I Dream of Jarvis

I’ve been having a difficult time since my and Fox’s legal marriage ceremony. The worst was when I broke down in tears in the shower, plagued by thoughts such as “I’m a waste of resources.” It’s not the words themselves so much as really believing them, not having anything left in me to try and refute them. How does one refute one’s own brain, anyway?

I was lost.

Wakana said it was because I allowed myself to become too enmeshed with Fox, going along with what he wanted and making excuses to neglect my own wants and needs. “You’re acting like Mrs. Fox Tamesis!”

She encouraged me to keep asserting myself, to demand to be recognized as a separate person, to act like a separate person, to prioritize my own needs. She helped me to find a practical outlet for my emotions: writing and performing songs about the things that get me so angry, I finally feel alive and motivated to do something. This would enable me to express myself and practice the music skills I need to develop in order to feel confident applying for internships, while also possibly influencing how others think about the topic. (I have yet to actually act on this, by the way.)

‘Cause that’s the thing, I know how to recover from anxious depression. I’ve written about the different aspects that go into it for almost a year now. I have most of the tools at my fingertips; the only part that might be a bit difficult for me to access is medication because first I need health insurance, then I need a good in-network psychiatrist, then we need to work together to find something that works for me.

But the rest? It’s just a matter of changing my entire lifestyle and staying consistent with it, especially when I want to do it the least. No single thing I can’t do.

Reading books and applying their wisdom about how to change my thought processes, check. Forcing myself to smile when I notice myself frowning (it really feels much better – physically first, then emotionally), check. Taking SAM-e, Omega 3, Vitamin D, and a B-complex first thing in the morning, easy peasy. Exercising until I start to sweat, piece of cake. Eating mostly healthy foods and having dessert foods as a treat … that’s a little bit harder, but I can do it. Going to bed and waking up at decent hours, sure! Thanking the universe for the good things in my life, fun and simple. Listening to music, fantastic. Heck, I can make my own!

Actually, I could probably do all these things in one day and still have time to watch Star Trek: Voyager
with Fox. The problem isn’t knowing what to do or even doing one or all of them.

The problem is doing it consistently. The problem is doing it when I wake up hating the world and myself. The problem is doing it when my brain gets stuck in its awful feedback loop that paralyzes me and leaves me feeling like crap. Whatever I feel the most guilty about (e.g. Schmoozer‘s suffering and death), it makes me relive the moment of my horrendous failure, the crushing guilt, the devastating grief, the simmering anger. It rips me to shreds and leaves me lying there bleeding.

“Exercise is great for treating depression.”

“Think of one positive thing.”

Don’t get me wrong. The people who say these things are trying to help. They care a great deal. And I appreciate that they’re trying to help me. I want to take their advice, not just complain about it.

But they’re not here to remind me of these things when I need them the most, such as before my brain gets stuck. When I just woke up. When I’m on Facebook instead of exercising.

I think I said it best in my reply to someone’s comment on my post, A Cure for Anxious Depression:

I’ve been increasingly feeling like I need someone to get me going in the morning, get me to exercise, make sure I’m eating healthy (including cooking for me when I don’t have the energy) and taking my supplements, remind me to think those positive thoughts. But I can’t ask my mom to do it and I think that would be a lot to ask of Fox, especially since he could use the encouragement, too. Hiring someone to do those things isn’t really an option; I’d practically need the person to live with me.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Even if it is possible to hire someone to live with me (that would get awkward, considering Fox & I have a one-bedroom apartment!) and dedicate all their time and energy to making sure I’m doing what I need to take care of myself, there is no way in hell I’d be able to afford their fee. No way! And besides, it seems a really cruel thing to ask of another human being.

Enter Jarvis, stage left. He’s an artificial intelligence who helps Tony Stark do absolutely amazing things in the Iron Man movies. He helps design Stark’s suits, is essentially their operating system, and is there interacting with Stark throughout his adventures. A constant companion who is calm, provides useful information, never gets angry, never berates Stark, and even reminds him of things like the importance of sleep. He’s always on, always paying attention; he always seems to notice and care when Stark is having a hard time.

