I can’t swallow.
As this thought occurred to me, I suddenly woke from sleep with terror. The world was spinning. I went into a panic. I sat upright clutching my throat. I was having trouble swallowing, and it wasn’t going away. It was like my throat was closing in. I felt this pressure I couldn’t explain. Tears ran down my cheeks.
I made myself go back to sleep eventually and calmed down because the sensation dissipated slowly. I told myself it was nothing.
But it happened again the next morning. It felt like I couldn’t swallow. I could technically swallow, but the sensation was that it was difficult to.
I could hardly eat breakfast or start my day. I trembled, afraid of living this way for good. I worried about the future. I was in my late 20s in 2019, living with my mom at the time while on disability for bipolar disorder. I had two mental health crises in my life, both landing me in the hospital. I had only been diagnosed since December 2015, and it took a long time to find the right meds.
I knew the swallowing issue was probably due to one of my medications for bipolar. But I also knew that it would take a long time of tapering off this pill and on to another because my psychiatrist didn’t want me to get sick again.
I was stuck. Isolated. Alone. Fearful.
I ended up going to the emergency room, but they only told me what I knew, “It’s probably your meds. We don’t see anything wrong. Call your psychiatrist.”
I felt defeated. A trip wasted. I went back home. I noticed that it was worse in some parts of the day and better in others, though not completely gone. But I was giving up, thinking, “Oh no, this can’t be happening to me.”
I met both my primary care physician and psychiatrist who confirmed it was my meds. I began the long, hard road of tapering off one psych med to another. But there was hope.
When I was first diagnosed with bipolar, I thought that one day, it would all be okay. I would find the right meds, I would find the right help. While it did eventually come true, at this time, I was thinking, “I’m still not okay. What do I have to live for?”
These thoughts attacked me night and day. I wondered how to find the strength to go on. I knew it would be a long road of med trials again, and there was no guarantee the sensation would go away anytime soon. I was worried about my future and my therapist told me not to catastrophize. But I realized my thoughts had evidence. They were backed up by the fact that I had not found the right medication and may never.
Would there be any hope for me?
I had nothing to live for. I saw my future dissipate each time I struggled to swallow. Someone told me, “No matter what it feels like, your throat is not actually closing.” I knew that was true, but nothing comforted me in the moment.
So, I prayed this prayer: “God, I surrender. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I don’t know what to live for. But I will live for you. Give me a sign that everything will be okay.”
I eventually cried to my mom about the suicidal feelings, and I said, “You need to drive me to the psych ward!”
She said, “Let’s wait the night and see how you feel in the morning.”
I went to sleep, barely handling my life. Bipolar was already a debilitating disease, but I had been stable on meds for a long time. It was just the side effects that took me from pill to pill. Until this moment, I had mostly lived a stable life until having my first of two breakdowns. My symptoms from bipolar were paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, mania, and depression. But I didn’t have them most of my life until a mental health crisis at the age of 25.
I didn’t want to take these meds, but I didn’t want the symptoms to come back either. I was scared. I felt more alone than ever. All I could do was pray.
The next morning, my mom came in and shook me. I felt disoriented. She looked frantic as if something had happened.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, sitting upright in bed.
“I had a dream you were kneeling by my bed. You said, ‘Jesus told me everything’s going to be fine.’” She said. “I have a feeling we won’t need to go to the psych ward for you today.”
“That’s strange,” I answered. “I woke up and my throat was a little better since we tapered to a lower dose, but not by much. I think I can do this now.”
We did not go to the psych ward that day. The condition became bearable enough. But it was the hardest situation of my life because every second I had struggles with this. It distracted me from every activity, and I could no longer enjoy my life. Depression took a hold of me, and I knew I needed help. All I could do was wait. It was a waiting game at that point.
My psychiatrist had me taper slowly on to another med. At first, during this process, the swallowing struggles subsided. Then, they returned when I was fully on the next med. I had to start over once again.
Finally, we settled on Risperidone and later, Lamictal replacing Lithium. I struggled to swallow for a while, then it disappeared one day. I knew I was on the right medication. But it had been the fight for my life.
During this time, I also struggled to breathe. It started after my mom saw a commercial saying that Gabapentin can cause this for some people. I took it for restless leg syndrome. I knew to get off the medication once I couldn’t get air in right. My psychiatrist told me it was just a panic attack, but it disappeared once I got off this med.
Restless leg syndrome was due to my bipolar meds. I never had it before taking them. I replaced Gabapentin with Magnesium, and my symptoms went away completely. I felt lucky to have figured this all out and know it wasn’t my new bipolar meds.
My mom kept having dreams of Jesus talking about my situation. He said:
>> Everything is going to be fine
>> Don’t worry. Never give up
>> Keep the faith
>> I am here
Things didn’t turn around right away. God doesn’t work like a genie. While I never understand the mystery of God, I know that there are other forces. I feared I attracted negative energy when I had suicidal feelings, and I turned to God for cleansing. However, I didn’t just need prayer. I needed therapy. I need medication. Faith alone wasn’t enough. God used these things, too.
I discovered a divine inner peace that overrides my problems. I was calm despite going through all this. Even though I struggled with suicidal ideation, I knew I wasn’t going to end it. I leaned on curiosity to see how things would turn out. I surrendered to Jesus and knew it was up to Him. I endured these trials in hopes of a better tomorrow.
I knew that I wasn’t alone in this, and peace consoled me. Once overtaken by anxiety and desperation, I became fully mindful and in the moment with Jesus.
My therapist taught me to do a containment exercise—a meditation where you put your negative thoughts and feelings into a container then make them disappear. I gave this container to Jesus and turned to other Christian mindfulness techniques.
One day, it got so bad, I thought, “If I’m going to suffer, I’ll suffer for God’s will.” This is not to glorify suffering and spiritually bypass my negative thoughts. It was a different type of surrender, one I hope most never have to face. I did it for God, and He answered my prayers.
I realized that even though I had once lost my mind to bipolar breakdowns, I never lost my soul. I always knew that there was a God. Peace was my proof. So was finding the right medications.
When I was free of swallowing and breathing struggles, I had a new lease on life. It was a second chance. I knew that I had been saved, and even if I hadn’t, I would still worship God. That was a profound revelation for me. I was not living for myself. If I did that, I would have given up by now. I was living for Jesus. And He made sure I was on the right medications.
I was one of the lucky ones. Many never find the right combo or get out of inpatient facilities.
All I had to do to get here was surrender. Saying, “I surrender!” was the reason I went on. I stopped fighting so hard, going against the current of my life, and instead, I surrendered to the flow.
I knew things were being guided when the medication I finally went on made me the most stable and secure. I was thankful to be alive, and I knew I had the purpose to keep living and shine a light on mental health issues, ending the stigma. I lived.
My life isn’t perfect. Not all my problems are gone, but I get to live. I get to live. Just saying that feels great.
I know that I was never meant to stay broken. That peace pushed me to save myself. I knew it was the Holy Ghost. I knew God never left my side.
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, or know someone exhibiting warning signs, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.