January 10, 2020
Medicated. Drugged. Numb. I took anti-panic attack medications in the throws of one last night that took my body to a place it has never been, one I am still trying to find my way out of 19 hours later, and one to which I pray I never again return. Did it reduce the terrifying, incapacitating symptoms of the panic attack in the thick of it? I cannot say with certainty, but do believe so. Did it leave my body in a surreal state of sedation, entirely immobilized, unable to speak or think clearly for an extended period I barely remember? Yes.
Drowsy, lethargic or exhausted don’t adequately capture what I experienced; I felt as if I had been hit with a tranquilizer. I couldn’t walk or talk properly, my muscles all went limp, my body sank into itself. With my eyelids partially closed, nose dripping, jaw ajar, neck falling forward, and limbs hanging at bizarre angles, everything seemed to be melting like one of Dalí’s clocks. Time and space were also incomprehensible, immeasurable, even irrelevant, as I sat and stared blankly. Beyond fatigued, I dozed off at the dinner table, then fell asleep on the couch, then again in the bathroom, before finally stumbling to my bed. I wanted to capture the mystifying feelings in that precise moment, but could not think or see, let alone write. Despite falling asleep immediately, I woke countless times with jitters and tremors, lying uncomfortable and awake, though unable to lift my head or move my body without serious difficulty.
While clearly startling and strange, I was not and am not particularly concerned about any of my body’s reactions to the medicine. I didn’t panic further or feel a need to call my psychiatrist. For my whole life, I have always responded strongly to pharmaceuticals, and this appears to be no exception. My doctor had alerted me before prescribing that this was an anticonvulsant made to control seizures, a neurotoxin that blocks neurons, reduces the activity of the central nervous system and alters senses, which has non-addictive off-label applications for anxiety, to take the edge off and in treating the psychological and physical consequences of the types of acute panic attacks I have been plagued by post-trauma.
I woke this morning feeling less bad and, still with a heavy head and tingling (though no longer numb) extremities, grabbed my phone to look up the drug and its side effects. What I found on website after website was a read-out of my symptoms from last night: sleepiness, dizziness, fatigue, clumsiness while walking, visual changes, including double vision, tremor, runny nose, extreme drowsiness, memory problems or memory loss, unsteadiness, difficulty speaking or slurred speech, lack of coordination, severe weakness or tiredness, problems with balance or muscle movement, lethargy, sedation, loss of control of bodily movements, somnolence (a new word for me, defined as: sleepiness, the state of feeling drowsy, ready to fall asleep). Every single day of recovery brings new predominantly-unexpected and primarily-unwelcome experiences, but I learn — and today, I am grateful to be lying here, slowly beginning to come back into my body and mind.