I have found the past two weeks of my life have been difficult. Why is that? I know why but I hate to admit the reason. Admitting it feels like I’m giving up, like I’m a failure, and that hurts.
When I was in sixth grade, my Memere was diagnosed with Colorectal Cancer. She underwent chemo-therapy and surgery to remove it and then she was fine. But it came back. By the time I was in high school, it had returned at least three times. The summer I finished my Junior year and was waiting to begin my Senior year in the fall, the cancer had been back and had spread to her brain. She had surgery again that August to take out what they could in her brain, but they couldn’t take it all. From that date on, I watched her deteriorate before my eyes.
My mother and I went to my Memere and Pepere’s house every day to help take care of her. These were my mother’s parents and my mom wanted to be there to help not only Memere, but to give Pepere time to himself, too. By the time I started school, she decided to stop with all of her chemo-therapy and radiation treatments. As I watched her get worse, I began to have panic attacks in school. Suddenly, while in classes, I would feel like I couldn’t breathe and I’d ask to go to the nurse’s office, and she would let me call my mom, begging her to come and get me so we couldn’t go and see Memere until she could talk to me enough to calm me down and finish out my school day. By Christmas she was in a wheelchair, weighed as much as I did at that time, and had trouble swallowing her medicine and food. One week later, she couldn’t even get out of bed, then she had trouble understanding, and by the second week of January, she was gone.
I remember so clearly, the Friday before she passed away. My high school was gearing up for our annual Relay for Life event and we had a meeting for the whole school in the auditorium. It was a sort of review meeting, to go over what we had done last year and to see videos, and to explain to the Freshmen and new students of that year what Relay for Life was and why we did it. I stood up when one of the teacher’s giving a speech asked who had family members and friends close to them with cancer and then sat back down and when that same teacher started to talk about her own experience, well, I just couldn’t do it anymore.
I was sitting in the very last row of the auditorium, in the very middle. With friends on either side, I suddenly felt so trapped. I knew I wasn’t going to make it if I tried to squeeze past all of them to get out to the aisle, so I got up on my seat and jumped over it to the floor behind me. I ran out the doors. In the foyer outside, one of the substitute teachers was waiting for the meeting to be over, I guess I must have looked terrible because she asked me what was wrong and the next thing I knew I was sobbing in her arms telling her all of the horrible things I’d been living through for six years and how it’d just gotten so much worse in the past six months and that I didn’t know what to do anymore. How I just wanted to go home and see my Memere. How she was dying and there was nothing I could do about it.
To be honest, I’m not sure where I would have run to if she hadn’t caught me and expressed her concern. I probably would have ended up crying alone in the bathroom, stuck in my own misery until someone found me.
And then, my worst fear came true. I told my substitute teacher on Friday that my Memere was dying and that Sunday she passed away. That was probably the worst day of my life so far. I cried so much. I still do. It’s hard, losing someone you love. I’m not sure that you ever really do get over it. You keep loving them even though their gone, and that is okay. But I felt so lost after that. I became so tired of forcing myself to smile and pretending to be alright. When we went on our Senior Trip to Walt Disney World in Florida five months later, that was the first time I actually smiled and laughed and it wasn’t forced. I meant it.
And life seemed to get better after that. I graduated and was sad about it, but it was okay. I started college and for my second semester I went to work at Walt Disney World in Florida as a part of their Disney College Program. I made a new friend and he became my best friend. But when I came home, I don’t know why, but my panic attacks came back. Slowly at first, so I just thought that the OCD habits I was picking up were normal. But when I went back to do a second DCP the following year and the habits became excessive and the panic attacks became so frequent that I was calling my mother and crying to her every day, begging her to come home even though I had a month of my program left to complete, I knew something was wrong.
But I finished my program and my dad and younger brother picked me up and brought me back home. And I was okay again. The panic attacks subsided and the OCD dwindled to being barely noticeable. And then it was back again, so much worse than before. This time the OCD controlled me. I couldn’t do anything without doing it as a habit of so many counted steps, so many taps of my fingers, so many buttoning of the same button, or zippering of the same zipper, over and over and over again until I felt as though I was insane. And I often did question my sanity during this time. I swore I was going mental, that I’d have to be handled with extreme medical treatment. I was terrified!
And the panic attacks became paralyzing. I couldn’t speak or move or even think when I had one. Just the same flash of fear that I was going to die consumed me until suddenly my mother or brother came to my rescue, pulling me out of my stuck state, forcing me to interact with them, to talk to them, to explain what was wrong and what I was feeling.
By Christmas, after roughly eight months of going through this uncontrollable torture, of jeopardizing my job and school attendance because I couldn’t get out of the house in time because I was doing habits, of not going at all because I was having a breakdown, I told my parents I wanted to see a doctor. I ended up with a psychologist. He met me every week and spoke with me, gave me things to do to try and control my anxiety and OCD. And he recommended medication. But I’m stubborn. Medication was my largest concern of the whole thing. It was my worst nightmare coming true. I needed medical help and that was the last thing I wanted. Because, accepting medication as the answer meant that I wasn’t normal. That I couldn’t cope like every other normal human being could. That I was different and was going to be different for a very long time. In my eyes, it meant defeat, that I had let these anxieties and OCD habits take over my life, and I had lost.
It took a year for my psychologist and parents to convince me to even try taking medication. I was prescribed an SSRI (or a Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor), which helps to regulate the serotonin levels in your brain. And when I did, I felt sick for weeks. I didn’t go to school and I failed all of my classes from lack of attendance alone. I literally spent days dragging myself out of bed only to curl up in a ball on the couch and watch things to keep me happy and not focused on myself. Mostly, it was the Disney Channel.
And then, suddenly, I began to feel “normal” again. After taking the medicine for an entire year, I actually felt like my old, “normal” self again. Two years after taking it and I felt completely alright and expressed to my doctor that I wanted to ween off of the medication to see how I did without it now that I felt cured. They agreed and the process began. Originally up to 20mg of the SSRI, I dropped to a 10mg for 30 days and then 5mg for the following 30 days.
And now we’re back at present time. Precisely two weeks ago, I stopped taking my SSRI. Since then I have had two panic attacks. Both have been cope-able. The first was more tolerable than the one I had today. And it was today I realized that without the medication, they’re just going to get worse again. I can’t be a normal person without the medication. I can’t feel like a normal person taking the medication.
I feel so defeated.
I see my counselor about all of this tomorrow. I will start taking my SSRI medication again so that I can be myself, but what frustrates me the most is that I wasn’t like this when I was younger. My panic attacks didn’t begin until my Senior year of high school. My OCD didn’t start showing up with the panic attacks until two years after that. So why can’t I just be normal like when I was younger? The answer: I can’t. I will most likely be on this medication for the rest of my life and that’s disappointing. But if that means I can feel like my old self again with the help of the medication, then I have to learn to live with it.
That’s my update. Sorry it’s so long and deep and boring.
Look for my words again soon!