Bear_Trap_7423

“I’d sooner chew my leg off

than be trapped in this,

How easy you think of all of this as bittersweet me.

I couldn’t taste i,. I’m tired and naked.

I don’t know what I’m hungry for,

I don’t know what I want anymore.”

– REM, Bittersweet Me

I had asked for a sign.

I needed a signal, needed someone to point me in the right direction, tell me what to do. I had been in conflict for almost a year. My relationship was over. I knew it but was scared to leave. Just out of college, trying to figure out “what next,” trying to figure out what life was at this point. And the one thing I had was my relationship.

And now I didn’t want it any more.

It wasn’t his fault. He was a really good guy. Smart, loving. I can’t even say he was an ass. But I was falling out of love with someone I had fallen for in an intense way.

We started dating my Junior year of college. I had obsessed over him from afar and then we met. And I tumbled into a crazy romance. He was fun and spontaneous. I called him my “Bobby McGhee.” A bad boy with a heart of gold. But now I wasn’t feeling all the romance of “riding a Diesel Dan all the way to New Orleans.” I needed something, someone else and I knew he wasn’t it.

For months I turned it over and over in my head.

What if I leave him and he’s the last person I ever love?

I would tug nervously on my necklace trying to decipher my true feelings.

Was I freaked out at talk of engagement and looking for a house together? Was it too much in the post college reality check that is real life?

I felt like the choice I would make would impact the rest of my life. I could see living with him and spending a life with him. We got along well, never really fought. We had fun. But was that enough?

Or I could end up spending the rest of my life alone, mourning my one shot at happiness and love.

I would leave my desk at work and pace around the parking garage, my mind racing, trying to gulp in as much air as possible before going back inside.

I could never get enough air.

Each day brought more urgency. He started to question me, he knew something wasn’t right. I shrugged off his concerns, wearing a mask of normalcy.

All the while I felt my throat constricting.

I would encourage him to have nights out with his friends. I would pour a glass of wine and turn on some Hendrix and sit with my notebook, writing and journaling, hoping the answer would flow from my pen or from the fermented grapes that eased my tension.

No answer came.

I was growing increasingly frustrated. I always lived my life by following my instincts and trusting my gut and my intestinal flora was deafeningly silent. I felt like I was going to make a major life decision and possibly hurt a good person who I cared deeply about and I had nothing to base it on.

I started to pray. And I’m not a pray for things kind of person. But I started to pray for a sign.

Just tell me which way to go. I’ll pay attention, I promise. Just give me something. Nothing. No song on the radio, no major disagreement, no “aha” moment. Thanks for nothing.

I was biding my time and running in place.

Then one night I ended up at a bar with the girls from work on a Friday night. I didn’t even feel like going out, but I couldn’t bear the thought of sitting in the apartment with him all night, pretending. One of the girls left the table and came back “Joe’s coming. I called him.” All of a sudden I was awake. He walked in and smiled the smile that lights up the whole room. I tried to not notice.

We ended up playing pool in a back room of the bar. Somehow he and I were locked in conversation all night. We drifted from bar to bar with our work friends, almost oblivious to all the people we were with.

At one bar there was a guy with a guitar and a galvanized metal bucket for tips. I turned to Joe. “We should request a song!” He agreed and I told him I wanted to hear “Lola.” He dropped a generous amount of money in the bucket as he leaned in to speak to the singer and walked back to the table with a satisfied grin.

Soon the group was breaking up, some were going home, some going to dance. Joe asked if I wanted to go grab a beer and talk. We sat at a sticky booth in the only quiet bar in Buckhead and talked about nothing and everything. As he drove me home I started to get nervous. This had started as an innocent night out with friends and ended up feeling like a date.

And now I was going home to my boyfriend.

As soon as he parked the car, I leapt out and shouted a quick “Thanks” before sprinting for the door. Blessedly the apartment was dark and quiet. I crawled into bed and feigned sleep while my heart raced frantically.

The next morning I awoke to laughter. I sat on the couch as casually as possible. I felt like I should be wearing a scarlett letter on my chest.

