You may have noticed that I’ve been strangely MIA from this blog for awhile. There are a lot of reasons I could give, from trying to work out feelings and relationship issues with people in my life, to having work to do, to feeling absolutely uninspired to do anything because I am now permitted to watch 7 hours of TV each night, thanks to the simultaneous airing of the Olympics, Big Brother 14, and Showtime’s Big Brother After Dark.

The real reason is, however, that I simply have blogger’s block. It’s a condition similar to writer’s block, only it’s one where you realise you have nothing interesting to blog about because it’s been ages since something interesting happened to you. I find myself struggling to hold up my end of the conversation in talks with even my closest friends, and if you ask any of them, you’ll hear testimony about my innate ability to have 6-hour phone calls or sit at a bar talking until it closes down at 3 AM. Therefore, my sudden realisation that I have nothing to discuss really frightens me.

“OMG!!!! I have become old and boring! When did this happen? Do I still have friends? Will anyone ever be attracted to me ever again? HELP!!!”

Yeah, it goes something like that. You see, I’ve always relied on my sparkling wit, snarky conversational skills, flirtatious banter, and penchant for not shutting up to carry me far in life. I am very ill-equipped to be an introvert. I am even more ill-equipped to be an introvert with a blog.

This exile from life is largely self-imposed. I really do have work to be done, and I really do love the Olympics and Big Brother. I’ve also spent a lot of my free time working on promoting and completing my first book of poetry, Ophelia’s Wayward Muse, for which I’m fundraising on Kickstarter.

“OMG! Why was I so ambitious in thinking people would care about this? I only have 9 days left to raise $175, and people aren’t donating! Is it because my writing sucks? Is it because I don’t have any friends? WHYYYYY? HELP!!”

Yeah, it’s kind of something like that. (But seriously, if you read this blog on a regular basis, you should donate. It either means you’re my friend, or what I write doesn’t suck, and I need the validation…in the form of monetary donations. It will allow me to publish something offline for which I will request more validation. Please keep enabling me. It makes my day. ;P)

The summer is the main reason for my self-imposed exile. It was only a year ago that I was paying regular visits to doctors, hospitals, and emergency rooms, and preoccupied with the idea that I was not going to live to see 2012. Obviously, I am still here (which actually caused me to lose a bet with a friend. Yes, I have the kind of friends willing to bet on the likelihood of my impending death. I totally think that’s awesome.), although there’s about 25 pounds more of me. In a way, that’s a kind of, sort of death, when you can no longer fit into your favourite outfits because you need to take pills that make you fat, sleepy, and hungry. It turns out, the doctors disagree with me. They call this a “minor side effect” and tell me my “symptoms are responding well to medication”.

One thing they can’t treat, though, is the effect that last year’s heat exhaustion/sunburn/massive infection/dehydration/malnutrition episode had on the part of my body that regulates my temperature. I’ve always had a hard time with that, being the kind of person who felt perfectly comfortable in 110 degree heat until I suddenly passed out. If I get caught in the rain, I’m freezing, and need to take a hot shower, and then have an evening of flu-like symptoms. My hypothalamus and I have never been good friends. However, being sick has taken things to a new level.

Of course, summer in Atlanta means every day brings a balmy 93-degree day (which feels like 97 degrees.) Even when I venture out to air-conditioned places, I find myself feeling overheated and dizzy. Touching my arm will reveal you can fry an egg on it. I decimate ice cubes on contact. Summer and I used to get along very well, but we have officially broken up. I’m considering relocating to Seattle, or SoCal.

I should be thankful. This summer is not one of hospital visits, panic attacks, and unpleasant tests. Medical professionals seem to think I am getting better, even if I don’t always feel that way. “Taking it easy because it’s too hot outside for my body to handle” shouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Yet, it makes me feel like someone who isn’t me. I have no interesting stories to relate, no drama to entertain me, and no silly pictures for Facebook. I haven’t been to the eyebrow waxing lady in 6 weeks, and the results are sad. Living vicariously through those around me helps, but those around me have been either stressed-out, sick, or both lately, and I’d like to hide from that a bit.

