Before I start today’s blog, which is about my love of the beach, a quick note about yesterday’s. The Guy I Am Currently Dating shared my link with Amanda Palmer’s Twitter account, and it was retweeted!! It was really awesome to see people come to visit this page because I talked about the book and how it aligned with my personal beliefs and experiences.

Today’s blog is a more personal one, one that is about past experiences, but is largely about daydreams…and how what you want most in the world isn’t always what you thought when you were 5 or 10 years younger.

We all have daydreams, and for me, a lot of them involve being somewhere other than where I am now. When I imagine where I might want to be at any given time, I usually think of the beach. Often, it’s a beach I’ve been to in the past, but sometimes, it’s an entirely new place my mind has invented. It’s strange that I like the beach, because for as long as I can remember, I’ve had trouble doing “nothing” and that is largely what people go to the beach to do. Ever since childhood, my family would be relaxing, and after 10 minutes of quiet, I’d ask “What are we going to do next?”

I have always been a city girl. I like bars, restaurants, things to do, people to meet, adventures to have. But there is also this feeling you get when you lie on the sand and look up at the sky, or take off your shoes and walk near the ocean at midnight, that the world is so big with possibility and you are so small that it would take you 100 lifetimes to do, to be, to see everything. It makes all your problems seem insignificant, or at least small enough to handle.

Even as adults, my family, and eventually just my brother and myself, would take a trip to the Jersey Shore. It’s not the Jersey Shore you see on MTV, although there are bars and restaurants and a club or two. But there’s also the fudge I loved half a lifetime ago, getting a henna tattoo on the boardwalk and playing games for stuffed animals like I’m still a teenager, riding the tram car up and down the boardwalk, stopping at a 1950’s Doo-Wop place for a milkshake and getting a slice of some of the best pizza on Earth. It is a place I love, and one of the saddest things about getting sick is that I’ve been unable to go back.

Of course, the last trip to the Jersey Shore is what made me sick. I was happy, healthy, energetic…and one day, I mixed an orange Izze with some vodka, sipped it on the beach while listening to music, and fell asleep. I woke up sunburnt, but had no idea how badly. I took a shower, walked around for a few hours, and by the end of the night, I could barely crawl home due to blisters on my legs. But I made it, and the next day, my luggage and I had to make it all the way to the bus. Later that night, it wasn’t a pretty picture. I had my first panic attack, which felt suspiciously like a heart attack, and afterwards, kept shaking uncontrollably. I thought I was going to die. Instead, I rested for a few days and traveled back to Atlanta, with 2nd degree burns over half of my body.

My parents said “Don’t go to the hospital”. “It’s sunburn”. “It’s no big thing”, so I believed in my tendency to make a bigger deal over things that need be. It took 2 weeks before I ended up in the ER, leaving an event early and crying because I was sure I was going to die and never see anyone again.

The ER rehydrated me, noticed my resting pulse of 120 was not good, put me on sedatives and beta-blockers, and sent me home. But it didn’t take long before the panic attacks started again, and the constant dizziness. 4 visits to the ER, a drug that tried to kill me, and weeks later, there was still no diagnosis. One doctor put me on a heart medication that still to this day causes weight gain. Another determined it was an inner ear disorder. Another said I had an anxiety disorder, another said I had late onset bi-polar disorder. At one point, I had to stop the doctor merry-go-round, because the motion of the car would trigger adrenaline rushes so bad I would rationally consider jumping out of a moving car on the highway to make it stop.

Nobody knows what is wrong with me, or what happened that day on the beach to trigger it. One doctor even said I had brain damage to my hypothalamus as a result of heat stroke. But that one day changed my life forever, and I can’t help but think, “If only I’d stayed in and worked”, and “If only I’d waited until dinner to have a drink”. I hope one day they do find out, and I hope I’m alive when they do. But I don’t count on it. Being sick has become a new normal, and being alone isn’t as lonely as it was when I was healthy.

So, you’d think I’d be terrified of that beach. You’d think I’d have a panic attack just remembering the place where this happened. Instead, I think “If there is every a way for them to identify and cure my mystery illness, and I can go back to being me, I’m going to the beach for a month”.

I don’t care if I’m 40. I’m still getting a henna tattoo and going to the fortune teller and eating too much fudge on the tram car. It turns out that even one of the worst experiences of your life can’t cancel out years of great ones.

It can teach you, though, the value of small things…and being healthy enough to walk on that beach at midnight again is priceless in my world. It is priceless enough for a small town of 10,000 people to seem more interesting than cities with ten of millions, because the things that remind you of when you were younger, happier, and healthier are what you remember when you journey throughout life….even if you’re drinking apple martinis and covered in glitter.

Sometimes, the things that you miss most in your life aren’t the big, life-changing, extraordinary things that happen to you. They’re the small things, things you didn’t even pay much attention until they happened to be taken away from you. They’re being able to look great in a dress you love, to walk three miles like it’s no big deal, to have a martini at 5 PM on a rooftop just because, to meet someone new who makes you feel excited about life all over again.

The other day, I happened to get a notice that all my photos from the old Kodak Gallery site were being transferred to Shutterfly. Since I stopped using Kodak in 2006 when they deleted 7 years of memories because I didn’t click on a link in an e-mail I’d never even seen, I was surprised. I was also curious to look back at the old photos that somehow made it back to me.

Some of them were taken just two or three years ago, reminding me how much life can change, so very quickly. Others were taken when I was 24 or 25, reminding me of a person I used to be, a person I’m not even sure I recognise.

I’ve always been so hard on myself. I remember looking at those exact same photos when I was 7 years younger, 30 pounds lighter, and thinking I was the most unattractive person on Earth. I was convinced I was fat, ugly, and nobody would ever love me, or even like me, because of it. Now, I see a young, vibrant, thin, attractive girl in those photos, and I can’t remember why I felt so insecure in my own body, why I felt so constantly judged—and I was, but not for the reasons I imagined—, and why I let those insecurities hold me back from seizing opportunities.

Why didn’t I ever feel good enough? Why did I not take chances because in my heart of hearts, I knew I wasn’t special enough?

I would kill to have that 25 year-old body back now. When I look in the mirror, I’m filled with the same sense of self-loathing, the hatred of the toll that illness has taken on my body, my self-esteem, my sense of possibility. Only now, the reasons for what I feel are real. I’m not the person I used to be, the person I could and should be, and I don’t know how to get to the point where I’m a person who is happy being exactly who she is, where she is, doing what she loves in life.

I used to wake up in the morning, even in my darkest of days, believing anything was possible. “Today is the day I’m going to have an adventure”, “Today’s the day I’m going to travel”, “Today’s the day I’m going to take a chance”, “Today’s the day I’m going to fall in love.” I didn’t have a lot of the practical skills one needs to succeed in life, I didn’t have focus or ambition, I didn’t have much faith in myself or sense of self-worth, but I did somehow believe that my life was destined to be a great adventure. More importantly, I had the energy and the no-obligations, devil-may-care mindset to take the chances that would make my life a great adventure.

I was always hard on myself, because I wasn’t born looking like a supermodel, I didn’t have clear career goals and plans and aspirations, I was the kind of person that people talked about behind my back just for being myself, and it hurt. It amazes me, because I see a very young, very attractive person who had a lot of opportunities and didn’t take advantage of them.

I think the thing that hurts the most is seeing someone who was healthy, energetic, attractive, personable, and intelligent avoid following dreams and taking a conventional path because she was afraid of failure and rejection.

I would give absolutely anything to feel that free and vibrant again. Some days, I can’t leave the house without feeling inexplicably dizzy and wondering if I’m going to die. The person who used to fly around the world on a whim with nothing but a backpack is a mystery to me. I miss her, terribly.

I’m no longer young, or attractive, or thin, or healthy. I no longer wake up in the morning believing in possibilities, or that today is the day something awesome is going to happen to me. It’s sad in a way, because I’m far too young to have lost so much in the way of hope and enthusiasm and energy and self-love. The thing is, my life has been an adventure, but it’s been a hard road. Maybe some people are candles that burn brightly for a little while, and then simply hang on, unnoticed, hoping for the best.

