When I was younger, particularly before I became medicated, my OCD was garden variety. Blasphemous phrases in the tulips, fear of becoming homicidal pushing up in the daisies, infectious blood in the bleeding hearts.
But the roses in my OCD garden kept my mother. All the years I spent worrying about something happening to my mother, hyper vigilant, trying to evade her mortality, yet in the end she died just the same.
Nowadays my garden variety case of OCD has died for the most part and is mulch for another monster, a weed that began years ago.
Now my mind is a courthouse. Not a Florida courthouse where you can get off for the darndest things, more like “kill ’em all or make ’em wear pink” Arizona. The judge in my head is merciless and ready to throw the book.
My crime is my inferiority complex. I want to measure up to the rest of the world and I fail. My judge hates my frailty. I pray and pray that I can measure up to normal people, but I keep making mistakes everyday. I keep making people mad. I keep making myself mad. My judge asks me, “What use are you to anyone?”
“Dunno. I take care of my cats.”
I know the truth. If I died tomorrow, no one would be inconsolable. The one person who needed me is ashes in a plastic box. People loved my mother. I was just her quiet daughter, the one folks assumed was ‘slow.’
In a way not being needed is liberating. Being around people tends to remind me of my faults. I like being around people, but I don’t like seeing the various ways that I fail. I sometimes feel like a leper around humans. I mean well, but as that drag queen I used to live with said, ‘you’re a boil on my ass that I just can’t lance.” Ah, but everyday that boil survives on her own, makes the sun shine where the sun don’t shine.
On a positive note, my eyes are healthy (apart from being blind as a bat without my glasses). I bet it’s been over 10 years since my last eye examination. I was afraid they’d find macular degeneration in my eyes since it runs in the family.
I once had my glasses adjusted at that office while my friend was there getting new glasses. The attendant remembered me because of my award-winning personality….and the super glue prominent on my left lens.
The condition OCD is marked by its repetitive thoughts and compulsions which the sufferer needs to carry in out in order to neutralize the anxiety they are suffering from and calm their brain down. Alongside obsessive-compulsive disorder, a number of other mental illnesses can co-exist, such as Compulsive Skin Picking, which is a constant urge to pick, peel or scratch at the skin, done to neutralize bad thoughts. It is also a form of self-harm for many and something which many sufferers do as a means of trying to cope with the mental anguish they suffer. Further to CSP, there is also another less well known phenomenon which an increasing number of OCD sufferers have and often live with in silence. It is called Trichotillomania and these are the facts behind a condition which is not discussed nearly enough.
What is Trichotillomania?
Although it isn’t strictly classed as OCD, it carries many of the same characteristic urges and compulsions and there are many sufferers who have both conditions co-morbidly, finding that the obsessive-compulsive urges they have spill over into these hair related compulsions. Its main defining area is that the sufferer has an uncontrollable desire to pull their hair out – sufferers will mostly do this from the hair on their head – taking it out from the root, but it also applies to body hair, such as on the arms, legs and even from the genital region. There are also documented cases of people pulling their eyebrows and eyelashes out too. Mostly, people experiencing Trichotillomania will use their fingers to pull at or remove the hair, but also it is not uncommon for things like scissors or tweezers to be used to do the same. Every time a sufferer has a bad thought, they will try and remove more hair to relieve their stress.
It is usually found in females, but not exclusively. There are also a smaller percentage of boys and men that do it too. In older men, they may start to pick at and pull out their facial hair.
The typical age for onset of the condition will be between the ages of nine and thirteen, more often than not as adolescence occurs. It can also start up in the late teenage period and develop through the early twenties. It is believed to be triggered through anxiety, perhaps after periods of stress and also recurring bouts of depression and may also be brought on as a response to years of suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Another facet of the illness is hair sucking or chewing – this, for many, starts in youth and in severe cases can sometimes result in the sufferer ingesting a great quantity of hair over time that may need medication or surgery to remove it.
How do people with Trichotillomania manage their condition?
From an aesthetic standpoint and from the point of view of the illness being covered up, sufferers will go to great lengths. They may wear hats at all times; they may invest in a series of wigs to cover up bald patches. Some simply wear scarves around their heads for most of the time. If the hair has been pulled from the face, a sufferer might resort to using semi-permanent or permanent make up to restore things like their eyebrows, or wear false eyelashes that can be glued into place every day. Many will simply avoid social situations and may not want to talk about it if anyone notices the hair loss or bald patches.
How is it treated?
The condition is treated in a fairly similar way to OCD. However, many physicians at the present moment have very little information or knowledgeon the condition, though this is improving all the time. If you present to your physician with the symptoms of Trichotillomania, you might have to be prepared to explain how you are suffering with it and what you think it is – then ask for a referral to a psychologist. For the physical, visible symptoms of the illness, your healthcare professional might prescribe a course of genuine medication for hair loss which will encourage the hair to grow back naturally and without any noticeable balding or thinning patches. They may also advise, if you are not already, to take a suitable SSRI anti-depressant medication to help relieve the symptoms of anxiety and depression which may be causing the compulsion to pull the hair out. In terms of therapy, the most common and widely regarded method for treating Trichotillomania is something called Habit Reversal Training, which is, for the most part, pretty much the same as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for OCD.
