Overcoming fear

Depression is a weird thing. It can take the things we know we’re good at, put them on a pedestal and strike a newcomer’s fear into your heart. I felt this about my art and my studio recently, and it’s something I have to overcome from time to time. I’m learning to keep going in those disorienting times, and recently I found myself doing one very focussed drawing to get me through the dark days. It’s a piece about coping, about the tiny things building to something greater. It is inspired by beach pebbles, but also came out as a kind of automatic writing.
(Click photo to see larger image.)
cOping - pen and ink on paper Jen Dixon
I had no strength to paint. No ideas. No will, no strength. Only fear. Depression has a way of taking that last shred of your being and making it feel irrelevant and pointless. It took my creating away from me for weeks till my painting studio felt like a bear trap with its giant teeth ready to clamp down and kill me if I entered. Yesterday was the first day of work in there in weeks. I had two stiff drinks, and headed in.

What I produced isn’t – in my own opinion – great, but it is production. Honest production. I, of course, tapped into the feelings from the past week of horrible treatment (and lack thereof) from my local surgery – specifically the doctor on call whilst mine is away on holiday. I pushed the anxiety, the hurt, the bad emotions and poison thoughts onto a couple of partly done canvases from my “shit” pile. I wasn’t brave enough to start with clean canvases, so I used the ready built paint layers and added, subtracted, manipulated them into finished works. They may or may not make it into my portfolio (there are plenty of things that shouldn’t be in there but are), but they needed to be done.
(Click photo to see larger image.)
18April2014 - two paintings by Jen Dixon
So that leads me to this morning. I’m less anxious, less afraid. I have spent the last hour repairing and priming my a-frame sidewalk sign for a new message- it’s to advertise when I’m holding an open studio. I live on one of the two roads to the beach, so I get a lot of traffic. I have insurance for people visiting my workspace, so I’m going to invite them in. Perhaps they’ll go away with some of my work, perhaps not. The important thing is that this all builds up a broken girl and gets her doing what she’s meant to do again.

The battle continues

It’s only now – after several days away from the initial hurt and despair – that I can put this into a blog post.

I had good news in the previous entry here. Very good news. Good news that got crushed unceremoniously by one doctor’s ignorance. I’ll explain.

Here’s the basic story: I turned up at the psychiatrist’s office nice and early Monday morning to pick up the prescription I’ve been trying to get for years (well, it’s not Adderall XR, but close enough for me to be thrilled), was handed an envelope, and as Pete drove me back to our neck of the woods from Bodmin, I read the handwriting and smiled real smiles and felt real hope. We pulled into the car park of my local GP and I turned in the prescription for about three weeks of pills, starting at 5mg and increasing to 10mg. The following few weeks of medicine was to be prescribed and monitored by my doctor. The dispensary clerk made me aware that it wasn’t something they normally kept in, but that I should be able to pick it up the next day. Brilliant. Also, it being a controlled substance, I would always have to come collect it rather than use the village medicine delivery service. No problem. I left smiling.

About twenty minutes later, I received a phone call from the surgery. My regular doctor is on holiday until the 25th, and so the GP on watch said my prescription would not be filled, he did not feel comfortable with it, and did not want the drug on the books at that office. He suggested I have it filled elsewhere since it wasn’t going to happen there.

Erm. What?

I had a few blurry, angry moments on the phone – avoiding swearing and crying – and said I would need to speak with that doctor immediately and would be in to retrieve my prescription. The doctor who refused my medicine was on a house call when I got there. It was nice that the surgery waiting room was empty because I had an almighty breakdown. How could this general practitioner refuse to allow the filling of a mental health drug? Why had I even been sent to a specialist if only to be told I couldn’t have the drug they recommended? I cried. Hard. Comforting words were given to me by both the dispensary and reception desk (they’re along the same wall) but it was no use. I even blubbered out that I was “this close to killing myself” after nine years of trying to get back on the drug that worked for me in the USA.

Eventually, I calmed down enough to schedule an appointment with the man who flatly refused to have my medicine on the books. I was due to see him in a handful of hours. Pete helped me home again, and I did my best to rest. The phone rang again as I was trying to doze. I phoned back the doctor’s office and had another message relayed to me by the dispensary. Whilst the doctor was happy to have me come in for an appointment, he “has no intention on” allowing that prescription through. I was floored. To say I felt like some mental health leper is an understatement. I cancelled my appointment and sobbed.

The dispensary and receptionists had been kind. They suggested I report back to my psychiatrist and to make an appointment for my regular GP as soon as she returned from her vacation. I have one scheduled for the morning she’s back, before 9am. I contacted my psychiatrist’s secretary and told her everything. She sounded quietly surprised at the GP’s behaviour. I am now waiting through the Easter holiday weekend to hear more from my psychiatrist, if there’s anything to report, that is.

