Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Unwitting Addict

I hesitate to write this post. Pride, fear, and the desire to NOT look like a big stupid whiner is getting in my way. However, the purpose of this post isn't to have folks listen to me lament. I don't need or want sympathy. The purpose, truly, is for people to read this and never take this medication if they can help it. Xanax is the devil. And I have been taking it for about three years.

I found this today, from a reputable site. "Alprazolam (Xanax) has become one of the most prescribed drugs in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control reported that emergency room visits for problems caused by alprazolam and related drugs in the benzodiapezine family almost doubled between 2004 and 2008."  I also read today that withdrawing from this medication is similar to coming off of heroin.  Awesome.  Has all of this made me feel like a big junkie loser? Yep.

I was prescribed Xanax when my father died. The weeks after he passed leading up to his memorial were incredibly stressful and the Xanax did really help me get through it, but then I should have stopped.  In retrospect, a medication that is for anxiety disorders and panic attacks should have never been prescribed to me in my opinion. Anxiety isn't the same as stress, or more importantly, grief, which our culture largely ignores. I have never had a panic attack in my life. Anxiety Disorder and/or Panic Disorder is what this drug is supposed to be for, and I have neither of those. I was sad and stressed out, and my doctor doled it out like it was candy.  I kept taking it and she kept giving me more. I got to the point where I was taking 6 mg a day!  That's insane, and my doctor never ever mentioned to me that it was a lot to take, or the dangers of mixing it with alcohol, or the dangers of trying to stop taking it cold turkey. When my insurance changed, my new doctor was bewildered and somewhat mortified at the amount I had been taking and I switched to a time release version of 1mg twice a day. I've been taking that since, mostly to just not have to go through withdrawal.

By the time I started taking the time release version of the medication, my body was already physically dependent on it. I never used it recreationally, I was using it how it was prescribed. However, the definition of "addict" is as follows: to become physiologically or psychologically dependent on a habit-forming substance. Despite the fact that it was unintentional, yes, I am addicted to this crap. I meet the criteria, although hopefully I won't anymore in a couple of weeks.

With the time release version, I felt nothing. I didn't feel calmer. I was mostly taking it so I didn't have to go through the weaning process because I knew how hard it would be. So...a controlled substance has been in my body every single day because I didn't want to experience the withdrawal symptoms. When is a good time to schedule weeks of hell??  Then our insurance switched again, and Kaiser doesn't cover the time release version. It would be $80 a month and that ain't happening.  And so the weaning has begun. I really like my new doctor, and she's been very helpful. The thing is I can't wean on the time release, it's too hard. So I have to do this with the regular Xanax, which makes me feel cloudy, dull, headachey, and sleepy.

I'm glad it's not covered anymore, I believe it to be a blessing.  I may have kept taking it forever. Sometimes God has to work pretty hard to get my attention, but I got it.

I am tapering off slowly, as I now know how dangerous it is to do it quickly. How's it going? IT SUCKS.  When it's not in my system, I kind of feel like I'm getting the flu all day long. Headache, dizzy, blurred vision, edgy, and stomachaches. When it is in my system, I feel forgetful, dim-witted, and tired.  One side effect that I feel all the time is some breathlessness. I always feel like I need to yawn, if that makes sense. This is so fun! And I'm having a hard time sleeping. My doctor suggested another medication to help me sleep and I tried it on Thursday night. OH. MY. GOD.  I thought I was going to die. The room spun, I was dizzy, I couldn't turn off my brain, I wanted to throw up, I felt like I was going insane. Those lovely side effects lasted throughout the entire next day.  The weirdest side effect of THAT med was the fact that it made my limbs feel like they were burning. My forearms felt like they were horrifically sunburned for over 24 hours, it was nuts. When I did hobble to the bathroom in the morning, tripping over things because my equilibrium was totally compromised, the first thing I did was flush the rest down the toilet. Aaaaaaccckkkkk!!!  I'd rather be sleepless. 

