Alaina Mabaso's Blog

Fiction Need Not Apply.

Three things you shouldn’t say to someone with chronic illness

This is a recent MRI of my lumbar spine. Can you spot the two bad discs?

This is a recent MRI of my lumbar spine. Can you spot the two bad discs? OUCH.

When I read the story about a Danish woman with multiple sclerosis who ran 366 marathons in one year — yes, one marathon every day for 364 days, and then two marathons on the 365th day — I wanted to hurl my computer against the wall, and not just because I’m jealous of her amazing feat.

“I can choose to be, ‘Oh, tell everybody I’m not feeling so well,’ or I can tell myself, ‘No, I want to feel good and tell everybody I’m feeling good.’ It’s my choice. That’s kind of a freedom,” the runner says on CNN.

Negative Nelly alert

I think this case is an extremely unusual one. Most of the time, it’s just not true that wanting to feel good and telling others you feel good when you don’t feel good will free you from your illness.

I understand the need to deny or conceal your medical condition(s). I do it every day.  Some of my doctors are surprised that I work instead of claiming disability for a slew of major health problems. But I love my work, and on most days, I find that You can do it is a better internal mantra than damn I need to get in bed and rest until someone brings me dinner.

But I also need days when it’s safe to acknowledge how tough things are — the days when it’s hard to walk, or when tears hotter than the water pour down my cheeks in the shower, because it’s the only time when nobody else can see me or call me on the phone, and something just slips.

Unfortunately, that safe space can be hard to come by, because it means finding people who are willing to see the pain when they see me, without retreating into fear, pity, contempt, platitudes, or unsolicited advice. In other words, just like cutting the high fructose corn syrup is as important to your diet as eating vegetables, pinpointing the things we don’t need is as necessary as focusing on what we do need.

My unsolicited advice for you

So this is a short and potentially painful, inflammatory list of things not to say to me, a person with a chronic illness.

  • “How do you think this makes me feel?”

This should be saved for when someone healthy is behaving in a cruel, disrespectful, or irresponsible way. It should not be used when a sick person is struggling. A truly debilitating illness, including a mood or mental disorder, causes stress to everyone who loves the sufferer, and the sufferer is very aware of that, even though he or she is no saint.

There may be other people in your life who can be an appropriate ear for the legitimate stress and pain you feel when someone you love is sick, especially when that illness is a lifelong slog, not the flu or appendicitis.

The plain truth is that sometimes, I just can’t handle your stress about my illness on top of my own stress about my illness. I apologize. But it effing sucks to feel sick all the time, and I’m not the emotional reincarnation of Hercules.

  • “Have you tried the [nutritional fad] diet?”

Most of the time, I’m willing to give you a pass on this one, because you have the best intentions. But here’s the thing. If I have been diagnosed with a life-altering and lifelong illness, I’m probably under the care of medical specialists, and a proper diet is already a component of the plan to manage that illness. I appreciate your desire to help, but don’t need diet tips from every corner.

My own diet, to manage problems like migraines, fibromyalgia, and interstitial cystitis, is already restrictive enough to affect every meal. I have spent over a decade on my own mission to track what foods and beverages work for my body.

Plus, I bet you a million dollars that Häagen-Dazs isn’t in whatever diet you saw featured on the raw/gluten-free/paleo/macrobiotic/probiotic/vegan recipe book table at Whole Foods this month. And if you wanna take away my ice cream on a rock-bottom shitty day, what’s left?

So remember, I’m already on a strict diet; stick to your own diet, and zip it, unless you are very, very familiar with my illness, and I ask for your advice.

  • “You’re too young for this!”

This one is the real topper, because I hear it all the time, from friends, family, colleagues, and even doctors.

KNOCK IT OFF.

It’s hard to even list all the reasons this comment makes me feel like crap, but I’ll try.

Yes, I do have some problems that are more common in elderly people than in people just shy of their 31st birthday. But remember — just because something is true does not mean it is appropriate to blurt it out over lunch.

I understand that you’re trying to say something sympathetic and I appreciate that, but really, how is this comment helpful? All it does is remind me of how debilitated I am. Part of the struggle of chronic illness for young people is that our bodies are indeed failing us in ways they ordinarily wouldn’t at this age. (If you dread aging in a healthy body, how do you think it feels when serious pain or limited mobility sets in before age 30, when everyone else is hiking and biking and birthing one cherub after another?)

Also, you may be dead wrong when you say “you’re too young for this.” Yes, pain and debility are usually associated with aging, but in many cases, a chronic illness is a matter of our genes, not our age. If I have the illness, I have the illness, and it doesn’t wait politely to strike until after I’m eligible for Medicare.

Think of adults with attention deficit disorder, something often associated with children. When the adult ADD sufferer has trouble focusing, would you exclaim, “You’re too old for this”? No? Then don’t pass audible judgment on how an illness relates to someone’s age. It’s not comforting and it’s not a compliment.

Beyond positive thinking

This blog post may just be one long example of why I am not as good a person as the Danish marathon runner. But it’s my truth. And it’s ok if you officially do not want to hang out with me, or read my essays.

I can understand the kind of positive thinking that allows a person with multiple sclerosis to run over 26 miles a day. It’s probably similar to what drives me to meet my deadlines and satisfy clients week after week. But positive thinking without an honest assessment of what really hurts — in our bodies and in what other people say — is like a hot air balloon without a basket. It floats uselessly away with nothing to let you get onboard and no way to ground yourself when necessary.

Do you have a chronic illness, or does someone in your life struggle with this? What are the comments that help or hurt you?

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Human health vs Hobby Lobby: Keep those lady-parts in the dark where they belong

I was feeling really sick recently, but I didn’t tell anyone because it wasn’t a human health problem. It was a women’s health problem.

Many of my Christian school teachers wouldn’t have touched sex education with a ten-foot speculum. It was the perfect prelude to entering an entire society which thinks separating reproductive concerns from health care is as easy as removing Mrs. Potato Head’s plastic nose.

Pregnancy: just don’t think about it

When I was nineteen, my middle-aged male urologist answered my questions about my recently diagnosed interstitial cystitis —until I wanted to know whether the condition would complicate pregnancy or childbirth.

He chuckled and said there was really no point in asking about that right now, is there?

Maybe he brushed me off because I was young and unmarried and, in his opinion, not ready for children. Maybe he didn’t care that urinary problems and chronic pelvic pain could impact a future pregnancy — or even the choice to start a family.

