One week ago today, I died.
Okay, not really, unless I’m ripping off the narration from American Beauty. Which I’m not. I am no Kevin Spacey.
But one week ago today I felt like I died; and the feeling was a familiar one. It begins, ironically, with the unnerving sensation of unfamiliarity. You may be in your bedroom, or kitchen, or in your boyfriend’s arms – but in an instant, you’re a stranger to your surroundings, your mind draws all blanks, your throat closes, your tongue burns, your eyes twitch, your skull implodes, your consciousness departs this dimension and your greatest fears become reality.
You know it’s not real, but it’s real. This time it’s real, you swear. It’s real.
This time it’s real.
This is what a panic attack feels like.
It’s easy to tell when they’re coming: at first, you feel it in your stomach. Your heart drops. Your chest tightens.
This is when you need the Klonopin.
This is when you tear your room apart because this is the exact thing you’ve been fighting for so long; why you made someone hide it, why you swore it was over, why you desperately but appropriately purchased a bible, stereotypically swallowing the hopeless optimism of a recovering addict with nowhere else to turn.
WHERE IS IT?!
And this is the moment you find it tucked away behind your inexplicable stash of ecstasy and swallow two pills dry and return the bible to its rightful location on the toilet.
But it had been nine months since I’d taken it. Before that, I hadn’t gone over twelve hours without it since the August of 2010.
I thought it was over. I had come so far. I know why I panic and know what my triggers are; it all stems back to the same traumatic event I’m finally brave enough to discuss with my therapist, my friends, my lovers, the internet. I talked about it. I told my family. I know it’s not my fault. I felt safe and beautiful; I got dogs and grew my hair out. I moved back to New York and I started grad school, despite my family’s lack of approval and financial assistance.
For the first time in my life, I had taken control of the life I had spent in fear of losing control.
How am I still such a weak piece of shit after I managed to fix everything? A life that barely needed fixing in the first place; a life where I have food on the table and a roof over my head?
I get to live comfortably and bask in my privilege when I call my therapist and cry. I can afford the cocktail of medication I supposedly need and inevitably abuse to sedate myself.
Meanwhile, innocent people are beaten and shot because of the color of their skin. And I lay corpse like, internally screaming, on the overly complex IKEA bed frame I paid a Dachshund-loving Ethiopian man to assemble.
Last week when I “died,” I made my boyfriend promise he would find this funny someday.
“Don’t worry, I will.”
“Do you promise?”
Then the ambulance driver hit a pothole and we went flying.
Because it is funny that I’m severely phobic of mushroom pizza revealing itself as the magic kind. That I won’t touch one surface in public because a Sociopath might have sprinkled LSD on the subway that day. That I won’t consume beverages I left unattended – in my own apartment when I’m at home alone.
I know I’m not well. I know that it’s hard not to laugh at the fact that hyperventilate when I touch something moist. (Or when somebody uses the word moist, quite frankly.)
I may be crazy, but I’m the kind of crazy that knows I’m crazy. I acknowledge my paranoia as fiction; a convenience as I am pursuing my Master’s in writing. Don’t be surprised if my thesis ends up a modern rendition of Dante’s Inferno. Spoiler alert: the ninth circle is eating mushroom pizza with your hands glued to a dirty subway rail.
I had recovered from all of this and more. I wasn’t afraid anymore.
But one week ago my bravery died; I lost it en route to the emergency room, probably in the ambulance when the thin paramedic intentionally hit that pothole.
And one week ago all my progress had vanished just like my humanity that night in the truck.
It was just like that, waiting patiently alongside an impatient Polish family in what I swear is a haunted Rite Aid, having left the hospital because survivors of a car accident needed the beds, compulsively scratching in my itchy chair, resenting old people and their old people smell, knowing my pores always look huge in fluorescent lighting,
I shot up like a drunk driver having just spotted a cop.
“Are you familiar with the side effects of the following medication?”
“Yes. Oh, I have a bag.”
I packed my rustic tote and briskly walked home; shivering, having just lost my beloved touch-screen glove and swallowed two pills dry.
