Tales From The Roadtrek #2: The River Rats

I am fighting off a nagging desire to open with an apology for any indiscretions I may be, have been, or ever be guilty of, in my whole life.  That is because my Seroquel turned on me and gave me bad, bad extrapyramidal symptoms (twitches and a feeling like whole-body restless legs that makes me writhe incessantly, plus intolerable heat intolerance) that might not go away even though I have stopped taking it, and now I have nothing with which to quash the hypomania that dogs my heels like a nine-month-old Labrador Retriever, always pushing, pushing.

Nevertheless, I am having the best time I can have on two hours of sleep a night.

Now, disclaimers over with, I can begin today’s edition of Tales From The Roadtrek!

I fetched up last week at East Peoria, Illinois, along a sort of bayou that was once a marina, until the Illinois River left its banks and plowed it quite flat.

Once a marina, now a bayou off the Illinois River

Once a marina, now a bayou off the Illinois River

Everywhere you looked, there was some kind of interesting (or alarming) relic of this epic flood…..

Interesting

Interesting……………..

ALARMING...see the boat washed up on the levee, about 1,000 yards from the river????

ALARMING…see the boat washed up on the levee, about 1,000 yards from the river????

The campground was highly rated in both Good Sam, the premiere RVer’s resource organization, and Escapees (SKPs), the network for mavericks like myself who want to live life like they mean it and have a damn good time doing it.  Both outfits gave the place high marks for ambience, good facilities and clean showers/restrooms.

I called for a reservation and was told I didn’t need one, and to just give a call when I arrived.  I did so, and was met at the entrance of a ramshackle trailer park by an enormously jiggly friendly fellow on a four-wheeler, who ferried me to a shady rise along a stinking sump that looked like this:

2015-06-03 10.35.57

“How many nights?” He smiled, looking up from his receipt booklet.

“Um, two, I guess.”  I kind of wanted to bail out, but hey, it WAS only $13 a night, and there were two other fairly spiffy looking rigs right next to where he put me.  For $13, if it got too weird I wouldn’t feel bad flying the coop.  So I gave him $26 in cash, which made him grin wider, and he took off, leaving me choking on his dust.

“Howdy, neighbor,” drawled my next-door neighbor.  He looked like he’d seen a bit of the world, and then some.  “Welcome to the neighborhood.”  He lit his next cigarette off the last one, being careful to toss the butt into a Coke can, which I appreciated.  I liked him already.

“Well, what do you think of our little piece of Paradise?”

“Er, well,” I stalled, trying to think of something, “well, to tell you the truth, it looks a little seedy.”

“SEEDY?”  Uh-oh.  “What makes you say that?”  Open mouth, insert ass, disappear.

“Um, things like, you know, THIS.”

2015-06-03 19.29.40

“Yeah, so?  Here, come on over here and set down.  My name’s Tuck.”

Thank the Lord.  Breathe.

Tuck fetched a well-loved lawn chair out of a cubby hole in his rig, blew the dust off it, and offered it to me as if I had never insulted his neighborhood.

I settled in, and for the next two hours did not get a word in edgewise while Tuck regaled me with his adventures in the Army, Navy, prison, long-haul truck driving, Military prison, County lockups, fights, liquor, AA, and two honorable discharges despite all the prison time.  He showed them to me, just so I wouldn’t think he was lying.  I would have, actually, because the usual thing when one gets in prison while in the service is a court martial leading to a dishonorable discharge, but whatever.

Next thing on the agenda was our other neighbor, Nancy, who was a well-worn lady of 45 who looked 60 and acted 30.  Three raucous boys surrounded her. One of them was her five-year-old grandson, whose name I never did get the hang of.  She didn’t know what it meant, and neither did he, so he made up endless nicknames for himself instead of trying to remember his given name.  He fondly reminded me of Israeli kids, who have no concept of mortality.  He was forever and constantly finding new and more exciting ways of leaping off of high objects onto things like gigantic concrete slabs, etc, that gave me nearly uncontrollable urges to get my first-aid kit out where I could see it.

