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Monday, October 13, 2003

Falling apart at the seams 

That's my mom's expression. She used to use it all the time when I'd complain about feeling bad. "Well, you're just falling apart at the seams, aren't you?" I think it was supposed to indicate I was exaggerating.

My dad was much more blunt about it. When I was a kid, if I mentioned any kind of pain whatsoever, he'd inform me that at my age, I didn't know what pain was. "Just you wait until you're old, then you'll know pain! Now stop complaining, you're in the prime of your life."

From birth until I was 18, I saw the inside of a doctor's office once. That was because my mom noted I had strep throat, so I had to go get antibiotics. I think that's the only time they ever believed I was sick, until after I moved out.

Bitter old fuckers.

Steve's parents, on the other hand, marched him to the dermotologist's office because he had a few zits. We're not talk about severe acne, here, we're talking about normal teenage pimples. They gave him prescriptions he didn't bother to take (at least not often). I think the only purpose this doctor's visit really served was to make him think he had abnormally bad acne.

He told me he did, in fact. I was prepared for pizza face boy to meet me at the airport. One of the first things I said to him after we got back to my apartment is, "So where's this terrible acne?" I was thinking, "I think I see one little bitty zit... uh-oh, time for the dermatologist!"

Yes, I think it's a little silly to take a teenager with standard teenage acne to a dermatologist unless he requests it because it's causing self-esteem issues. Then again, it's a good thing Steve didn't have my parents -- he had appendicitis when he was a kid, and my parents would have told him to shut up and get his ass to school because there was nothing wrong with him.

Things have changed since then, though. My parents are no longer quite so anti-doctor, and have acknowledged the fact I do, indeed, need to visit a doctor now and then. I sincerely doubt they will ever accept the fact I'm schizophrenic, though. No way in hell is their perfect daughter mentally ill.

I've been having on and off bouts of RLQ pain for a month or so. It got bad enough a few days ago that I seriously considered going to the ER. Not appendicitis -- I could eat without problems, no nausea, and after about six hours it improved rather than getting worse. Mostly gone, now. I suspect it's gynecological in nature -- either something related to the endometriosis, or else Dr. Scumbag gave me PID when I had surgery following my more recent miscarriage.

I've sort of taken on my parents' attitude now -- "I'll go to the doctor if death seems imminent." I think this scares Steve, especially when I'm sitting around describing rather severe pain I'm experiencing, and all the different things it could be caused by. And then I inform him I'm not going to die so there's no need to spend money on a doctor. Poor guy. I should get health insurance someday, then I'd probably be less opposed to going to a doctor.

Meanwhile, I've had a bad case of insomnia for the last year and a half. Ever since the fried chicken incident, I've had a terrible time falling asleep, wake up far too easily, and have frequent vivid nightmares. It's all anxiety-based, I'm sure. I have no illusions there's some kind of organic illness at work here -- I'm just batshit crazy, and in more ways than one.

I have the paranoid subtype of schizophrenia. You know, "everyone's out to get me". I'll go into that in a bit, but since apparently some people out there are still misinformed as to what schizophrenia actually is, I'll clarify.

For some incomprehensible reason, a lot of people get schizophrenia confused with MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder). Schizophrenia is very different -- most obviously, a schizophrenic does not have multiple personalities. They can, however, have delusions that they're someone they aren't, but they don't switch back and forth or think they're more than one person.

Schizophrenia is characterized by magical thinking, delusions and hallucinations (primarily auditory). Paranoid schizophrenia includes ... well, paranoia. So the delusions and what-not generally revolve around people "coming to get me". My own schizophrenia manifests itself in three stages, which I'll describe below.

The mild stage is what I'm in most of the time. It closely resembles generalized anxiety. I blow everything out of proportion. For example, if Steve is ten minutes late getting home from work, I'm quite convinced that he's either gotten into a wreck and died, or he's fucking someone else. The worst of it, for me, is the associated insomnia.

