Me and the Sick Feeling
Melinda [last name withheld]
This essay was written in two parts, the first when Melinda
was eighteen, the second a year later. "Part One" was a combined
effort between Melinda and her counselor, who had encouraged Melinda to
write about her "sick feeling." Besides believing it would be
therapeutic for her, the counselor thought other young people with similar
experiences would benefit from seeing that Melinda's difficulties had
not defeated her.
My name is Melinda. I'm eighteen. When I was little, like from ages four to eight, I always wanted to stay close to my mother. I witnessed her being beaten. Also, I was molested when I was about three and a half, and the guy who molested me threatened to kill my mother if I told. I think these things led to my wanting to be home with my mother. I wasn't really feeling afraid. I just always wanted to be with my mom. I felt safest with her.
My "sick feeling" started earlier this year when my family moved to the housing project (which is where I used to live when I was three and a half and was molested). I was real mad at my mother for moving us back there. Shortly after we moved there, I started feeling "sick" and panicky. My heart would beat very fast and I would feel like I was going to throw up. It turned out that I was pregnant. I had an abortion, and the sick feeling went away for about two weeks. Then it returned. I didn't go out of my apartment for about two months. I got in the habit of staying in. This made the sick feeling stronger. Looking back on it, I wish someone had coaxed me to keep going out. After these two months, my family moved again. I started going out again. This lasted about two weeks, and then the staying-in habit started up again. The sick feeling was back, very strong.
Here's how the sick feeling feels: I feel scared, sick, and alone. My heart races. I swallow a lot. My stomach feels like I'm gonna throw up. I feel dizzy. I get sweaty hands. My face gets red and hot. I say to myself, "I'm gonna have a heart attack. I'm gonna die." When this all happens, I try to take my mind off of it. I try to keep thinking of something else, in my head, by myself. If someone talks to me, I flip out because they're interrupting my attempts to calm myself. If I am outside, the sick feeling lasts until I can get home. If I am home, it can happen if I am alone or with my two-year-old nephew. If it happens when I'm home, I pace the floors and talk to myself out loud trying to calm myself. Sometimes I call a family member and see if talking to them will help calm me, or to ask them to come and be with me. The longest sickness I've had lasted about one hour. At my worst, I was feeling sick about every other day.
This sick feeling can affect people around you, too. Like, it can annoy friends and family, like when you always want someone to stay home with you or be with you when you have to go out. They get annoyed with you if they have to break their plans because of you. People who love you don't always understand what's happening to you. People have said to me, "Melinda, just snap out of it!" It's not that easy.
Here are some things that are helping me with this problem: Aggravation at staying in so much led me to try going out. I have had the idea for a long time that I want to "do something with my life" . . . and staying in was not doing something with my life. Another thing is that sometimes there are a lot of arguments in my family. At times I've gotten very aggravated with the arguing and have decided to go out and take a walk by myself. This gets me out. Also, I've done some thinking about what helps me feel safe when I'm out, and I've realized I feel safer in a car (because if I get sick the car can get me home faster than my feet or the "T"), so now I can usually go out in a car. I tried medicine but decided to stop it because I decided I wanted to do it without medicine. I've asked a lot of people for help and I know how to accept help from people. This asking and accepting help and support has helped me get out. I got and read a self-help book about panic disorders which had lots of suggestions that helped me. Also, it helped me understand things. For example, it told how having a racing heart and other things your body does during panic attacks do not cause heart attacks and do not kill you. This was a relief to me. I have learned to say comforting things to myself, like, "Everything's gonna be okay. I can do it." Also, I've found that chewing gum and drinking something soothes my constant swallowing behavior. Also, now I tell people what I need from them and what I don't want them to do when I am sick. Like, when I feel sick, it doesn't help when they keep asking me, "Are you okay? Are you okay??" I have learned that taking deep breaths helps to calm me. Also, I got help from a counselor. It helps to have someone to talk to who knows something about how to solve the problems you're having.
I'm doing much better now than I was six months ago. Now I can go to the store alone. I can imagine being home alone for small periods of time. I know now that if I'm feeling at all ill (especially anything in my stomach), chances are greater that I'll get scared and panicky if I go out. Tomorrow I even have a job interview at Dunkin' Donuts. I'm scared, but I hope I'll get it. I've come a long way.
My message to other kids who have the problem that I do: I hope you get the help you need like I did and that you learn what you need to do to help yourself with your problem. You can do it!
After I hadn't talked to my counselor for some months, two of my close friends passed away. First my friend Danielle hung herself. A month or so later, my friend Eddie died in a car crash while he was car racing. I wasn't really surprised about Danielle, since she tried to kill herself a few times in grammar school. I didn't expect it about Eddie, though.
I thought about them all the time. I wasn't showing that I was depressed, but I slowly decreased my eating habits. I mean I cried a lot, but I don't see that as depression. I just stopped eating. As a couple of weeks went by, I was barely eating a slice of bread a day, never mind I wasn't drinking that much. I had no energy, and I was forgetting things.
By this point, I couldn't leave my house nor be home by myself, like I was a year before when I first got sick. My mother, brother, and sister had noticed I was looking really bad. My mother and two friends took me to the clinic for some advice to see what might be wrong. There my doctor took my weight. I had lost 15 pounds within a month, I had low blood pressure and was dehydrated. My doctor highly recommended that I be put in a hospital as soon as possible. She wanted me to go there by ambulance, but I told her no. My friends took me to a psychiatric unit. The lady there gave me medication and said, "Let's try this out and see how you do with it for a couple of days. If it doesn't work out, you'll go into the hospital." I tried it, but I still wasn't eating. I got real sick and went to the hospital the next day.
At the hospital, I was watched most of the day. They had to watch my intake of food, take my blood pressure sitting, standing, and lying down, three times a day. I was put on medicine. Being in the hospital, all I could do was think. I realized how much I was hurting my family and friends and myself. My mother and sister came to visit me, and they'd cry. But they all supported me, which I needed. They didn't abandon me. My friends said they'd take me to my appointments after I got out of the hospital, and they talked to my doctors for me. They'd tell them, "She can't do this or that, she doesn't feel comfortable."
I was in the hospital for about a week and a half and then released into a day program there. That didn't last long, only three days, since I didn't want to take the transportation there and back. Riding in the cabs gave me motion sickness and panic attacks. I didn't want to be there anyway. I stayed at home, still on medicine, which was helping. I still had to go to my doctor's for follow-up.
My counselor was there for me the whole time. She really wants to see me get better. She told me one of the first things that triggers panic attacks is loss of friends, family. But I have to be strong for myself. Watching myself waste away is not a pretty sight. I've learned to deal with the loss of my friends by not thinking about it all the time. Yes, I still have problems, but people around me help me each day to get stronger. My mom stands by me and looks out for me. She understands. She's been there.
I'm still learning how to deal with my problems. It'll take time, but
I know life gets better and so will I. I'm not going to let myself be
like this for the rest of my life.
Linda Hillyer, compiler and editor of Listen to Our Stories
logo art by Adiyana Paramita
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