Now, I know these are ludicrous reasons to ignore a patient’s concerns. But at the time, I didn’t question my doctors. Cheeks burning, I hastily ended the appointment.

The wormhole to my uterus

I remembered that doctor because the question of corporations’ right to exclude their employees’ birth control from health insurance coverage is in the news again, now that the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations can opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptives mandate on religious grounds.

A lot of responses to this controversy have popped up, including reports that Hobby Lobby, a Christian family-owned craft store involved in the suit, objects to some types of birth control but invests in companies that make abortion drugs and IUDs, the latter being one of the very contraceptive devices Hobby Lobby healthcare plans deny its employees. Another writer veers into a rant about China and its human rights abuses, the point being Hobby Lobby’s hypocrisy, buying many of its products from a country where forced abortions are rampant, while the company opposes abortion and even some kinds of birth control in the US.

Judging from the level of anger about what we’ve dubbed the “Hobby Lobby decision,” I’m guessing that a lot of people don’t realize Hobby Lobby isn’t refusing to cover all contraceptives: just the ones it believes, based on faulty knowledge of medical science, to cause the demise of embryos, rather than preventing fertilization itself. Hobby Lobby insurance policies will cover your vasectomy — and your tubal ligation.

That doesn’t make this decision any better, though.

I suspect politicians, CEOs, and bishops who want to thwart people’s access to some kinds of birth control are operating with the same mindset as my former urologist.

To them, reproductive care isn’t like pulmonary, cardiac, neurological, digestive, dermatological, or orthopedic care. It’s as if female reproductive organs exist in some kind of separate dark universe subject to others’ practical and ideological whims.

Git ‘er dead

Catholic hospitals which will let a woman die from a miscarriage gone septic rather than treat her by removing the doomed fetus are one of the most extreme examples of the toxic refusal to integrate female reproductive health with overall human health.

Corporations now trumpeting “religious freedom” to oppose Affordable Care Act provisions requiring comprehensive contraceptive coverage for employee health plans are mired in the same fallacy. Even if you ignore the fact that the decision of whether or not to become pregnant has enormous full-body health implications, these objectors are conveniently forgetting that some contraceptives, particularly the IUDs in question, treat debilitating conditions like endometriosis, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder. In other words, “birth control” isn’t always about family planning.  Welcome to modern medicine!

But because we’re talking about girl-organs, a fellow human being’s health is your “biblical” corporate objection. And just because the practical outcome at hand is the access to some forms of birth control over others (touted as a minor issue by some commentators in the why-can’t-we-just-all-get-along vein) doesn’t make this decision any less poisonous.

As many other writers have pointed out, I would like to see the courts defend a Jehovah’s Witness who denied his employees coverage for blood transfusions, or a Scientologist CEO who objects to coverage for antidepressants.

Let infants take their chances

When I tried to shop for health insurance before Obamacare, many affordable policies explicitly excluded coverage for pregnancy or maternity-related costs. As a married thirty-year-old woman in a country where a healthy birth routinely costs tens of thousands of dollars, I knew this was a preposterous excuse for insurance. These insurers probably don’t realize it’s an illusion when magicians saw women in half on stage. In real life, you can’t manage your overall health while ignoring your reproductive health.

Take the folks who are angry because the new law requires many insurance policies to cover contraceptives and maternity care. They think a system providing adequate health care for women and their babies places an unfair burden on people with penises, who should be able to buy policies from a pool that excludes women’s care. Is it worth mentioning that woman don’t become pregnant on their own? Or that adequate pre- and post-natal care prevents a host of tragic, expensive medical problems that weigh on the entire system?

Please, show me someone who doesn’t owe his life to Mom’s oh-so-problematic parts. And then continue insisting that “women’s care” is an unfair use of your resources.

Viagra ≠ the Pill

Even people on the liberal side fall into the Magical Segmented Lady trap when they point out the moral and intellectual outrage of denying women some forms of reproductive care by calling for the same insurance policies to drop coverage for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. If you don’t want your female employees to access all birth control options, the argument goes, by gum, you should prevent access to medicine for erectile dysfunction, too.

But men paying out of pocket for better, longer-lasting erections aren’t in the same boat as women who face the risks of pregnancy and motherhood without a budget or support system for proper care. This is a false equivalence that only serves to further compartmentalize human health care, instead of accepting the reality of the whole body, male or female.

Cover your eyes, this is gross

So, back to my recent sickness. My hellacious periods, suffered in silence, remind me twelve times a year that my reproductive organs don’t have the same status as the rest of my body. It feels subversive, tacky, and risky to mention that my periods make me think that God, if God exists, really doesn’t like women.

(Turns out some of the troubles are complications of interstitial cystitis. Coulda mentioned that, oh crappy urologist of my youth.)

After several days of widespread pain and what could at best be called a virulent passive death wish, the real fun starts, usually at dawn on the 28th day. Even with multiple medications and attention to physical and dietary triggers, I am often immobilized for several hours by the pain. Hours of crushing nausea are an occasional bonus, but the eight-hour migraine, more defiant and immovable than Bashar al-Assad, is unavoidable.

This is the first time I’ve ever publicly mentioned this, because one of the only ways we’re allowed to talk about menstruation is memes of female psychopaths demanding chocolate. I don’t know who these people are. I don’t eat chocolate before or during my period because caffeine increases the agony.

(All this is also worth saying here because some of the birth control options corporate insurance policies can now withhold from their employees on religious grounds include devices or medications that can treat symptoms like mine.)

So be ashamed, embarrassed, and misinformed. Mock your period as some kind of alien invasion and don’t reveal that you’re hurting. On the same principle, let your teachers and your doctors ignore your questions about sex and pregnancy. Let your culture and health care system rope those ovaries off from the rest of you. Let clerics, corporate owners, and judges you’ll never meet determine your healthcare options.

Because this is a modern free society.

And reproductive organs don’t deserve the same roster of options as all the other parts of your body.

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I have seen the price of evil, and it’s $7.99

Sometimes, you have to give something the benefit of the doubt. And sometimes, you just know.

With a parent devoted to an extremely eclectic and successful eBay store built on hundreds of items purchased at auctions and garage sales, I see a lot of odd things come and go in my parents’ house.

Antique campaign buttons. Collectible perfume bottles. Unspeakably ugly poodle figurines. A fuzzy brooch in the shape of a skunk.

