Bring Me to Life

While I was at the do jang this evening, I was given an assignment.  I was given instructions for creating a list of 10 goals for myself for this year.  In addition to filling out the list at the bottom of the page to keep as my own daily reminder, I was told that I also need to create a poster and bring it in.

The timing of this assignment could not have been better.  As I mentioned in some earlier posts, 2013 was a rough year for me, as I struggled with a worsening depressive episode and all of the other problems that came with it.  Back in November I caved and saw a psychiatrist who raised the possibility of bipolar II disorder, and not just straight depression, as I had believed.  But she put me on the antidepressant that I had taken previously because she was unsure of her diagnosis and I confirmed that the symptoms I was experiencing were consistent with previous episodes.

Fast forward to the beginning of last week.  I had a follow-up visit with my psychiatrist.  I explained that my already spotty sleep has been getting progressively worse.  Despite the heavy bedtime medication regimen that my neurologist has me on (including 10 mg of Flexeril), I just couldn’t get my brain to turn off.  Instead, I became fixated on a string of random thoughts.  What should I wear to work tomorrow?  Did I lock the front door?  Did the laundromat lose my black skirt?  Maybe my skirt is mixed in with my pants?  I should check in the morning… no, I should get up and check now.  Wow, I’m thirsty–I should get myself a glass of milk.  Yuck, I hate the aftertaste of milk when I’m trying to sleep–I should get a glass of water.  Did I lock the front door?  Did I ever decide what to wear to work tomorrow?  Before I knew it, I was lying in bed awake at 1am and wondering how I was going to get up for work.  The answer increasingly became that I wasn’t getting up, and I was getting to work later and later.

Although I have used Celexa for depression several times before without any problems, there was one big difference in the other medications I take, compared to before.  Last summer my neurologist put my on Vyvanse (a cousin of Adderall) for ADD.  Apparently the combination of Celexa and Vyvanse just wasn’t working for me.  So my psychiatrist took me off the antidepressant and decided to try a mood stabilizer instead.  This was all new territory for me, so she explained a bit about the medication and how it worked.  She also explained that the mood stabilizer she was prescribing for me had a black box warning because one of the possible rare complications is Stevens-Johnson Syndrome.  I was advised to be on the lookout for rashes, especially on my hands.  This in and of itself is ironic, almost to the point of humorous–I am prone to random stress-related patches of dermatitis, and have suffered from moderate-to-severe eczema for at least the last six years or so–on my hands.  But, I know it’s a rare complication, there are plenty of common medications that have been linked to Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, and I’m getting pretty desperate to start feeling better.  At this point, if my psychiatrist told me that dancing naked under the full moon would make me feel like a functional human being, you can bet I would be out there, polar vortex or not.

So that brings me to this week.  I was lucky enough to get another week’s reprieve from choir rehearsal (admittedly my director is really the lucky one, since he’s the one in Cancun for the week).  I decided that I wanted to try to make the most of having fewer obligations than normal, so I made it a goal to train all week.  Keep in mind that with only a few exceptions, I’ve been averaging one (sometimes two) classes a week since April, and those are the weeks I made it to the do jang at all.  I haven’t trained with the frequency I was hoping for since I was preparing for black belt testing.  Without a doubt, it was going to be tough.  In addition, I wanted to get to the gym before work again because I needed to get back to strength training.  Building up the muscles in my neck and back helps tremendously with my chronic pain.

Monday morning I woke up with my alarm.  I felt awake, ready to take on the world. Then I turned and started to get out of bed to turn off the alarm.  At this point, my lower back said something along the lines of, “You don’t really think you’re going anywhere, do you?”  The pain was not debilitating, but it was enough to make work difficult and martial arts impossible.  I decided to take some ibuprofen and try to sleep it off for an hour or so.  The next thing I knew, I was still in bed and I was supposed to leave for work 20 minutes earlier.  On the bright side, my back pain was down to a dull roar.  I decided to train that night after work.  I got out of work late, so I missed the earlier class, which was probably just as well.  The adult class was kept for almost 90 minutes, and my back was screaming by about 40 minutes in.  As I was getting my shoes on, one of the parents sitting and watching the class commented to me that she felt bad for me because she could see I was in a ton of pain.

Yesterday I again woke up with the 4am alarm.  I still didn’t get to the gym before work, but I didn’t fall back asleep, either.  I even got to work about a half hour earlier than I’ve managing lately.  Even more importantly, I brought gym clothes with me.  After work, I finally made it to the gym.  I’m not going to lie–it sucked.  Don’t get me wrong, I love strength training, but my poor muscles were suffering from very serious under-use, so it was hard.  How here’s the really impressive part–I went to the do jang and took class after I left the gym.