Ninety six hours later, I angrily walked my dogs, resenting them for stopping so much. I made my boyfriend pick them up after a block and a half.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yes,” I lied.
We agreed to part ways; he would start cooking and I would get the wine. I made a pun and he walked away as I walked into oncoming traffic toward Diddley’s Liquor.
Dying wouldn’t be the worst thing, I thought. But I really want a glass of wine.
I felt like frogger; I was unharmed. My boots hit the pavement, a child screeched and I opened the door; it aggressively jingled.
“Is there anything I can help you with?”
A red man revealed himself face down beside rustic barrels. He glistened and winked. I hated him.
The bulbous man chortled then snorted and coughed; it was crunchy. Really crunchy. I bet he liked Eminem.
The door jingled. A tiny cyclist appeared.
“Hey man. It’s outside.”
He had a great beard and a tiny matte face. I felt he truly loved butter.
“It’ll be sixty.”
Oh. A drug dealer! I’ve always liked drug dealers. They’re so not trustworthy that they’re actually trustworthy and always give thorough directions.
They walked out into the blizzard and my eyes welled with tears. I hated my boots and felt extra uncultured; I knew nothing of wine and was still upset by the Criminal Minds when the man gets his penis chopped off.
It had now been six days. Six days of side effects, six days of suffering, six days of symptoms ranging from sharting to thoughts of suicide.
I talked to my therapist and then my psychiatrist. Then my boyfriend, my manicurist and myself in the mirror. Eventually my father called.
“It started when I was watching TV.”
“What were you watching?”
“A sex scene.”
“It was a two headed woman having sex with a schizophrenic war veteran and his evil ventriloquist doll.”
“The doll eventually convinces Neil Patrick Harris to murder the twins. Before that, he murdered his wife and her girlfriend. She gets jealous. It’s complicated. He also sawed the blonde con artist in half.”
“Neil Patrick Harris?”
“The How I Met Your Mother finale was awful.”
“You’re allowed to laugh.”
“This isn’t a laughing matter, Danielle.”
“Yes it is.”
It had taken me these six days to realize what triggered the relapse panic attack. My unassuming father so happened to call in the midst of my enlightenment.
“Well that kind of TV would give anyone a panic attack!”
I almost felt bad. It was hard for him. We both knew it wasn’t Neil Patrick Harris’ doll or the woman with two heads that had upset me. Nothing brings me joy like disturbing television; my favorite channel is Investigation Discovery. I watch murder reenactments to fall asleep at night; nothing soothes me quite like danger and death conveniently compressed into sixty minutes for my viewing pleasure.
In fact, I only love two things on TV: crime and Kim Kardashian.
Although misleading, Law and Order’s popularity has always made me hopeful – someone cares about victims.
Someone watches, rooting for the underdog, someone willingly reveals it really isn’t the rape victim’s fault. Olivia Benson always get the bad guys.
And Kim proves that there is hope for a woman violated while naked on camera. A woman who was once, and therefore always will be, sexualized, and hated for it, shunned for being sexy, vilified for having sex. And that if she somehow turned this violation into a career, maybe I’ll be okay, too.
The only difference is that the pictures of me were technically child pornography.
So when my father refused to acknowledge why a sex scene would trigger me, I gave up all over again.
“Yeah, well, freak shows are scary. Bye.”
I would spare him. He didn’t like talking about it anyway.
I went back to plucking my eyebrows. I was bleeding.
I remembered it about a year ago and didn’t plan on telling him. He’s a very emotional man; a musician who loves his mother dearly and cried during 27 Dresses.
I didn’t think he wanted to hear about his daughter getting raped.
But my resentment grew with every recovered memory and by the time our annual family trip rolled around, we hadn’t spoken in weeks.
When we boarded the plane, he took it upon himself to forcibly switch seats with the German man next to me. I didn’t appreciate this; Hans had with him a very small poodle.
I drank to deal and he berated me for hours; why did I suddenly hate him? Why did I resent him? Why did I name my senior project ‘Daddy Issues?’