Internet dating sites (that endless, insufferable pool of encounters that is fodder for every wannabe comic and essayist in America) are trying to prove that there is someone for everyone, and eBay proves that no matter what the item is, somebody somewhere in the world will pay to have it shipped to their door.

You remember that doll from The Conjuring? Of course you do, that shit was creepy as all get out. Some people say there’s a true story behind “Annabelle” in the movie, a frizzled, dirty, glassy-eyed toy that begins to walk around an apartment by itself, write cryptic messages, and eventually trash the place.

There are websites that claim to reveal the real Annabelle, an absurdly large and smiley Raggedy Ann doll from the 70’s, which “demonologists” Ed and Lorraine Warren (of Amityville Horror fame) eventually subdued after making off with it in their car.

As the august publication badassdigest.com notes, “Ed agreed to stay off the highway because there was a concern that the demon [in the Raggedy Ann] might fuck with the car.” Good thing, too, because their brakes kept failing, so Ed “sprinkled the doll with holy water” and the car starting working again.

See? Even demon Raggedy Ann knows Jesus, so why don’t you read that Jehovah’s Witness pamphlet on the bus already? Also, I went on a ski trip once, and I shit you not, the host had an entire room full of Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, just lining the shelves and bureaus, grinning. Like Alfred Hitchcock’s birds but with red yarn hair instead of feathers.

You can bet I pitched my sleeping bag elsewhere.

The point is, clown dolls are bad news, but does my mom care? No. She goes to the auction one night, and she brings this home.

Somebody owned this.

Somebody owned this.

As faithful readers already know, I’ve been staying with my parents more than usual lately because some serious health problems have been getting me down: I have lumbar degenerative disc disease in this mad storm of interstitial cystitis and clinical depression, and last week a psychiatrist told me I have a borderline personality disorder because, in his opinion, I write too much (the note-taking, this writing-for-a-living, it’s obsessive, you see) so I’m in delicate shape overall.

But does my mother, the woman who drives me to the orthopedist and makes me blueberry smoothies and rubs my back and otherwise loves me beyond reason, try to protect me from the clear influence of evil?

No, she does not.

She buys this antique wind-up clown doll with fleshy plastic feet-hands and keeps it in the living room while she lists it on eBay, and I work a mere two or three rooms away, vulnerable and impaired by various physical and psychiatric diseases.

And yes, someone bought the doll on eBay.

Somebody saw this doll online, thought, “I need to bring that thing into my home,” paid my mom the full asking price of $7.99, plus shipping, and had that cloth-and-plastic horror mailed to their house. In (I kid you not) Salem, Massachusetts.

I don’t know whether to be overjoyed that the thing is out of the house, or to whisper a prayer for the clown’s new owner.

Because really.

I know evil when I see it.

bad clown face crop

Sleep well!

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Is this the ugliest painting in the world?

I hate to be unkind. I know what it’s like to make your way as a creative professional in this world.

But I simply have to ask.

Is this the ugliest painting in the world?

While I do not know who painted it, I have more than a cursory acquaintance with this painting. I lead a group of professional writers in Philadelphia, and we meet for lunch once a month at the food court at the Bellevue shopping center, where the painting hangs.

This shopping center is what I should call aspirational. The gilded glass doors are so heavy that they’re probably trying to weed out the weak and the sick. There’s Tiffany & Co., Ralph Lauren, and, for people who need $90 marble rolling pins, Williams Sonoma. (Alas, Richard Gere will never give me a credit card so I can go in and show them all.)

The food court is downstairs. This painting adorns the dining area, and I have been both fascinated and repelled by it for months.

I’ve been writing about the arts professionally for years. (That’s why I can’t afford to shop at Ralph Lauren.) I’ve pored over Elaine Kurtz’s absorbing, gritty, otherworldly landscapes, yawned through watercolors of daisies on chairs, fallen into lithographs by Benton Spruance, communed for hours with Violet Oakley murals, and interviewed an artist who finds trash on the street, spray-paints it gold, and then puts it back.

I am not without taste.

I don’t know if the Bellevue painting has a title, but I call it “The Pig.”

A lot of worthwhile art challenges our minds rather than simply appealing to our eyes. But “The Pig” leaves me with too many troubling questions.

The painting cries out with the artist’s incongruity. Look at the smooth, meticulous brushstrokes on the vase, evoking the dimensional play of light and shadow on its burnished coppery curve.

And then look at the crude black outline on the pig’s flattened body parts. The skinny gray sticks the pig has for legs.

What is with this flower with sharp red ribs for petals?

Why is the pig standing next to it? Is the vase on the floor or, as I infer, on a tabletop? How did the pig get onto the table? And why is it standing there, defiantly alive? Is it reflecting on the fate of its delicious brethren under the canopy of this blood-red alien flower? Why does the Bellevue want me to look into the inscrutable yet accusing eyes of a skew-snouted hairy gray pig while I eat my grilled cheese with tomato and bacon?

Did you look at this pig’s face? Its nose appears to be mounted directly on its shoulders and chest. And its flattened black eyes are practically migrating into its ears.

My God, those eyes.

Can anyone lunch comfortably under this sinister gaze?

Somewhere, an artist faced a blank canvas. And this is what that canvas became. Now, beneath Tiffany’s, Ralph Lauren, and Williams Sonoma, it waits.

It watches.

It haunts my lunches.

If you agree with me about “The Pig,” then let me know in the comments, so I can find comfort in the fact that I’m not a total philistine. And if you think I’ve been overtly cruel in writing this blog post, or you think “The Pig” is beautiful, feel free to tell me exactly what you think of me.

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Why I hate it when you say, “That’s just the depression talking.”

When you are depressed, your entire life can feel like this.

When you are depressed, your life can feel like this. No, spring is never coming. Really, it never is. Never ever ever.

“That’s just the depression talking.”

If I had a dime for every time someone has said that to me this year, I might be able to pay my out-of-pocket hospital bills off by next week.

Blog readers know that the last several months have been a little rough. A back injury keeps putting my opioid-intolerant, claustrophobic ass in the MRI tube. I did a month of physical therapy and then ended up in the ER, and then a surgical center. I’ve been knocked out twice with propofol, and treated with steroids, fentanyl, liver-sizzling doses of ibuprofen, diazepam, ketamine, gabapentin, and who knows what else the nurses shot into my IV’s when I was groggy and/or out of my mind with pain. I also tried a chiropractor and massage, and politely declined offers of marijuana, acupuncture, Reiki, and homeopathy. Just as I was realizing that my back was still in serious trouble, all the hospital bills started to arrive.

