Insomnia

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?

Mean Morning.

It’s a Mean Morning, the kind where you get out of bed tired and coffee doesn’t kick, where putting on clothes is a Task To Be Completed and makeup is too much to attempt, where the idea of sitting at a desk for eight and a half hours is enough to make you double up on your Ativan, and the day’s just begun.

We have a point system at work — so many taken away for being late, many more for a sick day, despite the fact that it all comes out of our vacation time regardless. If I weren’t already on faux-bation, I’d take the day and spend it all in bed, shades drawn, laptop nearby with a handy screen for staring and a download folder filled with movies, but let’s not explore my fantasies.

I simply want to disappear.

Some people have lives with topologically normal hills and valleys, vehicles cresting smoothly over and up like a children’s roller coaster. There are maybe the faintest of screams. It feels today like some Nascar race, no comforts within the steel cage of a car and the seatbelt is malfunctioning while for hours I continually turn left with supreme concentration and almost hope for a crash so I can get out. No one would blame me for quitting the race because then the car’s on fire.

This is not a metaphor for suicide; I don’t want your messages of hope. But it’s a good day to get fired.

It’s a good day for telling my boss she’s incompetent or screaming, not from the top of my lungs, but the very bottom, somewhere near the gullet where the bile is, a roar of FuckItHelpMeSomebodyGiveMeAnAnswerBecauseI’VEGOTNOTHING.

Take your medication, Elizabeth. The fuck is that supposed to do? Well, it’s meant to stabilize you, to pat all this shit down into a pancake that you cook up and eat. I’m not hungry.

Does any of this make sense?

Today is a good day for feeling crazy, for opening the window in spite of the deep-freeze and screaming back at the swaggering dudes outside who think they’re going to be rappers. Today is a good day to kill someone else’s dreams.

It’s a good day to gather up my Little Cat, to put her on my shoulder and let her sleep because there’s a soporific gland on her belly and I want to be anesthetized. It’s a good day to get in a fight with someone on twitter who’s being a fucking dumbass, or to tell a friend she’s being a drama-queen-privileged-idiot-fuckwit, or to listen to The Used.

It’s always a bad day to pick a fight with my husband, but to hell with it — let’s throw that on the pile.

It’s a good day to get in a fight. I want to feel my fists and feet explode into someone’s body and cause pain because then it’s in them, in their bruises, and that’ll heal with time. Crazy fucking girl came out of nowhere, man, and starting wailing on me until she sat down in the street and cried. It’s a good day to feel ineffectual.

These are the days to believe in God, but in that department I’m S.O.L. I’m a Buddhist. We believe in impermanence, that eventually everything ends: you, me, this Mean Sonuvabitch Morning. But there’s no timer — no one’s telling me when and where the Demon Dogs stop chasing and humanity begins again.

It’s a good day to burn your tongue on the coffee, and a good day to stock up on more.

It’s a good day to ask for help because the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, but I’ve hit that step, and the second one is to “believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity,” but I already said that I’m a non-believer, so I guess I just have a Problem.

This isn’t the sort of thing that ends with “it’s a Good Day,” on that uplifting note that brings hope and closure. This isn’t the sort of thing that closes. It’s a wound that doesn’t want to heal despite the gauze and the tinctures and the antibiotics and the traction. And it doesn’t help that I keep picking at my scabs.

It’s a good day to write like I’m in high school again, glamorizing the throat pain of cigarettes, or to contemplate becoming a truck driver, or to pour a glass of wine at 8:10 in the morning, and I don’t mind if I do.

Never mind the glass — the bottle’s quicker.

It’s a good day to be soothed by vices, to skullfuck your deadlines, to eat so much Doritos-and-Cake that you get sick and take a bottle of gingerale to bed. It’s a good day for nicotine, caffeine, and benzodiazepines. It’s a good day to fawn over Sylvia Plath.

It’s not a good day to cross my path, but it’s a great day for convenient rhymes and bad cliches.

It’s a Mean Morning, and by the looks of it, the forecast is going to hold all the livelong day.

Upset

Yesterday was my third anniversary.

I adore the fact that it’s one day before Valentine’s Day so the pressure is off — we go out to eat a day early, someplace nice. My husband wears his wedding suit, showers, shaves, removes any stray back-of-the-neck messiness, and let me say — he cleans up good.

I put on a dress, which is a rarity — full makeup, beautiful heels. I even curled my hair once, back when I had more of it, though trying to curl what I’ve got going on now would certainly be a fun experiment (any advice?).

This all went according to plan. I looked beautiful, my husband looked handsome, and we hustled our way through the cold and the block and a half to Our Place.