Life can change in an instant. A year ago, I was wearing a bikini on the beach, walking 5 miles a day, appreciating the strangers that honked their horns at me when I walked by. A week later, I was having convulsions, feeling my heart stop in my chest, and starting a 6 month journey of seeing specialist after specialist, only to get no clear answers. “It’s all anxiety”, or “You have an inner ear disorder”, or “You have high blood pressure” were all common diagnoses, and I’ve been able to function on a handful of pills each day. Yet, all of the sudden, my body can’t control its temperature, I feel like I can’t breathe when too many people are around, and every time I have a dizzy spell, I can’t help but be reminded that my intuition knows there is something in my body that is ruining my life, and one day, it’s going to kill me.

I’m still vain enough that the extra 30 pounds I put on due to heart medication makes me cry when I see myself, and that my body is a literal road map of scars is enough to convince me to check myself into a nunnery. I’m still vibrant enough on the inside to want adventures my body can’t handle. Mostly, I’m not strong enough that I don’t feel sorry for myself from time to time, wondering what happened to me, and screaming inside that it isn’t fair. I was supposed to have a lot more time left to be the person I wanted to be.

Life isn’t fair. And one day, maybe soon, it will come to an end. I imagine that death, too, is this single moment that changes everything, that you didn’t see coming.

Pictures make me sad, because I remember being 25, and living independently and how awesome that felt. I remember being 21 and moving to a place I’d never even seen because I believed in the possibility that my soulmate was this person I barely knew. I remember being 17 and graduating from high school, and not feeling the slightest bit of sadness or regret at moving on, just being excited about the future. I remember being 13, and the biggest concern in life was what to wear to the Friday night dance or whether a cute boy who said he’d call me actually would. I remember being 8, and decorating the Christmas tree and baking cookies. I remember being 4, and sitting next to a quirky, introverted boy in pre-kindergarten, one with a far brighter future than mine, who passed away nearly a decade ago.

I sometimes feel like life is over, because it’s this adventure in which I’m no longer strong enough to participate. I’m just another struggling, middle-aged, anonymous person without any special talents or any remarkable qualities, and I would give anything to go back to a time where that wasn’t the case. I can’t imagine anyone seeing anything special or attractive or of value in me anymore; I’m more like the tattered Velveteen Rabbit waiting to become real.

People say they never say this when they get older, because they know better, but I’d give anything to do it all over again. Even if it were exactly the same, even if it were just as hard, just as painful. It would be better than the concept of living in a world where anything and everything isn’t possible, because your own body says so.

Sometimes, I spend time hoping I make it to 35, 40, 50. Other times, I wonder why, because I don’t know if I’ll ever have the quality of life that makes life the adventure I need it to be in order to feel fulfilled. I wonder if the best days of my life are behind me, and I wasn’t even aware they happened.

I don’t do well with change. But what terrifies me is how easily change is forced upon you, how it can all be taken from you in a second. And, in comparison to the lives many lead, I’m one of the lucky ones.

I would do it all over again, just to remember what it feels like to wake up with this restless energy in my heart, and think “Today’s the kind of day I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.” For the past year or so, I wake up thinking today is going to be like every other day, or simply utterly shocked that I woke up at all.

Whenever I see really young people, I want to remind them to take every opportunity that ever comes knocking at the door. It doesn’t always come back, and after awhile, you realise that you only have a short window of opportunity where you’re young, healthy, vibrant, attractive, energetic enough to make “anything is possible” a reality. One day, someone will press the pause button on your adventure, and nothing will ever be the same.

I spent so much time in my life being restless, I never knew how much I’d look back on and miss. I thought being bored was the worst thing in the world. It wasn’t. I thought being alone meant I was the only one in the world who was, at the core, totally unloveable, and independence was just a sad way of hiding the fact that you were alone in the world. It didn’t.

There’s a song I used to sing at auditions; for a year or so, my standard 16 or 32 bars came from a piece from the musical “Ragtime”. The final line of the song is “We can never go back to before”.

It turns out, the most painful lesson life has ever taught me is that the line is absolutely true. There are no do-overs.

“I’d rather have 30 minutes of something wonderful, than a lifetime of nothing special.”-“Steel Magnolias”

I am, sadly, still struggling with my health. I tried my best to have a good weekend, celebrating at my favorite Italian restaurant with some of my favourite people, and playing trivia with some of those same favourite people, plus others I always look forward to seeing. But, dizziness, light-sensitivity, a feeling of pressure on the top of my head, and feeling spaced out and hating the world cast a pall over everything.

I have so many good things in my life, but my body won’t let me enjoy them. I have opportunities I’m not always physically up to handling. Whatever is wrong with me has destroyed both my mind and body, and I’m not sure I will come back from this. People either tell me to pray or keep a positive mindset—which makes me irrationally angry, because I cannot believe that hope and smiles and rainbows and blind faith will cure what science cannot— or, they tolerate my incessant struggles with anxiety and depression, and I have no idea why. I’ve become so self-consumed with this invisible illness that not only can nobody else see, many are convinced only exists in my head, that I bore myself. In social situations, I wouldn’t have any interest in getting to know me. It’s one thing to be unattractive and feel that makes you wish to keep away from social situations. It’s another to realise just how tedious your company is, to both yourself and others.

I sent this e-mail to The Guy I Am Currently Dating today. I wish my doctors could see it, too.

Every day is different. Most days are crappy.

Something is WRONG with me. Nobody will pay any attention except to tell me how anxious I am. But there’s pressure on top of my head that crushes my skull and makes my head numb—always at the same place— my heart races, I can’t stand loud noises or things that vibrate, I hate light, I feel dizzy at a drop of the hat, there’s often pressure in the arteries of my neck, my right arm sometimes goes numb, pressure bothers both of my ears, and I gain weight constantly.

Nobody is going to care or take my situation seriously until I’m not alive anymore. But there is something physically wrong with my body that isn’t being treated, and it keeps me from even enjoying the time I do have to be alive and young and vibrant.

I want my life back. I do not want or find value in the life I have now, because these physical issues take the joy out of everything. :( It is so hard to have a simple good day. Most days, trying to do so seems to take too much effort.

Yes, I am anxious and depressed and panicky. Because the way I feel isn’t normal. I am not anxious or depressed or panicky about other things. I am anxious and depressed and panicky because of these physical issues that are robbing me of my life. I’ve gained almost a fifth my body weight in 7 months, but I also aged 10 or 20 years.

If I could live like this for 40 more years, or just have one or two years where I was the way I used to be, I’d pick the latter. I used to see life as big adventure. Now it’s just another day of struggle after another, and knowing there’s no end to it, that “it’s all in my head”…I don’t know how to handle that.

I know they’re not right. I know my body and my mind. And I get really depressed and anxious BECAUSE anyone who can help me dismisses me. But people don’t go to the beach, get a horrible 2nd degree sunburn, develop an infection because their parents tell them it’s nothing, collapse from panic attacks for two weeks, and turn into an entirely different person. Mentally, emotionally, psychologically, I am the same person. But something happened to my body and it changed EVERYTHING.

It is my body that’s different, and perhaps it’s also the never-ending “let’s try this” approach with drugs and tests. And as a result of all the “let’s try this” and “nothing’s wrong with you”, I’m constantly anxious because something is wrong inside my body, and I just intuitively know that nobody knows it but me. I’m not being a hypochondriac; I don’t necessarily think I have a brain tumour or something wrong with one of my arteries or cancer somewhere in my body. It might be something as minor as hormones, or something that got damaged by my illness this summer and just needs the right treatment. But until someone tells me what it is, every day I have any weird symptoms at all, I’m afraid. I’m afraid that by the time a doctor finds out what it is, it will be too late to fix it. I’m afraid to be one of those people I read about posting on the internet message boards who have been sick for a decade and don’t know why, and don’t have the resources or know the right people to actually get a diagnosis.. I don’t want to give up my younger years to an illness nobody understands.

My mind and my feelings are perfectly fine. I am just sad and panicky because my body does weird stuff that interferes with my quality of life. When my body no longer does the weird stuff, I will go back to being the person I used to be…not necessarily happy or calm, but not wondering every day if today is the day I’m going to die because there’s something on the right side of my body interfering with my brain and heart and ear and internal organs. Even my right knee is the broken one.

I just want someone to understand and find me some answers so I can go back to living my life and planning for the future. And so I can *have* one.”