“Just hang in there.”

I’ve been depressed as long as I can remember. So, especially since my intrepid pain specialist reduced my treatment to a bottle of Valium and the statement, “you just have to hang in there,” an agonizing, expensive, months-long medical ordeal doesn’t seem like a temporary annoyance. It seems like the latest good reason to die.

According to the website of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention‘s (AFSP) Out of Darkness Overnight campaign, over 38,000 people die by suicide every year — the fourth leading cause of death for people ages 18 – 65 in the US. Over 100 people kill themselves every day, though the number of people attempting suicide is much higher.  More men die by suicide, but more women attempt it. Over 60 percent of people who succeed in killing themselves have major depression, AFSP goes on. Depression is more common than cancer and coronary heart disease: about 15 percent of the population will suffer clinical depression at some point in their lives.

Though AFSP says depression is an extremely treatable psychiatric illness, with up to 90 percent of people who get treatment feeling better, the really scary thing is that, by AFSP’s count, 30 percent of depressed people attempt suicide, and half of those die.

That’s part of why I hate it when people say, “that’s just the depression talking.” To me, this common phrase, probably intended to help depressed people halt their pathological thought patterns, trivializes the seriousness of clinical depression.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Depression is an illness

Take meningococcal disease. It’s much less common than depression, with about 800-1200 Americans getting it every year, according to the National Meningococcal Association, but it can be dangerous, with a mortality rate of 10-15 percent. When a person with meningitis says his neck hurts, would you tell him, “That’s just the meningitis talking”? No? Well, the AFSP estimates that depression is fatal in 15 percent of cases, and if those patients are anything like me, they often hear, “that’s just the depression talking.”

A lot of people know what depression is really like, and a lot of people don’t. Clinical depression can make your eyeballs feel like the Hoover Dam, as you fight back tears all day. It’s a long, black, consuming, sour-molasses conviction that you’re worthless, no-one can help you with anything that matters, and that things will never change. It’s the certain knowledge that people love you because they’re deluded. The simplest choices swamp you with confusion or indifference. It’s dull headaches and a silent static roar that, if you forget to concentrate, can block out what other people are saying.

Depression is a different experience for different people. Some people lash out, some people seem sunny and social but sob every time they’re alone, some people have physical pain, and some people are immobilized by the misery. For me, depression manifests with an obsessive achievement drive, and that’s probably why no-one, not even me, had a clue anything was wrong until I was almost done high school. Who would be concerned about the straight-A student buried in extracurriculars? Today, my depression still doesn’t fit the stereotype of the person who can’t bathe or go to work. Rather, it drives me to keep working at all costs, and in that sense, it might fuel my career rather than hinder it.

Being depression’s dummy

Despite its treatability, depression is one of the most insidious conditions there is. If you have plantar fasciitis, you don’t mistake the pain in your feet for your personality. But depression affects how you feel, think, and speak. When you’re depressed, others can be annoyed or alarmed by the sad or hopeless things you say, or your apparent refusal to take their advice or turn your thinking around. They try to bust you out of your mental funk by saying, “That’s the depression talking,” as if the illness has turned you into its own ventriloquist dummy, and you can shake off that nasty puppeteer just by recognizing the problem.

Congratulations if you can face this image of depression without being immediately scared to death. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Congratulations if you can face this image of depression without being immediately scared to death. Picture via Wikimedia Commons.

But in my experience, telling someone, “that’s just the depression talking” doesn’t work any better than saying, “that’s just the appendicitis talking” when your friend has a really, really bad stomachache. This phrase implies that the sufferer can control her symptoms, or, in other words, that she’s choosing to be sick, or choosing to let her illness “speak” when she could and should be silencing and overcoming it.

Choosing depression?

“I think you are just used to the depression and want to hold on to it,” a friend concluded recently. “Do you really want to stay depressed? Why?”

It’s hard enough to cope with depression, but when others suggest that you brought it on yourself, or chose a bad mindset, it’s devastating, and can prevent people from seeking help, for fear of being judged.

And if you’re gearing up for the comments section to tell me that getting treatment IS my responsibility, just as it would be with any other illness, you’re right, it is. I am in treatment — the treatment that is best for me right now, after years of experience with many psychologists, psychiatrists, medications, and alternative strategies.

Your voice

My therapist asked me a very perceptive question recently when I mentioned interacting with readers whose opinions are different than mine, or who insult me, or tell me I should keep quiet because they don’t like my arguments.

Deftly looking past an inherent morass of emotions, she simply asked, “How does it feel to have a voice?”

Later, it occurred to me that my writing career might not be the love affair with language that I always assumed it was. It might be something deeper that my early years often denied me: the opportunity to recognize and speak up honestly about the sad, unfair, painful, infuriating, bizarre, and hilarious things in our lives.

However I’m feeling, I have a voice.

So that may be the worst thing about opening up to someone else about how sad or hopeless or worthless I often feel, and having them answer, “That’s just the depression talking.”

Depressive feelings are still feelings

There are feelings under the ice of my heart. Bad, bad feelings. But they are still feelings.

There are feelings under the ice of my heart. Bad, bad feelings.  So bad you’re justified in leaving the room. Or the state. But they are still feelings.

I understand the value of separating your sense of yourself from the symptoms of the illness. When you’ve been depressed for a long, long time, you wonder if being miserable on the inside is simply part of your personality. People who love you want you to realize that it isn’t.

But if all people can do is point out that “the depression is talking,” they’re simultaneously personifying the illness and downplaying the feelings it causes. Just because a feeling is a clear symptom of depression doesn’t mean it isn’t real to the person experiencing it.

Depression do’s?

So how do you cope with a depressed person? After writing all this about depression don’ts, you’d think I’d have a clear answer about what works, but I haven’t found it yet. It’s probably different for everyone. And I’m starting to suspect it’s almost as hard to live with a seriously depressed person as it is to be depressed yourself.

I would say that there is an immense courage in being able to really hear what other people say, even if their state of mind is frightening. Many of my family members are good at this. “Think about how I can help and then let me know. There is no feeling you have that scares me. I can hear it all,” one wrote on a very dark night. That kind of openness, without judging or personifying the illness, is a lifeline.

