While browsing Instagram one afternoon in Paris, I came across a post with a message I truly needed to hear in that moment (thank you so much, Aggie). That message would become my mantra as I floundered in the months to come: “Everything will be ok in the end. If it’s not ok, then it’s not the end.”
I came back home, and for a little while things were mostly better. Long Uber rides and subways notwithstanding, I was able to function and live my life as normally as I always had. But day by day, the anxiety crept back in. Bit by bit, it took chunks out of my world, shrunk it until I could barely leave my apartment. Something dark and draining had clambered onto my shoulders, getting heavier and heavier.
My passions and interests jumped ship first, hoping to lighten the load. I stopped browsing and posting on Instagram and Facebook. I took less and less photos and eventually stopped altogether. I barely looked at clothes, let alone bought them. I stopped singing or even listening to music because the songs that once brought me joy now rang hollow and sad in my ears. I became an empty shell, existing with no spark or vibrancy.
It wasn’t enough. The weight kept growing and grinding me down. Eating became the next casualty; one morning all I managed was half a croissant before I had to throw the rest away. I started trembling at varying levels of severity—sometimes just in my fingertips, sometimes through my entire body. Small everyday responsibilities were the next to suffer, falling by the wayside or going neglected altogether. Finally, even work became onerous. I was fortunate in the sense that I worked from home with my husband as my sole coworker. But being the second half of our duo meant that I was gradually slacking on a significant deal of responsibility, something I couldn’t abide. If nothing more, I would do my work—all of it—even if it killed me.
The way this reads, you would think this degradation happened over the span of months. In fact, it happened in the span of weeks. By mid-December, I was staring at myself in the mirror, prodding at my face, unable to recognize the broken ghost staring back at me. Where had I gone? I wanted the old me back, desperately, but couldn’t begin to imagine how to retrieve her.
It took my convulsing in bed in the middle of a workday for me to finally accept that something needed to be done. So I went for a checkup to rule out any physical explanations for this inexplicable change in me (endless thanks to my rockstar parents who not only picked me up from home that morning but also dropped me back off that evening). I would have welcomed a physical diagnosis; that would have been a lot easier to treat and/or cure. But my lab work came back and, save for a severe Vitamin D deficiency, I was in good physical health. I despaired, for the all-clear meant that this puzzle was going to be all the more complicated to solve.
I was able to see a psychiatrist that same day. After a nerve-wracking initial consultation, he prescribed me the lowest dose of Lexapro and instructed me to start at half a tab for the first two weeks. Fear and stubbornness would keep me from starting the medication for another couple of weeks.
Even after I started the medication, things would only get worse before they got better. My mom came to stay with us for a while and see me through the worst of it, but even her presence couldn’t keep the nightmare at bay. More and more, a veil would fall down over my eyes and cloud the world in such a way that everything looked terrifying. I was scared to be alone, which of course took a toll on both my husband and my mother who couldn’t possibly dedicate every waking moment to me. Silence buzzed in my ears like so many terrifying insects so that I needed constant sound to drown it out. I went on prolonged, hysterical crying jags with no explanation. When I wasn’t pacing in a frustrated frenzy, I sat still as a statue, frozen in terror.
Sleep deteriorated, which prompted a second prescription. A panic attack earned me another. I resisted at every step of the way but eventually gave in because, as my mom aptly pointed out, what the hell could be worse than the hell I was already roasting in?
I had no words for this crushing condition that had devastated me. But I did have a visual that approximated it.
It was the scene that scarred a generation: a young boy leading his white horse through the dark muck of a swamp. The horse, Artax, comes to a sudden stop and the boy, Atreyu, turns back and gives a gentle tug on the reins. He tries leading his steed in a different direction to no avail. And then, horrified, he realizes that the horse is sinking. He shrieks and pulls and pleads, all for naught as the horse continues to sink. The boy cries his companion’s name one final time before the screen fades to black.
This was the inside of my skull. Me, sinking into the mire, and at the same time me, yanking on the reins begging that I not give up.
Of course there was the guilt. Guilt that I couldn’t hold up my end of our business operations. Guilt that I was keeping my husband trapped at home with me because I was in no condition to go out. Guilt over the immense sacrifices my mom made to spend days at a time taking care of me. And there was the endless, maddening chorus in my head of why why why WHY? Why was this happening to me? My circumstances hadn’t changed in any way, shape, or form. I hadn’t been through any kind of trauma or experience that could explain or justify this illness.
I could understand why Jayme Closs, who was abducted from her home where her parents lay dead and escaped her abductor after months of captivity, would need medication and therapy. I could understand why a victim of rape or assault would need medication and therapy. I was none of those things by any stretch of the imagination. So why?
To be continued.
Act Three: …And Back Again >>
If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 800-273-TALK (8255) or through chat available 24/7. https://www.usa.gov/features/recognize-the-signs-of-suicide-and-find-help