Daily Archives: June 5, 2016

Just In A Bad Mood

I’m kind of grumpy though I am not letting hubby know that I am feeling that way because I don’t want him to feel guilty about going on his trip. This will be the longest time we’ve been apart since we’ve been together in the states. The bed will be cold and lonely.

Today I’ve just been sitting around him a lot and hugging the hell out of him whenever I can!

Other than that I am just not a happy camper, but I am trying to enjoy our last night together. So I won’t be writing here any longer today.


Indy 500 Brain

My brain won’t stop spinning. It’s on a racetrack speeding around and around and I can’t even get a pit stop to change out the tires. I hate when my brain does this to me, and it’s been happening a lot since insurance quit covering the Focalin. Hopefully the methylphenidate will help but that’s not happening until tomorrow afternoon at the earlier. Or knowing my idiot pharmacy, they won’t have it in stock and I’ll be waiting another day or two. Frick.

I don’t know what to do with myself when my brain is like this. It would fucking fantastic if it manifested as productive hypomania. Instead, I get a hamster on meth rusting its wheel by never ending running. Frustrating doesn’t begin to cover it. It’s maddening. My mind is going ten different directions and yet my body is stuck in a state of inertia. I keep wondering what I did to deserve this mental bullshit. Did I snort sea monkeys as a child? Did playing in the sandbox somehow seep in my skin and turn my brain rancid? Or was it drinking soda with pop rocks?

I loved the show Unsolved Mysteries.

Not so much of a fan when my brain is the unsolved mystery. Frick.

That concludes this brief, inane rant that I just really had to do because my scumbag brain feels like it’s going to spin out so fast it will pop out of my ear. Not that it wouldn’t be kinda cool to put on youtube but…I apparently need this stupid brain to function so in my head it must remain.

Whose Cheerios did I piss in????

How a Cat Helped Me Stay Sane

Queen LouiseAny pet can help with mental health, really. But in my case, it was a cat.

I was living alone after a bad breakup that had shattered me, mind and spirit. After moving twice, once from another state and once from an apartment complex after I lost the job that paid for it.

I was damaged, and I was alone, in the upstairs of a small house in a small town. I asked my landlady if I could have a cat. She was dubious, but said yes.

I found a cat at a shelter. She was an adult tortoiseshell calico named Bijou. She was small and shy and quiet. The first night I took her home, she slept across my throat.

We needed each other. I needed someone to care about, to focus my attention outward on. She needed someone  to draw her out of her shell, to care for and about her.

We took it slowly. At first she didn’t like to be held. When I got home from work she would meet me at the door. I would pick her up, give her a quick kiss on the head, and set her right back down. Soon she learned that being held wasn’t such a bad thing.

Since then I have never been without a cat.

And they have improved my mental health. Pets do.

Pets entertain when we need distraction.  They can make us smile and even laugh.

Petting them brings tactile comfort and purring offers a soothing sound.

Caring for a pet makes us feel – be – needed. Even when we have a hard time caring for ourselves, a pet becomes a responsibility bigger than we are.

Losing a pet teaches us about the process of necessary grieving. Then getting another pet teaches us about the process of loving someone new, opening our hearts again.

Pets listen. They don’t judge.

Pets communicate with us, and teach us their personal language.

Pets are now being used as therapy animals and comfort animals for the anxious, the aged, prisoners – and psychiatric patients. The laws and policies regarding “assistance animals” are only just beginning to be enacted. They are far from catching up with the need.

Even visits with farm animals – lambs and chickens and ponies – are fulfilling vital roles in people’s lives.

I’ve written about “crazy cat ladies” before and even identified myself as one (http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-bI). There is a stigma that goes along with the label – yet another kind of stigma that we would be better off without. Admittedly, we can become obsessed with our companion animals, even to an extent that is unhealthy. They can be burdens, and annoyances, and expenses.

There are some people – perhaps people with rage issues, for example – who should not own pets. Having pets is a choice that should only be made if they and you fit together well. We’ve all read the stories and seen the pictures online of people who abuse pets horribly. Now those are the ones that I consider crazy.

Pets may not me be the right choice for other reasons. A person who travels a lot, or has extended hospital stays, may not be able to make the commitment. Germophobes and emetophobes may not be able to handle the inevitable messes that come with pets. Even pet fish need their bowls cleaned.

Personally, I would avoid fish, unless the care of, say, tropical fish fascinates you. And their placid swimming can be calming. But for most of us, a pet that interacts with us is preferable. Birds aren’t very cuddly, but they make agreeable (to some) sounds. Reptiles have their own fascination and aficionados. Me, I want something I can pet.

