It was sometime around Thanksgiving, maybe a day or two later, when my boss wanted to talk to me. He spoke in an even tone, not somber but not enthusiastic. I’d be out of work at the end of February, he’d said. My position–data entry and accounts payable–was going to be automated.
I couldn’t respond, didn’t know how to respond–I’d held the job for nearly eleven years, showed up day in and day out, without suspecting anything, taking my job for granted, and now, over the course of a single conversation, I was obsolete.
Anxiety consumed me. I felt frozen, locked in a state of inertia. Eleven years. Gone. A stable job. Gone. My future: uncertain. With a wife and two kids, with rent and bills, with debt, I couldn’t afford to dawdle. I couldn’t afford to coast through life, hopping from one dead-end job to the next. I had to act decisively.
But I froze.
Time stood still.
Is this the future? Locked into a job only to watch it disintegrate as algorithms replace people? If I’m so easily replaced by reams of code, then am I worthless?
Where do I go from here?
What am I going to do?
I wrote and rewrote and revised my resume. Black words and numbers floating on a sea of white. I studied it, analyzed it, doubted it. All words lost meaning. What was the point? Why should I bother if computer code could unseat me?
I live in a small town in Indiana, on the mouth of Lake Michigan, near the Michigan border, about 65 miles east of Chicago. Once an industrial town, it transformed over the years, like so much of America, into a Mecca of consumerism and low-paying jobs. A casino, an outlet mall, and a burgeoning “arts” district inspired the knuckleheads running the city to grovel in supplication to upper-middle-class buffoons from out of state–mostly Illinois–to travel here. To spend money here. Buy buy buy. Please, I’m begging you; come on over and spend your money. Pretty please with sugar on top.
Slamming all their eggs into a single basket, without diversifying the economy, our city leaders create part-time retail work–none of which pay a living wage. Good jobs are rare. As a result, we’re a city largely populated by the impoverished: too poor to do anything, too desperate and broken and unable to flee, to seek something better.
The fools running this city might present it as some kind of cozy, idyllic, fashionably
kitschy hideaway, but don’t listen to them: it’s malignant. They’ve done nothing more than slap a bandage over melanoma while calling it a birthmark.
Unemployment insurance pays less than the job you’ve vacated. The math is founded by tallying the average of your income. Then it’s reduced by 25%, I think. But don’t quote me on that–I’m too tired and lazy to look it up.
At 36, I decided to take a break, to try to enjoy a brief respite on unemployment. I’d never drawn unemployment benefits before. It was a new experience for me. And I hadn’t spent so much time at home, either. What the hell do you do with your day? I didn’t have cable and I didn’t watch much TV, so the cliche of watching game shows or soap operas didn’t raise its head. I didn’t play video games, either, so no wasting time on that. Instead, I spent time reading and working on an ill-fated novel, one I’d later abandon around the 100,000-word mark.
I’d gone to college at 34 but took a hiatus for reasons we won’t expand on here. Let’s just say a brief separation from my wife, the death of my father, and a recent stay in the behavioral medicine ward played a part. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, and probable PTSD. Everything intensified after that. The world assumed a burdensome and empty pallor.
Finding the right cocktail of meds for a screwy brain is a long and sordid process. In many ways, it’s exhausting.
The first batch of meds for my bipolar disorder rendered me a more or less insomniac. The doctor replaced that with meds that transformed my heart into a marathon runner on meth. I was also prescribed Klonopin for my anxiety issues, a medicine that I loved: it got me high. Every time. Most people build up a tolerance to such medication and they no longer feel the euphoric, stoned sensations, but not me. I not only experienced the relief of vanishing anxiety. I got high every time I popped a pill. And I enjoyed it. A legal high three times a day. How awesome was that?
But it took its toll on me. I needed the Klonopin to control my anxiety and I wanted the Klonopin to alter my reality, to get me high. But it didn’t just get me stoned; it zombified me: I’d sit on the couch and hold a book or stare at the television without paying attention. I’d exist in a sort of vegetative state–alive and high and motivated to do a million things but neither willing nor able to do anything, least of all look for a job.
