Thursday, July 28, 2011

Turning the Darkness Inside Out

I've spoken about my struggles with anxiety and depression quite often....first on my original blog, then on Facebook, and now here.  I have pretty severe anxiety issues, for those of you who don't know me.  I've struggled off and on with depression, which came to a head and exploded in 1997 when I attempted (and nearly succeeded) suicide.  My release from the hospital's psych ward was only approved when  I agreed to a year of intense therapy.  After the year was over, I had faced most of the issues and was well enough to be off meds.

Around 2005, the anxiety became so out of hand that I went back on meds - at the time, Effexor XR.  Once I started dealing with other serious medical issues, it was found that the Effexor was interfering with the seizure meds I was taking, so I was moved to Pristiq.  Pristiq is a fairly new med, which translates to ridiculously expensive.  Thankfully, my doctor at the time gave me samples every month since I had lost my insurance coverage.  The new laws regarding drug rep samples caused my doctor's stockpile of Pristiq to end, and I wound up on Lexapro.

In the last few months, I've begun having more and more anxiety attacks, despite the meds.  I also changed doctors (to a clinic that would accommodate my lack of insurance), and while he was willing to continue my prescription, he leaned heavily on getting me back into counseling.

Since 1998 (when the year was up after my suicide attempt), I had only been back to counseling once.  It was in 2005 when I went back on meds, through my employer's EAP (Employee Assistance Program).  My personality clashed with the counselor's, and I ended the sessions after two visits because I just couldn't relate to her.  Needless to say, the thought of counseling had about as much appeal as pulling my toenails off one-by-one.

I broke down and agree though, hoping I could finally get a handle on this issue once and for all.  Today was my first session, and I'm really encouraged.  I really like my therapist, and we went through an astonishing amount of issues in one 1-hour session.  I'll be going back once a week indefinitely for the time being.

I'm hoping this really puts my life on an upswing.  Honestly I don't see that it has anywhere to go but up at this point!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

There But For the Grace of God Go I....

I had a horrible headache.  My body had decided the middle of Safeway would be a fabulous place to have a hot flash.  I had to go to the bathroom.  All these factors resulted in getting the barest of necessities and finding a place at the checkout as fast as I could.

She was in her 60s, I think.  She was clean and nicely dressed, but her anxiety over the register's total as each item scanned caught my attention.  Since I didn't want to be rude, I directed my attention to repairing my makeup, which was sliding down my face thanks to the personal sauna my body had created.  As the wait grew longer, I tuned into what was happening.  I watched as she handed item after item to the cashier to be removed from her bill.  I admit by this point I was feeling annoyed, but I softened when she turned to me and said "I'm sorry."  She had dark glasses covering her eyes, but I could see she was humiliated.  I assured her it was okay, and turned my attention away again to allow her some privacy.  Although I tried not to notice, I watched her hand eggs, milk, and bread back.  I was near tears - she had to be someone's grandma, why was she in such a bad situation?

Then I realized....she was trying to find enough room in her budget for a pack of cigarettes.  Normally, I am very against smoking, but it came to me that perhaps her pack of Parliaments were the only thing that took her mind off the awful circumstances she was in.

As she began to hand another item back, I reached into my purse and dug out a handful of change (of which I have far too much of).  I handed the cashier the amount she needed in order to stop her from handing the item back.  The lady tried to tell me no, but I shook my purse for her to show her how heavy the change was and told her she was lightening my load a bit.  Had I dug into my wallet and handed bills to the cashier, I instinctively knew the lady would have refused it....but since it was change and I had proven I had a lot of it, she thanked me and allowed me to help.  It was not a large amount by any means....but I hope it meant she was able to eat a little better tonight.  She walked out of the store with tears in her eyes, and the cashier patted my arm and thanked me for helping.  I told her I just couldn't stand by and watch her put one more thing back, even though she was doing it for cigarettes.  We all need comfort of some kind in our lives.

Looking back, I wish I had asked the cashier to put all her items back in her cart and paid for them - it would have been maybe $15 and I could spare that much.  I don't know if the lady would have let me or not, but the food items were essential staples and I would feel better about myself if she had gotten them.

The thought of this sweet lady going without food in order to support her cigarette habit is heartbreaking....but it was even more heartbreaking to think of her going without.  Had she been a young person or been rude, I wouldn't have helped....but I just couldn't turn away from her.  I think I'll be haunted by this situation for a long time.  As I said in the title, "there but for the grace of God go I."

If you're reading this, pay it forward.  That's the only return I would like to see - a few random acts of kindness towards those whose circumstances are not clear, but are obviously in need of a little help.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

What Makes You Sleep?

If you've known me for any length of time, you know that I struggle with insomnia.  I've gone through the gamut of sleep aids (Lunesta, Ambien, Melatonin, etc.), but they either didn't work or they worked so well that I was zombie-ish for hours the next day.  After several years of "trialing," my doctor finally put me on Trazodone and it works wonders - at the right dose.  50 mg is not enough, but 100 mg is just right.  It has some side effects, but they are worth enduring to get a decent night's sleep.  I have stopped taking them a few times, and have not experienced any of the withdrawal symptoms other people have reported.  All-in-all, it's been my wonder pill to getting some sleep.  Not to say that I don't have a night or two of insomnia still, but compared to what my sleep was like before, it's 1,000x better!

