Tag Archives: Lyme Disease

Natchaug Hospital Stay and Comfort Room

I have been away since December 17th, in the hospital yet again. This time the experience – at Natchaug Hospital in Willimantic — was vastly better than the previous two and not abusive at all. I want to tell you about this, but first let me go back to what happened to get me there.

In the beginning of December I began to have trouble again. The “people” came back with their jeering and mockery and commands. A general confusion assailed me. In my journal I recorded many “cries” of MATOOTAM! : “Kill the Ogre that Ate Manhattan” which many of you know means me. I also began to burn myself under the influence of those command hallucinations. I still believe this was all a Lyme disease relapse, but I had been on antibiotics  previously for 8 years – with positive tests for Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses intermittently during that time — without being cured, so there was and continues to be nothing but symptomatic treatment. This means, as my new psychiatrist, Dr C, argues, at least temporary use of the hated, and loved, atypical antipsychotic, Zyprexa. I already am taking Abilify and Geodon, as well as Lamictal for mood stabilization and possible temporal lobe seizure activity. However, as has happened before, these were not effective enough to carry me through such a crisis, which is why I was encouraged to take Zyprexa, 20 mg to head off anything worse. Despite my resistance – I really hate the immediate increase of appetite and weight that accompanies taking it – I did so, I assure you. But the damage was already done and the crisis took on a life of its own, so to speak. By mid-December, I was  no longer “safe,” the code word my visiting nurse among others uses for my listening to the commands the “people” give me. She didn’t know how true that was, though, until I finally admitted it after four days of what I will only describe as obedience to those same commands.  I saw Dr C that Thursday, and though she was uncertain of my safety, she decided that I would talk with her every evening until I saw her again the following Tuesday.

 

The truth is, I do not really recall most of this, neither intellectually nor emotionally. I have had to be told and to refer to my journal in order to recount all of the preceding. However, I do remember what happened next. In addition to the reappearance of the People, I began to experience what I called “brain blips.” These were very brief episodes in which I felt as if my brain suddenly did a somersault, a little like the feeling when your heart skips a beat, except that it was in my brain and accompanied by a terrible dread and feelings of impending doom. After the fraction of a second in which the blip occurred, I would come back to myself – it felt as if for an instant I lost consciousness, but the blip was so very brief that it didn’t seem possible. These episodes were terribly frightening, even though nothing ever happened during or after them, not at least of the dreadful sort I feared.

 

That Friday evening, my heart racing and my mind itself awry, I was in another world, so confused that I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. I managed to call Dr C, who prescribed Ativan. It was too late to call the nurse to pick it up for me so I got in the car to drive the mile to CVS but as soon as I pulled out of the parking lot, the other world took over completely. I do not know how I actually got to the drugstore. I recall only that I could barely hear or see for the pandemonium in my mind but that I was aware enough of the danger to drive only 20 mph the entire way. Once there, however, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to get home and I forgot about getting the Ativan altogether. Somehow I managed to tell the pharmacist that something was wrong, that I couldn’t drive home, but she thought I meant that the car had broken down, and called a cab for me. I went outside to smoke a cigarette and wait for it, but I was so scared of the shoppers who came and went – the drugstore was open 24 hours a day so anyone in the area who needed something after 10pm came there – that I was unable to take more than a few drags, hiding behind a pillar. I returned to the pharmacist and whispered that there was something terribly wrong, with my brain, that as I felt, bugs had infested it and that I was in another world. Finally she understood and called an ambulance.

 

I won’t go into the drive to the ER except to say that I was so “out of it” that I wasn’t even upset that the EMTs made me get on the stretcher right in the middle of CVS and that everyone saw me being taken out of there. Once in the vehicle, I tried to explain to them that despite the large wound they would discover on my leg, there was something wrong with my brain itself, that this was not a purely psychiatric matter and that I needed medical, neurological care. Indeed, I still feel that way, but much good that did. Once a “mental patient” always a “mental patient” it seems. I admit, though, that having burned my leg did not help much. Still, I tried to explain that I needed an MRI of my brain, that something was wrong, a bleed or parasites or something! You can guess their response: of course, they summarily dismissed all of that and quickly had me packed off to the psych section of the emergency room. Although this is a very comfortable, large and separate unit of the ER, with single cubicles for each patient and a TV but also a video camera in each one, I waited 3 days before a bed was available for me, some 25 miles or more away at Natchaug Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Mansfield Center, in Connecticut.

 

I name the hospital openly – as opposed to the others I have written about — because it was  amazing in so many ways that I want both to sing its praises and to “advertise” it so to speak, to describe what a really good psychiatric hospital ought to be like. It is true that most people were in for a very short time, Connecticut having virtually no long term beds any longer, not even in the state hospital, but whether acute care or for somewhat longer stays, Natchaug was quite simply the best place I have ever been. From the food, to the – well, let me go into more detail rather than a mere summary (though in my opinion, the food was indeed a cut above that in any place I have been in, both in availability, and, with a salad bar at every meal, quality.)

