My Story – Part One

When I think back on my life, the movie Benjamin Button comes to mind. I haven’t actually seen the movie, but I know it’s about a man who starts out his life backwards; he is extremely old and then gets younger and younger, until he’s eventually a baby. Usually, people start out their lives relatively healthy, and as they age they develop diseases and get sicker and older, until they die.

12

I was never a healthy baby or child. I had asthma attacks as a baby, and as I got older I was plagued with eczema. Itchy, red, inflamed, bleeding eczema that covered my legs, torso and arms that I would scratch till I was raw at night. I had nightmares and a lot of trouble falling asleep. I had my first allergic reaction to food when I was four years old (it was a cookie with pistachios in it). It felt like a thousand tiny red fire ants covering the walls of my throat, poking holes with tiny knives.

When I was taken to the doctor, they identified that I had the classic ‘itchy’ trio: asthma, eczema and hayfever/allergies. So, from then on, around age five, I was prescribed antihistamines, steroid creams, nasal sprays, eye drops and asthma inhalers. I had to take my trusty medicine bag with me where ever I went, and if I missed my medications, I would suffer. I had other health issues too; frequent ear infections, headaches, stomach aches and sore throats, so visiting the doctor was a regular occurrence.

I lived in a large house, in a nice suburban neighbourhood, without a mother or father as a permanent resident. My father lived in Thailand until I was 11, and my mother was always at work or her boyfriends house.

My earliest memory of my parents together was when I was four years old and we were on holiday in Thailand. It was a screaming match between the two of them in the lobby of a hotel. My six year old sister was on one side, standing there helplessly crying, and I was on the other side. I looked at her, the whole situation, and kind of zoomed out of the whole thing. I stayed silent and emotionless, like a little ghost that watched from outside of my body. All of the hotel staff froze, not knowing what to do. It was the first exercise of many to protect myself from the toxic situations that would continue to occur.

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Guess which one I am?

Throughout my formative years, I was surrounded by conflict, anger, hate, fear and dishonesty. Underneath was love and care, but that was deep down, underneath the constant conflict. My parents divorced when I was three, so I was always pulled in opposite directions, but really I was neglected. I would melt into the background and stay silent, but internally I would always be processing everyone’s mess. The “family” situation was always complicated, and swept under the rug. All troubles were kept secret from the outside world.

As a child, I loved sweets. I was addicted to sugar and refused almost all fruits and vegetables. My typical meals were meat, rice and a blackcurrant juice box. Almost all of my meals were prepared in advance, and left gladwrapped in the fridge, waiting for me microwave them. Because my mother would be working most of the day and night, we had a nanny that lived in our house, Sue, who would cook, clean, and care for my older sister and I.

I grew up eating dinners by myself, watching spongebob on TV. It would take me about two hours to finish a meal. My mother was too busy to pay attention. For example, I got a flea infestation in my bedroom, and I would try to deal with it, but it wouldn’t go away, so I would have to try and get her attention by leaving notes or sending her emails.

Me and my jellybeans           Six years old                Ten years old

When I was 11, I had to get a root canal. I already had numerous fillings, done by the school dental nurses (filled with mercury). I had no idea what a root canal was or why I had to get it done, but as usual, no questions were asked and my mother gave permission, so the procedure went ahead. The dentist said that it was unusual because people usually didn’t need to get root canals until they were at least in their 40s. That made it seem more special to me, and I was actually excited about it. I always looked forward to doctor visits, because I felt like I was actually being listened to and taken care of. I trusted the doctors and assumed that they would make me better. Little did I know, that the dentist was filling up the roots of my tooth with mercury.

As I aged further into my teens, my health problems grew more frequent and complex. Now when I went to the doctor, it was not clear what was wrong with me. All tests that were done always came back with normal results, showing that I should be ‘healthy.’

But I was always getting sick. If someone at school had a cold, I would catch it. This meant I was also frequently going to the doctor to get antibiotics. Eventually, they had to stop giving me antibiotics – I had taken so many rounds of amoxicillin that it didn’t work anymore. I was only able to attend school for half of the year. A lot of time was spent arguing with my mother over the fact that I missed school.