Basically, I can’t wait until the fall arrives. I’m hoping to be well enough to travel, to go out with friends, and to get back to feeling like my old self again. In the meantime, I’m just making the most of my downtime. :)

Today, I’m going to take the time to address some questions that people have sent to me, or have come to my page looking for advice about, regarding medications and illness. If this doesn’t apply to you, just skip. :)

Because I’ve blogged about my medical journey pretty extensively, I get people who end up on this page looking for information on the drugs that have aided in my recovery, Atenolol (Tenormin) and Diazepam (Valium). I’m on Atenolol because since getting sick, I’ve developed an abnormally high pulse rate, and also suffer migraines with aura. (I have always had headaches. I just blamed them on sinus troubles and allergies, which I don’t have. Turns out, I have migraines. Fortunately, they are not as severe as some suffer from.) I’m on Valium because I suffer from a vestibular disorder that causes vertigo, light sensitivity, and migraines. These things also cause anxiety and panic attacks. I was also prescribed Klonopin to take during panic attacks. Since discovering that my panic attacks were related to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar is a side effect of beta-blockers) or an impending “migraine with aura” attack (which last about 20-30 minutes for me), I have learned to manage my symptoms without using the Klonopin…so, I’ve gone about 8 months without a severe, full-on panic attack where I had to be medicated.

For those who come here asking about Atenolol and Valium, and “do they work”, my personal experience is yes. They do. Valium isn’t a good drug for everyone; some people find it highly addictive and within a year, are increasing their doses outrageously. I’m on a relatively low “maintenance” dose of 7.5 mg a day, and only take an extra quarter tablet when symptoms of vertigo or panic arise. Other drugs, such as Xanax and Klonopin treat anxiety, but do not treat vertigo, migraines, or other neurological symptoms. I’ve had bad experiences taking these, and other treatments for vestibular disorder and migraine have had no effect on me. People ask if Valium makes you eat more, or causes you to lose your appetite. It actually does neither for me.

Atenolol is a different story. It’s a tough drug to acclimate to, and I know at least 3 people who needed to get off of it fairly quickly because of the side effects. A common question seems to center around Atenolol and weight, and whether what someone is experiencing is normal.

In my experience, unfortunately, yes. I gained a fifth of my body weight in a year while on Atenolol. Most of that was in the first 3 months of using it. It took that long to realise that the medication was screwing around with my blood sugar, causing me to be hungry all the time, and to eat food I wouldn’t normally eat. On top of it, Atenolol is designed to cut down your cardiac load, so your metabolism slows and you don’t burn calories. When you first start the medication, you’ll feel like sleeping 10 hours a night and your doctor will tell you no cardio. Once you adjust, you will be able to exercise again, and will likely be advised to eat a certain kind of diet, depending on why you went on the drug in the first place. (usually it’s a low-carb, low-salt diet for high blood pressure sufferers. My doctor recommended a low-glycemic diet for me, since I don’t have a history of blood pressure issues.) Some people continue to gain weight no matter what on Atenolol. I have a friend who gained over 70 pounds. This is true of many beta-blockers, alpha-blockers, and calcium-channel blockers. If you keep gaining after the first 8 weeks, see about switching medications. Do NOT abruptly stop taking your beta-blocker, replace it with an anxiety pill, or even decide to cut it in half. Withdrawals are not only hard on you, they can be life-threatening. I speak from personal experience. I didn’t like the weight issue, so stopped taking the Atenolol after 6 months of positive results from it. I actually noticed my blood pressure drop, so thought this was an awesome choice. 4 days later, I almost fell down the stairs because the world went fuzzy and black on me. You’d better believe I took the beta-blocker immediately. Not only was my blood sugar dangerously low from withdrawals, so was my blood pressure. If you decide to quit your beta-blocker, your doctor recommends what amounts to a 12-week slow detox.

