By Liz Furl
“Tell your story…” the blank space invites, and I stare into the abyss of the ellipses, terrified of my own words.
Every time I bury my head beneath the comforter to nap or to sleep — though my sleeps are not much different from prolonged naps — they come swirling down from their hibernating place and dance like fireflies behind my eyes. One by one, they light up and illuminate the way in baby steps that become phrases, sentences, and could-be paragraphs, but I focus on my breathing like a good practitioner of Buddhist meditation, and let them scatter off into the night. They’ll commune with others, jar-keepers, who will catch them and keep them in wonderment and delight, as is right. As I am unwilling to do.
It was three days ago I filed the claim for short-term disability, stumbling over the admission of illness so that the operator on the line had to ask me again.
I was sitting in my car outside of Wegmans, the engine turned off to conserve gas — disability would only pay 60% of a normal paycheck, and wouldn’t kick in until I was two weeks in — and watching people pass in the rearview. None of them favored me with a glance or stare; it was impossible to explain the shame — intense, sudden, and sharp — against the ambivalent tone of the operator and the milquetoast, shadowy voice that belonged to me somehow.
I was marked, cut in such a way that the wound healed and the scar faded almost immediately. If you didn’t look closely, you wouldn’t see anything at all, and all the shoppers on their way to cross items off their lists weren’t interested in me.
Good girl that I am, I listened to the terms of my temporary liberation, asked a single question that felt silly in retrospect, and let the call go, noting the silence afterward, and the utter vacuum of empathy in it. Not even the air laying atop my skin felt anything because of me, because of what had happened.
The first medication was an antipsychotic, and my psychiatrist told me that the classification of the pills didn’t mean I was “psycho.” I nodded, having done research into next steps, alternatives to the relatively simple cocktail of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pills. I also wanted to show that I was reassured, so the session wouldn’t carry on, so I could go home and try at normality, something beyond a small office in a building forever promising SPACES FOR LEASE in the part of town where my ex-boyfriend’s parents lived.
That first try at settling my mind into complacency, into falling in step with the rest of the minds that are — that pill tranquilized me into dreamless sleep that never seemed to want to end. I was anesthetized to alarm clocks and caffeine, gelatinous and heavy inside my skin. I quit it quick.
The second try and third were much the same.
The fourth, though, turned me up high. Hands shaking, legs twitching, writing-and-watching-a-movie-and-knitting-all-at-once levels that nearly eliminated my need for sleep altogether. It made me ravenous — a side effect was lowered blood sugar, and an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes — and I constantly chewed at things until they became ten pounds in two weeks and I quit that, too.
Then, since then, there’s been nothing.*
And slowly, a creeping fear has crawled insidiously into its place.
I couldn’t personify it because it shifts and transforms too quickly to keep a face or voice, but there is a certain persistence of feeling it emits all too effectively — can’t.
You can’t be a writer because you’re not cut out for it. You don’t have the stomach to sit day after day and write — you can’t even do it consistently now. You once wrote ravenously, day after day, like a desperate addict, but you can’t now, not when you have a real project to work on, and do you know why? You can’t summon up a constitution you don’t have, sweetheart. If you could do it, you would have more than half page in your Scrivener project, would have touched it since January, but you can’t stand to even try when nobody’s looking and it’s just for you. You can’t write it, can you?
And miserably, I shake my head before bowing it in supplication or prayer. The worst part is I don’t know which.
I know the words are there, dancing warm before my face with a glow like gentle mother’s love. They want me, have chosen me, come to me willingly and silently, only asking to be held, domesticated in ink. And I cowardly turn away my eyes until they go.
They always return, without even the temperament of a kicked and scolded dog, shining with certainty that I will reach for them, that I will let them fill the hole that no-medication has left, the hole that fear filled when first I gave it the opportunity. Their insistent flashes make a lively Morse code, dot-dot-dashes that tell me good things. They’ll take shame and turn it into purpose. They’ll take potential and out of it shape capability. They promise to make me into the writer-woman I’ve always been meant to be.
But beyond them lies the wicked dark and all its truths or lies — who can tell? It crystallizes into perfect velvety focus and the firefly words go away into it.
It’s only now that I realize they aren’t being swallowed up by whatever lies within —
They’re going off into it for me, to fight.
Liz Furl is the co-founder and co-host of the LadyBits podcast on the 5by5 network and the founder and editor-in-chief of Real Talk. Both are geared toward twenty-something life shown in its rawest, realest light. Recently, she has also made forays into freelancing, and has published pieces with xoJane, The Daily Muse, Twenty-Something Living, and Pink and Black Magazine. She’s a recovering workaholic who has eschewed a 12-step program in favor of 24/7 support from her amazing husband and two ridiculous cats. You can find her on Twitter @LizFurl if you like irreverent musings, rants about minutia, and/or sincere appreciation for others, or on LizFurl.com.
*Any decisions regarding your mental health and wellness, and subsequent medications should be made in consultation with your doctor.
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