I had sore stomachs pretty much every day, and fluctuated between diarrhea and constipation. I got prescribed ibuprofen and paracetamol for my stomach pain and several rounds of really strong laxatives for the ‘irritable bowel syndrome’. Again, I was excited and hopeful that they would work. I was drinking these laxatives and then getting diarrhea, and taking up to 8 ibuprofen or paracetamols a day, two with each meal. One night, I started getting severe headaches and stomach cramps. I had no idea why this was happening and I was frightened, because all I had done was take my medicine. I ended up in the hospital with a drip in my arm. They discovered I was extremely dehydrated, from the over-prescription of laxatives. I had taken the exact amount the doctor suggested.

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First day of college…

After that, I was back in the doctors office. She suggested that I try some kiwifruit for my digestion. It seemed innocent enough… a refreshing break from the copious rounds of drugs I was always prescribed. So that night at home, I very hesitantly took a tiny bite of a kiwifruit.

What ensued was one of the most traumatizing and painful experiences of my life. I was severely (anaphylactic) allergic to kiwifruit. What were the odds this was the one thing she asked me to try? My whole throat seized up, I could barely breathe or swallow because of the pain, I was trying to cough up blood. I never thought it was possible to experience so many different kinds of pain at once. I ended up in the hospital again, but there was nothing they could do – I couldn’t drink any water as it was too painful to swallow, so I ended up just sitting and waiting it out.

After these two incidents, I decided to switch doctors, because I felt like the family doctor had (unintentionally) almost killed me twice.

A few weeks later, I was referred to the immunology department of the hospital and had a skin prick allergy test. Both my arms turned into fields of giant red hives. I was ‘allergic’ to several nuts, bananas, avocados, kiwifruit, certain trees and bushes, dust, grass and animal fur. So they gave me an anaphylaxis pen that I carried around but never used, and I was given stronger antihistamines.

My new doctor suggested that I have an endoscopy to check my stomach. I was sure that they would discover a hidden tumour or some menacing creature inside of my bowels. But they found nothing. The only thing that came from that operation was an adverse reaction to the intravenous sedative they gave me. After I woke up, instead of being tired and heavy, I felt incredibly euphoric and high.

I convinced the nurses to let me out of the hospital, even though they said it was necessary that I rest for another hour or two. I ripped those tubes and gown off and skipped all the way out. It felt like I had never felt this good before, I wanted to run and sing and dance around the city! But it wore away a few hours later.

After I did some research and talked to my doctor, I found out they gave me diazepam (Valium). I asked my doctor if they could prescribe that for me. He said that would be ideal, but they couldn’t because it’s highly addictive. I was rather angry, because this medication actually made me feel good, and I was already ‘addicted’ to every other medication they gave me anyway.

This incident sparked my interest in altered states of consciousness. From then on, I became obsessed with researching pharmaceuticals and other substances, especially psychedelics. Reading about the possibility of changing and escaping the painful reality I found myself in brought me hope and joy. ‘The Doors of Perception’ by Aldous Huxley was my favourite book. I wished that I could go back in time and live in the 60s counter-culture. 

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Scribbles from my diary

It was around this time that Sue, the woman who had raised me and the only adult I trusted, suddenly left without any notice. I was devastated beyond belief, as one of my biggest fears had come true. I felt truly alone, afraid, and angry that I had been abandoned again. I didn’t have anyone around me that I could talk to anymore, so I dealt with everything by writing in my journal. Sue was gone, and my mother didn’t like when I would speak to my father on the phone and would complain of phone bills, and my father wouldn’t like it if I ever even spoke or referred to my mother.

No one around me understood what I was going through, and eventually, it was easier for people to believe that I was over exaggerating my ailments and plainly making up that I was sick. The doctors could never find anything abnormal in physical tests either. So, that added another layer of psychological difficulty – not only was I suffering, but I had to try and convince the people around me that it was real because I always ‘looked’ like I was fine.

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14 years old

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At the hospital after the allergic reaction

I began to get frequent migraines that would last for 1 – 2 days. My head felt like it was going to explode and I was hypersensitive to everything – sound, light, touch, even resting my head on a pillow was incredibly painful.