Habit Reversal Training
This is a theory, developed in the early 1970s, by the eminent psychologists Nathan Azrin and Gregory Nunn. Used for Trichotillomania, it is also successful in treating conditions like Tourettes and Compulsive Skin Picking too. It works on the belief that the sufferer pulls their hair out due to a conditioned response they have when confronted with certain stressful situations or triggers. More often than not, the sufferer of Trich is totally unaware of these triggers and so the first part of this type of therapy is to get them to note when they are pulling their hair out and what occurred before, or whether there are any unusual circumstances which make them do it.
It then teaches them to become aware of these situations and try to consciously find other, less harmful and destructive ways of coping with them. A good psychologist or therapist will encourage the Trichotillomania sufferer to become more aware of the emotional states, times of day and any moods which they experience that can affect whether they pull their hair or not. They will also be asked to note whether this affects their OCD and general all round anxiety. Habit Reversal Training can also be used alongside traditional Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and conventional talking therapies to fully understand and get a hold on what may be triggering both the OCD and the Trichotillomania itself. Treated appropriately it is a condition that has a high recovery rate and it is nothing to be ashamed of. Being open and honest about it is the best way forward to not only help yourself, but to raise awareness.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder affects a huge number of people. Approximately 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children in the United States suffer with OCD, to varying degrees of severity. As most of us know, OCD is an obsession based compulsion to engage in ritualistic behavior, often to the detriment of the sufferer. It can cause a huge strain on the lives of those with it, and those around them. Whilst many sufferers and spokespeople are more vocal about the condition than ever before, stigma and misconceptions still surround OCD. So let’s dispel a few of them…
Myth: “I wash my hands X times per day, I have OCD!”
There is a huge difference between OCD and someone who just likes to have clean hands. Whilst obsessive hand washing is certainly one variation of OCD, it goes far beyond just having meticulous personal hygiene. When I suffered from OCD I didn’t just wash my hands because I wanted them to be clean, I washed them because I needed them to be clean – as if my life depended on it. If my hands weren’t clean, everything would go on hold until they were. OCD by its nature makes you think irrationally. If it doesn’t seem like the end of world if you don’t get the opportunity to wash your hands as much as you’d like, then chances are you don’t have OCD of the hand washing variety.
Myth: OCD is all about cleanliness and hygiene
This is one of the biggest misconceptions about OCD. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is ritualistic behavior that can extend to every area of life imaginable, in many ways. The main subcategories of OCD include (but are not limited to) washing and cleanliness, checking, repeating, ordering & arranging, and mental rituals. As such, even the simplest of day-to-day activities can become ritualized by a sufferer. For example, closing a door – the simplest of tasks for most people, but back when I suffered with OCD closing my bedroom door used to take me about a minute. When I closed it, I had to do so with my right finger pushed up against the right hand corner of the top panel. From there, I had to press the door 16 times to make sure it was shut – with four second intervals in-between each push. This was because 16 was my lucky number, and four when squared was also my lucky number. If I didn’t do this, I believed with every part of my being that something terrible would happen – I’d tell myself if I didn’t do it that my mother would fall terminally ill, that my home would be destroyed, or that I would have bad luck for the rest of my life. Even though part of me knew it was irrational, I wasn’t prepared to take that chance. The urge was so overwhelming to perform this ritual, that performing it felt like a release. Peace would be restored, and I could continue on with my life – or whatlife I had with OCD.
Whilst numeric rituals are common in those with OCD, the condition can involve anything, be it objects, people or places. What defines it as OCD, is the overwhelming compulsion to do or think. The severity can be minor or major, and it comes packaged in a variety of ways – not just cleanliness.
Myth: OCD is developed during childhood
Whilst OCD can certainly develop within childhood (usually from the ages of 8 – 12 years), the average onset for most people is around the late teens or early twenties; though it can occur anytime. Therefore it’s not necessarily something caused by a traumatic childhood, or growing up in a broken home. Whilst the causes of OCD aren’t crystal clear, research suggests that a combination of genetics, serotonin levels within the brain, and environmental factors can all play a part.
Myth: OCD is a women’s condition
This isn’t true, OCD occurs within both genders equally.
Myth: OCD can’t be cured
Whilst there isn’t a specific cure for OCD, it doesn’t mean that the condition can’t be cured by various treatments. Whilst there are currently no tests to determine OCD, a diagnosis is made after a doctor/patient interview. From there, various treatments and therapies are available, but the one the National Institute of Mental Health and Harvard Medical School both recommend is CBT – aka, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It’s also possible that an individual can recover on their own, whether consciously or not. For me, I simply decided that I would no longer have my life ruled by OCD and worked hard for years to break the irrational thought patterns. For those who don’t see that as an option however,help is out there – OCD can most definitely be cured.
Ever since my old therapist chucked me due to new Medicaid restrictions, I have a new therapist named Pepper. It isn’t a pseudonym, her name really is Pepper. I have no idea what her last name is, just that she’s a therapist. I just liked her when I met her during an intake interview and asked if she was taking new clients. So voila. When I think of Pepper, I think of that doll by Ideal from the 1960s. Pepper the doll had red hair. Pepper the therapist has red hair. In fact, if Pepper the doll had an age progression photo done to age her into her late 50s, she could be Pepper the therapist.
