This is gonna be a long one, so get a beverage and settle in.
I'm not sure how much of myself I actually reveal on this blog. Lots of my readers know me in "real" life, so they know stuff anyway. As for the rest of you, I keep certain specifics to myself ... if I'm going to expose myself, I'm more likely to do it by saying "I like that movie" than by saying "I am X." Nonetheless, I assume I'm transparent. If nothing else, close readers will be able to pick through 3+ years of posts here and figure out that sometimes I get depressed.
What isn't as clear just from reading here is that I also get pretty wired on occasion. Well, maybe it's clear just by virtue of the fact that I've kept this up for more than three years, but otherwise, I don't know that reading a stranger's blog can give you a feel for their manias.
In any event, I've got a long history of ... I don't want to exaggerate here, nor do I want to romanticize stuff, so let's say low-grade behavioral problems. Nothing life-threatening, to me or anyone else, but a bit more than the usual neuroses of contemporary life.
I did therapy a couple of times. The first was pretty useless ... when I realized I got more from slam-dancing at a $5 punk rock show than I did in my hour with the doctor, I quit going. The second time was more useful. I was at the nadir of my inability to cope with my factory job, and Robin took me to the county hospital when I went out in the middle of the street and started screaming. We went to therapy for as long as the insurance held out ... while the doctor felt I could benefit from something more long term, he focused on helping me cope with my job, and it worked, or at least I didn't quit for another year or two.
I can't say I've ever felt that therapy was a good idea, though, not for me, at least. So in the last 20+ years, I've stayed away from it.
Which isn't to say I'm mentally healthy. But, especially since I quit the factory, I can cope with life well enough to get through most days, and while I am sometimes hard to be around, I'm not toxic or anything. I could go the rest of my life in that frame of mind.
But I'm tired. Tired of always being on edge, tired of never being happy (euphoria doesn't count), tired of constantly acting just inappropriately enough in public to make others uncomfortable. And so I decided to look into some help. Starting here, where I asked a month or so ago if anyone had experience with SSRIs ... I feared they made you a "zombie."
I got some very useful responses to that post. Two deserve mention. One was the World's Greatest Blog Comment of All Time, from Jonathan Sterne ... you might remember it, the Parable of the Pissing Cat I call it. I know some people don't read comments, though, so I'm gonna post it here in its entirety:
I can't answer that for me, having never taken SSRIs. But I had the same anxiety about one of my cats. He was peeing everywhere in the basement right before we were going to sell the house and we had to do something. He'd had all the tests and was healthy according to the vet. He'd acted out once before (beating up the other cat) and we were told to put him on Paxil and couldn't stomach it. We were too worried about losing the better parts of his personality. Well, nobody wants to sell a house when the basement smells like cat piss (much less LIVE in such a place!), so we took the plunge and started giving him Paxil (that was an interesting conversation with the pharmacist). He slept a lot for the first few days and then more or less was back to normal except he didn't piss outside the box anymore. His meow changed slightly, and otherwise it's like he's the same cat minus the pissing. We took him off it as an experiment once and the pissing started again at our new place, so now he's on it for life. Yes I know that's fucked up.
But the house sold in one day.
One other reply hit the nail on the head. It came in email, so I won't tell you who wrote it, but the key line was this: "Being miserable and crazy/funny/fill in the blank is overrated."
These two responses covered both aspects of my problem. Like Jonathan's cat, I have a tendency to piss in the wrong place, which is unpleasant at best for others, and like the person in the email, I have a tendency to valorize being "crazy" even though it makes me miserable, which is unpleasant at best for me.
The result of all the above is that I made an appointment with a psychiatrist at Kaiser. Saw her three weeks ago, told her my story, or as much as you can tell in an hour. She told me that she didn't really believe in making a clear diagnosis with psychological problems, because there's a continuum of behavior, it's not like having a cold where you have it or you don't. Having said that, she said my symptoms were similar to what is called "bipolar 2." To simplify greatly, "2" is like "1" but not as severe ... in particular, where bipolar sufferers have periods of true mania where they do stuff like run up enormous credit card bills during shopping sprees, bipolar 2 sufferers are more prone to "hypomania," which one site I found said can be mistaken for happiness, so you'd be right to ask "what's the problem, here?" But my hypomania is what makes me the teensiest bit irritating to be around, like when they were playing Journey at the ballpark one night and I started complaining at the top of my lungs, which might even have been funny the first time, but I kept it going for about two minutes until my friend sitting in front of me turned around and told me to shut up.
Robin has pointed out on occasion that I suffer from poor impulse control, and this is the kind of thing she's talking about ... I blurt stuff out before I think of how it might affect others, and act out when a bit of prudence might be advisable.
Anyway, as my psychiatrist said, I'm not crazy, I'm not gonna die or anything, but there's meds for people like me if I wanted to try them. Me, I think they'll make me a zombie, but like I said, I'm tired. So, after checking drug interactions with all my other meds, she prescribed me generic Wellbutrin for depression and generic Depakene for "agitation."
I've been on it for three weeks, which should be too short a time for any real changes, but guess what? My life is different. I'm not as grouchy, I'm easier to be around, and my impulse control is much improved. More amazing, though, is the absence of anxiety.
You need to understand: I have suffered from anxiety for so long, I thought it was normal. If I considered it in any other manner, I assumed the social pressures of modern life was the cause. But basically, I couldn't identify the problem because it was ubiquitous, and when that happens, when you have nothing with which to compare, you can't define it, and so it doesn't exist.
Now I have something for comparison. I haven't felt anxious in a coupla weeks. Not once. And the absence of anxiety is what allows me now to understand that there hadn't been a day in my memory, not a day in 51 years as far as I know, when I didn't feel anxious for part of the day.
And it's a very nice thing to have that disappear.
Which is why I say my life under medication isn't marked by what's good, but rather by the absence of bad.
The fact that I took so long to get this story out is evidence of how I feel exposed, but it needed to be said. Now I can go back to what I was doing, playing hide and seek with my readers. I don't intend for this to become a regular thing ... I expect I'll have more to say about my kidney stones and blood pressure than about my bipolar 2-ness. But I imagine there's someone else out there suffering for 50 years like I did ... and meds ain't necessarily the answer, I'm sure there's different answers for different people, I'm not pushing a cure, here. But I'm telling you that it's worth it to take the leap, if you're low-grade miserable it's possible you can be better, don't be afraid to try to be better. It ain't no sin to be glad you're alive.