You may have noticed that this blog hasn’t been doing its normal thing lately or following a schedule.

The past week and a half have been really, really tough on me, both from a mental and physical perspective. I wonder why it is that the best times in your life are weeks that seem like a day, but the worst times are days that seem like months?

The beta-blocker withdrawals have not been going well. The doctor wanted me to cut back my medication from 25mg to 12.5 mg. Since it’s one of those drugs from which you’re supposed to step down gradually, I spent a week in bed while I slowly reduced the amount I took every day. Somewhere in the middle, I felt a little better, and got close to the 12.5 mark. Then, I hosted an event I had on the schedule for a number of weeks (before knowing I was going to need to deal with this.) My pulse was up over 100, my BP jumped a full 20 points, I couldn’t stop sweating, and started to see stars. I started to think again about how there is something wrong with my body, something that no doctor has discovered, but this beta-blocker seems to treat. Without it, my heart palpitations and irregular heartbeat have returned, and a feeling of adrenaline that seems to rise up throughout my body whenever I’m in the car makes it tough to go anywhere. My migraines have returned. And, for the first time in well over a year, I had a full-on panic attack, the kind where I feel as if I’m not in control of body or mind, and I’m certain I’m going to die, and nobody can help me.

If there’s something that’s a cross between having the flu, a heart attack, and menopause at the same time, that’s what I’ve been feeling. It’s tough to remember that 10 days ago I was practically skipping to the doctor’s office, saying “I feel great!”.

It makes me a little sad to realise I am not cured, I’ve just been on a drug that masks the symptoms of whatever is wrong with me. And whatever is wrong with me isn’t just sheer anxiety; I feel it in my body, and see it in how my body reacts. I experience the same symptoms that sent me to the ER to start with, and it makes me feel as if I went through two years of hell and gained 30 pounds for no reason. I can’t just stay on this medication forever. But I can’t get off of it until they figure out what causes my pulse to race, my inability to tolerate warm temperatures, and the feeling like bursts of adrenaline are exploding all over my body, and why I have an irregular heartbeat. I’ve had so many tests done that I have to conclude it’s something no one can see, and something that’s somehow regulated by a relatively low dose of a beta-blocker.

Drugs are not cures, though. This particular drug is used to treat almost anything that requires your system to slow down to get better. A slowed-down system means you sleep more. You gain weight. You retain water. You lack energy. This particular drug is notorious for being difficult to withdraw from, even if you’re healthy enough to do so, and doctors often don’t know what’s a withdrawal symptom and what’s a symptom of illness they put you on the drug for in the first place. If you don’t have insurance, as I don’t, nobody cares much one way or the other. The drug is linked to Type-2 diabetes and blood sugar instability. There are tons of message boards with people sharing their stories about the drug, and for the most part, everyone’s doctor says “Side effects should be minimal.”

I wanted off the pill because I was tired of not being able to lose weight. The doctor gave the OK to adjust because my blood pressure was actually very low. Problem is, I wasn’t put on the pill for high BP. I was put on it because my pulse races and my heart was having palpitations and skipping beats. But, all the symptoms that made it impossible for me to function like a normal human being disappeared when I took the full dose. When you’re sitting in the hallway, hiding from your friends at a bar, with your heart pounding out of your chest and feeling like you might die, I can tell you, the last thing you care about is “Nobody will ever find me attractive again because I’m so fat.” You’d be willing to weigh 300 pounds for the rest of your life if it meant you could be healthy and live like a young, energetic person. However, it’s a vicious cycle, because once your health improves, you feel horrible about weighing 300 pounds.

I don’t know what happened to me, but I’m terribly depressed about it. I don’t often talk about my family on here, because they aren’t much a part of my life, but my mother has had numerous strokes and heart attacks. She’s deteriorated to the point where she can’t leave the house or string together coherent sentences. The only things that make her happy seem to be talking about things she used to love and will probably never be able to do, which is so sad, because I feel that way about my own situation sometimes. The doctors say that my mother has the mental presence and body of an 85-year-old woman. People in my family are talking about legal papers and wills and preparations for “What if she doesn’t have another few years?”. My mother is 62 years old.

