Friday, October 28, 2011

Gratitude and Fear

I am grateful for my my mom and step-dad.  I have been in touch with them every day since the beginning of my breakdown, and lately more often than not I have been spending time at their house.  They have been providing me with hugs, reassurance, encouragement, and tempting snacks.

I am grateful for my furry brothers (my parents' cats).  They have been available for playing and belly rubs.  I have a couple of scratches on my wrist from that time when they were trying to get me through the rungs of the bannister, but it was worth it.

I am grateful for my (human) sister, who has come to visit me for dinner twice in the past week, despite the fact that she lives way across town and doesn't have a car.  She brings engaging conversation and lots of hugs.  Just hanging out with her is good medicine.

I am grateful for the beautiful, sunny days we've been having.  Seeing a brilliantly golden maple tree lit up against a vividly cerulean sky reminds me why living is good. Getting outside for walks has been one of my highest priorities now that I have my strength back.

I am grateful for all the interesting little shops and boutiques around my parents' new home.  My mother took Ken and I out for an exploratory adventure today, and we poked around in businesses such as a store specializing in horseback-riding equipment; a completely gluten-free grocery store/deli/bakery; and a Scottish import store with a wide selection of sporrans.

And of course I am grateful to Ken, who has been such a love to me all this time despite the fact that he is going through his own very dark time.  Currently he is in bed, exhausted as a side effect from a heart medication that he just started taking yesterday.  He had a pretty good few hours in the middle of the day, when we went on our walk, but the rest of the time this stuff is making him feel like crap.

I am having a very hard time being strong.  I know that the medication needs a few days to settle in, and that the side effects might not wear off for a couple of weeks.  I know that the side effects are only uncomfortable and inconvenient, not dangerous. But when I see my husband looking ill and down, and crawling helplessly into bed, I feel terrified.  Every 30 seconds or so I remind myself that everything is OK and that this too shall pass.  I calm down a bit.  And 30 seconds after that I'm back to a state of anxiety again.

I am grateful for Paroxetine for giving me the 30 seconds of calm per minute.  Without the medication I think I'd be a lost cause.

How do all of you get through when you have to watch a loved one suffer?  Have you ever had to face an illness that you didn't trust attacking someone you felt you couldn't live without?  How did you get through and get the better of your fears?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mind Games

Today I went to see a psychiatrist.  It wasn't my first psychiatric visit ever, but probably the first useful one.  I went to see a shrink for a year and a half starting when I was 15, for talk therapy.  It helped a little, but not very much.

This new psychiatrist, Dr. A, doesn't do talk therapy.  He assesses and prescribes.  Fortunately, he's covered by OHIP so I don't have to pay anything for my visits.  Today we started the assessment process, which he said usually takes three sessions.  His very confident initial diagnosis is that I have an anxiety-depression disorder which is causing ALL of my physical symptoms.  He seems very sure that I can be completely cured.  I pray to God that he's right.

His first recommendation is to increase to a full therapeutic dose of Paroxetine, which means I should stop splitting my tablets in half.  I am a tad nervous about trying this, in case of side effects, but ideally this could double the benefit I'm already getting from it.  I still haven't managed to go 24 hours without a panic attack, so that'd be a welcome change.

His second recommendation is that I go for talk therapy.  He doesn't do talk therapy, unfortunately, because OHIP pays crap for it.  It's not worth his while.  However, he does have a wife in the business, whom he highly recommends.  He could be a little biased?  It would be convenient to have them working as a team, and he is so well-recommended that I have some trickle-down confidence in his wife.  At any rate, I am going back on Thursday for a free trial session with her.  We'll see how that goes.  If it goes well I'm in for some expensive talking, but I have saved for a rainy day, and it sure as hell is raining now, so I guess this is what I saved for.

Actually even if it doesn't go well I'm still in for it; it just means I have to look a little further afield to find the right person.  I have at least one more recommendation I could look into.

In general it's all great news.  I won't hesitate to invest whatever it takes to get well.  I couldn't be more thrilled to be mentally ill.  Anxiety and depression are well-known and widely-treated.  They are infinitely preferable to having a mysterious physical condition which is little-researched and has no known cure.  Stigma?  Whatever.  I would walk around every day wearing a bright pink T-shirt that says "I have mental disorders!" if that was what it took to put hope on the horizon.

