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09/30 Biochemical disorder

I was gonna title this post "Mental Illness" but I'm no longer sure that there's any such thing as "mind," so the concept of having one, and it being ill, doesn't really mean much to me.

However, I got through the day by repeating "Mental Illness" (and "Relapse") to myself because it was infinitely more comforting than responding to the voices in my head.

For the first time ever, I think I've managed to separate state from cause while I'm in the state. (I still am, by the way, so warning for unreliable narrator here.)

I almost wish I could say that something serious happened, because my current state would make more sense if I'd been in a car wreck or been exposed to violence or danger.

I haven't. There was just a string of tiny shakeups that culminated today in a breakdown situation. A sounder person would have been unfazed by the things that brought my hair-trigger out of hibernation and then pulled it.

I thought I'd become a sounder person. I have become a sounder person. It's been almost two years since I was anywhere near this condition which used to be my baseline. (God, how did I survive?) Still, feeling the state slam into me again after a long period of peace was extra-shocking.

In the past when it has hit I've focused obsessively on the pointless, chaotic and cruel swirl of mental sewage that is unleashed in the breakdown and masquerades as its cause: memories of things said, done, experienced, omitted, all tainted by the biochemical toxins of the breakdown condition itself. They mean nothing. It's taken me forty years to understand that.

Today, somehow, reason got a few words in edgewise. "Look at the state," it said. "Only the state." So I did. I kept dragging my thoughts back up from the neurochemical shit vortex to focus on what was actually happening.

If you'd seen me you wouldn't have noticed anything wrong. (Unless you were the nice man behind the meat counter at New Seasons--then you might have wondered what there was to cry about in six bratwursts and a pound of ground beef. By the time I got to the checkout I was able to say, "Excellent, thanks, and how are you?" and not actually give voice to the "Liar, liar, liar" part shouting in my brain.)

Maybe it would have been better if, in the past, the state had rendered me non-functional. I might have been forced to get more help than I got. But it virtually never did. I could always hide it, more or less, and engineer a life and mythology for myself to help keep it hidden.

Today, I managed a real day. I got some groceries. I had a visit from my sister (she didn't suspect a thing, go me). I rearranged some furniture and tidied a bit. I ate lunch, I'm pretty sure. Watched a movie. Did some knitting.

The shaking hands come and go in waves and I didn't even break anything this time--just dumped a tray of ice on the kitchen floor, not exactly billable property damage.

My disorientation wasn't that much worse than usual, and if I had to take the long way home from the store because for the life of me I couldn't figure out the short way in the neighborhood where I've lived most of my life, well, nobody knew. So I forgot half of what I needed a few things. Big deal.

And I really did kind of need the new table lamp that I suddenly, absolutely, had to make a separate trip to go buy, right-now-today. It's not like I ran up a credit card for it.

There are a few obvious physical symptoms of the state: my hands hurt; the pain comes in waves (according to one therapist, this seems to be unique to me and may be related to a specific trauma--I don't know); there's a sensation in the middle of my body like being unzipped and having my heart and lungs grabbed; I'm at the edge of tears for hours at a time, and when they come they come in an open-the-sluice-gates kind of way--extra-wet, extra-voluminous; there's a buzzy, fizzy feeling in my hands, arms, and mouth. I lose my appetite. I feel a great need for sedatives and will take them if I can get them.

(I couldn't get them today, so I fell back on a cocktail of magnesium, calcium, L-tryptophan, ashwaganda and ibuprofen. I know...)

Now that I've written all this, I'm feeling the sewer-overflow recede. Ten hours, one chocolate bar, eyes not too swollen--not bad! By tomorrow the chemistry will be heading back to normal.

It would be so easy to let it go at that. But I think I need help. I can't survive many of these. They just cost too much.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 10th, 2013 08:09 am (UTC)
Oh my dear, I had no idea that you suffered in this way. Congratulations on two years of peace, but you want to re-establish that as your norm as soon as you can. I agree, you need help. Well done too on holding it together, but the effort it required can't be good for you long-term.

It's a tiny thing in the middle of everything else, but your mention of not being able to remember the way home struck a chord with me. I was sitting in my car in the supermarket car park and I had no idea of the way home! Several times when driving I'd get so far then wouldn't know which turn to take. Another time I couldn't remember where the lever was to open the fuel cap on my car.

Memory problems like that can be a symptom of pernicious anaemia due to B12 deficiency, so it would be worth getting that checked. Taking the tablets certainly cured my memory problems, which I was finding very frightening.
Jun. 10th, 2013 05:03 pm (UTC)
Thank you for your kind words.

