For a long time, I’ve wanted to start a little series here. Or anywhere, really. I wasn’t sure what medium I wanted to use: video, journal entries, blog entries…
But I know that there are other people out there who struggle with panic and anxiety, and I want them to know that they’re not alone.
I also want to write about it here to help others understand panic disorder better. Or to better understand me.
And I’m working through it. I’ve had it for over 2 years now, but I’m at a place where I want to–need to–overcome. And so I can talk about progress here. If there is any.
I’ve casually mentioned it here on the blog before, but I’ve never gone in depth and talked about how I got panic disorder. It’s not the kind of illness you can catch from others.
(Although, I will say this, being around mentally ill people can drive you crazy.)
Here’s one “event” that triggered my anxiety before I had an actual diagnosis. I’m going to tread lightly here, change names, and compress a few details. But the following story is true.
*Sigh* I have to try very hard not to be vindictive here….
The summer of 2010 was interesting (read: stressful). I was maintaining a long distance relationship, my stomach problems had gotten worse, my relationship with my dad and my (now ex) stepmom was still on the rocks, and I was working at a day camp for the entire summer.
Except for the week I went to Detroit–August 1st-7th. My youth group
(now dissipated) at my church was going to the National Fine Arts Festival and Speed the Light Youth Convention, as we had the previous two summers. Each year it’s held in a different state, and this particular year we were going to Michigan. We made a stop on the way there in Olean, because people from another youth group were coming with us–3 girls, 1 guy.
There were 5 girls (including me) in my youth group, so we had to figure out how we were going to divide ourselves between 2 hotel rooms. For some odd reason, I felt tense around my friends, so I volunteered to room with 2 of the girls from the other youth group, but only if I could bring someone from our youth group with me.
The girl from my youth group who volunteered with me was Anita*. Anita was also having trouble fitting in with the rest of the group because her family had left our church, and she was paranoid that people were gossiping about her and her family. Because of this, Anita got along quite well with a girl from the other youth group. Her name was Kelly*.
From the moment I met Kelly, I felt intimidated. She was tough, she liked to be the center of attention, and she liked to complain about others and her distaste for gossip (oh, the irony). She was the kind of person who stirred up division, whether she intended to or not. But the worst thing about her was that she was a liar.
Too bad I didn’t know this sooner.
I spent that week in Detroit rooming with Anita, Kelly, and Melissa*, who was Kelly’s
non-biological sister. Melissa wasn’t fazed by anything Kelly said, because she knew inside that Kelly exaggerated and told different people different stories. I, on the other hand, felt spiritually oppressed. Anita and Kelly bonded over their love of exercise and their intense hate of all things shallow. Oh, and Anita clung to Kelly because Kelly claimed she had the gift of prophecy/the gift of knowledge/and some stuff that the Bible doesn’t mention.
As a pentecostal Christian, I believe in the gift of prophecy. But I also (now) know that not everyone who claims to have this gift actually has it. Kelly being a great example.
Kelly would say things behind people’s backs to Anita. She claimed to know what everyone was thinking and feeling in the room. She purposely intimidated people. And Anita was hanging on Kelly’s every word, because she distrusted us and put her faith in Kelly. Meanwhile, I felt like an outsider to the rest of my room. I can’t tell you how many times I went outside to call my mom during this trip. Something felt wrong in my spirit. I felt nervous all the time. I felt scared of Kelly. I’d tell my mom, “Mom, Kelly just said [insert what she said].” And my mom, who was wise, told me not to be afraid of this girl, because based on what I was saying, my mom didn’t think Kelly was telling the truth.
It got worse, though. Kelly had epilepsy.
Or, so we thought. I had never seen a seizure in real life before, so when Kelly told us about it, I was terrified that this girl was going to have a seizure. I didn’t want to be alone in the room with Kelly. I recall one day leaving her and Anita in the workout center at the hotel to go to my room and hang out with Melissa, and all of a sudden, Cindy*–the other girl from their youth group–ran into the room and told Melissa she had to come to the workout room, quick.
