Hard Work Pays Off

For many years, I’ve wondered what it would be like to freelance. I don’t necessarily mind working in an office environment, but the thought of being able to work from home, especially on days where I felt particularly anxious or depressed, appealed to me. I know many people who have been able to make ends meet, and while everyone has told me that it’s hard work, most have said that they wouldn’t trade freelancing back for working 9 to 5.

In the beginning, I didn’t think it would be possible. The only way I would be able to make it work is if I won the lottery, or had saved enough to live on for the months that I didn’t have money coming in. Well, I never won the lottery (because I don’t play) and my salary, combined with Lee’s, was enough to build a bit of a cushion, but not much.

If it hadn’t been for my parents’ help, I don’t think I could have taken that leap.

I received my first assignment toward the end of August. I knew that it would take a while, and I would have to work a lot of odd hours and weekends before I would see the fruits of my labor. There have been some days, just a few, where I wondered if I made the right choice.

Well, today, my decision has been reaffirmed. Today, I received my first check for freelance work.

I can’t tell you how excited I am. Well, actually, yes I can. I ran into the house yelling, “I got paid!” (The dogs looked at me like I was crazy.)

I know it may be some time before I see another check, but I’m just grateful that I finally have something to show for the work I’ve done.

I may not have won the lottery, but I feel like a million dollars!


Eating Mindfully

I did a little Christmas shopping today. Since my dad lives in Holland, and shipping is expensive, I decided to bring him and my stepmother a gift when we see them on Thursday. And then I thought, why not bring my aunt and uncle a gift as well?

For my dad and stepmother, Lee and I bought some of his sister’s art. Aimi‘s style is different from Lee’s, but she is just as talented. For my aunt and uncle, I went to Barnes & Noble and bought Underwater Dogs.

While I was at the bookstore, I decided to look for a book on crochet. I didn’t really find anything I liked, so I moved on.

The self-help section is located next to the hobbies section, and since I have been pretty anxious lately, I decided to browse the titles. But it wasn’t the books on anxiety that I was drawn to.

I ended up buying a book about emotional eating.

I have a hard time explaining why I make the food choices I do. The thing is, I want to lose weight. I want to be healthy. But I struggle with my relationship with food.

I didn’t think I could have a relationship with food, but I do. I use food as a reward (Yay, I met my deadline!), as comfort (I am upset so I deserve some macaroni and cheese.), and as something to fill the void, like when I mindlessly eat at my desk while I’m working.

I’m not exactly sure when this relationship started. But it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’ve mindlessly eaten my way to being at least 60 pounds overweight.

I go through a cycle where I’ve eaten too much junk food and feel horrible, so I become determined to eat better and exercise. That lasts for a few weeks. During that time I say that I’ll let myself have soda or some other food that I’ve denied myself if I stay on the healthful path that week.

Pretty soon, once a week becomes twice a week, and then the temptation is so strong and I give in.

I’m not happy about it. I hate it. And I’m not looking forward to seeing the look on my dad’s face when he sees how much I’ve gained since we last saw each other.

That’s why I’ve been emotionally eating for the past couple of weeks, but what about the rest of the time?

Whatever the reason, I want it to stop. But I don’t know how to keep me from sabotaging myself. And, to tell you the truth, I didn’t realize that what I was doing was emotional eating until a book stopped me in my tracks.

It’s called Eating Mindfully. I’ve read only a few pages, and haven’t gotten to any of the exercises, but I’m hoping it will help me “end mindless eating and enjoy a balanced relationship with food.”

And hopefully it will help my anxiety and depression as well.

I tell people that I live in the present, because thinking about the future overwhelms me. But I really don’t. I dwell on the past and worry about the future. I try to capture moments, like the beautiful weather today. But for the most part, I was thinking that I was starving and once I’m done with all my shopping I’m going to get some Arby’s.

I’ve been saying for a long time that “I’m doing the best I can.” But I really do need help, and I hope this book has some of the answers I’m looking for.

Strike That, Reverse It

Wow. I looked at a post I wrote a few days ago and realized that I had a HUGE pity party.

