Introducing Freakout Freddie

About three weeks ago in a post titled Weighing Changes I spoke about my concern related to high levels of anxiety in my new chem free existence. This is a growing problem that I fear will eventually sabotage my chance for success living a medication free life. The frequency and intensity of these anxiety attacks is building. At least four of the last five days have been impacted negatively by what amounts to my overactive imagination.

In the short time I have been living without the chemical safety net to which I had become accustomed I have been reintroduced to some of life’s simpler pleasures. I have written here a couple times about my Latte misadventures, and commented on my increased libido, but I have yet to mention my gentle reintroduction to adult beverages. I have never been a big drinker. I used a lightly abused alcohol for a brief time in college, but my by senior year I pretty much volunteered to drive whenever we decided to go out. In the ten plus years that I took Klonopin I may have consumed ten alcoholic beverages, but I doubt it. The drugs magnified the effect of the alcohol and I have written at length about my intense fear of vomiting so it was simpler to stay away.

A week ago after a long hot day of yard work we all went to the grocery store to do the shopping. The beer cooler is at the end of the last aisle and my wife commented on the ice cold bottles of Woodchuck hard cider. It was a drink I remember from college and it the spirit of my new found freedom I put a six pack in the cart. That night my wife and I each enjoyed just one cold Woodchuck, and they were just as good as I remembered, dangerously good actually. Over the course of the following week I had a couple more, and then last Friday night came around. I had had very little to eat all day and dinner turned into burgers on the grill much later than we would usually be eating. With a plate full of raw meat in hand I grabbed a Woodchuck and retreated to the porch. In less than the time it took for the burgers to do their thing I consumed the entire of bottle of hard cider. Now I am a big guy and one bottle of any beer type beverage is not going to knock me over, but the dehydration and lack of food combined with the relative virginity of my liver left me feeling a little buzzed. For me a huge anxiety trigger is the sense that I am not in control and there was nothing I could do to stop the dizzy sensation in my head. I could feel the tightening in my chest and then I had a flutter in my stomach. This sensation had nothing to do with my alcohol consumption; rather it was just a passing pain that is a regular occurrence for me throughout the day. The truth of the discomfort didn’t really matter as my anxious brain was already teetering on the brink. When the anxiety is triggered I need to move, think the flight part of fight or flight, so I excused myself from the table where I could gather myself out of my toddler’s sight.

Over the weekend I had a couple mild occurrences of anxiety, but the Tuesday return to work brought the worst day yet since the Klonopin withdrawals.  I am generally effected by the amount of light outside and as I was driving today through a rainy gray overcast I began to encounter small embedded thunderstorms. As I passed through each it became twilight dark and of course the rain was heavier with the associated lightning and thunder. This is an anxiety trigger I don’t fully understand and is relatively new in recent years, but I have apparently become uncomfortable with thunderstorms. What is ironic and troublesome about this is that with my interests in aviation and the ocean I am something of a weather junkie. I l-o-v-e weather, and have always marveled at the process by which weather is created. It is physics you can see, and geeky as it may be I think it is one of the coolest things going. I could sit down and pound out several pages on what makes a thunder storm happen, and I know that the comparatively week storms we experience here in the Northeast are generally nothing to be worried about. I knew the storms I was experiencing today were of no real concern. So given the strength of my background why the hell do they make me nervous? The truth is there is no real good answer to that question. Like most of my anxious moments it is nothing more than the rapid movement of illogical thought processes. These anxieties take loose correlations to real dangers and blow them up to irrational fears. After the fact I am often uneasy talking about them out loud because I know they don’t make any damn sense. The only thing “real” about them is the fear they create. The sensations they create are as real as if somebody had a gun to my head. Fear feels the same whether based on a quantifiable threat or the gobbledygook that more commonly runs around my brain.

The real trouble with today’s challenges was the length of time over which they occurred. For two or three hours this morning I lived with unacceptably high levels of anxiety that occasional spiked into the sensations I have no desire to EVER feel again. These were the sensations that I spent ten years on Klonopin to avoid and that I endured for several weeks over the winter for the promise of Coast Guard documents and a better life. Today I discovered that I have a very low tolerance for feeling this way. I simply will not live my life this way. It terrifies me to even put those words, “will not live my life this way”, on paper, but I am not yet ready to give up on living without medications.

