Anxiety takes a break

A couple of years ago, I was prescribed hydroxyzine for eczema. In addition to relieving itching, it has a mild anti-anxiety effect and helps you fall asleep. So I took it at bedtime. The first morning after taking it, I was waiting for my morning bus well aware that I felt very different.

I was not worrying about anything. I was aware of the usual things I worry about; but I was not bothering to worry about them. And I thought, “Wow. This must be what it’s like to not have anxiety.”

At the follow-up appointment, I described this to my doctor — and this is when she raised the idea that I might benefit from taking anti-depressants. But I took this medication for almost a year — and the anti-anxiety effect quickly wore off. And I suspect the same thing would happen with anti-depressants. My anxiety is very insistent and seems to quickly override any medication that wants to drive it down.

Something odd has happened to me this week. I am feeling the way I did when I first started taking hydroxyzine. I know I have plenty going on in my life to cause anxiety. None of that has gone away and I am still aware of it all — but it is not making me anxious. This morning, I did not wake up wishing that I had not. And there is a comforting feeling of fullness in the crown of my head.

I do not know what is behind this — but I sure hope it lasts.

Not ending life

Tony Shalhoub was a recent guest. I have never heard of him but his story was intense. His father was born in Mt. Lebanon and was left an orphan from World War I. The grandfather was killed in action in Armenia and the grandmother shortly afterwards. In addition to the destruction and death of war, Mt. Lebanon was also stricken with a locust plague which wiped out a harvest. Tony’s aunt, still a teenager, had to look after the other children. Life was horrifically hard and in a letter to relatives in the USA, she wrote (paraphrased),

“I wish to die. And if you love me, you will pray for me to die too.

A TV show I really enjoy is Finding Your Roots hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr. It is one of those shows that researches the family trees of celebrity guests. I enjoy it even when I have no idea who the guests are! I love hearing their reactions to what they learn. And it is amazing to see their faces when they unroll the chart of their family tree at the end. Personally, I have no interest whatsoever in my family history but I enjoy watching other people discover theirs.

It made me think of how I feel every morning when I wake up — that I wish my life would end. And I know it is ridiculous because my life finds me safe and comfortable right now. This is not to say that I think of suicide — wishing for your life to be over is NOT the same thing as ending your life yourself. And it is a good thing Tony’s aunt never took matters into her own hands because, somehow, she and the younger children made it all the way across Europe to France from where they sailed to America and joined relatives in Wisconsin where they went on to lead happy lives.

Sometimes — not always — but sometimes —even the most desperate of situations can turn itself. I guess the challenge is hanging in there in case your situation’s number comes up. But I can fully understand why that is hard to do.

Virtual road trips

Since the pandemic started I have kept very close to home. On only one occasion since last March have I gone further than two miles from where I live. I have been walking most of the time, although during the winter I have occasionally taken the bus.

I cannot remember the last time I rode in a car. Even before the pandemic, I kept close to home, only taking the bus to downtown Seattle to go to work. For my autism diagnosis last March, I did have to travel to Bellevue. It was rather exhilarating being on a bus going at highway speed on Interstate 90. But it is not the same as being in a car going at highway speed on an interstate highway.

I drove a lot during my twenties and thirties because I was living in places where distances were great and public transportation was almost non-existent. I have driven across the United States many times — but not in the last twenty years. It can be rather special. I will never forget driving west along Interstate 70 in Kansas at sunset at the end of September. There were sunflowers as far as the eye could see — all facing the same direction with their heads turned down — like a multitude of bonneted women bowing their heads in prayer.

Lately, I am enjoying watching TV shows that feature a lot of scenes of highways from the perspective of a driver in a car or on a motorcycle. I am watching Long Way Up, in which Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman ride electric Harley Davidson motorcycles through Argentina and Chile, for yet another time. I just love the views from their bikes. And another show I am into often has scenery along highways in Israel.

I do not think I am yearning to go anywhere. I get much vicarious please just watching other people do it. I am just enjoying the idea of going somewhere.

