Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Hey, technically-trained music people...

I have what may be a stupid question.

I have been trying to puzzle out vocal technique for the past week or so, because banging a new thing into my head is what I do when I need to distract myself from personal chaos. Having gotten bored of imitating generic Auto-Tune quantization (reasonable success, given I am not a robot) and trying to get myself to sound less American when singing J-pop (less of a triumph), I've moved on to trying to figure out what the fuck Brian Molko is doing to sound like that on tape. Fans call his style 'distinctive'; detractors call it 'nasal'. I call it evidence the man has never had a formal voice lesson in his life, because any vocal coach worth their salt would tell him to stop doing just about everything he does, retroactively if possible.

That's not the stupid question. I figured that part out. The tl;dr is that their debut album was super high and pointy and Molko realized that was going to get real old, real quick, so he dropped everything down closer to his natural speaking range from then on out. When you sing, you lower pitches by sort of pulling the center of resonance down into your throat/chest, which he does, but normally you also reshape and partially close off the resonating space behind your nose, which he doesn't. This is considered terrible form because, I don't know, superstition? Harder to hear over an orchestra? Formal music instructors can be ossified into some very strange traditions sometimes. It's like they think Mozart will forever be lurking over their shoulders, checking to see they're not teaching his arias wrong.

Anyway. It gives him a lot of higher overtones and mask resonance, which is the thing that makes him sound nasal, and also, for inscrutable linguistics reasons, the thing that makes his delivery seem to lean forward like he's somehow singing in italics all the time. It sounds like vocal fry at the low end, but isn't. It's weird as hell at first but I don't actually wreck my throat doing it. I don't know how close I sound, but I figured I had the mechanics right when suddenly all the sustains on "Every You Every Me" started going straight through my head via bone conduction. It's very satisfying. I figure that's probably why he likes that one so much -- they get bored quickly and are notorious for not wanting to play their commercial hits in concert, but "Every You Every Me" has been pretty consistently on their live setlist since its release.

This brings me to the actual stupid question, which is about the live vocals for that song. Molko tends to be a bit Lennon-esque, in that if you want him to sing the same phrase with the same intonation twice in a row, you are generally going to be disappointed. The song is not usually so mutated that it's unidentifiable, but this is only partially the case for "Every You Every Me". He hasn't sung the album vocal live in years -- what he does in concert is pretty consistently this, which should be unrecognizable, but isn't.

I think that what he's singing there is (roughly) what the second vocal line would be, if the song were performed as a duet. If so, it's a naïve and untutored counterpoint; I know this, because I'm naïve and untutored in this respect, and that's pretty much the sort of thing I do when I am noodling around and elaborating on something I'm singing.

I've been trying to figure out just what, precisely, is going on there, but I am hampered by the fact that music theory is one of the very few things that absolutely will not stick to my brain. Although I technically know how written music works, I am functionally illiterate, and do all of my musicking by ear. (I'm decently good. The photographic memory is also phonographic. It gives me guff when I try to compare dissimilar waveforms, but I can match my own voice to the playback inside my head.) Wikipedia is no help; I have no initial understanding of any of the concepts or jargon to use as a foothold. I know the standard Western musical scale, and I'm reasonably okay when they talk about time signatures and flats and sharps, but then they start going into majors and minors and intervals and at that point it's just purple monkey dishwasher flargle boof. As far as my brain is concerned, a "fifth" is the appropriate size of liquor bottle to bring to the party.

The only thing I am sure of is that the vocal line he sings live only makes sense because it is somehow derived from the original, probably via some kind of common algorithm that I have absorbed just enough of to know it sounds 'right' and not like utter tunelessness. (n.b. -- This implies he has playback running in his head for context, and that he assumes the audience does as well, which may or may not be true.) If anyone can explain this algorithm to me, or at least give me the correct term to Google so I can be confused while staring at the right Wikipedia page, I'd be ever so grateful.

