The Eyes Have It

I know it’s inappropriate to refer to mentally ill folks as “crazy.”

That being said? News flash to my doctor: I know that I’m crazy.

But just because I have a history of mental illness, it does not mean that you can just dismiss my documented physical symptoms and insist that I “just need psychiatric medication.”

Psychiatric medication makes my eyes more painful, because they dry them out. This has been explained to you.

Also, if a “normal” person presented with these symptoms, would they be treated the same way? I sure hope not. I feel that I am being discriminated against because of my mental illness. I have been suffering physically for months. This is unacceptable.

When I first developed photophobia, and what was later diagnosed by the ophthalmologist as dry eye disease, my primary doctor noticed that I seemed quite anxious. She suggested that I needed psychiatric medication. The funny thing was, I had been taken off all of my psych meds because of the eye problem. And psychiatric meds would have made things worse.

The even funnier thing was, I was anxious because I COULDN’T SEE. I think that would make most people anxious. And my condition seemed to be deteriorating.

Since then, I have been diagnosed with uveitis. The underlying cause is undetermined. I had a lot of blood tests. They don’t show markers for inflammation, yet. But my eyes will not calm down. The burning abated when I was on topical steroid drops four times a day. Now the burning is back with a vengeance. I am on other prescription eye drops to help “calm my immune system down.”

I have been complaining of episodes of extreme fatigue since I was diagnosed with shingles. That was sixteen months ago. I remember being fatigued even before that, but I assumed it was stress. The fatigue is a bone tired exhaustion. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. Now I’m so fatigued that I can’t function well on a day-to-day basis. Added to that, I am having dizzy spells where I don’t feel comfortable even driving five minutes to the local grocery store.

I have been depressed many times. I have never been this physically ill.

I know that my blood tests don’t show inflammation yet. The fact of the matter is, my eyes have been inflamed for months now. The eye doctor still thinks it’s an immune system issue. So some sort of treatment would be helpful. I’m dumping prescription eye drops and $40 worth of OTC eye drops into my eyes per week just to keep the pain at bay. This would indicate that there is something physically wrong.

I haven’t been able to work in months. Because of my eyes being the way they are, normal lighting conditions are painful. Even applying for jobs has proved frustrating. There is fluorescent lighting everywhere, and “turn off all the lights in the company/store” would likely not be considered a reasonable accommodation.

I tried applying for an at-home transcription job. Even with the brightness turned down, I could not read the instructions. I have since discovered a dark browser, which has been helpful.

But the truth is, I am running out of money and I don’t know what to do.

My doctor doesn’t seem to care. At least not enough to try something. Do I want steroids during a pandemic? Nope. Am I willing to try anything at this point if it would help me feel better? Yup. Do I want an autoimmune condition? Absolutely not. Do I need help, physically? Yes. Yes, I do.

Instead, I get scoffed at and treated like I’m unbalanced and utterly unintelligent. It’s infuriating.

I wrote to my medication manager, who I saw six days ago. She seemed to think I need some sort of physical treatment at this point. If the med manager and my counselor don’t think it’s all in my head, and they acknowledge that I have physical symptoms, why won’t the doctor take me seriously?

I insisted on the phone call to my primary doctor that I was stable. But I admit that talking about the way I feel physically, I was almost crying. I am upset at being exhausted and in pain. I have every right to be. It does NOT mean I am unbalanced or delusional.

They can’t see inflammation in my blood. But the eyes have it.

The Waiting

I’m trying really hard not to be frustrated.

My ophthalmologist saw inflammation inside my eyes, but he is not sure as of yet what is causing it. My eyes are burning a lot, but I’m not sure if its from the inflammation or from these lovely steroid drops he prescribed. I think I will call the office in a bit and ask if I’m supposed to feel any relief yet.

His hypothesis two pronged. The inflammation may be due to a virus that I caught, such as a cold. If the steroid drops do not resolve the issue in a few weeks, then my condition may be an autoimmune disorder. He mentioned lupus, specifically. For those of you who don’t know, autoimmune disorders cause your immune system to attack perfectly normal parts of your body. In short, it’s no fun. Chronic illness is exhausting, and I seem to add more chronic conditions to my catalog every year.

Because of one chronic illness, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), I wear a mask, even though I am fully vaccinated. I wash and sanitize my hands constantly. I do not know how I would have caught a virus. I have no other symptoms that would indicate the presence of a virus.

This is concerning.

I do not want an autoimmune disorder, especially in the middle of a global pandemic. But I’ve been telling doctors for the last 18 months about a variety of troubling symptoms. I’ve had swelling in my ankles, frequent urination, a variety of rashes, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue. Since I had an episode of shingles last year, the fatigue has gotten worse. So much so that some days, I feel like I’m going to drop.

I may be through with chronic illness, but it seems chronic illness is nowhere near done with me.

And, since my eyes are still burning almost a week into treatment, I’m guessing I don’t have a virus.

I recently abandoned my photophobia support group online. Most of the people there were trying to be helpful. But they all seemed to assert that their diagnosis MUST ALSO BE my diagnosis. Two gentlemen were trying to tell me that I just had a migraine with no pain. They were extremely condescending about it. And they were dead wrong. I know well what an ocular migraine is. I have extensive experience with them. I have never had one that persisted every single day. for over four months.