Aren't I just the most optimistic and cheerful chronically depressed person you ever met?  Man, the brain is a funny, funny thing.  I'm already looking forward to doing stuff I've never been able to tolerate.  If I can tame my fears I could learn to drive, enjoy travelling, try all sorts of new things...  Please God let this work!  I have my hopes up.

Finally, I must mention that Ken's father finally passed away this morning, shortly after midnight.  It is a mercy that he's gone.  He was suffering horribly in his last days.  Ken is doing alright so far.  He was as ready to let go of his dad as anyone can be.  I'm glad that I'm feeling well enough now to be of some support to him.   These times have been rough, but I think the two of us are going to be OK.

Friday, October 21, 2011


One week ago today I was barely able to get out of bed.  I was in constant torment and could barely eat.  My family was seriously discussing checking me into an inpatient program at the mental hospital.

Three days ago I was mobile and up watching TV for much of the day, and even got out of the house for two little five-minute walks around our property.  I was afraid to climb stairs because the last time I climbed a flight of stairs my heart started racing.  But I did it.  I climbed up and down the three little stairs that are built into the walkways around my building, and felt a huge sense of accomplishment.

Two days ago I got dressed and Ken drove me over to my parents' house.  I brought an extra plastic bag in the car in case I had a panic attack that made me sick to my stomach.  (I hadn't actually hurled but was into some serious retching as part of my panic symptoms, as recently as that very morning.)  I was nervous but OK during the car ride.  It was the first time I'd been anywhere in two weeks.

I sipped watered-down scotch and let Ken do all the talking.  Mostly I held myself very still and tried to breathe through the panic, or tried to hang on to what delicate state of relaxation I had achieved by not moving and not talking to anyone.  When I did start talking a little later in the afternoon, it came out mostly as incoherent sobs.  I cried all over my mother and all over Ken, telling them everything I was afraid of, which was basically everything in life, while they gave me lots of hugs and tried valiantly to reassure me.

That evening, still at my parents', I ate dinner sitting up at a table for the first time in two weeks.

Yesterday morning the panic was still there, but no retching.  Ken went out on an errand and I didn't melt down from fear of abandonment.  Then Ken returned and asked me if I wanted to go out for lunch.  I figured that if the panic is all in my head there's no time like the present to get back on the horse, so to speak, so I got myself presentable and we went out.

We were seated in a friendly all-day-breakfast restaurant with brightly cheerful decor including a wallpaper border of chickens running all around the walls and booth dividers.  A chipper, blond waitress brought us menus.  I was as terrified as I might have been in a dark, slimy dungeon being confronted by a jailer-torturer.  At first I wasn't sure that I could manage to stay.  Then it took all my effort just to choose something from the menu and ask the smiling waitress for it.  I wanted to run home and hide under the covers.  However, I managed to eat around half of my western omelette with fried potatoes, and the fear did ebb away a bit after the first 20 minutes.

We went to the bank and I deposited a birthday cheque from my grandmother that had been sitting in my wallet for two-and-a-half weeks, since getting to a bank had been out of the question.  That was another major accomplishment.

Then we went back to my parents', where, exhausted by the effort of eating lunch out and going to the bank, I fell asleep on their couch.  Later that evening I started feeling almost like myself again.

This morning I woke up feeling better yet again.  The panic is still there, and always worse in the morning, but this time it was just uncomfortable, not disabling.  I didn't feel the need to dissolve in floods of tears when Ken asked me how I was feeling.  I have left a message for a well-recommended psychiatrist, so it won't be long before my medication habit is being professionally evaluated.  But it's pretty obvious to me that it's working.

There are a couple of good things that are coming out of this ordeal.  The first is that I'm renewing my relationship with my mother.  I've always been on pretty good terms with my step-dad, as we sometimes work together, but I had been keeping my distance from my mother over the past couple of years, due to self-preservation, as my parents went through their separation and reconciliation.  I couldn't spend too much time with her during that phase - it was literally exhausting.  I felt that she needed so much from me and I couldn't ask for anything from her in return.  Now she is supporting me, and the balance is returning to our relationship.

She's also really happy to have me and Ken hanging around her new house every day.  Since she moved a month ago she hasn't felt very at home in the new place, but she says now that it's filled with her family she's starting to feel settled-in.  We're going back over there for dinner tonight, and my step-dad is happy to have us too.  We're breaking in that new house and making it into a home.