Monday, August 22, 2016

I worked a gig Saturday night that took so much out of me that when my co-worker nicked some chocolate chip cookies out of the staff kitchen for me, I didn't eat them. I was so tired that food didn't taste good anymore. It was just a mouthful of crumbly stuff that really wasn't much fun at all.

When I ran out of things to read on the late train home, I started desperately pawing through my phone for something to think about. Though my playlists are generally albums in proper track order or a collection of a dozen or so loose songs that won't stop circling in my head, I load entire discographies onto the storage card for exactly these kinds of emergencies. Usually there's something weird enough in the directory of bootlegs and B-sides to keep me awake until I get to my stop.

I ended up listening to this on loop. That is Brian Molko on vocals, and probably him on the guitar, too; it's one of the B-sides to an early Placebo single. It sounds almost entirely unlike anything he does with the band. Were it not for a couple of the higher notes, I wouldn't recognize him at all. It doesn't sound much like the Syd Barrett original, either, for that matter. It is a much softer sound than he normally uses. Most people, I think, use the description "smoky" for voices to mean it sounds like a voice whose owner is raspy from being in a smoke-filled room, but as it happens smoky is actually what they look like to me. Particulate effects, more or less, rather than a solid color trail. Normally Molko's voice is one of those that comes in very hot and bright and has a corona, but this style is misty even through the middle.

I'd no idea he could do that. It reminded me of how many things I will never know about other people, and how many things other people will never know about me. The distance is too great, and there is never enough time. We are all just tiny, flickering lights, alone in the endless void. Sometimes I wonder why I spend so much time squinting into the darkness, and if I wouldn't be better off if I could get myself to stop.

There are times when I have mixed feelings about being good at sussing people out. I wind up knowing a lot of personal things about humans I am never even going to have a proper conversation with. Molko I think would not answer questions as bluntly as he does if he were bothered by the idea that people would figure out how he worked, which is good, because so far all of my checkable guesses have turned out to be right. Luxembourg is more or less where he feels he grew up. His mother is the extremely conservative Christian who dragged him to church as a kid. He was bullied entirely out of school at one point and had to transfer. His parents hate his choice of career, regardless of his success. He dresses himself the way he does because that's what looks right when he checks the mirror. A lot of the specific lyrics are euphonious doggerel, but the songs as a whole do generally mean something. Interviews take a lot out of him, and left to his own devices he tends towards quiet and thinky.

Most of the other things I think are speculation and cannot be checked without someone asking him directly, but I think they logically follow from the rest. He fucked off to uni when he was still seventeen, knowing that when he got there he'd have no one and nothing and nowhere to turn if he needed help, because that was still a better prospect than staying where he was. He ended up on the dole for a couple of years because either he cut his family off, or they cut him off. He refers to the band, especially Stefan Olsdal, as his surrogate family because his actual family is probably kind of useless. He's not kidding when he says he was terrified of getting an office job, or that he would have been happy if all his music ever did was pay bills and buy groceries; what he needed above all else was to find somewhere to exist where he could be the guy he is, and that would be okay. Actually being a success was a complete accident.

He has been some extremely dark places, in his life. There are lots of hints, many of which are not really all that hinty. Someone recently asked him 'what would you be, if you weren't a musician?' and the first thing that popped out of his mouth was, "Dead." Other people seem shocked by this, I assume because they've never been there. I don't know if he meant 'literally dead, in the morgue' or just 'dead behind the eyes, all hope having fled', but I thought it sounded like a pretty realistic assessment of his chances, had he not gotten out of where he was. Normally, I consider advice like "don't let anyone tell you who to be" to be something between empty rhetoric and inspiration porn, because the people giving it are thinking in terms of 'being picked on for being kinda geeky' and not 'the entire community is angry at me for existing wrong'. But Molko says it so fiercely that I really think he means it: It is an assertion that even misfits have a right to exist, and an exhortation to survive.