It takes me anywhere from twenty minutes to a couple of hours to fall asleep, because I'm worrying... usually during this time period I get out of bed repeatedly to verify that the doors and windows are locked. I can't sleep at night, period. This is much of the reason I work night shift. I'm just way, way too anxious at night to sleep. I can't sleep with the fan on because the whirring might drown out the sound of someone breaking into the apartment. Any little sound (as quiet as a single mouse click) will wake me up, and then I go through the apartment, checking doors and windows, checking the closets and shower (to make sure no one is hiding in there).

I also have occasional mild auditory hallucinations during this stage. Mostly, I hear whispering, just a little too quiet to understand. I'm well aware of my illness when I'm in this stage, so I can pretty much block out the sound and go on about my business.

The moderate stage is usually triggered by stress. Auditory hallucinations increase, and are accompanied by some delusions and occasional visuals. The paranoia increases significantly. During this stage, I tend to hear things and think they're really there. My explanations for why other people can't hear them, or what they mean, are bizarre. Like the time I thought there was a guy in the AC duct trying to talk to me in Morse code. I figured my brain had an implanted UHF receiver in it, which is why only I could hear it, and it'd help if I ate sardines (because I thought they contained some kind of UHF-reflecting metal).

During the severe stage, I can only be described as full-blown batshit crazy. This is what they call a psychotic episode. It's rather like dreaming while awake, I guess. I'm only vaguely aware of my surroundings, if at all. I usually get extremely self-destructive, as well, often without realizing it.

For example, during an episode a few months ago, I thought my apartment was being invaded by "angels with steel talons". I had a lengthy battle with them before I eventually fainted or something, and came back to reality. When I came to, I was holding a razor blade I'd ripped out of a disposable razor (possibly with my teeth) and had well over a thousand cuts on my arms and legs. Many of them were quite deep, and I have extensive scarring as a result of this particular episode.

The good news is that these episodes don't happen often, and when they do, they can be handled as long as I have someone around who knows what to do. Risperdal will generally reduce my level of insanity by one stage within a few hours. Meanwhile, if I'm having a full-blown episode, I pretty much have to be babysat and if necessary, physically restrained.

The last time I had an episode, Steve was home and knew what to do. Amazingly, I'm pretty much always cooperative even when freaking out badly, so if he just tells me, "I'd feel better if you took your Risperdal" then I do it. Unfortunately, "I'd feel better if you don't hurt yourself" doesn't work. If I'm trying, physical restraint is a must, partially because I'm often not aware of what I'm doing. When I am aware, I can't just not do it -- it'd be like trying to force myself not to breathe.

Anyway, the insomnia I'm experiencing has everything to do with the paranoia aspect of my schizophrenia. I should point out that I am not medicated. I only take my pills when I absolutely have to -- ie, if Steve says "Take this because you're scaring me". There's semi-good reason for that.

The problem with schizophrenia, is while it's very treatable with medication, antipsychotics have a very nasty side effect profile. With the exception of the older ones (Haldol, primarily) they're also mega-expensive. And the older ones have even worse side-effects than the newer ones. In many people, they produce what amounts to a mild version of Parkinson's.

Risperdal is something like $200 a month, if I was taking it regularly, as I'm supposed to. This is one of the newer antipsychotics that is supposed to have a greatly reduced side effect profile. Side effects that I personally experienced include somnolence, lactation (!), greatly reduced libido, inability to reach orgasm, and horrible, gory nightmares.

The nightmares were the deal-breaker for me. The rest, maybe I could handle, but I have a problem with spending eight hours every night in hell. And I'm not exaggerating. I'd have three or four very lengthy, intense, and incredibly realistic nightmares every single night. We're talking about the kind where you wake up in a cold sweat with your heart pounding, and it takes a good half-hour to recover (if not longer).

I started dreading going to sleep so much, I finally quit taking the Risperdal. I do take another drug, a muscle relaxant that has the side effect of reducing my symptoms for some reason. Probably because it seems to reduce my stress level. That one I take when I'm starting to get weird or panicky, more as a preventative measure than anything. And if I've gone completely off the deep-end... well, time to take Risperdal for a few days.

