Friday, September 06, 2013

Weathering the Week That Is

Here's another glimpse of what it's like to live with anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and agoraphobia.

As I've talked about, I'm extremely anxious/nervous about the wedding tomorrow (and the rehearsal dinner tonight). And I've talked about how I've been unable to find a medication that works for me as far as evening me out.

So I'm just trying to keep in a calm space and get a lot of exercise so I can stay active and get some of that serotonin to keep from stressing out too much (and also to resistance-train myself a bit so that, honestly, I don't crumble when I'm standing up in the ceremony, because my obesity also comes with the bodily strength of an infant... those years on Lex ruined me).

Now, for the first part of this week, I'd been doing pretty good. I've been developing allergies the last few years, and there's something going around in the air right now that's really aggravating them. My nose is running, I'm sneezing a lot, and I just generally feel tired and sick. At first I was worried that this was something my subconscious was doing; last year I figured out that getting sick all of a sudden was actually a subconscious defense mechanism that kicks in when I'm really afraid to do something. (I actually have really good control over a lot of things my body does. I'm trying to figure out how to turn this to my advantage for weight loss.) But then my therapist showed up, also sick from allergies, so I know there's actually a reason I've been like this. (And for the record, allergies don't usually bother her, either. But Becca has bad allergies and she's not bothered by whatever's in the air at all. Weird, man.)

Lately in therapy we've been talking about my specific anxieties. My therapist and I made a list on notebook paper. I was a bit embarrassed because my list of fears took up most of a page, but then she told me that having only one page was good for a man as low-functioning and anxious as I am. So... good?

Here's how some of those anxieties have been manifesting themselves in a week when all I want to do is relax.

Tuesday, our internet went out. Only the internet. Becca called the service center and talked to a heavily accented man who seemed to think he was on a social call. He couldn't do anything to help us, other than tell us to power cycle the modem. When that didn't work, he told us we needed to replace the modem for one of the newer models, which we could just trade in.

One of my biggest anxieties, born of the many computer and external drive crashes I've weathered over the years, is technology not working correctly.

So that was stressful, but I managed to swallow it and walk over to the modem, unplug everything, and jam a pen through the tiny reset hole and reset the entire machine. It came back on fine. So, I apparently know more about how to fix these things than the professionals whose job it is to help me fix them. Good to know.

I did okay with that, but it was hard to swallow my residual anxiety from that. In fact, I didn't each much of my dinner because I felt sick from having felt anxious before then.

Moving on to Wednesday. I had something too sugary and had diarrhea all day long. (TMI, maybe, but I'm being honest here.) I was worried about the sick feeling lasting for more than an afternoon, and it made the day more stressful for me. The biggest add-on to that was that I was, in a sense, having a fight with my pet rabbit that afternoon. Princess has a strong burrowing instinct, and her claws are too long right now (she's got an appointment to get them clipped on Monday), and she's shedding, so she's extremely irritable. Every time I had to go into the bathroom, she would start digging at the carpet, trying to pull it up, and it would just add to my frustration, because I can have a really hard time with things like patience.

One of my anxieties is that I'm going to be unable to control my anger and I'll accidentally hurt someone or some innocent animal.

Princess knows, on some level, that what she's doing isn't allowed. But she also has a strong instinct to do it. Rabbits are pretty trainable, but this is one of her biggest biological urges. And I know all that. But it's also hard for me to not get frustrated and yell and get angry. So it really pulled a lot of energy out of me that day. I didn't scream at her, but she could pick up my irritation and didn't want me near her for a while, either. It just made things tense. We were the only two home.

That's another anxiety: being alone for too long. Becca works from about noon until invariably 8 or 9pm on Wednesdays, and that's really hard for me, too. It's hard for her. But I talked to some people on the phone and it instilled me with more confidence. Plus I wrote my toast that night and I was very happy with it. I talk about Carl Sagan and the Voyager program in it. It's pretty cool.