I think that this class of medication has it's place, for temporary use. I wish to God my doctor had taken the time to explain all of the downfalls to me, but she didn't. Is the responsibility ultimately mine? Of course it is. But I'm here to tell you, this crap is so easy to get used to, and then you need it. Needing it is just plain scary. I could write a long diatribe about how I feel that the drug companies are ruling this country, and knowingly and intentionally creating addicts every day. It would be too long, but I absolutely believe this to be true. The drug companies do NOT care about the well being of human beings, they care about money. If they gave a rat's ass about people and what was best for them, the death stats from benzos and pain killer addicts wouldn't be above those of addicts of illicit illegal drugs now. Okay, I'm done. (Drug companies are evil)

I'm in my last week of vacation. I'm trying to drink water like a madwoman and eat well. I'm trying hard to control my edginess and not take it out on my family. Praying helps, talking to my dad (in heaven) helps, and music helps. Sleep would probably be awesome, but it's been hit and miss. According to the schedule I'm following, I should be done and somewhat human again a week from this coming Sunday. I wonder what crystal clear, alert Jane will be like. I haven't seen her in years, I'm looking forward to the reunion.

Just don't do it.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Merriam-Webster defines Empathy as:  the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.

In simpler terms, it's the ability to imagine what someone else is feeling and at least attempt to put oneself in someone else's shoes.  As a personality trait, it's always been an interesting topic to me. It's probably why I love learning about sociopaths so much, other than the fact that I'm a bit of a freak. One of the main traits of the sociopath is a complete lack of empathy, and that just fascinates me. Most of the time people focus on the victims of sociopaths, but I want to know what it's like to be a sociopath. What is it like to just not care at all? To have no feeling towards our fellow human beings?  It's just so foreign.

Of course the level of empathy that exists amongst individuals varies quite a bit, I do believe that we all have a built in defense mechanism that keeps a lot of us from ever really going there. That's not always a bad thing, it depends on the time and place. If I let myself feel constant empathy for every single family that I work with, all of the time, I couldn't function. I feel it in the moment with the parents, I feel it when working with the child, and I take it home sometimes. However, I have to have those boundaries up, and I have to leave it there. But that's work, and personal stuff is way different.

As I get older, more and more awful stuff is happening to people I care deeply about. I think a common response to receiving bad news is "Oh my God, I just can't imagine..."  I pray, quite a bit these days. Here's the thing though...sometimes I think it's important to truly MAKE myself imagine and not to just use my big mental leaf blower to get it all away from me.  Now, there's a difference between letting myself really feel it and really imagine what folks are going through and dwelling and soaking in it to the point where it's no longer healthy and I can't sleep. That falls into the category of obsessing and worrying and that doesn't help anyone. There has to be a balance, where is it? I'm still trying to figure that out.

I've experienced sad, difficult things, and loss. I have not, however, really dealt with anything truly tragic in my own family.  Losing my dad was hard. I miss him all the time, but he was sick, suffering, and 80 years old.  His death was expected. The unexpected is what knocks me to the ground, as I think it does to everyone.  Two years ago, my closest and oldest friend lost someone very close to her to a horribly tragic event. It's brought us closer, even though she lives far away. One time she said (texted actually, we text every day), "Imagine if you got a phone call that this happened to me!"  My reaction to that was visceral. NO! I never, ever want to imagine that. I remember feeling really jarred by that request, and I responded, "I can't!" Her response was, "Well, try."  And so I have tried. What I have been able to discern, if I were ever to receive news that something similar happened to her, is that I would DIE. My brain would cease up. My stomach would implode. I have no idea how I would live another day in my life without someone who has been in it for 30 years.  However, in dealing with the loss of her friend, she didn't die. It's awful, it hurts, and it's a struggle, no doubt. But people can go forward. I know her very, very well. It continues to be horribly difficult even after these two years, but what I do know is that she's a lot stronger than she may think she is. It sucked, truly trying to put myself in her position, but ultimately I'm glad I did. I try not to revisit the thought too often, though.