After that episode, I decided to stick with the drug. I went from 10 migraines with aura a month and unpleasant panic attacks to 5, and then one month, I noticed I didn’t have any at all. I noticed that cutting calories and trying to be as “normal’ as possible put a halt to the weight gain. When I pig out on foods loaded with carbs and salt, the scale will go up 5 pounds overnight. You can’t do this. People on beta-blockers should aim for a low-carb, protein-rich diet, and eat 5 small meals a day to maintain blood sugar. I have caffeine sometimes. I have chocolate. But I have them in smaller amounts, and see no negative results. (Note: I have not been able to tolerate coffee or espresso since starting this medication. Heart palpitations resulted.) I no longer suffer from agoraphobia because I’m afraid of having a panic attack in public.

People ask me whether or not they should lower their calorie intake to 1000 or 800 calories because they’ve been put on this drug and can’t burn calories like they should. Your doctor will tell you no. However, I’m slightly under 5 feet tall, and my pre-medication caloric suggestion was only 1300 calories per day. So, yes, on days when I am basically on bed rest, I will cut my calories to 800. If you’re 5’10″ and 190 pounds, you won’t be able to get away with this. Also, I only take 25 mg per day of the drug. If you’re on a higher dosage, eating that little will endanger your health. Don’t do it.

It’s really hard to cut calories that dramatically, anyhow, because Atenolol makes you really hungry and messes with your blood sugar. Even if you only eat 800 calories, they need to be spaced out throughout the day.

It’s hard to lose weight on Atenolol, and although the literature tells you to expect to gain 5 pounds on a beta-blocker, the reality is that it’s significantly more for many, many people. It sucks. But side effects are the same from other heart medications, as well as depression, anxiety, and migraine treatments. Just know there are a ton of people out there who feel the same way you do. I Googled countless message boards about the subject, only to hear the same stories, over and over again. These pills make you fatter. But for many, they also give you back a reasonable quality of life, and prevent life-endangering consequences. You may not have to be on the beta-blocker forever, and when you’re free of it, you can cardio to your heart’s content. (literally!)

I hope that answers some of the questions that have come my way! Please keep in mind, I’m not a doctor, and if you have issues with your medication, you need to talk to yours. Get a second, or third, opinion if necessary. I’m just a girl who has decided to relate her personal struggle with a sudden onset, chronic illness with the world. Each person is going to have a different experience.

I will say that, although I’m not always happy with my body or my lack of energy, the treatment I’ve received has resulted in a slow but steady improvement of my symptoms. I have a great support network of friends, people who love me no matter how big my hips get, and being very straightforward about my illness means people tend to understand when something goes wrong. I’m pretty lucky. But I don’t have the energy and the stamina for getting out in the world I once did. This is frustrating to me, often. I want to be better and healthy NOW, before I’m too old to enjoy life. I have to remind myself that sometimes, there’s a part of your life where it’s necessary to be a turtle. Some days are slow. Some days, you hide in your shell. But, eventually, you get there. :)

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.

Since I’ve been told this is one of my more entertaining stories, I’m happy to report that there’s yet a new chapter to the saga of the rather imbalanced girl I’ve referred to as “G” on this blog. If you haven’t heard the first two parts to this story, you should catch up with the beginning here., and I’ll re-tell the last bit (apologies to my regular readers) in order to keep the flow of the story working well.

We figured she was gone for good, but after New Year’s Day had barely drawn to a conclusion, this message showed up in the e-mail box of The Guy I Am Currently Dating. (for some reason, she has no inclination to communicate with me.)

“I was fortunate enough to attend a New Year’s Eve party with Ron Glass, inter alia. He found the story of the pasty conceited fanboy and his fat defensive girlfriend as hilarious as the rest of the group did.”

The Guy I Am Currently Dating succinctly responded:

It is sad you are still obsessed with me.

