I have never been able to tell anyone what I’m going to tell you now. I don’t know if anyone I know can ever read this.
When I started this writing project, it was with the intention of telling the whole truth, no matter how it sounded. I’ve spent my life trying to be good enough and calling myself broken when I failed. I think all the time about how I can keep up and fit in and no matter what it always feels like I’m failing. For Good was meant to celebrate the lucky things, the wins, and give me the chance to be exactly myself just once. It was derailed last year by what I’m about to tell you.
Outside of my head I’m not what you think. People who spend every day with me don’t know what I am. I have always had a job and I’ve always worked hard at them. People call me organized, on top of things, positive and hard-working. They call me smart and kind. I have a family, a boyfriend, a life.
Yellow and I talked about going on long bike rides for a while and Spring 2016 I decided to make it happen. We got a bike for him and I found a used bike on a Facebook group that lets you sell your old junk to people who need new old junk. It seemed inevitable that not-ten year old me would fall on my considerably middle-aged head the first time out on the thing but apparently it really is just like riding a bike. Running is an odious occupation/addiction that wasn’t doing it for me at the time so I started taking 6-7 mile rides most nights. Yellow commented more than once that going out without my glasses wasn’t the best idea but stubborn Lady Y felt perfectly safe in that fuzzy world of soft edges, senseless risks, and bad 80’s music. I took a corner fast one morning in April and the car missed me by maybe 6 inches. The evaluative voice that’s always running in the back of my head commented that that was a pretty close call. There was no hesitation. The next thought was – well that would have been no great loss. That was the first time I realized what was really going on.
Last year was going to be perfect. Work was going well, Yellow and I decided to live together, and we were going to Europe in the Fall. Here’s what happened instead. My little house filled up with a family that I sometimes felt I was a part of and other times needed me to fade into the background because I could never really be part of them. I went through two tense tests to check for cancer. During a rough day at work I had a text that my grandmother had a stroke and then a week later a doctor told us to come together and say goodbye. My family lost its center and I lost my team. I had the news that I didn’t have cancer – but my dad did. We talked about children and I learned that I could have the child or the man I loved but not both. All of this happened in four months. My mind got tired and I lost my strength. I spent nights staring into the darkness, trying to pretend like I was sleeping so no one would notice that anything was wrong. I lost my will to exercise and started making bad food decisions. There was no reason to eat right or stay healthy. The future looked empty and black. My family was going to leave me and I was going to grow old and die in some hospital room, all on my own. The grief was stunning but it never occurred to me that I was giving up.
There have always been two mes. I’ve always been a grey thinker. There’s a hard head and a soft heart and my whole life they’ve argued endlessly over every little thing. This was no different. The soft heart got tired of repeating that things would get better.
And before I go on… They always do. Every hard thing gets a little better every single day. This is the most important and the most real thing I can tell you. I was sick and tired and wrong. We live in a cruel but beautiful world and everything always gets better.
The softer part of me just couldn’t say that anymore. I’ve always been a planner. It had to be far away so there was no chance of someone I loved being involved in what comes after. It was the car. I don’t know why but that always felt like the right way to go about it. I had to be careful to find a place where there was no chance of hurting anyone else. No busy highways – somewhere remote, safe. I knew that they’d know what I did, but I’d write a note. I’d explain that it wasn’t any of them. I’ve always been an incomplete person, a mistake, an almost person. It’s hard to live like that and I was finally too tired.
But the head, the warrior, the hardass… She is some special bitch. She can live on three hours sleep for three months straight and weeping until you burst blood vessels in your eye. She can watch everything that seems precious slip through her fingers and break in front of her eyes. She can imagine how sweet it would be to turn that wheel hard and know it was finally over and still do what she did. She called her insurance company and found a doctor.
I couldn’t tell either doctor I worked with. They both asked at our first appointment and I lied and told them I wasn’t suicidal, just depressed. I couldn’t tell anyone. It was all I could do to actually go in to the doctor the first time. I cancelled my first appointment and thank god they’re used to it and took me back. How do you value independence and self-sufficiency so much and admit to some stranger that you can’t handle your shit? Especially when everything is so small, so insignificant next to what everyone you know is going through? My dad had cancer and I had sad thoughts. I wanted to throw up telling Yellow that I was even going and I only told him that I was having trouble with stress. How was he supposed to love someone who can’t stand up straight next to you? How could he respect someone who’s so overwhelmed all the time?