That is how I feel today. I have a list a mile long of things that I want to do; but it’s necessary for me to be healthy and energetic and young and attractive and friendly and vivacious in order to live my life on my terms. I am too stubborn to be willing to accept these limitations will define me, will define my life, for whatever amount of it remains.

People my age should be worried about their careers and love lives and making the most of the prime of their life, not thinking about death and putting their affairs in order and making sure nothing has to be too complicated or unpleasant for anyone else on that day I inevitably don’t wake up.

Everything has changed, and I just want my life back. Even if it’s something I only get to have for a little while, I want to look and feel normal, to have some of the adventures that are still waiting for me, to know that I may not be around forever, but I have the energy and joie de vivre to not waste a single second or ignore a single chance for something amazing to touch my life.

Oddly enough, I do pray sometimes. I do attempt to meditate and calm myself. I do attempt to read about my symptoms in hopes of stumbling on to something 13 doctors have ignored, and relate to the thousands of people who post their stories of “Nobody knows what’s wrong with me, I’m scared, it’s destroyed my life, and everyone just says I’m depressed/anxious.” I do try to have a positive attitude. But like everything else, there are simply no answers, just more days passing by, while I watch them from my window.

I just want my life back. It wasn’t the best, it wasn’t the worst, but I was healthy, energetic, and always up for a fun adventure. I had my freedom. And, that, I value more than anything; more, perhaps, than life itself.

I feel like I failed at something really important. :( (

4 days into cutting my Atenolol (beta-blocker) dosage from 25 to 12.5 mg, I started having side effects I just couldn’t handle. The past few days haven’t been a walk in the park, but today felt exactly like I did before I got myself on the atenolol/Valium combo. I started having severe panic attacks, as well as a feeling like someone was crushing a particular place on my skull, a pressure on the right side of the top my skull traveling down to the base of my skull. I had bursts of adrenaline that were so intense that I wanted to break things, and ended up picking up a pair of dull scissors in order to carve X’s in my skin. I didn’t feel anything, because of this overwhelming crazy adrenaline feeling, although when it subsided, I saw all the marks on my chest and realised they hurt.

I took Trixie out and almost fell down the stairs. Finally, things got dizzy and black around the edges and I started thinking I was going to die. I couldn’t make it through. I felt convinced something bad was happening to me, much like the day I had to call the ambulance after taking BuSpar for 10 days, and taking extra Valium didn’t help.

In the end, I had to take another quarter of my beta-blocker. I can’t stop taking this drug, although I’m tired of gaining weight and don’t want diabetes. There must be something in this drug that my body needs, meaning there’s something wrong with me, and it’s NOT ALL IN MY HEAD. I may feel like I’m losing my mind, but I’m not. Something is wrong with me that nobody is seeing, and I need help. I don’t know what to do. :(

There is no reason for me to need to be on a drug that is largely prescribed for blood pressure and heart rate issues. In the 4 days I cut my dose, my BP didn’t go above 130/75, and my heart rate never went above 90. In fact, yesterday, my BP was lower than ever. However, I had a terrible migraine with aura, something I haven’t had in a long time. Today, the side effects were so terrible that not only did I feel I was losing my mind, I felt I was going to die.

I hate Atenolol. It makes me shaky, it makes me too physically exhausted to function, and it’s caused me to gain 25 pounds in 6 months. I can’t have dental work when on the drug. I can’t burn calories. And yet, I can’t quit taking them because the side effects are not only unpleasant…they feel life-threatening, either because something is going to happen to my body, or because these bursts of adrenaline make me want to harm myself and break things. Reading on the internet, I discovered that not only is there a link between beta-blockers and obesity, and ultimately type 2 diabetes, but that beta-blockers suppress rushes of adrenaline. There must be something in my body that releases excess adrenaline in a problematic fashion, and it isn’t because I have an anxiety disorder. I was strong enough to cut back on the beta-blocker, despite the anxiety, until these adrenaline bursts started happening.

Cutting down on the beta-blocker actually cut down on my dizziness and disorientation a little. But, by day 3, my extreme sensitivity to light returned with a vengeance, just like the very first day I got sick. I don’t understand how this has anything to do with a diagnosis of vestibular neuritis and panic disorder. I know beta-blockers are used to treat panic attacks and migraines, and taking them has helped with that…but the side effects have been a terrible trade-off. My friend told me he felt like a whole new person when he got off Atenolol.

My blood pressure and pulse rate tell me I don’t need a beta-blocker. Even when anxious, these things were slightly elevated but normal. If I were healthy, I know I could work to lose the weight this drug has put on me, which makes me hate how I look and how I feel. I know this would probably lower my blood pressure naturally. But on the beta-blocker, I eat less than 1,000 calories a day and struggle not to gain a pound a week. I have no endurance. I used to walk 4 miles a day, now I struggle with 15 minutes.

I don’t know what to do. I need help, and not just the “dealing with your anxiety” and “here’s some new pills” variety. I am an emotional person, and I do have anxiety, but I’m also very rational. I’m rational enough to know that if negative symptoms return when quitting a drug, the drug isn’t curing the problem, it’s hiding it. It’s not identifying the cause, just allowing you to live with the effects. And that might be OK…although I don’t think it is; most of my anxiety comes from not having an understanding of what’s going on and being dismissed by specialists as another anxious girl who doesn’t know how to deal with stress….but I don’t think it’s OK when the side effects are limiting my quality of life, and there’s still no diagnosis that makes sense to me.

All these doctors…someone is missing *something*.

What I know is this: 8 months ago, I was a healthy active girl with a pretty good life. I went to the beach, got sick, and feel like I’m 80. I’m now always tired, don’t exercise enough, don’t enjoy places with bright lights and loud music, feel horrible about myself due to the extra weight and inexplicable breakouts (both never a problem for me in the past). I sometimes feel irrational if I don’t eat within a certain amount of time after taking my pill, or have outbursts of anger for no reason. I get dizzy and lightheaded for no reason. I thought maybe the pills were exacerbating the effects, but I can’t seem to handle life without them. Sometimes, I have feelings of social anxiety, and I don’t know why. Other times, I never feel more normal than going out and drinking martinis with my friends. I was never mentally ill. I never needed medications for depression or anxiety; I had those things sometimes, but managed them. I was never skinny, but never gained 25 pounds in 8 months. I had plenty of energy, plenty of enthusiasm for life.

Something happened to me. I don’t know what, or why, and I’m not convinced anyone else does, either. I might buy the diagnosis of a vestibular disorder with an associated panic issue, but that doesn’t explain why I can’t quit the beta-blockers without feeling insane pressure on top of my head, tingly migraines, and the inability to tolerate even normal light.

I know they’ve tested everything there is to test, and my insurance isn’t paying for anything, so I can’t keep looking for answers. But something happened to me this summer, and I need to know what it is if I’m ever going to improve.

For eight months, I have cried and prayed and looked for answers and had scary tests I can’t afford…and I’m still no closer to an answer. The Valium and Atenolol make me healthy enough that I can cope with life and feel like a normal person, even if it’s a fat cranky person. But they don’t tell me what happened to me.

It isn’t something floating around my head. It isn’t just anxiety about life. Panic attacks don’t make you not able to stand even normal light without medication. Normal, healthy people don’t have random bursts of adrenaline that make you feel overly impulsive and irrational and immune to pain until it wears off. If there were a specialist I could see anywhere in the world that had answers, I’d go there. I just want an answer, and to know what to do to live a long and healthy life…preferably in an energetic and attractive form.

I see people posting stories kind of like mine…always slightly different…all over the internet, talking about doctors who hand out beta-blockers and anxiety pills and anti-depressants, and the hell of withdrawing from those things…and how eventually, you can’t remember what bad feelings were caused by sickness and what bad feelings were caused by cutting back on the drugs. I can’t tolerate most drugs; a majority have made me so ill I don’t even want to try. The fact that the Valium and Atenolol work…at least until I’m 250 pounds and drop dead from some unknown condition…should convince me to stop worrying and take the drugs.

But it isn’t enough. I need to know what’s wrong, and how I can fix it. If I have a vestibular problem, I’ll go to rehab. If I’m mentally ill, I’ll go to therapy. If I have a heart problem, I’ll take the medication and shut up about it. If I have a brain tumor, I’ll get it cut out. But I’m not going to keep paying to go from specialist to specialist, just to hear the equivalent of “We don’t know, try this.”.