So I played the unemployment game.
You’re allocated a budget based on the length of your tenure at your previous job and your average income. Your weekly unemployment check draws from, and depletes, this budget.
In order to qualify for unemployment benefits each week, you must prove that you’ve looked for a job. In the old days, you’d visit prospective employers, fill out applications, and the managers or owners would fill out a card verifying that you’d applied for the job.
These days, however, you do everything online. You can apply for jobs on various websites and submit that information electronically.
In order to qualify for my benefits, I had to apply for at least three different jobs the previous week. I had to submit my information every Sunday. I’d “look” for jobs online every Saturday, sometimes as late as 11:59 pm, then get up early the next morning and submit my information.
It’s hard to enjoy unemployment when you’re poor and don’t have savings. Even when you’re in the moment, reading or writing or watching a movie or high on Klonopin your situation gnaws on you, pulling you back and grounding you and preventing you from truly and thoroughly enjoying life: money’s running out; money’s running out; we’re hanging by a thread, one week away from devastation and desolation; what’re we gonna do? Oh god oh god what’re we gonna do? This is insane. This is insane. Why must we live in a world predicated on money, money, money? And you try and try to enjoy this vacation, this respite from the working world, however brief, and sometimes you almost succeed, but then a thought hits you or a sensation roils you, and fear and anxiety, ennui and despair seizes you, and frozen, forced by your brain, and your situation, in a sort of stasis, and you can’t escape it; you can’t flee it; so you stumble through life, simultaneously enjoying it and dreading the next moment. Then sometimes you stop, you try to reassess the situation: is my unemployed state causing these sensations? or is it my anxiety? Fuck. Am I manic? I think I’m depressed. Am I depressed?
You know the answer as soon as you ask the question and this knowledge plunges you into a downward spiral.
Life in manic and depressed states is kaleidoscopic, at least for me. I experience and perceive one object or situation in myriad ways, each moment representing a fragment of time, shattered and broken and reconstructed–and filtered through the lens of my mental state.
I remember a few weeks into my unemployment, sitting at the dining room table, fingers on the keyboard of my laptop, frozen. One second I was writing. Pride and excitement coursed through me. The next second I was staring at the screen, at the words, my fingers hovering over the keyboard. The words shifted focus. Nothing made sense. They were empty, meaningless. It’s all shit. Garbage. I’m worthless, talentless, a hack. No. Less than a hack. A piece of shit. What does this mean, anyway? What does any of it mean?
My perception shifted as I glanced around the room. Paintings by Bosch and Dali and Blake hung on the wall. Some of my favorite paintings, and now I couldn’t stand them. The images transformed into amorphous blobs, colors demarcated.
I wanted to do something, go somewhere, participate in the collective slavery we referred to as “society,” but I was broke. Feelings of uselessness and despair washed over me. What’s the point?
I’d locked myself in my apartment, avoiding or ignoring the outside world, and now I felt as if I were living in a set on an otherwise empty soundstage, or in a house nestled on a spot of land floating in the void.
I had no way of knowing whether or not anything outside of my immediate experience existed. My windows covered, possible outside noise drowned out by Nine Inch Nails–“every day is exactly the same“–I couldn’t close my eyes and sense life outside the house. I couldn’t sense being or existence.
As I crossed the room, I wondered if the world outside, in that moment, played by quantum rules. Was it both existent and non-existent? Only by pulling back the curtain would I determine whether or not the world outside even existed. And yet I hesitated. I hesitated. I took a certain comfort in that moment. As I experienced the sensation that I inhabited a house trapped in an infinite void, an atom in a sea of nothingness, I felt relieved, somehow comforted.
I’d fallen into a dissociative state. Only I existed. Not the world or its problems, not the universe or its complexities–just me. And it was relieving. Silence. Beautiful silence.
Then … sadness, emptiness, despair consumed me.
That’s the great paradox for me, the beautiful dichotomy that festers and blooms: I love life and hate it, reject it and embrace, want it to end and fear the end. And in that moment, in that dissociative state, I glanced my own mortality, briefly fantasized about my death, and terror seized me.