The other thing might turn out to be even bigger.  Now that I see the power of mental stress over my physical health, it's making me question where my ME symptoms come from.  It's a bit of a chicken and egg situation because ME can cause anxiety and depression, and anxiety and depression can cause physical symptoms, so it may be impossible to sort out which came first.  However, the question is: if a capable psychiatrist can supervise a proper course of medication for my poor, bustificated brain, will that cause my ME symptoms to lessen or even disappear?

I mean, think about it.  If pure stress was enough to weaken me to the point where I couldn't get out of bed for more than a few minutes without collapsing, certainly it could be at fault for any of my lesser symptoms.  There's only so much will-power and positive thinking can do to fight that kind of problem.  The undertow of my subconscious mind is frighteningly powerful.  If those fear reactions can be tamed, will that release me from some or all of my physical restrictions?  If so, this whole ordeal will have been well worth it.  A week of hell is a small price to pay for increased freedom for the rest of my life.

Some people need to bottom out before they can get off drugs.  I had to bottom out in order to learn that I should be on drugs.  This may turn out to be a turning point to a much more positive future.  One of the best things to ever happen to me?  Let's hope so.  Keep your fingers crossed.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Paroxetine the Wonder Pill

I never thought I'd be a happy pill-popper, but that's how life goes.  You never know what's around the next corner.  It might be a complete and utter nervous breakdown.  And then it might be a teeny-tiny, rust-coloured half-tablet that saves your freaking life.

Paxil, a.k.a. Paroxetine in the generic version, is one of the most bizarre things I've ever come across.  I swear that in the half-hour after I take each dose I can feel the stuff re-arranging my brain.  Weird sensations course down every nerve in my body, like cold water mixed with a slight electrical buzzing.  And then, day by day, it gives me back to myself.

It's only been 5 days since I've been on it, but apparently it's not uncommon, in my step-dad's doctoring experience, to get results this fast.  Just a few days ago I had to sit on the floor to brush my teeth (spitting into the toilet) because standing up for five minutes would raise my heart rate enough to trigger a rush of panic chemicals that could last for hours.  It was like being caught in quicksand that sucked me down the more I fought against it.

Today I'm dressed in clothes I could wear outside, and even put on some makeup so that I didn't scare myself every time I looked in the mirror.  For the first time since last Thursday I can tolerate sitting up with my feet on the floor indefinitely.  And I'm eating.  Thank God for that.  Food actually tastes like it should again.  For days everything I put into my mouth made me want to gag.  Every texture was nauseating, and every taste was too strong.  Today I'm trying to pack in as many calories as I can, complete with big glasses of chocolate soy milk, handfuls of caramel popcorn, and potato chips.  It's a tough job, but I've got to think of my health.

It's doubtful that I'm going to have any side effects at the low dose that I'm on (5 mg).  Dr. Dad says I'd be experiencing them already.  There's also a less than 10% chance of a severe withdrawal effect if I ever try to come of it, but pffft.  Do I care?  I am not planning on ever coming off this stuff.  God willing it'll serve me well for the rest of my life, putting my hyper-sensitive nervous system back on a level playing field with all the healthy people.

I've still got a ways to go before I'm back to my normal, but I can see now that I'm going to get there.  I'm gonna keep on truckin'.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Good News Post!

Let's all join together in a big sigh of relief.  I am feeling much, much better today.

The turning point came last night.  After another tortured day of feeling too physically overwhelmed to get out of bed, I was at my wits' end, and so was Ken.  I had not been able to eat much for the last few days, and since I don't have a spare pound anywhere on me, this was frightening both of us.  Ken kept encouraging me to eat, but I had very little appetite, and half the time when I did eat I felt sick afterwards.  I was so wretched and he was so worried that we summoned my step-dad again.

My step-dad has a remarkably reassuring presence.  Nothing seems to phase him.  Sometimes this is a problem, because he doesn't worry about things that in fact merit his concern.  My mom is always after him to pay more attention to unpleasant realities and details.  He's a very "don't worry be happy" kind of guy.  So while this may be a mixed blessing, it's definitely a boon anytime there is a crisis.  Even when he's quite concerned, as he was in this case, he always stays calm and always seems to know what should be done.  I haven't had to call on his help very many times in my life, but boy was he there for me this past week.

