First make sure.

For several years of my marriage, I experienced debilitating anxiety and hypochondria. I became convinced I was allergic to foods that had never, ever given me problems, like peanuts. I obsessed over my temperature and symptoms when I felt even mildly ill. I nearly passed out while driving because a tendon slid over a bone with just the right amount of snap. I was terrified of driving in dense traffic. I was afraid to try anything new, afraid to encounter any amount of risk at all.

When I left, that all stopped. My first full day of freedom, I navigated city streets like a pro and parallel-parked on the first try. My confidence was back.



I’ve dealt with depression a few times in my life. I was convinced I’ve been dealing with it for the past month. But I’m starting to entertain the notion that it’s not in my head–that is, it’s not in my head.

I hate the smell of stale alcohol on someone’s breath. It reeks of obligation and heartache. It’s the older man who has never smelled any other way and has never been quite coherent, but you have to humor him because his wife is a friend of the family. Or it is family, drinking despite cirrhosis, drinking because it is the only thing that works, the only thing you can’t push away. Or it’s the friend who’s headed down a long, suicidal road and you can’t stop that drive any more than you can stop an ox by tying yourself to its feet, but you have to keep trying or else you’re just the latest one to abandon them.

Alcohol in general doesn’t do this to me–a freshly opened beer or bottle of wine is as appealing as ever. But when someone leans close to me and they’re wearing cologne by Miller, I hold my breath until my gorge subsides. When they’ve stopped bothering to push the bottles down below the other trash, I ball my fists so I don’t take the entire bag outside and start smashing glass against brick. When they’ve stopped bothering even to throw away the bottles, I make an excuse and walk out.

And then I go to bed and I stare at the wall. I stare until I no longer wish to destroy something. I stare until I no longer wish to save anyone.

Lately it’s all I’ve done. I thought it was me. I think now it’s not.

What do you do when you’re not a teetotaler, but you’re in a room full of alcoholics? What do you do when you only put holes in paper, but you’re in a room full of people dipping bullets in pigs’ blood? What do you do when you are a little afraid all the time, but everyone around you is terrified and drowning? How do you say, I am not this, I am not them, without walking away entirely? How do you help them without becoming them? How do you keep sane, how do you keep believing there is anything beyond the extremes?

How do you keep driving in traffic and eating peanut butter? How do you keep feeling?


About betterpast

Thirty-seven and counting. View all posts by betterpast

2 responses to “First make sure.

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