T-minus 1 day left of vacation and then we make the twelve hour return drive back to Pennsylvania. I have a sneaking suspicion IT is hitching a ride up in the car topper, squashed somewhere between the suitcases, dog food, and sand pails. I wish it could be as easy as burying IT in the sand out at Point Beach on Lake Michigan, preferably under a pile of dog poop which is then under a mountain of sand.
But IT is persistent and resourceful—à la purging in the blueberry patch. On a whim, my husband and I went into Old Navy (50% off sign luring us) and I swiped up a few pairs of shorts and jeans to try on in front of, what felt like, Titanic sized full-length mirrors. Blech. Having to look at my almost naked body frontways and sideways and crossways? IT snickered, “You don’t really think you look passable in that, do you? Look at your fat butt and your flabby stomach. Look at how godawful BIG you are!” Or the past few nights having dinner parties with friends—friends I see once a year. You’d think I’d be engaged by their company, that I’d be able to relax and let down my guard. Instead, I was skittish, tense, felt far away, unable to be present. I felt like Helga in the Wyeth painting, “Farm Road”: she’s standing with her back turned resolutely away from the viewer, looking off into the distance at what? Not at the lone, dark tree on the horizon, but at the damning wall of earth in front of her. She is at a remove from the rest of the world, inaccessible, lost, like me, in her head.
That’s been the difficulty with this vacation. I’ve been too much with myself—IT has pulled me in, has gotten me tangled up with the bleak, awful thoughts. Thoughts of suicide worming their way in even on the best of days. And there have been lovely, heartbreaking days. My in-laws have an in-ground pool, so we’ve spent afternoon after afternoon sprawled on lounge chairs, both the stationary and floating kind. I’ve been reading well-written but brainless books under sunshine—the Stieg Larssen, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. I watched my daughter perfect what she calls, “The Sea Dragon” dive: arms tucked at her sides for descent, body rippling up and down through the water on ascent. Similarly, I watched my son brave his fear of water and plunge, willy-nilly in all manner of spastic forms, off the diving board. And my husband? I’ve watched a lot of the stress of the past year slide away as he hangs with his old college friends, drinks good wine, and makes brilliant food.
Why is this heartbreaking? Because IT slithers in and tells me I’d better store up these beautiful memories because this is my swansong. That I should squirrel them away because I won’t live to see them repeat next summer. I feel like the terminal invalid sitting lakeside in an Adirondack chair, camp blanket tucked around my legs, knowing full well these are the last days.
I know logically there is no reason for me to feel this way. In a conversation with Dr. B. (yes, a vacation phone session) he reminded me that he knows and believes that I can recover from IT. That I am not some passive slug; that I am, in fact, a fighter. Yes, fierce and brave. And that I need to bring all forces of will to bear on fighting off IT. No, defeating IT. Rising, like a phoenix, from this ash.
I don’t know that I believe this yet, but for now, I suppose it is enough that Dr. B. does. He holds onto hope for me. As he reminded me, when my kids were swimming in the frigid waters of Lake Superior last week, I didn’t take my eyes off them for an instant. Intense, ever-present vigilance. This is what I need to combat IT. So I am vigilant these days, taking note of what I feel might be the beginning of a manic uptick:
I’ve been waking up a lot the past few nights which is always cause for preliminary alarm—four a.m., eyes wide open, feeling wired.
Consumed with restless energy that even a 6am run can’t counter—and running even when I feel exhausted—unable to give myself a pass, to say NO to IT’s demands.
Can I say irritable for absolutely no reason?
I’ve been ruminating nonstop the past few days, unable to shut off the cascade of negative thoughts—many urges to self-harm.
The world—and my family—feel like they are at great remove from me.
Those bothersome thoughts of suicide.
And a nightmare last night: that I had a manic meltdown of the most spectacular kind and was in the car with my husband being driven to the State Hospital (all the while fretting over the class I was supposed to be teaching at that very moment). The effects of this dream are lingering, have me in a funk because it feels like confirmation of what I’ve been feeling all along: I am not headed in the right direction and am, once again, walking on that terrifying edge.
So, enough evidence to suggest I need to be Superhero vigilant, armed with the anti-IT ray gun. Even on vacation.