I’m not unwilling to do the work and put up with a certain level of discomfort. But I’m not willing to experiment with something as precious as my life and my health to treat something nobody understands with stuff that might make me sicker, or not work at all.

I thought maybe quitting the beta-blockers would be the answer. I feel like a failure because I couldn’t do it…but maybe I couldn’t do it because my body was telling me it *wasn’t* the right answer.

For those who don’t follow me on Facebook, it’s been a particularly tough two days for me. I’m trying to be as strong as I can, to tough things out, but honestly, I realise I’m not a strong or tough person in a lot of ways. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve survived some dark times, but I always had a sense that ultimately, my survival and how I navigated through the world following those dark times was up to me.

When it comes to illness, it’s not up to me. It’s up to science, up to medicine, up to God, up to the sheer luck of getting the right doctor who might prescribe the right thing, make the right diagnosis, order the right test. I do not always feel confident that I am going to be able to pull through this particular time in my life, I do not always feel confident that I received the correct diagnosis from the correct doctor. I waver back and forth from agreeing that it’s all a simple psychological problem, it’s all “in my head”, to feeling that the unexplained symptoms that doctors try to hide with pills or dismiss as unimportant because they don’t fit with any logical, simple diagnosis are important, and that I am in fact a very ill person that isn’t being heard.

Over the weekend, I made the resolution that on Monday, I was going to start dropping the amount of beta-blocker, a particularly side-effect-laden pill called Atenolol, I’ve been taking for about 6 months. A quick search on the Internet turned up countless message boards from people on this drug, wondering how to deal with the side effects. I made it through the initial phase of feeling to exhausted to move and actually became functional on Atenolol. However, I gained 25 pounds in 6 months, and when doing a Google search on this, found numerous medical studies that suggest a link between beta-blockers, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. I learned one in 5 adults today is currently on a beta-blocker; they slow down your heart rate and your BP, they treat anxiety, and are essential to people suffering from certain heart conditions.

The problem is, they are overprescribed, and once you’re on them, it’s very tough to get off of them. The withdrawal symptoms are so unpleasant that it hardly seems worth it to get off a drug whose major side effect is making you fat and sleepy, when the alternatives include heart palpitations, insomnia, depression, high blood pressure, and a host of other “rebound effects”.

I was prescribed a beta-blocker because I had a pulse of 120 for an extended period of time, and my body was releasing adrenaline constantly, causing me to have sometimes as many as 8 panic attacks a day. I do not know if this was a result of the infection I had that doctors claimed led to the development of my vestibular disorder, or due to an anxiety-related condition. My blood pressure was only slightly elevated, and since being on the beta-blocker, my panic attacks have ceased, but my blood pressure has become exceptionally low. Meanwhile, weight gain and being tired all the time are making it more likely I’ll develop heart problems.

A while back, two different doctors had given me the OK to cut my Atenolol dose in half, to see if this decreased the side effects. I’d never done this, because I was scared to mess with what was working. I’d been able to function like a normal person much of the time lately, stopped feeling convinced I was going to die, but hated myself for feeling fat, lifeless, and dependent on pills. Yet, I was afraid to make a change because I didn’t want a huge setback. I never found out why I mysteriously had heart problems when I’d always been active, energetic, and at the time of my illness, walked miles every day. I was at a relatively healthy weight, didn’t have the best dietary habits, but also didn’t have any significant health issues—mental or physical.

There was no explanation for why my heart should suddenly go out of control, not even the vestibular and panic issues the last doctor diagnosed me with, and it causes me a lot of anxiety to think that it might happen again…or, worse yet, suddenly stop.

Yet, reading about other people going through stories like mine, how a drug that helped them feel better was actually destroying their health and quality of life and ability to live life fully…it was enough for me to decide that I had options. One was to cut down on this pill to see if I really needed it, and if I do, why? What’s wrong with me that I need a heart-related medication to feel well and function properly? A visit to the cardiologist yielded no answers back at the beginning; he didn’t examine me, and ran a test to see if there were any physical abnormalities within the structure of my heart, and dismissed me with “You have anxiety. Go to a psychiatrist.”

I am still anxious, still scared. I’ve made it through two days on half a dose of this drug, and nothing about it has been easy. Every hour feels like three. Just moving makes me feel exhausted. I wonder if I’m going to wake up in the morning when I go to sleep, or my heart is just going to get tired and stop. I am afraid I won’t have enough time left to do everything in life I want and need to do.

I am afraid I am dying, and unlike those who suffer from something that is sometimes actually fatal, I have nothing to base that on except an internal feeling, and the fact some scary medical problems happened to me that countless tests and doctors couldn’t adequately explain.

I feel like there are too many things left for me to do in this world to die now. There are too many loose ends, things (good and bad) I never said to people that I’d want them to know, things I never took the chance on because I believed in myself too little, mistakes I never recovered from and others won’t let go.

I want a second chance. I want to be healthy, mentally and physically. I want to do more and be more and share more and touch the lives of others more. I want to make a difference, to be here for a reason, to be loved.

People my age, and far younger, die every day. Nobody is immune. But there are phases where I become convinced I need to get my affairs in order, that I won’t be here for as long as I need to…and maybe I won’t be healthy enough to make the most of those days during the time I’m here.

I worry that one day I won’t wake up, and all these people will never know how much I loved them, or respected them, or thought the world of them, but never said so, because people just don’t say things like that…and when they do, it is so often misinterpreted. I worry that people will say things like “She was a girl who had so much potential”, meaning I never actually accomplished anything of note with my life. I wasn’t all the things our society values; a rich, hot girl busy climbing the corporate ladder, or a loving wife and mother who took care of everything and everyone.

Instead, I lived my life like it was a never-ending 1920′s salon, full of art and witty people and intelligent conversation and food and cocktails and music and sex and life. Someone once told me my best quality was my joie de vivre, the ability to enjoy life when the world around me is going to pieces. In retrospect, that seems a little shallow to be one’s best quality. I don’t think I ever had it in me to be the kindest, the smartest, the prettiest, the most talented and accomplished girl in the room, but I think I have something rare I should have made better use of, but didn’t. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t know what to do, or was afraid of rejection,of being ridiculed and used and gossiped about, or because I just didn’t believe I was special.

Looking back, that seems silly to me. Once upon a time, I had health and energy and youth and vitality, and could have taken a world full of chances I didn’t. Now, I don’t know if I have enough energy to get out of bed, or I can make it to dinner without falling to pieces.

Sometimes, I’m really scared. That’s how I’ve been feeling lately…just scared, and alone, and like nobody understands. Yet, I don’t want to be alone. That’s my greatest fear in the world, dying alone when there’s still so much more I want from the world. When you’re ill, everyone seems to disappear, save those few close friends and family that will always be there, and most friendships seem remarkably shallow.

I wish I’d been the kind of person in my life that bothered to connect more; not just to know people or to be recognised or admired at parties, but to get to know people on a level that really matters. It took me three decades to figure out that being the most popular girl in the world didn’t mean being the most well-liked, and it doesn’t mean feeling the most loved and supported. It just means you’ve met a lot of people. I wish more people had known me, the real, authentic person who always felt too much and loved too much and cared too much about everything.

I wish I hadn’t made so many mistakes and acted as if life is a party destined to go on forever. Inevitably, it won’t.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me, or how to fix myself, or how to find peace when every day is a struggle. All I know is that if life is a party, it’s still early, and I’m not ready to go home yet.

This week, I’ve been struggling with depression, and a general feeling of apathy towards life. I’ve been overwhelmed by this feeling that most of what I spend my time doing isn’t something that makes me happy, isn’t something that makes me feel fulfilled, isn’t something that helps me grow as a human being. I’ve been feeling that nothing I do really matters, and if I were to disappear tomorrow, it wouldn’t really make much of an impact in the world, beyond causing sadness to my family and close friends.

