My Enigma

Every time I call the doctor or health insurance of late, there is an extra message to check that my mental health is okay and offering care options.  I feel a little bitterness that it has taken a tragedy for society to take mental ill health seriously – where were you when we had to wait many months or years for psychological help?  Clearly, Covid-19 has challenged even those of us who have not had a pre-existing condition.  My psychiatrist seemed shocked at the amount of patients presenting with psychosis during this time, although I am not.

My diagnosis/mental health had always been an enigma to me, the people I love and the medical profession.  Like many others, my original diagnosis is not my current one.  After years of working in the mental health field (and my own personal experience), it is clear that we know less about this complex field of medicine than others.  Heart bypass surgery has become almost commonplace and much safer, for example.  I was perfectly happy with my original diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  It was such a relief to find out why I had to check the gas was off a dozen times or more or check that a plastic bag in the road was not full of cats.  In the back of my mind, I was sure I had separate depressive and anxiety episodes but perhaps it all goes together, I thought.

As much as we would like a clear cut name for our individual illness, for many of us diagnosis seems to be a wavy, mysterious line.  That is not the fault of the medical profession, necessarily.  One of my cousins had very different diagnoses in her later years and she ultimately died of an overdose.  I imagine her doctors were trying desperately to find a medication to make her feel better.  Then there is me.  I present a chameleon personality to both my doctors and loved ones.  At a social event, I seem like ‘party central’ – confident, amusing and fun to be around.  This exhausts me.  My mother was so concerned about my shyness as I child, that she made every effort to bring me out of my shell.  Drama classes in high school and finding a group of peers helped me to blossom.

This pandemic has had the opposite effect on me – my mental health has rarely been better.  Teddy and my doctor express astonishment that I am coping so well.  The truth is I always knew what was best for me – isolation and silence.  After I married at age 21, I followed Teddy around the world for his career.  He was always going to be the major breadwinner with ambition and skill.  He kindly says that he couldn’t have done it without my support – who knows?  My IQ is above average and I have honed my people skills over the years.  As Teddy was pursuing his career as a Geoscientist, I did a variety of dead-end jobs such as cleaner, bar person and fossil picker.  That last job sounds more exciting than it was.  My husband’s company offered me training and a job looking at tiny fossils down a microscope.  I then transferred those of interest to a slide and a micro paleontologist would further assess them – this was all in the pursuit of oil.

It was the perfect job for someone with OCD – timing and precision was critical.  Even though I was smarter than the average bear, I was quite happy to stay in this dead end job.  Teddy persuaded me to push my ambition further and that is how I ended up in the mental health field.  That led to various other jobs where I could use my writing and people skills to their best capacity.  But I was always so stressed, even when I enjoyed the plaudits.  The job I really longed for was Librarian.

So here we are in 2020.  At the suggestion of a doctor friend, I started eating gluten free at the beginning of the year.  This was to try to address my curious neurological sensations in hands and feet.  I have since read some medical journals on the effect of gluten on the brain – fascinating.  It was relatively easy to change my diet – I guess I avoid gluten naturally. At the same time, I stopped working and driving because of Covid-19.  Now I don’t know if the absence of gluten or driving/working has helped but my neurological symptoms have abated considerably.  It’s another mystery – but a silver lining for me.

Turning 60 in 2020 has given me so much time to think about growing older.  Unexpectedly, I have reached an acceptance that I do feel different and a little less sexy.  Teddy disagrees – thank goodness! There is a huge sense of relief that I don’t have to work anymore and I realize how lucky I am to be in that position.  I am perfectly happy cleaning the house, watering the garden and making very short journeys away from the house.  When all this is over, will I enjoy the normal pace of life or need to buy 10 acres of wilderness for peace and quiet?  I guess we will all adapt and realize how strong most of us are, even in the most desperate of situations.

For now, my Enigma remains just that and I am grateful for this moment of stillness in society.

A Dire Wolf moved in…

Image by Veirgacht

On a typical hot, steamy night in our swamp, I woke up to find that Teddy had transmogrified into Shrek, snoring as only an ogre can.  My industrial strength ear plugs had fallen out so I sleepily tread the well-worn path to the front bedroom at the other side of our hovel.  I fell asleep almost immediately only to wake in the wee hours needing to use the bathroom.  The toilet tissue was running low so I blithely reached into the cabinet under the sink to get a new roll.  Then I saw her, screamed and gently shut the door.  She looked at me with the same horror.  Yes, her eyes were that big.  It was my first tree roach of the season.  Let’s call her Teresita.

For those of you who don’t live in the south of Texas, we have something much scarier than our alligators, water moccasins and recluse spiders.  My fear was such that it may as well have been a Dire Wolf, most recently of Game of Thrones, but actually an extinct giant wolf.  Tree roaches are really large roaches that FLY!  If you do a Google search for Tree Roaches Texas you will find endless hilarious stories of newcomers who firstly can’t believe the size of the critters (mine was about 2 inches long) and then their horror when the beast flew towards them.  Their true name is the American Cockroach and they are not quite as filthy as German Cockroaches, the regular smaller ones that you see up north. Ours wear MAGA hats. In Florida they call tree roaches Palmetto bugs as a way to fancy them up.

I went back to bed with trepidation because the last time I found a tree roach it was under my pillow (shudder) in that front bedroom.  The wisest action was not to look and I fell into a troubled sleep.  The next morning, I started removing everything from the bathroom cabinet.  There was mouse sized Tree Roach poop everywhere!  Just as I removed the 12th toilet roll (it is hurricane season and we are fully stocked), the monster jumped out at me.  I screamed again but was mad as hell that it had pooped all over everything so I attempted to crush her.  She scuttled back into a hole behind the cabinet or should I say Cockroach Condo.  Dang it!