Melissa asked why and said she was busy. Cindy said, “No–Kelly’s having a seizure!” Immediately both girls bolted from the room. I didn’t want to look apathetic towards the whole thing, but I was scared of what I’d see once I got to the workout center, so I trailed behind Melissa and Cindy at a distance. When I reached the workout center, Kelly was on the floor in the hallway flailing about like a frog in hot water. Anita, Sister Maggie* (Melissa’s mom), Melissa, and Cindy were all on the floor around Kelly, trying to hold her still. Sister Maggie was praying in tongues and she would take breaks to tell Kelly to relax. People at the hotel gave us confused looks and inquired as to whether or not Kelly was alright. Sister Maggie assured them she would be fine.
I had no assurance.
Our room was in a different building, so Kelly had to be carried down the stairs and outside. Soon the rest of my youth group, guys and girls, joined in on the effort. Halfway to the room, Kelly had to lie down again. Someone brought out a sheet and we stretched it over her to block out the sun as she, once more, laid on the ground and started flailing again. More confused looks from passersby. The people in my youth group just went along with whatever Sister Maggie wanted us to do. Finally, Kelly was well enough to be carried again to the room. One of the strongest guys in my youth group, Noah*, picked her up in his arms and carried her into our room, laying her down on the bed. As soon as we made it there, though, Kelly had another episode. This time it was really scary–all of us were packed into one room, several members of both youth groups sat on the bed to constrain Kelly, Sister Maggie’s prayers were yielding no results, and as I watched the whole scene unfold, I was starting to tremble with fear. Finally, Patrick*, a boy from the other youth group, announced that Kelly had the demon of the seizure, and we needed to call out now to get rid of it.
The icing on the proverbial cake.
As people stated yelling and screaming for the demon to go away, I thought back to some traumatic experiences I had years before in my old church–but that’s for another entry. I was confused, I was scared, I was getting chills, and I just wanted this whole thing to be over.
I don’t even remember how it ended. Eventually Kelly calmed down, and a few people were actually able to laugh about the whole ordeal I had just witnessed. The calm after the storm. Kelly slept.
Kelly skimped on meals. (Kelly probably had an eating disorder, based on my observations from that week.) Kelly continued to talk to Anita about what people were thinking and feeling. Kelly continued to strike fear in people and make people uncomfortable. Some people felt the same way I did about Kelly, but we were all too scared to say anything to each other, thinking we might be wrong. Finally, my pastor witnessed one of her so-called seizures, and the next day he called a meeting for just our youth group in his hotel room.
We sat around as my pastor and his wife calmly explained that, no, Kelly was not possessed, nor was she a prophet, nor did she even have epilepsy.
He said she had Munchausen’s Syndrome. She was faking the illness to get attention. A real seizure doesn’t even look like what she was doing. While few people knew the real story behind Kelly’s life, he did–and it was actually very sad. (We didn’t get to hear about it, though).
He told us all this on a Thursday. I had been rooming with Kelly since Sunday. I was pissed. Not at my pastor, but at the whole situation. I was angry with Kelly for putting me through this trauma. I was angry that my trip was almost over and I hadn’t gotten to enjoy it. I was angry that I avoided taking pictures on this trip because I was afraid the flash on my camera would cause her to have a seizure. I was angry that she gossiped about my youth group to Anita at night. I was angry that I had been sleep deprived and sick for a week.
The speakers and the worship at the arena that year were great. My experience outside the arena…not so much. All because of this one girl. Even genuine spiritual experiences felt confusing and scary to me. I had become afraid of God. Kelly had summoned up fears in me that I thought I had already dealt with. But no, not yet.
After our stop in Olean to bring the other youth group and their leaders home, I eventually fell asleep during the bus ride from Olean to the Bronx. When I got home, I slept some more, even though it was too early for bed. My mom woke me up so I could eat the first nutritious meal I had in a week. It was painful to keep my eyes open. I went to bed early that night, and my mom woke me up around 1:00 in the afternoon the following day.
Eventually sleep would become difficult for me, and my stomach issues would cause more pain for me. But I’ll talk about that in Part 2.
Scenes from the next blog entry: my trip to Long Island to visit my (now ex) boyfriend and my visit with a quacky nutritionist–another game-changing factor that would lead me down the road to panic.
PS Disclaimer: I’m not trying to shame anyone here, I’m not trying to solicit pity, and I’m not trying to make myself look bad. I’m just sharing my experiences. If you can’t handle reading these entries, please do not read them. I am not a doctor, I just happen to have panic disorder and this is my story. Etc.