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 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.