My father, whom I’d largely not rather see or know at all, is 63. He’s of perfectly sound mind, if that means being as abusive as ever to everyone around him is a sign you’re a rational adult. However, after two failed knee replacements and a diagnosis of lymphedema, he’s confined to a wheelchair. He’ll probably live another 20 years, although he doesn’t want to. At his largest, my father was about 530 pounds.

I was 30 when I mysteriously got ill, and accumulated $50,000 worth of debt and endless months of anxiety trying to figure out what’s wrong with me. I saw 13 doctors, most of them specialists. They took so much blood for tests they weren’t legally able to draw any more for another 6 months. The cardiologist, whom I think should have been interested in my case, dismissed me and said, basically, “You have anxiety and you’re wasting my time.”

I clearly have anxiety as a result of this situation. I clearly had damage to my inner ear. But none of that explains the other symptoms; the extremely rapid pulse rate, the inability to be around hot or cold temperatures, the adrenaline rushes, the panic attacks prompted by a physical feeling in my body of being totally out of control. I am certainly mentally unhinged by all of this. But what doctors don’t understand is that I was normal—until physically, I wasn’t. And when I scale back my drugs, it’s the physical, not the emotional, symptoms that render me unable to function.

There is, and has been, something wrong with me for a very long time. If I had money, I suspect I’d have been put in a hospital and gotten the best treatment possible. Because I don’t, I’m told I’m fine, given some pills, and sent on my way.

I often joke that I want my tombstone to read, “Nobody would listen.”. It’s not really a joke.

I don’t want to be a casualty of the system, someone who didn’t have to lose 5 years of life—or end up meeting an early death—because all the doctors were confused and scratching their heads. And when doctors don’t know, they tend to tell you that it’s simply anxiety or depression. It’s a safe bet, because 2/3rds of the country has some form of anxiety or depression, and it’s better than “We just don’t understand what’s going on with you.”. Meanwhile, it’s hard to explain your anxiety stems from an intuitive voice that something is physically wrong with you, and the doctors never looked in the right place or did the right tests. The idea that your mystery affliction may one day kill you, and has totally changed your life in the process, will cause *anyone* to have anxiety or depression.

I feel like someone who’s falling through the cracks, because I don’t have money or insurance or the resources that inspire doctors to care. I feel like a decent cardiologist should have set me up with a holter monitor and done a stress test, rather than doing an Echo and telling me my heart had no physical abnormalities. Even I know that irregular heartbeat and palpitations aren’t often caused by visible physical abnormalities. I feel like perhaps an endocrinologist should have been wondering if I have a hormone imbalance causing these things, because why does a previously healthy woman in her 30′s show symptoms that are frequently associated with menopause? I can figure these things out using logic and a basic understanding of human anatomy. If I can, why in the world don’t the doctors?

The thing with “rare problems” that “nobody has” is that at some point, someone somewhere has them. And if they’re told they’re just anxious or need to see a psychiatrist, well, that’s not a productive solution to a physical problem.

I am actually a very smart person. I may be highly-strung, but I’m also highly intuitive. And for so many years, I’ve felt like something is destroying my life and nobody will listen.

There’s nothing more frustrating than that, so if I went to see a psychiatrist, I’d probably point that out. I bet I wouldn’t get one step closer toward solving an actual problem, though.

People don’t listen. It takes too much time, too much energy, and being a doctor is largely about volume and high turnover and writing prescriptions for commonly used drugs. It isn’t about spending time with one person and actually figuring out why something in her body stopped working correctly. But, it should be….because I want to live to see 35, and even 40.

So often, people mistake being in tune with your body and scared by what it’s telling you with being a hypochrondriac. They are not the same thing. One day, someone is going to find out, and I hope it’s not too late for me by that point.

