Surprise!

fluSometimes I wish I just had the flu.

You know, you have a sore throat, a fever, a cough, maybe even a little upset stomach. There are very visible, outside symptoms. You can go to the doctor, he (or she) can look at you and compare the data in front of them to what they learned in medical school and then make a reasonably well-informed guess as to what is wrong with you. Then they can write you a prescription that is time-tested to cure whatever it is that is ailing you, whether it is actually the flu or some other illness you’ve managed to contract. Lie down for a day or two, take your medicine, and next thing you know, you’re good as new.

If only problems with the human mind could be as easily solved.

As I have written here before, I was diagnosed a couple of years ago with dysthymia or dysthymic disorder. To show how quickly terminology can change in mental health, however, it is now known as “persistent depressive disorder.” I have tried out several medications in an attempt to curb the symptoms of this particular form of depression, experiencing varying degrees of success with each one. I am currently taking Abilify, which is technically not even an antidepressant, but it seems to be working fairly well for me. “Fairly well,” however, does not equal “very well,” so I made an appointment several months ago to see a psychiatric doctor about what I should be taking.

Now, before anyone becomes overly concerned about me, the term “psychiatric doctor” pretty much just means a counselor-type who can prescribe psychiatric drugs (Yes, I am aware I just totally insulted the profession with that dumbed-down description.). I was not wrapped up in any kind of straightjacket or confining clothing, and no one attempted to have me admitted to any kind of facility. The appointment was more like a friendly chat discussing my symptoms and what medicine (or medicines) might work best to combat them.

Have you ever been to see the doctor, though, nearly absolutely convinced you knew exactly what was wrong with you and what the doctor needed to do to cure you? I approached yesterday’s appointment with that type of mindset. I was depressed and had been experiencing some anxiety-like symptoms, so I figured I obviously needed to review antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications and let the doctor determine which ones would work best for me.

How in the world, then, did I walk out of there with a prescription for Adderall?adderall

In case you’re not familiar with Adderall, it is most commonly used to treat narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (better known as ADHD). I do get sleepy sometimes, but not enough to constitute a diagnosis of narcolepsy, so that only leaves you one guess as to why it was prescribed to me.

That’s right: Mr. Shy, Mr. Good Grades All Through School, Mr. Back of the Room at a Party was told yesterday he met five of the 10 criteria for adult ADHD.

Huh?

adhdI thought people with ADHD were the ones who couldn’t shut up. I thought they were the ones who struggled with bad grades all through school. I thought they were the ones who couldn’t sit still for more than five minutes at a time. I don’t fit any of those descriptions. I just got A’s in my two master’s classes. Why do I have a prescription for Adderall now?

It actually makes more sense than it might initially seem. I have always had a bit of a wandering mind. I remember being young and my dad trying to teach me how to work on cars. I don’t remember a word of what he told me. I know even now during sermons or long lectures, I have a tendency to nod off or lose attention. I have a horrible time getting organized, and as much as I talk about wanting to be a writer, I never actually get focused enough to put anything down on paper (or computer screen). I can barely pick out a shirt to wear in the morning without having a low-level debate with myself.

This kind of scatteredness is what drew the doctor to his opinion that I might need to be treated for ADHD. Actually, it sort of came down to a coin flip between that and anxiety, and since anti-anxiety medicines sort of slow you down and I’ve been struggling with drowsiness lately, we decided to try the ADHD treatment first.

Today was my first day on the drug, so I’m still not sure how much of what I experienced were actual effects and how much was placebo. I do know I was much more awake than I have been for a quite some time, and I did tons of work at my computer today. On the sort of weird side, I didn’t eat anything between breakfast and dinner. Not a snack or anything. Didn’t even want food. I guess this could possibly be a positive, as I seem to gained a few pounds since I started taking Abilify. Kind of hoping it isn’t an everyday occurrence, though.

As with any drug, one day’s worth of results is not enough to measure the effects of taking it, so I still couldn’t tell you if attempting to lessen the effects of ADHD (which I may or may not even have) is the right way to go for me. There may be a complete reversal of treatment in my future. Or there may not be.

