Manic Attack

December 2016

Screaming. Excruciatingly desperate. Dangerously loud. Pain expressed with every sound; helplessness released with every breath.

I sit up in my bed, surrounded by darkness. The sun starts peeking between the curtains of the bedroom. I look around, trying to figure out where the damn screeching is coming from. I was perfectly content pretending I was dead. Sleep is the only thing that relaxes me now. The only thing I crave within my aimless, and honestly pathetic, existence.

But this stupid bawling freak ruined everything.

I feel tears falling freely from my squinting eyes, down my hot cheeks, to the covers of the bed.

Lethal silence.

The screaming resumes. I cover my ears, begging the horrific sound to stop. I feel it piercing through my skin, so I start scratching, my arms and my chest and my back, trying to get it out.

Stop.

Stop.

STOP.

PLEASE. I CAN’T TAKE IT ANY LONGER.

I realize that the sound is coming out of me. And I cannot stop.

I don’t feel like me. I feel like a ghost, completely dissociated from me the human. I imagine myself getting out of bed, but I don’t feel my legs moving. I examine the room, in which I have resided for the past week, but recognize nothing. I suddenly stop screaming. I don’t know why I do, but I do. The pain remains. The kind of pain that rests deep within your soul. The kind of howling pain that, try as you might, you cannot claw out of your broken body. The pain that no one else sees, no one else feels. No one who hasn’t felt it can comprehend it. I truly believe I am alone. Not literally: my mom is in the kitchen, frantically throwing things into her purse. Keys, medication, breakfast, medication, water bottle, medication, medication, medication. All mine.

But though I am not literally by myself, I am alone in my brain. I cannot let anyone else in. My brain is too scary, too messed up for the real world. And try as I might, I can’t get it to just shut the hell up.

SHUT UP.

Ouch. Thinking hurts too much. My eyes widen, and I purse my lips. Now I feel nothing. Nada. Zilch. There it is again, my favorite escape mechanism: sudden nothingness.

My mom picks up her coat, hands me mine, and quietly pleads with me to leave this depressing basement. We’ve rented an Airbnb since my last really big panic attack, so that I can still go to school. The single room apartment is dark and has “just a little rodent problem,” the owner tells us after we’ve put in our deposit. But I cannot stand to be anywhere else. I barely get to class each day, and only because my mom drives me to and from.

I want to be locked away in this basement home indefinitely.

My mom drives us to CVS to pick up my latest medication refill.

Classic teen angst, right?

         The feelings will go away soon, right?

         Just be grateful for all that you have.

         Snap out of it.

         This is your fault.

I cover my ears, but the voices in my head are stubborn. They won’t leave me alone, no matter how hard I try to shush them.

Since my diagnosis, I have swum through a sea of drug and dose changes, but no luck. Yet. They continue to convince me—the therapists and the psychiatrists—that the pills will fix something, somehow, some day. They supposedly fix everyone else. So despite my lack of results, I take my meds religiously. Because I want that something, somehow, some day, so damn badly. I want a taste of normalcy. I want to experience happiness again.

I don’t know if I will experience happiness again.

I don’t know if I can wait for happiness to knock on my door and invite me back into its warm, loving grasp.

I don’t know if I have ever really experienced true happiness before. Ever.

I think I give up.

After glancing at my swollen, pitiful face, my mom decides to run inside CVS herself. She is unable to hide her utter confusion. And fear. She promises to be back “as soon as possible.” She grabs five empty orange bottles, all with perfectly white tops, all of which attempt to fix my brokenness:

 

  • 40mg of Prozac, an SSRI antidepressant, which means it keeps serotonin in my brain longer, and is the main mode of attack for my depression, sans success thus far
  • And 25mg of Oleptro, an SARI antidepressant, which also keeps serotonin in my brain longer, but most importantly is the only reason I sleep at night, and this sleep is vital to my existence, and I understand why this drug is highly addictive, because blacking out at this point is highly addictive
  • And 25mg of Atarax, an antihistamine, which should put me to sleep but does not, and which should calm my anxiety but does not
  • And 50mg of Elavil, a tricyclic antidepressant, which theoretically prevents headaches
  • And 10mg of Rizatriptan, which constricts blood vessels in my brain to relieve migraines, but I am not supposed to take this drug right now, because it is dangerous with my other meds, and can induce serotonin syndrome

 

Serotonin syndrome…what did my psychiatrist say about serotonin syndrome? Oh right. Serotonin syndrome is this very, very bad, not good, bad, toxic range of symptoms that occur due to, somewhat obviously, too much serotonin in the brain. It is a life-threatening condition at its worst, but its warning signs mimic the symptoms I’ve presented for months, so I do not think I have too much serotonin.