And I hope I’m not completely alone in the world when that happens. :(

Over the weekend, I attended the giant annual clusterfuck in Downtown Atlanta that makes me hate people. To clarify, I don’t really hate people. In fact, I tend to generally abhor the lack of people for more than 24 hours. Then again, I don’t really particularly like people, either, especially in large group situations that provide opportunity for you to be stepped on, run into, elbowed, tripped by the giant suitcase of a tourist who has no idea how to be a tourist in a city.

Every Labour Day weekend, when our friends are relaxing on a beach or getting drunk at outdoor BBQ’s, I’m on the verge of sheer mental and physical exhaustion trying to attend DragonCon. This is also the same weekend that the area is jammed with visitors from other Southeastern colleges in town for a football game (props to the folks from Tennessee for not being jerks like the people I met from NC State, and the nice people of Clemson and Auburn for not repeatedly sexually harassing me like the people from LSU two years ago.), as well as an LGBT convention and people trying to get to the Braves game. It is the one weekend of the year people *actually* use the subway system, and wonder why it sucks so badly compared to, you know, everywhere else.

On top of that, there’s the frustration of realising I live in a “city” that needs five separate hotels to host a convention, and you have to walk five miles a day and stand in hour-long lines just to attend this thing with 30,000 people that doesn’t allow you to ever sit down, find food, relax, or not get run over without effort. I’m surprised there’s not a booth that says “Free Oxygen: Line Begins Here”. Oh, and I forgot to mention: every year, it’s 90 degrees with a humidity level between 80 and 90%, and people wear wigs and costumes everywhere. Most establishments may have their AC on, but it is hotter in the room than outside. Even if you are healthy, the physical toll this takes on you is draining. Many people end up getting sick for a few days after convention. For someone on heart medication and dealing with vertigo and slight agoraphobia, it’s kind of a personalized version of hell. I don’t remember the last time I hated people so much I started to purposely bump into them and not apologise, because they were in my freaking space. But that’s what happens when you’re chest-bumped by some guy twice your size who runs into you and then keeps going. I can only imagine it’s some form of “The Hunger Games” devised by the people who run DragonCon, for their own amusement. “I estimate 1200 people want to go to this session! Let’s put 600 chairs in the room, make people line up outside and stand there for two hours,and see what happens from our air-conditioned offices.”

Here’s the thing: I don’t do lines. I make reservations and get on lists that allow me to skip lines. I show up 30 minutes late to anything just to ensure everyone else is already there. If I have to wait for anything, I’m probably going to leave. I’ve moved dinner reservations to a new location because I’m not interested in waiting 35 minutes to eat somewhere in a city with 5,000 restaurants. I’ve passed up on Black Friday sales to avoid standing in line for half an hour with an overly heavy object, just to find out I could have had the same thing delivered to my house by clicking a button on the internet. Living in New York, I kind of became a master at using my unobtrusive stature and “Ooops, I think I’m lost and confused face” to cut in front of people in line. I will plow through crowds of people to grab the last seats on the subway. The Guy I Am Currently Dating seems to feel guilty about this behaviour, or point out that people are staring at us. I don’t, not even slightly, and if staring killed people, I’d have been dead a long time ago.

You can take the girl out the Northeast, but you can’t take the Yankee out of the girl. :P

This isn’t how DragonCon works. You will spend more time in line to see something than actually seeing the thing. You will walk around between hotels in the 90 degree heat more than you will actually spend time in the hotel. Yes, there are huge parties, but you will stand around not getting served by an understaffed bar or wandering back and forth and back and forth looking for food, until you realise you’ve spent two hours doing so.

It really is pretty much a giant NYE party for geeks.

It’s probably worth it if you’re the sort of person who’s super into what DragonCon has to offer, are a big enough fan of anything to stand in line for an hour or two to hear some people talk for an hour, and you’re staying in a hotel that offers you air conditioning and a bed to rest on. Instead, we opt for the “hour commute on the overcrowded, overheated subway with nowhere to sit” to top off our day.

