Whines of 2012 — Updated 12/17/2012

  • UPDATED: 9 September 2012
  • square780Let me count the ways the events of the past few months have screwed me. Note that there may will be additions as the weeks pass…so keep checking this article. It will be a mega-whine!

    • First, my mother dies of a glioblastoma — brain cancer — the same disease that killed her father. The oncologist told me that he doubted it was hereditary. I am waiting for the announcement of a new hereditary variety any day.
    • Drake gets into a fight with a larger dog.
    • Lynn begins to bleed beyond her period. I talk her into seeing a doctor. She gets referred and referred until she is scheduled for a hysterectomy which is then handed over to an oncologist who tells us that only 2% of the patients her age presenting with her symptoms have cancer. He repeats this just before he performs the operation. It is only supposed to take half an hour. An hour and fifteen minutes later, I notice the time. He comes out with a grim look on his face and tells me that he found a malignant mass on her left ovary. Two days later, we learn to our relief that it is not ovarian cancer, but uterine cancer that has metasticized up the left fallopian tube. She spends nearly a week in the hospital. I tell people, with a sigh, that someone has to be the 2%.
    • We skip my mother’s memorial service. This was supposed to be our vacation.
    • We now need to make the condo readily cleanable. So we have to rip out the carpet and put in new flooring. Everything small in the condo needs to be brought into the garage.
    • My favorite cat — Fiona — dies.
    • The bathroom sink backs up.
    • I hurt my back.
    • I cut my hands and my knees.
    • I gain weight and fall out of the great shape I was in in the fall.
    • My other cat — Little Bo — goes crazy when I send her to board at the vet, so we take her out. I take her to a motel because the people Lynn is staying with don’t want a cat in their house.
    • The floorers discover that our floor is not level. Either because of settling or because the builders screwed up 22 years ago or both, there are large humps all over the condo. We need to spend an additional $1000 to fix these.
    • Lynn’s hair starts to fall out from the chemo. She is given a 75-80% chance to live.
    • Drake runs away three times in one day from the house where we send him to stay during the remodeling. Turns out he is slipping under a gate, so we block the way. I resolve to visit him every day.
    • My dentist informs me that three of my crowns need to be replaced.
    • Weather report promises rain for two days, pushing back the time before we can move back into the condo.
    • Painter discovers the reason why the previous owners covered the bathroom in wallpaper — there was damage to the walls that they were too lazy to plaster over. Plus they used white glue to hold it in place. (What kind of idiot puts wallpaper in a bathroom?) Add more money to the cost of the job.
    • Our new maid asks for a cabinet. She puts it outside on the deck because the weather report says that it will only be cloudy and the weather report is never wrong. It drizzles heavily all night. I do manage to cover it and wipe down the wet parts before putting it in the garage the next morning.
    • We put felt feet on everything except for one file cabinet which has a sharp lip that we can’t find a way of covering.
    • We witness an accident when we come out of a local restaurant. One man hurt. I’m glad it wasn’t one more thing to add to this list, but I would rather it didn’t happen to these people, either.
    • The dentist informed me that I needed to have a tooth pulled.
    • The garbage disposal dies necessitating its replacement. (Yes, we pushed the red button, cranked the main rotor, etc. The repairman did the same things.)
    • The tooth extraction will entail some painful digging around because the tooth has broken into three pieces. Plus I will have to undergo a sinus tap and bone graft three months after the first surgery. Plus insurance will only cover about $78 of the total. How about some dental insurance reform?
    • Drake found a new way to get out by forcing his way through one of the front window screens.
    • Just before we are to get the good news that Lynn’s treatment is going so well, they may end it before they had planned, the phone rings and someone tells me that my dog is out. “No, he can’t be out. We locked him up.” “No, your dog jumped out of the second story window….” Drake is fine, but I am angry with God about heaping so much crap and denying us the joy of the moment when we learned that things were going better than hoped for Lynn. Now we have to put out a thousand dollars for custom interior louver shutters.
    • An old obsession with the number 13 has returned. If I check the time, it is 13 after. I haven’t gotten to the point of counting things to see if they add up to 13 as I do when the obsession is truly out of control, but it is getting there. I wish I knew how to break the cycle. This is not a good sign for my mental health.
    • My country is going to hell.
    • Last Friday afternoon, I am chewing on some licorice when I feel something hard between my teeth. It is a crown. Given the day, I can’t get in to have it looked at, so I wait until Monday. My dentist looks at it, frowns, and refers me to an endodontist. He looks at it, frowns, and refers me to a periodontist to have the tooth pulled. The bicuspid has broken down to where the nerve is. Do I feel any pain? Dare I say that I don’t?
    • So now I have to have two teeth pulled, on opposite sides of the mouth! This will mean liquid diets, I dread.
    • Chest pains. This led to a three day hospital stay. My roommate was a whining biker. My mother who was a nurse had warned me about these and she was right! He bossed the staff and cried when the needles hurt. (Like, duh!) I was going so crazy by day three that I threatened to check out AMA if they didn’t release me.
    • Triglycerides are through the roof. No explanation yet for the chest pains.
    • Doctor cancelled her appointment with me due to illness. Does this really belong here? Maybe not.
    • Lynn had a blowout on the road that took out at least a third of her sidewall. She is all right. Rims were not damaged.
    • I keep getting #1141 errors every time I open up Rosetta Stone. Restarting doesn’t do a bloody thing.
    • We discover that the right front of Lynn’s car has been crushed. Week in the body shop.
    • Night of the malfunctioning software. Can’t move Rosetta Stone to a new computer and can’t get a game program to work on a new computer.
    • Friends don’t like my politics. Plus I temporarily pick up a roach who is against privatization, but sure Obama is going to push us that way. Where do these people get these ideas?
    • I put on 15 pounds.
    • Learn that my cousin killed himself. Attend the funeral.
    • Third tooth slated to be pulled in January.
    • Repairman drops an electric drill onto our wood laminate floor, leaving a dime-sized hole where it can’t be covered by a rug.
    • Massive struggle to install Windows 8. Headphones decide not to work. I buy a new pair, only to discover that the problem is still there. Then I discover a simple fix.
    • Extraction of second tooth has complications — one root takes an hour to pull. Fortunately, I am well sedated.


