My heart was beating so fast that I could feel my blood pulsing in my fingertips. Tiny beads of sweat formed on my brow, and I couldn’t catch my breath. When I felt a freezing-hot, tingling sensation from the surface of my skin down to my core, my eyelids flew open and I stared up at the ceiling.
This feeling was big, and it was probably going to overwhelm me. I could tell. I breathed deeply and slowly, trying to calm and brace myself at the same time. “Just slow down,” I thought.
The swiftness transferred from my heart to my head as dozens of thoughts raced through my mind. And while they first flew together as one flock, they quickly became a flutter of swallows: diving, rolling, and chasing seemingly invisible targets — each one focused on its own singular objective.
My thoughts became creations of their own imaginations, it seemed. Every fear, anxiety, or worry I had about anything flooded all of the spaces in my head, but I couldn’t grasp a single one of them.
I was losing control, and I could feel it.
I found myself stumbling into the kitchen for some water, feeling as though I might pass out. I slid down onto the cool tile floor in the kitchen of the Airbnb we rented for the week in San Francisco, and my new husband — full of concern and care — abandoned the work he was doing at his computer to sit nearby and talk me through the wave of clammy chills, nausea, and lightheadedness.
At the time, we surmised that my symptoms were probably caused by low blood sugar (I am hypoglycemic) or by all the — you know — getting married, traveling, and adventuring we had been doing. Maybe it had all caught up to me suddenly.
It wasn’t either of those scenarios.
Andrew and I have been on our honeymoon for the past couple of weeks, and that particular night, we were only a couple of days into our trip. We had spent Monday and Tuesday doing the things couples do on their honeymoon: we explored local attractions, met up with friends for lunch and dinner, spent quiet moments enjoying each others’ company, found time for ourselves and our individual hobbies, …among other things.
Looking back, however, there was an underlying uneasiness that I felt a few days into our trip. This strange feeling made me question everything I said and did before I made a move. In my head, I overreacted to interactions that would have otherwise been innocuous, and then mulled over the smallest of details, turning them into something more complex than they needed to be. And I also troubled Andrew about not feeling the same, not feeling right, but I didn’t quite know how to explain it. This worried him. He thought I meant that I felt differently about him, about us, and I could see the hurt in his eyes. This wasn’t the case at all, and I tried to explain myself the best I could even though I couldn’t find the right words to describe how foreign I felt in my own skin and mind.
Over the next week, these symptoms stayed present. Occasional anxiousness, restlessness at night, nightmares, mild paranoia, and mild loneliness. These were subtle for the most part except for the thoughts that crept into my mind of the things that scared me the most: thoughts of loss, thoughts of despair, thoughts that questioned the things I knew to be most true. Worst of all were the thoughts that questioned Andrew’s choice to love and marry me.
Was this all just newly-wed anxiety? Was the stress of the past few weeks catching up to me all at once? Had I not allowed myself sufficient time to process all the events that had happened?
No, that wasn’t it either.
About a week later, I had a couple of other moments that worried both of us — me because I felt less and less like myself, and him because he was wondering what happened to the girl he married. These instances seemed to manifest from my deepest relationship fears: being abandoned, being lied to, being cheated on. Logically, I knew that none of these fears held any weight. Andrew is the most loving, devoted, and trustworthy man I have ever known. I know him and his heart, and he always makes it very clear how much I mean to him. But there was something ugly building inside of me, gaining strength and spreading slowly like a blackness over everything that would usually be the highlights of my day, shrinking my confidence in myself and my relationship, spurring undeserved anger and doubt toward my husband, and sending me to the restroom at 3AM to stare at myself in the mirror in a panic, wondering who I had suddenly become and why everything suddenly felt so different between Andrew and me.