Finally he did get whacked in the eye when the rotted rope of a tire swing gave out and he crashed into some other flying object.  After he got done crying he was pretty proud of his shiner, once we had explained to him what the word “shiner” meant.

The “we” in “we” was his grandmother, her boyfriend who looked about 20 and had twin freaky looking heads tattoo’d on his pectoral muscles, which gave me the creeps every time he moved, and Nancy’s daughter–the boy’s mother–who kind of slouched around looking perpetually uncomfortable, and the two other boys who turned out to be Nancy’s great-nephews, and Nancy’s mother who stayed inside Nancy’s travel trailer because she couldn’t be out in the heat.  And Tuck, of course, still chain-smoking, and me.

We hung out around Nancy’s totally amazing fire ring, created out of fragments of stone that the flood had busted up and thrown around.  As the sun settled down over the river, it started to look like this:

2015-06-02 19.49.35

And I started feeling pretty mellow as the many kinds of night-critters began tuning up their orchestra: peeper frogs, tree frogs, leopard frogs, the Purple Martins twittering, coming home to their house upon its pole that leaned crazily over the bayou.

It was time for me to leave all my bourgeois preconceptions of “quality of life” behind.  All these folks were here because here life was almost free and certainly unfettered, and a simple need for an affordable place to dwell had brought us all together.

And I?  I was the guest, as it turned out, who stayed for another two nights, drawn by the unquestioning offer of friendship and camaraderie, undeserving, from a warm and open-hearted group of fellow travelers, flotsam and jetsam all of us, who happened to wash up on the same shore.

And the clean washrooms and showers?  Burned down last year.

Today Is Another Day: Rapid Cycling

As you may remember, yesterday I was painting my toenails in the middle of the night.

Alas, that was not to last.  I woke up this morning with a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach.

After I finally went to sleep last night, with the aid of more Seroquel, I woke up a bunch of times because my arms were numb and tingling.

Fuck, you know, this has been going on in one form or another for several years.   I’ve been writing it off as probably due to my arthritic collar bone, but this is different.

My medical experience gives me all kinds of terrible fears.  MS is the main one these days.

I remember the day in medical school when they taught us all the bad things that can possibly happen to breasts.

My then-husband came home to find me huddled in the bed hysterically crying.

“What’s wrong?” he asks.

“My breasts!  They’re a ticking time bomb!  I want them off right now!”

“There there,” he said, not knowing what else to say.

The next day I ran to the Student Gynecology Service to get a pre-operative exam.  The kind Nurse Midwife examined me and assured me that at the moment my breasts were not explosive, and offered to re-check them whenever I started feeling breast-anxious.

I felt rather foolish, but relieved that at the age of 29, nothing was wrong with my breasts.

Why do I make these digressions when I’m depressed?

Maybe it’s because I don’t really want to engage with the depression.  I know it will pass, and something else will take its place, but when it’s on me, it’s literally on me, and all over me, and in me, and I can’t shake it off.  All that happens is I start crying and feeling like someone is trying to rip out my guts, and doing a pretty good job at it.

Then it passes, just as quickly as it came.  What follows might be a period of “normality,” meaning, neither hot nor cold, and this is heavenly.  But it never lasts.

Hypomania, or frank mania with psychosis, tends to raise its ugly head at night, about bedtime; which for me is at 9 pm because my meds take 12 hours to wear off.  Actually they take 13 hours, but that is an embarrassing amount of time to sleep, so I actually set an alarm for 9 am.

I can tell the (hypo)mania is on its way because my bedtime knockout cocktail doesn’t do a thing.  I’m awake playing Solitaire on my iPad, which usually bores me to sleep, except now I’m totally awake: uncomfortable in my skin, twitching, restless.  I don’t want to look up because sometimes my wallpaper turns into ugly faces.

I follow the protocol my shrink and I developed for these very occasions: more Seroquel.  Another 50 mg till it knocks me out.  And a double dose of my benzos for good measure.

Sometimes it takes a couple hundred more milligrams of Seroquel to do the job.  I have an incredibly low tolerance for Seroquel, so my maintenance dose is only 100 mg.  I know, I know, some of you take 600-800.  That would put me to sleep for several days.  I usually get to 300 before it’s knock-down time.