Another option that members repeatedly suggested was Irlen testing. It seems the FL 41 tint I was prescribed for my eyeglasses doesn’t work well for everyone. So folks often find a diagnostician through the Irlen website, and they see what tint or combination of tints work best.

I live in Idaho. I tried contacting the local diagnostician. No dice. I tried to contact the traveling diagnostician. The closest she might be coming is about seven hours away, in northern Idaho. My other options were to travel to Iowa or Nebraska for a diagnostic test. The Irlen method, so I’m told, is considered alternative medicine. So not only would I have to pay for travel and accommodations, but I would also have to pay for the test and an expensive pair of glasses.

I cannot work consistently because my eyes are inflamed. I am not about to travel to another state for something that “might” work. I know a lot of people who have tried alternative methods to relieve chronic illness symptoms. But at this point, fiscally, its just not going to happen.

And the burning in my eyes has some root cause. So now, I wait. As the late, great Tom Petty observed, “the waiting is the hardest part.”

Speaking of things I am tired of waiting for, I am so sick of this pandemic. I am sick of those who are making it a political issue. Its airborne, you nitwits. Cover your holes. Wear a damn mask. Get a vaccination, unless you are too young or you have a legitimate medical reason not to. Protect those who cannot protect themselves. Love thy neighbor. Stop saying you are a Christian and just be Christ-like.

I am terrified that the cases rising here in Idaho will lead to the powers that be shutting the schools down. It isn’t fair to my son to be cooped up and isolated any longer. It’s also not ok to put him at risk with this Delta variant out there. Get some critical thinking skills, and some compassion.

If you work in healthcare, show that you believe in science. Stop protesting in the name of this “personal freedom” nonsense. Because that is what it is. Its nonsense. I would be beyond furious if I knew a healthcare worker exposed me or my family to a potentially fatal disease. I have no sympathy for those who may get fired as a result of not getting a vaccination. Your right to freedom does not supersede my right to survive. If you believe it does, you should not be working in healthcare in the first place.

If I do have an autoimmune condition, my options are using medications to suppress my immune system. This would raise my susceptibility to catching Covid-19. I was on a steroid pack once in college. This increased my likelihood of picking up random viruses. I ended up with mononucleosis. A nasty case of it. My then-boyfriend did not have it, and I never shared utensils or cups. The doctor hypothesized that I got it from the communal drinking fountain at the school.

In the current conditions, if I took immunosuppressant drugs, I would most likely need to be house-bound. Because people are too consumed with their liberties and not concerned enough about other people here in Idaho. I guess its a good thing Idaho discontinued the “Idaho is too great for hate” license plate. It’s false advertising. Read any local news comments section, and you will see what I mean. Hateful, willfully ignorant folks with an unearned sense of entitlement.

I am physically and emotionally sick. My chronic illness is debilitating at this point. I need to be able to get treatment so that I am not exhausted every day. And I am beyond exasperated.

So, do your chronically ill friend a favor, and help protect those who are ineligible. Get the shot.

The world is waiting.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Hello, party people.

I know I keep saying this, but I don’t think I’ve ever been this tired. But I am also very tired of seeing doctors. So I guess I will continue to fight through the fatigue and keep on keepin’ on.

I have theories as to why I feel so tired. I feel terrible that wildfires are ravaging the west coast. But smoky conditions make my eyeballs into dryballs. I’m having to put eyedrops in 8-14 times a day. It’s more than annoying, as I don’t know who will want to hire me outside of my own home when I am constantly running to my car or to the bathroom to lubricate my peepers. The home humidifier helps a lot, so I really don’t know how frequently I’ll need to attend to my eyes in the real world.

Which leaves at-home options. I am currently applying for a transcription job, but the extended application will take quite a few hours. I’m not doing so great in the practice test. I wanted to go back to school for medical coding and billing, but I’m not sure how many hours per day I can handle on a computer without negative consequences the following day. I’m guessing at this point that I will only be able to work part-time.

And as I am running out of money in savings, I have to find a “survival job” sooner rather than later.

I started this entry several days ago, and had to give up on it. Too many hours on a screen caused a few painful days of recovery.

And, as soon as I gave up applying for a transcription job, I found an extension called “Dark Reader” in the Edge webstore. Of course. But, moving forward, this may enable me to spend more time on the computer and apply for other jobs. A small victory! I did give up and schedule yet another appointment with the ophthalmologist. My level of functioning on a daily basis is still not consistent, and I need help.

Time to be the squeakiest wheel.

Not only is smoke in my eyes, but fog is in my brain. I seem to be forgetting things and screwing up left and right. My cognitive ability, which went the way of the Dodo sometime in March, is still not in full force. We have to go back to complete school registration next week and attend to an error I made when submitting the annual update through the campus portal.

I am hoping to God school stays open this year. My kid is going back in-person. I wish the Delta variant wasn’t a thing. I am worried about the schools having to go hybrid or shutting down entirely. Which would mean more devastating isolation for my child.

