On False Starts, Melancholy, the Old Order Amish, and Pippa’s Procedure

Somedays I feel like taking off running into the woods. I’d go barefoot and not even bother to put on a coat. Maybe I’d scream as I went, some sort of crazy reflection of how much I needed to get away. I’m not even sure what I’d do once I got there, but I wouldn’t be here dealing with all of this, and that’s all that really matters. But then I remember that running into the woods would require actually leaving my room and wearing something other than flannel nightgowns marketed to the over fifty crowd, so I just switch to reading about the Old Order Amish or something else that’s entirely mind-numbing and distracting.

You see, when you’re depressed, just emerging from your covers is some sort of feat. And then to make it down the stairs and into the kitchen makes you deserving of some sort of medal. But today I managed not only to get out of bed, but to eat a (albeit entirely liquid) breakfast and to bike five miles to therapy and back because today I was going “get my stinkin’ act together and get things done.”

Then, I nearly got run over by an overly aggressive bus driver, and my two-hour long romance with becoming a productive and mostly happy member of society was over. It was a rather bad dumping, and it took over two hours of reading about Herman Cain and fuming about the GOP to be able to somewhat recover. Then, I ate a Heath Bar and contemplated the healthiness of a non-solid diet. Because just eating things like soup and yogurt would be totally doable in my world.

The rest of the day continued to be a series of false starts. “Okay, three, two, one, GO!” I would say and then not get up and go do the thing I planned. I just couldn’t do it. Everything was leaden and lethargic and I just wanted nothing more than to sleep. I didn’t even have the energy to read anything that wasn’t nonfiction. And that, my fine feathered friends, is saying a lot.

But then the cats needed to be fed and the laundry needed doing. (I’m in the process of perfecting my recipe for making white clothing even whiter.) So I finally, finally, finally left my bed and slunk downstairs with as much enthusiasm as a tired sloth (something that despite the words’ initial appearance, is not redundant).

And now it is much, much later and I’m just as melancholy. No one else is awake so I may start cracking jokes to the cats, namely Maxwell who has made it his life goal to sleep or sit on my feet all day long. If I had enough energy, I’d make some joke about how even though I had cold feet when it came time to do things, they were actually quite toasty thanks to the cat. Only I’d make it funny. Like stand-up comedy funny. And then everyone would laugh and I would be mostly content to happy forever and ever, and everyone would drink orange juice and eat organic no-sugar-added applesauce, mangos, and real (none of that “instant” or Jello junk) chocolate pudding for the rest of their days.

But tomorrow is going to be different. When I yell “GO!” things will actually happen. And if I feel like running off into the woods just to get away, I’m going to do it. Only I’ll probably wear shoes and a coat because it’s getting kind of cold out now.

In other news, dearest, darling, Pippa has an endoscopy tomorrow. She’s going to be under general anesthesia for upwards of six hours while they stick all sorts of things down her throat, and then she’ll stuck in bed for quite a while after that. Hopefully, we’ll finally get to the bottom of what’s happening with her stomach, and they’ll figure out whether they need to put in a pacemaker. I’ve sent her many pictures of our cats, and she’s said that if she dies, I will get all of her clothes. There wasn’t any word about the future of her bedspread, but I fully plan on keeping it in my possession no matter how she comes out of this procedure. Alive, dead, zombie, reincarnated chicken, she’s not getting it back (until she asks for it and I reluctantly return it).

(To be clear: Pippa’s test is a totally routine procedure, and there is an incredibly, incredibly, incredibly microscopic chance that she will die. Somehow, we’ve both found it amusing, calming, and helpful to joke about the seriousness of it. A little levity makes anything in life easier.)

For the month, you can find me updating my word count on NaNoWriMo here. (I need to do it more regularly so that it doesn’t become flat for a few days, only to receive an enormous spike, indicating that I somehow magically wrote about twelve thousand words in one day.)

