Sunday, March 30, 2014

Crazy School: Week 1

Just because you are bad guy does not mean you are bad . . . guy.

I started my Intensive Outpatient Program, AKA "IOP," AKA "Crazy School," last Friday. The first day didn't go anything like I'd expected and by then end I was ready to run for the hills. In stead of doing any kind of "Hi, my name is Emily and I'm a little crazy," they just gave me a tour of the building and deposited me in a class that had already started. I took my seat and tried not to feel like I was the new kid in 7th grade. Most of the other people were young adults and a lot of them were recovering addicts. And I got the impression that no one wanted to be there. I even asked my clinician at the break if some of them were court ordered to be there and couldn't believe me when she said it was all voluntary. Then why are they acting like jackasses? I wanted to shout. We had a class about how important it is for our mental health to get enough sleep and eat right. Seriously. A whole class. Then we had group therapy where I felt like I knew more about how to lead the discussion than the shrink. Then we talked about what coping skills we'd learned that week that we planned on using over the weekend. Um, yeah. Not exactly helpful. It wasn't even until the end of the day that I'd spoken enough to reveal that I have triplets. ("You win!" they all said.) When they asked what my goal was for next week, I very much wanted to say, "Try to figure out if this program is worth my precious time." But I didn't. And I went back the next week. And I'm so glad I did.

After a disappointing second and third day, I finally had a breakthrough. We learned about Radical Acceptance which goes something like this: Bad things are going to happen and you will experience pain in your life whether you like it or not. But you decide if you want to stay in the pain and suffer or dig down deep to face reality and move on. As I was taking notes, I wrote down, "What is the reality that I'm refusing to accept?" Then another patient shared a story about how that morning she'd been frustrated as she got the kids ready for school. (She's one of the few that is old enough to have kids.) She finally lost it and snapped at her daughter and said something mean. And then, she said, she had a choice—she could either accept reality and move on or be willful and continue to suffer. When I asked her what she meant, she explained that she immediately apologized and tried to repair the relationship with her daughter. That's acceptance. If she'd been willful, she might have stuffed her emotions or let her guilt drive her crazy or a number of other negative outcomes. But what, I asked, was the reality that she had to accept? She looked at me for a moment and then said, "That I'm not perfect." 


So now, every time one (or all) of my kids cry or scream or throw a tantrum, I repeat over and over in my mind, "I'm not perfect and that's okay. I'm not perfect and that's okay." It's seriously helping.

This week I also started to try to have a better attitude in group therapy. After talking to my brother, BJ, who has been doing this stuff for the last four years all day, every day, I realized I needed to stop looking at the differences between me and the other patients, and focus on what inside of me was causing me to think I was better or healthier than them. I think that's what group therapy is all about—you're forced to interact with others in a way that requires absolute emotional authenticity. There's something synergistic that happens when you are able to listen to someone else's problem, help them dig down to the root of it, see yourself in their own pain, and help them come up with a solution. Even just knowing that other people have felt what you're feeling and have figured out how to deal with it is really affirming and helps you grow. 

Am I boring you yet? The point of all this is that I am glad I'm in Crazy School and I'm looking forward to the next week. If you ever want an earful of what awesome thing I learned any given day, just give me a call.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Happy Pills

It's been almost six weeks since the crap hit the fan and I had my little "breakdown." I couldn't sleep for four nights straight. And when I tried to get help, Mother Nature decided to dump a huge snowstorm on Northern Jersey and every place I called was closed. I even tried to hurt myself, because in my addled brain, I thought then I could go to the emergency room. But guess what? I'm a wimp! And I have a very strong sense of self-preservation coupled with a very weak stomach. So, don't worry. I can't kill a spider, much less myself. 

I eventually did get in to see a psychiatrist, and for a month now, I've been taking Lexapro, an anti-anxiety/depression medicine. I tried Lexapro before, when the babies were little and I was drowning in diapers and self-loathing, but it was given to me by a shrink that only heard the word "triplets," threw a prescription at me, and never talked to me again. The first two days I took it, I felt jittery and had trouble sleeping. Screw that, I thought, stopped taking it, and never followed up. This time around, my doctor explained that the side effects would wear off with time, but that I had to stick with it for a few weeks. She gave me a prescription for a sleep aide that I used a few times, and we've been meeting regularly ever since. In other words, she does her job right. Bless her! But it took a while for the meds to kick in, and getting to that point was hard. If you've never experienced anxiety or depression before, lemme splain:

Generalized anxiety, for me, feels like this unease that comes from nowhere, like black, formless demons that lurk at the corners of your consciousness. You can't place the source of the fear, but it's real, like a feeling of impending doom. The sun might be shining, but its light is bleak and hopeless. Adam knows that when I tell him I'm feeling anxious, he needs to put his arms around me, hold me tightly, and tell me over and over, "Everything is going to be alright." Because when you're in its thrall, the demons eat away at any peace of mind you had. My chest feels tight. I want to hide. It's horrible.

