Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Exhausting Epidemiology

I am a hypochondriac.

Any time that I get sick, as I am right now, it is incredibly difficult to remind myself that I am young, relatively healthy and the likelihood of me catching any sort of extraordinary disease (my current fixation being H1N1), is relatively low. I have to exert a great amount of self control in order not to pull up Web MD, research the symptoms, and panic. This was less of a problem when I had health insurance, but after my mother quit her job I was uncovered and according to the state of Michigan, my husband apparently makes too much money for us to be covered by Medicaid. Which, considering we can barely afford food, is a load of shit.

That's not the purpose of this post, however infuriating the American health system may be.

My first health-related panic attack took place when I was in eighth grade. I believe I was at the computer, doing a whole lot of nothing, when I began having awful chest pains and trouble breathing. My mother of course took me to the emergency room when I asked her about it and we waited around in triage after they examined and x-rayed me. When they returned, they said I had "atypical chest pains", which is a fancy way to say "we have no idea what's wrong with you".

This happened one or two more times before I decided that if there was anything seriously wrong with me, they were incapable of finding it. The attacks did not cease despite my resignation, so I instead spent hours of the night alone, very afraid and praying to a God I doubted was listening.

The counseling and medication I received that I spoke of in an earlier post did seem to stop what I now recognize as panic attacks. My anxiety was instead more prone to manifest in angry outbursts. It wasn't until I was off of the drugs for a while that I started to calm down. This deflation of my symptoms coincides with me immersing myself in so many activities that it wasn't possible for my brain to have a moment to think about anything other than what I needed to prepare for business meetings, memorizing lines, eventually practicing euphonium every day and the occasional community service. My anxiety, I had thought, was gone.

After leaving high school, my brand new method of coping with unwanted thoughts or feelings was recreational drugs. Alcohol was for the big demons and weed kept me mellow whenever I still had to be functional. My only breaks from marijuana were when I was working on the Badger (a car ferry that travels between Michigan and Wisconsin, for those of you who do not know), since they did random drug tests every week. My drinking would increase during these summers, so between my 44 hour work weeks and partying, I never slowed down enough to let anything bother me. Every once in a while, I would have a break down in the work bathroom or during the dawn lit mornings while I was walking home but then it was up to my oldest and easiest form of coping, the icy caress of a jagged blade, to calm me down and help me keep it together.

You can't run forever, though. Old escapes, like old friends, start to change and one day out of nowhere you realize that you don't love them the same way you used to. Though I've tried a few times in the past couple years, cutting does nothing for me now. If anything, it makes me feel more hopeless and alone. The endorphin rush I used to crave never comes and instead I am naked, broken and bleeding in my bath tub, wishing I could just disappear.

There are a lot of things I miss about when I was younger, both good and bad. One that doesn't exactly fit under either category being how I used to get high, no matter with who or where or why, and immediately feel relaxed. I would know that everything I was afraid of was simply a product of my mind, meaning that ultimately it was me who was in control of it. Letting go of my fear of abandonment, my paranoia of other's true feelings, my trepidation of being alone was easier than counting to ten.

I'm not entirely sure what caused this to change. Somewhere between being left alone in Michigan a few winters ago when my now-husband traveled to Oklahoma, being raped, suffering the betrayal of those who had whispered gently to me that they would never hurt me, and trying an array of new drugs, my mind began to unravel. I was too depressed to work, too anxious to make new friends, too terrified of being on my own to push away those who I felt like we're poisoning me. Though apprehensive after everything that had happened last time, I went back into therapy.

I learned a lot from Chris. He was smart and funny and I felt comfortable telling him most everything. He gave me a book that changed my life and diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder. He informed me that Bipolar was a common misdiagnosis with children and teenagers due to the fact that young people just naturally have markedly extreme mood swings. It was thrilling and scary at the same time to learn about this disorder and finally see why I was so scared of being abandoned, why people only existed in my head as demons or angels, why I so often felt like I was only playing pretend at being an adult and that one day someone would "discover" that I was faking it all along.

I made great strides. I was beginning to crawl out of the pit I had fallen into and then dug deeper beneath my feet. After a sexual encounter where I had been pushed drink after drink and eventually tricked into a bedroom, I hesitantly told him about this at our next session. My climb to recover who I was wasn't complete and some nights I fell into old patterns. This night, however, I told him that I didn't like the man, that every moment it was happening I didn't want to be there but I was too scared to say "no". He asked me he had held me down, stopped me from leaving. I told him that he hadn't but I still felt violated and disgusted after it had happened. He asked me if the sex was good. No, it wasn't, for about a hundred reasons starting with "I didn't even realize what was happening at first" and ending with "I was praying the person I was with would stop him". Drunken remorse and rape, he told me, are not the same thing.

I was shaken and couldn't help thinking back to a few months before. I had gone to a Halloween party and gotten black out drunk for the first time. Some guy I had met that night convinced me we needed more booze and so we went to my house to get money. My last conscious thought, I shit you not, was "I'm so glad this guy hasn't hit on me all night". I was still dating my boyfriend who went to Oklahoma and he had only left recently, so I was completely uninterested in anyone else.