But let me digress a bit. So new Medicaid restrictions were causing dumping of us ghetto/trailer folk all round. The first to fall was my eye doctor. People on Medicaid apparently do not have eyes. They literally cut all coverage for eye exams, glasses, etc. Well OK. Next was my dentist. Due to the fire hoops all Medicaid providers must jump through, my dentist dropped all Medicaid folks. Then my therapist dropped Medicaid for the same reason. “I’m just not going to play their game,” said she. I don’t blame her. My psychiatrist, though, was the most emotional about it. Her eyes got watery as she said she really cared about her Medicaid patients, and would do her best to try and keep us. She told me before that she felt an obligation to my late mother to make sure I’m OK. Well, OK.
My psychiatrist was determined to find the loophole in the needle that was in the haystack to keep her Medicaid patients. I sometimes wonder if it was the specter of my mother urging her on, though I’m sure she has other far more likeable patients than me. My mother was the likeable one. The shrink should know, because I drug my mother in with me every time. When I came in the first time after my mom died, she thought my mother must just be parking the car. Awkward. I always had been intimidated by my psychiatrist, she who wielded the power to diagnose my crazy ass on a whim. My shy, awkward ways, my lack of smiling all made her wonder if I had Asperger’s. I think she later figured what I believe to be true, my lowwwwwwww self-esteem and fear of doing the wrong thing is the culprit. I get social cues, so next diagnosis please.
Dependent personality disorder. Oh swell. I might buy it and I might not buy it. I’d be more apt to believe it if I didn’t do so well on my own, and for the most part want to be alone. But my past is my past. When my mother was alive I depended fully upon her. When I was with he whom I called my Soul Bro, I thoroughly depended on him to the point of sustaining emotional abuse. Why do I still see him as the great love of my life? I must be a head case. I’d rather not be dependentocdbloggergirl.wordpress.com, thanks.
And back to Pepper. Pepper is great. Pepper is awesome. I even try to take her advice sometimes. Whereas my former therapist mainly did talk therapy, Pepper is big on cognitive behavior therapy, mindfulness, and shit. I preferred talking and my therapist giving me insight, but OK. She is trying to give me coping skills, assertiveness skills, and learn not to obsess on doing everything to please everyone. Learn how to breathe all mindfully, be aware of other things going on around you. Cool. Sometimes, however, I must refrain from mumbling, “Lady, are you for real?” Such as the Kitty Cat Exercise.
Yes, the Kitty Cat Exercise. One day, I showed up in her office flushed from a hurried walk from my apartment, a good little jaunt. I either missed the bus or didn’t have the fare, and I was late. I apologized profusely, though I am the type who will be late to my own funeral.
Seeing my state, Pepper asked me what my favorite type of water was that I liked to visit.
“A pool” said I, so the idea of me thinking of ocean water and hearing the waves was out of the question, I guess.
“Well, what is your favorite sound?”
“There is nothing nicer to me than the sound of a cat purring.”
This Pepper could work with, so she had me relax, turned on a ‘relaxing sounds’ app on her smart phone, set to purr mode. Then she cut the light in her office out and had me imagine a long-haired grey cat with a bit of white on her nose and me stroking her fur.
I tried to do the exercise, but my mind decided to be a smartass as usual.
That cat sounds like it’s on a respirator.
Then the cat I pictured became Nyan Cat, the animated cat with a pop tart body.
When the exercise was over, Pepper suggested I find such an app so I can do this on my lonesome. I said, “Yes, that sounds like a good idea.” Or I could just go home and pet my cats, same results.
One last thing though, and I don’t want to be maudlin, but I had the most bizarre dream. It is in my dreams that I remember I once had a mother, and that my memories of her and my life before she died are my memories.
I dreamed that my former roommates invited me back to live with them when I wished for $250.00, but I still had my own apartment. Things had not changed though, they were both insulting me and I felt a constant threat of making them mad, or being thrown out of Faux Bro’s life which I was paying to be in. Philippe was with me. If you remember, Phil was the cat they wanted to keep as their own, the other two my nurse had to retrieve from the pound.
Then I found myself at the McDonald’s down the street, a place I had gone to get away from that oppressive environment sometimes during the final days. And there sitting waiting for me was my mother, my dead mother, which I kindly reminded her of her state. “Mom, this is a dream. You’re dead. You can’t really be here. Please stay.”
At the end of the dream, I venture back to my own apartment with Phillipe in my arms.
Thanks for reading and I’m sorry I haven’t been around here or at your blogs, will do better. XOXO
Recently, I received an email from TLC Book Tours asking me if I would review a memoir by a fellow OCD sufferer. Of course I said yes, because I love books, memoirs, and the word “free.” I am so glad I did, because I ended up reading the best book on OCD I ever read. The book is I Hardly Ever Ever Wash My Hands: The Other Side of OCD by J.J. Keeler. It was as though the author ran a spinal tap to my soul and drained out my own experiences with OCD. If you suffer from OCD, you might get the same jolt of recognition from I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands as I did. This book is also invaluable to those who ‘suffer’ a friend or family member with OCD. One receives a candid look into the mind of an OCD sufferer and the horrors we often suffer in silence day by day. Fortunately, the book isn’t a dark abyss of misery either. J.J. Keeler has a brilliant sense of humor that shines through the book’s heavy subject matter and shows that we aren’t just a bundle of nervous buzz kills, that we can indeed be ‘normal’ on the outside, that we can be fun, and we are good people. Really, this is a book anyone can enjoy and learn from, an entertaining summer read that shines a light on the fact that no one is ‘perfectly normal.’
