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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I am officially spooked. Waiting for the other shoe to drop would be the appropriate cliché. About three weeks ago I posted the news that I was going to make an official stab at living my life free of psychotropic medications. The very day that I wrote that I spoke to my doctor, his nurse actually, and asked what the best way to proceeded would be. I had dropped my daily dose of Wellbutrin from 450mg to 300mg and under their direction I dropped from 300mg to 150mg.

Wellbutrin XL

Wellbutrin XL (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was told to do that for a month and monitor my mood closely. I had already scheduled an appointment with him for May 2nd so the timing was about right to be ending the pills when I see him next. I had a bunch of 150mg pills already, so I made the dosage drop immediately. Today is the twenty first day and I only have two pills left. I am not going to refill the prescription so by the start of next week I will be done. So what’s the problem? I feel really good. Not perfect by any means, but well. Sure when I stop my body will still have to process the remaining drug in my system before I will be really free of it, but I am doing ok. It just doesn’t seem possible that from December to now I could remove all these regulating forces from my life, and not have it turn into a disaster.

I actually started this blog in an attempt to avoid returning to SSRI’s. I had been off them for several months when I started writing here, but was having a hard time keeping myself out of the darkness. I needed a place to process my thoughts and I was desperate to avoid returning to that particular type of drug so with a little encouragement from the blogosphere I began to share my experience. I was only a month into it when I was faced with the challenge of not only staying off the SSRI, but dropping my ultimate crutch; the Klonopin. That experience was chronicled in a number of posts starting here. At the time I simply hoped to survive it. I never dreamed it could be the start of something much bigger. For years my shrink had been telling me that the Klonopin was a mood depressor and that I would do well to get off it, but he never really pushed the issue. As I began the withdrawals it became clear why he never really forced the idea. If you don’t come to the conclusion that you want off that drug on your own, if you’re not committed fully, I am not sure anyone would stick it out. It took awhile to feel normal again, but it appears he was right.

There have been definite changes as my body has adjusted to less and less medication. Most notably I have moods again. I get sad, happy, and angry. I used to just be mellow. I am cautiously excited by this new development. Of course feeling happy is a wonderful new experience, but anger is not as wonderful, and sadness I am all too familiar with. I am fearful of both these emotions. Sadness is natural, but when you have suffered from depression each time you feel it you wonder if this is the beginning of the end. Will I have to go back on the pills? With anger I just worry about managing it. I haven’t had too for so long that I fear I have forgotten how. It sounds strange to say, but I want to be angry. It is a natural emotion and it is healthy. On the other hand unchecked it can be very destructive. In the past I have become irritated, but rarely did I give voice to my angst. I didn’t want to fight with my wife, and I swallowed it down and carried on. Recently I have been more than irritated and my anger has boiled over and caused arguments. I am not comfortable with it yet, but after a short, but fiery exchange with the Mrs. last night I felt no more hostility when it ended. In the past after I would swallow it down I would be pissed for hours. Related to these arguments I have noted that my verbal filter seems to have bigger holes in it. In my teens I never lacked for an opinion. “Painfully honest” was the term once used to describe me. If I thought it I said it. I wasn’t entirely tactless, but I wasn’t afraid to speak my mind either. I never really noted the change, but as an adult I have been less that way. I chalked it up to maturity, but in the last couple weeks some of that directness has returned. Maybe this is related to the drugs and maybe not, but since I am still under their influence it will be interesting to see how that particular characteristic develops over the next several weeks.

The other emotion or feeling that I learning to live with again is anxiousness. I am not going through my days scared of nothing, which is an improvement over those days before the Klonopin, and the more recent withdrawal experience. That said when I was on the Klonopin I was rarely anxious about anything, and I never really worried about mild sensations of fear because the drug kept a lid on it. Now I no longer have the chemical buffer, and the only thing that keeps a lid on it is my own cognitive efforts. Before the need for the Klonopin arose I didn’t often feel scared. I was a pretty typical late teen early twenty male. I didn’t take as many chances as most, but nobody would have accused me of being a pussy either. Prior to taking the drug feelings of fear and panic consumed me, and now that I am off the drug, I find myself somewhere in the middle. I am certainly not feeling bullet proof, but I am not scared of living either. I suppose I should not expect to feel the same. While under the Klonopin umbrella I have matured from a 23 year old college student to a 35 year old father and husband.

I so hope that this experiment is successful. I have been off and on SSRI’s multiple time, but I was always on the Klonopin when I was trying to quit the SSRI. I don’t know for sure, but it has been about a year now without the SSRI’s which is without a doubt the longest stretch ever. I hope this works, and I hope my wife and I will both like the new me.

Scared To Death

When things started to go bad for me after college it wasn’t immediately obvious what the problem was. The first symptom that really got my attention was the constant feeling of nausea. Everywhere I went I felt like I was going to vomit. The idea or fear of being sick in public wasn’t in and of itself entirely foreign, but the frequency was problematic in particular given that I was flying small airplanes for a living.

