The Rest of My Life

I’ve been writing kind of heavy stuff lately, and I think it has skewed what this started out to be, which was a chronicle of how people who are crazy live in the normal world, how we are mostly invisible to everyone. Lately, you’d think that all I ever am is crazy.

Which is understandable. This last year my mental health has been perhaps the worst in my life (or second worst). And the Wellbutrin is making me anxious which makes me write. (Student loan panic set in tonight, which is always a symptom.) And I have been thinking a lot about my mental health, which I don’t usually do when I am well. It is the main thing on my mind, sad to say. I’m afraid many more important things have been forgotten in the mess, like the people I love.

So I thought I’d put in some balance of the perspective. Despite having an awful morning due to various symptoms, I pulled it together and worked a night shift last night that was perfectly fine. While working, or writing, or engaged in conversation, I am able to selectively ignore a lot of symptoms, just feel them less. I think it’s like sometimes when you have a flu or something, you really do feel better when you are up and moving around rather than lying around thinking about what hurts.

I thought I’d make a scattery list of things that happen in my average life, which are far underrepresented here.

1. I usually meet friends a few times a day. Having stayed more or less in the same medical system where I went to medical school, there is no shortage of acquantances and a few very close friends around all the time. Sometimes when it is very hard for me to go to work, knowing that they are there helps a lot.

My best friend is a friend from medical school who also stayed on at the hospital. We can often catch a few minutes to chat outside the building while he smokes. He’s tried SO hard to quit, and even tried taking the bupropion for that, but guess what – it gave him panic attacks and made him paranoid! He can’t believe I’m sticking with it. It does give me panic attacks (witness yesterday morning) but I find them infinitely preferable to depression.

He has a new baby and is utterly in love with her and shows me pictures on his cell phone. I haven’t been good about going to see her; haven’t given her the baby gift (partly because I can never find anything quite special enough). I am happy that he is so happy.

I’m afraid I haven’t been a very good friend lately, since all I can think or worry about is how crazy I am…and no one wants to hear about someone’s mental health, shrink problems, med problems etc forever. He has been very good about always coming to talk if I need to, though. And sometimes we just talk about normal stuff, laugh at ridiculous senior doctors, the fucked-up system we are in, and so on. If another friend joins us, it’s better sometimes because I can’t talk about crazy and it just rolls over into small talk.

2. My partner and I spend domestic time together, which is very quiet and pleasant. I tend to be something of a homebody, and he humors me. We spend a lot of nights watching DVDs of comedies (I can’t stand to watch anything sad or serious on TV. If I wanted reality, I could go to work.) We laugh a lot. We curl up and read. We are both nerds. Sometimes we talk about physics or other science topics one of us has read about. We had this weird discussion of Descartes and Maxwell after something he read a few days ago, lasted late into the night. We got into this discussion about whether mathematics is something that exists intrinsically, or something we made up.

3. I love my house. It isn’t anything fancy, and is really a rented apartment, and nothing in it is expensive, but it has my things in it, and I have set it up to be a shelter for me, a quiet place with warm colors. I think that sometimes this isn’t so good because I don’t invite people over much. But sometimes I curl up on the sofa with a book or a blanket and feel overwhelmingly content. I am surprised at how nice this feels. I guess when you grow up in a stormy, violent place, the thought of home is a strange pleasure. I’m surprised to have found one. I am overwhelmingly grateful to live so comfortably, to be safe and warm and sheltered.

Of course, because I am crazy, this can lead to worry that it will all be taken away from me somehow. But I know I can survive that too. I have been in very bad places, poor places, alone in life, and that taught me that really a human being needs very little to survive. You don’t need a bed, or a roof, or a change of clothes, or internet. You need food, and that is about it. I can be thankful for what I have now while still knowing that I could survive without it, have survived in scarcity, in violence, not knowing where I would lay my head. I love what I have and would hate to give it up, but I wouldn’t die from that.

4. Though it stretches my budget immensely, is my single biggest expense after rent, I can pay for my mental health care, for what I need to keep a job, to avoid the “bottom of the barrel” public mental health system. This makes me luckier than people thrown at the mercy of the public system. Unfortunately, this is also self-perpetuating: I am able to work because I can afford at least partial medical treatment for my condition, which is not covered by insurance. People who can’t will never get the quality of care they need to get better.

