You’ll be settling in to watch something on Netflix and cursing your parents’ auxiliary cable setup. When the bad thing begins you’re distracted by a non-crisis, like a cat getting its tail caught in a fan just as it pouts over a half-empty bowl of kibble.
Life’s sense of timing is nothing if not inspired by a sudden Wylie Coyote cliff dive.
An entire life can be turned upside down in just ten minutes. Did you know? You’ll get on the first thing smoking to reach someone in an indeterminate state of health. You’ll knock on a door and immediate wish you could melt into a puddle, slither between the cracks in the cement porch. Dread.
It’s the worst day.
Healing someone can break your heart. No. Trying to heal someone can break your heart. You’ll slog through the things adults have to do like move deadlines and remember to pay your mortgage while you consult with doctors and health insurance brokers and pray the worst things don’t happen. You’ll spend hours researching substance abuse rehab facilities which are meant, you’ll soon discover, for wealthy people alone. You’ll realize the people you love can suffer silently for a very long time and you didn’t think to save $35,000 to help them if the time comes.
You’ll second guess going back to your own life and hate handling serious conversations over the phone. You’ll watch, with gritted teeth, a plane land via flight tracker and learn that a facility can promise a bed and then take it away and that sometimes telling yourself you’re just going to make it 10 minutes at at time without screaming is the best you can do.
Weeks and months will pass and there are normal days and scary days and always, always a dull buzz of worry in the background reminding you another bad thing could happen. And then it does.
The word “relapse” rolls off the tongue in a more lyrical way than it has any right. If the onomatopoeia gods had their way it would just be a guttural wail.
Nearly losing someone fills you with a special brand of grief. Your self-perceived failings for not getting to them fast enough, paralyzing guilt.
Eventually your online search results will evolve into a depressing landscape fueled by the ebony smog of your anxiety. You’ll find your fingers typing “moving a patient between hospitals interstate” and, in your lowest moments, “moving a body between states.” Your midnight panic spirits your fingers across the keypad as if around a Ouija board.
As you drift into the thick fog of pre-slumber one afternoon you’ll hear your dead grandfather giving you advice and think, “This is it, I’m losing it.” You might have predicted you’d fight your own insanity but it’s surprisingly easy to greet a warm and nostalgic delusion with open arms and grateful tears. You’ll stop taking for granted the wonders naps do for neurons.
You’ll lay in bed one day contemplating whether you should take the last half-Xanax in your cabinet — the one you’ve been saving — because your nerves have become so frayed you can actually feel them dancing around in your hands. You decide against it reasoning that things could get worse. Better to save it still.
It will soon become clear that bad things never arrive stag to the party. You’ll also experience a downturn in your pay and failed attempts at a home refinance and your transmission will go and you’ll get declined for a car loan and realize you’ve gained 15 pounds and your clothes don’t fit. Other family members will get emergency surgery.
You don’t like to answer the phone anymore.
You’ll have friends who check in with you, who tell you the kindest things about how you’re being a great loved one and making all the best choices. There will be people who wait for you to bring up the bad stuff and then listen thoughtfully. There will be people who make your reticence all about themselves and get angry that you haven’t been engaging with their Instagram posts. You didn’t double-tap enough in between all the late-night panic searches.
If bad things usher in any gift, it’s clarity. You can’t forget the graciousness of people who offered understanding or the callousness of people who decide you’re not doing enough for them during the worst year of your life. It’s not so hard to prioritize which relationships are worth your time anymore.
For a long time you’ll linger in a space where you can’t exactly identify as a survivor of anything but you can’t see Eminem celebrate his sobriety with crying. Grief meets solemn victory.
You’ll breathe again and start running again and stop caring about stuff like whether you should get your garbage disposal fixed or when you’ll ever be out from under your crushing student loan debt. You’ll never apologize for taking care of yourself again. Not to anyone.
Look there, it’s light, though the clouds and onto your face. It’s here.
Photo by Luis Galvez on Unsplash