I’m never more conscious of my financial situation than when I consider my family. My parents–and, by extension, my siblings and I–were poor, yet our life was no better or worse than my life now. And my wife’s life. And our kids’ lives. And, in that respect, I feel as if I’m failing them.
As a kid, I went to Las Vegas two or three times, we went to theme parks in Ohio and visited Chicago a few times. My father owned a boat when I was a child and we’d take it onto Lake Michigan and spend hours cruising around.
I can’t share those or similar experiences with my kids. We haven’t flown on airplanes–I haven’t been on one since I was ten years old–or cruised Lake Michigan or spent time in Chicago. We don’t go shopping for anything other than necessities, we don’t go to amusement parks or engage in overtly capitalist notions of fun. Part of me doesn’t mind. The anti-capitalist part of me thinks it’s probably not a bad thing. But the kid in me, the sentimental fool with thousands of sentimental memories, regrets and resents it. As foolish and trivial as that may sound, it’s the truth.
I decided to cut short my vacation. Having worked ten years at the same job, I’d felt I’d earned and deserved a break. A selfish act: by dropping out of the world of work, I slowly plunged my family into a worse situation. Money was tight, food was cheap and basic, and life’s adventures contracted. We were in a precarious situation. Always poor, we were now impoverished, and I had to change that. I had to take steps to alter our situation.
Desperation coincided with mania, which triggered a more or less constant state of anxiety. I tend to dismiss the concept of luck. In my universe, luck is a subjective interpretation of chance or coincidence. However, I fixated on luck when I motivated myself to find a job–and couldn’t fucking find one. I’ve such shit luck. Why the fuck can’t I find a job? Why won’t anyone hire me, give me a chance? What’s the problem, goddamn it. Fuck them. Fuck all of them.
My world darkened. Everything felt doomed and catastrophic. Nightmares prevented me from sleeping more than an hour or two consecutively each night. Waking fantasies emerged in which my family and I lived in cars and begged for scraps. With no savings, they were possibilities, and they felt likely as each passing day found me without a job.
I was still drawing unemployment but the pool got smaller and smaller as the weeks progressed. Despondency settled in. Then self- hated and loathing. Why hadn’t I tried harder in school? Why didn’t I go back to college? Am I stupid? Maybe I’m an idiot and I’m too stupid to realize I’m stupid? Am I the Dunning-Krueger effect in action? How do I step outside of myself to determine the truth value of that question?
Days and nights slipped away. I filled out application after application and rewrote and revised my resume–nothing. No calls, no expressions of interest, no desires to schedule interviews. Nothing.
I felt worthless. My wife tried to console me. She argued that I wasn’t worthless; the job market in town wasn’t great, she’d said. But you’ll find something. If she experienced negativity re: our situation, she didn’t express it. But now that I think about it, she didn’t have to: I expressed more than enough for both of us.
Taking the lead from my parents, I didn’t openly discuss my employment or our financial history to our kids or in their presence. But you should never underestimate the perception of children. They’re reasoning machines constantly paying attention to, and absorbing, information. They knew we were poor. They knew not to expect much for their birthdays or Christmas. We struggled. They knew it and experienced it as much as my wife and I did. Still, I tried to fool myself to believe the opposite, and I refused to discuss our situation around them.
But it killed me. I grew up in poverty and I had hated it. I drank and smoked pot and huffed gas and skipped school and fucked around and got into trouble, I hung out with gangbangers and got stoned and, on one occasion, got shot at while visiting my cousin’s house. I seemed to embody the statistical norm for my social strata. Upward mobility is possible in this country but not probable. You’re far more likely to slide down the social strata than climb up it. And kids tend to stay in the strata into which they’re born.
As a teenager and into my twenties, I didn’t do anything to distinguish myself, to lay the groundwork for a comfortable future. Heidegger argued that our past, present, and future influences our decisions. Our past shapes our present, he argued, and our present shapes our future. In turn, our future informs our present. I once thought it rubbish. Now I accept it.