Sometimes I wish I just had the flu.

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How Can You Tell?

“No, crazy people don’t know they’re going crazy. They think they’re getting saner.” – John Locke, “Lost”

I used to be very reluctant to mention to anyone that I take an antidepressant. Despite the countless number of people who liken taking an antidepressant to any other type of medication, it still seems different to me. I suppose I still have difficulty grasping the concept of depression as an “illness.” If my heart begins to fail, I don’t have much control over that. It seems like I should be able to get a handle on my thoughts, though, and because I tend to imagine people thinking the worst of me anyway, I guess I believe others would frown upon my need for medical help in this area.

You may have noticed I keep using the word “antidepressant.” This is because “antidepressant” feels more reassuring to me than “mind-altering drug.” See, an antidepressant is a calm, reassuring thing that will help me stabilize my mood and live a happier and more productive life. A mind-altering drug actually has the potential to alter my state of being, in potentially positive or negative ways. Finding the right drug for you can be a godsend; picking the wrong one can result in a nightmare.

antidepressantsAfter meeting with my doctor yesterday, we decided to tweak my medication again. Choosing an antidepressant often feels like such a random process to me. If you have the flu, you take Penicillin or an antibiotic; if you’re depressed, well, we’re just going to keep trying stuff until if works. Nevertheless, I often feel a certain twinge of excitement when I receive a new prescription. I suppose this comes from the hope that this one will be The One that makes everything better. Of course, this is accompanied by the apprehension that this one might not be The One after all…

I’ve become very adept at approaching these switches in a level-headed manner. “If I notice any strange side effects or abnormal thinking,” I say to myself, “then I will contact my doctor and make a change.” This is my antidepressant line of thinking coming into play. This is medicine, just like any other medicine. The wild card in all this, though, is the mind-altering drug factor. Here, the question become this: If I’m going crazy, how will I actually know it?

Think about it for a second: Do the majority of people who are insane actually know they are? A small percentage of them might, but part of what makes insanity what it is consists of a person believing a totally irrational line of thought makes perfect sense. Therefore, if a person’s mind becomes altered to the point they begin to abandon rational thought, how would they even know it? And if they don’t even know it, how would they know what to change that might make them better?

At the moment, I believe these worries just constitute paranoia on my part. I think if I really were going crazy, someone would have told me by now. And I’m sure I am oversimplifying the whole “other illnesses are so much easier to medicate” angle. Sometimes people have to run through multiple options of drugs before they find one that works for whatever they’re afflicted with. In the end, this will probably be a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Just in case, though, I’d like you all to make me a promise. If I start acting weird, let me know. Okay? Well, I mean, weirder than normal. I know you already have plenty of ammunition there. 🙂

Sick

I’ve always found it a rewarding challenge to attempt to write from the perspective of someone who has experienced something I never have. When I nail it, I feel as if this brings me closer to a group of people I might not have identified with before. Conversely, if I screw it up, I open myself up to all kinds of criticism and vitriol, mainly consisting of comments like “You have no idea what you’re talking about” and “You don’t understand me at all.”

Nevertheless, I stubbornly press on, hoping to at least get a better understanding of people dealing with things I might not have. For instance, I have never been stricken with chronic pain or a chronic illness, but I believe I may have received a tiny, minuscule glimpse over the course of the past week into what it would be like to deal with one of these conditions.

As I wrote last week, I have been struggling for the past several days with some mystery ailment. I’ve had two strep tests and a flu test, and all three have come back negative. My throat, however, is still killing me today, despite two trips to the doctor and currently being on my third different medication. After lounging around the house and watching movies all day Saturday, I decided to rouse myself enough yesterday to help set up our new television. Everything was fine until about midday, when the pain in my throat and the weariness in my limbs began to return. I found myself in bed before 8 p.m., cold, sore, and perturbed.