I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands is not a memoir about the pop culture OCD sufferer, the meticulously clean germ phobe who keeps everything in its place. When a friend suggests to her that she may have OCD, the author responds with, “but I hardly ever wash my hands.” I had a similar reaction when I was diagnosed. I remember saying to my shrink, “but I don’t compulsively wash my hands or flip light switches over and over.” It’s all here in the book, the truth about how OCD messes with the mind. I could identify with the author from page 1. I used to “catch” AIDS all the time too and was afraid of being pricked by a wayward needle in the grass. When Keeler describes being afraid that her teddy bear had a bomb inside, I could recall my own teddy incident. Except mine was an orange squirrel. I was convinced it was full of drugs that would either kill me or get me thrown in prison. Afraid of stabbing someone just because one sees a knife and being filled with terrifying images of hurting people? I’ve been there before. Ritualized praying, I still have the T-shirt for that one.
J.J. Keeler also shows us how some phobias are normal, that not everything is our OCD. She also addresses what to do if you are just realizing you might have OCD. She reminds us that those who pontificate on how “it’s all in our head and we don’t need medicine or therapy” don’t have a clue. It’s really difficult dealing with people who think they know everything about our issues,
and just this reminder from Keeler is extremely comforting. We are able to see through Keeler that OCD isn’t curable, but one can live a life not dictated by our mental illness. The most important point of I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands, however, is seeing that we are not alone.
But anywho, I have another page from the notebook journal I kept while I was at Window Licker Hall. This I wrote sometime in mid March.
The nurses here are of every sort. On weekdays we have a surly head nurse with a facial expression resembling Louise Fletcher’s. Nurse Ratchet is always polite to me, but to others not so much. One morning after playing bingo for 75 cents (the price of a soda in the drink machines here), an elderly man fell backwards in his chair, hitting the sharp edges of another chair. I ran and got Nurse Ratched and her solution was to yell at him to get up. This made my blood boil.
There are the kind, caring nurses who help folks like me not feel so alone. My favorite nurse gave me a dollar for a drink, and another time let me use her cell phone to call Soul Bro to beg him to take me back…no dice. I am a leper now, or maybe I bear an invisible scarlet letter: ‘S’ for suicidal.
There’s a couple of nurses who look and act like “trash.” They obviously became nurses for the cash, and if they could get away with it, they’d ignore us altogether.
And then there’s Princess. Princess is generally a nice person until someone crosses her. That’s what one resident did over a pill she didn’t want to take because it was broke in two. Yelling ensued. “Either take it or don’t, or I’ll throw it away!”
“You can’t throw my pill away! If you do, I’ll make sure you pay for it.” Then yell, yell, yell.
“How unprofessional,” I said to my roomie’s semi-boyfriend as we watched.
Then my best-friend at Window Licker Hall, Nowheresville, USA, wanted a tylenol with her other pain meds, and when she couldn’t have it, she and Princess also got into it. Like sands through the hour-glass, so are the Days of Our Lives.
Once my best-friend got done having it out with Princess, she yelled to me, “She’s a bitch!”
“Yeah,” I replied.
“She’s a black bitch!”
“We don’t have to bring race into it.”
Meanwhile, Princess is still royally pissed and screams, “You all belong in Grape, every one of you!” Until then, I wasn’t angry, but when she said that, I felt my rage building. If you live in this state, you likely know that Grape is a long term psychiatric hospital. Since I pride myself in considering me an overall sane soul, to be lumped into one category with the nuts and ‘special’ people is just enough digging into my insecurities.
My best-friend, the Tylenol bereft one, says Princess only meant the white people should go to Grape, because she doesn’t like us. Well, break me a cracker. My friend has been here 7 years (7 years! I’d prefer self-emulsion), ao she’s been an observer of Princess’ ways. I feel, however, a touch of racial bias on the part of my friend in her belief. Like I said before, Princess is always nice to me, but I do anything to keep anyone from being mad at me. I just can’t take anger now. Anyway, how I get the feeling it wasn’t Princess’ dislike of the pigment challenged of us, is because the first woman Princess got into a fight with was a hateful African-American woman with legs so swollen she looks like a balloon in Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. I must humbly surmise, then, that Princess meant the lot of us should get on the short bus to ride from our rest home in Nowheresville to the loony bin in Crazyboro, USA regardless of race or ethnicity. It’s the American way.
My roommate, however, wasn’t miffed, because she’s already been there, done that with Grape.
In retrospect, Nurse Ratchet wasn’t a bad person at all. By the time I left Window Licker Hall I loved her because she offered to take my cats when they were thrown in the pound, even though she had a Rottweiller and it wouldn’t have been the best idea (it was appreciated all the same).
I heard bad things about my favorite nurse, though I believe she is an overall good person.
Lastly, I still think Princess wasn’t a racist. She hated us equally that night.
Recently I transferred all the unique posts from ocdbloggergirl.com. Each post, I’ll point you to a post I wrote months ago on my other blog in case you missed it and want to see.
…My first diary-style entry at my other blog is what! To summarize, I went on Abilify, an anti-psychotic, to try to help my OCD and depression. Results after one dose? Comedy gold, of course! And a little promise of “never again.” But please see my post. http://ocdbloggergirl.com/2011/08/31/1459/
Other incidentals : Hurricane Irene shook our hand, but didn’t punch us like it did elsewhere. Signs and tree branches mainly here. Any pleasant adrenaline rush that I would get normally during a hurricane was ruined by me having a terrible cold that I’m just now getting over. Remember how I said at the emergency room felt like “germs were jumping around?” Guess I was right. Three days after visiting, she got sick. Then a few days later, I was laid low too. But anyway, that was a news brief.