It all started with the bad news about my job, and the realisation that if I want to turn this writing thing into a career, I’m not going to achieve that unless I’m constantly on the lookout for opportunities. Yet, simply the thought of having to search for new jobs exhausts me; I don’t have the optimism and energy level I had a year and a half ago, when I started with all of this. I realised from reading the boards that very few people made a decent living doing what I was learning to do, and that for 90% of the people out there, it was simply an alternative to every other crappy $8 an hour job and gave you the freedom to work at home, whenever you had the opportunity. Somehow, I determined I was going to be the exception. I was going to teach myself a brand-new skill set and excel. And for quite some time, I did. It was a career move that not only improved my life, but made me feel as if I were actually good at something.

Having that taken away from me, being put in the position to struggle and churn out as many articles as possible with a rather limited energy source to make up for the fact that not only was my pay being cut a good deal, but I wasn’t as good as I thought I was—well, it made me feel defeated. Ultimately, I’ve been depressed since getting this news.

The trip to the doctor had much the same effect. Weirdly, it cheered me up after my ENG when the person reading my test results said it appeared I had an issue in my left ear, because I do. It bothers me, often. It cheered me up even though I knew the results involved expensive and potentially painful surgery, because it was a diagnosis. It wasn’t in my head. It was a real problem with real solutions.

As I blogged about earlier this week, the audiologist was mistaken. Further testing revealed that I most likely do not have any sort of hole in my ear. I have TMJ, which can be fixed by extensive and painful dental work, and TMJ therapy. I also have another vestibular condition, one that supposedly improves over time and with rehabilitation exercises, but for which there is no cure.

Today, I felt extremely depressed because it was a bad ear day. Bad ear days seem to happen when there are abrupt changes in the weather, and in Atlanta, we have a new season every week. I woke up lethargic and tired, and all day, noticed my pulse rate and blood pressure were extremely low. (I may have to speak to my doctor about lowering my dose of medications, because they are working a little too well.) I had flashes of dizziness, pressure in my ear, and listening to music for about an hour made me feel crappy. Lo and behold, it became extremely windy later in the day, and even started to snow in some places….so of course it’s all related.

What depressed me, though, is that there was a problem for which there’s simply no solution. I have anxiety, which can be tough to deal with, and seems to center around scary physical symptoms, namely vertigo…which is the most common symptom of my disorder. I am on medication to help deal with the anxiety, and I’m supposed to go talk to a professional about learning new ways to cope with my anxiety, and the fact that, deep down, I’m really, really scared of dying. Not just when I’m 60 or 80 or 100, but now. It’s odd, for a person who went through life either never thinking about the future, or actively engaging in activities that I knew could go horribly wrong and kill me. As soon as I had my first panic attack—which, for those who have never had one, feels a lot like a heart attack and you wouldn’t know the difference—I started to become overly aware of everything my body was doing and feeling, and became afraid of what it would feel like when my body stopped working. I’m in my early 30′s, and I’m scared most nights when I go to sleep that I won’t wake up.

Much of this started, oddly enough, when actress Brittany Murphy died. It bothered me extremely that someone I kind of identified with, someone who was around my age and finally starting to get her life together, could just die from a combination of pneumonia and OTC drugs. However, it became a larger problem, and I started to have some fairly obsessive thoughts about not waking up every night I went to sleep after the night I dreamed about getting shot, and I woke up, and realised the SWAT team had shot my neighbour. That was followed by a co-worker of The Guy I Am Currently Dating, who was around my age, feeling sick, taking NyQuil, going to bed, and simply never waking up. A few weeks later, a guy I knew from Burning Man died from taking some tainted drugs. Then, a body was found in the dumpster of my apartment complex, barely wrapped in a blanket with a hole through his head. Later in the year, a good friend’s brother, also my age, passed away. It was right after that, when I developed some kind of illness after a visit to the beach and didn’t feel right—and at the same time, was visiting my parents, who are plagued by difficult health issues—that I started having these attacks. My pulse was over 120 for days, until they found some meds to help keep me calm.

Unfortunately, they also put me on a medication to treat anxiety in bi-polar patients, believing that anyone having acute anxiety and heart palpitations for days on end had to be manic. The medication sent me into a head space where I thought 18 hours a day about death, and what it would be like to die, and when the best time for me to leave the Earth would be. It’s silly to say, but I was really into watching “Big Brother”, a reality show for which I’d been a finalist years ago when I was young, attractive, and vibrant, and the thing that kept me going was remembering “If I die today, I don’t get to see what happens tomorrow.” Thinking about my own life in those terms didn’t affect me, but knowing that waking up another day so I could see the latest adventures of my favourite TV show did.

Needless to say, I spent more time in 2011 thinking about death, being confronted with death, and being made aware of the fact that my own death was imminent at any time than any person needs to. It probably isn’t any surprise that the result of all of this is a panic disorder that wreaks havoc on my life, and doesn’t always let me feel in control of things. It seems ironic, because the first three decades of my life were filled with the loss of loved ones; in fact, they comprise some of my earliest childhood memories. It is perhaps the mantra of my life: people die, things change, life goes on. The one thing that bothered me emotionally, for many years, was the fact that I had to say goodbye to so many people, but I was left behind to deal with life going on. I largely dealt with it by not thinking about it too much, other than in some of the morbidly depressing stories and poems I’ve created over the years, and in adopting a “live for the day” attitude that bordered on self-destructive. It’s as if I was routinely testing the limits of my invincibility, without ever thinking or caring about the results. I was an extraordinarily self-destructive, self-sabotaging, masochistic person.

Somewhere around the age of 27, my life changed a lot. I learned, little by little, there was more to me than that person. I learned I could not let that person take over my life, because I wasn’t strong enough to handle the consequences. It didn’t occur to me that my thoughts on my own invincibility would change, as well.

I understand I have anxiety whenever I have feelings reminiscent of the illness this summer that caused my panic attacks, because those panic attacks had me convinced, to a huge degree, I was going to die. I absolutely believed I was terminally ill, because I’d never had a physical illness that manifested itself as a mental problem, and I’d never had a mental illness that didn’t diminish with the help of a few pills.

I don’t ever talk about it, but I struggled with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) for years. It didn’t limit my life, but it affected my journey a great deal. It caused me to make choices I might not otherwise make, to behave impulsively, to suffer from nightmares and insomnia, to engage in self-destructive behaviour that many could simply look at as the sum total of being a “wild child”. But it wasn’t until I had dealt with those issues in a way that worked for me that I became a newer, better person. Perhaps because I did it on my own, without therapy (I had a fairly negative experience on that count) and without pills as much as possible, it was a long process for me.

This current situation with the anxiety, it makes me feel extremely depressed. It feels like starting all over again, with a new set of problems I can’t always handle. While I can rationalise it by saying that it developed as a result of a genuine physical illness, one that requires me to go to rehabilitation and do some work so that my symptoms improve over time, it doesn’t make it any easier.

It doesn’t make me want to celebrate to know that I don’t need surgery, or some medical cure for a real, understandable issue. I know it should, rationally, because those things are horrible. What I see, however, is that I have a physical issue that might improve over time, but which, in some way, will be with me for the rest of my life. It doesn’t have to control or debilitate the quality of my life, but it’s an extra challenge, an unfortunate problem that just happens sometimes, and for which there is no cure. And since the symptoms of this incurable problem seem to provoke anxiety under certain conditions, I feel a bit of despair that perhaps I will never get better.

Perhaps I will never again be the person I was, and that’s hard to deal with. After so many losses in my life, so many times I’ve needed to start over, so many times I’ve ultimately found myself alone, with nothing to count on but myself, losing something as fundamental as my energy, my enthusiasm for life, my health, my resilience…I’m not sure I could exist without those things.

I’m not sure I could handle losing myself, abandoning a stronger and more determined,independent person, just when I was finally getting to know her.

Too many people I’ve loved throughout my life have been flames that have burned too fast, too furiously, and extinguished too soon. I used to believe that was somewhat inevitable for me, and didn’t care as much as I should have. Now, that’s the very last thing I want for me.

I want my life back, the ability to feel normal and energetic and healthy…and, yes, no surgery is good news. But it’s also something that fills me with sadness and makes me feel a little defeated, because I realise there are no quick fixes. I just have a long road to tread, and perhaps by the time I feel like myself again, I…and everyone around me…will have forgotten who that person is.

