Mental illness is a REAL illness


This is not a political post; I am all too aware that the Affordable Care Act was anything but. Unless something miraculous changes in the Senate, mental illness will no longer be included in the new health plan. So…not only do I have a variety of pre-existing conditions but the one that makes me most ill (and yet is least expensive) will not be covered. For some reason, addiction and mental illness has been put in one category. From my work and personal experience, mentally ill people often self-medicate but they are not the same. I have a clearly inherited condition, much like heart disease, and there was no element of choice. I am not criticizing anyone who has an addiction – there is enough blame to go around.

Let’s take this past week. It started on a high with Teddy’s birthday and then rapidly went downhill. Why? Even I want to slap myself because it was no good reason at all. Our roof has been leaking and the contractor took three days to repair the ceiling, leaving me trapped in the master bedroom which has a large bathroom and closet. Toffee (my elderly cat) and I had to go there so that she wouldn’t escape or get in their way. I had great plans; I would write blogs and binge watch girly TV shoes. Mentally I was paralyzed. Thoughts started spinning in my head about how fat and useless I am. I am neither of those things. I couldn’t watch anything other than old Bones episodes because I couldn’t concentrate. Then the physical pain started to set in. When you sit in an anxious state, you start getting cold and stiff – it was almost 90 degrees outside but the air-con was on for the contractor.

I was determined to do better the next day but the anxiety was rising. My thoughts were, “what do I really need to prioritize in my life?” My ridiculous conclusion was that I would be really happy if I got back to 1** lbs. (about 6 lbs. less than I am now). I joined a free weight loss internet club which told me I was already within my BMI range and that I would have to eat 700 calories a day to lose 2 lbs. a week. This is a glimpse into a world of disordered thinking, especially with eating. Then the sciatica kicked in. I was fully aware that I could have sat in the yard, watered the garden or tidied my filing system but again – paralysis.

By the third day, I had drunk a small glass of vodka with anti-anxiety medication because the paint didn’t match (our ceiling has not been painted in 13 years). I spoke to poor, long suffering Teddy who could hear a panic attack coming on and he agreed that we would ask them to leave. Teddy would finish the painting after our roofs have been replaced in the next few months. As soon as the contractor left, I sprang into action, steam cleaning tiles, polishing our leather suite and assembling everything back in the room. My sciatica really hurt after all that but endorphins got me through. All throughout the 3 days and nights, I had horrifying nightmares that meant that I was really sleep deprived despite being in bed most of the time. My eating deteriorated to almost nothing except snacks and vodka. Perhaps I should revise my thinking about putting mental illness and addiction together?

Now it is all over and I am on the way to feeling better. I ate properly, stopped drinking vodka and went walking to help with the sciatica and general good health. Then, I lost my sunglasses. It felt like the end of the world – I searched the house and garage. It culminated in texting my husband in California to see if he had seen them. Finally, good sense prevailed and I ordered another pair from Amazon at $7 – less than two lattes. I am still hugely annoyed at myself for this whole week. Why couldn’t I just deal with it? This is the true cost of mental illness, a life mostly wasted because of tortured thoughts. Mine are benign, as are the majority of people with mental illness. There is real physical pain, too. The only time I felt happy with an illness was when I was in a full leg cast for almost a year. For once people could ask me what was wrong and not be embarrassed about the answer. Sometimes you need sympathy for an invisible illness.

If the act passes without amendment, mentally ill people will end up in and out of psychiatric hospitals or often prisons because they haven’t been able to access regular help at their psychiatrists, psychologists or doctors. In the end that costs more than a quick visit to the shrink.

A spoonful of sugar…

teddy-doctor
….makes the medicine go down. I had great intentions of blogging more frequently but suddenly my health deteriorated last week and I had to go to ER. I have had a variety of nagging symptoms with no real diagnosis until a blood test showed my thyroid was a little under-active. I started taking some medication for this but suddenly, on Wednesday, was very dizzy, nauseous and my heart was beating out of my chest like a cartoon.

I checked to see if these were serious side effects and it said ‘go to ER, immediately’. Since it was evening, I had no other option. All I could think about was, ‘how much is this going to cost?’ I was also short of breath, so the staff at reception asked me if I had a family history of heart disease. I, rather unwillingly, shared that both my parents had heart attacks in their 50s. They were both smokers and alcoholics… The next thing I hear is “56 year old woman, EKG”. Most of us think we are 21 in our heads but hearing that is somehow shocking, especially since history seemed to be repeating itself.

