Monthly Archives: May 2016

Sly Cares Excel

I recently went off one of my meds. I mean, I didn’t just stop taking it cold turkey, flushing the leftover pills down the toilet. I’m not that crazy and reckless. But after being on a mood stabilizer (Lamictal) for almost three years and dealing with anxiety and hypomanic episodes far more than depressive episodes, I decided I wanted to wean myself off of my antidepressant (Celexa), which I’d been on for almost eight years. My doctor and my therapist both agreed that this made sense, so over a course of three months, I slowly reduced my dosage and have been completely off of it for a couple of weeks now. While I was tapering off of it, I didn’t notice any adverse side effects (and I noticed one good side effect, an increase in libido, which the Celexa had been messing with since I started taking it), and now that I’m 100% off of it, I feel as good as I did when I was on it. Maybe even a little better, which I assume is because the mood stabilizer regulates the cyclothymic swing between depression and hypomania better without the added antidepressant in the stew.

Well, except for one thing. I don’t know if this is a side effect of going off the Celexa, I haven’t found anything online that mentions this, but…everything, and I mean everything, brings tears to my eyes. I watch the season finale of The Flash, I bawl. I watch the season finale of Arrow, I get all choked up. I watch the season finale of The Flash again and I get blubbery A-GAIN. Movies, commercials, the teary confession of a teen contestant on So You Think You Can Dance, my daughter ending her first year in college with an A average, it all makes me cry. Not sad crying, just “Oh my god, this is so moving!” crying. I’ve always been easily moved to tears, but this is pretty extreme even for me.

Maybe it’s not fallout from the Celexa. Maybe my emotions are just riding high these days. I think the obvious answer is: going off the Celexa is making my emotions run higher than they have in quite a while. As side effects go, it could certainly be a lot worse. I’d rather cry a lot over things that move me than experience “the zaps” that I’ve read about–or have a surge of depression come at me. I’m definitely not complaining.

But if you see me, maybe offer me a tissue before you tell me about your beloved pet dying or about the wonderful thing your partner did for you recently or before you show me a particularly pretty flower. I’ll probably need it.


Energy Is My Gift

I was formally diagnosed with ADHD four years ago, but I’ve shown symptoms all my life. I was the daydreamer who would lose myself in things I was drawn to and fascinated by, but found it near-impossible to focus on and complete things I was bored or frustrated by. I wasn’t hyperactive in the sense of being in motion nonstop (which is what most people associate with ADHD), but I’ve always been teased for my nonstop, rapid-fire speech that jumped from topic to topic. (As one friend in college would say to me, “You’ve gone nonlinear again.”) By the time I was diagnosed, my blood pressure was high enough that my doctor couldn’t prescribe the usual ADHD meds, and I decided that even if she could, I didn’t want them. I’d grown to like the way my brain could quickly move from one thing to another, lightning-fast and nonlinear. I liked my ability to wander through dreams while awake. Energy is my gift. Imagination is my gift. The problem wasn’t me, the problem was the lack of support I’d gotten all my life from people who didn’t understand or accept the way my brain worked. Neurodiversity FTW!

Except…okay, I’ll fess up, it’s sometimes frustrating to have an ADHD brain. Being particularly sensitive to bright lights and loud noises, being highly emotionally sensitive, walking into a room and forgetting why I went in there, those aren’t fun all the time. Also, there’s a pretty high amount of comorbitity with ADHD and other mental health problems, particularly anxiety disorders. Anxiety is all kinds of not fun. (Bipolar disorder is also not much fun, but that’s a different story for a different time.)

However, I’ve recently started noticing something interesting. Sometimes my anxiety is that skincrawling fear that I’ve talked about, while other times, when I’ve taken an inventory of my physical sensations and mental feelings, it’s not so much fear as it is a build-up of energy that I don’t know how to expel. I wasn’t feeling nervous and afraid, I was feeling fidgety and annoyed and angry. I’ve begun to suspect that this isn’t always an anxiety disorder thing. Sometimes this is an ADHD hyperactivity thing. After growing up being consistently scolded for exhibiting behaviors that are indicative of ADHD, doing my best to hide them and fight them, I don’t have a repertoire of ways to deal with a build-up of energy, anxious or otherwise. This is something I need to work on.

Whether my energy is focused towards wanting to act out in ways I’ve trained myself not to do (even though those ways are essentially harmless) or it’s focused towards the uncertainty, fear, insecurity, and dread of anxiety, I need to remind myself that my energy is a feature, not a bug. A strength, not a weakness. A gift, not a curse. There’s a lot of accumulated negative self-talk, a mess of bad code, scrambled up in my head. That stuff needs to be hacked, rewritten and redirected.