Tapas 177, bar upstairs, restaurant downstairs, dance floor adjacent to the dining room. We considered having our wedding there before we pulled the killswitch and opted for Vegas. Everything is lit up in red, a romantic version of ladies in Amsterdam windows. Usually we sit upstairs, chat with the bartenders and the waitresses while they’re waiting for their trays to fill. They let me smoke my e-cig up there, they’ll let Nate smoke after hours up there. We scoot our barstools together so we can lean on each other, and some of the drinks come for free and we hassle the owner for one of the black and white employee shirts. It’s the first place we ever went on a date — the owner, Demetrio, remembers. We’ve been up on the roof past 2AM, seen the light on, and walked straight in to free drinks and sincere hellos.

It’s Our Place.

I didn’t want to go.

I was exhausted from work and the week, and I felt anxious, edgy. I just wanted to exchange cards, little gifts, and be together — but we went, and we sat downstairs. It felt proper that way.

But we were all the way in the back, next to the wine cellar door, and near enough to the kitchen to hear every shout of “coming in!” and next to a trio of remarkably underdressed Asian kids who kept pulling out their iPhone 6+s to watch YouTube videos and take selfies. We might have been right under a speaker.

I started with a Midnight Manhattan — bourbon, lavender tea syrup, and orange zest — because it felt comforting, classy, a piece of a larger event, and we toasted to three years together, four months married. But as the courses arrived, and we began to talk about our weeks, our stories, the ambient noise became a cacophony and the talk became ridicule, and I couldn’t stand to be wearing a dress, or being tipsy, or wearing make-up and I had to get out of there.

I hated pleading with my husband through the beginnings of a panic attack. Please, I need to leave — he tried to calm me, to focus on my breathing, to meditate, but it was too much, and too loud, and I was about to fly out of my skin, so I left.

I went home and scrubbed off the make-up, but not the shame or the anger and I laid in bed, waiting for him (unaware that the waitress had been watching and offered him a shot for having to deal with that crazy girl — I could kill her), trying to breathe deeply instead of wading through the shallows that never give you enough oxygen, trying to quiet myself, and find solace in Spring Fashion magazines.

It wasn’t ten minutes before he was home, sitting beside my curled body on our bed, and I was so afraid he was angry with me. But, with my head in his lap, he told me he was only upset that I was going through this, and he held me until I could fall asleep on my own.

We didn’t exchange presents, or laugh as much as I would have liked, or even have the dessert-coffee-scotch combination I love so terribly. But we were close, and understanding, and so completely in love that, to me at least, it didn’t matter.

And that, to me, is a happy anniversary.

Uppers and Downers

Wake up.

Take 75+75+75mg of your SNRI so you don’t feel depressed, so you stop fighting or fleeing from every day.

Take half a milligram of your benzodiazepine to keep calm and carry on.

Microwave a cup of coffee with cinnamon roll creamer.

Drink in big, fat swallows to combat the aftereffects of the atypical antipsychotic you took at bedtime.

Get shaky.

Get fidgety.

Get real productive.

Clickety clack all over the keyboard, planning out your social media day.

Find inspirational quotes.

Post them to Twitter and Facebook.

Schedule the rest.

Feel very accomplished.

Crash into the restlessness, the foot tapping, the uncontrollable hand tremors.

Go back to bed with the laptop and your books to lay beside your snoring husband —

you have a tendency to wake up very early these days —

and keep moving, even in under-the-covers comfort.

Your feet rub over and over each other because there is no such thing as stillness anymore.

Even in sleep, there are nightmares:

Your abusive father comes after you for sex.

Dinosaurs and aliens kill and eat the people you know.

The crazy world turns apocalyptic.

You run to survive, to stay alive, to remain unviolated, to find a moment of peace in sleep —

The worst is it’s lucid.

You know you’re trapped in a horror-film-dream.

Waking up takes an incredible act of terror.

Instead of stretching and opening your eyes to the warmth of sun, you flail and punch and bite.

You try to calculate how long you must stay awake —

the film picks up where it left off.

Or else a new one begins, but the genre never changes.

The lethargy never goes, but restfulness never comes.

And the days run this way, like a wind-up toy.

Some hand keeps the gears tight, and it is not yours.

Your therapist says you’re better, and asks what would you like to do now?

You insist upon continuing your weekly visits.

You don’t see what she could possibly see.

You eat a lot of protein, to keep your energy level.

You are often hungry and your heart rate is often high.

You practice mindful breathing.

You practice yoga, moving through your asanas adeptly;

if your mind cannot be strong, your body will be.

You practice meditation, chasing peace, knowing that wanting anything is contrary to the practice.

You try to take the nothingness of after-the-panic-attack-goes and implant it into your sitting time.

You are aware that ‘trying’ is contrary to the practice.