Others succeed simply by saying they care about me and that they’re concerned, and asking if I have a doctor or psychologist to talk to. They don’t judge. They don’t deflect or minimize. They just tell the truth: I could use help and there’s no shame in getting it.

Anytime I admit my fight with depression in public, I worry it will cost me in a competitive field, but I also think that many others are silently struggling and would benefit from an open conversation (and sometimes I feel like career writers who have never been depressed are few and far between). I appreciate this essay by a journalist who decided to make his journey with mental illness public. He says that if every newsroom had a “mental patient,” maybe the media as a whole could help reduce the stigma of mental illness.

For anyone who has ever been depressed or loved someone who was depressed, Allie Brosh’s “Adventures in Depression” and “Depression Part Two,” from her “Hyperbole and a Half” blog (now a book) are a raw, funny, and soul-soothing read.  You can also listen to Brosh’s Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, which helped me with the idea that it’s ok to talk about depression while you’re still in the mess of treating it.

Have you ever been depressed? What are the things that hurt or helped you?

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Four Pearls of “Wisdom” We Should Outlaw TODAY

Grandma wasn't always right. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Grandma wasn’t always right. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Ready to tell me I’m over-thinking this and being too negative? Too bad. I’m a writer deep in a depressive episode. You are welcome to rebut my take on these aphoristic affronts to the psyche on your own blog, with lots of smiley emoticons.

Image: © Nevit Dilmen. Found at Wikimedia Commons.

Image: © Nevit Dilmen. Found at Wikimedia Commons.

1)       “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.”

The person who came up with this one probably never suffered anything worse than a runny nose in his whole life and thinks his existence is the standard by which all others should be judged. Or it was a person grasping at inspirational straws in her quest to keep choking down $9 gluten-free kale crackers.

I understand the sentiment here: you get only one body (until medical science can re-grow body parts in procedures 50 years from now which will cost $400 in Europe and $7,800 in the US). You should appreciate your health now because next month you could have a stroke or ovarian cancer or end up in rehab from whiplash after some texting 17-year-old idiot rear-ends you.

But as a person with a chronic mental and physical illness, I see this saying for the smug claptrap that it is. It’s demeaning to people who live and work with mental and physical challenges every day. If you don’t have Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, or bipolar disorder, someone in your office probably does. Try telling that person, “if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything,” when she’s pulling her weight at work and at home, just as well as you are, with the help of a good doctor, the right medications, and a hell of a lot of internal grit.

If you don’t have your health, you don’t have your health, and you live your life anyway. That’s it. It’s not like everything is either a mild cold or that episode of House where a girl almost dies because she gets a deer tick in her vagina.

1859's "The Kiss" by Francesco Hayez. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

1859′s “The Kiss” by Francesco Hayez. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

2)      “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

This howler could not have been coined by anyone who was ever actually in love. The saying should be, “Living with a partner acclimated to your verbal or physical abuse means never having to say you’re sorry.”

If the original saying is true, it would have to rest on one of two premises:

a)      People never, ever do anything, on purpose or by accident, that hurts or offends their lover.

b)      People in love automatically forgive any transgression, without the need for acknowledgment or communication.

I dare you to share your life with someone and never get on their nerves the teeniest bit (though I admit I’m a maladjusted individual – irritability is a symptom of depression). You are not perfect and you will make mistakes. You move forward by apologizing to the people you hurt. Don’t assume they’ll happily ignore your bad behavior because they love you.

From the mouths of (rabbit) babes.

From the mouths of (rabbit) babes.

3)      “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

The first time I remember hearing this gem, Bambi’s rabbit pal Thumper was getting an earful from his mom.

This one really rubs me the wrong way, because I’ve been scolded for writing about too many negative topics instead of something funny and nice, when my intention was to address a serious real-world injustice. Tell me how many problems we’ll solve if we all clam up unless we have something “nice” to say.

I get the message: tearing other people down or complaining just for the sake of it isn’t kind or productive. And I might not mind this one so much if, in my experience, all the people sharing variations of it on Facebook weren’t women.

Because women are particularly vulnerable to the poison of this mindset: that we shouldn’t open our mouths if we’re sad, or frustrated, or hurt, because nice girls smile when you ask them to and have good manners, no matter what. Readers and people in my own circle have said, as if they’re confiding something painful and surprising, that I seem “angry.” Well, guess what? I feel angry sometimes. But I get the feeling that that’s a crime because I’m a woman.

1)      “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

I’ve had some arguments with my esteemed friend and colleague Kile Smith, a writer and composer, but when I read his recent piece in Broad Street Review, where I’m the associate editor, it was like he took the words right out of my brain.

“All these decisions are small, but all work is small. (‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’ is poster bilge, salve for indolence),” he writes of the minute but deeply consequential tinkering of the successful creative process.

Right on, Kile. Next time someone asks me how I became a writer, I’ll tell them it’s because I sweated the small stuff that sets me apart from a thousand wannabe writers.

Again, I admit the kernel of truth. Keep your sights on the things that really matter: your family, your health, your marriage, and salted caramel ice cream. Don’t have a coronary because some jerk cut you off in traffic.

But the truth is that any kind of success, especially career success, is all about sweating the small stuff: the details that make you excel. I’ll tell you who isn’t sweating the small stuff. Magazines that don’t pay on time. Writers who can’t meet deadlines. PR associates who don’t pick up the phone. Restaurant servers who can’t remember to put the dressing ON THE SIDE. People whose dogs have matted, dirty fur. Able-bodied people who park in handicapped spots.

Is this the ranting of a psychotic perfectionist?

Maybe.

I admit I’ve never read any of the Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and it’s all small stuff self-help best-sellers by Richard Carlson, Ph.D (now deceased) and his wife, Kristine Carlson, but I really enjoyed perusing their website.

The couple’s other titles include Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in Love, with tips like “appreciate your spouse in new ways” and “look out for each other.” Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Women touts tips for “debating effectively with spouses and partners” and “dealing with children and friendships.”

There’s also Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Men, with tips to “relieve stress, and gain more peace and joy.” These include, “learn about life from golf,” “spend more time with your kids,” and “have an affair.”

Yes, really. It’s on the website.

Now I can see why Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Women also offers hints on “learning to laugh when all else fails.”

