Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Monday, 23 February 2009

There's something we need to talk about

 

Pills 

ME: So, how’re you doing?

YOU: Me? Fine. Y’know, some good days, some not so good. It all pans out to a kinda grey fine . . . and you?

ME: Well, since you asked, not so fine actually. Come . . . let’s go for a walk.

YOU: Where?

ME: Nowhere in particular. Let’s just see where we end up.

YOU: Look, I don’t really have time. I just came here to have a quick look at your blog and . . .

ME: This is not your first visit I take it.

YOU: Since you asked, no.

ME: Then you knew when you came here there was not going to be anything quick about any of this. I have been known to go on a bit.

YOU: A bit. Well a lot actually.

ME: So, if we kept this down to say . . . 1500 words, how would that be?

YOU: Good. Fine. Fine. By 1500 you mean 2000 don't you?

ME: Probably. And we’ll see how far we’ve got by then and maybe we’ll feel like going on a bit or maybe that’ll be enough. Enough is one of those things that I personally find very hard to quantify. I mean is one HobNob really enough with ones coffee? [Pause] Well?

YOU: Oh, I thought you were being rhetorical? Er . . . no, now I come to think about it, I think one HobNob is perhaps a bit on the stingy side.

ME: Me too. Just hang on a sec . . . I think I’ll go and get three.

YOU: Three?

ME: Yes. Too much?

YOU: I'm not your keeper.

ME: You're very . . . diplomatic. I’d get you some but, well, you’re not here.

YOU: I beg your pardon.

ME: Well, not in any physical sense but, please, feel free to stock up with as many cookies as you feel necessary to get you to the end of the blog.

YOU: Fine. I will then.

[The sound of rifling in the cookie jars]

ME: Is that us?

YOU: Yes.

ME: So, how many did you settle on?

YOU: Two.

ME: Me too. How sad are we? [Pause] Anyway, now that we’re all stocked up shall we proceed?

YOU: Indeed.

ME: And don’t start looking back to see how far we’ve been. We’ve only used up about 400 words so far. So we have plenty of time. Now, there’s something I wanted to talk to you about.

YOU: I figured as much.

ME: No, it’s not you before you start thinking things. Everything between thee and me is just fine and dandy.

YOU: Glad to hear that.

ME: Mind you, you could visit more often.

YOU: I come as often as I can.

ME: I’m sure you do. But how would I know?

YOU: Excuse me?

ME: Well, you don’t comment very often.

YOU: I make a comment when I can . . . when I can think of something to say. I mean if you don’t get in quick then there’s a dozen clever and witty remarks already sitting there and what the hell am I going to add?

ME: You could just say: “Great post.”

YOU: And what would you think of me if that’s all I wrote? You’d just jump to all the wrong conclusions.

ME: True. Anyway I didn’t start all of this just to have a go at you.

YOU: You could have fooled me.

ME: Look, a conversation has a life of its own. It doesn’t always head off the way you think it might. Especially one like this. So just hold your horses while I try and get back on track. Have a cookie.

YOU: I’ve already eaten mine.

ME: Me too. Two wasn’t enough, was it?

YOU: Not really.

ME: Anyway, I’ve been meaning to talk to you for a while.

YOU: You said that already and then we got sidetracked. So what is it?

ME: It's a bit delicate.

YOU: You’ve not become incontinent have you?

ME: If I had I don’t think I’d care to share that kind of information. I’d just avoid chats.

YOU: You never chat anyway.

ME: One cannot be too prepared for something.

YOU: So, you’re not peeing yourself as we speak?

ME: Go and wash out your imagination this very minute.

YOU: Sorry.

ME: Aye, and you mean it. And, no, for the record, by bladder has its full faculties . . . or what ever bladders have,

YOU: Do you still pee standing up?

ME: What?

YOU: I mean, you are getting to a certain age.

ME: Cheeky bugger. My doctor told me I was at ‘a certain age’ when I was thirty-two. I remember it well. One of those defining moments in a man’s life. I mean every age has its ‘certain age’. If I was six and went to see him with mumps or chickenpox would he not say to me: “Well, Master Murdoch, you have reached ‘a certain age’ now”? But that’s not what he meant. He meant that certain age. I mean thirty-two is not the right age to be that age.

YOU: I wouldn’t have thought so. Are you that age now?

ME: [Pause. Sniff.] I would have to admit I probably am and I probably have been for a wee while but I was not ‘a certain age’ at thirty-two, that’s all I’m saying.

YOU: So what does your doctor say these days?

ME: [Sigh.] He says . . . he says . . . that . . . I should concern myself more with managing my condition than looking for a cure.

YOU: So you’re not to expect to get better any time soon?

ME: That’s about the size of it.

YOU: And how do you feel about that?

ME: How would you feel about that?

YOU: I’m not you.

ME: No you’re not. You’re out there getting on with things as if there’s no tomorrow.

YOU: I have my problems

ME: Everybody has their problems.

YOU: So, you’re not getting better? That’s what you’re saying.

ME: I thought I just did.

YOU: So what's wrong if you don't mind me asking?

ME: I have no idea.

YOU: Well, what’s he putting on your sick lines?

ME: N.D.

YOU: And what does that stand for? Nearly Dead?

ME: Christ knows.

YOU: Maybe he does but he’s not here.

ME: I thought it was Neurological Disorder but actually it's Nervous Debility.

YOU: And what’s that when it’s at home?

ME: It’s one of those safe, vague, cover-all terms they tend to opt for these days. If they said I had x-itis then I might sue them for wrong diagnosis if somewhere along the line it’s discovered I’ve really had y-itis all along. What it boils down to is a cocktail of anxiety and depression and a dash of other stuff. Generalised Anxiety Disorder was mentioned and then my first doctor packed me off to a shrink for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.

YOU: So you've got a cog loose. Gadzooks!

ME: It's not Gad, it's G-A-D and could you wipe that smirk off you face?

YOU: [Still smirking] Sorry.

