Empty folders

9/17/2006


 


EMPTY FOLDERS


 


Looking over past blog files, I noticed something funny.  I have the 2005 blog files in one folder, and the 2006 files I have separated by month.  The folders are labeled “Blog Entries 1_06,” “Blog Entries 2_06,” and so on.  There are two folders, March and April, that are completely empty.


 


Given that these folders are empty, there is no reason for them to exist, right?  So why are they there?  They will never be filled.  Of course they don’t take up disk space, but they serve no practical purpose except to acknowledge that yes, those months did take place, and no, I wasn’t having a very good time back then.


 


Those were the days of Evil Beings, of pulling all-nighters to avoid drowning in depression, of eating so erratically I never knew when I’d actually sit down to a normal meal.  Those were the days before Topamax, and I never want to relive them, ever.


 


The very fact that I write these words again and again tells me just how frightened I am of the possibility that something could happen, some unforeseen problem–Topamax could be taken off the market, or I could develop some weird side-effect to it–and I would be forced to live without it, possibly drawn back into the life I lived before.


 


I feel as though I have been through a terrific blizzard, and have come in from the cold, and am only now shaking off the snow, asking myself, “Can I take off my coat?  Is it safe?”


 


I think I need to keep those empty folders intact.  What’s inside them doesn’t take up disk space but is as essential as death is to life, because what is the drama of life if nothing is constantly there threatening to end it? 


 


I’ll step inside, thank you, and you may take my coat.  You may need it.


 



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Clarification

In regards to a previous entry:

I mentioned that I would like to look back on the past.  I don’t desire to dig into old scars until they look like fresh wounds–hardly! 

I want to see if there’s anything that can be learned from the past, if there’s some seed or seeds of wisdom that I can pass on to you, dear readers.

It’s possible to derive writing material–details, building blocks–from past events.  It is not possible to derive material from events that have not yet occurred, except in one’s imagination, and even imagination needs “stuff” with and from which to build.

Let there be light.

Day Programs, etc

9/16/2006


 


I was going through some “miscellaneous [undergraduate] school documents” and found this.  I think it was supposed to be made into a fiction story.  I changed a few things and converted it back to “fact”:


 


“At Options Day Treatment we had activities like art therapy, psychodrama, and groups to discuss issues such as child abuse and alcoholism, men’s and women’s issues, and regular group psychotherapy.  While the low-functioning clients–what a horrible word: “low-functioning”–went for van rides and exercise walks, we high-functioning–ugh!–clients would have to undergo grueling self-examination and almost tearful revelation, confessing past sins to each other, and concluding with a “group hug.”  I was just there to get rid of my problems in a few weeks of therapy so I could go back to Bennington College, have a rousing performance at my Senior Concert and graduate with the Bennington equivalent of “honors.”  It didn’t happen that way.  I stayed at the day program for nine months and felt like shit, even worse than when I’d dropped out of school, by the time I “graduated” from day treatment.  I needed medication in a bad way, too, and looked a wreck.”


 


In march the social workers to railroad “clients” into “programs”!  As you can see from what I wrote, there is the immediate dichotomy between programs for “low-functioning” clients, which offer nothing more than babysitting, and programs for “high-functioning” clients who would be better off in active, vocational situations than sitting on their asses for six hours a day feeling sorry for themselves.  I have been in both types of programs, and I have been nearly destroyed by some of them.  And sadly, I have no solution to the “day program” dilemma: What, after all, should people with mental illnesses who are not working and not going to school do with their time?  There are a handful that can spend their time wisely but many end up in trouble or bored.  I have been debating the question for a long time.  I’ve thought up “neoclubhouses” that instead of providing vocational training, are more like schools.  You’d go there and actually learn something.  But it’s only an idea that probably isn’t practical or even possible.  So it’s back to walks around the grounds and fighting over who sits in the front of the van.  But do remember, when they tell you to color your drawings inside the lines, color some outside the lines, just for me.


 


 

Figurative Virus Scans

I’m going to let this blog entry, written about a year ago, speak for itself, except to say that I had a blast writing it (you’ll see!) and that I now have a non-software virus scan.  He doesn’t behave well but he’s soft and furry and fun…have I confused you?  Read on……..


9/11/2005


 


MORE ON ILLNESS


 


Mental illness is like a computer virus, stealthy and quiet.  Infection starts with a single file that infects other files; the villain, if you will, waves around platters of tempting chocolate goo and every sucker in the office takes a bite and nibbles until their teeth stick together, their throats sealed off; they choke and sputter; the virus overtakes its host completely; the syrupy mass spreads and crystallizes swifter than ice, each molecule following in the other’s footsteps, until the only element left is the “blue screen of death,” appropriately named. 


 


Or so it may seem.