Oh how I wish I had something like that! Something that would wake me up in the morning with a reminder of what’s good in my life and encouragement to have a nice healthy satisfying breakfast. Something that would tell me when it’s time to take my supplements and exercise and go to bed. Something that would be able to tell when I was feeling so sad and/or anxious it was interfering with my ability to function. Something that could say just the right thing to stop the feedback loop and bring me back to reality. Something that could come everywhere with me, a constant companion, who would exist solely to meet the needs that weren’t met when I was a child and can’t be met in my current, adult relationships. Something I could program on the days when my brain is working, to compensate for when it isn’t.

I’m pretty sure such a program doesn’t exist – yet. But the pieces are there, scattered about in existing technology, just waiting to be combined and used.

Going back to the metaphor in my last post: There are blocks of varying shapes and sizes; bins full of zebras, giraffes, and lionesses; straight and curved train track pieces that all fit perfectly together; and in the palm of my hand is the engine of the train. I even have some ideas about how to get started.

But this time I’m asking the other kids to build a zoo with me, so we’ll all get to play with it once it’s finished and no one will want to knock it down.

Dear readers, you are the other kids. If any of this sounds at all intriguing, please contact me! The best ways to do so (in this order) are to comment on this post, fill out this web form, or email ziyatam@hotmail.com. I could really use some help from one or more people experienced in computer programming and/or software engineering.

What do you think about using a computer program or app as support for improving mental health?

What would you want such a program or app to be able to do?

How can we make the program or app accessible to everyone?

Breaking and Entering

When I was a child, I loved playing with blocks at the after-school program I attended. I would pull out the wide variety of differently-shaped and sized wooden blocks and build with them for hours. Most often, I would create a zoo, which I’d then populate with plastic animals, so each species had its own habitat. I’d finish it off using the wooden train set, building an elaborate track so visitors could ride on the train around the entire zoo and see all of the animals. I loved building this structure.

Until, invariably, I would need to use the restroom. I’d leave my creation unattended for a minute and, invariably, someone would knock it down. When I returned I would find a giant mess where once there was a carefully-crafted zoo – which, by the way, I probably hadn’t had the chance to play with yet, at least not as much as I wanted to. I would get so upset, but the only message I remember getting from the adults present was that now I had to clean it all up. My zoo was reduced to a scattered pile of random toys cluttering up the floor. I didn’t even have the chance to mourn it, I just had to put all the toys away and make the room look like my creation had never even existed.

Never do I once remember the kid or kids who knocked down my creation being scolded, or required to help me clean up (or rebuild, that would have been nice), or stopped before they had a chance to do it. I doubt they were ever taught that knocking down someone else’s building is mean. I had no advocates, no protection, no empathy. I was wrong for wanting something as simple as control over how long my creation lasted; when and under what circumstances I took it down. Maybe, just once, I wanted to be the one who got to destroy it! – preferably after showing it off to my parents?

Fast forward a good 20 years, and I feel like I’m staring at a scattered pile of random toys where once my zoo had been. Except that the “toys” are hopes, dreams, accomplishments, skills, fragments of my sense of self, and fragments of my confidence. And the “zoo” is me, or at least the me I’d spent my whole life thinking I was building. Now I’m just a scattered mess cluttering up the room (literally, this whole apartment is quite cluttered). And the only thing I was ever taught to do is clean up the mess, to make it look like I never even existed.

Enter the folks who addressed things to “Mr. and Mrs. Fox Tamesis” – where once I was a person worthy of my own first name, I’ve been condensed into a minor extension of Fox’s identity.

We got married, and marriage is an ancient tradition, and everyone has their own ideas of what it means. I get that. But it’s also a personal thing between me and my equal partner in life, and it’s hard for me to accept another kid putting his giraffe in my zebra habitat.

Someone told us to “keep the Lord in [our] marriage,” which seems rather invasive to me. I know it’s a reminder to stay in touch with our spirituality / the Divine but that’s just the thing, my spirituality / connection with the Divine has always been deeply personal (and divergent from mainstream organized religion). Someone I maybe met once has no business saying anything about it, especially not using language I’m not comfortable with. I’m not even sure how much of my spirituality I want to share with Fox! That’s something we need to work out, using our Fox-to-Ziya / Ziya-to-Fox dictionaries, in our own time, and in the privacy of our own home thank-you-very-much.

