Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Roadtripping with cats

Between the time that my husband left to start working in Iowa and I left California, I had almost 2 months to prepare our cats for a 2.5 day road trip (about 1800 miles).

Historically, neither has been great in the car. Fae vomits if it's been too soon since her last meal (within a few hours) and I think also from anxiety. Both cats would meow incessantly. I was not looking forward to dealing with that and did as much reading as I could to prepare. I didn't want to sedate the cats since they would already been keeping an unusual schedule in terms of access to food, water, and litter box (closed up in a carrier for 8-12 hours a day).

There was no hope for preparing Pumpkin. It would take training just to get her to allow you to pick her up and I didn't have any hope for her going into the carrier willingly. I also didn't want to deal with training both cats simultaneously in case they stressed each other out. Fae is by far the more easy-going cat (and lets you pick her up) so I thought I'd have the best luck with her.

1. Getting used to the carrier first is key. I tried all the tips I read online, like feeding the cats near the carrier, letting them sniff it, feeding them treats inside etc. I couldn't get Fae to willingly go inside, so I abandoned that effort and would just place her in. She's easy to handle. For a week, I'd just zip her up in her regular carrier (bought last year for the plane trip, size Large) in the living room for about 10-20 minutes a day, ignore her but remain within view, then feed her a treat and brush her immediately after letting her out. She loved that part and didn't meow much by the end of the week. I also got Pumpkin to realize that getting brushed is nice, which has become a new tactic for catching her to put her into her carrier for vet trips.

cat in a mesh carrier
"Why are you doing this to me?"
2. Next step was just being in the car. I'd put Fae in the carrier and set her in the car, with the engine off, for about 10 min, every day for a week. I did turn the power on to accessory mode so we could use the AC, it was too hot even in the shade at 11 AM to just sit with the windows down. This was basically the same process as step 1 and we could sit without her making a peep for up to 20 min by the end of the week. I listened to The Adventure Zone podcast. I did not let her out of the carrier inside the car as I did not want her to get used to having free reign in there.

cat in a mesh carrier in backseat of car

3. I was so antsy to get the car moving, but step 3 was letting the engine run without the car moving. After a few days of this, she didn't seem bothered by the sound and she was already fine with the car environment itself, so I moved on to step 4.

4. This might be two steps; my memory is a bit fuzzy about the duration. This step was about getting Fae used to the movement of the car and making turns. We started by just sitting in the running car for a few min to let the AC cool us down, then I'd drive around the apartment complex once. That was it. The next part of the step was driving up and down the block outside the apartment complex, just one time before parking. After a few times, she didn't complain and stayed laying down, just chilling. Again, I did this for at least a week. I started skipping training days here and there, but it didn't seem to impact the effect at that point.

5. This was the harder part. Highway driving. I aimed for 10 minutes at a time, still just once a day, and every day for a week. We got up to about 20 minutes again. First she'd cry loudly at the acceleration on to the highway, then she'd cry loudly after about 10 minutes of the road noise. Still, by the end of the week, she seemed mostly fine with it all and would stay laying down in her carrier. She didn't sleep though.

At that point, I was tired of doing the training every day and didn't keep it up at regular intervals leading up to the trip, which probably would've been best. But Fae was great during the drive! She would cry loudly every now and then for a few minutes, but then she'd settle down and fall asleep for a while. She puked once because we left too soon after feeding them. I found poop and pee in the tent only once.

selfie inside car with large cat carrier visible in backseat
Not shown: cats inside

Pumpkin basically followed Fae's lead. I think she cried more and was generally more restless, but she was still mostly quiet the whole trip and just curled up as close to Fae as she could (after Fae fell asleep and couldn't growl or hiss at Pumpkin for touching her). The hardest part was just getting Pumpkin back into the tent in the mornings. After the first night, she squeezed behind a big heavy TV console/dresser and we had to move it to get her out. For the second night, we made sure to block off all possible hiding spots with pillows and furniture and cornered her in the bathroom to pick her up. And of course, it plucks at my heartstrings when I hear the cats cry, but they quieted down the fastest when we didn't talk to or look at them.

