If you’re reading this, make the call.
“I need help,” my voice quavered to the other end of the CAPS crisis hotline. Sitting there, on the front step of his apartment, half-naked, confused, alone. I had tried to plunge myself into lukewarm water in his brown-and-black stained tub in an effort to get my goddamn body temperature under control. Before that, I had quietly laid there beside him on his broken futon, shaking uncontrollably because I was freezing. In August. At six in the morning.
I hadn’t slept all night. I remember my mind had been racing but I don’t remember for what. It doesn’t matter now. That doesn’t happen anymore. Well, actually, that still does happen sometimes. Especially in those moments right before I fall asleep. (Rafael says it’s because I’m in the theta brainwave, which is dangerous for “spinning.” He’s been right about everything else so far and he has a PhD in this shit, so I’ll take his word for it.) And sometimes I rub my hands together a little too much or stare out the window a little too long or jump a little too hard when I’m startled. But I don’t freeze or shake or choke on my own chest anymore. I no longer worry that I’m going to crash the car. Or lose it in the middle of lecture. Or die. That’s what my body used to scream at me. At random times. Every. Single. Day.
Rafael helped me see them. The patterns in the panic. He helped me see how I used the stability of school to handle an incredibly volatile home life. How I adapted out of my resilience, creating my own security when I had none. That the first panic attack I had senior year of high school not so much a beginning as much as it was another type of symptom. That freaking out after the one time I smoked that one thing during Snowmaggedon of first year was not a chance event, but a begging for stability. That my bending over backward for a mentally abusive man was a continuation of my maladaptation to stable the unstable through sacrifice. That the freezing was caused by my warm blood pulling into my core in preparation of fight-or-flight. That my Panic Disorder was my body telling me that something is very, very wrong and to get out, now.
I’m still on medicine, generic Lexapro. I’ve been seeing Rafael since the beginning of second year. I left that very dangerous man, the one who would beat the life out of people and go to jail and drink himself stupid and avoid the police and love me far too aggressively for my own good. After all the unanswered calls and closed doors and police cars and hotel rooms and giant hoodies and big sunglasses and restraining orders, I was worn down, beaten up, and free. I slowly nursed my mind and body back to health. I lost weight. My smile came back. I remembered what it was to dance. And I loved myself again.
“I need help,” I whisper to my boyfriend on the first floor of Clem. He hugs me and offers to get me a cup of coffee from upstairs. Every time I look at him in that goddamn flannel I remember how far I’ve come. And I remember how I could not have done it without him, or my roommate, or my best friends, or my family, or Rafael, or my own unbeatable, unbreakable spirit.
I could not have done it without making the call. And if you’re reading this, you can do it too.
Hannah B., University of Virginia