Archives for September, 2012
(Note: the is the first post in a four-part series about Facebook and death.) I've been thinking about my friend Ryan lately. Actually, I'll call him "Bubba" -- because, well, that's what we always called him prior to his death. The name "Ryan", to me, is exclusively post-mortem. It's the name in his obituary. It's the name that was broadcast on television during the news segment that described his car fire. It's the name on his grave. And it's the name on his Facebook profile. Bubba died over two and a half years ago, but I still remember the day I heard the news. I was sitting in my teeny little cubicle and monitoring social media mentions for the nationwide advertising company whose corporate office I called home from 9 to 5. My husband (then boyfriend) called me on my cell phone. I answered the phone quickly and told him, in a hushed voice, that I wasn't supposed to be on the phone at work. But he continued. "I have some bad news," he said. "Bubba died last night." What? What?
Sigh. I've written before about how important it is to become a competent consumer of prescription medication. Or of any medication, really. Even OTC cough & cold drugs are nothing to scoff at -- they're powerful medicines that can have powerful side effects. It's important to know what we put into our bodies, right? Of course. Of course it is. Let me get this message out of the way before I start ranting: I believe it's important to respect doctors -- after all, they have years of education and experience in diagnosing and treating various ailments. They know plenty more about medicine than the average patient does. But, as patients and consumers of medicine, we need to do our part. We need to play an active role in our own treatment. We can't just close our eyes and let our doctors make the decisions that will affect our bodies. It's important to ask questions. Why did you diagnose me with this disorder? How do I meet the criteria? What diagnostic tests informed your decision? When will I be well again? Why did this problem develop? Is this medication necessary? What are my alternatives? NEXIUM WANTS YOU TO LISTEN AND OBEY But according to Nexium's latest ad campaign, we should simply step back and let our doctors decide what's best for us -- no questions asked:
(Note: this post is part of a series about navigating my way through the 10 Rules for Coping with Panic, which is a nifty little list I keep in my wallet. To read the introduction to this series, check out this post: Coping with Panic: Why I Can’t, and Why I Can.) It's been quite some time since I've written another installment in the seemingly-neverending "10 Rules" series. My original goal, as you can read in the link above, was to slowly traverse through a list of panic-related rules that I'd received from my favorite therapist. She photocopied it onto a tiny, wallet-sized piece of paper. I keep it clipped onto the back page of my organizer and now, even after only four or five months of dragging it around with me, it's crumbling. And this is a good thing. ON THE WEATHERING OF OBJECTS There was this guy in high school who sat in front of me during American Cultures in eleventh grade. (How do I remember the layout of a classroom I sat in twelve years ago when I can't even remember what I ate for breakfast yesterday? Good question...for another blog post.) Anyway, one day before class started, he was reading Lolita at his desk. I noticed that he was being very gentle with the book. He treated it as if it were some sort of delicate and irreplaceable antique, not the Penguin Paperback it (probably) was. He monitored his page-turns carefully, taking caution not only to avoid cracking the binding, but also to avoid giving the book that "I've been read" look. I wondered why.
Hi. My name is Summer and I have panic disorder. Yup. If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know this by now. Panic disorder with agoraphobia. (Although, admittedly, the second half of my official diagnosis is slowly fading away. Knock on wood for me, people. Please?!) So, why in the world would a panic attack sufferer want to use caffeine -- a stimulant -- to aid in her overall recovery? Here's why: I don't want to perceive caffeine as some sort of frightening threat. (If you missed my first caffeinated post from late last week, read it here.) I want to create a truce with caffeine. I want to recognize that my body's reactions to this drug are completely normal. I want to train myself to be comfortable with caffeine again. The key here is mindfulness.
"But you don't look sick." Yeah. I've heard that one before. Have you? There's migraine. Fibromyalgia. Lupus. The pain and autoimmune problems aren't immediately visible. Within the mental health spectrum, there's panic disorder. There's depression. There's bipolar disorder, PTSD, and OCD. It's not easy for others to visually see our suffering. But just because an illness isn't showing doesn't mean it's not legitimate! THIS STUFF IS FOR REAL When I have a bad migraine, the only overt evidence of my suffering is the pair of sunglasses I'm probably wearing indoors. Also, I tend to walk very lightly on my tiptoes in a futile attempt to suppress the gnawing, throbbing, and stabbing pain on the right side of my skull. But a big pair of sunglasses coupled with a delicate walk? I look more like some cross between a drunk ballerina and a celebrity-in-hiding. I don't look like I'm suffering. It's the same thing with panic: if I have an attack in the middle of the grocery store, there's no good visual indicator that I'm suffering. Sure, I'll probably abandon my cart and walk quickly toward the exit -- but how does that make me different than any other woman who has forgotten her wallet in the car?
Know this: between every sentence in this blog post, I am taking a sip from my cup of delicious half-decaf Americano from my local home-grown coffee roaster (read: NOT Starbucks, despite the photo. Their coffee tastes like cigarette butts to me.) You might be wondering why I didn't go full decaf with my beverage today. After all, I'm a panicker. Caffeine kick-starts one of my main panic triggers: it increases my heart rate. Boom boom boom. So, why am I doing this? Why am I willingly drinking coffee again? Some might argue that avoiding caffeine altogether is the best way to reduce general anxiety and prevent panic. And that very well may be true -- avoiding caffeine completely is necessary for many of us who suffer from anxiety disorders. I withdrew from caffeine completely when my panic attacks first began in college, and it helped to reduce my anxiety level. But, then again, consider this: avoiding potential threats only amplifies them into larger, scarier threats.
Happy Friday, readers! For most of us, now is the time to stop thinking about work. It's almost 5 p.m. and the weekend is dangling within our reach! If you had a rough work week, perhaps you're exhausted. And I'd love to know something about your exhaustion: do you treat it with sleep or with caffeine? They're both perfectly viable fixes for tiredness -- but as an anxiety sufferer, perhaps you're more inclined to opt for a nap over a latte. After all, naps provide all the rejuvenation with none of the caffeine. Or maybe not. Perhaps napping leaves you sleepier than before you started. Do you turn to caffeine, then?
Okay, I fibbed a little bit. The blog post isn't technically blank. There are words and sentences and stuff, but that's about it. It's hard to fill anything with great meaning when you're placidly walking around with a blankity-blank mind. Let me set the scene: it's 4:23 p.m. I am sitting in my bedroom office (i.e., at an L-shaped desk that I hacked together with a real desk from Target and a long hand-me-down dresser from the 1970's). I'm facing the bed. I see an unmade mess of sheets, quilts, and pillows. I should probably make the bed, shouldn't I? Or, well, maybe not -- after all, I'm only going to un-make again five hours from now. There's a window to the left of the bed. From my vantage point, I see an overcast sky that makes me strangely comfortable. Overcast days give me permission to do whatever I'd like -- work, read, putz around, cook -- without dealing with the manic "OMG get outside and enjoy the sunlight while it's here!" message that the sun tends to broadcast. A cloudy sky releases the pressure to savor the season. It's a neutral force that I've come to know and love ever since developing panic disorder. In my pre-panic days, I was a high sensation-seeking gal who never passed up an opportunity to spend a day in the sunlight, ride an upside-down roller coaster, or jump off a 20-foot cliff into a river. I'm not a high sensation-seeker any longer. Adrenaline is not my friend. I don't search for it. And when it finds me accidentally, I usually tell it to shut up.