'The war is in my mind'

I was anxious every day, and, because of my anxiety, I felt lost. The way I acted, thought, saw the world moving past me – it was all somehow off. Every day I hoped I would start feeling okay again, or, at the very least, that I would be able to define the malaise from which I was suffering.

Ever since I was a child, I can remember going through periods lasting a couple hours where things seemed strange. I would feel uncomfortable and separated from the events around me. In the mental health profession, this state is known as derealization, where reality does not feel quite real. The only way I can describe this is like realizing that your dream isn’t real while you’re in the middle of it.

When I visit certain places, like Pasadena and San Diego, my derealization is triggered. If my surroundings are even slightly different from my expectations of what they should be, I am pushed over the edge into a surreal state.

At first, it manifested itself as anxiety.  Early in 2012, I became very anxious over minor things and had no way to deal with the stress. I told myself that it was caused by something earlier that day.  I told myself that I could deal with it. I found my first coping mechanism: cutting.

I began a pattern of destructive behavior that lasted until I could no longer keep the secret. Some scars from that time have faded, but some never will.

On Jan. 30, 2012, I told my Peer Support group that I cut myself. I told them that it was a red flag. I wanted to get the struggle that I had been going through off my chest.

My group was supportive of my openness and it felt good to get my story out in the open. I had to see school counselor Luba Bek. I told her that I was seeing a psychiatrist and she asked me a couple questions, talked to my psychiatrist, and that was that.

None of my coping mechanisms have helped for long.  Cigarettes gave only temporary relief.  I did not realize that no matter what I tried, I could not solve the problems on my own. I stubbornly stuck to the idea that my mind was under my control.

I churned through all of my homework and received strong grades in return. I projected that my academic performance would be better than any year before. At the beginning my anxiety was not too bad. There were times when a teacher would be critical of me in a one-on-one meeting prompting me to go home and cut myself.

One night, I told my girlfriend that I cut myself. She acted a little strangely the rest of the night and threw my pack of cigarettes away, causing me to feel anxious and derealized. The ensuing feelings of isolation and anxiety made me seek relief through cutting. For the last time. She made me promise that if I ever was about to cut myself again I would call her, a conversation I never felt comfortable having.

The anxiety came back with a vengeance. I was stupefied and numb from Xanax, Ativan and Klonopin, all anti-anxiety medications. When my malady eventually progressed to the point that I could not function without being drugged I finally realized that I was no longer in control of my mind.

Treating the symptoms was a failed strategy that kept me suffering from a debilitating illness that made me question my sanity. I was attempting to juggle school, a failing relationship and the inability to think.

I saw Bek a few times during the year when my anxiety became too bad for me to remain in class.  I was given the ability to miss class for anxiety with almost no repercussions, a luxury I took advantage of frequently.

Eventually, I was taken to a psychiatrist who treated me based on family history instead of my direct symptoms.  I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which did not obviously explain my symptoms, but the treatment for bipolar disorder made me sane. The aftermath was as painful as the disease.

My grades had taken a steep dive, my friends, family and my girlfriend knew I was crazy and my parents had instituted things like a curfew and cut off my allowance because they were afraid that I would purchase more substances.

Everyone stood by me, though. My girlfriend was always supportive, although she admits that she never knew how bad it was, and my parents are a little scarred by my actions, but everyone is moving past my past.

The support I received from my friends and family let me get past this time in my life. I was never abandoned and, although I was placed in difficult situations, there were always people I could and did approach for help.

My physical and emotional scars may never heal. My girlfriend asked if I would want to get the scars on my arms removed by a dermatologist but I said no.

I do not expect this to be the last time my mind betrays me, but I know I will always have people to support me.

Maybe one day I will move past what I have been through, but that day has not come yet. Sometimes I go without thinking about what happened to me for days. I doubt I will ever find closure or a way to give meaning to what happened.

It has, however, changed me and I have learned a lesson that I cannot shake no matter how hard I try.

I am not invincible. I am my own kryptonite. Control of my emotions and perception is an illusion.

For four months in a row I would wake up and think to myself, “tomorrow, I will be fine,” but that tomorrow never came. There was no quick fix. That approach cost me the respect of myself and others, and physical and emotional pain. The real pain came from waking up every day and hoping that no one would to talk me and come to the realization that I was on the brink of losing it.

If someone asked me if I was stronger or weaker than I was seven months ago, I would respond stronger.

I am now medicated, which means that many of my symptoms affect me less. I have learned that I can handle challenging circumstances and move past them.

I have learned to never take days when I am sane and the people that I am with for granted, because they can be easily taken away from me.  It has been a journey of pain, but it has been an experience from which I will grow.

The war is in my mind and the wounds are on my body.

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