SSR Bye: A panic attack

Through cold sweats and the brain zaps I was pretty sure I had the whole dropping my nearly six-year run with Zoloft for Wellbutrin thing handled. I had a goofy grin on my face all day yesterday, happy to be out amongst the people, my favorite place to be. Sure, an invisible vice squeezed my heart, and it became difficult to take a deep breath, but I had work to do. Work I enjoyed. I just needed to push through until deadline. So that’s what I did. Look at all the lovely things I documented whilst barely able to breathe yet smiling because I love science and people and the outdoors.

And 24 hours later I sat staring at what has to be the ugliest curtain ever made in the history of curtain-making. Did the designer take a photograph of a pile of puke, upload said photo, move the cursor just so, draw out the color hex and exclaim, “Yep, that’s the one. Right there, the beige with the pallor of death. Mark it.” And I was crying. And I couldn’t stop crying. I’d dropped Eli off to school late again. Late because his cough disappeared and then made a tiny resurgence, and I felt it was more important for him to rest than for us to drag him out of bed at 5 or 5:30 to start his physio/breathing treatments. Not until 10 a.m. did we get to school. And I didn’t feel right at all. The dull ache from yesterday was worse. My natural breathing pattern seemed shallow. I had to think about it and force my chest to move to get the oxygen. And I wondered if I should really go to work like this. And I started to cry. And I pulled into a parking lot, unable to stop crying. And my chest got tighter and it felt harder to breathe, which distressed me and I cried even more and harder. I felt humiliated even as I was alone, worried that someone would see this hysterical woman I did not recognize. I started texting my sisters. They thought I should call my doctor at least or go to the ER. Because I’m one week in to switching from 100 mg per day of sertraline ie Zoloft (a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors ie SSRI) to 150 mg of buproprion ie Wellbutrin. I’d started off the week weepy, then seemed to improve. But then I turned into a dragon lady who has slammed so many doors in the last few days it’s a wonder we have all of our fingers. I called my doctor’s office and got irritating ‘on hold’ music. I drove to the ER.

So I’m sitting there in this godawful  blue vinyl chair trying to stifle my weeping and a sympathetic nurse took note of the things I’d just experienced. The main thing was “Do you want to harm yourself or others.” No, I answered.


Moments later in walked a doctor.  I spoke through tears. It was embarrassing. I couldn’t stop. Is there anything else going on, he asked. My son has an illness, I said. What illness, he asked. Cystic fibrosis, I said.

And he tried to comfort me and say that they’re getting people to live to 60 these days.

Things are getting better. But a lot of people die young or require lung transplants in their 20s. The median age of death is 29. Most die between 22 and 39. The median age of survival, 42. And none of that defines Eli.

Even so I can’t help but feel my little boy’s cough is going to morph into a worse infection and lead to a hospitalization that leads to a blood infection, a superbug, a hospital mistake that leads to a coma that leads to death. That may not be rational. But I live with this worst-case scenario and many others on low boil in the back of my brain.  I didn’t feel like explaining that to the doctor, nor did I really understand what set me off. I’d dropped him off at school. I was late for work. His school is lovely. I’d make up the time.I don’t want any tests, I told him. I’d had every kind of test run last week.EKG, Thyroid. Iron. On and on. Everything was normal. On paper.

I heard again from my friend Pam, who I spoke with on the phone in the ER right after learning that Eli had CF. She told me the plain and simple truth then, things like,  “You’re going to fight with stupid people.” She wrote to me on Monday kind words about my mental health story.

We  are fixers and we can’t fix this.

She encouraged me to find a therapist and never stop talking.

Whatever this just was interrupted that plan.

The discharge paperwork said “panic attack.”

I got home and called my dad again, tearfully confessing the most terrible thing I had said. Eli had been screaming at me, again and again over his shaking vest. “I don’t want to do my Vest! I don’t want to do my vest! Why do I have to do my vest!”

I have all kinds of inconsistent strategies for his anger. We throw pillows at each other. We play ‘crazy baby,’ a game during which I pretend to have found an adorable baby only to have him look at me with insane crazy eyes. I don’t know why this never gets old, but it never gets old. I let Eli beat the shit out of me while I strapped him in once, right in front of my sister, niece and nephew.  I’m fairly sure she was horrified, but I didn’t have the energy to respond in that moment. I give him choices of snacks and TV shows. I run and find a lollipop. I run and find a juice box.

“Why do I have to do my vest?”

“Because it’s keeping you alive!”

The voice that seemed to come from some other person, not me, because I would never say such a thing to my sweet baby boy.

And he went so quiet, I told my dad. And it broke my heart. And these past few weeks he keeps telling me he’s worried about dying, and I think that’s my fault.

But I have to call my physician now, I said. And a therapist, like I had planned to do, before I had a panic attack.








3 thoughts on “SSR Bye: A panic attack”

  1. Your writing is so powerful! Your living is so powerful. Your family is so fortunate to have you! Thank you for the strength you muster together to do everything you must. And thank you for messages from Oklahoma! Much love…


  2. I applaud your honesty and bravery. It wasn’t too long ago that I had bosses who told me I might not be cut out for news because of my anxiety and frequent panic attacks. You’re more than cut out for not only news, but for being an awesome mother. On top of that, a person who helps tell a story for the rest of us. Bless you.


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