ME: I mean Gad – what kind of disease is that? I mean if I'm going to have an abbreviation why couldn't it be one with a pedigree, something with a bit of kudos or character? I mean I can't go around telling people I have ND or GAD – it's just not … cool. Besides he's not said I've got GAD.

YOU: Good Gad!

ME: Stop it! He's just not said I've not not got it.

YOU: So, what’s the bottom line?

ME: Pills. Pills, pills, pills and more pills. I’ll tell you, a kid could use me as a rattle.

YOU: And will these pills make you better?

ME: Not as such. The doctor says they will just suppress the symptoms.

YOU: And that’s a good thing.

ME: It would be if the damn side effects weren’t almost as bad as the condition. So I went back.

YOU: And what did he suggest?

ME: By this time it was a she. A nice Irish doctor. She said: [Assumes fake Irish accent] “Wull, James, do you not think we might be trying you on something else then?”

YOU: She didn’t talk like that.

ME: Okay, she didn’t talk like that but that’s the only Irish accent I can do. Will you let me tell my tale of woe?

YOU: Tell, do tell.

ME: Anywise, she’d been all for putting me on antidepressants from day one but my wife had found mention of a new treatment for anxiety which would also address the peripheral neuropathy issues I had, so I persuaded the doctor to let me try that. I mean, what had I to lose? I knew exactly what effect the antidepressants would have on me.

YOU: And the pills didn’t work.

ME: Which pills? The new pills or the old pills?

YOU: The new pills, the miracle drug, the one your wife found.

ME: Maybe they were the old pills. I get so confused. Oh, they worked. Only I couldn’t sleep. I napped. The dosage got increased and eventually I settled into a routine. There were other side effects, but I started feeling better. I weaned myself off them a while ago just to see if I'd been cured. I’d been on them for . . . what, eight, nine months? I was hoping that even if the pills hadn’t cured me then at least the rest would have done me some good.

YOU: And?

ME: And all the old symptoms came back with a vengeance.

YOU: So, you starting taking them again?

ME: No, the doctor talked me into taking an SSRI in the morning and a second kind of antidepressant at night to help me sleep. So this would be me on not one but two kinds of antidepressants. And like the mug that I am I said: “Okay.” But it wasn’t okay. Well, it was. I slept. It’s all I did. It’s all I wanted to do. I lost interest in everything. Quite depressed I got with it all. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t write. I didn’t want to listen to music. I couldn’t even be bothered playing with the bird. Duty kept the fish fed.

YOU: When was that?

ME: November.

YOU: Well, no one would have known. I mean you kept your blog up every week.

ME: No I didn’t. I started to use my stockpile. It was taking me over a week to write anything with the odd hour of mental clarity that came my way.

YOU: Sounds crap.

ME: It was crap. But I’m not looking for your pity or sympathy or anything like that. So get that look off your face right now. I wasn’t going to tell you at all.

YOU: Well, I’m glad you did. What changed your mind?

ME: I got a new doctor in . . . whatever last month was . . . or it might have been the start of this month – another bloke – and I had a good long chat with him, gave him my whole history right back to the first bout of depression I had when I was twenty-four. And I’ll give the fellow fair dues, he sat and listened to my whole spiel because I think he realised that it was rehearsed and if he interrupted me to ask a question I’d lose my place.

YOU: He sounds all right.

ME: And he may well prove to be so. Anyway, He’s put me back on my old pills because we know I can function up to a point on them but they take a while to build up in your system. So my body doesn’t know if it’s coming or going.

YOU: Or been and gone.

ME: Exactly. Which brings me to what I wanted to talk to you about. I’ve almost used up all the blogs I had lying around and I’m pretty much posting them as I write them now.

YOU: At lot of people do that. I bet most people do.

ME: Well, I’m not most people. And I don’t write that kind of blog. I’m not really into opening my gob just so people can hear the sound of my belly rumbling. If I don’t have anything to say then I prefer to keep quiet.

YOU: So, you’re telling me you’re going to quit the blog. This is what this is all about? Well, I’m never going for a walk with you again. What’s this then, your farewell post?

ME: No and no and I don’t know. That’s the honest truth. No, this is not my last blog; no, I have no intention of giving up blogging and I don’t know what is going to happen. None of us do. I expect to start feeling more like . . . I was going to say ‘my usual self’ but to be frank with you I’m not really sure what that usual self is anymore. I think he’s moved on and I need to find myself again. I never in a million years expected to be sitting here trying to find myself at the age of fifty.

YOU: You’re only forty-nine.

ME: Well, my dad always rounded up and if it was good enough for him then it’s good enough for me. I’m in my fiftieth year for God’s sake. The thing is I’m not going to bounce back this time like I did the last three times. And that’s a fact.

YOU: Which pisses you off.

ME: Which royally pisses me off.

YOU: But you can obviously still write. You’re writing all this. And quite witty some of it is too.

ME: That I am . . . at three in the morning. And when I do go back to bed I’ll probably wind up sleeping till ten and I won’t be fit to talk to till lunchtime by which time I’ll be looking forward to my post-lunch nap.

YOU: At least you’ll be well rested.

ME: If only that was the case. I just don’t think I’m getting the right kind of sleep yet.

YOU: And how many kinds of sleep are there? You shut your eyes and go to sleep.

ME: Yeah, I used to think it worked like that too. Anyway, that’s up to date with as many of the facts as you need to know and we’ve already passed 2000 words.

YOU: Already? Christ, doesn’t time fly.

ME: So, you’d better be off then.

YOU: I should. I should. Lots of other sites to visit . . . blogs to read.

ME: I’m sure. You’ll not forget me now?

YOU: You’re not easy to forget.

ME: I’ll give you that. And you'll keep checking in to see if I'm still here? I'm aiming for one a week for the next wee while.

YOU: I'll keep checking in.

ME: Promise?

YOU: Promise.

ME: Right, bugger off before you get all huggy on me. There’re another couple of HobNobs in the kitchen with my name on them and if Carrie nips my head when she proofreads this I’ll just tell her I was just trying to think of a clever way to end the post. Probably by then I won't remember anyway.



