Better living through chemistry





I thought I would report to you my experience with Topomax so far.  I had tried it previously, I believe in January or February of 2005, found it very, very sedating and had to discontinue it, but this time around I don’t find Topomax sedating at all.  For the first three nights I took 25 mgs, then I’m supposed to take 50 mgs, then 75, etc.  The dose has to be increased gradually, or I’ll end up with the “dopomax” effect: sedation and mental slowness, or so I’m told.


Instead, I have slept eight hours all three nights, falling asleep at 8pm (I take my bedtime meds at 7:30) and waking up promptly at 4am, no alarm clock necessary.  I wake up so completely that I am plenty alert without the aid of coffee.


Yesterday I met a Filipino couple who had just arrived in this country to study at Brandeis University.  I led them to the bus stop, being headed in that direction anyway, and told them a few things about the area.  We boarded the 70 bus.  Along the way, I showed them the sights, or, at least, I showed them things that thrilled me, and it seemed that everything thrilled me!  I pointed out a couple of museums, a nice restaurant, the Armenian section of Watertown, my own street, Pooch Palace (QB’s day care) and of course the newly renovated Watertown Free Public Library, which will have its grand reopening August 6th.  These things I blurted out with such energy that they, as well as the other passengers, must have wondered where all my enthusiasm came from.  What I meant, I told them, was that these things were thrilling to me, and perhaps they would find the library, the restaurants and museums at least interesting.  A smile was stuck on my face the whole time.


Why such exuberance?  Where did all that enthusiasm come from?  Could it be the Topomax?


I’ll keep you posted.

Le plus je vois des hommes, le plus j’aime mon chien!

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QB’s visit to the doggie shrink, Dr. Amy Marder, along with a student vet from Northwestern University, went well (  Dr. Marder detailed a program for QB that included simple training exercises as well as doggie day care three times a week, play time, wearing a head harness on walks, and future visits from a private trainer at my home.


Perhaps the most striking changes stem from the exercise, “Nothing in Life is Free,” which is simple but extremely effective.  QB must sit for everything: sit for his food, sit to get his leash put on, sit to go through a door, sit for the elevator.  Furthermore, he must sit outside whenever I stop.  Each time he sits, I give him a treat.  Recently, I’ve been giving him treats at select times, and leaving them out at others.  Here’s the disciplinary key:  When QB sees something he gets “crazy” over, I turn in the opposite direction, and ask him to sit, praise and reward him.


Simple?  Yes.  But this amazing exercise works wonders.  QB is now able to ignore bicycles, joggers, slow and fast-moving cars, pedestrians, people entering and exiting cars and buildings, and yes–today he even turned his back on a squirrel, unheard of two weeks ago.  He rarely goes “crazy” anymore.  The next thing I need to work on is establishing the command “stay,” then teaching him to come when called.  (Right now the little guy ignores me when I call him, unless he feels like obeying.)


Most important, he needs to learn how to say “hello.”  I don’t mean he needs to speak the word, but simply to greet friends and strangers politely instead of reverting to “crazy” behavior, including barking and jumping.  He needs to sit and stay seated, and wait to be petted.  This will be my biggest challenge.


While working with this program, I encountered a new problem: QB wouldn’t go to sleep at night.  Instead, he barked over and over, keeping me awake; in fact, he would begin his tirade as soon as my head hit the pillow.  Dr. Marder, whom I call every Monday evening, suggested that I give him 25 mgs Benadryl at night to sedate him.  I have no qualms about this; for years I took Benadryl for sleep, and Tiger took Benadryl as well, for allergies.  So I felt safe administering it to QB.  The trick worked and he now sleeps through the night.


QB’s behavior on buses is exemplary.  As soon as we board the bus he lies down, generally in the center of the aisle, but he graciously defers to my pushing him off to the side so people can walk past.  And indoors QB behaves excellently, never chewing anything contraband or “stealing” off the table.  He knows what’s a toy and what isn’t.


