I don’t want to be crazy is a raw and honest account of Samantha’s journey with panic disorder and transition into young adulthood. The book is a memoir told in verse, and is extremely well written. It starts when Samantha is leaving for college. She is very eager to leave family, friends and especially an insensitive boyfriend behind.
She goes to college and is overwhelmed by the sudden vast amount of choices for activities, friends guys ETC. She bounces from one group of friends to another trying to find her place. She smokes a lot of marajauna through the book particularly in her time at school and I can’t help but wonder if that has an effect on her panic atacks. I don’t know anything about the relationship between pot and anxiety disorder so if anyone has thoughts or experience I’d be happy to hear them.
Her panic atacks start out intense and hit her in crowded closed in places. Like the lecture hall and dining hall. At first she thinks they’re from “bad highs” and tries to ignore them. But they become constant and she often feels so sick to her stomach she has to leave several times to be sick, or stays home from classes.
She’s gone to the health center for several illnesses which had increased her anxiety. She happens to see a poster describing panic atacks and things click for her. She goes to the counseling center and gets an apointment with a therapist and prescription for anxiety medicine.
Even with the support of the therapist and meds her life is one cycle of panic atacks, relative calm, hoping this is the end of it and then more atacks. Each atack leaves her breathless, sick to her stomach, dizzy, (sometimes she actually passes out) and totally exhausted. She starts to fear the actual atacks more then what triggered them so she stays away from so many things. It’s hard as sometimes she’ll be in a situation that triggered an atack one day but then another it will be fine. But a different situation/ circumstance will prompt an atack.
When she comes home from break her parents don’t catch on at first about the atacks. She does eventually tell them. They try to understand but it’s hard as if you’ve never experienced this type of overwhelming out of the blue chaos you really can’t accurately give anyone a picture of it. Her parents as well aren’t as empathetic as one would wish. People that are kind of like let’s pretend everything’s ok even when it’s not.
Even without her parent’s understanding she does have a couple friends at school that get her. Two that either have panic atacks themselves or are related to mental health professionals. She has a couple of boyfriends who are more or less understanding but they break up with her. Her major anxiety destroys relationships because she can’t control her actions/ behaviors when one hits and the other person doesn’t get it. It’s hard on them to always be looking out for her and the worst part is she doesn’t want this at all. All she wants to do is be happy and stable, but the pressures of young adulthood, balanceing classes, friends, expectations from family, parties ETC plus the emergence of her mental illness (which may or may not have happened anyway) continue to tear her world apart. As with all mental illness, she has periods of stability. Whether they’re from meds/ therapy, or just the nature of the beast it’s hard to tell. Each remission as she calls them leaves her with hope that this is it. This nightmare is over. At first she is very cautious finding it hard to believe that she’s actually ok for hours or days without an atack. Then she takes more risks and starts to relax into things. A stable and good time for her is the semester she studdied abroad in Paris. A lot of her friends were doing this going to different countries. For the first couple months she is doing really well. Overwhelmed about being in a strange country and not knowing the language well, but she takes a liking to her host family. And gradually she feels even more relaxed and adventurous. She sees the sights, takes pictures, paints and meets many good people. Things fall apart one day when they’re headed on a tour somewhere. She has a panic atack and it terrifies her. This starts a downward spiral of her wishing and working like mad to do the things that her therapists have taught her, deep breathing talking herself down ETC. Lucky for her one of her friends that’s the therapist’s daughter does understand and can be supportive in that moment. Being the calm voice of reason and emotional ankor that is needed during the all out emotional and physical overload. Even with the support and understanding of this friend and the group in general she feels horible. She manages to do the spring break tour when they go to other enighboring countries. But she ends up being prescribed drugs by doctors in those areas, and she feels like a failure for being on meds again. The meds do help somewhat. And coming back to Paris for the last of her time there does stabilize her.
Another year gone by. She continues the cycle of panic, remission, hope for the future, more fighting with the internal monster. What gets her through are the friends that truly care. The ones who have dealt with anxiety in the past, or who know a lot about mental illness. Even other friends pick up on her cues and behaviors that she tries to use to get herself out of situations before they get worse. She’ll be doing well at a certain situation and then she just has this feeling like it’s time to go before things get pushed too far inside her. At the end of the book even after a lot more therapy and having a better handle on things, she still has these “safety nets.” But calls them “webs that bind me.” I actually disagree. I think this knowing herself and what she can and can not handle before being overloaded is a good coping skill. You wouldn’t judge someone or say it’s a bad thing for someone with a physical illness to know their limets. I don’t think it’s fair for people to say it’s not ok for someone in this situation to do the same. Realistically. A lot of what she has to learn are what are realistic limits due to the constant nature of the disorder, and what are the irational overpowering thoughts and emotions that try to tell her she can go no further.
