There's Always Hope

Med school applications. Lab-work. Failing chemistry. Running out of money. I'm alone. I need to ace all my classes. Volunteering with a refugee organization. Behind deadlines in my side-projects. No free time. Five assignments a week overdue. Weeping under my desk. Two all-nighters in a row. No time. Snorting Ritalin, downing coffee. Palpitations.

I was admitted to the hospital multiple times with heart problems. After running an EKG on me they detected stress-induced premature ventricular contractions. The chambers in my heart weren't in sync. My brain wasn't sending it a normal signal. It felt like a massive finger was violently jabbing at my chest randomly, around every three seconds. It was awful. I couldn't think about anything other than this extremely disturbing cardiac arrhythmia.

And then it got worse. I started waking up feeling more exhausted than when I went to sleep. Unfocused. Mind fuzzy. Vision distorted - like I was looking at many points of light instead of a coherent picture. Then I started feeling that the world itself was fake. Derealization. This is a symptom of psychosis. No one I knew at the time could relate to this. I was so desperately alone, grasping at straws as my world fell apart. I started falling asleep exhausted, only to wake up without peace. And repeat the nightmare over again.

I needed a radical change. So, I dropped a class. That was nice – a bit of immediate relief. But I was still suffering. I started seeing a therapist, who helped me work through some deeper issues. I started doing yoga and meditating to calm my mind. I started taking SSRI's to bring myself out of self-negating patterns. I started smoking weed to slow the rate at which I was thinking.

A very important crutch for me was what I was studying at the time– the brain. A lot of different aspects of my depression – for example, hypersensitivity to social praise or rejection – are caused not by a flaw in my soul or will or character, but by physical changes in my perigenual cingulate cortex and amygdala. There are many dimensions to understanding mental illness, but this is what helped give me light in the dark: Mental illness is physical. And because it’s physical, it can be changed.

Some people develop Stockholm syndrome. Their mental illness is them. They feel beautified by it. Others feel trapped and hopeless because the mental illness is some deep unchangeable part of their personality or their character. That’s bullshit. And it’s not very scientific. You absolutely can receive treatment. Because mental illness is just a physical injury, a broken bone. If you leave it fester without treatment, or apply the wrong treatment, the bone won’t heal. So keep searching until you find what works for you.

For me, today, I can say that I have been without heart palpitations for about a year. I haven’t had a stress-induced breakdown in almost as long, and my depression is all but gone. Not because I don’t have a genetic predisposition, but because my treatment works. There’s always hope.