There are a million reasons NOT to publish and only one reason TO publish. That reason is the commitment I made to myself to write and to be seen and not to worry about whether it was any good or not. I’m not sure how this phase of the divorce/grieving/soul-splitting process is supposed to feel. Most of this first week of 2019 has felt like a punch in the gut.
Today I kept thinking of what Cheryl Strayed wrote in her Dear Sugar column:
“You let time pass. That’s the cure. You survive the days. You float like a rabid ghost through the weeks. You cry and wallow and lament and scratch your way back up through the months. And then one day you find yourself alone on a bench in the sun and you close your eyes and lean your head back and you realize you’re okay.”Cheryl Strayed, Brave Enough
Today I am floating like a rabid ghost.
I just had the strangest stomach bug these past few days. It was strange in that it only caused nausea. Lest you think I misdiagnosed it, it’s been going around the family. The kids had a fever with it. For me, it was four days of nausea. Last night, it was strong enough that I knew I wouldn’t sleep so I pulled out a Phenergan tablet left over from an old prescription. It made me so sleepy that I was out before I could determine if it helped my nausea.
I wake to my alarm at 5:30 feeling like I am waking from the dead—but not without nausea. I will myself to rise from the bed. Dress. Stop off for some caffeine and drive to pick up my sweet 3 year old, R.
On the way, I listen to a Jody Moore podcast about faith and magic. It reminds me of how 2018 started. I was just beginning to become conscious that my thoughts were optional and that I could direct my feelings by choosing different thoughts. I was taking my first steps onto the path of awakening. I wonder if it was worth it. I wonder if life was better when I was living within the cages of what I imagined others’ expectations to be. This morning, I am not sure.
As I buckle R into his carseat, he looks up at me and says, “You don’t want to be with our family.” I’m sure this is him trying to make sense of something he heard from someone at some point.
I think, “This is how it’s going to be.” I tell him that I want to be with him and that I love him. He smiles at this and we get on the road heading home.
I go through the motions of getting myself ready for work and R packed for the babysitter. I drive to work. I sit at my desk. I speak to my coworkers and patients. I picture myself as the rabid ghost floating over my body.
I have an extensive conversation with one of my patients about his “wife, Naidu” who exists only in his mind. She directs him to use methamphetamine. She gives him a female connection. He speaks about her with a mixture of the love of a devoted husband and the admiration of a deity.
He has been refusing medication since he was enrolled in our program. He is on probation. He uses drugs, tests dirty, goes back to jail, comes out and repeats the process again. Case managers keep telling him he needs to be on medication but he wants to know how medication will help him. He talks about others he has seen that take medication, “They are spent.” He likes his manic energy. He feels he has work to do. Naidu gives him a purpose.
I take all of this in and he is convincing. I’m not sure that, for this man, the real world has more to offer him than his alternate reality. I’ve had these conversations before though. Risk of re-incarceration. Risk of re-hospitalization. Risk of harming self or others. Grave disability. These are the reasons for medication.
For many people the alternate reality is much worse than real life. For many, the constant sensation of being watched, hearing other’s thoughts, feeling judged, feeling hunted presses in so close that sedation or jitteriness or insatiable hunger caused by the medication is tolerable by comparison. But for my disciple of Naidu, that’s not the case.
I decide that risk of re-incarceration is my best bet. I carefully and respectfully explain how his functioning in this alternate reality plays a role in his repeated jail stays. I offer that medication might help him to avoid those behaviors. He names the two women who accused him of sexual crimes. He looks me directly in the eyes and tells me that he never pimped that woman. “All I did was ask her to sell my DVDs.” It’s impossible for me to know the truth.
I bring up the medication again. He gives me a knowing look. I’m trying to take away his fantasy. The medication I’m offering might kill Naidu. I remind him that our program is voluntary. The treatment is voluntary. He refuses the medication but he continues talking. He likes the audience. He likes the face time with a female who exists in the concrete world. I stand up as he speaks and open the door. I walk out of the office and encourage him to follow me down the hallway. I have other patients to see and he will never stand and leave if I don’t.
I finish my notes and drive home. I know I should eat. I eat six cold, cooked shrimp from the fridge. I walk to my bedroom to change. That’s when the tears come. I feel the tearing ache in my chest. The pain that comes from a broken heart, broken over and over again. I sob and prostrate myself on the bedroom floor. I think of the dam with all of the water behind it. I remind myself that I need to let this water out. So I stay there, on the bedroom floor and sob. I’m already late picking up R so after a few moments, I pull myself together enough to finish dressing. I grab an Rx Bar and walk out the door still crying.
When I arrive to collect R, he is still napping. Rachel sees my face and wants to know what happened. I explain the recent events, but this feels hollow. I’m crying about the pain of years. I’m crying because, on this, my second chance at life, I’m wondering if I’m screwing it all up yet again. I’m crying because I’ve carried so much sadness in my heart for so long. I can’t bear it. I pull myself together again. I picture the rabid ghost floating over my head. It occurs to me that maybe this is why Prozac exists.
I finally go to wake R. He’s out of sorts. It’s the one time in his life when there are no Goldfish crackers available and there is nothing to quench his dissatisfaction with the world. I bait him out of his bad mood with some chocolate chips. We drive home and I remember that there are some toys in my closet, given to us by a kind neighbor who always thinks of R and me. I tell R we have another Christmas present I forgot about. He is delighted with the toys. It’s a mix of toy tools and some real, small scale tools and flashlights. There is a kit to build a car out of balsa wood. R is most excited about that. It comes with a set of paints so I put him at the kitchen table with the paints and he goes about decorating the wood car pieces. When he’s finished, I set him up with a cartoon and some saltine crackers (maybe he is still dealing with some nausea too).
While he is engrossed, I call my mom and dad. The tears return. I’m sitting in my bedroom crying softly into the phone. My dad is quiet but present. My mom speaks up with words of empathy. It’s the pain of years spilling out of me. I’m not sure why I need them on the phone but maybe sometimes one needs a witness in order to bear the pain. After not too long, R finds me. I say goodbye to my parents and I try to feed him some dinner. I need to go grocery shopping. There is no produce in my house. I offer him a quesadilla and he puts it down after one bite. I’m not sure I have the strength to battle over dinner tonight. R goes back to playing and I wander around my apartment considering various things that could be cleaned up or attended to. Then I realize that all I want to do is sit. So I sit on the couch and R finds my lap. We watch a cartoon together. We play with his tools. I am the rabid ghost, but I like the feeling of his soft, curly hair on my lips and his perfectly-sized thighs in my hands. I sit.
It’s time for bed. I read him a story after teeth are brushed. He seems tired but restless. I sing him a song and we give kisses goodnight. I float like a rabid ghost to the couch and write.
This post is too long and too tedious but it’s true. And my only hope is that after floating through the weeks and clawing up through the months, I can one day find myself alone on a bench in the sun and close my eyes and lean my head back and realize I’m okay.