tales from urban dilettantia

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The map is not the territory, but today it will suffice.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of my maps.  And now there are two!

The first is a picture of something I’ve been working on since January; namely, the idea of sovereignty.  The idea is a work in progress, and the map is one of many spanning that progress.  I am posting it for Nathalie and Jaunita, who are right there with me when I need them.

The second is a picture of change.  Once upon a time I was the girl who could not walk across campus without tensing every muscle for fear people were looking at her.  The girl who would blush and stammer rather than hold a conversation.  The very queen of awkwardness, the non-phone-answerer, the one who declined every invitation.  Twenty years on, I am the woman who will pounce upon a friendly looking stranger with a ‘hi, I’m an enormous introvert; pleased to meet you!’  How did this happen you ask?  Still trying to work that one out, and I am posting this map for a dear friend who is on the journey too.

Pictures make me feel less mopey about the ten half-finished blog posts in my notebook. Let’s all forget about those posts and enjoy the shiny.  Or else.

Crashing back into it

Quite a long time ago, four long years ago.  Big, fancy house.  Husband.  Cats.  Three and a half years ago, suddenly looking hard at my tangled, messy, perpetual barely-hanging-on-ness.  Starting to think about ‘happiness’ even though – as many pointed out to me – this wasn’t quite the correct word, and it was prone to be confused with hedonism.  What I was trying to express was ‘rational, loving and sustainable well-being’.  But that’s too long and too difficult to explain.  So I talked about My Happiness Project.

Looking backwards for a moment, there are posts from that time on my old LiveJournal with tags like <a href=http://flyingblogspot.livejournal.com/?tag=my%20happiness%20project>my happiness project</a> and <a href=http://flyingblogspot.livejournal.com/tag/lifehacking>lifehacking</a>, arbitrary words for a much bigger thing, and recording fragments of a journey.   On that journey, I got somewhere; some great distance from the place where I had been before. It started to feel like it was somewhere I could stay forever.  And then moving out, immeasurable sadness, innumerable boxes, and constantly fighting everything down on every front.

The thing I regret the most over the last couple of years is not having had the capacity to hang onto tight the gentle, kind love for myself that I’d been carefully cultivating.  Finding that it was possible to actually <i>like</I> myself was – for various historical and then-current reasons – a great, unfolding knowledge and a completely new expereince.  It is utterly unacceptable to live in such a manner that when I look hard at myself, I sigh.

Somewhat unexpectedly over the past few weeks, the spark that triggered my first headlong crash into really, truly learning to be okay has been reignited.  I’m thinking about well-being, looking again at my mechanisms of self-sabotage, starting to clear out all the clutter – mental and physical – that has accumulated in every corner of my life.   Looking at being a woman who does something more than just hang on, just cope, just hoard every little bit of energy and sanity to be able to get up, go to work, and do it sufficiently well.

I’m waking the hell up and crashing back into it, in the passionate, enthusiastic way I crash into things when I’m  very excited.  I’m reading, re-reading, thinking, planning and considering two years’ worth of swirling chaos dissolve in the face of one little step after another.

And I’m going to write about it a little, because sometimes the best thing of all is remembering that you’re not the only one on the road.

Random Soup

Hey you guys, blogging – what is that? Something I don’t seem to get around to doing at the moment, that’s what. Let’s all enjoy a nice list of random things:

  1. I’m thinking about pragmatic internet activism. My current idea is basically that we create or find a non-profit organisation with a legal defence fund, have it run a bunch of Tor exit nodes and work to mainstream the practice of safely running middle nodes for everyone else. Ideally this would be done with the support of a sympathetic ISP.
  2. I’ve been watching North Africa and the Middle East closely. I’m convinced that what’s happening there, in its various regional manifestations, is a turning point in history. People all over the region are kicking their dictators to the kerb, and I dearly hope that these events lead ultimately to a better life for many, and not to further violence, fear and oppression. As one Egyptian Twitter said the other day, ‘It’s scary, but it’s certainly not sad.’
  3. I’m brewing, gradually, a post about gender, consent, boundaries and geek culture. It’s been simmering for months. These things take time to cook.
  4. This year’s theme is ‘sovereignty‘. I drew a mind map for it, which I’ll post at some point soon.
  5. I’m (finally) discovering the wonders of snorkelling in Perth; it’s awesome. Penguin Island, Mettam’s Pool, Boyinaboat Reef; wonderful fish everywhere! I’m getting my dive licence shortly, and I’m considering buying an underwater camera.
  6. Virtual evolution is fun; check out Boxcar2D.
  7. A couple of days ago, I was thrilled to discover people are still using Gopher! Here’s an HTML gateway.  Digital living fossils excite me, as has been previously demonstrated by my passion for Amiga and C64 emulators.
  8. The most recent mental health news is that I’ve reached a stage where the SSRIs alone clearly aren’t working as intended, and so I’ve added the mood stabiliser and anti-epileptic Lamotrigine. I’m not sure what we’ll do if this doesn’t work, but I’m hopeful. From years of self-testing, I’m confident that my crazy is closely tied to either my progesterone levels, or the ratio of progesterone to estrogen in my system, and among other things, Lamotrigine has a progesterone lowering effect.

That’s all for now. Sufficient random soup has been posted.

Public Service Announcements

The Brain

I’m still in the middle of the great brain experiment.   I’m going to persist with 150mg of Sertraline a day for the next month and reassess at the end of it. Right now, it’s making me dopey as all hell, and isn’t doing much for the pre-menstrual merry-go-round of general anxiety, social anxiety and depression. However, aside from the PMDD phase, it seems to be a step in the right direction. (I actually typed ‘depression’ instead of ‘direction’ there and fixed it on an edit – what are you trying to tell me, brain?)

Right now, I’m feeling exhausted and negative about the whole thing and am at the point where in the past I’ve tended to say ‘I can’t do this anymore’ and give up, but I intend to push through this time and see if it’s possible to find an optimal treatment.

The Christmas

Christmas…there’s something I’ve been wanting to do for years, but have been worried about coming across as terribly self-righteous or critical of other people’s choices, which isn’t my intention at all. It’s this: I am happy to announce that I am not sending physical cards out again this year. And I am not going on the Annual Shopping Ordeal (I hate shopping) to find Arbitrary Stuff to give to people as Meaningful Presents.

I have ordered my parents some prints of my art which I will frame for them. Portable Dave, you can have a voucher to spend on whatever you will most use and enjoy – let me know what that might be. Everyone else: I will bake, give away my art and craft, take cuttings from my garden, maybe put them in little terrarium jars to give away, and distribute the abundance of eggs from my chickens. I will cook for you, draw for you, love you and hug you. (Some of these things may be delivered a little late, as I know quite a lot of people.) I may donate a goat or some ducks to charity in your honour. If you have any special requests, let me know, as I do like to give things that are wanted. But I will not angst about buying you plastic things and wrapping them in shiny paper for you to throw away.

The Tame Chicken

The chicken called Boomer is super-tame now and allows me to pick her up.  All of my chicken-related dreams have come true.

The Seeing of You

There will be another Open House Day at my place in the near future, so long as I don’t go completely crazy or something. Oh wait.

The Amazing Writing Lab Rat

This week has been the week of Interesting Times on Setraline. Given how sick fluoxetine made me, we decided to start with a very tiny dose of setraline to see how my body reacted, ramped up to 50mg – still a low dose – over a two week period.

For me at least, this has been a really interesting medication even at low doses. For about a quarter of the time, my anxiety levels are normal (well, my normal, which is manifestly sub-optimal) and for the other three quarters, it’s like an anxiety switch has just flicked off in my brain.

However, some clinical trials have also indicated a statistically significant increase in suicidality for patients on setraline, especially during the first few months, and from my own observations I can see how this might work – I’ve had a couple of twelve hour windows where my brain has crash landed into a deep depression.

While it’s frustrating as hell and horrible while it’s happening, it’s not an uncommon thing to encounter during the first few weeks, so for now I’m hanging in there to see what’s next.  The short term plan is to see what happens as the dose increases, as my hormone levels fluctuate, and as we combine it with a mood-stabiliser / anti-seizure medication. I feel a bit like a lab rat. A lab rat that’s medicating itself and writing down the results.

