Part One – The Struggle

Love. Attention. Compassion. Nurturing parents that would undoubtedly do anything to make their little girl smile. A cute, little, cozy two story house that rested on a beautiful piece of property next door to my grandparents. I was loved. I was doted on. I was happy. I had everything a child should have growing up in this world. So why almost twenty years later am I writing this? Did something tragic happen? Did I lose a loved one in a horrific way of some sort? None of the above, thank God. So what was the problem that slowly crept into my life and unveiled its paralyzing ways. It’s terrifying eyes that even the bravest have trouble staring into. My illnesses. That’s right plural as in not one, not two, but three.

Manic depression. My first true recollection of any emotions that felt odd was in the first grade. It was a Friday. My favorite day of the week. It was movie day and the main attraction was “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.” I was fascinated, entranced. This was the best movie ever!! I remember thinking it didn’t hold a candle to Back to the Future, but it was great. I was happy, as always. Sitting there Indian style, suddenly this weird, fuzzy, feeling came over me. Engulfed me. My whole entire body. As an adult I now know it was a “high” often described as “euphoria”. I felt great! But as suddenly as it came, it was gone and replaced with a mixture of sadness and fear. My heart quickened. Excitement? Butterflies? What was going on here? I hadn’t a clue.

I was six.

Up, down, up, down. A complete rollercoaster of emotions. A ride that was exhilarating and frightening all at the same time. These highs and lows continued sporadically. I thought nothing of it. I just continued being Jenny, six years old and possibly the happiest kid on earth. Then as the years passed new feelings surfaced. They were scary, they were confusing, and they had only just begun.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Now that I look back my first “panic attack” related to OCD was my eleventh birthday party. I had a sleepover. Mom and Dad made it as special as they possibly could. My mother thoughtfully bought me little gifts she knew I would love, my favorite munchies (as we would call them) and a beautiful cake. As I blew out the candles I looked around the room at my friends clapping, the proud eyes of my parents watching their little girl blow out her candles. It was great. But all was not great. All the girls had put their belongings in my room, creating a scattered mess of overnight bags, pillows and sleeping bags. I thought I was going to throw up. This mess! My head felt dizzy. I remember saying to myself “Calm down Jen, it’s only for one night. They’ll be gone tomorrow and the minute they leave you can clean for hours if you want to.” I was looking forward to this. So the next day they left and the cleaning began. Objects had to be parallel, symmetrical, placed on a proper angle. If they weren’t it was hell on my eyes. I would become agitated, worrisome, and angry.

Getting back to my early childhood, now I’ve experienced inexplicable highs, lows, and some very odd habits that I would later identify as “rituals”. A few years after my eleventh birthday I discovered the main component of my madness.

Anxiety. Seventh grade, history class. Why are my hands shaking? Why can’t I make eye contact with my classmates without my head shaking and vibrating. My palms are sweating, heart is racing. My mouth is dry. What’s this? I can’t swallow?? Oh God I must be dying. My eyes are twitching. What is wrong with me now? I was so clueless as to what these nightmarish feelings were. This used to be private, only in my head. Now it’s in my body! People can see! I was mortified and it was only the beginning. If I were to write about every awkward panic stricken moment I’ve had throughout my life, or every compulsion, or every obsessive thought I would probably wear the letters off my fathers keyboard and I don’t think he’d appreciate that. So I won’t. But I must share my second real recollection of a true panic attack. The bathtub. I remember saying to myself, “Self, what is it with this bath tub? Why can’t I breathe when I’m in here?” I started to get those terrible feelings I was getting in school, except now they were while I was taking a bath. Great. I just learned how to shave my legs and I couldn’t even do it in peace for God sakes. In all seriousness my play time in the tub got shorter and shorter. I asked my mom “What’s wrong with our bathtub? Why do I feel so bad when I go in there?” I honestly don’t remember what her response was, but I’m sure she was quite puzzled to say the least. That was it for baths for the time being. I associated the tub with a racing heart, dizziness, and mental mayhem. Stupid bathtub, I’ll take showers from now on. So there! That solves that. If only it were that easy. I was becoming a young woman. I was growing and maturing…… and so were my illnesses.

Looking back my teenage years really did fly by. They came and went so quickly…..looking back now. But not at the time. Not for a fourteen year old girl who was about to enter a dark world that was cruel, unforgiving, unhealthy and immobilizing. This world was my mind. A world of panic, fear, and sadness. How did I cope?