The picture that accompanies this post is of Louise (aka The Queen of Everything). She is 20 years old and, although she is hanging in there, I will be devastated when she goes. My husband’s 17-year-old cat, Garcia, has some health problems, though again, not terrible ones considering his age. Then there are our youngsters, Dushenka and Toby.

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that they are as much a part of my support system as I am theirs.




Filed under: Mental Health Tagged: being overwhelmed, bipolar disorder, cats, coping mechanisms, mental health, mutual support, my experiences, support systems

Drowning In Fear: Who Am I?

Ready. Set. Sail! I need to speak. Please hear me out. There are so many things going on in my head right now that I just need to get off my chest. I hope I can. I met up with a friend earlier today. She and I had a long conversation. We talked about our… More Drowning In Fear: Who Am I?

Can Tylenol Help Heal a Broken Heart?

TulipHunh! Apparently Tylenol can indeed help the pain of a broken heart! So very glad I don’t need it, but it’s still good to know. The description of what happens when you have a broken heart, neuroscience wise is so interesting, that alone makes this an amazing article. Tylenol for a broken heart is pretty amazing too. If any of my readers need to alleviate the pain of heartbreak, you have my sympathies and well, here is help!


Can Tylenol Help Heal a Broken Heart?

He told me to stop by after I got out of the movie. We met in the parking lot outside his dorm and kissed hello, quickly, like something you do out of habit. I didn’t know then that it would be our last. He was tense, his eyes focused everywhere but on me.

I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he ended with: “I don’t think I can do this anymore.”

My heart pounded as he gave his reasons. I listened but didn’t process. I stood there in the cold, swaying nervously from foot to foot, my hands shoved inside my jacket pockets. I tried to respond but stumbled over my words. Normally outgoing and talkative, I couldn’t even form a sentence. Warmth radiated from my flushed cheeks.

As a student of neuroscience, I have learned that the most intimate relationship is the one between your head and heart. They talk like best friends via the common carotid artery, which sends blood from the heart to the brain at a running speed of three feet per second.

The brain has developed mechanisms to sense danger, and it responds immediately in the presence of any threat. When a threat is identified, an emergency call is made to the hypothalamus, the command center for our hormone system.

The hypothalamus then kicks the sympathetic nervous system into gear, surging cortisol through our veins. Adrenaline floods our system. Our heartbeat quickens, strengthening the flow of blood to our vital organs. Our airways open. With each breath, we are more alert. Our pupils dilate. In the presence of danger, we are prepared to fight.

This is not what happens in a breakup.

The physiological response to a rejection is entirely different from that of a threat. We have an innate need for acceptance, just like we need water and food to survive. In a manner somewhat opposed to when we’re faced with a threat, rejection activates our parasympathetic nervous system.

A signal is sent through the vagus nerve from our brain to our heart and stomach. The muscles of our digestive system contract, making it feel as if there’s a pit in the deepest part of our stomach. Our airways constrict, making it harder to breathe. The rhythmic beating of our heart is slowed so noticeably that it feels, literally, like our heart is breaking.

After hearing those fateful words of rejection in the parking lot, I went home and cried on the floor of my apartment, tucked into my best friend’s embrace.

“Everyone has a first heartbreak,” she said gently. “The first one just hurts the worst.”

I felt like such a cliché, crying until I had a headache and plowing through an entire box of tissues. Studying neuroscience had taught me too much. I knew how the chemicals in my brain were driving my emotions. I wanted to use science to reason with myself, to convince myself that soon the hormones would stabilize and I would start to feel better.

Unfortunately, years of schooling can’t teach you about recovering from heartbreak the way experience can.

I wanted to go back to the middle of our relationship. I didn’t miss the beginning: the insecurity, the butterflies and that period of awkwardness when you’re just getting to know each other. And I definitely didn’t want to revisit the end. I wanted to return to the middle, when everything was calm, routine and dependable. It was easy then, and pain-free.

We were both active and engaged in our own spheres of campus life, and our paths never crossed until a mutual friend set us up on a blind date.

It wasn’t surprising that we had never met; he is a student athlete, and I can barely walk without tripping. While he was finishing problem sets in the engineering building, I was running experiments across campus in my neuroscience lab.

Our connection was intense and effortless. When we worked side by side in his room or mine, I felt remarkably safe amid the kind of silence that usually makes me feel too vulnerable.

I loved the way he slid his fingers into mine as we walked home and how he sometimes squeezed my first finger with his thumb extra tightly, just to remind me that he was there. The electricity from his touch sent a cascade of oxytocin from my posterior pituitary, lowering my cortisol levels and enveloping me with unspoken compassion.

With dopamine bursting out of my nucleus accumbens, I would be engulfed by feelings of exhilaration and bliss. I’d fall asleep next to him with my hand on his chest, calmed by the metronome of his heartbeat.

