DOING THE MATH
I used to have this reoccurring dream. In the dream I would get a letter in the mail telling me that I had to go back to Corbett High School to take a math class because apparently I’d failed it and had therefore never really graduated high school. The dream embodies my worst nightmare: going back to my hometown high school as an adult to take a math class, a subject that I struggle with (see my writing about my dyscalculia) – it would fill me with dread. I had this dream over and over for years.
In the fall of 2015 I thought I’d finally conquered the dream because I had it again, and in the dream I thought: there are no adult men in high school. If I go back to take this math class there will be no one there for me to date. Screw it, I’m not going back. I don’t care if I don’t have my diploma, going back for a math class is a waste of my time. And I never had the dream again. Until last week.
I woke up frustrated. What the hell? Why had this ratty old nightmare been trotted out again into my subconscious? I thought I’d conquered it already.
I wondered why I had the dream again. Why now? What did the dream represent? If anything, it must be useful as a metaphor because my brain kept returning to the scenario over and over again. The dream represents so many things: it represents lack of progress, regression, futility and personal failure. It’s about humiliation. It’s about dread.
When I stopped having the dream a year ago, I was doing really good. I was working out every day and I was starting to make money in real estate, I’d stopped smoking. I felt great.
A year later, I am not doing as well. I haven’t been working out. I’ve been experiencing a lot of strange anxiety. My depression seems to be coming back.
And when I thought about it further, it makes sense that I would have this nightmare again. Now.
This has been a rough couple months here in Portland. Trump’s inauguration this Friday hangs over our heads like a bloated piñata filled with rotten candy. (Sorry, that was the best analogy I could come up with.) The country is in a state of suspenseful dread over the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. I keep thinking about what my life used to be like before Obamacare, when I had to depend on the support of my family and friends just to survive. I don’t want to go back to the bad old days.
We seem to be living in an unprecedented nightmare.
We’ve also had freezing rain and ice again. And snow. And then it snowed again. And Portlanders aren’t used to this kind of weather. The roads are still icy and treacherous. Today, on our way home from my sister’s bachelorette party, my mom turned a corner a bit too fast and we slid up onto the sidewalk. My car is currently stuck in Happy Valley. Several people I know have fallen while walking and have hurt themselves pretty badly.
It’s hard for me to write this because I am so exhausted. I almost want to wait until I feel better to write about all the shit that's been going on this month. But then you (folks in other countries) won’t know what we are feeling – how raw we all are - that feeling of sadness and confusion. Our collective grief.
On Tuesday I had to go to the ER.
You see, I’ve been taking Welbutrin for over a year and I really felt like it was helping me. But since the election I’ve been getting depressed again so I went to my doctor and we talked about my options. We both agreed that regular exercise was the best thing for me, but that maybe I could temporarily increase my dose of Welbutrin so that I could get out of my funk and start exercising again.
Unfortunately the next highest dose of my medication was twice my original dose. I started the new dose on a Thursday and then on Saturday I left to do a reading in Seattle. I hardly slept for the next two days. I was exhausted. I experienced racing thoughts and heart palpitations. Meanwhile I found out my book was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award in creative nonfiction. An excerpt from my book went viral on social media. Instead of being able to enjoy it, I felt paranoid and on edge.
After returning to Portland from Seattle. I decided to go to the house I housesit in Happy Valley, pack up my stuff, feed and water the cat, clean the house and get the hell out of there before it started snowing again.
But that morning I’d woken up with shortness of breath. No matter how calm I tried to make myself, I couldn’t get a deep breath in. I lay down in bed and did a ten minute guided meditation. It didn’t help. When I arrived in Happy Valley and turned off my car, in the silent cab I heard a LOUD ringing in my ears.
The anxiety and weird symptoms didn’t stop so I called my doctor’s office to talk to the advice nurse. They told me they would talk to my doctor and get back to me. The cat jumped on my lap and I sat there and pet him for a few minutes. Normally I would have turned on CNN while I hung out with the cat, but I have been avoiding most news. (I used to listen to Democracy Now every morning. Now I avoid the news. I can’t handle it psychologically.)
Finally I got up and started packing up my belongings. That’s when the room went dark. I realized I was about to faint, so I dropped to the ground. My heart began to pound and my hands were shaking. I didn’t know what the hell was happening to me. My cell phone was about to die so I crawled across the kitchen floor to the shelf with the house phone and called 911. The fire truck and ambulance roared into the cul-de-sac. The paramedics found me on the floor of the kitchen blubbering.
They took me to Mt Hood medical center, because I knew that would be the most convenient hospital for my family to come get me, depending on what happened. I didn’t make a lot of other smart decisions though. I was so out of it and confused I didn’t leave the cat more food, or get my extra meds or my phone charger. I just grabbed my purse and coat and left with the paramedics in the ambulance.
On the way to the hospital, I was put on a gurney facing the back door of the van. The paramedic hooked me up to an EKG machine and took my blood sugar. I chatted with her to pass the time. She asked me about Addison’s disease. I talked to her about hormones and Cushing’s disease. I watched the roads of Happy Valley twist and turn as I looked out of the back window of the ambulance. She seemed mostly unconcerned. “You’re not having a panic attack,” she said. “Your vitals all seem normal. It’s probably the antidepressant that is causing all of this.”
“I’m just frustrated!” I said. “I have been doing pretty good this year. Until the election! I blame this all on Trump!”
I knew immediately I’d said the wrong thing. There was an awkward silence.
“We didn’t have very good options to choose from,” she mumbled.
Then more awkward silence. I wasn’t about to get into a political argument with her, considering the situation.
Finally I made a stupid joke and she told me she was “just tired”. It was near the end of her shift and she just wanted to go home. She didn’t want to talk about politics anymore than I did. I wondered if this was what life was going to be like for the next four years; tension between strangers, dread, regression. A nightmare.
At the hospital, I sat in a wheelchair in the waiting room and stared out the window. My mom came to keep me company and we looked up the side effects of Welbutrin on my phone. As it turned out, I’d been experiencing many of these side effects for the past year, but since I am always experiencing weird health stuff, I’d not connected any of them to the drug. Increasing the dose had just bumped me into the not-shit-I-want-to-deal-with realm. I knew I had to get off Welbutrin.
Outside it started to snow.
“You can stay at our house tonight,” my mom said.
I just wanted to get back to Happy Valley to get my stuff and feed the cat. After seeing a doctor, who agreed that I was just having a bad reaction to the anti-depressant, I did spend the night at my parent’s house. The next day I was able to get an acquaintance to give me a ride in his truck to Happy Valley so I could get my stuff together, feed the cat and get back home. I had to leave my car there, but that was the least of my worries. I just needed to know that me and my medications were in the same place.
I spent the next day calling Republican senators about the repeal of the ACA. The act of calling them and leaving messages on voicemails or with aides made me emotional and scared. The thing is, I have been able to get my life back on track, I have been able to make decisions based on what is right for me in the long term because for the past few years I haven’t been worried about my healthcare. I’ve been able to feel independent, like, you know, and adult person. I can be a real estate agent, I can focus on my illustration and writing career. But now that Trump’s presidency and the repeal of the ACA is looming, I literally feel like my life is moving backwards. This time, I can’t say: Nah – who needs a diploma? I’m not going back.
I feel like I am being drug back into the past against my will. I literally have no choice in the matter. Looks like I will be doing math for the foreseeable future. The math could be fighting the repeal, the math could be dealing with the fear of losing my healthcare. The math could be the tedious business of surviving with a chronic condition.