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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Being sick allows you to check out of life. Getting well again means you have to check back in. It is absolutely crucial that you are ready to check back into life because you feel as though something has changed from the time before you were sick. Whatever it was that made you feel insecure, less than, or pressured in a way that was uncomfortable to you. You have to create a whole new life to check into.” — Portia Di Rossi, “Unbearable Lightness”

It has been a year since I first got sick, or almost, and the thought of braving the summer is somewhat terrifying to me. The heat, the sun, the TV shows that I watched throughout my illness—they all remind me of a time in my life when I was constantly afraid. I was afraid I was going to die. More than that, I was afraid I was going to die, alone and unloved and crazy and misunderstood and without ever doing anything positive with my life. I was afraid I would never be normal again, and because of it, nobody would ever love me, understand me, want to be my friend, find me attractive. In some ways, I felt like my life was over at an age that, by many standards, people consider the epitome of being young enough to be vibrant and enthusiastic about life, but wise enough to avoid the stupid mistakes you engaged in a decade earlier. I reached the age where it was time to be an adult, and all of the sudden, the world came tumbling down around me.

I am, of course, still not entirely well. I have a chronic condition that will be with me for the rest of my life, requiring medication and more rest than I’d prefer to need and more unwanted reactions to life than I’d prefer to have. I still have the occasional migraine with aura that may only last 15 minutes, but gives me such a sense of being out of control, that I am convinced I am going to die. I still have anxiety in places that are too bright, too loud, have too many people. I still can’t fly. I have a few really close friends in NYC that I’d love to visit and spend time with, but instinctively, I know that one of my favourite cities on Earth is too much for me, and that makes me a little sad. I still can’t seem to ditch the unwanted 20 pounds I gained when they put me on medication, something that makes me very sad. I can’t be as free-spirited and unconcerned with things as I used to be, because now there are consequences. If I forget to take my pill at the right time of day, drink too early in the day, push myself too hard or sit in the heat too long, there are consequences that are very unpleasant. If I don’t eat enough, or eat too many of the wrong things, or deny myself caffeine for days on end, my body rebels. It’s strange to suddenly be governed by rules and limitations.

My doctors have told me that over a period of 2-3 years, my condition will steadily improve. Symptoms will interfere with my life less and less, until they’re barely noticeable. Some people have issues with large, brightly-lit spaces for a lifetime; others can’t stand loud environments; still others can’t handle elevators or escalators.

Being me, and a pessimistic realist, I didn’t believe my doctors, who had been wrong so many times before in attempting to treat my illness. I am still young enough that 3 years seems like a lifetime. I imagine that, by then, I might be an entirely different person with an entirely different life, as it’s happened so many times before. It is hard for me to see three years down the road. It is hard for me to even imagine that I will be alive and well in three years. Some days, I doubt it. I have always had trouble imagining myself as a person with a future. Since my teenage years, I was convinced that I was going to die when I was 30. It seems coincidental, and yet almost too meaningful to be coincidental, that once I passed that mark, I developed a frightening illness that reminded me I wanted to live and didn’t really know how.

A year ago, I would not have believed that I could spend the day at a friend’s pool party without hiding from the sun the entire time, go to a rock concert, or travel to multiple cities on my own, places I’d never been before, to visit with friends. I would not have believed that I could handle a world full of buses, crowded stations, elevators, trains, and taxis on my own, along with almost 30 pounds of luggage added to my body weight.

I would not have imagined that in the year that’s elapsed since first getting sick, I’d have developed friendships that are among the most meaningful I’ve allowed into my life in years, simply because I took the time to talk one-on-one and invest myself in the kind of people who may never have caught my attention in a more vibrant, constantly moving social setting. I would not have imagined that not having something to do, somewhere to go, and someone to entertain almost every day would not only be acceptable to me, but would help me find a sense of peace and acceptance regarding myself.

Slowly, I’ve been checking back into life again, and the time I spent largely checked out of my old existence helped me to formulate a new one. One of the most shocking things I’m discovering about myself is that I’m not a co-dependent person. I’ve always thought I was, always been attracted to the guys who would constantly pay attention to me, take care of everything in my life, fix all my problems…and then suddenly run when it came time to make a commitment, or find myself looking for a different type of relationship. I like people, I like attention, I like being loved and cared for, but I have a self-sufficient streak that runs through my personality. I am happiest when I am allowed to engage it, when I can explore the world on my own terms from time to time. It is important to me to have friends and relationships in my life, to feel I am loved, to express affection…but my freedom and independence is just as important to me. Perhaps this means I won’t ever get married,or have kids, or my relationships will be of the non-traditional variety, or I’ll end up with a job that makes me a wandering nomad from time to time, but that’s OK. I find myself judged quite frequently for that aspect of myself, and the pressure to hide that desire for freedom, coupled with my natural distrust of other human beings until proven otherwise, has led me to seek out very clingy friendships and relationships. Yet, that very same kind of clinginess causes me stress and makes me unhappy.

