In June of 2010, I was scheduled to interview two artist friends of mine on camera on a rooftop in SoHo. The morning of the shoot, I went to the gym to run like I did every other morning before that day. I pulled my hamstring on the elliptical; it hurt, but it didn’t disable me. By the afternoon, I was in my car heading from New Jersey to Manhattan for the shoot. I parked several blocks from the building to walk through the Village – I always do that, even with my slight limp from my hamstring. I met my friends outside of the building, which was a six-floor walkup apartment. I rubbed my hamstring, almost prematurely consoling it for the beating it was about to take.
What happened after that moment, I can’t quite explain…
As I rounded the third floor of the building, my injured leg locked. It literally wouldn’t move. My friends and the camera crew had already conquered two floors above me, so I was standing alone in the staircase with one immobile leg. I don’t exactly recall what happened next. When I came to, I was standing at the entrance of the building, facing the New York City street and gasping for air.
My friends called me from the roof, and I could only muster up enough oxygen to say, “Something’s wrong.” I ran next door to a bodega and literally stole a bottle of water. My friends came downstairs and walked me to the nearest hospital. It was closed down. We hailed a Livery cab, which drove me to an emergency center. I was hooked up to machines and my vitals were checked. No asthma, no heart problems, no anything. There was nothing wrong with me. My breathing returned to normal, but the overall impending doom that I was feeling would not leave me. They decided it was all in my head.
In modern medicine, despite what people might say about the human mind, once you are declared physically healthy, the mental aspect becomes a total eyeroll. I still didn’t feel well. I felt like my body was being compromised. I felt crazy. They allowed me to leave, and the record read “Panic Attack.” Nothing more, nothing less. I managed to drive myself back to my mother’s house in New Jersey that day, and I went to bed at 5pm.
I woke up the next morning with bruises along my back, extending to my rib cage, from attempting to physically force air into my lungs. I called my uncle who is a Psychiatrist and asked what I should do. “Get up and try to return to your normal schedule,” was his response. So I drove to my gym. I pedaled once on the elliptical machine and began to suffocate. I ran out of the gym. When I got back home, I attempted to climb the three steps leading back into my house. I couldn’t do it. I would begin to panic and couldn’t catch my breath. The months that followed during that Summer were probably the worst that I have experienced in recent memory.
Working in the music industry, staying in your home is not an option. I knew I had to leave, but couldn’t understand how I developed a fear of climbing stairs from this isolated incident that I still couldn’t define. I would call venues ahead of time to ask what floor the event was on. If there was no elevator, I wouldn’t go. I lost an insane amount of money that Summer based solely upon missed opportunities out of fear. I stopped seeing my friends. I had local safety zones in New Jersey and two or three locations in NYC that I could safely visit.
I know now these were signs of Agoraphobia. I slipped into a mild depression. Because I am stubborn, I didn’t seek help. However, two months after the incident, my grandmother fell and broke her hip. As I stood there and saw her in her hospital bed, I knew I had to get my life back somehow. So I Googled and Googled some more. I was going to fight whatever conquered me and it was going to be by natural means.
My uncle advised I take an amino acid called 5HTP. When combined with a Vitamin B supplement and Folic Acid, it acts as a natural anti-depressant. I started meditating four times a day. I went to the gym with one album – Ellie Goulding’s Lights. Each song was a goal. I started with only being able to run through one song. By the beginning of September, I was able to complete the entire album on my run. Ellie was performing later that month, and the venue had four flights of stairs to climb. I bought my ticket. I could do this. The night of the show, I climbed those stairs without any hesitation. I knew my depression was gone, and I had beat it. On my own.
Today, I live on the fourth floor of an apartment building. Sometimes I take the stairs, sometimes I don’t. I still ask what floor people live on where an event is located. It’s a force of habit.
I can’t really explain what happened that day three years ago in June, and what it did to my life for almost 120 days. I was incredibly stressed in the days leading up to that one, and I was prone to panic attacks though never that severe. Doctors might attribute my “condition” to a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder coupled with Climacophobia – the fear of climbing. Add to that a mild case of Agoraphobia. Bottom line, I was sad. Very, very sad.
Depression can hit at any time. It can be a prison of your own making or something you simply can’t control. I chose to not seek a therapist or medication, but some don’t have that luxury. All that I can say is that the moment you get your life back, it’s more euphoric than anything you could ever be prescribed. And in the winding staircase called “my life,” that was the biggest step I had to take.
Kathy Iandoli is a music writer/author, having penned for publications including Rolling Stone, VIBE, Billboard, The Source, Dazed & Confused, MTV, and MSN Music. She resides with her neuroses in the New York metropolitan area.