It is no coincidence that positive emotions feel so good; the hormones released when you’re happy, in love and feeling appreciated all help regulate your heartbeat into a “coherent” pattern. The fixed beating sets a rhythm for the rest of your body so that all other homeostatic mechanisms are carried out in sync. With my body in equilibrium, living felt much easier.

I wish I could say I got over my heartbreak quickly. To let others think I did, I kept my pain private, crying in the shower and at night when I hoped my roommates wouldn’t hear.

I felt embarrassed as I remembered my mother saying, “If he doesn’t want you, you don’t want him.” I tried to dedicate myself to my friends and to the course work that would prepare me for my medical school applications a few months later. I wanted to be like Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde”: confident and self-reliant.

But heartache is like any other pain, and it takes time to heal.

What’s crazy about the pain of a broken heart is that your body perceives it as physical pain. Love activates the same neurological reward centers as cocaine, and losing love can feel like going through withdrawal after quitting drugs or alcohol cold turkey.

Regardless of whether we’re in pain from withdrawal or experiencing an emotional rejection, neurons in our anterior cingulate cortex and insula start firing. We think the only way to feel better is to experience the high again; we physically crave it.

Like addicts, we can’t think clearly and argue with ourselves over every decision: “Should I call him? No, don’t be desperate.” As pain receptors fire, the result is that we feel broken, physically and emotionally.

What I didn’t know at the time, though, is that there is a saving grace. Modern medicine provides an over-the-counter remedy that has been shown to ameliorate the emotional effects of heartbreak.

In research published in 2010, scientists found that acetaminophen can reduce physical and neural responses associated with the pain of social rejection, whether in romantic relationships, friendships or otherwise.

So if you’re hurting from heartache, try popping some Tylenol.

Withdrawal eventually ends, and so does the pain of rejection. I hate how much I cried and all the time wasted missing him. I hate how much it hurt, but still feel so grateful for the relationship we had because it taught me what it means to love and be loved.

Now I know what I want: a relationship that will fill me with dopamine and steady my heartbeat when he entwines his fingers with mine. I’ll know it’s right when I can talk freely for hours, yet also be at ease in silence. I don’t spend so much time searching for that feeling anymore, wondering how love should feel, because I’ll recognize it when it comes and won’t force it if it’s not there.

Recently, I broke someone else’s heart. He was a friend first, but he said he wanted to be more. I gave it a few weeks, because he deserved that. We went out to breakfast one day, lunch another and dinner sometime after that. It felt nice to be with someone who cared so much about me, but my nucleus accumbens was quiet. There was no dopamine high when he held my hand, and my heartbeat wasn’t settled on a rhythm that matched his.

I tried to end it with kindness and respect, but there was obvious strain and confusion in his eyes as his parasympathetic nervous system kicked into gear while I gave my reasons. I could imagine the muscles of his digestive system contracting, his heartbeat slowing.

I had been there. I knew he would be O.K., and wanted to tell him so, but experience had taught me that I was the wrong person to help.

This conflict of my head and heart — of my wanting to offer comfort but knowing I shouldn’t — was making my pulse race and my body tremble. So I simply hugged him goodbye and walked away, hoping that someone else would think to give him Tylenol.

Crazy Shit I’ve Done in Therapy (Episode 3)

I’m dyeing my hair purple, and it’s all my therapist’s fault.

Sometimes I do weird things in therapy (you can read episodes 1 and 2 of this series here and here).  I really do like my therapist, I swear, but she’s got some weird ideas every once in a while.  As an even rarer occurrence, her ideas lead to questionable life choices such as dyeing my hair purple.

A few months ago, she gave me a bizarre homework assignment: she handed me a shoe box and a stack of magazines, and she told me to go home and cut out pictures.  I had to glue pictures that represented my “inner self” on the inside of the shoe box, and I had to put pictures that represented how others see me on the outside of the shoe box.  I wish I had a photo of my face when she told me this.  I think it was…skeptical to say the least.

“I’m sorry, what?” I asked.  “You want me to cut out pictures?  Like, what the kindergartners at my school do?”

“Yeah…it could help…” she said, looking a bit uncertain.  She was probably worried I would flat out refuse (a very real concern, by the way.  I thought about it).  In the end, I figured that she’s the one with the degrees and I’m the one with the defective brain, so it would probably be best to do what she said.

I went home and got to work.  Shards of magazine paper were quickly strewn about the living room.  My husband walked in at one point and asked what I was doing.  “Therapy homework,” I answered, as if this explained everything.  He looked at me a moment longer, trying to figure out what I was doing.  I held up a picture of spaghetti in response.  “Do you think pasta is more of an inside piece of me or an outer piece of me?  Because, like, everyone who knows me knows that I love Italian food, but I actually really do love Italian food.  Does that make it inside or outside?”

