The first time I sought psychological help, I was 29 years old. The man I had dated for almost a year broke up with me, three weeks before Christmas and my 30th birthday.
He was the guy they tell you to wait for, the one who you immediately recognize as "the one," the one you build ideas and thoughts and plans around, even against your better judgment. And that was the first time (of what would turn out to be five, by the time it was all said and done) that he decided that I wasn't that for him.
I flipped the fuck out. I lost it. I cried or was a second away from tears for days. I couldn't sleep. I felt close to insane, whatever that means, most of the time. I felt like the bottom had fallen out from under me.
I remember coming home the night it happened, to my parents' house, where I was living since I'd come home from Ohio a year before. I knew that I just needed to get from the car to my room without any conversation, which is entirely possible with my father but not so much with my mother.
I walked in the door and they were sifting through what they'd just purchased on what may be one of maybe five trips they've taken to the grocery store together in my 40 years. I don't know why they went together that night, why for one night of his life my father had channeled his father, a person whose sole purpose in retirement besides working at the rectory had seemed to be traveling from grocery to grocery within a ten-mile radius plus the Navy commissary to score ten cents off here, 20 cents off there, on staples -- beans, napkins, dishwashing liquid, cigarettes. My grandparents' basement would have been the perfect place to end up in a post-Apocalyptic world, Nirvana for that guy from The Road with his shopping cart, as long as he could get in through the window well.
As soon as I walked through the door, I sat down on a 24 pack of toilet paper that sat atop a pallet of kidney beans in our small, dark foyer. And I cried, amid the passel of crap my parents had assembled at the Giant and the Shopper's Food Warehouse. I remember them both gaping at me, as I disrupted the unpacking and shelving. And then I remember my father talking to me for two hours while I sniveled on the kitchen table. And then I remember several weeks of hell.
So don't chastise me
Or think I, I mean you harm
Of those that take you
Leave you strung out
Much too far
It was the first time I lost it for real, after years of losing it mildly. I'd always had an edgy, rarely satisfied sort of personality. I had periods of time where being upset was the norm, but I ascribed them to typical things -- school and work stress, relationship stuff, my weight and endless obsession and dissatisfaction with my body, social anxieties.
But this time, I knew it was worse. This time I knew that the loss of this relationship had tripped a terrible cord. I felt crazy. I felt out of control. I felt like nothing would be okay again, and I knew that there were certain patterns in my life that weren't right. I came to understand that for a long time I'd been operating on a certain, shifting level of daily discontent, and that this was a final trigger.
And on a practical, physical level? I couldn't sleep. If you want to feel crazy, easy peasy: don't sleep, not much if at all. And when I did, I'd wake up between 4 and 5 every morning and lie there crazy for two hours until I finally passed out from physical exhaustion just before my alarm was due to go off. I also experienced anxiety that made me long for any other state of physical or emotional being. I wrote a bad poem about it, the electrical impulses I felt shooting through my arms and out the bottoms of my feet and through the top of my head. This was real, excess energy trying to get out of my body. To top it off, this is when my dog who was the other center of my life started having epileptic seizures. And if you've never seen a living thing have a seizure in your fucking bedroom that is very lucky for you and I hope it never happens. Because yeah.
I was so awake I felt like a tragic superhero, like I could lift a car or climb a mountain, but I didn't really want to do those things or to go anywhere so I just walked around the usual places. Somehow I still had to go to work, and I still had to figure out what to do. I knew this was a problem that was beyond my scope, and I was scared. So I took myself to therapy, and I went to my primary care doctor. My doctor gave me anti-depressants, the first ones I'd ever had after many years of Tom Cruisian-resistance to medication. I would have tried leeches at that point, I swear. I wasn't ready to kill myself and I didn't want to feel like I felt so I did things. Desperation is an alternately shitty and amazing motivator.
The first wacko shrink I saw -- at her only available appointment, at 7 a.m. on a Saturday, days after the breakup when I still couldn't speak of it or really speak at all without weeping -- told me after 10 minutes of discussion that I was probably bipolar.
I should mention that I'm not a morning person. And that I was still crying nonstop.
I knew even then as a counselor myself that throwing out diagnoses like that after knowing someone for ten minutes was extreme, particularly when I had told her that I was in crisis, essentially -- that I was dealing with an acute life situation and I needed to sort that out before I went any deeper. If a kid I've never met walks into my office I'm not all "Oh hey, ADHD yeah?", even if he can't sit still and can't complete a sentence but can go over and over the same concept one million times with surgical precision. It's not cool and it's not ethical and I don't know if he's had more Red Bull than usual this morning, right? So I told her I didn't think I was bipolar, I satisfied the requirements of the visit, and I never went back.