That 3AM wake-up was rough. The Thursday after my first freak out, I woke from a nightmare about my son and simultaneously thought I heard Andrew say something that made my heart drop: another woman’s name. He groggily dismissed me by telling me that I had been dreaming and rolled over to go back to sleep. But what I thought I heard was so upsetting because it again spoke to my deepest relationship fears. “Why is this happening? What is happening between us?” I asked myself over and over. My mind wouldn’t shut off, and I found myself rationalizing that I couldn’t lie in bed next to this man who was — what? Dreaming of someone else? No, I wouldn’t let myself be hurt like that. Partly a headstrong and fierce female and partly a wounded and insecure lover, my blood boiled and I prayed that things would go back to how they were just two weeks before when we got married and were all smiles and joy.
“What is happening?” I panicked. “I can’t be here,” I decided.
So, I threw the covers off, stumbled to the restroom to get a drink of water, and found myself looking at a woman in the mirror who I did not recognize. I stood, shaking in front of the mirror, full-fledged panic attack driving me to tears, hands gripping the sides of the pedestal sink to keep my body upright, but shoulders hunched over while my head hung out of desperation and despair. “This is all wrong.” was all I could think, and I cried.
After I reluctantly shuffled my way back to bed, I knew I had to tell Andrew what was happening. Talking about my feelings is one of the most difficult challenges for me because it is opposite from how I was raised. However, when you find someone who listens without judgement and supports you steadfastly in both your highest and lowest moments, you learn that they deserve to know what you are thinking and feeling — especially if it is about him or her — and that it almost always feels better to speak aloud the things that may seem most difficult.
I mustered the courage to whisper Andrew’s name, hoping, I think, that he was asleep again and that I’d be let off the hook. No, I knew that I couldn’t sustain the storm of emotions and thoughts much longer, so he needed to know exactly what’s going on. I needed his help even if I didn’t know how to ask for it.
I said his name again, a little louder this time.
When he woke, I explained as straightforwardly as I could why I had freaked out. At first, he again dismissed it all as a bad dream. And then, thankfully, he connected my behavior to the malaria medication I had started taking the week before. I had taken the first dose of my malaria medication on the second day of our honeymoon, and later that night was my first freak out.
There in bed, Andrew turned away from me to reach for his phone. When the screen illuminated, it was too bright for my eyes, and I squeezed them shut. “We’re going to look up the side effects of this medicine,” he said determinedly. Then, as he read the list of side effects of mefloquine, I heaved sobs of relief and terror.
Mefloquine, a once-a-week malaria prevention medication, may cause anxiety, behavior changes, confusion, depression, hallucinations, paranoia, restlessness, suicidal thoughts or actions. It may also cause nervous system problems like dizziness and trouble sleeping. In fact, the medication has become well-known for these potential adverse effects.
It wasn’t me. Thank goodness it wasn’t me.
I cried and muttered, “I’m not this person. I’m not this person, baby. I can’t be this person anymore.”
Andrew became the protective and nurturing man who I have always known and needed in that moment. “Alright, you’re not taking that medication anymore. We’ll talk to the doctor when we get to the embassy and get you on the other kind of meds.”
We agreed that for the next week, as the medication worked its way out of my system, I would try to stay focused on the fact that these thoughts and fears that crept into my behavior weren’t really a part of me or a part of us. That they were a product of the medication.
“Please don’t look at me differently after this.” I pleaded, eager to feel like my confident, playful, ambitious, and loving self again toward this man who I adore more than anyone else.
“Let’s make a deal,” he replied. “I won’t look at you differently if you don’t look at me the way you did during your freakouts ever again.”
I smiled at him, comforted by his understanding
So, my friends, here is the lesson I’d like to pass along to you: don’t start a new medication while on your honeymoon. In my case, it really couldn’t be helped because of the timing (I had to start my malaria meds 2-3 weeks before my arrival in Liberia, which ran right smack into our honeymoon).
Finally, this was the first big challenge Andrew and I have experienced in our relationship. Because our communication is so open and honest, and because we know each other so well, we have always sailed right through potential storms. We knew it was bound to happen, but I am a little sad and embarrassed that I was the cause of it, however unintentionally.
I really hoped our first challenge would be Andrew’s fault. 😉 Damn it.
We are currently sitting in the airport in Nice, France awaiting our evening flight to Brussels for a 10-hour layover before we depart to Liberia. I’ll post “Honeymoon (Part 2)” later.