Let’s be honest here, I lived with a roommate I didn’t really like or bond with for a very long time because I thought I couldn’t manage on my own, and cried and felt undue stress at the idea of being left to cope with living in a space by myself. This person was utterly toxic in my life, yet keeping that person around was less frightening than being alone. This is not the first time I’ve been through this scenario, and every time, once I deal with the shock of being left alone, I realise just how much happier I am. I’ve lived with ex-boyfriends and moved in with people I should not have because I felt like being on my own just wasn’t for me, and every time, I was shocked by the realisation that I felt freer and lighter when the person I supposedly loved and needed was gone. I didn’t want the person to be gone forever, I just wanted my own space for awhile. I never really knew that about myself. I like living in a world where there is a certain amount of personal space and freedom, and that’s balanced out by friendships and relationships that are truly important to me, not just having people around to have them around. I’m still an extrovert who gets bummed out if I don’t have enough social interaction in my world. Yet, I grew up valuing my personal space immensely, being able to hide out in my own room and “escape” from everything and everyone else. I thought that, like most people, I simply grew out of that, but I don’t think I ever did. I just told myself I *should*, because people have roommates, families, live together…especially in cities, people aren’t designed for personal space. But I like mine.

I’ve also come to accept a basic truth about me: I don’t like people. At least, I don’t like all of them, and during my time of illness, I came to see the idea of meeting and entertaining strangers as a drain on my very limited resources. It became harder to smile and appear charming in the face of people you don’t care for, or pretend to be interested in conversation that just *isn’t*. I don’t think it’s an accident that I’ve developed at least three strong friendships during the time I was ill, largely because it was the first time in my life I cared about meaningful one-on-one interaction with someone I suspect I might relate to, instead of “How many people can I get to come to my party?”. I’ve hosted a Meetup group for 5 years, and literally met thousands of people. Perhaps 20-30 of them have become friends; some of them have become my best friends in the world.

But, when I was sitting on the lawn talking about my childhood with my friend in Durham, or at a quirky coffee shop creating imaginary art in my head with a friend in Charlotte, or at a small dinner with 6 or so of my close friends in Atlanta, I realised how much happier and more content I was than at any of the bars or clubs or parties I’d been to recently. The difference was, I was really able to communicate and bond with people I truly care about, people who accept me and allow me to be myself. I didn’t have to flirt or accept and give insincere compliments, hug strangers, make small talk about “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?”.

I was telling a friend recently that I’d never been like that before. In fact, I’d had people end relationships and friendships with me over what was perceived by others as a disinterestedness in truly getting to know someone, and what I saw as “Whenever we turn everything into a group outing, more people means more fun!”. In some ways, my illness was stronger than my desire to be the centre of attention, to be the person that everyone looked at in a large group of people. I didn’t want to be looked at anymore, I didn’t want to have to meet expectations or offer meaningless social frivolities. I just wanted to be around people who understood, and really cared. My illness allowed me to see what life is like for people more introverted, more focused, less willing to engage in pretense and the attempt to “be seen and appreciated” than I have always been. At first, I was bored and depressed and hated it. I just wanted my old life back. As I started to get better, I started to see it’s one of the greatest gifts life could have given me. I value others so much more now, and learned it’s OK not to like everyone, and not to give a crap if other people don’t like you. I was reminded how authenticity was one of the most important aspects of my personality, and how often I’ve had to sacrifice that to please others or to be liked. I feel like it is a permanent change, that I no longer have the energy or the desire to do that. I don’t go to bars or clubs on Saturday nights anymore; I play trivia with my friends at a pizza place that doesn’t serve alcohol and closes at 11, so we sit on the bench in front of the building, talking and looking at stupid YouTube videos. And, strangely, I love it. When I am out of town, it is the thing I miss the most. It used to be something to do when there wasn’t a party to go to or an event to plan. Now, it’s something I look forward to doing.

I have changed and grown in many ways as a result of one of the most difficult periods of my life. I learned to let the self-destructive, attention-seeking side of myself go when it occurred to me that I wasn’t ready to die. I learned to appreciate people by admitting how much about my life I didn’t really enjoy, how much of my interactions with others felt forced and artificial. I’ve learned to balance the conviction that you have to appreciate today because there is no future with the idea that, in case I’m still around, I might want to make plans for my life 6 months from now. I’ve learned that living alone doesn’t mean being alone, and it’s far preferable to the stress of being around someone you don’t even like that much, and the negative energy they bring into your life. I’ve learned that substance counts, and I have a great deal of it, even though I spend a lot of time downplaying that aspect of myself. I’ve learned that feeling loved sometimes means someone understanding you enough to give you the freedom you need, and that showing you care about others means understanding the freedom that person needs. I’ve learned that it’s OK to say “No”, even if it makes you feel badly, because attempting to please others at the expense of your own happiness isn’t worth having panic attacks over. I’ve learned that while I don’t have all the answers to life, sometimes my intuition tells me everything I need to know about the world around me and the people in it. I’ve learned that I value my family for who they are, but it’s the friends who are like family that truly make me feel at home…and it sucks that those friends live in five or six different states, but it doesn’t matter much.