Yesterday started out as a good day. I had an appointment with my psychiatrist, which happens every couple of months. I always have to wait and wait there. I was having a good day up until then, even though the internet went out again. Actually, cable went out entirely; there was a city-wide outage after a fiber-optic line somewhere was accidentally cut. We had just decided to turn in the old modem and exchange it for a new one, but we couldn't because of the outage. We went and had some really nice frozen custard and enjoyed the cool breeze instead.

So, at my psychiatrist's office, the nurse takes my vitals and notices my already-high blood pressure is higher than usual. Not the highest it's ever been, but pretty high. I think it's because I had some soup with lunch that turned out to be saltier than I expected, and then had a burger with all kinds of hot stuff on it. She starts telling me I have to go to a doctor, which sets me off inside because I can't afford to go to a doctor and I'm uninsured and that whole anxiety just bubbles up to the surface.

Besides being treated like a criminal at the clinic for daring to want health care and not have insurance, one of my big anxieties is that I'll have something truly medically wrong with me and won't be able to afford to do anything about it. So I follow my usual pattern of catastrophizing the event in my mind. The nurse told me that the psychiatrist might just send me to the hospital, and I actually wanted to just walk out without even seeing him because my anxiety was getting out of control.

Of course, it was the usual 45-minute wait to see him, so I had time to go through my usual thing and then calm down from it. But the nurse also told me I lost six pounds, and my panic disorder took any joy I could have felt about that away from me. Like it always does. I don't feel good about it because I associate it now with that terrible feeling I had at the time, and I don't feel like it's a real accomplishment because it was just me that did it, and if I could do it, it must not be anything meaningful. Yeah, my mind does that to me, too.

After that was the long drive to Geneva (anxiety: being a passenger in a car) to pick up my tux for the wedding. I was supposed to have the free tux, but apparently Carl had forgotten to tell me that there was no longer a free tux because they had to cancel one, and he intended to pay for it because he's been very sympathetic to my financial situation. I tried on the tux... damn, was it comfy. I don't think I looked good in it, but that's hardly the fault of the tux. It's very nice. Unfortunately for it, it has to drape my body. Damn, I am not a good-looking guy.

Once again, I lament that the antibiotic I used to take to clear up my skin was taken off the list of $4 generics. That helped me a lot. Made me more confident actually not being a guy who's almost 40 and has terrible skin.

Honestly, while at Men's Wearhouse, it was Becca's turn to panic. She didn't know what we were going to do about the cost of the rental. When Becca panics, that actually has the effect of calming me down: I have to fix the situation so she doesn't spin out, because it's far more important to me to make her comfortable than it is for me to be comfortable. I called Carl about that, and he apologized for having forgotten to warn me about that. Perfectly understandable: with less than 48 hours until the wedding at the time, he had a lot on his mind. I'm sure he's been putting out little fires for months. As they were hemming the pants, I talked to him and sort of absorbed his calm about it. He's calm and even excited; I started to feel that way, too. And he took care of the rental cost over the phone.

I have to say again that Carl's really gone out of his way on this whole thing to make it easier for me to be included. I know I'm only one component of this, and I'm making a big deal out of it because my anxiety is so hard to control. This isn't about me and whether or not I screw up: this is about Carl and Kate and them getting married, and they'll get married and be married whether or not I screw up my toast or trip and fall on my face while walking out of the chapel. It won't stop them from having a wedding.

I know I talk a lot about how scared I am--having literally any responsibility placed on me right now, even if it's just the responsibility of making cake frosting from scratch, feels like the weight of the world and makes me panic--but I really am also excited for it. There's a part of me that can't wait until it's over and I can just be lazy and watch Netflix and not have to worry about doing something. But there's also a part of me determined to just enjoy it and do well and not be tense the whole time. Because you know what? As much as I feel like this is going to really boost my confidence and make me feel more capable, it's ain't my day. It's Carl and Kate's day. I'm just lucky enough to be there.

