by Solomon Tate
In the film, ‘Prozac Nation’, the character Elizabeth Wurtzel states “You wake up one morning afraid you’re going to live.” And that’s exactly what it was like. For 2 years my life was no longer in my control as I spent my days consumed with overwhelming dread, and my nights, which seemed to go on forever, in horror that I was going to have to make it through another day. It settled in like a New England fog, without warning, but with a darkness that was frightfully unsettling, leaving me cold and alone, until it had totally enveloped me. It occupied all of my waking hours, with relief found only in sleep. I was swallowed by an all encompassing fear that had settled in my head like an unwanted house guest that just never seemed to leave. With every passing moment the walls moved in closer and closer, encasing me in a prison that I couldn’t seem to escape.
Its easy to look back and try to sort it all out, but at that time, when I lived my life in quiet desperation, wallowing in the anguish that filled my thoughts, it was impossible to tell the difference between light and dark, although it really didn’t matter. I felt detached from the universe, a singular being drifting through time and space, battling demons that brought me to the brink of a madness that I both detested and feared. Most of all, I was afraid of being afraid. It was completely paralyzing, bringing only a constant, heightened sense of total and complete helplessness. Not knowing what the hell was going on, but certain that absolutely nothing could save me, I wandered around the house hoping to find something I could hold on to before I was swept away by the fear. It wasn’t always like this, though. As far as I remember my childhood was relatively normal, as I lived my typically suburban, middle class life filled with assorted superheros and nondescript cowboys. Outside of the crazy, old woman who lived across the street and threatened to have us arrested every time we played ball hockey on the road, nothing really bothered me. And yet, there I was, almost 20 years later, showing up at Emergency rooms, on a revolving basis, at every hospital in the downtown core, and each time, sent home in perfect health. Even that never provided any reassurance. The feeling of impending doom that hung over me like a black cloud, continued to tighten its grip on my life. I shut off from the rest of the world, disappearing into my torment. I stopped eating and I stopped working, uncertain how much longer I would be able or willing to carry this burden, often staying in bed for days afraid to get up lest the terror should find me.
In the impending madness I discovered, contrary to popular belief, that it was not darkest before the dawn. It was darkest at twilight, when the fear & loathing ran rampant through my mind, dancing around my head, sending me spiraling down the rabbit hole of despair, knowing that I would have to relive this again tomorrow. It was like living a nightmare, the kind that seems so real. A constant, chronic nightmare with all of the scariest shit right there when I was awake. Every moment of every day I felt the hot, sticky breath of disaster on my neck. I was so aware of it, so tuned in that it became a part of me. At times it felt like I was the only one on the planet who had been doomed to live in this hell on earth, and I was certain that everyone could tell. I excommunicated myself from everyone, embarrassed and ashamed of what I was sure was weakness and failure. The isolation compounded the incessant fear and dread, driving me further and further into the abyss that had taken up permanent residency in my mind.
When I was finally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, I felt a sense of relief. It was recommended that I get my hands on the book ‘Hope & Help For Your Nerves’ by Claire Weekes. I read this over and over again, looking for something, anything that I could hang on to in order to deal with the panic that had taken over my life. Over the next few weeks, the clouds began to dissipate, allowing me to see the sunlight for the first time in 2 years. I learned how to deal with the worry and the panic. I learned how to stop fighting the dread that was trying to consume me, how to accept it and to let it run its course until, much to my surprise and delight, it just simply went away. I found myself back in control of what was going on in my head. I learned that I was not alone in the darkness and that there was indeed hope and help. I learned that fear can be all consuming if it is allowed to. It thrives on the fight, growing stronger each time it is challenged. It cannot beaten in combat, but dies when offered acceptance and a willingness to let it pass on its own. I learned to ‘float’ through it, to sail along with it like a boat in the waves, and to live in the present, and stay the hell out of the future.
Decades have passed since those years of emotional insanity, and I continue to float through the eddies and currents of whatever life brings. I gave up the shame of being unwell, and wear my disorder with pride in the knowledge that I have not just survived, but have won the battle for control of my life. It is said that what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, and I suspect that the strength I developed all of those years ago prepared me for the trials and tribulations that I have subsequently had to deal with. In the end though, the years have brought me peace and happiness, and that is really what life is about.