Until last week, I had no idea how mentally, emotionally and physically debilitating stress could be. Good stress. Bad stress. It doesn't matter. Stress is distressing.
"If you get the H1N1 virus, there is a very good chance you'll die," my kidney transplant coordinator told me on the telephone early last week. "It's so fast."
It wasn't available yet in Toronto. No one was dispensing it.
"And the rules seem to be changing every day," she added.
I couldn't talk my family doctor's receptionist into giving me the seasonal flu shot. At 61, I'm four years too young.
Then I explained that I really needed to be vaccinated against H1N1 because I'm one of the high risk groups – I take three powerful immunosuppressant medications to ensure my body does not reject my transplanted kidney.
In 1991 I went into "iatrogenic" acute endstage kidney failure and lost the function of my only kidney because the psychiatrist who had treated me for 16 years for my mood disorder had neglected to monitor my Lithium levels properly. I had the kidney transplant in 1994. I have virtually no immunity to H1N1.
I made an appointment for the H1N1 vaccine. I'll have to wait until December to get the seasonal flu vaccine. This past Monday, right after my class at Seneca's Markham Campus, up in the northern end of the GTA, I jumped into my car and drove all the way downtown to Mt. Sinai Hospital.
Arriving at 2:50 p.m., I'd never seen my doctor's waiting room so crowded. All the receptionists were wearing masks. People of all ages were seated or milling around, including pregnant mothers with young children in tow.
"We're running about 45 minutes late," my doctor's receptionist told me. "There's only one nurse and she's doing the best she can."
Talk about stress. I couldn't wait to get out of there and within 20 minutes, I had my shot and was back outside, walking towards the underground parking garage.
I live with a psychiatric diagnosis on the bipolar spectrum called Hypomania. In my case, it's rare and serious, but I handle it pretty well. I never get depressed, but wow, do I get high. To the point of psychosis. Mania.
It can be frightening sometimes because I can tell when those curious little manic ideas slip into my consciousness. It takes me a minute to realize that I'm fantasizing, a little delusional.
That's why I'm also in Recovery. I've worked so hard at processing my mind for 49 years in psychotherapy that I have spot-on "insight" that Dr. Bob admits he's rarely seen in anyone he's treated.
That doesn't mean I'm invulnerable to stress. Or that stress cannot trigger my grandiose thinking. Sleeplessness. Quirky judgement. The key is, I am prepared for it and work very hard to keep it in check.
On Friday, October 23, I had lunch with a colleague. It was my birthday lunch and we "dined" at the Flint 'n Feather, the modest dining room at the college's main campus. All during lunch, little delusional thoughts kept flickering in my mind.
"I bet she's planned a surprise birthday celebration for me... I bet the whole staff of the Faculty of English and Liberal Studies are going to burst into the dining room singing "Happy Birthday, dear Sandy... I wonder when... " This thought keep flickering in and out of my thoughts.
I couldn't concentrate on our conversation because of this intoxicating feeling that something wonderful was going to happen.
My friend treated me to my salad and fruit!
At Seneca, a melting pot of more than 20,000 students – many from all over the world – you can sense everyone is a little on edge. More than the usual mid-term angst. It's filtering into my classrooms. This week, I've held two de-stressing sessions. Open dialogues. "Show and Tell" sessions. Opportunities for the students to "evaluate the teacher," for a change.
Anything to help them unwind and, as my late father would say, "hang loose."
Lately, I'm not sleeping consistently. Sleep keeps me sane and stable. I'm bouncing around my mood spectrum from my normal, which is always slightly elevated to exuberant to flying around the rafters to back to my invigorating normal.
That's why I'm seeing Dr. Bob every Wednesday for the next month. I saw him this morning.
There's so much going on. Stresssssss. I feel tingly. I have to go easy. I'm running up stairs instead of taking the escalator. I'm walking at twice my normal pace. I'm waking up two hours before the alarm goes off in the morning.
This is all stress. Good stress. Bad stress. It doesn't matter. It's debilitating.
"Why worry when you have no information," Dr. Bob said this morning. "As soon as there's enough vaccine available so everyone can be vaccinated, things will die down. In the next few weeks. You'll feel better."
Right now, the H1N1 flu is great news story. There's an old saying about news.
"Good news is snooze news."
Too bad. We could use some good news right now. It would help ease the emotional and mental effects of this bad news story that feels more contagious than the flu.
Relax. Take a deep breath. Take good care of yourself. Sleep. Stay informed right here at Healthzone.ca.