or How I Stopped My Growing Depression in Its Tracks with an Accidental Attack of Anaphylaxis
When I last posted, I reported that my mood was turning dark again. It only got worse in the following days. I had a somewhat frustrating therapy session with E on Monday, where I felt she was blaming me for my own negativity. I’m not saying she was blaming me, but only that I felt that way.
By Tuesday, I was pretty dysfunctional. I couldn’t focus on any of my work. I tried setting the timer and making myself work in short spurts, but I wasn’t getting anywhere because I couldn’t keep my mind on the interview data I was analyzing. I managed to water my strawberries and tomatoes and raspberries and peppers so they wouldn’t burn up in the heat, but that was my big achievement for the day. When my husband got home from about six, I was lying on the couch in the basement. I didn’t get up off that couch until we went to bed maybe four hours later. And just to put the little flourish on top of it all, I hated myself for lying around on the couch, which I knew wasn’t making me feel any better.
That afternoon I had texted E and said, “Can I just cancel our session tomorrow? I feel lousy, and I can’t see how I can go forward in any of our work together like this.”
She responded an hour or two later:
Of course you can cancel, if that’s what you want. But you can also come in and choose to be supported in your struggle if you want. No need to push forward. Whatever works for you, I will support. Let me know if you want me to take you off the books tomorrow.
By then, I had crawled in bed for a nap (this was before I crashed on the couch downstairs), and I was disgusted with myself. So I wrote back:
Choosing to be supported might not be self-punishing enough.
What’s the intended goal of self-punishing anyway?
It’s just something Self-Loathing needs, I guess. I don’t know; I’m tired and confused.
I’m so sorry to know you are not feeling your best self. I’ll be here tomorrow, ready to welcome and support your tired and confused self, if she wants it.
Reading back the exchange now, I see how accepting and kind it was. But in the mood I was in, I felt I couldn’t tell if she even wanted to see me. Also I feared that I would go in unhappy and unreasonable and look for things she might say that would “prove” she was tired of me.
After waffling a while longer, I finally decided I would go to therapy. But it was as difficult as I imagined. I both desperately wanted to be connected to E and could not bring myself to believe anything kind she said. I watched her body language with sharp eyes, sure that every movement of even the corner of her eyebrow was conveying her distaste for having to interact with me.
At one point, I said something to her along the lines of, “I have to be very careful. I can’t let myself expect too much of people. I can’t ask people to be there for me, because it’s too much, and I wear them out.”
And I am not sure what exactly she said back, but it was something like, “Well, it can be a good idea to ask yourself how much you can expect from people. We all have to do that, at some point.” I think it was a fairly neutral response, but I was sure it meant, “Good idea, because you have been asking way too much of me.”
I left the session as depressed as ever, plus convinced that E didn’t begin to understand how I felt. I went home and crawled back into bed, the place my body always seems to end up when my spirit is in the pit.
My husband came home from work. “Hey, aren’t we going to book group tonight?”
“I don’t want to,” I said, probably pouting. “I feel like crap, and I don’t want to see people.”
Usually he lets me decide if I’m going to fight or give into my depression, but for whatever reason, he pushed. “Come on. It might do you good to get out a little. We don’t have to stay late. Come on, for me?”
He does a billion things for me, every week. He almost never asks me to do anything for him. So when he does, I agree. How could I not? I got dressed and grabbed a watermelon, a bottle of wine, and my Kindle, and we drove to Katie and Jeff’s house, on the other side of town.
The others were already there when we arrived. I sliced up the watermelon while one of the group members poured drinks for everyone. On the counter, I spotted a bowl of mini pretzels. I’m not eating grains at all, because I’m still doing keto, but I thought, “Hm, one mini pretzel, that sounds kind of good.” I reached over and popped one in my mouth.
Something felt wrong. Had I lost my taste for wheat, I wondered? That didn’t taste right at all. I followed it up with a small slice of cheese. But the cheese tasted terrible to me, and my mouth started to get that funny, dry, irritated feeling that I know too well. I looked at the plates of food, but no, there weren’t any nuts there.
I sipped my wine, but my mouth felt terrible. I went into the bathroom and rinsed it out, but my tongue was starting to get blisters on it. I came back out to the living room and asked Katie, “Is it possible that anything has touched nuts? The pretzels maybe?”