During our ceremony, we had time for the loved ones gathered there to offer us blessings. Most of the blessings were really beautiful, but there is one that bugs me and took me a bit by surprise because it was a younger person (a few years younger than us) who said it: “Put God first, your wife second, and yourself third.”

I’m gender-bending enough to want to interpret that as a message to each of us, with the other taking on the role of “wife” just so the quote still works. But pretty much everybody sees Fox as the husband and me as the wife in this relationship, regardless of our behavior and anything we might say, due to our biologically-determined secondary sex characteristics. So, this blessing we requested to be for both of us ended up being addressed solely to him. He gets to be the active party, making and acting on priorities while I sit here looking pretty clean up the mess that used to be my ability to do things for myself and be recognized as a person in my own right.

And then there’s the comment someone made on a picture of me and my mom, who for all her faults has been trying to be there for me all these years and at the very least has provided for my material needs. Fifteen years – over half my life! – since my father abused me and hurt her and wouldn’t give up an addiction to try and save his own life, someone has the nerve to bring him into a special moment between my mom and me by saying “he’d be proud to see his daughter joined in matrimony.”

Excuse me! I have no idea what my father would think of me or Fox; I might’ve been a completely different person if he were still alive. Of course, any father would be proud to see his daughter married – isn’t that what daughters are for? Marrying off?

But my relationship with my father is and was more complicated than that. He always encouraged my intellectual growth and never primed me for marriage. Whatever I need to work through to be able to forgive him for the mistakes he made, that’s personal. Whatever Mom’s going through – if she’s thinking about it at all – is her business. No one has the right to pull our relationships with my father into the public sphere.

In that moment in the picture, Mom and I were sharing something special. My mom was giving me her blessing on my wedding day; she was proud to see her daughter actively join with a wonderful person who will make an excellent lifelong partner. And unlike my father, she’s had the opportunity to meet Fox and butt heads with him and come to respect him and see how good he is to and for me.

When I hugged Mom after the ceremony, she said she’d always prayed for me to be happy, and now I am – I was beaming throughout the entire ceremony – and she’s happy for me. For that moment, at least, she could actually see me.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last. On the car ride home, I was exhausted. It had been a very hectic and exciting day; though I’d been happy and joyful through most of it, I also felt every other emotion I’d felt in my entire life. That’s not an exaggeration. I just wanted to relax, reminisce, and bask in the joy of what had just happened – preferably while cuddling with my husband.

But Mom asked me to sit up front with her and navigate; I didn’t even pause to consider the possibility of saying “no.” Throughout nearly the entire ride home she kept talking about things we need to do for the big family celebration we’ve been planning for next year. (This year was a small affair with the primary purpose of signing the legal document.) Worst, she kept bringing up bridesmaid dresses, which is between me and my bridesmaids. (Duh!) I told her I was tired and let’s talk about that later. Fox told her we don’t need to make those decisions yet. She kept saying, “I’m just talking” until finally I said, “Please stop!” She drained all my energy from me until there was nothing left. I’d just gotten married and I could feel nothing, I saw no future, no purpose to being. I couldn’t bring back the happiness I’d felt during the ceremony and I felt like I’d never feel it again. I just wanted to stop existing.

Once we were alone we felt energized, happy and excited, and more deeply bonded. We were able to thoroughly enjoy ourselves. The well wishes we’ve been receiving since a day before the wedding have brought a lot of joy and helped me to feel very, very loved. They’re still trickling in and each one brings a smile to my face; better yet I can look back on all of them and remember that joy.

But our loved ones went home and they’re hundreds of miles away again (especially Kit and Banji). We’re back to our scattered life – the need to find jobs especially. Last night I found out that one of my student loans has gone into repayment and my first payment was actually past due; thank goodness I had the money in my checking account to pay it right away! But I don’t know what I’m doing with my loans and school, and I don’t know how much “encouragement” I should be giving Fox to be on top of those things for himself, and my account balances keep dwindling. I’d love to just go out and get a job today but I’m not sure I’ll be able to maintain the confidence I need to follow through with the whole application process (including interviews). If I get a job I’m afraid depression and/or anxiety will get the best of me and I won’t be able to keep it – or if I do manage to keep it I’ll still be miserable. And there’s still the sense of “but I still need to take care of myself; I should focus on my own mental health treatment.” Except that I still don’t know where to go to get the treatment I need, and I hate the idea of calling to make appointments, and I don’t have health insurance.

