Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Unquiet Mind

The Lake Project 20, 2002 by David Maisel via Slate

My mind is not ordinary by any stretch of the imagination. I like it that way. I like being known as an innovator, a quick study, a speed reader, a problem-solver, an exceptional student. In the peculiarity of our American society, it seems an honor to be different. But what is a blessing can also be a curse.

Looking back, I see the trail of breadcrumbs that led to this current state-- the breakdowns here, the bullying there, the panic always around the corner, the family history that nearly ensured this day would come, the crises and overwhelming despair, the social isolation. The diagnosis came in high school: the near-blackouts, the chest pain, the racing heart, the dizziness, the shortness of breath were all in my head, kind of. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder. I went to counseling and kept clipping along, as well as one does in high school.

College was both better and worse. All started out well-- the heady independence fostered a spirit of adventure. But the anxiety kept creeping back in, sneaking under the door and through the hallway to knock quietly on my bedroom door. The panic attacks came more frequently and more severely. In my junior year, while on a research program in Denton, Texas, I realized that I was afraid to leave my room. I went back to therapy. It didn't help much. I blamed it on upcoming nuptials. The wedding came and went and still the terrors continued. I cried in the kitchen, in the bedroom, on the bathroom floor. I lost it in parking lots and parked cars and crowded parks. I had panic attacks about having panic attacks. My reckless, reeling mind nearly stole my husband's with it as it ran away. Living with crazy takes a tremendous toll.

I finally "copped out." My primary care physician prescribed 10 milligrams a day. I took them faithfully. The first two weeks were horrific- near-constant nausea, an even greater sense of pulsing anxious energy, more tears at the thought that things could indeed be worse.

And then the seas grew calm. The listing ship righted itself, and suddenly, for the first time in a long time, I could begin to pump the water out. I had somehow returned to the land of the normal, the place where a day could be spent in peace without panic hijacking the brain. This new lightness felt like bliss.

Mental illness, like sailing the sea or hiking in the Colorado Rockies, is still a bit unpredictable. An unexpected storm rolls in from time to time and you find yourself pitching to and fro or struggling to find the trail in a blanket of blowing snow. Living with mental illness requires an extra vigilance, preparation, and care, so that one does not find herself once again lost at sea. It is a journey that those who know not its ways often struggle to understand. And so here I will reflect, and write, about my unquiet mind.

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