I am never quite as succinct, and not one to mince words, or to let things go. Thus, I took the time to send a proper response:

Sweetheart, dollars to donuts (an appropriate metaphor here.) you weigh more than I do. And you’re not exactly Snooki in the paleness department, so you’re kind of opening yourself up for some unwanted attention in how you characterise others. As for me, I’ve gained 20 pounds recently due to heart medication..it takes a rather cruel person to mock someone’s physical appearance during their time of illness. Perhaps you should add that to your funny story!

Ah, and as a former actress, I know people everywhere. If you tell the story socially again, use our names, please….you might find yourself in a rather awkward situation. In fact, I worked in London for some time (I’m assuming that’s where you are.) and one of my best friends is working on assignment over there right now. Karma, my dear. Tell the story to everyone in the world, and we don’t give a shit…but karma will bite you in the ass every time.

The response:

“Yahoo has blocked this e-mail

Being the rather computer savvy individuals we are, we discovered that the e-mail was sent from a small town outside of Seattle, Washington…not nearly as far out of the country as we’d imagined. Nevertheless, we concluded perhaps she was visiting family, or her rick banker boyfriend really did exist, and was in Seattle. Either way, we sort of let the matter go, except for bringing it up at a post-dinner gathering, where another guy present that day told us she’d suggested, in the middle of dinner, that the two of them leave and go for dinner somewhere more private.

It appears that it bugs her immensely that my fat ass continues to wins more friends and admirers than her personality.

Again, since it was about a month since that interchange, we figured the communication was at an end. Of course, that wasn’t the case. And, once again, rather than responding to me directly, she chose to e-mail The Guy I Am Currently Dating. I don’t know whether it’s because she doesn’t talk to women, wants to involve him in the drama, or is just scared to hit the “Reply” button and answer my note, but she consistently goes through him.

What we got was this:

I think this rather speaks for itself. I don’t understand why she consistently mentions her fiance, who is now supposedly her husband, and how much money he has. It’s no secret that I’ve had admirers and ex-whatevers in my past that aren’t exactly broke…but what I’ve learned is that defining yourself based on how much money your significant other earns means you must think terribly little about yourself and your own accomplishments in life. We still have no idea whether or not this person is real. We’ve never met him, and her behaviour in public has always been that of a single woman rapidly exiting her 30′s and desperate for male attention. Even her photo, when she was on my Meetup, was of her in some sort of negligee, 15 years and 20 pounds thinner than the real life person. Even at that age and weight, the effect was not alluring, but sad. If she is married, it’s no wonder her husband snoops through her e-mail.

I also don’t understand why my mentioning anyone would care about my weight and health issues (and I’d hardly consider putting on another 20 pounds a “weight issue”, although it’s problematic to me, and apparently to this girl.) is taken as self-absorbed. I only pointed out that before people call others “fat”, maybe they should consider that that person is suffering through greater problems in life than food and body image issues, and the negativity is cruel. I find her lack of ability to empathise with others a bit disturbing; one of the hallmarks of both narcissistic and psychopathic personalities.

If I knew where she lived, I’d invest $10 in sending her a new dictionary, so she can spell things correctly when she’s attempting to put others in their place. Although, from what I hear, she has a husband who can afford it.

Seriously, are all people this disturbed, or just ones we meet in Atlanta?

We must overcome the notion that we must be regular. It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary, and leads you to the mediocre.”—Uta Hagen

Life has been a fairly stressful endeavour for me lately, but I feel as if I’ve been pushing myself, and I think that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, largely due to the types of drugs I am on, I don’t really have much stamina and endurance anymore. I used to be able to sit and work all night long if I needed to, or stay out until the sun came up, partying with my friends. These days, at some point, I inevitably start to feel tired and shaky and as if the only place I want to spend time is my bed.

