For a while after that first panic attack, things were quiet. I had trouble falling asleep, but I didn’t break out into overwhelming terror. I just lay in bed for hours, staring at my ceiling, until my mind finally let me find its off switch. I pretended to be alright during the day and bristled whenever they wanted to send me off to bed, but nothing substantial happened.
This brings us to the second pivotal event of 1997: my brother’s carrot accident.
My brother was just two years older than me. He had always been far smarter, but his poor decisions–though farther and fewer in between–have always been worse than mine. He decided he was hungry and went to the fridge and pulled out a bag of carrots. To be clear–these were not baby carrots. They were long horse-feed carrots, which were simply inedible to him. He needed his carrots chopped onto smaller pieces, or he would not eat them. So he went in a drawer and grabbed the biggest knife my mother kept in there.
Now, this may not have had disastrous results if he had just cut it like a normal person–carrot on its side and chopped into little circles. Instead, he held the carrot straight up and attempted to slice it in half. I stood behind him silently, just watching. My mom was in the bathroom.
And so, down went the knife, through the carrot, and into his finger. He had pushed it extremely hard, and blood was pouring out of the cut. It fell all over his clothes and the floor. He screamed and dropped the knife, but I didn’t do anything. I just watched him cry. I didn’t say one word.
My mom came bolting into the kitchen, and he was eventually fine, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it that night. I couldn’t let it go. I blamed myself entirely for not helping him or stopping him. I should have done something, somehow. I fell asleep, but I woke up in the middle of the night yet again. It was the weekend, and my dad was there with us, but I didn’t go wake them. They wouldn’t do anything. I didn’t help my brother, so why should they help me?
This attack was longer than the first. The tears ran out, but I was still struggling to breathe or calm down. The sun came up, and I still hadn’t managed to shake it.
I heard noise coming from outside the plastic sliding door. My parents were awake. I immediately closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep just seconds before my dad opened the door. I laid there perfectly still, and after a few minutes I opened my eyes to see if he was gone, but he wasn’t. He was standing in the doorway quietly, and when he saw me open my eyes, he laughed.
He said he knew I was faking sleep. He told me to get up for breakfast, and then walked away.
This was the day I learned how to pretend I was okay. At six years old. Of course, it was impossible to do this successfully every time, but that first time worked out just fine, and I saved my tears for the next time they were all poking around in their own dreams.
I didn’t have another panic attack that year, but my problems with falling asleep would continue on almost every night without fail, forever.
This was the most significant year of my entire life. It was the year I became who I am today. It was the year I developed a mental illness that I didn’t understand. It was the year the word “bedtime” had begun to make me more anxious than anything else. It was the year depression lured me into a trap, swallowed me whole, and never let me go.
Circa 1997–It had me at goodnight.