The good thing about hypo/mania is that it can be controlled, if recognized early enough.  Depression, though…that’s another beast.

Bipolar depression is different from “regular” depression for reasons I don’t know.  I was treated with regular antidepressants for years, and was pretty much suicidally depressed the whole time.  Vitamins “L” (Lithium and Lamictal) saved my life, quite literally.  Blessings upon the quirky head of my neuropsychiatrist, who was on call when I was hospitalized the first time, and got my bipolar figured out.

The only adjustment we can do for the depression part of the roller-coaster is to up the Lamictal by 50 mg, which puts me at 200.  More than that pops me over into mania.  It’s a delicate balance, as you can see.

So the only thing I can really do with this depression is to wait it out.  Sometimes it does get suicidally bad, and then I have to think about my dog and my son, and what my suicide would mean for them.

I put them in that order, because my dog is helpless without me (although yes, I could put her in Rescue, but that thought makes me cry harder) and my son second, because even though it would tear him to pieces, he is at least able to provide for himself, unlike my dog.  I know that makes no sense but that is how it happens to fall out in my brain.

I’m starting to feel tired now, which means this part of the wave is coming to a close–I don’t know exactly when–and what happens next I cannot guess.

OH NO!!!!

Hello, dear readers.  I think I have flipped.

I caught myself giving me a pedicure at 11:45 PM.  And really enjoying getting artistic about it.  It came out brilliantly, if I may be so obnoxious.

Hm.  Something does not feel quite right.

So I smoked half a joint, meditatively.

That’s when I got it.

I have been a slump since last Wednesday.  Well, not exactly a slump.  I would call it a triggered, dissociated, PTSD’d mess.  But it seems that under that pile of oozing slime, the Black Dog was lying relaxed, head up, tongue hanging out and dripping, waiting.

As I was enjoying my joint it hit me:  Silly silly, you have been depressed all week.  I mean, you have felt terrible, am I wrong?

But now have no fear, because Hypomania has made her entrance.  What fun!  Actually it is, if I don’t ruin anything important in the process.

Who knows how long I could stay up tonight, answering mail since last fall and calling Israel to check on the abysmal state of my bank account, since I haven’t been back in almost a year.  I could, in fact, put away the unspeakable piles of **stuf** that has collected on every flat surface.  I have to push objects away on the table in order to have space to eat.

No, not really that bad, most of the time.  Just during the down spells, where I have no interest whatsoever in that big envelope that promises instant gazillionair-hood.  I throw it all on the table.

Then if I’m lucky I’ll have a nice productive flip.  If I can stand still enough I can get all sorts of things done.  But **sigh** there is little danger of that.  Plenty to do in the big world!  Now, if I can just find a way to stay in this pleasant condition and not get into a mixed episode (shudder) or pop all the way into mania–not fun……..but now for the extra dose of Seroquel so I can get some sleep tonight….

And Now For Something COMPLETELY Different (really)

I guess most of you don’t know that I’m an Old-Time Clawhammer Banjo player.  Well, I am, have been since I was 19 (a long long time ago), and always will be, until my hands just quit on me.  That banjo has pulled me out of some dreadfully dark places.  I have clung to it like a life raft, and it has never let me down.

Last night was horrible.  I woke up with a just-shy-of full-blown manic attack at two AM.  After a total of 5 mg of Ativan failed to stop the racing squirrels rushing round in their cage (read: my head), and by now it was 5 AM, I took some more Seroquel and at last managed to at least lie down and close my eyes for a couple of hours.  Now I just feel gross and exhausted and can’t do anything.  I’m supposed to make Friday Night dinner for my family, but now I just don’t know how I could possibly manage that.  So I’m going to have to call my mother and disappoint her, but there’s only so much I can squeeze out of myself.  I guess that’s the “disability” part of it, eh?

But back to the banjo part.  There’s this outfit called Number One Music, an internet radio station, that I apparently signed  up my one existing album for, without paying any attention to it, some years back.  I guess.  I really don’t remember. Forgot.

It’s an international, well, worldwide, you know, because of the Web, thing.  Radio station.  They send me weekly emails, which I ignore.  But this morning with my vision pretty hazy, I opened today’s email from them instead of throwing it in the trash.

