Freak out

I’ve started this post once or twice a week for months. I get out a sentence or two and stop – too tired, too fried, or too apathetic to continue. I’ve been MIA most of this year, clicking the occasional “like” the few times I venture out into social media. Reasons and excuses abound, but there’s no biggie I can point to and say, “that’s the one you can blame.”

Well, that’s what I tell myself, choosing to deny it as if acknowledgment will make it real: depression. Denial is easy with the apparent presence of cause. In addition to a handful of issues, I’m fighting a losing battle with disks going bad up and down my neck. It’s been bugging me (off and on) for the better part of twenty years, but early this year the pain escalated to a full time problem. I don’t have the energy to go through the rest of the laundry list tonight.

Me and depression go way back. It’s half-brother anxiety hangs around too. More often than not they seem to come without an obvious cause, so it was easy to dismiss my dark moods as a personal failing: an inability to shake self-pity.

Inspired by a friend, I’d made a little more progress on this post than usual this week, but the kicker was a letter I received in the mail Friday.

You may have heard about a New England company (the New England Compounding Center) responsible for a nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis, involving a tainted batch of steroids injected near the spine to treat back pain. The letter I received told me the series of injections I received in my neck earlier this year contained a steroid manufactured by this company. The upside is there have been no confirmed cases of meningitis linked to the steroid my doctor used, but it has been recalled and physicians have been instructed by the Department of Health to notify patients.

Here’s a quote from the letter: “All of us at xxx xxxx xxxxx understand that his information is alarming and frightening. Please do not hesitate to call us about this matter.” I can’t tell you how relieved I am that I have their permission to be alarmed and frightened.

The letter provides phone numbers and web site addresses for the FDA Division of Drug Information and the Centers for Disease Control. You know what that says to my anxiety prone mind? “The CDC is expecting your call.” I don’t want to be someone the CDC is expecting to hear from.

And then there’s every hypochondriac’s dream: I’ve had half the symptoms I’m supposed to watch for since before the injections. Headache, stiff neck, nausea, and sensitivity to light… I’ve had them all with great frequency this year, either due to the pain in my neck or the migraines it’s triggered.

My goal for the next few days is to focus on the following words: “there have been no confirmed cases.” Surely there would have been one by now, right?

In the mean time, my spare thoughts are with those of you with your own problems, and anyone facing an encounter with Hurricane Sandy.


Losing my words

Have you ever lost a word? Most of us have. Do you know what Dysnomia is? I did, but I had to look it up to make sure. Don’t be too impressed though. It was kind of my area of study in school, and we’re talking recognition memory all the way here. I couldn’t recall it to save my temporal lobes.

Well, A few weeks ago I started misplacing words everywhere I went, and it was pretty damn hard to write. This is the story of how it came to pass. Eventually I’ll even tell you what the hell Disnomia is if you didn’t already know, hadn’t figured it out, or have the patience to hang around that long.

Before I get to far, this isn’t intentionally a pity poor ‘ole me post. I consider myself and my experiences pretty darn average, with only a couple exceptions. So why write it at all, you may ask? Why blog? Think of it as another small piece of me.

Now venting is another matter. No pity is required for catharsis.

I’ve had headaches all of my life – or as long as I can remember. When I was a kid I didn’t tell anyone, assuming people dealt with headaches all the time. Headaches seemed mainstream. I heard my parents talk about them. I saw all the commercials on TV for “Extra Strength Tylenol,” and Exedrin – dramatic interpretations of the pain included. So I dealt with my headaches the way I dealt with most other things in my life: quietly and internally. When they got bad my temper got worse and the quiet kid became the Grade-A Ass.

I was like a lot of people that way. I got a headache once or twice a week, I got grumpy, and I got over it. No one fretted over what was wrong. I didn’t go on a US tour of medical specialties. I saved that for later in life. I was just another kid/teen/man with the occasional bad temper, and didn’t like to talk about it.

