Note: This has been a draft for 404 days. lil encouraged me to write it down and share it. Maybe someone might find hope in it...
Note 2: I am a PhD student in neuroscience and tend to be very rational at times. This might help while reading further on.
Sometime in March, 2016, I was chatting with lil on facebook and she asked me how I was doing. I was in a weird place.
Early February, 2016
A friend was visiting and we decided to smoke some and watch a movie. At that time, I reduced my smoking to every second weekend and was doing OK. Halfway through the movie it clicked and I got a panic attack. My whole body was shaking. I didn't understand what was happening. I felt like I was constantly belly dancing (writhing), my temperature sensation was totally off, my heart rate was very high, my vision was very sharp, my depth perception was off, my auditory input was different.
Suddenly, I forgot everything. My whole world collapsed. Who am I? Where am I? What am I doing here? I lost my myself. Thought spirals kept going deeper and deeper. No answers. I panicked, it was not stopping, everything turned grim, a sense of doom came over me.
My friend was not having a good time either. She suggested I let go and surrender to the feeling. I listened to her, it got better. My body calmed down, the shakes were reduced and slowly I transitioned into a state that felt like halfway through a mushroom trip. Extreme flow, fluid thoughts, mind journeys into the past and future (btw, we will be fine, apparently). This lasted for a good hour and I ended it on a good note.
The next morning, things still felt a little off. Specially visually. I decided that I am stopping all drugs for a while to see what happened. Three weeks later I smoked a tiny tiny amount out of a pipe and it sent me right into that panic mode. I decided to stop smoking.
21st of February
- "It feels like I am watching TV from a very self-conscious couch. I am watching my mental state/current default mindset - the way I behave when I am not thinking. And then, I switch the program. Sometimes it is a totally different program, different vibe, different emotions, different soundtrack. Other times it shares some aspects of a program I have nearly forgotten about."
9th of March
- "I am shaking...."
A panic attack, three weeks after smoking for the last time. I was sitting at home and my whole body started shaking. I tried to convince myself that I was not losing my mind, that I was enough, that I had a purpose. I felt a lot of guilt and shame that my drug use led me to this state. This is the point that started the hardest few months of my life.
Interestingly, a few hours later, I did not think that my drug use was the cause of this and I became very hypochondriac. I knew my symptoms, sudden changes in perception, mood swings, irrational depression, muscle cramps, stomach aches... It could be something else, right? I went to the doctor. She said it is some kind of bug that is going through the city. Took some blood samples and sent me home to rest.
Everything got worse, strong paranoia attacks. I couldn't sleep alone in my room. I couldn't sleep at all!! I was losing weight. 7 kilos (15 pounds) already! Nightmares over nightmares. I went back to the doctor. She said I had low vitamin D levels and antibodies against borrelia. I might have lyme disease. I was prescribed high-dose antibiotics for the next 20 days. In addition, she mentioned that I should look up a neurologist to check my symptoms. I called all the suggested neurologists, I managed to get an appointment a month later...
I still felt absolutely weird. My perception kept changing. I was having visual hallucinations. The same track sounds different every time I listened to it. My world was crumbling again, I didn't understand why.
I called my parents. It’s a few days before easter. They noticed something was off. They booked a flight for the next day. I called in sick and flew to Israel for easter.
I started to take my antibiotics. They made me photophobic. I put on sunglasses. Started feeling surreal. The whole world was a charade and I was watching. I was on that couch again.
I went to see a family friend who is a neurologist. I decided to tell him everything. My experience with different substances and everything else. He decided that it was the drugs that were causing this. I got an antipsychotic and antidepressant, low doses to help me cope.
I denied the possibility that it was caused by the drugs and did not touch the medications. It took me ages to wake up in the morning.
- "Who am I? Where am I? Where do I go next?"
The day passed. During the day, it got better, flashes of panic and "psychedelic-glasses" here and there. Every day started with a 5-hour climb.
The week was over, time to fly back and deal with reality. On the flight I sat next to two Finnish nuns and ended up talking about God, life and the world around us. Weird coincidence. I was still feeling weird but better. I arrived at my flat, opened the door, entered... and get the strongest panic attack I can recall.
At night, in my bed, not able to sleep, I heard a voice, I was afraid, I took the pills, I went to sleep. The next morning, I felt a tiny bit better. Continued taking the medications, I noticed my mindset changing,
- "What comes next?"
I feel better.
It is like I am changing gears. I am still watching TV, but the program is changing to a specific channel, by itself.
Being in this state detaches you from your surroundings. Sometimes you are so overwhelmed by everything that you become numb and turn inwards. While most of the time I was in agony, there were some "Aha!" moments. One day, my roommate and his girlfriend took me to a flea market. There were so many people, so many colors, action, movement. At some point I couldn't handle it and felt like taking out my poi and playing, and so I did. I closed my eyes, spread my arms and played as free as I ever was. Nothing was important. I remembered that in this situation, I would have worried about everything.
- "What would the people say?", "Is it allowed to do this here?"
Those thoughts were not there, not even close. I felt free. Weird, that a state like this was able to teach me something.
Functioning at work is hard. I feel like a zombie. I can't think straight. Panic attacks during the day. Triggered by... coffee, an email, a smell, a thought. The worst attacks are always when I come home in the evenings.
One day I get home and start shaking all over my body again. For some reason, I put on my running clothes and sprint out of the house. Run, run, run, until it stops.
This became a habit. Exercise until you are too tired to think. A good trick that works.
- "What is the sense in exercising?", "I don't care, it helps"
- "When will it end?", "I don't know, but I hope someday".
I dislike the fact that I am taking medications. After going to the local neurologist and her telling me "You had pharmacology at Uni, you know how to taper down," I decided to reduce the meds after one month. I still have nightmares, sweaty nights, cold night, hot nights, and nights where I wake up paralyzed. The left part of my body is numb. No idea why, continue sleeping.
Time passes, the panic attacks become less, the depression less, my perception stabilized. It feels like my body is re-calibrating. I feel temperature normally again, the music sounds as usual again.
But, I feel different. I changed.
- "Who am I?"
I don't recognize myself. What happened to the happy, funny, loud, person you are? Suddenly I am calm, much more cautious, observing.
- "What am I doing here?", "Am I really happy?"
This starts a whole process in which I try to accept that I changed. I changed so tremendously that I didn't recognize myself anymore. But instead of dwelling over the fact that I changed I choose to accept it. I switched the channel, and I wonder how long I will be on this one. When the change comes, I will have to go with it. Whenever I have a rough time in life it always seems to end up with the same summary, the same conclusion. Take what life throws at you and surf on it. It always reminds me of an old arabic poem that my father used to tell us:
- "A man can never gain everything he hopes for:
The winds blow contrary to what ships wish"
Abu at-Tayyib al-Mutanabbi
Now, about 1.5 years later I sit here stronger than ever. I have got out of something I never thought I would encounter in my life. And if it happens again, I will be ready.