It seems that on this week’s charts I am numbers One, Five and Six in the Top Ten in the Acoustic genre.  EH?  How did that happen????  That’s kinda...BITCHEN, really.

Durn, I better start working on that second album, if people seem to like the first one so much!

If you want to listen to all the tracks for free you can go to their site.

If you wanna buy my music (nice stocking stuffer!  Shameless plug) you can go to CDBaby, where ALL my music is half-price thru Dec. 31, including digital downloads and single tracks, but if I were you I’d go for the physical disk because it has awesome photos like the one you see here, and a jewel case liner with very sparse but present liner notes.  I was so sick when I made that recording that I listen to it and go, how in the hell did we manage to squeeze that one out???

Now to return to the interesting task of trying to walk straight after all those drugs.  I might use my cane to keep from falling down.  Again.

me n my ol' banjo

me n my ol’ banjo

Turn the Lights On, Will You?

Hey everybody, this is Chattery the Chipmunk here with an Arctic News Blast from Canada.  No, really!  Some of you may know that I’ve been down in the Black Hole for a long, long, long, long…..time.  I keep going to my psychiatrist and he manages to make me laugh somehow, so he knows I’m not hospital material yet.  But since I’m maxed out on the meds, there really hasn’t been anything to do except for hang on tight and think about my son and my dog and some other people who might be seriously bummed if I checked out.

Last week, though, Shrink-O-Matic had a brilliant idea!  Light therapy!  He gave me a “prescription” for a 10,000 Lux blue spectrum light made in Canada, where they really know from Seasonal Affective Disorder.  It mimics the light of a beautiful blue sky!

Now, I am so sensitive to light that my mood changes for the worse if a cloud even covers the sun for a few seconds.  I think one of the reasons I love to be in Israel (one of the many, many reasons) is that if I’m feeling down all I have to do is step outside into the Mediterranean Middle East blue sunny skies and I’m much better.

The instructions that came with the lamp say to use it for 20-30 minutes once a day in the morning.  So I’ve been doing that, and it has been helping some.  Then my therapist on Thursday had the bright idea that I should try using it twice a day.

So today I used it first thing in the morning, and again around 2 pm.  So far I have gone for a long walk with The Dog, swept and vacuumed the entire house (if you can call this a house–it’s actually an unimproved barn-like structure, but it keeps the rain out and has heat), and redid my fan page on ReverbNation, and tried to learn something about investing in stocks, and…I am not at all tired, and it’s 10 pm, and I don’t think I’ll do that again.

It feels something like being on steroids, which is why I hated being on steroids when I had to take them because of inflammation.  I think it could definitely lead to mania if continued.

So, tomorrow will be a one-dose day.  Nevertheless, it is such a relief to NOT be depressed–you know what I mean–that I’ll take a hypomanic episode every now and then if that’s the way it has to work.  I just have to write it on the inside of my eyelids: don’t buy stocks when hypomanic!!! 

Why am I not asleep?

Maybe you’ve noticed that this is my third post today. I guess it’s technically not today anymore because it’s past midnight. If you follow my blog, you know that I rarely, if ever, post more than once a day. That’s because people don’t like to get bombarded with posts, and are less likely to read them, judging from my scientific sample size of one.

I’ve had my evening drug cocktail, and when it didn’t seem to be going anywhere I used my adjuvant, which is a secret recipe having to do with Ouzo and Absinthe. Yes, I am well aware that this is frowned upon by mainstream psychiatry, but I have never had much truck with mainstream anything and I don’t imagine I’ll start now.

I just took another milligram of Ativan, and I might just take another to keep it company. Tomorrow morning is trashed already, so why not do whatever it takes to waltz off to dreamland without accidentally killing myself? That would be so hard on the fam. I’ll be careful, I promise.

All of the above points clearly to hypomania. I’ve seen it coming for a couple of days. I’ve been unusually creative, played my fiddle until my bow hand gave out, finally started and finished the first painting in a series I’ve been visualizing for several years, and spent way, way more time on Facebook and Twitter than was good for me, even though it is for a good cause.