It was just one of those days. We all have them now and then. But I don’t like to come across that way.

I’m grateful that I feel comfortable enough to tell whoever reads this how I am feeling from day to day, but maybe I should save those thoughts for a private journal.

Not that I want to hide away all negative feelings, but sometimes I let too much out. Maybe I need to reel the line back in.

The thing is, I want to surround myself with positive people. People who, for the most part, love life and who share this light with others. When I am around these people, the exuberance envelops me and I feel like I’ve been wrapped in a warm blanket and given hot cocoa. I feel comfort and joy (comfort and joy).

And, in turn, I want to emit my own happiness to people I encounter. I do my best to catch a person’s eye and say “hello,” I love to give hugs to my friends and family, and I smile and laugh as much as possible.

I am participating in a project called “30 Days of Gratitude,” and I realize that I truly do have so much to be grateful for.

I need to focus on that.

A Rough Christmas

I remember when I loved Christmas. There are pictures of me as a kid standing next to a pile of presents as tall as me. The cookies, the lights, the music…I loved it all.

And then I started to have panic attacks, and the holidays meant something completely different to me.


Not that there aren’t aspects of Christmas that I don’t still love. I just have a harder time enjoying it all.

This Christmas started out pretty well. I took a Clonezapam before Lee drove us to Houston, and seeing family was fun.

But what I was truly looking forward to was a night with my husband. Alone. No dogs, just us. And a roaring fireplace that we could sleep next to.

My mom graciously came to Austin to stay with our dogs while we went to stay in Houston and offered her place to stay for the night.

It was cold and rainy when we started off for Mom’s place, and I was a bit weary, but I was looking forward to the crackling of the fire.

Then I forgot which gate to enter my mom’s apartment complex. We parked in what I thought was Mom’s parking space, walked three flights of stairs, and found that we were at the wrong building.

We drove around a little while and finally called Mom to ask for directions. By this time it was not only cold and rainy, but foggy as well. Yet I still held on to the image in my head of relaxing with Lee to get me through.

We made it to her apartment and then it hit us. We don’t have a key. We forgot to get the house key.

And then I lost it. I was cold, tired, and I needed peace and quiet.

Trying to get a hotel room on Christmas Eve night? Impossible.

We ended up back at Lee’s parents’ home. They were kind enough to let us sleep on our air mattress in the kitchen, but it was hard for me to sleep.

It’s hard enough for me to sleep with just Lee and the dogs in the room, but seven other people in the house besides us?

Luckily I was exhausted from the panic, but the downward spiral kept going…even through today.

Today we are home. Today I should be happy and relaxed. Today I’m on edge. And depressed.

I tried retail therapy, but couldn’t find anything I liked. I even dyed some fiber, but that didn’t cheer me up, either.

I’m grateful that I have an appointment with my psychiatrist in a few days. It may be time to take a look at my meds.

Or maybe the ghost of Christmas will stop haunting me by then.

A Year in the Life

I love Flickr.

There are so many creative and wonderful people who share amazing photos. Whether they’re straight out of the camera or edited to look out of this world, I love to look at people’s images.

After all, a picture IS worth a thousand words.

Flickr has many groups and projects to get you out of a photography rut. One of those projects is 365.

365 photos. A photo of yourself, in some form or fashion, every day for a year. I have tried this project twice and failed. Well, maybe not failed. But I stalled. I got lazy. Toward the end of both rounds, I was taking photos of me sitting on the couch. Every. Night. I was boring myself, and probably everyone else in Flickrland.

Blue in mid kiss. And, yes, I am grabbing my boob.

I started the 365 project again yesterday. Yesterday was Blue’s birthday, the first dog that Lee and I adopted from Austin Pets Alive. She was named Priscilla then, and she looked much older even though she was only 6. (OK, that’s 42 in dog years, but 40 is the new 20, right?

We’ve had her a year. In that time she has made me laugh, cry, and fall in love all over again. She’s also gained 8 pounds. 🙂

This time I want to use the photos to tell my story. My ups, my downs, my accomplishments, my failures, everything.

