Hi, y'all.

As you may have gathered, Sandy did next to nothing to the Greater Boston Area. My house made a lot of alarming creaky and bangy noises while the winds were high, but my house was built slightly after Roosevelt left office -- Teddy, not Franklin Delano -- and also makes a wide variety of arthritic-sounding complaints when people do things like close doors and walk around in the kitchen. Appropriately enough, the resident radiator poltergeist also woke up this afternoon, and is still having fun hammering on the steam pipes.

Unfortunately, I personally am still trying to get my shit back together. I have what is politely referred to as "anxiety problems". What that means in my case is that once I'm in a high-stress situation for whatever reason, it's really incredibly goddamn difficult to get the physiological fight-or-flight reaction to go away again. I find it both baffling and incredibly frustrating when it happens -- depending on what's up and whether I can do anything about it, it's entirely possible for something stupid or entirely nonsensical and unrelated to the major stressor to set it off, and then all I can do is sit there and go what the fuck? where did this come from? while shaking uncontrollably and breaking out into a cold sweat.

It's worst when I have advance warning that something horrible might happen, but probably won't, and in the end doesn't, so I'm stuck with all that extra adrenaline and nothing to use it on. Hurricanes, for instance. I actually suspect I'm sitting smack in the area where they would be evacuating people to, in a total catastrophe. Somerville and Medford are mostly hills, and I'm not close enough to either the Mystic or the Charles to be inundated even if a storm surge completely overran the banks. I'm also within sight of Tufts Medford; unlike MIT or Harvard, which are co-mingled with the city of Cambridge, Tufts is a walled-garden style campus, which means they have a lot of their own infrastructure that's wholly or completely independent from the city. and I would be rather surprised if one of their larger buildings wasn't already a designated community shelter in the event of a disaster.

I'm also well aware that if for some reason we did get the order to evacuate, the time I'd have to get dressed, pack a suitcase, and zip the rats temporarily into an overnight bag would be more on the order of an hour or two, not half a minute, and that I don't need to be prepared to spring up and flee for my life on a moment's notice. This does not stop me from sitting tensely on the edge of the bed for the entire night, jumping every time I hear vague voice noises from the radio the other roommate has tuned to the weather news. I physically cannot relax. I'm just now regaining the ability to pop my back. My neck and shoulders will probably ache for another few days.

Under most circumstances, what I do is ignore the fuck out of this. There's nothing else I can do. Being rational does nothing to stop it. The vast majority of the time, if I continue to ignore it, eventually whatever is causing it will go away, and I'll slowly reclaim the ability to unclench my teeth. There are things that will make it infinitely worse; there was a point in my life where it went completely haywire for months on end, which was triggered by a lot of shit going wrong, capped off by having to outright quit a job that switched my schedule from 10pm-6am, which suits me perfectly well, to 4am-noon, which does not. A lack of sleep ratchets the weird behavior of my brain up several stops with a breathtaking quickness, and attempting to get up that early in the morning and function broke fucking everything. I stuck it out for about six weeks, and I shouldn't have.

I landed in the ER a few times when I essentially got caught in status panickus for days on end. I know that a panic attack is not itself fatal, but they also prevent me from eating or sleeping, and after two or three days I decided it was time to go beg for some drugs. Medical personnel are very disconcerted when you come in looking like a total basket case but sounding completely lucid; I think they start unable to figure out if I really work that weird, or if I'm just the most inept malingerer they've ever seen. They (eventually) believed me, since they gave me enough benzos to take down a small horse, and once the doctor even apologized for being unable to convince the dispensary to give them to me for free.

To date, Xanax is the only thing I have ever found that will short-circuit the panic attack with no weird side effects. (Ativan had me colliding with walls on my way to hurl about forty-five minutes after I took it, which perplexed the nurse, as it's used as an antiemetic in chemo patients.) I understand that most people think benzos are somehow recreational; I never found them to be particularly "fun", except in the narrow sense that they counter the anti-fun that characterizes a panic attack. Kava kava also works, but slower, and it gives me a cracking headache. Benadryl and alcohol don't stop anything, but they make me care less -- when I mention that the hurricane preparedness kit involves rum, I am not kidding.

[Anyone who wants to point out that this is technically abuse of OTC drugs, give yourself a gold star! I'm stuck with it, because it turns out the best way to never be given any benzos is to go to a doctor and ask for them. Antidepressants were enough of an adventure that I refuse to tangle with them ever again. Valerian has GABA-ergic compounds, but also something that acts as, or at least like, an SSRI, so it's off-limits for similar reasons of badness. Inderol seems like it would be a great solution to me, but for some reason no one wants to give me any. I've no idea why; it's prescribed pretty widely off-label for things like stage fright.

I've also been advised several times to try quitting caffeine. I've done so -- for a good four or five months in the middle of that particular debacle. It makes me worse. I spend all of my awake time flailing around kind of randomly, continually frustrated and angry with myself because I'm unable to accomplish anything of importance. I don't think I'm quite what anyone would call ADHD -- if for no other reason than I find stronger stimulants like pseudoephedrine decongestant to be very unpleasant -- but as previously noted, I do have bouts of brain hiccups, which probably not coincidentally get rather worse when I'm under the same kind of stress that causes the anxiety problems to surface. Caffeine is evidently a vital part of my thought process. I don't need much, but I calm down considerably when I get it, because I'm not continually overwhelmed.]

I assume that whatever bizarre malfunction this is, it's hereditary, or at least epigenetic. I have one relative that I know the rest of the family mocks for having a standing Valium scrip, and loads of others who function as if their random bouts of paranoia are an accurate reflection of the state of the real world. (My sister apparently has to be completely loaded to get herself on an airplane, but that one's fairly common, and may mean nothing much.) I've worked like this as long as I can remember. Nobody in the family has ever had any sympathy for it; I was yelled at a lot for being irrational, which I was, but I was also yelled at for being irrational when I was in fact being perfectly rational in doing something they didn't like -- and heavens forbid I point out that one of them was being terrified of absolutely nothing.

Fortunately, if weirdly, one of the things that has never set it off is performance. I am a champion public speaker. So at least I'm not completely and utterly incapacitated -- I can often act my way through whatever I need to do. I'm not in any way happy about it, mind, and there are some things this doesn't work on, but at least I can go to the grocery store and buy goddamn bread.


  1. I'm sorry your executive functioning seems to be short-circuited by perfectly rational fears that happen to last too long and/or affect you too intensely. :/ Out-of-whack flight or fight systems are never fun.


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