Staring Down the Dark

Staring Down the Dark

I really did plan to write a cheerful holiday post today. I put the order in and sat poised at the keyboard, ready for inspiration. Instead, here is what came out: that time I thought I might die. Proceed with caution if this isn’t your bag ūüôā

When I was a kid, I loved being afraid.

Grocery shopping with my mother, I would be drawn by a force I didn’t understand, to the far end of the meat section, where they stocked the chicken and pigs feet, frog legs, fish heads and tongue, all stamped with bright orange stickers, “Low low price!” I’d creep toward the display and stare at it, shivering.

It was brutal, scary, and weirdly soothing.

I learned then that if I could look long enough at the white belly, the bone, the hoof, my fear would eventually turn to curiosity. By the time I heard Mama calling me, the parts had lost their grisly pull, and although I never wished to see them on my plate, I wasn’t afraid of them anymore, at least until the next time we went shopping, when once again I would wander from the kid-friendly entertainment of the cereal aisle, into the place where nice girls didn’t go.

I remember creating haunted houses in the sweltering attic of our small house, hanging my dolls, bloodied with magic marker, from the ceiling, and arranging bowls of spaghetti brains, broken mirrors, and rubber knives in creepy tableaus.

As I got older, I added to the scene, with death threats scrawled on paper that I carefully burned around the edges, and descriptions like this, next to each installation:¬†“This very baby carriage¬†and it’s human contents was crushed by the axe of a madman!”

It was a little intense for the other grade schoolers in my neighborhood, so usually it was pretty much just me up there, hanging out on summer afternoons, hot as hell and perfectly at home in the dark.

My friend Risa told me that the fact that I wasn’t afraid of the dark was proof that I was The Devil. We were living in the Bible belt, so this was a pretty big deal. After I got over that first rush, similar to getting cast as the lead in the school play, I admit it gave me pause.

I had good reason to think she might be on the right track in her assessment of my character, but in the end I was way too insecure to think I could be the Anti-Christ himself. For one thing, I was having a heck of a time memorizing my multiplication tables, proof, in my own mind, that I would never be tapped for such an important gig.

By fifth grade, I was an avid reader of horror comic books. After comics came ghost stories like The Bell Witch. Later, while my friends were reading Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, I read Amityville Horror and Helter Skelter.

I was the kid who was always looking up leprosy in The World Book Encyclopedia, or holding a seance.

My idea of fun was slipping into fear like a pair of comfy slippers and walking around for a while. There were a lot of demons inhabiting my world. For some of us, feeling scared helps us, well, not be so scared.

Once I grew up, my world felt a lot safer, and I mostly seemed normal-ish, at least when it came to my idea of a good time.

Then a few months ago, I decided to address a slowly percolating health issue.

Let me preface this by saying that all the tests have come back clear and I am basically fine. No biggie, as they say. But during the whole biopsy/second opinion process, my entire being was screaming “Are you fucking kidding me? This is a biggie– this is The Biggie!”

Even though I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, looking back now it’s clear that I employed the skills honed way back when, at the grocery store.

I looked.

Not at Google! I repeat: NOT AT GOOGLE. (Please don’t look at Google while waiting for test results. You’re welcome.)

I looked at what was scary.

After meeting with a surgeon who painted kind of a bleak picture, I found myself strolling the aisles of Trader Joe’s, planning my funeral, making a mental list of the friends who I could call on to help my sons and husband once I was gone.

Like a lot of women I know, one of the ways I cope with stress is to share with friends, which I did.

Some friends responded to my¬†news with a big smile and, “Oh stop it– you’re FINE!”¬†They meant only the best, of that I am sure and I love them for wanting to save me from my own dark side, but flipping on the lights isn’t always the compassionate move.

And plus, how could they possibly know I was fine, at that point? I couldn’t know that about them and I would never pretend to.

One friend and I talked about what we could binge watch during my chemo. We discussed the merits of something called “exposure burial” vs. cremation. I instructed her to save my journals but delete my texts, which she totally understood. We laughed about how crazy it was, but we never shut each other down.

She sat with me in the dark.

Although I had been talking funerals, and chemo, and loss, my real fear was of having to go through it alone.

By the simple act of not looking away, she told me that nothing about me was too scary. She would be there, even if/when things got that fucking bad. She would watch t.v with me, and find me banana popsicles, and help me change my bandages.

I’d do the same for her.

There’s an image in my mind that, if it had happened back in 1972, would have made all the difference: it’s of a little girl, at the far end of the meat section. She is shivering from cold coming off the refrigerated cases, and from what she sees when staring into them. She doesn’t want to look away, but feels her friend standing next to her, and knows she is not alone.

They both look.

And they are both afraid, and less afraid, together.

Will Prozac Make Me Nicer?