I'm on a vitamin B-folate regimen from my doctor, but your note has made me realize that I ran out of B12 a couple of weeks ago. Excellent reminder!

The disorientation problem is something I've had most of my life, and it has always gotten worse under stress. I happened to mention "lack of sense of direction" to my best-ever therapist in my first visit, and that unlocked a whole course of treatment, because apparently it's a key PTSD symptom. In the absence of any obvious PTSD experience, my disorientation (along with a couple of other characteristics that the therapist could easily see but that I was unaware of in myself) gave us a roadmap (heh). The work that followed ended eight years ago, and it's why these episodes have become so rare.

The therapist described it this way: at the scene of a car accident, the victim who can will get out of their car and walk around dazed and completely disoriented, the direct result of shock. In the case of PTSD, the shock never really abates, and the disorientation becomes permanent.

In my case, the shock was something pre-verbal, possibly as early as the day I was born, and "minor" by the standards of the time; years of therapy failed to turn up any identifiable incident. Only when I'm at my absolute best, grounded and sanguine and at ease, do I have the slightest sense of direction.

What's amazing to me is that it's all physical. The farther I delve into these things, the more meaningless "psychology" and "mind" become. Energy-field, maybe. But where else do we feel these things except in the body? So, vitamin B12, coming up. I'll go buy some this morning.
Jun. 10th, 2013 06:51 pm (UTC)
Interesting, since I also have PTSD! As to the B12 - for all we know, it works on whatever it is that causes disorientation to be manifested in PTSD...
Jun. 10th, 2013 11:31 pm (UTC)
it works on whatever it is that causes disorientation to be manifested in PTSD...

Yes, this. I know a number of people who swear by B vitamins in controlling depression, and it's certainly a helpful factor for me; I'm pretty sure in my own case that depression has arisen directly out of PTSD--that some neurochemical excess, deficiency or imbalance is the shared root of both conditions.

I can't say clearly enough or often enough that a physical-body approach has actually diminished my depression, where the psychological approach never touched it. Dietary change, hormonal balancing, exercise, supplements--these things have actually created healing. I'm not "cured" (as yesterday's cascade clearly and humblingly demonstrated) but I can live a normal life 99 days out of 100, and, as Captain Reynolds would say, "That's not nothin'."
Jun. 10th, 2013 09:01 am (UTC)
I just paused an episode of the Mental Illness Happy Hour podcast to read your post in full. I found this podcast 3 or 4 days ago and have been mainlining it ever since. I find it to be an excellent balance of humour (the host is a comedian and the majority of his guests are as well) and frank, brutal honesty about mental illnesses and traumatic experiences. So far I've found that even when they're talking about situations or conditions or perspectives that I can't relate to (and even when the interviewee is someone who's work/persona I actively dislike), every episode has had something resonate with me immediately and profoundly in a "This. This is a line or strategy or viewpoint that will help me if I can remember it when I need it," way. It's already been immensely helpful for me.

If listening to other people be incredibly intimate with their past/current/ongoing struggles is something that might be useful for you as you figure out what your approach to this is going to be, I cannot recommend this podcast more highly.
Jun. 10th, 2013 05:10 pm (UTC)
OMG this is perfect! While I was at the grocery store trying not to cry anymore over the ground beef, I remember desperately trying to get Audible.com to recognize me so I could search for a title mental illness. Audible let me down, but this podcast is just what I needed. Thank you! There's something about listening that trumps reading for me. I'm not sure why that is, but the more agitated I am, the more I need to listen to something--possibly just to silence the voices in my head.

Your suggestion has had an unexpected benefit, too: I've just figured out how to add a podcast feed to my Ubuntu music player. Cool!

Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Jun. 10th, 2013 11:35 pm (UTC)
Just circling back to let you know that I've started listening to the podcasts and they're excellent. I'll be making this my go-to listening, I think, while I finish my current knitting project and get my mind back in order.

It's incredibly refreshing to hear intelligent, sound-minded people having an open and nuanced discussion of mental illness. I'm looking forward to more. Thank you again.
Jun. 11th, 2013 05:34 pm (UTC)
I'm so sorry you are (were) experiencing that. It sounds awful.

Hang in there.
Jun. 11th, 2013 05:44 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Things were improved enough yesterday that I passed it in a good mood (though not very productively). Today I'm back at work. Surprisingly tired, still, but in the "normal" zone once more.
Jun. 11th, 2013 05:45 pm (UTC)
And I am sorry for the belated nature of my comment!
Jun. 11th, 2013 05:49 pm (UTC)
No apology needed. I'm always so happy to get comments, and when they come in over time, they let me go back and reassess whatever I wrote about in the post.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )



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