Today I am sharing a guest post from a dear friend who wishes to remain (mostly) anonymous. I’ve known Em since college where we met when we worked retail together and have been friends ever since. She is the kindest, most supportive friend you could ask for. She gives a lot without asking for much in return which is truly incredible considering what she’s been through over the last decade.
In her post, she shares her story of living with mental illness, eating disorders, and her experience being diagnosed with MS at 28 years old, and how it has forever changed her life.
Please read and give her a follow on IG. I know she’d love to connect.
As always, thank you for reading!
When You Rise, Then Fall
by Em (Instagram)
For my entire life, I have come to expect some sort of devastating news in relation to my health every two years. How could I not when it has been the consistent pattern?
At 18 years old, I hear, from a general physician, “You most likely just have anxiety and depression.”
At 20 years old, I hear, from the same general physician, “You’re overweight and at risk for a lot of diseases. You need to lose weight. It will also help the depression and anxiety.”
At 22 years old, I hear, from my (now long-established) psychiatric nurse practitioner and a therapist (that was ditched not too long after), “You have Bipolar II disorder.”
At 24 years old, I hear, from the same psychiatric nurse practitioner, “You have panic disorder.”
At 26 years old, I hear, from a different general physician, “You may have celiac disease.”
At 28 years old, I hear, from a neuro-ophthalmologist, over the phone while driving in the car with my mother, after being convinced for six weeks that I may possibly be dying of a brain tumor because of significant and dire vision loss in conjunction with cognitive issues, “Your MRI indicates you have multiple sclerosis.”
At 30 years old, I hear, from the same psychiatric nurse practitioner, “You have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”
It is no coincidence that the only thing I can ever think is, “What’s next?”
As someone who has fought her own internal demons since adolescence, attempting to convince myself that each time I hear the “news” from a professional of another new something I must conquer, I have conditioned myself to maintain a fight or flight mode and automatically say the words,
I am not a hypochondriac and do not be dramatic.
Keep it a secret.
You cannot tell anyone that something else may be wrong again.
Despite what the professionals say, it is all in your head.
It does not matter if a panic attack could be immanent, it does not matter if you feel like you are going to shatter into a million pieces again, nothing matters except to continue the performance of life.
That is my truth: my entire life is performative. There is an inherent fear of discovery that I am a false act. That the badass, empowered woman I have come to embrace and present as my dominant personality trait for the past five years is going to vanish with one wrong statement. That the shame of showing vulnerability will erase everything I thought I worked so hard for during these past five years.
This was my approach to the world. Hide it, fake it, power through it, fuck how you feel internally. Take the abuse from those in power, particularly in your career, knowing that by taking a higher road it will most likely propel you to further success. Forget your own feelings, just press on.
And then COVID-19 hit and my life, unequivocally and fundamentally, changed forever. For the past four years, I have lived in New York City. I wish I could teleport you to life in New York City during January 2020 and now in December 2020 to see the devastation not only on humanity, but on the City itself.
I was in utter denial at the end of February about the virus and what it meant. No one knew. Slowly yet quickly, life in New York was not the life I had signed up for when I had moved. For a week, I dragged myself to work, put on the face, and came home every single night consumed and paralyzed by fear, which resulted in daily panic attacks. The fear of the virus. The fear of the stress on my body causing an exacerbation in my multiple sclerosis disease. But even more, a fear of having to face my mental health problems once again.
It came to a climax one Friday night in early March when I was so convinced I was on the verge of dying and having the virus that I ended up in the ER, by myself, sobbing on a bed with no one by my side. The ER and hospital experience was incredibly traumatic, and it was prior to the complete explosion of COVID-19, so no sort of precautionary measures were being taken. The nurses treated me like I was crazy and wasting their time, and the discharge papers just stated, “Panic Attack.” Perhaps it was. My neurologist thinks it could have been an MS hug (a tightening of the nerves in your abdomen or chest region because of stress and nerve damage). I may never know. For the next four days, I cried almost every moment of every single day. I don’t even know how I dragged myself to work that Monday without looking crazy. I called out of work sick on Tuesday because I couldn’t move out of bed or off my couch.
That night, I called my mom. I couldn’t function. I couldn’t breathe. I was convinced I was dying. No drug could curb the panic attacks that were coming almost hourly. I cried to her about how I couldn’t fathom the fact that if I died, she and my dad would be responsible to clean up the mess of my life, and reminded her that I made them the beneficiaries on my life insurance. And she said, “Emily, book a train ticket tonight, pack a suitcase, and get home now.”
So on March 10, 2020, I left New York City for Albany not knowing what that was going to mean. And here I am, more than nine months later, still in Albany without knowing what my future holds. I moved out of my apartment but I’m stuck in a lease that my slumlords will not let me break (bear in mind, I signed it for renewal in February, before COVID exploded, for a renewal in May). I left my life behind but it still is here haunting me every day. I still have a job where I can work remotely for the foreseeable future, but I cannot go back to the City. I want to press forward, but my brain is always 500 steps ahead of what I should be doing, not relishing in the small victories and steps I’ve taken.
In the past nine months, I have relapsed with my mental health. I have relapsed with my eating disorder. I have had my drug infusion for my MS, given every six months, delayed four months. I have had severe PTSD episodes that have rendered me non-functioning for days. I have questioned every choice I have ever made. I have felt alone and confused and like I am having a midlife crisis at 30.
This is not the first time I have felt this sort of breakdown. In fact, it has happened many times before, but it has been a long time since I can recall having all these emotions at once. And I hesitate to speak too clearly about the state of my mental health prior to February, as in some ways I feel completely dissociated from my life before COVID-19, but I dare say for the first time, I was beginning to understand the concept of feeling evenness and perhaps, at specific moments, joy. Because of that, when I arrived home in March in a state of complete despair, it was the first time in my thirty years on planet earth I said to my psychiatric nurse practitioner, “I am literally willing to do anything to not feel this way anymore. Medication, talk therapy, whatever you tell me, I am willing to try.”
And while there is so much more I could speak to, so much more to say, that statement alone means something. For all of the internal angst I have fought for as long as I can remember, I had always fundamentally believed I could conquer it all myself, particularly, in relation to my bipolar disorder and eating disorder. I was above the medication (tried it and believed it never would work for me). I was above the talk therapy (tried it and believed it never would work for me). I was above everything. And for the first time, I did not believe I was above anything because I knew what it meant to live at certain moments and not always feel pain.
In the past nine months, I have gone back on medication with an open mind. In the past six months, I have finally found a therapist that listens, hears me, and validates my feelings (which, oh, is a word I hate oh so much). In the past nine months, I have made it more of a mission than ever to cut out the toxic relationships in my life.
I still wake up most days in a daze, wondering how I ended up sitting back in this childhood bedroom. I question if this was what was always supposed to be. Was I supposed to rise, to fall, to be able to rise in the right way again? I have absolutely no idea. All I know is the words and thoughts will continue to flood from my mind and some day, I will make sense of them.