February 24, 2017
My best friend came to visit this weekend. Knowing a bit about what I’m going through, he didn’t ask me in advance. He bought a ticket and flew across the country to me. My wife didn’t tell me he was coming and she let him into the apartment quietly as I was writing. He walked up behind me and said “hello”. I hastily minimized my journal, got up from my chair and gave him a long hug.
It was a relief to have someone here to talk to who, no matter what I said, wouldn’t see me any differently; to have someone listen, who would be just as comfortable sitting in silence as I’m processing my thoughts as he would be crafting leading questions to get me talking.
What I didn’t expect was that his arrival jolted an awareness into me. Until this weekend, the only physical manifestation of the severity of my illness was the orange forest of pill bottles on the kitchen counter. I had no cast on my arm, no crutch under me, no bandage wrapped around me. The battle was going on hidden from sight – beyond even from my sight – enshrouded within my skull.
Of course, there are myriad ways it should be obvious to me that my life has come to a full stop. I don’t leave my apartment, save for trips to therapy. I don’t do my work. I don’t eat my meals. I don’t enjoy doing the things I used to enjoy doing. But these are signs in negative space. You’re not often confronted to recognize the color and form of the white space around and between the letters of this paragraph. You grow accustomed to seeing through the absences.
When my best friend arrived, there was now a whole person in front of me to recognize. He had gotten onto a plane because he wanted to be here for me, because he was scared for me. When we both sat down on my couch, it clicked – this is how serious things have gotten. I was so grateful to have him here, I felt like he was putting himself in my path, to throw out a net before I hit the ground. But as we started talking and I tried to verbalize my thoughts, I could hear my words in the air as they reverberated in the room. I began to appreciate the speed at which I have been falling. Each second that he was spending in my apartment, disengaged from his normal life, was an investment in mine that he felt he urgently needed to make.
How long have I been flailing to justify this kind of life preserver? Have I been experiencing my decline without observing it? Should I have been grieving for each hour as I lost it? If so, I’ve accrued a deep debt of grief.
My best friend, my wife and I went for a good meal together at a great restaurant that I’ve wanted to go to for a while. The restaurant was beautiful, the ingredients were incredibly fresh, the dishes were delicious. My two favorite people in the world were sitting across from me. We hadn’t been reunited for two months, this was such a privilege to share a table together.
I didn’t feel anything. The hot food didn’t warm my bones. The soft company didn’t smooth my nerves. There was so much in front of me to be thankful for, to appreciate, to bring me joy. I felt none of it. They carried the conversation as my gaze sank into the distance and a pit grew in my stomach.
When we got home afterwards at 1pm, I climbed into bed. I had that feeling you get when you hear about the death of someone you care about. Your shoulders fold inward, your diaphragm stiffens, your throat constricts, your gut sinks, your eyes cast downward. I felt the full expanse of every second that has elapsed since this all began, the dizzying sum of the rotations of the Earth that I’ve been numb to, how much of the past year I’ve been asleep through.
I broke down for a few hours in bed. My best friend waited in the other room, my wife stayed nearby. I took some extra Klonopin to help bring me down. They waited patiently for it to pass and welcomed me to the couch when I emerged. They put the TV on to let time pass, to put distance between the next hour and the previous two. I focused on breathing.
One breath. Another breath. Another. Another.