Not going down the rabbit hole…

About twenty years ago, I had a neuropsychological assessment. This was long before I had any idea of autism. The purpose of the assessment was to identify any signs of psychosis. Happily for me, none were found!

However, I scored very, very highly in two areas: honesty and anxiety. In hindsight, that is obviously due to autism. But back then, it was just an interesting outcome. We did not discuss the honesty finding at great length, but I was warned that if I did not do anything to address the anxiety, I would end up making myself very ill. I was encouraged to ask my doctor about antidepressants.

At the time, I did have health insurance, but I knew it was not going to last much longer. And I did not want to end up taking medication that I would come to need on a daily basis only to suddenly find myself unable to pay for it. Besides, I enjoyed having wine every night.

Yes — medicating oneself with alcohol is generally not advised. But there are some definite advantages with it. First, a prescription is not necessary. Second, when money is tight, there are cheap options. But, and I think this is what makes it so handy, you do not need to take it every day in order for it to be effective. In fact, it works better for you if you DO NOT drink it every day — and save it for when you really want it or really need it.

For many years, I had no health insurance and I was very glad I had not got myself into a medication obligation. For the last few years, I have had health insurance again — and am still dodging the medication. When I signed on with a new doctor two years ago, I was asked to complete a form about my mental/emotional health. And I was honest with it! I told the doctor all about waking up each morning wishing I had not; and that I felt as though nothing good would happen ever again. The doctor asked me if I had ever thought about going on antidepressant medication. I said I did not want to become dependent on medication. She said there are antidepressants that are non-addictive. I said I did not want to get comfortable taking medication that I would not be able to afford if I lost my insurance. She said there are affordable options. Then I happened to see some Twitter posts from a comedian I had started to follow when I was listening to a podcast about depression that featured comedians. She was no longer able to pay the $5000/month for the antidepressant medication that she had come to rely on and she was falling apart. I told the doctor I would try therapy instead — and it was a good move, because it led me to my autism assessment!

And then I immediately found myself working from home in Covid-19 lockdown. My anxiety suddenly bothered me a whole lot less — perhaps because I now had something concrete to worry about. Besides, I will bet many people wake up every morning full of dread and feeling like nothing good will every happen again. It no longer seems like a symptom of depression — just an unfortunate assessment of the current reality. That is what I told the doctor when I went back for a physical in the fall — and we left it at that.

This is not to say that I disapprove of medication. I know it can make a colossal difference — like night versus day — when someone is prescribed a medication that works well for them. And if you access to sane healthcare where prescriptions do not cost an arm and a leg, then it is probably worth exploring. But in the United States, I think it can take you down a rabbit hole.

Today was very busy and frustrating with work. But I stuffed myself with a really good and healthy dinner. And I will find myself something good to watch on TV until bedtime, when I will curl up in bed with a few episodes of M*A*S*H. And then tomorrow, I will wake up wishing I had not — but by the time I am logged in a work and answering my first annoying email over my first cup of coffee, I am pretty sure I will be feeling a whole lot better.

Hundred-dollar candy bar

A scene in Rain Main has Raymond being asked how much a candy bar costs. A hundred dollars. In the same scene, he is asked how much a certain car costs. A hundred dollars.

I like to think I have better sense than Rain Main about money. And I am good at managing money when it comes to living on a tight budget. For example, if after paying rent and bills, I have $400 left over for the month, then I know I can spend $100 each week, roughly. So, on Friday evening, I withdraw $100 in cash and know that it has to last me until the following Friday evening. I never just go out and blow it all so that I have no money from Sunday through Friday.

But I do not have much of a feel for money outside of my own immediate experience. These are my basic currency denominations:

$5 – a drink at a coffee shop
$10 – a pint of craft beer or cider at a really nice pub (assuming tip for bartender)
$20 – a new jigsaw puzzle
$50 – monthly phone bill
$100 – monthly transit pass
$500 – decent smartphone, tablet or non-Apple laptop
$1000 – premium laptop

Part of it is that I do much shopping at thrift stores and so do not often see prices for new merchandise. And I do not shop online much either. As for my weekly shopping, even though I now pay with a card and no longer do a weekly cash withdrawal, I have consistent shopping habits and end up remaining within my weekly budget without really needing to pay attention.

