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.

Usually, I get in the bad habit of not posting here because there’s simply little of interest going on in my life. Lately, however, it’s been the opposite. Life has resembled a rollercoaster ride I’d love to get off of, but somehow, seems to start over again before I can run for my life.

I’ve been mysteriously ill for 6 weeks now, ever since my fateful trip to the beach, and the frustrating part is that absolutely nobody has been able to say “Aha! Here’s what’s wrong with you!”. I’ve made 4 emergency room visits, a trip to the cardiologist, the neurologist, and the ear, nose, and throat specialist. I’ve been on no fewer than 8 prescriptions, largely for drugs I didn’t need. And, while the symptoms have improved a bit over the past week or so, I’m certainly not back to my former self. I’ve been diagnosed with everything from anxiety and depression to heart issues to ear infections to vertigo to migraines, but little seems to make a difference.


The scariest moment, by far, happened at 6 AM once morning, when I was forced to call 911. I woke up with half of my face feeling numb, a numbness in the top of my head, and peripheral vision in my right eye gone and replaced with a black shadow. Since they’d diagnosed me earlier in the month with anxiety, due to recurring panic attacks about my health, I quickly took my Wellbutrin for the day and waited to calm down.

Within minutes, I felt a feeling as if something exploded in my head, and my heart was physically beating so fast that the rest of the world disappeared. I couldn’t walk, or get to my phone, and when I did retrieve it, couldn’t remember my name or how to call 911. I started to have a feeling like convulsions were grabbing hold of the back of my spine, and if the ambulance didn’t get there, I was going to die. When they did arrive, my pulse was 188, putting me in the “danger” category for having a stroke.

If I’d gone to a skilled psychiatrist or family doctor and not the ER, this might have been avoided. Reading about Wellbutrin mentioned that patients with a history of being on benzodiazapenes (such as Xanax, Ativan, Valium, Zoloft) should not be on the drug, as well anyone with a history of seizure disorders. Not only is there epilepsy in my family, although I don’t suffer from it, I had a seizure on a sinus medication over a decade ago, and have been treated with both Xanax and Valium in the past for anxiety, insomnia, and PTSD. The ER doctor, to whom I gave this information, put me on Wellbutrin in addition to a beta blocker for my rapid pulse rate and slightly elevated blood pressure.


I was on the drug for two weeks. The first day, I felt wonderful. By the second day, I was sitting in the dark for three hours a day, crying because nobody would help me, and threatening to kill myself. By the end of the 5th day, I’d begun getting intolerable migraines. Around day 10, my vision was blurred, and I hadn’t slept for nearly two weeks without waking up once per hour.

I’m no stranger to anxiety and panic attacks, which is the problem I originally needed help managing, amongst other things. However, I’ve never been on a long-term anti-depressant (although many have suggested perhaps I should have), and never in my life have I experienced some of the strange things that went on with my body and mind while taking Wellbutrin. I literally felt as if I were losing my mind, and seriously considered checking myself in to a psychiatric hospital for my own safety..

After the stroke-like symptoms, doctors went into overdrive trying to find out what had caused my initial symptoms 6 weeks ago, and why things were getting so much worse. I had many EKGs, an MRI, a CT scan, and what seems like every possible test they can do on your blood to rule out diseases, metabolic disorders, and tumors that might be hiding. I was screened closely for MS, for thyroid dysfunction, for hereditary heart problems. Everything was negative, and other than my uncontrollable anxiety level and unexplained high blood pressure/heart rate, nothing could explain what was going on with me.

The doctor immediately removed me from Wellbutrin, and put me on Valium for anxiety. The first few days were rough. I’ve never had to “detox” from drugs or alcohol before, but I can only imagine it’s a bit of the same hell addicts go through. I couldn’t stand light, to be touched, and constantly felt lightheaded and as if my head would explode. At night, I’d sleep for 10 minutes before being jolted awake by a feeling of electricity zapping my brain, leaving the room spinning and my vision blurred. It was simply awful, and on top of it, being scared you’re going crazy or going to die because nobody knows what’s wrong with you, just turns your life upside down.

However, each day, I seemed to improve. By day 4 or 5 without the Wellbutrin, I was sleeping like someone who’d not been allowed to sleep for weeks. I stopped being afraid I’d die everytime I closed my eyes. I stopped crying for no reason and writing goodbye notes to my loved ones.


As for the original symptoms, a visit to the ENT was the most helpful. I’ve always had chronic sinus problems, which I’d manage with the use of pills like Benadryl and over-the-counter nasal spray (Afrin.) The doctor explained these things were basically like being on speed for the long-term, and could cause elevated blood pressure and heart rate. I’d been on two courses of antibiotics for an ear infection, but the ENT seemed to think I’d never even had one to begin with. He did something magical where he pressed above my ears and told me to yawn at the same time. There was an uncomfortable “pop”, and since then, I’ve gone from being dizzy 24 hours a day to having two dizzy spells in a week. I’ve been able to work without my sunglasses, and go out with my friends.

What I learned from this is the truth behind all of those who go on and on about how drugs for depression, anxiety, ADD, and other mood disorders are over-prescribed. Whatever your problems are, it’s far cheaper to hand out Prozac or Ritalin than to perform tests to find a physical cause. For those with both physical ailments and emotional issues—no matter how many times you tell them you’re only anxious because of the scary stuff that goes on with your body, doctors don’t care to listen once they believe you’re in the “Depression And Anxiety” category—it’s almost like playing Russian Roulette with drugs until something seems to work.

I have my good days and my bad, like most people. I’m highly-strung, emotional, and more sensitive than most. I probably could use a Valium or Xanax to deal with stress and anxiety now and then. But, what I’ve learned from all this is that I’ll live with myself, just as I am. I’ll cope in a way that doesn’t involve messing with my seratonin, dopamine, or adrenaline…and the next time anyone suggests I should be on long-term medication for depression or anxiety, I’ll certainly not forget this experience…and run the other way.