It’s not okay that so many Idahoans (or Americans) do not take this virus seriously. It has caused horrible complications for those of us with disabilities and underlying health conditions. It isn’t fair to my child, who has mental health struggles. He also has anxiety about potentially spreading this disease, even though the members of our household have been vaccinated.

So me and mine are masking up almost everywhere we go now. I abandoned the mask last night to attend an outdoor performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by The Boise Bard Players. Not only was the play outstanding, but I saw three of my old theatre friends. It makes me feel terrible that those of us who actually made it in the field have had their lives, passions, and livelihoods so adversely affected by this terrible virus. I used to live vicariously through their experiences, and I was so happy that they were still able to work in the performing arts. I saw locally and through social media how hard they had to work to survive and/or reinvent themselves. I applaud their versatility. But I think it’s utterly tragic that selfish people, or those spreading disinformation, won’t take proper precautions to ensure that live performances can continue to flourish.

Speaking of performing arts, after last night, my kid can’t wait to audition for The Boise Bard Players when he is old enough. He takes after his mom.

I am so happy that I found a dark filter for websites. But I think I’ve reached my limit. Have a good weekend, y’all.

No More Tears

I’m going to have to do this quickly. Being on the computer hurts. Luckily, I dictated most of it for the THIRD ophthalmologist’s benefit. Thank you to Ozzy Osbourne and Lita Ford for the assist on the title and subtitles. You guys rock.

Here is the timeline of my lovely neurological symptoms.

March 31st– I received my first COVID shot. I was overjoyed, as an asthma sufferer and a (technically) obese person. That’s two strikes. My son also felt safer, as an added bonus.

April 7th-started a new mood stabilizer, 20 milligrams. On April 13th, my provider increased the dose to 40 milligrams

April 20th-My vision problems began. I noticed excessive blinking in the car. Then my vison was blurred and I could only focus with one eye or the other, especially when watching TV or looking at a screen.

April 21st-I received my 2nd COVID shot. Huzzah.

April 23rd-started 1 milligram of brand-spanking-new controlled substance.

April 25th-My provider, concerned about the vision side effects, had me cut back to 20 milligrams of the mood stabilizer.

April 26th– I discontinued the mood stabilizer.

April 27th-put back on 50 milligrams of my old OCD med and 2.5 milligrams of my trusty old antipsychotic nightly.

I noted other symptoms, such as fatigue, sometimes extreme. I also started twitching while trying to focus in light, and I would also twitch for an hour or two at night before I went to bed.

I was told the new mood stabilzer should have cleared my system, and that I should follow up with the doctor. I started drooling and twitching to an extreme on May 1st. I got out of the shower, and a whole stream of drool escaped from the left side of my mouth. I thought, “Well, that’s not good.” But I have a history of overreacting to symptoms. So I held off on medical care. My vision was increasingly blurred. I confided in my friends, and they suggested I go to the ER.

May 3rd-I called St. Luke’s urgent care when I did not receive a response from my regular doctor’s office. They told me to go to the emergency department because of the blurred vision and drooling.

The hospital experience was interesting. They didn’t tell me what they were looking for. They just wanted to run a lot of expensive tests on me without telling me why. When pressed, a nurse told me that the tests were due to the “emergent situation.” The MRI and blood test appeared normal, except for white lesions on the brain. They speculated that these were from concussions an migraines. I had migraines in childhood, and migraines when my prescriptions needed an update, but other than that, I don’t have an extensive history with them.

Trussed up like a turkey from all the wires, they told me to call if I needed anything. Then they put the call button far out of reach. I complained of my extreme light sensitivity at the beginning of the ER visit. At the conclusion, after three hours of stress and confusion, the doctor asked if my headache was better.

Wow. Color me unimpressed. I’m glad you eliminated anything life-threatening. But after you administered no treatment as I twitched under three relentless hours under fluorescent lighting, you had the audacity to ask that question? I was offered migraine medication. If it was a migraine, I would have figured that out on my own. I’m glad I wasn’t having a stroke, which was what they didn’t tell me they were looking for. But come on, people.

May 4th-I followed up with regular doctor. She was kind enough to turn down the lights. She then told me to “Take a chill pill” and go lie in a dark bath. I did not find her comments helpful, and she wanted to discontinue my psychiatric medications. My medication manager later agreed. But I had gone off all psychiatric medications a month prior, and it was a nightmare. So I objected to this course of treatment, but after a few days I stopped my medications because nothing else was helping. My regular doctor also suggested that I discontinue all antihistamines that I use to control my severe seasonal allergies.

I followed up with ophthalmologist a few days later. The first ophthalmologist prescribed steroid eye drops in the hopes that if there was any inflammation, it would solve the issue. My photophobia got much worse. I was seeing auras around every light. I was seen in the ophthalmologist’s office again a week later, and was referred to a local neuro-ophthalmologist.

Meanwhile, I called the ophthalmologist’s office to ask what to do about the severe pain in my eyeballs. I was told to go to the ER for unbearable pain. I was asked if I was wearing sunglasses, even inside the house. No, I’m sitting here like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange. Of course I was wearing my sunglasses inside! I couldn’t function otherwise.

