This series is a stream-of-consciousness sharing of my own healing journey – which is really my life-story. I will try to keep the timeline as close to chronological as possible, but we may jump around a little.
Trigger warning: suicidal ideation
The big life-changes felt like a tsunami had come to my world.
This tsunami wiped me out.
What was left was a sense of being uprooted, insecure, uninspired and my health, oh my health…
My health, which was increasingly fragile before this huge move, was now pushed to its limits.
Prior to this move, I had been battling mysterious skin issues (boils, acne, rosacea, etc.) that I had never experienced before.
Increasingly painful periods.
Migraines that would come out of the blue.
As time went on in this new land, I began receiving big warning signs that something was seriously going on in my life that needed me to stop and look.
I didn’t hear these signals as warnings though. I just kept pushing onward as if what was happening in and around me was normal, typical, in my best interests…
One day I was in Citarella, an upscale grocery store in NYC. Like any other day, I was picking up groceries for my ever-expanding Executive and Personal Assistant role that now included Personal Chef – this was not “light cooking duties” folks. This was a full-on aspect of my job that I had to manage the rest of my duties around. I enjoyed the cooking more than the rest of the job, so I didn’t complain. It was the one part of my job that I knew in my bones I was really incredibly good at.
Yet, there I was: in the checkout line, when suddenly the world started caving in on me.
I feared I was dying. Or maybe I was already dead?
I looked around and within, asking: Am I still alive?
Lights brighter than usual. Still seeing.
Feet on the floor. Still standing.
Checked the pulse on my neck. Still thumping.
Placed my hand over my heart. Still beating.
Inhaled my breath. Still breathing.
Yes, I was still apparently alive. Yet everything around me was unreal.
I didn’t know what was going on.
The terror was so real that I didn’t know what to do.
So I did what any highly stressed, hanging on by a thread person would do: I pretended like I was fine, summoned my “strength”, got through checkout, and headed back to work.
As if nothing had happened.
I don’t remember who I called, but I know I called my mother at some point that day. I called my boyfriend. And eventually, I spoke with my doctor who said it sounded like I had a panic attack. He wanted me to come in for EKG testing, but I said, “if this was a panic attack, it’s emotional and a physical test won’t show anything, right? What else can I do?”
My memory of this brief interaction is silent.
What did I end up doing?
I continued to do nothing even when “panic” became a regular feeling in my life, because I didn’t even notice its encroachment.
On the subway, I often felt I couldn’t breathe.
At work, I’d break down crying or suddenly be so tired I couldn’t keep my eyes open. At home, I was either in overdrive or practically comatose on the couch.
I didn’t want to go anywhere, or meet anyone – and when I did, I’d end up with a headache.
I was living in a constant state tension – which I blamed on my job.
Even more warning signs came from my body that something desperately needed the attention I was not providing:
I developed embarrassing IBS.
Anything I ate, went right through me. The sweating and chill-induced moments waiting in line at a random -often busy- coffee shop, wondering if I was going to be able to hold it long enough, were awful.
I gained a ton of weight for my 5’2” frame. I wasn’t eating much, and considering everything went right through me, it made no sense why I was gaining so much weight. At least not with the old-guard calories in-calories out logic.
I experienced multiple injuries and accidents practically from the moment I moved to Brooklyn:
First, a yoga injury that still flares up with reminders to this day.
Then, a box fell on my head and hurt my neck – also bothers me to this day.
I fell down a flight of subway stairs and badly injured my tailbone – I used to be able to tell whether or not it would rain by whether or not my tailbone ached.
I was so stressed with the pressures and insecurities from this place and this job that I did not go to the doctor, or follow up with different doctors when recommendations for care led to dead-ends.
I feared the repercussions at work, and so… did nothing to tend to the care of myself.
In response to this immense lack of self-care…
My companion since I was 12 years old, migraines, decided to come back for weekly, sometimes daily, visits.
Migraines where I couldn’t see anything in front of me.
I’d take cabs home from work, with money that I still didn’t have. Or, my beloved would have to pick me up from work because I couldn’t get home on the subway when I couldn’t afford yet another cab ride home. I’d get migraines on my way home from work on the subway. And if there was any delay in getting home, guaranteed migraine. The sights, sounds, smells of the city making the headache all the worse.
