By Bryce St. Pierre — November 12, 2018 — Essays, Health, Life
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The beginning of November each year is a solemn time. As the air cools and poppies appear over people’s hearts, it feels as though the tone changes. Whether this is brought on by reflecting in remembrance or embracing the long winter to come, a time steeped in seriousness. But one date in particular—November 14th—marks a critical turning point in my life.

Almost exactly one year ago, I was living in Windsor and in the final stretch of earning my bachelor’s degree. It was at a time during in the semester where you find yourself wrought with projects, assignment deadlines, and even the first anxieties of final exams. I began the morning of Remembrance Day as I had many other mornings on the weekend. I put on a pot of coffee, checked my emails, chipped away at an assignment, chatted with my mother.

Before long, the eleventh hour was upon us. My mother, brother, and I decided we would find a live stream from downtown Ottawa and follow the proceedings of the ceremony in front of the National War Memorial. I broke away from my work, and as I found my cup to be empty, I put on another pot of coffee. Aside from interrupting to point out the city block where I had stood back in 2016, we watched intently, each absorbing and contemplating the meaning of the ceremony in our own manner.

I soon returned to my laptop to continue working, but something was wrong. As I looked at my lines of code on the screen, I was beginning to feel dizzy, and quite nauseous. I felt a dull pain in my left arm and in my jaw. I moved to the couch to try to get comfortable, but I was breathing frantically—unaware of what was happening within my body. I made frequent trips to the bathroom. The concern of my family members only spiked my own fear, so I did as many others do—I turned to Google searches.

The scatter of cardiac results that were returned made my stomach turn. Could this really be it? I’m only 22, could there really be something wrong with my heart? Then I remembered how much coffee I drank. I looked at the symptoms of high caffeine intake. It seemed that what I was experiencing was consistent with this prognosis. I made myself relax and slowly began to feel better throughout the day. Little did I know that these events had caused a dam within me to burst.

Fast-forward three days to Tuesday, November 14th. I made my coffee, rode the bus to the university campus, and attended my morning class as usual. I was making my way to the library to do some work, when I suddenly began to feel ill—much like I did that past weekend. I decided I would go home and veered for the bus stop. As I waited, I noticed something was different. My hands were tingling and quickly losing feeling. I had never felt anything like this, and panic was setting in, so I dialed for a cab.

The taxi whisked me away from the bus stop. The driver was polite and tried to make conversation, but I was too preoccupied to humor him. Though it was only about 15 minutes to the house, I frantically urged him to go as fast as he could. I squirmed in my seat. I warned the driver that I was feeling incredibly ill and I might even need to jump out. We arrived, but my hands were so numb, I had trouble pulling out a $20 bill for the $14 fare. I told him to keep the change as I scrambled out of the vehicle.

I burst through the door of my father’s house and dropped my things. He was at work, and as I was alone, I feared that if I waited any longer, my hands would be so numb that I would not be able to use my phone. I had never dialed the number before, but I was out of options. With difficulty, I tapped 9-1-1. With a lump in my throat, I described my condition, and the operator listened and promptly dispatched an ambulance to my address. I locked the house and sat on the back steps in the cold.

A paramedic soon appeared and guided me to the ambulance to assess my vitals. He reminded me that I should have visited a doctor after the episode of a few days prior. Though this struck me as perhaps a bit inappropriate at the time, I would later realize that he was right. I felt guilty as I sat in the back of that ambulance, knowing this critical resource is intended for people that are on the brink of death. But to my credit, in the moments leading up to the call, I felt closer to that than I ever had previously.

The next several hours consisted of heavy nausea, being moved around the crowded hospital, and an unclear road ahead. I sat between my divorced parents, whose presence was the only thing that kept me from spiraling. This was the first time I had been together with them in the same room since I was 15. I recounted the events of earlier that day as we sat nervously, awaiting various test results. I told them how I wished I hadn’t watched so many episodes of drama medical shows, like House, M.D.

A total of something like seven hours after my arrival, a doctor entered the curtained area where I waited. They had performed a battery of tests and they all came back negative. There was nothing conclusively wrong with me. I was shocked. The doctor said there was no explanation for the numbness in my hands and arms, other than anxiety, which has been known to cause such effects. Anxiety? Me? I didn’t remember ever struggling with significant anxiety, even during the notable hardships of my life.

I didn’t think much of the doctor’s assessment. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always just dealt with what life threw my way. I don’t know that I had ever considered concrete ways in which I handled things, but somehow, I always just found a way to bounce back. I made a massive error in judgement. I thought that because I possessed strong principles and intelligence, mental health issues like anxiety, depression, etc. would not be challenges I would ever face. I thought such things were below me.

In the months that would follow, I began to experience a plethora of other ailments commonly associated with anxiety. I often had stiff and sore muscles, bad trains of thought could lead to panic attacks, and times of immense stress even caused me to have heart palpitations—something that really frightened me. Naturally, I consulted with my family doctor and did several rounds of blood and urine tests, and even wearing a heart monitor. As usual, I found myself with a clean bill of health.

It took time for me to accept the reality of what I was experiencing. This, in and of itself, was part of what I believe led me towards being overcome by anxiety in the first place—being in denial and having misconceived perceptions of myself. It took a lot of bad choices and hitting my lowest point for these truths to emerge. It was as though a curtain had lifted and every flaw had burst forth and crippled me. Suddenly everything was a concern, and I felt things so sharply. I felt so weak and helpless.

The chaos humbled me. It forced me to reconsider my actions, and gaze into my own mortality. I could see the way I had dug myself into a hole, and I was passively moving through life. I was complacent. I knew that I had to switch off the auto-pilot. Thus, a journey of self-discovery began, and I started slowly changing my lifestyle and habits. In my next piece, I will expand upon why and how that process unfolded. Thank you for listening.