On Tuesday, November 17, 2020, I learned a few things.
I was not okay
I hadn’t been okay for a while
I couldn’t pile any more on to my brain or my heart
But life happened, and it brought me to a breaking point that I couldn’t save myself from
I couldn’t prepare for, be strong enough for, or control what happened to me
I don’t believe I’ll ever forget that day. I can still see most of it in vivid detail, though while it was all happening, I didn’t feel fully there.
I woke up with heaviness. It didn’t feel the same as every other day; though this had been building over a period of time. Typically I’m able to identify signs more clearly and unavoidably — extreme IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and hives are my tell-tales. These stayed on the back-burner this time around, as if they were waiting for the larger motion picture event.
And then I received a phone-call; my mom was crying heavily on the other end. These unfortunately were not uncommon calls for me, but I knew this was different. My Mom, Grandma, and Papa Joe had all contracted Covid-19 after following very strict and limited exposure guidelines, and my Papa Joe wasn’t going to survive. He was 74 and had been declining in health over the last several years with a suspected condition called CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) and progressive Dementia. We knew if he were to get sick with just about anything moderately serious, that he would not be strong enough to fight it. And he wasn’t. My family was unable to be with him as he passed. It all happened so fast.
I stopped working, slid down the wall behind me and sat on the ground. I placed my head in my hands and sobbed, hoping no-one would hear me through the walls. I allowed the tears, and then I fought them. I allowed the gasps for air and then I stuffed them down. I made myself gain composure and got right back to work, because this was what you’re supposed to do, isn’t it? Just keep carrying on. That was what I’ve always done, anyway.
I couldn’t control my tears off and on throughout the day, one second feeling completely lifeless and the next with water covering my face. I went home, slid into my robe and fuzzy slippers, and sat around the table with my roommates to eat tacos that Mark had brought over. I felt detached. Completely removed from everything going on around me and I couldn’t pay attention. Noise was drowning out, faces were becoming blurry, and I knew something was wrong. I looked up and said, “Guys, I don’t think I feel very well. I’m going to go lay down for a few.” I retreated to my room in the basement and laid down, eyes wide and thought-less. That’s when it began.
About 20 minutes went by which felt like 2 seconds. Mark came down to check on me and make sure I was okay. I cried, “Something is wrong. Something is really wrong with me…I don’t feel right.” He said, “I know, that’s why you need to try to rest and close your eyes.”
I laid down, trying to quiet my mind, but it was getting loud. My body was even louder. My hands began to go numb and started tingling. I felt like I had electrical impulses going up and down my arms and legs. I was involuntarily twitching and zaps of energy were firing through my extremities that were visible to the eye and palpable to the touch– that was when Mark started paying closer attention. I would lay down and sit up repeatedly, confused and distraught. That’s when my brain started going through the worst possible scenarios.
Was I having a stroke? I’d worked with thousands of stroke patients in my career as an OT, and I was sure this was happening. Or wait, was my brain swollen? Did I have a tumor? I swore I could feel it. The pressure. My lips felt heavy and my mouth felt like it weighed 100 lbs. Words became hard to pronounce and it felt as though my motor functioning was slowing by the second. I took my temperature over 6 times within 10 minutes. The more I fixated on these things, the more paranoid I became. I went from laughing out of nowhere to gut-wrenching cries within a millisecond. My body and my brain were doing and saying things that I didn’t feel I could control, though part of me felt entirely present and aware at the same time. That was the saddest part of all, because in those periods of lucidity — I couldn’t figure out why this was happening and I couldn’t do anything about it.
My subconscious brain was in full take-over while my conscious brain was sitting in time-out. My underlying thoughts were packed with fear, anxiety, comparison, minimization, mistrust, and persistence. It wouldn’t let me rest. And I was terrified. I needed to sleep so badly, but I was scared I wouldn’t wake up if I closed my eyes. I thought I was dying.
After wrestling with this up/down, rest and restless pattern which lasted far too long, I was almost asleep until I decided suddenly that I needed to go upstairs. I was dizzy, bumping into walls all the way up until I landed in the middle of the living room in front of Claire who was sitting on the couch. I don’t remember what exactly I said other than “I feel weird”, but I stood with my eyes barely open and collapsed towards the ground in tears. Thankfully Mark had followed me up and caught my head as it fell towards the ground, landing in his lap where I curled up into a ball and cried. Claire fixed me a bath that I refused to get into time and time again. Once I finally agreed and made my way to the bathroom, I collapsed on the floor again. I had never felt so weak.