40 comments:

Marcy said...

I promise to at least try not to get all huggy on you. But I must confess that you got to me with this one, Jim.

"I didn’t want to listen to music."

For me, this was the worst of the side effects. SSRI's didn't just make the bad go away, they seemed to make everything that involved feeling go away. I could hear music; I could no longer experience music.

I realized that being on a continual even keel was not always a good thing.

That said, I also realize that it was necessary at the time and may well become necessary again at some future point.

And I'm glad that we both live in a time and place where such options exist.

The point? I guess this is just my way of saying "I understand, Jim, and please take care."

(Oh, and yes, you made me laugh, too.)

Terry Heath said...

Great post Jim, and thank you for sharing something this personal. I have no idea what to say, but I wish I could think of something wonderful and healing.

What really stood out to me is when you said, "I’m not really sure what that usual self is anymore. I think he’s moved on and I need to find myself again." That's better than just keeping on the same old way out of habit, and is bound to turn up something good.

Your blog has touched many people, and I know it will continue to do so in the future, even if that is only once a week or so.

Lily Strange said...

Mood disorders are the shits, said the lady with bipolar disorder.
Well written and entertaining, by the way.

Jim Murdoch said...

Ah, Marcy, at least I made you laugh. I would hate you to think that I'm sitting here feeling sorry for myself. Shit happens – fact of life no 1 I would imagine – you take a deep breath and get on with it. I've had three major depressive incidents (roughly every eight years) before this one which came to a head in November 2006. They have all be caused by burnout – I have literally worked myself into my sickbed – but after the first one when I really hadn't a clue what was happening to me – I thought I was losing my mind – I learned what my symptomology was and what I needed to do to get better.

There's an old adage: If life hand you lemons, make lemonade; well, if life knocks you down, stay down for the full count. So I did this time. I got signed off, got my pills – Prozac to begin with (don't get me started) – slipped into my comfy clothes and sat in front of the TV for four months. During this time, nothing actually to do with the illness, I was made redundant, so in February I started looking for a job and I got one in a few weeks, one I could do in my sleep normally, but they let me go after 11 days because I couldn't keep up. Much the same happened in August at which point I had a bad relapse and that's pretty much what I talk about above. Carrie and I sat down and made a detailed list of all my symptoms – the most worrying ones of which were severe memory loss and aphasia (both very scary) – and I took it to the doctor. And here I am in February 2009 and I've slipped back, perhaps not as far as August 2007 but pretty far. This is quite simply not going away any day soon.

Up until now I have doggedly kept working. Okay, a blog is not a job but I have treated it like one; I felt this was important and my doctors all agreed. With the change it meds I've just lost the plot – my wife had to take over placing an order on E-Bay a couple of days ago because I got myself so confused I had no idea what I was doing – and I need to dial things down a bit. I'm sick. Resenting the hell out of it is all well and good but this is proving to be a Chinese finger puzzle type of illness and brute force and sheer bloody-mindedness isn't going to make it go away. So – and with you have no idea how much reluctance – I decided to let you guys in a bit. Anyone who likes can have their say now and then we put it on the back burner. I will not be defined by my illnesses.

I'm not so daft that I don't realise that there will be not a few of you out there who will have first or second-hand experience of mental illness; there's a lot of it going around. Depression was fine to have. You say you have Depression and most people nowadays realise that it's the dark side of feeling blue and not to say: "Pull yourself together, man," This collection of symptoms hasn't been given a proper name yet. It ticks all GAD's boxes but with a few, and not altogether minor, extras. I mentioned this in a comment on Dick Jones' blog a few days ago – having a name I could say that people understood would for some daft reason make me feel so much better.

I think I've added enough detail here. You all get the idea. Hugs from girls are actually okay, Marcy. We're not into men-hugs though. A manly-but-not-too-enthusiastic slap on the back will do just fine from that quarter. Chocolate from anyone works too.

Terry, the way I explained it to my doctor was in terms of compression mechanics: I am a spring and life stretches you but if you're not put under too much pressure for too long then you'll go back to your normal shape. How I feel just now is that this time I've done just that bit too much and I've not returned to that familiar shape – I have a new shape and it's not as efficient – and it looks like it will never be as efficient – as it used to be. Does that make sense to you? You we very honest with me recently admitting you didn't read every blog I wrote in detail. I was not offended by that because I'm beginning to understand I have limits and if I'd only been more aware of them before then perhaps I would have bounced back this time without too much trouble. I appreciate your comment and I can do a lot even at half-steam; I've not lost my intelligence and that perhaps is the most frustrating thing – I know what I'm capable of or at least what I used to be up for.

And, Lily, you have my sympathies and that's the thing, there is always someone who's worse off than you. This now is the closest I've come to appreciating what you must go through; the panic attacks are both draining and embarrassing – for Christ sake, who can't put lights on a Xmas tree? I could be a lot worse. So I'm grateful for what I have and what I can still do and I'm grateful for your comment too, thank you.

Scattercat said...

Well, this is a bit depressing. I only started reading a couple of months ago.

My wife has recurrent anxiety issues as well (along with every symptom of thyroid malfunction except the actual malfunction thyroid, at least according to the tests.) Prayers and best wishes to you, sir.

Sorlil said...

Made me laugh too, but then your posts always do. Wishing you all the best, Jim. Really going to miss your posts.
Apart from a blip in my life which resulted in a brief but very painful circumstantial depression my main experience of depression is second-hand: my mother is bi-polar and my mother-in-law has suffered from chronic depression most of her adult life.
Hugs and prayers coming at you from doon-the-watter, will be checking in often.

Ani Smith said...

I have the same kind of thing with some other kinds of things thrown in for good measure.

[Is it wrong that it now makes more sense why you read my stuff? :)]

No one can really tell you how to handle it, what works for you is going to be different. However, just to say medication hasn't worked for me and others I know. Luckily it's not the only answer. Seek out alternatives. Try everything.

Good luck.

Jim Murdoch said...