I felt awful, and would apologize profusely for being sick to my boyfriend.
He’d say, “it’s okay, it’s okay.”
But it wasn’t okay.
I wasn’t okay.
It seemed I was always taking something for the headaches.
I avoided most of the “migraine list” of foods, yet I still had the headaches.
I slept 7-8 hours at night and still had the headaches.
I didn’t understand what was going on.
My period, already pretty painful, got far worse.
I was Jekyll and Hyde every monthly cycle.
I’d have fits and tantrums over something dropped on the floor and not picked up right away. I got into verbal altercations or have crying episodes from someone bumping into me on the subway. I was downright nasty and mean to my boyfriend so much that I’m surprised he didn’t break up with me.
Forget birth control pills to regulate my cycle. I tried those too, and they made my emotions swing even more wildly. My doctor eventually diagnosed me with “PMDD” (pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder – a wretched name) for which I was put on anti-depressants.
This same year, I developed terrible Seasonal Affective Disorder.
I fantasized about crawling into a cave at winter, sealing it up, and never coming back out. I fantasized about dying. Truly drifting into oblivion. Going to sleep, and never waking up. Sometimes I’d fantasize about running away to a tropical island and never coming home. I had never experienced this before, and didn’t know what was going on.
My gynecologist doctor said I should be on the anti-depressant all the time after I told her this.
(It bears mentioning that not once do I recall therapy being mentioned by my healthcare team. And, if you are experiencing thoughts of hopelessness, suicidal ideation, or feeling like life isn’t worth living, PLEASE reach out to one of the many resources available to you, such as: the suicide prevention lifeline. You are loved, needed, and valued – even if you can’t see or feel that right now.)
The anti-depressants helped reduce these mood swings – a lot.
Yet, needing an anti-depressant felt like a personal failure. I’d crack jokes about being on an antidepressant, how I felt better on it, yet deep down I was ashamed of being on one.
I’d grown up with the stigma that said that if you needed medication for emotional/mental stuff, or if you went to therapy, it meant you were sick. Or that you weren’t able to cope with life.
I wasn’t sick, was I? I couldn’t be.
I was coping just fine. It was my body that was not coping. It was my body who was overwhelmed with this job, trying ever so hard to do things right and please my never-pleased boss, the city, the commute, my living situation, everything.
I’m not my body.
My body has become my enemy.
My foe that needs to be defeated.
My body has betrayed me.
Just give me the medicine so I can continue on this period of my life without fantasizing about going to sleep and not waking up.
Give me something so I stay above the oblivion below me. So that I can stay afloat.
The summer of 2009, we moved apartments. From a dingy, perpetually dirty, dark space to a proper apartment at the south end of our neighborhood. It was great to move to a place with actual doors and rooms and privacy, windows and light!
Then, at the end of 2009, my beloved proposed to me on a rainy day in a little restaurant in Astoria, Queens.
I got my life-raft.
If the anti-depressants were my life-vest keeping me afloat, this was my life-raft.
And I was hanging onto it for dear life through this life-storm.
As soon as the ring was on my finger, I busied myself with wedding plans and rode the lift and high of the wedding and celebrations.
My mother and sister hosted a beautiful bridal shower for me.
A 2010 spring ceremony with immediate family in Brooklyn.
A casual outdoor barbecue/pool party in the summer for extended family and friends. I stayed up all night that night with friends and family, while my husband was in bed.
Everything was as close to what I wanted as possible.
And like all major life events, the events come, and then go.
And we are left with ourselves, in a new space of being.
I returned to a perpetual state of being stressed out.
Work was unbearable when I wasn’t heavily involved in outside-of-work life-things. I had the Sunday scaries: I’d start feeling ill in anticipation of the work-week ahead. I looked for a new job, and didn’t find a good fit.
I felt vaguely ill when I wasn’t coping with migraines, period awfulness, and the increasing dis-ease in my being.
So I pressed on: with my antidepressant life vest to keep me afloat, the lifeboat of my new home and marriage, ever increasing migraines, horrific periods, and unpredictable mood swings…