One word. DRUGS.

My family and I moved into a new house (one without a scary bathtub). I liked my new neighborhood and adjusted fairly quickly. I was now fourteen doing normal everyday things a fourteen year old girl does. Shopping, sleepovers, ice-skating, bike riding, going to the movies, and crushing on boys. I was the bubbly new blonde girl on the block, bouncing around without a care in the world.

But I was an extremely good actress.

I couldn’t tell my friends about what I was feeling. They would think I was weird or even crazy!! Months passed and eventually I started seeing doctors. All different types of doctors. At the time I had no idea that by the age of twenty six I would be prescribed over twenty medications. Zoloft, Paxil, Effexor, Lexapro, Celexa, Lithium (which unbeknownced to me would make me gain 15 pounds), Wellbutrin, Buspar, Geodon, Topomax, Xanax, Cymablta, Vistaril, Lorezapan, etc. The list goes on.

There was one medication in particular that I was put on called Geodon. I will never as long as I live forget what this medication did to me. The next morning I had woke up, actually let me rephrase that. I didn’t “wake” up. My body jerked itself awake in the upright position. I sat there rigid and bug-eyed. Here’s the best part. My face felt as if it were melting. Gravity seemed to be pulling my facial muscles along with my skin downward. My bones felt like they wanted to crawl out of my body. Great. Now I’m depressed and I look like a side show freak. I looked at the pamphlet that comes with every medication and proceeded to look at the “side effects”. What’s this? Side effect number three – Masked Face. What the hell is that? It should have said melting face! Then I see the WARNINGS.

Here we go.

It goes on to explain that Geodon can change or alter the natural electrical current in your body. Immediately after that I wrote the doctor a Thank You letter. Ha ha. This would not be the first or last time I experienced such a horrible adverse effect. I continued on meds trying this one and that in hopes to find the right one. Give me the “magic pill”! Unfortunately, there is no “magic pill”. I am still on medication today and am not even really sure if it’s the right one.

If someone would have asked me back then what the next ten or so years would hold for me, this would have been my response. “Gee, I dunno…finish high school. Go to college. Get married!” Probably giggling all the while. Unfortunately, now at twenty nine I can answer that question correctly. Drugs, tears, fear, panic, and more tears.

As I mentioned before, it is impossible for me to write about each and every bad experience or encounter throughout the years. I would hate to cheat the reader or even myself of some of the life changing (or threatening) experiences I’ve endured. But to do so would be time consuming, exhausting, and most of all reminiscent of places I never want to go back to.

But it is what it is, and this is what it was.

Fifteen or sixteen. School was ok. Popular I was not, by any means. I had my small circle of friends and that sufficed. I was a tomboy, very competitive and eager to show the boys or anyone who would watch that “I can do it too and better!” For the most part life was alright. I lived in a beautiful home, had a wonderful family. Everyday after school the boys and I would play basketball, football, or hockey. That wasn’t the only thing we were doing everyday. We were getting high, everyday all day. It became a routine for me very quickly as a matter of fact. Smoke at the bus stop, during lunch, after school and before I went to bed.

Wake up repeat.

It became a need almost instantly and would become the least of my problems when it came to my addictive personality. It made me a little nervous, a little shaky, giggly and very hungry. I thought wow, this is the greatest stuff known to man. I was now almost sixteen and officially a pothead. This lasted for the next two years continuously. I was very secretive and used Visine religiously. There was no way Mom and Dad could find out about this. It was my new escape! But there was no escape.

My panic attacks got worse, my depression more severe, and my OCD at an all time high. I was self medicating and possibly making my condition(s) that much worse. One night I was walking down the block with a friend to meet the local weed dealer. A typical night. Pick up a bag of weed, head to the woods and smoke ourselves silly. Now I’ve got the bag.

Mission accomplished!

Time to get high and forget….about everything. So I’m unraveling the bag and there’s no weed. Now I’m pissed. Not a happy camper. I run over to the street lamp and peer into the cellophane and foil at what appears to be a white powdery rock. I wasn’t stupid. I knew immediately it was cocaine….and wasted no time trying it. At the time I didn’t care too much for it. I stuck to the pot and drank occasionally. Forgive me but I must skip a few years for they were nothing more than the life of a teenage pothead who enjoyed hanging out with her friends and getting high.