Well, Scattercat, I do apologise but if you've only been reading me for a couple of months then there will be a lot in the archive to entertain you for a while yet. I'll be honest I've wondered for a while if two posts a week weren't a bit much. There's a lot of reading in them but I really can't seem to say anything in less than 2000 words and frankly most of the time I feel like I've only presented an overview of whatever topic I've chosen; there's so much I keep meaning to go back to.

I've actually have virtually no experience of anxiety before this. A girlfriend once had a panic attack and I had to slap it (well it works in the movies) and that was it. I'm just out of my comfort zone. Depression I had got used to. I thought I knew the score. This anxiety stuff I don't like. I'm also a very linear person. I assume that for every effect there is a cause or a set of circumstances that come together to form a cause. The thing is I really don't have any things in my life that you could point to and say: "Ah ha! Gotcha! So, you're the wee bugger giving Jim gyp." My one failing has always been that I overwork and being the kind of person I am what I do to relax most people would regard as work and even if they didn't I treat everything as if it's work anyway. I really thought a few months off work doing whatever took my fancy would be me. What took my fancy was researching all of Beckett's plays and writing Wikipedia articles on them. Hell, I enjoyed myself but I suppose it was work.

I had a wife once with and underactive thyroid. It had been overactive but then she'd had the operation. They took a bit too much and it left her a wee bit laid back. Not actually the worst mistake a surgeon could have made; it's not an exact science.

Sorlil, it's probably good that you have had a taste of depression. It's one of those words like 'the flu' that gets bandied about and people think they know what they're talking about until it hits them. My second depression started with me having the flu – I was in my bed for a week, completely floored me it did – and I never picked up afterwards. My brother suffers from depression worse that I do and I'm sure my sister is bipolar but she's never been formally diagnosed.

And, Ani, yes, it's the little things that come along for the ride that can be such a pain. One of mine is myoclonic spasms – basically I was spending a half hour in violent spasms before going to sleep at night. Every time I'd start to doze off my body thought it was dying and snapped me awake. Interesting a side effect of some new asthma medicine has got rid of them and I take a small dose every night to keep them at bad. Of course the new inhaler game me a severe dose of thrush that took months to cure and now I have to gargle every time I use my inhaler to keep that under control. Poorly bunny ain't I?

Believe it or not I never really seriously thought about your mental state other than you were a bampot. You are a bampot, there's no denying that, a first class, dyed-in-the-wool, marked in the forehead bampot.

As far as drugs go, apart from my inhaler (which until this lot got a hold on me I rarely needed to use) and my blood pressure pills, I tend to steer clear of drugs and doctors in general too. In the last twelve years I was working I had two weeks off, once with shingles which has left me with post-herpetic neuralgia, and once with the worst case of food poisoning I've had in my life.

For the longest time I tried to manage this without drugs. Talking to the psychologist was fun – I got a couple of really good poems from our sessions – but there really wasn't much she could help me with. I'm thinking of going back to discuss living with long-term debility. I've passed the denial stage but I'm still entrenched in the angry stage. Actually it's probably just frustration but it sure feels like anger sometimes.

And no hug? I sincerely hope my chocolate's in the post.

Dave King said...

Crappy post.

Dave King said...

Just testing - you did sort of make it obvious that something other than Great post was required. It would have been a great post if it hadn't been too close for comfort. Too close to the truth that is. I knew where you were every step of the way, but - funnily enough - I did enjoy it because I laughed a lot, because that's what you do when it's not so bloody funny except to other people. It had the ring of truth, and that's a fact. Great post. Q.E.D.

Brady Frost said...

Hey Jim. I got your chocolate for you. I promise that I won't give you a man-hug, but just know that my thoughts go out to you.

I am one who generally doesn't reply to your posts, though you are always so kind to leave a comment here and there on mine. Please know that I appreciate who you are, even with your handful of disorders.

You are essentially the same guy as before, there's just a severe fog surrounding you. Sometimes it's easy to get lost in the fog and think that you've somehow left yourself behind, but you're always just right there. All it takes is allowing your eyes to adjust.

20th Century Woman said...

I just met you. I read all that stuff, and now you tell me you're going away. I read all those comments, too. Well, here's my probably useless Rx. My weird, brilliant, irascible, funny son, a bit older than you, is a pain doctor (physical pain, not mental). But he thinks he knows everything. Before he became an MD he was a mathematics professor. He suffers badly from anxiety (I think it goes with being smart -- you know there's a lot of stuff out there that can hurt you). He says that physical exercise is the only real way to suppress anxiety. I don't mean just taking a walk. He goes to the gym and does a hard work-out for two hours every day. He still has some anxiety, and he still is volatile, but he remains functional, marginally. He goes to work and he's off medication. I am visiting him just now, and I met the nurses that work in his department. They said, almost in unison, are you responsible for THIS? But some of them really like him because he's funny and warmhearted. Did I get off the subject? It's because I'm an old woman. He just came home for lunch and said his favorite friend, a nurse, is leaving, and he's depressed. But he will work out later and keep the depression and anxiety in check. Please don't stop blogging. Old blogs are not the same. And you know that perfectly well.

Rachel Fox said...

This is SO my subject! All of ours by the look of it. In fact it's one thing I've realised as I get through more days...an awful lot of people struggle with some form of depression or some form of anxiety of a mixture of the two. Either they struggle with it in themselves or in a loved one (or a used-to-be-a-loved one that they're stuck with)...or both. It is so widespread it's pretty much the norm...certainly in Britain (I can't really speak for anywhere else).

The solution for each person is different. Sometimes there is no solution. For me it is fresh air, open spaces, quite a bit of peace and quiet, avoiding rat races, deep breathing, lots of sociable times with good people, lots of talking things through, lots of walking, lots of writing, almost no stimulants (coffee etc.), not drinking much alcohol, not setting myself goals I know I can't achieve and then hating myself for it, doing things for other people, focussing on other people sometimes, admitting I don't know everything on a regular basis (I'm quite good at that now!), not getting too upset when it all looks pointless, accepting that there will be times when it all goes wrong anyway....the list is endless. Even with all that I'm still a bit of a mess...but I manage more or less (with help!). I don't take any prescribed pills for the head - never have. I never like the effect they have on people. I think a lot of the time we know what needs to change but can't or won't see it.

