Ella Panics

Among my infinite number of talents, I appear to possess an immense propensity towards panic.

It’s currently past midnight, and I’ve found myself curled in a ball on my bed among many papers and books, utterly frozen in terror. The type of terror that makes me feel like I’m going to throw up or pass out, though hopefully not at the same time because I have no interest in asphyxiating on my vomit and dying à la Jimi Hendrix.

Max has just shown up in my room, and it looks like he might stay the night. The unquestioning love of animals seems to make any emotionally fraught moment exponentially easier to cope with.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

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On Looking Forward to the Summer

Lately, I’ve been trying to focus on pictures like this one, instead of all the stress and unhappiness. It isn’t going so well.

I really wish I was at the beach right now.

On Boating, Mirrors, and Victory

Today was another day of feeling dizzy and off. The odd sensations of floating/boating haven’t ceased. I felt like I was paddling a canoe through first period. Second period, I floated around in an inner tube. Third, I spent in a row boat. By forth, I left for a very long sail for Nantucket with lots of breaks for dead man floats. I haven’t yet returned, and as of right now, it doesn’t appear that a return ticket was booked.

So by the time I got home, I was done. Really, really, really, really done. But rather than letting myself slid over into freak out mode, I decided to get creative. Whenever I get freaked out by side effects, I have a panic attack, and that panic attack is almost always the result of disassociation. To fix that I parked myself in front of the huge mirror on the wall at the foot of the stairs. I could sit on the stairs and see my whole body and behind me. That way I would know that it was me. I grabbed some yellow rice and chicken from the fridge, made popcorn, and poured myself some juice into this awesome cup that I made when I was five.

 

I have two observations about this mug. One: I clearly have excellent potential to become an artist and Two: I have never been good at accurately depicting my body.

Then, I turned on my iPod and just sat there and watched myself eat. I still felt like was the model of buoyancy and that I was gaining pounds by the mouthful, but I wasn’t panicking. I was just sitting there, eating food and waiting it all out. It’s the first time a long time that coping skills have been an hundred percent effective in the face of side effects. Maybe it was my Rainy Tuesday playlist or yellow rice that did it, but I’d like to think that it was me, that I did something entirely right for once, and that I can overcome my challenges all by myself.

Victories like that one twenty minutes ago are never as loud as my failures (Crying in English, crying at lunch, crying in French, etc.). Mostly, they go unrecognized. I write them off as flukes and tell no one or the people around me don’t notice. But I am going to tell you, whoever is reading this blog, about this one. I’m going to make sure that you know about it. And in doing that, I am going to make sure that I am not going to let it slip by the wayside either. I’ll build on what just happened today. I’ll force it to become a pattern. I’ll make it so that I never panic about side effects again. I will. Just watch me.

On a completely unrelated note, I have suddenly been forced into the position of hand-washing police in my house because people around here apparently haven’t passed pre-school health.

On Sonnets and Hard Work

Last night, I had to write a sonnet. A sonnet, I thought, A sonnet won’t be hard at all. And at the time, it made a lot of sense. After all, I’ve written poetry before. I even won a contest for it in sixth grade. I write. I write A LOT. And writing isn’t exactly a challenge for me. This sonnet should take an hour tops.

So I curled up on my bed with my computer and started going through my mental catalogue of things that I had experienced that day. Writing about falling asleep in the shower was out. Not interesting. So was writing about the way I carefully observe my classmates and teachers. Too creepy. But writing about Eureka moments seemed like a great idea.

Everything was going swimmingly as I typed the first few words. I got up to feel some paper to determine exactly how I should describe it, and sat back down. I wrote about the way paper feels against your hand as you scribble on the page, capturing the way that it sticks to your palm and how your pencil can sometimes catch against a fiber. I had two lines. Then, I tried saying them out loud with em-pha-sis on every other syll-a-ble to see if it was in iambic pentameter. It wasn’t. I didn’t have ten syllables either.

I ran my hand violently through my hair and tried again and again and again. The process continued to repeat itself. Taking a few deep breaths, I pulled up some old poems that I wrote. Surely, I could just transform one of them.

A Childhood Summer

Summer meant golden sunshine and damp air

Running barefoot through lawns

As grass whipped in between our toes,

Parades of noises and color-

Flags, horns, and harmonicas

Up and down the street,

Cloud spotting,

Colorful orbs of water in balloons

Lobbed at each other,

Flips on the trampoline-

Front ones, somersaults, and back ones, too,

Hiding behind trashcans in

The first purple whispers of darkness

Playing flashlight tag-

But most of all it meant freedom.