An Andy Kaufmann special was on t.v. All of a sudden, the room felt like it was pulsating. The t.v., his laughter, it was amplified. I started to sweat. I tried to focus on the show and distract myself. But the t.v. kept getting louder and louder. The voices sounding more manic and my mind racing frantically. My breathing got more shallow and raspy. I got up and started to pace around the living room. I went outside into the parking lot. The fresh air did nothing to alleviate the weight pressing on my chest, the tightening around my neck. By the time I went back inside I knew I needed to go to the hospital. Something wasn’t right.

I don’t know if I stayed conscious during the car ride. By the time we got to the E.R. I was pretty sure that something horrible was happening. I imagined some obscure allergic reaction. I talked, in between gasps for breath, giving instructions.

You have to tell my family I love them. Promise me you’ll tell them. I thought I was passing along my good-byes by proxy.

They ordered XRays of my chest and my throat. I was floating in and out of consciousness when the Doctor returned to talk to us.

“You’re fine.” I was fine. “Physically, you’re fine.” Oh. Ok. No one’s ever made that qualification to me before. But ok.

He proceeded to explain that I was having a severe panic attack. He explained the power of the mind to make the body feel very real sensations. I felt like my worst fears were coming true, I had always had an intense fear of mental illness. As a young girl I had visions of living life strapped to a bed, a life spent contorted in a straight jacket or watered down on pills. I lamented the lack of a physical ailment to explain my symptoms. I was kind of freaked out and in shock. I know what I felt was real physical feelings.

My throat was closing.

I couldn’t breathe.

But it was all in my head.

That night I insisted that he go out with our friends. I was too tired from ingesting my first taste of Ativan and experiencing a perceived near death to do anything. He insisted on staying with me.

Why does he have to be so damn nice?

But I made him go. I needed to be alone to process the day.

I craved solitude.

Thankfully he acquiesced.

I sat in the silence of the apartment trying to sort it all out. What the hell was going on with me? How did this happen? I started writing in my notebook. I let my hand take over, writing the words, shaping the phrases. I didn’t even know what would show up on the page, I just let it happen. And there it was. I need to leave.

I needed to leave. Not because he was awful. Not because he was bad. But because it wasn’t right for me. What had once been so right was completely wrong now. And I needed to leave. My body had been screaming at me for six months. My throat had been in a vice, tightening a little more each minute. And I ignored all of it. I searched, I prayed, I listened for the silent voices. All along I was forsaking the only voice that mattered. The voice that was getting muffled with each day of trudging on, with each day of looking somewhere other than the one place the answers resided. The voice that would stop my breath before it let me ignore it. The voice that I would realize, so many years later, was more vital than water.

 

“Lola” The Kinks. ‘Cause who doesn’t love this song?

 Have you had issues with anxiety? Have you ever ignored that “inner voice” that speaks to you? What were the consequences? Do you have a favorite song you request?

 657px-Zanni_mask

 

Lost.

Floundering.

Blindly making my way around sharp corners and endless dark hallways.

Grasping and reaching, desperately, for something to hold onto. Anything. Only finding empty air.

Heart pounding. Thumping in a panic fueled adrenaline.

The feelings. Fear. Anger. Angst. Sorrow.

Used. Forsaken.

Empty. Always empty.

Then…

Don’t give up. You don’t give up. Keep fighting. Keep trying. You have to keep trying.

So much to lose… but was it all in my imagination?

Carefully crafted illusion?

Keep moving. Forward. Always forward.

But there’s the pull. The pull of turning back. Back to the before. To the always.

Crawl back into the fold of grim numbness.

Back to what served this life so well.

Back to the fractured smile, the hollow eyes. The carefully placed laugh.

It would be the easy way.

But now I know. I know she’s there. Buried beneath the years.

I’ve met her. I know she’s there and I don’t think I can abandon her

She. She deserves a voice… she should be seen.

She should be heard. Felt. Forgiven.

Accepted.

Understood.

I want to allow her.

I want to take off the mask and be free.

I want to shed the cloak I never knew I wore.

What would that actually feel like?

Would I breathe?

Would I take in pure sweet air?