It’s been a week of this now – feeling a little better, attempting to resume normal life, overdoing it, returning to sore throat, tiredness, and achiness. By the time I woke up this morning, I was in a fine foul mood, effectively embodying the old saying “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” I am never sick for this long, and I am not accustomed to having to rest this much. Not only has my body suffered, but my mood has as well.

Just from this extremely small sampling, I was offered a glimpse into why so many people who are stricken with mental_illnesslong-term illnesses or difficult-to-rehabilitate injury. I have also had the unfortunate experience of knowing several people in these situations, although I did not always understand the psychological depth of what they were going through. I did not perceive the dark cloud their conditions were placing over them.

I think of all the people who wake up one morning feeling great and unable to move the next. I think of all the people ridiculed for being on disability who would much rather be working. I think of the people whose maladies have not even been diagnosed. Is it any wonder major depression is often linked to instances of illness or debilitation? One day you’re fine, the next you can’t even get out of bed. However, you remember all the things you could do. Your mind is telling you that you can still do them. Your body, though, is telling you a different story.

I don’t know if there really is any way to overcome this type of situation. There may always be that sense of loss. Maybe new realities can be forged, though, that will get this particular person back on their feet mentally, at least. I don’t know. I will (hopefully) be healed up by the end of the week, so I can’t speak accurately for someone who won’t be better not only by the end of the week, but possibly never again. I hope I at least came close here to depicting what they might be feeling. I suppose there will come a day in my life when I will find out for sure.

One Day I Was

One week ago today, I was in the process of working an 11-hour day. The next day, I played basketball in my driveway. The day after that, I went to church that morning and attended a Super Bowl party that evening.

Since that time, I have worked a day-and-a-half. I found out I have the beginnings of arthritis and bone spurs in my lower back and been to the chiropractor twice. I’ve also visited my family doctor twice, had two strep tests and one flu test (none of which came back positive), and received a new prescription today, bringing my total for the week to three.

I have no plans for this weekend, save for lying around the house, resting, sleeping, and, hopefully, healing up enough that I can return to work Monday.

What happened?

I mean, last week, I was a picture of health. I was running around everywhere, picking up portable tables (which sort of got me into some of the back trouble I mentioned earlier), playing guitar, blogging every day, eating whatever I wanted (to an extent), going wherever I wanted to go. I worked a full day yesterday, came home, and spent an hour in the bathroom sitting in front of a space heater to get warm.

What a difference a week makes.

I’m going to get over whatever this sickness is, and my back is going to improve. I don’t mean that to sound arrogant; I just know that sicknesses go away, and my back has been messed up like this before and gotten better. What all this has reminded me, though, is how quickly life can change. In this case, the changes have been purely physical. In other instances, though, they can be mental. And heartbreaking.

One of the stories that broke while I’ve been laid up this week was the one concerning Randy Quaid. As I watched 635586404474725712-Randy-Quaidhim bizarrely rant against Rupert Murdoch and Warner Bros., sporting that long white beard but still speaking like the Cousin Eddie I remember, I thought of all the people I’ve known who have done things I never expected them to. I don’t just mean they were mean when I didn’t expect them to be or they had some type of moral failure; I mean they went freaking nuts.

They changed. One day they were normal; the next thing I knew, they weren’t.

What happened?

Life and health are precious things. They have to be guarded and protected. Mental health is no different, though. Just as whatever sickness I had developed in my body and my back trouble accumulated over time, falling from healthy thought into mental illness or struggle is not something that just happens in an instant, no matter how sudden it may seem to us. Just as I couldn’t see any of the physical problems I’ve experienced this week coming, however, we rarely see mental difficulties setting upon us. One day, we’re just there, and then we have to figure out how to get back.

I’ve never become ill and not believed I would get better, but the day will eventually come when that happens. It’s not today, though. I have lived under the impression I would be depressed forever, and that is faulty thinking I have to battle every day. One day I was healthy; next day I wasn’t. I will be again, though. Whether you have suddenly awakened to the fact you are depressed or anxious or addicted, you can be okay again.

One day you were well. I want you to be well again.