 


The computer won’t boot up properly the next morning, or in the afternoon or evening or wee hours–help, is there a doctor in?  Can somebody fix this mess?  We don’t understand it; it’s unpredictable, insidious, wrong.  Weren’t we careful to avoid exposing our computer to infection?  What did we, respectable people, upright in our community, do to deserve–to deserve this?   We were instructed to be careful what we downloaded…perhaps….


 


Perhaps we ought to have a closer look at this.  Bring out the rescue disks, the programmers, the firmware.  Take the damn thing apart, question everything.  Get all the respectable men at the university to come take a look at this.  Call the army.  Grab the janitor, the policeman, get your kids out of the street! for godsakes!


 


But it doesn’t actually happen that way.  Infected computers aren’t that interesting.  Frequently, the infected machine gets dumped into the trash bin with the beer cans and the recyclables, or left on the street, or it gets donated to some damn institution.  We don’t understand it–get it out of our sight.


 


A computer virus was invented by some joker halfway across the planet; mental illness seems to come out of nowhere–but blame isn’t the issue here.  There are cures for some viruses, and sometimes cures for spyware, but many mental illnesses have no cure and must be managed; the user must X out the error messages and start over, or refrain from opening certain programs, certain e-mails, or clicking on suspicious links.


 


And I suppose this is why antiviral programs, and especially firewalls, came about.  For the susceptible, the Internet is always risky.  Medication and various therapies seem the only way to keep illness from attacking us further, and these “treatments” don’t necessarily work.  That is why I’ve learned to do a mental “virus scan” in my head when things don’t look right: when my brain runs too slowly, when connections aren’t made, when my machine snaps and crackles at times that it’s supposed to remain silent.  A virus scan isn’t done consciously.  I don’t, and my therapist doesn’t, pick apart every brain cell, every feeling and thought, and examine it for defects; this would take too long and wouldn’t work, besides.  A virus scan runs in the background, and doesn’t always work.  The scan may automatically delete, repair, or quarantine the infected file unconsciously, or it may ask me, the user, what I want to do.  While the scan is running, I can still use my computer, but it may be noisy, and will invariably run slower.  I can choose to schedule the scan at regular intervals (probably a good idea) or run the scan whenever I choose to, whenever I think something may be amiss.  All I have to do is to set the mental scan in motion.


 


Problem is, though a virus scan is easy to set up on a computer, it takes practice getting a mental scan started in my head.  I’m not very good at it yet.  It’s not therapy or medication and I have to teach myself; no other person can teach me.  The scan takes practice and patience, and a great deal of concentration, but if I can break up the goo–whether forcefully by hacksaw or gently through understanding–if I can relieve myself of annoying mental error messages, soften breakdowns, I think I’ve caught onto something.

9/16/2006

9/16/2006


 


It is a time to look back.  My brother Ned recently commented that young people derive pleasure and hope from looking ahead; the old feel hope looking back on the past.  Of course I’m not old; I’m not yet 50.  I think I am at a point of reflection because I feel an era has passed, that with the addition of Topamax to my medication regimen I am less likely to fall over; the base under me is wider, more solid. 


 


There were other turning points, times when life drastically improved for me; two that come to mind are when I began to take Lithium in 1984, and my 40th birthday in 1998.  But those were not times for looking back.  In 1984 I was a mere 26 years old, too young to look back as there was so little to look back on, and in 1998 it was too terrifying to reflect on recent years, as those were the times that I was the most ill.


 


Now is a time that not only am I digging up old blog entries, but I am peeking at old journals, times of pain in particular, to try to understand them.  I am at a place right now that I’m able to handle that pain.  What’s important is to face it and understand it without re-experiencing it.  Why?  Because I want to be a better person.  Because I want to shed the bullshit.  And because I am ready to do so.


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The Gym revisited

To all my friends at www.weightwatchers.com:

I wrote these the summer before last, and they were in my MSN Spaces blog:


7/27-29/2005


 


THE GYM


 


If you work out in some fashion, you will end up loving your body.  I always thought that if only I didn’t hate my body, I would take better care of it, but I found the converse to be true as well, and more significant: whenever I’ve discovered a new form of exercise, I’ve liked my body more, tolerated its imperfections, and took better care of myself in all areas of life.


 


I have been passionate about several types of exercise.  When I was 18, I thought nothing of hopping on my bicycle and riding 40, 50, even 100 miles.  Ten years later it was distance walking; I walked the Boston Marathon, 26.2 miles, for the Jimmy Fund and did the 20-mile Walk for Hunger a number of times until I injured my feet and had to stop.  Another decade passed and I was back on my bike again, for shorter rides around town this time; I was getting older.  One morning–I believe it was 3am–I decided to run around several blocks.  Finding that I liked it, I gradually increased the distance to three miles, and by that time my passion for running was firmly established.  Then I broke my leg.


