Biofeedback: Flying Through the Storm of Mental Illness.
It started, oddly enough, in the grocery store. Pushing my cart down the aisle, how could I know that just around the dairy case lurked a monster?
It wasn’t the strong odor of Limburger or the overly elated woman hawking pasty pizza rolls that made me anxious and sick to my stomach. My monster wasn’t so easy to see. It followed me closely. I could feel its foul breath on my neck. Super-sized and scary, yet it seemed invisible to everyone else.
I felt the need to run away, even with a cart full of food. The monster was causing my heart to race, my lungs to rasp, my pores to sweat. I was certain the pizza-roll person was giving me a suspicious stare. Was I possibly preparing to steal her booty and cram it into my purse?
Once, safe inside the car, my body started to relax. I had escaped my foe and a possible police call from the pizza roll lady.
A few weeks later, it happened again. Another crowded room filled with strangers, and there, hiding behind the scenery, was that same hateful monster. This time I recognized the signs. I hightailed it out of the shop, telling myself to run, run, run from the fear.
What was the cause: too many people in one place, bad fluorescent lighting, mind-numbing Muzak? But, as the weeks passed into months of dodging and ducking and desperately catching my breath, I realized this wasn’t just a fluke. Something serious was going on. I was beginning to avoid every area that represented a possible attack. Safe stations were now scarce.
I was off the tracks, with no control, no clear signal to tell me where to turn. Eventually it got so bad that I couldn’t leave my house. I was locked inside these symptoms that had a stranglehold on my sanity.
This bully managed to make me over. I turned into a hyper homebody, unwilling to venture out unless absolutely necessary. Even driving too far out of town could trigger trouble.
One night, after putting my baby to bed, I sat down to watch a sitcom. Humor was always a good remedy. Suddenly I felt it, the monster had stalked me to my last, remaining sanctuary. Stomach pain brought me to my knees. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, couldn’t stop my heart from pounding.
My husband was on the road, unreachable. To my mortification, I dialed 911, again. The same paramedics who had showed up once before burst through my door in their stern boots and serious uniforms. They took one look at me, made a quick note of recognition, and recommended a morphine drip and a trip to the ER.
I wondered why none of the paramedics could see the mighty beast that sat inside the ambulance, that lingered as I lay on the hospital gurney, that wanted to possess every part of me, body and soul.
I spent the next five years on a medical hamster wheel, if you will, running around in circles through our broken system: meds that made me sick, psychologists that made empty promises, and too many psychiatrists far too willing to write a strong prescription. They said the pills might calm my brain. Though, admittedly, they had little idea of how a human brain actually worked.
Then, I discovered my deliverer. He practiced Biofeedback. I’d never heard of it. But, at this point, it was Bio or Goodbye Wendy. Our broken medical system had made everything worse and helped create a budding hypochondriac.
I sheepishly told him about the beast living inside my body. He shook his head, affirming my nightmare was real. He showed me a machine and gently hooked me up via several tentacles stuck onto my scalp. I felt kind of silly sitting there. What sort of Sci-Fi Witch Doctor was he anyway? Why was I willing to put my mistreated trust into his strong hands? Two words: last chance.
A small plane icon flew across the screen. Games? Were we going to play games when all I wanted to do was jump out of the nearest window, away from the monster that was me?
The doctor told me to try to make the plane fly in a straight line with my mind. My first few attempts produced a turbulent trip. But, for just a second, I was in the zone. The wavy lines on screen seemed to relax while, at the same time, my mind felt free and easy. I learned the true meaning of meditation. I could actually see my brainwaves calm themselves each time I took control inside my tiny cockpit.
I could see my monster slowly losing its powerful grip.
In a short while, I was able to fly into the zone soon after takeoff. My brain was being retrained. I’d taught it how to misbehave whenever an attack came my way. I’d given it permission to overreact until it was permanently set on a high 9 ready to race to 10 at the slightest stimuli. Now my war-weary grey matter was remembering how to be me at a 2 or 3.
I was less able to surge into panic mode, less likely to crash, less willing to let my monster take me on a wild ride.
With no meds, no psychiatrists, no chanting or chasing rainbows, my panic attacks eventually disappeared.
I’d searched high and low for a cure. Who knew it would come in the form of a tiny plane, in a cramped office, on the offbeat ward set up for oddball doctors and test-pilot psychotherapy?
I haven’t seen my monster in nearly 25 years, though I occasionally keep a keen eye out during periods of prolonged stress. And, if I catch wind of it, I simply hop into my cockpit and take off in my brain-powered plane. I learned to keep my mind more steady and flying safely through the storm of mental illness.
Wendy Schmidt has been writing short stories, essays and poetry for the last 10 years. Her pieces have been published in Verse Wisconsin, Chicago Literati, City Lake Poets, Literary Hatchet, Moon Magazine, Rebelle Society, and a number of anthologies. You can read one of her stories, The Curse Now Lifted, in the award-winning anthology, Shifts.