This goes a bit deep into burnt out noodles territory. For those of you who need it, a content warning about the state of my mental health.
So it has been a titch over six months since I have been furloughed from work. Six months to stay at home and do entirely too little with myself, to the point that my brain started to crumble to bits.
I’ve been largely radio silent over this because I live in a country that stigmatizes mental health care, and layers on the stigma thicker when you have specific body attributes.
In August, though, I decided that was enough bullshit that I was going to go seek out counseling and care, because the expectation that I would magically get better had been yeeted out the nearest window with great alacrity. I was tired of suffering, of feeling broken in my own body, of being so afraid to sleep… It was hell.
I had been to the hospital several times in the past handful of months, each time, convinced that I am having some kind of cardiac event. I learned a new to me word during all of this: diaphoresis.
curl dict://dict.org/d:diaphoresis 220 pan.alephnull.com dictd 1.12.1/rf on Linux 4.4.0-1-amd64 <auth.mime> <firstname.lastname@example.org> 250 ok 150 1 definitions retrieved 151 "Diaphoresis" gcide "The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48" Diaphoresis \Di`a*pho*re"sis\, n. [L., fr. Gr. ?, fr. ? to carry through, to throw off by perspiration; dia` through + ? to carry.] (Med.) Perspiration, or an increase of perspiration. Diaphoretic
In several cases, when I presented medically, I was drenched in sweat for no seeming reason. It was as if I had run a mile or two at full tilt, heart hammering in my chest, lightheaded, a font of perspiration made manifest upon the doorway of the local hospitals, almost always in the middle of the night.
Present me recognizes the issue as some variant of night terrors. It would consistently happen when I crawl into bed, close my eyes, and start to doze off. My heartbeat becomes too real, too present, too loud in my own body. My head starts to swim, clouded in the chemicals being poured into my system. My chest starts to hurt, a ballooning sensation compounded by the weight of seemingly an entire planet made of woe resting upon my sternum.
Why is that? Because I’m afraid. I live with great people, in a decent city, but all across the country, people like me are killed for just existing. And my brain catches the little bits of media talking about this, despite my wholehearted effort to avoid consuming that kind of stuff for my mental wellbeing, and stitches together a plausible scenario of police kicking in my bedroom door and opening fire.
Or, the thought that I’m on the city bus to go pick up groceries, and the bus is stopped. And in that scenario, I’m pulled forcibly off the bus for being black, and no-one on the bus is willing to raise a hand to stop the brutality. I’m getting my shit kicked in, being tazed, having someone kneeling on my throat while I’m flailing and can’t breathe.
Or, I get a phone call from my employer telling me that they’ve decided to go forward without me, please pay all of my backlogged premiums. With what money? And then I’m thrown out of the house I’m staying in, and end up on the streets, homeless again, but in a state where there are seasons. And I freeze to death one winter, if I haven’t already been savaged by someone else for what little possessions I have.
All of this stuff boils over in my head, leaving me a terrified mess, jumpstarting my heart to 100+ BPM at rest, spiking my blood pressure through the roof, and generally does me no good whatsoever.
I was starting to become rather recalcitrant, and wanting to refuse medical care after several incidences of this, because my medical home wasn’t really doing much to follow up on this. They’ve largely been fairly hands-off through the whole thing, apart from prescribing two medicines, one of which I had a negative reaction to, and the other being really light on what it does.
It was a hospital stay that got me pointed in the right direction. When I was hospitalized at the end of July, the doctor that saw me during my stay and medical work-up suggested I seek out behavioral health like it was a normal recommendation. Everything he was coming up with was coming back normal, like it was not a medical issue within his purview, and I didn’t have a single episode of terror in the hospital. It was as if my brain knew I was safe. If something medical were to happen, I was literally in the best place to be, with equipment that would automatically alert someone that something has gone wrong, please come check on me.
It was the most, and best sleep I had in weeks. Even with the nightly vampire visit on my first day.
I trusted the doctor for several reasons, of which his willingness to tell another person that visually identifies at the same gender to seek behavioral health help was the strongest factor.
The secondary reason, and I hate to admit this, but it feels equally as strong, is that my doctor was not white. He was of Indian descent, and maybe it was seeing someone who I could visually identify with at least on some level helped the recommendation stick.
That said, I’m blessed to have had this doctor, because it led me to the behavioral health office here in town. Even though I had to wait a few weeks for an appointment, it was progress in the correct direction.
I got assigned to a counselor who I really like. She listens to me, lets me get the thoughts that rattle around in my skull out and into the open so that I can vivisect them in real time and figure out things. A visceral description, to be sure, but when you get to the core of it, a necessary sin of sorts.
It’s been beneficial to me over the past month or so. Granted, the day of session is a little rough for me sometimes, like when I talked about my late parents and my lack of grieving for them. I came home that day, and honestly just vegetated for the rest of the day. My emotional battery had been drained thoroughly, and I could not even.
But, it was a wound that needed to be uncovered, and exposed to air, sunlight, and inspected, lest it fester and infect the good flesh below.
… Such vivid description, but it’s accurate. This is what happens when we avoid taking care of the whole body. Modern medicine, at least in the USA, leaves much to be desired. We address the medical issues, to a point, but dental, behavioral health, hearing, and vision are thought of as separate entities, often under- or uninsured by our medical coverage.
Yet it’s all of the same body. A person who has developed trouble hearing, but can’t get that checked out can end up depressed because they KNOW they’re missing out on something. A person with a developing cataract or glaucoma, but not the right kind of insurance to address it has to figure out how to afford to save their vision. Dental plans are so miserly with their benefits that a person who might have needed a lot of work done to save their teeth has to pick and choose, and spread their oral care out over several years.
This is why we turn to sites like GoFundMe, in hopes that someone who has the ability to give will drop ten or twenty bucks and tell others to do it, as well. I see these so often for cancer patients, for people whose insurance won’t cover their insulin, for people who are in that doughnut hole where their coverage won’t pay for a lick of their healthcare, but their fixed income just doesn’t give them the luxury to afford to take care of themselves.
Of income, the pandemic has largely been neutral to me about it. At first, it was good: My standard unemployment was being supplemented by extra money, which meant I was able to get some bills paid off faster than before. But after two months, I was already chomping at the bit, wanting to get back to work. Free money or no, I needed some structure in my day again. When the end of July came and the extra money stopped coming, I worried a little, because that also meant I had used more than half of my unemployment benefits.
Yesterday, I received a letter from the state, letting me know that with this claimed week, I have fully depleted my unemployment benefit, and would need to file for extended benefits.
I’ll do that, but I also get to go back to work next week. Not in my normal position, alas, but right now, day structure is day structure. The next year or so will be harder, however, because extra money will be coming out of my pay to backpay my employer for keeping my benefits active and available to me during the pandemic, for which I am thankful.
All in all, the pandemic has done some mental damage over time to me, but it’s also encouraged me to say to people that it’s perfectly okay to seek out mental health care, because if it’s something that helps you, please do it.