In November of 2011 I was 26 and feeling like complete crap. I mean it, I felt horrible. I was tired, and irritated and mostly sad, all the time. I’d wake up sad, spend my day at my work desk, sad, I went home and cried. I was sad and sick.
I figured I was depressed. I’ve dealt with serious depression before. Maybe this time the depression was physically channeling itself this time around. Things just kept getting worse, I would get headaches almost constantly, it was mind numbing and almost paralyzing. I’d sit in front of my desk and stare down at my keyboard waiting for the pain to subside so I could get some work done, before long the day was over and I’d done nothing. I started getting dizzy spells and a buzzing in my ear, coupled with my headaches I could barely do anything other than sit or sleep. It felt like my brain was in a waterballoon, sloshing around unable to make any real connections. Like being underwater looking up to the sky, very disorienting. Soon after I started getting blackouts each time I stood up. That, that was scary, having your whole world go black in front of you. I started looking at my symptoms online. After checking WebMD and thoroughly scaring myself into thinking I had some sort of brain tumor I decided it was time to see a doctor.
My appointment was days away and things kept getting progressively worse, I wondered once jokingly if I was going to make it by my appointment date. When the day came I went by myself to the clinic adjacent to a hospital. Check-ins all work the same: nurse checks your weight, temperature and blood pressure. Weigh-in wasn’t as embarrassing as it usually is when someone else sees your weight because they measured it in kilos, 146 kg doesn’t sound so bad. She placed the blood pressure band on my arm and pressed the button to start. That brace got tight, very tight. It was the first time I’d felt pain taking my blood pressure. The machine took it’s time and then beeped twice: “Error” it read. The nurse shrugged and pushed the button again. Once more the brace got tight, then tighter. I looked away, feeling a dizzy spell and blackout coming; I dug my nails into my palm to distract me from the pain. Tight, tight, tighter grip on my arm, *beep*beep* “Error” At that point I had no idea what was happening and clearly neither did the nurse, but she pressed the button again. I was fighting tears, my nails were deep in my palm and I just wanted to turn to the nurse and ask her to please, please make it stop. *beep*beep* “Error”
After a few minutes the nurse escorted me to the doctor’s office and he took my blood pressure manually, with a sphygnomanometer and stethoscope. The doctor took a moment and looked up at me. “187/112, we need to check you into the emergency room, you’re blood pressure is so high you’re at risk of having a heart attack or a stroke at any moment.” My world froze for an instant. What? A stoke? A heart attack? How is that possible? I’ve been feeling like this for DAYS. I was escorted to the emergency room, clothes came off in place of a robe, I got hooked up to monitors, did an EKG, gave me these tiny pills and then left me alone to wait.
I have to go to Mexico to get any medical treatment because I can’t really afford it here so my family, my parents and siblings, were 2 hours away from me. I’m lying on this hospital bed, and all I have is time to think. This is it, I’ve crossed that line in the sand regarding my health that I can’t come back from. This is going to be my life from now on, the life of health problems, doctor’s visits, daily medication and a slow deterioration of my quality of life. I was pretty fatalistic about my life at this point. This was a scary situation I was experiencing. I started thinking how my life would be going forward. I was going to spend the rest of my twenties sad and sick taking daily medication and dealing with dizzy spells and balckouts. What about my 30’s? How was my life going to be then? I anticipated it would be more difficult, more sadness and sick ‘brain like jelly’ feelings. And my 40’s, that was harder to imagine, being and feeling older, my friends and family living their life around me rather than with me. How much life could I live at that point? And then I got to 50. I was trying to see myself when I’m 50, and I hit a wall of nothing. In my mind, where the collection of my life’s experience, where my family and friends were supposed to be, there was a blank space. I couldn’t see my life at 50. From the perspective of this hospital bed I had no future.
I didn’t need the doctor to tell me how I got here, and I didn’t’ need him to tell me where I was going. For days I was walking around without realizing at any moment my life could change irrevocably. Whether it has been a stroke or a heart attack I would have become a burden with disability and a huge financial weight that I could never cover on my own. My parents would have to foot the bill for my hospitalization and the long term recovery. Or it could be so much worse, I could have died, leaving my family with an insurmountable pain from which people don’t recover, they just survive through. Knowing my family, along with overwhelming grief they would struggle with equally devastating guilt. I imagined my mom and dad wondering how they could have done things differently, eating better, denied me sweets, make me do sports, get me off the couch, anything that might have helped so their daughter wouldn’t have died the way she did. Nothing anyone could have told them would help and there was nothing I could ever do about it. This would have been my legacy: pain. I was smacked with that reality and an honest realization that I may have already lived over half of my life. Woah buddy, was that a hard and fast reality check. Confronting your mortality with a feeling of regret and shame can hit you like a mac truck. No surprise that my blood pressure started to spike and they had to give me more medication.
Eventually I calmed down, was released, got my prescription: strong medication, weekly checkups for the next month or so, diet and exercise ASAP. I checked out and wallowed in pity and self-loathing for the next few days. My family’s reaction proved to be emotionally perplexing to me. I fully expected to be derided for being hospitalized for a problem people in their 60’s deal with. I felt like they almost saw it coming. “Oh she was in the hospital? She could have had a heart attack because she’s too fat? Hmm, well who would have guessed….” I know I gave myself plenty of harsh, cruel criticism and I fully expected and felt I deserved it. Instead my family showed me loving concern and offered gentle advice. I remember my dad when he saw me after I got out of the hospital. He looked so tired walking up to hug me. He held me so close and tight, making sure I didn’t slip away from him. I could feel his slow deep deliberate breathing against my shoulder and I wanted to cry so badly. My dad and I, we can have dramatic and fatalistic imaginations, I knew when he held me we had both shared the same sad movie in our heads.