I’m managing.

And suddenly, I’m not.

Bam!  The pain overpowers me.  Rational thought scatters.  Awareness shrinks to a tiny hole.  At my chiropractor’s office I lay crying into the face slit of his treatment table, pinned there by acupuncture needles, trampled by runaway despair.  I focus on the snot stringing from my nose, the tissue paper on the table sticking to my wet face, anything but the flood of emotion—that sickening sense of drowning.  I try to stay present, to surf instead of sink.  What should I do next?  How do I get through this day?

But the roar of the flood is deafening.  I can’t hear myself think.  A plan forms and smashes against the rocks.  I can only grab at wreckage as it slams past.  Nothing will work, I think and immediately know that’s not true.  Hold on, I hear my friend Lily’s voice say.  How do I hold on?

Oblivion is the only answer.  Find something louder than the storm, something that will push it into the background.  I drive across the street to the movie theater and stay there all day.  Super 8 pushes the noise back, and I sink into the story.  Sweet, exhilarating, new.  Then, I wait in the bathroom for a few minutes and sneak into X-Men: First Class.  Again.  I want it again.  I know what to expect, but I want the bits I missed.  I see more, hear more.  Swallow it like food.  The noise in my head and my body stays quiet, acquiesces to the story, the images, the thundering explosions, the music.

When it ends, I hurry out, focused on not getting caught, but in the parking lot the flood screams back in.  I sit in my truck and clutch the steering wheel, sobbing, hanging on, waiting for a break in the storm, a chance to pull a thought out of the chaos.  What next?  What next?

I drive to Tom and Cheryl’s for supper with their family.  I can’t do this.  I can’t do this.  But, I do.  Tom greets me, asks me if I’ll take care of the dogs while they’re away this weekend.  Of course I will, but in my mind Dogs, Care, House fragment and skitter away.  “Write it down for me,” I tell him.  “I can’t think today.”

I sit out in the front room, away from the noise of HGTV, away from Cheryl’s silence that I’m turning into a slight.  I try to read Geneen Roth’s new book about compulsion.  She says:

Obsession is a form of autism, a way to cover our ears and block out the background noise, a way to protect ourselves when the situation feels vulnerable or dangerous or anxiety producing.  Obsession is a way to change the channel when you don’t like what’s barreling across the screen of your mind.

Maybe, I think.  But what if you have to change the channel to survive?

At those moments, my life belongs to the unconscious associations I’ve made, the particular way my psyche has equated love with buying, stillness with despair.  Survival trumps good intentions every time.  When the imperative to shop (or eat or drink or take drugs) takes over, nothing else exists.  It’s why diets don’t work, budgets get thrown out, credit-card debt keep accumulating.  The momentary imperative of survival will always, in every situation, hijack long-range perspective.

…the only way through [the imperative] is awareness itself.  Which means that instead of reacting in the same ways to the same needs, I begin widening the perspective.  I realize I have other choices… It takes time.  It takes willingness to tolerate discomfort.  It takes motivation to see through the patterns.  It takes the courage to actually see that we don’t want to see.  It also takes confidence that it is possible to get to the other side.

Yes, but what if under the discomfort of obsession lies mental illness?  There is no “other side” to mental illness.  There’s only bringing awareness to it and stripping back the distorted thinking.  Again and again and again.  Pulling off the black thoughts and flinging them away like leeches so the swelling and shrinking flood can be seen.

I see you, I say to the raging storm inside me.  Crying, I shut the book.  I walk into the TV room and watch HGTV with my friends.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. strugglingwithbipolar
    Jun 11, 2011 @ 08:33:28

    I am sorry you are hurting so much. It is awful to be in this place where we have no control. I also tend to go to the movie theater when this happens.

    I am impressed that you were able to go to your friend’s house. I probably would have failed to show. I’ve done that so many times that it caused me to lose some good friends.


    • Sandy Sue
      Jun 11, 2011 @ 21:21:57

      Yes, I’ve lost lots of friends and a husband. But, I still have some wonderful friends and family members who put up with all my madness. They don’t understand, but they try. And when they’re too tired or fed up to try, they just allow me to be. I’m rich in them.


  2. ManicMuses
    Jun 11, 2011 @ 13:10:23

    Seems we have the same vice…movies. I have been indulging myself, making them part of my coping mechanism for all of the stress and change that is going o. In my life. I think we are fortunate to have such an obsession that gives us relief. Going to a movie (or 2 or 3) is so much better than indulging in drink or drugs. You’re definitely on to something. And, don’t let Geneen Roth’s book get you down. I totally agree with you: the premise is sound, but when dealing with mental illness it definitely needs to be tweaked a bit.

    Sending hugs your way. I hope today is better than yesterday.

    (I hope this makes sense to you…the iPad editor is quite crap!)


  3. pegoleg
    Jun 11, 2011 @ 16:29:38

    Wish I could think of something pithy and wonderful to say to help you through this. Hang on to the driftwood, tread water, float on your back, don’t forget your life-vest… I hope the waters subside soon.


  4. Kathryn McCullough
    Jun 12, 2011 @ 04:42:12

    I’m so sorry you’re struggling, Sandy, but I must congratulate you on your coping skills. When I’m having a hard time it’s difficult for me to even leave the house. The fact that you are making yourself get out to the movies, to visit friends, to dog sit–all excellent signs. What’s hard though, is that that doesn’t necessarily make you feel any better–that it may only be a way to weather the storm–that the storm still rages. Hang in there, and as your friend said–hang on!


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