19 February 2014

"The Wanderer Meets Panic" Part Ten of My Month Long Autobiographical Series - Countdown to 60

People live from one play to the next. In between, before the curtain goes up, they don’t quite know what the plot will be or what part will be right for them, they stand there at a loss, waiting to see what will happen, their instincts folded up like an umbrella, squirming, incoherent, reduced to themselves, that is, to nothing. Cows without a train. -   From Journey to the End of Night by Louis Ferdinand Celine 

Then I just left it all. That career I was loving and excelling in. Just stopped. Like it was too good or something. Mysteriously to everyone including myself today I went to Sacramento and worked for a student lobbying organization. Then I went to Cambridge and made sandwiches for people like Michael Dukakis at Harvard. Then I sold kitchenware in Boston then furniture. Then I was back in Chico bumming smokes and buying cheap beer and chasing my one true love then I was in Berkeley selling shoes at a JC Penny’s then I was a bank teller and I don’t know why it took em three months to fire me. Then I worked security at a souvenir shop at Pier 39 in San Francisco and it took them just six weeks to can me. Then I fell ass backwards into a part time editing gig for a law firm which led to a full time gig making decent cash editing for a top SF accounting firm. Office job. I could afford plenty of good scotch and blow. I was sky rocketing nowhere. The only writing I was doing all these years was love letters to K who was herself moving about a bit. Spent a lot of time in bars. One in particular in Berkeley. So I moved a five minute walk from it. Sitting there one night between swapping lies with other regulars I thought maybe I should become a history teacher. I was 30 years old.

So I took out some student loans and went back to school -- this time SF State -- to get a BA in history. Then I’d get the MA.

Just like that I decided. Did it too. Fancy that.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.....(Which come to think of it is pretty hard to do I mean after all you are yourself so to get ahead of your own self is...you get the idea.)

It was in my late 20s that another cruel blow struck. Whack! You might think that being an abused child of a bipolar alcoholic would be enough to deal with for one life. You’d be right. So I wasn’t terribly excited to have more piled onto my psychological plate. But there you go. Shit certainly happens.

Welcome acute panic disorder. You may well have had anxiety attacks and maybe even suffered a full blown panic attack. Take that panic attack and multiply by ten and you know what I’ve gone through too many times to count. It was a helluva thing back then -- not that it isn’t today -- because I couldn’t tell exactly what the hell was going on and neither could doctors whether medical ones or psychological ones. I had years of misdiagnosis and was prescribed all manner of medications many of which with nasty side effects and still others that were no help it all. I had a condition that was not well understand. Add to this was the frustration of trying to tell other people about it. How many times did I get the: “oh yeah I get those all the times they’re nothing.” Nothing indeed.

Imagine feeling like reality had just stopped being real. Like you’d gotten a ten megaton blast of bad acid that just hit. Like your mind was fast leaving your body behind. Like stark raving terror. I’d always get asked by doctors if I felt like I was dying. My standard reply was along these lines: I wish. Feeling death was imminent would be preferable to feeling that one had just been catapulted towards hell.

As a bonus to the panic attacks came anticipatory anxiety. That is the anticipation of another trip to hell.  These could be triggered by anything from being an a location where I had previously suffered an attack to waking up in the morning. Once one got going it might as well have been the real deal. Inevitably I began to anticipate the anticipation. I found solace in sleep alcohol and laughter so these became things I specialized in.

Eventually -- this eventually took many years -- it was determined that my condition was “physiological in nature” and could only be treated through a combination of medication and therapy. Both remedies are problematic I assure you. It took many years to get the right meds and I’m happy to say that today I’m on about the smallest possible dosage and rarely have an attack and when I do have coping mechanisms. As for the therapy part I hadn’t ever really finished talking about mom anyway so what was one other topic for the agenda?

Of course in the early days of my newfound friend the acute panic attack there was a ready cure that I often employed: booze. I’ll tell you it did the trick. The last thing I needed was another excuse to drink but in my case I never really needed excuses anyway. “Chug a lug chug a lug. Makes ya want to holler hidy hoe burns your tummy don’t you know. Chug a lug chug a lug.”

My experiences with mom had left me wondering if I too would go off my rocker one day. The panic attacks and their attendant emotional toll had me further contemplating the possibility. It's a helluva nagging thing to wonder if your sanity -- such as it is -- has a shorter life span than you do.

So armed with medications I entered SF State and zealously pursued my education. I had the great fortune of having two absolutely marvelous professors namely the late Dr. John Tricamo and Dr. James V. Compton. They took my love of history and turned into a flaming passion that has not yet died out. Despite all the mess in my life I was learning and growing and realizing that teaching history might end up being a good career.

Despite a steady regimen of alcohol consumption I completed a two years master’s program in one year and graduated with distinction. I can neither explain nor fathom this.

In other news by this time K had moved in with me in and nearly 28 years on (26 of which as husband and wife) the relationship is better than ever. Some people have all the luck.

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