You breathe.

You blink.

You think of breathing and blinking and drawing your shoulders away from your ears, your shoulder blades in, back, and down.

This helps for a time.

Other times, there is an urgent lassitude that comes and then you are most productive.

You are aware of the choke hold of productivity.

You crave it like a BDSM fantasy.

You sleep and wake at strange hours, letting the day pass as it will.

The sun is also a mechanical thing.

So too the moon and stars.

You find solace in selfish cat-cuddles.

You find solace in being fucked.

You find solace in great amounts of nicotine.

You don’t think about repercussions.

Sometimes you spend a lot of money.

Sometimes you eat a lot of blueberry scones.

Sometimes you laugh.

You have a favorite sweatshirt.

You clean your teeth on the cuffs.

You spill food down the front.

You use the hood as a swaddle for your head.

You are loathe to put it in the wash.

You obsessively brush your teeth.

The taste of a dirty mouth digs into your brain until rectified.

Until now, you had ghastly oral hygiene practices.

You drink water with excessive amounts of ice.

You begin to experiment again with wine.

You develop cravings for ginger ale.

You begin texting conversations that you don’t finish.

You worry your friends feel neglected.

You give good advice in a piss-poor tone.

You give people reasons to get angry with you.

You have a fantastic idea for an article about your cats.

You have a fantastic idea for a novel about Jeopardy.

You have a fantastic idea for an in-depth piece about David Foster Wallace.

You don’t write much of anything.

You listen to a lot of podcasts about motherhood.

You listen to podcasts about productivity.

You listen to podcasts by middle aged men talking about bric-a-brac and their children.

You crave a lot of silence.

You crave a lot of silence.

“Sometimes I feel it coming all the same. Then I go all queer.”

There is something in the light slinking lower to the skyline that knows that you’ve been awake for some time already, and will be for some time yet. The wave of morning hypomania has crashed to the shore, and the pensive complicity in living has settled in nicely, like a cat turning round three times, washing its back and belly, and shut tight its eyes that you might think it has fallen asleep. And all the while it grows darker, and the nicotine gets harsher on the back of my throat, and there’s a restlessness, a wanting of something that feels like hunger or thirst or withdrawal, but is only the backlash against overglazed eyes.

Jazz has always been red, never blue, but this afternoon it is the crimson setting sun, the lassitude of cream warming in the coffee I’ll be warming my hands on soon, replacing the warmth that was never out in the open winter air. It has been a harsh, clean day, the little white bubbles frothing up from hydrogen peroxide on a wound. Let them all pop and dissolve the sanitary smell away, and underneath, the place where skin used to be will be red as a sunset, red and insistent as jazz. Wrap it in gauze that matches the fresh coat of glistening snow, and everything matches deliciously as the day slides away, until the air becomes visible in its black fur cape, and the only contrast is the stinging pricks of the stars.

That is a long way off and the gentle fatigue of knowing is a whisper in my ear —

I could shroud myself in the shadows beneath my desk, switch the lights away, and hide my things. I could leave and throw the blanket over my head at home. No matter to become nothing of consequence in the dark, waiting for the transition to finalize, for things to click into place such that I would emerge into darkness instead of light and until my eyes adjusted, I would be a thing that did not exist, a specter-shell-girl loose in the room, haunting with dizziness and despair.

But all adjusts, even perspective. It isn’t too late, I’m sorry — I meant so late, and my least favorite hour is still readying herself to arrive, donning gloves and frippery to come steal the light away so all is in balance — lamps won’t help you — all is at the same level — too warm to be conscious — let it slip — let me sleep — give it all over to her with her gloves and her many trains and petticoats.

— and it says: _______________________ before stepping heel-toe away so no one can hear the sound.

Relatively Normal: A Matter of Representation

Every morning, I wake up and take five pills: 3 Effexor, an SNRI antidepressant; 1 Wellbutrin, an aminoketone anti-depressant; and 1 Ativan, an anti-anxiety benzodiazepine. Actually, I take these five pills sometime after I wake up, when my reminder alarm goes off — Ativan can cause memory loss and I’ll end up taking somewhere between 2 and 4 more of them throughout the day.

There are other side effects, some of which compound on each other:

Ativan and Effexor reduce your sex drive. Wellbutrin usually has no sexual side effects. So my love life is holding steady at a negative 2. Wellbutrin and Effexor cause insomnia, while Ativan makes you drowsy. No wonder why I can fall asleep easily, but have an insomnia hour around 4AM.

All three cause headaches/migraines, and dizziness — I get both fairly frequently. All three also get you much more fucked up, so a few sips of wine or a beer, and I’m fairly drunk. I’ve taken to avoiding bars, but Wellbutrin and Effexor cause dry mouth, so I’m always well hydrated.