calico cat stretching out on the carpet
Getting comfy at the first hotel
gray cat loafing on bedsheets
When I woke up the first morning
I bought this "condo" and it came with a collapsible litter box and silicone cup. The small litter box was very convenient for the overnight stops. I would put an inch of their usual pine pellet litter inside and set it in the bathroom. In the morning, I'd dump the contents in a trash bag and fold the box back up for transit. We used the silicone cup for their water. I only gave them water while they were in the car once, at a rest stop, and that was the only time one of them peed in the condo. The condo is plenty big enough for our cats without the litter box inside. I made it the base of the condo sturdier by trimming a folded moving box to place in the bottom and wrapped it in pee pads. That made clean-up very easy! I also made sure we had trash bags and paper towels with us for the drive.

The only other thing I want to note about traveling with cats this way is that they didn't eat much, but I didn't expect them to. They LOVE pureed chicken baby food (recommended to me by a past vet when the cats were sick and not eating), so I included some of that with their meals during the trip and after to make sure they ate at least a little something. It took a few weeks for their appetites to get more normal, though we're still working on that over a month later (probably time to change food).

Overall, I was so worried about doing this drive with the cats and, thanks to my preparation, it went pretty smoothly. I don't want to do it again anytime soon, but I'm so happy to have this experience under my belt and would do it again if needed. I still maintain that I will never fly with them again.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Making new homes

When I go back to the Boston area, it still feels like home. I don't think that will ever change. Establishing a new home in California was tough. For a while, it felt like I was still going to "go home" at some point, and this weird extended vacation in CA would end. A vacation in a nice apartment, with my husband, cats, and all my stuff. I got used to it eventually, though working from home is still very strange. I do like having all-day access to my own kitchen!

I've learned from the first interstate move that establishing a life in a new area is hard. It's easy to get comfortable in your own residence and your own routine (work, groceries, doctor, shopping), but meeting people? Most adults make friends at work and maybe if they participate in any social activities like gaming (sports or otherwise). Otherwise we bring them with us from college and even high school. Literally all of my close friends are on the east coast and most are in Massachusetts! We had just started to make some local connections through a D&D game in CA when we decided to move on.

Iowa probably isn't going to be our final stop, unless we fall in love with it, so I wonder what the point is in making more friends. Would they come and visit us? Would I visit them? I'm not great at long-distance friendships. I am a low-maintenance friend, really. I prefer fewer but more intimate/intense hangouts than many casual ones. That's hard to do online. Sit me down for a scheduled conversation and I won't know what to say. It feels like small talk and I hate that! Tell me about your

I've always liked hearing from other people what it was like to relocate, so it makes me happy to be one of those people now. At the same time, if you ask me what it's like to live in California, I feel like I can only tell you "it's just another place to live". Yes, I can tell you all about the weather and how expensive things are, but you probably know all about that already. I can tell you that you can really make a home anywhere, but whether you stay might be a matter of how much you like what's outside your front door (and we're including jobs in that, since that's the reason for the move again).

I will really miss the weather here, but at least I'm getting autumn back.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Sneak peak: moving thought process

I have 7-8 weeks until the move to Iowa. I desperately want to start packing NOW, but it's hard to figure out what I might use in that time.