I think, honestly, I just don’t care about anything DragonCon has to offer enough to balance out the hassle, inconvenience, and physical exhaustion caused by being there. I walked and stood and was put in more vertigo-inducing situations in three days than in an entire year of slow rehabilitation. I go there because The Guy I Am Currently Dating likes it. But, he’s healthier than I am and has greater endurance and tolerance for people, despite being over a decade older than I am.

In fairness, it’s not just DragonCon that elicits this reaction from me. Two years ago, I helped plan a NYE party at a venue that didn’t have adequate seating or staff. It took an hour to get a drink, to the point where I went behind the bar to inform them I was one of the event organizers, and my party had yet to be served, so I was willing to start working the bar myself. People left long before midnight because there was nowhere to sit. If we hadn’t managed to get bar stools, I’d have left my own event. Waiting in overcrowded, understaffed venues that want to maximize profit while providing minimal amenities and service is the opposite of fun for me.

In a way, I really am The Misanthropic Extravert (a cool title for my autobiography!), and while getting sick has lessened my tolerance for rudeness and inconvenience, it’s always been a part of my personality. I am not happy when I am not comfortable. Some people think this is high-maintenance, and sadly, when I see others have more fun at events without me than with me being there because I am a high-maintenance individual, it makes me realise that person may not be my perfect friend/romantic partner/soulmate/travel buddy. (I think I thought at least four times in three days that The Guy I Am Currently Dating and I should just break up, because he didn’t seem to have any patience or understanding for how difficult the situation was for me, and that in return made me pretty angry. He did, however, have fun hanging out with other people when I wasn’t there. I don’t blame him, but it doesn’t necessarily make me feel positively about our level of compatibility.)

I just wanted to be chilling out on a balcony overlooking the ocean in Florida, drinking martinis and eating at places that aren’t standing-room only. I’d even have settled for a fun BBQ in someone’s backyard with 30 of my closest friends…not 30,000.

There’s another convention The Guy I Am Currently Dating helps run each October, and that one, I totally enjoy. We stay in a nice hotel, I go to stuff that interests me without standing in line, I help out when I feel like it or when it’s needed, and I meet interesting people that are actually interested in talking to you, not just being admired/posing for pictures, because it’s the one time of the year they feel comfortable around strangers. That convention is for video games, something I know nothing about and don’t really have much interest in; yet, many of the sessions are still interesting and I don’t have to stand outside for an hour to see if I really care enough to see it. It is 1/10th the size of DragonCon, but that, I can handle. It helps that you get to stay indoors most of the time and the average temperature has dropped from 90 to 80. Autumn is actually pleasant in Atlanta, even if it doesn’t arrive until Halloween.

I have been debating whether or not to try to travel to NYC this fall. Somehow, I think that compared to DragonCon, it’s going to seem like a breeze, provided I keep the walking to a reasonable minimum. I know I really shouldn’t be pushing myself to do more than a mile at a time, until that amount of effort becomes comfortable to my body. The heart medication makes it feel like I’m pulling a 300-pound weight along with me the entire time, and it’s horrible. I wish there were a way to get off the Atenolol, but considering my mother just had another stroke on Thursday, and can barely speak or walk at the age of 62, and her mother died at the age of 50, and my father’s health began a steady decline at 48…I understand why my doctors believe preventative measures can’t hurt. I just wonder if they’re really necessary, and if they’re really helping or hurting me. I can’t seem to manage my weight at all on this drug, or courtesy of some other condition that hasn’t been diagnosed.; despite being active to the point of exhaustion, the scale tells me I gained 3 pounds over the holiday weekend, and I certainly didn’t overeat.

It is all so frustrating. I feel too young and have a spirit that’s far too exuberant to be trapped inside a body that can’t manage to reflect that. I feel so frustrated that those in my life can’t, or don’t, understand. I used to be proud of my attractive figure, of my energy level, of having a personality that was always up for a fun adventure. It’s hard to be the same person on the inside, yet stuck inside a physical being that is someone and something else.