The cognitive thing only helps if there's really not that much up with you, I think. Saying that talking and counselling treatments are good (if you get a good person...) and as much as anything they get you out of the house!

Much as I enjoy reading and talking with you here and roundabout I can't help thinking a break from all this wouldn't be a bad idea, you know. It's very mind-cluttering all this stuff...never mind the flickering screens. I do this because I'm in the house being Mum and stuff and I fit it in between making tea and checking homework and all that. Why do you do it exactly? What else could you be doing with all this time?

One line that caught me
"Well, I’m not most people."
Ah, but you are. We're all great and we're all crap too.

Good luck.
x

Conda V. Douglas said...

My, my, Jim, modern medicine! Love it AND hate it. And couldn't live without it...however sometimes living with it...

Great post, Jim and I'm impressed with how you soldiered on with your writing despite the struggles. And it's understandable taking a break or whatever you want to call it.

I'll check back often--promise!

drodbar said...

Insert here the comment you would most to like to read, Jim.

Jim Murdoch said...

Oh you're such a joker, Dave. I was actually offended for a second. The thing about this – much the same as the last post – is that I fully expected a lot of people out there to relate to it in a very personal way. Mental illness is a fact of life. What is sad is how little trained professionals know about the subject. Indeed the first line of attack these days really seems to wait it out and hope it'll get better all by itself. And I've been a good boy and patient and I'm really disappointed to report that I've not got better. But I'm a great believer in the old adage that if you don't laugh you'll cry. And that's something else. All my past depressions have involved a lot of crying and I have barely shed a tear this time which is very odd. By the way QED sounds like a cool illness – I think I'll ask if I can have that.

Brady, did I mention I only like good chocolate? You raise an interesting point. If a guy loses a leg is he the same guy as before? He's x% less – there's no arguing with that. Yes, but he's essentially the same. So, what do you have to lose to be not the same? I've lost some of my teeth, most of my hair, my eyesight, my memories, my ability to pee over the back wall at school and – so it seems – my ability to buy things on E-Bay. Am I the same person? Is it important to try and be? I didn't used to like change but I'm becoming more comfortable with it as I age; it keeps life interesting.

20th Century Woman, now, let's get things straight up front: I am NOT going away. I am cutting back on my blogging for an undetermined length of time. Once I find I have a) a stockpile of no less than six and preferably 12 blogs and I find I can consistently maintain that total whilst writing two a week then normal service will be resumed. I wrote two novels while I was going through my second depression and so I am damned if a wee bit of anxiety is going to get the better of me. A few months ago, drugged up to the eyeballs I was writing two a week along with a load of other stuff and I fully expect to get back there. (This is me being positive – who the hell knows what the future will bring?)

Yes, I know about the exercise thing. And I've been trying to do some exercise but the simple fact is my level of fatigue has improved only a little over the past year or so. A year ago a walk to the corner shop – that would be equivalent to walking leisurely around a city block – literally exhausted me no matter how slow I walked. I would get through the door dripping with sweat and unable to talk until I'd taken my inhaler. I am actually grateful I've not put on more weight than I have – a stone – and I'm quite strict about not comfort eating. Before I got sick I could easily walk for anything up to five hours before realising I was actually tired so this is so not me.

Rachel, I only read your opening sentence and then I had to go for my tea. Typical, I thought, the only person out there to actually get excited by all this.

I am not a particularly social individual. I cope fine in social setting but I don't seek them out. Carrie has weaned me off caffeine and I if I have a drink a year it's as much as I take – alcohol really doesn't interest me. Goals are another thing. I've always been the guy who got things done and I do tend to create a rod for my own back in that regard. The thing is work is a two-edged sword: I like work, I like to be productive and I always have been. I've been unemployed a couple of times in my life – both due to depressions that got out of hand – and, once the brain cleared, I've just set about some project or other until I got another paid job.

As I said in a previous comment I'm not one who likes to lean too heavily on medicine – it annoys me that I'll be taking blood pressure pills for the rest of my life for example – but I also realise that they can take the pressure off. As long as I can function I really don’t much care how dizzy they make me feel – and the stuff I am on right now will, once I build up the dose, make me very dizzy BUT I will be able to think. What I'll need to work towards it now seems is being able to manage the side effects so that I can go out there and get myself the wee part time job Carrie and I have agreed that I'll go for this time NOT a job where they'll realise how clever and resourceful I am and milk me dry.

Why do I blog? Good question. I started it to promote my writing and maybe sell a book or two. It was a project, something to work at, something that would help build up my self esteem. Losing that job back in 2007 really knocked the stuffing out of me but it was my own fault because I kept offering suggestions how to improve things. I mean, for God's sake, you simply don't left-justify calculations in a letter. Incidentally this was a bank I was working for. It was scary the mess they were working in and I'm good with systems. I should've bedded in a bit and not tried to show off too soon.

Since I've started blogging I've found a purpose beyond the mere mercenary. I've been unable to work on my current novel other than a rewrite to change the tense to first person. It's too big. I can't hold it all in my head. The blogs are short projects. I immerse myself in – well, the one I was working on this morning was Fish – and that's all I think about pretty much for a few days; I assemble the bits and pieces of research, add in my witty asides, and that's me. Give me a week and I'll have forgotten the best part of it. Just now, I couldn't tell you the last post I did – actually that's not true, it was Fup - but I haven't a clue what came before that. My memory is not as bad as it was a year ago – I'd walk out of a room and into the wrong room having forgotten what I was going to do – but it has got worse since I started mucking around with my pills.

I have good days and bad. Today has actually been a good day, my head is quite clear and I'm answering my comments as they come in. Some days I've had to leave them till the next window of opportunity presented itself.

