My First Hallucination, or How To Make Your Boyfriend Panic

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I may have mentioned that I’ve been feeling the pressure since going back to uni. Depression has abated, only to be replaced by increased anxiety, including barely-controlled panic attacks, mainly on the morning bus or during morning lessons because I really do hate mornings just that much. Did I say I was going to see a doctor about it? I can’t remember. Most of my working memory right now is taken up by Piaget and Developmental Psychology.

I’d contacted what is basically the equivalent of a school counsellor with the panic attack problem, and we made an appointment for last Friday. Then on Thursday evening I got sick of having this cough that I’ve had for like three weeks now and which has been preventing me from sleeping, and since I was going to see a doctor anyway, BF suggested I tell him about the panic attacks, and I’d already decided that if someone wanted to give me anxiety meds then I might as well take them while we’re waiting for BF to get a job that can pay for me to have therapy again, so I did.

The doctor is a new doctor. He’s a little bit patronizing, but generally nice, he listens, and he’s not stingy when it comes to handing out prescriptions if he thinks you need it. Right now I’m still on antibiotics, cough syrup, paracetamol and that gross sea salt stuff you put up your nose that works like a charm only with a lot more gagging, and that’s just for the cough/cold.

For the panic attacks, he recommended that as soon as I have the money, I go see this collegue of his who does hypnotism, because apparently I look like I’d be very susceptible to that (which is actually quite scary when you think about it). But in the meantime, he prescribed anxiety meds. One to take each evening before bed, and if ever I felt a panic attack coming on I could put a half-pill under my tongue. He also insisted on giving me a little plastic bag, even though I’ve been managing fine (-ish) with just a scarf over my nose and mouth and pretending I feel sick. I don’t want to use a plastic bag because then everyone in the bus will know I’m hyperventilating, and then I’ll have to explain, and whenever I start talking about it I cry, and I hate crying in public. So when he said not to hesitate to take a half-pill when I felt an attack coming on, I thought, great. I probably won’t even need the bag or the scarf.

When my boyfriend saw the meds, he said “Wow.” And he got this worried look on his face, because apprently he’d already taken those particular anxiety meds and they basically knocked him out. I thought, well yeah, that’s normal, I must have a sleep debt several days long by now. I only had two lessons on Friday morning and then my meeting with the counsellor, and then it would be the weekend. And I mean, I had to revise and work on my NaNo novel and all, but health comes first, right? Right. So I took the pill on Thursday night and went to bed. Before I went to sleep, the boyfriend asked me how I felt. I giggled, because my basic overall feeling about everything right then was that I didn’t care much about anything. Then I went to sleep very, very quickly.

I slept like the dead. It was great. Having to get up at half six was not so great, but never mind, I’d sleep on the bus. When I got to the bus stop I found a 17-yr-old classmate and casually told her that I was on anxiety meds so I might fall asleep, and she should wake me up if I didn’t wake up when we got there. It’s worth noting that very, very few people in my class know I’ve ever had panic attacks, or been depressed, and practically nobody knows that I still suffer from anxiety, because admitting it means having to explain and talking about it makes me cry and I hate crying in public. I think she didn’t really know how to react to this information, and it was like half seven for her too, so she just nodded.

I didn’t fall asleep on the bus, but I did almost trip quite a few times on the walk from the bus stop to college. I kept bumping into tables and people when we got into class, and even though it was music, which is one of my favourite lessons, I wasn’t very reactive at all. By the time we got into Maths, I was having trouble staying awake. In fact I might have fallen asleep through the lesson if we hadn’t had to group up to create a preschool-adapted math activity. There was a lot of noise, a lot of interrupting, and I couldn’t follow any of it but I was expected to participate, and gradually it started to feel like that Russian prank video where they put a metal pot over the guy’s head while he’s sleeping and bang spoons on it and yell to wake him up, only sort of more constant, and I could feel my heart beating faster and faster, and I could feel the neckline of my top strangling me even though it wasn’t touching my throat…

The doc had said not to hesitate, so I slipped one of the half-pills I’d prepared the night before under my tongue. It worked, of course, though even as I was taking it I wondered what it would do to me, if the whole one from last night was knocking me out this much.