    Everyone is telling me that “things will get better”. I sigh and reread Job.

    At least Lynn’s chemo is over and the scans are looking good. And Obama won.

    Relentless Self-Examination & the Loss of Genuineness

    square712The Harding Truck Trail took one last broad left turn. Just before the silver Irvine Water District gate, I called “Stop!” to my little dog. Drake came to a halt as he was trained to do so and let me fasten his leash to the ring of his harness. We made our way around the gate post, then turned right down the hill to the [[Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary]] parking lot.

    The thought that I had forgotten something1 came in a rush. Panic swept my hand to my pants pockets. I felt each in turn. The leash! Where was Drake’s leash?

    If you read this even marginally closely, you will immediately see the absurdity of my condition. The leash was in my hand! I was walking Drake with it! I realized this, of course, and ended my panic then and there. But I cannot help but ask why this happened?

    I often joke with the members of my support group about this kind of thing. It’s like that moment when you are standing at the urinal and you think to yourself “Hey wait a minute! Have I walked into the women’s bathroom by mistake?!” The only ones who have ever admitted to me that they feel the same are other people living with bipolar disorder or [[OCD]]. Is this experience of mine really that isolating? 2

    As a young [[Catholic]], I was trained in the practice of self-examination. You looked at what you said, what you did, and what you thought. You weighed it against what you had been taught as right. Everywhere you went you performed this task, in each moment, in all seasons. This was how you saved yourself from “the near occasion of sin”.

    Somewhere along the way, I adopted a more liberated altruism. You did good because that was the emotion that rose up in you. You acted in a certain way because it was consistent with who you were. You weren’t a slave to church fathers who probably wanted you looking at yourself so that you wouldn’t be looking at them. Nor did you fall into the Randian kneejerk of being selfish for selfishness’s sake. By rejecting both, the relentless self-examination was replaced by an earnest motivation to be genuine. 3

    Yet it remains in puzzling ways. When it does so usefully, it serves as a check against creating agony for myself and others. But then there are these other times when it just clicks along so that the wheels can turn. It ambushes me in strange places, forces odd thoughts upon me. At the deepest points, I see a certain logic to each of the panics: You need to keep your dog on a leash so he doesn’t get run over by a car. Men and women stay out of each other’s bathrooms as a courtesy to each other’s privacy and dignity. The moments where these occur, however, are not genuine.