It is a full day on my usually empty dance ticket. I, Lisa, professional mental health seeker, have the joy of seeing both my therapist and my shrink. Rolling out of bed, nicking my legs shaving, and dressing in my new Family Dollar ensemble, I get to my therapy session at 10 am. As I suck on a starlight mint, we go over my myriad of “issues.”
“I went to see an art house film called The Smurfs in 3-D this past weekend, and went to the library before the film. This was the first film I ever saw in 3-D and I thoroughly enjoyed it,” I say as my therapist inspects the little book she caught me reading while I waited for her. She admits to never having seen a 3-D flick, and I praise the medium, that one can almost catch a bird flying out of the screen. “Though I don’t think The Smurfs would be your cup of tea.” I then bemoan the cruel truth that kids’ movies would be great except that kids actually come too.
“What is your comfort level standing in a line at the movie theater?”
“Well,” I answer,” not bad really. Crowds don’t bother me, individual interaction does. I can even ask for movie tickets, as long as I have the money so the person will have a reason to tolerate me.” I show her my latest acquisitions in my quest to get all the McDonald’s Smurf Happy Meal toys, the Baker and Brainy (I happened to have them stuffed into the labyrinth that is my purse). I then tell her that I’m too childish, too child-like, but the therapist likes who I am because she’s known me since I was 15 and because she gets money to like me -but honestly, I think she likes me anyway.
“It’s normal to be enthused about something you collect. My mom collected a particular pattern of carnival glass and was very excited when she found a piece at a secondhand shop,” my therapist assures me.
“I have to see the psychiatrist today. I’m not looking forward to it.”
At some point in the session, my therapist says, “but you feel comfortable talking to me, right?”
“Yes, but you don’t poke me with a fork.” One therapist thought I was sexually abused and my psychiatrist feels I have the ways of an “abuse victim.” Once my psychiatrist threw out there one time that maybe I had Aspberger’s syndrome since my social anxiety wasn’t getting better and it’s a struggle to look people in the eye (I’m very self-conscious).
“I’d have to research it more,” I remember the psychiatrist saying. “But I have a lot of empathy. I thought they didn’t,” was my defense. I did not show how upset I was to have a new diagnosis until I was outside and started crying and fussing at my mother. (No one thinks I have Aspberger’s, though, and the psychiatrist never mentioned it again, so it must have been a passing fancy for her too. Let’s just face it, Shrink, I’m f****d and you can randomly flip through your DSM IV and diagnose me with whatever is on the page, but there ain’t no fixing me, not really. But with that cheery thought, let’s continue ).
“I’m thinking about asking her about Abilify,” I tell my therapist. “She’s talked a couple of times of putting me on an antipsychotic in the hopes it would help with the OCD and everything, but I’ve been afraid of getting tardive dyskinesia. Do you have any patients on it with OCD?”
My therapist is looking far into her memory and comes up with 75% of the folks she saw with OCD who are chomping on the Abilify say it helped them, 25% said no it didn’t, and if she remembers right, 10% got off due to side effects.
I imagine people who’ve been on Haldol for years, the excessive drool foaming from their mouths. I imagine lactating. But have mercy on me, I’m so tired of not being what I yearn for the most: Ideal. Everyday I feel I’m not doing things just right and some days it throws me into a rage. I take three times as long as anyone else to do anything. I’m more depressed than I was and I feel as though I have few redeeming qualities. I begin to hope that my shrink knows that I will dramatically change from my lifetime membership at “Camp Clucky.”
Yes, yes, Lisa. We get you suck, life sucks, everything sucks. Blah, blah, boo-hoo. Get on with the story.
My mother and I are having a spot of lunch and I’m trying to look up Abilify just to make sure I want to try this, but my mobile phone’s battery dies on me. I try to recall the latestAbilify commercial. Cartoon woman literally weighed down by her depression and falling into the “hole” of the depression. Then her kindly looking doctor helps her out of the hole and prescribes her Abilify. Some side effects, what were they? Happy family having a picnic. Happy. “Resulting in coma or death.” What? I don’t remember, must’ve been really rare. Still at happy picnic, even Depression Hole sits nearby. Everyone is at the picnic having such a nice time. I want to be at that picnic, so perfect! “Depression used to define me, then I added Abilify.” Ah, how nice. I’ll just ask my doctor all about it.
When I’m in Dr. Shrink’s office, I have my $3.00 ready to throw at the receptionist before she can ask, because I always get the sense she thinks I’ll run off without paying. It’s the rule of the house, yes, but I can’t help see it as a slight towards all psychiatric cases (power to the people!). I don’t think the receptionist likes my mother and I much. I can imagine her thinking “Sod it all, here comes that rubbish. If I wanted to deal with folks on the dole, I’d have stayed in Merry Old England, wouldn’t I?” Even before Dr. Shrink took Medicaid, though, and I had to somehow hack up $75.00 for my 15 minutes, I don’t believe the receptionist liked us much. It may be in my head, and I don’t seem much different from the others in the waiting room: they mainly look depressed, maybe a couple now and then look mildly apes**t. I’ve been with a friend to Mental Health before and they look worse and more interesting. I remember some young woman, obviously in a manic state, talking on her cell, “Friday night I tried to kill myself but they gave me some lithium and I feelsoo much better now!” I wonder if everyone is still getting help since our genius state thought it was a good idea to close the county mental health and the mental hospital to “privatize it.”