I was 14-years-old, drugged in the back of a truck. They were seniors at my high school. They took pictures. They spread rumors. They nicknamed me, released the photos, my life had been ruined forever.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
The morning after my assault I got on a plane to Mexico. It was our annual family trip, this time over Thanksgiving break. I vomited for most of the flight and my extended family shook their heads in shame. Their eyes rolled all the way back across the border.
“She probably had too much to drink last night.”
To which somebody replied,
“When is she ever not nauseous?”
The row turned around to stare, their heads shaking in unison.
“They’ve really got to do something about her.”
Depressed and ill for the remainder of the trip, my “sensitive stomach” and naughty drinking became a running joke for the family.
It’s run so far it’s gone global; I was refused medical attention after my five days of food poisoning in Bora Bora.
“No honey, you’re drinking too much.”
I hadn’t consumed alcohol in days.
I didn’t bother requesting a doctor when a Moroccan pigeon gave me diarrhea. I was actually quite thrilled. I needed to lose weight.
My stomach cried out for help on my behalf. And I still don’t know if it was denial, or ignorance, or my drinking habits otherwise, but any bodily function that could have gone awry was immediately attributed to the ‘drinking habit’ that I supposedly had. A habit I eventually developed because everyone thought I had one anyway, so why not, and I negotiated myself a great deal for a flawless fake ID.
Back on the plane en route to this year’s family trip, my father had trouble recollecting any of this.
“And that’s why I resent you and why I have anxiety. I get triggered and experience PTSD. Okay?”
“Okay. Well. Never tell me the names of those boys, or else I’ll find them and kill them.”
I ran into a family friend after writing the previous section. I told him I wrote about Bora Bora.
“Oh my god! Do you remember how drunk you got?”
“I wasn’t drunk. I was sick.”
“What about New Year’s?”
“I was in my hotel room sick as a dog.”
“Oh yeah. For some reason I assumed you were out with me. I guess I was the one who got fucked up.”
We sat in silence for the rest of the plane ride. A few hours later, we landed in Morocco.
I spent the next ten days fully covered, averting cat calls and unwarranted groping, hopelessly clinging to the body guards who were hired to keep the women in my family safe from men who choose to see us as second class sex dolls. The street markets were crowded so I often got fondled, which apparently was to be expected;
“You stick out because you’re a blonde.”
I hadn’t left the house in days. All I wanted to do was eat bread.
I went back to making myself throw up because it gave me something to do and I always end up smiling while hovering over the toilet.
I ordered pizza daily, as I always did when I felt like vomiting, and was unpleasantly greeted by a mushroom pizza when a new employee made a mistake.
“You ordered a mushroom pizza.”
“No I didn’t.”
“Yes you did.”
The kind man Bob agreed to make a new pizza to be delivered in twenty five minutes.
Unable to control myself, I ate the mushroom pizza while waiting.
I started to feel strange. Bob had drugged me! I panicked and puked, pretending to shower, and stared at the bible and smiled.
I was in the midst of withdrawal from the anti-psychotic medication I abruptly stopped taking upon receiving Klonopin.
I had been taking a dose meant for mammoths, considering I’m not diagnosed as bipolar nor do I suffer from seizures, which is what the medication is actually for.
But I was diagnosed with a “mood imbalance” in 2010, the same day I was prescribed Klonopin. I was nineteen, anorexic and trapped in an awful long-distance relationship. My ‘mood imbalance’ was probably hanger; I was angry with my cheating boyfriend and ate about a celery a day. But Ms. Vimple insisted on her diagnosis. She was a professional.
Ms. Vimple was the only psychiatrist within shuttle distance of my rustic-middle-of-nowhere-upstate-New-York-college. Her office smelled like old soup and wings; it was a shared space with a Barbecue themed Sports Bar atop a CVS parking lot.
I often ran into her at the local bar. We locked eyes as I took shots we both knew I shouldn’t have; mixing alcohol with every medication I was on could be lethal, and mixed with benzos, causes one to black out.