I’m hoping that telling a story will help to inspire me to make it all the way through 365. And I’m looking forward to seeing what my last photo will be. I’m hoping I will have grown emotionally. That I will have been able to take photos outside of my comfort zone.

If you want to see my photos on Flickr, my username is mersidotes.

After all, third time’s a charm. Right?

And the List Keeps Growing…

The picture in this post shows just a few of the medications I take. I don’t necessarily take everything on my list every day, but the number of pills I do take seems like a lot. If you are what you eat, then I’m a walking pharmacy.

Pills Pills Pills

Here’s my list:

  • Effexor XR (generic brand is Venlafaxine HCL ER): 150 mg every day. This is the antidepressant that I started on 10+ years ago. When I’ve been feeling lower than normal, my psychiatrist and I have decided twice to raise the level to 225 mg. It may help for a few days, but acid reflux attacks with a vengeance and I have to go back to 150. While it initially helped me break through some boundaries, missing one dosage or forgetting to take it with food will make me extremely sick. Many people have had horrible experiences with trying to taper off, even while ramping up with some similar drug, including me. I crash every time. I’m going to make another attempt in the future to switch, but it’s going to be a while before that happens again.
  • Clonazepam (also known as Kolonapin): 1.0-1.5 mg every night. This is an anti-anxiety drug that I started taking a few years ago. When I started on this medication, it was only as needed for panic attacks. I now take it at night to help me fall asleep, but I have developed such a high tolerance that it doesn’t work very well.
  • Zolpidem Tartrate (also known as Ambien): 10-20 mg every night. I started taking this sleeping aid when one of the other medications I tried for depression gave me insomnia. It is a very addictive drug that I have been taking for a few years. There have been stories of people doing crazy things on Ambien. The main side effect for me was late-night binge eating. One night I went into the kitchen, got a Pepsi and a bag of tortilla chips, and brought them into bed with me. According to Lee, I was shoving my hand down into the bag and then cramming the chips into my mouth. He asked me whether I should be eating all of the chips and I proceeded to glare at him. I don’t remember this. I have, however, gained a considerable amount of weight. Thanks, Ambien!
  • Omeprazole: 40 mg twice a day for acid reflux. This I can thank for Effexor and for a different drug that I tried to pair with Effexor to help my mood. Sometimes it helps and sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, I get terrible chest pains due to excessive gas.
  • Dicyclomine (also known as Bentyl): 20 mg tablets as needed. I’m supposed to take this for my chest pains, but it doesn’t help much. If the chest pain rears its ugly head, I usually take a combination of Dicyclomine, Pepto Bismol, GasX, and Ibuprofin. I usually feel like my chest is in a vise for several hours, even with all this “help.”
  • Loestrin 24: once a night for birth control. I take this more because I need it than want it. When I’m not on birth control, I have severe abdominal pain for more than a week. I tried Yaz, but ended up not having a period for five months which freaked me out. Not because I thought I could be pregnant, but because I didn’t think it was normal. My gynecologist wasn’t worried about it, but I switched because I was scared. There have been no problems since.
  • Zyrtec: Once a night for allergies. I don’t take this every night, but on the nights I do, I feel extremely hungover the next day.
  • Nasonex: I have to use this nasal spray once every morning for allergies. I’m fighting allergies all year round, according to my allergy skin test.
  • Xanax: 0.5-1.0 mg as needed for panic. I initially took this for going on trips. I haven’t left Texas since 2005.

Let’s face it. My purse sounds like a maraca. The funny thing is that I don’t take a multivitamin. But I digress…

Here’s a list of medications I have tried to either replace or pair with Effexor and failed: Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro, Lamictil, Wellbutrin, Cymbalta, Pristiq. There may have been others that I can’t remember. But you get the gist.

I told my psychiatrist that every time I have tried to move on from Effexor to another medication, Effexor physically and emotionally hurts me. It doesn’t want to let go.

