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  1. Have You Ever Gone to the Hospital Wearing Your Own Pajamas, and Come Home Wearing Someone Else’s?

    December 7, 2014 by Diane

    Retro hospital

    Have you ever woken up at 2 a.m., your heart beating five million times faster than normal, and no amount of deep breathing, or walking back and forth, or reminding yourself that it’s highly unlikely that the human heart is capable of beating five million times faster than normal, calms it down? So you call 911. You’re alone, after all, with your wild thoughts and even wilder hair, and four paramedics show up. The best-looking four in the universe. One of them casually searches your room for empty pharmaceutical bottles and finds one on the night stand–not because you swallowed the pills, but because you ran out–and nods knowingly to his cohort, who then notices your shelves of medical tomes, the book of symptoms, the…well, you get the picture…and asks if you’re feeling anxious.

    Do you deny the possibility?

    Of course you do. You’ve lived through anxiety episodes before.

    So they load you onto a stretcher and unload you into an ambulance and you’re unwilling to let go of the hand of the tall paramedic who joked about politicians. It’s your last chance to back out, but too late–you’re sealed in, with a stranger, who presses a stethoscope to your naked breast. You’re sealed into that ambulance, your blood pressure climbing, and you’re willing to admit that maybe, just maybe, you are feeling a tad bit nervous. Okay, anxious. You’re feeling anxious.

    Now, when you get to the hospital, is the staff having a party? Is it the one night when someone is retiring, and the cupcakes and the hot coffee are waiting?

    Yes, it’s that very night.

    And you are the one person who is interrupting the festivities.

    A nurse hooks you up to an IV while her sidekick hooks you up to a blood pressure monitor and then they both disappear because those cupcakes are calling. And when the IV bag is empty and your bladder is full and no one heeds your calls, do you rip out the IV and lumber down the hallway to the restroom in a daze (they slipped you two benzos, remember?), and then lumber back, and find the nurses stripping the bed because what was left in the IV has puddled onto the sheets? In the process, does anyone notice that they’ve scooped up your pajama top along with the sheets? Of course not. No one cares about what you were wearing when you arrived. No one gives a rat’s ass until it’s time for you to leave, after two doctors have discussed your situation thoroughly in the hallway, within earshot.

    “She’s having an anxiety episode.”

    “I don’t think so. I think we should run some tests.”

    “It’s anxiety.”

    And you pray for the tests because you have a feeling it isn’t anxiety that’s making your heart race, or those two Ativans would have cured it. In fact, you have the sneaking suspicion that the racing heart is a result of going off a beta blocker too quickly. But instead of a lab technician who shows up, it’s a psychiatrist, who pulls over a stool and asks you how you’re doing. “Have you had anything to eat?” he says. A cupcake would be nice. But he sends for scrambled eggs and milk instead. “You need protein.”

    And six hours later, does a male nurse show up, unhook the IV, roll the blood pressure monitor away, and sit on the edge of the bed to commiserate?

    “I get anxious at times too. Here’s a voucher for a taxi.”

    “Where’s my pajama top?”

    “I have no idea.”

    And does he search in the bio-hazard bin? Without gloves? (As if you’d wear anything that came out of the bio-hazard bin.) And then disappear, to reappear twenty minutes later with a pullover he dug up in the laundry, something that went missing when a previous patient checked into the hospital?

    I ask you: have you ever gone to the hospital wearing your own pajamas, and come home wearing someone else’s?

    Because it happened to me.

    I wonder who’s wearing mine now.

  2. Anxiety Wears a Black Duster

    July 19, 2015 by Diane

    Man walking into light

    In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Boo Radley is the mentally disturbed neighbor who everyone views as The Boogeyman. What brilliance to include this character in a story about how people fear, or hate, or distrust a fellow human due to a judgment of skin color or class or…yes, mental illness.

    Anxiety is one of many mental challenges that remains a stigma in our society today. As Atticus points out in Mockingbird, you can’t understand another until you’ve walked in his shoes. So, for the sake of bridging the gap and giving voice to what many of us experience, I’m sharing my take on anxiety, written back when.

    * * *

    Anxiety wears a black duster that whips the air as he strides in tall black boots. Gaunt pale face, curved nose, laser-beam eyes, shocking red lips.

    A salvaged cigarette in the hands of a desperate smoker.

    In the hospital bed, my heart thumps warnings into my back that no one hears. In the hallway, a clipboard tucked under his arm, one doctor says to another, “It’s anxiety. It’s nothing.” Anxiety isn’t nothing, I want to shout, it’s a prison! It’s steel bars in a rundown tenement. It’s the child crouching under the stairs peering with mournful eyes behind spiderweb hair. It’s the last continent under a sky devoid of stars. It’s the tightness in the chest, the warning shot of adrenaline. It’s coffee all jacked up. What’s wrong with me? It’s that question, asked over and over and over again without an answer to soothe it to sleep.

    I ache for that soothing hand, that brush against my cheek, on my forehead, against the small of my back where numbness traces its canyon path. I want to un-crouch from inside, to fly, to be free and soar and run and giggle and pretend and create and believe and have faith again in my own healing power. Why couldn’t the doctor say, “It’s fine, you’re safe, all is well. Nothing to worry about, chum. I can’t explain why you’re feeling what you’re feeling, but I assure you it’s not physical. It’s your brain playing tricks.”