Doctors are idiots. I’ve been to 12 of them without any concrete diagnosis, and other than gaining 30 pounds in a year and having to take drugs that have some unpleasant side effects, nothing has happened. I’m living my life in a healthier way than ever before, yet I simply feel as if I’m wasting away, fading into the background of life.

The Guy I Am Currently Dating asked if he should buy my DragonCon badge for next year. I brought up a bunch of concerns. “What if I make other plans for Labour Day?” “What if I’m not living in Atlanta?”, “What if we’re not dating anymore?”. Yet, there’s always the unspoken hesitation to plan anything a year in advance, the one that stares back at me from the mirror and says “What if I’m just not here at all next September?” Sometimes, I still think of the future as fairly irrelevant, because I somehow just feel that “long-term” isn’t an issue or a problem for me. I no longer let it affect worries about my choices or my relationships. I know that all I have is now, and wasting time worrying over how a tomorrow that might never come plays out really robs me of today.

That’s why I wanted to try to make it to DragonCon this year, just in case I’m not around when it rolls around next year. I wanted people to be able to say, “Hey, remember when Alayna was here, and we did this, and it was fun?”

Sadly, I don’t think there will be too many memories like that. What I will remember is that after 3 days of exhausting myself, I spent a day in bed in my air conditioned apartment reading, and The Guy I Am Currently Dating had a fun time at DragonCon with his friends, while all of my friends were off doing things with their own families, friends, and loved ones.

It made me a little sad, really, to think “This is what the world will look like when I’m no longer in it. Life goes on without me.” I know it always does, but it’s a little like getting to see a glimpse of the future that doesn’t involve you.

I can’t help but feel like life wasn’t supposed to leave me behind so early on in the process.

“What’s hard is simple,
What’s natural comes hard.
Maybe you could show me
How to let go,
Lower my guard,
Learn to be free;
Maybe if you whistle,
Whistle for me. ”

—Stephen Sondheim, “Anyone Can Whistle”

This is the first Christmas that I remember not feeling filled with joy, and thankful for the friends and family and relationships I have with people all over the world, and the bit of money in my pocket, and the small things that make the holidays worth appreciating. It is the first year I am not excited about traveling, seeing loved ones, embracing the lights and the energy of the city…because I’m not able to do any of those things. In fact, I feel an overwhelming depression that’s becoming more difficult to bear as the month drags on.

The beginning of the month didn’t get off to a stellar start. In addition to testing positively for a variety of medical issues, sinking even deeper into debt just trying to find out why I can’t function like a normal human being, and being de-friended by two people I once considered friends and actually cared about, I had struggles with work. Namely, the 9 projects a day I was receiving had been cut down to three a day; sometimes three every other day. The result is that my first paycheck for the month is smaller than if I’d spent my time working for minimum wage at Starbucks. My only hope was that things would improve, and the assignments would start rolling back in for the second half of the month. In the meanwhile, I contacted everyone I’d ever done work for, seeing if they had work for me to handle.

This hope yielded some positive results. I’ve gotten my 9 assignments per day, plus another client that said they’d have some work for me around the 17th of the month. Then, I find out today that I won’t be receiving another paycheck this month. My work won’t be paid until the 27th, due to the office being closed for the holidays, which means it won’t show up in my account until the 30th or 31st…which means it won’t, because weekends and holidays are not banking days. Therefore, not only can I not afford to visit family or do things with friends, even if I could, but I can’t afford to buy presents for anyone, either. I basically can’t afford to leave the house for the next two weeks.

But you always have your health, right? Well, unless you’re me. Then, you’ve spent 6 months being physically and emotionally ill and racked up $50,000 in medical bills that the insurance company won’t cover. Once you pay out of pocket for the tests that can diagnose your issues, you find out that you do have medical problems: one that will supposedly “resolve itself” but I can expect to be extraordinarily painful, and one that will likely require surgery in my ear…that is, after more tests that I can expect to pay for out-of-pocket are done to confirm the diagnosis.

And, if you’re me, you’ve also gained 20 pounds in six months as a result of said medications, and have constant breakouts for not reason…and it’s gotten to the point where you can’t stand to look at yourself in the mirror, much less identify yourself as a person anyone, anywhere would ever be attracted to.