I sat up stating, “I think I’m going to be sick” and as fast as I spoke it, it was happening. And it repeated over and over and over again until there was nothing left. I would lay down and sit back up — more dry heaving. I was falling asleep on the toilet and on the floor, the only places that felt comforting at the time. I laid there and remembered thinking,
“What are they doing to me? What are they talking about? Are they working together to try to hurt me?”
I didn’t trust them at all, and they’re currently two of the closest people to me in my life. I finally agreed to go downstairs and carried a bucket with me, climbing into bed where Mark said I mumbled,
“I feel like I’m not me. My brain and my body are somewhere else. When will this go away?”
And I was out.
I woke up within a few hours, feeling less confused though completely disoriented to the whole event. 10 hours passed and I felt like I went through a washing machine on the highest settings. Still not completely put back together, though everything was settling.
Five days later of hardly anything but rest and sleep, and my chest still feels like an elephant made a home there. My appetite has been suppressed, my chest hurts to breathe or exert energy due to a combination of localized stress and strain from vomiting, my brain feels foggy and as though it’s being rewired one synapse at a time, and I’ve had little to no energy to do much of anything. My head has been pounding, I’ve been unable to sustain prolonged attention and feel overwhelmed at the slightest provoking. I also haven’t wanted to see or talk to many people at all, which is very unlike me. I’ve been experiencing the hangover of the depression/anxiety cocktail concocting itself in my mind and body, and I had NO idea that this was happening to so many others. SO. MANY. PEOPLE. You can’t know this kind of pain unless you’ve experienced it, and this is one instance where it’s absolutely heartbreaking to be so related to.
I am a human who absorbs the emotions of everything and everyone around me. On top of my own heightened emotional awareness, the addition of others’ pain can be dangerous. But I can’t help it. I feel everything, and it is a gift I cherish and a burden I will forever carry. I’ll even carry it for you if you need me to.
I’m very quick to minimize my circumstances and dictate what I should and should not “feel” something for.
“I shouldn’t feel this way. Other people go through way worse things than I do. I should feel grateful.”
“Compared to other people, it could be so much worse.”
I knew I’d been struggling with ongoing build-up of about a hundred different things, though I didn’t realize they were breaking me. I have learned to push through a lot of pain over a long period of time, but sometimes pain paralyzes you and forces you to face it. Not only are you obligated to look straight at it, but then to dissect it, acknowledge it, and if you choose to, heal from it. And my gosh, that’s so hard to do. It takes a lot of intentionality, and a LOT of time.
I never, ever want to experience this kind of emotional and physical pain ever again. Even more so, I never want anyone else to experience what I did. But in a way, I’m grateful I went through this for the sole purpose that I believe I exist on this planet to help others not feel alone, to feel heard, to feel seen, and to feel understood. I have a life story that has fortunately and unfortunately given me a LOT of tools to be able to do that. And this is another experience that I can say shook me to my core and made me realize how much I need to start advocating for myself and for others as humans with needs. Those needs being rest, safety, love, kindness, and normalization. We need to normalize this. Not because it’s okay that this level of pain exists for so many and manifests this way, but because it IS okay to have needs, to be hurt, to feel pain, to feel stress, to be sad, to grieve.
It is OKAY to feel.
Heck, it is GREAT to feel.
But we have to allow ourselves to, and we have to take the appropriate time to take these assessments of ourselves. Daily. Routinely. Without disruption, without cell phones, without work, without anything other than you and your heart/mind/soul. And that’s extremely difficult to do now in our current operating world with millions of distractions, but this is a call to arms. For your health, for my health, for the health of those that you love. This is happening much more frequently than we realize to so many people around us, and our overall mental/emotional health is poor as a whole. It’s not prioritized, understood, validated, or supported from the top-down. And that has to change. Lives depend on it.
I am committed to healing, to greater awareness, and to growing from this experience. Life is hard, and everyone is living a different kind of it. Please love each other well, and please check in on yourself/those around you. It’s important.