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Crossing the Bridge | 2017 | Greedy Kindness

03.27.17

Happiness is the delicate balance between what one is and what one has.  

-F. H. Denison



Low Tide

I don't want you to get the wrong idea. My writing is sometimes born of venting. Not the best writing, I warrant, but possibly the most frequent. I concentrate as much of it as I can in one place, distilling it from a watery sap to what I hope is delicious syrup of my lyrical anxiety. By the nature of the medium, you only get a cropped and altered snapshot I hope you don't take as an honest selfie, as this is not how it is ever intended. This is an artform, a product, not something candid and unrehearsed. Depression and anxiety are not my every day, but fearing when they return is to varying degrees.

I am not Harvey Pekar and can vent about the good days only so much before it becomes bragging. "Yeah, let me tell you what a pain it is to sign books next to my amazing, cute, and studious wife while I have few financial worries." I wouldn't read it without glaring and I doubt you would either.

I have felt fantastic recently, after I left the Japanese restaurant in Poughkeepsie with Amber and Chris. I don't know why - a good and unexpected day, sufficient sunlight, a novel experience, great food - but acknowledged and appreciated it in the moment. It's all I can really do, let myself be in the moment a little longer while looking it in the eye and seeing who blinks first. I'm so grateful for my life that you would absolutely fall asleep if I started counting my blessings.

I am grateful in retrospect that I did not order a soda with my meal, as small a thing as that is, so I couldn't cite caffeine as an excuse for my elevated mental state. I was happy because, barely explicably, recursively, I was happy. It has been twelve hours since I had taken any medication. My meds make me balanced (or imbalanced in too high of a dose) and blessedly sleepy. They never make me happy and I wouldn't trust them if they did. Factors consorted, briefly, to make me unburdened and delighted.

I feel okay right now. Not fantastic, but the anxiety is mostly gone. There are occasional and undifferentiated twinges in the mornings, but the tide recedes as quickly as it comes. When the anxiety is at high tide, I cannot find escape from nervous thoughts. I am not a pessimist or suicidal, but I cannot stop seeing my body crumpled into a pile, broken and inert, knowing that I put myself there because I had one too many moments of weakness. Mental illness killed Melissa, one way or other. I carry the knowledge of her descent with me as a talisman against losing my way.

I do not want to give the impression that I am so mentally unstable that I consider self-destruction as anything more than a sort of hypothetical. Having spent so long hiding my mental illness, even from myself (I thought I was righteous, sleep-deprived, and brooding), I have an elaborate tower of coping mechanisms. In public, you will never know I have anxiety or depression, though I am almost certain the depression now is only at the fact that I cannot quite shake my anxious thoughts. My brain understands being in public as a performative space where any breakdown is unlikely to get me what I want in life. (Being seen as seriously crazy is categorically nothing I want, since I do not have evidence it is true.)

Even when the anxiety is most acute, I know it is illogical. I don't believe the racing thoughts are true. Living with them feels torturous, not knowing when I will be granted reprieve.

But it does happen, suddenly and without notice. The storm passes and all is calm and bright. I look back at weeks harboring these ridiculous thoughts with annoyance, embarrassment, and some fear. That is not who I am. This unburdened clarity is, coming much more frequently now. The attacks of mental illness are the aberration.

I have been fine for over a week and I hope this will continue, though I keep on my medication and stay away from Facebook and its ilk in fostering a Fear of Missing Out that quickly spirals out of control.

I want to be whole for myself - I have to keep living with myself, after all - and for Amber. I have seen relationships redefined and ruled by one party's mental illness. I will never allow this to happen in mine.

When my issues are small, it is easy to say this with confidence and believe it fully. I have loved other women, but never like I do with Amber. She deserves me at my best as much as I do. The world needs me well because I have much I need to do and write.

Beneath all this tumult, all this induced angst, I feel myself becoming a far better and more capable person. If I can manage to live through this, if I can be the master of my mind, I will do so as a person far more complete than I have ever been. I am becoming the best version of myself I have ever been and to not believe this progress has close to plateaued. That being said, the anxiety tears at me so I cannot enjoy my betterment. The anxiety is, when I have the distance, something other than me, something outside.

Those who deal with me daily would guess none of this perturbs beneath a placid fašade. This is how I wish to be when it is not how I feel within. This is how I prefer to be thought, so why burden the world with a temporary condition? I am not Seattle with the rain. I am a beach that knows a rare storm, but this is not how it is defined.

The trick of anxiety is that it renders fuzzy memories of being otherwise. I will be better come spring. Snow and cold short out my ability to be placid. I know or believe there were swaths of time where I was untroubled - or at least untroubled by the thoughts that race uselessly. They make me doubt to my foundations and hate myself all the way down, even as I know even in the moment that I don't really think any of this. It is all chemicals and environmental reactions. I know this even as I feel it. If I ever found a competent therapist, I could arrive to the first session with several years of revelations already charted out. "Hiya, Doc! I have an anxiety disorder that presently attaches itself to anything that reminds me of my mortality, specifically the idea of having children - something I've never wanted and still do not want but whose expiration date now seems to loom. This anxiety tries to infest me with irrational thoughts that can render me less functional in private - I am very experienced in compartmentalizing and wearing a mask of presentability - until I've induced myself to cry. I imagine this rebalances my stress hormones."

My drug therapist says that, if we found the proper proportion of medication, it would be like magic. I am a witch and I know that magic does not come without work, without some exchange of more than my copay. She thinks I am not trying hard enough to alleviate my issues, though she sees me for fifteen minutes every four to six weeks. She knows me only for a brief performance where I complain about my medication or mental health. She doesn't know any of the rest and does not let herself.

It has been a good day and I am spent all this mulling over the nature of the bad days. It doesn't hurt me to acknowledge that, but it doesn't help my case that it is mostly good days, especially when the sun is shining.

You find the treasures at low tide, the shells of things that were born and died in the waves or just moved to better accommodations. When the tide is low, you get more of the beach, the wet sand swishing between your toes. Maybe the tide won't come back this time. Maybe the moon will pull the ocean to a different shore. It hasn't happened in the past, the saltwater collapsing the castles you were building. And you think to yourself the tide didn't use to be so bad, maybe it will get lighter again soon.

Soon in Xenology: Navel-gazing? Kindness. Ethnicity. False starts for stars.

last watched: Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural
reading: Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis
listening: It's Raining Tacos

Crossing the Bridge | 2017 | Greedy Kindness

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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