Crazy Train

Almost two weeks passed, and I kept calling the specialist’s office to see if my referral was approved. It was ultimately declined, because he does not treat photophobia.

Yes, I cried like a lunatic. I was unable to see normally and no one could tell me why. And all of the doctors I saw were refusing to try anything.

In the meantime, I changed providers to a primary care doctor at St. Luke’s. I also consulted with the medication manager, who at the time had no idea what could be causing this. She eventually suggested it might be conversion disorder, where a patient develops legitimate neurological symptoms stemming from a psychiatric disorder. It was not very encouraging.

My third and final ophthalmologist visit, I was finally diagnosed with dry eye syndrome. Apparently, a switch in my brain that tells my eyes when to lubricate is malfunctioning, perhaps as a result of that bad-for-me psychiatric medication. They didn’t tell me an official diagnosis at the time. No, I had to call back and clarify with the assistant. The doctor gave me punctual plugs. He didn’t explain that these were medical devices put into my tear ducts until after he approached me with a tool aimed at my eyeball. Yikes. He also prescribed rose-tinted glasses. “Lifetime Cynic Prescribed Rose-Colored Glasses.” I can see the headlines now. Actually it’s a more specific tint called Fl 41. It’s supposed to block specific wavelengths of light that are bothering me. Mostly sunlight, fluorescents, and screens.

And the kicker is, I will have to wear these new glasses ($535 for one pair), from the moment I get up until the moment I go to sleep.

Let me say this for the medical “professionals” in the back. When someone is losing their vision, it is NOT OK TO PATRONIZE THEM AND TELL THEM THAT THEY NEED TO GO BACK ON THEIR MEDS. Starting to lose a major sense, such as your vision, is terrifying FOR ANYONE. Additionally, going back on my medications would have only made the eye condition worse, according to my medication manager. Our options for effectively treating the mental illnesses, sadly, are now greatly limited.

If I Close My Eyes Forever

…will this headache go away???

My symptoms fluctuated from day to day. I always had to wear sunglasses no matter what. Sometimes, I had a searing pain in both eyes. I started taking ibuprofen when this happens and it seems to help. Sometimes, I just had to put a sleep mask on and wait for an hour or two until the pain went away. Eye vitamins and magnesium have also helped a bit. My boyfriend bought a whole-house humidifier, which I am grateful for. It’s no fun having dry eye syndrome in an extremely dry climate.

I called the ophthalmologist back again and was told to add fish oil to my supplements. And I was informed that regular eyedrops have preservatives. That’s why they sting after a while. Nightly warm compresses will also help. All of this would have been good to know from the get-go. It’s not like I could see to research it much on the internet.

I have had these new, FL 41 tinted glasses for just over a week. My vision is still hit and miss, especially on the computer. I still suffer from frequent headaches. I have to take eyedrops with me wherever I go, and stop along the way to put them in if I’m driving. I can now drive for short distances, though. It’s exhilarating.

I worry about whether this will improve further. It took two weeks to get this blog entry finished. I’m going to give it another week, and then call the ophthalmologist’s office AGAIN if I see no improvement. I need to go back to work. My planned appointments with vocational rehabilitation were cancelled as a result of this condition. To reapply, I am going to have to start the months-long process all over again.

My eyes have had it. Sorry if there are typos. Until next time…

Bad Medicine

It’s been an interesting month.

My provider has tried to get me back on medications, because without them, my anxiety and insomnia are out of control. One medicine caused severe headaches, the next one made me so restless that I could not stop moving my hands. Then I was having difficulty swallowing. The third one isn’t having any ill effects so far. But it is not helping either, yet.

So I am forced to revisit the fact that without medications, my conditions are disabling. I don’t know how I got through 31 years without them. I know it’s hard for those who have never suffered from a mental disorder to understand.

And trust me, I’ve tried diet and exercise. Though healthy eating and physical activity can help, they are not a cure. The “natural” approach does not alter my brain chemistry enough to truly help. In some cases, exercise has exacerbated my conditions, leading to mania. So though I appreciate those who mean well by suggesting such things, you have no idea what this level of suffering is like.

My thoughts race. I cannot sleep more than three or four hours a night, which might be just enough to keep me on this side of sanity. I have panic attacks that can last more than two hours. When the negative thoughts start, I continually beat myself up. I chide myself for every naive mistake I ever made, even if these mistakes happened years ago. “I am a bad person” becomes my mantra. Anxiety makes everyday activities, such as driving, near impossible.

And why is it important that I share this information? Because no matter how I try to explain it, some people have no empathy. They don’t recognize my disabilities as valid because they are invisible. They insist on stigmatizing the mentally ill, or worse, they don’t believe us.

I am reaching out to counselors so that I can better learn how to control my negative thoughts. But with OCD, my brain naturally gravitates to dark places.

I am hoping this medication helps. It is a blessing to have insurance, and options. Though those options are limited by who will take my insurance.

Update: the new medicine I was hopeful about has caused severe vision problems. I think I had this happen once before many years ago. Thank goodness for talk to text dictation, otherwise this blog post would never be finished. I apologize for any typos. I have to squint to read anything. I am also very light sensitive and cannot drive.my provider wisely suggested that I keep a medicine journal to keep track of the wacky side effects that I get.

