Inside the Box – My story, part 1

I was struggling with my mental health in the past 2 years, and went through all layers of shit in the process. I finally feel like I’m on my way to recovery, and also somewhat proud of myself, since what I achieved was in the first place on my own merit. This blog seems to be the right place to share my journey and my advice for everyone in a similar situation, so I felt like writing this series, titled Inside the Box – the box being this crazy head of mine- would be a nice way to start out about the topic. So lets get right to the beginning.

I was in my third year of high school. I took up a bit too many higher level classes, but I learnt to manage them without a time turner. To sound a bit cocky, I’ve never had a problem with school. I’m lucky enough to always have been around the top of my class without actually studying and stressing over my grades. I always knew who I was, had a group of friends, my parents were together, and I never felt behind socially or health wise. So everything was fine, until it wasn’t.

At the end of March 2015, shit began to turn real when I suddenly became hyper-sensitive. Every little remark, or just a slightly not nice tone hurt me. I had to leave the classroom several times to calm down, or just started sobbing at my desk without any reason. I had a hard time concentrating, made stupid mistakes at tests.
The obvious answer seemed to be exhaustion. I was already having an issue with constant fatigue for a long time, and I knew I was sensitive, and a bit anxious in social situations (even though I’m generally stable and outgoing otherwise, so people don’t really „get” it), which could all overwhelm me. I choose to stay at home for a few days to get some rest, and not ruin my schoolwork in my absentminded state. I did this frequently before too – missing out for a few days, when I felt low on energy – so it wasn’t anything extraordinary.

After a week, my friends started to call me. I couldn’t pick up the phone. I felt a horrible gut wrenching feeling. So I didn’t answer.
Weeks actually went by, and I didn’t feel better, just more and more isolated and anxious. I forced myself to get in touch with my friends, I assured them that my lack of response wasn’t due to being mad at them, but I couldn’t explain what was happening.
After a month I started having trouble falling asleep. I was physically tired, but felt awake, first staying up until 3 am, then 5, then 7… At this point, going back to school became impossible, as I could only get some sleep from the morning to the afternoon.

I had a few clues. The fatigue, a tremor in my hands and sometimes in my whole body that we used to joke over with my friend. I also had a dead feeling in my limbs sometimes, and I started experiencing „blackouts”. My hearing or sight just went away suddenly. I first thought these were circulation issues, now I know they are dissociative (or somatoform) symptoms.
The sudden blindness became a bit worrying. It’s not something you want to experience in the middle of crossing a road. So it was definitely time to see a doctor.

I’ve already had something else that fit into this picture since my early childhood, that up until then nobody could figure out, but honestly we weren’t really rushing for answer either. I’ve had these episodes once every month, linked to nothing, about 5 times for a day, when I felt some kind of weird déja-vu and depersonalisation (feeling under a jar, or like you are watching your own body, instead of just normally being in it), with intensive stomach lifting, that led to coughing and sometimes actually throwing up. These weren’t something noticeable for my surrounding, nobody knew they were happening unless I told them, but they made me pretty tired and hungry right after, and usually happened in my sleep too, resulting in waking me up at night, and pressuring me to sit down and take a break during the day. I was pretty used to them at this point, but they were lasting longer and getting more intense every year. I was also starting to get stuck with this weird feeling lingering for a few days after, and I could predict these attacks a while before they started, since this feeling came around. Like a mental health period.
My grandma was worried, as they do, so she brought me to an EEG monitoring when I was 13, but they didn’t find anything organic, and other than the fatigue, I had no issues, so it was left at that.

So I went to a neurologist. After listening to my symptoms, and since I didn’t have any noticeable psychological problems, they sent me to more EEGs – 24 hours with a bunch of electrodes on my head – and an MRI which was kind of tricky, since the harsh sounds and grid around my head triggered a panic attack, so we had to find an open MRI machine for a second round. Oh, and a bunch of blood tests, naturally, which also belong to the fun part, since needles or anything that can pierce the skin, like broken glass or knives makes me shiver and throw up (I don’t even have holes for earrings). Fun.
But honestly, I really didn’t hate it at all. I always had a deep passion for biology and hoomans in general, and I eventually enjoy the different tests, and kind of like hospitals. So it definitely wasn’t torture for me.
They didn’t find any signs of epilepsy, so I was let home with my shitty insomnia and doctors shrugging their shoulders and pointing at psychiatrists…who were pointing back to neurologists, because my MMPI and Rorschach were all fine, and I couldn’t mention any kind of childhood trauma.

In the middle of July, I was first offered an SSRI antidepressant and Rivotril by a psychologist with a great reputation here in Hungary. And my parents flipped out.
My mother is pretty into everything alternative, and very much against doctors in general (she was interested in scientology at a time, for reference), and naturally she dug up a bunch of horror stories around the internet. My father is a really practical person, and has a hard time understanding emotional issues - so they basically both „don’t believe in psychiatry”.
At this point, I turned 17 with bad insomnia, emotional instability and irritability and a good amount of fun physical symptoms. Trying out light medication with a side of therapy seemed pretty reasonable, even though I was a complete newbie at anything related to psychiatry at the time.
My grandmother was on my side, along with my boyfriend. We also knew for a long time, that there were undiagnosed mental health issues running in my family. So long months of fights and arguments began.

This resulted in a little round at the toxicology for a „just in case” gastrolavage, for taking the meds I had since my trip to that psychologist, as an attempt to be able to talk to a doctor. Which was also my first time committing self-harm, as a way for dealing with the frustration caused by the hospital workers there – the place was sued several times since then for endangering children. The definition of fun.
As a result of this little adventure, and the ridiculous hedge-hopping that happened afterwards (I even moved to my boyfriend’s family for a month, until I’ve gotten in a big fight with his mother who was also in her lowest regarding her mental illness at the time – the poor guy is the real hero here), my parents eventually loosened up a bit. I’ve had first interviews with a bunch of therapists during the autumn, both doctors, psychologists, and even a kinesiologist – to be fair to my mother - and in November I finally found a psychiatrist whom I trusted in terms of competence and who looked like a nice and fun person, as well as someone who was actually able to squeeze me in his tight schedule.

I’m ending this post here, in order to keep it short, but you can read the other half of my mental health story, and more about my actual illness in the next one.

- Anna