I figure only Taylor Swift sets her diary to music, but if "Breathe Underwater" is not generally autobiographical, I will eat my extravagantly-feathered hat. Probably also, by way of metaphor, "Hæmoglobin".

None of this information does me any good. Mainly it makes me wish I had the opportunity to tell him, in exactly so many words, that he's succeeded in getting stuff out of his head in a format that other people can understand, and that I get it. A lot of artists make me feel this way. I keep reminding myself that this is not likely to ever to happen, and probably wouldn't mean much to him if it did. I'm not even entirely sure I'm thinking of this the right way around. Most people gush over music or books or movies because they feel the author really gets their experience, which has always struck me as odd, because how can the author 'get' someone they've never met? On the other hand, they've published a piece of themselves that I have the opportunity to feed into my head, so I saying that I think I get what they're saying seems entirely logical to me.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

So apparently we're moving again, this time to a house in Dorchester. Those of you who have been around for more than a year will remember that moving is, to put it mildly, not my favorite. It generally turns me into the Simple Dog. I never have any money, and have spent my entire adult life being either thrown out of rooms because the semester ended or priced out of apartments because the landlord jacked the rent. I am moving with Jazmin again, because she asked. She was actually nervous when she brought it up. I don't know what she thought I was going to say -- "Well, I've only spent years finding people I can actually stand to live with, I think I'll strike out on my own and do it all over again"? I have no idea why she and her boyfriend seem to enjoy having me around the house, other than I help with bills as much as I can, and I do a lot of the dishes.

These rats have never moved before, and consequently have no idea what's going on. The longest trip they've ever been on was the 90 minute train ride home from Revere when they were very small, which has almost certainly faded from their memories by now, as there was no food involved until I got them back to Brighton and immediately fed them french fries. (A distant second was the afternoon the fire alarm here would not stop going off. I threw them into ../tmp/bin/rat and walked them across the street to sit on the synagogue lawn while a middle-aged man who unfairly got to wear ear protection fixed the panel.) They are mildly interested in me banging around the room moving things, but otherwise have not let any of this disrupt their daily routine of long naps, petty squabbles, and meticulous testicle grooming.

I've also done something to my right shoulder. I have no idea what, but it hurts like something that was kept contracted for too long, and has knotted up beyond all hope of repair. I shambled along carrying stuff exclusively on my other shoulder for a couple of weeks before getting fed up with it one evening and taking one of everything in the hopes of getting to ignore it for a while. Two of a couple of things. Amazingly enough, a lot of naproxen, a moderate amount of dextromethorphan, and a very small dose of etizolam seems to have fixed it, at least temporarily.

In the short term, this is not a great solution. Double NSAIDs plus dissociatives plus minor tranquilizers is not a combination I want to be knocking back on a regular basis. One of those things will definitely engender tolerance if used too often, one of them might do if I'm unlucky, and the remaining one stands a chance of making my kidneys unhappy.

Moreover, if I have to be that doped up to stop things hurting, I'm just going to have to spend my days in pain for a while, because that combo is not compatible with consciousness. Objectively, it's not really a lot of drugs, especially for a pain patient, but on me it hits pretty heavy. Just to give you some idea, I had to give up on my book about twenty minutes after I took it, because I was too useless to read. Then I decided to have a little lie down while the worst of it wore off, and came to nine and a half hours later. It's not an OD, but it is definitely one of those cases where all repairs are effected in sleep mode.

In the long term, on the other hand, it's great news. If I can fix the issue with a load of anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants, that means the problem is muscular -- I have not somehow managed to ruin an important joint somewhere. And that means that if I can just convince someone that a massage therapist is medically necessary, I can likely keep it from coming back. Failing that, I can probably get someone to dry-needle the worst bits, or stab me with saline or lidocaine or something. I expect I can provide a convincing argument for this, especially when I point out that after taking all my drugs, just lying down flat made parts of my back spontaneously pop, including several of the thoracic vertebrae up around where the biggest problem lives.

