Holy crap. I’m shocked to realize I’ve been gone for 12 days. Geez, 12 days. This morning I tried to remember how long it had been since I published anything. I thought maybe a week; six days, perhaps. I logged on to check. It’s been 12 days. Wow. As the British say, I’m dashed. Flummoxed.
So what happened? Where have I been? What’s the deal? These are the imaginary questions I imagine my imaginary readers would ask or wonder. I know in reality there’s no one out there wondering or asking these things. But imagining readers is healthy for me because is stimulates the flow. The flow is healthy and healing, so I entertain the notion that for 12 days there have been readers who noticed my absence and now that I’ve reappeared, desire answers for it.
Ugh. Part of me doesn’t want to tell you. I don’t like having to admit the reason because I don’t like the reason. You’ll notice this blog does not have a category for essays about Mental Wellness. I also loathe writing what everyone else is writing these days. I don’t like being or sounding like just another anything. If everyone else is talking about and writing about the same thing, I don’t want much to do with that thing. I don’t need to belong. I’d prefer not to belong if I have to look and sound like everyone else. No labels. No membership card. No bylaws or mission statements. I want to be special and unique and (gulp) IMMUNE.
But this time it would feel like lying or hiding the truth not so say, “Yeah, me too.” Not #metoo; I don’t mean that. I mean I have to confess that the thing everything one is deliberately discussing for the purposes of de-stigmatization has happened to me. As much as I hate joining the herd (or at least, the herd’s conversation); this time it’s true.
I’m not immune. And I don’t want it to be true.
For the last 12 days I have been unable to live my life in the style to which I am accustomed. I have been unable to smile. I have been unable to laugh. Unable to go for a run. Unable to get on my yoga mat. Unable to comfortably be around people. Obviously unable to write. Yeah. Fuck me. Not down. Not blue. Not upset. Not preoccupied.
Unfathomably miserable. Utterly and hopelessly barren. Deadly desolate. I was a walking abandoned house. All I could feel was dread. I felt like I’d been poisoned and everything good inside me was turning to dismal dry powder. My brain wouldn’t work. My body didn’t care. And none of it was brought on by anything I could readily identify. No event. No happening. No thing or person or conflict. Just a slow grinding spiral and until I reached down and noticed my heart was filled with gravel.
I did get dressed and go to work every day but I was stony and cold and barely responsive one minute and then fighting the urge to cry or vomit the next. I finally had to tell a well-meaning coworker to please stop asking, “How are you?” because I couldn’t answer that question. I couldn’t even lie. I did go to gay church because singing usually makes me feel good. All I could do was sit in the pew and weep because the joyful noise was … unbearable? I guess it was unbearable. All I wanted to do was eat toast and drink the nearly flavorless bubbly water the internet hates. You know the one.
None of my rituals worked, not even fire. Not even words. Not even cat videos.
My breaking point was at about the 9-day mark when I sat at my desk trembling and sweating through my clothes and fighting waves of nausea. Why? Because I could hear two people talking in the next room and felt the most incredible irrational spike of paranoia and paralyzing fear. Death-panic. Doom. Terror. I was redlining. Fight or flight. Adrenaline overload. Sitting completely still, alone in my office, with nothing threatening me or happening to me, I was attacked by my mind.
Y’all, the stink that came out of me. I could smell my fear. Like the stink of rotting vegetables left in the bottom bin of the refrigerator too long. I could smell my putridity coming out of my pores. I felt sick all over. When the moment passed I began spiraling back down into dusty hopelessness, only now with added self-flagellation for being such a terminal fuck-up and fraud. I write about wellness. I can’t even sit in a chair alone in a room without bringing on an internal apocalypse.
That well-meaning coworker walked in and tried to help me. I guess my condition was visible. I just didn’t have words. ME — I didn’t have words. That’s … I’m NOT going to say insane here because I don’t think it’s a good idea to joke about insanity anymore … but wordlessness is profoundly abnormal for me. I just looked up at her and held my belly. I think a whimper escaped. She said, “Please don’t cry.” I answered, “I’m not going to cry. I’m trying not to puke.” She left the room.
But listen. Because everyone has been talking about this so much everywhere I go, in everything I read, on everything I watch, in every venue available to me, I was able to realize what was happening to me. I was able to recognize these symptoms because it’s all I hear from everyone these days. I had a frame of reference. So many frames. Faces and voices. All those people out there trying to raise awareness made me aware. The information got in. I retained it. I remembered it. And as much as I DO NOT like admitting it, I believe I was experiencing it firsthand.
The gratitude that I could somehow know what was happening to me cannot be overstated. I had a word. Two words. I had stories. I knew people. I had stored data to which I could not previously relate but which unexpectedly become relevant and critical to my real-time experience. Because no one will shut the hell up about it I didn’t have to suffer the added burden of not knowing or not understanding my circumstances. Gratitude. Can we make a bigger word for it? For everyone everywhere going on and on and about this all the time, gratitude magnitude. In the grip of all that rancid flux I did not have to flounder in ignorance. Thank you forever for not shutting the hell up.
And for all the times I said I could comprehend but not relate, I get it now.
For all the times I shot my mouth off after a celebrity suicide, I get it now. I will be more respectful moving forward.
And let me be clear that I would characterize my own episode as mild. MILD. I was still more or less functional. But it was strong enough to educate me to the point that I understand how this can be disabling and I understand how after struggling with it for years and decades and an entire life, people give up. For people for whom this is chronic or reoccurring, it’s no wonder. I so get it now. I feel so remorseful for my former flippancy. This was mild enough that I was able to pull out of it. I barely got a taste of it and it flattened me for 12 days.
That well-meaning coworker came back from a day off to find me noticeably better and asked me about it. I told her I handled it. She wanted to know how. I was vague. She pressed me. I made some ridiculous comment that I took the bull by the horns (I cringe now that I said such a thing) and blah blah blah it’s all fixed now. But I still don’t know how I did it and I don’t know that I could do it again. However, I do know a few things I didn’t know before.
Now I understand why money doesn’t fix it.
Now I understand how access to help isn’t a guarantee of anything, especially if you’re affluent or famous. I understand the can’t aspect of it now and I regret judging people for opting out of help. That was such an ignorant assumption and so profoundly wrong. I was an asshole about that.
Now I understand why being fantastically talented does not inoculate. I also get why the fear of medicating eclipses of the fear of carrying on without intervention, and that medicating will crush the talent and kill the one passion for which someone might be staying alive.
Now I understand why the struggle with addiction is companion. I get it now.
Now I understand why being surrounded by love and support doesn’t always save people.
I understand my mother now. I understand why she fled. I understand her death. I understand my whole damn family now. And heaven help me, I understand I am not immune.
I hope it never happens again. I hope it was an isolated incident. I hope it was a learning experience and nothing more. This is as impossible to know as it was to predict because I would have lost a fortune betting it would never happen to me.
I’m far too strong. Far too knowledgeable. Far too resourceful. Far too magnificent. Far too well and whole and supernatural. I don’t have time or patience for that shit. I’ve survived far too much to be sidelined by something like that. Mmhmm. I guess I’ll go ahead and chuck that theory into the Nope Files. I am all of those things but I am still not immune.