So I am back to square one and back to my old medication‘s. They did make me feel extremely fatigued but I guess that’s some thing I will just have to deal with. I was even able to tolerate a cup of coffee without having a panic attack this morning, so that is a vast improvement.

I have an essay coming out in an anthology in June. I have some promotional materials that I am supposed to be sharing, however, I cannot see to properly share them at the moment. When I am better able to read and write I will share more information.

Also on the horizon is a genetic test for medication compatibility. I feel like I’ve needed one for quite some time so I am excited about this. I just don’t seem to tolerate many medication’s very well, which is a shame, because I clearly need them.

And with that, I am going to leave you with some old-school Bon Jovi. Hope you are all having a good week. I am just hoping I can see by next week, so that I can drive myself to my appointment.s.

In a dark place

All right, boys and girls. Everything in this blog post is going to be talk to text. This Ohta be fun. So, the third time I called the neurologist office, they informed me that my referral was declined. The reason why is because that specialist does not treat people with my condition. You would think that the ophthalmologist office would have figured that out before referring me, but no.

I heard from my physicians office in the last hour. They say there are only two or three specialists that deal with the eye and the brain in the area. I am hopeful that at least one of them treats photophobia. The last ophthalmologist visit I had, the ophthalmologist said we could just hope this went away as mysteriously as it occurred. That is not very encouraging to me.

I am concerned that I have seen six doctors in the course of the last month for this condition, and no one has no idea what to do about it. They don’t even know what specialist to refer me to. Their only plausible explanation was that it was caused by a medication side effect, but I have gone off all my meds including my antihistamines at one point, and nothing has helped.

And now the medical bills are starting to come in. I am hopeful that my secondary insurance will cover some of the large cost that they completely useless ER visit incurred. If not, I may soon be forced to file for medical bankruptcy or the like. So I’m hopeful that at least some of it will get covered. But it’s not fun to be in a dark place, literally and figuratively.

If anyone knows anything about photophobia, send the information my way. I may have to have somebody else read it, but at least it would be a start. In the meantime, I am going to try to find some fun things to do they don’t involved having to use my eyes. Thank you for letting me vent.

The Twitching Hour

I tried to dictate this blog without looking at it. Because I twitch and drool every time I look at any sort of light. Talk to text doesn’t work well. So here goes nothing.

The trouble, as I remember it, began on April 20. I was having light sensitivity while driving to a clinic appointment. I had recently started a new psychiatric medication. Three days later, I started another.The light sensitivity only got worse, even though I stopped the medication they thought was causing the problem.

Since then, I have returned to my trusted medications. The ones I’ve never had a problem with before. My vision continues to deteriorate, even though I am now going off of those meditations again.

And I am told the only thing to do at this point is to go off all my psychiatric medication again, which is debilitating. I cannot afford another nervous breakdown . They can take years to recover from, and I don’t have an extra two to three years on my hands.

The blurred vision and light sensitivity were disconcerting, but when I started drooling, I suspected something neurological was going on. I called urgent care and they recommended that I go to the ER. After a lot of scary tests, they determined that I was not having a stroke. I was referred to the ophthalmologist to see if he could help me.

No retinal detachment or pressure in my eyes. Which is good, but it’s also not an answer. I was given steroid eye drops. The symptoms got better for a bit last night (day four of treatment), so I am somewhat hopeful.

I twitch for an hour or two every night, even though I’ve reduced the medications. One would think that tapering off would make things better, not worse. I’m not a professional, but I don’t see the harm in putting me on a waitlist at least for a neurologist. I hear it can take months.

My doctor, however, prefers to treat me like I’m a lunatic. She told me I needed to learn to “take a chill pill.” Lady, if your vision was blurred, you couldn’t look at any source of light, and you started drooling at random, you would be concerned, too. She also suggested I take a bath in a dark room. Well, since I have trouble reading, writing, watching television, and driving, I’m kind of limited as far as other activities are concerned. So kudos to her for being highly insensitive at best, and completely useless to diagnose my condition at worst. She’s almost as useful as the gentleman who told me to “be in nature” to cure my psychiatric conditions. Uh-huh.

And I love my med manager, but the last time I went off all my meds, I had panic attacks for hours at a time. Being off medication renders me non-functional as well. So I have two choices. Blind as a bat, or bats*** crazy.

Speaking of bats, my current theory is that I was bitten by a vampire and didn’t know it. The aversion to sunlight makes sense. The drool must be blood lust.

In the meantime, my cat sitting gig and in-person doctor visits have been put on hold. I can’t easily apply for new jobs. I’m ok with help from family and money in savings for now. But this is beyond frustrating.

My med manager is doing a DNA test for med compatibility. That is, as soon as I can get a ride to her office. I think I’m done for now. This hurts too much.

Manic Panic

I’m in panic mode because my part-time job has become so chaotic. I’m not allowed to share much detail, but the environment is changing in ways I never imagined. I am being forced to alter my routine, which is difficult for me as someone who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I’m like a cat. People start moving furniture, and I get nervous.