Summer

Remember the summers of old?

The tall glasses of lemonade

With water beads pouring down the sides?

Or maybe the summer dresses with the skirts

That spun out around us as we whirled

Around and around the backyard

‘til we collided or just toppled over from dizziness?

What about the corndogs that we ate at picnics:

How they stained our fingers and face shiny with grease?

What about the way we laughed,

Long before you had to restrain yours to a girly giggle?

Maybe the time we sprayed Mrs. Hirsh

With our neon plastic water soakers

And she screamed shrilly at us as we jumped her fence and ran?

Do you remember what it was like to be a child?

You didn’t have to care about how you looked or what you ate.

We were golden with innocence then.

And even if I couldn’t adapt them, summer was a great topic. Good things always happen to me during the summer. I could write about the beach or Puerto Rico or the time I ate the most delicious pizza in a strip mall in the middle of West Virginia.

It did not go well. By this point, I was done. Really, really, really done with the whole shebang. I started to cry and do my normal rolling about on the bed, but I was not going down without a fight. I have never let creative writing kick my butt before, and I wasn’t planning on starting then. Gritting my teeth and wiping my face on my sleeve, I sat up. And my mother helpfully suggested that I write about how much I hate sonnets. So I did and got a little further.

Sonnets Suck

Five iambs per line we are told to write,

But under ten syllables you should stay

You must avoid the topics banal and trite

Or the teacher’s eye will turn away

Avoid the red pen for its marks your grade does fear

But it wasn’t working, and my thoughts started racing. And once again, I began to cry. Like if-I-keep-sobbing-this-hard-I-am-going-to-throw-up crying. I cried over how I couldn’t write this sonnet no matter how hard I tried and how I was an awful writer who would never make anything of herself. I cried over how jealous I was of my friends. Jealous of the way that they are living the life that I have always wanted to live. The life that I imagined having and have been working towards since I was in sixth grade. And I cried over the way that I can feel the medication messing with my brain. The way that I can feel the chemicals and hormones markedly shift with every medication change. The way that I sleep through first and second period everyday no matter how hard I try to stay alert. The way that my eyelids only open halfway and keep drooping even if I sit upright in a chair.

My mother brought me ravioli, but the tears didn’t stop. Each sob made my whole body convulse, and I kept gagging. She came in again and yelled because she was so worried. I continued to bawl. As I went to click on my internet browser to look up some example sonnets, my finger slipped and opened up iChat instead. Normally, when I do this I just instantly quit the program, but Audrey was on. And her screen-name on my buddy list was a Godsend. I’ll just talk to her and everything will be alright, I thought. “Hi,” I typed as I sucked in big breaths, holding it for three before exhaling. Instantly, she responded. Thirty minutes later, the blubbering had stopped, and there was only the occasional tear. Talking to her helped so much.

Slowly, painstakingly, I wrote my poem. I muttered the iambs to myself and used my fingers to count out the syllables. I must have looked like a first grader anxiously trying to do math. And after every line I paused to talk to Audrey. And by midnight I was done.

Afternoon Fog

A Pearl gray adorns my window, dampening the day.

B Clear whispers of sunlight soon shall slip past

A So heavy thoughts of death won’t weigh.

B Silvery images of joy contrast

C The leaden darkness of our woe.

D A bird sings tunes of frivolity

C Quick! the tabby cat turns to his foe.

D His view is low in quality,

E But together we peer out wistfully

F And pray the charcoal haze will lift.

E He keeps his haunches raised, tail flicking eagerly,

F Paws tucked under, eyes looking for a shift

G Here she is! Her virgin rays do slice the morn.

G And from our dreary doldrums we are reborn.

It isn’t very good, and the lines have anywhere from seven to thirteen syllables, but it’s all mine. I wrote a sonnet despite the emotions, and you can’t take that away from me.

I’ve always believed that if you work hard enough, you’ll get what you want. Two years of babysitting bought me a whole new wardrobe in France. Hours of studying bought me perfect grades in school. And yesterday, it bought me a sonnet.

(P.S. Today in class, my AP English teacher said that I had some of the best descriptive language.)

Air Like a Swimming Pool

Today, it was warm enough for sun dresses and sandals. Naturally, I wore a scarf and a coat to school. But tonight I wised up. I put on my purple dress, strapped on my favorite sandals and marched out the door with wet gold fingernails. Pippa, my mother and I rode the train into the city to get Pippa’s  hair cut.

