I go to work. I get pizza with the guys on the weekends. I play with my dogs in the backyard. I go to concerts. I travel. I’m active. I do everything right.
And then the headaches come back. And the anxiety. And the fatigue. I cry before I go to work every day. I’m sad and scared and it’s unbearable.
My psychiatrist thinks I have Bipolar II. He puts me on Lithium and it’s almost comical how quickly I start spinning out.
I start abusing Klonopin. In a moment of clarity, I tell my mom and therapist. I give my mom my remaining bottles and she gets rid of them. Everything is so, so, so hard. I want to be done.
I don’t feel right at work. My panic is high and it won’t stop. I tell one of my managers I need to leave early. They’re very understanding.
I grab dinner for myself at Corner Bakery. I wait for my dad to pick me up to take me home.
I don’t realize that it’s my last day at Apple.
I go to San Francisco. Mom bought me tickets months ago to piggy back off of Mike’s graduation gift.
Mike and I are a couple of blocks away from Fisherman’s Wharf–I want to see sea lions.
A man drunk staggers across the street to us and Mike stands a little bit closer to me.
“You’re a lucky man,” the drunk guy says to Mike.
“She’s my sister,” Mike says with authority, alerting drunk guy to back off.
“Still lucky,” drunk man says, and hobbles away.
This city is outrageous.
Mike and I have to catch Caltrain back to Uncle Don and Aunt Carole’s house. I hate other cities’ public transportation systems–the DC Metro is the only public rail system that makes sense.
I’m tapering off my Lithium. I drag Mike through the train station at rush hour and push us onto a train. My heart is racing, I can feel the pounding of my blood behind my eyes. My panic subsides when we’re on the train and headed back to San Jose.
“You did really good,” Mike says when I tell him my panic attack is over.
I’m seeing my psychiatrist. Yet again. He is horrified at what Lithium did to me. I can see the regret on his face. He’s a proud man, he’s very sure of himself, that’s what makes him a good doctor. But he admits to the mistake.
He’s thinking today. Mom says she can see the wheels turning in his head when he thinks.
He starts talking about how much I hate exercise, and how it’s weird for someone my age. He talks about how I’ve always hated it, even as a kid. Why is that?
“I think you have POTS,” he says. Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome.
When I was 16 he said the words “postural intolerance” but we didn’t know this was a real, named thing.
Now he’s naming a disorder, a syndrome. He’s quoting his mentor, Dr. Peter Rowe, who is a leading expert on this at Johns Hopkins.
It explains everything I’ve experienced since I was a kid. The shortness of breath, the tachycardia, the fatigue, the muscle pain, the brain fog, the heat intolerance, and the complete, utter hatred, of exercise.
He tells me to find a doctor who will be his ally and confirm his diagnosis.
A few weeks later, a cardiologist tells me I have POTS.
I’m researching POTS and find out the first ever Dysautonomia International conference, will be held three miles down the road from my house.
It’s sold out, but I email the organizers begging them to let me in. They have a cancellation, and they have conference passes for my mom and me.
The conference is packed and overheated and I flare up and have to go home because I get too sick.
But I’m a part of this community now. I have a Dysautonomia International bag full of salt samples and a cooling rag.
I’m in this.
Jukebox the Ghost and Jenny Owen Youngs are performing a concert together. On a boat. In New York City.
I recruit Diana to come with me–we take Megabus up to New York and watch Veep on my iPad. When we arrive, we walk to Times Square and get pizza next to the Scientology building. Someone hands us fliers offering us free e-meter readings. No thanks.
When we’re on the boat, we can’t see Jenny or Jukebox perform, but we can hear them, and we sing and dance all night–that is, when I’m not falling over because I don’t have sea legs, and POTS is also killing me. The boat floats around the New York Harbor, we float around the Statue of Liberty and under the Brooklyn Bridge. Everything is spectacular.
We hang out with Jenny and Kristin after the show and are yelled at by the show security to leave. I hug my friends goodbye and Diana and I walk back to the bus stop. I nearly vomit on the way–I’m so dehydrated and fatigued I think I might die.
It’s worth it.
We move from Herndon to Leesburg.
I never really liked our house in Herndon, but I start sobbing while I pack, because this is the house we’ve lived in longest. This house was supposed to be temporary. We were supposed to live here one year, then move to Oakton. Instead we stayed seven. Oakton is only in the past now.
I’m scared that we’re leaving. This is the last house Rudy and Peaches lived in. Will their spirits know to follow us to Leesburg?
I sign up to take art history and sociology online. I fall in love with art history. I hate sociology.
It turns out I’m good at both.
I remember what it’s like to be a student. I spend long hours in my room and in the dining room, reading my textbooks and taking extensive notes. I write papers and discussion board posts and make a Tumblr dedicated to works of art that I hate.
I remember that I’m good at school. I’m really, really good at school.
It’s the day before I turn 21. I’m eating breakfast in the kitchen. The doorbell rings. My mom tells me to answer it. I open it, and my best friend Erin is standing in front of me. She drove all the way from Delaware to surprise me on my birthday. It’s the best surprise and the best gift anyone has ever given me.
I love her.
I visit Erin at school and spend a long weekend with her for Halloween. Her friends are great–they include me in jokes and make me feel welcome.
We have a party at her house for Halloween and it’s my first real college party and I love it. We all leave the party together to walk to Papa John’s to get pizza late at night.
Erin and I do homework together and eat sandwiches and quesadillas from Wawa and watch The Mindy Project and if this is what being 21 is, I want to be 21 forever.
I take the train from Delaware up to New York City and see The Colbert Report with Mom and my high school friend Astrid. It’s a great weekend.