Brain Flu

A few years ago I was minding my own business, eating dinner, watching something stupid on TV and suddenly my pulse was racing. Every part of my body felt hot and weird and that awful bitter taste was all the warning I needed to get to the bathroom and fast. Gastroenteritis is swift and menacing. If you can stop throwing up long enough to consider how effective the body’s immune system is when it detects an intruder of that magnitude, you’ll be mighty impressed. At one point I wondered if I would ever stop emptying the contents of my stomach and beyond (seriously though, at one point what was coming out of me looked like a chemical. I think it was likely unprocessed bile because my stomach was just throwing everything it could out. Like when you leave the door of the fridge slightly ajar for a whole weekend and you have to purge the whole thing because everything in there is fetid and rotten. And even if it might be ok, even if it’s pickles you throw it out anyway.)

Yesterday, something very similar happened, but in my brain. I woke up, I made my way to the kitchen to take my pills, I wandered into the living room and plunked my body onto the sofa. It was a slow morning, but eventually we decided to venture out into the world and so I took a shower. I have a relatively new haircut and I am still figuring out how to style it and in general it’s awful. I want to grow part of it out, and so part of it is short and part is long, but not as long as I’d like and so it’s all mixed up and I think it looks awful. It does look bad, I don’t think it’s just me. In between stages of hair is difficult for everyone, I’m not an anomaly. But yesterday I wanted to yank every follicle out of my head. I stared at my reflection in the mirror and felt hatred, revulsion. I eventually jammed a bunch of bobby pins in the bangs to keep them flat, but I cringed when I saw my reflection. This wasn’t about my hair, it was about everything else that’s happening in the world, in my life, but my anxiety about my hair was the gateway.

We ran an errand and I could feel the signs of a storm in my brain. I had opened the door a crack and now the pile on was happening, bad thoughts shoving their way in, throwing elbows, and generally being dicks. I was too far gone to raise any kind of shields and my body went a little limp as I listened to the voice in my head tell me how ugly I was, how stupid. Why did I pay money to get my haircut if this is what it was going to look like? What was I doing with my life? Why was I so lazy and dumb? Much like the sudden bout of gastroenteritis I was too far gone before I realized what was happening.

When we got home I sat back on the sofa and stared into space, willing myself to not cry, please don’t start crying, if I start I might not ever stop. Derek asked me if he could get me anything, if there was anything he could do. I shook my head no, and felt my throat close up. It was too late. I made my way to our bedroom, shut the door, turned the room into a cave by closing the blackout curtains and sobbed into my sleeve, snot running down my face, my brain launching a full out assault. I closed my eyes and started counting. For two hours I counted and dozed, I eventually shut the voices off, I may have even fallen asleep. I was cold and shivery when I opened my eyes, but I felt a little better and I was hungry. I’d skipped lunch.

After I poured a bowl of cereal and chewed slowly, I started to feel a little better, more in control. I cleaned something, I played a video game. I still felt off, but I was able to speak to Derek without crying. He suggested a walk to the park and I agreed even though I didn’t want to leave the house, I was afraid I might start crying again. But I didn’t. We made it three miles and no tears. When I was lying in the dark room I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be happy. I couldn’t remember what it felt like to not feel sad. It was swift and menacing. Like the flu.

I am fortunate I was able to take steps to calm my mind and those steps worked. Not everyone has the luxury of being able to hide themselves away and attempt to reboot their brain and even have it work. Today I feel shaky, a little numb, like I’m recovering from a sickness, because I am. I will need to be cautious and look for warning signs,  because mental health is just as important as physical health.

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