 

Upon admission there was, to my dismay, a requisite “clothing and body search.” This procedure was done in such a way as to preserve as much dignity and privacy of one’s person as possible but I feared at first that it boded ill for the rest of my stay. Also, I discovered that although there were, I think, two private rooms, I had been assigned a double, a semi-private room, with a roommate already installed. This was upsetting to me, as I had almost always had a single, or been moved to one because the unit staff either felt I was too disruptive or unable to tolerate the stress of a roommate. However, when I saw how the semi-private rooms were carefully partitioned with a floor to ceiling wall in between the bed areas, I was much reassured. Although I eventually did for a short time have a private room, or a double that was designated as private – I frankly do not remember why! – I was not bothered by either roommate that I had while there. The one who did try to get me to – Oh, I dunno. I just am no longer one to “socialize” with other patients and I simply did not feel like getting to know her, or to excessively “sympathize” or otherwise expend my limited energy on her problems. I feel a little bad about this, but this one roommate, the second one, at first tried to involve me in her “stuff” and even left a journal or something next to my bed “for you to read to find out more about me.” Well, this was so very intrusive, and nothing I had asked for at all, that I rudely, but decisively said, “Why would I want to do that?”

 

I know that I would have been terribly hurt and humiliated by someone’s saying such a thing to me, but on the other hand, I would never have been so forward with a complete stranger either. In any event, she quickly took the papers back and left the room. However, a day later, she seemed to have no hard feelings, and we got along, if distantly at least as well as I wanted to.

 

Where was I? Well, I will tell you that the worst thing about my stay, and I suppose unavoidable, since I was there over the holidays, was that I had three different doctors for the three weeks I was there. but the best things were two, or more, but two in particular. One was that there was NO seclusion room, that is to say, the seclusion room that they used to have was not only now designated at the Comfort Room, but in fact was comfortable, and open at most times for use by anyone needing comfort. In it, there were thick mats on the floor, a Grandma Moses-like mural painted on all four walls by artist staff members and best of all a “therapy chair.” This is a very large and comfortable rocking recliner that is built in such a way as to elevate your legs, while you recline against the back, and let your feet dangle over the end. This allows the person to position the very lightweight chair near a wall so as to be able to lightly touch the wall with the feet and keep the chair rocking with little effort all the while lying back and relaxing. Their next improvement planned is to get headphones, wireless, or MP3 players with a  selection of music for additional relaxation and comforting.

 

I usually tell staff at hospitals that they “cannot keep me safe” and indeed “prove” it by obeying in some fashion the commands the People give me…This never exactly endears me to anyone, and in fact has more often than not earned me a reputation as very difficult, even as having a “borderline personality” as an Axis 2 diagnosis (not true). Be that as it may, I was in fact kept safe at Natchaug, and when I was not, I was on a very helpful rather than punitive 1:1 or constant observation. At Natucahug, one-to-one staff were supposed to talk to me, rather than kept from doing so as at other hospitals, “so that you won’t come to like the attention too much.” The few times I became very upset, screaming, just screaming, at the top of my lungs, and rather than choosing to go on my own was escorted to the Comfort Room, by “staff assist” people (there is no “Dr Strong” goon squad of uniformed security guards), the door to the room was open and someone talked to me the entire time. Thus, when I left, on my own, when I felt calmer, I also felt that the reasons that I had been so distraught were also alleviated.

 

Also, although Natchaug, like any other hospital, did have a restraints policy, they did not use them a single time the entire three weeks I was there. In fact, though there was a very disruptive, troubling patient there the entire time (for once it was not I) I do not believe they even came close to considering using them. This time I believe it when they said that they almost never have to use them at all.

 

But the very best thing about my stay was something quite serendipitous: it turned out that the Director of Nursing for the whole hospital is Sharon H, the very same APRN who had been head nurse during my many stays at a Hartford hospital, and who had taken upon herself to supervise my care, or at least seemed to have in some sense “taken me under her wing.” Sharon is, and always was, both extremely bright and compassionate beyond words. She is also insightful in a way that I found the first two doctors I had were not, and if the third was, I did not have a chance to find out because I saw her only 4 times. It is true that Sharon had the advantage of having known me well, if 17 years ago, but still, she seems to have this ability to size up a situation, at least with me, and both to calm me if necessary and to suggest a solution that simply fits…I have to say that I felt especially well taken care of. Sharon made sure she saw me every afternoon, though this was above and beyond the call of any duty.

 

This description scarcely does my stay at this hospital justice. Although, like any hospitalization, it was not an easy stay, nonetheless I can only say that I cannot thank Sharon and the Natchaug staff enough for all that she and they did for me.

(PS Forgive any typos I have not yet corrected but it is getting late and I am too tired to go back and check for them at the present time…Lazy me!)

Disorderly Vision Produces Disorderly But Productive Thinking? (Or am I just Imagining Things?)

Glasses, glasses, glasses, but none to help me see through the confusion of dancing and doubling of sites, scenes and texts!You would think that one of the many different pairs of glasses, with some specialized  lenses or prisms or bi-focal, or tri-focal or something would help me see through the confusion as I state it in the title above of “dancing and doubling” of images and scenes and texts, oh, especially text, both on-line and hard copy…Or perhaps it simply matters more to me that I cannot read, especially because in two weeks or so I have three or four readings coming up in the space of one week and I fear that I will not be able to simply see my poems on the page. If that should occur, and I do not manage to have each and every poem by heart, what will I do?  It so happens that Dr O, or Mary will be at two of the readings, so I can alert her to the problem and ask her to be prepared to (hmmm?) take over for me, at least until it seems that I might be able to resume — though why I could resume I don’t know, since the problem simply recurs immediately and it is only my ability to cope that matters, and by coping I mean my ability to navigate a page of text that has literally gone wild on me, with one line rising up upon another, obliterating it or merging with it, or most commonly simply interspersing with it so I cannot quite make out either one separately and can only try to peer at the paper sidewise as if that could help me parse them out. It of course does nothing, and the words do not separate themselves into readable lines. No, more likely, the words themselves interact and disperse into bits of words or letters, which themselves dance and double and shimmer.