To cut the melodrama short, my heart and lungs are fine. The ER doctor thought that I might have gone from hypo to hyper thyroid with the new medication but had to send off the blood samples for further investigation. They put me on a saline IV drip and gave me some Potassium to drink, as my levels were low. The nurse warned me that it tasted awful and mixed it with Gatorade. Gah! It tasted even worse than the stuff you have before a colonoscopy. With every sentence I sound like an old person. 😱

Other recent blood tests taken my GP showed that my B12 levels were low also. It is still a mystery as to the exact why but the word parasite has been brought up again. I was really trying to avoid my gastroenterologist but having had a parasite in the past, I will really need to do the dirty (to coin a phrase). Teddy took me to ER and sat with me through each boring hour. The doctor had pressed my tummy and I had gas. Teddy said, “Just let it out” and at that exact moment a trolley squeaked next door. He said, “How did you do that?” I was short of breath and struggle not to faint from laughing.

Later he discovered that if he said “Boo!” to me, my heart monitor would skip…oh, he is such a laugh. It did strike me that I was so glad that I have a husband to be with me. How hard it must be to be sick and alone. I have no family for many thousands of miles, with no parents or siblings. My friends have been very concerned and that touches my soul. I am very grateful to have health care through my husband’s job and will await the bill with trepidation. How lucky you are in other countries where you can go to ER without worrying.

Most of the worst symptoms are gone and I am resting at home, dreaming of walking on a beach in the sunshine. Back to blogging soon.

Cersei or just ginger?

cersei2

I dye my own hair both to save money and because it usually turns out a better color than a salon would achieve. Today I used a slightly different mix and as it was processing, my hair started going vivid auburn. Sometimes it does look a really odd color when processing, such as purple or gray, so I wasn’t too worried. Then I rinsed it off. Teddy was in the bathroom and I said, “See, it turned out blonde after all”. His response was, “Cersei blonde, perhaps?” For those of you who watch Game of Thrones you will now know that it turned out strawberry blonde, titian or maybe just ginger. I have dyed it green before and grayish lilac (not the modern Kelly Osbourne style), so ginger is okay. My hair is so coarse that it soaks up all the UV light from the sun and will be a different color next week anyway.

The fact that I dyed my hair at all is a sign that I am feeling better. I had let it go quite white which made me look even more wan and tired than I did before. My last post was about my many miserable birthdays. Quite unexpectedly, this one turned out to be the worst ever. I can’t talk about it because I might consult a lawyer at a later date. Suffice to say, that it didn’t help my current mood. I was convinced that my various symptoms were caused by the menopause and went downtown to the OB-GYN who had done the Vajazzling. Beforehand, I sent her a mini-thesis of symptoms. It was clear that she didn’t really think it was the menopause but prescribed a type of hormone replacement therapy. I have a doctor friend who had suggested this particular combo, so although I wasn’t sure I took the prescription. When I had the script filled, I was horrified that the generic cost $90 per month – this is a drug that has been used for 38 years. I could have said no but thought that a month’s treatment might kick start something. Desperation makes fools of all of us.

That morning I took one tablet with breakfast. I have an element of ADD in my illness, so of course I didn’t look at the contraindications… Later on I did and realized I had just wasted $90. I have a very delicate digestive system from having had undiagnosed Giardia for 5 years (a little gift from the people of Egypt) but the doctor had given me a low dose because of that. The one that horrified me was that I could not be in the sun without sunscreen or being covered up. I need unfiltered sunshine to give me a decent dose of Vitamin D. The next contraindication was that it might cause depression – seriously??? WTF! The next contraindication was acne for which I am being treated by my dermatologist (menopausal acne, of course). I was so angry at myself for not listening to my gut instinct and going to my regular GP who would have ordered some blood work.

It is always difficult seeing specialists and other doctors when you have an underlying mental illness because neither of us can be certain whether it is the chicken or the egg. I think she thought that it was all my depression and I think she could be right. I see my psychiatrist in a few weeks and in the meantime I have stopped caffeine, alcohol and have cleaned up my already good eating habits. After the one HRT tablet my tummy erupted, so that wouldn’t have worked anyway. On a funnier note, another potential side effect was facial hair. I already have issue with middle-aged chin hairs – mine are all white so you can’t even see the buggers. When I mentioned this to Teddy he said (and I knew he was going to say it), “Well, you could always join the circus”. I wanted to slap him but instead I fell on the floor laughing at his bearded lady joke. You’ve got to laugh… 😹

Good news, at last.

Teddy and Bunny Old Tampa Bay

Teddy and Bunny
Old Tampa Bay

This is Teddy and I celebrating his new job which he started this week. It has been a long six months, with illness, bereavement and stress. Thank you to all my followers for your support, especially during some dark days. As many of you know, Teddy set up Gattageo LLC during his unemployment whilst applying for endless jobs. I always knew that he would have to look for a staff job, for health care amongst other reasons but supported him as much as I was able. In the end, it was a former employer, who knew Teddy’s worth, who approached him to join a small geological consultancy as a senior sedimentologist. There is a conflict of interest with Gattageo LLC so it has been temporarily put aside but none of the work will be wasted as he will use it in his new role or in the future.

