Twas the Saturday before Christmas and I was home alone, having decided to forgo the extended family get together my in-laws were hosting. After talking to my therapist about boundaries and choices I had made up my mind to skip the large group festivities and go to the smaller gathering the next day. Being home by myself would give me the opportunity to get some writing done, and now that my desk was in the living room I no longer had to sit in my bedroom staring out the window. Above my desk hung a picture of a couple dancing on top of a phonograph, the background was bright yellow that melted into an orange red on the other side of this man and woman from an era that has long passed. After filling a glass with water I sat down, but instead of working on my version of the Great American Novel I felt a surge of uneasy energy. I walked around the house trying to figure out why I was so anxious, telling myself that there were no monsters beneath the bed, or skeletons in the closet that were going to reach out and grab me, but the feeling intensified as I paced.
Probably the worst and strangest thing was that in my mind, I knew that I was in no real danger despite being home alone. Blood pounded in my veins and skull, I could feel it pulsing, hammering, and I'm no fan of housework or running, but that night I felt like I could have run for fifty miles after thoroughly cleaning my house. I did whatever I could to keep busy, swept floors that didn't need it, cleaned a bathroom that wasn't that dirty, I had taken a nap earlier, and when I woke up I felt drowsy and not bad at all so the abrupt interruption of these intense feelings was unnerving. I called a girlfriend in desperation, and my heart sunk when my call went to voicemail. In the past I might not have done this, but I reached out to a friend on Twitter who had told me to let him know if I ever needed someone to talk to. That night I did, but I had just finished telling him that I was home alone and scared when my girlfriend returned my call.
I had to keep pacing as we talked, I could hear my own voice trying to explain what was happening, but the truth is, nothing was. Feeling insane and knowing that something is in your head doesn't make it any easier to deal with and at first I couldn't explain what my problem was. Eventually I calmed down and explained that I felt like my parents were going to break my door down and start beating me because I hadn't finished the dishes before I took my bath and nap. We talked for a while, I had every light on in the house, and I'm sure that my voice alone, jittery, shaky, and nonsensical was probably enough for her to realize that something out of the ordinary was taking place. It took hours before I could get to sleep that night. Inside blood was percolating as if any moment we were going to face extreme and intense danger that never came.
When I saw my therapist she told me that I had a PTSD flashback to the times when I was a child who never felt safe and loved. While I believed her, the pronouncement felt surreal. I was in my own home and in control of my surroundings, but it sure hadn't felt that way. I think one of the hard things about having a mental health problem is getting people to understand that one can go from relaxed and ready to write straight into a full blown psychotic episode where you go down in the basement to do laundry only to find that you were already there, but there's no memory of what was done, only evidence that wet laundry is drying and nothing down there needs your attention. That night I didn't feel particularly suicidal, and I'm glad about that, but I have in the past and what's so strange to me is how it can come and go so quickly.
My therapist and my friend wanted to know what triggered the episode, I did too, but there wasn't anything I could think of, it just very suddenly came on while I was standing in my living room getting ready to write. My therapist does this finger moving thing called EMDR that doesn't seem like it would work, and may not for you, but it does for me. She asked me to feel what I was feeling that night so I did. It felt like a ten on the scale so I mentioned that. Then I saw this fiery orange and red ball that was angry and spitting. She waved her fingers in front of my eyes and told me to notice that. Then I saw a blue and green ball that was much smaller. The blue and green ball kept growing while the other ball shrank. Then I saw the beach with some sand toys. I saw an endless expanse of blue green ocean and the infinite stars above me even though it wasn't night. After that I saw a red ball sitting in the corner covered in dust. Then I saw myself sleeping in my own bed, not my real bed, but a cozy bed that could be mine and I was sleeping peacefully.
Today that picture is just a picture. We took it down to prevent another episode, but my guess is that something else will be the trigger next time. When I came back home I did some online research, feel free to do your own, but here are a few things that I can try next time. The point here is to remind yourself that you are in the moment, these feelings are real, but they don't necessarily give way to unsafety or real danger. Your mind is going back in time to a mental place where it felt threatened or abandoned and whatever the trigger was tripped some circuitry in my brain that made me feel like I was that little girl again. So I can blast rock music, take a bite out of a lemon, sniff essential oil of peppermint (or other strong scent), hold an ice cube, reach out to a trusted friend, or call or text my therapist if things get very bad and I feel like I need her help.
I hate writing about this kind of thing and I've heard that there is no shame in having a mental illness so it's not really that exactly. It's embarrassing, shame is a part of it, but mostly it feels so silly now that the moment has passed. How can my mind trick me into thinking that things are real when they aren't? I don't know, but I'm thankful that I made it through once again, and grateful that this episode wasn't worse. Not knowing what you're doing, and forgetting that you already did things that you did compulsively is not a good realization to have. I don't think that I was hallucinating, but I may have been, and that's another thing that is pretty scary too because then I start thinking about other issues and wonder if I have something else going on. I didn't exactly hear voices, but I could feel my parents closing in on me, but they were disembodied shapes instead of looking the way that they did in real life.
Mostly I'm writing this for myself, as a reminder of a bridge that I crossed, a moment in time that I overcame, and a hope that this will be the last time something like this ever happens to me. I'm working with a therapist that I like and feel is effective, and I'm doing other things for myself that will build my mental and physical strength. Being able to admit that I have these types of episodes is oddly empowering, and I wanted to share my experiences because a lot of the time when I read things, they tend to be written from a practitioner point of view and I feel like we need more patients to share their stories with others so we realize that we are not alone, others realize that this is the kind of thing that can happen when you leave an almost forty year old woman at home by herself, and to know that suicidal tendencies are not anything I live with night and day, but they do crop up at moments and times when I am least prepared for them so I know that I need to have systems in place and actions to take before I get pushed to that point.
Please don't mistake this for any type of medical advice. These are my own thoughts and experiences, and it's rather challenging to write accurately and completely about an event where your mind feels less than fully functional and operational. Today I'm home alone again and it's giving me a chance to sit here and think about what happened last Saturday. I can be alone in my own home, or at least I think that I can, and I don't want to give up my freedom and independence, but I worry that there may come a day where it's taken from me for the safety of myself and others. Back in June I drove to a gas station, this time I knew better than to get behind the wheel so I stayed at home which was tough, but probably a wiser choice than having someone like me on the roads at night. Telling people not to worry is pointless, but please know that I am getting help, and I appreciate my friends who are there for me and are willing to be my personal first responders in a moment of perceived crisis. Hopefully this issue will get resolved, or at the very least the episodes will get weaker and further apart. Feel free to ask any questions you may have, I'd rather have people ask them than not.