(At this point I also want to give a shout-out to my bio-dad, who showed up on Tuesday bearing lunch and a big pot of yellow chrysanthemums.  He also has a very reassuring presence, and offered to be there for me in whatever way I might need.  I called him in tears at least once (the details are already fuzzy on whom I called when these past nightmare days), and he was rock-solidly there for me.  I am unbelievably lucky having two dads to lean on.  Frankly I needed all the parenting I could get this week, so lucky me - suddenly that childhood divorce is bearing dividends.  Two sets of parents!  My mom has also been there for me by phone every day, and my step-mom generously offered that I could "lean on" her and my bio-dad.  Step-dad gets to be the big hero because a) he's a doctor and b) he and my mom live much closer to me than my other set of parents.  However, I am quadruply lucky that I know I could call any of my fantastic team of super-parents at any time of the day or night and they would be there for me.)

So, my step-dad showed up and said he'd been thinking about the situation, and in his professional opinion my main problem at this point wasn't the myalgic encephalomyelitis per se (although that was definitely playing into it) but that the physical symptoms which felt so much like extended panic attacks were, in fact, extended panic attacks.  ME can definitely change one's brain chemistry by suppressing all the nice neurotransmitters, like GABA and serotonin, which keep one calm, balanced, and sane.  Anxiety and depression are listed among the official symptoms.  Take that and add on all the stresses that I've been going through this summer, and it created a perfect storm.

So, ta-dah!  The good news is, most of my problem is in my brain!  It's simply a mere panic disorder!  This is much better than what I thought might be happening which is that the ME itself had taken my body down a road to complete and utter destruction on all fronts.  When I was working with that hypothesis, it seemed like everything was going down the tubes and I might actually waste away and die.  It is possible to die from severe ME, or to get so sick that you wish you were dead but don't die for ages, and there are way too many unfortunate people suffering unspeakably in that condition which I have read about online and thereby filled my imagination with worst-case scenarios. I have read a quote by a doctor saying that ME can be like the worst of MS, lupus, and AIDS all rolled into one.  Obviously this information seared its way into all levels of my consciousness and scared the living crap out of me.

When I crashed after the simple task of taking the bus home from work, on one level I was in shocked disbelief that I could be so disabled, even if it might only be temporary; on another level I was frustrated beyond my limits by falling seriously ill again only three days after my careful and otherwise successful return to work; and I was desperately trying to strategize how to maintain any form of normal life in this state of unpredictable fragility.  It had never been that bad, and I guess at the deepest level I lost faith that day that there was a limit to how low I might get.  It felt like I was losing my whole life at an accelerating rate: all my thoughts were shot through with horror at how vulnerable I have become, terror at being so helpless, and an endless cycle of desperately calculating how I could possibly carry on with such reduced stamina.

It was all mixed up with the continued worry about Ken's heart condition (he has a consultation on Monday to see if he's a candidate for that outpatient surgical procedure), my Zaidy's death, the politics on my mom's side of the family which have been greatly exacerbated by Zaidy's death, big projects afoot at work, and a million other things that a mind can find to worry about.  

I still don't really know how to face up to all of that crap, because it hasn't gone away, but at least I can tell myself that I'm not going to die a slow and agonizing death in the foreseeable future.  As soon as I accepted that my symptoms were a result of pure panic, a lot of the anxiety abated immediately.  Today, although I still feel quite drained, I am miles better than how I was feeling yesterday.  I guess now that that's taken care of I just wait to see what happens when the Paxil kicks in.  Four more days and hopefully the magic pills will start to cut those other worries down to a more manageable size.

It's going to be a slow road, one little step at a time, but I'm going to get my life back.  You hear me?  I am!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

This had better be rock bottom.

I'm still hanging in there, but I am sicker than I've been in my adult life.  I'm not able to get up out of bed for more than a few minutes at a time.  Besides staying sane, the biggest challenges I'm facing are maintaining basic personal hygiene (which I am managing, thank God, although not quite up to my usual perfect standards) and trying to eat enough to not shrink away (although I only have so much control over that because forcing myself to eat beyond my tiny appetite just makes me feel nauseous).

I think it would be fair to call my situation a complete physical and nervous breakdown.  My nervous system is hyper-stimulated, and it's creating a self-reinforcing cycle of stress that I'm not sure how to break.  I am running a fever which is why I am so weak.  I can't take NSAIDs so there's not much I can do to bring the fever down.  At certain times in the day I have enough energy to accomplish some small tasks, like take a 3-minute shower, and at other times just shuffling to the kitchen for some juice is enough to make my whole body feel totally stressed.