In nicer, if pettier, news, I've started teaching dance, because apparently you don't actually need any qualifications to do that. I have a student who's learning hoop and some other assorted props. To that end, I bought a pair of cheap dance fans, with the trailing flags on them. They're endless fun, although they will absolutely kill your arms if you're not already in decent shape. I want them in every color. Can't justify buying any more of them until 1) I have some more money and 2) I'm safely ensconced in the new place and can have packages sent there from China, which is where they all come from. My student wants a set of rainbow ones for Pride next year.

Friday, August 12, 2016

It's like a million degrees in Boston right now, which is starting to put a crimp in my plans. I tried to go down to the dance studio today. The studio is un-airconditioned, and the heat index was 105°F. I realized that was a terrible idea about five minutes after I got on the train, so I returned a bunch of library books and bought some ginger ale at CVS and came home. Apparently I am the person those Excessive Heat Index warnings are for. Goddamn it.

I didn't bother changing out of my dance gear when I got back. Hot pants are not technically underwear. I don't need to put on any additional pants to leave my room, even if other people are home.

This was a lot easier before I realized that I wasn't supposed to be this uncomfortable when it's hot out. I always knew I did not like being out in the heat, and in fact I put my foot down when I was about twelve and flat refused to go on any family outings that involved being outside, but I didn't really think it was a sign something was wrong. I just fucking hated the weather. Now I'm pissed at the adults for not listening to my whinging enough to recognize I was complaining of, y'know, the beginnings of heat exhaustion.

And, retrospectively, irrationally, pissed at myself for putting up with it so much, especially at school. I could have just plunked down on the field and refused to do whatever stupid thing they were demanding I do before I fell over. What were they going to do, call my mother? Assuming they even had the correct phone number at that point -- there was a span of time when my mother called the phone company and demanded they change it about every six months, for reasons that I was never all that clear on, and then intentionally dragged her feet on changing it on any paperwork -- they knew as well as I did that my mother automatically hated The Man. All they would have accomplished was getting her to come down to the school, very angrily, and remove me from the premises.

Oh well. At least I have ginger ale now.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Holy shit, etizolam is brilliant.

I took a test dose at 9:30, on top of a full dinner. (The roommates who have a vested interest in my existence knew I had it, and were watching movies in the next room over when I did this. I'm not stupid.) It kicked in by 10. By 11:30, I was not exactly all the way back, but I could have taken a shower or cooked a pot of pasta without injuring myself or burning the house down. Was pretty much normal by the time I went to bed, only a wee ghost of a headache from the hypotension, and no hangover in the morning.

Welp. That's getting chucked into Ye Olde Box o' Nuclear Options, where the Sudafed lives. Moving generally leaves me two cocktails away from becoming the Simple Dog, so I'm probably gonna need it. An effective dose for me is somewhere between a quarter and a half a milligram, and it's diluted to a strength of ~0.1 mg/mL in a 20 oz water bottle. I'm, uh, not in any danger of running out. Ever, maybe.

For the record, I have no idea if it would pop positive on drug tests, but in my case it doesn't matter. One, it's not a chemical that would be on any kind of standard tox screen. Those are made to detect illegal drugs, and etizolam is not illegal. (Here, anyway. The feds have no opinion, but a few states have condemned it.) A GC/MS confirmation test would not show any controlled substances, because I haven't taken any. Two, if it cross reacted with anything, it would be with benzodiazepines. I still have a legitimately-prescribed Xanax bottle, containing two lonely tablets that I did not dare take, just in case something somehow got worse this time around. It's old, but it's mine, which means I am allowed to have it in my bloodstream.

(Phenibut would not show up as a drug on any kind of tox panel. The whole point of phenibut is that it metabolizes into GABA, a substance that your body produces naturally. It would present much the same problem as testing for naturally-occurring steroids like testosterone in athletes. Normal levels vary so much from person to person that in order to get caught, you have to have orders of magnitude more than expected circulating in your body, and I am not taking anywhere near that much. Again: Not stupid.)