Oh, it feels hopeless to discuss the matter of vision and what to do about it should I have trouble two weeks from now. So much could happen in those 14 days that nothing is predictable. For instance, I am managing to write this now, without a great deal of tortuous movement and agonizing, though not without trouble — so at this very moment, I could see myself getting through a poetry reading without surrendering to virtual blindness — at this hour of, hmm, at 1AM is it morning or nighttime? Well, I slept from 7:30PM until 11:30PM...Half the night, enough to “take the edge off” my sleepiness. At 11:30 then, for the first time all day,  I took a Ritalin, though I had gotten through from 6:30AM -7:30PM of the previous day without any (why? just to prove I could, but without accomplishing anything too). So why now, at 11:30PM? Why in the middle of the night, which to most people would seem the least logical time?

Why? Because I wanted these hours, my time, to be productive, and for that I had to be truly awake and alert, not merely marginally so. (My touchstone of true alertness for years has been how interested I feel…I now know that in my natural state I am never bored, so when I feel a sudden lack of interest in my usual pursuits, that’s when I know I’m getting sleepy. There is no earthly reason why I should have suddenly lost my ordinary passion or fascination, no reason, except that I have become sleepy and sleepiness persents itself as a lack of focus and interest, i.e. as boredom. I am not really bored, I mean only that as a younger person I associated boredom with sleepiness and so whenever I fell asleep doing something I thought I liked, I took that an as indication that I “didn’t really enjoy it after all,” that obviously it bored me. Otherwise, why else would it make me fall sleep? Despite my initial feelings of interest, I evaluated each choice against the proof positive of my falling asleep (which happened whenever I did anything sedentary, including studying), “proof” that I was — the greater truth — bored by it, “proof” that as John Berryman’s poem about “liking valliant fine art” suggests, I had few “internal resources.” Each time I went in for something I thought might spark an interest or fascinate me, as indeed the initial consideration of it did (I cannot give only a few examples, because even just starting in college the choices overwhelmed me, like a penny candy display before a child who has only five pennies to spend. Likewise, there were too many courses and directions I wanted (passionately) to explore, rather than too few. And I could see myself enjoying every one of them, from philosophy to geology!

That was true for me the unexperienced but so far as I knew or thought about it, alert freshman. I still believed that my falling asleep at the movies and during classical music concerts and even simply listening to music I couldn’t sing along with, or in classes where I was not allowed to knit while I listened to the teacher…

For me the senior, there was no longer any penny candy in the display, only a few largely indigestible rounds of “hard tack” that were the very few requirements my “major” required for graduation. I’d actually chosen my major (“Ancient and Medieval Culture” because of its very few requirements and because I’d already fulfilled most of them without meaning to. But the fact that I graduated at all in 1975, that remains a mystery. I had only 27 Brown credits, with a 28th I was fighting for for Spanish taken at the Yale Summer Language Institute, which Brown had warned me in advance it would not grant credit…no matter how well I did. This was their policy, and since Brown only required 28 credits, one credit per full course, rather than most schools bare minimum of 32 or 36,  they felt they had a right to insist upon all 28 credits all coming from Brown. I don’t want to go into this here, but I did graduate, and I do not know how or what happened, only that a friend called me after my advisor told her to, and while I had no cap or gown and did not attend, I recieved a diploma, Phi Beta Kappa and my advisor’s encouragment (so much for how well he knew me) in my new life as a pre-med student…More sedentary than ever, more proof I was bored, and more ambivalence about what I had chosen for my lifetime career…

But for the most poignant example, because for me the most painful, take that for years, in fact for as long as I remained an active, if amateur, field botanist  (from age 19 until age 39 or even 49 or so, when Lyme disease laid me low), I assumed that while I was devoted, enthusiastic and extremely, even uncannily talented, someone who could recognize and spot a plant I’d never seen before and know everything there was to know about it that one could possibly learn from a glimpse at a guide book, then later a taxonomy chart, and any brief, say 2-page, description as to its medicinal or gustatory uses. Yet I also “knew” that I could never learn plant physiology, or anything technical o biological within plants, such as  genetics (important if I want to explore taxonomy) or biochemisrry (important for just about everything else). I knew this was true largely because they “so bored me, they put me right to sleep.” And so, despite an IQ of around 165, so I’d been told, I felt I could not study botany more deeply than the literal surface of plants, because  it would put me to sleep…i.e. I was so inadequate in my internal resources that a deeper pursuit of understanding bored me to sleep…

Can you can imagine how I felt, coming to self-understanding of such a dismal sort? And believe me, I was devoted to honesty, at least about myself, to myself.