Hmm, I just gave myself an idea. Why not get out of bed after taking that second Ativan and play my fiddle until a) I fall asleep or b) the sun comes up? I will think about it for another ten minutes, and if I’m still wide awake, that’s what I’ll do. Hope you are all having a peaceful, blissful sleep…

Postscript: after rattling around the house aimlessly I realized with a flash of insight that I had forgotten to take my quetiapine, the antipsychotic that puts me to sleep like a hammer, usually. In fact I normally must take it by 9 pm if I am to make it out of bed by 10 am. It affects me like that. And my doctors get a kick out of the baby dose I take, 50 mg, but it’s what does the trick. So now I’ve taken it, we’ll see if it can head this train off at the pass, to mix some metaphors. Shaken, not stirred.

After the Hypomania Attack

Now I am exhausted.  I’m trying to do some research for an article to post here, but my brain won’t work.  I have to force myself to read each word, and then I can’t put the words together; and if I can, they seem meaningless.

What happened?  Only a few hours ago I was all fired up, making lists of topics to write about, designing an actual syllabus that I wanted to cover.  I still love the idea, but even the act of typing is wearing me out.

That’s how it is with me.  I guess it’s called ultra-rapid cycling.  Rapid cycling means you switch between depression and hypomania/mania several times a year.  Ultra-rapid means more often than that.  I think there’s even a term for people like me, who cycle several times a day.  It’s really a drag.

I did manage to do some reading on circadian rhythm and bipolar, and sure enough, there’s a gene (or more) that regulate circadian rhythm, and if you take mice that have been designed to have mutations on those genes, their circadian rhythm is messed up.  If you then give those mice lithium, they go to sleep and wake up when they’re supposed to.  So the authors concluded that there could be a connection between genetic malfunction of circadian rhythm and bipolar illness, which may explain the sleep problems many bipolar people have.  Maybe if I was one of those mice I could get some sleep, because the lithium does help with the cycling, or at least with the emotional reaction to the cycling, and that’s a good thing.

I also found out that I’m probably Bipolar I instead of BP II, because when I was untreated and working nights, I was also going to 6 am aerobics class, then going skiing for a couple of hours, then riding my horse for a couple of hours, then going back to work, and sometimes taking a nap.  I have never held a job for more than two years in my life, because they have all ended the same way:  I knew way, way, way more than the people in charge, and it always came down to “I quit/you’re fired.”  And I have never had a successful relationship either.  They’ve all ended in different dramatic ways, though, even though I don’t consider myself a drama queen, particularly.  The article said that BP I is characterized by hyperactivity, grandiosity, dysfunction at work, and dysfunctional relationships.  Oh, and hypersexuality.  That was fun, but since the relationships were fucked up it was just another battleground.  So I guess I’m BP I.  It was obscured, I think, by the treatment-resistant BP depression I had before rTMS.  Not that I’m no longer depressed; it’s just that the volume has been turned down on it (thank G-d), and now I can see all the other stuff that had been overrun by the enormity of the depression.

Ah me.  I am so tired, and yet I can’t sleep.  I think I might watch a movie, since I finished the four-volume set of Mary Stewart’s wonderful series on Merlin and the rise and fall of King Arthur.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll be coherent again, and get a decent start on what I hope to write.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Everyone knows about guide dogs for the blind.  Most people know about “Hearing Ear” dogs for the hearing-impaired.  A few people know about assistance dogs for the physically disabled.  Even fewer know about service dogs that assist diabetics by detecting high or low blood sugar, or Seizure Detection Dogs that can sense changes in brainwaves before a seizure occurs and alert the person so that s/he can get to a safe place and/or take preventive medicine.