“Uhhh…cut it in half?” he suggested.  Perfect.  Great solution.  I hadn’t even had to bother with explaining the project.  This is why Andy is great.  I cut the spaghetti in half, and Andy walked away (probably to shake his head and swear that he will never go to therapy).

When I brought my shoe box into therapy the following week, I presented it like a kindergartner presents a finger painting masterpiece.  “I did my homework,” I said.  “Is it good?  Do I get an A?”

“There are no grades in therapy,” my therapist said for the thousandth time (which is not true, I say.  What else could possibly go in that thick file of notes about me?!  I know she’s writing if I did a good job or not.  I JUST KNOW IT).

We talked about the box for a while and how the optimization of happiness occurs when the inside of the box matches the outside, or when people are projecting an authentic image of themselves.  Perhaps this is why I’m happiest when eating spaghetti!

An interesting conversation sparked when she noticed a picture of a girl with purple hair on the inside of my box.  She asked me about it, and I said, “Oh, I don’t know…I just put that in there because I’ve always thought it would be fun to do something really crazy with my hair, like dyeing it purple.”

“Then why don’t you dye it purple?”

I looked at her as if she was the crazy one, not me.  “You don’t just DYE your hair purple.  People would think…I mean…you just don’t DO that.  It’s weird.  My husband would kill me.  I would get fired.”

“You’re a teacher, right?  Why can’t you dye it purple for the summer?”

I shifted uncomfortably on the couch.  “Because…um…because it’s just not done.”

“I say if you want purple hair, you should go for it.”

I assured her that no, that’s crazy, and theoretically wanting purple hair and actually dyeing it were two totally different things. I was squarely in the camp of the former.

Still, somehow, the next week when I was getting routine highlights done, I struck up a conversation with my stylist.  “So…umm…theoretically, how difficult would it be to dye my hair purple?”

Her eyes got wide and excited behind her thick square-rimmed glasses.  “Oooooh, like a purple strip on the inside by your neck?  That would look awesome.”

“Uhh…no…”  I said slowly, wondering if the highlighting chemicals were seeping into my brain.  “I actually meant…sort of…all of my hair.”

“All of you hair?  Like…your whole head?”  Apparently this is not a common request.

“Hold on,” I said.  I quickly grabbed my phone while she kept wrapping highlights.  Amazed that I was even thinking about this, I google searched some ideas for purple hairstyles.  I found one I liked, and I held it above my head.  The light of the phone reflected in the tin foil strips of my highlights.  “Like this,” I said, watching her reaction in the mirror as she stopped to look at my phone.  She looked even more excited than she had earlier.

“Seriously?” she took the phone out of my hand to look at it more closely.  “That would be so fantastic.  Let’s do it.  This is going to be so fun.  When are we doing this?”

“Summer,” I said definitively.  “Right when school gets out.”  As soon as I said that I thought, “Wait, what am I saying?!?  Back up! Take it back!”  Except I didn’t do that.  I looked in the mirror, head full of foil, and smiled.

After that appointment, months ago, we put my purple hair appointment on the books: June 15.  At the time, June 15 was such an abstract date – far in the future.  Now it’s…in eleven days.  I’m a bit nervous, but I’m mostly excited.  When I told my husband about this idea, he was surprisingly supportive.  He said he thinks purple hair will look really sexy.  I don’t know if it’s the purple hair or simply the fact that I’m not trying to fit into what I “should” be anymore, but one or the other is definitely attractive.  I feel sexy.

My sister went to that same stylist last week, and the stylist was talking about how excited she is about my crazy hair project.  My friend Bri lives in Maryland, and she texted me this week to say, “Purple hair, Hazel?  Seriously?”  This made me laugh, as this friend was voted Biggest Gossip in high school.  Even ten years and multiple states later, she somehow still has the pulse on the latest news.  She must have heard it from the ONE other person from high school who knows about it.  My husband said he’s pumped to see it.  I bought new nail polish to match it.  There’s no going back, people.  I’m going purple.  THIS IS HAPPENING.

I asked my husband to take me downtown this weekend, as I have some new white shoes I want to wear.  I told him that I’ve been waiting until after Memorial Day to wear them because they’re summer shoes.  He said, “Wait a second…you’re dyeing your hair purple, but you can’t wear white shoes before Memorial Day?”

“Absolutely not,” I responded, appalled.  “I’m edgy, not TOTALLY INSANE.”  This made us both laugh.  There are so many issues with that statement.  Maybe I’m not quite done with therapy yet.