    Anxiety is the brain playing tricks. Thoughts gouging dry riverbeds in the mind.

    When I’m alone in my anxious brain, it’s a dangerous place to be. The brain is a trickster. It thinks it knows the truth, but the truth is only a guess. It takes the bits and pieces I feed it through my eyes, fingers, skin, taste buds, nose, ears, and it sorts them into bins and labels each bin.

    Very organized.

    Very tidy.

    The problem is with the labels.

    Don’t believe everything you think. It’s my mantra. Don’t believe everything you think.

    I hold on, knowing that one day I’ll rear up and grab hold of anxiety’s black duster and rip it off and reveal a bare, huddled creature underneath. Something cringing from the sudden light. And I’ll laugh again.

    Laugh! Again.

    Because the truth is: A shadow can’t survive the light.

    It disappears.

  3. Some Might Think You’re A Hypochondriac When…

    June 21, 2015 by Diane

    Shelf with books

    Some might think you’re a hypochondriac when you’re abnormally anxious about your health. But when does normal anxiety about one’s health become abnormal?

    A case in point…

    I became concerned about my cortisol levels. All of those adrenaline surges I’d suffered night after night after night had battered my adrenal glands to the point where they were shooting out cortisol like water from a busted fire hydrant. So obviously I needed to reset my adrenals, right?

    There’s a book on how to do that very thing.

    This book was written by a doctor who was on the Dr. Oz show. Not that I watch the Dr. Oz show (although if I was a hypochondriac, tuning in daily would be a tell-tale symptom). No, my mother watches the show, or she watched it this once—when the adrenal reset expert was on—and she recorded it and called me that evening and replayed the whole thing, repeating everything the doctor said about resetting your cortisol levels, which was this:

    “For breakfast, eat raw oats with berries, nuts and coconut milk.”

    I already did!

    So why was I still having those adrenaline surges?

    I looked up this expert online, and got his book, and in the book he clearly states the opposite: that it’s pure protein you should eat for breakfast, meaning MEAT, not carbs. Which is downright confusing! And I told him so in an email.

    Hey, on the Dr. Oz show you said to eat oats for breakfast, but in your book you said…

    Someone in his office emailed back, and gave me this explanation: there wasn’t much to choose from on the Dr. Oz set, so we went with what was available.


    Just who is this doctor?

    Dr. Christianson.

    Yeah, Dr. Christianson! That’s who.

    But I digress.

    In between adrenaline surges, I like to sleep with my left arm flung overhead. The result? When I wake up in the morning it’s numb, which in my book is a clear symptom of a heart attack. Is this the thought process of a hypochondriac? I think not. After all, my arm has gone numb many a time. For instance: one afternoon I set my laptop on the ironing board and stood and typed for an hour, my shoulders pressed into my earlobes, and sure enough, my left arm went numb. Now if that isn’t the start of a cardiovascular incident, I don’t know what is, right? Furthermore, if I was a hypochondriac–which I’m not–I might have called Dr. Oz himself, or even Dr. Christianson, for advice. If I had their numbers. But I didn’t. So I called the next best expert: my mother.

    “Um, my left arm is kinda numb, and it’s bugging me.”

    I was taking a walk when I called her, so it’s unlikely that I was having a cardiovascular incident, which her rational mind pointed out to me. Still, you can never be too sure.

    Now, some people might think that makes me a hypochondriac. And if they’ve read my blog, they might also think that I have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and insomnia (NO-ZZZ), all of which add up to an obvious case of Squirrels in the Doohickey (SITD).

    But is my concern abnormal?

    Oh, sure, I’m not above asking people if I can poke around their stomach to see if it feels like mine, since mine feels like a mine-field.

    “That’s your vertebrae you’re feeling,” my doctor claims.

    “That hard knot?”

    “It’s your spine.”

    “Through my stomach?”

    “You’re thin.”

    “Here…that thing?”


    “Can I feel yours?”

    I’m not above asking my boyfriend to offer his abdomen to my probing fingers.

    “Can I…”

    “Oh for God’s sake…”

    And with an audible sigh he’ll roll onto his back and offer his belly, like a dog does, but not as happily, and I’ll knead away, like a cat does, but not as peacefully, and his belly, every time, feels soft and warm and pliant and not at all like mine.

    Now I ask you…does that make me a hypochondriac? Or you, for that matter–if you found yourself nodding with recognition?

    Some might think so.

    Some might think you’re a hypochondriac because you have the urge to feel a stranger’s carotid artery in the elevator after surreptitiously feeling the odd shape of your own. “Excuse me…”

    Some might think you’re a hypochondriac because you count the number of coughs you have in one day (throat clearings don’t count), and by two o’clock in the afternoon you’re up to fifty and wonder if you’re being a tab obsessive.

    Some might think you’re a hypochondriac because one whole bookshelf in your bedroom is filled with medical tomes. Especially if it’s a paramedic looking at that shelf (the night you end up going to the hospital wearing your own pajamas and come home wearing someone else’s), and as he scans that row of medical titles, his eyes flash a warning to his buddy that says, “uh-oh, hypochondriac,” ….well, I’m here to tell you one thing: don’t believe it.

    Not for a second.

    Because in my mind…

    (that is, if we’re really talking about you in this scenario, and not me),

    …in my mind you’re perfectly normal.