Friday morning I woke up in a heavy mood. My heart was unsettled, my anxiety was rolling from the backs of my legs to the cage of my ribs. I didn’t feel good. I rarely feel good, but that morning in particular, I was suffering the physical ramifications of being an emotionally sensitive person. With the help of a friend’s encouragement, I untangled myself from my feather-speared comforter and began my day. But my morning routine was askew. Are these clean socks? Where are my keys? Did I take my pills? Did I take my pills?
I spent a few moments sniffing my socks and counting my pills but was unable to discern whether a pill was taken or the socks were worn. Without much more thought, I washed down a pill with stale bedside water and wiggled my socked feet into shoes and left the house. At a local cafe, I sipped on coffee and nibbled on a baguette as I tried to write, and ignore the increasing volume of the thud in my chest. As my heartbeat grew louder, my ability to make sense of the sounds outside myself, dwindled. It’s just anxiety, I told myself. I’m upset, I’m caffeinated, and I’m worried I mistook my medication. I’m sure I didn’t, I’m sure I’m fine. I assured myself. But didn’t really know. I wasn’t sure. In fact the more time that went by the more I was sure that I did take more than one pill… a pill that’s supposed to make you happy but can cause seizures and heart failure in excess. A pill that someone with a heart arrhythmia, heartbreak, and anxiety has no business being on. My worries piled upon each other like paranoid cheerleaders trying to form a pyramid in a storm.
A sudden urge to drive to my parent’s house upstate swept over me and encouraged me above all reason. Must. Drive. Home. I went back to my apartment and did my best to pack a bag––though, under the influence of the chemically induced haze, a pair of underwear, a book, a pair of slippers, and my computer charger were all I needed. As I headed towards the door I realized it had become difficult to swallow. I was terribly thirsty in a way I’ve never known. I filled up a water bottle, left it by the sink, walked out the door and attempted to lock it by grinding my key into the wood panel of the door. All the while, acutely and terrifyingly aware of the unharmonious cacophony inside of me. I walked outside and after a few bewildered moments, found my car, slid inside and set out on the road.
The entrance ramp to the highway was deeply congested as I sat there, idling, blasting a NPR program about bird watching loud enough to ignore my sanity screaming: Turn around, this isn’t safe. Go back to your apartment. I looked around, taking note of the cars surrounding me, forcing me to continue on as I began to notice my vision blur and my ability to orient myself diminish. My definition of not feeling well was expanding by the minute. I had an hour trip ahead of me, and as each moment sluggishly passed by, my mind separated further from my body. I knew I would never make it home.
But I had to get home. Keep going straight, keep going 83 miles an hour and then I’ll be home and can sleep off this mindless poisoning. As I came closer to my destination, I struggled to keep my eyes open as the fear of crashing into another car sent frost through my lungs. Just a few more miles and then I’ll be safe at home with a glass of water and the comforting coo of my mother’s voice. And I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine.
But I couldn’t hear the bird watchers anymore and the road ahead was freckled with black ink and arms grew around my throat and hugged tighter and tighter and my hands on the steering wheel slipped to the sides from the hot sweat beneath them and my heartbeat made its way into my legs and face and fingers and toes. For a few moments, I knew nothing but that I was in my car, and my car was pulled over to the side of the road. The hazards were on, and the car was in park and without hearing my own voice, I was soliciting Siri to bring help. As I sat there, on the side of the road, only miles from the house, I was in awe of the reflexes that kicked in and brought me to the curb. And as foam slid over my teeth and onto my lips, I braced myself for an end. Of the moment, of my life, I didn’t know. All I knew was that my heart was finally ready to explode.
But it never did. The paramedics came and strapped me to a stretcher from which I watched people watch me through the small peep holes of the ambulance. I’ve never been the one inside. And yet, I still felt like I was rubbernecking on my own life, so far removed from myself. At the hospital I frowned at my socks that flopped on their sides at the end of a teal patients’ gown. Those were not clean socks. That was not one pill. I was not okay to drive. I was not okay. I hovered above myself and watched as the systolic number dropped from 170 to 154, to 90. I descended slowly back into myself with every bleep of the EKG.
As I finally headed home, I looked over my shoulder and behind me lay a meandering mess of fallen dominos, each an unavoidable reminder of how I ended up in that stretcher; rubbernecking my own life. The domino closest to me had rested its weight gently, but purposefully, on the wings of my shoulders.
It’s too easy to forget that the mind and the body are two parts of a larger sum: two dominos in a long and complicated line of ivory. For the last few years, every bit of emotional pain I’ve felt manifested into a physical response, counter-productive to my health. I sought out to avenge the pain inflicted upon me, and instead found myself pulled over on the side with a dangerous pulse, unaware that I was both the victim and villain in my own story.
It’s an overwhelming responsibility to know that every move we make affects the world around and within us. That fact left me immobilized for a long time, and rendered me incapable of remembering whether I had put on clean socks, taken the right dosage, attempted to forgive those who harmed me, let go, and everything in between. I was so overwhelmed by the power our choices have, that I bailed and left myself at the mercy of my body’s haywire instincts. I’m here now. And I know I’ve got to keep moving as we all do, crashing into each other, making sharp turns. Because anything else is stalling.