I Found Mental Illness
The technician called my name. I checked my phone to see the time. I was 45 minutes in on my 2nd dose of Xanax.
I hoped it would help me.
On my way down the hall the technician was chatty. I remember swallowing a lot but being silent. “Lay down on the table and don’t move.” She told me.
I swallowed hard again. I laid down on a slim table. I was handed ear plugs and reminded to be still as possible. I felt these slates or boards close in on either side of my head to help keep it stable. I took a deep breathe. Then a cage was clamped down over my face.
My mind went back to a conversation with my friend and fellow survivor just the day before. “Close your eyes as soon as they lay you down. Focus on your breathing and remember you will be okay.”
She told me my medication wouldn’t work. She should know. She takes more meds with her breakfast than I ever hope to have need for in my lifetime. She is what I call a “straight with no chaser” friend.
She tells me the truth even when it hurts and, or scares me. She delivers the truth with equal amounts of harshness and love so I can receive it. She had an MRI in her past, she was also a survivor of abuse like me. She knew the kind of depression and anxiety I had. She also knew how moments of high anxiety provoked PTSD. She helped prepare me but, this cage on my face… She never mentioned it!
You see the idea of being in a small space didn’t bother me at all.
I am a small body and I prefer to sleep curled up tight in my bedding.
When I feel more stress, the tighter I curl up in my sleep.
This was no nap or sleep, this was a test to help discover why I was getting headaches. What triggered me was the technician’s words “Lay on the table and don’t move.”
The thing that further provoked my anxiety to a full on panic attack was the cage-like mask being clamped over my face.
I closed my eyes the whole time but, not soon enough.
My friend was right, Xanax was failing me. I felt tears stream down the sides of my clamped head.
I could feel my heart racing and my chest was in an erratic pattern of short sharp rising and falling. My friends words came back to me “focus on your breathing.” I started breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth. It was still erratic but, slowly it started to form a more normal pattern.
Tears kept coming and I closed my eyes tighter. My hands were at my sides and I gently pinched my outer thighs to distract myself.
Finally the first MRI was finished.
Now it was time for an IV to perform the second MRI with contrast. The technician noticed my tears but, I was too frozen in my panic to speak. She handed me a tissue and patted my shoulder. She apologized for not asking if I was claustrophobic.
I managed to squeak out “It’s not that… I just had bad stuff happen ….when I was a kid and … I just wasn’t expecting it to be this hard.”
She gave me a few moments to calm down and placed the IV.
I managed to handle the second MRI much better but, tears still flowed.
I used to tell myself I was NOT one of “those people”. I was not a person with mental illness. I was a survivor and therefore had a strong mind. I have since learned having a strong resolve and mind, does not make one immune to mental illness. Having a brilliant mind does not make you immune to mental illness.
History shows this.
Some are born with it, others find it later in life. Yes, I found mental illness. All those years I was being abused I found disassociation to help me cope. I did not realize I was using a form of mental illness. I developed PTSD and flashbacks after my abuse ended. I see dark memories of my past flash before my eyes during what would otherwise be a normal moment on a present day.
This is my daily life. Sometimes I need depression medications for a while and then I’m okay. Sometimes when I know I will be facing a scary or anxiety provoking situation, I need Xanax to help me calm down. Sometimes I have to talk myself off a mental ledge and come back to an appropriate rational state.
I am not alone in this. This battle with mental illness. I am not alone in my story as a survivor of horrific abuses.
I think illness is less and less relevant today in society. I am mentally different than others. I use different mental coping techniques. I suffer from different mental challenges. I am not my PTSD or anxiety. I am not my depression or any of the worst parts of me. I am a whole person. I am a loving wife and mother. I can be super funny and down right goofy. I can be brave at times. I understand people on a deeper empathic level than most. I have mental challenges, I also have mental gifts. I am not mental illness, I am only me.
Pepper Joy Greggs
* * *