Pleasingly ninja-like pharmacokinetics aside, this is a great relief. I knew that having to go beg for my meds every time I needed them was an added stressor, but I had no idea how much stress that was putting me under until I suddenly I didn't have to. It means I can do things like tell the next doctor I deal with that, while I am happy to come in and talk to them on a regular basis so they can see with their own two eyes that I am not becoming a degenerate junkie, I am really fucking done with therapy.

I have a few big problems with therapy, and the main one is that it solves a problem I do not currently have. This would not itself be an issue -- things that do not directly serve my interests are allowed to exist, after all -- if it were not so difficult to convince people that I do not secretly have the problem therapy does solve, and instead really do have the problem I keep goddamn telling them about.

Therapy, especially cognitive-behavioral and dialectical behavior therapy, is meant to get you to pick apart your thought process and unravel a lot of destructive assumptions you have forgotten to question. The idea is that if you stop thinking of yourself as a useless swot, you'll figure out how to stop being one. I'm being flip here; it really is a lot of useful introspection stuff, and I use it extensively on myself and on all the other people I profile here. If you know what it's about, you'll probably recognize it all over the entire rest of my blog. I've been doing it myself for years and years at this point, and it's brilliant for what it is, but if it fucking worked on the status panicus thing I would not be dragging my ass into a doctor's office asking for Xanax, would I?

Unfortunately, it does not do anything about my actual complaint, which is that when I am legitimately stressed out over legitimately stressful things, I start having panic attacks and can't make them stop. They are impervious to logic. CBT is basically fixing yourself via winning internal debates. The thing I am dealing with is an animal, at most a toddler, and does not so much win the argument as it just ignores you and your puny hyoo-man 'logic', and does whatever the fuck it wants anyway. You cannot reason with it; all you can do is hit it with a very large hammer.

I realize the therapist has noble intentions. I'd probably tell them whatever they asked about, whether it's helpful or not, if not for the fact that they are generally part of a 'treatment team' and potentially have some input into whether I get my goddamn medication or not. I police myself extremely carefully, lest I say anything that makes anybody re-think my prescriptions. I just end up managing my therapist like I manage anyone else I want to stay at arm's length, which is more work than anything. I realize this is the opposite of what a therapist is for, but A) I am really fucking tired of being given CBT homework when none of it helps, and B) getting the medication I need to function trumps showing off my mad self-analysis skillz, even to someone who might appreciate them and have some suggestions on creatively misusing them for fun and profit. I would skip the stress and refuse to go, except going to therapy sessions is one of the standard hoops you have to jump through to prove you're a Good Patient, who Tries Hard, and can be Trusted With Real Drugs, which is unfortunately what I need.

I didn't dare say 'no, quit asking, I'm done' before. Now I can.

I like this position a lot better.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

I learned very early on that authority figures were unreliable.

My parents like to tell the tale of my first steps. I was fairly old for a non-walker, by their reckoning -- something over a year -- and had shown no real interest in doing anything about it. The adults were sitting around someone's living room having adult conversations, when I, on my mother's lap, started squalling. I wanted one of my toys, which was across the room. Nobody got it for me. It evidently didn't occur to any of them to put me down and encourage me to stumble over there myself. They were busy talking. Eventually, I ran out of patience for this, squirmed free, walked all the way across the room to where my toy was, and plopped down to play without them. No stumbling, no falling. Just one day I didn't walk and the next day I did.

My mother thinks that story is cute. A lot of people do. I understand that parents can't -- and shouldn't -- drop everything to cater to their child's every whim, and that people like hearing stories of how kids are smarter and more capable than you think they are. It would indeed be very twee, if it were an isolated incident.