Almost nobody knows about Psychiatric Service Dogs.  There has been a bit of a flurry in the press about PTSD dogs for returning veterans,  While the Veteran’s Administration has been vocal about acknowledging the benefit of PTSD Dogs in mitigating the disabling and sometimes disastrous sequelae of combat-induced PTSD, they have nevertheless refused to pay for the dogs, preferring instead to underwrite expensive medicines that often do nothing but sedate the sufferer, without providing any definitive remedy.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which is an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, has recently clarified its position on the legitimacy of Psychiatric Service Dogs: 

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

I have been using a PSD since 2002.  When I first acquired Ivan, I didn’t know if he was going to work out or not.  Psychiatric Service Dogs are not like Guide Dogs for the Blind, in that their training is not so much task related as it is intuitive perception of its human partner’s mood.  Not every Guide Dog makes the grade, for one reason or another; and many fewer PSDs have the focus and the attentiveness to tune in to its partner’s state of being and respond appropriately when needed.

My PSD partner, 2002-2007

My PSD partner, 2002-2007

Ivan almost didn’t make the grade.  He was a wild and cantankerous puppy, but he had an intensity of focus that made me stick with him.  We got involved in some dog sports that gave him an outlet for his energy, and by the time he was a year old he was cuing in on my moods and literally dragging me back from episodes of dissociation resulting from severe PTSD.  When I retreated to my bed overwhelmed by depression, he climbed up and stood over me, licking my face and looking into my eyes with such a concerned expression that I couldn’t help but laugh.  He somehow knew when it was time for me to take my meds, and if I was zoned out he would tug at my sleeve.

The ADA is very specific about the requirement that a PSD must be trained to do some specific task.  I take issue with this, in that mental illness is not something nuts and bolts like physical disabilities are.  You can train a dog to open the fridge and take the laundry out of the dryer (which, by the way, Ivan loved to do for fun, and he could put it in the basket too), but how do you train a dog to respond to an incipient attack of mania by signaling the partner to take a pill?  Training a dog for a specific response requires exposing the dog to the situation over and over.  You can teach a dog to pull a wheelchair, but the wheelchair has to be present at all training sessions.  Guide dogs for the blind go through extensive training in many situations, over and over.  So how can one respond to the ADA’s insistance that the dog be trained for a specific task?

To further muddy the waters, the ADA position statement distinguishes between Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals by the same requirement that Service Animals must be specifically and specially trained to perform a task, whereas Emotional Support Animals are there to comfort and support:  “Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.”  I think that is a very fine line, when it comes to distinguishing an ESA from a PSD.

Bottom line, though, PSDs share the same access rights as any other service animal: exactly the same as a Guide Dog for the Blind.  It is a federal offense for any business establishment, public or private, to deny access to a PSD.

I never had one single bit of access trouble with my Ivan.  He was a German Shepherd, a breed universally associated with service animals.  We flew all over the country.  He took up a lot of room at my feet on airplanes, which sometimes inconvenienced other travelers, but for the most part everyone was good natured about it.  We stayed in hotels, and he came with me to restaurants, where he lay down under the table and none of the other patrons even knew he was there.  He went to movies and the theatre and museums.  He accompanied me to a ship museum in Baltimore and amazed the sailors by running up and down the ladders between decks!  He loved playgrounds and would run up the ladders and slide down the slides.  He loved everyone, and everyone loved him.  He died at age 5 from kidney cancer, in 2007.  I will miss him forever.

I couldn’t bear the thought of trying to replace Ivan, so I did without a dog until two years ago, when I bought a Lhasa Apso, Noga, for a pet.  I never expected anything from her except being cute and fuzzy and comforting.  But to my great surprise, she started tuning into my moods, and doing specific behaviors related to how I was feeling.  For instance, I often start into a hypomanic attack in the late evening, when I should be taking my meds and going to bed.  If I don’t, she jumps at my legs and bops me with her feet, over and over, and if that doesn’t work she jumps into my lap and flings herself on top of my computer (which is what I am always doing if I am in that state at that time).  If I am depressed she comes and licks me till I laugh.

Noga the Wonder DogNow, as you can see, Noga does not look like what people generally think of as a “service dog.”  She is cute and fuzzy.  She weighs twelve pounds.  I don’t have a picture of her with all her Service Dog gear on, but even with her vest that has PTSD DOG, FULL ACCESS on it in big letters, people still give me the “oh yeah, right” look.  I have been denied access to hotels in the middle of the night when my flight was cancelled.  Oh, and I forgot to tell you, she is registered with a national Service Dog Registry and has the appropriate documentation for that.

