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  • Writer's pictureNick Clarizio

The Eye of the Storm: Friendship, Folly, and Fallibility in Tough Times; part 1/3: Friendship

Updated: Oct 8, 2023


Originally written on 06/04/23

Trigger Warning: Emotional Distress, Depression, Hospitalization, Mental Health, Intrusive Thoughts, Needles, Blood, Death, Panic Attacks


A Trail of Tears

Two weeks ago today, I came home from graduation week. I don't remember much about the drive, but I remember the day after.


Two weeks ago tomorrow, I cried. I cried until my tears left salt trails beneath my eyes, encircling them like two cerulean oases in the midst of the desert.


Why'd I cry? A lot of reasons.


For those of you who don't know me well, I was voluntarily admitted to the depression unit of a hospital 6 weeks and 3 days ago. I cried that day, and I cry remembering it. Because I felt like my world was crumbling. That's partially a metaphor. But it's the truth of my perspective, too. I had been struggling for months, seeking help for months. And for the 4 weeks leading up to my hospitalization, I felt nothing ---or very little. I was numb. Every day felt like two days. I either couldn't sleep or didn't sleep well. I alternated between being stuck in a mental fog and having a little gray cloud hang over me, blocking the light of my heart. Everywhere I went and everything I did, my perception was misted by a veil. A veil which separated me and reality.


If you look at my official diagnosis, it reads something along the lines of 'recurrent major depressive disorder with symptoms of disassociation, as well as generalized anxiety disorder'. Which is all true, but I want to break it down to hopefully break down a little stigma.


The numbness and the cloud make up, understandably, the major depression. Yes, I suppose it's been recurrent for 4 years ---just never to this degree. The generalized anxiety meant having random panic attacks induced by God-knows-what and mysterious bouts of nervousness. (The latter would manifest, for example, as a strange feeling of being on edge about nothing.) The last diagnosis ---disassociation---is the one that's strangest for me and probably strangest to understand.


Technically, I was disassociated. But what does that mean? To give a metaphor, it's like being tipsy or drunk or high but without any of the fun parts. People speak to you, and you understand. But somehow you don't really catch the words. Your senses are dulled or muffled, like you're wrapped in plastic or bubble wrap. (I borrow this metaphor from a journal article I read for one of my anthropology classes; I found many analagous elements between the article and my hospitalization: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/260139820_Wrapped_In_Plastic_Transformation_and_Alienation_in_the_New_Finnish_Economy (Funahashi 2013).) And when you speak, you know it's coming from you, but it feels 3rd person or detached in a way--- akin to being in a video game. (Strangely, I also lost sense of time: history beyond a few years felt unreliable, and the future felt unimaginable.)


How did I keep going? If you don't know me, I can't quit. It's not in my fabric. And I love my friends. So I couldn't quit on them. And they never quit on me. Love always wins. If you're playing a drinking game while reading this, take a shot every time I mention my friends or friendship. (You'll be pretty intoxicated by the end.)



Forkfuls of Peanut Butter

The first time I recognized I may need help, I was in a car eating peanut butter out of a jar with a fork. It was Halloween weekend, and I was out for a walk around campus. I had been feeling kind of out of it and fatigued that whole week. I thought some fresh air could do me good. Along the walk, I took a moment to sit by our grotto and rest. While sitting, I had a rush like electricity through my body ---similar to how you feel when you stand up too quick. I didn't think I could make it home, so I texted my friends to ask for someone to take me. Luckily, I got in touch with my friend Maura. I thought it might just be a hunger issue, so she brought some peanut butter and Kind bars and kindly drove me to my apartment.


We stayed there for twenty or so minutes, doing a covid test and seeing if food helped at all. After some peanut butter, a glass of sugar water, and a call to her mom, I still felt unwell. So we went to the urgent care. And that's how I ended up, fork in hand, with a jar of peanut butter in my lap. We waited there for about an hour or so before a nurse practitioner came to see me. Nothing was awry with my vitals, but something was with my story. I mentioned how I had been cutting down on caffeine the past week. She assured me I was having a withdrawal-induced panic attack. (She had a similar experience when quitting pre-workout powders.) I felt soothed but not calm. What did calm me, though, was the rest of the night with Maura. She had gone without eating to take care of me, so I suggested we get something to eat. Somehow, we decided on Blaze pizza. I have to say that eating Blaze hits different after a panic attack, especially when it's Halloween weekend in your friend's dorm room. I still remember what I got: Margherita with spinach and feta (judge me h8ers). This fiasco did also cause me to miss my friend's birthday party ---sorry Mariana. (If you're keeping track, that's 4 shots for this paragraph.)


I felt pretty knocked down and worn out the next week. I recovered well enough, but began to have my first disturbing intrusive thoughts. Which is when I began to go to counseling at the University Counseling Center (UCC). Fortunately, these went away within a week, and I was ok for a month or so.


When I went home for Thanksgiving break, however, my symptoms relapsed. Each day, I'd wake up and be ready to sleep again within the hour. I'd get disoriented while walking my neighborhood. And I felt on the verge of collapse at random moments. I just felt weak. I told my parents, and we went to the urgent care. They told us they were concerned about the potential for "syncope" (fainting) and suggested I go to the ER. I remember, in tears, telling my mom, "I just want my health back".



Hydration and Hospitals

I was terrified. I hate needles. Everything about them spooks me. I can’t look at blood. Seeing it enter or exit my body seems a wholly unnatural passive process. (I nearly passed out after the preliminary pin prick for donating blood a week ago.) And I despise hospital beds. They remind me of watching my father writhe against putting on an oxygen mask in the ICU a few years ago, and of my grandmother’s last, and final, visit to an ER a few years before that. I appreciate all the irreplaceable work done in hospitals, but for me the feeling of entering one is akin to entering a parallel realm. My sense of self is shattered. I feel more patient than person, closer to death than life. It’s as if while there I exist in a liminal space between the living and the dead, with my fate held on a scalpel’s edge by a few intrusive machines and harried health workers. Any test they could think to run came back negative; all my organs and internal processes were fine. So after a few hours of fluids and rest, they discharged me: "must've been dehydration". Looking back, I say, "must've been a panic attack".