Stay with me people! I am now eighteen, in the twelfth grade. Whoo hoo! Senior year!! Yea, not so much. Unlike other kids I had no goals or aspirations. I was eighteen and dating a destructive alcoholic and slowly but surely becoming addicted to drugs. I had an abortion before my senior year was over. How did that happen? I was so careful and I didn’t even like sex! Well it happened, one more thing to add to the list and one more reason to get higher than I did the day before. Shortly after the abortion I left my then boyfriend with barely any self esteem and a taste for alcohol. I wasn’t in the best place. From there on it was nothing but suicide attempts, constant crying, wreckless driving and cutting.

You name it I did it.

But in the following months I stumbled upon something that seemed to make all the pain go away. And I mean ALL the pain. Ecstasy. What in the world was this drug and where has it been all my life. Wow! What a bargain. Four to six hours of pure bliss a few days a week. This continued for about a year.

I became weak, I became thin.

I attempted suicide by swallowing a hand full of sleeping pills. Till this very day I cannot honestly say I wanted to die that night. I just wanted to go away for a little while. I wanted my parents to see how desperate I was for help and understanding. The sleeping pills had paralyzed me momentarily from the neck down. I started to get very sleepy and very scared. Right before dozing off, I remember praying to God.

“Please let me wake up in the morning. I don’t want to die!” I pleaded.

I woke up the next morning telling myself that things WILL get better. I ordered myself to snap out of it. But there is no “snapping out of it”. I just couldn’t shake this. I continued to abuse drugs. I slept all the time and continued to doubt my existence on this earth. I became the girl who was laying on the couch at a party with her eyes closed comatose but secretly enjoying every minute of it. I knew deep down what this powerful drug was doing to my insides, I could feel it. And though the thought of living didn’t particularly appeal to me, the thought of my organs rotting didn’t either. So I stopped. But my drug usage didn’t. In the months to come I continued to dabble and experiment. Crack, mushrooms, acid, “Special K” or Ketamine, inhalants, dust, and my longest addiction —- Prescription pills.

Moving along. I am now twenty three. Still struggling very badly. My anxiety will not give me a breather. I am still seeing doctors who now years later agree with the self diagnoses I had made years earlier. Not to stray from the subject but I had started to distrust doctors. In my teenage years I wasn’t taken seriously by these “professionals” if you must. I was seen, talked with and dismissed with a prescription left to deal on my own. I began to document all of my feelings and emotions. I had at least a dozen journals (which in later years I destroyed). I did tons of research and figured out on my own exactly what I was up against. And now at twenty three they were finally believing me, and listening. They were ready to help me, but I didn’t want to be helped anymore. I was fed-up, exhausted and wiped out. The hell with it, and the hell with them. A few months after my twenty third birthday I met a guy. We’ll call him Charlie*. Charlie was sweet, he was cute, and he seemed to really like me. After a few weeks of dating it became apparent to me that Charlie was a drug dealer. Nothing too heavy, just Vicodin and OxyContin. I didn’t think much of it, I mean these weren’t street drugs right?

People didn’t get addicted to things a doctor would give you right?

Wrong.

Let’s cut down to brass tacs and skip all the bullshit. I dated Charlie for almost two years and ate pills the entire time. In the beginning I had no idea of how deep a hole I was digging for myself. Charlie didn’t mention how easily one could become addicted to these pills. He also failed to mention what withdrawal was. There really wasn’t much I did know about these pills that he eagerly and willingly gave to me. I just knew these pills made me feel great. I felt motivated and happy. I was personable again. I was Jen again! Wrong…again…about Charlie and about the pills. I was able to leave Charlie and be on my way, but my brand new addiction followed me. It tailgated me. For the next three years.

Now I’m twenty six. Getting old huh? Still jumping from job to job because my anxiety won’t allow me any damn structure. Still manically depressed, crying tears that literally seem endless. How can ones body produce so many tears? Unreal! I am still cleaning, counting, and performing rituals on a daily basis. The only difference now is that I have a whole new addiction. Now I am starting to realize that if I don’t take my daily dose, I get sick. I can’t sleep or eat. I’m shaking and sweating. I am extremely irritable. Try feeling freezing cold in eighty degree weather or sweating profusely in the dead of winter and you’ll be irritable too. So I do what any rational person coming off opiates does. I panic. I begin calling every drug dealer I know and explain my situation. They seem to have all the answers. Apparently this type of thing is very common among my peers, in fact it’s everywhere. Every direction I look someone is addicted to pain medication and they’re all being treating with Methadone.