The main stressor in my life is the work situation; courtesy of some recent changes, I’m working twice as hard (or at least 1.5 times as hard), but the net result is a paycheck that’s 50% smaller. I know this has probably caused some people to either decide to leave the company, or to buckle down and try to become a veritable factory of quality work, but I need stable income in order to pay my bills, never mind get the medical care I need. The logical alternative is to work harder and try to complete more articles per day, or look for additional projects to supplement my income, but my lack of stamina doesn’t just affect me physically. After 4-5 hours of solid, undisturbed work, I feel both physically and emotionally exhausted. It is the time in my life I can least afford to be ill, and yet I have little to say about the whole deal. On top of it, the company has now instituted a 24-hour turnaround on all assignments, and have made it clear they don’t intend to be too forgiving towards those who don’t meet deadlines. I suppose they look at it as if everyone’s replaceable, and nobody indispensable, which is largely true.

Yet, I’ve been doing my best to restructure my life to make myself stronger and keep up. I don’t really have the extra time and energy to seek out new assignments, or try to find a new job, so it’s mostly taking it one day at a time. It’s just a sad realisation that I won’t be able to make it working on a freelance basis with this pay cut. For over a year, I’ve made a nice income for a single person…more than I’d make working in an office, waiting tables, or giving people coffee at Starbucks. It’s even more than I’d make becoming a teacher or whatever else people with degrees in liberal arts subjects end up doing. But, that’s the income I need to make in order to improve my life…and it would have, significantly, had I not gotten seriously ill in 2011…and not half that sum. :( I don’t feel like I have a lot of options, and I feel a bit depressed about everything sometimes, which is far from productive. I just wonder why someone with as many talents, varied life experience, and unusual personality as I possess can’t figure out how to use any of those assets to get a stable career that I enjoy off the ground. Sometimes, I wonder if work just isn’t my thing; other aspects of life have always come easily to me. I was always smart enough to do well in school, personable enough to succeed in the social aspects of life, interesting enough to not have trouble meeting people to date or starting relationships, clever enough to formulate a nice place to live even when I had very little. When it comes to money, though, I have always struggled.

Herein lies the problem. I like money. I like shopping and martinis and nice restaurants and jewelry. And I am not lazy; if I knew what I needed to do to make the sort of money I need to comfortably engage in the type of lifestyle I’d like to have, I’d do it. I don’t want to be a millionaire, or part of the 1%, or even well-to-do. I just want to never have to worry about the practicalities of life, and still engage in the little frivolities that make my world a better place.

All the things that interest and intrigue me aren’t skills that translate to making money; the blogging habit I’ve had for 10 years, the book I’m working on (that nobody will ever read), the poetry I write, the parties I throw, the events I plan, even if I were to take up acting again. Nobody pays you just to be unique and creative and different and fabulous in that weird way that makes you stand out. It wins you friends and admirers, it makes you enemies, it throws adventures in your path, it makes life interesting…but it does not pay your bills, or your medical expenses.

For those who don’t know, in addition to recently being diagnosed with a vestibular disorder called vestibular neuronitis, I’ve also been diagnosed with panic disorder. Panic disorder sucks, and I don’t know why I’ve suffered with it for the past six months, but after reading the Wikipedia entry on it, it’s clear that I have it. I believe I developed it when I developed the vestibular neuronitis, following a severe sunburn and subsequent infection and dehydration from not taking care of myself wisely on the beach. I had a number of panic attacks over a period of two or three weeks before visiting the ER for help, and the ER, as well as a number of doctors who misdiagnosed my symptoms, put me on drugs with some terrible side effects. The result is that any time anything feels wrong with my body, I have a type of panic attack. It can range from mild enough that it’s gone within 30 seconds of changing my surroundings to needing to take an extra 2 milligrams of Valium to simply needing to leave and go home. (the last kind, the most severe kind, typically triggers a migraine. Within an hour or two of rest, Coca-Cola, and someone comforting me, I am typically better, although left very drained.).

The doctors have recommended that I see both a specialist for vestibular rehab and a psychiatrist who specialises in panic and anxiety disorders. I’ve been a little hesitant about doing these things, although I know I need to, because I know they may make me feel worse for awhile before things improve…and I simply don’t have the time to feel worse. I can’t afford to get fired because I was too busy freaking out to work.