Last night I was up late with an upset stomach, so I wasn’t expecting to get to the gym.  But I was able to get out of bed and make it to work on time.  I also went from work directly to the do jang and stayed for not one, but two classes!  I admit, my neck and back are sore and my triceps are practically screaming obscenities at me, but I pushed through.  In the midst of this, I received the assignment I mentioned at the beginning of the post.  Several of the adults grumbled a bit at the list and the task of creating a poster.  A year ago, I would have been one of them.  But there’s something humbling about hitting your own personal rock bottom.  You start to look at things differently.  I’ve always been an overachiever and the last several months have taught me to appreciate the baby steps that I’m able to take towards feeling better.  I’ve learned to use my setbacks as lessons and to celebrate even the small victories.  After all, sooner or later those small victories are going to add up and get me to bigger victories, as long as I keep trying and pushing through. What better way to remind myself to push through than to see in writing exactly what I’m pushing towards?




Uppers, Downers, and Sideways

Much to the shock of my friends, I’ve often stated that my parents should not have had kids.  I don’t say this to imply that they were bad parents.  I say this because some gene pools probably should not be allowed to continue.  Before the move towards electronic medical records, I started bringing a typed medical history with me whenever I saw a new doctor for the first time.  I started doing this after getting tired of running out of room in the section labeled “Family History.”  It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that if a condition has any sort of genetic tendencies, it can be found on at least one side of the family, if not both.  Hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, mental illness, cancer… the list goes on.  With the odds stacked against me like that, it’s no wonder that I find myself on a ridiculous amount of medication at only 36 years old.  

At first it didn’t seem too bad:  some prescription strength ibuprofen for frequent headaches, the occasional round of anti-depressants… then the ENT group got a hold of me.  During a follow-up after having a severely deviated septum corrected, my surgeon commented on the size of my tonsils and asked me if I snored.  The next thing I knew, I was attempting to fall asleep while connected to an array of colorful wires and sensors.  The sleep study didn’t show any apnea (very fortunate for me, since those C-PAP masks aren’t especially flattering).  What it should instead was that I move my limbs in my sleep.  A lot.  The condition is called Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD), and it’s a cousin of the better known Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS).  Most people with RLS will also have PLMD, but not the other way around.  Because I come from one of those extra special gene pools, I have the RLS/PLMD combo.  There are a number of possible medications available, but the more popular choices are the same medications used to treat Parkinson’s Disease.  So, add one more medication to the list.  

I should also explain that I have some long-term neck and back issues: bulging discs, degenerative disc disease, arthritis of the spine–you get the picture.  I have always declined narcotics and pain medication stronger than ibuprofen for two reasons.  First, I have a strong family history of drug and alcohol dependence.  Second, I didn’t find that they really worked much better (and in fact, percocet gave me one of the worst cases of heartburn I ever experienced).  After throwing out my back, my doctor wanted me to try a muscle relaxer… you can see where this is going.  Now let’s add in the ADD med, the allergy meds, and the reflux med (I don’t think I have the willpower to give up spicy food).  The end result is that I find myself in that viscous cycle where the meds start to have their own side effects that require more meds to treat… meds that will help me sleep, meds that will make my brain able to function at work, meds to ease depression, meds that will allow me to keep my cats without resorting to taking a power drill to my sinuses.  And try remembering to take them all when they’re supposed to be taken, especially with ADD brain!

It is in this context that I finally sought the help of a psychiatrist, after three years off of antidepressants.  While I’m thrilled to finally start feeling less like the zombie I had become, I am reminded of how much it thoroughly and completely sucks to try to find the right medication regimen.  I already have the disadvantage of being very sensitive to mood issues from medications.  Those muscle relaxers I mentioned earlier?  First one I tried caused severe depression, second one made me feel like a zombie for two days after I took it.  I was lucky that the third time was the charm.  I once had a psychiatrist make the mistake of prescribing me klonopin for what she saw as anxiety.  That one was a particular favorite, which made me want to slit wrists.  

I realize that I reached a point where medication is necessary (whether it’s ultimately an antidepressant, mood stabilizer or both).  I realize that I need to just suck it up and do whatever it takes to feel better.  It doesn’t mean that I have to like it, and in this case, I really don’t like it.