Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Messages in Bottles

Many of you are aware that I suffer from as of yet un-diagnosed Anxiety Disorder. I started seeing someone and am working to better understand the nature of my problems, and while I frequently muse about them on here or elsewhere, I am most hesitant to do that now. 

In the past, joking about and making light of my mental instability (like my favorite Costco live tweeting of a pre-panic attack frenzy) has been a way of taking power away from the feelings that would otherwise render me frozen inside of myself, but last week I had a massive legit panic attack that landed me in the Urgent Care facility with the doctors doing and EKG because my blood pressure was so high that they believed there was likely something more physically wrong with my heart than just a garden variety panic attack. There wasn't. I'm fine, more or less, now. But I am growing dependent on sharing my thoughts I think. It's not enough to write them down and tuck them away. It's like being trapped on an island and sending messages out to the rest of the world inside a bottle, not because there's much they can do to help get me off the island but because the idea of somebody else reading these thoughts dampens the isolation that these negative thoughts breed. Sitting at home these past few days, while medicated or not, while in the company of loved ones or physically alone, I've been consumed with negative feelings and no outlet. Now that it's something that's taken on its own life it feels more official, and I'm worried that whatever I say will be dissected and judged, used against me professionally if not personally.

Here's what I want to say the most and am willing to risk- I felt like I was being brainwashed by a job that I actually like. I feel like I let it own a larger percentage of my mental space than any job should deserve. I started doing the math and I spend more time working than raising my child. More time working than actively cultivating the loving relationship I have with my fiancee. I spend more time working than writing. I have just enough time off each week to run my house like another little business, wherein loving and grocery shopping and play dates and cleaning and romantic dates and cooking are all something I have to schedule in advance to be sure they don't interfere with what pays the bills and in an enlightened society with the values we claim to hold, it all felt backwards. It feels like I'm the insane one for noticing the patterns we've built out of cubicles and corporations. It feels like we've taken all of our technology and advancements and science and psycology and rather than using it to better the world, we are making a more efficient slave class system- not unlike the Pharaohs that kept their servants amiable with the use of strong alcohol to quell rebellions, we are given tiny distractions and minor freedoms and programmed with the sense that if we are not responsible by the definition of society we are bad. We spend our formative years working in factories that design the collars we will wear as adults and by the time you have developed sense of self that comes with age, you'll likely be supporting a family and have ties in the community that prevent you from wanting to stand out, rock the boat, reject the system that you worked yourself into. Every day is the same and you will die wishing that you had done something different, made more time for something else, and you can see that now- I can see that now- but I can't stop punching in long enough to think. I can't scrape enough time together to figure out any other way of being. 

As you can probably tell by the tangent I just went one- Seeing this was like looking into the eye of madness. I can't help but stay the course- I am a responsible man. I have a family to protect, to make secure. I need to ensure their safety. And so I kept my head down and trudged on, thinking that this too will pass. But it won't. Not until death. There is no amount of medication or meditation that can change the source of my anxiety and I'm afraid that anything I do or take is only going to try to convince me that this is all okay. It's all designed to slowly reintegrate me, put me back in line. We've got a runner. Take him down. Restrain, retrain, redirect and institutionalize.

Despite the feelings of hopelessness, the paranoia that told me everything I could ever do to address these feelings was just going to put me back in the box, I tried to find ways to cope. I started seeing someone to help me lay it all out. I started the path that I hoped would make everything more manageable. 

And then came the great collapse. I had to work for three hours in the middle of the panic attack I had last Thursday before I could be relieved from duty. It was like holding my breath so long that I lost consciousness. My head felt detached from my body and floaty. I remember that I was very busy, but I only really remember one set of customers. I couldn't describe them in great detail, which is odd for me. I'm the guy that remembers every customer's name when they come in the door. I just remember that they were an elderly couple and they needed some technical help that I was attempting to provide in between all of the other customers who came up one by one. As people pointed out the mistakes I was making (not giving change back, not handing them their receipt, not giving a bag when they'd asked for one, etc) I remember getting more anxious and realizing how out of hand my angst was getting. Eventually somebody was going to get mad at me. Sooner or later they'd stop talking to me like I was just a dumb ass who didn't know how to do his job that even a trained inbred monkey could do properly and they would really let me have it. I don't think it happened, but I honestly don't remember most of that three hours save the old couple.

I briefly remember my Assistant Manager coming on duty and explaining to her that I needed to leave, setting her up with what she needed to know, trying to pretend like I was going to be okay even though I knew something was pretty fucked up at this point. I do not recall any of the words that were spoken in this exchange.

I was supposed to be at a work meeting just outside of town at 2pm, it was 12:30pm and I was seriously considering whether I had time to make it to a doctor and still catch that meeting or if I should go to the doctor after the meeting. 

As I sat in the car deciding where I was headed, I checked my phone out of habit and saw that I had an email from my psychologist. Embarrassingly, I had sent her an email in the morning before opening the store to the public, when all of the anxiety started piling up. Here's one of the more tame excerpts: 

"...but I can't shake the feeling that work is like the crazy machete wielding guy in a slasher film. Even as I run from him, he is patiently biding his time, slowly stalking me at an even pace. And as I run to put distance between us, looking behind to see where he's at- I smash headlong into him, driving the machete into my gut and taking all of the wind out of my lungs." 

There's worse parts, but that was the most embarrassing line I'm comfortable sharing now. Anyways, I had completely forgotten I had even sent that email to her in the morning. Her response was that I should go to Urgent Care and take a few days off work. She said something to the effect that this is the same as any other health problem and I should be allowed the appropriate time to take care of it. I'm so grateful I have somebody to talk professionally. If not for that email, which she sent me even though she was only barely in the office and taking some personal time of her own, I might have ended up trying to go to that meeting at 2pm. I should not have been driving, honestly- but because her advice carries with it a certain stamp of professional authority in my mind, I allowed myself to override the guilt I was feeling at missing work and followed her plan. To be honest, I think I was such a zombie that I may have been susceptible to any suggestions. If her email told me to jump off a bridge, I might have.