At age 13 I was prescribed amitriptyline; a tricyclic antidepressant that at lower dosages acted as a painkiller, sleeping pill and prevented migraines. I eventually settled at the dosage of 50mg. These five little blue pills would go on to control my life; they decided how much pain I felt and whether or not I would be able to get to sleep at night. If I missed taking them five hours prior to bedtime, I would be up until 4, 5, or 6am.

My doctor also referred me to a chiropractor who specialized in migraines. It was through talking to this man that I realized something was really wrong with me. Looking back now, I can see that it would have been strange for a 13 year old girl to have migraines and constant back and shoulder pain, so I can understand his reasons for asking questions to cheer me up like, “If you had one weekend to do anything in the world, what would you do?”

After a long silence, I had no answer. He suggested a few things, “What about going to a themepark? Or seeing a movie?”

Nothing. I realized that there was not one single thing I could think of that would bring me any excitement or joy… 

That conversation haunted me for a long time. I realized how drained of life I had become.

At age 14 I was referred to see a clinical psychologist.

This was done through my doctor, and my mother was told it was only because I had sleeping problems, as she didn’t understand why I needed to see a psychologist. I had sleeping problems ever since I was young because I would be left alone at night, so I would stay up until 2 or 3am and watch TV. And I didn’t actually want to sleep, because I had nightmares. But this was obviously not the main reason. I knew I had needed to see someone practically since I was born.

I felt like I had lived 14 years without really saying a word.

So for the first time, I told someone the full truth about my life. Or at least I tried to, struggling through floods of tears. At the end of it the psychologist looked extremely concerned, almost mad, and said some kind things to me. She said she believed my sicknesses were real because sickness is the same as sadness, and anyone who has lived through what I have would be sad.

She asked me to fill out two questionnaires, one for anxiety and one for depression. I had read about those terms on the internet, but wasn’t completely familiar with what they meant. After looking at them she showed me where I scored on two graphs, one showed ‘low level anxiety’ near the top end, and the other was ‘severely/clinically depressed’ way down at the bottom of the graph.

My heart sank and I felt panic and fear creep in with this official ‘diagnosis’. When we left, I didn’t tell my mother anything.

A month-long school camp was coming up, that I was extremely reluctant to go on, because of the state of my mental and physical health. I ended up going, and thank goodness for that. I lived in a small house with seven other girls and spent a lot of time outdoors, tramping and camping. By the end of the month, I felt a spark of joy return inside me. I knew then, that it was the toxic environment at home that had made me so sick. I returned home, determined to keep my newfound happiness and optimism. But the environment and conflict was too much, and things rapidly got worse.

I always had problems with dissociation/depersonalization attacks. I was ‘there’ but didn’t really feel there. Actually, the first time this happened I remember very, very, vividly. I was seven or eight. I was outside, alone in the garden, bouncing up and down on the trampoline. Then suddenly, I thought – what if everything around me were suddenly gone? What if I just died? I tried to comprehend it, by imagining what would happen to me, and my mind, when I died. I just imagined that my life could be taken that very second, and that everything around me – the garden, the ocean, the house, the trampoline, the tiles, the grass, it would all be gone – and eternal blackness would ensue.

It sent me into a state of spiralling panic. I stopped bouncing, froze and sat on the trampoline. I got off, crying, and ran to Sue, my nanny. When in this state, all I needed was to hug someone and feel something solid or alive. It was reassuring, but I had to put those questions and doubts aside in my mind – unanswered – because going down that track of comprehension sent me into absolute terror.

I could just begin this thought trail at any moment, and on occasion, I would. But then I would always regret it. It was like travelling down a black spiral staircase of terror and absolute panic, in the vast emptiness of the unknown. It was like a weird guilty pleasure, I thought to myself ‘no, don’t do it again’, but I was so curious, that I could just bring on these ‘states’.