If I didn't do this then I'd go out of my mind. I need structure and goals and to make a difference. I like helping people and I know my blog does. The lack of comments really doesn't bother me that much; it was a literary device, nothing more. The bottom line is that I've never been this disabled for so long and so the issue of what to do has never cropped up. I'd sit and watch TV for how ever many weeks it took for me to get bored and then I'd get up and go and find some work to do.

And, Conda, yes, totally. I hate antidepressants. I've only ever taken them before for short periods of time. This new stuff is actually an anticonvulsive which acts as a mood stabiliser. As for soldiering on, I'm not daft, there are times when you need to lie down for a while. But how long is a while? So, no promises.

Patrice said...

I laughed - and then as I read on, I felt rather stunned. It seems so many of the brilliant-interesting-creative-edgy-intelligent people I love to read suffer with bouts of depression, mood swings, or bi-polar syndrome.

I get mildly depressed from time to time - but it's always related to an event in my life or particular circumstances - never an onset that's unpredictable. So I cannot say I completely understand, but I sympathize and I wish I could do something to help those who suffer this.

I can only add that your writing - and the words of those other favorite people of mine mean much to me. You are all like bright beacons in the night to one who is often lost and feeling isolated.

I send you my good wishes and hope for the best for you.

Rachel Fox said...

Well, you might not be social in the flesh, as it were, but you're fairly social on here...you make your visits, get to know the folks, remember stuff about us, have friendships with us...odd friendships but still that is what they are. Interesting, don't you think?

x

Jim Murdoch said...

Drodbar, don't write me a blank cheque like that. That much chocolate wouldn't be good fo me.

Patrice, I'm just glad for you that your bouts of depression don't come with a capital 'D' attached; there is a world of difference. I had every intention of writing a blog about writers who suffer from mental illnesses but I've kept putting it off because I didn't want to get started on all my woes. I really have tried to keep that side of me to myself. And if I'd not been so keen to be off the meds I'd probably never have mentioned it. I'm uncomfortable enough in the public gaze without telling the world everything about my life.

And, Rachel, it actually still takes me a lot of effort to keep up appearances. Reading wears me out - why do you think I review such short books? - and so most of the time I scan, pick up on something I can say something meaningful about and move on. You're one of the lucky ones. I never fail to look at your blog but I can't promise I read every word. So many others these days get marked as read based on nothing.

SUSAN SONNEN said...

I know that of which you speak. Only too well.
You don't want hugs, but you said nothing about kisses. :)
XXXXXXXXXXX

Jim Murdoch said...

Thank you, Susan, but my wife would like a word with you...

Ken Armstrong said...

Hi Jim, I read your post this morning and thought about it through the day. ('doesn't mean I've come up with anything good to say, mind).

I just wanted to say that I wouldn't have stuck with the blogging if you hadn't been here. I've come to like your blog very much and it has often been a rock of quality and integrity to cling to.

I'm an optimist at heart (have you noticed?) and I feel sure that your mists will blow away one of these days. Hang in there for that, eh, and don't be too tough on yourself in the meantime.

My practical advice (the only bit) would be that you should seriously consider changing the dates on some of your older posts so that they jump back up to the front again. There is *so* much valuable stuff back there and you have so many new readers who won't know it. Do a new post a week (perhaps) and then push one of the older ones up to the fore in between each post.

Look how you've engaged with the comments here today. Re-posting your valuable archive will bring more comment and more interaction and more fun.

You might well say, 'No, it's there in the archive if people want it.' But we don't go into the archives, do we? Think about it.

Your blog has been a friend to me, really, thanks for that.

Thanks.

Jim Murdoch said...

Ken, I do appreciate you taking the time to think about your comment here. It's good and practical advice and I will consider it in time. At the moment I need to cut myself some slack until the pills kick in again. I really can't remember how long it was last time but we started at a very low dose then and built up in small steps. This time, knowing what I know now, we've started a bit farther up the ladder but it's the kind of drug that does take its time to get to operational effectiveness; I'm expecting another two months anyway.

You flatter me with your comments but if I didn't realise I was an encouragement then I'm not sure I would have kept going myself. I have to say I've never understood optimists and if I spend too much time around an incessantly cheerful person I usually want to strangle them. I play the pessimist but in reality I'm the empirical realist: I think causally – yes there's more than one way to get from Dublin to Sligo and there's more than one way to get back but there will be a way there and back.

My problem is that for no good reason that I can see someone has come along and moved Dublin. (I watch too much science fiction – you'll have to forgive me.) The bottom line really does seem to be that I'm going to find my way back and some other strange town is going to be sitting there instead pretending to be Dublin and it'll take me a while to familiarise myself with it.

Before we fell asleep last night I asked Carrie what the difference was between work and play and we talked about it for a while. The bottom line is that I have a remarkable ability for turning what should be play into work. To encourage me to exercise more (and since I'd mentioned it in a comment on Steve Kane's blog) Carrie bought me the best DSLR camera we could afford and, as always with her, well researched beforehand. And I tried to explain to her when I got it just how much of a burden this now placed on my shoulders; every picture was now something I could potentially fail at.

I treat my blog as work. It's not "a bit of fun" that I can pick up and put down as the mood takes me. Cutting back on my output is something I've come to as a last resort. I tried taking a break at Xmas to try and build up my safety net of blogs designed to take the pressure off me and allow me a bad week here and there but the bad weeks have just kept coming. I've already considered reworking older blogs because so many of them are ripe for development further and I may do that too but I need to get back to the stage I was at a few months ago where I was consistently turning out my posts, visiting all my friends' sites and reading their blogs, taking an active part in the social networking sites I've joined, sending out material on a regular basis and making more of an effort to write new stuff.