On my worst days, I’m an anti-capitalist. But if I stop to examine my dreams and
fantasies, they’re intertwined with capitalism and middle-class notions of life. I grew up on 60s sitcoms and movies, so I guess I internalized the ideology behind capitalist American mythos. Even now I suppose I possess it, at least to a degree. In this society, money = freedom. Without money, you’re a slave to routine, allowed only limited movement. When my mania or anxiety or depression spikes, I don’t want to go anywhere or talk to anyone. But one good days I want to go everywhere and talk to everyone. “I want to do something that matters,” as Trent Reznor once screamed. But in a country where everything costs something, my family and I usually sit at home, developing cabin fever. That’s the reality for some of us poor folk, I guess. We only have our dreams–and after a while, they, too, collapse under the weight of our poverty.
I find few things as tedious as filling out applications. One or two don’t bother me, but fifteen, twenty, thirty drive me crazy. I write and re-write the same information, over and over and over again. Then I submit the applications and wait. I wait. And while I’m waiting I fill out more applications, and I check my email and ensure my ringer’s on fifty times a day. Then I go over my resume. And I berate myself, wondering what’s wrong with me. Why am I so worthless? I’ve got a good work history, I don’t bounce from job to job, I show up and do my work, and yet no prospective employers contact me. What the fuck is wrong with me? It’s obviously me. I’m so fucking worthless. Some days I want to climb under the blanket in bed and curl up and sleep all day without talking to anyone. I’m so worthless no one would probably notice my absence.
Poor people without insurance don’t see doctors. We see nurse practitioners. I receive medical care from a free clinic with no expertise in mental health. My old NP, who understood mental illness, recently departed. Now I’m sitting in the room waiting for my new NP.
I tend to wander doctor’s offices while I wait, but now I’m seated, legs crossed, hunched forward. Exhaustion settled over me days ago and I can’t shake it. Anxiety, a more or less permanent fixture, keeps me on edge.
I’m on a half milligram of Klonopin and hope the NP will up it to 1 mg, hoping it’ll take the edge off the way .5 mg did when I first took it. The clock ticks and I rock back and forth, back and forth. Surely, bumping it to 1 mg isn’t a big deal. Right?
I take out my phone and login to my bank account. This routine occurs multiple times a day. It’s a form of torture. Tension builds as the site loads, then a torrent of anxiety washes over me. I’m always on the verge of financial ruin. There’s never more than 40 or 50 dollars in my checking account.
Turning off my phone and shoving it into my pocket, I realize constantly checking my bank account truly is a form of torture. A daily ritual. The 21st century equivalent to self-flagellation. It’s punishment, I suppose.
The NP saunters into the room and sits on a stool in front of me. The entire scene plays out in about thirty seconds. She props a laptop on her lap and stares at the screen without making eye contact. I’m not too familiar with mental health issues, she tells me. Great. But I see you’re on lamictal and Klonopin. I don’t like Klonopin, she says. I’m going to change that to Xanax.
Klonopin helps me, I say.
I don’t like it. It’s incredibly addictive.
She closes her laptop and stands and tells me a nurse will show up in a few minutes with the prescription. I protest, but she reiterates her dislike for Klonopin. Then she slides out of the room, closing the door behind her.
And that’s that.
That’s fucking that.
Tour my house, scrutinize it, and you won’t find a single visible universal product code. I
loathe them. If I’m drinking from a can, I spin it when I set it on the table so the barcode isn’t facing me. In the kitchen and the bathroom, the bedroom and the living room, from cereal to toothpaste, books to condom boxes to movies–barcodes never face me.
I detest them.
“What do you know that we don’t?” my friend Chris often jokingly asks, as if I’m aware of a conspiracy few others know or understand.
But there aren’t any conspiracies–at least as far as barcodes are concerned. As far as I know. No, I turn or obscure or hide every barcode in sight for aesthetic reasons. I can’t stand their look. I don’t know why, but I find them aesthetically unappealing. And since UPCs are ubiquitous in our society, I spend more time than I’d care to admit hiding or destroying or ignoring them.
