THE BUS BACKS UP FOR A SECOND RUN AT ME…
…I wish I could say that that was where it ended. A one-off anxiety attack that I could talk about at future parties in a, “that happened to me once and it was crazy!” kind of way. Perhaps someone would be talking about a much more severe experience and I would be attempting to relate with my semi-serious caffeine and antibiotic induced anxiety-attack story. This was not the case.
Midway through Sunday morning, the feeling returned. I was restless. I couldn’t sit still and for the next hour or two, my heart raced, my insides twisted, and my mind attempted to find logical reasons for my physiological state.
This continued through the whole week. The feeling would start up, last an hour or two, make me feel like complete hell, and then leave. At work, I actually joked about it, “Hey guys, you’ll never guess what’s happening to me… I’m getting these crazy anxiety attacks. It’s probably just the meds I’m taking!” In reality I should not have been joking. I should have been stocking up on food, water, and other general supplies. I should have locked all the doors and boarded up all the windows. I should have crawled into the depths of my basement and curled into a foetal ball in an attempt to avoid the apocalyptic nightmare that was heading my way.
FIRST THOUGHTS ON WHEN THE BUS HIT…
“That was weird” … pretty much my first words the morning after my initial anxiety attack. It had been a great night with close friends. It was December. I’d been putting in some extra hours at work to help prepare and run the school’s winter concert. My immune system had taken a beating from a head cold and sore throat that seemed to have lasted an unusual amount of time. A small infection in my nose had flared up and shown some resistance to the primary round of antibiotics, requiring a second round of much stronger medicine. The new prescription did not allow the consumption of alcohol, so wine with dinner was out. My replacement beverage of choice for the night was coffee. I’m usually a one-cup-a-morning coffee drinker, but on this occasion I went to town, guzzling mug after mug throughout the evening and thoroughly enjoying the late night caffeine buzz.
Our friends left at around 11 o’clock after a night of laughs and great conversation. My wife and I tidied the kitchen, checked on our two sleeping children, and headed to bed. Despite my highly caffeinated state, I dropped off to sleep the moment my head hit the pillow. Little did I know that as I drifted off into my blissful slumber that the number 42 bus to Panicville was heading my way. It was travelling at full speed and its headlights were off. It hit at about 1:30a.m.
I awoke suddenly, my heart racing in my chest. A bad dream? Maybe. I tossed and turned for a few minutes, trying to find that peaceful sleep that had come so easily earlier in the night. No such luck. I sat up on the edge of the bed. I felt bad. My heart raced. My insides felt twisted – almost sick, but not quite. My fingers were trembling and I was breathing hard. I was feeling something… guilt? Dread? Fear? I couldn’t pinpoint it, but I didn’t like it. I began pacing the room and my wife woke up. Confused, random thoughts flooded my mind. I began apologizing for all kinds of things. Being a poor husband, a weak father, and even a below average dog owner. I was filled with a kind of self-loathing worry that was quite out of character for my usual easy-going, cheerful nature.
Luckily (for me at least), my wife had experienced her own battles with anxiety during her second pregnancy and recognized this attack for what it was. She calmed me down and explained what she thought was happening. We googled the side effects of my antibiotic and found many people with similar experiences. Figuring that large quantities of coffee may have enhanced this effect, I fell back to sleep, satisfied with what seemed like a reasonable explanation for this awful, but short-lived experience.
This was just the beginning.
I’ve had Depression. It has recurred several times. The first couple of times, I didn’t know what was happening. The next few times, I didn’t want to admit what was happening. The last time felt like it was going to be the end of me… but it wasn’t.
This last experience was a major turning point. Somehow, I was able to start talking about my mental health and, for some reason, once I had started talking about it, I couldn’t stop. The more I talked, the more I learned about depression and other related mental health issues. I learned how little us humans know about the functioning of our brains and how common it is for us to have problems with its health. I learned that many of my friends and relatives had suffered similar experiences but, for a multitude of reasons, had never told me about them.
My learning lead me to thinking – thinking about how I became embarrassed of mental illness, but not of other ailments. Was this learned during my childhood? If so, how? Why? From whom? If I learned it as a child, then are other children still learning this today? Even worse, are there children experiencing depression and other mental health issues, with no idea of what is happening to them because adults never talk to them about it? Are they hiding their symptoms the way adults often do?
Depression is awful for anyone, but think of a child going through it alone. What can we do? We can start by talking. We are not all ready to do this. Mental health is a deeply personal issue, but for those of us who are able, we have already started to open up about it. Twitter is alive with mental health advocates and people ‘talking’ about their personal experiences. There is an abundance of both anecdotal and scientific information there for the taking… and take it we must. We must take it and use it to educate society both young and old. We must spread the word, learn from each other, and teach children about it. This way, perhaps we can eradicate stigma and ensure that adults and children get the help that they need, when they need it.
Mental illness does not discriminate. It can and does affect anyone. It is the result of sickness, not weakness. I am here to add my voice to the growing number of voices that are already shouting this message loud and clear. I am here to help to teach youth the truth and not stigma. Let’s help future generations to be better prepared. Let’s help our own children so that they can be better than us and act through a lens of caring, not judgement.
I hope that my voice helps.