I have to say, too, as low-functioning as I am, it kind of amazed me the way Carl was in a good mood and apologized and just coolly took care of it. I don't know how people just do that. I used to know, but now I'm just so overwhelmed by anything.

So, I didn't freak out about the tux, except of course for my lingering suspicion that I'm just not going to do justice to the thing. And I decompressed a bit on the drive home. We drove through a more rural sort of area and it was pretty and made me feel good. When we got back to DeKalb, the outage was over and we exchanged our modem. I had a bit more anxiety pop up when trying to get our wifi receiver to line up with the new modem, but after I just shut the wifi off and turned it back on, it picked it up and now our internet is actually faster and the HD cable looks better than before. So that turned out.

Today I woke up a little anxious but without that stab of panic that characterized last weekend. My allergies are acting up again today, too, so I guess that's keeping me subdued. I'm also just going over what I have to do in my mind; the rehearsal dinner is in six hours, and then I've got to get up early tomorrow to get ready and I have to be there by 9:30, so I won't really have time to let it get in my head and psych me out. And you know, even if it does, I'm doing it anyway, so there.

Wow, that's a long, rambling post. But talking about all of the anxiety this way is just really therapeutic for me. Having just sat here listening to psychedelic rock while thinking and reasoning this out has made me feel loads better.

I'll take a nice, long bath today and just relax and try to meditate.

And my psychiatrist wants to put me on something called buspirone that I start taking on Sunday, so we'll see how that goes.

For now, I just need to... well, I was going to say get through the next day and a half. But I really don't want to just get through them. I want to experience them.

Marvels: Strange Tales #102

"Prisoner of the Wizard" by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(November 1962)

The Wizard is probably my favorite of Johnny Storm's solo villains. His arrogance will always be his undoing, but up until that happens he's just so wonderfully arrogant in that comic book/cartoon villain tradition. (It's also cool that Kirby draws him like a caricature of John Carradine; it only adds to the over-the-top fun quality of the villain and the stories. Hey, I just realized... Hulk looks like Karloff, the Wizard looks like Carradine, and the Puppet Master looks like Peter Lorre... neat.)

You can tell the Wizard's got a lot of hubris right off the bat, as he and not the Human Torch is the one who initiates the action and pulls us into the story. See, the Wizard is called that because he's a genius, and he's not afraid to say so. He's apparently become something of a celebrity because of his amazing inventions. Not only is he an inventor, he's also an escape artist and an international chess champion.

There's no limit to how highly the Wizard prizes his intellect and his achievements.

Check out his cool ultra-modern pad:

So when he sees a newsreel of the Human Torch saving the amusement park from the Destroyer (from the previous issue), the Wizard decides that it would be the ultimate achievement if he were to defeat the Human Torch.

The Wizard elaborately stages an accident that seems to put him in peril, knowing the Torch will rescue him. Feigning gratitude, he invites the Torch over for a tour of his home and to see his inventions. The Torch gladly accepts, and when he gets there he finds himself doused in flame retardant chemicals and trapped in an asbestos room (the appearance of all these carcinogens just keeps making me cringe). The Wizard uses his genius to be able to go masquerading as the Human Torch so he can discredit the superhero.

(Part of the Wizard's impersonation is dousing flames over an asbestos suit... I feel a lot of the time like Marvel simply didn't know how asbestos worked and just figured it was magic.)

The Wizard robs a bank while disguised, but he also just generally acts like a jerk, pushes people around, and performs acts of petty vandalism like melting a statue. That kind of silly rampage comic book villains were always going on, decades before they were raping heroes' wives and getting lobotomized for the greater good... *shiver*

Anyway, the Torch does eventually get free and fools the Wizard into thinking his powers are greater than they are through some subterfuge arranged by Sue Storm. It is a little ridiculous that Johnny doesn't just flame off and fight the Wizard for photographic evidence that exonerates him, because then the Wizard would know his secret identity. (Again, Strange Tales has weirdly forgotten that the Fantastic Four are international celebrities, which gets resolved later.)

