March 13, 2009

High-functioning head case.

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:35 pm by the Green-Eyed Siren

So, to recap: having some trouble dealing with economy-rooted anxiety, I decided to ask my doctor for one of those Magic Mellow drugs that is so beloved by fictional suburban housewives everywhere—you know, just to help me get through the day, because alcoholism has its disadvantages. This I did, during an annual physical that ended up taking almost an hour as my doctor asked questions like, “What do you mean, you think it’s OK that you have a somewhat anxious disposition?” and “What do you mean, you won’t go to bed if Mr. Unfocused is out of town?” and “Seriously? You were a childhood insomniac?” not to mention the occasional “You know what you’re saying makes no sense, right?”

As a result of this discussion I left the office with not merely the temporary-support kind of prescription I had been hoping for; I also had a diagnosis of a slight problem with seratonin levels in my brain. An authoritative “you have NO seratonin” is the phrase that sorta sticks in my memory. Followed by a pretty clear explanation of why I’d better get some, something about seratonin being in charge of our control panels, and allowing us access to the button that turns off worry sometimes when it’s not helpful to be pestered by it.

For me and Mr. Unfocused, the very, very striking thing about the doctor using this particular imagery is this: a little over a year ago, thinking I might be ready to reenter the job market, I put some stuff on the web as a supplement to my regular resume. (Once it became clear that my daughter was going to need to switch to a suburban school more than ten miles from our home—making it impossible for me to commit to a job—I put a bullet in the site, along with my hopes of escaping my stay-at-home-mom existence.) There’s nothing to see there now, but the domain I registered was the stunningly prescient Because I haven’t found mine yet. I’m always running. No seratonin, indeed.

My off-button-less brain has been wandering lately to Scarlett O’Hara and her famous “I’ll think about it tomorrow” coping mechanism. Clearly this is a strategy that works for the resourceful Miss Scarlett, but until now I had always interpreted it as a sign of her pathology. “Fiddle-dee-dee” is so not my style. It’s going to be very odd indeed to willingly incorporate it into my repertoire; circumstances could even find me adopting a Southern accent on occasion. But channeling Tara’s champion might be the most effective way to stop obsessing about global climate change and similar incomprehensibly large problems. Wait a minute—maybe I don’t need drugs after all!

One of the reasons this whole seratonin deficiency diagnosis is so surprising to me is that I am a wildly competent person. When it comes to dealing with my responsibilities I’m usually on top of things, or, at least, I’m no less on top of things than anybody else is.

This is a large part of why both Mr. Unfocused and I are somewhat thrown by the idea that there is something so fundamentally whacked about my head, something that caused the doctor to express amazement that I’d been living this way for 39 years. Because my initial response is “um, what do you mean, living this way?” I really didn’t expect this. Neither of us expected this. And yet…it’s not all that unexpected.

My doctor described me as “very high-functioning” given my circumstances. Mr. Unfocused finds the description very funny, actually; a backhanded compliment if ever he heard one. But it’s true that I keep things together by sheer force of will, and some stubbornness to boot. It’s also true that what gets done is almost always stuff I’m doing for the people around me. When it comes to participating in activities that might give me some enjoyment, or even just taking care of myself, I generally feel too overwhelmed to get up from the couch.

Ultimately, the real lesson I’m learning now is this: clearly, a great many accomplished, rational, capable, competent people are in this situation. I’ve heard from several of you who have been through this same process, or who have loved ones who have experienced it, and for that I’m grateful. I appreciate your candor not only for the reassurance it offers that I’m going to be fine, but also for the reminder that sufferers of depression and anxiety are out there in the world every day, working and coping and excelling and putting on a cheerful face. It’s hardly unusual. And that’s cool.

Another optimism-inspiring thought: muscles which are acclimated to carrying a burden become very strong; once the burden is lifted they are capable of greater things than could be accomplished under strain. That’s why you take your practice swings with three bats before you step up to the plate.

Perhaps making this change to a medicated lifestyle will help me to become genuinely high-functioning, not merely a functional illusionist. Perhaps it will enable me to maintain personal reserves for the things I want to do, rather than giving myself away utterly to that which I must do; a fine goal, indeed. After all, just because the time I spend in a fetal position on the couch is time I’ve stolen from myself doesn’t mean I shouldn’t long for its return.



  1. Jeanne said,

    Scarlett is one thing, but Annie (the sun will come up… tomorrow) or Pollyanna might be going a bit too far! Good luck.

  2. harri3tspy said,

    Two questions:

    1. How do they test for seratonin levels?

    2. Does this mean we may finally get our girls night out organized?

  3. chel said,

    Of course you are capable of great things. You always have been. Hopefully now you’ll get to enjoy them.

  4. Unfocused Me said,



  5. Beta Reader said,

    I had a nice (but short) chat with Mr. Unfocused about the “inner dialogue” last week. I once dated a woman who could fall asleep in minutes. I asked how she did it and she said that she envisioned a blank sheet of paper.

    I have (as I expect you do as well) an inner dialogue that runs 24\7. The blank sheet of paper just can’t happen when the mind is chugging along. When life is good, its not such a bother. When there is worry, it is hell.

    I am glad you have the courage to try a new approach, and look forward to supporting you on the journey wherever it may lead.

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