I’ve learned I’m stronger than I think I am. And, maybe, three years from now, I’m going to wonder what all the fuss and panic was about when I see a Wal-Mart, Target, or Kroger. I’m going to make changes between now and then, and I don’t even know what they are or why I’ll make them or if they’ll be the best choices…but I know I’m going to be around to make them. That means I’ve come so much farther from where I was this time a year ago, and although I feel frightened about the approaching summer, potentially going to Dragon*Con, or traveling, or just locking myself up in my room and focusing on work and making money, I somehow intuitively know I’m going to be OK. It used to be one day at a time in my world, and now it’s one week at a time. That is progress.

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

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

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

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

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

This was my personal favourite from her latest album:

Ani DiFranco: Promiscuity

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

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

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

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

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

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

The author of the book, Thomas Mallon, agrees:

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

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

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

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.

It seems like there’s a lot I’d like to sit down and write about, mostly stressful personal situations going on in my life. I’d like to update the world on the ongoing struggles with my health, and also an amazingly upsetting incident a few weeks ago that involved The Mother Of The Guy I Am Currently Dating leaving voicemails on my machine designed to tear me down, and ended with threats to do me harm if I didn’t leave Atlanta (for good measure); confusion about the future of my relationship (and specifically, if there is one there), and my ability to be independent and start all over again, should that need to happen; and the audacity of a girl in my Meetup that was not only incredibly rude to me when I interacted with her, but wrote to The Guy I Am Currently Dating to ask him out to dinner without running it by me first. I’d like to vent about the isolation that’s come with two months of illness, and the disappointment in friendships and infatuations that aren’t what you put into them, specifically when some people simply are the type you can’t get too close to, or they’ll pull a disappearing act.

Perhaps I could talk about Dragon*Con, and the anxiety I’m feeling over going, because my recent struggles with anxiety and medication have left me fighting with odd symptoms of social anxiety disorder, and because the medication I am on caused me to gain 8 pounds and feel less loving toward myself than ever before. (especially given some of the commentary delivered by The Mother Of The Guy I Am Currently Dating.) I could talk about how I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t believe anyone could find me attractive on any level; physically, emotionally, mentally, or just by virtue of being a “nice” person, and how I’m not sure how to interact with a world that doesn’t naturally emphasise my attractive qualities lately.

However, all those things seem stressful, so when I sit down to write, a blank screen stares at me, and I leave to do something else. Instead, I’ll share some of the things I’m infatuated with lately.


*Spotify. A new service that’s part ITunes, part Rhapsody, and one of the best ways I’ve found lately to discover new music, as well as share what I love with others. In theory, it can also help keep your music collection organised, but I’m afraid it takes a lot more to organise me.
*Christina Perri. A tattooed, long-haired native Philadelphian who channels a strange mix of Alanis Morrisette, Tori Amos, and Norah Jones, this girl is one of the more talented and unique voices to show up in the pop world in a long time. Her “Jar Of Hearts” caught my attention, as well as that of the radio stations, a few months ago, and immediately charted impressively on Billboard before Christina even signed with a label, or released a CD. Her first album is out in the UK right now, calledLovestrong, and is available on her website. Oh, and she’s a great supporter of To Write Love On Her Arms, one of my own favourite causes.


*Marie Antoinette One of the women in history that fascinates me to no end, I’m planning my own spin on a modern-day Marie Antoinette costume for Dragon*Con this year. And, just in time, I’m preparing to read Juliet Gray’s “Becoming Marie Antoinette”, the first book in the trilogy about this controversial coquette.

*Big Brother 13 Despite the fact I haven’t put any serious effort into campaigning to get myself on the show since making it to the final auditions way back in 2000, I still love the show just the same. And this year, I have Showtime, which means I can watch 3 hours a day (fortunately, while multitasking life.) It’s trashy, stupid, predictable, and I love it. Still cheering on the women America loves to hate, and waiting to see Rachel Reilly try to win the whole thing for her (and her cheating, controlling man.)

*Swap-Bot.Com I have always loved mail, and confess to an online shopping habit and missing the days when letters came in envelopes with stickers and handwritten love was usually involved. Today’s love letters to the world—and one another—are usually digital, and just not quite the same. (though, every once in a while, I’ll find myself getting excited when I see an e-mail from an old friend.) I also enjoy being crafty, unique, and sending little care packages to my friends…but the problem is, I don’t know many people like me. The last card I received from The Guy I Am Currently Dating basically signed his name, and the last present anyone gave me was tossed in a bag rather than gift-wrapped. Needless to say, I’m delighted to find a new hobby in Swap-Bot, where you can find like-minded pen pals and artsy folks, and even some writers and artists looking to get to know others. I highly recommend signing up and playing along!

I guess that’s all for me…ending on a positive note, so I can save my energy to recount some (if not all) of life’s dramas at a later date. See you over on Facebook! (do follow me if you’re a reader who’s not already a friend.I like to know who’s out there, but not enough to enable comments! ;P )

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.