However, since I’m in a relationship with a guy who’s not shallow enough to stop loving me because I’m fat and unattractive and can’t hold the pieces together long enough to have any semblance of a fun social life, at least that should bring me comfort. It doesn’t, though, because I feel like there’s a growing chasm between us. When we spend time together, we sit on our separate computers, play trivia, or watch movies. When I try to talk about serious things, I don’t really get answers. Serious things like: “Why have we been together for three years, but I still spend every holiday alone?”

Yes, The Guy I Am Currently Dating lives 15 minutes away, and I will be spending Christmas alone. I would have spent Thanksgiving alone, too, if not for friends that invited me to be part of their family for the weekend. In fact, I spend as many holidays alone as when I was single, when I was dating a guy who denied my existence in his life to his parents because they wouldn’t accept me, and when I was unwisely keeping company with a married suitor….which by nature of being “the other woman”, means you will spend every holiday alone. The Guy I Am Currently Dating spends every holiday with his mother, the lovely woman who has called me “ugly piece of shit”, pointed out all my undesirable physical and emotional flaws and told me no man would ever want me, told me I was trash, likened me to Casey Anthony, told me her son only settled for me because his self-esteem was too low to chase after pretty girls, called my a psycho, and wished me dead three times, before threatening that something vaguely bad would befall me if I didn’t move out of Georgia and get out of her son’s life.

Yet, that’s who he’s spending the holidays with, the person who treated me that way. Not me. It kind of shows where I rank in the grand scheme of things, and when I asked if any of this would ever change, if we’d ever have a normal life together, I didn’t get an answer. And it’s because I know the answer is “Not until my mother is dead and we can live together”. And I don’t know if I deserve to spend the next two decades of my life alone, waiting for someone who supposedly wants to build a life with me to put me first.

So, when I hear from a good friend of mine all the romantic things he’s doing for a girl he’s been dating for a few months, it makes me terribly, terribly sad. When I hear about my couple friends, who have all, in the same time I’ve been dating The Guy I Am Currently Dating, met, moved in together, gotten married, and had kids or adopted dogs, it makes me terribly, terribly sad. I feel like asking why I’m always the one left behind and alone when holidays and family occasions come around, always “the other woman”, even when I’ve changed my lifestyle to avoid that outcome. Why am I not the person that someone, somewhere moves heaven and earth to be with, travels with, adventures with, and not only *says* he cares about more than anything else, but shows it. I’ve had a lot of lovers and love affairs in my lifetime….too many….and yet, I’ve never been that girl. I’ve always been loved, amused, entertained…but never that girl worth changing everything for. I’ve had diamonds and Dom Perignon and holidays in the Caribbean, but never been treated like a permanent part of anyone’s life, never been anyone’s family. And that hurts me, somewhere deep inside. I guess I understand it, because committment and old-fashioned family values have never been my strong suit, and I don’t even know how to promise monogamy to someone I love….but there’s a hole in my heart that wonders why everyone seems to find this life-altering love and romance thing but me. It’s not that I’ve gone through life alone, but that all the love and romance I’ve ever been offered seems to come with a “but”….and that “but” means I’m not the girl that the men in my life have worked to woo and plan romantic adventures for or desire quiet holidays alone, just the two of us.

And part of me really wants that, feels that, maybe at some point in my life, I should start deserving that…and if I’m with someone who can’t or won’t offer those things, I’m with the wrong person, no matter how loving and supportive he is in other ways. It can’t be “I want to spent my life with you, but…”. :( ((((

In the past, I’ve tried to fight against all these feelings by visiting with my own family, who aren’t exactly paragons of love and support and remind me that I don’t know if I’ve ever really been part of a family, or loved like part of a family, since my first day on Earth. I’ve leaned on my friends, who over the years, have grown up and started their own families and fallen in love with their ideal partners…many of whom learned the hard way that that person turned out not to be me…and they’re happy to be there for me, when they’re not spending time enjoying the families and relationships they’ve built.

