‘That Same Old Feeling’
The next day was my birthday. My friend organised a birthday lunch at a local pub fifteen minutes from home – a local I’d been to a few times, so there should’ve been no fears of unfamiliarity. But I was short of breath and anxious the whole day.
The following day, I had a meeting with the editors of a fiction magazine for whom I’d done reading and editing, and again the same problem arose. I felt like the friend I drove up with had to babysit me, and I used all my tricks to avoid panic.
I was infuriated. I’d survived for a week away from the refuge of home, of my back room, and now I was getting breathlessness fifteen minutes from home. I couldn’t work it out. Surely at some point the anxiety, like a fever, had to break. One of us had to win – and I was determined it was going to be me.
The year continued. I did some more editing. I wrote, working on the revision of the novella that had won the award. I went to school. My friends and I launched our anthology. I got an ear infection. And another one. And another one. They were the worst, as that sense of the room spinning, of falling and losing control, emulated the onset of a panic attack. One ear infection spread to my chest, caused shortness of breath, and triggered my shortness of breath concern. I was on one course of antibiotics after another – six for the year, (and, really, in the spate of about four months). Now I felt like I was plummeting.
I caught up with Allie a few times and we fell into the rhythm of the rapport we once shared. I tried to impress her with how much I’d been doing, although the accomplishments felt hollow – not because they were, but this is the way I felt with her, like I never measured up to her expectations. And I thought she must’ve frowned on me that the anxiety that had been resurgent in February was still with me now in September.
One day she SMSed me that her dog had run away from her parents’ home, who lived not far from me. Allie asked if I could keep my eye out for it. That evening, although I’d just recovered from my latest ear infection and I was light-headed and anxious, I went for a walk to look for it. I walked and walked and walked, trying to be the hero. It became night and drizzled. Sometimes, my light-headedness became so bad my head span. Other times, the shortness of breath wracked my chest.
But I kept going, deciding to look at a walking path/bike track that ran parallel to Allie’s parents and completely removed from traffic. As I walked down into a darkness that was impenetrable, it occurred to me that if I passed out now, nobody would find me until morning. I continued walking for half an hour, and thought I’d passed my exit and that I’d have to walk to the next one, as it was too dark to backtrack. I kept going, found my exit, and as I emerged on a street about ten minutes from my house, I was elated. I’d walked for two hours in horrible conditions under physical duress and survived.
Allie moved heaven and earth to find her dog. She put notices everywhere, offered a huge reward (more than they’d paid for the dog), and even suggested she should’ve offered twice as much. I thought of how she’d scoffed at the lengths we’d gone to for Wolf. There might be a difference between a young dog, and one who’s lived a long, full life, but this is what you do for your pets, for your family, isn’t it?
Shortly afterward, Allie decided there was no point to catching-up anymore, as it wasn’t going anywhere, which was her right. The question of how she could just switch off like that lingered with me, and contributed to the way my head was going.
The anxiety wasn’t something I could entirely quash. I got another ear infection. Dr Warren decided I should go through two courses of antibiotics to knock it out once and for all. But I’d just started the second course when I became violently light-headed. The next day my head was raw, like somebody had run sandpaper through my ears. Dr Warren thought that possibly I’d developed an inner ear infection now. He predicted it’d last a couple of days. But not long afterward, it happened again. Dr Warren suggested that perhaps I’d over-exercised and suffered from low blood sugar because I hadn’t been eating well – I rarely did, usually only eating breakfast, then dinner. Another time I developed an intense pressure in my head, and as Dr Warren wasn’t available I saw another of the GPs at the clinic, Dr Rich. He suggested it was just my anxiety.
I developed a blinding headache that lasted a week, and when I saw Dr Warren he suggested we’d been battling the anxiety for a while, but for no gain, and prescribed me the antidepressant Effexor. I felt like a failure. Antidepressants. Again.
I went home and researched Effexor and found that it could cause the same withdrawal discontinuation syndrome as Aropax. There was no way I was going through that again. I spoke to Dr Warren and asked if I could use Tofranil instead. He was reluctant, because he felt that Tofranil wouldn’t address my particular issues. I persisted. I’d never had a problem on Tofranil. So he prescribed it. I didn’t want to take it, though – not yet, anyway. I still wanted to do this alone.