Conquering Brighton, Part 1: Oh God, What's Happening To Me?

Conquering Brighton, Part 1: Oh God, What's Happening To Me?

Panic attacks can be a permanent scar, and a visit to Brighton showed me this.
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[Trigger warning: discussion of anxiety, panic attacks, dissociation and suicidal ideation. Also, a note from the writer: I know such stories can fill those experiencing anxiety with dread; note that there's a happy ending in the next part of this story].

If I told you this beautiful, tranquil scene in Southeast England -- its rich warm colors and the astounding silhouettes created by an impressive sunset -- was what led to my worst experience of anxiety ever, would you believe me?

If you were an anxiety sufferer, you would scoff at me. “Of course,” you would say, perhaps recalling an incident yourself. “They can happen anywhere, at any time; stressed, or not. Sometimes they just seem so random, and you wonder why it even happened.”

But if you were not, it would seem strange. You may question how it could instigate a panic attack or any form of anxiety, really. How could something so serene have such an effect on a person?

I do not have an answer for you, even though I was the one who experienced it. As I write, I look back and still question why this scene seemed to fuel the anxiety I had experienced. Was it the intense exposure from the sunlight? Was it the oddity of the colors reflecting over the city that made me feel so uneasy? Did I just secretly hate the sun?

What I can tell you is that it was not odd that it happened. I had been experiencing a lot of stress at school, leading to my being home-schooled to avoid the daily sickness and dread I felt for no reason. I was avoiding with my problems instead of facing them.

Do not get me wrong: facing one's fears is not an easy task. I did what many did in a situation that scared them; I escaped from it.

But this did not help at all.

Imagine a stack of cards; something really nice. It is not that stable, to begin with, but it still manages to make itself stand tall as much as it can. Now, imagine someone comes over there with a hammer and literally beats the shit out of it; just giving it a really good demonstration of physics. The paper cards are crumpled and ruined, and an attempt to put it back together fails because the cards are bent out of shape.

This was my first experience of a panic attack. When it finally happened -- something I had never experienced before -- it shook the foundations of my existence. I wanted to put myself back together, but I could not.

What made it worse was that it happened in my place of solace; my room. Before, if the world had proven too stressful, I could at least know that here I was safe and free from the nervousness that latched onto me outside.

But, as I sat there one day, my mind exploded. Suddenly, my head was amassed with a surge of dizziness and confusion, and my heart pulsated as I tried to comprehend what the fuck was going on. I threw myself onto my bed, as an onslaught of thoughts filled my mind. They kept flowing, and they would not stop; some of them demanding I question my existence, the others telling me I was dying and others that I should kill myself.

As I clenched my head between my hands, the only beacon of light was to think of my sister. I saw her smiling over the horrific thoughts that filled my mind, and I remembered how much I cared for her. I knew that I had to stay alive, for her.

Love won the battle, and the commotion stopped, but I had changed. As I returned to my seat, there was a weird barrier that separated me and the screen. An attempt to look at it made my mind foggy and blip as if there was a sort of glitch in my head.

This experience did not go away, and this was unfortunately not the last time it would happen.

On the pier of the quirky city of Brighton, during the magnificent sunset, my mind once again exploded. As I looked around at the scene cast in a beautiful orange glow, unreality took over. Time moved oddly; my awareness of the walk back to our hotel was sketchy and missing its parts. I recall seeing myself in the reflection of a bus’s glass, a neutral glare staring back. The world looked flat, and I felt nothing.

I hoped it would be temporary, but it was not. Existence itself had become unreal. Experiencing the world made my mind foggy, and I felt like I lived behind a pane of glass. Going outside really did not fare well with my mind, and it made me constantly want to escape. I could no longer focus on conversations, returning to my mind; the hideous thoughts of my panic attack returning, making me question who I was, what the world was and why any of it mattered.

I could no longer look in the mirror. This was not an emotional metaphor: there was a literal separation between myself and the person that looked back. Attempts to do so made the feeling of unease and confusion return.

There were times when I would get incredibly depressed for a few moments, my mind filling with notions of my existence being false. I could not escape this, and so I would wait it out. Eventually, it would go away, but they would be a permanent stain on my cognition. I would fear their return throughout the day because they would always return.

Leaping ahead to late 2016, I found I would be returning to Brighton. My original experience, the memories that were still lodged in my mind, resurfaced. My anxiety was already significantly conquered from that period of time a few years back, but I was still nervous. I knew I would fare better (and I did)… but this was where it happened. This was where I had lost control.

It is surprising how something so distant can still create such fear.

End of Part 1.
Cover Image Credit: Robert Wheatley

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Yes, I Had A Stroke And I'm Only 20

Sometimes bad things happen to good people.
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Recently, I read an article on Cosmo that was written by a woman that had a stroke at the ripe old age of 23. For those of you who don't know, that really doesn't happen. Young people don't have strokes. Some do, but it's so incredibly uncommon that it rarely crosses most people's minds. Her piece was really moving, and I related a lot -- because I had a stroke at 20.