“Methadone?” I gasped. “Isn’t that given to heroin addicts?”

I was assured that it was no big deal and that it would quickly and effectively treat my withdrawal symptoms. And that it did. In fact, it worked so well I forgot all about pain meds. Why? Because now I had, yet again, a whole new addiction. Mind you, I never stopped drinking since “the alcoholic”, never stopped my medications, never stopped my usage of cocaine and now I found myself addicted to Methadone. What in God’s name was going on here? How did this happen? How did I get so bad? I felt alone. I felt like a loser. A huge disappointment to my parents. Society? What the hell was society because I sure as hell wasn’t a part of it. There was no normalcy in my life except for my loving family and beautiful home. That was it, other than that I felt like a freak. I felt diseased. I KNEW I was looked down upon. All I was trying to do was get by. Trying to fight this vicious predator that was my mind. I used to pray, “God. Please help me get back on my feet. Because if you do, not only will I walk. I will run”

Well, here I am twenty nine. Not exactly running or jogging for that matter. It took a good two years for me to escape the death grip those damn Methadones had on me. I am still struggling daily with panic attacks and manic episodes where all I seem to do is cry. The most commonly asked question is “What are you so depressed about?” The one thing many people don’t understand is that Manic Depression does not need a reason or a cause. It just is. I don’t expect people to be able to understand because to know this illness is to live it. Otherwise one can speculate and think they know or have an idea……but in all honesty they haven’t a clue. Ironically problematic or depressed people are often drawn to me seeking strength and advice. And ninety five percent of the time I have a lot of their answers. If only I had my own. But maybe life isn’t about having all the answers, it’s about understanding the questions, trials, and tribulations. I constantly remind myself that “things could be better, and things could be worse”. I walk this road called LIFE step by step, and try to take it day by day.

Sadly in March of 2011 this illness got the better (or worse) of me once again. This was suicide attempt number two, and as much as I hate to admit it….I was absolutely serious this time. It was approximately 12:30 am on a Saturday night. I had returned home from going out with a friend for a few drinks. My night had been the usual anxious type of night. Hands are trembling, chin is quivering, body is shaking. This all makes for a night of excessive drinking and before I know it I am so drained and tired from the anxiety and booze all I want to do is sleep. So I go home. I recall arguing with every family member in my house for some reason or another and becoming extremely upset. I already had had such a horrible, trying day and in my intoxicated mind now everyone in my house hated me. Something clicked, something broke, something snapped. I ran to my room and grabbed my little Tupperware filled with all of my pills. I left my house on foot and said goodbye in my heart to my family.

It saddens and frustrates me that what I experience may seem so “crazy” and/or “trivial” to a lot of people. I agree that if one person has not experienced anothers hardships it may be difficult to understand because you have not experienced it for yourself. One thing I have learned (that I truly believe) is that we are all designed differently and accordingly. Put me in someone else’s shoes and I may not be able to survive or cope. The same goes for my illnesses. I am getting better and stronger. I am constantly fighting everyday. Developing tools of my own that I can carry in my back pocket to use whenever needed. I felt I needed to address this because so many people mindlessly throw words like Bipolar and OCD around so carelessly as if they do not exist and are not serious. These are illnesses that claim peoples sanity, everyday normalcy, and sometimes their lives. Every minute of every day is a struggle. I still have moments when I am fleeing from a store in a panic or running out of an interview because the trepidation and panic is so intense. Among many of the things we all strive for in life is control. Control of our minds, our bodies, our thoughts and feelings. Anxiety is a thief. It steals all of these things from you. It truly amazes me when I encounter someone who has never experienced a panic attack. God bless them. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

I am trying my hardest to live a somewhat normal, happy life. Personally, I believe the word happy is a very elusive word. To some it may mean having tons of money, exotic cars, or living a lavish lifestyle. What I desire is not to be confused with that mumbo jumbo. I wish to be “content”. To have an inner peace of mind, body and soul. To achieve the things every human being really wants out of life. To have a family, to love and be loved. But for now I must roll with the preverbial “punches”. It’s been a long journey and in a lot of ways I’m still stranded out here in the desert alone. The heat here is unbearable at times. I cry endless tears that the sun immediately drys up. My thirst for happiness is somewhat quenched somedays and others I’m dehydrated. I’m going to make it.

I know one day I will get to where I’m going….wherever that may be.

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