I guess a woman who gets upset when her husband cheats is sweating the small stuff. Because he never has to say he’s sorry, and if she can’t say anything nice, she doesn’t say anything at all.

What are your least favorite words of wisdom?

Got strong words? So do I. Let’s talk. Scroll down to the bottom to subscribe. 

I’ll teach you the meaning of pain! (A primer for doctors and people with chronic pain)

 

Medicine has changed since Thomas Eakins painted "The Gross Clinic" in 1875. Right?

The practice of medicine has changed a lot since Thomas Eakins painted “The Gross Clinic” in 1875. Right?

Sometimes you pick up a book about your own chronic disease (which is such a pain in the ass that you don’t usually feel like reading about it), and you have a real holy sh*t moment.

I wouldn’t say I’m battling the bladder disease known as interstitial cystitis (IC), because that implies at some point, one of us will win or lose. This isn’t meningitis or one of those cancers with a halfway decent prognosis. IC is neither fatal nor curable, and we’ve been in a stalemate since I was diagnosed about twelve years ago.

I have written before about urologists and their technicians and my pet theory that they are all sadists. But a book by the Interstitial Cystitis Association, titled IC & Pain: Taking Control, helped me realize “sadist” really isn’t the right word, because doctors don’t enjoy my pain. Many of them just don’t seem to care about it.

But “Epidemiological studies reveal…that IC patients score worse on quality of life measures than patients with end stage kidney disease on dialysis.” Later, on the severity of IC pain, IC & Pain adds, “Research indicates that the pain of interstitial cystitis may be more severe than that of some forms of cancer.”

A new view of pain

I don’t trivialize or deny the suffering of people with terminal or acute illnesses. My point is the medical profession is starting to realize that, even for patients who are otherwise stable and somewhat ambulatory, chronic pain is not a side-note you can safely ignore. Chronic pain is debilitating, depressing, and downright dangerous. For example, IC itself won’t kill you. But as IC & Pain notes, “intractable pain has resulted in suicides each year because patients are left to live with severe, debilitating pain and have nowhere to turn for help.”

The shock I experienced from reading this was not the revelation that IC is a terrible thing to live with. I’ve known that for years. The shock was that it was the first time I have ever read or heard any outside affirmation that my pain really is that bad. For example, I’ve seen a so-called expert in the treatment of IC shrug when I said I was still in serious pain after a few months of his prescriptions. I’ve also heard that pelvic trouble is just something women have to deal with.

Instruments of torture

I’ve written about a diagnostic procedure in which I was catheterized and then pulled to my feet and hooked up to a machine with wires that pumped my bladder full of fluid from the outside in. My job was to tell the physician’s assistant the exact moment when I could not stand another drop.

For a healthy person, this (while humiliating) might not have been so bad. But for me, the pain was horrible.

The PA was annoyed. “It’s not pain,” she said. “It’s discomfort.”

Doctors and nurses have been frowning and palpating my abdomen and prescribing ultrasounds for years because they can’t reconcile all my wincing and gasping with my total lack of tumors or appendicitis or renal failure or something besides IC. They can’t accept the fact that so much pain is not coming from an acute condition that needs chemo, surgery, or at least a couple of Vicodin.

Please rate your pain on a scale of one to five. We might believe you.

Can anyone hear me?

IC & Pain says that it can take the average IC patient up to seven years to get an accurate diagnosis. I would add that even after that, doctors still may not believe what they read in your records, or what you say about how you feel.

Over the course of a few years, I went to three urologists in a row who each insisted on their own battery of different diagnostics to come to the same conclusion, actively denying that my medical record or my own description of my symptoms was an accurate basis for any treatment they could prescribe.

“Wow, you’re a textbook case,” the third urologist marveled when his tests were finished.

Unfortunately, when you’re in a hospital gown and are facing a team of medical assistants who just finished measuring the exact volume and velocity of your urinary tract, you’re so demoralized that it’s hard to chant, “I told you so!”

I was in a similar situation when a urinary tract infection landed me in the ER several years ago (yes, people with IC can still get UTIs, and they are epic on the pain scale). From the hospital bed, I explained that the pain was so severe because I was not the average UTI patient – I had IC. But they still poked and frowned and ordered completely unnecessary tests for sexually transmitted diseases, despite my medical record detailing a chronic pain syndrome that explained my symptoms perfectly.

Another doctor, administering a work-related physical, conflated “interstitial cystitis” with simple cystitis (a bladder infection) despite my attempts to explain otherwise, and told me to drink cranberry juice — a beverage that may help prevent cystitis, but wreaks havoc on IC patients. Sort of an important distinction when you’re giving dietary advice to your patient.

To ignore or not to ignore?

At 30, I am just now learning that when it comes to pain, you have to be your own advocate.

I wrote recently about getting an MRI for lumbar spasms of the “kill me now, God!” variety. My primary care doctor, who had seen me weeping in her office, unable to sit in a chair, chose to ignore that distress when my MRI analysis turned up, to her eye, (mostly) normal.

She said my sacroiliac joint was probably acting up and sent me to physical therapy. When I wound up in unspeakable agony again a few weeks later, she finally referred me to a pain specialist who took one look at my MRI report and pointed out a small annular fissure — a tear in the lining of a lumbar disc — which my other doctor had ignored.

My new specialist says that some people experience those fissures without too much pain, while others feel pure torture. Unfortunately, I’m the latter camp.

If you end up here, always remember who is living inside your body: YOU.  Image via Wikimedia Commons.

If you end up here, always remember who is living inside your body: YOU. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Pain’s Bill of Rights

You can’t measure pain like your heart rate or blood pressure, but IC & Pain presents an interesting concept it calls the “Pain Care Bill of Rights,” as proposed by the American Pain Foundation (APF).

It’s worth noting that the APF, which closed down in 2012 due to a professed lack of funding, weathered controversy because of alleged financial ties to opiate drug manufacturers and its position that chronic pain sufferers should be getting more narcotics, not less, despite questions about the drugs’ efficacy, side-effects and addictive nature.

But APF insisted it was a patient advocacy group, and reading over its “bill of rights,” I realized my own “rights” as a patient with chronic pain have been violated repeatedly.

For instance, as you can see, my “right to have [my] report of pain taken seriously” has often been ignored.

“In treating interstitial cystitis, the following definition of pain taken from a nursing textbook is the most useful,” IC & Pain says: “Pain is whatever the experiencing person says it is, existing whenever he or she says it does.”

