The Emotional Burn Victim

*Note: In this article, I write that psychiatric drugs have never worked well for me. However, I’m an unusual case: they do work for most people. In no way do I wish to condone that anyone stop taking pills that they have been prescribed, nor do I want to deter anyone from seeking relief from psychiatric drugs that they haven’t tried – with a doctor’s consent, of course. Remember, friends, I’m just an author, not a psychiatrist. Thanks. -Z

Things started getting weird when I was 12.

To be fair, things get weird for almost everybody when they’re 12. It’s the age of the twilight of childhood and the dawn of adulthood, so of course a preteen’s neurochemistry is constantly in flux. No one expects a person of that age to have consistent reactions to outside stimuli, rational thoughts, and even moods.

That being said, when I was a preteen, it was abundantly clear – even to me, in my disordered state – that my moods were abnormally reactionary and long-lasting, even for a 12-year-old. At that age, a kid’s behavior is often clouded by hormones, but once those clouds clear a few years later, their personality emerges and they’re able to perform certain functions they weren’t able to perform before, like regulating their moods and accurately perceiving reality.

However, there were signs that my abilities to do those things weren’t just clouded over by adolescence; they were lacking at the core.

I skipped from one reactionary mood state to another, rarely finding so much as a glimpse of solid emotional ground in between. Despair overwhelmed me for nonsensical reasons and lasted until it was replaced by some even stronger emotion, which was usually anger, or very occasionally a concerningly energetic euphoria.

And my moods never stopped ramping up in intensity. Sadness turned to misery and anger to rage so quickly that I was often incapacitated by emotion. I never stopped feeling anything before it overtook me: there was no “gray area” on my mood scale. There was only black and white, everything and nothing.

I often felt like a burn victim in a light wind, lit up with pain by next to no stimulus.

In the sixth grade, I approached my mom about seeking a therapist. She assured me, to my deepest unease, that I was fine and mood swings were normal for my age. I couldn’t understand how so much pain could be considered normal. I had a solid understanding of Darwinism, and it seemed to me that constant suicidal ideation was not an evolutionarily advantageous state for an entire species to experience during its maturation process.

I was right.

Not long after, when my gloom and anger were clearly beginning to affect my functionality, my parents admitted something was off and took me to a therapist. I don’t remember much from the few visits I had with her (in fact, I don’t remember much before 2011), but in hindsight she didn’t seem to comprehend the depth of my problem. Therapists operate on the principle that people have a degree of control over their actions – small as it may be – and patients can therefore influence their own emotional state by adopting more healthy behaviors. I, however, was spinning out of control because of a biological disorder the scope of which nobody had yet guessed. Adolescence masked my disease, making it impossible for anyone to know how deep the rabbit hole went.

Years passed, and nothing got better. I continued seeing therapists and psychiatrists. I was prescribed a dozen different psych meds, none of which had much effect for very long. Lamictal may have flattened my jittery euphoria a little, but Lexapro did nothing, and Risperdal just put me in a deep, unpleasant sleep that was riddled with vivid nightmares. We kept trying to troubleshoot my symptoms with meds: antidepressants for the melancholia, melatonin for the insomnia, lithium for the suicidality.

I continued to suffer through my days. Hatred overtook me as a coping mechanism for dealing with the loud, obnoxious human presence I faced in middle school. My friends weren’t like me. My teachers didn’t understand me. 

Many people grow up to realize they were all suffering the same problems as preteens, and each kid was mistakenly convinced of their isolation. But I’m 22 now and I still stand by my adolescent beliefs about my own loneliness: No one understood what I was going through.

Somewhere around the age of 13 I was diagnosed with a mood disorder. Whether it was unipolar depression or bipolar disorder remained to be seen at that time. It’s hard to diagnose a “moody” teenager with an emotional disease when their internal experience of life is so subjectively messed up just from being pubescent. Only time would tell if my pain and hateful feelings cleared up, or if something was truly wrong in my brain.

I assume my doctors put their bets on a bipolar diagnosis, because they gave me mood stabilizers that are good for depression and mania, instead of just antidepressants, which might exacerbate manic symptoms. Regardless, the pills didn’t work; in the past ten years I’ve tried every class of psychiatric medication related to depression and anxiety, and none of them has done a damn thing. So my metastasizing battle against life continued to grow, until finally, I found myself in the hospital.

That story is an article in and of itself, but needless to say, my experience in the adolescent ward of the psychiatric hospital when I was 14 years old was about as pleasant as it sounds. I spent a full week dragging my near-lifeless body through the sterile white halls, trying only half-heartedly to look more animated than a corpse would. After spending seven days caught in an agonizing purgatory between “I can’t bear to live anymore” and “I don’t have the energy to do anything about it”, they finally sent me home.

That was March of 2010. I have quite literally no memories of anything until October of 2011, when I realized one chilly, blessed Monday morning that I had been reborn.

But that’s another story.  

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