I tell Dr. Shrink my decision. She tells me to avoid grapefruit juice (which I already do since I am on Luvox) and to watch for slowed down movements, that tardive dyskinesiawon’t happen suddenly if it happens at all. Two milligrams, not a big dose at al,l and come back at the end of the month( to see if I’m still alive). Ok, great I can do this!
This might fix me.
Or not. Twenty minutes after taking my first cockroach shaped and colored Abilify stuff starts to happen. I am me but I don’t feel like I’m really here. So I’m not at the picnic yet I guess. My thoughts are my thoughts but I feel strangely like I’m not thinking. OK weird. I rush to look at the guide that comes with my prescription then augment it with the internet. Sometime during all of this I start feeling angry, really angry. Smack myself angry, yay!
Apparently on Abilify, I could develop diabetes, go into a coma, and croak, but hey, I won’t be depressed anymore! Since I’m already fat and haven’t checked my blood sugar in ages, I’m not a happy fat camper.
Stay out of the sun and don’t get overheated…What the frostbite? Am I going to turn into a gremlin?
Weight gain! Do I need to say why I might not like this?
Abilify and Wellbutrin should be used with caution because it might lower one’s seizure threshold. Well that would be a different experience! Might lower my immunity…that should be a hit with someone deathly afraid of going to the doctor.
I try to sleep. I can’t, just as I fall asleep, I feel like I can’t swallow and jerk back awake. I sleep an hour to fly awake and feel angry. Repeat this 2 or 3 times in the night. It feels great!
The next 48 hours are interesting. I’m angry at everything and when my best friend annoys me by what I perceive as lectures instead of swallowing it, I tell her off over and over. I can’t help myself! Freedom such as the ability to tell off your best friend over stupid stuff is not a freedom a social phobe like me wants.
Today I returned to my psychiatrist. “I’m doing OK, but I had to stop the Abilify. After one dose I knew I couldn’t take it. If I had done thorough research I wouldn’t have tried it anyway because I’m afraid of getting diabetes.”
“Yes well,”Dr. Shrink replies, “if you look on the internet, getting diabetes from Abilifyseems as common as getting the jitters.”
True, but I feel I should be more concerned due to the fact I’m overweight.”
Later I visit with my professor from college, the one who I named my oldest cat after in tribute. The college is only a couple of blocks from my psychiatrist’s office. We talk various things and then I talk about how awful I sometimes was when on meds that opened my mouth so that I’d say whatever I wanted back when I was in his science classes.
“Don’t ever feel sorry about the things you say unless you hurt someone’s feelings, and I don’t remember you ever being mean to anyone.”
“Well no, but I’d say anything and I cringe at the thought now.”
(Flashback: pointing at a faux skeleton in class and saying, “Look he’s got a boner!” Flashback: among the things I inherited from my grandmother, one was her old lady bright red lipstick. My reply to the comments I got when I wore it, “Hey, this was a really popular color in the 1940s.” I was shy then too, but accepted as the oddity that I was and I’ve always liked making people laugh. In many classes I was near silent anyway, but not my science teacher’s class. It’s a pity he isn’t my real father)
You learn to have patience says my professor at some point in our conversation. ” I guess you have had worse than me as long as you’ve been doing this,” I stammer.
“At least you aren’t an ax murderer. That would be worse.”
“Have you actually had murderers in your classes?”
“Two of them. One the cops chased into the mountains and he was killed.”
So the Abiify didn’t help me become the person I want to be, not close, but, the moral of this story is, no matter what I do, hey, at least I’m not an ax murderer!
PS: Abilify has helped many people, it could help you too. Sometimes the risk is worth the gain. As my pharmacist said, “Line 100 people up, and two would have the same reaction as you did.” Besides, my body’s wired different anyway. I was the 1/10000 of Paxil patients who lost her period on Paxil (happened on Effexor too!). Soon as I stopped, flowed like the red sea. With that, I bid you adieu.
This is the story of a cliché. Her name is Mary Smith like thousands of other women. She’s in her thirties and lives in a high-rise apartment in New York City, Boston,Chicago, or perhaps in Los Angeles. What does she look like? So many choices. We’re pretty sure she’s white though, the ultimate cliché color. Is she a ginger? No, too uncommon. We want something common in print. Golden strands of blond silk luminescent in the sun? Possibly. Brunette, her hair nearly as dark as her disposition? Also a possibility. Chestnut or mouse brown hair, tied conservatively behind her in a style reminiscent of a school marm? Depends. Is Mary Smith a savvy professional woman with three or four friends trying to find love and sexual gratification in a city? Or is she the tragic soul who ends up throwing herself from a bridge in utter agony (Oh the demons! The demons of her psyche! Oh lost love!)? Or is she that woman from whatever romantic comedy is in the theater every other week, who by happenstance finds her true love? We think Mary Smith resembles the marm the most. But let’s read on, the obligatory scene before the mirror is being written…
Mary Smith stands before the mirror, a figure of brown. Her hair is mouse brown, her skirt tan cotton and slightly jutting away from her skinny frame. Her eyes –brown also- appraise herself with care, bringing her ponytail from her back to spread down to her small bosom. A heroine.
Mirror spinning out of the way, she begins to sing a ditty:
Today, maybe today. Today!