This year, celebrating Christmas Eve, and my birthday, and ringing in 2012 with the people in Atlanta I care about the most, it meant the world to me. It would mean the world to me under any circumstances, but because I genuinely wasn’t sure I’d make it to see those celebrations, it meant everything that I was.

I hope I’m not asking too much when I say I just want to know I’ll be able to do it all over again a year from now. I don’t know how much time would be enough on this earth to do everything I want to do, but I know I haven’t had enough, not by a long shot.

Today, I spent my day trying to cheer myself up by hanging out in bed and watching “Mean Girls”, which I love and always makes me laugh, eating pizza, and drinking hot chocolate. Sadly, I spilled some of the hot chocolate on my hand. :(

It has *definitely* not been the most glamourous holiday ever. There should be some rule against getting sick at the holidays when you’re stuck at home because you’re ALREADY sick.

I am giving this one more day to go away, and then I’m breaking out the stash of antibiotics to see if it actually does shorten the life of my cold. (This is something people keep telling me, but it doesn’t seem to make much scientific sense, since a cold is a virus and antibiotics treat bacterial infections.)

At least I’ll finally get the tree up and add some sparkle to my living room. :)

“What’s hard is simple,
What’s natural comes hard.
Maybe you could show me
How to let go,
Lower my guard,
Learn to be free;
Maybe if you whistle,
Whistle for me. ”

—Stephen Sondheim, “Anyone Can Whistle”

This is the first Christmas that I remember not feeling filled with joy, and thankful for the friends and family and relationships I have with people all over the world, and the bit of money in my pocket, and the small things that make the holidays worth appreciating. It is the first year I am not excited about traveling, seeing loved ones, embracing the lights and the energy of the city…because I’m not able to do any of those things. In fact, I feel an overwhelming depression that’s becoming more difficult to bear as the month drags on.

The beginning of the month didn’t get off to a stellar start. In addition to testing positively for a variety of medical issues, sinking even deeper into debt just trying to find out why I can’t function like a normal human being, and being de-friended by two people I once considered friends and actually cared about, I had struggles with work. Namely, the 9 projects a day I was receiving had been cut down to three a day; sometimes three every other day. The result is that my first paycheck for the month is smaller than if I’d spent my time working for minimum wage at Starbucks. My only hope was that things would improve, and the assignments would start rolling back in for the second half of the month. In the meanwhile, I contacted everyone I’d ever done work for, seeing if they had work for me to handle.

This hope yielded some positive results. I’ve gotten my 9 assignments per day, plus another client that said they’d have some work for me around the 17th of the month. Then, I find out today that I won’t be receiving another paycheck this month. My work won’t be paid until the 27th, due to the office being closed for the holidays, which means it won’t show up in my account until the 30th or 31st…which means it won’t, because weekends and holidays are not banking days. Therefore, not only can I not afford to visit family or do things with friends, even if I could, but I can’t afford to buy presents for anyone, either. I basically can’t afford to leave the house for the next two weeks.

But you always have your health, right? Well, unless you’re me. Then, you’ve spent 6 months being physically and emotionally ill and racked up $50,000 in medical bills that the insurance company won’t cover. Once you pay out of pocket for the tests that can diagnose your issues, you find out that you do have medical problems: one that will supposedly “resolve itself” but I can expect to be extraordinarily painful, and one that will likely require surgery in my ear…that is, after more tests that I can expect to pay for out-of-pocket are done to confirm the diagnosis.

And, if you’re me, you’ve also gained 20 pounds in six months as a result of said medications, and have constant breakouts for not reason…and it’s gotten to the point where you can’t stand to look at yourself in the mirror, much less identify yourself as a person anyone, anywhere would ever be attracted to.

However, since I’m in a relationship with a guy who’s not shallow enough to stop loving me because I’m fat and unattractive and can’t hold the pieces together long enough to have any semblance of a fun social life, at least that should bring me comfort. It doesn’t, though, because I feel like there’s a growing chasm between us. When we spend time together, we sit on our separate computers, play trivia, or watch movies. When I try to talk about serious things, I don’t really get answers. Serious things like: “Why have we been together for three years, but I still spend every holiday alone?”

Yes, The Guy I Am Currently Dating lives 15 minutes away, and I will be spending Christmas alone. I would have spent Thanksgiving alone, too, if not for friends that invited me to be part of their family for the weekend. In fact, I spend as many holidays alone as when I was single, when I was dating a guy who denied my existence in his life to his parents because they wouldn’t accept me, and when I was unwisely keeping company with a married suitor….which by nature of being “the other woman”, means you will spend every holiday alone. The Guy I Am Currently Dating spends every holiday with his mother, the lovely woman who has called me “ugly piece of shit”, pointed out all my undesirable physical and emotional flaws and told me no man would ever want me, told me I was trash, likened me to Casey Anthony, told me her son only settled for me because his self-esteem was too low to chase after pretty girls, called my a psycho, and wished me dead three times, before threatening that something vaguely bad would befall me if I didn’t move out of Georgia and get out of her son’s life.

Yet, that’s who he’s spending the holidays with, the person who treated me that way. Not me. It kind of shows where I rank in the grand scheme of things, and when I asked if any of this would ever change, if we’d ever have a normal life together, I didn’t get an answer. And it’s because I know the answer is “Not until my mother is dead and we can live together”. And I don’t know if I deserve to spend the next two decades of my life alone, waiting for someone who supposedly wants to build a life with me to put me first.

So, when I hear from a good friend of mine all the romantic things he’s doing for a girl he’s been dating for a few months, it makes me terribly, terribly sad. When I hear about my couple friends, who have all, in the same time I’ve been dating The Guy I Am Currently Dating, met, moved in together, gotten married, and had kids or adopted dogs, it makes me terribly, terribly sad. I feel like asking why I’m always the one left behind and alone when holidays and family occasions come around, always “the other woman”, even when I’ve changed my lifestyle to avoid that outcome. Why am I not the person that someone, somewhere moves heaven and earth to be with, travels with, adventures with, and not only *says* he cares about more than anything else, but shows it. I’ve had a lot of lovers and love affairs in my lifetime….too many….and yet, I’ve never been that girl. I’ve always been loved, amused, entertained…but never that girl worth changing everything for. I’ve had diamonds and Dom Perignon and holidays in the Caribbean, but never been treated like a permanent part of anyone’s life, never been anyone’s family. And that hurts me, somewhere deep inside. I guess I understand it, because committment and old-fashioned family values have never been my strong suit, and I don’t even know how to promise monogamy to someone I love….but there’s a hole in my heart that wonders why everyone seems to find this life-altering love and romance thing but me. It’s not that I’ve gone through life alone, but that all the love and romance I’ve ever been offered seems to come with a “but”….and that “but” means I’m not the girl that the men in my life have worked to woo and plan romantic adventures for or desire quiet holidays alone, just the two of us.

And part of me really wants that, feels that, maybe at some point in my life, I should start deserving that…and if I’m with someone who can’t or won’t offer those things, I’m with the wrong person, no matter how loving and supportive he is in other ways. It can’t be “I want to spent my life with you, but…”. :( ((((

In the past, I’ve tried to fight against all these feelings by visiting with my own family, who aren’t exactly paragons of love and support and remind me that I don’t know if I’ve ever really been part of a family, or loved like part of a family, since my first day on Earth. I’ve leaned on my friends, who over the years, have grown up and started their own families and fallen in love with their ideal partners…many of whom learned the hard way that that person turned out not to be me…and they’re happy to be there for me, when they’re not spending time enjoying the families and relationships they’ve built.

I still feel like the “other woman”, always, no matter what choices I make in my life. Maybe at one point, that was a specific road I chose…to be free, alone, unattached, unconventional, up for amusement, even connection, but afraid of love….but I had no idea back in those days that I’d end up at this point, feeling this lonely and isolated.

I don’t even recognise myself anymore. I don’t feel like any of the things that used to make me who I am are still there. Sometimes, I don’t feel like I have anything at all, and life just isn’t a place for people like me, who are always a step or two out of sync, marching to a different drummer, on a path that’s not only isolating, but easily forgotten.

It isn’t a surprise that people aren’t calling to invite me to parties this year, seeking out my company for drinks or celebration. I have another birthday coming up soon, one that puts me at an age where I’m well-past grown up…and I don’t have much to show for it, much less celebrate.