But I have strayed widely, and perhaps have so diverged from my inital topic, which I vaguely recall started with an image of glasses, as to have rendered it irelevant… Hah! But let me see if I can wend my way back. My discussion of glasses no doubt was in reference to whether or not I could successfully accomplish the poetry readings coming up in 2 or 3 weeks. Which somehow lead to a discussion of my being up at — well, it is now nearly 3AM, so I am awake and alert, having taken Ritalin 2+ hours ago, and I do not feel I have mis-used it, writing this. A discussion of being up and taking the Ritalin, no doubt. Taking the Ritalin… and  (althought what follows seems relevant, it was in fact written earlier than all that precedes it) –>

feeling for the first time all day (meaning the entire 24 hour cycle), during the hours when I usually am the most alert and productive, I could not bear wasting time, not even in service of proving to Li that I could in fact forgo Ritalin. (Sure, I am able to do without it, I am not addicted to it I can prove that, if necessary (though to combine doing without it, along with taking Zyprexa is  singularly cruel and unusal punishment. The Zyprexa is incredibly sedating for me, so I could never use the intellectual powers it endows me with, simply because I am too sleepy taking it (this has ALWAYS been the problem, and was one reason why Dr O always increased the Ritalin when I took Zyprexa, rather than attempted to decrease it. Another thing that Li does not understand was that Dr O never decreased my Ritalin or made any effort pro forma to do so. For me it was simply one medicine in her armamentarium, and if it worked the best, so be it. She was not even averse to giving me Adderal when and if I told her I wanted to try it. She was completely agreeable to anything I needed in the battle for alertness, and never once accused me to abusing drugs or worse absusing her willingness to prescribe for me. In point of fact, she was right. Why should she accuse me of anything, when all I wanted was what she wanted? As much alertness and “on” time as possible, within the limits imposed by my narcolepsy coupled with the super-sedating effects of Zyprexa. It was because of her absolute trust in me that I felt I could trust her, i.e. trust that if we lowered the Ritalin dose when I did not need it that would not preclude raising it again, if I needed it again.  Because of that trust, I could tell her when I no longer needed the dose she was giving me and it was in that fashion that we cut it down from a high of some Adderal plus both ER and regular Ritalin five times a day — this was when I was taking some 35mg of Zyprexa — to only 20 mg of regular Ritalin PRN, of which I rarely take all 5 pills. And she was right, I never got addicted…In point of fact, I was not even habituated, as we discovered as I went on cutting back and back.

One thing Dr O always understood was my need to feel secure in terms of this medication, not to feel that I was ever in danger of its being taken away from me because a new doctor had decided I was either addicted or for the umpteenth time and without proof decided I didn’t have narcolepsy. I do not know how to convince anyone but Li at a minimum ought to listen to the taped Voice of Narcolepsy at the New York Times Health section…These patients speak well on behalf of those ordinary people with my condition, Narcolepsy without Cataplexy. So many docs are unwilling to grasp the notion that many many people suffer — and suffering it truly is — from TRUE narcolepsy, even though we do not have cataplexy. Despite the numbers cited, I myself believe that the reverse is true, that N without C is far more prevalent than N with C…And that better tests, shorter and more discriminating diagnostic tests than long stays at a sleep center will find that Narcolepsy is more comon than people ever thought. (Every time I tell someone I have narcolepsy, they tell me of a ceertain person in their family who falls asleep “just like that”…but was never taken to a sleep specialist etc). Few people and fewer doctors are aware that the falling asleep with one’s face falling into a plate of spaghetti is just a myth, and that narcolepsy has many different faces, just as anxiety, or ADHD or schizphrenia does…Why so many seem satisfied with that myth, and do not question it is beyond me, but they don’t, or it is the rare internist or primary care doc who bothers to question the received wisdom that questions the patient’s motives in asking for Ritalin, rather than the doctor’s compassion in failing to  so much as take a sleep history or approach the patient with an open mind…

Dr O knew that I had for way too long been treated as a drug addict when in fact I needed the precise medication other docs considered merely placative. She refused to go that route, and never made it an issue. Even in the hospital, every hospital I went to, she was able to persuade them to give it to me…It was only Li who was not committed to my taking it, disbelieving perhaps that I have narcolepsy (again, again! Why must I put up with this? Is it worth it, or should I go elsewhere, perhaps to a sleep medicine clinic to handle my Ritalin instead of trusting Li to do so…because clearly he cannot be trusted to believe me, to believe Dr O, to believe anything, or even to want to find out!). Why now, when I could have/should have (except that I have spent all the day in a kind of avoidant daze) gone back to sleep, if necessary by taking a dose of Xyrem, as prescribed, why did I take Ritalin at 1AM and stay up writing especially since Li is trying to “wean” me off the Ritalin?