The first doctor was not for me. She cancelled appointments often and never seemed to remember what we were talking about the week before. She never seemed to have an idea of what to do. And my god, your humble servant, the obedient Lady Y can’t conceive of a world without action plans and lists.
Things weren’t better when I was with her. She did give me the chance to talk without being afraid of how much I was harming her or worrying about whether she could still feel the same way about me after she heard what I was really thinking. But her style didn’t match mine and I just kept storing stress and fear inside myself until I started having panic attacks.
In case you’ve never had the pleasure, here’s how it works – at least for me. You have a terrible night’s sleep and you can’t really figure out why. You get up early because the sleep you’re getting is useless, anyway, and even though you’re the queen of overpreparedness and you have a full two hours before you need to be in work you’re nearly late. It takes 10 minutes to half-ass brush your teeth because you just can’t stop dropping your toothbrush. Buttoning a shirt seems to take an age of man. Driving – you’re welcome, other drivers – is a slow, altogether uncertain endeavor. Your heart is pounding, your mind is racing, and you can’t breathe. That was the small one.
I tried to drink through the worst one and discovered that the only worse thing than having a panic attack is deliberately weakening yourself and having a panic attack. I worked my ass off to shake off that panic attack and checked out WebMD the next day just to make sure I wasn’t shrugging off a heart attack. My chest hurt like I’d taken a punch. I’ve never been very good at breaking up but three of those was enough to make me push the button. Do that – if you’re going through anything like this, don’t stick with the doctor who doesn’t work. It never works right away, but it’s a little like dating. Some of them just aren’t keepers.
Doctor number two was much better. She gave me homework, brought me articles and practiced breathing exercises with me. She agreed with doctor number one with the limited amount of information I gave her. I have anxiety. I always have. I’ve been carrying something very heavy my whole life and finally got tired and needed to rest my arms.
Going to therapy did not let me spend 60 minute chunks of time blaming others for my problems. It did not let me examine every slight and disappointment that has ever happened to me like an ugly penny I found under the couch. It let me rest. It gave me the opportunity to learn and practice strategies that almost everyone could use. I learned to pause before giving in to fear and doubt. I learned to step away from a thought and examine it from a distance. To look for evidence that my fear is real. This did not happen quickly. When you first start, it seems like it won’t work and it really doesn’t at first. Then one day you realize the strategies are working.
I’m not cured. I still don’t practice those strategies consistently. I still get overwhelmed too easily, flip into crisis mode too quickly. But now the bad days and weeks are just that – bad little pockets. Then things get better. I was in therapy for a year before I felt safe enough to cut back to every other week, then a trial break. I can see a time when I need to go back, but I know now that it’s an option and it’s not bad. It’s the thing that saved me.
Not just my life but my soul. Do you know what I would have missed in a year? My dad’s recovery, nights around the kitchen table with family, moments at work when I felt like I’d genuinely made someone’s day better, moments where I stood up for myself and let the Warrior loose. Nights wrapped up in my boyfriend’s arms, walking through the gardens at Versailles, laughing hysterically at some ridiculous joke, great books. Stranger Things for the love of God.
I still can’t bring myself to tell them but I think about it. I think that might be a big moment, when I finally feel safe enough to tell. That’s one of the reasons why I’m doing this. This is my practice run. The other reason is that soft heart. I wish there was someone in my life who had told me what this is like. That it’s not a failure on my part or a defect in my humanity that this is happening to me. I wish someone had seen and been able to explain that this is something that happened to me, like a spill down the stairs or a kitchen fire. Something bad happened and it isn’t because I’m bad or because I didn’t try hard enough. The effort I put into looking like things were fine could have made anyone else President of the United States. It happened because things were hard and no one can handle everything alone.
And one last thing – I want this as a reminder to myself. If it comes back – when it comes back – this is a reminder from beyond the veil. Every little thing always gets better. Always.