She gasped, “Oh no! I know about your nut allergy, but I completely forgot–those are peanut butter pretzels. Oh, I’m sorry!”
Peanut butter pretzels? Have you ever even heard of such a thing?
I asked her for some Benedryl, and she went off to the bathroom to hunt for some. By the time she had them, my eyes were turning red and my face was itching. I swallowed the tablets but had a sense it wasn’t enough, “I wish I’d brought my purse,” I told my husband. “I feel like I should be using my epi pen.”
Katie and Jeff didn’t happen to have an epi-pen, but Jeff started to call his friend who was a doctor, to see if she would call a prescription for one into the pharmacy for me. Katie started to argue with him that it was unethical to ask, since the friend didn’t even know me. As they disagreed with each other, I was scratching at my neck.
“You know what,” I told my husband, “let’s go home and get the epi-pen. I just think that would be a good idea.”
He agreed, so we made our apologies and left. He later told me he thought I was just using that as an excuse to leave because I didn’t really want to be at book group, but no, I genuinely felt that my body was very unhappy with that tiny pretzel I’d eaten.
We’d only been driving for a few minutes when I realized that our house was much too far away, probably 25 minutes away. “You know what,” I said to him, “Just drive me to the ER. It’s going to take too long to get home.”
That was when my husband realized I wasn’t okay. I was scratching my scalp and my face and felt a bit dizzy. He sped up a little, but we were on city streets; he could only go with the traffic.
“Maybe you should pull over and just call 911,” I said. I was surprised even as those words came out of my mouth. Even though I’ve accidentally ingested nuts before, I’d never suggested calling 911. I don’t like making a fuss over myself; it always feels so embarrassing.
“I think it would take longer for an ambulance to get here and then take you,” he said, continuing to drive.
I remember thinking, Could I die from this? Tonight? Just like that?
The next thing I remember, we were parked in front of the emergency room, and my husband and a nurse were holding me up. I was on my feet, somehow, but I couldn’t stand up. I slumped forward, and my glasses slid off my face. I heard the nurse say, “Watch out! Your glasses!” I heard them crunch under my foot. I didn’t care.
They lowered me into a wheelchair that someone must have brought out. I couldn’t open my eyes or sit up, but off and on, I could hear them talking. I heard my husband saying, “Peanut allergy.” I heard the nurse say, “Hang on, honey.” I heard them say, “Room 11.” I managed to say, “I’m going to throw up.” And when I did, which felt as if my stomach was being set on fire, I was able to think, This is probably good, I’m getting rid of it…
Someone moved me from the wheelchair to a gurney, and the nurse undressed me. My eyes were closed, and my body was limp, and I felt a little like a sleepy child being put to bed by grandma. I heard the doctor come in and order the injection of epinephrine and several IV meds. When I think of it even now, it all has such a feeling of unreality to it.
Epinephrine is really a miracle cure for anaphylaxis. Within five minutes, my eyes were open and I could talk to the nurse, and to my poor husband, who had driven a couple of miles with one hand on the wheel, one hand on his unconscious wife, all the while yelling at her to wake up! Talk to him! He held my hand in the ER and told me a dozen times not to scare him like that ever again.
Meanwhile, an IV poured steroids and antihistimines into my system. When the epinephrine wore off, as it does after maybe half an hour, I started scratching my neck and face again, so the doctor upped the antihistimines. And an hour later, I could go home.
When I walked out of the cool, stale hospital air into the warm night, I looked up at the clear sky, full of stars, and I felt good. I felt grateful to be alive, grateful for the warm summery air on my skin. And I also realized in that moment that I was no longer depressed.
Yes, it’s true that I spent a lot of time in bed the next day, but it wasn’t because I was disgusted with myself and hopeless about my life. I was simply sleeping off all the antihistimine in my body (and the additional Benedryl the doctor told me to take for the next 36 hours). I could remember my interaction with E, but nothing about it upset me.
At first I thought, well, maybe my near-brush with death woke me up to my true desire to be alive. And possibly there is some truth to that. But when I talked to Tabitha (psych nurse) about this a few days later, she didn’t think so.
“It was the epinephrine,” she declared. “When we tested your neurotransmitters in May, you were really low on epinephrine. I am sure that injection lifted the levels for you.”
And that is the bizarre story of how my life was nearly cut short because of one very small peanut butter pretzel, and how, in the process of saving my life, the emergency room doctor also cured me of my depression.