“I want to sing my own song that's all, cried the bird and flew into a wall. There must be some way out, he cried, and his desperation echoed down the hall.”
T. Sheaffer, Bird in a House, 2002
I first noticed something was wrong when I got into bed. Yes, we were in bed at 8 p.m., but that wasn’t totally unusual for those days, or even now if I’m going to be honest. I felt the room spin a bit, and then my stomach started to heave. The dizziness was palpable even when lying down, and all of a sudden my heart started to race.
“I think I have to call the doctor.” I could see Chris look up from his side of the bed.
“I don’t know. I think I’m having a reaction to the medicine.” I got out of bed and went downstairs. Maybe some water would help.
After leaving a message for the doctor on call that night, I tried to calm down, but just couldn’t sit still. I thought I would throw up, but it never happened. After what felt like hours, I got a call from the doctor who had delivered Bryce.
“Hi, yes, something is wrong. I took 10 mg of Zoloft around 6 p.m., and I am feeling strange.” Please just tell me this is normal, that it will go away.
“Yes, that can happen often within the first few days of taking the medication. It will go away.” Dr. Cook was so confident, I had to believe this was true, even though I had never had a reaction to any medicine before like this. I hadn’t even had morning sickness when I was pregnant, and I always joked about my iron stomach, capable of handling all manner of foods and spice levels. This was unfamiliar territory.
“Ok, so how long will I feel like this?”
“The dizziness may last for a few days, but it will go away. Continue taking the medication; it’s important that your body gets a consistent dosage.”
Funny, my first instinct even then was to throw it all away. But, OK. Trust her, Amanda, I told myself.
“Thanks, Dr. Cook. I will.”
“Good luck, call us if you need anything.”
And the line went dead. I went back upstairs and got into bed. I’ll just ride this out. I had no idea what the potential side effects could be before I took the medicine, but I would have still taken it, I was sure. It’s important.
Fast forward to 1 a.m. I was able to sleep for a few hours, but I woke up again, Bryce snoozing in his Rock and Play next to me, with chest pains. I couldn’t breathe. My heart was racing, and I wanted to reach in and pull it out, Indiana Jones-style. This was not good.
“Chris,” I whispered, not wanting to wake up Bryce. “Something is wrong. Really, really wrong.”
We crept outside our bedroom to the hallway so we could talk. After a few minutes, I raced back to get my phone and called the number for the doctor on call again. I paced, with Chris upstairs, completely unaware that my body was having a reaction to the Zoloft that would catapult me into a significant state of anxiety. All I knew at that time is that I expected Dr. Cook to help me. And soon.
“Yes, hi Dr. Cook. I know we just talked a little while ago, but my symptoms are getting worse. I am having some trouble breathing normally, and I feel very anxious all of a sudden. I am dizzy and I feel like I can’t focus.”
What happened next was crushing. I will never forget it. There was nothing that could be done, and I was told that I must be experiencing a significant and very unusual reaction to the Zoloft. I was ready to get my stomach pumped, thinking that would help, but no, this was different. This was my brain malfunctioning, and a stomach pump wouldn’t help. I had to ride it out, this panic attack that was getting worse by the minute. It would end, but until then the only thing to do was stay home and stay calm.
“Please. Please there must be something. I need to go to the emergency room. I think I am having a heart attack,” I was on the verge of sounding pathetic.
“I’m sorry, but you just need more time.” I could tell my call from the dispatcher had woken up Dr. Cook, and she sounded exhausted. I knew she had a little boy at home, too. In my mind, though, I was irate. How dare she go back to bed and tell me to relax, leaving me like this? I was almost clawing at the couch trying to jump out of this new feeling. It was like a hole had been opened in my brain and I was leaking out all of my normalcy. All I was left with was a little voice telling me that something was wrong, something was wrong. Now confirmed, something was wrong, with no way out.
In the interim, Chris had called my mom, who lived on the same street. I thought I had heard him talking upstairs, but my ability to focus was so turned inward (where it would stay for many weeks), that I had no idea what he was doing. Talk about good fortune, though; who ever thought our small family from New Jersey would end up reuniting in North Carolina, with some of us on the same street? It was the first of several miracles that saved us. She was there in ten minutes and quickly surveyed the scene.
It’s now 2 a.m. and Bryce needs to eat. Chris brings him to me on the couch downstairs. That couch, the witness of surprise parties, get togethers for our favorite tv shows, and my only comfort when I was on bed rest, now witnessed another set of memories being made. Me, in the corner, huddled over my baby, feeding him and it’s me crying. Scared is not the word. I am ready to jump out the window. The night is long, longer than any so far. I am breathing, trying to remember my labor breaths, thinking that may help, but nothing helps. Chris and my mom look at me, reassuring, but clearly they know that something big is happening. Someone takes Bryce when he’s done, and Chris goes upstairs while my mom sits with me. The tv is on, but I don’t even register what show is on, or who is talking.
“Mom, what is happening? I can’t breathe.”
“I don’t know, honey. You’re having a bad reaction. It will go away soon.” She takes my hand. It does help, and God, I hope she’s right.
I look out the window. It is so dark, like what I imagine is now inside me. The worst of all thoughts of fear and panic have officially taken hold, and won’t start letting go for almost a week, even though I am assured countless times that the half life of the dosage I took should wear off within 48 hours. It doesn’t. Maybe this would have happened regardless of whether or not I took the Zoloft. Maybe I was destined for this descent. But I will never stop wondering if I did this to myself, and everyone around me, out of a well-intentioned desire to make things better. What if I had just waited? Or never gone to the doctor in the first place? I was consumed with many feelings at that time, and guilt was one of them.
In the end it didn’t matter because for the next two and a half months, I lived in a space created by that night, and those terrible moments when I felt so alone and out of control. By the next morning, with panic still raging through my entire body, I was convinced I would feel this way forever, and had mentally signed the papers so that Chris could legally put me away somewhere. Only two days ago, I had been on top of the world. Now, my birthday was a distant memory, and I was weak, helpless, and completely shattered.