  • How much of the kitchen can I pack away? I should leave myself enough baking supplies to make a birthday cake next month, plus one of each basic cooking/dining utensil.
  • I could just decide now not to sew and pack all of that away. It would be a good opportunity to throw out all my fabric scraps that I keep thinking I'll turn into underwear someday.
  • While I don't like the restriction of choice, there are a lot of clothes I could pack away. And truly, there are more I could get rid of. I'm sure I can work out ~two weeks worth of clothes to cycle through.
  • There's plenty in the bathroom closet that can thrown out or packed up. All the closets, actually. 
  • I should also do my semi-annual emptying and re-filling of the antique desk, which is basically 3 junk-drawers plus one full of tape and writing instruments, and one with important documents.
  • I want to pack most of my books away, but I usually spread those out among several boxes for weight distribution.
Basically what's left to pack (so not including large items like the TV or furniture) right before the move will be:
  • The clothes I've been wearing
  • Work laptop, docking station, and monitor
  • Personal desk, computer & two monitors
  • Small selection of kitchen/bakeware
  • Cat stuff including cat tower
  • Actively used toiletries
You know, it's really hard to find a "moving gif"

We have to decide pretty soon if we're going to drive everything ourselves (across the mountains, possibly sometimes in the dark... yikes) or hire movers so we can lock in decent rates. Everything is already going to be way more expensive than I'd like. If you're curious about the cost of moving, it's something like this:

  • To rent a truck for ourselves: around $1900, but probably more for insurance and hiring moving help for furniture
  • Gas for the trip: round up to $800 ($4/gal) for the moving truck, less than half for the Civic (30-40mpg highway)
  • Note: we would have to drive both the truck and the car because of the cats. They would not fit in the front seat of the truck with two passengers.
  • Motel stays might be $60-100/night, 2 nights
OR we could pay about the same for a full-service move. That includes loading and unloading, disassembly and reassembly of basic furniture, staging (putting things in the correct rooms), $10k of insurance, and all fuels, fees, and taxes. Though there would be additional fees because we live on the third floor and stairs are the only access. We'd still have gas & motel costs if we use movers because the cats and I are driving this time. I will never again bring them on an airplane. And if we DIY, we'd still need to hire movers because I can't help move a 150 lb headboard or mattress.

Hiring movers runs the risk of unforeseen costs, mostly if our belongings end up weighing more than expected or taking up too much space. It might be worth the peace of mind and not having to lift everything ourselves. We could try selling some of the furniture to lower the cost, but honestly I don't know if it's worth it. The mattress is not even a year and a half old, was really expensive, and we wouldn't make enough cash back to replace it. And I love my couch.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Life in the west (part 2)

I've now lived in California for eight months since yesterday. The last time I wrote about the transition was after a little over two months. Let's see what has changed!

  • Everywhere you go, locals think their weather is "weird". Have you ever seen those memes about how the weather and forecast varies wildly from season to season? I bet you could find one for every single state in the country. Except maybe Florida. The seasons there are Hurricane and Not-Hurricane. I guarantee you, your state's weather is not special or weird. Weather is inherently weird, that's how it works.

Okay, but the California weather memes are pretty hilarious. And by now, I've learned all four season of California: Summer, Faux-Spring, Faux-Spring part 2, and Actual Spring. Faux-Spring is Fall, which is brief but has that wet fresh feeling of Spring. Faux-Spring part 2 is Winter, during which grass actually grows and there's plenty of rain. It's been actual Spring for at least a month already. I wonder how soon Summer will start.

  • We got used to the temperatures, but still dress differently than everyone. I am generally a chilly person. I will probably have a sweatshirt with me when others don't, but I also find we wear shorts sooner than others. We had temps near 80F recently and I went out in shorts and a t-shirt, but saw others in pants and light jackets. Maybe they were unprepared?
  • Gas prices suck, but I also get great gas mileage. I've seen gas under $3/gallon every now and then, but it's mostly higher than that. Since everything is farther apart here, you tend to drive on the highway which usually means less stopping and driving at the same speed more consistently. Depending on where we've been going, we usually average 35 mpg on a tank, but can end highway trips around 40 mpg. The best gas mileage I ever got, however, was 50 mpg on a trip from Massachusetts to Maine (last year?). 45-60 mph is the sweet spot for my car and getting stuck in some traffic actually helped me out on that drive. I will have some long driving hours coming up this summer so I'm intrigued to see if I can do better!
  • Hard water succckkksssss. This isn't exactly a West-coast specific thing, but it's specific to the area where we're living. The water here is so mineral-heavy, it can bake into your car's clear coat or paint if you let a wet car dry in the sun. That seems to have happened to my car and so I've taken on a project of trying to polish it and then protect it all with wax. It's slow-going, but I find it meditative once I get into a rhythm. The windows are in noticeably worse shape and has made driving at night extra-horrifying, but a polishing pad, compound, and drill attachment seem to be doing the trick. Hopefully the water isn't so bad where we're moving, but then I'll have to deal with snow and salt again boohoo.
Left: Before. Right: After. Look at my pants to see the difference.
Left: After. Right: Before (actually the other side of the windshield). Look at the ring around the white light.
Yes, that's right folks. We're moving again! More details to come after I inform the rest of my family.