I thought I didn’t have enough serotonin.

Because if I had enough, I would be happy.

Right?

The panic attacks prove it, but I still do not know that serotonin syndrome is officially at full force.

I shake and my heart races and my blood pressure skyrockets and my pupils permanently dilate, but this is all just part of my day, everyday. I am just crazy, and I don’t know why, and I don’t know how, but I know I am. Don’t blame the drugs; only blame me.

The night before, I swallowed 4 Atarax, 2 Oleptro, and an Elavil in a desperate attempt to sleep, perhaps forever. I would have taken more, but my mom closely monitors my medication consumption, so that’s that. But despite my drug concoction, I tossed and turned all night and shouted and bawled all morning.

My mom knows that something is terribly wrong, even worse than usual, so after CVS she drives me to my therapist. I feel defeated; even my mom cannot console me. I am a useless daughter, more of a struggle than a light in my parents’ life. My guilt is too powerful.

I repeat my dad’s words like a mantra. “The only thing we have to do is keep you safe.”

But that doesn’t stop my brain from screaming.

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Misdiagnosed With Depression: Panic Attacks Part 2

November 2016

I am one month into my antidepressants when my psychiatrist tells me she has not seen any improvement in my “condition.” She doubles my dose of Prozac to 40mg, which, by the way, induces a hell of a lot of serotonin into one little tiny depressed body. I glare at her. I’m pissed that I’m not fixed yet. I’m pissed that she hasn’t fixed me yet. I stomp out of her office, like a little kid, and head to the bar, like a big kid. My friend and I each order a pitcher of hard cider, and I try my best to drink away my anger. My impatience. My frustration. My resentment. And, secretly, my fear. But I would never admit to feeling that feeling. That feeling is weak. That feeling is vulnerable. I am not weak. I am not vulnerable.

We down three glassfuls apiece. Then I leave to celebrate one of my sorority’s sister’s birthdays. By now the up of my intoxication cancels out the low of my not-fixed-yet-ication. I smile widely, feeling as good as ever, getting excited because my sorority sister does not know we are throwing her a surprise party, but here we are, throwing her a surprise party! Surprise! I cannot taste anything that I put into my mouth anymore. I have a cup of flavored liquor that someone keeps refilling. Maybe I’m the someone who keeps refilling. Potāto, Potäto. I cannot see straight, but I don’t care. I am just having some good, clean, college fun. I haven’t felt this good, clean, college in forever.

We hide, red solos in hand, and wait for a knock on the door.

My sorority sister shows up at her apartment, where we are all waiting, if you’ve forgotten, and the festivities begin. I am falling all over the place—wearing heels wasn’t the best idea—but someone always picks me back up. I am swirling and twirling my body, to match the swirling and twirling of my brain.

Until…

Until?

Until I feel my heart speeding up. Until I feel my stomach clenching tighter and tighter. Until I feel the impending doom.

I thought I was safe.

Just for tonight.

But everything hurts.

Everything hurts just as vividly, just as intensely, just as fully and totally as the first time.

I run out the door and try to close it behind me, hoping no one sees me leave. I don’t want to ruin the party. I stare at the walls outside the apartment, feeling dizzy and tired and completely hopeless. My head aches, and I wait for the tears to come, but my face remains dry. I keep staring.

One by one, people come out to check on me. I wave them away, “I’m fine I’m fine,” but a few are persistent. Someone picks me up off the floor and takes me home. I shake in her arms.

I am sat down on my bed. My shoes are removed. My shirt is pulled up over my head. I am put in pajamas and laid down. My covers consume me. Advil and a water bottle are placed on my bedside table. But I cannot stop shaking.

I call my parents over and over again, I need their help, but it is midnight, and their phones are off. My friend rubs my back and plays with my hair and tells me it is all right; they will call me back first thing in the morning. The tears finally fall. Hard. A torrential downpour. The Great Flood.

I cannot breathe.

I cannot see.

I cannot think.

I cannot exist.

