This is a 2 parter. The first part is Here: A History of Not Dying Part 1: A Chronicle into the Convergence of Anxiety and Health
Scene: Follow-up appointment two weeks after first meeting with Dr B, a month after almost “dying”. Hospital Building H, floor 2, Adult Clinic. Still not crazy.
The nurse ordered me into the room to check my blood pressure. Then told me that the second chair was obviously for my coat. My bp was 156/96. After our brief interaction, I wasn’t surprised. Do they force some women to be nurses? Doctor B was definitely not enthused to see me again. He kept pushing the idea that I needed to see a therapist because what I was experiencing may be heightened alertness to symptomatic issues that were not necessarily present. Every question that I asked was met with, “refer it to your therapist.” It was humiliating and infuriating. I felt alone. “Watch your blood pressure, wait for it to come down, we can’t do anything else.” I got a new prescription and was shown the door.
I went to work with my head in the clouds. I’m not sure if my co-workers could see that something was very wrong. I could not focus on anything and could feel my heart beating inside my chest. I wanted to pass out after meals. I took my pills like I was supposed to but I wasn’t able to shake the feeling that I could die at anytime. I would spend lunch time looking out the window of a bistro. Everything became metaphoric, every detail of every day became special. I noticed the poignancy of the clouds, the drama of the naked trees, the harshness of the cold. It was like the final death scene in a movie that would stretched over weeks. Is this what a nervous breakdown felt like?
Panic Attack 1: With the ideas of death swirling around my head all day. I would cry in the bathroom at work and in the shower at home. I kept feeling more and more out of control of my life. I was on edge feeling like everything was in shambles. DR B, my boss, my wife and all of society taking away my voice, tossing me from one emotion to the next. No one was hearing me. I cried all the way home, one evening. I was walking by passersby and did not care enough to wipe my tears. Is this what a nervous breakdown feels like? I sat on my couch an hour later and I could feel my insides start to swell and grow warm. I wasn’t sure what was happening. I called an aunt to pray, and while I was on the phone, my insides erupted. There was a rush of blood, emotion and energy. And then it left. I was on the phone, feeling vulnerable, ravished and raw. I didn’t die though.
Panic Attack 2: I stayed in my own head for the next two days, shaken and tense that I might die. I was being micromanaged and pressured all day. During rush hour, I realized, I could no longer breathe on a packed 2 train. I tried to move to a part of the subway where the vents were located but I couldn’t move. Then the train came to a stop. I knew I was going to be late. I knew it was going to be a problem. I knew I couldn’t deal with everything being thrown at me. I sat on the floor of the subway. Everyone moved away without directly looking, the way New Yorkers usually do. But I still couldn’t breathe. I removed my coat, and then my sweater and then my shirt. The train remained for what felt like forever to me between stops (express train). There were too many people, too much heat was being generated. I took off my shoes and lied on the bare floor.
I really appreciated that New Yorkers minded their own business. It would have been terrible to have to own that moment as a person instead of a faceless subway drone. The train opened at the next stop and people literally stepped over me because I refused to move. When the train pulled into my stop. I gathered my things in my hand and walked onto the platform. I was 30 minutes late and exhausted. But I did not die.
Panic attack 3/4: That evening as I was about to leave work, I felt a wave of emotion and sensations hit. It kept rising and I grabbed my bag and ran to the elevator. All the way down the escalator I could feel myself bursting. It was like an explosion was happening inside of me. I could feel my heart beating out of my chest. Twenty minutes later I was on the 2 train heading back home, when another panic attack hit. I’m not sure anyone could tell I was By the time I was home, I was under my covers in tears. But I survived it.
Panic attack 5: Things had gotten completely out of control. A few days later, I was having lunch with my boss, and I kept feeling uneasy, and on edge. I felt like my emotions were in charge of me. I had to began to recognize that apprehensive, uneasy feeling that preceded the attacks. I was allowing the pressures/expectations of every situation and every sensation to control me. I felt lost in myself. At the restaurant, I was unable to focus on anything, until another panic attack hit at the table. I kept looking at the menu, holding a smile, deciding on the chicken and yucca fries. My insides were exploding. I went to the bathroom, and wet my face. I was scared to go back to the table. It felt like I was losing my mind. But I survived it, lunch and all.
Panic attack 6: Within days, I had absorbed myself in sentimentality. I was taking in life, and pondering what it meant to die. This was the first time that I accepted death as a real inevitability. I was in the middle of a presentation, and felt like I was losing consciousness. I went to the bathroom and splashed water onto my face. Nothing removed the feeling of impeding doom. I kept smiling and asking questions, even as I felt myself drowning from within. I resigned that day that if I were to die, I ought to be proud for the things I had accomplished in spite of hardships. I kept looking out the window of the high-rise office, into the clouds. and beyond. And I survived it.