 


All came to a standstill.  Several years passed.  I bought a recumbent bike in 2003, and spent six weeks learning to ride it.  Anyone who has ridden a recumbent knows how much fun it is.  Each day I rode, I’d report back to Joe how I’d done: what certain hills I went up or down, the challenges I took on, and how strong I felt on that particular day.  But weight gain stopped all bike riding.  You can’t ride with a big belly.  I tried an exercise class but found taking three buses to get there to be too much of a hassle.  The medication Seroquel had caused me to balloon up to 197 pounds.  (Laboratory mice gained considerable weight while taking antipsychotics.)  I felt as bad about my body as I ever have.


 


If I had a choice between weighing 197 pounds and 81 pounds, I would choose anorexia without hesitation.  Both are dangerous–I ended up with osteoporosis from anorexia and a serious knee problem from obesity–but being anorexic makes one far less conspicuous.  You don’t get laughed at and you don’t have to suck in your stomach to fit through a narrow doorway (such as those on the handicapped vans I take every day).  You can tie your shoes without getting winded.  You can cross your legs over each other twice.  You can curl up in fetal position and stay that way.  Even better, you can fit into boys’ sizes, and if worse comes to worse, use a belt to keep those “huge” size 4’s in place.  Fools envy you; true idiots ask you how you lost all that weight, and watch you, bite by bite, eat your measly one quarter ounce of cheese and half an apple like you had some magic formula for “success.”  At 197, I was facing serious health risks.  I was sidelined with my current knee injury for the months of April, May, and June, and believe me, it sucked.  My knee still isn’t right.  And carrying around all the extra weight is drastically slowing recovery.


 


Until I discovered the beauty of working out at a gym, I hated my fat body.  I was perpetually embarrassed and ashamed.  I hated going out in public, and did what I could to avoid the neighbors and their hurtful gossip about my size.  Getting off Seroquel was a must.   I worked out daily, and as the drug eased itself out of my body, I began to lose weight at last. 


 


What a difference!  I am getting stronger each day.  I am powerful.  I am an athlete.  There’s nothing like listening to Aerosmith while riding the elliptical machine, or pumping iron to the beat of Bob Seger or REM.  After I do my cardio and strength training, I listen to Jeff Buckley, George Winston, or Jorane while gently stretching.  (An MP3 player sure helps–check out what’s available at www.newegg.com.) 


 


I love my body!  I’m still considerably overweight, and I’ve never been a classic beauty, but I believe I’m beautiful, and I don’t mean on the inside only.  When I put the weights at higher and higher levels, learn new machines, ride the elliptical machine and the bike longer, and stretch ever so gracefully, I notice the change in my attitude toward myself in general.  I care about my health.  I floss my teeth–consider how many people don’t!–wear sunscreen and a hat when I walk the dog, and dress more becomingly.  I am strong and proud.  I sleep well.  My mood is at the right level.  I am healthier than I’ve been in a long, long time.


 


Exercise has been shown to increase general mental health.  This has been proven again and again in studies.  Yet few psychiatrists take note of how much their patients exercise.  I’m not saying they should be pushy about it, but to explain the benefits of exercise and the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle.  I had one shrink–it was 1983, I believe–who rammed it down my throat, and truthfully, people who are as severely depressed as I was at the time cannot find the energy or will to get up and walk around the block, let alone feed and clean themselves.


 


I want everyone who reads this to do something positive today. Walk the dog an extra block.  Dust off that treadmill.  Do something special with your hair, or trim your beard.  Consider: you are most likely the number one person who can make these changes, and today might be a beautiful, exciting day–if not, then tomorrow.




8/24/2005


 


THE GYM, PART TWO


 


Today I missed the gym.  Due to a technical glitch, I couldn’t get there, to my life at Planet Fitness (www.planetfitness.com), my deeply private and selfish world.  I missed those 15 to 45 minutes of vigorous cardio on the bike or elliptical, that full hour of strength training (count: 1, 2, 3…) and 30 minutes of intimate stretching.  I do it almost every day, and I love it.  I must be nuts.


 


Like everyone else there, I like to observe and not be seen observing.  I am alone among others that are alone, here in this magical place.  There are “regulars” at the gym–men wearing wide belts to hold their bloody guts in, women dolled up in fancy tops, with sleek, golden legs–as well as casual exercisers sensible enough to have fun.   There is the 30-ish woman who speaks little English but works out in the same language as us all.  There is this noticeably overweight woman who, almost daily, trots on the treadmill.  And sadly, there is a woman killing herself every day at cardio, running the elliptical as if she were ascending Heartbreak Hill of the Boston Marathon, wearing a ridiculously loose t-shirt, and pants literally pinned together–ever more cropped as her waist diminishes–garb baggy enough to reveal her singular hell, then leaves, blending in with the masses outside, through those glass doors that separate the sane from the insane


 


But I am not at the gym today.  I’m tap-tapping away at the keyboard, while QB, that crazy puppy of mine, waits beside me, asleep.  No, he’s not dreaming of working out.  He’s not timing, watching heart rate meters or counting anything.  Perhaps he’s dreaming of something wondrous to chase down, some crumb of true love, the kind of life-love all of us–and I mean all of us–desperately crave, with vigor, daily toil, and profound determination–each fussing with their own scrap of the universe.



