It’s one in the morning, and my husband has coughed himself to sleep, and I’m wide awake, drinking the leftover boxed wine like a sleeping pill. My tongue is numb from coffee-flavored vapor with nicotine, and I’m oh-so-tired of the stiffness in my neck, and the shoulders that never settle.
And — I am — afraid.
It stutters like that it my head: first the decision to make an addition, then the declaration of thought like Decartes, and finally — the kicker — the fear.
Every year, we have to file electronic paperwork in my office. Are you a veteran? it asks, and that is firmly no; I could never make it through bootcamp with my politics and sassy mouth. There are only two questions, and the second was once a simple no as well — check the two boxes and back to work; a minor inconvenience, a hiccup in the flow of my workday.
But this year I answered yes. This year I checked the other box. It turns out bipolar disorder is a disability.
Even more perplexing and shamefully shaming is that it’s helpful for me to check yes — there is the other box that states you don’t wish to disclose your status — but I need it to explain my behavior and productivity and errors and how I have fallen from a top employee to essentially a trainee in a matter of months. I need it to give an explanation for calling out on the days when I couldn’t stop crying or couldn’t get out of bed or simply couldn’t breathe — the most basic human function — do you know how it feels to pant instead of breathe?
I am afraid that I will be fired, and I am afraid of what will happen if I am not fired, if I do not quit. Something will have to go, be it sleep, or the office, or the podcast, or my writing, or my magazine — most likely my magazine. It’s logically the reasonable choice. Most of my email comes from my writers, and so does most of my work, but it’s delicious work.
I’ve drunk an entire glass of wine in 15 minutes because I am afraid that I won’t sleep, afraid that I’ll go crazy, or let someone down, especially me.
I’m typing and I can hear the Sondheim rhythms backing up my words, like the score to Into The Woods — into the woods and out of the woods and back before it’s dark. But it’s dark and it’s been dark, getting darker as it creeps slowly closer and whichever way I move, it’s breathing in soot.
This is a quarter life crisis, I tell myself. Everyone has one, and you are having yours. But it’s not the crisis that brings the fear; I have been through crises. I have been turned out of my mother’s house, and turned away from men I loved, and there has been so much hurt, but I could spin it into something fierce and useful, like scratchy yarn from which to make a sweater that kept out the cold and I could keep moving.
This is pitch in the dirt and the darkness comes and I cannot move and I cannot breathe.
I tore apart the box of wine to squeeze the remnants into my glass and took an extra Ativan; if I close my eyes, I feel the familiar oblivion. But what happens when I meet the day? And it churns me up like dirt from behind a plow? Apparently seeds are to be planted, like some second puberty, but combined with death and dismemberment, and the thing I become is a Frankenstein mockery of life.
Or so I fear.
I believe in the power of words, of fear is the mind killer — it is the antithesis to solution, to action. But my cat is circling the barstool on which I sit, wanting up, unsure of jumping, and so I pull him and place him up my lap. Because I too am afraid and I need the comfort.
The wine and Ativan are working, but then what? Morning will come, and then what? I will wake and I will sleep and I will fear —
and then what?