November 2nd, 2011, somewhere around 3pm
It’s Wednesday and I’m preparing to exit my Capstone class. It’s the last semester of my Fashion Marketing studies. The instructor feels the need to repeat himself thrice, as if he was running a kindergarten class, filled with kids incapable of remembering the date of their last presentation. His voice is dull and I sit there thinking “What in the world am I doing, sitting in a Fashion class, being taught by someone who doesn’t get the fact that a stuble and a moustache are a better suited attire for the pub around the corner?”. I nearly snort, as I hear myself laugh on the inside, but I feel a hint of anxiety take over me. “I’ve been sitting here for too long with nothing to show for it. We’re wasting time”. I feel a slightly sharp pain run across my chest. I wave it off. “I must need to stretch.”
Same afternoon, 4:15
I am standing on the subway platform at Bloor and Yonge. It’s hot, crowded and strangely unnerving. That same – now sharper – pain cuts across my chest as if my ribs are expanding beyond their ability. I feel a hint of weakness and nausea, as the Eastbound train pulls into the station. “I must be tired. I’ll rest as soon as I get home”. I clutch my MacBook close to my chest and as my head starts to spin out of control the faint thought of me collapsing is closing in. I somehow manage to get onto the train, quickly spot an empty seat and sit, slightly relieved that I’ve escaped the danger of being the girl that fainted onto the subway platform. Two stops into my trip, I am still eight stations away from my main stop and a bus ride away from home. Panic starts to settle in, as my head continues to spin and a strange, clutching feeling embraces my chest. “I’m having a heart attack” is all I can think, although at the age 26 and living a fairly healthy life, aside from recently having lost too much weight for no reason, I can’t think of a reason why a cardiac arrest should be the first thought on my mind.
“Are you feeling okay?” a concerned voice rings in my ears. “I saw you turn very pale on the platform before you entered the train. Should I call help?” A very pleasant, middle-aged man is sitting next to me, genuinely concerned. “I’m not sure, I’m too young to be experiencing this…”, I mumble. The feeling of collapse has taken over me and my head continues to spin, multiplied by the rattle of the subway car. Before I know it, I’m scribbling a number on my hand and allowing the nice man to guide me out of the car. He calls an ambulance first, then Da Kid. “I’ll wait until they’ve arrived. They’re heading to East General.” he says and hangs up the receiver of the public phone, located inside Paps station; there is no cell phone reception here. Next thing I know, I’m at the back of an ambulance, being poked by needles, mumbling about a heart attack and frowning at the medic, who’s asking me too many routine questions for my liking. Sirens glare.
It’s been an hour since I’ve been here. I’m signing paperwork and swiping my credit card out of too many $$$ that I don’t currently have. I’m a few hundred bucks out and have yet to be admitted into the ER, hours away from even seeing a doctor. Da Kid walks in – genuinely worried, his eyes looking through the room of sick people, finally locating me, as I’m about to unleash my typical, b!tch face and cutting words on the nurse. I can tell he’s unhappy to be hear. He hates hospitals. Even more, he hates seeing me sick. He doesn’t deal well with sick.
I’m laying down, strapped to a bunch of machines – some checking out my heart, others my sanity – or so I suppose – and I can’t help but beat myself up for missing my waxing appointment, as I look at the wires, secured to my legs. “Dammit, Raya! Always be prepared. Sh!t happens. Lesson learnt” . I catch Da Kid’s eyes through the glass – I don’t think he senses my attempt to amuse myself.
I’ve had my blood drawn, I’ve peed in a cup, I’ve had some tests run. I’ve spent too many long h0urs in the waiting room area, listening to people go on and on about needing their anxiety medication, I roll my eyes. “Pfffft – Pull yourself together!” I don’t believe in pills. In my Bulgarian mind, there is nothing that a glass of red wine can’t fix. Somehow my head hasn’t started spinning for the past 7 hours. I’m feeling almost sea-sick.
The curtain opens and my assigned doctor is giving me the run down: “There’s nothing wrong. Your tests came out perfectly, your heart is in perfect condition…you’re arguably the healthiest person that’s ever walked into this ER”. The she continues to quiz me about the possibility of me coming off of some hard drugs in a lecturing matter, as if I’m withdrawing after a night of crazy partying. Shortly, I’m released.