Another very close friend of mine has a mother who is very ill. It's been ongoing, as cancer tends to be. Chemo, remission! Oh, nope, things are recurring, more chemo that was much worse on her this time, and it didn't work. I've known this mom myself for 23 years, and she's one of the sweetest, most loving people I know. My friend is incredibly close to her, mom is the glue in their family, and seeing her ill is ripping my friend to shreds. I really don't want to see my friend go through this, I don't want to see her in so much pain. I don't want her mom to die! And with this particular situation, it isn't as hard to imagine. My dad didn't have cancer, but he was sick for a very long time and was in and out of hospitals, and bed-ridden for four years. It was awful. When she asked how I responded to this time, it was hard to answer because it's a blur. What I did tell her was to find tasks to do that will be helpful to her mom and dad. When faced with something unthinkable, wash their dishes. It sounds kind of stupid, but I think it helps the person who is upset as much as it helps the ill person. It's something tangible, something that one can control, instead of just standing there and feeling as though someone has chopped your hands off and you can do nothing.  You can do something, even if it's not curing them.

I have another dear friend who has fought and beat cancer. She's been a wonderful, loyal friend to me since 1988 when we met in college. When she called to tell me she had cancer in 2008, I honestly think I wouldn't allow my head to wrap around it. She lives out of state. She's my age. She's a single mom. It was just really too close to home, I couldn't fathom I could possibly lose her! I couldn't really think about it, I couldn't put myself in her shoes or hear about the awful treatments and surgeries she had to endure. I think I switched off my brain in that case, and I'm ashamed of it now. Last summer, she and her son came to visit and I apologized for not being there for her. I should have been, and I wasn't. I know that if the same thing happened now, my reaction and response would be totally different. I love her, she's amazing, and her day to day life at 43 is way more complicated than mine, just with the things she has to do to take care of her health alone.  Again, Lisa, I am so sorry. You are one of the toughest, strongest people I know, but strong people need support too. I am here for you, girl, always.

A couple we know is going through the unimaginable, as their sweet nearly 3 year daughter is seriously ill. She just had a brain tumor removed two days ago, and we don't know what the future will hold for this sweet one. Her parents are unequivocally lovely human beings, who want nothing more than to have a happy family, which they do have. And then this. WHY??  It's incredibly unfair, and no one but God knows why this is happening. Luckily, they are part of our amazing church family, and I've been blown away to see people just leap into action. Meal train, done! Website posted to keep folks updated, done! Her favorite princess (Jasmine from Aladdin) coming to visit her in the hospital before her surgery, done! Whoever did that last one, you put me over the edge...unbelievable, thoughtful, unselfish, amazing love. Now the empathy comes...being a parent and trying to imagine this is horrific.  My insides will only let me go so far, and then I transition to prayer. I remember taking Maddie to the ER when she was about a year and a half old because she fell at cut her head on the coffee table. They had to staple her scalp shut. The next day she started throwing up and we had to take her back for a CT scan, and she turned out to be totally fine. I remember when Maddie broke her arm in the 1st grade, and watching them hold her down to get her arm in the right position to get an X-ray and having to listen to her scream. Last summer, Stephen got a touch of heatstroke and dehydrated while at the beach at my mom's house. We didn't know what was up, but woke him up from a nap and he was making absolutely no sense. He was answering questions wrong. He didn't even know where he was, and we freaked. Both Mike and I thought he'd had a stroke or a seizure. This feeling, this fear that something was terribly wrong with our baby lasted only 20 minutes and it scared the crap out of me. All parents have these stories, but mine are nothing compared to what this couple is currently going through. "I just can't even imagine", and then I try to and it becomes too horrible, so I pray and pray and pray. I try to find out what's up, I've signed up to take them dinner. What to they need that I can do? I'd do anything, as everyone at our church who knows them would. Even people who don't know them would.