It was the panic attacks, intrusive thoughts, and fatigue which convinced me to get help. I was pretty certain, though, that this was all just burnout. So I had patience and took time to rest over winter break. I had good and bad days in terms of symptoms. I still dealt with bouts of fatigue and intrusive thoughts. Overall, though, I felt on the mend and better than during the semester. I spent plenty of time with friends. Going to an escape room or playing Catan in a basement, it was all restorative for me. I returned to college in the Spring, feeling rested and ready. I even felt excited and sanguine while bumping Lorde's album Solar Power on the drive there. (Take 1 more shot ---I didn't let you off the hook.)


Everything went well for the first couple of months. I had my own difficulties with life balance owing to habits formed during the pandemic. The intrusive thoughts continued at a low level in the background. But nothing that I couldn't handle or work through in therapy. Then, my intrusive thoughts took a difficult turn during spring break. I came back physically to campus, but mentally, I was checked out. I couldn't find a way under, over, or through my difficulties. I remember my lowest point anybody saw was when I cried with Syd and Al (shot number 7 here!) after having all our friends to our apartment. This event combined all my loves: food, friends, and hosting. Yet, I couldn't feel anything. This was the beginning of the numbness.


For me, one of the worst parts about emotional numbness isn't the lack of feelings in itself, but rather the perceived detachment it engenders between you and other people ---even those closest to you. I couldn't empathize much anymore, I couldn't understand people as well anymore, because life is quintessentially about feeling. To live is to feel, and to feel is to live. Take it from someone who knows what it's like to not feel, to be a walking hull of a human. I tried my hardest to go about things as normal. I went to class, put on a good face, and put my best self forward when with my friends. I spent as much time with people as possible, but to little avail. I won't say there were no good moments; they were just drowned out in a sea of emptiness and confusion. I do remember my last good memory before being hospitalized, though. Maura and I went to yoga. I learned she despises banana and banana flavor ---even in smoothies. And we talked while walking back to her dorm. It was a ray of sunlight in the eye of the storm.



A week later, the pounding of my heart woke me up at 3 am on a Thursday. My heart raced, my mind raced, and my fears ran rampant. I had slept perhaps 10 good hours up to that point in the week. I suppose it's pretty understandable that my body had a panic attack. I determined to go to the UCC later in the morning and tell them it was a crisis. I couldn't take care of myself alone anymore. I called my parents to tell them where I was and what was happening, but I couldn't complete the call. I sobbed as a I handed the phone off to the social worker who went with me. I felt inadequate; I felt less than. Less than what? I still don't know--- other people, I guess. I still do sometimes. And I'd like to think we all do.



So many worthy stories exist from my week in the hospital that I wouldn't know how or where to start organically. But one that stands out was my daily phone calls with friends and family. I called my brother, my parents, and Maura each night. Or, if I didn't call, they called me. Sometimes we called several times in the same day. I couldn't have been handed a greater gift than that old metal phone bolted to the wall. Every time the nurses came to deliver a message, my heart perked up a bit. I felt like a flower grasping towards gleams and glimmers of sunlight that seeped through the canopy of gray. The one phrase that'll stick with me most is "I'm proud of you". The person can remain unnamed but I remember the first call we had, the emotion of their voice when they picked up and how it shook me from a stupor of sadness. Love got me through, and love got me out. I was discharged after a week. I recall the day vividly.



Technicolor Thursday

It was a Thurrsday. It felt like walking into an impressionist painting while microdosing psychadelics. Color...Vivacity...Flair! Everything was in bloom. The dogwoods donned wedding gowns of white blossoms; the redbuds bled oversaturated pink and maude tones. My eyes gulped it in like a lost person in the desert coming to water. My ears rang with birdsongs and the hum of traffic. And my nose was drawn, like a bad hunting dog, in a thousand directions by a thousand perfumes. I was overwhelmed. I went from being confined to three rooms and checked on every 7 minutes to having time and the world at my fingertips. What did I do? Went to Portillos, naturally. After a week of hospital food, what could hit my stomach harder than a little nostalgia trip. My parents and I went to pick up Maura. Then, we drove over to Portillos. I remember getting out of the car looking and feeling like a hot mess (hey, I gotta admit I like my own reflection). I hadn't shaved in weeks nor had I cut my hair on months. Instead of sad boy hours, I had been living through hermit hours. I remember most of what we ate: My dad ---chicken tenders, Maura ---a garden dog, me--- a beef with sweet and hot peppers plus barbecue sauce. And a slice of lemon cake to top it all off. Was it the worst thing I've done to both my metabolism and my stomach in the past year? Probably. Was it worth it? Most definitely. Funnily enought, I don't recall exactly what we talked about until we got back to campus.


Once there, Maura and I went for a short walk around the main circle before their next class. We talked about fear and hope and other topics of gravity and relevance. We ran into our friend Grace along the way. And I told her briefly about where I had been. But the words weren't what mattered most to me. What mattered most to me was the hug we shared. It's a bittersweet feeling to lose your words in place of tears; never has crying in front of someone felt more beautiful to me. Tears are sweetest when shared with another.



Bibliography


Funahashi, Daena. 2013. “Wrapped In Plastic: Transformation and Alienation in the New Finnish

Economy.” Cultural Anthropology 28 (February): 1–21. https://doi.org/10.2307/23360303.


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