Am I the Highway? 

I’m feeling….all the things. The things I desperately try not to feel.

It’s been building again, after a brief respite. The past year has been a roller coaster for me, with short pauses at the tops of every hill. Those pauses allowed me to catch my breath and to listen, for that blink-of-an-eye moment, when my heart and gut were in agreement. Then down again, into the depths, where the ride seemed to take forever before slowly climbing to the plateaus of clarity once again.

I’ve made some really great decisions at the crest of those hills. A year ago, I was testing unfamiliar waters and deciding if I could swim, after being unable to go near the edge for a while. I jumped! I took that chance. I found that I was a fair swimmer,  but then someone dunked me and I went under. When I resurfaced, it was once again all about survival, treading the choppy waters and curling up into a survival ball and bobbing along on the surface. I felt the way a shipwreck survivor must feel, wondering if they will ever see land or be rescued before the sharks come and rip them apart. Ideally, one wants rescue, not the deserted island. No one wants to be Tom Hanks,  babbling on to a soccer ball with a happy blood face. In a way, that was me at my job, only the cooler was my deserted island and I guess you could say that a gallon of milk served as my Wilson. (No blood face, though. That would have been a code violation.) I was alone, and unsure, and there really was no one, in a crowded sea of people in and out of that building, to reassure or rescue me.

I understood, from the beginning, that this was not the right fit for me, but you don’t  get to pick your desert island when your ship goes down and safety appears on the horizon. You go for it and then you make the best of it. In this case, the island was inhabited by people but they were all doing the same thing as me: trying to survive. And some had been doing it a lot longer than me, so they weren’t always forthcoming with the ways in which one could get better at it. You had your saboteurs, too; the ones who ran things seemed to be in legion with them. It’s beginning to sound as if I was stuck in a metaphorical goddamn Lord of the Flies, doesn’t it? I guess that says more about the situation than I expected. That is unfortunate. Because not all of it was bad. But most of it was. The minute I saw a way to escape the island, I took it. I was at the top of a crest again, and I saw with brilliant clarity what was right for me.

Yeah, you’re shouting at the screen right now, telling me that if we’re mixing metaphors could I at least fucking warn you, right? Sorry, but if you’re reading my stuff with any regularity, you have already agreed to my terms. This is my brain, and this is a typical day of my brain on lifesaving drugs. Any questions?

Okay. So I am off the island, and it is good. Please, don’t think that I regret anything about the fact that I left my shipwrecked mates to survive anyway they could. Because I don’t, not at all. That may seem heartless, but for a great deal of my time on that island nobody gave a single fuck about me because they were all too busy doing their own surviving. Maybe it would be better if the survivors banded together to tame the island, but in this case, the island is way too big and way too supernatually powerful. It chews up everything in its wake and spits it out. Ask any struggling smaller town in America about the carnage left behind when one such island rises from the ground and consumes everything in its path. Yes people, I’ve got metaphors shooting out of my ass today! This is how we say what we want without saying, “Walmart is an evil fucking entity that must be stopped.” Oops. So much for metaphors!

I am free, and I am on a ride that, for now, contains no inclines that I can see. Problem is, it’s on lower ground and there hasn’t been a lot of sunshine. I know that I insist that I am a vampire, and that I love the dark, but the darkness I love is hard to navigate right now because of some of the things that happened to me while I was on the island. My eyes were damaged by the conditions of my cooler-cave, and it’s a big “if” right now as to whether or not I will get them back. If not, then I get to go on a cornea transplant list and wait for a dead person to give me their corneas. This is not the island’s fault, because it stems from a pre-existing condition that I never imagined would travel into my eyes. Alas, I am angry at the goddamned island anyway. Because now I can’t see in the dark, and that’s scary. I can’t read books for more than a few pages before the need to cover up one eye in order to focus wears me out and I give up. I have to put drops in them numerous times a day and that only works for a while. While my eyes feel better now, they aren’t there yet, and that frustrates me. It’s worrisome, because I need my eyesight for my career path. It’s just another health issue to stack on top of the growing pile. Which leads me to think about age. And then the state of clusterfuck that this country is in with healthcare. Will I even be able to get a cornea transplant if it turns out that I need one?

So many things like this swirl around in my head, ripping and tearing at the walls. The panic attacks come swiftly and with more frequency when my brain is under siege. And that makes me feel low. And when I get low, then my shadowy nemesis, Depression, attempts to stage another coup. This is what it’s like, all the time. Plateaus of clarity and lightness of being that simply do not last long enough. You want to stay on solid, level ground, yeah, but then you’re vulnerable to attack. Why do you think cats like being up high? They’re safer there because they can see the enemy.

I know that I can’t stay up on high all the time, because the air is a little too thin and then I don’t always think clearly. That can be as dangerous as the low country and the predators that lurk in the shadows. It’s just this, though: I get tired of having to stay vigilant. I would like longer stretches of time up there. It doesn’t have to be forever, because I know that life is a sequence of hills and valleys and winding, twisted roads.

But this. Depression, and then suicidal thoughts. This is what it feels like. Exhaustion, sadness, and the idea that you simply cannot do it another day. And then it turns into another moment and then, BOOM. Or actually, *sigh*. Just

sigh.

You’re Chris Cornell. Or Robin Williams. Or someone you know. You wonder – do you know someone who is getting to that last moment of exhaustion? You might just. In fact, I’ll bet an entire bottle of Zoloft that you do.  But that is what it feels like, and Chris Cornell is what it looks like. Those of us who fight this battle recognize others who are fighting, too. We nod at them, maybe even give them a little smile.  We take our pills and force ourselves to live because we still have enough fight left in us to remember that there’s going to be another hill. We aren’t being relentlessly attacked at every turn. We’re either treading water or just riding along, depending on which metaphor you prefer. Sometimes there’s a sneak attack, an ambush, and we have to fight with everything we have. If we are lucky, we aren’t completely alone when that happens, but if we are, it is imperative that reinforcements show up quickly. Sometimes, they just don’t get there in time and then the cry goes up into the sky and we find out that another warrior has been lost. Those are the hard ones to take. The ones who led so many of us through the unknown with their words, their songs, their laughter. When we lose one of the Commanders, we dive into our bunkers and lick our wounds. We mourn. And then, we correct our course, and reemerge to move toward the hills again.

I am not alone, and the hills loom off in the distance. I can see where I am going. But look around you. Do you see a warrior with no backup? Maybe follow them for a while. Until the hills get closer. Or maybe designate yourself as their sherpa, if they will let you. The point is, don’t let them travel alone. There is solitude, and there is loneliness, and then there is alone.
Don’t let them be alone.

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