My breath comes fast and heavy, sobs rack my chest, and tears stream down my face to a point where I can’t even see my phone screen. I try to breathe but can’t. I try to calm down but can’t. I am on the verge of succumbing to the darkness clouding the edges of my vision when I realize what I need to do. I dial her number from memory, and she picks up on the first ring.
“Hey boo, what’s up?” Her soothing voices washes over me, and I calm down enough to choke out a few words.
“Help, please… my pills, medicine, out” I manage to sputter out before I must stop talking to gasp for air. I can feel the screech building in my throat and can do nothing as it claws its way out of my mouth. The sobs wash over me, and I am drowning in my tears. My chest feels like it is about to explode, and I manage one last word, “Hurry”.
“Hey, Lexi listen to me, okay? Bae, remember your exercises? Remember your breathing patterns? What did we say? Deep breaths, in and out. Concentrate on my voice, nothing else matters,” she says to me, but it’s no use. I can hear an undertone of panic in her voice and that sends me over the edge.
“Hurry,” I say once more before I hang up. Sitting there alone in the dark, on the floor in my bedroom, the crippling wave of sadness and fear washes over me. Not fear of anything in particular, or sadness for any specific reason, they just are. My heart is a bucket and my emotions are the size of a lake, I can’t help but overflow. And so, my tears pour from the faucet that is my eyes and I can do nothing but watch as they hit the ground beneath me.
An animal like scream rips from my throat and I claw at my tan face, trying to scratch at the itch worming its way beneath my skin. I taste salt and blood in my mouth and scramble on my hands and knees until I have successfully backed myself into a corner. As I wrap my arms around my knees, I duck my head and my hair falls like a auburn curtain blocking out the world as I sob into my arms.
The worst part of all of this is that I know this is ridiculous, I know that I am acting like a mad woman; but I can’t help it. Try as I might, I can’t control this. I am drowning in my feelings, despair and sadness suffocate me, anger beats to the rhythm of my heart, and loneliness chokes me. ‘Crybaby,’ I say to myself. ‘Get it together, Millie will be here soon. I hate it when she sees me like this.’ I whimper and empty my lungs. Then I pull as much oxygen as I can back into them, filling myself with fresh new air and pushing out the panic ingrained in my mind.
In and out, I concentrate solely on my breathing, pushing all other thoughts from my mind. For a second it works and the birds that are fear and sadness nesting in my heart take off, flying around my head. For a minute I am able to hold them at bay, but then they dive back down and continue building their permanent home in my heart.
I await Millie’s arrival anxiously, my heart beating like a drum, my head searing with pain and a pressure I can’t even begin to explain mounting in my chest. Time passes; I don’t know how much. Time doesn’t really mean anything when you’re in the state of mind that I’m in. I try to calm down, yet nothing works. I concentrate on Millie, my beautiful Millie. She has been by my best friend since high school. Throughout high school and college, she always had my back, she was by my side always.
And I have been by hers. I have watched toxic relationships crumble and have comforted her in the aftermath, I have helped her study and gone to her grandmother’s funeral. There is a connection, something between us; we just get each other. In this life we have faced a lot of the same problems and we understand the walls, the pain, and the burdens that the other carries.
I hear her key turn and the lock click open. The front door to my apartment swings open and she’s here. She is a whirlwind of color and noise drowning out the screams in my head. A weight eases off my chest and I manage to smile through my sobs at her. Her ebony skin gleams beneath the warm light of my kitchen chandelier and her midnight tresses are pulled up in a sloppy bun.
“Honey, I’m sorry. There was traffic,” she explains as she rushes to my side. Her black eyes flash as they take in the sight of me, hysterical on the floor as she pushes my hair out of my face and whips a tissue out of her pocket. She wipes my soaking cheeks and swollen blue eyes, but as soon as she dries my face, more tears flood out to replace the wetness on my cheeks.
She rummages in her purse and pulls out a yellow prescription bottle. After rushing to the kitchen for a cup of water, she shakes out two of the little white pills and places them in my semi-open mouth for me. My hands tremble as I attempt to guide the glass of water to my mouth and it isn’t until she places her warm and steady palms over mine that I am able to sip the water and swallow my pills. Finally, my breathing evens out and I stop shaking, the flow of my tears slow, and I slip into oblivion.
“Lexi?” I awake in my bedroom to the sound of Millie calling my name. At some point last night, she must have moved me to my bed and wiped off what was left of my smeared makeup. “Baby girl, it’s been over twelve hours. I need you to get up so I can make sure that you are okay.” I groan as I struggle to sit up, ultimately failing and falling back onto my pillows.
“What happened?” My throat is sore, and my voice is hoarse. “My head is killing me,” I say.
“I’m sorry, you had another attack. I don’t know how long it was this time, you called me part way through cause you were out of medicine,” she explains slowly.
“I’m so sorry,” I mumble. “My meds have been really off lately. I’ll see a doctor tomorrow and ask about changing them. I just don’t really know what else I can do, I have tried countless antidepressants, and sedatives, and mood stabilizers, and anxiolytics, even psychotherapy and nothing works. There is nothing left I can try; I don’t know what to do.” And once more I am crying, not hysterically, just two silent tear tracks tracing my cheeks.
“Baby girl, you’ve come this far. Trust me, you are going to make it through this.”