    When they happen, I am a slave not to society, but to an odd sense of self. The way I deal with them is to acknowledge their drollness and move on.

    This post is in response to Day 19 of the Health Activist Writers Challenge: “Health Activist Choice Day”.

    1. I had already gone out without my cell phone []
    2. I think the confessional nature of the support group and the safety of that environment makes people more likely to admit to such things is all that is happening here. []
    3. The Randian — follower of [[Ayn Rand]] — is little more than a negative image of an obsessive altruist. The genuine human being strives to acknowledge both her/his individuality and her/his membership in society. You don’t eliminate one for the other and expect to have a healthy mind. []

    The Urge to Pick the Skin

    square670The urge to pick the skin off my fingers overwhelmed me a couple of weeks ago. The two spots I prefer had lost their scars, but these are back now. I had gnawed through the skin to the muscle on the left index finger1 after I had my tooth pulled and renewed the blemish on my right index finger while chewing on the corners of my mouth.

    I believe it was the pain following my oral surgery that compelled me to chew and pick. Then I kept at it because it relieved some of the anxiety.

    Now I am resisting picking the fingers once more though the skin is getting dry around the vacancies that once were the sores. These are so subtle that only I notice them: only when I write about them are they magnified so as to betray a pathology.

    1. This has nothing to do with the numbness in that hand []


    square530Sometimes I can observe my compulsive peculiarities. Let me preface this by telling you about a cat that I used to have as a companion. Ambrose liked to jump in the tub while there was still an inch or two of water in it. He would stroll from end to end, lifting a paw at each step, and shake it dry before putting it back in. It might take him two or three minutes to cross the tub, but he had to have his ritual.

    Tonight I caught myself engaging in a similar observance using a pile of napkins. Lynn will attest that when we go to the local soup and salad bar, I like to take a bunch of napkins. As I eat, I wipe my mouth after every bite. That’s right, I take a bite, wipe, and take another bite. It’s automatic with me and I have learned to prep myself for it properly by ensuring that I have enough napkins for the task.

    Aware as I am of the habit, I choose not to break it. I have never pressed the issue, but I suspect that if I did, I would feel very uncomfortable. I avoid the company of doctrinaire environmentalists and my mother for this reason. There’s no sense in putting myself between the anxieties.

    Razor Blades

    square375I sent Lynn to the store the other day and asked her to bring back some razor blades. What I’d meant were the disposable razors. She brought back a pack of blades for a “safety” razor. I knew that if they were to remain in the house I would obsess about them so I had her rush them downstairs to the garage and lock them in her car.

    I’d have had indestructible visions of my using them, of my pulling one out, trying its flexibility, cutting the tips of my fingers as I tested it, wondering what it was like to cut the veins in my wrists, and, maybe, cutting my upper arms. This would not be out of an impulse to die, but from morbid curiosity. The thin cuts, the separated skin. Not so much carving as drawing an open line of blood and pondering it. So this is life, I might say to myself. This is the pulse, the flow, the throb, the systole and dystole, the advancing and the ebbing.

    It triggered me badly enough that I had to take half a Xanax.

    They are out of the house. I feel safe now.

    Self-Injury Awareness Day

    square014Just a note that today is Self-Injury Awareness Day. If you suffer from borderline disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, OCD, anxiety, or depression, you may do this. Why? There is no one reason: you may be trying to punish yourself. You may be trying to explore boundaries. You may be trying to rid yourself of the numbness you feel in a mood. You might be (unconsciously) trying to create a rush of serotonins that allay a deficiency. You may be screaming for help. Or you may be substituting transient pain for the permanance of suicide.

    You might compulsively scratch or pick at your skin. Hair pulling might satisfy your urge. You might hit yourself or knock your head or other body part against the wall. You might suffocate yourself using a pillow. Or you could be a cutter, drawing red lines across safe parts of your body using a sterilized razor blade.

    You’re not in it so much for the pain, but to be rid of the Pain. In my worst mixed manias, I’d wrap a pillow around my face or hit my hand against the wall. I’ve picked at my skin and allowed teeth to go bad, savoring the pain I felt when I pressed molar to molar. It’s all about the Pain, as all self-injurers know. Not the pain. It’s the Pain.

    Here is a list of sites which explain self-injury, its treatment, and the stigma well:

    Jil notified me of this observance.