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This is not my hand!

Eventually I emptied everything and washed the plastic bottles in bleach, the rest went in the trash.  The inside of the cabinet was cleaned with neat bleach and then I found the deadly bug killer to spray in the hole.  Usually I use a completely ineffective ‘green’ bug spray that a Tree Roach would use for salad dressing.  I like to live in harmony with all God’s creatures but the roaches have to stay outside.  Then I called the bug man – who is afraid of Tree Roaches.  Now that’s exposure therapy.  His favorite Macho tale is when he first encountered Tree Roaches on a military base.  He was in a storage shed and he saw three Tree Roaches blocking the doorway.  ‘No problem’, he thought, ‘I can just stomp on them’.  Not if they fly in your face – then you run out screaming like a girl.

I considered calling the bug man earlier when we had a millipede invasion all over the larger Houston area.  Every day I rescued or swept up dozens of millipedes.  They are harmless and don’t scare me so I just ignored them.  Maybe all the rainy weather has created a glut of them.  When they die, they curl up in a little ball and it looked like a fossil extinction zone in every corner of the house.  The spiders tried their best to help me out and every web was filled with millipedes.  When you live in Texas you need to love your spiders because they catch the other stuff!  The Dire Wolf under the sink provoked a spring cleaning like none other.  Then I discovered another dead tree roach in a kitchen cabinet so all the pots had to be washed.

Working my way around the kitchen cabinets, I finally found sugar ants had got into the sugar.  Really??  Don’t you think I had been through enough?  My O.C.D. was boiling into a crazy ferment.  Sugar ants are harmless too but it was three species too many.  The hovel house is now very, very clean and there are no bugs.  It was a rather expensive visit from the Dire Wolf (and friends) by the time I paid the bug man and restocked the toilet rolls, tissue, cotton wool and sugar.  One of my neighbors had a blue tongued Skink living in her garage – they look like truncated snakes with very wide bodies.  She was horrified that its poop had cockroach carapaces in it.  Please come and live with me, blue tongued Skink – free food and friendly humans.

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Blue Tongued Skink

Parasthesia, Prozac and other Poppycock

Parasthesia, Prozac and other Poppycock

This is my third attempt at writing this post; maybe it is the charm this time?  How do I make a post about illness funny or readable?  I thought I would try alliteration and show you the real sign at my front door.  It certainly breaks the ice with new neighbors and solicitors (not lawyers…)   I bought it in Colorado and knew that it was perfect for me.  Life is funny.   As most of you know, I have a mental illness  – variously diagnosed over the years.  It was managed for many years with gritted teeth, therapy and alcohol.  Then we moved to Egypt and I have been on Prozac or something similar since 2003.

For the most part it has been a lifesaver although a much maligned drug.  If it is properly prescribed, it is a fantastic modern medication that my sad mother would have benefited from.  There are side effects, for sure.  The best was stopping my compulsive eating/habits; the worst was ghastly nightmares every night.  Flash forward to late 2018 – I had been having sensations of tingling and numbness in my hands and feet for about 3 years.  I went from pillar to post ending up with an eminent neurologist at a university teaching campus.  Even he could not come up with a diagnosis after three hours of painful nerve tests.

Here is what I do have –

  • An abnormal gait likely caused by an untreated club foot at birth
  • Weakness in my hands and feet
  • Hammer toes
  • Pes Cavus – abnormally shaped feet
  • Tingling and numbness in my extremities – hands and feet
  • A weird mental illness (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Depression, Anxiety)

Here is what I don’t have –

  • Nerve damage in my hands or feet
  • Marie Tooth Charcot
  • Any other obvious neurological condition
  • Any vitamin deficiency

I left his office having been examined by some initially excited medical students who finally looked as perplexed as the Professor.  Did they think it was all in my head?  The irony is that Parasthesia , a sensation of tingling or numbness can be caused by anxiety.  After Googling until my hands went numb (some Parasthesia humor there…) I discovered that it can be a side effect of PROZAC!  Onto my next psychiatry appointment where we decided I would taper off and then quit Prozac while staying on a small dose of Xanax which is an anti-anxiety medication.

It has been bloody awful; not helped by attending a transatlantic family funeral mid tapering.  I didn’t even want to come off Prozac although I don’t miss the nightmares.  It has been a partial success.  The tingling and numbness has decreased although too much or too little exercise can exacerbate it.  Poor Teddy has borne the brunt of my sudden emergence into the real world.  I told him I wanted to stab in the heart when he baited me one day.  He just moved on as though I had made a comment about dust bunnies.  Wise move from a man who knows me intimately.  Road rage overwhelms me, as does life.  It is in vivid Technicolor and I don’t like it without my hazy filter.

With Teddy’s support, I am moving forward slowly like a lizard after winter.  He pointed out that I dealt with the transatlantic funeral, our elderly cat’s slow waltz towards the ever after and some minor household crises.  I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to write anymore but writing the Tumbleweed Fairy was a breakthrough.  Pragmatic is my middle name, so I know that I might have to try another medication or treatment and I am darned lucky to have healthcare.  For someone so unhealthy, I try to keep far away from doctors but I am willing to see one more neurologist to see if we can figure this out.

Keep your fingers crossed for me.  It sounds like a minor problem but imagine it every single day, so debilitating at one point that I couldn’t twist the deodorant tube.  When I worked as manager of a mental health project in Scotland, I was so sympathetic for patients who had physical side effects (tardive dyskinesia) from anti-psychotic medication.  I don’t know for certain what is causing my tingling and numbness but now I have walked a mile in the shoes of many, many people.  On a final funny note, I will never be able to do a sobriety test.  Two doctors had to hold me up while I put one foot in front of the other.  How could I have lived to this age without having known this??  Straight to the breathalyzer for me then…🍾