I still feel like the “other woman”, always, no matter what choices I make in my life. Maybe at one point, that was a specific road I chose…to be free, alone, unattached, unconventional, up for amusement, even connection, but afraid of love….but I had no idea back in those days that I’d end up at this point, feeling this lonely and isolated.

I don’t even recognise myself anymore. I don’t feel like any of the things that used to make me who I am are still there. Sometimes, I don’t feel like I have anything at all, and life just isn’t a place for people like me, who are always a step or two out of sync, marching to a different drummer, on a path that’s not only isolating, but easily forgotten.

It isn’t a surprise that people aren’t calling to invite me to parties this year, seeking out my company for drinks or celebration. I have another birthday coming up soon, one that puts me at an age where I’m well-past grown up…and I don’t have much to show for it, much less celebrate.

It’s like I’m still waiting for life to happen to me. Once upon a time, I tried to make life happen rather than the other way around…and I live four decades in less than one. Maybe it’s just that I’m done now. I don’t know. I’m what I never wanted to be: an aging party girl that’s lost her health, her looks, her charisma, her self-confidence, and is meant to spend a lot of her life alone, watching others easily find all the things that have never come easily to her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I meant to spend some time posting a well-crafted update on here today, but instead, I spent a lot of my writing energy sending e-mail to friends and actually doing work, which is important, too. So, although I know you’re all devastated, part two of yesterday’s story is simply going to have to wait. (yes, yes, I know…nobody actually reads this enough to care about my stories. :P )

Over the past few weeks, I’ve become involved with a site called Swap-Bot, which I love. It gives me a no-pressure, random approach to creativity, as well as a chance to share with people from all over the world. I loved getting mail from abroad when I was younger, and I still have that certain little thrill when I open up my mailbox and see something from halfway around the world. It’s like a glimpse into a world you may never see. I imagine that The Guy I Am Currently Dating probably thinks this new hobby is silly, since it requires more frequent trips to the post office, and he never comments on any of my handmade/decorated envelopes, or asks what’s inside. However, since I can’t go out in the world as much as I’d like lately, it makes me happy to have the world come to me. It makes me happy to know that if I am not here tomorrow, there are pieces of me out there somewhere….and perhaps they briefly touched someone. I suppose that’s what I’m looking for…I suddenly have this desire to share, and connect, and create, and leave an indelible mark on the world, as if I don’t have that much time in which to do it.

Part of me is convinced that perhaps I don’t have as much time on this earth as I always assumed I would. Another part of me just believes living life to the fullest means living each day being aware of the possibility that there’s never enough time. Say the things to the people you need to hear them. Express your feelings. Put yourself out there. Make someone that touches your life feel valued. Put aside ego and fear of rejection and failure. Share love without wondering if it will be taken the wrong way. I think if we all tried to live that way, we’d be so much happier.

In any case, someone on SwapBot left me a lovely photo today. If it were a poster (which perhaps it is), I’d probably frame it and put it in my living room. It’s just that sort of beautiful, to me.


Only four more days until my visit with the ear specialist, and I’m hoping it’s good news, even if “good news” for me means surgery. A diagnosis, the ability to do something to improve how I’m able to live my life, is “good news for me, whatever it may be. In the meantime, I’ll be keeping myself busy with helping The Guy I Am Currently Dating with his annual Serenity screening on Sunday, and perhaps playing some trivia. I wish I were more inspired to work, seeing as the insane medical bills keep piling in, but I’m not. It’s part of that whole “life’s too short” thing.

Instead, I’ll spend another hour on so reading my biography of Dorothy Parker, which I’m thoroughly enjoying. I notice that the people that fascinate me, the ones that have had crazy adventures to rival some of mine, are also typically rather disturbed individuals in one way or another. Brilliant, vivacious, often loved by many…but disturbed. I wonder if that’s a trait I recognise in myself and feel a kinship with, or most interesting people are simply kind of crazy. ;P