“The world is colliding in on me. The floor is slanting and caving in. My heart is going to jump out of my chest. I close my eyes. Bismillah hir rahman nir ahim. Come back to reality, baby girl. You’re going to be okay. You’re lovely and strong.”
I open my eyes and things are a little better. My body still feels shaky, but I am functional. I put on a smile and carry on with my day.
For over five years this was my normal routine. I believed that I had to act like everything was fine, until I met my best friend Aimee. We bonded over wild nights, complaining about toxic energy, and learning about social justice. Aimee was always so open about her mental health so when she described what her panic attacks felt like, I was shaken, I realized my body had responded to trauma in the form of panic attacks and extreme anxiety. I did not have the language to describe depression and anxiety, but I was fatally living under these illnesses. After researching and talking to Aimee, I decided to visit the NYU Wellness Center.
There, I filled out a few forms as my nerves began seeping in. I felt the urge to just walk out, but I knew I needed help and I was brave enough to continue with this process. I had to go through an initial interview. For the first time in my life, I divulged everything to a stranger. She was open minded and did not seem to judge my decisions. Within that hour, I was officially assigned a therapist with a scheduled appointment for the next week.
However, I left the first therapy session frustrated. I called Aimee. She explained that finding the right therapist was like dating. A lot of it is trial and error. As tedious as this process was, I realized I needed to advocate on my behalf until I feel fully comfortable.
Two weeks later, I arrived at my next therapy session. Again, I explained to this new therapist my feelings and thoughts; what has been making me flustered and sad. She listened attentively and then explained to me that I was describing anxiety. She assured me that I was not the only one who felt this way. Certainly, my experiences were nuanced and unique, but therapy could be helpful to alleviate some of this tension. She gave me simple natural remedies to help me stay grounded. Breathing was essential, writing in a journal could be a creative outlet and ensuring physical health was also important. Aimee and I also debriefed our therapy sessions and I leaned on her a lot for therapeutic gratification.
Sadly, by the end of the year, Aimee had withdrawn from NYU and moved back home to Toronto, I was devastated. Only after she left, I realized how impacted I was. I fell into a deep sadness and felt like I was missing a part of me. I tried therapy, but it was not helping at all. I could not eat, sleep, or do any of my school work. I lacked the motivation to do anything. Skype sessions with Aimee were refreshing, but certainly not enough and so I finally asked my therapist if I could see a psychiatrist.
I described to my new psychiatrist how my body was responding to Aimee leaving, as well as how I felt I was not in a good place with my family. He prescribed a small dosage of Lexapro, an antidepressant. A week into this medication, I was already crying less. I did feel nauseous and I lost my appetite as a side effect, but it felt like it was working. Over the next few months, the sadness and anxiety returned and my psychiatrist prescribed me a stronger dosage. My anxiety began to stabilize. I felt a stillness with my mind. I was not crying so often, but I still lacked drive. All I wanted to do was sleep. When I told him about my struggle with focusing, he prescribed me stimulants along with the Lexapro. Two weeks later, I felt like I could bust out some papers. However, I still could not sleep. Who had I even become? The pills had numbed me. I was so tired of this back and forth process. I decided to cut all the medicine out. I abruptly stopped taking everything. This was a horrible decision. That feeling of “the world is colliding in on me returned. However, it was ten times worse. My body trembled at night and I could not stop crying. I was late to work, consistently cut my classes, and kept isolating myself from everyone.
I decided to schedule an emergency appointment with my psychiatrist so I could sleep. After I told him I have been taking over the counter sleeping aids to no benefit, he prescribed me Xanax. I was excited and hopeful to finally get one night of substantial rest with the help of some benzos! However, to my disappointment, it did not work at all. I was still restless and exhausted. What was happening to my body? Muscle relaxants were prescribed afterwards, and trial and error had prospered but my body was the experiment. How lovely, I thought sarcastically. A month later, I confided in Aimee she told me about the dangers of self-medication and messing with my brain chemistry. I decided to go back onto a smaller dosage of Lexapro. My body finally began stabilizing, I was no longer crying as often and was finally able to sleep again.
Sometimes, I feel very happy. Sometimes, I feel very sad. There is no magic happy pill. Some days are harder than the rest, but I am trying. For folks who feel numb, extreme sadness, and/or stress, it may be helpful to seek help from campus or community mental health sites. I searched on my college’s website for a number to call to schedule an appointment. Bureaucracy is annoying to navigate, but your health and a clear headspace outweigh disregarding the pain you are experiencing. Everything is a process, so lean into it. Be patient and gentle with your body. Advocate for yourself and practice holistic healing.
You’re going to be okay. You’re lovely and strong.
Written by Nancy Uddin
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