The ADA provides specific instructions for businesses that have any doubt that the animal is a service animal.  They are permitted to ask if the owner has a disability, and what specific task(s) the animal performs to mitigate that disability.  They MAY NOT ask anything about the nature of the disability.  All they may do is inquire IF the owner has a disability.

Unfortunately, I have been repeatedly hassled by business owners about Noga, and one hotel desk clerk demanded to know exactly what my disability is, in front of several other customers waiting to check in!  I made a huge scene and threatened to call the police, which I would have done because I was hypomanic as hell after having been turned away by two other hotels.

When I had Ivan I actually carried a prescription from my psychiatrist, which I had stashed among the other papers in his vest (rabies certificate and such).  The very few PSD organizations found around the Internet discourage that, though, because they feel it might cause a precedent for businesses to hassle PSD handlers, since the ADA is very specific that no special documentation is necessary.

If a prospective PSD handler were to ask my advice on what kind of dog to look for as a potential partner, my advice would be something like this:

1.  Steer clear of organizations that purport to sell trained PSDs.  They ask a pile of money and there is no guarantee that any particular dog will partner with you.  The best PSD is an owner-trained one.  Go for a breed that is usually identified with Service Dogs: German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever.  But be VERY careful about breeders:  do your research and ONLY purchase a puppy from a reputable breeder of WORKING DOGS, not show dogs, and definitely NO “hobby breeders.”  The money you spend on a quality puppy will save you thousands in vet bills and heartache.

2. Go to obedience school.  Both of you.  If you get a puppy, make sure you go to Puppy Kindergarten Training (PKT).  I advise people to train their dogs all the way through CGC, Canine Good Citizen, which is a program administered by the AKC.  CGC training assures that your dog will be safe in any public situation, including with other dogs, children, elderly people, wheelchairs, everything.  Not only will you come out of it with a “safe dog,” but the bonding experience of training with your dog is invaluable.

3.  Do fun stuff.  Find out what your dog thinks is fun. Ivan would retrieve a ball or a stick until he died (luckily I got tired first)!  Some dogs love to swim.  Noga is a hike-o-maniac, despite her fluffy exterior.  Not only will you bond with your dog this way, but you’ll have fun too, and maybe get outside more.

4. Give your dog time off.  Nobody can stand being on duty 24/7.  Many dogs get upset about “standing down” from duty, but they need it.  Use a crate if need be, to give your canine partner an hour here and there, when you’re feeling steady.  Mine just knows when I don’t need her and goes off and lies down somewhere else.  But she’s always got an ear pricked for me.  She knows my brain waves better than I do.

5.  Join an online PSD community.  Unfortunately, the main one fell apart some time ago, and there seems to be only one left here.  It is not PSD specific, but does have a PSD message board/forum where you can meet other PSD partners and ask your questions.

In summary, Psychiatric Service Dogs are a valuable resource that can help us cope with our disability more effectively, helping us to lead happier and more productive lives.  Mine have saved my life many times, and I suspect that if more people had them, the morbidity and mortality from psychiatric illness would decrease dramatically.  Anyone who is interested in more information about any aspect of PSD partnering is welcome to contact me.

Writing For My Life

OK, I admit it.  I’m depressed.  Have been for a few weeks.  It started when I was in Israel, during the High Holidays, when the level of intensity of life in general ramps up to peak levels.  It’s like recording music, if you’ve ever done that.  There’s a meter that measures the intensity of the sound input.  Nowadays it’s a digital bar meter, kind of like what’s on your cell phone.  At the left the bars are yellow: not enough sound for a good quality recording.  In the middle the bars are green:  good.  After that the bars turn red:  too much input, leads to static and lousy sound.  In the old days when those meters were analogue, there was a needle that looked like the second hand on a watch, and it moved through an arc corresponding to the sound input levels.  On each end of the arc was a pin, to keep the hand from falling off the curve.  If the sound intensity was so high that the needle went all the way over to the right-hand pin, all the way to the end of the red, we said that the meter was “pinned.”  All this explanation to say that during the Holidays my intensity meter was pinned.  Big time.