I feel that I’m going through a journey with QB, a journey of love and learning.  I feel like I’m preparing him for the world, and although this training is overdue, he is still at a perfect age to learn new habits.  He is eager to please me and obeys most of the time, waiting for praise and perhaps a treat and a petting.  I am getting more out of the relationship, so much that I am sometimes moved to tears when we are out on walks when I see him putting forth such an effort to be “good” instead of seeking out ways to be “bad” as he was before.  QB is my best friend, my true companion, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The Gym, Part 3





I can’t connect to the Internet here at the library today.  Generally, I log into, go to the “diagnosed with” boards, which I can’t access from home, and see how everyone’s doing, and the act of making a social connection helps me come up with a topic for today’s blog entry.  But I can’t do that today.  I feel excluded right now from the world of mental patients who enjoy communicating online. 


Perhaps I can take this opportunity to write a chatty blog entry about myself, what I’ve been doing, how the new meds are working out, bore you to death with details you probably haven’t any desire to hear.


Or, I could launch into a dissertation on how Internet-dependent I am, how I’ll fall apart if my computer breaks down, but my phone was out for five days last year and in fact I didn’t fall apart.  Any longer, though, and there would have been major meltdown.


Or I could talk about how I went on a five-day eating binge recently that truly wrecked my confidence.  I could get into details, what a binge is like, and so on, but I think I’ll save that for another time.


What I really want to tell you about is the new gym I’m going to.  I saw it on the bus yesterday and I said to myself, “Wow, would be so much better if I could go to a gym on the bus line!” and immediately got online (here we go again) at home and signed up for a free week pass at Boston Sports Clubs (  I went to Yahoo maps ( saw that this gym is 1.8 miles from my home, and when the weather isn’t so hot I feel like a toasting marshmallow, I could even walk there.  I noted the adjacent side streets so I’d know which bus stops were closest.  Then today, after walking QB and showering, I headed over to the new gym. 


I was immediately impressed with the enormity of the place.  It made the old gym look like a closet by comparison.  I stepped through the doors and was overwhelmed by a blast of cool air that told me these people had an air conditioner that actually worked.  As I expected, there was a desk out front.  I presented my coupon and handicapped bus pass (photo ID) to someone who obviously worked there.  He disappeared into an office, then a friendly-looking young man introduced himself to me as Scott, a “membership associate,” and brought me over to his desk, where he arranged a bar code membership card for me like the one I have for my old gym, and showed me around.


I’ve never seen so many cardio machines in one place, and such a variety.  Each machine has its own TV that you can plug headphones into (and a choice of 17 channels, Scott said) and a fan that blows cool air on your face if you want.  I saw at least 30 treadmills, 20 recumbent stationary bikes, an entire room of “spinning” bikes, elliptical and stair-climbers of all sorts.  There were huge rooms dedicated to free-weight work, and a room for nautilus machines, including a “22-minute express workout” area. An exercise room and smaller “mind and body” (yoga) room, off to the side, were designated for exercise classes, and further along the same side was a room for “spinning” classes with 28 bikes.  The pool wasn’t the biggest I’ve seen, but pleasant enough, though I would be embarrassed to show up there in a bathing suit.  Though I explained to Scott that I’m unable under any circumstances to shoot a basket, he pointed out the basketball court, then he gestured the way to the ladies’ locker room.


I was suddenly hit with déjà vu.  I remembered my first time at the old gym.  I’d never been to a gym before and didn’t know what to expect.  I was embarrassed to ask for help, so I blindly followed what other women did: how they used each machine, how they adjusted it, how fast each machine worked.  I rode a stationary bike for 20 minutes and then, too shy to try strength training, I immediately located the stretching room, did my routine, and headed home.


Now, I felt that I knew enough about working out to ask appropriate questions, to get the help I should have asked for in the first place, a year and a half ago when I first started working out.


I won’t bore you with the particulars of my workout, details that fascinate me and are useless for everyone else.  Let me say though that the air conditioning was a blessing; I didn’t sweat to the point of dehydration, or get on the bike and suddenly feel like I had to pee.  I am in my own very private world when I work out, and luckily I was afforded real-life privacy as well because the gym wasn’t crowded.  If you really want to know, I listened to Vertical Horizon, one of my new favorite groups.


I think I’ll switch to Boston Sports Clubs.  That gym suited me fine.