The first truly bad event happened a day or two after graduation. I was working as a flight instructor for the college I had just graduated from. The job had become full time after I had had an internship as an instructor the last half of my senior year. During that semester I had a student that was very challenging to deal with, and due to his slow progress he had stayed around after the school year ended to try and finish his practicum. We had been stuck on a night flight where he was required to navigate from one airport to another and home again. We had attempted the flight three times and never even gotten off the ground. He had trouble arriving prepared. I got a call after dinner asking where I was. He had placed himself on my schedule without telling me and was at the airport ready to go. I arrived a few minutes after he called, reviewed his planning and the weather, and we set off into the night.

He seemed finally to be prepared, but as we climbed to altitude and turned on course it became clear something was terribly wrong with his planning. He set of in a direction approximately ninety degrees to the required course, and no matter how I prompted him I could not bring him to the conclusion that he was wrong. After a lot of guidance and outright intervention from me we arrived at our destination significantly later than we should have, and the air traffic control tower was closed. Not a real problem as the airport was still open, but had ATC been working the next event would have been avoided. He landed and began taxiing back to the end of the runway. As we rolled down the taxiway he had chosen we were approaching an extremely bright light that seemed to be shining directly at us.  As we got closer I commented that it seemed odd that this light would be there interfering with our vision. I opened a book that provided information on the airport and discovered that the taxiway we were on was closed to civilian traffic. I knew there was a National Guard base at this particular airport, and should have checked on this before we arrived. I looked up from the book just as we passed the obnoxious light and entered a ramp full of A-10’s.  My student says, “Cool look at the A-10’s”. I saw the flashing lights of two vehicles approaching us and said “we’re not supposed to be here”. I took control of the plane got us out of there, into the air, and headed home. About the time we leveled off I began to feel very ill. My mouth was salivating to the point I had to spit it out, and I felt as if I would vomit at any moment.

The high engine position on this USAF A-10 Thu...

From that day forward I felt sick every time I flew, and often throughout the day whether I was flying or not. When I started this entry I noted that the fear of being sick was not a new concept in my life. Much like the depression that had been hiding under the surface I had this other problem that I had simply developed coping mechanisms to avoid. The problem was twofold. First I was (am) terrified of throwing up. I know what you’re thinking because I hear it all the time “nobody likes to get sick” or “I hate puking too”. Both those statements are true about most people, but does the fear of it enter into your daily decision making process? Or in the case of the second part of this problem, being afraid to get sick in public, do you look for the restrooms or try and locate all the trash cans whenever you enter a new building? I am going to guess probably not. As absurd as it sounds this problem has been extremely debilitating. Anybody who has struggled with anxiety knows that rational thought has little to do with it.

The best I can tell the two fears come from two different events in my childhood. The actual fear of vomiting stems from an early experience with the stomach flu. I don’t recall exactly how old I was, but I believe I was around five. I caught a bug that caused me to vomit violently. I puked so often and with so much force that I pulled muscles in my abdomen and as I continued to vomit these damaged muscles caused excruciating pain. Anything that went in came out almost instantly. I remember my Dad desperate to make it stop forced me to take Pepto-Bismol. The stuff literally bounced off my stomach and into the toilet with the associated agony from the muscles in my midsection. I should probably point out that I have almost no memories of my childhood, but I have images of this event in my head as clear as a digital photograph.

The second event happened at a McDonalds when in the care of my Grandparents. After the experience described above I was terrified of vomiting. When I got sick as a kid I would call for my mother who would hold me while a shook, literally vibrated, throughout the process of being sick. My grandparents had spoiled me rotten as any good grandparents are wont to do. On this particular day they had allowed me to eat way too much candy. I remember the last thing to go in my mouth before lunch was a Three Musketeers bar.

3 Musketeers

All the sweets mixed with McDonalds led to the predictable upset stomach. I was too old to me taken in the ladies room so into the men’s room I went to experience the trauma of being sick alone. This is the only memory I have of being sick in public, and having to experience it alone given my circumstances is the only source I can think of for being so scared to be sick in public.

With the sudden onset of nausea after college, and a history of what I just termed “stomach trouble” I endured a barrage of testing to uncover the source of the problem. As this process unfolded a general feeling of unease was developing. When flying the physical symptoms began to be accompanied by irrational fears. My mind would wander down a “what if” scenario such as what if the tail falls off this airplane? I knew the physics well enough to know exactly what would happen and my mind would play it out all the way to conclusion. I have literally watched myself die in my mind’s eye probably hundreds if not thousands of times. This is something that still happens to me on occasion.

Over the weeks and months the anxiety grew. Every headache was a brain tumor; every bump was going to cause internal bleeding. I was going to die. Forget sleeping, I could not let my mind be at rest like that. If it had nothing to focus on it would take over and seemingly do what it liked. I would sit on the couch watching TV until I fell asleep. When I awoke I would try to get into bed before I woke enough to have trouble getting back to sleep. I recall the town I lived in had a medical center with and emergency department that was open until 10:30 or 11:00 in the evening. For a long time my goal was to get to sleep before the emergency department closed. I knew that the things happening in my brain were irrational, but the fear was real. My logic was that if something awful happened they would be able to save me at this ER so if I could get to sleep before they closed I could go to bed with a safety net. Once I actually got to sleep I was okay.

