Talking about anxiety is confusing for most, mainly because there is a huge difference between anxiety and worry. I’ve been worried plenty of times before, and it’s never bothered me. It’s a natural part of life. Anxiety is not natural. It does not present you with that same logical “cause and effect” relationship that worry does. When I was worried about my final exam for chemistry, I knew that it was my fear of receiving a poor grade that was causing my distress. When I found myself twitching uncontrollably on the floor of my bedroom, I had no idea what I was afraid of, or what was causing it. All I knew was that I would have given anything to be dead.
Identifying the Problem
I was suffering from what my doctor would later call “pseudo seizures”, though I feel that term requires some explanation (Technically, I’m supposed to call them Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures, but that’s a bit too wordy for my taste). Unlike an epileptic seizure, which is caused by an overload of electrical activity in the brain, pseudo seizures are caused by some sort of psychological stress, such as anxiety. Whenever I have an attack, my muscles tense up very rapidly, sometimes with enough force to cause physical pain. The word “seizure” is included because I twitch so violently during my episodes that it really does look like I’m having an epileptic seizure. The word “pseudo”, however, seems to suggest that my attacks were faked, or that I at least had some sort of control over them. I wish that were true. Sadly, I had absolutely no control over my pseudo seizures, and they ruined my life.
They could happen as often as every few minutes, and I was never safe from them. I spent more and more time in the bathroom each day at school, hiding so that my classmates wouldn’t see what was wrong with me. Eventually I stopped going to school altogether. My attendance was awful, and my grades started to drop rapidly, but I didn’t care. What was the point of going to school if I couldn’t even hold still long enough to write my name?
The pseudo seizures had taken everything from me. I couldn’t go to school, I couldn’t work, I couldn’t even spend time with my friends, all because I was too busy living in fear of my next attack. I tried everything I could to make them stop – even self-harm – but the attacks were relentless. Death began to look more and more appealing. There would be no more pain, no more frustration, and no more sadness. There would only be peace.
As tempting as it had become, I still knew deep down that suicide was not the answer. I knew that if I could get my pseudo seizures under control, life would be worth living again. The only problem was that I couldn’t get them under control, and I had already tried everything I could think of. I was starting to lose hope, and suicide seemed like the only option I had left.
Asking for Unwanted Help
Even though I didn’t want help, it was clear that I needed it. When I admitted to my mom one day that I had been thinking about cutting myself again, she and my dad decided that it was time for me to go back to the mental health hospital (I had been once before). Once I was admitted, I realized just how severe my twitching had become. The nurses thought I was having a real seizure, and they even went so far as to bring me an oxygen tank to make sure I kept breathing. I tried to tell them that I was fine, that it happened to me all the time, but I must have looked even worse than I felt since the nurses would not leave me alone after that. I had to be within a nurse’s line of sight at all times, and I had to wear a yellow wristband signifying that I was at risk of falling at random. Even in a mental hospital, I was a special case.
The first few days in the hospital were awful. I tried to go to therapy and spend time with the other patients, but I ended up spending most of my time in my room in an effort to hide my twitching. My parents had told me that going to the hospital would help me feel better, but I was feeling worse than ever. My desire for suicide was at an all-time high, but since the nurses would never allow that, I had to get creative. I decided to try something my dad had recommended, something I had ignored until that point: meditation.
I wasn’t sure exactly what to do, but I was desperate, so I gave it a shot anyways. I sat down with my legs crossed and my eyes closed, and I tried to breathe deeply and slowly to keep my body relaxed. A minute passed, then another, and another, all without a single twitch. It was amazing! I would still twitch a lot when I wasn’t meditating, so I wasn’t completely cured, but I had finally made some progress. I finally had a reason to live again.
My next breakthrough came the following morning, when the psychiatrist prescribed me Propranolol. Propranolol is normally used to lower blood pressure, but in smaller doses it can also be used to treat tremors like the ones I was experiencing. All I know is that it worked wonders for me. Between the medicine and the meditation, I was able to make it through an entire day with less than five minor tremors and no major attacks. I couldn’t believe it. Within twenty-four hours I had gone from twitching helplessly on the floor of my room to functioning like normal.
I was a completely different person after that. I readily participated in all of the therapy and activities at the hospital, and I started to befriend some of my fellow patients. I even taught a few of them meditation, and they were as surprised as I was to realize how helpful it could be. The doctors could see that I was happy again, and they released me as soon as they made sure my twitches were under control. Less than 48 hours after taking Propranolol, I was on my way home.
Finding Stability in the Midst of Chaos
Of course, if anxiety were that easy to cure, we would all be taking Propranolol. I wasn’t cured by any means; there were still plenty of days when I had to skip school or work because I couldn’t stop twitching, but those days became rarer as time passed. Now, several months later, I can go weeks at a time without having any twitches, and my life is getting closer and closer to being what I consider normal.
Until yesterday, I had gone about three weeks without a major pseudo seizure, which was a big milestone for me. Of course, that streak fell apart last night when my anxiety got the best of me, and suddenly I was lying helpless once again as I lost all control of my body. My mom rushed in to help, but there wasn’t much that she could do besides hold me and keep me safe. The suicidal thoughts returned, and all I could think about was the sweet, sweet freedom of death. At the time, I felt like all of my progress had been undone. I was back to my old, twitchy self.
Looking back on it now, not even a full day later, I know that all of my work was not undone. I may have lost that particular battle, but I am winning the war. I am making it through more and more days without giving in to my anxiety or my depression, and each of those days makes me feel stronger. There may be more days in the future when I find myself unable to keep the anxiety at bay, but I know now that I am strong enough to endure them. I will survive, as I always have. I will live another day.
What I Learned
Despite all of the pain and frustration that they caused me, I am grateful to my pseudo seizures. They molded me into a stronger person than I ever was before, and they showed me that I can overcome my illnesses, no matter how impossible it may seem. I can make it to tomorrow. We all can. No matter how bad things may seem, I can promise you that things will get better. Even if your anxiety is crushing you, or your depression is weighing you down, or you just don’t want to live another second, I beg you to give tomorrow a chance. You are strong. One way or another, we will all find a way to get better.