And when I say stressed, I mean super-stressed.  I mean heart-pounding, adrenaline surging, short of breath, nauseated, anxiety spinning out of control stressed.  At first there was nothing at all that I could do to address this, so I was spending hours each day after the smallest triggers riding out these waves of psychic suffering like a panic attack that just won't quit.  Then finally I figured out that a little sip of vodka in water acts as an emergency brake.  If it can't stop the feelings entirely then at least it dials down the volume to a bearable level.

Of course psychological stress plays into it too, and there's plenty of that to go around.

It was my step-dad who suggested I try vodka.  He's a doctor, so it's an official doctor's order.  He knows that I don't tolerate sedative medication, otherwise he would have set me up with some Valium.  I think it was the 3rd day of trying to tough out the sensations when I cracked.  It feels like pure suffering.  I couldn't do anything but lie on the couch watching the clock tick and praying for it to pass.  On the third night I was trying to get myself into bed, when I just gave up and lay down on the floor with my head on my folded-up pj's.  Ken, beside himself with worry, got me to lie down in bed.  I cured up in the fetal position and told him to call my step-dad.

My step-dad showed up, checked my vital signs, and pronounced me relatively fine, despite my discomfort.   Could've fooled me.  I was ready to lie down and die.  Since then, he's been on the case to help me get well.  He has consulted with his colleagues.  Thank God for his help, because there is no way I could tolerate getting to a doctor's office.  I can't even sit up beyond a 45 degree angle for more than a few minutes.

What was decided was that I should start on a low dose of Paxil, an anti-depressant.  It's not that I'm depressed per se (although I can't say that I'm cheerful about my situation).  It's that it seems the best way to try to get my neurological chemistry under control.  After 39 years of fighting through all sorts of tough times without medication, this morning I gave in and took my first little pill.  It seems like my best hope of getting my life back.  Please wish me luck.  I won't know how it will work out for at least a week, and then it's a question of will it do what I need it to do, and will there be side effects, will we have to try a different drug, etc.  I am praying for a home run on the first pitch.

I'm just trying to get through one day at a time.  Sometimes, especially when the stress chemicals start to flow, I feel desperately miserable.  I am terrified by how vulnerable I have become, unable to even fix a meal for myself.  When Ken has to leave the house even for a short time I feel like a lost child.  I have my mom as backup, although she hasn't needed to come by yet.  I'm more comfortable with just Ken.  Having other people around is overstimulating, so despite my loneliness and desperation for company, I've been telling people not to drop by.  Even certain TV programs are overstimulating.  I'm making do with radio, podcasts, and reading.  This is the first time in a few days that I've attempted to use the laptop and I'm actually pleasantly surprised at how well I'm doing with it.

I wish I could have more engaging distractions.  I'm reading a wonderful book, but alongside the voice in my head that is reading it is another voice going over and over all my worries about the future.  I have to keep going back to re-read sections because I've been distracted by the worry voice. I can't get that second voice to shut up.  I wish that I could get up and putter around the house.  It's impossible to keep from worrying when you can't occupy your mind with some other task.  And the really crazy, impossible fact is that there are plenty of people sicker than me.  How do people spend months in the hospital without cracking up permanently?  I hope I never have to find out.

Anyway, this is a long and rambling post because I've been saving up all this junk in my head and have been desperate to be well enough to write it down.  So I guess I can take it as a good sign that I feel up to being online today.  It's hard to define progress since I've been up and down so much over the week, and gains made today might be lost again tomorrow - but then again they may be retained.

All hugs, prayers, and words of encouragement are greatly appreciated in advance, in case I'm not able to be online to reply to comments.  Love and hugs to you all!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Breathe In, Breathe Out

Yesterday things were looking good.  I woke up before my alarm clock.  I felt optimistic enough to dig my lightest hand weights out of the back of the closet (I graduated from those little things months ago and hadn't looked back since) to do a few arm exercises.  I went to work and had a day that felt almost normal.   So when it came time to leave, instead of calling for a cab I decided to try taking the bus.

There is a bus stop right outside the building, but that bus only comes once every half hour.  It's a beautiful walk, slightly over 10 minutes at my normal walking pace, to the next major intersection, where the buses come on average every 5 minutes.  I had been cooped up inside for so long, and I wasn't carrying anything heavy.  I took the longer walk.