The next morning, I woke up in my mother's bed, my arms and legs streaked with blood. Disturbed, I showered, and dismissed it as the result of me sleeping without a pad or tampon since I was on my period. My mother informed me that my friend had left earlier that morning. It wasn't until I went into my room that I started to really wonder what the fuck happened. At the time, I laughed, thinking the friend I made that night must have had some trouble finding his way to bed. It wasn't until I went over to my friend Brandon's (who I had originally gone to the party with), and met up with the guy who spent the night that I discovered what really happened.

I met him out at his truck to get my wallet that I had somehow left with him. He didn't take anything so at least he's not a thief. Then it began.

"I was so disappointed when I woke up, I was wondering where you had gone," he kidded.

Raising an eyebrow, I responded, "Just because you passed out at my house doesn't mean we're going to cuddle."

"Well, after how much fun we had," he said, still grinning, "I was hoping you'd stick around."

A sick sensation is making it's way to my stomach. Within moments, I see my room in my head. Picture frames on the ground, pieces of the costume I was wearing scattered across the floor, a new hole in the stucco wall. I flare up, unwilling to believe it and further disgusted by his nonchalance.

"Sounds like you just had a very good dream," I snarled at him, starting to walk back across the street to Brandon's house. He calls after me, but I a deaf to his words, clutching my wallet so tightly in my hand that I feel like my fingers will break.

When I reenter the house, I am pale but unwilling to share the entire exchange. My future brother-in-law is in the room and I don't want him to talk to Nicholas before I do. When they ask me what happened, I turn it into a joke, "He's apparently going around telling everyone we did it last night just because he passed out in my bed."

This is not a lie but it is not the whole truth. It is sufficient and as I fume for a few minutes, I can't stop the echo in my mind, "Was I raped?"

Once I returned home, I briefly entertained the notion of reporting him. I buried myself in research and even chatted online with a person working for a rape survivor's website. I collected all my clothes and in the process found several discarded condoms. They were Magnums, undoubtedly too big for my "friend", making me fear the possible contraction of an STI. I scheduled an appointment with the health department and called Nicholas.

He was furious, demanding the name of who it was. I had already looked him up on Facebook and considered messaging him. Emotionally drained, however, I begged him not to make contact and instead listened to his desperately needed reassurances from hundreds of miles away. He repeated what I had already read in my research, that if I were to pursue any legal action against him, it would most likely be dismissed since I was too drunk to remember the night and there was a chance that in my metal absence, I had consented. After all, he was quite drunk himself.

This is the gray area of rape. Though this was prior to me getting counseling (indeed, this was the event that made me decide I needed to go back into it), I couldn't categorize this in black in white like I did most things. I began my journey into learning about coercion and consent, feeling an intense need to understand what had happened to me.

Perhaps it is because of this and my foggy recollection of the night I was led into a bedroom and immediately undressed that I now can't let go of the paralyzing fear that seems to grip my heart every time it gets dark. A lifetime of staying up all night is a difficult thing to change however, and with the love of my life working these hours it becomes not only hard to change but frightening. The only thing safe about daytime is the light but even in the middle of the day it is unsettling to sit alone in the quiet.

It has been two years now since these things have happened. I have written about them once before, briefly. I have share the experiences with few people and even then with little to no detail. A part of me fears backlash, those who will tell me it's my fault for being a dumb, drunk slut. Deeper inside, I am afraid those people are right. Never would I'm have consented to those people were I sober but a lifetime of woman-hating socialization has ingrained into me that women who get out of control like that deserve what happens to them. Days after I had discovered the rotten smelling tampon that had been shoved so far inside of me I didn't know it was there from the man I had left the Halloween party with, even my mother said that I should have known better.

Instead of thinking about these things, I have continued running as I always have. I can't smoke anymore. This past Halloween and the Thanksgiving the year before I had such terrible panic attacks that I went to the ER, first because I couldn't breathe and the second time because my hyperventilation caused my entire body to go numb. Drinking makes me wretchedly sick when done in excess, and truth be told my tolerance is too high for it to do much for me. Cutting, as I mentioned earlier, is completely ineffective. Exercise helps when it doesn't trigger my panic and make me think I'm having a heart attack. When I had health insurance, 10mg a day of Celexa would keep me calm but I felt like a zombie. Hypnosis, meditation, yoga, massage - all these I have tried yet nothing seems to purify my mind and soul like writing.

I spent an inordinate amount of energy keeping my feelings inside. All of the things I want to say, can't get a word out anyway. I want to live, so very badly, and yet I obsess over the possibility of getting sick when the reality is that I already am. Not a day goes by where I am unaware of my mental illness, but I am so fearful of scaring or pushing away those near me that I share it with no one. Only Nicholas hears me, sobbing, gasping for air over the phone while he is working. Otherwise I hide alone under my blankets for hours, praying to a God I doubt is listening.

So many things are always changing, but there are some things that do not. Here's to hoping letting some of this off my chest helps me break the cycle and that these constant nightmares finally disappear in the night. While this has not been my most eloquent writing (see: I am sick and my brain feels like soggy oatmeal), it has been difficult to put into words nonetheless.

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