A couple of summers ago, I got really sick. It was over the July 4th holiday, the girls were all up in Michigan, and I was alone at home because of work. It was just as well because there was nothing anybody could have done for me anyway. I was super lethargic, did not really have an appetite, and just laid in bed all day feeling really crappy. Then on the third day, I just suddenly started feeling better. No medication. No doctor treatment. No chicken soup. Nothing. I just was not as tired, felt like getting up, and was famished. I think I went to Buffalo Wild Wings or something (for sure someplace I like that my family does not). The point is, I went from being sick to not being sick. I suppose that is how it usually works. You have a cold, then you wake up without a cold. No idea why but nobody questions it because that’s just how it works.
So, why am I surprised when mental health works the same way? About 12 years ago a psychiatrist said that in addition to my dysthymic disorder I have chronic, low-level anxiety. She prescribed medication, which I still take. It was about a year ago, though, that I discovered what real, acute anxiety is like. We had just started the depositions for the law suit that the buyers of our former house brought. Never get sued. Believe me. Whoever said, “so, sue me,” never went through the actual hell of an actual law suit. My wife went before me. She is genetically and absolutely incapable of lying. This is a good thing because the truth of our situation is our best defense in this lawsuit. She is not only incapable of lying, but she also wants to be helpful to everyone. She also knows that the truth will prevail and I believe she saw her job in the deposition as helping everyone (including the opposition lawyer) get to the truth. This is how I think about things, too. The lawyer’s job, though, is not to get to the truth. The lawyer’s job is to win and to make you lose. There is no such thing as a win/win in a law suit. So, the grilling was brutal. She did a great job under the pressure, but there were many times when she offered information that I had remembered differently, when she guessed, when she agreed with the lawyer’s “guesses”. It went on for over 12 hours. She was tired. I was tired. And I was not allowed to jump in and help. If you know me, staying silent is a huge stretch for me when I feel like I could help by jumping in. About mid-morning, I began to feel sick. My heart rate went above 100. I had trouble getting a full breath. My head was swimming. I thought I was coming down with a cold. When we finished, we stopped for a late dinner and went home. A couple of hours later and I felt fine. I woke up the next day feeling fine. Then we went for day 2 of the grueling ordeal. More grilling. She did way better the second day but I did not. Again, about mid-morning, I began to feel sick. Tight chest. Couldn’t get a full breath. Dizzy. And that feeling in the pit of my stomach like I was either going to puke or the world was ending. We went home. We got some rest. I felt fine again. For a week or so.
Then, I heard from my good friend Mark that he was not doing so well. He was drinking again and he was losing hope. His fiancé reached out to a group of us to see what we could do to support him. I talked to him probably a dozen times over the next few weeks. The last time I talked to him was the day before Thanksgiving as I was preparing to head north for the holiday. I knew Mark would be spending Thanksgiving alone. And deep down I knew there was nothing I could do to stop the inevitable. I texted him a few times on Thanksgiving and I think I may have tried to call. Friday morning, my phone rang Friday morning and Mark’s name came up on caller ID. The pit in my stomach told me it would not be Mark’s voice on the other end. I answered. It was Mark’s fiancé. He finally did it. He ended his suffering using the only option he could see. I began to feel sick. Tight chest. Couldn’t get a full breath. Dizzy. I hugged my wife, my mom, my girls. And that feeling did not go away this time. The law suit still loomed. Mark’s death. Mark’s memorial service.
And there were the financial problems. I took a 20% pay cut two years ago so I wouldn’t have to drive an hour and a half each way to a client. Plus an opportunity came up to work with a firm that I really wanted to work with. Private school (based on my previous pay), lawyers fees, a mortgage, mounting debt (from taking the pay cut). Law suit. Mark’s death. The sick feeling did not go away.
Then one day I was driving to work and my brain just spontaneously decided not to be sick. A voice in my head just said, “this sucks. Let’s not do this anymore.” And just like getting over a cold, I felt better. No more pit in my stomach. I could take a full, satisfying breath. My heart rate went down to about 70 or so. And I have no idea why.
I wish I did know why. I had jury duty a few weeks ago. And now I have that feeling again. And I can’t wait until my brain decides not to be sick.