Once upon a time, over a decade ago now, I made plans to spend my spring break visiting friends in New York. I had tickets to fly out to meet them at their university upstate, then we were going to take the train down and spend a day in Manhattan. It was sometime after 9/11 -- not so long that we were used to all the airport security theater yet, but long enough that New York had more or less returned to its normal background level of muggings, stabbings, and fraudulent cab drivers.

About a week before I was scheduled to go, I had a nightmare. I dreamt I was walking down the canyons of Manhattan, concrete cliffs towering above me, when I saw someone in the crowd look up Then more people. So I looked up, and we all saw a glint of metal high up in the air, and then the obliterating brightness of a nuclear flash.

I woke up in a dead panic. I think anyone would. That's a pretty terrible image.

I have never believed in prophetic dreams. I've never even had one of those weird coincidences, where you dream of some mundane event and then something eerily similar happens a few days later. But I spent the next week haunted by the feeling that I was going to New York to die.

It was equal parts horrible and mystifying. Technically, the chances were non-zero that it would happen the way I dreamt it, as both Manhattan Island and nuclear weapons exist. But in practical terms, the odds were exponentially greater that if I did somehow die on that trip, it would be in the part where someone had to drive me to the airport in Phoenix. Phoenix traffic is full of poor demented souls who are 109 years old and legally blind, and yet somehow retain their legal right to operate a motor vehicle on public roads, plus the signage at Sky Harbor is consistently one lane off, which means almost literally everyone driving around that airport is both lost and angry.

Logic made absolutely no dent. At all. As someone who deals with most things by just hitting them over and over again with her colossal brain, this just left me gobsmacked. I'd already gotten fairly good at that point at picking apart my reactions to things and figuring out what was prompting me to feel the way I did, but with this one, it was one part of my brain going, "Okay, what's really behind all this upset?" and another part of my brain just giving a wide-eyed baffled shrug. I genuinely did not know why I felt that way, or what to do about it. It wasn't the first time I'd had a total meltdown, but it was the first time A) it had lasted this long; B) I really realized that all of the people who had accused me of making a fuss over nothing in the past were lying, as previous fusses had been about actual things, albeit probably not things that warranted that magnitude of malfunction; and C) I was actually terrified over nothing this time, and I had no idea how to make it stop.

I don't think I can really explain to you what it's like to be well aware that none of your internal experience is making any fucking sense at all, and at the exact same time, remain convinced at an emotional level that you are at every moment deciding what you want to do with the last week of your life. It's sort of the opposite of psychosis. Instead of having a whole bunch of feelings that make perfect sense in the context of the alternate universe presented to you by your broken reality testing, it's having a whole bunch of feelings that are utterly baffling in light of your perfectly functional reality testing telling you that nothing in reality warrants any of them.

It had long since been drummed into my head that nobody cared how I felt. Previous attempts to explain what was going on had mainly gotten me shouted at. I wasn't going to get sympathy out of anyone, much less help. So in the end, what I did with the "last week of my life" was mainly keep my gob shut and go to class. At some point I ran out of energy for trying to argue myself into not feeling doomed, and just decided that well, I wanted to see New York before I died anyway, and if someone did drop a nuke on it I wasn't going to get another chance.

I feel just like that these days, only worse, because it's not necessarily over nothing. I have no idea how much of my state of mind is because the world is legitimately dangerous, and how much is just because I have redlined and broken again. Drugs only do so much. The line between "too panicky to function" and "too sleepy to be coherent" is razor-thin with me, and the dosing is more difficult to judge since I've more or less given up on food. I'm not particularly good at being an anorexic -- I don't look fat in the mirror and I dislike being too thin, as it gets uncomfortable to sit on the floor and my neckline gets all collarbone-y and all that -- but we also don't have a lot of resources to spare, and that includes grocery money. The guilt and anxiety over possibly eating something that one of the more economically-valuable roommates might have wanted is overwhelming, and I'm really too exhausted to argue with it most of the time. I've somehow gotten phased out of the household dinner plans, so I just clean up the wreck they've left behind after making the dinner I didn't eat any of, and crawl off to bed.


  1. Normal functioning, for humans, is that we stress out for a few hours or days and then reset, like Geiger counters, to ignore the background level of danger. One of the things drugs cannot fix is lack of fuel. Being underfed reinforces and extends the 'everything is wrong and bad and doom is setting in' feelings.

    Can you get/keep anything* down? Maybe two or three swallows, spaced a couple of hours apart? Once your body is not starving it will do much better at regulating emotions.

    *Pure sugar is worse than nothing, but anything else is good. Bananas, crackers, cheese-sticks, peanut butter straight from the jar?

    1. Normal people work like that, yes. My problem is a physiological abnormality in the HPA axis -- Google "Ehlers Danlos" and "anxiety disorders" for more. It's visible on fMRI and everything. The medical treatment is to give me the Rx equivalent of all the drugs I already have to hand, and to tell me to reduce lifestyle stress, which is not currently possible. Inevitably some yob will tell me to exercise the anxiety away, which has no effect on the rolling doom cloud. I may actually throw something at the next person who advises me to meditate.

      I stuff down bread or something before taking naproxen, because I don't need my painkillers eating a hole in my stomach. Otherwise, I have no appetite and cramming down food that actively makes me nauseous is stress on top of stress and helps nothing. I drink a lot of juice. V8 is also disgusting, but it does have things like carrot in it, and if I do throw up, liquids are less unpleasant.

    2. And with all due respect, kath, the next time you are tempted to give me advice, stop and ask yourself if I'm likely to have heard, and tried, the exact same thing about a hundred million times before.

      I have been resisting the temptation to smack what I'm sure is meant to be a helping hand, but this is the reason I am no longer willing to slog through appointments with a therapist. They all tell me to do the exact same thing, and ignore me when I point out that I've tried it, and it does not make me function any better. In most cases, it does the opposite, as it's just one more stressor on top of all the rest, when I am already feeling overwhelmed. I'm not a fool. If it helped, I'd be doing it.

  2. Since weed is legal in your state now, have you tried smoking to increase your appetite?

    1. The legality doesn't kick in until December 15th, for the record, but it's unfortunately irrelevant here. A number of experiments when I was in college, and a couple of tries since, reveal that marijuana has pretty much no effect on me. At all. I've tried smoking and edibles, and had quite a bit of the latter. The other people were all "holy fuck I have FEET" and I was all "...nothing's happening, should I eat another brownie?"

      It is one of the weird things that convinced me that Ehlers-Danlos is actually the thing I have. EDS patients complain constantly that drugs do nothing, way too much, or some bizarre thing that they only list on the package insert because like 0.000001% of patients complain of it, and the FDA makes them. Cracked did one of their personal experiences columns on it, where another EDS person describes the freaky things cold meds do to her. http://www.cracked.com/personal-experiences-1462-6-impossible-powers-and-weaknesses-my-disorder-gives-me.html


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