However, all of these things are supposed to be endured to stave off the crazy.


I am allowed to say ‘the crazy‘ because I’m reclaiming that word. Like feminists with ‘bitch.’ Except that I use it in a more self-depricatingly funny way. It’s not pride.

Then again, can you really be proud of something you didn’t decide to be a part of?


The crazy is also shorthand for Doctors Don’t Really Know What’s Wrong With My Brain.

Right now, the general descriptors are depression, anxiety, and PTSD, with a slight chance of Bipolar II. My votes are for the two latter. In the interest of time, my proof is multifaceted:

I think a lot about bad or weird things. I’m often distressed, either about nothing, or about a perfectly reasonable situation that for some reason bothers me. I’m either snipping and yelling at my husband, or not talking at all. I’m exhausted a lot of the time, and it can come on any time, in an instant.

Oh, and random crying. There’s some of that.


The problem with all of this is not all of this. I’m very rarely upset to be stupidly tired, or contemplating cutting, or feeling triggered in the grocery store. This is the new normal. It has been for two years. There are ways to deal. Workarounds.

The problem is that all of this is supposed to be pushed under the rug. Hidden away. It’s not pretty or pleasant, so no one wants to look at it. The new padded walls are closed mouths. We’ve rid ourselves of asylums and put the impetus on the inmates to hide themselves away.

She’s introverted.

She’s bitchy.

She’s such a negative person.

She needs to get over it already.

She’s just trying to get attention.

All of that is easier than having to actually face something like depression. Or anxiety. Or PTSD. Or bipolar. Or schizophrenia. Or OCD. Or spectrum disorders.


So depression is something you experience when you’ve had a bad day.

Anxiety is when you’re really nervous about a test.

PTSD is when you don’t like hearing about your ex-boyfriend.

Bipolar is having contradictory thoughts or emotions in the span of an hou.

Schizophrenia is shortened to ‘schizo’ and hurled as an insult.

OCD is being a type-A personality.

Having a spectrum disorder makes you interesting.


No one wants to speak for these people, my people.

We can’t even get a public defender, much less a psychiatrist who gives enough of a shit to explain your medication to you, and listen to your experience with it.

We have to represent ourselves, and that starts with identification.


I’m Liz.

I have the crazy.

I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed, either.

The Dead Hours

Yesterday, I spent three hours in bed, staring either at the ceiling or out the window at the twilight skyline, holding the comforter in close to my body. I occasionally shook — my lower lip, my hands — and as I tried to settle into my yoga-inspired comfort pose (right hand on my heart, left hand on my belly), I felt my heart shaking, too.

Breath wanted to be simultaneously in me and out of me, a constant cycle of inhalation-exhalation accelerating without me, and I hated having a body that felt so many ways at once:

A rubber band stretched, and cracking, and ready to break, to fling itself across the room and lie morbidly still;

A stone of massive density, or a piece of petrified wood, carved into place by nature or design, and utterly immobile;

An atom vibrating quick enough to move through solid, liquid, and gas to plasma, that unstable space of heat and speed.


Once upon a time, I received constructive criticism from a well-meaning person, and I crumpled in on myself. A children’s bounce-house shaped like a castle that’s sprung a leak, The turrets all fold inward to make a central peak, and the rest shrivels into wrinkles, little pockets where darkness can hide.


When I was a college freshman and needed to cry, I would do it in the shower. The sound of the water would drown me out, the near-to-scalding water would burn away the sorrow, and I would leave the bathroom with two towels — one on my head, one on my body — as if nothing had happened.

Eight years later, I stepped into my shower, but there were no tears, and the water sealed the things that hurt, and I thought of the scene in that Anne Hathaway movie where the supporting actress locks herself in the bathroom and melodramatically cuts her wrists with a razor head. I wondered how.


I put myself in bed because I wanted so badly to take up a kitchen knife, the pointed end of a corkscrew, a thumb tack from the junk drawer — but my husband. My husband.

My body is my own, to hurt, neglect, or nourish, but I gave my insubstantial Self to someone else who would not want to see bloody limbs.


I believe sometimes in the power of bloodletting — to let the numbness out, to feel something clean and precise, controlled.

I had thought this belief had been abandoned long ago.


And I mummified myself in our marriage bed, willing myself into stone, impregnating my mind with a thought-seed: No matter what rages inside, be still. It will pass.

I was there for three hours. I do not know if I slept.


Later, I emerged from my sick bed. I ate, and drank water — I hadn’t cried, but my body felt desiccated. An alarming cicada shell. I did the things that people do.

There was even real laughter, probably desperate, but real nevertheless.

Nothing, though, to erase the dead hours. They come, they take you, and they go.