‘Hello, Panic, My Old Friend’
As the weeks went on, I improved. I kept taking my medicine, kept getting acupuncture and kept drinking the acupuncturist’s brews. The pain in my head cleared gradually, the way a clogged head clears from a bad flu. Then I was up and about, doing things – no matter how small. Like shaving to maintain a goatee. Even something as simple as that made me feel as if I was taking care of myself, although I kept a goatee for the sake of having something I had to force myself to do to take care of myself.
Soon, I rediscovered my enthusiasm. Of course, I wasn’t naïve enough to think that it was just me, or that any of it really was. It was the treatments. I’m not sure if any one of them had any more merit than the others, or if it was a combination of them.
I saw the faith healer only three times, although it was three days in a row, and that was while I was at my worst. I saw the acupuncturist for a couple of months, and continued to drink his herbal concoctions for about another month after that, these progressively less important the better I felt. And, naturally, I kept on with the antidepressants and the Xanax.
Once I got back to feeling as normal as I ever was, the only remnant was a constant restlessness in my head and muscles. I knew instinctively that the Aurorix was to blame. These things were uppers. This was some weird side-effect because I hadn’t acclimated to them entirely. If I was lying down, there was a restlessness in my arms and legs that could only be appeased by moving. It wasn’t an excess energy; just this odd yet unnerving electrical feeling.
I convinced Dr Jarasinghe to change me back over to the Tofranil and crossed to a dose of three Tofranil nightly, atop of the morning and nightly Xanax. The restlessness faded. Then I was left with just the Tofranil’s side effects which, for me, had only ever been that mild tangy taste in my mouth.
Dr Jarasinghe didn’t rely exclusively on medication, though. He told me about Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and trying to talk myself through any episodes with anxiety. It sounded logical, but the problem was when anxiety was high, words were meaningless. It was like negotiating with a kid having a tantrum.
He also tried to teach me breathing exercises – a staple of relaxation – but they never worked for me. Whenever I tried them, they made me hyperventilate. That got my other symptoms going. So breathing exercises were out.
For a while, we tried meditation, too. Every session, I’d lie on a cot and Dr Jarasinghe would recite a meditation involving visualising a beautiful and peaceful scene. It never did much for me because of the constant distractions: patients had to ring a doorbell to enter the clinic; the clinic’s screen door always clattered shut; the clinic itself was on a busy street, so there were always cars whizzing by; and the train line was adjacent, so there was always a good chance of a train rumbling past.
I told him that, which is when he recommended a book, Ian Gawler’s Peace of Mind: How You Can Learn to Meditate and Use the Power of Your Mind. Gawler was a veterinarian who’d beaten cancer with the assistance of meditation. In it, he posed a relaxation exercise where you tensed groups of muscles – first the feet, then the calves, then the hamstrings, and worked your way up the body – and then relaxed them, feeling the tension leaving your body. I did this exercise for a while. Sometimes, I’d even do it in the car if I was paused at traffic lights, (suggested by Gawler in his book). It got to the point where my mind felt so clear that the peace itself was disconcerting. Your mind isn’t meant to be so still. Or mine wasn’t. Like lots of things, I stopped doing it after a while.
Although I continued to improve, new problems came up. Like sometimes when I went to bed, I found that even when I thought I was awake, I had images in my head like I was dreaming. Or I’d hear things. One night, I was sure I heard a gong. Sometimes, the combination was unsettling, where I was sure I’d fleetingly hear voices, and/or see things, like ghastly faces (in my mind’s eye).
It never triggered me into obsessing or panicking I was becoming psychotic or schizophrenic – the medication I was taking insulated me from that occurring to that extent, and gave me the strength to rationalise there had to another reason (or to at least keep arguing that point). Also, I wasn’t sure how conscious I was when these things occurred. It was like being mostly asleep, but retaining some awareness of your environment. Still, their existence wasn’t something I could dismiss, and meds or no meds, whilst I mightn’t be panicking about them, I did worry.
Dr Jarasinghe explained these were ‘hypnagogic hallucinations’ – they were like dreams that occurred between sleep and consciousness. If you had them in the morning, they were called ‘hypnopompic hallucinations’, when you were emerging from sleep into consciousness. Again, here was a phenomenon that was perfectly normal, perfectly common, and may have explained issues that previously would’ve had me questioning my sanity.
As the year wore on, the panic attacks, anxiety, and resultant depression faded into memory. My life returned to normal.