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mm oosthuizenOne of the major aspects of mental illness that we must all deal with requires a stamina and a strength that the average person simply doesn’t possess. I don’t say this to brag or to annoy those that never fear mental illness, but rather as a statement of fact that has been a part of my personal lexicon since I was first diagnosed with this disease.

The aspect – I call it breaking. I have heard it called psychotic episodes, dropping the basket, even going mad. But in my world it is the breaking of my normal routine, experiences, and even the breaking of my relationships. I don’t talk about my breaks often because I am one of the lucky few who don’t have many breaks. And I am extremely lucky in that my breaks while destructive to my own self only tangentially effect those that surround me. No mental illness is an island that exists only in one’s own mind but my breaks are often so excruciating that it is my own self that is periodically destroyed.

I have had breaks when doctors have decided to change my medicines and I have had breaks when each of my children were born. None of my breaks are the same as any of the others and they often come so softly, yet so quickly, that I find myself hurting in ways that I can’t understand or even reconcile with my day to day normalcy.

I have a rather severe form of mental illness which means that I have rather severe breaks. I don’t know how the rest of the world deals with the unpredictable horror show that I call breaks. But I can tell you about mine.

Currently I am sitting in my living room, writing this piece, with a trash can beside me because I am concerned about getting sick and worse, my stomach is mimicking a panic attack (I love to write and yet even here this break is destroying something precious).  And I am not talking about butterflies in my stomach but rather deep gut fear of an enemy I can’t see, a darkness I can’t feel, and a world that I can’t recognize. You see, in this break my physical body has decided to literally go on a destructive path of anxiety, horror, disappointment and just plain fear.

It all started one average night when I was taking my son to his karate class. Usually at these classes I sit in my car, reading a book and basically taking some quiet time for myself. I love my car, I love sitting in my car, I even love driving my car to parts unknown with the windows lowered and the music up.  But this night, for some reason, I couldn’t settle, I couldn’t find my center. My mind was racing, my heart was beating in a way that I could almost see the movements, and my stomach hurt. It wasn’t butterflies. It wasn’t nerves. It was an unexplained fear.  It was unmitigated terror of a foe that I couldn’t see, hear, smell or touch. A fear of something that wasn’t really there.

At first I went across the street to walk around. Didn’t work. Then I went out in the cold air but that just made the feeling worse. Finally after what seemed like years, I got in my car, drove home, called my husband and threw up everything I had ever eaten in the many years I have been on this earth.  This was the beginning. And while I might have, for a moment, believed that this was a temporary nuisance; I think somewhere I knew that this was the beginning of what has become the worst month of my life.

Currently, to leave my house, I have to take anxiety medicine, drink small sips of water or Gatorade, pace for at least fifteen minutes and literally spend hours talking myself into leaving the house. And I do have to leave the house. So no matter that I have to prep like I am training for some kind of marathon, I have to leave my house. My children depend on it; my husband needs it; my mother expects it. And then there are the doctors, especially my therapist, who aren’t going to stop until I get my life back. I wish I could say that I am thankful to my doctors, but the truth of the matter is that no one, and I mean no one, is going to solve this but me.

To put it in perspective, my son was awarded a very prestigious honor at his school this week. I had to be there when he got this award; that wasn’t up for debate. So while the program started at 6:30, my work to leave my house started at 1 that afternoon.  At first it was simply me telling my body that we had to go to this program. Then it was jumping jacks to try to get the adrenaline out of my body. From there we moved to pacing and taking my medications. Finally, I forced myself to eat some bland white rice and sip on some ginger ale. All of this had to be done away from my children. All of this could not cause my son to feel guilt that he did greatness and was causing my pain with the just the idea of leaving the house. I did it. I went. And I didn’t embarrass any of them; but God I would rather go through labor without drugs then do that again. And yet, it really doesn’t matter because I do it again, and again, and again.

I am not a hundred percent sure why this is happening. I don’t know the full answer as to why I have lost over fifteen pounds because I throw up so many times when the anxiety hits me so hard. I don’t know why there isn’t enough anxiety drugs to help me. I don’t understand why this is happening, and for a girl who has spent her life making sense of a disease that I am consistently bombarded with, even the fact that there are no answers to find is a little extreme. And while I wish I could be frustrated that I can’t figure out the answers, the truth is I don’t have enough space or brain cells, or even anti-anxiety pills, to be frustrated. I am fighting a war; and neither side is winning.

I told my therapist the other day that I would like to spend about two weeks in a coma. A place where I didn’t feel anxiety, or fear, or this strange need to get sick at every turn. I desperately need a break from something I can’t control nor understand. I need a moment when my ability to approach life isn’t blocked by feelings of crippling fear. (She did not offer a way for me to get my wish)

Life is a series of whatever metaphor you want to make it. It is unpredictable and so unfair as to almost be not worth living. But we are supposed to roll with these punches and deal with these blows. Personally, I sit here and wonder if it is even possible. I don’t know how to clear a path to healing and figuring out how to battle this fear, this fear that is on a scale that makes horror movies look like Disney features. I don’t know where to go. I don’t know how to survive this one. I fear fear. I fear the fact that no one, and I mean no one, can help me. They can’t even see the struggle that is right in front of their eyes.