The last Panic Attack: It was now a few days before Christmas and I ran a block to the courthouse in brooklyn. I had a few good days and I thought the worst was behind me. I was on the second floor of the courthouse, when I felt my heart racing. I tried everything to slow it down. I went to the bathroom and drank some water from the tap. I splashed water on my face. I lied on the chair of the courthouse, but my heart felt like it was going to pump out of my chest. I took the elevator back down to the first floor. Before I could get out the door to the fresh air, I had to sit down. And then I had to lie down. I was lying on the floor of the courthouse believing that I was going to die. Again. My heart rate was above 99 beats per minutes (policeman at the door took my pulse). It would not come down. The policeman kept asking me if I suffered from anxiety. He told me that I may be having an anxiety related event.
I was not convinced. An ambulance arrived, and I was taken into the back of the ambulance, and had my vitals/EKG recorded. My wife having arrived by her beloved’s side was unsure what to make of the entire event. We took a taxi to the ER. (taxis are cheaper than ambulances)
In the ER, I was ready to accept the inevitability of death. I wanted everyone to accept that reality as well. I told my wife what she should do if I were to pass away. They performed more tests, and procedures. I was there for 9 hours until 3am. I slept most of the night beside my wife on a hospital bed. I returned to the hospital the next day to see Dr. B. But Dr. B refused to see me. The nurses said that he was out for the day. I was afraid of going back home feeling that I was perpetually at death’s door. I kept insisting.
And then the nurse said, “Sir, you are not going to cry, are you?” And I decided, yes, I was going to cry. I threw myself hysterically around the room screaming ‘my wife’ at the top of my lungs.
The tears poured down, buckets. They were all very surprised to see a gown man weep. But I didn’t care. I was too focused on seeing the Dr. They fumbled among themselves and handed me a tissue. They reassured me that I was going to see a doctor. And as soon as I heard that, I wiped my tears and sat down. Yes, I have no shame. When they called my name, I moved like a fragile widow. I was going to be heard today, crazy or not. Dr. B was different when he saw me. His tone and demeanor was different. The nurses were different. They all thought I was insane. Maybe I was. He updated my prescription and gave me an emergency referral to the psychiatric department. On the referral, he had written, possible panic disorder. (I think I may actually have to get another therapist this time.)
Now, a year later, I have seen 2 therapists, a hematologist, nerve specialist, physical therapist and psychiatrist. I’ve had multiple MRIs, echocardiograms, CT scans, blood tests. I’ve also had a stress tests, ultrasound of my heart and worn a heart monitor. The results were always positive. And still, sometimes I have feelings/sensations that put me into a negative place, where I become overly concerned with my health. During the past year, I have thought that my veins were bursting, my heart had stopped beating, my lungs were collapsing or that I was going to die from a complication. Each time, I made it through without any more panic attacks.
The best thing I did was switch doctors when I was able to do so. Anxiety about your health requires a doctor that can hear you, answer your questions and empathize with you. My new doctor is very reassuring. He constantly lets me know that the symptoms that I may be feeling may very well be there but it doesn’t mean that there is a problem. He is always telling me that I am a very healthy person and that there is nothing atypical about what I have experienced or what I am feeling. I believe him, sometimes. What’s more, he is always ready to run a test if it will make me feel better. Having this option makes a difference.
In therapy, I came to realize that being concerned with my health is not a new issue. Though it may appear different, I had a similar obsession with my teeth, when I was told that I needed a few fillings and few root canals. If I was unable to fix the fillings, I was told that I may need additional root canals. Without insurance/money and unable to pay a dentist, I had taken to brushing repeatedly, oftentimes harshly (receding gum-line). For years, I was consumed by the idea of losing my teeth in my early twenties. I had seen 4 different dentists between 2009 and 2013. I finally got insurance in 2012. I was able to see a dentist and fix my teeth. After my last filling in 2013, I went back to the dentist to complain about my teeth. He took another set of x-rays of the tooth. He said that I was the kind of person that would think about my teeth so much that I was not giving it enough time to return to normal. As he said it, I remember his look of measured understanding as though he was telling me something about myself that I did not know.
I am always apprehensive about being vulnerable and helpless again. Of being out of control. I feel the need to know that I matter. That I’m heard. For a long time, I wasn’t. To be undocumented was to be invisible for more than a decade. I was powerless to anything that came my way. I had no solutions. I had no respect. And sometimes, I feel mentally trapped in that place, frantic and fraught.
Now, my therapist and wife play central roles in truly listening to me anguish week after week whenever symptoms manifest, assuring me that in time they will pass. I believe them, sometimes. Above all, knowing that you are not alone (It’s a community of us wierdos) or crazy (It’s conditioning and shit), gives a certain amount of control back to you . I try not to hold in my feelings, or force myself to do things that I don’t want to anymore. I AM in control of my life, and I get to choose what’s best for me. I may still feel anxious about my health from time to time but a support system, (wife, Dr and therapist) has made the journey bearable. TRY TO GIVE IT TIME TO PASS. It always has, so far.
This is not a one-off, or the ending to this journey. I know it continues….Stay fighting!
– Anxious Brother