In 2007 I think something changed. I know something happened, but I think it changed something: body chemistry, general emotional state… something. My doctors humored me when I offered my hypothesis, with the trademark medical shrug: “There are a lot of things we don’t understand….” Loosely translated: “Nice try, but leave the wild-ass guessing to the professionals.

If you know me, or if you’ve been around for a while, you know 2007 was the year of my leukemia diagnosis and chemotherapy. It was also when my headaches started coming more frequently, enough that I started talking to my doctor about them, and taking something stronger for them.

A year ago (maybe 18 months) they started interfering with work. Not a lot, but it was enough to keep me short on leave hours. A couple months ago it seemed like they stopped going away. Coincidentally (or not) a couple of months ago I found out the leukemia may be back.

Wait a minute?!? I know what you’re thinking. Stress and depression as a trigger for headaches? Quick! Someone call The New England Journal of Medicine!

A few weeks ago my team of doctors decided they were done shooting blanks at my head, so I was off to see a neurologist. He asked a lot of questions and I gave a lot of answers. He concluded I was having a lot of headaches and prescribed a few new drugs.

Thank the good Lord I went to see a Neurologist when I did! I mean, who knows how long I might have gone without another prescription?

Anyway, this leads me to the reason I’m writing now, and why I wasn’t writing before. One of the fabulous new drugs can cause a variety of side-effects, including the ominous sounding “cognitive deficiencies,” which happens to include Dysnomia.

Dysnomia is just like having a word on the tip of your tongue, just out of your brain’s reach – only more often than normal. Imagine how hard it would be to write if this happened every paragraph or so.

It was really pretty strange – freaky strange. Normally I don’t want my doctors to tell me the potential harmful side effects of a drug. I’m just fine with the standard: report anything odd. For someone with an advanced form of hypochondria, psychosomatic is more than just a word – it’s a lifestyle. But in this one case I was glad they did. It started shortly after I started. I had trouble completing sentences at the dinner table. I couldn’t write. I hid behind a pair of headphones at work and tried not to speak much.

… and if I hadn’t known it it might happen – and likely resolve itself pretty quickly – I might have had a nervous breakdown. Strike that. I KNOW I would’ve had a doozy.

Instead, I had a pretty good time with it (other than at work). I’m not someone who NEEDS to write every day, or even necessarily every week if I don’t feel the spirit move me – and I didn’t – so I was ok on that front. As for my mind failing me at odd moments… I suppose I could have… perhaps even should have been really frustrated. Instead I thought it was kind of funny. Maybe this was a sign of another, more serious problem, right? I mean, what’s so funny about brain malfunction?

I’ll tell you.

It’s the same reason I found parts of my chemotherapy/hospital stay back in 2007 sort of entertaining. Back then it was the aching bones, the sore and swollen joints. I felt like an old person, or imagined I did… getting the jump on how I might feel in years to come (barring certain advances in medical technology) – and finding it funny – a new experience to be savored not suffered. Though not exactly the same, there was the day sometime later when my wife said she wouldn’t trade natural childbirth for my experience.

It’s not about the pity. It’s not about some twisted competition… who’s suffered more. It’s that I’ve surprised myself. I perceive myself as dark, brooding, and self pitying. But back in 2007 when something really was bad, and not just my imagination or a trumped up charge, something inside flipped a switch. I could cope. I was stronger than I thought I could be – at least part of the time anyway.

Depression, headaches and the prospect of leukemia’s return have me down. I won’t lie to you. But don’t feel bad for me. I may lose a few things along the way, but I seem to have a knack for picking up a few things too.


When people care

My wife is worried about me. From a purely selfish standpoint, this is a good thing. The depression bug hasn’t run it’s course and the stay in bed headache is on day number three.

“Headaches don’t last this long.”

“They have before.”

To be honest, I’m fully reclined on the Lazy-boy in the living room right now (not in bed).

I know it’s not my fault, but it hurts when I hurt people. It means I have to work extra hard getting back to good working order.