5. When I work in the emergency room, I sometimes pass through the pediatric ER just to see what is going on. Pediatricians are the nicest people in the world and I’m always able to say hi and smile. There are sometimes funny kids in there too, and they make me smile too, even though kids aren’t my thing. The best break room in the whole ER complex is in the pediatric ER and when I eat I go in there and make tea (they have the water cooler) and see nurses and staff I haven’t seen since I stopped working there. The hardest work I did was there, but also the nicest environment. And everyone there always says hello to me and smiles.

For someone as shy and introverted as I am, it is wonderful to know I have a place like that, a place where “everybody knows my name.” And not in the way the internal med docs or ER docs do – as the freak one who always was in a rage and never got along (last time I worked with them I was in a very bad state). The pediatricians know I didn’t like pediatrics and didn’t like working there much, but they like me anyway. For someone like me, it is very nice to have people who are happy to see me. Especially after this bad year, when I ruined so many working relationships.

6. Since I’ve lived in the same place since med school, the local businesses know me. I can walk in to grab quick take-out food, and see familiar faces. The nearest neighborhood with amenities is of a lower middle class to working poor area, and people haven’t gotten into the ideas of having cars for everything, so they walk and use local business. There is a sense of community that people don’t have in wealthier areas. And they know me by sight when I walk in, too.

7. I always can call someone on the phone from my cave. (Not that I usually would, but that’s a different issue altogether.) Somehow, I don’t know how it happened, I ended up having friends. I’m afraid I haven’t been as good a friend as I should always, but I am fortunate to say that I’ve never felt truly lonely. Alone, certainly, but I have received far more love in this life than I ever deserved. We don’t get together that often, but we chat, we see each other at work. Sometimes I feel guilty that I’m sick, sometimes I can’t love them back as well as I’d like. But I know that for a lot of the mentally ill, they drift out of society into increasing isolation and that loneliness is a huge factor in suicide. I think that I may have spread a lot of pain amongst the people who have loved me, but I never meant it, and I was never really left alone.

Last time I was really depressed, it was last spring. One friend, I didn’t tell him details at the time, just that I was not feeling well. Despite having a house full of kids and being a busy doctor too, he called me at least every other day to see if I was ok, and let me vent without asking for details. Since at the time I was pretty much confined to the sofa, those phone calls were incredibly meaningful to me.

He always invited me to a weekend dinner with his family and I always declined, but once when I started to feel a little better, I went. Of course, I was nearly non-reactive, and when I did speak it was a huge faux-pas with his mother-in-law. But no one ever made me feel strange about anything. Even though it wasn’t a particularly memorable evening, it marked a lot of coming back to life for me. I felt horrible, was minimally groomed, but I was out of the house and back among the living.

This incredibly kind gesture, those daily calls, which must have been miserable, for no reason, was something that stays with me until today.

And I know that if I ever really flip out and end up in a hospital, I wouldn’t languish there at the mercy of some fucked up psychiatrists. A few close friends with connections in the med world would come to my aid and beat them down from over-drugging me. I’d die of embarrassment and probably try to keep them from even knowing, but I wouldn’t be alone at the mercy of the system.

8. I read a lot, though since these episodes have been so out of control, it has been a lot harder to focus. But this month I finished two books. Not my normal rate, but better than before. It used to be a big part of my day, especially when I was a kid. It is probably some escapist coping mechanism that isn’t so healthy, but I enjoy it. In my bedroom, on my side of the bed, I have a big pile of books and note papers. My partner calls it “my world.” Whatever I’m reading, which is usually one or two new books, and a lot of old favorites for when the mood strikes, are there. There are lots of books on the edges of the sofas too, and all over the house.

9. Food: not much of a cook, when I do cook, it is healthy fare, or something that goes together quickly. A grain and a legume. I don’t cook with much that “you can’t tell where it came from.”  Often, as I said, it is takeout from a local place. There is only one that is close by. Too much fried shit, but it is quick and good. On call, I eat at one of the many coffee shops in the adjacent shopping center – salad or pasta, usually. Usually I go with whoever I happen to be working with that day, but not always.

I hate all this Atkins shit. I love carbs – pasta and potatoes and bananas and grains. I’d rather give up fat than my carbs.