Bottom line? You decide your line between discomfort and pain — not the doctor.

Back on the bill of rights, you also have “the right to be informed by your doctor about what may be causing your pain” and the pros and cons of any possible treatments. In my case, my primary care doctor chose not to mention the annular fissure on my MRI to me, even though she knew I was in extreme distress.

Later, I insisted on getting a print-out of the MRI report for myself from my specialist. It mentions a disc protrusion “which encroaches upon but does not definitely contact” the adjacent nerve roots. My former doctor told me my spine was fine and my pain had no clear cause. But my new doctor, instead of ignoring my pain, took it into account and guessed that that “encroaching” disc was indeed causing trouble, along with the fissure. He was probably right: He quickly administered epidural and steroid injections (covered by my insurance policy) that reduced the swelling, stopped the spasms, and lessened the pain (restoring my will to live) in about a day. Weeks later, I still have some pain, but getting out of bed doesn’t make me scream and cry.

Now that you know all my business, what’s the point?

Why write all this? Is it just some self-pitying litany of complaints from a chronically ill person?

Maybe.

But what I really want to say here is that if you or someone you know suffers from acute or chronic pain that has been minimized or dismissed by healthcare providers, you’re not alone. The right doctor may be able to help you — a doctor who understands that pain should not be downplayed or ignored because it doesn’t have an obvious, common, or directly life-threatening cause (or because you’re a woman).

So speak up for your body. Speak up for yourself.

Have you had a similar experience with a little-known chronic illness, or back pain? Share your story in the comments.

This isn’t a blog about illness — it’s a blog about what I want to say this week. If you want to be in on the next discussion, scroll down to subscribe. 

Why Writers Are the Chicken Rex

Maybe you’ve heard that writers are dinosaurs.

Workers from another era whose profession is doomed in the age of the Internet.

As I have been preparing to speak on a March 18 freelance writers’ panel at Philly’s Pen & Pencil Club, sponsored by the Online News Association and the Editorial Freelancers Association, as well as teach my first class about blogging (happening in Cheltenham, PA on March 20), I’ve been thinking a lot about my process, my work, and my brand. And I say rise, writers. Rise!

I originally drew the comic you see above for a post about dinosaurs I wrote about two years ago. Back then, it was just an illustration of some science that really tickled me. It’s the truth about dinosaurs: they never really died out. They turned into birds.

Studies claiming to discover and mass-spectrometer-ize T-Rex collagen and link it to proteins in modern chickens are sketchy at best. But the more we learn about dinosaurs’ bones, the more we notice that dinosaurs and birds share skeletal features (both in their body structure and in the make-up of their bones) that no other animals have in common.

So when you chow down on that bucket of KFC, you’re enjoying some dinosaur’s long, long, long, long, long-lost cousin.

But something about that cartoon kept tugging at me. I used it for my Twitter profile. I even thought about putting it on my business cards. Why?

Do I just like science that much, even though I’m an arts and culture writer?

No.

I like that giant, scary chicken because she’s me.

People have questioned my choice to be a full-time freelance writer instead of pursuing a “traditional” career.

Well, I say, the core work of what a writer does and the value of what a writer does has not changed. The rest of the world has. Our industry is evolving at light speed and a writing career today does not look anything like it looked in past decades, but that doesn’t mean what I do is any less worthwhile. From the outside and even from the inside, it can look and feel like you’re scrambling for impractical scraps while everyone else has the good sense to get a 9-5 office job or at least look for work in restaurants.

At every turn, people and companies who want to exploit your valuable skills as a writer will try to make you feel worthless.

Like you should write for the byline.

Like you don’t need to be paid if the “exposure” is good.

Like you should work for the “experience.”

Like your expertise is worth nothing but the price of a dinner out.

But you’re still someone with a skill that the modern world, from business to politics to science to the arts, can’t do without. You can still be a force for good with the words you write and you should receive fair pay for the work that you do.

There goes the chicken, clucking in backyards and filling sandwiches by the million. That chicken doesn’t know it, but she is the closest thing to a T-Rex we will ever see in real life.

Too often, in the eyes of the world, writers are helpless factory-farm chickens who used to be Tyrannosaurs. Dinosaurs that got respect. Dinosaurs with a say in the food chain.

The world might see you in a very different way than it did a few years ago. People might tell you that nowadays, writing is not a “real” job. But remember your writer’s DNA. Remember that dinosaurs never disappeared. They just carved out a whole new life for themselves right under everyone else’s nose. Be the Chicken Rex. And tell the world who you are and what you’re worth.

Get on the bandwagon, even if you’re not a writer, a T Rex, or a chicken. Scroll to the bottom to subscribe. Or keep up on Twitter.  

 

This marketer is trying to use my blog to sell pills to you

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

You, my dear, dear readers, or more specifically, the number of you, mean I get a lot of e-mails from marketers who would like to advertise their products to you. You have no idea how many sketchy products and websites I have protected you from over the last several months. Most of these e-mails are good for nothing but a snort and the “ignore forever” file, but a few really rise to the top, deserving to be read, shared, and answered. In public.

So that’s what I’ll do for one of the marketing e-mails I got yesterday, titled “Review and Giveaway Offer.”

Here goes. The original text, in its entirety, is in bold.

Hello Alaina

[Hello! That’s my name! I can already tell that you’ve really done your research.]

Shakespeare called memory “the warder of the brain.”

[More research?! Dost thou ken my love of Shakespeare? Thou quotest Lady Macbeth in Act I:

…his two chamberlains
Will I with wine and wassail so convince
That memory, the warder of the brain,
Shall be a fume, and the receipt of reason
A limbeck only: when in swinish sleep
Their drenchèd natures lie as in a death,
What cannot you and I perform upon
The unguarded Duncan?  What not put upon
His spongy officers, who shall bear the guilt
Of our great quell?

Never mind that the line you’re quoting is actually about getting two servants so drunk that you can murder a king and then smear them with his blood to frame them. If that's your lead, is that worth considering for a slogan? "Take these pills and no-one will be able to pin a horrible murder on you!]

Our brains are constantly being attacked by the stressors in our lives including environmental pollution [have you tried the market in Beijing?], internal toxicity [you mean like my depression and vicious perfectionist complex?] emotional strain and a lack of proper diet and nutrients [how could you have seen me eating that Whopper Junior from the Delaware House this weekend?].

