A lesson in self-discovery

Danny said he’s never had to call 911 before.

I wasn’t responding to him and he thought maybe the panic attack I was having would slowly disappear because of the comforting hugs he was giving me.  It had worked before.

But the panic attack only worsened and put him into a frenzy.

“She’s crying in a way that I have never seen before,” he told the operator over the phone as he tried to lift me. He couldn’t.

Kaili laid beside me, his long, lanky German Shepherd legs pushing against my head. Danny shouted my name and suddenly it was I who wanted to comfort him. Telling him I would be alright.

But I didn’t know for sure.

I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t move. My heart ached. The left side of my face began drooping. Tears were pouring out of my eyes. I was no longer in control. Incomplete thoughts filled my mind. When I tried to say words, incoherent babble spewed from my mouth.

And suddenly, I had a visceral feeling I couldn’t shake: This must be what it feels like to die.

The panic inside me heightened, but I couldn’t do anything about it except wait for everyone else around me to help.

Emergency responders tapped a vein, stuck me with an IV and rushed me to the hospital in priority status.

When I arrived, nearly a dozen medical professionals rushed to my side. I was poked, prodded and stripped of my dignity as I lied in a hospital gurney half dressed.

I overheard someone ask whether it was an overdose. I didn’t hear the response.

I knew Danny was around but I couldn’t move my head to see him. Bright lights swirled around me and blurred faces attempted to communicate with me. I don’t remember the words they were saying.

I was experiencing “stroke-like” symptoms, medical staff kept saying.

Tears streamed down my face as Danny showed the doctors the 1-gallon Ziplock bag filled with my numerous prescriptions bottles, which included anti-anxiety and depression medications.

The words “suicide attempt” filled the air.

It wasn’t. I hadn’t.

In and out of consciousness, sadness and fear became anger.  Then rage.

A CAT scan, then an MRI, both with negative results, supported the hypothesis.

But the assumption was later dismantled after nurses counted the pills in each bottle. Most of the medications in the bag were old. Psychiatrists had begun to wean me off the various selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors I was taking daily.

The working theory was that I was no longer functioning at 100 percent because the many medications I was on were causing complications. They decided it would be a good idea to change up my meds by adding a new one and removing two others.

They feared I might develop serotonin syndrome, a condition brought on by an increased amount of serotonin in the brain. Symptoms include shivering, high body temperatures, muscle stiffness and rigidity, diarrhea and in rare cases even death.

At the hospital, once doctors had assessed me, they determined I that I was in fact suffering from serotonin syndrome. There’s no laboratory test to confirm the diagnosis, but after reviewing my meds, speaking to Danny and checking my medical records, doctors had no other theory to convince them otherwise.

I was treated in the ICU for two days before hospital staff moved me to a normal room. The treatment included removing me from all my meds, saline solution IV and a benzo cocktail.

When I woke up Friday morning, the left side of my body was numb and I couldn’t talk. Using facial expressions and hand gestures, I communicated with hospital staff and Danny. One hand squeeze for yes, no squeeze for no and facial gestures to express disgust or the odd smile.

Nurses gave me a bedpan, all the juices I wanted and a pitiful smile when they told me real food was out of the question.

Two days later, I was out of the hospital and walking using my right leg more than my left. I was prescribed a walker and told I would need physical therapy to help with my mobility.

Since I’ve left the hospital, I’ve been using both hands, walking around my home– slowly but walking nonetheless – and using the restroom by myself.

But how did I get here in the first place?

It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact cause of my depression and anxiety, but I have a handful of ideas.

Logically, I know that the rate of suicide is higher among those with depression or any mental illness. But in the emergency room, I wasn’t being rational and the idea that they’d think I tried to kill myself infuriated me.

My family asked those questions. Many probably still believe that. It was the first question my brother asked my mom.

Everyone’s life is hard. Yes, I’m going to minimize this for a second.

What makes me different than everyone are my life experiences and how I dealt with them. I spent much of my life compartmentalizing and pretending that the things happening around me were not really affecting me.

“I want you to be honest with me about your emotions,” Danny says to me often.

For two and half years I’ve been seeing some sort of a counselor and taking something to help with sleep and anxiety. And about two and half years ago, I left my husband and my “cozy” life.

The departure set off a wave of confusion within my immediate family. To this day, we’re all still adjusting.

And that’s what I call it. An adjustment period. A time to reflect about who we are and who we want to be.

During this time, I graduated college—a goal I’ve had since I was a little girl. I participated in improv comedy, joined troupes and performed on stage. I reported on real issues that affected entire communities of people. I also wrote fluff pieces on cats and dogs. I moved to three different states and tried to adjust to the unique lifestyle of each. I became entirely dependent on myself and then part of a partnership with a man who treats me like his equal. I gained and lost respect. I was a saint to some people and a bitch to others. I cried – a lot. I laughed even more. I’ve made more friends than I can possibly imagine. I distanced myself from negative, hateful people who were toxic. Family members rejected me. I bonded with my older sister. My best friend Kamali died. Some nights I drank or ate my feelings. On others, I leaned on friends. I lost 15 pounds and then gained 25. I jogged, hiked, swam and biked all over the country. I saw the Grand Canyon then the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. I nearly drowned, but then laughed about it later. I almost got a heat stroke, but I also laughed about that. I danced to silly pop music and watched bad TV. I found inspiring books and inhaled their insides. I stopped reading others halfway and never went back. I had surgery, spent weeks in the hospital, the ER or in medical waiting rooms. I discovered I will never conceive a child. I’ve been abused verbally and emotionally. I’ve said vicious things to those who love me. My last boss called me worthless. My new boss tells me I’m capable of more than I realize. I rejected help when I needed it. I fell in love, I became infatuated with people and I had crushes on others. Despite what people say, I had regrets. But many more delights.

I’m 30 now.

So many life adjustments have happened in less than three years. This part of my life is called, “Discovering my limits.”

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