Three days ago, it has been one year. Today, it has been one year. And on Friday, it will again have been one year. It’s time – time for me to look back on earlier versions of myself. Time to look back to a girl who was more lost than she’s ever been, trying to navigate between overwhelming emotions and eventually drowning in their depths.
Except… she didn’t actually drown. Because, you know. She’s writing this.
It hit me out of nowhere. You know, we forget about the time that’s passing because it passes so very naturally. It does so without us influencing it, we just exist within it. And just like that, one year can go by, and on a very regular Saturday this year I was working an eight hour shift and didn’t even recognise the date. Until Facebook reminded me of what happened a year ago, until I read a status I wrote on last year’s 27th of May after a long day at the hospital. A post in which I thanked strangers by their names for giving me company on one of the roughest days of my life.
Say Hi to 2016 Mercy. She was a train wreck, at least for the first half of the year. I started rough with a good and decent amount of depression weighing me down, and I went through a relationship that changed me. First for better, then for worse, then for better again. But we can’t see that when we’re inside what we experience, am I right? If we’re lucky to make it through it, what comes afterwards is what makes us grow.
I still know exactly how she felt, but I am not feeling the same anymore. The emotions she felt are vague shadows inside of me, stored away. They’re just a memory. Occasionally, they show up when I am talking about mental health to strangers who do not know about me, and to talk academically about what happens during a panic attack is something haunting for somebody who has went through a disassociative panic attack right in the center of one of Berlin’s most famous streets. I still see myself on the ground on Friedrichstraße, a place I’ve been to a thousand times, until that one day, I sank on its floor and cried bitterly. What followed was a total shut-down of all of my cognitive functions. I went on autopilot – and dude, it’s creepy. I know sometimes we wish we could go on autopilot, a mechanism designed to navigate us through what seems to heavy for us to process, a distant protector. But it’s really nothing we should wish for. When you are on autopilot, the lights in your brain go out. They don’t slowly fade out to darkness, the light in your head goes black in the blink of an eye. When the light is gone, you have no idea anymore what you’re doing. How did I get to this store? I am lurking between the shelves, but what am I looking for? How do I go through the store’s door, I have no idea? My autopilot navigated me around the people in the crowd, but don’t trust a machinery, because I bumped into every second person. I felt a nausea in my entire body, and inside of me was a silence which was a strong filter through which barely any sound made it to my sense of perception. I couldn’t stand still, I felt like I was fainting, and I was absolutely clueless about who I was, where I came from and where I was going. This caused immense panic in me, a feeling I watched coming up from the far away place in my head I had retreated to. Eventually I “parked” my hyper-alert body and useless chunk of mind on a bench. And I sat on this bench for a while, crying my heart out, not knowing what I was crying about, until my ex-boyfriend told me to check myself into the emergency section of a hospital.
And what do you say when you’ve barely made it to the hospital, exhausted from resisting the tempting darkness of the ubahn railways? Pushing against walls so you wouldn’t jump or fall and become the next news on the Berliner Fenster. So when you’re talking to the secretarian who takes your personal data at the entrance? Why are you here?
“Why are you here?”, she asked for protocol and I couldn’t think of anything else than: “Depression.” Actually, today I know, it was anxiety and panic. Today I know what I could have done but back then I was so freaked out by what happened, I couldn’t find any words, I felt like crashing on the hospital floor again. They took my pulse, it was racing. I experienced another anxiety attack when they parked me in the red emergency zone and the Doctor left me. I hyperventilated and the nurses helped me breathe into paper bags. That’s what happened for a good six hours. Briefly I felt suicidal and tried to slice open my hand with the plastic piece of the paper bag thing. But I was shaking so hard I couldn’t even manage that. I just cried. And then I crashed with apathy as an after affect. I met a lot of people who came and left that day. I met a Syrian woman who, due to language barriers, thought I had lost a baby, I met a girl who had a nervous breakdown during work, I met a lot of people, but I was also all alone. I screamed at nurses and slammed my fists against glass walls that seperated them from me. I became that person. The one you would usually look at and think: Come on, Carmen, cool down and take a Tequila shot and everything’s fine. I watched people. People with real injuries, bleeding bodies, in pain, being carried in and out in beds. I watched Doctors with flying white coats. Did they notice me? I don’t think so.