I hate that story. It made me twitch whenever someone told it in that 'haha, how adorable is this' tone. I think it's an early example of my family training me not to waste my breath telling people when I needed something, because I was just going to be ignored. No one's ever accused me of being a slow learner. I was less than two years old when I got tired of telling people what I wanted and getting no response whatsoever, and fixed the problem myself.

I've been doing more or less the same thing ever since.

It turns out, if you learn to take care of yourself early on, you get pretty good at it. You also learn how to go about it on the QT, if you live in a cage full of dysfunctional monkeys that get upset at you if you accidentally remind them that you need things sometimes. Getting caught in the poo-flinging crossfire is counterproductive, so you just never mention anything to anybody. I eventually got it down to the point where I never asked my mother for anything that didn't involve either a signature or money. I got bitched at a lot for the latter, but money for books, school supplies, clubs, and outside lessons was really the one thing my mother could figure out how to supply, so whatever it was generally got bought. My childhood lacked for a lot of things, but never for anything that could be ordered out of the Edmund Scientific catalog.

The former annoyed her so much that she eventually just told me to sign all the pointless paperwork myself. I don't like half-assing these sorts of things, so you can add 'forgery' to the list of life skills I probably shouldn't have. I used to do a bang-on imitation of Moggie's scrawl when it was my turn to answer the door for our food, not that the pizza guy ever even looked at it. Artistic talent is sorely underappreciated these days.

The flip side of that is, if you look like you can take care of yourself, everyone expects you to. Always. If there is a shortage of time and attention to go around, you are the one who is left to your own devices. This is not, per se, necessarily a bad thing. There are lots of times when you already know what you need to fix the problem you're having, because you've had to fix it before, and in order for someone else to be of any use there you'd have to explain the entire thing to them from start to finish. I've tried that, and about halfway through I start slipping into "Alice's Restaurant" and nobody notices, because it's a billion times the context they thought they wanted when they asked if they could lend a hand.

But.

When you do need someone else to do something for you, it generally strikes them like a bolt out of the blue. Most people do not understand that strong is not a permanent quality. Strength is a finite resource. If they see you as strong, then they have no idea why suddenly you want something from them when you've been taking care of it yourself all this time. It just does not compute.

I honestly don't know how this works with people who are less pig-headed than I am, but there seems to be an assumption that most humans will not work to capacity unless pushed, and that the proper response to, "I don't think I can do this by myself," is, "I believe in you! You can do the thing!" If, "I don't think I can do this by myself" translates to, "I am wibbling! Encourage me!" then what do I actually need to say to get across that I need something more than a cheerleader? It does not seem to occur to anyone that taking care of yourself is real work in the same way it never occurs to anybody that housework is real work. If only one person ever does any of it, eventually that one person is going to snap and need a vacation. No amount of saying 'thank you for doing the dishes' is going to make up for never getting any rest. Either someone else can take over the kitchen for a little while, or everyone else in the house has to live with plates and cups stacked up in the sink.

Authority figures are worse. I am mostly inured to bureaucracy at this point; I know it's not personal, because none of them are paying the slightest bit of attention to me. They can't have it in for me if they don't even know who I am. Doctors are apt to piss me off, though. I am especially tired of having to fight tooth and nail for more Xanax. Strangely enough, it turns out that if you make someone with anxiety issues beg for their anxiolytics every time she needs them, making it clear that whether she gets her medication or not is up to the whim of whoever has the prescription pad, it will generally make her more fucking anxious. Who ever would have thought?

I have rummaged through the internets and gotten myself a supply of etizolam, which is perfectly legal on account of it is technically not a benzodiazepine. (It's a thienotriazolodiazepine. Which is pretty much the same thing as a benzodiazepine, only with the non-functional end of the molecule knocked off and replaced with a different non-functional thing. American drug laws can be wicked stupid.) They sent me a bottle whose label says "not for human consumption", and a small syringe that says "for oral use only", which I found very amusing. Etizolam specifically is the thieno analogue of my good friend alprazolam, which is a triazolobenzodiazepine, with a short onset and short half-life.

