PANIC! at the Hospital

Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows that I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety issues for a while. I’ve written about my most recent experience with depression and I’m perfectly comfortable with talking about how debilitating depression can be for someone who’s normally really anti-depressed. Well, now there’s the anxiety aspect of depression. Depression and anxiety normally go hand-in-hand. Family members of mine deal with both as well. Anxiety is very nearly the polar opposite of depression.

When I’m depressed, I don’t feel like doing anything. Heck, I don’t feel like anything. When anxiety strikes, it’s the exact opposite. I feel everything and I’m feeling it hard. My mind is racing with thoughts, my heart’s beating becomes much more noticeable, every thought, every conceit within my mind starts exploding in unison. My stomach roils.

That was a feeling I had managed to evade for two years until Friday night. Friday night, after a particularly disappointing couple of weeks at work, I went to temple for Shabbat services, as per usual. Not long after I got there, I noticed something was wrong. I felt twitchier than normal – so, pretty damn twitchy. I kept feeling like I needed to wash my hands. Sweat started running down my forehead. My heart’s beating was, all of a sudden, a noticeable action. My brain started sending out panic signals: DANGER, WILL ROBINSON, DANGER! And all of a sudden it felt like my life was starting to replay itself in my brain, that my mind was preparing itself for something really, really terrifying – and that in itself was terrifying, because nothing *felt* wrong. I could breathe normally, I didn’t have chest pains; the basics of my physiology signaled nothing wrong. However, my brain decided to reject data as presented and went into a goddamn tizzy.

Services have started and I’m not making it through songs. My mind is jumping from point a to point b – and not giving me a moment to rest. It is the worst feeling I’ve had in a while. And with 95% certainty, I knew I was having a panic attack. But I wasn’t entirely sure and the uncertainty scared the hell out of me. So I left services with the intention of going to the hospital. And as I started driving, I began relaxing. My brain slowed down. Stuff started feeling under control again. My stomach chilled out.

So I went home.

By that point, I was incredibly hungry. I laid down in bed and waited a while, to see when and if my stomach would come off of its ledge. Gradually it did and I was on the verge of actually sleeping. But instead I had some leftover chicken and beans. Not 10 minutes after I finished eating, the upwelling of panic and anxiety’s strange mania returned with a fury that I’ve never dealt with before. Confronted with an anxiety attack the likes of which I hadn’t dealt with since I was in college, I paced.

What do I do? I know what’s going on, but being alone here is scaring the hell out of me. I don’t want to be alone. I went to the hospital.

And when I got to the hospital, a new feeling: guilt. Seeing everyone that needed obvious help made me feel guilty for going to the emergency room. There was nothing visibly wrong with me, I had done nothing to injure myself, I was not a risk to anyone. But there I was, surrounded by those in need a lot of help. I got triaged in and set into a bed very quickly. And there I was seen in short order by a nurse and intake specialist, both of whom were warm and very nice. My mind let up a bit, I started calming down a bit. Interacting with people who cared about my well-being at that exact moment, not lying about how awful things had been at work and the pressure I felt about whether or not I was constantly screwing up and then the added pressure of whether or not I felt like the job satisfies me. I had no reason to lie, I had no reason to put on a façade that everything was okay.

Everything was not okay. At the moment, lots of stuff was okay: I wasn’t having a heart attack, a stroke, I wasn’t dying. But mentally, my mind threw in the towel. But I was lucky. In addition to the doctor and nurses who cared for me, my friends checked in on me. Rabbi sent me an email asking how I was and other members of the temple called and emailed. Sometimes when it feels like you’re at your most isolated, you find out that the opposite is true. I think the difficult thing for me is to be honest with my feelings to others – that feeling of being afraid that it just sounds like you’re complaining without looking for a silver lining.

So, here’s the silver lining: friends. People who will listen and straighten you up and give you a kick in the pants. Here’s another silver lining: everyone is given a mind with capacity for thought and reason. We have the capacity for change.

Maybe it’s time for change.

-R

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