I won’t know if I can actually get this medicine for a week or two. I could take the prescription to the chain pharmacy to have it filled, but you can understand my reluctance to start a dependence drug without knowing if I can continue it. So I wait. Again.

I can’t express how hurtful it is to be refused by a doctor who apparently has no interest in my well-being. As far as I know, he didn’t even look at my file. The treatment records from my time on Adderall XR are in my UK medical file. I even have my old pill bottles with a few pills left inside. I am not a freak or liar; I am a woman who has struggled with ADHD and depression all my life and found that the time I was on Adderall XR (about two years, I think) was the happiest and most productive of my life.

What I wonder is, is this doctor not comfortable with mental health patients in general, unwilling to learn, or just plain ignorant? I have no idea. I haven’t been in his presence to look him in the eye about this. I wonder if he would deny medicine to a schizophrenic? Is it the ADHD that has him conflicted? I may never know. The only reason I care is to perhaps save another patient the grief I’m experiencing in trying to receive the care I so desperately need.

You picked up on the “kill myself” thing earlier in this post. I am not generally suicidal, for the record. There have been only three times I recall genuinely thinking about killing myself. The first was after my dad died and life with my grieving and very bipolar mother was difficult. We had a gun in the house, and I had its barrel in my mouth. I remember being on my bed, tasting it. Then I told myself I was being an overly dramatic teenager and put it back on her bedside table. The second time I wanted to die was during asthma-induced bronchitis. There was a period of my twenties where I seemed to get severe lung problems about every six months. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid I wouldn’t breathe. I was sleep-deprived and sick. Ending it all seemed like sweet relief, but they were only thoughts in desperation. Shouting about dying in the surgery was the cumulative despair of so many years of mental health issues, the pain of every episode burning like a fresh brand on my mind. How could I continue to live this half a life? Why would I? The suicidal words fell out without warning and for an hour or so, I meant them.

I’m still here. One of the reasons I stick around through the pain is because I genuinely like living. The other? I’m stubborn. I have always told anyone who asks, that thanks to ADHD and my desperate need to finish things despite my focus issues, I couldn’t bring myself to suicide because living is something that I can do. I just wake up. Done. I’m living. I feel that if I killed myself I’d be half-assing just one more thing in my life. Not every day is a good one, in fact, most are a difficult mental struggle, but I can get up every day and go to bed every night knowing I lived. I can tick that off the to-do list again. Life is far from easy, but it’s something I’m already good at.
Now I just want to live better.

I’ll blog again about this when I know more. In the meantime, please feel free to share my posts with anyone who may need them. I am certainly not the only person who struggles to live with mental illness and fights an uphill battle with public stigma and ignorance. Don’t give up. I won’t.

Good news!

I just had a call from my psychiatrist.

Monday, I drive down to her office to pick up the beginning prescription of a six week trial on dexamfetamine. This is great news, as dexamphetamine (same drug, US spelling) is the dominant component (75%) of Adderall XR.

In six weeks, I will be assessed. It’s taken nine years to get to this point, through all kinds of mental hell, but progress is happening. I am filled with hope.

Am I still needed?

Yesterday’s life drawing class gave me pause for thought: am I still needed? I have been teaching it weekly for nearly three years (about 140 classes, give or take) and in that time I’ve had students come and go, some attending the majority of that number of sessions. I am truly grateful for the opportunity and flattered that so many love my classes, but as we move forward I wonder if I am adding anything to the skillset of the artists beyond practice now.

I’ll explain. Most of those who attend my classes have done so many times over the years, if not regularly for more than a year or two. In this time I have covered numerous lesson plans, techniques, materials, and more. I’ve watched my group increase in confidence and skill. There is less need to comment on each individual’s work with constructive criticism/direction. Each is truly developing his own style. Each has heard me discuss similar topics for years now. I am beginning to wonder if I am needed…

What is needed is regular practice. The class environment – and having a teacher – is the weekly reminder for my artists to practice and to improve, but is this not something they can do on their own? Am I really adding to their development or is my class merely another reminder on a to-do list?

Perhaps I’m thinking about this too deeply and it is far simpler than my critical thinking regarding my teaching. Maybe people just enjoy coming to class, plain and simple. Maybe they enjoy the environment and my way of interacting with each of them. I can’t say. What I can tell you is that my students are far better life drawing artists than when I met them, and I know I have had something to do with that. I still enjoy what I do, and perhaps it’s enough that they enjoy it too. Might be time to poll them soon… Or push them harder. Food for thought.