When we received the contract, I immediately booked a little trip to Tampa in the few days he had left before starting (more of that later). It was a lovely feeling to both escape the biblically wet weather in Houston and just breathe a sigh of relief. The night before he started his new job, I laid out his outfit and he packed his pencils. He was anxious but excited and I felt like a mom whose child was starting kindergarten! We are onto day 3 and so far, so good. He is straight into work and loving that. My meet and greet job is on a hiatus during the hot summer, although I was head-hunted by a cruise line. I think I just need some time to heal and relax.

The first day on my own was delicious but strange. I slept until noon and then returned some shoes. I went crazy and spent that $20 on two tops in Old Navy (modeling blog later). The house is already cleaner that it has been in months and our water bill will increase again… I am still in thrift mode, however, and I doubt it will ever go especially as we are approaching retirement. It has been excellent practice for the strangeness of retirement when you are both stuck together in the house. Now we know that Teddy needs to volunteer or work part-time and Bunny needs the house to herself for days at a time.

I have learned that my chronic mental illness has the capacity to get dramatically worse in times of stress and I need to seek help ASAP (which I did). The medications are already reduced and I feel as normal as I ever do – i.e. a permanent state of slight anxiety with low levels of depression. This is well managed with sleep, medication and plenty of time alone. It struck me that although everyone assumes I am a social butterfly, I really spend two thirds of my time alone or sleeping. If I have a busy day volunteering (4 hours), I might have to go to bed the following day to unwind.

We learned a lot about our marriage and love. The hard work of 34 years of marriage was not wasted. We tried so hard to boost each other up and say we loved each other. It taught us some new skills that we will need for the future. I thought we were already frugal but we could be self-indulgent at times, especially with meals out and luxury items. It is so important to have access to health-care and we did but it was very expensive. If you don’t have good health then life has little pleasure. We will continue to be kind to people on the way up as we have truly appreciated the support that we have received, from strangers to good friends and neighbors. Thank you!

Which eye?

kerry refuge

Do you ever wonder what you might have been in a previous life to deserve the one you have? I think I might have been a serial killer of kittens. No, hang on, that was this life when I had to euthanize Mrs. Stripes’ endless sick kittens. The veterinarian did it – I am not that creepy. Anyway, as you know, life has been a tad stressful recently with layoff and bereavement. Now I can add unexpected eye surgery to the mix.

We were getting all ready to choose an affordable health plan instead of taking Cobra in March and I have been seeing all my doctors in preparation. Today I had my yearly eye exam and paid extra to have that fancy new test that sees deep into the eye. Last year I was nonplussed to find out that I had very small cataracts in both eyes. I am in denial about middle-age… My assumption was that they would take years to develop into full blown cataracts.

Today the eye doctor said, “What can you see on the screen with your left eye?” “I can’t even see writing on the screen”, I replied. Even my doctor was shocked and astonished at how rapidly it had grown. At this stage I am essentially blind in one eye. We are very fortunate to live in the greater Houston area and I now have an appointment with an eminent eye surgeon next Monday. The plan is to have the cataract removed and a lens implanted. I knew it was serious because he held my hand.

Now we have to continue with Cobra, which we are fortunate to have, because this wonderful eye surgeon and my eye doctor are not covered on the new plans offered. Additionally, I went to my GP today because I thought I had shingles (without the rash). That could mean that the surgery would have to be delayed until my immune system is stronger. My incessant itching and upset tummy is a bit of a mystery, however, and despite a barrage of questions (and another doctor’s opinion), it doesn’t seem to be shingles.

Dr. Kerry thinks that my body is just under stress from recent travel across the Atlantic and everything else going on. Certainly my new pirate façade is not helping the stress! The weird thing is that you can’t see anything and that I have not noticed such a massive shift in vision, probably because I had mono-vision anyway. I have just realized that the lucky readers who have a universal health system won’t realize that Cobra is a government funding system that allows you to continue your work funded healthcare for 18 months after redundancy/layoff. You have to pay the full cost by yourself, however, instead of 20% or whatever we paid.

Dang it – one minute it is the menopause, then it’s the eyes! Last week I discussed with Teddy that I only want to live until 75 (an arbitrarily chosen time) but it looks like my parts are wearing out quicker than I thought. That was some black humor. I would feel better if I could drink a bottle of wine but I have to stick to a bland diet until my gastric system settles down. Think of me when you are having your Thai meal with some wine tonight!