Not yesterday, maybe today. Today!
Today could be the day. Maybe today!
Today, please today, something could happen today!
I feel it! Can you feel it? I think I feel it!
Maybe today! It didn’t happen yesterday, could be today.
Maybe love today, my destiny today. Today!
My life could change todayyyyyyyyyyyyyy!
This song is transcribed here for inspiration and hope. But a story needs a hint of pathos or some critic will criticize this as being too one-dimensional. Since Mary Smith is a cliché, we really shouldn’t care, though, should we? She reaches into her medicine cabinet and becomes the face in the latest anti-depressant commercial. I talked to my doctor about my depression and he gave me…
What should we say he gave her? Something easily recognized as an anti-depressant. Prozac? Paxil? Zoloft? Lets say Zoloft. Zoloft for the so lofty dreams soaring over whatever clichéd demons Mary Smith subscribes to.
It is summertime and NYC, Boston, Chicago, LA, or wherever the hell our cliché lives. It is an oppressively hot day late in July. Mary Smith works in a paperback exchange, but will one day be the editor of a large publishing concern or maybe the romance columnist for a woman’s magazine. Some people are coming in, milling through the narrow aisles, not really interested in the mass market used paperback bonanza around them. Nor is Mary Smith interested in them unless they approach the counter, book in hand.
“Is it hot enough for ya?” is Mary’s attempt at being friendly with a book-clad fat woman in her 40s.
“Yeah. Hot.” A book called Savage Passion is dropped on the counter. Typical cover in the Indian/White Heaving Breasted Lady genre: An American Indian who looks like he lifts weights. He’s wearing a feather, loincloth, and not much else. A lady, poofy blond hair like a 1980s porn star, with lots of green eyeshadow. A bit of tit and leg is showing from her Victorian gown, leaving enough to the imagination to be allowed at a grocery store bookrack. Mary Smith used to read such books, mainly when she was 14, and grew weary of the genre shortly thereafter, for even clichéd characters can only stand so much of the same. Mary Smith prefers the various yarns spun by Danielle Steele. Now that is literature, is what Mary thinks, and that she need never vary in her choice of author, as Steele releases a new 400 page tome to indefeatable true love every three days or so.
And then he comes in. Mary Smith hears the refrain from that awful song she somehow made up on the spot this morning. Todayyyyy…
He’s the one, thinks Mary. He likes to read, he’s handsome, he’s perfect. Will he notice me?
What does Mary Smith’s future lover look like? Hugh Grant ( He’ll look like Hugh Cronin by the time this story is over)? We think he should look like perfection, the sort manufactured not by nature but by a Mattel factory. He is Ken articulated with the breath of life and perhaps looking for his Barbie in the flesh.
Mary Smith is a Barbie doll, Paperback Exchange Barbie, not manufactured by Mattel, but still ‘swell.’ She fantasizes about this man coming up to her, giving her a lengthy kiss rivaling a 1940s movie scene. I love you, Mary…
He’s coming to the counter. He’s coming.
“Hi,” Mary Smith says for the first time in a long time without having to fake enthusiasm.
“Hey,” says Ken, putting one hand in the pocket of his jeans. “You got a public rest room?”
The day progresses. It is around 3pm. The book store has thinned out and now Mary Smith is alone with a newspaper crossword. A mother comes in dragging her son by the hand. He looks to be about 6, years-old, brown hair almost the color of Mary’s. Mary Smith thought as a young girl that she would one day have a child of her own. Maybe her phantom child would look somewhat like this little boy.
She goes back to her crossword puzzle. The boy is bored as his mom looks at suspense novels. The owner of the bookstore likes knickknacks, the kind that have a sticker on the bottom that says, “Made Exclusively for Dollar Tree.” Cherubs, frogs, gnomes, and ceramic Jesus Christs all vie to be noticed on the tops of the bookshelves. One curio, a genuine African Mask (made in China of painted china), has caught the boy’s attention. His mother is oblivious to him though she is roughly 8 feet away. He starts to climb one shelf to get the mask. It would be fun to put over his face and pretend he is a masked superhero , we believe the child thinks.
The shelves only are about eye level to the average adult, so from the first shelf, the boy can reach…just reach.
Suddenly a crash, the little African Mask now lies on the linoleum floor in several pieces. Mary Smith turns to look at what happened. The boy is still standing on the first shelf, one hand frozen in mid-air, the other clinging to the shelf. Before Mary Smith can reassure the boy’s mother that the mask was of no real consequence, the mother has gone red with rage. “Now what have you done? G—damn IDIOT!”
Don’t look, Mary. Not your problem, Mary. Mary Smith resumes writing an answer on her puzzle. Her hand is shaking just a bit. She isn’t looking, but she hears. We see that the mother is small, blond, and in her early twenties. She doesn’t look capable of hurting her son, nor does she look capable of keeping him under control. Her frustration and rage is peaking. She grabs the boy off the shelf, but holds him kicking at the air 2 feet below him. Walks far enough away with him to clear the remains of the china African mask before dropping the child to the floor. The sound of the child’s body hitting the floor makes Mary Smith’s pen draw a line off of the paper as her shaking hand drops the pen.
Mary Smith can’t open her mouth. Her lips are stuck together, her tongue sticks to the roof of her mouth. Her voice is paralyzed. A movie of the week scene and she can’t turn the channel or swallow. The woman grabs up her son so that he stands again. He is winded, shocked, and not crying. She grabs his hand and they leave the store as they came.
