‘Hello, Panic, My Old Friend’
Dr Jarasinghe was a small, serene man in his forties. Sometimes, that serenity seemed cavalier. I saw him in a clinic about a five minute drive from where I lived, although that was an adventure in itself. As with my GP’s clinic, I assured myself that if I had any episode, at least I’d be in the right place. Still, I wanted to get there as quick as possible, and home as quick as possible. Anywhere in-between was unsafe.
In our first session together Dr Jarasinghe took all my history. He said that my recent drinking might’ve buried my anxiety, but now that I wasn’t drinking it was all coming out. That was fine, though, because with the symptoms free to emerge we would be able to deal with them.
He diagnosed me with Panic Disorder, a condition involving clusters of panic attacks. Panic attacks. This is the first time I’d ever heard the term. But it made sense. That’s what it felt like – an attack of panic. Dr Jarasinghe also helped put in context some of the things I’d suffered: he said my panic attacks were common and harmless, other than for the terror they caused. There was also the periodic unreality I suffered. He called this ‘depersonalisation’. It was normal given what I was going through. That was some relief.
Still, my overriding concern was where the Panic Disorder would take me. I asked Dr Jarasinghe if I was heading for a nervous breakdown. He laughed and said this condition was perfectly common. That was the greatest assurance I could have, that he could just laugh at my fears, like they were totally groundless. It did more than all the time Dr Victor treated me.
Over the following weeks, things worsened. Some of my old fears returned – that I’d hear voices, that I was losing touch with reality, or (a new one) that the TV would communicate with me. If I was watching television, I’d worry if dialogue sounding like my name had been said, if it was just dialogue, or some prelude to communication. If I was watching a movie, I’d rewind to check what I’d heard, although if I was going psychotic and had imagined being addressed, by rewinding I could simply re-imagine being addressed again. There was no way out. Whichever way I turned, my head found the worst case scenario.
When I told Dr Jarasinghe, he was ambivalent. He told me that those conditions involved psychosis, whereas I suffered from a neurosis. He said they had a saying in the psychiatric community: Neurotics build castles in their heads. Psychotics live in them. That was a relief – in that moment. That’s as long as relief lasted: momentarily. But then it was back to the searing anxiousness, to the feeling that it was all a breath from coming apart. Dr Jarasinghe, though, seemed almost blasé about it all.
I saw Dr Warren and expressed my fears, telling him that while I thought Dr Jarasinghe was good in many respects, he seemed indifferent to the fact I was losing control. Dr Warren called Dr Jarasinghe and relayed my concerns about losing control. The next time I saw Dr Jarasinghe he prescribed me an antidepressant, Aurorix, and a Xanax to be taken morning and night.
As soon as I took the Aurorix, I felt worse. I dreaded waking up. When I did, it was like I was going to blow. I couldn’t focus and had no appetite. I only ate because I was meant to take the Aurorix with food.
After breakfast, I would lie on the couch in the back room and read the whole day away, or watch TV and movies. My head screamed with pain, like somebody had broken a bottle of glass, scooped up the fragments, and mixed them into my brain the way you’d mix chocolate chips in cookie mix. Every thought and every action met a jagged edge.
Sometimes, the intrusive thoughts would flare and start my cycle of denial and self-reassurance. The fear of the TV communicating with me – the same thing that girl had experienced in the institution when I’d visited Stan years ago – dominated my thoughts. I couldn’t get rid of that possibility.
And it wasn’t so much the TV communicating with me that I dreaded, but what that would prove. Once that happened, where did I go? What did I do? It wasn’t like panicking, or being depressed. It was being crazy, that the transition would be so seamless, I wouldn’t even be aware it had occurred.
How do you recover from something like that? My broken arm healed, but mental health didn’t work like that. Once broken, you were never whole. There’d always be the threat of the same break. Anyway, even my broken arm left hideous surgical scars and never regained the same strength.
To prove I wasn’t about to go crazy, I challenged myself. I’d stare at the TV and dare my head to make me think it would communicate with me. I’d lay there for thirty seconds, just waiting, petrified the silence would be broken. When it wasn’t, I’d crow triumphantly to myself, See! Then, minutes later, I’d go through the same cycle. There was no satisfying it.
Suicide reoccurred to me. The thoughts were never serious. Or at least I didn’t think they were. But who knew how suicide worked? Who knew how much it was a conscious investment or just reflex to circumstances. It’d been so long since I could wake up, and just look forward to whatever the day offered. Now, it was wake up, be harangued by the tumult in my head, suffer this hyperawareness that made every thought a danger, and be afraid to step from the house for what might occur. The need for peace was desperate. It could be so easy just to let go and not have to deal with it. One nagging counter was the religious interpretation of damnation for suicide. I couldn’t shake that. Imagine there was something worse than this. Then there was also the lost opportunity of whatever might await me should I get through this. Surely life had to get better.
But that seemed a long way away.