Every interaction I have with Mom convinces me that I’m wrong. Whatever I was doing before she interrupted me that I’d really like to continue with and/or get back to, wrong. When I finally get my act together and order groceries online, she tells me I should go to the supermarket where the items cost less, even though in my experience I tend to spend more. I can tell her that until I’m blue in the face; I can show her my receipts, but I’m still wrong. I haven’t done this list of things I keep saying I need to do, so I’m wrong – and I’ve been depleted of the energy I need to do them. I closed the door to my apartment, so I’m wrong. Fox enforced the boundary we need to stay sane by asking her to leave us alone, so I’m wrong.

Hello person who can afford to discriminate among a plethora of potential employees based on the time of day, the color of your socks, or the straightness of the applicant’s part. I’d really like this job, but everything I do, say, or think is wrong. I’m probably wrong for wanting a job in the first place. Oh, the information on my resume is factually correct, I’m just inherently wrong. I breathe wrong. I think wrong. I am wrong. Will you please hire me?

Most recently Mom’s told us that if we have money in our names we might not qualify for affordable health insurance. Worse, the corporations behind our student loans can freeze our accounts and take the money away. I have to imagine that would only happen if we really fell behind on payments, but I can’t say with confidence that we’ll be able to keep up with them. We need jobs for that – even though we’re both still in school. I might be able to take enough credits in one semester to defer my loans again, but to my knowledge that isn’t an option for him.

Mom’s solution is to put the money we’ve received as wedding gifts into an account under her name. I trust her not to spend the money; I’m less confident that I trust her to give it back to us no strings attached and not try to influence what we do with it. Even if we were to do that, we still need to create a joint account so we can deposit the checks that have been made out to both of us – some “Mr. & Mrs.” and some using my first and “maiden” names. There will be a paper trail. I barely have the emotional energy to get dressed in the morning – never mind worrying about what the consequences might be if someone investigates money coming into our names, just to go into someone else’s soon afterward.

That was the plan the last time I talked to her; for some reason I find it immeasurably difficult to say “thank you, but Fox and I will handle this on our own.” We’ve talked about it and made our own decision about how to handle our finances. I just want to follow through with that decision and have it be respected. I don’t want to have to dread telling her what I’ve done, like a disobedient child. And I want – need! – to know that any money in an account under my name (whether it’s joint or solo) will only be removed with my consent. Is it so wrong to ask for that security?

The walls of my zoo have been knocked down and I don’t know where the lionesses went. There are giraffes in my zebra habitat. My train track has been scattered. I can’t find the train.

At the very least, I need someone to look me in the eye and tell me they understand why I’m so upset. Some help finding things and rebuilding my zoo would be really, really nice.

Just don’t tell me to put these toys away. I’m not finished with them yet.

Dancing in the Eye of the Storm

So I’ve been officially married for a little over a day now (by about three hours), and that’s been enough time to process a decent amount of what happened yesterday.

Ziya and I started yesterday off tired. I was running on less sleep the ze was, and had just enough time to shower, shave and have a weak cup of tea; particularly since we were meeting Banji for breakfast. That breakfast was good and calm; we got back with just enough time for Ziya and hir mom to head out for their hair appointments.

And that’s where the chaos started. Earlier, Ziya and I agreed that chocolates from a nearby restaurant/confectionery would make a good gift for our officiant. Since Ziya had a hair appointment, it was up to me to pick them up and choose the assortment. I did so with Banji’s help after I got dressed (including a new element that I decided to bring at the spur of the moment); she drove Ziya’s car to the restaurant and back. The drive over was calm enough, and gave us time to talk. But of course, we arrived 45 minutes before the place opened. So we did the only smart thing: drove back, and decided we’d head out just after opening time. The remaining half-hour or so was a blur of nervous movement; my double-checking that we had everything we needed to bring with us, getting Banji’s help with preparing a cross that showed up better on the shirt, and then finding myself with more time than I had things to do with it.

