“Make your mistakes, take your chances, look silly, but keep on going. Don’t freeze up.”
-- From You Can't Go Home Again byThomas Wolfe
So bad that death would feel better. That’s what it was like Saturday. Stripped of reality, unable to be. The verb to be. A consciousness and clarity and awareness of a profound anxiety that seemed determined to possess my being. And I was depressed. It was the first attack I’ve experienced while in the throes of depression. It’s like mixing excruciating pain with terrible nausea. One alone, horrible. Two together, unthinkable. I thought it, lived it. I was it. Like the fires of hell lapping at my feet.
It would never end. My new permanent state. I thought that I would have to be sedated and hospitalized and might never experience normality or happiness again. My life seemed over. And this after taking two Ativan. I was standing by a tree near the sidewalk. My wife had come to pick me up when the attack first struck. But I had tried to open the car door while she was driving and I insisted that she take me to the hospital. I finally made her pull over. Doubtless she feared I otherwise would leap out of the car.
My brain's been a battleground for months now. Creeping evil guised as ugly, mean depression slithers about spitting vile and suppressing happy thoughts and feelings.
The wife's been through these with me before and knows what to do. Thank the heavens for that. I know what to do too but Saturday that knowledge was of little use against the power of the full voltage panic attack. I’ve been having the cursed things for 30 years. I’ve been in therapy and on medication and some of both has been useless and one has had side effects. I also have PTSD and its never been clear whether the panic or the depression or both or neither are related to it. Life is full of clues but answers are elusive. I am well acquainted with the what but the why and how are elusive, so is the when and where. Anytime, anyplace.
I am not special. I am not an unfortunate victim. I refuse to wear a cloak of suffering. I am undoubtedly one of the luckiest people on the planet. I married the woman of my dreams and to date the marriage has lasted 29 years. We have two grown children who are wonderful and doing wonderfully well. My physical health is and has long been excellent. I ran 102 miles last month. I get a lot of colds but have avoided any major illnesses or injuries since I was born. My mother was insane and emotionally abused and scarred me but my father was an angel and I was surrounded by a loving extended family. I still am. I have managed to be a teacher for coming up on 30 years. I am not someone who anyone should feel sorry for. But the panic and the depression combined to take a great big shit on my weekend. I can only tell it. I must tell it. I release some of the toxins when I put pen to paper or finger to keyboard.
We all have something....
I remember dusk on Sunday afternoons in mid Summer standing below the last fly ball of the day. It would settle softly into my glove. I’d look around at all the grass and note the colors in the sky and the white of the ball and the light brown baseball glove and I wouldn’t think a goddamned thing but I sure felt good. I could feel the presence of the baseball cards in the box in my room and The Beatle records and the posters on my wall and the grape soda in the fridge and the dog waiting at home and the love of my dad and the heartiness of my little body and I’d prance off the field and damn near skip home where there would be dinner and the TV and mom would keep to herself because dad was around. The next day I’d hang out with Mark Norman and maybe we’d gather some other friends and explore Indian Rock or play an elaborate game of hide and seek and we’d climb trees and toss the ball and tell stories and laugh like crazy. I wasn’t a little kid anymore, at least in my mind, I was getting toward my teen years and the world was an impossibly large place and there was so much to do and learn and look forward to. Girls were starting to look more interesting and it was hard to tell exactly what that was all about but they weren’t yucky anymore and might even be one of the possibilities in life that deserved further investigation. My imagination was a whirling dervish of activity forever creating new worlds and amazing otherwise impossible stories and glories and I was going to be a famous writer someday but I was too darn happy in the here and now to think too much about it. There was, after all, that grape soda and some chips and dinner and surely I could find something good on TV and if not I had my own record player in my own room now that my brother was out of the house.
I remember dusk on an early Winter evenings shooting that last basket before it got too dark to see what I was doing. I’d been playing steadily for a couple of hours, imagining games in my head and great players doing great things and the crowd roaring. I even made the crowd noise. I had escaped from the grim reality of mother and the tedium of school. I had no cares and my body was supple and strong and my long blonde hair was drawing attention from girls and it was both kind of weird and kind of exciting and highly intoxicating. But it was time to go in. Dad would be out of the shower. He’d pulled into the driveway half an hour before and shot a few baskets with me. Even though he was a carpenter who labored a full day he always had the time and energy to play a little ball with his kid. He made me feel special. My father was such a cool guy that to have his love must have meant I was okay. Of course I was beginning to notice that he was impossibly square and was urging me to get a haircut and complaining about the music I listened to and still holding center politically while I was starting to share the leftist beliefs of the growing counter culture led by those musicians whose sound my dad didn’t care for. We were in for a bit of a rough patch as father and son, I could feel it but I could also feel that we’d come of out it okay because we so close in so many ways. We needed each other.
I remember dusk on a Fall evening and the flood lights coming on to illuminate soccer practice. I was juggling the ball with my feet amazing myself and teammates at how long I could keep it in the air. Later we’d scrimmage and I’d get muddy and acquire a scrape and that always felt like the the natural order of thing. I was good. I was on a good team. I was looking forward to our next match. I was competitive and loved playing in games and pitting myself against other players. I wanted to play against the best and beat them. I wanted to show those bastards. I especially liked beating teams from the suburbs because it felt like a win over conservatism and for peace and love and social justice. I was a crusader. I was saving the world and I was a soccer star and I was wracked with insecurities but felt myself the coolest person on the planet. I knew girls were attracted to me and I knew I was smart and I knew I had lots of talent but I also secretly feared pretty much everything and anything and doubted myself. I got along with teammates but was reserved with them. They were regular guys and I was special, too smart to socialize with their type. I had smart friends at school plus I had books, magazines and rock lyrics and movies that intellectually stimulated me, these dumb clucks on my soccer team were just jocks whose intellect was only used in the service of passing classes. I was also a better player than them. Still I was a good teammate because I played hard and with spirit and never gave up and would run through a wall for my team. Life was mine for the taking. I was surrounded by possibilities and was achieving intellectual enlightenment and would be out of the house and off to college in a couple of years and the sky up there was the goddamned limit.
I remember dusk on an early Summer day. This year. Shaken. Beaten. Scared. Depressed. I’d gone through the worst panic attack of my life I was struggling with depression and yet I was happy because my wife was in the room and we were about to eat ice cream and watch a movie and I could still write and run and teach and there exists still — even in this latter stage of my life — endless possibilities and so much to be hopeful about. No. I’m not defeated. I have suffered and am bloodied. But this is part of the process. This is what comes with life. There are so many events and feelings and experiences and desires and thoughts and opinions and inspirations and sensations and it is all so tactile and auditory and sensory and meaningful and we are all just a speck in the universe but I like this speck and if it kicks me in the nuts sometimes I’m just gonna get up and kick back. Coming through horror, its what I do.