The good news is I am stepping out of my comfort zone creatively. The bad news is I’m flubbing at ways to make a decent side income in the event I can no longer work at my job. I’m failing tests that should be easy. Everything is sending me into a tailspin.

What I could use is a break. I have debated using FMLA, but my job is temporary and I don’t know how that works. I worry about yet another gap in my resume. I want to go to school so that I might obtain training to work from home. But the approval process for funding may take months.

My periods of fatigue are not helping matters. I am on a wait list for a rheumatology clinic. I am looking into other medications that may not impair my cognitive ability and dexterity. I have a medication that is supposed to help, but I don’t like having to use it.

I have reached out to my physician, and I see the medication manager mid-week. My at-home blood pressure cuff is reading 145/89. It’s been high most of this year. I know I need to exercise and take better care of myself. That will help. But a lot of it has just been the stress of trying to maintain a job, care for my son, and somehow prevent my own mental maladies from taking over during this prolonged pandemic.

Having to work on-site with an underlying health condition has not helped matters. I am constantly afraid of contracting the virus. I sanitize or wash my hands before or after I touch anything communal. I haven’t been to the break room in a year. Outside of work, I’ve been better about going to the grocery store and getting gas, but only because I’ve had to be. I am grateful to my OCD for keeping me safe thus far. But this has been a waking nightmare. I know part of it is just my overactive anxiety.

I keep telling myself that I can keep pushing through. But I need some help. My brain is on overload.

Also, I miss writing and being creative. My job doesn’t require much skill, though it does involve attention to detail. I would love to commit myself fully to the craft of writing. I know it might be hard at first to make any income, but I feel like I need to explore some options and at least try.

But for the moment, I need to breathe and take a step back. It’s difficult. My anxiety is telling me that I have to figure everything out, RIGHT NOW. I don’t really want to look for new employment during a pandemic. I appreciate the flexibility my employer has had with me thus far. But at some point, I have to look out for my own best interests. That may mean side gigs and earning an income from home, online, somehow.

I also feel like I need time off to fully support my son. There have been multiple medication changes throughout the year, the most recent one starting last week. We had an appointment with a neurobehavioral clinician that went nowhere. He said that we don’t need to do any further testing, and to “keep up the good work.” Ok. Thanks. What does that even mean? It seemed to imply that we were ineligible for further therapy. So I guess it’s just fine and dandy that my child panics every time a plane flies overhead. Great.

Speaking of panic, I just realized that if I don’t calm down, I’m going to get shingles again. And that is NO GOOD.

Well, help is lined up. And I will continue to weigh my options, limited as they seem.

Early, to Rise

The nice thing about getting up at 3:45 in the morning is that you have time to reflect on how much work you have left to do.

I fell asleep during “Lady and the Tramp” after a busy day. Starlight decided to knock my glasses off the coffee table. When that didn’t work, she knocked the thermos glass of ice off the table.

That definitely worked.

I was looking over my writing samples for a grant application. And I became acutely aware of how my writing has no polish. Does that mean it doesn’t have value? To some people, yes. I can’t decide whether those people are jerks or not.

Do I have a lot of editing left to do? Yes. Do I have time to do it? Questionable. Between managing my care, and my son’s care, and my son’s school, what is left is the time between 3:45 AM and the time he wakes up. The great news is that we are working on Edgar Allan Poe and Shakespeare today. Two of my favorites!

I have ideas for novels. But at the rate I’m going, they will never be finished or published. I’m trying not to get down on myself. The one time I came close to having something published, I got mixed feedback from the team of editors. Then my writing was warped into something unrecognizable. It wasn’t a good experience, though I suppose I learned something.

I’m going to start family support back up again, and perhaps, counseling. My stress level at home and at work is considerable. Having mental illnesses on top of all of that doesn’t help. I’m coping, during this time of pandemic. But I’m mostly limping along. Phoning it in, so to speak.

I was told my child could essentially “phone in” his classes when he wasn’t well. Log on to school, turn the microphone and camera on, and sort of magically absorb knowledge. Good in theory, but that’s not the way learning works. And when he is sleeping soundly until one in the afternoon after taking an emergency medication, it doesn’t work at all. I don’t think he can absorb lessons subconsciously. Call me crazy. Maybe next, we will put a textbook under his pillow and see what happens.

I love our supportive educators. But as much as they try to relate, many of them have no idea what this is like. How day after day is a struggle.

We did get out for some socially distanced socializing yesterday. It was the first contact my child has had with people his age in months. They wanted to send him in-person to the alternative high school. We aren’t ready for that, yet. Many members of my family have been vaccinated, but my son and I are waiting. I don’t think my asthma is so bad that tackling the virus would be a problem.

But my anxiety tells me otherwise.

Today, between getting him caught up on assignments, I am determined to read, and write. Perhaps I will designate Sunday as a writing work day. With my day job, and all the appointments and phone calls during the week, I just don’t get anything else done.

Starlight is now sleeping soundly on the spare bed.

Must be nice.

Pit Bulls and Other Postal Priorities

I wrote this essay in November of 1996. I’m publishing it on here on what would have been my dad’s 72nd birthday.

