My therapist says she can tell I’m trusting myself more these days than ever before. I shift, smile weakly as I thank her and wish I remembered to bring my water bottle in from the car. I wish she could see the doubts that perch on each thought like a crow; always watching, always waiting. She probably does — I like to think we’re kindred souls, but that could be my inflated self-importance speaking. I cherish her nonetheless. She tells me she cried for me after last week’s session. My grief is contagious. She reminds me I’m not the worst person in the world - you are allowed to change. I nod, stare at the floor as she watches me. I can’t handle the intimacy today. I change the subject and tell her how my dad used to make me wash my face as a child whenever I looked upset. We talk about my wounded inner child. I get back in the car, close my eyes and briefly sit with the sun on my face. Maybe it will all be okay, I tell myself. My afternoons here are my only solace these days.
I roll the windows down on the highway as I leave Oakland and carefully miss my exits so I land in rush hour traffic, bumper-to-bumper as we all slowly make our way towards the Bay Bridge. I like to imagine the lives of the commuters in the cars next to me. I bet their lives are miserable, too, and wonder who is waiting for them at home: The man in the white Toyota has a wife he resents. The woman who cut me off in the Tesla has a husband who stopped trying years ago. The guy in the Honda Civic has a stranger of a roommate who he met through Craigslist. I dig my nails into my arm to remind myself I said I would stop being so negative — you’re so in love with your sadness. His words still hit a nerve. I rub my eyes, call Taylor, and she reminds me I’m looking at the world through blue depression glasses. She suggests a podcast. I tell her I’m going through a tunnel and hang up. My eyes burn from not sleeping. The tremors start to feel like muscle spasms. Jesus fucking Christ.
The next morning is sunny and the first steps out of the door remind me that I’m still real. My calves are tight and I’m starting to feel my old soccer injuries again. My heart has been racing since 3am — maybe I should have taken advantage of the adrenaline and gone for a run instead? Too late. I finally stop to stretch and check my messages before I can remember that I’m trying not to today. I turn up my music to avoid the thoughts that follow. My doctor finally gets back to me, asking if I’ve been under any new stress lately. I want to laugh — how long do you have? I ask. She suggests I try removing stressors, try a warm bath before bed, or maybe a meditation app? I don’t respond and instead envision myself laying at the bottom of a pool like I did as a kid, watching life pass by above water. I’ve never needed peace more than I do right now. I just need a little time to catch my breath and lay down the weight of the world, if only for a moment. My phone vibrates with another message from my doctor. Maybe we increase your Lexapro dose? I feel like crying but I can’t, so I just keep walking and walking and walking.
I read somewhere that every living thing aches as it changes. My foundation has always been weak; I’ve always been swept up in the currents of others. How can anyone look at life, hold it in their two hands, and know what they want from it? I think of the Sylvia Plath excerpt about starving to death underneath the fig tree and remember I haven’t eaten yet today. Is 28 young? Is it old? Can I see myself with kids? Am I too selfish? What if I don’t figure it out until it’s too late? Despite my ambivalence towards children, I’ve always secretly wanted a daughter to pour my love into — the love I cannot give myself. I think of all the lessons I would teach her, the ones that I was never taught: How to say no, how to be a friend, how to fill her own cup, how to love and appreciate her body, how to understand and process her emotions and feelings. How to grow, knowing that womanhood is just reverting to the girl you were before the world shamed you out of it. I think of her and wonder if I’m just thinking of the little girl I used to be.
It’s Friday and I’m feeling dread as I think about the weekend ahead. The waiter waits anxiously as I smooth my skirt and sit down to take my sweater. It’s a lovely sweater, I wouldn’t want it to touch the floor, he says quickly to the space above my head. A second waiter comes by, placing thick, embossed cardstock menus in front of us that boast a multi-course tasting excursion, with a wine pairing, of course. We make light conversation as we wait for our friends: Today’s work drama, the exquisite open floor plan of the restaurant, do we want a glass of champagne before they arrive? I glance out of the window a few times, fairly certain I know whose neighborhood we’re in. My heart skips a beat. I’m grateful for the drinks when they come. Our friends finally arrive. They’re an attractive couple. We greet them and I give her an extra squeeze, assuming she knows more than she’ll let on tonight. We let them know we received the wedding invite- of course we’ll be there, we’re so excited. Next comes the work conversation. I brace myself, knowing the next 45 minutes will be excruciating. We hear about his work at the firm, his upcoming race that he’ll be riding a $50,000 bike in, the 30% raise he’s asking for. I make a point to look around the restaurant distractedly, making my disinterest known. Her work updates are much more palatable — just busy, busy, busy. By the third course he asks me what’s new with work. I tell them I’m interviewing at a new software company that provides mental health services. He asks what their latest seed round was. I twist and fidget with my ring — did it get heavier? I’m self-conscious of my six-figure salary, knowing I’m the odd one out in the group. We’re the youngest people in this restaurant by a decade and I feel a hollow pull between my love for the finer things in life and the lack of nourishment they bring me. By the time we finish dinner, we agree we’re in need of another drink and stop at a nearby wine bar. The boys wait in line for the bathroom and she pulls me in for a hug, asking me how I really am. So she does know. I tell her I’m hanging in there — you know how it goes, I say with a smile. We don’t say anything else as we study the extensive wine list. I order a chilled Gamay from the Beaujolais region and try to pace myself. We pair off into two’s and I find myself talking to her fiancé about his time in Beijing, the relationship between religion and Communism, and the times he slept under his desk in his first years at the firm. My head is swimming from the wine by now and he’s watching my lips as I talk. It reminds me of the time we all did molly in Tahoe over the summer. It was almost 3am and he laid on the hardwood floor next to me. He told me he was taken by me. I think of the smoke from the wildfires that weekend and how my eyes burned as I drank my coffee on the front steps the next morning. I excuse myself and head to the bathroom. I study myself in the mirror for a few minutes to kill time. You’re incredibly vain, Jake told me the other week while we sat on the couch. I shrugged in agreement. I think about how quickly a forest fire catches and burns. When did I ignite? How much longer can I burn?
Tonight a sea churns in my stomach and waves of anxiety crash onto my chest. How long can a body withstand this? I imagine my nervous system as a fried electric grid; neurotransmitters sparking like thrashing wires, threatening to catch fire. I pick up my phone. An hour has passed. I put down my phone. No blue light, no TV, meditate, do yoga, read, stretch, deep breaths, soothe my racing thoughts, be kind to myself, don’t think about falling asleep, take a Xanax, toss and turn. Time doesn’t exist at night and my thoughts keep me preoccupied. Like a scab I keep picking, I’m certain I’ll eventually find the answers as long as I keep working the threads.
I think about fishing my heart out of my chest with my bare hands. A pulpy, shuddering mess. It must have shrunken in the last few months. I imagine putting it on the table and watching it shake and whimper before taking a mallet to it. I think about the weighty handful of Xanax in my pill box. They’re chalky and taste like cocaine when I chew them. I take out a full bar each night and strategically place it between my left canines. Whatever I bite off is what I’ll take. Some nights I sleep like the dead, other nights I don’t sleep at all. I could feel this season of my life coming before it arrived like joints that ache before the rain. I don’t know what’s real these days. I feel everything and nothing. I used to think you grew up over time but now I know it happens overnight.