On the way to see Dr. B. today, I hit a squirrel. This is the exact same road, close to the same spot where I hit a cat several months ago. Slaughter highway? I may have been driving too fast.
(Of course, in these manic days, whether the vehicle is my car, my body, or mind, my foot seems always weighted to the accelerator in an unrelenting, unproductive fast-forward. Because of the insomnia, Christopher encourages me to nap. To nap, perchance to dream. To pause, anyway. And what a wonderful nap it could be in our brand new King-sized bed that was delivered yesterday, along with a small fortune in new bed linens. Instead of space-saving fetal position, I could sprawl, all limbs unfettered. And sleep. Or not sleep, because all I do is twitch and fidget, feel the waves of anxiety crest in my chest, hear ITs vicious mantra. Might as well get up and vacuum—that steady noise helps quiet IT, fold laundry, empty the dishwasher, remake the beds, clean out my closet, sort through the kids’ markers—those that work and those that have not worked for months, bake some elaborate, triple-layer cake, run up and down the stairs, sort through Tupperware--lidded vs. lidless, chew fingers, dig fingers into arms, try not to completely give in to the manic enterprise. Wait, was there a nap somewhere back there? No, but there was a squirrel… )
The squirrel. Before I could veer out of the way, I was upon the poor little guy, felt the bump under the tire. In the rearview mirror, I watched its body wretchedly twisting into the air, tail flicking back and forth. Not an auspicious beginning to therapy day. And then the squirrel suddenly hopped up, puffed its tail, and darted for the woods. No doubt to die.
See? That’s where I am these days. I should be cheering for the squirrel’s resilience and survival instincts. But those are the exact things it seems I am without at the moment. I know enough not to give credence to predestination. That is, I know that this manic scuttling along the dark bottom of the deepest sea floor doesn’t have to end, say, with my death because--Now cue in the angelic choir—I do believe I can be saved. And I continue to make the small decisions in favor of recovery. Like driving up to see my therapist despite the restless exhaustion, despite feeling overwhelmed by IT, despite the despair that has burrowed through skin and muscle, right down through the bone.
The happier narrative? The squirrel lived to see the spring unfold, to leap across the branches of some tall oak, to hoard another cache of acorns.
I went to therapy, which is never easy, but today was particularly challenging. At the end of my session, Dr. B. asked me in all deliberate earnestness, “If things bottom out, where do you want to go?”
“Go?” What did he mean? I could go back to Jamaica, get my fix of sunshine and banana smoothies. I could go home, to my husband and children and dogs and lizards and cat (as well as scattered shoes, plastic toys, and stuffed animals; dog hair nests and cat puke clumps; and the meal worms and crickets necessary for a balanced lizard diet). I could go to the bathroom, but these days that’s just an invitation to purge, followed by unhinged self-loathing.
“Which hospital do you want to go to? Western Psych? Cleveland? Millcreek? Meadville? Warren?”
I never gave him an answer because I know where I’m supposed to go if things fall desperately apart. Warren State Hospital, a minimum six month stay. I will not go there. I will not let myself go there.
So if not there, go where?
I could say I want to go back to the time before IT launched its coup d’état, when my arms were free of scars, when I could eat without the corrosive, obsessional thinking, when I loved myself. But then I can’t think of a time when I’ve been free of ITs totalitarian regime. When I was nine, I tried to overdose on a bottle of Flintstone vitamins. When I was fourteen, I started cutting my arms. When I was thirty-three, I stopped eating. And all along, IT has been whispering that I’m unlovable, worthless, better off dead.
I could say I want to go where I’m safe from IT, and by default, from myself. Someplace where I’m not causing collateral damage (all week I’ve been on edge, yelling at Christopher and the kids, my volume and RPM turned up, way up). So, some floating iceberg—which of course, is melting away—or the State Hospital.
Where I can go is to the place and source of joy. So today, I wound myself back up, and took the kids to their swim lesson. Last year my son was traumatized by swim lessons—he screeched and cried and refused to get in, to kick his legs, to get his face wet. He clutched the side of the pool, blue lips chattering, and howled for me and Christopher who sat way up in the stands. Our theory: if he couldn’t see us, he’d ease into it. Now, it is a small wonder to watch him hold his breath and duck his head. Instead of sputtering and tears, he pops back up, all smiles and giggles. “Again!” he says. Down he goes. And my daughter the fish! She jumps and squeals and flips around in the water, unable to contain her ecstasy. Today she learned how to do a standing dive. The other kids belly flopped their way through the lesson, but my daughter adjusted her enormous goggles, raised her hands over her head, and launched herself into the pool. She even gave a fancy foot waggle as she shot through the air, as if to say: Oh, the joy of flying! Oh, the joy of being inside my body! Oh, the joy of being me and alive and here!
And for a moment, IT is quiet and I can hear my daughter saying, “You say it, too, Momma. Say it as if your life depends on it.”
Oh, the joy of being me and alive and here.