Have you ever moved to a new state? What were the major differences you noticed?

Friday, March 01, 2019

I was hospitalized (tips and tidbits)

What more is there to say? I've been putting this post off for a while because I'm not sure how to end this whole series. Let me just slap a blanket disclaimer on this post reminding you that I can only truly speak of my own experience. What works for me might not work for you. YMMV. Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

I keep thinking "I was lucky." I was lucky to end up in a decent facility, I was lucky that my job made this possible both from an insurance and FMLA standpoint. I was lucky that it was an okay experience. What does it say about the state of mental health care in the US that a just "okay" experience made me feel lucky? Other people who have told me about their hospitalization did not have a helpful or healthy stay. That's distressing to me.

People don't want to talk about "getting committed" for a variety of reasons, like shame, fear of judgement, or fear of being ostracized. Film-depicted psych wards are horrifying and patients don't want others to picture them there. If you know of any positively-portrayed/accurate psych ward experiences in film, please let me know.

The reality is that some mental illnesses can have scary symptoms (many go unnoticed), but mostly patients are probably only going to be concerned about themselves during their stay. There are only two circumstances I remember when I felt nervous due to the actions of another patient. I spoke to both of them during my time there. They were very normal people. One was a parent my age who just wanted to get well enough to see their child. The other was a college student. In both cases, the staff were attentive and calmed the patients down enough to treat the symptoms or help implement coping mechanisms. Everyone else went back to whatever they were doing. Somehow, it didn't seem weird. I thought, "we're all mad here" and it was comforting.

What can we do to change or improve treatment of mental illness, socially and clinically? I really don't know. For me, it just means talking about it all. I want to normalize my experiences so anyone else who might feel the way I did can get help.

My final parting tips or tidbits:

  1. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a very real and legitimate form of treatment that is not used very widely today. It's typically only used in cases were all other avenues of treatment have failed, or there is some limitation that prevents trying all available medications (like an allergy). It will not melt your brain or cause you to lose any of your mental faculties. We've learned a lot since this was first used in medicine and it is so much safer now.
  2. As far as I know, padded cells and straitjackets aren't used anymore, but restraint in other ways can be (strapped to a bed). This should only be in extreme cases if a patient is extremely agitated and at risk of endangering themself or others.
  3. If someone mentions having been committed to a psych ward, be supportive. Don't pry, but let them know if you're willing to listen. 
  4. Check before you ask questions about the experience. Ex: "Is it okay if I ask you some questions about your experience?"
  5. If you might get hospitalized or are otherwise concerned/interested, do your best to understand your patient rights, insurance coverage, and requirements to be discharged. This may vary by state and facility. This site has a pretty comprehensive list of questions to ask.
  6. Do not feel bad about badgering the staff for help in understanding these things or getting information. It's their job, like it or not.
  7. To an extent, a psych ward experience is as bad or good as you make it. I was able to use that time to start to separate myself from the depressed thoughts and safely get off of a dangerous medication. I learned how much I like group therapy. I felt accomplished, knowing that I had gotten through one of my worst fears and come out pretty much fine on the other side. I can't promise that your experience will be as good or better, but it is always a possibility.
  8. I found it helpful to keep connections to the outside world. I was still scared about going back home and returning to the stress I left behind, but seeing my sister and husband during visiting hours made me feel less isolated. Life went on and I could go back to it when I was ready.
  9. Don't give up on finding a good doctor for you. Not every doctor will agree with you, but a good one should be willing to explain decisions they would like to make for you. That applies to medication and all other forms of treatment. Keep asking questions. Call their office between appointments if you need clarification.
  10. Lastly, in the throes of a depressive episode or any other kind of mental anguish, talk to someone about the thoughts you're having. Get some perspective on what's "real" and what the illness is manipulating. And if you feel alone and think you have no one to talk to, Google a crisis hotline or try posting in an online forum. There is always someone out there.
  11. Okay really lastly: it's probably the worst thing that's happened to me in my life so far. Honestly, like I said, I feel lucky. It wasn't that bad. The loss of autonomy was the worst part, but hey, I got discharged and I made it through.

