Before I opened my eyes, I know what kind of day I was in for. I’m filled with the overwhelming urge to cry and scream at the same time. How can I wake up with this much emotion? Nothing has happened to me in the last nine hours but I am so angry. I kick off the sheets in frustration, throw myself out of bed, and stomp into the bathroom, shutting the door.
“I’ll make your tea,” he says softly from the room. I inwardly groan with shame. Luke is about to make my tea and make me breakfast before clearing out of the house so I can have space to feel all these feelings. He takes care of me in so many ways, and yet all I can manage to do is let him know how I’m feeling first thing. A warning before he says something, before he can say anything, because nothing can fix this.
I love Luke, I really do. He was the first person to tell me that my depression wasn’t my fault. When it gets this bad, I lose friends and relationships. People who have known me for years will say “this must be the real you” and then they'll leave. All I’ve ever wanted is for someone to stick it through with me until I make it to the other side and now I have found that person, yet I still manage to fail him at every turn.
I stay frozen until I hear him get dressed and head for the kitchen to be the most perfect boyfriend while I sulk in the bathroom and think about how much I’m ruining his life. I swallow my meds and try to look myself in the mirror but I can’t, I grip the edge of the sink and close my eyes to feel all the sadness. All the anger, all the shame that has overtaken my life overwhelms me until I can barely stand it. I visualize, just like my therapist taught me, but I can’t see the meadow of my happy place. All I can see is…nothing. I feel myself falling backwards into it. Falling, falling….I can feel that I’m falling. I’m not just imagining it. My stomach is a knot that’s dropping like I’m on a roller coaster. I clutch the edge of the sink harder to pull myself out of my own mind.
Am I losing time? I could have sworn that I was in the bathroom but when I opened my eyes I saw my white knuckles clutching the kitchen sink. Am I growing hair on my fingers? I must be so out of it if I haven’t noticed that yet. That’s something I would notice, because it would make me feel bad. I shake my head and stand up, smashing the back of my skull so hard that I see little pops of light. I grab for the source of the pain and feel my short hair, buzzed close the scalp. I’m not tall enough to hit the kitchen cabinet. I have to use a stool to put the dishes away and right now I have two feet planted firmly on the ground. I hear a scream, my scream, come from the bathroom and I run towards it instinctively. I take two steps before catching my foot on the step out of the kitchen and sprawling all of my limbs, my much too long limbs, across the floor.
“I don’t…” my own voice reaches out to me and fades after a few indistinguishable sounds. Slowly, taking care of the extra length I was carrying around, I sat up. Even though it wasn’t possible, it couldn’t be possible, I knew what I was going to see. And there it was – my own face looking at me in concern. I wasn’t in my own body anymore, and neither was Luke. Because I was in his body. So he must be…
“Susan?” my own voice asks me. I look up and reach out my too long arms to hold my own face. This motion brings out visceral feelings within Luke’s body. Suddenly all I want is to hold this face, to keep it safe and see it smile. I can feel compassion well inside of me as if it’s a tangible experience. My own eyes look back at me filled with fear, and without thinking I gather myself into my arms – his arms – it’s all blending together but instead of drowning in confusion and fear, I feel myself accept it.
“Shhhh.” I tell Luke. My poor, suffering love. I stroke his hair – my hair – and wait until my body stops heaving. As he shudders inside of my body I hold him tight, the way I like to be held when the anxiety overwhelms me. I keep stroking his hair and whispering words of comfort until the body I’m holding relaxes. “There you go,” I say, proud of him for being able to calm down at all. I know how hard it can be.
“I don’t understand” he said. “I was in the kitchen and…”
“Were you clutching the sink?” I asked
“Me too.” I think back to when we first moved into this crappy apartment and the electrical something that was touching a pipe somewhere. I got a nasty shock trying to take a shower and was convinced the landlord was trying to kill us. I imagined that he lured young couples to this apartment and killed them to did weird stuff with their bodies. Luke convinced me it wasn’t true and called the landlord, who called an electrician, who flipped some switch and called it a day. Sometimes we still get a little spark when we touch the sinks.
“You were right,” Luke says to me. “The Landlord has to be doing this on purpose. Nothing else makes sense. Why isn’t this fixed already?!” With that last question he kicked out, trying to make contact with the bed post but missing because his legs were so much shorter than he was used to.
Fear pitted in my stomach. “I’m sure it was an accident. I mean I don’t understand it, but I don’t think this happened on purpose.” I tried to comfort him.
“How are you so calm?!” he shrieked at me.
“I don’t know…I just…am,” I said slowly.
He got up and started pacing, wringing his hands. “I don’t understand how you’re not freaking out. I can’t stop freaking out. Usually it’s reversed!” He said the last word offhand, but as soon as it hung in the air we both froze. It was reversed, we were reversed. Luke was in my body, with my brain. My ADHD, PTSD riddled brain.
“Oh my god,” I took one stride and crossed half the small room to hold him as he shook. “I’m so sorry” I whispered into my hair. “I am so, so sorry.”
I had spent enough time in my condition to know scientifically what was wrong with me. I was so deeply on the ADHD spectrum that I had a severe dopamine deficiency. I understood that the PTSD my boyfriend before Luke had given me didn’t mix well with ADHD. I had undergone several tests and plenty of experimental treatments to understand that my body was missing dopamine, serotonin, and that if I didn’t manage my triggers I would experience psychosis. I held my small body in Luke’s long, lanky arms and felt the shaking subside slowly.
He was hyperventilating, but he tried to speak. “I just…I can’t…” he heaved a breath. “It won’t stop.”
“I know.” I reassured him. “Let me help.” I couldn’t believe how calm I was. The only thing that I felt was concern for my love. It hurt, but in a way I wasn’t familiar with. It wasn’t a sharp pain, like being metaphorically stabbed in the brain. It was a dull, deep ache in my chest. “I’m going to get the blanket, you lay down, ok?” I spoke softly, carefully. He didn’t say anything back, but shakily he climbed onto the bed. He struggled to move my short body into a bed that was usually so easy for him to reach. Even in this moment of crisis, I found myself smiling. Even in unimaginable pain, he was so cute. I was so cute…I couldn’t keep it straight in my head.
I opened the closet and easily reached the high shelf where the weighted blanket was. I carried it easily in my muscled arms, and laid it gently over his body. My body. As I laid down next to him – me – I realized the truth. While Luke was in my body, experiencing my chemical deficiencies, I was in his healthy brain. For the first time in my adult life I was experiencing the world without a cloud of pain and confusion. I didn't feel the usual sense of "wrongness" about being alive and breathing.
I laid next to Luke, waiting for my body to calm down. I waited patiently, occasionally stroking his hair and whispering all the right things. I felt him relax and kissed his forehead. His poor, dopamine deprived forehead. I was seeing everything so clearly, and I only had compassion for the body struggling in front of me. As I felt him begin to breath deeply, I hoped that he was able to get a few moments of real rest. I knew how much an attack took out of that body. I looked at his sweet face, my sweet face, and marveled at how much of who we are is simply chemistry.