Which I began to spend worrying about the unknown, small details. It took Banji encouraging me to go meditate or otherwise do something to calm down for me to actually do so. But it helped: rather than fighting to control something I couldn’t then, I worked within how the morning was beginning to flow. Then, about 11am we made the second attempt at the chocolate gathering trip. This one was successful (even though I began to get nervous about how long it was taking). But I apparently didn’t need to worry; Ziya and hir mom had arrived back later than we had expected, and were still getting ready when we returned. So in the end, our second trip didn’t mess up our timing.

We all arrived at the restaurant where the ceremony was to take place well before our original “need to arrive” time of 1:30pm. And honestly, this was where the storm really began to pick up speed. Non-essential guests began to arrive earlier than we had anticipated they would; making figuring out seating arrangements very entertaining. That also delayed critical set up elements; things like figuring out where the ceremony would actually occur, setting up the video camera, etc. And then, a little after 2pm, we found out that our original information had been wrong: we were going to have the ceremony first, and then appetizers; not the other way around.

Up until that point, I had been trying to carefully wrangle everything, and get it to fit neatly into our expectations of how the day was supposed to go. Ziya and I were standing at the edge of the storm, trying to mold it through sheer force of will. But at that moment, I did something very smart: I stood in the eye of the storm instead, and began to move with it. Ziya seemed to follow my lead on that shortly after. And in doing so, we began to “dance” with the beat the storm was providing.

And that’s when everything fell into place, and we began to enjoy ourselves. We trusted our friends and family to do their part well, and were able to enjoy the company we had assembled there. We were able to focus on the moment, and be fully present in what is arguably the most important ritual for our shared lives together. And we danced that dance for the next four hours through a five course meal, a gorgeous ceremony, inspired (and beautiful) blessings/prayers and toasts, and conversation that seemed to flow naturally. The only bump amidst all this was the semi-frequent, posed photo opp interruptions, and those only became a real problem towards the end.

We left the restaurant exhausted but happy; we danced our way through the first step on our journey together as a married couple. We were able to spend most of the rest of the night enjoying each other’s company, and the warmth and love that came through each like, congrats, and other blessings posted on Facebook. And we realized that what my cousin (among others) had said was true: the marriage did change our relationship. Not in a scary way though; the very act of declaring our commitment to each other in front of all of those witnesses made the commitment that much more important; that much more of an anchoring point for our new life together.

…and the storm’s energy too.

So it’s less then twelve hours before the legal wedding day for Ziya and me, and I find myself unable to sleep. My brain has figured out my once in a three month post that is begging to be let out, and won’t shut up until I let it do just that.

I find myself worried about later today. Not the pre-wedding jitters you might expect though: ie, is this the right decision; oh no it’s my last night of “freedom” sort of stuff. I mean, sure, we didn’t have the time to fit in bachelor and bachelorette parties. But that isn’t weighing on me; honestly, anything we might have had (and might still have before the big family gathering) would be positively tame and boring by societal standards. None of the strip club stupidity or getting drunk or anything really dumb like that; that’s just not our style, and it never will be.

No, that’s not what’s keeping me up. It’s the uncertainty of certain factors. For example, we don’t know exactly what space we’ll have to work with, and how it’ll be set up. So we’ll need to make those decisions on the fly only about an hour before the ceremony starts. We don’t know how or where we’ll be standing, if our guests will be standing around us in a semi-circle or sitting around the table. We don’t know what the optimal camera setup will be to record the whole thing for our friends and family who we couldn’t invite.

I’m also finding myself nervous about when to put on my formal wear: before we leave for the site, or when we get there. And I’m even nervous about the silly little things like whether or not to wear a tee-shirt underneath my dress shirt, or what of my normal, everyday jewelry will go well with said shirt. I’m worried about us getting out of the house on time, and whether or not my best man will be able to make it at the time we need him to be there by.

And that’s only what I’m worried about that is directly related to the wedding itself. I’m very worried about something that I haven’t had the chance to talk to Ziya about; something that needs to be resolved within the next few days. And I can’t resolve that on my own: in order to actually do something about it, I need to call in help from Ziya or my parents (most likely my parents). And that’s help that I’m still not entirely comfortable calling for – even though I know its a necessity. I wouldn’t be in this boat if I had been a little smarter about something several months back, or if my own depression hadn’t gotten (and is still getting) in the way of a critical step that would have greatly helped resolve it.

