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.

Out-of-Genre Difficulty

I’ve been writing of business-type articles lately. This is not what I imagined when I dreamed of being a writer, and it’s also not my favorite kind of writing to do. I often dread it. I will more than likely put these pieces off till the last minute. Let’s get down to brass tacks: I’m a personal essayist and an aspiring/working novelist who says on her podcast that she doesn’t give advice — what business do I have writing about business? It’s not my best writing, I’m completely out of my element, and I look forward to being done with every piece as soon as I agree to take one on.

So why keep it up? Why actively pitch to multiple — not just one, but multiple — websites that feature business advice? Why put myself through this rigmarole time and time again?

One word: Hemingway.

“Newspaper work will not harm a young writer and could help him if he gets out of it in time.”

Hemingway worked for the The Kansas City Star for a few months after high school, and it has been said that he learned his economical style from newspaper work, when a story must fill a certain number of inches, no more, no less. Of course he got out, went to war, and went on to write The Sun Also Rises, the first of his ten novels — but this bit of wisdom survived alongside all the great works.

Today, as I sit in fear of my approaching deadline for a piece on brand-new businesses, this quotation does not give me inspiration, eagerness to write, or faith in my abilities to write something of both substance and quality, but it does show me what worth can be found in such work. Writing about my experiences in entrepreneurship cannot harm my young writing, and I believe it will help me — but how?

Following in Ernest’s footsteps, it teaches me about economy — people want their wisdom in shots instead of pints. I am a long-form writer who doesn’t believe in word counts, who encourages expansion rather than contraction, but that can lead to over-embellished repetitive prose. Why waste space and my readers’ time with something that could be said in a paragraph instead of a page?

Apart from that, these pieces have taught me how to struggle with writing, how to work in consecutive drafts, how to approach something that doesn’t come easily — I’ve always written about the personal without fear of opening up and sharing my darkest and brightest bits with anyone who cares to read them. But writing information, advice, helpful how-to’s. . .not my forte. I can’t rely on good first drafts, on a voice I’ve been using since middle and high school, on my laurels and ease and comfort zone.

I won’t. I’ll fight with every piece, and half despise it and myself for agreeing to write it, and procrastinate until I’m chain smoking, chugging coffee, and cursing — but I’ll keep writing them because there’s inherent worth in doing what you hate, in doing what’s hard until it isn’t anymore, and taking the lessons with you to whatever your pet project may be. So I’ll take this with me to my novel, and to my essays, and to my editing, with these words in mind:

It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.