Anyhow, I've gone off on a tangent as usual. This insomnia shit is driving me up the wall... it sucks to spend eight hours in and out of bed, then wind up getting maybe three hours of sleep. Every night. It's annoying as hell.

I think, even though it's certainly not going to kill me, a doctor visit might just be in order. I have a great doctor, an amusing bald guy who isn't afraid to prescribe scheduled drugs when they're needed. He doesn't overprescribe, but he's not like some doctors I've had who are so paranoid about their patients becoming addicted that they'll recommend Tylenol for severe pain.

Dr. Scumbag was like that... he sent me home with ibuprofen (Advil) after surgery, when my pain level was bad enough it took two shots of fentanyl to get it under control, after the morphine just wasn't cutting it. Fentanyl is potent shit, too... it makes morphine and Demerol look like candy.

I fired Dr. Scumbag, and didn't pay the last of the bills he sent me. Christ, the guy didn't even talk to me after surgery. He had the absolute worst bedside manner of any doctor I've met. Furthermore, he was an arrogant, condescending sonofabitch.

In other news, I've been trying to call Steve for the last 25 minutes. He's asleep. I let the phone ring for 20 minutes (redialing every 2-3 min.) and now it's busy. I suspect he knocked it off the hook and went back to sleep. Argh.

Drugs & Crime in Little Mexico 

Note: Posts are not displaying properly on the home page of this site right now (not my fault!). To see all posts from today, click here.

One of the things that came as quite a surprise to me after I moved here was the availability, purity, and incredibly low cost of drugs. Specifically, cocaine. This was nearly my undoing.

Coke, weed, X, and roofies (which are called "roach pills" here) are widely available, and quite cheap. Well, not the X so much -- everyone's selling it, but the prices seem fairly steep. This is probably because it's the one drug that isn't imported from across the border, but rather manufactured locally.

Back when I was working at the first call center, I developed an amazing coke habit. I was going on three or four day binges every week, usually doing an ounce or more. Bad shit happened, and I quit. I'll write more about that later.

During this time period, in order to make more money, I started selling crack. How's that for an admission of guilt? Christ. It really started out quite innocently, though. A co-worker heard about a recent coke purchase I'd made (a full ounce) and wanted to know if I'd resell him an eight ball. I only bought the stuff for my own use, so I was a little reluctant, but hey, I'd make a slight profit on the deal, so I did it.

This co-worker, Mario, then told me that he didn't snort it, he just mixed it in with weed and smoked it. I was appalled. For the drug-naive, cocaine in powder form does not burn worth a damn -- if you try to smoke it like that, you're wasting the hell out of it because you only get like 10% of the actual drug in your system.

Crack, on the other hand, burns beautifully and is absorbed quite well if smoked. I'd never smoked crack, and didn't have any interest in doing so, but I did know how to make it. So, I told Mario to pick up some baking soda when he went home for lunch, and I'd show him a little trick.

When Mario got back, I marched him up to the company's breakroom, and cooked up his eight ball of coke into a big, fat rock in the microwave. I didn't tell him what the finished product was, though, because of the stigma surrounding crack smokers.

I'd explain how to make crack in a microwave oven in thirty seconds, but I'm not sure of the legality of publishing information like that. I think I'd have to have some kind of goofy legal disclaimer or something, or risk some crack addict's mom suing me for teaching her kid how to do it.

Anyway, I told Mario to take a bit of that and mix it in his joint. He came back the next day to tell me how impressed he was. And suddenly I had people requesting that "special coke" from me. So, what the hell -- I needed money to support my habit, and I started selling it. The profits were nice. I referred to it as "freebase" because most people are reluctant to smoke crack and don't know they're essentially one and the same.

Unfortunately, some people decided to try smoking it on its own, rather than mixing just a touch in with their weed. These were the people who kept coming back for more and more of the shit. At that point, I guess I realized just how low I'd sunk -- now I was a crack dealer. Jesus.