By the time I reached the bus stop, my legs felt heavier than when I'd started, but everything else was fine.  The bus came quickly and I got a seat.  It was all good.

When we pulled into the station and I had to stand up, I realized how exhausted I was. Uh oh.  Too late now.  That's the problem with this condition: there's no fuel tank indicator to warn me I'm running near empty.  I'll think I'm well enough to do something,  and by the time I figure out that's not so, it's too late.  I had a five minute walk to the taxi stand, and then I had to wait for a taxi.  I was spent.  I couldn't go to work today, and probably won't tomorrow.  There are other symptoms too, but I'll spare you.

As if that weren't enough, I was lying on the couch, drained to the dregs after a short day of working from home, when Ken came back from his cardiologist appointment. He requires a catheter ablation procedure.  They are going to schedule it in a couple of weeks.  This is a fairly simple procedure with a very low rate of risk, but still.  He's my husband.  He's going to the hospital so that doctors can stick a probe into his heart and mess around in there.  I can't not worry.

Ken also produced a bottle of medication that the doctor had prescribed for him.  We're both a little scared for him to start taking it, due to the risk of side effects and all that.  As a matter of fact the medication looks riskier than the surgery.  He decided to start taking it tomorrow morning, so that if it slows his heart down too much he'll be awake and we'll be able to deal with the situation safely.

As if that weren't enough, Ken found out this morning, just prior to his cardiologist appointment, that his dad was moved into a hospice.  I could tell you some details about that situation that would cause your heart to break too.

Things could be worse.  We have our comfy home and savings in the bank.  My boss is cooperating with me on finding ways for me work as effectively as possible without overdoing it.  We have supportive family and friends.

Although I'm not planning to lean on anyone else too heavily. Right now just about everyone I know is wading at least hip-deep through their own swamp of personal crap.  Everyone has health worries and/or child-care worries and/or elder-care worries and/or financial worries, etc.

People say kind things but when you come right down to it we're all stretched pretty thin.  You can't expect more from anyone than a sympathetic ear and a little encouragement.  (A little can go a long way.)  It doesn't help that none of my support people live in my neighbourhood.  Lately I've been feeling very physically vulnerable due to being so weak and effectively isolated.  I've been worrying over and over "What will become of me?  What will become of us?"  There are no answers.

I keep tripping up because I've been basing my estimations of my own strength on past experience.  This is the worst crash I've ever experienced, so I guess none of that past learning applies.  I've never been this slow to get my energy back.  I wonder if I will ever get it all back.  I wonder if I am permanently disabled.  I'm too weak to leave the house today, again.  It's scary.

I've been trying to watch uplifting and humorous movies and TV shows to distract myself, but there's only so much you can stuff that kind of fear under the rug of cheerfulness.

Right now I'm deliberately slipping into survival mode.  Just get through each day, and if that gets too tough, just get through each hour, or each five minutes, or each breath.  Beyond making sure there are enough groceries in the fridge for the next meal, try not to think of the future.  The future will have to take care of itself.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Happy New Year Story

Wednesday evening was Rosh Hashanah - Jewish New Year's eve.  In the Jewish calendar the year is now 5772.  Welcome to the future.  The future is now.

Normally my family would gather at my middle aunt's house to celebrate the occasion, however middle aunt and her family are travelling in Israel.  One of my mother's many cousins invited us to celebrate with her and a variety of close and distant family members.  It was a good thing.  We were able to mark the holiday, which is an important family tradition.  At the same time, we were able to avoid an immediate family gathering so soon after Zaidy's death.  If it had been only the usual suspects around the usual table, his absence would have been very vivid.  This way there was no empty chair to make everyone feel sad all evening.

My mother's cousin R and her husband T live in a lovely, big house.  It's filled with beautiful paintings done by R and by her late mother, Auntie A.  R and T have three kids, whom I last saw around 20 years ago.  Their eldest son is now working as a hazzan in London, England.  Their daughter, whom I remember as a little girl, is in medical school.  And the younger son, who I remember as a six-year-old with a headful of blond ringlets, is now doing his Ph.D. in mathematics.

Two elderly cats live in the house.  The dinner guests kept leaning down to say "Here kitty kitty!  Aw, isn't she cute!"   "Be careful," warned our hosts, "they're incontinent.  And they throw up everywhere.  Does anyone want to take them home?  You can have either or both for free."

