Saturday, December 02, 2006

Bitter pill to swallow

I’ve never been able to swallow pills. I simply didn’t take any when I was growing up. Suffered through a 10 day migraine – vomiting nearly constantly, pure and miserable pain – with zero drugs in 5th grade. I would hide them under my tongue until Mom left. Then I’d spit them out, repulsed by the thought of having to swallow something whole.

“Think of it like an M&M.” My pediatrician advised. I can remember being doubled over in her office, Mom patting my back in worry. “Advil has a candy coating, so you won’t even taste the medicine. You’ll just swallow it. It’s easy, really.”

“Who would swallow an M&M?” I grumbled as Mom helped me to the car. I’d been given a shot, which speaks to the degree of that particular illness. When faced with an MMR vaccine upon starting my current job, I thought about quitting. But I dealt with it – trembling with nerves, then begged them not to take any blood. I sobbed quietly while they did – during an orientation with many new employees walking about – and thought it was the most miserable experience.

My point is that I hate shots. But I hated pills more at the time.

If you’ve read me for any length of time, you’ll know that little surpasses my current adoration of pain medication. So things have changed. At some point, with Dad insisting I should just throw my head back and swallow, Mom looked at my face, set with stubborn refusal, and said,

“Katie, just chew them. It’ll taste gross, and you could swallow them if you wanted, but get them down. It really will help your head.”

Since then, and to this very day, I chew pills. Sometimes just a single crunch to break it into smaller pieces, but I never just swallow a pill. My throat closes and, try as I might – gulping water, holding my nose, focusing intently or trying to think of anything else – I can’t do it. But I can chew them – I’ve adapted to that quite well. I don’t even mind the taste, though it is unpleasantly bitter. I love the effect – the release of throbbing pain or onset of irresistible sleep. So that’s how it’s gone.

Therapy is irritating me. Well, the thought of therapy, actually, since I haven’t returned since my first session. Dr. Counselor is a nice man – I really do like him and am grateful he wants to help. But he wants me to eat better. Go to the gym. “Release my fear and relax.” Which – even when reading in email – shocks me into speechless incredulity.

“How?! Tell me how to ‘relax and release all fear’ and I’ll do it!” I ranted to a friend on the phone. “I don’t want to be afraid or nervous or worried! I’d like to be peaceful and kind. The kind of woman that people smile over and think ‘how very serene she seems. She must be a very happy person.’ I just can’t figure out how. I drift toward the negative – first about myself, then about other people. I don’t know how not to do that, and I don’t see how eating more vegetables and running on a treadmill will help that.”

“You’d feel better about yourself.” Rachel offered gently, “and then maybe you’d start feeling better about other people.”

“Yes.” I agreed. “But change is hard, my dear. I’ve lost weight before and gained it back. I clean my house – it’s very pretty right now – and make it a couple of days before I let clutter start to accumulate again. Maybe I’m just a bit negative. I love people – sincerely think they’re funny and interesting and lovely. But they’re also complicated and selfish and awful. Or they can be. And the older I get, the less hope I have, I think. In myself. In other people. Because we are who we are. Without some huge effort, this is how we’ll remain. You know?”

I waited. Then I waited some more. Took the phone from my ear to make sure we were still connected, then lowered my eyebrows in a frown as I turned up the volume of the phone even more.

Rachel was crying softly. And as soon as I realized it, I sniffled sympathetically. Soon after, without really knowing why, I was crying too. I’m having a bit of a hormone issue right now. It was dark in my living room – the Christmas tree providing a soft, comforting glow. I’ve just explained it takes little to push me into sadness, though tears don’t usually surface so quickly.

“Rachel?” I asked gently, gulping back a sob, “why are we crying?”

“There’s another woman.” She whispered. “Again.”

“Fuck.” I said softly, then apologized. I’m reading a British novel and they use the word a lot. I let language patterns sink in pretty quickly, but I hadn’t mean to use quite such a bad word. Though after a moment’s consideration, I decided the announcement deserved it.

When she didn’t speak, I thought about what to say. I fought her relationship with her husband at first. With great passion, excellent stories, nifty little pep talks. I begged, cried and coaxed. I called, drove to visit, sent email. And she stopped talking to me – not in a cruel way, just in an avoidance of something unpleasant way.

I understood. Constant criticism of a choice you’ve made starts to get irritating. It suggests a deficiency in your thought process or a belief that you’re not capable of making good decisions. I think highly of Rachel – she’s so smart, beautiful, resourceful, funny, passionate and sweet. She was my favorite person at one time, and it’s hard to get my attention at all sometimes.

We talked once – years ago – when I was visiting my parents. She apologized for calling my cell phone. She hadn’t known I was home that particular weekend and expected me to be in my grad school city.