WHY indeed? Why the f–king hell is he trying to “wean me off the Ritalin in the first place, when it was helping me function so well that most people had no idea I had a disability at all? Why question my meds when they are working so well? I’d say to anyone who wants to then interfere, merely for the sake of not using a “potentially addictive drug,” for Chtist’s sake, don’t break what is nicely repaired already. It doesn’t seem necessary, given how well things were going in general. And when they fell apart, I told everyone and him what was wrong: the ABs needed to be changed. I have said that again and again, ever since the hospitalization in February, but nobody is listening to me. I told Dr L then and there that the Bicillin and the Minocycline was not a good combination, that for some reason the two ABs were inadequately treating the three toughstone symptoms, cardinal symptoms in my case, in the sense that if they are taken care of, I seem to be safe from a relapse, but if they are still present, I am not. In point of fact, every single time one of these three symptoms appears or fails to disappear, I eventually wind up in the hospital, either in the spring or in the fall, without fail! (Did I make it through this past spring, or was that when I was in St F/Mt S and trying to tell them that the Minocycline/Bicillin was not aduquate even then? I’d have to look back to see…)

Anyhow, stopping the Ritalin may seem to be fixing something that wasn’t broken, but instead is rather to be breaking something that was functioning extraordinarily well…I mean, if I was writing and doing art and relatively happy and content, why ruin that by stopping one of my essential medications as an outpatient, just because the in-patient docs thought I ought not to take it there? I think Li is in fact trying to stop it for just that reason, because it seemed to be unnecessary inside the hospital, just because there, under those hothouse conditions, having no requirements but sleep, I “did okay.” But doing okay “inside” which is to say, within the protective walls and given the constraints (to say “constraints” is barely a euphemism) of that  sort of an institution is scarcely the same as to do okay or even well outside those walls. I didn’t need to stay awake there, or do anything there, and in fact could sleep at will. And so I did, much of the day in fact, every day! If I then needed to sleep at night, well, I could ask for “something for anxiety” anytime, though in point of fact, I mostly could sleep then too. Much of the three week stay was spent sleeping, and when I did not, I was so paranoid that sheer fear and that adrenalin rush kept me going. Near the end of my stay, I became somewhat manic, hypomanic clinically as Li diagnosed it when he saw me. I couldn’t shut up and my speech was — and I felt this as well — pressured. That is a very good word for it, indeed. There was an internal feeling of pressure to get words out in a rush, an unpleasant need to say things, as if they had especial importance and absolutely had to be expressed, even though if I thought about their content, which of course I could not really do in such a state, there was in fact nothing particularly urgent to them.

Well, I am getting tire finally of writing here, and yet I have not finished. I quickly then let me summarize. Because of this recent pressure of speech, coupled with some manic energy put into actually cleaning up this place, and getting more painting and such done, though still hypo manic not truly manic, Li felt something ought to be done to “bring me down” — I am not quoting him so much as quoting the idea…Anyhow, first he suggested stopping the Ritalin, which was okay temporarily, since I already felt enough adrenalin and did not want to add more to my own felt pressure of speech and heart beat. But I had and have no intention of this being anything but temporary…Then he wanted to increase the Topomax, which he said would also decrease the pressure and help hypomania, at the same time that it might help any appetite increase that came with our adding back some Zyprexa, which in his opinion, and of course Elissa the RN’s insistence, was the best drug for me…So far they have only gotten to 2.5mg but even Li has suggested 5mg if I will agree.  Now that I have summarized the pharmacological plans for me (including with this, the ultimate decreasing to 0 of my Ritalin) Let me say right here and now, that I will not stand for a rigid “fixing” of the Ritalin problem…

Below I have summarized a few absolute requirements for a psychiatrist, if I am to trust him or her, or continue to see him or her:

One requirement of any psychiatrist I see is that he agree the Ritalin is a necessary medication for an illness, which is narcolepsy, with which I was diagnosed by a sleep specialist at the Sleep Disorders Center at Norwalk Hospital (records available) and it needs to be understood between us that he will not in the middle of therapy decide suddenly to meddle with it (unless I agree and do so not under duress, or decide myself not to take it); it needs to be understood absolutely and without any fishiness or unspoken mistrust, that I am NOT a drug seeker, and that I have narcolepsy, a genuine neurological disease, which needs to be treated, independently of any other illness I might suffer from, so that my being given Ritalin is not dependent on whether or not I agree to take any other drug like Zyprexa etc. though taking Zyprexa might in fact influence the dosage of Ritalin needed.The Rx needs to be permanent as well as flexible according to my needs, which may increase as well as decrease as the ilness waxes, wanes and responds to other drugs and illnesses. Ritalin, however, is never to be used as some sort of bargaining chip…

Argh, Icannot write another word, and in fact, I feel as if I am giving up on a personal letter I was writing to a specific someone. If you are that he or she, you know who you are…I do not!

Rest assured, or at least rest. If I made too many typos and other errors of eloquence or diction, I shall clean them up tomorrow, so reread this then, if you read this today…Be forewarned, it will change between the two times.

 

Added on Oct 31.

 

I have decided not to redact the above, but to leave it as is, with all its typos and lacunae and infelicities of grammar and thought. I was writing spontaneously, as I believe was evident enough and I don’t see why that is not adequate for a post once in a while. I would just like to add a clarifying detail or two. What I think I forgot to explain was that between the post on Zyprexa/cancer treatment I experienced a three week hospitalization, which happened very suddenly, though of course, as I mentioned, my visiting nurse had been alert to the possibility of it, even perhaps the inevitability, for at least two weeks…If you understand that, some of this discussion and the one to come above, will seem a little more undersandable.

 

I will now go to a new post and continue there.

Vision Therapy and Schizoaffective Disorder

I combined two subjects in my heading –and they are related — in order to “recapture” as many readers who might come back looking for an entry after three weeks of nothing…

 

I’ve been in the hospital. Yes, a relapse of schizoaffective disorder, due, I think, to stress, poor sleep, worse eating and terrible time management,  in tandem with a flare-up of the underlying infection  of Lyme disease (for which I’d had a positive Western Blot test as late as 2006, five years into treatment).