Will Prozac Make Me Nicer?

I’m not sure what’s up with me lately. I’ve felt tired and anxious, with a fluttering heartbeat and a semi-constant sense of dread.

That, plus pissed.

So boy was I relieved when last week I had a complete physical and received the fab news that I am a-ok, health-wise, and that my condition can probably be chalked up to just good old fashioned per-menopause.

The doc told me that several of her patients find that a low dose of Prozac helps with symptoms like mine.
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That sounds so 90’s.

It’s like the Rachel haircut of anti-depressants.

(Here’s where I stop for just a minute and say that I am so grateful that drugs like Prozac exist. It has helped several of my dearest friends out of the dark hole of depression, so I hope you don’t think I’m dissing your drug of choice. I am just a very neurotic and small minded person and I like nice things, even if they come in capsule form.)

Initially I’ll admit, I got pretty excited about my 10 mg of self improvement.

“What are some of the side affects?” I asked the doctor. I’m a smart consumer, I thought, as my hand made an almost imperceptible jerk toward the prescription she was writing.

Act casual, I thought.

She mentioned a short list of issues some people have experienced while taking Prozac, weight loss being one of them. “But you’re unlikely to experience any of those with such a low dose.”

I crossed my arms on the soft flesh of my new middle aged gut and smiled.”Oh good,” I heard myself say, almost convincingly.

My plan was to get the prescription filled and start taking my dolls right away so that I could be a new person by tomorrow. Why wait? My husband and kids would thank me! No more lectures about

Exactly How I Would Like the Bread Package Sealed Please.

Twist hard,

several times

and then fold over and wrap a rubber band around it.

Don’t forget to squeeze all the air out of the bag

and the reason you can’t find a rubber band

is that no one ever saves them

and no one puts them here in this little space

in the drawer,

where I’ve told you

the rubber bands should always go.

Am I the only one who cares around here?

It’s a small thing,

to seal the bag of bread and do you just assume

I will throw that stale bread away and go buy another loaf?

Is that it?

Well is it???

bread-open

In line at the drugstore, I had some time to think.

As much as my brain bugs me, what with all it’s shortcomings, I kind of like it.

Or, I’m used to it.

Or at least, I’ve tried to make lemonade, as they say.

I remembered a friend telling me that taking anti-depressants hadn’t changed her personality, it just made her not “stew” on things as much. But who am I, I wondered, if not someone who stews??

At that point, the lady standing behind me had a full-on passive aggressive sighing fit about the long wait. What a bitch, I thought. Geez! People need to get a grip. Talk about tightly wound! 

Wait, where was I?

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Oh yeah, do I or don’t I need some Prozac…

I peered into my phone, reading about other possible side affects, the ones my doctor had failed to mention. Side affects like clenched jaw, sleeplessness, anxiety (what the actual fuck???), cold symptoms, mild nausea, decreased appetite, increased appetite, loss of sex drive, constipation, dry mouth…

Later, I sat in my car, my little bottle of hope tucked in my purse,

and called Jo Dee.

“I can’t decide if I want to take them,” I said, enjoying the anti-depressant effect of  a bag of peanut M&Ms. “I just don’t know if I’m that bad off. When you look online, most people  say the side affects were nothing compared to how bad they felt before.”
“That’s how it was for me,” Jo Dee answered, referring to her own experience of depression years ago. “I just felt so fragile. Any little thing would happen and I would just start crying and go back to bed.”

“Yeah, I don’t have that. I do think I’m pretty irritable,” I say, stating the most obvious thing ever stated in the history of the universe. “I wish there was just something that would take the edge off when I need it. I should have asked her for Xanax.”

“Is that what Xanax does?” asked Jo Dee.

“That’s what a friend told me. She described it like, ‘Oh, it just takes the edge off.”

“But isn’t that what they say about every anti-depressant? That it takes the edge off?”

“Yeah,” I answered. “Tastes just like chicken.”

I went home, threw the bottle in the top drawer of my dresser, the one with my rhinestone jewelry from the 80s and all my boys’ baby teeth, and there it sits, waiting for me to decide.

My guess is that you haven’t heard the last from me on this topic, because I’m just so full of questions.

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Does my tendency to snap when my estrogen ebbs warrant a daily dose of medication?

Will taking a little bump of Prozac each morning mean I won’t get quite so worked up when caught in the incessant dinging of a group text from the parents in my son’s basketball league. DING!- “who’s snack mom this week?” Ding!- “I’ll do it!” DING!- “You’re the best!” DING!-“Thanks!” DING!-“Thanks so much!”

DING!-

DING!-

DING!

I don’t know. It could be that the bar for emotional health and a sunny disposition is just a little bit high sometimes.

Because group texts are annoying,

and don’t get me started on stale bread.