Pit Bulls and Other Postal Priorities

Faster than a speeding mail truck…more powerful than a stamp vending machine…able to leap small poodles in a single bound!  It’s dedicated!  It’s surprisingly non-disgruntled!  Yes…IT’S A MAILMAN!

My mother once said that my father has more faith in the Yankees and mailmen than he does in God.  I never questioned his passion concerning baseball; after all, the Yankees are the best team in the universe.  But being a sane person, I would often wonder why he loved the Postal Service so much.  So, I asked him about it.  He was more than willing to share information, due to his firsthand experience.  My father, Edward Slavin, has been a letter carrier for nearly thirty years.  His enthusiasm for his job increases annually.  And no, he’s never packed an Uzi. 

The number of negative connotations concerning “fanatical” Postal workers is disturbing.  After all, a mailman possesses many characteristics of an average superhero.  At first glance he appears a mild-mannered employee of the United States government.  Upon closer examination, one sees that such a man is invaluable to the operation of a nation.  Indeed, he displays much loyalty toward his country and fellow man.  Nothing can deter him from his delivering duties; he must brave hazards (such as papercuts) on a daily basis.  The macho mailman can scale an office building in seconds, though he often has to use the stairs.  The letter carrier zips around in his sporty mailmobile all day, bringing joy to an endless number of civilians.  Yet instead of brightly colored spandex and a cape, the mailman is forced to wear a nondescript uniform.  And let’s face it: not even Superman or Spiderman are brave enough to wear hiked-up socks and safari hats in public.

“Neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night shall stay these carriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”  Indeed, bad weather and other dangers have not prevented Ed Slavin from doing his job since June of 1966.  As a child, my father wanted to be a professional baseball player or a “teacher of mathematics.”  After dropping out of college, he worked briefly as an “engineer of sanitation.”  Seeking a more rewarding profession, he turned to the Postal Service.  My father wanted to quit “when [he first started…[he] didn’t like it.”  He was only earning seventy cents above minimum wage.  For a young man attempting to earn a living in Irvington, New York, two dollars and seventy cents was hardly enough.  Yet he grew to love the work within six months and has had no desire to change professions since. 

Numerous sources claim that “Superman never made any money.”  However, the modern mailman makes quite a bit.  Fortunately, the Postal Service went on strike in 1970.  Congress passed the Postal Reorganization Act, and the wage for Postal workers was raised to over five dollars and hour.  It has been rising steadily over the years.  When I asked my father how much money he makes, a look of terror crossed his face and he replied, “I don’t know.”  When I assured him that this information would in no way increase my shopping habits, he confessed.  He earns about seventeen dollars an hour.  Working over eight hours is considered overtime; he then earns twenty-six dollars, or “time and a half.”  After ten hours he earns the “double time” wage of thirty-five dollars per hour.  When working over twelve hours, he receives a whopping forty four dollars an hour!  I immediately changed my mind about the shopping comment. 

The Post Office ranks its employees according to the experience of the worker.  For example, those with low or no seniority are used as substitutes for ill co-workers.  After a year or two, these workers can put in a bid for a “regular” route.  The individual offices label employees with numbers in accordance to their seniority.  Seven years ago, my family moved from New York to Idaho.  My father had to request a transfer, for he had no intentions of leaving the Post Office.  A small tragedy ensued.  My father accumulated twenty-two years of seniority in Irvington; after the move, he had to start all over again.  After moving up several hundred notches to number five on the revered list of seniority, he moved clear across the country.  Consequently, he received a rank of one hundred and eighty-nine on the Boise list.  Yet he has quickly climbed the charts.  In seven years, he has moved up fifty-four notches to number one-thirty-nine.  As Kasey Kasem might conclude, “now, on with the countdown!”

My father’s alarm clock sometimes goes off at four-thirty in the morning.  On the day after a holiday, he punches in at five or six a.m.  He arrives at seven in the morning on an average day.  The well-being of a mailmobile remains a top priority; my father inspects his faithful vehicle immediately every morning.  “Half asleep,” he then sorts mail for about three hours.  The first hour of sorting is dubbed “the golden hour,” when the letter carriers “are not supposed to talk.”  This silent ceremony supposedly encourages efficiency.  Ed “case[s} letters into a flat case in delivery sequence.”  He then ties the mail in bundles, loads them into his truck, and drives into the brightening sun.  He delivers mail to the crime-ridden metropolis of downtown Boise.

My father has received two “special achievement” awards for efficiency and a certificate extolling him for unused sick leave.  Obviously, he takes great pride in his work.  He enjoys working outdoors and appreciates the exercise.  Interaction with the public is also important to him, and he talks to many of his customers on a regular basis.

However, many unpleasant occurrences can darken the day for any father.  The randomly closed streets of downtown Boise present constant irritation.  Most customers on my father’s route are “nice”; however, he admits that “there’s one lady on my route who’s pretty bitchy.”  Those who complain of the high cost of service are also annoying.  “Go to a different country and it will cost you more,” he remarked.  “It costs more to send a letter in Germany, which is about the size of Texas.”