I set a goal for myself to be able to get up at 8 o'clock, breakfast and be in my office – not pottering around in the living room with my laptop – by 9.00 and then doing structured work through till lunch at 12:00 – not an excessive target I thought. The best I could manage were six days in a row. When I told my doctor about this she asked why I hadn't factored a weekend's break into my plan and the honest truth was I hadn't considered any break at all. Since I've been off I have been working as many hours – if not more – than when I was at work just nowhere near as efficiently. My honest feeling is that this is what is working against my recovery. My logic was to get back to a normal life but it looks very much like the life I have been aiming for is really an abnormal and unhealthy one and I need to train myself to play more. It's been a very long time, probably pre pubescence if I'm brutally honest.

Anyway I didn't mean to ramble on so much. I've been up since 2 o'clock and it's helpful to talk things over like this. Despite the polar opposites of our natures I have little doubt that if we ever run into each other in the real world we'd have no problem conversing for hours on all manner of subjects. And the plus side is that a week later we could probably talk about all the same stuff again as I would've forgotten the best part of the conversation anyway.

Oh, and in case you wondered why it took me so long to post, the Internet has just died on me. If it's still dead in the morning I'll reboot the modem but for now I'm going back to bed.

Dick said...

I wish I'd used as effectively oblique a way of confronting the same sorts of issues. You've entertained your readers, Jim, whilst giving yourself a chance to breathe out on an important subject. Excellent stuff.

Jim Murdoch said...

Dick, it just so happened I got inspired at three in the morning I think it was. I'm not sure what decided me to make the announcement. I think possibly the E-Bay fiasco just reminded me how bad I still am. The thing about all my problems is that it's very hard to just talk about the one without referencing some of the others and then I could just go on and on and … well you can read all the comments to see how much I expanded on that original post which my wife had actually edited quite heavily – firstly because it was riddled with 'brain farts' as we affectionately refer to my little aphasic faux pas but also because she felt I was trying to tell you all stuff without telling you stuff, so a lot of the specifics she added in and then I made the words my own. It is of course a defence mechanism, to make a fool of oneself before others get the chance but I think humour is a good way of putting things in perspective. I must be the only guy whose humour improves when he's depressed; I even mentioned that to my doctor.

The fact is, Dick, as you are very well aware, we all have our crosses to bear. (Didn't mean for that to rhyme.)

Dave King said...

I felt quite guilty after leaving my last comment(s), decided I had been too flippant. Then felt even more so after reading your reply. I think you are right on the target when you say the sadness is how little some professionals know about the subject. The crux of the problem is in the personal and it is the personal that they so often do not know, do not have time to get to know. As you intimate, it is only when the patient is too far down the line that the scale of the problem is appreciated. My flippancy is as your laugh. I am fortunate the problem is not mine, but I have been very involved with the subject, and travelling now well beyond the certain age am only too well aware that it could be mine an y day now. Sorry to have given you the moment's offence.

Jim Murdoch said...

Dave, as the good book says: "The taking of offense lies in the heart of the stupid one." See, I may be irreligious but I can still remember a thing or two although I have forgotten again the capital of Peru now I think about it.

I mentioned that I'd just changed doctor and I decided to go to the same one my wife sees and has a lot of time for. I actually prefer a female doctor because I have a tendency with a male to straighten my back and puff out my chest and make like I'm not as sick as I really am but this fella's not too bad, a quiet, hard to read sort. The thing is now he can get a picture of both Carrie and I because we obviously affect each other, at times pulling each other down and then lifting each other up. I liken our marriage to two one-legged men limping down a road with only a single crutch between them. I suppose a lot of marriages are like that.

As for the moment's offense - I really didn't get the joke at first. I'm not always at my sharpest whenever it was I read your e-mail.

McGuire said...

Jim, this was healthy, a nice confessional truth tale. You're mind is the matter. Concisouness is the problem. I'm only recently qualified as a Doctor and I say: it's all in your head.

My friend has depression and auto-immune-disorder. He suffers in similar ways as yourself, particularly not being social, sleeping all the time, and having to take a mixture of drugs to keep him on an even keel.

Truth is, I've never experienced depression, bouts of doubt and fitful tears. You see, I think I suffer more from perversion rather than depression but that is another issue.

I think Rachel hits on a home truth, Get Out, into the world. I'm not saying you haven't but often we coccoon ourselves inside out homes. We nest and hybernate, staved by our routine.

I'm not sure if all depression and mental illness is mere chemical imbalance or if this is a false reductionism. i.e. there are practical things we can do to solve it, east it. They sound naive and perhaps that shows how little I know, but even going out for walks, having some sociable situations, getting your friends round to pluck you out of your comfortable viaduct.

God knows, I'm a bit of an alcky and have indulged in most illegal drugs most would never dream of, yet I have a fairly optimistic personality, yet I am filled with the most horrid of thoughts and anxieties. But, I love them. They make me part of the world. I have maybe my demons my pets. Perhaps this is dangerous but it helps me to deal with them.

A very personal post from you. I think this was a bit like opening the curtians in a dark room for me. Don't put so much pressure on yourself to write. Let it happen when it does.

Can you paint? If so, paint. If not, paint.

Anyway, I'll be reading you, as ever. I intend to post more but here in Italy I'm still organising my life and I start teaching on Monday and to be honest, I'm shitting myself.

I hear the all disease is caused by anxiety, of course this isn't true, but there a sure validity in it, learn to 'domesticate' your anxiety. Get the better of it by befriending it.

Go for long walks during the daylight hours and even at night.

Have you ever listeneed to Sigur Ros? Very good music, has a healing quality, if you can tolerate it, give it a listen, it might sooth you.

Best,
McGuire

Jena Isle said...

Hello Jim,

I meant to read only the first paragraph of your post, but when I read the first sentence, then the second - I was hooked. It was a unique way of entertaining your guests and presenting your concern without asking for empathy. You're really an effective writer.

Sometimes, I'm intimidated by your vast knowledge in writing but I still come to your blog to get some inspiration.

I do have similar moments too, it's a reality we have to accept. I'm, glad that you're taking it all in stride and can even talk casually about it. I like the creative, conversational way you presented this article.


Keep writing, I find it therapeutic and I know you do too. Who knows you might be able to write that "Top Selling Novel" in your present condition.

I have learned that most writers produce their best work when they're melancholic.