The other thing that’s happening (and this is something I personally consider to be the single most useful function of brain-altering substances) is that the medication is giving me the brain space to start processing things again, rather than storing them up in a big bucket of Survive Now, Deal Later. The upside of this is thinking, discovering, untangling, doing CBT stuff again. The downside is that over the past couple of years, the bucket of unprocessed stuff has become…big. It’s more like a large skip of unprocessed stuff, with all kinds of startling surprises in it. I have been reading about abandonment and object constancy, and it’s given me a whole lot more to think about, which is a another post in itself.

So, in short, life, brain, universe…a little overwhelming right now. Interesting science. Trying to spend quiet time under the covers, letting it all work itself out.

All This Stuff’s Just Ordinary

I’ve been trying to write this post in bits and pieces over the past six months, in part because quite a number of people have asked me to write more about my brain, and in part because it is my story and it is in want of the telling.

I’ve tried to begin it by writing down words like ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety disorder’, and each time get caught in a mire of doubts about the value and validity of pathologising my ordinary. Caught by my dawning understanding that these are not exactly diseases in the way that influenza is a disease, and that they might be more accurately understood as the language and expression of suffering that is prevalent in my culture.  (And yet, the irony – we’ve fought so hard for them to be spoken of in the manner of physical ill-health. Out of Bedlam and into the medicine cabinet and all that.)

I’m caught by my awareness that, in any case, the vast majority of research in this field has been performed on populations at the far end of the bell curve.  Attempting to write about mental health, to untangle the known, the unknown, the physical, the psychological and the interface between is difficult. Attempting to do the same and apply it to myself, seems barely possible at all.

And so, instead of talking about this in terms of disease and disability, this is my ordinary.

Five mornings out of seven, I get up and go to work. Except I set the alarm early, very early because I never know which of those mornings will be one where my brain feels scattered and it will take me two hours to work out what I need to do to be ready and leave the house. Now that I have a list on my fridge, this works a little better. Get dressed. Brush hair. Brush teeth. Feed pets.  Take meds. And so forth.

Seven nights out of seven I go to bed to sleep. Except sometimes I wake up at night in the middle of a raging panic and can’t remember what I need to be well again, and a hour later I’ll make it to the list on my fridge and realise that some water and medication will break the loop of panic.

Sometimes I shop for groceries. There are a number of ways to do this. Going to a supermarket after work is the most flexible and affordable, but is almost guaranteed to trigger a brain failure and knock me out for the rest of the night. Going to a little boutique-ish food market is expensive, but somewhat less likely to be a problem. Ordering groceries online is my favourite, but has a knock-on anxiety effect in terms of time-management since I have to be home. I am often very, very unreasonably anxious about time.

Each weekday, I work. And the foggy depression and the tightly-wound anxiety come and go, and some days it feels almost overwhelming to keep working, to speak to people or in front of people, to eat, to read, to breathe. And other days, I walk in and sit down and work, and everything is fine and I’m mystified as to why it is often so difficult. And yet on other days I experience massive concentration failure, and come home exhausted because even completing a small amount of work feels like it has used up all of my resources. And then again on other days I am sparkly and productive and everything flows.

Today, I had my first consultation with a psychiatrist in twelve years.

He says the medication I am on may be causing my attention problems. And that I’ve worked hard with the self-awareness and the CBT and the Happiness Project stuff, and that I’m not doing anything wrong. (Oh, the validation.  I am needy for validation.)  That the medication I’d first been prescribed (it was Aurorix) was not really appropriate. That the medication I’m now on may be hurting as much as it is helping. That Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder might be something I actually have, and not just something pharmaceutical companies invented to sell more Prozac. (This contradicts everything I think I know about PMDD.) And that that, if I am willing, it might be wise to take a fresh look at my big, co-morbid bundle of depression, anxiety and OCD symptoms, and try something new. I am willing. And so, this month the brain and I get off the Venlafaxine and the Clonazepam and see what happens.

Maybe this will not always be my ordinary, but if it is, then so it goes. Maybe ordinary will become a different, stable medication, or no medication at all. We will live on regardless, brain and I.  We do well with what we have.