I have always thought it was very cool that R and T's house has an elevator.  R has rheumatoid arthritis, and since it was impossible to predict how bad it might get in the future, T had a little elevator installed in the house when they moved in.  Fortunately R is doing well and is completely mobile.  I'm sure the elevator comes in handy anyway.

When we were seated at dinner I ended up sitting beside the younger son, the math Ph.D. student.  I asked "Is there any way that you can explain what you're studying to someone like me in a way that I can understand it?  At all?"  In fact he could.  For the record, he is investigating algebra-geometry equations that involve counting the number of points along a particular curve.  Apparently this is applicable in cryptography, for example, in the algorithms that are used to secure transmissions such as cell phone calls.  The conversation floundered a bit after that, because what can I say about encryption algorithms?  Er, neat!  *crickets*

Later we talked about more normal things, like how many puns you can make on the word challah.  Ken came up with the Challah-Deck, which would be a Star Trek-themed Jewish restaurant and bakery.  Math son came up with Challah-Back girls.  I asked if anyone has got around to marketing a candy called Jew Jubes.  I just Googled it and apparently it's getting some use as an offensive phrase.  That's too bad.  It has so much potential.

After dinner we gathered around the enormous TV in the family room to look at scans of old family photographs.  The generation ahead of me was making all the points in the game of "Identify That Relative!"  Most of the photos were from the 1930's and '40's. I saw pictures of my mom between the ages of 3 and 12 that I'd never seen before.  For some reason there was also a shot of my younger aunt and cousin R each perched on one of Santa's knees.  How is it that two Jewish kids (of observant parents) had their photo taken with a mall Santa in 1966?  These are the mysteries of our mixed-up culture.

Dinner was lovely and a good time was had by all.  See?  Good Adventures in Sparkland are not over yet!


I went back to work for the first time in 2 weeks yesterday.  Hoo boy, that was so much harder than I thought it would be.  I figured if I could work at home, sitting up at a desk, and talking to people on the phone much of the day, how different would it be to do it at the office?  My fever was gone, I wasn't collapsing for a nap mid-afternoon, and I was talking slow walks around my neighbourhood a few blocks at a time.  It seemed like the right time to go back.

I was happy to return.  Besides the fact that I'm clean out of paid vacation days, I was starting to go a little psycho from being stuck at home.  I thought I'd go back, sit down at my desk, and although I might be a little tired I would primarily feel relieved.

The experience was overwhelming.  One symptom of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is nervous system hypersensitivity, and that kicked in big time.  Being around so many people, even on a quiet Friday, was very difficult.  The sensitivity manifested in physical-emotional stress: waves of anxiety almost like a panic attack that crested for a few minutes at a time with a few minutes of calm in between each wave.  I thought if I could tough it out and show my body that there was nothing to be afraid of it might pass, but it didn't.

(I had successfully pushed through similar feelings of overstimulation at a Rosh Hashanah dinner on Wednesday night, surrounded by a crowd of happily enthusiastic relatives.  Between the first course and dessert, the anxiety went away and I was able to enjoy the rest of the evening.)

By the time I got home I was feverish and so overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety that I couldn't to do anything but curl up on the couch and try to breathe through it.  I wasn't able to eat the lovely dinner that Ken cooked.  I went to bed and dreamed that I was in a hospital, where I felt safe because the medical professionals there would know how to make me feel better.  When I woke up I was disappointed that there was no such hospital.

This morning I'm doing a lot better.  I had a good sleep.  When the anxious feelings tried to come back, I did half an hour of yoga and that calmed me right down.  I have almost nothing that I need to do this weekend.  Hopefully I can continue to rest and recuperate so that I feel significantly better by Monday.  I committed to attending an important project planning meeting at 2 pm on Monday.  Of course like anything it could be rescheduled (or it might be possible to attend by phone), but I am trying to hold faith that I'll be able to do at least half a day of work without falling apart by then.

I have to walk the line between wretched, depressed hopelessness and ignorant overestimation of my abilities.  That is not an easy balancing act.  I obviously cannot successfully predict how I'm going to feel from one day to the next, or what my limits are going to be.  I'm confused and worried, but trying to stay positive.  I've been heading in the right direction, but I need to get a little further yet before I'm out of the woods.