Cheers and keep writing.

isabelle said...

hello Jim, I'm afraid my words don't come so easy so on this, I want to send you kind thoughts and chocolatey hugs.

Adrian Graham said...

Nicely done. That's a brave post, Jim.

Jim Murdoch said...

Okay, McGuire, let's be clear – I'm not antisocial (I have no problems with people and I actually enjoy spending time with interesting people – psychologists are just great) but that doesn't make me a social person, I can perfectly happy with my own company (and by 'own' and mean Carrie and I). Secondly, and this goes to you as well Jena, I'm not Depressed-with-a-capital-D although I do get a bit scunnered at the lack of progress in my condition, but I am being suppressed by my drugs, i.e. held back because I've never found Depression a problem as a writer; being handicapped by drugs is something else.

There are very different points of view as regards mental illness. The last psychologist I went to did not think much about the chemical imbalance school of thought. I didn't much care. But I do think about things causally and so expect there to be a reason. The last time I was there I wanted to talk about what I could do to get better but as I wasn't drinking myself silly, shooting up all over the place, sending my wife out onto the streets to pay for my gambling habit or anything along these lines I wasn't sure what lifestyle changes I could make. Therefore the best course of action seemed to wait and see. So I waited and I saw I wasn't getting any better. Then we tried the drug approach and that didn't much help either so we're now at the stage of just saying that whatever needs to be fixed there's no spare part available or suitable treatment.

I don't paint. I have painted but the kind of painting I did would cause me so much pressure that I suspect it would be detrimental to my health, beside when would I fit it in? Now the weather is picking up I will make more of an effort to go out with my new camera.

I have listened to Sigur Rós, in fact I think I've got two or three albums kicking around. What I have been listening to a lot recently is ambient music (Brian Eno, Harold Budd, John Foxx etc).

Oh, and Jena, for the last time, I do not have a vast knowledge. I have to admit that a vast knowledge has passed through me over the years but not so much has managed to hang in there.

Isabelle, I think pretty much as been said by everybody. Kind thoughts are much appreciates but I find that chocolate and hugs are best kept apart. I could lick all the chocolate off your hugs but I'm not sure where this image is going so let's just leave it there.

And, Adrian, it really wasn't so brave, embarrassing more like. I could've just posted a note: "Due to unforeseen circumstances blogging will be reduced to once a week for the foreseeable future," but then I'd have had to contend with all the questions in the comments and I really couldn't be jugged with all that.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

I tend to round up, too.

Jena Isle said...

Hi Jim.

How's the second book coming, I hope you'll be posting that it is in the markte already. Cheers and have a pleasant weeekend.

Jim Murdoch said...

Jena, I'm still waiting for it back. The guy who was doing the first run through said he got so caught up in the story that he needed to go back and reproofread it again which I suppose is a good thing but I'm getting a bit antsy now. I can't see it being good to go before May which is fine, that's when the first one came out.

Jason Gusmann said...

hey jim -

my first visit to yr blog and it kind of blew my mind. the dialogue was an excellent way to express the 3 am struggle in a linear fashion. oh, and i love budd and eno too, especially lately "white arcade" and "neroli".

georgel said...

Excellent reading! I'm starting into fiction writing a little late myself (61), and your pieces are entertaining, funny, evocative, and are giving me some good ideas. I'm linking to you from my new fiction blog, Anna Larsdatter. Keep up the good work!

Jim Murdoch said...

Jason, what can I say? I'm glad we ran into each other. Yes, it's amazing what comes to you in the early hours of the morning. It's still a favourite time. As for the ambient music I've been listening to quite a lot recently by people I've never heard of (obviously just mucking around in their bedrooms with guitars and computers) and much of it is quite lovely. I have a wee set up in the chair where I do most of my work, three speakers surrounding me, and I just let it wash over me in the mornings when I'm fit for nothing else. You should check out Harold Budd / Ruben Garcia / Daniel Lentz - Music For 3 Pianos when you've a minute.

And, George, glad I'm able to give you a bit of help on the way. It's so easy for us writers to turn our faces inward and forget there's a world out there; I guess we're the lucky ones. Keep reading. I may not be posting as often just now but I'm a long ways away from shutting up shop.

Diana said...

Hello, it seems that everyone knows you and I have just come here for the first time from Terry Heath's blog. I am taken by your writing style.

I hesitate to ask since everyone always asks me similar questions about other illnesses but have you been evaluated for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFIDS)?

I have had a lifetime of anxiety and depression but since coming down with CFIDS and Fibromyalgia in 1990, I have these other symptoms you describe, myoclonus, aphasia, lack of refreshing sleep to the point of near insanity (you will eventually go crazy without stage 4 sleep), exercise intolerance, and that unwound spring thing you describe, that's me. I will never be the same person again.

I just relate so much to what you are describing. And you mentioned a flu...which is how my CFIDS started.

I have had a major depression previously in life but this onset and consequence was different and hasn't resolved with meds, only with time and restructuring my life.

Chocolate is a very effective mood elevator for me. I have to have it every day.

Please disregard my question if I am yet another meddler bugging you with the old "have you tried this." grrr.

Jim Murdoch said...

Ah, Diane, I can assure you from checking my stats that everyone doesn't know me so feel free to pass the word on.

As for my health part of what bothers me is the fact that I've never had a 'proper' diagnosis although the doctor I have just moved to is far more willing to talk and isn't rigid about the 10 minute time slots. At the end of the day it really doesn't matter what collection of letters I wind up with I know what I have to contend with on a daily basis.

I have to wonder about the efficaciousness of chocolate however. As a lifetime chocaholic I should be the happiest guy on the planet by now. Still, we do have some good dark chocolate in the drawer which I take much the same as the rest of my meds.

As for meddling. No, I'm always appreciative of anyone wanting to share their thoughts or experiences. That's how we learn. That said, I'm keen not to get involved with any group who spend all their time going on about their ails and woes. That's not who I am nor who I want to become. This post was very much a one off. I'm here to talk about writing.

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