When I got my first definitive sign I had a mental illness, I was writing.
I was near the cusp of fourteen and in Algebra I. December 2011. Given some time to do homework or such at the end of class, I, as I often did, took to writing.
I was writing a character death scene in which the character in question drowns. In the ultimate irony, the character in question was schizophrenic—but we won’t get there for a while.
The important thing at the time was that I had a near lifelong fear of water. Being a desert dweller, it didn’t come up much, but the ocean, especially, or even lakes—drove me into a panic. I had recurring nightmares about tsunamis or storm surges, drowning. This scene was close to home.
At some point while writing about this character running out of oxygen, I snapped out of my zone and realized that I actually couldn’t breathe.
Things went quickly from there. I was rushed to the nurse’s office and then to the ER, hyperventilating on the edge of blacking out, vision going dark, limbs too numb to stand, clutching at the chest pain.
I was diagnosed with my first panic attack.
And after the first, they kept coming. Over the summer, I started therapy and medication.
About a year later, I was taking a Biology exam when I started being taunted by red, blobbish, demonic figures drowning images of those I loved—down to my cat—in blood, singsonging gibberish insults.
I began having such episodes as frequently as the “old” panic attacks. I was often delusional—paranoid, physically lashing out at anyone trying to comfort or move me—or catatonic—my arm dropping limply if you lifted it—during.
By spring semester of tenth grade, 2014, it was far too much—especially at this high pressure magnet school—and I left school for a year of homeschooling before I was able to get my high school equivalency a year early. I was too agoraphobic to leave the house for a while. It was a critical time for me in many ways. My parents got a divorce. I made my first adult friends—all writers—and got into my first serious relationship. I attempted community college for creative writing and made a few bucks writing clickbait. I volunteered and got involved with NaNoWriMo. Mostly, I wrote.
Parts of what at first seemed like—maybe, at the time, were—isolated episodes, became patterns, habits, and day to day, on a much lower level. Some things, in hindsight, had been with me my whole life. I sought another diagnosis by now, besides the anxiety and schizophrenia—autism. I spent most of a month nearly nonverbal, and was almost hospitalized.
When things got worse, my mood plummeted. For most of 2015, I fell into patterns of self harm and suicidal ideation, or at least the urge to run far away. I attempted suicide that September, and it was a turning point. I swore off self destructive urges, save a few once off relapses I could count on one hand years apart, and threw myself into change.
In the fall of 2017, I left to attend a private four year liberal arts college in Cambridge, MA. I loved the school. I loved the town; I loved the people there; I loved my classes. That wasn’t the problem.
Being too far from home, maybe, on my own, or meds that needed to be adjusted—whatever it was, I landed in a psych ward—finally, after a lot of near misses, hospitalized for the first time, less than two months into the school year.
I tried to stick it out for a while, going back and forth on my decision, but within a few weeks, landed safely home in Vegas, at a loss for what the future looked like.
Eight days later, I met the love of my life. That changed everything.
Now, the timing, of course, looked horrible. But three years later to the day, 2020, we were married in a ceremony in the beautiful home we own, surrounded by people we love, as people pursuing our passions. I was about to self publish my first book, which would be quickly followed by my second, and was soon to start teaching alternative sexuality classes via webinar (within months, I’d also be running a related local group). I was going to start taking a household management course online, and was learning how to be an effective landlord. And, I was a happy housewife who got the girl, the two cats, and the house on the end of the cul de sac.
In the ceremony, our officiant mentioned that we had packed thirty years of marriage into three years of courtship. Two deaths in my family, and estate handling. A pandemic. I almost died of black mold poisoning, all but bedridden for months. We moved. I had surgery. I went off and then back on meds, though I eventually left therapy, for now. We thought, briefly, my wife might lose her job. Medical emergencies or surgeries for the cats. Mental and physical health issues. Panic attacks, sensory overload, hallucinations and delusions, dissociation, depression, chronic pain and fatigue, hypervigilance, flashbacks, and nightmares. For all the health issues I brought in, I also now had PTSD from one of those family deaths in Summer 2019.
Is everything perfect now? Is everything solved? No, but I’m writing on a laptop in front of me with a warm cat in my lap and my beautiful wife three feet away. The sun is shining; the neighbors’ son plays with his dog outside. We saw friends and family yesterday and we will today. I have things to do I can’t wait to get to. In a few months, we’ll vacation in Lake Tahoe—I guess I overcame that water phobia.
And life is pretty good.