BY LARISSA ARCHONDO
For the first time in years, my mother took my hand. Maybe it was because we were in public and she wanted to play the part of the good mother, or maybe it was that she couldn’t deny something was wrong with me when I was swallowing down tears on the first night of our family vacation. She held my hand, and I was paraded around countless buffets of food that she should’ve known I would never touch, until eventually we were back at our table. My older brother was the only one there. He addressed me by my childhood nickname and asked me how I was feeling. I stared straight ahead, trying to choose between the many things I could tell him, some lies, some truths, many somewhere in between. But I didn’t get the chance.
My crying increased, and with each uneven breath and tear, a cause for guilt ran through my mind. I was alarmingly aware of the fact that I was having a panic attack, and anyone who’s had one before knows they’re made all the more painful because although you see it coming, there’s nothing you can do to stop it. It’s like a car accident where you can see the other car coming towards you, but there’s no way you can brake fast enough to avoid the crash.
I couldn’t control my breathing, and when my father and younger brother neared the table, I threw my hands up to cover my face, knocking a glass of water onto my mother in the process.
You just don’t have public panic attacks and start screaming into a napkin because the wifi stopped working in the lobby, because there are a lot of people around you, or because food is being offered to you. That is pathetic. If you have a panic attack at a restaurant at a resort in Jamaica, you are weak. You are not normal. I hurled insults at myself faster than the well-dressed strangers hurled looks at me and my family.
When my knees started shaking uncontrollably, my father finally suggested we leave the restaurant. Together, we walked into the less crowded lobby. He went back to the room to get my Klonopin, my third one that weekend. “To be taken in emergencies,” my psychiatrist had said.
In the lobby, I counted my breaths until the crying stopped and I could feel oxygen normally flowing through my nose. Calming my body allowed me to calm my mind, which just means that my negative thinking patterns became slower and more intricate, more intelligible than they are right before a panic attack.
I was failing. Summer was supposed to be a time when I do whatever it is I do and come back to school in the fall feeling better, so that come January, I am ready to crash again. In March, I feel a little bit better, but by May or June, I am hardly going into school. That’s the schedule I’ve grown accustomed to, the schedule my health has followed for over five years. But now, the summer before my senior year of high school, I was dangerously off track.
When my father came back with a Klonopin, a glass of water, and that worried look on his face where his eyes widen, my tears started all over again. He was doing everything he could, and I was trying to assure myself that so was I.
In June, my therapists and guidance counselors kept saying not to worry because summer was coming soon. I agreed with them at the time, but looking back I’m skeptical.
I’ve continued going to therapy all summer, taken my medications almost every day, and had been eating regularly all but the past week. I’ve been spending time with friends when I can, and I have an internship at a summer camp that I love.
Where was summer’s magical healing power? What was I missing? What was I doing wrong? Is there some reward I didn’t earn or deserve? I admit that I’m writing this from a place of negativity, but it’s a place where I find myself often enough. Much of my depression and anxiety comes from guilt that I am not feeling better than I am. Perhaps the majority of this summer’s depression is just that—this theoretical two month healing period feels more like pressure or a burden than an opportunity.
As I write this, I’m next to a coconut tree, lying in front of a pool. A copy of a novel is closed at my feet. I’m sending selfies on Snapchat and posting pictures of my view on Instagram. Once again I feel guilty — I can’t bring myself to swim in the pool yet because it just makes me think of drowning. I can recognize that the sun is shining brightly, the temperature is perfect, my novel is great, and my family loves me, no matter what mistakes they make. Instead of feeling guilty that despite all this I feel like shit, maybe for the few weeks of summer I have left, I can content myself with this ability. The ability to look up at the sky and say, “It really is a beautiful day.”
Larissa Archondo is a student from New York. Photography by Rebecca Heilweil.