What I didn’t tell you then…

[This was a writing prompt from the Chilmark Writing Workshop, which I had the pleasure of attending September 15-18, 2014.]

What I didn’t tell you then is how long it has taken me to get here. I have traveled years and miles—years broken into hours in a therapist’s chair, miles spent mostly in the passenger’s seat, then finally white-knuckled at the wheel. I didn’t tell you that driving to Chilmark was once not a pipe dream, but an impossibility. How many times would I have to pull over and just breathe? Call Dave from the side of the road for a rescue? Just simply fail, fail, fail.

This girl who rode into Boston like a hurricane at age 18—I could not wait to leave this island, this place where as a teenager, we used to drive to the ferry parking lot on Friday nights, and dream about just getting on the boat and going somewhere, anywhere, just not here. So pumped to get to the city that I barely took the time to see my parents to the elevator, let alone cry at the car door as they left me on my own.

And to fast forward a few years and have that freedom ripped away from me by way of broken synapses and faulty serotonin receptors. My grandmother later told me the same had happened to her in her early twenties, that years were stolen from her when anxiety came “like a thief in the night.”

ANXIETY. A word that takes so much stress just to say, a word so heavy with its burden that it starts with tension, follows with a hiss, and finally rises to a tight crescendo. The word itself, a mini panic attack.

I had them as a kid, the small attacks, afraid I would pass out, suddenly overcome with a paralyzing sensation I could not articulate or give words to. And then as life progressed, they would creep up like shadow puppets, growing tall on a white wall, and they’d swoop in and swallow me, and back in bed I’d find myself, the covers pulled up to my chin, snug as a bug in a rug.

Though I saw that inner tempest reduced to a mere tropical depression (har, har), that hurricane, though dormant, still raged somewhere just beneath the surface, and that girl who loved her freedom so very much so long ago would not give up hope. The path of destruction is littered with herbal supplements, self-help books, the bills from various quacks, and frustration, and guilt, and so much shame, but at the eye of the storm, a team of humans, and a truth, and support, and inner strength, and so, so, so much love—and just the right touch of pharmaceuticals.

I knew it could get better, but I never knew just how good. As I look back on the past month in which I sat co-pilot on a Cessna, ran my first 5K, and drove myself here to Chilmark two days in a row to be with all of you, I feel as though I should issue an official weather alert: Watch out for Hurricane Linley—her assault on the world has only just begun.

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