I can’t tell you very much about my sophomore year, but looking at photos I don’t think I like myself brunette.
I’ve stayed on the same dose of my anti-psychotics since then, only truly questioning it as of late. And when I had the optimistic epiphany to quit not one but two medications I had been prescribed – I didn’t anticipate what would happen once I ripped the anti-psychotic drug from underneath me.
They say not to google your symptoms; this is one of my favorite activities. I’ve “had” dysentery, AIDS and a few heart attacks this year. (It’s February.)
I’ve also “been pregnant” since I lost my virginity despite being on birth control; I keep emergency pregnancy tests in my bedside table.
But this time, I decided not to google the symptoms. Perhaps this time I would fight the urge.
When I started screaming and throwing my cellphone at the wall, my boyfriend decided to do it for me.
It was normal: my brain was doing what the internet said it would. I was moody, hostile, lethargic and suicidal. My body burned and I broke out in hives. I cried, convinced my IQ had dropped, and wanted to join it and drop out of graduate school. I wasn’t worthy, or smart, or anything but red and bloated. I hated myself, I hated everything, I couldn’t stop pulling my hair. I called my psychiatrist. It was time for me to go home.
I don’t like returning to Los Angeles; the city reeks of rhinoplasty and trauma. But I needed to see my therapist and also get my roots dyed.
My anxiety is at its worst in LA. I’ve never really recovered from my teenage years or the rampant presence of mean women in Lululemon. Plastic surgery has all gone awry; every woman over sixty looks like an Afghan Hound.
My boyfriend came with me for moral support. We stayed at my Grandmother’s guest house.
Lynda is a self-made business-lady-powerhouse with skin thicker than a rhinoceros. She’s a marketing genius and gym enthusiast, and despite being forty-five-since-I-was-born, has a better body than I do.
When we arrived, we ate salads and my body dysmorphia returned with a vengeance. We discussed school and my weight and her annual Oscars party. She invited Korean pop stars and her good friend Li.
“Is Li the eccentric one?”
“Danielle! She’s crippled!
The phone rang and she took the call, it was her good friend Carol whom I greatly admire for befriending Kanye West and introducing him to my grandma. She seated them together at her dinner party. My grandma got a picture with Kimye; the last photo I took was of my moisturized feet in Birkenstocks.
Lynda and Carol discussed their admiration for Jennifer Lopez and Bruno Mars and I choked on water. My boyfriend resembled a frightened owl. He still wasn’t – and probably never will be – used to my home life. I asked if I looked fat. He asked if the painting behind me was a real Picasso.
J.Lo talk was over and Lynda returned. We discussed dessert and she told us she had just seen Fifty Shades of Grey.
“I loved it. So did Elton.”
She saw it with Elton John. They highly recommend it.
Lynda lives in Beverly Hills where everyone is old and entitled and thinks that they don’t smell their age. But even Chanel can’t hide old people smell – ancient skin flaps are pungent no matter the net worth.
My first stop after salads was to the neighborhood Rite Aid where I waited in line with a screaming reality star.
There are only so many times one can endure the echoes of a D-List celebrities’
“DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?!”
So I gave up and abandoned the pharmacy. I decided to rent a car from the only car rental I could find in Beverly Hills. There was a brief incident and I cried for two hours.
Fortunately, my first therapy appointment immediately followed the Yaris Debacle of 2015.
I greeted my therapist with a hug. My face was covered in mascara.
“They were mean at the rental place. They would only give me a Yaris.”
“But you pulled up in a Jeep.”
“I cried so hard I formed an inch thick pile of mucus on the counter and they just really wanted me to leave.”
Therapy went well. I was bloated.
We made another appointment for two days later. We hugged and parted ways as we usually do,
“Love you too!”
I still don’t know if that’s weird.
Tomorrow, I see my psychiatrist.
Tomorrow, I’m starting over.
Tomorrow, my chemicals will hopefully balance out.
Today, I picked up that prescription.
Today, I swallowed two pills dry.
Today, I took twenty milligrams of Adderall so I could finish this essay.