What is the point of my telling you all this?  I think very little of what I said was worth saying, and I didn’t say it particularly well, but if I were to edit this piece, I think I’d save the “Déjà vu” paragraph (the first gym experience is always worth writing about), develop that, and toss the rest.


But I don’t want to toss the rest; I’m too selfish.  People who work out are fascinated by their own personal details: how long they walked on the treadmill, how fast they rode the bike.  People who work out become fascinated with their bodies, what their bodies can and can’t do, and how to push their bodies to do more and more.  People who work out care about their bodies and care about these details.  Some days I come home and e-mail my friends, who are probably bored sick, about my workout, how I felt I did, what needs improvement, and so on.  (I think I lost a couple of e-mail friends this way.)


The library will be closing in 20 minutes.  I just heard an announcement, so loud it scared the shit out of me.


I feel damned good.  It’s hard to believe that only a few days ago I was depressed to the point of thinking about suicide.  Instead, I’m sitting here in the library boring you with things you don’t care about, things that matter only to me, but matter deeply, and I want to share with you that depth.

The Topomax idea

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For some reason, I find sleep deprivation an excellent, tried-and-true method for controlling depression and psychosis.  Sleep deprivation is more effective for me than ECT (“shock treatments”).  The results are immediate and striking.  However, the trick is to stay up all night, not part of the night but the full night, without sleep.  Getting a few hours will make me miserable. 


Despite my success with this, though, I wouldn’t recommend pulling an all-nighter to anyone else.  For most, depriving oneself of sleep is just plain stupid. 


Frequently on these all-nighters I come to an epiphany partway through the long night; I solve some problem that’s been bothering me, or hit on a new idea.  Tonight’s idea stems from a careful look at my records over the past month: Out of 28 days, I was depressed for 18.  I wouldn’t call it major depression, which must last two weeks to be labeled as such, but these depressions, which last up to five or six days, impose on me such a burden that I cannot commit myself to long-term projects because I never know how I’m going to feel from one day to the next.  Telling myself, “It won’t last forever,” helps not the slightest, because while I’m depressed I can’t comprehend that I will ever not be depressed.  It is totally beyond the realm of my imagination.  Exercise is near impossible during these times; I move very slowly and frequently have trouble walking or even sustaining a standing position.  I take baths instead of showers.  QB and I spend a half hour walking around the block.  I have tried everything to overcome these brief depressions.  Nothing works.


Accompanying the depressions have been eating binges that ranged from moderate to massive.  Given that in 1984 I based a suicide attempt on my inability to stop the bingeing, I am placing myself in a dangerous position by continuing to binge, but I cannot control it (otherwise I certainly would stop), and my weight is on the rise, which certainly isn’t helping my mood.


The only thing that’s ever helped stop bingeing has been medication.  When I began taking Lithium in 1984 (about six months after the attempt) the bingeing immediately stopped.  The change was so dramatic that in the weeks and months that followed, I hardly recognized myself; I was a new person.  I should say that this reaction to Lithium is highly atypical, but I’ve always been an atypical patient.


Cymbalta, my antidepressant, also helps with bingeing, but it only works when–well, when it works.  I had been blaming the Cymbalta for the inconsistencies in mood, but now I’m realizing that the trouble lies with my mood stabilizer, Lamictal.  It’s obviously not doing what it’s supposed to do!


The appealing option I’m considering is Topomax, another mood stabilizer also associated with weight loss and decreased appetite.  I tried it about a year and a half ago and found the medication overly sedating, so I stopped it, but I’m willing to give it another try.  Friends have praised Topomax as the best mood stabilizer they’ve ever encountered.  I put in a call to my psychiatrist a few hours ago–yes, it was midnight but this was on her voicemail and she’ll pick up the message eventually–stating that I’d like to try Topomax again.


I can now allow myself a sliver of hope.

Don’t think about it





I had hoped to come here and write something constructive, something helpful for others, a piece of writing that would contribute to the overall good of humankind.  But how can I do this when I hate my own life so much?  How can I do anything positive when the overall trend is negative?


I promised myself a while back that those days are over, that I can’t think about it, won’t think about it.  Not a peep.  I promised myself that if I ever started thinking about it again, I’d put myself in the hospital first.


I’m getting scared.



