Some writers refer to writing as the ultimate pleasure, and in some ways, I suppose it is, but not in the way one usually experiences pleasure. It isn’t like the pleasure we get from eating ice cream or laughing or having sex. It is a pleasure more akin to relief, laced with an agonizing pain – like the piecing together of words translates to the slow extraction of an eternally long needle in the chest.
It started with a coldness in the fingers, a besetting numb, and this snuck up on me, though it shouldn’t have. I never get cold. At least I never used to. I suppose the cold was actually the second thing – second to the inability to dwell on a singular thought for more than a moment or three. Certainly, we’ve all experienced something similar from time to time – that universal phenomenon of seeking out some object or the completion of a task, then allowing your mind to wander to the next thing as you walk into a room, only to realize you’ve completely lost track of why you entered that room in the first place – this was me, trapped within a brain full of rooms, wandering and confused much of the time over what in the world I was supposed to be doing.
I came in here for something.
I came in here for something, didn’t I?
An ongoing sensation of aimless wandering like this triggers an emotional response rooted in childhood experiences of becoming lost in shopping malls or grocery stores, and those nervous moments endured by a youngster when he’s lost sight of his mother and the confusion mixed with fear when he identifies somebody who looks like his mother from the waist down, but when he approaches, perhaps takes hold of a hand, he realizes that he does not know this person, and he feels more lost than ever. Such an event often leads to tears for a misplaced, frightened child. So the tears became, for me, the second part. (Or the third, if I’m counting parts I was unaware of).
It took some months, two or three, before I began to think I had a problem that went beyond normal job or home stress. I started searching online for a therapist. Save a few, I hated every therapist I spotted, particularly the ones who happened to be covered by my overpriced, under-delivering insurance policy. I told myself I wasn’t going to medicate my problem with prescription drugs, so I tried to research only those therapists who posted their pictures on their websites. I wanted to see their faces – see if they had that I’m going to drug the shit out of you look in their eyes. But it seemed to me they all had that look in their eyes. Unless they were not covered by my insurance; then they just looked really expensive, like they had dollar signs for ears, so they’d be able to ask me probing questions about my childhood, and I could prattle on while their dollar sign ears exchanged my verbal vomiting for cold, hard cash. – God Bless America!
So I put off the whole therapy idea and instead joined my family on a trip to Disneyworld.
I know they call Disneyland the “Happiest Place on Earth”, so that must make Disneyworld the happiest place in the Milky Way galaxy, but you may be appalled to know that the old Disney magic becomes quite impotent in the face of severe anxiety. I can’t speak for everybody who suffers from this problem, but when I’m anxious, I feel like the world’s biggest fake. There’s no worse place to feel fake than the happiest place in the galaxy
, because everywhere you look, you’re seeing all these excited, stressed-out, exhausted, jubilant, sweaty, sugar-lipped faces, and you’re hardly capable of passing one by without silently asking, How about you? Are you fake as well? Or are you really one of those happy people?
So this fake feeling was the next thing. Well, not really the next thing, because I’ve felt some level of fakeness for most of my life, but now it became consuming. Trips anywhere – not just big trips to Disneyworld – became nearly paralyzing.
“Hey honey, let’s take the boys to Toys R’ Us.”
I have a better idea. How ’bout I go lock myself in a closet, and everybody forgets I exist for a few days??
Activities I might otherwise enjoy took an act of will akin to prepping for a barefoot marathon across a field of thumbtacks.
“It’s your week to sing worship songs for the kids’ church service Sunday.”
Do you have a rusty spike available? I think I need to pierce my eyeball…My tongue is numb.
At Thanksgiving time, I suffered a small meltdown when the power cut off for several seconds, and I couldn’t guide my shaking fingers through the simple process of resetting the clock on the microwave. Witnessing this, Ms. Christmas gently recommended I “get on something.” Did I say she recommended? That may be understating it a tad.
This was the next thing. Simple tasks became overwhelming.
As a hearty participant in our culture’s annual commitment to yuletide festivities, I took my boys to our local hardware store, where we took part in a Saturday workshop, building our own wooden Christmas toys. Yikes.
If one were capable of witnessing the interior reactions of my harried mind during this event – if one were dumb enough to put themselves through such an ill-advised task – the toy building workshop would have played out thusly:
TINK TINK TINK TINK TINK TINK TINK TINK TINK TINK
Good Lord, those tiny hammers are firing away like a battalion full of machine guns.
“Dad! Gimme my hammer!”
“Hang on, buddy. Just trying to get this nail started for you…”
This tiny, microscopic, miserable, #&*$! nail!!
“Dad, I need help!”
“Just a second. I need to get your brother’s Christmas sleigh started.”
Why’s it so damn HOT in here?!