“Alexandra Davis, is there an Alexandra Davis here?” A petite nurse with almond eyes and caramel skin says that Doctor James Miller is ready to see us.
“Right here,” I say as I stand up. Millie rises and walks by my side as we make our way into the doctor’s office.
I take a seat on the examination table and Millie perches on the edge slightly in front of me, like she is trying to shield me from whatever might come next. Dr. Miller enters looking down at his clipboard. “Davis, again?” He looks up and seems surprised to see us there. “What happened Alexa? I thought you were doing better,” the concern in his voice is real and I know that because this is the doctor who has been treating for over four years since I was first diagnosed with severe type one bipolar disorder, that then morphed into borderline personality disorder (BPD).
My case has only gotten more dire and over the years my symptoms only seem to worsen. I even developed major depressive disorder. Manic episodes are only getting more intense and making me feel higher, only to be replaced by the inevitable crash and the severe depression that follows; I hardly sleep anymore and when I do it is restless; relationship after relationship is a complete disaster; my emotions are running rampant and possibly the worst part are the outbursts of intense, uncontrollable anger, followed by feelings of shame.
“She had another episode and was out of meds, I picked some up for her but she needed twice the prescribed amount to put her sleep she was so hysterical,” Millie answers for me.
“A manic episode? A high?”
“No,” Millie replies. “A panic attack, extreme anxiety, mood swings, her emotions were out of control.”
“I see,” he says, and I can see the worry in his eyes.
“None of the medication is working, all the pills are useless, psychotherapy didn’t work either. What am I supposed to do? Is there even anything I can do?” I feel the pressure building in my veins, my head aches and I fight the urge to scream at the top of my lungs.
“I have an idea, but it is up to you whether you want to try it or not,” he says pensively.
“Anything,” I say. “I want this to end, I am so tired.”
“What’s that,” Millie asks.
“ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy, is an alternative therapy for certain psychiatric illnesses that are not responding to traditional treatments,” he explains. “ECT therapy has a 70 to 90 percent success rate when it comes to patients getting better. This is compared to a 50 to 60 percent success rate for those taking medications.”
“Why didn’t you try this sooner?!” Millie is absolutely outraged at the fact that there has been another way this entire time and he is just now telling us about it.
“Because it had awful side effects, we needed for it to be tested more and tweaked so that there would be the highest possible chance of success with the lowest risk of worsening the conditions or harming the patient,” Dr Miller explains calmly.
“What do I have to do,” I ask, interjecting myself between them.
“It involves a brief electrical stimulation of the brain while the patient is under anaesthesia. It will be managed by a team of trained medical professionals including a psychiatrist, an anesthesiologist and a nurse.”
“Electrical stimulation? You are going to shock her?”
“During the procedure, done under general anaesthesia, small electric currents are passed through the brain, triggering a brief seizure. It causes changes in brain chemistry that can reverse symptoms of certain mental health conditions.”
“So, you are going to harm her to heal her?” Millie says dubiously.
“It won’t harm her per say, she might experience nausea, headache, jaw pain, muscle ache, confusion, or possible short term memory loss as a side effect of the procedure; but that’s it,” he recites.
“Hmm,” Millie murmurs concomitantly.
“I’ll do it.” I have already made up my mind, I am ready to be over with this stage of my life and move on. I want to live and be able to maintain a stable relationship. “How long will the treatment take?”
“It depends on how well you react. Normally it is 8 to 12 sessions, twice a week, over 4 to 6 weeks.” Dr Miller looks at ease and confident in this, it’s reassuring.
“How is the procedure done? What exactly will you be doing to Lexi?”
“On the day of the procedure, I will give her general anaesthesia and muscle relaxants. These medications will help prevent convulsions that come with the seizure activity. She will fall asleep before the procedure and not remember it afterwards,” explains.
“Two electrodes will be placed on your scalp. A controlled electrical current will be passed between the electrodes. The current causes a temporary change in the brain’s electrical activity, a brain seizure. It will last between 30 and 60 seconds. Your heart rhythm and blood pressure will be monitored the entire time,” he is now talking directly to me and once again I feel reassured.
“Okay,” I say, and that is that.
2 Months Later…
“Millie,” I say pausing as I am about to enter my bedroom. “Thank you, for everything.”
“There is no need to thank me, you know I have your back no matter what.” She laughs.
“There is a need to thank you, you have been with me to hell and back, you are an incredible person and an amazing friend. So, thank you.”
“Oh, come here you sentimental bitch,” she says, rolling her eyes and opening her arms. I lean in and hug her tight.
“I meant it,” I say.
“Now move your butt Lexi,” Millie yells at me and she pushes me towards my vanity.
“Going, geez. Relax,” I yell back.
“Forgive me for not wanting to keep the guys waiting.” I can hear the sarcasm in her voice and can picture the eye roll that accompanies it perfectly. “You may be fine with arriving late to meet your boyfriend, but I like to be punctual.”
I just laugh and stick the last bobby pin into my updo. I am happy, genuinely happy for the first time in a long time. It is not a manic happy or a high which will lead to a low, it is natural and sweet. I am finally back in control of my emotions and my life. I haven’t felt this strong in a long, long time. I smile at myself in the mirror and pick up my purse.
“I’m ready,” I say as Millie takes me by the arm and starts pulling me towards the front door. We step out into the sunlight of the hallway and the door latches closed behind us with a loud click.