My journey

During season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there was an episode called "Normal Again" where the main character (Buffy, of course) was injected, or "venomized" (to use a fake word), by a demon. This causes her to hallucinate another reality, one in which she is not a vampire slayer but just a young adult housed in a mental institution where she plays out fantasies in her head in which she believes she's a vampire slayer.

I'll come back to this in a little while.

The reason I chose to write today is because it's an anniversary of sorts. It's a sort-of happy one but nonetheless one that brings about a lot of unhappy memories. Let me set the scene for you.

July 18, 2012. It's the last day of the heat wave in the northeast, and the hottest day of the year thus far: at least 100 degrees. Anyone who's been to central NJ in the summertime knows that the sun beating down isn't the issue; it's the fact that it feels like you've just walked into an elephant's asshole when you step outside. Not that I know what an elephant's asshole feels like; however, when I think about something sticky, moist, disgusting, and can be extremely stinky, elephant's asshole seems like it fits the bill.

This shouldn't affect me that much, though, because I am at work, a nice air conditioned office. It's a relatively light day workwise. Although it had been crazy the past few weeks trying to update our app (especially for me, trying to pull double duty as an editor and a copywriter on the project), it's in review and away from my desk.

So, normal day. Only one more half day in the office before I take a small extended vacation. Going to see a Batman marathon before The Dark Knight Rises comes out Friday at midnight. I'm online, watching a line of strong thunderstorms move toward Princeton and hopefully take away this heat. Then, I cough.

I had been having these coughs for a few days. The first one I remember was coming home from my first time ever surfing the weekend before. I was driving and had a little cough like I needed to catch my breath a little bit. Nothing big. After all, I had been swimming all morning.

This cough was different. All of a sudden, I felt like I couldn't breathe, even though I knew I was breathing fine. Then, weird stuff. My pulse started racing. My left arm and hand felt like phantom limbs. I started seeing spots and found it hard to formulate thoughts. Was I having a stroke?

Eventually, as I got a ride to the ER, I began to feel a bit better. Waiting, tests, EKG, x-ray, IV. +Kristin shows up. More waiting. I'm freezing in this ER. A thunderstorm is raging outside. I start having a panic attack, but finally calm down. End result: discharged with no confirmed diagnosis. What it could have been? A big ol', grand mal, run-of-the-mill panic attack. What is definitely wasn't? A stroke or heart attack.

I go home. Little do I know that my life as I knew it was about to change.

This is where Buffy comes in. "Normal Again" shows dual personalities between a superhero and a mentally disturbed woman. We see both sides, as does Buffy, who can no longer determine what is real and what isn't real after a traumatic experience. I can identify with that. I looked around my house that night and things didn't seem real. Nothing seemed important. I dream-walked through the next few weeks as I made cardiologist, pulmonologist, primary care, and psychiatrist appointments (more about the last one in a few). But it wasn't necessarily a dream-walk; more like I nightmare-walked. How, you ask?

Yay, Buffy again! In the season 4 episode "Hush" (seriously, watch it if you've never seen it; it's a great piece of television), everyone in Sunnydale loses their ability to speak, courtesy of a group of demons called The Gentlemen. Their goal is to cut the still-beating hearts, smiling as they do so, out of the townspeople, who can do nothing but silently scream in fear.

As of last year, I've known this fear. The night before I was to go get my results from both the cardiologist and pulmonologist, I began shaking uncontrollably, as if I had no control over my central nervous system. The next day, both results came back normal. So, how could I be normal if I felt this way? The fear was now in control. I could only drive in the right lane because I was afraid of driving fast. I went to work each day hoping I could just make it another 2 hours. I cried uncontrollably at night. I cursed God, wondering how I could go from having a great life (wonderful wife, loving family, nice house, good job) to thinking it meant nothing and held no enjoyment at all for me. I couldn't eat, and I ended up having to force myself to eat at certain times to survive. I lost weight.

But over time, things did start to get better. Although, it's still hard trying to find help. My primary care doctor gave me a prescription for escitalopram, which helped with anxiety but killed my short-term memory, my creativity, and my emotions. I also started gaining more weight. And a psychiatrist? Ha! I called everyone on the list from my insurance company. If it wasn't an inpatient hospital, they weren't accepting new patients. If they were accepting new patients, they didn't accept my insurance. I finally found a therapist who was helping me, but issues with insurance caused me to stop seeing him. Eventually, I found a clinical social worker at a place that takes my insurance, but of course, after one session, I discover that she isn't covered by my insurance.

As of today, I still haven't seen anyone regularly, but that might change in about a month or so. And the pills? I'm trying to wean myself off of them. I've learned a lot in the past year: how to stave off (not necessarily control) anxiety, meditation, not to care so much about the unimportant stuff. Things seem real, but I'm not the same person I was. I want to get back there, but with everything I've learned since then. Was I afraid of not being in control? Was I afraid of dying now that everything was going so well in my life? I have no idea.

I can look at the clock at 2 pm at work now and not panic like I used to, but it's not the same. I'm more positive now, though. I still have setbacks and bouts where I need to feel like I need to be in control even when I can't be.

The main thing, though, is that it's been a year and I'm still here. That, I can be happy about.

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 18, 2013. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.

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