You’re going to be okay
The world is colliding in on me. The floor is slanting and caving in. My heart is going to jump out of my chest.
I close my eyes.
Bismillah hir rahman nir rahim.
Come back to reality, baby girl.
You’re going to be okay.
You’re lovely and strong.
I open my eyes and things are a little better. My body still feels shaky, but I am functional. I put on a smile and resume carrying on with my day.
For over five years, I lived a life where this was a normal routine. I believed that I had to act like everything was fine, until I met my best friend Aimee. We bonded over wild nights, complaining about toxic energy, and learning about social justice. Aimee was always so open about her mental health. When she described what her panic attacks felt like, I was shocked.
My body has responded to trauma in the form of panic attacks and extreme anxiety. I did not have the language to describe depression and anxiety, but I was fatally living under these illnesses. After researching and talking to Aimee, I decided to visit the NYU Wellness Center.
“How can I help you?” asked the receptionist with a friendly smile.
“I was wondering if I could talk to a therapist?” I shyly responded. Why was I so ashamed of seeking help?
The receptionist pointed me in the direction for first time patients. There, I filled out a few forms as my nerves began seeping in. I felt the urge to just walk out, but I knew I needed help and I was brave enough to continue with this process. I had to go through an initial interview. For the first time in my life, I divulged everything to a stranger. She was open minded and did not seem to judge my decisions. Within that hour, I was officially assigned a therapist with a scheduled appointment for the next week.
The next week, I was frazzled as I came eight minutes late to my appointment. My therapist probably already hates me. I explained to her how I have been feeling and reiterated my story from last week.
“I feel like I cry a lot,” I said as I scratched the skin around my fingers. “I’m super sensitive to other people’s pain. I think that compassion is beautiful, but it physically hurts me to see others suffering.” She was generally nice, but interrogated me after I opened up about my family.
“It seems like you and your family come from two different worlds,” she asserted. Wrong.
“It could be because you’re more American than them,” she continued. Is she serious?
I finally chimed in. “Could I actually request a woman of color therapist?
“What? Oh, gosh,” she replied. “Did I say something to offend you?”
“No, I think I would be more comfortable with someone I could relate to better?”
“Okay, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You would have to re share everything with a brand new person.”
“That’s okay,” I remarked. Opening up my wounds for others is part of the process, right?
I left the therapy session pretty frustrated. How dare this white woman blame all my issues on me being brown? I knew there was some truth to what she was saying because my family is flawed. It does not mean that my hyphenated identities are contradictory. I need to learn realistic ways to cope with my problems. I needed to vent about this experience so I called Aimee. She explained that finding the right therapist is like dating. A lot of it is trial and error. As tedious as this process was, I realized I needed to advocate on my behalf until I feel fully comfortable.
Two weeks later, I arrived to my next therapy session. Again, I explained to my new therapist my feelings and thoughts around what has been making me so flustered and sad. She listened attentively and then explained to me that I was describing anxiety. She assured me that I was not the only one who feels this way. Certainly, my experiences are nuanced and unique, but therapy can be helpful to alleviate some of this tension. I appreciated her wisdom. We scheduled a follow up meeting.
Months later, my therapist and I had a decent relationship. I realized just venting to a stranger was intrinsically cathartic. She also gave me simple natural remedies to help me stay grounded. Breathing was essential. Writing in a journal could be a creative outlet. Ensuring physical health was also important. For the most part, I felt improved. I was able to mitigate my anxiety attacks and was more aware of my bad habits, from promiscuity to drinking frequently. I even set goals for myself to practice harm reduction (as my therapist calls it). Aimee and I also debriefed our therapy sessions and I leaned on her a lot for therapeutic gratification.
By the end of the year, Aimee withdrew from NYU and moved back home in Toronto due to financial concerns. I was devastated. Only after she left, I realized how impacted I was. I fell into a deep sadness and felt like I was missing a part of me. Everything and everyone seemed blase to me because I would reminiscence about all the bestie things Aimee and I did together, from road tripping in California to dancing to Young Thug’s “Best Friend.”
I tried therapy, but it was not helping at all. I could not eat, sleep, or do any of my school work. I lacked motivation to do anything. Skype sessions with Aimee were refreshing, but certainly not enough. I finally asked my therapist if I could see a psychiatrist.
Two weeks later, I explained to my psychiatrist how my body was responding to Aimee leaving and my turbulent relationship with my family. He prescribed me with a small dosage of Lexapro, an antidepressant.
A week into this medication, I was already crying less. I did feel nauseous and I lost my appetite as a side effect, but it felt like it was working. A few more weeks later, I felt sad and anxious again. When I told my psychiatrist, he prescribed me with a stronger dosage. He told me that process was going to trial and error. A few months later, he prescribed an ever stronger dosage. My anxiety was finally more stabilized. I felt a stillness with my mind. I was not crying so often, but I still lacked drive. All I wanted to do was sleep. When I told him about my struggle with focusing, he prescribed me stimulants along with the Lexapro. Two weeks later, I felt like I could bust out some papers. However, I could not sleep.
My habitual crying disappeared completely. When my friend told me about her painful experience with sexual trauma, I felt nothing. Who had I even become? The pills had numbed me out so effectively. Was I becoming dependent on all these pills? I was so tired of this back and forth process, so I decided to cut all the medicine out. I abruptly stopped taking everything. This was a horrible decision.
That feeling of “the world is colliding in on me. The floor is slanting and caving in. My heart is going to jump out of my chest” returned. However, it was ten times worse. My body trembled at night and I could not stop crying. I was late to work, consistently cut my classes, and kept isolating myself from everyone. I simply hated life.
I decided to schedule an emergency appointment with my psychiatrist so I could sleep. After I told him I have been taking over the counter sleeping aids to no benefit, he prescribed me Xanax. I was excited and hopeful to finally get one night of substantial rest with the help of some benzos! However, to my disappointment, it did not work at all. I was still restless and exhausted. What was happening to my body?
Muscle relaxants were prescribed afterwards. The trial and error prospered, where my body was the experiment. How lovely, I thought sarcastically. A month later, I confided in Aimee with what I was going through. She lectured me on how I needed to not self medicate and not to mess with my brain chemistry. I decided to go back onto the Lexapro, but with a smaller dosage. My body finally began stabilizing. I was no longer crying as often and was able to sleep again. I slept so gloriously and cherished every moment of it.
Sometimes, I feel very happy. Sometimes, I feel very sad. There is no magic happy pill. Some days are harder than the rest, but I am trying. For folks who feel numb, extreme sadness, and/or stress, it may be helpful to seek help from campus or community mental health sites. I searched on my college’s website for a number to call to schedule an appointment. Bureaucracy is annoying to navigate, but your health and a clear headspace outweigh disregarding the pain you are experiencing. Everything is a process, so lean into it. Be patient and gentle with your body. Advocate for yourself and practice holistic healing.
You’re going to be okay. You’re lovely and strong.