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

On Boating, Mirrors, and Victory

Today was another day of feeling dizzy and off. The odd sensations of floating/boating haven’t ceased. I felt like I was paddling a canoe through first period. Second period, I floated around in an inner tube. Third, I spent in a row boat. By forth, I left for a very long sail for Nantucket with lots of breaks for dead man floats. I haven’t yet returned, and as of right now, it doesn’t appear that a return ticket was booked.

So by the time I got home, I was done. Really, really, really, really done. But rather than letting myself slid over into freak out mode, I decided to get creative. Whenever I get freaked out by side effects, I have a panic attack, and that panic attack is almost always the result of disassociation. To fix that I parked myself in front of the huge mirror on the wall at the foot of the stairs. I could sit on the stairs and see my whole body and behind me. That way I would know that it was me. I grabbed some yellow rice and chicken from the fridge, made popcorn, and poured myself some juice into this awesome cup that I made when I was five.

 

I have two observations about this mug. One: I clearly have excellent potential to become an artist and Two: I have never been good at accurately depicting my body.

Then, I turned on my iPod and just sat there and watched myself eat. I still felt like was the model of buoyancy and that I was gaining pounds by the mouthful, but I wasn’t panicking. I was just sitting there, eating food and waiting it all out. It’s the first time a long time that coping skills have been an hundred percent effective in the face of side effects. Maybe it was my Rainy Tuesday playlist or yellow rice that did it, but I’d like to think that it was me, that I did something entirely right for once, and that I can overcome my challenges all by myself.

Victories like that one twenty minutes ago are never as loud as my failures (Crying in English, crying at lunch, crying in French, etc.). Mostly, they go unrecognized. I write them off as flukes and tell no one or the people around me don’t notice. But I am going to tell you, whoever is reading this blog, about this one. I’m going to make sure that you know about it. And in doing that, I am going to make sure that I am not going to let it slip by the wayside either. I’ll build on what just happened today. I’ll force it to become a pattern. I’ll make it so that I never panic about side effects again. I will. Just watch me.

On a completely unrelated note, I have suddenly been forced into the position of hand-washing police in my house because people around here apparently haven’t passed pre-school health.

On Sad Ruminations

Today, I went to school for the second day in a row–something that I’m supposedly supposed to celebrate. (They call me a “writer” because of word choices like that.) As I sat in the Large Group Instruction room this morning, choosing my next elective (the history of the 2000s), I was met the overwhelming disappointment that my “celebrations of achievement” are all just living up to the norm. They’re nothing exemplary at all.

No one else gets high-fives for attending class or not crying. But I do, because I’m different. And that different hurts. It hurts so much. That different makes me feel entirely alone a lot of the time. It makes me awkward, unwieldy, scary. I’m not like the rest. I don’t fit in. People don’t know how to respond to me, and I don’t know how to respond to them.

I know that everyone is insecure, even the people that I idolize, but I am sure that this suspicion of awkwardness is well grounded in fact. I miss pop-culture references. It takes me minutes or days to figure out dirty jokes. “What’s the difference between deer nuts and beer nuts? One’s a dollar fifty, the other’s under a buck.” left me confused for about a week. (As it turns out the joke is not about deer poop, as I initially thought after two days’ reflection.) I tend to repeat things, ask abstract questions (Do you ever think that people would still like you if they could see inside of your brain? Do you ever think about how abstract the concept of money is? Isn’t our ability to communicate amazing?), or just have no idea how to talk to someone (Namely, boys. I really suck at talking to boys. They’re intimidating, and rarely seem to like me.).

So it’s nights like tonight that leave me thinking: Will I ever be independent? Will I ever leave home? Will I ever go to college? Will I ever be loved by someone else? Will I ever get married? Will I ever be able to have children? Will I ever be halfway normal?

Somedays, like today, I would do anything to be taken off of all of these brand new medications and to go back to January or December when I spent weeks in bed. Sure, I was horribly, horribly depressed, but I owned my brain. I didn’t forget where I was or wander around the hallway in circles for half an hour wondering where I was supposed to be or what I was doing. I didn’t feel like I was floating or that I was actually hovering above my own head, looking at the world with a bird’s eye view. I didn’t feel as I do now, as if I am caught on a boat, being gently pushed by waves, leg muscles constantly shifting to maintain balance. I’ve got a royal case of “sea-legs” which hasn’t halted for weeks, and it scares me. It really, really does. The knowledge that this is how the rest of my life will be is terrifying and makes me incredibly unhappy.