It started as a simple headache. I didn't think much of it because I get headaches pretty often. At the time, I worked for my parents, and I texted my mom to tell her that I'd be late to work because of the pain. I had never experienced a headache like that, but I figured it still wasn't something to worry about. I went about my normal routine, and it steadily got worse. It got to the point that I literally threw up from the pain. My mom told me to take some Tylenol, but I couldn't get to our kitchen. I figured that since I was already in the bathroom, I would just take a shower and hope that the hot steam would relax my muscles, and get rid of my headache. So I turned the water on in the shower, and I waited for it to get hot.

At this point, I was sweating. I've never been that warm in my life. My head was still killing me. I was sitting on the floor of the bathroom, trying to at least cope with the pain. Finally, I decided that I needed to go to the hospital. I picked up my phone to call 911, but I couldn't see the screen. I couldn't read anything. I laid down on the floor and tried to swipe from the lock screen to the emergency call screen, but I couldn't even manage that. My fine motor skills were completely gone. My fingers wouldn't cooperate, even though I knew what buttons needed to be pressed. Instead of swiping to the emergency call screen, I threw my phone across the room. "Okay," I thought, "Large muscle groups are working. Small ones are not".

I tried getting up. That also wasn't happening. I was so unstable that I couldn't stay standing. I tried turning off the running water of the shower, but couldn't move the faucet. Eventually, I gave up on trying to move anywhere. "At what point do I just give up and lie on the floor until someone finds me?" That was the point. I ended up lying on the floor for two hours until my dad came home and found me.

During that two hours, I couldn't hear. My ears were roaring, not even ringing. I tried to yell, but I couldn't form a sentence. I was simply stuck, and couldn't do anything about it. I still had no idea what was going on.

When the ambulance finally got there, they put me on a stretcher and loaded me into the back. "Are you afraid of needles or anything?" asked one EMT. "Terrified," I responded, and she started an IV without hesitation. To this day, I don't know if that word actually came out of my mouth, but I'm so glad she started the IV. She started pumping pain medicine, but it didn't seem to be doing anything.

We got to the hospital, and the doctors there were going to treat me for a migraine and send me on my merry way. This was obviously not a migraine. When I could finally speak again, they kept asking if I was prone to migraines. "I've never had a migraine in my whole life," I would say. "Do you do any drugs?" they would ask. "No," I repeated over and over. At this point, I was fading in and out of consciousness, probably from the pain or the pain medicine.

At one point, I heard the doctors say that they couldn't handle whatever was wrong with me at our local hospital and that I would need to be flown somewhere. They decided on University of Maryland in Baltimore. My parents asked if I wanted them to wait with me or start driving, so I had them leave.

The helicopter arrived soon after, and I was loaded into it. 45 minutes later, I was in Baltimore. That was the last thing I remember. The next thing I remember was being in the hospital two weeks later. I had a drain in my head, a central port, and an IV. I honestly didn't know what had happened to me.

As it turns out, I was born with a blood vessel malformation called an AVM. Blood vessels and arteries are supposed to pass blood to one another smoothly, and mine simply weren't. I basically had a knot of blood vessels in my brain that had swelled and almost burst. There was fluid in my brain that wouldn't drain, which was why my head still hurt so bad. The doctors couldn't see through the blood and fluid to operate, so they were simply monitoring me at that point.

When they could finally see, they went in to embolize my aneurysm and try to kill the AVM. After a successful procedure, my headache was finally starting to subside. It had gone from a 10 on the pain scale (which I don't remember), to a 6 (which was when I had started to be conscious), and then down to a 2.

I went to rehab after I was discharged from the hospital, I went to rehab. There, I learned simple things like how to walk and balance, and we tested my fine motor skills to make sure that I could still play the flute. Rehab was both physically and emotionally difficult. I was constantly exhausted.

I still have a few lingering issues from the whole ordeal. I have a tremor in one hand, and I'm mostly deaf in one ear. I still get headaches sometimes, but that's just my brain getting used to regular blood flow. I sleep a lot and slur my words as I get tired. While I still have a few deficits, I'm lucky to even be alive.

Cover Image Credit: Neve McClymont

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9:51 PM

A poem about struggling with anxiety, especially during a creative process like writing

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Roses are red,
But violets aren't blue
And in about twelve hours this poem is due.

So I ponder and think,
And hope and pray
That the words I need will come to stay.

But my mind says no,
Your writing sucks, start again
Or better yet, don't even bother to begin.

It tells me to give up,
That my words aren't "right"
Stop now, your verse is weak-they'll hate it on sight.

Instead of stopping, my pen keeps going
And the ink flows on
For it knows I have something worth showing,
So girl, write on.

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