I shake and shake until the alcohol consumes me, and I pass away into heavy, inky black oblivion.

The next morning, before I wake up out of my hung-over slumber, my parents call me back, over and over again, but it is 8:00am, and my phone is off. Eventually I wake up, and eventually I answer my mom. After about five minutes of my exhausted, unintelligible moans, she decides that she will come up to school to be with me, no matter how long the trek, no matter how long she needs to stay. She leaves our home, and—tick tock, tick tock—14 hours later she arrives.

We live out of a hotel room, textbooks and moldy cheese and empty water bottles strewn about. I feel like a pig, but I cannot return to my apartment without anxiety taking over my fragile existence. Just the thought of the memories made there induces a death-defying panic attack. I become sick to my stomach, my body preparing myself for my next dreadful thought. I quietly cry and pull at my hair, begging my brain to stop.

I attend most of my classes now, but only to appease my mom. Despite my mental “condition,” I excel in most of my exams and papers, using them as an excuse to hyper-concentrate and forget the rest of my miserable life. But when a panic attack hits in the middle of a test, it’s game over. A’s and F’s and nothing in between. I’m stupid for the first time in my life.

*****

Thanksgiving break comes around, but I only use it to further exhaust my mind. At the beginning of the semester, the crazy part of me decided to take ridiculously difficult classes. And the crazier part of me told me I could succeed in all of them simultaneously. Chemistry, Neurobiology, Research Ethics, and Microeconomics are a deadly combination at my school. I drown.

Throughout my “break”, I ignore most of my extended family members’ politically incorrect comments and questions about my “sickness.” Hesitation, confusion, and discomfort fill the air.

On my last day at home, I decide to see a girl who never fails to make me feel better: my 15-year-old, full of spunk and sass, extra chromosome and extra loving Baby-Girl. She is a short statured African American high schooler with Down syndrome, but, more importantly, she is also the love of my life. We met when I was 17, during my first summer working as a camp counselor for children with a wide variety disabilities and illnesses.

Ironically, for the past four years, I’ve been an avid advocate (say that three times fast) for children with autism, Down syndrome, and other developmental delays. I enjoy explaining to people how much neuroscientists and psychologists are learning about the brains of people with mental differences. “Mental health is an exciting and rapidly growing field!” “Now there are brain scans that prove many disabilities exist!” “We are diminishing the stigma!”

I try to tell myself what I always tell my kids: you are different, not less. Different, not less. Different, not less. Never less.

Except my kids are cute and resilient and I’m just depressed.

I wonder if I’ve always been so interested in brains because deep down I knew something was very wrong with mine.

I take my Baby-Girl out for a late lunch. My phone dies, so we go on an adventure to Wal-Mart to pick me out a colorful car charger.

As we walk to the cash register, hand in hand, I get a text that sends me into a panic. Out of nowhere, but not surprisingly at this point, I choke and reach for my throat. My breathing ceases. I take Baby-Girl back to my car, so I can cry silently, blasting music so she doesn’t notice.

I now have tangible proof that something is very wrong with me. My Baby-Girl always cheers me up. Always. Except not today. She giggles and plays with the radio, and I try to crack a smile and a few laughs, to hide the further jagged fracturing of my shrinking heart. But I keep the lights off, so she doesn’t see the teardrops pouring down my face.

After dropping Baby-Girl off, I drive tens of twenties of miles too fast down the interstate, not caring if I crash, and subconsciously hoping I will. I get home and cannot speak. As my family sits at the dinner table, I do not touch my food. I am trying to go back to nothingness. It is a futile attempt. My parents see me devolving and suggest I go to my room, so my brother doesn’t witness the environmental disaster that I am. But my screams echo down the hall, not fooling anyone, a tornado rapidly destroying everything in its presence.

My dad comes in and holds me. He tells me that the only thing we have to do is keep me safe. I don’t have to go back to school. I don’t have to do anything. I can be nothingness for a while, if I want to, if I need to.

He mentions a psychiatric institution for the first time.

I just cry.

In the morning I do not feel better. My mom resolves to come to the airport and back to school with me again. My dad will fly to me later, to continue babysitting me, so I can finish my final exams and come home.

They tell me that I don’t even have to finish my exams.

They tell me I can stop at any time.

I suck in air, the chill flowing through my mouth, down my throat, to my lungs, waking me up.

This chill is the only reminder that I am still alive.