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There was a time in my life when I was almost-but-not-quite outgoing, a time when I could walk into new situations with an attitude of “hey, I’m new here, what’s going on?”, a time when regular human noises didn’t pierce my skull.

Years ago, I got on the elevator at work and someone jumped in right as the doors were closing. Since the building only housed one company at that time, that person was an employee I hadn’t met. She grinned at me, stuck her hand out and said, “Hi. My name is Peggy. It’s great to meet you.” I shook her hand and introduced myself, but then immediately retreated into my own head and prayed for the elevator to stop so I could escape. I was completely undone by a simple friendly gesture. That was the beginning, I think, of a long, sneaky spiral into an isolation that has become, all these years later, nearly impossible to break.

Breaking the medication cycle was the first step back toward some semblance of reason and sanity. If you know me, you know how difficult and frightening that process was. If you are reading this for the first time and you really want to know, go here. I don’t know how I managed to scrape up enough self-esteem to tell the doctors to go fuck themselves. To me, it was and always will be a miracle. It must be a little like finding a child trapped underneath a car. The adrenaline rush allows you to lift the car and save the kid, but afterward, all you really know is you had to do it – and every muscle in your body has been shredded in the process. After I stopped taking the medication, my mind was shredded.

I can look back at my life and see how blessed I have been. I can see how I was graced (and that’s exactly what it was – grace) with the ability to say ‘no more’ when the doctors just kept prescribing and I just kept getting worse. I can see how much better my life is today than it was in late 2004. And because I can see that, it makes me reluctant to talk about it because it feels like I am complaining and I feel I don’t have that right.

Which brings me to yesterday. I was invited to a little get-together at a friend’s house. I had looked forward to it. As the day went on and the time got closer, I started feeling as if the air around me was made of molasses. It was hard to breathe, hard to move. It just kept getting slower and harder. So I took a Valerian root, which is nature’s answer to Valium. I took two. An hour later, I still wasn’t feeling right, but I had to go. This is a friend who has invited me to several things – some I’ve gone to, and some I’ve bailed on and I just felt like I didn’t have another bail card left. So I took another Valerian Root. I went to the store and bought a six pack of beer – not my drink of choice, but purchased to ensure that I didn’t end up getting stupid drunk.

I drove to her house. With every quarter mile, my heart beat faster. It got even harder to breathe. Something was pounding spikes into my head. I got to her street. I turned onto her street. And I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t do it. Over and over again, I told myself that they were FRIENDS, for God’s sake! They weren’t going to judge me, but if I didn’t go in the fucking house, they might just give up and never invite me to anything again.

Leslie texted me and asked where I was. I told her the truth – but then told her to tell the hosts that I had been drinking all day and couldn’t drive. I’d rather they think I’m a drunk than a basket case. Her response was ambiguous and I didn’t feel like talking, much less arguing, so I don’t know what she told them. It isn’t her responsibility – it’s mine.

I can’t remember ever having a panic attack like that before. Maybe I just always bailed on social stuff before it got to the panic attack point. I am embarrassed. I am pissed at myself. I feel like I failed. I feel like I let my friends down.

And, for the first time in almost 9 years, I am seriously considering medication again, at least for anxiety. There is no combination of antidepressants that won’t make me suicidal, but maybe there is something that will allow me to pretend to be at least semi-social. I don’t know what the answer is. I’m not even sure I am asking the right questions. All I really know is that I can’t keep doing this.