And so the Wizard tastes defeat.

It's a fun little story. Not essential or a lost classic, but a fun story.

Next time: the Ant-Man busts a jewel thief and we pretend that's exciting.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

My Medication Status

I still take a lot of medication. In addition to a multivitamin every morning, a baby aspirin for my heart, and the Prilosec I take for my acid reflux, I'm also on a cholesterol medication and three different meds for my blood pressure. So I take six pills every morning, plus the chewable aspirin.

In addition to that, I have a prescription for Xanax, though I'm on the generic Alprazolam. I take it only when I really, really need it. My psychiatrist doesn't actually like to even prescribe it because in some cases, the anxiety and irritation can return in greater strength, which is something that does happen to me on occasion. When I really need it, it works, but I haven't tried taking one every day and seeing how that goes.

Many of you will remember that I was on Lexapro for a few years. Though it did help even me out, it also made me very static and numb. I stopped caring about very much and spent most of my time just sitting at home. I lost years of my life--a time during which not much happened that I can remember very well--but I gained over 200 pounds, exacerbating all of my other health problems. Losing weight will help ease those problems. That's been very hard for me in itself, but not impossible.

Because of the Lexapro years, though, I'm medication-shy when it comes to something mood altering. My psychiatrist prescribed Prozac a few months ago, but that interacted poorly with my blood pressure, raising it too high and giving me a type of suicidal compulsion I'd never had before. So Prozac is out. Lexapro is out, and Xanax is a salve.

My therapist and my psychiatrist both want me to take something to dull the sharp edges of my panic disorder and give me mental space to gather myself and refocus my priorities so I can change my behavior to follow those priorities. But so far it's been very hard trying to get it right. I still feel, every day, the weight of depression and anxiety hanging over me, threatening to wash over me at any moment. I'm trying to learn to live with it, to acknowledge it, and to not run from it. Anxiety and depression are going to happen. They're like the weather; some days are cloudy, and some days aren't. What I'm having the hardest time controlling is not reacting to their impending presence with fear that almost instantly becomes panic.

It's easier to say than do. For now I've got Xanax when I need it. Maybe I should start taking it once a day and see what that does to me. I just worry about the possible numbness. Or the possibility of acting out.

You know what helps the most? Exercise. Nothing's been better than that. The hardest part, though, is not getting discouraged when the depression hits. That happens often. One of my biggest challenges is to not simply give in when the depression happens, but to keep my schedule of walking and working out.

I think participating in this wedding is going to be a big confidence boost. I wrote my toast today and I think it's actually good. I hope it goes over well. I'll probably have to take a Xanax in the morning, but I'm looking forward to doing this. Carl has faith in me, and that means a lot to me. More than my lack of faith in myself, honestly.

But I'm still going to talk to my psychiatrist about medication tomorrow.

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

I'm not sure why I skipped this one nearly a decade ago, but it's some pretty powerful filmmaking. It's the true story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who tries to rescue his family and fellow citizens from the 1994 Rwandan genocide. What I liked about the movie especially is that it was about ordinary citizens caught up in the sweep of war, trying to survive and save others. It added a personal edge to the film that made it easier to relate to without (IMO, anyway) being manipulative or preachy. Don Cheadle is excellent as Paul, a Hutu man with a Tutsi wife (Sophie Okonedo, also excellent), who attempts to keep his mostly-Tutsi neighborhood safe inside the Belgian hotel he works in. It's a film of humanity, and the drama builds out of that. ****

I remember when this came out and it was one of those movies that weirdly polarizes the internet. I thought it was a well-made, intense genre exercise; a found-footage, ground-level kaiju flick that mostly works. It trades pretty heavily on 9/11 imagery, but I think it deals with it in a way that's not offensive or pandering. The removal of using a giant monster instead is an interesting way to comment on it; I wish the movie had more to say about that, actually. But it's more content to be a movie about how people come together and often act irrationally in a crisis, and on that level, it's surprisingly involving. And intense. Very intense. I felt pretty exhausted after watching it. ***1/2