Source amnesia prevents me from knowing when or why or how this detestation started. I’ve despised them for as long as I can remember. As a child, I’d shiver on seeing them. They filled me with annoyance as a teenager. Now that I’m an adult, I tend to treat them as an art critic stumbling on a low-rent art fair might treat the canvases: with revulsion, then dismissal.
At some point in my teenage years—perhaps 1992 or 93, when I was 13 or 14—I stumbled on a picture of a hand in an old textbook, the skin removed to reveal the tendons.
Tendons ran along the back of the hand and spread out to the fingers. Near the center, at the area where the tendons spread, I noticed a similarity to barcodes. Unlike barcodes, however, the tendons of extensor digitorum, as they’re called, inspired me. The contrast of white against red, the beauty of evolution and the functionality of these meaty cords, moved me. After all these years, I can’t convey the sensations I experienced, a cross between elation, revulsion and fear, and bewilderment.
I covered the top and bottom of the illustration with scraps of paper, revealing the middle of the tendons: white barcodes set against a background of raw meat. It was the first time I consciously acknowledged my obsession with imagery, an obsession I’ve carried with me as long as I can remember, an obsession born out of the story of my birth.
My parents lived in a lower class neighborhood in Michigan City, Indiana, about six blocks from the local hospital. In January 1979, a blizzard hit, at least according to my mother. The streets unplowed, my father unable to get the car out of the mound of snow under which it was buried, my parents walked to the hospital, climbing a hill as they stomped through the snow. My mother, nine-months pregnant, wore a wool cap, a scarf wrapped around her neck and lower face, wrapped her arms around her belly, clutching it. She squinted and blinked as snow pelted her face.
I remembered hearing this story as a child and visualizing it as if my occipital lobe were receiving information from my eyes. The image was clear, lucid, less an image and more a hallucination. I can still picture it: a neighborhood blanketed in snow; a woman, seen from behind, always from behind, wearing a cap, head lowered, climbing a hill, shins and feet buried in snow.
For some reason, when I pictured this scene—and this holds true today—my father was absent. The image always depicted a woman, alone, enveloped by snow. Perhaps mom deemphasized my father’s presence when she told the story, perhaps I saw dad as unnecessary to the imagery, or perhaps I was enamored with my mother and she was the focal point. Conjuring the memory as I write this, I still don’t picture my father in this scene; instead, I envision a human-shaped waft of black and gray smoke drifting alongside my mother.
A few days later, on January 24, in the waning years of the Carter administration, I was thrust into the world. Born with a head full of strawberry blonde hair and a cowlick near my widow’s peak, which curled in a perfect Fibonacci spiral. I was the star of the ward. The hair, my mother told me, drew the nurses to me. They’d hold me and swoop their pinky fingers through the curl, which always fell back into place.
Some photos from the late 70s haven’t aged well; their colors drained, they’ve assumed the palates of Cubist paintings: browns and yellows and grays. The earliest photos of me, including a portrait snapped hours after I was born, now assume the hue of tin-types. Imagining my life as a baby and a toddler, trying to fabricate pictures to augment stories about my early life, I imagine those scenes with muted palates.
A childhood in sepia.
When I was young, five or six, I’d flip through pictures in a photo album and assume my skin and clothes were naturally golden–I didn’t know what sepia was back then–and thought I had somehow lost my natural color as I aged. Still, I pictured my early life, then and now, as a sort of reconstructed cubist canvas.
As appalling as I find barcodes, I can picture them without disgust. Black lines varying in height and thickness set against a white background with numbers running atop, or sometimes below, them. If you were to imagine them through the lens of a camera, and zoom in until a field of white bracketed by two black lines consumed your field of vision, then you can use that image as the starting point for innumerable images: a detail of flesh set between rotting ribs, the bases of crucifixes on Golgotha, a water tower, a birds-eye-view of a city block, two tuning forks hitting the frequency of the Big Bang.