When it comes to spending money, I am very much a creature of habit. If someone let me loose in a shopping mall with $1000 to spend on whatever I wanted, I truly would not know where to start!

Toxic Mauve

The Solar Eclipse of 2017 is a somewhat sorrowful event to look back on. I viewed it from Seattle, where it was not quite total. I took the day off work so that I could make an occasion of it anyway. I live down at sea level and woke to a thick fog. But I had time to walk uphill and inland to get above it. I enjoyed the spooky light and all the crescent-shaped shadows cast by tree foliage. When it was over, I went to my favorite pub where I watched news coverage of the eclipse as the area of totality drifted eastward. It was a wonderful day.

I think it was perhaps the last day I woke up not feeling dark and depressed.

A few days after the eclipse, I dreamed I was waiting for the bus to go to work. It was not a lucid dream, but I think the fact that I was dreaming about waiting for the bus just a couple of hours before I actually would be made it seem very real.

It was a calm morning and I enjoyed looking out across Puget Sound. It was foggy on the other side — but that is normal. But then the fog seemed to take on a life of its own. It started to advance quickly towards me — not the way fog usual creeps in — but more like a vapor cloud released in an explosion. It was a rather sinister mauve color (pinkish-purple) — and I had the impression it was highly toxic and would kill anyone in its path.

I heard the sound of the bus coming and was suddenly frantic that it might arrive ahead of the fog — so that I might be safe inside the bus. But when the bus rounded the corner, it went straight on down into the water. I tore across the street to investigate — but the bus was already almost submerged. Only the rear-right corner of the roof was above the water. A search-and-rescue team was already at work and divers were surrounding the bus. Someone told me there was nothing I could do to help. I realized the mauve fog was gone. And someone told me that it had not been coming for me.

Ever since, I have really felt that nothing good will ever happen again — to anyone. And most mornings, I wake up wishing I had not — although the feeling does pass if I do not succumb to it. I was feeling this way long before the Covid-19 pandemic began.

A couple of nights ago, I dreamed I was looking out across the water. And I saw the mauve fog out there in the distance. But it stayed where it was.

Out of spoons — and it’s only Thursday

Friday could be a challenge.

I once had a job where I had to lug large sacks of dog food and cat litter — up to 40 pounds each – dozens of times a day. So I do not understand the hardship and inconvenience of an extra mouse-click or page navigation in a work flow. I actually do not mind an extra mouse-click — because I am slow at processing information and the time involved in clicking a mouse and waiting for the next page to load gives my brain time to keep up. But I guess I must work with people whose brains go much faster than mine. 😕

Today I was wrangling something very difficult and maddening and was not in the mood to field requests about elimination mouse-clicks. So the system is not perfect, but it works well and I do not have time to tinker with it now. Sorry.

I wish I had some wine. My brain feels like a jelly fish that has suddenly turned solid. But the nearest place to buy wine is a forty-minute walk up a long hill and it is already dark. But the time I got home, it would be almost time for bed. I am also very hungry and am waiting on some brown rice to be cooked. Then I will pig out on rice and beans.

There will be wine tomorrow 🍷🙂

Jigsaw puzzle enjoyment

Jigsaw puzzles are immensely soothing to me. Around three years ago, I was given one as a present. It was a bit of a surprise, but I decided to have a go at putting it together. I do not have a large enough table for a puzzle to occupy for weeks at a time, but I found a board I could use.

Working on the puzzle immediately became a regular part of my routine. What I discovered is that it uses a part of my brain that works rather well — and only that part of my brain. I was able to enjoy listening to podcasts at the same time without missing anything. One part of my brain processes the shape and color of puzzle pieces while a completely different part of my brain processes the verbal content of what I am listening to. These two different parts of my brain are not competition with each other for bandwidth and it makes the multi-tasking effortless and stress-free — unlike other multi-tasking I am often called upon to perform.