Eventually I talked to a psychiatrist. “Can you still go to university or not?”, he asked. I sighed, I said, yes I am, but… and he said “So you’re still functioning.” Our conversation was an interrogation and I went home with a piece of paper explaining I suffered from suicidal depression. Well, I thought to myself on the day my brain collapsed when I ate a Döner afterwards, well. What a day.
It’s been a year. It has been one entire year and I am in an entirely different place. I have experienced anxiety quite often this year, but I haven’t had a severe panic attack in one year. I am educated about what happens to my body when in panic, I know it’s a misled stress reaction, I know that it will pass, that I will not die from it, that I just have to wait. Sometimes, to “just” wait is horrible, but it is something I can manage nonetheless.
I’ve been diagnosed a lot of things along with depression, but a year ago I was served those “labels” on a silver plate. Today, I own them. I know them, every detail of those voices, those feelings. And I own them, I regulate them. I’ve decided to live when I came out of that hospital, I think. And I want to live a good life, one that’s forgiving, one that’s sometimes happy. I think this is a choice you have to make when you’re somebody like me. For some people it’s a clear thing from the start, people like me have to make themselves aware time and time and time again: It is possible to have a ‘normal’ life.
When I talk about this, what I never do, I usually refer to 2016 me as ‘her’. She felt that, she did that, I can remember her the way I remember other people that influenced me heavily: I revisit the memories of her and I am still able to explain in detail what things felt like with and for her, but we are not the same. I refuse to be the same person she was. I am not saying she was a lesser version of me, just an earlier one. One that needed to have an update. And I am very grateful on this day of what I’ve achieved. I am working hard, slow by slow. It’s a decision you take with you. You’re not waking up one day, happy and easy. The pain doesn’t just disappear and the emotions do not all of a sudden make sense. So we gotta work for it. Hard. Sometimes I still think about quitting the work. When a thousand things come together, when I have a thousand worries everywhere in my life, when I am involved in yet another emotionally wrecked story or am overwhelmed by an adult life or when I’m facing hard decisions. Because I do, sometimes the simplest things are impossible for me. Since I have started working, I’ve faced like a million fears I have. I’ve had anxiety, slight panic, I’ve fought a phobia I have for this job – or rather for me. Sometimes I am working this job and I am shaking and have to use all my energy to regulate myself down and by the end of the day, when I get home, I sleep a straight 14 hours because of the exhaustion of working a job that challenges you when you’re me. But it’s good. Because I don’t quit, I do not avoid anymore, I know things scare me and I go through them nonetheless. I know things will hurt me and I actively choose them and I handle their consequences.
These are the things we do not talk about. To anyone. Not to our lovers, barely to our friends, not to my parents, not even to my therapist in detail. Some know there was “this day”, most don’t. When we’re discussing panic and anxiety in uni, I discuss analytically, despite the tickling that’s just under my skin, despite the desire to yell at them: How can you talk so calmly about something so terrible? Would I raise my hand in this seminar and admit I have gone through all of this? I would not. I would tell one or two people, but I could never really say it out loud. I felt like a mad person back then, like a clinical lunatic. Maybe I do not want to identify with her because she still is that to me. But these things demand to be talked about. So, I am reaching out, right now, into the void of the internet and I am asking you, if you experience things you do not talk about ever… be brave. And do it. The first time you tell your story, it’s the most scaring thing, because you’re opening up about something we deem as strange. But it is not. No mental illness is on you – or unique. And that, for once, is a good thing.