Normally the days and days and weeks  of ecstatic celebratory prayers with my congregation, with our crazy intense rabbi, are enough to kick me into hypomania, where I remain in my giddy hyperstimulated state until crash and burn time, often punctuated with the immensely unpleasant and distasteful “mixed state,” which many of you know all too well.

This time I think the Seroquel made a big difference.  It blunts my experience of emotion.  It keeps me from derailment, but it shuts me down and I can’t get off, emotionally speaking.  I was there, I felt the waves of other people’s ecstatic prayer experiences washing over me like waves at the beach;  I just didn’t get off.  And it was disappointing.  It made me sad.  And the Holidays started feeling like nothing but a lot of work.  Which in itself was not bad;  it just wasn’t what it has been in other years.

And I started slipping, and I have been feeling the yawning maw of the black hole very near.  I have upped my Lamectil, which is the only thing that seems to stand between me and it.

Maybe I’m being hard on myself.  Maybe I’m being unrealistic.  I was, of course, coming off of the dreadful train wreck of a relationship for which I had held high hopes.  I know I’m still mourning for the relationship I thought it was, the one I wanted it to be, the one that it wasn’t.  That’s enough to get anyone down, temporarily anyway.

But now I’m back in beautiful Western North Carolina, with the music of the river lulling me to sleep every night, background music for the heavy sedatives and antipsychotics as they narc me off to sleep.  Without them there is no sleep, just the hours ticking away until the grey dawn brings on nearly full mania, paranoia, delusions, hallucinations and all.

So I’m stuck, really, with the drugs.  I have morbid fantasies of some catastrophic circumstance that might prevent me from having my drugs.  I stockpile them just in case.  Because, dear readers, without them I really would die.  I have come very close in the past.  I really don’t want that to happen.  It would cause too much collateral damage.  And besides, I wouldn’t get to see the end of the movie.

But I have another weapon in my antidepressant arsenal:  I write.  I write like crazy, words just pouring out of my fingers on the keyboard until my hands ache and my butt is numb from sitting writing.

And what am I writing this time?  I am writing my life.  Just writing it down.  Not editing a bit, just writing it as it happened.  I don’t care about an audience.  I have tried to do this time and time again, and each time I get hung up on writing for an audience, which is how I had to write when I had a profession, when I was writing educational materials, presentations, professional stuff.  Not now.  I am writing for my life.  My life depends on it.  I have to get it out of me, into the “paper” of my hard drive, where it can be separate from me and cease to torment me.

My friend R. maintains that anyone who had my life history would be depressed.  I’m not so sure:  I’ve met some people who had much, much more traumatic lives, who were more resilient than I, who have managed to surf above the waves rather than getting sucked down into them.  I don’t know, I don’t like to go with theories of causation of mental illness.  It simply is, and we all have to find our ways of coping, of staying alive and making something of our lives, hopefully, even if that something is “merely” (and I am using Sardonic Voice here) the act of Staying Alive, which is not so simple when all is said and done.

So I am writing for my life.  I want to write myself up out of this hole I’m staring into.  Lord help me to get it right, this time.

 

Out in the Ozone

Dearest readers, you may have noticed that it’s been a while since my last post.  I feel like I’ve really dropped the ball.
The cause of my sudden silence cannot be revealed at this time.  “All in good time, my pretties, all in good time,” as my evil cousin the Wicked Witch of the West would say.
What I can tell you is that I normally labor to keep my environment under tight control, the better to manage my disease.  Lately this has become impossible, and while the perturbing principle is actually a very pleasant one, it remains nevertheless a perturbation of the steady state equilibrium I work so hard to maintain.
I find myself constantly teetering on the brink ofhypomania, or worse, the dreaded “mixed state.”  I have had to take additional doses of the hated Seroquel.  It does abort the incipient madness, but at such a price….
Apart from its intrinsic goodness, I think the current state of events is beneficial in that it is forcing me to step outside my very well trodden comfort zone, which has served me well for years, but had become something of a prison of late.
It remains to be seen how this new tightrope walk will evolve.  One thing I do know:  this time, I’m not working without a net–and my 360 is well covered.

Copyright 2012 Laura P. Schulman all rights reserved