My First Encounter with Severe Anxiety

Robin Cunningham Health Guide
  • In all my discussions over many years with individuals that have schizophrenia, all have agreed that the one symptom of this brain disorder they fear most is severe anxiety.  In this blog I am presenting an abridged portion of my memoir that describes one of my first encounters with this dreaded phenomenon.

    * * *

    I awoke with a start.  Jerking to a sitting position, I looked around, my eyes wide, my surroundings in sharp focus.

    I feel good, rested and strong.  Why?  What happened?

    Looking out into a strange bedroom, my meeting with Dr. Levy the day before and my entry into the hospital came to mind.

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    Yes, this is the hospital and the room.

    Then it struck me.  I shuddered with the full force of it.  Silence!  It was wonderful and powerful.  Satan was no longer inserting blasphemous thoughts into my mind.  The harassment, the torture had ended.  Denials were no longer required.  It was over!  My spirits soared.  Dr. Levy’s big, reddish-orange pill had worked.

    As the warm feeling of relief spread over me, a woman in her thirties with short blonde hair appeared at my bedroom door.  Wearing a white blouse with frills down the front and a burgundy colored skirt, she was about five and a half feet tall.  She reminded me of Debbie Reynolds.
    “Good morning.  My name is Beth.  I’m your day nurse.  How do you feel, Robin?”
    Her voice was soft and her smile reassuring.
    “OK.  Can I go home now?”
    “You’ll have to discuss that with Dr. Levy.”
    “Well, I need to get out of here.  The school year is almost over and I’m graduating.”
    “Do you think you feel well enough to go back to school?”
    “Sure.  I’m a little tired, but I feel just fine.  I can’t miss my graduation.”

    “Your graduation is certainly important.  But remember, you’ve been through quite a lot.”

    Then she added, more to herself than to me, “Certainly more than most people could handle.”
    “It’s not only graduation.  Our church softball league is supposed to start in a couple of weeks.  Last year I played in the junior league and this year I’m starting on the men’s team.  I’m going to try out for second base, so I’ve got to practice.”
    “How long have you played softball?”
    “I’ve been playing since I was eight.  That makes five years now.”
    “I’m impressed.”
    “It’s no big deal,” I said, flattered all the same.
    “Well, you certainly have a lot of plans, but you may need to take it easy at the start.  You’ve been here for a while.  It all depends on what Dr. Levy says.”

    “What do you mean, ‘I’ve been here for a while?’”
    “Don’t you remember?”
    “Remember what?”

  • Beth laughed softly.
    “I didn’t think you would.  What would you guess?  How long do you think you’ve been here?”

    “That’s easy.  I checked in yesterday afternoon.”

    “Well, not quite.  Believe it or not, you’ve been here for a week.”

    That can’t be right.  A whole week could not have simply disappeared overnight.

    “You’re kidding me.”

    “No, Robin.  As of today, you’ve been here for a week.”

    “If that’s so, why don’t I remember?”
    “You’ve been sedated.”

    My father is God.

    No!  Not again.  Satan is back!

    The clear focus I had on my surroundings dissolved into a blur.  I began to shake violently.

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    My father is God.


    I am the Son of God.

    No.  This is not true.
    I tugged at my chest with my fingernails to prevent Satan from gaining entrance to my heart.
    “You don’t want to start again now that your chest has finally healed.”
    Beth took my hand in hers and held it until I pulled away a moment later.
    I tore at my chest.
    “It’s a little early for your medication,” Beth said, her voice calm.  “But then we’re still trying to get you on a proper dosage.  I’ll see if I can get something for you.”
    Beth left.

    Now I was alone with Satan and truly frightened.  He was obviously pleased with the shock and fear his sudden return had caused.  The moment of his reappearance had been carefully chosen to produce the maximum damage.  No doubt remained.  His real goal was to completely separate me from God, to drag me into hell.
    My father is God.
    All around I heard fingernails scraping down a blackboard, the sound shredding my nerves.  My muscles tensed and my skin tightened as if I’d stepped into an ice cold shower.  Touching anything burned like dry ice.  All my nerve endings seemed frozen and, at the same time, on fire.

    My father is God.


    I am the Son of God.


    I thrashed about on my bed, rolling violently from side to side and pounding on the mattress with my fists.  Kicking the blanket and top sheet onto the floor, I threw my pillow across the room.  I banged the back of my head on the wooden headboard.  The sharp pain accompanying each blow provided a brief distraction.

    “My father is God.  If I worship him, all this agony will cease.”

    “No,” I cried out loud.  “I will not.”

    “If I worship him, this torture will end.”

    “No.  I cannot.”

    Beth returned with a glass of water and a white paper cup containing a single pill.

    “Here, Robin.  Take this.  It’ll make you feel better.”

    I downed the pill and leapt out of bed.

    “Robin?  Robin!  You need to stay in your room.”  Beth moved quickly to block the doorway leading into the hall.  “Why don’t you sit in your lounge chair?”

    “No,” I cried, terror in my voice.

  • I began to march back and forth at the foot of my bed, pounding my fists on my hips with each step.  Finding some relief, I immediately adopted this new defense, which came with an urgent need for balance.

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    Failure to deny Satan’s blasphemous assertions created a dangerous verbal imbalance.  Any imbalance in my physical movements was also damaging.  When I hit myself, the number of right-handed blows had to equal the number of left-handed blows.  When pacing, an equal number of steps by both feet had become very important.  An equal number of steps in each direction were also required.

    Beth tried to console me.  Despite her attentions, escape was essential.  Leaving this world behind as I had in Mr. Mendle’s classroom, I withdrew, rapidly becoming less and less sensitive to my surroundings.  Beth watched intently, her concern apparent, as I made my escape.
    Beth’s voice came from afar.
    “How are you feeling?”
    I tried to focus.
    “Are you feeling better?”
    Her question was now clear.
    “Yes.  I think the medicine has helped.”
    I found myself sitting in my lounge chair.
    “How long have I been here?”
    “It’s been about an hour.”

    Although my muscles ached and I was emotionally exhausted, I was no longer distraught.  Still, Satan continued.
    My father is God.
    I am the Son of God.
    “Why don’t you lie down and try to rest.”
    If only Dr. Levy’s medicine could drive Satan out.
    * * *
    The perspectives on schizophrenia I provide are not those of a psychiatrist, psychologist or licensed clinical social worker, but rather a consumer and family member.  I have walked the walk on both sides of the street.  As such, I can speak with experiential authority.  It is my objective to share with you, as best I can, what my experience with schizophrenia has been like on a day to day basis, i.e., to compare notes with you.   Equally important, I will also make observations about being a family member and advocate based on my own experience.  Any observations or comments you choose to make in return will be of great value.



Published On: April 30, 2007