After the costochondritis diagnosis, I was afraid for both my mental and physical health. Never had my symptoms manifested themselves this strongly. I felt like I was drowning. My chest had become so heavy to the point where just taking a breath was a tremendous task. I immediately sought out help from my university’s counseling and psychological services. They referred me to an OCD specialist. For privacy purposes, I’ll call her Jennifer.
The second I walked into Jennifer’s office, I burst into tears. I had been holding myself together for so many weeks that I hadn’t realized how much tension I had stored in my body. I cried for what felt like hours, and by the time I was done, there were no more tissues left.
“Hi my name is Jennifer,” she said as I tried to catch my breath from all the crying.
I hadn’t even noticed that we didn’t get a chance to get acquainted, nor did I realize that she was hugging me tightly the entire time.
“Hi, I’m Khaila,” I replied in between a few tired giggles. “Sorry about that.”
There was no turning back now. I had walked into this stranger’s office and broke down. The least I could do was tell her why I just used her entire box of Kleenex.
For the next hour, I poured my heart out. As she listened to me, she gave me reassuring nods and wrote in her notebook. She occasionally took sips of her water. She even stood up at times to stretch. However, she never interrupted. She never seemed uninterested. I told her about my childhood, the start of my mental health journey, my internship with the CDC and the experiences in Chapel Hill, the death of my grandmother, my growing concerns about not having a job, the dropping temperatures (which meant a heightened amount of germs), and lastly, the start of the school year. I told her about my chest pains and how I had rushed myself to the ER the week before. I even admitted that I stopped taking my medication.
This was when her expression changed. She was confused, perturbed even. Then she asked, “well, since you’re not taking your medicine, how do you manage your anxiety and compulsions?”
There it was. The question that I hate. Not because it’s a bad question, but because I knew that my answer was less than favorable.
“I don’t,” I said.
And this was true. I fell back into the act of running from my anxieties. I let them tell me what to do, how to act, and where to go. Instead of standing up to that voice in my head, I let it control me, and I cowered away from the unknown. I gave into the compulsions that my mind told me to perform. I tried to make things better by saying that I did them because I wanted to. However, I have since learned that this wasn’t the case. I spent so much time indulging in my compulsions because I had subconsciously relinquished control. I was no longer in control of my mind or body. I was no longer in control of my health. OCD and anxiety were.
Jennifer went on to explain the dangers of quitting my medicine, all of which I was already experiencing:
visual and audio disturbances,
body aches, and most alarming,
strong urges to self-harm.
I was sleepy, but afraid to sleep. I was tired, but afraid to rest. I was hungry, but afraid to eat. I was suffocating, but afraid to take a breath. Each day, my mom would call me, and I would say that I was fine, but I was suffering internally. My skin hurt, my veins pulsated, and my brain tingled. I woke up each night in a terror, fighting desperately to just calm down. At one point, I thought my heart was going to explode. I felt like my entire world was caving in, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I wanted nothing more than to find relief.
Over the next few weeks, my anxiety and compulsions had become so overwhelming that any outlet was strongly considered. I had finally gotten a job, but I was too far gone. There were times when I would get in the car and just drive. I would drive for hours on back roads. This gave me temporary relief, but the anxiety would just return when I got out of the car. I’d have to put on a brave face for work and school. I even had the courage to present at a research conference in California, but when I got home, I was afraid again.
Of what, though? I have yet to figure it out.
I constantly burn candles, so I keep a lighter in my room. Each night I would stare at my lighter, fighting the urge to burn myself in an attempt to alleviate my psychological pain. With each passing day, that urge grew stronger. I remember distinctly a time when I called my brother and told him that I wanted to set myself on fire because even that would feel better than the mental chaos that had wrecked havoc on my life.
I had since restarted my medication, but it takes about 3-4 weeks to feel the effects. I was in desperate need of an intervention.
Throughout this entire phase, I saw no hope in sight. My future seemed bright, but I had no idea how to navigate the darkness that I was currently in.
It wasn’t until my very last appointment with Jennifer that I finally saw a ray of sunshine peaking through the clouds…
To be continued tomorrow ❤