But I did what I did, and now I need to deal with the consequences of it. And worrying about it does me no good. Just like those little worries about our big day – they do nothing useful. Whether or not I travel in my formal wear doesn’t actually make much of a difference in the scheme of things. Nor does the jewelry choice; it’s not like one necklace really takes that long to put on, and changing to another one won’t kill our chances of getting out on time. And no matter how the setup changes, tomorrow will happen exactly how it needs to; it will be wonderful no matter what might come up. Because Ziya and I have faced bigger things before, and come through on the other side stronger than we were when we entered. This will be no different.

The Calm Before the Storm – Um, Wedding

Well, I guess this is it. We’ve got everything together for our legal marriage ceremony (including the license). We contacted the people we needed to; I had a rather awesome conversation with my aunt. It was the kind of conversation I’d hoped to have with my mom on the eve of my wedding, but she said she “hasn’t been thinking about it” almost like it’s a bad thing. I give up, I’m not going to go out of my way to try and have anything special with my mom. Maybe someday she’ll wake up and realize that she’s missing out on me.

My aunt was hurt that she couldn’t come to the legal ceremony, but made every effort to express her love and well-wishes for us to have a long, happy, and successful life together. It was so uplifting! I apologized and explained and thanked her a million times and I’m pretty sure the hurt was healed. We talked about some interests we have in common, and she taught me some things I didn’t know about cooking. It felt so good to connect with her, to hear her say “I love you” and say it back and really mean it. I’m thinking this is something I’d like to do more often.

Another aunt sent flowers, and we received two cards with generous gifts addressed to “Mr. & Mrs. Fox Tamesis.” I needed to stomp around roaring for a while before I could encourage Fox and his female alter ego to open the cards. Fox’s mom explained that it’s the old-school etiquette way to address something to a married couple, and if we keep sending them things from “Fox and Ziya Tamesis” they’ll eventually get the hint. I really hope so because I’ve been fighting against the popular notion that taking your husband’s last name is somehow giving up your identity; addressing things to both of us using just his first name is taking things a bit far! We’re still two people with two identities, we’ve just joined to form a family.

I’m going to write this, just for shits and giggles: Mr. and Mrs. Ziya Tamesis.

Mmm, it has a ring to it.

Anyways, now everything is quiet and peaceful and all we have left to do is sleep. I have no idea where this new adventure will lead, but I finally know for sure that it’s what I want to do. That certainty feels amazing.

Fox and I have faced a lot of challenges in our relationship so far and we’ve only grown as a result of each of them. I look forward to whatever is yet to come, knowing he is by my side.

The Trouble with Feeding Demons

We brought our rat Trouble to the vet last night. It brought up the guilt and sadness I’ve been feeling since the last week or so of his cagemate Schmoozer’s life (Hole).

Trigger Warning

I’d been meaning to take Trouble for a “wellness visit” after Schmoozer died, but I was mourning and concerned about my credit card bills after paying for an “exotic” to be hospitalized and hiding in video games to escape my anxiety about my pending legal marriage ceremony. Trouble seemed to be doing okay for the most part, maybe a bit lonely but otherwise healthy, so I half convinced myself that a wellness visit was an unnecessary expense.

Until a few days ago. I heard that telltale chirping noise – in my experience, the first audible indication of respiratory doom – coming from his cage. When I went over to him I observed that his breathing seemed labored. I was worried and sad and maybe a bit guilty, but I wasn’t going to sit by and let him suffer untreated as Schmoozer had. With Fox’s support and assistance, I made him an appointment.

As we coaxed Trouble into the carrier, I couldn’t help thinking we were taking him somewhere to die. I got lost on the way to the vet; the resulting frustration was actually kind of helpful because it distracted me from my other emotions. We had to wait a long time as a result of being late; Trouble was relaxing in his carrier so Fox gave me his smart phone to play games on (I still have a stupid phone). It was so embarrassing and disorienting to be playing a game when the vet walked into the examination room where we’d been waiting! Trouble’s symptoms hadn’t seemed as bad, and I felt disconnected from the urgency of fighting rat illness.