    The Pleasure and the Pressure

    square097Inspired by shrinkette’s blogging about those who cut themselves, I started writing about the sensations that accompany my compulsive skin picking, that habit of a less florid order than taking a razor blade or knife to my skin. Most outsiders — including my bipolar friends who don’t share the compulsion — don’t get what makes me do it.

    One element of the picking which attracks me is the “Squeeze”. I don’t know how else to put it. You have to pick or press the skin in certain spots to get the sensation. It often starts as a scratch and then continues as a scratch atop another scratch because the itch doesn’t go away. To scratch the itch gives pleasure. A few special spots produce itches of the most exquisite order. They’re nothing like the itches that afflict you when your clothes rub a grain of pollen into your shoulder or the itch from a rash. These itches nestle, for me, on the bridge of the nose, the vale of the chin, the fingers, the navel, and the toes. White tactile light shoots though flesh and bone up to the brain when I pinch these places.

    The most pleasureable and sensuous zones are the fingers. When I bite loose bits and swallow them, I do so not for the flavor, but to discard them. I heard once that the reason why one bites is because of a vitamin deficiency. That may encourage me to continue (though Risperdal has curbed this appetite.)

    I can only imagine what the knife must feel like when sharpened and pressed into the skin. If I can extend my own experience, it’s not the pain which turns you on, but the pressure. And the only way to feel it all is to push through the skin until you break it and the nerves beneath it shout their distress. Then you stop as I stop when I remove epidermis from my fingers. There’s never any intent of self destruction: what you desire most is to feel that white night intensity. Yes, it is a drug of a sorts — an altered awareness. When you do drugs you may wish to hallucinate. When you pick, you seek a tactile equivalent, the beauty of your arm feeling the very first echelon of an ant-army of sensation.

    I know I can’t possibly get it right because I don’t cut. Cutters are welcome to share how they feel it.

    Hidden but Not Silent

    square235Visited my psychiatrist in the afternoon. Moods are stable. I didn’t babble garrulously and I didn’t try to bury myself beneath the pillows of the couch. OK, we agreed. The bipolar disorder was under control for the time being. The matter of the OCD took center stage as I picked my callouses and related a few other events that fit the spectrum.

    From an article in the November 2005 issue of Psychiatry, I learned that OCD is the fourth most common mental disorder after substance abuse, specific phobias, and depression. Typically, they have found using drugs that raise the serotonin levels in the brain help alleviate the picking, chewing, pulling, scratching, scrubbing, blurting out, washing, obsessive thinking, and ritualizing that characterize the disorder. (Where bipolars often relate similar stories, every OCD sufferer feels unique.) The SSRIs don’t work so well for me and I’ve had to cut back on my Effexor because it launches me into mania. So I am having to seek other therapies.

    I’ve spoken before of the compulsive skin picking. Showing people my calloused fingers almost serves as a badge of authenticity. “Yep, Joel has got it bad.” I shelter most of my acquaintances from another apparent compulsion: blurting out. This usually happens when I am alone or with my wife or talking on the phone. If there is a lapse in our conversation in a restaurant, I say things entirely unrelated to the moment or the previous line of conversation. (If you’ve ever heard me do this, I trust you very much.) It feels as if I am nervous about the empty air time and must shove words between the lapses. Any words. Usually they are not obscene.

    Memory of what went before often disappears. I don’t know if I forget and then blurt or if I blurt and in mid-blurt forget. I believe it varies.

    We’re not sure what to make of this, whether it is a psychotic symptom or the product of a neurological disorder. I think I do it to cope. If it is OCD, then it should respond to the new drug regimen I begin later today — a low dose of Risperdol.

    If not, either I must work on it through therapy or submit to that dreaded CAT scan.

    Of Crumbs and Dandruff

    square054All through my support group meeting, I flicked crumbs, hairs, and dander off the table in front of me. My friends noticed what was happening. I had to sheepishly confess that it was my OCD. Ever since my psychiatrist lowered my dose of Effexor, my other neurologic condition has come back. I used to just pick at my fingers. Now I pick at my navel, the bridge of my nose, my chin, and my toes. I pick at my toes using my toes, I should note.

    It was bad tonight, I think, because the group was so unfocused. The facilitator needs to shut up and focus on helping others give feedback. When I got out of there and on the road, I stopped looking for white specks. As I drove down Santiago Canyon Road, I did not reach for the stars and attempt to flick them out of the sky.

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