And as my thoughts spiral and I start to sob, I think about how my classmates don’t know how lucky they are. How incredibly, incredibly lucky. They are all leaving for college next year. They have beautiful, rosy futures. They have lives that don’t revolve around doctors’ visits. They’ve never spent time in a psych ward or months in outpatient clinics. I don’t think they know how much I am jealous of them and how very much I admire them. Those incredibly lucky and wonderful people are why I fought to go back to my high school and not to some therapeutic boarding school; they’re why I try to go to school every day; they’re why I love my classes so much; they’re why a lot of this pain is worth it. I’m going to miss them so much when they all leave. So, so much.

But despite all of this, I have my courage, and I have my hope. I must stop crying, and I must begin my work once more. I am determined to force the answers to my questions to become “yes.”

Ella the Oversized Lab Rat

I missed school today after having attended for nine straight days. Last night, I had another really bad, vivid dream from the Geodon that woke me up at four a.m., and by the time for getting up to go to school rolled around, I became convinced that if I got anywhere near the train tracks, I would be hit and killed. After a minor freak out, I went back to sleep. To continue this series of unfortunate events, I woke up in a panic at nine, thinking that I was about to drown in the ocean and that I was in trouble for not protecting a little kid well enough.

This morning wasn’t my finest moment.

However, I was able to climb out of bed and get a lot of work done. I finished my homework on Shakespeare’s sonnets (five pages!) and spent some more time outlining my thesis. Hopefully, “Kate Chopin: Feminist or Liberationist?” is going to be a work to rival the Iliad and Grapes of Wrath. At the very least, it’ll be as good as The Baby-Sitter’s Club: Kristy’s Great Idea (a book I’ve never read, but I feel that I can accurately assume it’s worth). I’ve already got a legal pad full of notes, a binder with around twenty marked-up critical essays, and six pages of pre-writing.

Sadly, things weren’t exactly looking up. I started a new medication called Oxcarbazepine/Trileptal on Friday, and it’s been making me feel funny. Funny in a I-really-don’t-feel-normal-or-like-myself sort of way. It’s not enjoyable and led to a near full-blown panic attack on Saturday. Thankfully, my Dad put on my favorite movie, Miracle, and I calmed down.

On days like today, I just feel like an oversized lab rat. Every time I go to the psychiatrist my medication changes, as we continue in our quest to find the perfect chemical cocktail. Let’s see how Ella’s liver metabolizes this! Let’s see how her brain reacts to that! We accidentally sedated her? Whoops!

During therapy, we worked on a plan for me to be “my own best advocate” and to “own my body” (which totally sounds like it belongs on a NOW campaign poster for women’s empowerment) when speaking to the psychiatrist about my adverse reactions. Unfortunately, I know that if I can’t tolerate this medication, then electric shock therapy is left uncomfortably close to the top of the list. And no matter how intimidated I am by diplomas from medical school and dislike this new medication, I’d take it any day over ECT.

In the car home, I tried to broach the subject with my mother. That discussion did not go well, and I was told, “You just need to be patient. It’ll improve.” I sat in the car and cried while she and Pippa went into the grocery store to pick up seltzer. I just want my head back. I want my thoughts to be solely mine. I want to know that when I look down at my body that I am the one controlling it.

It’s evening now, and I’m sitting on my bed, surrounded by cats, full of hope that things will improve. Because things have to. I refuse to believe that the world is a cruel place.

Ella the Tennis Ball Cannon

Today, I went to my psychiatrist. We talked about adding a new medication, I learned that I had to eat food when I take my Geodon, and then I got compared to a tennis ball cannon.