Mary Smith is alone now. The mask is in the floor in several pieces. One piece containing a hole for an eye and a bit of forehead is on its side. To Mary Smith it looks like the eyeless socket is staring at her.
There was a time when Mary might have said something. How long ago was that? Ten years ago, maybe fifteen? Since before she let life pass her by. Before she began just trying to get on with life. Before her ideals began to shrivel and maturity blotted them out.
Mary Smith begins to pick up the pieces of the china African mask until she feels a sharp pain in her palm. The piece that had pricked her conscience has now cut her hand. This is the high melodrama we hoped Mary Smith, cliché of the great American short story, would give us. Emotional, physical pain, the kind that will translate well on the silver screen. Keep going,Mary!
Mary Smith drops the offending piece into a plastic bag she is using to collect the debris and then opens her palm. Blood, not massive, but considerable enough is leaking from a small cut. She stares at the red fluid that pumps through her body as though entranced. Funny the thoughts one thinks. Look, Mary, you’re alive. You’re still a person. Can you feel it? (Mournful reprise of the “Today” song’s music should be placed here in the movie version).
Perhaps a potential vampire boyfriend should materialize like a shark smelling blood? You know, a nice pale guy, handsome, opens the door for his lady-love before draining her of her lifeblood. So popular now, but we decide we like this story sans Dracula, and…
Mary Smith bandages her hand in the bathroom, places the last piece in the bag, and makes her way to the wastebasket behind the counter. But for some strange reason she can’t toss the tied bag into the basket. Something, some force has prevented her from throwing the mask away. Perhaps the mask is cursed, right? Not likely. Hello, it came from the wild forest pf The Dollar Tree, not an ancient African tribe. Probably something else. It seems to her that to throw the mask’s remains away after what happened would be wrong…almost bordering on disrespectful for her phantom son’s pain.
It’s time to close. Mary Smith is glad. It’s been a long day. I’ll throw it away when I get home, and with that she stuffs the plastic bag in her purse. The ‘closed’ sign is hung on the door, she sets the alarm, and locks the door . She is out on a generic sidewalk in NYC, Boston, Chicago, or LA.
The loneliness of a large city is something Mary Smith is used to, but something has happened. The late afternoon sunlight is almost like it’s not there to her. The oppressive heat seems to not bother her. She almost feels cold. The world is gray like an anti-depressant commercial pre-pill. People are all around her and she feels invisible until she bumps into a man (OK, here must be the meeting of the male romantic lead. FINALLY. Such a tedious read).
“Why don’t you watch where you’re going?” a man in a business suit admonishes.
“Sorry,” Mary Smith replies in the same tone as the gent.
Everything is wrong somehow. People are so unkind and she is tired of it all. Mary Smith is relieved to lock herself safely into her apartment away from everyone. Suddenly she remembers skimming through the paper that day, the stories. Along with the daily dose of murder, mayham, and outed gay conservatives, there was the story of a man who lived in an apartment building not far from where Mary Smith lives. He hung himself in his closet and wasn’t found for a week, not until someone smelled him. What if one day that happens to me? What if I died one day by natural causes or by dispatching myself and they only found me because I stunk? Would anyone wonder what happened to me? Would anyone care? Oh, knock it off, Mary. Someone would call, your employer, your landlady sure would be on the case if the rent was late. Maybe a friend sometime.
My life doesn’t matter.
Eat something, Mary. You’re just tired and hungry.
Would anyone remember me for anything? No one would. I’m nothing in this world.
Rinse off your face. Get a grip. Ugh, no wonder no one loves me.The mirror doesn’t lie!
The mask is still in her purse, which she has hung on the coat rack. She takes the bag out of the purse, empties the pieces on a tray, hunts down her super glue, and pieces The Dollar Tree African mask together.
Watch something on the TV.
Canned laughter, fake, beautiful people sitting on couches talking their humorous adventures in love and life. Oh kill me now. I’m goingto bed.
“Maybe today? Fuck it. Tomorrow,” she sings as she slips into bed. Mary Smith covers her head with her pillow and drowns the out the world.
The next day she picks up the dried mask from where she glued it together. The mask falls to pieces again. Mary Smith sweeps the pieces into the plastic bag and throws it away on the way to work.
I met Dr. Sana Johnson-Quijada the first time she left a comment on my blog a few months ago, and she has been a dear blogging friend ever since. Dr. Sana is the author ofA Friend to Yourself, a blog she started to help people become friends to themselves, a concept someone I know (::cough cough:: myself :: cough:: heave:: ) could definitely use.
Every day for a year Dr. Sana, a psychiatrist and mother of three, is writing on ways to be a ‘friend to yourself.’ Her posts, as she says on her About Me page, are from her life experiences and her training, but she often uses fictionalized characters to illustrate her point. She even writes about perfectionism (not that I have a problem with being a perfectionist or anything).
Dr. Sana’s posts are always relevant to the human experience common in us all. Yesterday’s post was about how revenge often ends up hurting you more than the person on whom you avenge yourself. I can’t help thinking with such awful things going on now and those seemingly getting away with it that this is an important message. There is also the self-care tip of not hurting yourself or others, reminding us emotional abuse can be as bad as physical abuse.
I strongly suggest you start reading Dr. Sana’s blog for common sense tips on caring for yourself and those around you. I’m sure you will find her writing as useful and full of insight as I do.