I can’t cook that well, but I’m a really good baker. I make all kinds of wonderful cookies and cakes. Nothing flashy or pretty, but the kind of thing you just can’t stop eating, out of simple ingredients. I haven’t in a while because of being busy and also not wanting to eat a whole batch, but it’s my secret skill.

10. I have a ton of makeup. Nothing expensive, but I used to be a sort of punk ass kid and I still have a lot of stuff left over from high school. I don’t get to wear it anymore much, but when I’m off work, I do. I wear my long hippie dresses, my slightly gothic looking black velvet stuff, my Wuthering Heights collar jacket. I guess some of it could pass at the hospital, especially if I wore just one piece, mixed with mostly business looks. But I hate having the clothes I like “contaminated” by work. The problem is that I don’t go out a lot to other places where I can wear them.

One of the books I’m reading is a pop culture version of a book on Schema Therapy – basically cognitive therapy that people with deep problems have them from deep assumptions rooted in childhood about themselves and the world. The pop culture book tells you all these signs of which false beliefs you might have. One of them was “Dressing more conservatively than you would like.” I think that was supposed to point at an “outsider” belief: that you feel like you don’t fit it, are somehow different. This can be a “defective” belief; you feel that you are somehow basically flawed, and damn well better hide it.

And damn if I don’t feel that way in medicine a lot. Most docs come from a very different background than I do, with very different social rules. Very upper middle class and conformist. I always feel like I’m trying to ape a look that they have…and I hate myself for sticking out because I don’t ever quite like them, and I also hate myself for trying so hard.

I remember in med school, there was this one girl from a very affluent city. She was a bitch, shallow, mean, basically obnoxious. Spoiled brat, rich parents who divorced and just threw money at her. She sort of pretended to be my friend, but always with an air of, I don’t know, like she would be my social guide. I didn’t really like her, but she terrified me because she was so mean. She always criticized my makeup, my clothes, whatever. One day I was wearing fishnet stockings (probably with Doc Martens but I don’t remember; certainly not with fuck-me-pumps or anything) and she came up and rolled her eyes so hard, and said to me with a snort, “God, don’t ever wear those again.”

This girl was a caricature; she was ridiculous, and no one else ever took her seriously. But she was from “the right side of the tracks” and this rich town and seemed to know the rules that I didn’t. And every time I let her do that to me. In high school, I would have gotten into a fistfight with someone like that. And I would have taken her down.

And I never wore fishnets to med school again.

Somehow I think that story is symbolic of what med school and the doctor world has sucked out of me.

And once again, I digress into psychological topics.

But I guess I can tie that in to this post, because it is something that, apart from my crazy, is prominent in my inner world lately. I am slowly coming to the realization of just how much I have let medical school and being a doctor kill my soul. How different I am from when I started. And I think back to all the times I should have said, “No. This far, and no further.” Years ago, in maybe the second year of medical school, with the animal experiments. And a million other examples. Right now, I am working very hard to recover my soul, my woman’s wild soul, from inside the soulless monstrosity that is modern medicine.

A funny thing happened lately…I have been so depressed off and on that I finally let my meticulous makeup go and have been going to work without it, with just a little bit. And looking generally disheveled, hair uncombed, because I just can’t deal with it. (I have finally grown a half-meter of hair, which I love, but it’s just so hard to wash it all after 30 hours on my feet, and I know I’ll probably cut it, but still, I worked so hard to grow it out.)

And I’m not sure, maybe I’m just imagining it, but it seems like I’m getting less disbelief when I walk in and say I’m a doctor. Most of the girl doctors look like that.

I’m not sure what bothers me more, that I am letting myself go like that, or that no one can imagine a doctor who doesn’t look like C. Everett Koop (and even he had some goofy facial hair going on).

I also hate how many comments I’ve gotten about how I look so much more “professional” without the makeup. (One from that attending who tore me down.) Even the shrink said I was “prettier bare,” that I didn’t need to “hide behind all that.” (Was that a borderline inappropriate comment? I’m never sure.)

If I want to wear it, none of their fucking business. Women have played with masks and veils since the beginning of time. Why can’t I?

At home, though, I immediately change into sweats, warm, cozy things that I’ve had forever.

But – I love playing with makeup and looking slightly like I stepped out of the wrong time century. Even if now I just do it in the bathroom alone before I get into the shower.