It’s like I’m still waiting for life to happen to me. Once upon a time, I tried to make life happen rather than the other way around…and I live four decades in less than one. Maybe it’s just that I’m done now. I don’t know. I’m what I never wanted to be: an aging party girl that’s lost her health, her looks, her charisma, her self-confidence, and is meant to spend a lot of her life alone, watching others easily find all the things that have never come easily to her.

I’m truly feeling at the end of my rope with this “mystery illness”, and associated symptoms. It’s greatly impacted the quality of my life, caused me to become both anxious and depressed, and I don’t know what to do anymore. I feel as if there’s nowhere to turn for help, and nobody is listening, which is very frustrating.

It’s been difficult not to become depressed as a result of all of this. I largely miss the kind of person I used to be, who was not always the most laid-back, but free-spirited and full of life and adventure. Nowadays, neither my mind nor my body remember that person. The day before I got sick, I was on vacation with my younger brother, and walking 4 miles a day, and feeling in love with so many things about life. Most days, I’d give absolutely anything just to have that back.

Everyone is worried about me; friends, family, even people who don’t know me personally are sending me Facebook messages and e-mails, offering support and telling me about their own struggles. And yet, although I’m lonely and bored to death most of the time (for an extrovert to suddenly live in a world consisting mostly of thoughts, quietude, and one’s own company is also sometimes the catalyst for depression.), my reaction to all of this is to hide myself away. There are only a few people I can handle seeing, and large group events or overcrowded spaces panic me.

It’s ironic. A former stage performer, event planner, and life-long social butterfly who misses living in the most overcrowded city in America has now developed social anxiety.

I suppose it’s just fear, and I don’t know how to make myself strong enough to get past the fear. I wonder what will happen if I have negative physical symptoms, which then spiral into a panic attack, when I’m out in public. I’m afraid everyone will stare at me, or judge me, or pity me. I’m afraid ex-boyfriends and former friends will say “I knew I was right to get away from that crazy chick.”. I’m afraid gossipy and less than well-meaning people will simply use my struggles as conversational fodder. I’m afraid my enemies and haters will see my vulnerability in all its exposed glory, and use it against me (like the Mother Of The Guy I Am Currently Dating telling me I’m nuts, and even strangers see that I’m psycho, and repeatedly wishing for my death.).

I feel like both my good friends and The Guy I Am Currently Dating deserve better than what I can currently give them. I want to attend social occasions, but at the same time, I know everyone would be happier, calmer, and more relaxed without me there to bring them down. I value my relationship, but I feel like The Guy I Am Currently Dating should be with someone who is happy, capable of enjoying life, and won’t hold him back. We used to have so much fun together, and I feel like he should have that back in his life again. He is older than I am, both in physical age and in spirit and overall level of maturity, and I feel like he should be out there exploring all the good things life has to offer, rather than dealing with an emotional basketcase who may also be physically ill, and either way, incapable of keeping up or really participating in life. I’ve been good about keeping up with everyone on e-mail, spending a lot of time on Facebook and having extended phone calls with friends, because I feel I can offer more at a distance than I can in person.

And so I am often lonely, but feel the need to keep the world at a distance. Some days, I just try to invent ways to wish myself away, because I so desperately miss many aspects of my life as it used to be. I took so many things for granted, and now that things as simple as eating at a restaurant are a challenge, I wish I could have had all that time back when I could have done anything I wanted to do. :(

For a while, I hoped each doctor I’d see, each medication, would somehow be a magic solution. But, with every test that came back negative, every pill that had negative and intolerable side effects, or made me feel even more removed from health and reality, I stopped hoping. I stopped praying, and writing in my journal, and reading things about “positive thoughts” and “creating a happier universe”. I just got so tired of hoping, and then feeling crushed when there were no solutions to be found.

Now, I’m afraid I’ll never be that person I used to be, the one who loved life and adventure and people and being the centre of attention. I’m afraid I’ve lost some essential part of myself I no longer know how to reach…and the more I hear that my symptoms aren’t real, aren’t physical, and are just in my head, the more I’m becoming convinced that I’m really going crazy. And yet, somehow I *know* I’m not. I’m a very highly intuitive person, particularly when it comes to how I feel, physically and emotionally. I’ve spent my life dealing with issues on both ends, and actually know a pretty decent amount about medicine for a layperson. I self-diagnosed my appendicitis at the age of 10, and would go to the pediatrician to inform him I was suffering from chronic sinusitis, or pneumonia. (and although my precocious and arrogant approach made him laugh, I was always right.) I’ve been able to handle extreme amounts of stress, from losing loved ones, surviving potentially fatal situations, suffering from PTSD, losing my home, friends, and all my possessions, moving to Atlanta to start a new life with someone who then left me, and being totally on my own, and even a trip to the county jail, without anything approaching a panic attack or anxiety-related situation. So, all of the sudden, to be told that I’m having an anxiety disorder, that I can’t handle stress, that I may be bi-polar, and a host of other things that make doctors disregard my physical symptoms as “all in my mind” doesn’t add up to me. I freely express my emotions. In fact, I express how I’m feeling too freely , most of the time. I have friends I talk to often about my life. I write about and acknowledge my feelings. I am not the person who keeps everything in until she explodes.

And while I’m willing to admit I now have an anxiety disorder, and a subsequent addiction to a certain prescription medication they’ve put me on to manage my symptoms, I’d like to think I’m mentally and emotionally strong enough to cope with both. But, once the physical symptoms get involved, I can’t. I’m not in control anymore.

My “attacks” always start the same way; with a sudden recognition that I’m very dizzy, and a warm flush moving through my body…like the world is moving, even though I know logically I’m sitting still. Then, my heart feels like it’s skipping a beat or two, and panic sets in. I start to feel very out of control. Prior to being on beta-blockers, my physical response to panic was escalating my pulse to dangerous levels. These episodes aren’t a result of stress; they can just come out of nowhere. Before I was on any sort of medication at all, these “episodes” would often be followed by uncontrollable shaking, numbness in my fingers and toes, and symptoms mirroring that of a migraine, particularly extreme sensitivity to light and being touched. I’d feel a huge “woosh” sound in my ears, and feel spasms of something directly under my ears, like a bothersome pulsating feeling, or just a quick “jump”. I had to wear my sunglasses indoors, to work at my computer, and spend 20 hours a day in darkness. Then, they started me on Diazepam (Valium), and my symptoms all mysteriously vanished for two weeks. When they tried to take me off of it, not only did my panic reaction get out of control, but all these physical symptoms returned. In addition, I’ve gained 8 pounds without changing my diet since starting the beta-blockers and Dizepam.

I’m still convinced that something is physically causing these symptoms, which has since given me an anxiety disorder, rather than the other way around. There is a history of epilepsy in my family, and I know Diazepam is often included with anti-convulsant treatment, because members of my family are on this drug. I’ve also had a seizure while on sinus medication, and symptoms mirroring that of a stroke on an anti-anxiety medication. I have negative neurological reactions to a majority of medications, which is why I’ve known not to mess around with drugs or abuse the over-the-counter sort to deal with not feeling well. I’m wondering if these “episodes” are in fact a form of petit mal seizures, though none of my doctors have run an EEG on me to rule this out, and I haven’t emphasized it because I don’t want them to think I’m suffering from hypochondria. I’m actually not…I’m just a highly intelligent person who read too many medical books in her younger years. But I’m also very in tune with my body, and I truly believe that physically, something isn’t right with me. I also have faith that if they were to identify the problem, I could work with finding ways to cope with the non-physical anxiety response, since I have always seemed to be able to handle stressors that aren’t related to physical reactions perfectly well.

Throughout my life, I’ve suffered from chronic ear and sinus problems, which turned into what I thought were allergies a few years after moving to Georgia. I quickly became addicted to using over-the-counter nasal spray and Benadryl to deal with my symptoms, for nearly a decade.A visit to the allergist confirmed I’m actually not allergic to anything. From what I’ve read, these physical symptoms could also be coming from problems relating to sinus and Eustachian tube issues, problems that have solutions.