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Okay, okay, I admit I’m not so great with flossing my teeth.

Just yesterday I suddenly noticed that my ankles are no longer swollen.  I have lost 40 pounds.  I go to a different gym now, but the equipment is similar.  I’ve been working with a personal trainer.  To my delight, I’m able to run a little on the treadmill.  Running seems like the most natural exercise in the world.

After all, the world keeps turning and we have to keep up with it.

 

Looking back: An analogy

Here’s an entry I wrote in July of last year that took a turn away from the autobiographical style that my blog had adopted, and turned toward the political.  Needless to say, the present administration has drastically cut mental health funding to boost funding for the war.  When will it end?


7/23/2005


 


WE ARE NOT ALL ALIKE


 


I have owned two Shelties, Tiger and QB.  They are as different as ham and turkey.  Tiger was as obedient as any dog could be; in fact, she didn’t know the meaning of “no”–I never had to use the command.  QB tries his hardest to disobey to the full extent of his imagination, and knows all too well the meaning of reprimands.  The two dogs expressed fear differently.  Tiger refused to walk near anything she was afraid of, resulting in postponement of walks on occasion because she wouldn’t leave the doorway.  QB expresses fear by barking hysterically at the feared object (red trucks and basketballs in particular), which is confusing because he also barks at people and other dogs that he wants to play with.  Who says dogs can be summed up according to the traits of their breeds?


 


The same is true of people with mental illnesses.  All too often, psychiatrists have noted my diagnoses (yes, plural) and think they know everything about me, based on my diagnoses as listed in the DSM-IV, before I even speak a word.  Patients with the same diagnosis are not all alike!  Dr. Michael Detke, who I saw from July 1998 to August 1999, repeatedly asked me if I experienced guilty feelings.  This can be a symptom of depression, but I have never experienced unexplained feelings of guilt.  Still, he persisted in asking me this question, which in my case was irrelevant.  He placed diagnosis above the simple act of listening.


 


The President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health report (www.mentalhealthcommission.gov) emphasizes treating patients as individuals, and specifies what the guidelines of treatment should be, based on extensive research:


 


“When a serious mental illness or a serious emotional disturbance is first diagnosed, the health care provider – in full partnership with consumers and families – will develop an individualized plan of care for managing the illness. This partnership of personalized care means basically choosing who, what, and how appropriate health care will be provided:


·        Choosing which mental health care professionals are on the team,


·        Sharing in decision making, and


·        Having the option to agree or disagree with the treatment plan.”


 


No matter what you and I think about our idiot president (and the fact that his dopey face appears on many pages of this site), this is a radical change from the current guidelines of care.  We are not all alike!  We (patients, or, if you like, “consumers”) will be able to make choices we’ve never been able to make before, based on our own needs, rather than the stereotypical needs of our diagnoses as stated in some textbook.  The report requires that care is “consumer and family driven,” and “recovery oriented.”  Consumer and family driven care requires treatment plans that are individualized.  (And here I cannot resist the temptation to digress:  Recovery oriented treatment–hey, this is new!–suggests that the goal is not only to manage symptoms, but to improve one’s condition and work toward eradicating or at least decreasing symptoms of mental illness, not simply to teach patients/consumers to manage as best as they can.  The report states the importance of “hope,” and you can’t knock that, corny as it sounds.)


 


My dogs are individuals, and I cannot assume that all dogs should be trained the same way; otherwise my apartment would have been torn apart long ago.  QB has taught me this.  Tiger wolfed down her meals in 55 seconds; QB snubs his nose at my “cooking,” and says his prayers before picking at his food like a fussy child.  Needless to say, they both have given me unconditional love (as they say), both have had soft, warm coats, and both have been fascinated with used Kleenex, for some reason, as bizarre as it sounds.  I would not be telling you this if it were not true.  Amen.


 


 





“Art”

Here’s a watercolor I did a number of years ago:

watercolor2

Here’s the most offensive ad I’ve seen in a while:

Sexist ad

As soon as they started running their bikini ads, I took my profile out of their database.  Since when do all us “singles” look like that?  Pl-lease!

On the brighter side

I thought I’d share this glimpse of Harvard’s finest eateries.  I walk past here every time I go to therapy.  Sadly, Dr. R is leaving in November.  When I look at this photo, I will think of her.  However, knowing Dr. R, she probably never eats there!  She’s the quiche and salad type.

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