A HOUSE DIVIDED (1913) ***1/2
Three silent films by cinema's first woman director, Alice Guy Blache. Her directorial style is especially lush and pretty for the time, and her actors are very expressive. Her films are about generating emotion, but not quite about exploring them. A House Divided, with its focus on a married couple going through a troubled period, is the best of the three, but my favorite was actually Falling Leaves, about a woman dying of tuberculosis who will die "by the times the last leaves fall." I was touched by the way her little sister tries to tie the leaves to their branches so they'll never fall and her sister will never die. I just wish that the movie had earned an emotional reaction instead of merely observing one; it never draws you in with characters, it just shows you something pretty but sad. Canned Harmony is funny but kind of stops just before it gets going.

Probably DW Griffith's masterpiece, one that transcends his preachy moralizing and becomes just an enjoyable story with an excellent central performance by one of the silent era's greatest actresses, Lillian Gish. She stars as Anna Moore, a young country girl tricked into a mock marriage by a lothario and left for herself when she becomes pregnant. Her baby dies, and she wanders alone until she's able to find a job working on a family farm. But soon, the lothario shows up, having bought the next farm and making a play for a local girl. Anna refuses to leave but agrees not to say anything, but she's undone by town gossip, leading to a justly-famous sequence on an ice floe done without stunt actors or special effects. The story is a bit on the melodramatic side (it's a soap opera), but that's softened by Griffith's crazed pro-monogamy moralizing. The film also takes shots (but more organically) at religious hypocrisy and misogyny. The film itself is just really well made; Griffith continues in this film to invent a uniquely cinematic language. Gish once lamented that sound ruined cinema by taking something that was becoming quite unique and built on impressionism and emotions, and chained it to the spoken word. Her performance in this film shows that emotional language transcends time and place. It makes the film. ****


Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Is It Really Whitewashing?

I know this is probably sensitive, but I have a question.

All summer, a lot of people have expressed the sentiment that casting Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness is whitewashing; taking an ethnic character and casting a white actor in the role. My question, though: is it, actually?

The reason I ask is this: in the film (and correct me if I'm wrong, please, because it's been a while since I saw it), I don't remember anyone actually establishing that Khan is supposed to be Indian. I don't remember that coming up and being either integral to his character or essential to the plot in any way.

I'm not saying this to be a dick, I'm just bringing this up because I feel like people are making an assumption based on (a) the way the character was portrayed on the original series and (b) his name.

People have been complaining about the way JJ Abrams has been borrowing so heavily from the original series and original films in his reboot (and I get it), but to then turn around and attempt to hold him accountable for not doing that with one character (a character that, it's too often not pointed out, was played by a Mexican actor originally, as if ethnicities are simply interchangeable) seems weird. I understand how sensitive we are to this now on the internet, but I'm just wondering... how do we know Khan in this reboot is supposed to be anything other than a British white guy?

Again, I'm not trying to be a dick and poke a hole in an argument that I understand. I just don't know what we're basing this off, because I don't remember anything in the film to indicate Khan's ethnic leanings.

And just... just don't tell me it's because of his name, because saying a white guy can't play someone named Khan is like saying an Indian guy can't play someone named Gerard. It's a weird assumption I'm not comfortable with.

I'm not saying whitewashing characters isn't stupid and offensive. I'm just saying that I'm not sure this incident was whitewashing.

But as I've said before: I'm just some white guy and I know there's privilege that comes with that, and one of those is not always being aware of these things when they happen.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Kristen Bell Mondays

Since I didn't do a fanart post for August (just not seeing much these days), I thought I'd share this here. You can get it as a shirt at Red Bubble. I love this.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Song of the Week: "Friends I Haven't Met Yet"

I don't actually know anything about this song, but I dig it.