In the comments section of the Weighing Changes posting referenced in the first paragraph my most loyal commenter, Lady J, told a story about her experience with her children in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. She described a technique for externalizing the anxiety where the kids treat their anxiety as an entity separate from themselves. They give it a name and a personality completely separate from their own selves. My own admittedly limited research on the topic revealed a lot of medical mumbo jumbo but I found a couple articles that explained the premise some. The idea is not to say I am scared or I am fearful because you are not, you are you. You feel scared, fearful, anxious etc. The distinction is subtle but important. (If somebody who actually knows about this stuff happens to read this I apologize for hatchet job I just committed explaining and undoubtedly complex idea, but this working knowledge is what I am moving forward with.)

So Lady J and her kids have named their anxieties and she said in her comments that it is remarkably helpful to her. I was intrigued by the idea and have played with it in my head some, but today I went all the way. The prolonged almost sin wave nature of my anxiety today as I passed from storm to storm allowed me some time to reflect on what was happening. I began talking to myself, if your thinking this sounds a little schitzo so did I at first, but I began asking myself if what I felt was real. I knew it was not and by forcing those ideas to the front of my brain I was able to overcome most of my day. The truth is that I also took steps to shorten my work day and remove myself from the stress, but while I was in the thick of it I was able to force myself to function by telling myself the truth about my circumstances. Not my anxieties truth, but my truth: “these are very small thunderstorms embedded in a larger weather system. The atmosphere does not contain the energy required to build them into even moderately strong storms”, or something like that. The anxiety level stayed pretty high no matter what I told myself, but the horrible spikes stopped.

My Truth

Freakout Freddie’s Truth

  

This afternoon I have had some time home alone and been able to reflect further on the day. I am left unsettled by the experience, but there is hope that these new tactic will be helpful. I hope it will become easier and more helpful with time. I have decided to go all in and introduce to the world my not so friendly acquaintance Freakout Freddie. Freakout Freddie’s favorite phrase is “what if” and he runs around thinking the sky is falling. He likes to take single snowflakes and push them around until he creates a ball of ice so large it can run you right over. Freddie is not an altogether bad guy. He will undoubtedly let me know when I have crossed into a danger zone, but it is up to me to decide if what Freddie is saying makes sense or if he had just gone off the deep end again. Wish me luck.

The Mocha Latte Saga Continues…

It has been nearly a month now since I discovered that new coffee drink vice the Mocha Latte. There have been very few mornings over that time that have not started with the heavenly sweetness of chocolate, espresso, milk, and whipped cream. The good news is I have continued to replace food with Latte and there has yet to be any real adverse effects to my weight. I have dropped off about another pound and a half despite pounding 400+ calories of liquid bliss down my throat every morning.

The search for a descent drink is winding down as I have simply run out of options. It just doesn’t strike me as hard to make one of these things, in particular with the automated machines they are using. Honestly I think the challenge I have faced is more a reflection on the quality of the help at these places than a particular recipe. I have found the most consistency at McDonalds, which still leaves me shaking my head with wonder, but even they have their moments. A couple weekends ago my wife and I pulled through the drive up and each ordered what McDonalds calls a Café Mocha. Imagine our surprise when a couple sips from each cup revealed they had forgotten a key ingredient. I know that right now you are thinking “Oh I hate it when they leave the whipped cream off”, and your right it sucks when that happens, but how about paying $2 a cup for a product called the Café Mocha and with your first sip discovering you just got a Café! I couldn’t believe anybody capable of getting themselves dressed in the morning could be that incompetent so I pulled a straw out of the glove compartment to stir in the syrup that I figured HAD to be on the bottom of the cup. Nope. Its like leaving the chocolate out of chocolate milk, I mean how the hell does that happen?

While we are talking about whipped cream I have also discovered that you can tell if the person making your drink has actually had one or not by the amount of whipped cream on the top of the cup. At most of these McDonalds you can look through the drive up window and watch them make your drink. I keep seeing these old ladies applying whip cream to the top of the cup like it is coming out of their paychecks. More than once it hasn’t even covered the top of the cup. On the other hand from time to time I get one that is so full it forces the cream up through the drinking spout on the plastic cover. Those drinks are obviously made by somebody vicariously drinking every cup they pass through the window.

Summer is beginning to make its presence known here in the Northeast which has meant a couple things to my coffee quest. First our tourist based economy is starting to ramp up and I have noticed that some of the swankier little tourist trap towns have coffee shops opening up. It is a sure bet that the coffee in these joints will be targeted to the “from away” crowd and if I am lucky maybe I can find the occasional alternative the McDonalds Café Mocha.

