Tuesday, February 17, 2009


"We believe," he told me earnestly, "that mental illness begins relatively early in life. Children are resilient and vary in their behaviors so, unless it's a particularly severe case, we tend not to diagnose the issue until the patient struggles sometime past adolescence."

I frowned, uncharacteristically quiet as I considered the hypothesis. Inordinately fond of anecdotal evidence (I like personal stories), I remembered myself as a little Katie and decided, in my case, he had a point.

"Animal studies indicate that various parts of the brain are hyperstimulated, even when subjects are in a safe place without obvious stressors. But it would explain why some people get stuck in their negative thoughts, are affected more severely by them. And it offers us a chance to teach behavioral modifications at a time when they'd be much easier to establish."

As he named brain regions that had been seen, I wondered which of my poor structures was constantly darting around, looking for problems to magnify and fret over. Replaying rejections and insults and failures. Being hurt and sad and irritated. Wherever it is, I decided, it must be a very tired brain region. I simply can't remember it ever not being busy. I remember lying awake all night, fretting over classroom spelling bees in third grade much as I did for big exams in grad school. I've always made lists - often while not sleeping - to attempt to rectify some situation where I was unreliable. And I'm not very reliable because I panic in some instances and grow ill due to stress in others. It all spirals in upon itself, perhaps helped by my busy little amygdala or insula, and I'm left to frantically plan, lest life as I know it disintegrate around me.

Standing in an airport bathroom at 5AM on Tuesday, trying to arrange myself so the tiny stall would fit my suitcase, laptop bag and my contorted body, I finished throwing up and steadied myself with hands against the two walls.

"OK," I told myself, reaching for my newly-purchased bottle of water and rinsing my mouth. "I'm going home." I blinked back tears of deep disappointment in myself and, narrowing my eyes with grim determination, made my way to the ticket counter.

"I'm sorry," I told the uniformed woman there - I apologize so often lately it's becoming a habitual opening statement. "I'm not going to be able to travel today - I'm very sick." She looked more closely at me and her expression shifted from polite boredom to a slightly more attentive concern. She took my boarding pass, already marked as I had forced myself through security, and canceled my trip for me before I grabbed the handle of my suitcase and wearily drug it back toward the parking garage.

I stopped at another restroom - my third one in the 30 minutes I'd spent in the bustling airport before dawn - and steadied myself after rinsing my mouth once more. I made my way once again toward my car. It took me two tries to heft the suitcase in the back of my Jeep and all I really remember of the drive home was drinking bottled water. The sweet, clean taste seemed to wash at the illness that smeared my throat and stomach. After I would gulp greedily, I would feel cooler, more satisfied. My stomach gurgled warningly when I'd nearly finished the bottle and, blinking with realization, I replaced the cap and hoped I would make it home before being sick again.

My parents got packed and hustled the girls home while I curled in bed between trips to the bathroom. It is a single step closer to go from the near side of the master bed than one of the guest rooms. I somehow forgot this important fact when my stomach grew content with simply cramping rather than heaving and fell into a fitful sleep in said guest room, Chienne and Sprout both close at hand in our newly-empty house.

I spent the last two days in bed, sleeping and hurting in approximately equal amounts. I filled a tiny glass with water and ice, sipping carefully despite a desperate thirst. I let popsicles melt on my tongue as I forced myself to focus on the most urgent work matters via email. I patted Chienne when she would lift her head, watching as I tried to find a position that didn't hurt my aching muscles - my entire midsection is very sore and the lack of stomach problems apparently left room for searing headaches to take over.

My head hurts now, finally forcing me from my bed where awareness ebbed and flowed as I'd catch snippets of the programs I'd left playing softly on the television. I took Excedrin, wincing against the pain and trying to remember when I'd last had Tylenol. I've had headaches ever since I was little - would sometimes need to stay home from school as I battled one. But this can't keep happening. I have responsibilities and travel to customers is quite important.

While everyone seemed completely understanding and sympathetic - "Go to bed, curl up and get better," Adam wrote in response to my explanatory (and apologetic) email - I must find a way to fix this. Unfortunately, my brain seems too busy feeling guilty and inferior to arrive at a suitable solution.


JaneB said...

Aww, poor Katie. You look after yourself - there are some really nasty bugs around this winter, and you don't need to feel bad about getting one, really. I hope Chienne and Sprout are doing their comforting and loving duties properly.

Brigindo said...

Was this a migraine? If you're suffering from migraines (which can show up in children) you need to see a doctor and get on some prescribed medication -- they can prescribe something to treat attacks or prevent them, depending upon your need. I spent way to many years suffering for no reason and trying to "work" through them. I hope you get relief soon.

Psych Post Doc said...

Katie, I am so sorry. As I mentioned on my blog I too had to cancel travel for a stomach bug. With all the traveling you've been doing it's not at all surprising that you caught this nasty thing. I really hope you are on the mend.

Amanda@Lady Scientist said...

Oh Katie! I hope that you feel better soon. Stomach bugs are no fun and not your fault. Take care of yourself and rest up.

Citronella said...

Take care, Katie. There's not much you can do against illness, though, except accepting you need to take care of yourself and really get some rest.

ScienceWoman said...

I hope you feel better soon, Katie. With the stress of travel and long work hours even when home, it's not much of a surprise that you got sick. As someone who is on week 4+ of a cold/sinus infection that I have been trying to work through, I highly recommend that you work as little as possible until you are recovered. It's not healthy to try to keep going at your normal pace when you are not feeling well. And recovery will be slower unless you give yourself adequate time to rest.

Jenn, PhD said...

Oh no Katie! I really hope it gets better soon. Please try to take the time to allow yourself to get over whatever bug has hit you. Sending hugs.

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