It went something like this:

I started talking about how I was concerned that because I’m on so much medication, my brain doesn’t fully belong to me anymore, that I’m being controlled by chemicals that I swallow twice a day.

So she said, “Ella–gee, I don’t know how to phrase this–you’re like one of those machines that shoots tennis balls. You know, one of the machines that you use when you’re practicing whacking the ball back over the net.”

“Yes?” I said, wondering where on earth she was going with it.

“You were born with your brain going like this,” she mimes tennis balls flying out of a machine really, really quickly, “and most people’s brains are moving like this,” she mimes tennis balls moving at a reasonable space.

I nod and remind myself that it creeps people out when you look them straight in the eye for too long.

“You’re a high end machine, the super deluxe model, but frequently you move so quickly that your battery runs out or you need oil or lubricant. That’s what the medication is.”

I’m envisioning one of these babies:

“But you’re the one of the best machines out there. It’s like how a fancy Mercedes needs a lot of upkeep.” She continues to talk about how smart and good at things I am, it’s just that I need some help, and that I’m lucky that I’m not one of these:

So everybody, as of today I am now an official tennis ball launcher/shooter/thing that requires a lot of work. Very expensive work. Work that you need really good insurance to help pay for. But I’m excellent at preparing athletes for the French Open.

They Counted Our Spoons and Cups

Exactly a year ago, I was in the hospital, in the adolescent psych ward, weighing less than 100 pounds, and feeling miserable. I’ve been thinking about my time there a lot lately. It’s sort of like the way that you press a bruise: You know it will hurt if you push it, but you do it anyways, preferably repeatedly.

The whole experience was horrible. They counted our spoons and cups at mealtimes, the doors locked with both keys and magnets, and there were no windows. Once, desperate to see the snow, I climbed onto my bed and pushed back the curtain to a tiny window that faced the airshaft. Across the shaft, a woman with tangled white hair looked back at me manically with her faced pressed to the window. I held her gaze for a terrified moment, petrified that I was looking at a reflection of myself forty years from now. Then, a nurse knocked on my door, and I slipped down onto the bed.

The floors were painted cement or cold linoleum, and the walls were a horrid sea green. On one wall of my room there was a poorly spray painted Taj Mahal. I would stare at it for hours while lying in bed. I fell asleep after the evening nurses switched shifts with the night nurses, and woke when the night nurses switched shifts with the morning ones. As you lay in bed, you could watch the hallway through the small window in your door. Every fifteen minutes–I was told–a nurse walked by to write on your chart, and I would try to count the hours. There were three hours between bedtime and the switching of shifts and three hours from the next switching of shifts to being released. Time didn’t exist there; there were no clocks; there were no watches. All we had were the nurses walking past the doors.

The meals came in white boxes. I would sit facing the wall, ignoring the screams of the other children, and sip water slowly. They would keep me in the dining room until I had eaten half of my box. So I would sit and move like a snail while a young nurse watched me. My protracted meal let me avoid the dreaded “Therapy Workbook Hour,” which involved filling out endless how-I-feel charts. They kept me from the bathroom for two hours after my meal. They took my box, my cup, my utensils as if they were valuable reference books in the library. You could borrow them momentarily, but they were always snatched back.

When you cried, a nurse took you down a winding hallway, where you could hear children screaming and sobbing, to a tiny room. The room, a closet really, had no heating, no chair, no window, and was covered in laminate wood paneling from the floor to the ceiling. I would lie in there for long stretches of time until a nurse would come to fetch me. If you cried when you saw the psychiatrist–an awful Indian woman with no sense of empathy–you were banished; if you cried in the large room, you were banished; if you asked the wrong question at the wrong time to the wrong nurse, you were banished.

I spent seven days there. I never felt so impossibly different and strange in my life. Looking back on those memories, I feel the way I felt after nearly downing an entire bottle of Lexapro and Tylenol; fearful and full of a sick satisfaction. It was that week that convinced me of my oddness. I worry now that all others see are these peculiarities in me, or they don’t care to even recognize them at all. My identity, once built upon scholastic achievement, has shattered.