Facebook recently popped out this picture of me from 7 years ago. I was looking healthy and happy, traveling around Canada with my husband (my boyfriend back then). But, lets take a closer look and see how appearances can be deceiving.
At that time, I had all the reasons to be happy. I just came back from Brazil to do a post doctoral appointment at MIT, I was dating the man I loved, and I was sharing an apartment with my best friend. Things couldn’t be better – at least by looking from the outside.
But now, I invite you to get even closer. To meet my soul with all its feelings and fears.
When I just came back to the US, I was experiencing the happiest moment of my life. I felt accomplished, successful and loved. I had achieved everything I dreamed of after a lot of struggle and hard work.
This happiness was so intense that I started to fear losing it. My brain started constantly thinking about what I had to do to maintain that happy state. I was so afraid to lose it all! What I didn’t realize, however, was that worrying about it was actually taking the happiness away from me.
Suddenly, I stopped enjoying my achievements and I started investing more time trying to make sure I kept them. I worked as hard as I could on my research and I was doing well, but that fear of losing everything was eating me up inside.
The root of my fears was my visa status. I was on a student visa that would be cancelled as soon as I finished my post doctoral appointment. If I lost the visa, I would have to go back to Brazil leaving my love behind once more.
I knew that if I went back to Brazil it would be very hard for me to get a new appointment and a new visa, so I had to figure out how to maintain my status until I was able to get a job with a work visa or a green card.
My brain didn’t stop. I was obsessed about this idea that I had to keep everything I had worked so hard for. I couldn’t afford making any mistakes. On the personal side, I was insecure and defensive.
As I mentioned in my first story, I had only dated my boyfriend for a few months before heading back to Brazil to finish my PhD. Coming back a year later, I didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t know much about him except that he was the one.
How did I know he was the one in such a short time together?
Because for the first time someone liked me for who I am. For the first time someone didn’t care where I was from, who my family was, or what I had done in the past.
One day, right in the beginning of our relationship I asked him. “Why do you like me?” – typical question of an insecure woman. “You don’t know anything about me. You don’t know my family, you don’t know what I have done in the past… you don’t know anything!”
His response was a big smile followed by: “I know enough. I know who you are now: a funny, loving and caring woman. I know I enjoy your company and I feel happy when I am around you. I don’t need to know anything else.”
In my mind I was like “Really???” That sounded crazy to me, but I knew in that moment he was special and that I wanted to be with him for the rest of my life.
Going back to my fears; I feared so much losing him! I needed time to know him better and build our relationship. But, if I couldn’t keep my post doctoral position and visa status I would have to go back home.
One beautiful evening, my love decided to make me a special dinner. It was supposed to be a beautiful night to reassure me that all would be okay. He made a fancy salad with roasted pecans and a dish with scallops. What we didn’t know was that I was allergic to scallops and was sensitive to pecans. It was my first time eating them, so we couldn’t have known.
After I had dinner, I started feeling this itching on my throat, what soon became a slight difficulty to breath. I got scared and the symptoms worsened. We decided to call a cab and head to the emergency room. On the way to the hospital I started to panic because my breathing became more difficult and I was losing my voice. I remember feeling that we wouldn’t make it to the hospital. “What if I can’t breath anymore?”
We finally got to the emergency room at the local hospital and after a quick evaluation they gave me a couple shots to stop my allergic reaction. They said my throat was swollen.
Right after I received the shots, I felt better from the allergy symptoms but I had a very strange reaction. My body started shaking and twitching uncontrollably.
The nurse came back and she said it was a side effect of the shots. She said they couldn’t do anything about it, “we will wait and observe”. This was not reassuring, so I started panicking again. In my mind I was thinking that I was going to die. The nurse could have explained why I was having such reaction and could have said that I would feel better soon, but she didn’t. No one reassured me I would be okay.
My poor boyfriend looked and felt terrible. He was feeling responsible for what was happening and said “I just wanted to make you a nice dinner, I am so sorry…” It wasn’t his fault, not even I knew I had allergies to this food.
While my brain was panicking and I thought I was going to die, he said for the first time “I love you”. It was sweet, but if I was going to die what difference that would make? Depressing right?
I loved him, but at that moment I was thinking how hard it would be to send my body back to Brazil, and how he would communicate to my family what had happened since he didn’t speak Portuguese. I was sure I was going to die and that the doctors and nurses of that hospital were to blame.
Luckily, I didn’t die and I am here to tell you this story. The side effect of the medicine stopped after an hour or so. I was feeling better and despite the doctor advising me to spend the night at the hospital, I decided to leave and go home. I didn’t want to stay there any minute longer.
I wish this experience had ended here, but it was only the trigger and the beginning of another big challenge in my life: a 2-year fight against depression and panic attacks…
To be continued…