“That’s OK.” I said, heading to a bedroom and closing the door. I settled myself on the bed – I think better lying down – and listened as she explained her problem. She’d looked through her boyfriend’s (fiancé? Husband? I can’t remember what his status was at the time.) cell phone and found a particular number showing up far too often in both the dialed and received logs.

“He doesn’t pay attention to me anymore. We never talk. He goes outside to answer the phone. He spends weekends with his friends. Works late. He’s sleeping with her.”

“Sweetheart, it could be something else. I know it looks bad, but have you talked to him? Asked some careful questions?”

“He won’t talk. He yelled at me the first time – said I had to trust him. Then he threatened to leave. I let him – cried for 3 days – but then he came back to ask if he could stay and I let him do that too.

“But it hasn’t stopped.

“So I called her.”

“Oh, my.” I breathed. “What happened?”

“She admitted it. He’s been having sex with her.” Then she cried more. “I love him!” she wailed and I winced. Might have rolled my eyes. How can she let someone treat her so poorly? When she could do so much better? It’s just ridiculous – to feel that much pain when she could move on. But I didn’t want to lose her again.

“OK.” I gathered my thoughts and started to speak. “You have the information, so don’t torture yourself with it. Don’t think about her – she’s pointless and so inferior to you that she doesn’t deserve a single second of your time. You won’t talk to her again.” I said sternly. “But what do you want from him? Do you want to fix this or do you want him to leave and stay gone?”

“I don’t know. What do I want? Tell me what you think.”

“I think… Well, you know he’s cheated on you before. I want nothing more than to see you leave, Rachel. To offer money or help or move there for a few months – anything to make you see you deserve so much more. But since you haven’t left him before now, I don’t see you leaving him this time either. You’ve decided he’s the one. I don’t agree, but I do respect you to know your own mind. I can’t see you walking away, so try to think about how to fix this.”

She did. And has thanked me several times – each to my wincing response – for understanding her and offering something I didn’t want to give.

“I think it’ll happen again.” I said at one point. “You’ve allowed it more than once. It’s a distinctly disrespectful gesture that you’ve chosen to tolerate. I think he will cheat on you again.”

The problem with being so negative – expecting relationships to fail, people to disappoint, myself to screw something up – is that I’m often right. Change is hard. Somehow I always end up chewing pills. Rachel’s husband cheats and treats her otherwise poorly, and she stays with him. It’s sad – it hurts me terribly.

Less than 2 months ago, I met a little tablet that’s supposed to help my depression. And it has – when I started feeling moody lately, I started to look forward to my nighttime dose even more. I like the stability it offers. And one night, I just swallowed it.

I shared my triumph with Chienne, and she’s a good sport. She wagged her tail, pleased with my excitement and gave me a kiss on the chin before curling up to sleep again. Then I wondered eagerly if I could do it again. Since I have no desire to mess up my brain chemistry, I waited until the next night to try again. And down it went – simple and easy, with no chewing involved.

I’ve tried with Advil – I can do that. Tylenol PM hasn’t yet been conquered. But something clicked – I thought about it enough (as happened with clipping Sprout’s claws), I was just ready, I learned enough, there wasn’t any pressure. I’m not sure of the exact explanation, but I can do it now. It’s new. I’m surprised. But there you go.

I hope – even as I fret and offer prayers – that something clicks for Rachel. That she finds a way to be as happy as she deserves – whether with him or without him. I worry that it won’t happen, but I’m reminding myself that it could.


Psycgirl said...

I completely understand about the pills - I didn't swallow pills until I was 20! But I couldn't chew them, I had to take massive doses of children's painkillers that were chewable, or ask for my meds a different way. Congrats on not having to chew anymore (I don't know how you did that!)

I'm sorry to hear about your friend. Its impressive you have a great friendship where you can express your opinion even if it is contrary to hers. Friendships like that are hard to come by. I hope she can find a resolution soon.

Honeybee said...

This reminded me of something I heard once:

If you're a pessimist, you wind up being either right or being pleasantly surprised.

H said...

Congratulations! I think we all do (or fail to do) a lot of things out of sheer stubborness. Kind of a "I can't, I just can't, so I won't even try". Letting go of the "I can't" is hard. But when you do, it turns out you can, and probably could all the way along. A rule of thumb, if other people can do it, you probably can too. Of course I am saying this while looking around a verrrry messy room, contemplating piles of untouched grading, and thinking of my own stubborness. *sigh* . BTW the excercising and eating right thing is really good advice, improves your body function, relieves stress, improves your brain chemistry... you know all this. (stubborn?) I MUST start getting work done!

Anonymous said...

glad you are starting to be able to swallow!

and so glad rachel has you! and vice versa.

change is hard. but if you don't click with your therapist and get upset at what he says -- telling someone who is anxious to just relax is not helpful -- maybe he is not the right therapist for you. my friends who were depressed always went through a couple...

good luck with everything. praying for you!

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