I also attribute time spent assembling puzzles to a significant advance in my computer coding capabilities. I have been programming since the 1980s, but never very well. And when I was given the first puzzle, I was struggling to learn Java. Three months, and half a dozen puzzles, later, I was amazed at the progress I had made. I wondered if by assembling puzzles, I had beefed up the parts of my brain needed for coding — but without actually having to be coding.

I finished my latest puzzle on Saturday morning. As a puzzle fills in, I really enjoy running my hands across completed areas, feeling the outlines of the pieces. And there is a distinct pleasure in placing a piece. It is both tactile and sensory. When I finish a puzzle, I usually leave it out for a couple of days so that I can enjoy stroking it.

On Saturday afternoon, I went in search of a new puzzle. Often, the pickings can be slim in January, when stock is depleted from Christmas sales. I expected it to be even slimmer now, given that so many people are stuck at home — but there was a good selection. The puzzle I bought is only 1000 pieces — but I think it will be challenging and will keep me busy for a while.

Now I need to line up some good podcasts or audiobooks to enjoy while working on it.

In praise of a habit

As I was walking home today, a monk passed me heading in the other direction. I have been seeing this monk for years in one neighborhood or another. And I am always inspired by his uniform — a knee-length habit.

In summer, he sports bare legs and feet in sandals — and I think I have even seen him wearing flip-flops! In winter, he wears leggings and hiking boots and warm layers under the habit. In rainy weather, he carries an umbrella. I have never seen him in rainy weather when it is too windy for an umbrella. Perhaps he has a rain poncho. Or perhaps he just stays indoors.

I hate having to think about what to wear — so I always have some kind of uniform that can be adapted to changes in season. In winter, I wear warm trousers (such as corduroy) with long-sleeved high-neck shirt made from a close-weave fabric and a vest (sleeveless jacket.) The summer version is light-weight cotton trousers with t-shirt and sleeveless shirt. Summer shoes are Teva sandals. Winter shoes are Sorel boots. In between, I wear Skechers sneakers. And I can wear smarter-looking shoes when necessary.

What is nice about my uniform is that it is possible to have a version that is smart enough for business casual — but is every bit as comfortable as the ensemble I wear on the weekend. The shoes may be different — but they can still be comfortable. And with the vest, I always have pockets.

In this uniform, I never feel overdressed or underdressed. And I always feel that my clothes are appropriate for my age (fifty-eight) while still being fun and easy to wear. I suspect I will be wearing a version of this uniform for the rest of my life.

It is one less thing to have to worry over.

It’s time to set aside childish things

Twelve years ago I was feeling profound relief at not having been laid off after the holiday season. In September 2008, I started a job at a gift retailer, working in the warehouse, safely away from customers. For a week, I was happy as a clam. Then the financial crisis hit and sales plummeted. The boss started canceling or downsizing orders. And at the beginning of December, our hours were cut. You know it is bad when you work in retail and your hours are cut in December. I was pretty sure that once the holidays were over, I would be laid off — along with millions of other people. It was a very hard holiday season to enjoy.

But sales rallied in the last week before Christmas and the company did better than expected. I got to keep my job, albeit on reduced hours — but with some well-considered budgeting I realized I could manage on the smaller paycheck. By Inauguration Day of 2009, I realized I was going to survive.

It was a quiet Tuesday morning in the warehouse. The warehouse manager had news coverage streaming on his computer. He was grumbling, not because Obama was about to be sworn in as president, but because he was sure if the boss came in and caught him watching the new that he would be fired. But then another manager came by and announced that everyone was invited to the accounting office to watch the inauguration. So off we went — with the warehouse manager still grumbling that we would all be fired when the boss came in.

We assembled ourselves in the accounting office so that everyone could see the screen. And then we heard footsteps coming down the hallway — the boss! And the warehouse manager resumed his lament about being fired. Suddenly, a big plate of red-, white-, and blue-frosted donuts appeared in the doorway — with the face of the boss beaming across them at us.

“I got us inauguration donuts,” she happily announced.

It was a really nice occasion. My biggest takeaway from Obama’s speech was the following remark:

“It’s time to set aside childish things.”

When I returned to the warehouse, the first order I processed was a case of Obama nodding-head dolls.

But we did not get fired!