I receive a call from my mom. It’s been nearly a month since my “episode” and my head is still spinning. I can’t sit upright and I refuse to leave the house – except for classes, to which Kid needs to drive me to, as I refuse to ever be reunited with a subway train again. I am not fully functional, my anxiety has tripled over the past couple of weeks and with the help of Google, I have self-diagnosed myself with every horrible disease you can think of. “I’m coming to stay with you for three weeks, until you finish your last semester”, my mom says and I feel a ray of hope. Tears run down my eyes, as I feel helpless yet confident that the old me is still inside somewhere. In the past 10 days, I’ve seen a plethora of doctors, one of whom looked at me for 2 minutes and told me to go home and have a glass of orange juice, assuming that my sugar levels were low. Luckily for him, I was too weak to give him a piece of my mind. One person “diagnosed” me with anxiety and depression, after questioning me about “possible suicidal thoughts and my daily routine”, and sent me off with a bag full of prescription drugs. A few days later, my mom flushed them down the toilet, despite my attempts to convince her I’d never touch them. “We’re strong people, enduring people. We’ve never solve our problems with pills”. By ‘We’ she means our family, and Bulgarians.
Anxiety has somehow crippled me over the past months. I’ve learnt to accept the fact that I’m going through a phase in my life and I am the only one in control of my body and mind; that I am stronger than what I currently feel and that this will pass. But I can’t help but feel uneasy – there’s something there, something that I’d been feeling since we moved here, something I’ve been fighting subconsciously for awhile. I still can’t pin it but in the past few days I’d managed to get back onto the streetcar – the subway has yet to feel my gracious presence, I still need to be over ground, where cell phone reception isn’t interrupted and there is no threat of being stuck underground.
My family visits. I attend my graduation. I turn 27. I realize that I can’t continue moving forward this way – I’ve managed to finish my degree and somehow continued to go through my PR internship but have bailed on Social Life all together. Skype has been my only connection to my friends and most of them aren’t even on Canadian soil. I find comfort in them. My “connections” here have not been feeling very real. I have yet to meet people who truly like me for me – most of them have an issue with the fact that I have no filter and refuse to pretend to be something that I’m not – someone, who doesn’t speak up when she needs to. Nope, that will never be me! I think back to the past 3 years – even my wedding day was clouded by the inconsiderate, adolescent actions of others. I shriek, try not to think about it and I savour the happy memories – Drunk In Love!
I’ve seen an RT and a chiropractor – both of them relishing in the revelation that the various doctors have failed me and I’ve merely been experiencing a pinched nerve, preventing my heart from pumping enough blood through my left side. Hence the notion of constant faint.
“I can work on you every day, but no-one will ever be able to help you, if you don’t stop worrying and believe in yourself. You have to find you and hold on to YOU despite the ideas of the world around you.” – my chiropractor seems like a wise-man. Two years ago, this would’ve been me giving advice to someone in need. Now, I can barely recognize myself.
I stumble down the sidewalk, faint traces of nausea hinting at me, mulling over the words I just heard. I’ve been practicing Mindful Meditation and upping my yoga practice with my friend, Carmella, for a few weeks now and it’s the one thing I look forward to twice a week. She calms me down and is probably the only person, who’s encourages me to be me – unapologetically. I feel a sense of calm, having found someone like that. It reminds me of home. It’s a true friendship.
I’ve started working, already on my second retail job and strangely finding a way to find satisfaction in the idea of becoming a manager. I keep at it and join the management team at Ann Taylor; then Topshop, then a Yorkville boutique. Something doesn’t fit. I still feel uneasy when I think about the “connections” I’ve made in this place. Something’s missing.
It’s a few days after Thanksgiving. A lot has happened and a strange call the evening before has finally pushed me beyond my limits. Something in my mind finally snaps into place “ENOUGH!”
I am no longer able, nor willing, to compromise myself, my family..for the ideals of others. I am no longer accepting to play by the rules of others. I am no longer able to not speak up when I need to and if that means being “outcasted” or frowned upon, then be it. My inner diva glows, my soul shining through my body.
“I am who I am. I have a partner who fell in love with me for my honesty, my persistance and my no-bullsh!t giving attitude. I speak my mind, I talk back and if I don’t like something, I don’t mind expressing it. Being passive-aggressive is something I’ve never been able to do and I can no longer be forced to be it.”
My words reach the people that matter. The people that love me for who I am. The people that I want to hold on to in this one life that is giving to me and I’d be dishonest, if I didn’t live it the way I originally intended to. The dreamer, the believer, the honest, unapologetic person…
“When It’s Dark Inside…” is a series of mini-essays, that at times may be controversial to some, aimed to allow me to speak up on my struggle with Anxiety – a “struggle” that so many [young] people today are forced to live with. Part Three coming soon.