1. I Start realizing something is wrong around age five. It’s late 2001 and mother keeps acting strangely. For months mother has been having ‘episodes’ as father called them. I don’t remember much from that time. I remember brief moments. I remember what I was told after the fact, years later. The memories are mostly fuzzy, but what I am told helps me form a clearer picture. I remember that mother’s episodes seemed to be more prevalent after that day. That day when her, and all of the other mothers, and fathers, and grandparents, and guardians pulled us from Kindergarten after only being there for an hour. I was just getting into the groove of finger-painting too.
2. Keep forgetting those moments. I don’t remember them because mother’s episodes became less frequent as time passed. I do remember that in 2001 we’d spent a lot of time in doctors’ offices, and emergency rooms, where Mother would be panting like how Keisha –our Siberian husky– would when she ran after a Frisbee. She’d be panting, and gasping, and crying. I’d tell her mommy, don’t cry. I didn’t know why she’d be crying, but I knew she shouldn’t be. I didn’t know why. I still don’t know why.
3. Everyone Stayed silent about what happened. Mum was the word about mom. Every once and a while it would happen again—the crying, the panting—but she’d crack open a bright orange bottle from Eckerd and down two little white Lego-shaped objects with a swig of San Pell. Everything would return to normal after that. Then she would become quieter, and more removed from the world around us. Nothing would be said. Father was silent. Mother was silent. Aunts, Uncles, Grandmother, Grandfather, all silent. I’ve learned throughout my life that when they are silent, it’s best not to question. Even in my adolescent years, I knew not to ask when silence was present. I knew not to ask even if I did not fully understand. Because in this family silence was, and has always been greater than understanding. There’s nothing to argue with silence. No concern. No disagreement. No agreement. Silence helps fill a void of emotions that otherwise might create murky situations. Silence is a form of complacency that I had grown to live with. The silence was, is, and always will be, easy.
4. Then I realized that something is wrong at age 18. It’s late 2014 and I keep acting strangely. For months I have been having ‘episodes’ as father called them. Episodes like what I saw happen to mother thirteen years ago. I have moments where I start thinking about things. My episodes seemed to be more prevalent after that day. That day when I went to a new city. A new place by myself 600 miles from home. A new place where I knew no one, and nothing. In this strange new place, my mind would wander, I would have moments, episodes. About anything. Boys. Classes. Boys again. The Future. I start crying. Crying more than I had ever before. My chest begins to compress as if something or someone put all its force against me. I gasp. I gasp, and gasp, and gasp, and grasp for my throat as if in thirty more seconds I will no longer be able to breathe. I put my head on my pillow, and blare Stevie Nicks, the feelings slowly begin to subside. I stay silent.
5. Continue to pretend that everything is fine. I continue to stay silent. Not tell Mother or Father, or Aunts, Uncles, Grandmother, Grandfather, no one. Continue to partake the inherited action of silence. All while continuing to feel the same. Continuing to have these episodes like mothers. The episodes got worse. It wouldn’t just be moments where my face would fill with tears and my chest with a suffocating substance. It’d be moments when I’d walk down the street and a car would honk and I’d jump. A siren would blare out of nowhere and my breath would be taken away.
6. Then I said something. About what had been happening. About how I had felt. I couldn’t stand to live a day after day, after day, unsure if I would have a moment where tears would start streaming down my face and I would be gasping for air. And the silence suddenly disappears from everyone. From mother, from father, from Aunts, Uncles, Grandmother, Grandfather. The silence is replaced with looks of concern. Replaced with statements of, ‘oh you are an anxious body too.’ Statements that say things like: panic attacks, anxiety, panic disorder. Panic disorder is the one used most frequently. The phrase that is said b
7. My mother, grandmother, and especially the doctors. Apparently, it’s what mom has. It’s what caused her to act the way she did back in 2001. Apparently, grandmother has it too. Her episodes, they came far before I was born. Now I get help at doctors’ offices and emergency rooms’ like mother had. Now I get told that I too have panic disorder. That these will help. The silence returns as slowly but surely my episodes appear to disappear.
8. Stay silent now though. Now that I’ve gotten help like mother did like grandmother did. Stay taking your medicine. Stay thinking positively. But that’s hard, so just stay taking your medicine.
9. Take my Xanax when needed and all this will be healed. All the panics will seem to fade away. Take my Zoloft daily, so I don’t jump from a truck, or a car, or a bus, a siren. Take my Zoloft so I, become quieter, and more removed from the world around me. Because the world around me is what causes me to feel this way. So that’s got to be the best solution, right?
10. Arrive at a place where you constantly feel like you can’t live without a little 25-milligram pill. A place where you feel as though you’re a failure because you’re at the whim of your panicking body.
My destination isn’t clear. My destination is somewhere I hope I will never have another moment of crying, and suffocation. A place where the blaring of a siren won’t make me jump and my heart race. A place where anxiety doesn’t come with every crack of dawn. A place where I can talk about this openly with those around me. A place where I don’t need that little 0.25-milligram pill.
If I’m silent, I’ve gone too far.
Wesley Hood is a senior nonfiction writing major at the University of Pittsburgh who specializes in writing lyric essays and memoir.