Wednesday, December 03, 2008

In Which We Go Temporarily Insane

Before I begin, let me assure my Dear Readers that -- after exercise, meds and a good night's sleep -- I'm feeling much better.

Now, backtrack to Monday morning, where I went to a meeting at work. Everybody at the university is mega-stressed out right now, given the budget situation on top of the holidays on top of the end of the semester. So before the meeting started, the four of us in the room had a small, impromptu support group where we vented about our stress levels. Several of us are having significant family drama on top of work pressures, and various people are struggling with insomnia, which has never been my problem. I mentioned laughingly that I had to refill my antidepressant script, and one of my colleagues shook her head and said, "Don't do that 'I don't need them' thing, okay?"

"Oh, no way," I told her. "Not right now."

And I meant it. Except that at 10:00 Monday night, I realized that I'd forgotten to pick up my refill. The pharmacy closes at 9:00. I'd put off refilling the script until the last minute, so I had no backup supply.

Yeah, okay. No biggie. Depression meds take a few weeks to start working anyway, which theoretically means that you should be able to miss a dose without disastrous consequences. I've done this before, and noticed a small dip but nothing major.

In this case, though, I'd also not exercised for the two previous days -- once because my schedule got too full, and once because my bathing suit disintegrated when I got to the gym -- and of course I've been under mega-stress since mid-October.

Yesterday I slept for many, many hours -- nine? ten? -- and woke up feeling very groggy. I sat around for a long time drinking coffee. Then I got ready to go to the gym, with an unripped suit. Just as I was getting ready to leave, the mail came, including a newsletter from the volunteer-chaplain coordinators at my hospital, happily listing a group of new chaplains, a number of whom will be working ER.

This is great news, because the ER always needs more coverage. But between the time when I read the newsletter and the time when I got into the pool, I descended into a state of desolation and paranoid certainty that I was being pushed out, that I was no good as a chaplain, that when I returned to my volunteer gig, there'd be no room for me (one of the other chaplains is working Thursdays, which started all this). I had the good sense to shoot off a brief e-mail to my supervisor, while I was still in the car, congratulating the program on their ER recruitment rate and asking if my shift would still be there when I got back.

In the pool, though, I sobbed during my forty minutes of laps, swamped by waves of grief and self-pity. It felt exactly the way I felt when I was a kid, during the many nights (years of nights) when I cried myself to sleep, wracked by the bone-deep certainty that I was a worthless person and that no one liked me, could like me or would ever like me.

Yup, I was a drama queen even when I was eight. See why I'm so sympathetic to psych patients? (If I were growing up now, I'd have been put on meds starting when I was three, but they didn't have meds back then. My mother, worried about me, occasionally dragged me to our family doc, who scratched his head and told me to exercise more, but that never took until I was in my twenties.)

The wave analogy fits perfectly, because this really does feel like a physical process, whole-body grief as unstoppable as labor or vomiting. The advantage of going through it in the swimming pool is that other swimmers can't see that you're crying, although having your goggles fill with salt water is more than a little annoying. (A friend of mine who's now on his second marriage told me once that after his divorce, he swam laps every day for months, because he could sob in the pool without anyone noticing.)

The good news is that even while I was going through this, there was some spot deep inside me that still felt calm, and Sane Susan was maintaining a soothing monolog. "C'mon, silly, you know why this is happening. It's your own fault for not taking your meds last night and for skipping exercise. You know what you need to do to get out of it. You're doing what you need to do to get out of it, right now. And you know you can survive this: you got through years of it when you were growing up, so one day of it now isn't going to destroy you."

And, sure enough, the swim made me feel better. So did getting an e-mail back fron my supervisor assuring me that they're keeping my shift open. "You've earned it." So did running into several friends in the locker room: a former student and a nurse who used to work in the ER, both of whom were sympathetic to elderly-parent stress.

And so, of course, did taking my meds last night. (When I talked to my sister on the phone yesterday and described sobbing in the pool for forty minutes, she yelped and said in exasperation, "Susan! Take your meds!" Yes, ma'am.)

At this point, I'm reasonably proud of myself for talking myself through it. But it definitely wasn't fun!

Note to self: From now on, refill meds when you still have a few pills left!


  1. Susan, you've definitely progressed from not having an inner voice that was supportive to having your "Sane Susan" dialog. And you reached out asking for info which is also hard to do when you're in such a state. Atta girl!

    Prayers ascending for continued progress!

    Peace! & Hope!

  2. Anonymous5:06 AM

    The care taking stress is nothing like you've experienced - especially when it is for a parent. You're not alone - read this from Johns Hopkins -
    Keeping you in our prayers here

  3. As a fellow medicated depressive (we need a better term--as a migraine sufferer, I can say I'm a "migraineur") I'm impressed at your regular exercise. If I didn't have the dogs to walk, I'd fall off that wagon pretty quickly!

  4. Dear Susan, yes to all of the above, and alas, some of your more effective antidepressants do behave this way--miss a day and all h-e-double-hockey-stick breaks loose. Plus the stress... Keep on keeping on, prayers for you!

  5. Anonymous5:25 PM

    I started lurking on your site because I also lurk at Making Light (I'm a bit shy about posting in the presence of those I admire). I've been coming here regularly when the world gets me down because your connection to God and your fellow man never ceases to lift me up from my own problems. Now, I can see that you are facing very stressful times -- yet I keep lurking because I see the kind of example of openness and honesty about the fact that facing struggles is part of being a child of God. I long ago grew weary of the myth that Christians don't have continuing struggles (the I've overcome the world, so I'm better than you fallacy).

    Having read your ED sonnets with tears in my eyes, I know that it must be hard to leave the satisfaction of seeing the results of your ministry every shift, but I hope you factor your ministry to your father into the plus column as well. By caring for him and blogging about it, you minister to everyone who reads your words and is fighting the same fight against mortality -- both as patients and as caretakers. It is just as important to share faith when you are down as it is when life is easier. It's just (in my humble experience) harder not to keep one's own sufferings silent.

    So, for that reason, and many more, my prayers are with you.


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