TINK TINK TINK TINK TINK TINK TINK TINK TINK TINK
It’s like ten thousand of Santa’s helpers with elven-sized hammers went rogue, and they’re carrying out their rebellion right here, at the Auburn Lowe’s store; the object of their aggression – my BLOODY EARDRUMS!
“Daaaaad! I neeed hheeellllp! Look at that kid! His sleigh’s already almost done!”
That’s because that kid’s dad is a real man with manly skills, and your dad’s a hopeless failure who can’t get one stupid friggin brass nail into a lousy piece of pre-drilled wood. PRE-DRILLED even!!
“DAD! You’re not my friend! Gimme my hammer!”
“DAD!!! ARE YOU GONNA HELP ME?!”
TINK TINK TINK “DAD!” TINKTINK TINKTINK “DAD!” TINKTINK “DAD!DAD!!” TINKTINKTINK TINKTINKTINK
Oh God, am I about to cry? I am, aren’t I? I’m going to lose my mind at the Lowe’s “You Can Do It” workshop. Right in front of my boys.
“Dad, what’s going on with you? Why you holding your face like that?”
“Your dad’s having a rough time right now, buddy…Hang on, let me take my coat off.”
Things got slightly better at that point. I observed the guy – the one with the manly skills – had foregone trying to assemble the wooden sled kit on the plastic foldout table, which was absorbing all the hammer’s kinetic energy. He’d smartly moved to the concrete floor, and I mimicked him. That manly-skilled guy may have saved all of our lives that day.
I started looking for a doctor. I hate doctors. I’ll often disqualify a doc just because I don’t like the picture he has on his online profile. So I found this doctor with a picture – a face I kind of liked. I think he’s Filipino. The Filipino have very trustworthy looking faces, so it’s hard not to at least sort of like a Filipino doctor. When I went to see him, he had a little stuffed tiger attached to his stethoscope, which made me like him a little more. I told the Filipino doc that I was quite anxious these days, and he said I was depressed, which had him very concerned. He also talked a lot about my low libido; he was quite worried about that. He wanted to put me on medication, which almost made me not like him after all, but his stuffed tiger with its permanent smile and inexhaustible grip on the cord of his stethoscope earned the doc a pass.
He had me turn my head and cough and go through that whole familiar ritual before he sent me to the lab to give some blood to a young, fuzzy armed lady in pink scrubs. I’ve gotten to know the fuzzy armed lady a bit. I think I’ve been back there to give blood six times since.
I eventually became desperate enough to call a therapist. I left her a message, and when she called me back, she spoke with a halting quirkiness that made me warm up to her quickly. I started visiting her every week, and I usually felt better when I talked to her, but the better only lasted for an hour or two after I left. She often told me that medication would help me, but I kept saying we needed to find a different way. She taught me breathing exercises, which helped a little, but during one session, I started to cry when I told her about a picture my son made.
“Luke,” she said with her quirky, halting gait. “I think medication will help you.”
My stoic resolve against medicine began to wain. There is a song by Coldplay – “Us Against The World” – I used to listen to it a dozen times a day, deafening through my headphones. The chorus would swirl and dance within my brain, and a few precious, continuous minutes would be mine.
“Sloooooooooow it down,” the music preaches. “Through chaos as it swirls. It’s us against the world.”
Who is “us”? Is it God and I? Must not be, because God loves the world, as the Larger Story goes. I guess I’m still trying to figure out who the other part of “us” is.
I realized that, if nothing else, I wanted desperately to gain the ability to do what the words of the song said. I wanted to slow it down. What I really wanted was for the whole world to stop. I wanted the whole world to shut up all its confounding noise and let me collect my thoughts for a few minutes. If it took medication, I was finally willing.
I won’t bore you with any more of the particulars, but there are these little blue things. The doctor first told me they’d take about two weeks to have an effect. In truth, the first pill hit me within two hours. If you’ve ever taken a ride on a playground carousel, you’ll understand how I felt those first few days. Not the part when you’re riding the carousel; I mean after that. After you’ve had enough of the obnoxious little cuss who got you spinning faster than you ever wanted to go, so you jump off, and the whole world continues to spin around you. My whole world was spinning. Sometimes, I can still see it spinning, though it’s been a couple months now, and I’ve learned to adjust. You’d think the dizziness – that’s what I call it, but it’s more like everything else is dizzy, and I’m the only one who’s not – you’d think it would be too extreme a side effect for me to continue what I’m doing. Sometimes it feels that way.
The day after I started on the Magic Little Blues, Ms. Christmas asked me if they were working. She stood beautifully atop a spinning staircase, herself spinning upon it, while I remained stifled in a caccoon of stillness.
“They work,” I said, “but it makes everything feel like it’s moving. That will get more annoying in the future, I’m sure.
Right now, I don’t care. I’m just glad the pain is gone.”