Sunday, March 29, 2015

WHILE OTHERS SLEEP, I WEEP

Since my asthma attack that landed me in the ER a few weeks ago, I've had ongoing, daily panic attacks.  My mental state has deteriorated and sleeping has become an increasingly difficult task. In the past my bouts of insomnia always seem to cycle themselves out, but this time it seems stuck on high gear with no end in sight. I keep asking myself where did these panic attacks come from. I've never had them in the past and why I'm I dwelling on death.  It never bothered me before and now I can't seem to escape its clutches. These panic attack seem to come out of the blue with no apparent trigger and when they hit, I lose all ability to calm myself down or to think rationally.  My thoughts are completely focused on the panic attack like an obsession...it's as if I'm wearing blinders and what I see is a very narrow, scary view of life.  I weep, shake and pace.  I'm overwhelmed with the fear of losing control and slipping away forever in some psychotic world. I am, however, one of the fortunate ones because I have people who love me and who will help me regardless of what that help entails.  I know it's no fun sitting with me in ER's at all hours of the day and night and at doctor's offices.  By the way, why don't any doctor's offices have comfortable chairs or better reading material?  I try very hard to keep telling myself that I'm not being a burden to anyone.  My family loves me and wants to see me get well, but it's hard not to listen to all the negative dialog going on inside my head.  I wish I had an on/off switch and since I don't I'm at the mercy of going through some rather agonizing episodes of negativity.


In the last few weeks I've learned many things...most of them are things I'd rather have been kept in the dark about than to have learned them through first hand experience. 
  1. It seems anything regarding mental health facilities are a huge clusterfuck.  Shouldn't it be organized and welcoming to set the patients minds at ease? Yet the places seem oppressive and upon entering it sucks the life from you.  Everything seems so sterile right down to the color schemes and layout of the rooms. Everything about it screams, "RUN!"
  2. People using mental health facilities are scared, anxious and filled with many negative things and need friendly, helpful people working at the facility they use.  While Nurse Ratched was an integral part to the One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest story, she has no place in real life and shouldn't be working at any place involving mental illness.   
  3. People using mental health facilities seem to too easily lose their "human" status as soon as they become a patient. Why is suffering from a mental illness any different than suffering from a physical illness? The difference I believe is in the eyes and attitude of the beholder and of the caretakers.
  4. Because mental illness carries such a stigma, it's easy to become just a diagnosis, a case number and nothing more.  People too easily lose their identity and become a page from the DSM-V.  Too many mentally ill people have lost their ability to fight or stand up for themselves.  When I look at myself I don't see the person I was 20 years ago...a person who had wind in her sails and was going places. 
  5. Regardless of what mental state a person is in, unless they have a specific, detailed plan for suicide, the person will be sent home and referred back to their primary care doctor who in turn is supposed to refer them to a psychiatrist. The process for help is way too long and complicated!
  6. Help for someone in crisis is not immediate and because it isn't immediate it makes holding on all the harder.  It makes having faith in the system nonexistent. 
  7. It's difficult to believe and trust others especially strangers who don't seem sincerely interested in your welfare.
  8. Things that happened 40 years ago can seem like they just happened. Grief, fear and pain comes in waves and sometimes those waves are like a tsunami.
  9. While primary care doctors are good at what they do, treating mental issues is not their forte and they seem to be clueless as to what the person really needs and how to help them.
  10. Public mental health facilities run by state or county agencies usually are a scene right out of One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest.  At best, my first impression was  dismal and scary and I really did keep looking for Mildred Ratched until I found her. 
  11. It's very easy to feel like one of the cows being herded through a system that seems surreal at best.  I kept finding myself wanting to "Moo"....really!
  12. Keeping a medication diary has been a blessing for me.  It's the only way I've been able to keep track of what meds I take and when I take them. Simple tasks have become confusing and meaningless for the most part.  I'm afraid it would be too easy to take an accidental overdose because I can't think straight most of the time.
  13. If you're able to find something that helps calm you down, regardless of what it is, go with it and use it...self-help sometimes is a person's strongest ally.  For me and I know this probably makes no sense, my son takes me for a drive when I'm having a panic attack.  Somehow the combination of that and an Ativan helps. 
  14. I've denied, ignored and covered up being depressed for years until it's gotten to the point of me losing the ability to function normally and do daily tasks like brush my hair, get dressed, go outside (I have to force myself to go places), take a shower and interact with people face to face in a meaningful way.  I've become a hermit because it feels safe being a hermit, but I hate being a hermit because it's not who I am.
It's daylight now...it's time to go take more meds and let the dogs out.  At least they like going outside.  Maybe I need to become a dog so I can feel normal once again. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

I CAN'T BREATHE!