Fox maintained that the symptoms have been concerning us, and the vet heard Trouble’s labored breathing for herself. We briefly discussed antibiotics, but quickly agreed that they didn’t seem to be working – or, at least, that they hadn’t worked for Schmoozer. I’d been so focused on Schmoozer, who had the worse symptoms, that it was hard for me to remember how Trouble’s symptoms had responded to antibiotics. I felt so guilty, now not only that Schmoozer had suffered so much in his short life, but that I hadn’t paid enough attention to Trouble to provide useful information about his condition now. (I also felt responsible for causing both their suffering by introducing them to my previous rat, who had carried the disease and made it clear from their first encounter that he didn’t want cage mates).

The vet recommended a pediatric nebulizer, which would deliver treatment directly to the affected areas and provide immediate symptom relief. It was something she’d brought up when I’d finally contacted her about Schmoozer’s condition, and essentially what they’d done for him (too late!) at the veterinary hospital where he eventually died.

I embraced the idea wholeheartedly – finally, an effective treatment I could administer as needed to give my beloved pet a longer, happier, healthier life! It was almost like getting a second chance – almost.

The fact that Schmoozer is dead – my wonderful, extremely friendly, sweet and trusting little friend DEAD! – weighs heavily on my mind. I wish I’d done this months ago, in time to give my beloved pet a longer, happier, healthier life. Because I have to admit, I loved Schmoozer more than I loved Trouble, and if I could pick one rat to have I would pick Schmoozer. I feel like Denethor telling Faramir he wished Faramir had died, and Boromir had lived.

I try so hard to see Trouble for himself, to love him as he deserves to be loved, and so on. But I see a cage housing one rat when it’s supposed to house two. When Trouble runs off to eat the treat I gave him, I see Schmoozer sitting on my leg to eat it. When Trouble gets into an area I’d rather he not, I see Schmoozer staying closer to the areas where it’s easy for me to interact with him. When Trouble does whatever it takes to grab the treat from my hand, I see Schmoozer willingly doing the trick I’ve asked of him. When Trouble curls up happily in his hammock, I feel horrible because Schmoozer isn’t there to curl up next to or on top of him.

I remember the little black and white fur ball clinging to my sweater as though he thought I could save him from his pain and suffering and fear. I hate that all I could offer him was death – albeit a quick and merciful one. And I wish I could have at least another year with him, loving him up every day. But he died because of my negligence … and, I’ll admit, because Fox didn’t do whatever it took to make sure Schmoozer got the treatment he needed, even if it meant confiscating my video games. I wish he’d been more proactive in that regard, and I’m angry that he wasn’t. But we rushed Schmoozer to the veterinary hospital together, and we mourned his death together, and we’re doing our best to care for Trouble together, and to get our lives back on track together. We miss Schmoozer together, there’s no point in being angry with him.

Just like there’s no point in beating myself up, I know. But it starts with “I wish I had …” and then the Critic Heckler Evil Sadistic Torturer takes over, telling me I’m the worst person ever to live and I don’t deserve anything that I have – especially not love – and that I deserve to die the worst and most painful death possible, scared and alone.

At best I beg for forgiveness, and at worst I want to enact the punishment he has sentenced me to … except that I can’t. Because I’m aware of the suffering that would inflict on the people I love, and I just can’t do that to them. So I’m trapped. I might feel better for a time, but he’s always there, waiting. And the moment I give him an opening he charges in and I’m completely at his mercy. There’s no escape, its my own bloody thoughts that are doing this to me!

I told Mom about taking Trouble to the vet. All I got from her was a lecture about how much money I’ve been spending on these rats, and they cost more than the dog but live a much shorter life, and maybe I shouldn’t have pets anymore.

You have to understand, I had a dog before I was even born! There was just a very short time when we didn’t have at least one pet, after we put the dog I’d grown up with (who was no longer eating) to sleep. It’s taking all my willpower to resist the temptation to “get cage mates for Trouble” because it wouldn’t be what’s best for any of the rats involved, or me. I’m mourning and feeling guilty and trying to take good care of the pet I have.

Telling me I shouldn’t have pets – while financially sound – is like telling me I shouldn’t have a family. Even with all the emotional issues I’m having, just spending a few moments interacting with Trouble can brighten my darkest of moods. She’s also trying to talk me into “cutting back” on my sessions with Wakana to save money (I shouldn’t have therapy). Mom’s words cut through me like a burning knife. I know it’s not her intention, but she’s feeding the worst part of my illness. And I don’t even know how to ask her to stop.