The anxiety made me distrustful of myself. I was deeply depressed, and the irrationality of the anxiety scared the shit out of me. I thought about suicide a lot. I did not want to kill myself, but I was afraid I would anyway. I lived in a house with guns and when I lay in bed at night and I could feel them in the room. I would drive down the road and think about turning into oncoming traffic. There were moments when I really felt like I may get to a place where my rational self would be overpowered by the irrational thinking and I would do something stupid. This fear just fed into a cycle that I could not shake.

These days I am in a much better place with regard to anxiety. Much of what I have written about still happens, but on a smaller scale. The Nausea and stomach issues still exist, though they have evolved some. Now that I know what is happening my stomach is almost an early warning system for the onset of depressive symptoms. I will have nausea or other physical symptoms before I notice any change to my mental state at all. The fears surrounding vomiting are still there and still very real. It is interesting that despite having been sick as an adult, and after each time thinking “that wasn’t so bad”, I cannot shake the deep seeded fears. It also seems ironic to me that I have always chosen to do things that could easily lead to motion sickness. In fact they last time I threw up I was seasick.

Much of the paranoia about what this or that physical ailment means, i.e. I’m going to die, is gone or at worst fleeting. It has taken help from medications, and some hard work in therapy to get through all that, but it is pretty much gone. I credit mostly the meds with this. I have had mixed results with medication and I plan to write about that, but in my darkest days they gave me the chance to reset myself and start fresh. I doubt I would have made it so far without them.

The one thing that still happens to me occasionally that I hate is the “what if” scenario. I still occasionally find my mind wandering down a road that leads to my death. Not by my own hand, but through some accident. As recently as a few weeks ago I have watched my own death play out in my mind. It is very unsettling when this happens, and it has thankfully become infrequent, but I would love someday for it to stop all together. Very few people have ever been told that this happens to me. It is a very hard thing to explain, and it freaks people out a bit.

This has been a very long post, but I had two purposes in mind when I started. The first was to chronicle my own experience with anxiety. I have found it horrible to experience such fear for no rational reason. To me it has been worse than depression. I am sure others have experienced the same sense of irrationality, and as a second purpose I hoped that by sharing the sordid details of my experience I could add to the commonality of experience I mentioned when I introduced this blog. The problem with anxiety is that rationally we know that the fear is baseless, but the fear is still there and just as real as if someone were holding gun to our heads. I thought nobody would understand how I could be so scared of nothing. I have come to understand that others have been through this, and it is important for those suffering to know that no matter how silly or irrational they may think their anxieties and fears to be, there are people out there who won’t judge them because they have been through it themselves.

Anxiety was and still is a big part of my life. This posting it post of the high point (should that say low points), but as one might imagine the experience is broader and deeper than can be described in two thousand words. I hope to bring more of my experience to this blog in the future.

Why I Am Here

In the past I have failed miserably as a blogger. The reality of time, specifically the lack thereof, has simply been too much. It hampers my ability to read and research, or with a little help from the topic of this blog, conspires to snuff out my creative fires. This is a topic that I should be able to write about whether I am feeling creative or not. It will require time and therefore I cannot guarantee the frequency of my postings, but the writing will come straight out my experiences from over decade of struggling with depression and anxiety.

The thought has crossed my mind to attempt this topic in the past, but I have been fearful that it would devolve into a simple recording of me feeling sorry for myself. It was recently pointed out to me that there is much to be learned from talking about how people struggle and cope with their internal demons. Whether one deals with some sort of mental illness, post traumatic stress, or addiction the struggles are deeply personal yet the experience is somehow common. When you come in contact with another who has struggled mightily you don’t know what they have been through, but still you understand. It is in this commonality of the struggle that we can share what we have learned, and what we have yet to learn. I don’t really have any hope that I will someday stand atop the mountain having conquered the demons that follow me around seeking every opportunity to sabotage my happiness. I do hope that I can somehow learn to keep them at bay. To recognize when they have crept too close and learn how to minimize the damage they cause to me and my relationships.

I hope to share what I have been through and what I am going through. Eleven years is a long time, and I have been through much in that time. When this all started it seemed rather sudden and I fell far. I don’t really remember the bottom specifically, and I am actually somewhat fearful that writing about it will bring back more of it than I care to recall, but I guess we will cross that bridge when we come to it. I do remember the irrationality of the experience and some of that will share along the way.

Since my first trip up from the bottom I have fallen and picked myself up many times. The title of this blog comes from the constant feeling of living near the edge of something terrible. I don’t want to fall in and the terrain under my feet is unsteady, but for reasons I can’t explain I can’t seem to keep a safe distance either. It’s not from lack of want, it has simply never seemed possible for any significant amount of time. It is my sincere hope that this blog will help some who may be climbing out of the darkness find their way. It is also my hope that through this blog I will find my own way to a more permanent place on safer ground.