The other change is obviously the temperature. When I first started documenting this I pointed out that I had been pretty much off all coffee for a good ten years. During that time I have watched with a certain amount of amusement the growth of the iced coffee phenomenon. I never really got it. I have had cold coffee either from a cup that sat too long or because somebody turned the pot off and I know from experience that it tastes like shit. I couldn’t imagine paying money on purpose for coffee that had been allowed to get cold. Whoever first marketed this to the masses in a way to make it trendy is a fucking genius, but all the marketing it the world doesn’t change the fact that cold coffee tastes like old ass.

Whoever decided they could market cold coffee is a twisted genius

With the above rant on the record I will admit that yesterday afternoon it was very warm around here, and I was feeling like a pick me up. I had been thinking about my stated position on iced coffee; in particular the point about all the marketing in the world not changing the fact that cold coffee sucks. If that were true I figured that this trend would have died out long ago. I convinced myself they must do something different to the coffee they “ice”. I swung through the McDonalds on the way home and ordered myself an Iced Café Mocha. I didn’t make it out of the parking lot. After two sips I pulled off to the side, ate the whipped cream off the top (of course), and dumped it. Maybe when the addiction really settles in I will understand, but for now I will continue to marvel at what people will do for image.

***UPDATE***

This morning directly after posting this I left the house and got myself a McD’s Cafe Mocha. The kid at the window asked me if I wanted whipped cream, clearly not a Mocha Latte drinker, and I watched him stir it before adding the cream. Imagine my surprise and then laughter when I took a sip and there wasn’t the faintest hint of chocolate flavor. I pulled around and parked to walk in to get what I ordered. The same kid who made it asked me what I needed and when told of the missing ingredient he asked “There is supposed to be chocolate in it? I thought it was just drizzled over the whip cream” Really?

The Downeaster Alexa

I recently took my son on a rainy day to watch his Grampy’s boat get launched. For my boy the sun rises and sets on his grandfather, and nothing is cooler than being on Grampy’s boat. Back in November I wrote a post that among other things talked about my lost access to a commercial fishery here in the Northeast and the impact it has had on my life. I am still able to work in the industry on a part time basis by going with my father, but it kills me that I am no longer allowed to fish myself.

Over the course of a long winter I can sometimes forget just how important being on the water is. There is typically a six or seven month stretch where I don’t get aboard a boat and it always amazes me how it feels when I can get back out there. This year was even better, or worse depending on your perspective. Spending the day on the boat with my son, and knowing that I could not give him all the experiences in the fishery that he is so excited about hurt. I am thankful that his grandfather is around and will be able to provide him with these experiences, and of course I will be part of that. Being on the ocean is the same as life to me. There is something about that cant be explained. The sounds, the smells, the easy motion of the boat itself all adds up to a feeling of peace somehwere deep inside me.

Up here in the woods where beauty is our biggest natural resource the communities with waterfront are changing rapidly. I am from an island and property values are way too high for most local folks. Most people my age can only stay if their families own enough land that they can be given a piece to build on. Of course the result of high property value is high property tax. It is hard to find traditional activities on the waterfronts anymore because nobody local can afford to be there. I so badly want to be part of preserving that tradition, but without fishing I simply cannot.

For years I have had the Billy Joel tune “The Downeaster Alexa” in my iTunes. I heard and related to the hardship it describes, but recently I have really felt the meaning. Despite the references to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket the song was written about fisherman on the eastern edge of Long Island Sound,  that said the struggles described are common to the fishing industry in the northeast. The final line goes:

“I was a Bay Man like my father was before. Cant make a living as a Bay Man anymore. There aint much future for a man who works the sea, but there aint not island left for Islanders like me.”

The words echo in my head.

Nobody Told Me There Was Going To Be A Test

Do you suppose that there are times in our lives when we are just more sensitive to the challenges that lie before us? Or are there just times when the numbers of challenges we face multiply compounding the stress in our lives exponentially? I am two and a half weeks removed from my last antidepressant medication dose. During the last two weeks I have been faced with an endless barrage of challenges that pick away at one of biggest anxiety vulnerabilities: illness.

I have written at length on this blog about the paralyzing fear I deal with when faced with the urge to vomit. Even after hours of therapy sessions spent talking about it, and hundreds of words written here about it I still feel ridiculous talking about it; however, the truth remains that it regularly effects my day to day life.  I can get pretty paranoid about various stomach upsets, but I also tend to get worked up about your day to day cold type problems. Over the past two weeks I have been forced to deal with not only a nasty flu like cold rampaging through my family, but also a couple of the less common infections. I think we are finally nearing the end of this round of illness and none too soon.

