In what felt like the blink of an eye, my mind was gone. My in-depth knowledge of how the world operated disappeared, and left only a horrendous void of the unexpected and unchartered.
Let me tell you about the time I lost my mind. It did not stroll away, fade out or dissipate slowly like a pretty PowerPoint presentation. Nope. It jumped from my soul as if it were on fire. A jolt; a bolt of lightning before my eyes one moment, gone the next. If not for the after-image burned onto my retina, one could not even be sure it was there in the first place. Gone.
One could argue, that if you KNOW your mind is gone, simply by having that cognitive discussion with yourself, then it is in fact NOT gone. That is a retrospective argument. Hindsight. So in the heat of the moment, how did I know I had lost my mind?
I was in such a mindset that my reasoning was as follows: If I could (quickly) cut off my ear, the pain and ensuing anesthesia necessary for the surgeon to reattach, would temporarily ease this internal mental battle that was tearing my psyche apart at the seams. Why the ear? Well, about two minutes prior to my mind leaping from its spine, I had experienced a blocked ear canal; simply could not hear out of one side, "stopped up" as they say. We’ve all had it - too much time in the pool or a bad head cold. But for a myriad of reasons, I flipped; pupils dilated, heart beating out of my chest, full-on panic. It HAD to be cleared and cleared right-the-hell NOW. So again, in my panicked state, I'm thinking I could lop the ear off and thereby be sedated, placed on medication and undergo surgery. Thus, my current state of mind would be rendered quiet in the same way Hannibal Lecter is silenced with a mask. Which is to say that control over my mind would be under medicinal control because I could not handle it. That scenario sounded beautiful. So as you can see by this very reasoning, I had lost my mind.
It did not stop there. As I regained control, sort of, I could not bring reason back into my situation, my world. This seemingly innocuous situation (a stopped-up ear for God’s sake!) took me over the edge of a precipice I did not know I was standing on. Apparently, I had been inching towards an edge for quite some time. Rather than step near the edge and peer over as one might do while on vacation to the Grand Canyon, my mind instead decided to do an exfiltration, stat. This of course was without input from its vessel; I use ‘vessel’ as I am not sure ‘owner’ would be an appropriate adjective in said state.
The next day (I did manage to find sleep with the help of pacing and some strong, fast-acting prescription sleep aids), has been replayed in my mind’s eye no less than a million times. Like any form of trauma, we replay it often and I guaran-damn-tee you it is not on purpose. It just happens. It happens any time of day or night and also without warning.
So, the next day I wake, still shaky mentally from the night before. I was trying to piece together what happened. What happened was a full-on panic attack. But more importantly why? There must be an underlying issue, or likely issues that put me in a position to toe that line. But what? And why did I not know I was headed towards this precipice?
Short answer to the lingering aroma surrounding me now is, I don't have a clue. The following day however is something I would not wish upon my worst enemy. I lost count after about the fifth panic attack. I tried to research ‘nervous breakdown’. This was acute, severe and not a mere (early) mid-life crisis type of moment. Heart beating out of chest, breathing shallow and labored, palms sweating. The one way I have of describing it is this: I don’t know where I'm supposed to be right now, I don't know what I am supposed to be doing right now, but I KNOW it is the opposite of what I AM doing. I needed to get out of whatever situation I was in, whatever room I was in.
I literally jogged out of the office, walked the parking lot, sat in my car, walked around my car, sipped on water. After approximately three to five of the longest minutes of my life, that feeling of utter panic, of fight-or-flight, finally subsided. Oddly enough, it does so as quickly as it comes on; takes about 10-15 seconds to both activate and deactivate. The mental gymnastics lessened. But the process happened over and over again until I reached a point where I once again thought of how I could land myself in enough trouble to get into a medically induced coma of sorts. When thoughts of self-harm enter the situation, I knew I needed help.
Spouses, co-workers, buddies, they all will try to help, and do to a certain extent. But unless they themselves have been down this rutted out, backroads path, they cannot possibly empathize enough. I placed a call into my primary care physician looking for guidance. As it turned out, she was not in the office that day; being the macho man that I am, I explained my symptoms and told the nurse who was unfortunate enough to take my call, that I could wait until tomorrow until she was back in - meanwhile, I was already starting to sweat, knowing that the evening that was awaiting me was going to be filled with utter terror.
Hearing the tone, terror and likely desperation in my voice, the nurse said that I should not wait and they would be expecting me as soon as my clinically-insane -self (that’s how I saw it) could get there. Good Gawd I finally had direction!
And that might be some of the worst of it; simply not knowing what was going on, therefore not having any direction or knowing in which direction to go. The storm that was upon me seemingly had no end, until now. No horizon as a point in which to gain my bearings. As a clinician, I am use to a set of defined variables; steadfast science that has been studied and repeated. I’ll not get into the appointment itself for the diagnosis was stamped upon my forehead: “Lost his marbles”
Anxiety and panic attacks are not new, just new to me. I shall backtrack for a moment and give you a glimpse of who I am. No previous mental history. Early 40’s, beautiful and luckily understanding wife, kids, job, successful (depending upon your definition). Good childhood, parents still together, family still talks and gets together when we can, etc. So, the why comes back into play again. Why me? Why now? I write this simply to showcase it can happen to ANYONE at ANYTIME. There are usually precipitating factors, but those can be minor and only over time accumulate to throw one off the rails.
Men’s mental health must begin to take center stage. I firmly believe it is essential to our way of life. Our family, friends and country as we know it depend upon the average male to uphold his character and morals, to continue to take care of his family, his career, his community. Education and acceptance is overdue.