It makes me shaky, nervous, nauseated. It drains me emotionally to where I feel like I’m drowning in a sea of hopelessness.

And I end up coming back. Over and over.

“But maybe,” I said, “I haven’t given these other medications long enough to take hold. Maybe I have realize that I will have to go through hell before I can get back to some normalcy.”

Some breakups are like that. It takes a long time for the heart to heal, and even then there’s the occasional sting.

But I want to breakup with Effexor. Initially I thought it was a wonder drug. And it was. It helped me make the biggest move of my life. I actually changed zip and area codes. I was impressed.

There is no love between us anymore, however. I think it sustains me like oil sustains an engine. It keeps me going just enough to keep going.

My psychiatrist believes that such a drastic change would not be good for me right now. I agree. So before I leave Effexor behind, hopefully for good, I’ve been given a plan of attack to aid my sleep and boost my mood.

By adding more medication.

This is also to help taper off of Ambien at some point, so I’m not complaining.

  1. Night 1: Take 50 mg of Trazadone 30-45 minutes before bed, along with the Clonezapam and Zolpidem.
  2. Night 2: If 50 mg of Trazadone doesn’t work (it didn’t), try 2 Trazadone. I did this and believe I got some sleep. I definitely didn’t feel as shaky as I did yesterday and I wasn’t stuck on one song lyric all night.
  3. 3 to 4 days later: After I know how Trazadone affects me, add 2 mg Abilify at night (1/2 tab for first three nights, then one tab each night). This is to boost my mood. Ever seen the commercial with the gray cloud that follows the depressed woman and then she takes Abilify and she’s all better? That’s me. Hopefully.
  4. Reduce Clonezapam by 50 percent. I hope this will be easy to taper off of. We’ll see.

I have a follow-up appointment in three weeks. I hope I have a little skip in my step by then. But whatever the steps are now, they all lead to my ultimate goal.

To not sound like part of a marachi band every time I dig in my purse. Ay yi yi.

Daily Affirmations

Remember Stuart Smalley? “I’m good enough! I’m smart enough! And gosh darn it, people like me!”

Love the color combo!

I have been in a state of depression lately. It’s a cycle for me. For a while I’m up and then I’m down. It’s like a roller-coaster.

Or maybe not. I think there’s this underlying depression that just lies there…and the Effexor is just not enough to keep my head above water. But add anything else, and it messes up my system. I’ve been through this over and over, so I need to focus my energy on something else.

I believe I feel depressed somewhat right now not only because my hormones are out of whack, but also because I haven’t seen the hypnotherapist in a while. I haven’t done any of the visualization exercises, the homework she gave me for our next appointment, or even made another appointment. Part of it is because we have been trying to save money, but the other part of it is when I am depressed, I withdraw. From friends, from family…from life.

I know the only way I can climb out of this slump is to reconnect. To go out. To remember what I have and who I am.

There’s a baseball game on Friday that I’m going to. After my first session with the hypnotist I went to the stadium for the first time in years and I had a blast. I went by myself, got a hot dog and a soda, and ended up sitting right behind home plate. I brought my knitting, talked to the people next to me, and cheered for our team. Then there were fireworks after the game, which were amazing.

Hot wings eating contest after the game

I felt so wonderful that I treated myself, and even though it’s hotter than Hades, I know I need to do this for myself again.

Oooh! Sparkly!

I end up sleeping a lot these days. While I’m alert during the week, I sleep all day on Saturdays. That’s all I want to do. On Sundays Lee and I will go out, but even then I want to take naps.

This Saturday I’m making myself go out. I signed up for a dyeing class that my friend Rose told me about. She’s going to be in the class with me, which gives me more incentive to get out of the house.

Jars of Kool-Aid: Great for dyeing yarn!

As far as those daily affirmations, I haven’t thought about them lately. But I have them in my purse. My hypnotist writes some down on an index card at the end of each session and I’ve been carrying them around.

Here they are. If you want to use any one or more of them, feel free. I hope they help you as much as they have helped me when I’ve used them.