A Cure for Anxious Depression

Today’s Daily Prompt asks:

If you could create a painless, inexpensive cure for a single ailment, what would you cure and why?

My immediate reaction to this prompt was “depression (duh!)” – but then I thought, “you know, my anxiety causes at least as many problems as the depression, possibly more. It may actually be the cause of the depression.” I bounced back and forth for a couple of seconds, on the assumption that I had to choose one.

WRONG!!!

I’ve long believed – particularly as I read other people’s mental health blogs – that I have one disorder and the “anxiety” and “depression” I experience are overlapping subsets of the symptoms of it. Treating one subset of symptoms won’t do anything for the other subset, nor the underlying disorder. Anyone who wants to treat me needs to treat the whole package, even if it doesn’t fit neatly into a convenient label. This is actually a very common problem among those of us with mental illness.

I need to thank Michelle W. for today’s prompt because it, well, prompted me to do some research. I’m hopeful that if I bring my findings to potential health care providers (particularly psychiatrists) I’ll be better able to receive the treatment I actually need.

The research supports my idea that, at least for some people, anxiety and depression are symptoms of the same disorder – called “anxious depression” in much of the literature. Cameron (2007) compared individuals with anxiety alone, individuals with depression alone, individuals with comorbid anxiety and depression, and healthy individuals. The individuals with comorbid anxiety and depression were unique in that their hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axes (plural of axis) were hyperactive. It seems to me like finding a way to address this hyperactivity directly may provide a key to effectively treating this disorder.

http://total-body-psychology.com.au/stress-response-hpa-axis/

There is (currently) no simple way to cure imbalances in the HPA axis, but the article this image links to does list ways to address them via lifestyle interventions, psychological treatments, nutrition, and medical treatments.
http://total-body-psychology.com.au/stress-response-hpa-axis/

And it’s a very important thing to do, not just for me! A good 5% to 9% of the adult population struggle with this disorder every year (Cameron 2007). “These patients have greater severity of symptoms, increased risk of suicidality, a more chronic and persistent course, and more functional impairment. This syndrome is also more difficult to treat, with longer time to remission and need for increased medication.” (Cameron 2007). Most if not all of the other articles I read agree that people with anxious depression have a poor response to medication – probably because they’re receiving the wrong medication!

There are some guidelines for treating anxious depression differently from other types of depression. While they may be helpful, I’m concerned that they seem to conceptualize anxious depression as one or more variations of a disorder (anxiety or depression) rather than as a distinct disorder (which may itself have subtypes). Simon & Rosenbaum (2003) suggest multiple courses of treatment depending on the specific type of anxiety disorder that is comorbid with depression. Marano (2002) describes different types of depression – including anxious depression – and how they can be treated.

The latter article is particularly relevant to me because I found the description of atypical depression to be quite accurate to my experiences. I’m hoping I can use the information therein to help my someday mental health provider make a more accurate diagnosis and treat instead of poisoning me. Maybe I have “atypical-anxious depression?” I don’t know, I just want to find a way to fix it! And if I could create a painless, inexpensive cure for it, I wouldn’t hesitate to do so.

References

Aina, Y. & Susman, J.L. (2006) Understanding Comorbidity with Depression and Anxiety Disorders. Journal of the American Osteopath Association, 106(5 Suppl2), S9-14.

Cameron, O.G. (2007 December 1) Understanding Comorbid Depression and Anxiety. Psychiatric Times.

Grohol, J.M. (2008 January 3) Anxious Depression Predicts Poorer Treatment Results. PsychCentral.

Hirschfield, R.M.A. (2001) The Comorbidity of Major Depression and Anxiety Disorders: Recognition and Management in Primary Care. Primary Care Compantion Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 3(6), 244-254.

Marano, H.E. (2002 July 1) The Different Faces of Depression. Psychology Today.

Rao, S. & Zisook, S. (2009) Anxious Depression: Clinical Features and Treatment. Current Psychiatry Reports, 11(6), 429-436.

Simon, N.M. & Rosenbaum, J.F. (2003 March 27) Anxiety and Depression Comorbidity: Implications and Intervention. Medscape.