The imagery matters only if it moves or inspires me. This assertion holds true throughout my life. I don’t know why I obsessed over imagery as a child or why it’s lingered and continues to affect me–sometimes profoundly. My imagination is fired by images. Initially, I construct them in lieu of concepts. My memories of any point in my life are predicated on imagery. I can describe spatial relations, expressions, visual impressions when discussing past events. I conceive stories in terms of imagery. I paint and sculpt with my mind, usually conceiving images which fade as the moment passes, never bothering or intending to sketch them or write them down.
For me, everything starts with an image. I long ago discarded linearity and chronological coherence in lieu of imagery and, later, concepts. To my mind, the merger of imagery and concepts did more to inspire me than any other combination. Such a marriage culminates in, but isn’t limited to, symbolism.
Juxtaposing two images back to back serves more to convey a point than to play out a linear scene in its entirety. For example, showing a woman witness someone’s death, then moving to another image in which she’s hallucinating a decomposing dog on her ceiling in the midst of sleep paralysis is more potent than a conversation between her and someone else about death. Breakdowns are rooted in psychic meltdowns. They only manifest themselves via behavior later. The workings of a person’s brains, how trauma shifts and alters or perverts their perceptions is more true and honest and real than a conversation exposing information or a dramatic scene involving tears or rain. Physical breakdowns serve as a denouement to trauma, not a climax.
Anxiety is a powerful muse. But it can also cripple you. The key to harnessing its power is to absorb the imagery as it perverts your perception. And I can think of no better term than while in the midst of an anxiety attack: a perversion of perception.
For years, I fought my anxiety, struggled to perceive things “normally.” I never knew what “normal” meant, but I assumed it meant something or someone other than me, an imagined self not stricken with my brain.
At 34, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. For most of my life, I knew I was different without understanding that difference, and I fought it. The diagnosis changed everything. It liberated me in the sense that I could channel my mental illness. I could exploit it creatively.
The impetus for embracing my bipolar disorder and my anxiety disorder was a method developed by Salvador Dali, the paranoiac-critical method, as he called it. He claimed to induce paranoid states that enabled him to make irrational associations, which he mined for their value as imagery and symbols.
I took a similar approach. By inducing my anxiety, and allowing it to feed man itself, I’d trigger manic states and fuel myself on a toxic dose of mania and anxiety. Then I’d write. Words poured out of me. I wrote well over a quarter million words in a few months. And here’s the thing: I derive my influence from philosophers, symbolists, and surrealists. I even prefer to call myself an existential surrealist–an awkward term, I know. Over the years, as a writer, I’ve trained myself to draw narrowly focused, at times idiosyncratic, surreal and absurd imagery. And the imagery poured out of me when I induced those states.
Depressive realism: although not endorsed by a plurality of cognitive scientists, it’s the notion that people in depressive states tend to perceive “reality” more accurately than other people. It’s a hypothesis of great import–perhaps more to philosophers than psychologists. All people filter information throughout myriad cognitive biases. It’s incontrovertible. People who aren’t depressed, the hypothesis argues, perceive reality through more positive biases, which enables them to non-consciously filter out more bleak or negative facets of the human condition and human experience. “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles, too,” as the old song goes. But people locked in depressive tend not to filter information through positive lenses. In some cases, they glimpse the world as it is, not how it ought to be.
Again, this is a hypothesis and not verified through empirical studies–and since it deals with the “nature” of “reality” we should probably leave it to philosophy; however, I think, through nothing more than anecdotal evidence, that the hypothesis holds water.
Around the time I developed my method of inducing anxiety and mania, I was locked in a months’ long depressive state. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it, and that’s something that people who don’t suffer from depression often overlook: when you’re depressed, seriously depressed, suicidally depressed, you don’t always realize you’re depressed. Some object or behavior or flaw, etc., garner your attention, and you focus on it almost exclusively, to the point of obsession. You juxtapose your situation with someone else’s situation or you fixate on a behavior or a perceived flaw, and these fixations and obsessions define your mood as far as you’re concerned. Eventually, if you’re lucky you’ll find yourself in an “aha” moment when you realize that your state preceded these fixations–i.e., these fixations didn’t define your mood; your mood established these fixations.
