point, that has to be good enough for me.

C is also for courage, and I sometimes like to think it takes a little of that to write about what everyone else is feeling, but would never tell you.

A lot of the time, I am afraid I am not good enough and there never will be anything remarkable about me. What gives me comfort is knowing I can’t possibly be the only one who feels this way.

The Guy I Am Currently Dating told me I could have a special surprise if I finished this blog before midnight, and I did. I’m going to laugh if it happens to be a cookie.