I'm often asked if I smoked it myself. Out of curiosity, I did, a couple of times. Truth be told, I wasn't impressed. It's a sudden, intense high, but it's over in a couple of minutes and leaves you with an incredible craving for more. I preferred to leave my coke in the state I bought it in, and snort. That has it's own little set of disadvantages, though, like nasal damage and pain.

One of the results of the widespread drug use in this part of the country is increased crime. It seems every few months, another group of police officers get arrested for being involved in drug rings. Home invasions are quite common here as well, although the targets are usually dealers.

My brother had a car stolen and another broken into in the course of a month. Some guy stole his shitty old car (it's an early 80's Crown Vic) after robbing the convenience store near his house. The guy apparently held up the store and demanded beer. I shit you not. Then, he hotwired my brother's car, drove it off, got stopped by a train and caught by the police. He was too drunk to remember to open the door, I guess, because he tried to escape through the passenger side window and got stuck.

The other car had the back window broken, and that thief tried to steal the stereo, but only made it away with the faceplate and the CD that was in it.

The only crime I've been a victim of since I moved here was lunch theft. Back when I first started working at that call center, a few weeks after I arrived in Texas, I was ass-broke. So I was bringing ultra-cheap frozen burritos to lunch with me in plastic baggies every day.

And then the Burrito Bandit struck. Day after day, I'd go up the breakroom for lunch, and find my burritos were gone. Whoever it was would leave the bag I brought them in behind, and sometimes my can of generic diet cola. My brother, who was then working as a security guard at the same company, patrolled the breakroom looking for someone eating burritos. No such luck.

Eventually, after weeks of spending the day hungry, I decided it was time for some vigilante justice. I carefully spread open two burritos, slipped five Ex-lax pills into each, and rewrapped them. The burritos disappeared that day, but never again.

It's a good thing that the Burrito Bandit didn't return for more. I had a nice, new package of D-Con rat poison ready for next time.

Little Mexico 

Disclaimer: I have no intention of offending any Hispanic readers I may have. However, I'd like to speak frankly about my experiences in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, and some of what I have to say may be taken badly. If this is the case, I apologize.

I live in a small (pop. 50,000) town about twenty miles from the border of Mexico... right on the tip of Texas. We (and by "we", I mean the gringos) call this town "Little Mexico". It's a fitting name -- in some parts of the town you'd be hard pressed to tell if you're still in the States or not.

I moved here just about two years ago -- in late October of '01. The decision to move was made on impulse, like most of my cross-country moves have been. Prior to this, I'd lived in Missouri, Washington state, Oregon, and briefly in Louisiana.

I'd been living in Seattle for most of my marriage, and a few months after I got divorced I moved to Portland, OR to attend Job Corps. During my stay there, I decided to go to this town in Texas, because most of the important members of my family had relocated here -- my brother was here full-time, and my parents spend six months of the year in an old fogey resort in town.

Also, I'd been here nearly every year the entire time I was growing up -- my parents travelled a hell of a lot, and this town was our winter destination of choice. I loved the place when I was a kid -- 80 degree weather in December and January, palm trees everywhere, Mexico & South Padre Island a short drive away...

Living in a town like this is a whole lot different than vacationing here. I figured that out after a few months. For one, it doesn't seem quite so strange to be a white girl (extra pale, at that -- I'm mostly Dutch and Irish) in a 90% Hispanic town when you're just a tourist. It's entirely different when you're working in a company with over a thousand employees, and you can count your Caucasian co-workers on one hand. For that matter, finding a job that doesn't require you to speak Spanish is rather difficult.

I started out working here at a call center, doing technical support for one of the largest nationwide ISPs (not AOL, thankfully). My first day of training was scary as hell. I'd never seen so many Mexicans in one place before. I wasn't afraid they'd pop a cap in my ass or anything like that -- but I definitely felt very out of place and very conspicuous. It was like I was some kind of foreign invader. It didn't help that much of the time my fellow trainees were speaking Spanish amongst themselves.

Not to state the obvious, but it's hard to insert yourself in a conversation (and therefore make friends) with a group of people who are speaking Spanish, which you understand ten words of, at an incredibly rapid rate. And my God, do these people machine-gun their language. It's amazing. I don't think I can think that fast, let alone talk that fast... and I've been accused of talking like a New Yorker (speedwise) entirely too often.

