I never really know where to write these things. It feels to me like I’ve been struggling for so long with my health that I’ve just whined already to everyone more times than is reasonable. I don’t want to be that friend. I am not that friend. I also know that, when I feel this urge to speak, I am not feeling well.
So, who knows. Perhaps someone on here will be able to relate. Or, perhaps, it may help someone who knows a friend like me and feels lost as to how to handle them, or care about them.
It all started last year in March with a burnout. One morning, I woke up unable to move or speak. Not even agonizing pain in my kidney got me up to go to the bathroom. I had to screech my lungs out, which at some point I could, to get my husband back upstairs where our bedroom is, so he could pull me up and lead me. This is the point when you know you’re not, somehow, faking things for yourself.
Fast-forward to a few weeks ago. In the meantime, I changed doctors, as the previous one was adamant to diagnose me with depression and a drinking problem — neither of which I have. I dropped a lingering, 20-year old depression last year when I realized I had an accumulation problem — events, thoughts, emotions. Without realizing, I had never been mentally stable. Now I am. Yet, that day, I found myself accidentally almost-stabbing my husband in the kitchen while I was putting away a knife in the dishwasher.
It sounds very dramatic, and it is. It also sounds mentally unstable; however, it isn’t — not for me. In that moment, I was hyper-stressed due to three days’ bad sleep and couldn’t stand the smallest of shrill sounds. He made one next to me. In reflex, my hand launched to swat him… and I also forgot I had the knife in my hand. That realization came a fraction of a second later. I managed to somehow deviate my reflex and not hurt anything or anyone.
This is the point when you realize: something is horribly wrong with me.
But I, being a writer and all-around analyst and psychologically inclined, keep my head cool and try to determine what happened. What triggered. Fatigue, clearly; the burnout was caused by chronic lack of sleep. Or so it looked at the time. Nowadays, I find myself doubting that’s all it is. After yesterday, my doubts are turning to certainties.
I am a volunteer now at a local organization that tends to youths who drop out of school prematurely and that gives them a legal alternative. Yesterday, there were no youths, so, as I was in a social mood and had slept quite well, I decided to drive the twenty minutes over to my best friend’s (who, let it be said, suffers from her health as well). We played Boom Blox for fours hours and made great plans for the next week. The drive to and from was relaxed enough, as I am a chill driver.
And, driving home, when I was a street away from my house, I felt the telltale signs of what I call a stress attack: sudden tension in my entire body, followed by anxiety. I told myself out loud: “how is it possible to feel stressed and anxious when the road’s clear, I’m almost home, and there is nothing around to actually stress me out?” I had no answer for that. The stress also didn’t relent. I got home, parked, came inside, and then stress mutated into a sort of shaking, violent compulsion.
A compulsion for what? I don’t even know. What I do know is that, when I demanded my husband moved out of the way so I could get to the couch and he didn’t move, the pressure inside built to screeching heights. That’s when the danger alert in my brain shuts down and all that remains is the frantic need to not be stopped in my momentum. I shoved him hard out of the way. I heard him saying to be careful because of the (glass) coffee table, but I couldn’t be. I needed him out of the way. If I had to throw him out of my way (and had the strength to do it), I would have.
I can’t begin to explain how terrifying being out of control like this is. It’s like watching yourself act; your rationale tells you to stop, that you’re being crazy, yet its voice is negligible compared to the force of the compulsion. It’s fairly relatable to the day I couldn’t get up: my mind was willing, but not my body. My doctor doesn’t seem to have a clue what ails me. But, it looks like I’ll be seeing a few specialists in different branches in the coming months. I’m not letting this rest. It needs to have a solution. Especially as I had one single day this year, back in April, when I woke up and didn’t feel my nerves shaking from wake-up to sleep-in. This means that peace is possible. I just don’t know how.
And I write and share this because we live in an age where mental illnesses are accepted as real illnesses, unlike when I had my depression back in ’95, at 14–15 years old. Mental illness is a dysfunction in the brain. I am fully aware of it now, which allows me to view my erratic behaviour from a guilt-free, neutral perspective, and warn people that I may act in abnormal ways; I feel them trigger, recognize the warning signals, and can then pull myself out of the situation without further explanation. But I also realize I’m in an exceptional position where I’m so aware of myself that I can notice all these details, and that I’m self-confident enough to actually openly speak of my issues. Too often, invisible illnesses are treated as the person just being an ass. And it’s true: the behaviour is such.
In moments of calm like now, I can’t understand anymore what gets over me. I lose touch with that part of my reaction range (which is a good thing). I’m not afraid of it happening, but remain aware it can. I’ve done all I could, on my own, to try and turn things around, and am out of ideas. Thus, I let go. It’s up to the professionals now. I can only find coping mechanisms to prevent any actual harm getting done until the issue is found and treated.
So this post is also a plight towards the people who don’t feel well, who act in ways that they know aren’t who they really are.
Don’t suffer alone.
Talk to people — friends, families, even friendly strangers. Be honest. Express your pain through creative means. Just, don’t keep it all bottled up inside, because that does more harm than good. I do understand not wanting to burden loved ones with your issues, but the people who truly care about you want to know what you’re going through — and help, if they can. The first step is deciding you can’t keep living this way, and hanging onto your hopes and dreams and your true desires for your life so to not drown in a vat of despair. Fear only strengthens the symptoms. Don’t keep hurting yourself over the fear of what others might think of you.
This is also a plight towards the people who know someone — friend, family, colleague — that shows erratic, aggressive behaviour. They may not be just another asshole. As unappealing as these people may seem, remember that people who are angry are people who are hurting. You’re not the cause of their anger. But perhaps, if you’re as samaritanly inclined as I am, you may well be able to help them get a grip back on their life.