The trouble is, I get very depressed because I feel like everyone’s stopped looking for solutions. Once they label you as someone suffering from a mental or emotional problem, the physical side of things gets very quickly disregarded, because it’s easier to say “Take this pill” than to look into what initially set off the chain reaction of events. I had no symptoms whatsoever of anxiety or depression before these physical symptoms appeared—I didn’t even know what a panic attack was—and when I feel physically well, I feel close to my old self again. Recently, I even made it out for martinis with a friend, and didn’t think about illness or doctors or anxiety for hours. Yesterday, I went to a friend’s birthday party, and tried to feel normal…but felt largely “spaced out” and tired, which I attributed to the recent problem with regulating my Diazepam and my bad reaction to Xanax. However, I was laughing and having fun, and all of the sudden….BOOOM! The dizzy feeling hit me, setting off a chain reaction of events. I was able to control my panic response, but by the time I got home, I felt very disconnected from myself, exhausted, and had a headache, and intolerance to bright light and loud noise.

I truly believe that physically, there is something not right with me, and just telling me to see a psychiatrist and putting me on drug after drug is a treatment designed to mask the symptoms and make me feel better (which I appreciate), but doesn’t solve the problem. The rational side of me thinks that solving the problem is the best cure for helping to get the emotional side of me under control, and it frustrates me that most doctors I’ve talked to do not share this viewpoint. Perhaps I’m wrong, but how do you just explain that intuitively, you “know” something…and that intuition has rarely steered you wrong, as it applies to knowing yourself. That isn’t rational, and members of the medical community will always disregard that…but I believe that intuition is a powerful thing, especially from one who has been consistently able to identify problems with her body from a very early age.

I’m not going to start taking Prozac or Paxil or Zoloft or whatever because the doctors think a psychological issue makes more sense than a less obvious physical one. When I have a rational basis to believe that all of the sudden, I was hit by a psychiatric problem, I’ll be happy to take whatever drugs they want me to be on. But knowing full well that those drugs are over-prescribed and have serious side effects, particularly in those with a history of seizure and blood-pressure issues, both of which I’ve exhibited, I want them to be certain there’s no physical cause for my “mystery illness” that could have been addressed in a less traumatic way.

However, I don’t want to end up dead, or in a psych ward somewhere, because dealing with this became more than I could take. I feel emotionally and physically broken down. I feel scared. And I feel like I want answers, not guesses, not assumptions, and not drug-related Russian Roulette. I just want good, old-fashioned, scientifically-based explanations for what’s going on with me, and I’ll be happy to take whatever cure is associated with that (so long as it’s not one that’s worse than the illness itself.)

Usually, I get in the bad habit of not posting here because there’s simply little of interest going on in my life. Lately, however, it’s been the opposite. Life has resembled a rollercoaster ride I’d love to get off of, but somehow, seems to start over again before I can run for my life.

I’ve been mysteriously ill for 6 weeks now, ever since my fateful trip to the beach, and the frustrating part is that absolutely nobody has been able to say “Aha! Here’s what’s wrong with you!”. I’ve made 4 emergency room visits, a trip to the cardiologist, the neurologist, and the ear, nose, and throat specialist. I’ve been on no fewer than 8 prescriptions, largely for drugs I didn’t need. And, while the symptoms have improved a bit over the past week or so, I’m certainly not back to my former self. I’ve been diagnosed with everything from anxiety and depression to heart issues to ear infections to vertigo to migraines, but little seems to make a difference.


The scariest moment, by far, happened at 6 AM once morning, when I was forced to call 911. I woke up with half of my face feeling numb, a numbness in the top of my head, and peripheral vision in my right eye gone and replaced with a black shadow. Since they’d diagnosed me earlier in the month with anxiety, due to recurring panic attacks about my health, I quickly took my Wellbutrin for the day and waited to calm down.

Within minutes, I felt a feeling as if something exploded in my head, and my heart was physically beating so fast that the rest of the world disappeared. I couldn’t walk, or get to my phone, and when I did retrieve it, couldn’t remember my name or how to call 911. I started to have a feeling like convulsions were grabbing hold of the back of my spine, and if the ambulance didn’t get there, I was going to die. When they did arrive, my pulse was 188, putting me in the “danger” category for having a stroke.

If I’d gone to a skilled psychiatrist or family doctor and not the ER, this might have been avoided. Reading about Wellbutrin mentioned that patients with a history of being on benzodiazapenes (such as Xanax, Ativan, Valium, Zoloft) should not be on the drug, as well anyone with a history of seizure disorders. Not only is there epilepsy in my family, although I don’t suffer from it, I had a seizure on a sinus medication over a decade ago, and have been treated with both Xanax and Valium in the past for anxiety, insomnia, and PTSD. The ER doctor, to whom I gave this information, put me on Wellbutrin in addition to a beta blocker for my rapid pulse rate and slightly elevated blood pressure.


I was on the drug for two weeks. The first day, I felt wonderful. By the second day, I was sitting in the dark for three hours a day, crying because nobody would help me, and threatening to kill myself. By the end of the 5th day, I’d begun getting intolerable migraines. Around day 10, my vision was blurred, and I hadn’t slept for nearly two weeks without waking up once per hour.

I’m no stranger to anxiety and panic attacks, which is the problem I originally needed help managing, amongst other things. However, I’ve never been on a long-term anti-depressant (although many have suggested perhaps I should have), and never in my life have I experienced some of the strange things that went on with my body and mind while taking Wellbutrin. I literally felt as if I were losing my mind, and seriously considered checking myself in to a psychiatric hospital for my own safety..

After the stroke-like symptoms, doctors went into overdrive trying to find out what had caused my initial symptoms 6 weeks ago, and why things were getting so much worse. I had many EKGs, an MRI, a CT scan, and what seems like every possible test they can do on your blood to rule out diseases, metabolic disorders, and tumors that might be hiding. I was screened closely for MS, for thyroid dysfunction, for hereditary heart problems. Everything was negative, and other than my uncontrollable anxiety level and unexplained high blood pressure/heart rate, nothing could explain what was going on with me.

The doctor immediately removed me from Wellbutrin, and put me on Valium for anxiety. The first few days were rough. I’ve never had to “detox” from drugs or alcohol before, but I can only imagine it’s a bit of the same hell addicts go through. I couldn’t stand light, to be touched, and constantly felt lightheaded and as if my head would explode. At night, I’d sleep for 10 minutes before being jolted awake by a feeling of electricity zapping my brain, leaving the room spinning and my vision blurred. It was simply awful, and on top of it, being scared you’re going crazy or going to die because nobody knows what’s wrong with you, just turns your life upside down.

However, each day, I seemed to improve. By day 4 or 5 without the Wellbutrin, I was sleeping like someone who’d not been allowed to sleep for weeks. I stopped being afraid I’d die everytime I closed my eyes. I stopped crying for no reason and writing goodbye notes to my loved ones.


As for the original symptoms, a visit to the ENT was the most helpful. I’ve always had chronic sinus problems, which I’d manage with the use of pills like Benadryl and over-the-counter nasal spray (Afrin.) The doctor explained these things were basically like being on speed for the long-term, and could cause elevated blood pressure and heart rate. I’d been on two courses of antibiotics for an ear infection, but the ENT seemed to think I’d never even had one to begin with. He did something magical where he pressed above my ears and told me to yawn at the same time. There was an uncomfortable “pop”, and since then, I’ve gone from being dizzy 24 hours a day to having two dizzy spells in a week. I’ve been able to work without my sunglasses, and go out with my friends.

What I learned from this is the truth behind all of those who go on and on about how drugs for depression, anxiety, ADD, and other mood disorders are over-prescribed. Whatever your problems are, it’s far cheaper to hand out Prozac or Ritalin than to perform tests to find a physical cause. For those with both physical ailments and emotional issues—no matter how many times you tell them you’re only anxious because of the scary stuff that goes on with your body, doctors don’t care to listen once they believe you’re in the “Depression And Anxiety” category—it’s almost like playing Russian Roulette with drugs until something seems to work.

I have my good days and my bad, like most people. I’m highly-strung, emotional, and more sensitive than most. I probably could use a Valium or Xanax to deal with stress and anxiety now and then. But, what I’ve learned from all this is that I’ll live with myself, just as I am. I’ll cope in a way that doesn’t involve messing with my seratonin, dopamine, or adrenaline…and the next time anyone suggests I should be on long-term medication for depression or anxiety, I’ll certainly not forget this experience…and run the other way.