Monday, February 10, 2014

A Mental Health Journey

I debated making a post about this as it’s still a “bit early to tell,” but I figured it could be useful for posterity.

I have been seeing a counselor at my university for about two years now. The last time I saw her before summer break, she discussed me the results of a psychological screening, which I took because I don’t think my four year old diagnosis of clinical depression is correct. According to the screening, she said it seemed I had an anxiety disorder. This was not among the things I had considered. I thought perhaps adult ADHD, maybe some mild ASD… I thought it could be any combination of things, but never considered anxiety.

I mulled over this idea for a long time. When I last visited home, I showed the three page results to my dad, who to my surprise was in complete agreement with them. He said reading them was “like watching me grow up.”

Most of my problems are with memory, concentration, and motivation. I didn’t purse further help for awhile because I didn’t need it, but in January I returned to school, and suddenly these were very relevant problems again. So I upped and visited a psychiatrist, who came to the same conclusion as my counselor: I have an anxiety disorder. Because I didn’t respond well to the SSRI I tried four years back (citalopram), he prescribed me a low dosage of a NDRI (bupropion). He also lauded me for doing as well as I have without medicinal help. Apparently some of the things I do (sitting at the front of the class because it’s easier to speak if I can’t see my classmates, little calming rituals like lacing up my corset and boots, etc) are coping behaviors. I had always chalked up my social problems to being an awkward ass introvert.

So I have been taking bupropion for ten days now, and I think I am beginning to see a difference. Things that took me so much effort before, like speaking up in a group, are a little bit easier now. Yesterday I got up the energy to exercise for the first time in months. Seldom in my life have I felt so functional. I feel less stressed out and overwhelmed. And concentration seems to be a bit easier too, though I am definitely still scatterbrained. And still having sleeping troubles, I end up dozing off in class even after nine hours sleep and a latte with two shots of espresso.

These marginal differences are amazing to me, and I almost want to cry thinking about how long I’ve gone without this. What if I had started taking it when I was eighteen? Or fourteen? Or ten? What would my life have been like?

When I told my dad he must have thought the same thing, and he said he regretted not approaching my mental health differently when I was younger. But you know what? I don’t hold a thing against him. He instilled in me a very can-do, no excuses outlook on life, and look how far it’s gotten me. (Just imagine how much more I’ll be capable of with this medication!) And anyway, every person I’ve ever met who started a long-term medication before or during puberty seems to regret it, so I’m kind of glad I didn’t fuck up my brain chemistry while shit was still sorting itself out. (I still wonder how I was affected by taking birth control pills ages fifteen through nineteen.)

So begins a possible new chapter in my life. If I stay on track, I should graduate with my B.S. in Spring 2015 with at least a 3.0
And maybe I’ll finally be able to get in shape, too!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Wet Lab

Nobody warned me not to eat anything beforehand. I was never in any danger of vomiting or the like, I’ve got too strong a stomach for that. But the lingering flavor of shortbread cookies on my palate mingled with the scent of formaldehyde in such a distinct and unpleasant way that I am fairly certain I won’t be eating shortbread cookies again anytime soon.

I walked into my first anatomy lab excited and a little intimidated. An assortment of displays were set up around the perimeter of the room, and I had twenty minutes to get my fill of them. I started off with the sagittal cross sections of preserved cow and sheep heads, with plasticized brains showing the structure of all the blood vessels. I picked up a frontal cross section showing the inside of a cow’s sinus cavity, and my own sinuses briefly stung and my eyes watered from a whiff of preservative fumes that reached my nose. The juices ran down my gloves and for the rest of the lab I walked around with my hands poised in front of me like a stubby-armed dinosaur.

I marveled at the size of the horse heart, it was as large as my head (and for a horse only fifteen hands high)! I’d had no idea. I chuckled immaturely when I came to the reproduction table, where an assistant explained to me the two different kinds of animal penises and how they worked. The assistant by the reconstructed animal skeletons quizzed me on my bone names, and I was impressed with how much I remembered from my physiology class two semesters ago. Compelled by curiosity, I touched and handled as many things as I could, the cow lungs, the horse hooves, and numerous other disembodied parts. An entire preserved calf hung on chains, with a slit cut in its side so one could stick their hand in to feel the placement of the organs. I wanted to do this as well, but there was a line and I would not have gotten a turn in time.

When the time came to leave, I found myself once again with renewed excitement for a possible future in veterinary medicine. I wondered if I’d ever get used to the smell of formaldehyde, and I when my next opportunity would be for a learning experience such as this one.