It started early last week at the dinner table. My wife who was sitting at the head of the table begins talking about how one of the kids at day care has conjunctivitis. While she is telling the story I am watching my son who is sitting across from me. As the story continues I notice a little deposit of goop in the corner of his right eye. Had she not been telling this story I would have assumed it be little sleepy seed or something, but in the context of our current conversation I point it out. She wipes it away and within a half hour it has returned. She wipes it away again and a few minutes later comes the two year old sniffle “my eye hurts”. The next morning his mom rousts him to make it to the walk in hours at the pediatrician’s office, and yells into our room that there is nothing in his eye. Hearing this my two year old proudly reports that he “already picked the lint out of his eye”. I closer inspection of the bed reveals a pile of dry crusty nastiness next to his pillow, and in good light it is clear that his eye is red and swollen. The doctor confirms the diagnosis and we begin seven fun filled days of putting medicated drops in the eyes of a fighting, and surprisingly strong, toddler. Of course I, having just a smidge of hypochondriac in me, begin to have an itchy eye before we are away from the dinner table. My itchiness persists for several days to the point I seriously consider visiting the doctor, but I don’t and it passes.

During this same timeframe my father, whom I have been helping get ready for another commercial fishing season, and my mother both catch and awful cold. My wife and I have been spending a lot of time there lately as I work with my Dad and by the end of last week she is laid out by it.

As I am tiptoeing around eye gunk and snot my Dad develops a spot on his forehead. He initially says he hit his head on the boat and I don’t really worry about it. Several days of us working side by side go by when last Friday he finally asks my mother to take him to the ER. My dad is one of those goes who never sees a doctor so when he asks to go you don’t ask questions you just take him. That evening I get a call from my mother in the Hospital reporting my father has shingles and that because he had been picking at the rash it has become badly infected and they have started and IV antibiotic. She also tells me to keep an eye on my boy because you can catch Chicken Pox from Shingles.

So here is the thing. My two year old has had the Varicella vaccination. He is fine. My 35 year old self on the other hand has never had them. In my twenties I had a coworker get them and after I didn’t catch them I had a blood test to see if I was immune and I was not. Shortly after I had a vaccination shot. Ironically it wasn’t more than a couple months ago that I was casually reading something and stumbled across information that the adult vaccination consists of two shots six to eight weeks apart. I only had one. I figured on mentioning it to my doc next time I was in the office. I didn’t figure on my father getting shingles. My dad and I had planned to go out fishing over the weekend. Saturday was shot so he could return to the hospital for another IV, but Sunday looked good. I figured I had been pretty heavily exposed to the Shingles for nearly a week before I even knew what it was so I went ahead and went with him Sunday. I also saw him Monday though my exposure was quite limited. I haven’t seen him since and Sunday being the last day I had any real exposure it looks as if that I may be in the clear. Another couple days should tell the tale.

The result of all these happenings had been a marked increase in my anxiety. Monday was really bad and I had to fight off a few mild anxiety attacks. I could feel the panic rising in my chest, but I kept it in check. Tuesday and Wednesday saw the return of my gastrointestinal challenges, a problem I haven’t dealt with in months. Today was better, and I suspect that each day that passes without contracting  an illness will lead to improved anxiety levels.

At this point I am not entirely sure how to feel. Dealing with all the sickness drama did not go as well as it would have when I was fully medicated with Klonopin, Wellbutrin, and Lexapro. On the other hand I am not sure it went a whole lot worse. There were a couple times when I felt things slipping, but I was able to reign things back in. At this point the good still far outweighs the bad, but if there was going to be a test to see if I could hack this I wish somebody would have told me

I found this post this morning on what it means to recover from Depression. It struck a cord with me and I felt the need to pass it along.

How do you eat an elephant?

Chatting to a friend over lunch yesterday I became aware of a frustrating misconception about depression which hadn’t really occurred to me before – the notion that the opposite of depression is happiness and that depression is simply the experience of being very sad for a long time.

Sometimes I rather wish I had just been sad for a while. Sad, I think, I could have done. Sad doesn’t crowd in during the threadbare hours to chase you out of yourself; it doesn’t turn out the lights, one by one; it doesn’t steal the things you care about and taunt you because you can’t find their whereabouts. Sad isn’t a menace threatening to stay by your side for eternity; it doesn’t convince you to abandon all hope, love and laughter.  Sad doesn’t take your life away, incrementally, until the only thing left to do is jump off the cliff edge…

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