It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

I’ve been saying for about a week now that I “went on vacation”, but I didn’t say where, I didn’t sound excited about it and there were no pictures afterward.

That’s because “went on vacation” is a euphemism I made up to hide the fact that I committed myself. (My parents told my professors and other non-family members that I was simply “in the hospital”, but “vacation” is what came to me, so that’s what I went with.)

On Sunday, October 23, I had a panic attack. Except I had no idea that that’s what it was. My heart started beating faster, I had a hard time catching my breath (it felt like I’d gone for a brisk walk) and I was flushed. I tried for a while to calm down, but nothing helped–not my dad’s suggestion of taking a deep breath, nor lying down (I tried both the couch and my bed). I finally put a call in to the hospital and asked the receptionist (a former coworker of mine) if she’d page the doctor on call. Twenty minutes, no answer. So I went to the emergency room.

I won’t go into the finer details, but I had an EKG, a blood draw and an IV. (And found out that I have an “evil twin” out there somewhere, but that’s another story entirely). The doctor decided that I did indeed have a panic attack, had a nurse give me some Xanax and sent me home with a ‘scrip for twenty more.

Well, in case I’ve never mentioned it before, I fall apart when I get sick. I cry when I have so much as a cold (though it usually takes a few days) and I cry even harder when I learn I have a chronic disease. And since this was my second chronic disease in six weeks, I cried the moment the doctor stepped out of the room.

A little medical history sidetrack here:

  • Lactose intolerant: self-diagnosed at puberty [11]. (I kept having to run to the bathroom when we visited places like Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Plus my mom has it.)
  • Depression: self-diagnosed at twelve when I announced I wanted to commit suicide, but confirmed by one of those written tests when I was eighteen.
  • IBS: diagnosed at eighteen
  • Acid reflux: diagnosed on September 12 after a trip to the emergency room. (I thought I was having an allergic reaction, but when I described all my recent symptoms to the doctor, he said I had GERD.)
  • Anxiety disorder: diagnosed on October 23. (My doctor mentioned it in combination with depression at my new patient visit back in June, but since I didn’t have a panic attack until the 23rd, I’m counting the later date.)

Two chronic illnesses in six weeks, on top of everything else I already had, made me feel like my body hated me. It made me feel like I was falling apart at age twenty-five and there was nothing I could do. I wanted to curl up and die–or at least take my personality out of my body and send it on vacation for a few weeks, at which point I could come back and everything would be all right.

I knew as early as Monday night (24) that I wanted to commit myself. It wasn’t just because I had another panic attack when the power went out that afternoon, it wasn’t just feeling like I wanted to curl up and die…it was because I also wanted twenty-four-hour medical care. It seemed like every little twitch in my body since September 12 made me worried that I was having another physical problem and I was starting to feel like I couldn’t go through life without a nurse or an EMT or another medical professional constantly by my side to check me out. I knew that by committing myself, I’d get exactly what I wanted–help with my panic attacks (I figured the depression would go back to the back burner once the attacks were out of control) and nurses looking after me every minute of every day.

So the next day, I did it. I talked it over with my therapist and I was in Grand Rapids by 7:30 that evening and snug in my bed by quarter to twelve. (Processing takes a long time…be aware of that, whether you go voluntarily or involuntarily.)

I got what I wanted. I didn’t really feel like the classes helped me and I didn’t get individual counseling or tips on how to fend off the panic attacks, but I got medication that allows me to go through the day and not worry every minute that I might have another attack (despite the fact that it makes me tired). Better than having nurses just footsteps away, I had people checking on me around the clock. (It takes some getting used to, having someone peek in on you every five to fifteen minutes while you’re trying to sleep and it’s kind of annoying having someone check on you periodically when you’re skipping class in favor of a shower, but…) More than that, I got other people. I got new friends ranging from 18-65 who were also suffering from depression and anxiety. Yes, there were professional staff members that we were assigned to in case we needed to talk (and came to us twice a day to have a talk), but there’s nothing quite like sitting down next to a twenty-one-year-old who has some of the same problems you do and just pouring out your heart.

It was hard leaving. Part of me was like, “Yes! I can go back to having my razor and my conditioner and my shoes and everything else!”, but there was another part of me that was scared to leave the nest and felt very much like a young bird who wasn’t sure enough of her wings to fly. But it’s been a week and I’ve made it okay so far. And I’ll keep trying to make it; knowing that if I ever hurt so bad again, I can always go back.

And I’ll tell you a secret: when they give you your life back after a week, you’ll have no idea what to do with it.

(Or at least I didn’t.)

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