To to have empathy, we have to be willingly to be vulnerable and to hurt a little...or a LOT.  The best character ever, Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird said, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."  I actually thought that quote came from the Bible, and maybe it does, somewhere. I know "go the extra mile" is in the Bible, maybe I got them mixed up. People should do that too, just for good measure!  In any case, to be there to support folks, to REALLY be there?  It hurts like hell. It sucks. It makes you cry. It can overwhelm you with sadness and feelings of helplessness. It's also it's true love in action, and it's what God wants from all of us. Be brave and go do it.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Parenting? Hell if I know...

I always find it kind of amusing when people assume, or just tell me, that it must be nice to have my educational and professional background while I'm raising my children. Because I know all the answers and what to do. Baaaaaaahahahahahahaaaaaa!!!  Oh, no. Nonononono. Noooooooo way. That is a myth of Biblical proportions. Are there Biblical proportioned myths?  Well, if there are, this is one.

I have no idea what I'm doing.

I remember when our kids were babies...I had never felt more inept or ill-equipped in any area of my life before. I'd felt more sure of myself moving away from home, starting my career, getting married, and buying a house, all milestones that were incredibly hard. And those things were nothing compared to coming home from the hospital with an infant. I clearly remember bringing Maddie home in her carseat, setting her down on the floor and looking at Mike, saying, "Now what?"  The infant stage was so scary...I didn't end up nursing my babies, an issue that people are still SO critical of. Every decision felt so monumental. Were were bathing her right? Feeding her right? Was she sleeping according to the best possible schedule?  I remember it taking awhile for Mike and me to realize and understand that babies cry when they're tired. I'd worked babies and small kids my entire life!  But with your own, it's a different ballgame. I remember talking to my sister one night, whose daughter is a year and a half older than Maddie. I told her I felt awful that I wasn't stimulating the baby enough, like I should be showing her more things, reading to her, playing her music.  She was around 6 weeks old at the time, and my sister said to me, "Don't worry about that, there will be plenty of time for that a little later. Basically right now, all you have to do is keep her alive."  My sister was (and is) a hardcore mother, so this was a tremendous relief. I thought once the teeny baby stage was over, with both kids, that it would be smooth sailing from there.  I was wrong.

Stephen was not totally potty trained until he was 4, and I was sincerely ready to throw him out a WINDOW, I was so frustrated.  Then one morning he woke up and decided he was done with pull-ups and that was that. He never even needed them at night.  This child is like this, with everything.  He is as stubborn as the day is long, and when he's ready to do something, he will. Until then, good luck! It's absolutely maddening, because when he decides and wants to try something new, he picks it up incredibly fast. He learned to ride a bike a little on the late side, maybe about a year ago. I didn't think it was going to take, he gives up quickly. He fell once and I thought that was going to be it. Since I can't ride a bike (yes, this is true), Mike had to teach both of the kids. One day it clicked with Stephen, and he was off like a rocket.  Phew!

So...we've met these milestones.  They can ride bikes. They can swim. They both do well in school. Check!  So, we're done for awhile, right?  Not a chance.

If I let my brain run away with my thoughts (which happens ALL the time), it is flooded with questions. Are we too strict? Are we not strict enough?  Yes, they have way too much screen time, and we're limiting that, but I still don't know if we're doing it right. Should I let them bicker and work it out themselves, or should I intervene?  With their teachers, I've always communicated with them and it's been positive, but have I overreacted at times? Our children have chores and get an allowance. They're 12 and 8. They know what their chores are, but should I remind them or should they remember on their own?  We are not good with regular meal times, a habit that started back when I was in graduate school and had night classes. As a result, Mike and I eat late and the kids often eat beforehand.  I believe this is the culprit for our children's picky eating habits, although it is getting better. When they're on vacation, we often just let them graze. Is that okay or is that validating bad habits? I know it's important to have kids in outside activities, but I also know that it's easy to overbook so they have no down time, which is a mistake. What's the right amount of activity? Right now they're on vacation, as am I, and I'm wishing they had nearly no down time, as they're driving me nuts.  Aaaaaaaaack!!!

