The Struggle Is Real

Sometimes it may not seem like it, but the struggle is real. I (finally) saw my doctor again today… after he cut off my prescription. That’s kind of clingy, don’t you think? I’ve tried to tell him that I need space and then he goes and does that. When I called his nurse to make the appointment she let me know that they had called and left me four voicemails, and that they had put a note on the most recent (and final) refill with my pharmacy stating that I had to make (and keep – they know my tricks) an appointment with my doctor before they would refill it again. So what? So, there’s a law that specifies that he can’t continue to refill my prescriptions without a check up every once in a while. Big deal. I was just there 14 months ago, but whatever.

I can’t say that I was altogether pleased with the blood work numbers. For the most part they were excellent. I’m not diabetic, I’m far from anemic and almost everything looked just like it was supposed to look. I had some valid questions. Why do I tend to black out when I’m laughing very, very hard? Based on those numbers, should I be having a nervous breakdown? I had thought that these things were related to being overly tired, and further thought that being overly tired had to do with my blood not being right (like anemia or something), and his presentation showing most of my numbers right where they should be – defying all logic, considering my weight and the amount of exercise I get – blew a gaping hole in my theory.

He explained a possible reason for the laughing thing and said that if it becomes a pattern then we’ll look at it again. Problem is, I don’t laugh THAT hard all that often. You know, the kind of laugh that builds and builds until you get to the point where you can’t breathe? We’ve all been there. I’ve been there more times than I can remember in my 48 years on this earth, but only recently did I actually feel that I was going to lose consciousness. I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t a cause for alarm, because I find it a little alarming. But then, I’ve never been 48 years old before last year.

He also confirmed, with a finger pointing to the charts, that based on those numbers I was not allowed to have a nervous breakdown from blood problems. Then, I had to tell him about last Tuesday. Tuesday was also a little alarming for me, and for my dear brother and sister who I chatted/texted with all afternoon. It was kind of a dark day in general. It began with my inability to get out of bed, and literally pulling the covers over my head. I’m as dramatic as the next guy, but I’ve never actually done that before, not in real life. I described for him a few more of the thoughts and feelings I had that morning. He labeled it an anxiety attack, which sounds just about right.

It could have to do with the prolonged stress at my job. We've launched a new software that didn’t have quite all of the bugs worked out and I’ve gotten a few phone calls. My voice mail box fills up with 50-60 voicemails by around 2 PM. That doesn’t count the emails, or the people who walk over to my desk because they have somebody on the phone. I’ll be talking to one of these people from other departments, or to one of my staff, and the phone is ringing. I glance at it and see that two numbers are calling at the same time. When the ringing goes on for what seems too long, I glance again to see that, without missing a beat, another call has come in so that three phone calls have come in in the span of about 10 seconds. While I’m talking to the person at my desk there might be four seconds in which the phone does not ring. And this goes on… All. Day. Long. Every day. I visualize myself with tears welling up in my eyes while trying to focus on what the person I’m talking to is asking. This is the end of the first month since the new software launched and it has been a little stressful. If I take anxiety medicine I get very sleepy as soon as I get home from work and am not worth much, though it does help me get through the day without completely losing my head. I’m reminded of the phrase that was used in the 80’s and 90’s for people who randomly walked into places and began shooting people. We’d say that the person had ‘Gone Postal’. And we said that because for a while, they tended to be people who worked for the United States Postal Service. I can relate to those poor souls a little more than I would like. I’m nowhere near arming myself, but I came close to raising my voice at a coworker the other day. That seems almost ludicrous when I write it, but I do EVERYTHING I can at work to maintain a positive attitude to keep morale up so that we can get through this. And we will. It’s just a little difficult at the moment.

So my doctor said that with the effects of the one tiny problem in my blood work that we are addressing with this prescription that ran out, added to the subtle stress that I’ve been enduring at a job that I otherwise love, he thinks the combined effects, along with some other possible contributing factors, could easily cause an anxiety attack, especially if the person were prone to that sort of thing anyway. (I do have a history of depression, so there’s that.) After some very serious questions asked in as light a tone as he legally could (specifically “Are you thinking of hurting yourself right now”), he said I was allowed to leave after setting down the new rules of how often we are to meet going forward. (The answer, in case you were wondering, was ‘No. I am not thinking of hurting myself, nor was I on Tuesday.’)