When she finishes college she is launched into a whole new unknown. She moves home and her parents give her a week’s break before job searching. I agree with her that that’s too short especially with her anxiety. But like I said though they grew more and more understanding they’re not the most empathetic. She takes a temp job and hates it. She takes another job doing some kind of publishing filing thing. Her boss is horible. Everyday she comes home crying and her father says “welcome to the real world.” She falls into a kind of in between state, not sad, not happy. Angry, jaded. Like what? I went through four years of this to work a job I hate with other unhappy people? I’m sure this is a question many many people face. It just contributes to her anxiety.
The cycle builds again. She can’t take the train without thoughts of a major fatal crash. She sits and works herself up into atacks worrying about her own health and that of her family. Her sister also becomes a good support to her. It’s to the point where she does have to take some time off work. Her family asks if she wants to go to the hospital but she is determined “not to cross that line between outpatient and inpatient.”
She sees one therapist after another. One really bad self centered one. Her current therapist has a picture of a fantasy character battling imaginary monsters. Seeing it she knows the therapist will be good. She goes on a med rollercoaster with him, he must be a psychiatrist as well as do therapy that isn’t really made clear. The tapering and reaising of med doses day by day would send me right over the edge and I’d demand hospitalization. She pushes her way through and they finally find a tolerable dose that seems to keep some of the overwhelmingness at bay. So she can work on continuing the only treatments there seem to be. Breathing techniques and talking herself out of things. I could relate to a lot of her struggles. Of breathing exercises just not working, and the struggle to develop an inner voice of reason and calm when everything is in absolute chaos.
She works her ass off and still has the ups and downs. The book ends with her 22nd birthday. Where she had had a week with no full blown atacks. She is able to talk herself out of an atack into being able to go to work and a party after. She keeps a note with her saying that the things she’s afraid of are not real, and all the things she’s doing now that seem so insurmountable will be ok because she’s done them a milion times. That would be a long winded paragraph to read for me but it helps. She also starts taking yoga.
She takes a one day at a time aproach. No longer feeling like the panic runs her life totally, she seems to know how this works and is doing her best to fight it. Just focus on fighting it when she can, enjoying the good days. She’s let go of the anger around why is this happening? And the guilt around feeling like a horible person for not being “like everyone else.” Or for having different needs than others, like having to leave a party early.
The last sentence of the book summs it up: I am in a house. I’m in one room and my anxiety is in another. It’s close. I can feel it. I can go to it. But I won’t.”
This capturesher resolve to tackle the situation moment by moment. To try and distance herself from the anxiety but to know that it is and may always be there. She takes her fight with this very seriously knowing she needs to do this to live her life. She is a good example of the cycles that we go through as people with mental illness. The overwhelming first incounters with the monster, in whatever form it takes. The trying to fend them off and hoping it will all just end. The maze of therapists and medications and periods of just wishing it away. Wondering what you did to deserve this. Feeling helpless angry and hopeless. Misunderstood and alone in the world of internal war. Samantha is lucky she had very supportive friends, and simi supportive parents. Helpful therapist and friends who never gave up on her.
I think many many people can relate to the time and place of this story. When I studdied counseling it came up a lot that a person’s first instance of chronic mental illness came up in young adult years. A time of just jumping into the world of classes, building new connections, drama with friends and romance, figuring out who you are. To have the unpredictable and devastating burden of anxiety atacks or depression or whatever on your back is enough to break a person. Samantha showed ferce courage and determination to recover. Often she is hard on herself, but in a way that aspect also keeps her from doing things she feels are just against her personal views. Like relying on atavan or even taking it, going into the hospital or just hiding away. She hid away for a time and thought she’d never get out of misery. But she pulled herself back up and faced the monsters, using the tools that really didn’t seem to touch things before but using them without backing down. Battling through each atack.
Her story deeply touched me as I have generalized anxiety and often have the racing irational thoughts and overwhelming emotions. My caseworker and I were trying to figure out the difference between GAD and panic disorder. As I told her about the book and she’d never heard of panic disorder. I said people with GAD just have a high level of anxiety around different things, with panic disorder it’s one atack after another. But she said that might not explain it either. I thought being a mental health worker she’d know about all the different disorders but that’s cool.
Anyway I welcome comments on this book and the area of fighting anxiety/ panic.
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