I also would like to get off my current medications, the ones that cause me to resemble the Goodyear blimp and gain weight if I eat more than 800 calories a day. Psychiatrists, on the other hand, just want to switch you to whatever drug of choice they believe is most helpful. I have at least four types of commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medicines in my cabinet. They all made me feel like I’d rather discontinue existing than take that pill, which seems kind of contrary to the point.

They also told me about something called “cognitive behavioural therapy”, where I teach my brain to react in more positive ways. (obviously, nobody gets that my mind and body falling apart are reasons for my brain to feel less than positive, and for me to every day remind myself “What the hell happened to the charming and attractive person I used to be?”.) It’s basically “face the fear and do it anyway, unless you have a panic attack”.

So, I’ve been trying. I went out to dinner with a number of friends on Friday, and when I got there, immediately felt lightheaded and dizzy because we were seated on the highest possible level (seriously, in another room, we could stand on a chair and touch the roof. If it were a house, it would be really cute and I’d love it. ) There were also flickering lights, both of which seem to trigger vertigo and feelings of panic. I managed to ignore it, and even stood up for about 15 minutes to converse with people at the other end of the table. (standing up for too long often makes me want to fall down.) In the end, it ended up being a very good night, but it took a lot of discussion with my brain to get me to that point.

Today, I decided I was tired of being fat, when the scale hit the highest number I’ve ever seen in my life. My metabolism is slowing down to the point where I could not eat for days and not lose a pound (yet, I can’t do that, because the drugs I’m on make me light-headed and mess with my blood sugar if I don’t eat enough.), and I know/have heard of people on the drugs I’m on gaining 50-75 pounds. There is no way I’m letting that happen to my body. So, I decided to fight back and go for a 10 minute walk. It was exhausting, since one of my anxiety triggers is wide, open, overwhelming spaces. (I can’t set foot into Target without hyperventilating, which is apparently not uncommon for people with this inner ear disorder.)

I felt panic setting in twice, but I focused on telling my brain “NO, I’m going to walk for 10 minutes, period.”. Every other day, I’m going to add a minute to my walk, and slowly try to increase my endurance. This will, of course, not burn any calories, but at least it will get me outside again.

My well-intentioned roommate cooked tonight, making a chicken pot pie recipe he found on the low-glycemic recipe site I sent him. Little did I know, he “adapted” it, adding a ton of fat and calories and carbs. He really is a very good cook, and I applaud him learning to cook…but since he has, not only has he gained a noticeable amount of weight, his best friend is also starting to sport a bit of a belly. It could be that we’re all going through middle age, but I think it’s more of a “Don’t cook like Paula Deen” issue.

I may have to learn to cook healthy recipes, although I hate cooking, so I know I have control over what’s in what I’m eating. The problem: I really hate cooking.

I never knew that feeling and being healthy could be so difficult. I always took health so much for granted. I’d give absolutely anything to be able to rewind my life a year, and feel the way I did then. I would never take the ability to feel and look good, to seem “normal”, for granted again.

The only blessing that I have in my life is the supportive network of friends who seem to care and stick beside me, no matter what. I know they miss the person I used to be, too, but I’ve gotten an immense amount of support through things. The prideful, egoistic part of me simply wants to hide away from everyone until I’m better, rather than have people ridicule me for being fat or talk about how difficult I was the last time they saw me. I don’t want the world to see me when I’m unattractive, fragile, or just a downright unpleasant person.

But, another part of me is reminded that’s what friends are for, and nobody judges me as harshly as I do myself…except,of course, the people who hate me. They don’t cut me one bit of slack.

I just get sad sometimes because I know, deep inside, there’s this person who is so much better—on so many levels–than who I am now. And it confounds me that the person I am now, who is damaged in so many ways, could be loved, or liked, or even tolerated, by anyone else.