7/10/2006 Happy Monday





Every Sunday I have trouble.  It is so consistent at this point that I’d like to cut Sundays out of the week and go from Saturday directly into Monday.


If the Beings are going to come, they come on Sunday.  If I’m going to be depressed, it starts on Sunday.  Frequently the depression gets so bad that I can barely walk, but I walk the dog anyway.  I take baths instead of showers because I can’t stand up too well.  Everything goes in slow motion.


The Beings are Evil.  You know that.  They haven’t been around for a while, but I still worry about them.  I worry about Evil.  I worry that I’m Evil, and that I’m growing up to be just like my mother.  Please, God, not that.


I think I binge (on food) just about every Sunday.  Yesterday I ate over a pound of oats, a half pound of raisins, half a pound of cheddar cheese, half a pound of walnuts, and I can’t recall what else.  And people complain when they’ve gone off their diets eating one piece of pizza!


It’s sick, this Sunday thing.



7/8/2006 Today’s update



Even normal people’s brains need periodic maintenance.  The files have to be cleaned out, old, unnecessary thoughts can be tossed aside making room for the new.  I suppose that is exactly why we sleep, we take our brains offline for eight hours for site maintenance.  Occasionally I install new programs, and the more adventurous of us download all kinds of crap on a daily basis.


Because of the passage of time, we have to update our brains now and then.  This involves the collection of new files to replace the old, faulty files.  Although brain chips do not regenerate, they can be reconfigured–producing genius or chaos, depending on how they’re arranged.  All the building blocks are right here in our heads.  I am reminded of the Sudoku puzzle, that starts as an odd collection of digits on a grid, and develops into an ingeniously clever array of figures, all because of what we do with our brains.


Writing, too, is a product of the mind, borne of nothing but writing utensil and space to write figures.  It makes no sense, this concern of ours with symbols–at all levels.  Letters are a product of the mind, words, sentences, all come from our heads.  Ideas come from the mind, and conversation–what is it all but strange noises?


Let me tell you this: I need an update.  I need a message from the brain equivalent of Microsoft, that god that giveth and taketh away.  I need some higher knowledge, some configuration of wisdom.  I need to grow up.  But you can’t hurry Microsoft, and whenever the god giveth, renewal is necessary in the form of a restart.  The growth process is annoyingly cumbersome and tends to slow us down some.  And the result?  The computer looks the same, smells the same, and still has the same crud that it had in it before the restart. 


Updates are subtle, though.  It’s not like putting on lipstick, the exterior repainted.  Updates happen inside us and keep on happening, whether we want them or not.


I suppose, when the system in my brain gets too old and tired to maintain, when Microsoft throws its arms in the air and says, “Your operating system is no longer supported by us,” I will retire, donate myself to a school or library, eventually get chucked in the “hazardous waste” bin.  Someone might want to use me for parts, but probably not.


So, where is my update?  When will I have the wisdom necessary to break my own code, my own faulty wiring?  When will I be able to self-repair, to regenerate myself, the perfect no-maintenance machine?  Or is that an unreasonable request?


I’m telling you, this computer’s gone mad.



7/7/2006 Mother-rant



My mother has a handful of instant cures for me.  When I was a kid and complained that being a girl wasn’t as good as being a boy, she suggested a sex-change operation.  When I mentioned that my breasts seemed to be growing too fast (something you DON’T admit to her) she suggested breast-reduction surgery.  She sends me all kinds of shit she gets from NAMI, mostly hints about clubhouses and day programs.  Once, she gave me some Gould Farm maple syrup with a pamphlet on Gould Farm neatly tucked into the box.  Recently she sent me an article on surgery as a cure for depression.  After that, I called my brother Phil in tears, and he said to ignore her, that sadly, she will never change.


My mother needs to keep me needy and dependent, and she does this in several ways.  For one, she offers me a ride in her car when she thinks I need one.  I have sworn off taking rides from her because she’s a dangerous driver at this point.  So there’s a point for me, and one point down for her.


My mother will fall apart if I succeed in life.   She almost collapsed at my graduation in 2003.  I swear she was hyperventilating, and she wore a goofy, tiger-print dress I’ll never forget and haven’t seen since.