 

I was in fact overwhelmed, sad, depressed, tired and sick of it all. I wanted to write and do my sculpture and it seemed as if everyone wanted many and more pieces of me and my time. Despite all the successes of the past year, I felt hopeless to change things On Effexor, after a long two and a half weeks, my spirits rose and my hopelessness diminished. I was able to unblinder myself, removing the brimmed hat I wore day and night, and enter the world again (in terms of mood, the affective part of the disorder).

 

In terms of the schizophrenia aspects of the disorder,  this hospitalization was brutal. I heard my name, my full name, being called 100 times an hour, on any given day. When people spoke to one another within my view, I could see (and heard it) that every word  spoken between them was my name, and nothing more. The entire ward had nothing better to do than to persecute me by saying, yelling, whispering my name.

 

Then one day something that really scared me, they whispered, “I’m choking myself. I’m choking myself. Pam, start choking yourself. Start choking yourself.” Always, almost always before this time, when faced with such “command hullucinations” I blindly obeyed the directives of the “dictator-voice,” too afraid to do otherwise. This time, rather than obey and do as he or they insisted, I ran out of my room. I looked up and down the hallway for anyone — anyone! — a mental health worker, a nurse, even the ward secretary would do.  No one .

 

What to do? What to do? I raced back to my room, stood  just inside the doorway. No, I could not stay, not with this voice assaulting my brain. I had to find help. Somehow. Then I heard someone coming down the hall, briefly stopping at every room to check on its occupant: the mental health worker “on the floor” which is the say, the one who was assigned to do fifteen minute checks that evening. Stacy, with the long dreads, was  just the person I needed.

 

 

“Stacy,” I whispered urgently when she came nearer. “Stacy, I need to tell you something.”

 

“What is it, Pam?” she smiled.

 

“They’re telling me to start choking myself.”

 

“Who is?”

 

“They are, the people who talk to me, the voices if you need to call them that.”

 

She frowned. “You aren’t going to act on that, are you. Now, come. Let’s find your nurse and see what he can do for you.” Then she took my hand and led me up the hallway to the medication room where Paul was doling out nighttime pills too early for my taste. “Paul, I think tonight, Pam needs her antipsychotics early. What does she have?”

 

He told her what I was taking, and they murmured together a little. I assumed they were discussing what I’d just told Stacy. After I’d taken the pills, Stacy again took me by the hand and walked me down the hallway to my room.

 

“You gonna be all right now?” she asked.

 

I nodded, dubious that the meds would do the trick, but hopeful in any event. I knew now that I could in fact ask for help and be given it, that I did not have to obey the voices not even when they demanded action.

 

But that was only one of many, many incidents. I won’t bother to recount them all, or even just one other, not right now. All I want to say is that the voices never did let up until the final weekend, due to stress caused by a very disruptive patient. It was only the weekend before the day I was discharged, when she’d been booted out, that the ward was tranquil enough for the voices to diminish, and then by Monday begin to cease. Yet even at the very same time, another problem reared its head…

 

This is chronic neuro-Lyme: plots abounding, exaggerated startle, acute dyslexia, increased paranoia and rampaging ideas of reference…I had them and worse in 2000 during the massive psychotic break at Y2K and I had all or most during this hospitalization in a diminished form, when the antibiotics were changed and failed to protect me from a recrudescing infection.

 

Now, why or how does Vision Therapy tie into this? It is related because while in the hospital, that closed-in space with blinds on the windows so the view is largely obscured, I lost my ability to see 3-D, to perceive depth and space. I even lost my ability to read or untangle letters on the page or properly read the words on a computer screen. I noticed this one day when I looked to see if the pen was clearly above the paper, and found that I could not easily say that it was, that I was deducing it from the overlap and the shadows. Occasionally, depth perception would flicker on then off, and it was delightful, but most often I found it was off, and decided to let it be. I knew how to restore it, that it could be restored, and that Dr D would help me if I needed help. So I figured, the worst would be I’d have to re-train my eyes, but the best part of that would be the thrill of re-entering the beauty of the borderline between 2D and 3D.

 

In the follwoing posts I plan to describe the Vision Therapy sessions that help me regain my depth perception, and also in others discuss aspects of schizoaffective disorder, the schizophrenia aspects as well as what I know about depression.

 

Stay tuned…

Symptoms and Progress

I am working on a longer blog entry but it is taking a while, so in the meantime I will get you up to speed on a few other matters: my symptoms, of Lyme, of schizophrenia have mostly subsided, all except the startling, which continues on a reduced level. I don’t startle at bright lights anymore, nor at people coming at me around corners in Stop and Shop, but I regularly shriek in a startle reflex when I am waiting for someone and they knock on the door. It is predictable that I will do so, because it is so unpredictable when they will knock. And yet the strangest thing about it is, I am anticpating the knocking, and am waiting for it…so you’d think I would be prepared. But that very anticipation only seems to make the startle that much worse, I don’t know why. When I merely hear the knock out of the “corner of my ear” as it were, the startle is much less, and sometimes I do not startle at all.