As I got older, those states started happening randomly, without my control. I started to get panic attacks when I would get home from school. And I would get other types of ‘breakdowns’ and ‘states’ that they don’t have names for, every two or three days. At first it was always at night, but then they would come during the day. These ‘states’ involved mixed feelings of sudden panic, terror, dissociation, numbness… essentially horror. I lived in constant fear of when the next one would happen, and I would have to randomly leave school during the day if one would come on. When they would happen, I would just lie in bed, and try to sleep, to take myself into numbness, out of that living hell that took over my body.

They were markedly different from the baseline depression that I felt. I tried to record them, I tried to figure out times, patterns and associations for their occurrence. It led to strange conclusions like a certain smell, a certain activity or something I was wearing, bringing on a panic attack, and that just didn’t make any sense.

Nothing made sense.

Whenever I tried to explain them to my psychologist, she had no idea what I was talking about, which frustrated me, because they were meant to be the doctors, and it felt like all that was happening was me telling them things.

Because of the unbearable conflict at my mothers house, I ran away one night when I was 14. Ever since then I lived out of a suitcase, sleeping on my dads couch, with my dog, Pep (who, without, I probably would not be alive). I barely managed to go to school most days, and the rest of the time would be spent in a comatose state. I was deeply depressed. My father would have to encourage me to eat, I wouldn’t bathe for days, and I would spend my time either lying in bed, sleeping, or on depression forums on the internet. I had no desire to do anything, my life was living as a robot – I had to force myself to do things in the hopes I would one day work up to feeling something. This was truly the worst period of my life. I would spend hours, frozen in a ball, unable to move, on the carpet. At times, even my father got impatient with me – thinking that I was being silly. But I wasn’t. Sometimes, I just didn’t have enough energy to move or talk. 

            All of my belongings           Me and Pep            He never left my side

 

The cost of continually seeing a clinical psychologist eventually ran too high, so I got referred to a free public mental health centre for children and adolescents. I read online about treatments for severe depression, like electro-schock therapy and antidepressants. I wanted both. The psychiatrist I saw ended up, very hesitantly, prescribing me fluoxetine (prozac), because they usually only gave them to over 18 year olds, and I was already on so much other medication. But I thought I needed it. I thought it would help.

The antidepressants changed me. They numbed me and took away what little I had left of myself. I felt nothing most of the time, and when I didn’t feel nothing, I felt only negative things. I was sick and fed up with school. I was incredibly impatient with teachers who took themselves too seriously, and I had no interest in being involved with anything. I didn’t understand why we had to sit in a class all day and learn seemingly pointless information. I could not understand how people could seriously get stressed or worried about handing in a piece of paper. I hated the system.

I was there, like a shell, like a ghost. I started using codeine heavily, to bring me some other sensation. I became addicted to it – taking up from 7 to 10 pills at once (the prescribed dosage is 2). I spent half of the days in the counselors office or sleeping in the nursing bay. I was drugged up to my eyeballs but nevertheless maintained some sort of facade of being a happy and good student. I still laughed, and had friends and played some sports, but inside I felt nothing, and that it was all pointless.

The pills also messed me up physically, my appetite was completely gone and my body temperature was always out of control – doing the tiniest things I would sweat excessively. I felt as heavy as as 50 tonnes of sinking sand. Little tasks like washing dishes were impossible. For one day my single task would be to hang the washing out, and even thinking about doing it, brought me to tears.

The only thing that got me through was the thought “this will pass”. I listened to, and read a lot of Buddhist philosophy.

 

And it did. After about a year and a half, slowly and gradually, the states of panic and terror began to occur not every two or three days, but every four or five days, then every week, and so on, until the last one ever occurred. Just being away from the house I used to live in, and receiving support from my father and an amazing guidance counselor at school, I started to get a bit better. We moved into a new flat when I was 16, so now I could have my own bed.

I can vividly remember how quickly my life switched, once the severe depression, the extremely heavy iron blanket over my body, mind and soul started to lift… slowly, I dissolved into an ‘ordinary’ life. This meant I could get up in the morning, (instead of lying in bed for hours, in fear and dread), I could pour my cereal, (instead of feeling no hunger and forcing myself to eat) and have a shower and get dressed (instead of staying in pajamas and not bathing for days!).