I really shouldn't have been driving. It scares me because I only remember little blips of time. The old couple. Leaving work. Checking my phone. Signing in at the Urgent Care, then being swallowed up by thoughts of self loathing and guilt in between each scarcely registered event and withdrawing into myself. 

They gave me a script for some tranquilizers and sent me on my way. I remember the pharmacist was someone I recognized as a customer from work. She talked to me about her recent purchase, a game that I recommended for her boyfriend and her to enjoy together and they loved it. It made me nervous at first because these are usually the kind of events that set me off- being recognized outside of work as my at work personality, straddling the thin line between my professional and personal selves- and here I was, pre set off and currently freaking the fuck out waiting for her to hand me my meds so I could go home and be a Freakazoid in the comforting shelter of my own home, away from the public eye because at this point I felt so out of control at the realization that I wasn't really driving my vessel that I worried what I would do if I was fully checked out. It's like waking up from a blackout drunk night and wondering who you'll have to apologize to and what for- could be that I took my clothes off and went running through the streets or maybe I axe murdered somebody. Who knows?

She was so genuine and sweet and kind though, no trace of that social obligation to make small talk- just a legitimate compliment and gratitude so powerful that it pierced the negative cocoon I had spent half the day actively wrapping myself in. She started to apologize for sharing those thoughts and gushing over something I probably didn't really care about and was not likely that big a deal for me. I remember almost crying when she handed my meds over and telling her thanks- I told her that she was so considerate and sincere that it really did make a difference to hear that today and she had no idea what a favor she had done.

I went home and took the meds and passed the fuck out hard. Like for 4-5 hours or something. My fiancee eventually came in as I was shaking off the powerful meds and I made my way downstairs. I felt like I had been brought in off the ledge, but I was still in the building of crazy, still eyeing that open window and wondering when I'd find myself on the other side of it again. When. Not, "if."

I cleared my work schedule through Monday, which was the earliest my psychologist could see me. I spent the whole weekend wavering between mild and intense distress, but it was always present. I could feel my anxiousness like it was a physical thing, taking up space next to me. Sometimes it was a crying baby. Sometimes it was a bellowing and ferocious monster. Sometimes it was like a shirt that used to be your favorite but it didn't fit quite right today and it made you wonder at what had changed to make it feel so awkward now... had you changed or the shirt? A question that seems benign enough at first, but quickly leads down a rabbit hole of dysmorphia that is very similar to the relationship I am having with my insides this week.

During my Monday appointment, I was asked to take another week off to get myself off the ledge and keep from boiling over. This was a huge relief and a terrible source of stress, because today would have been my first day back and I still feel like I'm fragile enough that if I throw myself into the same environment where my breakdown happened, I would have had the same dead end feelings that drove me towards panic in the first place. I might be able to handle it. I may be able to keep my shit together long enough to reach the end of my shift, but I would be actively repressing a psychotic break in the process. 

The stress came from self inflicted guilt. At first my psychologist was talking about getting checked in to an In Patient Mental Health facility, but I really don't like doctor's offices or hospitals and the idea of being locked up in one is more than I can handle. We settled on an out patient facility and I set up an appointment for an assessment. But then that's where the guilt came into play. I've got appointments or will likely have appointments every day this week to work on getting me back into decent mental health, but it's not like I am every second in the fetal position, rocking back and forth- and oddly enough that makes me feel guilty. Like if somebody from work sees me at the store getting a carton of milk, I'm fucked because I am doing something wrong right now. If somebody saw me having fun? There would definitely be a legal hearing. If I post anything on Facebook right now, I am under a microscope (that may or may not exist). Even taking time to work at writing this blog feels like a betrayal.

The logical side of my brain says that if someone had their legs broken, I doubt they'd feel guilty for taking some relaxing time to recover- playing video games and watching movies to pass the time between physical therapy appointments. I find myself incapable of relaxing, and even when I do try to occupy my thoughts by doing a leisurely activity, I feel absolutely sick with guilt- like, if I'm well enough to go to a movie or play a video game, by God I should be at work getting shit done instead of leaving others to pick up my slack. I really hate myself for not being stronger sometimes. And the irony isn't lost on me, because all of this started with a feeling that I am contributing to a life path that I no longer agree with. Now I am severely angry with myself for taking a step off the side of that road.

I guess that the conclusion I'm coming to and the major difference with physical and mental illness is that with physical ailments there is typically an X-Ray, a fever or some physical proof of injury that is objective and undeniable. Half of my problem right now is that I do not trust myself- I do not know what degree of mental injuries I have sustained. Part of my brain says that I am very near irreparable psychic damage and need to sterilize the environment, break it down to its most basic elements to get to the root of the problem before I start reintroducing all of the compounds that complicate life and muddy one's ability to see themselves clearly. The other part says that I am weak and pathetic and should not be allowed this temporary reprieve because everybody wishes they could take a break and catch their breath and I am no different, no more entitled than they. When I tell my close friends that I have come to the realization that I may not be mentally stable, several of them have laughed at me for arriving so late to that conclusion.

I don't know what I wanted to accomplish here any more and I'm kind of nearing the end of all I want to say about it- if not just over that line. I guess it's a process and I just wanted some bread crumbs to look over where I've been and to help put words to what it is that's been going on with me, whatever it is, that I am just barely scratching the surface of understanding. If this message in a bottle made its way to your beach, thanks for following along and granting me a moment of comfort in the illusion of your imagined presence.

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