I was at the nurse’s desk and the doctor was giving her instructions for future blood orders for me when Barry texted me, “Did your doctor get after you?” I showed the text to my doctor and the nurse and we all laughed. He said that he wasn’t very good at that, but I assured him that he was quite stern with me. The nurse agreed that he could be when needed.

After last Tuesday I truly thought that I needed to find a way to make an appointment with a psychiatrist. Today’s visit has put my mind to rest a little. So, back to work tomorrow with my new prescription, my body getting back to where it needs to be and a closer eye on the anxiety. The doctor (who is a specialist) also told me I have to go see my General Practitioner. (These people!) If the anxiety doesn’t calm down by then I’ll discuss it with him as well. I love my GP more than life itself and I trust he’ll have a good suggestion. At work I’m beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel, so hopefully this will all soon be something that we laugh about, that we laugh so hard about that we all pass out.

How to De-Stress, or How Not to

8/11/2016

There is something self-destructive about trying to de-stress – like a self-fulfilling prophesy, but backwards. Sometimes any steps I take to relax after a stressful week only lead to more stress, or simply time lost in the attempt. I'm certain that there are 123,623,326,098 books written on the topic, but sometimes one just wants to get away. Reading suggestions on how to focus, or let go, or any of the other things that my soul wants to do is not quite as appealing as getting in my car and just going. In this way I relate to Rose from The Patron Saint of Liars, Ann Patchett's debut novel. There is something freeing about getting in the car and driving, with no particular place to go. When I was younger, I used to see the signs over the highway indicating a distant city that the highway led to, and I would want to just leave, just stay on the highway and continue to that other city. Not go back home to get anything; that would break the spell. Just go.

Half a lifetime of going, and it's not quite as appealing as it used to be. The idea of escape is still there; it's just dressed in a different disguise these days. I tried drink; I was never very good at it. Intoxication never offered the freedom of driving on a highway with its untapped possibilities. All of it is an illusion one way or the other, but driving didn't generally lead to hangovers or regretful memories of how I had behaved.

This last Saturday I asked my partner if he wanted to go with me on a project. For some reason (mostly anemia, I have come to suspect) I had had a very stressful and anxiety-ridden week. I've had a project in mind that I wanted to work on, a photography project. I want to take pictures of Austin landmarks. Not buildings, but street art. The "HI HOW ARE YOU" frog, the "I love you so much" wall. I started last December with a painted privacy fence only to discover that the camera had no memory chip in it, which is the equivalent of having no film. So, I thought it was time to try again.

The painted privacy fence I pass on the way to work each day

About the only thing I took a picture of this sunny day 



However, we took off at 11 on a bright, sunny morning and this is not conducive to good outdoor photography, unless harsh shadows and overexposed highlights is what you're after. I was driving and I was frustrated. I was angry at myself for not taking off earlier; I was angry at my partner for delaying when I had asked him if he wanted to go; I was just angry and tired and stressed. I abandoned the project, but between the two of us we couldn't think of anything else to do that was fun, so we went home to take a nap.

The next day we had brunch at a local cafe and on the way home he missed the turn to go to our house, so he just kept going. The road got less smooth and more narrow. Eventually, we saw a sign indicating that state maintenance ended and sure enough the road changed from paved to semi-gravel all at once. Eventually we came up to the highway that leads to Lexington, but we turned off, deciding to save that for another day. We had other commitments that day and didn't have the time to spend just exploring a new town. So, we found another road that seemed to want to swing back around to Elgin and took it instead. After a couple of turns we ended up in Coupland, which is on the way back home from Dallas.

View from a random highway on the way back home from an extended wrong turn


I learned from that trip that maybe projects aren't what I need when I desperately need to de-stress. I learned that it can be better if somebody else is driving. I learned that there is an art to letting go, and it's all about timing. Finally, I learned anew that being in the car is relaxing and the anticipation of a new place can be a solace for the soul.

Happy driving. :-)