Because she can no longer put down my mind, she puts down my body:  “Is the door too heavy for you?”  “Can you walk up the hill or do you need help?” and so on.  I have been meaning to remind her that I’m not an old lady like herself, that I’m perfectly capable of walking up hills, boarding a bus, closing car doors. 


One of the worst insults she’s given me over the past few years happened when we at the optician’s.  I looked at her, feeling a little sentimental (never a good idea around her) and said, “You know, we do look alike.”  Her response?  “Well, Julie, we have different body types.”  If the optician hadn’t been in the room, I would have smacked her.


I think I will indeed smack her, someday, strangle her and shove her scrawny body across the room, or push her out a window.  I think about these things, now and then.


Today’s Rant


Lately, I’ve felt that I have no right to be on the planet, that there is no place where I belong.  For example, the bus:  Even though I was a paying customer I only paid a quarter because I have a disability card.  As I stumbled up the stairs, the driver sighed impatiently, saying, “Move on.”  The woman next to me shoved over as I sat down, as if I hadn’t bathed or had grown horns.



Then I stopped at the pet store, which always seems to have more employees present than customers.  Why they weren’t happy to get some business is beyond me.  I purchased a doggie retrieving toy shaped like a ring, and junk food treats for QB.  As I pulled out my wallet, the worker angrily took the cash from me–yes, it was a $20 bill, but it was money, right?  I have no right to be here, I thought.  They don’t want me here.



I boarded the bus again and got off at McDonald’s.  I was thirsty.  But I couldn’t find the entrance, only the drive-thru lane.   I circled the building and found my way inside after maneuvering my briefcase over curbs and stairs.  Families with kids scuttled around the place like bees.



I approached the counter.  “What do you have to drink?” I asked.  I noticed that the workers were all female, and the supervisor male.  The worker looked at me incredulously as if I should know what they have to drink.  I repeated my question.  “Medium?” she asked.



I replied, “Yes, medium.”



I haven’t been inside a McDonald’s in years.  I paid for my cup, thinking, I am a paying customer; I have the right to be here. I poured myself a Diet Coke as McDonald’s is now self-serve for beverages, and sat down.  I finished the entire cup in just a minute or two.  Still thirsty, I refilled my cup and drank greedily, wondering if I was entitled to that second cup.



Then I ambled over to the ladies’ room, and found an empty stall.  The seat was cold as if it didn’t want me sitting there.  There was no soap in the dispensers.  I felt unwanted and unwelcome.



The question is, what am I?  I am a dog owner, a pedestrian using public transportation, a human experiencing the very natural feeling of thirst; all these are true.  But do I have the right to use these services?  Do I have the right to be on this planet, even?  What right do I have to take up space that someone else could put to better use?  Is there any place where I belong?  I am a dog owner, but does that make me a member of the larger sphere of dog owners, or am I an outsider?



An outsider, yes, that’s how I feel.  I’ve taken a few writing classes recently in which I feel I have no place because I’m not a “committed” writer; I am fickle and unreliable.  I left graduate school because I felt I had no place there, slid out of the genre of fiction and took up creative nonfiction….I can’t even say I’m a student anymore.  I joined a weight loss team and now I feel like I’m competing against, instead of with, my teammates.  Like I have no right to go to the gym because I’m too fat, and no right to be on the team because I don’t work out enough.  This has been stewing in my brain for some time.  I don’t belong; I’m not good enough; I can’t meet expectations.



Today is the kind of day that eases in and out of sunlight and cloudy skies.  I have brought my parasol with me, because the Thorazine I take makes my skin burn.  What right do I have to prance around with that huge purple parasol?  Do I make people’s eyes sore?



The library is a block from McDonald’s.  I turned into the side street, then into the rear entrance to the library.  The door would only open partially, but a kind woman explained that the door was automatic; I had to press a button to get it to open.  I pressed it.  The door opened.



The library was cool, quiet, and inviting.  I found a seat in the back of the reference section: my seat, plopped my parasol on the top shelf of the desk, put on my reading glasses and plugged in my laptop.  Then, I began to write furiously, and the whole world whirled around in that exact moment, and tapped me on my shoulder.



I think it’s still tapping.