The city of my nightmares. Well–night terrors might be a better way to explain it.
The first and only time I ever visited Berlin, Germany was one of the worst nights of my life–and it all occurred in my head.
It’s difficult to comprehend what an anxiety/panic attack is like until you experience one. For me, it’s like my whole world is crumbling around me and I can’t do anything to stop it. The voices in my head start howling ever louder and louder. They convince me that anything and everything bad that could possibly happen WILL happen. It’s chaos. It’s anger. It feels like it will never end.
It starts with hunger.
I am normally an anxious person, but when I’m not on meds and in a new place where I don’t know what I’m doing, every emotion is amplified. I need to be in control. Control keeps me sane. It keeps me solid.
My Roman roommate (from California), whom I had only known for about a month, and I wandered around Berlin for about two hours after we arrived; trying to find somewhere to eat, but turned around at each place. We didn’t know how to order, or what to order–so we ended up eating snacks from the grocery store. This was my first mistake: I went to bed hungry.
Then comes exhaustion.
There’s a group of Europeans talking loudly outside our humble hostel room. The indistinguishable language pounds in my head like war drums. My heart rate races with each sleeping pill I swallow. No matter what I try, I CANNOT fall asleep. I need sleep. I crave it, yet it alludes me with each crack of laughter that booms against our walls.
I didn’t research anything about Berlin before we arrived, besides picking the hostel we would stay at based on its name: The Sunflower Hostel (which was very nice, but not good for someone as people adverse as I was). The only thing I could tell you about Berlin were a few facts about the Berlin Wall, or Nazis: two portions of history which I did not enjoy reading about in any way and that made me feel queasy or uncomfortable at the slightest mention.
It may seem insane to think the history of a place lingers and can interact with the mind of a visitor, but I believe it can–because it did.
It ends with mania.
Something is coming for me. I can sense it. It lingers outside, on the streets. It watches me. For what reason, I do not know. The hairs along my forearms grow rigid. The bed around me starts to spin. It’s coming. It’s coming. It’s coming.
The taste of panic, sweet and sour, coats the edges of my tongue. It’s a siren song that I know all too well. It soars within my veins with each growing beat of anxiety. Berlin has captured me in its web and I cannot escape.
All I know is that I have to leave, go, go anywhere. I want to go home–to my real home, not Rome. I want my cats. I want the safety of my bed. This was a mistake. I’m not ready. I can’t do this. I’m so alone.
In my panic, I do the only thing I can think of: I call my mom.
It’s 2 am in Germany, and 7pm in Texas. She is at dinner with my whole family and it takes every bit of control I have left to keep from crying as soon as she answers. But it does not take long for the mania to take over again and I am sobbing incoherently across the Ocean. I beg my mom to help me get home.
My family hears me at my lowest and it makes everything worse. I’m supposed to be the strong, courageous Bri, but instead I have devolved into a wobbling child.
I book plane tickets back to Rome for later that morning. I fall asleep knowing I can leave, that I will leave.
We will have a good morning walking along the remains of the Berlin wall. We will tip-toe through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe where that feeling from last night, the terror, itches back up my spine. There is something wrong here. The sunlight makes Berlin seem not as scary as before, but we still leave, and I promise myself I’ll never come back.
I have tried writing about Berlin so many times, but could never find the words to express what I felt that night. Berlin is the only city that has truly frightened me. I’m not entirely sure why it got SO bad that I had to leave, that I couldn’t just convince myself to stick it out, but in the end I did what I had to do to keep myself sane.
The worst part is that I can still remember what it felt like, every moment of it.
Have a similar horror story? Commiserate with me in the comments.
Thanks for Reading!