  • More and more I can accept my feelings, soften around them, and breathe through them.
  • More and more I can sense the peaceful stillness at my center.
  • I am a unique and valuable individual.
  • I now open up to life!
  • I say what I want to say when I want to say it in a diplomatic and assertive way.
  • I now take back my power!
  • Because I am kind, funny, and a good friend (insert other positive traits here), I appreciate myself.
  • My safety lies in me.
  • More and more I focus on today and make it the best it can be.

Now that I think about it, it’s time to make another appointment.

Sleepytime Gal

Sunday was a waste. I slept on and off until 6:30 p.m. Granted we were up until about 2 a.m. the night before celebrating Lee’s

Hiding from the World

birthday, but that doesn’t mean yesterday had to slip away from me.

I blame it on the Ambien.

Before Ambien, if I slept all day, I could blame it on my depression. I was too listless to get out of bed. Too sad to show my face to anyone. I would just hide my head under the covers until the feelings passed.

It reminds me of a paper I wrote in college freshman English. What kind of animal would I want to be and why? I wrote that I wanted to be a turtle. I wouldn’t have to travel far from my house (in fact, I wouldn’t have to leave at all), and if I got scared I could retreat into my shell.

And that’s what I would do. People would ask me at work what I did on the weekends, and I would say, “I just relaxed.” I didn’t tell anyone that I stayed in bed all day because I couldn’t face reality.

In 2000, I started taking Effexor, an antidepressant that initially worked for me, then seemed to be not enough when I was going through my divorce in 2002-2003. I went to a psychiatrist, who added Lexapro to the mix. And while THAT worked in the beginning, it caused some problems later on when I started to feel better.

Taking Effexor in itself has had many ups and downs for me. I have to take it with food, and if I don’t I face dire consequences. When I first started on this medication, I had to learn that the hard way. Which made me panic even more, so much so that I thought I was going to have to visit the ER. If I forget to take a pill, I face dire consequences as well. The next day, I am too sick to get out of bed. Nausea, shaking, depression, anxiety. Those are only some of the symptoms. I don’t even want to think of what missing more than one day would be like.

I don’t like Effexor. Upping the dosage when I am having a hard time gives me acid reflux and headaches. Lowering the dosage makes me weepy. But it is the only medication that I have found so far that has worked for me. And I have tried a lot of different drugs.

Peace, not Drugs

So far, I’ve tried Zoloft, Celexa, Effexor, Lexapro, Wellbutrin, Cymbalta, and Pristiq. That’s not counting the anti-anxiety drugs that I am on or have taken in the past: Clozenapam, Xanax, and now Ambien.

I went from taking no medications to having a pill box so I wouldn’t forget the several pills I needed each day. It still bothers me that I need medication to even out my brain chemistry, calm my nerves, and now to catch some zzzzz’s.

I didn’t start taking Ambien until I tried switching from Effexor to Cymbalta. You’ve seen the commercials for Cymbalta. The people can’t do anything in the beginning. By the end of the commercial, they are enjoying life and their family, friends, and even pets are so appreciative.

That’s not what happened to me. Even though my psychiatrist gave me a great plan to wean off the Effexor and ramp up the Cymbalta so that I wouldn’t suffer withdrawals, I crashed. I was so depressed every day that tears leaked at the most mundane moments. And to top it all off, I started to have insomnia. I thought the best move was to take something to help me sleep, which would help my mood, instead of just going back to Effexor. Silly girl.

That was about five years ago. I am now back on Effexor at the dosage that I know I have to stay at, no matter what is going on around me, yet I can’t get to sleep without Ambien. In fact, I now am dependent on some Clozenapam as well as Ambien to get to sleep.

And yet I’m still a light sleeper. One noise can wake me up during the night, and I may have to go to another room to go to sleep.

But that’s beside the point. I’m an Ambien addict. I know I am. I’ve tried to wean myself off of it, and the withdrawals are horrible. Yet I know I need to get off of it. And I also need sleep. But not as much as I got on Sunday. It’s a vicious circle. And I’m dizzy.