10 CLS
20 PRINT “ENERGY IS MY GIFT!”
30 GOTO 20
40 END


Self-Diagnostic

I went to Planet Comicon this past weekend. I had a great time overall, but there were, as always, some physical and mental issues that I had to deal with. Since I’ve been paying much more attention lately to how I deal with my environment, examining why I feel the way I do at certain times and what could be triggering me, I made some notes:

  • One of the defining characteristics of ADHD is heightened sensitivity, both physically and emotionally. When there’s a lot of sensory input coming in, like lots of different conversations buzzing around, music, announcements, bright lights, flashing lights, and so on and so forth, it’s easy for me to become overstimulated and overwhelmed. One way I dealt with this was to not have too many plans at the convention. It wasn’t anything I purposefully set out to do, but when I got there, I just wandered around, letting myself be distracted and drawn to whatever was the shiniest, basically drifting on a sea of sound and vision. And it was fun! Even when I made plans to meet up with friends, I left the plans vague enough that I didn’t feel pressured to try to focus on one thing or another for too long (or to be at a certain place at a certain time, because that’s a stressy buzzkill).
  • On the downside, the convention hall was consistently hot. I don’t do well in heat. Never have. I shed and adjusted some of the layers I arrived in, but I never really got comfortable, feeling flushed and sweating and sluggish almost the entire time. This hit at my emotional sensitivity, making me tired and cranky, which in turn cranked up my anxiety and the feeling of being overwhelmed. As the day went on, I felt more and more drained, even when I was enjoying myself.Planet Comicon, motherfuckers!
  • As an extrovert, I need interaction with people to energize myself. This can be an uneven affair when I go somewhere alone, like I did to the con. Social anxiety means it’s not always easy for me to strike up conversations with strangers, and being in a sea of strangers can be really, really overwhelming. I connected with some friends at points during the con, and chatting with them, joking around, getting handshakes and hugs, that all helped dial the anxiety down and even helped me block out some of the overwhelming sensory input.
  • However, being at the con alone meant I had too-long stretches of time with no one to talk to or have physical contact with. I think that was a big mistake. I’d do much better having at least one companion to interact with and touch.
  • Touch can be a funny thing. Physical contact with people is very comforting for me–unless I’m physically uncomfortable, when it can be jarring. Being overheated in the convention hall meant there were a number of times when I didn’t want to touch anyone or anything. Which, again, dialed the anxiety up. (Also, if I’m not sure if physical contact is welcome, I feel nervous and insecure and afraid to touch people, which, yup, dials the anxiety up.)

If I were going to do it all over again, I think only a couple of changes would have made a big difference:

  • Wearing just a T-shirt and shorts (instead of the jeans, button-down shirt, and bow tie I wore) would have kept me cooler, enough that I wouldn’t have felt so uncomfortable, cranky, drained, anxious. I would rather dress up (I don’t really do cosplay, but I do like to look dapper).
  • Bringing a companion/plus-one along, or going with a group of friends, would have kept me more anchored and energized, less lonely and anxious.

Being attentive to my state of being and my surroundings, and running this self-diagnostic after the fact, was very helpful in getting better at living well with ADHD (and, yes, anxiety). As Stan Lee would say, Excelsior!


#InShadowSelfie

My friend Louise Gornall has asked people to participate in raising awareness of mental illness for Mental Health Awareness Week (which is this week–in the UK, at least) by taking a picture of your shadow and posting it online.

#InShadowSelfie

I may live in the shadow of my off-beat brain chemistry, my cyclothymia, my anxiety, my ADHD, and it can sometimes be a barrier to living a “normal” life. But it doesn’t dominate me, nor is it something I can lose in a Peter Pan way. It’s a part of me, for better and for worse, and I accept and embrace it, as painful as it may be at times.


P versus NP (Where P=Panic)

I wrote a version of this on Facebook recently, but I thought it would be good to tweak it a bit and repost it here, for better archiving and for better context.

I want to talk about the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack, at least when I talk about them.

A panic attack is sudden, a massive flip of the fight-or-flight switch, usually triggered by something. It comes with hyperventilating, a feeling of total loss of control, terror of the world around me, a gripping fear that I might be having a heart attack, and tears. Regulating my breathing and distracting myself with things that are calming and/or intellectually intriguing and/or funny can help calm me down. Xanax also helps A LOT. Panic attacks rarely last more than 30 minutes for me, but they’re terrifyingly intense.

Anxiety attacks are much less intense but in a lot of ways, they’re much worse, and as far as I can tell, they’re usually not triggered by anything I can identify. They usually build up slowly and come with a fairly low-level but persistent feeling of unease, fear, and a constant worry that something “bad” could happen at any minute. There’s also sweating and a frequent shift between feeling too cold and too warm, increased emotional sensitivity, and an excess of energy that I don’t know what to do with (leading me to clench my fists or wring my hands and tap my feet a lot)*. Anxiety attacks can last for hours or, even worse, days. Regulating my breathing or taking deep breaths doesn’t help. Unlike with a panic attack, I can hide the anxiety attack, make jokes, be friendly and polite, express myself fairly coherently…but like piranha-infested waters, the anxiety is constantly swimming around me, threatening to devour me. Xanax can help calm me down, but it’s no guarantee that it will dispel the attack for good. If I can get away from work and other responsibilities for a while, I can take a larger dosage of Xanax (a whole milligram!) and knock myself out for a few hours, which does generally dispel the anxiety.

Seeing someone have a panic attack can be unnerving, but there are things people can do to help: remind me to slow and regulate my breathing, distract me with jokes or shift my attention away from myself and onto something else, and, if appropriate under the circumstances, hold me.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much people can do to help against anxiety attacks beyond being sympathetic, not asking what triggered it, not giving advice on how to deal with it, giving me space to deal with it on my own, and, if appropriate under the circumstances, holding me. (Basically, hugs and hand-holding are always welcome.)

* The feeling of too much energy makes me wonder if my anxiety attacks are connected to my ADHD. I have this idea that if I can figure out ways to focus that energy into something positive, I can help change the anxiety attacks from something that makes me feel weak and not in control to something that makes me feel strong and in control. I think ADHD is one of my superpowers, maybe even the source of all of my superpowers, so if these anxiety attacks are a side effect of that, I want to turn them into another superpower.