With Pippa’s blond hair now shorter and straighter, my parents and I journeyed further into the tangle of gray buildings for tappas. I ate brussel sprouts and thought about how strange it is that I love brussel sprouts while most people hate them. But then it occurred to me that I am neither most people nor a good representation of the average man’s tastes. I tried to keep this mentality as I moved through the meal. The more I focussed on the details, the less I thought about the panic that ensued when I accidentally stuck a cheese rind in my mouth.

We left the restaurant and marched out onto the street. I felt the the wind rush around my legs. It wasn’t cold, and it wasn’t hot. You know how once you jump into a pool and adjust to the temperature, the water feels perfect, and you never want to get out? Well, the air oddly made me feel like I was swimming. And as we walked down street after street, looking for a movie theatre that was showing Jane Eyre, I thought about how wonderful everything felt and how every time that the weather improves, so does my mental health. I felt hopeful because now that spring is coming, things just might be looking up. After all, Euphoria on an Island happened when the weather was beautiful.

But the walking continued, and because I am me, and because this is what I do best, I began to go into full on freak-out mode. By this point, we had been searching for that Jane Eyre theatre for quite a while, and we had all but given up. My head hurt from the medication, and I was exhausted from having interactions with people from six a.m. onwards. And as soon as I started my weird mewing/moaning noises combined with hand flailing, I was a lost cause. My father had to get on the subway with me to head back home while Pippa and my mother followed behind.

But I calmed down somewhere in between climbing onto the subway and sitting down in the train station, and we all headed home without incident. Times like these make me wonder what’s really going on in my head: why is there a switch that seems to get flipped from functioning to freaking out and why does it happen so instantaneously?

But all of the earlier shenanigans don’t matter now. I’m just sitting on the couch with Pippa and Dad watching Lewis Black and Bo Burnham, and all is well on the western front.

Ella the Oversized Lab Rat

I missed school today after having attended for nine straight days. Last night, I had another really bad, vivid dream from the Geodon that woke me up at four a.m., and by the time for getting up to go to school rolled around, I became convinced that if I got anywhere near the train tracks, I would be hit and killed. After a minor freak out, I went back to sleep. To continue this series of unfortunate events, I woke up in a panic at nine, thinking that I was about to drown in the ocean and that I was in trouble for not protecting a little kid well enough.

This morning wasn’t my finest moment.

However, I was able to climb out of bed and get a lot of work done. I finished my homework on Shakespeare’s sonnets (five pages!) and spent some more time outlining my thesis. Hopefully, “Kate Chopin: Feminist or Liberationist?” is going to be a work to rival the Iliad and Grapes of Wrath. At the very least, it’ll be as good as The Baby-Sitter’s Club: Kristy’s Great Idea (a book I’ve never read, but I feel that I can accurately assume it’s worth). I’ve already got a legal pad full of notes, a binder with around twenty marked-up critical essays, and six pages of pre-writing.

Sadly, things weren’t exactly looking up. I started a new medication called Oxcarbazepine/Trileptal on Friday, and it’s been making me feel funny. Funny in a I-really-don’t-feel-normal-or-like-myself sort of way. It’s not enjoyable and led to a near full-blown panic attack on Saturday. Thankfully, my Dad put on my favorite movie, Miracle, and I calmed down.

On days like today, I just feel like an oversized lab rat. Every time I go to the psychiatrist my medication changes, as we continue in our quest to find the perfect chemical cocktail. Let’s see how Ella’s liver metabolizes this! Let’s see how her brain reacts to that! We accidentally sedated her? Whoops!

During therapy, we worked on a plan for me to be “my own best advocate” and to “own my body” (which totally sounds like it belongs on a NOW campaign poster for women’s empowerment) when speaking to the psychiatrist about my adverse reactions. Unfortunately, I know that if I can’t tolerate this medication, then electric shock therapy is left uncomfortably close to the top of the list. And no matter how intimidated I am by diplomas from medical school and dislike this new medication, I’d take it any day over ECT.

In the car home, I tried to broach the subject with my mother. That discussion did not go well, and I was told, “You just need to be patient. It’ll improve.” I sat in the car and cried while she and Pippa went into the grocery store to pick up seltzer. I just want my head back. I want my thoughts to be solely mine. I want to know that when I look down at my body that I am the one controlling it.

It’s evening now, and I’m sitting on my bed, surrounded by cats, full of hope that things will improve. Because things have to. I refuse to believe that the world is a cruel place.