I have established a ritual for bedtimes that helps as well.  I take the Trazodone, then head into the bathroom to wash up (my cleaning and moisturizing ritual for my face takes a good 20-30 minutes).  After changing into my jammies (I refuse to sleep in anything other than knee-length cotton sleepshirts), I settle into bed.  During the summer, I turn the fan on low.  Since I have a Sleep Number bed, I soften it until it my back is relaxed - it's not the type that displays the numbers, but it's fairly squishy.  It doesn't sound like it, but it truly helps keep my back in the right position to avoid waking stiff and sore (I have back problems at L4-L5 due to a car accidents and a few other traumas to that area).  I read a book on my iPhone (to avoid having to have a light on) until my eyes just won't stay open.  It works wonders.

I also listen to background music while reading.  My new iPhone 4 allows me to have more than one app open at a time, so I can run my eReader and ambient noise app concurrently.  I love Ambiance, but there is an app that absolutely blows it out of the water called NatureSpace.  NatureSpace is a true 3D sound environment.  The included tracks are so amazing.....Infinite Shoreline (ocean) literally sounds like the waves are moving from one ear to the other.  Night at Lake Unknown has amazing night sounds. The app is free, I highly suggest just giving it a try.  I was reluctant to buy the in-app sounds, but once I did I was so impressed. The only downside is that there isn't a sample of the sound, but I've never been disappointed in a purchase.  Right now, my go-to track for falling asleep is Helios Falling - it's like sitting in nature while night falls.  I also love Liquid Phase - it's very close to the sound of the waves at our favorite hotel on the beach - the Brookings Beachfront Inn.  The app has a sleep timer, which I set for 1 hour.  I've never, ever made it to the end of the hour without falling asleep.  

Ambiance has a huge library of free sounds, which you can mix to make custom tracks - although not 3D.  If that's your preference, I would suggest Ambiance.  If you want a terrific, perfectly 3D environment, NatureSpace is the perfect app.  While the catalog is not nearly as large, the sounds are perfectly produced, and the loops nearly undetectable.  They are great for blocking out noise, or allowing your mind to fall into a relaxed state.  I even like the thunder tracks!  Be sure to read the FAQ about earbuds vs earphones so you get the best experience.  BTW, I use $20 earbuds and the sound is still utterly fantastic.

Whatever Happened to....?

I'm thinking of making this a regular feature as my interest in blogging regularly has totally disappeared.  I'm really trying to keep going, but it's a struggle.

So, today I'm asking whatever happened to....the family pharmacy?  This may date me a little quite a lot, but today's "corporate" pharmacy is too sterile; too impersonal.

When I was a kid (and dinosaurs roamed the earth....), the pharmacy was often referred to as the "corner drugstore."  I can remember there only being a small few in town - Rite Aid (called Payless Drugs then, with two locations), Service Drug, McLain's, and Grants Pass Pharmacy.  Rite Aid was the "big box" store, and was our first introduction to the superstore-type drugstore.  In addition to the pharmacy, you could buy feminine products, makeup, cleaning supplies, shoes (this was the early evolution of Payless shoes), and small electronics.  The other pharmacies had just medical supplies and gifts.  I don't think any of them even had a drive-thru, but most did have a delivery system.  I think Service Drugs still does.  In fact, up until the early 90's, there were still drugstores that would "run a tab" for you.  Imagine that today!

Going to the pharmacy was a treat.  I loved the people behind the high counter in their white coats, counting multi-colored pills and counseling patients on everything from heart disease to athlete's foot.  You could ask them anything and they would answer honestly without having to worry about stepping on a doctor's toes or losing their license.  They knew your name and all your family's information off the top of their heads.  I thought they had such great jobs.

Over the years, we've seen the evolution of the mega-super chain drugstore and the integrated "pharmacy in a grocery store."  The corner drugstore began slowly being bought out by big chain suppliers (CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, etc.), leaving very few independent pharmacies.  Increased demand for medications and policies of the big box stores has turned pharmacy into a business, not a service.  Pharmacists no longer have time to offer much advice on problems.  Prices have sky-rocketed with demand.  Insurance has become so complicated that filling prescriptions can take days upon days to wade through the red tape.  All of these things have made being a customer harder to bear as well.  I read a lot of pharmacy-related blogs, and can see both sides suffering from this change.

While the independent pharmacy does still exist, they are being edged out by convenience and price cutting.  The only saving grace (it seems) for the independent is custom-compounding.  It's rarely offered at the corporate-owned stores (too time-consuming for their interest), so the independent can meet their margin with compounding.

It would be so wonderful to see the small pharmacy make a comeback, but unfortunately with a tanking economy and high demand for fast, cheap doesn't seem likely.