The lesson ended. People left. I stayed, because I had my meeting, and ate in the classroom. Or tried to. I took one bite of my cheese and egg salad sandwich, gagged and spat it out. So it was one of those days. Ok. I ate the yoghurt and the apple and bought a packet of gingerbread slices from the vending machine, and wasn’t hungry any more. I sat on my own and tried not to cry. A class delegate came in, I jumped and concentrated on my food, hmm-ing a greeting. She left. I tried to pull myself together. It was nearly time. I went down to the counselling room.

There are like three teachers who look just like each other, and the counsellor is one of them. I told her everything, through tears that I’d known were inevitable. She was very nice and understanding, and she gave me some phone numbers for therapists that are either cheap or reimbursed by social security, but as I’d suspected, it wasn’t really her role to help me with this particular problem. She’s really there to help people with learning difficulties, disabilities, or difficult circumstances (like the few girls who get pregnant every year) to keep up with their studies. I couldn’t stop crying, and when she said that it looked to her like I was still depressed it occurred to me that perhaps taking the pressure off, medically, had put me back in depression. Pressure – de-pression. That’s how it always works with me.

Well, fuck.

I dried my eyes, pulled myself together somehow and left. I was elsewhere. I was really very absent, and it occurred to me that I should take care when crossing roads, and that I was glad my campus is mostly pedestrian. When I got to the bus stop there was still half an hour until my bus came, so I sat down to wait.

Five minutes later a girl sits down next to me with a Lush bag. I stare at the Lush bag. I can smell it from there. Suddenly I want something from Lush. If I get something from Lush, it’ll make this whole day worthwhile. I ask the girl where the Lush shop is, and she tells me, and I jog off for some impulse shopping.

I haven’t been to Lush in over a year, since I left France. I’m so out of it that I walk past the shop before the smell of it entices me back. I wander in, listen to the nice lady do her talk at me, then tell her I have a budget of no more than 5€ for a present (I don’t mention that the present is for me), because even when I’m heavily medicated I remain a stingy and paranoid, thank god. She shows me those fizzy bath things, and I spend a little while sniffing them until they start making me sneeze uncontrollably; then I buy the first one I can grab. They give me a little free sample of solid shampoo and I am ridiculously pleased. I leave the shop, return to the bus stop, realise I’m ten minutes late, and ring my boyfriend to come and pick me up. He tells me to wait for him in the car park, so I find a wooden stool to sit on and wait.

There are lots of dead leaves on the ground. When I stare at them for too long, they start moving in my peripheral vision, shifting gently back and forth like waves in the sea. I frown, focussing on the moving leaves, and they stop. It’s ok, I think just an optical illusion, like the ones you see on the Internet. I try again, staring at one point but watching my peripheral vision. It starts again. I stop it. Start again. The movement seems to shift closer to me, and I wonder what will happen if I let it reach my feet, or the stool I’m sitting on. I stare again, and this time I let the shifting get wider and closer, until it’s at my feet. I swear my feet are moving. I can even feel a tiny stone being displaced underneath my shoe, and hear it scratch the ground. Am I the one moving my feet without realising it? I let the movement reach the stool. It feels like I’m sitting on a boat, or a swing, or a hammock. It feels peaceful. It occurs to me that I should probably be worried about this. I don’t care much.

Boyfriend rings. He’s waiting at the other car park. I abandon my vision and walk over, watching out for cars. We bicker about which car park he meant, I start to cry. He hugs me, we get in the car. I cry all the way home. I curl up on the sofa, then he walks me to bed (it is 4pm), and the next thing I remember is waking up there the next morning, fully clothed.

I slept 14 hours. On the way home he called my name eight times before I answered. I told him not to worry about the hallucination. I wonder how I appeared to the counsellor, or the Lush saleswoman, or my classmates, but I don’t remember any of them acting any different towards me than usual. I think what really knocked me out – on top of the meds – was fatigue.

Needless to say, I’m not taking them any more. Yesterday was spent at a write-in, alternately working on my novel and doing coursework. I’m still in picky-food mode, I still had to go to the loo to cry last night. But I’m feeling more myself today, whatever that means. Tomorrow I’m going back to the doctor’s to try and find an alternative solution to the panic attack problem – one that doesn’t involve hallucinogenic tranquillizers.

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