Recently, before the fan/crap, I had a few bona-fide panic attacks. One happened on the drive home from Costco. I had Elizabeth with me and I was irked that I'd finished later than I wanted and would be hitting bad traffic. Plus, some nice person had left a note telling me I'd scratched their truck, though I knew there was no way I'd hit anything in the parking lot, much less a truck. All this and other thoughts were swirling in my head, when all of a sudden, my breathing started to get rapid and shallow. I felt like there was something constricting my chest and that I couldn't get a deep enough breath. The longer it went on, the more I struggled to breathe, and the more scared I got. I didn't know what to do. I thought I was going to lose control of the car. I pulled over as soon as I safely could, I asked Elizabeth to say a prayer for me (to give her something to do since she was freaking out), and called Adam. Listening to his voice helped me calm down a little. I figured the best thing I could do would be to get out of my head, so after assuring him that I was feeling better, I turned on NPR and listened to the news. I let the words coming out of my radio numb me and I was fine for the rest of the drive home. 

I had one more panic attack the day of snow and crap. And then the anxiety turned to a terrible pain in my stomach. For a while, I even thought I might be pregnant, since it reminded me so much of the crippling pain I'd experienced when I carried the triplets. But I found out I wasn't pregnant and wouldn't have to throw myself off the George Washington Bridge like I'd vowed I would if I were. Hallelujah! But the pain was still there, as bad as that I experienced when I was a green missionary in Texas. Oh, the irony. But the stomach pain, thank goodness, has diminished and now I only feel a slight queasiness once in a while. And it sure has helped me lose weight! (Or that might be the zumba.)

As for depression, perhaps I can best describe my experience with it by telling you how I've felt since the meds have started to kick in. It was about Tuesday of last week when I first noticed that I didn't have to force myself to smile. Charlie was saying something heart-breakingly adorable and I felt a warmth I hadn't felt in so long. I was genuinely delighted by the funny thing my kid had just said. I noticed I was laughing more. I was making jokes at the dinner table. I was dancing around and singing Frozen songs with the kids. I wasn't dwelling on painful thoughts and memories. It was like I finally felt like myself; I felt free to enjoy life. I still got angry. I still felt sad. But it didn't incapacitate me. Depression for me feels like everything is flat. I feel like I'm walking through water. When it's bad, it takes all my effort and mental stamina to get anything done. I remember one day when I was faced with laundry, and it physically (but mentally?) hurt to pick up the laundry basket and start collecting dirty clothes. Another day, I couldn't get out of bed. My kids were running amok and needed to be fed breakfast, but I just couldn't move. "Suck it up, woman!" you're shouting. I was shouting it to myself, too. But I couldn't. I called my friend and neighbor and told her how I felt. She knew just what to do: she invited me to bring the kids over so we could talk. That was enough to motivate me to get out of bed. So my kids were fed that day, thanks to her. 

A few days before the meds kicked, I had my darkest hour. I tried to hurt myself again, this time to displace the emotional pain with physical pain (cuz that makes sense, right?) Again, my weak stomach prevailed and no harm done. But my p-sychiatrist didn't see it that way. Two attempts in three weeks, plus endless thoughts of ending my life was enough to convince her I needed more intensive help. I balked at first, but after talking it over with Adam, my parents, and my therapist, I decided to give it a try. I've only had an intake appointment, but I feel really optimistic about it. I'll be going to what's called an Intensive Outpatient Program for about six weeks. I'll basically be able to do a few years' worth of therapy in a much shorter time. And since I'll be starting the program with the meds already working (and not mired in terrible anxiety and depression), I'll be that much further ahead. It won't be cheap, but hey! It's cheaper than going to the funny farm! 

A wise man once told me, depression is the mind's inability to construct a future. And it's so true. When you're depressed, there's no hope in the future. And you're afraid that you'll always feel that way. 

I don't feel afraid anymore.

And here's some cute pictures of my kids.

P.S. For a really awesome, hilarious, and true description of depression (and how not to react to people with depression,) check out these posts on Hyperbole and a Half here and here.)