Frankly, I think I like it better. The dosing is not quite as one-to-one as advertized; my alprazolam tablets are 0.25 mg, and I had to run the etizolam up to 0.4 mg before it properly hit me in the face. This is still a stupidly tiny amount of the stuff (most people take more like 1-2 mg, either of alprazolam or etizolam, to get the desired effect) and etizolam wears off faster. Seeing as 'amount of time spent annoyingly unable to do things' is my main beef with just about everything that works to abort panic attacks, I am quite pleased at this.

More interestingly, although repeated doses of etizolam produce the same tolerance to the sedative/hypnotic effect as benzos would, there are reports of people developing reverse tolerance to the anxiolysis. Exciting, if true. Even if my life is so shitty I wind up dosing myself daily for a few weeks, I don't like using benzos for sleep -- it's more being dragged into a tiny coma than it is falling asleep, and it's hard to wake up from -- so I'm not likely to raise my dose if that wears off, and if I need progressively less and less to activate the anxiolytic effects, that's kind of a ready-made taper right there.

(I'm sure I could run into some terrible side effects if I started swilling directly from the water bottle I have the stuff diluted in, but I don't actually have to try it myself. That's what Erowid is for. Erowid is a wonderful place that's equal parts FAQs full of real chemistry and footnotes pointing to papers in JAMA and NEJM, and trip reports from people who are dumb enough to buy a handful of mystery pills and immediately take nine of them. Filtering out the idiots who snorked down 10 mg and blacked out, the only warnings I see are essentially to treat it like any other CNS depressant -- dose carefully, don't binge, and for God's sake don't fucking drink on top of it. It's a legitimate prescription drug used outside of the US, with standard brands and tablet markings, so it seems pretty rare to not get what you paid for from someone who claims to be selling it.)

If anyone was wondering, yes, the DIY polypharmacy actually is a considerable improvement. The first time I was on this nasty merry-go-round, I was dealing with state healthcare in Arizona. I hit a roadblock trying to find myself a non-emergency doctor and basically sat down and cried for another six weeks, until it got bad enough to haul myself to the ER again, because I lacked the ability to do anything else. This time around, I tried to put the brakes on before it got to the point where I had to present myself to the emergency department, and when that didn't work, I got angry and figured out how to do an end run around the problem. If you've never been down to the point where you lacked the emotional reserves to realize that 'doctor is supposed to help me; isn't' is a failure of the system and not the way the world works, then you are lucky, and I hope you never find out.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

It transpires that I am in fact able to stop a state of panic attack without Xanax. It takes a dose of phenibut on the order of grams, plural, plus a handful of Benadryl. I suppose it is good that I now know this, in the general sense that it's always better to know something than to not know something, but I wish to avoid doing any reproducibility trials. Ever. The process is intensely unpleasant.

Firstly, I now understand why filmmakers depict the world from the point of view of a character who is under sedation as viewed through sort of an underwater-wobble. It's not exactly that, but that's probably the closest one can get with commonly-available video filters. It happens, as I discovered when I tried to read something, because your eyes forget how to properly coordinate a saccade. Instead of hopping systematically forward in sync, they lurch from point to point like a pair of poorly-coordinated drunks holding on to the opposite ends of a dog leash. Dissociatives give me 'chameleon eyes', where they don't quite want to point in the same direction, but I can fix that problem by just closing one of them. Each eye focuses and saccades just fine; the problem is solely parallax. There is no way to fix woobly tranquilizer vision.

Things are also periodically blurry, I presume because the muscle relaxant quality of GABAergics also relaxes the muscles used for focus and convergence. (Again, contrast dissociatives, where everything is perfectly sharp but seems unusually distant, as if you're viewing the world through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars.) It affects all the muscles of the body, which made my night really fucking difficult when I realized I probably ought to eat something. I did my best not to drop anything that would wake the rest of the apartment, but it was a challenge.