“Certain supervisors” and the Postmaster General often do not acknowledge the fact that letter carriers are human beings.  Marvin Runyon, the current Postmaster General, is a “crotchety old guy…[who] makes all the major decisions for the Post Office.”  Yet Runyon concerns himself only with the financial aspects of the Postal Service.  Sighing sadly, my father remarked, to them, we are just numbers, numbers, numbers.”

And then there is the issue of dogs.  Mailmen must immediately file reports and receive medical attention for canine-inflicted wounds.  The Postal Service loses three million dollars in productivity per year due to dog attacks.  Canines across America snack on mailmen.  Consider the following example:

It is a quiet summer’s day in Irvington.  A certain German Shepherd (we’ll call him “Rocco” to conceal his identity) sat by the storm window, deep in reverie.  He had just watched the movie “Cujo” with his master, and the film was highly inspirational.  How Rocco longed to become a star; hell, he’d even settle for one of those Alpo commercials.  Just outside the window, something moves.  Rocco’s ears perk: this is just the opportunity he needs to display his star potential!  This could land him the role of Lassie’s abusive boyfriend!  “A mailman!” He thinks.  “Oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy.”  Without further thought, he perfects his growl and leaps right through the glass window. 

Ed Slavin may seem superhuman, but he is not immune to injury and has a healthy sense of self-preservation.  After hearing and seeing Rocco blast through a window, my dad yelped.  The dog bounded closer; yet quick thinking and a can of mace prevented potential gore.

“I don’t understand!”  Whined Rocco’s owner.  “He’s a friendly dog!  See, look!  He’s wagging his tail!”  Rocco, however, remaining loyal to the art of theatre, continued to shake his head vigorously and produce shaving cream with his lips.  My father then decided it was time to “wag [his] tail outta there!”

Another time.  Another place.  Another dog.  “Fufu” is hungry.  The Sheltie mix hasn’t eaten in an hour.  The dry heat of Boise is growing unbearable.  But just his luck!  Along strolls a citizen, one who is getting too close for comfort.  Ah, and not just an ordinary citizen, either!  Fufu waits until the left pointer finger is within range.  Chomp!  Mmmmm, delectable!  Mailman with just a touch of Brut!

Harmless little Fufu bit right through my father’s finger.  It was my father’s first week on his “regular” route. 

Yet there exists an organization which can sometimes defend mailmen from dogs and lawsuits.  The National Association of Letter Carriers is the union of the Postal Service.  It was this organization which won the right to negotiate with Congress for the contracts of Postal employees in 1970.  The NALC shields employees from managerial abuses of power and protects each worker’s rights under the contract.  Unfortunately, one is not required to be a member; my father was visibly upset by this fact.  “Non-members get all the benefits without paying…if the union has to defend them if they get fired, they should have to pay the costs.”

The threat of Postal privatization also looms.  Privatization would “do away with the USPS monopoly on first class mail and let other companies compete” in delivery services.  This idea greatly angers my father.  “They [the government] will sell it off in bits and pieces…they’ll deliver to highly profitable areas and leave rural areas to the Postal Service,” he suggests.  He believes a privatized system would cater to only private companies and the wealthy.  Massive layoffs would also occur.

Hoping to spark some semblance of competitive spirit, I asked my father what he thought of the United Parcel Service.  “Do you know what UPS stands for?”  he asked.  “Under Prickly Shrub.  That’s where they leave the packages.  They hide ‘em.  We leave notices,” he added haughtily.

If my father is an average mailman, most mailmen don’t mind the stereotypes surrounding such a profession.  The Postal Service employs over eighty thousand people.  “Other big corporations have problems, too,” he claims.  He feels “disgruntled” incidents are bound to occur; he also feels that the way managers treat employees instigates most violent incidents.  For example, the Postmaster General recently eliminated the “Employee Involvement Program” because it wasn’t cost effective.  My father sometimes worries about ex-employees that might “go off the deep end” and pay the local offices a visit. 

Other stereotypes are a source of amusement for my father.  “I think Cliff Clavin [from “Cheers”] is funny,” he chuckled.  He then told me about an episode where Cliff is going through the hall of a business delivering mail.  After Cliff leaves, the businessmen all open their doors and hand each other the correct mail.  Due to appearance or rhyming last names, my father is often called “Cliff” by certain customers.  The world sometimes operates in reverse: Cliff Clavins hide in the clothing of civilians.  My father told me a true story about an oblivious customer.  A clerk asked her what kind of stamps she would like.  “Anything but the self-adhesive kind,” she remarked.  “They taste terrible!”

My father will retire from the Postal Service in about five years.  When I asked what benefits he would receive, he responded: “A monthly annuity.  That’s about it.”  Yet I know he will always cherish the memories of his job.  I feel better knowing he will never be disgruntled.  When I asked who he would recommend his job to, he pulled a very somber face and said, “Ex-convicts.”

“Just kidding!”

But has our story ended?  Will the increase of e-mail eliminate the need for our hero?  Will a rabid dog cripple him long before his retirement?  Tune in next century to find out!  Until next time, remember to hug your mailman.  And if you see Fufu, run!!!