“That night as we lay in bed after our evening prayer, my heart began to beat uncontrollably. Adrenalin pumped through my body like lightning, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop the pressure. I felt like a pot boiling furiously out of control, with its lid about to blow right off. It was physical, I was sweating. I reached for Sisanda, and through gasps for air, I tried to explain what was going on. I desperately needed to control this mounting pressure. Control, control, control it! my mind yelled.I was having my first panic attack.” This is an excerpt from Eyebags & Dimples by Bonnie Henna.
I don’t remember the first time I had a panic attack, but I remember my most severe. I was driving along the M1S on my way to work, I had the radio on loud and I was singing along to a song I can no longer remember. The traffic was easy going past the Malboro offramp for a change but just as I was approaching Grayston, my heart began racing, and started beating in my throat as though trying to find an escape. It took me a few seconds to figure out what was happening and as soon as I did knowing what was coming next, I decided to pull over. And right on cue, I started struggling to breathe as soon as I did. I sat in my car on the side of the road begging myself to remember to breathe in and out, reminding myself that it would pass if I remained calm. But I could not get myself to do any of those things so I surrendered to the throbbing ache in my throat and rested my head on the steering wheel. A few minutes later I felt my heart start to return back its rightful lodgings and my lungs start to function again. When my breathing was back to normal, I felt spent, and so I stayed there crying and feeling weak and defeated.
Of all the moments of feeling lonely, my panic attacks and anxieties have been the loneliest. Not only is the thought of explaining to your loved ones a daunting one, sometimes it is a struggle finding the words to explain this thing that the other person has never experienced. It is painful to watch the ‘no register’ look in your boyfriend’s eyes as you try to explain that when he does not answer his phone or respond to a text, in your mind he has already married someone, gone on honeymoon and now buying a house together. In the two hours since we last spoke? Yes baby, in the last two hours since we last spoke.
My friends will never understand that when we have plans and they are late and not picking up their phones, my head matter is already imagining the day of their funeral. Accidents happen and we live in one of the most crime infested countries, one of the reasons why I don’t like reading or watching news. When you live with anxieties, you internalise everything and anything and something is always about to go wrong. If I had a penny for each time a friend or sibling said ‘Thabiso relax!’ Every single time a small whimper inside my head says ‘I would love nothing more.’ I too wish for a life where I don’t spend half an hour trailing a truck that is barely moving because I am afraid to change lanes in case I can’t come back in time and miss the off ramp.
With the endless hours of self-torment and loneliness, the fact that I live with and suffer from depression is really not a thing of wonder. I was officially diagnosed with depression and bulimia back in 2007. It was a relief to have someone put a name to a darkness and heaviness I had been carrying for years. For the first time I started to unpack my feelings against events, people, relationships and food. I continue to do that, an exercise that is not always useful or successful. And I say useful because unpacking and dissecting issues doesn’t always help take the darkness away. It helps you understand what you are going through but will not take it away. This is where medication comes in.
I have been on and off medication since 2007, so for just under 9 years. The on and off thing is really one of the biggest injustices I have done myself. And the reasons for this see-saw ride are different. Sometimes it is because my medical savings are exhausted and I think the money I could otherwise use to buy them could be put to better use elsewhere. Often times though, it is because I feel great and think I don’t need them anymore. It is almost unbelievable the arrogance that comes with that great feeling. The sudden amnesia that makes you forget the times you spent curled up in bed, unwilling to see or hear from anyone. The arrogance makes you forget the times you burst into tears that time you told typed LOL during a chat when you had puffy eyes and felt like you were being swallowed by a big black hole.
I am writing this post after a week of being ‘sick’ as I told people. Yes I had fallen ill, I came down with a UTI, raging ulcers and finally a tension headache that saw me spend a few hours in the emergency room of a hospital on a drip. My brain was crashing and so the body went first. In the weeks preceding this ‘sick’ episode, every life hiccup that came overtook everything and blurred out everything else that was going well. My time was spent obsessing over where the solution would come from, where it would come from. Then my old friend arrived, because this friend loves this kind of party. I began comfort eating. I ate nothing but bread and pap and would literally almost gag if I was going to have veggies. Then the paranoia came, over how much weight I had gained. Before I eventually called the friends that came to take me to hospital, I sat for a whole hour in pain because I worried that if I were to go to hospital and be admitted I would definitely need to get weighed. The thought of getting on a scale left me in the same state I was in on the day I needed to pull over on the side a busy freeway.
I am now back on my meds, it’s almost been a week. I’m yawning all over the place, a side effect, but I have also managed to complete tasks that have been hanging unfinished in a while. A project I was ready to dump not so long ago is now thriving and looks doable. I am not healed. I merely have help. Mine is to remember even when the arrogance comes that I NEED this medication. I continue to hope for a more permanent solution that does not see me popping pills daily.
It wasn’t always easy to accept that I suffer from depression or mental illness but knowing that I am not the only one has helped. When I met and published Bonnie’s book, excerpt above, I was happy to have met someone who had the same kind of issues I had. And I was only too happy to jump at the opportunity to publish her book and begin to start having conversations about mental health.
*I wrote this post listening to Fog by Nakhane Toure, a song taken from his album Brave Confusion.
You can listen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_FsizrKBio