It’s critical to realize that people who are depressed don’t always realize they’re depressed. I certainly didn’t. And I didn’t realize the extent of my depression, how all-encompassing it was, when I induced anxiety and mania, a routine I performed night after night. Through the benefit of hindsight, I now know that I was playing Russian roulette, but I didn’t perceive any risks at the time I did it. In fact, I was elated; I had never produced as much work with such interesting imagery in such a short amount of time.
A brief interlude:
I wrote two novels back to back. My mental state deteriorated. Locked in severe depression and in a tetrasect of anxiety, mania, depression, and sleep deprivation, I transformed into a hollow man. The world dimmed. Everything reminded me of ashes. Color drained from the universe. I felt hopeless and lost. The world, the universe, and all life in it seemed empty, devoid of substance.
I was writing a novel, Flesh Made World, about a woman coming to terms with her wife’s and father’s death. It was a nonlinear, experimental novel modeled on Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and Andre Breton’s Soluble Fish. Shortly after I started work on the novel, my father died. He wasn’t sick, so we hadn’t anticipated it. The death of our father was, as far as we were concerned, an inevitability relegated to the future.
Then he was dead. My family and I suspected as much when they called us to the emergency room and sequestered us in a room near the waiting room. A table and chairs filled the room. Nothing else–no phone or television. A box of tissues sat on the table, one tissue standing limply out of the elliptical-shaped hole in the box. I sat beside my mother and stared at the tissue. Who had pulled it out? A nurse? or a grieving family member?
We sat in silence. I sat between my sister and my mother, my niece slumped in a chair across the room, and my sister’s boyfriend sat to my right. My anxiety amplified as I sat there. My mind raced and I tried to kill it, tried to silence it, tried to prevent thinking about my father, lying somewhere in that hospital. Dead.
We knew he was dead. Our silence betrayed it. I couldn’t even hope for the best. No one
had come in to see us, no one had told us about my father’s condition, and they didn’t have to: of course, he was dead. Why shove us in this room if he was alive?
My fear of heights prevents me from skydiving–which is probably a reason to do it. I imagine a certain tranquility as you’re gliding and free-falling. Peace. The wind wraps around you, assaults you, cradles and resists you. But it must feel amazing.
Xanax reminds me of my imagined skydive. It’s tranquil, relaxing. Then you race to the ground faster and faster, faster and faster. You’re pulling your ripcord as you plummet to the ground but your parachute won’t open. You fly toward the ground faster and faster and pull the cord harder and harder.
Then you hit.
Klonopin was like floating to the ground, then coasting to a soft landing. It lasted longer and felt better. Xanax, on the other hand, felt great for a short burst, then it dropped off and I’d slam into the ground, so to speak.
I hated it.
I visited my NP again and implored her to switch me back to Klonopin, but she refused to do it. I don’t like it, she’d say. It’s too addictive, she’d say. Blah blah blah.
As a compromise, she prescribed me extended relief Xanax. This should last all day and make things easier on you, she said.
I didn’t have a choice. She refused to give me on, so I accept the new prescription.
After the appointment, I sat in my car, smoking, and contemplated dropping my meds altogether. I mean, did I really need them? I wasn’t so bad, was I? I was certainly in a better state than a couple years back, when I admitted myself on suicide watch.
I wondered what would happen–what kind of person would emerge–if I weaned myself off my meds. It might make things easier. It’d certainly end my bi-weekly or monthly groveling sessions with an NP not trained in mental health. And it might even improve my sex life with my wife. It might improve everything.
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Daulton Dickey is a novelist, poet, and content creator currently living in Indiana with his wife and kids. He’s the author of A Peculiar Arrangement of Atoms: Stories, Still Life with Chattering Teeth and People-Shaped Things, and other stories, Elegiac Machinations: an experimental novella, and Bastard Virtues, a novel. Rooster Republic Press will publish his latest novel, Flesh Made World, later this year. Contact him at daultondickey[at]yahoo[dot]com.