Brand-name pills product helps maintain optimum sustainability [is anyone else enjoying that spectacular bit of redundancy? “Maintain optimum sustainability” *snort*] of the molecular environment of the brain [ooh, science-y science-ish stuff! I bet you have a stock photo of a guy in a white coat on your website], enabling us to retain our ability to think cognitively and improve our memories. [“Think cognitively”? Somebody’s going for the Redundant Gold Medal.]

I’d like to send you a complimentary thirty-day sample [how kind!] for review on your site [phooey, I didn’t realize getting free stuff meant I had to swallow thirty days of pills whose copy is sell-it-to-ya-ese for “zero proven health benefits”, and then write about it for free]. I can also provide a handful of additional samples you can use as a giveaway. [OMG thank you!!] Finally, [there’s more!?] I can give you a link you can share on your site for anyone to click through and get a free sample for a minimal shipping and handling fee of only $1.98. [So...does that mean that when I give away the "handful" of samples to you guys, I'll have to pay whatever it costs me to mail it? Do you mind if I charge you?]

[I’m pretty sure this is the deal of the century for all of us. I mean, just for reading this blog, a couple of you get brain pills your doctor never heard of, made up of caffeine, Ginkgo Biloba Extract, Phosphatidylserine, Phoshatidylcholine and other shit I can't pronounce, and I get to turn my own website into a free marketing platform for a company hawking shady health supplements…waaait a minute...]

Please get in touch if you’d like to take me up on this offer or if you have any questions.  

[O God, I have an ill-divining soul.
Methinks I see thy pill-slinging pitch
As one dead in the bottom of a tomb.]

Best wishes,

[I bet! You too!]

 Name withheld

Scroll down to subscribe or find me on Twitter, and I will continue to protect you from links to companies like this. 

Blood, sweat and tears: my dates with anesthesia

The pain scale would be more accurate if a screaming face, not a crying one, topped it off.

The pain scale would be more accurate if it didn’t end with a crying face. A screaming one would be better.

Before the deep, stinging burn slid under the skin of my right hand, the nurse smiled at me. “This is the drug that Michael Jackson made famous,” she said. Is that what they say now before they shoot you up with propofol?

It all started last Monday, when I thought a cool shower might help my migraine (I hadn’t been able to eat for 24 hours). Weak and dizzy, I slipped a little getting out of the tub.

My mom describes back spasms as having your muscles electrocuted. I say imagine holding a blowtorch to your spine. The spasms plague my low back once or twice a year, and this was the second time they’ve landed me in the Emergency Room, incoherent with agony.

Problem patient

To the chagrin of most doctors, I am narcotics “non-tolerant.” One Percocet and I’m a sweating, shaking, tragically nauseated wreck. So once the hospital techs took my blood pressure and temperature, botched one IV line and then started another for fluids and migraine meds, Chad the ER doctor at Abington Memorial Hospital stood with his hands on his hips while the IV bruises spread across the backs of my hands.

“Well, if we can’t give you any narcotics, what do you want us to do with you?” he asked.

The honest answer was that I wanted him to find a quiet corner of the barn and shoot me with the family rifle, but all I could do was cover my eyes against the fluorescent lights. They wheeled me out one Valium later, still shrieking with pain.

Deliverance

On Wednesday, a lumbar specialist took a second look at a recent MRI and pointed to a herniated disc, and, for good measure, another disc with a fissure in it. Unable to sit, stand or walk without more tears than I cried while watching Titanic at age 14, I needed a “heavily sedated” epidural, stat.

The next morning, about four nurses helped me into a hospital bed at S.E. PA Pain Management. They looped an oxygen tube under my nose, explaining that the plasticky-cool gush of air was because the anesthetic might depress my breathing.

Going under

A recent Radiolab segment examined the history of anesthesia, from early 19th-century amputations on conscious patients, performed on the top floor of hospitals so passersby couldn’t hear the screams, to modern doctors’ theory that anesthesia may work not by knocking out the brain’s functions, but by preventing different sections of the brain from conversing. We’re still not sure why anesthesia is so different from sleep, which doesn’t rob us of a sense of the passage of time.

While the nurses prepped me for my latest date with oblivion, necessary for my spinal injections, I thought about my past run-ins with the miracle and mystery of anesthesia.

The first time I was ever sedated was when I had my wisdom teeth out. When I climbed into the chair, I remember thinking I should have gone to the bathroom first. And then, suddenly, nothing mattered at all. Even when the dentist’s instruments blocked my airway, I didn’t worry. I just waved my hand a bit and then resumed breathing.

Later, frequent bouts of strep throat sent me for a teenage tonsillectomy. I remember the ride to the OR on my back, the chill, the white blaze of the lights and a burn up my arm, and then the lines between the ceiling tiles began to droop and swerve like a Dali painting.

The next thing I remember is suddenly becoming aware of the darkness behind my eyelids, followed by the fire in my throat.

My next date with the anesthesiologist was the order of a rather sadistic urologist who wanted to see the inside of my bladder but kept me conscious for the catheterization — the agony of which is a hallmark of the disease he diagnosed. I was never so grateful for darkness, and the next thing I remember, the good doctor was standing by my bed in the recovery ward.

“You won’t remember anything I say now,” he said. “You have interstitial cystitis. I could see your bladder bleeding.” He walked away, and I began to sob.

Water it down

Why? I don’t know. I cried and cried. The nurse handed me a box of tissues but otherwise ignored me. Since then, I’ve learned that many people weep as they come out of anesthesia, though a few friends have told me they woke up in fits of laughter instead.

Last week, I felt the squirt of propofol burn up the middle of my lower right arm. Five seconds later, I felt deliciously sleepy.

But then the nurse took the oxygen line out of my nose.

“Hey,” I said. “I thought I needed that. Aren’t you going to tell me what happens as you go?”

“Honey,” she answered, “it’s all done.”

My emotions squished like a busted gel-pack. I don’t remember going to sleep or waking up, but the doctor had picked me up, rolled me over, injected steroids into my spine, returned me to bed and disappeared. An hour was gone. Just gone.

“Why are you crying?” the nurse asked. I took the Kleenex in shaking hands.

“I don’t know what happened,” was the only thing I could think of to say.

Have you experienced anesthesia? What did it feel like to you? Share your story in the comments, then scroll down to subscribe or keep up on Twitter

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