Maddie is in full blown puberty, with all of the delightful mood swings and attitude that come with it. It's normal, I keep having to remind myself. Actually, when I think of myself in 7th grade and how I treated my own mom, she's comparatively kind to me. However, I lose it. I yell. Her current combover-type hairstyle drives me absolutely batty.  I know how she wants it, and I've taken her to have it cut that way. Then she...ug!!!!  It makes me crazy.  That, and the constant ball cap. However, as Mike and I were just saying, we'll probably be wishing for that cap in a couple of years. I also have the lovely job of monitoring her phone and computer use, and half the time she speaks in a language I don't even understand. 

Stephen can be frustrating as well. He plays video games way too much. He's also just oddly sensitive, it's hard to explain. He gets his feathers ruffled about nothing, and then is unable to explain why he's upset. He can get slightly injured, like your standard 8 year old boy scraped knee and he'll act like he'll need an amputation and a wheelchair.  I accept that it's likely he got some of this from my dad, but probably from me as well. I was a dramatic kid. I suppose God is laughing pretty hard about all of this.

There's solid evidence that the human brain is not done developing until the early 20's, so when my children act as if they have brain damage a-la-Cosby, I have to remember this. They aren't done cooking yet. They aren't able to think like adults, although sometimes I think we expect that from them. Why is it so extremely difficult to remember to pick up a towel? Every day? Why does my daughter never ever bring dishes out of her room? And then I remember being that age, head in a cloud, not thinking of anything but my friends and my moods. It's not blatant disrespect, it's brain damage. Bill Cosby is a genius.

I think one of the scariest things about being a parent is when you glimpse parts of you in them, and they may be parts you don't like. That happens frequently to me, and I think to myself, "damn, she's going to be stuck with this gross personality trait of mine!". But she isn't me. She'll have sprinklings of me, of course, but she's also who she is. The other scary thing is when I see glimpses of my own parents in me. There are traits about both I love and aspire to, but of course there are parts I don't want to repeat. I catch myself using phrases they've said and tones they've used. It freaks me out. But just like Maddie isn't going to be me, I am not going to be my parents, exactly. 

I was watching Parenthood yesterday, the movie. It was near the end when Steve Martin is talking to his own dad about his brother with the gambling problem and his dad says, "You know it never ends", referring to worrying about one's children. I know this is true, both of my parents have said as much, and that's really scary. Maybe a lot of my over-thinking comes from my job, because I see firsthand all the things that can go wrong. Some of the things are out of the parent's control, and some of them are within their control and they just make bad choices. Either way, yikes! I see little ones who are fairly cooked on a regular basis, and I just want to go home and do things the right way. There is no exact right way though, I don't know a parent alive who doesn't make mistakes. There are the basics: Be present. Follow through. Make them feel secure. Create and enforce rules. Let them know you love them. Beyond that?  It's every man for themselves, and I pray for strength and patience for every single parent out there, including the two that live in this house. 

I know a lot of friends  may respond to this post with comments about how nice our kids are. They are nice kids. They're kind, intelligent, and interesting. They're respectful to adults and authority, and they follow rules. They're also infuriating, mouthy, disrespectful (to us, at times), and messy.  However, they're supposed to be this way with us. I have said this to parents at work, but it applies to everyone. If kids don't test the waters and do the wrong things occasionally, they won't know the difference between the right and the wrong. It's our job to teach them, and it's friggin exhausting. We're often in uncharted waters, and both Mike and I question ourselves and worry about screwing them up all the time. It's like being in a class that never ends, and for me, a class that I've missed a few times. We're all winging it, and I think most honest parents would agree.

Back to Parenthood, I loved the speech by the sweet old grandma about going on the roller coaster with her husband when she was young. Fun fact about the sweet old grandma, the actress went to our church in Altadena, and I think her name really was Helen. She always wore her hair the same way, exactly as she did in the movie.  She's passed on now, but this is a great quote from the movie:

"I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn't like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it."

Amen, Helen. It doesn't look like any of us will be allowed off any time soon, so we may as well try to enjoy the ride.