Somehow I dredged up the ability to find another therapist, a lady who challenged me mildly on some things but seemed more fascinated by my life and family history as a story she was reading for entertainment, rather than one she was helping me to sort out in the here and now. She dozed off a couple of times, as my appointments tended to be in the afternoon and the sun slanted just so over her chair. So essentially, looking back, I guess this lady was a house cat of a shrink and my visits were story time. She was in love with my genogram. She reminded me that I was 30, like I didn't know. She was nice enough -- better than the crazy fellowship student I saw in grad school who snapped her fingers in my face whenever I went off topic, which is a lot -- but nothing revolutionary happened.
Nothing revolutionary has ever happened in my efforts to tend to the interiors of my mind that have such a tremendous effect, naturally, on the exterior that is my life. And typing that amazes me, how much we do in our culture to try to minimize the concept that what happens in there can go awry, that the things we see on the outside AREN'T profoundly affected every minute, second, hour by a seemingly random collection of chemicals and cells and nerves and impulses.
We are animals. Fucked up crazy ass animals. We're all lucky we aren't walking around shooting off fireworks in public places, is what I'm saying.
I can turn on anyone
Just like I've turned on you
I've got a tongue like a razor
A sweet switchblade knife
It has been almost 11 years since my first serious problems surfaced, and over the course of that time I have had good times and bad times. I have been lucky and I have struggled. I have felt like I wanted to die and I have had moments, like one yesterday, where I walk outside in to the sunshine, look at the sky and think that this very space in time is perfect, that it makes all of the hard ones worth it.
The past few months have not been the good times, although within them there have been good times. They have been largely dark and frightening, on the worst , self-indulgent kind of existential level. They have been unattractive.
And these are the worst kinds of times to acknowledge that I do not live this life in a vaccuum. I have friends and family around me sometimes, and a lot of people who care in various capacities. There are people who feel like they want to help me, and this is not my favorite thing. In fact, it is my worst, neurotic nightmare. When I am in the bell jar, I hate attention as much as I love it. I hate my interconnectedness with others, because I know that I can't trust myself. I know that I am wired to reject support and to expect everyone to leave me, because if I cannot even stand myself, how can anyone else? Why would they?
My friend Jenny posted again this weekend about her most recent trip through what this is that some of us go through. And again, I read it and was moved to speak up because I don't think that we can do that enough, especially if we haven't done it at all. I admire her more than I can say. I admire myself not at all right now. It doesn't matter what I do with the information I'm given as long as I don't take other people down with me. There is nothing that makes me feel worse.
I have friends in spite of myself. I have people who want to hang out with me and who continue to seek out my opinions even in the worst of times. I don't understand this. I have eaten more humble pie, as it were, in the last two months of my life than I maybe ever have, and it is gagging me as much as it is healing me.
The sad truth is that by the time I get to this point, it's possible that I have ruined good things. I know that's true, and I know my propensity to either wallow completely in that knowledge or to ignore it and act like I don't care.
This is the sentence of this particular chronic disease. This is the need to act like everything is fine because dealing with everything that's not fine is a killer for real. It's hard and it's time consuming and it's lonely fucking work.
I am mean. I am impulsive. I am selfish. I am rude.
I am the most loving person in the world. My empathy is off the charts. I will do anything for you if I love you or maybe even if I don't.
I will break your heart and I will sweep it up off of your kitchen floor. I am a procrastinating asshole and I am the best of my worst on the worst possible days. I can pull a solution from anywhere when you lose your shit, and I will only hope that you forgive me for how forthright I can be in telling you that a solution is really, really important.
I blame other people for my problems sometimes and yet I take full responsibility for everything from the immolation of Joan of Arc, the Afghan war, the death of the dictionary with the addition of fake words like LOL and gangsta and the bad day you had yesterday.
I want you to be with me and I never want to see you again, with all of the things you know and the way that I care about you and the ability you have to hurt me because of all of this.
I am the sum of my chemistry and in that (some chemistry word here) there is the best of my DNA and the results of all of the ways I've been nurtured and neglected as well.
I am a sad fucking case and I am an absolute rock star on my best day. I don't know how else to describe it, except to say that as self-aware as I have prided myself on being, the past year has been mostly an exercise in denial and fear and self-loathing. And once it killed or tried to the two things that I love the most that is when I woke up, to a place so lonely it shone, to a silence I hadn't known in a very, very long time, and yet could identify from one of the saddest spaces in my history.
It's really, really bright here.