But I do know that this was never a problem until I developed Lyme and the lesions in my brain that have never gone away, the “tiny strokes” that could have been normal if I had been over 50 when they occured, and if they had not appeared in a cluster in a matter of one MRI to the next. Meaning that I had an MRI during a psychotic episode and the results were clear, but a number of months later, the scar tissue of these tiny stroke like lesions suddenly appeared, suggesting that something had indeed occured during the time I had been ill. And we believe it was Lyme-on-the-brain.

That said, I am feeling a great deal better, though I hear some music from time to time and occasionally people talking to me, plus the little People when I do art work, naturally, though they do not bother me in the slightest. (The little People, for those who do not know, are the voices that are absolutely benign and merely argue amongst themselves about matters having little to do with me, such as about Russia and independence of the various states, or Born-Again Christianity, or teenage chores etc…It can be very entertaining but never or rarely threatening.

I have been slowly working on a child sculpture and a couple of bowls, though not a slimemold bowl like the one that several people have wanted a copy of. I don’t think I could make another one, frankly, I think I would be bored and uninspired to have to do it again. But if I can, I will make something else in those colors…Meanwhile, I hvae made a mushroom bowl in pastels and a basic watermelon bowl, that is just a bowl painted like a big watermelon, which I would paint over except that I polyurethaned it already. If anyone is interested in either bowl, and I will post pictures below or soon, do let me know!

Joe, Joe is doing well, as well as can be expected. I ought to write a whole entry on him, given that this is a new blog and I may have other new readers, so for now, to my old readers, rest assured that nothing very new is afoot. He is comfortable, relatively, and commmunicating well with the EyeGaze Response Integrative Communication Assistive device (or some such) ERICA. We even talk on the phone for hours now, for hours because it takes that long to have a conversation. Why so long? Well, It takes at least a second or two for him to spell one letter, and probably 6-7 seconds per letter in reality. So if he want to say a long sentence, and that is the easiest way for me to understand him, then it could take a long time for me to wait to hear it.

But it is worthwhile and I generally paint with the speaker phone on, so I can do something while I wait.

Well, now to post the pictures of the bowls:dcp_3632dcp_3631dcp_3629dcp_3627

Watermelon Bowl
Watermelon Bowl

Potholes on the Recovery Road

Those of you who used to read WAGblog at schizophrenia.com know it has been a long slog — 70+ hospitalizations over the course of almost 40 years means more than 9 years in the hospital. Sometimes even now the road gets potholes and rocks, becomes almost impassable, though I am much better at simply, well, slogging my way through. Still, the year from October 2007-November 2008 has been one of the best I’ve had both in terms of my illness and of my general happiness and productiveness. With regards to the first, I have stayed on my medications and as a result stayed out of the hospital. Indeed, over the year I was able to cope with vicissitudes that might have undone me without them, including the death of a very dear friend. My artwork – large-scale papier mache sculptures – has become very important to me, even life-saving, with jewelry-making on the side which I hope will become one day a source of income if I am lucky. As I told my father a couple of months ago, spontaneously but with a rush of feeling that surprised even me: I enjoy everything I do. I wake up in morning and I can’t wait to get to work on my sculptures or my writing. This is not to say that I have no problems, have no hard times or things I have difficulty with. It is not to say, even, that I don’t dread certain activities like parties and holidays. I am terrified of simply calling a stranger on the phone! But what it means is, in general nothing bores me, everything I do interests me, which is a gift beyond measure. So what I tell myself, before doing something I believe I will find difficult, is: At least you might get a poem out of it. And that is enough to encourage me onward.

I am having some difficulty right now, true. Hypersensitivity to stimulation, increased paranoia and voices — I believe this is all is due to infectious disease recrudescing in my brain, rather than schizophrenia. Which is to say that I believe my schizophrenia has a known cause: Borrelia burgdorferi, or Lyme disease.

[Excuse the tangent here: Certain schizophrenia researchers believe that an infectious origin for schizophrenia is very likely. Why not Lyme? B. burgdorferi is a spirochete bacterium, carried by deer ticks and causing an illness much more common now, at least in southern New England, due to humans encroaching on deer habitat. With deer, which naturally harbor deer ticks, the vector carrying Lyme disease, having to co-exist so closely with humans, no wonder the incidence of Lyme disease has increased in recent years, at least in southern New England. I believe we would find it had sky-rocketed if there were a decent test for it and we actually did widespread testing. But there isn’t and we don’t.

Nevertheless, according to the tests we do have, I have been positive three separate times for Borrelia DNA, the so called “gold standard.” This despite having been in treatment for months. Still, many, even most physicians will tell you that Lyme disease is not chronic and is easily cured with a few weeks’ worth of the right drugs. The whole Lyme disease issue is controversial and deeply politicized. At this point, I would say it is mostly a political football – between the “Yale” school of “there ain’t no such thing as chronic incurable Lyme infection” orthodoxy and the increasingly vocal growing minority of infectious disease specialists who say that there is, and who risk losing medical licenses for treating patients longterm with antibiotics. What runs the risk of getting lost in the controversy is the fact that because no reliable test exists, let alone fully unanimous best practice treatments, there are patients out there who are not being tested and not being treated. I wonder how many are instead being told their neurological symptoms are schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or some other neurological or psychiatric ailment?]