I did, however, make friends with a girl in my training class, who I thought was white at first. I was wrong. It's often hard to tell unless you know the person's last name (and if it's a married woman, you're just guessing). I'd thought, when I found out, that she was just being nice to the poor little gringo. Later, I came to realize it was more of a status thing. But more on that later.

The Mexican-Americans in this part of the country seem to have an odd informal caste system. This was something my mom had pointed out to me ages ago, but I didn't really see it in action until later. Apparently, the lighter-skinned a local Mexican is, the higher their social status (in general). This is apparently why a local newscaster bleaches her skin to a scary shade of white. We call her Casper.

One time my mom hired someone from a carpentry company to come out to her house and work on her shed. The lady at the company called back to let Mom know there was someone on the way. She said, sounding very apologetic, "He's a dark man... but he does good work!"

I've been hit on, on a near-daily basis, since my teens, but never so much as I am here. Apparently, having a white woman is a status symbol of sorts. I met a fellow ex-Seattlite down here at one point, who said something along the lines of, "My God, a blonde woman with tits like that living down here? How do you keep the men away??" I've since dyed my hair.

The attitude of the locals varies a lot, mostly based on age. The older Hispanics are much more likely to bleach their skin, and absolutely hate being called Mexicans -- "We're American, dammit!" The younger ones are a lot more laidback... I had a friend down here tell me that I needed to "learn to cook Mexican" and "get myself a brown man". The same guy joked with a co-worker that I was going to have his "little brown babies".

But even that guy seemed faintly embarassed about his own ethnicity -- he wore blue-colored contacts and told me he didn't speak a word of Spanish. I found out otherwise when I observed him speaking it rapidly and fluently with a co-worker.

I've been in a state of culture shock since I arrived here, and it doesn't seem to be letting up anytime soon. I still can't get over the fact that almost everyone lives with their parents... we're talking about married, 30-something couples, who live with Mom, Dad, and a herd of brothers & sisters. Hell, sometimes the grandparents are living with them too. I have no idea how they stand it. I'd have lost my mind completely if I'd have stayed with my parents any longer than I did, and mine are incredibly cool.

I was shocked and insulted when I first started my current job and everyone seemed to assume I was living at home still. "Christ," I thought. "What do I look like, some kind of loser? I'm 24 years old, of course I don't live with my parents!!"

And then there's the food. Don't get me wrong, I like Mexican food... well, most of it. But it's certainly strange to go to the local grocery chain and see whole, frozen pig's heads for sale. They're gruesome. Some of the other local offerings include pork stomachs, beef tongues, hooves of all varieties, tripe, etc. I thought about trying some chorizo, which I'd heard was really good, until I read the ingredients. Lymph nodes?!

The locals have interesting sexual behavior, as well. They seem to lose their virginity and have lots of kids at an early age. Infidelity is apparently very widespread and accepted. I had a 19 year old co-worker who told me he lost his virginity at 13, was married with three kids and a fourth on the way, and had two mistresses, both of whom he had children by.

There seems to be little understanding of the concept of being engaged, too. Steve was referred to as my boyfriend until he popped the question -- now, despite the fact we've not even set a date yet, everyone calls him my husband. I've given up on attempting to correct this one -- if I explain we're not married yet, they just nod and smile and continue calling him my husband.

On the bright side, the cost of living is incredibly cheap. I live in a nice two-bedroom apartment, with a swimming pool, private balcony, central AC, dishwasher, etc... $450/month. Food is cheap, beer is cheap, restaurants are cheap... it's great. The pay sucks, but hey, when your bills are as low as ours are, making a lot of money doesn't matter much at all. Steve makes $7.25 an hour, I make $5.88, neither of us normally work overtime, and we're living "high on the hog" as my dad calls it. Well, we're definitely not strapped for cash, and go out to eat entirely too often.

Next up: Drugs & Crime in Little Mexico

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