And my personal motto: You can be your own knight in shining armor.

I came up with this in my teens after slowly realizing that waiting for other people to "save" me wasn't going to work if I didn't tell them I was struggling. The older I get, the easier it is for me to remember this and work my way through depression. No matter what, I will always be there for me even if no one else is.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

I was hospitalized (part 8)

I know it's been a while since my last entry in this series! If you need a refresher on where things left off, check out the links below to previous posts. Please note that they come with the usual disclaimer so please do not read them if you're in a particularly rough spot and feel like they might be too upsetting. Put your oxygen mask on first before you help the dingus next to you!

Continued from previous entries: firstsecondthirdfourthfifthsixth, seventh

Content warning for psychiatric hospitalization, thoughts of suicide, anxiety, reference to overdose, and overall depression.

The Hunger Games

When the Wellbutrin eventually took effect, I was still fairly depressed, but it became easier to make positive choices that didn't feel forced. I started to feel like being happy, when it happened, wasn't a mistake. I clung to those moments. After some weeks passed, I realized I could feel even better. knew it was actually possible and believed I could make it happen. I had to see the crappy psychiatrist (the one who forced me to go to the hospital) one more time because seeing her would be faster than to just wait for a new psychiatrist. I went in strengthened by the knowledge that I was making the right decision to increase my dose. I knew I could get more out of the Wellbutrin. She put in the new prescription for me, but asked why I wanted to transfer to a different doctor at the practice. I told her I understood why she did what she did, hospitalizing me against my will, and that I knew she had to because I'd said I had thought about harming myself (overdosing). I told her that as a result I could never trust her. She started to explain herself again and I cut her off. It didn't make a difference at that point. I'm still amazed I was able to sit through that appointment without exploding in anger.

A quick reminder for everyone: do not tell other people how to feel. They are not your feelings to dictate.

Someone once told me I should forgive her, but I never will and I don't feel this reduces my quality of life in any way. I still hate what she did, even though it wasn't that bad and in some ways was beneficial. She overrode my personal autonomy. Experiencing that and learning that can happen to me was traumatizing and I will always fear it happening again.

For better or worse, I know now that no matter how bad things get, I could always be hospitalized. It's reassuring knowing I could go away and be safe when everything feels overwhelming and I feel out of control. I've told myself that more than a few times in the years since. It's a way for me to check in with myself as well. "Do I feel so bad that I want to go to the hospital and get an emergency psychiatric evaluation? Do I think this warrants hospitalization? Do I want take myself away from the people I love?" The answer is always no, so I struggle through another rough day, night, or week, knowing relief will come. I'm a firm believer in "you'll feel better in the morning" and sleeping off the worst of a bad day. It doesn't fix much, but it helps me to keep going and sometimes that's all you need.

When I met my new psychiatrist (Dr. S) in December of 2015, he told me that he would always try to work with me and my therapist to come up with a plan of action before it came to making a decision on my behalf. Over the course of the next year and a half, he would help me finally get a diagnosis for ADD (which may be incorrect, more on that later) and figure out the right dose of Adderall so I that didn't feel like my heart was going to race out of my chest. He approved of my use of CBD for anxiety relief when I started experimenting with it and we had a fun rant about the slow legalization of medical marijuana. We had a good working relationship. I trusted him more than I've trusted any other doctor and I've seen plenty for all kinds of reasons.