Or would I crumble?

Now that I realize I’ve been living in this guise

I want to rip it off so bad that I feel

Like if I don’t

I won’t be able

To breathe

For another minute.

I want to be me. Finally.

Will you let me?

 

 

 

 

 

photo: Deviant Art

“Happiness hit her like a train on a track…”

-Florence and the Machine, Dog Days Are Over

I have written before about being happy. And I wasn’t lying. Most of the times I am content and pretty happy. Happy is my default setting. But sometimes, behind the smile is a little sense of dread, a little apprehension, a dark shadow persistently tapping me on the shoulder.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop. I don’t know where this phrase came from. It doesn’t really matter, we all know what it means. That other shoe is the thing that floats around in my subconscious. It is my nemesis, the thing I am battling constantly. I refuse to let the other shoe and it’s haunting presence take away my decidedly determined good mood. I will be happy, damn it.

There have been times in my life where everything seems perfect. Things feel almost blissful. And then BAM. Life slaps you in the face with a shit storm. The most memorable and significant incident went like this:

Joe and I got engaged. I was excited, I was in love. I felt incredibly fortunate. I had never been more content and sure of my life and where it was going. During this time I was struggling with a close friend who seemed displeased with all my happiness. I told a mutual friend “I feel incredibly lucky, my life has never been better. But should I feel guilty for being happy?” This was expressed as gratitude for my happy situation and confusion over the other friend’s cold reception to our engagement news. Those words that I spoke, those words would haunt me in ways I could never have imagined.

A week after our engagement we found out my brother had Stage 4 cancer. Wind, sucked out of sail. Balloon, deflated. It literally felt like the sky changed from sunny blue to colorless and stagnate. A gray suffocating blanket of pain and fear and disbelief.

That shoe dropped hard. But there was no time to wallow. We had to fight. We all, my whole family, had to strap on our boots and steel ourselves and be strong for my brother. The other shoe would continually drop for the next 18 months. Hope would be raised only to be squashed. He would seem to be getting better, only to have a scan show more tumors. The final shoe that dropped crushed us all.

We all forged ahead. We found ways to be happy again. Four babies have been born since then (I had my 3 children and my sister gave birth to her third child). We all healed a little with each tiny soul that entered our world. Each baby opened up our hearts a little more to allow some joy. Each one of them gave us permission to feel a little more happiness.

In those early days with my first child, I felt like I was constantly looking over my shoulder for that other shoe. Behind my joy and wonderment was a paralyzing fear. What if something happened to him? What if he got sick? What if someone took him from me? I had come to believe that with joy comes pain. That for every happy event, there was an equal and opposite devastating event.

I have been fighting these thoughts for all these years. They come less frequently now, but they still pop up occasionally. I have honed my mental shoe battling skills. I remind myself that I can’t possibly predict when the other shoe will drop. I can’t foresee it and therefore control it or try to prevent it. It’s ludicrous to think that I can control fate. Life will deal what it deals. But part of me is standing watch like a sentry. Part of me is ready to see that shoe falling and by seeing it coming I can step out of the way. I can pull my family to the side and watch it hit the pavement. Whew. Close one.

I don’t know if this is healthy. I know it is a way of coping with the trauma of life sucker-punching you. And coping skills can be a great tool. Until they’re not. Until they are impeding you form moving forward. Until they are preventing you from living you life.

Right now, I am happy. I think about that other shoe a little bit less. I’m still scanning the world around me vigilantly. My eyes track back and forth, along with my mind. I don’t think I’ll ever not be on watch. Part of that is being a parent. It’s our job to keep our eyes trained our young subjects. But I might be standing a little stiffer, a little more vigilante than my neighbor. Having seen that the unthinkable can in fact happen, I have no choice. But I will keep my watch with a smile on my face. I will break this vigilance to play and engage and relax. But I will never be off duty. When I’m having fun with my kids, my ears will still be listening. While I’ll sleep soundly, my rest will serve to make me more vigilant when awake. I am working feverishly to not live my life in fear of that other shoe, but if it does drop, I will be fighting like hell to keep it from landing on those I love.