When dealing with a chronic illness or illnesses, that condition slowly becomes a person's entire life and effects everything a person does and doesn't do.  Sadly, it's how you identify yourself because all the other parts even the outstanding, wonderful parts seem to dwarf in its presence.  Since 2002, my list of illnesses has grown immensely.  It's as if my body and its functions have been kidnapped and ransacked by some perverse domino effect.  I jokingly tell people that I've inherited all the worst genes from both sides of my family, but the truth is that it isn't a joke at all.

A few years ago after a returning from a trip to Central America, I came down with the swine flu.  It was at a time when the flu was just gaining momentum and was in the news everywhere.  The swine flu itself wasn't that bad, but it left me with a cough so bad that it hung on for 3 months after all the other flu symptoms subsided.  After countless rounds of ineffective antibiotics, I was finally diagnosed with adult onset asthma.  I was told that sometimes a virus like the flu will bring on asthma in an adult.  Although I was relieved to find out what was wrong with me, struggling to breathe on a regular basis wasn't something I wanted to deal with, but I have to admit it was better than thinking I had something far worse than asthma.  During my 3 month fiasco, I had many breathing treatments because the cough I had was so bad at times I couldn't catch my breath.  It felt like I was trying to cough up a lung and because the cough was so severe I even broke a rib from the strain coughing put on my chest.  When this episode finally passed, I rarely had to use my inhalers and I got to the point that I questioned if my diagnosis had been accurate.

I questioned that diagnosis right up until Tuesday night.  I had gone upstairs to get ready for bed which included taking all my nighttime meds.  Shortly after doing my normal routine, I started feeling a tightness around my mid-section.  That tightness increased and as it increased my breathing became more labored.  My son and I scurried to find my inhalers.  Oh my God, (not an OMG, but a full blown OH MY GOD) where had I put them?  It had been so long since the last time I had to use them.  I religiously to carried them in my purse, but I had failed to put them in my new purse when I had bought it a few months earlier.  Thank goodness, I had unopened ones in my nightstand.  By this time, I was in a full blown panic and I was really struggling to breathe, but the 2 inhalers (Symbicort and Pro Air) didn't seem to be do anything to relive my symptoms.

It became obvious that I needed medical attention because nothing I did was helping.  As I struggled to breathe, the anxiety I felt deepened.  I had lost all ability to calm myself down.  My son finally made the decision to call 911 and by the time the EMT's arrived my heart rate was over 130 and my vision had stars in it...I'm assuming that was from lack of oxygen.  But regardless of my condition, I was unable to sit down or lay down.  All I could do was pace and walk in circles while talking and flapping my arms so nothing could get close to me.  I insisted that I walk to the ambulance because laying on a gurney seemed to be an impossible task to accomplish.  Once inside I felt trapped, but the EMT's were versed in how to deal with difficult people making little to no sense. 

They convinced me to at least sit on the gurney while they examined me, hooked me up to oxygen and started an IV.  Before reaching the ER, I received a breathing treatment which helped open everything up and improved my oxygen levels. By the time I reached the ER, I had both feet on the gurney and although I couldn't lay flat and relax, I had lost that overwhelming need to pace and act like a crazy person.  As my anxiety started to subsided, the albuterol left me wired up and dried out so I still was having trouble relaxing.  After being released from the ER in a stable condition and being told I had most likely experienced an asthma attack and a panic attack on top of it, I was left with the difficult task of winding down enough to go to sleep for the remainder of the night.  One might think after all I had been through, I'd be totally worn out and ready to sleep, but you see, leading up to this attack I hadn't slept for over 2 nights.  Insomnia and I have a quite intimate, ongoing abusive relationship.  It's not one that I like or want, but like any person in an abusive relationship, it's a situation I feel trapped in without any clear way out. 

I stayed awake until sometime into the next day when I just couldn't keep my eyes open any longer.  Since then I've struggled with sleeping, eating and staying calm.  I have to admit I'm frightened a lot of the time and start to feel anxious, but one good thing has come from this experience and that's that it's left me more in-tuned to what my body is trying to tell me. In the past, I have continually ignored all the indicators that I was doing things the wrong way.  Just call me stubborn, foolish and hard-headed! Because I have to push myself to eat now, my blood sugar has been better than it has been in awhile.  Also, actually sleeping has helped bring my blood sugar down.  Most people don't realize that many factors effect a person's blood sugar. Yes, a proper diet is essential, but stress, sleep, exercise, medications and other factors effect a person's blood sugar as well.  The trick is to get everything in harmony so your body can function normally.  Although the "N" word is normally negative, NORMAL in regards to body functions is a good thing and in this area normalcy is something I need to strive harder to obtain.  With that said, it's 9:03pm and I'm going to get ready for bed. Let the sheep counting begin...