On Breathing Too Quickly, Crying, and Freaking-Out

I’ve been having a lot of trouble with sleeping lately. Ever since Miles died in his sleep, I’m scared that the same will happen to me. I made the doctor who is monitoring my anorexia spend extra time checking my heart a few weeks ago, but the knowledge that my heart is perfectly healthy hasn’t helped the anxiety.

For the past week and a half I have had a panic attack every night. Sometimes, like last weekend, it has lead to extreme detachment. Other times, it leads to me being convinced that I have died. But mostly, I’m sure that if I go to sleep and therefore loose consciencousness, I’ll die.

Logical? No.

Easy for people around me to deal with? No.

Enjoyable? You’re funny.

Remember this post, The Medication Adventures Continue? Well, my mother discovered that if I take the medication at eight, I am knocked out by ten. While this has helped me get more sleep, it hasn’t stopped the anxiety, as proven by yesterday’s attack when I attempted to walk out of the house while crying, making weird noises, flailing my hands, and marching. (I know that this makes me sound deranged. I swear that I am not. I’m quite normal most of the time.)

Here’s to hoping that tonight is better. I mean, it has to improve at some point, right?

They Counted Our Spoons and Cups

Exactly a year ago, I was in the hospital, in the adolescent psych ward, weighing less than 100 pounds, and feeling miserable. I’ve been thinking about my time there a lot lately. It’s sort of like the way that you press a bruise: You know it will hurt if you push it, but you do it anyways, preferably repeatedly.

The whole experience was horrible. They counted our spoons and cups at mealtimes, the doors locked with both keys and magnets, and there were no windows. Once, desperate to see the snow, I climbed onto my bed and pushed back the curtain to a tiny window that faced the airshaft. Across the shaft, a woman with tangled white hair looked back at me manically with her faced pressed to the window. I held her gaze for a terrified moment, petrified that I was looking at a reflection of myself forty years from now. Then, a nurse knocked on my door, and I slipped down onto the bed.

The floors were painted cement or cold linoleum, and the walls were a horrid sea green. On one wall of my room there was a poorly spray painted Taj Mahal. I would stare at it for hours while lying in bed. I fell asleep after the evening nurses switched shifts with the night nurses, and woke when the night nurses switched shifts with the morning ones. As you lay in bed, you could watch the hallway through the small window in your door. Every fifteen minutes–I was told–a nurse walked by to write on your chart, and I would try to count the hours. There were three hours between bedtime and the switching of shifts and three hours from the next switching of shifts to being released. Time didn’t exist there; there were no clocks; there were no watches. All we had were the nurses walking past the doors.

The meals came in white boxes. I would sit facing the wall, ignoring the screams of the other children, and sip water slowly. They would keep me in the dining room until I had eaten half of my box. So I would sit and move like a snail while a young nurse watched me. My protracted meal let me avoid the dreaded “Therapy Workbook Hour,” which involved filling out endless how-I-feel charts. They kept me from the bathroom for two hours after my meal. They took my box, my cup, my utensils as if they were valuable reference books in the library. You could borrow them momentarily, but they were always snatched back.

When you cried, a nurse took you down a winding hallway, where you could hear children screaming and sobbing, to a tiny room. The room, a closet really, had no heating, no chair, no window, and was covered in laminate wood paneling from the floor to the ceiling. I would lie in there for long stretches of time until a nurse would come to fetch me. If you cried when you saw the psychiatrist–an awful Indian woman with no sense of empathy–you were banished; if you cried in the large room, you were banished; if you asked the wrong question at the wrong time to the wrong nurse, you were banished.

I spent seven days there. I never felt so impossibly different and strange in my life. Looking back on those memories, I feel the way I felt after nearly downing an entire bottle of Lexapro and Tylenol; fearful and full of a sick satisfaction. It was that week that convinced me of my oddness. I worry now that all others see are these peculiarities in me, or they don’t care to even recognize them at all. My identity, once built upon scholastic achievement, has shattered.

Weight Unhappiness

I’ve been having such problems with body image lately. This happens every time I start get to a stable weight or see a picture of me wearing a bathing suit. Now, I know that I am somewhere between 110 and 115–right were I need to be at five foot four–and on the lower end of that range, but those numbers still freak me out. Last year, at this time, I was down to 100 or maybe even less. And I also know that being at this weight is healthy and is supposed to make my medication work better. Supposedly, I’ll have fewer mood swings, I’ll be less obsessive, compulsive, anxious, and depressed. But while my head feels loads clearer, and I have been able to get a lot more homework done, I do not feel much happier. Not at all.