Because of Dr. S, I believe that there is a right medical provider out there for everyone, though there's no guarantee that we'll ever find them when we need them or at all. Sometimes you just have to keep trying till you get a good fit. I'm sad that I had to leave his care when we moved from Massachusetts to California in 2018. When seeking a new doctor, I scheduled appointments in August for November, the soonest I could be seen. At another office, I called in October and got scheduled for February! My former doctor warned me that psych care is scarce out here and it seems to be true.

The last post or two of this series will be some kind of final reflections. If you've read this far, thanks for reading along!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

I was hospitalized (part 7)

Continued from previous entries: firstsecondthirdfourth, fifth, sixth

Content warning for psychiatric hospitalization, thoughts of suicide, anxiety, self-harm, and overall depression.

The "poof" aka a giant cat bed we bought to use for a couch.
Once home, I would spend the next two weeks lying on the poof (see above), watching Steven Universe, and occasionally joining my husband for drives around the city in his new company car. Spending time with him just chatting and driving was the best part of it all. Okay, spending time cuddling my cats was pretty great too. I had missed my little family. I was still scared of the future, but being home felt good again. Knowing what it was like to be away from it all made me value everything a little bit more than usual.

Back when I was 15 years old, not long after I was first seen for psychiatric care, I learned how to lie to doctors. Pretending to be fine was easy. I knew what the "right" answers were. "In the past 2 weeks, how often have you felt depressed? (Rarely)" "In the past 2 weeks, how often have you thought about harming yourself or others? (Never)" You might wonder: if I wanted help and knew I needed it, why would I lie? Why would I hide my injuries after harming myself if it's a so-called "cry for attention"?  (It isn't, necessarily, but that's a whole other blog post.) Why did I still sort of want someone to catch me, to stop me? Depression causes me to view my loneliness as my correct default state of being. I'll believe I deserve to feel that way. I deserve to hurt. After Walden, I had new reason to keep it all to myself. If I told anyone how I was still feeling, would they send me back? This was and has continued to be a fear of mine. I was miserable.

For a few months after being discharged, I wrote in my journal frequently, using the same Composition notebook I'd gotten while inpatient. I wrote a lot about my fear of going back to work. I used Gabapentin as needed to get through the worst of the anxiety. I still couldn't stand the thought of cooking and didn't have much of an appetite, which had been an issue for a while before the hospitalization. That was part of the reason that I'd been prescribed Remeron in the first place, since it can stimulate appetite, though I hadn't lost any weight. I contemplated seeking out longer-term inpatient hospitalization to get away from life for a while, though I was very aware that would just be running from my problems. Figuring out when you're just avoiding dealing with a problem and when you're taking a needed break can be really difficult. I avoided my family too. I felt too raw and I knew that the sympathetic looks I'd get would be really upsetting. Being isolated felt more secure. Ultimately, spending more time alone probably helped me feel calmer and give me "space" to think.

The best thing that came from my weeks off from work were figuring out a little more of what kind of job I'd prefer (something busy, with an integrated way to track my workflow like a ticketing system) and scheduling self-care. I bought coloring books and markers, which I still have. Admittedly, I haven't used them a lot, but when I do use them, I really need it, and it helps.

When I did return to work after about 3 weeks absent with no notice to anyone except what was protected by FMLA (boss and HR knew what doctor/facility had signed paperwork), nobody asked where I'd been, they just said it was nice to have me back. Either they're all just that considerate or someone quietly told everyone not to ask. The return to normalcy was actually scary because the "normal" I'd been experiencing before contributed to that period of depression, but at least I felt better equipped to ride it out. I was determined to at least stay at the job until I paid off my student loans (which I did!).

To be continued...