So this is how normal people feel?!? It’s like walking on air! I actually became disturbed at how easy things were now, because I had been keeping up with everyone else for all those years, but everything was 10 thousand times harder.  

I was still highly emotional, anxious, insecure and yes depressed, but I had started to heal from the comatose state I was in before. I thought to myself, that I’d better never ever forget how I felt, so I would never take anything for granted, and catch ‘normal’ problems! For example when my dog would pee on the floor, I would happily wipe it up, smiling, thinking – wow, how wonderful it is that I have a dog and I can use my arms! Whereas my father, would become angry and huff and puff around complaining about cleaning the pee.

At the end of 2014, I was beginning to feel a bit more okay about life. My physical health improved dramatically, as I used to catch at least six or seven (or more) colds a year, and now I would only get about four or five. This was an amazing achievement for me. My mother began to creep back into my life, and I managed to express my pain and true feelings about the decisions she had made in life and how they hurt me. Instead of our relationship consisting of arguing in the car on the way to appointments, she began to put more effort into being nice to me. For the first time my parents could be in each others presence and communicate. Finally they were forced to, because of me.

In December, my grandpa, who I felt very close to and would regularly visit at the rest home, passed away. His death brought up a lot of issues with my family. I felt, again, as if everything was being swept under the rug and everyone was acting fake, so I snapped.

I always carried around my pill box with me, which contained four days worth of my medication: the antidepressants, sleeping pills, pain killers, antihistamines etc.

So, sitting next to my grandma at my grandpas funeral, I took all of the pills. I tried to cut myself open. I wanted more than anything, to submerge myself into the ocean and never return.

But I didn’t make it.

Instead, I ended up in my bed with my sister sleeping next to me, inside a body on fire.

 

Caring for my grandpa           Releasing him             When I was little 

 

I was quite damaged after that, but I managed to go almost completely back to what was my new ‘normal’ a few days after and celebrate the new year of 2015. This was when my previous boyfriend of three years came into my life. Although it was a young, messy, juvenile relationship, it was my first love and gave me a new, refreshing way of life. He was practically my opposite – super relaxed, carefree, outgoing, confident and upbeat. I started to fall in love with being alive again, as I felt like I had something to be excited about.

I decided I didn’t want to finish school and instead go straight to university. So I applied to study a conjoint degree of law and psychology. I got accepted, without finishing my last year of school. So I begun my first year of university in 2015.

I was still a regular at my doctor, and I was complaining about the antidepressants – so he suggested that I switch to paroxetine. That was a horrible experience, so I got referred to see a private psychiatrist. It was hundreds of dollars for this appointment. Again, I had to try and explain my life to some stranger, and I thought this time it would be worthwhile. I was really desperate for some genuine help, insight and care.

He barely moved a muscle on his face the entire time.

“Why don’t you try Sertraline” he said, cold as a fish. 

I left with a new prescription for sertraline, (another SSRI), along with zopiclone and clonazepam to ‘help’ with the withdrawal.

This was the beginning of the end.

The combination of weaning off of paroxetine, onto sertraline, with zopiclone, amitriptyline and clonezepam was the last straw. My body was sent into panic, numbness, my veins felt like they were running backwards and my mind was electrocuting itself. Psychologically I was frozen and I would have to float above my body to detach from all of it whilst moving every few hours and trying to mutter a few words, cry, or try and move my hand to write something to communicate. I saw dark things, twisting, distorted visions of bathroom tiles and wooden doors turning in on themselves… all the while I didn’t tell my father so he was oblivious to what I was going through.

 

 I used art to channel my emotions

 

I got very lost. I went to places so far away from sanity that I was not sure I would ever come back. But it pushed me far enough, to my absolute limit of experiencing this earth, this human body, to send me right back. The final drug cocktail sent me back forever. I knew, after experiencing what I did, that these pills were NEVER going to be the answer.

I was so overwhelmed, so toxic, so artificially altered – that now, nothing except absolute rawness and purity would suffice.

Finally… finally, I had reached the point where I couldn’t get any lower.

I wanted reality.

 

{To be continued in Part Two – How I healed…}

 

p.s. Sorry about the skewed and weird sized pictures, none of the formats are working

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Categories: Soul

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