Now, where was I? Ah, yes, I had started out by saying that I believed my symptoms were Lyme-induced. My psychiatrist, Dr O, who is also a sleep specialist treating my narcolepsy, believes moreover that it is lack of a decent night’s sleep, regularly, that has led to this flare-up. She insists that if I do not get a full 8 hours every night, I start decompensating. Then Lyme flares up and between the two everything starts deteriorating. I don’t know what to think, but I do know that I have been skimping on the nighttime medication, taking perhaps only a half of the liquid, so I will go back to taking the full dose religiously at 11pm and 3am, and going to bed at midnight to try to regularize my schedule better. We’ll see what happens.

But precisely what symptoms trouble me at the moment? Mostly hearing things, paranoia, excessive startling at the slightest provocation. All this is especially true when out in public, say in a store or public building. The following is one example: The other day, my father took me grocery shopping at Stop and Shop. From the first step in the door, I was panicked because of people threatening and staring and wanting me out of there. He said, “if people are staring at you, it is because you look so frightened. ” I could not hear him. I was much too fearful to do anything but deal with the situation as I perceived it: People telling me what to do, where to go, what to buy or not to buy, and in general terrorizing me. Every time someone passed me or even just approached from around a corner, I startled, which only upset me further, setting off the tendency to startle again. The whole trip was one of near agony, relieved only by our leaving as soon as possible and getting in the car. Once there, my heart rate immediately slowed and I began at once to calm down. And by the time a half hour had passed at home in my apartment, I was myself again.

That is the sort of thing I am talking about. I can’t say it only happens when I am influenced by the little spirochete bacterium, since grocery shopping is usually difficult for me. But it is not usually such a truly nightmarish experience as it was that day.

Paranoia of the same sort has occurred before and does so more when I am out in public or in the lobby of my building, where people tend to congregate around the mailboxes and community areas, than in my apartment where I am alone and feel relatively safe. So that wasn’t unfamiliar. On the other hand, the excessive startling – the kind my twin sister, a psychiatrist, says resembles an infantile “moro” reflex – is the one symptom I most associate with Lyme, my particular case of neurological Lyme. It alerted me to the fact that any concomitant increase in psychiatric symptoms was also due to the infectious disease. Making this connection has been tremendously helpful to me; it has put everything into a context I can understand and accept, and offers a concrete and simple-to-comprehend explanation for both my schizophrenia and narcolepsy, since the same symptoms are seen in Lyme. Remember the principle of Occam’s razor, which says that if you have a complex and a simple explanation for a phenomenon, the simple one is usually better? The Lyme explanation – ie that Borrelia burgdorferi caused my schizophrenia and my narcolepsy – really makes more sense than the more dubious proposition that I have two relatively unusual diseases and that neither one has yet been deciphered (both schizophrenia and narcolepsy remain mysterious in terms of cause and cure).
Okay, I admit that no one here agrees with me completely, but I much prefer thinking of them this way.
Renaming something can carry real power. Just so, calling my illnesses Lyme makes me feel less victimized than calling myself schizophrenic, however indistinguishable the symptoms are. I might become increasingly paranoid and begin to hear voices, triggering concern in my caregivers that a psychotic episode brews. But if I realize that I am startling at every little thing, acutely dyslexic and subject to sudden rage, and that this means it is a Lyme flare-up, everything falls into place. I become, maybe not less paranoid, but less likely to cling to the delusions once they are pointed out to me as delusions. In addition I might be more able to see how I am misinterpreting the world, at least when someone gives me an alternate and perhaps more reasonable explanation.

I would like to add a word or two about those in Stop and Shop who were staring at me, as my father suggested they might have been. if true, this was stupid and cruel behavior. I myself would never stare at someone who looked frightened. Instead, I would give them lots of space so they wouldn’t feel crammed in and threatened. Many people don’t understand how they might seem threatening to someone who is paranoid. At best they only know that they mean no harm, want only to help and so they have no awareness of the threat that person may perceive in what they do. At worst, they stare and crowd and to a paranoid person this might seem the most dangerous situation of all – to be trapped and threatened and persecuted, even if it is by “persecutors” who have no intent to harm or even frighten.

It seems to me only logical not to exacerbate a person’s obvious fear by staring and crowding, but perhaps I understand this only because I have “been there”. I just don’t get it why people can’t appreciate the obvious: if you crowd or stare at a person who is frightened of everything around her, even if you don’t understand she is paranoid, you threaten her and increase the likelihood of confrontation. Paranoid people don’t mean to hurt anyone, not in the sense of gratuitous injury, but if they attack, they attack — verbally or physically — to defend themselves from what they are convinced beyond shade or shadow of a doubt are threats to their very lives.

So while I can see my father’s point, now, that my frightened mien “caused” people to take interest in me, and “induced” their staring behavior, I think he and others should also take a lesson from what I write here. It is something a lot of people need to understand, including police officers dealing with mentally ill individuals in crisis. Several people or even just one if he or she happens to be the “wrong one”, bearing down on a paranoid, confused and fearful person may play a role in that person’s persecutory delusions. If in a crisis you want to help that person, the best thing you could do, aside from giving the person space and time to calm down if that is possible, is to remain at a reasonable distance, speak softly but clearly, and indicate that you understand the person is frightened. That is the most important thing of all: let them know you know how scared they are. You are not afraid of them, but you know how fearful they are. Do not provoke a confrontation; just make sure they know that you understand where they are. If you can accomplish that, you will be halfway to helping them and resolving the crisis.

With that, I must say good night, TTFN and leave my mark: BD