11. Other things in my life every day: sometimes I promise myself a good cup of coffee on the way into the hospital and that is the thought that keeps me going as I get out of bed, get dressed in the cold bathroom, sitting on the bath mat as I brush teeth because I’m too tired and down to get up. I feel like a little kid, bribed with candy. But sometimes, that’s a big part of my day.

12. I worry about money a lot. Not paying the rent and bills and all that; and I never run up the credit card. I’ve always managed to live within my means, which at times were ridiculously meager…except for one thing: my massive student loan debt. I have no idea how I will ever pay this off. Or even make payments that make a dent in it. Once the deferments and all that are up, the payment alone will not leave me enough for rent. Hoping for a miracle. I guess I’m just like everybody else in this. I obsessively read the “get out of debt” stories, and “America’s Cheapest Family” and all that. But the thing is, there’s not much more I can cut. I don’t buy clothes, I don’t go out to bars or to eat much (the takeaway is cheaper than buying enough basic stuff to cook for me), really the only thing I do buy is books, and even most of them are used. I would try to cut back, but part of the problem with libraries is that what I read is always too obscure, or in the wrong language. No one ever thinks, when they move to another country, how much they will want to read in their native language – and how expensive it might be to find imported books.

My credit card statement is funny – it breaks the charges down by categories. All I ever have are groceries, gas, insurance payments, pharmacies, and books. Every time I open it in front of someone, they just laugh.

I guess I could go carless. I don’t really need one. Local mom and pop grocers deliver, and, while it does cost money, it’s less than a car. But after my contract is up, I don’t know where I’ll be working, and then I might need one, so I don’t want to get rid of one just yet.

13. I always keep a bus pass in my wallet, and sometimes I take the bus to the hospital. The walk to the stop is nice, and it is quicker than having to park there. The hospital is toward the end of the line, so the bus by then is usually full and I stand up. It is nice not to drive and worry about when my car is going to die.

14. I take something to write with everywhere. Often I get writing ideas that fly through my head, and if I don’t get them down immediately, they’ll go away, be forgotten. My life is full of the backs of receipts, of ticket stubs, of gum wrappers, on which are written things like the perfect end to my novel. My close friends laugh at me because they can see when I zone out into an idea, and sometimes laugh or am otherwise altered by the words that run through my head, how my attention is both in the conversation and far gone. People like that girl above think I’m weird. But the people who love me think it is just another part of me, a quirk.

* * *

I think I wanted this post to be even more about minutiae, things not concerned with my mind or medicine. I’ll try to let some more ideas come to me as I go about my day over the next few days. Maybe if I ride a bus.

* * *

Next time: remind me tomorrow to write about how I cried at the shrink’s a few days ago. I didn’t think I had tears left, I thought I was too cold. I think he kind of had contempt for what I cried over…but that’s ok, it reminded me of something important, pointed the way to me to the things I need to be able to cry about again, the things that I can’t, ever since becoming a doctor.

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6 Comments

  1. That sounds like a good list Sara,

    I am glad you catch the bus. I catch the train if I can even when I could drive instead. I think one meets the world on public transport.

    One thing I have been thinking and I hope I am not over stepping the line here.

    When I come and visit your blog my initial reaction is, “Hey, who turned out the lights!”

    just a difference in design tastes I suppose.

    Good post

    Tony

  2. Heh, when I started it, I figured if it was going to be a mood disorder blog, may as well go with the dark design. I think it’s a requirement.

  3. I love to put on my Goth make up when my husband is gone. I just wear here at home, alone. It makes me feel like some one else. I don’t know… it gives me pleasure. I’m on medication too. I worry about my mental state, and wonder if it will get worst as time goes. I don’t socialize very much. I’ve become the recluse letting my books and music keep me company. I’d like to read the rest of blogs. I’ll have set time to do that.

  4. Beautiful entry. It made me want to write something similar myself.

  5. I totally relate the point 7, it sucks when you are in a bad state and push people away and then feel guilty for not being a better friend. But it rocks when they don’t care and just keep lovin ya.

  6. Wow, it’s great reading your list and getting to know more about you. We have some similarities, except you’re a lot smarter and you’re a doctor and you’re a lot younger. But otherwise, lots of similarities.

    What’s the name of that book you’re reading? I have a lot of the same feelings about myself now at 48 that I did when I was 8, and they are all negative. I’m in therapy, but I figure by the time I have it all worked out I’ll be 88. Maybe I’ll die happy though, so I keep plugging along.


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