When I got to high school, I experienced my first panic attack while awake. It was the exact same sensations as the nightmares I'd always had. It hit out of the blue and I felt this crushing weight on my entire body, causing my heart to feel like it was going to jump straight out of my chest, my lungs were suddenly made of steel. I got severe tunnel vision and all of the periphery blacked out. My hearing had the same quality- minor sounds like the clock ticking or wind blowing- became so ear shatteringly amplified I thought my head might explode. And the attacks continued more or less exactly like that all through high school. Some days I wouldn't have one at all, some days I'd have up to 3. Some days they were so bad I'd actually pass out. I remember waking up one morning and getting struck so hard by one- I went to the window to open it to try to get some air to breath and the next thing I knew, I was lying on the floor with a bruised shoulder.
Anxiety disorder sufferers also often deal with periods of depression, and I'd say mine started around 16 years old. With depression, I'd feel this overwhelming uselessness. Meaninglessness. Worthlessness. I was completely apathetic about myself and it led to a lot of very destructive behavior. I was bulimic for about a year and a half. I realize most girls in high school or college suffer an eating disorder as a result of warped body image. I had the self-esteem of any 16 year old girl, but I'd attribute my bulimia more to a grasping at some feeling of control rather than to weight issues. When you are dealing with untreated anxiety disorders and depression, you feel this dissonance between what's occurring in your life and how you react emotionally. To me, "normal" was having an emotion as a result of some event that happened. Someone gave me a present therefore I was happy. My pet rabbit died, therefore I was sad. But my emotions didn't work that way- I'd be sad for weeks straight and have absolutely no idea why. No reason to be. And to be cognizant of this made matters worse. I had this desperate feeling that I wasn't in control of myself- my thoughts, feelings, behavior. But blaming this for my bulimia isn't necessarily accurate either. It's part of it, but everything to do with these disorders is so muddied and inter-tangled and unclear, that I can't say "if a then b" definitively. Just like my vicodin addiction, starting smoking and and wreckless partying and mdma abuse, I can't say that I did this to myself so that I could have something I felt control over. Because I knew they were harmful and I knew it wasn't good to do, and I didn't always want to do it. I might have started these behaviors because it was something I could control, but I quickly lost control in all of these cases to addictive behavior. I remember my senior year of high school, waking as the sun was rising, finding myself on some mattress in some parking lot in the warehouse district in Oakland.
When I went away to college, I decided it would all stop. All of it. The panic attacks, the abusive behavior, the smoking, the drugs. I was leaving it all behind and starting fresh. And for a while that worked. The depression was the first to come back. By sophomore year of college, I was having panic attacks again. By graduation, I was suffering such frequent and severe panic attacks, that I was nearly housebound, leaving only to go to work most days. I would have attacks in grocery stores, at the beach that was at the end of my block, at the coffee shop. I was terrified to leave my home for fear of having an attack in public. When our lease was up, I decided that moving to college almost cured me, maybe I should try for a bigger move.
I found myself in New York. 3000 miles away from my problems, I thought. I had money anxiety, but didn't think it was the same problems because they were sensible anxieties- I was still trying to settle in and find a job and make friends. For the first few years, I was fine. Then the depression came back. I thought it was just winter blues, but it lasted nearly 2 years. Waking everyday to feel like my veins dripped with a thick, black tar. Wanting to hurt myself and everyone that crossed my path. Hating everything everyone said. There's so much more intense and dark emotion that I'm not really sure how to explain, but it sets in and doesn't go away. I had my first severe panic attack since moving to New York late in 2004. The next January, I started seeing a therapist. I was terrified of being trapped again in the life that I had suffered through for so long, living in constant fear of myself and not knowing how to make it stop. His sessions helped, but they stopped. Then I lost my health insurance and now I'm dealing with general anxiety disorder with panic disorder and episodes of depression without any professional help. It's hard and it's terrifying and it's a struggle I'll deal with for the rest of my life.
I don't want to be the most fucked up. I have no desire to be the most disturbed or the most broken or the one with such severe problems that no one can understand. The problems I do have are scary and isolating enough and it's creates enough hopelessness that I couldn't bear dealing with anything more. So I don't understand people who compete for who is worse off. I've found one friend ever who could even remotely relate to any of what I was going through. We'd talk at length about our thoughts and feelings and while a lot of what she dealt with was similar, it wasn't exactly the same. But to have someone who at least had something similar felt good. I don't go around talking to everyone about it because it's no one else's business. And when people know you have something wrong with you psychologically, they treat you like they know it. I don't want everyone to know because they walk on eggshells and assume I'm going to flip out or get hysterical. Or what's even worse, I'll get paranoid that they think that and will treat me differently because they know about me. I'll worry, and feel anxious. So I only really discuss it with people it's going to directly effect- my closest friends and my boyfriend. Sickness isn't a race and it isn't a game. It's not a competition, so people who feed off of getting attention by creating sickness, to me, are stupid. They're not crazy. I'm crazy. People like me are crazy. But at least we're not stupid.