Thinking was like slogging through knee-deep mud. This made it difficult for me to self-monitor. One of the reasons I am generally pretty sanguine about being in altered states is that it is exceedingly difficult for anything to hammer the part of my brain that keeps track of whether any of the alterations are dangerous. That bit is in a well-shielded panic room, somewhere inconspicuous, in the back of the ops center. While it was not impossible for me to test ideas for the presence (or absence) of common sense, or to check my own vital signs, it was difficult enough to make me nervous. I forced myself to stay awake for a few hours until I was sure it had all long since kicked in, and nothing worse would happen if I went to bed.

Is this really the effect people are shooting for when they abuse sedatives? I enjoy being drunk as much as the next guy, and I even get why some people are entertained by the Ambien walrus, even if I don't think it sounds fun, but I do not understand the appeal of this at all. If anybody in the anonymous hordes out there would like to explain to me the point of recreational benzo use -- or if you were old enough and hip enough to have done Quaaludes back when those were a thing -- please leave a comment.

Phenibut also takes it own sweet motherfucking time to wear off. One of the reasons I find Xanax to be less annoying than everything else is that it nails me in face in like fifteen minutes, and is gone again in 4-6 hours. The half-life of phenibut is about five and a half hours, but much like LSD and serotonin, phenibut's effects on GABA receptors last several times longer. The actual tail-off is more like 1-2 days. I was considerably 'hungover' the morning after, even after knocking back some caffeine, and this morning when I woke up, I had developed some interesting twitches. The fasciculations per se seem to be benign, but it does suggest that coming off a dose that large has withdrawal symptoms. I know enough about GABAergics to treat those with smaller and smaller re-doses until they go away, just in case, but that is more than a little worrisome.

I am currently wearing a pair of the green colored contacts I bought, as hours and hours of hysterical crying got smudgy crap all over my normal pair. I had decided the greens would be relegated to occasion wear; while the lenses are physically comfortable enough, the screen print on the colored part borders on opaque, and the inner diameter of the iris ring is a bit small for me. There's some kind of internal refraction going on in bright sunlight, which is mildly distracting. But as it turns out, the too-small opening in the color band is useful for both glare control and camouflage when your pupils are still blown, and you have to go out and goddamn do things anyway. This is yet another 'lifehack' I really should not have fucking needed to figure out.

I find I am now rather angry. I am angry that clinics have to stop handling these kinds of drugs, because so many people lie to get them. I am angry that people have to lie to get them, because controls are so strict that you won't be issued any unless you say the exact right magic words to put down on the paperwork. I am angry that controls are so strict, because my government has what I think has legitimately become a collective paranoia about drugs that might conceivably under specific circumstances be considered fun. I am angry that this paranoia exists almost strictly because of the War On Drugs, a war which exists more to be ineffectively fought than to actually be won.

Really, I think I'm angry at Nancy Reagan. I find none of this desperate self-medication enjoyable in the slightest. Neither is it good for me. If I'd been issued another half-dozen tablets of Xanax, I could have come home, had an emergency four-hour coma, and be fine by now. Instead, I am tapering off of my gray-market Soviet drugs, still mainly a wreck, because of regulations that ultimately stemmed from her advisors thinking Just Say No would be a great career move.

I already have a lot of survival skills no person should ever need. I am fantastic at convincing people I am fine when I am decidedly not; I am great at talking people out of calling EMS; I am capable of ignoring surprisingly large amounts of pain and discomfort; I can locate, understand, and interpret journal articles pertaining to all manner of bizarre diseases in order to do differential diagnosis on myself. I learned all of these things, and a lot more, because the authority figures to whom I am supposed to be appealing for help have repeatedly failed me. Apparently, now is the part where I teach myself how to buy scheduled prescription drugs illegally over the internet, for exactly the same reason.